I cant keep kissing strangers and pretending that they're you
Getting drunk with Jess was a mistake.
Things have been weird between them ever since the breakup. Jess moved in with Cece a few days after Winston’s Honey Roast to “get some space” and the loft hasn’t been the same since. It’s like all the air was sucked out of the room the minute she left, leaving his ears ringing and chest aching. Nick knows it sounds crazy, but he swears the loft is actually darker now that her bright smile isn’t around to light up the place. Schmidt tried to convince him it was just daylight savings time, but he knows for a fact that’s all just a big conspiracy. (How do you “lose” an hour? Besides, time is all an illusion. Everyone in their right mind knows that.)
They’re trying out the ‘friends’ thing. It’s weird. The first time Jess came over to hang out at the loft he’d sat on the edge of his seat the whole time, gritting his teeth and overthinking everything he did and said in an attempt to avoid making things awkward. Jess wouldn’t stop fidgeting with her hands and jiggling her knee nervously like she was going to bolt off the instant the opportunity presented itself. It took all of Nick’s willpower not to follow the instinct telling him to reach out and lace their fingers together and reassuringly run his thumb over the ridge of her knuckles. Instead he just tightened his grip on the neck of his beer bottle and tried not to stare at her hands like some kind of pathetic loser.
Two months go by and Nick’s trying, he really is, but he just can’t move on from Jess. He flirts with nearly every woman he meets at the bar, but he inevitably ends up comparing them to Jess and then finds himself disappointed when they pale in comparison. No one else even comes close. He’s not even all that surprised. He was in love with Jess. Crazy love. He loved her more than anyone else. And she had loved him back, a concept that he still can’t really wrap his head around.
Spending time with Jess puts him in a double bind. He hates not seeing her, it makes his chest ache in the worst kind of way. It makes him feel like like he’s falling apart and hurtling down a dark hole without her to catch him on the way down. But when he’s with Jess that ache gets even worse, because she’s right in front of him and yet he still can’t touch her and every inch between them feels like a thousand miles.
So he does what he usually does: he drinks. A lot. It makes Schmidt and Winston seem even more worried about him than usual, and honestly, he probably deserves the concern at this point. Schmidt keeps giving him this pitying look out the corner of his eye and Winston keeps calling him things like champ, sport, and bud. It drives Nick up the wall, and it’s nearly enough to make him pull his shit together. But when he’s drunk he’s able to forget that he lost the best thing to ever happen to him, all because of some argument while they were both hungover.
So he spends most nights getting plastered, because it makes it easier to deal with how his life is pretty much falling apart. He has to make sure he hides his phone on the top shelf of his closet beforehand, because he doesn’t want to ruin the delicate balance of his friendship with Jess by drunk dialing her half a million times and confessing that he still loves her.
Because he does. No matter how many times he tries to convince himself that he’s moved on, he’s still going to love her. He’s been gone on her since the day they met.
Jess comes over one weekend to play True American with them and they all get so trashed that the remaining awkwardness of the breakup temporarily dissipates. It’s like things are finally back to normal, a new kind of normal where Nick and Jess are exes and Jess doesn’t live in the loft anymore. (So not normal at all.) At least by the end of the game Nick’s so drunk that he can barely feel the twist of pain in his heart every time Jess smiles at him.
Schmidt and Winston pass out beneath the kitchen table, with Schmidt cradling Winston’s head as Winston cradles an empty bottle of tequila. Nick sits with Jess on the couch, their knees knocking together as he twirls a lock of her hair between his fingers, too drunk to remember if that’s something he’s still allowed to do now that they’re not dating. Jess doesn’t seem to mind, though, so he keeps doing it, hoping that he’ll actually remember this moment in the morning.
“So, Nick,” Jess says, propping her head up on the palm of her hand. “How are you?”
“I’m good,” he answers reflexively.
“No no no.” She looks at him with drunken seriousness. “How are you?”
Nick chuckles and shakes his head in amusement. “I’ve been better. You know how it is.”
Jess nods thoughtfully. “Yeah.”
He looks at her, captivated by the flush high on her cheeks and the soft curve of her smile. There’s a stray eyelash just below her eye and he reaches out to gently brush it off. Jess ducks her head and clears her throat. Nick drops his hands back down to his lap. An awkward silence settles between them.
“So,” she says with a forced smile. “What about other stuff? Any special ladies in your life? Gettin’ some action now that you’re a free man?”
“Jess…” he replies warily, because even when he’s half-drunk he knows that this is very dangerous water he’s treading in.
“Oh come on,” she pouts. “You can tell me. I wanna be one of those cool ex-girlfriends who talks to you about stuff like this.”
Jess smiles at him again, and Nick’s heart leaps up into his throat. She looks so pretty in the dim light of the loft, her blue eyes dark beneath the flutter of her eyelashes and her red lipstick smeared slightly out of place from drinking all night. It’s like she never left at all. Like it’s date night and they’re right on the tipping point between actually paying attention to the movie that’s on and making out on the couch.
Nick sighs. Here she is telling him to move on and yet all he can think about is how much he wants to kiss her. Exactly why he isn’t out there ‘getting some action.’ He finishes off the last of his beer and mutters, rather stupidly, “It’s not fair.”
“What do you mean, it’s not fair?” Jess scoffs. “We broke up ages ago. You should be out there, raking in phone numbers and kissing girls and-”
“It’s not fair to the other girls,” he interrupts her. He’s too drunk and upset to hold himself back anymore. Suddenly he can’t stop the truth from tumbling out. “I can’t keep kissing strangers and pretending that they’re you.”
The smile that Jess had plastered on at the start of the conversation slips off her face as his admission sinks in. A long silence passes between them during which Nick regrets opening his dumb mouth to begin with and desperately wishes he was significantly less sober than he is at the moment. His fingers itch and he glances briefly at the half-empty bottle of Jack still on the coffee table.
Jess bites down on her lip and her eyes flick down to his mouth. Nick’s heart stops.
“Well,” she whispers. “Maybe you should kiss me instead.”
“Yeah?” he exhales, already leaning in an inch towards her.
He closes the distance between them and it’s like coming home. She kisses him soft and sweet, even better than he remembered. Her hand slides up his chest to rest behind his neck and pull him even closer to her. He can feel the spark running all the way down to his fingertips as he wraps his arms around her and kisses her with every bit of longing that he had shoved down into the pit of his stomach. Nick kisses her like he’s never going to stop and Jess holds him like she’s never going to let go and this is all he ever wanted.