On the Tuesday before Christmas break, Mindy stumbles into the teacher's lounge bleary-eyed and hungover. She doesn't mean to be, obviously, like what kind of lady do you take her for? It's just that last night Jocelyn texted her that she was too hot to be all hung up over Daniel still and, look, maybe she had one too many vodka cranberries, but like — she's just over thirty and she's a grown woman! She can totally do what she wants.
Still. It may have been a little bit foolish. Mindy pours herself a cup of burnt coffee before she sits down to nurse her headache. It's throbbing quietly at her temples. She breathes, like how she learned from her yoga class. The one that she goes to once every, well, she's a really busy person.
"You look awful," she hears from next to her.
Mindy jumps before she realizes it's just BJ. Ugh. BJ and his blue, blue eyes. "Fuck off," she manages, taking a sip of coffee. It's disgusting.
"And it's only Tuesday," BJ continues. "Isn't it a little early to be phoning it in?"
"For your information, my seniors are in the middle of a very riveting documentary — "
BJ flashes her a quick, teasing grin. She stops talking, feeling suddenly hot and itchy. Goddammit.
"So why'd you go out?" He unfolds his newspaper carefully, running his eyes across the Boston Globe headlines. He says it so mildly, like he doesn't really care.
"Joce," Mindy says by way of explanation.
"Joce doesn't go out on Monday nights either. What was the occasion?"
Mindy takes another quick swig of coffee, wincing. "She thought I needed to distract myself from the Daniel breakup, that's all. Not a big deal."
BJ turns the page, nodding. "How's that going?" he asks, so measured and calm that Mindy kind of wants to throw her coffee in his face.
"You seemed like you were pretty into him."
Mindy pauses. There should be some kind of rule. Something that says that if you break up with someone, you can't sympathize about their later boyfriends. She should be still thinking about Daniel right now — Daniel with his wavy dark blond hair and sweet mouth. Instead she starts to feel her heart pound. Whether that's from the caffeine kicking in or BJ, she doesn't know.
"He was okay," she finally says.
BJ folds his newspaper and nods to the clock. He nudges her with an elbow. "Well, I hope he knows what he's missing out on," he says, sticking the paper beneath his arm. "I gotta go. First period class. I'll swing by your office later?"
"Yeah," Mindy says.
He gives her a little salute. She watches him go.
BJ asks her out just after five months of her first year there. They've been flirting for weeks — she kind of knew it was coming — but Mindy loves that fizzy anticipation of knowing something inevitable's coming. She spends two hours each morning getting ready for work, making sure every aspect is perfect. It's ridiculous, but her third period class and his fourth period one overlap in the same room three days a week, and she always lingers there, erasing the whiteboard, waiting for him to stroll in so they can have a low murmured conversation while his juniors filter in around them.
"Mr. Novak was hitting on Miss Kaling again," she hears one of his students say in the hall as she passes them by. It makes her all warm inside, like she's taken a sip of hot honeyed tea.
It's such a bad idea to get involved with someone at work, but, well, she can't help it. She's 24 and teaching Latin to high schoolers — it's not the sexiest job. It's amazing he's interested at all.
"What are you talking about? You're young and hot," Jocelyn says when they're making margaritas in the blender at home.
"He's lucky you're interested," Brenda adds.
But it's different when it's coming from the Hot Guy at Work instead of your friends. Especially when it's the Hot Guy of Mindy's freaking dreams, the guy she spotted her very first day of work with his rolled-up sleeves and slightly rumpled collar. Oh, she had thought.
(And then she stalked him on Facebook because duh. Harvard undergrad. English major. Super smart. Super hot. Mindy goes through every single one of his photos.)
On their first date, he picks her up at her apartment in Somerville. They could have both met at the restaurant in Porter Square, but he insists — walking from the T stop to meet her on her front porch. Jocelyn and Brenda not-so-subtly watch the living room window on the second floor. When she glances up, she can see their faces plastered against the glass. God, it's fucking embarrassing.
"Sorry," she says, when BJ tilts his head up to follow her gaze.
He smiles. It's so sweet, she thinks, the slow way it spreads up to his eyes. "Don't be. I guess this was a long time coming."
They walk together down the street, their shoulders bumping. When they reach the end of the block, he stretches out his hand and laces his fingers through hers. She doesn't remember what they talk about after that, only recalls the electric feeling of him holding her hand.
At the end of the night, he walks her back. Their steps are slow, long and lingering, neither of them wanting the evening to end. He drops her off at the porch again, the light above them flickering.
"So," he says. "Goodnight. I had a really good time."
"Me too," she says, nervous and fluttering.
BJ smiles again, almost as if he knows what's coming. Maybe he does. Because when she leans up to kiss him, he cups her face in his hands like he's been expecting it. His lips are warm and chapped and taste faintly of the ice cream they had at JP Lick's.
"Okay," he says when they break apart. His cheeks are pink.
"Okay," Mindy repeats and tilts her head back to receive a second kiss.
"It's freezing," BJ says when she runs into him in the parking lot before school the next day.
It is. It's cold as motherfucking balls, and Mindy's got her scarf wound all the way around her face and a fat coat on that was the cutest one she could find. BJ's face is bare. He doesn't even have a hat on, and he's wearing a dove gray peacoat that's buttoned up all the way to the top. She doesn't know how he isn't just a frozen corpse. The wind is biting at at her exposed forehead.
"Why don't you have a hat?" she says and bites her bottom lip before she can add to it, which is — "Why don't you have the hat I bought you last year when we were dating?"
BJ gives her a one-shoulder shrug. "I lost mine."
"It's somewhere in my house," BJ adds on quickly. "I'll try to find it over the break."
Mindy's got a countdown on her computer. It's probably unprofessional in some capacity, but she can't be bothered. She needs a fucking vacation. It's 12 degrees out, and she's been fantasizing about white sand beaches and aquamarine water.
Also starring in her fantasies may or may not be BJ, holding her hand as they walk along the surf at sunset, but Mindy doesn't have to divulge anything she doesn't want to. Even she knows that fantasizing about her ex-boyfriend begging her on his knees to forgive him is kind of too much.
It's not her fault if she dreams about it. She can't control her subconscious.
"What are your break plans?" she asks him, her breath puffing out into a white cloud.
"Jesse keeps telling me to watch Westworld. I think I'm going to binge it."
Mindy wrinkles her nose. "Yeah, Daniel kept saying it was great, but I don't have that HBO Go money."
"You want to come over? Watch it with me?"
"Um." Mindy stuffs her hands deeper into her pockets.
They're almost at the front doors of the building, and she has this tight feeling in her chest that this offer is a parking lot offer. That if they open the door and walk inside, the offer expires and she's not going to get this chance again. Her pulse picks up, this thud-thud-thudding of adrenaline spiking her heartbeat.
"Yeah, okay," she says, fast, so she can't take it back.
BJ opens the door for her. "Cool. I'll text you." He gestures to the left. "I gotta drop some stuff at my office. I'll see you in the lounge?"
She nods, not trusting herself to say anything back.
Thank god there aren't any students around to see this.
Mindy stays late after school because she's technically the Latin Club advisor except that would require students to actually be in Latin Club, which high schoolers are decidedly not. She has six kids sign up at the beginning of the year because they wanted the free pizza she bought, but since then only two have regularly turned up. Mostly they ask her for help with Latin homework, and Mindy spends most of the time browsing Facebook on her phone.
Today there's a cold warning in effect and no one shows up. Mindy grades tests for an hour in an empty classroom, playing Christmas music off Spotify. She's half-singing, half-mumbling All I Want for Christmas, veering into full-blown singing because, well, her voice is pretty good and who doesn't love Christmas carols, when BJ knocks on the open door.
"Hey," he says. "Nice karaoke."
The tinny notes of the music suddenly sound too loud. She fumbles for the phone and turns it off. "None of my kids showed up. I was just putting off going outside."
BJ leans down and picks up a few stray pieces of paper that have fallen out of the recycling bin and tosses them back in. His button-down is crinkled and white, with the shirt sleeves rolled up to the elbows. They always have the heat blasting in the school, and there are beads of sweat dotting BJ's hairline. He looks so fucking good, it's unfair. Mindy wants to tug his tie loose, undo the top button of his shirt.
"None of my kids turned up either," he says. BJ runs the most pretentious club of all time, about reading great books or whatever — Mindy's only ever half-listened when he's talked about it because, gross.
"So what do you want?" Mindy says, trying for an unaffected air. Who cares about him, la la la.
"Nothing. Just saying hi."
Mindy stares at the top of the test she's grading. She can't remember — how did this kid do? She ends up writing 100% on top of the page. "Hi."
"Hi Min," BJ says, grabbing a chair and sitting across from her desk.
She curls her fingers around her pen. It's something about the way he says her name, how his mouth curls lovingly around the word. Fuck fuck fuck.
"You know, most people don't spend this much time with their exes," Mindy says. "You have a problem, Benjamin."
"My mom always said I was the problem child," BJ says, sounding unbothered.
"Your mom was right."
"It's okay. I always have your mom. She loves me."
It's infuriating how right he is. Mindy bites her cheek to keep from an automatic retort. BJ gets under her skin more than anyone she's ever met. Instead she straightens her stack of tests.
"Walk me out?" she says.
His face brightens, as if he was waiting of her to ask. "Sure," he says. "Let me go get my stuff."
When they break up — a year, four months, and seventeen days later (but who's counting) — Mindy knows it's coming. It's not any one thing, just a sense of queasiness that sits in the pit of her stomach and doesn't let go. She wakes up for weeks thinking that it'll happen at any minute now, even when his arm's still warm and slung around her middle, and she's blinking into the light streaming in through his haphazard blinds. She can feel him shrink back when she touches him, her fingers gentle and light against his t-shirt.
He's nice about it. As nice as he can be when he's stammering and avoiding her eyes.
"I just, I keep thinking about it," he says, staring at the floorboards. "And shouldn't I want us to be something more by now? Shouldn't I be sure?"
Fuck him and his need for certainty.
What does it even mean? Mindy doesn't know what sureness is. She's sure that she loves him — or at least she thinks she's sure. In romcoms, they're always so sure, and Mindy's not certain it's like that exactly.
"There aren't any guarantees in life," her mom says when Mindy brings this up one afternoon over cups of tea and lazy television-watching.
It's not exactly a reassuring pep talk.
And it turns out for all BJ's notions of wanting "sureness" and "certainty," what he really wants is to date someone young and hot and blond, so fuck that too. Mindy calls him a whole variety of choice words while she eats an entire container of caramel popcorn and Joce and Brenda rub her back soothingly.
At least it's summer vacation so she doesn't have to see him at work the next day. Thank god for small mercies. Mindy teaches a small private course in Latin at a summer cram school and takes a cruise with her parents and her brother in August. She watches all of Criminal Minds on Netflix and reads like ten Meg Cabot books and loses a ton of weight due to breakup depression, so yeah. She doesn't have a boyfriend anymore, but at least she looks totally fuckable, which is the important thing, right?
(Though, she supposes, the point of being fuckable is to have someone fucking you.)
"Oh my god, you look amazing!" her friends say. "New diet?"
Yeah, Mindy wants to retort, it's called getting-dumped-by-my-douchebag-ex-boyfriend-so-you-lose-interest-in-all-sustenance-ever-again.
She can't avoid BJ forever though. On the first day back at work, she runs into him in the hallway right as she's hauling in a box of stuff from her car. He looks good, his hair a little shorter than when she saw him last, checking something on his phone. Mindy stops dead, unsure of what to do, sweaty and out of breath.
"Uh," BJ says. "Hi. You look…good."
Mindy blushes immediately. "Thanks," she mumbles and veers straight to her office.
Later she replays the encounter in her head, wondering what it meant. Good as in he wants to get back together good? Or was he just being polite? Did he miss her like she missed him? Did he think about her ever?
Probably not, Mindy thinks to herself, and tries to push it out of her head.
It's not like she's holding a torch or anything. She swears. It's been like months and they're friends now, whatever that means. Like weirdly close friends. One of her best friends, she supposes, though that's even weirder, and also, she kind of thought guy-girl best friendships were magical unicorns that didn't actually exist? (Because When Harry Met Sally was the best movie ever, but it's a movie. No one actually falls in love like that.)
He's just being particularly nice to her these days. Getting in the holiday spirit, maybe. And fine, maybe she is holding a torch just a little bit. A flickering match would be more accurate. It's hard not to when she sees him all the time, and he's always stealing bites of her lunch and teasing her about her love of shitty pop music and McDonald's. Mindy has never gotten over BJ's goddamn eyes.
She's thinking about it when she pulls into her parking spot. Today's the last day of school before Christmas break, and she's just as antsy as her students. She's got Life of Brian to show her classes — nevermind it's not appropriate or barely related to Latin — and a whole bag of Hershey's Candy Cane Kisses in her top left drawer. She's looking forward to crushing candy on her phone while her kids gossip quietly in the glow of the screen.
BJ knocks twice on the roof of her car, his messenger bag slung over his shoulders. He's wearing his hat, Mindy notices, and her heart does that weird jumpy thing it likes to do whenever he's around.
"You found it," she says, opening the door.
He grins. "Yeah, I dug through my coat closet."
She shouldn't be emotional about this. She shouldn't. But she is. "Cool," she says, trying to seem unaffected.
"I got you something." BJ digs a gloved hand into his bag and emerges with a beautifully wrapped present. It has a silver bow stuck to the top. He passes it over to her.
She stares down at it. "Oh. I — I don't have anything for you."
"You didn't tell me we were doing presents," she says. "You said that materialism is what causes societies to break down, and we should be rejecting consumerism for a more simplistic life, and also that you're Jewish, so this is all just bullshit. You literally said that to me."
BJ shrugs, unbothered. "I saw it. It reminded me of you."
Mindy opens it, tearing the tape off neatly. Inside, beneath folded tissue paper, is a little metal pin in the shape of a hamburger. She laughs.
"We had just been talking about McDonald's again, and I was at the Pru with my mom — "
"I love it," Mindy cuts him off. "I'm gonna wear it."
"It's dumb." The brim of his hat's ridden up enough that Mindy can see his ears reddening. His reaction is better than the present.
Mindy shakes her head, still laughing. She leans up on her tiptoes and kisses his cheek. He smells familiar, his skin soft and cool beneath her lips. She lingers for a breath, unable to help it, and he catches her by the elbow, pulling her in to him. BJ kisses her with a ferocity that surprises her. Her eyes flutter closed as she grabs the front of his coat, hanging onto him for balance. He tastes of coffee.
"Way to go, Miss Kaling!"
"Yeah, get it!"
BJ pulls away, cheeks flushed. "All right, guys, get inside," he yells to the kids passing by. He ducks his head, looking down at her. "Hey," he says, soft.
"Hey," she says back, suddenly shy.
He looks down at her hand still holding his coat. When she tries to move it, he reaches up and folds his hand over hers. It feels good, solid, even through their gloves.
"Merry Christmas," he says, leaning his forehead against hers.
"Merry Christmas," Mindy echoes.