TITLE: When the Evening is Spread Out Against the Sky
FANDOM & PAIRING: The Office, Jim/Pam
RATING: T. Why not.
PROMPT: #37: "Only entropy comes easy." -Anton Chekhov
SUMMARY: Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.
DISCLAIMER: Dip it in water so that it slides down your gullet more easily.
NOTES: Much love to Sophia, Emily, and Aaron for listening to me rant and ramble about this and telling me to just let it flow naturally.
NOTES II: For our first challenge at Fraternizing.
She rubs the fog from her mirror with her palm, letting the glassy surface clear to reveal her in all her post-shower glory - wrapped in two towels and flushed to the bone. She's got forty-five minutes until he comes and her outfit's already laid out on her bed. She's primped, plucked, and powdered to the point that if she does any more she's not going to look like herself.
She reaches for the curling iron she found in the back of the closet she and Roy used to share, the one she found as she packed away all her things. Carefully, she releases her hair from the towel turban she made for herself after she had rubbed the styling product into it and wraps locks of damp, wavy hair around the metal. She had gotten good enough at this that she could manage it in twenty minutes, and she's counting on the time. It takes her thirty, and she swears when she sees the clock after she's unplugged the device. She shimmies into her black skirt, the one she bought so many months ago, the one she likes because of how it flairs. Next is the top the color of red wine that Kelly talked her into keeping.
The doorbell rings just as she's putting in the red earrings her mother gave her for Christmas, and she curses as she pads to the door, one hand securing the earring even as the other unfastens the deadbolt. She's trying to recall where her black slingbacks with the little heel are when the door opens completely and he meets her eyes.
He's changed his shirt and taken out the tie, making him look even younger. He's still got the new hair and the new aura of nerves about him. He looks good, and her mouth goes dry even as she smiles. "Hey. Just give me a sec to grab my shoes." He nods and ruffles the back of his hair, unaccustomed to the shortness of it. She feels her head tilt to the side. "Come on in."
"You look really nice," he says, ducking his head and stepping in.
"Thanks," she replies, not bothering to cover her surprise. "You do too." And she means it.
The click of the door closing is somehow louder than it should be, and her hand jerks away from the knob like it's been burned. She sees him rocking on the balls of his feet, looking around. Old Pam would be just as nervous, as unsure. New Pam - Fancy New Beesly - is feeling really good and is determined to make this work, through hell or high water.
"Do you want the ten-cent tour?" He looks over at her, a little surprised, but then nods and smiles really widely.
(His smile's still the same, she notes.)
"Yeah. Sure. Besides, I want to know how someone survives with just one kitchen."
She laughs lightly. "Some of us are just more talented than others."
"Ouch. Fancy New Beesly's got some teeth."
She beams at him, brandishing her pearly whites in the process. (It's deliberate.) "Well, this is the main room." She gestures around at the space, one wall painted tangerine orange, the other a bright green. It's still light out, and the colors are more muted in the shadows of the setting sun. There's the red sofa she slip-covered with her mother's help and the pine furniture she pulled out of storage. (She'd intended for the pieces to go into her first home, but this will do.)
"Did you paint it yourself?" He asks, snapping her out of her musing.
"Yeah, and it took forever. I almost couldn't reach the whole way."
"And the prints?"
She goes a little quieter. "Yeah, those are mine, too."
He swallows, and she watches his shadow flicker under the ceiling fan. "It's really nice."
"Thanks." She feels her determination poke her, and she brightens - he's here. "Wanna see my kitchen?"
"Definitely." He stuffs his hands in his pockets like she's seen him do a million times and follows her lead.
She locks the door behind her and follows him out to his car.
"You know, I almost miss that little red piece of crap you used to own." She's a little shocked she said that out loud. By the look he's shooting her, he is, too.
"You know, so do I." He shrugs and opens the door for her, complete with an exaggerated sweeping bow.
It makes her laugh like she hasn't in a long time.
They're dressed nicely enough that she wonders where they're going. Rows and rows of trees pass by, mixed with lit streetlights. The sun's just fallen below the tree line, and the sky is deepening into the blue-black of night.
He's got the radio on, the music soft against the background of comfortable silence. She sees his fingers tap against the steering wheel in time to what's playing; it's a mix station they both like. She smirks a little when she sees he doesn't have his iPod plugged in; the new car doesn't have a tape deck and she knows he's too lazy to go out and get a new adapter.
The song changes to one she knows and likes. They're idling at a red light anyway, so she turns up the volume and sings along, veritably bouncing in the seat. She shoots him a sidelong glance and catches him hiding a smile behind his hand.
The next song is something Spice Girls, and while she's ashamed to say she doesn't know the words, Jim, apparently, does, and sings in an obnoxious falsetto the entire time. Just to piss him off, the next track is Rascal Flatts - a song she really likes, too - and she sings it off-key in alternating octaves until he's begging her to stop in the name of all that is good and holy in the world.
He pulls up next to the park and shuts off the engine. "We're here," he announces cheerfully.
"Thank you, Miss Obvious." He reaches back and pulls forward a picnic basket. "Ta-da."
She smiles widely.
He leads her to a spot off the path, near a lamppost. There's a large man-made pond with a fountain, and the dark sky makes the water look like rolling velvet. There's a big, checkered picnic blanket set out already, with a little reserved plaque in the center.
"Sit, sit," he tells her, gesturing towards the large blanket. She toes off her heels and sits delicately, curling her feet under her. "It's not exactly gourmet, but I didn't think you'd mind." He reaches in and pulls out a handful of tupperware containers, most of which are still warm. She takes the one he hands her and pries it open to find a grilled cheese sandwich. "I've got chicken salad and cold cuts if you prefer."
"Nah," she replies, and meets his nervous gaze. (Silly boy). "It's perfect."
They melt M&Ms in their mouths and watch the fountain create patterns in the surface of the dark water as the moon plays peek-a-boo behind heavy clouds.
"This is nice," she murmurs, propped up on her elbows as she lies back. The blanket and grass are soft, and the night is quiet.
"Mmm," he assents. There's a long pause, then: "I broke up with Karen for you."
Her breath catches, and she can't look at him.
He can't seem to look her in the eye, either. "That note you wrote me. He asked me where I saw myself in ten years, and all I could think about was the Olympics and all the stupid little things we did last year." He finally looks at her, and the sincerity in his eyes makes her shiver despite how warm it is. "I want to make this work."
She doesn't say anything. Instead, she shifts so that their shoulders are bumping, then lays her head against him.
Later, they'll tell each other everything, a year's worth of stories and secrets and silly things and important things and pranks and plots and plans, but for now the moment is vast.
They drive back to her place singing along to the radio, to really stupid music like Avril Lavigne (which she knows way too well, he tells her) and whatever random boy bands the DJ decides to pop in the changer.
He parks the furthest away he possibly can without incurring a ticket and walks beside her back to her apartment, hands in his pockets. There's only the sound of passing cars and the click of her heels against the concrete. She's regaling him with tales of her pranks on Dwight, about the set up for the CIA ploy. They get to her door and he stops, but she whips out her keys and pushes the heavy door open, walking in. She flicks on the lights and tosses her purse across the room.
"Uh," he says intelligently and points at the door.
"Come in, come in. You said you hadn't seen Pride and Prejudice which means that much be corrected immediately." Because she's Fancy New Beesly, damn it, and if she wants him to stay with her longer then she's going to find a way.
He steps in, still looking confused, and closes the door behind him. She's in the kitchen microwaving popcorn, so he shrugs out of his jacket and undoes the buttons on his cuffs, rolling up the sleeves to his elbows. She crosses the room, popping the DVD into the player. She turns to look at him, and she can feel the brightness in her eyes as she sees him looking turned down in sock-feet and rolled-up sleeves.
The microwave beeps and she moves to get the bag, but he goes over first. "Where do you keep your bowls?"
"Second shelf, cabinet to the left." There's a clatter and then he's back. He curls into the corner of the sofa, into the corner between the armrest and the back, feet stretched out on the coffee table. She sits down next to him, folding her legs underneath her like she did on the blanket.
For the first half hour, Jim's watching incredulously. Then, as Pam's weight against his side grows heavier, he starts to get drawn in. Elizabeth shoots down Darcy in the midst of rain, and he's aghast. Pam laughs at his look and pokes him between the ribs. He squirms and she looks like she's hit paydirt.
"You're ticklish!" She cries, grinning.
"Hey, what's that letter that he's giving--oof. No, wait, stop," he protests between peals of laughter. Her fingers srabble at him furiously and he squirms so much that he finds himself with his head against the armrest and her straddled over his stomach. "Mercy! Mercy," he gasps, and grabs her hands. They're both breathing really hard and it dawns on them what position that they're in.
Onscreen, Elizabeth blows out a candle.
For a long moment, there's just the sound of the film in the background and the groan of the couch under their combined weight and the sound of their breathing and the racing of two hearts. Gently, he pushes himself up to a sitting position, her weight shifting off of him.
"What are men compared to rocks and mountains?" Mary asks, and the room is silent.
"Wait, what?" He blurts it out after a beat and she just falls to pieces laughing. Wiping a tear from the corner of her eye, she pauses the film and explains what has happened, all to a very attentive Jim. (With ruffled hair.)
For all she's fancy and shiny new, she's still just a little bit the old her.
The film score is really beautiful - she remembers telling him that while cajoling him to watch the movie, because she knows he's a sucker for a good soundtrack and some things don't change - and the gentle piano is soothing. Her head grows heavy and her breathing slows, and he is so warm that eventually the film fades into the background of her consciousness.
When she finally stirs, the early morning light is casting long shadows in her front room, and the weight of his arm across her shoulders is so intensely familiar that for a long moment she's disoriented. When it finally dawns on her what has happened, she reluctantly slips out from under his arm and shakes his shoulder.
"Jim? Jim, wake up." He mutters something about eggs and turns away from her, batting her away with his free hand. She laughs softly and stands, content to let him wake up on his own. She goes to brush her teeth and wash off her makeup. When she walks back into her front room, he looks massively confused. She can't help but smile fondly at his appearance, a little rumpled and not quite all together.
"Good morning," she calls softly. He blinks stupidly when he sees her, and she realizes she's probably not in a better state than he is. "I think we fell asleep during the movie," she adds, gesturing to the DVD player logo flashing intermittently onscreen.
"Oh," he adds intelligently.
"I take it you're not quite yourself before coffee?"
He shakes his head and stands, stretching all six feet of him and wincing as stiff joints pop in protest after so many hours in one position. "Uh...?"
"Right through there," she says, pointing up the stairs that lead to her bedroom. It's a loft apartment and there's only one bathroom anyway.
He pads up the stairs and she sets the coffee machine, then rummages through her cupboards for something to eat. It's so easy, she thinks while she opens and closes cabinets. She thinks about everything they talked about out in the park and pauses. Maybe not so easy, she amends, but it's better.
The door upstairs opens once more just as the machine beeps. She pours out two cups as he walks in, smiling and looking a little less harried. "Good morning," he greets, taking a mug from her.
"Cream or sugar?"
He kisses her swiftly then, long enough for her to feel the press of him against her, but short enough that she's still got her coffee in her hands when he pulls away, looking bashful. He's a little red and looking down into the depths of the mug.
She smiles, feeling warm. "I'll take that as a yes then."
It tastes sweet.
[1 Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass. - Anton Chekhov
[2 "...When the evening is spread out against the sky" - The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, T.S. Eliot.
[3 Originally published 2 June 2007.