Fandom/Pairing: Community (plus Law & Order in Part VIII); Jeff/Annie (Jack/Claire in Part VIII)
Spoilers: Through 3x19 for Community, 20x16 for Law & Order, 1x10 for Law & Order: Los Angeles, and 13x1 for Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.
Rating/Warnings: PG. Implied past character death in epilogue.
Word Count: 1,645 (of 18,470)
Disclaimer: Community and related characters and settings are © Sony Pictures Television Inc. and Open 4 Business Productions LLC. Law & Order and related characters are © Universal Network Television.
Notes: Thanks to fox1013, whose insight into reality show casting and production were invaluable in nailing down this story's timeline; to my beta-reader dearygirl, whose comments and suggestions helped me make this a better (and longer!) story; to cherrycoloured, who I assume will probably eventually get around to posting the artwork I think she may have created to accompany this story; to jacqui_hw for organizing community_bbang; and especially to Leo Rosten and Dan Harmon, without whose talent and imagination I would not have been inspired to write this story.
Jeff paused the football game he was watching and turned to see his son Daniel standing at the bottom of the basement stairs, bouncing on his toes and holding an OmniPad in his hand. "Hey, kiddo, what's up?"
"Mom says you need to come upstairs," Daniel said. "There's someone here to see you."
Jeff raised his eyebrows in surprise. He hadn't been expecting any visitors today. "Who is it?"
"Dunno, some old lady. Can I link my Pad to the Screen?"
"Until I get back downstairs." Jeff rose and headed for the stairs, narrowly avoiding a collision with Daniel, who had darted forward and vaulted over the back of the sofa. "Don't let your mother see you doing that," Jeff said mildly, then went upstairs. He emerged into the kitchen to find his wife scooping loose tea leaves into an infuser. An electric kettle sat on the counter nearby, next to a silver tray holding a small teapot and a pair of matching tea cups. "Hey, where's the mystery guest?"
"In the front room," Annie said. "Can you get the tea cookies from the pantry?"
"Wow, tea in the good cups and fancy cookies," Jeff said, retrieving the cookies and piling them on a small plate Annie slid across the kitchen island to him. "Who is it, the queen?"
Annie frowned at the sloppy plate and stepped around the island to arrange the cookies more neatly. "She said her name is Rosemary Hopkins. I've never seen her before, but she says she knows you. Pour the hot water into the teapot."
Jeff moved to the counter where the kettle sat and emptied it into the teapot. "Wouldn't it've been faster to heat the water in the microwave?"
"Jeff!" Annie said, scandalized. "You don't heat water for tea in the microwave! It completely destroys the flavor profile."
"Yeah?" He leaned over the teapot and took a deep breath. "Smells the same."
"So does Scotch on the rocks."
Jeff winced. "Point taken." He took the plate of cookies from Annie and placed it on the tray, which he picked up. "Well, shall we?"
Entering the front room, Jeff saw an unfamiliar woman with shoulder-length white hair looking at the gallery of family photos on the wall. She turned and smiled at Jeff. "Your son looks just like you at his age."
Jeff placed the tray on the coffee table and approached the woman. "I'm sorry, have we…"
The woman's smile widened. "I'm Rosemary Hopkins," she said. "Though you probably remember me as Miss Pollock."
Jeff's eyes narrowed as he peered more closely at the woman, then flew open wide as he placed the name. "Holy crap! From Polk?" The woman nodded, and he turned to look at Annie. "This is my third-grade teacher, Miss Pollock!" He turned back to the older woman. "Or Mrs. Hopkins, I guess I should say."
"Rosemary is fine," she said lightly. "You haven't been my student in a good many years, Jeff, and I'm only fifteen years older than you"
"What, is that all?" Jeff asked, surprised.
"I was only 22," Rosemary said. "That was my first job out of college."
"Why don't we all sit down," Annie said, "and Rosemary, you can tell me everything you remember about Jeff. He never talks about his childhood."
Jeff scowled, but nevertheless took a seat on the sofa next to Annie while Rosemary settled into the love seat arranged perpendicular to it. Once Annie had poured cups of tea for Rosemary and herself, she asked, "So what was Jeff like as an eight-year-old?"
"I'm afraid I don't have much to tell you," Rosemary said with a rueful smile. "After 42 years, the details start to run together. He wasn't a troublemaker—that I would remember. Truth be told, I don't know that I'd thought about Jeff at all since he left my classroom."
A strange mix of emotions surged through Jeff at his old teacher's comments. He was relieved that she wouldn't be rehashing his childhood, but disappointed she hadn't found him more memorable. Although… "And yet here you are. You must have remembered me a little bit."
"Yes, well…" She picked up a large handbag sitting the floor next to her and held it in her lap, reminding Jeff of his old friend Shirley. "I'm retiring at the end of the school year. The school is throwing me a big retirement dinner—foolish waste of money, if you ask me, considering I have to buy my own colored chalk—and they asked me to provide them with some mementos for a slide show or some such nonsense. My daughter has been helping me go through my old files, and last weekend we ran across something that reminded me of you." She reached into her bag and pulled out a manila envelope. "Something that belongs to you, by all rights. I looked for you on the Omni so I could mail it, but when I found out how close you were—I live over on the other side of Pueblo Road, near Wittwer Park—
"That's our favorite spot for sledding!" Annie interjected enthusiastically. "Neuenstein Park is closer, of course, but the hill's so much bigger at Wittwer, it's worth the extra distance."
"Oh yes, it's wonderful having it so close. I always look forward to snow, because I know it means a visit from my grandchildren."
"So there's something in that envelope that belongs to me?" Jeff asked, wanting to get back to what he took to be the point of the visit.
Annie huffed indignantly at the interruption, but Rosemary smiled indulgently. "Do you remember how we used to have art class once a week?"
"Nope," Jeff said, flashing a grin at Annie, who rolled her eyes; Jeff knew it frustrated her that he had so few memories of his education and had so little interest in discussing what he remembered.
"We always devoted the last month of the school year to making art projects for students to give to their parents. A simple ceramics project—"
Annie let out a small amused snort. "It would have to be."
"—and a work on paper, a drawing or collage or something like that, with a decorated matte." A long-forgotten memory sprang to the front of Jeff's mind, and his eyes went wide as he realized what was probably in the envelope. Rosemary handed it to him, and he was not surprised to see that it was addressed in block letters to his father, William Winger. The words RETURN TO SENDER were scrawled above the envelope in a messy script that Jeff found all too familiar.
As he stared at the envelope, his old teacher continued her story. "That class had several students from one-parent homes—I've never had one that didn't—and I told them we would mail their gifts to their non-custodial parents. We used official envelopes, with the school as the return address, so when this one couldn't be delivered—"
"No," Jeff said hoarsely. "I recognize the writing. It was delivered, and he refused it." He flipped the envelope over in his hands to examine the back. "Doesn't look like he even bothered opening it." He tossed it on the coffee table and slumped back on the sofa.
Rosemary picked up the story from where she left off. "Yes, well, it came back to the school and ended up in my mailbox. I meant to return it to you, but it ended up being packed away and put into storage by mistake."
Annie, meanwhile, had picked up and opened the envelope, extracting from it a matted drawing and a greeting card made from construction paper. The front of the card showed two males in Jedi robes, one a boy with spiky hair, the other a bearded man outlined in blue; the inside read, in the same block printing used to address the envelope, "Happy Father's Day." The drawing depicted three inexpertly drawn but easily recognizable scenes from Return of the Jedi: X-Wings and TIE Fighters engaged in a dogfight, the partially completed Death Star looming in the background; a swarm of Ewoks attacking a pair of Stormtroopers on the forest moon of Endor; and, in the center, Darth Vader about to throw the Emperor to his doom. The matte was painted black and speckled with white to resemble a starfield. The Star Wars logo had been rendered in yellow across the top of the matte; at the bottom, also in yellow, the words, "Drawn by J*E*F*F W*I*N*G*E*R."
Jeff looked at Annie sharply as she let loose a small giggle. "I'm glad this is amusing you," he said sullenly.
"I can't help it," Annie said, holding the drawing in front of Jeff and pointing to his name. "This is just too adorable." She handed it to Rosemary.
Jeff cracked a small smile. "Heh. I forgot I used to write my name like that. My grandma had this old book—"
"This is rather good, Jeff," Rosemary said. "You must have been quite a Star Wars fan."
"Yeah, back then I was. I got the original trilogy on videotape for Christmas, and I must've watched those movies a hundred times that year. Best present I ever got from my dad. One of the last too. The divorce was finalized right before Christmas the following year."
"I'm sorry," Rosemary said sympathetically. "I didn't mean to dredge up unpleasant memories."
"It's not a big deal. I—" He stopped as the faint sound of a shriek made its way into the room from the back yard. Jeff stood and said, "I should probably go see what that's all about. If you'll excuse me…"
"I'll go," Annie said. "I'm sure you want to stay and catch up …"
"Annie, we both know you're a lot more interested in reminiscing about my education than I am," Jeff said, smirking. "I'll be back."
Prologue | Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI | Part VII | Part VIII | Epilogue