“Truth or dare,” Jim says, staring at the ceiling. Karen’s moving into her apartment tomorrow morning, so this is their farewell bash for her hotel room. They’re splitting a Dr. Pepper and a bag of gummy worms and lying next to each other on the bed. Karen likes the red and orange ones the best, whereas Jim’s all about the green and yellow, so they keep reaching in randomly and then trading off.
Jim can’t help but think that it’s probably the lamest action this bed’s seen in a long, long time.
“Dare,” Karen decides.
Jim chuckles. “No way.”
“Way,” she insists.
“Filippelli!” he admonishes, bumping his shoulder against hers. “No one ever chooses dare.”
She bumps his shoulder right back. “Well, since we already know what each other’s favorite colors are, I figured I’d up the ante a little.”
“You are a dangerous girl, Karen Filippelli,” Jim pronounces, and accepts a few green and yellow gummy worms from her. “A dangerous, dangerous girl.”
“And don’t you forget it,” she says, swigging the Dr. Pepper with flourish, “or I’ll kick your ass.”
“So I dare you,” Jim gravely concludes, “to tell me what your favorite color is.”
“Nice try, Halpert.”
She winds up busting out an Italian accent, calling Andy, and convincing him that not only did they spend a truly amazing night together four years ago, but then he never called her again afterward, and now, after years of therapy and serious commitment issues, she finally found his phone number on the internet. When Andy asks if she wants to rekindle their little love connection, Karen has to hang up she’s laughing so hard.
“Nice,” Jim commends with a high five.
“Thank you,” she says graciously, collapsing back onto the bed next to him. She’s a little closer this time. “Your turn.”
“Truth,” Jim promptly announces.
“Hey. Not all of us are as brave as you.”
She leans on one elbow, and he turns his head to look at her. She’s wearing a Buffy the Vampire Slayer t-shirt and boxers; her hair’s hanging loose and she hasn’t washed her makeup off yet. Her eyeliner’s starting to smudge. He wants to reach over and wipe it away, rub a thumb against her skin, but for some reason his hands stay still.
“Are you happy?” she asks. Her voice is nonchalant, but her eyes are different. Softer somehow, maybe.
And he gets that it’s truth or dare, and lying’s not exactly an option, but she’s looking at him in a way that feels like searching and he doesn’t think she moved here for him, or anything, but all the same, he doesn’t want to make her regret this. ‘I might be getting there’ ain’t gonna cut it.
“Yeah,” he says instead, and smiles at her.
It takes her a second to smile back. “Good.”
“Are you?” Because he is trying, even if he’s not doing so well.
She considers him for a minute and then clambers unceremoniously on top of him. There’s something steady about the weight of her, like a promise or a future, and he hates that all he can think of right now is Pam.
“You have to say truth or dare first,” she says with her lips against his, barely; he can feel the words as they form.
He closes his eyes and kisses her hard, and hopes she can’t feel the way he’s trying to convince himself of her.
“Truth or dare,” he murmurs when they pull apart.
This time, she picks truth.
“This movie sucks,” Ryan announces.
“Ryan! How can you say that? It’s amazing. And I don’t even like action movies or whatever, but seriously.” He glances at Kelly, who’s nestled under his arm; her eyes are wide, and completely glued to the TV screen. “It’s so good.”
“You’re just saying that because you like the guys,” he points out tiredly. It’s late (or, technically, early) and this movie has been going on forever and he just wants it to fucking end already.
“Am not!” Kelly protests, and no one should be able to sound that offended at three in the morning. “Her wedding dress is sooo pretty.”
“So the guys and her dress,” Ryan amends sarcastically. “My mistake.”
“If you hate it so much, then you can just go to sleep,” Kelly snaps.
“No,” he responds, “I can’t. You keep squealing every five minutes.”
“Well, those monster things are so ugly! And the gigantic squid – eesh!”
“It’s a kraken,” Ryan tells her.
She glares at him. “How do you even know that if you hate the movie so much?”
“Because they’ve said it about three hundred times,” Ryan points out. “Listen, Kelly, I’m supposed to play ball with the guys tomorrow, and I wanted to be up by eight, and . . . can you please just turn it off?”
“No way,” Kelly says. “We’re almost at the end.”
“Fine,” he grumbles, pulling his arm out from behind her and rolling around ‘till he’s face down against the sheets. They’re white with bright pink apples all over them, which had bothered him once (apples aren’t pink, which is just like . . . he doesn’t even know), but he’s gotten used to them. It’s not like he really has a choice. It’s either endure the sheets and the shitty movies or break up, and . . .
Well, he just doesn’t want to break up with her. Although in moments like these he really feels like he should want to. He kind of misses that feeling. But not enough to want it back, either.
“If you had to choose, would you pick Orlando or Johnny?”
He’s learned the hard way that it’s best to just go along with it.
“Johnny,” he grunts against the bedsheets.
“Me too,” Kelly says, sounding pleased. About thirty seconds later, she throws in with an agonized sigh, “But Orlando’s so cute.”
“Kelly,” Ryan mumbles, “please.”
“Wait wait wait,” she says, rubbing his back a few times like it’s going to make up for the situation or whatever. “It’s almost the kiss.”
“Neurghhfff,” Ryan says to the bedsheets, and prepares himself.
“Omigod, Ryan, Keira Knightley’s so lucky. She gets to make out with Johnny Depp, oh my God. This is so one of the best movie kisses ever, don’t you think? Like, right up there with The Notebook, almost.” Which reminds him that, okay, at least they’re not watching that. For the seventh time. “And she’s so pretty even when she’s in, like, pirate drag.”
“I thought you hated her because she feeds him to the giant squid,” Ryan mumbles.
“It’s a kraken,” Kelly reminds him impatiently. “Hi. And no, that was only the time we saw it in the theatre, because I was totally freaking out, because seriously, what are these movies without Johnny Depp? They’d be totally empty, right? Right??”
“Right,” Ryan says obediently.
“But now, it’s just so amazing, because you can totally tell she just wants to kiss him again,” Kelly sighs, “and she’s so sad, and he totally loves her because she’s acting all pirate-y and he’s a pirate and it means they’re, like, soulmates or something! And besides,” she concludes triumphantly, “he can’t be dead. No one would actually go see the third one if he was dead. Oh my God, Jack and Elizabeth have to get together.”
“She’s engaged,” Ryan reminds her dully.
“I know!” Kelly squeaks. “Who will she choose?”
“Goodnight, Kelly,” Ryan says.
“Hey.” She prods him in the back. “Turn around so I can kiss you goodnight.”
He guesses he’s okay with that.
She’s leaning over him, though, with her hair draping around them like a curtain, and she smells good and looks just as pretty when she’s not wearing any makeup and he’s wrapping his arms around her so he can pull her closer when—
“Oh my God!” Her lips are like two inches from his. Whatever power controls the universe seriously hates him. “You know who this movie is pretty much about? Like, seriously, it’s so freaky – Pam and Jim and Roy!”
Ryan wants to groan in agony, but even that doesn’t seem like it’ll be enough, somehow.
“Pam’s not with Roy anymore,” he points out instead.
“Exactly!” Kelly exclaims. “But everyone knows she’s going to wind up with Jim!”
“Kelly,” Ryan sighs, “just kiss me so I can go to sleep, okay?”
“Wow, that’s really romantic,” she pouts.
“It is three,” Ryan says, “in the morning.”
“Oh, so what?” Kelly demands, frowning at him. “Jack just pretty much exploded the squid and they have to leave the ship and he still has time to be romantic.”
“He just says ‘pirate,’” Ryan points out. He feels very, very old.
“Well, yeah,” Kelly admits. “But it’s so sexy when he says it.”
“You don’t want me to call you a pirate,” Ryan reminds her. “Pirates are gross and dirty.”
“Keira Knightley’s not,” Kelly insists.
Finally. An escape. Thank you, God.
“You’re way prettier than her,” Ryan informs her earnestly.
She immediately starts glowing. “You mean it?”
“Yeah,” Ryan says, and reaches up to run a hand through her hair.
They kiss, which is nice, and then she curls up next to him and shuts up, which might be even nicer.
“Ryan?” she says after a few gloriously silent, peaceful seconds have elapsed.
“I would never chain you to the mast of a ship and leave you to get eaten by a squid,” she says. “Not even to save my really hot fiancé, if I had one.”
“Thanks, Kelly,” Ryan says.
“You’re welcome,” she replies, and snuggles against him.
Michael’s ready for an awesome night at home, with a microwave dinner a minute and twenty nine seconds away from yumtastic and a rerun of Whose Line Is It Anyway? blaring in the living room, when the doorbell rings. At first it’s just once, and he’s a little surprised because he doesn’t get visitors a lot. Then whoever it is apparently decides that one ring isn’t enough, and it just keeps going over and over like they’re holding their finger down on the button.
God, he hopes it’s not Dwight.
Scowling, he swings open the door. “Jeez, Dwight, how many times do I have to tell you not to interrupt me on Whose Line Monda—”
Except it’s Jan standing there. Her eyes are sort of red and she’s got a cigarette balanced between her fingers. The smoke drifts pointedly into his face, and he coughs.
“Wow,” he says, “I – was not expecting you. Hi.”
“Hello, Michael,” she says very steadily. She looks sort of crazy.
“Um,” he says tentatively, and reaches out to touch her elbow (because he’s allowed to do that now that they’re lovers), “you okay?”
She just keeps on staring at him all intensely. “Are you going to invite me in?”
“Oh, yeah,” he says, and steps back to pull the door open wider. He hopes she’s not going to go nuts and ax-murder him or something. “Absolutely. Get in here, gorgeous.”
She brushes past him and heads straight for the bedroom.
“All right,” Michael says, trailing after her. “Wasn’t on my original agenda for tonight, but you’re pretty much hotter than Ryan Stiles, sooo—”
By the time he gets there, though, she’s face-down on the bed, all splayed like a piano just got dropped on her or something. The hand with the cigarette is still up in the air, though, which he appreciates: he really doesn’t want cigarette burns in his bedding.
“Um,” he says. “Jan?”
“I saw him.” Her voice is muffled.
“Ryan Stiles?” Michael says blankly.
“My ex,” she mumbles.
“Ah,” Michael says, and his lip curls in an immediate sneer. “Gould.”
“Yeah,” she sighs. “And I thought – I was over it. I certainly know that the divorce was for the best. I was completely miserable with him.”
“You were?” Michael asks, pleased.
“Yes!” she exclaims impatiently. “And ever since you and I – well—”
“Embraced the love that formerly dared not speak its name?” Michael offers.
“—started sleeping together,” Jan finishes.
“That too,” Michael says.
“—I hadn’t even thought about him.”
She laughs against the bed. “You are nothing if not distracting, Michael.”
He decides he should check to be sure. “That’s a good thing, right?”
“In this case, yes.”
“Cool,” he says, and climbs onto his bed next to her. He starts rubbing her back.
“And then there I was,” she continues miserably, “at Victoria’s Secret, of all places,” (Ooh, Michael thinks.) “and I see him there, for God’s sake, looking at this . . . well, this very inappropriate piece of clothing – probably a gift for some woman half my age with blonde hair and long legs and no worry lines and—”
“Why were you at Victoria’s Secret?”
“Not the issue right now, Michael.”
“Did you get anything?”
“Sorry,” Michael says, and decides to ask her about it again later when she’s not so upset. “So, uh, did you talk to him?”
“No,” she says bluntly. “He didn’t see me. I just . . .” She inhales sort of desperately. “To think of all the years I spent with him, and for no reason –” She laughs a little, in that hysterical way Michael’s really familiar with. It’s nice to have it not be his fault, for once. Very refreshing. “I don’t waste my life, Michael. I don’t. I am efficient, and I make the right decisions, and—”
“Hey,” Michael interjects. “Hey, hey, hey.”
“What?” she asks reluctantly. He reaches for the cigarette and, to his surprise, she actually lets him pry it from her fingers. He sticks it into a half-full glass of water on the bedside table. One day, he’ll get her to quit, he decides.
“Turn around,” he orders gently. “Look at me.”
She does. There’s a red mark on her cheek from being pressed against the corner of the pillowcase, which he thinks is kind of cute.
“Gould is stupid,” he says, and carefully brushes her hair out of her face. “Seriously. I’m willing to bet good money that he’s actually a little bit mentally retarded.”
She rolls her eyes. “Michael—”
“In the way of romance,” Michael insists, “Gould is special ed. Because you are the most amazing woman in the world, and if he doesn’t see that . . .” He considers it for a moment. “Well, actually, it’s a really good thing, because otherwise you’d still be married to him and I wouldn’t get to have you all to myself.”
She just stares at him for a minute, then pronounces softly, “That’s obscurely sweet.”
“And obscurely true,” he says gallantly, then realizes that maybe that wasn’t exactly the right thing to say. To make up for it, he throws in, “And you know what?”
“What?” she asks, her finger drifting up gracefully to trace the line of his jaw.
“You,” he says solemnly, “had me at hello.”
“Michael?” she murmurs.
“Pick another movie, all right?”
“Okay,” he agrees easily, and pulls her to him. “Will do.”
Angela is a very light sleeper. Dwight likes this about her: it means he doesn’t have to worry as much as he might about an average female, on the nights that they’re apart. Should a burglar, escaped convict, or assassin creep into her room in the dead of night, she’ll certainly wake in an instant.
This is why he’s very careful to turn the pages with utmost stealth and silence. Angela doesn’t approve of him bringing Harry Potter under her roof, but he’s very nearly done with his fourth reread of The Half-Blood Prince, and if he’s careful, she’ll never know.
It’s only that once he reaches “The Cave,” his stealth and silence begin to fail him. His page turning shifts from fervid to maddened to desolate, and his eyes sting as they glide with uncommon Schrute speed over page 596.
He is pulled out of Hogwarts by a faint but unmistakable ‘eh eh ehm’, and turns to see Angela staring at him, her mouth set in a thin line of disapproval.
“Why are you crying?” she demands in a quiet hiss, so as not to wake the cats.
He attempts to swallow the lump in his throat. “Question,” he says.
She narrows her eyes. “All right.”
“Do you ever feel,” he whispers, “that maybe, if you read the Bible enough times, eventually Jesus won’t wind up dying, and instead he and the disciples will live happily ever after?”
“No,” she says bluntly, and he can tell that she’s angry. He usually tries his very best to avoid mentioning Christ in her presence. It tends to make her second guess their sleeping arrangement.
But right now, he can’t bring himself to care.
“Then you wouldn’t understand,” he informs her darkly.
She lets out an exasperated sigh, and squeezes her eyes shut. He opens the book again, but can’t bring himself to go on to chapter twenty-eight. He blinks furiously. He refuses to let this emotion overpower him. If he becomes a slave to his grief, then Voldemort wins.
A moment passes, and her foot brushes comfortingly against his leg.
With a shaky breath, he sets the book on the nightstand.
Sasha’s asleep in between them, tired out after an hour of being read Winnie the Pooh; it had just been Toby at first, embarrassed and only doing the voices at Sasha’s insistence, except then Pam had jumped in to read Piglet and somehow they’d wound up far more into it than either of them would have expected, with Sasha giggling along, her face lit up by a sleepy smile.
“She’s really beautiful,” Pam murmurs now, and means it: she studies the delicate curves of her face, the porcelain quality to her skin and the way it’s turned angelic by the lamplight. She doesn’t seem quite real: Pam’s always wanted to be good with kids, but for the first time she thinks she gets what it’s all about. Her fingers twitch a little bit, and she eyes the paper and colored pencils resting docile on Sasha’s desk across the room.
“Yeah,” Toby agrees fondly. He brushes a finger affectionately over her cheek, and Pam’s struck by how big his hands look against Sasha’s face. It’s sweet, for some reason.
“You’re a really great dad,” she says, and doesn’t realize until it’s out of her mouth how stupid it sounds.
He doesn’t seem to mind; just glances up at her for a second and then focuses on untangling Sasha’s hair. It seems to glow against his careful fingers, straw-into-gold because kind of getting to be a kid again makes her think in fairytales, and maybe she shouldn’t be staring at his hands so much. She thinks he might be blushing a little, but it’s hard to tell with the light so dim and all. “Thanks.”
He shifts slightly on the bed, and even the bedsprings seem strangely peaceful as they whine in faint protest. “I just wish I got to see her more. She’s with her mom most of the time.”
She knows he doesn’t mean it the way she hears it, but all of a sudden apologies are boiling over in her head and she can’t not say them out loud.
“I’m really sorry,” she says, her fingers flying anxiously to her necklace and fiddling with the charm; she stares at the spot of wall about six inches from his head, “about interrupting your night together and everything. It’s just that – coffee with you was great, and my weekend was . . . really dull, and I sort of felt like it’d be good to have someone to talk to, and so on a whim I just decided I’d stop by, and I’m figuring out lately that I really shouldn’t do impulsive because it never actually works out so well—”
“No,” Toby cuts in, and she’s so surprised that her gaze flies right back to him. “Impulsive is good,” he assures her; she can tell that he’s being a little bit brave just saying it, which she knows a thing or two about.
“Okay,” she says softly, and feels herself starting to smile. “I’m not sorry, then.”
“I don’t accept your apology,” he retorts, and his eyes are sort of bright, which she likes because he’s usually so gloomy, and that particular thought only brings back the recollection of his Eeyore voice.
She giggles, then clamps a hand over her mouth. “Sorry!” she yelps in a whisper. “I swear, I’m not usually this loud.”
Toby’s smiling at her. “It’s okay. She’s a sound sleeper.”
“Okay,” Pam says, and can’t think of anything else after that. Toby doesn’t seem to mind, which is something she’d never though she’d like. She’d suffered too many years of empty, stale silence with Roy, the kind that had seemed to scream out just how much they’d grown apart, Roy conveniently deaf all the while. Part of why she loves Jim is that they can – could – talk forever, about anything and nothing and pretty much everything in between.
But here she is in the quiet, and she realizes that she’s okay with that. Which, well – it’s scary and wonderful and Pam’s sort of glad that Sasha’s here, because she’s not that brave yet (but she could be, which is even scarier, and a little bit thrilling too).
“We don’t have to stay here all night,” Toby says courteously after a few minutes have slipped by, sand-in-an-hourglass style (she dreads going home to an empty apartment, going to work on Monday, seeing Jim with Karen and remembering that this is what grown-up life has to offer). “There’s beer in the kitchen, not to mention a whole bunch of juice boxes, if you—”
“No,” Pam says, and turns to look at him over Sasha’s head. “I’m good for right now.”
“Okay.” He sounds happy, she thinks. And then, as an afterthought— “Me too.”
And so they listen to her breathe.