Chapter 1: This is where the evening splits in half
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Jeff throws the shot back, and then his arm around Abed. He leans back, more into Abed than the back of the seat. With an encouraging face, he hopes, he looks at Abed. But Abed is mirroring Jeff's position. Relaxed into the seat. His head is leaned back, but just then rolls to fall on Jeff's shoulder. Jeff looks at the table in front of them. The two empty shot glasses shimmer in the lights. Abed's body feels warm against his. He can't tell who's leaning more on who. Eyes still on the glasses, he tries to remember what number they're on now. Some nights Britta will just leave a bottle on their table, but not tonight. Jeff's not quite sure whether she was bartending tonight. Probably. That's why they're here. To hang out, all of them. Everyone that's still- Jeff is interrupted in his thoughts by the slight noise Abed makes. A noncommittal sound, but their faces are so close together it feels enough like conversation.
"You wanna play a game of pool?" He says it quietly, almost directly into Abed's ear. Abed shakes his head, although Jeff isn't quite sure, what with the position of Abed's head.
Seems good enough though. He looks ever so slightly over to him, careful not to shake him off. He can just barely make out his expression. Abed looks up and meets Jeff's eyes, for a long time, in Abed terms. Jeff has on several occasions found himself comparing Abed to a cat. And so has Abed (so he feels less weird about it). He hasn't shared with Abed how this prolonged silent eye contact, which feels so comforting, these moments they usually have in similar setting to this, reminds Jeff of the way he's heard cats will slowly blink at you as a sign of affection. He doesn't mind that a majority of his daily conversations with Abed might never or barely contain eye contact. He has told Abed this too, after other people have commented on it. It usually seems more like just a note than a complaint, but he's seen Abed retreat ever so slightly at these times, can sense he feels he's done something wrong.
Jeff really doesn't mind. They communicate well in every other way they do. And Abed has mentioned to him how it's usually just something he forgets - not something he chooses to give or not give someone. But Jeff treasures these moments. Without necessarily having put it into words, even to himself. It always makes him feel like he's being allowed into Abed's mind, through his gaze, and he's letting Abed enter into his. Yeah, it feels like melting together.
Maybe, Jeff wonders, he just likes getting to look at Abed's eyes. He mentally shakes himself out of his thoughts. Abed is still resting on his shoulder.
"You know the time?"
"Mhm." Jeff opts to just glance at his own watch.
"Right.. I'm pretty tired. You wanna go home?"
Okay, Jeff gets to his feet, lifting Abed up with him. He's more stable than he'd thought, maybe he wasn't that drunk. Abed, on the other hand, definitely needs Jeff to support him.
"Alright, buddy, let's get you home. I'll just say goodnight to Britta first."
"Not working." Abed mumbles.
"What? Something not working?" Jeff casts a look around the interior.
"She's not working today. Britta."
"Oh. Right. I forgot. Alright, let's go."
Meeting at Britta's bar (or "the bar Britta works at" as Abed will usually correct him, as Britta's bar sounded too much like a Cheers themed spinoff and Abed had run the simulations - It wouldn't be good. Jeff believes him.) had been their new go to for meeting location, as soon as summer break started. They had acted like it was just like Study Room F. The study group meeting. The Greendale - what now? Which committee where they on now? He supposed none.
At the top of the break Britta had announced she would go back to bartending full time. She said she wasn't giving up on getting her degree, but conceded that maybe she should take some time to figure out if psych was the right major for her. Jeff had felt relieved, and a little vindicated, joining in with the others to joke about it. But a small part of him, way back in his brain, felt guilty that they might have just bullied her out of doing the thing she was passionate about. As transparently misguided as it might seem to everyone but her.
Shirley used the moment to let them know she would be leaving too, the entire state of Colorado actually, to go take care of her dad in Atlanta. Annie, then, probably figuring the whole abandonment band aid should be ripped off at once, announced she would be gone all summer at an internship for the FBI. They were all congratulating her, and it was only when Jeff drove her to the airport, a week later, that she told him, in the car, that she was considering getting her last credits at Quantico. If the internship went well, she added. Jeff knew what that meant. Annie wasn't coming back. There wasn't a world where she wouldn't ace that internship. And he got it. Their time as community college students was coming to an end - should be coming to an end for all of them. And he knew it wasn't realistic for all of them to become teachers. He knew this and yet he had to stop himself from trying to sell her on the idea.
Abed hadn't been there when the trio of announcements were made. He'd been shooting something in the apartment and declined the invite to go to the bar for drinks. Jeff suspected Annie had tried to orchestrate a very well thought out plan on how to best give him the news - her internship, possibly staying in Virginia, Shirley leaving (which Jeff found out she'd known about) - but Abed called Jeff later that night and asked him straight out how many of them were "spinning off".
Jeff had been drunk enough to give Abed a full transcript of the evening, before he realized the implications that Abed had not known about Annie's departure. Of course, he had known. Nothing got past that man. After Jeff stopped speaking the line had gone quiet. Jeff cursed himself, and dreaded Annie's reaction. In the silence he also found himself wanting to ask Abed if he wanted to come over to his place. Maybe because he felt he had been left out of the end of term celebration. Or more likely a feeling he came to be very familiar with - worry about Abed. But he didn't. Abed thanked him for filling him in and hung up. Jeff had poured himself a glass of scotch and passed out before getting the chance to taste it.
He had made up for it not long after though. The day after Annie had left he suggested the remaining residents of Greendale County (and surrounding areas) meet at Britta's work. They'd do this every few days. Sometimes inviting Craig or even Chang (once), sometimes it was just Britta, Abed, and Jeff. The latter usually meant Abed and Jeff chatted with Britta for 20 minutes before the place got busier or her boss started yelling at her.
And then it was Jeff and Abed. Shooting pool, ranking the menu items - but mostly just hanging out in a booth in a corner, talking about movies and weird Greendale stuff they'd forgotten to share during the year. And drinking. Jeff meant to ask Abed if he drank all the time now - not like Jeff "all the time", but as opposed to just on the rare occasion of helping his friend or film out. But it never seemed to come up. Jeff never brought it up. And it was nice, or fun. He wasn't sure how to put it. It was both he supposed. Hanging out with Abed alone was different than with the rest. Abed was more or less the same as around the group. But Jeff suspected he was different when it was just the two of them.
Their taxi arrives quickly outside, they spend the ride mostly in silence. Once they arrive at Jeff's address he realizes he never gave Abed's, which was on the way. Abed had crashed here a few times before, but he hadn't thought as far as to ask what he wanted. "Hey, Abed, you okay with staying at mine tonight?"
Abed is already laying down on one side of Jeff's bed. Jeff hadn't yet settled on whether to offer the couch or his bed. He isn't sure how Abed knows to lay on the side of his bed he doesn't use. Does he know? Did he do it on purpose - leaving room for Jeff to lay down beside him? He's standing in the doorway, having gotten a glass of scotch for himself while Abed made his way to the bed. His thoughts were interrupted by Abed speaking, eyes fixed at the ceiling.
"It's like.. you choose to accept yourself, as different as you are, over conforming in order to receive love. And what you accept is that this means you won't get this love. That was me. Troy had chosen to accept that he couldn't be all of who he was because this meant he received love. And this means you accept that it will not be a complete love, and you will never be complete. And then we both discovered that there was another way. To be all of who you are and still be loved. That's... earth shattering."
It wasn't entirely unusual for their evenings to end with Abed talking about Troy. Jeff figured this was partly why he encouraged them. They didn't talk much about him otherwise. But it was rarely more than a few words. Abed mentioning some specific episode of Inspector Spacetime Troy had especially liked. Or recalling some hijink they'd done. Mumbled. Into Jeff's ear in the taxi. Said quietly while fumbling with his keys to open the door. While flung out on Jeff's couch, as Jeff put a glass of water down on the coffee table. Right before the alcohol knocked him out.
This was more than that. Abed had closed his eyes. He looks nauseous, Jeff thinks. He wonders how drunk Abed is. Where this is going. If he knows Jeff was standing there. But these aren't the questions that comes out.
"Which one am i?" He hadn't meant to wonder it aloud.
Abed sits up slightly. He looks a bit more sobered up. His tongue still loose, but no longer looks like he might throw up. His eyes are focused. Not on Jeff, just a spot on the wall opposite him.
"… You're more of what Troy were. But Troy didn't hate himself." He pauses. "He just didn't think he could be loved how he was. And thought that this was correct." He seems to consider this for a moment.
"Which I guess is what you do, too. Maybe you are a lot alike. But the big difference between you is that you're older." He stops abruptly. Looks quickly over at Jeff.
"I just mean - you've lived like this a lot longer. Troy was 19 when we met. I've seen what you were like when you were 19, Jeff. I don't think you could've had all this-" he makes a vague motion with his hand. ".. self loathing and cynicism, to make that video. But now..." He pauses again, blinks fast a few times, like he's trying to wake himself up.
"Well. You didn't "get" what Troy got." He makes a lazy attempt at air quotes. Then grimaces slightly.
"I'm not sure if that makes you unlucky though." He quickly adds. "Clearly it wasn't.."
Jeff still feels confused about how to proceed, but his desire to comfort Abed takes over. He sits down on the side of the bed, his side. His feet still on the floor, but turned towards Abed. He tries to make his voice sound as careful as he can.
"What? It wasn't enough?"
".. I don't know." It sounds like all the air in him is leaving along with the words. He keeps staring straight ahead.
"Abed." Jeff decides to lay down next to him. Maybe he's a bit dizzy now. He stares up at the ceiling. "Troy didn't leave because of you. He left because he was still a kid, and he needed to discover who he wanted to be as a man. Which -" He pauses for a moment to take a deep breath. "I think we both know is often a lonely process. Maybe you and I didn't choose for it to be, but I think you learn a lot from it. And I don't think anyone can love somebody enough to have that, and only that, fuel their life." He casts a look over at Abed.
It doesn't seem to Jeff like his words are helping. Abed slides down to lay next to him, mirroring his position. But he's looking up at the ceiling.
"Fuck, Abed. I'm sorry, I don't know what to say.. for what it's worth.. " He closes his eyes briefly, before adding, quietly. "... That kind of love. It would've been enough for me."
Yes. He's definitely dizzy now. He wants to believe that he isn't certain of which words he's saying out loud. He keeps his eyes focused on the ceiling, but he thinks Abed is looking at him. He doesn't know if it's the alcohol causing the lump in his throat. Yes, Jeff Winger sometimes cries when he gets drunk. But that's when he's alone. And not very often. Still, he recognizes the feeling well.
"Thank you, Jeff." It's what Abed feels he should say. But his brain is running so fast now, the words barely makes it out. He senses Jeff is struggling in his effort to comfort him and yet he is resistant to give it to him. And while he thinks Jeff understands what Abed means he's not sure Jeff means what those words mean to Abed, when he says them like that. Abed is far away, trying to run likely scenarios in his head, but his head is swimming. He keeps loosing the thread when trying to pull out memories to factor in. He has almost forgotten where he is when he feels Jeff's hand on his arm. He doesn't jump. Just stiffens a bit in surprise.
Jeff looks as if he's about to say something. Abed wonders if he had said something already that he didn't hear. But they just make eye contact. Jeff's hand stays on Abed's arm. He relaxes. Jeff's mouth curves into a small smile. It feels like the kind of smile that's praying for the other person to return it, more than a genuine display of a happy emotion. Although Abed knows Jeff never expects him to be more expressive than he naturally is. Maybe he is actually happy that Abed seems more relaxed. He isn't though. He feels it. A wave of sadness washes over him, the heaviness pushing him down again. And he feels guilty.
"But, uh, I'm Sorry, Jeff." He watches Jeff's brow furrows and looks away. "I don't think I can be fixed with a Winger Speech." This time. He wants to add. He tries to not make the words sounds harsh. Hurtful. That is not his intention but he worries categorizing what may very well be a Real Conversation (though he stopped categorizing them as Real Conversations a few seasons ago, and they just became Their Conversations) as a capital W Winger speech will feel like it undermines Jeff's intention. That is not what Abed intends to do. And Jeff has never outright accused him of it. But maybe this goes under his Pop Culture Sci-Fi Crap and while Abed knows Jeff doesn't want him to be hurt, he is also aware of the effort Jeff puts in, a lot of the time, to not be annoyed by him. He think he can understand this as a kind of love, finally.
Jeff gets up from the bed, quickly. And it makes Abed fear he did hurt him, and worse, that maybe Jeff thinks that was his intention. Jeff sways a bit when he gets up, and Abed thinks maybe he's just gonna be sick. He realizes he's assumed people who drink as much as Jeff doesn't get sick anymore, but he doesn't have proof of this theory. He has only thrown up once after their nights out. Jeff standing outside the stall in the bathroom, to give him some space he assumed. But when he saw how shaken up Abed was he practically wrapped his whole body around him while guiding him to a cab and taking him home. As fuzzy as the night was he remembered the guilty look on Jeff's face when he put him to bed. Abed hadn't been able to understand it. Jeff had been so gentle that night. What had he to be guilty over. But now, thinking about Jeff's unacknowledged levels of alcohol consumption it occurs to him maybe Jeff saw this as him corrupting Abed. Abed himself has sometimes worried he was taking advantage of Jeff's relationship to alcohol to get away with their recent pastime.
Jeff staggered out the bedroom now, and Abed thought he could hear him enter the bathroom. Okay, he was gonna throw up. Maybe Abed should go out there and support him, return the favor. But then he didn't hear any sounds.
Jeff is leaning against the sink. He looks into the mirror. Tried to read the words written there, but he can't make them out in the clear reflection. He does know where they are supposed to be, and tries to make himself see them. His eyes are stinging. He closes them. He wasn't hurt by Abed calling his attempt at comforting his friend a Winger Speech. Most of the time Abed's tv tropes-ing of their lives doesn't even register anymore. But Abed apologizing for Jeff not being able to help him.. Abed thinking that Jeff thinks he could be fixed with just a few simple words.. that Jeff ever thinks of Abed as something to be fixed. He hears Abed walk up to the open bathroom door.
Jeff opens his eyes when he hears him.
"Oh-" His reflection shows him tears running from his eyes.
"I thought you'd gone to throw up."
Jeff turns to Abed, then quickly remembers why he'd had to get out of the bedroom. He tries to wipe his face quickly, but he knows Abed has already seen.
Abed shifts his weight from one foot to another. He looks as if he doesn't know whether to take a step towards Jeff or walk away. He opens and closed his mouth a few times. Then finally, in a rush.
"Did I do that?" The look on his face is so painful to witness. Jeff lowers his head, lets out a breath. Then he turns around and sits down on the bathroom tile. It's cold. Soothing. He wants to say whatever is needed dissipate all of Abed's fears, but he feels too overwhelmed by all the things he could say. He tries to focus on the tile. Tries to quiet his brain. When he speaks it comes out much more tired than he plans.
"I know I can't just make everything better with a speech. And I know it probably seems like I think I can. I still act like I can talk my way out of anything. As if I haven't learned a thing. But it's not just words, Abed. I'm not just trying to wrap up the episode. I just.. want to be there for you. I want to help you." He paused to take a breath in.
"Not fix you." He quickly adds, and looks up at Abed. "You don't need to be fixed. I'm just worried about you, Abed."
Abed is staring at Jeff. Still standing at the door, before he seems to make his decision. He comes to join Jeff on the floor. Sitting close, but keeping a small amount of space between their bodies.
"Oh." It comes out like he'd been holding his breath.
"You knew that, right? That I've been worried about you? We all have." Jeff keeps looking at him.
Abed is quiet for a several seconds. Then, a small voice comes out.
""We"?" He's looking at his hands. Jeff nods.
"Yeah. Britta, Craig. Shirley and Annie. It's almost all we've talked about when they call. Especially once you stopped taking their calls..."
"I didn't think there was a "we" anymore. Not the study group we. Not a Greendale we."
Jeff doesn't want to cry again, but he can feel his heart breaking.
"Your family doesn't stop being your family just because they're further away."
They both go quiet. Abed still cant make sense of everything inside of him. He doesn't know if he wants them to worry about him or not. He knows he feels guilty. About his pain spilling out into their lives. Finally, he can only think to say one thing.
"Can we go to bed now?"
It surprises Jeff. But he feels exhausted too. Suddenly all he can think of is sinking into his bed.
"Sure.. I .. I can take the couch if you want the bed."
Maybe Abed hears the hesitancy in his voice.
"It's a big bed, Jeff, we can share it. If I'm not overstepping some boundary here."
"No, that's fine with me."
He gets up, and reaches a hand down to Jeff, not so much to help him up (he's sure he'd tumble to the titles if Jeff put his weight onto it). Jeff takes it and uses his other hand to push himself off. He lets go of Abed's hand.
"I'll be there in a second." Abed nods and leaves Jeff alone in the bathroom. He takes a last look in the mirror. His eyes are still red. It's futile, but he throws some water in his face in an attempt to wash it out. He finds himself just staring into his own eyes. He's not sure why, but he nods at himself. A resolute nod. Then he turns out the lights and goes to join Abed.
Chapter title is from the Richard Siken poem "Wishbone"
Chapter 2: It's a road movie, a double-feature
Morning, day 1
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
When Jeff wakes up Abed is still deep in sleep next to him. He's turned towards Jeff, so there's not much question about it. Jeff carefully disentangles himself from the sheets. He checks the time once he's in the bathroom. Nearly 6 o'clock. He was never an early riser. But it's been awhile since he has gotten more than a few hours in a row. Last night he recalled falling asleep much quicker though. As he makes his way to the kitchen he considers the fact that Abed had been next to him. Had that helped?
And then their conversation starts to come back to him. He breaths a deep sigh. It wasn't resolved. In fact, he feels even more jumbled up inside. Worried, and confused, and overwhelmed. The last one he ads because he thinks if he starts listing everything spinning around in his head he might never stop. But he had slept easier knowing Abed was next to him. Not worrying about where Abed was and how he was doing. Not regretting everything he hadn't said or done before leaving him. He had felt safe.
He figures he might as well put on some coffee, if he's not gonna go back to sleep. He's filling the pot with water when it clarifies for him. They can't keep doing what they've been doing. He can't keep doing what he's been doing. As fun as it has seemed, on the surface. Jeff can't keep ignoring the gnawing feeling in his stomach. He can't keep pushing the thoughts aside. Telling himself he's keeping Abed company and that's enough. Telling himself maybe if they get drunk enough they'll figure out everything Jeff knows is wrong and worries is wrong and can't ask and Abed may or may not tell him.
But how the hell else do you do this, he wonders. Abed hates therapy. Anything that feels like therapy. Jeff would never want to even come close to that territory with him. It's not like his instinct is to pawn Abed off on someone else, either. But he hardly feels qualified. He grabs his phone without thinking about it, and already has Britta's contact up before he can even consider it. He quickly puts it down. No. She can be plenty helpful, but not with this. Even the short period when Abed let her therapize him didn't last long. He suspects he has to find a route more suited Abed. And himself.
He reminds himself this isn't therapy. He wants to support Abed, he wants to help him. Why? Because he worries something is wrong with Abed. No, because he knows Abed is very unhappy. And he worries.. he doesn't know. He worries where it's gonna lead. He wants to be a friend. He thinks he's prepared for whatever that means.
Jeff considers if this is where the past 5 years has been leading him. "Maybe, friendship is about going through a lot of stuff, Jeff." Annie's words from long ago rings in his brain, as they often do. He thinks back to one of his own speeches. Something about screw ups about Travelling Wilburys- no, becoming a super group. Well, yes, he still sees them as a group. Even if he's not sure if their days all together are only in their past. Or how to feel about it. He feels he's coping with it alright though. But he wonders if this has all served to make him the Travelling Wilbury of Pain. If he can't figure this one out - what has he been doing this whole time?
The coffee sputters away while Jeff sits down at the breakfast bar. Will Abed run away from the conversation if he brings it up right here? What makes Jeff think he would even know how to have that conversation? What would he even ask? Being in his apartment alone with Abed does feel different than usual, makes him feel.. like he's in a different show.
Sometimes Jeff wonders how much of his perception has been changed by Abed's singular one, or if it was always there. He looks around the apartment. It's still the same, though. The same apartment where he has recent enough memories of everyone they know. The same Greendale.
He goes to the coffee maker and wonders if getting around that same-ness would help him figure out how to talk to Abed. About Troy, about people leaving, Greendale.. He freezes- simultaneously as he's pouring coffee and scolds his hand.
Cursing and cradling his hand under the tap he finds his way back to his line of thought. They could leave Greendale. For a bit. It's summer break, he's got a car, neither of them has any plans. At least now that Jeff just 20 minutes ago put a moratorium on the near-nightly bar-hangs.
The sun shining in through Jeff's windows has become warmer by the time Abed enters from the bedroom. Jeff has made himself some eggs and is feeling in higher spirits.
"Good morning." Jeff smiles at a disheveled looking Abed.
Abed just nods and points towards the bathroom, as an answer, before continuing in that direction. He renters a few minutes later, looking slightly more alert.
"Do you want some breakfast?" Jeff asks. Abed hesitates and Jeff nods towards the box of Lucky Charms he got out of the cupboard. Abed considers it for a moment, before he makes up his mind and grabs the box and the bowl Jeff put out for him on the table. He realizes it's unopened.
"You got this for me?" His voice is slightly higher than normal, either from sleep or surprise. Jeff shrugs.
"I didn't have anything for you last time." Abed cocks his head to the side.
"Thanks. You did though, I just don't eat most of them."
Jeff looks at him slightly puzzled, but he gives him a shrug and an easy smile.
"That's what I meant. Anyway, I didn't want you to go hungry on account of me. Or have to run home in a hurry." Abed nods. Jeff thinks he looks pleased. He lets him get settled by the table before he continues talking.
"Uh, I think we should continue our conversations from last night." He still feels pretty excited about his plan.
"Oh?" Abed doesn't look up from his bowl. Jeff wishes he had figured out exactly what he was gonna say.
"We didn't really finish." Abed is quiet. Jeff wonders if he should have texted Britta for advice.
"You said you didn't want to just wrap up the episode." Abed looks up at Jeff when he says it. Jeff nods.
But he doesn't know how to proceed. Abed is looking expectantly at him. Jeff hesitates. Maybe he can just change the subject? Abed continues to eat cereal while looking at him. The episode, it occurs to Jeff.
"Yeah. Speaking of.. I had an- sort of - idea." Abed raises his eyebrows slightly.
"You're not doing anything this summer?" Abed doesn't respond.
"I'm not doing anything this summer. And, well.." Wait, what reasoning does he have that avoids the most obvious? He spoons some eggs into his mouth to give himself some time. Reasons beyond someone leaving on a boat- OH.
"I've been thinking, these past few months, more about how I've never been outside of Colorado. I mean, I'm 40. It's probably about time. So I figured - road trip." He puts down his utensils and looks at Abed. He doesn't react much, but Jeff sees his brain working. Eventually -
"Road trip? With me?"
"Yeah. If you want to. We've got my car, it's summer." He still can't decipher Abed's expression.
"We can't go anywhere, but we could probably get to a few different states." He wonders if he keeps talking it's gonna make it worse or better. He's pretty sure Abed is gonna make up his own mind regardless of what he says though.
"There's a lot of road trip tropes." He adds.
Abed nods at that, it seems reflexive. Like he's just letting Jeff knows his statement was correct. They're both quiet for a bit. Abed finishes his cereal before speaking.
"That's true." He looks at Jeff, inspects him. And seems to make up his mind.
"Sure. I'm in." Jeff beams.
"When were you thinking of leaving?"
Jeff looks down at his watch, then back to Abed.
"Whenever you're ready." He says. Abed's eyes widen slightly.
"Today?" Jeff nods.
"Yeah, if you want to." Abed shrugs. He walks over to the sink with his bowl.
Jeff joins him by the sink, and gestures for him to sit down while he cleans up their dishes. Abed sits back down at the table. Jeff wants to reach out and grab his hand, or hug him, or.. he doesn't know. He's happy Abed agreed to his plan but he expected more enthusiasm. He has to remind himself this is how Abed has been lately. But he has a plan now. Well, he has the start of a plan. Now he just needs to figure out what all the right next steps are.
"We can go by your place first and pick up whatever you want to bring." He says it with his back turned to Abed.
"No, that's okay." Jeff turns around. He gives Abed a confused look.
"What? You sure?" Abed nods.
"I'm okay. If I can just borrow a clean t-shirt from you?" He hasn't asked Jeff how long they're gonna be gone for. Which Jeff is grateful for, as he has no idea what the answer would be. One besides When the knot in my stomach goes away and I can think about anything besides you when you're in a different room and I don't still feel like we're about to be hit by an asteroid.
"Of course." Abed nods a thanks. He jumps down from the table.
"I'm gonna go take a shower." Jeff gives him a smile, and returns to the dishes.
It takes them about an hour, for Abed to be showered, dressed in his own jeans and one of Jeff's t-shirts, and for Jeff to stuff an extra t-shirt, Abed's cardigan, and few pairs of underwear in a small backpack - then walk around the apartment several times considering what they need, and ending up grabbing nearly nothing. He just keeps checking that everything is in order. He's hardly sure what to check for. When was the last time he left his apartment for more than one night? If that? And he has no idea when he's gonna be back. In the end he settles for just turning off the circuit breaker before shutting the door.
Chapter title is from Driving, Not Washing by Richard Siken. Which I have to admit was the inspiration for the whole fic. This may or may not become more relevant later.
Also I realized this fic could basically be renamed How To Talk About Things When You Don't Know How To Talk About Things which as it happens is also the title of the current chapter in my life. Maybe I just need to learn to drive and also become a community college teacher?
I'm incredibly flattered and surprised that people actually read and liked the first chapter. Thank you! I hope the continuation feels like it goes along with it. I have a lot written of several of the chapters, so unless I massively loose confidence updates probably won't take that long. Not sure if this is too short for a chapter, I'm trying to figure this all out as I go. The next one is almost finished this just felt like a natural break.
Chapter 3: Anything past the horizon is invisible
Day 1, driving
I know it's already tagged, but heads up for a lot of discussion of suicide and suicidal ideation in this chapter.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
It's only once they're on the road - Jeff behind the wheel, Abed in the passenger seat, windows down to allow some of the heat to escape - that Jeff remembers they were actually about to talk about last night when they left. He's not sure if he was the one who escaped the conversation or Abed was. He looks over at him, briefly, making sure to look back at the road frequently. Abed is leaned towards the window, letting the barest breeze of the moving car slightly tousle his hair. Jeff notes for the first time that it's gotten longer. Not much, just enough to slightly curl by the sides of his head.
He doesn't seem terribly eager to talk, so Jeff decides to let the silence continue. They've got plenty of time. They're still on familiar streets, it feels little different than any other late morning driving Abed home.
Once they get on the highway the atmosphere starts to shift. Abed is fidgeting. He's moving the mirror, clicking through the radio stations, but when he doesn't seem to find anything he likes he let's it stay on some vaguely generic country-folk radio, and just turns the volume down low.
"So, Jeff, do you have any plans for where you want to go?" Jeff thinks he can hear a teasing lilt in his voice, and smiles sheepishly.
"No, not really. I haven't really thought this massively through."
Abed hums in response.
"I guess we should figure out which direction we want to go in, at least."
"We should stop at the next gas station, see if they've got some maps."
Jeff lets out a small laugh.
"You know you've got that on your phone, right?"
Abed shakes his head.
"It's better with a physical one. Also I need some shades." Jeff looks over at him, and sees he does seem bothered by the bright sun. He's been keeping his head down for the last several minutes.
"Sure, that's a good plan. I should probably fill the tank up as well."
It doesn't take them long to come across a gas station, though their selection of maps is rather lackluster. They end up getting a Colorado one and that's it. The attendant suggests they'll have more luck once they get further out of the cities. Abed spends awhile by the sunglasses. Jeff looks at him through the window, once he's gone outside to fill up the car. He doesn't remember the last time he saw him in sunglasses. Playing a character probably. But all it reminds him off is the morning after they first got drunk together. A lifetime ago.
He seems to settle on a pair that covers the sides well, and walks up to Jeff after he's paid. Jeff hands him the map, and he puts it in the plastic bag he's carrying.
They settle for heading south, vaguely towards New Mexico, if only because it sounds more tempting than Utah. Abed tries to find a route through Kansas, so they don't have to spend a full day or more still in Colorado. That's about as far as they decide to plan. Jeff suggests to take it as it comes, that they can change direction at any point. Abed agrees as long as he can keep track of the map.
They don't talk a lot for the first few hours. Jeff isn't sure if it's the anticipation, or if Abed is as unsure about where they're heading as he is. On the other hand - it's not bad. The weather is nice, the car isn't too hot, and he enjoys driving. As attached as he is to his car, he rarely gets the chance to drive for this long at a time. He looks over at Abed every once in awhile. Most of the time he's got his eyes closed. Not asleep, but he looks relaxed. Maybe this is good for now.
Eventually Abed does break the silence.
"I am wondering when we're gonna talk about why you took me on this road trip."
Jeff jumps a bit. And before he gets the chance to reply-
"Because it's not to see whatever landmark or for you to get outside of Colorado."
Jeff lets out a deep breath.
"No, I guess you're right. I told you though, I was worried about you."
"Worried I would kill myself."
He doesn't say it like a question, but Jeff can't be sure if he just forgets to add the intonation. He can feel his heart beating much faster, his head spinning at the same speed. He blinks hard a few times, hoping it will slow things down. Then he looks over at Abed. His face neutral, but his eyes are intensely fixed on Jeff. Jeff lets out another breath, one he hadn't realized he'd been holding.
He looks at the road again.
"Yeah. I'm sorry-" he closes his eyes and shakes his head.
"Why are you apologizing?"
Jeff quickly looks at him, not sure what he's trying to do. But Abed's face is open and bears no judgement.
Jeff shrugs. He feels open, but unprotected. He's not sure where his chest went but it seems like his heart is currently exposed to the cold air. The only question he can figure out to ask is-
"How'd you know?"
"Jeff, a road trip is essentially being next to each other in a small space the entire time. Seems like a good way to keep watch on someone."
"You think that's what I'm doing - keeping watch on you, not letting you out of my sight?"
Jeff is quiet.
"I don't know." He pauses. "Maybe you're right. I didn't think about it like that. I just knew I was worried."
"Why did you think I might kill myself?"
Jeff looks embarrassed. Abed still isn't sure why that is his reaction.
"I was.. worried about a lot of things. I didn't know what you would do I just..." He shakes his head as he talks. "Once it occurred to me as an option I couldn't stop thinking about it."
When he says the last part he sounds very tired. Abed had noticed the dark circles around his eyes weeks ago, now he wonders if he had kept Jeff awake.
"I'm sorry if it offends you, or makes you… Feel bad that I thought that." A brief look of panic flashes across his face.
"Or if you think this was a psych intervention or something. It wasn't that. I haven't talk to anybody else about this." He says it very quickly.
Abed puts a hand lightly on his arm. Jeff immediately feels his heart slow down. He realizes he had felt on the verge of a panic attack. He looks at Abed, who's still looking intensely at him.
"I think we should stop driving. I don't want to talk about this while you're driving, if it makes you this stressed out."
Jeff just nods. A few moments later they pull off the road. They both stay in the car. Jeff takes a deep breath before he turns towards Abed. Abed looks into his eyes.
"It's okay, Jeff. I didn't think that was what you were doing."
"And you don't have to worry about me killing myself." He cocks his head to the side. "I realize I've worried you. And I'm sorry. Things have been.. bad." He shakes his head, and swallows hard. "And I haven't felt sure of what I'm going to do next. But that hasn't been an option I've considered."
Jeff breaths deeply. Abed isn't sure if he looks like he's gonna cry or not. He'd guess not but things feel different now.
But then it's Abed's turn to take in a deep breath.
"Jeff, I'm not entirely surprised you thought that though."
Jeff widens his eyes.
"Why?" His voice is shaky.
Abed bites his lip.
"Why it occurred as an option. To you."
Jeff looks confused at Abed. But Abed just continues to stare at him. And eventually Jeff's face of confusion turns into .. something else. Tired, and defeated. He lowers his head.
"Yeah." His voice is quiet.
He raises his head, meets Abed's eyes. His eyebrows turned in a slightly pained, questioning look.
"How'd you.." he begins. Repeating himself.
Abed finally looks away from him, straight ahead.
"Jeff, I didn't really believe that what happened on your birthday was an accident." He looks back towards Jeff. He looks small, Abed thinks. He's looking down at his hands.
It's quiet between them.
"I was afraid one of you would push me more on it, but no one ever did." He looks back to Abed. "I did feel like an accident though." His voice is as earnest as Abed has ever heard. "Because I regretted it the moment I woke up. I was relieved I was there with you all." His voice breaks towards the end.
Abed nods quickly, but he looks slightly overwhelmed.
"I'm happy to hear that."
And the emotion coming through in his voice is too much for Jeff. He pushes forward and embraces Abed in a hug, albeit a slightly awkward one in their seats. Abed returns it, the best he can. They pull apart and Jeff slumps back in his seat.
"So that's how you knew.. it might be on my mind more easily? That happening last fall?"
Abed takes a moment to contemplate his answer.
"To be honest, I've suspected you might have some.. history with it. Since we played D&D with Neil."
Jeff looks at him surprised.
"It stood out to me that you noticed what was going on with him. I know you felt guilty and all, but it was more than that. The way you talked about it. It was different than I saw you being in most other settings." He shakes his head at the memory.
Jeff considers this.
They're both quiet. There's just the occasional sound of a car passing by.
"I never thought I was that easy to read." He's saying it more to himself than to Abed.
"I'm not sure you are. I just notice things others don't." Jeff looks at him, Abed meets his eyes. Eventually Jeff breaks it. He looks out the front window.
"Is it okay if we try to find a motel to stop at? I think a real stop would be good." He doesn't say how tired he is. It's obvious to them both.
"I marked off the next few earlier, I think there's one coming up soon." He holds up the map. He inspects Jeff's face, his body, still slumped back in his seat.
"I can drive if you want." Jeff lets out a forced laugh.
"You don't trust me to drive now?" He doesn't quite commit to the joke and it mostly sounds sad.
Abed looks at him until he returns his gaze. Abed just slightly raises his eyebrows. Jeff nods simply. He gives him a small smile and reaches out a hand to grab Abed's, giving it a short squeeze before letting go.
He opens his door and Abed does the same. After switching places, Jeff picks up the map left on the passenger seat and locates the nearest of the motels Abed circled. They spend the short drive in silence, except to exchange a few directions.
While the sun hasn't gone down yet when they arrive at the motel, it feels late enough. Abed parks in the parking lot in front of it, and Jeff grabs the backpack they brought. The place isn't the most inviting but doesn't raise any obvious alarms. The manager is friendly and Jeff gets them a room with twin beds, while Abed waits outside by the car.
Jeff realizes this is the strangest he has felt in the past 24 hours. They're already in Kansas. Just like that - this morning he woke up with no expectations that anything would change, and in a few hours he's made it further from the place he was born than he ever has before. And while they're still making some small conversation, as they make their way to their room, he feels the ongoing conversation they keep stopping hanging between him and Abed. It felt like it even hung between him and the motel manager.
Jeff doesn't really feel ready to actually consider where this is all going. Neither the road nor the conversation is familiar territory, is something he was prepared for. Instead he inspects the room they got, which seems clean enough. Abed looks like he's doing his own assessment, and they both end up just standing there, staring at each other.
"This feels weird." Jeff is still so tired. He's tired of worrying and he's tired of not knowing what to say or which words are okay to say and what's going to happen when he says them. He wants to be like Abed. This uncanny ability to be direct and ease the worry about the unsaid by saying it.
Abed tilts his head in consideration, but seems to agree. He just nods.
"What now?" Jeff offers. Abed gives it some thought.
"I'd like to take a shower, I got really hot in the car."
"Okay. I, uh, I saw a convenience store on the other side of the parking lot. Maybe I could go get some food." He realizes they haven't eaten for hours. He's not really hungry, but he also doesn't feel very well. Abed nods.
"Deal." Abed gives him a small smile. It occurs to Jeff this might seem to Abed as him taking him at his word - that he can leave him alone for a bit. Which he is happy enough to do. He thinks he'd rather be with him, but if this makes Abed feel heard it's a fair trade.
"See you in a few." He nods and leaves the room again.
Jeff returns when Abed is already out of the shower, sitting in just a towel on top of one of the beds.
Jeff drops the bags on the end of the other bed.
"They didn't have a lot, but I got a few boxes of microwaveable noodles - if they're a flavor you like. The manager said there was a microwave by the office we could use. Also snacks, and some other stuff." He's looking at the bags as he's talking, but not taking anything out. He looks up at Abed. He's nodding along. Jeff gets lost looking at Abed for a few seconds. Then shakes himself out of it.
"Oh - also they had some plain t-shirts so I got a few. If you'd like a clean one on." He smiles, he's trying to think of a joke to make - or any kind of comment. To make this feel more normal. Him and Abed in a motel room in Kansas. Abed sitting in a towel, still half wet from the shower. But he can't find it.
"I think I'll take a shower as well."
"Okay." Jeff can't help feeling like they're just playing out scenes. Not even film scenes, but stilted scenes in a play. Or does he just feel stilted? So unsure of where to go from here, that he just copies Abed, hoping he has more of a clue. He generally does.
"Just get whatever you.." He gestures towards the bags. Abed smiles, a little. And Jeff escapes into the bathroom.
The shower helps. Jeff keeps his eyes closed the entire time. Letting the sweat and road and crawling thoughts wash off and go down the drain. He focuses on his breathing, then on the water. The half-gross plastic floor of the shower. The warm metal of the faucet. It doesn't work entirely, but he feels several steps calmer. More present than he's been for the past hour.
Abed is sitting cross-legged on the bed, steaming box of noodles in front of him. He's wearing one of the cheap black t-shirts Jeff got at the store and his pants. He looks up at Jeff when he comes in, towel around his waist.
"Do you feel better?" Jeff nods. Abed gives him another of his small smiles. He looks back down at his noodles, careful concentration to not spill anything while seemingly trying to ascertain if they're cool enough to eat. While he's doing this Jeff quickly puts on a fresh pair of underwear, and an old Greendale shirt he finds in the backpack. He doesn't remember why he packed this one in particular, even while it was only a few hours ago. He gets the chicken and spinach wrap he got for himself out of the bag and when Abed looks up again, he gestures to the empty space on Abed's bed.
"Can I?" Abed nods. The twin beds aren't big, but they've got a lot of room between them, and it feels better to have a meal this way. Jeff sits down and mirrors Abed's position. Jeff unwraps his food and Abed seems to finally be satisfied with the temperature of his. They both slowly eat in silence for a little while. Jeff really doesn't feel very hungry though, and eventually conversation seems more appetizing than the chicken.
But where does he begin? Should he just pick up where they left off in the car? It felt like Abed was driving that conversation and Jeff doesn't feel ready to take over. But he still feels responsible. And even though he's been avoiding the question, mostly for it's ambiguous meanings, he has to ask.
"How are you doing?" Abed doesn't respond right away, but he does put down his fork.
"I don't really know how to answer that." He says eventually. Jeff nods his head. He was expecting that. It's a bad question.
"I don't really know how to do this." He wants to be honest so bad. Wants to just rip down all the pretense and formalities and guides he's been living by. He's so tired of it all. But even that simple admission makes him want to rip his skin off.
"Do what?" Abed is looking at him. Jeff is still being vague, he still can't reflect Abed's directness back at him like he wishes.
"Talk?" He offers as an answer. This does seem to resonate though. Abed nods in agreement. Jeff realizes the irony. There's the talking he's good at, and then there's this. There is probably a better single word to use. Something like vulnerability. But the irony doesn't seem to go over Abed's head - Jeff feels like they're on the same page again.
"It's hard for me too." Abed is moving his noodles around as he's talking.
"You know, I was going to talk to you about it. What's been going on. Eventually. I just.." He searches for the right words.
"I haven't found a framework for it yet. I would eventually talk about it. It's just.. not in order yet. I haven't been able to figure out what the story is here." His brow is lightly furrowed, he's still looking down at the noodles.
"Do you need one?" Jeff tries to offer.
"Yes." Abed looks up at Jeff, and nods to emphasize it.
Jeff thinks for a few seconds. He realizes the words sound familiar.
"My last therapist talked about that. The stories well tell ourselves about our lives." Abed seems to be studying him.
"In particular the problematic ones." Jeff adds. "The ones that harm us, that we should let go of... I stopped going to see her soon after though, so I don't remember much more."
"You're not in therapy anymore?" It seems to surprise Abed more than Jeff had expected, being hesitant to even bring the topic up.
Jeff shakes his head. He thinks Abed is going to say something, but he doesn't. He just looks down at his food again. Before picking back up his note from earlier.
"I need a story though. No story.. no me. Like you said - no Greendale, no story." This makes Jeff freeze. He does remember that. That was in a different context though. He's not sure he sees the comparison between them. But he doesn't want to pick them apart. Especially since he's not sure what Abed is exactly getting at.
"Okay. I don't think that kind of therapist would tell you to stop having a story. But just..." He tries to recall the jargon he used to avoid. "Examine which ones you're telling yourself. And figure out if they're limiting you." He meets Abed's eyes.
"But I think it's okay if you don't have one too, yet. It's okay if it's incoherent and doesn't make perfect structural sense. You will find that eventually, but if it feels heavy to keep it all in until then - you can talk about it. Like you would if you were working out a story plot in your movies?"
Abed slowly tilts his head to the other side. Taking in Jeff's words.
"That makes sense."
Jeff doesn't think he could express how happy that statement makes him. But he settles for sending him a small smile. It falls a bit though, when he remembers the conversation in the car. Abed catches it. And his expression changes as well. His eyebrows furrowed ever so slightly in worry.
"How long is it since you stopped seeing a therapist?" Jeff is surprised this is a topic he chooses to stay on. But he shrugs.
"Awhile." Abed looks as if he's trying to retrieve the right question. Jeff guesses which one it is.
"Before your birthday?" Jeff nods.
Abed is quiet for awhile.
"Why?" It's too vague and they both know it. Jeff just shrugs again. He puts the rest of his wrap on the nightstand between the beds, and gestures towards Abed's unfinished box of noodles. Abed nods, and Jeff sets it beside it. Then he lays back on the mattress, his head laying at the food of the bed.
Abed remains in the position he was in.
A few moments go by before Jeff speaks.
"At the hospital, before the let me leave, they made me set up an appointment."
"Yeah. But I didn't go. It was the day after and.. it felt too real then. Like if I talked about it I might actually tell them the truth."
"And that would be a bad thing?"
Laying down feels nice but he finds it harder to gauge Abed's response when he can't see his face. He sounds genuinely confused. He sits up, and his expression supports the theory.
"No." He tries to assure him - unlike him Abed seems almost allergic to dishonesty - but then shakes his head. He gets up from the bed and paces around the room.
"Well. I don't think it comes as a surprise to you that I'm not the best at using therapy.. correctly?" He sits down on the other bed, facing Abed.
He's really not sure how to put it, even to himself. He had realized that was what he was doing, which was why he had quit. Seemed pointless to spend his meager teacher's salary on therapy that he didn't even try to get anything out of, anymore.
"It does come as a surprise to me that you're not the best at something." It's not what Jeff expects to hear at all and he lets out a laugh. Abed looks pleased. But he gives Jeff a more serious look.
"And it surprises me that you haven't been seeing anyone since your birthday. Jeff, that seems.. ill-advised."
"Since when are you such a proponent of therapy?" He tries to make it sound light. He thinks he fails.
Abed doesn't look offended though. He just keeps looking at Jeff.
"I don't like it, for myself. It never felt safe. But I thought you benefited from it?" Jeff doesn't say anything.
"You were always so comfortable talking about it."
Jeff shakes his head.
"Probably because I felt in control. I've only ever seen therapists who tell me the things I expect them to."
Jeff lays back on the bed. Maybe having this space between them is better. For this. He feels like something has gone wrong with his plan. He was supposed to be the one helping Abed. And somehow they've ended up talking more about him.
"This isn't about me." He looks at Abed. "That wasn't the plan."
Abed looks confused.
"Because you're.. struggling?" Jeff waits for a confirmation, but doesn't get one.
"And that means you can't be?"
"I didn't say I was."
"You don't have to say it. Anybody would be having a hard time with the year you've had."
"What do you mean?"
Jeff thinks Abed is looking at him like he's stupid, but it's gentler than that.
"You changed careers, a friend died, another friend left, you turned 40, you.. almost died.. Jeff, these are like textbook life changes that can cause... I don't know. But no one would expect you to be entirely fine."
Jeff looks away from Abed. Oh, he thinks. There was one person who expected him to be fine.
He stares up at the ceiling.
"Oh." He says it out loud.
"Jeff, I'm not trying to avoid talking about me. But if this is you being a friend and not a therapist then it can't just be a one way street. I'll be fine if we're not talking about me for five minutes."
"I've been thinking about you too, you know? Considering everything that's happened. That's why I was surprised you weren't seeing a therapist anymore. I hoped you were dealing with it."
Jeff is still staring at the ceiling.
"Maybe you should be."
Jeff looks over at him.
Abed hesitates for a moment.
"You said you were happy you survived it. That you regretted it. Which is great." He pauses. "Do you still think about it?"
Jeff sighs, and looks up at the ceiling again.
"In what way?"
Jeff breathes deeply. He sits up slightly, and looks over at Abed.
"When you mentioned noticing.. when we played D&D with Neil.."
"Your birthday wasn't the first time?"
Abed waits for him to continue. Jeff looks away again.
"It's.. years ago. Before I met you guys."
He doesn't say anything else for a long time.
"We don't have to talk about it." Abed offers.
Jeff closes his eyes. He thinks he can feel all of the blood rushing in his veins.
"But just because I haven't considered it lately.. Doesn't mean I won't again. It's always been there. Or.." He sighs. "A very long time. It probably will come back."
He opens his eyes and looks at Abed. Abed nods in response.
"I understand." Jeff doesn't believe him, but he appreciates it still.
"I'm relieved you're not thinking about it."
"It's not really my thing"
Jeff nods. He looks up and swallows.
"There was a point, though."
Jeff turns to him, his eyes widen.
"A long time ago. When I was a teenager." Abed pauses, looking for the right words. He squints his eyes.
"I think I, looked at my life and it felt like the right narrative choice? What was supposed to happen next."
He looks over at Jeff, who looks like he might cry. Jeff swallows, but keeps his eyes focused on Abed. Who looks away, straight ahead.
"I spent a lot of time thinking about it. Even made a plan. But then I-" he stops, turns directly to Jeff.
"I like movies too much."
Jeff lets out a surprised laugh, one that lets out a few unintended tears as well. Abed is pleased with his reaction. Jeff is someone who can break an uncomfortable silence. Abed isn't. Not intentionally anyway. He turns around again, shrugs lightly.
"I was very unhappy, a lot. And I thought I might never find people who understood me. But the joy I get from watching movies and TV is so great. I would never want to miss out on that. I figured, even if that's all I have - it's plenty."
He can see Jeff smiling.
"I was surprised you didn't want to go by your apartment and bring your laptop so you could watch movies on the road."
Abed goes quiet.
"It's not working lately."
Jeff's smile falls and his brow furrows.
"What do you mean?"
"I don't know what happens. Sometimes it just stops. I can't enjoy movies or TV. I mean, I can watch it. It's like I'm watching it but I don't feel anything, like it doesn't come alive. What I imagine watching Cougar Town would be like for you." He pauses. "And then it returns."
"That must be scary" Jeff says quietly. He doesn't say that he has watched several episodes of Cougar Town. He wanted to see what it was like for Abed. Especially after Abed's birthday dinner that time. He still didn't get the appeal, Abed is right about that. But he also doesn't say that he's spent hours on Abed's fan-page, reading nearly all of the posts.
Abed looks at him, for a long time.
"It's usually still fun to do movie remakes, or go in the dreamatorium. Troy was good at dealing with it, the few times it happened after we met. I'd let him know and he'd.. be constantly on. Coming up with games for us to play, like writing a movie plot word by word, or making up raps. Reminding me it would come back. Without reminding me too much of the stuff I missed."
"But without Troy? How has it been?"
Abed looks down at his hands.
"Not so good. I just.. wait for it to pass."
"How has that gone?"
Abed doesn't reply.
"Have you been doing anything lately, like that?"
Abed looks at Jeff.
"I've spent most of my time with you. Getting drunk. That helps with making everything less."
Jeff swallows hard. He knows that much.
"It's pretty late. Maybe we should try to get some sleep." Jeff looks at his watch and Abed's right.
"Yeah. I think we have to be out of here by 8."
He looks at Abed, who's already looking at him. They stay like that, not talking, not making any gestures, for awhile. Eventually Jeff nods, slightly, and crawls under the sheet. Abed gets off the bed and takes off his pants. He turns out the light before getting into his bed. They don't say anything after that. Jeff thinks they might be experiencing the same feeling, and that's enough. Even though he can't be sure. Jeff feels both sad and lighter than he can remember. But he doesn't have time to ruminate for very long, before sleep takes him in and everything quiets entirely.
Again, the chapter title is from a Siken poem (Road Music).
I realize I may be, as someone who's not from the US, doesn't know how to drive, and didn't grow up with a car, the least suited person to be writing a road trip fic. The closest I've ever been to one is a day trip from Boston to Cape Cod when I was 17. But I'm trying my best - and welcome anyone else to write more Abed/Jeff road trip fic. Please.
Chapter 4: Can you see the plot like dotted lines across the room?
Some new tags just fyi. Suicide is mentioned but not discussed. Panic attacks/dissociation described.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
They get on the road early the next morning. Jeff is back behind the wheel. Abed had gotten a more useful map from the motel manager and starts making suggestions to Jeff on where to take them. Jeff isn't entirely sure why they're bothering with a route. It hardly seems like the point of the trip. But Abed seems to enjoy having something to do, with his hands and attention. So Jeff offers up suggestions when Abed asks for his opinion, and asks Abed for his when the road gives them options.
There is a lighter atmosphere, Jeff thinks. He feels calmer, he thinks Abed does too. There's still an anxious rumbling in his chest, stomach, head. Everywhere. But there's a weight lifted as well. It feels similar to after he had met his father again. He wonders if this is what his life is gonna be like. Slowly and painfully removing layers of secrets and trauma until he can be whole again. But what if the layers is all he is? What if by removing them all he stops being Jeff Winger? Stops being, at all. He looks at Abed. He swallows.
"Do you want to talk about yesterday?" He feels something unlock in his head. Being able to ask the question.
"What part?" Abed's looking at him, tips his head to the side. Jeff gives it some thought.
"Any?" He pauses. "I guess I was mostly thinking where we left of."
Abed is quiet. Just a-
"How you've been doing lately. We spent kind of a long time on me yesterday."
"It's not sessions, Jeff." Abed reminds him.
"I know. But I.. it helped. I forgot to say thank you. It helped me a lot to say those things out loud."
"You didn't have to say thank you, I knew."
"I'm glad it helped you."
"Do you want to talk about.. how things have been lately?" Abed scrunches his eyebrows.
"It's hard." Jeff nods. "I know you said I didn't have to have it figured out narratively before talking but I don't know how to, without."
"We don't have to talk about it right away."
Abed is quiet. He nods slightly. Jeff catches it.
"We can still talk though, I'd like to talk." He puts the map down in his lap.
"Sure. What about?"
"If it's okay with you I have some questions, for you?"
"Okay..." Jeff wants to go with Abed's ideas, but he's also hesitant.
"When you've been talking about teaching at Greendale lately... you seem more at peace with it. Than you did a year ago. How.. did you get there?" Abed's looking at Jeff, uncertainty clear on his face. It strikes Jeff that when Abed asks him questions he always feels like he really cares about his answer. That it matters to him more than anything else in that moment. It makes Jeff feels like it deserves thought, and he takes his time thinking it over.
"Honestly, I hadn't really noticed. But I guess you're right. It feels alright. Actually, it feels pretty good. To be where I'm at." He stops to think. "Maybe it's not where I thought I would be. Like we talked about yesterday.. I still.." He pauses. "Struggle. With it. With a lot of things. That this is where I'm at. That certain things are past me. But I think you're right that I've found some peace in it."
"How?" Abed looks at him, almost pleadingly.
"Are you asking because.. you're wondering that for yourself?" Jeff says it slowly and carefully. Abed is still. Then he nods. Jeff nods in return.
"Okay. I don't know if this is gonna be helpful, but I can try to explain what it's like for me?" Abed nods again. Jeff thinks for a few moments.
"It's still hard some days. I miss the early days of Greendale. I also miss being a lawyer. But I'm.. finding some peace in enjoying the things I've got. And the people in my life." He stops and looks at Abed. He looks back at the road.
"I remind myself life doesn't always have to be grandiose. It can be. But it's not a defeat to enjoy the things you're have, that you like. Maybe it's getting older.. but all I really care about is my family-" He looks at Abed again, as to communicate the one I chose. Abed nods, to show he understands, Jeff hopes. "Being okay and happy. Being at Greendale, teaching, does that for me, being a lawyer doesn't. Maybe in the future I'll find a different thing that does that."
Abed hesitates a bit.
"The hard days.. is that when.. you.." He doesn't finish the sentence. Jeff is used to Abed being direct, but he can sense he's treading more carefully around the topic. Unsure which words won't scare Jeff. Jeff doesn't blame him. He's not which words scare him too much either.
"Sometimes, yes." Abed cocks his head to the side.
"How do you .. balance that? You said yesterday you expect the feelings to come back.. isn't that scary?" Jeff widens his eyes at that. He also recognizes Abed is mirroring his own statement from yesterday.
"Yes." He lets out in a breath. Abed's waiting for more. Jeff wonders if he's still asking for his own sake.
"I don't know how I balance it.. Or maybe - that's why it feels okay to be happy with the life I have now. I feel so grateful sometimes." He pauses. "And guilty, for not being grateful enough."
It goes quiet between them for awhile after that. Abed eventually breaks the silence.
"I've been thinking a lot about what if it never gets as good again. Those first few years. What if it never gets that exciting and fun again?"
"Is that.. what's been making you sad?"
"Mostly." Jeff thinks for awhile.
"Do you remember when we came back to Greendale - the repilot?" Abed nods.
"Things were different, right? I think I started realizing then.. We're never gonna get back to those first few years. And now.. "the show" is over. But this is life. And that's what life is like. That was just one phase of our lives. But it doesn't mean our lives are over. Just this phase. This isn't the epilogue. It... can be whatever new show you want it to be.
And it is sad. It's okay that it's sad. We miss what we once had and who we once were. But that's because those things were beautiful. And they're not gone. They're part of you. Trying to erase them from your memories is only taking that beautiful part of you away. And you're sad because what you have now doesn't seem as beautiful. But everything is possible in the future. You just have to open yourself to it. And now you know you're able to do it. Because you've done it before. Did the Abed who started at Greendale Community College know he was gonna befriend a group of lovable misfits? He hoped, yes. But he didn't know what these years would entail. You still have that power in you. To feel the pain of the past and carry it with you, but still open your heart up to new wonders. I didn't think I had that in me. That's why I resisted so much. But you all cranked my heart open and it's only getting wider. I can't close it. I don't think you can either, even if you want to right now."
They're both quiet for awhile.
"Thanks for the monologue." Jeff looks over at him, he smiling a bit. Jeff grins back. Abed is still smiling, but looks down. He looks like he's thinking hard, and his brow furrows slightly.
"What is this then? Part of a new show or the show that's over?" Jeff can hear the uncertainty in his voice. He feels the rising worry in his chest.
"Abed... are we still talking metaphorically.. or.." He wants to take in any cues from Abed but he knows he needs to focus on the road. "Do you think this is a show?"
Abed's looking down, his brow still furrowed.
"What if I do?" He says it quietly. Jeff doesn't know where to go from here. Is this more serious than he has thought, he wonders. Then he really thinks about the questions. What if Abed does? Does it matter?
"Do you think we're.. real?"
Abed is quiet for awhile.
"Can't this be a show and we're real?"
Jeff feels really unqualified. But he doesn't want Abed to stop talking. He tries to remind himself that he knows Abed. And no new information about him is gonna change that.
"Is that how it feels?" He realizes they're both just asking questions back and forth. Abed is quiet again. He hasn't looked up.
"I don't know if it feels that way or is that way.. but yes." He finally says. Jeff nods.
"Okay." Abed looks at him. Some kind of desperation in his eyes.
"I know I'm crazy." But he doesn't sound convinced. Jeff takes in a deep breath. Oh, he hopes he isn't fucking this up.
"Abed, I.. I don't know if this is what a, uh, professional would say. And I don't know if I care about that. But.. do you mind thinking you're in a show?" Abed tilts his head to the side.
"What do you mean?"
"Does it make you.. sad, upset, feel bad that you think - or feel - that we're in a show?"
Abed thinks about it for a moment.
"No." He pauses. Jeff waits for him to continue.
"But I don't like other people thinking I'm crazy."
"Why?" Abed looks at him confused. Then the look fades as he searches for an answer.
"It makes me feel disconnected from them."
Jeff notes that the traffic is quiet and finds a place to take off the road and park. He turns fully to Abed.
"Abed, I care about whether you're happy or not. Not whether you experience the world identically to me or anybody else. Do you know how boring my life would be if you weren't yourself?"
Abed looks down.
"If it's an issue for you, we can figure out some way to deal with it. But if it's not, then it's not something that's gonna stop me or anybody else who loves you from doing so."
Abed looks up to meet Jeff's eyes.
"I don't know if it's an issue."
"That's also okay." Jeff shrugs. "We can figure it out."
They're both quiet for awhile. Then Jeff remembers Abed's initial question.
"About what you were asking.. I don't know what this is. This road trip. It's up to you, I guess." He tries to smile. "What do you think? Is it a new pilot?"
Abed perks up a bit.
"The Jeff and Abed pilot? What would that be like?"
"You tell me." Abed smiles at him, it looks like he's working it out in his head. But he doesn't tell Jeff about it. Jeff isn't in a hurry to get back on the road.
"You don't seem to be afraid of doing a Special Episode anymore?" Abed grins.
"We're way past that, Jeff." Jeff laughs.
"Yeah, I guess you're right."
"Besides, we haven't really fit the sitcom trope for awhile. I don't just mean this plotline. Us, here. I think we left it behind seasons ago."
Jeff likes hearing Abed talk about this, he realizes. He does worry he's doing the wrong thing, if he shouldn't welcome it. Something about giving into delusions. But he doesn't see how pathologizing Abed would help him. He realizes he likes it because it's Abed. It's who Abed is and always has been, and Jeff likes Abed. He gives Abed an encouraging look. Abed doesn't hesitate.
"Genre shifts like these aren't supposed to happen. But what do you do when the genre no longer fits? Things just gets weird. The audience notices. It probably feels unsatisfying."
"What genre do you think fits now?"
"I don't know. There were moments in the last year that felt like hour long dramas. But that's not us, is it?" Jeff thinks he's referring to his birthday. Or the lava game. Abed hadn't told Jeff about confessing the lava was real to him, but Troy had. Shortly after it ended, before they all said goodbye. He hadn't asked Jeff to look after Abed, but it had been the clear subtext. Jeff doesn't feel like he did a good enough job, but he hopes he is now. He wonders if Troy would be disappointed. He wonders where Troy is, what he's doing. He wonders when they're gonna hear from him.
Jeff doesn't have a reply for Abed's question.
"I didn't mind special episodes that much. But I hated After School specials." Abed looks at him, interested. "They never felt honest, or accurate. Especially when you knew the topics. All they left me with was the message that being gay could only be tolerated, never accepted, and to not have a kid while in high school." Jeff laughs it off. Abed nods seriously.
"Yeah, I have tried to watch some After School Specials. They're really bad."
"You do realize this could be called an After School Special - if the show about the school is over, and this is after that.." Abed shakes his head.
"Then I prefer the Jeff and Abed Pilot." Jeff smiles at that.
"How long do you think it's gonna last?" Abed tilts his head.
"Not sure." His face gets serious.
"To be honest, I was always surprised you wanted to hang out. That we had any scenes together."
"Because you're the lead, and I'm the weirdo. I thought maybe we were only paired together because if you're the lead - the lead has to react what the weird one does. And because the lead has a relationship with everyone. But then I realized it's not just your show."
"You know that's not why we hang out, as well.. right?" Abed looks unsure, but doesn't say anything.
"I like you, I like being around you, Abed. I probably have more fun with you than.. most people." Jeff can't think of anyone he has more fun with, in fact. Abed nods.
"Cool." He's looking down, but smiling.
"And it's not like I'm.. normal either."
"This is true." He says it sincerely, and Jeff laughs.
"You ready to continue driving?"
"You were the one who stopped." Jeff laughs again, but still raises his eyebrow questioningly at Abed. Who does the same thing back. Jeff shakes his head, and gets back on the road.
It's a few more hours of driving. Eventually they find a decent radio station, they talk about music for awhile, they share some of the snacks left from the night before.
Abed has found a motel by the time Jeff says it's enough driving for the day. It's much the same as the previous night, though this time their room has a TV. They're both pretty tired. Abed sits down on one bed, Jeff in the one chair by the window. First now something seems to occur to Abed.
"Should we tell someone where we went?"
"Oh, I texted Britta the morning we left."
"You did? What did you tell her.. exactly."
"I just said we were going on a roadtrip and I wasn't sure how long we would be gone for."
"She just asked to update occasionally so she knows we're not dead."
"Cool cool cool."
"But you should maybe.. let your girlfriend know? I don't know how often you guys see each other, but-"
"We broke up."
"You did? I'm sorry, Abed. I didn't know."
"I hadn't told you."
"On the last day of school. She came over when you guys were out."
"Oh. Okay. Um.. who- how did it..." Jeff trails off. Abed tilts his head to the side.
"She had noticed I'd been.. sad. Lately. But she just came over to talk. I said I thought we should break up. She didn't argue much."
"I'm really sorry Abed, that sucks."
"I did really like her."
"But.. I know I also maybe didn't get into a relationship for the right reasons."
"What do you mean?"
"Jeff, we started dating like a week after Troy left."
"I don't need Britta, or a real therapist, to tell me I- Was either trying to fill the space or delay feeling .. things." Jeff tries to process everything. He has wondered about Troy and Abed. Like everyone else. And like everyone he's made assumptions at times. He tried to put most of them away this summer, figured he wouldn't be a good help to Abed if he had false notions about what he was going through. He was still curious though. Filling the space of Troy with a girlfriend? But Abed doesn't let Jeff interrupt with the question he can't phrase right.
"Also, I think it was about trying to prove something. That I could be in a Real Relationship. I got more focused on that than on her."
"What do you mean by a real relationship?"
"I've been with a lot of people, Jeff. There's just been different circumstances that makes it.. not a Relationship."
"Some are what you would call casual. Physical. Then there's when people aren't ready to come out. There's other stuff too.." He stops talking. Jeff doesn't push him to keep elaborating. Jeff is silent. His brain stuck on the words come out.
"Right." He can hear himself say.
"You want to ask me about Troy, right?"
"You're wondering what was the deal with me and Troy?" It's a question, he looks pretty certain but there's a trace of uncertainty there. Like he thinks he might have misunderstood something. "I know you all wondered about us."
"Yeah. I guess I am."
"Well, there's not much to say. You know we ar-" he pauses. "were..." And again. "Best friends. Very close." He looks at Jeff.
"Yeah?" Abed cocks his head to the side.
"Yeah." He looks down. "We weren't dating." He adds.
He looks up and meets Jeff eyes, which seem more open than usual.
"So there wasn't.. anything else?" Abed is quiet. He slides down from where he was sitting to lay on his back, looking up the ceiling. Jeff isn't sure if he's going to respond, so he contemplates how to be as direct as possible.
"Were you in love with him?"
"Yes." It's short and clear. Jeff breaths out.
"What do you mean?" Jeff hesitates.
"Eh.. was he- Were you- um.. did you-" his brief ability to keep up with Abed's directness is soon enough gone. Abed tries to help him out.
"If you're wondering if we were having sex, the answer is .. complicated. In the dreamatorium, doing film remakes, similar situations. In scenarios where it made sense." Jeff nods. But he's not sure if he understands. Abed is quiet.
"But he didn't want to talk much about it. I didn't think he wanted anything more than what we were doing. And I didn't think I needed more than that." He looks over at Jeff and he looks so sad, Abed thinks, and it dawns on him that it's because of him. He looks away.
"But you said you were in love with him?" Abed nods.
"Was he in love with you?"
"We never put it in those words. But I thought it was obvious. I guess I was wrong." Jeff lets out a sound Abed can't place. He looks towards him and meets his eyes. He's not sure if Jeff is gonna cry or he thinks Abed is, or if either needs a hug. Settling, he sits up and simply pats the bed beside himself. Jeff gets out of his chair and joins Abed on top of the covers. Their arms just not touching. They let the silence sit with them for awhile. Jeff is the one to break it.
"I guess I always thought your relationship just seemed confusing - or unconventional rather - from the outside. But to you guys it made sense."
"Sometimes it did. Most of the time." He's quiet again. Then-
"I actually thought we would've had this conversation years ago."
Jeff turns to him.
"What? About you and Troy?"
"Well, that, or about me being with different people." Jeff looks more confused.
"Of different genders." Abed adds, he thinks helpfully.
But Jeff is now the very picture of confusion.
"Oh. Why?" Abed cocks his head to the side.
"I assumed if you thought I might be having sex with Troy and you just asked me about my ex-girlfriend you knew I dated men and women." Jeff opens his mouth, then closes it.
"I guess so." He says it slowly, unconvincingly. His eyes are moving back and forth. "But why did you think we would have had a conversation about it?"
Abed inspects him silently. He almost jumps at the sudden look of panic that washes over Jeff's face.
"Did you think I had a problem with it? Abed, if any joke I've made has been over the line, I swear my only intention-" Abed cuts him off before he makes himself pass out with the speed at which his words are coming out.
"No, Jeff, I didn't think that." Jeff lets out a breath, and nods slowly. He still looks very unsure. Abed keeps looking at him in this certain way. But he knows they're outside of Jeff's wheelhouse. And he doesn't want to accidentally corner him into somewhere he doesn't want to be.
"Do you wanna go eat? I saw a diner on the other side of the parking lot."
The diner is actually quite a bit further down the road, but it's a nice walk. It's already pitch black out, and just barely chilly in the t-shirt Jeff is wearing. He's glad Abed suggested food. He keeps forgetting he's hungry when they're on the road. Not to mention the levels of vulnerability he's had to get comfortable with over the last few days. He is so tired. The build up of weeks of bad sleep, and now constantly thinking about whether he is making the right next moves. As Abed is getting his cardigan out of their bag, and during their walk towards the diner, the conversation they've just had keeps going on repeat in his head. He's glad to have a more detailed picture of Abed and Troy's relationship. He feels it will help him support Abed better. But he has a feeling Abed gave him an out at the end. And while he feels relieved, if it's something Abed wants to talk about, so does he. That is why he's here. His panic that he might have seemed less than supportive in the past hadn't totally left him, but as he's circling through his memories of the past 6 years he can't find glaring examples to support it. And Abed had reassured him. But then why did Abed think he would have wanted to talk about it? He didn't care whether or not Abed was- Abed's voice pulls him out of his head, and he tried to shake the thoughts away.
"Everything okay?" Jeff nods.
Abed points to the door. They had arrived at the diner.
They both order cheeseburgers. Jeff stills feels too in his thoughts to really contemplate how unhealthy it is. It reminds Abed of his pulp fiction birthday dinner, and he seems genuinely happy to be talking about it. Jeff wonders how different their memories are of that night. He reminds himself they also haven't been eating a lot in the past few days. He tells himself it's fine and he almost believes it.
They're still waiting for their food, but Jeff doesn't want to loose his resolve to show he wants to continue the conversation.
"About what we were talking about.." Abed looks at Jeff with wide eyes.
"We don't have to, I'm sorry if I was overstepping."
"No, it's okay." He takes a deep breath. "I really hadn't thought that much about you and Troy. Or other people you were seeing. I mean, I did wonder about you and Troy. But didn't think much further than .. that you guys seemed kind of closer than just best friends." Fuck, he doesn't know how to continue it. Because he has been thinking lately. He figures he can start where it did for him.
"Do you remember how me and Britta almost got married?" He cringes a bit, just at the words. What a thought. He can't tell if Abed seems taken aback by the change in topic.
"Yeah." He doesn't look at Jeff, and keeps his lips tightly together.
"I've been thinking about it a lot lately.." He pauses, then quickly adds. "It was obviously a terrible idea."
He's looking at Abed, hoping he will look up. He wants some reassurance, to not stop talking. But Abed doesn't know that. Jeff knows he needs to get there, even if he has to take the long way around. He takes another deep breath, hopes it will quiet his mind. He just feels lightheaded. He looks down and focuses on his hands, folded on the table.
"But.. more than that, I've been thinking about how easy it felt. To make the decision. Because it felt so expected. And that.. scared me. How it felt so easy to do something that I thought I was both - historically, logically - against and had no real.. emotional, desire for." Jeff is still studying his hands, but he can feel Abed's eyes on him now.
"It's made me think about my past relationships. And made me realize they too.. were just the same. What felt expected and easy." He stops. He just feels overwhelmingly sad. He wants to look at Abed but he can't make himself look up. He swallows.
"It made them all feel so hollow. I want..." He stops. "I want to know I'm doing something out of real desire and... love. But I don't even know what that would look like. Feel like... I don't know where to start." He feels like he's loosing the thread. Maybe he needs to starts somewhere else.
"Maybe if I thought about you being.." Now he's too compelled to look at Abed, because he doesn't want to mess this up.
"Bisexual?" He asks, raising an eyebrow.
Abed's look is intense, but hard to read. He nods, curtly. When Jeff doesn't continue talking he explains.
"Sure - I mean, I don't really get labels." He shrugs. "They don't feel very real to me. But sure, it applies."
Jeff nods while he's talking. For too long, he feels. He doesn't know how to continue now he has stopped. Another deep breath, before he throws himself back in.
"Okay, maybe if I'd.. been conscious of that I would've asked you questions.. but. Maybe not. Probably wouldn't." He breaths out and closes his eyes.
"I'm such a fucking coward." He opens them. Sees Abed looking at him, and he has to look back down at his hands. "That much is clear. With this, with the.. suicidal shit."
At that very moment a waitress arrives with their burgers. To her credit she only freezes for the briefest millisecond, before she sets down their food. Abed thanks her, she leaves, but neither of them touches their food.
Jeff feels like his entire body is floating away. He doesn't know if he's even panicking, or if it's possible for shame to evaporate your entire being. All he knows is he can barely see the diner, the food, Abed, not even his hands feel real. Then, for the second time in two days, he feels the light but solid touch of Abed's hand on his arm. That is real. He blinks a few times. Abed's face looks real.
"Jeff. Breathe." Jeff lets out the breath he was holding. The rest of the world comes into focus. He swallows and nods a thank. Abed gives him a long look before he lets go of his arm.
Jeff shakes his head. Abed waits a bit before he nods. They just sit there, Jeff thinks several minutes passes. He's trying to breathe. He feels more solid, but he doesn't know if he can talk. Eventually he reaches for one of the burgers and starts eating. Abed takes his cue and does the same. They eat in silence for awhile.
Then Jeff puts down his food.
"Sorry." It's the first word he finds.
"Jeff. You don't-" And Jeff knows what he's going to say but he can't hear it. Suddenly he just wants it to be over with.
"I'm bisexual, too. Which you seem to have known. Even though I've never told anyone. Which is why I'm a coward. I always take the easy way. Fuck - I've known I like guys and girls since I was 8, but figured since I liked girls too I could just decide to only date them and it was fine - but it's not!" He stops, and realize the volume of his voice was maybe higher than he intended. He quickly looks around them, but no one seems to be paying attention. He swallows. What the fuck was that. He looks back at Abed, finally.
And Abed just gives him one of his small smiles.
And Jeff meets his eyes. And there, his brain finally slows down. Oh.
"Congrats." Abed's smile widens.
"Not the most eloquent coming out, huh." Jeff shakes his head, but he can't help but smile too. Abed cocks his head to the side.
"Whatever gets the job done." He pauses, then adds. "I've heard a lot, you'd be surprised how few fit the standard formula."
Jeff's about to ask, then thinks Of course a lot of people come out to Abed. That actually makes perfect sense. Abed's face turns more serious, he's inspecting Jeff.
"Are you okay?" Jeff nods.
"It's normal to feel overwhelmed." Jeff nods again.
He picks at his food.
"I don't know about the pilot, but this could be a decent movie." He looks at Abed. "If I was better at the dialogue."
"I'll write you some lines."
Chapter title from Richard Siken's "The Dislocated Room"
I feel like I should apologize for the lack of film references. Especially since in my actual life it's often how I communicate as well. I'll explain it as the Abed I'm writing feels currently cut off from his love of film/tv and the lack of references is a reflection of that. Which I feel is true. I did want to put in a My Own Private Idaho reference but it simply didn't feel right.
Oh, and my entire understanding of Special Episodes/After School Specials is from the podcast You're Wrong About which is the best.
Chapter 5: Something you don't even have a name for
Big thank you to the server for help and support. I love you all so much.
There's some stuff that might warrant an emetophobia warning, but nothing is graphically described, just mentioned in the past. Also I think it earns it rating, so heads up on that. Also a mention of a drug overdose. Let me know if there's anything I missed, don't want to give anyone a bad surprise.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The July sun is nearly blinding as they're walking to the car the next morning. Abed already has his sunglasses on. They had gotten to bed early the night before. There hadn't been much talking while getting ready this morning, but it didn’t feel tense. Abed found that they both seemed to enjoy the quiet of the morning. Soft smiles, hums, the odd eyebrow raise - was enough.
They've only been driving for a short time when Jeff gets tired of squinting and asks Abed to look for his sunglasses.
"I think they're in the glove compartment." Abed looks at the compartment in front of him. A beat, then -
"I think it's locked."
"Oh, right." He fishes his wallet out of his pocket and hands it to Abed.
"Key should be in there."
Abed finds the key and unlocks the compartment. He moves his hand around inside it for a moment.
"No glasses." Jeff sighs.
"But I got you some."
Jeff looks over at him.
"You did?" His voice is kind of high. Abed isn't sure what that means. He reaches down for the plastic bag he got at the gas station on the first day. He gets a pair of aviators out and hands them to Jeff.
"You .. got these for me?" Abed nods. Jeff has a look on his face Abed can't determine.
"Thanks." While Jeff puts them on and focuses on the road, Abed takes another look in the glove compartment.
"What's this?" He holds up a thin book with a grey cover.
Jeff looks over casually, then freezes. He slowly turns back to the road and doesn't say anything. Abed keeps looking at him. Eventually, without looking at Abed, he answers.
"It's a uh, book. Of poetry."
Abed looks at it, turns it over.
"I didn't know you liked poetry."
Jeff is quiet. He clears his throat.
"Well.. yeah, it's pretty embarrassing. I wouldn't talk about it."
Abed is confused. He turns his head to the side, and shifts his focus from the book to Jeff.
Jeff looks as confused as Abed feels. His brow furrowed.
"It's poetry.. it's inherently embarrassing." He says it slowly.
"Why?" And when he doesn't get a reply, "I've personally never read much but it doesn't seem that different from music."
Jeff is quiet. His brow furrowing further.
"I guess …" Unconvincingly. He shakes his head slightly. "But, no." He breathes out.
"Abed, in movies and on TV - who reads poetry?"
Abed thinks for a while. Eventually -
"Girls, goths, gay people." Abed starts listing off, letting the words sing a little.
"Yeah." Jeff interrupts. Abed isn't finished.
"And poets. People in period pieces." Jeff interrupts him again.
"This isn't a period piece."
"Yeah, I guess." He doesn't see how that's relevant to his answer.
"But this isn't a movie, Jeff."
Jeff finally looks over at him, with a raised eyebrow.
"Probably." Abed shrugs. Not to you , he means to say, but he doesn't want to detract from the conversation.
"Anyone can read poetry."
"Yeah.." Jeff seems unconvinced, he's making a face, a grimace.
"And also you are kind of gay." Abed adds. If giving Jeff categories to prove his point was supposed to exclude him, Abed didn't understand how that one would. But he sends him what he hopes is a playful smile, in the hope Jeff understands his intentions. They hadn't talked much about Jeff's coming out yesterday. Once Abed felt Jeff was comfortable again he didn't push the conversations. He didn't want Jeff to start panicking again. It seemed like it had been a lot for him, these past few days. Abed found it difficult too, to go from pushing down and ignoring his feelings for months to full on sober confessions and Real Conversations day and night. But he didn't think he was familiar with the panic that seemed to take over Jeff. He considers the book in his hand. Maybe it could wait. He wants to give Jeff an easier day. He thinks maybe a playful joke referencing Jeff coming out would help, but he worries it will backfire. Maybe "gay" is too far, the feelings too nuanced. To discuss Jeff's attraction to men separate from his attraction to women. He wants to talk about it. Wants to know where Jeff is at. But if he's been running from this for several decades-
Jeff turns to him and smiles back. It looks nervous, but bright. Okay, maybe it's cool. He looks back down at the book. "Crush" it says in large black letters.
He looks to Jeff, who's turned to the road.
"I can put it back."
"No it's.. it's fine." He sounds genuine. There's a nervousness in his voice though, Abed thinks.
"Why do you feel so embarrassed?" Abed has a lot of feelings, even as he struggles to communicate them at times. He's more used to feeling too overwhelmed to convey his feelings than experiencing a lack of them. But he admits embarrassment isn't one he has extended familiarity with. It intrigues him.
Jeff doesn’t speak at first. His voice is quieter when he eventually talks. The words coming out slow, like he's letting himself figure out what to say while he's talking.
"Maybe it's.. not so much who reads it as.." He pauses for longer. His voice goes even quieter, smaller. The kind of voice Abed imagines one uses in the dark, in a bedroom or a blanket fort. Not just a voice for secrets, but those confessions that have to exist in a space where the world and bodies and time doesn't exist. Not inside a bright, very real car someone is in control, the rays of sunshine hitting them so sharply it's almost too real to exist.
"It's so vulnerable.. It's vulnerability itself."
Abed thinks he likes the word vulnerable. Vulnerability. Likes it in the context of Jeff. But he doesn't get the feeling Jeff does.
"That's a bad thing?"
"It feels like it is." Jeff swallows.
"It feels.. terrifying."
"Not all scary things are bad." There are things Abed avoids because they scare him. Being abandoned, doctors, making bad movies. But he usually associates scary things with excitement. Horror movies, roller coasters, making good movies. But Jeff has talked about his anxiety before. Abed suspects it's a more present force in his life than Abed’s.
"Yeah..." It's not convincing.
Abed looks at the cover again. The picture is of someone with light stubble, cropped to only show the lower part of their face and their hand. Abed thinks it could be Jeff.
"You keep it in the car?"
"Yeah.. it.. it comforts me." The words hang in the air. Abed studies Jeff. He thinks he must be feeling this vulnerability right now. But the look on Jeff's face is hard to get a grip on. It's not pained, not exactly, maybe something slightly desperate.
Abed has never told Jeff that his face is probably - no, for sure - the face Abed knows the best. It didn’t happen on purpose. But he has spent 6 years studying him. First he told himself it was because Jeff was the lead. And that made sense. It was important to know what Jeff was thinking in a scene. But it was also because Jeff was interesting. Abed never got tired of trying to map his face. Of course, he had spent a lot of time looking at Troy's face as well. But Troy was never difficult to understand for Abed. They both got each other quickly. If Abed ever wondered what Troy was feeling he simply asked. And he knew Troy would tell him the truth. So while he would spend plenty of time looking at Troy, it wasn't so much to chart and file the information, but simply because he enjoyed doing it.
Jeff has a nice face as well, Abed recognized that. But that wasn't why he started, and it still didn't feel like the main reason. He could ask Jeff what he was thinking, but - and it wasn't that he thought Jeff would lie to him. As much as he wasn't sure Jeff would have access to the honest answer, even for himself. So studying, learning, and charting Jeff's face become a necessity. Necessity, and pleasure, he added to himself. He couldn't deny that. And yet, this look is unfamiliar.
And even though Abed doesn't respond, or urge him to continue in any way, Jeff does.
"A .. friend gave it to me awhile back." And Abed thinks he's going to elaborate further, but he doesn't. An anonymous friend, Abed thinks. He thought he knew about most of Jeff's life, at least over the last few years, and yet he can't think of many people in Jeff's life he doesn't know. And he doubts Jeff is talking about one of their mutual friends. Then again, if it's an anonymous friend Abed wouldn't know about them. He files the question away, he doesn't need to know the answer yet. He starts flipping through it. It feels worn, read. Warm, in a way.
"A lot of these are dogeared." More new information. He didn't know Jeff dogeared books. He tries to remember what Jeff's books at school used to look like, but reminds himself that Jeff would rarely read them and dogearing would probably show too much interest for his liking.
"Yeah..." The uncertainty is still there, in his voice. He doesn't look at Abed. Abed feels the uncertainty spread to him. He doesn't know what Jeff is going to say next either.
"Actually," Jeff swallows, "you might like some of them." He pauses. Abed thinks he can picture what Jeff is feeling. Like he's taking a leap off a diving board. "He writes a lot about movies." Splash.
"Oh, yeah?" He raises his eyebrows at Jeff, but Jeff doesn't look at him. Abed looks down at the pages, turned to one of the dogeared ones. Jeff looks over then, not at Abed's face, but at his hands, the pages open between them.
"Yeah. Like that one." He breathes out. Abed looks at the title. Planet of Love.
Jeff gives Abed's face a quick look once he sees him starting to read. There's a weird mix of feelings in his chest. Anxiety, though it's not panic. Something crawling and strange. Like butterflies if they didn't have wings. And had too many legs. That’s dumb though. Maybe something warm as well. It's nice, he suddenly thinks, it's maybe nice to share this with someone. With Abed.
Of course, he didn't tell Abed why it was dogeared. Why he was quick to tell him that the subject of plenty of the poems in the book are about movies, filmmaking, directors. Or how that poem in particular (as well as too many others to think about) he had marked because it reminded him of Abed.
The thought makes him shift uncomfortably. He can't settle on whether he feels good about this or not. Then, Abed takes the decision out of his hands. He's only been reading for a few seconds when he puts the book down in his lap. He closes his eyes and leans back.
Jeff gets nervous. No, there's the panic. Rising in his stomach, chest. Not quite reaching his head, but getting there. Oh, he hated it. He thinks it's embarrassing and doesn't know how to tell Jeff. Jeff suddenly wants to get out of the car, needs to get out of the car, out of the situation. He sees the tank is low and uses the opportunity to stop when a gas station comes up. Since Abed still has his eyes closed he lets him know he has stopped for gas.
He exists quickly and goes inside to pay, and when he comes back out Abed is leaning on the hood. Eyes closed and breathing shallow.
Now Jeff notices that he doesn't look so good. He takes a chance and asks.
"You alright buddy?"
"Nauseous." Jeff panics a bit. Then realizes Abed isn't nauseous because of his poems. But then why?
Abed opens his eyes and sees the look on Jeff's face.
Abed points at the car.
"Car sick". Jeff breaths out. Ah.
"I'm better now. It's why I can't be on my phone in the car, reading is bad."
"Oh, I didn't know." Abed shrugs. I didn't tell you. Jeff thinks. Abed doesn't expect him to know things he hasn't told him, and yet he seems to know everything Jeff doesn't tell anyone.
"But maps are okay?" Abed nods.
"Yeah, they're different."
Jeff nods. Then the million dollar question hits him.
"Why... Why did you try to read then?"
"It seemed really important to you."
Abed has closed his eyes again and doesn't see the look that dawns on Jeff's face. If he had he would have had to create a new file for it. Maybe an entire new system.
Without opening his eyes, Abed holds up the book. Jeff hadn't realized he'd been holding it this entire time.
"I'd like to read the rest of the poem. Is it okay if we wait to get back on the road. I still feel a bit shaky."
"Sure". He goes to join Abed, leaning next to him on his car.
In a quieter voice Abed asks, once Jeff is close enough. Their sides touching.
"Actually, would you mind reading it aloud?" Jeff swallows loudly. The silence hangs heavy between them for several seconds.
"Because you're still nauseous?" Abed doesn't reply. He just holds the book up. Eventually Jeff takes it, he opens it where Abed had kept his finger in place. He starts reading it from the start. Tries to keep his voice steady, as hard as it is. When he's finished he looks at Abed. He's opened his eyes, he seems to be looking at somewhere in the distance.
"I like it. " Jeff smiles, but he feels shaky. Abed turns to look at him. Soft, Jeff thinks. Can a look be soft?
He holds the eye contact for a few seconds, but then he has to look away. Breathes deeply.
"We can keep driving now, if you want. I feel okay."
Jeff puts the book in his back pocket.
They get back in the car. They drive for a while.
Jeff asks Abed about his travel sickness. Childhood thing, Abed explains. It used to be worse. Now he just needs to keep himself from reading, and focus on the road if he starts feeling it.
The worst is boats, he adds. He doesn't mention Troy. Jeff can't tell if that's relevant. Abed says he would never get on a boat. He doesn't say whether this is new.
He tells Jeff about the time he was travelling to Detroit with his dad to see family, and he threw up once the second bus showed up. Without even getting on it.
Jeff asks him questions about where he has traveled before. Abed talks about visiting relatives on his dad's side in Detroit.
About going to Poland with his mother when he was young. How he doesn't remember much, except the cartoons they watched. He tells Jeff about the VHS tapes he brought back, how he still has them in the apartment. How he hasn't watched them in 5 years.
Jeff wants to ask him about his mother. He doesn't. Abed doesn't ask any questions in return. Not about the poems and not about Jeff's travelling, parents, childhood. They get a few hours on the road before Abed mentions it would be nice to stop soon, get some food. They haven't looked at the map since they started driving, but now Abed finds their location, as well as a little town they'll soon pass by. Jeff feels a twinge of anxiety in his gut. It feels easier on the long highways, the anonymous motels and gas stations. But Abed seems excited, as far as Jeff can tell, when they shift onto smaller roads. One of the first establishments they see appears to be a diner, but it's got a decent parking lot in front of it. They park there and enter the diner.
Jeff sees a table and heads towards it. Abed follows, saying something in a quiet voice Jeff doesn't quite catch, like his observations often go. More to himself than to anyone else.
Still, Jeff asks.
"It's a pie diner." He says it like that should be significant, which it seems to be to him. Jeff simply nods. There does seem to be a decent number of people eating pie.
They get seated in one of the booths. The place is bright, warm. The sun shines in through about half the windows. There's several booths along the windows, a few simple tables, a long counter. There's a few couples, a family or two, in the booths, but most of the patrons sit along the counter. It's just around lunchtime, but it's not wildly busy. A nice buzz of people, but their voices are gentle and low. Jeff feels his heart settle a bit.
A waitress comes up to their table.
"Good afternoon! What can I get for you, gentlemen? We've got the pie of the day special, if that interests you. It's a marshmallow cream pie." Jeff blinks at her, a bit overwhelmed. That sounds very sweet. But he looks at Abed - who is smiling visibly.
Abed puts on his best southern accent to respond to the waitress.
"I don't need no baby. I don't want no trouble. I just wanna make pies, that's all I wanna do. Make. Pies."
Jeff is startled, then recognizes it. Not the line, but what Abed is doing. He grins at him. Happy he's quoting lines again. Abed meets Jeff's eyes and smiles back. He turns to the waitress.
"Thank you, yes. I'd like a slice of that, please."
Jeff asks to see the menu, and she gives him one.
"I'll be back with you boys later." She looks at Abed and winks "I like Waitress too."
Jeff waits until she has left.
"The movie I was quoting. You haven't seen it?"
Jeff shakes his head.
"I think you'd like it. We can watch it sometime."
Jeff thinks about how long it's been since they've watched movies together. Or at least an entire movie. A few times when they'd gotten drunk at the bar and ended up back at Jeff's afterwards, they had put on a movie. But inevitably one of them would pass out on the couch (it was always Abed, except that time Britta came along and it was both of them) and the other (Jeff) turned it off. He couldn't even name one title.
"Tell me about it."
Abed gives him a questioning look.
"It's fine, we can still watch it once we get back."
Abed goes quiet, he looks down at the table. After a few moments he looks up again, in Jeff's direction but not directly meeting his eyes.
"Keri Russell makes great pies but is married to a terrible man and she becomes pregnant with his baby. She also starts having sex with her doctor, played by Nathan Fillion. She keeps thinking about running away from her husband, but at the end she doesn't run away. Instead she finally accepts that she is worthy of happiness, stands up for herself, and creates a wonderful life for herself and her daughter. Without saying goodbye to the place or the people that do love and support her."
Jeff doesn’t immediately respond. He’s thinking about Abed’s description of the movie. Is he trying to communicate something? He’s not sure what to ask though.
He does wonder why Abed mentioned Nathan Fillion. He didn't seem relevant to the plot.
"Yeah, I kind of love that. He really only exists for the main character to sleep with and maybe fall in love with a little bit and then he stops being relevant. We watched it in my Gender Roles in Film class." He pauses.
"But I mentioned he was in it because I thought you might like Nathan Fillion." He pauses again, and when he talks his voice is a little quieter. "That he was your type."
Jeff is kind of taken aback. He wasn't expecting them to talk about guys yet, not concretely anyway. More than that though, he hasn't given the topic music thought. Or at least he didn’t think he had.
"Why did you think that?"
Abed is quiet while he thinks about it.
"Rich "Doc Pottery-Wood". I thought that whole thing was.. more about a crush than about him and Annie."
Jeff's eyes go wide, but he doesn't say anything.
"It wasn't?" Abed tilts his head to the side.
"I'm not.. sure."
Abed nods, looks down.
"I do like Nathan Fillion." Jeff muses. He remembers marathoning Firefly with Abed a few years back. "But I.. I haven't given my, uh, type a lot of thought. But I'm not sure I have one." He keeps looking at Abed. The way the sun hits the top of his head. The glow that shines on the side of his face. Highlighting all his features.
Abed looks up and sees Jeff staring at him. Tilts his head to the side. Jeff thinks it's the look of him filing something away.
The waitress arrives with Abed's slice of pie.
"Can I get you anything dear?" She looks at Jeff.
"Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't get a chance to look at the menu yet."
"I was telling him about Waitress," explains Abed.
She gives them a kind smile.
Jeff looks down at the menu, then promptly back up.
"I'm not really hungry, can I just get a cup of coffee?”
"Sure, dear. Can I get you anything to drink?" Abed shakes his head.
"But thank you."
"No problem." She leaves.
"I like this place," Abed looks around.
Jeff keeps looking at Abed, as Abed is looking everywhere else.
"We could stay," The words are out of his mouth before he has time to think about them. But it feels right. "We don't have to keep driving if you'd like to stay here for a few hours." Abed looks at him wide eyed. "The town, I mean, not the diner." He adds. Though if he's being honest with himself he'd stay here all day if that's what Abed wanted.
"You're okay with that?"
They stay at the diner long enough for Abed to finish his pie. When they leave they also leave behind the car. Abed talks to their waitress before he meets Jeff outside, on the steps going up to the door. He tells Jeff about the few places he got told to check out, and assurances that leaving the car there wasn’t a bother.
Jeff already thinks small town life might not be so bad.
They start heading down the street towards the main square, but Abed spots a park, and they head in that direction. The park opens up into a small forest. It’s open and bright, a well lit footpath along the river. Neither of them brought shorts and Jeff is relieved the temperatures here aren’t unbearable in jeans. He still feels stupid when he wears shorts, an insecurity that never has seemed to go away. He realizes he can’t remember ever seeing Abed in shorts either. He looks over at Abed. He left his cardigan in the car, wearing only one of the white shirts Jeff bought him the first night. It’s strange seeing him in plain t-shirts, but that’s not the first thought Jeff has looking at him. He looks at him, how the sunlight through the trees create patterns on his chest, illuminating parts of his hair, and the only clear words in his head are Abed is beautiful .
He expects a panic to follow. Some overwhelming feeling covering them up, drowning them. But that doesn’t happen. It feels like his mind has gone blank. Someone erased everything on the blackboard and the only words left are Abed is beautiful . He wonders if this is meditation, if he has reached enlightenment.
Abed turns towards him, still walking along the river. He smiles at Jeff, Jeff smiling back. Gentle smiles.
They talk too. It’s lighter, easier than the past few days. Jeff’s not sure if it’s the forest, the sunshine, the lack of car, road, speed. Or maybe they’ve pushed past a certain point.
It’s not that the conversations don't still make Jeff tense up. Abed asks him if he feels okay about coming out. Jeff tries his best to answer honestly. And even though Abed is careful, gentle, Jeff still feels his heart speed up. Like it did at the diner when Abed asked about his type. He wonders if that’s ever going to go away. Or if he just has to walk around with this for the rest of his life.
He is happy he did it, he insists. Assures, when Abed says he feels he pressured Jeff into it. He admits he worries about how stressed it made Jeff. Jeff tries to explain that his panic doesn’t mean he’s not capable of talking about it.
Abed asks if he wants to talk more about it. Jeff doesn’t answer that, they just keep walking. They come past a small bridge crossing the river and they end up standing there, throwing rocks and sticks down into the water.
Jeff says they can talk about it, but he’s not sure what to say.
Abed leaves it. None of his questions are urgent.
They’re still at the bridge when Jeff brings up the book of poetry. He tells Abed about the friend who gave it to him. A few months before he came to Greendale.
“Before you were disbarred?” Abed asks. Jeff nods.
“Just before. He..” He stops. The pronoun suddenly feels heavy in his mouth.
“He worked at a bar I used to go to after winning a case. We got to know each other quite.. well. I.. would come by more often.” Jeff sighs. He bends down and spends longer looking for a good stone to throw. He throws it harder than he had expected. Abed looks at him, studies his face.
“He made a move on me once… I didn’t take it super well.” He looks over at Abed to check his reaction, but Abed’s face doesn’t betray much of what he’s thinking.
“But we kept hanging out. He would.. Talk about poetry, art, the places he wanted to travel. He was.. Unashamed about it.” Jeff stops talking. He doesn’t make a move to pick up anything to throw. Eventually Abed doubts he’s going to continue.
“Why have you never talked about him before? I, well, I thought I knew all your friends.”
Jeff looks over at him. There’s a familiarity in that statement. Abed is his family. And he’s right. He does know all his friends. Jeff looks away, focuses on the ripples in the river below them.
“He… he died.” Jeff can feel himself lose touch with his body. Nothing but the ripples feels real. “Just before I got disbarred.” He adds. “Just before..” He breathes out. Closes his eyes. Doesn’t finish the sentence.
Abed’s voice brings him back.
“I’m so sorry, Jeff.” Jeff opens his eyes. River, bridge, trees, sunlight, Abed.
“Thanks.” Jeff mumbles.
“How?” Jeff doesn’t look at his face. But he turns around, and sits down with his back against the railing. Abed joins him.
“Drug overdose. I think. I didn’t get a lot of information. Just someone at his work told me.” His voice is quiet, the words coming out in one long breath.
Abed’s hand is suddenly in his. Jeff thinks it’s the best thing in the entire world. He swallows. They both let the silence sit with them. They’ve got a perfect view of the sun between the leaves. Eventually Abed lays his head to rest on Jeff’s shoulder. He never lets go of Jeff’s hand.
Only once Jeff notices Abed’s light shiver do they get up, a little sore. Jeff lets go of Abed’s hand before they continue walking.
Soon enough they’re out of the forest. They walk along some old train tracks for a while, until they get back to streets with small shops and restaurants. They find a cafè, Abed gets some lemonade and Jeff a sandwich. The staff is just as lovely as they were at the diner, Jeff thinks.
He mentions it to Abed. How it seems like they’re in harmony with everyone here.
“I suppose.” When Jeff refocuses on his sandwich Abed keeps looking at him, tilting his head to the side.
Afterwards they keep walking through the streets, looking inside some shops but mostly just wandering around.
Abed comments on how nice this feels. It feels like a real vacation.
“It could continue to be like this.” Jeff isn’t quite sure where the words are coming from. It feels almost like someone else telling him. Abed looks at him for a long time. They don’t say anything else.
It starts to get darker and Jeff suggests they find the car and a motel to stay in. It takes them a while to figure out where the pie diner is, until they ask a few strangers who are happy to direct them.
Finding a motel turns out to be much easier. There’s one just down the road from the diner. They get a room, but before even going inside or getting their stuff from the car, Jeff admits he could really use a drink at the bar across the street. Abed gives him a quick once over. He thinks about the conversations they could be having. They can probably wait for another day. And he agrees it sounds nice.
The bar is way less seedy than they expected from the exterior. It’s pretty dark inside, but the crowd is pretty diverse. There’s no real dance floor, but the music is still upbeat. Synth? Jeff wonders. The bartender is friendly and chatty, getting them both their drinks with accompanying compliments. Jeff just blinks at the bartender when he tells him how cute his smile is. Abed drags Jeff over to a booth in the corner.
“You okay, Jeff?” Abed smiles at Jeff. Jeff smiles too, still a bit confused, shaking his head as he’s looking at his drink.
“You usually eat compliments right up.”
Jeff looks at Abed, a bit indignant. Then considers it and shrugs.
“Yeah.. I don’t know. I wasn’t expecting that. What about you - often get told you have sexy hands?” Abed grins but doesn’t answer.
Abed looks around the bar.
“Quite different from the bar Britta works at, huh?”
“Yeah.” They sit quietly for a while, sipping their drinks. They turn to each other at almost the exact same moment. Jeff is the first to speak.
“This isn’t a gay bar is it?” Abed laughs a little.
“I was about to say the same. But…” He continues to scan the room.
“I don’t think so.”
Jeff hums. He finishes his drink. He feels warm and relaxed. Maybe it had felt refreshing to be sober for a few days, but this was so comforting. Everything softened at the edges.
“I’m gonna get another one, you want anything?” Abed shakes his head.
Jeff returns with another scotch, slides down next to Abed.
“Definitely a flirty bartender.”
“What did he say this time?” Abed’s smiling softly at him. Jeff just smiles back and shakes his head.
“I think you’re right though. But it does seem very..” He doesn’t finish the sentence out loud. Friendly, he wants to say. Open. The entire town does actually. He wonders why it feels so different.
They have a few drinks. Talk. Abed goes on a long tangent about the roads in My Own Private Idaho that Jeff doesn’t quite follow. He thinks Abed is talking about where they should drive next, but he’s not sure if he’s just talking about River Phoenix’s clothes. Something about how Jeff could look like him if he grew out his sideburns, and Abed could be Keanu Reeves if he grew his hair out more. But it devolves into him talking about his haircut schedule and untimely deaths and Jeff looses track entirely. He’s gotten satisfyingly drunk, at least for this mood. He feels good. They’re talking about things that matter but that won’t matter if they forget in the morning. He’s laughing properly for the first time in a long time. Abed is leaning into him, warm and real. He thinks they might be okay.
The time to leave comes and Abed says he's going to the bathroom first. Jeff waits behind. He leans back in the seat, but he already feels the absence of Abed next to him. It only takes him a few minutes before he decides to follow Abed into the bathroom.
It’s small, only a few urinals and two stalls. Abed is the only one there, wiping his hands with a paper towel, and he turns to Jeff when he comes in. A beat. Neither can tell how long it lasts. Then Jeff lunges forward, and with one hand he braces himself on the sink, while the other grabs the back of Abed’s head, his mouth meeting Abed’s in a bruising kiss.
Abed doesn’t hesitate to return it, just shifts slightly under Jeff’s touch so the kiss can become deeper without crashing. Jeff responds well to Abed exploring his mouth. Abed feels, more than hears, him moan into his mouth. The hand at the back of his head quickly becomes gentler, the other one coming up to cradle the side of his face, his body now leaning more on Abed than the sink. Abed pushes his body forward to meet Jeff’s, one hand steadying them on the sink, the other holding onto Jeff’s bicep.
They stop when they run out of breath. They don’t let go of each other. Abed opens his mouth. But before he can say anything.
“I’m so sick of talking.” Jeff’s voice is so desperate it’s pleading. Abed shivers a little.
“You sure?” Jeff nods.
“Can we go back to the motel?” Jeff nods again. Maybe he has run out of words. Abed smiles coyly and drags him out of the bathroom.
“Well, that’s convenient.” It’s the first words either have said since leaving the bar. They’re standing in the motel room, looking at the one double bed. The only light is from the window at the end of the room, but the lights outside makes everything visible enough. Jeff still can’t get out any words. So Abed continues.
“You forgot to mention we wanted twin beds, huh?” He smiles at Jeff.
Jeff’s eyes widens.
“You want.. I’m sorry, I can try to fix it if you-”
“Jeff, we were just making out.”
He laughs. Jeff joins him.
“Speaking of..” Abed doesn’t let him finish. He leans forward and captures Jeff’s mouth in another deep kiss. Jeff tries to figure out what to do with his hands, they settle on Abed’s waist. Abed starts guiding them towards the bed, but they break apart before falling into it. Jeff is blinking rapidly at Abed, Abed staring intensely at him. He seems to consider something. He pulls Jeff down so they’re sitting on the bed.
“You sure about this?”
“Are you- how drunk are you?” Abed’s eyes narrows slightly, unsure. “I just.. I want to be sure you want this.”
A warm feeling engulfs Jeff. He thinks he might cry. But he worries it would send the wrong signals.
“I want this.” He shivers a little at the words. When was the last time he asked for anything he wanted?
“And I feel pretty sobered up already.” He pauses. “How about you?” He looks unsure. Do you want me? He doesn’t think he can ask that.
“I want to, Jeff.” Jeff swallows.
“And it’s not because you’re drunk?” Abed smiles.
“Jeff, I’ve wanted to sleep with you since the day we met.”
Jeff lets out a little gasp. His head spins slightly at the words. He opens and closes his mouth a few times.
“Wow.” He just lets out.
“And I feel fine.” He pauses. “Well, I feel great. Especially if we can get back to what we were doing.” He gives Jeff another coy smile and Jeff isn’t sure what to do with himself. Luckily, Abed has some ideas. He pushes Jeff back on the bed, their mouths meeting.
They continue making out, eventually removing their shirts, shoes, socks, pants. Jeff lets Abed lead them. He seems to know which positions are the most comfortable for both of them, his hands exploring Jeff’s body, then guiding Jeff’s hands to do the same to his own. It’s kind of awkward and clumsy, but also not. Jeff quickly realizes Abed knows what to do, and he tries to follow his lead. Responding and reciprocating his movements. They grind against each other for a long time, until Abed’s hands move towards Jeff’s underwear. He breaks apart from the kiss.
“Is this okay?” He looks down to emphasize it.
“Yeah. Very okay.” Jeff leans forward to kiss Abed, a touch gentler than before. Abed reciprocates, and matches the movement of his hands to the kiss. Taking Jeff in his hand, his other touching, rubbing, caressing, scratching everywhere else. Jeff gasps. He wants to give everything back to Abed that he’s doing to him, but he feels so overwhelmed. He tries to put everything into the kiss, his hands going where they want - sometimes grasping at Abed’s face, sometimes clings to his back, sometimes clutching, pounding, grasping at the mattress.
When it ends (Jeff first and he’s so out of it he’s not sure what events follow but going by the look on Abed’s face he was a breath behind) they stay wrapped up in each other for several minutes, just breathing, looking, taking each other in. Eventually Abed rolls off Jeff and lays down next to him. They stay there, their breathing matching up. Until Abed squeezes Jeff’s arm and sits up. He leaves and returns with a damp hand towel. He wipes Jeff gently down, before he leans in and plants a light peck on his lips. Jeff doesn’t think his smile has ever covered this much of his face. Abed leaves again, then returns to his place on the bed. Jeff looks over at him, and moves closer. He doesn’t want any part of his body to not be touching Abed.
They fall asleep without talking. That is, just before they both pass out, Jeff turns to Abed. The room is dark, but the light from outside still makes their faces visible to each other.
“I never want to stop talking to you.” It’s a whisper. Barely audible.
“I was addicted to saying things and having them matter to someone.” Abed replies, same whisper. No southern accent this time, but Jeff thinks it’s a line. He falls asleep before he can ask.
It’s late morning when Jeff wakes up. He only spends a few seconds blinking the sleep out of his eyes, before scanning the room for Abed. He finds him perched in a chair, fully dressed, watching the TV with the sound on low. Abed turns at the sound of Jeff ruffling the sheets.
Abed looks serious, his whole face far more emotive than usual. It worries Jeff.
“We should talk.”
Oh. Jeff looks from Abed to the empty bed beside him. He thinks Abed will join him, but he stays in his chair. He doesn’t turn off the TV. But he does turn towards Jeff.
“About last night.”
“I’m not saying it was bad - or I regret it - but it, we, should probably not do that again.” He doesn’t look at Jeff, focusing his eyes on the bathroom door at the other end of the room.
Jeff’s stomach feels full of stones. Is he still asleep? His eyes shift, looking everywhere, trying to make sense of it.
“I .. I thought you wanted to.”
“I did.” He says it very quickly.
“But you.. Don’t.”
Abed finally meets Jeff’s eyes and Jeff thinks he almost recognizes panic in them.
“Okay-” He gets out of the chair and starts pacing around the room.
“I tried to rehearse this. Okay. It was good. I’m just worried, Jeff. I don’t know if this is the right time. Where we’re both at.” He stops pacing and looks towards Jeff. Jeff quickly tries to shape his expression into something.. Less. Less heartbroken, less confused. Assurance he can accept whatever comes.
“Think it’s a bad time.”
Jeff doesn’t respond. Abed comes to sit beside him on the bed. Jeff is sitting up now, half covered in the sheet. Abed positions himself on top of the sheet, he stares straight ahead.
“I don’t just want to have sex to further the plot.”
“How does.. How does this further the plot?”
“Like Nathan Fillion.”
Jeff goes quiet. He tries to swallow down some of the emotion threatening to take over his voice.
“Abed.. which one of us do you think is Keri Russell?”
Abed looks at him, his brow furrowed slightly.
“I am.” Jeff's eyes grow big.
“Oh. I thought.. You were implying I was.”
Abed just looks at him.
Jeff thinks If I was Keri Russell I would be more than a little bit in love with you.
Abed thinks If you thought you were Keri Russell that means you think I’m Nathan Fillion.
Jeff thinks I am in love with Abed.
Abed thinks Jeff hasn’t even seen the movie. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
Jeff thinks I can’t be in love with Abed. Maybe he’s right. It’s just emotional turmoil and repressed feelings and being away from home.
Abed thinks It’s just sex. He just came out for the first time and I’m the only guy around. But I can’t take advantage of that.
They look at each other.
They don’t hear each other’s hearts breaking.
It’s already more than I deserve , Jeff thinks.
It’s already more than I could’ve hoped for , Abed thinks.
“I have to go to the bathroom.” Abed turns to Jeff when he says it, watches him fumble out from under the sheets. He grabs his shirt and underwear on the way.
Abed stays still on the bed. Jeff opening the bathroom door shakes him out of it. He leaps out of the bed, and crosses the room to Jeff. He looks much the same, his fringe is slightly wet from where he splashed his face with water. Abed pulls him into a hug. He’s never sure how to initiate it without it looking awkward, but he doesn’t care. He tries to make himself feel bigger, so he can cover Jeff entirely in his arms. Jeff freezes for a moment. Then he melts into it.
Abed thinks about the movie.
He thinks about Nathan Fillion hugging Keri Russell for 20 minutes.
He doesn’t let go for 21.
Big surprise: the title is from the Richard Siken poem "You are Jeff." I'll let you in on a secret - the titles are in order of how the poems appear in "Crush" and the poems could work as companion pieces to the chapters. Of course not necessary nor do I think I'm capable of capturing any of Siken's magic, I just have Siken brain. It's clear how self indulgent this all is. We're not kidding ourselves here.