Kristen’s super excited about the apartment complex she’s just moved into. It’s got a communal courtyard that divides the units on either side, like something straight out of Singles. It might've been why she decided to rent here to begin with, after moving out of the apartment she shared with Suzie. Suzie and Jack moved into a place of their own because that's what happens when you hit your mid 20s--your friends decide to settle down and shit) and Kristen decided to just get a studio, rather than finding a new roommate. She still can’t believe Suzie shacked up with Jack; Kristen can't even find someone she wants to see more than once, much less live with.
Her new place is shaping up to be pretty awesome, though. She’s been there about a week and almost all of her things are now out of boxes. Kristen hasn't met any of her neighbors yet, just done some vague nodding in the hallway.
That changes after two random cats start bugging her when all she's trying to do is garden for the first time in her life, because she can.
“Where’d you come from?” Kristen asks when one curls behind one of her bent knees.
The cat meows in return.
“Oh really? I hear New York’s nice this time of year. How’d you get so far?”
Just then, another one meows loudly and nudges at Kristen’s other leg.
This one’s black, the other white.
“Oh, I see,” she says, turning to the white one. “You brought your driver along.”
They both meow now, and then (of course) walk right through her flower bed.
“God damn it,” Kristen mutters, her soil all fucked up. They run away and Kristen glares after them. “See if I ever make friendly conversation again!”
She watches to see where they’re going, but loses sight of them. Probably some neighbor, she thinks. Wonderful.
She gets back to work.
Later, Kristen’s lounging on one of the chairs in the courtyard, after having showered all the dirt off her. Her eyes are closed, she’s nodding along to some Patti Smith, when something jumps on top of her, making her gasp and jolt upward.
“Oh, it’s you,” she says disapprovingly to the black cat. “You suck, you know that?”
The cat just stares at her.
Kristen rolls her eyes. “Where’s your partner in crime?”
“Jackson!” she hears suddenly, and looks up to one of the windows. There’s a dude with curly hair looking out from it, frown on his face.
The cat sprints away and up the wall and fire escape steps, toward his apartment.
Kristen lifts off her sunglasses, even though all that does is cause her to squint up at the dude, hand shielding her eyes.
“Sorry about that,” he yells down. It’s more of a mumble than a yell, really. His voice is soft, kind of flat, but it carries.
“Whatever, man,” she says.
He stares at her for a moment, lips parted and Kristen thinks they’re about to start a conversation until he just nods quickly and ducks back inside, closing the window to his balcony right after Jackson scurries inside.
“Nice to meet you too,” Kristen mutters, flipping her glasses back down.
The dude had kind of a sweet face, Kristen thinks later on when she’s making dinner.
“So, Jackson,” Kristen says the next day when she’s once again in the garden and once again having to deal with two pests. She gave up gardening about 10 minutes ago and is now just letting them climb all over her. “I’ve been thinking about it and I don’t think it’s very fair that No Name here made you her driver. New York is a long ways away, buddy. Did you even split the cost of gas?”
Jackson lets out a cry. Kristen turns to No Name and shakes her head in disapproval. “Weak, man. Totally weak.”
No Name meows.
“Jackson would never be Alabama’s driver,” comes a deadpan voice from behind her.
Kristen jerks to a sitting position. She’s been flat on her back on the grass once she’d realized resistance was futile.
“Oh, it’s you,” Kristen says to Curly Haired Dude. Yeah, definitely a sweet face.
He squints down at her in confusion. “Yes, it’s me. You don’t know me.” He says the last part half like a question, like maybe they really might know each other but he’d just completely forgotten.
“Only saw you on that balcony the other day, dude. I’ve deduced you’re my neighbor who owns two unruly cats, that’s about it.”
He frowns, chewing on his lip. “Well. All cats are unruly, by default. I mean, those are just facts.”
He sounds a mixture of befuddled and earnest and his voice holds this air of sarcasm that Kristen could completely live in. She finds herself smiling up at him, feeling her usual shyness overtake her, but also thinking how okay she is with that. How okay he probably is with that, too.
“Alabama, huh?” she says instead, curling her hand around Alabama’s head and watching her jerk away. “Better than No Name.”
Jesse scoffs. “I would never insult her in such a manner.”
He’s still standing and it’s kind of awkward, talking like this.
“So, he runs this joint, huh?”
Jesse blinks in confusion and Kristen stands up, because really, too awkward. “You said Jackson would never be her driver, so I assume he calls the shots,” she clarifies.
“Oh,” Jesse says, as both cats curl around his legs now. “Yes, absolutely. We’re at his beck and call.”
Kristen hums. “I dunno, Miss Alabama,” she says, scooping her up. “I think you should consider a coup d'etat.”
She looks back at the dude, who now has a small smirk on his face, like he’s not sure if he wants to smile for real or if it’s even something he does regularly. “Please don’t give my cats overthrow advice,” he says in a stage whisper. “I’m not sure my anxiety can handle it.”
Kristen nods solemnly, lips twitching. “Alright, I’ll say no more on the subject. Although I do feel strongly about Miss Alabama’s need for feminism.”
“Wouldn’t it be felinism?”
Kristen can’t help it, she bursts out into undignified giggles, body shaking.
Curly haired dude looks at her in almost fascination, like he can’t believe he made someone laugh to near tears.
He scratches his hand over the back of his neck, before blurting, “I’m Jesse.”
“Hi, Jesse,” she says, but she’s still laughing as she says it and hiccuping a little, so it comes out sounding like, “Jessup.”
“Huh, well, that’s a new one,” he says thoughtfully.
“I like it. Jessup,” she says, this time with conviction. “Suits you.”
“Better than Jessdown,” he says seriously, and then Kristen’s off in a fit of giggles again.
He’s smiling softly at her this time. “Uh, so do I need to ask the cats to tell me your name? Because I gotta say, they’re assholes and probably won’t.”
“Kristen,” she says, still smiling so hard her face hurts. “I’m Kristen.”
“Nice to meet you, Kristen,” he says with a satisfied nod.
And then he’s walking away, the cats on his heels.
Kristen blinks after him. “Oh… kay, then,” she mutters to herself when he’s out of the courtyard.
“He just walked away?” Suzie says through the phone, voice incredulous.
“Just walked away,” Kristen confirms while painting her nails.
“Maybe he’s a serial killer.”
Kristen rolls her eyes. “Nice, Suz.”
“I’m serious, a cat collecting serial killer.”
“Takin’ Names, Collectin’ Cats,” Kristen says dryly.
“Yeah. Good slogan, too.”
“I think he’s just shy,” Kristen says, hating the way her voice just went a little soft.
Of course Suzie notices, because Suzie notices everything.
“Oh yeah?” she says, voice delighted. “Well, you’re a little shy.”
Kristen snorts. “So there’s a good match.”
“Hey, as long as he’s not a serial killer.”
Kristen laughs. “Are those the standards now for single women in L.A.? ‘At least he’s not a serial killer’.”
“Appears to be the case, baby.”
“Jesse could definitely be a serial killer name,” Kristen sighs, and then starts smiling when she thinks of ‘Jessup.’
Kristen’s a veterinary assistant and loves her job. They get mostly dogs at their place, which is fine by Kristen. She loves dogs. But she’s also one of those rare breeds who really loves cats too.
She really isn’t expecting to see two very familiar cats on Monday, as she walks into the waiting room and calls out, “Jesse Eisenberg?”
And there’s her Jesse. Well, not her Jesse but -- yeah. There he is, nervously wringing his hands on his jeans and biting his lip. His eyes widen when he sees Kristen.
“Oh, hi. Um.” He picks up the carriers. “They’re sick.”
Kristen nods. “Follow me,” she says.
“I didn’t know you worked here,” Jesse says once they’re in the room.
“Well, no, you wouldn’t unless you’re a stalker,” she says over her shoulder as he sits on a bench off to the corner of the room.
“Well, that’s what I mean, it’s not like I’m -- I’ve uh, never come here before today. They’ve been fine, when they need shots I go to one of those mobile clinics.”
She pulls up a blank entry on the computer and starts to enter some info. “It’s cool, man,” she says, still feeling a little off balance. “Tell me what’s going on?”
“They’ve been throwing up. Uh, maybe it’s something you’ve been using in your garden?”
Kristen looks at him, eyes wide. She did put down some stuff for the soil. She’s not sure how it affects, like, animals. “Oh, god, I’ve poisoned your cats, man.”
“No, no. I’m sure -- I’m sure you didn’t.”
Kristen worries her bottom lip. “Fuck, man, I totally could have.”
Jesse runs a hand through his curls. “Well, yes, you could have, but not -- maliciously. I don’t think you’re some crazy cat killer.”
“And I don’t think you’re a fucking serial killer,” Kristen blurts out.
Jesse raises one eyebrow, lips twitching in a nervous grin. “Um. Thank you? Also, should you like, be cursing? On the uh -- job?”
Kristen flushes. “Shit, I let the expletives really fly when I’m freaked out, man.” Then she groans. “See?”
Jesse laughs. It’s her first time hearing that and it’s a really nice sound, dry almost, just like his voice. “Relax, I won’t rat you out, Kristen.”
Kristen groans again and turns back. “Okay, come on, let’s get this over with.”
They go through all the symptoms and history and then Kristen leaves to go get the doctor.
She can feel Jesse’s nervous gaze on her as Dr. Silver checks out the cats. Kristen catches it a few times, smiling softly, watching the way his knees shake and his hands twitch, reminding her of her own nervous tics.
“They’ll be fine,” Dr. Silver says. “Just some minor stomach irritation. You said they threw up, so they probably made themselves feel better and the ultrasounds didn’t show anything abnormal. We’ll give you some pills.”
“Thanks,” Jesse says, sounding relieved. Kristen has the stupid urge to squeeze his hand. She settles for giving him an encouraging smile.
At least he smiles back.
Kristen has no idea which apartment Jesse is in, so she waits out on her own balcony after getting home, looking towards his and hoping he appears. When it starts to get dark she smokes a joint. He finally comes outside, the cats going first.
He’s wearing a t-shirt and he stretches his arms over his head. Jesse squints at her from over the court when their gazes catch. He leans on his railing with both hands, bouncing a little.
“That’ll stunt your growth,” he says, voice carrying again even though he still doesn’t yell the words. Kristen can’t really ever imagine him raising his voice above his standard monotone.
“Good thing I’m done growin’, man,” she says, standing up and leaning one hand on the railing himself. “I’m sorry,” she adds.
Jesse shakes his head. “They’re fine,” he says. “It probably wasn’t even you, they come around and like, spray all the plants and shit there with pesticides.”
Kristen smiles weakly. “Kay. Well, still.”
“You’re good at your job,” he blurts out, out of nowhere.
Kristen laughs. “Well, thanks, man. What do you do?”
“I write books. Plays.”
Jesse shrugs. “One sold pretty well recently. I’ve um, got a book few appearances lined up.”
Kristen’s going to need to Google this dude immediately.
“I suppose? I kind of have no interest in the attention. And scheduled appearances make me anxious.”
“Yeah, I get that,” Kristen nods. Then she looks down at the pot in her hand. “You ever--?” she asks, waving it at him.
“Oh,” he says, palming the back of his neck. “Yeah, sure. Sometimes.”
You wanna? she wants to ask. And then thinks why not and just does.
She gives Jesse her apartment number.
A few minutes later, he’s joining her, sans cats, complimenting her many books and records as they walk through her apartment to get to the balcony.
“Thanks, man,” she says. She hands him the tin that already has a rolled joint in it.
“Thank you,” he says, bowing a little.
“I like you, Jessup,” Kristen says, casual, easy, the pot making her less inhibited.
“Oh,” Jesse says on an exhale, tensing.
Kristen’s stomach drops a little. “Like, I mean you’re a cool guy.”
Jesse still seems tense and his fingers shake even as he laughs. “Uh, not sure anyone’s ever called me that before.”
Kristen rolls her eyes, breathing a little easier. “Whatever, Jessup.”
He’s quiet for a moment, and they both take a hit. Then he says, “I, uh. Well, I like you, too.”
Kristen’s chest flutters. “Yeah?” she grins, feeling loose and relaxed, kicking her legs out a bit.
“Yes, well, my cats haven’t stopped talking about you.”
“Even with the poisoning?” asks Kristen.
“Even with that.”
“It’s possible they’re poor judges of character,” Kristen muses.
Jesse looks at her, his face a little more relaxed, expression lazy. Kristen likes it.
His eyes shine when he says, “On the contrary, I should probably listen to them more.”
Kristen smiles at him and Jesse smiles back and she feels so dumb but so good.
“Are you okay to walk back to your apartment? I know it’s terribly far,” she says when they’re at her door.
He’s still smiling lazily at her. Kristen could get used to that.
“I think I’ll make it okay. If not, the cats will organize a search party.”
“I have no doubt about that,” Kristen says. “Right after Alabama’s Felinism for Felines rally wraps up.”
“Is that what she’s been spending her evenings working on?” Jesse says in mock surprise. “So that’s why I never see her anymore!”
“Felinism is real, yo.”
Jesse laughs. He turns to go and Kristen bites her lip, bounces forward on her toes. Before she can say anything, he whips around.
“So, hey, I’m not going to ask you this now because I’m kind of stoned but when I no longer am. Stoned, that is, I’m going to ask you if you’d like to go out sometime. With me, that is.”
Kristen feels a bubble of giddiness expand in her chest. “Well yes,” she says seriously. “I didn’t think you meant the cats.”
“The cats can be there as chaperones, if you wish. But really, I can’t discuss this while impaired.”
Kristen smiles slowly. “Alright, Jessup. Hit me up again when you’ve got all your faculties about you.”
“I shall. Goodnight, um. What’s your last name?”
Kristen blinks at him. “Stewart?”
He nods. “Goodnight, Miss Stewart.” Then he bows again and Kristen has to push him down the hall before she does something like pull him in and make out with him till his ears are pink.
It takes Jesse three days to ask her out. The first time they saw each other after the night at her apartment Kristen was leaving for work in her scrubs, and Jesse was taking out his garbage.
When he saw her, he tripped over the can.
Kristen, in the meanwhile, had Googled Jesse and found that he writes introspective plays, mostly about anxiety and social constructions and behavior. He also writes humor-laced books, again about characters that sound very much like Jesse himself. He’s 33 and single and he moved to L.A. when he was 19, from New York. He also used to shelter cats until he just decided to get a few permanent ones because, “they make shit less lonely.”
Googling him did not, sadly, make her like this dude any less.
The next time they waved at each other from their balconies until he stammered something about having work to do and then went inside and drew the blinds.
She hoped he was going to jerk off. She was going to jerk off.
By Thursday, Kristen had basically given up hope. Maybe it was a thing he said while stoned and he had no intention of following through. Maybe he completely forgot he said it.
Either way, Kristen got home and sat on her balcony and read Less than Zero because she was meeting her friends to do her book club shit this weekend and she still wasn’t finished and she was the organizer of the book club, so if she couldn’t finish then what kind of example was she setting.
All of a sudden she’s joined by not one but two felines. She sighs, looking down at them.
“Hey guys. He send you over to let me down easy?”
“He’s not gonna do that,” Kristen hears from below her. She stands up and there’s Jesse in the courtyard, looking up at her, standing awkwardly with his hands in the pockets of his jeans.
“I feel like you should have a boombox, Lloyd.”
Jesse frowns, eyebrows knit together. “I’m Jesse.”
Kristen laughs helplessly. “Yeah, no, I’m just conflating my Cameron Crowe references.”
“I have no idea who that is. I don’t watch many movies.”
“I’m gonna try not to hold that against you.”
The cats scream at her.
She looks back to Jesse, expression solemn. “The cats want me to hold that against you.”
“The cats are dicks, will you go out with me tomorrow night?”
“Took you long enough, man.”
Jesse’s relieved smile lights her up inside.
The cats don’t chaperone. He takes her to this independent bookstore he likes, and they get coffee at the cafe inside and talk. They spend hours wandering around the shop, mostly in the same sections because they like the same shit.
It’s kind of a perfect first date.
After, Jesse walks her to her door and nervously asks if he can kiss her while biting his lower lip. Kristen hasn’t been asked to be kissed in her entire life. In lieu of answering she grabs him by the shoulders and pulls him down the short distance so their mouths meet. It’s a kiss full of nerves and trembling lips, mostly on Jesse’s end, but she steadies him with a hand to the back of his neck and he relaxes, his hands wrapping around her waist as their mouths move together. Kristen pulls on his bottom lip and Jesse lets out a low, quiet moan and then he kisses her for real, licking inside her mouth until they’re both breathless from it.
“Easy there, Jessup,” she whispers shakily, their foreheads pressed together.
“Sorry,” he whispers back, voice a little rougher. It makes her want.
She shakes her head and kisses him again and they press up against her door, still out in the god damn hallway, and make out for long minutes. When they finally break away his ears are definitely pink and so are his cheeks. He runs a hand through his messed up hair while Kristen licks at her own still-tingling lips.
“Um,” he says, eyes dark.
Kristen grins. “You ever read Less than Zero?”
Jesse blinks. “Yes, I think it’s--”
She holds up a hand to his lips. “Wanna come to my book club tomorrow? Date #2?”
Jesse smiles against her finger. When she takes it away he says, “Yeah, I think I’d like that.”
The cats can chaperone Date #3 she thinks, as she hopes to hell it will be at his place.