Always There

Looking around the bookstore, Nick still can't believe the way teens gather by the dozens to hear him read an excerpt from his book. His book...he didn't think he'd ever get used to that, either. He had actually written a book, and, judging from the small crowd milling about, a fairly successful one considering it was self-published. Sure, he didn't plan for his primary audience to be barely out of primary school, but, hey an audience is an audience. Jess had told him that the tween market was a great one to get into because as he writes more books, these kids will grow up with the characters and will link important events in their own lives with his stories. That makes for great long-term sales, she had insisted, as they purchase "retro" merchandise well into adulthood and eventually pass their love of the original book, maybe even series, on to their own children.

For now, though, this was enough. Standing-room-only at a reading for his book. He never thought he'd get even here, much less some distant future where Pepperwood was a childhood touchstone. He took a swig of water, and after reclosing the bottle, closed his eyes for a moment and calmly reached into his blazer pocket with his right hand. He felt the small, cool coin against his flesh and, taking in a deep breath and holding it, he tenderly rubbed his thumb across the face of the coin, picturing in his mind the quirky smile of his best friend. She may not physically be present, but to him she was always there, being his cheerleader and biggest fan. He mentally counted to five as his hand shifted slightly to grip the coin tightly in his palm. Then, as casually as he had closed his eyes and held his breath, he opened them and exhaled, releasing the coin as he moved up to the podium.

The bouncy auburn curls and gait of the young woman leaving the reading so suddenly made Nick almost certain it was Jess, but wasn't she still in Portland ? He anxiously circled his thumb over the coin in his pocket once again as he waited for his phone to make a connection and begin ringing. Why would she not tell him she was there? It didn't make any sense. Sure, things had been a little weird between them lately, although he wasn't quite sure why, but they were still friends, right? Of course she would tell him if she was back in LA. He's pretty much convinced himself that it couldn't have been her when Jess finally answers. As they talk, Nick's thumb movements over the face of the coin grow still until, as he tells her about his break-up with Reagan, he's simply pinching the coin between his thumb and middle finger. When she hangs up so abruptly, Nick palms the coin, squeezing it in his closed fist as he stares at his phone and the strangely named man approaches to talk once again.

Nick's right hand is deep in his jacket pocket as he talks with Schmidt about the first time he ever saw Jess, rolling the coin between his fingers, playfully stroking its edges as it slips between his calloused digits. His heart sinks as he takes in the look on Schmidt's face as he tells him that she's moving out, for good, and suddenly the coin goes still. It feels like someone has knocked the wind out of him and he can't breathe for a moment as he lets the coin fall from his hand back into the depths of the pocket. As realization begins to set in, Mr. Streep intrudes on the moment and invites Nick to his office.

The emptiness of the room matches the emptiness in Nick's chest when he sees it. He walks slowly into the space, unable to fully process that she's gone. As he reaches the midpoint in the room, he begins to bend his arm, about to sink his hand into the pocket once again and seek solace with the little piece of her that he has left, when he suddenly hears her voice from the street below. Forgetting the coin for the moment, he rushes to the window...moments later, he's almost gleefully telling off a delivery man as he tries to push his way onto the elevator only to see her standing there, radiant and flush. He moves to stand next to her, a smirk of a smile touches his lips as the doors close and he reaches into his pocket to pull the coin out. Holding it between his thumb and index finger he raises it up, slightly between them, so that she can see it, too, as they turn to face each other. She looks at the coin oddly for a fraction of a second before realizing what it is and what it means and then the tears begin to form in both their eyes. "You've always been with me, Jess. Please don't leave now."

As they fall together, their lips finding home as if they were never apart, Nick manages to keep his mind long enough to put the coin safely back in his pocket before wrapping his arms around her as the elevator dings and the doors open.