It's an evening in Chicago the next time Troy sees Abed. He's at a hotel downtown for an elementary ed conference (because screw being the AC Messiah), and nursing a drink at the bar. Not a strong one-he has an eight AM session to go to- but he doesn't really know or like anyone here, and it's raining and too wet to go out anyway, so he's decided to people watch at the bar. After several years of conferences, Troy has decided that that is usually much better than cable.
It's a ritzier hotel with a cheeky bartender; there are signatures of moderately famous people who have stayed in the penthouse suite stuck on the walls of the bar. Troy wonders how many of them are real, and how many of them are faked, or if all of them are. The guy has been drying the same glass for twenty minutes . He's thin and weedy and looks kind of like a secret gangster from a movie-maybe he deals in counterfeit signatures? Troy wonders if he makes a lot of money doing that, like a guy who sells fake movie items on ebay.
Outside, rain begins to patter harder against the building. Lightning flashes, and somehow in time with it, the bartender slaps the glass down onto the counter. It clinks hollowly against the formica. He smiles at Troy, his creepy face illuminated oddly by the lightning (no way he's not a counterfeiter), and eyes the empty seats on either side of Troy again.
"Waiting for a friend, kid?" he says.
"Ah- " says Troy, and apparently everyone has terrific rhythm tonight, because in time with the thunder, the door opens. A tall, dark, thin figure in a trench and fedora saunters into the bar, and shit it's Abed. He tips his hat at the bartender, sits down at the bar, and swivels around to look at Troy. His eyes widen a bit in recognition.
There's a quote from Casablanca, something about gin joints and nostalgia that makes Troy's stomach clench, which is stupid because he can't even remember how it goes.
"Of all the gin joints in all the world, she walks into mine," says Abed, half under his breath; after all this time his thoughts still hook in with Troy's like the other half of a locket. Troy smiles shakily, his heart speeding up. He's unsure whether it's panic or excitement, but it's probably a mixture of both.
"Can I buy you a drink, Rick?" he asks. Abed pauses, and his mouth opens to respond, but then he shakes his head.
"The weather's appropriately dramatic. We should take this outside, underneath that curtain roof in the front."
He slides off the booth; it's not a question, and Troy doesn't treat it like one. He pulls a ten dollar bill out of his wallet, puts it on the counter, and follows Abed out of the bar and then out of the hotel.
Outside, the air is chilly, around 40 degrees, and both of their breaths are visible. The rain slams against the tarp and against the ground surrounding it. It looks like it might even hail later. Abed pulls a silver cigarette case out of his pocket, flips it open, and removes one for himself before extending the case to Troy. Troy shakes his head; maybe they're not as in tune as he thinks.
"I don't smoke. Bad example for my students."
Abed nods, and pockets the case. He pulls out a red lighter, a cheap one, and flicks it a few times before it produces a weak flame against the wind. He lights his cigarette; it glows a faint orange through the grey and black of the evening. He takes a draw on it, and then releases it in a thin, controlled trail of smoke.
"I figured. But it fits the scene to ask. Nostalgia and cigarettes go together like Nicholas Sparks and sappy romance," says Abed .
"Whatever happened to candy cigarettes?" asks Troy. He hopes it doesn't sound like pleading, because it's not, not really. He just wants to know.
Abed takes another draw on his cigarette, and releases the smoke again.
"Indie films. Hollywood. Coming of age. A lot of things." He smokes a third time . "Do you still eat them?"
His eyes are intense as he says this, boring through Troy like they always did way back when. Troy lost his ability to lie to Abed a long time ago.
"Sometimes." he says. Abed nods his head.
"Me too," says Abed. He throws his cigarette onto the ground, and crushes it with the heel of his shiny shoe. There's dead air for a moment before Troy says,
"You never wrote. I know it's probably dumb to care, because we have Facebook and cell phones and stuff, but you said you'd write. It was gonna be our thing."
Abed's staring at the ground like he wishes he hadn't crushed his cigarette. Now there's no reason for the pauses, and it's awkward, but Troy has to hear this answer. It's been ten years, two weeks, and three days since he last heard from Abed, and it sounds stupid and sappy, but he's never stopped counting.
"I tried writing," says Abed after a long silence. "Every time I wrote a letter though it ended up in a drawer. I wanted you to be able to move on. You never wrote either."
And Troy is momentarily speechless because there's a box of letters that he's started but never finished underneath his bed. He'd always thought that Abed had been the one who wanted to move on.
"I couldn't figure out what to say first without showing that what I wanted most was for you to come home. I didn't want to hold you back," he says after a long time.
Abed's face lights up a little. The locket in Troy's brain snaps into place again, because maybe it really was just waiting all this time to be closed. They've been together all this time by virtue of just missing each other at every turn.
Abed cocks his head, and it's so familiar that Troy bursts out into teary-eyed giggles. He's laughing harder than he has in a long time because nothing and everything about this situation is hilarious. A sharp snort sounds- Abed is laughing too. The years pass away against the sound of laughter and rain.
After they've calmed down a bit, Abed says, "Why are you in town? I'm at a Chicago film festival, but you still teach in Colorado, right? It's a Wednesday in February."
"Teachers' conference. I'm presenting tomorrow on the importance of play in kindergarten classrooms," says Troy.
Abed nods his head. "Sounds fun."
Troy cracks a smile, "The conference? Not really. A lot of those teachers are really stuck up. But the kids I work with are awesome. What's your film about?"
"It's a documentary about the reality of reality tv. It's called 'The Square Root of Reality'"
Troy nods. "Sounds cool."
"Thanks," says Abed.
The both of them stare out into the rain. "You know what would be really cool," they say simultaneously.
Troy laughs and says, "You first."
"Well, I was just thinking this weather might be good for a different kind of nostalgia. When was the last time you danced-"
"To 'Singing in the Rain'? Man, the last time was with you like ten years ago."
Abed smiles a small smile, and Troy's heart has always been too big for his brain to ever handle. It hurts because he already misses Abed again in the raw way that he hasn't in a long time, but maybe in the here and now that's ok if he can see Abed smile like that.
"Do you still know all the steps?" asks Abed.
"Is Batman awesome? Always. . . except for the movie where he has the bat nipples. In this case, the bat nipples are me being a little rusty, but, like, still awesome underneath," he says, grinning.
"Cool. Cool cool cool, says Abed, pulling out his smartphone. He flips to the song, and turns it on. The both of them nod in anticipation at each other, and then run into the storm head first.
If Troy's crying after the dancing and the letters and the raw joy and sadness and the kissing that follows against an old brick building a few blocks away, well, at least it's covered up by the rain.