Eleven-thirty. Diet Coke break. It had been years since those particular commercials had been popular, but Pam Beesly still remembered her mother watching Law & Order and giggling at the tv during the ad breaks. Her dad would shake his head and tease her about the logistics of it all; how there was no way a construction worker would ever take his shirt off at a job-site, or how Diet Coke was going to kill her, what with all the aspartame and all. Every time he’d be met with a resounding “Shut up Bill!” and then he’d wink at his daughter as he escaped to the garage for the rest of the night.
Back then, Pam had secretly sided with her dad. She hadn’t understood the way her mom was falling all over herself because of a commercial and honestly, she thought it was kind of weird. And dumb. Helene had just laughed at her, wagged a finger in her direction, and sing-songed you just wait, young lady, before her attention was back to Jerry Orbach and the criminal justice system of New York City.
Well. She’d never in a million years admit to her mother that she’d been right, but today, Thursday, June 10th, 1999, Pam gets it. She really truly understands the importance of a Diet Coke break.
Sure, the scenario was a little different. It’s almost three-thirty in the afternoon, she’s drinking iced tea instead of Diet Coke, and she certainly isn’t staring at some stranger working a construction site, but she is ogling her next door neighbor, currently digging up an empty cornfield.
And it’s just so dumb. Because it’s not like she’s never seen Jim Halpert before.
She has. Pam’s spent nearly every summer, countless weekends, and a handful of holidays in upstate New York on her grandparents’ farm. The Halpert dairy farm was next door so Jim had just always been around. One of her first memories is the two of them, stuffed into blue and green hand-me-down snowsuits with plastic bread bags tucked into their boots so they could make snow angels in the field between the two farms.
She’s seen him play Little League, back before his growth spurt, when his brothers teased him relentlessly about how he was too skinny, too short, and how the blue and white uniform hung like curtains on him. She’s even seen a high school basketball game or two, though she spent more time huddled on the bleachers with Kelly and Katy, giggling over how much cuter he’d gotten since the last time she’d visited; how at 6 feet and a few inches, he definitely fit the uniform better, even if he was still goofy and awkward.
Shit, she’s seen him naked. Well, she could have if she would have looked when, inspired by a midnight viewing of Now and Then during a sleepover on Homecoming weekend; Katy had planned and executed a raid on the guys in the locker room after the basketball game.
She hadn’t looked, but Katy had, and Katy seemed to have a photographic memory when it came to these things.
She spent winter break of 1998 mocking him for his Dawson Leery hair and his J Crew sweaters. And while it’s been a year since, she still hasn’t quite forgiven her parents for making her spend the first month of that summer with her other grandma in Philadelphia and missing Jim’s misguided boy band phase.
Thank god for Kelly, who called her with weekly updates. “I swear to god Pam, he and Ryan spend more time watching TRL than I do. Ryan thinks he’s Carson Daly. He’s wearing black nail polish!”
By the time Pam finally made it back to Seneca Falls, Betsy Halpert had made Jim put his hair back to normal, and he’d ditched the puka shell necklace in favor of cargo shorts and t-shirts. But Kelly has always been a great friend, and Pam still has a photo of Jim with bleached blonde tips tucked away in a jewelry box.
So yeah. She’s seen him. But she’s never seen him quite like this.
Pam tries not to stare. She really does. But this Jim is just so easy to look at it that she can’t help herself. And though she’s never really admitted it out loud to anyone, she’s always had a bit of a crush on the boy next door.
It wasn’t like it was a one-way street either. God knows Jim has seen some low points in the Pam Beesly Grows Up collection. Had he forgotten the time she dyed her hair with black cherry Kool-Aid, and how it had stained her skin for two days? Or how he’d called her Daria for two straight weeks because of her combat boots and burgundy lipstick; a look she’d adopted the second she’d started taking art classes, even though it never actually made her feel like an artist.
The whole grunge thing had never been Pam’s favorite look and when it ended, she’d happily traded her flannel button downs and velvet chokers for the simplicity of khaki skirts and Keds and she really hadn’t looked back.
It’s been a year since they’ve last seen each other. She wonders what he’d see if he looked at her now. She wouldn’t expect him to notice anything like the time and effort she spends most day to straighten her hair, but she suspects he might notice that while she’s been gone for her first year of college, she’s finally started to look her age and not perpetually fifteen years old.
Pam takes a sip of her tea and shifts slightly in her chair. She’s been at the farm for four days now, and for the last three, she’s found herself in this exact spot on the front porch every afternoon. She tries to tell herself it’s so her grandma can take a nap but she knows better.
It has little to do with Celia being able to get a nap in before Judge Judy starts and everything to do with Jim circling the cornfield, confidently sitting on top of the John Deere tractor her grandfather had never let anyone else drive.
It’s hard not stare. At this time of day the sun is directly overhead and thankfully her sunglasses shield her from openly gawking at him, but she sees the deeply tanned forearms, notices the stretch of thin cotton t-shirts across his back as he shifts the gears of the tractor while rounding the far corner of the field. He doesn’t wear a baseball hat or have sunglasses of his own, so she can see him squinting every time he looks over his shoulder to make sure his rows are evenly spaced.
“You know, it’s the funniest thing.” Celia’s voice over her shoulder makes her jump and Pam hastily flips her sketchbook open to a pencil drawing she’s been working on of the farm. She could draw that barn in her sleep, it’s just the best she can do for a cover in case she’s ever caught. Like now.
“What’s funny?” Pam watches as her grandma looks down at her sketchpad, clucks her tongue, and then gestures vaguely to the farm in front of them.
“I’ve lived here for almost forty years now, and I don’t think I’ve ever spent as much time staring at that barn as you seem to be this week.” Celia’s tone is innocent as she raises her own glass of tea to her lips and looks pointedly at her granddaughter. “Unless it’s not the barn you’re so fascinated with.”
“It’s a really pretty barn,” she insists.
“It is,” Celia agrees as her eyes drift back toward the fields. “He always was the best looking of the Halpert boys, you know,” she said casually. “You can’t see it from here, but he’s almost grown into those ears of his. Not that anyone’s looking at his ears when he’s got that a—“
Celia laughs. “Honey, I’m just saying, he’s easy on the eyes. I’d have to be blind not to notice that.” She shakes her head at the look Pam gives her. “In any case, would you mind going to get him? It’s almost too hot to be out in that field, but before he quits for the day, I need him to move the lawn furniture in the backyard for my card game tomorrow night.”
“I can move the—“ Pam stops as Celia waves a hand through the air.
“Jim can do it,” she insists. “But I’m sure he won’t mind the help if you’re so inclined.”
Pam tries not to roll her eyes as Celia actually winks at her. Still, she downs the rest of her tea and starts toward the field.
She hasn’t really walked the property since she’s gotten there. Pam hadn’t planned on spending the summer there at all, but her grandpa had died in November and then Celia had fallen and broken her arm earlier that spring. Her parents had backed off their previous demands that she spend the summer working and agreed that spending the summer helping her grandma out would be the best use of her time. This way, they could still go on with their own summer travel plans as scheduled and not feel as guilty.
Pam doesn’t care. She loves the farm and she’s happy to help where she can. Gran’s arm is almost completely healed so she’s there more for company than anything else and well, if spying on the neighbor boy is an added perk to the whole summer, then she has no complaints at all.
She reaches the closest corner of the field at the same time he does and gives him a little wave as soon as he notices her. The tractor sputters to a stop in front of her and as she raises a hand to shield her eyes from the sun as she looks up at him, Pam realizes just how much trouble she’s in.
See, from her spot on the porch it had been impossible to see the finer details of Jim Halpert: Farmer Boy. Standing three feet away from him she’s suddenly and intensely aware of certain details like how his blue t-shirt is several shades darker where it’s soaked in sweat at the neckline and over his chest. She can see the tendons in his arms jump as he fights with the sticky lever to keep the tractor from switching gears.
“Pam Beesly.” She almost doesn’t hear him because at that second, she’s noticing the beads of sweat clinging to his hair.
“Hey Jim.” It’s not much, but it’s all the words she can string together.
“I heard you were back in town.”
"Just got here a couple of days ago.” She gestures back toward the house. “Gran says it’s too hot for you to be out here, but really she wants you to move some furniture for her.”
He nods and stretches, raising both hands over his head and twisting to the left to crack his back. “She’s got her card game tomorrow night.” Pam stops herself from staring as his shirt lifts from his jeans, revealing an equally tan strip of skin; but she’s not made of stone and she swallows hard as he wipes the back of his hand across his brow and turns to study the field. “I’ve only got another row or two to go and then this field is done. Come on.” He leans down, holding a hand out to her.
Involuntarily, she steps back. “What?”
Jim laughs. “Why walk all the way back there? Hop up, and I’ll drive you back.” He leans forward again and with one hand gripping the steering wheel, takes her hand with the other and helps hoist her onto a tractor she hasn’t ridden since she was eight. He watches and waits as she leans against the metal casing over the rear wheel and grips the edges behind her.
Again, Pam’s thankful for the sunglasses she’s still wearing because she knows the position in which she’s sitting, with her arms braced behind her, pushes her breasts up and out and since he can’t see her eyes, she doesn’t miss the way his own trace the neckline of her tank top before he catches himself.
His eyes flick to up to hers and she kind of melts at that grin he gives her. She’s seen that grin a thousand times before but today it feels brand new. “Ready?” She nods and he starts the tractor back up, shifting it into drive.
She’s not prepared for the tractor to lurch forward as violently as she does, and she has to reach one hand out to grasp his arm so she doesn’t completely fall off the machine no sooner than she’s on it. To his credit, he grins sheepishly and mouths sorry at her over the engine. She smiles back but doesn’t move her hand until they’ve rounded the first corner.
It’s only a few minutes before their back at the barn and she doesn’t miss how he jumps down from the tractor first, insists on helping her down. His hands linger at her waist as she steps down, her own hands resting against his chest.
“Hey.” She stops him halfway to the house. “Thanks.”
“All of this.” She waves her hand around the property. “Gran told me she never even asked you to help this summer. That she just opened the front door one morning and you were standing there, asking her what needed to be done.”
“Yeah.” He ducks his head, but she can see he’s smiling. “After your grandpa died, I just started coming over a few times a week to see what I could help her out with. Then she fell, and I think she’d tried to hire Kenny Anderson to help with the farm stuff, but well, you know Kenny.” She made a face and he shrugged. “Dad has more than enough help on our farm and since I schedule my own hours at the bike shop, it’s easy enough to come over here and do whatever she decides needs to be done that day.”
“You’re still working at the bike shop?” She isn’t surprised. The last three summers she’d stayed here, she’d worked part-time at Katy’s dad’s ice cream shop in town. Jim had practically lived at the bike shop across the street since he’d learned to ride a bike.
“Promoted to manager six months ago.”
“Shut up, that’s awesome!” She can’t keep from grinning at him. “So you’re living the life here, huh?”
“It’s not so bad.” They’re both laughing and she kind of likes how it sounds. “You know, none of us thought you’d be coming back this year.”
“Really? Why not?”
“Oh you know, fancy new college girl and all.” She tries to hit him but he was quicker than her, dodging out of the way. “How is Penn State? Everything you wanted it to be?”
She was about to answer him when Celia meets them in the backyard and starts giving them instructions on where she wanted the tables and chairs moved to. And since he was there, would he mind filling her bird feeders for her?
Jim waits for her to head back to the kitchen with the promise of bringing him something cold to drink before he turns to Pam and points at the table they’re about to move. “We’re going to move this to that corner of the yard and she’s going to decide she doesn’t want them under the apple trees after all because what if an apple falls and hits Mrs. Vance in the head? And so we’ll move them to that spot.” He points to the left. “But she’s going to worry that the smell of cows will be too much if the wind shifts. And then you know what we’re going to do?”
Pam knows. She’s been moving tables for her grandma her entire life. “We’re going to put it back in the exact same spot we started out at.” Still, they both grab and end and start carrying the table to the cluster of trees as directed. “Hey, what did you mean earlier?”
“What did I mean when?”
“Fancy new college girl?” She raises an eyebrow at him. She knows his story. He finished a two year degree from a college two towns over and so far, he hasn’t done anything with it. According to her mom, who still talks to his mom every week to check in on Celia, Betsy and Gerald have been trying to get him to go back to school and he’s been resisting them at every turn.
She suspects his eagerness to help Gran is part of his plan to stay in town, but she knows better than to call him out on that, especially now when she’s wondering why he suddenly seems like he’s got an issue with the fact that she went away to school.
“Oh.” He looks away for a moment and then faces her again as they set the table down. “You know my mom talks to your mom. She’s mentioned to me that you barely came home at all this past year.” Cool, Helene’s lips were as loose as Betsy’s, she should have known as much.
“Yeah.” She shrugs. “There’s not exactly a lot going on in Scranton, you know?”
He scoffs as they each pick up a chair to take over to the table. “Because there’s so much more going on in this metropolis.”
She laughs and sticks her tongue out at him. “This is different,” she insists. She stops herself from pointing out that the biggest difference is that her parents aren’t here. “Plus Gran…” her voice softens as she looks back at the house. “I had to come back.”
“I get it.” The sliding glass door on the deck is opening again as he quickly shoots a look at her. “I’m glad you did.” He says it quietly and before Celia is within earshot but she’s pretty sure her bright red cheeks are a dead giveaway anyways.
If Gran notices, she doesn’t say anything. She hands them each a glass of lemonade and then stares at her new table set up with her hands planted on her hips. “You know, on second thought, I don’t think this will do at all.” She shakes her head and looks back at the two of them. “Some of those branches were weakened in the storm last week. What if one snaps and hits Phyllis in the head? I’d never hear the end of it.”
“We don’t want that,” Pam agrees. She refuses to look at Jim because she knows she’s going to start laughing if she does.
“What if we moved everything over there?” Jim points to the second spot in the yard and they both fight their smiles as Celia nods enthusiastically at the new plan.
Sure enough, no sooner than they have everything rearranged, she’s pacing in front of the furniture and fretting that if the wind shifts, they’re all going to be in trouble.
Twenty minutes later, the furniture is back in its original spots and Celia is beaming at how perfect everything is. She’s fussing over her bird feeders when Jim turns back to Pam.
“Hey, what are you doing tonight?”
She blinks. “Oh, I don’t know. Gran? Are we doing anything tonight?”
“I don’t know about you but tonight I’m watching Ally McBeal. And the thing is Pam; I’d really like to watch it without you talking through the whole thing.” Celia’s voice is unapologetic but her eyes are twinkling as she teases her granddaughter.
“You’re funny. I don’t even like Ally McBeal.”
“Everybody likes Ally McBeal! What’s not to love?”
“Anyways.” She turns to Jim and shrugs. “I guess I’m being kicked out of the house tonight. I haven’t even seen Kelly yet. I should probably call her and see what she’s doing.”
“Darryl’s having a party. I’m sure Kelly’s already planning on going. You should come.”
“Maybe.” She already knows that if there’s a party that night, that if she wants to see Kelly or any of her friends, she’s going to have to go to it. “Probably.”
“Good.” He flashes her that same grin that all of a sudden keeps doing things to her. “I’ll see you there.” He looks down at his watch and then over his shoulder at Celia and the bird feeders. “I’m going to quick help her, but then I’ve got to head over to the bike shop for a few hours still. I’ll see you tonight?” He holds her gaze until she nods at him. “I’ll see you tonight.”
She plays it as cool as she can, smiles enough to let him know she’s looking forward to it, but internally she’s already freaking out. She really needs to call Kelly so she mutters something that passes for a goodbye and heads into the house before she can make a fool of herself.
“Pam! Paaaaaamy! The Pam-Meister!” Even before she turns around, Andy Bernard is racing toward them and throwing his arms around her. “I can’t believe you’re here! Jim said you were coming but this party’s been going on forever and you weren’t here and I was beginning to think he’d made up that you were back in town.”
She tips her head to the side as she steps out of Andy’s embrace. “Why would he make that up?” she asks curiously.
“The better question is; why wouldn’t he?”
“Right.” She smiles like she would at the kids she used to babysit for. Andy is wasted and she’s too sober for his weirdness. But he is right, they should have been at the party at least two hours ago, but when she’d gotten to Kelly’s house earlier in the evening, the other girl was in the middle of a very dramatic fight over the phone with Ryan Howard about something he may or may not have said about her older sister being hotter than she was. It had taken forever to get Kelly to first, stop crying, and then get dressed because once she’d decided that yes, she needed to go to this party, she declared she needed to be the hottest one there. “No offense, Pam.”
None taken, but now everyone was well on their way to being drunk off their asses and Pam hadn’t had so much as a few sips from a warm bottle of Apple Pucker in Kelly’s bedroom.
She needs to catch up. But first, she wants to find Jim. She’s pretty confident that finding Jim will also lead her straight to the keg.
“What the fuck is that?” Before she can even move, Kelly is standing next to her and screeching into her ear. Kelly had shot-gunned a beer before they’d even gotten out of the car so she’s already a little unsteady on her feet. Pam follows the finger Kelly has pointed to the middle of the room and well, she isn’t sure what she expects to see but she really didn’t think she’d see Jim leaning against a wall in the living room with Karen Filippelli wrapped around him like goddamned twine around a hay bale.
“Asshole!” Kelly’s voice was much louder than necessary and almost everyone in the room but Jim and Karen turned to look at her. “Oh my god, I’m going to—“
“Kel.” Pam stops her before she can get too far. “It’s… its fine.”
“It’s so not fine!” Kelly’s too busy giving the other couple a double middle finger salute to look at Pam’s face. “He asked you to come tonight, Pam. Why the fuck is his tongue shoved so far down Karen’s throat? Karen? Karen.”
“Okay, calm down.” Pam is momentarily glad that she’s not drunk yet, because she knows if she was, she’d let go of Kelly’s arm and let her charge after them. “It doesn’t matter. Jim and I are just friends. He just—“ She shakes her head, giving up on words. “Let’s just go find some drinks, okay? I need a drink.”
“And a guy. Oh my god Pam, let’s both find guys tonight to hook up with. Fuck Ryan and fuck Jim!” Kelly’s voice rises again but this time, Pam is laughing too hard to try to get her to quiet down. “Except, let’s not fuck them. We’ll fuck other guys and it’ll be amazing and they’ll be sad and alone and pathetic.”
“We’ll see.” A random hook up is the last thing she wants tonight but she also knows Kelly isn’t even listening to her. She looks around the room again and this time when she sees Andy, he’s with Darryl and sure enough; they’re tapping a fresh keg.
That’s where she needs to be. Someone has turned up the crappy sound system even louder than before and she almost has to shout to be heard over some Kid Rock song to let Kelly know where she’s going.
Darryl greets her with a shout and hands her a bottle of Everclear before he does anything else. She slugs back the grain alcohol waits for everything to get a little hazy.
Before she knows it, it’s much later and she’s tired and more than a little drunk and ready to go, but instead of finding Kelly in the kitchen, she runs headfirst into Jim’s chest. Of course she does. She’s managed to avoid him most of the night.
“Easy there,” he chuckles and when he looks down at her she thinks that he’s very tall. “How’re you doing?” His voice is low in her ear and she tells herself that it does absolutely nothing to her.
“I’m great!” She puts as much emphasis as she can on the word as she shoots him a bright smile. She points around the room with her bottle, beer sloshing over the sides as she stumbles a little on her feet. “What’s not to love? It’s a party, Jim.”
“Uh-huh.” He doesn’t look convinced. “I didn’t see you come in. Wasn’t sure if you were coming or not.”
“Weird, I’ve been here.” She looks over his shoulder because she doesn’t want to look directly at him, but then she can see Karen standing in the doorway and she looks a little blurry, but Pam can tell she’s glaring at them. Or at least, at her. “Guess you were busy.”
“Guess so.” She wants to believe he sounds a little disappointed but she’s pretty sure that’s the shot or three of Popov she took with Meredith earlier talking. “It looks like everything’s winding down though. Where’s Kelly? She was your ride, right?” They both know that even if they find her, Kelly’s going to be in no shape to drive either of them anywhere.
“Kelly’s…” Pam turns in a half circle and tries to focus her eyes as they land on different people in the room. At the same time, they both see Kelly and Ryan slipping up the stairs to the second floor of the house. She turns back to Jim and smirks. “I don’t think Kelly’s leaving anytime soon.”
“Probably not.” He takes the bottle from her hand and his arm brushes up against her as he reaches around to set it on the counter behind her. “Let’s go. I’ll drive you home.”
It’s on the tip of her tongue to tell him no, that she can find her own way home, but then she realizes she wants him to take her home. She wants those few precious moments alone with him.
She wants to see the look on Karen’s face when she’s the one climbing into Jim’s truck.
“Let’s go,” she repeats, smiles widely at him, and follows him out the door.
The late night breeze is cool on her face as Jim opens the truck door and helps her down. She stumbles and the gravel crunches under their feet as she reaches for his arm to steady herself.
“That is not because I’m drunk,” she declares, giggling at the look he gives her. “It’s not. It’s my shoes.” She turns to the side and, still gripping his arm, kicks her left foot out behind her to show him the ridiculously high wedge sandals she’s wearing. “See?” She looks around and frowns. They’re parked at the end of the driveway, almost a quarter of a mile away from the house. “Why are we so far away?” Her hand slides from his arm to his hand and she tangles her fingers with his loosely.
“Because you’re drunk and I don’t want to wake Celia up getting you inside. Maybe the walk will sober you up a little.” Jim’s reasons are solid.
“You could have driven at least halfway there,” she counters, swinging their hands between them. He doesn’t try to let go of her as she pulls herself an arm’s length away, holds their hands over her head, and twirls. She knows it’s not graceful as she starts to walk backwards but she finds it hard to care when he laughs and wraps his fingers around hers a little tighter as he pulls her back toward him. “It’s so far,” she says again. “You might have to carry me.”
“Because of the shoes?” he asks dryly.
She lifts his hand again to slide it around her shoulders as she collapses into his side. “Because of the beer,” she sighs. And then they do have to stop walking because that last twirl was one too many and her head starts to spin.
She rests her forehead to his shoulder as he rubs circles into the space between her shoulder blades and lectures her on the evils of drinking cheap beer. His fingertips are cool against her skin and he’s careful they don’t slide beneath her tank top, except for the one time they do. “Do I need to carry you?” he teases lightly and she laughs again.
“No, I’m good.” She ducks her head to his chest, inhales one more time, and lets the scent of fabric softener and cologne steady her more than the fresh air or the arm around her waist does.
She vaguely remembers earlier in the evening when she told Kelly it was fine that Jim was kissing Karen.
She clearly knows now that that was bullshit.
They start walking again and she tries not to care that his arm is still around her.
“Why did you drink so much?” His tone isn’t accusatory, it’s just curious.
She shrugs. “I don’t know. Why not? It’s not like I drank more than anyone else there.”
“Well no, that’s impossible when Darryl’s the one throwing a party.” He’s not wrong.
“How much did you drink?” she challenges, lifting her head from his shoulder to look at him.
He stares at her long enough that she licks her lips expectantly, but then he laughs again and just shakes his head at her. She swears she hears him mutter “Not enough,” under his breath but then he’s saying something about how he’s not drunk because he has to work early in the morning and farm equipment is not friendly to hangovers and then she’s laughing and she forgets to ask him what he means by not enough.
They talk quietly as they walk, mostly about the party because it’s fun to wonder how Ryan talked Kelly into forgiving him and if he’ll still ditch her to go play video games with Andy. She notes that Angela, the minister’s daughter was there, but that she left pretty early during the night. He comments that his friend Dwight also left around the same time. They stop and look at each other, matching horrified expressions on each of their faces and this time when they laugh, it’s anything but quiet.
They stop halfway up the drive so she can take her shoes off. She doesn’t feel the sting of gravel cutting into her bare feet now but she knows she’ll hate herself for this tomorrow.
Another thing she might hate herself for tomorrow? The question she can’t stop herself from asking Jim right now.
“What’s the deal with you and Karen?”
She feels the muscles in his arm clench. “Karen?” His voice is too casual. “There’s no deal there.”
“Right.” She draws the word out over several syllables. “There must be some deal, going by that kiss tonight.” Sometimes she wishes she was a quiet drunk.
She can’t see it obviously, but she knows he’s blushing. “You saw that?”
She laughs. “Everyone saw that,” she clarifies. He doesn’t say anything else. “So…” she prods. Now that she knows it makes him uncomfortable she can’t just drop it.
“It’s really nothing,” he swears. “I know I don’t need to tell you this, but sometimes drunk people make out in public places. It’s shocking, I know.”
“I thought you weren’t drunk.”
He shrugs. “She was.”
“Hey wait.” She swings around to look at him again. “Why did you say it like that? That you don’t need to tell me that.”
He grins at her as they reach the front porch. “I know you haven’t forgotten last summer’s Fourth of July bonfire. Or as I like to remember it, the night you and Danny tipped a canoe over in the lake and you came up topless.”
“Oh my God!” She claps her hand over her mouth. “I completely forgot about that.” She remembers it now and for a second, wonders what Danny’s up to this summer. “Why do you remember that?”
“Do people really think Karen and I are a thing?” He doesn’t answer her question but she lets it slide and shrugs her shoulders.
“I don’t know. So you’re not sleeping with her?”
“I am not.”
Good, she thinks. She prays she doesn’t say it out loud.
They sit on the swing and she draws her legs up next to her and lets him do the swinging. Jim’s arm stretches out along the back of the bench, the tips of his fingers barely brushing her elbow where her head is propped on one hand. Her knees bump one of his legs as she turns toward him.
“But you have slept with Katy?”
He snickers and doesn’t even try to deny it. “Hasn’t everyone?” Again, he’s not wrong.
“I haven’t,” she teases. She tilts her head one way and then the other. “I kissed her once though. That wasn’t terrible.”
“I’m sorry, you what?” The swing stops moving as he plants both feet and turns fully to face her.
“Shh,” she scolds him. “Gran is asleep right above us.” She points to the second story of the house to emphasize her point.
“I will not ‘shh’.” He holds her gaze to see if she blinks first, but even in her current state of tipsiness, she stares back confidently. “You didn’t kiss her.”
“Oh come on.” She nudges her knee into his thigh. “Last year. You were at that party, weren’t you?”
“Is this the face of someone who was at that party?”
She laughs again. “I could have sworn you were. It was at Karen’s house actually. We were playing spin the bottle.” She lifts her hands as if to say what can you do? “The rules of spin the bottle are unflinchingly rigid, Jim. You have to kiss whoever the bottle lands on.”
“How did I miss this party?” He shakes his head.
“You were probably hanging out in Mark’s basement, getting high and listening to Dave Matthews Band,” she teases. He can’t protest because he knows she’s right so he smirks and leans back, waiting for her to continue with her story. “But anyways, ask Gabe about it if you don’t believe me. He was so mad that it landed on Katy and not him that he threw the bottle across the yard and hit Dwight’s Trans Am.”
“Shit. That sounds too right for you to be making this up.”
“I’m telling you, it happened.” She makes a face as they start swinging again. “I can’t believe you slept with her.”
“Hey, give me a break. There’s not a lot to do here in the winter.” He looks at her and then looks away. “”All the pretty and smart girls go back to college, remember?”
“Katy’s pretty.” She doesn’t say anything about her being smart.
“She’s okay.” Katy’s more than okay and they both know it. “I think that’s enough about me though. What about you?”
“What about me?” She flutters her eyelashes at him and starts to claim she’s a perfect angel when he fires his shot.
“Oh.” She leans back and shrugs sheepishly. “Yeah, that happened.”
“Roy Anderson,” he repeats. “Why did that happen?”
“Honestly?” He nods. “I don’t know, it was like, last summer was ending and I realized I didn’t want to leave for Penn State still a virgin and Roy’s never made it a secret that he liked me…” her voice trails off as she remembers that night. The end of the summer party at Andy’s parents’ lake house.
“Yeah, but Roy?” He gives her a pointed look and she gets it. Roy’s the guy you go to if you need someone to go jet skiing with, or to pull your car out of the mud when you get stuck two-tracking in the middle of the woods. He’s the one crushing empty beer cans against his head and asking people to punch him in the stomach as hard as they can.
He’s a fun guy to have at parties, but he’s not the guy you lose your virginity to. At least, not unless you’ve already been drinking jungle juice all night long anyways and your brain starts playing tricks on you by reasoning that hey, at least it’s not Gabe or Toby and he is kind of cute of in a jock kind of way and you really could do worse.
“It’s your fault,” she says before she can stop herself. He shoots her a look that tells her he has no idea what she’s talking about and she figures she’s in this deep; she may as well run with her train of thought. “You weren’t there.”
The swing shakes back and forth as he’s caught in between laughing and coughing at her statement. “What does that mean?” he finally sputters and she just laughs.
“Come on, Jim,” she says quietly, leaning against his shoulder and tipping her face to stare at the sky. “Unless you wouldn’t have.”
It’s quiet for a long time before Jim lets out a long, slow breath and shifts against her without moving away. “You’re killing me,” he mutters with an exasperated chuckle.
“Yeah?” She grins up at him. “Well, that’ll teach you to skip out on parties this summer, won’t it?”
“We were both at the party tonight,” he points out.
“I know.” She sighs. “But you were a little busy, weren’t you?” She raises an eyebrow to show she’s only teasing and laughs as he tries to stammer out a retort. “Guess there’s always next time, huh?”
“Killing me,” he repeats and this time she throws her head back to laugh at him. By the time she collects herself, he’s got his hands on his knees and is pushing himself up from the swing. “I’d better go and you should get to bed before either of us gets into any trouble.”
She can’t resist. “What kind of trouble do you think we could get into?”
“We can talk about that when you’re not drunk.”
“Or we can talk about it when you are drunk.” She’s just plain sassy now but with the way he’s looking at her, she doesn’t really care.
“I’d ask you if you’re okay to get yourself to bed but I’m pretty sure you’d just say no at this point to get me to come inside." Jim is already off the porch and headed toward the driveway. “”But are you okay to get into the house without waking Celia up?”
“I’m good,” she promises. “Thanks for bringing me home.”
“Anytime. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Hey Jim.” When he turns around again, she’s leaning on her elbows over the porch railing and smirking at him. “No kiss goodnight then?”
He shakes his head but then he’s walking back toward her, one finger pointed as sternly as he can while trying not to laugh. “Go to bed, Beesly.” Jim’s lips are dry and warm against her forehead as he smiles into her skin.
She calls goodnight after him but stands there and watches until his truck pulls away. His headlights flash twice in her direction and she sits there for a few minutes more before quietly heading inside and going to bed.She doesn't know what exactly just happened but she's pretty sure her summer's about to be a hell of a lot more interesting.