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Kristen decides to go back to school for her master’s degree when she’s 24. She also decides to move to New York for it. Her parents grumble more about the former than the latter, since she’s always been pretty independent and has been living on her own for a while. She’s tired of L.A. though, and even more tired of being reminded of Rob at every fucking turn when that whole thing went to shit last year.

Her parents though, are ever practical and don’t exactly have issues speaking their mind.

“What are you going to do with a master’s degree in English, sweetie?” asks her mom.

The ‘what are you doing with a B.A. in English to begin with’ is carefully left off but clear as day.

Kristen shrugs. “I don’t fucking know, something. You know I like learning shit. My mind gets bored when I’m out of school.”

“So take a class here or there,” her dad says, reaching over for the bread basket. “Do you like learning enough for all that debt? You haven’t even started paying off your undergrad loans.”

Kristen bites down on a groan and takes a long gulp of red wine. “I’ll deal with it. Look, I need a change, okay? You guys always told me to do what feels right in life.”

They share a look and Kristen’s leg bounces under the table. She knows she doesn’t need their permission or even their approval -- she’s an adult. But fuck it, she’d really like it. Sometimes she still feels like a kid, looking for acceptance and affection.

“Alright,” her mom says finally, after they’ve completed their silent discussion, built from years of being together and even a few years of just the opposite recently. She’s thankful they patched it up, but knows it’s still slow in the going. “Do what you wanna do, honey. We just want you to be happy.”

Kristen smirks, pushing the pasta around on her plate before looking up. “Well, good, because I’ve already gotten into Columbia for the fall.”
_________________________

Kristen’s not doing this alone, Suzie and Jack moving with her, it all perfectly timed, something they’d talked about for a while. She’s gonna feel like a third wheel in the place they’re getting together, but splitting rent three ways will be easier than dorming on campus and paying all that loan debt back later. She gets a job at a Starbucks a few blocks from campus, which is an utter cliche but whatever.

Her courses are pretty cool. She needs to take a language so figures she might as well jump right into German and she also has to do her M.A. tutorial with her advisor. Kristen’s decided on two 6000 level classes: The Novel and Feminist Theory and a drama class entitled From Shakespeare to Stoppard and Beyond.

It’s the drama class that’s first, meeting at noon every Monday. Kristen gets turned around on campus, feels like an idiot, pulls a door when she should push, and ends up sprinting into class two minutes late.

“Sorry,” she mutters sheepishly, parking herself near the back and taking in the guy with curly hair and glasses who is probably a T.A. or something.

“Looks like everyone’s here,” he says, and starts passing out a packet.

“I’m Professor Eisenberg.”

Kristen blinks up from where she was pulling her notebook and pen out of her Jansport. So, not a T.A., then. Shit, he looks young.

“You can call me Professor, you can call me Jesse, I don't really care. The only thing I ask is you don't call me Mr. Eisenberg or I’ll have a panic attack that my father is behind me everytime you do so.”

One girl in the front row giggles but the rest of the room is silent.

Jesse arches an eyebrow. “I never claimed to be working with original material here, folks,” he says dryly, throwing his hands up which finally gets the laugh.

“Then again, if you call me Professor Eisenberg I’ll think of my father too, as he taught here. So please don’t use that combination for my sanity, alright?”

More laughter and Kristen herself giggles down at her blank notebook.

“The syllabus I’m passing out now has my email as well as my cell phone in case you need to reach me in an emergency. I suppose you could also text me, even though I detest it as a form of communication. Although talking on the phone isn't much better.”

“So what's your preferred method?” Kristen asks, as the guy next to her hands her a packet, having to bite her tongue lest she tag ‘man’ onto the end of her sentence. She can't help it, it’s as natural as breathing to her.

Jesse, she supposes she’ll call him (in her head at least), narrows his eyes on her for a moment. She feels her breath catch when they meet, unprepared for how blue his are, before he blinks. “It’s more a question of which I hate the least. Maybe email. Human interaction is fucking tedious.”

There’s a few surprised laughs. “And yes I curse while I teach; you're all adults, you can handle it I’m sure.”

The laughter increases but Kristen just stares at him, takes in the way his hands are shaking ever so slightly.

“Let’s just assume I’ll be that professor you label the ‘quirky’ one this fall.” His tone is sarcastic as fuck, almost completely unaffected.

Kristen shrugs, holding his gaze. “Who's normal, man?”

It slips out completely unintentionally and her mouth clicks shut audibly. Jesse looks completely amused and a little thoughtful when he replies, “Who indeed,” with a twist of a smile on his lips.

“I'm not going to have us go over the entire syllabus page by page. You can read. If you have any questions, just ask me. Essentially there will be a lot of reading and reflection papers required for each work. While this course is supposed to cover four centuries I won't lie to you and say I won't be skewing it towards more modern works. If this is a problem for you, you may want to leave now.”

Jesse pauses and looks around, as if he's actually expecting a stampede for the door. Or perhaps even hoping for it, she thinks, slouches further in her chair and chewing on her pen cap. She grins, uncertain as to why she finds the action oddly endearing.

“Right, so bridging off that,” he begins, leaning back against his desk, arms braced behind him, “Lets go around the room. Tell me your name and your favorite play. Don't give me your, like, life story, that was always the fucking worst, right?”

People laugh again and Kristen is yep, definitely endeared. That's... not good at all, actually. She shakes herself and sits up straighter, listens half-bored while people list Shakespeare and Williams and O'Neill. All your standard shit, basically. She thinks Jesse’s eyes might actually glaze over.

When it's Kristen's turn she freezes for a moment, years of shyness that she still hasn’t fully overcome kicking in. “Um, hey. I'm Kristen Stewart. Uh, I’m probably older than most of you but we're not supposed to be giving life stories here.”

She glances up at Jesse, sees half a grin on his face.

“Anyway, it's tough to pick a favorite. Uh, I'm into more modern sh-- stuff,” she corrects. Just because her professor intends to swear up a storm doesn't exactly mean she should. “Um, I'd have to say The Shape of Things by LaBute and uh, maybe Oleanna from Mamet. Although I don't know how much longer we can call Mamet modern.”

Jesse hums, but his eyes finally have some life to them and Kristen mentally gives herself a fistbump. “Why those? I ask because I didn't notice you looking through the syllabus, yet they're both on there, so I doubt you're trying to impress me.”

“You'd be correct,” Kristen deadpans back, easily and not feeling any type of nervousness as she normally would. Maybe it's because he looks so damn young, like they could be classmates or something. It’s certainly a little difficult thinking of him as her professor, even though they've barely said much to one another. The thing is: Kristen forms connections with people either instantly or over a drawn out period. It's how she's always been and she can never really predict who she gravitates towards. Currently it appears to be happening with someone she's not supposed to view as a friend, not really.

Kristen shrugs one shoulder in reply to his question. “I like stuff that challenges me, makes me think, pushes people outside their comfort zone. Both of those do that. And like, I consider myself a feminist and Mamet always gets shit for what tone he's exactly going for but, I'd rather read something like that, that makes me question problematic viewpoints where nothing is black or white but sort of permanently grey rather than, like, sit through someone morally preaching to me.”

Jesse smiles slowly and, shit, that's a really nice smile. Kristen blinks, cutting her gaze back down to her desk, feeling a sudden flame to her cheeks.

“I'm going to stop you there before you write your whole reflection paper on the first day.”

Kristen rolls her eyes, good naturedly, still feeling a little warm.

"But, nice job, Kristen.”

She looks up when he says her name, catches a ghost of a smile again, before he heads onto the next student.

Kristen doodles on her paper, random words that flitter through her mind, something that she will probably end up connecting into a poem at some point, anything to occupy her mind with something other than one of the most ridiculous thoughts she's had in a while: that she might have a fucking crush on her drama professor.
______________________

“Whatcha reading?” Suzie asks, flopping down onto the couch with two beers in hand, offering Kristen one.

"Thanks," she says. "Twelfth Night,” she replies, tilting the cover in her direction.

"Ohhh, for Professor Eisencrush?"

Kristen rolls her eyes and pinches her side. "Eisenberg. Jesus Christ, why'd I tell you that."

Suzie takes a long pull before saying, “Beats me. It's been like two weeks though, so you've either banged him or you're over it.”

Kristen stares at her, unimpressed.

Suzie grins innocently against the neck of her beer. "What?"

"I'm not gonna bang my professor, Suz!"

"I did include another option there, you know. My point was simply that you're not one for pining. Isn't your style. Interesting how you gravitated towards that choice though.”

“I'm sorry, I didn't realize you went back to school for psychology.”

Suzie flips her the bird.

“Leave me alone, I'm reading,” Kristen says petulantly, pulling her book higher while Suzie does the opposite and snuggles up against her, resting her head on her shoulder.

“Jerk.” Kristen sighs fondly.

“You love me.”

“Yeah.”

She turns another page, trying not to think about Jesse’s sarcastic voice or his dumb curls.

That night when Kristen turns in her homework, she gets an email back almost immediately.

You are continually the only student thus far to not turn things in around 11:59pm on Sunday evening. My sanity thanks you.

J.

Kristen smiles and considers not replying, returning back to her inbox only to open the message again and click compose before she can think better of it again.

If I were just out of undergrad like most of your class seems to be, I might be right there with them. I was all about the procrastination. But anyway, bitte schön (does that count as me speaking German today for my language proficiency? Say it's so, professor).

She sighs at the message. It looks so blank without all the 'man’s' and 'dude’s' she wants to tack on.

Kristen isn't really anticipating a response and she fucks around on a few news sites before clicking the window again, only to find another response. He apparently must be bored if he’s talking to a student at 7:34pm on a Friday. Suzie and Jack are out and Kristen just felt like vegging.

You talk like you’re old or something. Granted I have no idea how old you actually are, but you look like you could be 21-22. Then again I get mistaken for a student constantly and I’m 31. Age is relative anyway. I’ve met plenty of smart younger people and plenty of stupid older people and vice versa. Some say wisdom and experience comes with age but I disagree. I’m no more together at 31 than I was at 21, the circumstances in your life just change and allow you to adapt if not deal. And besides, grad school is always a mixed bag. This class happens to be pretty young but I’ve also taught people older than me a bunch.

...And that might be my cue to stop as I’ve had one too many glasses of wine tonight.

Have a good evening, Miss Stewart.

J.

Kristen finds herself hanging on every sentence, reading slowly and not wanting it to get to the end. She loves the way he sees shit, especially since it’s kind of how she’s felt about age. She’s always considered herself older than her years in terms of her mindset. She definitely isn’t put together and she definitely doesn’t fully know herself yet but she’s getting there, slowly. Things have felt a lot more clear since her break-up, when she stopped trying to be a couple and started just being an individual again. She hadn’t liked the way she was losing her identity for a while there. And it’s not like she wants to be single forever or whatever but taking some time to herself, to focus on her own needs, has been good. She finds herself wanting to type all this to Jesse even though it’s probably over the boundaries of a teacher/student relationship, especially since his closing was a little final there.

She knocks back the rest of her beer and throws some caution to the wind.

Wine, huh? Beer myself. I’m 24, so yeah, not that much older than someone straight outta undergrad, but sometimes I feel those years that I took off between school -- like they went so much slower than when you’re getting an education. The ‘real world’, man.

Kristen pauses, is about to backspace -- it’s too casual and informal for what their relationship is meant to be. But then decides to hell with it.

I agree with your thoughts about age, though. Just went on a mental tirade in my head but I’ll spare you from all that, especially since this reply is probably overstepping my welcome in your corner of the interweb.

I’ll end with: I’m sure you were being facetious but it’s Kristen, Jesse.

She shuts her laptop with a determined bang because seriously, she isn’t going to start living out ‘You’ve Got Mail’ or some shit like that with her professor.

Stretching her arms over her head she does a little bounce and heads into the kitchen for a snack. Nothing is really calling to her except the fucking bag of Doritos so she gives in and tells herself to go for a run in the park tomorrow.

Kristen flips through their netflix queue, knee bouncing restlessly. Nothing’s calling to her at all and when she sees A Streetcar Named Desire she pauses over it and then curses under her breath.

“Jesus Christ, this is fucking ridiculous.” Kristen sighs and hauls herself off the couch and back into her room, sitting cross-legged on her bed and opening her laptop, biting her lip.

There’s an email.

Hey. Wasn’t blowing you off before; just assumed you had far more interesting things to do on a Friday evening than email your self-proclaimed neurotic professor. But that’s also why no one should ever assume so lesson learned, Kristen (yes, I was being facetious before).

I was grading papers so the wine seemed like a good choice as sometimes the ritual makes me wish I didn’t live only on the second floor. My cats would get lonely without me though so it’s probably for the best. It makes sense you feel that way when not in school. Learning stimulates your mind, makes everything feel more acute.
I’m tempted to skip the assignments from my other class and grade what you turned in instead as I imagine the urge to plummet would be greatly reduced.

(this is the most I’ve emailed without it being cursory or mandatory in quite some time. Maybe it’s the official answer to your question from the first day of class).

J.

Kristen swallows hard and leans back against the wall. Something about the small compliments he’s tossing out, casual as anything, makes warmth pool in her belly.

“Fuck,” she breathes, dragging a trembling hand over her mouth. She’s feeling a low level of arousal settle in and she wants to laugh at how ridiculous that is. Everything on the screen in front of her is completely innocent -- there’s no reason to taint it with something illicit or whatever. Kristen chalks it up to not having been laid for a while.

Hey there,

My roommate and her boyfriend are out, they invited me to join them later but I figured to take advantage of the free apartment. You know, smoke some crack, binge drink...

Nah, man, I’m just still getting used to the city and being back in classes so I’ve been vegging out most nights that I’m not working.

You have cats? I had one in high school and then I had dogs but my ex got them in the custody battle. Anyway, nice of you to think of them. I’m sure they’ll appreciate your sacrifice even if they’ll act like they give no shits.

lol, my assignments aren’t some great works of art -- perhaps I should ask what you’re smoking, Jesse. But thanks for the compliment all the same -- glad to know my writing is a low suicide risk.

(I don’t really email as a method of communication with friends/family either. Usually skype or facetime or that shit, if it isn’t text. *raises the beer I’ve already finished* Congrats).

Kristen gets up for a bottle of water, thinking about what she’d say if this was someone other than her professor. She loves a more direct approach -- would probably have said something like ‘I’m flattered. Maybe you should graduate to physical interaction next. I’m free tomorrow.’

As it stands, any suggestion of flirting on her part she needs to squash right from the start. It’s just -- been a while since she has and she kind of misses it. She can be awkward at it and absolutely shy but it’s also exhilarating.

There’s a new message by the time she returns.

I do have cats. Shelter cats. I started out just fostering. Had like 6 at one point. Couldn’t seem to give up three of them, though, so now they’re mine. And they don't tend to mind my incessant rambles which is more than I can say about my own exes. Tough break about your dogs, hope you're at least granted holiday visitation.

‘Used to the city’-- surprising, since you look like you fit right in. Took me a while, actually. But now I'm one of those obnoxious New Yorkers who has little patience for tourists and can't understand any other mode of transportation besides biking, subways or walking.

I don’t just hand out compliments haphazardly so take it for what it is. And sadly I'm smoking nothing, mixes with my medication. Although so does the wine and I'm ignoring that rule tonight (don’t tell my psychiatrist, okay?)

Thank you for that enthusiastic welcome into the world of communication, it's greatly appreciated. Aforementioned psychiatrist will be happy as well.

Now that you’re probably staring at the screen in horror and thinking ‘This is why students and professors should never, ever speak outside of class-centric discussions,’ I’m going to go. And that’s not me blowing you off but me realizing I really should continue these. If there's anything sadder than grading papers on a Friday night it's grading them on a Saturday when I could be biking in the park.

Given his sarcastic, dry humor that she’s experienced in class, Kristen honestly can’t tell if Jesse’s being serious about the medication and psych stuff. If he is, it was pretty -- surprising of him to divulge that. She’d like to give something back or at least say something like ‘hey, thanks for sharing’ but she feels kind of shitty highlighting it and she’d feel really fucking dumb if it’s actually one of his deadpan jokes. Kristen bites her lip and replies, giving him the out he seems to want.

Was gonna go jogging myself tomorrow. Maybe I'll see you there, Professor.

The reply comes less than a minute later.

Now who's being facetious? Goodnight.

J

Kristen blows out a breath and leans back, moving her laptop aside. That was...a lot of fun. She appreciates his sense of humor and wit and intelligence. Sometimes in class she finds herself just staring, hanging on his every word. It’s only been a few weeks but she already knows he’s smarter than her other professors, probably one of the smartest people she’s ever met.

It's a fucking problem, honestly.

_________________________________

Kristen of course doesn’t see him the next morning. She’d have to think the universe was trying to tell her something if they’d actually had a chance meeting in a location as large and vast as Central Park. She has a great weekend away from her computer and when she's not working, hitting up a club in Chelsea with Suzie and Jack and singing along badly in the cheesy 80s room. One dude in flannel tries to dance all up on her but she's not feeling it and has to bite her tongue so as not to tell him that the 90s room is one floor down.

When Kristen gets home late Sunday morning, nicely buzzed and a little horny after making out with the cute lesbian with a mohawk -- her first bit of action in a while -- she drops onto her bed in a heap and hazily pulls up her email on her phone.

There's one from Jesse.

Amount of papers that have caused me to look longingly up at apartments higher than mine: 29. You're still the winner here. Gold star, two thumbs up.

Kristen blows out a breath and drags her palm over her stomach, pushing her white t-shirt up and rubbing at the bare skin. She drops her phone and closes her eye, bottom lip pulled between her teeth as she breathes unevenly, already keyed up from the evening. It isn’t difficult to slide her hand lower, teasing above her underwear, thinking about Jesse’s red lips on her neck, his hair tickling her skin, his hands working her over before sliding lower.

“This is so fucked,” she whispers but doesn't stop herself from pulling her panties out of the way and working a fingertip along her center, already wet for it. The first and only prior time she thought about one of her teachers was in 11th grade -- her substitute math teacher who was the hottest guy she'd ever seen at the time.

Kristen forgets about thinking and just feels: the sparks of pleasure shooting through her, the curl of want in the pit of her stomach, the slowly building pressure. Kristen rubs at her clit again and again, throwing her head back and gasping out Jesse’s name as she comes.

She pants harshly, staring at the ceiling, thighs trembling for long minutes.

She doesn't reply to the email.
__________________________

On Monday Kristen feels jittery walking into class. She glances toward the front of the room just as Jesse looks up. Their gazes meet and it's like a shock to her system, those fucking blue eyes, his expression a little panicked and vulnerable. Kristen smiles sheepishly and he returns it.

Class goes quickly, Kristen listening to Jesse discuss Hamlet and then the parodies and spin-offs that have come of it. He makes them watch Green Eggs and Hamlet, which is cheesy and fucking hilarious and then dives into Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.

“I realize I'm cheating because its Stoppard and technically we shouldn't be discussing him for four more centuries, but indulge me.”

Since it's one of her favorite plays, Kristen's more than happy to.

Before class ends Jesse says, “BAM happens to be playing the film this week so if you guys have nothing better to do, come out for it. I'll be there regardless. We can meet in front of the theater around 7:30 on Friday. Show starts at 8.”

Kristen writes down the info.

“Alright, there'll be a quiz next week on all the texts you've read so far. See you Friday maybe.”

Kristen stretches and clips her pen into the spiral of her notebook before bending to put it away. She's got a break after class and then she's starting her shift, a change of clothes in her bag. When she looks up mostly everyone's already out the door.

“Kristen, a minute?” Jesse calls behind her as she exits her row.

“Uh, sure,” she says, stomach jumping as she heads down toward his desk, the room now empty. She can barely meet his eyes, thinking about what she did over 24 hours ago.

He's ringing his hands against his sides when she stops in front of him.

"Uh," he says looking down on her. "Was that like, weird, this weekend?"

Kristen shrugs. "Not really?" I came with your name on my lips, she thinks, that was the weird part.

Jesse still looks uncomfortable. “I never really talk to students like, casually.”

Kristen's jaw tightens and she hitches her backpack higher onto her shoulder, dragging her other hand through her hair. “Look man, if you'd rather--”

He laughs, short and high pitched, cutting her off. “And I've definitely never had one call me ‘man’ before.”

Kristen flushes. "Sorry. Habit."

Jesse smiles. “I didn't say I minded…”

“Oh,” replies Kristen, a shy smile taking over her face before she can help it.

“And I didn't say I minded talking with you. Just wanted to make sure it wasn't strange.”

“Nah, man. It's not strange."

He lets out an exasperated sigh but shakes his head in amusement all the same. “I think the line has officially blurred.”

Kristen’s eyes widen, shock coursing through her. Does he-- can he, like, tell?

Jesse cocks his head in her direction, frowning. “I meant the ‘you not addressing me in any way shape or form like a professor’ line.”

“Oh. Right.” Kristen smirks. “Still respect you like one if that helps.”

“Marginally,” he says, dryly. “Okay. Um, so. Have a good day.”

“You too,” she nods and turns on her heel before he can read just how charmed she is by his awkwardness.

“Maybe I'll see you online,” she says over her shoulder when she's at the doorway, hoping it didn’t sound as flirty aloud as it did in her head.

Fuckin' hell.
________________________________

When Kristen gets home from her shift she showers the smell of coffee beans off her and then curls up in her pajamas with her homework. She gives herself an hour before opening her email and beginning to type.

Hey there.

To answer your question, I could probably get holiday visitation, maybe even every other weekend, but it’d be quite the commute: the animals and their owner are back in Los Angeles, along with the rest of my family. Suzie and I have been thinking about at least getting a cat here. You should tell me the shelter you use. I’ll have you know I’m not the model student you think I am -- currently procrastinating working on my German assignment by sending this email. How’s that feel, Professor? Aiding and abetting in my lack of education.

I’m supposed to write 500 words in German stating what I’d put in a time capsule. #1: how the fuck do I know? I barely have any of my belongings here to like, jog my memory and I’ve never cared much about material possessions to begin with. My ipod? My poetry notebooks? That’s about it. #2: is there anyone who wouldn’t try to cheat with babelfish? You gotta at least attempt it, right? (You never heard that, forget everything, Eternal Sunshine yourself).

Kristen fucks around online for a bit. There's no guarantee Jesse’s even online but 5 minutes later there's a new message.

I had a feeling you might've been from California, once you said you were new to the city. That isn't some kind of veiled insult; I've never even been there. The shelter is BARC in Williamsburg. Use me as a reference if you go, they all know me.

Now you've shattered my illusions of you. But really, procrastinating by emailing me? Think of all the other things you could be doing. You could be engaging in an Internet meme. My sister just sent me one about flower crowns. I personally don't understand the appeal but you could definitely be adding a crown to William Shakespeare's head right now, Kristen.

I'd feel bad about my part in the aiding and abetting, but frankly that is such an undergrad assignment. I have no idea who your professor is nor do I interact with a lot of the faculty so I don’t feel guilty in saying this (this is the point my mother would say ‘that’s a lie, Jesse, we’re Jewish, guilt comes with the territory’ and then I’d turn away gulp down my wine and wish dinner would quickly end).

You write poetry? I write plays. Please try to contain your surprise, I know how out of left field that statement must be. I’ve never seen Eternal Sunshine, although I'm aware of the concept. I don't watch many films. That's a good question though: would you erase your entire memory of someone, the good with the bad? I'd need to think on that one.

J.

Kristen shouldn’t respond right away, like she’s been anxiously awaiting the reply, but then again she’s not into playing games and she’s certainly not into playing games with her professor, jesus fucking christ.

She fists both hands in her hair and pulls. “This is moronic. You’re fucking moronic.”

“Are you talking to yourself?!” Suzie yells from the room next door.

Kristen sags back against the wall.

“Tell me to stop emailing this guy!”

Suzie’s at her doorway a second later. “You’re emailing him?”

“Yes,” Kristen says, burying her face in her hands.

“You should’ve fucked the mohawk girl.”

“I know,” Kristen yells into her hands before sliding them down her face. “Why didn’t I?”

Suzie shrugs. “Beats me. Hey, did you buy toilet paper?”

“Yeah, it’s under the sink. We’re like, in the email loop, man. How the fuck do you break it? When’s a convenient time to like, step away?”

“There’s always a convenient time. You could fucking reply to him tomorrow, or two days from now or a week from now. You’re not in a fucking gchat.”

Kristen groans. “It all feels so immediate.”

Suzie studies her for a moment, arms crossed over her chest. “I think you’re liking it too much to stop.”

“Fuck, I am,” Kristen breathes, kicking her feet out in front of her, meeting Suzie’s eyes. “I dunno man, there’s something about him. It’s probably just a stupid infatuation but -- it feels like so much.”

Suzie nods and moves to sit on the foot of the bed. “You fall hard and fast, Stewie,” she says gently, rubbing her foot. “I know you hate fucking hearing that because you’re all about being in control of your emotions and being your own person but you do. Like I said before, you either lose interest quickly or you’re fucking all in from the get-go.”

“It wasn’t like that with you-know-who.”

Suzie rolls her eyes. “Yes it was, you two just didn’t make a move sexually for fucking ever. You’d been in love for years before then.”

Kristen sighs, hating that its true. “Well I can’t be all in on this, and we both know why.”

Suzie shrugs. “You’re both adults.”

Kristen rolls her eyes. “He could probably still get fired. And there’s the whole power balance shit.”

“He’s not gonna be your professor forever, you know.”

Kristen shakes her head again, frowning at the blank email message in front of her. “What are we even saying here? It’s not like he’s shown interest. I’m just living out some forbidden fantasy in my head, man.”

Suzie scoffs. “Please, how many students do you think he does this with?”

“None, he said,” Kristen replies, biting her lip. She leaves out that he apparently doesn’t really do this with anyone at all.

“So?” Suzie says smugly.

“So he’s into my brain or something, keeps saying how good my papers are.”

“Yeah, that’s all you’ve got going for you.”

Kristen rolls her eyes. “He might not even be into chicks, you know. This could all be completely innocent on his end and I’m making it dirty.”

Suzie shrugs. “You’re not doing anything wrong here, so what’s the big deal? Unless it’s fucking you up…”

Kristen sighs. “I just kind of hate this in general, you know? The out-of-control, lead by your emotions feelings. It’s not fucking me up so much as annoying me. There’s no reason to indulge it.”

Suzie hums. “Yeah, but. Isn’t it a little exciting?”

Kristen thinks back to some of Jesse’s emails, the way the words seem to wash over her and make her feel stupidly happy as she reads, the way their eyes meeting makes her pulse jump.

She clears her throat. “Yeah, sure it is. But it’s pointless, man.”

Suzie throws up her hands. “Then cut it out, stop emailing and he’ll get the hint that you wanna go back to just sending in your assignments. Those are your options here, babe.”

Kristen stares at the blank message, ready for her to type. She closes her laptop.

Suzie squeezes her knee. “C’mon, Jack’s gonna start Spaceballs.”

Kristen shakes her head. “You go ahead. Homework.”

Suzie gives her a pointed look. “Okay. Night, girl.”

“Night. Thanks.”

Kristen focuses on her German assignment and she doesn’t even cheat. She wonders what Jesse’s doing, before deciding its none of her business and isn’t going to be.
_________________________

Kristen waits two days to email him. It’s essentially her playing the games she said she wouldn’t play but whatever, it felt kind of good to have some semblance of control over her feelings.

She feels so dumb making up the excuse she does, though.

Hey,

Sorry, got distracted by homework and then totally forgot to reply until now. I’m not exactly going to defend L.A. to my dying breath. It can be a bit of a hell hole at times, but it’s home I guess. I did the ‘undergrad’ assignment and didn’t even cheat, so you don’t have to lower your opinion of me just yet.

Totally blew my mind with that play thing, jeez. What vast and varied talents. No but seriously that’s fucking awesome. Anything published? As for the Eternal Sunshine question --no, I wouldn’t. I’m a big believer of pain and mistakes being a part of life. And while I had some messed up shit with my ex and things still ache at times when I think about them I wouldn’t change the experience or what I’ve learned from it. Same for like, any type of loss. Because the knowing is more important than the pain.

Jesse doesn’t respond the rest of the night and Kristen tries not to care. He’s busy, whatever. He doesn’t respond the next day either and Kristen wonders if maybe he’s trying to beat her at her own game. Which is fucking dumb, plenty of people linger over email responses. She hates that she’s even analyzing it. She has no classes on Fridays and she’s actually off from work so she goes out that night to a pool hall with Suzie and Jack. It’s a good time and Jesse Eisenberg is the furthest thing from her mind until the next day when she’s still nursing a hangover in the afternoon and a reminder pops up on her phone about the movie tonight.

“Fuck.”

She debates on going. She probably shouldn’t; he still hasn’t emailed and it’ll probably be weird. But there should hopefully be other people there too so it’s not exactly a big deal.

Kristen procrastinates until 6 and then throws on a pair of skinny jeans, her favorite grey sweatshirt, a backwards hat and converse. She barely combs her hair and doesn’t put on any make-up. Shoving some money, her metrocard and her phone in her pockets she leaves the apartment and starts the trek to Brooklyn.

Kristen gets there just around 7:30 and her heart does a stupid flip when she sees Jesse under the marquee. He’s wearing a grey t-shirt with a blue blazer over it and dark jeans. He should look fucking ridiculous yet somehow he manages to pull it off completely. He isn’t wearing his glasses and there’s a stray fringe of curly hair hanging low on his forehead away from the rest. Kristen would fucking eat him alive.

She pauses mid step, blindsided by want, and is about to turn right around and fuck off until he looks in her direction, eyes widening ever so slightly as he smiles, slowly.

“Hey,” Kristen says, walking up to him since there’s no possible escape now.

“Hey, uh. Good to see you.”

“You too.” Kristen looks around, bouncing on her heels. “Am I the first one?”

She watches Jesse wince a little. “Yeah, uh, looks that way.”

Kristen looks at her watch. 7:35.

“Well, they’ve got time.”

“Right,” Jesse says, nodding rapidly. He steps back to lean against the building and Kristen follows suite.

“Hey, uh, sorry for not replying yet,” Jesse says, a little rapidly.

“Huh?” Kristen asks, mind still lost on the fact that she’s the only one here.

“To your email.”

“Oh. Right. ‘S cool, man.”

Jesse laughs, sounding nervous. “Right, perhaps I over-analyze these things.”

Kristen looks at him curiously. “What’s to over-analyze?” She doesn’t feel as breathless as she expected.

Jesse turns his head toward her, pushed back against the brick of the building, chin tilted upward. “Nothing, I suppose. I guess I didn’t want you to feel obligated that you had to keep replying.”

Kristen swallows and pushes her heel against the concrete. “I didn’t? I mean, whatever. It’s just two people talking, right? Shouldn’t feel like there’s pressure to respond -- if you don’t wanna, don’t.”

“I do,” Jesse says quickly.

When Kristen meets his eyes all the air feels sucked out of the atmosphere. She holds his gaze, tries to keep herself from biting her own lip. “Okay,” Kristen replies, voice a little thick. “Cool.”

“Cool,” Jesse repeats.

He steps back a little, looking out towards the street. “So I owe you an explanation.”

Kristen's eyes jerk to him, startled. “Huh?”

Jesse turns to her. “Eternal Sunshine?” he supply helpfully.

Something loosens in Kristen's stomach. “Oh, right. Made your decision then?”

“Yes,” he says, shifting back to lean against the wall while Kristen follows suit, digging out a cigarette. “I'd, uh, like to say I wouldn't do it but that's a lie.”

He shakes his head when she offers him one before continuing. “I'd, like, think of past pain and feelings and I'd be selfish is the thing. I'd want to forget. But then,” Jesse says, waving his hands, “then I'd probably realize there's some emptiness inside me where those feelings, those experiences were meant to go and I'd be hollow and broken and probably live a miserable life. But the foresight still probably wouldn't stop me from doing it.”

He's blushing by the end, ducking his head while Kristen just stares.

“Wow.”

Jesse laughs, dragging a hand through his curls. “Now you know why I'm in therapy.”

Kristen elbows him in the side. “Shut up.”

Jesse shrugs. “The selfishness is a problem, or so my exes tell me.”

“Yeah?” Kristen prompts.

“I don't make enough time for other people's interests apparently -- but at the same time their interests are rarely mine. I'm just not into going out every evening and socializing. I need to take it in doses.”

“That's fair,” Kristen says. “But they've gotta compromise too.”

Jesse looks at her curiously, like he’s trying to work out if it’s just a line. Kristen lets the sincerity show on her face.

She watches his shoulders bunch up. “There’s more to it than that. It’s -- my social anxiety was crippling for a while, there, and I wasn’t -- open about it. I ignored it, thinking it’d go away. I uh, actually haven’t been in a relationship since things got better.”

Kristen feels something expand in her chest, looking at him right now, half-bathed in the light from the streetlamp, the shadows cutting across his face. “Then you shouldn’t be so hard on yourself after the fact, man.”

Jesse grimaces, a small smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. “Yeah. Perhaps.”

He looks at his watch. “Fuck, we gotta go in.” He takes another glance around.

Kristen feels herself go still. Shit. “Uh, no one else coming?”

Jesse shakes his head, biting his lip. “Doesn’t look like it.” He turns to her, palming at the back of his neck nervously. “Uh, if you’d rather not--”

Kristen shakes her head before she realize she’s doing so. “No, it’s. It’s cool, let’s go.”

__________________________

The movie goes mostly fine. They’ve both seen it before and the few times Kristen cuts her eyes to Jesse she can see him mouthing along the lines. Jesse had gotten popcorn and halfway through Kristen reaches her hand in the bucket, on complete automatic. Their hands brush at the same time because of course they do and Kristen jerks back.

“Sorry,” she whispers, her fingers still tingling from the touch. His hand was warm, his skin soft.

“Don’t worry,” Jesse mumbles. Nevertheless, Kristen keeps her hands in her lap and her eyes facing forward the rest of the film.

“Would you like to get some coffee?” Jesse asks as they’re walking out of the lobby.

“Sure, sounds good.”

They head to the nearby Starbucks and Kristen makes a crack about feeling like she’s at work.

“Oh, sorry. Want to go somewhere else?”

Kristen rolls her eyes fondly at his near-stricken look. “Relax, man, I’m joking.”

It’s mostly empty inside which is kind of nice. Kristen orders a chai latte since it’s her favorite thing to get during the fall while Jesse settles on a cappuccino.

“Hit up that shelter yet?” Jesse asks when they’re seated. He’s been constantly moving, either bouncing on the heels of his feet or tapping his fingers on the table. It’s a little distracting but Kristen can’t exactly ask him to stop, not after he confided in her over his anxiety issues.

“Nah, it’s not a definite thing. Suzie and I have talked about it but don’t think we’re ready yet. Maybe when the semester ends.”

Jesse hums. “Will you be going home for the holidays?”

Kristen shakes her head. “Probably not. Need to pay the rent. Hoping my parents will come out here.”

“My parents live in Jersey.”

“Yeah?”

Jesse nods, taking a sip of his drink. He gets some foam on his top lip. “‘S where I’m from.”

Kristen smirks at him. “You don’t have a jersey accent.”

Jesse rolls his eyes good-naturedly. “Not all New Jerseyans do. It’s a fallacy. But technically I was born in Queens. We moved when I was pretty young, though.”

“Mm-hmm.” Kristen keeps trying to avoid the foam on his lip and can’t. She raises her hand to her own face. “You’ve got--”

“Huh? Oh.” Then he proceeds to lick at it with his tongue and Kristen freezes, the want suddenly coursing through her again at the flash of pink tongue.

Jesse seems to freeze too, like he did the move on automatic. “My mother would say that was bad manners, just then.”

Kristen laughs over the rapid beating of her heart before stage whispering, “I won’t tell.”

Jesse snorts. “Please, if you were ever in the same room as my mother she’d be so beside herself she wouldn’t care. She’s desperate to marry me off. Has even stopped hoping for a ‘nice Jewish girl’, any will do.”

Kristen laughs loudly, especially at how he’d donned a stereotypical Yiddish infliction for the ‘nice Jewish girl’ part. “Quit it man, your mom doesn’t sound like that.”

Jesse grins, widely and Kristen’s breath catches in her throat. “Okay, that part was creative license but the rest, my hand to God.”

Kristen snickers. “She probably just wants curly haired grandchildren.”

Jesse groans and brings his hands to his face. “Don’t remind me. Apparently my sisters’ kids aren’t enough.”

Kristen leans back in her chair, hooking her ankles together. “How many sisters do you have?”

“Two. And both have kids so I’m completely unaware as to what the big deal is.”

Kristen shrugs one shoulder, lifting her drink. “Parents, man.”

Jesse’s still smiling after she takes a sip. Like, really smiling. Open and bright and right at her, like he thinks she’s someone worth looking at that way. Kristen’s heart seizes in her chest.

Jesse eyes dim for a moment and he tears his gaze away and down to the table. The tapping that she hadn’t realized stopped a while ago starts back up again. “Uh, we should probably get going.”

Kristen nods, not trusting her voice to speak.

Once outside, Jesse says he’ll walk her to the subway since he’s going the same direction.

“Do you have siblings?”

“Yeah,” Kristen says rubbing her hands together. “Three brothers.”

“From someone who is also a brother: my condolences.”

Kristen laughs. “Thanks.”

They reach the subway entrance and stand off to the side.

“This was fun. Sorry the rest of the class ditched you.”

Jesse shrugs. “It’s a Friday night. I sort of expected it.”

Kristen rolls her eyes. “I’m the only nerd, huh.”

“If nerds--” he begins, before snapping his mouth shut abruptly.

Kristen squints at him. “Yeah?”

Jesse waves her off. “Nothing, uh. So anyway, thanks for coming out.”

Kristen frowns but lets it go. “Yeah, no worries.”

Jesse drags a hand through his curls, messing them up. “I’m biking in the park again tomorrow. If you were interested.”

Kristen stares blankly for a moment before her brain starts working triple time. That’s… an invite to hang out. Just the two of them. That’s…

“Uh, well, I’ve got work in the afternoon--”

“That’s fine, forget--” Jesse begins, but Kristen keeps talking.

“But I should be able to before. I don’t have a bike though, man, and I can’t run that fast.”

Jesse’s still looking a little tense, but he says, “They do have rentals.”

“Oh,” Kristen replies intelligently. She kicks at a pebble on the gravel. “Okay, that could work then.”

“Okay. 8am good?”

“Yeah.”

“Alright. Uh, meet at the 72nd street entrance?”

Kristen nods vaguely. “I’ll be there.” She starts walking backwards to the subway entrance and Jesse raises his hand in a wave.

“Goodnight.”

“Night,” Kristen says, before turning on her heel and bounding down the stairs.

She seriously has no idea what’s going on anymore.

Was that just an invitation to hang? A date? What?

After she’s back above ground she calls the one person who’d know.

“I was just getting ready to go out,” CJ says by way of greeting.

“And my night is just ending,” Kristen replies.

CJ tsks. “Poor form, doll face, it's only what? 11 there? These are the prime years of your life, live a little.”

“Bring the gang out here and I will.”

"Aww, what's the matter? Suzie and Jack too domestic for you already?"

Kristen laughs, weaving through a couple on the street. “Nah. Shit, man, they go out to more bars and clubs than I do, it seems. I dunno, I just hate tagging along sometimes.”

“Then maybe it's time you paired off yourself.”

Kristen groans internally. “Kind of why I'm calling.”

“Darling I'm flattered, but you don't have a penis.”

“Shut up asshole, I'm being serious.”

CJ laughs. “Alright, alright lay it on me.”

Kristen takes a deep breath. “I’m into my drama professor,” she says in a rush and then ducks her head like he can see her.

“Uh. Wow.”

“Yeah,” she says miserably, jogging up the steps of her building.

“Guy or girl?”

“Guy.”

“What, is he like a silver fox or something?”

Kristen drags a hand over her face, laughing as she steps into the elevator.

“No, man, he's like 31.”

“Oh,” CJ says, consideringly. “So?”

Kristen rolls her eyes and leans back against the wall, resting her heel against it. “So, 51 or 31 he's still my fucking professor.”

“Please, like people don't bang their professor, like that's never happened before. You’re not in fucking high school, it wouldn't be some scandal. You're not even a co-ed. You’re two completely mature, consenting adults.”

Kristen isn't sure if she's disappointed that CJ is playing devil’s advocate of if it's exactly what she wanted,

“It's a conflict of interest,” she points out, because she knows that much.” And it's like a power imbalance or something. It's like a boss and his secretary or a doctor and his patient or whatever; it’s sketchy, man.”

CJ snorts. “Kris, this is not some huge dilemma. He won't be your professor forever.”

It’s true, she knows that. Kristen can start registering for the spring semester by next week and she’s already picked the ones she's taking; Jesse isn't teaching any of them.

“I know,” she says quietly as she exits the elevator.

“Okay,” replies CJ slowly. “Come on, you didn’t just call me to talk you out of this.”

Kristen sighs and digs out her keys, balancing her phone on her neck and opening the door. “We went out tonight.”

“Yeah?” Christ, Kristen can hear the eyebrow waggle.

“Not like that, fucker. He invited the class to a movie screening. Of course I was the only loser who showed.”

“Of course,” CJ agrees.

Kristen grabs a bottle of water out of the fridge and flops onto the couch, toeing off her shoes and putting her feet on the coffee table. “Yeah, so, it wasn’t some big deal.”

CJ snorts. “If it wasn’t why are you calling?”

“Because he asked me to go biking in the park tomorrow.”

CJ laughs loudly. “Why didn’t you just open with that? My ride’s gonna be here any minute, now.”

“Who’re you going out with?” Kristen asks, twisting off the cap of the water bottle.

“Adam.”

She makes a small noise around the rim. “He’s an asshole, Ceej.”

“Yeah, well, you worry about you, I’ll worry about me.”

“Say you aren’t fucking him again,” Kristen replies, ignoring him.

“I’ll say nothing of the kind, now focus. Tomorrow. Biking.”

She sighs but lets it go. He never listens to her anyway.

“So, like, we’ve been talking in e-mail and shit, and we hung out tonight but that wasn’t -- a thing, you know? But then he fucking goes and does this so-- is it a thing? The dude’s seriously awkward, man. I probably would never be able to tell if he was flirting with me. He could kiss me and I still might be able to tell.”

“Right, because you’re the master at flirting.”

“Hey, I can at least throw a signal.”

“And are you?”

Kristen bites her lip. “I don’t know,” she admits. “I have no fucking clue what he’s reading off me, if anything.”

“This sounds very much like a possible date. Just -- I dunno, play it cool. Let him make a move.”

Kristen huffs. “He’s still my professor. That hasn’t changed since we started this phone call.”

“It’s October. You’ve got two months. Something tells me you won’t even move that fast.”

“And if we do?” Kristen challenges.

“Then you gotta weigh it. It’s two months.”

The way CJ says it is no answer at all. Matter-of-fact and in a way that Kristen could read it as it’s only two months to wait or it’s only two months to keep an affair a secret. She’s opening her mouth to say just this when CJ curses under his breath.

“That’s Adam. I gotta run, babe.”

Kristen groans silently. “Okay. Have fun.”

“You know it. Love you.”

“Love you too.”

She hits the end button on her phone and throws it across the couch.

“Stop fucking thinking,” she chides.

She heads into her room to do some reading, for fun finally.

The next morning Kristen’s waiting at the 72nd Street entrance. A glance at her phone tells her it’s 5 past 8:30 and seriously, if he fucking stands her up --

She looks up to see Jesse biking towards her, his hair everywhere.

“Sorry,” he says, stopping in the street to the left of her. “Fuckin’ subways.”

Kristen smirks. “It’s alright, man.”

Jesse nods, dragging his hand through his hair and smoothing it down a bit. He’s wearing jeans and a polo shirt that cuts his body just right. “Uh, so the rentals are this way,” he points off somewhere within the entrance to the park and starts walking with his bike, Kristen beside him.

“You should really wear socks with your shoes,” Jesse says as they walk. He sounds like her fucking dad.

“I never do.”

He turns to stare at her. “Seriously? How are you not covered in blisters?”

Kristen shrugs. “Magic?”

Jesse just blinks at her for a moment before shaking his head. “Must be,” he mutters.

Kristen laughs to herself. He’s so fucking weird and she’s so pathetically into it. Jesse starts launching into a somewhat incoherent ramble about a time when he was a kid at the beach with his family on the Jersey shore and he got a ton of pebbles and sand in his shoes and his mom told him it was his own fault because that’s the whole purpose of socks.

“But you were on a beach, man.”

Jesse shakes his head. “We were going on some nature trail. Not swimming or anything. I am not made for the water.”

Kristen snorts. “And why’s that?”

“I burn easily. And I detest the sun.”

“But hiking’s cool,” she replies, not a question.

“Hiking is very cool.”

They make it to the rentals and Kristen pays, glad Jesse doesn’t attempt to. Once they’re on their bikes, she picks the conversation back up.

“I’d never be allowed back in the state of California if I told you I hate beaches and also that’d be a lie. But I do enjoy hiking. And lots of outdoors shit. California’s pretty great for that.”

“East coast isn’t too shabby either.”

Kristen side-eyes him. “Are we gonna have a best coast argument here?”

“Nope, we already know the winner there.”

Kristen watches him expectantly, until she can see the beginnings of a grin.

“I mean you’re here after all, right?”

She laughs. “I’m not quite willing to give it up that easily.”

Jesse hums. “Would you ever go back? I mean, after school?”

Kristen chews on her lip. “I dunno. Possibly? I have no idea where any of this is going to lead. My parents are convinced it’s the dumbest idea.”

“Furthering your education is never dumb,” Jesse says, sounding as close to mad as she’s ever heard him.

Kristen has to laugh a little. “Well, we all can’t be as fortunate as you, prestigious university professor at such a young age.”

Jesse scoffs. “Please, I’m just an associate.”

“Yeah?” Kristen asks, surprised.

“Yeah, I mean. It’s a tenure track position but I only finished my Ph.D. like two years ago. Still got a ways to go and even then they can dismiss me if I don’t impress them.”

“You working on that already?” she asks, even though she’s pretty sure she knows the answer.

“Yeah. I mean, it’s supposed to be scholarly work but I’m trying to get my plays published first and foremost. If they tell me that’s not impressive enough then they won’t have to dismiss me, I’ll fucking quit. If I’m teaching drama why wouldn’t it be more important to actually have a play published, you know?”

Kristen nods, loves how fiery he can get about this shit. “I hear ya, man. Good luck.”

She glances at him, sees a small smile playing on his lips. “Thanks. Shit, how’d we even get on that subject?”

“Uhhh,” Kristen shakes her head, laughing. “I have no fucking clue. I thought we were talking about hiking.”

“Oh right, you staying in New York or leaving. And somehow I made this all about me.”

He sounds like he’d do a face palm right now if he could. It’s stupidly endearing. “You were being indignant about the importance of an education, it’s all good. Point was, I’ve got no clue what I’m even going to use this degree for. Can’t say I’ve seriously thought about teaching. Would I love to publish a book of poems? Yeah, sure. But I’m not deluded enough to believe I could make a career out of that shit.”

“Well, you’ve got time. I didn’t decide on getting my doctorate until my last year of grad school.”

“Yeah, I guess,” Kristen says, watching the scenery around them. It feels good to be on the bike, the air mild around them, a perfect fall morning.

As if reading her mind, Jesse says, “I love this time of year, when the leaves are turning colors, you know?”

“Mmhmm. Don’t get much of that out west. Can honestly say I’m thrilled to experience all four seasons.”

“I’ll ask you again when you’re trekking through seven inches of snow on your way to the subway.”

Kristen grins broadly. “You do that, bud.”

They grin dumbly at one another until Kristen realizes they should probably be watching where they’re going and tears her eyes away. It didn’t have anything to do with the way her stomach was diving and swooping like she’s on a fucking roller coaster, just from looking at his open face.

She stares straight ahead, tries to get herself in check.

“Got plans this weekend?” he asks after a few moments of what is probably completely comfortable silence but to Kristen it’s like she’s acting out the dinner scene in Pulp Fiction.

“Not really,” Kristen replies, mind a million miles away. “I mean, besides work. Uh, you?”

“Heading to my parents’ house later for dinner. Might stay over.”

“That’s nice.”

“You alright?” Jesse asks, and Kristen can hear the frown in his voice.

“Yeah,” Kristen says, looking at him finally. “Yeah, sorry, man. Just thinking about shit I have to do.”

“Oh,” Jesse says, and he looks horribly young when he drags his teeth over his bottom lip. “Do you need to go?”

She should say yes, high tail it out of here, forget about this dude’s everything but she finds herself shaking her head instead. “Nah, I’m good.”

Jesse smiles a little tentatively and Kristen smiles right back.

________________________________

The rest of the morning had been great, filled with easy conversation after Kristen shook off the awkwardness. They grabbed tea and scones at Alice’s Tea Cup after, a place Kristen had no idea existed.

“Figured you’d like this,” Jesse said when they’d gotten seated.

“And how’d you know that?”

Jesse just shrugged. “You're an English major; I took a wild guess.”

Kristen had laughed and they sat, drinking their tea in the too small space, Jesse’s knees practically knocking against hers under the table.

And then they’d parted ways, Kristen going to work, Jesse heading out to Jersey. Now Kristen was sitting in a salon on Sunday afternoon, telling them to chop off her hair.

“Just give me something chic and messy. I don’t even care what.”

The woman with deep purple hair looked at her and smiled. “Yeah, sure. No problem. Color?”

Kristen thought of the changing leaves. “Yeah, uh. Like reddish-orange. Highlights I guess.”

“You got it. I’ll be right back with some swatches.”

Sometimes, Kristen will get like this. If there’s something that’s stressing her or consuming her or just pushing her outside her own limits of control, she’ll want to push back, regain the balance. The last time it was one of her tattoos. This time she’s going for less extreme but she knows it’ll still feel liberating when it’s through.

“How do you feel?” Jasmine asks her as they look in the mirror together.

Kristen takes in the streaks of orange above her natural brown, the short cut, shorter than she’s ever had before.

“I feel free.”

____________________________

Kristen walks into class the next day with her head down. She hates those moments after getting your hair done when you’re at school or work, faced with people who aren’t your close friends and feel obligated to make some kind of comment or sometimes they say nothing at all which is actually even worse. Kristen isn’t very narcissistic but with things like this she’ll be both ‘don’t look at me’ and ‘praise me’ and it’s a double edged sword, really.

“Nice ‘do,” the blonde who always sits next to her says.

Kristen smirks, pulling out her text and notebook. “Thanks, man.”

When she finally looks up, Jesse’s leaning up against his desk, looking down at what she assumes is his lesson plan. He’s wearing a blazer over his t-shirt again, this time black, and what looks like skinny jeans and jesus fucking christ, just fuck her whole life. She watches him push his glasses up his nose and then is caught as his gaze meets her own. His eyes widen a little and Kristen feels a wave of self-consciousness, has to actually keep herself from bringing her hand up to her hair. His mouth parts a little and she gives him a sheepish grin. He blinks, hard, and looks off to the clock on the wall.

“Uh, so, only one of you had the good taste to come to the film Friday night. I will try not to take it as a slight on my person but I gotta tell you, that’s no easy feat. I’m wounded, deep and truly.”

There’s a bit of nervous laughter, the way there always is when people aren’t sure if they’re reading Jesse’s tone correctly. Kristen’s mouth quirks and she grins down at her desk.

“Anyway, I won’t reveal the identity of the person who did attend; your nerd status is safe with me.”

A bigger laugh this time and Kristen rolls her eyes, glancing up at him through her eyelashes. He winks at her and she discreetly flips him off. It’s completely inappropriate for the classroom but whatever, they’ve probably already crossed that line a few times.

They wrap up Shakespeare and start in on Eugene O’Neill.

“I’ll have all of you drinking by the end of class,” Jesse promises.

Kristen checks her phone at the end of class, answers a few texts from friends back home who she sent pics of her hair. She’s smiling and kinda caught up that she doesn’t realize everyone’s already gone, except Jesse who’s cleaning off the blackboard.

She gets up and heads to the door, feeling awkward, wanting to talk to him but who knows about what.

“Hey, wait up,” he says and Kristen turns to find him jogging up the carpeted steps toward the back of the room, messenger bag slung over his shoulder. “Uh,” he says stopping in front of her, a step lower which puts them at eye level. “Want to grab some coffee?”

“Uh,” Kristen says, scratching at the back of her neck. “Yeah, sure.”

“You don’t have work?”

“Nah, not till later.”

“Okay. So Lerner Hall?”

“Sure,” Kristen says and they head out the doorway and towards the exit of the building. He holds the door open for her and normally she doesn’t give a damn about shit like that but it gets to her, just like everything he does seems to get to her.

“I uh, I like your hair,” Jesse says as they walk, not looking at her. Kristen starts smiling before she can stop it, turning her face to the left so he can’t fully see.

“Thanks,” she says, rubbing her hand over the back of it, still loving how it feels.

“Spur of the moment?”

“Basically,” Kristen admits. “Woke up Sunday with like, something to prove, I dunno.”

“I shaved my head when I was 15,” Jesse blurts.

Kristen barks out a surprised laugh. “Oh my god, seriously?”

He nods seriously. “My mom lost it. My dad laughed. My sisters said I looked like a poor man’s Lex Luthor.”

“Oh my god, I gotta see pictures, man.”

“Never. All the evidence of that unfortunate time has been burned.”

“That’s tragic.”

“No, what’s tragic is the wig my mother bought me,” Jesse says, holding open the door to Lerner for her. Kristen’s too distracted by this bit of information to focus on him being a gentlemen. Mostly.

“Oh my fucking god. What did you look like?”

“Like fucking Carrot Top if he had brown hair.”

Kristen laughs so hard she nearly trips over her own feet.

“Why did I tell you this,” Jesse mutters pissily.

Kristen grins brilliantly. “Beats me, man.”

They get coffee, Jesse ordering crumb cake as well and sit toward the back of the cafe.

“You need to tell me something awful in response.”

Kristen scoffs. “Why? We were talking about my awesome hair, man. Not my fault you made it all about you again.”

Kristen’s joking, of course she is, but she notices Jesse wince and then take a hasty sip of his coffee.

“I um,” he starts, looking at her and then away again. “Fuck, I’m sorry. I’m trying to uh, not to do that. To get better at uh, focusing on others.”

Kristen frowns at him. “Dude, I was kidding.”

Jesse shakes his head rapidly, swallowing. He plays with the fork in his hand. “It’s uh, a problem though. It’s always been a problem I’ve had. I guess I’m better at email; I can’t help but listen to you and wait my turn.”

Kristen leans back in her hair. “I don’t fucking care. I mean, if it’s something you care about, cool, work on it in therapy and all, but my point is I don’t feel like it’s some black mark against you. You do listen and you’re a lot easier to talk to than you give yourself credit for, man.”

Jesse glances up at her, eyes so blue and wide. He bites his lip. “Uh. Thanks.”

Ask me out, Kristen thinks, as their eyes hold, open and a little searchingly. Ask me out and I’ll fucking say yes even if I shouldn’t.

“Hey, uh--” Jesse begins and Kristen’s heart jumps up to her chest.

“Eisenberg!” someone calls across the room and Kristen watches Jesse’s eyes dim, the earnest look on his face gone, smile replaced by a groan.

“That’s Justin, teaches music,” he says of the guy who’s waving him over.

“Go ahead, I should split anyway.”

He chews on his lip again, mouth parting before snapping shut again. “Yeah, okay. I’ll see ya.”

Kristen sits there for a few moments before getting up to leave, wishing she’d had the guts to say whatever he couldn’t.

That night when her shift ends she checks her email while heading to the 1.

Kristen --

Sorry about earlier. Justin’s a rather big personality, a bit self-absorbed. It’s always better to entertain him. Known him since Undergrad. I guess if nothing else he gives me good practice on listening to someone and focusing the conversation on them. He rarely lets me get a word in edgewise.

You know what I like about email? There’s no history of human error. You can’t see the many times I’ve started to say something and then backspaced. If this were a handwritten letter it would be littered with crossed out words and my messy script. Until I finally decide on what I want to say or at least decide on not scribbling over it in pen so it’s no longer legible:

The New York Classical Theater Company is putting As You Like It on in Prospect Park this Saturday. Would you like to go?

Jesse

Kristen stops in her tracks, gets a few mutters around her as she’s nearly bumped into. She shakes her head and heads down the stairs to the subway, losing signal in the process. That’s fine, she needs to fucking think about what just happened for a moment. Because that sounds like Jesse inviting her to something just the two of them, again. Something he could easily extend to the entire class, as it’s applicable. Something it took him a while to settle on, if she’s reading his email correctly. Something he’s nervous about.

“Jesus Christ,” Kristen breathes.

Because this? This seems more like a date than anything else, seems impossible to categorize as anything else.

And the worst part is, Kristen doesn’t want to.

Before she can talk herself out of it she’s got a reply open.

Hey. Don’t worry about it. Most of my friends are “big personalities”, I get it. What, decided I’m the only nerd with no plans on the weekend and just asking me to these events now? (The answer is yes, by the way, because I am indeed that nerd).

It’s a cop out, she knows it is, but she almost wants to make him say it. When he takes a while to reply back, she wonders if she made things awkward.

When the reply does come she’s almost too nervous to look.

Well, I didn’t find out about it until after class. I considered a mass email and then wasn’t sure I could deal with that type of rejection. Better to stick with the safe bet. I was thinking you should give me your number for that horrible texting thing, just to make it easier for Saturday. Technically I have your contact information from the first class but I feel that’s bordering on stalkerish behavior.

Kristen laughs, a giddy bubble in her chest.

You’re gonna text for me, wow. First email, now this. You’re making me feel special, man. Better stop, it’ll go to my head. Number is 310-578-3424. Haven’t changed over from CA yet. Send me a text so I have yours.

Jesse does. It’s an emoji of a cat. Kristen doesn’t know whether to be embarrassed or stupidly charmed. She stores his number into her phone and can’t wipe the grin off her face the rest of the night.
___________________________

The rest of the week flies by. Kristen keeps busy with projects she’s got for her feminist novel class and German. There’s a paper coming up for Jesse pretty soon too, but she figures she’ll start on that the following week. There haven’t been many emails the past few days, but honestly she’s been too busy to notice. There have been texts, though. Random ones mostly in the form of emojis and Kristen can’t help but laugh at each one. She sends a few back, like a cup of coffee to signify she’s at work or books to show she’s studying. One time that was accompanied by a knife which lead Jesse to reply with if you’re going to do physical harm to those very nice books, I’ll be forced to call the authorities.

Jesse would send her ones of a bicycle or a subway or a glass of wine. Kristen finds the whole thing stupidly cute but she definitely misses the actual conversation.

Friday night Kristen gets a succession of texts that she doesn’t see until she’s done with her shift.

Wine preference: white, red, rosé?

Are you a cheese person? Are there individuals who are not cheese people

what about olives? crackers?

Alright, see, this is why I don’t text. These could have all been sent to you in a nice, tidy email. Instead you’re going to pick up your phone, see like 10 texts and think there’s some emergency. There is no emergency. Your family is fine or so I assume. This is not even a food-related emergency. I’m stopping now before this goes into two messages oh shit too late.

Kristen laughs for a good minute straight, and then replies back.

I just finished up at work. To answer: any wine, obviously I’m a cheese person. Yes to olives and crackers. Yes to everything basically. What is happening?

She gathers her bag and walks out of the back room, saying goodnight to everyone. Her phone buzzes as she steps outside.

People usually take stuff to these things. So I figured maybe a picnic. I already bought like, the entire Williamsburg Whole Foods. Seriously, they might name me customer of the month

Kristen has to lean against the wall because honestly, this guy is too much. Nevertheless, she’s gotta play it cool.

Seems like you got us all covered. Can I bring a blanket or something?

She pulls out a cigarette and lights it before walking toward the subway. Jesse replies a few moments later.

Yes, do that. All of mine are filled with cat hair. Starts at 2. Meet around 1:30? At the prospect p subway station?

Sounds good Kristen replies back.

She hasn’t been this excited about something in a really long time.

___________________________

Jesse’s waiting for her when she exits the subway, having brought her Black Flag messenger bag and tossed the blanket inside it. She hates carrying a lot of shit, but when she looks at Jesse she realizes she got off easy. He’s got two Whole Foods tote bags, one in each hand. He’s wearing a dark pink baseball cap and a grey shirt with navy blue jeans and no glasses.

“Hi,” Jesse says, smiling crookedly.

“Hey.”

He makes some sort of aborted movement, like he wants to go in for a hug or something, before realizing his arms are full.

“So it’s over here,” he says, jerking his head to the right.

They start walking and Kristen takes in the sights, the people.

“How was your week?” Jesse asks. “Murder any unsuspecting books?”

“Sadly, no, much to my dismay. They would’ve had it coming, though. They’re not as innocent as they’d lead you to believe.”

“I buy that. Met some really nasty ones in my day. But I always see them through till the end.”

“Obviously,” Kristen smirks. “But seriously, just a rough week, man. Work and papers kicking my ass.”

She sees Jesse frown. “Are you sure today’s okay? If you need to be writing--”

Kristen waves him off. “It’s fine. Everyone needs a break, right?”

Jesse nods. “Okay, if you’re positive.”

“Wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t.”

Jesse darts a glance at her, flashing a sharp smile, before looking away again.

When they get to the place the players will be performing it’s already pretty packed.

“There’s a spot under that tree,” Jesse suggests. “Should still be a good view.”

Kristen makes an agreeable sound and they head over. There’s a lot of people who had the same idea, spread out on blankets with picnic baskets. Most seem to be couples, of all different sexual orientations and Kristen feels that same mix she always does when she stumbles upon public displays of affection: immediate dislike combined with simultaneous longing. If Scout were here she’d call her a walking contradiction and she wouldn’t be wrong. Although tonight, here with Jesse, that latter feeling is winning out.

Kristen spreads out the blanket and they get settled, Jesse taking the stuff out of his bags. He went all out -- a cheese platter, some hummus, crackers, olives, some foccacia bread, and a bottle of chardonnay.

“Damn, Eisenberg. Do I need to put some weight on or something?”

Jesse looks up at her, flushing. “No,” he mutters, twisting open the wine and producing two plastic cups. “I told you I bought the whole store. Couldn’t make up my mind and I was already there so couldn’t wait for your answers.”

Kristen smirks and takes one of the cups he’s holding out. “Relax, I’m joking. This all looks great.”

It does and it is and the whole thing is stupidly cute. They rest on their elbows, eating cheese and talking about different adaptations of As You Like It.

“I’ve got a soft spot for the Helena Bonham Carter one,” Kristen says.

“That’s a good one,” Jesse agrees.

“Plus she’s super hot dressed as a dude,” she says absently before realizing what she’s said.

Jesse laughs, a little startled. “Um, yes, I’d agree with that.”

Kristen wonders if she should play it off as a ‘girl crush’ straight girl comment. It’s not like Jesse seems about to push it further. But that isn’t really her style.

“Had such a thing for her, man. She’s still got it going on.”

Jesse’s mouth drops open a little before he schools his expression. “Right, um. Cool,” he says, sounding a little lost. “Uh, have you ever seen any Shakespeare live?”

It’s then Kristen realizes she doesn’t believe she ever mentioned Rob’s name when they’ve talked about exes, or even his gender.

She’s suddenly glad for his question.

“Yeah, Much Ado About Nothing in a park in L.A. with my ex. Who is a dude, by the way.”

Jesse’s eyes shoot up to her. “Oh.”

Kristen laughs, rolling her eyes. “So that’s me casually telling you I’m bisexual, just because it’s like, a part of me and I always feel like I’m straight-passing, otherwise.”

Jesse nods and gulps down some wine. “Thank you,” he replies. “I’m just a boring, straight, Jewish boy from East Brunswick. No surprises here.”

Kristen laughs again and pats his hand. “I’ll try not to hold your heterosexuality against you.”

“Thank you kindly.”

They grin kind of dumbly at one another before Jesse clears his throat.

“That’s my favorite Shakespeare, by the way.”

“Really?” Kristen asks, surprised.

“Yeah. Why, what’d you think it was?”

Kristen shrugs, popping an olive into her mouth. “One of the dramas. See, and you say you’ve got no surprises”

Jesse laughs. “I may come off a tortured soul but I do enjoy lighthearted things.”

Kristen smirks. “Careful, you’ll ruin that brooding rep you’ve got going.”

Jesse rolls his eyes. “Yeah, alright. Your turn,” he says, taking a sip of wine.

“Favorite play? Gotta go with Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

“Wouldn’t have pegged you for that one, either.”

Kristen raises her hands. “Guess we’re both unpredictable.”

“Right,” Jesse snorts.

“This is good wine,” Kristen says, surveying the scenery around them.

“Thanks, I grew the grapes myself.”

Kristen flips him off, then thinks of something. “Hey, what do I owe you for all this?” She starts digging into her jeans pocket.

Jesse waves his hand. “Don’t worry, I got it.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah, uh.” He rubs at the back of his neck, opening his mouth and closing it again. “Yeah, no, it’s fine.”

“Okay. Thanks.”

“Sure.”

The players come out and everyone claps. They’re seated next to one another, not touching, the food spread out in front of them. Kristen watches the scene in front of her and tries not to feel jealous of the people on either side of her that are resting against one another.

______________________________

The performance is great and Jesse offers they go out for dessert after. “Unless you’re hungry for dinner?”

“I think I ate my weight in cheese, man.”

“You’re up for dessert though, right? Because you gotta go to Spumoni Gardens. I mean, we’d get the pizza too if you were hungry, but the spumoni is like a rite of Brooklyn passage in and of itself.”

Kristen laughs. “Sure, whatever you want.”

It’s a nice night, not too cold, so they walk the few miles there, talking about the play. Even when the conversation lags a bit, Kristen still feels comfortable just walking beside Jesse, him pointing out a few different shops and points of interest.

The spumoni is pretty fucking great and they eat at the tables outside. By the time they walk back it’s dark.

“So, this was fun,” Kristen says, turning to Jesse as they stand at the entrance to the subway.

“Yeah, uh,” Jesse begins but is cut off by a guy coming up the stairs.

“Don’t even bother. Someone apparently jumped. Service suspended in both directions.”

“Shit,” Kristen says, pulling out her phone and typing in the address to the MTA site. “Yeah, he’s right.”

“That’s horrible,” Jesse says, and Kristen nods. She feels like a tool worrying about her transportation home when someone just died.

“I can just get a bus or something.”

Jesse nods. “Bit of a ride, though. You could, uh, hang at mine for a bit. I’m not too far.”

Kristen thinks about that. She really shouldn’t. She isn’t surprised when she hears herself saying, “Yeah, I could do that.”

Jesse’s eyes widen a little, like he wasn’t expecting her to take him up on it. Kristen knows the feeling.

_______________________

“So this is it,” Jesse says as he lets them in to his ground floor cobblestone.

Kristen looks around. It’s a nice space, a large one bedroom with big windows in the middle of the room and high ceilings. The kitchen is tucked away in the corner and there’s a small table with a bench. It’s cute.
She hears mewling and suddenly there’s three cats curling around both of their feet.

“Hey guys,” he says, scooping one of them up. “Look, it’s another human life form. I told you they existed.”

Kristen laughs and leans down to pet the other two, who arch beneath her hand before taking off for the kitchen.

“What are their names?” Kristen asks when she stands again, Jesse still holding the smallest. The sight makes her heart lurch.

“Those two in there are Brooklyn and Marlowe. This little one is Ophelia.”

Kristen smiles, watching the way she tries to climb up his chest and to his shoulder before she struggles to get down and trots off down the hallway.

“Um , make yourself comfortable, I'll just,” Jesse stammers before moving to gather up a few bits of clothing, a stray bag of empty Doritos, that are on the couch.

Kristen laughs and parks herself on it while he presumably goes to throw the stuff in the bedroom. When he returns he looks even more frazzled; Kristen's getting tense just looking at him.

“Do you want something to drink? I've got wine, water, um, ginger ale probably?”

“Wine?” Kristen says, dragging a hand across her thigh.

“Right, cool,” he replies jerkily, before turning away on his heel.

Kristen feels her chest fill with fondness and she looks around the room. There’re a lot of bookshelves and he’s got a record player just off the open archway to the kitchen, with a huge bookshelf just for records. Kristen wants to explore them. On the table in front of her there's something covered by a blanket. In the other corner there's a desk with a typewriter. If she weren't already crazy about this dude, she would be now.

Jesse returns with a wine bottle, two glasses and a sheepish look on his face. “So, all I have is manischewitz wine... I swear I am not a walking stereotype.”

Kristen laughs. “You sure about that?”

“Absolutely, you had a fine chardonnay before, did you not? I bought this to bring to my parents for dinner and then promptly forgot it because I'm an awful son.”

Kristen laughs again, leaning back on the couch like she owns the joint, lifting her heel to the cushion.

“Fuck man, that's even better.” She turns her head to him, still grinning.

Jesse steps forward and puts the glasses down, hand going to one hip. “I'm getting the feeling you're mocking me.”

Kristen gasps, eyes wide, feigning innocence. “Me? Never!”

“Rescue you from the perils of public transportation and this is how I'm repaid,” he tsks.

Kristen grins back at him and suddenly the moment holds and expands, charged and lightning hot as they regard one another, Kristen’s mouth suddenly dry.

Jesse coughs and looks to his left.

“Uh, I'll just,” he stammers, moving to pour the wine.

Kristen swallows hard and pushes herself up, swinging her legs back to the floor and watching the curve of his spine as he bends a little. He looks good in just a t-shirt, thin and comfortable looking. Kristen would've liked to have curled herself along his side tonight like the other couples she saw and that's a thought so far out of her realm it's a little scary.

Jesse straightens and hands her a glass.

“Thanks.”

She looks around again. “I like your place.” Then she notices something's missing. “Where's your TV?”

“No TV.”

“Seriously?”

“Yep.”

Kristen raises her glass to him. “Shit, man. I'm impressed.”

Jesse snorts. “It's a time suck.”

“What’s under here?” Kristen asks, nodding to the table. “Some super secret manuscript?”

Jesse chuckles. “Not hardly,” he replies, pulling back the cover. “The cats get all of it and fuck up the pieces.”

It’s a puzzle, black and white.

“What is it?” Kristen says, unable to make out the image fully.

“Shot of Grand Central Station from the ‘50s. I’ve always been obsessed with the architecture. Plan on hanging it up when done, maybe do a few other random New York landmarks.”

“You really love this city, huh?”

Jesse nods, eyes getting a far-off look. “Don’t think anything could make me leave.”

“Let’s do some of it.”

Jesse shoots her a look, mouth twisting. “You don’t have to just to entertain me. I know this is hardly exciting.”

Kristen rolls her eyes. “Would you shut up, it’s fine. Haven’t done a puzzle in years.”

“Okay,” Jesse says, still sounding unconvinced.

It’s more fun than she would’ve thought. They talk throughout it, working their way through the bottle of wine, switching spots a few times when they get fed up with the sections they’re working on. They’ve somehow morphed into a discussion of great comedies when Kristen discovers he’s never seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

“Are you fucking kidding me? We’re watching it right now.”

Jesse laughs. “Oh, really?” He waggles his eyebrows and it’s the most ridiculous shit ever.

“Yes, really. Get your laptop, I’ll find it.”

Jesse groans as he pushes himself to his feet, stretching his arms over his head. One of his cats plops down on Kristen as she lifts herself back onto the couch.

“Hey there, buddy,” she says, shaking its paw, unsure which one this is.

“Marlowe likes you,” Jesse says from the doorway. The expression on his face is ridiculously fond.

“He just wants a new pillow,” she replies when he turns in a circle and settles on her stomach.

“Want me to move him?” Jesse asks, sitting beside her.

“Nah, it’s cool,” she says, toeing off her converse and kicking her legs out so her feet are resting on the edge of the coffee table.

Jesse balances the laptop between them and Kristen finds a streaming upload of the film.

They watch, finishing off the wine and laughing probably even more than the film requires.

“You’re so fucking buzzed,” Kristen says halfway through it, the cat long since abandoning her for more comfortable places, Kristen pressed right up against Jesse’s side, feeling languid and warm.

“Please, this is nothing. I could drink you under the table.”

Kristen pats his thigh. “No chance in hell, buddy. It’s only been three glasses? Two more and you’d be gone, tops.”

“You’re not exactly unaffected here.” Jesse looks down at her, their faces not far apart. “Your eyes are totally getting glassy.”

“Too bad we’re out of wine; I’d totally bet you on who gets wasted first.”

“I mostly just pass out when I’m drunk; it’s highly exciting.”

Kristen laughs and then elbows him in the ribs. “Quit it, we’re missing the film.”

“You talked first,” Jesse says in a stage whisper.

Kristen just giggles some more.

By the end of the movie her head is lolling on Jesse’s shoulder and she’s vaguely aware that shouldn’t be happening probably but she honestly can’t care right now, not when he’s such a solid presence against her, not with how soft his shirt is under her cheek.

“That was good,” he says quietly, and Kristen blinks her eyes open, not remembering closing them.

“Yeah,” she sighs, knowing she should probably move now. She gives into rubbing her cheek against him, getting ready to shift her weight when Jesse moves his head, lips skimming across her forehead.

Kristen sucks in a breath and tilts her head up so their eyes meet. His are darker than usual and she can see the nerves and anxiety swirling in them.

Kristen stops listening to the voices in her head telling her all the reasons why she should move away and surges upward, one hand wrapping around his neck to pull him down to her.

Their lips barely connect, an awkward mash of teeth and lip. She hears Jesse let out a muffled ‘oomph,’ and she’d laugh if her heart wasn’t about to pound out of her chest in a mix of nervous want.

She feels his hand move to the small of her back, anchoring her into the kiss, their heads tilting so their mouths can come together fully, a lush press of lips, nothing like their first try. This kiss is electric, soft yet urgent all the same.

Jesse groans when their lips part at the same time, licking into one another’s mouth slow and searching, the only sound in the room one another’s breathing, shaky and uneven, pressed right up against each other.

Jesse shifts, gripping the laptop with his free hand and setting it onto the floor, taking Kristen with him as he shifts forward, never breaking the kiss.

Then he presses her down into the couch cushions and Kristen lets out a muffled grunt, maneuvering so she’s lying on the couch, legs spread with Jesse settling on top of her. She wraps one leg around his thigh and presses upward, her hands coming to wrap around his neck.

They kiss deeper, wetter, pulling back to bite at one another’s lips and suck in harsh breaths. Kristen can feels his erection pressed against the crease of her inner thigh and she wants to shift beneath him, get him right where she needs him for some delicious friction.

His hands card through the short strands of her hair, suckling on her tongue before pulling away, pressing a kiss to the center of her mouth, their foreheads touching.

“I can't believe this is happening,” he whispers, pushing her hair off her forehead, their eyes meeting. Kristen can barely see through the haze of her arousal. She just moans and pulls him down again, licking back between his lips.

“Jesus christ,” she groans, mouth skimming along his jaw as his nails press against her scalp, almost massaging, his hips shifting so they’re perfectly lined up. She never did this with a guy nearly her own height and fuck if it doesn’t make everything better actually.

Jesse starts kissing along her chin, down the column of her throat, nosing along her neck and pressing kisses to the heated skin there.

“Do you wanna?” he whispers, breath humid and electronic against her.

“Mmm?”

“Uh, my bedroom?”

“You've got something?” Kristen asks breathlessly, heart thudding against her ribcage.

Jesse pulls back to look down at her. His hair is a mess, his face red and blotchy. She’s so fucking into him it’s insane. “Yeah, bathroom. I think. Hope. Um, pretty sure.”

Kristen laughs shakily. “I feel so reassured. Let’s go,” she says, tapping her heel against the back of his thigh.

The couch groans beneath them as they hoist themselves up, Jesse holding his hand out for her. He doesn’t let go and they walk hand in hand toward the bedroom. It’s almost -- sweet, and kind of weird. Kristen shoves him up against a wall and attacks his mouth, pressing up on her tip toes to cut the short height difference between them.

Jesse sighs into it, his hands moving to her hair again, stroking through it, pulling a little. Kristen groans and curves her hand around his hip, squeezing.

Jesse pushes her back gently. “Bathroom,” he says shakily, motioning to the left of them. “Meet you there.”

Kristen nods and walks down the rest of the hall to the open doorway that must be his room. There’s light coming through the blinds and she doesn’t turn on another. She’s not sure if she should get on the bed or start to get undressed. She opts for the first one and luckily Jesse comes in a moment later, a sleeve of condoms dangling from his hand.

“Hi,” he says, climbing onto the bed beside her.

“How you ‘doin’?” Kristen says, sleazy as all hell. It makes Jesse crack up which is what she was going for.

“God, come here,” he breathes out, tilting her chin up with one finger and leaning forward to press their mouths together. It starts off slow again, gentle even, breathing through their noses and swiping at one another’s lips. He eases her back against the pillows, one leg pressed between her thighs, making out for long minutes at a time, so long that Kristen wonders if they’re even going to get anywhere below the waist.

Jesse’s finally started touching her tits, hands roving up and down the front of her t-shirt, squeezing a little before letting his hands fall back to skim at her sides. She could kiss him forever, licking the sweet wine out of his mouth until she tastes only him, a little spicy and sharp, but she also wants more. A lot more.

“Take my clothes off,” she whispers, thinking if she doesn’t give him the explicit go ahead he never will.

“Fuck,” he breathes, face pressed against the side of her neck.

He sits back on his knees and Kristen follows, lifting her arms so he can pull off her shirt, doing the same to him.

She frames his body, slowly dragging her hands up his chest, through the sparse hair, thumbing over his nipples. Jesse jerks in her arms, biting his lip and closing his eyes, exhaling sharply. He opens his eyes again, blinking a few times before reaching back and unhooking her bra, eyes darting to her face. He looks fucking terrified and his hands are shaking.

Kristen grips his hands as they slide back around her body to hover above her chest. “Hey,” she whispers, squeezing, moving his hands to cup her breasts. “Touch me.”

He nods jerkily, feeling her up, pressing pads of his fingers against the peaks of her nipples, rubbing them.

Kristen shudders, arching her back.

“You’re beautiful,” he says, voice choked.

Kristen rolls her eyes and leans forward to kiss him, hands moving to his jeans, dragging her palm down to stroke over his dick. She feels it twitch against her open palm, hears the way his breath catches as they kiss. She moves one of his hands down to her own jeans and he gets with the program, the two of them kneeling on the bed and clumsily undressing, their mouths fused the entire time. By the time they’re naked Kristen’s practically trembling with want, fisting his dick quickly in her hand, drawing out sharp, wrecked sounds from his lips. He’s average sized, cut obviously. She’d gotten so used to foreskin with Rob that it’s a little weird almost but she drags her thumb across the flared head and revels in the way he shakes and moans.

Jesse pushes her backward, his dick pressed up against her torso, their thighs bracketing one another, just rubbing together slowly, languid. He starts kissing her again and Kristen’s mouth already feels raw from it all, lips swollen and bitten red, but she can’t say she wants to stop, even when her jaw starts to ache a little.

He presses kisses all over her face, brushes their forehead together, just -- breathes against her. She hasn’t experienced something this intimate in a long time, someone just taking their time, almost -- worshiping her. It scares the fuck out of her but it also makes her stomach dive and swoop.

“It's been a while,” Jesse admits nosing down her neck as her palms skim over his shoulders.

“It's like riding a bike, man,” Kristen says, feeling a little breathless. “And we both know you can do that,” she adds sleazily.

Jesse lets out a choked out noise that could be disapproving horror

“Can you not call me man while we're in bed? I feel like a frat boy.”

Kristen smirks, licking a slow line up the side of his neck and nipping at his chin while slowly dragging her nails down the expanse of his back and up again. “Doubtful.”

Jesse lets out a hiss and shakes in her arms.

“Keep, uh," he begins, voice gravelly before clearing it, "keep doing that and this'll be over really quick."

Kristen drags her nails down again, loving the way he shivers.

“Then fuck me already,” she whispers as throatily as she can manage.

“Oh god,” he gasps, taking her mouth in a searing kiss and fumbling with his right hand for the condoms.

Jesse snaps the first one and even in the low light she can see him go beet red.

“Sorry,” he whispers, as she strokes soothingly up the v of his thighs. She watches his eyes dart to her pussy before his eyes close hard and he takes a steadying breath.

“Want me to--” she starts and he shakes his head, opening his eyes.

“No, I can. I got it,” he says determinedly.

Kristen smiles, feeling a stupid fondness wash over her.

He gets the next one on and then settles back over her.

“Do you need anything? I-- do you want my mouth first?” he whispers, their faces close.

Kristen shakes her head. “Not right now. Your fingers, in a bit. I’ll tell you when.”

Jesse nods and presses forward. Kristen tenses at first before relaxing, letting him in. She’s pretty fucking wet and he slides home easily enough. He braces himself above her, each of them adjusting to the feel of one another until they both shift, Jesse’s weight dropping a little, Kristen’s arms coming back up to wrap around him tight, using her nails again.

Jesse moans and drops his head to kiss her chest, her shoulder blades.

“You feel -- I can’t,” he shakes his head and starts to move slowly, so slow.

Kristen pulls his face to hers, taking his lips in a hard, deep, shuddering kiss. She wraps her legs around him and fucks upward, letting herself ride his dick a little, moving her hips in circles as he drives forward. She takes his hand that’s beside the pillow and pushes it between their bodies, guiding him exactly where she wants him.

It doesn’t take long after he gets the rhythm of his hand going, combine with the movement of their bodies. He starts fucking her harder, the kisses becoming almost bruising now.

“Oh god, oh fuck,” Jesse gasps out, wrenching his mouth away, voice almost frantic.

“Yeah,” Kristen murmurs, nonsensically.

“Kristen,” he breathes out, shuddering, his fingers working against her clit erratically, his hips losing their rhythm. She comes against his hand right before he freezes, body jerking tautly against her.

She cries out, loud and high, while he pants harshly against her mouth, the heat of his breath nearly suffocating her.

They hold themselves there, almost frozen, bodies trembling until Kristen can scramble for purchase at his back and moan weakly, pushing him off to the side.

Jesse half falls out of her and he groans, gripping himself by the base before withdrawing completely.

“Oh god,” he says, flopping onto his back and holding onto the condom, peeling it off and sealing it, tossing it somewhere near the side of the bed.

Kristen’s knees are still bent, her thighs shaking, sweat in her eyes.

“Did you, um--” Jesse starts.

Kristen turns her head on the pillow to look at him. His hair is damp against his forehead, his face beet red from exertion and perhaps something else. “I mean, uh, was that. Good for you?”

Kristen snorts, raising a still trembling hand to her face, brushing back her hair from her forehead. “You couldn’t tell?” she teases, pushing at his shoulder.

Jesse shrugs. “It's polite to ask?”

Kristen rubs her elbow against his.

“I really did,” she says quietly.

“Good,” Jesse replies, sounding serious but pleased. “Me, uh, too.”

Kristen snorts. “Duh.”

He doesn’t respond and when she looks over he seems far away, a pinched look on his face.

Kristen frowns and pushes herself up onto her elbow.

“Hey,” she says, tapping his chest with her other hand. “Where'd you go?”

Jesse shakes his head, as if to himself. “Just, uh. I mean, it isn’t always. Like, good for me.”

Kristen raises an eyebrow and waits.

Jesse rolls his eyes, self depreciation evident. "With the meds I've been on in the past -- sometimes uh, like things… didn’t happen. And sometimes they happened too fast. And uh, other times it was all just muted. This is my first time doing it since I've been on different meds.”

Kristen blinks down at him.

“Oh, shit,” she breathes. “But like, what about--” She makes a jerking off gesture which causes him to cover his eyes with his hand.

“Oh god never do that again. I mean, I don't really do that a lot to begin with? And it's never as intense, but this was... really good.”

Kristen has to lean in and kiss him, soft and slow until he's opening beneath her and they’re trading a lazy exchange of licks and tongues.

“Sorry,” Kristen breathes when she pulls back, their noses still touching.

“For what,” Jesse whispers.

“For being kind of glib just now. I didn’t know.“

She feels him shake his head. “Don't worry about it,” he says and leans up, catching her lips again before rolling them over.

Kristen groans into the kiss and wraps her arms around him.

She shudders when she starts kissing down her body, mouthing at her breasts, her nipples hardening beneath his tongue, before pressing open-mouthed kisses against her stomach.

“Can I?” he murmurs, licking lazily at her skin.

Kristen just spreads her legs wider so he can settle between them.

“You fucking better,” she sighs and then cards her fingers through his hair, eyes drifting shut at the first touch of his tongue to her pussy.
_____________________________

Kristen looks at the clock on Jesse’s nightstand after coming back in from the bathroom. Jesse’s sacked out on the bed, hand thrown over his face, apparently not fully recovered from the blowjob Kristen just delivered.

“I should go,” she says. It’s like two in the morning. She throws on her t-shirt, sans bra. “The trains have gotta be working again.”

She feels the bed indent behind her, shivers at the sensation of his mouth pressed up along the back of her neck. “‘S late,” Jesse murmurs, tongue laving against her skin. “Stay.”

His hand inches around to her belly, stroking just beneath her ribcage. “Yeah?” Kristen asks, the word catching in her throat.

“Mmmhmm,” Jesse intones, pulling her back down so she’s stretched out in front of him, tucking his head over her shoulder. “I’ll take you to my favorite greasy spoon in the morning.”

Kristen snorts, grin forming slowly. “Well, what girl can refuse an offer like that.”

Jesse kisses behind her ear. “I’m quite the casanova.”

“Clearly,” Kristen laughs.

He presses his hand over her own and squeezes. “Goodnight.”

Kristen wriggles against him, closing her eyes and breathing out slowly. “Night.”

_____________________________________

Sunday is pretty spectacular. They don't seem to be talking about what happened, or what keeps happening throughout the course of the day: in the shower that morning and on the couch later that afternoon. He does take her to his favorite diner for breakfast and then they sit in the park, grabbing books from Jessie's place and reading, Kristen leaning back against him. It's a little nauseating but she's into it.

She leaves around six that evening because he still has grading to do, which is when reality rears it's head.

“Do you want to get coffee after class tomorrow?” Jesse asks while they’re standing in his doorway.

“Sure,” Kristen replies, feeling like there’s a rather large elephant in the room. But if he doesn't wanna have a talk about it, that's fine. “I just need to go to the library for a bit, but I can meet you around 2?”

“Sounds good.” He tugs her in by the waist for a hard, sure kiss. It constantly surprises her already, how confident his kisses are when there's so much self-doubt in other places.

Kristen groans into it, dragging her hand through his hair and making him sigh.

“You better go before the cats start to get jealous.”

“Cats don't give a fuck, man,” Kristen murmurs, leaning up for one last kiss before heading out.

She feels really fucking good walking home that night, like they can do this-- whatever this is.

The next day in class though, it's definitely a little weird, looking at Jesse, trying to keep her mind on the lecture. She can tell the times he gets distracted too, tripping over his words when their gazes meet, eyes flashing a little in a way only she would get what it means. She keeps her heads down for the rest of class as its just cruel and unnecessary torture at that point.

When Kristen leaves Butler for Lerner, she can see Jesse through the glass windows, sitting with coffee and that Justin guy again. She hesitates, unsure what to do. They had plans, but he's also with a colleague.

“Fuck,” she breathes.

She decides screw it, never one to back down from an uncomfortable situation, and walks inside.

“Hey,” she says mildly when she approaches Jesse’s table, watching his eyes widen ever so slightly, a near grimace on his face. Kristen feels her back stiffen immediately.

“Hi,” Jesse replies and just that one word sounds tense.

Justin nods at her and looks between them, waiting.

Jesse doesn't say anything, just takes a sip of his coffee.

A few more seconds of awkward silence pass and she shifts on her feet. “Hi, I’m Kristen,” she says to Justin when it’s clear Jesse isn’t introducing them, shaking his hand. She feels way too tight in her own skin.

“Hey. Justin. Nice to meet you. You a student?”

Kristen opens her mouth only to close it when Jesse finally speaks up.

“She is. Did you have a question about next week’s assignment, Miss Stewart?”

She feels her blood run cold at his pointed tone, his air of indifference, his fucking casual dismissal, all bleeding through such a short sentence. She’s never heard him sound like that, like she’s someone not even worthy of his time.

“No, " Kristen replies, jaw clenching. "No, I think you made everything pretty clear, Professor." She wants to spit the last word back in his face, barely restrains herself. “Enjoy your coffee. Nice to meet you,” she adds to Justin, before turning and leaving without getting anything.

“Yeah, you too,” Kristen hears faintly behind her.

She’s basically to the exit of the campus when she hears Jesse calling after her, his feet heavy on the concrete.

“Kristen, wait up.”

Kristen scoffs, not looking back. “Oh, it's Kristen now. Go fuck yourself.”

He catches up to her, walking briskly beside her. “Look, I'm sorry. I handled that badly. Just, let me explain.”

She steps off to the side of the main gate, tucked against the wall where most people don't walk near and puts her hand on her hips, raising an expectant eyebrow.

“I'm sorry,” he repeats.

“Yeah, so am I.”

Jesse winces. “Come on, don't…”

She rolls her eyes, anger flashing hard. “Don't what, man?” she begins, voice a harsh whisper. “Don't get pissed when you blow me off like I'm some clinger, like I’m an annoyance, unable to even handle being seen with me around your friend. Jesus Christ,” she mutters shakily, fisting a hand in her hair and pulling, letting her arm flop back against her side. “I'm fucking fine with playing it cool in public, but I won't be anyone's embarrassment. Or some dirty secret.”

“You’re not an embarrassment,” Jesse says emphatically. “And I don’t want you -- you to be that. I know that was some high school shit I just pulled back there, but I freaked a little. I gotta. I have to be mindful of my tenure track.”

Kristen takes a steadying breath, letting his words sink in, feeling some of her anger drain at the anxious look on his face. “I know that, trust me, man, I’m not naive about this. But don’t treat me like I’ve got some disease when you never did before. Just -- behave like you used to.”

“It’s not that easy,” Jesse whispers, barely audible.

“Why not?”

His eyes cut to her before fleeting quickly away. She can see color rise to his cheeks. “Because-- because before I constantly wanted to kiss you and now I know that I can.”

Kristen sucks in a breath. “Jesse…”

He continues in a nervous rush. “And seeing you -- and knowing I can’t be the way I want to around you--”

Kristen shakes her head. “Come on, man, that’s just on campus.”

“I know that,” Jesse says, irritably. “Sorry, just. Look, sometimes I -- I obsess a little. Over small things. My brain overthinks shit, gets tripped up. I just need to find a balance with all this. I told my psychiatrist--”

“You already saw your shrink?” Kristen interrupts.

Jesse flushes. “Uh, yeah. Scheduled an emergency meeting this morning.”

“So he knows about us,” Kristen says, not a question.

Jesse scratches at the back of his head. “Yeah, of course. Not like, your name specifically but he knows I’m -- uh, involved with a student.”

Kristen covers her face with her hands. “So sleeping with me required an emergency therapy session.”

“No,” Jesse says fiercely. “The situation and how I’m going to handle it did. I let myself go down a road I said I wouldn’t-- even if... Um, you just,” he pauses, dragging a rough hand through his hair. “Don’t really know how hard this has been, trying to -- stop feeling shit, since I met you.”

Kristen looks up, surprised. “I think I kinda do.”

Jesse’s lips part. “You -- how long?”

“A while,” Kristen admits. “Like, nearly from the start, basically.”

Jesse lets out a loud breath. “Fuck. I-- had no idea.”

“Seriously?”

“Yeah. I thought this was mostly on me.”

Kristen frowns. “Wait, so. So what was all this just now? Did you think I -- that all I wanted was to screw? That I’d like, blow up your spot in front of your colleague, just for something casual?”

Jesse shrugs. “I really -- I didn’t know, honestly. My crippling low self esteem is having a hard enough time processing what we did last night, physically, much less you wanting to get involved with,” he gestures to his head. “This whole mess.”

Kristen shakes her own head, feeling fond and frustrated all at once “Jesus christ, Jesse, like I’d go through all this drama for just a fuck.”

“Okay, well, I know that now,” he says testily.

Kristen rolls her eyes. “Asshole.” She grins at him though and he answers it.

“Hey, have you been to the farmers market?” He gestures out the gate.

"No, not yet. Always in a hurry to get somewhere."

"Wanna go?" he asks biting his lip. She knows it's a peace offering.

"Sure," Kristen says, tamping down the wave of contentment washing over her.

It's a pretty great set up of booths. Kristen buys some lavender and Jesse gets a focaccia.

"Is this like, your thing? Focaccia bread?"

His expression turns sheepish. "One of my exes was Italian, I got kind of addicted. So much better than challah."

Kristen laughs. “Let me guess: your mom would kill you if she heard you say that."

"Got it in one," Jesse groans. "She makes her own."

Kristen listens to his tales of holidays in Jersey while they weave in and out of the different booths along the street. Jessie's voice is a calming presence, even when it gets rambly and Kristen loves hearing it.

He checks his watch after a bit. "I've gotta head back. Another class."

Kristen nods. "Do you wanna go to dinner tomorrow night?"

Jesse flashes her a wide, half-surprised grin. "Yes, definitely."

They stop by the entrance and she watches him shift his weight. "We're okay then?" he asks, sinking his teeth into his lower lip. She'd kiss him if she could.

"Yeah,” Kristen smiles. "Yeah, Jesse, we're cool. I'll text you."

He groans. "If you must."
______________________

November

“Do you wanna, um. Well. I don’t know your plans but the Eisenberg family of East Brunswick has extended an invitation to Thanksgiving for one Kristen Stewart.”

Kristen’s blinks up from the New York Times crossword puzzle that they’ve been doing together in bed. Her head on Jesse’s chest, his heart beat slowing beneath her from the rapid way it was beating while they were fucking a little while earlier, while he strokes her hair idly. It’s already getting longer in the back, she may have to cut it again.

That’s not something to think about now, though. Now, Kristen is staring up at him, a little nonplussed. He’d just been rattling off answers to her as she penciled them in because he beats her to the words nearly 80% of the time. After the first few times it happened she accused him of knowing the person who makes up the puzzles but instead it was something way more infuriating: turns out he’d made up a word game website a few years ago. It became some big thing with internet nerds and Jesse’d even gotten some press about it. Infuriating in the fact that it was stupidly adorable and amazing and really, Kristen didn’t need to keep falling for the dude more and more each day.

So how they got from him absently naming Ariadne as the one who came to Theseus’ aid to this, Kristen has no fucking clue.

“Um,” she replies stupidly when she realizes she’s still staring at him and his forehead is starting to crease, his eyes growing uncertain.

“It’s fine, you don’t. You don’t have to or anything, this doesn’t have to be some big--”

Kristen sits up, the sheet falling down off her exposing her breasts, which makes his eyes drop immediately. She smirks through her reeling mind and pulls it back up; she’d rather be at least somewhat clothed for this.

“Stop talking,” she says, dragging her fingers through her hair. “Did you-- have you like, told them? No wait, that’s a stupid question, obviously, if I’m being invited.”

Jesse sits up further himself, leaning back against the wall, twisting his hands together. “I told them, I told them I’m seeing someone new. They know you go to Columbia they just don’t--”

Know that I’m your student Kristen adds silently, feeling a general rise of awkwardness. In the month or so since they got together she’d honestly thought things would be more difficult. Part of her assumed getting together would be the easy part and everything from here on out would be the hard shit, but it hasn’t been, not really. After that first morning after and the next week or so, they decided on the ground rule of no socializing outside of the classroom while on campus. It basically killed two birds with one stone, allowing for no other misunderstandings. Plus it wasn’t like they hung out together there a lot to begin with. They maneuvered around one another’s schedules in the evenings and on the weekends and more often than not they’d either hole up in Kristen’s room or in Jesse’s apartment, each working on stuff for classes, either propped up against one another or Kristen’s feet in Jesse’s lap, often taking breaks to fuck around. It was kind of -- perfect, actually. Kristen hasn’t felt an ease like this, being with someone, in a long time.

And she knew come December things would get even easier, with the semester ending. They wouldn’t have to sneak around in any sense, if that’s what you could call them doing now. Kristen still doesn’t envision many public displays of affection coming their way on campus because, well, that’s never really been her thing to begin with. But if Jesse decides to kiss her goodbye on his way to class one day, it’s good to know the administrative board won’t start breathing down their necks.

He’s looking a little shame-faced, though, at not telling his parents the whole story. Or so she assumes it’s that. If he feels weird or guilty over them doing this while he’s still her professor he hasn’t really voiced that, aside from once that first week in which he said if she wanted to put the brakes on and wait till December, he’d understand.

“We can’t exactly un-fuck each other, man,” Kristen had said, rolling her eyes and pulling him in for another, deeper kiss, before breaking away, panting. “I’m cool with this if you are.”

“I am.”

So yeah, if Jesse’s got any issues then his psych is probably the one hearing them.

“I’m not gonna be your student for much longer,” Kristen reminds him now, not wanting him to feel shitty for the omission. “It’s not like you’re really lying to them, by leaving that part out.”

“No, I know,” Jesse says, shaking his head confusedly, picking at his cuticle. “I just, I’m not trying to make it seem like I’m ashamed of this, us. Because I’m not.” He’s looking at her now, expression so earnest that it makes her breath catch.

Kristen swallows around the lump in her throat and grabs his hand, idly tracing her index finger over his knuckles. “Yeah, I know that.”

Jesse nods again but it’s like a spasm. “My parents though, I mean my mom especially, they’re a little old fashioned. They’d -- it’d become a thing, okay.”

Kristen rolls her eyes and squeezes his hand. “Jesse, I don’t fucking care.”

He looks at her, finally, surprise registering on his face at her matter-of-fact tone.

“You don’t?”

She shakes her head. “We know what this is, how we got here. That’s all that really matters. It’s not really anyone else’s business, honestly.”

Jesse leans in and kisses her, firm and sure. Kristen kisses back, licks between his lips, stroking the roof of his mouth with her tongue and sighing before pulling back a little, breathing against him.

“They invited me?” she asks, feeling a little dizzy, nerves coursing through her.

“Yeah,” Jesse says, thumb brushing her cheek as he presses kisses to the corner of her mouth. “Soon as I said ‘girlfriend’, my mom was already setting a plate at the table.”

“Girlfriend, huh,” Kristen replies, dryly, even as her pulse picks up.

Jesse’s hand stills and he takes a breath. “Fuck. Sorry, no, of course,” he begins babbling, starting to pull away, eyes downcast. “We haven’t put that into words or anything and--”

Kristen tilts his head up by the back of his neck, brushing one finger over his lips to silence him. “I’m your girlfriend, moron. Of course I am.”

Jesse licks nervously at his lips. “Right, okay, good. So you’re absolutely prepared to be exposed to my family, then.”

Kristen laughs brightly. “Well I don’t know about prepared, but yes. I’ll spend Thanksgiving with you. Wasn’t gonna head home, anyway. Not enough time off.”

Jesse’s shoulders drop, tension easing out and Kristen once again feels that kick to her stomach that she gets sometimes, just watching him, like to her he’s the best person she’s ever seen.

Kristen clears her throat, still unused to being blindsided by feelings like this. With Rob it was more of a comfortable progression. They were friends for ages and then they were more. They were basically already in love just the way you’re often in love with your friends, it’s just a platonic love. So all they’d really added was the sex and by the time they did it wasn’t really overly exciting, it just was. It was them, it was comfortable, it was love.

The experience thus far with Jesse is more the way Kristen thinks a lot of people stumble into relationships: that attraction and chemistry and friendship that simmers over into something more and when it gets to that point it’s like a dam breaking, not just sexually but-- all the stupid feelings that come along with that.

“So, like, my family’s probably coming out for Christmas this year. There’s been rumblings. I mean, there’s not enough room at my place so they’ll have to stay in a hotel, but yeah. They wanna come see my apartment and shit. Probably gonna stay through New Years. So there’s that.” She gives him a meaningful look and he swallows.

“Okay, uh. You want me around?”

Kristen shrugs like she doesn’t really care about the answer. “If you want. We can compare whose family is crazier.”

Jesse snorts, but he also moves in and kisses her softly, whispering, “Yeah, I want.”

Kristen pushes him down onto the bed and straddles his hips, letting the sheet fall off her shoulders, gasping when Jesse’s hands move to her tits, squeezing. She puts her palms flat on his chest, thumbing over his nipples.

“Hey, think of it as the speed-up process. Already learning pretty fucking early on if we can’t stand each other’s families and that way we get the super-awkwardness out of the way.” She waggles her eyebrows. “Amirite?”

Jesse groans and Kristen isn’t sure if it’s at her words or her fingers. He slides his hands slowly up her sides, curving over her shoulders and pulling her down. “Please, enough talking about our parents,” he murmurs, their lips sliding together slick and wet.

She grins into the kiss. So, both then.
___________________

The first thing they do to celebrate the last day of Kristen’s first semester is buy a bottle of wine, spread out a blanket on Jesse’s floor, put on one of Kristen’s vinyls she’s started storing there (one Jesse doesn’t even veto) and fuck right there, slow and languid and maybe a little bit giddy with the knowledge that she’ll never, ever have to write ‘Professor Eisenberg - From Shakespeare to Stoppard and Beyond - Fall 2015’ - on the top of one of her papers again.

Kristen had been justifiably horrified when she finally perused his record collection, only to discover it was composed nearly entirely of musicals. Learning Jesse didn’t really care for music in general was a little difficult to swallow, but Kristen’s been working on it. She’s started simple with The Beatles, because people can’t possibly hate The Beatles.

“You gonna tell me my grade or what?” she asks lazily when they’ve moved to the bedroom, the cats walking on the blankets between them. Kristen reaches out to pet Ophelia, whom she’s recently deemed her favorite, while Jesse noses along her neck.

“Hmm? Oh, 10 out of 10, obviously. Especially at the end, there.”

Kristen laughs and swats at his arm. “Fuck you, you know what I mean. You’re really gonna make me wait?”

Jesse snorts. “As if I gave you lower than an A all semester. Come on.”

Kristen groans, stretching her feet out and dragging her heels against the sheets. “I really should’ve withdrawn early on. Such a conflict of interest, man. But I loved your class.”

She feels Jesse lift one shoulder. “If it helps, I never gave you a grade you didn’t deserve. Meant what I said in those early emails. You were really a-- a breath of fresh air, I guess. That sounds trite but it’s true.”

A smile curves on Kristen’s lips and she shifts until her back’s to him and he’s immediately spooned up behind her, his curls tickling her skin.

“I’m just that epic, huh?”

Jesse laughs, startled. “Yeah, you’re something else, all right,” he murmurs.

Kristen still isn’t prepared for the random moments of complete sincerity that slip out of Jesse, without any form of awkwardness or sarcasm. Sure he still tries to be as dry as possible when he can, but his words just now, with a tint of soft fondness, seem to be seeping out more and more lately. She likes it more than she expected to, honestly.

The next thing they do in celebration is head out the following morning, the December air frigid around them, walking hand in hand to BARC.

“Are you sure you’re ready for this kind of commitment?” Jesse asks, faux-serious. “I’ve seen the way you look at Brooklyn when he’s crying for attention.”

Kristen flips him off. “Fuck you, he starts crying the moment we start banging. He knows exactly what he’s doing. And I still can’t believe you named your cat Brooklyn.”

“Don’t be a hater, Kristen, the cat people will be able to tell.”

She laughs and shoves against his shoulder. “Shut up. And yes, I’m ready for this.”

They start walking up the stairs to the shelter, Jesse’s hand worming its way back into her own. “It’ll have friends, you know. That’s good.”

“Hmm?” Kristen asks.

Jesse’s doing that thing where he bites his lip like maybe he wants to take back what he said.

“I mean, my cats. They’ll hang out. Play dates.”

Kristen laughs. “Do cats even do play dates? It’s not like there’s a cat park, like a dog park.”

Jesse huffs as they walk in the doors. “At my apartment, jeez.”

“Oh,” Kristen blinks.

“You know, like, if you stay for the weekend or whatever.”

Kristen nods, heart picking up. It’s not like she hasn’t slept over before, but they’ll often split their time up between both places and things. Kristen kind of likes the idea of parking herself at his place during the weekends, leaving her new pet there to play with the others while she heads to work. It’s… dumbly domestic but a warm thought all the same.

Things seem to be moving a little -- fast and Kristen ranges from panicking to sheer exhilaration on a daily basis. She’s already spent both Thanksgiving and Hanukkah with Jesse’s family and he wasn’t really kidding about his mom: she was certainly gearing up for a wedding. Kristen feels like she’s already been dubbed an honorary daughter-in-law and while the whole thing has freaked her out a little, Jesse does his best not to make anything weirder, playing it all off with jokes and long-suffering looks.

“Yeah,” Kristen says, as they step up to the receptionist at the window. “Yeah, we can do that.”

Jesse’s staring at her, a mouth a little open, when the woman looks up, grinning brightly.

“Jesse! Adopting again?”

He smiles at her, hand tightening in Kristen’s. “My girlfriend is.”

Kristen smiles stupidly at the word on his lips. “Well,” she drawls, “it might turn into a joint custody thing.”

The shy, pleased look on Jesse’s face is the greatest thing she’s ever seen, like he can tell she’s basically saying, ‘I love you,’ right here, right now. That this is her way of doing things.

“Yeah. Yeah, it just might,” Jesse murmurs in that soft, earnest voice, making it pretty clear to her that he’s saying it right back.

[end]