1. Freak out. Because it's not like you thought this was going to happen. Sure, you'd definitely once or twice or several times thought about him in a naked way, but that's only to be expected since he sleeps right across the hall and sometimes he's not sleeping alone and so sometimes you hear things. That make you sort of imagine what's causing those particular sounds.
There also might have been a couple of dreams that should have clued you in. But dreams definitely aren't allowed to count for anything.
And oh yeah, there was that one time he kissed you like the two of you were on the front of one of those romance novels always floating around the teacher's lounge.
But still. You should have had some warning this was going to happen. Your feelings have hijacked you into doing a lot of stupid things before, but this might take the cake. The entire, three-tier, cream cheese frosting-covered cake.
2. Reassess. Maybe it's nothing. Maybe when you were watching Conan the other night and he plopped down beside you and he smelled kind of sweaty but it wasn't gross sweaty, it was manly-man sweaty, in a way that made you want to lick a looooong stripe all the way up his neck- maybe it was just a fluke. Maybe it's that time of the month when you just want to straddle everything that moves. Maybe it's long-lingering hormones from that previously mentioned crazy kissing situation. Like it's just a sex thing. Like it was with Sam, when you wanted him because of how he'd grab you and pin you down and tug on your hair and make you see stars.
Except. It's not just a physical thing, because you get that stupid little twirl in your stomach when you get a text and you see it's from him. You lie in bed in the morning listening to him sing Journey in the shower. (Even though you once got in a fight with him because you said Don't Stop Believin' was the ultimate song to close out a night at a bar and he said the only thing worse than that song was ABBA, Jessica and he'd fight a whole bar full of Journeys to prove it.)
If it were just a physical thing, it would be so much easier to explain the shivery feeling you get when you're looking in the fridge and he comes up behind you and reaches around to grab the milk, his front brushing against your back. You wouldn't have to worry about what it means when you're out somewhere with a group and he quirks an eyebrow at you with a little smirk, like you're co-conspirators, and you blush so hard you can see it when you glance down at your own chest.
If all you wanted was to bang your roommate, you could probably just find someone else to hook up with or wait things out with some careful under-the-covers imagination fests.
But no such luck, Jessica Day. This. Is. Happening.
3. Get weird. Weird enough that he notices, which is a lot, because your normal bar is pret-ty high on this particular metric. But you can't help it. Every time he walks within like twelve feet of you, your skin starts tingling a little, like it's wondering if he's going to up and grab you again. Which he doesn't, because he's just Nick, just your normal, schlubby, grumpy roommate. Wiping his mouth on the shoulder of his t-shirt while he eats spaghetti. Bitching loudly about the Old Navy mannequin ads.
But you still sneak peeks at him out of the corner of your eye at dinner, and watch him working the bar when he hasn't noticed you're there yet: smiling at customers while he swipes their credit cards, sleeves rolled up so you can see his forearms. Which is what you're staring at when he does notice you're there and says "Hey!" and you squeak and fall off your barstool. Yeah.
"Are… you okay?" he says when you pick yourself up, trying not to look around to see how many people noticed that. He looks concerned, which it turns out is one of your favorite Nick faces, but even if he buys your story this time about an inner ear.. thing, it's not going to explain everything else.
Why the tea you're drinking suddenly goes down your windpipe when he walks into the kitchen, so you have a crazy coughing fit. How you got frozen trying to decide whether you should or shouldn't sit next to him on the couch and ended up watching Jeopardy standing up for the whole show. Et cetera. You get a lot of practice at ignoring his 'what the hell' look.
4. Get strategic. Try aversion therapy. Remind yourself of every gross or infuriating thing he's ever done. (Let's be honest, it's not a short list.)
The thing where he takes all the leftovers out of the fridge and eats them in disgusting combinations that should never coexist. The thing where sometimes he sleeps without a pillowcase. How he fills up his gas tank like $7 at a time, half of it in change. When he picks fights with baristas at Starbucks about how "tall" does not mean "small", like they have anything to do with that decision.
Remind yourself of every gross, embarrassing thing you've done in front of him. Like how he's seen the thousand times you've washed your bangs in the bathroom sink because you were running late and didn't have time to shower. He definitely knows how often you eat food you've dropped on the floor or down your shirt, and how when you're sick you just stuff a tissue up your nose to pre-empt having to blow it.
It works in that you feel pretty freaking embarrassed for both of you. It doesn't work in that you're still imagining what his face would look like if you took off your shirt in front of him.
5. Get caught.
It's possible your chin was in your hand and you were watching Nick across the breakfast table: chewing on a pen and glaring at the sudoku in the newspaper. It's possible you were having a little daydream about crawling into his lap and straddling him on the couch.
When Schmidt suddenly gasps, bursting your bubble. He's looking back and forth between you and Nick.
"Are you-?" he says to you. "You are! No." he says, like you're a dog gnawing on a shoe, and then he actually wags his finger at you. "Uh-uh. No."
"What?!" you say, real fast, jerking backwards in your chair so quickly you almost tip over. "Schmidt! I wasn't - I don't know what you're talking about."
Schmidt glowers at you and takes a big bite of his bagel, but still manages to make something like a tsking noise around all the cream cheese in his mouth.
"I thought I'd made myself clear about this," he says when he swallows.
Nick has looked up and is frowning back and forth between the two of you.
"Is this about who forgot to clean the cookie sheets again?"
"Yes," you say really fast and jump up to take your bowl of oatmeal to the sink, thinking Don't tell, don't tell, don't tell.
And somehow, miraculously, he doesn't. Let your shoulders relax a little as Nick rifles through the other sections of the paper and starts talking about spring training. Sneak out of the room before anything else can happen. If Schmidt's still giving you narrowed eyes when you look back over your shoulder, just ignore it.
6. Get brave. The status quo isn't working. You have to do something. Brainstorm. If not telling him hasn't worked, it's going to have to be telling him. So. That's just what you'll do.
Stand up during a boring part of The Fifth Element (weirdly one of the movies on the short and important list of things you're both willing to watch) and go to the bathroom. Splash some water on your face and look in the mirror and set your jaw.
Back in the living room sit down on the couch so close that your sides are touching, his leg against your leg, your arm against his arm. Pretend you don't notice when he looks over at you with surprise.
7. Chicken out. You can't, you can't, you can't. It's terrifying! How on earth did he muster up the nerve to grab you in the first place! Sounds of terror and angst!
8. Get reckless.
You're leaning against the kitchen counter and he's reaching for something on the top cabinet shelf, so his shirt rides up and you can see the strip of skin above his jeans, that little dip of muscle that's your favorite part on a guy. You don't even think, you're reaching out and sliding your hand across it before you even realize it.
He jumps and then goes very still. You're still staring at your hand where it's touching him but when you make yourself look up, he's watching you. He lowers his arms slowly, the soft hem of his t-shirt brushing against the back of your hand and your brain starts sending signals to your body again and you snatch your hand away.
"So my manly physique finally won you over?" he says, but it sounds a little forced. He's holding the package of ramen he was reaching for and the apartment is so quiet you can hear a clock ticking in Schmidt's room, the very distant hum of traffic on the highway.
And you've come this far, so you wrap your hands in his shirt and pull him down to kiss you. He's not the only one who can rock the sneak attack.
His free hand goes to your waist and his mouth opens up to you right away, like he's been waiting for this, and you're so full of adrenaline and want you can barely think straight. You want to remember everything, the shape of his mouth, his fingers splayed across your back, the ramen package hitting the floor as he brings his other hand up to your jaw. The noise he makes when you catch his bottom lip in your teeth. He's warm, warmer than you everywhere you're touching, and his hand slides down from your waist to squeeze your ass. You make a noise that's half whimper, half groan.
When you finally stop and step back it's only because if you keep going you're probably not going to be able to keep your clothes on for very much longer. He looks as surprised as you've ever seen him.
"What the hell, Jess," he says, breathing hard, and it makes a thrill go all the way down your spine.
Take a breath. Say: "I couldn't help it."
His eyes go wide a little bit. Your lips feel bruised in a throbby, awesome way, just like last time.
"I thought," he says. "I thought things were just getting normal after, you know, that last time."
Shake your head.
"I don't want normal," you say. "I want. You?"
Your stomach lurches in a complicated mix of terror and relief. You did it. You said it.
Wait while he frowns at you for a second and then starts to chuckle.
"Right," he says. "Very funny. You're messing with me. Is this because of the thing with the toothpaste?"
You don't say anything, just keep looking at him and watch while his sarcastic smile fades. You see him get it: his eyes go wide as he realizes you're not kidding.
"I know," you say and shrug a little. "I'm pretty surprised, too."
You're feeling all exposed here, because hi, you've put yourself waaay out there, and you think, no, dude, just don't panic, anything but panic but it's too late, that's just what's happening. Nick swallows hard and puts his hands up a little, like you're a stray dog he's a little afraid of.
"I don't- but the- that is-" He's backing away from you and you say "No, don't," in your best stern teacher voice, but it's too late, he's turned tail and run for the nearest door, which is to Schmidt's bedroom. "Nick!" you say over the sound of the door slamming.
"Seriously?" you say, loud enough for him to hear. Oh my god, he drives you crazy. There's a faint thud on the other side of the door that sounds like it's probably his head.
"Don't eat my ramen," he yells after a minute. "That's the last packet."
You're still thinking angrily of all the ways you want to tell him he's a crazy person when Winston and Schmidt clatter in, back from their jog, arguing about whether pilates is inherently womanly. There's no time to pretend you're not sitting on the floor with your back against Schmidt's door, so you give an exaggerated shrug when they come in the kitchen in their sweaty man clothes and find you there.
"Nick locked himself in there," you say. "I think he's experimenting with your anti-aging regimen."
"What?!" Schmidt says and you have to slide out of the way super fast as he throws himself against the door, jiggling the locked handle. "Nick! What are you doing in there? Don't touch the creams! Do you know how expensive they are?!"
Winston takes a gulp of his Vitamin Water and gives you the side-eye as you stand up and edge away from Schmidt's yelling.
"Something's up with you lately," he says, and you open your eyes really wide in your best impression of confused innocence.
"I don't- What?" you say.
"Are you reading all the way through Harry Potter again?" he says. "You always get all …emotional. And jumpy."
You heave a sigh and make a guilty face.
"I thought I'd be okay this time," you say. "But Dumbledore, you know? And Umbridge makes me so mad."
"Noooope," says Winston and holds up a hand. "Rule 16, still in effect." Rule 16 says you're not allowed to talk about Harry Potter characters unless someone else brings it up first. No one else ever brings it up first.
"NICHOLAS," says Schmidt. "Are you feeling your mortality, is that what this is about?"
You escape to your room and cry into your pillow way less than you would have expected, so that's kind of a victory, right?"
9. Run. Spend the night at Cece's, even if it means having Nadia sit across the table the next morning watching you eat your breakfast cereal. ("Meelk," she says. "Juice of cow. Is yuck." Yuck is her new favorite English word. A lot of things are yuck.)
"Maybe I should just take it back," you say to Cece later, picking through her vast and endless nail polish collection. "It's like living in a wildlife refuge for emotionally stunted man-children, I swear. Ooh, what's that one?"
Cece hands you the bottle of Nein! Nein! Nein! OK Fine! and you shake it lightly.
"Maybe you just need to get him out of your system," she says. "Just do him a few times and you'll be able to move on. That can be a thing. Trust me."
"Maybe," you say doubtfully and bend over your thumbnail, smoothing the brush carefully over it even though you know it'll be chipped by dinnertime.
10. Get lucky. It takes two awkward, stomach-churning days of gross things like both of you being overly polite to each other and making excuses not to be in the same room. One of you is going to get whiplash from looking away so fast every time you make accidental eye contact. You spend a lot of time in your room, scrolling through the Smitten Kitchen archives and pretending you're not listening to hear where in the apartment he is.
It's later than you meant it to be when you head to the bathroom to brush your teeth for bed. But instead you almost run headlong into Nick, lurking outside your door with his hands in the pockets of his hoodie. He's pacing and stops in his tracks when you open the door.
"Wh-," you say, surprised. "How long have you been out here?" He frowns, skin wrinkling between his eyebrows.
"Can I come in?" he says, and doesn't wait for an answer, just brushes by you into your room. You frown and shut the door behind you, hands on the knob, shoulder blades against the door, heart starting to beat faster.
"What?" you say, suspicious. It's possible this is just going to be another 40 minute conversation about zombie biology. Nick gets weird when he's writing.
"So that thing," he says. "With the? And you?"
You squint at him. He winces and takes a deep breath.
"You know I'm a mess, right?" he says. "I have like three unpaid parking tickets right now. I'm in my thirties and I'm still scared to go into a bathroom without a light on in case Bloody Mary jumps out of the mirror. I get really really weird about the people I'm dating. I almost definitely do not know all the crazy sex stuff Sam did. Yesterday at work I ate a whole jar of maraschino cherries. I think I need glasses but I'm too broke to go find out. I-"
Press your lips together and shake your head at him so he stops. Look at each other in the silence.
"But I just," he says. "I just can't not."
Your stomach does a swirly kind of thing and your heart is going like crazy now.
"Nick?" you hear yourself say in a small voice and he takes a step toward you and then another, 'til he's standing right in front of you, looking down, not breaking eye contact at all. You can hear "Walking on Sunshine" start playing in your head and you bite your lip so you don't accidentally start singing. He's so close you can smell the sweaty, aftershavey smell of him, see the pulse jumping in his throat.
This time when he kisses you, you're more than ready.