Jim was grateful for Karen's offer to take him home. As she put his bike in the trunk of her SUV, Jim stretched out across her back seat. He felt dizzy, and his right knee was smarting from the tumble he'd taken into the bushes during his single attempt to ride his bike. He rolled onto his stomach, crossing his arms to use them to cushion his head. He had a sneaking feeling he was going to regret waking up tomorrow.
"Hey, you still okay back there?" Karen asked, sliding into the driver's seat. She turned around and looked back at him. "Remember, you puke in my car and I will kill you."
"Your concern for my well-being is overwhelming, thanks," Jim replied.
"I mean it, Jim." she said, though a grin had broken out over her face. "I just had this car detailed."
"I'll be fine," he replied. "I don't feel sick."
"Yet." She turned back around. "It will catch up with you soon."
"Great, I look forward to it. Why aren't you like this?"
"Because I know better than to drink anything Andy offers."
Jim lifted his head up. "You were faking it??"
"I didn't fake anything. I just dumped the shots in the trash. You guys were much too busy singing love songs to each other to notice what I was doing." She adjusted her rear view mirror so she could see him. "Repeat after me: "Jagermeister is NOT your friend."
"Jagermeister is NOT my friend." Jim put his head back down on his arms, knowing her words were going to prove true.
"Now do you think you can tell me how to get you home?"
Jim mumbled directions that he hoped she could make some sense of. He closed his eyes, feeling every bump in the road. He shifted from his stomach to his side, trying to find some position that was tolerable. He reached down and grabbed his messenger bag, plopping it down on the seat to use as a pillow. Lying back down on his right side, another bump in the journey lurched him forward. He put his hand out against the front passenger seat to prevent himself from falling off the back seat. He could hear Karen snickering.
Jim sat up, his hand still on the front seat for balance. "Hey, are you doing that on purpose?"
"Hitting things. Swerving."
Karen smirked. "Just lay back down and be glad I didn't make you bike ride your sorry ass home."
"Nice," Jim replied sarcastically. He complied, however, lowering himself back down on his side, head on his bag. He felt the car come to a quick stop, and before he could brace himself, he slid down into the footwell. "Jesus, Karen!" he complained, trying to pull himself back up onto the seat.
"Sorry," she said, not sounding the least bit sincere. "Didn't see that red light."
"I think I'm going to puke back here on purpose."
"Don't you dare!"
"Then don't make me!" Jim threw himself against the back of the seat, deciding that sitting was a much safer position. His suit jacket had wrapped itself behind his back during the slide to the floor, and as he hit the leather interior, he felt something smack painfully against his tailbone. "What the hell," he muttered, reaching for the offending item.
His cell phone. It has been in his jacket pocket. He was about to tuck it into his messenger bag when he noticed his message light was flashing. He opened his phone, squinting against the bright light. Trying to focus his eyes to read the tiny letters was impossible. He leaned forward and handed his phone to Karen. "What does that say? I can't read it."
Karen reached back and grabbed his phone. At the next stop sign she looked at the screen. "It says you have a text message," she said, handing it back to him.
"I got that part," Jim said, "Who is it from?"
Karen looked at his phone again. "I'll need to open your inbox to be able to tell that."
"That's fine," Jim replied, waving his hand dismissively at her. He sat back, trying to figure out who would have sent him a message. Probably just my brother, he decided.
"Hold on," she said, driving forward, "Let me pull over here if I'm going to be your personal secretary." She put her car in park and gave her attention to Jim's phone. She hit a few keys. "It says it's from someone named Pam."
Jim's head jerked up. "Pam?" he repeated. He knew he was still drunk, but the news was like being splashed with ice cold water. "Wow," he said softly. "Pam sent me a text message."
"Yeah, that's what it says. Pam." Karen turned her head to look at him. "Are you okay?"
He looked at her, dazed. "Yeah, why?"
"You look like you just got a text message from God. Who's Pam?"
Jim put his hand through his hair, giving a slightly hollow laugh. "Heh. Nobody."
"Yeah, when I get text messages from nobodies I usually look like I've been smacked in the face, too."
Jim had the grace to look away. "No, she's not a nobody. She's - she's a friend from Scranton."
Karen hadn't taken her eyes off of him. "A friend. Right." She turned back around, about to put the car back into drive. "I don't really care, Jim. But you did ask me to tell you who the message was from. And if I ask who it is, you don't have to lie. Just tell me it's none of my business."
Jim really wasn't listening to what she had said. "What does she say?" He asked.
Karen removed her hand from the gear stick and sighed. She pressed another key and looked at his phone for a moment. "It says: Michael just proposed to Carol - exclamation mark." She shut his phone and tossed it back to him, landing on the seat near his messenger bag.
"Holy shit!" Jim replied, picking his phone up and cradling it in his hand.
"Who's that? Karen asked, finally putting the car in drive.
"Michael - um, Michael Scott."
"Your old boss?"
Jim nodded. "Carol was his real estate agent. I mean, is. Or was. I don't know if he's still in the market for real estate anymore," he trailed off. "Oh my god, I wonder what Jan's going to say."
"Why the hell would Jan care?"
"Well, they had something once. Or so says Michael." Jim ran his hand through his hair again. "Hey, what time is it?"
"It's coming up to ten."
Jim looked at his phone. He wanted nothing more than to call Pam. To hear more about Michael's news, of course, he told himself. There had to be so much more to this story. He flipped open his phone, debating about what to do. The blue backlight made the number two stand out at him. All he had to do was hold down that number for a few seconds, and it would immediately call her. She'd always been the first number on speed dial for him, right after 911. First at home, first on his cell. Even his mother only rated number three, and he called his mother a million times more than he had ever rang Pam. He just liked the weird sense of security it gave him to have her at the top of list. She was always at the top of every list Jim'd ever made. He closed his eyes briefly and when he opened them, he pressed the number two. When he saw the screen change he knew it was going through and held the phone to his ear. A few rings later, he heard her voice. It was just voicemail. He frowned and disconnected, not even bothering to leave a message.
Karen had been watching him via the rear view mirror ever since she threw his phone back to him. 'Friend' my ass, she thought. Nobody fucking pines over a missed text message like that for a friend. She was intrigued, though. From the first day he arrived in Stamford, she'd assumed Jim as just another shining example of the young white generation-X slacker male. He did his job okay, but pretty much what you saw was what you got. Maybe there was a darkness there she'd never credited him with. Now she wanted nothing more than to know more about it. And she knew for certain that it started and ended with this chick named Pam.
When she saw him frown, she couldn't resist commenting. "Not home?"
Jim looked up at her. "What?"
"Pam. Wasn't she home?"
"Ah, no. Just got her voice mail."
"I'm sure she'll get back to you when she sees you called." Karen had no idea why she was trying to make him feel better, but he looked so damn pathetic she couldn't help it.
"Yeah, probably," Jim replied noncommittally.
"So, did you work with Pam in Scranton?" she asked innocently. 'I mean, if she messaged you about Michael."
Jim nodded. "Yeah, she's the receptionist there." He slouched back to rest his head on the seat. He looked out the window, biting his lower lip.
"You worked with her for a while then?"
"A bit over three years."
Jim wasn't being forthcoming with details, which Karen found very telling. Usually she had no trouble at all getting people to talk about themselves when they were drunk. She figured she'd try a more direct approach.
"Is she pretty?"
Jim continued to look out the window. "She's beautiful," he said simply.
"Ah," Karen said knowingly. "So that's how it is."
Jim snapped his head look in Karen's direction. "So that's how what is?"
"Your reactions tonight. So," she paused briefly, "You left your girlfriend behind in Scranton."
Jim looked annoyed. "She's not my girlfriend."
"No? My mistake," Karen said, knowing full well she'd made that false assumption on purpose. "But you want her to be, that much is obvious."
Jim grunted. "That's all past history."
"Right," Karen laughed. "Listen, don't take me for an idiot, okay?"
"Why do you even care?" Jim asked.
Karen shrugged. "It's the first time since you've arrived that I've discovered something about you that makes you interesting."
"Thanks. Glad to see my personal tragedies make you finally happy to know me." Jim put his head in his left hand, his right still holding onto his phone.
Karen realized she'd reached his apartment. Pulling to the curb, she turned off the engine and got out of the car. She popped the trunk open, and grabbed his bike. "You're home," she told him as he continued to sit quietly in the back. She shut the trunk and Jim crawled out of her back seat. Karen walked behind him, wheeling his bike along and keeping an eye out to make sure Jim didn't stumble. When they reached his porch, he helped her lean the bike against the railing. She watched him fumble with his keys.
"Can I help?" She offered.
"No," he replied gruffly, finally matching the correct key with the lock. He opened the door, throwing a "Thanks" over his shoulder as he started to close the door behind him.
"Hey," Karen protested, stopping the door with her hand. "Don't be mad at me."
Jim turned around, and looked at her incredulously. "Don't be mad? You tell me I'm finally worth knowing because I've had my heart broken, and I'm supposed to say 'gee, thanks! I'm so glad my pain amuses you'?"
Karen looked down at the door's threshhold. "You're right. That was a shitty way to say it. It's not what I meant." Jim just looked at her, his resentment still evident. "Really, I'm sorry. I guess I just never pegged you as the kind of guy who wouldn't get everything he ever wanted."
"You couldn't be more wrong about that," he said softly and turned his back toward her, walking into his living room.
Karen walked in and shut the door behind her. She saw Jim throw himself down onto his couch, his head back and both arms bend over his face, blocking out the light.
She sat down in the overstuffed chair opposite him. "You want to talk about it?" she asked quietly.
"No," Jim said immediately. "I don't know," he said a few moments later.
"Can I get you something? Water or aspirin or something?" Karen couldn't explain why she was feeling so protective towards Jim. Maybe there was something in his expression she could relate to, or maybe she didn't want to have to pick up his slack tomorrow if he came in with a horrendous hangover. When Jim nodded, she walked over to his kitchen and rummaged through a few cabinets. She wandered down his single hallway until she found the bathroom. She soon returned with a large mug of water and couple of aspirin. She put them on the coffee table and sat back down in the chair. Jim finally opened his eyes, sitting forward and helping himself to the water and medication. "Thanks," he said softly. Karen just nodded.
Jim leaning forward, his forearms resting on his knees. He looked over at Karen. "I took this promotion in Stamford so I wouldn't have to watch Pam get married to her boyfriend of ten years."
Karen raised her eyebrows. "That would be a good reason," she replied. "I assume she didn't know how you felt?"
"She knew," Jim said, shaking his head. "I was just too late."
"Ouch. I'm sorry," Karen said, a bit stunned.
Jim shook his head. "It gets better. Turns out she didn't marry him."
Karen wondered why that information didn't sound like good news. "And..?"
Jim shrugged. "And nothing. She broke it off with him in June, and never bothered to contact me. The first time I even talked to her was two weeks ago, when I called the Scranton branch after hours and she picked up the phone." Karen watched as Jim's eyes softened at the memory, his lips twisting slightly into a smile. "For a conversation that wasn't meant to happen we talked for well over an hour."
"And she contacted you tonight." Karen reminded him. He nodded slightly. "That's good, right? She said.
He shrugged again. "I guess. I don't know. I don't know what the hell is going on anymore."
"You still love her, though." It was more of a statement than a question.
He looked at Karen for a long time. His silent stare started to make her feel a bit uncomfortable. Nice one, she scolded herself. Good work on pissing off the drunk lovelorn guy.
"Yeah," he finally said. "I thought I could move on and just leave it all behind me. But fuck it all if I still don't love her more than ever."
Jim stood up, looking a bit flushed after his confession. "Look, um, Karen - thanks for getting me home safe and sound. I probably should just be getting to bed. I hope I'll be able to function well enough to come in tomorrow."
Karen stood up, aware that his dismissal meant he felt he'd said too much. "You have to make it in tomorrow," she said, trying to lighten the mood. "You haven't lived until you've seen Andy the morning after."
Jim chuckled and nodded. "I will certainly do my best not to miss that."
Karen walked to the front door, Jim right behind her. As Karen open the door, Jim's phone rang. She turned to see Jim fumbling to flip the cell phone open. Their eyes met and Jim nodded.
"Hey," Jim spoke into the phone, a voice so deep and full of emotion that for a moment Karen felt a slight pain in her chest, a memory of old longings she's thought she'd forgotten years ago. She pulled the door shut behind her, and stood on the porch for a moment. She could hear Jim's laughter through the door.
Karen had seen a side of Jim tonight that made her aware of what a really good guy he was, one of those few kind souls you always want the best for. From what he had told her, it would be easy to think badly of the woman he loved, but Karen knew what it was like to be that girl. She hoped that this Pam chick had a good reason for the way things seemed to have gone between them, and that this reaching out to Jim she seemed to be doing was the start of their happy ending. For despite the tough exterior Karen flashed to the world-at-large, she still had a heart large enough to believe in love.