Author's Notes: "Happy Ending" by Mika is partially responsible for this. Not to say that this story is that song in Jim/Pam Office fic translation, no. Sometimes emotions from songs give you so much to deal with, it's such an overwhelming song for me, so this came out.
I spent a week out of the country for the holiday this year, with this story in my head the entire time. And I listened to that song the whole time. This piece will never be good enough for me, but every time I would get caught up in the exciting end of the song, I felt the urge to fly home and write it. I hope it came out right. It's long but I wanted it to be a long oneshot. I wanted to have suspense, and a ride, and cliffhangers, but I wanted you guys to get it all at once. That's kind of what this song feels like to me. So, yeah. Review if you please.
Oh, and by the way, does anyone else get peeved by too many ellipses? I do, but sometimes when I write these two, I don't know how else to convey the pauses! So that's why there's so many, because I seem to imagine a lot of pauses between them when they talk, especially about certain things. So I apologize ahead of time for the overdose.
There was sun everywhere, peaking through the trees and casting gold on everything. The parking lot was filled with the shine off the cars as the sun was going down. The breeze was faint and the air was perfectly warm. The sun was starting to set later lately, and days like this were the reminder of summer's beginning. There wasn't even a touch of blue or white in the sky as he peered into it now, just completely gold.
It was so beautiful, but lost on him. The weather was nothing short of ironic all the time now, as the day of her wedding drew closer.
He did think about transferring, he thought about it all the time, but part of him held back thinking something would change. His family worried about him, in fact he'd told everyone the entire story just last week at dinner. It ruined his brother's pictures of his trip to Toronto.
His mother had asked him if he'd still go to Australia. He had been completely blank, motionless at the word and nodded. When dinner was finished, and his plate was still full, he took a nap in his old room. When he woke up, everyone was in the living room watching some game on television, and his mother was in the kitchen washing dishes. He approached her to say goodbye, and she enveloped him in a hug. And like a little kid, he felt completely useless and small against his mother. But his smile was there, albeit a little unconvincing, and his mother squeezed his hand on the way out the door.
He hadn't even packed for the trip. He didn't know if he'd go. Perhaps if he went to the wedding, she'd change her mind. Maybe she was still planning on changing her mind. Roy could die in a freak accident.
She wasn't talking to him at work about anything other than the usual. She had avoided him for a few days, then began smiling, then began talking again. As painful as it was, some smiles from him were genuine when he heard her voice on those days. On some days, she'd be uncharacteristically silent, maybe even with slightly red eyes. He didn't let himself look long enough or think long enough to figure those out. He sold paper and made phone calls and that was it. At one point, Oscar mentioned setting him up with a woman he knew, and Pam had averted her eyes when Jim politely declined.
It had been a long few weeks.
"I got you something for your trip," she breathed next to him one day, leaning against his desk, hands resting behind her back. She had let those words out like she'd held them in all day.
He set his pen down and prepared himself. Looking at her face was difficult. When he did, though, he smiled. How could he still love her?
Australia seemed so far away, maybe the farthest you could get away without being on your way back home.
"Here," she shrugged, sheepishly handing him something wrapped in red paper.
"Pony?" he asked, raising an eyebrow.
She just smirked and nodded toward it. "Open it."
The paper came away easily, and produced a small handbook.
"We had an exchange student in high school who said 'shark biscuit' one day, and I thought it was food," she began, shrugging, "and he laughed at me, because apparently that's like... a beginner surfer or something, so... I didn't want you to get hungry for a 'shark biscuit,' or say 'freckle' or 'doodle' and get weird looks."
He cocked his head. "What's doodle?"
She looked to her side, no one was listening, but she was quiet anyway. "Penis."
He feigned impression. "And freckle?"
She gritted her teeth. "Anus."
"Wow, Beesly, did the kid only teach you the naughty words or something?"
She laughed quietly. "Of course, we were fifteen... oh and 'amber liquid' is beer. I think that's all I remember. I don't know, it's a fun book."
His lips made a tight line when she trailed off. Her eyes had sparkled for a second, but she was back to picking at her fingernails and staring away from him.
"Yeah, thanks," he said, eyeing it again before tucking it into his bag. "I'll brush up on it on the fourteen hour flight, I guess."
"Fourteen hours?" she cringed.
He told her about four flights, beginning a half hour away from Scranton and ending halfway around the world. When she walked away, he silently hoped he could forget her face when he got there.
On the seventh, he still wasn't packed. He had planned not to come into work the day before he left, but he had woken up at seven and walked immediately to his closet. The alarm never even went off. He looked at his empty suitcase and strung a tie around his neck, his corporate facade of a noose, nothing was feeling right lately.
When he came in, they were both quiet. He got there too early, because it was just the two of them, and it wasn't all right. He tried to sit and remember a time where his favorite thing in the world was the gap between their desks, and the looks they shared over it, the way he walked across it multiple times a day. When she bowed her head down to her work, he would stare into her hair and plead for things to be different.
They weren't, though. They were the same all day, and at five when he decided he'd stared at his desk long enough. His arms were lazy when they picked everything up and switched his computer off. The machine went through the ritual of shutting down, and Jim stood and felt weak as he watched the screen turn black.
He saw Pam looking at him out of the corner of his eye. His eyes still burned into the monitor, the way they do when you stare at something so long. In the end, he could feel the little book in his bag through the fabrics on his side as he began walking away from his desk.
Have fun in Australia and Congratulations on your wedding should have both been said, but neither were. When Jim walked past her, there was a silence between them like a rubber band that stretched all the way back to his bedroom when he got there, and wouldn't give, even as he finally fell onto his bed and shut his eyes.
He wanted so much of his life to go away. He had harbored his feelings for her for years, that he had lived in a hopeful fantasy for all that time. Now he was exposed and rejected, they weren't friends, and she was marrying somebody else. Somebody completely wrong.
He didn't go to Australia. He never packed and couldn't want to anymore. He spent some of the time with his brother, some of it with Mark, but most of it by himself. He drank most nights, only because he had nothing else to do, and stayed away from work as he planned to with the trip.
He read the marriage announcement in the paper, most likely before Mark could get to it and throw it away. It was a short piece in the Celebrations section. Her name, her parents, Roy Roy Roy, and a picture of the two of them. Beautiful, smiling Pam looking perfectly shy. And Roy Anderson.
His head spun all week, and when he went back to work, she wasn't there. She was on a beach somewhere with Roy. He didn't care. No one talked to him, because once he mentioned not going to Australia to Meredith, everyone already knew. Ryan took Pam's place at reception, and Jim figured it would be a good opportunity to make himself stop glancing at Pam once she got back.
Pam came back on a Monday in July with a touch of fading sunburn on her nose and cheeks. He had an urge to press his fingers to it.
They said nothing until she took a call for Jim. She sounded concerned when she transferred the call to him, and when he answered, his mother told him his father had had a stroke. In the kitchen, about half an hour ago while getting ready for work. He was already picking up his things to leave while he finished with his mom.
"I need to, um, I need to go, my dad is sick, or something," Jim mumbled, not looking at her as he pressed his hand on the desk.
"I know," Pam said quickly. "Your mom--"
"Okay," he said quietly, glancing at the new ring on her finger when she put her hand up. Even as these thoughts raced through his head, the glint of the silver still stung.
She nodded quickly and pursed her lips. "I hope everything's okay, Jim."
He brushed past the desk and made it to the car, the hospital, where his family was. He talked to the doctors, and everything was a blur again, much like his life was these days. His dad would be fine, he'd go home soon, and he'd have physical therapy a few times a week. His mom asked him to help her with things, and he simply said, "Of course, Mom..."
Things were a new norm then. Jim didn't talk to Pam as much as he used to; they only talked when she had something to tell him. She attempted to initiate a prank every now in then, but Jim was always busy. He should've been enthralled in his work, but he wasn't, and so his numbers stayed the same. Still satisfactory, good work, and that was about it. He was at his parents' house on the weekends, Tuesday nights, and Thursday nights, and had breakfast with his dad every Monday morning. He watched one television show, with mild interest, on Monday nights. Some Fridays, there were poker games or pickup basketball games with friends. No one ever mentioned Pam to him, because he knew they knew.
It was a Friday morning in August when he came into work about thirty minutes late, having overslept. He had plans to breeze by her desk, as he did everyday, but couldn't when he noticed her eyes and cheeks were pink. He didn't himself slowing down to express concern.
"You... okay?" he said, tipping his head to the side slightly. He hadn't started a conversation with her in weeks.
She snapped her head up. "What? Yeah, oh, yeah, I'm fine." She shook her head and widened her eyes with a deep breath, before getting up and heading to the bathroom. He pushed the scene out of his mind, tried not to worry about her anymore, and eased into his desk chair for the day.
He was getting over a cold, so he went through about half a box of Kleenex that day. She used the other half, when they had their first real talk in so long.
"When are you going to tell me what's wrong?" he finally asked, giving her a small smile. "Or are you just going to be stealing my tissues all day?"
She blew her nose into the tissue, but he saw her eyes smile just a little. Her eyes weren't red and puffy anymore, but she had the kind of runny nose you seem to get when you spend the first part of the day crying. She took a deep breath and Jim nodded toward the break room. They were sitting in silence when Jim bought them each something to drink from the vending machine, and when he handed it to Pam, she stared at it before reaching for it.
"He's always with his friends, or his brother," she said about ten minutes in. "And his friends are just, like, big drinkers and everything, and it's so awkward to be around, and Roy's different when he's with them, so..."
He nodded, biting his lip and staring into the soda can.
"I don't know," she said, shrugging. "And when I just, like, reminded him that we were going to do something this weekend, he said, 'Pam, we just had a honeymoon, we spent a lot of time together, I just want to hang out with my buddies.' I mean, I don't think we have to hang out all the time, but... I don't know."
He shook his head with lips tight, still looking in the soda can in his hands. His thumbs run over the cool aluminum.
"Sorry," she said, her face scrunched at her nose.
God, I love you, he thought when he saw that.
"No, you're fine," he said with a low voice, when his eyes fell to his hands again.
"I guess, maybe I shouldn't have--"
"You're fine," he said with another smile. He didn't want to hear about her husband -- God, her husband -- but he loved her. That's the worst thing he knew.
She shifted nervously; he took a shot.
"Do you want to go to Cooper's tonight?" he said, not looking at her. "I think we're all going to go tonight and have a few drinks."
He had turned the invitation down earlier when Oscar brought it up, but best case scenario, he'd start talking with his coworkers again like the living did.
"Yeah, maybe," she said, looking a little optimistic. "Actually, that sounds kinda nice." She looked relieved.
He gave her a ride to the restaurant, after Roy declined and took their car back to their apartment. The ride was silent, but once they got inside and had a few drinks, he felt right again laughing and talking with her. When she laughed hard, her shoulders came up around her face, practically to her ears, and her face broke into a wide grin. He loved her so much that he laughed, he let go, and it was almost as if his face was sore from using muscles it hadn't in so long.
With each drink, the bar was dimmer and everyone was laughing more. They recalled all the things Michael had said that week, something stupid someone else did. And something else that he didn't notice because all he could feel was Pam's skin against his when she leaned into him, laughing at something Oscar said.
His skin felt like fire everywhere, and he wondered what other people saw right then. How they didn't see what she was all the time, like he did, how they didn't understand what her arm against his was doing to him.
As he was thinking that, she turned around, more than just a little drunk, and her forehead grazed his cheek. She pulld back clumsily against the cushion of the seat and smiled apologetically. Their eyes lingered against each other's and he wished she knew everything.
They were talking about something familiar now, so he perked up and laughed along with them. When he took a sip of his beer, winking jokingly at something Kevin says, someone else made a joke at Jim's expense. Pam laughed and put her right hand on Jim's thigh when she looked at him with her eyebrows raised. He lost it. He felt every single one of her delicate fingers through the thin fabric of his pants, and the room swallows him whole. Because he forgot what time it was, how much he'd had to drink, and how everyone was around them.
He remembered that she was married, and that she was someone else's, sure -- but he didn't care right then.
She excused herself in a funny way, she called him Halpert and made a little joke about having to go to the bathroom. When she was gone he thought about a lot of things at once while he finished the beer he had in his hands. He went back and forth before he was walking to meet her.
She came out of the bathroom and looked surprised to see him.
"Come here," he said. And even though she smiled with bright eyes, he felt suddenly sad and doomed. The alcohol gave him the other effect now, not the gooey, warm he felt before.
When they were outside, they walked to the side of the building against the brick. The parking lot was full, which was odd, because he didn't remember so many people being inside the restaurant. He regretted everything about what he was about to do when he saw her curious, a perfect smile still sitting there.
While he was studying that smile, he started shaking his head and leaned back against the brick wall.
"What are we doing?" she asked, glancing around, smirking.
Immediately, ignoring her and his head, without a beat: "Why did you marry him, Pam?"
Her smile was gone instantly and she started to look small again. Her eyes never left his, though and she sounded like a little girl when she said, "What?"
"Pam, you..." He shook his head again, the alcohol making his head cloudy. Did he even have a plan for what to say? "You married him, but you... God, Pam, there's just no way you could--"
"Jim," she said, sounding desperate.
He looked at her, his eyes burning into her, and he was still shaking his head. Come on, he thought, trying to will words into her mouth. At that moment, he was so drunk and so in love and so much in pain, he wanted to reach out and push his fingers against her face, form the words himself.
"Please don't." That's all she said, and because he was drunk, it's anger and not sadness that was making him talk. Because that was just not enough, and it wasn't okay.
"I can't even think straight right now," he said with a bitter chuckle. "But I know how I feel about you, and you... you kissed me back, Pam."
They'd never talked about it before, so she seemed to stop breathing. Someone from the doorway shouted to some guy named Carl to get someone's keys. Neither of them looked.
"You kissed me back, and then you married this guy," he said, squinting at her. "And I don't understand it. I couldn't go to your wedding because that would be... well, that would've been terrible."
She swallowed and her eyes darted around, and then she couldn't look him in the eye.
"I figured," she stammered, "I mean, you left on the eighth, did you really think I couldn't crack that code?"
"I didn't even leave," he shrugged, laughing sourly. "I didn't even go, Pam."
She furrowed her brow in confusion, and he saw a little pain there.
"I'm always going to be in love with you, and I can't even leave," he said, as he whispered to the puddles in the pavement. "I asked Jan about a transfer, and she said it isn't possible because the nearest two branches are either shutting down soon or have nothing available, and I'm just..."
He looked away, out to the street and waited for a car to go by, just a little noise. It was still empty when he looked back to her.
"I'm just stuck here," he breathed, blinking slowly. His voice was so low then, and the alcohol in his blood was pounding, and making him feel heavy.
Still no car on the road. He still felt angry, like the edges of mind were rough.
"And the way you talk about the guy, Pam," he said, unable to look at her, still waiting for a car to appear. "Half the shit he says to you..."
"Okay, stop," she said somewhat firmly, her drunk and tired eyes looking at his. "We're married now, you can't just say that--"
"You tell me these things, what do you think I'm going to be thinking?" Jim stared at her. "Do you think, as your friend, or whatever, you..."
He trailed off when a car finally speeds by.
"You know how I feel about you," he said, shaking his head strongly and glaring at her. "So how could I possibly not think to myself every goddamn day that I would never, ever, ever say half the shit--"
"I don't want to do this right now, you don't have the right, Jim," she protested, putting her hands up and looking at him pointedly. "And, you waited so long to tell me, I don't understand that."
"Whoa," he said in a deep voice. "That's what you're saying? Really? You're telling me I'm wrong for waiting so long, Pam?"
She was so drunk she realized what she said right as he did.
"No, I may have waited way too long to tell you," he said, exhaustedly. "But I told you because I had a deadline, you were getting married, okay? And I don't know how you did after you kissed me back, I'll never understand that."
She looked at him, and he felt a headache lurch forward. He knew how things would be in the office again, even worse than they were before. He felt like quitting his job, moving in with his parents, just being a burden and sleeping, not worrying about his future. It was falling apart in front of him.
Her lips were parted when she took a step foward and fell against his mouth. He caught her and she straightened up against him. The tension in his back and shoulders melted away when her hands gripped his shoulders hard.
He didn't start kissing her. He didn't know what it meant, and he was drunk, and she was drunk. His headache was gone, though, and he knew how good it would feel to make it last before it was gone again, so he did.
When he kissed her, his hands held onto her waist like he was pulling that one night back to him, as if he could start over and convince her not to marry him. He tried not to remember that she had rings on her finger, and just kissed her. It was slow, and he was aching for every bit of it, and she felt exactly the same. His eyes were squeezed shut so tight, his eyelids played with colors. He held onto her with a strength so intense, it was as if he was straining to feel her skin through her shirt.
She pushed herself back, away from her grip on his shoulders and he realized how quickly they were both breathing. She looked up at him and they stared at each other for what seemed like hours.
His head fell back against the brick, waiting for her to leave. He didn't know that girl well enough, because she grabbed his face with both hands and brought it back down. It was an affirmation, and he kissed her like it was.
His hands came up to her forearms and pushed the two of them away from the wall and kissed her in the dark. He kissed her hard, and she sighed and moaned against his lips. It was awhile before he remembered where they were, and he pulled away reluctantly. She put her hands around his neck and tried to pull him back down.
"Jim," she whispered, trying to pull him against her again.
He shook his head, colliding with reality again and spinning at the thought of it. His watch said it was nearly two and he could hear the voices of their coworkers in the parking lot now. He had to be at his parents' house in the morning, and it was so late... Everyone had to know that he and Pam had been missing, they had to be talking about it, and God, she was married...
"What?" she said, breathing heavily. "Jim?"
He looked at her and sighed as he pulled her closer to him again, his hands everywhere. A cold thought crept into his mind, so he stopped touching her.
"You're drunk, Pam," he whispered against her neck. He slowly backed up and looked into her gaze.
"Yeah," she said dazedly, "but it's not... that's not what this is."
"I have to go," he said, running his hands through his hair.
She tried to kiss him one more time, and he wouldn't let her. Her head fell back lazily and she stared at him, obviously hurt somewhere, but he didn't understand her. Whether it was the alcohol in him, or her, or the whole situation. She was confusing him, and he didn't need to dig a deeper hole right now.
"Wait, I don't want you to leave," she said, and he thought he heard her choke somewhere, but he didn't want to see her cry again, so he looked away. He mumbled something about not wanting to get screwed over again, and left.
He woke up the next day with a headache, and the same clothes on as the night before. They smelled like smoke from the bar, and he smelled her somewhere. He had peeled the clothes off of him and threw them in the wash in their own load before he cared to find out. Showering did not help change his life, and neither did a t-shirt, jeans, clean socks.
He spent the day with his dad, which usually was the part of the week that made him genuinely happy. His dad was doing well, and it gave his mom a break. His brother would come from Wilkes-Barre and they'd all visit and watch television and eat breakfast and lunch. But today his life felt even duller with last night resounding in his brain. His dad was always so happy to see him that he felt guilty with his mind being elsewhere.
His mom had kissed him on the cheek on her way out to run errands, saying, "Someone had a late night. Go get some ibuprofen."
He was relieved to get home later that night, purposely spending a long day there to avoid thoughts about her. All day, all day, it was all her, though.
He was relieved to see Mark wasn't home when he pulled up to their place. Keys, door knob, shoes next to the door, and he was ready for bed.
He took another shower, just to feel refreshed. This one didn't change his life either.
There was knocking on his door, but it wasn't Mark on the other side.
She looked exhausted.
"Roy will be out of town until tomorrow," she'd said immediately.
His wet hair stuck to his face, and stared at her, wishing a million things. Waiting for her face to be able to change his world.
She dropped her bag and jacket to the floor and shut the door behind her. When he didn't move, she tensed, and he knew she thought she was making a mistake, so he proved her wrong.
In one step, he pushed her toward the door and kissed her gently. It wasn't perfect, but it was her and she wasn't drunk and she was kissing him back. Her hands on his cheek were so soft that he grabbed her wrists and turned to kiss her palms.
"I don't know what to do, Jim," she whispered while he kissed her hands, and her arms. "I mean, I'm married now..."
He knew that. He kissed her nose and stayed close to look at her, let her decide what happened next.
She pushed her lips up and into his, and as they overlapped and moved over and over again, he sighed. He felt somewhat content for the first time in a long time, and by the way she was relaxing under his hands, he guessed maybe she felt the same. He kissed her for a long while, until his lips were swollen and he could feel his pulse in them.
"What are we doing?" he said against her cheek, looking down to the floor
"I don't know," she said with eyes closed, keeping her hand against the side of his face, holding him to her.
He pulled away anyway and watched her twist her lips into an unsure smile, then watched it leave just as quickly as it came.
They were kissing again, and she fisted the material of his sleep shirt in her hands, and pressed against his chest. His hands ran through her hair and he prayed that somehow time would stand still and Pam could just be his, and not be bound to someone else. That he could just have her for once...
He brought her upstairs, kissed her against the wall next to his room and he let his hands tangle into her hair again. Everything about her was so good that he hated Roy for finding her first.
She stopped and searched his eyes again, he did the same, but neither of them wanted to say anything. He gave her a pitiful smile and wrapped his arms around her and she melted into him. She breathed into his chest, and he cradled her there, his chin on top of her head, and he was glad this didn't happen the night before. He would've cried with all of her, all of the alcohol searing in his veins, all of her skin on his.
"I've barely slept, just a couple hours," she said, a small laugh escaping her throat.
He nodded, and had to take care of her. "Let's lay down?"
She was in his arms, in his bed, and drifting off to sleep when he felt at ease, everything feeling okay. Except she was married, and she had a husband, and she still had the rings on her finger, but he had to hold her because she was it.
The next day, he woke up when she was still sleeping. He watched her as he slid out of the blankets. Her hair was still pulled back, one hand was resting on the sheets where he was lying, and her lips were parted slightly. He should've arrived at his parents' in a couple hours, so he left to take a shower and put on new clothes, so as to stay with her in bed until the last possible second.
He woke up ten minutes before the alarm was due to ring, and pushed her hair away from her face and woke her up with a kiss. She stirred, kissed him and put her arm around him.
"I need to leave soon," he whispered. "I go to see my dad every weekend, in the morning, have breakfast with him and talk and stuff..."
She nodded sleepily and came closer to him. "Is he better?"
"Yeah," he said simply. "I just give my mom a break on the weekends, it's nice to see him a lot, he'll be fine, so..."
She nodded again and looked up at him. They blinked slowly, eyes full of sleep and looked at each other. He always saw everything in her.
They were kissing again when the alarm went off, and he hit the snooze button, and another nine minutes passed before he knew he had to leave. He looked down for her hands and held them in his.
"I should really go," he said. "I'll be back at around one, you can stay if you want, I don't care." He kissed her fingers and shrugged. "Mark's downstairs, he works some weekend afternoons, I don't know when he's leaving, so if you want to stay up here and catch up on sleep, I don't mind..."
"You sure?" She watched her own fingers curl around his and pull them to her. "I'd appreciate that, actually."
"Go back to sleep, I'll see you at around one?" He knew he probably looked sad and defeated, because eight hours of sleep doesn't fix anything. She murmured something as she kissed him again, and he had to tear himself away.
"Okay," he said, biting his lip. "Bye."
He pulled a jacket on as he moved swiftly down the stairs, went to the fridge and grabbed a bottled water as he raised his eyebrows to Mark at the table.
"Hey, what's up, who's car is that?" Mark nodded toward the window.
"Oh," Jim said, distractedly. "Um, someone from work..."
Jim looked at him with an expression even he couldn't decipher. He had a small smile with it, but he knew he looked disgusted, ashamed, afraid, beat.
"Not Pam?" Mark raised his eyebrows and Jim looked down and breathed, covering his face with his hands. "Come on, man, she's married... Jim..."
"I know, I know," he shook his head, it was too much. "She's upstairs, she's just sleeping. I need to go see Dad, I told her I'd be back at one, so she'll be here 'til I get back..."
Even Mark, one of his best friends, looked a little disappointed in him. "Where's her husband at? Or are they... done, or whatever?"
Jim's expression fell. "He's, uh... well, he's out of town."
Mark was speechless, but he refrained from making an elaborate show, Jim knew. He just nodded solidly and looked back at the paper. "Okay."
Jim sighed and closed his eyes. He really had to go.
She was still there at twelve-thirty when he got back home, but Mark wasn't. He went up the stairs and saw Pam sitting on the side of his bed. He startled her when he opened the door, but in an instant she was grinning somewhat at him.
He didn't give that back, but sat next to her. He slid his hand to her knee and looked at her expectantly.
"What are we going to do, Pam?" Jim asked, and the words hurt. He lazily scratched circles into his jeans.
She breathed out slowly, and her voice was weak. "I don't know, I don't know what to do... I..."
"Why are you here?"
Pam's head fell forward, and her eyes closed. It took her a long time to think of an answer. "I'm not here to hurt you, okay? Roy and I have been together for, like, ten years, I need to figure things out..."
He closed his eyes now and sighed. She waited for him to say something. "Pam, come on," he sighed again. "Give me something, give me an answer, just anything, please..."
Her eyes shone when he looked at her. He knew she had to say a lot of things for this to work, he knew they had so much to say to each other still, but because she was it he couldn't see her cry. He told her why.
"You know I love you, Pam," he said, his eyes falling into his lap, and his hands knotting together. When he saw her again, she had tears coming down her face, sniffing quietly, trying to look at her other side, attempting to be discreet.
He reached over to the other side of her face and turned it toward him and kissed her everywhere. He hugged her again and looked up to the ceiling, wondering when his life got this complicated. The ceiling said June tenth, and it hit him again, and he hugged her tighter.
Hours later, they were still there, lying on his bed now with his arm around her. It'd been silent so long he didn't know what time it was. Three-thirty. They'd kissed and hugged, she cried a little, but he tried not to let her. Now they were there and they did nothing but breathe.
"When do you have to, um," he said, feeling shaky, "be home?"
"He's not going to be home until eight or nine, he said, so..."
At four-fourteen they were talking about work. At five, they were talking about his dad, during which Pam squeezed his hand a lot. At five-thirty, she was running her hand up and down his arm and breathing contentedly.
He looked at her when her eyes seemed to be waiting for him. She pulled him into her and kissed him differently, and he just knew it, so he kissed her back the same way. He never thought he'd get to lick her lips, taste her tongue, rub his thumb over her jaw -- he'd thought about it all, and imagined it again and again, and now it was happening.
He moved to hover over her, just breaking away for a second to let her settle herself under him. He kissed her everywhere: her mouth, her cheeks, her forehead, her nose, her neck, her jaw, her earlobes. He couldn't stop and it was starting to scare him. Her hands were at the hem of his shirt, and that was a line to cross, or at least it was on the horizon now.
He pulled his lips off of hers, and they were breathing heavily again, and he felt their chests collide lightly with each breath. Her eyes stayed closed as she pushed her hands up further, spread them across his back, and dragged her fingers over his skin. It made him feel, for lack of a better term, alive, for the first time in months. She tugged at his shirt, and finally opened her eyes.
Her eyes begged him.
He pulled his shirt off, and then they were there. He cupped her face with his big hands and kissed her like he could fix everything for her. He let his hands run down her arms and hug her as his kisses became more insistent. She wouldn't break the kiss for anything but to breathe, and all he could think about was Pam Pam Pam and what was happening, what was going to happen...
She pushed him back gently, and he sat back on his heels. Her eyelids were heavy and she opened them with dark eyes underneath and he was losing it. Her head was falling backward again, but she kept looking at him, adoration. She took his hands and put them at her waist, under her shirt.
He felt a quick pang of sadness, desperation, regret, but it was fleeting. He ran his thumbs across the skin there, and she blinked slowly and sighed, and he wanted to make her so happy right then.
He lifted the shirt over her head and took her in. He was looking at her, all this skin that he could touch and look at, kiss and run his hands along it, right now he could do that.
"You're beautiful," he said against her throat, sucking and kissing lightly. She sighed against him.
He wanted to go slow at first, and it seemed like she did, too. But by the time they were both naked, moaning, and gasping, she simply said, "please," and he lost himself against her, inside her.
He moved over her and her hands begged him for more with every thrust. They came almost together and he kissed her everywhere, told her he loved her, and she moaned and clung to him until she had to leave.
And, like that, their affair had begun and she hurried home to meet her husband, trying not to smell like sex and love and complication when she saw him again.
He remembered every single thing he'd learned about her body on Monday when he saw her, and he tried not to think about it when Roy followed her up to her desk before work that day. Jim didn't want to see her, him, the two of them. He didn't want to see Roy's hands that had had the pleasure of touching her whenever he pleased. He wonder if they'd fought when he came back, or if she acted differently around him, or if they'd had sex that night. He blinked hard at the thought of that and shook his head, trying to let those thoughts teeter off the edge of his mind.
Their conversation was simple though, and Roy didn't kiss her. They didn't talk much, they just talked about plans for that night and Pam shrugged a lot. She said goodbye to him when he left and then she was typing something.
It was August, so it was still warm enough to meet him up on the roof, and they kissed for twenty minutes. She couldn't stay up there for her lunch break like he did because she had to eat with her husband.
"I should probably go," she said between kisses. He nodded, and started kissing her again. She arched into him, and he kissed her harder, pushing her up against the door of the stairs.
"Roy told me that he thinks he'll be, uh, seeing his brother and his friends again, like once a month..."
His tongue found hers and they didn't talk again for a few minutes. Her hands gripped the sides of his shirt and pulled hard.
"So, I'll be alone," she said in a low voice, their kisses become sloppy and warmer.
It wasn't enough, but he had to take it. Because she was it...
"Okay," he said, his voice scratchy.
In September, Pam started arriving earlier to work, driving separately from Roy for the first time in years. She didn't talk much about Roy when they were together, but he knew she wasn't talking to Roy much either lately. They were in the breakroom, against the wall during a meeting. He had his hands up her shirt and against her bra as she moaned into his mouth.
"I'm going to start getting here at seven, I think," she said, pressing up to him.
So everyday, aside from days with his dad for breakfast, they were there at seven. At first, they would say and do nothing until they reached the elevator. His hands were everywhere when they were on that elevator, and the slide of the doors became the worst noise he'd ever heard. Then they were all around the office, at her desk, in the breakroom, the conference room table, making out like teenagers.
One day, when they met in the parking lot, she did the usual to not acknowledge him, just like they did everyday. But he looked around and said, "Come here."
He pushed his fingers through hers and squeezed her hand. She smiled at him and watched their hands sway as they walked toward the glass doors. This time when they got to the elevator, he kissed her sweetly on the lips, then once on her forehead, then her hair. He liked doing those things, so that's what he began to do when he could. He treated her like he always wanted to, holding her hands, kissing her nose, and putting his hand on the small of her back. The smile on her face every time was something he never saw on her before.
That was September for the two of them. And the third weekend in September, Pam showed up at his house with a bag like they planned and flung herself into his arms, kissing him soundly. They made love all weekend, talked and laughed, and learned all about each other again. Mark didn't talk about it, and made himself busy on the weekends. She slept late so he could visit his dad in the mornings, and when he got back she'd be waiting for him. On that Sunday, he'd found her with her back to the door on the bed, with the sheet wrapped around her loosely, head bent over something he couldn't see. When he made a noise, she turned around with a sleepy smile on her face and he found she'd been sketching.
"What are you drawing?" he said, tilting his head to see.
"You," she whispered with a smile.
Ten minutes later, she was on top of him, the sketchbook and sheet discarded to the floor. Her hair fell in front of her face as beads of sweat gathered on her forehead and she whispered his name over him.
In October, the air was crisp and the leaves were red and gold. He missed her every night. On rare occasions, she was there if Roy was drunk with friends, and once when Roy had to go out of town for something in the warehouse. But other than that, it was the third weekend every month when he got her. He had her all to himself, at least as close as he could get. They didn't talk about Roy, or being married, or the future. They just were and Jim tried not to think about what could happen ahead of time, if it would end one day when she decided to get serious about the marriage, or whatever terrible things could come out of this. He knew she recognized these looks and that's why she changed the subject a lot, told a lot of jokes about work.
On their weekend in October, Jim suggested he take her out somewhere.
"Jim," she said into his chest, running her hands up and down the skin there, "we can't do that."
"What? What do you mean?"
"What if someone sees us?"
The words were sharp and the kind of words that made him remember what was going on with them, how he had to share her all the time, how he didn't get to be hers at all most of the time.
"Yeah, I guess you're right."
"But, um," she said quietly, looking up at him and kissing his chin, "what did you have in mind?"
He shrugged, a little defeated. "I just wanted to take you out to dinner or something, I don't know. Do something nice for you?"
While he was visiting his dad Saturday morning, and she was sleeping, he thought about last night and managed to sink even deeper into the hole he dug himself. Another term he'd come to deal with, he couldn't even treat her like his... girlfriend? What was she to him?
He arrived home and Pam had bought groceries and cooked them a lunch. There were flowers and candles on the dining room table and she shrugged with a smirk when he came in. He laughed a little, and she kissed him on the cheek, told him to sit at the table and brought him a plate.
"Okay, so what's all this?"
"Spaghetti," she said, cocking her head to the side. "Salad, breadsticks, I don't know, does it really look that bad? Can't even recognize it?"
He chuckled, "No, I mean... what's it all about?"
"I just wanted to do something nice for you," she said, her eyes lighting up in allusion to the night before.
He smirked, told her she was corny. And they shared lunch, washed the dishes together, and retreated to the bedroom.
When she curled up next to him when the sky was inky blue, his body was freezing and exhaustingly cold. Her body was warm in sleep and her breathing was even with a light snore, and it was breaking his heart. This was not what he wanted, but it's what he got, and it hurt. She was so simple when she was asleep, and he imagined what they looked like together, just sleeping. Like a perfect couple, just hands and bare feet and breathing and darkness and sheets. No thoughts, just easy dreams behind their eyes, where their lashes would just lie on their cheeks and nothing was complicated. He imagined they looked natural, classic, just simple. As long as they were sleeping, slipping into each other easily, they weren't a secret to anyone, they weren't guilty, they were just lying there.
His fingers were absently moving through her hair, stroking random curls. Each one was different, some of them he could stick his finger all the way through, like the cord of a telephone. Some of them were lazy and long waves, the kind that fell all around her face when they were making love.
He tried to push everything out of his head as his palm overtook the back of her head and pulled her to him. Squeezing his eyes shut, he dared himself to imagine that she was his -- for real -- and with her sleeping face against his now they had a clear-cut future together, they knew where they were going. At work once, in recent weeks, he had regrettably pictured a little girl that was the perfect cross between he and Pam. Kind of like a daughter they might have. He wondered if they had thought about things like that, her and Roy.
Irony killed him in November.
She had pulled him into the stairwell on a Tuesday morning. She wouldn't let him hold her hand in the parking lot, and now he saw why. Her face was pale when she talked, quickly and shifting on feet, and every time her words echoed in the stairwell, she shuddered like someone had repeated the words out loud to her.
"Do you think you... do you think you are?" Jim was choking on air and tight words.
"I don't know," she gasped, and she couldn't look at him, and he felt completely ashamed. Among other things. But then he felt nothing, he waited for her to say something for sure, because he was officially being thrown for a loop.
She said something else. "I'm just... it's not really normal for me, so..." She was breathing hard.
"Okay," he said dumbly, staring at her with wide eyes and a sad brow. He ran his hand through the back of his hair, his breathing was slow, studying everything in the stairwell. "Well, why don't we find out for sure, maybe we just need to know before we do anything, before we freak out, I guess I don't know how it works, really..."
"I'm cheating on my husband, Jim," she said, shaking her head with her hands in the air, like she could pull the answer out of the space between them. Her eyes still wouldn't find Jim's. "If I'm pregnant... I... Oh, my God, Jim..."
Those words were so sharp and cold, if he'd been thinking clearly, he would've tried to remember where he was exactly a year ago. Before life got so, so different...
He looked at her and swallowed hard. They didn't talk about it often but he felt compelled to ask. Which was stupid, he knew, because they were married, Roy was clueless, of course there was a chance.
"Yeah," she said breathlessly, "it could be his."
"I mean, if I am," she said, trying to sound steady enough to change fate. There was a beat where they didn't say anything, she pulled the sleeves of her sweater down and licked her lips. "Jim, what are we going to do?"
The leftover words -- it could be his -- ached but he did what he knew what to do and pulled her impossibly close to him. His eyes were closed and all he had ever wanted to do was take her to meet his mom.
"Okay, Pam, look at me." There was a man in him somewhere, but he felt like crying. Really crying. But he didn't, because if he did, she would, and that was horrible. He braced himself, gripped her shoulders, and pushed her away so he could look her in the eye. She was trembling, there weren't tears, though. She swallowed, looking at the carpet. He blinked for strength. "Look at me. Come on."
She did, and he told her that they'd wait until they knew for sure. He told her they could worry about it if they knew it was going to happen, and she didn't look satisfied with that answer. But he reminded her that there was nothing they could do anyway, just to wait and see what was going to happen. They'd always been careful, and it made him nervous to think that Roy could slip up make this happen somehow, ruin everything. But he didn't say anything about that. She finally bit her lip and nodded, a tear slid down and she rolled her eyes as she wiped it away.
He kissed where it had been. "Don't do that, okay?" His thumbs rubbed the sides of her face. "You know that, either way, no matter what, it's all... you know, it'll be..." He nodded because she knew how the sentence finished, and because he just couldn't complete a lie of that magnitude.
She took a deep breath, a very deep breath that made him happy, because she looked better for a second. "I know, I know."
He kissed her swollen bottom lip. The way they kissed in the stairwell on that Tuesday was undeniably somber. His hands still held her face there against his, just barely taking that bottom lip in-between his. Her hands rested, barely there, on his chest until they circled his waist and she pushed her forehead into him.
"I love you," she whispered.
He closed his eyes and his head surrendered into her hair, and when his nose was buried there he was somehow grateful. Which sounded ridiculous, he knew, but something in him was happy. All his senses had were her, words he'd never heard her say to him until now...
"I love you."
On another Tuesday, he arrived to see her car but no sign of her anywhere in the parking lot. Worry crept to a small part of his spine until he found her upstairs crying at her desk. Her arms were flung around his neck and she was sighing with her breath on his neck as soon as he entered the room.
"Pam," he said, confused, and it scared the hell out of him.
"No, it's not--" she stopped, took a deep breath. "I'm not, I'm not."
His lungs gave and his eyes closed in gratitude again as he swept her up and kissed her hard, hugged her harder. One hand splayed across the small of her back, one palm in her hair with her hair falling all over his fingers, pulling her against him with everything in him. Somewhere it was bittersweet.
Their weekend in November was a lot different. Neither of them initiated sex once, instead settling in front of movies for much of the time, making dinner for each other, joking while they held each other. Saturday evening, Roy had drunkenly called Pam from a cabin somewhere and he was so loud, Jim could hear parts of their conversation from where Pam stood down the hall. He told her how horny he was, how much he loved her and wanted her right then, and he promised he wasn't that drunk. Pam groaned to herself. She'd only picked up because he'd called four times in a row, and by the fifth she worried about him, and hoped he was okay.
"Roy, I'm really busy, I'll see you on Sunday, okay?" When Pam came back to bed she kissed him long, smoothly. Then she said nothing for a very long time.
The holidays were painful. His family was starting to bring up Jim finding a girlfriend, gently teasing, because it had been almost half a year anyway. Jim never talked about Pam to his family anymore, not since they had started. He was happy, he really was. He had only dreamed of being with Pam for years, and not every moment together was sad. They were perfect together, just like he had always guessed they would be, and they both knew it. He unraveled in things like her giggling, the way her eyes got wide when she was surprised or when she surprised herself, the way she sounded so bored on the phone at work. On that level, it was hard to not mention her to his family. He felt like his heart was pounding visibly sometimes; sometimes he was a little shocked that his parents didn't pick up on it somehow. But, cruelly, their situation was less than ideal. She, officially and legally, was somewhere else for ninety-eight percent of her life, not with him. Not like she should be, but he didn't think about things like that often, because he knew he was settling. Hard.
At first, she told Jim in an embrace on Wednesday that Roy wasn't going out of town in December. It hurt again, because it was the holidays, after all.
A few days before their normally scheduled weekend together, Roy came upstairs in the office, the words "hey babe" .. "please, babe?" .. "you're the best, baby" dripping off his lips with minimal protest from Pam. She sighed, "Why am I not surprised, Roy, really?" She rolled her eyes and waved her hand dismissively. Roy came around the desk and kissed her loudly on the cheek and told her he had to get back to the warehouse. He looked like a fifteen year-old for much of the exchange, Jim thought bitterly.
Pam looked at Jim with a melancholy smile. She shrugged a little, and they agreed somewhat, and Jim felt like maybe he could get her a real Christmas present before the weekend. When he trailed by her desk to make a copy, he stopped to make sure no one was looking and gave her shoulder a small squeeze. She looked at the office quickly, checking for no one discovering them, and then smiled up at him.
Their first Christmas together, and Jim didn't know if that's what it was, wasn't off to a great start when they heard Mark shouting downstairs long after they'd gone to bed. Jim rubbed his eyes and tried to make out the words, and when he couldn't, he slipped out of bed and padded down the stairs. He tiredly scratched his back under his shirt and found Mark stumbling through the kitchen, just as he'd absently chucked his cell phone to somewhere in the living room.
"Is everything okay?" Jim asked, his voice groggy.
"Uh, no," Mark said, suddenly silent, peering into the fridge. The light stung Jim's eyes. "We broke up."
"What happened?" Jim asked, as supportive as he could manage at three in the morning.
Mark looked bitter and pursed his lips, shaking his head slightly. He spun on his heel and brushed past Jim on his way out of the kitchen. "Found her in bed with some guy."
The words made Jim sick, as Mark quietly found his phone in the couch cushions. Jim's lips parted to say something, he murmured his surprise, something about how he was sorry, asked if he needed anything.
But Mark didn't say anything until he got to the stairs, and then Jim felt it hit him full-on.
"And it felt like shit, just so you know," Mark said. "I hate that guy, and I don't even know him."
Jim sank into a dining room chair and put his dizzy head into his hands. He heard Mark slam a door, a shower to start up, and then more footsteps.
"Is everything okay?" Sometimes when she was in her pajamas like this, hair fuzzy, creases on the side of her face from the sheets, he wanted to reach out and touch her to see if she was real.
Mark left after his shower that day to visit his brother, which he'd told Jim through a note scribbled on the side of an old newspaper. Jim eventually explained to her what had happened and they were both quiet. He couldn't help beginning to regard Roy as another man now, and what Jim actually was to him. It made him shake, so he didn't think about it too much.
The tension between them was horrible.
"Okay, are you going to tell me what you've been thinking today?" she said next to him on the couch in front of Conan O'Brien.
He had a lot of words he wanted to hand out to her, he just wanted to articulate his thoughts to her, but he never could. His lips were pressed against a brick wall and every word was distorted when it came out of his mouth.
"Pam, this is really hard." He swallowed and looked at her.
"I know," she said, nodding for just a split second, before pushing the hair out of his face.
He shook his head and shrank away from her, which surprised Pam a little. "No, Pam, you don't. Lately, when I'm hanging out with my mom and my dad, I just want them to know you. I want to be able to introduce you to my family, because I know they'd love you, I know you'd love them. God... I want to be normal and bring you to Christmas. I want to take you out to dinner or something once in a while, okay?"
She sat small against the broad back of the couch, watching her fingers twist together and apart again. The words were spilling out of him, but he kept on. He decided to ride it out for once.
"We don't even have an anniversary to celebrate," he said, wide-eyed and glances darting all over the room. "I mean, we're not boyfriend and girlfriend, what are we?"
Her voice sounded weak in the dust of his thick words. "I'd love to meet your family, Jim."
It broke his heart a little, but now there was anger and it's all that showed. "But you can't, Pam. You can't--"
"I could just be your friend--"
"No, no, no," Jim said. "No, you couldn't be because they know all about you. They know how I felt about you, they know you're married, I stopped talking about you a long time ago. They wouldn't know what to make of it if you were suddenly in my life, visiting my family. No."
She leaned forward into the delicate space between them. "You told them about me?"
Jim drew in a long breath but his gaze wouldn't part from hers. He blinked hard then and said, "Yeah. Yeah, I used to talk about you a lot. So they know all about you." He shook his head. "I guess I took a chance there, because I just thought things were going to work out somewhere, I don't know."
A flash of regret, then back to another expression and she looked hopeless against the cushions again.
"This isn't what I pictured things would be like with us... like, ever... this couldn't have been what you wanted for you life, Pam..."
"Jim, I love you--"
He rolled his eyes and something felt bad inside of him, but he ignored it because he felt like he was breaking in half. He threw his head back and his hands into the air around him. "Then what the hell are we doing? Why do I have to share you? Why do I have to wait a month to spend time with you?"
"I'm sorry if it's a chore for you--"
"Don't even," he groaned. "That's not what I meant by that and you know that. This can't possibly make you one hundred percent, completely happy. I love you more than I... God, Pam, I love you so much and this is never going to be enough..."
"It's not about me just being happy, Jim--"
"Pam, what are you--" He was moving his hands around exaggeratedly now. "What does that even mean? Pam, you need to be happy in your life. You've been with this guy for -- what -- ten years?"
She bit her lip and backed further into the couch.
"As long as I've known you, you've come to me and you haven't been happy with him, not like you should be." He felt like he should stop, he almost felt a little drunk right now, in an angry way. "I mean, I just want to make you happy, Pam. That is what I think about when I'm with you--"
"You do make me happy Jim, but with Roy..." She trails off on a whisper and he thinks she's going to come up with a real reason, and it scares him.
"Roy is important to me," she says so slowly, the world could've stopped moving, because all he did was watch her lips make that sentence. "And we have been together for so long. He doesn't deserve what I'm doing to him."
"What do you want out of him?"
It was cold water to Pam, and she gave him a blank expression when she wasn't stunned.
"I mean, do you want all those husband things with him? You want to be with him forever?" He nodded at her expectantly. "Because you say you love me..." Anger washed away in him, and his skin felt chilled when his voice got low and raspy, and all he wanted to do was curl up next to her and save her, protect her, take care of her, fix everything.
"I do, Jim, I promise, I do, I know I do--"
His eyes begged hers. "Then, Pam... Come on, please..."
She was trying to disconnect. "I wish things were different..."
"They can be," he said, taking her hands, and he didn't know which one of them was shaking. Just a little. "They can be. It's a mess, but you can fix it, Pam, you really can."
She withdrew one of her hands suddenly and covered her mouth and let out a sob. She gasped and shuddered, "Oh God, what am I doing?"
"I want to make this work, but I want you to myself, Pam..."
"Oh, God, oh God--"
"He's not good for you, you know it, and you know I am," he said, his mind was reeling and he felt nauseous. He could see how this would end up and knock him over. He was fleetingly grateful to not be on his feet as he braced himself for everything she was realizing, waiting for her to formulate something awful. "Can you imagine what we have, how much better it would be if it was okay? If we didn't have to sneak around, if we could see each other all the time, do things whenever we wanted?"
She shook her head and stood up next to the couch, shivering as she cried with her hands over her mouth still.
"Pam, just--" He shook his head furiously.
"This is not who I am, Jim," she said, throwing her shaking hands up. "You, either. We aren't people like this, we don't do this. We don't have affairs--"
He felt the urge to hug her or run when she choked on the last word. There wasn't anything good to respond with.
"I don't... I don't see you like this to be a bad guy, I don't do it because I have something against him, I don't..." He bit his lip and looked at her, hoping her face would spell something out. "I just do it to be with you. That's all I want." He looked away, then came back to her. "I want you. I mean, you're it for me, Pam. I don't know what else to tell you..."
She looked dumbfounded a little, but he knew she had to know it.
"It would be a mess, it is a mess, but I mean, a divorce--"
She looked shocked at the word then, and gave him a look like he shouldn't dare say that word. Even he wasn't expecting that. Now it's boiling in him again. Before she has a chance to say a thing, he grits his teeth.
"Don't defend that marriage, Pam," he said in a low voice, somehow somehow somehow staring her straight in the eye. Something overcame him and he knew it was going to kick him in the ass soon.
When she didn't say anything, his hands came down roughly onto his thighs to make a loud noise. "Fine, fine. I... I don't know if I can..." He laughed bitterly and blinked with thought. "Wow, I can't believe I'm saying this..."
He could hear her crying again, and he didn't say it. Whatever it was that was about to come out, it had to wait. Because as soon as he saw her like this, fragile and sore from life, instinct stepped in. He said her name so quietly between his lips that it was lost in the shuffle of noise when he stood up to pull her toward him with one arm slung around her waist. He kissed her hair, breathed her in when her arms held onto him.
He hated himself for that moment, because things weren't okay, but his body didn't believe it when all it could feel was her, depending on him like she did.
So the holidays passed with less enthusiasm than any other time he could remember since his grandpa died ten years ago. Roy got Pam a sweater for Christmas. And when Jim heard this, he felt a little disgusted and elected to not give Pam a real present this year, and tried to find a fun gift for her. He settled on a Battlestar Galactica shirt, because it would make her laugh, and stuck it on her desk in January.
They didn't talk about the fight at all in January. He wanted to, he wanted to fix things, and he waited for Pam to say something. More than ever, he waited for her side.
He tried not to think that thought in his head. She needs to do it this time. Whenever that came into mind, it made him so hopeless, it was all he could to do hang his head in his hands over a list of sales calls waiting to be made. And then she looked over to him and smiled in a way that he hated, because she only thought he was having a bad day and was annoyed with his job. Not even close, Pam, he would think.
January passed and their weekend in February was fire. On Valentine's Day, he had to witness Roy's flowers being delivered and Pam's honest surprise to them, as weak as it was. The world of it all was crushing him. Like flowers on the fourteenth were so extraordinary and unlikely that a wife would be genuinely dumbfounded by them? That she was used to other habits from him? And, worse, she was investing time with the man while she made love to Jim monthly.
He was devastated when he made up his mind on the Thursday before their weekend together. And because he loved her so much and was terrified of the Monday after their weekend, he waited to say it.
They'd made love, and Jim tried to remember everything about it. He knew it would sting, but he put every detail into the back of his mind. He gave her everything, and when she came he watched her face and life felt cruel. He kissed her and tried to tell her everything through each of them, and then he finished and hugged her to him.
She gingerly pressed soft kisses all over his face and chest, and then nestled into his side.
For the umpteenth time, his heart broke and his body got stiff.
"Okay, Pam, listen," Jim whispered, with worried and wide eyes in the dark. She felt tense. "This is... this is it, okay?"
Her fingers felt uncharacteristically cold when they found his under the blanket. "Jim..."
They were quiet for a minute when both of them waited for the other to say something. One wished things would change, the other just wished. Jim gave in.
"I can't do this anymore. I don't get to have you, this is not what I wanted, and... I can't. I just want too much of you, this isn't enough for me."
He told her all of the things that he had before, but now they were sad, morose words instead of the ones that were tinged with bitterness like before. She cried and when he felt warm tears against his skin, he bit back his own. Because now it felt final.
"I messed so much of this up, I know I did," she choked. "But I do love you, Jim, you know that, don't you?"
Every time those words were said from her lately, something roared inside of him. He couldn't help himself when he gave the same reponse again and again. "Then why...? Pam, why don't we fix things?"
Her crying ceased somewhat and she wrapped a sheet around her body as she removed herself from the bed and stood, staring at him.
"You've been cheating on your husband since... what? Two months after you got married? It's kind of been done for a while, hasn't it? Unless this isn't anything for you, but I don't want to think about that."
"Then don't say that, Jim," she said with her eyes finally looking angry.
"But, Pam, it doesn't add up, and I can't have it in my--" He sighed and sat up, instead of talking to the ceiling. His eyes bore into her back, his gaze resting where his fingers should've been. "I can't do that because it's just not enough."
She bit her lip and nodded.
It felt like the end.
"I don't want this to be over."
"Well, I'm not... this isn't fair to me anymore. Because it's... it's not enough. Because there's no room for me in your life now." Because I would've slipped a ring on your finger on the fourteenth if things weren't this way.
A beat in silence and darkness and then the words he finally gave her.
"I'm taking a trip. I should've done it last year, and I didn't, so I'm going to try it again."
Tears were streaming down her face when she looked at him. The very last shred of strength kept him going.
"And there's an open position in Albany--"
"Jim," she gasped, her head shaking back and forth, her eyes begging him. But he looked at her and she knew what he did, maybe. It felt like the end again, and that made him feel sick.
There was no light in the room except for the dull moon creeping through the blinds, onto both of them and the disheveled bed. The moon watched a long while of nothing said between them until Jim stood up.
He felt the instinct to take care of her, and he always would, he figured. But this time, this end was real, so he hugged her with just the sheet between them. They sprawled out on the bed, and made love for hours. The sun didn't rise, instead dark blue became gray as snow fell.
Their bodies were moving so deliberately, and with so much finality, that he saw her face with eyes closed in pain. She didn't profess her love that time, like she always did when she came. Instead, she buried her face in his neck for the longest time until she sighed into sleep.
When it was late enough, he called his mom and told her he was too sick to stop by. And it was the truth, because after that phone call, he sat at the kitchen sink and contemplated heaving into it. Mark recognized it on the way out of the door, and punched his shoulder in comfort.
She was up early and down the stairs, fully dressed to find him in the same spot in the kitchen. He was weary with red eyes in his pajamas.
"I'm going to go," she hummed, her eyes looking as if nothing had sunk in, as if she was stunning herself in saying those words.
He nodded and looked at the wall.
She came up to him with parted lips, searching for something to say. He watched every emotion go over her face before he looked away in frustration.
She was defeated when she looked down at their feet. He grabbed her face gently, put one kiss on her cheek and rubbed it in with his thumb. There were tears in her eyes that he tried to ignore as he brushed past her and away from her.
This time he started packing the second he heard the door click, and she was gone. It wasn't hard to get his vacation days in order on short notice. He'd leave Monday, he'd be back the following Saturday, and he'd talk logistics with Jan on the next Tuesday about Albany.
He knew it was for the best, he instilled that thought endlessly as he pulled clothes from his drawers and threw them into the suitcase. Even though there were countless times where they were just like a real couple -- laughing, talking all night, cuddling, making fun of each other -- it was overshadowed lately by all of his thoughts. Because when he was finally drifting off to sleep at night after a great day with her, his only wish as he held her was that things were completely different.
His hands were weaving through all the clothes in his drawer, throwing anything approrpriate for warm weather directly into the suitcase.
The Sunday at his parents' was a short, glum conversation over cold breakfast about Australia. His mom cried a little, and his dad had earnest eyes, which made Jim feel like lying down in a hole. They were so genuinely worried about their son, that Jim had to excuse himself and leave earlier than he normally would. In fact, the clock in his car confirmed that he'd only been there for about forty-five minutes.
His body turned on him and he had to pull over. It was actually happening. If he hadn't been saying all of those things to her the night before, then he'd been waiting another thirty days to hold her again. But it had all been said, and just like that, it was finished.
What a mess they'd made.
He was absentmindedly throwing things into the suitcase again. In a fleeting moment of irony again he noticed that the suitcase really hadn't moved more than a few inches from where he'd left it when he meant to pack last time. Back in June, when his life changed.
His hand touched a small blue t-shirt in the midst of his socks. Hers. The pathetic grief in him almost tossed it into the suitcase, a small sequence of his shaking body breathing it in on some foreign hotel bed running through his mind. Something steady folded it into a perfect square and placed it under a fluffy stack of shirts in his drawer.
His mother stopped by and dropped off some things for his trip, just like she had months ago. She willed him to take care of himself, to call her if he could, and to remember how much he was loved. Yeah, okay. He hugged his mom tight, and felt like a really small guy all over again, but gave her a little smile before she left.
His suitcase was full. The bag was even difficult to zip shut. As he glanced at it from across the room with a beer in his hand, he laughed. He'd planned so many outfits, knowing he wouldn't be doing anything but lying around in the same jeans and t-shirt the entire time. Maybe he wouldn't even leave the hotel room. He looked at the luggage until the beer in his fist turned warm and his hand was wet from the condensation.
He was the only one at the rec center gym that night except for the custodial staff. It was biting cold outside, but he wore only a gym shirt and shorts, anticipating being drenched in sweat and beyond warm when he left the gym. That was the best feeling, and the cold would slowly seep into him, make him feel alive.
He grabbed the first ball he saw and was into the game immediately. It felt wonderfully rough against his fingertips. He was glad he was alone in the gym under the buzzing lights a mile above him. His feet were light on the floor, and the subtle squeaks when the rubber slid helped him escape, but only a little. Every time he would leap off the surface with his feet together, letting the ball glide through the air, his eyes would focus just like they always did. They watched as the ball would fall through the net effortlessly, and then a beat of satisfaction. And in an instant, he was retrieving the ball across the court and pushing himself through the hot air.
There was a loud noise when a section of the lights went out in the gym. Subtle, he thought, as he saw the staff standing expectantly at the door and chatting to themselves. He was gasping for breath and wasn't ready to be done, but he scooped up the ball and his car keys and breezed past the crew with polite smile.
One of the older men with greasy hands complimented his "technique" and Jim thanked him breathlessly as he finally felt the cold air take over him. It didn't make him feel alive, though, just cold. Or maybe it did make him feel alive, and maybe that's not what he wanted right now, honestly.
Mark offered to take him to the Wilkes-Barre airport, which was probably a safe idea considering he didn't plan on getting much sleep that night. There were a lot of things that made him think that, like his mind being so occupied by what had happened about twenty-four hours ago. The sheets smelled like her so much that he got up at about three in the morning to change them. Her scent never left, though, so he sank into them further.
The real reason he was getting no sleep was unavoidable, impossible to push out of his mind. He had hoped underneath it all that she'd call or come over and make it right. Maybe she'd call and tell him that everything was fixed. Or at least was being fixed.
It was awful the way he saw a ray of dim, winter sunrise come through his window when he realized that he'd spent his whole night thinking about the happy ending. And the sun washed over those thoughts and gave him a unsettling reminder of the fact that she was simply still not his, and finally, really gone.
Mark knocked on his door shortly after, making sure he was up and ready. Suddenly he had a car ride, four flights ahead of him again. Though he was exhausted, he planned to brush up on his Australian slang the whole ride there. He felt the little book in the pocket of his jeans as he slid into Mark's car and watched Scranton become very small in the side mirror.
You had woken up the next day with hair all over your face, matted with last night's tears. You woke up today, though, with a little fear and shaky knees.
There was a cup of coffee and a breakfast from a drive-thru, that you ended up not eating. You felt fine, mostly, but food made your stomach slide. So you threw it away at another drive-thru when you replenished your coffee.
It was a long drive, and you thought a lot about what had happened in the last few days. It felt like it had happened so slowly, like a rollercoaster starts, and this drive was the pull down from that first slope. You'd changed his life, and he'd been angry, and he shouted, and it was over hours, hours later and you'd left.
If life was simple, everything in that life, in that house, could be packed into your purse in a minute and taken with you out the door. But, if there was anything this year had shown you...
So that's how you spent the next few days. Things were not smoothed over, and they were not finished, but the pieces weren't so sharp anymore. That was your final thought when you talked to the poor guy one last time, and that ended with a hug. Well, it was kind of a hug, not like he used to hug you, but it's still not something you ever expected out of that particular situation.
Then you called a woman you've never met to get a few details, which was a funny conversation, and you ended up talking a lot more than you thought you would. It was a little awkward, but wasn't it all, and you felt like she knew you.
8:06 AM. This was something that needed to be fixed, saved, rescued, solved. It was love. And you finally knew these things, you really did -- but it was amplified when you saw him walk out of the wide door with his bag hung across his chest, his head down. When he picked his head up and searched the room, he still didn't see you because there were so many people, and you were standing in a corner by the window. There was a roar of an engine far away from the window that was deafening, but your gaze didn't move.
Your fingers pulled on your hands, and your feet waited for you to move. There was anxiety, creeping up like you expected it to, and it almost stopped you. Then you pushed through it like a cloud and when you moved, it finally, finally worked.
The busy space at the gate got very quiet when he saw her. He couldn't say a week across the world had brought the closure he needed, so there was still hope there, but there was enough despair to really wonder why she was there. Waiting for another complication to come with her, maybe her to come say goodbye, or that she was wanting to keep up that crazy game they played.
But her eyes were already on his when he had met her gaze and it felt kind of different. He let his mind drift a little while people shuffled around him, wondering a lot of what-ifs and scaring himself a little. She shifted, offered a smile that was quick to fade, and shrugged.
Someone rudely suggested he get out of their way, something about blocking traffic, but that's not why he moved toward her.
She met him halfway, moving faster than he did like she had something to say, which made Jim's heart run to his throat.
"I know," she began slowly on a shaky breath, "that the whole... meeting someone at the gate thing is really overdone."
It was so loud, but he heard his heartbeat like a machine in his ears. Then there was a second where they both realized, whatever it was either of them was realizing, and there was a flood nervousness between them.
"I have so much to apologize for, to a lot of people, about a lot of things," she said, struggling on the words. "I had a lot of speeches to give."
Her hands are moving around with her phrasing, but with a frown he only watches her face.
"So that's what I did while you were gone. And this is my last one, oddly the one I'm most, well, terrified about..."
Yeah, he was, too.
"And I don't know what to say to you, Jim," she said, with her head, shaking steadily. Steady, he thought. She looked somewhat steady, now, he realized. What she said made him worried, but he felt an odd sensation already. Like overflowing.
"I do love you--"
Those words were familiar, and he winced, looked down at her gloved hands clasped together in front of her. He felt ready to walk away when he interrupted her, "Pam--"
"I just came off a plane, I'm something like seventeen hours behind, so I really don't want to do this right now. I really didn't want to have to do this again, actually..." His voice was so low that he felt it in the pit of his stomach.
"Okay," she said with a simple nod. "Words aren't really my strong point, anyway, so, I guess..."
He was still concentrating on her hands when she pulled the left one into his view. She tugged her glove off and revealed a bare hand. It was only inches from her face, and as he focused on her hand, he saw the tears form in her eyes.
She pointed at her bare ring finger and took a deep breath. "There's room for you now."
If we could have slowed the moment down, he would've named each of the emotions he felt, but she went on.
"One day I hope you'll--" she sniffed, wiped away her tears with both hands and then they went back to her side. "I hope you'll put yours there." She laughed a little at her speech, shrugged and waited for a response.
He nodded, a little stunned, and now it was her turn to look worried.
He remembered in that second the first time he'd ever seen her. He didn't believe in love at first sight, but how could he have known that something about her was all of this that he knew now? Then he remembered the fight they had departed with. A million words that were foggy now, the ones that made him feel like disappearing into traffic. Finally, another moment came to his mind. A Saturday morning she probably didn't even remember, he barely did. Wrapped up in sheets that smelled like the two of them, laughing about something he couldn't recall, the way she blushed when he told her the things he loved about her. So his eyes met hers again and smirked.
"Meeting me at the gate? Such a sap, Pam..."
A smile crept across her face, and her teeth tugged at her lip.
"How did you even know...?"
"I called your mom," she admitted quietly, watching for his reaction. "She told me when and where you'd be, kinda went from there."
"You called my mom?"
She nodded, "We actually talked for a while."
"I bet she loved you," he said, shaking his head like he was impressed. "Actually, I'm sure she did." He beamed confidently and cocked his head to the side.
She looked sheepish and slipped her other glove off, and tucked them into her purse. Before she had zipped it shut, Jim took her face in his hands and brought it toward his own. He smiled a little, and her tears came back.
"I love you, Jim," she said like she was born to say it. "I do, so much--"
He kissed her before she could finish and her arms came around his neck. She pushed up on her tiptoes to melt into the kiss, only to fall back a little on her heels. Jim's arms slid down to her waist and lifted her up, kissing her all the while. And as she giggled softly, the tip of her nose felt both of their tears on his cheek.
"I love you."
Next to the windows that stretched up from floor to ceiling, amidst crowds of busy, rushing people, she tangled her hands into his.