*OKAY, SO I SINCERELY APOLOGISE TO EVERYONE WAITING FOR AN UPDATE FOR MY 'ARMS OPEN' FIC - IT IS COMING SOON, I PROMISE! THIS NEW ORLEANS FIC POPPED IN TO MY HEAD AND TOOK OVER SO I HAVE HAD TO COMMIT TO COMPLETING THIS ONE FIRST BECAUSE I COULDNT STOP THINKING ABOUT IT! I HOPE YOU ALL LIKE IT...*
After shoving the boys away from Jess's bedroom and trying to address the real reason for her best friend's multitude of new hobbies, Cece sighed and looked at Jess with a furrowed brow.
"Babe, what's really going on?"
"Nothing's going on! Listen, these table legs won't turn themselves, Cece, so..."
Removing the wood gently from Jess's hand and placing it on the bed, Cece gripped either side of her arms "Okay, enough is enough...sit down. Now."
For once, Jess dutifully did as she was told.
"I can't stand seeing you like this, Jessica. That man has you well and truly under his spell but he doesn't even know it. You are lovesick in the most extreme way, but until you acknowledge that and try to address it, you're going to drive yourself crazy staying up all hours trying to channel it into all these stupid classes."
Jess bit the inside of her cheek, the hot tears stinging her eyes again. It was a sensation she was ridiculously familiar with, having cried herself to sleep every damn night since Nick had left for New Orleans with Reagan. Staring at a speck of sawdust on the floor, she tried desperately to blink them back but they defeated her, spilling over on to her cheeks and landing on her faded dungarees.
"Oh, honey. Come here." Cece bundled her into a tight embrace the way she had many times before, except usually it had been after a break up. This case of a pining Jess was unusual and rather concerning. She was losing all her bounce and sparkle, the light in her eyes had dulled noticeably over the past couple of months. Pulling back, she dipped her face in front of her friend "Jess, sweetheart...when was the last time you had any sleep? And remember I taught you how to lie to your mother - so I know all your tells. I want the truth."
"Truthfully? I can't remember the last time I slept properly. I must have averaged about 3 hours over the past four nights. I close my eyes and I just...I can't...all I can see is his face, Ceec..." Jess crumpled into Cece's arms and sobbed. Her whole body shuddering with the force of emotions being released after she had refused to answer the door to them for so many weeks. Now they were stood front and centre with no way of being avoided. She had to confront them.
"Okay. You have to go and see someone about this, you need to start getting some sleep. You're exhausted, and this is not healthy. I'm taking you to the doctor's office first thing tomorrow..."
Jess opened her mouth to speak but Cece silenced her by raising a hand palm side out "...uh-uh, no arguments. You've been running at 100mph for far too long, everything you did in the run up to my wedding, dealing with the Dr Sam break up, working all those extra hours just to keep busy? And, you know...this other huge thing you're trying to skirt around. You can't carry on like that. We're going, alright?"
Swiping the back of her hand under her eyes to dry the rest of her tears, Jess took a deep breath and nodded her head.
"Alright. But...please don't tell the guys? Schmidt will just end up telling Nick and then he'll try and call me again but_"
"I promise, Jess."
Stepping out into the parking lot, Jess felt the sun beat down on her head. Lifting her face into the warmth, she paused for a moment and let it seep in to her skin. She had been sceptical about seeing the Doctor, I mean...everyone deals with crap in their life, right? Hers wasn't really that important in the grand scheme of things. It shouldn't have been anything she couldn't deal with - but, actually, Jess already felt so much lighter as she walked out of the office, admitting the fact she was struggling had been a little liberating and she felt better just knowing she had accepted that. Returning to her car and a waiting Cece, Jess flopped into the driver's seat and gave a sheepish smile "Well, you were right - I told them everything, all of it..."
"...and now the Doctor has put me on medical leave - effective immediately - with extreme stress and exhaustion." Jess sighed and leaned her head against the backrest "How did I get here, Ceec? It's just Nick...Nick. He's the most irritating boy in the whole damn world - yet now I somehow can't eat, can't sleep...can barely do anything without him dominating every single thought in my mind. Gahhhh! Why? Why now?!"
"The heart wants what it wants, babe. There ain't no sense in love. I mean, look at me...I ended up with Schmidt! Who ever would have seen that one coming?"
Cece laughed and Jess followed, reaching for her outstretched hand and giving it a squeeze.
"Thank you for being here."
"Always. You're my girl - I got your back, honey. Just promise you won't keep stuff like this from me anymore. If you're having a hard time, you've got to tell me."
The loud ringing of her phone had Jess diverting her attention to her purse and rooting around in her bag. Bringing the handset on to her lap she stared at it for a moment, dropping it on to her knees as if it were some kind of alien device. It was then that Cece noticed Nick's name on the screen. Chewing on her bottom lip, Jess exhaled loudly and scrunched up her face as she hit the 'Reject Call' button. Looking across to see the pity on Cece's face, she buried her face in her hands "That's the third time he's tried to call since yesterday...I'm a terrible person, I know...I'm just not ready." Jess moaned.
"And hey - that's fine. You'll talk to him when the time is right, but for now you need to focus on you. Maybe we could go for lunch, or grab a drink? Wind down a little?"
"No - thanks, though...I think I'm just gonna head home if that's okay? The doc gave me some of these bad boys..." Jess shook a medicine bottle full of sleeping pills "...so I'm going to try and do something I haven't done in years. Today, Cece, I'm going to have a daytime nap."
"Well, good for you! I think you deserve it..." She smiled and patted Jess on the knee, signalling for her to start up the car to drive them back to the loft.
The screen of her phone illuminated once again, loud vibrations on the bedside table rousing Jess from the first full night of sleep she'd had in weeks. After the two-hour nap she had earlier, Jess had been dubious about her ability to sleep again that evening. But fall asleep she did. Soundly, and aided by the sleeping pills. Blindly slapping her hand around, she squinted at the phone in the half light of her room and saw Nick's name flashing. Feeling bad for avoiding his calls, and ignoring the nagging thought in the back of her mind telling her to stay away from him for her own sanity, her finger swiped to answer and she placed the phone to her ear before her mind had a chance to talk her in to doing otherwise.
"Hey..." Jess croaked, trying to clear the sound of sleep from her voice.
"What the hell, Jess?" His voice was shrill and high pitched "I've been calling you for two days - I was starting to get worried!" Nick's voice was sterner than he'd intended it to be, but he was so relieved to hear her voice that he soon softened "And why do you sound like you've been smoking?!"
"Firstly - hello to you, too, Nicholas. Secondly, I'm sorry about not returning your calls - it's been a crazy few days and I'm just wiped out...thirdly, I sound like this because it's 6am and you've just woken me up..."
"Crap, sorry. I always forget I'm a couple hours ahead now. I didn't mean to wake you, it's just...I didn't know what was going on - you always answer your phone. Or if you can't, you message me back at least...but it's been radio silence for days, Jess."
Feeling the lump rise in her throat and the knot of longing build in her stomach, she sat herself up in bed and rested against the pillows. There was nothing she wanted more than to speak to him every day, to sit on the phone for an hour and laugh freely at his stupid jokes and mixed up sayings...but just hearing his voice these days was putting her on edge. The way he said her name made her stomach do somersaults and she couldn't keep herself in check. Too frightened she would blurt out something that should remain unsaid, it was easier for her to shut it out and ignore his calls or send a text when she was pretending to be too busy to talk. Jess realised she had been so caught up in how she was feeling that she hadn't once bothered to stop and wonder how Nick was, and whether he was doing okay in New Orleans. He'd been so nervous on the day he left - he almost looked like a little wartime refugee from the 1940's being packed off with a single bag of his belongings for a better life elsewhere. Writing this book was a big deal for him, and living with Reagan a bigger one. She owed it to him to be a better friend.
Friends don't lie.
"Nick, I really am sorry for not getting back to you. The truth is I...the truth is that I've not been feeling great recently, so I went to Doctor yesterday. I've been put on medical leave for the next month."
"What? Are you ok? What's wrong?"
The alarm in his voice was very sweet, and Jess allowed herself to smile at his concern.
"Oh, it's nothing...it's just work stuff. Work stress, you know...not enough hours in the day, right?"
Okay, so friends lied.
But it was for their own protection. That's what Jess was going to keep telling herself, anyway.
"So I am now a lady of leisure. Rest and relaxation are the order of the day!"
"Well, that's great!"
"Not that you're stressed, obviously. But that you're on leave - the timing couldn't be better!"
Jess's brows knitted together in confusion "It...couldn't?"
"No! It's perfect! Reagan is away on business in Seattle so I'm just rattling around this place on my own getting bored. You gotta come visit - I need me some Jess time!"
There was a long silence on the line. She wanted to be a good friend to him but, this? This would be hitting the self destruct button, surely?
"Jess?" Nick questioned.
"Oh, sorry...I, uh...you know, I'm not sure if that's the best idea. All the travelling and I just...I should be resting..."
"Come on, I haven't seen you in so long - I miss hanging out. You can rest here, I won't bother you. You can see the sights, read, crochet - whatever...it will be fun. A change of scenery might be good, right? I'll take good care of you, I promise. Please, Jessica?"
Closing her eyes against the butterflies she felt as he said her name, Jess could feel the internal struggle playing out inside her body. She was being pulled in two very different directions by her head and her heart.
But her head had to win.
It had to, she would be crazy to go over there by herself to see him right now. To share his apartment, his food, his space.
Say thanks, but no...
"Sure, okay. Let's do it."
Damn you, heart...