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Caution: Stand Back 50 Feet

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It’s been 4:05 all afternoon. It’s possible that it’s been 4:05 forever. He can’t be certain he isn’t stuck in some existential loop where the clock ticks but the hands never move any closer to the six and the twelve.

The day had started with such promise, too. He’d come in early to fuck with Dwight’s desk. When she’d looked over and saw him contemplating it, she’d known immediately what he was up to.

“What are you going to do to it?” It had been the first time she’d talked to him since Halloween about something non-work-related. He’d paused to regard the desk then look back at her.

“Gonna push it into the breakroom.” She’d nodded and gone back to her work. Then she’d looked up again.

“You should put it in the men’s room. And hook up the phone. Then call to ask him something. Like about prices or something.” He’d been careful not to smile.

“Good call. He likes to feel needed.”

When he’d hung up on Dwight she’d smiled at him, the first smile he’d seen from her in a week, and he’d felt like he could actually breathe again.

She’s not smiling now, though. She won’t even look at him. He makes a mark on his blotter every time she avoids his eyes. It’s starting to look like a Seurat painting. Then he marks every time he was sure she was sending him signals during the day. Grabbing his hand and tracing the lines with her fingertip: one mark. Complimenting his teeth: one mark. Leaning on his desk to complain about Perfect Storm day and letting her ankle swing against his: one mark. Taking advantage of the cover of their coats to hook his pinkie with hers in the elevator on their way to the dojo, while he forced himself to look at the illuminated numbers counting down the floors instead of at her: one mark. Maybe two.

He gets up to root around in the candy bowl on her desk. She picks that precise moment to stand and turn her back on him as she noisily shreds a pile of papers that he suspects are blank, so he sighs and returns to his desk. He’s still not sure what flipped the switch. One minute they were horsing around at the dojo, the skin of her stomach warm and soft under his arm, her giggles vibrating through his body and making him hum like a tuning fork. But then she’d squirmed from his grip and her voice had changed and she hasn’t even looked at him since.

*****

The bag of chips is sitting on his desk. He’s pretty sure it’s mocking him. He keeps trying to think of a good way to give it to her, but he’s not sure how to make a simple bag of chips say what he needs it to say, namely I’m sorry, I don’t know what I did, please look at me, I can’t stop thinking about kissing you, oh, and maybe you could also break up with your fiancé. It seems like a lot to expect from a snack. Maybe if they were barbecue, but french onion’s just not gonna cut it.

The clock finally hits six. The bag of chips still isn’t magical so he just says goodnight and leaves it on her desk without looking back.

*****

She catches up with him in the lobby, pushing open the door at the base of the stairwell just as he steps out of the elevator.

“Pam.” That’s all he can think to say. Brilliant.

“Hi. I just…I wanted to say thanks. For the chips.”

“Oh. Yeah, sure. You earned them.” They stand there looking at each other. She twists her hands together and looks down at her feet, but doesn’t say anything else. He clears his throat. “Okay, good night then.”

“Wait, Jim.” He waits. “Could you…I need a ride home tonight. Roy’s already gone and I don’t want to ask Angela. Would you mind? I mean…it’ll probably only be twenty min-”

“Fine. I can wait.” He can see the relief in her face. He doesn’t know whether to be glad or angry about that. “I’ll be in my car. Come find me when you’re ready.” She smiles just a little and turns to run back up the stairs.

*****

It’s cold in his car but he doesn’t feel like turning on the heater. He tugs his tie loose and tosses it into the backseat, undoing the top button of his shirt. There’s a book back there, but he’s not in much mood to read. He stares out the window instead, using his index finger to write Pam’s name in the fog on the glass. It makes him feel like a 13-year-old girl scribbling the quarterback’s name on her trapper keeper and he grimaces at himself. He might as well surround it with a heart and write “Mr. Jim Beesley” too. He obliterates her name with his knuckles, leaving an amorphous blob right next to the steering wheel.

She’s the last out. It’s already dark by the time he sees Angela, Stanley and Toby come out, scattering to their cars. Dwight and Michael follow. Dwight wages a protracted battle in which he clearly tries to convince Michael to let him go to dinner with him. When Michael slams the door in his face, Dwight dejectedly retreats to his own car. Jim’s so busy observing their tableaux that he forgets to watch for Pam and her tap on the passenger side window startles him enough that he jumps. She’s got a FedEx box in her arms. He leans over to unlock the door.

“I have to stop by the package place first,” she tells him as she reaches for her seatbelt. “Do you mind?” He does, but he just nods and starts the car.

*****

There’s a short line at the package place. He pokes around in the greeting card rack by the door but they don’t have any cards about making out with your engaged co-worker so it’s kind of a wash. When she’s done they head outside, holding their coats closed against the wind. Her cheeks are flushed and her hair blows around her face. All he wants to do is touch that hair, push it out of her eyes, behind her ear, and he can’t and he doesn’t know why that’s making him so mad.

“Do you…do you want to go get dinner or something?” It takes him a second to realize she’s said anything. Dinner? She didn’t look at him all afternoon and now she wants him to go to dinner? He exhales, his breath pluming in the cold air.

“You’re gonna have to give me a playbook here, Pam.”

“What? Jim, I don’t-”

“You switch from hot to cold more than a faucet.”

“No I don’t!” She’s indignant now. Her shoulders have straightened and she doesn’t look so timid anymore. He’s glad. He doesn’t want her to be timid or tentative. He wants her to fight.

“You have to help me out here, because I don’t know what to do with this. I don’t know what to do with us.”

“I don’t know either, okay? Okay? I’m sorry!” He notices she doesn’t say that there is no us.

“Sorry for what? For kissing me or for liking it?”

“Jim…you know I can’t-” He doesn’t want her to say it. He can’t let her say it, so he kisses her. This time he kisses her and she’s the one kissing back. They’re in the middle of the sidewalk in their coats and his hands almost engulf her face and hers are clutching his belt like it’s the only thing keeping her upright and she’s kissing him back.

“Get a room!” someone yells from across the street and he pulls away. She ducks her head against his chest and doesn’t resist when he propels her down a side street towards his car by her elbow, not even when he unlocks the back door and pushes her in. She clambers across the seat and he climbs in after her, pulling the door shut and locking it with his elbow. The street is dark and deserted, the windows of the car are completely fogged over; it seems like the universe ends on the other side of the car door.

She has her heel up against the base of the door, her knees and feet canted towards each other like she’s pigeon-toed. She’s shivering a little and she looks like a little girl, lost and unsure. He hesitates.

“Pam, we don’t…look, I’m sorry, I’ll just take you home if that’s what you want.” She doesn’t answer at first and his insides turn to lead. But when he reaches for the door handle she leans across him and catches his arm. Her face is near his. He can count her eyelashes, she’s so close. Then she leans closer and his eyes start to cross, so he closes them. He expects to feel her lips on his, but instead they touch the very corner of his mouth, his jaw, the pulse in his throat. Her breasts press against his ribs and he leans into them, into her. He’d swear he was dreaming but the seatbelt is trapped uncomfortably behind his back and he can still smell the lemon air freshener from the last time he’d taken it to the car wash and he doesn’t think he’d dream that.

Their coats are long and thick, a nuisance, and he pulls at hers, trying to get his hands to her body. The lining is slippery against his fingers and it makes a swishing noise when she wrenches the coat off her shoulders and lets it puddle on the seat behind her. Finally his hands can get to her, can flex on her hips and pull her closer as she shoves his own coat down to his elbows. It pulls his arms back, makes it hard to reach her, and he struggles against the thick fabric for a moment. But then her hand is fumbling at his belt and he forgets the coat, forgets everything but trying not to embarrass himself. Her palm presses against his crotch and he makes a strangled sound, catching her wrist and holding it more firmly against him. She wiggles it loose to work his belt and fly free and before he can really comprehend what’s happening, her hand has snaked beneath his boxers to take hold of him and wipe every thought out of his head.

He’s trying desperately to not seem completely pathetic but it feels so good, so much better than he’d imagined. She does something with her thumb that makes him whimper like a little kid and he’d probably be embarrassed if his brain hadn’t stopped functioning the second she got her hand down his pants. When he tries to kiss her she evades him, fastening her mouth to his neck instead and sucking hard. He’ll have a mark to match hers from Halloween in the morning, the one she’d tried to hide with turtlenecks and gauzy scarves for the rest of the week. The thought makes him feel light-headed. Or maybe it’s her hand that’s making him feel that way, it’s hard to tell.

He’s almost there, trembling and panting, straining against her hand. “Pam, this- you don’t know…I’ve waited for this, for us to be together-” His voice sounds ragged, he can barely get the words out. She freezes, her hand stilling and her eyes fixing on his. In the dim glow of the streetlights through the windows she looks wild, her hair a nimbus around her head, her mouth slightly open. Sadness flickers across her face only to be replaced by a look of resolve. Her fingers are still around him and she looks him straight in the eye.

“I’m still marrying Roy,” she says, the words sad and decisive and final. She’s waiting, waiting for him to nod before she’ll move her hand again, before she’ll let this go any further. Suddenly he understands. These are the terms. He should stop, he should refuse to accept her words. If he had any self-respect he would. But it’s Pam so he nods, his heart dropping even as his guts twist at the renewed movement of her hand. He comes so hard he thinks he might be turning inside out.

He wishes her words would stop him from shrugging out of his coat completely, from pushing her back on the seat and sliding his fingers under the elastic of her underwear and up into her, from pressing the heel of his hand up against her clit until her mouth drops open and her head falls back. He wishes they’d keep him from pushing her shirt up with his free hand and pulling the lacy edge of her bra down with his teeth before applying his mouth to her breast. He wishes they’d keep him from whispering her name against her skin, but they don’t. They’ve never kept him from just wanting to touch her before; they certainly couldn’t stop him now that he actually can.

*****

Roy doesn't look up at the sound of the door opening. He's too wrapped up in the game to notice much of anything. She'll be able to head straight for the shower and then to bed. She'd been counting on it. She'd made Jim drop her off a block away just in case, though.

"Hey, babe," his voice calls from the living room over the squeak of basketball shoes and the drone of announcers. "Someone give you a ride home?"

She thinks for a minute about telling him the truth. A million scenarios go through her head at high enough speed to make her dizzy. In the end, it's too much to contemplate just yet. "Yeah," she says, "Angela." Just like she practiced on the way home.