Jess stepped through the door of the loft and her shoulders immediately sank when she saw Nick, slumped on the couch with a laptop in front of him, screen asleep, and his phone discarded at his side, head in his hands.
"So still no luck with negotiating a refund, huh?" she guessed.
He raised his head and glanced at her, looking tired and annoyed. "Well, let's see. You left here, what, four hours ago? I was on hold with them for about three of those hours, and when I finally got through… yeah, no. No."
She walked toward him carefully and settled on the couch, with a very deliberate two feet between them. "So I've been thinking about it actually, and I have… a potentially terrible idea. A terrible idea that wouldn't mean we both lost a bunch of money on a cruise we didn't end up taking."
"We see if we can bring all of our friends along to make it less awkward?" Nick suggested.
Jess's eyebrows shot up and she froze a moment, clearly considering the idea, then shook her head. "That seems like it would be complicated to arrange this close to the dates. But that would be fun. No, my idea was…" She hesitated, and Nick could immediately see her wariness over what she was about to suggest, all over her face. "OK, so… we're different, and we annoy each other, and sometimes feel like we can't be ourselves when we're trying to keep each other happy. But most of our reasons for breaking up were about the fact that we're heading in different directions, in the future. Like, way, way, in the future. And that was smart. Honestly, I think it was really brave and mature of us. Go us! Pats on the back." She paused, and looked at him as if expecting him to oblige her and give himself a pat on the back. He didn't, so she continued, "but we were still really happy a lot of the time, weren't we? And… if I'm really trying to be brave and honest – we're still getting over it right? We're still… we're still in love. That doesn't just go away overnight. And we've still got the, you know… a…ttrac…tion…" she gestured back and forth between their bodies, and drew out the word in a sing-songy, playful way to hide her discomfort. "So basically, my suggestion is this. What if we just… go. As planned. And like, call off the breakup for the five days we're on the boat?"
He closed his eyes, clearly pained at the thought. "Jess, that's –"
"Wait, before you say no. Could you just consider it as, like, one last hurrah as a couple before we come home and very maturely resume our paths to separate but friendly futures?" Nick remained silent. "I mean, we decided kind of quickly, you know? We weren't planning it. We didn't have any acknowledgement of 'this is our last dinner together as a couple, this is our last kiss, this is our last time to…'" she trailed off.
"I don't think most couples have that sort of 'last time' closure before a breakup, Jess. Unless they're breaking up because they know one has to move to Siberia or something."
"Still, wouldn't it be… kind of nice?"
He looked at her carefully. He felt himself giving in. It would be pretty nice. And he'd never been very good at saying no to her. He exhaled sharply. "And you said my idea was complicated?"
"Wait, what? You're doing what?"
"Calling off the breakup temporarily to go on a non-refundable cruise we booked while we were still together."
Cece shook her head and reached out a hand to place on Jess's shoulder. "That sounds like a really bad idea, babe. A serious recipe to get yourself hurt all over, and worse this time."
Jess exhaled, stood a little straighter and said, "Look, a lot of our reason for breaking up was because we're not heading in the same direction in the future. But there are still a lot of feelings there now. It would just be something for us to enjoy once before we get back on track as non-romantic friends." It was essentially the same spiel she'd given Nick, the same spiel they'd together given their other roommates, and she was finding that the more she repeated it, the easier it was to rationalize, and the more she was growing to believe it. "It would just be like if we'd not woken up hungover that day and not had that conversation about kids that time, and just carried on as we were and had the conversation three months down the line, or whatever. We're heading to the same future apart no matter what; it's just a matter of timing and choosing what we do in between. Plus… yeah, it's not refundable. And we booked the super duper mega romance package or something, so it would be kind of hard to attempt that as just friends."
"So you're going to… do coupley activities with him, share a cabin with him, have sex with him, go to dinners and drink champagne with him…" Jess was nodding along with each of these suggestions. "…and then just – come back and be friends again?"
"Cece, I've got this. I know what I'm doing. I'm gonna be OK." Jess paused. "But you can take me for ice cream when I get back, OK?"
"Just so we're clear. You do realize this is the worst idea in the history of all ideas you've ever had? And you've had some pretty terrible ones."
Nick didn't even look up from his bag as he continued stuffing it. "Wasn't even my idea, Winston."
"So far from the point, man."
Their bags were packed and they were standing in the kitchen, each having a pre-departure sandwich.
Jess swallowed. "So… at what point do we actually… become a couple again?" Nick just looked at her, eyes wide, mouth full. "I mean, do we call it when we step out of the loft, when we step onto the boat, or what?" Nick was trying to answer, but was still chewing. "And same thing on the way back – when do we switch back from couple to friends?"
Nick was finally in a position to speak. "Jess. This was your idea. It's your call."
"OK. On and off the boat then?"
He nodded, tried not to visibly wince. "Works for me."
"So… here we go," Nick said, as they were on the walkway up to the deck, a few feet away from being 'on the boat'. He'd been anxious about this idea in the days since Jess made the suggestion, but suddenly on the journey from the loft to this point, he found himself warming to, and actually getting excited about, the idea.
"Here we go!" she agreed.
As their feet touched the deck, they both hesitated a moment, then instinctively, simultaneously, reached out and held hands. They smiled.
"Wow, this is pretty nice, right?" Jess said, as they entered their cabin.
"Well, it better be, for the price we paid." They were standing somewhat stiffly in the center of the room – close, but not too close. "Bed looks… pretty comfy."
Her gaze flew to his face, his eyes, his lips. "Yeah." She stepped in closer. "Um."
Taking his cue, he leaned in the rest of the way, captured her chin in his hand, and kissed her for the first time in weeks. She responded instantly, and they moved instinctively towards the bed.
In between heavy breaths, Nick looked over at Jess and let out a small laugh. "Well, we're still pretty good at that."
"Yeah, we are!" She grinned and held up a hand for a high five, which he returned.
As Jess and Nick stood in the line to sign in for their activity itinerary, Nick turned to Jess and said, "OK, they say this is an all inclusive trip, but you know what that means. From their eyes, you have a couple of drinks, and then you're done. And then what have you paid for? We're smarter than that. OK? We're going to take every class, we're going to do every activity. We're going to get our money's worth."
She nodded her agreement and grabbed his hand to pull him towards the table, as it was their turn. "Jessica Day and Nick Miller," she directed at the woman behind the table.
"Alright, Day-Miller party…" She quickly found their file and held it out to them. "Here is your itinerary for the Grand Romance Package."
"Awesome, thanks!" Jess responded enthusiastically.
Nick's response was a more controlled "thank you," but as Jess once again tugged him away by the hand and started musing along the lines of "ooh, couples massages!" he found himself grinning at her unabashedly.
In their couples' yoga session, they stood semi-awkwardly, hands locked, facing each other in a lunge position (After Jess corrected Nick for the second time with "warrier pose" Nick snapped, "Screw that; this is a damn lunge and my body was not designed to lunge.")
The instructor walked by them, explaining, "As your bodies become one, follow your breath through your spine to the soles of your feet and into your genitals."
Nick's lunge faltered at that. "What? Into my genitals?" Jess started cracking up and nearly lost her warrier pose as well.
As Nick begrudgingly got back into position, he grumbled, "I'm not breathing into my genitals, lady!" but as he locked eyes with a still-laughing Jess, he grinned back.
They stood on the deck, Nick's arms wrapped around her from behind as she casually leaned into him, easy, natural smiles on their faces. The photographer clicked the button and grinned. "That was a great one, very sweet. Now let's get sexy! Give me your sexiest pose."
As the masseuse worked out a particularly stubborn knot, Jess sighed. "Oh, my god, I had no idea I had all that tension in my back. Nick, isn't this amazing?"
He replied with his lips slightly distorted through the cushion face-hole, "It's pretty good, but hey, Jess, is this doing weird stuff to your eyes?"
"Definitely!" She exclaimed, and reached out to give him a high five, which he instinctively reciprocated.
Despite Doug's enthusiastic reassurance that they'd learn "to make all of the towel animals you guys find in your rooms every single night," it wasn't exactly a natural talent for either Nick or Jess.
"We made laundry!" Jess declared, reaching out for a high five from Nick.
They destroyed the perfectly-folded towel-elephant they found when they got back to their room afterwards as well.
Nick and Jess sat on a small set of steps on the deck working their way through the several bottles of wine they'd managed to collect as a part of the all inclusive package, when Jess downed the last of her glass.
She looked over their remaining bottles. "Are we out of rosé?"
Nick replied, "You know what? This is an old bartending trick, Jess. Put your glass out." She obliged, and he began to pour a white and red bottle simultaneously into her glass. "You go like this –"
"No way!" she exclaimed. "You're a genius."
"You got some rosé!" Nick grinned. "I think I'm smarter at sea."
She laughed at that, and then went quiet, looking at him intently. "You look…you look like you belong here."
"What's that, on a ship?" Jess nodded. "Yeah, you too," Nick replied.
She smiled and he reached out to run his hand through her hair, over her shoulder. They both chuckled slightly, a bit tipsy. Nick brought his hand back to her cheek and leaned in slightly. She leaned in the rest of the way and pressed her lips to his - softly first, then more intensely, reaching out to grip his shoulder.
A moment passed and she pulled back slightly, looking into Nick's face. He looked a little dazed, a little buzzed, but good. Normal and happy. "Isn't it kind of weird how not weird this is?" she asked. "I mean it almost feels..."
"Easy," he supplied, then shook his head. "Nah, it's not weird. This is what we're used to. It's getting in the habit of not doing this back in our real lives that's the hard part."
She nodded, but frowned. She didn't know how to respond to that, so she just kissed him again. They didn't talk again for a while.
Their last night on the boat, they made love slowly, and as he moved inside of her, he sighed against her neck, "Oh, god. I love you so much."
Her eyes snapped open and grew watery. She didn't respond, but he didn't seem to notice.
When he woke up their last morning on the boat, she was already awake and watching him. "Maybe this was a bad idea," she said.
His jaw stiffened and he looked away from her. "It's a little late to be realizing that."
She didn't say anything more, but reached out for his hand and intertwined her fingers with his.
They departed the boat for the last time, and as their feet touched back on solid ground, they both looked down to where their hands were still instinctively linked.
Their gazes simultaneously flicked up from their hands to their faces. Still holding on, they both chuckled slightly, but their laughter quickly died out.
"We should let go," Nick said softly.
"Yeah, we should. We have to."
They both inhaled, and waited a beat. They looked down at their still joined hands.
"We have to let go."