Schmidt says a potential roommate has responded to the craigslist ad, so please be normal, presentable and show initiative. He expects all of them to have at least 5 questions prepared for the interview portion of the visit. She’ll be arriving around 2pm. Coach balks at the ‘she’ part, Nick doesn’t care either way.
It’s 2:30 and there’s a knock on the door. Nick is lounging on the couch with a beer watching baseball; Coach just got back from a pick-up basketball game and is making a protein shake. Schmidt checks his reflection in any shiny surface all while going over the itinerary: Visual assessment, if she passes we move on to introductions, then tour, and finally sit-down interview. He opens the door to let the potential in. Nick doesn’t look over, doesn’t care to. Doesn’t really care who lives here as long as they’re not a pyscho.
Well introductions have been made, so she passed Schmidt’s visual assessment which makes him kind of curious…not enough to look yet. He knows he’s being rude, but hey, haven’t you heard, he doesn’t care, plus Rizzo is up to bat. He goes to take another swig of beer and that’s when her scent hits him. It’s cinnmony and sweet and seems to sink into his skin. He sits up, moving the beer to his other hand and tries to shake off the scent. He takes a healthy swig, hoping the bite of the IPA will overpower it. It doesn’t. “Nicholas, would you please stand and introduce yourself,” Schmidt’s precise and aggravating voice pierces through the loft. “Please don’t be alarmed, Jessica, he may look like a homeless old man, but I assure you he’s our age and is employed…if only as lowly bartender.” “Shut-up, Schmidt!” He says as he stands and turns.
“Hi, I’m Jess!” A small pale hand extends to him. His first irrational thought is that this is the type of girl idiots fall in love with instantly. The long brown wavy hair, smooth unblemished skin, huge googly blue eyes, full red lips, orangeish-red summer dress. Not him though. He’s no dummy. Not gonna fall for any of that crap. He flops back on to the couch after the obligatory “I’m Nick,” and Schmidt moves with her to the hallway to show the bedrooms/bathroom, one of the douchebag’s hands hovering over her lower back. The urge to watch her walk away is disconcertedly strong and he immediately quashes the urge by watching (but in no way paying attention to) the game. He hears her exclamation of delight when she sees the empty room and winces…he needs another beer.
Ten minutes later he’s got Schmidt sitting next to him (uncomfortably close, he might add), and Coach in the corner on the couch; Jess in the tan single-seater across from them. They’ve arrived at the interview portion. “Alright, Nick, let’s show some panache here. You may ask the first question.” Ah crap. He hadn’t thought of any questions. His eyes drift to the tv which is swiftly turned off. “No distractions, Nicholas.”
Sighing heavily, Nick moves to sit at the edge of the couch, elbows resting on his knees. She’s sitting patiently, eyes wide and eager, a small smile on her lips as she meets his gaze. Something twists within him when her blue meet his brown. It’s a feeling he can’t identify and something whispers in his mind, ‘Don’t be that idiot.’ He’s suddenly overwhelmed by the situation, but the emotion that wins out is anger and he clings to it, allowing it to swallow up any other ridiculous thoughts or feelings. Maintaining a neutral expression he glares at the coffee table, hoping it’ll produce a legitimate ‘potential roommate interview’ question. One of Schmidt’s ridiculous artsy books is opened on a black and white image of a cat on a haystack in a barn (“It is a portfolio detailing the relationship between animals and bucolic life, Nicholas!” “It’s a $75 coaster, Schmidt.”)
“Umm….Do you have any pets?”
"Miller, my office, 10 minutes." Nick slams the phone down so hard it rattles out of the cradle and the drone of the dial tone fills the office.
Fucking fuck fuck shit fuck.
That about covers his state of mind for the past week.
Ever since Jess found out about his ‘not so little secret’ he hasn’t been able to stop sweating. He had kept his authoring ways under lock and key since day one and the only time it had almost been revealed was in a last ditch effort to save a disastrously doomed relationship (good thing Tran talked him out of it).
What’s weird is he’s normally a horrible secret-keeper. He begs off any conversation when it turns to gossip and if there’s ever a need to lie or fib or whatever, don’t count on him. He will sweat profusely and speak incoherently until the situation is resolved.
But with this secret…the biggest of his life…it’s like he owns it, he’s in charge of it and therefore able to contain it. But now that it’s out in the world, specifically in the mind of a chatty, spunky, know-it-all girl in thick-rimmed glasses and colorful skirts…he’s unable to combat the normal secret-keeping symptoms. He’s been a mess, missing important client calls, remaining silent in conference meetings, pretty much ignoring everyone in the office, but especially the one person who could ruin his life.
If he was thinking straight he’d notice that she’s been avoiding him as well.
The worst part is that he doesn’t even know how much she saw that day in his office. How long had she been in there? When he saw her, she had been reading from the screen. How far had she read? Did she see all of the information from the brown folder on his desk? Maybe she didn’t make the connection between the documents and him. Nick knows how outrageous that hope is. Jess is a clever girl and if the look on her face was anything to go by, she got it, loud and clear.
Tran was useless. He’d driven to the old man’s house over the weekend.
"She knows." Nick said as he mutilated another string bean.
Tran hummed as he gently extracted the vegetable from Nick’s hand but said nothing.
"That’s it? You got nothing? Tran, the biggest secret of my life is about to be plastered across every literary news outlet out there and you hum!?"
Tran gave him a look and shook his head. Clearly he didn’t believe Jess was going to reveal what she knew.
"Well then what’s my move with Jess?"
Tran’s answer was a smile.
Crazy, zen old man was no help at all and Jess was obviously biding her time to spill his secret; waiting for a moment with the most dramatic impact. God dammit, he knew he shouldn’t have trusted that girl. His first instinct had been right all along.
Well, apparently the moment had arrived, taking a quick swig from his flask he rises. As he leaves his office (sure to lock the door behind him) his eyes involuntarily dart to Jess’s desk, discovering it empty, her computer turned on but with no screensaver, meaning she probably just stepped away.
Trudging up to Leo’s office, he takes a deep breath, preparing himself for his probable firing.
First thing he sees when he opens the door is the back of Jess’s dark brown head, the long waves spilling down over the chair. Gritting his teeth, he refuses to look at her and slumps into the open chair next to her.
This is it. Secret’s out. Nick Miller is Pepperwood, Pepperwood is Nick Miller. There won’t be any need for a detective to figure out his death. No mystery in jumping off a bridge out of humiliation.
"Alright, dream team," Leo exclaims as he puts the packet he was reading down. "I have just learned some exciting news!"
The big guy, who looks like a Russian Bond villain today in his navy blue suit stretched across his rather impressive girth and shiny bald head, moves some papers around his desk before unearthing a brown envelope.
Nick can’t keep his legs from bouncing as he watches, in what feels like slow motion, Leo pull a white sheet of paper from the envelope and begin to read.
"Dear Clyde Co. Publishing, blah blah blah, pleased to inform, blah blah, the latest Pepperwood novel, "Pepperwood and the Hollow Corpse," as been awarded The 2013 Edgar for ‘Best Novel.’ Please inform us of Tran’s attendance to accept blah blah blah…"
Nick can see out of his periphery that Jess is sitting on the edge of her seat. Up until Leo read the letter, she hadn’t looked his way once. Now he can practically feel her eyes burning into his skin.
"Pepperwood hasn’t received the Edgar for 5 years so this is great news team, let’s see some enthusiasm!"
"Yeah, it’s great, Leo…" Nick says as he runs a hand over his face, avoiding Jess’s stare. "Listen-"
"Now, as we all know, Tran doesn’t attend the award ceremonies and delegates someone to go in his place," Leo plows on.
A sick feeling begins to twist Nick’s stomach and the sweat already peppering his hairline becomes full on streams.
"For this award, he’s chosen the dream team to attend! So pack your bags kiddies, you’re headed to New York City!"