So, I saw that episode last night. I was not immune.
Nick shuffled down the hall, wiping the lack of sound sleep from his eyes. He took a whiff of the front of his grey t-shirt. Smelled like Nick. And not the good vintage. He yawned as he neared the kitchen, where Winston, Schmidt, and Jess were all already well into their Saturday morning. They sat circled around the island, sipping coffee and looking over the newspaper. Schmidt and Winston were already dressed for the day, Schmidt in his standard blue button down and khakis, and Winston in a burgundy polo and jeans. Jess wasn't quite as together, still in her beige pajamas, glasses hanging from her face.
"It lives," Schmidt mocked as Nick approached.
"Jury's still out on that one," Nick offered, checking the coffee machine to see if there was any left.
"Long night?" Jess asked quietly.
"You could say that," Nick replied, walking over to the fridge. He opened it and pulled out a carton of orange juice. "It was Bob's five year anniversary of working at the bar, so we had a little after party. May have pushed myself a bit more than I needed to."
"No kidding?" Winston said. "I nearly tripped over you this morning."
"I don't remember."
"Well, do you remember Furguson sleeping on your face?"
"No. But that would explain the cotton mouth," Nick said, taking down a gulp of orange juice straight from the carton.
"That would also explain the, uh, scratches on your face," Schmidt said, pointing at Nick.
"Don't be so sure of that," Jess added. "Nick hasn't fully mastered the razor yet."
"I do fine with my razors, Jess. It's only when I used to borrow your lady Bics that things got… sketchy."
"Hmm. I'm not so sure about that," Jess continued, looking at Schmidt. "He refuses to use a mirror, won't spend money on shaving cream…"
"I do just fine," Nick interrupted.
"No, sometimes you did fine," Jess said with a smile. "Other times using the shower after you felt like walking into a MASH unit."
"Nick, if you need some pointers…" Schmidt began.
"Zip it," Nick said to Schmidt. "And if I remember correctly, I'm not the only one who sometimes struggles with a razor," he said, turning to Jess.
"What is that supposed to mean?" she asked.
"It means it couldn't hurt to step up your underarm maintenance regime from time to time," Nick said.
"Nick!" Jess exclaimed, scowling.
Schmidt gagged on his coffee and Winston slapped him on the back. Nick smiled, shook his head, and took the seat at the island next to Jess.
"I gotta say, you guys," Schmidt started. "I'm proud of you two. What's it been? Three weeks since you called it quits? And so far, nothing but mature, adult behavior out of the both of you."
"Thanks so much for your approval," Nick said dryly.
"No, I mean it. You guys have been great. It's just surprising. Especially you, Nick. I thought for sure we'd have to sound proof Winston's room to silence your midnight yowling. But… so far, so good."
"Yeah," Winston said. "You guys are handling this very well."
Nick looked at Winston and caught what he thought to be a glimpse of skepticism cross his face.
"Well, we were friends first," Nick said, still looking at Winston. "And we decided we work better that way. It's really not that complicated."
"Yeah," Jess added. "Nick's like by brotha from anotha motha."
"Ew," Schmidt said.
"Yeah, didn't really thing that one through, huh?" Winston added.
"My point remains," Jess said raising her index finger. "We got this."
As Jess finished her sentence, Schmidt's phone chimed in the middle of the island. He reached down to investigate, and immediately slammed his coffee cup down on the table.
"What's wrong?" Winston asked.
"Coach, the cheater, that's what's wrong. Look!" Schmidt said, showing Winston his phone. "He slipped out on us and he's scheduled himself a little one on one time Michelle without running it past us."
"Dirty pool!" Winston exclaimed.
"I don't know what's going on," Jess mumbled.
"Michelle is the goddess that moved in across the hall. Winston, Coach, and I have made a gentleman's wager. Whoever courts Michelle the most effectively, wins."
"But we've evened the playing field," Winston added. "We have to run our dates past each other. Time spent, money spent… everything has to be completely even."
"Romantic," Jess scoffed.
"Come, Winston," Schmidt said. "We have an unapproved date to ruin."
"I heard that," Winston said as the pair abruptly stood from the table and headed for the door. "I hate dirty poolers. Poolests? Help me out, Schmidt."
"No time!" Schmidt shouted as he reached the door. They slipped through, and the door slammed loudly behind them, leaving Nick and Jess sitting side by side at the island.
Jess looked down through her glasses at the quickly cooling mug of tea in her hands. Nick idly thumbed the flaps of the orange juice carton. They didn't speak. They hadn't really spoken to each other in almost three weeks. Their only interactions were the little sketches they played out for their roommates in order to keep them off the scent. They had decided before that the whole thing was going to be hard enough, and there was no reason to drag their roommates into it. So, the morning after they really did 'call it', they came to an agreement: as far as anyone in the loft knew, they were fine.
They had called Winston, Schmidt, and Coach together later that morning and told them their decision. Given the crowdedness of the loft, it was decided that Nick and Winston would bunk together, helping to lighten each of their financial loads. Jess and Nick had been convincing, but everyone was skeptical all the same. Over the past few days, however, the loft mates had accepted Nick and Jess at face value, and had started to think things weren't going to have to change all that much after all. It had been taxing for Nick. More taxing than he'd imagined. But he was resigned to the fact that it was the right thing to do.
Nick stood to get up and return to Winston's room. He turned to leave without looking at Jess, and paused.
"I'm sorry about last night," Nick said, speaking the first honest words he had spoken to Jess in weeks.
She sat in silence a moment longer. When she spoke, Nick shut his eyes at the hurt he heard in her voice. He didn't dare turn around.
"You can't do that to me, Nick. It's not fair."
Nick hung his head, unsure of his likely to be trembling voice. He cleared his throat.
"It won't happen again," he said, and walked back to Winston's room without turning back.
He shut Winston's door and leaned back into it, shutting his eyes. Behind his eyelids, he started to vividly see the same thing he saw nearly every time he closed his eyes anymore. It was that night. After they had realized Jess had nowhere to go, they had decided to share a bed one last time rather than raise alarm with the roommates. They had held each other, and looked into each other's eyes. They laughed, even. Standing with his back to Winston's door, he couldn't understand how that was possible. A night as painful as that.
People don't often get to know they're doing something for the last time as they're doing it. But Nick and Jess were fully aware that this was the last time for them. There was no sleep. As the sun came up and woke the other residents of the loft, they stayed put well into the late morning. It was only when Jess had to use the bathroom that the rose from the bed. She walked to the door and stopped. She then stepped back to the bed, took Nick by the head, and kissed him for the last time. As she pulled away, he saw her eyes fill with tears before she smiled and quickly turned, slipping through the door.
Nick forced his eyes open at the memory. He sniffed and reached into his pocket to retrieve his phone. He had gotten drunk last night. Too drunk. And he had texted Jess. He searched through his message history, and was relieved to find that there were only a handful. He scrolled down to look at their last exchange, though he didn't need to. Despite his drunken state the night before, he knew exactly what was said. At 2:30 am, he had texted Jess: I don't understand how this is so easy for you. Three minutes later, she had texted him back the words that made his body go cold:
What do you want me to say? Do you want me to say I miss you? That should be obvious.
Nick went to fire the phone across the room, but stopped himself when he heard the sound of Jess' feet making their way down the hall. He listened as her footsteps slowed at the door to her room, and then stopped. For what seemed like minutes they were silent. Nick turned and rested his forehead on the door, and fingered the wood grain with his right hand. After a few moments, he heard Jess' feet moving, quickly followed by the sound of her door softly clicking shut.
Nick pushed himself from the door with his forehead, and wandered into the middle of the room. How had they gotten here so fast? One minute, a kiss. The next minute, Mexico. The next? I love you. The next? I miss my friend? What did that even mean? How had he gotten everything he ever wanted, and then lost it all? And how had he done it so damn fast?
From behind him, he heard heavy footsteps approaching the door. He spun around, wiping his eyes, and found Winston standing in front of him with a look of intent on his face.
"Winnie, how'd it go with…"
"Stop it, Nick," Winston said, raising his hand. "Just stop it. You don't think I can see what's going on? You know better than that. You can't fool me."