He blinked. “Yeah. Yes.”
David smiled. “I think I lost you for a moment. Do you need water? Or something?”
He blinked again. “No. Thank you, though.”
“Okay, I’ll start over. Where do you see yourself in—”
“Mr. Wallace, I – can’t. For lack of a better word.”
The CFO crinkled his forehead. “Jim, you shouldn’t be nervous. You’re doing a great job. This is going very well.”
Jim put the yogurt lid in his pocket. “I know, I think so too. So, I’m gonna go.” He shook his head. “I’m sorry, I have to remove myself from consideration. I – this just isn’t me. And I need to… get home. Sorry for wasting your time.”
He stood, so did David and they shook hands.
“Jim, this is surprising and a very unorthodox strategy during an interview.” He grinned at Jim. “You’ll have to fill me in later.” Jim nodded, smiling, almost beaming as he left.
He opened the door to his new apartment and every sound he made reminded him of thunder in these bare rooms with hardwood floors. Nothing was home. In Stamford, everything felt like that – echoes, emptiness, and everything felt new. He carried this sadness – this longing – with him everywhere he went. He would drive around, trying to find his way but each time he ended up at the marina. He would go out drinking with co-workers and almost forget. Almost. The only escape from all the blurriness was Karen, and even then… It all came down to the fact that Stamford felt far away from everyone, even him.
He handed her another napkin, procured at the crepe cart. A teen tour, maybe from a Scandinavian country, stared as a petite brunette sobbed into paper napkins while a very tall man stood there awkwardly. She kept asking questions, half obscured by sniffles and hiccups.
He was trying, he really was, but there were only so many times he could say he was sorry. His thoughts were about 120 miles away.
Before he could stop the words, he found himself saying, “Karen, I have to go,” and he walked away from the fountain, up the stairs, and kept going, running towards the parking garage.
The lights twinkled from the shore and caught in her hair. He almost told her, the secret that was caught in his throat, that was giving him an ulcer. Struck by the lights, by how beautiful she was, by the cold – maybe? He wasn’t totally sure what had gone wrong, but it had, and whatever she was thinking and whatever he was thinking would be quiet a little longer.
Sitting in traffic, he absentmindedly changed the stations. Drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. Muttered about people not being able to drive and perhaps the inbreeding in New Jersey that created such idiots.
“Fuck!” he yelled at no one.
It was like the last week before getting your cast off. It’s coming, very quickly, but you’re still unable to itch. And he’d been waiting to itch for months. He started biting his thumbnail and silently cursing the invention of the automobile.
Before he left, his Dad had given him Van Morrison CDs, along with Chet Baker, the Beatles and Bob Dylan. “These guys know it all. They can help with the journey.” He gave Jim a hug, so did his mom, and he was on his way. Open road. Much like Jack Kerouac. Except not at all. His dad thinks he has horrible taste in music – “all of that whiny crap” he says – and he’s always trying to educate Jim. Usually he rebuffed his dad, but he was too tired and sad to do it. “Everything Happens To Me” by Chet Baker, for future reference, is a horribly depressing song. He has an aunt in Hartford, but save for those occasional family holidays, he’s never been to Connecticut. He hoped – he prayed – that he could make this work. Forget her. Just forget her. Forget. Forget. Forget. So far it wasn’t working.
When he pulled into Scranton, his stomach was tied in anxious knots.
Oh god, oh god, oh god.
The day had hit him like a rock, but it was exciting too, and freeing. It was liberating to feel what he had tried to repress for years. He was nervous, sure, but he wasn’t scared because he knew how she felt. For the first time, things had clicked into place for old Jim Halpert. As he turned onto Slough Road, he took a deep breath.
With Karen, he was not himself. He wasn’t someone else either, but – he tried not to think about it too much. “La bouche,” she said, pointing to her mouth and kissing him. He repeated her, half-embarassed. This was her game. She kissed his chin, neck, chest, hip – menton, cou, coffre, hanche. He shuddered as her bouche went lower but after a few minutes he begged her to be closer. He unbuttoned her blouse, saying “Collar, button, bra,” in very deliberate English and she laughed. Tossing her shirt to the side, he lowered himself on top of her, only allowing a split second to think of her. Her. Her smile. Other things. It was like this with Katy too, that one second where – he only allowed himself a second. No one had to know.
“Then it’s a date.” He shut the door and immediately felt like an idiot. But an idiot who triumphed. He went to his desk, where Dwight was sulking across from him, holding his Dwight bobblehead gently. He was in such a good mood, he thought about consoling Dwight about whatever was wrong, but in the end he just sat there, grinning. Like a triumphal idiot.
Her smile had been like finding an oasis. Making her laugh again! He didn’t deserve to feel this good. And she looked good in a sombrero. He felt like a kid who’d had too much candy, who hadn’t taken his Ritalin, or who’d been granted a mental health day – a reprieve from school.
When Karen asked, “Do you still have feelings for her?” all goodness went away. He pictured long, agonizing talks, and felt tired and cranky just thinking about the night that awaited him.
He chastely kissed her goodnight on her doorstep for about five minutes before she offered, “Do you want to come in?”
“Yes. But, no. Does that make sense?”
She shook her head yes. Of course it made sense. If it made sense to him, of course she’d get it. He felt scared now as they kissed, but he couldn’t pinpoint exactly why. Probably something about dreams, and them coming true.
He had rushed home from New York, he’d been in such a rush all day – to get to this moment. He felt himself relax, undo, as he took a deep breath. Smelling early summer and her amazing perfume, he came back to himself.