Chapter Five: Feel
Disclaimer: Again. Don't. Own. Nothin'.
Author's Note: Fifth part to Sense. Is this the end? Theoretically. HOWEVER, recently I've toyed with the idea of writing a sixth part – Intuition. But that depends HEAVILY on the feedback I get. Do you guys WANT a sixth part? Because everything wraps up very neatly by the end of this chapter – the sixth would be more of an epilogue. Get back to me! FEEDBACK IS FOOD. Thanks, all.
"That is sooo hawwwt."
He looked around for the cameras and spotted four. Bingo. Damned predators. It was strange to still feel this self-conscious, but he was. And the fact that Kevin was smirking something awful while giving him the thumbs up sign from ten feet away (and counting) made him feel a bit nauseous. He wasn't nervous, not really. It was just impossibly, improbably surreal and part of him – or all of him, whatever – wanted to indulge in the abstractness alone. Privately. Not so he could make sense of it, but so he could revel in its nonsensical perfection. He felt robbed of that. He felt robbed.
But when Toby walked in and gave him the faintest of smiles, his eyes droopy not from – as he later learned – perpetual lethargy but from informed disappointment with life, he found himself smiling back, waving back. And it wasn't perfunctory either. His irritation, he realized, had absolutely nothing to do with the situation. Or the people involved, though he still sensed Kevin's smirk; he'd long since discovered his built-in radar for perversion. Riveting. So what was it, this feeling? And, because he was no good at lying, not even to himself, he allowed his mind to form the word, the thought, the notion:
And it made sense too. Considering all the times life – coy as it was – had convinced him that happiness wasn't a real option. Or that – and he shuddered internally at the thought – happiness wasn't what you wanted, but what you made it. That when life handed you lemons…well, he was glad he made more than an overrated beverage. He was glad Lady Fortune finally caved and gave him some fine alcohol to go with the souring fruit. Cheers, mate. But he couldn't take credit for that. He could, however, take credit for asking. Asking for more.
Seeing Phyllis – Vance, now – he felt himself relax a little. Because, as he watched Bob lean over and whisper, intimately, in her ear as her happy laughter trampoline-d off the walls, he knew he could have that too – of this he was convinced. He could. But it still felt completely natural to second-guess himself. Which is why – and he couldn't help himself, couldn't stop his mind from forming the image – he half-expected Roy to show up. Even though he knew that was over; that ship had sailed long ago. Hell, it'd been, what, three years? Three years since his last real confrontation with him. And even then it hadn't felt like much of a confrontation. Roy had just shown up, right there in the office, pushed past him and made a beeline for her. For her.
And he wasn't threatening or angry or even irritated. And, for all his usual guff about Roy's perpetual unsuitability for her, he saw – not entirely for the first time – that he did love her. And that, much more than the thought of getting beat up (which, he couldn't deny, was on his mind), shook him up. Scared him. Because he could see how she might still love him back. Want him back. So he'd gone back to his desk, trying desperately to block out a conversation he did not want to hear, did not want to be a part of. And yet, by some capricious force of irony, wanted complete control over.
He'd hated hearing the intimacy. Hated seeing his hands move upwards, lightly touching her petite shoulders, grasping them in – why? – desperation. But what he'd hated most was knowing that every touch, every glance, every word contained a history that he will never be a part of. Never know.
Don't. Roy, not here.
Well, I would call but you're not answering.
Well, there's always email. And AIM. And just…fucking off.
I need space. I need you to give me space.
Well, I need to know that it's not over. I need to hear you say it.
Don't. Say. It.
Let's…I don't want to do this here.
All he remembered afterwards was that she'd followed Roy outside, and the only thing he heard, the only thing he allowed himself to hear, was the sound of her strained voice uttering the words:
Maybe I need him. And I deserve to know why.
He would never know who she was referring to that day. But he knew who he wanted it to be, so he believed it. And that made him happy.
But he felt terrible too, because he really thought he could understand Roy's…dilemma, or maybe because – and he didn't lie to himself about this – he wanted to know that she had gotten the closure she needed. He needed. To move on, together. Sometime later that day, he'd gone down to the warehouse. But Roy didn't look at him, just brushed off his attempts at making "small" talk:
I've got nothing to say to you, Halpert.
And he couldn't believe that he wanted to apologize, because really, he was apologizing for something that might never happen. Could never happen.
I'm really sor –
Just walk away. Walk away, Halpert.
So he did. And maybe that was the cowardly thing to do, maybe another man would've stood his ground and declared, cheese-in-hand, hand-on-heart, his undying love for her, would've justified himself. But he didn't. Because he didn't need to explain to Roy what it meant to love her. And because he understood that – finally – he could forgive himself. Because that was life – wasn't it? – dealing him the most magnificent, most magnanimous hand that someone else had mistakenly thrown away. And he couldn't blame himself for seizing perfection, just as he'd long since stopped judging Roy for not. Because, as he recalled, he almost didn't either.
When her internship ended in the spring, he spent days poring over craigslist (amongst other convenient sites) with her, looking for something she might consider doing, something that felt closer to her dreams. She'd thrown a pillow (old and craggy) at him when he highlighted an ad for someone to play "Secretary" in a (clearly illegitimate) adult video. So he'd mock-tackled her, wrapping his arms around her waist – not unlike that time, too long ago, at the dojo – and this time she let him pick her up, hold her, feel her, as they fell, laughing, onto her couch. It was a beat-up old sofa they'd found at a Discovery Shop, and because her new surroundings desperately needed furnishings (and she desperately needed to be frugal), she'd taken it. And as he lay there with her, feeling her fingers splayed across his chest, her face so close that the tip of his bulbous nose grazed her perfect one – can noses kiss? – he thought about kissing her. But he didn't let himself think too long about it, he'd just let his lips touch hers, rest on hers, and she'd responded – both tentatively and eagerly, if that was possible – her mouth opening to breathe him, her arms opening to embrace him, her life opening to include him. And the touch, the feel of her was so beautiful he started to convince himself it was okay to be hers. It was such a cliché to not remember how long they stayed like that, but he really didn't. All he remembered was her saying, whispering something about dinner:
We should get something to eat.
Ooh, like a date?
No, like dinner.
And he had laughed so hard at the way she said that; his eyes started to well up with emotion, with something so deep, so beyond the feel of her hands on his face, the grace of her lips on his cheeks, kissing – were those tears? Damn it – that he was sure maybe she loved him a little too. And that thought lulled him to sleep, right there, he in her arms and she in his, such that he didn't know, didn't remember, where he ended and she began. Such that he decided maybe the magic of being connected with someone was that no one ended – there were only beginnings.
But, sometimes, starting – beginning – something also meant moving on. And he was so proud of her for having the courage to find something else, something better, something right. So, in the fall, when she decided to leave Dunder-Mifflin Scranton to collaborate with an upstart children's book author, he'd been scared for her and a little for himself, but he'd also been glad. Mostly because she was taking a chance, but also because, and at this he smiled, the world would finally get a chance to see her work. Her genius. Over the next few months, he'd often find her standing barefoot in the middle of the kitchen, her jeans rolled up just enough for him to catch a glimpse of her bare calves (what a tease), herself knee-deep in drawings – some watercolor, some pencil sketches, and some marker doodles – looking distraught and incriminatingly cute with her nose scrunched up in distressed bliss. Sometimes she'd ask for an opinion, and he'd always find some perverse angle on her drawings, telling her:
You have an erotic sense of humor, Beesly.
But just as quickly, he'd collect the ones she'd discarded, framing some of them for his apartment and taking the rest to work, where he proudly displayed them on his desk. Dwight always had something to say about it when they spilled over onto his desk, something about them being a safety hazard, but he'd long since stopped caring. And plus, with the juicy details Pam had dished about Angela, he figured he had great leverage should he ever care to use it. But he didn't.
It was summer before they went on their first date. He didn't want to push it, even though she hadn't exactly asked him to wait. He sensed that, even though they saw each other regularly and kissed on more than one occasion (mmm…), she wasn't yet ready to enter into a new relationship. He sometimes still felt her insecurity, even when she said nothing, perhaps because she said nothing. So when she finally broached the subject (over sandwiches and tea, no less), he was surprised.
You know, we've never been on a date.
Hm. Are you asking?
Because I need time to powder my nose and find something nice to wear, so…
That was the first night he held her. He hadn't planned on it, he really hadn't. But, all the same, when they'd gotten back to his place, he asked her to come in. Because – and he didn't lie to himself – he couldn't censor his thoughts much longer, not after she decided to wear that blue dress again, the one he'd grasped, glided, moved his hands over that night in the office. And when they came to his room, she'd plopped herself on his bed with such familiarity that it felt completely right to him. It made complete sense. He thought he literally heard the loud click of life putting things in place for him, and when he leaned in to – what? – kiss her, he felt a sense of urgency in her body, the way she responded to his hands on her back, in her hair (which he let down as he felt it sift endless, like silky waves, through his fingers), sliding down – through – her body, wanting to know, to learn, to memorize every part of her so he'd remember, always, what it was like to make her happy, to make himself full, complete. And when they both reached the summit of everything, of perfection, of love, it still felt as though it were infinity, some forever unknown, vague, limitless, and vast continent of emotion and pleasure and beauty that would still be there, always be there, for them to come back another day, another time. That, for the first time, he believed that something could be perfect and yet still stand to be more perfect. That perfection, like all beautiful things in life, was impossible to replicate but necessary to explore. Like knowing there was something ahead, not better, but just as good, just as vague, just as limitless. Endless.
He'd teased her about being so "prepared" for their private excursion. And she'd blushed, covering herself with his sheets.
Well, I'm very organized. Always plan ahead.
He laughed, his finger tracing down her left cheek, then her left shoulder, then…
I lo –
Don't. Wait. I don't want you to say it first, because you always say it first. And I've never said it. And I don't want the first time I say it to be…in response to what you say. That cheapens it.
Okay. I love Smurfs.
He gave her a schoolmarm-ish look, tickling her sides until she gave up, gave in:
I love you. I'm in love with you.
Hm. Thanks. I love…spending time with you too. Hey, ow.
He hated that the first argument they had was about Roy. He'd called her, sometime in January, to ask how she was. To make small talk. And he couldn't help it, but he'd been…
And he hated that he was, hated that this should even matter anymore now that they were together, really together. Now that she was moving in with him. But, damn it, it still hurt, and some irrational, nonsensical part of him snapped when she mentioned, after the fact, that they'd had lunch together.
What, you have something you want to say?
I don't know. Should I?
We had lunch, Jim.
Yea, I heard you the first time.
And he knew it had something to do with the fact that she'd told him about it so many weeks after it happened, and not before. Not that she needed to clear things with him or anything, but that she knew it wasn't just lunch, that he would've wanted to know. And if she couldn't admit that she felt some inexplicable guilt about it, then maybe she hadn't really moved on.
But she surprised him when she explained, hours after their argument, after she'd curtly left his apartment, that Roy had moved on. That he was with someone else now, that (apparently) he was leaving Scranton with her. And she confessed that it hurt a little, maybe even a lot, but not because she was still in love with him. It was thinking of those ten years of her life she'd thrown away on something that was completely wrong for her, something that ended abruptly and obviously didn't mean enough for either of them to hold onto – it was irrational, she knew, because she knew what she wanted now. But he understood; he did. Ten years was a long time to want something that she didn't really want. So, if for nothing else, he knew she needed to mourn for the loss of those feelings; that she didn't still love Roy, but maybe some deeper part of her missed loving him. It scared him a little, but he understood.
Sometime in February, he mentioned being interested in a teaching position, maybe at an elementary school. It was something he'd been thinking about for a long time, and seeing her work late, poring over sheets and sheets of paper filled with drawings of things that reminded him of childhood – castles, ferris wheels, clouds, and farm animals – her eyes tired but just as bright with excitement; well, that certainly encouraged him. She stayed up with him into the wee hours (heh) of the night looking over different masters programs for education as they shared leftover pie, helping him with applications when he called for backup ("Backup, backup!"). They eventually settled on University of Scranton, where he could take night classes while clocking in regular hours at the ol' orifice. And he couldn't help it, but the simplicity, the rightness, of their domestic life got him thinking.
He thought about proposing all summer. And it wasn't that he didn't have the guts to do it, because he felt ready. But he wasn't sure she was. And then when he settled on the fact that he would, he couldn't decide how. He wanted to do something incredibly slick, something that would surprise her. But he wasn't much for the ring-in-the-cake method – what if she choked on it? – and he didn't want to embarrass her in front of strangers by popping the question on bended knee at some public place. He didn't want to rob her – them – of that moment. So in November, he thought he'd propose when they went to her parents for Thanksgiving. Except she'd come down with some variation of the bird flu (he jested until he caught it himself), so that plan didn't quite fly.
On Christmas morning, he woke up blindfolded. And all he could hear was Pam's voice:
Merry Jesus Day. Don't take that off.
Mm…music to my ears. Is my present kinky?
He could sense her rolling her eyes.
Sure. Take something from the box.
He wanted to peek, but he didn't. All he could do was put his hand inside what felt like a shoebox, and it was strange doing this by feel. He thought his fingers grazed over a small, stubby pencil and maybe a cassette tape? But he wasn't sure.
There was some…excitement in her voice that he couldn't quite comprehend. He settled on a large, paper (courtesy of his years at Dunder-Mifflin) object – a card, maybe.
Okay. You can take that off now.
The blindfold, Halpert.
As he did, he saw what was in his hand, and he was surprised he hadn't recognized it by touch – he'd held it often enough he should've known. And as she took it from him and started reading, he thought he had an inkling of what was to come.
"Merry Christmas, Beesly! I was going to write something incredibly witty and funny, but I figured I'd settle on writing something honest. I'm a better Sudoku player than you are. Suck on that. The truth hurts, Beesly, the truth hurts. But if I can be serious for a second, then I'd have to tell you: I think you're perfect. And I don't want to say I wouldn't change anything about you, because I'm sure if you were to change, it'd still be perfect. I know it. I thought a long time about how I should end this card – with BEST WISHES? SINCERELY? REGARDS? But I decided that the only way this card would mean anything would be if I wrote the first thing that came to mind. Love, Jim."
It was so strange, hearing her read it back to him, read aloud something he'd written three years ago in a moment of complete, senseless…passion.
No, really. That…card changed my life. I want to say it was the kiss we shared at the office that changed my mind, and maybe it did, but this card changed everything else. Okay? And I want to be with someone who has made me change my life. Made me want the things I want now. Made me like myself. So, I think we should get married. Because I think we'd be happy.
He felt his mind blanking. And he said the only thing that came to him, something that made no sense to say given what she had just told him:
You did not just steal my thunder.
I was going to ask.
Well, suck it. Okay?
He'd smiled. As if he'd say anything else but
Yes. Okay. Yes.
And, as they held each other for what felt like eternity, like infinity, he suddenly remembered to ask:
What if I'd picked the pencil?
Jim, that pencil changed my life. I want to say it was the kiss we shared…
She absolutely, positively deserved the massive tickling she got after pulling that little stunt.
Even now, ask he stood waiting for her to come, he couldn't really believe that this was happening. And how, most days, he didn't try too hard to ponder whether he deserved this happiness, because he'd long since discovered that no one deserved to be this happy, that it had nothing to do with getting his due. And he understood that life wasn't always this generous, wasn't always this eager to please; and because he could see that, he knew not to expect it, but to cherish it. Always. And maybe that made him a little worried too, because – as it had become a metaphor for all things that could possibly go wrong – life could just as easily pull a Roy and throw a wrench into this perfection. But, then again, he'd learned enough about himself, about her, about Roy even, to know that perfection had to be protected. Sustained. That it would take work, but, fuck it all, it wasn't going to be perfunctory.
He looked around to find Phyllis again, to see her happiness as affirmation of his own. Not that he needed it. But it felt good to see it. And – he was surprised too – as he saw Oscar with his arm hooked around a man whom he'd never met before, he thought of that as a blessing too. That happiness wasn't unlikely; it was just a challenge. He felt sure he had risen to the occasion.
When the documentary crew asked to film the wedding, he'd been hesitant, but Pam was insistent. Ever since the documentary started airing in the fall, they'd both sort of realized how self-conscious it made them (and how self-conscious they looked onscreen) but also how cool it would be to have something to show their kids. When they had kids. When. It didn't feel strange at all discussing that life which now, as the church doors swung open, was inching toward them with every bit the grace and perfection he'd always imagined, always dreamed of. And that they could touch this point of exhilaration, of beauty, without hesitation – well. There were no words. Except maybe, as she entered, her presence – her existence – affirming every one of his senses, convincing him that this was the thing that made most sense, even though it made no sense for him to be this lucky. This blessed. He looked at her, grinning, and mouthed:
And he was sure he saw her eyes twinkle as she mouthed, almost-imperceptibly: