Title: Depends Who's Looking
Summary: Jim needs a ride; he's feeling drunk and honest.
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
Jim's thumb clumsily scrolled through the numbers saved on his cell phone, and happened to stop at "Pam." Whether he had consciously decided to stop there or his thumb had just happened to get tired at that point, he couldn't tell. He pushed "send."
She picked up relatively quickly and sounded cheerful, considering the hour, and he responded, "Hi. I'm very drunk. I don't know if I meant to call you."
Pam giggled. "Where are you?"
"Um…" He paused and looked around. "Poor Richard's."
"Just me now."
Not so giggly now, she asked, "Do you need a ride home?"
"I think so," he answered, even though he felt bad asking her. There were other people he could have – should have – called; he had plenty of family and friends nearby, but she was on her way before he could argue.
He couldn't remember how the phone conversation ended, or how long he sat on his barstool afterwards, but he managed to get through at least one more beer before she appeared at his side saying, "Okay, time to head home, drunky."
Jim nodded. He was a very agreeable drunk. He got up and headed for the exit with her with no fuss, but she put an arm around his waist anyway when he stumbled a little. He rested his arm across her shoulder to make the position less awkward, and looked down to see her looking up at him with an amused expression.
"Leslie dumped me," he explained, and her face immediately turned solemn.
"I'm so sorry," she responded. "Is that why you're…?"
"Yeah." He nodded a little too aggressively and made her stagger a bit from his weight. "That's why I'm."
She silently appreciated that while they weren't quite close enough to finish each other's sentences, they knew each other well enough that they didn't have to finish their own. Sometimes trying to get certain ideas across to Roy seemed to take up so much wasted time in comparison.
She helped Jim into her car, and he slouched down in the seat, deadweight. She helped him put on his seatbelt and tried not to think about how close they were when she leaned over him like that. She stood up and shivered slightly before making her way around to the driver's side.
"I'm sorry I made you come out here, Pam," he said earnestly as she snapped her own seatbelt closed. "I should have called someone else. You probably had things to do tonight."
"Oh, don't even worry about it." She waved her hand dismissively. "I wouldn't want you being stranded, drunk and alone at a bar. Plus, Roy went to bed ages ago, and I was getting bored with the TV."
He glanced at the dashboard clock and squinted to read it through his mind's haze. Eleven on a Saturday night and she's watching TV while Roy's asleep?
He turned and looked at her as they pulled out of the parking lot. "She said we didn't have enough in common."
"Leslie?" Pam asked, more to fill in the pause than anything. It was obvious who he was talking about.
"Yeah. She said she has actual goals for her future, like career goals, while I'm… I'm a salesman. A salesman of paper."
"But a damn good salesman of paper," Pam offered with a slightly teasing grin.
He smiled slightly but then frowned. "She said… she said some other stuff too, that… I don't know. It kind of hurt." He glanced at her warily, aware that he was sharing a lot more than they normally would, but too drunk to really stop himself. "I kind of thought we had something, but now I don't know… I don't know if I really knew her at all."
She looked over at him in concern, and then back to the road with a shake of her head. "I didn't know… You've never really told me much about her. So it sounds like you were pretty serious about her, huh?"
He leaned his head back into the chair thoughtfully and was quiet for a long moment. She was about to look over again and check that he hadn't fallen asleep when he answered, "I think I could have become serious about her, if she'd given me the chance. I mean we only went out for…" He scrunched up his forehead, thinking hard. "… like, less than two months. But we were still in that kind of getting to know each other phase, discovering new things, and it was fun, and I thought she was cool, and I really, really liked her. Until tonight. The things she said… She was really down on me, you know? Like I don't want to make something better of my life, or something."
"You deserve better," Pam replied, thinking the second it left her mouth that it sounded lame. But it was the truest response she could offer, and she couldn't have said whether she meant he deserved a better girlfriend or a better life, because in her opinion, he deserved both. She'd only met Leslie once, briefly, and she'd seemed… well, nice enough, she supposed, but it was obvious that if she was capable of making Jim feel the way he appeared to feel right now, then she was no good for him.
"I wish…" he started, and drifted off for a moment. She didn't know if he was going to finish that sentence, and she glanced over to find him staring at her intently. She looked back to the road, feeling a little nervous all of a sudden, feeling a little flutter through her stomach and chest. "Why can't I find a girl like you?" he finally continued, quietly.
She glanced at him sharply, but her face was more curious than taken aback. He added, "I mean, not you personally of course, 'cause you're… you know." He waved at her left hand, and looked pointedly at her ring. Pam swallowed. "But, like, someone who's just like you. Except single."
Pam looked over at him again, speechless, and he wished he was sober enough to shut his big mouth, but he'd started, and he found he couldn't stop. "And it's not like I need the most… I mean, she wouldn't even have to be as pretty as you, just, like, the way you are, the way we talk to each other."
There was so much in that that could totally blow Pam's mind if she really thought about it, but for some reason, one thing stood out to her more than the rest, maybe because if she let herself think about the rest of it too much, things could get really, really awkward really, really quickly. "You think I'm pretty?" she asked, surprised.
He sighed, exasperated, and gave her a tired look. "Come on. I know modesty's a virtue and everything, but there is no way I'm going to believe that you really don't know that you're…"
"I don't," she responded quickly. "I, um…" She paused, chewed on her lip thoughtfully for a moment. She tilted her head. "I have this poster in my living room, of a Monet. And I think it's the most beautiful thing in my apartment. Just looking at it can make me feel… completely at peace. But Roy only sees splotches of color. He doesn't get it. To him it's just something taking up space where we could have a picture of us, or a poster of a basketball player or something. Beauty is… subjective. We all see things differently. What's attractive to one person isn't necessarily–"
She broke off, suddenly embarrassed. She could get so emotionally invested sometimes – in art, in the way she and Roy sometimes just didn't connect, and she felt so vulnerable when she let those parts of her show. She thought she came off as too sensitive.
But she glanced over at Jim and found him still looking at her attentively, hanging on her every word. She looked back at the road and added, "I might be… pretty. To some people. To Roy." And now she felt like she sounded totally full of herself. But she finished, "But not to everyone. And I didn't… I didn't know you saw me as pretty."
He nodded thoughtfully, seriously, like he actually understood the nonsense that had just come out of her mouth, which was unbelievable to her. She chalked it up to the alcohol – every drunk thinks they're a philosopher, about the stupidest things. But she still felt a little warm inside when he replied, "Well, I do."
He said it like it was obvious, like it was just a fact. Like it wasn't a big deal.
Then she remembered why they'd come together like this, what exactly he'd been through tonight, and she frowned. "But you don't… I mean, the girls you date…" She drifted off, flustered. She couldn't really find the words.
"What?" he asked, looking genuinely confused.
"Leslie was prettier than me. Way prettier." There. She'd said it.
He snorted. "No, she wasn't."
She rolled her eyes. "Jim, please." He would, of course, choose now to be polite instead of honest, after they'd both basically bared their souls. They were sitting in his driveway now, but she wasn't turning off the car or suggesting he get out, and he wasn't moving either.
"I'm serious. She wasn't. Not to me," he insisted. Pam looked at him skeptically. He gazed at her pointedly and repeated her own words back to her: "Beauty is subjective."
The look in his eyes was so intense, almost too much, and his gaze wasn't wavering. His eyes were slightly out of focus and glassy, he was obviously still drunk, but he was also still Jim and there was something there that was very genuine, and she couldn't look away either. The way he was looking at her… He made her feel beautiful.
She didn't know how much longer this moment could last with her sanity intact. She finally got it together and broke their stare, trying to sound light-hearted as she pointed out, "We're here. You should go in and get some sleep."
He nodded and looked resigned. "I will. Hey, thanks." He reached out and touched her hand lightly, but pulled back quickly. "For the ride."
She nodded, swallowed. He freed himself of the seatbelt and opened his door. "Goodnight," she said, like this conversation hadn't been at all out of the usual for them, like they had nights like this all the time, "See you Monday."
He waved slightly before shutting the door. "Yeah, see you."
She sat and watched as he walked up to the door, fumbled with his keys, and eventually got the door open. He gave her one more nod and wave, and then walked inside and shut the door.
It still took her a full minute more before she put the car in reverse and headed home.
Once she arrived, she had no immediate desire to climb into bed next to Roy's lightly snoring form. Instead, she shifted the angle of an armchair so it faced her Monet, snuggled up comfortably against a cushion, and eventually fell asleep with images of water lilies floating behind her eyelids.