Word Count: 1346
Spoilers: Through 3x03 “Time Capsule”.
Summary: Richmond, Indiana is 73.1 miles from Indianapolis. (And 90.1 miles from Pawnee.)
The Harvest Festival is a hit. The Parks department makes enough money to secure them in the government under its new budget. Ben Wyatt and Chris Traeger’s work is done in Pawnee. They go back to Indianapolis to be sent on their next assignment.
That’s the end of the story, right?
“Ben and Chris are gone, which is good for the department. It’s hard to get anything done with state auditors breathing down your neck, watching all your spending. I mean, we did the festival, which went really well, and I guess they actually helped with that a bit. Actually, they helped with that a lot. Especially Ben. He was kind of my go-to guy. I didn’t really think about it at the time, but I don’t think that was really his job…But still it’s easier with them gone.”
Ben feels like he's spent the last five years of his life in a car, roaming Indiana, looking for deficits. On the plus side, he's a learned student in Indiana's geography - so he's ready for that pop quiz. At least, he thinks he is. What Ben doesn't fully realize is that, since Pawnee, he views the world a bit differently. Before, Ben could have drawn you a flawlessly accurate map of Indiana. Now, when he tries to picture the state in his head, the center seems to have shifted.
"We're really getting back into the swing of things here. Thanksgiving's coming up, so we're working on an event in Ramsett Park for that. It's kind of a touchy subject in Pawnee because of the Native American history in the town. The first settlers in Pawnee weren't very thankful and the Native Americans weren't exactly welcoming. But we celebrate it anyway! It's usual really nice. I was actually going to invite Chris and Ben, but they left, so..."
Richmond, Indiana is 73.1 miles from Indianapolis. (And 90.1 miles from Pawnee.) Apparently, the government there can’t budget very well, but who the hell can these days? There’s no way it can be worse than Pawnee. Monetarily, that is. Besides the government’s bankruptcy, Pawnee really wasn’t all that bad. A bit different, but in a nice way. Interesting – yeah, that’s the word. Pawnee was interesting, to say the least. It was constantly surprising Ben Wyatt. Driving him a little insane sometimes, granted, but also making him smile and laugh. Impressing him all the time. Inciting the most genuine admiration that could be obtained from him. And, really, even when he thought she couldn’t get any more lovable, she did…
Pawnee, that is. Ben refers to cities using feminine pronouns.
“Ann and Chris broke up. Ann said she really liked him, but she didn’t want to do a long-distance relationship. Chris is always on the road, going from city to city, and Ann said she didn’t want to deal with that. I understand that. It would be, um, difficult if the person you really liked was always so far away. I mean, that’s why Dave and I broke up, right?”
One morning when he comes into work, Ben finds an envelope on his desk with multiple stamps on it indicating it’s been rerouted from his office in Indianapolis.
The return address is marked with a personalized label:
Deputy Director Leslie Knope
Parks and Recreation Department
Pawnee City Hall
100 Main Street
Pawnee, IN 47301
Ben smiles to himself and opens the envelope. Inside he finds a picture of him and Leslie at the Harvest Festival. He remembers Ann taking this one of the two of them in front of the “Harvest Festival” banner. They’re smiling and standing closely, but not touching. Leslie looks adorable and, good lord, he’s never seen himself look so happy.
He flips the photograph over and, on the back, in Leslie’s cursive is written: “Thanks for your help. We miss you in Pawnee.”
“Ann actually is here less when she’s not dating someone who works here. We’re still best friends, but I think feels weird about coming in so often when she doesn’t have the excuse of seeing her boyfriend. Still got all my other friends, though. Ron, Tom, Donna, April, Andy…Jerry. It’s great that we didn’t have to eliminate any jobs in the budget cuts…But I guess since Ben and Chris are gone, it just seems like less people work here. I got used to him being here – to them being here.”
The Deputy Director of the Richmond Parks and Recreation Department is this real schmoozer named John Burke.
Ben hates him.
“It’s been pretty quiet around here lately. It’s a shame we had to have the parks closed all summer because that’s when all the goods stuff happens. The parks are a lot less active in the winter. Not many clubs are meeting because of the holidays, and we can’t start any new programs because our budget was cut so much…I don’t know, it’s just kind of been…bleh.”
“Deputy Director of Parks and Recreation Leslie Knope speaking.”
Of course she answers her phone like that, Ben thinks to himself.
“Hi Leslie, it’s Ben,” he says. “Wyatt,” he adds tentatively.
“Ben,” she cries. Obviously, she was not expected to hear from him. State auditors don’t usually keep in touch after they’ve slashed the budget of your department – even if you send them nice photographs. “Hey, how are you?”
“Uh, I’m good. How are you?”
“Good,” she says. “Better actually, now that I’ve got my department running again.”
“Ah, of course,” he says.
But he sounds kind of sad, and Leslie realizes that could have been construed at a jab at him. So she adds, “Thanks to you.”
Ben chuckles into the receiver. “I thought I was the jerk who shut you guys down in the first place.”
“You were,” Leslie says. “But now you’re the nice guy who gave us a second chance.”
Ben smiles. “Ah, well, that’s much more favorable.”
“So what’s up?” Leslie asks. “No more cuts, I hope?”
There’s a pause. Ben’s sorry that’s what she’s always going to think of when she hears his voice.
“No, I just got your photo, and I, uh, just wanted to see how things were going in Pawnee.”
“Oh, you know, same old Pawnee,” she says.
And Ben really feels like he does know. He was only there for about five months, but Pawnee really got to him. He can picture the town vividly behind his eyelids – Ramsett Park, the Pawnee Zoo, JJ’s Diner, Lot 48, all of it. He can picture City Hall and the Parks office perfectly. He was living out of a hotel the whole time, but it had felt more like home than his apartment in Indianapolis.
“Ann really misses Chris,” she adds.
“Yeah, I mean, she didn’t say so, but I could tell…Does Chris miss Ann?” she asks slowly.
Ben sighs, wishing he were back in ridiculous Pawnee so he wouldn’t have to hear how hollow Leslie’s voice sounds through 90.1 miles of telephone wire. “Yeah,” he says. “Chris misses Ann a lot.”
Both Ben and Leslie know they’re not talking about Chris and Ann anymore.
“I mean, of course, it’s better now that the department’s fully running. The summer was terrible and the fall wasn’t much better. I’m not saying that I miss those times. It’s just that, at least then, there was always something to do. Half the time that something was arguing with Ben, but…” Leslie smiles. “I like a challenge.”
One day at lunchtime, Ben gets into his car, planning to drive back to his hotel in order to pick up a file on the Richmond Library department.
He winds up on the interstate.
“Yeah, Ben turned out to be kind of a nice guy. His job is terrible, but he’s good at it. And if he ever runs for public office again, I’ll vote him. I actually think Ice Town sounds like a good idea.”
“Ben,” Leslie gasps when she enters her office to find him sitting across from her desk. “What are you doing here?”
“Uh, I’m not really sure,” he says, standing up and turning to face her. “This is kind of unfamiliar territory for me, but I guess…I missed Pawnee.”
Leslie’s wide eyes soften and she smiles at him. “Pawnee’ll do that to you.”
“Yeah,” he says, stepping toward her. “I’ve been thinking I must have been wrong when I said Pawnee isn’t special.”
Ben’s right in front of her now, leaning down, inches from her. “Yeah,” he whispers and then presses his lips to hers. Leslie kisses him back, wrapping her arms around his neck and pulling him closer.
“Uh, what's going on in here?”
Ben and Leslie pull apart to see Tom grinning in the doorway.
“I don’t know. I, uh, guess he’s coming back to stay. I guess he really likes Pawnee…I really like Pawnee, too.”
But Ben doesn’t really care.