This was written over the past month. Like most things I write this is sort of random and a conglomeration of various other oneshots I started but could never really finish. But I like how it turned out.
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
They lived inside their heads where love was easy and the words “third” and “parties” couldn’t be found in the dictionary. Where triangles didn’t exist, just line segments with a beginning and an end, connecting two points together.
The few boats in the sound this early in the morning looked like they’d been painted onto the horizon. It was one of those brief moments, he was allowed if he got to the office early enough. Josh was the only other person who had arrived and it was still and silent.
He was thinking of her. It was something that just happened when there was nothing else to distract him. His eyes blurred until the water and the boats were just shapeless colors which reminded him of watercolors which reminded him of her. (Again, it was something that just happened.) So he shut his eyes tight, maybe trying to squeeze her from his mind.
That fantasy world, that utopia he had worked so hard to build had been shattered. He had shattered it himself, not knowing the dangers of trying to make it a reality. He learned fast that triangles are all points and angles.
She closed her eyes and tried to imagine she was somewhere else. She watched neon pulse on her eyelids and listened to the quiet of the office early in the morning. The only sounds she could hear were the hum of her computer and the faint scratching of Angela’s pencil.
She was thinking of him. It was something that just happened when she closed her eyes and let her thumb find her naked ring finger. Oddly, the sounds of the office reminded her of his hands, long and cautious. The skin on her back started to burn, remembering. She opened her eyes wide, hoping maybe the bright florescent lights would wipe those sort of memories from her mind.
Reality fought hard with that imaginary place in her mind that night. And he pulled punches he should have pulled long ago. She’d always expected him to eventually go out fighting. But third parties in the back of her mind wouldn’t let her illusion be defeated so easily (even though she’d surrendered long ago).
When he left, he hooked his fingers into a box made for ivory cardstock. A box that was half empty or maybe half full. A box that had pictures in frames and the contents of a drawer that had been filled with things that she’d touched in some way or another.
When he left, he lifted the box up from the desk like it was weighted down with rocks. The things that she’d touched slid around on the bottom as he made his way to the door. The sound ripping through the silent office. The clinking of paper clips, the rattle of plastic, the smooth sound of paper.
She didn’t look up at the sounds and he didn’t try to quiet them either. This was how it would be now and, really, how it had always been before. Like these things just didn’t exist.
When he left, she watched him lift the lid from the box. He twirled the lid in his hands before placing it on the empty chair. The gesture seemed out of place, too joyous, too much like him when he wasn’t really him anymore. Not to her. She turned away.
When he left, she saw him unlock his bottom left drawer. His body blocked her view, but he took his time with whatever was in the drawer. He stopped at one point, holding something in his hands and not moving at all. Then he shook his head as if trying to bring himself out of something and dropped it into the box. It was a piece of paper and it caught the air, taking flight. Her eyes followed it until it landed on the carpet. She remembered the day she tried to perfect the angle of his shoulders and the line of his jaw. She remembered being frustrated because there was something about him that pencil and paper just couldn’t convey. Wordlessly, he glanced up at her before picking it back up and placing it in the box.
There were no goodbyes. Just her palms laid flat on the surface of her desk as she waited for the sound of the door closing.
Roy started acting like he did when they were sixteen and had only been dating for three weeks.
She wanted to tell him that it wasn’t enough. She wanted to spout off that old cliché, “Too little, too late.” Instead, she took his compliments graciously, smiling and saying, “Thanks.” Instead, she sometimes let him eat frozen chicken or fish with her up in the break room.
She was lonely and she didn’t know how to handle that. And sometimes when her apartment was silent and she was listening to the sounds of the people above her, she thought it would be easy enough to go back to the way it had been before.
Now she spent her nights alone in her apartment, watching reality shows with the phone slipping into the cracks between the couch cushions.
She let things become easy between her and Roy. Conversation was pleasant and felt like home. She’d missed the way his cheeks pushed into his eyes as he laughed. She’d missed a lot of things about him, but acknowledging that felt like walking backwards.
Jim felt displaced in Stamford. A square being forced through a circular hole.
He was pushing himself through the days. He thought to himself that if he could just get through one week, the next would be easier. He occupied himself with sales and phone calls and other things he never really got done in Scranton.
Weeks didn’t get easier, they got harder.
He bought a road map one night on the way home from work. Stopped at a gas station, filled up his tank, and picked up a road map. His eyes went along the roads that would take him to her or vice versa. He mapped out routes and tried to figure which was the shortest, the quickest, which was the most scenic and how to avoid highways. He pressed his fingers up to the scale and fought the urge to call her and say, “You know it’s only about ten fingers to your house from here?”
The map stayed on the floor next to his bed and eventually got kicked underneath of it.
At a certain point, Ryan started playing along. Sort of.
He would once in a while go along with her jokes in the conference room. Picking them up from where she left off and egging Michael along right with her. She smirked at him once, but he wasn’t even looking at her as Michael gave an exasperated sigh.
He started bothering Dwight. Not with ingenious pranks, but with subtle things that made Dwight crazy. He found that clicking his tongue would bother Dwight so he sometimes did it for hours on end until Stanley made a comment about it and he abruptly stopped.
He started coming up to her desk for jellybeans or whatever candy she decided to put in the jar. After a while, she was tired of looking at the orange jellybeans sitting there. They were Jim’s favorite and nobody else’s and it felt too much like some sort of memorial. Sometimes she filled them with M&M’s and learned that Ryan liked the green ones.
Karen slipped off her heels as her fingers started working the buttons of his shirt. He was standing on the map. Could feel it being creased in all the wrong directions. Could feel the corners being turned up. She started to push him gently backwards and then there was a tearing sound.
It was enough for him to push her away and quickly drop to his knees to fish the map out from where it had slid under the bed.
“What the hell, Jim?”
He was folding it carefully. The tear wasn’t bad and it hadn’t torn through any of his carefully mapped routes and the black dot that represented her (read: everything) was still intact, still whole. As if he wouldn’t know his way home without that map.
Karen was staring at him, hands on her hips, standing in her skirt and bra.
“Sorry, it was just-”
Her shirt was back on. Her heels were back on.
She would equate the conversation to clouds. They passed and suddenly there was sun, warm on her face, bright in her eyes. They moved again and the sun was gone.
He would equate it to waves. They filled his lungs with the sting of saltwater if he didn’t dodge them the right way. They carried him off somewhere, into the sea until the tide brought him back in.
Her insides were shaking, heart and lungs rattling in her ribcage. Her hands were gripping at the steering wheel of her car, knuckles turning white, fingernails leaving their mark on the heels of her hands.
If she would have stopped shaking for a minute, she would have thought about it. How smiles could be so easily transmitted through telephone lines, but not as easily as heartache, disappointment, distance.
If she would have just gotten her hands and body and everything to listen to her and stop shaking for just a minute, she would have turned the key in the ignition and driven home. She would have cried in her living room while a commercial for the local Ford dealership played without sound. She would have cried in the kitchen while she stood next to the microwave, waiting for the ding that meant dinner was ready, thinking to herself as new tears came and her eyes shut tighter, about her single kitchen and being alone and that the real question was how could she cook all three meals without him? She would have cried in her bedroom as she changed into pajamas and stood in front of the mirror and heard someone laugh on the street outside. She would have cried while she fell asleep, wishing hard that she didn’t dream about him again that night.
And if she could have told her insides to be still, she would have thought about the silences, pauses, subtext, and what they all translated into.
But her pulse was quick and she felt the cold night air pressing in on her. Frost built on her windows as the sky became darker and darker. She closed her eyes, tried to conjure up his face, tried to hear his voice, tried to feel the warmth of someone next to her.
The air just kept pressing in and the cabin of the car was cold.
He turned the key in the ignition and listened to the engine turn over, but he didn’t take off the parking brake. The stereo came on and a song about love and waiting filled the car. He tilted his head back and let it hit against the headrest.
All he wanted to say was that he missed her.
All he wanted to hear was that she was happy.
But she had used phrases like “by myself” which made his arms ache as if they hadn’t been used for anything worthwhile in months.
The space he took in the parking garage that morning looked out onto the water. He tried to get this space most days, because he liked the way the sky looked when it was reflecting on the water in the mornings. Now it was dark and he couldn’t see the water anymore. He stared out at it anyway. He tried to distinguish the sky from the dark blue ocean. Tried to see the horizon.
The song on the stereo went:
what do you want me to say?
all I know is love.
She made index cards with the things she would say to him written on them. For the next time. Like cue cards or flashcards. She would study them, trying to memorize scripted sentiments. There were apologies and “If this is how you felt for all that time-” and “How do I get this to happen?”
One card was an invitation, “Hey, why don’t you come down for the weekend and see my new apartment and I can catch you up on all things Dunder Mifflin Scranton and you could even see some of my artwork. I’m sure it’s any good, but-” And here, she’d written in a pause in case he was going to stop her and say that he was certain her artwork was amazing and that he’d love to come down. The card actually said, “[possible interruption here].”
They were pink and purple index cards. She wrote on them with permanent marker because she was tired of going back and erasing things. The way the ink bled through the back of the cards made her feel confident.
She carried them in her purse, just in case today was that day.
She had a recurring dream where the phone kept ringing even after she had picked it up. And she kept saying his name and the phone kept ringing.
She stayed after five every day, but he never called again.
He wanted to laugh out loud at the way things were turning out, because it was obviously some sort of joke.
Because somehow he’d wound up in Karen’s apartment. He was stretched across her couch which was covered with rough fabric and sort of stiff because there were pictures of her on a yacht on her mantle and people with yachts like fancy, uncomfortable couches. He was stretched across it with his feet dangling off the side, hovering above the ground and his head in her lap. She was holding her glass of wine above his face and looking down at him.
She promised to make it better and this was the best offer he’d gotten in a while so he took her up on it.
He wasn’t sure what needed to be made better of if she was even making it any better, but for a second he was okay. For a second, he really existed. And it had been a while since he felt like he was really…there.
He was crying a little when they got to the bottom of the bottle. For a few reasons. Because she kept touching his hair, pushing it away from his forehead and her palm was warm and soft and it reminded him of so much. Because he felt guilty. So guilty for even looking at her, but he wasn’t sure why he was guilty or if he should even feel guilty for this. But she wasn’t, just wasn’t her and he felt like he was forcing himself to be there. Every time he laughed, it sounded hollow and artificial, but she didn’t seem to catch on and he remembered how great of an actor he’d become in the past couple years.
And then he was babbling about paperclips and phones and how her voice had sounded when she answered the phone and how smiling had actually hurt a little that first time and then Karen pushed his head off of her lap.
“I didn’t always ramble drunkenly about pretty receptionists,” he said, leaning back against the arm of the couch and closing his eyes.
And then he found himself tripping over the threshold to her bedroom while she looked back at him and laughed. He found himself sitting on the foot of her bed while she stood in front of her dresser, looking at herself in the mirror. He watched her take her hair down, watched it fall around her shoulders in a way he’d only ever imagined. Only it was straight, not all corkscrews and springs like it had been in my mind.
And that’s when the phone call came. That one phone call that was really the only reason he bothered charging his phone anymore. It vibrated in his pocket and he jumped at the feeling.
He didn’t look at the caller ID, because somehow he knew it was her. He made a gesture to Karen as he stumbled into the bathroom and closed the door behind him.
The bathroom was cramped and when he sat down on the edge of the bathtub, his knees knocked into the toilet. He flipped the phone open, “Pam,” and listened to her name bounce off of porcelain.
He still watched watercolor boats and she still closed her eyes and listened to staplers and pencils. But now dreams felt closer to the ground, they were somewhere in between the clouds and the grass. Somewhere easy to reach, somewhere accessible.
He rebuilt utopia for himself with phone calls and weekend visits and his bare hands. And she drew line segments in her sketchbook, labeling him point A and her point B, saying, “See, it’s not a line because a line goes on forever, but we begin and end with each other,” and she laughed because she was embarrassed, “That’s totally cheesy, isn’t it?”
Illusion and reality were suddenly hard to distinguish from one another.
Merger. She liked the word.
Union, fusion, joining.
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