these mad windows

chapter 1: swallow my heart

Disclaimer: I do not own Jess. Heh. Lovely thought though. I do, however, own some of these characters and some of the plots. So, you know, feel free to call me Pseudo-ASP. (giggle)

A/N: This is a new story. Hopefully, I will continue it and not get discouraged. It is a 'post-Rory' Jess fic. That means that you shouldn't expect Lit happiness and Lit love and all that stuff. I know, I know; it pains me too. But, frankly, I think our little Jess deserves more than Rory can offer, and I think he has stories of his own to tell. So let's all give him a chance, okay? (wink) Thanks to everyone who encouraged me on this fic (Marissa, Lee, Mai, and most of all, Elise and Lia). I love you all. And, of course, thanks to Sarah for being my sister. She didn't have much of a choice, but she does it well nonetheless. Oh, and review please. I need to know what you think of this new venture. -Becka

It had been five months.

The air was chilly. The leaves had turned from green into a yellow-red-orange palette of colors and were now dangling and dropping one-by-one from the trees. When he walked down the street, he actually needed the leather jacket he'd stubbornly insisted on wearing through the warmer seasons. He pulled it close and walked faster, refusing to see the small, vaporous cloud his breath was producing. It hadn't been that long.

But it had.

As much as he wanted to deny it, time was passing, and the thundering reverberation of her words on his ears was beginning to fade.

She was beginning to fade.

As this thought of her passed through his mind, he hardly felt a twinge. Maybe just the faintest of tugs somewhere deep inside. Today, only a small part of him still cared. Forgetting was a personal choice, and she was growing faint. He was letting her.

-

"There you are, you asshole," his roommate greeted him as soon as he walked through the door.

Jess glanced at him irritably out of the corner of his eye and took off his coat.

"Your goddamn phone has been ringing for the past three hours!"

Jess smirked. "I've only been gone two," he stated. "And here I thought we'd finally gotten that counting thing figured out."

"Fuck you," Todd shot back. "I was trying to sleep."

Jess walked over to his cell phone and held it up for Todd to see. "Off," he said, holding down the tiny bottom at the top. The cell phone went dark. "On," he continued, turning it back on. "Funny how that works."

"You threatened to kick my ass next time I touched your property," Todd reminded him.

"Guess it's a no-win then."

"Turn off your fucking cell phone before you leave next time."

"Put a fucking pillow over your head," Jess answered, hurling one at his roommate before heading towards the bathroom.

"Next time, I'm gonna answer that piece of shit!" Todd called after him. "And tell whoever it is to go fuc—"

Jess slammed the door, cutting him off.

"Jesus Christ," he muttered, running a hand through his hair. Sitting on the closed toilet seat, he scanned through the calls he'd missed. Liz. Luke. Liz. Liz. Liz. Work. Liz.

Sighing, he held the phone to his ear.

"Hi Baby. It's your mom. Just checking in to see how you're doing. I haven't heard from you in weeks. Are you alive? You'd tell me if you weren't, right?" She paused as if expecting an answer. "All right. I love you. Call me, dead or alive. TJ says hi."

-beep-

"Jess. This is your mom again. What good is a cell phone if you don't carry it with you?"

-beep-

"You are carrying it, aren't you? I thought we were good. I love you. You love me. Happy family," she paused again. "We're good, right? Because I'm starting to feel l—"

Lowering the phone from his ear, Jess pushed a button, and his mother's voice disappeared. He deleted all of the messages. Luke hadn't left one, and he couldn't care less what work wanted, since he'd obviously already missed the delivery. He shoved the phone into his pocket and looked in the mirror.

He looked exhausted. When the hell had that happened? He turned on the faucet and ran his hands under the water, splashing it up onto his face occasionally in an effort to wake himself up.

His phone rang, and he looked towards the mirror again, glaring at his reflection. Then, with a deep sigh, he pulled the phone out and looked at it. Work.

Shit.

"Mariano," he answered, starting out of the bathroom and towards the front door before his boss had time to reply.

"Kill that fucking phone, Jess," Todd called out as he walked by. "Or I kill you."

Grabbing his coat off the floor, Jess left, letting the door slam shut behind him.

-

As far as bosses went, Mr. Brazer made Luke look like a saint. While Jess unlocked his car and slid inside, the man reamed him for missing the earlier call. Some crap about how none of the other messengers had been available, and he was sick and tired of Jess's blasé attitude. Jess fought to bite his tongue, as both he and Mr. Brazer knew for a fact that this was only the second call he'd missed during his entire yearlong employment. While choice responses played through Jess's head, he forced an apology. He needed the job, whether he liked it or not.

"One more fuck-up and you're fired, Mariano, do you understand me?"

Jess's jaw clenched. "Yeah."

"I don't need your self-satisfied, condescending brand of riff-raff around here."

Jess smirked, imagining the conversation he'd currently be having with Luke if his uncle had still been his boss and he'd used the word riff-raff during a lecture.

"I got it," Jess said instead.

Luke wasn't his boss anymore. That wasn't his life. This new-and-improved life involved poor pay, no benefits, and Satan's version of Taylor Doose.

"Where's the package?" he asked, needing Brazer to get to the point before he pushed too far and forced Jess to retrieve the package and shove it somewhere it didn't belong and probably wouldn't fit.

"Oh, now you wanna do your job?" Brazer asked sarcastically.

Jess didn't respond.

"Fourth and seventh," Brazer spat. "And make it snappy; these people don't have all day." The phone disconnected.

Jess stared out his windshield for a second, fighting down the irritation that always bubbled up after their conversations. Then, throwing the phone on the passenger seat, he turned on the engine and started towards his destination.

By the third red light, Jess knew the trip was going to be long and irritating. He flicked on the radio, then, eyeing the phone beside him, he immediately turned it back off.

Steering with one hand, he reached over and grabbed the phone. The speed-dial raced through the numbers, and moments later, the other end picked up.

"Yeah?"

For reasons he didn't understand and maybe never would, Jess relaxed.

"Hey Luke."

-

It hadn't been a long conversation, but it had been enough. After they'd hung up, Jess was able to focus on the job, and, as if by agreement, the traffic started behaving.

The sun had been setting when he'd left, and the lights of the city were now taking over. Jess locked his door and headed towards the entrance. It was an art gallery.

It was quiet inside the building, except for the clicking of a keyboard coming from around the corner. Jess walked down the hall, looking with half-interest at the paintings along the walls. They weren't particularly exciting. Nothing you couldn't see at any dentist's or doctor's office.

He rounded the corner and approached the receptionist's desk a few feet away. He stopped in front of it and waited, but the receptionist just kept typing away.

"I'm here for the delivery," he said impatiently, wanting this job to be over so he could go to sleep.

"One second," the girl responded. Her eyes remained focused on the screen. "I'm… almost…" she said, typing as she talked. "…finished. There," she stated, her hand moving over the last key with an exaggerated flourish. Her gaze shot up to him, and immediately, she smiled.

Jess looked at her blankly and waited.

"Hi," she greeted.

"I'm here to pick up a package," Jess repeated.

She nodded. "Right."

He watched as she bent down to reach under the desk. He heard a couple of thumps and then the sound of something falling to the ground. After a mumbled curse, she reappeared.

"Here you go," she stated, setting a large, rectangular box on the counter. "It's a sculpture."

"Interesting," Jess said flatly. He pulled a notebook out of his back pocket and held it out to her. "Sign here."

She took the notebook from his hand and scribbled her name. Then, she looked back up at him. "I think I broke it," she said, eyeing the box without a hint of embarrassment.

"Huh." He reached out for the pad.

"Any chance you'll take the blame?" she asked, handing it over.

Jess shook his head. "Nope."

"Right," she nodded, pursing her lips. Then, she shrugged. "I hate the artist anyway. I'll take it."

He smirked. "Always best to make it seem like a choice." He picked up the package and started to turn.

"Oh," she exclaimed, drawing his attention back. "I forgot the tip. I'm new at this," she explained, reaching into her desk drawer.

He waited.

A second later, she straightened, a few bills in her hand. "What's your name?" she said abruptly.

"Excuse me?" he asked, surprised.

"Your name," she repeated.

"You aren't blaming me."

She smiled. "Oh, no, I know. Just curious."

"Jess," he said before he could stop himself.

"Eva," she quickly replied.

Jess nodded and, for the first time, actually looked at her. Without the usual veil of disinterest and disregard, that is. She was young. Same age as him, give or take a few years. Her hair was dark brown, so dark it almost looked black, and it was cut into short, choppy layers that fell just below her ears. Brown eyes, skin a shade tanner than most. Cute. She was definitely cute.

"Always nice to learn the name of someone you'll never meet again," he replied. "Not at all pointless."

"And he loses the tip," she said with feigned sympathy as she dropped the bills back on her desk.

"Whatever," Jess shrugged. He started back in the direction of the entrance.

"Hey Jess," she called after he made it a few feet.

He turned.

"Nice package," she commented, her gaze trained on the box in his hands. She met his eyes. "Sorry, I just always wanted to say that to one of the messengers. You seemed just irritable enough."

He shook his head and began walking again. He could feel her wide grin burning through his back as she watched him go.

As he turned the corner and proceeded out into the New York night air, he realized he was smiling too.