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Much to his own irritation, Jess couldn’t stop thinking about Forester all morning.
He’d wanted to be there when Forester woke, fact Jess had already imagined the scene in much detail the night before. Forester would wake up, all disoriented, wondering where he was. And just when he’d get it, and start flushing red with humiliation at having sleepwalked (or was it sleptwalked?) again, Jess would clear his throat loudly. And Forester would jump a mile high, and Jess would add insult, well, more insult by spouting off something awesomely witty and dripping with biting sarcasm. And Forester would just die and run out of the room (his room) and never dare show his face around here again. And Jess would totally revel in his final victory and destruction of his arch nemesis, Dean Forester, the guy who… who…
…just a guy he didn’t like very much. Period.
“Jess!” Luke called out from the kitchen, startling Jess where he sat behind the diner’s counter. “Need you to make a quick trip to the store. We’re out of pecan nuts.”
His first instinct was to scowl and refuse to move. He was actually quite comfortable hogging the far table by the window with his feet up and dark shades covering his eyes as he stared out into the bright morning sun. But then he remembered.
Forester still worked at the store.
Jess smirked and grabbed his jacket.
“Greetings!” Jess called out as loudly and as cheerily as he could. That was just something he’d picked up back in Manhattan from an obnoxious and over-the-top realtor friend, and it stuck.
The store owner looked up and smiled at Jess as he walked in, and so did a few customers close by. But Jess wasn’t satisfied until he’d scanned the entire store area and found what, who he was looking for.
Dean Forester stood between the beverages and the DVDs-for-rent aisle, body facing the racks but face turned towards Jess, contorted into a horrified expression.
Jess smirked and leaned his back against the counter, watching the tall boy in the ugly green apron whip his head away quickly and gulp hard. His Adam’s apple danced in the center of his long column of throat, his freakishly long fingers trembling enough for Jess to spot from the distance.
Jess hesitated, just for a second, before he remembered what he came here for.
He strolled over to the aisle in front of Dean so he could be in his direct line of sight. If Forester was man enough to look up into his eyes, that is.
“Had a good night’s sleep, Forester?”
Dean did look up, his face flushed and pale, and tired – which should be answer enough.
“What do you want, Mariano?”
Jess smirked. “Pecan nuts. Five pounds. If you have ‘em?”
Dean sighed and turned away, walking all the way to the other end of the store with Jess following a few steps behind, thoroughly enjoying the other boy’s discomfort.
“Thanks,” he half-laughed, after Forester practically shoved a bag of nuts into Jess’ chest and stood with his fists on his hips, his feet set apart resolutely.
“Actually, there is one more thing. I was thinking of refurnishing my room, since I’m going to be staying a while. So which color do you prefer – Persian red or Cerulean blue?”
Dean just frowned at him.
“Curtains? Bed sheets? A highly relevant question of course, seeing how it directly impacts you and your nighttime experiences.”
At first Forester’s nostrils flared. Then he huffed in evident exasperation and crossed his arms. “You can have her, man.”
Jess started. “What?”
“Rory. You can have her. I don’t want her. I’m not in the way anymore. Okay? You can have her.”
And with that he started walking away.
Jess felt… felt offended, outspoken, practically outdone. This, after all his efforts to stay away, break free of that stupid, manic hold she once had on him? How dare Forester imply he was still in love with her?
“What makes you think I want her?”
It was Forester’s turn to scoff. “So you don’t? What are you doing here then?”
“I came to see my uncle Luke. I do know other people in Stars Hollow too, you know.”
“No, Jesse, I meant what are you doing here? In my store?”
Seconds ticked by in utter silence, because honestly, Jess did not know how to respond. Why could he not let go of their history and move on like he’d done with everything and everyone else? Why exactly did he feel compelled to see Dean today and try to cut him down to size?
And why did he feel this urgent need to hear Forester say his name elongated like that again? No one ever called him that. Strangers by mistake maybe, but no one he knew.
Jess pursed his lips, adjusted his hold on the bag of nuts. “I’ll go with blue, if you don’t mind.”
They glared at each other one last time before Jess abruptly turned towards the billing counter and walked. He told himself he was only imagining that pair of hazel eyes boring into his back as he paid for his purchase, and as casually as he could pretend to be, strolled out of the store.
“Stupid, stupid, stupid…!”
Jess muttered to himself as he snapped the book shut for the fourth time. He just couldn’t concentrate on anything today. Reading Lolita in Tehran was probably easier than reading anything in Stars Hollow for Jess tonight. Not after the short and highly unsatisfying confrontation he’d had with that overgrown jerk.
It was a little after eleven and Luke, tired as he was, had already retired to his bedroom, leaving Jess with nothing but his thoughts. He’d never been a television or movies kinda guy. Books were his only solace, as was his work at the construction business that he’d recently started in partnership with his buddy, Dillon, back in Queens. Neither of them, however, could take away the restlessness he felt inside.
No, Jess, I meant what are you doing here? In this store?
He was doing what arch rivals do, of course! Make hell each other’s lives even when there’s no reason to anymore. Isn’t that like, one of the cardinal rules of manhood or something? Didn’t Forester get the freaking memo?
Jess didn’t know how long it took to get over the sulking and finally drift into much needed sleep. But the peace didn’t last too long.
The wall phone rang out, loud and shrill, through the apartment, several times before Luke got it. Jess got out of bed, clad in a black t-shirt and grey sweat pants, and opened his door to catch the last of the conversation.
“It’s alright, Marge… You know you don’t have to… Yeah, I’ll text you when he gets here… You take care now... Good night.”
Jess huffed and stepped out until he was in cursing range of Luke. “Not again, man! This is two nights in a row.” He said soon as his uncle hung up.
Luke sighed and turned to him. But he didn’t utter a word; his eyes did all the talking this time.
“Alright, fine!” Jess huffed and grunted and turned to go back into his room. “But he’s taking the futon tonight.”
Jess retreated to his room, shutting the door on Luke with a solid slam. He ran a wary hand through his hair still wet from his shower and exhaled deeply. If his uncle knew about Jess what Jess now knew about himself… Luke would probably not allow Dean to sleep in the same room as him.
Maybe he should tell Luke? Maybe that’s what Jess needed to do - in order to get himself out of this stupid predicament?
Forget it. He wasn’t getting into that this vacation.
Fifteen minutes later, someone knocked on the door. Luke was already downstairs this time and opened the door immediately, allowing the tall boy to sleepwalk inside.
“Here you go, Dean.” Luke led the way up the stairs, not that Dean seemed conscious (or even in need) of his presence at all.
Jess opened his door and stood aside, refusing to acknowledge the way his heart skipped a beat at the sight of his rival.
Dean was dressed in his own brand of sleep clothes – black and white checked pajama bottoms once again barely hanging off his narrow hips, and a baby blue Smurfs t-shirt that was wide enough to be just comfortable but so short it barely covered his mid-riff. His feet were bare again, which made Jess weirdly uncomfortable, and his eyes were open but lowered as if he was studying his own toes very intently.
Once again, Dean walked up to within a two feet distance from the bed and stopped, as if waiting for further instruction. Luke looked at Jess and Jess crossed his arms, not about to surrender his crabbiness just yet. Luke sighed and took Dean’s arm, turning him.
“Here, Dean. You sleep here tonight.”
Jess had made the futon bed before Dean’s knock on the door, really well actually, if he could claim so himself. He watched quietly as Luke gently coaxed the other boy into it, talking to him softly, quietly, as if he could hear him through the haze of his somnambulism.
“It’s very comfortable. Trust me, here you go.”
Dean lowered himself automatically onto the mattress and lay down, his head landing on Jess’ favorite pillow (that Jess decided he didn’t like so much after all) and Luke covered him with the two blankets to keep him warm.
“That’s it. Good night, kiddo. It’s alright. You’re safe here.” Luke continually whispered, couldn’t care less that he had an audience.
Of course, he’d never spoken to Jess like that ever. An unexpected lump of jealousy rose to his throat but he quickly squashed it. This was ridiculous. He never sleepwalked out of the protection of this house, cold and barefoot and completely vulnerable, at the mercy of strangers in the middle of the night…
Jess swallowed. He found himself unable to look away from Dean’s face.
With supreme determination, Jess wrenched himself away, got himself under the covers of his bed and turned to face the other side. Luke tiptoed out the room and clicked the door shut behind him. The room was cast in complete darkness, except for a soft full-moon glow seeping through a gap in the window curtains. It was always so quiet, here in the middle of the night in Sleepy Hollow. So unlike Queens and its round-the-clock hustling and bustling.
He’d only just started to drift back into sleep when something moved behind him, pulling him slowly back to consciousness. Jess turned in his bed, away from the window and back to the other guy in the room… the guy who was no longer tucked in from neck to toe on a floor mattress. And instead, was standing right next to him.
Jess jumped and almost fell out of the bed. “Shit!” He hissed, almost angrily. “You scared me, man!”
He didn’t get a response. Jess sat up, his covers falling to his waist. “Forester? Are you… are you awake?”
No response again. Instead Jess watched with his mouth agape as Dean moved robotically and slid into the bed, his bed, with him in it, right next to him!
“Forester! De-Dean!” Jess hissed again, for some reason still unable to be any louder.
Instead all he could do was jump out of bed just as quickly as Dean had slid into it and promptly fallen sleep. Jess stared, just… stared… for a whole minute, or a year maybe. And then he sighed, walking around the bed and over to the futon, collapsing bonelessly onto it.
Man. This was going to a very long two weeks indeed.