Title: Lessons in Grand Romantic Gestures
Characters/Ships: Jeff/Britta, Abed Nadir (+ study group),
Word Count: ~3200
Summary: "Britta, I'm a film major. The first girl always wins." It takes him years to get to this point, but Abed finally gets to play the sassy rom-com confidant.
Notes: Abed is really hard to write. And I hope you enjoy this :)
He’s not good at giving first impressions, but Abed knows how to get them. Within seconds, he’s pinned all his Spanish classmates into neat pigeonholes, each archetype marked clearly. It’s a bit rude, some people say, to label others. But the point is that it works for Abed. Not to mention, he’s usually accurate.
When it comes time to round up the ensemble for the study group, he picks Annie because, well, it is a study group. She’s already doing well for their first assignment, but she doesn’t jump on board until Troy does, which is good because they needed a jock. Shirley is the housewife with veiled sassiness and Pierce is, well, old, and Abed thinks that this just about completes them on the shallowest level possible.
The one factor that he can’t control is the two people he didn’t invite to the group: Jeff and Britta. He’s some sort of silver-tongued smirk wrapped in a sports jacket and she might as well have been wearing a soapbox instead of shoes.
At first Abed is apprehensive because he’s created the perfect dynamic with the group and he’s afraid they’re going to break that. But then he notices the way Jeff manages to calm their storm of arguments with a platitudinous speech. It’s a cliché, but it fits that he leads the group, even though Abed suspects that Jeff probably doesn’t want to. Good, he notes, an anti-hero, this’ll shake things up.
But more importantly, as he turns to whisper, “I forgive you,” Abed notices something in Britta’s eye. She’s blinking furiously, as if she’s trying to will away the fact that she’s actually somewhat impressed by Jeff’s speech.
As the pieces come together, Abed realizes that he approves of their cast. But that small glimmer of hope is shattered when Britta turns to Jeff and reveals her deceit. It’s unnerves him enough to be agitated throughout the rest of their session and none of them can study. Eventually, Britta decides that they have to end early and they go out to find Jeff, predictably, sitting on the ground
If he had just been any normal person, Jeff would probably have just gone home. But there, sitting on the cold steps, is Jeff, and Abed thinks that he wanted the group to find him.
So they invite him back in to study. Abed notices that Jeff is either staring at his book or Britta, mechanically conjugating verbs. The one time Britta catches him, the ex-lawyer gives her a ridiculous smile and she glowers.
“Good,” Abed murmurs softly to himself, so that no one else hears. This’ll be an excellent character arc.
It’s May and the will-they-won’t-they has been building up for a year. But two weeks after Jeff and Britta do it, Britta shoots herself in the foot. Something about a Tranny Queen. Something about a “Jeff Winger, I love you.”
Abed watches from the corner of the cafeteria, both too engaged by the cornucopia of rom-com clichés pouring out of Britta’s loose mouth and too in pain by the off-book nature of the scenario.
Grand romantic gestures aren’t supposed to crash and burn. The heroine isn’t supposed to be humiliated and the hero can’t just walk away without coming back like an embarrassed puppy. But even Abed knows that he can’t bend the laws of TV logic for his friends.
Britta’s not the type of person to back down and she protests that she’s “fine,” even staying for the rest of the dance to prove her point. Someone else gets crowned Tranny Queen. No one asks her to dance.
As the night finishes, Abed stays behind, the only one in the room aside from Britta and the Dean. Shirley has gone home early to see her boys, while Pierce decides to give Troy the preliminary pre-tour of his mansion.
“Abed!” Britta calls out, forcing a smile on her face. She doesn’t want to talk about it and he immediately feels guilty for having it at the tip of his tongue.
Instead, he wordlessly grabs a nearby chair to sit beside her. A cloud of silence exists for about a minute, interrupted only by the Dean noisily filing away all the decorations.
“I messed up, didn’t I?” Britta lets out a low, throaty noise, a mix between a choke and a laugh.
Abed doesn’t know how to respond. He just pats her on the back.
“I’m not saying I’ve seen that many chick flicks, because those movies are lame and unfeminist and I haven’t,” the blonde continues, as if she believes that if she keeps being defensive, people will leave her alone. “But some small, stupid part of me thought that it would work. It always works, doesn’t it?”
“I’ve seen enough rom-coms,” Abed replies plainly, because he’s an open book. “Sometimes the first grand romantic gesture doesn’t work, but then comes Act Three and there’s a turn-around. Mad-cap race to the airport. Running through the rain. Hiring a marching band.”
Britta laughs and there’s so much pain in her voice that Abed starts to feel shame slowly creeping on him. “This was a mistake. And I’m not in love with Jeff,” she says, to herself moreso than him, “I just did it because I was competing with Slater. I made a fool of myself, made a fool out of Jeff.”
She stands up and makes up some thin excuse about needing to go home. Abed asks if she can get together with the rest of the group during the summer and she shakes her head pitifully. Says something about New York, about needing time.
The Dean has finished getting rid of all of the décor and at 11 PM, the room is empty except for Abed and the plastic chair next to him. He folds Britta’s chair, then his, stacks them against the wall, and then leaves.
Outside, he spots Leonard in a bushes a couple feet away. “What are you doing here?”
“Who says I can’t be here?” Leonard challenges him, because he’s Leonard and likes to provoke everybody. “Anyways, two hours ago, you won’t believe what I saw…”
He relates the story of Jeff and Annie. There are some heartfelt words here and there, but all Leonard really remembers is the physical display of affection.
When he finishes, Abed finally looks up from his view of his shoes. He wishes he could hit his head for all the time the world played its messed-up, twisted tricks. It’s as if human beings purposefully tried to avoid any sort of conventional plot device. Britta screwed up, Jeff screwed up, and now Annie of all people – sensible, level-headed Annie – was involved in this sordid affair too. Finally, Abed cynically dictates, “We never talk about this again.”
“TV makes sense and has structure, logic, rules, and likeable leading men. In life we have this. We have you.”
To think that he came so close to planning their wedding episode, only to have it all fall apart.
Worst comes to worst and then Troy gets involved. It all goes downhill from there.
“So, what scenarios should we play out?” Annie asks excitedly from the driver’s seat. “I’m thinking maybe we can re-enact some classic films. We can look at my Audrey Hepburn collection for some inspiration … Abed? Abed!”
The pint-sized girl violently slams on the brakes as they reach their first red light.
“Look, I get it,” she rasps, her voice menacingly low. “You didn’t like it when I played matchmaker with Britta and Troy. Look, AbedI know you’re scared of losing Troy, but think of it this way: It’ll be better for both of them. Britta’s slightly more mature than him, so he gets that, and Troy? Troy likes her. He’ll make her happy.”
Sitting in shotgun, Abed has been silent for the entire car ride.
“Abed?” Annie repeats in barely a squeak. She reaches tentatively for him, but he shakes her head.
“We can’t choose what makes people happy,” Abed mutters slowly. Annie misses the green light. A car honks loudly behind her. “I tried.”
Her face falls. “Like with Jeff and Britta, you mean?” She says quietly, driving onwards. “You knew they were hooking up since Halloween. And you didn’t bother to tell us because ... I don't know why! All I know is that I spent a whole year acting like an idiot with a schoolgirl’s crush because one of my best friends didn't breathe a word.”
“I know.” It’s all he can say. “That’s why it was a mistake.”
She turns the corner and settles into the parking lot in front of their apartment complex. Silently, she pulled the key out of the ignition and stepped outside, closing the door gingerly. “Maybe you can show me some of that Inspector Spacetime stuff,” Annie offers. She grins, trying to be peppy, but her eyes are dark and lost. “I’m not in that much of a rom-com mood right now.”
“There’s no heat between Jeff and Britta right?” Troy sounds like a child lost in the dark. And Abed is his security blanket, some omniscient, all-comforting pillar of fire. Abed can feel his best friend seek his eyes out, his words.
It’s after Jeff’s Christmas party and Britta’s stayed behind to help him wash dishes. Annie’s still back there, taking down her curtains as slowly as she can will herself to move.
Abed’s at the driver’s seat. All he can see are the Christmas lights that line storefront after storefront. All he can hear is the childlike uncertainty of his best friend.. Sure, he’s older than Troy, but he’s never felt quite so ancient. Quietly, he muses, is this what Pierce always feels like?
But Troy is expecting advice, honesty, wisdom, and no one goes to Pierce for that as often as they should.
“You should ask her,” is all Abed can offer because love is a poisonous, difficult thing. He decides that perhaps he shouldn't get involved in it anymore.
“But how do I bring it up?” Troy anguishes. Abed wishes that his dominant hand wasn’t on the steering wheel because he wants so badly to comfort his best friend right now. “Is it just … in conversation? Do I have to get her flowers to let her know that I’m … or a date or, Abed, what if I’m not fine with whatever it is?”
“I’m not an expert on this,” Abed states because it’s true. Watching several dramatic proclamations of love doesn’t make you a professional, knowing every trope inside out won’t help you survive, and television has rules, not messy, messy relationships. Yet with utmost certainty, he can still say, “but Britta won't lie. That'd be out of character.”
The break-up is inevitable. Abed could’ve staged it in twelve different, plot-convenient ways, but it’s still meant to happen and it does. Life, as usual, proves to be a mess and things get awkward pretty quickly.
That’s what’s different about them, Abed can’t help himself from thinking one day. Not even Jeff and Britta's "break-up" could stop the two of them from being the scheming, ridiculous co-conspirators that they are. It was a depressing fact for the rest of humanity, but a good one for them … at least, if they were together.
“Abed, you’ve got to help me,” Shirley comes out of the blue one day, her serious Mama-Bennett expression locked on her face. Without question, he follows her into the storage room of Shirley’s Sandwiches. To his surprise, therein sits Jeff Winger, cramped against the sloping frame of the pantry.
Immediately, he knows what's happening.
“Shirley, you don’t have to strong-arm Abed into this,” Jeff gives her a withering look. “I thought we agreed to keep this between us.”
“I stir the pot,” Shirley mutters quietly, before clearing her throat. Her voice is commanding, powerful. “Jeffrey here has apparently come to some epiphanies about life. Normally, I would, uh, be supportive of him. But given the recent nature of certain events..."
She side-eyes Abed. “Now do you know what I’m talking about, so that I possibly have to never say it again?”
“Shirley's right. Just wait.” Abed advises. His voice is listless and bland.
“Real specific.” Jeff comments gruffly.
Abed glances at Shirley and he can tell she’s itching to interrogate the smarmy-faced lawyer more. Get him to talk about his feelings. She's afraid that he's going to continue his record of Bad Personal Life Choices, and Abed can't help but recognize her fear as rational.
“Fine,” Jeff throws his hands up in surrender, “I’ll wait. But afterwards, I never want to have this conversation again, so what should I do?"
“What do you mean?” Shirley asks, but Abed answers that for her.
“He’s talking about something that will help express ... whatever it is that he feels towards Britta. stunts, acts, grand romantic gestures,” Abed lists. “Forget them. Only a good director could make those tropes work, and let's face it, we're all pretty bad at handling our lives."
Jeff stares at him. Perhaps, Abed hit a proverbial note. Or, maybe he’s just confused.
Yes, it becomes clear a second later, he has no idea what Abed’s talking about.
“No stunts?” Jeff clarifies, his voice somewhat forlorn because elaborate plots and improvisational speeches are to him what movies are to Abed.
“Not if you want this to be the real deal,” warns Shirley, while Abed shakes his head. "And it better be."
“Okay,” Jeff resolves, “No schemes.”
It’s nine more months and two weeks-long boyfriends until Abed realizes that Britta is ready for the big one, the Winger. By this time, she’s in grad school and makes a couple extra bucks doing freelance counseling. Abed is her primary client and half the time, he analyzes Arrested Development. Out of irritation, she asks him to do journals.
It’s okay though, because Abed knows she reads his journal with the same surplus of care and unnecessary concern that she gives everything. And she's bound to come across that one entry.
Predictably, Abed receives a call from Britta’s third Totorola number and he answers her frantic beckon to her “office" (her dining table, to be exact). When he arrives at her studio, the first thing he heads for is the freezer where a tub of vegan ice cream is just waiting to be consumed.
“What’s this about your happy place?” Britta demands, shoving the journal in front of him.
“See, it’s a standard multi-camera sitcom. Laugh track included. You do know that my main method of communication is through TV right…” He trails off, brown eyes boring into her pale grey ones. He tests her, eying her carefully, wanting her to say it out loud.
“Fine,” she grits her teeth and relents, “What’s this about me and Jeff in your happy place?”
“Ah that,” he replies affably. “Well, it is my happy place, and every sitcom’s handsome leading man needs a hot-headed love interest.”
“Hot-headed?” Britta shrieks incensed. She quickly realizes her hypocrisy and switches gears to her default mode of defense, “Love interest? Abed, I'm an independent woman, not some flat dumb blonde to serve as eye candy. Especially not Jeff Winger’s eye candy.”
Abed nods quietly. “I know. But it’s just a character template, a blueprint based on predictable dynamics. There are gaps and then all of the little details of life come to fill those in. Usually, it screws everything up, but you don't have a production without a couple prima donnas."
Britta’s face morphs into a mixture of confusion and helplessness. Her mouth widens and forms an uneven oval, but no sound escapes her lips. It wasn’t an invitation to carry on, but Abed went ahead, “See, on a foundational level, you and Jeff make sense. You’re both broken, which is why you’re not looking for something whole. Like Troy, like Annie. You’re both masters at the human nature of screwing up, but you don’t make each other change.” He breathes. “You make each other want to change.”
“Abed, you don't know...” Britta begins, her usually defiant voice drained of strength.
He ignores her and continues because he’s gaining momentum and he doesn’t want to lose it as fleetingly as Jeff and Britta lost each other. “I got Hollywood-starlet drunk all because he wanted to make sure that your relationship was balanced again. That’s what platonic friends do for each other, sure. Either way, there's balance, cohesion, something that fits. Somehow it follows all of the rules."
She continues staring at him, determined to put on a strong front. Or maybe she’s actually being tough. He can never tell.
“I do know that TV and life are separate. I've known for quite a while,” he looks down at his well-worn Doc Martens, refusing to meet her eye, “But I also like epic romance movies. Casablanca, Gone With the Wind, you know that stuff . And I find comfort in them. So, sorry, if that just happens to be my happy place.”
“Tell me what to do.”
“What?’ Abed lifts his head in slow motion. He can’t help it, but part of him imagines dramatic music in the background.
Britta grins, almost as if she knows she’s being slightly ridiculous, but she still spits it out. “In all those movies. You have your comeback move ten minutes before it ends. You told me once I had to do a grand romantic gesture. Tell me what to do.”
But it isn’t like that, Abed wants to tell her mournfully, didn’t you learn anything from last time? Except, he sees the twinkle in her eye, the one that was full of life and mischief and planning stupid schemes with Jeff. The one that held back tears when Jeff left at the Transfer Dance and filled with tears when he forced her sad past out of her back in the dreamatorium, of why she hated letting her guard down. And he thinks that if people as broken as Britta Perry and Jeff Winger thought they could fight their way back into a love that both of them denied insistently, well, maybe that was the whole reason grand romantic gestures existed, after all.
“You don’t need that,” he dismisses it. "Just be honest, it's the simplest gesture, but it's the best. Maybe, you can bring in a stereo with Christmas carols, if you wanted to go an extra step. Not many points in originality though."
Immediately, the grin on her face drops and he can sense poorly disguised fear in her eyes “Hypothetically, if I were scared, and I'm not, that would be okay, right?" She asks, confidence in her voice, but not her stature.
He nods and watches as the colour slowly returns to her cheeks.
“And Britta,” Abed says, his voice suddenly going nasal and bearing a thick Jersey accent. He never thought he could play the sassy best friend, but apparently he’s not doing a shabby job. Enough movie nights with Annie and you learn the ropes pretty quickly. “I’m a film major. The first girl always wins.”
She smiles this time, nervous energy radiating. But she actually believes him, and that's good.
“But if it all goes to hell,” Britta says, trying to hide her worry. She fished around for her car keys, one sock on her foot. “Meet me at the Red Door later. And tell Shirley to come!”
A look of sheer delight makes its way up to Abed’s face. He nods, making a quick finger gun at her, “I’ll be there.”
That night, he and Shirley wait, despite the fact that it’s past 12 and Andre's called five times, worried. Britta never shows and they share a toast because Abed is certain he just directed a Hollywood love story.