The tiny parking lot of the gas station is unshoveled and slushy, and the air has the same exhilarating back-of-the-throat bite that vodka does, an association probably born of a mixture of the cold, the gasoline vapor, and the fact that Pam had been drinking vodka not twenty minutes ago. There's not much traffic on this street, not much noise. She's not used to being alone at this time of night, and her ears are rushing with white noise like seashells, trying to adjust to the profound quiet after so much noise.
Her strategy of hopping from one bit of bare pavement to another had not taken into account that bits of pavement without snow or slush might, in fact, be puddles, so her Keds are soaked long before she gets to the fluorescent haven of the convenience store. She'll have to wash them tomorrow. There's a really big puddle right in front of the propane tank refills, and rather than go all the way around she stomps into it rebelliously, splashing freezing water up onto her calves; one bold moment and a lot of mess after, like the rest of her gestures of defiance tonight.
* * *
The stupid, inevitable fight over the iPod had happened in the truck, en route to Todd Packer's house. Roy had volunteered to take Packer home, which was a kind and generous thing to do, but it meant that they had this argument while stuck in a confined space with a very drunk and tinsel-covered Todd Packer, who took advantage of being stuffed in between them on the bench seat to loll against Pam's shoulder and sneak the occasional sly hand under her coat. Fending off Packer had been enough of a distraction to put Pam at a disadvantage early on, and she ended up admitting in quick succession that no, she didn't have the iPod with her; yes, she had traded it to Dwight; yes, it was in exchange for a twenty-dollar teapot; yes, she realized that a video iPod cost four hundred dollars; and, yes, she realized that four hundred and twenty were very different numbers.
"Look, it's over, it's done, let's just move on, okay?" Pam had said, slapping Packer's hand off of her knee. "Let's talk about something else. What are we going to get your mom for Christmas?"
"Something cheap, I guess," Roy had griped, "since apparently now I have to buy you an iPod."
"Oh for God's sake."
"Merry Christmas, Ma, hope you like this cheese log!"
It had just kept going like that, around and around, Roy saying things in a baffled, hurt voice, Pam unable to give him any real reasons without coming dangerously close to incriminating herself. She avoided saying Jim's name, not wanting to bring him into this. She hoped that Roy didn't know who the teapot was from; she didn't want to make him suspicious, and was half-convinced that he was already suspicious and was just looking for proof. It became rapidly apparent as the argument wore on, though, that Jim wasn't even on Roy's radar. He seemed to sense that he was missing something, but he kept barking up his favorite wrong tree, the tree of Pam Does Weird Things For No Reason.
"A teapot, Pam? I don't get it." And he didn't, that was the thing; he'd looked so sad and confused that she would have hated herself for this if she hadn't also wanted to shake him by the shoulders until his brain rattled around in his head like a peanut in its shell. "If you want a teapot, you can buy one any time, but an iPod is-- Pammy, I don't get it, this makes no sense."
"I just decided I liked it better," she'd snapped "That's all."
Roy had looked over with his eyebrows all peaked together like a mournful St. Bernard. "But-- you already chose the iPod!"
"I changed my mind, for God's sake, do you not understand the possibility of me changing my mind?" Her temples had been throbbing from the vodka and the overwhelming reek of close Packer-proximity; it had honestly felt like her head might pop from sheer frustrated blood pressure. She just could not take this, not now, not here; she was so tired of this stupid game with Roy being dumb and her being a bitch and yet it kept happening, over and over again. She hadn't thought about Roy's reaction when she'd traded the iPod, hadn't really thought it would matter, and now it was turning into this huge thing and she just wanted it to go away. Somehow she'd had it in her head that Roy would understand, that he had been disappointed that he hadn't been the one to give her a gift like that. She'd fooled herself into thinking that maybe that he wouldn't want anyone else to make her happy like that, and he'd... he'd be glad she'd done it. And yeah, that had been monumentally stupid of her, but she hadn't really thought too hard about it, and now she just wanted Roy to shut up, for once, stop looking for reasons and stop asking questions and just stop, stop, fucking stop.
She'd found herself yelling, again, like she did every time these days, unsure of how she'd ended up at that volume and hating the way she sounded when she yelled, but still unable to stop. Later on, she couldn't even remember what she'd said, mostly, except for one zinger that she'd been viciously delighted with as she said it: "Look at the bright side, at least now you don't have to strain yourself to figure out what to get me for Christmas." She'd thought it was a real good one, but yet again Roy couldn't figure out why she was mad at him, so the implications were lost on him. Stupid. Both of them, completely stupid.
Packer's head had loomed into her field of vision, looking like a child's model of the globe with the blue silly-string water sitting lopsidedly on top between continents of hair. He'd dangled his stupid fake mistletoe over Pam's head, leering; she'd grabbed it away from him and stuffed it into a pocket, and he'd pouted like she'd taken away a favorite toy. Roy hadn't even noticed, he'd been too busy ranting and gesturing at the windshield to even glance over and see anything. Stupid to think he'd notice. Pack had lurched over and onto her, managing to land an open-mouthed, loose-lipped baby-style kiss on Pam's neck. She'd wrenched away and had given him a ferocious shove, knocking him into Roy's shoulder, and of course that, he'd noticed, squawking about how he was driving, here, cut it out, did she want them to get killed?
That was the point at which Pam had made him pull over, when she'd climbed out of the truck into ankle-deep snow, screamed at him that she'd come home when she could stand to talk to him again, and slammed the door. She's not sure now what she'd expected him to do, maybe that he'd jump out of the truck and run after her and beg her to forgive him. She hadn't expected him to drive away, accelerating so fast that the truck's tires had spun and sprayed slush at her. She hadn't expected him to leave her all alone in front of a gas station, and in fact she'd ended up standing in the same spot for a few minutes, stunned, expecting to see him come driving back around the corner. He hadn't.
For all she complains about Roy not getting her, not being able to read her, it had never occurred to her until that moment that sometimes she really doesn't get him, either.
* * *
Pam cleans up as best she can in the convenience store's bathroom, stuffs paper towels in her shoes, and does her best to avoid seeing herself in the mirror. She buys a cup of horrible coffee and a tabloid, so the clerk will stop eyeing her like she's about to rob the place or something, and she sits hunched over in a tiny booth by the lottery machine and pretends to read about Brad and Angelina's secret Christmas sex slave exchange.
There are things in her head that make it hard to think, the shock and the embarrassment and the shame and the insanely furious anger and, yeah, okay, still the vodka; she tries hard to think around them, to figure out what to do. One option is to call Roy and apologize, an idea which she absolutely hates. If he comes back for her on his own, that's one thing, but he probably won't, and he's probably waiting anxiously for her to call so he can come back and get her and forgive everything yet again, but that would completely destroy the few shreds of dignity she still has left after this fiasco.
She doesn't know how things got so difficult. It's been incremental, really, sliding irrevocably down, from the point where she found herself brushing back mean thoughts about Roy, to where she caught herself right before she said the mean things out loud, to where she said them and then apologized immediately, all the way down to this horrible mess where she was so frustrated with him, all the time, and there was just fight after fight after fight over stupid, stupid things. She still apologizes; I'm sorry is getting to be her automatic response to everything these days, taking the bullet for every argument as if it would make things better. It doesn't make her feel less guilty, it just makes her more frustrated every time Roy accepts her apology.
The worst part is that she can't explain to Roy why she's so frustrated and what he's doing wrong, and it's not because he just doesn't get it, but because she doesn't know how to explain why she never objected to these things before. That seems to be a sticking point for him-- he seems to figure that since she didn't complain about this stuff before, she'll forget about them pretty soon. Ordinarily that would be true, too, but that was before, back when she didn't know it was possible to do things differently; now that she's had a little more experience outside their relationship, there are some things that she'd like to change. It's like being happy with your kitchen for years, and then you go to someone else's apartment and they have these awesome curtains, and you go back and realize that you don't have curtains at all, and it's not that you want the other kitchen, you just think that your kitchen would look even better with curtains like that. Right? It makes sense in her head, anyway. She loves Roy, she really does, she just wishes he was different. That's all.
Pam sits with her head in her hands and thinks, and thinks, and after twenty minutes she still doesn't know what to do. In the end, she calls Jim, because he's the only person she knows who won't ask what happened. Not that he won't want to, but he won't, and with Jim it never feels like she has to explain.
* * *
Pam has always known that Jim is a careful driver, but this time he drives up like a little old lady-- signaling about a mile in advance, creeping along, turning off the slushy street at the speed of a wounded snail. There's a rounded raft of snow slipping sideways off the hood of his car, and some of it breaks off and falls to the ground when he gets out. She doesn't wait for him to come inside; she's got her coat zipped up and the door pushed open before he makes it to the sidewalk. He's flushed and worried-looking, and she's never, ever been so glad to see anyone before in her whole life.
"Halpert, you drive like my mom," she says, by way of greeting.
"More like my dad, actually," he replies, "except I don't curse at the other cars half so much." He shrugs. "Seriously, though, I didn't want to get pulled over. I was at Poor Richard's when you called and I hadn't really planned on being the designated driver."
"Should you be driving?"
"Probably not." He smiles then, the smile that comes up all of a sudden like he's turned a corner and been surprised by something great. "Is that-- Pam, do you have something in your shoes?"
She remembers the paper towels and lifts one foot toward him to let him see better, even rotates her ankle a little. "They got wet."
"Interesting. Is this response to wet shoes a common trait among your people?"
"Which people are those?" She starts walking to his car and he follows, opens the door for her.
"I'm thinking either the United Tribe of Paper Company Receptionists, or the Beeslys of Lackawanna County." He grins at her, glances down to make sure her feet and coat are safely inside, and closes the door behind her.
There's a moment, while he's walking around the perimeter of the car, where her senses have a moment to remember this car in a series of flash-memories: the rasp of the nubby seat upholstery against her thighs, the chill of the window seeping through the hair on the back of her head, the crunch under her foot that had turned out to be the empty jewel case for one of Jim's endless mix CDs, and his mouth, his hands, his hands, oh God his hands. She feels something clench tight in her chest, catching at her breath and banging against her heart, and she presses the heel of her hand against her mouth, trying hard to stuff this feeling back down.
It's been weeks since that time at his party, and she'd started to think that they might drift back into being just-friends as easily as they'd drifted into being friends-with-benefits. She'd almost forgotten what it was like when they were alone like this, when everything was a new opportunity and decisions were things that needed to be made almost every moment. It was one thing to decide not to touch him one moment; it was another to have to decide over, and over, and over, and over. There were only so many times she could manage a trick like that before she gave in.
The driver's side door opens with a loud metallic squawk, and the car shifts a little as Jim climbs in. He doesn't look at her at first, seeming to make a big deal out of adjusting his seat belt, starting the car, and tuning the radio. He pauses for what seems like a long time with his hand poised over the buttons on the radio, and she can see his throat move as he swallows. "So," he says, finally. "Where to?" There are a lot of questions layered underneath that one, written out in the way he checks her face as carefully as he'd checked for oncoming traffic, trying not to be blindsided. What happened? What are we doing? What's next? What do you want from me?
She wishes she had answers for him. Instead, she asks, "Have you eaten yet?"
* * *
"I'm still not sure I get why we can't just go inside to eat," Jim complains, while they're waiting at the drive-through window. The driver's side window is open, and the air coming in is cold, sliding and oozing into the dry hot air blowing from the dashboard in a way that makes Pam think of ice cream in hot chocolate.
"It's a Friday night tradition. Back in high school, we used to do this every week. Get the car, get your friends, get some fast food, and drive up and down North Main until curfew. Didn't you?"
"Seeing as I didn't graduate in the 1950s, no, I guess I must have missed that."
"Smart-ass." She climbs halfway over him to hand money to the harried-looking teenager at the window. Her coat is caught under one knee, and she gets a little off-balance; before she can tip, though, she feels Jim's hand press warm against her hip, steadying her. She slides back into her seat and pretends to count her change, moving the coins around in the palm of her hand with a fingertip, the blood rising hot in her cheeks. He's looking at her, and she can feel it happening again, feel the other part of them being them coming up, sliding up through the jokey friends part and taking it over. Another moment, another decision, and she feels herself weakening.
"Any new quarters?" Jim asks.
She realizes she hasn't actually looked at the coins she's been faking such interest in. "Oh, hey-- I don't think I've seen that one before." She squints at a quarter in the dim light. "Is that West Virginia?"
"Lemme see." He cups his fingers around the back of her hand and leans closer. His thumb is just barely brushing the soft pad of flesh opposite the base of her thumb; the name for it flashes into Pam's mind, randomly, and she remembers cupping his hand like this and touching that spot, saying Mount of Luna and peeking up through her eyelashes to see his smile. "Yeah, I'm pretty sure it says West Virginia," he agrees. "You know, for all the less than complimentary things I have to say about our fine state, I will say that, under the circumstances, that putting the outline of the state on our quarter was a great idea. All the states should have done it."
"Well, West Virginia probably figured that we'd be able to figure it out by reading the name on the coin," Pam offers. Jim's thumb slides down to rub the inside of her wrist. She feels her breath hitch. It's becoming almost impossible to keep her voice steady. "And that we'd, um, have enough light to read by."
"There's an ironic joke about literacy rates and electric lighting in there somewhere," Jim says thoughtfully, "but I doubt it would be funny enough to bother finding it." He pauses for a moment, his thumb still gently tracing the blue lines of her veins. "Besides, I'm not sure we'd come off better than West Virginia."
"Better not risk it," Pam agrees solemnly. She can't take her eyes off him.
The drive-through window opens, letting out a blast of chaotic noise and the strong smell of french fries. The same teenager from before pokes his head outside and angles down to look into the car, holding out their drinks stiff-armed with an look on his face that practically screams hurry, hurry, come on, people, let's move. Pam gets a sudden vision of what Dwight may have looked like back in his teen years, intense and humorless and covered in pimples, and she has to bite back laughter.
Jim lets go of Pam's wrist, and the air feels strange on her skin, too cold, too nebulous. She leaves her hand in the air for a second before realizing that the quarters thing isn't something they'll come back to, and she's going to need her hands to deal with food, so she pulls out the car ashtray to toss the change in there, except then it turns out that tossing isn't an option because most of the coins are stuck to her palm with sweat, like a magic trick. Very classy. She manages to peel them off and shut the ashtray just in time for Jim to pass her her drink. The kid at the drive-through is already holding out the bag of food, bouncing it impatiently to get Jim's attention, and the moment Jim takes it from him the kid whips the window shut again with great finality.
Jim swivels his head and stares at Pam with an awestruck expression on his face, and she knows immediately that he caught the Dwight-ish thing, too. "Oh, my God," he says in a hushed voice. "There are more of them."
Pam cracks up. "I know."
Jim keeps shaking his head, still looking amazed. "No, really, this opens up so many frightening possibilities. Do you think maybe Dwight's beet farm is just a front for some kind of cloning operation? Could we be facing an invasion?"
She imagines a barn filled with rows of incubator vats, all containing Dwights, and it's so horrifyingly funny that she just can't stop laughing. "Oh, God. We should report this to the authorities." She reaches for the steering wheel as if she was going to take control and drive off.
Jim's eyes get that impish look and he shakes his head firmly. "Pam, Pam, first things first. I would've thought you'd remember from your days of dragging North Main that you always need to check your order before you leave the drive-through." He makes a production out of opening the bag and checking to make sure each sandwich was the right one with the right toppings, and he prompts Pam to take a sip of her drink to make sure it's diet and not regular, and the whole time the drive-through kid is glaring through the window at them, slowly turning darker shades of red. There's nobody behind them, so there's no legitimate reason for the kid to make them drive off, and Jim manages to time it so that the kid's face is beet-colored (which, as he says later, was such a tell) before waving genially and pulling away like he had all the time in the world.
Pam can't remember the last time she laughed this hard. She can feel the hard knot of tension at the back of her neck easing, her lungs expanding, all her muscles loosening up and relaxing. It's just wonderful. There's a voice in the back of her mind that says that she should go home, that she shouldn't be out having fun when Roy doesn't know where she is, but she doesn't want to think about that now because this is helping so, so much. She hasn't realized before this how much she just plain needs a break, away from Roy, away from the cameras, just out and away and having fun, letting herself breathe and unwind. She wonders if Jim knew, somehow, and if that was why he gave her that teapot full of goofy memories and in-jokes, so lighthearted and so perfect. It must be. He's good at this stuff, at being a friend.
She finds his hand while he's looking left, making sure there's no oncoming traffic before he turns, and she squeezes it, trying to communicate some of her gratitude. She expects him to squeeze back and pull away, since Jim is Jim and the idea of driving one-handed while still slightly drunk is undoubtedly on his list of nightmare scenarios, but he doesn't let go. He twines his fingers with hers and holds on, tight, as he turns the steering wheel and pulls out onto the road.
* * *
"Okay," Pam announces while they're on their second loop of North Main, "I have come to two conclusions."
"The first one," she says, and holds up a finger to mark it, "is that dragging Main was a lot more entertaining when I was sixteen and still thought that driving around without parents was, like, the coolest thing ever."
Jim lets out a loud sigh, like he'd been holding his breath. "Oh, thank God. 'Cause I have to tell you, I was starting to lose faith in your taste in entertainment."
She sticks her tongue out at him. "Second, I would much rather go see the Christmas lights up on Mansion Row."
"Good call." He flips the turn signal on and starts checking mirrors and blind spots. "Anything in particular?"
"I don't know," she admits. "I haven't gone for years."
"Ah," he says, like he'd been thinking that might be the case.
She gives him a suspicious look, but he's got his poker face on.
Just as she remembers, Christmas on Mansion Row means a mix of rich homeowners with class (dark red velvet ribbons, softly shining golden bells, muted evergreen boughs, small white lights that accentuate the whole and bring it together) and rich homeowners with no class, but lots of enthusiasm (a giant inflatable glowing Santa and a full team of reindeer on the roof, enormous glowing candy canes, a life-sized Nativity with running lights speeding merrily around the perimeter, and lights, lights, lights everywhere). It's awesome. Pam is full, and happy, and relaxed; she's sitting in a car with her best friend and looking at pretty lights and all is right with the world. She looks over at Jim whenever she can, because he seems pretty happy, too, and it's nice to see him smiling like that.
He catches her looking a few times. "What?" he asks.
"Nothing." A smile tugs at the corners of her mouth and she gives in to it, lets it spread all over her face until she's grinning at him like a loon.
"Seriously, what? You're looking kind of manic, Beesly."
She shrugs playfully. "I don't know, I'm just having a good time. This is fun."
"Was fun," Jim corrects her, and nods at the scenery. "We ran out of crazy Christmas stuff about three blocks back."
He's right; they're long past the last of the really ostentatiously decorated houses. "Go back?" Pam asks. "Please?"
"Okay, okay." He finds a driveway for a three-point turn. "Just remember that we are in an upper-crust neighborhood, driving a lower-middle-class car. If somebody calls the cops because they think we're casing their house, it's on your head."
"No problem," she agrees, clapping her hands at the reappearance of the big house that appears to be covered in wrapping paper. "Totally my fault, officer. I have a weakness for gaudy ornamentation and when I saw that big inflatable Snoopy and Woodstock snow globe I couldn't help myself. My companion here was just the get-away driver."
Jim laughs. "Wow, that's... you know, if we get arrested, how about I do all the talking? I'd rather not spend my whole night trying to explain to the police that you're completely crazy."
"What, are you scared you'll be in trouble with your roommate if you don't get home by ten?"
That little smile again, the one that seems to sneak onto his face like he hasn't noticed it. "Of course. Mark is very strict about my curfew."
"What about having girls in your room?" she asks, feeling impish. She rests her hand on his thigh, allegedly to lean over to see the tiny Baby Jesus across the street being menaced by a much larger plastic snowman, but she feels the muscles jump under her fingers and this, now, this is very interesting. She tilts her head to look at him and slowly, slowly moves her palm up toward more interesting territory.
"Pam." There's a warning tone in his voice, but she's not listening to that, she's listening to the way his breath is speeding up, the catch in his voice after he says her name, the creak of the driver's seat as he pushes up, just a little, when her hand is just inches away from the top of his leg. She changes course before reaching her target and pulls her hand back down, trailing her fingers leisurely along just above the inseam of his pants. "Pam," he says again, more forcefully.
"Hmm?" She tips her hand a little and drags her nails up along his inner thigh, draws a few gentle circles in the hollow near the top, navigating a tiny bit further north every time. He's hard, she can tell; the shadows are too deep to see anything and she hasn't put her hand there yet, but she knows his body now and she knows the little movements his hips make when he desperately wants her to touch him. She hasn't teased him like this before, hasn't needed to-- everything they do together is like foreplay, sometimes-- and she's surprised to find herself getting wet, just from the way he reacts to her touch.
"What are you doing?" he rasps.
"Nothing." Pam can't remember the last time she felt so deliciously naughty. It's like high school all over again, experimenting with what her touch can do, daring herself nearer and nearer the bulge in a boy's pants, her heart thudding and the radio playing and the engine growling and oh, she's missed this. She lets the side of one finger brush against Jim's erection and revels in the way he gasps.
"I can't," he begins, and she cuts him off by sliding her fingers over his balls. "God," he moans, and presses back against the headrest. "I can't drive like this, Pam," he says, half-laughing, half-pleading, all breath and gravel and she can't even believe how much she loves hearing his voice like that. It's intoxicating, and kind of terrifying, to discover she can have that kind of effect on him.
"Sure you can." She moves her hand back down his thigh and gives him a little tickle. "Just keep both hands on the wheel and your foot on the gas."
"Oh, right," he manages. "Like I'm going to be able to pay attention when oh holy Christ--" Her hand slides up along the hard ridge of his erection and he arches his hips into her touch, accidentally pushing his foot harder onto the accelerator, and the car lurches forward. Jim makes a startled noise.
"You're fine." Pam rubs her palm up and down his cock, feels it twitch under her hand. His pants are a distraction, chafing her fingers and making it impossible to wrap her hand around him the way she wants to, so she unzips his fly and works her fingers inside to draw him out and stroke him properly.
Jim yelps. "Pam."
"Shhh," she whispers. Her heart is pounding in her ears and his cock is hard and hot in her hand, and there's no way she can think of stopping when he's groaning and panting and his whole body is straining toward her. She wants him, but she's shocked to find that she wants this more, this astonishing ability to make him sound like this, to make him tremble. It feels so familiar, like somehow it's part of the strange streak of mischief that lurks under every joke and every prank they play, but never like this, never like this-- she can feel her pulse hammering in her throat and her chest and between her legs and oh, God. "Ever heard of road head?" she asks, her voice low.
"Road--? Oh, God, you've got to be kidding me," he gasps.
"Just keep driving," she says, and leans down to take his cock in her mouth. She's done this before, and she's sure she's done it better, but it's never been from this angle and it's never been Jim and she's dizzy with the smell of him, the taste of him on her tongue.
"Oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck--" The car lurches again, sideways this time, and she feels his leg brush against her cheek as he stomps on the brakes. "Hold on, hold on, I'm pulling over."
Pam pulls her mouth off him. "Jim, that kind of ruins the point of this."
"Evil." Jim throws the car into park. "You're just plain-- oh--" as she licks her way up his cock and sucks her way back down; his hips jerk up involuntarily, bumping hard against her nose and almost choking her. "Sorry--"
"Mmm." She shakes her head to show it's okay, and puts her hand at the top of his thigh to hold him down as she moves up and down, hollowing out her cheeks for suction. He lifts one hand and brushes it lightly over the crown of her head and down to her shoulder, latches around her upper arm. She can feel him shaking, the muscles jumping under her palm and his chest hitching in and out in labored breaths. His hand moves down her arm to where she's holding him down, and he wraps his hand tight around hers like he's anchoring himself. Pam squeezes his hand in rhythm with her strokes, and he squeezes back so hard that she's briefly afraid he'll crush her. "God," he moans, "oh God, oh, Pam-- Pam, I'm gonna, I'm--" and she sucks harder, moves faster, hums a little breathless tune around his cock until he cries out and arcs his whole body as he comes.
Pam waits until he's done to swallow, tossing it back quick, like she's doing a shot. She pulls away and wipes her free hand across her mouth, listening to Jim's ragged breathing over the tinny sound of Run D.M.C.'s Christmas in Hollis playing on the radio. He finally lets go of her other hand so he can tuck himself back in and zip up.
"Wow," he says, and sighs a great whoosh of breath out of his lungs. "Just-- wow." He drops his head back, thumping against the headrest, eyes closed. After a moment he starts chuckling.
"Nothing." He opens his eyes and turns his head to grin at her. "Just that I've always known you would be the death of me, but I had absolutely no idea it would nearly end up being a literal, car-crashing, closed-coffin kind of death."
She slaps his shoulder. "You're such a baby, Halpert."
He grabs her hand and presses it to his chest, laughing. "You," he says, shaking his head, "are just amazing."
They stay like that for a long moment. She can feel his heart under her palm, gradually slowing back down to a normal pace. He holds her gaze, his eyes dark, and rubs his thumb against the back of her hand.
Another car goes by, and Pam can see faces in the windows. "We should probably get going," she murmurs, and tries to draw her hand away.
Jim doesn't let go. "Hey," he says softly.
"Hey," she replies, and grins. He doesn't smile back, just searches her face for a long moment, a hungry look in his eyes. She waits as long as she can, and finally demands, "What?"
"Come home with me," he whispers.
Pam stares at him. She can't seem to get her breath, and she feels a little sick, right down in the pit of her stomach, like she's on a plane that's rocketing down the runway to takeoff. "What?"
"Come home with me," he repeats. She can feel his heart speeding up again, and his hand is shaking, a little, over hers. "I know it's not-- I mean, I'm not going to ask what happened with you and Roy, you don't have to tell me, I just--"
Roy. Hearing Roy's name feels like having a fire alarm go off in the middle of the night, jerking her out of the middle of a dream, and leaving her shaking, stunned, and confused. Icy shock washes through her veins as she realizes that she hasn't thought of Roy in hours, that she let herself completely forget and play at being some other girl with some other life, all the way to the point where she let Jim think she would--
It's not like that. She's not that girl. No matter how much she--
She has to go home. Her home. With-- Roy.
It's her turn to say something, she knows that, and she's opening her mouth, trying to form words, but words won't come, and she realizes that they're not going to because she doesn't know what to say. She manages to smile weakly, but it must not be very convincing because she can see the hope drain out of Jim's face. She looks down at her lap; she can't bear to watch him give up. "Jim..."
At that moment her cell phone rings. A minute ago she would have let it ring, but now she fumbles it out of her pocket with a quick, apologetic grimace in Jim's direction and checks the number. It's Roy. Of course it is. Sorry, she mouths to Jim. He just shrugs and looks away as she flips the phone open.
"Hello?" She turns away, trying to listen to Roy talking about a fight that she barely remembers, apologizing (apologizing, and knows she should be happy about that, but). "It's okay," she says. "Look, we'll talk about this when I get home, all right?" She leans her head against the cold window. "I've got a ride. It's okay." Roy says something else, but she's really not listening. She turns to look at Jim, but he's staring out the window, his face unreadable. "I'll be there soon. Yeah. I love you. Bye."
She hangs up, and she and Jim sit in silence for a long moment. She tries to think of how to explain tonight, but she doesn't even know how to explain it to herself. In the end she just says, "I should probably--"
"Yeah." Jim shakes his head a little, like he's waking up, and puts the car into drive.
"It's not that I--"
"Don't worry about it," he says, checking the blind spot over his shoulder. "It doesn't matter."
"No, it does-- I mean--" She searches desperately for something to say, something that would reassure him that they're okay, something that would take that blank look out of his eyes. "You-- Jim, you're the best friend I've ever had. You know that, right?" She touches his arm gently.
He looks down at her hand, and she can see his throat work as he swallows. "Yeah." She gives him a little smile. He smiles back at her, but his eyes look sad. "Tough to complain about that, I guess," he says, and carefully pulls out into traffic.