Chapter 1: 1
It wasn't Nick's plan. Matter of fact, it was the last thing he wanted to happen. If he had to make up an excuse he’d say that he had no excuse for it. The heart wants what it wants, and from the moment she walked into the apartment, it wanted her.
When Gail decided to move out of the boys' place, Nick was happy to move into the newly vacant room. He wanted to change things up a bit when the chance presented itself. He went from having one roommate, to having two, but this apartment was calmer, quieter and cheaper. Sometimes when shifts got moved around it was empty. It definitely felt like an upgrade, and he was happy to be there.
Until she showed up. And the more he got to know things about her, the worse it got.
Chris had met her in a coffee shop few blocks from the apartment. She was a year younger than him, short and curvy, her red hair falling just below her shoulders. A wonder with computers, Chris brought her home the first time to flirt with her while she fixed his laptop. She introduced herself to everyone in the apartment, a handshake and a smile, answering questions about herself along the way. Chloe liked her immediately, she liked having another girl around, Nick feel in love with her that day.
It worked. Both Chris' flirting and the computer, and it made Nick furious, without an outlet for the rage. He couldn't really tell anyone, ‘hey, I'm basically in love with my roommate's new girlfriend’, not when half his friends were his roommates, and the other half were better friends with his roommates.
But then things started changing.
Nick sat at the bar by himself, working on a beer and starting at the pattern of the wooden counter. He did his best to focus on that, rather than the fact that she's on the other side of the room, and Chris' arm is around her.
"She seems nice," Nick heard Andy's voice coming from his right, prompting him to turn towards her. Her and Sam were getting a round for themselves and Oliver, an after work ritual of a sort that everyone in the precinct took part of periodically.
"Who are you talking about?" Nick replied.
"That girl Chris has been hanging out with. Perrie," Andy's tone of voice made it sound as if it was obvious, as if everyone knows. Nick decided to play dumb.
"Sure?" he shrugged, avoiding eye contact with Andy,
"You keep glancing in whichever direction she's at," Sam spoke, pursing his lips to signal the awkwardness of the situation.
"I thought I was being subtle," he avoided eye contact as he spoke.
"Not for the people who have direct view of you," Andy smiled, gesturing towards Sam with a head swing.
"Come sit with us, you'll get to stare without straining your neck," Sam offered, and Nick knew that the best thing he could do was agree to it, "So. Tell us all about this girl."
That was the first thing that changed. Nick finally told someone about his infatuation and feelings for Perrie, and not just Sam and Andy, but Oliver too. He tried to keep it short and bleak, but he couldn't manage to do that fully. As much as he tried, a detail about her slipped in here and there. He kept repeating that it was all so silly since he felt like a fucking lovesick teenage boy. He needed to snap out of it. But as the hours passed, the opposite would happen.
When they arrived home that night, and as soon as Chris had gone to the bathroom, Perrie had asked a question that seemed simple at the time.
"Does Chris seem a little jumpy to you guys?"
A discussion had occurred in short sentences and whispers, few minutes later in knowing looks. Nick stayed away from the conversation, but he was there to witness the conclusion: the decision was made that it was up to Dov to figure out what was going on. And he did.
The next day is when it blew up. Chris had been using, hiding it extremely well.
Nick found this out when he arrived home after work, Dov pacing around the apartment, trying to come up with a plan, yet so unaware of what to do.
"What's the nearest rehab center?" Nick asked, watching the surprised looks on Chloe's and Dov's faces.
Nick couldn’t help but further inspect their faces for any sort of tell. How did it happen, how did they miss it? What can they do to fix it?
"Right, rehab," Chloe spoke, rushing off do Dov's room.
"I've been so concerned that he'll leave the apartment to get high, that I forgot about that," Dov's voice is low, the shock evident in his demeanor, "I confiscated everything I could find."
"Good," seconding it with a nod, Nick tried to seem supportive, "Did you tell Perrie?"
"Yeah, she's on her way, " Dov followed it with a sigh, "If it wasn't for her and Chloe noticing some changes in his behavior, I wouldn't have known. How didn't I notice this?"
"A station full of cops, no one noticed. Don't do this to yourself. If it’s on someone, then it’s on all of us.”
Nick hid in his room for the remainder of the night. At least he tried.
Perrie was trying to get Chris to go to rehab, begging almost. Nick was avoiding that most of all, he couldn’t bear it on top of all. But the yelling started. And curiosity got the best of him.
Dov and Perrie were in Chris' room, the door slightly ajar. Chloe stood next to it, her back to the wall. She gave Nick a knowing look as he exited his room, a signal to stay quiet.
"It's so easy for all of you," Chris spoke, a statement that floated in the air propelled by its selfish nature. Right mind Chris knew better than to say that. He hasn’t gotten through more shit than them. They’re equal in that department.
"Yeah, all our lives are perfect. You're going," Perrie replied, her voice breaking on the last syllable, breaking Nick’s heart too.
"Even if we have to drag you there in handcuffs," Dov seconded.
The door opened up enough for Perrie to exit, her eyes immediately landing on Nick before she looked away. Nick has the habit of doing this thing, that he has decided is natural and not at all weird: whenever he sees her he runs his eyes so over her as subtly as he can, just to make sure that nothing's changed and that she's fine. He felt weird about doing it, but this time around there was finally something to justify his anxiety.
"You're bleeding," he said, promoting her to look at her hand. Hey behavior made it clear that she knew, she was either trying to have no one notice, or she didn't know the extent of it, "What happened?" his instincts kicked in and he rushed towards her, inspecting the wound.
"Shit," it unintentionally slipped through her lips, then she spoke again, "It's nothing," Perrie dismissed it, "I'm fine."
It wasn't fine, not in Nick's mind. He was panicking. The wound wasn't deep, but it was large and near a vein. The amount of blood alluded that the vein was pierced too, or maybe a capillary He caught her other hand and pulled her towards his room, finally there was some use for the first aid kit stashed in his closet. Chloe followed, curious about what’s going on.
Did this have anything to do with that thump Nick heard few minutes ago? The following thought is one he doesn't want to mention, he was sure that it's just jealousy that got him to think like that.
Perrie complied. She sat on his bed, open palm, allowing Nick to stop the bleeding, disinfect, and bandage her wound. Chloe sat next to her, holding the first aid kit open and assisting Nick. The both of them had their guards up, Nick concluded from the way the girls acted. Something happened, but the silence between them stopped him from finding out exactly what.
When Perrie first insisted that Chris should go to rehab, his defensive reaction was to push her away. She landed against his dresser, her hand landing on an x-acto knife that had no job being placed there.
After seeing the result of his actions, Chris had agreed to go to rehab. Nick found this out from Dov as they helped Chris pack. Nick's blood started boiling, but he didn't allow himself to say or do anything about it. At the end of the day, Chris is his friend, and he's going through some shit. That, and he'd be completely obvious if he did.
An hour after the conversation, they were on their way to the rehab center that Oliver recommended. A three hour trip that Nick volunteered to drive. He had the following day off, with him driving Dov could catch a few Zs in the backseat and make it to work on time. Chris was asleep in the backseat as well, fists clenched and his arms folded over his chest, sudden twitches from time to time. It was already starting.
Perrie was in the passenger seat. She had insisted that she'd come along too, suggesting that she could drive if Nick needed a break, but Nick knew very well that he wasn't going to let her drive. She needed rest too, whether she wanted to admit it or not.
"How are you feeling?" he finally asked the question that was on his mind from the moment they got in the car, "How's your hand?"
"It's fine," she said, following it with a shrug, "Thank you. For taking care of it."
"Yeah, no problem," Nick said, his eyes focused on the road.
Perrie fell silent again, her attention splitting between checking up on Chris, and staring through the window. After one last turn around, she turned towards Nick, prepared to say something.
"My dad was on cocaine too," she stated, surprising Nick with her confession, "He got clean when he met my mom, she's a nurse, she helped him. They had me two years later. Months after I was born he decided that he'd use again, but his heart had become so weak from all the drugs that it stopped working after his first fix."
"I'm sorry for your loss," Nick didn't know how else to respond to that. He didn't know why she told him that either. Did she tell anyone else? Did Chris know about this an how personal it felt to her? As he watched her shrug in response, tuning out again, he realized that the only thing he though he could do was open up in return, "My parents died in a car accident, my brother's careless driving on one hand, a drunk driver on the other. The car went off the road, got turned upside down. I was twelve. And in the backseat."
"I'm sorry for your loss," she spoke with a soft tone of voice, her eyes glued on him.
"Thanks," he said, "He's gonna be fine, you know."
"Yeah, I know," Perrie responded, immediately doubling down on the connection they made, and going back to the reserved persona she usually wears around Nick.
Chris might be fine, but suddenly Nick didn't know if either of them would.
It was one of those nights when the apartment was empty, the best time to rest. It was Chris' second night in rehab, and Dov and Chloe were picking up a night shift each so they could visit him in a few days. Nick worked in the morning, and the following day he was in the night shift, a perfect chance to catch up on some sleep presented itself. He was supposed to be relaxing, resting and icing his elbow after the little accident he had today, but he couldn't. He had something on his mind, and it wasn't the fact that Duncan closed the car door on his elbow.
It wasn't unusual. Ever since he met Perrie, his mind had gotten used to drifting into her direction. But this time, it was kind of different. He kept thinking about what she said to him, about what he said to her, how he opened up. Most of his friends knew that his parents had died. No one, not even Gail knew when and how. It haunted him that he just said it with such an ease, he thought about what it meant and if it was a mistake.
He was trying to drown his train of thought, sipping on a beer and rummaging the fridge for something to eat when the doorbell went off. The something on his mind had decided to come for a visit; he was surprised to see her show up at first, but he was glad at the same time cause he was almost sure that he won't see her again until Chris came back.
"Hey," she offered him a smile.
"Hi. Come in," Nick said, taking a step back to let her in.
"I hope I'm not intruding," she spoke again after Nick closed the door, "Are you busy?"
"Um, I went to the hospital as you instructed me. They were very impressed with your work, but they told me to change the gauze often, and to apply this weird cream with like silver in it or something. Anyway, I tried, but..." she said, raising her hand to show him her work, "I'm a righty, I can't do anything with my left hand, I'm hopeless. And you live closer than my mom."
"I'll take care of it, don't worry," Nick smirked, "There's beer in the fridge, I'm gonna go get the kit."
The anxious thoughts were overtaken by more peaceful, hopeful ones. There were butterflies in his stomach. He was like a teenage boy with a crush on the prettiest girl in school. He felt silly.
It felt great, the chance to be closer to her again, to be taking care of her again. And yes, that might've been a completely ridiculous and selfish thought to have, but Nick couldn't help himself. These little moments were all he had.
She had decided to spend the night in Chris' bed, if Nick didn't mind having her there. He couldn't protest, his chest heavy as if someone was pressing on them, but he knew that she needed something unconventional. Everyone heals differently, maybe this was her way.
Nick was lying in his bed, one of Chloe's books in hand, desperately trying to keep his mind off what's going on across the hall. The girl he wanted was in someone else’s bed. Another thing that has become a routine for him, Chloe even started leaving books she thinks he'd like. The first time he asked for a book, Nick lied and told her that it was a New Year's resolution to read more, he then had no choice but to go with it, even when the books didn't work as distractions.
It was midnight and it was starting to work when Perrie knocked on his door.
"I'm awake," he responded.
Perrie opened the door slightly, sticking her head in.
"This is kind of weird to say," she paused, as if she was discussing whether or not to say anything, "I've had insomnia since my teens. I usually manage to fall asleep when I'm sharing the bed with someone, and I thought that being in Chris' bed would help, but it.."
"Get in," Nick cut her off, he'd rather not think about what's about to happen.
"You sure?" she asked.
"Want me to change my mind?" he teased.
"Nope," Perrie smiled, entering his room, "Thank you so much."
"I got your back."
Last time Nick shared a bed with someone it was with Andy and it was the night before it became clear to him that she was still in love with Sam. That was many months ago. But waking up next to Perrie wasn't the same. Despite all the feelings involved, Perrie wasn't his. He couldn't tell her how he felt, he couldn't touch her, he couldn't kiss her, no matter how much he wanted. He couldn't do that to Chris. If he wanted to tell her anything about his feelings, he'd have to talk to him first. That's why waking up next to her felt more like the common theme of being repeatedly punched in the chest. Again. And again.
The deal the guys have is that whenever someone works the night shift, they bring breakfast in the morning and they eat together. If all of them are working the shift, then they go out for breakfast before coming home, a tradition that keeps them sane after the hectic hours, giving them a chance to talk through all the events of the night. By habit, Nick was already up when Dov and Chloe came home.
"Why is Perrie in your bed?" was the first question Nick got after he exited the bathroom. Dov looked at him with disapproval, probably thinking of the worst. Right. Wednesday. Dov’s turn to do laundry.
"She came over, wanted to sleep in Chris' bed, but she couldn't fall asleep. We talked for a while and she fell asleep," Nick explained, watching as Dov disbelieved him, "Nothing happened."
"Don't do anything till Chris comes back?"
"Come on, don't bullshit me. It's freaking obvious to everyone except you two."
"You're not making any sense, Epstein."
"Just tell me that you won't do anything till Chris comes back."
"I won't do anything till Chris comes back," Nick repeated the words.
He didn’t like the implication the words carried, there was nothing to suggest it was true. But he said them anyway.
It had become a routine. They’d come home from work and Perrie would be there, waiting for a new bandage, sometimes bringing take-out for dinner. Nick would change the gauze while sharing few lines of conversation, and then she’d be on her way. When Dov had the nightshift, Nick would awkwardly ask her if she needs to sleep, then offer to share his bed. None of it was odd, it was just what they did.
"Why do you have Sims 2 on your laptop?" Perrie asked, a soft smirk on her lips accompanied her narrowed eyes conveyed playfulness. This time around she popped in for a few minutes. She saw the computer screen on the dining table, it was right in her eye sight while Nick was changing her bandage.
"The kids at the home I grew up in like to play it, I let them when I visit," Nick spoke quietly, an attempt to keep it between them.
"They don't have any computers there?" she questioned, mimicking his volume.
"An old one, in case they need it for homework, but it doesn't support this game."
She paused, looking around the room before saying, "We need to do something about it."
"You know they've already released Sims 4 right? The kids need upgrades," she said, "I'll think of something, don't worry."
"I'm not worrying,” Nick dismissed it, tilting his head as he placed the last stripe of medicinal tape. She rushed to her feet soon after.
"Thanks for the new bandages. I'll see you tomorrow,” she spoke as she gathered her things, “I'll bring a six-pack. And more gauze."
"Deal," Nick couldn’t help but smile, “Bye.”
"Bye guys," she said to Chloe and Dov before rushing out the door.
That was a tempo that Nick could get behind.
Chapter 2: 2
trigger warning for the description of molestation
“May I sneak a sip of your beer?” Perrie asked, giving Nick a doe-eyed look.
He couldn’t help but pause before responding, there was something about her that day. It was Perrie like he hadn’t seen her before, she was relaxed, wearing worn-out paint-covered clothes. It was the first time he saw her without makeup too. She had her hair up, the messy updo opened her face and Nick was noticing details about her that he hadn’t noticed before. She was sitting opposite of him, her head tilted as her eyes switched focus from Nick’s face to what his fingers were doing, and all the while, Nick was falling in love with her freckles.
“You don’t want an entire bottle?” he returned.
She was here for another gauze change. Nick loved this part of the day. That small amount of contact, the fake closeness, he enjoyed it. Afterwards, he beat himself up that he did, but those ten to twenty minutes while she was there were great.
“I’m not much of a beer drinker, don’t like the taste,” her lips puckered, a wanton reaction, “And I’m in a bit of a hurry.”
“Go ahead,” Nick nodded as he opened up the first aid kit, “What are you up to?”
“I’m painting,” she said to which Nick offered a surprised, narrowed eye look. He should’ve gathered from her fashion choice, but at the same time it was the last thing he could imagine her doing, “it’s a hobby,” she added, a playful smile across her lips, “Also, I thought of something for the kids.”
“Perrie, you really shouldn’t have...”
“Nick, I have way too many computers I don’t use anymore in my office, I need to get rid of them in some way,” she spoke calmly, “It’s more like spring cleaning for me. In January,” she then joked before saying, “I’m gonna upgrade yours too.”
“No need for that,” Nick shook his head, raising his eyes to meet hers then returning his focus to the medical tape, “And that’s two sips,” he commented nonchalantly.
“Fine, I owe you another six pack.”
“Stop bringing beer.”
“Okay,” Perrie rolled her eyes, “Where are Dov and Chloe, they’re usually here this time of day.”
“Visiting Chris,” Nick responded without giving it much thought. Right, Chris. He got so used to talking to Perrie about anything and everything that he almost forgot the person who’s standing between them. Nick backtracked then stated the obvious, “I thought you’d gone with them.”
Perrie gulped, feeling a little uncomfortable, Nick could tell.
“He asked me not to come,” she responded, her voice quiet and soft. It didn’t seem like the whole story but Nick didn’t want to push it. There was a more important question on his mind anyway.
“You okay?” Nick couldn’t help but ask.
“Just fine,” Perrie shrugged, reaching for a third sip of beer.
“You know, if you want to talk about something, I’m here.”
“I know. I’ve already used that privilege,” she smirked, pointlessly looking around the room, something that Nick has noticed she does whenever she’s about to change the subject, “I’m gonna leave you a flash drive, I need you to transfer all your important data from your laptop to the drive.”
“I don’t need a new computer,” he insisted.
“The game progress is saved on yours, I’m not gonna let the kids lose it cause you don’t want to take my old laptop.”
“Don’t you have more important things to do?”
“You teasing me Collins?” the way she spoke felt like they were about to start flirting, and Nick watched her expression change as she quickly changed the route, “I’m between coding jobs, this is like a mental exercise for me.”
“If this is a mental exercise, I wonder what your actual work looks like.”
“I’ll just have to show you someday,” she said, and she soon was on her feet, muttering a ‘thanks’ and ‘see you tomorrow’ before she rushed out of the door.
“Anyone in the mood for a drinking game?” Chloe asked, she stood in front of the TV, obstructing the boys’ view.
Dov & Nick were on the couch, xbox on, relaxing with a FIFA game against each other. Nick isn’t a huge video game guy, but he learned to like it in the last few weeks. It’s something that Dov used to do after work with Chris, and Nick didn’t want Dov to miss out on the routine he’s built. He grew fond of the game, and the process. Sure, he sucked at it, but it was fun. Nick liked losing.
“What kind of drinking game?” Nick asked.
“One where we all get plastered,” Chloe smiled, offering a wink.
“You still need to explain better, babe,” Dov questioned further.
“Perrie and I are watching the Fifty Shades movie and having a drinking game,” Chloe spoke, the mention of Perrie got Nick to listen extremely carefully, “You drink when there’s nipples on screen, during a sex scene, when one of them says ‘Laters baby’, so on. Are you two in?”
“Isn’t that movie stupid?” Dov said, raising his eyebrows as he waited for Chloe to give him an answer.
“Yet so fun when there’s alcohol involved,” she chirped.
“I’m in,” Nick spoke, not giving it much thought. He hadn’t taken part in a drinking game in a couple of years, he should do it.
“Of course you’re in,” Chloe remarked, “Perrie’s gonna be there.”
“Nothing’s going on,” he rushed to say.
“We know. It doesn’t mean that the two of you don’t want something to happen,” Dov stated, and Nick felt uncomfortable, as if Dov was shooting him with his eyes.
She didn’t want anything to happen, Nick reassured himself. There was no way that she did.
The second time Nick and Perrie shared a bed, somehow in the middle of the night, Perrie ended up with her head on Nick’s chest, a position that was incredibly comfortable to them both. Nick blamed it on the alcohol and the drinking game, negating every hopeful thought that crossed his mind. But it bothered him the next day, he had a hard time focusing, and it hadn’t happened before. He knew he was going to be useless on the streets, he asked Oliver to let him ride the desk for the day. A little under the weather he said as an excuse, extremely confused was the correct description.
“You seem distracted,” it was Sam who noticed it first that day, in the locker room, changing at the end of the shift, “You okay, buddy?” Sam asked, what seemed like a genuine concern.
“Yep, fine,” Nick shook his head, “Just a little under the weather,” he offered the same excuse, he gave Oliver in private few hours prior.
“Doesn’t seem like it,” Sam pointed out, “If you want to talk about something, you know where to find me. Either way, we’re getting drinks at The Penny, feel free to join us.”
That seemed like an incredibly good idea. Sure, booze got him into this state of mind, but booze could get him out of it.
Nick took up Sam on the offer to get drinks after work. It was one of those days where everyone felt pretty beat, and if it wasn’t for Sam’s invitation, Nick would’ve gone home with his roommates. Nick needed this, desperately. He needed to test out every distraction.
Only this test failed miserably. Less than an hour after Nick got to the bar, so did Perrie. She caught his eye as soon as she walked in, standing near the door, looking around the room. When she saw Nick, she stopped and smiled, heading towards him. Nick was at the bar, waiting for the drinks he ordered for the table. He stood up straighter, his lips quirking into a smile.
“Hey,” she greeted him.
“Hi,” he responded.
“Chloe said I could find you here,” Perrie said, a touch of shyness in her voice.
“You found me,” Nick smiled once more.
Perrie’s expression turned serious, it scared Nick for a moment, thinking the subject ahead would be the one he’s been dreading.
“When can we drop off the computers for the kids?” Nick liked this question, this was something he could answer.
“I have the day after tomorrow off. We can do it then if you’re free.”
“Sounds good. Um...” Perrie stopped her train of thought, before reaching in her purse to pull out a time notepad and a pen, “This is my address, I’ll be there all day. Pick me up whenever’s convenient for you.”
“I’ll see you then. Don’t forget to bring your laptop.”
“Wait, what about your hand?”
“I’m supposed to keep it open, no need for a bandage anymore,” she stepped forward, close enough for Nick to have a good look of her hand, ”It’s closed, close to healing completely. See?”
“Looks awesome,” he forced a smile. No more afternoon visits, Nick dreaded this moment as well.
“Yup. Laters private,” she gave him a smile back and started to walk away.
It sometimes felt like she was an apparition in Nick’s life, coming and going so quickly, just to move the plot further along. She is a force, Nick concluded, one that can’t be tamed. She is strong, when she has her mind made up, she sticks to it. She is fucking perfect. And then a thought he sometimes had: he was just not worthy. Chris wasn’t either.
“Was that the girl?” Oliver asked him when Nick returned to the table.
“Yes, that was the girl.”
“She looks familiar from somewhere, don’t know where,” Oliver stated.
Nick brushed it off, not wanting to think about anything related to her for the rest of the evening. He didn’t succeed at it of course, but at least he tried.
Perrie’s place was an entire floor of an industrial style office building, the top floor. He took the elevator up, and waited for her to let him in, that’s how Nick learned that she kept it secure. Walking into the office space, Nick could barely see the end, surprised by its size as well of the number of computers – almost all of them running. The monotony of the well organized black and gray computer hardware was cut through by the bright light coming through the windows and the whiteness of the walls. Little details of color sprinkled here and there. It seemed like a Pinterest heaven. It screamed her name.
“This is bigger than I expected,” Nick immediately said.
“I don’t joke around with work Collins,” Perrie jokes, a hint of flirting in her voice.
“What are you working on?”
“Currently running diagnostics on my computers, I tend to do it on slow days.”
“And what do you normally do.”
“A lot of things. I mostly write software. Then I test the software, fix bugs, stuff like that. Mostly for phone apps, computer software, and web sites. Lots of things that software and codes can do though.”
“Like… I assist police with deep web related business, I’m working on a software that’ll help with your guys’ search there. At the far end I have a section of computers that scan deep web sites for potential human trafficking threats, send that information to people in the FBI and organizations that work with them,” Nick was listening carefully, almost feeling his jaw dropping, “I sometimes code viruses and attach them on child pornography sites, so when pedophiles download anything, it starts tracking their whereabouts and sends notifications to the police. You know, fun stuff.”
Nick stood silent, conjuring the best way to ask the questions that popped into his mind.
“Do you look at... your findings?”
“Not always. I have to ever so often, to check if the software is functioning well. I can’t waste people’s time if the material doesn’t pan out.”
“Is that why you can’t sleep?” he asked again.
“It’s one of the reasons,” she said, her eyes dropping to the floor, then looking away. She was about to change the subject, and the best thing Nick could do was change it for her.
He cleared his throat before saying, “I brought my laptop.”
“Right,” she nodded, reaching out for the supermarket bag in which Nick packed the computer, he didn’t have anything else, “This way,” she swung her head towards the other end of the space.
“This is your laptop portion of the office?”
“Kind of. I get samples for testing, the companies don’t want them back,” she explained, then asked, “Did you save the data you need?”
“Yes. The flash drive is in the car.”
“Here you go then, Collins. Your new computer,” she handed him a laptop, lighter, thinner but larger than the one he just gave her, “I’ll be done with this one in about twenty minutes, then we can go.
Nick couldn’t help but closely watch Perrie as she interacted with the kids, while also arguing with himself about the path his thoughts were taking. He had by now come to terms with how pathetic he was being. Now it just seemed silly, and stupid, but mostly silly. It was silly what he thought would be neat to happen between them, while knowing nothing could.
“Would you mind if I sleep in your bed tonight?” she asked him when they were back in his truck.
“Not at all,” he said, as casually as he could make it sound.
She went silent again; Nick hated that. He wanted to know what was going on in her head, if there was something he could do to ease her mind, it always seemed like she was raging a war inside. He hated feeling helpless, a feeling that kept creeping in when it came to Perrie.
“The kids were great, I’m glad I intruded enough to meet them.”
“You didn’t intrude.”
“You don’t have to lie to me.”
“Astrid really likes you. She told me in secret,” he smiled.
“That’s cause Astrid and I are very much alike.”
Nick’s mind froze for a split second. Astrid had a heavy back-story, her parents had passed away when she was a baby, and she had been abused by her previous foster parents. None of that seemed like something that could be easy on anyone, he knows very well how much it can affect a person.
Nick couldn’t forget about this, he felt the need to ask.
Perrie didn’t hesitate for a single moment.
“My grandma died when I was seventeen,” she started speaking, surprising Nick with both the randomness of the statement and the quake in her voice, “And my uncle, my mom’s brother, he cheated my mom out of her portion of the inheritance, so she stopped talking to him. Which was like a gift from heaven, I always hated the guy and his family, I just didn’t know why I hated them,” she paused, a loud gulp in preparation for whatever she’s going to say next, “But then I started remembering that... he used to touch me between the legs. It started happening when I was four, he told me he was checking if I had peed my pants, I didn’t know that that wasn’t supposed to be happening.”
Nick’s thoughts were all over the place, but his eyes were focused on finding an empty parking spot. He couldn’t keep up with this conversation while driving; he needed to do whatever he can to tell her that it’ll be okay
Should’ve he asked? Did she want to share this with him or did she feel pressured to?
“That’s why I don’t sleep when I’m alone,” she cut him off just as Nick was about to apologize, “it’s used-to-be-repressed memories coming back and looping in my head, they keep me up. With someone there, there’s a distraction, and it’s pathetic, but I’ve been jumping from one meaningless relationship to another, just so I can get some sleep,” she paused again, this time to look at Nick, her eyes meeting his. The way she looked at him terrified him, so he looked away, “I fucking hate that I keep doing this to you, telling you random and depressing shit. And I don’t know why I do it.”
“I don’t know why you do it either,” he spoke with a soft voice. He didn’t mind her telling him everything about herself, no matter how much his feelings get hurt. He had a hunch as to why though, all those comments that Dov and Chloe have been making recently alluded to it. Maybe whatever was happening between them wasn’t meaningless.
“I don’t tell people anything about myself, Nick. But for whatever reason, I fucking trust you.”
“You gotta tell someone before it takes a toll on your heart,” he said. It was something that his mom used to say. It was the first time he’s said something of the sort to anyone, but he wanted to make her feel better. He didn’t want her to feel guilty for trusting him, “And I’m glad it’s me.”
“This keeps getting muddier.”
“Yeah, I’m sorry.”
“Nothing you should be apologizing for.”
“Yeah, there is.”
“Nick,” this time his name through her lips sounds like a warning, like the beginning of a fight. Perrie exhaled, Nick noticed it again, the calm but almost frantic looking around for subject change.
“You hungry?” he changed the tone of the conversation for her, “There’s this diner few blocks over, they have great sandwiches.”
“Sure, I could eat.”
They were lying in Nick’s bed, each on their own side, back to back. Neither of them asleep, Nick could hear the nervousness in Perrie’s breathing. He could feel her trying not to move too much. It felt as if she was on the verge of saying something, but she was holding herself back.
Nick shifted his body, turning around to face her.
“Yeah,” she replied, turning on her back.
“If you’re not tired enough we can watch a movie, or take a walk…”
“I’m tired. It’s just…”
“Thanks for today.”
“Again, sorry for springing all that on you,” she said.
“I don’t mind. I like it when you tell me things,” Nick admitted, his lips forming a soft smirk. Inside he was beating himself up just a tiny bit. His statement seemed childish. Silly.
“About that. We need to figure this out.”
“And really fucking son, cause…” Perrie spoke, stopping dead in her tracks, unable to find the right word. Instead, she bit her lower lip, avoiding Nick’s gaze as if she knew what it was doing to him. Shit. His body is acting as if he’s in his teens. Everything was as if he was in his fucking teens.
“Fuck. Don’t do that.”
“It’s really just…”
“Nick,” she interrupted him, “I’m just gonna make this as messy as it could possibly be,” she said, her eyes glued on Nick’s lips.
He’s the one who initiates the kiss, placing his hand on her cheek, while lightly brushing his lips against hers. Perrie puts her hands on the small of his back, pulling him closer.
“Perrie, what about…”
“He broke up with me.”
“We need to tell him.”
Radio silence. Few days before Valentine’s Day Nick did something that he maybe shouldn’t have done. He sent flowers to Perrie’s office. He went back and forth in his mind on that decision, almost canceling the order a few times. It was too late to cancel when on Valentine’s morning Chris came back home. They had to tell him before it happened again.
Nick kept himself busy, cleaning his room, then cleaning his dresser. He cleaned, he remembered that it was something his mom would do whenever she was nervous. He was doing the exact same. He was doing the same thing Perrie was doing. He was distracting himself.
It was in the afternoon when the doorbell rung, and Nick could just feel that it was Perrie who was at the door. He stood close to the door of his room, listening to the commotion on the other side with a hand on his chest to stop his heart going berserk.
“Hey!” Chris’ voice seemed surprised, in a good way. Nick could feel a lump in his throat, this wasn’t going to be easy.
“Hey! You’re back,” he heard Perrie reply.
“Yup, got back a few hours ago.”
Few seconds of silence followed, then Perrie spoke.
“How was it?”
“It was good. Difficult at first... But I needed it.”
“I’m glad it worked out.”
“You free? Wanna take a walk and talk a little? You can tell me all about it.”
“Sure, give me a few minutes to change.”
“Of course. I’m gonna go talk to Nick about something, I’ll meet you at the door.”
“Sure,” the way Chris said it was casual, like he didn’t suspect a thing.
Nick backed away from the door, preparing himself for the knock. He quickly sat down on his bed, picking up the first book he could find in his hands and flipping to a random page, trying to hide the fact that he was really nervous, he didn’t know what to expect.
“Yeah?” when the knock came Nick played innocent.
“Hey,” Perrie greeted him, slowly entering his room.
“Hi,” he returned.
“I got your flowers,” she said, seconding it with a nod, “And the note.”
I’ve never experienced anything like what I’m experiencing with you. I don’t know how it’s gonna end or if it’s going to start at all, but I do know that you deserve the world and I can’t give you that.
Nevertheless, Happy Valentine’s Day.
“It’s okay. It’s fine, I get it, it’s how you feel. I just think that we should talk about it. Like we almost did the other day.”
“We don’t have to. We can just forget about it, you know, it was an impulse like the other day.”
Perrie stared at him blankly for a moment.
“I don’t want to forget,” she said, “I’m gonna talk to Chris. Meet me at my office in two hours?”
“Nick. Let’s stop pretending, okay?”
By the pretense of getting ready, Nick was nervously rummaging through his closet, opening and closing drawers in an almost choreographed manner. He was already dressed, he showered and dried his hair, and he brushed his teeth, twice. He was ready to go meet Perrie. But he had a hard time staying calm. He was doing everything he could to keep his mind off the situation he found himself in.
Nick knew that Chris was due to come back from his walk with Perrie at any given moment. It scared him that he had no idea how it was going to unfold. What did she say to him? What would Chris say to him? And more importantly, would Chris ever speak to him again?
A knock on his door only made the nerves worse.
Nick didn’t hear the door of the apartment open or shut, it was a little surprising to see Chris at his door. Nick tried his best to tame the need to pace around his room. With Chris there to talk to him directly, Nick felt like he was screwed.
“Hey,” Chris greeted him, closing the door behind as he walked into Nick’s room, “You should’ve asked her out the moment I left for rehab.”
“You and I just became good again, I didn’t want to ruin it. I didn’t plan this,” Nick returned.
“I don’t wanna fuck up our friendship.”
“I don’t either. That’s why you two should date,” Chris stated, “I talked to Perrie, I told her the same. I kind of owe her my life. Besides we ended it the night I went into rehab. That was over a month ago.”
“She mentioned the last part only a few days ago,” Nick spoke.
“You know, there’s a lot going on with her. I don’t know exactly what, she didn’t tell me, I don’t think she tells anyone. She might tell you. It bothers her a lot, I’m sure you can see it. I don’t know when and if she shares it with you, just…” Chris paused, while Nick started to feel a little unsteady. What Chris was talking about, already happened, she opened herself up to Nick without even thinking about it. It was somewhat confusing, but most of all, it made Nick really happy, “Be patient. Try to help her. Help her. If there’s anything that the rest of us can do to help, let us know,” Chris spoke, sounding as sincere as he ever has been, “Maybe feelings weren’t present between her and I, but the way she influenced my life speaks volumes about the kind of person she is. She gives a shit about our group. She’s kind and smart. I can’t stop her from being happy. I can’t do that to you either,” he took a deep breath before coming to his conclusion, “Just do your best.”
“I am,” Nick promised.
Chris sat still for a moment before asking.
“Does she fall asleep when she shares a bed with you?”
Awkwardness floated the air, so Nick decided to say something about it.
“I’m sorry it turned out this way.”
“Nothing to be sorry for. I’m a grown up, my decisions can’t be taken back just because things don’t seem pretty from the outside,” Chris said.
“You know, if you need anything, I’m here,” Nick offered.
“I’m well aware. Now go, she’s waiting for you.”
The ride to Perrie’s place was easily the most nerve-racking one Nick has ever been on. He was driving towards the person he was sure he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. The statement seemed premature and silly, but Nick was almost sure of this. He was feeling things he never felt before, it was the truest thing he could say at that moment. He couldn’t imagine a day without her, and frankly, he didn’t want to.
On the elevator ride up to Perrie’s floor, he felt restless. But when the elevator doors finally slid open, Nick felt relief. Like he was running a marathon, and he just reached the finish line. The happiness struck when his eyes landed on her.
Perrie was sitting on the floor in the hallway, her back to the wall next to her front door, as she scribbled things into a notebook balanced on her lap. Nick’s lips couldn’t help but quirk into a smile.
“It’s not like I wasn’t going to show up,” Nick said, prompting for Perrie’s attention.
“I know,” she offered him a smile, “but I also have a shitload of anxiety.”
“How do I keep forgetting that part,” Nick chuckled as he sat down on the floor next to her, “What are you doing?”
“Therapeutic journaling. My therapist suggested it. It’s a writing exercise where you write about what’s causing you unease or pain, and it’s supposed to help with it. Theoretically.”
“Well, you told me that I had to tell someone before it took a toll on my heart. It’s what I’ve been doing. And it’s working,” she explained.
“I’m glad,” as he spoke the words, Nick couldn’t help but allow himself to stare directly in her eyes. He snapped to reality soon after, “Ready for dinner? I made a reservation.”
“That’s nice of you. I just need to change,” she replied.
“You look great.”
“I have a huge paint stain on the back of my shirt. I tripped. Fell on my ass and with my back landed directly on a misplaced oil pain tube. Winsor Newton, Cadmium Green.”
“I’m a klutz. And worst of all, I really liked this shirt,” Perrie jokes as she got up. Nick followed her move, “How long do we have till the reservation?”
“Half an hour,” Nick answered, “Oh wow,” he laughed again, “You’re not kidding about the stain. It’s big. And it also spread all the way to your ass.”
“Nice. Luckily, I brought a change of clothes the other day.”
“You don’t live here?” the question slipped through Nick’s lips. It wasn’t that it was a controversial question. It was that he asked so easily.
“No,” Perrie replied, “It’s just my office and studio. My apartment is twenty minutes from here, but I rarely use it. When I do use it, it’s more as a storage space than a home.”
“Yeah, well. That’s all about to change now, isn’t it,” Nick raised his eyebrows and smirked.
“Right,” Perrie returned the smile, “Neither’s tonight?”
“Yours tomorrow night.”
“That’s a plan.”
Nick was excited for what the future was going to bring.