Jess stepped cautiously towards the entrance of Nick's apartment, pausing briefly to try and stop the shaking in her hands before she knocked . Her palms were sweaty, but she couldn't be sure if that was her anxiety or just the sweltering humidity of the New Orleans climate. Staring at the ornate numbering on the door, she ran her fingers gently over the metal. Jess could see why Reagan liked this place. It was very upmarket. She swallowed down the lump in her throat, letting the nervousness settle in her stomach like a bundle of squirming worms. Everything she had been trying to protect herself from was standing on the other side of that door, and now was her last chance to turn around and go home - to make some excuse about a cancelled flight and carry on trying to fool herself that she could get over him and move on. This was not a good idea, that much she could tell. Looking down at her bags, Jess frowned. What had she been thinking?
No...she couldn't do this. Not yet.
Bending forward to gather the mountain of stuff she had bought along, the door flew open in front of her causing Jess to screech in shock, losing her balance and stumbling to her knees in the process. Her heart stuttered in her chest as she looked up to see Nick standing before her in all his beautiful sun tanned glory. He'd let his stubble grow out slightly longer and had clearly been using the gym in the basement, because she couldn't fail to notice the way his t-shirt clung to his chest that bit tighter than normal, and the way the muscles in his arms had flexed as he crossed them in front of him and looked down at her, clearly amused.
"What are ya doin down there, Day? I know I'm living like a King and all these days, but there really is no reason to bow at my feet..." He cocked his head to one side and raised a brow.
Jess couldn't think of a single word to say. Not one. She hurried to get back upright and dusted off her skirt, still very aware that she hadn't yet spoken and would be expected to do so very soon. She looked up at him and realised he was patiently waiting for her response.
"Bug!" Jess blurted out, flustered.
"There was a bug...er...on my shoe..."
"Oh, right. So you want some help with those bags?" He clapped his hands together enthusiastically.
"Sure. I mean, I guess..." Jess took a step away from him as he leant forward, scooping up her things. His biceps tensed as he lifted his arms and it made her insides quiver, so she closed her eyes and took a deep breath, gave herself a firm shake (both mentally and physically) and forced herself to walk calmly into the apartment behind him.
"Jeez, Jessica - did you bring the entire contents of the loft with you? Why do girls always travel with so much stuff? It's crazy - Reagan does the exact same thing!"
And there it was.
A mere 15 seconds in to her stay and he was already referencing his beautiful girlfriend. Jess wasn't quite sure why she had expected anything different, but the lurch of her stomach when she heard him say Reagan's name was certainly going to be more difficult to live with for the next three weeks than she'd anticipated.
"What can I say?" She laughed weakly "I like to be prepared!"
Yeah, for heartbreak - you dummy.
Ignoring the chastising she was receiving from her inner voice, Jess stood awkwardly inside the entrance hall and twisted her fingers together.
She was here. With Nick. Alone. Oh, God...
Get it together. You've got this. It's just Nick - stupid, Turkey Burger Nick. You're just here to rest and recuperate. Change of scenery. That's all. Nothing to see here people, move along!
"So..." she said, clapping her hands together.
"So...you're here!" Nick placed the bags down just inside the living area, turning back to her with a massive grin "Welcome to my humble abode. Let me give you the grand tour! Here we have the official living/chilling/doing nothing area...and just over there is the kitchen and breakfast bar - or, as I like to call it, my 'writers bar'"
Jess stepped into the room and looked around. It really was a beautiful apartment. The half exposed brickwork in the kitchen gave it such character, and the little shutters on the windows were like something from a fairytale. It was a real mish-mash of styles - the ultra modern kitchen units and sleek black counter of the breakfast bar (sorry: 'writers bar') with its round, white leather stools should have seemed completely out of place but, somehow...it didn't. Quietly running her finger along the large wooden side table at the back of the room, she stopped in front of a set of double doors and turned to Nick, excitement in her voice "Is that a balcony?"
"Sure is..." he laughed "but you've seen plenty of those before, right? It's nothing new!"
"Yeah, but...it's so...pretty out there!" Jess whispered, gazing at the wrought iron railings that ran the length of the long, narrow balcony outside. There was just enough room for a small, round metal table and matching chairs. Three little wooden window boxes were hanging on the railings, housing an array of tiny coloured flowers, all showing off their bright petals and vying for her attention.
"Well, then - make good use of it while you're here. It's a bit neglected, we don't go out there much..."
"Reagan prefers eating inside..." He turtled his face and gave a little shrug "Air-con, you know..." There was the slightest of pauses before Nick took a deep breath and continued "...Okay, this way for the rest of your magical mystery tour, kid..." Gesturing for her to follow, she obliged and allowed him to show her around.
"So, there's the laundry room, linen closet...bathroom's up that way. No explanation needed for what happens in there..." Stepping further down the hall he flung open the door to his bedroom, proudly declaring "...and this is where the magic happens!" He laughed at himself, a little too enthusiastically.
"Gross..." Jess grimaced, thankful that he laughed harder and seemed fully unaware of the way her heart seized in her chest as she noticed a pair of Reagan's shoes sitting casually on the floor next to a pair of Nick's. Evidence of their union as a couple was everywhere - Reagan's make up on the dresser alongside Nick's watch, their clothes hanging side by side in the wardrobe Nick had lazily left open. Her eyes landed on the bed and saw Reagan's pristine side of the sheets next to Nick's creased covers and scrunched up pillow - she remembered the way he would sometimes hug into it as he slept and was suddenly hit by a wave of longing.
"You okay, Jess?"
"Hmm?" Her head snapped up to look at him.
"You've gone really pale - are you feeling alright? You need some water?"
"Um, actually, I'm feeling pretty exhausted from the journey..." She lied, faking a yawn and quickly turning her back on his room.
"Perfect time for me to show you to your bedroom for the next few weeks, then!" He smiled kindly and gestured to the door right across from them "Ta-da! Just like back at the loft - we're hall buddies!"
"Oh, yay!" It took everything Jess had to try and sound vaguely excited about the fact she would be sleeping just a few feet away from him every night.
It was a huge apartment - they couldn't have the bedrooms at opposite ends?!
Jess walked in and saw the beautifully made up bed with crisp white sheets, a mountain of dainty little cushions scattered across the pillows - something she would usually be delighted about. Delicate voile netting hung up at the windows to shield some of the sunlight that streamed in, casting shadows that danced along the hardwood floors. It was nice, really nice.
She must have said that last bit out loud because Nick was suddenly standing next to her again, having retrieved her bags from the entrance hall "Yeah, it looks great, huh? It was a bit of a mess in this room when we first moved in, but Reagan did a great job working her magic to fix it up!"
"Of course she did...this is brilliant." Jess smiled tightly before excusing herself to unpack and have a lie down on the beautiful bedding Nick's girlfriend had lovingly picked out.
Nick span on the kitchen stool as he heard Jess's bedroom door open. Listening to her pad down the hall, he beamed as she shuffled in to the living area. Jess removed her glasses and rubbed the sleep from her eyes as she stifled a yawn. Squinting in the bright lighting overhead, she gave a sheepish smile back in his direction "Hey..."
"What time is it?" She groaned and walked over to take a seat on the stool next to him.
"A little after ten p.m"
"What?! Why didn't you wake me?"
"I tried to!"
Nick chuckled at Jess's frown and noticed her bangs sticking to her forehead. She was going to hate what this heat and humidity would do to her hair. Slipping off his seat, he filled a glass with some iced water and returned to the breakfast bar to place it down in front of her, resting his elbows on the counter top.
"I knocked several times, loudly. But you were out for the count, Jess. That travelling really did wear you out, I guess."
"Huh? Oh, yeah. Must be from lugging the loft contents all the way to New Orleans with me!" She joked, taking a large gulp of water and making a mental note that those sleeping pills from the Doctor were way more powerful than she'd realised.
Sitting back down, Nick glanced across at Jess and slowly clicked his laptop screen closed. He cleared his throat and tilted his head slightly "Are you sure you're okay? It feels like there's something you're maybe not telling me..."
Playing with the condensation on the side of her glass, Jess contemplated how to answer his question while avoiding his gaze. What she wanted to say and what was appropriate to say right now were two different things. She definitely couldn't tell him the real reason for her mood: 'No, Nick. I'm not okay. I haven't been okay for a long time and it's all because I'm hopelessly in love with you. In fact, my heart shatters inside my chest a little every time I hear you speak about your girlfriend that isn't me, and I haven't slept in weeks because all I see when I close my eyes is your face as it haunts me in my dreams...'
Jess didn't want to open that can of worms right now, there was no way she could handle the rejection without breaking into a thousand tiny pieces right before his eyes. Setting her face in a forced smile, she looked up at him "I've been better, I won't lie. The Doctor says I'm suffering from stress induced exhaustion due to everything that I've had on my plate recently with work, Cece's wedding, the break up and...other life stuff that's gotten on top of me. I just need some good old fashioned R&R and I'm sure I'll be right as rain. I'm sorry, you must think I'm so rude - coming here to visit and just sleeping the whole afternoon away. I'm a terrible guest!"
"Of course not. I'm sorry, too...I thought it was just work stressing you out. I didn't realise how hard the break up with Sam had been for you on top of everything else. I should have known, the timing was awful, right before the wedding and..." He stopped himself, raising a hand in apology when he saw her wince at the mention of Sam's name "...just, whatever you need to do to feel better, you do it - alright? If that means sleeping all day then I'll just learn to be nocturnal to spend some time with you!" Nick winked affectionately and laid his hand over hers as it rested on the glass. A moment of quiet settled between them, but was harshly broken by the sound of her stomach yelling it's disgust at the fact it had remained empty since breakfast.
"Hungry are we, Day?"
Jess scrunched up her face in embarrassment "Sleeping through dinner was probably not the best move!"
Nick's face suddenly lit up with an idea and he hopped off his stool. Grabbing his keys from a large wooden bowl on a side table next to the couch, he returned excitedly to Jess and span her around to look at him "I know just the thing you need!"
Gesturing to the front door, he helped her off the seat and encouraged her forward with his hand in the small of her back. They exited the apartment and Nick led a very confused Jess to the elevator.
"What's going on?!"
He flashed a grin in her direction and tapped a finger to the side of his nose "You'll see!"