No one expected an invitation to a holiday party at Steve’s house but not a single one of them refused it. Most of the cast and creative staff had kept in touch with Steve since he left the show but getting the whole gang under one roof again was a special sort of occasion that all other plans must be canceled for. John even postponed his and Emily’s trip to England by a day so that he could attend and everyone assured him it was the only correct decision.
Emails and texts flew back and forth between the guests planning who wanted to carpool, who wanted to be a DD, etc. On the night of the party Mindy found herself in Ellie’s car with B.J. in the back seat and Mariah Carey’s Christmas CD blaring over the speakers. The music was too loud for any conversation to happen but Ellie’s attempts to harmonize with both Mariah and Mindy’s off-key impersonation of Mariah and the sound of B.J.’s muffled laughter were all Mindy needed to feel grateful that they got to spend this time together before hiatus kept most of them separated for another few weeks. As Ellie pulled into Steve’s driveway Mindy eyes met B.J.’s in the rearview mirror which brought an unexpected beaming smile to his face that required Mindy to reach her arm back and give his knee a fond tap.
Things had been weird between Mindy and B.J. for the past month. A late night at work had led to a debate between the two on Erin’s and Andy’s realistic chances of ever making it work as a couple. They were exhausted and too full of pizza for the third night in a row, which no amount of protein shakes for breakfast and salads for lunch had assuaged Mindy’s guilt over, for either to realize how personal the conversation had become until Mindy tearfully confessed that she wanted to break up with David for no other reason than things had run their course and B.J. responded by kissing her. There was no violent reaction from Mindy much as she’d always wanted to be the kind of woman to slap a man in the heat of the moment but she didn’t kiss him back and they’d barely spoken since. Mindy hadn’t even told him that she broke up with David two days later and that while the calmness and maturity of their breakup had reminded Mindy of both times she’d broken up with B.J. there’d been a distinct lack of grieving the loss of David’s physical presence the way she had with him. Not talking about things had never been their thing but Mindy didn't know what to say so she very uncharacteristically kept her mouth shut because there were few things she was more proud of than the way that she and B.J. had clung to their friendship through all the ebbs and flows of their romantic relationship.
With that thought in mind Mindy’s hand moved away from B.J.’s knee and she leapt into unloading the bags of gifts from the trunk as soon as Ellie parked the car. The three of them managed to unload the contents of trunk in one trip and Mindy and Ellie fell into step together as they headed towards the front door.
As they neared the door Ellie turned to Mindy with a huge smile on her face."I wonder if Steve invited his co-stars from any of his movies or if this is Dundler Mifflin only."
Mindy didn’t have a chance to answer before B.J. did with, "You mean, you wonder if Ryan Gosling will be here."
They were still laughing when Nancy opened the door and the next few minutes were consumed with greetings, hugs, and everyone fighting to cling to Steve the longest as it hit each one how much they missed him. It was a three way tie that none of them got to challenge because Jenna showed up immediately after them with a phone full of pictures and videos of the baby. They hadn’t been the first group to arrive and just about everyone else showed up within a half hour of their arrival so soon enough there was no distracting the party from getting into full swing. It wasn’t strictly a Dunder Mifflin party though they made up the majority of the guest list. There were other friends and co-workers of Steve and Mindy got the chance to finally meet some people she hadn’t met or had only been briefly introduced to at industry functions.
Ryan Gosling was not there, a fact that she and Ellie were sure of after casually circling the party three times in search of him. There was much serious discussion as to what to do should they find him, who would get him first, if they had it in them to share him, how to handle the media reaction, and how willing he would be to stand in the rain with one or both of them and it was so serious that they were doubled over from laughter by the time Angela came over to ask what was so funny. After they filled her in Ellie ended up going off with her to find the mini risotto cakes they’d seen some of the other guests eating. Mindy planned to find Jenna and beg to look at more baby pictures when she noticed B.J. sitting in the corner scowling at his cell phone.
There was an empty chair next to him and Mindy didn’t hesitate to seat herself in it. She gave him a sympathetic look that was only slightly mocking.
"Twitter being lame again?"
He laughed but the scowl didn’t go away. "I’m not going to live tweet Steve’s party."
"Awww. Does this mean taking a picture of us on my phone with my arm stretched out in front of me and our best ‘We’re the sexiest bitches on MySpace’ faces is out of the picture?"
The scowl faded a little and he looked up at her, "Are we holding red Solo cups?"
"Duh. Of course we are."
"Then I’ll think about it."His face grew suddenly serious and his attempt to hide the fact that he checked how far out of earshot the other party guests were wasn’t lost on Mindy at all. She frowned and wondered if this was the moment they were going to stop being quiet about the kiss and how okay she could make herself with that before he opened his mouth. B.J. + Mindy = BFF 4EVER was still the most important endgame to her so if he had to talk about it to make things okay she could reevaluate her vow of silence on the matter. One thing Mindy had always admired – always loved when she could use that word – about B.J. was that he shared what she considered one of her most deeply feminine needs, the need to talk about their feelings. Each time they’d dated it had felt to her like they equally pursued each other with a healthy awareness of what it meant to their friendship and working relationship. Both had taken the fair share of blame when things didn’t work out and both put in the effort required to make everything okay. She’d always known exactly where they stood and that she hadn't lately and more pressingly that this had stressed her out more than her own recent breakup left her more confused than she had ever felt around him.
"Benjamin, what's up?"
Mindy liked to use his full first name in moments of great tenderness or seriousness and this counted as both. She knew the message was received when he looked at her and held her gaze for longer than a second.
"UPS was supposed to deliver the present I got you three days ago and now they're telling me it was accidentally rerouted and I won't get it for another few days."
"Is that all?" It came out more flippant than Mindy intended and she wanted to take it back even before B.J. flinched. The only time they'd ever exchanged presents on a set date was when they dated and she celebrated the first night of Hanukkah with him. All the other years they'd just pick a day in December that worked for both of them and exchange gifts then. They both took gift giving very seriously and when Mindy paused to think about how much care she'd put into everything she'd gotten him (a mix CD of 90s hip-hop lovingly crafted during a long Sunday afternoon, a stack of books, and a bottle of his favorite wine) she knew it was a big deal that UPS messed up not because of how upset he thought it would make her to be gift-less but how upset it made him to not have the gift to give her.
"Mindy...I know I messed up when I kissed you. I just want to make it up to you."
His voice dropped so low when he said kissed that Mindy had to lean forward to hear him. This meant putting her face so close to his that she could feel the warmth of his breath. It was the kind of close that sent all of the parts of her that had never gotten over her attraction to him or romantic feelings towards him into overdrive. David was too good of a person to ever accuse her of still being in love with B.J. but over the course of their relationship he’d made several passing comments on the way he’d sometimes catch her looking at B.J.. Once he’d asked her if she was actually over him and she surprised them both by fumbling over her denial so poorly that he never asked again.
"B.J., you didn’t mess anything up."
"But you’ve been so-"
"I know I’ve been so-"
They paused and laughed after speaking at the same time and saying almost the same thing. Mindy smiled and took his hand and when he squeezed it she felt it around her heart just as tightly as around her palm.
When she broke the silence she could feel each word get caught in her throat.
"You don’t have anything to make up for."
"I don’t know if I believe that."
"Does it help that I’ll never forgive you for growing a beard?"
"That was Ryan’s beard. You pinky swore to never hold Ryan things against me."
"You got me. Seriously? Your timing was off but I can’t lie well enough to say that I mind kisses from you."
In spite of the seriously it had been meant as somewhat of a light hearted joke but her tone was as off as his timing and neither was earning their reputation as a talented comedian. Mindy wanted to answer "Really but not like that, it’s just you really know how to kiss but you shouldn’t have kissed me and we shouldn’t be kissing even though it’s fun because how many times have we tried this and just because you’re still my favorite everything doesn’t mean this is a good idea or does it?" but was thankfully saved from turning her hypothetical soliloquy of uncertainty into reality by Ed calling her name from the other room. When she stood up B.J. looked like he wanted to stop her but didn’t and all she could mumble out was "We’re okay," before she headed towards the sound of Ed calling her name for the second time. The next hour was spent with him, Ellie, Creed, Rainn, and Steve in a holiday sing-off/dance-off.
At one point she caught a glimpse of B.J. once more scowling at his phone and she thought about the gifts she’d gotten him and how she had more fun shopping for him than anyone else. When the contest ended and Ellie was crowned Queen of Everything by the judges (Nancy, John, and Jenna) she wandered towards the dessert table and attempted the trick of looking like she ate one cookie when she planned on sneaking a handful. Paul joined her and they chatted about her book tour and if the show hiatus would also be a vacation from publicity for her.
"I've got my other writing projects I need to catch up on and some serious shopping to do so yeah I’ll be hanging around LA a little more than I have been."
"Glad you’ll be around. If you miss another Saturday lunch with B.J. I’m scared he might ask me. I hate mimosas."
Mindy didn't even try to hide the piece of fudge she grabbed as she excused herself from the conversation with some mumbled nonsense about needing to make a phone call. She wandered away and thought about how her weekend lunch dates with B.J. were events she counted down towards every week she was in town. This time she moved through the party on the lookout for B.J. (and maybe Ryan Gosling a little) and of course managed to bump into everyone but. Finally she found him coming out one of the first floor bathrooms and grabbed his hand just before he noticed her. As her fingers brushed against his wrist she thought about how necessary his physical and vocal presence in her life had been since the day they met. It couldn’t just be a best friend thing because so many of her best friends were phone and email buddies with the bi- or tri-annual in person visit and she was okay with that but B.J. always needed to be where she could see him, hug him and be able to look at his face when told him a joke or showed him something she’d found on the internet. The loneliest she’d felt in recent years was when he was filming Inglourious Basterds and the memory of that loneliness hadn’t faded.
It didn’t really surprise Mindy that Ellie popped up behind her before she could talk to B.J.. For his part he barely managed to wipe the hopeful, curious look off his face before Ellie stepped between them and started the discussion about leaving. Mindy had forgotten that the plan was to drop B.J. off if he couldn’t get a ride with someone else and then pick Ellie’s sister, Carrie, up from the airport for a late girl’s night out. B.J. assured them he could get a ride with Paul and Mindy was torn between figuring out a way for them not to separate for the night and letting it happen since she still wasn’t entirely sure what to say. She finally decided to go with Ellie but hugged him goodbye in a way she hoped conveyed that she wasn’t walking away from whatever spark had reignited that evening.
A better reassurance may have been if B.J. witnessed how distracted Mindy remained for the rest of the evening. The always hilarious antics of the Double Kemper Dream Team, as the sisters dubbed themselves, and several strangers complimenting her on her dress couldn’t fully pull Mindy away from her thoughts. She smiled, danced, and convinced two people at the bar to read The Hunger Games, but the whole time she wondered what B.J. was doing. When the evening finally ebbed into something she could respectfully step away from Mindy called a cab. As soon as she was settled inside the cab she took her phone out to text B.J. only for it to immediately buzz with a text from him.
Will you be home tomorrow morning? I have another gift for you.
With no hesitation she responded that he could come over anytime after 10am. By 9:30am Mindy was awake, showered, had her hair done and her makeup fully applied, and was on her fourth dress of the morning which was the one she’d finally committed to being the best dress for her to wear. The doorbell rang promptly at 10 and Mindy opened the door to find B.J. dressed in a sweater even though the weather was a very seasonably warm for Southern California. The sweater was the epitome of ugly Christmas sweaters and given B.J’s Jewish background and perfect fashion sense Mindy couldn’t figure out why he was wearing it and why it looked so familiar. B.J. fidgeted on the doorstep and neither could really make eye contact so Mindy finally stepped back and went to ask him inside when she realized where she recognized the sweater from.
"Is that Mark Darcy’s sweater from Bridget Jones?"
"Yeah. John gave it to me as a gag gift one year because you loved the movie but I…it was never the right time to wear it."
"B.J….I…" There were a million things she wanted to say until she noticed that he was holding a stack of poster boards in his hands and that reference didn’t take her any time to get. "Are those Love Actually poster boards?"
She swore he blushed as he took a step forward as if to come inside."It’s dumb, right? I just have something I need to say and I think I should just say it. Can I come in?"
"No!" Mindy’s arms stretched out to block the door. "Do the posters. I’ll do my best Keira." To prove her point she sucked her cheeks and stomach in as far as they went and attempted to look waifish and British. For a second it looked like B.J. was going to fight his way inside but instead he nervously stepped back and held the poster boards out in front of him. He slowly and deliberately presented each one to Mindy,holding each one up long enough for her to read it before he slipped the front board to the back. She took in every word and image and made sure to look up at his face before moving on to the next board.
In order they said:
I heard once that at Christmas you tell the truth. [Stuck to the bottom was a print out of the Love Actually poster.]
But when Christmas isn’t your holiday another day has to special. [To the left of the sentence he’d drawn a Star of David.]
So I picked today to tell you
I love you just the way you are
And always will.
The second the last poster board was read Mindy grabbed the stack from his hands and tossed them gently to the ground next to them. This was so there was nothing between them when she stepped forward and kissed him just as she had planned to from the moment she got his text last night. She would have kissed him no matter what her present was or if there’d been no present at all. That the gift was so perfect, so unexpected, and so exactly what she wanted without ever thinking to express it only meant that the kiss went on longer and she didn’t hold back at all from pressing against him as firmly as she wanted to. The kiss was returned with equal fervor and when their lips finally parted she only moved her head back far enough to allow them to talk.
B.J. spoke first, in a low, teasing whisper. "I hate to be Mr. Fast Mover but can we get me out of this sweater? I’m about to cross over to gross sweaty."
"What makes you think I want to take my dress off? Have you not noticed how great it looks on me?"
He smiled and brushed his lips along the curve of her cheek. "Mindy, I always notice how great you look."
For that he was let in and allowed out of his sweater. Hours later when they’d moved from the bedroom into her living room and were curled up with Love Actually playing softly in the background Mindy turned to B.J. and asked the one last question that had gone unanswered. "So what was my original gift that UPS lost?"
Her back rested against his chest and he pushed her hair to the side so he could drop kisses along her neck. "Just those earrings you wouldn’t stop looking at the last time you dragged me shopping with you in New York, the ones from that store in SoHo where the owner kept asking us if we knew Ricky Gervais."
Mindy turned sideways so she wrap her arms around his waist and kiss him. "We’re totally stalking UPS trucks until we find them."
She laughed and wrapped herself tighter around him. "Now we’re staying here because I heard it might rain later and if it does we’re going outside so you can show me your best Gosling."
"Notebook Gosling, right?"
"I don’t mean Drive Gosling though you’d look pretty hot in that jacket."
Mindy waited for the witty retort but was even happier with the kiss. All Goslings, earrings, and rain drenched, heartfelt speeches were forgotten as they curled tighter around each other. If someone asked Mindy right then to write the perfect, romantic ending it would be two people who never gave up on their love sitting together on a moderately priced, extremely comfortable couch with an ugly sweater flung in the corner, Laura Linney doing the dance of finally being with her dream man on the TV, and no declarations that needed to be more dramatic or extreme than the kisses that they shared.