The Pact


Prologue: New Year's Eve


I

Jessica Day stared at the lights, completely mesmerised. She adjusted her glasses that were slipping off her nose, as she tried to stand on her toes to peek outside the window in her room. Before long, her little feet began to hurt. She took the stool that was placed next to her bright pink mini-vanity and dragged it across the floor and placed it under the window. Carefully, climbing up, she looked enviously into her backyard where all the grownups were.

New Year's Eve was the one celebration that was still a mystery to her. All she knew of it was what her teacher had told her - New Year meant that the Earth had completed one full revolution around the sun. She'd guessed that must be a big deal. Every year, her parents would tuck her in earlier than usual, and she would fight to stay awake. She would lay in her bed, listening for the familiar sound of people counting down followed by the the pop of the fireworks going off in the sky, which would fill her room with flickering colours.

Lucky for her, it was unusually warm in January that year, so her parents were hosting the annual New Year's Eve party in their backyard. She could peep into the backyard without them catching her awake at midnight.

She stood on that stool, wondering what it was that all these grownups did. So far, they all seemed to just be talking while sipping on some grownup juice that her Dad and Mom insisted wasn't healthy for children.

It was juice! How could it not be healthy?!

She's had juice loads of time before, and had always been encouraged to do so. But this juice seemed so special that the grownups didn't want to share.

Despite how boring it all seemed so far, she couldn't wait to be grownup enough to be allowed there. Eight wasn't grownup enough, apparently, but fourteen was. Abby had gone to her friends' house to celebrate New Year's Eve and was sleeping over. Of course, Abby had thrown a fit before her Dad finally gave in and let her go, much to her mother's annoyance.

She watched her parents talking to Mr. and Mrs. Miller and wondered where Nick was. Slowly getting down from the stool, she walked to the other window in her room and stood on her toes. The light in his room was still on, she observed. She wondered if he fell asleep reading again. Just as she was about to turn and go back to her stool, his face appeared at his window. She raised her hand to wave at him and he waved back, grinning.

He held up his clock and then while holding up all of his fingers, mouthed, "Ten minutes!"

She nodded enthusiastically but doubted he could see. From where he was, even if she stood on her toes, all he could see would be the top of her head and her eyes. He laughed at her before gesturing for her to come downstairs with one finger, and she held her index finger above the window in response - One minute.

Before leaving, she quickly climbed back onto the stool to make sure her parents were still out there, preoccupied with the party. Then, grabbing her pink jacket, she hurried out of her room, her little feet making a dull pitter-patter against the wooden floor.

She ran out of the back door of her kitchen, crouching so none of the adults would spot her and walked towards the fence that divided the lawns of the Miller and Day residences. Nick was already standing at the place where a huge chunk of a wooden beam was missing, the result of a crazy game her, Nick, and Winston had been playing, and it now served as their rendezvous point.

"Where's Winston?" she asked, her eyes searching for him.

"We were playing video games and thought that'd keep us up for a while, but he fell asleep," said Nick, shaking his head.

"What a baby!" they said together and laughed.

They sat down on the on the grass, each on their own side of their backyards.

"I'm so excited to see the fireworks!" she said.

"Why? It's not like you've never seen them before?" asked Nick quizzically.

"Yes, Nicholas, I have. But never on New Year's Eve!"

"They're all the same!"

She simply stuck her tongue out at him in response.

"You're so weird," he said frowning at her.

"You look like Dog again!" she laughed.

Nick scowled, and she started laughing harder.

"I don't look like that stupid turtle of yours!"

"Dog's not stupid! And it's not my fault you make the same face as Dog."

Nick scrunched his face in annoyance. "I still don't know why you'd call your turtle Dog. It's a turtle, Jessica!"

"I told you, I wanted a dog. Mom said a fish, a turtle, or a hamster was the only pet I'm allowed to have," she said shrugging. "Besides, I think it's kind of funny."

Their conversation was interrupted by the sudden noise of people beginning the countdown. When they reached the final number, Jess clapped with unrestrained enthusiasm as the fireworks lit up the sky.

"It's so pretty, isn't it?" she asked, excitedly, turning to Nick who was frowning at something else.

"What?" she asked.

"They're all kissing!" he said, face still contorted into a frown as he stared at the people in her backyard.

"All grownups do, Nick!" she said looking at him. "Abby says it's gooood," she said lowering her voice secretively.

"Blech!" he said, grimacing. "I'm never kissing anybody."

"You'll have to kiss your wife, you know."

Nick grimaced at her. "No."

"But you'll have to kiss your wife, Nick! All husbands do," she said, and enjoying his growing irritation, she added, "And wives kiss their husbands too."

"Shut up, Jess!" he said, getting up to leave.

"Wait, Nick, I'm sorry," she said, laughing, and he relented and sat back down. "Fine, you don't have to kiss anyone."

"Good."

"Jessica Christopher Day! Is that you over there?!" Her mother's voice rang through the air, cutting over the increasing noise of the fireworks and revellers from the party.

She widened her eyes and looked at him, jumping to her feet.

"I have to go. Bye, Nick!"

He got up as well, dusting off his pyjamas. "Bye, Jess."

As she ran back towards the house, he yelled, "Happy New Year, ya weirdo!"

"Happy New Year to you too, Dog!" she called back.

II

Nick frowned at the trapdoor of the treehouse as he waited impatiently, playing with the straps of his newly purchased Re-Animator bag. Both Winston and Jess were late. Finally, he heard the chains of the ladder rattling and opened the trapdoor to peer down the trunk of the tree. He caught sight of the familiar dark hair and waited patiently for her to reach the top. He laughed a little at her slow pace as she carefully held onto each of the rungs to keep from falling.

When her head finally reached the trapdoor, he cocked his head. "Hey."

She looked up startled, jumping slightly as the ladder rattled at the sudden movement. "Nick! Are you trying to kill me?!" she hissed.

"Not today, Jess, not today," he said, shaking his head as he helped her up the door.

"Where's Winston?" she asked, as she finally took a seat on one of the ragged cushions in the small treehouse.

"I don't know," said Nick, frowning. "Do you think he chickened out?"

"He's been up here before," she shrugged. "I don't see why he would-"

Before she could complete her sentence, Winston emerged from the trapdoor, frowning with concentration.

"Hey, Winston!" said Jess happily.

Grunting in response, he climbed into the treehouse and grabbed a black cushion to use as a seat. As he sat down, the squeak of wood made his eyes widen. "This place is falling apart!"

Nick rolled his eyes. "Winnie, that's normal!"

Winston scowled. "That's what my aunt said about the stairs before she fell through and broke a leg! And we're on a tree. And we're small," he said, before lowering his voice to say, "We'll all die."

"Winston, we're not gonna die!" said Nick sternly.

"Yeah, we're like, ten, and strong," Jess chimed in. "At the most, we'd break all our limbs."

"Jessica!" whined Winston.

"It's starting!" Jess said excitedly, crawling on her knees to the tiny window in the treehouse as she heard the ring of the countdown.

The treehouse's window overlooked the Days' backyard and the height it was at made it one of the best vantage points on the entire block. As she peered through the window, she felt Nick and Winston come up behind her, Winston still grumbling. They watched with bated breath as the countdown reached 'one' and watched the firecrackers streak upwards before exploding in colour.

"Okay, guys, I really need to pee!" said Winston, with urgency as he scuffled towards the trapdoor and started to climb down.

"Winnie, but you just came!"

"I know, but I didn't want to miss the firecrackers!" he called, already halfway down the ladder.

When Nick turned back, an amused look on his face, he saw that Jess was still at the window.

Jess watched her parents kissing and she let out a happy giggle. All the yelling and fighting that happened at home these days, and here they were. She put her elbow on the sill of the window and rested her face in her hand as she watched everyone celebrating, feeling giddy with happiness. She couldn't wait to be there; someday.

Nick peered over her shoulder curiously. "Whatcha lookin' at?"

Jess simply shook her head with a smile. "Nothing," she said, as she continued to stare.

"Ugh, midnight is over. Why are people still doing that?!"

"They're kissing, Nick," said Jess, swatting his shoulder lightly, turning around and sitting back on the treehouse floor. "It's romantic!"

"It's weird!" said Nick, indignantly.

"No, it isn't, Nick!"

"It's weird enough when people kiss my cheek, and-"

"Is not!" said Jess, stomping her foot.

"It is!"

She leaned forward suddenly and planted a kiss on his cheek. "There. Now, was that weird?"

Nick was frowning, his hand on his cheek as he gave her question a thought. "I guess not," he muttered, begrudgingly.

"My turn," she said playfully, turning her face to him.

Nick rolled his eyes, muttering "You're so weird," but fair was fair, he supposed. He leaned in and gave her a quick kiss. As he drew back, he caught the faint scent of butterscotch and realized he'd never been this close to her. It reminded him of all those cupcakes with butterscotch frosting topped with crackles that Mrs. Day baked and sent over to his house almost every weekend.

Huh. Jess smelled like butterscotch.

That stupid rhyme goes through his head about girls being made of sugar and spice and everything nice. Guess that was true, or at least it was for her.

"That wasn't so bad, was it?" laughed Jess.

"No, it wasn't," agreed Nick, joining her in her laughter.

III

Nick stood in his empty kitchen, staring at the refrigerator with hesitation. Shaking his head, he trudged forward and grabbed a bottle of beer from his father's stock of Heisler. He wasn't around that much anyway and his mother wouldn't notice; the only way she'd even know would be if Jamie told on him. He walked over to the bottom of the staircase, straining to listen and make sure that his brother was still asleep; lucky for him, he could sleep through anything.

He walked out the backdoor and sat on the grass under the only tree in his backyard. He threw a few glances at the quiet and empty backyards of his neighbours. His mother had gone to the Kennedys', who'd been hosting the New Year's Eve party ever since the Days had moved away four years ago. She'd gotten all excited and dressed up as if his father hadn't been missing for nearly a week; maybe she'd just gotten tired of fighting with him, crying over him late at night. Maybe she had to prove life still went on with or without him there.

He would still see Mr. Day around every once in a while, but he mostly stayed in the small apartment he'd moved into after Mrs. Day and Jess had moved to Portland. Nick didn't know if he was supposed to say hi to him anymore. A lot of the adults seemed to want to avoid him, so Nick did too. He kind of felt sorry for the guy having to deal with the hushed whispers of all those adults. No one really wanted to face the fact that families weren't as permanent as everyone seemed to think they were.

With a dull ache in his heart, he realized that this was probably the first New Year's Eve he'd spent without Jess. He'd been hoping that despite their breakup at the end of the summer, she'd come to visit Mr. Day after Christmas like she did every year.

As he sipped on his beer, he realized that that had been a stupid hope to have. He'd told himself he wasn't going to the airport this time the way he had every other time she left for Portland. He already said goodbye to her yesterday. He had to do it before she left for the airport in one of 'their' places so it would seem like any other day saying goodbye to her and he could pretend she wasn't leaving and everything was okay; that he was okay. She knew he wasn't going to show up, but he still spent the entire night debating whether or not he should just show up and surprise her anyway. Then he hates himself because that's a boyfriend thing to do and he's not that. Not anymore. He'd thought about that and forced himself to stay in bed until the clock on his nightstand told him that her flight had taken off and the decision was made for him.

He wondered if they should've just given their relationship a chance instead of just giving up. How difficult could long-distance relationships be anyway? People did that all the time.

"What if it doesn't work, Nick?" she'd asked tearfully. "You mean too much to me. What if we can't be friends anymore?"

As he drained the bottle, he knew that she had a point, but it wasn't like being "just friends" right now was any easier.

She'd called so many times after she'd left, but he never took any of her calls. He'd told his mother that he wasn't ready to talk to her just yet, and she made excuses for him though she would always look at him disapprovingly while she spoke into the landline. He didn't know what to say to her. He was terrible at this, and he'd rather maintain radio silence than say something utterly stupid.

After calling him everyday for a while, she'd stopped altogether, and he didn't blame her. But complete silence on her end also made him jittery; was this what it was always going to be like?

He couldn't bear the thought of her coming next summer and not being on talking terms with her; he couldn't spend an entire summer knowing that she was only a few blocks down the road. Knowing her, she wouldn't try to talk to him if she came here because she'd already tried on her end, and he'd shot her attempts down. She probably thinks he's mad at her and doesn't want to talk to her anymore when that couldn't be further from the truth. He just needs more time to find the right words to say.

But what if she didn't come back to Chicago next summer because he was being too much of a coward? He'd be going away to college next year, which was all the way over on the other side of town. He might not see her for quite a while after summer next year. Then he'd be going away to law school, and after that… who knows?

He shook his head trying to banish those thoughts as he reminded himself of her promise that they'd always be friends, no matter what.

"That's why we need Middle School Dance Rules," she'd said as she sniffled, trying to smile.

Middle School Dance Rules. What did that even mean!?

And he'd just mutely agreed, after which they'd hugged; his hands in her hair, her face in his neck, his chin resting on her shoulder.

He heard the countdown begin in the distance and missed her more than ever, and decided that he couldn't let that hug be the last time he'd ever see her. It simply couldn't be goodbye for them. Not yet. Maybe he could just write everything down first, and read it out to her like a script. It was the lamest of the lame things, but at least that would still be something. That would still be better than saying nothing to her at all.

Feeling a little hopeful, Nick got to his feet and walked back into the house. As he tiptoed across the kitchen and headed up the stairs, he decided to open the fancy stationery set that Jess had gotten for him.

In fact, why read it out to her? He could just send it to her. Yes, he would write her a letter! He knew she loved letters, and had even written a few to him over the years. He'd laughed her off, calling her silly for writing when she could just call him. But right now, he was extremely thankful for letters.

Once in his room, he took the set out from the drawer and set it down on the flat surface of the desk. He sat down at the desk and carefully pulled a ruled sheet out from the stack in front of him. His hand hovered over the paper for a few moments, as he debated what he could write.

Maybe he should just sound casual; ask her how school was, how Portland was, how she was doing. But this wasn't just about him wanting to know how she was. He wanted to talk to her, tell her everything he would've told her like he used to, before the breakup, before she moved away, like before when they were just Nick and Jess. He needed her to know that she was important to him, that despite everything, he still wanted to be friends. She probably thought otherwise given how he'd ignored her over the last few months.

He needed to tell her the truth. To be honest.

It's New Year's Day, Jess. And I miss you.

IV

Greendale College was having its annual New Year's Eve Party. Students only of course. The grounds were decked out in fairy lights and the occasional banners. Music hummed in the air, peppered with the chatter of students. Enclosed by balloons and streamers, the open quad was brightly lit up against the night sky. People gathered here to dance the last few hours away as the DJ played all the hit songs from the past year.

Jessica Day stood under a tree, surrounded by all those happy people, ruefully watching everyone dance. Being single on New Year's Eve was awful; it made her feel lonely. She swayed gently to the music, singing along to the song pretending to have a good time but inside wondering why she'd even bother coming to this party. It only made her feel worse about being alone, and served as a reminder of the fact that she had no one to kiss her at midnight.

As she brought cup of beer to her mouth for another sip, she realized it was empty and grimaced. She'd lost count of how many cups she'd had and all the alcohol she'd downed made her slightly light-headed. She didn't even know why she'd been drinking beer. She didn't even like beer that much. She chucked the empty cup she held in her hand into the nearest trashcan.

"Hey, Day," said a voice behind her, and she jumped, startled.

She whirled around and came face-to-face with a familiar grin. Her mouth dropped open in surprise. "Miller! What're you doing here?"

He merely shrugged. "Well, I finally felt ready for tomorrow's test."

She leaned against the tree, raising her eyebrows. "You've been preparing like a maniac for weeks. How'd you feel ready now?"

"Well, the thought of the test tomorrow doesn't make me want to throw up anymore," he said casually. "I felt like I deserved a drink. Or four."

Laughing quietly, she said, "Winston's still mad at you for ditching him by the way."

"He'll come around. He understands why this test is so important. Can't be Sir Nicholas Slacks-Alot anymore now that I'm going to law school and all," he said, adding defensively, "And I don't see why he's pissed, to be honest. It's not like he went alone. My roommate went with him!"

"Nick! You know they don't really get along that well!" she exclaimed, swatting his arm.

"Hey, Schmidt's not a bad guy. He grows on ya."

"Where is he anyway?" asked Jess, wondering why he hadn't come along with Nick like he usually did.

Nick felt himself smile a little. "Cece."

Jess laughed, shaking her head. "Did not see that one coming."

"Me neither," laughed Nick. "I'm happy for him."

"Me too," she agreed. "He's a nice guy. Cece really needs someone like that now. After Kyle and Shivrang…"

"Don't forget Robby," said Nick, shuddering at the memory.

"I know he's my cousin and all, but what was Cece thinking?!"

Nick chuckled in agreement, and they turned to watch the people dancing. They stood in silence until Nick asked her if she wanted another beer. Shrugging, she said with a smile, "I don't see why not."

As he turned to walk away, she caught his hand and in her lightheaded haze, she didn't feel him tense ever so slightly when she did so. Letting him lead her through the crowd of people, she tried to walk faster to keep pace with him, occasionally whining at him to slow down. He merely chuckled in response as they finally reached the table where the keg was. They came to a stop in front of it as Nick filled two red cups before handing one to her. She quietly took it and slumped into the nearest chair, as Nick went off to find a chair for himself. He reappeared in a few seconds and sat next to her.

They sat in silence for a while, one of them getting up to get a refill every so often. As they sat, Nick watched Jess looking wistfully at everyone else dancing around them.

"Alright, that's it," he said, standing up after downing his latest cup of beer.

She looked up at him, startled. "You don't wear being sad very well, Day," he said with a smirk, and held out a hand. "Now get up and dance with me."

Blinking in surprise at his gesture, she grinned before taking his hand and letting him lead her to the makeshift dancefloor. In a matter of seconds, they were both laughing madly as they danced.

"Hey, Nick, look at me!" giggled Jess, "I'm doing the chicken dance."

Laughing, she started flapping her arms wildly, before Nick caught her and said seriously, "Let's try it in slow-motion."

She laughed in surprise at him, as he slowed his pace. Nick felt a tad silly, because he'd never do something like this on his own. He was made even more aware of this fact as he sensed people around him starting to turn and look at him. But this was Jess, whom he's known forever, and she was being moody and pitiful, which was very unlike her. When she broke into giggles and joined him, he couldn't help the grin that split his face, and what anyone else thought didn't matter.

They both danced without a care in the world, laughing together. Soon, others had joined in their laughter, some even imitating them. After a few more rounds, the music changed to a soft melody, and the lights softened as well. A silence fell as people who'd come alone slunk away from the crowd and the others tried to look for their dates as midnight neared.

Nick and Jess looked around as people shuffled in different directions until Nick took Jess' hand and placed it on his shoulder. She looked at him, surprised but when he shrugged, the hint of a smile tugging at his lips, she laughed softly. She took one of his hands and placed it on her waist and held on to the other, starting to sway to the music. As the song changed to Auld Lang Syne, somewhere in the distance, they heard the call for a countdown. They looked at each other, as the countdown began Jess said suddenly, "Kiss me, Miller."

Nick's eyes widened in 're friends now, but they haven't done their New Year's Eve kiss ritual in years. Haven't even talked about that since the breakup. He didn't think that was a memory she even wanted to revisit. "What happened to Middle School Dance Rules?"

"Nick, that was two years ago!" she said, dismissively.

"You're drunk," he said definitively, cocking his head.

"Yeah," she agreed. "So are you."

"Yeah."

"So it doesn't count," she said.

"No, it doesn't," he agreed, holding her gaze.

And as people erupted in cheers around them and fireworks exploded in the sky, Nick hesitated only for a moment before planting a kiss on her lips. As he began to pull away, her arms went around his neck as she pulled him in for a deeper kiss. Taken by surprise, Nick stood still until Jess's hands crawled up his chest and bunched his T-shirt tightly to pull him closer. He let himself be swept up by the moment and kissed her back, biting her lower lip as she sighed into the kiss. His hands went around her waist as he held on to her tightly, feeling slightly giddy. When the noise subsided, they pulled away, breathing heavily.

He knows it doesn't change anything, but he'd kiss her any day of the week if she let him. He's glad she's still in his life, despite everything that has happened between them.

"Happy New Year, Day."

"Happy New Year, Miller."

V

Jess walked towards the bar, feeling extremely disheartened. Her eyes stung with the tears she'd been trying to keep at bay. She'd cried enough through the day, and she was sure that if she cried anymore, her face would fall off.

As hard as she tried, she couldn't remove the image of the red-haired girl spooning with her boyfriend, in their bed. What she'd hoped would be a surprise had turned out to be a nightmare. If she'd returned later in the evening like she was initially supposed to, none of this would've happened.

Wrong. If you'd returned later, you wouldn't have ever known and you'd be sitting across from him at Bellamy's right now, clueless.

She shook her head, trying to forget all the nasty thoughts that had been creeping at the back of her mind since that morning. She'd wandered around aimlessly after leaving their apartment in a hurry. She'd sat on different benches at the park to cry, shifted from cafe to cafe; anything to distract her. As much as she wanted to call any of her friends, she was too ashamed to do that; it was New Year's Eve and they all had plans. She didn't doubt for a second that they would drop everything for her, but why bring others down with her, right?

Nick sat alone in a booth at the bar he frequented. He tried desperately to push away the image of Caroline from his mind. They'd broken up again this morning. Just like always, she'd said that she couldn't see "this" going anywhere. He'd apologised to her frantically, trying to convince her that this relationship did mean something to him. He was pretty sure he had used the same speech before at some point. He had a hundred different versions memorized by now; they were all categorised in his head, each for a different kind of breakup. As usual, she'd looked at him with tears in her eyes before pursing her lips and quietly asking him to leave her apartment. And just like every time, he'd begged her to give them another chance, even though he knew it was useless and his traitorous feet were already leading him to the front door. Bidding him "goodbye", she'd continue to lead him out before shutting the door in his face.

Nick knew the drill; he'd try to distract himself, sleep around a little bit for a few days just so he wouldn't feel pathetic sitting alone at home, and then go back to her apartment with a bouquet of lilies. She'd take the flowers but send him away, only to eventually find him at the bar later in the night, almost as if to prove it was her choice and not his to get back together. They'd have makeup sex and settle into the same comfortable routine as if nothing had happened.

Sighing, he frowned at the books in front of him, trying to concentrate, but all the legal jargon was only frustrating him further. Teenage Nick would've been amused at how religiously he was meeting all of his had so many big plans back then. He definitely never imagined he was going to be this person. He closed his eyes, trying to remember why he'd chosen law - so he could always provide for his family, the one he came from and the one he hoped to have one day in the future. Reminding himself of that, he started to feel the familiar resentment towards his father starting to bubble up within him, but shook his head to clear those thoughts away. He didn't want to wind up being bitter about that; he would let the past be the past. He pulled out a black, leather-bound notebook from underneath his other books. He set his pen on the blank paper, trying to channel his frustration into words.

The feeling of purposelessness was overwhelming. The world was falling apart around him and all he could do was watch. The stench of death was everywhere, and the world he remembered as a child, pulsating with vitality, became nothing but a distant memory.

He paused, trying to concentrate but his thoughts were broken by a familiar voice. "Nick?"

Startled, he looked up to see Jess standing in front of him, eyes widened in surprise. She held a glass of pink wine in one hand and was playing with her shawl with the other.

"Jess! Hi!" he said, surprised,. taking in her mildly dishevelled state.

He hadn't seen her much this time during the holidays. Boy, had the holidays flown this time. It felt like he'd only been here yesterday, but he was already leaving tomorrow. With her final year in college and her growing relationship with Spencer, she was hardly around. And to be fair, he wasn't able to spare any time either, what with all the Caroline drama and his ever growing pile of assignments.

She nodded at him in way of greeting and moved to sit next to him as he slid further into the booth to make some space for her.

"Didn't peg you and Spencer as the kind of people who would do New Year's Eve in a bar, Day," he said, chuckling as he closed his notebook and put it into his bag.

When he didn't hear a snarky response back from her, he looked up and was met with her tear-filled gaze. Concerned, he turned to her and noticed her bloodshot eyes and the tear-tracks on her face.

"Jess, what is it?" he asked, placing a hand on her knee.

"Spencer cheated on me," she sniffled.

Nick gaped at her, as his face started to turn red. "I knew he was a douche! When-"

"This morning," she said, trying to wipe her tears with the back of her hand. "I came home early to surprise him and-"

"Where is that pig? I'll fix him, I swear," he said angrily, adding with a dark smirk, "And I'll take Cece with me. He's terrified of her."

Jess merely shook her head. "Pretty sure you scare the shit out of him too. Besides, have you forgotten? She's gone to New York to be with Schmidt," she said and placed her head on his shoulder. "Thanks for the offer, Nick. But it's fine, it's not worth it."

Nick watched her cry, feeling helpless. He hated to see her in tears, but he didn't know what he could do at that moment. He'd always known Jess was way too good for a dumbass like Spencer.

"I feel like three years of my life have gone to waste, Nick. I don't know what to do now. I really thought he was The One, you know?" she said softly.

"Jess, he was not The One," said Nick gently, "Spencer's an idiot. Anyone can see that."

"But Nick, I just think about the last three years, and I just… It's Spencer. And I loved him! What if I am alone forever now? What if I don't find someone else? What if…. Something's wrong with me? Why would he cheat and-"

"Hey, hey," Nick leaned back in his chair, his arm going around her shoulder. "Jess, I've known you practically my whole life. Hell, I don't remember a time when you weren't around. And believe me, there's absolutely nothing wrong with you. He's the loser, and you're…. You. And you deserve so much better."

When she said nothing, and continued to look at her hands forlornly, he continued, "And believe me when I tell you that that someone is right around the corner, waiting for you."

"Gosh, Miller," she laughed shakily. "Look at you being all emotional and giving me a pep talk."

Nick put both his hands up, shaking his head. "Hey, I have my moments."

She gave him a small smile, but the tears were still there in her eyes. "All I want to do right now is watch Dirty Dancing," she said sadly.

"You haven't watched it yet?! What were you doing all morning?"

"Well, I left the apartment in a hurry. Obviously. Because that ho - wait, no, sorry, she might actually be nice - Michelle was prancing about my house, naked. So I couldn't get the DVD," she said, adding, "I went to my dad's place, but he wasn't really of much help. You know how he is."

"Wow, what about ice cream?"

"Had two tubs," she said proudly, holding up two fingers. "On a park bench."

He looked at her disbelievingly while she shrugged nonchalantly.

"We'll get it back tomorrow, first thing. We'll get all of your stuff back, and we'll find you another place to live," he promised. "I'm sure I have a copy of Dirty Dancing somewhere at home. We can watch it there if you want," he offered, adding, "And hey, you can even sleep over if you don't want to go to your dad's."

Jess gave him a watery smile, nodding. "Yes, please. Dad's sick of that movie and will throw a tantrum if I watch it at his apartment," she said, and chuckled. "Remember all those sleepovers we used to have when we were kids? It'll be just like old times."

"Yeah, good times," agreed Nick. "But just so you know, I'm sick of that film too."

Responding with another chuckle, she put her head on Nick's shoulder. He kissed the top of her head and they sat in silence for a few minutes, as Nick continued to stare at his notes, trying to make sense of them. But then a thought crossed Jess's mind and she looked up at him. "Wait, why are you here? I thought you were going with Caroline to that party?"

He hesitated for a second before he said, "Caroline and I broke up. Again."

Jess sat up straight, turning her face to him. "What?! Nick, why didn't you tell me?"

Nick rolled his eyes and shook his head in mock annoyance, though his heart still dully ached at the thought of his break up. Almost as if sensing it, she said, "Don't worry, Nick. You'll get her back. You always do."

He nodded thoughtfully, staring at the papers spread out in front of him, and couldn't help the laughter that rose in his chest.

"Well, looks like it's just us again," he said with amusement.

They both shared a smile together, before turning to look at the commotion in the bar as the last few seconds of the past year trickled down.

"10…. 9…. 8…."

Jess slumped back in the chair, Nick chuckling as he gave her a side hug.

"7….6…. 5…."

"You ready, Miller?"

"4…. 3…."

Nick snickered, as he leaned in closer to her. "This might as well become a ritual with us."

Smiling, Jess closed the distance between them and they kissed, just a chaste, innocent peck on the lips.

"1… HAPPY NEW YEAR!" People exploded into screams as fireworks went off outside, as they drew apart, smiling slightly.

"Happy New Year, Jess."

"Happy New Year, Nick."

They laughed and clinked their respective drinks before emptying them. "To another failed relationship."

"Or to another break in your case," she added, laughing. "Besides, I'm only 24. You're only 25. There's a long way to go, I guess."

Nick agreed. "Yep, unless our string of bad luck continues till we die."

"Ugh, I hope I don't have to wait until I die. I want a family before I die."

Nick nodded in agreement. "Me too, Jess. Me too."

Jess sank back in her seat and they sat in silence for a few minutes, each passing moment the alcohol getting deeper into their system. Nick felt a little guilty about the slight happiness that had begun to creep in. Caroline had broken up with him, but here he was, happy that he got to spend another New Year's Eve with Jess. Those were always fun. It'd been some time since it had been just the two of them, laughing and talking. And maybe because it's New Year's again, and he's thinking about resolutions and the not-so-distant future, but he wants to do something crazy to make sure Future Jess stays in his life, even if no one else does.

"Hey, Jess?"

"Hmm?"

"If we're still single when we're 30, let's get married to each other."

She turned to look at him, eyes wide. "Are you asking me to marry you, Miller?"

Nick shrugged. "If we're still single when we're 30."

Jess quirked a brow. "Only if you do it right."

"What! I'm not getting down on one knee, Jess!" said Nick indignantly.

She must be drunk because right now because that doesn't sound half bad. At least someone wants to marry her, even if it was just Nick. She could do worse.

"Fine, old man," she giggled and stood up and curtsied. "Why of course, Nicholas. I will marry you. If we're 30 and single."

Nick laughed. "Barkeep!" he called, turning towards the bar, "Another round please, we're engaged!"


A/N: FIRST OF ALL, SHOUTOUT TO DreamsOfSleepingIn FOR BEING THE PATIENT BETA THAT SHE WAS, WITH MY NON-AMERICAN ASS :) This fic would probably kinda collapse if it wasn't for the time she took to beta read and give really really amazing input!

I know there's a lot of questions! But I promise they'll be answered :) This fic will have flashbacks to fill in the gaps :)

And I'm really sorry about the long-ass prologue, but it was necessary to get this stuff into the first bit itself. :D :D

As for the changes, it was necessary. You'll see why very soon ;) ;) ;)