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.
She ceremoniously plops the neatly wrapped box into his lap just as House goes to commercial break.
“I got you something.”
“Is it important? Because I really think House is actually stumped this time and I can’t miss that.”
“Just open it, jerk,” Karen sits on the arm of the sofa and nudges him gently with her knee. Jim looks up at her with a curious smile and carefully tears open the light blue paper. When he lifts the lid of the box, he discovers a black leather briefcase that smells expensive and new.
“Wow…” he’s taken aback and not quite sure how to react. Karen begins to rub his shoulders.
“For your interview! Can’t go in there with that old thing,” she jerks her head toward the coffee table that’s become the evening resting place of his messenger bag.
He forces a laugh but then frowns slightly.
“Are you telling me it’s a homeless person’s bag?” He tries to sound light despite the heaviness he feels in his throat, his chest, his hands as they lift the briefcase from the box to examine it more closely.
“Quite frankly, yes. You’re a salesman, Halpert, not some hippie artist from California,” she says as she wraps her small arms around him from behind. And he tries to laugh, but the word “artist” hurts a bit and the briefcase is getting increasingly heavier.
It’s a great gift. It’s sleek and sharp and there’s not a single flaw as he rubs his palm across the surface. And yet…
“Plus,” she interrupts, and he thinks that it might be because she knows where he’s going with this. “You can’t get initials inscribed on a messenger bag, can you?” She lifts the top of the briefcase toward him, and sure enough there’s a gold plate near the handle with “J.M.H.” etched in ornate script.
“See? Fancy new briefcase to match your fancy new haircut,” she says, rustling the freshly cut hair that’s still a bit damp and despite its purpose of making him look more put-together, a few pieces loyally stick out around his ears.
It’s generous and thoughtful, which makes him feel like a jerk when all he can think about is that damn bag. That bag that now looks cast aside as is the case with the other parts of his other life.
Other. It strikes him that that’s the word he always mentally used when referring to life before the transfer. The other Jim, the other girl, the other time when New York was just a place for field trips and special occasions.
“So what do you think?” He returns to the present and sees her anxiously waiting for his approval.
“It’s great. Really, this was—you didn’t have to do this.” She really didn’t.
She kisses him quickly and pats his back. “You’re welcome. And now that my good girlfriend deed of the week is completed, I’m going home. I’ll see you tomorrow,” she gathers up her coat and keys and he doesn’t make an effort to move from his spot on the sofa, hands still clutching the briefcase.
“Ten bucks says he figures it out,” she smiles and nods towards the TV that’s just returned to the program, House’s troubled face filling the screen.
The door clicks closed and it’s just him with the briefcase that now weighs a ton. He sets it next to his messenger bag and stares at both of them with his chin resting against the palm of his hand. Next thing he knows, the closing credits are playing and he has no idea what happened during the last ten minutes of the show.
The day before the interview comes and he goes to the coffee table, arm poised and ready to sling the bag over his shoulder, just as he’d been doing the last five years. But the gold plate is shining right in his eyes, waiting and reminding him what things are like now. He reaches for the handle of the briefcase when a memory of a few years back hits him so strongly he nearly falls over:
“Hey…umm, I know this is your first day and everything, but I thought maybe if you didn’t have any lunch plans, you’d like to eat with me. My treat,” he smiles and is almost positive she can see his heart thumping wildly in his chest.
But she just grins, lighting up her eyes and she nods. “That would be great! Thank you!”
“Well, I’m ready when you are,” he said, slinging the brown bag over his shoulder, the strap getting tangled around his arm since he’s seemed to have lost all coordination since she said yes.
She shuts off her computer and grabs her purse and looks at his bag. He can tell she’s trying to suppress a laugh.
“Something funny?” he teases.
“No, I just…that’s a really cool bag.”
“Okay, no need for sarcasm. You keep that up and you’re buying your own lunch,” he feigns anger, but winks at her to assure that it’s just teasing and he loves that they already can banter like this.
“No! I’m serious, it…it suits you,” she says with such sincerity that it’s a little overwhelming and he has to clear his throat before speaking.
“I’m glad you said that because Jim Halpert is a package deal. You want him, you’ve got to take the bag too. No exchanges.”
This gets a laugh from her and a blush that tints her face and even her neck.
“Alright. But if only you tell me where you got it, I’ve been looking for a new purse.”
He pretends to storm away from her when he hears her giggling behind him and latches on to his hand.
“I’m kidding, I’m kidding! Please don’t leave me stranded,” she pleads through her laughter, her fingertips still brushing against his palm and he has to remind himself to breathe, speak, stand.
“Never,” is all he can manage to get out and takes his hand away from hers in order to hold the main door open for her.
“So where are we going?” she asks, stepping onto the elevator.
“I was thinking Cugino’s.”
“Good choice! You have excellent taste in luggage as well as restaurants,” she grins at him and hit the button to take them to the main lobby.
He chuckles. “Yeah, I guess I do.” He watches her push stray curls behind her ear as they step outside and he starts to think that he has good taste in other things too.
Jim smiles fondly and doesn’t think twice before grabbing the familiar brown strap and placing it on the invisible groove it’s made in his shoulder from so much use.
He doesn’t look back at the briefcase as he closes the apartment door behind him.