NOTES: Takes place after 4x06. Title from the song by Gavin DeGraw.
Previously, on The Knots In Our Laces: Troy tells Britta he's ready to get more adventurous in the bedroom; Shirley warns the Dean to ease off his stalking for a bit or she'll call the school board; Jeff manipulates everyone in an attempt to subvert Kevin's acceptance; Vicky tells Neil to stop inviting the Greendale Seven to their house parties; Annie uses her investigation into Sullivan's Trout Farm for an extra credit report worth 10% of her grade; the Trobedison Apartment has a Marvel Movies Marathon; and the red-bearded student drops out of History of Ice Cream for medical reasons.
"This is bogus," says Troy as he leans over Abed's shoulder to watch the credits scroll across the laptop version of Adobe Premiere Pro. "How did Jeff get to be Executive Producer?"
"He wrote the story," replies Abed, punching keyboard shortcuts as he fine-tunes the music bed. "It's a standard industry credit."
Annie peeks across Abed's other side, clicks her tongue, and says, "You mistyped 'cinematography' in the third line." As the film student gives her a thumbs-up and selects the appropriate layer, Troy catches her eye.
He gestures to the door, and Annie looks from Troy's eagerness to Abed's head, then to Troy again, raising her eyebrows in exaggerated effect. Troy's face puckers, and he gestures with his chin, bending his neck way to one side and crossing his eyes. He starts jerking urgently with a pointed finger. Annie rolls her eyes and sighs, which prompts Abed to say from below them, "Annie, please don't torture Troy. We have a bit later and I require his unfiltered whimsy."
Troy's expression drops to a pout, which makes Annie smile. Snagging his arm, they leave Abed to his work. In the hall outside the study room, they hunch together against the glass and Troy pulls out his phone. "Jeff hasn't responded to my texts. If he doesn't come soon, he's going to miss the movie. I bought kettle corn in little baggies and everything."
Gnawing her lower lip, Annie points out that it's probably going to be embarrassing. "You know how strongly I believe in group stuff, but...honestly, I wouldn't want to watch it either, if I were him."
"We need to get him here," insists Troy. "I've been listening to Britta read her psychology flashcards aloud, and I'm telling you as the boyfriend of an unlicensed professional brain-fixer, Jeff needs to confront his music and face the demons. I especially think he'll like the music, seeing as I picked out his theme song."
This pulls a another smile from Annie. Her roommate puts his heart into everything, even fixing their other friend's emotional problems. "I think you're right." She promises, "I'll go find him and drag him to the study room if I have to."
Eyes alight, Troy spins her around by the shoulders and enthusiastically propels her toward the exit. "Threaten to steal his midday back-up shirt if he gives you any trouble, Houlighan!"
Waving as she leaves, Annie calls back, "Will do, partner!"
When Annie spots his feet hanging beyond the edge of the sofa in the Greendale Student Center, she cuts across the space and stops in front of Jeff. Looming over the pillow that covers his face, she says, "Jeff, you're at risk of abusing the Crazy Couch. After Shirley's incident with the nail gun we all agreed that it's only for special occasions."
His reply is muffled through the pillow, faintly audible midst the hum of students and the trill of the dean's voice announcing lunch activities for the week. "Go away Annie."
She tsk-tsks. "So you can lie here like a useless blob? Abed's going to show us the movie in an hour. You should be there." Swallowing her reticence, Annie reaches out and pokes him in the upper arm. Her fingers stay, until it's not so much a pressure as a caress. When he folds the pillow down, she snatches her hand away.
Jeff looks up bleary-eyed and with his hair a complete mess. He sighs, one great long breath that is, in Annie's opinion, a tad melodramatic. He tells her, "I thought I would be better now."
"Better how?" More empathetic? she wants to ask. Less of a manipulative ass?
Rising to a sitting position with the pillow in his lap, Jeff waves at her to join him on the Crazy Couch. "Just better. I thought that if I met my dad and said everything I wanted to say, finally this ball of, I dunno, rage in my lungs would disappear. Instead it just gets sublimated into everything else."
She watches as Jeff puts one hand to his brow, scrubbing his forehead as if he could wipe darker thoughts out through application of will. Annie feels that urge to give him the words he expects—that easy forgiveness from the doe-eyed girl—but it's all still a bit raw. His manipulation of the study group hurt, and she's not sure forgiveness is what Jeff needs anyway. He needs something, that much is obvious, but it's nothing they can fix if he's unwilling to fix it himself first.
"I even blew up at Vicky the other day," he continues, sending her a sheepish glance. "She was trying to protect a friend, and I ripped her to pieces because she dared to interfere with something I wanted."
Unimpressed, Annie crosses her arms. "Yes, we all know how talented you are." In hunting down Jeff she'd expected, even wanted, for him to show some regret; Annie is a huge believer in the power of shame as a deterrent. Yet faced with a morose and unhappy Jeff, it's not a satisfying picture.
If he keeps feeling sorry for himself, he'll never get to see Abed's movie, much less face his Troy-approved music or confront his demons. It'd be a shame for someone as vain as Jeff to miss the premier screening of an entire film dedicated to himself. Scooting a bit closer on the couch, Annie elbows him in the side, and says, "As for forgiveness...um, fake it till you make it?"
He meets her optimistic expression with disbelief. "Annie, that guiding life principle landed me at Greendale in the first place."
"Well, it's not my policy," she admits. "Maybe sports? Angry guys are into boxing, right? I lost a bet to Abed about how many punching bags Captain America ruins. Apparently I'm 'a disgracefully poor judge of the depths of superhero angst,' but it seemed to me he got plenty of satisfaction from hitting things."
"No boxing." Shaking his head, Jeff points to his money-maker. "You wouldn't like me half as much with my cheek broken, trust me."
"Whatever you decide, no more using the rest of us to achieve your Machiavellian goals." Her eyes momentarily drop to his mouth as she frowns. "You know besides being rude, your little scene was pretty offensive. You can't throw yourself on someone's lips to prove a point."
One can almost see the moment when things set him off these days; his brain jumps gears and the mood change, so invisible to Annie in the years past when she was blinded by her crush on him, ripples across his body language. Jeff turns his whole frame toward her, and his voice deepens as he challenges, "Why not? You did it."
Because she knows her friend well, Annie's prepared for some sort of comeback, but this strike is low. The sound of every person in the Student Center evaporates when his volley hits, as if outside noise can be eclipsed by the implosion of three dangerous little words.
She remembers precisely what kiss Jeff is referring to; it's the kiss they never really talked about except one time, under duress from their friends. The kiss which may have been strategic but was anything, everything but joyless.
"That was a debate against City College!" Annie blurts. That was me, she almost adds. "Even if my methods were sexist, they were contextually justified. I was trying to prove the inherent evil of humanity."
"So was I. Remember when 'Kevin' tried to kill us?"
Once more on the firm ground of indignation, Annie rebounds seamlessly. "You and I were friends with a common goal. It's completely different from what you did to embarrass that poor woman."
Under the withering effect of her condemnation, Jeff drops the suave act. "I get it," he sighs, leaning back again to the couch and hugging the small pillow to his chest. "And if I didn't, Britta's told me half a dozen times since the other day. The dean even gave me a pamphlet on harassment. The dean."
Annie huffs, not sure if it's worth it to argue about hypocrisy with the reigning king of inconsideration. Opting for a different tack, she purses her lips and asks a question that's been kicking around in her brain since the fiasco began: "Did you do that because you're... lonely?"
Jeff, who had been staring at the ceiling, jerks his head down at her question. "What?"
"When you lured Chang's wife to Greendale and kissed her," Annie clarifies. "Maybe you went about it the wrong way, but... is that what you want?"
"What?" Jeff's voice climbs a half-step higher, and he stares as if she's grown a second head. Okay, so maybe he doesn't want Alessandra Chang; the woman did marry a psychopath. But even Jeff doesn't normally go around accosting innocents for the hell of it. At least not since their first year when the rest of the study group called him Don Juan Bacteria behind his back.
Clearing her throat, Annie tries to elaborate, but her voice betrays her and she half retreats from her sentences while she's in the middle of saying them. "The group is asking—"
"The group is asking?"
"—because you haven't dated anyone in a while. And maybe she's not blond, but she's very pretty..."
Jeff throws his hands out, cutting her off. "No! No, stop, please," he says. "Just...stop talking."
Rebuffed, Annie clenches her jaw and glares. "It's a reasonable question!"
"It's really not," he counters, "But it's nice that the group is thinking of me. You can tell the group that I'm not so lonely I'd create elaborate plots to make out with strangers. I'm fine. If I wanted to date, I'd be dating. Nothing is stopping me."
Annie eyeballs him skeptically. "Nothing?"
"I've got a lot on my plate with the deadbeat dad -slash- secret sibling soap opera, so I've been busy. And that's all the group needs to know."
"Well good," says Annie, standing. Putting her hands on her hips, she adds, "You can tell everyone that you're fine when you come to the screening."
"I already told the super twins that I'm not going to watch a movie that chronicles my deepest humiliations."
A deviousness bubbles inside Annie from the vestiges of her irritation over the Kevin thing. Before thinking it through, she mutters, "I highly doubt this was your deepest humiliation."
In less than a blink Jeff's on his feet as well, face to face with her. "To which humiliation are you referring?" His voice is partly snide and partly sly as he leans into Annie's space. "There've been so many at Greendale, I've lost count."
"Sounds like a personal problem," she retorts, and über-casually flicks her hair to one side. Satisfied at having gotten him off the Crazy Couch, and sensing an opportunity for the type of dramatic exit she rarely gets with Jeff, Annie pivots toward the main doors. Over her shoulder she reminds him, "The screening's at four-thirty, don't be late!"
The private viewing of Abed's first socially significant documentary (as a senior now, he explains to Annie, considerations must be given to an ethical artistic development) has a cathartic effect on the denizens of Study Room F. Jeff shows up, and Kevin makes an appearance. There's a sweet, familiar respite as everything falls into place once more. The great thing about Annie's friends is that in the event that one of their number goes insane, the rest of the Greendale Seven will flock around them, eager to forgive. It's not until several hours later, in the comfort of the trio's apartment, that she realizes Abed still has more to say.
"I've been thinking about Jeff," he announces, and Annie actually pauses to make sure that Troy's still in the bath, and not standing half-naked behind her. Instances of Abed freely sharing his creative process with her range somewhere between never and maybe-that-one-time.
"What about him?" asks Annie, swiping a carrot through the hummus dip on their coffee table. Having finished all the Marvel films of the last decade, the television has been regulated to strictly Superman media for the next seventy-two hours. On the screen right now the second season of Lois & Clark is moving briskly through its third episode, subtitles on.
Abed steeples his fingers in the manner of Lex Luthor as he says, "I predicted that meeting his father would bring about emotional turmoil, but I assumed it would be the dark before the dawn. He met his father, he began a relationship with his long-lost brother, and he brought us together for Thanksgiving dinner. Yet he doesn't appear to be happy as a result."
Given that her fingers aren't long or elegant enough to steeple properly, Annie picks up another carrot stick and taps it on her front teeth while she considers Abed's theory. It's always easier to think of these conversations as scientific hypotheticals. She can give Abed a juicy disclosure, like her conversation with Jeff earlier, but doing so would break Jeff's confidence, even if she's pretty sure Jeff tells Abed private stuff all the time. There's also the fact that nine times out of ten, Abed refuses believe her input is unbiased.
Deciding it's safer to stick with devil's advocate tonight, Annie replies, "Well, one evening can't magically repair decades of anger, but let's say it does help. If Jeff is supposed to be happier, why did he throw a fit over Kevin?"
"That's what I'm trying to decide." Abed pauses the show and gives her his complete focus. "I think there's something else going on."
Snorting, she bites into her baby carrot. "A hidden agenda? From Jeff? That's crazy talk."
"I see your sarcasm," he hands her a potato chip, which she accepts, "And I raise you secret." He hands her another chip. "A trigger event of some kind occurred between the Inspecticon and Thanksgiving. I haven't figured out what, but I've broken down the social timeline and that's where his recent deviations began."
Annie puts the lid on the hummus container and relaxes in her sofa-chair, feeling suddenly full to the point of queasiness. "That's around when he started communicating with his father. It's probably that."
Shaking his head definitively, Abed rejects this. "He discovered something, or did something. Something beyond his family connections. And lately it's combined with his long-suppressed anger over his abandonment to create the horrific display of human awkwardness I captured in my documentary."
"Alright, I don't think I'm comfortable with this conversation," says Annie.
He zeroes in on her, his attention like a bird of prey. "Do you know what Jeff's hiding?"
"No," she denies honestly. "I've no idea if Jeff is hiding anything, or what it might be. But if he is, maybe you should leave him alone? He apologized to Kevin and the school, so it's over. Trust my emotional intuition on this one, Abed. You just finished laying his soul bare on film, which means for the next few weeks Jeff's psyche is off-limits to tinkering."
Abed makes a disagreeing noise, but at Annie's firm look he backs off. They finish out two episodes of the 1990's dramedy about Superman, Troy joining in for the second. He elects to sit side-by-side with Abed, letting Annie have a full chair to herself. Together, they make fun of John Shear's acting and debate Dean Cain's handsomeness against other leads of the franchise. It's fun, and when she turns in for the night a smile has latched onto her face that won't go away.
Curling herself under her blankets, Annie rethinks her conversation in the Student Center, and flicks on her phone's messenger app. She composes a note, and sends it before the impulse leaves her.
/ Why don't you come study with me tomorrow? If you're not too busy hanging out with Kevin ;) /
A bit of light teasing never hurts with Jeff, and soon her phone chimes in response. Grinning at the indicator, Annie tries not to think about Abed's theory. Wanting to spend time with him is not an excuse to pry, not when it's Jeff. Hanging out is what they do at Greendale. This will be more of the same, she's sure of it.
/ sure you want to be seen with me? i'm fairly unpopular in certain parts of this school /
Out of habit, she quick-types her reply: / It's in a basement, we aren't going to be seen. /
When Annie hits [SEND] she glances over the words again, and feels her stomach plummet into the earth.
Even though she's alone in her bedroom, she gives into the compulsion to check for observers: Abed has switched to an old Super Friends video game in the living room, and Troy should be in bed by now. The idea that they'd somehow intuit when she sends an unintentionally suggestive text message to Jeff is ludicrous, Annie knows this. Not even her roommates are that good. But the sensation of getting caught breaking a rule somewhere won't leave her gut, and she glances at the screen of the phone with her breaths short.
Jeff's thinking about it, he has to be. He's going to remember the yam murder, and assume she's manipulating him again. Or worse—and here Annie begins to panic—he'll assume she means it.
Does she want him to assume that? He's not dating anyone, he said it himself this afternoon. Right after casually reminding her of their first kiss when she was a lovesick freshman.
"No," Annie says to the messenger screen. Then again, firmer, "No!"
No way in hell is she going down this road. Got the t-shirt, paid the fees in social humiliation one time too many. Dreams of being thoroughly kissed against the wall of her apartment or seduced in an elevator are just that: fantasies limited to the boundaries of her imagination. Annie spent a year mistaking that for reality, and it ended with finding out that he was secretly hooking up with Britta. Even two years later, when she dares to let her imagination out to play for a bit, she still ends up explaining herself to a host of hotel staff people, an alcohol-soaked Jeff, and a six-foot blond supermodel pretending to slum it with the geeks.
Checking her display, Annie stifles a groan. It's been four minutes, nearly an epoch in phone etiquette. If she corrects her mistake with too much denial, he'll know that she took a while to think about it. Then she'll know that he'll know that she's thinking about it. Both of them will be thinking about it and both of them will know and Annie's not prepared to introduce yet another level of tension to her friendship with Jeff.
Inhaling deeply like they taught her to do in sophomore karate, she attempts to mitigate the damage as smoothly as possible.
/ Just bring your books and prepare to learn! We have a quiz next week. /
As if the universe wants to ensure that Annie's humiliation is unavoidable, Jeff's reply arrives less than a minute after she sends her text: / see you there /