Table 5 - Drama
|01. Argument||02. Misunderstanding||03. Foot-in-mouth||04. Family||05. Walk away|
|06. Secrets||07. Lies||08. Lost||09. Traitor||10. Morals|
"It's not fair, Jim." Ryan spits, not even looking at him as he slams around the kitchen of his apartment. "Stop comparing me to her, I'll never win."
Jim's shell-shocked. It's not an argument he ever planned to have. What he has with Ryan is simple and stupid, it's about sex, about having someone to go to after a long day, even just to sit next to watching EPSN, even if nothing gets said. It's not about feelings or love. (Which he hates to even think, because he realizes that he's expecting this thing with Ryan to just drop off as soon as Pam's available, and that, that will be about love, of course it will)
"Ryan, I wasn't - " Jim tries to say. And what happened to their night? It was just supposed to be drinks and a baseball game and now Ryan's taking aim at his neuroses and hitting them with deadly accuracy.
"Stop. Okay?" Ryan says, swinging on him. "I'm not stupid, Jim" (And he can never get Ryan to call him "Jim" any other time when he's not angry) "I know you're in love with her. But right now, you can't have her."
Jim is actually taken aback by this, he didn't expect it to sting so much to hear it out loud. Ryan's still staring him down but Jim has nothing to say.
Ryan sighs and puts his hands on his hips and looks at the tiles. When he says it, it comes out quietly, almost meek (something Jim has never associated with him). He says, "But you can have me."
She tells herself it means nothing. That it was an innocent gesture. That she didn't just see what she thought she saw. Pam answers phones, and takes messages and makes copies and tries not to dwell. She drives home and eats dinner and goes to bed. And she lays there and she pretends she didn't see the way Jim ran his thumb along Ryan's lips, oh so sequestered in the kitchen, completely oblivious to Pam on the other side of the door, or the way Ryan pressed his lips against it, just the smallest kiss. And she pretends she didn't see the way they smiled and the way they lingered. Right now, ignorance is her best friend.
Jim is a grieving husband. Ryan sees them daily, he recognizes the posture - stiff, turned in - the down turned lips, the constantly blinking eyes to keep from crying.
Ryan Howard is an apprentice funeral director. He's got the nice suit on, he knows the whims and ways of all grieving friends and family and has the cookies and water bottles on a table away from the casket.
People don't want to eat near dead people. Even if if they are only so much embalming fluid.
Ryan's trying to impress his boss, who's currently consoling a distraught looking older woman - the mother probably. Ryan still wonders how a man like Michael Scott whose favorite joke is pretending the dead people are talking to him ala The Sixth Sense is so good at comforting and herding all kinds of depressed mourners. So Ryan smooths out his black tie and goes to the husband.
"I'm sorry for your loss, is there anything I can get you?" Ryan asks, putting on his best sympathy leaden voice. Even in the beginning, when he just started work here as just a temporary job - close to home, good pay - the whole dead people business didn't really get to him. A dead body's a dead body.
It helps that he hasn't ever had someone die on him but that's not something he's aware of.
Jim shakes his head and doesn't look up from the casket, "No, no I'm fine."
Michael looks over then and maybe, somewhere inside him, Ryan has the vague notion that he really shouldn't be pestering the husband of a dead woman but more important is the need to show off to his boss how very good he can be with the relatives.
"It's a shame she was so young." Ryan says, glancing covertly over Jim's shoulder at Michael.
Jim finally looks up at him. Again, whatever basic need for propriety when it comes to dealing with the dead has been worn down from working here so long - it happens, in funeral homes - and Ryan acknowledges that the dead woman's husband is pretty hot. Though his hair looks strangely starched and combed and Ryan wonders how he wears it normally.
"Uhm, yeah. It's a...a shame." Jim's voice cracks a little.
"Was she ill?" Ryan asks, like he's reciting from a script. Which he kind of is. There's very little variety in death and the process of mourning. Once they had someone from a murder-suicide. The murdered part. But that's it.
Jim's face screws up like he's confused and says, "Yeah, cancer."
Ryan purses his lips and nods, a time tested look he's practiced in the mirror. "I'm very sorry."
He then looks to the casket, like he always does, and he suddenly feels a twinge of actual sympathy. The woman is really young. Maybe as young as Ryan. And she's pretty and even with the waxy, vacuum-sealed look of the dead, she looks sweet. Wholesome.
And she's smiling. Just a little. Just a quirk of the lips. Ryan wonders if Michael had anything to do with that. It looks natural on her, like she's pulling some innocent prank on everyone. She sure looks much more natural than most of the dead people that cycle through this place.
Ryan looks up then and Jim's back to staring at his wife and from this angle Ryan can see there's a tiny lock of hair on the side of Jim's head that's come loose from its awkward hairsprayed perfection and Ryan gets the urge to reach out and tug at it, mess up this man's hair and see what he really looks like.
"Would you like a drink?" Ryan finds himself asking before he's even certain he's going to say it, "A real drink, I mean."
Jim looks up at him again and glances at the water bottles at the table and back to Ryan, "Hell yes."
Ryan leads Jim through the crowd of people, family and friends, obvious coworkers, one man who's fingering a stick of wood in his coat pocket and a browbeaten looking man who tells him, "No, Dwight, don't...don't stake the corpse."
Ryan leads Jim to the back, through a hallway to his office. It's dark in there with just one small desk lamp illuminating the small room. Ryan gestures to a chair and Jim flops down into it gratefully and Ryan reaches under his desk to a small cooler and pulls out a thing of Scotch and two tumblers.
He pours two drinks and hands one to Jim, who takes it and swallows one large gulp right away.
Ryan's never brought anyone back into his office. It's full of dark wood and leather because he wants it to look professional, sharp and smart even if it's usually only him and Michael who ever see it. The Scotch makes him feel older, wiser, like he already runs the place, which he's hoping to do in a few years, he's got it all mapped out.
Jim looks out of place in the leather chair with wooden arms. He's too tall and lanky for one and his inelegant sprawl defies the tiny space. Ryan can imagine him joking around, laughing, pulling pranks with his wife. He looks like a clown, like a nice guy. The frown and the tears don't fit.
"It was so sudden." Jim says suddenly, "Finding out about it."
Ryan has ready made condolences on the tip of his tongue, but somehow they don't come out, so he says nothing.
"She wanted to be an artist. She was really good, too. She drew our office building once, it's hanging up there now."
Ryan imagines some kind of plague or notice for Pamela Halpert will be added to that picture now, can see it in his mind.
There's a long pause and Jim doesn't say any more and Ryan starts to regret inviting him back here. He's good with the surface stuff, the "it's God's will," the "they're not suffering anymore" stuff that gets said out in the front room. The expected stuff, the easy stuff. Now he's got some poor smiling woman in his head with strawberry blonde hair and who liked to draw and had a hot husband and who isn't just some corpse in a box.
Ryan clears his throat and asks, "Top you off?" and gestures with the flask of scotch.
And feels stupid and dumb for asking, which is a first. Tell me all about your dead cancer-striken wife and I'll provide the booze. Idiot.
Jim looks up at him with shining eyes but he nods and Ryan pours a little more in his glass but Jim doesn't drink it right away.
"She was beautiful." Ryan says and what happened to Mr. Cool? Mr. I Can't be Touched by this Stuff? He's acting like he should just permanently affix his foot to his mouth.
But again, Jim doesn't look fazed. He even smiles a little, a tiny bit and says, "Yeah, she was."
Ryan doesn't feel quite so stupid after that and he asks, "Where did she work?" Some strange notion pops into his head about going to see that picture.
And Jim starts talking, about her work, her family, how they got together and Ryan listens attentively. He's heard plenty of life stories working here, all kinds. Most are said with the delivery of a eulogy, saccharine and weepy like they're grieving the Pope or Mother Theresa, or they end up being more about the mourner than the mournee.
Jim talks about Pam like she was, well, a real human being. Ryan now knows that her favorite yogurt was mixed berry and that she was really good at typing and she did, indeed, love pulling pranks. Jim talks with a small smile on his face and a sweet look in his eyes and Ryan wouldn't stop him talking for the world.
People walk in and out of Ryan's life on a daily basis, and he walks in and out of theirs with the same amount of ease. In the end both parties are only left with a vague impression that someone was there at all. Ryan listens to Jim talk and he feels like he'll go to his grave knowing that Pam Halpert, wife of Jim Halpert, liked to sleep in on Sundays.
When Jim does stop talking, it's to take another sip from his glass and he looks almost cathartic. Relieved, unburdened. Sad, of course, but momentarily happy, too, from the rush of memories. From getting to talk about her. He looks at Ryan and shrugs, as if to say sorry for going on.
But Ryan feels himself smiling too, a little, and wonders if him and Jim and Pam are going to go on forever with little Mona Lisa type grins on their faces and that that wouldn't be the worse thing in the world. "Wish I'd known her." And it's a little on the verge of being a dumb thing to say, but Jim's made him loose and flighty.
"You'd have liked her." Jim says with certainty, even though he and Ryan don't really know much about each other, but plenty of the woman who's got them sharing a room and a flask of scotch.
"I didn't get your name," Jim says, sounding a tad embarassed, putting out a belated hand to shake.
"Ryan Howard," Ryan answers, taking Jim's large hand in his, feeling the warmth and how weird that really is for him, in a funeral home.
"Jim Halpert." Jim says, but Ryan already knew that. Jim Halpert, husband to Pam Halpert.
Ryan's mom is a short woman who looks older than she probably is. Jim figures she's around 50 and it's obvious that Ryan takes after her in the looks department. She's got dark curly hair in a bun that hangs loose to the base of her neck. She's got Ryan's lips and wears a gold chain around her neck with a small red stone hanging from it. Jim sits across from Ryan in the booth seat in the restaurant, Ryan's mom sits next to him and fusses over his shirt collar. Jim notices she's got brown eyes. He wonders what Ryan's dad looks like.
"Mom." Ryan says, exasperation in his voice as he dodges out of her reach. He shoots a glance at Jim, trying to either apologize or earn sympathy, but Jim just grins at him.
She's a sweet woman, and she dotes on Ryan, but she keeps bringing up a man, a boyfriend, and Ryan tenses each time and goes quiet. She snaps at Ryan more than once to sit up straight, use his napkin. Each time she does, she comes right back with a question for Jim, "Where'd you grow up?" "What do your parents do?", almost like she doesn't realize.
Outside Jim waits by his car for Ryan while his mother zips up his coat and makes glances to Jim, smiling a motherly smile. Ryan keeps his head down and nods. She gets in her car and drives off, driving by Jim with a wave of her fingers. He smiles and waves back. Ryan comes up beside him.
He doesn't say anything, and he's looking as harassed as ever, eyeing Jim with embarrassment and apprehension. Jim reaches out an arm and puts a hand on Ryan's arm.
"She likes me." he says.
05. Walk away
"Go on." Ryan says, and it sounds angry and defeated and hurt all at once.
He and Jim are standing in the parking lot, early spring winds whip at Jim's face and blow Ryan's curls across his forehead.
"Wh-what?" Jim says, and it comes out light and laughing, but Jim's confused and just the littlest bit worried.
"Go to her. You want her, she wants you. What's the problem?" Ryan asks, but he's not meeting Jim's eyes.
It's no big secret what's he's talking about, but Jim's stunned nonetheless. Pam's recent single status is big news in the office, where everyone - save perhaps Dwight and Angela - is whispering about it, speculating on how long before Jim makes his move.
Jim himself has heard all this and his brain's been reeling since hearing the news. "I don't know what you're talking about." Jim says now in the parking lot, trying to seem sincere, but it comes out puney and pathetic sounding nonetheless.
He hasn't made a move on Pam, because he's with Ryan. And he tells himself that he's not that type of guy. But the want is still there, and every times he considers it, he rationalizes away all the reasons it's not going to work with Ryan, why it'd be perfect with Pam. But...he's still with Ryan.
Ryan's staring at the ground now and he makes a scoffing noise. "Knock it off Halpert." He finally meets Jim's eyes with a half sarcastic, half wounded smile. Jim doesn't know if he can keep the act up much longer. "Go on. Say it."
"Say what?" Jim asks, and it comes out quiet and small.
"That we're done. That you're breaking up with me."
That stings. More than he'd thought. More than he'd hoped.
"I..I can't." Jim manages, and some part of his brain wants to believe that he does love Ryan, that they can be together, that he doesn't need Pam. And it might be the romantic side of him, or the side that's scared that he might actually get what he wants.
Ryan gives a small laugh, and it's harsh and painful sounding and Jim almost flinches. He looks away again, looking almost frantic as he scans the empty parking lot, looking for nothing. When he does look back, the smile is gone and the look in his eyes is steely.
"Fine." He says, "Then I'll do it. Halpert, we're through." Jim's eyes sting and he wonders if he's crying.
Ryan turns away, starts walking to his car and Jim feels the wild need to try some last ditch effort at...making this right, and he says "Ryan" weakly.
Ryan spins on him, staring Jim down. "Go on, go have your happy ending." And he turns back and walks away.
Ryan keeps himself separated, stands at the edge of the awkward community that is Dunder Mifflin Scranton. He makes minimal conversation, then gets out of there as soon as he's able. No commitments, no attachments, just business.
When Jim starts trying to chip away at the armor, Ryan squints his eyes and tries harder to pull away. It becomes an unseen tug of war between them, things unsaid that neither have the guts to say or ask.
What Jim does get out of Ryan is his 5 year plan. His goals and aspirations, rattled off like some laundry list of required accomplishments and successes. It comes out like data from a fax machine. Perfectly planned.
It's only small moments, after Jim meets Ryan's mother, after his stepdad's funeral, in little increments whispered at midnight when it's dark, that Jim starts hearing all the little pieces that make up Ryan Howard, The Man That Would Be King. He doesn't harp on them, barely allows himself to repeat them in his own mind, but they're there for when Jim convinces himself that he doesn't have his own secrets to hide.
Of course it's Pam who finds out. It has to be her who sees Jim trying to be discreet, kissing Ryan in the kitchen, on the one day she comes in early. In some ways, she's probably the best person, out of the whole office, that Jim can count on about this, but in other, much bigger ways, she's the worst person Jim could have hoped for.
They sit across from each other in the tiny diner in the strip mall, neither touching their cups of coffee. He's done his best to explain what he can; how it happened, how long it's been happening. He tries to play it off like two friends talking, but he can't help but feel like he's admitting to having an affair.
Pam, for the most part, has been calm and gentle about it. She asks simple questions and only lets her lip tremble a little. Jim's heart breaks every time he looks up at her from a long bout of staring into the cup and he sees the look in her eyes.
Twenty minutes later, their cups are still full and Jim finally gives in to the glares the middle aged waitress has been giving them the whole time and asks for the check. As she leaves Pam meets his eyes and asks quietly, "Do you love him?"
Jim bites his lip, and stares back. "No." he says, but he doesn't really know if that's the truth.
He's still in love with Pam. Still loves Pam. That's never changed, never wavered no matter how many times he slept with Ryan, how many late nights they shared just talking, how many kisses and whispers and touches. And they've been together, secretly, for months. Despite that, Jim still goes to reception more times in a day than anyone has a need for, he still flirts with Pam constantly, he still wants her as much as ever. But...he has Ryan now too.
When it started it was like therapy. Every once in a while, they fucked. It happened, at most, once a week. They took their aggressions and frustrations out on each other and the next day they were able to function like normal human beings without getting the urge to stab someone in the neck with one of those plastic sporks from the kitchen. When it started happening more than once a week, they didn't question it. It was when they woke up together one morning after a particularly difficult bout of quarterly reviews, both still clothed, they started realizing that this could be less about mutual horniness and more about a mutual need to have someone warm to share a bed with.
So Ryan broke it to Kelly that he was seeing someone and they couldn't be together (and Jim was surprised that he didn't take as much joy out of that as he'd expected) and Jim acknowledged that now he had Ryan while Pam had Roy and that was the way things were. And the only thing that changed in the office was that Kelly didn't make as many longing looks toward Ryan as before.
Pam finding out feels like someone dropped a bomb on their strange little functional relationship.
He tells Ryan. He's not sure why, Pam's probably the last person in the office who'd ever tell anyone and he knows she wouldn't treat Ryan any differently (and that's always felt like a weird gap in Jim's head - the way his boyfriend and the love of his life interact).
As soon as the words are out of his mouth, Jim sees the switch flip inside Ryan's head. His eyes narrow and his backbone straightens. The ensuing fight-that-isn't-a-fight involves a lot of Ryan insinuating things about him and Pam and accusing Jim of wanting her to find out, and Jim defending himself while turning Ryan's argument against him. It's not a real fight because no one's yelling. Until Ryan does.
"No, I know why you told her. You think that now she'll be jealous enough to dump Roy, to come running to you. You're in love with being in love Halpert, we've been together 4 months now and you've never stopped flirting with her every chance you get!" Ryan says, finally calling out something Jim suspected he'd noticed long ago.
Jim isn't sure why he says what he says next, except that they're both trying really hard to hurt each other and that he doesn't think before he says it, "Oh, if I'm so in love with being in love, why did I tell her I'm not in love with you?"
It doesn't actually make any sense to say it, but then again, none of this has made the best sense. Jim idly wonders if that officially makes them a couple, fighting about stupid things like this. But he can't focus on that too long because whatever fight's left in Ryan drains out of him in seconds. His shoulder's fall and a lost look takes over the icy glare in his eyes. Jim realizes it just before Ryan turns away.
"Ryan-" Jim gets out, and Ryan's trying to walk away but Jim grabs him by a shoulder. Ryan struggles but Jim gets two arms around him, and is pulling him into his chest. Ryan's breathing hard and angry but pressed this close, Jim can feel him shaking just a little.
"Ryan..." Jim says again, but it's quieter, "Are you in love with me?" He dares to ask.
There's a long pause and Jim can feel Ryan trying to control himself. "Yes." he says finally.
Jim watches from the kitchen as Ryan packs his desk, absentmindedly shredding a Styrofoam cup in his hands. Ryan's not taking long, throwing out most of it, keeping the odd pen or calculator.
And Jim shouldn't feel this betrayed. Because they haven't really spoken to each other in months. He can hardly consider Ryan a friend, and what they used to be, before Stamford and Karen and everything else, is long gone. And, besides, he has Pam now. But watching Ryan toss the last of his stuff - one of those plastic eagles that balances perfectly on the tip of its beak that reminds Jim of a long ago inside joke about Dwight that he can't really remember what about it was so funny - into the trash, he feels a little pang of hurt.
Ryan breezes through the annex door, the half empty box under one arm and his coat draped over the other. He comes up to Jim and their eyes meet. Ryan opens his mouth like he's going to say something, but nothing comes out, and Jim notes the way his eyes dart to the other door, the Way Out. And Ryan gives a little nod and he's gone. Jim holds back a sigh and gathers up the styrofoam pieces and debates saving the eagle from the trash.
He tells himself it's okay to fantasize. To imagine kissing Pam, touching Pam, making love to Pam. Dreams are harmless, it's not like he's going to act on them.
Still, the ache that he feels when he sees her with Roy, smiling with someone, being anywhere that isn't on his arm or in his bed, continues. And some days he feels sick with it, and he spends a long time staring at his reflection in the mirror in the men's bathroom, splashing water on his face.
Ryan doesn't ask about Jim's lingering stares toward reception, the constant flirting and joke pulling. For this, Jim is eternally grateful. He doesn't like to think it's because maybe Ryan knows that Jim is his, that at the end of the day, it's Ryan's bed he ends up in.
And he does like this fucked up thing he has with Ryan. It's not sappy, or sweet, and more often than not they do a damn good job of pissing each other off, but it's got its moments. Moments when Ryan doesn't push Jim away after sex, when he allows Jim to curl around him at night. Moments when Jim actually manages to say something that makes Ryan smile, makes him laugh (and Jim likes making people smile and laugh and Ryan's smile is a doozy). Moments when he can get him to go out for dinner, to hold hands in public, to spend a Sunday sleeping on the couch together during a football game.
So at the end of the day, it's Ryan he follows out the door. It's Ryan's apartment they tumble into, already wrapped around each other, eager to fuck and forget another day at Dunder Mifflin. And Jim convinces himself that he and Ryan are actually an item, and that cheating on him would be wrong, even if the opportunity did come up. But a few daydreams can't hurt.