Jim takes the long way to the warehouse, all the way outside and around the far side of the building. It's quiet, except for the sound of cars rushing along the overpass two blocks over, and the breeze keeps blowing half-dry grass clippings across the pavement in intermittent surges. He can feel the heat from the asphalt seeping through the soles of his shoes, and the air is thick with the smell of hot tar and ragweed. His shirt is already sticking to him in patches on his shoulder blades, back, and chest.
It's hot outside, but at least there's a breeze. Upstairs is just as hot, with the air conditioner broken, and Michael has been saying "How hot is it?" in response to anything anybody says all day, regardless of the actual subject matter at hand, and Dwight had instituted rationing on the ice cubes from the kitchen, and Oscar and Angela had been bickering at each other about accounts payable codes since noon. Then Pam had done that mysterious girl thing with her hair, where she twisted it into some sort of knot and stuck a pencil in to hold it off her neck, and, honestly, that had pretty much been the last straw for Jim. He'd had been leaning over her shoulder, plotting with her in whispers about how to get a plastic wading pool filled with rubber ducks under Dwight's desk, and the whole time he hadn't been able to stop looking at the curve of her neck, the trio of freckles behind her left ear, the sheen of perspiration on her skin, the little tendrils of hair curling down and sticking to her face, the tips dark with sweat. She'd tilted her head back as she laughed at something he said, and he'd been so close, she'd been so beautiful, that he'd forgotten everything for a moment in the overwhelming urge to kiss her.
He hadn't. It had been a hell of a close thing, but in the end he'd caught himself just before he started to move. Made some stupid excuse, gone back to his desk, stared at his computer screen for five minutes. Volunteered to borrow a fan from the warehouse, just to do something to get out of there for a while. Mercifully, none of the camera guys seemed interested in following him, so he gets a little time to himself to settle down and think.
This thing with Pam, it's not working, but he can't figure out what in the world would work. The honorable options all suck, the dishonorable options are too tempting, and if he's being honest with himself he has to admit that none of them would lead to any kind of satisfactory outcome. He's always been very clear in his own head that if a girl was engaged or married, she was off-limits, and that any guy who crossed that line was a fucking scumbag: ergo, it's very difficult to figure out any way to proceed that won't make him a fucking scumbag. He's never been that guy, never even considered it until now, and he's starting to wonder if he's changed, or if he's always been this way and just never met anyone before who'd make him want to cross the line.
He puts his hands in his pockets and looks down, watches his feet as they alternate smoothly in front of him, one by one and step by step. His shoelaces make this little tapping noise when they flap against his shoes. It's hypnotic. Brown leather, back and forth and back and forth, same thing over and over, the ground blurring underneath. He's not really watching where he's going as he rounds the last corner, which is why he doesn't see Roy until it's too late to avoid him.
Roy is sitting in the shade of his own truck, leaning against one of the back wheels with his legs stretched out in front of him, one ankle crossed over the other. He has a can of orange soda in one hand and he lifts it in Jim's direction, like he's about to say a toast. "Halpert," he says.
"Anderson," Jim intones right back at him, and wonders if this exchange counts as enough conversation to be polite before moving past. He's not up on the etiquette of making small talk with the fiancé of one's secret crush, and, truth be told, he would rather not have to find out.
"I didn't know they let you guys out of the office in the middle of the day," Roy says, and there's a hint of challenge in his tone.
"Yeah, well." Jim scratches the back of his head and looks sideways, automatically checking for the cameras. "Sometimes we get time off for good behavior."
Roy seems to think that's pretty funny, and chuckles into the can of soda in a way that makes it sound like he's in a cave. "Nice," he says. Jim gets the feeling like maybe he's passed some kind of test, like he's getting past the guard at the gate or the troll on the bridge, and that now he can go on to the warehouse. He's about to keep going when Roy starts talking again. "So. What brings you down here?"
"Ah, you know. The air conditioner broke, so they're looking for fans. You guys got any extras down here?"
"Probably. Ask Darryl, he'll know." Roy has his head tilted and is squinting up at Jim. "Hey," he says, "let me ask you something."
Jim freezes in place, feeling his stomach drop out from under him. Roy seems perfectly calm, but there are far too many scenarios in which whatever question he's going to ask will end with him jumping up and punching Jim in the nose. "Um," he says. "Okay. Shoot."
Roy takes another sip of his soda and levels his index finger at Jim over the can. "Silva versus Liddell."
Jim stares at him, trying to figure out what the question was, wondering if this is a trap of some kind. "What?"
"You watch MMA?"
"Oh." It finally sinks in that the subject matter is not in any way related to Pam. "I, yeah, I guess. Yeah. UFC mostly, but I've seen some Pride."
Roy's face lights up. "You've seen Pride? Oh hell yeah," he says, and gestures at the pavement next to him. "C'mere, sit down. The dumbasses down here didn't even know who Wanderlei Silva was when he showed up on the last pay-per-view."
"Wow," Jim says, for lack of anything else. He sits down, leans back against the warm dusty metal of Roy's truck. The pavement is cooler in the shade, but it's still pretty warm and he feels like his ass is being slowly flame-broiled. "Silva's going to kill him, I think."
"Hey, Chuck might knock him out. The man's a fucking machine." Roy demonstrates a few punches, making bam! bam! noises with each imaginary hit, and then shakes his head. "But, yeah. Silva'll probably win. It'll be a helluva fight, though."
"Yeah," Jim agrees. "That is, of course, assuming that Chuck gets through Babalu." He catches Roy giving him a disbelieving look and quickly adds, "...Which he absolutely will."
"Hell yes, he will," Roy says, and settles back, satisfied.
Jim can feel his guard coming down a bit, the muscles easing along his shoulders as it occurs to him, belatedly, that Roy doesn't hate him. He's not sure what to think about that. It's kind of making him feel worse. Either Roy trusts Pam, and doesn't think Jim is a threat, or he doesn't trust Pam, and still doesn't think Jim is a threat, or-- and this may be the worst option-- he trusts Jim.
They sit in companionable silence for a moment, staring out at the overpass and listening to the wheels of the cars and trucks hum and thump their way across it. Roy finishes his orange soda and shoots it into the dumpster by the building, three-point shot, good form. He whistles appreciatively at himself and covers his mouth to make crowd noises.
"Nice shot," Jim tells him, because, really, it was.
Roy chuckles. "Practice. I'm out here for breaks a lot."
"I was guessing. Since, I see, you're out here in this heat."
"This?" Roy looks up at the sky, grins, and shakes his head. "Nah. Could be worse. I don't mind it that much. It's nice out here, you know?" He gestures out toward the overpass. "I like the view."
Jim looks, and sees overgrown bushes in a drainage ditch, sees trees that are half-dead and leaning treacherously toward the road, sees roads that need to be re-paved, sees Scranton. He glances sideways to check Roy's face for signs of sarcasm, thinking that maybe this is one of those jokes Roy makes that aren't really funny, but Roy seems to mean it. He looks happy, content. At home.
"Look over that way, between those two trees," Roy says, pointing. "See the houses over there?"
"Yeah," Jim lies; he can see some shapes that might be houses, but might not. It's pretty far away and the tree branches keep getting in the way as they move in the breeze. He knows what's in that direction, though; more scraggly trees, other industrial parks, and a few neighborhoods that have seen better days.
"My brother owns one of those. The one with the grey roof, not the brown. It's all busted up now but he's doing a gut remodel. Not to live in, to sell. He has kind of a side business with that." Roy tucks his arms back behind his head and rests back on them. "I've been helping out on the weekends some. He says when the time comes, he'll do the same thing for me and Pammy; buy some old place, fix it up. Lots of places right around this area that you can buy cheap and turn into something real nice. It's a great town, you know?"
"I guess." Jim looks out at the shapes that might be houses, wondering what it would feel like to see a potential home out in that mess. Wondering what it would feel like to be satisfied by a house in a run-down neighborhood and a job in a warehouse, in this warehouse. Wondering if Roy has low standards for happiness or if his own are too high.
It occurs to him that there may be more reasons to envy Roy than he'd originally thought.
Jim shakes his head and looks down, focusing on his shoes, and pretends to be interested in a scuff mark on the toe of the left one. "Well. Anyway. I'd better get that fan."
"Yeah, okay." Roy checks his watch. "I've got a few more minutes. Ask Darryl, he'll know if there's something you can borrow."
"Thanks." Jim gets to his feet, brushes dirt off the seat of his pants. "See ya around."
"Later," Roy says. Jim kind of waves and walks off. He's halfway to the warehouse door when he hears Roy say, "Hey, Halpert?"
"Yeah?" Jim asks. He doesn't turn around, just waits for it. He hadn't expected to get off easy, so he's already steeling himself for whatever warning Roy has decided to tag onto the end of this little interlude.
"We're having some of the guys over for the next UFC pay-per-view. If you want, you know, you can come."
Jim looks back over his shoulder in disbelief. This is so far from what he had expected, it's not funny. "Seriously. Seriously?"
"Yeah, what the hell, right?" Roy stretches his arms out and shrugs. "It wouldn't hurt to have someone else there to cheer for Silva."
"Okay, yeah, I'll... yeah, that would be great." The killer part is, Jim thinks it might actually be a good time. Of all the fucked-up things about this whole fucked-up situation, this may be the most fucked-up of all, and he's not sure how many more layers of fuckitude he can handle before he loses his fucking mind. "I just have to check on... I mean, I don't think I've got anything planned."
"Lemme know by next week," Roy says, and nods his head as though it's all settled. "Oh, and hey. One more thing, Halpert."
Roy points at him and wags his finger threateningly. "Bring beer."