A/N: I have a lot of thoughts on Nick Miller. He always showed glimpses of the man he could be, but then got nervous and sabotaged himself. I could totally see this scenario happening down the road! Post S7.
"Babe, you have got to let this go." But Cece knows that he won't – he hasn't stopped ranting about it since Nick and Jess bought the place a month ago. And true to form, Schmidt doesn't even hear her as they turn the corner onto their friends' new street.
"Cece, do you know how much houses cost in this neighbourhood?"
"Seven figures," Cece mutters, rolls her eyes. She's sick of hearing it.
"You know the Pepperwood movies did really well – "
He talks over her, more to himself than anything. "Those two are scarcely more than cartoon characters. It makes zero sense."
"Schmidt!" Cece yells, annoyed and defensive of her friends. "Enough! You are going to be nice and behave yourself at this party, got it? These are our best friends, in case you forgot."
"Our friends wouldn't live here," he pouts, but she can hear the twinge of remorse in his voice. Cece ignores him and notes all the cars lining the street. She doesn't know if Schmidt is rubbing off on her, but she notices that their car is the only one that couldn't be classified as luxury. They pull up to the drive and she's suddenly self-conscious of the bright bag she's packed their gift in, and is startled when a young man in a neat uniform pulls open her door. Schmidt whirls on her, highly affronted and impressed. "Valet!" He hisses. Cece feels a tug of unease – Nick and Jess have valet service for their housewarming party?
They step through the front door and Cece is instantly transported back to her modeling days, when attending parties like this had meant you'd made it. Schmidt's grip on her elbow tightens as he takes it all in. They'd only been to the house once before, when boxes had been stacked high and they'd all sat around the edge of the green pool sipping warm beers. Now the house is crowded with people; more than Cece could have imagined her friends knew. "Do you know any of these people?" she whispers to her husband, who still appears speechless. "Know? No. Recognize, yes. There are at least five people here who've been featured in a magazine."
Cece swallows heavily and casts a desperate look around, only relaxing when she spots Winston and Aly. She can't see who they're talking to, but Winston looks absolutely giddy. She grabs on to them like a life preserver. "Did you see who I was talking to?" Winston demands immediately, obviously starstruck. Cece ignores him. "Do you guys have any idea who these people are? Where are Jess and Nick?"
"This is completely incongruous," Schmidt grouses. "There is no possible way Nick Miller and Jessica Day are these people."
"It's crazy, right?" Winston's still grinning.
"Cece!" Jess appears at her elbow and links their arms. "Thank god you're here! Ooh, is this for me?" She snatches the glittery gift bag out of Cece's hand with childlike glee, and Cece breathes a sigh of relief. Jess is still Jess, even though she lives in a fancy house and somehow knows fancy people.
"Where's Nick?" Schmidt asks, full of false cheer. Cece tenses; Jess doesn't notice. She shrugs, waves a hand toward the expansive back patio. "Out there somewhere, talking to people."
Schmidt's smile is so forced Cece swears she can see his back molars. "Lovely party, Jess. If you'll excuse me, I'm going to mingle." Cece tries to grab him, but he shakes her off. "Babe…" she tries warningly, but he disappears into the crowd.
Schmidt finds Nick by the poolside bar, laughing with a small group of people. Nick spots him and shouts him over. Schmidt keeps his best networking game face on as Nick introduces him around, and eventually the crowd disperses until it's just him, Nick, and Schmidt's old contractor Jason, of all people. "I didn't realize you two had kept in touch," he comments pleasantly, internally stung that Nick hadn't mentioned it. Of course, that was just the tip of the iceberg of things Nick hadn't mentioned. Nick waves him off. "Uh, yeah you did. You just forgot since you don't like sports."
Jason nods. "Yeah, we've been to a few games over the years. A lot harder now that work is so busy though."
Nick makes some joke about construction that Schmidt doesn't really get, then directs Jason to check out the vegan appetizers they have in the kitchen. Jason drains his beer and excuses himself, but not without a parting "Thanks, partner. Great party!"
Schmidt pounces immediately. "Vegan appetizers, Nick?"
"What? He's vegan!"
"And your partner apparently." Schmidt knows he sounds petty, but lately nothing about Nick is sitting right. Nick shrugs. "We do some business together, that's all," he says evasively, and changes the subject. Schmidt can feel his mouth hanging open and his indignation building. "Can I speak to you privately, Nicholas?"
Nick sighs, then leads him across the patio – pausing effortlessly a handful of times along the way to chat with his guests – and takes him into the master bedroom through lovely French doors. "What's up, buddy?"
Schmidt is fuming. "Don't you 'What's up, buddy' me! What's up, buddy you!?"
Nick eyes him warily. "What are you talking about?"
"You know exactly what I'm talking about!" He waves his hands angrily toward the patio milling with important people. "You! You're gracious, you're charming, you smell fantastic!" Schmidt narrows his eyes at Nick's jacket. "Is that Italian? Are you wearing an Italian suit? Who are you?"
"I just like the suit, ok?" Nick snaps back. "Italians make good suits!"
"I know that! Since when do you know that? Where did you even get it?"
"I have a guy!"
Schmidt is gobsmacked. "You, Nick Miller, have an Italian suit guy? Has the whole world gone topsy turvy?"
"Schmidt, it's just a suit."
"You're wearing a two-thousand-dollar watch, Nick. There is a woman in your living room who's won an Oscar. And just what kind of business are you in with Jason the contractor?"
Nick stares at him for a long moment, and Schmidt is shocked to realize he can't read his best friend's expression. Nick used to be an open book. "I'm in the contracting business with Jason," He explains finally, sounding resigned. "He wanted to expand his business a few years ago, so I invested. That's all. I'm a silent partner."
"Invested? Silent partner?" Schmidt scoffs to cover the deep wounds Nick has just inflicted. "I didn't know you even knew those words." Nick of old would have rolled his eyes or agreed that he didn't actually know what those things meant. This Nick looked annoyed at best. "I knew you'd be weird about this. That's why I didn't tell you."
"I'm not being weird. What's weird is you being somebody's silent partner and living in a million-dollar house."
Nick sighs deeply. "So that's what this is about. Money."
Schmidt wants to protest, but for once he doesn't because Nick's right. "Since when do you care about things like this?" he demands, arms spread wide. "You used to keep your money in a paper bag, for Christ's sake."
Nick's eyes narrow and he stares at Schmidt for a long, uncomfortable moment. "That was ten years ago, Schmidt." He pauses, and Schmidt's stomach sinks. He's never seen that look on Nick's face before.
"Is that how you still see me?" He asks slowly. "Or is it that that's how you want me to be? A directionless loser who'd never get his shit together? Are you so pissed at me because I changed, or because I'm more successful than you?"
Schmidt recoils as though Nick had hit him. "How could you say that to me?"
"Ok, then. Explain it to me. Explain why you've had some major bug up your ass since we bought this place, or why you bring up Jess' new car in every possible conversation – "
"It's a Tesla, Nick!"
" – Or why you felt so obligated to point out what this watch is worth. It was a gift, by the way."
"I'm pissed because I don't know you, Nick. Not this version. You have a whole life that I know nothing about."
Nick eyes him shrewdly. "You're jealous!"
"Of course I am! You're living my life!"
"You know what I mean. Before Cece and the kids, this was the life I wanted. Those people out there? Old me would have died happy."
"Are you saying I'm Douchebag Schmidt?"
Schmidt sighs. "Yes. But you're not. Somehow you, Nicholas Miller, have achieved the dream without a douchebag bone in your body. So yes, I'm jealous. But more than anything, I'm hurt. You've changed so much. What happened?"
Nick clearly wars with himself for a moment before rubbing the back of his neck and sighing. "Cole happened." Schmidt doesn't interrupt but waits to see what connection Nick's son has with all of this.
"When he was born it just hit me – he relied on me. If I messed up, he was going to pay for it. His life literally depended on me, and I was someone who'd keep a bowl of mashed potatoes under the bed. I just realized that I needed to grow up… and I wanted to be somebody he could be proud of. Somebody he'd want to be like when he grew up."
Schmidt can't help but smile. Cole worships the ground Nick walks on.
"I had twenty years of acting like a kid to make up for my shitty childhood. It was just time. And then Electric Hobo got published, and they made the Pepperwood movies, and it all snowballed." Nick shrugs. "And now I've got some stuff in real estate, and Jason's company is doing pretty well. You know how it goes."
Schmidt takes a moment to process how cavalier Nick is about it all. "Well enough for all this?" he suggests lightly. Nick shrugs again. "Yeah, well I mean I own thirty percent. They've done a couple housing developments-"
Schmidt drops his forehead to his knees. "You're Forrest Gump and I'm the fat guy on the bench listening to your ridiculous, inconceivable life story."
"It's not a big deal," Nick insists, and Schmidt wants to laugh because Nick is serious. This isn't a big deal to him. "But I'm sorry I left you out of it, I am. I just know how weird things get when money's involved."
It hits Schmidt all of a sudden, why he's been so angry: Nick doesn't need him. It was a fact that whenever anyone had ever needed Nick to step up to the plate and take care of things, he'd rise to the challenge unflinchingly, so Schmidt has to admit that Nick had probably been such a trainwreck for so much of their friendship because he'd been there to take care of him. For once Nick hadn't needed to be the adult in the relationship. But when Schmidt had stepped back to take care of his own family, Nick had flourished. It hits Schmidt like a gut punch. "I'm sorry I held you back."
"What? Come on, Schmidt," Nick's exasperated.
"I'm serious." He explains his revelation. "Imagine who you'd be if we'd never met."
"Oh, for fuck's sake. I'd be dead in a ditch if I'd never met you. Can we please get back out to the party?"
Schmidt digs in and waits. Nick throws up his hands. "Fine! Maybe you're right. You took care of me because I let you. But, Schmidt, without you I never could have done all that stupid shit, and I am so, so glad that I did." His tone softens slightly and he gestures to the room. "I could lose all this tomorrow and it wouldn't matter, but I can't even imagine my life without you in it."
He's sincere, and Schmidt knows it. He feels his mouth curve into a forgiving smile. "You'd be some ruthless litigator stealing candy from children and wives from your rivals." Nick laughs, slaps Schmidt on the back. "You're the heart, buddy."
Feeling lighter, Schmidt lets Nick lead him back out to the party. "So how much money do you actually have?"
"Ugh, you never ask that. It's tacky."
"I know it is! You, Nick Miller, telling me what's tacky… Really, though."
"I don't know."
"You don't know? You actually don't know how much money you have?"
Nick looks uncomfortable. "You know I don't like to think about it."
Schmidt huffs in exasperation. "That's only something rich people say."
"Fine! I guess I'm rich. Happy?"
"You're an asshole, that's what. You kind of remind me of Russell."
Nick looks pleased. "We're going golfing on the weekend, actually. You should come and tell him you said that."
"You're going golfing with Russell? The man who tried to poach your wife on your wedding day?"
"Water under the bridge."
"You're ridiculous. This whole thing is lunacy. I'm leaving."
Nick's laughter follows him as he storms away, nailing the dramatic exit.