How come the only way to know how high you get me is to see how far I fall? God only knows how much I'd love you if you let me, but I can't break through it all.
- John Mayer
It was almost like the past five years never happened. Kelly could erase everything that happened before Ryan got the promotion and pretend that he never broke her heart all over again. It was easier that way, never really having to deal with the harsh reality her life had become. But then she would wake up and see the empty side of a cool pillow and remember all over again how her days began and ended alone.
Jim could pretend all that too if it weren't for a pair of small hands tugging on the cuff on shirt, looking up at him with the same eyes as her mother. His daughter was the only relic of a marriage gone wrong, a heartache far too deep to ever be fully repaired. Pam was gone now, living across town in his old house while he lived in a condo a few blocks from the office. It was just like it was before they finally got together but after she broke up Roy except they had a kid. It was messy at best and totally devestating at its worst.
That kind of utter sadness could only be understood by someone who had loved their soulmate deeply and then lost them. Kelly and Jim were kindred spirits in their utter heartache and sought a comforting friendship in each other after their mutual breakups. Long nights of drinking beers at Poor Richard's had turned them into close friends. They never crossed the line in those first days, just spending hours talking and listening. Kelly had become more serious after Ryan left, maturing into this introspective woman who understood Jim. She had become his best friend.
"I don't miss him quite as much," Kelly confessed one night as she swirled what little beer was left around in its amber bottle. "I found one of his ties buried in my hamper and didn't cry this time. I consider this progress, Jim. It's a first for me."
"I'm proud," he smiled genuinely before motioning for the bartender to deliver another round. It was Pam's night to have Cici, which meant he would be spending the evening with Kelly. He only drank three beers most night, usually spread out over several hours and sprinkled with greasy appetizers. This seemed like a four beer night, though, a way to celebrate the end of another long week. "Pam and I actually had a civil conversation about the parent-teacher conference at Cici's preschool next week."
"Congratulations," she toasted him, tilting her beer in his direction before downing the rest. The bartender twisted off the cap and placed them in front of them on the bar. "Do you know if she is seeing anyone?"
Jim shrugged. "I don't really care, but I don't think so. It doesn't really matter. It's almost better if she is because then I can explainwhat happened,you know? The way things are right now, I don't know why she wanted to leave. I don't know when we stopped talking, Kel. We quit remembering how to love each other. We were just focused on work and Cici. That's all our marriage turned into that last year."
Kelly wished that she had shared as much with Ryan, but they had even less. They had never really talked, not the way that Jim and Pam had talked and certainly not the way Jim was speaking to her now. She felt like she really knew the lanky salesman. He genuinely seemed to care what she thought. He would listen to her and ask questions when appropriate and hug her when the time was right. Things were never hard with him or awkward.
"I was thinking about taking Cici to the zoo next weekend. Do you want to go with us?"
Jim's question broke her out of her thought. This was a big move for him, including anyone else in his precious alone time with his daughter. "I'd love to," she grinned happily, reaching over to pat his forearm reassuringly before leaning her head on his shoulder. "There is supposed to be a really cute exhibit with the giraffes. She'll love it."
He was happy to hear her so interested in spending time with Cici. Kelly was his friend, and he wanted for her to really know his daughter. More than that, the thing that had been sticking with him lately, he wanted his daughter to know her. Kelly had been good for him. She had lifted him up when he was stuck in that really dark place. He knew there was something more there, something that he wasn't ready for yet and something that scared him more than words. He wasn't ready to explore those feelings right now but didn't see the harm in sticking his toe back into the wading pool.
For her part, Kelly was too scared to let herself think of Jim as anything but a friend. She had loved deeply and lost greatly. Her parents were already after her to meet a nice Indian man and settle down like she should have before she turned thirty. She had not lived up to the life they had envisioned for her. She had thought she had known better when she had followed her heart, but now she had to seriously question her heart. That's why she didn't trust the feelings she was having for Jim. They were both messed up and vulnerable. The emotions probably were a result of that and nothing real. It wasn't a risk that she could take right now.
However, that didn't stop her from looking at him with dark bedroom eyes over the rim of her beer, flirting quietly without ever saying a word. It didn't stop him from staring at her darkly painted lips as she spoke, her tongue sticking to her teeth as she pronounced a word. It didn't stop her from touching him more than necessary to emphasize a point and letting her hands dwell on his warm arm long after the words have settled in the air. And it certaintly didn't stop Jim from inhaling deeply when she reached across him for a napkin, her warm spicy scent inundating all the rest of his senses.
It's the faraway look that reaction causes Jim that Kelly notices. Resting her head on her fist, she watched him for a moment before kicking him softly with her shoe. She isn't all made up anymore. The Kelly that wore hot pink and lots of glitter had been replaced with an undone version who liked quirky cardigans and Chucks. He preferred this person and suspected that this was the real her. She even wore her glasses around him now, thick black rims peaking from behind a messy ponytail.
"What's got you so gone?"
"You actually," he answered honestly. "I was thinking about you."
A pretty blush spreads over her cheeks and Jim smiles happily at the fact that he could illicit such a reaction. "Me?" she asked with surprise. "Well, thank you...I think."
"All good thoughts," he pledged before taking a long drawl of his beer. "I was thinking about how I like you like this and how I like our nights together. I was thinking about how you've become my refuge from the storm, something I couldn't have imagined a year ago when this all started. I think you just might be my best friend, Kel. That's so totally crazy but still kinda cool."
"I know what you mean," she laughed. "You're the only thing I really trust in anymore. Even at work, with them there, I don't know...It's just weird. Like, you two can be civil, but I can't even look at Ryan. I wish he would just quit. I was there first. I love my job and I'm actually pretty good at it. He doesn't even do anything but sleep in the closet. I'm just glad you put him in there in the first place. I can't imagine having to deal with him back in the annex."
"Tell me about it," he retorted. Sitting that close to Pam day after day had been hell, but Kelly had started interrupting the montonous hours with funny emails and text messages. It used to remind him of Pam in the old days until he realized that wasn't fair to Kelly or what they had. This was something different, something that was theirs. "If I haven't told you tonight, you look good."
"Mr. Halpert, are you flirting with me?"
"Maybe," he said honestly. He hadn't really thought about it when he said it. He just knew that he thought she looked nice and wanted to tell her. "I haven't been able to take my eyes off you since you got here."
Another wave of crimson made its way up her throat. "Jim."
"I know, Kel, we're friends."
It wasn't a line on him that she had used before. It was just something that they both knew. Their relationship was one that had been defined as friends and she was content to keep it as such. "Yes, we are," she confirmed, "and I really need that right now. I don't think I could take losing that, Jim. You're kind of what is getting me through."
"And what if there is more to it than that?"
"Then it will come in time," she pointed out. "This is still fresh. You're not over Pam yet anymore than I am over him. I know that there are...feelings...you know, stuff between us. I just don't think we're ready to deal with that yet."
Jim reached across the bar and clasped her hand tightly. "If all I ever got to be was your friend, that'd still be amazing, Kel," he tried to explain. "I just know that we could be something more. I'm not saying that it should be tonight or next week or even this year. I just know that we have the potential to be our own 'ever after.' I wish you could see things through my eyes, to know how you make me feel. It's real, Kel, not something that came out of circumstances. I didn't expect it, I certaintly didn't look for it,but it's there and it's not going anywhere. I know that I could love you if you'd just let me, but I don't want to have to fight my way through all these walls when you could just open the door."
Kelly turned away then, wanting to do anything but look into his eyes because she knew he'd see the truth. But Jim wouldn't have any of that and was reaching for before she knew it. His hands tangled in her hair, pulling the ponytail loose as he drew her near to him. Rather than going for the obvious kiss, Jim was content to just rest his forehead against hers. "Open the door, Kel," he pleaded softly. "Just unlock it. I'll open it for you. I promise we'll take our time. We're going to stay friends. I just need you to be open to it. I need to know that I'm not crazy here."
"You're not crazy," she relented before winding her arms around his neck. She slid off the stool easily, leaning in so that she could be closer to him. "Everything else is crazy, but you're not. I'm so scared, Jim."
"You don't have to be scared of me."
"I'm not scared of you," she confessed. "I'm scared of how you make my heart feel."
"And how's that?"
"Like maybe I should open the door because this has the potential to be everything we've both been looking for. Like maybe you've been the best thing about this last year and I can't imagine having survived it without you. Like maybe it's okay that I rely on you because you would never hurt me. Like maybe I am starting to fall in love with you."
"Good feelings," he confirmed. "Very good feelings."
"Scary feelings,"she countered. "Absolutely terrifying."
"Yeah but isn't it worth it?"
"I'm not entire sure yet, but I'm willing to find out."
Jim's eyes went wide as he hugged her tightly then, knowing that she had handed him the key so that he could unlock the door would still be times when she would close it in his face, this loud slam that only became necessary when she felt like she needed to protect herself. There would also be times when she would throw it open so that it could flap in the wind, letting all those feelings rush right in. In time, they would strike a perfect balance. It was the beginning of something that went beyond friendship and right to heart of it all.