“Welcome to paradise!”
Jim squints up at the beaming dark haired man on the dock. It’s not just the sun making him squint - the guy is wearing the brightest Hawaiian shirt Jim has ever seen. Clashing wreaths of flowers adorn his neck and head, augmented by a tray of coconut cocktails in either hand, complete with sparklers and lurid pink umbrellas.
He’s eagerly beckoning for them to get off the boat.
Jim exchanges a glance with his wife. She’s hot and sweaty from their flight, her hair all over the place from the boat ride to the island, irritable from one of their very loud and obnoxious fellow passengers…but her brow quirks at Jim when she sees the man on the dock, and Jim has to swallow a grin.
“Please,” Isabel mutters faintly. “Don’t tell me that’s Michel.”
Mark is just staring, mouth agape.
“Out of the way!”
It’s their loud and obnoxious fellow passenger who barrels up first, elbowing Jim and Pam aside to let his own wife go in front.
Jim has to catch Pam to steady her, his hand sliding to the small of her back.“Hey,” he says to the other guy. “Watch out.”
He’s just met with a scowl. “It’s not my fault you need better sea legs.”
Jim decides not to ask what sea legs are. He and Pam figured out pretty soon into their half hour boat journey that asking this guy anything seems to result in a lecture. About the boat engine, and the tropical climate, and why Jim and Pam’s jeans and t-shirts are completely inappropriate island wear.
Jim’s not sure what kind of island the guy seems to think they’re going to, but if his belted shorts, socks, sandals and mustard camouflage shirt are anything to go by…well, it’s not the same island their cocktail clutching host has clearly envisioned.
Although the guy’s wife, who’s climbing off the boat without so much as a thank you, looks like she’s dressed for an Amish tea party. So god knows.
“Oh my god, cocktails!”
Jim turns to see that the fourth couple on the boat, who spent most of the journey making out, have finally broken apart. The squeal came from the woman, who’s now bounced up and is eagerly making her way to the front. She’s wearing a bright polka dot swimsuit and not much else, much to the evident disapproval of the Amish lady.
Her make-out partner, who’s been left to wrestle three enormous fuchsia suitcases, looks decidedly less enthusiastic. Jim and Mark offer to help, and then somehow end up being the only ones carrying the pink suitcases as the guy goes on ahead.
“Nice,” Mark mutters to Jim as they haul the baggage up.
“Yeah.” Jim rolls his eyes at his friend.
The couple are now happily accepting their cocktails, luggage forgotten. They’ve started making out again. Meanwhile, mustard shirt guy and his Amish wife both seem to have refused the coconut drinks. The former looks like he’s scanning the palm trees for some kind of threat.
Jim realises too late that he’s left Pam to manage their own bags. He turns just in time to catch her before she overbalances, wrapping his hand under her elbow to pull her up onto the safety of the dock.
Her expression is sheepish as he grabs the bag with his other hand. His brow furrows as he feels how heavy it is.
“Why didn’t you get me?”
He says it teasingly, but he’s not sure why she’d struggled with the bag in silence, why she hadn’t just -
He catches it, the briefest glimmer of surprise on her face that he’d noticed.
Which throws him.
Before he can open his mouth, though, he and Pam are being ushered towards the other couples, cocktails thrust into their hands.
“Welcome,” their host says again. “To Edan Island!”
“Like the cheese?” Mark cracks, hopefully. Isabel cuts him an exasperated look.
Their host appears confused. “Non, non - like, heaven! Paradise! All here, on one island.”
The Amish looking woman’s lips have pursed in further disapproval.
“Told you,” Isabel says under her breath to Mark. He makes a face back.
It had been another argument between them, the origin of the name. Jim hadn’t told Mark as much, but he’d tended to agree with Isabel that it probably wasn’t a cheese-themed couples retreat. The argument had ended in Isabel asking Mark why he couldn’t take one goddamn thing seriously - not even this, which was meant to be about saving their marriage - before she’d stormed out.
It was something she’d normally have laughed over.
And that was the point when Jim and Pam had realised that maybe their friends weren’t exaggerating about their relationship problems.
When they’d first suggested the retreat, Jim and Pam hadn’t been able to believe it.
“We’re just…fighting all the time,” Mark had said, tiredly.
Pam had pointed out that they always fought. Bickering was an integral part of their relationship. They’d been introduced through Jim and Pam - Jim’s best friend from high school, Pam’s from college - and after Isabel had snortingly dismissed Mark’s attempts to hit on her, much to his dismay, they’d formed a sort of rivalry.
Until they’d slept together at Jim and Pam’s wedding. Jim and Pam had been anticipating sparks between their best man and maid of honour - just maybe not quite like that.
But they’d been happy.
Only, seven years and their own wedding later, they were telling Jim and Pam they weren’t.
Fortunately the retreat’s host continues speaking now, before they can get into another fight about the name.
“I am Michel Le Scarn,” he declares. “And I will be your guide for ze wonderful journey you are about to embark on.”
No way, Jim thinks, is this guy’s accent real. He glances sideways at Pam, who’s clearly thinking the same thing.
“Four journeys begin today.” Michel beams round at the eight of them. He gestures towards the couple still making out. “Le Kapoors, from Las Vegas.”
The woman glances up first. Her pink lipstick is smeared round her partner’s mouth. He mumbles something like, “It’s Howard-Kapoor-”
But she’s already interrupted him. “Oh, we’re not actually from Las Vegas. We just got remarried there!”
“Remarried?” Mark is unable to resist asking.
“We eloped! We ran off into the sunset, it was so totally romantic. But this time we’re going to do it right, aren’t we, babe?” She twines her arms around her (new?) husband’s neck. “We’re here to fix Ryan’s commitment issues.”
Ryan doesn’t look thrilled by this prospect. But Michel has already moved onto the next couple, mustard shirt guy and his wife.
“Le Schrutes, from Scranton.”
It turns out Mr Schrute’s name is Dwight, which Jim instantly adds a second syllable to, and he’s a paper salesman. Because of course he is. He announces this like it’s vital information. Jim cocks his head at Pam in amusement, and she has to cover her mouth.
“We’re only here on doctor’s orders,” his wife, Angela, adds shortly.
“Yes. We’re not here to talk about our feelings.” Dwight looks repulsed by the idea.
Jim is just wondering what kind of doctor would recommend a couples retreat if not a therapist, when Michel enthuses that there will be plenty of talking about feelings over the next two weeks.
Ryan grimaces. His wife Kelly is delighted. “That’s exactly what we need, Ryan, more talking! Now you can really listen to me.”
“And,” Michel finishes, ignoring Dwight’s appalled expression, “Le Porebas,” - Mark and Isabel raise awkward hands in greeting - “And Le Halperts, from Philadelphia!”
He smiles widely around them.
“All of you are here because your relationships are damaged. Broken. Ruined. But don’t worry! I am here to tell you that ze healing starts today.”
Kelly nods avidly, and Ryan rolls his eyes. Dwight and Angela have stiffened, but don’t say anything. Isabel and Mark look nervous.
As Michel starts going on about the island’s programme of nurturing their loves like flowers or chou-fleurs (he’s definitely mixing his metaphors at several points, but…anyway), Jim gives Pam’s hand a light squeeze. Her mouth curves self-consciously back at him.
They’re not here because their relationship is damaged, of course. Isabel and Mark had begged them to come as part of a group discount, promising them they could just enjoy two weeks on a tropical island while Mark and Isabel did all the couples therapy stuff. They couldn’t afford it otherwise.
Jim and Pam had looked through the glossy photos of all the couples snorkelling and going for moonlit beach walks, and they’d talked about it and agreed they couldn’t. Not with everything that was happening with Athleap. Pam had agreed, totally understanding, and put the brochure away without looking at it again.
Jim had guiltily told Mark no, and promised to help him find another couple they could go with.
Pam hadn’t brought it up again.
It had been Cece, of all people, who had.
Jim had taken her to a basketball game - work-related, but their daughter’s always desperate to go, more than happy to strike up conversation with Jim’s clients or sit on his shoulders yelling about free throws - and she’d been merrily stuffing her face with popcorn and burbling away to Dr J, when he’d said something that had made her squint up at Jim.
“How come you never take mommy on holiday any more?”
Jim had laughed. “What do you mean?”
She’d pointed at a photo of a young Dr J with some bikini-clad models. “Mommy was looking at a swimsuit, but she didn’t buy it. I know why now, it’s ‘cause she’s got nowhere to wear it. ‘Cause you don’t take her to the Bahamas, or on a yacht, or anywhere. How come you don’t take her anywhere, daddy?”
Jim had tried not flinch, because - Pam had been looking at swimsuits? When?
His daughter was still glaring at him expectantly.
He’d exhaled. “Now’s just not the right time, kiddo.” He’d hoisted her onto his lap. “But listen, once work gets a bit quieter-”
“That’s what you always say,” Cece had whined. “At Christmas, and on mommy’s birthday, and last summer. When is it gonna get quieter? I’m bored of your boring work.”
Jim had raised a brow at her. “Oh, so you don’t wanna come to these games any more?”
He’d tickled her until she laughed, and she’d protested that no, dumb dumb, she still needed to come to the games - and he’d smiled as she snuggled into him to watch the rest of the match. She’d soon been distracted howling when the referee missed a foul.
But he’d been unsettled, underneath it all. Stricken. The feeling had lasted the rest of the game, and all the way home.
He couldn’t stop thinking about it. When was the last time he’d taken Pam away? Not to the Bahamas, but just to somewhere she’d wanted to go? Somewhere that was just for her? (Or them?) It had been a long winter - an even longer year - and he didn’t think they’d had a single moment to relax. She hadn’t had a moment. She hadn’t said a word. She hadn’t complained, because she never did.
And apparently it was so bad that his seven year-old daughter had noticed. And needed to call him out on it.
He’d wondered if Phil had noticed too. Phil has always been less outspoken than his older sister, quieter and sensitive like Pam, but he’s no less observant.
Jim had got home to find Pam and Phil curled up on the couch asleep. (Phil finds the games too loud - he’d cried the last time Jim took him, totally overwhelmed - so he and Pam have movie time whenever Jim and Cece go). Pam had looked pale, and tired, and it had made him feel even guiltier as he’d dropped a kiss to her forehead.
He’d scooped Phil up to put him to bed, with an overexcited and now sleepy Cece, who insisted she wasn’t tired, daddy, even as her eyes were fluttering closed.
When he’d come back downstairs, Pam was in the kitchen making them both tea.
He’d watched her for a moment, standing at the counter in her favourite sweater with a hole in it, making tea without him needing to ask. He’d crossed the kitchen and drawn her into his arms. She’d turned in surprise, smiling as he kissed her. He tried to remember the last time he’d had a moment to kiss her properly, as his arms slid around her waist, and he couldn’t.
“I’ve been thinking.”
“Always dangerous.” She’d rested her head on his shoulder, and he’d repressed a grin against her hair.
He’d run a hand down her spine. “I think we should go with Mark and Isabel.”
She’d paused at that, and pulled back to look up at him. “But, Athleap-”
“-Can wait.” He’d brushed her hair back as he held her. “Come on. We can do two weeks.”
She’d still been hesitant. “Are you sure?”
She looked like she couldn’t believe it, like she couldn’t quite let herself hope, and for a moment that had made him feel even worse. (Just how many things had he postponed or cancelled this year?)
“Yes,” he’d said firmly. “So…get your swimsuit packed, baby.” He’d kissed her again as she’d laughed. “We’re going to Edan.”
Her smile had been so luminous, over such a simple thing, that he’d resolved to start paying more attention, to not to let it get this bad again.
Of course, taking two weeks holiday had meant things at work were a nightmare in the run-up to it, and he’d barely had a moment to think since he’d made that resolution.
But they’re here now. And he’s determined to give his wife the vacation she deserves.
Michel finally seems to have concluded his monologue about true love and soupsnakes (maybe English is his second language?), and is now herding them over to a golf cart to take them to their villas.
Or love shacks, as he calls them. Angela’s lips thin.
Jim’s in the process of climbing up beside Pam when there’s a loud laugh, and he glances over to see a group of girls in bikinis getting off another boat. They don’t quite look like they’re here for a couples retreat.
He doesn’t miss the way the Ryan guy has suddenly perked up. Neither does Ryan’s wife. “Who are they?” Kelly demands, glaring over at the girls. “I mean,” she acts like she’s lowering her voice, but she doesn’t, and it carries, “Trashy much?”
The girls pause in between flipping their ponytails and snapping selfies, slightly taken aback. Kelly doesn’t baulk. She’s got her husband’s hand in a death grip. Ok, Jim reflects. Maybe she’s not all sunshine and polka dot swimsuits. She looks about ready to claw their eyes out.
Michel is frowning too. “Just - ugh, ignore them. They’re going to ze other side of ze island. To Eden.” He sounds disgruntled. Jim sneaks another glance at Pam, and he somehow knows that the other side of the island is spelt right. He can tell she does too. She nudges her thigh against his to stop him from snickering.
Ryan is still trying to subtly stare after the girls. “What’s on the other side of the island?”
“Ze singles resort,” Michel dismisses. “Don’t worry about zat. The guy who runs it is a total loser.”
(Jim knows from the way Pam tilts her head at him that he’s not imagining how suddenly, inexplicably American Michel’s loser sounds).
Ryan’s gaze flicks back to the flowers in Michel’s hair, his garish shirt. “Right.”
It’s Dwight who intervenes. “You’re here for the couples experience,” he reminds Ryan officiously. “You can’t deviate.” He’s half bristling, and Jim wonders again who the hell this guy is. He can only hope the Schrutes spend the whole time in therapy, so that he and Pam can snorkel and go for beach walks in peace.
Kelly still hasn’t let go of Ryan’s hand. He represses a sigh, and stops gazing into the distance (or rather, into the retreating gaggle of girls as they disappear into a separate golf cart). “I wasn’t planning to,” he mutters. Not very convincingly.
Kelly pulls him round to kiss him again. Jim slips an arm around Pam so that they’re not subjected to watching more of the couple sucking each other’s faces. Unfortunately the golf cart, as it trundles off into the palm trees, isn’t quite loud enough to drown them out.
But Pam leans her head against him, and he can sense her excitement as she takes in the island, and… it’s nice. It’s really nice. Pam’s quiet excitement is one of his favourite things. It reminds him of their first date, of giddy picnics in the park, apple-picking, day trips down to the sea, even just taking her up onto the roof of his office. Exhibitions, her hand in his as she dragged him round all the paintings. That time he’d put together Phil’s room to surprise her, his hands over her eyes, her shining gaze as she’d drunk it all in, the way she’d kissed him with their son growing between them.
He hasn’t seen her like this in a while.
Because, he realises, he hasn’t done anything like this with her in a while. (When was the last time he even got home in time to cook her dinner, much less do anything to surprise her?)
And the island is gorgeous, he reflects as he follows her gaze.
He’s finally got a moment to enjoy the feel of the sun soaking into his shirt, and Pam’s shoulders starting to relax under his arm.
Athleap and Philly feel miles away.
Although as soon as he thinks that, he starts thinking about Athleap, and then has to make a concerted effort to derail that train of thought. Because thinking about Athleap will only lead to fretting about Athleap. He knows that. There’s a small voice in the back of his mind that points out he never needed to try to switch off from work before. But things are different now, he reminds himself.
He realises a moment later that Pam has snuck a look up at him. “You ok?”
He feels a flicker of guilt. She can always read him too well. He presses his mouth against her hair and promises her that he’s great, and her smile back is tentative.
They’re distracted by Michel pointing out the dining hut - all you can eat buffet and unlimited drinks, which makes Jim and Pam grin at each other (they devised their strategy for the buffet on the plane) - and the huge infinity pool, and the tranquility spa. Even Mark and Isabel are smiling now.
Mark flashes him a triumphant look from the seat in front, like what did I tell you?
Jim can’t argue with him.
Especially not when he and Pam get dropped off at their own villa.
It’s a hut on stilts, and it’s incredible. They’re greeted by an eager member of staff called Andy, who takes them through their private hot tub, their private balcony with the steps leading down to the sea, the emperor sized bed and waterfall shower, the huge fruit basket and champagne…
Jim and Pam spend a while giddily exclaiming over every feature - “Jim, look at the bath robes!” “There’s a whole bowl of M&Ms, Pam!” - while Andy indulges them. He seems very pleased with their reactions.
It’s amazing, and Pam is practically fizzing, and Jim really should have known there was a catch.
It arrives when Andy presents them with their itinerary. Unprompted. Jim wasn’t aware of any itinerary.
“Uh.” He blinks down at the embossed paper in confusion. “Sorry, I think there’s been some kind of mistake?”
“Mistake?” Andy echoes. “We don’t make mistakes here, good sir.”
Pam squints over Jim’s shoulder at the same thing. “Um, yeah. We didn’t sign up for the…6am couple building exercises?”
(No way, Jim thinks, is 6am holiday time).
“Or the two hour therapy session,” he adds. Andy looks non-plussed. “We’re just here to do the fun stuff?”
Andy straightens.“Oh, no. I’m afraid that’s not an option.”
Pam’s eyes flicker to Jim’s in mild alarm. “No,” she tries to explain, “But we don’t need any of the relationship help.”
“Our marriage is fine,” Jim agrees, nodding vigorously. “Totally great. It’s just our friends who-”
“No,” Andy tuts, “If you’re here, you’re here for the full package. Those are Michel’s rules.”
“Unless you want to leave?” he suggests. “We can call the boat back.”
Jim and Pam stare at each other. Pam’s gaze slips to their ocean view. Jim lingers on the hot tub.
“…That’s not what we’re saying,” Pam finishes uncertainly, looking to Jim again.
He half shakes his head.
“Great.” Andy goes back to beaming. “Now, I’ll need you to hand your phones over.”
“Our - what?”
“Michel’s method is very clear,” Andy nods. “No distractions. It will help you focus on each other.”
Jim and Pam exchange another glance. “But we need our phones,” Pam starts, and Jim can hear the anxiety in her voice. “Our kids-”
“You’ll get them for half an hour every day,” Andy assures her. “And you’ll be contactable in the event of an emergency.”
Jim has a wordless conversation with his wife as Andy waits. He doesn’t love it. But at least half an hour a day means they’ll make Cece and Phil’s bedtime. He can tell Pam is thinking the same thing.
So they hand their cell phones over, once Pam has texted her mom to let her know what’s happening. Andy nods encouragingly and tells them they won’t regret it, and it means they can really reconnect. Jim feels a little guilty about what he knows is still in his back pocket. But it’s a necessity, he tells himself.
“Ok,” Andy says brightly once they’re done. “I’ll leave you folks to it, but just ring the bell if you need anything! Anything at all. I’m your man.”
He lingers, as if he’s hoping they’ll tell him they need something now. When they don’t, and still haven’t several moments later, he finally strolls away. They can hear him whistling as he goes.
Leaving Jim and Pam alone in their luxurious villa.
They face each other. Jim picks up the itinerary again. “So…”
He exhales, shaking his head. He can’t believe it. All he wanted was to give her a nice holiday. Is that really so hard?
“You still ok with this?” He’s dubious.
She glances down at the itinerary, and back up at him. “I mean…it’s only during the mornings, right? And then we can do the fun stuff in the afternoon.” She sounds hopeful.
He gently tugs her to him, because her optimism is one of the things he loves most about her. “I guess.”
Her smile is unsure. “How bad can some couples building workshops be?”
“Yeah. We’ll probably ace them,” he reflects, after a beat. “Especially if we’re up against the Howard-Kapoors.”
That makes her laugh. “Bets on them lasting the retreat?”
“Pam.” Jim shakes his head at her. “Michel’s programme is going to transform their love. I can’t believe you’d doubt that. He’s a marriage miracle worker, remember?”
He likes this, he thinks, her laughter bubbling against him. He’s missed this.
“It’ll be a miracle if he can keep that Ryan guy away from Eden,” she tells him wryly. Her eyes are sparkling.
“…Yeah. It really will.”
He’s got his arms wrapped right the way around her waist now, and he lowers his head to kiss her. Her lips are soft, and warm, parting beneath his as her hands reach up to cup the back of his neck. She tastes of coconut and rum. She’s slightly cautious against him at first, until he deepens the kiss.
(He’s not sure where it’s come from, that cautiousness).
But as his hands trail down her sides it occurs to him that they’re completely alone in this villa. Alone for the first time in ages.
He can feel his mouth curling against hers as he bends to pick her up. “Do you want to just get room service for dinner?”
She’s distracted as he hoists her up, as her breath catches and her legs wrap instinctively around him. “Mark and Iz-”
He nuzzles her neck. “I guarantee you they’re not going to make it out of that villa past nine.” Pam considers, but she knows as well as he does that their friends are late for everything. “Mark will be loading up on the free snacks as we speak,” he assures her, already angling her back towards the huge bed.
“I’m all gross from the plane,” she protests as he eases her down on the mattress. His body follows, arms framing her.
He’s already started unbuttoning her jeans. “You’re never gross.”
“Jim,” she laughs -
“That’s what the hot tub’s for,” he insists, nudging her t-shirt up. His lips graze her stomach and she whimpers a bit, and he knows then that it’s been way, way too long.
He hasn’t even seen her naked in a while, he thinks, agonised. Their love-making recently has tended to be hurried and in the dark, only when they can squeeze it in between Athleap and the kids.
But he doesn’t need to hurry now. And it’s definitely not dark.
He reaches for the hem of her t-shirt to pull it up and off her - and his back pocket vibrates.
She’s so busy kissing him that it takes her a moment to realise what the noise is. It takes him a while too, he’s so focused on her body, on her.
“What’s that?” she asks dazedly. He’s all set to ignore it and go back to kissing her, his fingers reaching for her t-shirt again.
But she’s bewildered beneath him and it’s still vibrating.
He swears, then, as he remembers. “Shit. Sorry.” He sits up from her.
She looks a little bereft as he reaches away from her.
He pulls his blackberry out from his pocket. Sheepish. She blinks at it for a moment, and then she’s yanking her t-shirt down, scooting backwards.
It’s Isaac calling him. As he worries about what the guy wants, he almost misses Pam’s next words. “You didn’t…” And then, “Oh.”
Guilt flickers through him. “I’m really sorry. I told them to only call in emergencies, so I should probably-”
“Yeah.” Is it him, or is her voice strangely flat? “Sure.”
“No, no, you should answer it.”
He darts forward to kiss her. “I swear, I’ll get rid of him quickly.”
He hurries off the bed and through to the balcony, answering the phone as he goes. He tries hard to make it as quick as possible, to get Isaac off the phone, all too aware of Pam still in their bed.
But it turns out they’re having a nightmare with one their investors, and Isaac takes nearly half an hour to calm down. Which makes Jim feel even guiltier about not being there. Because if they lose this investor, they’re fucked.
“Sorry, man,” Isaac says as they eventually wrap up. “I didn’t mean to interrupt your vacation.”
Jim knows this was the trade-off, though, the only way he was able to take these two weeks off.
“It’s ok,” he sighs.
He glances back into the villa, but he can’t see Pam from where he’s standing. He just wants to get back to her.
He only realises once he’s hung up that the sun has started setting. Crap. How long was he on the phone for?
He heads back inside, stuffing his blackberry away.
Pam is no longer on the bed. She’s showered and changed into one of the bathrobes, and his mouth dries as he takes in her damp hair, as he catches the fresh scent of her shampoo. She’s bent over the room service menu. She doesn’t look up as he approaches her.
She jumps, a bit, and he wonders how lost in thought she was that she didn’t sense him. That almost never happens. What was she thinking about?
“Oh. Hi. Everything ok?” She’s not quite looking at him.
“Yeah.” He reaches for her, but she eases past him to put the menu down. “Listen,” he starts, “I’m so sorry about that.” He feels like a dick. He tries to explain what Isaac was panicking about, and she nods.
She’s still not quite meeting his eye, though. So he catches her. “I’m really sorry.”
She finally relaxes in his hold, just a little. Finally looks at him. “I ordered room service. They have gourmet hot dogs.” She flashes him a grin, and it starts to feel a bit easier again.
“Did you get-”
“Oh, I got me one. You’re having quinoa salad.”
“Beesly,” he groans, and she slips away from him, still grinning in that way that lets him know she got two. He reassures himself that means things are fine, even if she is moving away from him, out of his hold. It’s just so she can clear a space for the food.
He vows to make it up to her tonight. And every night over the next two weeks.
The hot dogs are delicious, and his blackberry doesn’t go off again.
They’re sitting Indian style on the bed once they’ve finished eating when he leans into her. She’s flushed and so beautiful, and he’s determined to tug the fastening loose on her robe and let every inch of her body know how sorry he is.
He’s aching with want for her. He's missed her, and she smells so good.
He pulls at her robe - and she catches his hand.
“Um, hey. I’m kind of beat.”
He pauses. “Oh.”
She’s never had to tell him she’s too tired before. He can normally tell without her needing to. He scans her now, wondering how he missed that.
“Just…the flight was early, and the jet lag.” She’s already shuffling backwards, and is he imagining the fact that she’s avoiding eye contact again?
He hesitates, studying her. “Are you ok?”
“Yeah.” She nods quickly. “Just tired. And we’ve got that 6am start, so…”
It sounds a bit weak. He’s about to push her on it, but then he wonders if she’ll feel like he’s trying to pressure her. Which is a horrible thought, with Pam, and not one he’s ever had before. And that confuses him enough that he just says, “Yeah. Of course.”
She starts getting ready for bed, and he has no choice but to do the same. He’s still disquieted as he brushes his teeth.
When he comes back from the bathroom, she’s already curled on the bed with her back to him. The bed that looked so extravagant earlier now seems stupidly big, dwarfing her. She looks so small and lonely for a moment that he can’t bear it. He slides in behind her, not caring how much of the mattress he has to cross until he’s nestled against her. Until he can feel her warmth. Feel her.
He slides his arm around her, and after a moment’s pause (so fleeting he’s not sure if he imagined it again), she lets him. He settles his chin against her hair, breathing her in.
“Hey,” he murmurs into her. “I know today has been kind of weird. But I’m really glad we’re here.”
She softens a little. Her voice is quiet in the darkness. “Me too.”
She doesn’t say anything else, and as he listens to her deep, even breaths, he tries to shake the feeling that she might not be any more asleep than he is.
“So. How are you feeling about our latest intake?”
Michael glances up as Holly comes into their work hut. He’s been finishing up the programmes for the new couples, but he’s always happy with a distraction. Especially when that distraction is Holly. His favourite relationship therapist on the island. Well, probably his favourite person on the island.
(Maybe his favourite person period).
Oscar, who’s been working on the table next to him, makes a point of motioning towards the unfinished programmes. Michael ignores him. He’s the boss, anyway. Oscar can’t tell him what to do.
“Great,” he enthuses to Holly. “I’ve got a really good feeling about these ones. Even better than the Vances.”
And the Vances have been a real success story.
“I think the Schrutes might be a problem,” Oscar observes, more cautiously. “Dwight has already sent five emails and three voicemails asking to be excused from counselling. Actually,” he amends with a wince, “He didn’t exactly ask.”
Michael waves a hand. “Holly will have them talking in no time.”
Oscar’s brow creases. “I thought we agreed I was going to take the Schrutes’ therapy, and Holly was doing the Halperts and the Howard-Kapoors? We’ve both done all the prep-”
“Hm?” Why, Michael wonders, does Oscar always go on about these things? “Yes, yes, fine.”
Oscar sighs and goes back to his paperwork. Thank god.
“How did Michel go?” Holly asks Michael warmly. Finally, a question that matters. He can always count on Holly for that.
“Really well,” he announces. “They all loved it. Better than the Italian, I think.”
He’d retired Micello Biscotti (Holly had helped him come up with the name, brilliant) and his moustache. He’d really thought Italian was the answer - that’s amore, country of love, it had seemed obvious - but now he’s thinking that actually it’s the French who are the real experts on love. So Michel Le Scarn it is.
“I think they’d love Michael Scott too, you know.” Holly’s gentle.
Michael considers this. “No, no, we need to be authentic.”
Oscar makes a sound that’s a bit like a muffled snort. Michael wonders if he’s choking.
“Well,” Holly tells him, “I can’t wait for tomorrow.”
Michael beams at her, because she’s so great, and she really gets it. And she’s so pretty, and he finds himself wondering again -
No, no, no, he remembers. He can’t. Not allowed. Forbidden. It’s like that Beatles song, you can’t always get your satisfaction.
(He’s made a point of memorising love songs, because some of them have very powerful messages that he needs to share with the people he helps. Like Bye Bye Baby, for that couple who lost their son. Or Relax, for the couple with the impotence problems. They’d really appreciated the group singalongs. It was a sort of spiritual healing for them. But with music).
So he can’t have Holly, but that’s ok, because he can make sure everyone else gets their happy ending.
That’s what she - heh, no. Obviously not like that. He’s running a couples retreat, not a massage parlour. No one ever really told him what those happy endings entail, and every massage parlour he’s been in gets angry when he asks, but he knows it’s dirty.
Anyway. He’s getting distracted.
Where was he?
Oh yes, putting the finishing touches to his couple tailored programmes. They’re not going to know what’s hit them.
"Let the healing begin,” he declares.
Oscar might have raised his eyes heavenwards.
But Holly smiles.
Tomorrow’s going to be a good day, he can feel it.