A/N: I'd suggest you read the ending of the previous chapter again, I added like a couple more lines! :)
13th February, 2012
On the morning of her thirtieth birthday, Jess opens her eyes and is greeted by the sight of a sheepish-looking Nick standing by her bedside. She sits up and sees that she is surrounded by all of her friends. Cece is there too along with Schmidt, carrying a still sleeping Ruth in his arms. Winston and Aly take up the opposite side of her bed. Nick holds a tray of what, she is sure, were once supposed to be cupcakes. Although most of them are half-burnt and Nick jokingly reassures her they were just "show cupcakes" and they had backup cupcakes in the living room from her favorite bakery, she is touched by the gesture. She calls them postmodern cupcakes, pre-masterpieces that were ahead of their time. They'd both laughed at that, and at this point, Schmidt was complaining about how his home's kitchen was a disaster.
"What'd you want me to do, Schmidt? If I'd baked them here, it wouldn't've been a surprise now, would it?" asks Nick challengingly.
Schmidt shook his head, and after kissing the top of Jess's head and wishing her a happy birthday, he walked out, muttering about how Nick better come clean up his kitchen; he didn't even know how Nick managed to get frosting on the ceiling and behind the fridge. A few minutes later, after everyone else wished Jess a happy birthday, they filed out of her room, leaving her alone to start her day.
She got out of bed slowly to get ready for work. She knew none of her friends were too happy about her going to work on her birthday, but she knew going to work would keep her mind from straying too much into the unpleasant thoughts she had been having lately. Before her marriage, she was used to spending her birthday all by herself at the movies anyway, what with her expectations always being too high for the day in question. Not that she was usually disheartened or even sad about spending her birthday alone; she had grown to love spending the day by herself. Her friends had learned to respect that. Sometimes Cece would tag along, or Nick, if she happened to be in Chicago, and that was pretty much all the company she had ever thought she needed on that day.
But being in a relationship with Sam - as his girlfriend first, and his wife later - had changed that. He was a planner like her. It was usually an entire day out, going around to all her favourite places in the city, followed by a "surprise" party with her friends that he had planned in excruciating detail weeks in advance. Valentine's Day was always just around the corner from her birthday too, and Sam would go all out on the romance for that as well, so it was like having two whole days just for herself, knowing she was safe and loved.
She used to love both versions of her life, and now the day was tainted so she couldn't even enjoy going to the movies by herself alone anymore like she used to.
So this year, she couldn't help the mild bitterness that threatened to seep into her. On her thirtieth birthday, she was brushing the tangles out of her hair in an apartment she shared with a roommate, barely making enough money, alone, and getting dressed to go to work.
This wasn't how she had planned her life to go. She'd always seen herself happily married by the time she was thirty, with at least one child to love. Now, not only did she not have any children, she'd lost her husband, and she felt awful about it. More so about the lack of clarity than losing her husband though, which was a whole other level of depressing.
It had taken her a while to get used to it, but as months passed, she had started to feel lighter. More at ease than she'd felt in a long time. She was almost okay these days until intrusive thoughts like these made her miserable again. She'd been feeling a lot better the last couple of months. But since last week, the thought of her upcoming thirtieth had her feeling blue.
Feeling her heart sink just a little bit more, she shook her head, as if trying to empty it of the intrusive thoughts, and hastened her routine. The thought of the children waiting for her at school cheered her up a little; she was sure the kids were planning something special just for her.
That evening, when she came back home late from work, she arrived to a surprise party hosted by Cece and Nick. She was genuinely surprised this year. it was honestly a miracle that so many people had successfully kept it from her; she knew how hard it must have been for Nick to not mention it to her at all.
She appreciated the gesture, but she was still wishing the day would pass quickly, as would the next. Then she'd be able to go back to the person she'd struggled to become over the last few months, not this person who wallowed in self-pity. She hated that she was still doing that, despite knowing that it was just this day that made her feel that way.
So she ghosts around the party, trying to make conversation and pretend she was having a good time, but anyone who knew her could easily see through that. Jess tried to avoid Cece because she could tell from the look on Cece's face that she was determined to get Jess to talk to her. But fortunately for her, her god-daughter was throwing a fuss, keeping Cece preoccupied for most of the party.
As for Nick, she couldn't really avoid him because she could feel his gaze on her constantly. While Cece preferred the 'corner-and-interrogate-immediately' method, Nick was more of an 'observe-and-prod-later' sort of a person.
After what seemed like hours, the guests slowly started to file out. Cece kissed Jess goodbye, muttering a promise to catch up over lunch, and giving her a pointed look before leaving with Schmidt to deal with a disgruntled, sleepy Ruth. Winston and Aly stay a little while longer to hang out with her and Nick. They all sit in the living area, drinks of their liking in everyone's hand.
"So, when's the wedding?" asked Jess, sipping on her wine, a small smile on her face.
"We're thinking July," said Aly, looking over at Winston with a smile.
"That's perfect!" Jess replied, her smile dropping just a little bit as she remembered that she'd gotten married in July as well.
It wasn't like she still missed Sam. It merely served as a reminder that nothing was going according to the well-charted plan she'd had in her mind. It still shook her up every once in a while when she remembered how confident she had been that the to-the-T planning she had done for her life could go so wrong.
As if sensing her heartache, Nick scooted just a little bit closer to lay a comforting hand on her knee. Jess leaned into him slightly, and the four of them raised a toast to Winston and Aly. They reminisce some more before Winston yawns, immediately followed by the rest of them. Winston and Aly decide to call it a night and leave the loft as well. Now it was just her and Nick, like always.
After Winston and Aly had moved out, Nick and Jess became the only two residents of the loft. They had considered looking for new roommates, but kept putting off what they thought was going to be a painful and troublesome task. They'd get to it later, they'd decided. The procrastination had led to a sort of routine they'd fallen into, which neither of them felt like changing very much.
The two of them sat in comfortable silence for a while, him nursing his beer and her sipping on her wine. As she finished her glass, she asked Nick to pour her another. He quietly did so, eyeing her warily.
"Are you sure you're alright?"
"Peachy, Nicholas," said Jess, laughing, but the bitterness was evident.
She shook her head and quietly, murmured, "It's nothing, really. It's my thirtieth birthday, and honestly, all I want to do is get blackout drunk."
"What?" she asked, when he looked at her funnily.
"Er, nothing," he said shaking his head, before adding slowly, "I thought we'd um, decided never to be drunk and alone in the same room after… you know..."
Jess blinked in confusion, but that lasted only for a second. When he wouldn't meet her eyes, she realized what he was talking about. She let out a surprised laugh and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear.
"Nick, that was… years ago," she said. "I mean… so much has changed since then and… I just- I don't know, it seems a little silly now to be worried about being 'drunk and alone', doesn't it?"
"I guess you're right," he said with a laugh. The nervousness still lingered, but at least he seemed slightly more at ease as he reached for the bottle.
31st December, 2006
~ Jess ~
That evening, Jess found out that Spencer had been cheating on her. Vowing to drink herself into oblivion, she headed to the bar, where she was surprised to find Nick.
They talk about Spencer. And then about Caroline. Soon they're making plans to watch Dirty Dancing at Nick's place (completely innocent of course), but it isn't till the New Year's countdown that there is the slightest shift in the atmosphere.
"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 rolls her eyes. Nick, ever the romantic. She must already be way past drunk though because right now that doesn't sound half bad. At least someone wants to marry her, even if it is just Nick, her long-time childhood friend- slash-former ex-boyfriend. She could do worse.
"Fine, old man," she giggled, before she 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!"
They drank 'til they began to see two of each other, before deciding that they should head out to Nick's apartment. They stumbled out of the bar laughing, arm in arm, with a reckless abandon they hadn't allowed themselves to feel for quite some time.
Soon, they were standing outside his door. Jess leaned against the wall as she watched Nick fumble with his keys. They were both still slightly tipsy and had ridiculous smiles pasted on each of their faces.
Minutes passed before Nick threw the door open with a flourish, a giggling Jess followed him inside, closing the door behind her.
She walked straight to the TV after kicking off her heels and rummaged through the DVDs for a copy of Dirty Dancing as Nick headed to his room to change. A few minutes later, the movie was ready to play, and she let herself sink into the couch as she waited for Nick.
Nick came out of his room some time later, a grey t-shirt and flannel pajamas in hand.
"Here," he said, offering them to her. "It's too small for me now, but it'll fit you just right. Comfy clothes are-"
"-key to a good sleep. Yeah, yeah, I know," she said, taking them from him as he sat down.
She headed to the bathroom to change, and when she put the t-shirt on, she was surprised that she recognised it. She couldn't believe he still had it.
It used to be black, but now was faded to a dark grey. There was a neon green zombie printed on the front, but only parts of its face remained, the remnant of the summer Nick had decided becoming a rockstar was his destiny.
Nick and a couple of other boys in the neighbourhood had gotten together to start a band that summer. Winston and Jess decided to be their co-managers, and Jess had been tasked with making their t-shirts. She remembered picking the zombie just for Nick because he had been going through his angsty teen phase then and had insisted the band only play "deep" songs about things like the afterlife and the apocalypse. He had loved it.
Although the band had only lasted for a couple of months, Nick had kept the t-shirt. After they started dating the next summer, she used to wear it all the time when she stayed over at his place. She had been too shy to ask if she could keep it after they broke up, and she thought that was probably for the best. She didn't want to have that constant reminder of their breakup tainting everything good about those summers. She was surprised he still had it, but it was originally his shirt after all. Nick probably didn't even remember that, but it was extra-comforting being wrapped in the memory of them tonight.
She walked out to the living room and sat down next to Nick, grinning fully now. "I can't believe you kept this!"
He turned to her, and she saw the recognition flicker across his face as well. He also turned a little red, only shrugging in response as he threw a grey blanket over both their legs.
"You did look good in this shirt, even though it was too big on you," she said, scooting close to him. "I never could get you to leave the 'baggy clothes' phase even when after we started dating."
"Hey, big clothes are comfortable!" he said mock-defensively, laughing, leaning forward for the remote.
Leaning back into the couch, she stared at him for a few moments, thoughts still lingering over that summer they had dated. It had been a rough breakup, and it had taken them months to go back to the way they used to be. She remembered the months that had followed, being always on edge, wondering if she and Nick would ever talk again, if she'd have to change her summer and winter plans and just find another way to spend time with her Dad instead of going back to Chicago and chance running into Nick again.
"Hm?" he responded, as he settled back into the couch and threw an arm around her back.
"I'm glad we're still… us," she said, as she rested her head on his shoulder. "Despite... everything."
When he didn't say anything for a moment, she looked up at him to find that he was staring down at her. For the briefest of seconds, she was hyperaware of his heartbeat, thrumming under her skin that was touching his, and unconsciously, licked her lips.
"Me too," he said after moment, his face somewhat serious as he swallowed thickly.
There were a few seconds of tense silence as they watched each other's faces. Neither of them was sure who made the first move, but then they were kissing. His hands were threaded into her hair and her hand wound itself around his neck, pulling him to her as she sunk into the couch.
They drew back for air after a few seconds, breathing heavily, looking slightly dazed as they stared at each other. Jess let out a nervous chuckle. "Wow. That was… something."
Nick shook his head as if just realizing what he was doing, and started to draw back further away from her, but her hand bunched the material of his t-shirt and she pulled him in for another kiss. Somehow, through what they both would claim was a "drunken haze" the next day, they made it to his bedroom and gave into their natural chemistry.
The next morning, when she woke up, she lay in his bed, slightly shocked, the covers pulled up to her neck. Her mind was still reeling and she couldn't believe what had happened. Maybe there could-
Her thoughts were interrupted by Nick stirring beside her, and she watched him come to as his eyes focused on her face. He propped himself up on his elbow and rubbed his eyes. "Boy, how drunk were we?"
She wanted to tell him that she knew exactly what she was doing, but the implications and the questions that were sure to follow were terrifying. Truth was they were both emotionally in a bad place, what with the Caroline and Spencer fiascos, so they'd just gotten carried away. The alcohol was to blame.
Yep, it was the alcohol.
That was all.
Swallowing thickly, she muttered in response, "I'm guessing quite a lot."
A/N: Thank you to DreamsOfSleeping for the beta!
Please, leave me some reviews. I live for them, thank. :')
In case you haven't guessed, things will pick up soon now.