As Nick stood in the corner counter, tucked away in the back of his storefront dwelling, he stared at the girl curiously wandering the room and shook his head. She was here.
He tore his eyes away from her and turned his attention back to the task at hand. He had never been so excited to prepare a cup of tea, and he was starting to understand first-hand the old expression about the watched pot. Apparently, it went for electronic kettles as well. Not that Nick was versed in sophisticated brewing methods to begin with. The light was still blinking red, so he allowed his eyes to return to his guest.
She kept her violet coat pulled tight around her as she moved around the room, her eyes wide with curiosity, as she took it all in. She found her way over to the couch and coffee table, taking particular interest in the box of books between them. She reached into the box and removed a pair of paperbacks, reading the titles and furrowing her brow as she did so.
"Hey… are these…" she started.
"Yep," he answered quickly, noting the light on the kettle had finally blinked to green. "Presents from one Jessica Day."
Nick tipped the kettle into the two mismatched coffee mugs he had set out on the counter. One blue, one pink. He unplugged the kettle's dock, picked up the mugs, and headed towards Jess, careful not to spill their contents.
"Betcha thought I'd never actually those, huh?" he said as he approached her.
"Well, there was some intent in getting them for you, you know," she smiled as she accepted the pink mug of tea from Nick. "I didn't just get them so they could clutter up your room."
"I see," he laughed. "Then you'll be happy to know I read them. All of them. Front to back. Even the bad ones."
Jess tilted her head and pressed her lips together, suppressing a chuckle. As she did so, she realized that her face was starting to hurt. Positive person that she was, Jess was unfamiliar with the sensation. She raised her free hand to her face to give it a quick massage. Once finished, she dropped her hand and took a sip of her tea. It was then that the diagnosis came to her: her face was sore from smiling. It had been weeks since she had done so so freely, and she was out of practice. The realization brought yet another smile to her face, proving to be something of a Catch-22. A problem she decided she would just have to live with.
"Sorry, it's just Lipton," Nick said, misunderstanding her silence as disapproval at his choice in tea.
"It's good," Jess nodded, again with a smile. "Just what I needed to warm up a bit."
"Shall we?" he said, slowly sweeping his hand in the direction of the couch."
"I'd like that," she replied, stepping over to the couch.
She handed the mug back to Nick as she took off her coat, placing it over the back of the couch. She then carefully sat down, kicking her flats off in the same motion. She turned to face Nick and brought her knees up to her chest as he sat down next to her at her right. She hugged her knees in with her right arm as she accepted the mug of tea back with he left.
"So… what do you think we should do?" she asked.
"I…" Nick started. He let out a small laugh and took a sip of tea. He cleared his throat and looked her in the eye. "I haven't gotten that far, Jess. I'm still just… I mean… you're here. And I'm looking at you. And… well… that's as far as I've gotten. Looking at you. Think it's okay if I just keep looking at you for a while?"
Jess felt her face grow warm, making the tea completely superfluous. Shaking her head, her face lifted into yet another painful smile.
"Depends," she purred. "How long were you thinking?"
"Oh, I dunno. Just a few more… days should probably do it, I guess."
Jess shut her eyes, her modesty getting the best of her. Pressing her lips together to force the smile form her face, she set her mug next to the still opened laptop on the coffee table. She then reached out and took the mug from Nick's hand before setting it on the table beside hers.
"Oh, God," she said, taking his face in her hands. She raised her eyes to meet his as she brought their faces close. "I missed you so much."
Before he could respond, she pressed her lips to his and slowly slipped her arms around his neck. His arms drifted easily around her body as he brought her close. He sat up straighter as she moved to her knees, never breaking the kiss. Her hands moved to his chest as his caressed her pajama clad back.
"You know, I've got an idea of something we could do," Nick said, breaking the kiss. His hands slipped under the back of her pajama top and started tracing small circles into her warm skin. Jess opened her eyes and looked at him.
Foreheads pressed together, Jess sighed. She turned her head, and therefore his, towards the front of the room. Towards the eight foot tall, room spanning window that revealed the illuminated street behind it.
"I guess I see your point," Nick said.
"Although, this time of night…"
"I'm betting one, two passersby, tops."
"Probably just one. Besides, it's been weeks Jess. I don't think I've got much for you. It'd probably be really quick."
"What!" Jess said, sitting back. She gave Nick a benign shove to the chest.
"I'm just being honest here."
"Well, way to sell me on it, man."
"Hey, I believe in honesty. Being forward. Up front. As a consumer, I think you'd appreciate that."
"Well how 'bout this," Nick said, leaning to kiss Jess. She turned her head, first to the left, then to the right in a playful attempt to subvert the kiss. Finally she gave in, allowing Nick to plant a single, slow, soft kiss on her lips. "I mean, really. It's 3 in the morning, Jess. How do you look this… perfect?"
Jess raised her eyebrows in defeat, and brought her hand to Nick's cheek.
"Okay, that one was pretty good," she admitted. "Any other time, and… well… you know."
"Yes, yes I do know."
"But I'm sorry, I'm just not feeling this whole… real life diorama thing."
"I suppose I can respect that," Nick said. He relaxed back into the couch as Jess kicked her knees out from under her. She swung her legs over Nick's before settling into the crook of his arm. Nick rolled his eyes as he put his arm around her shoulder and squeezed. "You're not going to make this easy for me, are you?"
"Down boy," Jess chuckled. "It'll have to wait until we get back to the loft."
Nick didn't speak or move, but Jess suddenly felt him tense up beside her. Her hands instinctively moved to rub some of the tightness from his chest before she lifted her head from his shoulder and looked up at him.
"Something wrong?" she asked.
"Um, no," Nick said, looking away. "Well, not really."
"Are you sure?" Jess asked, not believing him.
"Jess," he said, taking her hand from his chest and holding in his own. He took a breath before looking her in the eye. "I'm not going back to the loft."
"Oh…" Jess said softly, the confusion building on her face.
"Now, hear me out," he said, giving her hand a reassuring squeeze. "This has nothing to do with you. Or… almost nothing. No, nothing. Jess, I just… I can't go back there."
"W-what..." Jess shook her head, her confusion not fading.
"I love you, Jess. More than anything. More than…" he said, running out of words. "I love you. And I miss you. Every second away from you seems kind of like a waste. And I miss the guys, too. God love 'em, the idiots. But Jess… I think..." Nick swallowed hard a looked down for a moment before looking back up at Jess' eyes, her usually vibrant irises barely visible due to the darkness of the room causing her pupils to widen to an extraordinary degree. "I think I just need to be on my own for a while."
Jess blinked hard, snapped her head back, and looked at Nick accusatorily.
"No-no," Nick said. "No no no no no no no no no no no no no. Noooooooo."
"That's a lot of nos."
"No. I know. I need to live on my own for a while, that's all. Not be on my own. Jess, this is it. I'm not giving up on us. Not again. Not ever again."
Jess exhaled and looked down. She took a moment to catch her breath before looking back at Nick.
"Besides," he said with an embarrassed smile. "I tried that already. It didn't' take."
"Well… okay," she said. "So what does that mean?"
"Um, I guess… for now anyway… I'll just stay here. It's not extravagant, but the rent it cheap. And Jess, I've actually been doing okay on my own. I mean, I missed you like crazy. That all but killed me. But everything else has been… I dunno… good."
"Yeah. I've lost weight, I've actually saved money. I have a little structure to my life. I've had time to read. I've even found time to write."
"You've been writing?" Jess asked, a broad smile forcing its way across her face.
"Yeah, you know. A little here and there."
"Anything, uh… anything about me?"
"Oh they're all about you, Jess. In one way or another," Nick said, his eyes inadvertently flipping over to the laptop.
"Well let me see," Jess said, reaching out for the computer.
"Nope, uh-uh," Nick said, pulling her arm back to his chest. "Those aren't ready for an audience."
Jess looked at him and frowned. "Not even me?"
"Especially not you," Nick said with a laugh. "At least not yet," he offered.
"I guess I can live with that," Jess said as she settled back into his arms.
"Look, Jess. I love you, and I am not letting you go again. But… our issues… they aren't going to just go away."
"I know," Jess nodded.
"I need to figure out some things. Grow up a bit. Be a man that can take care of you."
"You don't need to take care of me, Nick, I can…"
"I know, but I need to at least be a man that can take care of himself, right? Will you grant me that?"
"And for the first time in my life, I think I'm starting to be that man, Jess. So I think it's best that I just stay put. At least for a while."
Jess looked up at him thoughtfully for a moment. She was surprised to find her eyes beginning to water, for reasons even she couldn't properly identify. She dabbed at the corners of her eyes quickly before looking up at Nick again.
"I think that's a really good idea, Nick."
Once again, she settled into the crook of his arm, taking time to note how perfectly she fit there. She didn't know what she was getting into when she crept out of 4D in the wee hours of that morning, but she ended up getting more than she could've hoped for. As the sleepiness started to take hold, she moved her hand up to Nick's chest and gently clutched the front of his tee shirt.
"You'll be spending the night tomorrow though, right."
"Oh yes. Absolutely. 100%. No question about it."
They both allowed sleep to take hold quickly, and it brought each of them the first true rest that either had experienced in weeks.