The first time Jesse sees her she’s talking on her phone, which he fucking despises from customers. And worse, it sounds like she’s breaking up with someone or at least re-attempting to and really, who the hell does that in a Chipotle on a Saturday at 12:30 in the afternoon?
“I gotta fuckin’ go, goodbye, Nikki,” she says and then blinks, looking up at him while he tries to clear his disdainful expression.
“Some women, huh?” she grins, voice deeper than he would’ve pictured, her mouth quirking. She’s already asking him for a sofritas burrito bowl before he realizes she isn’t talking about herself.
Jesse doesn’t see her again until two Saturdays later and he honestly wouldn’t have remembered if it weren’t essentially a verbatim conversation as last time. That coupled with the phone it’s kind of hard to ignore her. This Nikki person really can’t take a hint, he thinks to himself and then wonders why the fuck he recalled that innocuous detail, great memory withstanding.
Except Phone Girl says, “Men, huh?” and she’s smirking again, like she knows something he doesn’t and Jesse just blinks, hard, and asks what he can get her. It’s the same as last time.
He doesn’t know why he remembered that, either.
It takes him the rest of his shift to get her raised eyebrow and smug smile out of his head.
Jesse always works the day shifts during the weekdays, when the summer ends and he’s no longer teaching drama to 5th graders at a day camp in Brooklyn. In fact, he picks up as many shifts as possible since he doesn’t really have much else on the horizon right now. Budget cuts made him lose his job at the elementary school he’d been teaching at the past two years. Working at Chipotle was honestly the last place he’d ever seen himself, but here he was. He was trying to make the best of it, but he found people pretty fucking tedious. At least he could appreciate the naive and simple nature of children. Seeing those same characteristics in adults was, frankly, embarrassing.
The weekday lunch rush is always the worst. Jesse, being the first one to greet customers, has to try to have a smile or at least polite expression on his face but he never can keep it up for very long; he transitions into permanently bored pretty early on. Jesse’s not making eye contact with the person ordering, is instead staring blankly down the line when he sees her. She’s dressed in a skirt suit and she’s listening to her iPod this time. She doesn’t take either earbud out when she says, “Hey, man. Sofritas bowl to stay, please.”
“White or brown rice?” he asks her.
He nods and then Isabella takes over and Jesse’s off helping the next person. That night while he’s writing on his laptop, Viktor trying to walk along the keys as he types, Jesse wonders why out of all the faces he sees day in and day out, she’s the one he remembers the most vividly.
Apparently, she must work nearby and because Jesse wasn’t around during the early afternoon hours over the summer, he’d never realized this. Because now? Now he sees her at least three times a week. Usually she’s alone. Sometimes she’s with either a co-worker or just a friend, Jesse can’t tell the difference. She always has the iPod earbuds permanently attached to her head, however. Jesse wonders what kind of music she listens to and then wonders why he’s even wondering, since it’s not like music is his thing. The store has a pretty wide rotation but there’s a few standards they tend to replay often; a song from some band called Sleigh Bells (that Jesse only knows the name of because he’s heard it so many times he finally broke down one evening and yelled, ‘what the hell song is this?’) and a few from Radiohead.
Jesse notices she always tends to take out one earbud when those songs come on, so he imagines her music tastes being either pretentious or Brooklyn hipster-y. She’s always dressed in business attire and it’s pretty different from those first two times he saw her. Which didn’t exactly look very hipster-y, so yeah, he’s got no clue what makes this girl tick or why he continually thinks about it.
“How’s your day going?” she says as he’s shoveling the ‘brown rice, extra’ into the bowl.
“Huh?” Jesse replies blankly, blinking at her.
He watches as that slow smirk he’s probably fucking dreamt about, good lord, appears on her face. “Your day, man. How’s it going?”
“Uh, I work at Chipotle?”
She barks out a laugh, shaking her head a little. “Well, thanks for making my day. I’ll see you around.”
Jesse just blinks after her and keeps staring until someone says, “Excuse me?” in a not-so-patient voice. Right. He’s gotta work.
“So she asked you how your day was going,” Emma says that night around her beer while they’re sitting at a table at their favorite dive bar. Andrew’s got his arm thrown across the back of her chair and he’s staring at her like she’s the greatest thing ever, which is a complete default state for him at this point. Jesse once again gets to feel like the third wheel; ever since he and Anna broke up last year it’s mostly just been the three of them going out like this.
“Yes, she asked me that,” Jesse says flatly while Andrew now turns his bright smile and Bambi eyes on Jesse.
“Be nice,” he chides, good-naturedly and Jesse rolls his eyes.
“When am I ever nice?,” he mutters.
Emma scoffs. “Please, Jesse, you’re a fucking angel. You’re just a gruff and sarcastic angel.”
“Yeah, well,” he concedes.
“You must like her,” Andrew says out of nowhere, causing Jesse to spit half his beer out onto the table.
“What are you talking about?” he says in a rush, cleaning up the mess with his napkin while Emma laughs her head off.
Andrew tilts his beer bottle at him. “You willingly brought her up to us. When have you ever talked about customers except to complain about them?”
“All I said was the girl I see a lot asked me how my day was!”
“Translation: this girl I really like talked to me today, like, oh my god,” says Emma, doning an excited pre-teen girl like voice.
“Have you ever known me to say ‘like, oh my god’ ever in my life?”
“You might as well have,” Andrew points out helpfully, voice oh so fucking cheerful.
Jesse slams down his glass. “Okay, if you fucking assholes don’t stop, I’m taking my half-drunken beer and leaving.”
They both hold their hands up in acquiescence
Jesse nods, appeased, and takes a drink again.
“We’re just saying--” Emma begins and Jesse groans.
“We’re just saying,” Emma repeats, “that you should, you know, talk about this stuff. If you want to.”
Jesse folds his hands on the table, calmly. “I don’t, okay? I don’t know why I even brought it up. So she’s gorgeous and has a great smile and asked me how my day was. I encounter two of those things on a daily basis living in this city.”
Emma smiles knowingly. “But not the last. She probably remembers you.”
“Of course she remembers me, she sees me at least three times a week, in the same spot. It’s not like that’s hard.”
“What did you even say? You didn’t let us get that far before.”
Jesse bites his lip. He knows he can’t get out of this one, so he caves.
They both gape at him.
“Oh, Jesse. Jesse, Jesse, Jesse.”
“Yes, Andrew, that’s my name.”
He laughs and covers his face with his hand.
Emma just sighs patiently. “And what did she say?”
“She, uh, she said I made her day and thanked me?”
Andrew slowly draws his hand away from his face. “She likes you, mate.”
“As much as I hate to admit it,” Emma says, elbowing Andrew in the ribs, “this one’s right this time. She’s gotta.”
Jesse downs the rest of his beer in one gulp and wipes his mouth with his sleeve. “And so what if she does? It is completely unprofessional to ask someone out in the workplace.”
Emma grins evilly. “Guess she’ll just have to ask you out first.”
“Vegetarian burrito bowl to stay,” Jesse hears as he asks what the next customer wants, without looking up, which is a big no-no but whatever. It’s been a really shitty day so far and he just wants it to be over already.
And then he looks up because that voice sounds familiar and yep, there she is.
“No sofritas today?” he says before he realizes it and then snaps his mouth shut.
She raises one eyebrow slowly. It shouldn’t be so damn sexy. “You remembered, huh?”
“Uh,” Jesse says, fumbling for the cardboard bowl. “Well, like, I mean, you--”
She laughs and raises her palms. “Relax man, I don’t think you’re some weirdo stalker that catalogs my food.”
Jesse nods, rapidly. “Good. Because I’m, like, not.”
“Anyway, I thought I’d switch it up for a change.”
“Are you averse to meat or something?”
She laughs. “Nope, just try to keep it low in my diet.”
Jesse hands over the bowl after filling it with rice (and without asking her what kind she’d want because he wasn’t fooling anyone here anymore), largely because Isabella is looking at him pointedly.
He clears his throat. “So, have a good day.”
“You too, man.” She throws him a smile and a little jaunty wave and god if his heart doesn’t flip over.
“Get it together,” he mutters to himself.
He looks up every so often, out to the tables, and sees her looking back, raising one eyebrow again and then looking away again. She’s so fucking unruffled and Jesse wishes he could be like that even for one day. Wishes he didn’t wake up in cold sweats, riddled with anxiety about everything and nothing, wishes he didn’t over-analyze every little thing, wishes he could just talk to this girl.
Wishes that he’d catch her, for one moment, blushing or averting her eyes quickly, just to show Jesse he’s not imagining any of this, that he’s not in -- whatever this is, alone.
Yet after that, after the shitty start to his day, he does actually have a good one. He sort of hates thinking it had something to do with her because he’s one of those non-romantics who doesn’t want to think a singular person can immediately improve your mood. He wants his moods to mean something, his feelings to be valid and not so easily dependent upon another person’s mere existence. It’s why most of his relationships end. He isn’t good at the romance thing or the intimacy thing or -- a lot of things, really. Emma would tell him he’s just dating the wrong people, but at the end of the day, when he’s curled up alone with his cats, it’s hard to envision a reality in which he isn’t the one who’s the problem.
On Saturday night Emma and Andrew drag him out to a speakeasy in Brooklyn. Well, first they take him to that Doctor Who centric bar because Andrew’s wanted to go forever and kept getting veto’ed, so Emma compromised with the speakeasy. Jesse would’ve been fine hanging out at home but the two of them have some odd desire to ensure he does not become a cat crazy recluse.
So he goes to the speakeasy and he drinks the type of drinks you’d find in a place like this and bobs his head to the 1920s music, pretending to enjoy it all but really he’s just subtly looking at his watch. Emma nudges him a few times, pointing out girls who seem like they could be looking. Jesse can’t get up the courage to go over there though and moreover, he doesn’t really want to.
So after a respectable amount of time he leaves Andrew and Emma to their foxtrotting and makes his way towards the subway, ducking into a store for something to drink and maybe a few snacks. When he’s making his way up to the cashier, a box of pringles, two packages of ramen, and a 20oz coke bottle in his hand, he sees her. And then nearly drops everything.
“Shit,” he whispers and considers hiding in the back of the store and then realizes how dumb that is. Wincing, he makes his way up to the line. Maybe she won’t look back. Maybe she won’t recognize him out of his Chipotle get-up.
Jesse is tense by the time he’s standing behind her, looking off to the side and gritting his teeth. There’s still two people in front of them.
She turns, of course she turns, and then does a double take. “Hey there,” she drawls.
“Uh,” Jesse says, wishing he had a free hand to drag through his hair or tap on his thigh or something. “Hey.”
She looks down. “My name is on your bottle.”
“Huh?” he says dumbly, raising it up to look at it. It says ‘Kristen.’
“Oh, um. Wow. Nice to meet you, Kristen.”
She laughs and he looks at the bottle in her own hand. “Oh, shit,” he whispers.
“Uh. My name is on yours too.”
Kristen’s lips quirk. “Shut up, man.”
“No um, I’m serious.”
She looks at the bottle. “Well. Jesse.” She looks up, grinning. “Nice to meet you, too.”
“Next!” Jesse hears and they both jump.
Kristen heads to pay and he hears her buy a pack of cigarettes too, which is unfortunate and yet he thinks it wouldn’t be the dealbreaker it normally is for him, since it’s her. And then once again he finds himself shaking his head at himself.
He’s disappointed that she isn’t still around after he pays and sighs, walking outside into the fall air.
“Yo,” he hears and turns to see her standing against the building, one leg propped against it, smoking.
“Those things’ll kill ya,” Jesse says inanely, wincing as he does, but Kristen just laughs.
“So they tell me. Do you live around here?”
Jesse comes to stand by her, opening up the Coke. “Uh, no actually. City.”
“I live around here.” She offers up, blowing out smoke away from him.
Maybe she really is a hipster from Brooklyn. But she’s wearing a plain white tee and a black hoodie and Converse. So maybe not. Jesse doesn’t really keep up on what does and does not constitute as a hipster anymore. Emma calls Andrew a British one all the time. Jesse supposes it’s got something to do with the hair.
Kristen laughs, shaking her head. She seems to do that a lot around him. He’s not sure if he likes it or hates it.
“Oh, uh,” he says, as he’s raising the bottle to take a drink. “Did you want this one?”
She smirks. “Nah, you can keep it.”
“Okay,” he shrugs, taking a long gulp.
“So what’s a nice boy like you doing working in Chipotle?”
It startles a laugh out of Jesse and then he finds he can’t stop. She joins in and after a few moments they’re just grinning at one another.
“Uh, clearly it was what I’ve aspired to be. All those years of schooling, you know. Helps.”
Kristen snorts. “Mmm-hmm. What do you wanna be when you grow up, Jesse?”
“Teacher. Kinda was. Laid off.”
Jesse shrugs, suddenly uncomfortable. “Uh, what about you?”
Kristen rolls her shoulders back against the building. “Work for a magazine in Midtown. Fashion type shit.”
“I know nothing of fashion,” Jesse says honestly.
“I won’t hold it against you, buddy.”
Jesse loves the dryness in her voice, the casual ease of her, everything.
“Listen, uh, you wanna go out sometime?”
“How about you go out with me already, Jesse?”
They say the words at the same time and Jesse freezes, staring at her, mouth open.
“Um,” Jesse says.
“Jinx, buy me a Coke. Oh, wait.” She’s grinning and Jesse can’t help but grin back.
He turns so he’s standing in front of her. “You should know I’m horrible at romance and uh, sharing and everything most people care about.”
Kristen throws away her butt, stepping on it with her toes and closes the distance between them, fingering Jesse’s jacket and pulling him in a little. “Good thing I’m not most people, then,” she murmurs before pressing their lips together.
And that’s how Jesse gets his next, and hopefully last, girlfriend.
“We have Chipotle to thank for this shit, you know,” Kristen says a month into them dating officially, lying in Jesse’s loft, naked on his bed and everything he never knew he wanted.
“I’ll take you there for our anniversary. My treat.”
Kristen snorts, swinging one leg over to straddle his thighs, the sheet all tangled up around them, before leaning down slowly to kiss along his chest. “And who ever said you weren’t a romantic.”