Chapter One: Sound
Disclaimer: Don't. Own. Nothin'
Author's Note: This is the first part of an internal monologue story I'm hoping to set up for Jim. As of right now, it only reflects what has happened up to the confession in "Casino Night," but (depending on the feedback I get), I may extend it to incorporate the kiss and some pure speculative events (on my part). So, again, FEEDBACK IS FOOD. Thanks, all.
"Well, you should."
The words didn't shock him. Didn't surprise him. They were so practical, so natural that he'd mulled the idea over in his mind long before Jan verbalized it. Why didn't he just tell Michael? Or Ryan? Or…well, someone? It made sense. He was transferring; he was moving on to a better place. A better life. It made sense to share the good news, even if he was leaving. Even if it meant giving Michael yet another reason to sic the party-planning committee on the office. Not that the thought of Pam helping out with the would-be going-away party plans wasn't appealing – at this he smiled. He could just imagine Pam rolling her eyes at the camera, her lips pressed ever-so-slightly together, her deadpan Michael-mockery obvious to everyone but the man himself.
Except that she'd be planning his going-away party. And he wasn't sure he could watch her do that. Watch her send him off, watch the corners of her mouth struggle to smile but wanly at him, hear her lackluster goodbyes as he tried to memorize her, to cram every ounce of that melancholic image in his mind simply because it'd be the last. It was almost better to just leave. To have her unaware of the finality of their last moment, just so his last memory of Pam would be of her smiling, happy and giddy. And none the wiser.
At this, he felt a sudden twinge of – guilt? He was supposed to be her friend. And he loved being her friend; he really did. It was the other things he wanted that made it impossible for him to stay. It was the moments when, instead of giving her a quick hug like a friend should, he'd linger for a while longer, soaking in her fresh smell of soap and shampoo (Herbal Essence? he feared for his manhood), basking in the warmth of her body, the perfect way she fit him – filled him out and filled him up. And then having to let go of that…perfection; well, there simply were no words for the excruciating ache he felt. For awhile, he'd stop touching her, stop looking at her, stop gravitating toward her – because he wanted to, and because, like gravity, once he let himself fall, there was nothing to stop it, nothing to keep him from lingering, from traveling just a bit further down the path of least resistance, from wanting just a little bit more. "A little bit"? He could almost laugh at himself. Everything, he let himself admit, I want everything.
So he was going to keep it to himself. Because it wasn't fair otherwise. It wasn't fair to tell her about the transfer and…what? Expect her to stop him? Because, he'd long since discovered, that would never happen. The only world he'd be turning upside down is his own, and no one does that for nothing. No one does that when nothing could ever come of it. So what if he was protecting himself? It made sense.
It made sense.
He allowed the three words to repeat like a mantra as he walked determinedly past Roy's car. His big, ostentatious man-truck. It was ridiculous to find something as simple as that obnoxious, but he did. And the fact that Pam was standing out in the cold breeze without a jacket as Roy revved up his bulging vehicle was more than he could stand. But – it made sense. It was…typical. Right?
Right. So he pressed onward, his head down, his mind exploding with jealousy and annoyance and fear and three words that barely meant anything now that he was so close to Pam he could almost smell Roy's cologne. It. Made. Sense.
Heyyy, Kumquat! The name's Jim. Not that he'd ever want Roy to say it, because the only time he'd ever liked his own name was when, well, when Pam said it. Sang it, really. Her voice – so smooth, with perfect fluctuation and flawless intonation. Like a song. Like Pam was singing his name, and all he wanted was for her to keep singing that one note, over and over again: Jimjimjimjimjimjim…
"Keep an eye on her alright?"
Right. An eye on her. As opposed to both eyes soul-kissing her up and down and all over – all night long. He got the difference.
"Okay. Will do."
As if he'd say anything else. As if he'd rebuff an opportunity to keep his eyes – eye – on Pam. As if he could even tear his eyes away from her now that she was moving toward him, her hands swinging at her sides, her smile wide, her face luminous with – what? The thought of an impending wedding? The happiness of having a future? He always had to remind himself that she did have one. Even if it wasn't exactly a future with him in it, it was still a future. So he said the first thing that made any sense to say:
"Hey, how's it going?"
Pathetic. Pathetic, pathetic, pathetic.
"Good. Especially after I took all your money in poker."
Oh, like he cared. Like losing a pile of plastic chips could even put a damper on that beautiful moment, watching her move so smoothly in that sleek, blue dress, her long, delicate fingers stretching across the table to collect his chips. To collect him. And then that smile – he was sure he wanted to grab her right then and there, send Kevin and the chips flying from the table, and just have his way with her. Respectfully, of course. Of course.
He chuckled, ever-so-nervously. Just to let the moment pass. And, as for the dancing specter in front of him – why in hell was she so damn giddy? Her being gorgeous was not helping his resolve to keep his mouth shut. He almost wanted her to do something terribly ugly, like pick a wedgie. Although, knowing Pam, she'd probably find a way to make that the ultimate turn-on.
So he had to tell her, right? She deserved to know about the transfer. He owed his friend (his friend, his friend, his friend) that much.
"Hey, uh, can I talk to you about something?"
"About…when you want to give me more of your money?"
Or how about when you want to give me more of...you?
"Did you want to do that now? We could go inside. Feelin' kinda good tonight."
Oh stop. Pick. Your. Wedgie. Please.
"I was just, um…"
He vaguely gestured toward something behind him. Something light years in the past, so far removed from this moment, from this feeling, from the light trickling on that piece of hair she didn't completely pin back, from this urge to just – tuck it back, or better yet – take it down, letting it flow endless as it sifted through his fingers. And those shoulders – hunched forward as she happily swayed to the sound of her own laughter – how he wanted to just wrap himself around those shoulders, just so he'd sway in unison with her. Like that night not so long ago when they swayed to Travis. Except her laughter was better than any music he'd ever heard. And, even though it didn't make any sense, he thought he heard enough encouragement in her laughter to make that long since forgotten hope surge up again, breaking the fortress of his despair and re-awakening that faint desperation of courage he felt so many nights ago on the boat. That night, he'd wanted to save the receptionist; since, he'd come to realize that he wanted the receptionist to save him. So, as he watched her smile wane, her face registering the change in his own, he said the only thing that made any sense to say, the only thing that made no sense to say:
"I'm in love with you."
Even as he watched her face crash into sudden revelation, he could only marvel at how right the words sounded. How true. And he could not believe that it had taken this long – four years – to hear the indisputable fact echoed back to him through the candidness of a warm breeze and from her pale, ashen face.
Oh, you heard me.
"I'm really sorry if that's weird for you to hear, but I needed you to…hear it."
His head lowered, he could hear – breathe – the sound of her shock, of her silence. And somehow, that was okay. Because it wasn't rejection, and he half-expected the rejection to come as soon as his own confession. So to fill the space between them, to pad the blow of his honesty, he tried to be understanding:
"Probably not good timing. I know that, I just – "
"What are you doing?"
I'm in love with you. I'm IN LOVE with YOU. He was sure he wasn't the only one who heard it. And this was okay. Wasn't it? There wasn't a pact. He didn't break some honor code that would keep him forever silent.
"What do you expect me to say to that?"
Everything. Nothing. He expected nothing. But he wanted, he needed…
"I just needed you to know. Once."
And it was true. Just once. He hoped, he wanted, he craved for more. For more than once, for eternity. For a lifetime of opportunities to say those words, over and over and over again until she knew just how much, just how true, just how real they were. But he only needed once. And, judging by the anger in her voice, once was all he would get. And that was…okay. It made sense.
"Well I, um, I…"
He knew he didn't want to hear it. He couldn't. That he should just walk away from certain rejection. But just at that moment, her words caught in her throat, she stopped breathing, and he could see behind her eyes some definite shift – would this happen? Could she possibly –
No. She couldn't possibly. She couldn't, she couldn't, she couldn't.
He looked down. Because it made sense.
"You have no idea – "
Oh, no. Anything but the consolation prize. He just wanted the world around him to crash in silence.
"Don't do that."
" – what your friendship means to me."
He suddenly thought of the toilet paper he had gotten one Christmas when his parents couldn't afford coal. And, only because it was true and because he was no longer strong enough to lie, he responded:
"Come on. I don't want to do that. I want to be more than that."
She couldn't. She couldn't, she couldn't, she couldn't. And, though he didn't expect it, though he didn't want to, he could feel his eyes welling up with yearning. With loss. And even though his mind wasn't ready to accept the silent crash-and-burn of the moment, his heart already felt it. And he felt this discomfort – like hurt – rising from the pit of his abdomen, and when it finally came to the base of his throat, he forced it down with saliva. With common sense. With cynicism.
"And I'm really sorry…if you misinterpreted things. It's probably my fault."
Right. Misinterpreted. Like her actions, her smiles, her laughter, those brief moments when she'd touch him – all misinterpretation. As if they needed interpretation. Decoding. As if they were cryptic or hidden.
"Not your fault."
He felt the tear fall from his eye, rolling, sliding, creeping down his left cheek.
"I'm sorry I misinterpreted, uh…"
His hand instinctively wiped away the remains of his ridiculous embarrassment. Of the first and last time she'd ever see his passion, his lack of sense.
And as he walked away from her, as he played the conversation over in his head, he could only think of how much sense it all made. And of how little that mattered.
Only then did he start to hear her hesitation.