A/N: This is my very first Community fanfiction. :D I'm kind of nervous with how it will be received, but I really hope you guys enjoy it! It's been a lot of fun to write so far. This story is told in Annie's first person POV. In this first chapter, I was just beginning to find my footing with writing their voices and the tone of the story, but I hope it still turned out well.
Please don't forget to review; positive feedback is the sweetest kind of candy to us writers. :) And I do appreciate constructive criticism, as well.
I take my usual seat at our study group table. Nobody else has arrived yet. As per usual, I am early. Fifteen minutes and thirty-two seconds early, to be exact. Just the way I like it.
I pull out a notebook, textbook, a fuzzy purple pen. Standard studying equipment.
I begin to pore over my notes. The words blur together; I can't concentrate.
"Hey, Annie," says a familiar voice. A welcome distraction from my uncharacteristically boring coursework.
I look up to see Abed sitting down in the chair across from mine.
"Hi, Abed," I say, a sunny smile stretching across my face. "How are you?"
"Terrific," he says. Ironically, his voice is a complete monotone toward such a happy adjective. But Abed's voice is literally always monotone. Not in a dull, boring way, but in a strangely relaxing way.
"How are you?" he asks, his tone barely even able to add the inflection of a question toward the end. Sometimes, it's hard to tell when he is inquiring or making a statement.
"I'm fine," I reply. "Bored, actually. I just can't tap into these Biochemistry notes."
"Your pen is leaking," he says. "A real shame, too; that dark purple ink is getting all over your new white sweater. I can see the cotton fibers soaking up the color. That's going to leave a stain." He says all of this very fast, as if he's spitting out each word as it rapidly pops into his brain, though his tone is, of course, empty. Devoid of any emotion.
But he gives a cock of his head toward the right, and his thin mouth purses, so I know he feels bad for me and my sweater, which of course he has noticed is new, because Abed notices and remembers everything.
"Oh no!" I gasp, quickly dropping my pen to the table and pulling out the neckline of my shirt to inspect the damage. Sure enough, all down the front is a dribble of evil violet. I feel like a toddler who's just spilled their grape juice on their Sunday school dress: panicked and incompetent.
"What am I going to do, Abed?" I shriek, jumping up from my chair and desperately fanning my hands up and down my shirt.
"Ooh, I wouldn't do that if I were you; by applying a current of cool air, you are actually helping the stain set in faster."
I have to bite back a curse word at this revelation. "I have a job interview in forty minutes! I spent three days debating with myself on which outfit I should wear. This one was the perfect combination of 'responsible,' 'can-do attitude,' and 'works will with others.' I can't go home and change; we live too far away, and the job interview is just down the street from here!"
I am talking fast, faster than Abed, faster than an auctioneer. But Abed catches every word.
"Here, take mine," he says, standing up from his seat and pulling off his blue-and-green striped cardigan in one fluid motion. He wears a plain black V-neck shirt underneath that shows off his smooth, long neck.
"Granted, the fit will probably be too long and tight for you, as you have curves in place of my Olive Oil from Pop-Eye's stick-straight body, but the alternating stripes of lime green and dark blue will really bring out the fascinating shades of your big Bambi eyes."
For some reason, my heart gives a little flutter at his compliment, at the way he looks at me, at the way he's just literally given me the shirt off his back – at everything. I feel a smile spreading across my face as an unbidden blush begins to prick heat beneath my cheeks.
"Gee, thanks, Abed," I gush, taking the proffered cardigan.
Immediately, I love the smell of it: half-pine-scented-deodorant and half Abed's natural state, warm and slightly brown-sugar-sweet. I have to resist the crazy urge to press the soft fabric against my nose and breathe it in.
I glance down at my black mini-skirt and my strappy red high-heels. The white sweater I paired with it would definitely have looked better than this green-and-blue one. Now I won't look as professional. But, for some reason, I am actually sort of glad that I will be wearing Abed's clothing to my job interview: it feels a bit like a good luck charm.
"No problem," Abed says. "It'll look great on you. Then again, everything looks great on you, Annie."
He graces me with a rare Abed-smile, his lips pulling upward as his eyes sparkle expectantly. It appears in a flash and vanishes even sooner, but it had been there, and the warmth of it made me automatically smile back. Plus, his sweet words made my blush intensify.
"Aw, thanks, Abed!" I fold the sweater over my arm and look down at the simple pattern, avoiding eye-contact. I really don't want him to notice my reddening cheeks. "I'm, uh, going to go to the ladies' room to change."
I look up at him and see that he's still staring at me. Unblinking, sort of robotically.
Everyone in our study group is used to it by now, his default stare, but today, that look strokes a chill down my spine. A chill that is not at all unpleasant.
"It didn't fit," I tell him five minutes later. I am back in my stained white sweater, his cardigan folded into a neat square over my shoulder. I do a little what-can-you-do? frown and hand him the cardigan back.
"I thought it might not," he says wisely. "Your girlish form filled it out too much, I'm assuming."
"Um..." I cross my arms over my chest.
"Here, why not try my other shirt?" Abed suggests. "It's not as tight as the cardigan, and the V-neck style it sports should be more accommodating to your frame. Plus, the black of it combined with your black skirt will make your red shoes and thin gold-colored headband pop even more."
"You have more fashion expertise than Joan Rivers," I laugh.
"Ah, well, fashion, like all things, can be solved by simple formulas and algorithms that equal your desired result. But instead of using numbers, you use colors and patterns and cuts and hemlines and the like to spot the incoming trends and discover what makes a proper ensemble."
I smile; he is cute when he gets like this, spewing off the fascinating way in which he views the world as if it should be the norm for everybody. And, you know what? Maybe it should be.
"Abed, I can't take your shirt," I say. "Then you'll be topless."
"It's all right," he shrugs. "The societal double-standard by which we view different genders' bodies ensures that men can be found without a shirt on in public, so long as they don't have beer bellies or an excess amount of hair."
"I don't know..." I hedge.
"I can always wear my sweater without the shirt under it," he points out. "I can button it up to hide my nude flesh from unsuspecting eyes."
"Okay," I say. "Why not?"
And at that, he pulls off his shirt in a single movement and tosses it at me. I catch it in one hand, giggling.
"Here," I hand him his sweater.
And that's when my eyes zero in on his chest, his arms – of how he is skinny, but not scrawny. Of how he has beautiful skin, smooth as glass and a rich shade of dark caramel with a healthy tint of gold.
My breath catches in my throat; my heart speeds up.
"Why are you staring at me like that?" Abed asks, curiosity coloring his words.
Embarrassed, I rip my eyes away from his naked upper torso and force myself to look into his eyes. Not guilty, the defendant pleads, going to all measures to ensure she looks as non-shamefaced as possible, not breaking eye-contact with her prosecutor.
"Um, what…what? No…uhm," I flounder, giving a horribly fake-sounding chuckle that sounds like a dying pig's last snort.
"You were staring at my chest," says Abed, tilting his head and widening his eyes. "And now your face is turning as red as the Weasley family's hair."
And the defendant is found: guilty as charged.
I feel suddenly and irrationally angry. "Oh, just put a shirt on, Abed!" I snap before spinning on my heel and having to force myself to walk-don't-run to the bathroom.
When I get in there and lock myself into the back stall, I quickly swap out my stained white sweater for Abed's black V-neck shirt. It is a poly-cotton blend and fits comfortably. It also smells just as good as his cardigan sweater did.
My heart beats like crazy. What is wrong with me? Why am I acting like a hormone-ridden schoolgirl?
I've never felt this out of sorts around Abed before. Ever! Well…okay…except for that time last year when we'd kissed during the Paintball War. For weeks after that, I hadn't been able to be in the same room – heck, the same building – as him without feeling my stomach clenching tightly and my heart spinning and twirling like a drunken ballerina.
Taking a deep, shaky breath, I leave the stall and look at my reflection in the square mirror over one of the sinks. The shirt looks nice on me; maybe a bit drab, but aren't job interview outfits supposed to be overly modest and conservative? And Abed had been right: the black-on-black really makes my headband and high-heels pop more. I splash some water on my face, careful not to smear my eyeliner or mascara, blot off the cool moisture with a scratchy paper towel, and head out of the bathroom.
When I get to the study room, I see that Britta, Shirley, and Jeff have arrived. I enter quietly and head over to the table. Thankfully, Abed is now wearing his cardigan sweater, which he has buttoned all the way up to his neck. It looks pretty ridiculous, and despite myself, I grin and fight back a wave of laughter.
Apparently, I'm not the only one who's noticed that Abed's sweater appears to be trying to eat his neck.
"You know, Abed, you can leave the top few buttons undone," says Britta gently. "You don't want to show off too much skin, but it looks a bit...well, like a boa constrictor squeezing the air from your neck when you have it all buttoned-up like that."
"Undo the first two buttons," suggests Shirley. "Ooh, that'll be nice!"
"No, don't do that," says the brisk old voice of who can only be Pierce. "That'll look gayer than a three-sided cracker. That'll make him look so gay that Sean Penn will play him in an Oscar-winning movie role. That'll look so gay that Jeff will be jealous of the oozing gayness."
We all turn to watch Pierce as he approaches the table, his hands in his jeans pockets and his eyes defiant and bitter behind his glasses.
"Thank you, Pierce," Jeff says dryly. "I don't feel like my day has properly begun until after a raving old man bursts through the doorway and immediately beings spewing off unbidden, tasteless insults toward my friend, gay people, and myself that actually make him look like the idiot."
"Fine, don't take my advice," Pierce snarls. "But I'll have you know that I was the first person to start the piano-key-necktie trend, and I launched the bangs-haircut epidemic of the early 2000's by chopping my once-bountiful locks into a short style with bangs."
"So we now know who to blame for not one but two horrible trends, and now I'm going to have nightmares of Pierce with a bowl cut," Jeff deadpans.
"Mock me as you will, Jeffrey," Pierce huffs. "But I know that insults are the sincerest form of flattery."
"That makes…absolutely zero sense," says Britta.
"In that case, you'd be the most flattering person alive, Pierce," Shirley mutters under her breath.
"Hey, Annie, I'm glad my shirt fits you," Abed says suddenly, smiling.
Great, now everyone in the room is staring at me instead of at Pierce (or, in Pierce's case, at Jeff).
"You're wearing Abed's shirt?" Jeff asks. There is a heaviness to his question, a slight suspicion hardening his eyes.
"Awwwwwww!" Shirley and Britta coo in unison.
"That's so sweet!" says Shirley.
"Are you two going steady now?" asks Pierce.
"Do people even say 'going steady' anymore?" asks Britta.
"Why are you wearing his shirt?" Jeff demands.
"It's not that big of a deal," I say, feeling defensive. "No, Pierce, we are not going steady. And jeez, Jeff, calm down. My purple pen leaked all over my white sweater, so Abed let me borrow his shirt."
"So you just changed into his shirt? Right here, in the study room?" Jeff snaps.
I narrow my eyes at him and perform a mighty scoff. "Of course not; I changed in the bathroom."
"So where is this white sweater in question?" he demands, his tone accusing. "I don't see you carrying it around."
"That's because it's lying on my lap," I hiss. Doofus, I inwardly add toward him. I hold up the evidence for him to see.
Jeff and I have had a…thing blossoming between us for three years now. It's been a lot of back-and-forth, taking turns playing this weird game of cat-and-mouse where I'm never quite sure who's leading and who's following. If he weren't such a coward about what people would think about us dating – since there's sort of an age difference involved – I know it would be us that would be "going steady" by now.
"Looks like somebody's jeal-ous," Shirley sing-songs, breaking the word into two taunting syllables. She grins as Jeff's expression darkens.
"Who knew she was a secret sadist?" Britta asks rhetorically, lifting her eyebrows at Shirley.
"Who's sad?" Troy asks in way of greeting. He's a welcome distraction, and we all enthusiastically bombard him with our hellos.
"Not sad," says Britta. "Sadist. It means someone who takes pleasure in other people's pain."
"That would be Pierce," Troy says in a 'duh!' tone. "…Right?"
"Yup; he certainly fits the bill." Abed gives a swift nod. "He's our group's very own Sue Sylvester, only without the wardrobe surplus of tracksuits. Plus, Pierce is actually still relevant to our show and doesn't undergo Aesop amnesia after every time he learns a lesson to be good."
"That's because Pierce has never learned a lesson, or done anything good," Jeff says. I shoot him a reprimanding look at that, but he pointedly ignores me.
"I resent the implication that I can't pull off a tracksuit!" Pierce huffs. "I laid more women with this glorious body than all of Gene Simmons' and the cast of Jersey Beach's conquests combined!"
We all groan at that.
"It's Jersey SHORE, Pierce!" Troy corrects, in a tone that suggests he is personally offended by the mistake.
"We are not in a TV show," Shirley reminds Abed, looking concerned for his well-being. Three years as the human embodiment of an encyclopedia on TV shows, and you start to get a little bit worried for what goes on inside of his head.
"I know that," Abed says, before looking off into the distance. He gives a secret, inside-joke type of smile at something only he can see and says with an air of harmless conspiring, "Can't a guy crack some jokes around here without everyone trying to take away his fun?"
"Abed, stop pretending you're Zack Morris, freezing time to playfully converse with the audience," Jeff reprimands. "First of all, your hair is definitely not lustrous enough for that."
Troy whips around, his eyes wide. "There are other people in here? Are there hidden cameras? I didn't have time to properly gel my hair!"
Britta flashes an assuring smile. "You look fine, Troy."
"Abed, you really should unbutton your sweater," Shirley says, not unkindly. "You look like a turtle being vacuum-sucked back into his shell." She gives a terrified gasp at this, as if she has had personal experience with being vacuum-sucked into a shell before. Well, I guess you never know with Shirley's shaded, crazy past.
Oh great. Now Jeff is scrutinizing me again. With those stupid eyes of his. I've never met such versatile eyes before. His are this rich blue color, and they can go from warm and genuine and honest in one moment to cold and calculating and cutting into your deepest insecurities in the next. I bet that probing gaze helped him out a lot as a lawyer.
"That was very chivalrous of Abed to loan you his shirt, Annie. Was his letterman jacket in the wash?" He disguises the heavy sarcasm of his words behind a saccharine smile, exposing his perfect teeth and the handsome lines of his mouth.
I hate it when he smiles. Because no matter if it's an ear-to-ear grin, a beam of joy, a mischievous half-smile, or a devious smirk, my heart always squeezes at the sight. And he does not deserve to have my heart squeeze over him.
I feel irrational fury seethe through my being. I have to remind myself that Jeff is just teasing me. He teases everyone. He's just a big ol' friendly teaser, har-har-har.
"Letterman jacket that symbolizes the old glory days of a high school football star would be Troy, not me, Jeff," Abed corrects. "I'm more of the simple black zip-up hoodie kind of guy: sturdy and dependable. Good for a figurative 'casual night in,' but not good enough for a 'night on the town.'"
"So, Annie," Britta interjects, shooting Jeff a warning look from taking his joke any further, "where are you applying for your job again?"
"As a part-time secretary at the bank down the street," I answer.
"Ooh, adventurous!" Shirley says with a twinkle in her eye.
"Yeah, well, it'll be no Indiana Jones work, but at least I'll get a steady paycheck," I shrug.
"We appreciate your helping with the rent," Troy tells me.
"Yes, we do," says Abed.
"You know, Annie, you could have lived with me," Pierce says. "Offer still stands."
I smile at him gratefully. He really isn't so bad. "Aw, thanks, Pierce. But I enjoy staying with Abed and Troy." It's nice of him to offer, though. Why don't people give Pierce more credit?
"Okay, but you're missing out on some really awesome orgies in my hot tub." Pierce shrugs in an 'it's your loss' sort of way.
Oh yeah. That's why.