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Sarsaparilla and the Starfish

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“Thank you for doing this.”

“No problem, Jess.”

Nick draws a line on the wall with a golf pencil from his special Poker Night box. There were some strange things in there. Jess didn’t need to see ‘em. 

“I can hang my own frames, but I have trouble with alignment. Usually, I say that the mismatched angles are an aesthetic choice. Shabby chic. Holla!”

He glances over at her, and watches her simultaneously rub her arms like she’s cold and scratch her calf with her foot, all bare skin and constant fidgeting. She’s wearing a black skirt that’s the size of a postage stamp and an old timey sailor looking top. He thinks he may have told her he liked it once. She’s been wearing it a lot lately and yeah, he needs to stop looking at her or else her frickin’ pictures are going to stay on the floor, which is where she’ll be too in a minute and didn’t they just fuck this morning? She’s going to think he’s some kind of sex maniac. Which he totally is. Cool it Miller, cool it. You are NOT a sex maniac. He sighs loudly and gives himself a little shake. Stamps. He needs to buy some soon. Preferably before the price goes up another three cents. What made him think of that? Her skirt, you weirdo. It’s small.

“Sorry…about that,” she murmurs.

His eyes snap back to hers.

“I’m trying to tone down the holla.” She raises her arms weakly, mouths a silent woot woot and then shakes her head no at herself. Fuck, she’s cute. He adjusts his pants and assumes a business-like drawl.

“It’s really no problem. You know I like doin’ stuff for you.” He notices something new in her expression then, like she's trying not to laugh. “What?” he says, raising his eyebrows.

"Not gonna lie..." she whispers theatrically behind her hand, "but this is kinda getting me all hot and bothered."

Nick looks at her and feels a tiny half smile bloom on his face. She steps back and looks him up and down.

"Oh yeah? Is it my manly physique?"

"Definitely."

"Really?" He leans on the wall and resists the urge to flex.

"No." She attempts a poker face but it dissolves into laughter. He frowns at her and returns to the task at hand, squatting down to rummage through his toolbox for a hammer. She bites her lip.

"It's your forearms. They're so... hairy."

He turns and raises an eyebrow. "Okay. Thanks?"

Nick finds the hammer and stands up, his knees clicking as he does so. He stretches slightly, to ease the tension. That's him. Old man Miller.

"If I made you a friendship bracelet, would you wear it?" she blurts out.

"That depends, Jess... are we at summer camp? Will we braid each other's hair by the fire?”

"I just really like your wrists."

"Oh these? You mean the ones at the end of my hairy arms?” He reaches out, opening and closing his hand. “Beer."

She hands him a Heisler and he makes sure to keep eye contact as he drinks. It’s second nature by now. He rubs the still cool bottle on his jaw and hands it back to her.

"Both. I like them both." Her eyes are bush baby big.

“Well, aren't I a lucky boy?”

She absentmindedly sips from his bottle, then makes a face when she realizes what she’s doing. He chuckles.

"Nail.”

She hands him a nail and he swiftly hammers it into the wall. Nick picks up the print, hangs it, then spends a few moments straightening the frame. He turns to Jess with a questioning grunt and catches her in mid-blush/squirm. Huh. He thought she was trying to mess with him but it looks like it’s the other way around. How about that?

“You’re serious, aren’t you? This is really doin’ it for you.”

“Your face is serious,” she protests, too much.

He nods and fishes out a level from his back pocket. Okay, he’s got her number but he’s not going to call it. Let her stew a bit. He steps sideways to find the right spot for the second print. He studies the picture for a moment and struggles to read the cursive at the bottom.

“Smilax Regelii.” she says.

She points to the print. He rolls his eyes and nods to himself. Of course she would know what it was. She’s such a nut. She probably knew when she bought it at whatever little flea market she went to. That’s where he drew the line. No fucking flea markets. EVER.

“Sarsaparilla.”

“What?”

“Smilax Regelii is Sarsaparilla. In case you were wondering.” She points to the print again. “Sarsaparilla is what they use to make root beer. I used to have a pretty serious root beer habit when I was a kid. It was out of control.”

“Okay, right on.” He smiles to himself.  He’ll have to remember that. Nick turns back to the wall, level in hand, takes the pencil from behind his ear and makes a new mark.

“I can't believe you use tools to hang pictures Nick. So fancy! I’m really impressed.”

"Well... my Uncle Pat used to say real men don't need shortcuts but I like to drink while I work so there's that.” He snorts suddenly and holds up the level. “Did you know that there’s an app for this? Schmidt showed me. That guy is such an idiot.”

Nick moves to her dresser and motions to it. “I’m gonna slide this over for a second.” He pushes it to the side and spies something dark falling behind it, “Wait, there’s something..."

He kneels down to have a closer look, reaching out to pick it up.

"What on earth is this? Why do you have a bunch of sewn together black rubber bands? Were you making a slingshot or something?" Nick stretches the mystery item with his fingers and pretends to shoot it at her.

Jess turns crimson and covers her face with her hands. "Oh my god. It's lingerie."

He leans in his head involuntarily. "What?" His eyes go to the item in his hand.

"It's lingerie, it's called the Starfish. I bought it back when I was seeing Genz, so you know how that turned out. I didn't know what I was doing. Ugh. Just put it in the top drawer. Or here, give it to me."

Nick frowns what he knows to be his level 10 frown, brows knitted together and mouth set. He looks up at her, or rather looks her up and down and speaks, his voice sounding tight in his throat.

"Put it on."