When Nick was a kid he didn't want to be a zoologist or a fireman or a pilot. He never thought about what he wanted to be at all until he was in college and he had to. That rush of what the hell am I gonna do now got him through the LSATs and his law school applications, but crapped out on him eventually. So he dropped out of school, three semesters and one bar exam shy of being a lawyer. But it's safe to say that this is not exactly how he imagined his life would be at 30 -- working full-time in a bar, suddenly single after four years of being in a relationship, sharing an apartment with two other grown men. And now, Jess.
"What are you doing?" Nick asks her, and he's already regretting it. He'd just wanted to sit down with a beer, watch the game, but there are boxes all over the living room couch, and what looks like little multi-colored Lego bone structures, with Jess in pigtails and glasses sitting right in the middle of it all.
"Just making these dinosaurs models for class tomorrow. It's a dinosaur day, and the kids always love visual aids. I thought I could just dress up as a dinosaur, but for some reason the costume store didn't have any Apatosaurus or Triceratop costumes. Rawr, where's a dinosaur when you need one, right?" She laughs, the awkward little giggle-snort that he doesn't even find as annoying as he once did.
Because he could compare living with Jess to adopting a puppy, except that he thinks it must be more like having a boa constrictor as a pet. Suddenly it's squeezing you to death and you can't get away. He pinches the bridge of his nose, takes a deep breath, and doesn't try to struggle. "You have to make all of these models by morning? Do you want me to help?"
"Aww, Nick. You're a gentleman and a scholar, sir." She's slipped into an English accent for that one, using what looks like a dinosaur eye socket as a monocle. "An officer and a gentleman." Now she has an instruction manual on her head, an impromptu sailor hat.
"Yes or no?" Nick asks quickly, before she can continue along that vein.
"Yes, that's really nice of you, Nick." She smiles at him as he takes a spot on the floor next to her, snatches the instructions off of her head. He's trying to make sense of them when he realizes she's humming lightly, something that he vaguely recognizes as 'Love Lifts Up Where We Belong'.
"No humming." Nick says, putting a stop to it. "Or singing!" He adds quickly. With Jess, it's better to cover all of his bases.
Jess has about half of a Velociraptor built and Nick is still trying attach the T-rex's tail to its tailbone, something that you'd think would be a fairly intuitive process but isn't really working out for him, when Winston comes out of his room to grab a drink.
"Man, I used to love models when I was a kid," he says, looking down at the boxes and all of the tiny, tiny pieces everywhere, with an apparently nostalgic look in his eyes.
"You used to build models?" Jess, of course, sounds super-pumped about it. And Nick doesn't quite manage to cover his snicker with a cough.
"So I liked to mix in a little education with my fun, models are intellectual and cool." Winston says, defensively, crossing his arms over his chest.
"Right." To be fair, Nick doesn't say that as sarcastically as he wanted to.
"Don't act like there's something wrong with that, there's nothing wrong with liking models." Winston snaps back at him.
Nick rolls his eyes but before Winston can respond, Jess pats the floor next to her and as their new resident peacemaker/referee, says soothingly, "C'mon, Winston, you should join us."
"You getting in on this, Schmidt?" Nick asks, because he can feel Schmidt lurking in the background, watching them.
"We're having a party, a hot model party!" Jess chimes in with a put-on deep voice, doing an excited little wiggle dance from her seat on the floor.
Schmidt shrugs, and tries and fails, by a lot, to nonchalantly wander into the room, like he hadn't just been standing nearby, hoping to be asked to join in. "Why would I want to work on a model when a model could be working on me? What, what?! You know what I'm saying." He goes for the high-five, but he gets three blank-faced stares in return.
"You sound crazy right now."
Schmidt laughs, brushes it off. "Listen, I get models all the time. Cece slept in my bed." He's actually counting this off on his fingers, like it's a possibility to loose track of all the times he got with a model. "And there was that other time, when that model told me I was the sexiest thing they'd ever seen."
"Yeah, finish that story, Schmidt," Nick says.
"He gave me his number, told me we should get a latte some time. No big thang." Schmidt says in a rush, as if they won't hear the pronouns if he says it fast enough. Yet for some reason, that never seems to work for him.
"There you go," Nick says and tips his beer bottle at Schmidt in a toast.
"Wow, okay!" Winston laughs, ignoring Schmidt as he glares at the two of them. "It's like I was saying, no one can beat me at model building. I bet I can build more models than any of you."
"That's probably true, Winston. I bet all of your models will look better than ours too." Nick says, and Jess nods in mock agreement, biting down on her lip as a laugh threatens to bubble over.
"I could build better models than Winston." Schmidt mutters under his breath.
"What was that, Schmidt?" Nick asks.
"Move over, I gotta represent." Schmidt says, elbowing into the space next to Nick. "Pass the glue, please, yeah." Schmidt grabs the glue and a set of rib bones with a gusto, giving Winston a competitive 'what-up' head nod.
Somehow by the next morning, no thanks to Schmidt's competitive streak, Winston's childhood experience, and Jess's endless enthusiasm, they actually manage to have six scale model dinosaurs built in their living room. Which then creates another problem.
"How are you gonna get all of these models to class, Jess?" Nick asks. She's trying to carry the T-rex over to the door, which considering that she can't see over the top of it, is probably actually a little dangerous. He winces as she trips over her briefcase, managing to right herself and get the T-rex down in one piece.
"You know what would be great?" Jess starts, as she stands back up and straightens her glasses. "If you guys came to class with me! Ooh, hold on!" She grabs her briefcase and takes out a folder. She hands a stack of papers from it to each of them. "I just need you to fill out pages 1-15 and then sign and date the rest," she says, her mouth doing that little 'uh-oh' twist thing that it does when she knows the guys are going to yell at her.
"What the hell, Jess, this is like ninety pages!" Nick says, only yelling a little. He could ask if this is a joke, but Jess has been here long enough that he doesn't need to.
"You really need our medical history? Our criminal records?" Winston asks, incredulously.
"Jess, this is ridiculous. You didn't even ask for three references from each of us when you moved in here." And it's rare that Schmidt is actually a voice of reason here, and kinda sad.
Jess twirls a piece of hair around her finger and turns those big blue eyes on them. "School safety is important, guys. Sorry!" And she flounces into the bathroom to brush her teeth.
Winston and Schmidt wander off, Schmidt muttering something about needing a pen and Winston wondering if he still had contact information for some of his teammates in Latvia for his professional references.
Nick is just finishing skimming through (and signing) the paperwork, but when he sees the last page he calls out, frustrated, to Jess, "Did you know the last page asks for a 500 word personal statement?" She leans out of the bathroom briefly, her mouth full of toothpaste, and gives him a thumbs up.
He curses silently when he reads the essay prompt, and then tries again. "Jess, I draw the line at a personal statement!"
Except that he really doesn't. He's done stupider things in the name of helping Jess, which improbably makes the whole thing seem like no big deal. He also thinks that he should get Jess to give him his balls back, he might need those, eventually. And then he gets down to it and writes a 500 word essay about where he sees himself in five years.
Later, when all four of them are crammed into Nick's tiny sedan with six dinosaur models packed around them heading to Jess's class, Jess stops humming long enough to turn to Nick and say,
"I really liked your personal statement, Nick. It was so good, with the--"
And someday, probably within the next five years, Nick is going to stop feeling like an idiot and pull himself together. He doesn't know if this is progress on that front, but he's sitting in a car with two other grown men, dinosaurs, and a girl who's unironically wearing a skirt with cartoon polar bears and penguins holding hands on it, and he's not hating his life or his choices.
"Jess?" He interrupts.
"Yeah?" Nick is driving but out of the corner of his eye, he can see Jess smiling at him.
"Stop talking now."
"Okay," Jess says. She doesn't stop smiling. So he smiles too.