Happy new year!
This was my original Yuletide assignment, and cashewdani had a fantastic request: Somehow, Cece still hasn't found out about Schmidt's proposal. And she should. The fact that no one knows about how Schmidt bought Cece that skywriting proposal ruins me every time the thought crosses my mind. I can imagine him finally owning up about it to Nick, who then of course tells Jess, who has to tell Cece. The problem, of course, was figuring out how to tell this story without ignoring all of seasons 2 and 3. After a long time and a HUGE assist from my incredible beta blithers - who did covert-ops stuff, did a line-edit, provided the "completioning" line, and did a second read - I finally realized I could use some of the stuff from later episodes but have the story go AU after season 1. (That also had the added benefit of being able to write Jess/Nick as a potential couple rather than an established one, which helped balance the story, I think.)
So here's my official Yuletide 2013 story. Cece/Schmidt, Jess/Nick, Winston. It's PG-13 and goes AU after "See Ya" (the season 1 finale). The Time That Schmidt Proposed to Cece Without Anyone Being Aware of This Momentous Event - break it down and here's what happened next.
It was Outside Dave who spilled the beans.
He'd heard the shout of "Terrible car for a baby, anyway!" and rolled over to see MARRY ME written across the sky, and he'd figured it out. He was smart like that, smart like a bear (as he liked to say).
It was just the way the world worked that the sole audience for his bean-spilling was the cat he'd shooed off the hood of the car; it had only gone (disdainfully, as if it meant to anyway) up to the roof of the car, and kept washing its paws when Outside Dave whispered, "He wants to marry her! I hope she says yes!" Outside Dave approved of matrimony (even though he had no idea who the two people were) and enjoyed external prompts for his rich fantasy life. Outside Dave, it must be said, was on board from the word go.
(That, Dear Reader, is but the prologue to this story, which perhaps you have perceived to be about The Time That Schmidt Proposed to Cece Without Anyone Being Aware of This Momentous Event. Hopefully this is a topic that interests you as much as it did one Nick Miller.)
The Rube Goldberg device that was the loft only sprang into action weeks later, set off (unlikely though it seemed) by Nick Miller, that paragon of inertia. For Nick, though he claimed not to think of other men (at least, not those who were not Chicago Bears quarterbacks) with any affection or even intention, was someone who monitored his friends' emotional well-being with the same intensity and vigilance with which he ignored his own; in short, Nick Miller was a hot mess. Nick's skewed priorities made him the one who spotted the glaring omission from the list of people to whom Schmidt intended to send invitations to his Rebranding Event.
Nick had been playing a video game with the sound actually turned up (the living room being empty) and as he picked off the bad guys, a little spiral of sound let him know he was climbing higher and higher in points and pretty soon would be in good shape to rescue the princess or steal the car or whatever the point was of his game (he'd never made it this far in the game and certainly wasn't about to read the information that kept popping up as he advanced levels). The sound effects chimed as he ran through the list of Schmidt's intended guests: the ladies from Lululemon (yay!), Schmidt's urologist (sproing, and he had to pause the game just to recover from the laughter), Schmidt's badminton partner (slide whistle), Schmidt's financial planner (cha-ching, and now he was worried that the game was psychic. No, not psychic, because Schmidt's recitation of the list had already happened in the past, so it wasn't seeing the future, but really it was still creepy, because it shouldn't have been seeing anything), Philip Seymour Hoffman (conspicuous silence), and one of the writers of Crank Yankers (at which point his character in the game died, which was only fitting).
And, of course, Cece. Who, Nick felt pretty confident in thinking, was not about to speak to Schmidt ever again after being White Fanged and was maybe even considering whisking Jess out of the loft for good just so that there was no accidental contact possible. He wondered if he could talk Schmidt out of that part of the plan.
That was when the door opened and Schmidt and Jess walked in, each of them holding a cup of frozen yogurt, which Nick had really never understood the point of. If you were going to get brain freeze, at least do it from real ice cream.
"The zoo called," Nick said by way of greeting. "The white tiger's RSVPing no to your party."
"What? Why?" Schmidt had mastered, more than two decades earlier, the fine art of summoning an indignant tone even when his mouth was full of chocolate sprinkles and he put it to good use at that moment.
"Who knows why that cool cat does what he does?" Nick asked, rewarded by the sight of Jess silently giggling at his witty repartee; there had been images of her in his head when he'd moved into Caroline's apartment, images that had driven him to finally put his ex behind him. "Hey, what about your skywriter? Why aren't you inviting him?" After the bloodbath into which their fifth anniversary had rapidly devolved (with Nick feeling pleased that he'd had the foresight to have secretly been dreading the unknown horrors Schmidt would propose for their ominously-titled wood anniversary), Schmidt had chosen to celebrate their sixth ("sugar") anniversary with skywriting, using the sound logic that the words looked like cotton candy on top of a particularly vivid Jordan almond. Nick had very much approved, even if the message had been hard to explain to Caroline, then his girlfriend of a few short weeks.
"What? You have a skywriter on call?" Jess asked, wide-eyed with excitement. "What number is he on your speed-dial?"
Still beaming, she turned to Schmidt, who was frantically cramming his mouth full of boysenberry frozen yogurt and trying (and failing) to look nonchalant. The face he was making was so odd that Jess reached out a concerned hand to him, setting her paper cup down en route. "Is it brain freeze?" she asked sympathetically, looking over at Nick for guidance, but Nick, his eyes narrowed, was trying to puzzle out why Schmidt was suddenly acting slipperier than an eel swimming through an oil slick. "I'll make some tea," Jess said decisively and marched off. (Because, of course, that was her answer for everything.)
"Shut up shut up shut up," Schmidt chanted in a low tone, trying to head Nick off, but Nick, as persistent as a rumpled small-town PI of the type Walter Matthau might play (to borrow some figurative language from the fantasies of a teacher named Jessica Day) would not be stopped.
"What did you do, Schmidt?" he asked, bracing himself for some kind of Cece-related weirdness. Maybe hash marks in the sky, one for each time he'd gotten to yell, "Blammo! That just happened!" – an exclamation Nick had heard so often that he'd actually stopped sneaking to the kitchen for late-night beers, preferring to just stick his head under the bathroom tap when he woke up from thirst. (Nick's liver and his gut both thanked him for that particular life choice.)
"You cannot breathe a word of this to Jess," Schmidt hissed, his face nearly as purple as his yogurt. Nick nodded and made some vague approximation of what he thought the "scout's honor" hand gesture looked like (it was, in fact, the Vulcan salute). "I proposed to Cece," Schmidt continued, his voice dropping with each word and forcing Nick nearer just to hear him until Nick was quite close to being in his lap. "Through skywriting."
"What?" Nick whisper-yelled. "What did she say? When was this?"
"She never saw it. It was right after she thought she was pregnant, man."
"Wait, you proposed to her after you knew she wasn't pregnant?" It took Nick a moment to get there, caught up as he was in the memory of Chloe, who had been eighteen and had called Jess "Miss Day," unwittingly triggering all sorts of lurid fantasies in his fevered brain.
"Sort of. The timing is tricky, and my skywriter, Robbie, had a birthday party to do the same afternoon –" Schmidt said before pausing and answering the question Nick had really been asking. "Yeah, I wanted to marry her shotgun-free."
"Aw, Schmidtters." Nick clapped a sympathetic hand on Schmidt's arm and they sat together in silence until Jess brought over a cup of chamomile tea.
Nick wondered whether Jess would bring him tea for his imaginary ailments, or if she would give him some tough love, suspecting any issues were his own fault anyway. He rolled over in his bed, groaning at the number of nights he'd lain awake pondering this question. Russell was gone, as was Genslinger (for the second time), and it wasn't like Schmidt was going to make a move on her – not when he was so crazy in love with Cece that he'd drawn out a logo for Robbie-the-skywriter to sketch in the sky alongside the proposal: a Star of David with a little Om in the center. (Robbie had declined, despite Schmidt's protestation that the logo of his love was "totally nectar.") But who knew what Jess was thinking? Six months ago, she'd been ready to offer herself up to Schmidt.
He still shuddered in horror at the memory of dragging her away from Schmidt's door as a jumbo box of condoms skidded forlornly across the floor. She'd been warm under his hands, too serious about her "dirty twirls" to think straight, and Nick had felt exactly no remorse for basically acting like her dad and forbidding her to sex up Schmidt. Schmidt had had Cece in his room at that moment anyway, as it turned out, and Nick, unable to stop remembering the look and feel and scent of a horny Jessica Day, buried his face in his pillow and screamed his frustration.
It might just have been seeing how often Jess and Schmidt had gone out for frozen yogurt over the summer. Yes, Schmidt had had a difficult time of it with his penis in a cast, but wasn't that really his fault for sleeping with Nadia, of all people? And Nick would never forget the full-body shudder that had gone through him when he had overheard Schmidt offering to introduce Jess to his financial planner.
He had to do something big, something to get Jess to look his way. He could totally do it – he was an idea man. In college, he'd been a legend, a panty-melting legend . . .
Nick's snores were loud enough to wake Winston from his new, adjusted sleep schedule.
"No roommate of mine is coming down with scurvy, not in this day and age," Schmidt said as Winston just tried to stumble his bleary-eyed way across the kitchen; Nick's snoring always got worse when, due to some kind of drama in his little brain, he pressed his face into his pillow and forgot that he needed oxygen for general life purposes.
"What?" Winston asked, fairly certain that Schmidt's declaration had been aimed his way. He moved hand-over-hand on the counter, pulling himself toward the fridge. If no one had snatched them up, there was a Yoo-hoo and half a pepperoni calzone in those sweet cold depths, and he'd just opened the door to investigate when Schmidt bounced over and shut the door with a forbidding frown.
"Did you not hear what I just said? Winston, your circadian rhythms are already compromised by this night-owl job, and I will not have you sacrificing your diet to the radio gods as well."
"What?" Winston asked again, well aware that he was being feeble as hell.
"So I've made you an antioxidant smoothie. To start your 'day'" – the air-quotes were scornful in the extreme – "off right."
"Can we do this some other time, man?" Winston asked tiredly. There was an all too familiar glint in Schmidt's eye that meant he was in a confiding mood.
Indeed, Schmidt had felt better since confessing to Nick the night before and, knowing he could on no account breathe a word of his abortive proposal to Jess, was seeking the gratification of a new confidant for the same old secret. "What better time could there be?" he asked, in what was, Winston was sure, a rhetorical fashion. "So while you are enjoying the fruits – and the lentil syrup and avocado pits – of my labor, let me paint you a picture. Imagine, if you will, a Star of David with an Om in the center."
"A what?" Winston asked, determinedly slurping up the green smoothie just so he wouldn't have to hear what Schmidt had actually put in it. It wasn't bad.
"An Om. You know, the three wearing the bad-ass cape?" Schmidt explained patiently.
"Yeah, that's what I thought you meant," Winston said pointedly, forbearing to educate Schmidt on what was probably a very meaningful symbol for Hindus.
Schmidt, who'd been a marketing major and was therefore conversant with the significance of symbols, barreled on and explained the whole proposal in detail while Winston choked and stared and gasped for air. It was probably best that he'd finished the smoothie first.
"Ugh, this shoot is the living worst," Cece said, opening the door to Jess. "You did bring Some Kind of Wonderful, right?"
"Got it here," Jess said, holding up her polka-dotted tote bag, "plus Cheetos and brownie mix and –"
"Great, just get in here," Cece said, pulling her in.
"So what is it?" Jess asked, once they'd scarfed down most of the Cheetos and about half of the brownie batter, which they'd made with vanilla yogurt instead of eggs, because salmonella: yuck. "Oh, wait, I love this part."
"There's a reason 'you break his heart, I break your face' is an all-time classic," Cece agreed.
"Better than 'you look good wearing my future,' though?" Jess protested.
"C'mon, it's way more quotable," Cece said, but before Jess could respond, she deflated, looking as defeated as she had before the movie had started.
"What's wrong?" Jess asked again, her orange-stained fingertips circling Cece's slim wrist in a gesture that reminded them both that they'd worn each other's first friendship bracelets (made of subpar yarn, and Jess would carry that lesson to her grave) until the strings had worn thin and broken.
"This shoot was for a maternity catalogue," Cece said.
"Ugh, Luddite hipster moms. I bet they get their milk delivered, in glass bottles," Jess interrupted, unaware how much the influence of her roommates was showing.
Cece continued without parsing Jess's statement, still looking really upset. "So we're all wearing this foam padding –"
"Wait, no one on the shoot is actually pregnant?"
"Have you seen these girls' feet?" Cece shot back. "Nobody is retaining water." She closed her eyes, trying to banish the memories of how nice the padding had felt. "And you know with the news Sadie gave me last month – it just got to be too much."
Jess's face broke open, her eyes going mournful and her mouth opening in surprise. "I am the worst friend – I totally believed you when you said you were relieved you didn't have to worry about kids, or how to juggle a family and your career. I'm so sorry, Cece." She pressed her forehead to the side of Cece's head and held her friend tightly.
"I just – I just can't help wondering if I triggered it, by being so glad I wasn't having Schmidt's baby, you know?"
"Shh," Jess soothed. "That wasn't up to you. And neither is this." She kissed Cece's warm cheek, her mind racing along with her pulse. Cece missed Schmidt, she knew it; there were lines and she was reading what was between them. Certainly Cece had never looked happier than when she'd been with Schmidt, as unlikely a pair as they'd seemed when they'd first met. But Cece had her pride, and wasn't going to chase after someone who'd White Fanged her only a few months ago after demonstrating a lack of trust. Being in that awful cast had forced Schmidt to grow up a little, anyway, and maybe he was ready to take on a real relationship. SuperJess was going to find out, she vowed, stroking Cece's arm.
"I can understand how she got Schmidt involved in this nonsense; telling him Cece was gonna be there made that a no-brainer," Winston griped, pulling the neckline of his t-shirt away from his body in an attempt to cool himself off a bit. "But how did she rope you in, Nick? You are the laziest motherfucker I know." He eyed Nick dourly, watching him bite his lip while a puddle of sweat pooled in the small of his back. "That's just nasty. Stop holding it in and just tell me."
"I'm in love with her, man!" Nick burst out and immediately his face, which had been shiny and red, began to cool. He laughed in sheer relief. "It feels good to say it."
Winston, meanwhile, was still looking unimpressed. "So you're not lazy. You're weak."
"Is it weak to drop everything to do a favor for someone who won't be impressed and probably has a bunch of other people she can ask instead?" Nick asked triumphantly; his face fell when he realized what he'd said.
Winston, having a good heart and a long enough association with Nick to predict accurately just how quickly Nick would self-destruct if his energies were not fortuitously redirected, did his best to steer them both clear of that disaster. "That's not true. She relies on you. Who else is gonna give her that pink wine she likes?"
Yeah!" Nick agreed, throwing up victory arms. "Now what exactly does she want us to do? Something about ghosts that drive?"
"Wait," Winston said slowly. "You haven't read The Phantom Tollbooth?"
"Oh, and you have?"
"Hell yes, I have, on my own, and then Elvin and I went through it together. That kid is sharp."
"So summarize it for me."
Winston hesitated. "It's – hard to describe."
"I knew you didn't read it!" Nick crowed, and Winston buried his face in his hands. He was surrounded by idiots.
"Excuse me, Madam Director?" Schmidt asked during the first rehearsal of Jess's adaptation of The Phantom Tollbooth, to be performed a few weeks later for the benefit of her summer-school kids. "I'm finding it difficult to concentrate with Chatty Cathy over there yakking away."
Nick turned a betrayed glare on Schmidt. "I was just saying I don't understand my motivation in this scene."
"You're not even in this scene!" Schmidt shouted. "It's Milo's scene!"
"Who the hell is Milo?" Nick asked, and at that, both Winston and Jess dove between Nick and Schmidt before a slap-fight could ensue.
"I'm Milo," Schmidt explained, getting into character by slicking back his hair and widening his eyes, "and I know my motivation." Jess nodded approvingly, but Schmidt continued to expound on his newly discovered craft. "It's about a lonely boy with no one to love," he said, casting amorous glances Cece's way. She shook her head, but her hair hid a blossoming smile. "Bee-tee-dubs, that was some WASPy absentee-parenting going on in that house, am I right?"
"Sure, Schmidt," Nick muttered, disheartened by Jess grabbing Winston for a trip to the fabric store – he hadn't even known there was such a thing as a fabric store before she'd moved in and now all he wanted was to go to one with her and roll around on fabric with her (he firmly believed this was what routinely occurred at such places) – and leaving him behind to witness Schmidt's moves working on Cece for the second time.
He felt the urge to get totally trashed, and thought he might be growing up, since he didn't immediately run off to indulge it. Growing up was a painful process.
"Winston and Jessica, about to do some costuming," Winston sang in a pleasant falsetto, and Jess grinned, glad that at least one of her roommates was able to sing about his day the way she liked to. Out of respect for his ditty, she started to harmonize out loud, and was rewarded by his pleased nod and a gesture that recalled a bell-ringer's three-in-hand (a complex maneuver that Winston had renamed in his own honor).
"Hey, thanks again for doing this," Jess said. "You're so good with kids."
"Sure, yeah, mm-hmm," Winston said, suddenly nervous (now that the singing was over and the conversation had begun) that she would ask why on earth Nick had agreed to participate. He thought about heading her off by making a joke, something to insinuate that Nick had always had an eye for younger ladies, but that would be getting into a really weird area and he didn't particularly want to go there.
"So, King Azaz, what looks particularly royal to you?" Jess asked, waving a hand grandly at the bolts of shimmery fabric.
Winston squinted. Winston tapped his foot. Winston mused. (Winston was procrastinating.) "Well, that brown one over there looks sparklier than this other brown one, so maybe that one?" He turned to find Jess staring at him oddly. "What?"
"Winston," she said, laying a gentle hand on his arm, "are you colorblind?"
"No," he denied indignantly, though he had always had a bit of a problem differentiating his teammates' uniforms from their opponents' (which was why he liked to play shirts-versus-skins).
"I will make you a deal. If you can name the actual color of any one of these fabrics, I'll buy it for you and make your costume out of that. If you can't, you go get yourself checked out."
"Shoot, that's easy," he said. "That one there's brown as a Benjamin." His fingers, which had been making the money-money-money gesture, faltered and then fell still when he saw her face.
"Oh, Winston," she said, looking sad, and that depressed him until he realized she hadn't once asked about Nick.
Cece looked at Schmidt, at the man she had, once upon a time, pictured in her bed and across the kitchen table for the rest of her life, and wondered at his continued silence. He'd been his usual self at the rehearsal (Schmidt was an incorrigible flirt), but once they'd found themselves (mostly) alone, sitting at the kitchen table and waiting for Jess to finish taking Winston's measurements, he hadn't said a word or even looked directly at her.
Things couldn't keep going like this; they were a part of each other's lives, thanks to Jess, and they needed to get past everything. To break the silence, she said, "You know, I don't think I congratulated you on getting your penis cast off. How did your 'rebranding event' go?" Schmidt flushed and shook his head, and she went cold at the proof that he couldn't be bothered to mend any bridges, like a damn grown-up.
Cece pushed her chair back and stood up. "Fine."
Schmidt caught her hand before she could turn away. "I didn't have it. The whole point was to engineer a way to see you, and then Jess tossed the perfect opportunity right in my lap."
"And why did you need to see me?" she asked, stubbornly ignoring the tingles his touch caused. She raised her eyebrows at Nick, still standing there in earshot, and he scampered off like a clumsy puppy. (Good boy.)
"So I could apologize for the way I acted at your shoot. So I could take back what I said out in the desert. So I could ask for another chance. Please, Cece," Schmidt said, so sincere with his eyes and mouth both tilted down instead of mischievously up, and she just hoped he never learned the power that look had over her.
"Does that mean you do trust me?" she asked; that had been the worst of it, realizing she'd opened her heart to someone who saw her not as a person capable of making choices and decisions, but as a purely destructive force wrapped in a pretty shell.
Schmidt swallowed but maintained eye contact. "Yes."
"That's a start," she said, pulling away and heading for Jess's room.
Winston pondered all of the secrets he was keeping as he drank a much-needed beer; this bar was closer to the radio station than Nick's, and it was worth paying for his drinks if it meant he didn't need to see any of his lovestruck roommates' faces. He nearly jumped out of his skin when he felt a hand on his back.
"Hey, Winston," Cece said, sitting on the stool next to his.
"Uh, hey," he said. He suavely tossed a few peanuts into his mouth and then choked. Cece pounded his back vigorously. "What's going –" he started to ask, interrupting himself when he remembered he shouldn't be inviting any kind of discussion about her love life. "Can I ask you a question?" he asked instead.
"Sure," she said, shrugging. "I didn't know you knew about this place."
"Just found it tonight." As he said it, he realized he could order a fruity drink without anyone giving him a weird look or a hard time, and he hurried to down his beer.
"What's your question?" she asked, sipping a dark red drink that matched her lipstick. She really was beautiful, and he could see why Schmidt was hung up on her.
"Oh, um," he said, casting about for something to say. He watched her eyebrows rise. "What do you call those drinks with the fruit?"
"A piña colada?" she guessed, scrunching up her nose as she pondered. Shelby did that too, he thought, and he (belatedly) realized what he could ask her.
"Yeah, I'll get one of those," he said, pleased when the bartender dropped everything and ran as soon as Cece signaled. "But what I wanted to ask you was, say you're dating someone and sh- he, I mean he, keeps not having sex with you. At what point would that be not just a 'headache' but an actual, life-threatening brain tumor?" He caught the bartender's eye. "What?"
"He'll have a piña colada," Cece said, dismissing the man briskly. She turned to him. "This is – what's her name – Shelby?" At his nod, she hmmed thoughtfully. "And you've never had this problem before?"
"Hell, no. She used to be my best booty call." He took a long, sweet sip of his drink. Cece knew how to order.
"But now you're in a relationship," she said, biting her lip. "Is that what you wanted?"
"I thought so," he admitted, "but I don't think it's what she wants. We don't have that much in common, actually."
"Do you talk?" she probed. "Can you have conversations about everything, or nothing, or whatever?"
He looked up from draining his drink to see her considering her own words as they applied to the Schmidt trainwreck. Winston sighed. "Nope. But you guys did, right?"
She smiled. "It surprised the hell out of me, too." Patting his arm, she said, "You're easy to talk to. She must be out of her mind."
That made him feel even better than his second piña colada.
"You're Robbie?" Nick heard Schmidt ask in what was probably supposed to be a whisper. "But you're – well, you don't look very aerodynamic."
Robbie – who, Nick could see, was indeed more round than sleek – just laughed, nicely. "As long as the plane's aerodynamic, that's all I need to worry about."
"Sure, okay," Schmidt said, nodding his head. "I need to know if you can do the symbol we talked about."
"I don't like to do symbols," Robbie began, but he must have seen something that warned him Schmidt would snap like a rubber band if he was denied, because he kept going, saying, "but the conditions are optimal today, so I'll give it a whirl."
"There's a big tip in it for you," Schmidt promised, beaming again, and Nick hustled over.
"Are you gonna upstage Jess on her big day?" he demanded.
"Relax," Schmidt said. "Jess will be happy if Cece's happy, and I plan to make Cece very happy today, with the aid of my friend Robbie. Though he is shaped like the Liberty Bell and has the sophistication of a small Iowan child, he is nevertheless my secret weapon."
"What's he skywriting for you this time?"
Schmidt scowled, evidently having forgotten that Nick had heard many tales of Robbie and his magnificent flying machine. "Never mind. Don't guess. It's private."
"It's literally going to be written across the sky –" Nick started, but Schmidt, hissing with displeasure like a Gila monster, darted off.
Nick heaved up his giant pencil, stuck his pocket calculator into his jeans pocket, and hiked up his Mathemagician's robe so he could find Jess and try to make some sense out of what his life had become.
Jess grinned at her cast. "You guys, the kids are so excited for this, and I know you're all going to be awesome. Yes, Nick?"
Nick put down his hand and launched into his gripe. "Yes, I think I should be King Azaz. I'm a writer, and I know the power of words."
Winston snorted like an irritable Clydesdale. "You have to finish writing something to call yourself a writer."
"It's called writing, not completioning!" Nick shouted.
When Winston derisively wrestled Nick's giant pencil away and scribbled something on the floor and said, "There. I'm a writer, too," Jess thought that vein in Nick's forehead was in serious danger of imminent poppage.
She did her best to be diplomatic about his claims (she hadn't seen a word of the zombie novel Nick was supposedly composing). "Well, the curtain goes up in two minutes, so it's a little late to change the casting. You'll be a great Mathemagician, Nick. Just go out there and have fun with it."
Several minutes later, she regretted those words, as all of the "math facts" Nick was ad-libbing were shot down by a particularly contemptuous middle-schooler. She made a mental note to call Kevin's parents and speak to them about moving him up to a more advanced math class, based on his grasp of the multiplication table and his clearly strong sense of confidence. Nick had gone red in the face but was persevering, shooting anguished glances at her; she smiled encouragingly and he seemed to snap out of whatever fugue state he'd been in. "Silence!" he boomed. "I am the Mathemagician, King of Numbers!" he announced, brandishing his enormous pencil at them, paying particular attention to Kevin. Schmidt stepped forward, letter-perfect as Milo, and she relaxed, knowing Schmidt could carry the show.
She smiled appreciatively as Winston used his Theodore K. Mullins voice to invest King Azaz with grave dignity, guiding Milo toward the Castle in the Air. Cece was waiting there, and when she descended, the kids all went still. Jess looked up and saw her best friend, almost blindingly beautiful in her flowy dress, the spirits of Pure Reason and Sweet Rhyme together in one body. Now the kids all got the point of the book, and she couldn't ask for anything better than that.
Except it did get better. After the curtain call, she saw Schmidt lead Cece back up the winding castle stairs and take her by the shoulders and turn her around. Down on the ground, Jess swiveled to see what they were looking at. Up in the sky, in clouds of white, were the words I TRUST YOU AND I LOVE YOU and a weird symbol. She squinted, trying to figure out what that was supposed to be, getting distracted by the whooping of her sixth-graders, who were watching Cece and Schmidt mack in a way no middle-schooler should be allowed to see.
"Okay, show's over," she called. "Thanks to all the volunteers. School's dismissed. Go home, you're done. Go." The kids filed out reluctantly, craning their necks to catch a last glimpse of the heavy-duty making out, and Jess paused in her task of folding all the chairs up to look at the symbol again.
"It's an Om inside a Star of David," Nick said, materializing at her side. (He had not gained in stealth. Jess had just been thoroughly distracted.)
"Oh! That's . . . kind of sweet, I guess." She looked sideways at him and saw that he looked a little let down. "Hey, what's the matter?"
"Nothing," he said. He grabbed some of the tennis balls that Canby had juggled (when he was as coordinated as can be) and stuck them under his shirt, then whipped out the pocket calculator she'd given him to inspire his performance and punched in some numbers. "Look," he said, holding the calculator upside-down in front of her face, and she saw the display say BOOBS. "Boobs." He snickered like a twelve-year-old and she just couldn't stop herself from grabbing him and kissing him.
"You're a doofus," she said, between kisses.
"But you like my boobs," he said smugly, kissing her back.
"Yeah, this is going to end well," she heard Winston say from somewhere fairly close by, just as Nick's tennis-ball boobs fell out of his shirt. "Are y'all gonna make out all day, or is someone gonna give me a ride to work?"
And there we must leave things, for the story of Schmidt's proposal to Cece has now been told, and with so many unusual people all living together, there is no end to the stories that could be told. Though we will note that, months later, when Cece was pregnant and showing (both in the glow of happiness and the bump in her belly), Schmidt said to her, "You look good carrying our future." (He was able to take her to bed immediately, as she demanded, because he'd long ago done his internet research and knew they were safe from a Russian nesting-doll situation.)
As always, I'd love to hear what you think.
This same entry also appears on Dreamwidth, at http://innie-darling.dreamwidth.org/433508.html.