Chapter Two: Taste

Disclaimer: Again. Don't. Own. Nothin'.

Author's Note: Second part to Sense. Theoretically, this will be a five-part (five chapters) story, each bearing one of the five senses as its theme. Again – FEEDBACK IS FOOD. It will determine how quickly I put up the remaining chapters, if at all. Thanks, all.

He really wanted beer. Or some 150-proof. Hell, he wondered what it'd take to drag himself back in the warehouse just to order a Kelly Kapoor special. Or, and he couldn't help but smile at the memory, a few second drinks. He couldn't remember the last time he'd felt this nauseous, and it just seemed such a waste to have a hangover without the inebriation. Was it possible to feel nauseous without actually wanting to throw up? He felt like pushing the limits. Which was, incidentally, the theme of the night. Not that he'd take it back. Or do it again. It had to be said (right?), but it wasn't something that could bear repeating. Except in his mind. Even now, moments after, all he could hear was "I'm in love with you." And her rejection. Her rejection.

I can't.

Can't. Like impossibility. Like never. Like that day so many years ago when, a month after his silk worm Steinbeck had passed away (withered, really), it finally hit him that he'd never see him again. Never. And how he'd thrown out the dried mulberry leaves he'd been saving for – well, for when Steinbeck returned. It was so strange to still feel that sense of expectancy even after giving him a proper burial in the backyard. Like it was all just a formality, like sense had yet to exert its cynicism. And then, just because he saw the crisp, shriveled mulberry leaves tucked away in that old shoebox he'd been cleaning out, the reality of never finally hit home. But he didn't cry. He'd quietly and sensibly tossed the shoebox in the neighborhood dumpster.

Because his parents wouldn't let him bury it next to Steinbeck.

So was this the shoebox? Except that you can't exactly throw your heart in the dumpster, even if it's already there. As he climbed into the backseat of his Corolla, he couldn't help but wonder if he'd have to throw out and throw up hope right then and there. Except that he didn't really want to throw up.

I can't.

Fuck. Maraschino cherries sounded damn good right now. As did a bucket. Except…and now that he had a moment to soak in his unwanted sobriety, he suddenly realized that she didn't say that. She had said…what had she said?

I can't?

So she hadn't said anything. She'd asked. It was a question. A question. Then why did it feel like rejection.

Because it wasn't "I love you too."

Not that he had expected her to say it back. Hoped – yes. Dreamed. But – and he knew better than to fool himself – when it came down to it, people don't measure the outcome against what makes sense. No one waits for reality to affirm expectation, for expectation to come true. No, they wait to see if their dreams had any truth. Because that's the only thing worth waiting for. So he was done waiting. He'd put himself on the waiting list for four years and now the wait was over. He'd finally done himself a favor. He could move on. Move on. But…

I can't?

He couldn't believe that he was even thinking about how the question might make a difference. It was the same. It was him, Pam, and the once uncertain space between them replaced with the certainty (and proximity) of never. It made so much sense his head hurt from the logic.

He thought about writing his two weeks' notice. He didn't really want to write it, but he really wanted to write it. Just so it'd be over with and there'd be some finality to the situation. Because if he didn't, he'd probably never do anything about it. And he had to get out of Scranton.

He heard himself open the back door, but not before he had leaned forward to grab the car keys off the dashboard and bumped his head in the process. He needed a new car. A bigger car – maybe a big, bulging man-truck like Roy's. Something that would announce his arrival miles ahead of time. Something that screamed "The New Jim Halpert" in bold letters, quite possibly indicated by a tacky bumper sticker with his face – happy and flashing pearly whites – on it stuck to the front. He couldn't imagine being able to afford a car like that, but hell, as long as he was going to be the "New and Improved" Jim Halpert, why not become the "New and Improved Yuppie" Jim Halpert? He quite liked the sound of that. He thought about reading The Great Gatsby again as he made a mental note to skip the moral of the story this time.

But as soon as he stepped out into the warm breeze, his sobriety began to wear off. It was hard enough just putting one foot in front of the other as he headed up to the office. He thought it appropriate to write his letter there, in the very office he'd be leaving in only a few weeks time. It made complete sense, and he wished that his heart could catch up to his rationale by the time it came to say his goodbyes. Or not. Maybe he'd tell Michael to keep it a secret. He rolled his eyes. If ever there was a surefire way to make certain everyone knew by Monday, then telling Michael would do the trick. He could just hear Michael asking "Fat Halpert" if the "T-R-A-N-S" situation (codename Stamford) had anything to do with the "P" situation. With everyone in the conference room; Stanley "mmhmm"-ing his usual indifference and Creed asking if Stamford was in Hong Kong. And Pam staring blankly at him, her lips pressed together in unreadable silence; her eyes focused on the door, her arms crossed, her body rigid.

So by the time the elevators opened, he wasn't sure he wanted to write it. Maybe he could have Jan send in a memo that Michael would keep in a special filing cabinet. Except that Pam would still read it. And there it was – full circle. She'd have to know, one way or another; he just didn't want to be there when she found out. He didn't even know what he'd say should he see her again, which made him grateful (at least) for the fact that she'd probably hitched a ride home by now. He was safe for the night.

"Yeah, he's great."

He thought he heard a familiar voice – like a song – coming from inside the office as he quietly entered the room. And, though his mind stood frozen at the door, his feet kept moving, inching, sidling forward as he caught a glimpse of Pam illuminated by the light coming from his computer screen. She was sitting on his desk. His desk. It made no sense.

"Yeah, I think I am."

But it was perfect.

And because he'd never felt real perfection before this moment, never had fate line up all the cards for him, never embraced the split-second grace of life nonsensically handing him something he'd wanted all along, something that made so much sense logic no longer applied – he kept walking, one foot in front of the other. It was no longer hard to keep moving; it was impossible to stop. And when he'd gotten so close he could taste her breath, he let her sing his name just one time:

"Listen, Jim – "

Just one more time before it became unnecessary. Before the lyrical priming of the overture was replaced by the elegant entrance of the main theme, and he leaned forward, leaned in, leaned down to hold her – his hands on her back, his fingers touching fabric, his lips touching hers, his heart grasping infinity, his soul kissing eternity. And just when he thought he'd taken too much, held too much, kissed too much – her hands floated to the back of his head, and he felt her take him in as she kissed him back, the tip of her tongue meeting his (just barely), the warmth of her breath (so close, so sweet) signaling the start of a new day, a new life. He held her body holding his; he kissed her soul keeping his

And even as she pulled away, he could not stop. He could not part with her soul keeping his. So he kissed her, desperately, one last time. And she kissed back because they were the same body, moving forward to the rhythm of her soul keeping his, her body holding his, her heart needing his. And all he could remember of it was how right it was, how much sense it all made.

Even as he tasted her hesitation.