Jim caught the ball as it fell through the net and bounced it back to the 17-year-old in front of him, wiping the sweat from his brow onto his sleeve.
"Good, Jensen! If you can make contested shots like that in games, it's going to make a huge difference."
He glanced down at his watch. He would still make it home for dinner with Pam if he left right now.
"Listen, man," he said to his starting point guard. "I have to take off but let me know if you need any more help or reps after practices. Your hard work is paying off!"
Jensen gave him a grin and a fist bump, then headed to the locker room while Jim gathered up basketballs off the court and packed up.
The season had been going on for about a month and already Jim felt at home on the court at Hazelton High. His players were bright and talented. The rest of the coaching staff was personable and easy going. It didn’t feel like work, even though he could call it work now, since he was actually getting paid. He knew it was nothing more than a high school coaching job, but in this moment, he felt more himself than ever. Every part of his life seemed to be locked right into its rightful place--Pam, their baby on the way, this job. He had never felt happier.
As he slung his gym bag over his shoulder, Vice Principal Filippelli appeared in the doorway of the gym.
“Halpert! Glad I caught you.”
“Hey, Karen. What’s up?”
She approached him. “The team is looking really good! Undefeated. I think we made the right call bringing you on as coach.”
He gave a bashful smile. “Well, we have a good group of guys this year. They make it look easy.”
Karen cleared her throat. “So, um. Listen. We got some news from the district today that we need to discuss. Can you meet me and Danny in his office in five?”
A pit began to form in Jim’s stomach. What could this be about?
“Uh, yeah. I’ll be right there.”
He watched Karen head out of the gym and he fiddled with the strap of his bag.
So much for getting home to Pam on time.
Jim glanced at the clock on the dash as he pulled into the driveway and winced. 8:02. This was the third time in a week he had gotten home from practice later than he promised. Not to mention that he also had to leave school earlier than usual that day for a coaching meeting, so he hadn't even seen Pam since lunch.
He rushed inside and tossed his keys on the entry table before realizing Pam had fallen asleep on the couch. She stirred and lifted her head to meet his eyes, a small, tired smile playing on her lips.
"Hey, stranger," she said groggily.
His own smile tugged at the corner of his lips and he walked over to her. Leaning over he placed a kiss on her forehead. "I'm so sorry. Jensen wanted some extra practice so I stayed to help him out."
Pam reached up to brush her fingers across his cheek. "You're a good coach."
He brought his own hand up and placed it on hers as he sat down on the edge of the couch next to her.
"Maybe, but I'm also a pretty crappy husband lately."
"Oh, hush. I get it. I mean, I miss leaving school with you. But you seem to be really happy coaching there."
Jim beamed, realizing for the millionth time how undeserving he was to have her, then leaned over to kiss her gently on the lips. She hummed happily against him.
“And besides,” she said quietly. “It’s not like this will be forever. The season will be over in a couple months, then I get you all to myself again. Before, during, and after school. No more commutes and long practices.”
Jim thought back to his conversation with Danny and Karen earlier and couldn’t help but feel guilty. He knew he should tell her. They told each other everything. But right now her lips were trailing down his neck and her fingers were tugging at the waistband of his basketball shorts and he decided that another time might be better. He closed his eyes and melted into her.
“But I might…” she mumbled between kisses. “I might need you to shower first though.”
Jim laughed into her hair and then sat up to look at her. “Curse that pregnant sense of smell of yours.”
“Hate to say it, but the neighbors could probably smell you too. And I know I’ve been craving salty things lately, but...this isn’t exactly what I had in mind.”
He kissed the tip of her nose with a chuckle and stood up. “Fair enough. I’ll make it quick.”
“That’s what sh---”
“Don’t,” he warned. “No Michael Scott-isms in this house. We’ve been over this.”
Pam’s eyes rolled back playfully and she rushed him upstairs.
Jim stepped into the shower and let the hot water stream over his face. With Pam’s hands no longer distracting him, he had time to think back to earlier that evening at the school.
He gave three quicked knocks on Danny Cordray’s office door.
Cracking it open and poking his head through, he found Danny and Karen seated next to each other in front of Danny’s desk. “Jim, take a seat.”
Cautiously, and a bit nervously, he sat down in the vacant chair opposite the two of them. “Is everything...okay?”
“Oh, yeah! More than okay.”
Jim relaxed into his chair a little as Danny continued.
“We have been so impressed by what you’ve done with the team. I mean, some of our seniors are already getting looks from scouts and we are only a month into the season. I know your coaching has brought a lot of that.”
“I don’t know if I can take credit…”
Danny cut him off. “Don’t sell yourself short, Halpert. The team was a disorganized mess before you came along, and even with great talent, that doesn’t get you very far.”
Jim nodded his understanding and thanks with a smile.
“So, I know Ms. Filippelli already told you we got some news from the district. Apparently, starting next year, all head coaches must teach at the school they coach for.”
“Which means,” Danny continued, leaning forward. “We either lose you as a coach or...we hire you to be part of our teaching staff. And if you’re asking me, the latter seems mighty appealing. Word on the street is that you’re as good a teacher as you are a coach.”
Jim sat up. Teaching at Hazelton? The district was better, the pay a bit higher. It was a better funded school, meaning more resources for his classroom. Not to mention how much he had loved coaching the basketball team. And the higher pay would mean no more teaching driver’s ed in the summer to make ends meet. No more babysitting Michael at school dances...
But Pam. Maybe there could be a spot for her too? She would love it here. And she would definitely love the bagel shop around the corner. He knew he should talk to her about it, but Jim already knew what he wanted, just like when they offered him the coaching job. She was supportive about that, so why not this?
“Wow,” Jim started. “Okay. Well, I love your school, first off. I think it would be a pleasure to teach here. How soon do you need my answer?”
“Technically not until the end of the school year, but the sooner the better if you ask me. Get the ball rolling.”
“Alright, then. I will talk it over with my wife and let you know. Thank you so much for the offer. I will very seriously consider it.”
Jim rinsed his hair under the water and turned off the faucet. He needed to talk to Pam.
Wrapping a towel around his waist and turning off the bathroom light, he walked into their bedroom to see Pam sitting up in bed in nothing but his t-shirt. Jim sucked his bottom lip between his teeth as he walked toward her.
“You know what wearing that does to me, Beesly.”
“What?” She gave a coy smile. “This is all that fits me anymore.”
He reached the edge of the bed. “We both know that’s not true, but I’m just going to play along.”
Pam ran a finger along the edge of his towel, lightly grazing the skin on his hip as she did. She reached the point where he tucked the corner in and gave a slight tug, keeping her dark eyes on his the whole time.
“As you should,” she whispered.
Her head was heavy on his chest and he could feel sleep starting to take hold of her as she fiddled with his chest hair.
“Anything else exciting happen today?” she mumbled, eyes closed.
“Well, the highlight of my day happened about 15 minutes ago,” he smiled against her hair.
Pam let out a breathy laugh. “Ha ha. But you had a good day?”
This was his chance to bring up Danny’s offer and he wondered if she could hear his heart quicken slightly.
“Yeah. It was...a good day.”
“Good,” she said lazily. “I missed you.”
“I missed you too,” he said quietly.
He felt her breathing slow and her body get heavier against him. He closed his eyes and pressed his lips against her head, taking in the smell of her conditioner.
Author's Chapter Notes:
Not a very long one, but hopefully setting up for something more substantial. Go ahead. Say it. (That's what she said.)