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Another Dime in the Jukebox

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Kristen didn’t tell him she was coming back for the Christmas show. He knows they haven’t talked in months, but he thought she would’ve told him, instead of letting him find out when Bill casually drops it into conversation like everybody knows.

He thought he was over their whole thing, the whole stupid, on-again-off-again, he-was-totally-in-love-with-her-and-she-ripped-his-heart-out thing. But seeing her in 8H again feels like somebody pushing on a bruise, and it’s like he’s right back in her farewell sketch last May, focusing on breathing so he doesn’t end up crying on national television.

He thinks about what she whispered in his ear while they were dancing in that sketch all the time. Yeah, he really could not get more pathetic.

It’s not that hard to avoid her, though. He manages to get through the goodnights, and everybody backstage, and hours of the afterparty without seeing her at more than a distance, throwing himself into talking to whoever looks at him twice, tracking her out of the corner of his eye so he doesn’t let her get too close.

The only reason he eventually lets his guard down is that he’s pretty sure she already left. It’s a relief, really. The afterparties have gotten lame this season anyway -- all the new kids everywhere, Jason feeling like some fifth-year-senior who should’ve graduated already. He always ends up in one of the dark booths in the back, getting drunk and maudlin, and tonight’s no different. At least it makes him feel like Humphrey Bogart or Cary Grant, even though he knows it’s stupid to imagine wallowing in your broken heart makes you into some suave character from an old movie.

Last show of 2012. He goes home to Kansas in a couple of days. It’ll be good to get out of New York.

The song changes from something dance-y -- dubstep? is this that dubstep the kids are always talking about? -- to “I Love Rock and Roll,” which, that’s just great, like the whole night wasn’t feeling like a knife to his heart as it was. He’s just looking for the waiter, wanting another scotch to try to forget Kristen’s last afterparty, her and him and Samberg singing that song with the Foo Fighters, when he looks up and finds himself staring Kristen right in the eyes. She must have walked up when he wasn’t looking. He has no idea what expression he must get on his face, but somehow he doesn’t actually physically jump, so he’s going to call that a win. He wonders if she asked the DJ to put on this song.

“What’re you doing all the way back here?” Kristen says, sitting down in his booth like she owns the place, putting her beer bottle down on the table and smirking a little bit like it’s funny he’s hiding out. “You been avoiding me all night?”

She’s all breezy and casual like everything’s fine. It’s infuriating. Jason tries not to glare and says, “Now why would I be avoiding you?” Just because they had sex after her last show and then she stopped returning his calls, gosh, what does he have to complain about? He finishes off his glass of scotch, tipping his head back to get the last of it. Where is the goddamn waiter?

Kristen shrugs. “I don’t know,” she says. “But you’re back here glowering and drinking like you’re pretending you’re a character in an old movie.”

Jason blinks. That actually -- he’s not -- shut up, Wiig! He decides to change the subject. “Where’s Fabrizio?” he says. Maybe he does a little bit of an Italian accent on Fabrizio’s name. It’s just a douchey name, is all.

Kristen rolls her eyes and looks a little bit like she just solved a mystery, which, shut up, Wiig, again. “Oh, is that why you’re being all mean?” she says. “Whatever, aren’t you pretty busy having Kenyan marathon sex with your twelve-year-old girlfriend?”

“Hey!” he says, actually really startled. He feels like his mouth is opening and closing, and has to make himself stop and say actual words. “She is twenty-eight! And how did you find out about that?” Like Kristen has any room to talk, Fabrizio’s more of a child than Olivia is. And at least Jason isn’t running around wearing a leather jacket and dying his hair black like he thinks he’s hardcore because his boyfriend’s in a band that hasn’t been popular in ten years.

Kristen’s smirking a little bit like she’s happy she got to him, which, that has always been a really annoying thing she does. He has got to focus on how annoying she is, not on how she smells really good and how her arm brushes his whenever she moves. Dammit. “Uh, well, it was in the news, J,” she says.

He makes himself smirk back at her, trying to get at least a little bit of the power back in this conversation, even though he really wishes Olivia had not said that in a place the press could hear her. “Oh, did it come in the google alert you have on me?”

She rolls her eyes, but now she’s trying not to smile. “You wish. Please. Like ten people emailed it to me.”

Well, that’s not embarrassing at all. He might be blushing a little bit, but whatever, Kristen’s smiling at him with that look in her eyes she used to get, and he might be smiling back, and God, he wishes he wasn’t this easy, but what’re you going to do. Things with him and Olivia have been rocky lately anyway. They’re taking a break, supposed to talk about things after the holidays when they’ve both calmed down. Or that’s what Olivia said, anyway.

Kristen kind of looks around, or pretends to look around -- Jason knows how she looks when she’s faking something. “Where is that little scamp, anyway?” Kristen says. Yeah, like she doesn’t already know Olivia’s not here tonight.

He shakes his head at her, still trying to suppress his smile -- he’s such a masochist, he doesn’t even know why he’s smiling. It’s just that it’s nice to see her, have her next to him at four on a Sunday morning again, moving lights from the dance floor dimly sliding over her hair. It’s blonder again -- he wonders if she and Fabrizio are even still together. “Stop pretending you haven’t already asked somebody if she’s here,” Jason says. “You’re the worst liar.”

Kristen laughs and bumps his shoulder with hers. “Shut up,” she says. “I didn’t ask anybody.”

He laughs, reaching out for her beer bottle. Hey, if the waiter isn’t coming. “Uh huh,” he says.

“Shut up!” she says, laughing harder, how she gets all giggly late at night like this.

“I didn’t say anything,” he says, taking a sip from her drink, putting his mouth right where hers was. He can vaguely taste her lip gloss, and it’s so familiar it’s like his heart starts beating sideways, this weird pain in his chest. He’s such a dumbass -- what is he doing this for? But he can’t seem to stop himself now that they’ve started, this inevitable play they’ve been performing according to script for the past seven years. She’s watching him carefully as he swallows, as he puts the bottle back down. They’re sitting really close.

“Kris, why didn’t you tell me you were doing the show this week?” he blurts out without exactly deciding to. Well, fuck.

She gets this weird look on her face he doesn’t recognize, apparently suddenly finding something across the room really interesting. “Didn’t I?” she says vaguely, and he can tell when she’s playing for time. She picks up the beer bottle they’re sharing now, apparently, and takes a sip.

“No,” he says. “You didn’t.” It was bad enough when she wasn’t returning his calls, but when Taran knows she’s doing a cameo before Jason does, that’s just -- well, it’s mean. He thought they were at least still friends.

She shrugs, still not looking at him. “I don’t know,” she says, mumbling a little bit. “I guess I was a little embarrassed.”

He’s blinking and trying to think why she’d be embarrassed when she finally looks up at him. “Sorry I never called you back last summer,” she says. “I was... I don’t know.” She laughs a little, awkwardly. “Trying to make it work with Fabrizio, I guess. That was stupid. We broke up anyway.”

Oh. They -- really? “You broke up with him?” Jason says. His mouth has gone a little dry.

Kristen shrugs. She’s picking at the label of her beer bottle, peeling it back from the glass. “Are you surprised?” she says. She looks up at him, and her eyes look really clear and bright. Jason’s always thought she had great eyes. He looks back at her. Her leg is pressing against his under the table.

“I missed you,” she says, and he’s a goner.

**

They make it into the cab without any paps spotting them, Kristen laughing and pulling him into the backseat after her, so they’re sitting so close they’re almost on top of each other. “Hurry up!” she says as he slams the door after them.

He’s laughing too -- he can’t help it, when she laughs it always gets him going too. “I am hurrying!” he says. “Nobody’s after us anyway, I think you’re overestimating how famous we are.”

As the cab pulls away from the curb, Jason suddenly realizes that when he slid in, he’d automatically put his arm along the back of the seat, so it’s around Kristen. But she always used to hate that, thought that he was acting like she was his girlfriend or something. Kristen was always insistent this was a no-strings-attached, sex-only kind of thing. So he’s about to pull it away, but before he can, Kristen reaches up and threads her fingers through his, where they’re brushing her shoulder. She’s never done that before -- hand-holding was never on the table. Suddenly, everything feels a little surreal around the edges. Her fingers are cool against his.

She laughs like nothing important’s just happened. “Whatever,” she says. “Paps take your picture all the time. Every time I pick up a magazine it’s tell me how you’re just like us.”

Jason laughs too, trying to focus on the conversation and not the way she’s playing with his fingers, the way her body is pressed up against his. “Yeah, they’re totally after my fat ass, everyone’s dying to see me in a swimsuit.” He knows if it wasn’t for the girl he was with, there’d be no way anyone would care. It’s not like he gets his picture taken when Olivia’s not around, or January before her.

Kristen’s rubbing her thumb along the back of his hand. “Aww, c’mon,” she says. “You’re looking good these days.”

He turns his head and she’s smiling at him, her eyes a little dark. “Well, gosh, thanks,” he says, because he can’t think of anything else to say. He doesn’t know what’s happening here -- it should be the same routine they’ve always had, but she keeps changing the rhythm of it. Holding his hand, being nice to him. Inviting him back to her apartment in the first place, instead of just doing it in some dark corner of the office. It’s weird.

She laughs, shaking her head a little, and pulls him down to kiss him, fingers raking through his hair. She kisses just the same way she used to, all the other times this was also a terrible idea. But somehow this time feels a little different.

**

It’s strange being at Kristen’s apartment. He’s only been there a couple of times before -- they used to always hook up on the couch in his office, or in the bathroom at bars, like a couple of gross idiot kids. This is so much more deliberate and adult, going to her place on purpose, like this maybe isn’t just because they’re drunk. He doesn’t know what’s gotten into her tonight -- maybe he’s imagining it, just wish-fulfillment, thinking things are different this time. But she’s never held his hand before; he didn’t imagine that.

Kristen’s apartment is messy and lived in, exactly the kind of place he would expect her to have, all hippie fabrics, smelling vaguely of incense. He thought maybe post-Bridesmaids she’d have gotten something fancier, had some decorator take a crack at it, but it’s the same as it used to be. Somehow that’s a relief.

Kristen goes to get them a glass of wine and Jason starts poking around a little bit, just looking at her books, the pictures she has out. To his surprise, there’s one on the mantel that looks familiar, and when he picks it up, it’s of him and her in her office, from a million years ago -- maybe the first or second year they were on the show, judging from which office it is. He can’t believe she has this, that she’d keep it out -- he doesn’t even know what to make of that.

She comes out of the kitchen with two glasses of wine and sees him standing there looking at it in whatever weird way he must be looking at it.

“Oh,” she says. “God, I forgot that was there." She hands him one of the glasses, being all casual, but he can see she’s starting to blush a little bit.

He holds it up so she can see it better. “When was this? Were we writing our first skit?”

She looks at it more closely, like she hasn’t looked at it in awhile, and wrinkles her nose, laughing a little bit. “I think so,” she says. “God, we look like babies.” They do, kind of, all chubby cheeks and weird hair.

“Well, I do, anyway,” Jason says. What was he thinking with that haircut? “You look the same.”

“Flatterer,” Kristen says, grinning as she takes a sip of wine. Jason starts putting the picture back on the mantel when she adds, “Wow, that was a long time ago. When I started I had a crush on you for like a half second before I found out you were married."

He can’t help staring at her in shock. “Oh, you liar,” he says when he finally regains the power of speech. She did not, what is she even talking about? And since when does she talk about having a crush on him? He thought this was always just sex.

But Kristen bites her lip and turns even redder. “No, I did!” she says. “You were so charming, trying to show me the ropes, and I was like, who's this guy, is he on the show?"

Whatever, he does not believe that’s true for a second, but that’s a nice thought. He grins and reaches out for her, wrapping his arms around her waist. For once she doesn’t pull away -- she leans into him, letting him kiss her temple. “God,” he murmurs into her hair, “was I ever crazy about you.”

If it were a year ago, Kristen would pull away, or start reaching for his fly to get him to stop being sentimental, but now she moves to hold onto him too, her arms sliding under his hoodie, over his t-shirt. “Yeah, I seem to remember you saying some things about running away to Vegas together,” she says, teasing him.

Yeah, he may have said that. A few times. “Hey,” he says. “I was totally joking all those times I said that.”

Kristen laughs. “Yeah, it was very subtle,” she says. “Not see-through at all.”

“Awww, whatever,” he says, and tips her chin up to kiss her. “Shut up.”

It’s so nice to be kissing her again. Even nicer when she starts walking him back toward the bedroom.

**

He’s expecting her to kick him out afterwards, say she has to get up really early tomorrow morning, something. He’s definitely not expecting her to curl up naked against him, let him kiss her hair and put his arm around her, pull her close.

“You sleeping over?” she says, already sounding sleepy. Well, it is five in the morning -- he wonders if she gets tired at five now, like a normal person.

But sleeping over, he didn’t know that was an option. “Am I allowed?” he says, before he thinks better of it.

She laughs a little, like she has no idea why he would say that. “Allowed?” she says. “Of course you’re allowed.”

“I mean, do you want me to?” Jason says.

There’s a pause. Kristen has always had a hard time admitting that she wanted anything, when it came to him. He’s pretty sure she won’t admit to it now, and he’s about to say something to let her off the hook, when she breathes in and says, “Yeah, J. I want you to.” Her voice is small, and everything feels so weird and fragile. He can’t see her expression in the dim light coming in through the blinds.

“Oh,” he says after a second, when it seems like he needs to say something. He’s suddenly aware he was holding his breath. “Well, um, good.” He feels so stupid and tongue-tied, but he just can’t process it, her saying she wants him here. It’s like they could go out for brunch tomorrow, be some kind of normal couple. He doesn’t understand it.

“I mean,” Kristen says, and she sounds a little more normal now, back to teasing him. “We’re running away to Vegas in the morning, right?”

Jason laughs a little. “Definitely,” he says, relaxing a little more. “I just have to go home to get my tuxedo t-shirt first.”

She laughs and kisses his shoulder, and maybe things things have turned some corner, somehow. It’s the strangest thing.

She falls asleep but he lies awake for a little while, listening to her breathe. He thinks maybe he’s happy. It’s an unfamiliar feeling when it comes to her, but it’s not like he’s complaining. Two a-holes get married in Vegas, he thinks drowsily, and then he’s asleep.