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She leaves the interview on shaky legs and makes her way back to her desk. It’s after five already, and Oscar and Kevin are shuffling out.
Where did he go?
There’s a roaring in her ears now, a mix of euphoria and confusion that has her struggling to concentrate. Her computer is already off and the phone switched to voicemail. There’s certainly no reason to stick around, unless he’s coming back.
Is he coming back? Why did he come back today at all? Did he bring Karen? Did he get the job?
She’s pulling out her purse when she notices the scrap of legal paper poking out of the outer pocket. She knows his handwriting well enough to tell that he scrawled this note out in a hurry.
I’m on the run from the cameras. Call my cell when you get to your car.
P.S. Destroy this note.
She tucks it into her coat pocket instead.
He picks up on the first ring. “Hey, sorry to go all double-oh-seven on you, but I really didn’t want the whole camera crew tagging along tonight.”
The cameras usually don’t phase him that much. “Oh my God, did you do something horrible in New York?” she asks, and regrets it instantly. It hadn’t come out nearly as lighthearted as she’d meant it. Stupid. She hears his hesitation.
“Um. Well, I guess that depends on your point of view.”
“Jim – “
“No, I mean, I –“ his voice catches a little, and he starts over. “We should do this face-to-face. But, the, ah, short version is, I’m not moving to New York. And I broke up with Karen.”
Pam feels her pulse in her ears again. “Oh. I’m, um – sorry?” she squeaks. Jesus. As many times as I’ve imagined this moment, you’d think I’d be better rehearsed.
He just laughs, and it sounds like he really means it. “How about seafood? I’ll pick you up at seven.”
She’s tried on every remotely dressy outfit she owns at least twice, and still the mirror isn’t offering her any reassurance. It takes several minutes of deep breathing and one stern mental talking-to before she’s ready to accept her wardrobe for what it is and start the whole process again with her hair. She’s decidedly ambivalent about the result, but her stomach has started fluttering and she’s finding it difficult to sit still. Six-thirty. A half-hour to go. Oh God.
She’s flitting around, giddy and haphazard, cleaning up the place (just in case) when she catches a glimpse of herself in the bathroom mirror and feels a phrase percolate up from her subconscious. Hope is the thing with feathers. She’s been on a poetry kick, lately, ever since Angie in her drawing class told her about how she was helping a MFA student she knew illustrate a chapbook of poems. Pam doesn’t know anything about poetry, and she certainly doesn’t know any poets, but she was struck by the idea of using the written word to inspire her drawings. After all, she can only draw Jim’s hands so many times. She went to the library the next day and checked out a half-dozen books of poetry, mostly based on vague memories of high school English class: T.S. Eliot, e.e. cummings, Ezra Pound, Emily Dickinson. She feels a little more worldly reading these anthologies, but a little like a loser too, especially when she finds out that Emily Dickinson wrote almost two thousand poems in her lifetime. Which was only thirty-five years long. It’s like watching the Olympics and realizing that the gymnasts are winning gold medals at the age where you were just trying to pass World History and get your curfew extended to midnight.
Hope is the thing with feathers. She’s in way over her head and is probably missing the point of half the poems she reads, but she enjoys laying out her illustrations as they might appear next to the neat columns of letters. The poetry might be helping. Last week, her art teacher mentioned that her drawings have been more “emotive’ lately. Of course, she is trying to be honest and brave, to draw more than still lives. That might be helping too.
Jim should be here at any minute. Hope is the thing with feathers. She doesn’t know why her reflection dredged up that particular line; she hasn’t paid that poem any special attention. Actually, the bird metaphor just reminds her of Michael’s bird funeral, which just reminds her that she needs to spend less time thinking about work. At the moment, it certainly feels like something with feathers is beating madly against her ribcage, but there’s more to it than that. She feels alive, full of nervous thrumming and prickling sensations, and she looks it, too. The mirror reveals pink cheeks and shining eyes, and she suddenly feels much better about her wardrobe and hair. She almost doesn’t recognize herself, and maybe it is hope that’s doing that. Maybe the feathered thing doing loop-de-loops in her stomach is hope, and maybe those three words and two taps on the doorframe are all that it took to wake it up.
But that last epiphany seems a little pathetic, and so she leaves it out when she’s rambling too enthusiastically to Jim about poetry chapbooks and emotive artwork. It’s getting late, and they’ve already covered the hard part. He explained New York and his breakup while she listened, drinking too much water so she had something to do with her hands. When he finished, he looked at her with a tiny wrinkle between his eyes, waiting. She wanted to say something, but instead she just sat there grinning at him like a fool, her eyes prickling, thinking, After all this, it’s the stupid yogurt lid that brings him back? She really didn’t think she could open her mouth without starting to cry, and he seemed to see this too, because he looked down at his plate for a moment, and then looked up with a barely-suppressed grin. “So, why was Michael’s office black this afternoon?”
And just like that, she has her best friend back.
She thinks she might be talking too much. She hasn’t talked about her art classes much with anyone, and she hasn’t even told her mom about the poetry thing, but he doesn’t seem bored. He teases her in the car about identifying with a recluse like Emily Dickinson, but it’s not cruel, it’s just Jim. They sort of stop giggling when he pulls up in front of her place, and she blurts, “Want to come in?”
His eyebrows shoot up, and she covers, “No, I mean – just for a tour! I didn’t mean…” But he’s laughing. “Of course I want to see your fancy new apartment, Beesly.”
“OK, well, it’s definitely not fancy, and it’s not even new anymore, so…”
He pauses in the midst of opening his car door. “Whoa, whoa, whoa. Pam. Do you know nothing about real estate? You have to talk the place up. Get me excited here.”
Wouldn’t I love to. Oh God. What am I doing? First I just up and invite him in, and now I’m finding double entendres like a thirteen year-old. “Oh, I’m sorry. And you’re the real estate expert since when?”
He cocks his head. “Well, I am in sales, so…”
“Whatever, Halpert. Are you coming or not?”
Her stomach is fluttering again, and she fumbles with her keys, well aware of him standing close behind her at the darkened doorstep. The street is quiet, and she can hear the neighbors sprinklers come on with a sibilant hiss. She gets the door open and fumbles for the light switch , thinking that maybe if she can see his face she’ll know where to take this next.
He seems to be taking her offer of a tour as nothing more and nothing less. “Wow, Pam. You totally win.”
“This place is great! It puts mine to shame. I mean, wow. That’s it. I’m hiring you as my interior decorator immediately. I expect fabric samples on my desk on Monday.”
She looks around, giddy from his enthusiasm. She is pretty proud of the place. It hadn’t looked this good at first, but she’d gotten approval from the landlord to paint in light, cheery colors, and gradually it had all come together. “Well, I hope you’re a patient client, because it took me, like, ten months to finish. And then I kept finding cool furniture at thrift stores and I’d have to stain it to match and everything.”
“No, I mean… it was kinda therapeutic, actually. Oh! And over here, I’ve got, well, it’s supposed to be the dining nook or whatever, but I usually eat at the counter, “ - she throws a nod to a couple of high stools by the kitchen – “so, I’ve got my whole art area set up, because the light’s good.”
He moves over to the table, brushing the pencils and paper there with his long fingers, and she shivers. Those hands. He picks up a sketchpad with a quizzical look, and she nods permission, relieved that he chose one that doesn’t contain any embarrassing drawings. He sits, and she comes up behind him.
“When you’re done picking my color scheme, I think I’ll commission some artwork for my living room,” he says.
“This stuff is amazing.”
“It’s really not.”
“It absolutely is.”
“Pam. If I’m going to commission a painting from you, that makes me your patron. And you really don’t get to argue with your patron.” He’s pressing his lips together like he always does when he’s trying to stay serious.
She giggles. She’s never been as good at keeping a straight face as he is. “And what will my patron be commissioning, then?”
He frowns and squints into the distance. “Just something to illustrate what a Renaissance Man I am. Maybe something with me on a horse in a gilt frame.”
“Funny, I would have pegged you as more of a Elvis-on-velvet kinda guy.”
“Thomas Kinkade, actually.”
“Why, Jim, how very… grandmotherly of you.”
“Why, thank you, Pam. I’m also known for my chocolate-chip cookies.”
He’s twisted in his chair, grinning up at her with his eyes alight, and she’s leaned down and pressed her mouth to his before she can really think it through. It’s tentative and a little awkward, but still, the feathery thing that’s been beating at her belly doubles its efforts. His lips are as warm as she remembers them.
She feels her heart fall as he pulls back slightly. Idiot. He just broke up with her today. I probably look like a desperate freak.
But he’s not looking at her like he thinks that at all. His eyes seem to have darkened three shades, and she realizes he’s only pulled back so that he can stand, pulling her toward him. His hands come up to her face, the pads of his thumbs brushing the skin behind her ears. For an instant, she thinks he might say something, but he just dips his head, his lips meeting hers.
She’s reeling, trying to catalogue the sensations of his body against her, his hands in her hair, his lips and oh god his tongue on her mouth and throat. Somehow her arms have wrapped around him, and she’s running her palms over the broadness of his back. She adds the softness of his shirt to her list of Things She Wants To Remember About This Moment. God. How does he manage to smell so good? She really isn’t thinking very clearly at all.
When they break the kiss this time, it’s out of mutual necessity – they both need to breathe. Jim isn’t trying to hold his grin back at all, and she thinks she might just melt at the intensity of it all. He leans his forehead against hers and mumbles, “Did I already tell you that you’re beautiful?”
She doesn’t trust herself to speak above a whisper. “I think you said something like that when you picked me up for dinner.”
“Oh.” A beat, and then: “You’re still beautiful.”
She isn’t good at accepting compliments, so she just raises up to kiss him again. He responds with urgency. His hands are roaming along the sides of her body now, and the way his tongue is moving against hers is giving her ideas. His right hand finds her hipbone. I put clean sheets on the bed. His eyelashes brush her cheek as he tilts his head to kiss her jawbone. It’s not like we just met. It wouldn’t be so scandalous. But then she thinks of lime-green lingerie and feels a pit settle in her stomach. They had a romantic evening in New York just last night. Can he even do this without thinking of her, comparing me to her? Oh God, what if they had sex this morning?
She pulls away a little too quickly. “Jim-“
He looks stricken, as if he’s afraid that she’s going to pull everything out from under him again, and she feels like a jerk. Still. “I just – don’t want to be awkward, but, um. This. Is great. But you haven’t even been single for twenty-four hours, and…”
He’s searching her face. “I’m not going to change my mind, Pam. It’s over with her.”
“No! It’s not that. I believe you. Just, maybe we should… take it slow.”
“Oh.” He looks solemn for a moment, then pulls her into a hug. “You’re probably right,” he says into her hair.
They stand like that, eyes closed, listening to each other breathe. Then she feels him grin into her curls. “So, slow like we’ve already gone too far and I need to get my sorry ass out of your apartment, or slow like you’re going to let me make out with you for another hour and then send me home all sexually frustrated?”
“Jim!” She pulls back to glare at him, but his smile is infectious. “Ok, it’s the second one. But you have to stop doing the thing with your hands!”
“Ooh, is someone having trouble playing by her own rules?” He’s already running his hands down to her waist and kissing her shoulder as he teases her.
They don’t actually make out for a solid hour, but they do end up on her couch, alternating between playful tussling and kisses that leave her shaking like a leaf. She’s finally figured out what to do with her hands and is running them over his chest, when he pulls away, exhaling, “Geez…” The look in his eyes is definitely lust, there’s no mistaking it now.
“Yeah,” she says. Her mind is too foggy to come up with anything else.
She shakes her head. “Man, I used to have make-out sessions on the couch like this when I was 15, and I don’t remember it being this, um, tense.”
He runs a hand through his hair. “Lucky you. I remember this feeling all too well.”
Then she’s giggling and Jim’s kissing her and trying to tickle her all at once. She gasps when his hand brushes her breast, and he responds, his body straining toward her and his warm hand covering her through the fabric. She knows this really should stop, just as she knows that she’s not going to be the one to stop it. Fortunately (unfortunately?), he is. “Dammit,” he murmurs, rearranging his long torso so he’s facing forward on the couch, head slumped back in defeat. She snuggles into the crook of his arm, head on his chest. She can feel his other hand casting around for a distraction. He picks up a slim volume off of the end table and flips it open one-handed.
“There’s been a death in the opposite house,” he intones. “Ok, that’s a downer.” There’s the sound of flipping pages. “Oh, this sounds promising: 'Wild nights! Wild nights!' Damn, Beesly, I thought old Emily was a recluse! Listen to this: 'Might I but moor/To-night in Thee!'"
“Just because she wasn’t a socialite doesn’t mean she didn’t have needs, you philistine.”
“Hey, I’m trying to appreciate the poetry here, if you don’t mind?”
“Fine.” She closes her eyes, counting his breaths. One. Two.
“Hey, I remember I actually liked this one in high school English. 'Hope is the thing with feathers –'“
She shoots upright. “I was just thinking of that poem earlier!”
“Yeah, I don’t know.” She’s shy, but in the interest of fancy new honesty and openness, she adds, “Maybe it was because I’m just feeling a lot more hopeful all of the sudden.”
God, that half-smile might just melt her heart. He looks down at her and pulls her closer. “Me too. Me too.”
Chapter End Notes:
Yay Emily Dickinson! http://www.online-literature.com/dickinson/.
And this is my first time writing anything like this, so any feedback would pretty much make my day.
And this is my first time writing anything like this, so any feedback would pretty much make my day.
debbiebrown is the author of 1 other stories.
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