Word Count: 5,524
Spoilers: Up through Branch Closing, with some subtle references to A Benihana Christmas
Summary: In which Ryan slowly falls for Kelly. In his own bleak, Ryan-y way.
Author's Note: Man, why do my fics insist upon being so epic lately?? I mean to do a little thousand word vignette but oh, no! That would be too easy! Anyway, I did have fun with this one -- I enjoy Ryan and Kelly's relationship way too much, and I just can't resist playing around with the idea that Ryan really does like her, deep deep down. So, yep, this is pretty much a series of random moments in their relationship, spanning from shortly after they got together up to Branch Closing. Enjoy. :D
The first time Ryan likes Kelly – not her rack or her ass or that thing she does with her tongue, but Kelly, like her personality or whatever – it’s Michael’s fault.
They’re sitting on his couch watching Lost with the volume down low, because neither of them really likes it: Kelly says it’s too scary, and Ryan was way more into it before it became the favorite show of everyone on the planet ever. Evangeline Lily’s hot (although when Kelly asks, her eyes sort of viciously sharp, he just shrugs and says, “She’s okay”) but he can’t quite buy the invisible tree-thrashing dinosaur monster thing.
So instead, they’re talking about Dwight.
“He’s such a freak,” Kelly announces, wrinkling her nose and snuggling a little closer against him. “He kissed me at the Christmas party. Isn’t that weird? I was like, ‘ew, no thanks.’”
“Huh,” Ryan says, and Kelly glances up at him in this way that’s probably supposed to be furtive, and he knows all of a sudden that she probably wants him to be jealous or something. Which just isn’t gonna happen. As far as they’re both concerned, this is still just a good time, but when he woke up after the first night they spent together she was staring at him and she sort of clapped her hands together and squealed, ‘Oh, Ryan, last night was so magical!’ She’s one of those kinds of girls, and he should probably get out while he still can, but he hasn’t got anything else going on tonight and there’s something wrong with the idea of sitting alone in your apartment when there’s a cute girl who’s completely into you out there somewhere.
Kelly studies him for a second longer before seeming to come to a decision. “But it’s not like he ever had a chance or anything. He’s so weird. Can you imagine having him like you? He’s, like, worse than Michael.”
“No,” Ryan says, before he even quite realizes it. “No, he’s not.”
There’s an accidental urgency in his voice that kind of disgusts him.
“What?” Kelly frowns at him.
And maybe he’s just had too many beers or something, but after work he’d gotten stuck in the elevator with Michael, who’s just discovered Stephen Lynch and serenaded him with If I Were Gay all the way down, and he kind of needs to vent.
“Have you ever noticed that he’s like . . .” He’s not exactly sure how to say this. “When I’m around, he sort of gets . . . weirder?”
“He does?” Kelly asks, completely oblivious.
And all of a sudden he can’t help feeling a little indignant, because he can’t be the only one who notices how creepy this is. No way.
“Like at the Dundies,” he persists, “with the whole . . . Hottest in the Office thing?”
“Oh, right!” Kelly says, her eyes widening. “He slapped your ass.” She giggles at the memory, which is probably a lot easier to do when you aren’t psychologically scarred by it for the rest of time.
“Yeah, exactly,” Ryan says. “And then when there was the whole thing with the fire, he made me sit in his car with him. Alone. In the backseat. For a really, really long time.”
“Oh, yeah!” Kelly says, nodding. “I remember wondering where you were.”
“Seriously?” It’s funny to think of Kelly back then, before all of this. She’d always been normal and quiet and he’d thought she was kinda cute, and occasionally they’d make small talk in the kitchen or whatever, and man, had he ever not imagined this happening, ever.
“Yeah,” she says. “I always kinda kept an eye out for you. Ever since you started here, I thought you were so cute.”
Stalker, suggests a voice in the back of his head.
“Huh,” Ryan says, and pulls his arm from around her shoulders so he can stretch. Afterwards, he crosses his arms in front of his chest instead of putting one back around her.
Surprisingly, she seems to get it. She doesn’t throw a big fit about him moving, although he can tell she’s disappointed. Instead, she sits up straighter and starts inspecting her fingernails. After a second, she looks up at him, and he’s surprised to see that she’s actually smiling a little bit. “So, does this mean Michael’s gay?”
“I dunno,” Ryan says; he’s a little bit surprised that she’s not freaking out. “He seems to like Jan a whole lot. And he’s really into Hooters.”
“So it’s like you’re special,” Kelly persists brightly, and he realizes that she’s doing it to gross him out.
“Yeah,” he says, and breathes in a little sharply. “Let’s not talk about that.”
“You’re the one who brought it up,” she reminds him, her eyes sparkling.
“Oh, God, Ryan, am I going to have to fight him for you?” She claps her hands together, laughing delightedly.
“Okay, let’s just pretend I never said anything—”
“Because I could totally get fired for that,” she reminds him through giggles.
“But if, like, the three of us are ever in the kitchen together, I’m totally okay with just going to eat somewhere else and letting you guys have a little alone time—”
“Dude,” he instructs, and doesn’t really realize that he’s smiling. “Shut up.”
“Michael and Ryan!” she coos, reaching over to ruffle his hair. “That’s so cuuute!”
He finally winds up kissing her to shut her up, and she’s laughing against his mouth and even though he’s distracted, he realizes somewhere in the back of his mind that he’s sort of happy.
To make up for it, he doesn’t call her for a week, and crumples up the post-it love notes she leaves on his desk. He kinda hopes she sees him throw them away.
Kelly really can’t hold her liquor, which is something Ryan sort of saw coming.
They stumble out of his buddy’s house and she’s teetering dangerously in her four-inch stilettos; he’s got a firm arm around her waist and there are a few times when he thinks maybe he’ll be dragged down to the pavement of the driveway right along with her. They make it to his car, but she won’t climb into the passenger’s seat.
“Come on, Kelly,” he prompts, trying not to let his irritation show.
“I like the air,” she protests, gracelessly batting his arm away.
“It’s nice,” he agrees as patiently as he can. Which isn’t very. “But we gotta get home, okay?”
She had looked pretty when he’d picked her up a few hours ago – she’s wearing a lavender sweater and a skimpy little dress that clings to all the right places, and he knows she dressed up for him but he couldn’t really bring himself to compliment her when she got into the car. There’s a little lilac flower in her hair that’s the same color as her sweater; it’s falling out now, hanging awkwardly next to her ear.
He really isn’t in the mood for this. He’d been looking forward to tonight for awhile, and it’s pretty obvious that inviting Kelly had been a stupid move. He doesn’t even really know why he did it in the first place – she’d been sitting on his desk earlier, totally not caring about the fact that he had actual work to do, and inviting her had seemed like the only way to temporarily get rid of her.
Except then they’d walked in together – not holding hands or anything, just their shoulders brushing a little – and the looks on his friends’ faces pretty much confirmed in like two seconds what a fucked up mistake of a relationship this is. Kelly had been all oblivious and radiant, like usual, and she made cheery small talk with everyone. As soon as she’d moved on from his buddy Steve, he’d come over to stand by Ryan, looking a little dazed.
After a few seconds, he’d muttered, ‘Fuck, man.’
‘Yeah,’ Ryan agreed dully.
‘That’s not, like . . . serious, is it?’
‘No,’ Ryan said at once, and then, just for good measure, threw in another one. ‘No.’
Steve had shot him a look when he led Kelly out the door, the kind where it could’ve been either pitying or disgusted and sucks either way. This needs to end. He’s tempted to just tell her it’s over when he drops her off at her apartment, except she’s so plastered that she probably won’t even remember it. He doesn’t really want to have to break up with her more than once. So tomorrow, maybe.
“Are we underwater?” she asks now, frowning slightly as she surveys their surroundings with bleary eyes.
“Uh, no.” He kinda gets why she said it, though; the blaring music and the chatter from inside sounds faded out here, far away, and he feels a million miles away from everything he knows.
“It feels like we are,” she decides, and stumbles, falling back against his car. He hasn’t washed the car for awhile and her sweater’s going to be dirty. He knows she’ll be inconsolable tomorrow – it’s dry clean only. (She told him on the way here.)
He closes his eyes for a second, tries to cling to the idea that yelling at her will just make everything worse. “Kelly, get in the car, okay?”
“I never drink that much,” she says miserably.
He puts his hands on her waist, trying to figure out how to navigate her into the passenger’s seat. “Yeah, I figured.”
“I don’t like it,” she says, and hiccups. “It’s so skanky.”
“Yeah,” he agrees distractedly, wondering if it’d be easiest to just pick her up Prince Charming style and dump her in the backseat. He really doesn’t like that idea. She’ll probably manage to squeal about how romantic it is even when she’s shitfaced.
“Beer is so gross,” she mumbles, and leans against him a little bit. “And I hate vodka.”
“I know.” He does. She’s the kind of girl who likes drinks that match the shade of her nail polish, with long, ridiculous names and little umbrellas. She likes things to be pretty, and nothing about this situation is. He feels like a douche, which just makes him resent her more.
“You drink a lot,” she points out numbly.
“Yeah.” He feels guilty, and it pisses him off. He feels crappy enough during the week; the weekends are supposed to be what keeps him from driving his car off a bridge.
“I’m not a skank.” Shit, she sounds like she’s going to start crying. “I’m not.”
“I know,” he says softly, and lifts one hand from her waist so he can brush it across her cheek, just for a second. It’s not the kind of thing he does, especially when there are people standing on the porch that keep glancing over at them, but he figures maybe if he keeps her happy she’ll make less of a scene.
She looks up at him, though, and her voice is lower than usual and her eyes are serious and sad. “Do you even like me?”
His heartbeat quickens and he drops his gaze to the ground, to the stupid, impractical shoes that she wore to impress him. “Of course I do.”
“Seriously, Ryan.” She reaches out and tips his chin gracelessly upward with her pointer finger; he’s forced to stare right at her. There are tears in her eyes, and the moonlight makes her hair shine. “Seriously. Do you?”
The quiet is deafening and horrible.
“Yeah,” he finally says. It’s not like he has a choice.
She kind of starts to smile, and then throws up on his shoes. He figures he probably deserves it.
Ryan’s got some deep, dark secrets. Kelly winds up discovering most of them within a few months.
They’re in his car on the way to the movies, and she’s rifling through his CD collection. Music is yet another field where they have exactly nothing in common, because he’s not exactly big on Pink or Kelly Clarkson or Avril Lavigne (who’s so deep, you know?).
He realizes a split-second too late.
“Alanis Morissette?” she squeals. “That’s so cute!”
Damn it. Damn it. He meant to take that out of the car. “That’s, uh, not mine . . .”
“She’s totally cool!” Kelly announces, and reaches over to squeeze his shoulder. “I’m so proud of you.”
At least it’s Kelly, and not anyone whose opinion he actually cares about. It’s not like she’s going to judge him. But still. He glances over at her as she pops the CD into the CD player. “Isn’t she . . . too angry for you?”
“Oh, no, she’s totally empowering,” Kelly says with conviction. “Even if her hair is kind of gross.”
“Uh,” Ryan says. “Okay.”
Kelly sings along to Head Over Feet and keeps beaming over at him. He can’t help but think that her voice is cute, sweet and sort of pure and not all painfully off-key like this one girl he used to date.
He doesn’t sing along – not that he sings to it when he’s alone, or anything – but he does drum his fingers against the steering wheel in time to the music. When they pull into the movie theatre parking lot, they keep the car running until the song ends.
The next day, he finds a burned CD on his desk at work. It’s labeled “Songs That Are Totally Awesome!” in Kelly’s loopy, girlish writing, and under it is a smaller “To Ryan, xoxo, Kelly.” There are careful hearts drawn all over it.
He shoves it into his briefcase before anyone else sees, and vows never to let it see the light of day.
It’s just that he’s bored and sort of morbidly curious on the drive home, so he puts it into the CD player, making sure to keep the volume down low. It’s every bit as bad as he’d expected: all of the girls are here, from Avril to Christina, not to mention James fucking Blunt, who Michael secretly likes (Ryan hates that he is in the position to know that) and who makes him want to kill himself.
He decides a few weeks later that My Happy Ending is bizarrely okayish (although no one is going to find that out. Not ever). Still, he takes the CD out of the car before Kelly has the opportunity to find it.
The impossible happens on May 27, 2006.
The phone rings about forty-five minutes before Ryan’s gotta take off to take Kelly to a party.
“Sorry, I can’t make it,” she says, her voice strangely muffled. “Something came up.”
“Kelly, what . . . ?”
He stares blankly down at the phone. For a split-second, he wonders if maybe she’s seeing someone else. The idea isn’t exactly accompanied by copious amounts of relief, which is weird. And disturbing. He knows logically that he desperately, desperately wants Kelly to find someone else, preferably as soon as possible.
. . . which is apparently now.
“Huh,” he says, nonchalantly, to nobody. He feels a little sick, but that’s probably because all he’s eaten today is two Big Macs, and even that was a few hours ago. Kelly usually nags him about keeping up a healthy diet, but up until now, she hadn’t called him since Thursday.
Yeah. He should probably eat.
He’s halfway through making mac and cheese when he realizes that he’s really not hungry. Instead, he grabs the phone again. Just to double check. It takes a minute for him to remember her number; it’s like the third time he’s ever called her.
“Kelly, what’s going on?” he demands as soon as she answers the phone.
“Nothing, Ryan,” she says icily. “I just don’t feel like going out tonight. That’s all.”
“You always feel like going out,” he reminds her, but not nervously because he’s definitely not nervous.
“I don’t want to, okay?” she snaps. “Just leave me alone, Ryan.”
“What the hell is up with you?” He is not panicked.
“Nothing!!” she shrieks so loud that he has to hold the phone like a foot from his ear. The proclamation is followed by a woeful groan.
He frowns. “Kelly?”
“You’re gonna hate me,” she whimpers miserably.
“Uh,” he says.
There’s a pause.
“I’m sick, okay??” she cries all of a sudden. “I’ve got the stomach flu and it’s totally gross, and I can’t even get off the couch without feeling like I’m going to pass out. I haven’t eaten for like two days and the only thing I feel like eating is crackers but I don’t even have any, and there’s nothing good on TV and I can’t find my Legally Blonde DVD and it’s horrible.” She sniffles. “You probably never want to see me again, do you? I’m totally disgusting.”
He figures that the copious amounts of relief were just running a little bit late, and that’s why they’re choosing to make their appearance now. He doesn’t really know what to say, and finally settles on, “What kind of crackers?”
On June 9th – which is the closest you’re going to get to June 10th on a workday – Kelly insists on taking Pam out to lunch. Normally, Ryan wouldn’t want anything to do with it, but Jim’s gone and Michael keeps pestering Ryan about taking his old job, and he definitely needs a break from the office.
He gallantly offers to drive.
They sit at a table at Subway (because Pam told Kelly once that she really liked their cookies, and today is about making Pam feel better) and Pam awkwardly picks at her sandwich. She’s got circles under her eyes and Ryan feels bad for her, but he has no idea what to say to make her feel better. He’s not exactly good at comforting people.
Unfortunately, Kelly’s not either. Not for lack of trying.
“And it’s not like you even need him, Pam,” Kelly insists, her eyes wide as she takes a dainty bite of her salad. “He totally wasn’t right for you, and you’re way better off without him. Now you can be your own woman.”
“Right,” Pam says, and forces a weak smile.
“Plus, it’s way obvious that you’re completely over him anyway,” Kelly rambles on, waving a hand. “You’re sooo much cuter with Ji—”
“So, Pam,” Ryan cuts in awkwardly.
Both Pam and Kelly stare at him strangely. He can’t blame them, but there are some things that you just gotta interrupt.
“I heard, uh, that you’re gonna be taking some art classes,” he says.
“Oh,” Pam says, sounding a little bit caught off-guard. “Yeah. I was thinking about it.”
“Why don’t you tell us about it?” Ryan urges. “Uh. A lot?”
“Okay,” Pam says uncomfortably.
It’s the most depressing lunch ever.
On their way back out to the car, Kelly catches Ryan’s hand in hers and leans in to whisper to him while Pam’s rifling through her purse for something.
“Oh, Ryan,” she whispers. “Don’t ever propose to me and then never actually do anything about it so we have like this depressing doomed three year engagement and kind of put on all this weight and act like a completely insensitive asshole so I’m forced to go fall in love with my cute coworker and make him transfer and then call off the wedding like a few days before it’s supposed to happen even though people have already bought all these cool wedding presents for us and stuff.”
“Uh,” Ryan says, “okay.”
She smiles at him, and he squeezes her hand for a second before dropping it and going to unlock the car.
They don’t talk a whole lot about their families, although Ryan knows that Kelly’s told her parents and her sisters about him.
Nobody in Ryan’s family knows about Kelly. When his mom or his sister asks if he’s seeing somebody, he’s mastered the art of responding with a noncommittal “mmneurghhh.” Eventually, they stop asking. He appreciates it.
When Kelly first tells him about the Diwali celebration (“my parents are sooo excited to meet you, Ryan!”), it fills him with an overwhelming sense of dread. He’s gotten pretty good at paying attention to her, but that night he goes out with a few friends and doesn’t come home until 3:19, at which time he is completely wasted. There are four messages from Kelly on the machine, and he deletes all of them.
The next morning, she stomps over to his desk as soon as he gets in.
“Ryan! Why didn’t you return my calls last night? Where were you??” Her hands are planted angrily on her hips, and she’s glaring at him.
“Maybe we’re too serious,” he mumbles, not looking at her. His throat is dry and the lights are way too bright and God, he hates every single thing about his miserable life.
He expects her to burst into tears or something.
Instead, she just rolls her eyes at him.
“Jeez, Ryan, chill out,” she instructs, unperturbed. “It’s just a party. It’s not like they expect us to get married and have lots of babies.”
Which is kind of comforting, actually. And when he first arrives at the party a few days later, he thinks that it actually might be kind of cool; he likes the music, and everything’s bright and festive and Kelly is gorgeous and glowing.
Then he meets her parents, and her words – the stuff about it not being serious, about them not wanting them to get married and have babies – echo through his brain, mocking him.
They do. They totally and completely do.
He makes sure to mention his dearest ambitions, which as of this evening involve an X-box.
“They hated me, huh?” he asks later that night, standing in the doorway of her bedroom and watching her slip out of her sari.
“No!” she insists, reaching for her silky pink bathrobe and sliding it on.
He stares at her.
“Well, yeah,” she admits. “But I don’t care.”
It’s the perfect opportunity for an ‘it’ll never work between us’ speech, but he’s drained as is and really doesn’t feel like suffering through another mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausting ordeal tonight. He just wants to curl up on the couch with her and watch Conan and fall asleep.
“Sorry,” he says instead, coming inside and sinking down onto the foot of her bed.
“Whatever,” Kelly says, examining her reflection in the mirror. “Don’t let it bother you. They’ve been super-strict since what happened to Melissa. It’s driving me crazy.”
“Huh,” Ryan says, a little awkwardly. He knows her sister died around a year ago, but they’ve never really talked about it, and the thing is that he can’t really wrap his mind around it. Kelly’s bubbly and cheerful and not exactly the deepest person around, and he feels like maybe losing her sister would have impacted her more. She doesn’t seem like she’s sad at all, and when she talks about it, it’s always in more or less the same tone that she uses to ramble about TomKat. She was more broken up about Shannon on Lost.
“It’s like they failed with her and now they have to go into crazy overprotective mode with the rest of us,” Kelly prattles on, seemingly oblivious to the fact that this isn’t exactly celebrity gossip-type material. “You know, she was so great. I wish you could’ve met her. She was awesome.”
“Oh yeah?” he asks, forcing his tone to stay light.
“Yeah,” she says. There’s a fond smile playing around her mouth. “She’s the one who got me into clothes and stuff – she had amazing fashion sense. She wanted to work at a fashion magazine, like Vogue or Vanity Fair or something.”
“Huh,” Ryan says, and hopes he doesn’t sound as awkward as he feels. “That’s cool.”
“She drove my parents nuts,” Kelly goes on. “She never even wanted to settle down or get married or anything, can you believe that??”
“No,” Ryan says truthfully. After tonight, he’s been forced to reach the assumption that the crazed fixation on marriage must be hereditary.
“I sort of used to be my parents’ favourite, back then,” she says a little thoughtfully, and eyes her reflection. “I was so freaked out about ever doing anything to piss them off. It’s like they had Mel to worry about, so I had to do everything right so they wouldn’t have, like, heart attacks or something.”
He remembers the old Kelly, with her drab work-appropriate blouses and softspokenness, and for the first time, things sort of start to make sense.
“She would always tell me to just go for it,” Kelly reminisces. “And not worry about what Mom and Dad thought. And after what happened, I finally just figured, why not? Life is short.”
“That’s smart,” he manages. It’s hard to talk about this.
“Yeah,” she says, like it’s nothing, then frowns slightly and starts fiddling with a lock of dark hair. “Hey, can you hand me my hairbrush?”
He reaches for the brush on her bedside table and gets up to hand it to her. When she takes it from him, he leans down to kiss her hair.
“I’m sorry about your sister,” he murmurs, and the scent of her shampoo is weirdly comforting. Nice.
“It’s okay,” she says sincerely, and looks up at him. He feels a surge of something that he knows he’s not gonna let himself put a name to, because that makes it too permanent somehow. But still.
He wraps an arm around her and pulls her to him; she stumbles a little at the suddenness of it and he steadies her.
“Ryan! What’s wrong with you?” she asks, laughing.
He’s smart enough to know that You’re not that bad won’t go over all that well with her, so instead he just smiles a little.
Ryan really, really hates the cameras.
Kelly loves them. She says they make her feel like a reality TV star. Once, she compared the two of them to Jessica and Nick. Ryan had reminded her that they’d gotten divorced – even he knows some stuff – and she hadn’t spoken to him for a few hours afterward.
It’s that kinda thing that makes him glad the branch is closing.
He feels almost giddy. He actually catches himself smiling a few times without realizing it. No more Michael and no more glaringly obvious (to everyone else) melodrama between Jim and Pam; he’s not gonna wind up like Toby or Stanley or Meredith, who have worked here so long that the bleakness of it is ingrained in their faces. He’s out of here, and he can go anywhere. Preferably somewhere far away.
And then there’s Kelly.
It’s not that he doesn’t like her. He does. But the thing is, this is his chance and he’d be an idiot not to take it, and it’s not like it’s worth it to throw everything away just so he can be with her. They’re not really right for each other, anyway.
He prepares himself for about an hour before he finally goes to break up with her, making sure that he knows all the right things to say. She’s going to be inconsolable – it’s inevitable – but it’s just one of those things that has to be done, plain and simple.
Except she doesn’t cry. Just sits there and nods at all the right places and gives him a hug when they both stand up afterward. The closeness of her and the scent of her perfume feel sort of right, or maybe just familiar, and for a split-second he almost thinks he feels regret or doubt or something along those lines. He ignores it.
“It’s been fun,” she says when they pull apart, smiling at him, and that’s it.
He feels sort of used.
When Jan tells them that it’s actually Stamford that’s closing, he’s surprised to discover that he’s not exactly miserable. He rationalizes it: even if the branch isn’t being shut down, it doesn’t mean that he’s going to be here forever. He’s just gonna get more business experience here, and it’ll help him out in the long run, definitely. And besides, he kinda likes some of the people here, even if the majority of them are out of their minds – and, well, maybe there are bosses out there that are more disturbing than Michael. It seems unlikely, but hey, maybe it’s not impossible. It’s better to stick with what you know.
He thinks about going to find Kelly, but doesn’t know what the hell he’s supposed to say. The idea that maybe they’re still broken up occurs to him; after all, she hadn’t exactly seemed crazy about him when he’d put an end to things. Working here and not dating her seems very, very weird.
And then she runs squealing into the kitchen and throws her arms around him, slamming him violently against the fridge. It hurts, and she’s insane, but Pam’s smiling at them and Bill the camera guy is shaking with silent laughter and Ryan actually feels kinda okay.
When Kelly disentangles from him and announces that she has to go freshen up her makeup in the bathroom but don’t go anywhere because she’ll be right back, Bill pulls him aside for a one-on-one interview.
“So, uh,” Bill says as he settles down in the chair across from him, the camera resting steadily on his shoulder. “What’s up with that?”
Ryan knows he’s smiling and really wishes he wasn’t, because whatever the hell this is with Kelly is complicated enough without being forever preserved in what will surely be the most cracked out documentary in the history of ever.
“I dunno,” he finally offers, staring downward at nothing in particular. “Can’t explain it.”
He looks up, and Bill’s smirking all knowingly at him.
“Oh, come on, man,” he urges. “You gotta do better than that.”
“Ryan! There you are!”
The two of them look up, and Kelly’s standing in the doorway. “I told you not to go anywhere!”
“Sorry,” he says, standing. “I was just—”
“Come on,” Kelly interrupts, and comes over to grab his hand. “You’ve gotta come talk to me. God, I was so lonely while we were broken up!”
Ryan shrugs and casts a glance back at Bill. “Sorry, man.”
“Yeah, get lost,” Bill says, grinning easily at him.
It’s not until later, when Kelly is perched on his desk talking about how mean all the reporters are to Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes and maybe they should just be more accepting of different religions, because who’s to say that space planes don’t exist?, that Ryan realizes maybe it wasn’t exactly smart to be so open with the camera where Kelly’s concerned. Jim’s a cool guy and everything, but he definitely doesn’t want to follow in his footsteps.
He comes over to Bill while he’s filming Meredith talk on the phone. There’s an expression of faint disgust on his face. “Hey, man. Can I talk to you?”
“Sure,” Bill says, and casts one last glance at Meredith. “I don’t think this is gonna make the final cut.”
Ryan follows his gaze. “Do I wanna know?”
Bill sets the camera down on a desk and rolls his shoulder back a few times, grimacing slightly.
“Hey, uh, don’t use that stuff I said earlier, okay?” Ryan ventures. He’s pretty sure that he’s doing this in vain, but it’s worth at least giving it a shot.
“Oh, no, don’t worry,” Bill says easily.
“Oh,” Ryan says. He hadn’t been expecting that. “Okay. Uh, why is that?”
Bill stares at him uncomfortably for a few seconds. “We’re not really supposed to discuss it with you guys,” he finally says.
“I won’t tell,” Ryan assures him.
Bill smirks a little. “I bet you won’t.” He pauses a minute, then leans a little closer and whispers conspiratorially, “Well, we’ve got a certain angle with the two of you, and it’d kind of screw it up if it got out that you actually like her.”
Ryan doesn’t know what to say to that. Thankfully, one of the other guys rushes over. “Dude, you won’t believe what Creed’s doing.”
“Duty calls,” Bill says apologetically.
“That’s cool,” Ryan assures him, and watches the two of them hurry over to where Creed appears to be selling the contents of his desk.
“What were you guys talking about?”
He turns and finds Kelly standing a few feet away from him.
“Nothing,” Ryan says. It seems to be a good enough answer for her.
“Oh, Ryan!” she exclaims, and takes the opportunity to throw her arms around him again. “I’m so glad we’re back together. I was so sad. Were you so sad? I missed you so much. Did you miss me?”
He feels uncomfortable by default, but the cameras are on Creed and no one really seems to be paying attention to them anyway. Which is nice.
“Yeah,” he answers, and lets his hands drift down to her waist. “Yeah, I did.”
The thing is, it might even be kinda true.