What happened was: they got married for the insurance.
Which is crazy, and felt crazy at the time, but so did the idea of Nick maybe-probably having thyroid cancer. At least according to his ultrasound results. Probable enough that he needed exploratory surgery and maybe radiation and all kinds of things that sounded hella scary and turned out to be very, very expensive. Probable enough that it was desperate times, and everyone knew what those called for.
It was Schmidt's idea.
They'd gone back to the loft numbly after Nick came out into the waiting room looking pale, followed by a guy in a white coat who explained what they'd found. (Later Jess couldn't remember a single thing the doctor said, though she remembered nodding through the whole conversation. Schmidt and Winston didn't seem to be in much better shape. Thank god for Cece, who'd actually listened and remembered it all and written everything down on a legal pad back at the apartment when everyone kept asking her again what it all meant.)
They took turns showering off the night on the beach. When Jess came back out in clean, non-sandy clothes, her hair up in a wet bun, everyone was still sitting around the kitchen table looking freaked out. (Cece: frowning at her phone. Winston and Schmidt: still poking at the scrambled eggs Schmidt had made them all. Nick: hunched over at the far end, staring at his plate without eating anything.)
"Okay," she said, and smacked the table with her hands when she sat down. "Ideas?"
It took two hours before she'd admit they really had nothing. It was like a bad riddle without a punchline: How do you get some serious medical care for an underemployed bartender without insurance?
Suggestions she'd written down on the there-are-no-bad-ideas list in front of her:
- Pretend to be homeless and go to the shelter clinic on the next block.
- Sell plasma.
- Move to Mexico.
- Obamacare??? (That had led them down a confusing and unhelpful Google wormhole.)
- Insurance through the bar?
- Get a fake ID and pretend to be Schmidt, to use his work insurance. ("It's the Cadillac of plans!" Schmidt had moaned several times. "I wish I could just give it to you, buddy!")
(At one point Jess said, "What about your family?" She actually didn’t really know anything about Nick's family. He didn’t talk about them much. Or, like, ever.
"No," said Nick, even terser than usual.
"But--" said Jess, and then saw both Schmidt and Winston shaking their heads at her. Okay. Well. She let it drop.)
Staring at the list, she felt like she was in a bad dream. How could this really be happening and how could there be nothing they could do? Her stomach was in knots and she was pretty sure she was going to cry in the next three-and-a-half minutes but maybe if she went to make herself tea no one would notice. She'd stopped looking at Nick's end of the table (looking at his face) half an hour ago. Because. She just couldn't.
Schmidt suddenly lifted his head out of his hands, eyes wide.
"Oh my god," he said. "I've got it. We could get married.”
"What now??" Jess said at the same time Nick said, "What the hell, Schmidt?"
"It's the only thing that makes sense," Schmidt said, sitting up straight and picking up steam. "I kept thinking how much it sucks that I can't get you on my PPO--" he over-enunciated each letter – “because of the Prop 8 nonsense.” He waved a hand dismissively. “But I just remembered, AssStrat provides domestic partner benefits!” He held up his phone, grinning. “Thank you, too many emails from HR.”
Nick was violently shaking his head back and forth.
“What? No. No no no.”
“We just have to prove we’ve been living together for long enough to qualify as common-law married,” Schmidt said. He had his shit-eating grin on. “Nine-plus years, buddy,” he pointed between himself and Nick. “Ten next spring. Who could turn down a nice couple like that?”
“Schmidt, I am not gay marrying you to get on your insurance benefits!” Nick shouted, voice cracking.
“It’s not actual gay marriage, it’s a domestic partnership!” Schmidt shouted back at an equal volume. “And you sure don’t seem to have a problem with me cooking your dinners or balancing your checkbook.”
“You balance my checkbook?!” Nick said, looking aghast.
“Guys, guys,” Winston interjected, before things could get any more out of control. “A little focus here.”
Nick and Schmidt each folded their arms and glowered at each other, in a way that would have made Jess laugh if the circumstances were different.
“Can someone please explain to Schmidt why his idea is crazy?” Nick said.
“Well, all your respective girlfriends might be hard to explain,” Cece offered.
Schmidt shot Cece a strange look, which Jess chose to ignore.
The table lapsed into silence again and Jess found herself focusing hard on shading in the circles her handwriting had made on the list so she didn’t have to look at anyone else.
“You could marry Jess," Schmidt mumbled, looking intently at a groove in the dining room table where he was running his thumbnail back and forth. Jess looked up fast to see everyone else staring at him. He shrugged and looked over at her. "Jess, you have insurance, right?"
Jess nodded dumbly. All hail the LA public school system teachers’ union.
“Well, perfecto,” Schmidt said, over-pronouncing the last word in the way that meant he was still a little annoyed, but Jess could see him warming to his topic. "Turns out you two crazy kids fell for each other. Roommates, shared shower shenanigans--" ("Ew!" said Jess) "--hormones everywhere, that honeymoon period when you do it in every position you can--" ("JAR," said Winston and Nick at the same time) "--and then you couldn't help it! You just eloped! Badda bing badda boom, you file some papers at City Hall, and bam, one more dependent on that healthcare plan, please."
Nobody said anything for a long minute. Jess was trying to figure out the inevitable flaw in the plan and she could tell from everyone else's faces they were, too, but--
"I… can't find anything wrong with it," Winston said, frowning. "It's absolutely insane. But we definitely don't have anything better. And I can't believe I'm about to say this -- I think it just might work."
Schmidt was beaming now, looking back and forth between Nick and Jess like he didn't understand why they weren't.
"Guys!" he said. "It's gonna be okay!" He grabbed Nick's hand where it was lying on the table. "You're going to live!"
Nick jerked his hand away and pushed back his chair.
"Nobody ever said I wasn't going to live, Schmidt!" he said, standing up, and oh, thank god he was angry again. Silent, hunched over Nick had been freaking her out all day.
Nick stomped over to the kitchen but didn't seem to know what to do when he got there, so he leaned against the counter, arms crossed, and glowered at them. (He winced as he settled against the counter, and oh yeah, his back, she couldn’t believe she'd forgotten what started this all.)
Jess had a complicated, interesting feeling in her chest. (Married! To NICK! What the HELL!)
"Will they--" she started. "I can just… do that? They'll let me?"
"Abso-frigging-lutely," Schmidt said, still grinning. "I read all the fine print on my plan last year. Yours is probably the same."
Beside Jess, Cece was looking something up on her phone.
"You can apply online for a marriage license in Los Angeles County,” she said. Jess took a deep breath. Wow, this was happening fast.
"You really think I should do this?" she said to Cece and for a minute it was just the two of them, like it had always been.
"You can get it annulled in a year or whatever," Cece said. And then, a little softer: "But you don't have to. Don't do it if you don't want to." Her voice was firm, and it was another paragraph in their long conversation called Taking Care Of People: You Are Not Obligated To.
Jess frowned and let herself think about doing that -- saying she couldn't, saying it was too weird, that they'd think of something else -- to see how refusing felt. It felt wrong. And that was how she made her decisions, so that was that.
"I'll do it," she said, looking at Schmidt instead of Nick.
Schmidt clapped his hands together once and did double finger guns at her. He was so excited that she couldn't help smiling. (It had been a fairly teary morning on many sides, even if everyone had been polite enough not to comment.)
"So it's settled!" he said.
"Um, no," said Nick. Everyone turned to look at him. He had one of his extra-frowny glares on and his arms folded even tighter than before.
"No way," he said. "No. This is nuts! Are you all crazy?!"
What followed involved a lot of yelling; Schmidt and Nick in the bathroom, where Schmidt had followed him when he'd tried to stalk off; Winston, over his shoulder, as he left Nick's room where he'd gone to have "a calm, reasonable conversation"; Winston and Schmidt at each other, briefly, over what the hell that comment was supposed to mean, until Jess broke it up. Etcetera.
Cece took off at some point and Jess spent the afternoon dozing on the couch (turned out sleeping on cold beach sand wasn’t all that restful) while Winston disappeared for his own nap and Schmidt went to the grocery store to stress-shop. After a long time Nick came out of his room and got a beer before slumping on the other end of the couch and turning on ESPN with the volume low. Jess curled on her side and watched him through her lashes while she tried to figure out what to say.
"I know you're watching me," he said, without looking away from the screen and she took a deep breath and opened her mouth.
(She didn’t say much that was new, really. It was just so different talking to Nick when they were alone.
But some of the things she said were new. Things like: I like you, too. Like: I really want you to stick around.)
(“Plus,” she added, hoping he’d get that look, the one where he got that tired smile in spite of himself. “You can pay me back in Nick Bucks.”)
Nick was back in his room by the time Schmidt came back with the groceries and Jess was still on the couch but sitting up, checking her email on her phone.
"Okay, listen," he said the second he walked in, kicking the door shut behind him and heading toward the kitchen with his armload of bags. "I think we just need to tell Nick--"
"He said okay," Jess said. "He said he'd do it."
Schmidt stared at her for a second and thudded his bags onto the kitchen island.
"Oh, now he will," he said. "Of course. Well. Good." He had his huffy voice on but when he turned to head back down for the rest of the groceries Jess could see him smiling.
Jess finds the notepad in the bottom drawer of her desk in August. She's organizing her school supplies because it suddenly seems really important to know what exactly she has even though she's not going to get to go back-to-school supply shopping this weekend because she's apparently not going back to school this year because that's what happens when you get fired and hey, check it, she's totally over the part where she cries about it, she's just trying out all her pens on a blank piece of paper, scribbling in circles to see which ones work and which ones should be thrown away, no matter how good they maybe once were.
The list is on the second page of a legal pad, and the blank page on top still has the impressions of Cece's firm writing, outlining everything the doctor said that first awful day.
Let's Get Nick Better Jess had written in big letters across the top of the second page, above the list of terrible ideas for free medical care. Seeing it again is so surreal it's almost like finding something she read about once in a book. It's been months and months now and in the rush of everything that came afterward she'd almost entirely forgotten this.
It was like something that had happened to someone else and it takes a few seconds to remember that it's actually true. It happened and it worked. She got married to Nick. And she still is, actually. Married. To Nick. Nick who's been driving her crazy all week by being nice to her after she got fired, when last weekend he bitched her out for five minutes for making friends with a guy at the hardware store and spent half of Saturday complaining that she left too many bobby pins in the bathroom.
The list goes three quarters of the way down the page and the very last thing on it says 'get married?????'
So yeah. That happened.