vbgh ytg6gyt djiadf;jkki;adf;uhaef iakos;dj k dalj;lj daf;oihjk;ndADJK; AJ JAD JA;LJDAF HP. 22222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222 1 22222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222.
That’s for all you badgers out there. Stay golden. Now once more I submit to you, oh wise citizen of the internet, where does one go when the sun rests? Conversely, why does one hide from the moon? And for what reason to the stars not succumb to both of them? As we approach the summer solstice it’s important that we ask ourselves the big questions. Who are we? Why are we here? What’s for lunch? This Estival there are more pressing questions to consider though. Namely, it appears as if the night is longer than the day. I have been looking forward to my annual tradition of basking nude in the evening sunlight, but I think I’ll be forced to rush my ablutions as there just isn’t as much daylight this year. Don’t worry I’ll keep you posted.
Until next time,
“Wow! Thanks man!” Jim looked up from his office chair at his older co-worker with amazement in his eyes. “You wrote this yourself?”
“Every word,” Creed said proudly. “Take your time to enjoy it.”
“I’ll do that, thanks,” Jim nodded and flapped the half sheet of paper Creed had given him back and forth a few times. He smirked at the design on the back of the paper. “To be clear, you’re giving these out to everyone, right?”
“Excellent,” Jim said and beckoned Creed closer. He lowered his voice to avoid anyone overhearing. “Make sure you give Dwight extras. He’ll love it.”
Creed nodded knowingly. “Will do. Which one is Dwight again?”
Jim kept his head still but moved his eyes to his left in the direction of Dwight’s desk. Creed’s eyes flickered back and forth for a moment. Jim nodded knowingly at Creed. In response a smile crinkled over Creed’s face, and he touched his finger to his nose. Jim returned the gesture and the smile. Grinning to himself Creed stood back up and walked off. At once Jim turned to his right towards his favorite sight in the office, Pam’s desk.
For her part, Pam had a hand over her mouth as she read her own copy of the letter Creed had hand delivered to everyone he could see. She glanced up at Jim with a wide-eyed expression of disbelief as he arrived at her counter and dug out some jellybeans.
“Wow! This is something!”
“No kidding,” Jim agreed. “Also, nice of him to recycle some of his old Schrute Bucks for these.” He had brought his own copy with him and showed Pam the back of the paper. He turned the sheet back around and scanned down the half page. “What’s this ‘Estival’ thing he’s talking about?”
“I had to look it up,” Pam replied. “Apparently it’s another name for the summer solstice.”
“Ah, so what’s the different name for the winter solstice?”
“Hang on a sec, let me find out.” Pam’s fingers flew over her keyboard as she typed in her search request. The results came back in seconds. “According to Wikipedia, it’s also known as the Hiemal or Hibernal solstice.”
Jim was about to reply when two hands landed squarely on his shoulders. “Jimbo! Ready to get going? This party is going to be off the hizz-ack if you know what I mean!”
Turning around, Jim suppressed a groan when he saw Michael's overly excited expression. “It’s just the corporate Christmas party Michael.”
“Jim, Jim, Jim, Jimothy, Jimster,” Michael shook his head slowly at the various recitations of Jim’s name. “It’s not just the corporate Christmas party. It’s the party of the ages. You remember the launch party for the website earlier this year and how off the hook that was? Think that but bigger!”
Jim cocked an eyebrow. “The launch party that you didn’t actually get invited to?”
Michael blew his lips at Jim. “Phbbbbt! That was just a misunderstanding between me and my best bud Ry-guy! Besides look at this invite! A real address and everything!”
Pulling the card from his jacket pocket, Michael handed it over to Jim. A physical address for a hotel in Manhattan was printed on the cardstock. The invite also stipulated there was room for a plus one. Breathing deep, Jim accepted his fate.
“What time do you want to get going?”
Michael’s eyes lit up like he was staring at presents under his tree for the first time. “As soon as ASAP possible! I’m heading home to get some stuff and you can meet me at the condo! Just think two great lookin’ guys, hittin’ the city! Out on prowl! Look out ladies!”
Michael dashed back into his office for his overcoat and was out the door without another word to the rest of the staff. Jim and Pam stood shell-shocked at the sudden departure.
“So, are you going to be out on the prowl?” Pam teased when they had their wits about them again.
“Oh, without a doubt,” Jim fired back. “Why go after the small-town soccer and NASCAR moms here in Scranton when I can chase after big city 5th Avenue moms in New York?”
Pam giggled at her boyfriend and reached up to smack his arm. “Dork!”
“Watch yourself,” Jim cautioned. “Unless you don’t want what I have.”
“A present?” Pam’s eyes lit up with giddy anticipation.
“I don’t know,” Jim leaned back a touch. “I’m not sure abusive girlfriends deserve presents. Kinda goes against the whole being on the good list thing.”
Hiding her giggle, Pam adopted her best puppy-dog face. “Please?”
Predictably, Jim’s face broke and a warm smile bloomed on his face. “Wait here, close your eyes, hold out your hands, and no peaking.”
Jim took a moment to store in his mind the expression of delight that came over her face as she followed his instructions. Quickly he returned to his desk and grabbed the small gift. As soon as he set it down in her hands, Pam’s eyes opened. She immediately cooed over the small stuffed polar bear now resting in her hands. The toy had a red ribbon tied around its neck.
“Awww, Jim,” Pam cooed. “She’s adorable.”
“I figured Jamie could use some company on your bedstand,” Jim said in reference to the small stuffed dog he’d once won for her during an afternoon at the Steamtown Mall arcade.
“Are we still good to head to your parent’s place for Christmas?” Pam asked after she set the bear down on her desk.
“Yup! They’ll be expecting us bright and early. Trust me you’ll want to get up early to get the good donuts.”
Pam was prevented from replying due to the chirp of Jim’s phone. He pulled it out with an apologetic look and scanned the message.
“Michael,” he sighed. “Is very eager to get going. Walk out with me?”
“Of course,” Pam smiled kindly.
It didn’t take long for Jim to gather his things. Pam pulled on her pink puffer coat and walked out the door with him to the parking lot. They enjoyed a meaningful kiss before Jim turned for his door.
“I’ll be back as soon as I can. I promise I’ll be home for our first Christmas together,” he said when they leaned back.
“I know,” said Pam. “Stay safe.”
“I will,” Jim replied. “I love you.”
“I love you too.”
With one last kiss Pam stepped aside as Jim got in his car and drove away.
Pam woke up cold. It was a deeper cold than what she’d expected. Normally she went to bed with few if any pajamas due to the personal hot water bottle often found in her bed named Jim. In his absence she’d pulled out her favorite Christmas adult footie pajamas. A layer of thick polar fleece with Santa and reindeer prints covered her from neck to toe. Despite the warmth she was shivering when she woke up. The other thing she noticed was the lack of noise. The low background hum of her apartment’s heater was gone. Groaning aloud she reached for her glasses on the side table and looked at her clock. The digital face was dead. Swatting around, her hand connected with her cell phone. There were still two bars of battery life left on the device. Retreating under her blankets she flipped it open. There were no new messages. Her brow furrowed in concern. It was unlike Jim to not contact her. She been expecting a text or voicemail saying he was on his way back to Scranton from New York. She was about to turn off the phone to save what battery remained when it started ringing in her hand. She flipped it open without looking at the caller ID.
“Hi Pam, it’s Betsy. I was wondering if you’ve heard from Jim at all?”
The first feeling of heaviness settled on Pam’s chest. “Oh, um no. To be honest I just woke up.”
“It’s ten thirty on a Saturday, do they really work you that hard over there?”
Pam smiled at the motherly concern coming from Betsy while sitting up a bit in her bed. “No, it’s just I think my power’s out and so no alarm.”
“Do you have somewhere warm to stay? Gerald has had the Weather Channel on all morning. There’s a bad storm coming in. That’s why I’m calling. I think Jim might have gotten caught in it.”
Pam’s heart seemed to chill to the same temperature as her room on hearing Betsy’s news. “Oh,” she said quietly. “I didn’t know that.”
“The snow is already starting to come down bad.” Concern leaked out of every word Betsy spoke. “Do you have anywhere warm to go if your power is already out?”
“Now that you mention it, no. Not really. My parents are out of town on a cruise and my sister is off with her boyfriend for the weekend.”
“You’re coming over here.” It was a statement of fact, told with the authority of a mother used to dealing with a family of rowdy boys.
“That’s very kind of you, are you sure?”
“Just pack your things and get over here as quick as you can while the roads are still good. The weatherman said this storm could last for a few days. Feel free to bring over anything you need or want through Christmas. I’ll keep trying to get ahold of Jim.”
Pam looked out her window. Need or want she thought. The only thing I want is Jim to be safe back with me. Through a crack in her curtains, she saw Betsy was right. Snow was falling thick and fast. Swallowing down her growing nerves she spoke once more. “I’ll be over as soon as I can.”
What was normally a twenty-minute drive turned into the better part of an hour. As Pam turned into the Halpert driveway, she willed her hands to relax the white-knuckle grip they had on the steering wheel. She breathed a sigh of relief when she finally put her Yaris in park and turned off the engine. She let her head fall forward onto the wheel for a moment. A noise from outside her car made her look up. Gerald Halpert was walking out of the front door towards her. She stepped out of the car and waved.
“Pam! Glad you made it!” Gerald said as he approached her car. “How were the roads?”
“Terrible,” Pam said as she walked towards her trunk for her suitcase and the plastic laundry basket that she’d filled with presents. “I almost spun-out twice. Couldn’t go much fast than thirty miles an hour either.”
“We’re just glad you made it. Let me get that for you.” He pointed to her suitcase. “We still have power so go get inside. Tom and Marci should be here soon with the kids.”
Despite his offer, Pam stayed with Gerald and walked into the house with him carrying the presents. She took off her coat as soon as she was inside.
“Betsy!” Gerald called as he stomped snow off his boots. “Pam’s here!”
Betsy arrived from the direction of the kitchen with a warm smile as she saw Pam. “I’m so glad you made it. The TV says it’s only going to get worse as the day goes on. Here, let me take your coat.”
Pam surrendered her outer wear and stepped out of her boots. “Thanks again for having me.”
“It’s nothing dear,” Betsy waved off as she hung up Pam’s coat in the hall closet. “Gerald, could you put that up in Jim’s old room then bring those presents into the living room please?”
“Of course.” Gerald stepped forward to give Betsy a peck on the lips before disappearing with Pam’s suitcase.
The warm glow Pam always felt around Jim’s parents brightened as she watched the brief display of affection. It was a loving familiarity she hoped to have for herself one day. Averting her eyes from the artistic abomination that was the hallway clown painting she followed Betsy into the kitchen.
“I’ve got water heating up if you’d like some tea.” Betsy pointed to a red metal kettle on the stove.
“I’d love some, thank you,” Pam smiled back while rubbing her hands together leaned against a counter. “Were you able to reach Jim?”
“Unfortunately, no,” Betsy sighed while pulling a box of tea out of a cupboard. “It’s not like him to not check in. But with the storm getting worse, I don’t think there’s anything we can do. We don’t exactly have an all-weather vehicle to go out and look for him. Especially now that your car is in the driveway.”
“I’m so sorry!” Pam started to get up. “I’ll go move it!”
Betsy waved her down. “Forget about that. I’m sure Gerald won’t mind. He’ll probably say something like its less area he’ll have to shovel.”
“Only makes sense,” Gerald said as he appeared in the kitchen. He was sipping a glass of whiskey. “Work smarter not harder.”
“Get anything new that you like?” Pam pointed to Gerald’s glass.
“Yes actually.” Gerald’s face lit up with the prospect of talking about his favorite hobby. He gave the amber liquid in his glass a swirl before answering. “This is a new blended Scotch that just came out. It’s called Shackleton. It was inspired by a famous Antarctic explorer. For only about forty dollars it punches way above its weight class if you ask me.”
“Can I try a sip?” Pam asked.
Gerald was more than happy to oblige. Pam spent the rest of the afternoon talking with Jim’s parents. She helped Betsy prepare the other two free bedrooms upstairs for when Tom and Marci would arrive. Larrisa was also expected before night fell. Pete called to report there was no way he and his family were going to be able to make it out of Boston. He promised to call if anything changed.
It was closing in on dinner time before Tom arrived with his family. Larrisa was right behind her older brother turning into the driveway.
“The roads are horrible,” Tom explained once they were inside. “Trees are starting to come down and the plows are barely keeping up on the highways let alone surface streets.”
“I’m lucky I spotted Tom,” said Larrisa. “I was able to follow in his tracks otherwise I don’t think I would have made it.”
“We’re just glad you’re here,” said Gerald.
The rest of the evening was spent with dinner, a viewing of Frosty the Snowman, and several heated games of Uno. Marci took Vanessa and Jason upstairs to bed when the children started showing signs of fatigue. Pam enjoyed the company of Jim’s family. Betsy settled in on the couch next to Gerald with her latest crochet project. Larrisa tucked her feet under her in an old armchair while Tom distributed Hot Toddies for everyone. Despite the warmth of the drink and company, a shard of cold kept Pam looking at her phone hoping to hear from Jim. It stayed silent through the entire evening. She tried calling Michael several times, but only got the message that his voicemail box was full.
“We’re all worried about Jim,” Larrisa said after Pam’s last escape to the empty kitchen to re-check her phone.
“Yeah, I know,” Pam said quietly.
“Maybe try to get some rest,” Larrisa suggested. “We might hear something new in the morning.”
Pam nodded quietly. “Yeah, maybe.”
She excused herself from the rest of the Halperts to retire to Jim’s old room. Earlier in the year she’d helped him remove most of his old possessions from the room. Even without the high school basketball trophies or music posters she still felt calmer being in the room Jim had lived in. Eventually she drifted to sleep.
Sunday dawned with no change in the weather. Four-foot snow drifts blocked the driveway from the street. After breakfast Gerald and Tom pulled on coats and boots to try and clear the driveway. Marci, Larrisa, and Pam took Vanessa and Jason outside to play in the snow. Pam ended up with Jason in the snow fort they’d built and helped him to stockpile snowballs. Ducking behind the walls of their fort, the fended off snowball attacks launched at them. Pam had the foresight to grab a plastic sled to use as an additional shield. She held it in front of Jason who popped out to throw his own snowballs back at his sister, mother, and aunt. Betsy had hot chocolate and tomato soup with grilled cheese sandwiches waiting for them when they came back in for lunch. The afternoon progressed with Pam helping Vanessa with a Disney coloring book. Jason challenged his father and grandfather to endless games of foosball on well-worn table in the basement. After the children went to bed for the night, Tom and Larrisa revived an old Halpert family Christmas tradition of watching the movie Die Hard.
The lack of any contact from Jim though continued to overshadow the mood. Everyone had tried and failed to reach him. It cast an air of anxiety that everyone was starting to feel. Betsy missed stiches in her crochet project. Gerald sipped on his fourth glass of whiskey. Marci didn’t have to tell Tom to behave himself once. Larrisa had adopted her, “clinic” voice as Tom called it, whenever she tried to encourage anyone. Pam went from checking her phone every hour to every thirty minutes. The comfort she’d felt the previous night in Jim’s old room disappeared as she slid under the covers.
Clouds still stretched across the sky on Christmas Eve Day morning. The snow had finally tapered off, but according to the news it would be days before the roads would be clear. Pam threw herself into more winter activities with the Halper clan. They baked cookies, put presents under the tree, watched Christmas movies, and made a snowman family in the front yard before re-fighting their snowball war in the back yard. Night fell on Christmas Eve still without word from Jim. Pam tossed and turned in bed for what seemed like hours. Finally, she gave up and walked downstair to the living room. Betsy had left the lights of the Christmas tree on. Pam curled up on the couch with the bear Jim given her and faced the tree. She pulled a blanket around her too. From her perspective it seemed like the only thing keeping the shadows of uncertainty at bay were the white lights circling the tree.
“Please let him be safe,” Pam whispered into the room.
“Aunt Pam? Is that you?”
The small voice caused Pam to sit up and look around. Vanessa had poked her head around the corner. Hearing Vanessa call her ‘Aunt’ threatened to clog Pam’s voice. She took a deep swallow before calling back.
“I’m right here. Do you need something?”
“I heard you get up,” Vanessa said softly as she walked into the room. “Are you worried about Uncle Jim?”
“Me too.” Vanessa told her. “Can I sit with you?”
“Of course.” Pam patted the couch and lifted the blanket so the girl could cuddle in next to her.
“Who is that?” Vanessa pointed at the bear in Pam’s hand.
“This is a friend your Uncle Jim gave me just before he left.”
“What’s his name?” The lights from the tree seemed to sparkle in Vanessa’s eyes when she asked the question.
“Well first of all it’s a she not a he,” Pam gently nudged Vanessa in the side which made the girl let out a quiet giggle. “And I don’t know. I never got around to naming her. Would you like to give her a name?”
“Hmmm,” Vanessa considered the prospect for a moment before looking back at Pam. “Cece!”
“I like that name.” Pam said kindly. “Is it short for anything?”
“I don’t know. It was what we called Great Grandma Halpert before she went to Heaven,” said Vanessa. “Grandma Cece.”
“Cece it is. Want to hold her?”
Vanessa took the toy in her hands and leaned her head against Pam’s arm. It didn’t take long for her to drop back off to sleep. The warmth of the young girl seeped into Pam and soon she had also fallen asleep.
It was a dull thud coming from outside that caused Pam to wake up. Outside the sky was clear with the first fingers of dawn beginning to paint the horizon. Extricating herself from Vanessa Pam started to walk towards the front door. She’d barely slipped on her glasses and was starting to tie her hair up in a messy bun when she heard the door open. When she turned the corner to face the door, she froze on the spot, but not because of the cold air coming in the doorway. He was standing up from depositing two flat boxes on the ground.
“Jim,” she whispered.
Closing the door behind him, Jim crossed the threshold of his family home to wrap his arms around her. Relief flooded her as she eagerly returned his embrace. His cheek was course with stubble. His fingertips were cold as they threaded their way into her hair. His voice was rough when he whispered in her ear.
“Merry Christmas Beesly.”
The sound and feel of him close once more caused tears to pool under eyes she’d closed tight. She leaned back only far enough to press her lips against his.
“You’re here,” she said at last when they broke apart.
“I am. I’m so sorry I know you all must have been worried sick. My phone died and I lost my charger. When I finally was able to find a landline the phone lines were all down.”
“Shhhh, don’t worry about that right now,” Pam assured him. “It’s ok. You're ok, that’s the only thing that matters.”
Jim didn’t respond. Instead, he just pulled her into another fierce embrace. Pam sniffled a bit when they finally let each other go.
“Look at me,” she bemoaned and wiped at her eyes. “I’m a mess.”
Jim leaned back in faux shock. “You? A mess? Hardly.”
“I mean it! I crashed on the couch last night with your niece.”
“Pam,” Jim’s voice dipped to a low gentle register. He pulled her close once more and placed a kiss on top of her head. Leaning back, he looked deep in her eyes. “You are so pretty right now.”
A laughing sob escaped Pam’s voice and she launched herself at Jim again. He rocked her back and forth until a new voice came from behind them.
Vanessa had woken up and wandered over to investigate. Jim released Pam and kneeled to greet Vanessa who had started to run at him.
“Hey Kiddo! Oof! Merry Christmas!”
Vanessa didn’t hug him for very long before she dashed up the stairs. “Mom! Dad! Granma! Granpa! Uncle Jim’s here! Uncle Jim’s here! Uncle Jim’s here!”
Jim chuckled to himself as he stood up and started taking off his coat. “Let the madness begin.”
His words were prophetic. Vanessa’s shouts had the entire family out of bed. Gerald and Betsy both embraced their son fondly. Tom gave his brother a quick jab in the side of the ribs for making them all worry so much before his own backslapping embrace. Larissa just smiled a little to sweetly which made Jim comment he might have been safer out in the snow. Though it all Pam didn’t leave his side.
“Now that that’s out of the way, who wants donuts?” Jim picked up the boxes he’d set down earlier. “I found the last open Dunkin’ Donuts on the eastern seaboard last night so they should still be good.”
Vanessa and Jason led the charge to the kitchen for breakfast. Jim told them all how he and Michael had been forced off the highway due to the blizzard. They’d slept in the breakfast bar of a Days Inn along with other stranded motorists. Michael had let someone borrow his phone and had it stolen. He also raved about the capabilities of his Subaru once the roads were even semi-passable.
“I made a quick pit stop at my place to get my spare phone charger,” he said around a mouthful of a lemon filled donut covered in powdered sugar before looking over at Pam. “Thanks for blowing my phone up by the way. Nice to know you care so much.”
“Shut it you. I was worried,” she fired back.
Jim just chuckled and pulled her closer to his side at the crowded table.
The last of the donuts were eaten which was the signal for Vanessa and Jason to once more become the vanguard in an all-out assault on everything wrapping paper. Toys, books, whiskey, yarn, DVD’s, and clothing were uncovered as the morning progressed. Marci and Pam combined forces with Betsy to make the traditional Halpert Christmas chicken soup for lunch. Jim was able to use his parents' computer to check the status of the power outages. Not only was power still out in Pam’s neighborhood, but now Jim’s home was also without electricity. Evening fell with the decision that Jim would also spend the night. Betsy waved aside any thought that Jim would sleep on a couch since his old bedroom was already occupied.
“You’re sure your mom doesn’t mind?” Pam asked when they finally settled down together.
“She knows we basically live together anyway,” Jim shrugged as he spooned in behind Pam.
Pam let out a deep sigh of contentment as his arms wrapped around her. “I’m so glad you’re here.”
“Same here,” he told her and pressed a kiss to her neck.
She couldn’t help but arch her head back to meet him. Even more when she felt his hand start to slide under her shirt.
“Jim,” she whispered. “Your family is right down the hall.”
“Don’t worry Beesly,” he breathed into her ear which sent shivers down her shoulder and arm. “I know exactly what it means to have a silent night.”
Pam’s chortle was immediately cut off because of the feel of Jim’s hands reacquainting themselves with her. She rolled over and pulled him into a deep kiss.
“Best Christmas present ever. I love you,” she whispered.
“I love you too,” he whispered back before kissing her again with every ounce of passion he had.
Outside the stars and moon bathed the world in silver on Christmas night.