Title: Decision Making for Health Care Administrators
Fandom/Pairing: Community; Jeff/Annie, Troy/Britta
Spoilers: Through s03e10
Word Count: 8,487
Disclaimer: Community and the related characters are © 2009-12 Sony Pictures Television Inc. and Universal Media Studios.
Notes: Written for the 2012 Milady/Milord Secret Admirers Fic Exchange for _carly_, who asked for "something that involves Jeff/Annie & Troy/Britta on a road trip." Thanks to office_bluth and veritas724 for their assistance with certain details of Annie's childhood; engelen for her insight into Jeff and Annie's relationship; and to crittab for her fine beta-reading.
The man behind the desk looked up as the door to his private office opened. "I wish I could say I'm surprised to see you here," he said, his eyes flashing with anger as Jeff and Annie entered the lavishly appointed room and sat down, uninvited, in the chairs on the opposite side of his desk. "I had a feeling Chad was too weak to get the job done." He leaned back in his chair and templed his hands, looking for all the world like a younger, less yellow Montgomery Burns. "Tell me, how did you find out?"
"It's kind of an interesting story," said Jeff. "It all started last Monday…"
Monday, January 21, 2013
"Guys, we've talked about this," Jeff said as he surveyed the study room table from the doorway. "I won't sign off on any rearrangement of the seating plan if Pierce and I end up on the same end of the table."
"Don't worry, we're not rearranging anything," Abed said. "I'm only in Pierce's seat because Troy and Britta needed to talk with Annie. I was originally going to sit in Annie's seat, to maintain positional symmetry—"
"—but the compositional balance is better with all of us clustered on this end of the table."
"Good call. As for you three," Jeff said, sitting down, "the answer is no."
"Get over yourself, Winger," Britta said with a sneer. "What makes you think we want anything from you?"
"Knowing you for three-and-a-half years." He studied their faces for a moment. "You and Troy need a big favor from me. And you dragged Annie into it because you thought I'd be more likely to agree if she was involved."
By the time he finished speaking, Britta's sneer had been replaced with a look of mingled shock and dismay, Troy's eyes had grown wide with surprise, and Annie's face was red with embarrassment. Abed gave him an enthusiastic thumbs-up, which Jeff acknowledged with a nod before turning back to the other three. "Well, was I close?"
"Fine," Britta said, slumping in her seat and crossing her arms across her chest petulantly. "We need a ride to a speech tournament at UC Colorado Springs."
The speech team was Dean Pelton's latest attempt to put Greendale on the map. At the beginning of the school year, Professors Whitman and Garrity had convinced Britta and Troy to join the newly formed team to compete in Duet Acting, a new event at the intercollegiate level. While neither were particularly talented actors, they had compensated by choosing a scene from the movie They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, allowing them to incorporate dancing into their performance.
"You know," Jeff said, "if I'd wanted to spend my weekends at speech tournaments I would've joined the team." He had, in fact, been invited by Professor Whitman to do just that, and while the rest of the group didn't know it, he had actually given the idea some serious thought. There were some events—extemporaneous speaking, impromptu, persuasion—that seemed to be firmly in his wheelhouse, and he figured his many years of courtroom experience would give him a significant edge over the kids he'd be competing against. He had even gone so far as to attend a tournament incognito, to get a feel for the events.
As it turned out, all three required more advance preparation than he was willing to commit to, so he thanked Whitman for the invitation and went on with his life. But he'd learned enough during his investigation to know that team members weren't generally expected to transport themselves to tournaments. "Don't you usually take the activity van to tournaments?"
"Vice Dean Laybourne canceled our reservation," Troy said. "He's taking the Air Conditioning Repair Annex students to a ski n' spa weekend at Vail Mountain Lodge. I'm totally not jealous," he added, his voice breaking a bit.
"What about the other members of the team?"
"They didn't want to spend an hour in the car with Britta."
"And you can't drive yourself because…"
"Troy doesn't have a car," Britta said, "and you've seen the pieces of crap Annie and I drive. We'd never make it there and back."
"So rent one."
"I don't have a credit card, and I can't afford the deposit the rental companies charge to pay with a debit card. And Troy and Annie are both under 25."
"I could lend you the money."
"I don't need your charity, Jeff!"
"Says the woman begging for a ride." Britta's lips tightened and she inhaled sharply, which Jeff knew signified barely contained rage. He didn't like being yelled at, so he backed off and turned his attention to Annie. "You're not even on the speech team. How did they talk you into this?"
"UCCS has a very well-regarded program in Health Care Administration, and I made arrangements to tour the campus and drop off my application."
"You can't apply online?"
"You can, but applying in person will set me apart from the competition," she said earnestly.
That was so crazy that Jeff didn't know what to say about it, so he turned back to Britta and Troy. "OK, what else? If you thought you needed Annie's help to get me to agree to this, there's gotta be more to it than just a ride to and from Colorado Springs."
"Are you taking Abed lessons?" Troy said, his eyes even wider than before.
Britta sighed. "It's a two-day tournament. And check-in is at 8:00 on Saturday morning."
Jeff raised his eyebrows. "Can you afford to pay for my hotel?"
"You can stay with Troy, the school's paying for separate rooms."
"You expect me to stay in the kind of hotel that Greendale can afford to pay for?" Jeff leaned back in his chair and regarded Troy, Annie, and Britta with a calculating gaze. "Fine," he said at last. "I could stand to get out of town for the weekend." Britta's mouth dropped open in surprise while Annie gave a little squeal of delight. "But I'm not getting up early on a Saturday. We'll drive down Friday night."
"Awesome!" Troy said. "I'll get the Dean to him add a second night to our reservation…"
"I don't want to be anywhere near a hotel the Dean picked out," Jeff said. "Have him cancel both rooms. I can get a better rate through the firm's travel department."
"Thanks, Jeff," Britta said, as sincerely as Jeff had ever heard her speak. "I gotta admit, I wasn't sure this was going to work, even with Annie in the picture."
Jeff spread his hands. "What can I say, you guys are the Whoville to my Grinch. I can feel my heart growing another size as we speak."
"Don't push it. C'mon, Troy, let's go practice."
Once they had gone, Jeff picked up his phone and began scrolling through his text messages. "With all the 'practicing' they do, you'd think their scores would be better."
"They were practicing in the Dreamatorium the other day," Annie said, leaning toward Jeff conspiratorially, "and when I peeked in, they were just slow dancing and staring into each other's eyes. It was kind of adorable."
"You agreed to Britta's request pretty fast." Jeff glanced up from his phone to find Abed staring intently at him, head tilted to one side. "Much faster than your character—"
"Sorry, faster than someone of your character would be expected to." He stared at Jeff a while longer. "You were already planning to go to Colorado Springs this weekend."
Annie gasped and turned to look at Jeff, who was wearing a wide grin. "Jeff! Why did you put Britta through all that if you were already going?"
"Because it was fun," Jeff said, still grinning. "And now she owes me a favor, so don't tell."
Annie crossed her arms with an offended huff. "I'll consider it. So why are you going to Colorado Springs?"
"You know how I've been doing some consulting work for my old law firm?" Annie nodded. "One of the cases I've been working on is being handled out of our Colorado Springs office, and the lead partner on the case wants to get together to talk about courtroom strategy."
"On a Saturday?"
"The law is a 24-7 kind of job," Jeff said in lofty tone. "Plus we can bill the client at a higher rate. Hey, how are you with redaction tape? If you're willing to do a little work, I can get one of our clients to pay for your hotel room."
Annie rolled her eyes. "Isn't that sort of thing that Tom Cruise used to get his firm in trouble with the Mafia in The Firm?" Abed asked.
"Trust me, the cost of two weekend-rate nights at a Courtyard is a lot less that what we'd bill them if a paralegal did it. I'll be doing them a favor." He looked at his watch. "Wow, look at that, two favors in ten minutes. I am on fire today."
Friday, January 25, 2013
"This is going to be so fun!" Annie said, beaming with enthusiasm as she slid into the front seat of Jeff's Lexus. "We haven't done a road trip in so long!"
"I just hope we don't get shot at this time," Troy said, getting into the back.
"Or nearly drown," Britta added, getting in on the other side.
"Uh, you weren't even there for that," Troy said. "You were back here having secret sex with Jeff."
"So? That doesn't mean I want to drown."
"I can still change my mind about this, you know," Jeff said, bringing an end to the conversation. "Everyone buckled in?" Britta let loose a little snort of laughter. "What? If I get pulled over, I don't need a seat belt violation on top of the speeding ticket."
"I always took you for the kind of guy who would try to argue his way out of a ticket," Britta said.
"It pays for a defense lawyer to pretend to be humble when dealing with cops," Jeff said as he drove out of the parking lot. "You never know who might end up testifying against your client."
"When I was a kid," Annie said, "my dad told me that it wasn't possible to start the car until all the seat belts were fastened."
"My uncle Lamont's car was like that," Troy said. "Except with his, it wouldn't start until I blew into a tube attached to the steering wheel."
Annie broke the awkward silence. "Who wants to play a game?" Jeff and Britta let out twin groans. "I have cards, Mad Libs—"
"Ooh, Mad Libs!" Troy said excitedly. "That's my favorite phrasal template game!"
"They still make those?" Britta said. Annie withdrew a pad from her bag and handed it to Britta. "'Sleepover Party Mad Libs'? God, why can't we have one thing that doesn't reinforce gender stereotypes? This is how the patriarchy keeps women down, by telling little girls they should only be interested in sleepovers and princesses and unicorns—"
Troy grabbed the pad out of Britta's hand and handed it back to Annie. "Never mind, Mad Libs are ruined for me now. I'll take the cards." Annie dug through her bag and pulled out a deck of playing cards, the backs of which pictured a princess riding a unicorn. "Yeah, better not. What else you got?"
"The military-industrial complex—" Britta began.
"Pass. What else?"
"Sold." Annie handed it back to Troy, and soon he and Britta were flinging trash talk back and forth across the back seat.
"This will be fun to listen to for an hour," Jeff said.
"We could talk about something else," Annie said. "Tell me about the case you're working on."
"Actually, you'd probably be pretty interested in that. The client is an assisted-living community in Cripple Creek. The daughter of one of their former residents has sued them for wrongful death—"
"And you're defending them?" Annie said, sounding outraged. "I know all about those kinds of places. Cutting corners to save a few bucks so they can give fat bonuses to their CEO."
"Easy there, Britta Jr. First of all," Jeff said, holding up his index finger, "no one's getting a fat bonus because they're barely breaking even. Second," he continued, raising another finger, "the reason they're barely breaking even is that they pour almost everything back into the facility. The quality of care they provide is impeccable, and we've got a dozen residents and family members ready to testify to that, including the widow of the guy who died. It's a nuisance suit, brought by a grieving daughter who can't accept that sometimes people just die."
Annie's face was bright red by the time Jeff finished talking. "I—"
"It's OK, I know you've heard me brag about getting scumbags off the hook. But I brag about those because they were hard. This one? It's nothing. The plaintiff has a weak case. My guess is that once she rests her case, the judge will summarily dismiss it."
"Why are we having a meeting on a Saturday to discuss courtroom strategy? Because the owner of the home was the managing partner's fraternity brother. Because judges are unpredictable, and if we have to present our case and we botch it, we get sued for malpractice." Jeff paused, then added, "and like I said before, because we can bill more this way. Plaintiff's lawyers, they usually work on contingency and take a cut of whatever they win for the client. Defense lawyers don't have that luxury."
"So you gouge your clients for the cost of unnecessary meetings and weekend hotel stays for an out-of-town consultant and his friends?"
"Jeez, what's with you tonight? You sound like you just came from an Occupy Greendale rally."
"Sorry. I'm just nervous about tomorrow."
Jeff scoffed. "Please. If you're not the best applicant they get all year, I'll eat my hat."
Annie blushed. "Do you even own a hat?"
"I'll join the hat club and eat one of theirs," he said, smirking. "Anyway, this thing tomorrow, it's not like an admissions interview or anything, right? Just a tour?"
"Just a tour, but with a member of the admissions committee," Annie said. "If I don't make a good impression, he could poison the others against me. I've worked so hard to get my life plan back on track after my breakdown…" She trailed off and stared out the window.
After a few minutes of listening to Tory and Britta trade insults, Jeff asked Annie, "What exactly was the original plan? I know Greendale wasn't part of it…"
"I was supposed to be at Amherst and applying to Wharton," Annie said.
"I think you could get into Wharton."
Annie beamed. "Thanks! But I couldn't afford it. Honestly, even UCCS will be a stretch. But I've dreamed of this ever since I was in fifth grade, and I'm not—"
"You dreamed of being a health care administrator when you were ten?
"Yes. That, and marrying Chad Michael Murray."
"Ugh." "Shut up!"
The conversation ebbed and flowed over the next 45 minutes, with Troy and Britta chiming in occasionally between games, and when they found themselves on the outskirts of Colorado Springs, none of them could quite believe the trip had passed so quickly. As they passed a sign listing the exits for the various universities in the area, Troy said, "The Air Force Academy, that's where my dad wanted me to go."
Britta gave a disgusted grunt. "What kind of father would want their only son to join the military in the middle of two wars?"
"That's what my mom said. Nana was all for it, though. But I didn't have the grades for it. Plus airplanes sort of freak me out a little bit."
"I almost went to Colorado College," Jeff said. "To the extent I almost went anywhere."
"Really?" said Annie, sounding doubtful. "That's not your kind of school at all."
"Well, I thought it was," Jeff said. "That one course at a time thing sounds like a pretty sweet deal. But then I found out that classes met five days a week for two to four hours a day."
"Ouch," Britta said.
"Ultimately, I decided that the 'no course at a time' plan at Ski Slope U was more my speed."
"Well, I'm glad you ended up at Greendale instead," Annie said. "Without you putting the study group together, I never would have met my best friends."
"Oh, that's nice!" Britta said, reaching forward to put her hand on Annie's shoulder.
"'Oh, that's nice'?" Jeff said incredulously.
"The situation seemed to call for it. And since Shirley isn't here…"
"Pierce and Abed aren't here either, are you going to quote some horribly racist thing you heard someone say in a movie?"
Britta's response was forestalled by their arrival at the hotel, a Hyatt Place near the UCCS campus. They checked in and went up to their rooms, an adjoining pair of mini-suites on the third floor. To Jeff's eyes, it was just another business-class hotel room, but Troy reacted like it was the most lavish place he'd ever seen. "Oooh, nice! Do you think the girls' room is like this?"
"I'm sure it's identical," Jeff said as he went to claim the bed near the window.
Troy flung open the door to the adjoining room and started pounding on the other. "Annie! Open up so you can see how identical these rooms are!"
Jeff frowned. "Why would—" He stopped and rolled his eyes as the other door opened and Annie stepped into the room, looking around her in wide-eyed wonder.
"Jeff!" she said, smiling brightly. "These rooms are amazing. Thank you so much for arranging this!" She stepped closer and lowered her voice, as if to impart a bit of confidential information. "I looked up the hotel the Dean picked out for us on TripAdvisor…" She shuddered.
"Hey, no problem. Enlightened self-interest is my specialty."
Still smiling, Annie turned back toward the adjoining door. "How do I get back to my room? There's no handle on this side."
Jeff looked over and saw that Troy had, for some reason, shut the door to the other room. "Just go into the hallway."
"I didn't bring my room key with me," Annie said exasperatedly. She knocked on the door. "Troy, stop fooling around and open the door! I have work I need to do tonight!"
It was Britta who answered, her voice muffled by the heavy wooden door. "Sorry, we're practicing!" As she spoke, a knock came at the hallway door. Opening it, Annie found her backpack sitting on the floor. She grabbed the bag and turned back to Jeff. "Jeff! Stop smirking and do something!"
"I don't want to watch them practicing, do you?"
"Well… no, but… I have a paper—"
"Your laptop is in that backpack, and there's a desk exactly like the one next door right in front of you."
"But don't you have work you need to do for your meeting tomorrow?"
"I have to look through the file, read a brief or two, but I was going to do that here on the bed," Jeff said. "I wouldn't be able to see the TV from there."
"Jeff!" Annie said, scandalized. "You work with the TV on?"
"Of course I work with the TV on. Don't worry, I'll keep the volume low."
Annie still looked doubtful, but nevertheless sat down at the desk and pulled a textbook, a pair of notebooks, and her laptop out of her backpack. Once everything was arranged to her satisfaction, she started typing at a furious pace, stopping now and then to flip through the textbook or consult her notes. Jeff, meanwhile, settled himself on the bed with a thick expandable file and a legal pad and began to read and make notes while a Project Runway rerun played on the TV in front of him.
About 36 minutes later, the alarm on Annie's cell phone went off. "90-second study break!" she said, standing up from her chair and stretching.
"Sorry, I don't follow Greendale rules when I'm out of town," Jeff said, though he put down the document he'd been reading and rose from the bed. "By the way, what time do you need to be at UCCS for your meeting tomorrow? Maybe I can drop you off there on my way downtown."
"Ten o'clock. Which reminds me, can you do me a favor?"
"If it doesn't require too much effort, sure."
Annie crouched down and started rummaging through her backpack. "Would you mind reading over my application essay?" she asked, holding out a bright yellow folder. "I've spent so much time on it that I've lost all perspective."
"Yeah, sure," Jeff said, taking the folder. It was, he noticed, nearly the exact shade as the yellow cardigan he'd seen Annie wear so many times. Tossing it onto the bed, he said, "I'm gonna run get a soda. You want anything?"
"A bottle of water?"
"OK. Hydronically fortified, right?"
Annie beamed, obviously pleased he remembered her preferences. "If they have it."
By the time Jeff returned to the room, Annie had resumed her furious typing and gave only a distracted "thanks" as he placed a bottle of water on the desk. Returning to his bed, he picked up the yellow folder and leafed through it. It was, he decided, as pure an example of Annie's relentless drive and her boundless need to overachieve as could be contained in a single folder: a paper application, which she had filled out on a typewriter—where had she found one of those?; scores on both the GRE and the GMAT—he was fairly certain only one or the other was necessary; an unofficial transcript from Greendale, with a note attached saying the official sealed transcript was being sent under separate cover; a résumé, printed on richly textured, 100% cotton paper that probably cost at least quarter per sheet; a half-dozen letters of recommendation; and, behind all that, her statement of interest, which he pulled out the folder to read. "Do you want me to mark up this copy?" he asked. "Not that I expect to need to."
"Go ahead and write on that one," she said, continuing to type as she spoke. "I can print a new copy in the business center downstairs if I need to."
Jeff settled back and started to read. The first half of the essay addressed Annie's long-held dream of being a health care administrator, making it clear to Jeff why she had reacted so badly to hearing about the case he was working on. On Annie's eighth birthday, her maternal grandmother had passed away in a managed-care facility called Greendale Acres. The autopsy had shown that at the time of her death, she had been severely malnourished, riddled with bedsores, and covered in bedbug bites from head to toe. Jeff was revolted, but not particularly surprised; he recognized the facility as one that had been shut down by the state and that he remembered as being described as a "pesthole."
The essay went on to describe how young Annie had avidly followed the news about Greendale Acres being shut down and the malpractice suits that followed. She had been appalled to learn how callous the facility's administrators had been toward the health and well-being of their residents and how ruthless they had been in pursuit of a bigger bottom line, and had resolved that she would go into healthcare management so she could keep an eye out for similar abuses from the inside.
Jeff paused in his reading to consider the timeline. If Annie's grandmother had died when she was eight and there was clear evidence that she had been maltreated even then, why had it taken two years for Greendale Acres to be shut down? The case had been big news, and as he recalled it, the state had launched its investigation within weeks of it being filed. That suggested it had not been Annie's family that brought the suit. He spent a moment or two pondering that, then continued reading.
Annie's desire to go into health care administration had been enhanced by her experience in rehab. The Emerson Center was the polar opposite of Greendale Acres in every respect. Its staff was fanatically devoted to the care of their patients, and representatives from the private foundation that ran the facility made regular visits to check conditions and to make sure needs of the patients were being met. The center's executive director, a former addiction counselor, took his meals in the cafeteria with the patients and personally hosted a weekly "salon" where anyone could drop in to talk about whatever was on his or her mind. (He had also, Jeff noted, provided a letter of recommendation, praising her drive and determination to conquer her addiction and her subsequent volunteer work at the center.) Her experience there had further convinced her that a dedicated, caring administrator was vitally important to the success of a healthcare organization and strengthened her resolve to pursue her dream.
The rest of the essay was not as personal; it explained why she was a qualified candidate for the program despite her lack of professional experience in the field. It was, apparently, fairly unusual for someone to enter a program such as the one she was applying for right out of college, but she made a compelling case for her admission. He had read more than a few legal briefs that were not half as well-written or convincingly argued.
Jeff put down the essay again. Annie had experienced more hardship and overcome more obstacles than many people twice her age. So why, he wondered, did he have so much trouble treating her as an adult? He'd gotten better about it, but he still had a tendency to leap to her defense, to try to rescue her, despite knowing how capable she was. Even worse, he sometimes found Annie playing along, letting him do his thing instead of handing it herself. She'd just done it earlier tonight. He pinched the bridge of his nose, disgusted with himself.
He was broken from his reverie by Annie's voice. "Well?" she said, sounding anxious. "Do you think it's OK?"
He laughed slightly under his breath, amused by her apparently sincere but wholly unjustified concern that it wasn't good enough. "If you were a lawyer," he said, "you'd never lose a motion."
"That means… it's good?
"OK, now you're just fishing for compliments." Annie blushed. "Yes, it's very good. You make a convincing case for yourself, and they'd be fools not to let you into the program." He paused, then added, "I, uh, I guess I understand why you went off when I started talking about my case earlier. Must've hit a little close to home."
Annie sighed and leaned forward in her chair, resting her arms on the desk. "Yeah," she said, staring at the wall in front of her. "It was pretty traumatic. For all of us. It was a big part of what caused my parents to divorce."
Jeff nodded. "Sure, that'll happen. One of them, usually the wife, can't get over the loss of a loved one and the husband claims emotional abandonment."
Annie laughed bitterly. "Not my mom. My dad, though… see, his mother, my Bubbe, she used to drink a lot, so they weren't that close when he was growing up, When he and my mom started dating in high school, he sort of latched onto Gamma, that's what I called her when I was little—"
"—as a surrogate mother. So he was really upset when she died. And angry."
"Can't say I blame him. What you said in your essay was pretty horrifying."
"He wanted to sue Greendale Acres, but my mom refused. She didn't want everyone to know she'd put her mother in a substandard home."
"That sounds familiar," Jeff said wryly, remembering that she had wanted to brush Annie's pill addiction under the rug for similar reasons.
"I know, right? Anyway," she continued, "it drove a wedge between my mom and dad, and the marriage just fell apart after that. So of course I assumed that if I didn't live up to her every expectation, she'd stop loving me too." She gave another bitter laugh. "I guess I was right about that."
"Your mom is a narcissistic, controlling bitch," Jeff said, "and if she doesn't understand how awesome you are, she doesn't deserve to have you in her life. Hope she enjoys having all her friends ask why her grandkids never visit." He replaced Annie's essay in the yellow folder and stood up. "I think after a story like that, we need ice cream."
Annie sat straight up in her chair, a shocked expression on her face. "I'm not done with my paper!"
"You can finish it when we get back. Or tomorrow. It's probably not even due for another two weeks."
"Ten days," she admitted. "But that's not the point! You can't just let these things go to the last minute, Jeff."
"Mm. Good point. I'm sure your mother would never approve."
Annie glared up at him, but with a trace of a smile on her face. "Low blow, Mojo Jojo"
"C'mon, up," Jeff said, pulling her from her chair without any resistance on her part. He inclined his head toward the still-closed door to the adjoining room. "Should we get Hepburn and Tracy before we go?"
Annie smiled mischievously. "You know what?" she said, "if they wanted ice cream, they should have thought of that before they locked me out of my room."
"Well, in that case…" Jeff opened the hallway door and sketched a short bow in Annie's direction. "Milady?"
Annie's smile widened, and she curtsied as she replied, "Milord," before striding regally into the hall. Jeff followed and offered his arm, which she took, and together they headed off in search of ice cream.
Monday, January 28, 2013
The man behind the desk glared at Jeff. "Tell me, Mr. Winger, does the word 'interesting' mean something different at Greendale than it does here?"
Jeff looked at Annie. "He doesn't like my story."
She shrugged. "Eh. There's no accounting for taste."
"Do you want to take over?"
"No, I like how you tell it. But we do have class this afternoon…"
"So you're saying I should drag it out even more." She responded with a light slap to his shoulder. "OK, I'll try to speed things up a little. Where was I?"
"Right!" He turned back to face the man behind the desk. "We had ice cream. On Saturday…"
Saturday, January 26, 2013
Jeff arrived at the UCCS campus following his meeting and was annoyed to find that there was no parking to be found anywhere near where he had arranged to meet Annie, Britta, and Troy. Thanks to the speech tournament, the public lots nearby were completely full, and he'd been chased away from a faculty lot by a police officer who refused to accept his argument that a parking permit issued by one public college or university should be valid at any other such school. The lot he had ended up in was not really that far from where he needed to be, no more than ten minutes away on foot, but in the moment it was enough to make him think fondly of Greendale.
As he walked across the campus, he thought back on everything that had happened since arriving in Colorado Springs the night before and if the universe was trying to tell him something. When he and Annie had returned to the hotel with their ice cream, they found the door to the adjoining room was still closed. It remained so for the rest of the evening, and by 10:00 p.m. they both had accepted that they were going to be spending the night in the same room. This had prompted no small degree of agitation on Annie's part, because her pajamas and toiletries were still in the other room.
Jeff had suggested she go down to the lobby and get a replacement key, but she had been reluctant, pointing out that if Britta and Troy were really practicing, she didn't want to interrupt them, and that if "practicing" turned out to be a euphemism for something else, she really don't want to interrupt them. Moreover, she had been worried that they might have fallen asleep, in which case she didn't want to risk waking Troy, having learned the hard way that he reacted very poorly to being startled awake.
She likewise hadn't wanted to go down to the lobby to purchase new toiletries. Jeff had agreed with her on that point, albeit for a different reason; she was primarily concerned about the outrageous prices charged by hotel gift shops, whereas he demanded a higher quality product than they typically stocked. So they had gone out once again, this time to a nearby Walgreens, where she had found not just the personal care items she needed but also an oversized T-shirt to use as a nightshirt. Which, Jeff had been surprised to see, had looked much less sexy on her than he had imagined. The shirt was so long and so shapeless that it actually left more to the imagination than what she usually wore.
Regardless of that fact, Annie had dominated Jeff's dreams that night. Strange, slightly disturbing dreams of watching TV with her snuggled into his side, of walking with her hand-in-hand, of leaning over and kissing her as they sat together under a starry sky. Dreams of domesticity and romance were utterly foreign to him, and left him feeling somewhat disquieted.
He had awoken, far earlier than he would have liked but nevertheless feeling refreshed, to find Annie hugging Troy as he sobbed into her shoulder. After having spending the entire night in Britta's room—in separate beds, he had said, not that Jeff cared or believed him—he had come back into "his" room, spotted the empty ice cream dishes in the trash can, and promptly broken down in tears, wailing hysterically about having been excluded from the trip to the ice cream shop. Annie had been doing her best to calm him down, rubbing his back soothingly and promising in a low, comforting tone not to leave him out the next time they went out for a treat.
Once Troy had calmed down and Britta had been dragged from her bed, the four friends had discussed their plans for the day. Troy and Britta needed to be at UCCS for registration by 8:00 a.m., so they would take the hotel shuttle to the campus, while Jeff would drop Annie off in front of the business school before heading downtown. They would all meet at the University Center for lunch, after which Jeff and Annie would sit in on Britta and Troy's afternoon round.
Jeff's meeting had not gone as he'd expected. His meeting with the partner in charge of the Cripple Creek case had, much to his surprise, turned into a meeting with a half-dozen partners, covering not just that one case but several others currently being handled out of the Colorado Springs office. It had gone well—very well, he thought, considering he knew next to nothing or less about most of the cases being discussed—but he didn't much care for surprises, and the experience had unsettled him.
He was in front of the building where he'd dropped off Annie that morning when a flash of bright yellow ahead of him caught his eye. He saw a man coming toward him wearing a brown overcoat and carrying a folder Jeff recognized as the one that held Annie's application. This was, presumably, the person from the business school admissions committee with whom Annie had met, and Jeff was immediately impressed by the quality of the coat he was wearing. A John Varvatos, if he wasn't mistaken… last year's collection, but still very stylish, much more so than Jeff would have expected to see on someone working on a college campus. Nice shoes, too.
He was still studying the man's wardrobe when the man angled to the left and, without breaking stride, tossed the yellow folder into a trash can. Jeff stopped dead in his tracks, scarcely able to believe what he'd just seen. As the man in the brown coat passed him, Jeff turned and watched him enter the building that housed the business school. Once the man was out of sight, Jeff approached the trash can and peered inside. His eyes had not deceived him; a bright yellow folder sat inside. He reached inside and pulled it out, confirming that it was indeed Annie's application folder.
A red-hot rage shot through Jeff. He didn't know what the hell was going on, but he intended to find out. He turned back toward the building the man in the brown coat had entered, ready to tear the place apart looking for him.
But before he could take a single step, he happened to glance down at the folder in his hand, and suddenly his mind was flooded with memories of the previous evening. He was doing it again. Less than a day after realizing how foolish it was to constantly run to the rescue of someone who had proved over and over that she was more than capable of taking care of herself, here he was, ready to do exactly that.
And really, what right did he have to do anything? Annie was the aggrieved party here, not him. She should be the one to decide how to handle the situation. He pulled out his phone and placed a call.
Monday, January 28, 2013
"You should've seen the look on his face when Annie showed up at his door holding that folder," Jeff said. "He was spilling his guts before she was even two steps into his office."
"Chad told us everything," Annie said. "Including how you got him to play along with your diabolical scheme. Threatening to fire someone's mom is low even for you, Dean Spreck."
"I would hardly call it a threat," the Dean said coldly. "I merely… reminded him how hard it can be for women of a certain age to find work in this kind of economic climate. Once he grasped that, he was only too happy to help me get my revenge on you for betraying me three years ago." He sighed. "It's a pity. Madeline has been a good secretary."
"The space bus?" Annie said incredulously. "That's what this was all about?"
"No one crosses City College and gets away with it," Spreck said venomously. "You may have won this battle, Ann, but I promise you, we will win the war!"
"Oh, I don't know about that." Annie reached into her bag and pulled out a digital voice recorder. "I recorded the whole thing. If you try anything else against me or any of my friends, or if you fire Chad's mother, I'll send copies to the media and to every member of City College's Board of Trustees."
"Digital recordings can be faked. The board will never take the word of a drug addict and a fake lawyer over mine."
"You know," Jeff said, smirking, "so many people get that wrong. I lied about graduating from Columbia, but I did graduate from law school. And even if my license to practice is suspended for the time being, I still know how to prepare an affidavit." Annie reached into her bag again and pulled out an envelope, which she handed to Dean Spreck. "You can keep that copy," Jeff continued as the Dean opened the envelope and scanned the document within. "My old firm has the original. They even notarized it for free."
"The war's over," Annie said as the Dean crumpled the affidavit in his fist. "You lost."
"Again," Jeff added.
"We'll see ourselves out." With that, Annie and Jeff rose from their seats and swept from the office, sparing not a single glance at the man glaring hatefully at them.
* * *
"I think that went pretty well!" Annie said as she and Jeff walked across the City College parking lot toward Jeff's car.
"I can't disagree," Jeff said. "I'm proud of how you handled all this, Annie. I couldn't have done it any better."
Annie beamed. "Thanks! But—" She paused. "Would you be offended if I said I was a little surprised that you didn't try to take care of it yourself? I mean—"
"I almost did," he admitted. "I was ready to… well, I don't know exactly what I was ready to do, but I think it would've involved rampaging through the business school like the Incredible Hulk."
"Yeah, it was a good idea to call someone who knew where Chad's office was. I don't think the campus police would have appreciated you running around yelling, 'JEFF SMASH' at the top of your voice."
"They were pretty unreasonable. Can you believe they made me park all the way on the other side of campus?"
"But if they hadn't, you wouldn't have seen Chad throwing away my application."
"Good point. But look, that's not why I called you. I—" He stopped a moment to consider how best to proceed with this conversation. "Annie, you are an incredible woman. Five years ago, you were running through plate-glass windows to get away from imaginary robots, and look at you now. Top of the class and a shoo-in for admission to a graduate program that most people need years of professional experience to be qualified for. There is no way in hell I could've accomplished that if I'd been in your shoes. You are the last person to need someone running around trying to rescue you, but that's exactly what I spend half my time doing. I mean, the whole 'milady/milord' thing—"
"I like that!"
"Yeah, but you're no damsel in distress, and my armor's pretty tarnished." He shook his head. "Treating you like that, it's stupid. You deserve better than that."
By this time, they had reached Jeff's car. Once they were both in the car and buckled up, Annie said, "so… is that why nothing happened after the Tranny Dance? Because you thought I deserved someone better?"
"What?" He scoffed. "No. We've had this conversation, Annie, every woman deserves to be with me, and vice versa. It's… it's complicated."
This time it was Annie's turn to scoff. "I've heard that before too. And in case you hadn't noticed," she said, gesturing around her, "we're not in a men's room this time."
Jeff sighed. "Yeah." He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly as he composed himself. "OK. Will you stipulate that we find each other very attractive and that in general we have a very affectionate friendship?"
Annie pursed her lips in amusement at the legalistic phrasing. "So stipulated."
"Fine. Getting back to that men's room conversation, yes, sometimes I want you very much."
"I'm getting there." He paused a moment to gather his thought. "When we talked after the Tranny Dance, I told you I was concerned about what people would think of the age difference. And that's true to a degree, but it's not the whole story.
"When Michelle broke up with me… I'd never put myself out there like that before, and when she dumped me, it hurt. There was no way I was going to put myself in that position again, so when she and Britta both decided to announce they loved me, I ran. And there you were, and you weren't asking for anything. You were just happy to see me, and you looked so beautiful, and… well, you know.
"But once I had a chance to think about it… I knew what kind of relationship you had with Vaughn, and I figured you'd expect that kind of relationship from me if we got together, and that was the last thing I wanted, because I was afraid of getting dumped again. Believe me, if I had thought that all you wanted was no-strings-attached sex…" He glanced over and saw Annie looking very uncomfortable. "But you didn't, And to be honest, even if you had, I might not have been able to do it."
"Because of the age thing?"
"Because of the age thing. Partly, it was because I didn't want people thinking of me as the Humbert Humbert of Greendale, but mostly it was because when I looked at you, I saw the person who said, 'I'm an 18-year-old girl, and you made me cry'. It's hard to move past those early impressions."
"I was 19 by then."
"I wouldn't call that a meaningful difference," Jeff said, "and regardless I didn't want to make you cry again. Look, the point is, I knew we wanted different things, or thought I did, and I decided it would be a mistake to take things any further than we did. I think it was the right decision… but it wasn't just my decision to make. I was so focused on trying to save you from something I thought would be bad for you, I didn't think at all about what you thought. So nothing happened after the Tranny Dance because I thought I knew more about what you needed than you did. And if we're talking about what you deserved, you deserved the chance make your own decisions and fight your own battles without some jerk sticking his pointy nose into your business."
A small smile played across Annie's face. "So you're saying I deserve someone who respects me, and knows I'm not a teenager anymore. Someone who stops himself from running around like the Hulk because he knows I could take down the bad guy by myself."
Jeff blinked, honestly surprised by what Annie had just said. Was that what he was saying? He thought back on what had been going through his head prior to his unexpected encounter with Chad on Saturday, and it occurred to him that maybe the universe was trying to tell him something. He glanced sideways at Annie, who still wore the same small smile. "Maybe that is what I'm saying," he said slowly. "But it's up to you to decide if that's the kind of guy you might be interested in."
Her smile widened slightly. "Mm. Maybe."
They rode a while in silence. "Did you ever meet my old boss, Ted?" Jeff said suddenly. Annie, clearly taken aback by the unexpected and unusual question, could only shake her head no. "Apparently he had some concerns about me coming back to the firm after I graduate this spring."
"He's not reneging on his offer to rehire you, is he?" Annie asked, sounding concerned.
"No. But he was worried that my…" Jeff groped for the right word. "…effectiveness in the courtroom might be compromised."
"Because of the fake degree."
"Right. Some of the judges around here wanted to see me disbarred, not just suspended, and Ted was worried that if I come before them…"
Annie gave an offended gasp. "They wouldn't!"
"They might. In fact, one time, I saw this one—" Jeff broke off, shaking his head. "Never mind. Anyway, my meeting this last Saturday, it started out as a strategy session with the lead partner on my case, but more and more partners kept showing up, and they started asking me a bunch of questions about their cases, and at the end of the meeting they told me that once I graduate, they want me to work there instead of the Greendale office. I told them I'd think about it."
A look of comprehension came over Annie's face. "That's why that one guy, Brian, said, 'made up your mind already?' when we went to your firm to get Chad's confession notarized!" Jeff nodded. "So… have you?"
He smirked. "Mm. Maybe." He adopted a thoughtful tone. "There's a lot to be said for the idea. It's a smaller office, so it puts me in a position to make partner sooner. And it's not like I wouldn't know anyone down there." He turned into the Greendale lot and parked in his reserved spot before turning to Annie and giving her a cheeky grin. "I mean, did you see Chad's coat? It'd be nice to hang out with someone with decent fashion sense for a change."
Annie swatted his arm and got out of the car. As Jeff fell into step beside her, she said, "you know, if you were trying to be my knight in shining armor, I shouldn't have been saying 'milord' back to you all these years."
"That suggests an entirely different sort of relationship than one between a knight and his lady," she said. "How does 'my good sir' sound to you?"
"I think," Jeff said, reaching out and taking her hand in his, "that I prefer 'milord'."
Monday, July 29, 2013
The man behind the desk looked up as the door to his private office opened. "Well, this is a nice surprise!" he said, his eyes flashing with delight as Jeff and Annie entered the lavishly appointed room. "Good to see you, Jeff!"
"Thanks, Brian, you too," Jeff said, shaking the other man's hand. "Your secretary said I wouldn't be interrupting…"
"Not at all, not at all. I was due for a little break anyway. That's the secret to reviewing real estate transactions, you gotta take a short break every half-hour or so or you'll go crazy."
"Yeah, I've heard something like that before," Jeff said, ignoring Annie's muffled snort of laughter, "Speaking of which, I don't know if you remember my friend Annie…"
"Of course, from last January," Brian said, shaking her hand. "Nice to see you again. Why don't you have a seat on the sofa, it'll be more comfortable." Once they were all settled, he said, "Jeff, I can't tell you how thrilled we all are to have you joining us here. Ted's said nothing but great things, and you really impressed the senior partners at that little job interview we sprang on you."
"I'm pretty excited about it myself. It'll be good to get a fresh start after everything that happened up in Greendale."
"Congratulations on the degree, by the way. Both of you."
"Thanks!" Annie said brightly. "It was tough at times, but I managed to pull him through."
Brian roared with laughter. "Oh, I like you. Is she part of the package, Jeff?"
Jeff smiled fondly at Annie. "Unless she decides otherwise."
Brian laughed again. "So is this a social call, or…"
"Well, if you've got a minute or two," Jeff said as Annie reached into her bag, pulled out an envelope, and handed it to Brian, "we were wondering if you'd be willing to look over a lease for us."