Even, he goes. Odd, he stays.
This is the decision Jim Halpert makes at half past seven and just after getting a phone call from Mark, telling him the reception was just getting started and that she was there.
But she was there with someone else.
He tunes the strings and debates what to play; the popular, recent tunes got him more tips but they were typically not challenging to play, and if he is really going through with this studio musician audition at Sabre Records tomorrow he should probably be testing himself.
He goes for ‘popular & recent’ first and starts strumming "Thinking Out Loud" by Ed Sheeran, speeding it up a touch and putting his spin on the simple chords. An elderly couple strolls by and the man stops, tugging his partner’s hand so she faces him and they start to slow dance. Jim smiles at the couple, but feels it fade a little when he sees a lone suitcase next to them. The couple stops dancing and gives each other a hug, and she grabs the suitcase handle and walks away. It’s a small bag, Jim notices, she will surely be back in a couple days. The elderly man watches her until she starts down some steps, and he turns to Jim and throws two dollars into his guitar case just as Jim strums the last cord.
“Thank you sir,” Jim said. The man smiles, though there's a slight sadness in his eyes and gives Jim a nod before walking away.
Jim then starts to pluck away at "Never Going Back Again." A sad, complicated song that was short and sounded happy, especially without the sparse lyrics. Just a couple quarters on that one.
Another tuning and he starts playing “Hallelujah”, which was a good song for being versatile and easy to put his own spin on while still being true to the core of the song. Jim isn’t much of a singer and doesn’t often try, lest he ruin the song for people, but the lyrics are in his head.
She tied you to her kitchen chair
She took your thrones she cut your hair
And every breath you drew was hallelujah.
“You're such an emo bastard sometimes, Halpert,” Mark said to him once, and Jim chuckles to himself because maybe it’s true. It’s pretty pathetic that even the thought of her still does this to him, makes his life pause and him unable to move in one direction or the other, either towards or away from her.
The terminal is pretty clear, one would think any time Friday night would be busy, but eight p.m. is that lull when the commuters have gone home and the show-goers are in their seats.
The most movement right now is the click-clack of a woman's boots rounding the corner Jim’s busking at. He mostly sees her golden brown hair, curly and bouncing as she passes him. A plasticy thud echoes through the concourse and he sees a cell phone spinning on the ground; it had fallen out of the woman's jacket but it didn’t slow her down.
"Miss, your phone!" Jim calls after her. But the curls continue to bounce away and then disappear down a set of platform stairs. With a couple long strides, Jim retrieves the phone, screen now shattered and back panel coming loose, and returns to his guitar case, his eyes still on the platform entrance.
She knows she won’t make it the second she starts down the stairs. The train is still visible, but the wheels are creaking and when her boots reach the platform it’s pulling away. It’s going to Boston and she is not. Just keep calm , she says to herself, there's still time . She heads back up the stairs and towards the ticket counter, hardly noticing the man jogging up to her.
She turns and even in her boots she has to crane her neck up to meet the stranger’s eyes.
“This probably isn’t much use to you now, but you dropped this.”
She looks down and sees the phone in his hand, screen splintered into a thousand pieces. She prays there’s some kind of mix-up but once she dips her hand into her empty pocket it’s confirmed that it is indeed her phone. She takes the now-useless rectangle and quickly glances back to his face. “Thanks,” she murmurs, turning away and walking briskly to the counter.
“Next train to Boston is at 6am,” a very disinterested woman tells her through the glass.
“Six? That's too late,” she says more to herself than the clerk. “Can you tell if anything is leaving sooner from Penn?”
“2:40am, gets in at 8”
“And they'll accept this ticket?” She held the slightly crumpled paper to the glass.
“There may be a fee adjustment but they should.”
Eight am, it is not as soon as she’d like and she has to figure out how to get from the station to home but it could work. She thanks the clerk and walks away with eyes on her feet and her mind somewhere else entirely.
In her periphery she sees the man who returned her phone crouching over an open guitar case and, collecting the coins and bills from it. He looks up and smiles a lopsided smile when her eyes meet his. “Hey,” he says. She smiles back politely and keeps walking until she hears his voice again, “You okay? I mean, with the busted phone and all?”
“Oh, um, yeah, I think … I think so,” she says, turning back toward him.
He flips close the latches of his guitar case, stands and walks to her, and she’s back to having to crane her neck a bit. “You need to call anyone or…”
“No, no,” she glances to the glass doors, “but, um, do you know how to get to Penn Station?”
He slips the strap of his guitar case over his head, “Probably best to take a cab actually.”
“What about walking?” she says quietly.
He raises his thick brows, “You wanna walk there?” She chews her lip and lowers her eyes again. “Tell you want,” he starts and she lifts her head, “I’m going that direction, I’ll walk with you.”
“Oh,” she nearly accepts before she remembers where she is and who this man is, which is a stranger she doesn’t know anything about. “That’s, um, that's very kind, but…”
“But I’m a random guy busking in Grand Central, no, I get it.” He pulls out his phone and starts tapping it. “Here, I can at least get you directions.”
She takes a step towards him to peer at his screen, her right hand unconsciously going to her left and twisting around her ring finger.
“Okay, so, you know, it’s a grid so any of these routes will get you there, but maybe 5th avenue and then when you hit the Empire State…”
A window pops up on his phone reading “Jim, get your ass down here, Hudson and Jane St in the Village” He quickly swipes the message away and apologies but then another message pops up. “This guy Karen’s with is a total tool, you could take him.”
“Sorry,” he says, swiping the second message away, “Um.”
She looks up to his embarrassed face, his eyes are kind and green and she can’t help but think he’s pretty cute when he blushes. “You know what, does your walking offer still stand?”
He stands up straight and slips the phone in his pocket. “It does, actually.”
She smiles and starts walking, “Okay.”
“I’m Jim, by the way, like the text said,” he says, offering his right hand as they walk to the terminal entrance.
She puts her hand in his, “Rachel.”
With his hands in his pockets, Jim glances over to the woman he just met a few moments ago at the Grand Central terminal and smiles to himself for somehow getting himself roped into a half hour walk with a total stranger. A rather pretty stranger, with curly hair and sweet smile, which he can’t deny played a part in his decision to help.
And of course this allows him to go in the general direction of the reception but also delay the decision of actually going for a while.
“So, where are you heading, if you don't mind me asking,” Jim says.
She glances up and he can sense she's debating how much information to give him. “Boston,” she answers finally.
Jim lets out a whistle, “That's a bit of a ride, right?”
“Yeah, five hours. The train I missed at Grand Central was the last one ‘til the morning, but there's an overnight at Penn.”
“So, you'll get to Penn, hang there till midnight–“
“To almost three AM, actually,”
Jim feels his eyebrow shoot up his forehead, “3am? Wow, so what, you’ll just hang in a station bar?”
“If I had money I guess I would,” she says in a tone that's trying to be funny but just comes across as nervous.
He slows his pace and looks her over, only now does it occur to him she’s lacking any kind of bag. “Hold on, did you get mugged?”
“No, not exactly,” she averts her gaze, “I was in a bar and I took my eyes off my purse for two seconds and poof, it was gone. I thought it’d just be a waste of time to go to the police and I still had my phone and my ticket so I figured I'd go home and deal with everything from there.”
Jim nods, “Sounds fair. What kind of purse was it?”
She scoffs, “Prada.”
“Fancy. And yeah, sadly made you a prime target.”
“I don’t even care about the purse, I do wish I could get back something that was in it, though,” she said. She looks up to Jim’s face and shrugs, “It was a little notebook, in the inside pocket, probably in a dumpster by now.”
He watches her as they walk up to the next street crossing and an idea pops into his head as they wait for the signal, “Hey, where’s the bar you were at?”
She snaps her face to Jim and knits her brows, “Huh?”
“I’ve heard how these designer purse things go, the bartender may know something if we ask nicely enough and promise not to rat him out.”
She shakes her head, “It’s really not important, we should just get to Penn.”
“This will take up max one hour of the nearly seven you have till your train, c’mon.”
She stares at him for a moment before laughing, “Okay, fine.”
“Great,” Jim exclaims, rubbing his hand together and then regretting it when she arches an eyebrow at him. “Um, do you remember where it is or the name?”
“Yeah it was called …” The smile fades from her face and her eyes widen, “Oh my god, I knew the name until you asked me, I swear.” Jim lets out a chuckle and watches her struggle to remember, finding her furrowed brows and downturn mouth awfully cute. “It was three or four blocks from the station, pub-style.”
Jim pulls out his phone, swips away another text notification from Mark and pulls up Maps. “Okay, pub near Grand central,” he recites as he types. “Wow, that didn’t narrow it down much. Um, The Junction, Mulligans, Lionheart–“
“Yes, Lionheart! That’s it,” she nearly shouts.
“Great!” He taps the map and then looks up at the street sign, “It’s straight that-a-way.” A ‘low battery’ warning pops up on his phone and he taps it close quickly then looks to her and smiles. “Let’s do this,” he says, telling himself it’s the cold and not her giggle making his heart beat a little faster.
Don’t get your hopes up, she tells herself all the way to the bar. But he seems so optimistic about finding her purse that she starts to feel it herself.
She’s curious about him, this lanky floppy hair man who she really shouldn’t trust at all as yet somehow does. She wants to know more about his guitar and she really wants to know what this event his friend Mark is bugging him about and who Karen is, though she has a few guesses for both. But asking questions only means he’ll ask questions and there’s too many that she really doesn’t want to answer. So they walk mostly in silence to the bar.
“Hey Rachel,” he says, slowing his pace. “Here it is.”
She winces a little at “Rachel”, she gave him that name because as he said he’s a ‘guy busking in Grand Central’. Now she wishes she at least used her middle name ‘Morgan’, then it wouldn’t feel like a total lie.
Jim opens the door for her, and they stand just inside the doorway. “Is this the place?” he asks. She looks around the pub, heavy on dark wood paneling and English flags, and nods yes. They take a seat at the bar and Jim sets his guitar case in upright between them while the balding, heavyset bartender makes his way over.
“Welcome to Lionheart, what can I get you?”
Before she gets a chance, Jim starts talking. “We’re actually hoping you can help us out, see this lovely lady sitting next to me was here earlier this evening and had her purse swiped.” She hopes her cheeks aren’t red.
The bartender blinks a couple times then speaks in a slow, monotone voice, “Sorry, we are not responsible for lost items.”
Jim shrugs and shakes his head, “No no, I know, but we were wondering if maybe it turned up? Or maybe … see it was a Prada purse and I’ve heard about expensive purses like that disappearing in places like this and the bartender turns a blind eye so long as he gets a cut.”
What are you doing? she tries to ask with her wide eyes when Jim glances at her, this wasn’t going to get them anywhere.
The bartender blinks a couple more times and knits his brows, “Hey, I’m not involved in anything like that. And if you’re gonna accuse me like that I’m going to have to ask you to le-”
“Hold on, is that you?” Jim points to a poster on the bar wall, a black-and-white photo of a band with horizontal blue yellow and red color bands overlaid. “You’re a drummer?”
The bartender glances at the poster and turns back smiling, “Yeah, that’s my band, Kevin and the Zits. I’m Kevin.”
“I’m guessing from the poster design here, you guys play Police covers?”
Kevin smiles even more widely, “Wow, you’re the first person that got that.”
“Of course, I mean are you even a musician if you don’t have Synchronicity on your shelf?”
Her eyes dart from Kevin’s elated grin to Jim’s confident face and she smiles, Jim knows exactly what he’s doing and he knows he's good at it.
“You play?” Kevin says.
Jim patted the top of his case, “Guitar, Not a pro or anything but-”
“He’s really good,” she chimes in. Jim looks at her surprises and she gives a slight shrug, may as well get in on the fun.
“You looking for a band? Our guitarist might leave us soon, he’s trying to get a job at his old school, one of those ivy schools. Oh, he talks about it all the time. Not Harvard, not Yale…”
“Dartmouth?” she suggests.
Kevin shakes his head, “No, not that one.”
“Brown?” Jim says.
He shakes his head again, “No, Ivy.”
She presses her lips together and very nearly laughs when Jim looks at her with wide eyes.
“Yeah, man, I’ll leave my number and if you need a guitarist hit me up.” Jim says, grabbing a nearby paper coaster and a pen. “Before I give this to you though,” he says, holding the coaster in the air, “you sure you don’t have any clue about the purse? Just something you suspect?”
Kevin frowns, and then looks over to her, “You said it was Prada?”
She nods, “Yes, any info is a huge help.”
“And we’ll make it worth your while, of course.” Jim adds.
“Let me see something,” Kevin finally says, walking over to the swinging down leading to the back.
Once Kevin was out of sight, both she and Jim let out breaths they didn’t realize they were holding. “I do not know how I kept together with the Brown/Ivy thing, I do not,” Jim says half-laughing.
She lets out a giggle, “Yeah that was … but you were amazing!” Jim smiles and shrugs. “Seriously, the Police cover band thing? How did you know?”
“Well, that poster looks just like the Synchronicity album cover, and you’re sitting next to a guy who as a moody teen listened to ‘King of Pain’ more than a few times.”
She nods, and her eyes fall onto his guitar case. “Is that what made you want to be a guitar player?”
“No, though Sting did make me very briefly consider bass because. Nah, my inspirations are the usual subjects, Hendrix, Clapton, Richards. My folks played a lot of Fleetwood Mac and I used to listen and think “man if I could play guitar half as good as Lindsey Buckingham I’ll be set.”
“Fleetwood Mac, they do that ‘Thunder only happens when it’s raining’ song, right? With the singer that wears all the boho dresses?”
Jim laughs, “Yeah, ‘Dreams’ from the Rumours album. Stevie Nicks is the singer.”
“Yes, Stevie Nicks! And Lindsey is a guy?” He nods ‘yes’ and she smiles, “That’s kinda funny, a girl named Stevie and a guy named Lindsey.”
“Even funnier they were together, though they were breaking up while recording Rumours. The whole band was a big mess then. Probably why the album is so good.” He spins the coaster between his fingers. “The best songs are break-up songs right?” he says with a nervous chuckle.
She smiles politely but feels it fade fast, her right hand unconsciously going to her left ring finger.
“Okay,” Kevin returns from the back with a paper in his hand, “Took a few calls but I got an address.”
Jim glanced at the paper and scoffed, “Seriously? That’s a shitty neighborhood.”
She puts up her hand on Jim’s shoulder and speaks quietly, “I’m sure it’s fine.”
“No, he’s right, it’s pretty bad.” Kevin deapans. “But that’s where they are.”
She stares at Kevin for a moment then shakes her head and looks at the scribbled writing, “What does this say? ‘Alley green door’?”
“Yeah that’s not the exact address, it’s in the alley around the corner, the green door. And you gotta go tonight, they’ll probably move by tomorrow.”
“I guess we better go then.” Jim stands and picks up his guitar, looking at her and tilting her head to the exit. She almost reminds Jim he promised Kevin a reward, but decides against it and starts following him. “Thanks Kev, appreciate it,” Jim says over his shoulder.
“Hey, you said you’d make it worth my while,” Kevin calls after them.
Jim, already halfway to the door, turns back and looks to her, “Did I?”
She presses her lips together and nods a tiny bit.
“You’re right, I did, fair’s fair.” He walks back to the bar, reaching for his wallet. “Here you go,” Jim says, handing him a $20 bill. Kevin looks unsatisfied, but then Jim pulls the coaster from his coat pocket. “Sorry, almost forgot this! Seriously, give me a buzz when your guitarist goes to not-Harvard or wherever.”
“Oh, hey,” she says, a name popping into her head. “Cornell! that’s an Ivy, right?”
Kevin’s face lights up for a moment, then he shakes his head, “No that’s not it.”
She gives Jim a shrug and they start towards the door again.
“Hey, one more thing,” Kevin calls again. “What’s your favorite Police song?”
“Track eight on Synchronicity: ‘King of Pain’,” Jim replies, pushing the door open.
Kevin grins, “Nice.”