Open Your Eyes by trulisthetic
Summary:

Canon-Divergence AU, set during Casino Night.

She could lie to herself all she wanted, she could pretend she had missed all the signs and was taken by complete surprise by those five words of his. But she knew she had only missed as much as he had misinterpreted.

Nothing, that was.


Categories: Jim and Pam, Episode Related, Alternate Universe Characters: Jim, Jim/Pam, Pam
Genres: Angst, Fluff, Hurt/Comfort, Inner Monologue, Romance
Warnings: Mild sexual content
Challenges: None
Series: None
Chapters: 2 Completed: Yes Word count: 11698 Read: 1749 Published: October 17, 2020 Updated: October 17, 2020
Story Notes:

I know this has been done before, but I had to get it out of my system. It picks up immediately after the parking lot scene. Unashamedly inspired by the song 'Open Your Eyes' by Snow Patrol.

Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.

1. Spiraling by trulisthetic

2. Shaking by trulisthetic

Spiraling by trulisthetic

She couldn’t look up. Her body wouldn’t comply. She kept staring at her hands, playing with them, her fingers knotting together only to be forced apart and then knot all over again. She couldn’t focus on their movements either, though, which is why it took her a while to realize she had ended up spinning her engagement ring. And on the same moment her fingers flinched back, as if the piece of jewelry had burned them. And it might as well have; she had never been more aware of its presence on her finger.

Her thoughts were spiraling. They were so many, so loud, that a constant incoherent bubbling was echoing in her head, and she couldn’t possibly make sense of it. She didn’t attempt to try. She didn’t think she wanted to. Instead, she kept playing with her hands, marvelling at the way the shadows were dancing on her skin under the pale street light.

She ignored her screaming thoughts. She ignored the burning piece of jewelry. She put on her poker face so that for just a moment she could pretend that everything was right in the world. Just like she had done earlier in the night. Just like she had been doing for the past four years.

Four years?

Her movements halted for a brief moment, just enough for her to realize so and break the stillness before it really settled.

Her gaze was still low, her pulse was still pounding in her ears. But thank goodness, she could no longer hear the faint footsteps behind her. Every single one had been a punch to her stomach, so violently painful that she’d felt sick. Yet now that she could no longer hear them, she felt empty. She couldn’t decide which was worse.

The shadows shifted in her hands, again and again. Their patterns, such edgy artistries in the late spring night, became repetitive.

Her throat was tight, but she managed to finally raise her chin. Her gaze followed reluctantly.

The empty parking lot laid before her, eerie and oddly unfamiliar. She didn’t think she had been here this late again. Or maybe she had, just not alone. She didn’t remember how the single light pole shone directly at the entrance of the lot, leaving the side she was facing to fade in the darkness. She couldn’t recall the bushes behind the metal fence rustling in the crisp breeze the way they did now, nor how the distant cries of the crickets filled the silence in such an uncanny way. She had looked at this parking lot countless times, yet it suddenly seemed like she had never really seen it before.

She had missed a lot of things.

She pulled her lower lip between her teeth, chewing on it inattentively. The jumbled rambling that were her thoughts was becoming way too loud for her liking. It was so hard to ignore. It made her temples pound, her head ache. Her teeth gritted together, the hands that had now fallen lifelessly to her sides clenching into fists. Yet there she remained, motionless under the white, flickering streetlamp. Alone.

What was she supposed to do now? How was she supposed to function? Why was she unable to put on her poker face, now that she needed it most?

Focus. She ordered herself. Snap out of it.

But as she stared at the darkest corners of the long parking lot, she could swear she felt shadows hiding under the night’s cloak. Her own demons lurking, demanding to be faced.

She wanted to yell at them; at herself; at nothing. Not tonight, she wanted to scream. I can’t do this tonight.

She swallowed with difficulty as the shadows grew. They shifted in the darkness, crouching over her. Threatening. Suffocating.

She took a few steps back, stepped on the pavement, then walked up to the entrance of the building.

There was faint light emitting through the glass, distant yet pounding music, muffled voices and laughter. All promising an environment far less hostile than that judgemental, empty lot. She stepped inside hurriedly, and that ghastly feeling that had been crawling on the back of her neck dissolved as soon as the doors shut behind her.

Only then did she wonder if he had gone inside as well.

Was he still here? Had he left?

She looked around, but the lobby was empty. The music and voices were all echoing through the halls from down the warehouse. And even though she had just proved that she couldn’t stand to stay alone tonight, she couldn’t bring herself to head downstairs either. What was she supposed to do? Go back for another round of cards? Choke down a few drinks? Chit-chat and make small-talk until it was late enough to excuse herself? She had no idea how she would get home, Jim was supposed to be her ride after Roy had left.

Roy…

No, tempting as disappearing from this place was, she couldn’t go home either. Not right now. Not so… soon. Not while the words were still ringing in her ears, in the same tone he’d spoken them. Colored by a tinge of surprise, as if he’d just realized he was saying them the moment they were out. Unfiltered. Aloud.

She couldn’t believe he’d said them.

On their own accord, her legs began to move. They took her upstairs, her heels echoing through the walls as she climbed the staircase. The lights on the second floor were out but she didn’t bother with flipping any switches, she just let them be. She pushed the glassine door away and headed straight to reception, collapsing on her chair as if her knees could only keep her uptight so much. Once settled she was panting, yet her breaths were quiet, the air flowing rapidly but silently in and out of her lungs.

She really couldn’t wrap her mind around it. She couldn’t believe what he’d told her.

Thoughts swirling once again, she rapidly looked around for anything to occupy herself with. She was so desperate she was willing to even work, she hardly cared. She scanned her desk with her gaze, looked through her drawers, but –you see- she had been so moronically eager to finish up everything earlier today. There were the results for actually doing one’s job.

And as she searched her desk, she happened to open her right drawer. And her frantic movements briefly halted. Her eyes caught a flash of green in the corner, buried behind some documents, and instantly she remembered exactly when she had shoved the bag of French-onion-flavoured chips in there. They had probably expired, that day in the dojo felt so long ago. His bribing chips, turned to apology chips after he had crossed a line while picking her up that day. She hadn’t eaten them. She never found out why she couldn’t bring herself to do it. She had simply shoved them in the drawer.

Turns out this was her thing.

And now, tonight of all nights, the green spot that peeked through the papers seemed to be glaring at her with the same intensity that she was glaring back at it.

She shut the drawer closed and got up, unable to sit still in one place. She walked up to the door of Michael’s office and rested her back against it, facing the dim-lighted office.

There it was, all dark and empty for a change. Reception, accounting, sales… The large clock on the wall was ticking the seconds away, the only sound in the room. Her arms were crossed over her chest holding her torso in place. A necessity, since she could feel her entire body slightly trembling. She quivered uneasily, glancing around the empty room. She gulped once and yet again, but her throat kept getting all the tighter.

She didn’t have a choice, as it seemed. She couldn’t possibly avoid this.

So be it, then.

She closed her eyes, and with the deepest, most steady breath that she could currently manage, she let it engulf her. She released all those thoughts, deafening as they were, and allowed them to fill her mind, to come forward, to yell and scream and shout all they wanted, because keeping them back was too exhausting and she couldn’t go on like this for another second.

And shout they did. Oh, they did.

Hypocrite, they called her. Liar.

They crashed and burned their way into her brain, so overwhelming, so devastating. They became all she could hear, overpowering every other thought.

Every other, apart from those five words. Those damned five words of his.

She had to feel the drops falling on her crossed forearms to realize she was crying.

And the clock kept ticking. And the thoughts kept yelling. And the awareness of closed drawers and buried truths gnawed at her, clawed her, tore her skin.

And that’s when she let herself realize that it was true.

She really was a hypocrite.

Tonight was as good as any other night. She just never wanted to face reality.

She could lie to herself all she wanted, she could pretend she had missed all the signs and was taken by complete surprise by those five words of his.

But she knew she had only missed as much as he had misinterpreted.

Nothing, that was.

“Nothing.”

It was the first word she had spoken since he’d left. It was barely a whisper that slipped from her lips like a sigh on a silken pillow. Yet it was enough to break this posture of calmness she had compelled herself to maintain. It was enough to strip her off her poker face.

Then she was left more exposed than she had ever felt in her entire life.

It all came back, all at once. Every glance, every smile, every tease and every touch. The pranks, the winks, the mischiefs, the inside jokes. The candle-lit sandwiches on the rooftop, the gentle swaying to music from shared earphones, the prolonged silence on the deck of a ship on a chilly night. Those chips of apology, those lines that sometimes seemed to haze and others they appeared so stingingly sharp.

“Oh God.” She sobbed, a hand flying to her mouth, the tears forming rivers down her heated cheeks.

What had she done?

For four years now she had allowed for this to go on. They had been flirting back and forth, masking it as friendship, yet it was obvious as the sun shining on a midsummer morning. The lines had been crossed more times than she could fathom, and it wasn’t anybody’s fault but her own. She was the one that was engaged, she was supposed to set those lines. Why hadn’t she?

She had no answer for that.

She had one answer for that, but she daren’t phrase it, not even mentally. Granted that she would never want to hurt him, and that – from what she firmly believed – she was not a terrible person, there was only one other option that seemed to make sense. One reason that would justify her leading him on, beyond all facts, beyond all logic.

But she would not put that possibility into words. Because that alone was enough to bring her world crumbling down.

It couldn’t be true.

And if… it was… then what would that mean? For her, for Roy? For everyone involved. For her entire life.

Her heart was beating frantically inside her chest, the silence deafening. The walls were closing in. She felt as if she was choking on the same oxygen she breathed.

She couldn’t bear this. She couldn’t do this alone. It was too much.

Two strides forward and she was by the closest phone in reach. She brought the speaker to her ear and dialled the number she had memorized by heart with her free hand.

And then she waited.

It rang a few times, the monotone sound only pulling on her already strained nerves. She was gnawing at her lip again, clutching onto the phone so intensely that her knuckles turned white. She was so desperate to hear the soft, calming voice on the other end that she couldn’t even imagine what she would do if it never came. Thankfully, that was the one thing she didn’t have to deal with tonight.

“Hello?”

“Mom, it’s me.”

The words left her mouth before her mother had even managed to phrase that single word of greeting. She could hear how strangled her own voice came out. Her mother heard it too.

There was a brief, strained pause. Then, “Is everything okay?”

She wanted to say yes. The logical part of her mind insisted that everything was okay. This wasn’t the end of the world, it was just a setback, they would figure this out. Just a setback, nothing more. Eventually everything would fall into place again. Everything was okay.

“Pam? Answer me baby, what’s wrong?”

“I…” she gasped, shaking her head, mouth agape. She had been so desperate for her mother’s comfort, yet now she couldn’t force the words out. “I’m okay.” She managed at least, because if she hadn’t, her mother would have assumed the worst – and she couldn’t blame her.

“What happened?”

“Nothing, nothing, just…” she closed her eyes, trying to control her breathing and put her thoughts into order. “Just…” she winced, the words not coming once again. So she took it from the top, buying herself some time. “It’s casino night tonight, remember I told you about it the other day?”

“Yes.” The word seemed measured, calculating.

When she didn’t reply, her mother jumped to conclusions. “Oh honey, did you lose a lot of money?”

“No, no.” she shook her head. “That’s not it.” She’d actually won plenty. She’d been so smug about it for a few blissful moments. It was insane how much could change in such little time.

As a reminder, the sound of the ticking clock registered in her ears again. She closed her eyes, blocking it in the one way she could. “Roy left early, I’m still here. And Jim said something to me, and now I don’t know… I don’t know what to do with it, mom.”

“Okay. First of all calm down.” Her mom’s tone shifted from cautious to absolute. “Okay? Stop panicking.”

She frowned, clutching onto the speaker. “Mom…”

“Calm down, Pam.”

She unleashed a long frustrated sigh, her head hanging forward. She obeyed, though, measuring her breaths, forcing her frantic heartbeat to decrease. Forcing her thoughts to slow down and the room to stop spinning. She’d been near hysterics. She had to pull it together, her mom was right.

As her eyes focused to the objects in front of her in a struggle to keep herself sane, it finally registered to her that she was, in fact, standing above Jim’s desk, using Jim’s phone.

She almost dropped the speaker.

It made sense; it was the closest desk to where she had been standing before - leaning against Michael’s door. But there was more into it than that.

There always was.

And for the first time, she was done pretending there wasn’t.

On top of the desk, picture frames of various shapes held photographs of him. Him and his brother, him and his baby niece. His hazel eyes glinted as he stared into the camera.

“He said he has feelings for me.” She mumbled, looking into his eyes uncertainly.

“What? I didn’t catch that.” Her mother’s voice came perplexed from the speaker.

In the photograph, his eyes were bold, piercing. Say it, they challenged. Acknowledge it, once.

She didn’t tear her gaze away. “He said that he’s in love with me.”

The words were clear this time. Sharp. Unmistakable. They rang in the empty room, causing a cold shiver to shoot down her spine.

But she wasn’t strong enough to keep looking at his face. She shied away, tearing her eyes from it, yet it wasn’t enough. She went as far as to turn her back at it, twisting so she was facing Michael’s office now. Emotionally drained, she leaned back to rest her hip on his desk, feeling her eyes sting once again.

The silence hung heavy in the room.

“Aren’t you gonna say something?” she asked, the hopelessness and exhaustion all evident in her voice. She sounded lost.

“I… I don’t know what to say, Pam.”

She nodded, even though the gesture wouldn’t translate through the phone. That made two of them.

The next question took her aback. “Did you know?”

She didn’t expect it to come so soon. She never thought her mom would catch up to her mind-set so quickly, and so brilliantly on point.

What did she reply to that? Did she share the truth, horrible as it might make her seem? Did she cover it up as she had done a million times? She had called her mother for help. If she wanted to be helped, she couldn’t keep the facts in the dark.

“I suspected.” She allowed, gulping with difficulty.

There was a sigh from the other line. “You said that you were just friends. You insisted there was nothing more going on between you two.”

“I know.”

“Why did you lie?”

Her vision blurred. It was becoming hard to speak. “I didn’t intentionally do it. I never wanted to hurt anybody.”

“Oh honey…” her mother’s tone softened at the sound of her breaking voice. “I didn’t mean it like that. I know you didn’t. You would never.”

She nodded a few times. It was hard to believe currently, with the immense amount of guilt eating up her insides, and her mom’s certainty on that fact was something she truly needed to hear right now.

“How long has this been going on?” her mother asked after a moment.

“I don’t know.” She mumbled truthfully. She let out a soft groan. “I don’t even know what this is, mom. There’s no this. Nothing happened, not really. We’ve just been hanging out. And I guess the lines got a little blurry, but we never actually… he just… Just tonight he told me.”

“Does Roy know?”

She gulped. “No. I told you, he left.”

“Does he know how close you and Jim have grown?”

“I don’t know.” She chewed on the inside of her cheek. That wasn’t true, though. She herself had played it down numerous times. She knew he’d get ticked off, and she didn’t want to get him jealous over nothing, that was her excuse. “No.” she reconsidered. “He doesn’t.”

“Maybe you should tell him.” She suggested softly.

She blinked, two hot tears dripping at the action. “Yeah.” Her voice was hoarse.

“I just mean that, no relationship should be built around secrets. If you communicate this with him, I’m sure you’ll be able to work this out.”

“I know.” She mouthed. She never found her voice.

There was a hint of wonder in her mother’s tone when she spoke next. “Unless,” she considered. “that isn’t what you want.”

And for a second it felt like the droplets froze on her cheeks. Unmoving, just like time suddenly went.

She couldn’t mean…

That was not an alternative.

There was no alternative.

Her mind hadn’t gone there, the wedding was in four weeks.

“Pam?”

“What does that mean? What are you saying?” she came off harsher than she intended, and instantly regretted it.

“I’m not saying anything.” Her mom stated. “I’m just trying to understand why you sound conflicted.”

Conflicted?

Taken aback, she blinked at Michael’s door. “I’m not conflicted.” She argued. “I’m just-”

And her mind went blank. She had nothing to properly fill that sentence with.

Eventually she gave up trying. She wiped the tears away from her cheeks with her wrist, then grabbed onto the cord of the phone in need of something to occupy her hand with, because the stillness was driving her insane. “I don’t know what to think mom. I can’t process anything yet, it’s all too fresh. I just can’t believe this is really happening.”

“When did he tell you?”

She glanced up the clock before answering. She’d been so aware of its presence that it was a major shock to realize just how little the hands had actually moved. “About ten minutes ago.” She muttered, tugging on the cord in her hand.

“What did you do? Did you reply?”

“No.” Not really. Not in any way she would have, if she’d been able to think properly. “I didn’t know what to say.”

And because of it, she’d screwed it all up.

It was fair to tell him that she couldn’t - it was true, wasn’t it? She was honest when she’d confessed how much his friendship meant, because heaven knows, it did. But the instant hurt that spread on his face the moment that damned word left her mouth was the image she knew she would never be able to forget.

She’d done that to him. She had hurt Jim tonight, in the most unfair and dishonest way. It was the worst thing she could have said, and of course she’d said it.

How would she possibly make this right again?

‘Everything will be okay’ suddenly seemed like such a childish statement.

“Pam, you have to talk to him about this.” Her mother’s voice brought her back from her thoughts.

“Yes, I know.” Of that much she was certain. It wouldn’t be easy, she knew it, but she wouldn’t be able to live with herself if she never gathered the guts to tell him that, no, he hadn’t read more into this than there was.  He wasn’t crazy, and she wasn’t blind.

It truly was all her fault.

He had to know that. He had to know.

“And you also need to decide what you’ll do, baby. It’s never too late to change your mind, if that’s what you want.”

And there it was again. The seed of doubt.

She managed to control another frustrated reply.

She didn’t get it, though. Why was she doing this to her? Why was she planting that forsaken seed? It was the very last thing she needed. She was seeking guidance and comfort, not doomed possibilities and false… hope? No, it wasn’t hope what she was feeling bubbling in her stomach, fizzing in her chest, waking up her body. It couldn’t be. Because what would she be hoping for? To be with Jim?

Unimaginable.

Inconceivable.

“How do you feel about him?”

“Um…” She mumbled, her pulse pounding in her ears. She clutched the cord of the phone in her fist. “I don’t know, mom. He’s my best friend,” she uttered. And even though that phrase had been falling effortlessly from her lips for years, it sparked something in her this once.

Something big.

Shapes appeared before her eyes. Images of long, slender fingers entwined with hers. Of warm hazel eyes so close that, with each blink, silky lashes tickled her cheeks. Images so vivid that she could feel the messy hair at the nape of his neck against the tips of her fingers, and she could smell the fabric softener emitting from his clothes. Images created by a foolish, naïve mind that was oblivious to the hell of flames and destruction that they would leave in their tracks. Images that were unnatural, and strange, and captivating. Images that she wasn’t seeing for the first time.

That night… after the Dundies. With the bitter aftertaste of alcohol still in her tongue, and his sharp inhale still ringing in her flushed ears. She had lain in cold sheets and traced her fingers across her tingling lips. And she’d thought about him.

That day of the dojo. She’d parked at her front yard and sat in the truck for minutes, fingers clenched tightly around the steering wheel. She hadn’t moved, only clenched her jaw as the skin across her stomach burned, the fire travelling further south. She hadn’t been mad, just… burning. And as the fire engulfed her, she’d thought of him.

That night at his barbeque. When the cameras had walked out the door and left them alone. She’d lain back on his bed, the most intimate place of his – and he’d let her. He’d watched her, briefly, then looked away. But later on, alone on her couch with some movie playing in the background, she’d imagined the sound the chair made as he stood, the thuds of his footsteps on the carpet, the creak of the bed as he lay beside her. Her fingers had found the hem of her pajamas, sneaking under it, sliding towards the heat. And as her breath hitched and her heart pounded, she’d thought of him.

Nobody was going to know. Those images were hers alone to keep, and they were hers to disclaim and deny.

And lust… it comes and goes. She’d felt it engulf her once, a lifetime ago. And then she’d also felt it fade, so gradually she’d barely noticed it. She wasn’t a child anymore – she’d learn to use her brain to make decisions and not her heart. She would not uproot her life over a flirt.

Only…

Only at the Dundies, when the person that was supposed to listen had his ears closed, Jim was there. He let her steal his beer, act silly, be loud - and he wasn’t ashamed but rather he joined her. He clapped and cheered and yelled, he sat with her at that bench in the dark and he didn’t push for answers. He just stayed.

Only… on the night of the dojo he’d called her after work hours for the first time, with torment in his voice. He was scared that he’d hurt her, horrified that he’d lost her. And somehow, she’d ended up at her balcony whispering into the speaker until the early morning hours. They’d never stayed together for so long again, talking about nothing… and yet hearing all they didn’t say.

Only… he’d cut his picture out of his high school yearbook just because it had made her laugh. He’d put it in a teapot of her favorite color, which he knew she wanted. He’d also put in there two packages of hot sauce from that time that they’d gone out for lunch and she’d burned her tongue and he’d rushed her back to the kitchen and poured her a glass of cold milk and rubbed circles on her back as she gulped it down. Her tears had been a reaction to the spices, but he’d still wiped them off her cheeks in concern, his touch light as a feather’s. That yellow pencil was from that day he’d faked a sales call just to sneak her out for a round of mini-golf, around the time when they first met. He’d cheated, she’d thrown her pencil at him, it had scratched his arm and he’d held it as evidence for the police investigation that he’d warned her would follow. The mixtape was of all the songs they’re heard in the parking lot that chilly night, swaying with the breeze until they got tired of standing and sat at the back of her truck. Her legs had been dangling off the edge, but his had stood solid on the ground. And as her life spiraled around her, he was always there. Steady. Staying. Waiting.

Only, for three years he’d shared himself with her, expecting nothing because he knew she couldn’t give it to him. He gave her onion chips and jinx-coke and watercolor brushes and a teapot full of memories – of giddiness, encouragement, warmth. He’d shared with her his lunch, and his music, and his pranks, and his thoughts and his laughter and all those precious moments that meant the world to her even though she’d never told him. All that time. All that effort. All for her. Jim always put a lot of effort into what he loved.

She wiped hot tears off her cheek, her chest throbbing.

Only… this was not a flirt.

‘In love’, he had said.

Jim.

Her best friend.

‘I’m in love with you’, and a single tear had dripped from the ocean of his eyes.

“Jim is a good guy.” Her mother’s voice only brought her back to the present halfway.

“Yeah, he’s great.” Her voice was rough.

Her best friend…

“You’re in love with him too.” A statement. A fact.

…and yet, so much more than that.

And brick by brick, her walls came tumbling down.

He was right.

He’d always been right.

He didn’t misinterpret.

She was.

“Yeah,” she breathed. Fresh tears spilled down her face. “I think I am.”

Everything happened fast, then.

She caught a shadow moving with the corner of her eye. Someone had entered the room, and she looked up to identify them. She was met with a head of messy brown hair, a black sweater with rolled-up sleeves, and two eyes that were glued to the ground, refusing to meet her gaze. Despite that, he was steadily making his way up to her.

Her heart flew to her throat.

“Um, I have to go.” She mumbled quickly to the speaker, turning quickly so she could hang up. The second her back faced him, she felt his eyes pierce at her skin. He was looking at her.

“Oh. Okay, call me back when you have news.” Her mom quickly instructed, catching up.

“I will.” And she ended the call.

She could see his tall, slender shadow on the floor to her left. She glimpsed at it as it shifted and grew with every step he took. He was still walking towards her. He was still looking at her.

A shiver ran through her body.

So he hadn’t left, after all. He was here. And this was her chance to talk to him. It was all too soon, but maybe this was a good thing, maybe it was for the best. Perhaps she could undo the damage while the wounds were still fresh. The least she could do was explain. The very least was to try.

She took a sharp breath and turned around.

His gaze slid to the floor.

She would get him to meet her eyes again tonight. That was her instant goal.

“Listen, Jim.”

She didn’t see it coming.

She thought he would stop two feet away as he always did, but he crossed that boundary and took one extra step. She felt her voice mute in wonder. Before she could process it, his hand found her waist and his lips met her own.

Of all the things he could have said and done when he next saw her, she never expected him to kiss her.

She was too stunned to think, too shocked to move. For a second all there was, all she could possibly comprehend, was the way his broad hand held her steadily against him, the way his nose grazed on her cheek, and how impossibly, unbelievably soft his lips were against hers.

She should have expected it. After the immeasurable amount of hours she’d spent studying and sketching them, watching him smile and grin and smirk, talk and frown and chuckle, you would think she’d learned everything there was to know about his lips. But not in her wildest dreams could she have imagined how warm and gentle they would be against her own.

His kiss was the faintest of whispers. The most tender caress she had experienced in her life. A touch so feather-like that it wouldn’t burst a bubble, yet so electrifying that it sent shivers down her entire body, making every inch of her, every single inch of her skin, break into delicious goosebumps. It awoke her body and heightened her senses, and she knew that she had never been more aware of anything than she was now of his velvet touch.

She could feel his determination. She could also feel his fear. The caress of his lips was so delicate, so hesitant. Afraid, like a child on whose shoulder has landed a butterfly, and he’s too afraid that he’ll startle her, that he’ll scare her away

Somehow, despite her state of daze and wonder, she regained control of her body. And instantly she shifted against him, she raised her arms and placed her hands on his shoulders. Only… only instead of pushing him away, she allowed her hands to travel further up, to the nape of his neck. To those rebellious locks of hair that covered it. She let them slide through them, she marveled at the way they felt beneath her fingertips, so similar to the one she had imagined. She sighed against his mouth, opening her own just enough to envelop his lips into hers, in her own little caress.

There was the briefest second of utter shock on his part. She felt him freeze against her, she swore she could hear the wheels turning in his head as he realized what she was doing, that she was responding. But she found herself in autopilot, all restrictions suddenly flown out the window. When another second went by and he still remained frozen, she used her hands to pull him down, pull him closer, press their lips together feverously, with an urgency that came out of thin air.

That’s when he snapped out of it.

She felt his arms, both wrapped around her back, unlock – only for both of them to travel higher so that his fingers could burry inside her own hair, the sides of her head engulfed by his palms, his thumbs both pressed against her heated cheeks. A groan of torment emitted from deep within his throat, and she felt it vibrate through her, lighting her brain on fire.

And then he truly kissed her, and the world fell away. All she could grasp was the way his lips were moving against her own, so desperate yet so full of adoration that knocked the air out of her lungs and had her melt inside his arms. She pressed herself to him, chests meeting inch by inch, and she could feel him everywhere. She felt his heart beat against her own, and their breaths mingle together in the brief moments between stillness and action. She felt him speak her name against her lips, she heard that one syllable whispered at her in a voice so familiar yet in a brand new way that she’d never conceived could exist.

She didn’t register how it ended. She didn’t pull away – he definitely didn’t. The urgency fell away slowly, tenderness taking its place once again. They found themselves back to the beginning. Her hands released his hair and slid down to rest against his chest. As his lips gave hers a final caress, his palms left her cheeks to travel lower. She felt his fingers graze on the outer part of her arms, tracing an invisible pattern down her sides, until they finally settled on her hips.

His forehead rested against her own, their eyes still closed. His breath was warm on her face, lightly panting and irregular.

And then she felt it.

His gaze was gentle, yet it was intense. Unmistakable. Finally, he was looking at her again. She could feel his eyes settle on her closed ones, urging -begging almost- that she would let him in.

With a small, steady breath, she opened her eyes to look right into his own.

Shaking by trulisthetic

I’m shaking.

I don’t know where that came from because it’s never happened to me before. I never suffered from stage fright, I never had a stutter, never got particularly nervous or overwhelmed to the point of trembling. Whenever I’m happy – you know this, you’ve pointed it out – my eyes beam before my lips do, and when I really laugh I make these high-pitched noises you just love to tease me about. When I cry, it’s usually quiet. Subtle, discreet. Blame it to growing up with two older brothers; I had to watch my back, to cover after myself, you know? I hate to admit this but I’ve been doing a lot of that lately. Being alone is tougher than usual, sometimes unbearable because of all the thoughts. I smash them down during the day, I try to revel every moment I get, before you… Before I go. But the second my bedroom door closes behind me everything comes crashing down. Every single goddamn night. And my brothers’ shadow is now Mark, only a wall away.

But then sometimes, I can’t help it. Sometimes I really cry. It’s not your fault, don’t worry about it. I’m not saying this to make you sad, my point is that - when I really cry? We’re talking wrenching sobs and rivers of tears. But no matter how fucked up I might feel inside, no matter how emotionally charged I might get, this never happens. It’s never happened to me before. I never shake.

I’m shaking now.

You noticed. I know you can feel it.

For the first time I’m holding you the way I’ve craved ever since I first saw you, I’m feeling your skin against my fingertips – so smooth and soft and… electrifying. You have no idea what you’re doing to me. Hell, I have no idea. I’m a trembling mess, my head is emptied of every thought yet every fiber of my being – it’s cliché, I know, but it’s ridiculously true – every single part of me feels so full.

I knew this would be like nothing I’ve ever experienced before, because that’s just the case with you and me. That’s how it always is. Had I told my younger self there’d be a time when simply having my palm read by a girl would result in me needing a good 20 minutes in the men’s room to cool myself down, young Jim would’ve found me so damn lame. And rightly so. That night we shared grilled-cheese sandwiches on the roof? I still think about it on the daily. I doze off when I watch TV, Pam, it’s ridiculous. I can’t watch a goddamn movie anymore. And it’s torture, but it’s all I was ever gonna get, right? So it was okay. I got what I got, waiting patiently for the next stolen moment, even if the time passing by only killed me slowly.

I was going to wait tonight. For whatever moment you gave me. I would wait, and I’d be grateful. It was only one round, because you’re terribly good at bluffing – who would have known? – and the game ended too soon. But your laughter is ringing in my ears, still. I can still see your eyes gleaming. I got another moment tonight, and normally it would have been enough. It’s been enough, years now.

But then Jan’s presence was a reminder. A transfer. Australia. Four weeks.

Four weeks, Pam. And then no more memories. I won’t see you the same way after that, I know it. I won’t be able to look at you at all, who am I kidding? Don’t question it, okay, I just know. And yeah I know it’s stupid because it’s only technicalities, you’ve been his all along, it’s just an extra ring. But I can’t do this. I’m so sorry, I know me leaving will be tough for both of us. I know you love our moments too, I’m not an idiot. We have something. And I’m putting an end to it before you get to do it, because selfishly I think it will hurt less if it’s my choice, you know? I’ll feel less of a loser that way. I know it sounds childish. It probably is. I’m sorry I can’t be your best friend when you’re his wife. But I can’t, Pam, I can’t do this, not when our moments will never be the same, they won’t be ours – the images of veils and honeymoons and you in white will always be there gnawing at us, eating me up.

That’s why I’m transferring.

I never meant to explain all that, though. Just like I never meant to explain Australia. I bet you think I’m just an asshole that doesn’t give a crap about his friend’s wedding. Or maybe you know. Maybe you’ve known all along.

Well, whatever the case, you know everything now.

Again, I didn’t mean to say it. I didn’t plan this. Well- that’s not accurate- I have planned this, way more thoroughly than a mentally stable, non-crazy-about-you person would. I have all these scenarios in my head of me telling you. So many different moments, you have no idea. I have my speech all ready and planned, and it’s a big one too. Because I have so much to say.

About you, about what you make me feel every time that I look up and see you, every time that your voice follows the sharp ringing of the phone, every time that you ‘pssst’ me from across the room and my heart skips a beat. You’re what keeps me sane in this gray and dim building. You’re the strength I need to get up every morning - another cliché I know, shut up. Just shut up and listen (yes, that is part of the speech) because I need you to hear this. You have no idea what a relief it is to fully be me, no holding back. To joke with you and have you join my banter in the most brilliant way. You’re so smart and so funny, and I see how reserved you are around everyone else. You’re holding back. I know that you are because you’ve let me know you. Of all the people in that office, you let me in -and I still can’t believe it. You’re so good for me. When I’m with you, I automatically turn to the most authentic version of me, and I think that’s the person I was meant to be, if that makes sense. It’s never been easier to let down all guards and be with someone. Share my troubles, kick boredom to the face, make every moment count. Isn’t that what happiness is? When the room seems lighter and the stars shine a little brighter and that dull gray life is suddenly colorful? That’s what this is to me, Pam. That’s what you are – the color in my life. And that had nothing to do with you being an artist. Okay, maybe partially, because those paintings are brilliant and literally the only ones I’ve ever taken time to really see. But that’s beyond the point – don’t laugh! Come on. I’m pouring my heart out to you here, Beesly, quit laughing.

Oh yeah, in my fantasies you’re laughing. I almost expected you to laugh in reality too, but in a more mocking-type-of-way. You’re not a mean person by any means, but it must sound ridiculous to you that I’ve been all over you since day one and never said anything. Maybe you think I’m a coward for it. Maybe it makes you angry that I’ve never been just your friend, Jim – that every time we hang out I wanted something more than that.

Or maybe you weren’t shocked at all. Maybe you knew all along.

You never did tell me what you think. Or how you felt. You just said, ‘I can’t.’ And it’s funny how two little words can change so much.

Did you mean it?

It tore me, it broke me, I’m not going to lie anymore. I’m done lying to you, there was a part of me that, even though it was impossible, was still hoping you’d laugh. You’d say ‘Finally.’ Or ‘Me too’ or anything really, anything but ‘I can’t’. And all that hope got crushed all at once, leaving me breathless, choking, struggling to see through hot tears.

After four years of waiting I’d made a leap, without even meaning to. I was going to tell you about the transfer, and then the words were flying from my mouth before I could do anything to stop them. Words of a drowning man. I looked at you and begged you to take this sinking boat and point it home. To raise your hopeful voice while we still had time. You had a choice, Pam, and I was hanging off your lips, holding onto the very last shred of hope that I might be the thing you want, but those damned two words were enough.

I get it, though. It only made sense for you to say that. Love makes you blind, isn’t that what they say? In my case, it made me see things where there weren’t. It made me misinterpret. I fed myself with lies and let me believe you were feeling what I was, that our little moments were the highlight of your days too, that I was the one that brought out the best in you and made you feel like who you were meant to be, that that night we were swaying together at the notes of a lonely guitar you saw the stars shine a little brighter as well.

I made all that up, that’s what you said.

And I believed you.

Because that was the possibility I’d feared all along. But here I was anyway, chasing ghosts.

The words fell through me, and I couldn’t react. I was left out of breath, and it hurt to be there, in that empty, dark parking lot, when I only wanted love from you. So I left. There was nothing else for me to say anyway - I’d played my cards, and I’d played them too late.

But there was something left for you to say, wasn’t there?

You weren’t done. There was more.

Perhaps it’s my fault that I don’t know what you think. Maybe I left too soon. Maybe you needed a second to process it…

God, your breath is so hot against my face, it’s driving me crazy.

I swear I can’t remember what I did after I left you in the parking lot, I was wandering aimlessly until it hit me that I’d just ruined everything, for good, and I would never get to spend my life next to you, I would never get to see you smile at me the same way again, I would never get to know how you taste and how your lips feel pressed to mine.

I’m pretty sure I said “Fuck.” Out loud. Like, 99% sure. I heard your voice echoing in the empty halls, and the next thing I know I was bursting into the room like a madman and pulling you to me.

I wasn’t trying to convince you or anything. I swear to you I wasn’t. I already got my answer, and it was more than I could bear. But I had to do it. Before I let you go, I had to taste you. Just once.

Beesly, I just kissed you.

And the crazy thing is that you kissed me back.

I’m standing here now, holding you, moments after; moments that feel like hours. Yet my hands are still wrapped around you and my forehead is still leaning against yours and our gasping breaths are still mingling in the short distance between our mouths and, God, I can’t think - not with you being all I can smell and all I can feel and all I can taste.

You taste so good. You must know that, he must tell you all the time. I had no idea.

I wasn’t prepared, despite the million years I’ve been imagining this moment, I couldn’t have possibly been prepared for the reality of it. The second your lips touched mine, you consumed me. Your warmth was all I could comprehend. It’s like every kiss I’ve ever shared was through a dream, distant and vague, and then suddenly you came and woke me up. I was so aware of you, of your every touch, your every move. All my senses heightened, all that I am focused on you – as if you weren’t already the center of my universe. I felt it all, raw and powerful and unfiltered, all at once. An explosion of color. A burst of emotion so powerful that I almost sobbed out loud. Instantly I knew I had never kissed anyone before today, not really. You’re my first. You’re my first everything, and dramatic as it sounds, I’m quite sure you’ll be my last. I can’t imagine finding this again with someone else, kissing like this, feeling like this. I could imitate it, maybe, when time has healed all wounds and I can breathe again, but you’re it for me. It’s always been you. I can’t explain it, I wish it wasn’t, but it was. It is. It forever will be.

Your hands are resting against my chest. Innocently, lazily, enough so that nobody would know how a moment ago they were buried in my hair, pulling me down to you.

You pulled me to you.

You know that right?

I didn’t imagine it this time. I didn’t imagine your hands holding me closer, tagging on my shirt, traveling over me, nor did I imagine your mouth moving against mine, reciprocating, your lips parting, your tongue enslaving me, the moan that you whispered in my mouth.

God, Beesly, you moaned.

Please, please, please don’t tell me I misinterpreted that.

My eyes open, my gaze fixes on your face. You’re flushed, your lips are still parted and your breaths still come as pants. My hands are on your hips and they clench a bit as I beg you, silently. I know you know I’m looking at you. I know you know I’m seeing you.

Please don’t deny it.

Please open your eyes.

The clock on the wall is ticking the seconds away heavily, lazily, too far apart from each other. Perhaps the batteries are dying, these can’t be seconds. They’re too damn long.

I’m starting to panic, to be honest. You’re not moving, I can almost hear you thinking. What are you thinking about? Are you regretting it? Are you grossed out, guilty? Are you panicking too? Which one is it? Please let me know, I can’t stand not knowing anymore. You know everything now, it’s your turn to play your cards.

Come on, open your eyes. Let me read you. I’m going insane here. Pam… - oh!

Light green is all I see, the hue of the new spring growth, bright and soft all at once. In the darkness your eyes are shining, full of emotion, glistening with tears.

Don’t cry. That’s all I can think of at first. Please don’t cry. I’ll do anything to make this alright again.

It occurs to me then that you don’t look sad, nor panicking. I don’t know what to make of it.

You’re looking right at me, though. You’re not looking away. Your eyes are so close, I’ve never seen them so close before. They’re captivating. They’re boring into mine.

It hits me then, again.

I just kissed you, and you kissed me back.

What are you doing?

You told me no. You said I made it all up. I told you that I love you and you shot me down. I wasn’t supposed to see you again, I was going to leave. You let me leave.

And then you kissed me like you had been holding back all this time too.

Had you?

Gosh, I can’t think when you look at me like that, when you breathe on my face like that. You smell like cocktails and... you smell like you. You’re driving me crazy.

“You have no idea…” I whisper against you, and my voice is hoarse and my feelings so open, “…how long I’ve wanted to do that.”

Perhaps I shouldn’t be talking. I’ve already said too much… even though it wasn’t enough.

“Me too.” You reply, eyes never leaving mine.

I’m speechless.

You mean it.

Pam, what are you doing?

You sigh, and briefly the pools of green hide behind your eyelids as they flatter closed. Your hands were still against my chest but now you’re moving them, they slide a bit higher. You take hold of the collar of my shirt, tag on it a little.

Do you want… Are you pulling me closer?

I’m feeling so much. It’s overwhelming. It’s engulfing me.

“You’re shaking.” You murmur.

“Sorry,” I whisper.

You shake your head, your forehead against mine. “I think I am, too.”

It is insanity that despite how hyperaware of you I am, I didn’t realize it was the both of us trembling, together. You had to voice it out.

You have to voice it all so I can understand it. Because now I’m terrified of reading through the lines. You’ve made me terrified, but you can fix it. Will you try?

What do you want?

“You kissed me back.” It’s a statement of fact, and I wish I could keep the awe from seeping into my tone.

You take a second. Then you nod. “Yeah.”

You’ll be the death of me, I swear you will.

“Pam.” A single syllable, yet so heavy with emotion that it cracks. Despair, confusion… Hope.

There it is again. Hope. A minute ago I was a drowning man, losing the battle to the waves, sinking into the darkness. And now you’re in the freezing waters with me, you’re grabbing my hand and I don’t know what to think. You’re the one that pushed me into the ocean, are you back to finish your job? Will you push me further down, make sure I’m done for good? Or are you… Are you pulling me out?

Your breaths aren’t pants anymore. Your grip on my collar is just as strong, though. You’re holding onto me, you’re not letting me go.

It’s so surreal. We’re breaking all barriers tonight, barriers that we carefully set for ourselves since day one. I’ve only ever touched you accidentally, momentarily, unintentionally, just… by chance. And tonight that changed. I meant it to be our sort of goodbye, that big gesture that you do under the premise of parting, the ‘grand finale’, if you will. I needed a last, final dose, one last fix before going to rehab for good. Sorry for comparing you to a drug, but I can’t quite explain this otherwise, I’m a poor excuse of a poet.

Kissing you was my goodbye.

And now you’re not letting me go.

And the craziest part is that you don’t even know I’m leaving.

I’m struggling against this fizzy feeling that’s bubbling up my chest, I bite the inner side of my cheek so hard I taste blood in order not to break into a smile. I have to keep myself in check, because there’s another barrier to be broken tonight. You need to talk to me.

I pull back enough so I can see you clearly. You’re still looking down, and so without overthinking about it I raise my hand to your chin.

This is the first time I get to see my fingers on your face.

You’ve been thinking, that much I can tell. There is a faint crease between your eyebrows that you seem unaware of. When I lift your chin up so I can see your face, you raise your gaze and look at me.

“Are you okay?” is the question that comes out of my mouth, the most vital of them all. Because even though I’m the one drowning, I need to make sure you’re alright.

Your gaze jumps from my one eye to the other, almost as if you’re searching. I don’t know what you’re looking for. “Yeah…” you trail off, and it sounds like you’re just now realizing it yourself. “Yeah.”

I nod, because at this point it’s all I can do.

You’re right here, holding me, holding my gaze. That’s another boundary crossed.

The way you’re looking at me… it’s electrifying.

A million times you have met my gaze, yet never like this. So openly, so boldly. Even though I’ve laid it all out for you already, in this moment I find myself exposed, and scared and unprotected. It takes boldness and it takes courage for me not to shy away. Somehow, I don’t.

And you don’t either.

That’s what’s driving me insane.

And I’m trying so hard not to make assumptions, but you’ve always been so easy for me to read. So now that I see your flushed face, your widened eyes, your parted lips, I know that it is fascination I’m looking at. When your eyebrows shoot up and you blink a few times rapidly, Pam, I swear that it feels like you’re half-expecting me to disappear into thin air. And I can’t help but wonder… Have you pictured this before? Have you imagined kissing me, only to be abruptly pulled back into reality? Has this happened to you too? Do you ever… think about me?

Because I swear to God, Beesly, your face right now is mirroring my own. And all I feel right now is awe… that damned hope… and love. Always love.

And then suddenly, I get it.

It’s a shock to my system, because it comes out of nowhere and the realization hits me like a brick to the face. I even slightly jerk backwards in a very cartoonish way, and if this wasn’t the most pivotal moment of my life, we would have had a good laugh over it.

There have been so many times when I thought you had feelings for me. I’m always so certain of it in the moment, but every time I think it over later I shake my head at myself and say it can’t be, because you are in love with someone else. When those moments all piled up, I couldn’t help it. There was this shimmer of hope, enough to keep me restless day and night, until I did something. Until I told you. And then that hope got crushed, and I knew I had been right all along; I had been seeing what I wanted to see from the beginning. I had been reading too much when there was nothing to be read.

And that truth swallowed me like the ocean. I came in here searching for you, but I was blind. There was no light in the dark water, just the deep waves that were hitting me, over and over.

I couldn’t see anything…

And now suddenly, I do.

The waves stopped pulling me down. I finally reach the surface. I take a breath.

I see.

I never misinterpreted anything, did I?

The way you leaned on me and fell asleep on my shoulder. The way you watched me during the basketball game. The way you left the crowd and sneaked into my room when I wasn’t looking. The way you traded a 400-dollar-iPod for my lousy teapot. The way you sighed next to me that windy night on the roof, your eyes closing in content, your nose tinted red from the cold. The way you kissed me at the Dundies, how you stopped me outside of Chilli’s, the question you never asked. When I told you I was long over my crush on you, your smile did fall as quickly as you turned around and walked out the door. And when we were on the deck of that cruise ship and I opened my mouth and nothing came out, you stood there waiting. Expectantly.

You were looking at me then the way I know I look at you when I want so badly to just tell you.

The way I looked at you in the parking lot, ten minutes ago.

The way you’re looking at me right now.

Oh my God, Beesly. You lied.

Oh my God.

The next wave that engulfs me isn’t one of lies and despair. It’s bright as the early morning sunrays, it’s blissful like a child’s first laugh and it’s pure as fresh-fallen powder on Christmas Day. It’s bliss. Flawless bliss that washes over me and all life returns to my body, all color returns to my vision, and for the first time since I met you, I let go.

I smile. Truly smile. It’s a smile that starts inside me before it even reaches my lips, as if the sun somehow topples down from the sky and makes a home right here in my heart. I must look like a duffus, I know – I know – but I’m not used to happiness and its intensity shocks me.

What shocks me even more is that your eyes are gleaming, and your mouth is twitching, and then suddenly you’re hesitantly smiling back at me.

You steal my breath away, right as I’ve finally found it.

But it’s okay. Steal it, steal them all away. They were only ever yours anyway.

The entire world has shifted, the earth has been knocked off its axis, and yet somehow my hand is still tucked below your chin, lifting your eyes to mine. Once I realize it, I can’t help it; I move my hand to cup your cheek. I feel your warmth, your softness, against my palm, and it shoots a shiver up my arm, which travels down my spine, all throughout my body.

You let your smile widen into a brilliant grin, and I won’t ever be able to think of beauty again without seeing your face, right in this moment. My thumb grazes the corner of your mouth, and you react to it the same way I do. You lean in and so do I, and our foreheads rest back together as if we’re through having the most exhausting conversation and the gravity that pulls us towards each other is too strong to resist. We fall together effortlessly, as if it’s only natural that we would meet each other in the middle.

You chuckle softly against my thumb. Your laughter tastes like sunshine.

“Oh my God,” I whisper against you, and your eyelids drift closed in content. I can count your eyelashes, you’re so close. Your hands are at the base of my skull, and you’re playing with the messy hair at the nape of my neck.

It’s the closest I’ve ever been to heaven.

And I get it now.

The last barrier is down. You talked to me the second you kissed me back, I was just too afraid to listen.

You told me how you feel.

Pam, I... God, I just…

Is it lame that I am so extremely giddy right now?

After four years of self-restraint, this release is compelling. Of course it won’t last forever. Reality slips back slowly. But it’s okay, see, because even though your smile is fading your cheeks are warm. And even though you reach to remove my hand from your face, you give my palm a small peck before releasing it, and I all but jolt at the electricity that shoots through me, from your lips straight to my core.

It is a crime that you pull back, further away from me than you’ve been since I first walked up to you. But then you lean back on my desk the way you always do, and I get a second for it to sink in that this is actually you. That this is actually happening.

You should know this by now - I’m not a complainer.

So I put my hands in my pockets and I stay in place where you left me, just a foot away from you. You lean back and grasp the desk with both of your hands, as if to study yourself. I struggle to hold back a smile at that because that’s exactly how I feel. We’re in sync, just like we’ve always been.

I should probably say something, and as I struggle with words I realize there’s nothing compelling that I need to say anymore. It makes me feel so weightless. Growing up my favorite film has been Peter Pan, and for whatever reason the image of me flying over Big Ben suddenly fills my mind, and it takes all I have not to crack up at how ridiculous and random it is. I might tell you this someday, but not right now.

Also distracting – you’ve pulled your lower lip between your teeth and now you’re biting down on it.

“I need some time.” You say after a moment, ever so softly. “To think.”

I nod. “Okay.”

That was all I wanted anyway. For you to consider the possibility of us.

And - I just can’t believe it - you are actually going to. I see it in your face; you’re considering it already.

“Okay.” I murmur again in barely a breath, but you hear my smile anyway.

You look up.

“Sorry.” I duck my head down, because I don’t mean to be acting like a giddy moron, but you can’t blame me for losing it a bit right now okay?

“I haven’t decided anything,” you warn, and I know you’re saying this seriously but –come on- there’s a grin growing in your face again and you sound amused by my reactions and it’s making me woozy.

“Oh, yeah,” I agree nodding. “I know.”

You study me for a second.

“Are you…” your voice dies.

“What?”

“Forget it.”

“No, what?”                    

You’re hesitant, but you steal a glance up at me anyway. “How long have you felt like this?”

I swallow slowly, my jaw clenching. I know this isn’t the time to hold back, but I’ve been shielding this away from you for years. This feels surreal, and it’s scary. I answer you though.

“Honestly… since day one.”

I watch you breathlessly as it sinks in. A faint crease forms between your eyebrows.

“You said it was just a crush.”

What a coward I’ve been. “It was never just a crush, Pam.”

You hear the tension in my voice as clearly as I do. Your head lifts and our gazes lock. Your irises seem liquid, their emerald depths enslaving me.

“How long have you known?” It’s my turn to ask.

You widen your eyes slightly, but you mask it right away. I can read you now, you’re going to deny it. I get it – trust me, I do. This isn’t easy. But we’re past all the evasiveness, aren’t we? What’s the point of it anymore? Who are we fooling?

You seem to be thinking the same thing, because your gaze softens before it slides back to the ground. “Since day one.” You admit in a little voice.

I take a sharp breath. Jesus.

My mind goes into a spiral. Day one… When I walked up to reception and almost dropped my bag when my eyes met yours. When you first joked with me and for the first time in my life, I blanked out on a reply. When we went out to Cugino’s and I totally thought we were out on our first date… Holy crap, you knew.

A small noise from your lips brings me back to the dark office, and I notice you’re staring. “What?”

“You’re blushing.”

Shit.

You cover your mouth and your eyes are sparkling, and I’m dying inside.

“Shut up.”

“It’s cute.”

Shut up.

But you’re teasing me. It’s the closest to ‘us’ than we’ve been since the parking lot.

So I grin. And I see my reflection on your face as you grin back.

There’s a moment of prolonged silence, the only sound being the steady ticking of the clock. Its rhythm has gone back to normal now, the seconds flowing between us smoothly.

We can’t stay in the dark office forever. The possibilities of what follows are endless, and even though hope has permanently made a home at my heart by now, I can’t help but feel unease. Everything will feel different when we’re alone, after we’ve slept on it. How will you feel when you wake up tomorrow, sunlight slipping through your window?

“Will it be weird… on Monday?”

It’s not me that voices my concern - it comes from you. I should know enough by now to not be taken aback every time you read my mind. But it’s really something, isn’t it?

“Probably.” I half-joke.

You nod.

“I promise to be on my best behavior.” I offer.

“Oh?”

“Totally.”

Your eyes narrow ever so slightly. “And what does that entail, exactly?”

“Oh, you know.” I shrug, aiming for nonchalant. But then my gaze falls on your lips.

“Wow.” You flush bright red and look away, a sudden smile on your face. Your voice shoots up an octave. “Wow.

“Scout's honor,” I vow, three fingers in the air and everything.

“You’re a dork.”

And don’t I know it.

“I’d better go.” You add, however. You steal a glance at me, head still turned towards the door.

“Yeah, I should probably go too.” I can’t even remember where I’ve left my stuff. I think my bag is sitting somewhere in the warehouse. Thankfully I haven’t had much to drink, so I should be safe to drive – even though I feel pretty intoxicated. It’s of a... different kind.

“Jim?” you pull me from my thoughts.

“Yeah?”

“I kind of… don’t have a ride home.”

“Oh!” Right. “Of course, I’ll drop you.”

“And my stuff is downstairs…”

“Yeah, mine too. Let’s go.” I nod towards the door, hands still in my pockets.

And before you join me out, you fly to reception to pull a bag of French-onion chips from your drawer. You open it much later, when we stop at a red light, and offer some to me with your cheeks tinted pink. It doesn’t really register that we’ve left that dark room together until we’re a block away from your place.

You never touch me again tonight. I didn’t expect you to. The last sight of you I get is the small wave you give me from your porch as you unlock your front door. Your purple dress is shimmering in the dark, your long curls are falling freely on your shoulders.

It's only when I'm sitting alone in my driveway and my car smells of you that I realize I'm no longer shaking.

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