Every day, Jim arrived at the office no earlier than 8:30. He clocked exactly eight hours. In at 8:30. Half-hour lunch. Out at 5:00.
At 8:29, Pam waited at her desk, her eyes trained on the door.
As soon as he walked into the office, rehearsed words tumbled out of her mouth, though she tried to maintain an air of nonchalance. “Hey, Jim. Thanks for the chips. You rushed out before I could say anything yesterday.”
“Yeah,” he said. “Sorry about that.”
She anticipated more. A quip. A creative, but obviously fake excuse designed to make her laugh. Even a faint smile. But he offered her nothing, except a lopsided frown as he stood beside her desk, adjusting the strap of his bag.
“Why don’t you put that down?” she suggested, assuming the ice-breaking duties, flashing a warm smile. “Stay a while.”
He laughed. It blustered out of him as if he’d been holding his breath.“Right, yeah. Sorry.”
“And stop apologizing. If you keep this up, people will start to think you’re Canadian.” As she watched him set his bag on the floor near his desk, she wondered if his apologies were carry-overs, if he was still apologizing for the previous day, for pushing her too far. Apologizing, as if the chips--his silent gesture--hadn’t been enough.
“Sor--” He raised his hand, stopping himself. “No. Nevermind.” Finally, a genuine, broad smile spread across his face.
She leaned forward in her chair as he closed the distance between them and propped his elbows on her desk. “So,” she said, mirroring his smile.
“So, thanks. For the chips.”
“What can I say? I’m an honorable man. I pay what I owe.”
“It’s true. And speaking of debts,” he said, his eyes playful. “I owe you something else.”
She searched her memory for some kindness in need of repayment--a gesture, a favor--but she found no shadow of an unpaid debt. He was all paid up. “I--I don’t think--”
“Let me see your hand.”
Her suspicions rose, and she hesitated. Yesterday’s horseplay bounded to the front of her mind. Her slouch deepened as she scanned the office for signs of interest--flickering glances, ears turned in their direction. She glanced at the door, checking for visitors or late arrivals. Finally, her eyes dropped to her hands. Her ring and its diamond sparkled in the glow of her desk lamp.
“Come on. Give it up, Beesly.”
She slowly offered her right hand, and it hovered for a moment, untouched in the space between them.
She tried to prepare herself for his touch, but when Jim cupped her hand, she stiffened. Her eyes started a second sweep of the room, but they drifted closed before completing the circuit. The heat of Jim’s hand bled into her skin and crept up her arm, over her neck, into her face. She opened her eyes and met Jim’s gaze, forcing herself to appear relaxed.
“Pam Beesly, I present to you--” He paused for what she could only imagine was dramatic effect. “Your future.”
She smiled, managing to suppress the giggles that threatened to bubble out of her, while she extended her fingers to flatten her hand. Jim leaned down and began his study. She could feel the warmth of his breath on her palm.
“You know, Jim,” she said.
“Hmm?” He didn’t look up.
“Palm reading doesn’t really tell you the future. It tells you--” She paused, searching her memory for the words she’d read in her guide. “It just tells you how you are now, and maybe--what you need to work on.”
“God, Beesly, can’t I set the mood? Manufacture a little drama?”
She grinned. “Sorry.”
“Stop apologizing.” The corner of his mouth twitched with a half-smile.
By the time he redirected his attention to her palm, his fingers had wrapped around hers. The thumb of his other hand had begun stroking her palm with firm but tender pressure.
She squashed the urge to close her hand around his. “From the sound of it,” she said, “it seems like I have a pretty empty future.”
“Oh! Oh, no, well, let’s see,” he said. Clearing his throat, he loosened his grip on her hand and, with his fingertip, traced a long line on her palm. “Mm-hmm,” he said. “Mm-hmm. Yep, well.”
“See, this”--he retraced the line--“is the heart line. And it indicates--quite clearly--that you have a habit of putting your emotions on the back burner to meet the needs of others. Ah, Saint Beesly.” He tsked at her. “The martyr.”
“Oh, did I not tell you? I got a memo from the Pope. They’re going to canonize me soon.”
“Aren’t you a presbyterian?”
“They don’t have to know that.”
He grinned, nodding. “Sneaky, Beesly. Sneaky.”
“Well, this line means that you take a while to make a decision.”
“But it also suggests that you have a tendency to overthink decisions instead of listening to you feelings.”
“I need to know that I’m making the best choice,” she said, her voice hardening.
He ignored her self-defense, continuing the reading. “And the life line--it looks like you’re going to have a happy life with someone who loves you. Respects you. Makes you laugh. Who treas--”
Jim’s voice broke, and her defenses fell. She tried to disguise her wince, to ignore the lurch in her stomach. Refusing to look at his face, she said nothing and felt a wash of relief when he continued.
“Treasures every day with you. Although, this crosshatch here means some of the details might surprise you.”
When she spoke, her voice was quieter than she intended. “I thought I told you--palm reading doesn’t tell you the future.”
He shrugged, meeting her eyes. “It might not tell you what will be,” he said, clasping her hand between both of his. The pads of his fingers settled on the thin skin of her wrist. “But it does tell you what could be.” He released her hand, but still held her gaze. “You just have to want it, Pam.”
She stared at him as he left her desk, her ears and cheeks burning with heat. Her hand still tingling where he’d touched her.