Word Count: 6794
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Description: Jeff gets a new roommate
Author’s Note: How do I love thee, 0penhearts? Let me count the ways. Thank you for the beta and the capslocked enthusiasm. I couldn't do this without you.
They never talk about what happened in Jeff’s old office.
But it keeps happening.
The day after the party Jeff is sitting on the couch, half watching a Rockies game, half engrossed in trying to figure out what Britta’s clue in Draw Something means - after ten erased attempts she’s drawn one black line with about fifteen arrows pointing to it.
Jeff leans back and swings his legs up to rest on the coffee table but the movement jars the one short table leg off the book it’s propped up on to keep it level. The entire table tilts to that corner and Jeff’s mug goes careening off the side, hot coffee splashing up over everything in proximity.
He cleans up the mess, muttering obscenities under his breath the entire time and then declares that he’s had enough, it’s time to buy a new table. Annie’s eyes light up in excitement and it’s somehow no surprise when she produces a catalogue for a local furniture store out of thin air.
But he’s putting on his shoes and five minutes later they’re headed downtown to the large warehouse store.
They’re there for almost an hour, walking through the various staged living rooms, Annie cooing over glass tops and cherry wood and hidden drawers while Jeff gets side-tracked by plush leather recliners that he insists on stopping to test out, stretching out his long legs and curling his arms behind his head in repose.
“That’s not going to help you pick out a coffee table, Jeff.”
“And neither is that fact sheet you’re creating for every table we look at.” He stands when she gasps in indignation and puts his hands on her shoulders, turning her toward him. “Don’t think about it; which one is your favorite?
Annie pauses for only a second before pointing at a table behind him. It’s black and rectangular, with square legs that curve slightly toward the floor, a bottom shelf and a small drawer on one side with a silver knobbed handle. Jeff eyes it and shrugs.
“Okay. I’ll get that one.”
He rolls his eyes as she starts to protest - her words belied by the tiny satisfied smile playing at her lips - and then goes to pay and arrange for delivery while she continues looking around. When he’s done he quickly scans the store but can’t see her so he pulls out his phone to send her a quick text.
Her reply is immediate. “Polo” followed quickly by “In the back.”
Jeff grins and slips the phone back in his pocket as he makes his way through the maze of furniture, finally finding her wandering through an immaculate showroom kitchen. He leans slightly into the faux wall, unsure how much weight it can actually support and watches as she runs her fingers along the sleek stainless steel faucets.
“Considering a remodel?”
Annie looks up, smiling, and shrugs. “I like all the counter space.”
“Um. I have plenty of counter space.”
She doesn’t respond and Jeff glances around as he walks toward her, opening and shutting a couple of the high cabinet doors.
“You’re too short for this kitchen anyway. You’d never be able to reach anything.”
“I’m not that tiny.” Annie frowns. “You’re just stupidly tall.”
“Yeah, but at least I can reach the top shelf.” He’s standing directly in front of her but she doesn’t look at him, her eyes trained on the edge of the counter where her fingers are tracing an aimless, nervous pattern. After a moment when he doesn’t say anything she glances up through her eyelashes, biting at her lip like she’s trying not to smile.
Jeff raises an eyebrow and reaches up to brush his fingertips along her jaw, thumb under her chin so he can tilt her face to his as he leans down slowly. She doesn’t move in closer or go up on her toes but as their lips press together she hums and her hand comes up to rest over his where his fingers are splayed along her neck.
It’s brief, firm and close-mouthed and then one last quick peck before they break away entirely. Annie clears her throat as Jeff moves back to a respectable distance, squinting down at her in question. She smiles in return, a slight curve of her lips that turns radiant as she clasps her hands behind her back and turns to leave. “So. Lunch?”
He nods and follows.
A few days later when Annie gets an unusual mid-morning break she calls Jeff and he meets her down the street at a coffee shop where she slips off her shoes and curls up across from him in a large cushioned chair. She sips an iced tea, the condensation from the plastic cup cold and wet on her palms, and laughs as he tells her about how Alan’s been so skittish this week that everyone’s starting to suspect he’s using coke again.
Afterwards, Jeff walks her back to her office and while they’re standing at the corner waiting for the crosswalk Annie loops her arms up around his neck and pulls him down into a messy kiss, their noses banging together before they get it right. He tastes like mocha and mint and she sighs out in satisfaction before pulling away, a rosy flush crawling up her cheeks.
Jeff almost reaches for her again, almost slides his palm against hers to thread their fingers together, but slips his hand into his pocket and offers her a soft smile instead, nodding for her to go ahead when the light turns green.
The next two weeks are scattered with similar moments and unspoken-of kisses that always seem to throw everything temporarily off kilter and yet at the same time feel startlingly normal. They start spending even more time together - meeting for lunch when they’re both free; hanging out after long work days at the dive bar where Kenny gives them half-price drinks because he’s taken a liking to Annie; going out jogging together on the weekends, both listening to their respective ipods and Annie somehow managing to keep pace with his long strides.
At the end of July Shirley invites everyone over for a game night at her house. They eat baked mac and cheese and brownies and work their way through a pile of party games that mostly dissolve into chaos and yelling when everyone’s competitive sides start to clash.
It’s late when they finish up a final game of Apples to Apples, the women winning handily despite accusations of cheating from the men and they all linger through their goodbyes on Shirley’s front lawn, no one in a hurry to get anywhere even thought it’s a weeknight – it’s warm and muggy and the laziness of summer has seeped into their veins like a drug.
Jeff and Annie finally slide into his car and Jeff watches in the review mirror as Britta’s taillights disappear down the street, then turns to smile at Annie.
She grins back and moves toward him, crawling over the center console into his lap, her knees pressed into the seat on either side of his thighs. His palms slide up her legs to her hips and he pulls her closer, dipping his head to mouth at her collarbone. Annie makes a soft noise in her throat and slides her fingers into his hair to tug him up, kissing him slow and deep. Her hands wander over his chest and shoulders and arms and when she nips his lower lip between her teeth he groans, wrapping his arms all the way around her.
Annie leans back as he starts trailing his lips back down the side of her neck, nosing aside the strap to her tank top, but she leans too far into the steering wheel, accidentally pressing against the horn, and the loud bleeting jars them back to reality.
They freeze and then Annie gasps and scrambles off him and back into her seat, ducking low. Jeff slouches down as much as possible and watches Shirley’s house with bated breath. The lights are on in the living room but the curtains over the large bay window remain closed. After a moment they both dissolve into nervous laughter, relieved and relaxing into their seats. Jeff throws the car into drive and Annie proceeds to tease him the entire way home about how bad he is at party games.
The next morning Jeff drags himself out of bed with bleary eyes, yawning loudly and stooping to pick his t-shirt off the floor, pulling it on over his head as he opens the door to the living room.
He knows immediately that something’s wrong.
The smell of freshly brewed coffee that normally greets him is noticeably absent and Annie’s blankets are still strewn across the couch and draped to the floor instead of neatly folded in the corner where she usually leaves them.
There’s a pause and then her voice answers meekly from the bathroom. The door is slightly ajar and he pushes it all the way open to find her curled up on the floor in front of the toilet in the fetal position, still in her pajamas. She has her cheek pressed to the cool tile, her hair hanging tangled around her face.
Out of reflex Jeff takes a step backward and holds his hand out in front of him. “Woah. Are you okay?”
Annie whimpers in response and turns her head slightly to look at him. Her skin is pale and her eyes are red-rimmed as if she’s been crying. “I’m sick.”
“Clearly. Is it something you ate?” His eyes widen. “Do you think it was Shirley’s macaroni?”
“Ugghhhhhh. Please don’t talk about it.” Annie screws her eyes shut, her lips pressing into a line as she shakes her head, but then suddenly lurches back up over the toilet, retching.
Jeff gags, closing his eyes and moving away blindly. “Oh god. Gross.” He heads into the kitchen, shuddering, and quickly tears open the fridge, finding some fruit and soymilk that he dumps into the blender with a scoop of protein powder. The blades whirl to life, drowning out the sound of Annie re-enacting the Exorcist from the bathroom.
A minute later when he figures it’s safe he switches the blender off. The noises from the bathroom have ceased but Jeff stares at the protein shake he’s just made, scrunches his face up in disgust, and then quickly dumps it down the sink. He spends as long as possible cleaning the blender, wiping down the counter and putting on a pot of coffee before tentatively heading toward the bathroom.
“Annie? You alive?”
She’s lying on the floor again, sniffling. There’s a wadded up Kleenex in her hand that she wipes her nose with. “I hate being sick.”
“Pretty sure that’s a universal feeling, babe.” He grabs her toothbrush from the cup by the sink and runs it under the water before squeezing some toothpaste on it and handing it to her.
“Thanks.” Annie sits up slowly, leaning back against the bathtub and taking a couple deep breaths before she starts half-heartedly brushing her teeth with her eyes closed.
Jeff disappears again for a few minutes, going to his room to make his bed and pick up some dirty clothes from the floor, waiting for her to vacate the bathroom. When it gets to the point where he’s going to be late for work if he doesn’t get in the shower soon he returns to find her sitting in the same spot, the hand holding her toothbrush draped limply toward the ground.
“I’m trying to decide if I need to throw up again.”
Jeff looks up at the ceiling, grimacing. “Well don’t.”
“I don’t want to,” she whimpers and then sniffles again, her bottom lip quivering.
Jeff watches her and lets out a loud sigh. “Okay. C’mon.” He bends down, sliding one arm under her knees and one arm behind her back, and scoops her up with only a slight groan at the effort. She shivers at his touch but she’s warm in his arms and as she turns her face into his chest he can practically feel the fever radiating off her.
“Jesus, Annie. You’re burning up.”
“What are you doing?” she murmurs as he carries her to his bedroom and manages to shift her to one arm and pull back the comforter before lowering her to the mattress.
“Well you’re kind of pathetic right now. I’m taking pity on you. Don’t question it.”
Annie shivers again, turning onto her side and burying her face into his pillow as Jeff covers her with the comforter. He winces and looks around the room, leaves and quickly returns with the wastebasket from the bathroom, setting it next to the bed. “But you’re buying me new sheets if you throw up on them.”
Jeff quickly showers and gets dressed in the bathroom and by the time he’s ready Annie’s asleep. He watches her for a moment, reaching down to brush the hair back from her forehead, resting the backs of his fingers there and frowning. Before he leaves he grabs a glass of water, a bottle of aspirin and a washcloth that he runs under cold water and sets it all on the nightstand next to her.
As he walks out the door he pulls out his phone and scrolls through his address book to Shirley’s number. She answers after the third ring with a cheery, “Helloooo.”
“Hey, I need you to do me a huge favor.”
There’s a loud knock on the door around noon. Annie’s slowly walking back from the bathroom, her head pounding after having just thrown up again and she groans and considers ignoring it until the person on the other side of the door calls out, “Anniiieee?” and a key turns in the lock.
Annie frowns and shuffles over as the door swings open. “Shirley?”
“Oh!” Shirley gasps in surprise to see her standing there, then takes a good look at her and sighs, “Oh, pumpkin.”
“I’m sick,” Annie blurts out, surprised by the well of emotion in her chest at the mothering tone in Shirley’s voice.
“I know. I know.” Despite the large canvas bag looped over her shoulder, Shirley reaches her arms around the younger woman, bringing her in for a tight hug and Annie sinks into it gratefully, trying to hold back tears.
“Well, you definitely have a fever.” Shirley pulls back and cups Annie’s cheeks in her hands and then smoothes back the hair from her forehead. “But it doesn’t seem to be too high.” She leaves Annie resting against the armrest of the couch and bustles into the kitchen to drop the bag on the counter.
“I brought you some soda and crackers to settle your stomach. And some homemade soup for when you’re up to it.” Shirley pulls a glass from the drain board and uncaps the bottle of soda.
Annie nods weakly as she gets up and heads back toward Jeff’s room. “Thanks Shirley.” She’s just crawling back under the comforter when Shirley walks in, a glass of clear soda in one hand. Her eyes narrow as she looks around at the minimal furnishings.
“I knew it. I knew it. That boy seduced you into his bed, didn’t he?” Her soothing tone is suddenly replaced by a harsher accusation.
“What? No. He’s just letting me sleep here while I’m sick.” Annie curls onto her side and closes her eyes, hoping that settles the matter.
“Well, that’s nice of him, I suppose. But I’ve read my fair share of romance novels. I know what happens next.”
Annie groans into the pillow, “Do we have to do this now? I’m too sick to be interrogated. Besides…” She trails off and opens her eyes, then shakes her head and slowly turns onto her other side, “You guys have to stop assuming the worst.”
Shirley sighs and sets the glass down as she perches at the edge of the bed and rests her hand on Annie’s shoulder. “We worry about you. Both of you.”
“Well. Don’t.” Annie’s tone is clipped, her body tense under Shirley’s touch. She sighs loudly and flops onto her back. “I’m sorry.”
Shirley frowns and presses the back of her hand to Annie’s forehead. “I know.” She spies the washcloth lying on the nightstand and picks it up to take to the bathroom to run cold water over it. As she stands there in front of the sink she notices a bright orange post-it note pressed to the toilet tank next to the handle that reads, “Feel better, Pukey” in Jeff’s messy scrawl. Shirley raises an eyebrow and hums in thought.
Jeff barely eats anything all day, his stomach queasy and unsettled, but he manages to convince himself that it’s all in his head, that he’s somehow been lured into feeling like this by the power of suggestion. At around three o’clock though he’s half falling asleep over a pile of depositions, his skin is tender to the touch, his joints achy and he has to admit that he’s really sick.
He doesn’t even bother saying goodbye to anyone before he leaves and halfway home he has to stop and throw up by the side of the road.
When he finally gets back to the apartment he throws his jacket on the couch and kicks off his shoes as he makes his way to the bathroom to brush his teeth. He peers blearily into the mirror and groans at his pale, haggard face, then nearly gets sick again as the mint of the toothpaste makes the corners of his jaw twinge.
Annie is asleep curled up on her side, facing away from the door and Jeff drags himself around to the other side of the bed, dropping his watch on the dresser with a thunk as he passes. She startles awake at the noise, jerking and blinking up at him. “Jeff?”
“No. It’s Garret. Who the fuck else would it be,” he snipes as he undoes his belt and starts yanking his shirt free from his pants.
“What are you doing?” Annie frowns at his tone but then he pushes down his pants and kicks them free and she yelps, throwing an arm over her face.
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”
“But I can see your--” she waves her hand toward him and he looks down, realizing that he had stripped his underwear off along with his pants without even thinking.
“Sometimes I sleep naked,” he shrugs and pulls his briefs back up.
“Well you can’t when I’m in your bed.”
In spite of the fact that his stomach is currently attempting to destroy itself from the inside out Jeff smiles and finishes unbuttoning his shirt, throwing it in the general direction of the hamper as he crawls into bed next to her. “You already have a lot of rules about my bed.”
“No. I have rules about who sleeps naked with me.” Annie still has her arm up over her face and Jeff rolls his eyes. “You can look now.”
She slowly peeks at him over the crook of her elbow.
“Looks like you have a little color back in your face,” he teases.
“Ugh.” Annie rolls over away from him.
“Oh calm down, it’s nothing you haven’t seen before.”
“What are you even doing here?” she asks, deliberately changing the subject.
“I’m sick and it’s all your fault.” Jeff lies on his back and closes his eyes, hoping to quell the rising nausea.
“How is it my fault?”
“You were sick first.”
“That’s not how it works.”
“Oh? And where did you learn that? That doctor’s office where you work and probably contracted this Ebola virus?”
Annie cranes her head back to look at him. “We don’t have Ebola, Jeff. Besides, you probably got it from your office. You can’t tell me that place isn’t infested with something.”
“Yeah, but vomiting isn’t a symptom of moral depravity. Or herpes…” He squeezes his eyes shuts and lets out a small groan.
“Ew.” After a pause Annie turn onto her back to face him. “Really?”
“Derek Shepersky. You met him at the party.”
“That short guy with the bald spot?”
But Jeff doesn’t answer. He lurches up suddenly, swings his legs over the side of the bed and sits still there for a moment to get his bearings before jumping up and running out of the room. The bathroom door slams shut behind him a second later.
Annie makes a face and pulls her pillow over her head.
A few hours later as the sun is setting and the faint light coming in through the slats of the blinds grows dim and throws the entire room into shadow Jeff starts to toss and turn, mumbling curses under his breath and tugging the comforter away from Annie.
“Can you stop?” She yanks on the edge of the blanket to try and cover herself back up but he just pulls it back, shrugging it up over his shoulders.
“It’s fucking cold.”
“You have the chills. Just take a deep breath and try to sleep. You’ll feel better in the morning.” Annie continues the tug-of-war with the comforter, fisting her hands in the material but only succeeding in losing more of it as he redoubles his grip.
“I think I’m dying.”
Annie sighs and finally lets go to sit up on her elbows. She inhales through her nose as the suddenly movement sends a throbbing pain straight through her temples, and holds still until the headache abates and she can open her eyes to squint down at him.
“You act like you’ve never been sick before.”
“I take care of my body, Annie. And my body rewards me in return. Usually.” There’s a quiver in his voice and his lips are practically chattering as he speaks. He pulls the comforter up higher with both fists under his chin.
The corners of Annie’s mouth twitch as she watches him before she slowly gets out of bed and pads out to the living room to grab her pile of blankets from the couch. She keeps one for herself and covers Jeff with the rest until he’s cocooned in warmth.
He burrows deeper until all she can see is the top of his head and his hair sticking out every which way, then sighs out a muffled “thanks.”
Annie wraps the fleece blanket around herself tightly in case he gets any grand ideas about trying to steal it while she sleeps.
“It’s too hot in here. I’m sweating.”
Annie struggles to open her eyes, feeling like she’s wading through a thick slog. The entire room is dark; she has no idea what time it is but it would take too much effort to roll over and look at the clock. Next to her Jeff has thrown off every single one of his blankets and is now lying sprawled out on his back in only his briefs.
“Your fever is probably breaking. Drink some water,” she murmurs. A moment later she hears him turning onto his side. His hand brushes against her forehead.
“How are you feeling?”
“Hmm. I don’t know.”
Jeff runs his fingers down her temple and behind her ear, then presses his thumb into a spot at the nape of her neck that makes her moan and turn her face into her pillow.
“Oh god. I’ll give you a million dollars if you never stop doing that.”
He chuckles lightly under his breath and keeps up the steady circling pressure until she finally manages to drift back off into the first restful sleep she’s had all day.
Annie wakes up again to the sound of the alarm on her phone chirping merrily from the nightstand. She quickly shuts it off and lies back for a moment, trying to judge how she feels. The aches and pains are gone and she doesn’t have a fever, but her stomach still feels unsettled and there’s a dull throbbing in her head.
“I’m calling in sick,” Jeff says groggily into his pillow. He’s on his side facing away from her. “Fuck it,” he adds. Annie’s eyes trace the curve and muscles of his back down to where the sheet is slung over his waist. She nods and sends a quick text to her boss before rolling back over and closing her eyes.
For the next hour or so she drifts in and out of sleep, waking up whenever Jeff moves. He gets up at one point and comes back with a new glass of water for her and in the haze of sleep she’s not sure if she imagines the way he softly traces his fingers down her arm when he stops next to the bed to put the glass on the nightstand.
When Annie gets up around ten to take a shower she feels measurably better and stands under the soothing spray of hot water with her eyes closed, letting her entire body relax until she nearly falls back to sleep. The entire room is filled with a warm stream when she finally turns the water off and it leaves her feeling a little lightheaded and overly flushed.
After quickly running a comb through her tangled wet hair and pulling on a new pair of pajamas she heads back to Jeff’s room where he’s pulled a t-shirt on and is half sitting up in bed, propped up on a pillow, remote control in hand as he surfs through channels on the flat screen above his dresser.
“I think I stood up for too long,” Annie answers weakly as she slides back into bed and pulls the covers over her legs. She leans back against the headboard and picks up the water glass from the nightstand to press against her forehead. It’s cool to the touch and she shivers, goose bumps breaking out all up and down her arms.
“Need anything?” Jeff continues to channel surf, scrolling quickly past The View with an exaggerated eye roll.
“No. I just want to lay here.” She sets the glass down and reaches up to pull her hair into a messy bun before sinking back into the pillow
“Anything you want to watch?”
“Hmm. No… Not that.” Annie scrunches her nose up when he stops and watches a few minutes of an episode of Maury about men who cheat on their wives with their mother’s in law. Jeff obliges and turns the channel just as one woman starts wailing on another.
“When I was younger I used to watch Matlock reruns whenever I stayed home sick. I don’t even think they run those anymore.”
“Don’t.” He points the remote control at her and presses the mute button repeatedly. “Just don’t.”
Annie grins. “Sick days were the only days I was allowed to watch television. My favorite was Nickelodeon. I liked iCarly.” There’s a hint of laughter in her voice and Jeff shakes his head slowly.
“I thought I muted you.”
“Or the Disney Channel.”
Jeff turns toward her and raises an eyebrow. “High School Musical?”
She shrugs, “I thought Zac Efron was cute.”
“Get out of my bed.”
Annie only giggles and shoves against his hip lightly before curling back down on her side and focusing her attention on the rerun of Will & Grace that he’s finally settled on. A few minutes later she hears him mutter “rat faced kid” under his breath and she rolls her eyes and kicks him under the covers.
“This goes against everything I stand for.”
“You’re eating soup and crackers in bed. I’ve seen you do a lot worse.”
“Do you know how much these sheets cost me?
“I do actually. Because you won’t shut up about it. I’m concerned about this obsession you have, Jeff… JEFF. STOP. You’re gonna make me spill the soup all over your precious sheets if you keep doing that… SEE.”
“Don’t look smug.”
“I should Instagram this.”
“After I remake the bed I’m throwing your phone out the window.”
Jeff rolls over onto his back and flops his arm out to the side so that it falls against Annie’s hip. She’s sitting up against the headboard typing rapidly on the laptop resting over her crossed legs.
“How long was I sleeping?”
“A couple hours. You snore.”
“Only when I nap.” He clears his throat and rubs his hand over his eyes. “What are you doing?”
Annie looks down briefly at where his other hand is still resting against her hip, the backs of his fingers moving back and forth lightly over the bare skin where her camisole has ridden up.
“I’ve narrowed down grad schools. I just need to do a little more research.”
“But it’s sick day,” Jeff whines. He props himself up on his elbow and peers at the laptop screen where she has the home page for University of Washington minimized to one side, a word document with a pro con list on the other.
“So you’re really serious about moving?”
Annie shrugs, flushing as she minimizes the pro con list before Jeff can read what’s listed. “I didn’t get to go away to college. I want to… I don’t know, have an adventure.”
“Greendale isn’t adventure enough for you?”
She tilts her head at him as if to say “c’mon” and Jeff smirks and rests his forehead down against her arm, letting out a loud yawn. Annie reaches over and trails her fingers through his hair, scratching lightly. A slideshow of images from the UW campus plays on a loop on the screen in front of her and she closes her eyes as she tries to imagine walking around the large campus.
“Where’s the farthest you’ve ever traveled?” She asks quietly.
Jeff lifts his head and squints his eyes in thought. “I went to New York when I was your age. Hung out at Columbia for about a week.”
“You actually went?” Annie laughs.
“Verisimilitude. I figured it would be good to know the place in case someone ever started asking questions.”
“Like what the library looks like?”
“Or where to find the best hangover food.”
Annie bits her lip. “My parents and I used to travel all the time. Hawaii. Vancouver. Los Angeles. But then after the divorce my mom would just shuttle me off to my dad’s while she went on a trips with her friends… She went to London one summer without me. I’ve always wanted to go to London. I’ve never really been anywhere that mattered, you know?”
Jeff watches as she trails her fingers over the computer keys and taps her thumb absentmindedly over the space bar. “Okay. That’s it.” He reaches over and shuts the laptop. “The point of taking a sick day is to lay around being sick, not to obsess and catch up on research.”
“I’m not obsessing.” But she relinquishes the laptop, letting him pull it out of her lap and set it on the nightstand. “Besides, it’s your fault. You fell asleep and I was bored.”
“Well I’m awake now.” He turns the television back on, scrolls through a couple of channels and lands on an episode of Phineas and Ferb. Annie smirks.
Just past midnight there’s a sudden loud cracking bang that seems to vibrate the very walls of the apartment and Annie jerks awake and sits up with a gasp. A moment later a steady rain begins to patter at the window.
“It’s just thunder.” Jeff mumbles.
Annie presses her hand flat against her chest and takes a deep calming breath. “It startled me.” A flash of light illuminates the window and Annie counts slowly in her head, 1…2…3… before there’s another booming roll of thunder. “It’s close,” she whispers and eases back down under the covers.
Jeff shifts onto his back and curls an arm behind his head. “I hope you don’t expect me to sing.”
Annie frowns and lets out a short laugh, “What?”
“That song. From that movie. The one about whiskers on kittens and warm woolen mittens. Or whatever.”
Annie presses her lips together in amusement. “Or whatever? Don’t act like you don’t know the name of the movie.” He doesn’t answer and she curls onto her side to face him, “I always liked the part when Captain von Trapp and Maria danced for the first time.”
“You would.” Another streak of lightning temporarily illuminates his face and she can tell that he’s smiling. “My mom liked musicals, okay?”
Annie’s reply is drowned out by another wall-shaking bang. They listen as the thunder seems to reverberate endlessly off into the distance, finally fading until there’s only the sound of the pouring rain.
“I always liked them,” Jeff says after a moment.
Annie shrugs, “They’re not horrible.”
Jeff is quiet, frowning up at the ceiling. “My dad liked them.” His words are slow and measured. Annie’s lips part slightly but she doesn’t say anything.
“When I was little he would put me in the car and we’d just drive out in the direction of the storm. Trying to find the best view… One time we were driving down an old abandoned road and this oak tree about ten feet away got struck. Just exploded right there in front of us. And I was terrified we were going to hit too. I begged him to take me home.”
The words seem to stick in his throat and he swallows heavily. “But he told me that we were fine because a car is one of the safest places to be during a lightning storm. And that nothing bad was going to happen. So I… felt safe.”
Annie keeps her eyes on his silhouette, her ribcage practically shuddering at the effort it takes to tamp down the swell of emotion.
Jeff huffs out a dry laugh. “You know the worst part? After all the crap he put us through later that’s still the first memory that pops into my head when I think about him.” He turns his head to look at her, smiling faintly. “Stupid, right?”
“No,” Annie answers immediately. She reaches over and curls her hand around his upper arm. He’s tense and she rubs her thumb back and forth over the fabric of his shirt for a minute or two in silence. Outside the rain seems to let up slightly and each rumble of thunder sounds further and further off in the distance. “I thought sick days weren’t for obsessing,” she finally says quietly.
Jeff laughs then, a real laugh that shakes his entire body. He turns onto his side and grabs her hand before she can pull it away, runs his fingers over her knuckles and smiles through the darkness. “C’mere.” He slides his hand over her arm and then down to her hip to tug her closer.
Annie shuffles across the bed until she’s curled up against him, her forehead pressed against his chest. He wraps his arms around her and she sinks into him with a slow exhale.
Neither of them says anything more.
Daylight pours in through the slats in the blinds, a crisp post-storm brightness that is accompanied by the cheeping and chirping of birds in the tree just outside the window. Annie stirs and stretches herself out with a low groan in her throat, her arms high above her head. Her legs slide over the luxuriously soft sheets and she sinks into the mattress with something like a blissful smile on her face.
Next to her Jeff is sound asleep on his stomach with one arm curled under his pillow and the usual lines in his face around his brow and eyes are relaxed and smooth as he breathes evenly in and out with soft little snores. Annie blinks at him, yawning as she rolls to her side and presses a kiss to his shoulder, then nuzzles her nose there. She slides a hand over his back, fingers tracing along the ridges of his spine. Jeff hums and the corner of his lip twitches up slightly as he shifts under her touch.
“Morning,” he rasps out without opening his eyes and Annie freezes, his voice jolting at something deep in her chest. She pulls away and stares at him with wide eyes, her skin awash in the cold heat of realization. Jeff makes another low noise in his throat and slides his hand across the sheet toward her as if he’s searching her out, but Annie inches away with as little movement as possible and slips out from under the covers.
She tiptoes out of the room without looking back, her fists clenched tightly, nails digging into her palms as if that’s going to somehow dam up the rising panic.
Once she’s standing in the kitchen she takes a deep steadying breath, eyes skittering around, unsure of what she’s even supposed to do now. There’s a small pile of dirty dishes next to the sink, left overnight so that the dregs of soup have congealed into a sticky mess at the bottom of their bowls and Annie shakes out her hands and goes about filling the sink with hot soapy water.
She jumps and a bowl slips out of her hand and back into the water with a splash as Jeff walks in wearing sweats, scratching the back of his head and yawning widely. He gives her an amused glance as he opens the fridge door and surveys the contents.
“You want an omelet?”
“Um. Sure. Yeah.” She goes about needlessly scrubbing one of the bowls as Jeff pulls out a carton of eggs. He slides behind her as he goes to grab a whisk from the drawer, brushing his hand against her low back as he passes. Annie clenches a hand to the edge of the sink and wills herself to breathe.
When she’s thoroughly washed all the dishes she wipes her hands on a dishtowel and quietly walks around to sit at one of the bar stools and watch as he chops up olives and green peppers and mushrooms to throw into the omelet. He talks while he works, something about how he needs to eat more vegetables to boost his immune system because he never wants to relive the illness from the last few days. Annie answers with a few short hums and nods as her fingers press anxiously into the countertop; she has no idea what to actually say to him.
And then he’s sliding a plate of perfectly fluffy golden omelet in front of her. “Milady.”
She stares at it blankly. A choked laugh tears its way out of her throat as she starts to shake her head. “I can’t do this.”
“What?” Jeff looks from her to the omelet, his brow furrowed.
“I can’t.” Annie slides off the stool and walks sort of blindly over to where her things are arranged in the corner of the living room.
“Are you going to be sick again?”
“No.” She stares for a second and then grabs a purple duffel bag and starts haphazardly stuffing it with clothes. “I have to go.”
Jeff walks around the counter looking perplexed. “Okay, what’s happening right now? Did I do something? Because--”
Annie stops, a handful of camisoles clutched in her hand, and spins around to face him. “You’re you,” she practically yells.
He rears back, startled, his eyes widening and Annie only feel more breathless as she shakes her head and resumes packing. “I don’t know what I was thinking. I don’t know why I thought I could live here. I’m so stupid. We’re so stupid.”
“Wow. I’m sorry it was so terrible.”
Annie yanks the zipper closed on the bag and holds the heels of her hands to her eyes. “No. God, Jeff, what is wrong with… It wasn’t terrible. It was the opposite of terrible.”
“Okay,” he starts slowly, wetting his lips as he searches her face with soft eyes. “So what’s--”
“I’M IN LOVE WITH YOU.”
Jeff’s mouth drops open.
“Oh god,” she whispers. “Oh god. Oh god. Oh god.”
Panicked and still muttering under her breath she grabs the duffel bag off the couch and practically tears her way out of the apartment, the door shutting with a disproportionately quiet click behind her. After a moment Jeff sinks back onto Annie’s abandoned stool, his palms pressed to his thighs as he stares blankly at the two plates of uneaten omelet growing cold on the counter.