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Pardner in Crime

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"Trust me," Schmidt is saying in his best I-speak-from-experience voice, which, even so, does not rouse a whole lot of faith, "I know what I'm talking about. Jess, you're like a sheltered, inexperienced woodland creature, innocently grazing in a field of land mines."

"Okay," Nick cuts in from across the room where he is sprawled out on the couch, his lap top open in front of him, "this is getting out of control. It's Valentine's Day, guys, not war."

"Or Bambi," Jess agrees with the same amount of conviction. "Such a dark children's movie," she marvels to herself.

Schmidt gets them back on track. "You dated that long-haired freakazoid for, what? A decade?"

"Six years," she says, like a badge of shame.

"Six years, a decade. Point is, the V-day landscape isn't what it used to be. It's vicious now, Jess. Vicious."

"Don't listen to that," says Nick.

"Exclusively listen to nothing but this," Schmidt insists.

"Don't listen to that either."

"Jess, look at me. Over the course of our living arrangement, we've developed what therapists would presumably call a bond, correct?"

"I guess?"

"So, our trust runs deep. Our trust is like a trench. Like a very deep, structurally built trench. All I'm asking is that you listen to what I'm saying."

Nick snorts, this low, sarcastic noise that means he finds the whole trench-trust notion insane, but not Jess.

"Okay," she allows.

"Do not do a speed-dating thing on Valentine's day," is his heartfelt plea. He gestures at a flier on the fridge that Jess had shown both him and Nick only minutes earlier, the front boasting SPEED-DATE THRU VALENTINE'S & LAND YOURSELF A REAL CASANOVA, IN ONLY 30 SECONDS. GUARANTEED! with a winking emoticon, and then, in a much smaller, almost illegible text, Actual connections are rare, do not hope for more than hook-ups with, weirdly, another, larger winking emoticon. "Just, don't," Schmidt continues. "It's tacky, unflattering, musking heavily of desperation--"

"Okay, yeesh."

"Promise?"

"Yes, fine, I promise. No speed-dating."

Schmidt starts to back off towards his bedroom with his hands out and wary, almost as if he is awaiting, say, a weird joke or for Jess to burst into song. Maybe a dance. Nick watches from the couch, expecting the same. Instead, Jess gets her mug of water out of the microwave, silently drops in a tea bag. Takes a slow, unhurried sip. And only then does she tell Schmidt, "Looks like you got yourself winged, man," in an old timey cowboy voice.

He leans forward, head cocked. "I'm sorry, what?"

"Winged, man," Jess repeats, doubling up on the accent.

Schmidt looks Nick's way. "What's she mean by that?"

Jess drops the voice for some of her own shameless begging. "It's been six years since I've been single and in the game during a major romantic holiday. Well, greeting card romantic. I can't prowl alone." She grabs one of Schmidt's arms with her non-mug holding hand, gives it a good, lifeless flap. "Wingman," she declares, laughing a little. There are also bird noises, meant to be cute, but are only horrible.

"No no no no no. Jess, no."

"Oh, Jess, yes," says Nick, smiling gleefully.

"Nonnegotiable. Valentine's Day is my holiday, okay? It's like being a president on Presidents' Day. That's the kind of esteem I garner."

"But I can't do it alone! And I can't speed-date, because it's tacky, I know that now, and I can't hang out here cool cat-style while all my bros are out--"

"I hate when you say bros," Nick cuts in, very assuredly. "You don't need to say bros, that is a thing I am okay with you not saying."

"--getting scored, and goaled on, and home based," Jess continues, desperation spiraling out of control.

"Fine, fine, okay okay okay, fine, literally this is the darkest hour of my life, but fine! Fine, Jess," Schmidt bites out, this tonal equivalent of bitterness and blame.

"Yay! Thank you," she tells him sincerely. And then she sings, "Thaaaaaaank y--"

"DARKEST HOUR OF MY LIFE," Schmidt booms, his bedroom door slamming shut behind him.

 

&

 

"Seriously?" Schmidt says of the first thing Jess has put on and is considering leaving the house in. He laughs, but not nicely. There are poorly covered up twinges of meanness. "You can't wear that."

She looks down at herself. Specifically at the mostly pink and red rhinestones, ribbons, and lacing that makes up her outfit. "What's wrong with this?"

He doesn't even sugarcoat it, just drops some straight-up truth on her. "For one, you look ridiculous."

"It's appropriately themed," she defends.

"You look like a Valentine's disco ball. Like a package of candy hearts exploded on you, and not in a good way."

She throws him an I got ya nod with bonus I see what you're getting at, bro finger-pointing, which he grimaces at. "You're saying I should tone it down."

"Just drop it down a few notches."

"Dial it back."

"Reel it in some."

"I can do that."

 

&

 

When she tries to swirl her hair into a pretty updo on top of her head, Schmidt, who is beside her slathering on some of his sculpting chutney, smacks her hand out of the way.

"Ow, Schmidt."

"No," he tells her.

"But..."

"I'm doing a dishonorable thing, here, letting you peek inside the male psyche without so much as a bribe, or a contract of a sexually consenting nature, but men, more often than not, prefer their ladies to wear their hair down. Okay? Down. It's a weird, scientific thing, and, sure, in some impossibly small way it's probably offensive to hardcore 'feminists'--" This he says with finger quotes.

"Yeah," she heartily agrees, locking eyes with him in the mirror. She's newly changed, too, this time wearing a simple black dress that she once wore, actually, for her students' hamster funeral. It was a very respectful service.

"Just, think of it in terms of an animal attracting a mate, if that helps."

She tilts her head just so, furrows her whole face at him. "Still offensive. However, keep going."

"Does a peacock hide its feathers, or does it show them off in the best aesthetically pleasing way and say, 'here they are world, check this out'?"

"So, okay. You're saying I'm like a peacock and my hair are feathers and I should not hide them, but show them off, by... keeping it down?"

"Verbatim, yes. Word for word."

"That's some screwy logic, but in a way, it almost makes sense."

"Schmidt logic, yo."

"Ab-so-lutely. So, down. But," she says then, tone dipping straight into a whine while she stares at her mess of curls in the mirror, "when we're out, and it gets hot, and everything starts sticking in, like, these thick, noose-like tendrils--"

"Remember how you wanted to speed-date, but I, the very wise, very handsome voice of reason, stepped in and you promised to trust me?"

Slow, she says, "Yeah?"

"Trust me. I got this."

 

&

 

"I can't believe you're actually going through with this," Nick says to Jess with his cynicism dialed way up high. "Hasn't Schmidt's advice backfired enough times that we know NEVER TO DO THIS?"

"Man's got a point," says Winston, though he's a lot less hostile about it. They are both lingering near the front door, their combined skepticism having brought them over to where Jess is sliding on a cardigan. Maybe, also, this is a last-ditch attempt at rattling some sense into her.

Schmidt is doing some touch-ups in his room, but he hears the haters, ears like a bat. "Hey, man," he calls, "any previous failures have hence proven to be the fault of the advicee, not the adviser!"

"You suck at advice, Schmidt!" Nick yells. "The absolute worst!"

To Jess, Winston says, "Schmidt gives the kind of advice you're purposely supposed to do the opposite of. Like a good advice/bad advice column. Schmidt's the bad side."

"I'm sure it'll go fine," Jess tells them, all soft-voiced and soothing. She is feeling slightly more confident about the whole thing than she is anxious, so that helps. "Besides, I was destined for a night of spinsterhood, so even if things wobble over and go awry--"

"Which they will not," Schmidt very emphatically assures, striding out of his room in a cloud of nearly tangible body spray.

"Then, okay. I'm back where I started. And at least I get to have half of a Valentine's where I'm not in pajamas or having really basic sex with my ex. We had this one position, for holidays, sort of like--"

"Ohh-kay," Nick says, turned and bolting for the protective covering of his room. He has his own plans for the night, ones that involve Julia plus the giving of cheesy, just alarmingly terrible Valentine's gifts.

"Way too far," Winston agrees, following.

Nick calls over his shoulder, "Have a good time," not meaning it all, basically saying AT NO TIME EVER SHOULD YOU FOLLOW SCHMIDT'S ADVICE.

Schmidt, though, stays rooted in place. He gestures helpfully. "You were saying."

"Are we ready to go?" she asks instead.

He does a quick check. Taps his pants pockets, pats at his head, gets the air around him circulating for a proper whiff, cops a feel of himself. Not strange at all. "Keys, pocket. Hair, coiffed. Scent, banging. Body, fly. We're ready. Also, you look presentable as well."

"Aww. Thank you, Schmidt," she says.

 

&

 

"You know what we should have? We should have a soundtrack for tonight," Jess says from the driver's seat. Schmidt's messing with the radio settings from the passenger side, but he's being passive aggressive about it. "Ironically, though. No love songs! Love songs: out!"

Unsatisfied with the amount of Top 40 music currently getting air play, and none of it Rhianna, Schmidt slumps back against the seat, scowling. "A hundred percent of your listening material is love songs. What is this, are we in a tampon commercial? It's unnecessary."

"Okay, so, love songs, except we play them ironically."

"Are you understanding the word 'ironic'?"

"Come on, it'll be fun. We can have a theme."

 

&

 

Bryan Adams pumps loud through the car speakers, volume pushed all the way up. As he sings in his throaty, super Canadian voice about doing everything (and doing it for you), Schmidt rolls down his window, pokes his head out, and laugh-yells, "I LOVE THIS THEME!" into the night sky.

 

&

 

The club is crowded around the edges, where a bar wraps around in an L-shape leaving the middle of the room open for mingling, dancing, romance -- basically, any kind of macking. Except everyone's hanging out at couches or in booths where it's quieter, which is where Schmidt and Jess head. Only halfway there a familiar face, then body, lurches into view.

"What's up, Valentines!" Cece greets with some party-hyped enthusiasm, already two drinks in and working on a third. Kyle, who remains the worst, hovers close behind, chatting it up with a couple of sloppy-looking dudes.

"Oh, hey. Cecelia, hi!" Schmidt's voice rises a full octave with that, like he's inhaled some helium. He's shouting to be heard over the music, too, which only makes it worse. "You're here! What a surprise. Jess, look, Cece's here."

They're stopped by what Jess assumes must be the bathroom line, since they are getting some fairly rude stares from people squeezing by. "I can see that, but listen! You can't--" She flicks her fingers in front of his face to get his attention, because he is trying, and failing, to impress Cece with some subtle flexing of his muscles. Jess gets stern. "Schmidt, focus! Stay in the zone!"

"In the zone," he complies, reluctantly dragging his gaze away.

"Good, now stay there."

"Nothing but zone," he assures. "Zee-ohn."

It's just that -- Cece has on this skin-tight pink dress that shows off lots and lots of curves, in all places.

Jess pushes at Schmidt, bodily, hauling him towards a nearby empty booth. To Cece, she sings out, "Sorry, can't chat, we'll talk later. Byeeeee!"

Cece turns and watches them go, this slight, amused lift of her eyebrow. "Sure. Not a problem."

With Jess still urging him forward, Schmidt twists around and shouts the whole time at Cece, "See you later! You look stunning, by the way. Call me! I'll text you! Or you call me, it doesn't matter! Text is fine! The important thing is to keep our lines of communication open--"

 

&

 

Once settled, with Schmidt still pulling grump-face over being manhandled, Jess slaps her palms atop the table, ready to get this thing started. "Scope it out for me. Whatcha got?"

He gives the room a thorough once-over, honing in on specific clusters of men with a laser-like focus that might've been disturbing in any other situation. "Gimme some specs."

"Specs?"

"Yes. Specifics. You know, your prefs."

"Pref... erences?"

"What are you looking for here? A little T.D.H.," he starts rambling off, "some T.L.M., you want an int-man--"

"I'm... so confused."

"Tall, dark, and handsome. The ladies man. An intellectual--"

"Schmidt! I don't know!" She winces at that, like maybe someone in the next booth over might've heard her flare up of crazy. But she is unprepared for this level of commitment. "How does this usually work? You know, when it's just you and the boys?"

Schmidt sighs, as if that's an incredibly narrow question for such an intensely broad subject. "Wingmanhood? I don't know, Jess. It's an unteachable craft. An art. I can't just explain it. I'd need my laser pointer. A drawing tablet." Jess makes a face and a noise that say holy moly, get on with it, which he does, with another, more disgruntled sigh.

"First, search out a group of women varying in their levels of attractiveness. Ideally, fours through sevens. You never want to aim too low or too high," he FYI's, like that's the big secret, now revealed. "Completely derails the whole process. Then there's the pitch. With Nick, for instance, the idea is to always sell him as if he is a used, damaged car. Run-down, broken, carpet all stained, cops still need it for DNA; but there's potential there, maybe some fond memories."

"And that works?"

He wobbles his head back and forth, thinking it over. "Nine times out of ten. Tenth time it's slaps to the face."

"Usually I prefer even numbers, but tonight, I like me some odds. I like those odds."

"What's our angle?"

"Uh, I don't know, what angle?"

"There has to be an angle, Jess. A hook! Who am I? A brother, an ex, maybe a very attractive gay man you still have a hard time believing isn't pounding it to the ladies--"

She chuffs out a laugh, weirded out, as usual, by him. "Friend is fine."

Like she's just dealt him a rough blow, Schmidt exhales this ragged noise of suffering, hangs his head. All very melodramatic.

"What?"

"Just. It's a harder sell," he admits. Off Jess' not-following-along-at-all blank stare, he leans in closer, lays it all out. "If we're friends, and that's the sordid hook I'm using to get some guy to wanna do nasty, dirty things to you, guaranteed, that guy is going to wonder why I'm not doing nasty, dirty things to you myself. It's just how men operate."

Her whole face gets stuck on sour, as it almost always does when Schmidt reveals the inner-workings of his mind. "Well, we actually are friends. So."

An excellent point there, but he says around a shrug, "Real world etiquette rarely resembles wingman etiquette." Like that clears up anything.

"Wow. Yeesh! No manners on this one," she says in her 40's newscaster voice, to Schmidt, about Schmidt. He merely stares back, unblinking, so she lets out a lung-clearing exhale to get herself in the right mood. "Fine." And then, eyes rolling: "You wanna be my gay friend, Schmidt?"

"Yes, absolutely. More than anything. There's our hook."

"Or two of them, anyway." She smiles pointedly, gnarling two fingers before tapping them together. "Two hooks, touching sex-ay. Hooks. Penises. Bow-chicka-bow--"

"Stop it."

"So, that's it? That's how we do this thang? You're gay, and I'm a more sellable version of myself, and the rest works itself out?"

"Pretty much."

"Huh. I think I may have inadvertently wingmanned before. Go figure."

Schmidt flashes her some palm. "Tap it out," he demands, and she does, giving him a pretty enthusiastic high-five.

"Here we go," she says, pumped up.

 

&

 

"So," Jess says, sipping at something pink and fruity and quite slutty-making. Schmidt's beside her in the booth, and sitting across from them is a relatively attractive man dressed in a nice blazer, one that's appealing in color. Earth tones. It makes her think of warm gravel. "What do you do for fun? Me, I'm into crochet, both competitively and leisurely. You would not believe the competitive crochet circuit."

"No, sure," the guy says, breathing out a laugh, and it, like the blazer, is nice. So's his face. "I bet it gets pretty intense. Needles everywhere. Yarn all out of control. Ah, so many scarves!"

"Ah ha ha ha, okay," Schmidt cuts in, meanly sarcastic. His fake-laugh is louder than Jess' real one. "We get it, you're a jokester. L.O.L., man. L.O.L."

Jess jerks her elbow into his side, saying, "Schmidt," through a giant cover-up smile. Their wingmanning of this guy started out great, with them doubling up on him like some tornado-like tag-team duo, but as the conversation has gone on, so has Schmidt's boredom, and his attention, which more often than not keeps straying toward Cece.

"Sor-ry," is what Jess goes for, all overly apologetic that Schmidt's melting down like a tired three-year-old. "Sometimes he doesn't realize when he's being sassy, not classy."

The guy smiles. The view is great. It's like his teeth never end. They're like enameled, white washed picket fences inside a mouth. "You kidding me? It's cool. Totally cool. Not a problem. So, you crochet too?" he asks Schmidt, who goes immediately on the defense, scowling up a storm.

"Because I'm gay? Sir, how dare you. Maybe I'm a very butch gay. Maybe I'm so butch, people quietly suspect I'm not gay at all."

"But he is!" Jess jumps in with, hugging Schmidt tight around the shoulders. She gives him a good rattling. "So gay. Remarkably gay. Rainbow alert! Someone get this guy to a gay pride parade! Right, buddy?"

Schmidt just smiles at the guy, unnervingly so. The guy -- his eyes grow wide, and then wider, before finally he pushes his chair back. It nearly topples over in his haste to stand.

"So, hey. I seriously just remembered I left my friend hanging. I'm just gonna... go."

"Nice to meet you!" Jess calls after him, and the look he gives her is one of immense relief, like he's glad to have gotten away so easily. He's pretty much fleeing. "Schmidt!" she complains right after, turning on him with the kind of ferocity only she's capable of. Which is to say, she's frowning, but barely. "What you just did was the opposite of cool. That was lukewarm, okay. So completely tepid of you! You really boiled me over--"

"WHAT'S UP," he suddenly booms, loud and in her face. Then, way too smugly for a guy who has been trying to catch his reflection in his beer bottle all night, he says, "Ejection mode, in play. Holla!"

She stares and blinks and scoffs some. "What?"

"You've got to know when to bail out, Jess. Strap on that parachute, get your free fall on, feel the wind in your face--"

"I liked that guy!"

"He joked about yarn," Schmidt says, in a voice that could have also said, He claimed Hitler made awesome life choices.

"So what! That's right up my alley. You know that. That's my jam! I jam about yarn all the time."

Schmidt bails, lifting up and out of the booth with ease. He doesn't even acknowledge the yarn jamming. "I need a reboot," he says, smoothing out his tie, before skulking off towards the last known Cece sighting. Jess sighs.

 

&

 

"Yo! Hey, Schmidt! What're you two up to over there?" Cece yells over the music, still getting her dance on. She's worked up a nice, sweaty sheen that, of course, only makes her glow in that attractive, commercial-like way. Kyle, Schmidt notes, is nowhere to be seen.

"You know, friend stuff," he says, playing it cool. "Wingmanning."

"You or her?" is what Cece most wants to know. Her eyes crinkle at the corners, her concern already switched on, just as a precaution.

Schmidt pokes his tongue at the back of his teeth. That pretty much says it all, but he adds anyway, "Baby, I'm the wind beneath her wings. Straight up ballin'. It's how I do."

"Wait, you're helping Jess get laid?" Cece shouts. Four of the men closest to them turn in obvious interest, looking for whoever Jess might be. Schmidt shrugs, this modest gesture that she is meant to be charmed by, but it only stirs up some horror. "Oh, this has to stop," she says, pushing past him.

 

&

 

"No, it's okay!" Jess defends right away. "Schmidt's like a professional at this."

"Honey, look at you. You're gorgeous! Trust me when I say, you need no help in this department. Especially not this kind."

"I like it, though! It's fun."

"Is it? Is it really?"

They both look at Schmidt, who's settled in the booth once more, this time at a cocky recline. At their attention, he throws them an even cockier head nod, full of swagger.

"Semi-fun," Jess relents.

"I'm all for getting laid. That's my mantra, you know that. I will back that up. Get your laid on! But, Jess, do not do it like this, not with Schmidt's help! No. Absolutely not. It's vile."

"Sitting right here," he says.

Jess deflates some. "I guess I just wanted a nice, fun, casual evening out, where maybe I meet a cute guy and we fall into a quick banter, and one thing leads to another, before..." She bumps her palms together several times, lackluster about it. "You know."

"Yeah," Cece blows out. "I don't see how Schmidt helps with that. Schmidt can't even get himself laid."

"Now you're being ludicrous on purpose. I am a sexually potent machine. I'm always on, baby. Always on. Can't turn this off."

"You see what I'm saying, right?" Cece directs at Jess.

"How did I not see it before?" Jess marvels back.

"Jess, you got it, so flaunt it!" And then, all selfless and charitable, she tells her, "Go on. I'll keep this one distracted." That's a not-so-friendly thumb jerk at Schmidt before she's nudging at Jess, literally pushing her to get a move on. "Get out of here!"

"Really? You'd do that for me?"

"Yeah, well. Kyle's being a drop dead douchebag, so why not, right? Let him think he got ditched on Valentine's."

"Thank you! You're the best," Jess says through hugs and a smile.

Schmidt is smiling too, but for a different reason. And it's not really smiling he's doing, so much as leering. Lots of leering. "Keep me distracted, huh? How distracted are we talking here? Give me a base."

While Jess scoots past, Cece draws in a deep breath, eyes going ceiling-ward. "Lord help me."

"We can get biblical, baby. Say the word. You know that's on."

 

&

 

"Hiya, Trekkie," Jess greets some guy who is wearing a t-shirt that says BEAM ME UP, SCOTTY underneath this tight, worn-looking blazer. "Big fan?" she asks.

The guy leans way back, like he's trying to visually get a feel for her, and then tilts forward again, squinting. "Of?"

She falters somewhat. Gestures at his shirt. "You know. The whole Star Trek thing. Beam me up, Scotty," she recites in a half-decent impression.

The guy laughs. "Snap. You're one of those nerdy chicks. Alright, I got ya."

"You're the one with the shirt, Shirty."

"Yikes, girl. Claws back in. Chillax a sec."

 

&

 

Schmidt tells Cece, "Oh, I got game," and it's this totally insistent declaration, like he has a point to prove. "I got so much game, my street name is ESPN. Not even my real name. Just ESPN. That's what's up."

As usual when it's just her and Schmidt and their forced company, Cece's taken on an eye-rolling, agreeing-with-everything-to-lessen-conversation tactic. It's not working. "Oh, yeah. Uh-huh. You've got game."

"You don't believe me?" And thus it quickly becomes a personal challenge. "Fine, game-off. Boom! Welcome to the Thunderdome. Let's do this."

"I've already abandoned one man tonight, Schmidt, please don't make me do it to you too."

That, of course, is ignored. He slides across the booth's vinyl seating until he is right up on her, which gets him a hard stare that he also manages to miss. His posture because all liquid smooth, same with his attitude. Then he croons, deadly serious, sex-eyes included, "Baby, if you were words on a page, you'd be what they call fine print."

"God, no."

And so it begins.

 

&

 

"Hey, fun drink you got there," Jess tries, sliding up next to some man at the bar who is giving off major LONE WOLF vibes. Said drink appears to be cocktail in flavor, with a cute little umbrella, which likely means he's either: secure in his manhood, has incredibly fantastic taste, or he might be gay. Maybe even a combo of the three. "I always like the inclusion of a good tiny umbrella. There is nothing worse than when it rains specifically into your drink."

Which is when a second man suddenly cozies up and wraps his arm around Cocktail Drink guy, so. Probably gay, then.

 

&

 

"I'm not actually this tall," Schmidt confides to Cece in a low, provocative murmur. "I'm sitting on my wallet."

So much silence.

 

&

 

"Totally. I like cats too," Jess agrees with one sweater-vest wearing guy who has spent a solid ten minutes drilling her on her every feline opinion. It's actually sort of ruining animals in general for her. "I would definitely say that cats are, without a doubt, the cat's meow."

 

&

 

And still Schmidt is going. Lust-filled gaze locked on Cece's, he says, "Your lips look so lonely. Would they like to meet mine?"

Cece signals for a new round of drinks.

 

&

 

"Yup. I'm a teacher," Jess says, dull about it, waving a hand down her body like that explains, you know, every single thing about her. "Aaaand I love it. And it's great."

The guy she is currently keeping company with grins at her over the rim of his beer bottle. "I teach too," he says before taking a sip.

Her mood shoots right back up. "Really?"

He nods, is practically rocking back and forth with that, giving her another easy smile. "Sixth grade math. Bunch of hellions."

"That's so amazing! Not the hellion part; kids that age can be the worst, can I get a HOLLA!" With no holla actually given, she keeps on going, just trucks right past that like it never even happened in the first place. The guy, at least, looks more amused and possibly charmed than totally turned off. "The teaching, though. So great. And so rewarding."

He tries to play it off like he's in total agreement, like this is something they can bump some fists about, but he very obviously doesn't share her enthusiasm. "Oh god, yeah! Yeah. So... crazy rewarding. Like... 75% of the time, I'd say. 70%."

She points at him, all cheeky. "Math alert."

The guy laughs. He has this completely pleased look on his face, like he's surprised and delighted to find a sane and single woman on Valentine's Day, since it's a date that, historically, only the crazies and weirdos take advantage of.

"I'm Brent," he finally says. Which means: what up, she is totally in.

 

&

 

Cutting off, seriously, another crappy pick-up line, Cece whacks Schmidt across the shoulder, which he responds to with a less than manly yelp. "Look," she says, pointing across the club where Jess is having an actual extended conversation with a guy. It seems to be going fairly well and everything.

"Yes. Noted. Jess is hitting it off with someone. There are non-violent ways to tell a person."

"I think... they are... flirting?" That's Cece's best guess, based on the way Jess keeps puffing up into something that physically resembles an attacking, wild-limbed robot.

Schmidt observes this for a few seconds, narrow-eyed, before he draws his own conclusion. "Flirting? Are you kidding me? Do your eyes do anything other than hypnotically sparkle, woman? That," he says, "is bail-face."

"Bail-face," Cece repeats, clearly not seeing the same thing he's seeing.

"Jess is facially signaling to be bailed out right now, like an armless referee."

Cece says again, just as disbelieving as the first time: "Bail-face."

Quick, Schmidt downs some of his drink, prepared to heroically take charge by running interference.

Cece, though, snorts. "Please, she's having fun, Schmidt. Look at her! More like do-me-hard-against-the-bar-you-hot ass-nerd face." And then, just as that is said, Jess starts imitating a chokehold on herself.

"There it is again! Bail-face! Clearly this is a cry for help."

Cece has to lay out a hand to stop Schmidt, because he's in the process of hurtling himself up and out of the booth. Disregarded or not, he's still her wingman. There's a code. Honor. But Cece says, "Sit, Schmidt," as a pretty dominant command, so, you know. He sits.

 

&

 

"And that," Jess says, letting go of her own throat, "is how all movies starring Madonna usually make me feel."

"Ah."

 

&

 

Schmidt keeps trying to get a read on Jess' supposed facial signals. He's all tensed up, like an overprotective dog. The scrappy kind that sits in your lap and barks at everything.

Cece watches him watching Jess, her mind connecting some pretty insane dots. And then she starts to smile, small at first, but soon it stretches into this wide, knowing grin. "Hold up. Holy crap. You're jealous," she realizes, dropping it like some kind of truth-bomb. "Wow."

Schmidt's first response is to scoff, loudly, straight from his throat. "Me? Jealous?" And then he goes, "Oh, okay. I see what's happening here. You're getting confused by my scent," he tells her, no big deal. "There's a lingering woodsiness that tends to attract men, particularly of a homosexual orientation, but I'm not--"

"You," she says, slower now, "are jealous. That you're not the one hitting it off with Jess."

"That's completely..." Schmidt barks out a laugh. "Jealous," he says. "Because I'm not with Jess. Okay. Sure! Yeah! You got me."

"Very much so."

"Oh, okay then."

"Okay."

"I'm jealous."

"I know."

"Stop agreeing with me!" he lashes out, freaked out now. "There's like a very weird mental tennis match happening, very disorienting."

"I mean, I get it. You're invested, and a dude, and she's -- well, she's Jess."

"NO," he says, swiping a hand in his passionate denial. "No investment, none. Why are you doing this to me?" he legit whines. "Is this because I confessed to having several sex dreams where, fine, you may or may not have prominently starred--"

She cuts him off with loud noises of disgust, swatting at his arm. "Good god. You're foul, Schmidt. Absolutely foul."

"I'm not jealous," he insists.

Cece lets it go, but she's still got a little bit of an evil grin going on. "Fine, whatever. You're not jealous. Your junk absolutely does not want a private meet-and-greet with Jess' lady-junk. What do I know."

To himself, he goes, "Jealous. Please." Except he's still staring across the bar, still has his gaze lasered in on Jess.

 

&

 

It's only three minutes later that Jess finally returns.

She dumps herself beside Cece, just bonelessly drops right down, invading Cece's personal bubble like it ain't no thang.

"Hey there," Cece chirps, absolutely fine with this.

"I had to bail," Jess says, just this side of pitiful. She misses the triumphant what what! look Schmidt gives Cece, the same one that Cece ignores. "Reverse walk of shame. Wah wah wah waaaah. Sad trombone." By way of explanation, with it pretty much being the equivalent of an UGH, she says, "Turns out, he wasn't into my one-woman strangulation act, the one I use to interpret my complicated feelings regarding all Madonna movies. That always kills it! It's my go-to."

"Well, all I can say is good for you," Cece tells her with a comforting back rub. "He sounds like the worst."

Schmidt leans back, one leg hooked over the other. It is, at least as far as the inside of clubs go, about as pretentious of a stance as it gets. "I don't know, Jess, it almost sounds like -- I mean, to me anyway, I can't speak for Cece, but -- at one point you were facially pleading for help? That can't be right."

Jess throws her hands up. "Yeah, almost because I was! Where were you, bro? Where were you?"

Because Schmidt's stopped being subtle about his blame-throwing, and that's tipped over from ridiculous to full blown annoying, Cece checks out. She sighs, gently pushing at Jess to give her some exit room. "I should probably go find Kyle. Gee, where will I look?" she pretends to wonder, then gets sarcastic. "Maybe in the bathroom, where the idiot always passes out."

"So romantic," Jess murmurs. "Bye, Cece. Good luck."

Once Cece's gone, Schmidt checks in with his watch. "It's still early. There's still plenty of time to do this."

"No," Jess sighs. "Can we just go? Please?" She is absolutely 100% through with Valentine's, and that is a statistic lame ol' Brent can suck on.

 

&

 

"At least tonight wasn't a complete bust," Jess says, finding the silver lining in her less-than-ideal V-Day. "You got to spend some quality one-on-one time with Cece. Must've been fun," she blows out, sadly, thinking about her own lack of the f-word.

Schmidt doesn't say anything to that, since there are all sorts of confusing new Cece-induced thoughts and possible Jess-related revelations tumbling around in his mind like a washing machine of badness, but Jess' attention has gone to the radio anyway. She switches on Bryan Adams, then sighs and says, "This theme blows. Booooo." Doesn't stop her from singing along at the top of her lungs, though.

 

&

 

Finally decked out in her pajamas, just like most Valentine's of yore, Jess doesn't do anything other than let her whole body sag towards Schmidt when he drops onto the couch beside her. He has his nighttime attire on as well, which basically consists of jeans and a nicely threaded cotton t-shirt.

"Check it out," she notifies him with a depressed lift of her chin towards the TV where Dirty Dancing is playing. "Gettin' my Double D on." And then she exhales real big. "Only Patrick Swayze can de-funk me now."

"So, what," Schmidt says, not cool with this pity party she's so bent on throwing, "you spend one Valentine's in six years single and it's the end of the world? C'mon."

"As we know it. Just like R.E.M. predicted. And I don't feel fine. I bet that's why they broke up. Why anyone breaks up. Just too much truth-telling."

"Alright," he says, sitting up straighter, which makes Jess slightly stir to as well. "You have to snap out of this, Jess. Right now. Right now."

"Tomorrow, boss. When the world rights itself once more."

"Fine, so you're independently romantic. Who cares. I'm single. Perpetually, if you really must know. Laser cut that onto a plaque, whatevs."

She tilts her head back against the cushions, staring up at him. "Like as a belated birthday present? Or an early Hanukkah gift?"

"No, like a -- like, in general. Metaphorically."

"Got ya. Spoiler alert, though, I have made a mental note of that."

He angles in closer, one arm hooked over the couch behind her. "You're a catch, Jess. Legit. Not even of the day, either, I'm talking like -- the entire month. Catch of the year. You can't let one bad night get you down. It happens, even to the best of us."

She gives him a genuine smile. "Aw. Schmidt. You always say the nicest things, when you're not saying the grossest things."

"Wingman, yo," he hollas. "Represent."

It's a nice moment. It's one that keeps on going, too, with Schmidt staring at Jess, and Jess staring back, and Dirty Dancing offering up a pretty wonderful soundtrack in the background.

Then Schmidt starts to lean forward. His gaze drops down to Jess' mouth, only she pulls back with a light laugh. "Schmidt, you can't try to kiss me every time we have a--"

Only, what up, Schmidt fully commits to the kiss. He goes right for it. It's a little stiff at first, and weird too, because Jess is still talking, but very quickly she quiets, going completely still. There's three seconds of absolute awkwardness, then, where Schmidt is the only one actively participating, where Jess seems torn between violently rejecting him or laughing, but then something just clicks into place -- right part of Dirty Dancing on TV, or maybe the universe has perfectly aligned itself, who knows -- but Jess just goes at him, big with the reciprocation. It's hard and messy with her hands on his face and his in her hair.

"This is happening, then, this is definitely real," Schmidt's saying, right up against her mouth. They start tugging each other up off the couch, stumbling towards his room.

"Wait," she says, on the breathy side, with her thumb pointed towards her side of the loft, "we should probably -- it seems like this is heading -- no glove, no love!"

"No worries, it's cool, it's cool," he tells her, all smooth and lilting. They are still fastly heading towards the point of no return, which just so happens to be Schmidt's bed.

"Cool, okay, but I have a -- it's like this bulk package, of like a hundred of them--"

"A hundred condoms?" he says, pulling back with his eyes gone wide. This is what stops them.

"Condoms a-plenty," she confirms. And then, "I got it at a Costco."

Schmidt lets that number -- 100; that implies a whole lot of between-the-sheets activities; maybe on the floor, or against the wall, possibly with the lights on -- dance around inside his brain some, horrifyingly large as it is. For half a second, anyway, and then he's tugging at her once more, only this time they head for Jess' room, him grinning big the whole way there.

"About that holiday-only, very, very specific sexual position you mentioned earlier," he says, leaving that hanging there with a dot-dot-dot of approaching romance.

Jess says, big on a southern belle accent, "You mean, this ol' thang?" with the top three buttons of her pajama top popped open and Schmidt working on the fourth, and then she pounces on him.

 

&

 

(Condom count come morning: 97.)

 

&

 

The end.