Chapter Three: Scent
Disclaimer: Again. Don't. Own. Nothin'.
Author's Note: Third 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.
"Jim! Jimmy. Jimmyeatwhirl."
"Jimmy Eat World."
"That doesn't make any sense."
"It's a band. Michael."
He really wanted to clean out his desk. And he would be. Except someone had decided his last day would be best spent in the boss's office soaking in the sage advice of Agent Scarn. Which was…touching. But unnecessary. Really, truly, unnecessary.
"You were my best salesman, Jimbo."
"I thought that was Dwa-ight."
He loved stretching out Dwight's name. Dwa-igh-tuh. Kurrr-tuh. Schrooo-tuh. Syllables be damned.
Oh, coffee breath. He saw Michael uncomfortably reach for the World's Best Boss mug. Slurp.
"Well, yer – no. Just – "
This was fun. He could work with this. But he'd still rather be cleaning out his desk. He just really wanted to get it done. So he could spend the rest of his last day in the men's bathroom and not sitting across from – well, he wasn't even sure if he would be sitting across from her. She hadn't been in for the last two days. Sick. Or something. In any case, it made sense.
And the men's bathroom smelled like cookies n' Kevin (and well, recently, he thought he sniffed some alcohol coming from one of the stalls that was permanently shut), so he wasn't really looking forward to that either. But just in case.
"I should probably – "
He gestured toward the door.
"Right. Well, you know. I'm here to talk. Remember the good tahhms. Rememiss."
He looked at the camera. Long, pregnant pause.
"Mhm. Yep." Slurp.
He went for the door, opening it just a crack so he'd get a peek at the receptionist's desk. Just Ryan. He quickly walked to his desk. Perfect timing. He could have his stuff boxed and ready to go within the hour. Which was actually rather sad. Four years, two months, nine days. One box, give or take a folder. And he was going to miss it. Everything. Even Kelly's mindless chatter and Dwight's…Dwight-isms. And Michael. Because, even if it was monotonous and soul-draining, it was his life for the last four years. But he had to leave. He had to. Because knowing that he was going to leave kept him from counting down the days to, well, it kept him from counting down. It kept him focused on the things that he could do for himself, the things he actually had any control over. And he needed this sense of control; because the biggest decision in his life was not his to make. So he had to make the little choices, just to remind himself that this was still his life.
"What are you doing?"
And, only because it'd become instinct to respond, he answered:
"Michael's sending me on a secret mission."
"No, he's not. What mission."
"Well, if I told you, it wouldn't be a secret."
"I knew it. You're making it up."
He shrugs. This was too easy.
"Maybe I am."
He watched Dwight waver between belief and disbelief. And he could sense the scales tipping in his favor even before the Schrute opened his mouth to speak:
"I can't. It's the rules."
Even if it was wrong to feel so damn satisfied at seeing Dwight's internal struggle with authority projected plainly from his beady eyes, it was still well worth the aftertaste of guilt. And he deserved it. Only Dwight could talk himself into believing that Michael might have some sort of secret errand for him on his last day. Only Dwight could believe that something as mundane as cleaning out a desk could bear the weight of a corporate-wide conspiracy theory. And, even though he shouldn't, he found himself wishing she were here to make some deadpan remark about it. Or just snicker mischievously.
He missed her laugh. It wasn't the high-pitched shriek or empty giggle of a flirty girl. It was just…open. Layered. Free. And it freed him too. He thought he felt something good – something worthwhile – in himself when she laughed. When she laughed with him, because of him. And it wasn't that he didn't feel worthwhile or suffered from low self-esteem. But if he was making her laugh, then he must've done something right. Something perfect. And he loved that he could do something perfect – have something perfect – without actually being perfect.
And he'd always have it too. Just like her scent, which, when he leaned close enough to his desk, he could still sense. Sometimes he'd subconsciously trace the part of his desk she'd leaned on, leaned into, and even though it made no sense, he knew he could keep it. That much was his to have. And the thought of it was so painfully wonderful he had to stop himself from thinking about it too much. It made it harder for him to leave the desk behind. To leave her behind.
But he wasn't. He wasn't leaving her behind. He was just making the one choice that made any sense to be making. He was just doing the follow-up work to a moment that he still sensed with every fiber of his soul, of his being. That night, she'd…
She'd kissed him. Back.
And he was so sure he'd never been kissed before that moment. That when she started to pull away, his instinct was to kiss her one more time. And again and again and again. Not just because it was new, but because it'd always be new. It'd always be the only. But then she had said – well.
Wait. And it wasn't that he couldn't wait, because he could. He had. He would. It was suddenly hearing what he was asking of her, it was his own selfishness he'd heard. And her hesitance. And he couldn't stand there and ask her to re-evaluate her life for him. He couldn't ask for that. He shouldn't have to. And because she'd pulled away, pulled back, he knew she wasn't there, wasn't in that place that he wanted her to be in. So he'd looked at her, just because he wanted to, because he wanted to memorize the way the light played on her face, on her hair, on those shoulder blades (now pushed back, leaning away) because he'd never again stand so close to her, he'd never again be able to smell her shampoo, her body lotion. Her perfection.
And because, even as he shunned possibility, he could still feel his heart exploding from the moment. From this moment he'd been wanting for so long. From the fact – right? – that she'd wanted him too, just seconds ago. So it took him an eternity to find the right, measured words that were so untrue, that made so little sense he could feel logic taking over:
Because he wasn't. He wasn't sorry. Not in the way he was supposed to be. But he was giving her a way out. And because she was scared, because she was there anymore, she took it.
I should – It's late.
Yea. He didn't let her go – he had let her choose. And she didn't choose him. And that was okay. It made sense. Yet, even though it made complete sense, it hurt so much he couldn't watch her leave. But he did anyway.
And that's when he'd written the two weeks notice. He hadn't even waited until she completely left the room before he started rummaging through his desk for a pen and some top-quality Dunder-Mifflin paper. And, with his fingers absentmindedly tracing that still-warm corner of his desk, he started to write.
Michael had wanted to throw him a party. But he'd talked him out of it. He managed to convince Michael that he'd feel more special if it was just a one-on-one, manager-à-employee (Michael's choice of words) lunch. It was a mistake to let Michael pick the place, but the reality of his mistake only sunk in after Michael ordered "fresh-squeezed" milk. That was when he'd asked for his ham and cheese to go.
They didn't talk about that night. She had wanted to, but for him, it was over. He couldn't keep putting himself out there, waiting for something that was never going to materialize. He couldn't ask her for something she wasn't ready to give. And he was afraid that he'd just…lose it again, the way he lost it that night. The way he'd lost control and just let things spill out, spill over. Even though, really, he had nothing to lose. Self-preservation was just a force of habit, he knew that. Yet, it still hurt so much to brush past her when she'd called out – sang, really – his name in the lunch room, when she tried to stop him in the hallway leading to the elevator, when she'd left that one message for him on his phone two days after – after:
Listen, Jim, I'm really sorry that things got so…weird that night. I just – I think we should talk.
But when he didn't call back, when he stopped looking at her, when he started taking lunch breaks in his car – well, she didn't push it. She let him end it on his terms. His terms.
Even as he finished placing the last of his personal effects in the box, he couldn't decide whether such a thing truly existed. What were "his" terms? There were none. So, when he reached into the bottom drawer of his desk to pull out the Christmas card he had written for her, he didn't know what to do with it. And, though he hated himself for doing it, he pocketed it. For absolutely no reason. Nostalgia, perhaps. No, a deeper force.
She came in at eleven. He had gone to his car to stash the box in his trunk when Roy's titanic monster-truck had pulled into the parking lot. And he swallowed his hurt, forcing it down into his heart, making it burn as he watched them emerge, Roy's arm hooked around her shoulder, her eyes locked on her not-so-white Keds. Time to take away that Dundee. He smiled. It hurt, but it was as it should be. As sense would have it.
"I can't believe you're taking that job in Stamford, Jim. It's such a betrayal."
He spent the rest of the day listening to Kelly's ridiculous diatribe.
"I mean, I totally get it. But I just thought you were better than that. I mean, sure, it pays more, but what about your friends here? What about our friendship, Jim?"
He choked on his soda.
"Like, Ryan and I are going through this rough patch, and you're the only one who gets it, you know? You've been there since day one."
He sucked in his breath as he looked at her with eyes widened. But she went on anyway.
So, by the time it came to leave, he knew that nothing would really change for the employees at Dunder-Mifflin Scranton. Not even as they stood there saying their goodbyes, some tearfully, others mistakenly (Creed looked him in the eye and solemnly bid him farewell: "Good trip, Dwight"). And there was something comforting about it, even though the monotony was sad and unfulfilling. So when he passed by Pam's desk to say goodbye, he thought she might ignore him. But she looked up, and he saw that she had been crying. And he wanted to hold her so much that he had to remind himself she wasn't his to hold. But – and he couldn't stop himself – he reached into his back pocket and pulled out the one thing he had left unsaid between them. And as he placed it on her desk, he felt her hand on top of his, the scent of her shampoo so strong, so amazing it took all of his willpower, his sense, to pull away.
And as he turned to walk away with her scent stored away in his mind, in his heart, in his soul, he sensed the slightest scent of hesitation as she whispered:
"Don't give up on me."