community fic: you're the legal man (2/4)
pg-13. 5000 words.
He’s not sure what to say next. And in that gap, weirdly, the person who springs to mind is Annie. What if Jeff had never lost his license to practice law? What if Annie had gone to her dream school instead Greendale?
Note: This is a response to nessataleweaver's Ficcy Friday prompt. Thank you for all the feedback and encouragement on the first part, everyone! I hope you enjoy. ♥
(In case you missed the first part, you can read it here.)
Annie insisted on meeting in the library. Jeff hasn’t set foot in a library since he passed the bar exam, and he forgot to grab dinner on his way out from work. The librarians have already given him a few dirty looks from the reference desk after the sounds his stomach has made. If he were anywhere else, he could tell them about his fast metabolism. Usually that would lull them into giving him snacks. But he’s in the library and he’s not sure if he can take out his phone and why is Annie late while he’s trapped in this void of actual society?
Just as he’s about to figure out a watertight reason to cancel, Annie slides into the seat across from him. She’s changed out of the pencil skirt she was wearing in class. In a Stanford hoodie and yoga pants, she looks — he probably shouldn’t go there. Anyway the faster they get through this, the faster he can go eat.
“I’m really sorry about class today,” she whispers, like it was her fault he actually had to teach.
“Yeah, well, I’m sure Vicki and Neil really appreciate your sympathy over the paternity of their unborn child.”
“Is that what they were arguing about? I thought they’d gotten assigned a sex offender or a rapist or something.” She’s ducked under the table to grab a folder out of her bag and he’s not sure if she’s joking or not. When she sits back up, though, her face has the same earnest expression as usual. “Anyway, while you were dealing with that, I worked on a general strategy for the case. I think the first thing we have to do is figure out if we have a motive that’s easy to sympathize with. I mean, I get that Britta probably wasn’t stealing bread to feed her starving children, but if she was doing it for any cause, no matter how obscure, that would almost definitely make our case more convincing. Also, we need to play up the fact that she’s a woman. It might be really sexist but I think with the right jury it could work, given that her particular case would let us take that angle. If she was framed or taken advantage of or even connected to anyone else, we can work that angle.”
“That sounds good so far,” he says, mostly to give her a chance to breathe. “Props on not calling her Miss Perry, by the way.”
“Yeah, Professor Whitman in Constitutional Law mentioned how being on a first name basis with your defendant really establishes rapport.”
“And you thought it sounded familiar because it was something I told you on Tuesday, within five minutes of working on this project.” God, now he’s really starting to understand why his law school professors were such grouchy assholes all the time.
“Well, now you know someone agrees with you?” She lurches into that question thing she does, but at least she’s smiling. Then she turns back to her notebook. “Anyway, I was thinking that with this case, we should also be careful that, if we determine a more easily defensible motive, that we account for a judge or jury whose biases might actually make a not guilty verdict or a lighter sentence more difficult. You know, if she was a die-hard environmentalist or a religious fundamentalist or something.”
“You’re pretty confident about the re-trial.”
“It’s breaking and entering. You’re a real lawyer. We should be fine.”
“And given that you’re probably devoting all your spare time to this assignment, we should get Britta Perry a re-trial by midterms.” His stomach grumbles.
“You really think so? Because I really want to do a good job on this assignment, and if there’s anything I could do better, I’d appreciate it if you’d tell me. I’ll do the extra work, you wouldn’t need to do anything.”
“Annie, you’re fine. There’s really not much more we can do until we meet Britta on Monday.” She does this little giggle that he’s pretty sure shouldn’t be allowed anywhere, particularly a library. His stomach grumbles again. He really needs to eat something. “Although, if you want to grab some dinner, we could talk it over some more.”
There’s a thud and then a crack as Annie’s chair hits the floor. She stands bolt upright, her arms crossed over her chest and the smiling face completely gone.
“If you’re doing this assignment with me just to take me out to dinner,” she says, her voice low and harsh from the back of her throat, “I’ve told you over and over again that I can do the work myself.”
“It’s just dinner.”
“Oh, it’s just dinner or it’s just coffee. And then we get drinks. And then we kiss, right? And then it just goes on from there. And you don’t tell me you’ve been hiding your wedding band, not for two years until your wife finds out. Is that how it goes?” She’s not looking at him, she’s performing a monologue for a bookshelf a few yards away, whispering so intensely that Jeff’s surprised the librarians haven’t caught on.
“Annie, I didn’t grab dinner on my way out of the firm. I’m not married, anyway, so no one’s going to be mad if we grab tacos except possibly the inside of my condo. It gets lonely when it hasn’t seen me for a whole day.” And yeah, he’d been picturing steak and probably some scotch, a restaurant with menus that come on paper with actual texture. He doesn’t have to tell her that.
“It’s buttered noodle night at the apartment,” she says, reaching up to fiddle with the tie of her hoodie, “and it’s the one night Troy and Abed actually cook. And I really don’t think that dinner is a good idea.”
“You’re turning me down for buttered noodles?” Is this one of those food trends he’s somehow behind on?
“I’m turning you down because you heard what Jeremy said in class. One scandal is more than enough, it was miles away and I can’t get away from it. I don’t need anyone thinking that we’re — that we’re, I don’t know, that we’re doing anything untoward.”
“Untoward? We’re not in some Jane Austen movie.”
“No, Jeff,” she says, the first time she’s actually called him by name, “this is real life. I hope you have a good dinner.” She settles her bag on her shoulder, turns, and heads for the door.
Here’s the thing: it’s actually a pretty good zinger.
Annie’s trying not to let the prison alarm her. It’s not as dirty as she imagined, at least. There are scuffs in the linoleum of the entryway, but so far the Denver Women’s Correctional Facility looks all right. It would be better if she weren’t alone. She should’ve realized the whole class wouldn’t be assigned to the same prisons. She shouldn’t have come early. It just feels so bizarre, to be loitering in front of a prison, even if she’d gotten through the front gates no problem after flashing her law clinic badge. Now she’s got it pinned on like a name tag and she’s starting to feel like an over-eager little girl yet again.
At one point, only two weeks ago, she imagined this class as the long-awaited beginning of her adult life. Yet here she is, waiting for Jeff Winger like a nervous schoolgirl, hovering outside of a prison for the partner she should’ve realized would never be early to any project meeting. He was early on Thursday night and she’d let herself think it was the rule.
She’s not going to think about Thursday night.
It’s like this: Annie didn’t need a fresh beginning before law school. It was some other girl who took too much Adderall, in high school, and Annie forced herself to cut back by the time she got to Stanford, just enough pills to ace her finals and parse out twenty-page papers at the end of the semester. Those pills were like home when they slid against her tongue. She would pick a song on her laptop — usually some old embarrassing Britney Spears single — and in the moments before the Adderall hit her bloodstream, she was the girl with the best dance moves, the girl who had saved herself from a pill addiction. Who could say she wouldn’t conquer the world right after she finished acing her next exam?
She’s mid-robot when she hears a car pulling up to the sidewalk.
“Please tell me you always get pumped up like this,” her partner says from the inside of his shiny black Lexus.
“Hi!” she squeaks. What does she do with her hands? How can she look like a credible person in the next few seconds, and why would he have the bad timing to catch her mid-daydream?
“Listen, why don’t you finish the dance party and I’ll meet you after I pull the car around.” He rolls up the window and drives off to park his car. It’s like he’s giving the moment permission to be forgotten, not to mention forgetting all about Thursday night. Which is good, really, they can get on with this project, anything untoward forgotten. There’s a twinge when she thinks about that future, though. Maybe it’s just that this is an old, safe kind of Annie Edison move. But it’s also the right thing to do, she reminds herself. It’s the right thing to do, morally and academically and professionally.
Once Jeff meets her at the sidewalk, she’s resolved. They get through the metal detectors without incident and then they’re waiting on one side of a glass wall, an intercom waiting for the voice of Britta Perry, the woman they’re going to save from the clutches of injustice and prison life.
When she appears behind the glass, moments later, Annie’s first thought is how pretty this other woman is. Big, expressive eyes and cheekbones that remind her of Katharine Hepburn. She doesn’t look right in the prison jumpsuit, except that there’s a fierceness to her posture that makes Annie think nobody messes with Britta Perry behind bars. It’s going to be a huge advantage in getting her a re-trail. For that matter, once they get the re-trial, Annie’s pretty certain they’re going to be able to reverse the verdict without much trouble.
She glances over at Jeff but he’s staring at Britta. His eyes are wide and fixed and there’s a small smile playing on his face and it hits Annie, it feels like the realization actually hits her, that her professor is staring at their assigned prisoner like she’s a beautiful woman. And she is a beautiful woman. Annie can’t argue with that.
She leans forward, towards the intercom. It doesn’t look like there’s a button to push, so she just starts talking.
“Hi, Miss Perry?” she starts, everything about her voice so schoolgirlish and silly. “My name’s Annie Edison and this is Jeff Winger. I’m sure you know we’re from the University of Colorado law clinic, and we’ll be meeting with you at least once a week over the course of the semester.”
“You can call me Britta,” the other woman says, crossing her legs. “Jeff already does.”
“You two already know each other?” Annie glances over at Jeff, who looks too stricken for a retraction to be believable, on his part.
“We met at a bar about two years ago,” he says. His voice is a lot higher all of a sudden.
“He was on his third scotch and we had sex in the bathroom,” Britta says, smirking.
There’s silence. It’s thick and awkward. Well, it would be if Annie could get her mind to stop thinking so many thoughts at the same time. She shouldn’t be freaking out. Really, she should love Britta. Annie knows this rationally, even on instinct: this woman has jury appeal, especially if she can manage to keep her mouth shut. More than that, Britta can clearly level her professor completely. If Annie could’ve done that in the first class, or a week ago with Simmons, if with one smirk she could reduce a man to falsetto, she wouldn’t be sitting here with Jeff, feeling totally enclosed in her body because she can’t help but imagine it, the dim fluorescent lighting, Britta’s arms around Jeff and his mouth, kissing her neck and moving lower.
“Well.” Her voice is too loud, but at least it pulls her back to the present moment. “What brings you here, Britta?”
“You know, I figured, free legal representation, say what?” The words trail off in a laugh but no one joins her, letting the moment hang. “You mean, what brings me to this prison, here? I was arrested last year after security found me in the offices of the Denver Gazette.”
“And what were you doing there?” Jeff did say he was going to let her take the lead, but surely this is a little excessive?
“I wanted to prove that they were aware of worldwide child trafficking instigated and supported by the suppliers of major corporations and instead of reporting on these crucial world issues, they were covering the Kardashians. The point was to prove that the editors knew there were bigger things at stake. My friends and I were going to post documents on a website to blow up the controversy. It was going to be crazy!” Britta makes a gesture with her hands, like fireworks of crazy and Annie wants to laugh, with or at the woman on the other side of the glass, she’s not sure. Instead she finishes up her notes on the other woman’s story, neatly crossing her t’s before turning to Jeff.
“Do you have any questions?”
Jeff turns to her like he’s waking up. He shakes his head, then stops, then turns to Britta.
“That was why you called me last summer,” he says, so softly Annie’s not sure it travels over the intercom.
“Yeah, you know the police mean it when they say you have one phone call? And they don’t let you sit around waiting for that lawyer you hooked up with the one time to call you back.”
“And isn’t it funny that now he’s going to help you get a re-trial?” God, Annie thinks, she sounds like some doomed fifties housewife. “It was so great to meet you, Britta, but I think we’ve gotten all the information we need now. We’ll be back next week to do a more formal deposition. Right, Jeff?”
“Yeah, I think we’re good. We’ll be back next week.”
“We’ll see,” Britta says, the smirk reappearing on her lips. “It was nice to meet you, Annie.”
“Nice to meet you, too,” Annie says, running on reflex, although, why shouldn’t it have been nice to make her first prisoner friend?
Her heels click on the linoleum as they exit the prison. This time they get to bypass the metal detectors, walking silently past the guards who nod at them like they realize someone like Annie Edison could never be a threat to society. She’s not sure what they think about the man walking next to her.
The sunlight outside nearly blinds her. She stumbles and crashes against Jeff, bumping against his briefcase and his arm.
“So that was weird,” he says while she re-establishes her personal space and slips on her sunglasses.
“Didn’t you recognize her name when you got the clinic list?”
“I didn’t — it was a one time thing a while ago.” He runs a hand through his hair. It goes back to the same faux bedhead, still totally perfect. “It’s not like she was special, really.”
Annie wrinkles her nose.
“You sure?” she says. “Your past relationship won’t complicate things?” I saw the way you were looking at her, she wants to say, but that’s not the important question.
“Annie, it was just one night.” He says the words lightly, but he looks her straight in the eye, like her sunglasses are no barrier, he just means it that much. She’s imagining it. Lawyers are supposed to make eye contact, it makes the words more convincing. This is a trick she knows. “It’ll be fine.”
“Okay. See you in class tomorrow.”
On the way home, she cranks up the car radio and yeah, maybe the residents of Boulder are tired of hearing Day Tripper and Mrs. Robinson, but Annie keeps the sound up as high as it will go.
Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right she belts, meaning every word she sings. She doesn’t take her eyes off the road for a second.
Jeff raises the glass of scotch to his mouth. Sipping, he watches the way the liquid and glass distort Ashleigh’s face, giving her a beehive of wavy black hair and stretching her green eyes to cartoonish proportions. She started working at the firm on Monday as the receptionist. Figures Ted would want her right in the window.
Jeff asked her out as he was leaving work on Monday. It’s Tuesday and here they are, dim lights and dinner and menus with texture.
Ashleigh reaches over and fiddles with the umbrella in her drink. It’s hot pink and it reminds him of a slushie, being six and getting one at the Seven-Eleven down the block. That was the last time he would drink that kind of shit.
This girl is nothing like Britta, who spent most of their hookup outlining the ways he was destroying America by reinforcing corporations, bullshit turning more and more inarticulate as he peeled off more layers of clothing. He pushed her against the wall in that grimy bathroom and somehow she had just fit against him. Ashleigh wore a short tight dress and heels and her lipglossed lips smiled when Jeff told her she looked nice.
“How was that class you’re teaching?” she asks. They’ve already covered their days at the firm. She told him about the people who walked into the office (Alan was funnier, telling him essentially the same story) and he glossed over the meetings he was stuck in when he wasn’t at the law school.
“It was fine,” he says, not thinking about Annie in the front row, staring at her notebook with a determination that furrowed her brow and flared her nostrils and still didn’t make her look like a freak, “I talked about how to draw up a deposition. They have a rough draft due Thursday.”
“Oh.” She takes a sip of her drink. The way she leans over the table, he can see most of her cleavage. It’s not a bad view. “What’s a deposition?”
“It ends up being basically a transcript of an interview with someone important to the case you’re building,” he says, lurching into professor mode. It’s weird how easy the transition is. “Right now they’re just picking the questions.”
He looks over at Ashleigh to see if she’s getting this or if he needs to use smaller words. She’s not looking at him, though, she’s looking at her phone, typing out a text message like she’s not on a date with Jeff Winger, hotshot lawyer.
He’s not sure what to say next. And in that gap, weirdly, the person who springs to mind is Annie. She would be looking at him. It would almost be annoying, her focus on him, picking up all the nuances that he still can’t quite manage to hide fully. Annie who wouldn’t look at him all through class today. He could still read the intention in her posture.
Ashleigh looks up at him, flashing her bright white teeth as she smiles. “Do you think you could explain that again?”
“Sure,” he says, not moving a single muscle in his face.
hey, we never set a time to work on our deposition draft. free tonight?
Annie reads Jeff’s text and bangs her head against the table. She went through Britta’s complete police record, even though it meant stops at police stations in Denver, Boulder and Greendale and a frustrating rollercoaster with a copy machine that jammed on every other page. Tonight she’s already written up twenty-eight questions, which cover Britta’s story from every angle Annie could think of, edited mercilessly to avoid gleaning any information that might hurt their case. She really doesn’t need Jeff’s help. She doesn’t want to see him, either.
She bangs her head one more time, just to let the misery of the situation really sink in.
“Is this a plot twist?”
She looks up to Abed, halfway through a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, watching her like she’s the real-life version of one of his television characters.
“Only if a plot twist is my stupid professor-slash-partner wanting to work on our stupid assignment when I’m almost done with it and I don’t want to see him.” She rests her elbow on the table and lets her chin fall into her hand.
“Is he a bad professor?” Abed got a degree in film from Greendale Community College a couple of years ago, so she’s pretty sure he knows a thing or twelve about bad professors. He’s taking grad classes at the University of Colorado now. From the few screenings Annie’s seen, his movies are definitely the weirdest in the department.
“Not really,” she says. It’s terrible that this is actually true: Jeff has gotten a lot better over the past few weeks. One might even think he cared about teaching them the practicalities of legal work.
“So is he a bad person?” He takes another bite of his sandwich without breaking eye contact. She’s so bad at lying to Abed. It’s something about his eyes.
“Not really. I mean, he might be a bad person in general but not to me, specifically, I think.” Being attracted to Britta Perry isn’t exactly against the law.
“Well, in a movie, you’d only be this sad if you were in love with the professor who wasn’t a bad professor or a jerk, especially if he wasn’t in love with you. So are you in love with him?”
“What? No,” she says, knowing already that she’s not being convincing at all. She’s really bad at trying to play it cool, and then there’s her inability to lie to Abed. “I mean, I can’t. You can make a mistake once and at least it’s good experience, but if you make the same mistake twice that’s just tragic.”
“Is he in love with you?” Which, way to slide past her horrible romantic history, but Abed hasn’t exactly mastered the rules of the heart-to-heart yet.
“I don’t think so. There’s this woman, her name’s Britta — actually we’re trying to get her a retrial for this assignment, he didn’t remember her name, but she walked into the room and there was this look on his face. I don’t know. He asked me out to dinner. But he’s my professor. It would be a huge mistake.”
“Actually it’s a real life version of Vertigo. Your professor is Jimmy Stewart, Britta’s blonde Kim Novak, Rich is the murderer husband, and you’re brunette Kim Novak.”
“Doesn’t she end up falling off the roof of a really tall building?” They had watched the movie at some point during the summer but a lot of them have blurred together. “I don’t know if that’s going to work for me.”
“Remember what you said when we watched it together?”
“No?” They had watched It’s A Wonderful Life afterwards and then they had all hugged each other, which was about the point at which Troy decided Jimmy Stewart had given him too many emotions and then they went back to re-watching John Hughes movies for the next few weeks.
“You said how sad it was, that Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak were basically in love with each other the whole time, it was just the costumes that were wrong.”
“So I should go around wearing a prison uniform on the off chance that Jeff likes it?” The words are out of her mouth, and then Annie realizes she hasn’t just made some offhand sarcastic remark. She’s made a choice, sort of. To maybe make the same mistake again, to roll the dice and see where they might land. It’s like those moments when she palmed an Adderall in her dorm room, the second before she placed the pill on her tongue and washed it down her throat, that clarity of knowing everything was taken care of.
“What do you think he likes about Britta?” Abed says. “How can you be like her and you at the same time?”
“I don’t know.” God, the sound of her voice. She thinks about yesterday, at the prison, watching this other women Jeff might be in love with. “She wants to save the world and she’s intense and she doesn’t really care what other people think and she’s in control except for the fact that she’s in prison. She probably wore a lot of eyeliner and ripped jeans and leather. And I bet she drank fair trade coffee.”
“You drink fair trade coffee.” Abed looks her over, not even bothering to be subtle. “And you want to save the world. Actually, Britta sounds a lot like you.”
“Thanks,” she tells him, voice rising because she means it. She reaches across the table for her phone. She’s in control. She’s going to take a chance, Annie Edison winning against the world. She’s actually making a decision, a mistake, whatever it is, it’s happening right this minute.
tonight’s fine. dinner & deposition?
When she looks up at him, Abed’s smiling and she can’t hold back her own grin.
The door to Annie’s building is held open with a brick. Jeff debates moving it. The neighborhood doesn’t look great. Then again, the brick might be for someone else. He’s stalling and he leaves the brick behind.
Her apartment is on the third floor of the building. The stairwell is grimy, especially compared to the elevators at his condo, so he ends up taking the stairs three at a time in case of germs or on the off chance anything decides to attack him. This is one of his favorite button-downs, not to mention his pants, straight from Italy. He probably should’ve changed after that dinner with Ashleigh.
Nevertheless, he survives the staircase without injury or stain and then he’s at the door to Annie’s apartment, knocking.
Just when he’s about to knock a second time, she opens the door.
Jeff has to struggle to control his face. She’s wearing too much eyeliner, yeah, but even in the dim light of her apartment her blue eyes beam out and she’s curled her hair or something, and god, after weeks of cardigans she’s changed into a shirt that dips low enough to show that yeah, after all, Annie’s got a rack. Somehow he gets his eyes back up to her face and she’s smiling, just like everything’s totally normal.
“You look different,” he says, still on the threshold.
“Abed’s taking a class on costume design,” she explains, running her hand over her hips like she has no idea what it’s making him think, “it’s some elective for his film degree. I’m supposed to be a femme fatale, he said.”
“A woman walks into a detective agency.” He can imagine her in some black and white movie, her skin is practically glowing. “Speaking of which, how’s the deposition coming along?” The end of the question comes out as a squeak.
“It’s good so far, I think. I checked out Britta’s records yesterday after we visited the prison. She has files in three different police headquarters and I copied them.”
“You know that’s technically illegal, right?” At least he’s done one good professor thing so far tonight. Even if this whole class was always a sham to begin with. And he’s still standing in her doorway.
“But it was for research!” She bites her lip. Dammit. Is he going to have to stare at the ceiling now?
“Still.” He wants to say something inspiring. Actually, he’d like to say anything but Annie’s looking at him and her eyes are wide and it’s a little too deer-in-the-headlights to be her usual Disney look.
“You’re not freaking out about this, are you?”
“No,” she says, her voice too high for him to believe her. “It’s just — it’s just, I, I was talking to Abed earlier tonight and I want to roll the dice again.”
“Was this at some board game night?” There’s an unsexy image, Annie and her roommates playing checkers in baggy pajamas. He’ll just focus on that for a while.
“No.” She takes a step forward, towards him. “I mean, I wish I had gone to dinner with you on Thursday. I wish I could just live in the moment and stop obsessing over how every decision will affect the next twenty years of my life. And I wish you weren’t in love with Britta.”
“I’m not in love with Britta,” he says. It’s the only thing he can think to say.
And he’s not sure if it’s the wrong thing or the right thing, because Annie takes another step forward and then he’s fuzzy on the logistics but he’s kissing Annie Edison, her lips are soft against his and his hands are tangled in her hair, the curls are crispy from hairspray and god, why is she so short and he’s still standing in the doorway of her apartment building, halfway in the hallway and he should probably know better than to be doing this, at this point, but then again he’s biting down a little on her lower lip and Annie makes a noise in her throat like yeah, she really liked that, and then Jeff’s not really thinking at all, he’s just kissing her.