"You," Professor Duncan said, pointing a finger at Ben Chang at the back of the class. "Have no idea what you're talking about."
"And like you do?" Chang spat back. "I could get more out of this class reading bathroom graffiti than by listening to you."
Most of the class was enjoying the latest row between Duncan and Chang. Almost everyone had completely given up on actually learning any anthropology this semester, and were simply hoping for a passing grade to apply to their transcripts. All except Annie. She let out an exasperated breath as she copied notes furiously. There has to be something I can salvage out of this, she thought. Britta, who was sitting to her right, seemed to care more about the unfolding drama.
"Well, at least this class is learning something about human behavior!" Duncan returned. "From what I hear, your Spanish classes last year could have learned more from me. And I only speak about four words." He whirled back toward the front of the classroom. "Of Italian."
"Which words?" Chang responded, unfazed. "Like ottuso?"
Britta murmured to Abed, who was sitting on her other side, "I swear. Why don't they just get it over with and make out?" She chuckled and elbowed Annie gently in her side. "Right?" Annie felt her cheeks heat slightly.
"Doesn't serve the story," Abed answered. "They need to build up the sexual tension a bit longer to resolve it with a satisfying Slap Slap Kiss."
Britta tried to choke back a braying laugh, but it was too late. Both Duncan and Chang paused their venom spewing to turn on her. "What is it this time, Perry?" Duncan said with a scowl. Chang matched the professor's expression.
"Nothing," she said, failing to look innocent.
Abed spoke up for her, unhelpfully. "Britta was just commenting, not for the first time, that your constant arguing could be taken as a sign of Unresolved Sexual Tension."
The whole class ooohh'd in unison.
Duncan's whole face went red. Chang simply laughed. "Yeah, Britta, you're one to talk, after your oil wrestling stunt with Little Miss Perfect there." He looked around the class for some support. "Am I right? They should just kick Winger to the curb and get it on themselves."
Annie gasped. "Whatever," Britta retorted.
Jeff looked contemplative. Pierce leaned over and whispered something to him. Jeff jolted. "Thanks for ruining that mental image," he complained.
"If I were planning a series arc," Abed said to Chang, "You and Duncan would make more believable surprise bedfellows than Annie and Britta."
In the midst of all of this, Annie couldn't help but notice how silent Troy was. He was never much for speaking out in class anyway, but he and Abed usually kept up a silent language of handshakes and looks throughout.
Today, Troy wasn't even sitting beside his best buddy. He was doodling in his notebook, hardly paying attention to what was going on. So when Duncan stalked up to Abed and shouted, "Don't try to project your issues on me, Abed, just because you and your boyfriend are on the outs," Troy jerked up in surprise.
"Methinks the lady doth protest too much," Britta said under her breath. She held out a hand for a high-five from someone... but slipped it back to her lap when no one in the group responded.
Duncan started to rant mostly to himself, and stopped addressing the class entirely. He paced back and forth beside the chalkboard. Chang, who was enjoying being the center of attention again, began an over-the-top imitation of Duncan. Since it was close enough to the end of the hour, people began slipping out. Duncan didn't seem to notice.
Annie didn't leave. She watched Troy, who sat there blinking, silent. She scooted her chair closer to him. "Troy?"
He barely reacted. "Hmm?" he said, and went back to doodling. It looked like some sort of robot playing... football?
"Are you okay?" she asked quietly. Most of the remaining class was focused on Chang's antics in the back. His British accent was surprisingly good.
She wasn't used to these one word answers from him, not anymore. She started to put her hand on his shoulder and dig for more information, but her cell phone buzzed on the table beside her binder. She quickly snatched it from the table and turned her back to read the text on the display. "Can you believe those two? As if you and I would ever."
Annie looked across the room in surprise. Britta was standing behind Abed, whose attention was on Chang. She couldn't even tell that Britta was using her phone.
She texted back. "I know! Talk about snap judgments."
Britta looked over at where Troy was sitting, clearly one of the few people not in Chang's audience. "What's up with Troy?"
"Upset maybe?" Annie texted back. "Do you think Troy and Abed are fighting?"
"A lovers' quarrel? :P"
"So am I. They're obviously dating."
Annie couldn't completely stifle a disapproving humph. Troy was too out of it to notice. What was with Britta today? But on second thought, she could see Britta's point. Were Troy and Abed actually in a relationship? It would explain Troy's odd behavior today...
Another text from Britta. "Maybe Abed forgot their anniversary? lol"
Annie lifted her head and sent Britta an annoyed look. Then she typed, "Whatever it is, We have to find out." She put away her phone and stood. "Troy?" she tapped him on the shoulder a couple of times to try to snap him out of his funk. "Troy?"
"What?" he said, finally looking at her with too-tired eyes.
"Troy, would you mind coming to my house this afternoon to help me with my sink? I swear, my super is the laziest man on earth." She gave him a dazzling smile.
Britta seemed to get the idea, because she had pulled Abed away from the group to talk. Troy looked back at where Britta had Abed cornered. "Uh..."
"I'll order a pizza and make cookies..."
Britta stepped in front of Abed, blocking his view of Annie and Troy. Annie decided to try the same thing. "I've heard you've got a magic touch."
Troy's brows drew together, and Annie realized what her words sounded like.
"I–I mean, with plumbing!"
Britta had managed to convince Abed to go with her. She shot Annie a devious smile as she left the room.
"Please," she tried one last time.
He sighed. "Okay. I guess I don't have anything else to do today."
Annie slipped her hand through Troy's elbow and led him out the opposite door from where Britta and Abed had gone. "Thanks, Troy, you're a life saver."
Once they had left, Jeff, Shirley and Pierce looked at each other, confused. "What just happened?" Jeff asked.
"I don't know. But I could go for some lunch right now..." Pierce suggested, waggling his eyebrows toward Shirley. "I know this great little bar and grill."
Shirley squeaked and grabbed her purse. "Sorry, Pierce, need to be home when the boys get home from school..." She was gone in a blur.
Pierce turned to the last remaining person. "Jeff?"
"I would rather..." he trailed off. Then he slid his jacket on. "Ah, what the hell, I haven't had a decent steak in ages."
Troy had his head under the sink looking for the problem. "Annie – I don't see what you're talking about."
"There has to be something wrong. There's this drip, drip that comes and goes."
He shrugged. "I'll look again."
Annie didn't know how long she could keep up this charade before Troy noticed there wasn't anything wrong with the sink at all. She was "going off book" more and more lately, and she didn't think a kiss or pretend murder was going to cut it this time.
Maybe Britta was doing better. "Uh, I need to... to visit the ladies room. Is that okay? Or is the water shut off?"
"No, it's fine," he answered, still trying to find her imaginary leak. "I only shut it off here."
"Be back in a bit," she said, and ducked out of the kitchen. Once in the bathroom, she locked the door and sat on the closed toilet. Pulling her phone out of her pocket, she texted Britta. "Well?"
"No clue. You?"
"I'm learning more than I wanted to about scriptwriting, though."
Annie made a decision. "I guess I'll just ask him, then."
Her phone was silent for a minute or two longer than usual. Then: "Huh. Me too. Get back to you later."
By the time Annie returned to the kitchen, Troy was running water in the sink. "Find it?" she asked.
"Nope," he said without coming out. The sound of the water muffled his voice.
"I'm sorry I dragged you all the way over here," she apologized, speaking more loudly to be heard over the stream of water. "The pizza should be here soon, though." She pulled a chair over to sit and took a deep breath. "Troy, can I ask you something?"
"Sure, what?" he answered while reaching for another wrench.
"Are you and Abed... having problems?"
The wrench banged loudly on a pipe. "Uhhh, what do you mean?" he said, the pitch of his voice rising oddly.
"Just... you didn't sit together in class today and you seemed distracted and upset, too." She swallowed before adding, "Did you... break up?"
Silence, save for the sound of the running water.
She gave him a moment, but when he didn't answer, she tried again, "Troy?"
"Yeah?" he said, his voice still oddly high.
She stood up and turned off the water. "Come out, tell me about it."
He slowly came out from under the sink, wiping at his eyes with the back of his arm.
"Oh, Troy..." she snatched a tissue from a nearby box.
"It's just water from the sink – I think I found your leak..."
He was trying to be so brave. She wouldn't tell him there was nothing wrong with the sink now.
"Come sit on my couch." She led him into her living room, gently drawing the curtains closed. Although her view was mostly of the garbage piling up in the alley, every once in a while the transients would peer through the bars on her window.
"I don't even know why I'm upset, Annie," he said, just letting go completely. "All he did was ask me if I wanted to go see Tron: Legacy this weekend."
"That doesn't sound so bad," she said, sitting beside him.
He sniffed. "Since I didn't have any other plans."
"I was up all night thinking about it, and he's right! I haven't been on a date since last spring. And it's not that girls are turning me down. I haven't even asked anyone."
"Troy..." She scooted a little bit closer and laid a hand on his leg. "I think you've been on plenty of dates."
He gave her a look of complete confusion. Then his eyebrows went up with a small amount of comprehension. "You mean...?"
Annie nodded. "Yes."
Troy put his hand on top of hers. "Annie, I think that ship has sailed."
She smacked his hand away. "No! Stop it! Not you and me!" She scooted away with a huff. "You and Abed."
"Oh," he said, apologetically. Then: "Oh!" Troy jumped back in shock. "No, no, wait! You've got it wrong, we're best buds!"
Annie used her calmest voice. "I know you are, everyone knows it. But think about it, Troy. What do people who are dating do?"
"They go places together."
"They spend all their time together."
"They kiss and do.. other stuff."
Troy rocked back and forth a little. "We've never done anything like that, though! Well, maybe only pretend, for Abed's movies – but that doesn't count, does it?" He put his head in his hands.
"Doesn't it?" she asked quietly.
He kept rocking there on the couch; Annie just waited.
The doorbell rang.
"I guess that's the pizza," she said, getting up. She grabbed the cash she'd set aside and peeked through the peep hole. One could never be too careful in her neighborhood. But it wasn't the pizza guy.
She opened the door in a rush and closed it behind her to stand in the hallway. "Abed? Britta?" The second name was said with a fair amount of side-eye.
"Hey," Abed greeted with a quick raise of his hand.
"Hi, Annie!" Britta was overly enthusiastic. "I just–"
Annie never got to hear her excuse, because the pizza guy actually did come into the hallway. "Over here," Annie waved him over and paid him. And then it just seemed rude not to ask, "Join us for pizza?"
Troy looked a little shell-shocked when she opened the door again, pizza and company in tow. "Hey, Britta... Abed," he managed.
Abed lifted his hand again, but Britta barged right in. "Heeeeeyyyyy, Troy!" she said, sitting beside him on the couch, and patting his leg. "How are you?"
"I'm..." He didn't look much better than he had before Britta and Abed arrived, but he finished with, "...good?"
Annie swooped in. "Help me get this onto plates, would you, Britta?"
"Why? We've all got hands, haven't–?" She couldn't finish, as Annie grabbed Britta with one hand and carried the pizza with the other. "What?" Britta complained once they were in the kitchen.
Annie moved the two of them out of sight of the boys and lowered her voice. "I don't think they were dating, Britta, but... I think Troy's halfway to thinking they basically are anyway."
Britta's grin couldn't be wider. "Really?" She peeked in the other room, where Troy and Abed were talking quietly. "He does look a bit flushed."
Annie smacked Britta on the arm. "Get back over here!"
Britta did as she was told, but bounced giddily. "Abed doesn't have a clue. He keeps talking about Ferris Wheel Moments and Closet Keys."
"It's some writer thing for his latest film. He showed me some site on his netbook."
"Wait a minute..." Suddenly all the signs they both had been missing came into sharper focus. "Can you remember the name of the site?"
Britta looked upward, trying to recall. "TV something?" She sighed in frustration. "Can't remember."
Annie frowned. "Maybe I can get Abed to mention it again?" She pulled four plates down from the cupboard and started dividing the cheese pizza.
Britta didn't respond.
Annie turned toward her and saw Britta peeking around the corner again. "Didn't I tell you to stop...?" she scolded in a whisper, and then she found herself speechless.
There, on her couch, Troy and Abed were pulling back from a kiss. "Relationship Upgrade?" Abed asked Troy.
"Sounds good to me, man," Troy answered with a satisfied nod.
Later, when Britta would tell the story, she'd make sure everyone knew how much Annie and Britta had helped. Annie knew that was okay, because Abed never minded sharing credit. What mattered was the story.