On the ride home, they don’t speak to each other.
That’s not unusual in and of itself, really. They’ve got two kids (both chatterboxes) and there’s generally a voicemail or two for Jim to catch up on, or a phone call to Pam’s mom. There’s always noise happening and conversations (of one kind or another) taking place.
Not today, though. Today there are no kids, no phones, and no talking.
Pam contemplates jumping right in. He’d asked her to put her dukes up, after all. And their time is limited, because Athlead is pulling Jim away (as they always are) early in the morning and she has to get up to get the kids from her mom’s house and they have a lot to talk (fight) about so now seems like as good time as any, right? Except she doesn’t know how to start a fight on purpose, so she just sits there and lets the silence inside the car wash over her. On any other ride home it might be comfortable or even welcome, but not today. Maybe this was a mistake. Maybe he should have just gone on to Philly.
Jim, on the other hand, isn’t contemplating anything except how much this sucks. He hates fighting, but he especially hates fighting with Pam. He avoids it like the plague, which is maybe what got them into this situation in the first place. Maybe he should have just let her in on the whole thing at the beginning, before he even made that first phone call. Maybe all this could have been avoided, all this tension or roughness or whatever name they can give it without making it sound like the death knell for their marriage. But it was wanting to avoid a fight that made him keep it a secret in the first place, so. Lose-lose.
They make it home and inside the house before they speak. “I’m gonna take a shower before we...” Pam says, and he winces at the unsaid second half of her sentence.
“Sure. Are you hungry?”
“No.” She turns and walks down the hallway to the bathroom without so much as glancing in his direction. He gets a little bit angry--this was her idea in the first place, him staying home so they could fight, so why not just get it over with? He imagines himself following her, grabbing her by the arm and whirling her around until to face him and not letting her go until they get it all out. She disappears into the bedroom before he can even take a step, though, so he doesn’t. He makes a ham and cheese sandwich instead.
The bread is dry and sticks to the roof of his mouth and he feels a little sick, but that could be due to the looming argument as much as it could be due to the sandwich. He chokes it down anyway. For a second he thinks he’ll get a beer to wash it down with, but he decides against it. It’d be ammo for Pam and he doesn’t want to give her any more than she already has.
His bitter thoughts surprise him. When did he start thinking like that? Pam isn’t the kind of person to store up indiscretions and fling them back in his face during a fight. At least, she never has been before. She’s always been good at “I feel this” and “I am hurt” and never “you’re an asshole” even when he is.
But he has a hard time believing that this is all his fault. Everything is he does is for his family. Everything. Why is it so hard for her to see that? And why was she crying, and why didn’t she tell him? If she’s so unhappy, why is it that he’s the last to know? Why didn’t she put up more of a fight at the beginning? His head hurts and his vision is a little blurry and goddamnit he hates this so much.
When Pam enters the kitchen, she sees Jim at the kitchen table. He has his back to the doorway and the fabric of his shirt is stretched tight against his shoulders because he’s hunched over with his head in his hands. There’s a plate next to him and the bread is out on the counter and she feels a little flame of annoyance. How could he eat at a time like this? She thinks she’ll be sick.
He doesn’t know she’s there and she flirts with the idea of running. Maybe if she hides under the covers he’ll eventually come and find her. Maybe if she can pull him into bed they can try to forget all of this through touches and kisses and skin against skin. But that’s unrealistic and unlikely, so she sucks it up and speaks first.
He turns to look at her and his eyes are rimmed red. It breaks her heart. She’s not annoyed at the plate or the bread anymore...she just feels like a bitch.
He gives her a weak smile and pushes out the chair next to him with his foot. It’s a very Jim gesture, considerate and sweet in the way that comes so easy for him. So why can’t he understand where she’s coming from? She hasn’t felt considered in a long time, especially not when it comes to huge and life altering decisions for their family. “Hey. Are you sure you’re not hungry? I can make you a sandwich or something.”
“No. Thank you, though.”
He folds his hands on the table and studies them like they hold the key to fixing his marriage. They don’t, of course, so then he studies them like they’ll give him an idea of what to say, how to get started. Again, they’re no help. He’s never done this before. Should he just say what he’s thinking? That sounds good, he decides. He’ll go with that. “Why didn’t you tell me about the crying?”
Pam stiffens. “You don’t want more stress. I didn’t think you’d want to hear about it.”
“Of course I want to hear about it. I’ll tell you what I don’t want, though, and that’s to hear about it from Brian.” He’d never felt like a bigger idiot than he had when he’d heard Brian make that comment. It’s rare that Pam cries at all, and to hear that she’d cried in front of another man makes something primal inside of him react in a way that he doesn’t like. He’s not usually so possessive, but it’s his Pam and she kept this from him. He hates it. “Were you ever going to tell me? And what was it that made you cry, anyway?”
“I wasn’t going to tell you. Maybe I should have, I don’t know.” She doesn’t want to answer the rest of his question, but he looks at her expectantly. “And it was after that phone call we had. Me and you, after Cece’s dance recital.” His face falls and it feels like she’s been punched in the gut. It’s a while before she speaks again. “I was so excited to tell you about the mural and you were so...just, whatever it was you were. You got mad at me and I thought I’d gotten her dance but also I was so angry because you should have been there. It wasn’t my fault that you didn’t see it. You promised us, Jim.”
They’ve been over this a thousand times. She knows why he couldn’t come. He’s starting to feel hot under the collar, literally. “Look,” he sighs, and drags his hand down his face without realizing how dramatic it looks. “We have talked about this. We had no way of anticipating that Bridgeport Capital was going to walk, I had to stay—”
“No, Jim, you didn’t!” Pam slaps her hand down onto the table in frustration. The sound echoes in the quiet house and her hand stings a little. It fuels her. “You told me back when this started—after we’d already decided that the time wasn’t right for us to invest—that our family would come first. You swore up and down—”
“—and then you disregarded everything we’d agreed on and went behind my back and did it anyway and didn’t really give me a choice as far as whether or not it was okay, and then you gave away all of our savings! What if something happens, Jim, and we don’t have any money to fall back on? Now you’re missing these huge moments with Cece and Phillip and I’m doing it alone. Even when you’re here. Because when you’re here you’re not really, you’re still in Philadelphia.”
“That’s unfair, Pam. All of this is for our family. I want to give us a good life and Athlead can do that. Why is that so hard for you to see?”
She kind of can’t believe that he’s asking her that. “We don’t know that Athlead can do that. You lost a huge investor; what if you guys can’t come up with the money? I mean I don’t want you to fail, but what if you do? Haven’t you thought of that possibility?”
He looks at her in shock. This is the first time that she’s been anything but supportive and encouraging. Of course he’s thought about them failing—sometimes that’s all he can think about—but Pam has never brought it up. It’s jarring to hear those words leave her mouth. He feels like she’s given up on him. “Wow. I mean, I don’t know what to say to that.”
She can see the hurt written on his face. Instinctively, she moves to cover his hand with hers but she stops herself, resulting in an awkward jerky movement across the tabletop that she’s sure he picks up on. “Jim, I’m sure you guys will be a success. These are just things that you haven’t thought about.”
That statement propels him up and away from the table. He paces in front of the sink and pushes his hands into his hair because he doesn’t know what else to do. He wants to yell, really and truly. Not yell at Pam, per say, just yell in general. It wouldn’t win him any points, though, so he forces himself to control his voice as he speaks. “I have thought about this from every angle. I have nightmares about the bottom falling out. How could you think that I’d never thought about it? Pam, the scariest thing I’ve ever done is throw myself into this without knowing for sure that it will work. But I really believe that it will and when it does, it will be enormous for us. For us us.” He gestures in the empty space between the two of them and she shrinks away from him as he motions towards her. Her face is hard and impassive and it breaks his heart into a thousand tiny pieces.
When she speaks again, her voice is low. He’s never heard her like that before. He’d almost rather she scream at him. “It doesn’t feel like there’s an us us right now. Jim. It feels like there’s a you and there’s a me and the kids.” She hangs her head and he knows that she’s trying not to cry. Anger flashes through him: she’ll hold back tears in front of him, but not in front of Brian? It’s quickly replaced by shame coiling in his gut. She’s upset, obviously, and he’s the one that’s caused it. If he could just get to her to see how huge this will be, he knows she’d come around.
“Hey,” he says, his voice soft. He stops pacing and kneels in front of her. She has her hands on her knees and he covers them with his. They’re so tiny against his palms, and he’s suddenly struck with his young she looks. Her hair is still drying from her shower, her pajama pants are faded, the t-shirt she’s wearing (one of his, he takes that as a good omen) swallows her. Her eyes are huge and swimming with unshed tears and there’s a flush to her cheeks that he thinks must be a result of trying too hard to suppress too much emotion. God, he loves her. He’d give her anything she wanted, do whatever she asked of him, except he can’t bring himself to walk away from the huge possibility that’s within arms reach. “Look, I know this hasn’t been easy. I have no idea what it’s like for you here. Just…” he casts his eyes around the room, knowing that what he’s about to say is going to be a tough sell. “Just, what if you could be happy in Philly?”
She shifts and he feels her start to pull away so he grabs her hands tighter. “No, listen, will you try? Maybe...I mean, there’s a ton of opportunity there for you, Pam. What if we could both have our dream? What if our dreams are in Philly?”
Her voice is small when she replies. “I’ve been living my dream for the past six years.” A tear slips down her face and she brushes it away quickly, like she doesn’t want him to see. “I’m already happy here. I would...it would have to be perfect if I were to consider moving. That’s a huge thing to ask of me, of our family. There’s still no guarantee it will work.” He almost afraid to ask what “it” is—moving? Athlead? Their marriage?
He doesn’t know it, but Pam is wondering the same thing. Jim doesn’t ask, but if he had, she wouldn’t have been able to answer him.
Pam watches Jim’s thumb rub against the back of her hand. She loves when he does stuff like that. It always makes her feel so wanted, like he just can’t help but to touch her. Now, though, it feels cheap. Like he’s trying to placate her. Rationally, she knows that he’s not. He’s here and he’s listening and he’s trying to find a way to compromise, maybe, and though she feels like she’s compromised so much already she knows that she can meet him halfway. Three fourths of the way. Seven eighths, even. “We’ll look around, I guess. For something for me.” The words taste sour as she says them and that doesn’t seem like a good thing.
But Jim looks so hopeful and he hugs her so tightly and she can feel his body sag in relief. He buries his face in her neck and she can hear him saying something, but she can’t quite catch whatever it is. She’s too busy promising herself that she’ll really try, she’ll look for the silver lining, so that nobody can accuse her of giving up easily. The implication behind that thought isn’t lost on her. It’s scary, but…
It’s not as scary as it should be.
She just feels so tired. Or rather, like there’s a wall around her heart--not a tall one or even a medium sized one. But there used to not be anything there, and now there’s definitely something.
Jim pulls away and moves his hands to cradle her face. He makes sure she’s looking him in the eye when he says “thank you, Pam. I know it’s hard. I think this will be the best thing for our family, though, I really do.” He leans in and gives her a chaste kiss that she returns, but maybe only because of muscle memory. She doesn’t know for sure. She wonders when decisions about what’s best for their family came to rest solely on his shoulders.
He looks at her for a moment longer, his eyes searching her face. She’s honestly not sure what he sees. Whatever it is makes him uneasy, she can tell, because his eyebrows knit together in concern as he stands back up. She doesn’t mean to be so unreadable or harsh or bitchy or whatever it is, she’s just feels so ignored and taken for granted and he’s Jim and he’d never purposefully hurt her and—
“Jim. I love you.” She knows that for a fact. “It’ll—we’ll figure it out.” She’s less certain of that. “I’ll try. We just...we need to keep talking.”
His expression is so wide open and vulnerable that it’s heart wrenching. “I love you. I think so, too.”
There’s so much more she wants to say but she’s tired of fighting. It seems easier to just bury the truth (I’m not moving to Philadelphia.) somewhere way deep down and deal with it later, if at all. She’s good at that, because after all, she did it for years. “I’m tired. I’m gonna go to bed.”
“Okay. I need to shower and then I’ll be there, too. This...I’m glad I stayed.”
She nods, offers the best smile she can muster. “Yeah. Me too.”
His shower doesn’t take long and she’s still awake when he gets in bed. It’s dark, though, and she’s turned away from him, so he can’t see if she’s asleep or not. Under the sheets, his hand brushes against her hip, squeezes gently. They always have sex (great sex) after an argument, it’s their way of putting everything to bed once and for all, literally. There was no reason why tonight should be different.
But when she hears him whisper her name in the darkness, she pretends to be asleep.