Even, he goes. Odd, he stays.
This is the decision Jim Halpert makes at half past seven and just after getting a phone call from Mark, telling him the reception was just getting started and that she was there.
But she was there with someone else.
He tunes the strings and debates what to play; the popular, recent tunes got him more tips but they were typically not challenging to play, and if he is really going through with this studio musician audition at Sabre Records tomorrow he should probably be testing himself.
He goes for ‘popular & recent’ first and starts strumming "Thinking Out Loud" by Ed Sheeran, speeding it up a touch and putting his spin on the simple chords. An elderly couple strolls by and the man stops, tugging his partner’s hand so she faces him and they start to slow dance. Jim smiles at the couple, but feels it fade a little when he sees a lone suitcase next to them. The couple stops dancing and gives each other a hug, and she grabs the suitcase handle and walks away. It’s a small bag, Jim notices, she will surely be back in a couple days. The elderly man watches her until she starts down some steps, and he turns to Jim and throws two dollars into his guitar case just as Jim strums the last cord.
“Thank you sir,” Jim said. The man smiles, though there's a slight sadness in his eyes and gives Jim a nod before walking away.
Jim then starts to pluck away at "Never Going Back Again." A sad, complicated song that was short and sounded happy, especially without the sparse lyrics. Just a couple quarters on that one.
Another tuning and he starts playing “Hallelujah”, which was a good song for being versatile and easy to put his own spin on while still being true to the core of the song. Jim isn’t much of a singer and doesn’t often try, lest he ruin the song for people, but the lyrics are in his head.
She tied you to her kitchen chair
She took your thrones she cut your hair
And every breath you drew was hallelujah.
“You're such an emo bastard sometimes, Halpert,” Mark said to him once, and Jim chuckles to himself because maybe it’s true. It’s pretty pathetic that even the thought of her still does this to him, makes his life pause and him unable to move in one direction or the other, either towards or away from her.
The terminal is pretty clear, one would think any time Friday night would be busy, but eight p.m. is that lull when the commuters have gone home and the show-goers are in their seats.
The most movement right now is the click-clack of a woman's boots rounding the corner Jim’s busking at. He mostly sees her golden brown hair, curly and bouncing as she passes him. A plasticy thud echoes through the concourse and he sees a cell phone spinning on the ground; it had fallen out of the woman's jacket but it didn’t slow her down.
"Miss, your phone!" Jim calls after her. But the curls continue to bounce away and then disappear down a set of platform stairs. With a couple long strides, Jim retrieves the phone, screen now shattered and back panel coming loose, and returns to his guitar case, his eyes still on the platform entrance.
She knows she won’t make it the second she starts down the stairs. The train is still visible, but the wheels are creaking and when her boots reach the platform it’s pulling away. It’s going to Boston and she is not. Just keep calm , she says to herself, there's still time . She heads back up the stairs and towards the ticket counter, hardly noticing the man jogging up to her.
She turns and even in her boots she has to crane her neck up to meet the stranger’s eyes.
“This probably isn’t much use to you now, but you dropped this.”
She looks down and sees the phone in his hand, screen splintered into a thousand pieces. She prays there’s some kind of mix-up but once she dips her hand into her empty pocket it’s confirmed that it is indeed her phone. She takes the now-useless rectangle and quickly glances back to his face. “Thanks,” she murmurs, turning away and walking briskly to the counter.
“Next train to Boston is at 6am,” a very disinterested woman tells her through the glass.
“Six? That's too late,” she says more to herself than the clerk. “Can you tell if anything is leaving sooner from Penn?”
“2:40am, gets in at 8”
“And they'll accept this ticket?” She held the slightly crumpled paper to the glass.
“There may be a fee adjustment but they should.”
Eight am, it is not as soon as she’d like and she has to figure out how to get from the station to home but it could work. She thanks the clerk and walks away with eyes on her feet and her mind somewhere else entirely.
In her periphery she sees the man who returned her phone crouching over an open guitar case and, collecting the coins and bills from it. He looks up and smiles a lopsided smile when her eyes meet his. “Hey,” he says. She smiles back politely and keeps walking until she hears his voice again, “You okay? I mean, with the busted phone and all?”
“Oh, um, yeah, I think … I think so,” she says, turning back toward him.
He flips close the latches of his guitar case, stands and walks to her, and she’s back to having to crane her neck a bit. “You need to call anyone or…”
“No, no,” she glances to the glass doors, “but, um, do you know how to get to Penn Station?”
He slips the strap of his guitar case over his head, “Probably best to take a cab actually.”
“What about walking?” she says quietly.
He raises his thick brows, “You wanna walk there?” She chews her lip and lowers her eyes again. “Tell you want,” he starts and she lifts her head, “I’m going that direction, I’ll walk with you.”
“Oh,” she nearly accepts before she remembers where she is and who this man is, which is a stranger she doesn’t know anything about. “That’s, um, that's very kind, but…”
“But I’m a random guy busking in Grand Central, no, I get it.” He pulls out his phone and starts tapping it. “Here, I can at least get you directions.”
She takes a step towards him to peer at his screen, her right hand unconsciously going to her left and twisting around her ring finger.
“Okay, so, you know, it’s a grid so any of these routes will get you there, but maybe 5th avenue and then when you hit the Empire State…”
A window pops up on his phone reading “Jim, get your ass down here, Hudson and Jane St in the Village” He quickly swipes the message away and apologies but then another message pops up. “This guy Karen’s with is a total tool, you could take him.”
“Sorry,” he says, swiping the second message away, “Um.”
She looks up to his embarrassed face, his eyes are kind and green and she can’t help but think he’s pretty cute when he blushes. “You know what, does your walking offer still stand?”
He stands up straight and slips the phone in his pocket. “It does, actually.”
She smiles and starts walking, “Okay.”
“I’m Jim, by the way, like the text said,” he says, offering his right hand as they walk to the terminal entrance.
She puts her hand in his, “Rachel.”