She's recounting the cups of noodles, leaning over the edge of the cart and mumbling numbers under her breath when she notices he's stopped in front of the chapstick display. He reaches up and picks out a package, licking his lips. She loses count.
"Fabric Softener, Chapstick...you know, there's a sale on Swiffers too, if those are on your list." He looks her way, grins.
"Ha. Very funny." He flashes the package at her. "It's just...strawberry. I never see strawberry chapstick anywhere."
"And you're always looking for it? You must have very important strawberry chapstick needs."
"If you must know..." He straightens up, places the chapstick over his heart. "...it reminds me of my first love."
"Your first love?"
"Tiffany Harris. I was in love with her for three years."
"Yep. Tiffany constantly wore strawberry chapstick. She didn't need any of those pretentious Lip Smackers the other girls wore."
"So pretentious." He ignores her, continues.
"I sat next to Tiffany in computer class. You know, whenever we played Oregon Trail, I would name my wife Tiffany."
"Well, that IS love. Creepy, Oregon Trail love. Did she die of a snakebite?"
"No, she drowned when we forded the river. But I only had the purest intentions. She would sit there, playing her own game and putting on more strawberry chapstick. It just smelled...sweet, and I always thought it would just taste so good."
"Awww, you never got the chance to taste it?"
"Nope. She moved in the middle of fifth grade."
"And broke your heart."
"Yes. I was devastated. Then the next day I was named kickball captain...it took a little of the sting away, and I got over it." He glances down at the package in his hand.
"You should buy it...you know you want to."
"Nah." He places it back on the display. "But I will taste the sweetness of strawberry chapstick one day, and it will change my life."
"But not today?"
"Not today, Pam." He nudges her aside, takes control of the cart. "Onward to find some Night Swept."
It's the middle of fall, and her lips are always chapped. On the short walk into work, she licks her lips against the wind, trying unsuccessfully to keep them moist. Kelly tells her if she wore better lipstick or gloss, any lipstick or gloss, they would stay healthy, but she never remembers when she's at the store.
She used to wear some, and her lips would be somewhat chapped during the winter months, but never like this. She used up the last of her lip gloss nearly a month ago. She tells herself that if she really needed some, she would remember. She never used to forget. But everything is different, now.
She catches herself thinking of him and chewing her lip at work, sitting at her desk. She relives every word of the call, resends the text message over and over again. It's not until the coppery taste of blood fills her mouth that she wakes up, answers the phone that has been ringing, pressing a tissue to the side of her mouth. She dreads answering the phone now, because it's never him. She waits, sometimes taking too long in the bathroom, lingering that extra moment with her coffee, hoping to find something, anything, among the waiting voice mails. She hands the messages to desks around the office, but hers remains empty. She tries to make tea at her desk, but it's too hot and burns her already tender lips. She puts the teapot away.
At night, after the sting of the toothpaste fades, she examines them. The mirror betrays her as she leans close and notes every crack, every split, every tear - a deep red edged with pink. She doesn't know what to do. She decides to hope.
The next week, they get the news. It's a long day, but at the end their office is left standing. His isn't. She stops at the store on her way home, because she knows for a fact she has no headache medicine and she can feel one starting between her eyes.
As she waits in line, she sees the display. One strawberry chapstick is left hanging. She thinks of fifth grade Jim: shy and gangly, sitting so close to the girl he loves while she sits oblivious behind her computer. She reaches out, buys it before she can change her mind.
The night before that day, his first day, she cannot sleep. She finds herself sitting in her kitchen at 6 AM, staring at her purse after checking to make sure it was there for the 7th time. She drinks three cups of coffee and walks into work an hour early. The office is empty and quiet, and she sits.
He'll walk in and say hello. His smile will be awkward, hesitant, but she'll reassure him with her calm. She won't blush or nervously push her hair out of her face until his back is to her.
She'll meet his eyes, laugh when Michael calls him "Jimbag" and hugs him too close. She'll giggle to herself when he convinces Dwight that he is actually his boss as Assistant (not to the) Regional Manager. When they inevitably gather in the conference room, she'll sit across from him so she can savor every expression on his face.
Midday she'll pause in the bathroom, reapply, and the day will truly begin. She'll find an excuse to lean close, and then he'll know. He will take a deep breath and look down at her lips, smooth and smiling, asking him. His eyes will say, "yes". And everything will change.
That evening, when he leaves, his tongue will dart out along his bottom lip, and he will taste strawberry chapstick for the second third fourth time. It will taste just like he imagined. And her lips will be unbroken.
It's nearly time. People are entering, breaking her free from herself. She opens her hand that was clutching the tube; it's warm. She removes the cap and glides it over her lips. Pressing them together, she sits and watches the door.
And she waits.