Chapter 1: Nature vs. Nurture
"This had better wash off," Jeff says with a frown.
Annie rolls her eyes at him, pointing to the block letters that say WASHABLE. "Trust me, this will help you remember."
"Fine," Jeff grumbles. "I seriously hate this class. How many bones are in the human body again?"
"Two hundred and six."
Jeff raises his eyebrows at her.
"...give or take."
"We don't have to know ALL of them. Besides, it's not like every single bone has a unique name, so really it's more like... less than half of that number."
"That doesn't make me feel any better. And isn't anatomy a completely different subject than biology?"
"Professor Kane just wants us to review the basics. So if you want my help, stop complaining, and give me your arm."
Jeff purses his lips together, but then he undoes the cuff of his shirt sleeve and rolls it up to his elbow. He's already sitting in the normally vacant seat on Annie's right hand side, but he has to shuffle his chair a bit closer so she can reach. He lays his forearm, palm up, on the table in front of her.
Annie has an array of colorful markers lined up for this task. She starts with red, and draws a straight line from his inner elbow down to the base of his thumb. Then she takes a orange marker and does the same thing from his outer elbow to below his pinky finger. "Okay," she says, "Which bones are these?"
"Um, radius and ulna."
"Right! Which one is which?"
Jeff squints. "Red... is the... radius?"
Annie rolls her eyes at him again. "Yes, but you totally guessed."
"That's true. Well, how am I supposed to remember?"
"Just think that the uLLLna," Annie says, tracing her finger along the orange line, "Goes to your LLLittle finger."
"Oh. That might work."
Annie smiles and carefully labels each line for him in the correct color. "Okay, now your wrist," she says, circling it in purple. "The wrist bones are grouped together and called the 'carpals'."
"Like carpal tunnel?"
"Exactly!" Annie writes CARPALS in the circle so that it's right-side up for him.
"You have an impressive ability to write upside down," he says, smiling at her.
Annie tries not to blush; she can't get flustered every time Jeff compliments her, ESPECIALLY when it's a silly compliment. She focuses instead on using a blue marker to draw five lines, connecting his wrist to each of his fingers across his palm. "These are the metacarpals."
"So, the... carpals within the carpals?" Jeff says jokingly.
"No, ABED." Then she traces the length of each finger in green. "The finger bones are the phalanges. A single one is a phalanx."
She can hear Jeff repeating what she said under his breath a few times. Then he narrows his eyes. "Wait, how many carpal bones are there?"
"Eight, but we don't need to know them."
He gives her a suspicious look. "You know them, though."
Annie shrugs, trying to look nonchalant.
"No, I'm just curious, what are they?"
She shrugs again.
He snatches Annie's notebook from her, where she has numerous detailed color-coded drawings. "Hey!" she protests, tugging it out of his hands. "Fine. Scaphoid, lunate, triquetrum, pisiform, trapezium, trapezoid, capitate, and hamate."
Jeff's eyes widen. "Holy crap, Annie, you didn't even look."
Annie can feel her face redden. She grabs his hand and re-positions it so she can finish labeling. Just as she starts writing M-E-T, though, Jeff flinches, making a blue streak. Annie sighs. "Jeff!"
"Sorry! That tickles."
"Okay, well... you'll just have to remember that you don't have a bone going horizontally through your palm."
Jeff smirks. "I think I can handle that."
Annie shakes her head, but she's smiling. She takes his hand in hers so she can hold it still while she writes. She's so engrossed in what she's doing (and purposefully ignoring the affectionate smile in her peripheral vision), that she doesn't notice the dean come in.
"Aaaaaand, here he is!"
Annie looks up at the dean, who is pointing to Jeff. There's a middle-aged woman standing behind him that Annie thinks looks vaguely familiar, but she can't place her.
Jeff turns around, and Annie can actually feel the muscles in his hand tense as the color drains from his face. He swallows hard. "Mom?"
Did he just say...?
The woman smiles at him, a little sadly. "Hello, Jeffrey."
Annie does her very, very best to keep a neutral expression on her face. Inwardly, though, she has so many questions she thinks she's going to explode.
There's a minute of silence. Tension hangs in the air, thick and almost suffocating.
Annie steals a look at Jeff's mom, who appears to be in her fifties or sixties. She kind of looks likes him. She's well put together, and she has somewhat wavy, chin length blonde-gray hair. She looks tired.
"Well!" the dean says, his voice loud and jarring. "As much as I would absolutely LOVE to be a little fly on the wall, I have other... obligations, and the weather is supposed to turn just NASTY. So, I'll just... you know... bzzzzzz." The dean flutters his fingers. It turns into a flourishing wave as he leaves the study room.
Another minute of agonizing silence passes.
"Well, I haven't seen you in over a year, get up and give me a hug," Jeff's mom instructs.
He pushes his chair back and stands, a little clumsily, to do what she says. When he pulls away, his mom sighs, and places a hand on his cheek. "You look good."
"Th-thanks," Jeff says, clearing his throat. "Um... you too."
Annie has never seen Jeff so truly speechless. She's always assumed he has a Winger Speech lined up for any occasion. The sudden appearance of his mother, apparently, is not one of them.
The woman turns, takes a few steps to the study table, and smiles sincerely. "And this must be Annie."
Now behind his mom, Jeff scrunches up his face and clenches his fists for a second. Then he gives Annie a pleading, apologetic look. She doesn't know WHY he's asking, but she knows WHAT he's asking. She smiles back and stands up so they can shake hands. "Annie Edison," she introduces herself.
"Marilyn Winger. It's so nice to finally meet you."
"You too! Jeff's told me so much about you."
Marilyn raises her eyebrows. "Really? If he ever talked to me, he might have had the chance to tell me about you." She turns back to Jeff. "Or about how he's no longer a lawyer and now attends community college."
Jeff looks absolutely crushed.
Annie has an idea. "Well, yes, that's actually why... he hasn't really talked to you much. He just couldn't stand to disappoint you," she says, hoping it sounds convincing.
Marilyn smiles at her gratefully. "You're very sweet. I can already see what my son sees in you."
Annie reddens again, much to her irritation. But she manages to keep her composure. "We should have dinner. How long are you in town?"
"Just for a few days. Believe it or not, I'm here to help a friend of mine look for a condo, not solely to track my son down. Dinner would be lovely."
"Great! We'll set up a reservation then. Would tomorrow night work?"
"That would be perfect. I apologize for showing up unannounced, but Jeffrey didn't leave me much choice." Marilyn says, still smiling, but Annie can hear the slight edge in her voice. "I'll leave you two to your studying."
"We'll give you a call when we know where and when tomorrow," Annie says brightly, wondering how well she's pulling this off.
"Thank you, dear. I'm looking forward to it." Marilyn returns to Jeff and squeezes his arm. "We'll talk tomorrow," she says, giving him a bit of a pointed look.
Jeff nods, apparently still at a loss for words.
And then she's gone.
Annie and Jeff stand in silence for what feels like an eternity, watching the now empty doorway. Annie can see Jeff's shoulders rising and falling; he must be breathing hard. Eventually he shakes his head and turns to her. He looks completely shell-shocked.
"I, umm..." he starts, furrowing his brow. "I... owe you an apology." He sighs. "And... a huge thank you... and an explanation."
Annie smiles reassuringly at him. "It's okay, and you're welcome, and I can guess at least part of it."
Jeff clears his throat and sits down at the table again. He presses his palms into the surface, like he's trying to steady himself. His eyes look in every direction except hers.
Annie sits as well and clasps her hands together, waiting patiently for Jeff to collect his thoughts.
"Yeah, I uh, I may have told my mom a while ago that I have a girlfriend," he says, his voice uneven.
This part she knows. "Named Annie."
Jeff takes a deep breath, then nods. "It was after Michelle dumped me. My mom had been so happy to hear I was actually dating someone, I wasn't even going to tell her we'd broken up. But then she called one night when I was drinking, and I stupidly answered the phone, and even MORE stupidly told her what happened. She was just..." he trails off and sighs heavily. "So... devastated. I figured one more lie wouldn't make things any worse." The last part comes out a bit mumbled.
Annie winces and gently pries one of his hands off the table. He wraps his fingers around hers tightly.
"And then I kept up the lie by just... completely ignoring her, and leaving her voicemails when I knew she wouldn't answer. And I didn't tell you because I, umm... I completely forgot." Jeff laughs dryly. "Holy crap, I am an AWFUL person."
He finally looks at her, and Annie's breath catches. She's not sure how to respond to this Jeff; this utterly sad and remorseful and... unexpected version of him makes a lump form in her throat. She desperately wants to say something comforting, to assure him that's he's not awful. Because he's NOT awful. All she can do, though, is shake her head insistently.
Jeff pinches the bridge of his nose. "I can't ask you to do this, I'll just make up an excuse for you, and have dinner with my mom... alone... after she found out, obviously through someone else, that I've been lying to her... and not talking to her for a year." It comes out slowly, like he's just realizing what the words mean as he says them.
Annie finds her voice. "No."
He sighs. "Annie..."
"No! I don't know your mom, Jeff, and I don't know what your relationship is like. But I can see when one of my friends needs some moral support."
Jeff looks thoughtfully at their entwined hands.
Annie's heart starts to beat a bit faster. What is she doing? She's agreeing - no, INSISTING - that she pretend to be his girlfriend? She can already hear everyone else telling her how bad of an idea this is (you shouldn't encourage his lying-something about practically being an escort-it could blow up in your faces-it'll change the group dynamic-success should not be defined by being in a relationship!).
But that LOOK on his face... and she and Jeff are friends. Good friends. And he clearly needs some help.
"Okay," he says, finally, not sounding convinced.
"Okay," Annie agrees.
There's another minute of silence.
"Listen, can we, umm... can we talk about this later? I have to think... or go for a walk, or something."
"Do you want some company?" Annie asks immediately. "We don't have to talk." What am I doing what am I doing what am I doing what am I doing...
Jeff nods absently. She reluctantly extracts her hand from his so that she can pack up her materials. He stares at something on the table that isn't there until she's finished, looking dejected. Then they dress for the cold weather, she slings on her backpack and purse, and they head outside.
"Oh, it's raining," Annie observes once they get to the steps. "That's- AH!" she shrieks as her feet slide out from under her without warning.
Jeff grabs her arm to catch her, but it's so slippery that she ends up pulling him down instead. They land painfully on the concrete next to each other.
"Ow," Annie says.
"Yeah. You okay?"
"Yeah. I think it's safe to call this freezing rain, though."
Jeff nods wearily. He tries to wrap his hand around the railing, but it slips right off again. "God, I can't even get a grip."
Annie looks around. At first glance, it really does just look like it's raining. But everything is becoming covered in ice. EVERYTHING. She can hear squealing tires and faint sounds of people yelping and screaming.
"Okay, this is weird," Jeff says.
"It really is."
"And dangerous. I'm going to drive you home."
"Jeff, you don't-"
"I'm driving you home."
Annie knows better than to argue with that tone. They manage to awkwardly scramble to their feet, and she clings to his arm as they slowly and stiffly make their way across the campus to the parking lot. It's the end of the day, and there are not many people around, but those they do pass aren't having an easy time of it either. Annie sees at least four people fall flat to the ground, and the air is punctuated with "whoa"s and "aah!"s. It's positively surreal.
She can't read Jeff's expression from here, which is bothering her. And she desperately wants to know why he picked HER to name as his imaginary girlfriend. And it's windy and cold and miserable out. (But he's holding her to him tightly, and their gloved hands are clutched together, and she finds she doesn't really mind this situation TOO much.)
When they finally reach Jeff's car, he sighs. Of course, the whole thing is covered in ice.
They kind of half shuffle, half slide over to the driver's side door as Jeff fumbles for his keys and finds the unlock button. He tries to hold them steady while Annie tugs on the handle, but it's no use. She shakes her head.
"It's okay," Jeff says, breathing heavily from just the effort of keeping upright. "I probably wouldn't have been able to get it out of the parking lot anyway." He lets go of her with one hand and taps at the ice that's increasingly coating the windshield. "Or see."
A strong gust of wind kicks up, throwing pellets of ice into Annie's face. She involuntarily turns and buries herself into Jeff's chest as he wraps his arms around her shoulders. "Gahhh this sucks," she says, muffled by his coat.
"Yes it does," he agrees, his voice somewhere near her ear. "Your place isn't far, though, we could walk. Slide. Skate. Fall our way there."
She chuckles. The wind dies down, making things more bearable, and she pulls away from him. She can finally see his face now, and he looks a little bit more like himself. There's still something there, but now he merely looks preoccupied, instead of petrified. He holds her gaze for a second, then pulls his scarf out of his collar. Before Annie can object, he wraps it around her neck and ties it in a knot.
"Come on," he says, turning her around so they can set off.
Luckily, the wind is behind them, and although the sidewalks are bad, the few cars that are on the road leave slightly melted paths. They walk slowly, leaning on each other for support, their feet barely leaving the ground. They stay on the road when they can, and carefully move off to the side when a car comes. Annie tucks her chin into Jeff's scarf, grateful to have it. It's warm, and every time she breathes in she can smell him, which is oddly comforting.
They fall twice.
The second time, it's almost impossible for them to get up. Annie feels like she's stuck in a cartoon, where her feet and hands and knees are moving, but she's not going anywhere. They end up sitting on the cold ground, laughing at the ridiculousness of it, because, really, what else can you do? When everything is covered in ice, and the world loses its friction, then everybody slips, everybody loses their balance, everybody falls.
Jeff shakes his head as they gain control of their giggles. "I'm not helping at all. I'm just dragging you down with me."
Annie scoffs at him. "Are you kidding? This is way better than doing it by myself. I'm glad you're here."
He looks at her, almost surprised.
She smiles at him, but he probably can't tell through his scarf, which is now covering half her face. "Come on, we're almost there, we can do this," Annie insists, bracing her hands against his bent knee. She manages to get her feet somewhat solidly underneath her and slowly stands up, with Jeff helping from the ground.
Getting Jeff up is harder, and awkward, but they finally manage.
Eventually, they reach their destination. Annie is exhausted, and can already feel her muscles aching. She cranes her neck to look up at Jeff, who looks cold. She feels bad for stealing his scarf, even though she didn't steal it; he gave it to her. She's happy, for once, that the front door of the building has been propped open, and Jeff wordlessly follows her inside and up the three flights of stairs.
Annie takes off his scarf as they approach her front door. But she hesitates to give it back to him, because... she doesn't really want him to leave. She fiddles with it in her hands instead, and then turns to him and sighs. "You're not really going to walk all the way home right now, are you?"
He shrugs. "I hadn't really thought that far. I just wanted to make sure you got home."
She can't fight the smile that's tugging at her lips. So she doesn't. Annie holds onto each end of the scarf and then tosses it over his head. She uses it to pull herself up on her toes and then places a gentle (albeit slightly lingering) kiss on his cheek. "You're a good person, Jeff," she tells him quietly.
He sighs across her ear.
His eyes are closed as Annie takes a step back from him, and when he opens them, he looks like he really wants to say something. But he doesn't.
Annie's front door swings open.
"Hey guys," Abed says, holding a bowl of popcorn. "You should come in, everyone else is here."
Annie and Jeff look at each other curiously, and as they enter the apartment, they're greeted by two folded blanket doors. The boys' fort has apparently been extended into the living room.
"What's going on?" Annie asks as she takes off her backpack and coat and climbs inside. Pillows and couch cushions cover the floor, and the blanket ceilings and walls are suspended between the rearranged chairs and other furniture. Troy, Britta, and Shirley are on one side, Pierce is sitting across from them, and a couple of empty spaces remain in between.
"Impromtu movie marathon," Abed explains as he settles back down next to Pierce. "We were hanging out here after class when we heard about the weather. So we decided to hunker down."
Annie looks back to Jeff, worried that he'd rather be alone. He does look slightly troubled about something, but when he excuses himself to duck out and make a phone call, Annie figures it out. She throws her backpack and coat and everything into her bedroom before taking one of the empty spaces against the love seat. Jeff returns after a minute and joins her.
"Is your mom okay?" Annie asks him quietly.
He nods. Then he takes out his phone and starts texting, which Annie takes as a sign to leave him alone.
That is, until, her own phone buzzes next to her.
I know we should talk about this, I just don't want to do it in front of everyone
Annie steals a glance at him, but he's already leaning away from her, asking Pierce which movies they've watched so far. She thinks for a second before typing out a message back:
We can just talk about it tomorrow if you want
Jeff glances at his phone while listening to Pierce trying (and mostly failing) to remember the movies' names, and furrows his eyebrows.
Really? You don't have any burning questions?
Annie decides to just be honest.
Well, of course I do, but I respect your privacy
No, see, this is when you're supposed to scold me for being a liar, not be all nice to me and supportive
She stares at the text for a minute; that's not the response she was expecting.
Well, I'd be a pretty crappy friend, then
I'm sure you had your reasons for lying
"What are you guys talking about?" Abed asks from across the fort.
Annie and Jeff look up, a little guiltily.
"Nothing," Jeff says.
"You guys are texting each other."
"No, we're not," Annie lies.
Pierce grabs Jeff's phone with surprising deftness.
"Hey!" Jeff shouts, swatting for it.
Pierce pushes him away with one hand. "Annie just said: I'm sure you had your reasons for lying," he reads.
"Ooh, lying about what?" Troy asks.
Jeff lunges at Pierce, who tosses it to his right. "Ay-bed!"
Abed catches the phone and scrolls up. "I know we should talk about this, I just don't want to do it in front of everyone."
Everyone turns to Jeff, who scowls. "Well, I would think this would be obvious, but I DON'T WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT."
Britta rolls her eyes. "Well, you know, if you don't want to talk about something in front of everyone, maybe you shouldn't talk about it IN FRONT OF EVERYONE."
"Hey, I thought I was texting Annie, not the whole room."
There are overlapping arguments about how he's texting her in front of the whole room, which is the same thing, about how obvious they were being, about how it's rude, and about how he's gay. Jeff sighs, exasperated. "Okay, okay, OKAY."
The arguments stop.
"My mom is here, okay? I didn't know she was coming, and she showed up at school. She... still thought I was a lawyer."
There are boos and disgusted sighs of "Oh, Jeff...", and he looks at Annie, gesturing toward them like: you see?
But Abed is looking at them through narrowed eyes. "That's not what you were texting about."
Jeff clears his throat. "What do you mean?"
"You guys were talking about one specific lie," Abed declares. He taps Jeff's phone. "A lie that involves Annie."
Annie stares at him, incredulous. "How could you possibly know that?"
He shrugs. "Semantics. Wording. My knowledge of you guys."
Jeff gives a significant look to Annie and then sighs. "Fine. I might have also told my mom a while ago that I was in a relationship."
Abed snaps his fingers. "You told your mom that Annie was your girlfriend, and when she showed up unannounced to confront you about one lie, Annie went along with it to spare you the pain of admitting another."
"WHAT?" Britta, Troy, Shirley, and Pierce exclaim at once.
"Yeah, uh, what he said."
"You told your mom ANNIE was your girlfriend?" Britta asks.
"That's a terrible thing to do, Jeffrey," Shirley says seriously.
"I'm aware of that."
"Yeah, but why ANNIE?"
Annie holds her breath; she would like to know this as well. She's so curious she forgets to be insulted at Britta's tone.
Jeff glares at her. "I don't know, because it was easier than telling her I was dating a water filter?"
Britta huffs and crosses her arms.
Annie deflates slightly, although she's not sure what answer she was expecting.
"Why not just make up a girl completely?" Troy asks. Then his eyes widen. "That'd be AWESOME."
"Actually, that's asking for trouble. It makes sense for Jeff to pick Annie," Abed says, shaking a finger thoughtfully. "He knows her well, and vice versa. You guys trust each other. Also, Annie is quick on her feet, and less likely to Britta up a classic sitcom ruse like this one."
Britta huffs louder and Troy gives her shoulder a comforting squeeze.
Jeff leans over to grab his phone back from Abed.
"What's that on your hand?" Britta asks with narrowed eyes.
"Nothing," he says quickly.
But she refuses to let it go. "Why do you have marker on your hand?"
"If you knew what it was, then why did you ask?"
"It was my idea, we were studying anatomy," Annie jumps in, feeling bad that Jeff is getting picked on so much.
Everyone makes an "oooooOOOOoooohh" sound. (Except for Pierce, who says, "I thought you two were just FAKE boning!")
"Really?" Jeff asks, his voice dripping with disdain. "What are we, in an 90s sitcom now?"
"Well, you guys ARE in a fake relationship," Abed points out.
"Yes. And now that my dark secret is out, can we just watch a movie please?"
Everyone grumbles about this still being a terrible idea, and Annie hears something about someone's name having two T's, and that being an important distinction. But then Abed starts the next movie in their Mel Brooks marathon (Young Frankenstein), and things quiet down.
She shifts in her seat, trying to get comfortable on the floor next to Jeff. She desperately wants to keep talking to him, but she already said it could wait until tomorrow. And she doesn't want to risk getting caught texting again.
Jeff stretches his arm across the loveseat behind her, and she can't help but lean into him slightly. She doesn't even notice his phone in his other hand until hers buzzes again.
You were right, you know
Annie frowns and tries to stealthily type out a reply.
My reasons for lying, it's what you said to my mom
I just couldn't stand to disappoint her
I'll get to do that lots tomorrow night, though, so... yay!
Annie really, really wants to give him a hug.
I'd hug you right now if it wasn't going to cause such an uproar
Jeff stifles a chuckle.
You really think we can pull this off?
I mean, obviously YOU can
But she is my mom, she knows me pretty well
Annie pretends to watch the movie for a second.
We totally can
We make a good team, remember?
Jeff stares at his phone for a minute before catching her eye. He takes a deep breath, then nods.
Annie smiles at him and turns her attention to the movie.
But then Jeff shifts closer to her, so that they're practically cuddling together, and Annie is completely distracted for the rest of the night.