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Waking Expectations

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Roy wakes up in the middle of the night drooling on a pillow that smells like Pam, his arm slung over her side of the bed. It takes a while to wake up, and he can't remember for a while which part was the dream: living with her, or living without her, or having her live somewhere else and come to spend the night. He's fooled himself so often with dreams that he's wary of waking up happy, but Pam's side of the bed is still a little warm from her body and that's proof enough that whatever is happening, she's with him in some way.

Except, no, wait. He runs the palm of his hand over the sheet and pulls together enough wakefulness to put together the evidence of her presence with the fact of her absence, and concludes that this is something to be investigated. He stumbles out of bed with his eyes half-closed, yawning a real jaw-cracker of a yawn, and has to lean hard against the door frame when the blood rushes to his head from standing up too fast. He closes his eyes and pulls at his boxer shorts, which were too big for his ass even back when he had that gut, and which are now way too big and have the leg holes twisted around all funny. This brings his attention to a fierce itch on his balls; he gives them a good scratch and stands there thinking for a moment, his mind blank, before it all comes back to him and he remembers why he's standing up in the dark at whatever-the-fuck in the morning.

"Babe?" he calls. There's no answer, and he pokes his head around the corner to check the bathroom, make sure she's not in there taking a bath, or a leak, or some girl thing involving astringent or tampons or something. Nothing; the bathroom is dark and empty. It occurs to him, finally, that maybe she just plain left, went back to that other apartment, and the thought clobbers him right in the chest and makes it hard to breathe. "Pam?"


He can barely hear her voice; it's all quiet and weak-sounding, like she's sick, maybe, or hurt. She's there, though; she's there. He checks to make sure that his dick isn't sticking through the unbuttoned flap of his boxers-- he remembers how she used to complain about that in the mornings-- and goes to find her.

She's on the couch, curled up and tucked into the corner of the back and the arm like she's trying to fall between the cracks of the cushions and disappear. There's barely enough moonlight coming through the curtains to see her face, and maybe it's just that it's moonlight and all, but she looks sort of pale, and he thinks he sees a glint of something wet on her cheeks.

"You okay?" he asks.

She nods at him, and gives him a big smile, but she doesn't say anything, and after a moment her big smile starts to tremble and break apart. She inhales a quick, shaky breath and tries the smile again, but it all goes wrong immediately and she looks away, her lips pressed together tight.

"Pam?" He sits down beside her, panic clutching his chest as he realizes that she's crying. He's never known what to do when she cries, not back then and particularly not now, and it scares the crap out of him the way it always does. "Aw, babe--"

She shakes her head and waves him away. "It's noth--" she begins, and cuts herself off with a sob that's so sharp and short that it sounds more like a hiccup. She presses a hand over her mouth, and for a horrible moment he thinks maybe she's going to do a quick transition from crying to throwing up, like the time back in high school when her dog died. After a moment she shakes her head again and wipes her eyes with the heel of one hand. "I didn't mean to wake you," she says, her voice full of apologies, and it just breaks his heart.

"No, no, you didn't, it's fine," he babbles, pulling her into his arms. She tucks her face into his neck and he thinks for a moment that she'll be okay; then he feels her go tense, so tense that she's shaking, like she's going to explode. No noise, though; he doesn't think she's even breathing, just holding everything in. It feels like he's got a ticking time bomb up against him, no way to defuse it and no protection against it. "Please, Pammy, no, no, please don't. Shh, it's okay, come on..."

She lets go, then, sobbing into his chest, her hands clenched into fists, trapped between them. It's horrible. When she cries, Pam is somewhere he can't reach, responding to things in her head that he can't see and doesn't have a clue about how to fix, and it always feels like he's locked outside in the cold, helpless and alone. He can hold her, try to comfort her, but really there's not a damn thing he can do but wait and pet her hair and let her get tears and snot and drool all over him, listening to her cry in open-mouth, low-pitched sobs that sound like they're being squeezed out of her. She settles down, eventually, her body going limp against him, and he feels her lift her arm-- wiping her nose on her sleeve, maybe. He tugs her into his lap and she folds herself up clumsily, huddled with her head on his shoulder and her hair tickling his nose.

They stay like that for a while, not saying anything, quiet in the dark room. He rests his cheek against her hair and waits.

"I'm not good enough," she says, finally, and starts crying again, even harder this time, like saying what was in her head just made it worse.

"What? No, hon, no. You're fine. You're fine." He hugs her tighter and casts about in a panic, trying to figure out what could have brought this on. "Is this about that art show thing?"

She shakes her head, rotating under his chin like a disk sander. "Everything," she sobs. "Everything."

"Oh, babe," he says, because he can't make any sense of this; she's Pam, she's perfect, how could she not be good enough for anything? "You're fine. It's just been a rough day, right? You had a rough day, and you're being hard on yourself, and it's--" he squints at the clock on the VCR-- "three in the fucking morning, you know? Everything sucks at three in the morning." He kisses her head but she's still crying, and it's like he's not even there for all the effect he's having. "Pammy, please," he begs. "It's okay, baby, please stop crying." She coughs and makes a noise like she's drowning, and he remembers in a rush how she always gets too snotted up to breathe when she cries like this, and then he remembers that there's no Kleenex in the house because who the hell ever remembers to buy Kleenex? "Hang on." He pushes her gently off his lap and runs to the bathroom, comes back with a roll of toilet paper.

"Classy," Pam says, almost smiling for a second there, and accepts the roll. It takes about a yard of TP and five minutes of blowing to mine out all that snot, and she concentrates so hard that she pretty much stops crying, just a sniffle and a hiccup here and there. She looks down at the mound of used tissue in her lap. "Um, where do I--?"

He finally figures out that she's looking for a trash can, but he's not sure if he even has one anymore. "Here," he says instead, and takes the whole wet double-handful back to the kitchen where he's got one of those big black garbage bags that won't tear even if you stuff six or seven pizza boxes in there. When he comes back, she's quiet again, her knees tucked up by her chin and her arms locked around them. "You feel better, babe?"

She lifts one shoulder in a halfhearted shrug.

"You wanna talk about it?" he asks, sitting down next to her. He's heard her comfort people in the past, and that's usually what she asks at this point. It's not like he really wants to know, but she's sitting there staring into space like she's all alone, and he can't figure out if he's allowed to touch her, and it feels like she might just get up and walk out the door. The whole thing is scaring the hell out of him. Being with Pam used to be all certainty; he could look at her and feel secure that this was it, the choosing part was over, and they'd be sitting across the room from each other in twenty years, like his parents, solid and together and done. Now he's on edge all the time, and the only thing he's certain of is that she might leave again. If she could leave just before the wedding, when they'd been together forever and lived together for years-- if she could leave like that, back when she didn't have anything else or anywhere to go, then she could leave now, anytime. If asking dumb questions keeps her here, then he'll do it. He'll do anything.

"I don't know," she says. "I always thought that it was a choice, that I wasn't-- that I didn't do some things because I just chose not to. That I chose something else." She rubs at her eyes with a loose fist and sighs. "Maybe I was just trying to feel-- I don't know, special. Maybe it just made me feel better about things to think I could have had something else, if I wanted to. And-- when I finally tried, it didn't-- didn't work that way. Maybe I didn't try hard enough, maybe I'm just not--" Her voice catches, and she stops, shakes her head. A tear runs down her cheek, and she turns her face, rubs that side against her knee, and stays that way, turned away from him.

Roy doesn't know what to say. He reaches out a hand, hesitates for a moment in mid-air, and touches her back, feeling the sharp line of her backbone, the soft movement of her ribs as she breathes in and out. She doesn't move away, but she doesn't lean in, either. He leaves his hand there, strokes up and down a little, hoping that this is okay.

Her back lifts, expands, and she heaves out a long sigh. "I don't know what to do," she whispers, her voice so soft he can barely hear it.

"Yeah," he agrees, and keeps moving his hand in gentle circles.

She lifts her head, her nose red, her eyes dark, and studies him, eyes flickering over his face like she's going to sketch him from memory later on. "You love me, right?"

"God, yeah," he blurts, without stopping to think about whether this is a good thing or not. "I love you like crazy, Pam."

"Okay," she says, and leans against him, soft and familiar and warm. "Okay."