She left the party earlier than she’d expected.
A Christmas miracle.
The teal teapot placed carefully on the passenger seat; for more protection, Pam wrapped it in her scarf and drove with even more attendance than usual, avoiding sharp turns and never speeding up. Certainly, all these precautions were unnecessary, due to the teapot’s forthcoming future, but Pam wanted to do everything right. Just once.
The parking lot before Pam’s apartment complex was covered with a thin layer of ice; Pam crossed the distance between her car and her front door three times slower than usually, cradling the teapot to her chest. She’d fallen there a few times, blaming ice and her clumsiness, but today she couldn’t afford herself a misstep. The keys clanked in the lock, allowing her to enter, the lamp filled the tiny apartment with warm yellow light, Pam placed the teapot on the table and only then she made a shuddering exhale. She took her coat off and sat on the chair, looking intently at the little piece of china.
Karen’s words echoed in her ears all the way home, but in the small kitchen’s silence, they sounded as loud as if Karen herself stood behind Pam.
’Huh, she’s an actual human being after all,’ said Karen, watching as Angela sang ‘Little Drummer Boy’ with Dwight’s assistance.
‘Yeah, it’s a Christmas miracle indeed,’ Pam agreed with her. Karen just rolled her eyes.
‘Ugh, I hate when people say that. Sorry, nothing personal,’ she caught Pam’s surprised look and tried to explain herself. ‘It’s just… you know, Christmas is so overrated. People act even stupider than they usually do, and they are looking for sights around themselves. ‘Oh, I got two packs of M&M’s from the vending machine instead of one! It’s a Christmas miracle!”
Pam smiled politely at the terrible Kevin impression. ‘But I thought you enjoyed Christmas.’
‘I like it,’ Karen said with a sigh, ‘but I don’t put too much weight into it as other people do. They consider Christmas the time to strengthen connections and express feelings, and if something goes off, the merry holiday will turn into a nightmare material. Like, five years ago, my mom forgot to send her annual holiday card to my aunt, and you know what? My aunt still holds grudges against her.’
‘Oh, I’m so sorry,’ Pam said sympathetically, and Karen smiled sadly.
‘Yeah, that sucks. But, even worse than forgetting about a present is returning it to a giver. That means that things are beyond repair but, luckily, my mom and aunt haven’t crossed that line yet.’
She took a sip of her margarita and didn’t notice how silent Pam fell.
She truly believed that she could fix everything. Even after his unexpected confession and sudden disappearance, after months of silence and unanswered messages, she thought that their friendship couldn’t be gone without a trace. Even after his return with a promotion, ‘seeing someone’ and lack of time for having coffee with her, she kept throwing glances at her teapot and clutched to this tiny hope that the Jim she knew and loved, the one that had gone astray somewhere between Scranton and Stamford, might return one day.
‘I really don’t think I should be doing this stuff anymore.’
She felt so stupid, stupid, stupid. A few weeks ago, when he’d pulled a prank on her, she’d been so excited because she’d seen the glimpses of her Jim; she’d composed her present to him with even more eagerness. But now, after he’d rejected her gift, Pam read his signal loud and clear.
It wasn’t because he’d stopped pranking his colleagues.
It was because he didn’t want to spend this time with her anymore.
It was because he had someone else to share inside jokes with.
And the teapot that she’d thought was filled with the hope about the future was just a symbol of happy and careless days that would never return.
Pam went to her bedroom and returned with a collection of little mementos from past years: some of them she’d received with the teapot, others she’d gathered herself, giving ordinary things priceless meanings and turning them into tokens of friendship. She placed them around the teapot like moons around a planet and the picture before her that usually brought a smile to her face, squeezed her throat, making her choke with every breath she took.
Without Jim, all these inside jokes were just a collection of junk. How many other things in her life were tied to him and lost their meanings with his absence?
Pam tried to compose herself, tried to remain rational and calm. If something caused her pain, she should get rid of it. Pam took a clean bin bag and swept every trifle into it, leaving only the teapot and the tiny yearbook photo. She couldn’t allow this picture to end up in the rubbish dump and to be tainted.
She’d burn it later.
The main source of her distress laid on the table, almost shining under the lights. Pam knew it would be hard to break with it but had no idea how much.
Teal was her favorite color, and the teapot could fill three cups — the usual number of tea she drank during the workday; it was beyond perfection, and Pam scolded herself once more like she did that every day since May. She’d admired the teapot and hadn’t recognized that it hadn’t been a sign of friendship, but a gift of love.
God, why had Jim of all people given it to her? It would have been much better if someone like Phyllis or Toby had presented this teapot to her; someone nice enough to keep warm feelings to the giver, but without that sort of connection that would make her put special meanings into this item of the tea-set. But it was Jim who had made that beautiful present, and she couldn’t separate her love, regrets, and everything that she’d lost and never had from the teapot that sat so innocently on her table.
She gave herself a mental slap before her longing would be spilled with tears, as it happened so often these days.
That was the reason why the teapot must be destroyed. Self-preservation and nothing more.
It would be a pity to break such a beautiful teapot. Couldn’t there be another way?
A small voice in her head said, meek and bland, the voice she’d used to talk with Roy. She hated that voice because it said things that were so easy, so desirable to follow, but almost never — right.
Why couldn’t you just hide it somewhere or leave it to your mom? You’ll never see it again.
You know the reason very well.
Pam still didn’t get used to another voice, so sharp and demanding, but she was going to make it her own. It was the voice the Fancy New Beesly should have had.
Don’t turn yourself into an alcoholic, who runs after the bottle, again and again, losing her dignity. Face it, Pam: you have an addiction. Fight it before it went too far.
Right. That was right.
Pam took the teapot, and her hands shook so badly she was sure she’d drop it. Maybe, that would be the best way — just to loosen her grip and let the teapot fall on the floor…
No, it wouldn’t. Pam gripped the teapot tighter and placed it back on the table. The linoleum of the kitchen floor was too soft; the teapot might not break at the first attempt, and she’d be too scared and panicked to repeat the act of destruction. And, even if it broke, the damage would be minimal; maybe, the handle would fall off, or the spout, or, possibly, there would be a few cracks on the body or the lid would get a chip. She knew herself too well; if she saw these defects, the temptation to fix them would be too high.
Pam remembered how she’d read about Kintsugi, the Japanese art of repairing pottery. She looked at her teapot and saw how rivers of gold marked its surface, repeating every nonexistent yet crack and linking the broken pieces together. It would be so elegant, so beautiful; it would turn a rather plain teapot into a piece of art. The symbolism of that also didn’t hide from her; maybe, one day, if she tried really hard, she and Jim could sit and discuss their issues like the reasonable adults they were, and their friendship would be restored in the new, mature form. It wouldn’t be the silly connection of two overgrown dorks with mutual pining, immature pranks, and miscommunication, but the relation of two people who could respect each other and the decisions they had made…
This time, Pam couldn’t help herself; all her body shuddered with uncontrolled sobbing as she hunched on the chair. Because she didn’t want improvement, didn’t want gold, and elegance and deepness of symbolism. She wanted her best friend back and that everything between them was as it had been before; well, it would be better if her best friend returned with the possibility of occasional dates, kisses, handholding, and everything in between, but she wasn’t that demanding. If Pam wanted (she didn’t, but still), in every bar she could find a random stranger who wouldn’t mind hooking up with her, but it would be impossible to find the same understanding she’d had with Jim even in ten years.
It was too late, though. He’d cut their connection and showed that to her in every possible way. For the sake of her sanity and saving the ramparts of her dignity, she should do the same. Pam made a quick walk to the bathroom and splashed cold water on her face until it looked almost normal. She stopped at her closet and found a hammer in a box that was still unpacked from her moving in.
It might have helped, she thought, squeezing the tool and returning to the kitchen.
Pam raised her hammer and lowered it without hitting the teapot. If she did it like this, the pieces of china would be scattered all around the kitchen. And even if she tried hard and picked most of the fragments, there would be no guaranty that some of them wouldn’t escape her teary eye and hide somewhere, like, under the fridge or behind the counter; Pam thought that someday she might find a fragment of the broken teapot, thought about the feelings that for sure would engulf her after this discovery, and suppressed a sob. She couldn’t do that.
For Pete’s sake, Pam, don’t be so dramatic! It’s just a shaped piece of clay!
Pam brought a pillow from her bedroom and used it to cover the teapot, so all she could see was a white fluffy heap, sprinkled with tiny blue and pink flowers. It would be easier to beat it, just hit the pillow again and again and again until it would flatten. No random splinters, no sight of breaking china — clean and straightforward.
The image of the teapot, scattering into dozens, hundreds of pieces, had already burned into her memory, but Pam pushed that thought as far as she could.
Pam raised her hammer. It had to be done.
She nearly dropped it when she heard the buzz of her doorbell.
Her mom had to visit her tomorrow, it was still too soon for her to arrive, and Pam didn’t expect anyone else. She was slightly confused, moving to the front door.
‘Who’s there?’ she asked cautiously.
‘Um… that’s Jim,’ she heard a familiar voice, and her confusion reached the new level. She could name dozens of places where he might spend this evening, and her apartment was not on that list. Nevertheless, she opened the door.
‘Whoa, Pam, do you greet every visitor that way?’ he said without ‘hello’ and with eyebrows, arched in surprise. Pam followed his gaze and blushed, lowering the hammer she still held in her hand.
‘No, it’s just… nevermind. Is something wrong?’ she asked, trying to find a reason why Jim could appear at her doorstep, but nothing came into her mind.
‘No, nothing is wrong at all,’ Jim shifted from one foot to another, visually uncomfortable, his eyes were studying the cracks on plaster. ‘It’s embarrassing, and I feel kinda stupid, but… um… may I have my Christmas present?’
She was mistaken when she thought that it couldn’t get any worse. It could, and it got, and Pam had to grab a door frame to stay still.
He must have seen as she’d left with the teapot, she thought, trying hard not to burst into tears right here and now. He’d seen that teapot, he’d felt awkward about this sight of his former crush in front of his current girlfriend, and now he wanted to take it back as if nothing had happened at all. As if their friendship and his feelings towards her (or, whatever it had been) were just an easily fixable mistake.
Of course, Pam wanted to say her goodbyes to these memories as well and move on, but she wanted it to be her conscious decision in the first place. Now she was about to be deprived even of that little comfort.
‘No,’ she managed to croak.
His eyebrows furrowed, and he looked dumbfounded, and then he glanced incredulously at her as if she said something endlessly stupid, and his lips started to move, probably to say something sickeningly reasonable like ‘let’s stay civil’ or ‘I hope you’ll understand’ or…
Pam couldn’t allow him to speak; she hated every of these yet unsaid words. The Jim she’d known would have never done this to her. But the Jim she’d known had liked grape soda and would have never missed the chance to prank Dwight; she wasn’t sure about the abilities of this evolved stranger who had inhabited the body of her former best friend.
Jim’s lips didn’t end to form his response when Pam blurted out.
‘I get it, Jim,’ she said, praying that her little speech sounded like a warning and not as a desperate plea. ‘You’re evolved, you moved on, and you don’t want to have anything in common with me anymore. I really get it. But if you think that you can just simply come and take back something so dear to me so easily, you’re mistaken. No, if you want it, you’ll have to rip it out of my hands as I won’t give it back voluntarily!’
If it was possible, Jim looked even more taken aback than before; Pam wasn’t sure she’d ever seen his eyes grown so big and confused.
‘What are you talking about?’ he uttered at last. This time, it was Pam’s turn to be puzzled.
‘What do you mean? Didn’t you come for the teapot?’
‘What?’ now, something looked like horror flicked across his face. ‘No! Of course, not! I was thinking about your CIA file and how much effort you put into composing it... and I think that I should have it even if I’m not going to use it… and I was kinda an ass that I didn’t take it immediately. But… why did you think that I was here for the teapot?’
She wished the floor opened and swallowed her; that, probably, would have scared old Mrs. Connelly, who lived in the apartment below hers, to death, but Pam just wished she didn’t stand before Jim after such a horrendous misinterpretation.
All her thoughts and feelings were so wrapped around her precious teapot and her misery that she didn’t assume even for a second that he might have meant her present.
‘Oh my God,’ she groaned, hiding her face in her hands; her cheeks were so hot that she didn’t doubt the possibility of the spontaneous human combustion anymore. ‘Oh my God.’
She turned around and almost ran to her guest room, still hiding her face. For the briefest of moments, she was relieved to hear the clack of the closing door, but this sound was immediately followed by the rustling of Jim’s steps, and Pam thought that she’d never felt that embarrassed in her life. Even when she’d admitted her crush on Timmy Adams in the third grade in front of the whole class, it hadn’t felt that bad; the next week, her family had moved, and her humiliation had lasted for just a couple of days.
The idea of dying her hair, changing her name, and moving to another state had never seemed so desirable before.
But for now, she just sat on her couch with her knees pressed to her chest and her face buried in her palms.
‘Um… is it a pillow on your kitchen table?’ she heard him asking.
‘Yeah,’ she muttered.
‘Is it supposed to be there?’
‘Yep. Don’t mind it.’
He took a deep breath and Pam was slightly surprised that she heard that sound with her heart beating so loudly in her chest and blood rustling in her ears. She braced herself for even more embarrassment.
‘Why did you think I came here for the teapot?’ Jim asked. ‘I’d never take back something that I gave to you.’
‘I think about it a lot lately,’ she said in a small voice, and that wasn’t even a lie. ‘And about what it means to me.’
After a short silence, Jim asked again, and his voice trembled almost imperceptibly.
‘What does it mean to you?’
Pam thought that she’d look cool with straight black hair, that the name ‘Eleanor’ would suit her and that she always was curious about how the winter in Alaska looked like. These thoughts gave her strength to say:
‘It means everything,’ she was worried slightly that her words were inaudible, because her mouth was suddenly too dry and her tongue refused to cooperate. ‘Our history, our friendship, everything that was and… and might have been.’
The silence lasted so long that Pam raised her head to check if Jim was fine; she met his stare and thought that she’d seen such intensity in his gaze only once, in May. Or, probably, she'd seen it before, but she'd always made great efforts to forget about it, because friends didn’t look at each other that way, and these gazes had stirred in her some disturbing emotions, too dangerous for an engaged woman.
Frankly, that was an impressive achievement for her — to have coherent thoughts at this moment.
'Might have been?' he repeated.
Pam bit her lip and turned her face away from him. She was never good at talking about her feelings, and now she thought that it would be much easier to crawl out her skin than choke out a couple of words. But Jim didn't leave, even after she admitted her misunderstanding. If that meant that her friend Jim was still there, he'd understand what she was saying and how much it cost to her to say these words.
If not… well, in that case the world would greet Eleanor Rigby in the flesh and forget about the existence of Pamela Morgan Beesly.
‘You changed your mind about things, I guess.’
‘I didn’t,’ he said. ‘I tried so many times, but every time I returned to the same starting point. And I want to stay there. With you.’
With every word, he made a small step toward her until he was so close she could smell his aftershave. It was too much, too soon, she couldn’t catch up with the velocity of events that were happening this evening. And part of her was tempted to close her eyes and see what would happen next.
But that would be a weakness, and she was so tired of being weak.
Pam stopped him, placing her hand on his chest; his face was just slightly above her hair. She felt his heart thumping with the pads of her fingertips, and somehow that was even more intimate than kissing him.
‘We might want the same thing,’ Pam studied the buttons of his dress shirt, not daring to lift her face and meet his eyes. ‘But you can’t.’
He froze and then made a big step back; Pam’s hand hung in the air for a couple of seconds before falling motionlessly on the couch. She closed her eyes, feeling how emptiness ate her from inside. For the second (at least) time, she ruined everything, and now she did that consciously, panic and fear didn’t blind her. This time refusing Jim was her choice, and she had no one else to blame.
She opened her eyes and watched as Jim stood in half-turn to her and looked for something on his cell phone.
‘What are you doing?’ Pam asked quietly, finally giving up with comprehending the occurring things.
‘Well… I’m trying to turn ‘can’t’ into ‘can’, I guess,’ his expression was slightly dazed yet determined; there was no sight of anger, disgust, or disappointment she’d expected to see, and that was such a drastic change from where they’d started today.
The miraculous change.
‘Wait,’ her voice hitched. ‘Don’t do it.’
She might have slapped him, Pam read it clearly and was horrified that another one awful misinterpretation was about to happen.
‘Oh God, no!’ Pam exclaimed, jumping from her seat and crossing the distance between them in two strides. She grabbed his free hand in hers and squeezed it a tad desperately, hoping that this gesture could help her express her wish. ‘I mean… not now, please. It’s Christmas, don’t turn a holiday into a nightmare.’
‘Are you sure?’ Jim asked her, studying her reactions. She looked at him, not averting her eyes anymore, and gave him a little smile.
‘Yes. We made enough mess around us. Let’s do things right.’
Jim smiled sadly and brought her hands to his lips, kissing her knuckles softly.
It was nice that he was holding her hands. She felt so lightheaded after these touches that she might have started to float in the air.
‘Speaking of doing things right,’ his smile turned sheepish. ‘I kinda forgot to prepare a present for you. Sorry.’
‘Don’t be. You’ve already given me a perfect one.’