Just as quickly as life can give you everything you've ever wanted, it can take it away on a dime. When tragedy strikes, will Jim and Pam's love be able to stand the tests?
Set during the summer between S2/S3.
For those of you who watched Lost or Once Upon a Time, the theme of flashbacks will be heavily played with in this one :)
Categories: Jim and Pam Characters:
Jim/Pam, Pam/Roy, Roy
February 15, 2018 Updated:
September 11, 2018
1. Prologue by agian18
2. Chapter 2 by agian18
3. Chapter 3 by agian18
4. Chapter 4 by agian18
5. Chapter 5 by agian18
6. Chapter 6 by agian18
7. Chapter 7 by agian18
8. Chapter 8 by agian18
9. Chapter 9 by agian18
10. Chapter 10 by agian18
11. Chapter 11 by agian18
12. Chapter 12 by agian18
13. Chapter 13 by agian18
14. Chapter 14 by agian18
I know, I know. I already have one WIP going, and I'm starting another?!? Bear with me. This idea has been growing for a long time, and it's been writing itself in my head all day! I figured I'd throw out the prologue, test the waters, see what kind--if any--interest there is in carrying this baby on. So let me know what you think!
It had been seventy-six hours since he’d last heard her voice.
Seventy-six hours since her smile had brightened the room.
Seventy-six hours since her eyes had twinkled simply upon meeting his.
Seventy-six hours since her laughter had made his chest burst to an almost painful deliciousness.
Instead, the last seventy-six hours of his life rang with words like intracranial pressure and hemorrhage and we’re doing everything we can.
Instead of her voice, incessant beeps pricked at his ears like the needles that were entering too many surfaces on her skin.
Rather than feeling her breathing against his chest as they embraced one another, he watched a machine pump her lungs mechanically up and down, up and down. It was robotic, unnatural; watching it too intently made him nauseous.
Her touch, so warm and light and full of life just three days prior now hung heavy and small in his large palm, her fingers cold and rough where he brushed around the IVs that were taped to her skin.
He was supposed to meet her family for the first time, officially, at a backyard barbecue, at a nice dinner in the city where he paid for everything and stood every time her mother left the table, in the living room of her childhood home where her mother showed photos that made her blush and her father observed him with a cautions but approving eye. Not in the waiting room of the Geisinger-Community Trauma Department.
Their first conversations were supposed to be comedically awkward, slowly settling into a comfortable chatter that all revolved around one topic: how much love his heart held for their daughter. Not her mother in tears, unable to form words without spurring another breakdown, and her father sending painful words through his lips, curt and brief, giving only imperative details.
That had been seventy-two hours ago.
Seventy-six hours since he’d seen her last.
Seventy-two since some asshole had had one too many and gotten behind the wheel of his car.
Seventy-two and a half hours since she’d packed the last of her things from the house she previously shared with Roy, that she insisted on doing alone, because they were starting something new. She could stand up for herself. He would be there waiting for her later tonight. He respected that.
Seventy-two and a half hours since she’d last called, her voice dripping with warmth and excitement and pure elated joy. She was finished. It was done. She was dropping off the last carload, freshening up, and their planned night of dinner and a movie was what awaited them. Her new future, and she was simply alive for all of it.
Seventy-two and a half hours since she had chosen to skip going to her new place, deciding rather to head straight to him. The smile that had encapsulated her face in the moments prior to the headlights that blinded her from the driver’s side window was unlike any joy she’d ever experienced. She was heading to the arms of her love; she was finally heading home.
Seventy-one and a half hours since he’d received the phone call that would send his toothbrush clattering to the floor, render his bathroom faucet an environmental outrage as he left it on and rushed out of the door in a blind haze. There was a toothpaste stain on his shirt that he didn’t notice until day two, when his mother had all but dragged him home to “put on something a little more decent.” He barely recognized, as day three came to a close, that he had on different clothes than he had on the night his world had been turned upside-down.
When her mother and father knocked on the door, their soft taps encouraging him from the hypnosis that her heart monitor had tranced him into, he blinked back the dryness and daze, nodding for Helene and Will to take the chair that had molded to his body over the past three days.
As he watched her parents lament at her bedside, he couldn’t bring himself to leave the room. That’s how it had been, those hours since she’d taken up residence in the ICU, whose whitewashed walls were starting to strain his eyesight. Visitor after visitor entered, cried, left. But he remained as constant as the machines that kept her breathing. He was the wallflower, perpetual and silent. He respected the time of others, often remaining in the corner where he could keep an eye on her, to make sure her fragile body didn’t whither away anymore than it already had.
He looked on, a silent bystander, as parents, friends, grandparents made their way to her bedside and out the door. His parents remained in the waiting area most evenings, his mother only entering once, both to pay her condolences and to urge her son to take proper care of himself.
And then there was Roy.
It made sense, really.
She’d called off the wedding only weeks ago, and he hadn’t taken it lightly.
Of course he was here.
But in those three days, he hadn’t dared step foot inside the room.
Not with Jim there, standing silent guard; though his body was worn, the adrenaline that ran solely on his need to protect her wouldn’t stand for any nonsense.
Instead, he sat dejected, his five o’clock shadow mimicking Jim’s in the way that a fuller beard had begun to sprout.
Roy went home at night, took food breaks during the day, but still he remained, another silent observer.
He was immune to the door opening without warning; doctors and nurses came by frequently to check her vitals, the bandages on her face and head, the healing progress of her casted right arm. They all shared the same sad eyed expression when he moved out of the way enough to let them do their job. But this time was different. This doctor was using words like, “Progressing nicely,” and “Waking up,” and “Weaning her off the sedatives.” There was talk of ventilators and slow-going process, but all he was concerned with were those two words, waking up.
If his body had been rooted to her side before, it surely wasn’t changing pace anytime soon. The doctor had mentioned that this process could take a day or two with the heavy sedatives she had been placed under, but his body had been holding up well under the constant drip of caffeine supplied by his mother (and occasionally Mrs. Beesly). He would be here when she woke up.
Dr. Livingston warned him about how painful it might be to watch the extubing process, but he remained by her side, through the pain and the tears and horror of it all. He was there the first time her eyes fluttered, the first time they opened and glanced around the room for longer periods of time. His heart skipped beats, and for a second, he considered taking the plug off of her index finger to watch his own motions in the electric pulses up on the screen.
She was in and out of consciousness, muttered words incomprehensible, but still quickening his pulse at the fact that her voice was finally playing in his ears again. Finally, in a bout of sleep that he had found himself frequenting in twenty minute bursts with his head tucked softly against her body, he felt her stir, jolting him into a consciousness he hadn’t known he was capable of existing in. His hands found hers, holding them tenderly as if not to shock her senses. She’d been a sleeping angel for so long now that he knew her body would need to adjust to simple tasks again. He was prepared to be in this with her for the long haul, whatever it took to get her back to where she belonged.
What he didn’t expect was the way her fingers tensed so quickly under his, the way her eyes bulged under confusion-knit brows, the words that scratched at her bone dry throat.
At first, he thought she was joking. His Pam, such a kidder, even in a time like this.
“Who are you? Where’s Roy?”
His senses masked the scene that played out before him; her yells sounding animalistic in the dehydrated state of her lungs and throat, the way she forcefully pushed him away like he was riddled with toxicity, the way the door came crashing open, and the one person he thought they’d finally left in their past came crashing back like a freight train, his meaty hands and lump of a body cradling her to his chest in a way that made Jim reach for a bedpan before hanging his own lanky form out the door.
Seventy-six hours ago, his world was finally whole.
And seventy-six hours later, just like that, it was all gone.
Let me know if I should keep going!
Thanks for the interest in this story already! I find such inspiration in these two people, even years after the fact, and it makes me so happy that you all enjoy my little ideas as much as I like writing them :)
“God, this is so...surreal.”
Her laugh was warm against his t-shirt clad chest, her palm flat just above his heart. Her smile hadn’t dissipated since the moment he’d welcomed her inside in the not-quite-early but not-quite-late afternoon. Now, the sun had long since settled in the west, and they were cloaked in the faint moonlight that peeked through the blinds of his Stamford condo. His own grin pulled up all lopsided as his lips found her hair, still marvelling that he could actually do this now, memories from just hours ago creeping warmly over his skin.
She was on his doorstep, the thick July air adding a frizz to her curls that he knew she hated, but that he’d always conversely found adorable. Her arms were folded, and she was absently picking at the skin on her biceps, her cotton scoop neck shirt dotted with sweat. She was looking at her shoes, those same white Keds that had won an award, spurred a spontaneous kiss, rocked his world inside and out. The were less white now, worn with a few months of age. It was always hard to keep white white, anyhow.
He had been silent in opening the door, still not quite out of his “I woke up at noon on a Saturday and haven’t done anything productive since” haze, giving him a brief moment to drink in the sight on his doorstep, blinking back the sun to assure himself that this was real, wasn’t a dream he’d fallen into while napping on his futon in the middle of an FX movie marathon. He said a silent prayer to the sky that he’d at least been decent enough to put on a new t-shirt and pair of basketball shorts that day. It wasn’t until he’d finally let breath escape him that she finally looked up, seeming shaken from a daze of her own, her eyes glassy with worry as they met his.
Neither spoke, moved, wavered in those first few seconds, with the sun beating directly behind her head, giving her skin this kind of glow that made her golden, and he wanted so badly to reach out and touch her, to solidify that she was actually there, but her words interrupted that stream of consciousness.
“I called off the wedding.”
She was looking away again, chewing the inside of her mouth, seeming so incredibly interested in the plant that was wedged in the soil between the front stoop and the garage. Her words were more than a whisper but less than the inside voices level that his teachers had pounded into his brain since childhood. He knew they had been spoken, but he wasn’t convinced until he saw his own hand outstretched, pulling toward the hand she had tucked away, not stopping until he was gently removing her left hand from where it had been lodged under her arm and brushing his thumb oh so softly over the bare finger that used to taunt him day in and day out. It wasn’t so much as a shock that pulsed through them, or a wave that knocked them on their behinds. It was warmth, wholeness, like the final click of things falling into place.
She was smiling, a grin that stretched slowly, covering the distance across her cheeks in the time it took for him to tug her up the stairs, tugging towards her ears and all full of teeth as she crossed the threshold, that smile finally reaching her eyes when the door to the condo closed behind them. His hands were still clinging to hers, fearing that if he let go, she would disappear just as quickly as she usually did when he blinked the sleep from his eyes. She was looking up at him, the gleam in her eyes still there, less nervous and more tentative now that she was inside. Did she just lay it all out? Tell him every detail from the morning she’d arrived at work to find him gone, to that night when she’d packed a bag and left an equal parts angry and tearful Roy behind for good, to the awkward weeks spent in her childhood room with thoughts that were clogged to overflowing with him. Did she let him speak? Granted, she’d only truly spoken five words; did he really have a reaction yet?
Instead, they just...stared.
Searching the large blackening disks of one another’s eyes.
Wishing the words and the talking and the hard part could be over and they could just be.
She noticed his hesitance, the way he was still skeptical. If his confession, the one that had flipped every truth she’d known upside down, had been as longing and desperate and so real as it had seemed that night against her lips and heavy in the air, she knew he was dying inside right now, eager for some confirmation that she hadn’t just made a trek across the northeast to tell him something that had already been conveyed in an email by at least seven different coworkers. His lips parted and closed, parted and closed, the little popping noise thrumming louder than her heart as she spoke again.
That single syllable hung heavy in the air, his eyes flickering from her eyes to her lips, down to where their hands still remained clasped between them.
“Is this...really real?”
The words were sticky in his throat. He was hesitant to smile, to pull his grin towards his ears like he had seen her do. He needed to hear her say it, to put an end to the misery he’d been enduring for far too long.
“I called off my wedding because of you. I...Jim. I didn’t know what I was missing until that night. I couldn’t stay with Roy. I should’ve never been with Roy for as long as I was.”
His eyes were still tentative, urging her with the way they grew in size and in the glassiness that had covered the remaining whiteness.
“Jim? I’m in love with you. I’m so in love with you.”
And that was it. That was all it took for him to tug her hand upon his shoulder, to cradle her face in his large hands, to kiss her with more passion and more love than he’d ever thought possible. Finally, the shock was there, the spark, the electricity, whatever you wanted to call it--there it was, pulsing between their lips, the way his hands stroked at her cheeks before finding their way to the back of her head, the way that hers snaked around his chest and splayed across his back, pulling him as tightly to her as she could. That was it. They were finally home.
After the initial moments of Jim pulling back with her face cradled in his palms muttering, “Is this really real?” and Pam shaking her head insistently, tears brimming in her eyes as she clung to his forearms, the smiles were a thing of necessity. He’d wanted to take her on a real date, but she hadn’t really thought this whole thing through, and she hadn’t exactly packed a bag, and she was only wearing a pair of jean shorts and a pink cotton t-shirt that was dotted with sweat, so they opted instead for exploring the city that Jim had become acquainted with only enough to locate his office, a bar, and the grocery store. They’d settled for burgers and shakes on the hood of his car, holding hands the whole way there, knees brushing together as they shared fries and smiles. He didn’t think it was possible for his cheeks to hurt from smiling while eating a mediocre burger, but the way that the sun was setting behind her, the salt from the greasy french fries outlining the corner of her lips, the way that her smile positively glowed as she squinted her bowed head at the sheer reality of their situation gave him the most delicious ache he’d ever felt.
They’d taken their shakes to a random walking trail that wasn’t too far, holding hands in the middle while they talked about everything and nothing. He never wanted this moment to end. But as the sun settled over the water, they were back at his place, bodies flush on his futon, kissing intermittently while late night television served as background noise to their chatter that was filled partly with phrases like, “I can’t believe this is really happening,” and partly riddled with, “I’m sorry’s” and “It shouldn’t have taken us this long to get here.”
They’d gone to bed in that strange point that was too late in the night to be early in the morning but too early in the morning to be late at night. He’d offered her an old t-shirt, wondering how it was possible for his smile to stretch any wider than it could as he saw her tiny body become engulfed in cotton down to the knees. He settled instead for that lopsided grin that made her go weak in the knees as they settled side by side under his comforter, her head settling on his chest and finally feeling all of those things she’d been sure she was missing while in that endless engagement.
When she had breathed those words, “God, this is so...surreal,” against his chest, her breath tickling and warming him all the same, he took immediate advantage of the fact that she was in his arms, that he was allowed to pull her close and kiss her head without fear of repercussion, without fear of rejection. Instead, as she giggled against him he pulled her tighter and he pinched himself under the covers to make sure this wasn’t a dream, he spoke the words that once pelted him into submission, scared him more than any threat he’d ever faced, that he could now say so freely.
“God, I love you.”
It was now, in the waiting room that he had only seen the inside of twice--once while she was actually on the operating table, and again when his mother had all but dragged him out the door, “for your own good, Jimmy; you’re going stir crazy”--that the joy that once rang around those words instead brought a nauseous pang to his gut.
“God, this is so...surreal.”
It was Helene Beesly’s voice that released the words in a timid whisper, ghost-like even, while she sat next to Jim in the less than comfortable chairs, her husband flanking her on the other side.
She was talking, of course, of the one-hundred-and-eighty-degree turn that their lives had taken for the second time that summer. This time, however, it was not one she had approved of. It was her daughter, post-trauma, clinging to the man that the Beesly’s hadn’t always been that fond of, the man who hadn’t asked for their daughter’s hand in marriage before placing a less-than-admirable ring on her finger. They were hoping that the initial effects of waking up post-op and post-sedative in a life years prior was temporary, but after several hours and her insistence that Roy remain in the room with her, conversations with the doctor riddled with phrases like retrograde amnesia and no distinct recovery timeline, it was more than just Jim who wanted to get up and punch a hole through the wall.
In that month after she’d called off her wedding, Helene had watched her daughter’s emotions flip like a switch, from anger to pain, remorse to hope. She was like a hollowed shell of the giggly little girl whose finger paintings once dotted the doors of the refrigerator. She recalled the morning that something in her daughter’s eyes distinctively changed, the light crept back inside, and she held her head higher again. Without more than an, “I love you mom,” and an incredibly tight hug, she’d watched her daughter back out of the driveway, a phone call coming close to three hours later.
“Baby, is everything okay?”
“Yeah, mom. It will be.”
“Pam, where are you?”
“I’m...I’m in Connecticut.”
Helene’s heart swelled with pride and love, knowing that her daughter was finally, finally going to have the life that Helene had been dreaming of since she held her baby girl in her arms.
“Send Jim my love.”
But now, her love was simply not enough. She watched with sad eyes the man who loved her daughter more than life itself trying to hold on to any semblance of hope that had been torn down in the past hour of his life. His chin rested on clasped hands who rested on bony knees who tried their best to stop shaking. Her hand on his shoulder was simply not enough, but he offered her a sad smile anyway.
Jim’s eyes had been trained at the partially opened door, watching Roy sit tentatively on the edge of her bed, her hands looking so out of place clutched in the gawky awkwardness of his large ones. He stifled the urge to vomit, the pain of his gulp a fresh reminder that he was, indeed, alive as air passed through his dehydrated throat. Suddenly, Dr. Livingston was blocking his view, a hand on Roy’s shoulder guiding him towards the waiting room, the worried look on Pam’s face bringing him immediately to his feet, Helene’s on his wrist reminding him that he wasn’t allowed to jump to her rescue right now. In then next few moments, he realized that the good doctor was gathering everyone outside room 3218, this odd conglomeration of people bringing the Twilight Zone theme song to mind.
Helene was sandwiched between himself and Will. Her sister Penny was on the opposite end, nursing one of the Starbucks cups that she’d brought along on her way in this morning. His sat untouched and cold at the foot of his chair. And now, there was Roy, hands in his pockets, eyes suddenly very interested in the alternating blue and white tiles on the floor at the edge of the carpet.
This was his life now.
The Beesly’s, Roy, a doctor who could’ve been his grandfather, and Jim.
Taking a deep breath, not noticing until her shoulder softly bumped his elbow that he and Helene were using one another for support, he closed his eyes as Dr. Livingston delivered his future.
We'll hear from Pam in this chapter. I hope it makes sense, how the narration is supposed to be third person, but also from her POV.
Thanks again for all of the support so far! Enjoy :)
The word that came to mind was weird.
Not fuzzy, not painful, not straining or confusing or unsettling.
Mom and dad were here. So was Penny. Which made sense. She’d been in a car accident, for crying out loud.
But they all looked...older.
It wasn’t like her mother had all of a sudden greyed and sprouted the Beesly hunchback, and her father wasn’t bald and using a cane. But she could see it in their faces, if only slightly.
Her kid sister.
Face thinner, fingers sleeker, a hairstyle that looked way more expensive than their typical $9.99 at SuperCuts.
Even Roy had betrayed her, with his slightly stockier build, rough jawline that was covered in unfamiliar stubble, calluses on his fingers that hadn’t been there yesterday.
Yesterday, when they’d had their first full day of being settled into their new home.
It was a word that was still happily dancing on her tongue, a light in the...weirdness...of her current surroundings.
Today should have been her first day as a receptionist for Dunder Mifflin, the place where she and her fiance would work only floors apart. They’d drive together--from their home--and kiss as they parted ways like they’d done at their lockers in high school, she heading to advanced calculus while he puttered to biology. They’d share lunches and breaks together, and hop into his truck at the end of the day.
And together, they’d go home.
She wondered if her mother was still mad at her.
They hadn’t exactly left things on good terms.
Then again, things hadn’t really been on “good terms” since she’d dropped out of college after the proposal, claiming that she needed to, “focus her time on making money to save for the wedding.” Yeah. Mom had really gotten over that one well. Dad hadn’t been too happy either, but he was always the more lenient one. Mom, on the other hand, wanted the absolute best for the Beesly girls. And in this day and age, according to Helene Beesly, that meant graduating with a four year degree and pursuing a career that would equip them with financial stability no matter what life threw at them.
Apparently, life was throwing her a car accident.
Hopefully her Dunder Mifflin benefits had already kicked in.
She was starting to get nervous, watching through the crack in her door as her doctor--Dr. Livingston? Something like that--gathered her small pod of family members in a circle. Probably to talk about what was going on. Probably to give them an update on her condition. Hopefully telling them when they could take her home. Or, more specifically, when Roy could take her home. To their home.
God, she still wasn’t over that.
She was getting married! Little Pammy Beesly, the shy, quiet artsy girl that no one paid attention to, was marrying Roy Anderson, the starting quarterback, the hunky jock that cheerleaders fawned over and conversely shot daggers at her for being buried under his arm after the game. She snapped her gaze from the doorway to her left finger, momentarily panicking when her ring, her precious engagement ring, was nowhere to be found. But then she remembered: I was in an accident. I had surgery. They take those things away from you when you go under the knife. I’m sure it’s around here somewhere. For now, she was content to cloud her thoughts with white dresses and flower arrangements and cake and Roy. Those things made her happy.
Why couldn’t her mother just be happy for her?
Sure, there had been that whole thing about moving in with someone before you were married, but who were they kidding, really? Pam and Roy had been having sex since their senior year. She surely wasn’t going to put it on hold until the wedding now. And they surely weren’t “rushing into things.” Out of all the things her mother could have responded with when they’d sat Will and Helene down to tell them the news about the house, a scolding like she was a child again certainly wasn’t what Pam had pictured.
As her gaze peeked around the doctor to her mother’s eyes, she was reassured--and more than a little remorseful--that her mother’s gaze was overflowing with pain. Tears painted her eyes, and her body seemed to be weighed down by a thousand invisible pounds. It was then, as she traced the worn, drooping body of her mother, that she noticed something that hadn’t caught her attention yet. Though her mother and father stood side by side, hands clasped like vice grips, the fingers on Helene Beesly’s left hand were clutched around a wrist she’d never seen before.
She followed the arm--and it was long--to where it connected with a lanky torso, a long neck, and a face of softened features. The mop of brown hair atop his head was unkempt, and honestly looked like it could use a good date with a bottle of shampoo. But as she traced her eyes to his, she recognized him.
It was him.
That guy who had been next to her, holding her hand, whispering into her ear when she’d woken up.
He was still here?
Yup. Weird was definitely the word she was going with today.
While her mother stood hand in hand between her father and this strange man like they were saying the Lord’s prayer at Sunday service, Roy, her Roy, stood almost on the outskirts of the circle, far away from Penny, her parents, and this hollowed out shell of a man who made her eyes pinch together and body suddenly warm and tense all at once. It was frightening, almost, to see him from this distance, with dark rings around his eyes, an uncomfortable-looking hunch protruding from his back, worry lines permeating all over his face. Why was this man of mystery so concerned with her medical status?
As she pondered his identity, his eyes suddenly darted up, almost as if he knew that he was being visually inventoried. Intense, somber green connected with her line of sight, and for a moment, her entire world entered a tunnel, locked solely on the tall man with the frumpy hair. He was effectively burning imprints onto her soul, and although she felt the sudden need to cover herself, hide away from his intrusion, she couldn’t move a muscle. She wanted to yell, wanted to scream for someone to come and shake her from this odd sensation, but as his eyes poured into her, the sense that she was safe tickled at her brain stem. His eyes, so hollow, so dark and desolate, twinkled for the slightest second. They seemed...urgent? Pleading. Yes, pleading was definitely the word. But pleading for what exactly? She didn’t even know him. What could he want from her?
All too quickly, his gaze was snapped back towards the doctor, that same intensity now burning holes in the white hair of the lab coat clad man whom, she thought, was old enough to be her grandfather. His ears reddened under the curls that dropped softly against them, and she had the strange urge to reach out through the door and brush the curls behind them.
The thoughts fled her consciousness as five pairs of eyes snapped to the doorway, causing her to turn her head and shy away, the hospital issued blanket suddenly not big enough. She felt like an animal on display at the zoo, making a silent promise to herself to reconsider the next time she asked Roy to take the trip to Philadelphia.
There were more quick movements, eyes darting between mom and dad, Penny and Roy, dad and Penny, mom and...she still didn’t know his name. None of the eyes were happy. In fact, as she took more notice, they all seemed to be growing more and more angry, frustrated, embittered by the second. It was then that the daggers all landed on Roy. Her poor Roy. He hadn’t done anything to deserve this kind of treatment. After a few nods of their heads, resembling the wave that they always did at Phillies games--starting with her father, then moving between Penny, her mom, and finally him--some mixed reactions added to the strange ambience. Penny’s eyes rolled, and she turned and walked--stormed?--out of Pam’s line of vision. Dad’s expression turned sour, as if he was holding back the urge to vomit. A sob escaped mom’s lips, and she pulled away the hand holding dad’s in order to stifle the sounds, presumably to keep Pam from hearing them. But why had she let go of dad? Why was she still holding on to...to him?
And then, she saw it.
Whoever this...this man was, looked as though he was about to be swallowed up by the floor beneath him. His head sunk, shoulders hunched, face absorbed by his free hand. Mom seemed to be holding--tighter?--to him, as Pam watched his shoulders heave up and down a few times, strangled and sharp. Regardless of her ignorance, whoever this man was, she actually started to feel sorry for him.
Until, that is, more movement drew her gaze to where Roy was slowly, somberly making his way through the crowd. The only figure who made way for him to pass was the doctor, whose own expression told the same tale of sorrow that seemed to be written across the pages of her loved ones.
She tensed, gripping the edges of her blanket, once again seeking shelter in the small room. When he entered, Roy looked incredibly disheveled, which was fair, considering it appeared that everyone in that waiting room had just been put through the wringer. His eyes wore days of worry, their greyness striking Pam as though he should be the one in the hospital bed. He was tentative as he perched in her doorway, not quite in yet not quite on the outside, his large fingers drumming against the doorway several times before words escaped his tight lips.
“Can I...can I come in?”
It was barely a whisper, layered with a sadness that had tears brimming in Pam’s eyes as she nodded several times in return. His steps resembled eggshell walking; it was as if he was trying to avoid a secret bomb planted somewhere in the floor. When he stopped at the end of her bed, refusing to meet her eyes and retracting his hands even as he placed them on the rail of the bed, she reached out a small hand of her own, offering it to him. His breath was a sharp intake of air, and as his eyes rolled to the left corner of the room, it appeared to her as though he was fighting back tears. Finally, he was at her bedside, sitting on the chair that...he had left. Again, though, she took keen notice of the way he sat as if the chair was made of pins and needles, perched like a bird on a wire. She’d never seen him like this before.
“Baby, what’s going on?”
Her words sounded strange and unfamiliar, her voice richer and a little bit deeper. It was probably from the surgery, from her long hours asleep, she decided, focusing her attention to the man who still wouldn’t meet her eyes.
“Um, nothing, Pam. It’s just...the...the doctor wants you to get some rest before we...they want to run some tests, but he wants…”
He was grasping at straws, words coming in strangled fragments, his eyes darting around the room as if letters were strung above his head and he was trying to put them together in the right order.
His eyes pleaded, begged for her to understand, and she nodded, more slowly now, as she let her head sink into the pillow. The doctor wanted her to rest, so she would rest.
“Okay. Will you stay with me?”
Her eyes lit in childlike wonder, reminding Roy of Bambi or one of those Loony Toon babies from his childhood. The way her curls framed her face brought him back to the pictures in the Beesly’s house of Pam as a little girl. He bit his lip, pleading with God above for the floor to open and swallow him.
She watched him nod, slowly, biting his lips as if this answer pained him. Her eyes furrowed as she settled into the hospital bed. Before they closed for the last time, she saw his shadow hovering outside the door, tall and gangly, still hunched in a sadness she couldn't quite understand. In her dreams, she was surrounded by cans of grape soda.
God, I never in my life thought I'd be writing from the perspective of a Pam Beesly still in love with Roy Anderson, but here we are... ;)
Thanks again for all the love :)
For this POV, we'll see how Roy is dealing with all of this.
He shouldn’t be here.
Roy Anderson, wearing his best button down and his only tie, down on one knee in front of the most beautiful girl in the world.
Although he was loved by peers and coaches alike, Roy had always internally down on himself. His grades were passable at best, his father’s concern with his youngest son came only when he was donning a jersey, and he had no idea what he wanted to do with his life. But of one thing, he was sure.
He was going to marry Pam Beesly.
She’d caught his eye in their sophomore year geometry class. Or, more so, she’d caught his homework assignment. They’d been peer grading, and his mind was drifting from Andrew Johnson’s half-assed paper on his desk to his strategy going into the big game on Friday night. He was visualizing the new play that coach had crafted when her voice, so small, sneaked into his ears from the desk behind him.
“Uhm, I think you’ve got the equation wrong.”
He’d turned around, still in a daze, its source changing from football and quarterback sneaks to the mass of frizzy curls that his eyes were met with.
“The equation. The Pythagorean Theorem says that a-squared plus b-squared equals c-squared. I think you’re mixing up your b’s and your c’s.”
She smiled at him as his eyes darted from his red-streaked paper to her face, and she tucked a loose curl behind her ear and returned her gaze to the desktop.
“I can show you how to fix it, if you want.”
Slowly, her eyes traced back up, skimming over his letterman jacket to meet his swirling blues. Her smile was all teeth, and in that moment, he promised himself that he would do whatever it took to see that smile forever.
From that point on, the square of the hypotenuse was the center of his world. She had offered to help him catch up, knowing that his current C- in the class was on the verge of probation, as per the terms of the academic sports policy at West Scranton. She wore his jersey to school that Friday, and the rest was history.
Sure, he’d been glared at by many a stuck up female, and given shit by the guys on the team. Pam Beesly? Really? The geeky little art girl? Did he realize that, as quarterback of the back-to-back regional champion football team, he could easily nab any girl on this campus? Of course he did. But those girls didn’t believe in him like Pam. They saw his muscles, his five o’clock shadow, and the trophies that dotted the shelves in the Anderson home. They didn’t see the struggles that happened beneath that surface, the way schoolwork made him nauseous and the thought of college and a future had his stomach in knots with the fear that he would always be that washed up high school jock who never left his hometown. Somehow, in three study sessions, Pam had gotten all of that out of him, had promised him that she saw the potential, and made him believe in himself truly for the very first time.
So she wore his jersey that Friday, and for every Friday after that one. She wore his corsage to prom, and he’d gotten her a plastic crown from the Dollar Tree when Jessica Williams had won the popular vote for prom queen to his king. Her eyes had shined that night, under the moonlight of the secluded park that he’d driven them to once the dance itself had ended. You Were Meant For Me blared out of the truck speakers as he swayed with her under the stars. It was there that they’d made love for the first time, and that same place he’d taken her to tonight, down on one knee on the blanket she’d brought for their picnic. They’d been together for seven years now, both in college with the future on their minds. He saw only one logical step for their future.
And she’d said yes.
As they lay on that blanket, their clothes haphazardly tossed somewhere in the dark grass, he couldn’t believe that his life was going in this direction. Soon, he’d have a wife. This curly-headed, bright-eyed, giggly girl who had changed his world was about to be his entire world. He kissed the top of her head, gathered her in his arms, and drove her to her parent’s house. Soon, he thought, he wouldn’t have to drop her off on the Beesly’s front porch anymore. Soon, they would be home together.
He shouldn’t be here.
Really, he was the outsider.
Although with the way things were going, he felt more like an outcast.
From the moment he had heard about her accident, Roy had clung to that hospital like a leaf to a tree. She might have called off the wedding, thrown away a decade of being together, but that was only a month ago. He still cared about her. He still loved her. A month was nothing compared to ten years. But in this waiting room, surrounded by all of these people whose disdain for him was heavy and palpable in the chilly hospital air, he did not belong.
She’d woken up screaming for him, something she hadn’t done since her grandfather died their freshman year of college and she’d had nightmares for weeks. Or, contrarily, since she’d clung to him with her fingernails in his back and her heels digging into his waist. But the last time she’d done that, he was still paying monthly for her engagement ring.
Poor Halpert had been shoved to the wayside, and for as much as he didn’t like the guy--he had, after all, literally ruined Roy’s future--it was just so awkward to watch her call to him as if the past month of their lives hadn’t happened. He’d thrown Jim a look that said, “I’m really sorry, man. I wouldn’t do this if I didn’t have to,” and sat by her bedside, the peril seeping from his fingers to hers, probably unnoticed in her haste to be wrapped up in his arms once again.
He hated that he was so stiff with her, holding her at an arm’s length as if she was a bomb ticking down from ten. His eyes bulged in terror and consternation, fumbling over words whenever she pressed him about his demeanor, trying to heed the doctor’s words that were still making him nauseous.
“The good news is that Pam is stable. We’ve weaned her off the sedatives, and her vitals are strong enough to move her out of the ICU in the next couple of days, dependent of course on how the next twenty-four hours go. However, what you’ve already noticed is that Pam is suffering from what we call retrograde amnesia. This means that she has the ability to form new memories, but pieces from before her accident are missing.”
“So that’s why she thinks she’s still...engaged to Roy?” Mrs. B’s words were shaky and timid. The only emotions he’d ever seen from her were tolerance, indifference, and anger. This was new territory.
The eyes pinned to him like darts in a bullseye. He hadn’t asked for this, damnit. He let his eyes drop to his shoes, wanting so much to fold up into himself and leave this hell hole circle of judgement.
“You’ll see different symptoms with different patients. Sometimes with amnesia cases, a patient will lose the entirety of his or her past memories, essentially becoming a blank slate. With Pam, we should consider ourselves quite lucky. Although memory loss is evident, she still maintains much of her long-term memory. If we’re going to focus on the positives throughout this process, we should be grateful for this much.”
“So what can we do? I mean, she thinks she’s still engaged to him.”
Penny was jutting her half-empty mocha latte bullshit cup in his direction, her gaze as sharp as her words. He didn’t blame her, though. Couldn’t blame any of them, really.
“Well, unfortunately, there’s truly nothing we can do. Although her forgotten memories can be coaxed back, treatments like therapy and hypnosis often create false memories, and we want Pam to find her truths organically. Pam’s best bet is to be surrounded by her loved ones right now. She’s going to be very confused, and very scared. She needs you to be loving and supporting right now.”
The doc took a pause, watching gazes pass between the members of their weird little circle, trying to decipher the meaning behind the words that Livingston wasn’t exactly letting on to.
“Any tips on what specifically we can do then?”
Penny seemed to be the assertive member of the group, the only one who wasn’t so grappled by emotions that she could actually ask the questions and make the decisions. The remaining patrons seemed relieved by that fact.
The doc twiddled with his pen, tapping it against his clipboard, blowing out a breath as his eyes scanned over the members in the circle. The feeling that they were about to be struck with something blunt and terrible suddenly washed over Roy, and he tugged at his collar as he continued to observe the details of everyone’s shoes. Mr. B’s tennis shoe choice hadn’t changed since 1996. Mrs. B’s loafers were plain and tidy. Penny’s heels matched the personality shift that college in New York had given her. He remembered Pam’s incessant teasing and eye rolling when she’d come home her freshman year with a “new image,” yet she had conversely wanted to borrow all of her sister’s shoes. Halpert’s were what struck him as less odd and more downright sad, because the poor guy had been in such a rush to get back to Pam that he was wearing two different ones. And he probably hadn’t even noticed.
It was the doc’s voice that returned his eyes to an upward position.
“I’m sorry, because this is going to be incredibly difficult for you all to comprehend, but in Pam’s current state...you have to understand, we want her to be as comfortable as possible. It would be best to allow her to...choose who she seeks comfort in.”
Eyes flapped around the circle, concern and anger and fear emanating between everybody.
“Wait, so let me get this straight, just so I’m not mistaken.” Penny’s hands were waving in front of her face in a way that reminded him of her time spent with Pam gossiping after school. “We’re just supposed to let her think that it’s 2003 and she’s freshly handcuffed to him?”
She was jutting that stupid cup at him again, and he was beginning to associate the Starbucks brand with negativity.
“No, not at all. I’m glad you brought that up.”
Perplexity picked at the eyes that were trained on the doc as he continued his explanation.
“We’re not here to comply with Pam’s falsities; we want to lead her back into the reality of what her life is. But right now, it also wouldn’t exactly be appropriate to just feed her with a stream of the past three years of her life. It would overwhelm her, add to the confusion and the frustration that she’s lost so much. We’ll give her revelations slowly and as they come. But right now, she seems to be gravitating to Mr. Anderson. For the time being, I’d like to at least offer her this sense of comfort.”
“So we’re just supposed to let her cuddle up to him like they’re about to walk down the aisle?”
The doc sighed, choosing his words carefully.
“For right now, yes. You have to understand the gravity of the situation--”
But Penny was already storming away, the clacking of her heels striking fear into Roy’s already stuffed up heart.
“I’m sorry. This is a strange situation. I want to make sure that you all understand what I expect going forward.”
He was essentially being addressed directly while everyone else listened in. The doc was saying that he should let Pam use him as her crutch, but that he shouldn’t directly give in to her claims about the past. He shouldn’t pretend it was 2003 again. Shouldn’t let her believe that her reality was the truth. He was only there as her person of support. Unless, of course, things with her memory changed. Right now, she appeared to trust him, so they were giving her what she wanted. That was how he had found himself perched on the edge of the hospital chair that had molded to Halpert’s body by this point in the week. It wasn’t before he could toss his apologies around the circle, his shoulders shrugging while his mouth hung open, not quite knowing what to say.
She’d been asleep for about an hour now, and he’d been doing nothing but alternating between sitting with his head in his hands and sneaking glances at her sleeping frame, feeling guilty and gross every time he did so. He knew Halpert was sitting right outside the room, and his heavy conscious was eating at him from the inside. Everyone on the other side of that door hated him. What was worse was that he didn’t know who hated him the most. Penny was definitely the most hostile. Hell, she’d stormed out in the middle of the doc’s speech for Christ’s sake. Mr. and Mrs. B had never really liked him to begin with. But Halpert? He’d worked with the guy for three years, fought with him over the sleeping girl by his side, and he still couldn’t get a read on the guy.
Pam was beginning to wake, the rustling of the stiff hospital sheets pulling his gaze to the bed while simultaneously pulling his body away. He hoped she hadn’t heard the scratching of the wood as he backed several inches from the bed.
As he watched her, slow to wake as she struggled against sleeping for just five more minutes, he was thrust into a world of has beens and would’ve beens and should’ve beens. Memories of her waking up beside him that first full night in their first home together, her curls tousled and slightly frizzy, her nose scrunching as she clenched her eyes closed in a desperate attempt to stay asleep. He had to bite his lip, physically turn his head, to stop the assault.
Maybe, when her eyes opened, she’d remember. Maybe, when her eyes opened, her eyebrows would crunch together, her lips would twist into a pout, and she’d kick him out the door, screaming for Halpert like she’d done for him just hours ago. Maybe he’d finally be freed from this misery, from the misery that was literally forcing him to look into the eyes of the woman his heart still tugged for, but who had walked out his door and left him with a crushed heart and nothing left to strive for.
But her stifled Baby? in that same sleepy voice that once brought a stirring in his belly--that now made him want to reach for the bedpan and toss his own cookies--reminded him of his place in this life. Her casted hand lifted from the bed, seeking his before her eyes fully opened, and he swallowed his breath and his pride as he wrapped his large digits around it, thankful for the layers of cotton that separated most of their skin.
“Hey.” His own voice sound alien, the words garbled and distant. “How, how ya feelin’ Pam?”
Her eyebrows were downcast, eyes still slowly blinking open. He hated this. Hated seeing her in pain, hated that her small fingers were brushing against his palm again, hated himself for how much he wanted to tell that doc to fuck himself and take Pam home with him and pretend it was still 2003. But he knew he couldn’t do that.
“Mmm, my head hurts.” She was trying to mask the pain through a smile, but it wasn’t working very well. Brushing his thumb across her fingers, trying to quell the burning sensation, he offered her a sad, teary eyed smile.
“I’m sure it’ll be that way for awhile. Do you want me to call the doctor in? Maybe he can get you some more meds or something.”
She shook her head, those big green eyes blinking up at him.
“I’m sure it’ll be fine. I did just have brain surgery, after all.”
His Pammy, always finding a way to crack a joke. And here she was, in his arms again.
“I just can’t wait to be home with you again.” Her words were whispered, swirling with the choking back of tears.
He couldn’t help it.
This was Pam, his Pammy. She was sad. She was hurt. She was crying. His job was to comfort her. So he did the only thing he knew to do, the only thing she expected of him. He reached his free hand up and brushed her tears away, letting his large hand palm her cheek as the pain in her eyes seemed to subside, replaced by a grateful grin.
For just a moment, his world was whole again.
Jim had refused to look inside, refused to let his eyes find the frost paned glass that would reveal a mess of curls that should be tucked under his chest right now, a pair of green eyes that should be a more intense shade of forest while they searched his lovingly, those rosy cheeks that should be cradled in his hands as he wiped away her tears and reassured her that everything would be okay, that he would never let anything bad happen to her ever again.
The soft soles of a nurse’s tennis shoes met the gaze that he had fixed appropriately on the crack between the bottom of her door and the floor, and as the door swung open, he realized what was about to happen. The nurse would prep her, help her into a wheelchair, and take her to some other part of the hospital for some kind of test that would help them to further understand the severity of her memory loss. But ranking on the same level of importance, he was about to see her for the first time since she’d given him those vacant eyes.
His knees were bouncing now, reverberating through the elbows that sat perched there, causing his teeth to clack together. He stood, pushing his hands through his hair, and paced back and forth between the her room and the two who sandwiched it. Mr. and Mrs. Beesly had gone home, to freshen up and make phone calls and grab a bite to eat. Penny had disappeared during the middle of their conversation with the doctor and hadn’t returned since. He was alone.
And as he swiveled around to change the direction of his paces, he caught a glimpse of an image he thought was long in his past.
The arm that held her shattered wrist was engulfed by a meaty hand that was tracing circles on the soft cotton. Her other arm was snaked across her body and through the crook of his, clinging on as if he were anchoring her to the floor. Their eyes were trained on the plump nurse whose hands were gesturing as she explained whatever was about to happen. As he fought to breathe, to keep his body upright, her eyes suddenly snapped up, clicking with his in a way that both saved and killed him all at once. It was when she shook her head, breaking their trance and furling her eyebrows, that he couldn’t take it anymore.
He needed fresh air, a new source of oxygen that wasn’t riddled with the medicinal fumes that these hospital walls had been pumping into his respiratory system. In ten long strides, he was out the door, hands on his knees, letting the warm August air fill his lungs to capacity. No matter how much his chest hurt as the air stretched his tissue, the satiety was never enough.
I know, I know. "But you hate Roy! Why are you painting him like this sad guy who deserves our sympathy?" I do. You're right. But, at the same time, having Roy be more than a punching bag works with this story. Plus, it'll come full circle to your regularly scheduled Roy-hating program later on... :)
I was having a hard time deciding how to get certain situations to transpire, but I think it has all worked itself out (and if not, we'll fuddle along together!). We see a bit more of Pam, and I think you're going to like how this part ends... :)
The questions that this nurse was asking here were honestly so dumb.
What is your name?
Pamela Morgan Beesly. Obviously.
When is your birthday?
March 25th. Duh.
Where do you live?
Scranton, Pennsylvania. Unfortunately.
Where are you now?
Chained to a hospital bed. Well, not literally chained. Okay, so you don’t like jokes apparently. We’re at Geisinger Community. But I have no idea why. Regional is closer.
What is the first event you can remember after the injury?
She tensed, her sarcastic relaxation stiffening immediately as she recalled the first time her eyes had fluttered open inside this sterile hell.
That tall, gangly, man, the one who needed a haircut.
He’d been here, holding her hands, seated so close that she would have been uncomfortable if she hadn’t been so focused on the soreness in her throat, the stark whiteness of the walls around her, the fact that Roy wasn’t by her side. Why hadn’t Roy been there when she woke up? Why had he been there, practically grovelling at her bedside? It was a little weird, right? And even weirder that he was still here. He’d been lurking outside the door to her room when they had wheeled her out, but by the time Roy had pushed her into the hallway, he was gone.
The nurse snapped her out of the trance, the next question seemingly more frustrating than the last.
Can you describe the last event you can recall before the accident?
In between the strangled sobs that had parched her mother’s throat, she had deduced that she’d been in a car accident. A drunk driver ran a red light and plowed right into her. But those were stories that had been told, like bedtime tales from her childhood. The pictures were embodied in the same way that Willy Wonka and Ramona Quimby had manifested into this pseudo-reality in her subconscious. But those were conjurations, movies that she had created in her head when the words on the page gave her just enough details to picture the characters that the authors were describing. In that same way, the stories of her accident were just that: stories. Nothing close to an actual memory was sprouting in her mind. Squeezing her eyes shut tightly, she willed any sort of recollection to form, something that would tell her what had led to this moment, to her being questioned like a prisoner with her arm in plaster and her head riddled with incision lines.
“I..Roy and I were going to bed. In our new house. I set my alarm extra early so I had time to make us breakfast in the morning before work. And...and now I’m...here?”
Her wide eyes searched the face of the stout woman in pink scrubs making tick marks on a clipboard, begging for an answer. Instead, she was offered a sad smile before the nurse’s head fell to the piece of paper that was out of Pam’s line of sight. Foolishly, she made a dense attempt at lifting her body out of the chair to peer over the edge of the clipboard, feeling a blush of embarrassment when the nurse eyed her as if she were a student cheating on a test. When her butt plopped back into her chair, she avoided the woman’s gaze, biting her lip as she focused on the tile pattern of the floor.
The questions ended in simplicity: the time, the date, the month, the year.
Those were easy.
There was a board behind the nurse’s head with that information displayed in blue Expo marker. Although she could have sworn that her starting day at Dunder Mifflin was in April, not August. How long had she been out? She’d have to ask someone when she got back from her CT. Everyone seemed to be tiptoeing around her, and she wanted some answers, damnit.
She let her mind wander in a myriad of directions while the space station like machine spun and whirred annoyingly around her. She reminisced on signing the papers with Roy, being handed matching keys, being carried over the threshold of their new ranch. It wasn’t big by any means, but it suited them. Just enough room to enjoy one another.
She thought of shopping trips for new work clothes, her little sister tagging along and scolding every outfit choice she made. “Just because this is an office job doesn’t mean you have to dress like a shrew, Pam.” But judging from her one interview, the people in that office liked to create an ambience of year round Alaskan temperatures. The cardigans were a necessity. And besides, it wasn’t like she was trying to impress anybody. Roy was right downstairs.
She thought of furniture shopping, when Roy had scoffed at the price tags of some of the nicer items she had marveled at. In the end, their couch came from Kenny’s basement, the kitchen table with the wobbly leg was purchased at a yard sale, and their bed was the one Roy had gotten at ten years old when he outgrew his twin. It wasn’t much, but it was theirs. And besides, he’d promised that in a few years, after they settled in, he’d take her shopping for something better than Kenny’s old couch that still smelled like smoke and liquor, and the table that she had to keep one of her useless college textbooks underneath to still the shaking.
She remembered eating grilled cheese with him on the roof, watching fireworks off in the distance as the candlelight brightened that lopsided grin that she’d come to cherish. She remembered a warmth flowing through her despite the chilly November air and the jackets curled around them, and how its source was distinctly not from the weather.
That wasn’t Roy.
A message from the loudspeaker told her to remain as still as possible inside the machine, and she realized that she must have jolted upon that realization. That memory hadn’t been with Roy. So who was it? What roof had they been on? Why did she suddenly crave grilled cheese?
Suddenly, she was extremely antsy to get back to that room that she’d been so kindly referring to as The Cell. She wanted answers. She wanted perception. She wanted her mom.
She wanted a damn grilled cheese sandwich.
“You okay, sugar? You look a little pale.”
The nurse who helped resettle her into the wheelchair must have caught on to her rising panic. If it wasn’t the concern in her words, it was the look on her face that said, “You’re going right back to bed.”
When she returned to her room, there was a gathering outside that was becoming quite common. Her parents were huddled together over steaming foam cups of hospital quality coffee. Her sister was back, fingers clacking like lightning across the keyboard of her phone, her brows furrowed in anger. From time to time, she’d glance up, glare at Roy, and divert her attention back to the phone. Roy, who was still standing awkwardly on the outskirts of the circle. Roy, whose hands were in his pockets as he stared at his shoes, scuffling his feet back and forth across the tile.
He was gone, which confirmed her earlier suspicion that he’d taken off before her most recent round of testing. She let out a sigh of relief, but at the same time, it was almost as though her heart hurt, and she was left trying to find out why as all four pairs of eyes trained on her. She made tentative eye contact with each of these people whose lives had been put on hold to come and comfort her. Penny, who had most likely driven in from New York just to be with her, who was probably apologizing to professors and cancelling lavish plans in the city. Mom and dad, whose eyes were hollow and tired. She would send them home as soon as she could. They deserved some time off. Roy, her sweet Roy, who was cast out and still had that same pained look on his face like he didn’t belong here. It had been evident in his eyes since the moment he’d joined her at her bedside. More to add to the puzzle.
As she was helped back into bed, she was overcome with an immense fatigue, those few tests wearing her beyond consciousness. Her answers could wait. And so could the grilled cheese cravings. Her mother, father, and sister shuffled tentatively into her room and surrounded her like a vigil, those sad, sorry eyes all starting to genuinely piss her off. She wasn’t dead, for crying out loud.
“How are you feeling, sweetie?” It was mom who spoke first, reaching out to clench Pam’s hands in her own.
“Honestly mom? I’m tired. I think I’m just going to get some rest.”
“That sounds like a good idea.”
“You and dad should go home. Get some rest in a place that isn’t so depressing.” Her own lips curled up in timid satisfaction as Penny smirked, spurring on the smiles of mom and dad as well. This whole situation was just dragging everybody down. No need for any more of that than there had to be.
“I think we will. You get some rest, love. We’ll see you in the morning.”
Penny hung back as Will and Helene kissed their daughter goodbye, a weight seeming to lift from each of her parents as she watched them exit.
“So? How are you really feeling?”
Penny was never one to beat around the bush. She had always been the more assertive of the Beesly siblings, and for that, Pam was grateful. She let out a sigh, allowing her body to be eaten by the pillows as she sank in defeat.
“I want to get out of here, Pen. Everyone keeps looking at me like I died or something. The sad faces are killing me.”
“Well, to be fair, you did kind of give everyone a scare back there, big sis.”
She was taking a seat now, crossing her designer boot clad ankles as she leaned back in the stiff hospital chair.
“I know. But it obviously wasn’t my fault. And I’m fine. They’ll probably let me out of her a in a few days and then everyone can go back to not staring at me. I hate that everyone keeps staring at me. I just want to go home. And start my new job. And be normal again.”
Penny, once so cool and confident, now had that look of worry in her eyes. Not quite sadness, and not the anger that she’d been harboring in the hallways, but worry. For the first time, she avoided Pam’s eyes, resemblant of every other visitor she’d had that day.
“Oh, come on, not you, too!”
Penny tossed her a look that apologized without words, then swept her eyes across the room while she carefully chose what to say next.
“Pammy… You know that… I… Do you….?”
As she rolled her eyes, she was reminded of her exhaustion. Her over exaggerated yawn clued her sister in to her wishes, and Penny sighed in defeat, pushing herself from the chair.
“I have some things to take care of tomorrow, but I’ll be back for dinner, okay?”
Pam nodded, offering her sister a sad smile.
“Hey, could you tell Roy to come in here on your way out?”
She observed Penny’s weak attempt to stifle an eye roll, turn her expression into a tight lipped smile, and curtly nod before whispering, “Sure thing. Bye, Pammy.”
Moments later, Roy shuffled through the door, pushing it wider to accommodate his stocky frame. Something about him, the way he carried himself, was just so different. Aside from the way he tiptoed around her. That was just getting annoying.
He glanced around the room a bit before finally settling his petrified eyes on her. She had to speak first, wondering if Roy wouldn’t have turned into a stone statue had she not said something to break the awkward tension that he had palpably brought into the room.
“Hi.” The undercurrent to her lonely syllable was urging, accompanied by a chuckle that said, This is how you communicate, remember?
“Uh, hey. How ya feeling?”
It was as if his mind was wired with only certain phrases, like one of those dolls she’d had as a child that had a preprogrammed loop of things to say. She thought of what Action-Roy’s catch phrases would be. So far, “How ya feeling?” topped the list. Veterinarian Barbie had more to say than that.
“Tired. Exhausted. Sick of people looking at me like I’m one of those ASPCA puppies.”
Again, she tried humor, but much to her dismay, the way his right hand wound around the back of his neck and the awkward way his chuckle stitled in his throat told her that her efforts had been of no avail.
“Yeah, yeah I get that. Why don’t you get some rest then?”
He was still standing across the room, more in the doorway than actually present. It was as if he was looking for the earliest chance to escape.
“I think I will,” she began, adjusting the pillow behind her head, her eyes never wavering from Roy as he eyed the doorway.
“I think I’m gonna head home for the night, let you get sleep."
She allowed her lips and brows to pull down apparently, her feelings clear in her expression. But as she remembered the way her parent’s eyes had told a story of being utterly burned out, she realized that she probably wasn’t the only one who’d had a long day. Nodding, she extended her hand towards him.
“That sounds like a good idea. You could probably use a night in your own bed. And a shower wouldn’t hurt, either.”
She scrunched her nose and smiled, hoping to get a reaction out of him that wasn’t as dispiriting as the rest of the day had been. His half hearted attempt at a chuckle almost made her roll her eyes, but instead she just reminded herself: We’re all tired. Just let everyone sleep on it. They’ll all be less crabby in the morning.
His feet were pointed out the door, seemingly ignoring her outstretched arm, and she waved her hand in protest before he could fully turn his body, scrunching her eyebrows as he glanced around the room, almost looking for an excuse, before shuffling to her bedside.
She noticed, too, how he turned his head slightly as she tried to kiss him goodbye, her lips meeting more so with his cheek, and the rough stubble that had accumulated.
Instead of returning her I love you, he had simply stated, Yeah, you too, before offering her a half-hearted wave and disappearing out the door in what seemed like a rush.
Body language was becoming her specialty, since no one seemed to want to use actual words around her these days. Avoiding eyes and scuffling feet filled her mind as she drifted into a restless sleep.
She’d had the craving since that weird memory had slid itself unwelcomely into her head earlier that afternoon, and clearly hadn’t gone away, as she awoke to a gross drool dribbling down her chin. She’d been dreaming about it. A grilled cheese sandwich the size of a king bed. In the dream, she’d been doing butter angels atop the toasted bread. It was incredibly weird, but as her eyes blinked into consciousness, she realized that it wasn’t entirely uncalled for: she had slept through dinner.
And here, sitting next to her bed, was the half-eaten food of her dreams, clutched in the hands of that man who was tied for first with her cravings in the category of not knowing when to leave her alone.
She slit her eyes so as to not alert him that she was awake, trying to take in as much of her surroundings as possible. It was definitely later at night; the sun had dropped beyond the horizon. He was still wearing the same clothes as he had been earlier that day: a plain grey t-shirt, jeans, a black zippered hoodie. He still hadn’t washed his hair, clearly. Yet somehow, his smell didn’t bother her. Somehow, despite the fact that she was supposed to be angry at this strange man in her room, she was comforted by the faint hint of spice that drifted to her nostrils. It was when she followed his long legs past the hole at the knee that she noticed something new.
He was wearing two different shoes.
One of his feet bore a black, Nike tennis shoe. The other, a black Oxford.
At this, her head cocked to the side, rustling the stiff pillows loudly. She hadn’t meant to make her awakeness present, but as she shifted to stare at his shoes, he nearly jumped out of the chair, his green eyes bugging out of his head as they darted up to meet hers.
“I--I’m so sorry. I thought you’d be asleep. I’ll just…”
“You’re wearing two different shoes.”
He paused, an empty paper plate clutched and crumpling in one hand while crumbs drifted from the half eaten grilled cheese sandwich in the other. He was less shocked now, his eyes nodding towards perplexity as he slowly dropped his head to stare at the floor. After what seemed like a full minute, she heard a surprised, “Huh,” escaped his lungs, watching his shoulders heave on the word before he finally lifted his eyes back to hers.
“And here I thought I was the one with the traumatic brain injury.”
His expression told her that he didn’t know what to say, how to respond to the fact that she was making light of this. So she curled her lips, smirking at him as if to say, “Really, dude? Two different shoes?” She was rewarded with a smile that made her belly clench, and as the laughter came from him in relief, she allowed herself that fleeting moment to wonder why her body was reacting like this.
“Huh. I guess I wasn’t really paying attention when I left.”
They were sharing this weird sort of awkward we’re-making-jokes-about-brain-injuries-and-I-don’t-know-if-this-is-okay laughter, and it took her a minute to realize that she was laughing and joking with this string bean of a man that was basically stalking her whose name she didn’t even know. If her own flesh and blood wasn’t going to be honest with her, maybe he would.
“Who are you?”
She interrupted his laughter abruptly, and the look on his face went from relief and almost joy to immediate dejection, as if she’d just kicked his puppy or something. In her body language expertness, she watched as his eyes darted immediately to the floor, the way he bit his lip, collected himself, before finding her eyes again. When he did, his were brimming with tears that she noticed he was trying to repress.
“Um, my name is Jim. Jim Halpert.”
She tasted the word on her tongue, confused by its familiarity and warmth, the way her mouth seemed to know it by heart and know its intricacies. His expression said tentative hope and timid fear. His ears perked up when she’d let the lone syllable drip off her tongue.
“So, Jim, if you don’t mind me asking, why are you here?”
The sadness was back, but she watched him rebound more quickly than the last time, clearing his throat in an attempt to earn more time to choose his words.
“Well, um…” there was a long pause, and his eyes almost seemed to be begging her to put him out of his misery, to lay off just this one time. But her eyes told the opposite. You got yourself into this mess, pal. Explain.
“I’m sorry, Pam. I honestly thought you’d be asleep and I just….I wanted to…”
She could tell this was hard for him, and her expression softened as his dejected body dropped in defeat.
“I’ll just, I can go, honestly, it’s no big deal.”
But as he began to stretch on his long legs, something in her stomach tightened, told her hand to reach out and stop him.
His eyes were questioning, and she answered in a way that didn’t say, You’re very intriguing and I want to keep you around longer to figure out why.
“I’m wide awake now and everybody else left. Would you really leave a poor, sick, recovering brain surgery patient alone to die of boredom?”
He seemed to be weighing his options, staring with his mouth agape from her to the door to the floor, before settling himself tentatively back into the chair, a small smile pulling at his lips.
“That could be considered cruel and unusual punishment, ya know.”
Something inside her was controlling this conversation, creating a banter whose only purpose was to keep making this gangly man smile at her.
“Yeah, yeah I guess it would be.”
He was resituating the grilled cheese onto the plate and adjusting it to balance on his lap when she found her eyes trained once again on the smell that had woken her up in the first place. It was after an elongated period of staring that she realized she’d been eying his crotch, and her cheeks instantly reddened as she popped her head upwards while blurting out, “Thegrilledcheese!”
His eyebrows knit, but his lips held back a smile as he glanced from Pam to the grilled cheese and back to Pam again.
“Sorry, it’s just that...I was dreaming about grilled cheese and then you have a grilled cheese and I just….”
Suddenly, the plate was being thrust gently towards her.
“Do you want the rest? Honestly, I just got this to put something into my system. I haven’t really eaten all day. I’m sure you could use it more than I can, though.”
Hesitantly, she reached for the plate, only taking it when he nudged his head forward as if to say, Really, it’s okay. And then, all too quickly, she was devouring the room temperature sandwich, savoring the sticky American cheese and crunchy bread. It was only half a sandwich, but suddenly she felt as if she had a new strength surging through her.
“A little hungry there, Beesly?”
He was eying her with this comedic admiration, his eyebrows pinched upward as he chuckled. She wiped the back of her hand across her mouth to brush away the crumbs that had collected.
“Oh, yeah, uh, sorry. I call you that a lot, just a habit. I can call you Pam, if you’d like.”
She considered this for a moment, trying to envision the strange puzzle she had fit together in her head.
She knew that there had been an accident, one that had landed her on the operating table with her head cut open. This afternoon, when they’d taken her for those tests, the board had said August, when she had clearly been slated to start her job at Dunder Mifflin in April. Maybe she had lost more time than she had originally been aware of. So, where then, did she know this, this Jim from? The one with the goofy smile and the grilled cheese and the Beesly-calling?
She needed time to process all of this. But at the same time, she didn’t want him--Jim--to leave. He provided her with an odd sense of comfort that she wanted to hold onto. While she fidgeted with the edges of her cast, her eyes drifting towards her lap, his silky voice pulled her attention back towards him.
“Did you say that you were dreaming about grilled cheese?”
She was startled by the question, but a blush quickly flushed her cheeks, and she found herself bringing her hands to cover her face as his chuckles filled her ears once more.
“Oh my god, this is so embarrassing.”
“No, no it’s very cute. Way better than dreaming about, I don’t know, salad, right? I mean, who wants to dream about salad?”
He’d taken her moment of weakness and spun it straight into ease and relief. She still wasn’t quite sure who this Jim was or how he fit into her the life that was still missing pieces, but she hoped they were friends.
Their chuckles quickly filled the room, and soon, she was clutching her stomach as she lay her head against the pillow.
“God, this is so weird. I mean, I was sitting inside this CT machine earlier, and all of a sudden I had this flash of eating grilled cheese on a roof. Now, it’s all I can think about. I suppose there could be worse problems in the world.”
She’d expected him to chuckle, maybe offer her a list of worse problems in the world, but suddenly he was tensing again, those tears returning to glass over his eyes, swallowing a knot in his throat as he glanced around the room. The look he finally gave her screamed something panic laced, like he was asking her a question. She didn’t like it. It was almost frightening, that intensity. She was glad when a nurse barged through the door, presumably to check her vitals and adjust her medications.
“Mr. Halpert, I’m afraid I’m gonna have to ask you to head home for the night. Miss Beesly needs her rest.”
He seemed grateful yet hesitant, and almost scared. She sensed worry in his eyes, his body clearly unmoving as the nurse fiddled with machines and worked around him.
“Yeah, yeah you’re right. You should, uh, you should get some sleep. Just keep me updated on what kind of food you’re dreaming about so I can be prepared. We got lucky this time.”
She was smiling a nervous smile, wanting so badly to laugh at his jokes and keep the banter alive, but feeling a heat and tensity overpower her instead.
He seemed to be stalling, waiting for the nurse to finish her round, and she was grateful for that
“Um, are you gonna come back? Tomorrow? Like after work?” She was avoiding his eyes, but she didn’t know why. Why was she afraid that he would say no? A familiar pang of rejection awashed her body, and she felt the urge to reach to him, cling to him, to make sure she’d see him again.
“You don’t have to, though. If you don’t want to.”
He was smiling that goofy way that she was growing oh so accustomed to.
“Absolutely. We don’t want you to die of boredom, right?”
She smiled, keeping her teeth inside her lips with eyes wide. She watched as his long arm snaked around his neck, rubbing there with his large hand. Did he do this often? Had she seen it happen before? He seemed to be mulling over an idea in his head, but ultimately choosing not to as he sighed and inched towards the door.
“I’ll see you tomorrow then, Pam.”
She wasn’t sure what had prompted her to make the request, but she liked the name. It seemed to suit her. Him. Whatever. And as his lips pursed into a smile, she realized that it pleased him, too. And for whatever reason, she like that thought, pleasing this Jim.
He smiled, his grin mimicking hers in the way only his lips told his emotions.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, Beesly.”
As he was edging out the door, his body obviously protesting his movement, she stopped him one last time.
“Jim? Check your shoes before you leave this time.”
His head dropped to the floor, but this time in laughter.
“God, Beesly, always lookin’ out for people, even hours after major brain surgery.”
“It’s what I do,” she quipped, cocking her head to the side, lips curling upward.
His fingers trailed the frame of the door, eyes following for a moment, before they caught hers.
Her new dose of meds had kicked in, and she wasn’t sure if they were to blame or not for the dreams she had of grilled cheese and jellybeans.
Thanks for all the support on this one! :)
I know, I know. I've been dropping the ball on this one. BUT! I knew that this would be a bit more difficult with the format of the story that I chose. The flashbacks all have to line up and make sense with the current time, and I was fighting for a while with this story to line things up. Hopefully it'll be a bit smoother going forward. Thank you to those of you who are sticking with me! Hopefully I don't disappoint :)
“What are you doing here?”
It was her arms wrapped around his neck, the way her knees were clutching against his hip bones to hold her up as his hands clenched underneath her butt to keep her there, the feeling of his breath against her lips, cutting through his wide, toothy grin, that told her this was real. The giggle in her voice, the way the sunlight made her smile golden as she sealed their embrace, that made his heart swell ten times in his chest. They didn’t care that they were in the middle of the Dunder Mifflin parking lot. To hell with the coworkers that were giving them sideways glances and eye rolls.
And Angela, who was most definitely clutching the cross pendant that hung around her neck as she shuddered into the building.
He was back.
The merger had tilted in their favor with impeccable timing, and his move to Scranton had been almost immediate.
She wasn’t sure which part she savored more: having him five feet from her desk again, or no longer having to make the trek east to Connecticut.
They’d only been doing it for a couple of weeks, but this whole long distance thing was something she’d never wanted to grow accustomed to anyway. Sure, the phone calls late into the weeknights were something that she rushed home gleefully for, and she could now make the drive into Stamford without needing help from MapQuest, but something about being in his arms without the fear of having to leave him again for five insufferable days was just heavenly.
And taking into account all that they’d endured, they’d already been apart for long enough.
Although there was a scheduled day later on in the week for the rest of the Stamford transfers to arrive, Jim had wanted to settle in early, making the transition a little bit smoother for the actual new people. So after Josh let shit hit the fan, he made a call to Michael, and woke up at the crack of dawn to coincide his arrival with hers, which wasn’t all that hard to do. They’d been phoning each other every morning on their respective drives in anyway. She’d be there at exactly 8:57. Not a minute earlier.
At 8:45, he was waiting in the parking lot, sitting on the trunk of his car with his feet dangling, kicking happily as he awaited the turn of the little blue Yaris into the lot. She had barely put it in park before she was propelling herself into his arms, nearly knocking him over in the process with her bear hug.
He returned her words of surprise with his lips on her lips, claiming the soft skin whose territory was now becoming his favorite to traverse. He moved against her, relishing the closeness of her body to his, the way that she pressed into him and urged him closer. This was so much different than all those months ago when he was desperate and she was hesitant. She wanted this, wanted him, and cameras be damned, he was going to enjoy his welcome home.
Of course, as they reluctantly parted, and he eased her gently to the pavement with a kiss on the forehead, and she was smiling up at him like he hung the stars in the sky, he knew that getting through a full work day was going to be the most pure and delicious form of torture he’d ever endured.
He could hardly call what he did that day work, despite the welcome back hugs (and tackles) and heckling he received, which mostly petered out by mid-morning. By his seventh trip to reception--before lunch, at that--he was heavily debating selling her paper just to say that he was being somewhat productive.
It was here, in this exact place that he'd fallen in love with her, and it was here that they would continue to grow. He was never going to let the space between them grow to more than five feet ever again
“What are you doing here?” The words this time were not so sweet, her smile not gleaming in the sunlight with her forehead matted against his. He actually cringed a little when he noticed the guardedness in her tone, the way her eyebrows scrunched together, questioning him as if he didn’t belong. But then, he didn't really.
It was only ten in the morning, but it was by far the longest amount of time he’d spent away from her bedside since she’d been admitted. Her words from that previous night, Are you gonna come back tomorrow? Like after work? and Check your shoes before you leave this time stung his ears as the nurse had kicked him out. He was candidly reminded that she had no recollection of who he was, but there was hope in those words, in the way she had looked at him as if the part of her that was still his Pam was fighting to say hello.
He obviously wasn’t about to go the Scranton Business Park from 9 to 5 and do anything remotely close to selling paper. But she was right. He did need to change his shoes.
Maybe eat something more substantial than a cafeteria quality grilled cheese sandwich and tepid black coffee.
The rest of her family had gone home, and while he felt guilty leaving her there all alone, he trusted her dreams to keep her safe for now.
He had slopped shampoo through his hair and haphazardly scrubbed the suds down his body, his locks barely dried by the time he collapsed on a bed that hadn’t seen the light of day in over a week. Though he deliciously welcomed the few hours of sleep that his body claimed, he was still awake at six forty-five without the promise of more. It killed him to stall, to pace around his apartment waiting for a reasonable time to head back to the hospital that didn’t make him look desperate and clingy. He found clothes discarded in the hallway, several dishes with caked on food still piled in the sink, and made himself busy. By nine o’clock, his car trudged the fifteen minutes across town. His parking spot was still vacant.
With his duffel bag slung over his shoulder, he double checked his shoes once more before knocking quietly on her door. Her greeting truly pained him, reminding him tauntingly of that first day back in Scranton, of that afternoon and evening and the ones to follow, ones that were so different from where they were now. Those nights were full of promise and hope and starting over. But this, right now, was not the kind of starting over he’d prepared for.
Now, standing in front of her with his wide grin and sense of hope wiped cleanly off his face, he felt so awkwardly out of place. Suddenly, he had no idea what to do with his hands, or where his feet were supposed to go. It had been so much easier to be here when she was asleep, her dreams protecting him from the knowledge that her mind no longer belonged to his reality.
“Do you have the day off today or something?” She was genuinely questioning him, with no other basis to go on, but her words still stung.
Yes. Michael knows I’m not coming in until you’re safe and home again.
“I just assumed you had to work since Roy had to work. We all work at the same place, don’t we?”
He nodded, his thumb twiddling against the strap of his bag as he cleared his throat.
“I, uh...had a few errands to run this morning. I just thought I’d drop by, see if you had died of boredom yet.”
“Pretty close to it,” she replied, her eyes rolling with a slight curl of her lips. “But seriously, you didn’t have to stop by here so early. I figured you’d come by after you were off tonight. I’m sure you’re going to hear it from your--our boss--if you don’t get your butt to the office.”
Leave it to Michael Scott to break the tension.
He grinned, chuckling as he finally found his footing.
“Nah. Honestly, Pam? He’s probably too preoccupied with his lady troubles at the moment to notice that I’m not out there pounding the pavement to sell paper.”
“Lady troubles? That guy?” Her bemused chuckle gave him flashes of the girl he once knew, and for a moment, he was warm again.
“I know, kinda hard to believe, but let me tell you, Michael Scott’s dating life is a force to be reckoned with.”
Her eyes were softening, her expression no longer contorted so much, and when she nodded, he took a seat, finally relaxing when he was eye level with pools of green.
“Hey, what’s in the bag?" she asked, shifting her body as if to get a better angle.
“Oh, this?” he replied, holding up the blue canvas bag that not so long ago held a toothbrush and a change of clothes for when he’d spend the night at her place. “Nothing special. I just brought along a few surprises to save one Miss Beesly from going totally clinically insane in this joint.”
“Oooo, let me see!” Her eyes bugged out of her head, that childlike excitement bringing a glowing aura that he hadn’t seen in far too long. She reminded him of a kid on Christmas, waiting so patiently impatient to open up the first gifts.
“Hey now, we don’t want to spoil all of the fun at once, do we?”
“I guess not. Can I at least have a peek?”
He could never say no to those pleading eyes, and this case was no different.
He gingerly unzipped the bag, fingering the item he’d hunted down in the office before pulling it out of the bag.
“Jelly beans?” She eyed the plastic container, taking it from his offering hands reluctantly, turning it over in her own several times before lifting the lid.
“And how, dare I ask, are these supposed to save me from boredom?”
“Oh, we’re going to test all of the flavors and rank them according to overall flavor and plausibility as a legitimate jelly bean flavor. Obviously.”
Her smile betrayed her quirked eyebrows, and she could only shake her head as her laughter brought life to the otherwise dull atmosphere. She moved the container safely to the tray table that was swung to the side of her bed, patting it twice as if to reassure its place in her room.
“I’ll have to save these for later so we can split them after dinner. I’m sure Roy’s bringing me something that isn’t as rank as this hospital food.”
His eyes were suddenly downtrodden. Just like that, he’d gone from joking and bringing her candy to immensely somber. This Jim Halpert character was a tough cookie to crack.
He was avoiding her eyes now, staring at the floor, and that bothered her. His early morning presence was a surprise, but now that he was here, she itched to talk to him. For some odd reason, she had the urge to pass him a jelly bean.
“Hey, so tell me more about work. We must be pretty good friends, right?”
While his head still hung low, she saw his lips immediately curl up, new color in his cheeks.
“Yeah, Beesly, you’re kind of my best friend,” he chuckled warmly.
“Right, like best work friends,” she commented with several nods of understanding, studying the way his eyes twitched and his hands shook on his knees.
“Um, not really.” Twitching. Avoiding. “It’s...it’s more than that.”
She noticed the way that his voice cracked on those last three words, and all of a sudden she was reaching for the finger where her engagement ring once stood, an intense pain stretching her chest as heat pooled her entire body.
“Listen, I just remembered, I have a few more errands to run, so I’ll, uh...I’ll see you later, okay?”
He was up on his feet just as quickly as he’d been in the chair, his long legs striding towards the door while jittery hands grappled at the nylon gym bag. All at once, her heart was begging for more time, clinging to this man whom she couldn’t quite figure out. She wanted him to stay about as much as he seemed to want to leave.
“Hey Jim? You’re still coming by later, right? I mean, I still need to find out what’s in the rest of that bag.”
His smile was sad, as if on the verge of tears or pain or something. She was still trying to decide which would be the worst of those options.
“Yeah, if you want me to.”
“Okay then, Beesly. I’ll see you later.”
“What are you doing here?”
The last time Penny had heard those words in her sister’s voice, they had been through choked sobs, tissues surrounding her, the color on her face blotchy and red. She had ignored the mess in the middle of her sister’s childhood bed, plopped herself Indian style on the mattress, and wrapped her arms around her shoulders.
“He is such a piece of shit, Pammy. He doesn’t deserve you.”
She’d let her big sister cry on her shoulder that night, which was so backwards from the way it usually was. Penny was more ambitious, was the rule breaker, was always off getting into trouble and needing Pam’s clear thinking and reassurance. When Pam had phoned that night to break the news, she hadn’t even hesitated in making the journey from her busy life in New York back to Scranton, shoving past her parents to find her sister and immediately right the wrongs.
Pam had cried a long while, eventually petering into tearless hiccups and strangled, uneven breaths.
“He said he was sorry.” Pam’s voice was so tiny, she almost sounded scared.
“Oh, absolutely not, Pam.”
Penny was pushing herself away from her shell of a sister, sitting firmly and authoritatively on the edge of the bed with the ruffles that she’d always considered tacky.
Her eyes and voice were equally pleading, her fingers toying with a soaked and tattered tissue.
“Pam. He cheated on you. I am not going to let you crawl your way back to him.”
She’d never really been too fond of Roy Anderson. Just when she had needed a big sister the most, he had torn Pam away from her, turned her into a completely different person, one who followed instead of led. And now this? This emotional manipulation? Penny wasn’t going to have any of it.
“What am I supposed to do? We’re engaged. He said it wouldn’t happen again.”
Penny’s ironic laughter sparked pain in Pam’s ears, but she didn’t care.
“Oh, come on, Pam. Do you really believe that? Do you?”
Pam was biting her lip now, new tears hot and fresh in her eyes. When there was no response, Penny continued on.
“How many times did it happen before now, Pam?”
She was hurting her sister intentionally, and she knew that, but she couldn’t let her be torn down by this man any longer. When Pam’s whispered words didn’t quite reach her ears, she asked, “What?” in a bitter tone.
“A lot, okay?! It was a lot, Penny! God, are you happy now?”
Her words spoke fury, her tears pain, her eyes a true sadness.
It was good for her to finally feel something.
Penny sighed, her victory small and short lived. She truly hated seeing her sister this way, but sometimes you needed to be shoved into the realm of the uncomfortable in order to truly see what was going on. This was Pam’s chance.
Penny's eyes softened as she lay a hand on Pam’s thigh, squeezing gently.
“I am really, really sorry that you’re going through this, Pammy,” she said, her tone more genuinely somber than hurtful now. “But I’m not sorry that your eyes have been opened. And for what it’s worth, I’ll do whatever I can to help. I’ll help return all the gifts, and I can call his side of the family, if you want--”
“What are you talking about?”
Hurt, petrified confusion knit at her sister’s brows as she pulled away from Penny’s touch.
“Cancelling the wedding,” she replied, a chuckle pulling in her throat. “I figured you really wouldn’t want to have to talk to the entire Anderson family after he just made you look like a fool--”
“I’m not calling off the wedding, Penny.”
Now it was Penny’s turn to aire on the side of hurt and confusion.
They had reversed roles, Pam’s demeanor now masterly and self-assured, while Penny’s shoulders had hunched when her body had deflated, Pam’s words the prick in her balloon.
“I love him, Penny. You don’t cancel a wedding on one mistake--”
“It wasn’t just one mistake, Pam!”
She watched as her sister took a breath, stood curtly, and started towards the door.
“He said he was sorry. He said it was over. I’m not calling off my wedding," she replied, her tone decisive.
Penny’s words stopped Pam in her tracks as her hand reached the doorknob.
“Where are you going?”
“To see Roy, Penny. We just need to...talk about all of this.”
As her sister’s delicate fingers turned the knob, she blurted out words she wished she would have just swallow whole.
“You walked in on him fucking some other girl in your bed, Pam! Do you really have no self-respect?”
They were tears of anger this time, brimming hot against the forest green of her eyes.
The last words she’d said to her sister were Get out.
And now, as Penny sat in the waiting room of the hospital that made her skin crawl, she heard her sister utter those same words to a man who had brought the sun back into her life, had finally showed Pam the path that made her into he person she was meant to be.
She only caught bits and pieces of their conversation, cringing for the poor man whose pain was unbearable enough to land him in a matching bed with her sister. When a defeated looking Jim found her in the waiting room, Penny rose and determinedly crossed the way into her sister’s hospital room. She wasn’t about to lose her again. To hell with what the doctors had ordered.
“Hey!” Pam greeted her warmly, a new excitement in her voice that Penny had longed to hear since the rift had separated them all those years ago.
“How’s solitary confinement treating you?”
Pam groaned, flopping into the pillows at the headboard of the bed.
“God, Pen, I am so bored.”
Penny giggled as she took a seat, sparing no time whatsoever before diving right in.
“Well, it seems like you just kicked out some prime company.”
She relaxed in the seat, much as she had the previous night, with her feet propped up on her sister’s bed, crossed at the ankles, settling her folded arms in as she prepared for battle. Her Pam was in there somewhere. She just had to find her.
“Who? Oh, Jim? Yeah, I guess…”
She watched her sister’s face stiffen, soften, contort, trying to rationalize.
There you go, big sis. Figure it out.
“Isn’t it...weird, Penny?”
“Isn’t what weird?”
Pam’s gaze found the ceiling, drifted along with her twiddling fingers.
“I don’t know, just...he’s always here. I mean, if we’re just, like, work friends, why is he always here?”
“He cares about you, Pammy. Simple as that.”
Pam took her time processing. Her sister had certainly developed into the stronger of the two when it came to being logical and level headed. It had always taken Pam time to sort things out, but Penny was always quick to figure, no matter how blunt her responses were.
“I mean, look around you. I don’t see Roy here.” She shrugged, offering Pam the chance for a rebuttal that Penny already had answers prepared for.
“He’s at work. Seriously, Penny? Are we really going to start this? I get that you don’t like Roy. Can we just leave it be for awhile?”
“I’m just sayin’, sis. You literally got blindsided into a coma and you just woke up yesterday. You’d think that he’d at least take the day off from, what, loading trucks full of paper, to be with you?”
She could see her sister’s mouth furling in anger, her eyebrows coming together, and she pressed on, relishing the thought.
“Meanwhile, that Halpert guy? He’s sitting out in the waiting room. You kicked him out, and he’s still here. What does that tell you, Pammy?”
With eyes and fists clenched alike, she exploded with anger. “I don’t know, okay! And don’t call me Pammy!”
As soon as the words had escaped her, Penny saw her sister’s mouth form a small “o,” her eyes shocked, as if taken aback by her own words.
“I didn’t kick him out. He just...he left, on his own.”
Pam’s eyes had found her hands again, tugging at a loose thread on her cast. Her voice was smaller, as if her own realizations frightened her.
“Oh?” was all Penny uttered, giving her sister time to think.
“Yeah...he, um...he looked kind of...I don’t know, sad? Or uncomfortable or something. So he left. I mean, why even come here if you’re going to be uncomfortable, ya know?”
“And why was he so uncomfortable?”
“I don’t know. We were just talking about work, about dinner. I told him Roy was going to come after his shift was over.”
“Oh, he is? Did Roy tell you that?”
“Where else would be be, Pen?”
“You’re avoiding my question.”
And she was.
Because Roy hadn’t said he was coming back for dinner. She’d kissed him goodbye, or tried at least, and that was the last she’d seen of him. He’d be back, right? There was no reason for him not to.
“What do you want from me, Penny?” She rolled her head back in defeat, closing her eyes as her head hit the pillow, hands surrendered limply to the sky.
“Listen, I’m going to make a coffee run. Think what you want to, Pam. But just remember who’s sitting outside your door and who has yet to say good morning.”
She was at least partially satisfied, but as she left the room and drank in the sight Jim, poor defeated Jim, the frustration bubbled inside her all over again.
“God, I am so over all of this bullshit.”
Penny certainly made her presence and opinions known; he heard the door to Pam’s room swing open before her words, so vile, stung the stagnant air. Her body dropped hard into the chair next to him, the lines rigid against the stiff wood and padding.
“You’ve gotta be killing yourself over here, Jim.”
He remained silent, facing forward like Penny did.
“Because if you aren’t, then I’m definitely taking the brunt of it. I mean, I know she has a traumatic brain injury, but I just thought we were over all of this Roy shit, ya know?”
His chuckle was dark as he hung his head, clasped hands falling between his knees.
“Trust me, Penny. I did, too. Maybe the universe is just testing me, seeing how long it takes before I break in half.”
He lifted his chin towards the sky, pleading with the universe he was presently questioning, pleading for the last ounces of strength to not be squeezed from him before he cracked.
“Don’t break, Jim. For the love of god, don’t give up on her. I know the girl who loves you is in there somewhere. She didn’t spend weeks crying in her old bedroom over you to have it all end like this.”
Turning his head to the side, his lips strained to smile against the tugging in his chest.
“I’d never dream of giving up on her. She’s my everything, Penny. I just wish she could remember that.”
She’d truly only gotten up to go to the bathroom, not to peek into the hallway to see if he was still there, to see if what Penny had said was right, that he had left her room but was still on guard in the hallway as her silent protector. Not to check to see if he'd matched his shoes this morning before he left. Not to see him sitting there, talking with her sister like old friends. She’d never once seen Penny sit with Roy like this.
Really, she just needed to pee. She wasn’t trying to eavesdrop, to stand close enough to the door to hear their hushed tones rather than just trying to read the emotions that were ever changing in their twisted expressions.
But it was those words, those stupid, silly words, the only ones she’d actually caught of the entire conversation.
She’s my everything, Penny. I just wish she could remember that.
On weak knees, she’d forgotten why she was even out of bed in the first place.
For those of you who are sitting there going, "Oh no! Pam would NEVER get back with Roy if he cheated on her!" I would've liked to think that, too. But, as you'll see in the timeline of this AU, most of that stuff is pre-Jim, and as a literary student at heart, I have to imagine that if Jim would've never entered her life, Pam would've been in this rut of being controlled by Roy forever. Jim allowed her to blossom into her own person while Roy held her back. Also, this Pam and Roy are a bit different, so bear with me. She left him eventually, didn't she? ;)
I know this is a little bit skewed from the format that these chapters typically take, but I'd like to view this as a bit of a filler/creative way to time jump :)
Also, adding to the list of things I don't own comes the end of Chapter 14 of Emily Giffen's Something Borrowed (which, might I add, is wonderful and beautiful despite the fact that it totally encourages adultery...)
It was really hard to navigate through all of the ups and downs of this post accident reality when she just. Wanted. To. Sleep.
The whirlwind of the past twenty-four hours had truly taken its toll, and though her head was swimming with Roy and Jim (literally swimming; they were wearing swimming trunks with cute little fishes on them), and jelly beans and jet skis and half filled margarita glasses, they seemed to lull her into a weird dream state where she was underwater, trying to find the surface but seeming to get farther away the harder she kicked.
She was woken around lunchtime to someone actually having to feed her like a petulant child; all that she remembered was tasteless, amorphous food sliding down her throat like thick slime, and her arm feeling like it weighed a thousand pounds as she lifted it to swat away the person who was spooning food to her lips, the ironic statement, “I’m not a baby, I can do it myself!” sticking in her brain and refusing to manifest past her swollen tongue. As quickly as she was awake, she was plunged back into the weird world of unconsciousness, unwillingly and fitfully so.
It was such a strange world, all drug induced and somnolent, her head heavy and cotton filled. When she slipped back under, the vividness of the road she was now walking along was almost more true than reality. It was vacant, almost post-apocalyptic, and never-ending. When she called out, her voice didn’t echo, but instead refused to exist no matter how much she tried to will her words to be heard. Similarly, her feet would trudge no faster than a walk, and the pain burned in her shins from the effort she gave in trying to haul herself to find the end of this desolate place.
She closed her eyes and counted to ten, fists bunched at her sides, willing this uncomfortable silence to end, to wake up in her bedroom and start over. But as she tried to envision herself in her bedroom with the wishful thinking that she’d suddenly appear there if she imagined it hard enough, flashes of too many different places began to strike her. Her childhood bedroom at mom and dad’s house, and the bed with the dust ruffle that her sister hated. Her bedroom at the house she shared with Roy, with his hand me down bed and the worn, plaid, slightly holey comforter that he’d insisted on keeping because, “Why would we spend money on something we don’t need, Pammy?” even though he’d had this same bedroom set since he was a child. Then, there was a room she couldn’t place, one small and crammed with furniture, a blue and brown and green striped comforter, a guitar, and a funny penguin statue.
Another room, unfamiliar yet comforting, where she could see the new bedspread she’d been longing for. It was clear that only one side of that bed was ever used, one pillow worn by a small head, only one side of the sheets disturbed. Finally, one last room, the bed clearly well slept in on both sides. The comforter was a warm blue, the end tables surrounding it so comically his and hers; one had a candle, a pair of glasses, a romance novel, while the other had a copy of Sports Illustrated and a half empty glass of water.
The contrasting images forced her dreaming eyes open, the overwhelming choices of foreign yet familiar places striking fear in hear heart that popped her lids on alert, realizing that her plot actually kind of worked. The road was finally coming to an end, in one way or another. It was the proverbial two roads diverged in a wood that her toes were now facing, only it wasn’t the woods, it was still this barren, desolate, utterly depressing and grey little strip of a town she’d never seen before that her body was being pulled between. Neither direction actually appeared different. Frankly, there was no appeal to either side of the fork; they both looked as plain as the road behind her. But it was when she leaned into either side that a portal opened upon her senses, overwhelming her nerve endings as she was flooded with convictions.
When she edged towards one direction, it was feelings of comfort, familiarity, family, complacency. But it was also stagnancy and static. And then heartbreak, betrayal, loveless, unmoving. So she leaned quickly and hopefully in the other direction. As the last trip had ended with a sour taste, so this one began. It was uncomfortably new, fear, unfamiliar. And then a burst of joy, friendship, and comfort. It was warm, kind, jelly beans, yes! but then fear, unknown, unstable, can’t, heartbreak, tears, gone, no, no, no. It was too much, this time, this road. Too much all at once, and she wanted to pull away from the edge, to go back to that road that was less intense, that didn’t rock her so much, but all of a sudden it was light, warm, can, and it was stronger, and choices, and love, and it was finally.
With hands spread wide, fingertips touching the filmy space that paved the entrance to both of these roads, her body literally torn, she closed her eyes, willing once again for the landscape to change, to take this ridiculous choice from her, to take her back to that bed with the dust ruffle that Penny hated, where she had no more cares in the world than finishing her math homework in time to watch the latest episode of Full House. But when she opened her eyes, the flood of emotions was gone, replaced with stark white walls that slowly came into focus. The fuzzy lines on the clock read 8:32 PM. The fuzzy man sitting next to her bed, reading a copy of Sports Illustrated, looked like warm and kind and light and jelly beans, and for the first time since she’d opened her eyes and wanted answers, she truly didn’t know what to say.
He hadn’t left, despite the uncomfortable situations and her promise of Roy showing up that night for dinner, and he could almost attribute Penny’s attitude for the fact that he hadn’t walked out the door on several occasions. She’d fallen asleep shortly after their conversation. That was typical, the nurse had said; she was exhausted from having major surgery, and the various medications being administered were assisting in pulling her even farther under. When she’d awoken initially, they’d only gotten fleeting hours from her as well. He was lucky that she’d sustained more than one conversation.
It was more relaxed today though, this having her awake deal. There wasn’t as much worry, wasn’t as much will she or won’t she? as the past several days had invoked. His only worry was having to leave her to be with Roy again, but that worry had dissipated when dinner time had come and gone without his presence to dampen the room.
It wasn’t the injury necessarily that was keeping her asleep so much as the recovery process, the doctors had mentioned. Recovery was good, he continued to remind himself, as he remained busy in the waiting room and at her bedside. He was used to this pattern of watching her parents and sister travel in and out, shifting from “his” chair to the waiting room respectfully. He’d been sitting here so long that he was becoming familiar with the rotation of nurses, greeting them politely by name as they came and left.
By the time Helene and Will and Penny had all called it a night, with stable results from the doctors and the intent of returning first thing in the morning, they left him with soft pats on the shoulder and sad smiles as he took it upon himself to settle in. It was about fifteen minutes into the comfortable hums and beeps of the machine, and her soft and shallow breathing, that he grew antsy for a change in background noise. And it was then that he began the habit of talking to her.
It was something he’d heard on some medical show, he was sure, and although she wasn’t technically in a coma, he missed talking to her, missed telling her anything and everything about his day and watching her beam and bat her eyelashes and respond so warmly. When she actually had been unconscious, he’d been too in shock himself to actually communicate past the essentials. He recalled the scratchy dryness of his throat on that day when he finally spoke his first full sentence since arriving, surprised by the rasp and unfamiliarity in his own words. Glancing around the room, he realized something important: this was his Pam. He knew Pam. This was easy stuff.
“So, I’ve gotta tell you, Beesly, this hospital room is actually starting to bore me,” he began, chuckling into the stiff air. “Not because of the company, because trust me, you’re the only company I’ve wanted for, like...ever.” He paused again, the thought of God, I’m such a girl bobbing around before he found the words he wanted to say. “I’m talking about the scenery. You’re lucky that you’ve been asleep for most of it, because honestly, these walls are starting to give me a headache.”
His laughter ebbed, stilling in those same white walls that were making his head spin.
“It would just look...so much better with some of your pictures on the wall.”
Aside from the fluttering of her eyes, she continued to sleep. He knew she wouldn’t respond, knew she needed to sleep, but he continued on. She needed to hear it.
“I hope that, out of everything that you can’t remember, that your passion is still there somewhere inside. In fact, I’ve gotta believe it is. You can forget that you love me, but god, Pam, I hope you don’t forget who you are.”
And that was how the next few days played out. She slept. A lot. She was conscious for a few short hours at a time, if that, but her eyes fought to stay open and when they did, she seemed like this doped up version of herself, groggy and in pain, and he couldn’t bare to force her into any type of meaningful conversation. He knew that she needed her rest. So he did the only thing he knew to do. He talked to her about everything and anything under the sun, like her ears were the pages of his diary, while she dreamed the days and nights away.
“I can’t believe that I’m saying this, but I’m pissed at Roy for not showing up yesterday, Pam. I know, I know. You’d hit me if you were awake right now. But god it was just a shitty move. He should be here for you. Because you asked. If for no other reason than because you asked. He should’ve been here for you.”
She was floating in a rowboat. A sea monster trying to flip the boat over. Large, slimy. Scaly and brown. A green fish with a quirky grin trying keep her afloat.
“Alright, so, I hope you don’t hate me for this, because I know you don’t really like people seeing your art until it’s done, but these ones were on the walls, so I figured you wouldn’t mind. I thought you’d want something pretty to see when you opened your eyes for the few hours of the day that you do. And besides. It makes me feel more like you’re here. Makes the room seem like you.”
Fireworks. Everywhere. Entirely surrounding her. She was on a jet ski, and then she wasn’t. She was somewhere else. But the fireworks, they stayed, bursting around her like she was thirty thousand feet up in the atmosphere.
“I went back to work today. Well, kind of. It was only for a half day. I figured it was about time. I know you’d be yelling at me if you knew I’d taken off almost two weeks just to sit here with you. You’d probably say something like ‘Jim, seriously, stop watching me sleep. It’s creepy.’ Plus, your parents were starting to give me more sad puppy dog looks than they were to you.”
Two older people, a man and a woman, sliding across the floor on...boxes of paper? Crossing the finish line. What finish line?
“It’s not the same without you. It’s...well, it’s totally boring, Beesly. It’s like, selling paper isn’t as fun without your pretty face right across the way.”
She was a contestant on Jeopardy, wedged between her fourth grade teacher and Ellen DeGeneres. The categories were “Potent Potables,” “World History,” and “That’s What She Said!”
“I had the best idea for a prank today to pull on Dwight. It would have been so great. But I needed my partner in crime. And Ryan wasn’t too interested in helping out.”
Two puppies, a goldendoodle and a chocolate lab playfully taunting a boxer. Why was he wearing glasses? Dogs don’t wear glasses.
“God, I know I sound like such a baby, but I hate sleeping in my own bed. Without you, anyway. It sucks, Pam. It really does.”
She was the quarterback for the Eagles, throwing the ball downfield, watching the receiver--was that, was that her new boss? The guy who had interviewed her?--draw the ball to his chest and run in for the touchdown. They were Super Bowl Champions. Jim would be so proud.
“I found this on your nightstand--well, my nightstand, but you left it there the last time you spent the night, and I know I was teasing you for reading it a few weeks ago, but I’m sure you’re dying to find out how the guy gets the girl in the end, aren’t you?”
A man’s voice, rich and soothing, almost silky in its timbre, painted her eardrums. Her eyes cracked open only slightly, as they had been doing all week, struggling to stay conscious for more than five minutes. He was stroking the five o’clock shadow that outlined his typically slack, strong jaw with his right hand, as the book sat perched in his left. He was adopting voices for each character, pausing between paragraphs to comment, to wonder aloud about plot points--because he’d picked up in the middle where she had left off, after all.
“Wait, how long have these two actually known each other for?” she heard him mutter under his breath, more than likely to himself.
“They met in law school,” she mumbled, through words so sluggish and sleepy, she wasn’t even sure they’d come out coherently. But he paused his reading, chuckled, breathed out a Thanks, Beesly, and continued on. With eyes closed and the words on his lips manifesting into images in her head, she smiled sleepily, and he continued reading. Sometimes he would pause to ask questions or make comments, and somehow, in her state of fatigue, she’d always have a response.
“Wait a minute--she let him ask her best friend out on a date when she clearly had feelings for him?”
“Why didn’t she just, like...tell him she had feelings for him instead of waiting until he was engaged to her best friend and planning a wedding?”
“I don’t know, Halpert. I could ask you the same question.”
Her eyes were closed, but the expression in her eyes suggested something like the playful banter they’d been entertaining themselves with before her accident. Suddenly he was back on her couch in her new apartment. Her knees were folded under her body, a bowl of popcorn between them, and she was tossing pieces in an arc towards his mouth, trying to break the record of seventeen caught pieces in a row.
“Hey, why’d you stop reading?”
Jarred from his memories, he noticed that her eyes were still closed, her words still sluggish and dreamy. But the way her eyebrows bunched and her lips scrunched, his pouty, adorable little Pam Beesly was trying to squeeze through.
“Just thinkin’,” he admitted, shrugging even though he knew she couldn’t see him.
“Well, less thinking, more reading.”
His words are like the sound of a needle dragging across a record. A sinking, sickening feeling washes over me. This is why you should never, ever get your hopes up. This is why you should see the glass as half empty. So when the whole thing spills, you aren’t as devastated. I want to cry, but I keep my face placid, give myself a psychological shot of Botox. I can’t cry, for several reasons, not the least of which is that if he asks why I’m crying, I won’t be able to articulate an answer.
As the words to her silly romance novel poured past his lips, he couldn’t help but empathize just the smallest big with Dex and Rachel. Sure, he was no longer in the position of trying to steal her away from her fiance, but the way that these two people who wanted to be together were fighting obstacles for so long tugged at the aching strings of his heart. The way that the chapter ended, with the protagonist agonizing over the future with a man she’d just sent home to his fiance: Will he kiss Darcy hello? hit too close to home, to a past that wasn’t that far distant. Maybe it wasn’t so silly after all.
Marking the page, he glanced up, noticing that her cheeks were more relaxed, her eyes no longer following along underneath closed lids as they had been minutes ago. His lips curled up, tracing her angelic features with his eyes.
“Alright, Beesly. I think you might be wimping out on me, so I’m gonna take that as my cue to head out for the night. And, according to my watch, Brenda should be starting her shift any minute, and we all know that her first order on rounds is to kick my sad, sorry butt out of here anyway.”
“Screw the nurse. Stay five more minutes.”
He knew this was her subconscious playing at her lips, that the next time she was truly awake, she’d be engaged to Roy again, no working memory of his existence at all. Still, her words froze him to the spot. She’d been muttering oddities all week, some that he understood and some that sounded like a toddler’s sleep talk. He’d indulged with little to no reaction when she was actually awake, no recollection of what she’d said. But for now, as he stared down at her sleeping figure with her casted hand had flung over the side of the bed, her eyebrows scrunched over pinched eyes, he was right back under that spell that had encapsulated him for so many years.
He’d expected her to fall asleep as soon as he’d sat back down, had secretly wanted to sneak out to quell the pain he’d no doubt face once she awoke absent again. But when he lightly grasper her fingers and felt her sleepy pull, he hoped and prayed that she’d remember this in the morning, that she’d remember any of these past few days where her sluggish words had actually responded to his meaningless conversation. It was only five minutes, five minutes of having her cradled to his chest before Brenda the night nurse came and kicked his sorry ass out, but in those five minutes, his heart was whole again.
Y'all know I'm a review whore, I'm not even gonna try to hide that anymore.
Wowza. It's been awhile.
I guess all I can really say is, sorry?
And promise to keep at this in a much better fashion. Because I truly do love this idea and want to see it through.
“Oh, shut up. You’re so beautiful.”
There wasn’t anything particularly special about this morning.
They’d only been dating for a little over a month now, and on the heels of his move back to Scranton, they had become masters of the weekend-long sleepover. Sunday morning found him freshly showered and reentering her bedroom whose bright light was courtesy of late summer sunshine and an eastern facing window.
And, if he was being honest, her golden aura helped a little bit, too.
He’d spent a fair amount of time in this room now. It was still vacant of some of her things, odds and ends that were still at Roy’s. She’d only just moved in to her new place, and with the way that she and Roy had left things, she was taking her time in getting the rest. For now, she had everything she needed. Volleyball trophies from high school and the porcelain birthday dolls her grandmother had given her growing up, she could live without. Fresh socks and underwear? She could not.
Jim had settled on boxer shorts and a clean white t-shirt, shaking out his damp hair as he crossed the hallway to join her. She was sitting cross-legged, buried to the waist in the blanket cocoon of her still unmade bed, wearing a plain t-shirt and shorts of her own. Her hair was sitting atop her head in a high messy bun, and she donned her glasses. It was still too early in the morning for contacts.
Her eyes knit in concentration as she focused on the Sunday morning crossword in her lap, a pencil wedged in the dip between her chin and bottom lip. It was these small moments that stole his breath, had his feet glued to the floor to solidify the little things, because in those moments when he needed to remind himself that this was real, that she was his, the little moments were what mattered the most.
“You gonna stand there and stare all day, or you gonna come help me out here, Halpert?”
She said it all without lifting her eyes from where they rested in her lap, without moving the pencil from her chin. The grin pulled his mouth wide open as he bounded to the bed, leaping to belly flop haphazardly across the bed. She barely let her lips pull up, keeping her concentration on the paper in her lap. He wrapped his arms tightly around her middle and leaned in for a kiss, only slightly off-put when she pulled away.
“Uh uh, you bolted into the bathroom before I got to brush my teeth. Wait until I’m finished with this puzzle.”
Exaggeratedly, he dropped his head, letting out a loud breath before tucking his chin around her elbow to watch her finish the last three words on her side of the puzzle.
“Alright, Beesly, let’s speed this process along. Seven down, four letter word for--”
“No, you have across. I’m already going down.”
She brushed his fingers away from where they were covering her remaining clues, but he latched on, scooting his body closer.
“Oh really?” Waggling his eyebrows, he slid his cheek up her arm until his head rested in the crook of her neck where his lips met soft skin and a surprised sigh wound its way past her lips.
No sooner was his tongue making its way up the column of her throat than soft fabric was knocking him square in the side of the head.
“Back off, you insatiable teenager.”
Glancing up, he saw her armed with a throw pillow and a grin that was equal parts playful and flushed.
“No kissing until I’ve brushed my teeth. I’m serious!” she chuckled, drawing her attention from his puppy dog pout back to the crossword. “We had garlic breadsticks at two o’clock this morning, I haven’t washed my hair in two days, and I--”
It wasn’t that he was trying to undermine her, or that he was trying to live up to the horny teenager image that she’d so lovingly labeled him with.
It was because the words she said weren’t I can’t anymore. They were I want to be my best for you and We still have so much time, which was so far gone from I can’t that it made his head spin.
He swallowed her What? as the crossword smashed between them and his body toppled against hers, his lips smacking loudly against her own. After several moments of lingering against her lips, he propped himself up on his forearms and grinned hugely down at her, lips full and skin flushed pink. Before she was able to protest, he stole her words again.
“Oh, shut up. You’re so beautiful.” His thumbs curled inward to brush against cheeks whose pink tint was darkening ever so slightly.
Because he meant it. Truly and deeply, underneath her thick, high school glasses and messy bun and morning breath, she knew that he loved her, and would love her, through it all.
She let her hands twine around his head, through his still damp curls, to pull him back to her mouth, but he paused with his lips hovering just against hers.
“You totally still taste like garlic bread, though.”
While he had pictured quite a few mornings with Pam Beesly in his time spent in waiting, none had included pillow fights on her bed like they were still little kids. But as they bounced around on their knees to dodge pillows, and his fingers eventually began to tickle her abdomen, and she was pinned underneath him now flushed with laughter, there was nowhere in the world he could picture himself but in this moment.
Sure, there was more kissing following the pillow fight, but it was the moments afterwards when he shaved while she brushed her teeth, and when they finished the crossword together before walking hand in hand to get coffee, that he savored the most.
It was several days later, but the fatigue was finally becoming less of a weight. She’d been moved from the ICU into a regular patient room, but she still felt like a toddler or a prisoner with absolutely no privacy. She still needed someone to help her wash her hair, though after the first round, she’d refused the sponge bath option, locking herself in the bathroom for a half hour before Penny finally kicked her into high gear.
Waking up this morning with a new sense of alertness, she tried to piece missed moments of the past week together. According to her patient board, it was Friday. She’d been dazed for almost a week. She recalled small details. Her parents coming in and out in shifts. Dad turning on the Phillies. Mom flipping a magazine by her bedside. Penny chattering on her cell. And Jim. Lots and lots of Jim.
He wasn’t just by her bedside. He was in her dreams, too. This man with whom she shared a place of employment, who’d claimed to be her best friend, was overtaking her senses. Snippets of one-sided conversations appeared.
Everyone’s been asking about you. The flowers are from Phyllis and Stanley. Kelly wanted me to tell you that she’s still emotional over Lance Bass being gay, and she’s sad that you’re not around to share in her pain.
I’m still only going in for half days. I don’t know. I could definitely go in all day but I think I’d go nuts, Pam. Not just with you not being there. I just...I don’t think I could leave you here alone. I know, I know, your family comes in to visit but I...it’s not the same.
There was a memorial for the Hurricane Katrina anniversary today. I was thinking about that food drive you put together last year. You were so mad that Roy wouldn’t let you take your vacation to go down there and help. Didn’t he want you guys to use it for some jet ski thing? You were so mad. You just wanted to help. So like you, Beesly. I would’ve taken you.
Michael wants to come and visit. I told him that you’re still recovering, which is obviously true, but also a blatant cover up for the fact that I’m not about to let him anywhere near a real life hospital with real sick people. He’d probably unplug someone’s life support on accident.
Phillies won again. Maybe they’ll actually make it to the end of this month over .500. I know you’ve never really been into sports, but I’ve had this picture in my head for the past month of you with a foam finger posed next to the Philly Phanatic, and I, like, need to make it happen. Maybe next year. Maybe, if you ever remember...
Vacant from her memories of the past few days was Roy. Her last recollection had been arguing with Penny as to whether or not he would show up for dinner. She was starting to think that he hadn’t.
It was a little after ten in the morning, and by all accounts, she was alone. No rounds, no doctors, no visitors. Pushing herself slowly up out of bed, she floated towards the bathroom, intending to brush her teeth and take inventory of herself for the day. It was at this point, two weeks after the accident, that she realized she would be lifting her eyes to a mirror for the first time. It wasn’t that she was afraid or didn’t want to see what was behind the pains and bandages that her doctors checked on every day. Surely, it was the lack of consciousness, the fact that whenever she’d had to pee, someone had to accompany her, that kept her from actually peering up at the reflective glass that was screwed above the sink.
But today, she was determined to face herself head on.
Small fists bunched around the thin material of the white cotton gown dotted with differing shades of blue polka dots. She dutifully counted each tile between her bed and the bathroom door, pausing when the flat, one-foot wide tiles became more raised, smaller, as rooms blended together roughly and abruptly. The light, too, starkly changed from blinding hospital white-wash to dark shadows. Her fingers hesitated above the light switch. Once she turned it on, there would be no going back.
Taking a breath, she allowed light to cascade precipitously into the room, shielding her eyes with her hand as if she were looking into the sun. She eyed the floor, taking pause to trace the white porcelain of the sink up to the knobs for hot and cold. She found her toothbrush that Penny had brought from home and the half-used tube of Crest (Crest? Didn’t Roy prefer that she buy Aquafresh? Something about it being cheaper…). For a moment, she tasted garlic on her tongue.
When her eyes hit the edge of the mirror, she pinched them shut for a moment.
This was it.
She took a deep breath, opened her eyes, and started from the bottom up.
Her arm was still heavy and casted, and the tiny cuts from glass shards she had already seen. Her torso looked so small in the hospital gown that had been her only cover, reminding her of the cartoon characters who never changed clothing. Finally, her eyes were at her neckline, where her hair was a drab shade of the honey she’d been so used to, devoid of its usual shine. She was expecting the limpness of her curls, what with the constant sleep and half-worked shampoos that she allowed every few days. Bad hair wasn’t the end of the world. It had taken her all of high school to come to terms with that.
But then, there was the skin of her neck that her hair was scratching lightly against. It was no longer that peach shade with the golden tan that she usually had this late in the summer. It was green and yellow.
She choked a swallow down her throat and followed the oblong shape from the left side of her neck up behind her ear. Rather than focusing on the shock that this was her face, her skin, she let the colors draw her in.
I could use a pea green and a yellow green to make that.
This, she could do.
Colors she could do.
There was deep purple that blended roughly into midnight blue that cascaded from her left ear to the middle of her cheek, pausing where the crease of her eye began and ending with a slight swell at her jawline
Dark cherry, navy, with just a dot of black. Greys for the shadow would give it dimension.
The nick across her bottom lip on the right side pained her every time she tried to eat. The gash on her forehead was still covered with a bandage, but she was in this far. Peeling the edges of the large rectangle, she found the healing cut, a thinning line that stretched from above her eyebrow to the bridge of her nose.
Seaweed green, flax, deep crimson.
She’d been dreading this, meeting her own eyes, but the colors chased her there, her left eye still rimmed in shades of black and green.
Charcoal, juniper, and lime. Charcoal, juniper, and lime.
In the grand scheme of things, she was healing. Those greens and yellows were a good sign, and her cut hadn’t needed stitches. But all her eyes depicted were the colors that took all that was her, all that was Pam Beesly, and turned it into an amalgamation of terror. Now, she understood the looks that people gave her whenever they walked into the room.
Her tears were silent, angry.
She hadn’t asked for any of this.
She’d just been...driving?
The colors on her palate all contorted when her eyebrows bunched and her lips snarled, making the tears jump suddenly. Frustration boiled down her arms as fingers furled into fists, even more so when thick plaster and cotton prevented her right hand from doing so completely.
It wasn’t frustration anymore that her face had become the beginnings of a Bob Ross painting.
Now, it was the frustration that, while she had become a canvas, she had no recollection of how or why it happened.
And it was truly starting to wear away at the parts of her that remained, those parts that were still trying to fit August and accident and Dunder Mifflin with Penny and Roy and Jim.
The scowl on her face matched the raw feel of her skin, and she had a fleeting thought that This is me now. Raw Pam Beesly. Tough Pam Beesly. Rough Pam Beesly.
But the thought of little Pammy Beesly fighting in the streets did nothing but evoke an ironic chuckle from deep in her lungs, laughter that, once it started, couldn’t contain itself.
Her thought process wound itself to the horror movies that Roy forced her to watch. On more than one occasion, she had peeked through her fingers to see a cackling crazy person. Now, she was the cackling crazy person. But upon this realization, she let the sob she had choked down come back up.
She hadn’t truly cried yet.
She deserved a good cry.
And on the floor of her hospital bathroom, she let it all go.
It was refreshing, truly, to let her pent up emotions run free. When she realized that she was crying over something she couldn’t remember, she let herself cry harder. And when the day nurse, Julie, found her crumpled over on the dirty floor and helped her back into bed, she let her tears carry her to a dreamless rest.
It wasn’t long before an orderly was waking her for lunch and she was in a pool of her thoughts that led straight to Nurse Julie’s closing words.
“You should really talk to someone about all of this, sweetie. It isn’t good to keep it bottled up. I could call someone down, if you’d like?”
As she flipped through her options, she was beginning to think that the curt dismissal she'd offered the poor nurse was unwarranted.
Mom would no doubt break down into tears of her own.
Penny would tell her, in no uncertain terms, to stop being so dramatic.
There was a time when she thought that Roy’s words could do nothing but lift her higher. But lately, in this weird world of August’s and Dunder Mifflin’s and Jim’s, she was beginning to taste a sour on her lips that contrasted her want to see him.
The call to her room from mom saying she had last minute errands to run and that she’d be in sometime around dinner further twisted the top on her bottle.
“Hey, Beesly. Care for a little afternoon pick-me-up?”
His soft raps on the door stirred her from the funk that had long since blanketed the room. Though tears had long subsided, her lips were affixed in a pout while her fingers piqued the stiff blanket that covered her to the waist. Her eyebrows remained in their upward knot, though her eyes softened upon his tentative push through her door.
Concern painted his face as his long legs carried him in three quick strides to her bedside. His words, “Hey, is everything okay? Did something happen?” were soft in her ears, his fingers hesitant, she noticed, like they had stopped halfway to meet hers, stilling at the edge of the comforter.
She rolled her eyes to the ceiling, a huffy breath heaving past her lips, thinking absently that she was acting like a child.
The images of her own tattered and bruised face flashed behind her eyes. This healing process was equal parts mental as it was physical.
But right now, she didn’t want to bust open and be emotional and vulnerable. She wanted to find out what it was that he had clasped behind his back and lose herself in thoughtless laughter and the strange sensation that washed over her every time he entered her room that somehow Jim made things better. Putting on her best brave face, she stuffed it down.
“I’m fine,” she said unconvincingly with a shake of her head, as if that motion in itself would rid her body of the crawling negativity. “So, what did you bring me today?”
The grin he flashed stirred something in her belly that was equal parts new and thrilling, and old and reminiscent, but it was so quickly covered by what he’d been hiding behind his back that she didn’t have the time to reflect.
His round eyes peeked over the two large books, one branded with a sudoku label while the other was a telltale crossword book.
“I figured that, while you’re trapped in here, the least I can do is try to stop your brain from turning into mush.”
For a fleeting moment, having him turn her brain to mush didn’t sound like the worst idea in the world.
“How very thoughtful. Will you bring some multiplication flash cards tomorrow?”
“Absolutely, I will.”
His expression, his tone, his demeanor were all business, but behind those eyes, she could see the slightest hint of sarcasm brewing. When she poked her tongue between her teeth to giggle, he broke too, that lopsided smile curving up his cheek.
The chair next to her bed should’ve been glued to that position when it came to Jim. Penny’s chair was always scooted back just enough so that she could have her feet propped up on the end of the bed. Dad’s was always facing the television, slightly enough that she just noticed. Jim was always close, as close as could be, and facing her head on.
He pulled the chair swiftly into position, angled the tray table so that they could equally reach, and offered her a questioning glance with the choice of the two books, nodding affirmingly in this goofy way that made her laugh again as he laid the crossword puzzle book open in front of them.
As she was about to dive in, she noticed hesitance in the way the grip on his pencil tensed ever so slightly. She lifted her head, her eyes doing the questioning, and watched him take a small breath.
“So, usually, I take across and you take down. But, I mean, under the circumstances, we don’t have to do it that way. If you want, I can go down this time, and then you can go down next time?”
“That’s what she said.”
She wasn’t sure where the words came from, but as soon as they left her lips, she was red and her fingers were at her lips and her eyes were wide, and then she was giggling with absolutely no inhibitions, such opposition to the way she’d been feeling not minutes ago. It was an onslaught of emotions that peaked the beeping in her heart rate monitor and had Jim with a momentary look of panic before he joined her in laughter.
“Beesly! Oh my god! What kind of drugs do they have you on?”
It took a few minutes for her laughter to actually die down, but it was the most glorious few minutes he’d had in the past weeks.
“I have no idea where that came from,” she said with giggles still trailing her words and fingers still hovering above her lips as if trying to stop more illicit phrases from escaping.
“I might have an idea, actually.” Jim’s eyes focused on the floor at first, but the closed grin that press wide between his ears was unmistakable.
She was remembering.
She was remembering crude humor that was more than borderline workplace inappropriate, but she was remembering.
And he’d be damned if he didn’t help her along.
When his eyes found hers, they were hopeful and shining like the Pam he knew, the Pam he remembered. She was in there somewhere.
“Okay, so, tell me what you remember about Michael Scott.”
“Michael Scott like our boss Michael Scott?” she queried with pinched eyebrows, cocking her head to the side at the name she'd only heard on a few occasions.
“The very same.”
“Well, I only really remember my interview, but in the first five minutes of me being in his office, he asked me for relationship advice, almost lit his suit jacket on fire in an attempt to do a magic trick, and made three comments about my boobs.”
The smug smile he offered her said You’ve told me this before, and although she couldn’t recall their lunch at Cugino’s where he let her complain over breadsticks while simultaneously trying to reassure her that Michael Scott was indeed harmless, something about his demeanor comforted her.
“So, with that information, would you believe me if I said that he is where your obscene language came from?”
Her eyes said Continue, but the blush of his cheeks bought him some time.
“God, we’re jumping right into the heavy stuff today, huh? Uh, let me think...probably shouldn’t start with the time he made a wisecrack about your mom, should I?”
The way her eyes bugged said I wholeheartedly believe you but I also can’t believe he hasn’t been fired yet.
“Yeah. Absolutely going to skip that one. Uh…so we have a coworker named Angela. Do you remember her at all?”
She took a second to absorb the name, to take in his description of, “Short, blonde, super uptight?” and reach into the recesses of her memory bank. When she came up short with an apologetic shrug of the shoulders, he returned her grin and pressed on.
“So, Michael likes to plan these outrageous, I don’t know, ‘staff bonding’ experiences. Right after you started, we went to this mini-golf place that had an arcade and everything. Actually, it was a pretty fun day.”
He paused, then, and she could see that his mind was somewhere else for a moment.
“Anyway, so Angela refused to participate because she said we were ‘wasting company time’--I told you she was uptight, right? So she sat and watched the whole time, holding Michael’s tickets like she was the group mom. Michael wins this five-thousand ticket jackpot and brings the stack over to her, and starts yelling at him, like, ‘It’s too full, I don’t have enough room!’ and he goes--”
“That’s what she said.”
Their open-mouthed grins turned into matching laughter, and although he was giving her those memories back, the ones that ended with a bet, more sordid banter, and a golf pencil bounced off his nose, her smile was a great enough reward amidst their tragedy.
In contented quietude, they filled in the crossword, the hums of her machines, the buzz of the overhead lights, all secondary to the scratching of their pencils and the breathy little noises she would make upon filling in her blank boxes.
Being a little after lunchtime, his bag of snacks did not go untouched, and though she hesitated at first—since when was French Onion a flavor she liked? Roy really only ate barbecue, so that’s what she kept in the house—the flavor began to morph into so much more than salt and sour cream. With each bite, it was flashes of hands and nice teeth and put me down but also please don’t put me down. By the time the bag was empty, his side of the crossword was significantly more filled out than hers.
“You still hungry? I think I might have another bag around here somewhere.”
“No,” she mused, tapping the eraser of the pencil against the tray table. “I think my breath will start to get super rank if I eat any more.”
“Nonsense. Your dragon breath has never bothered me before.”
It rolled off his tongue so casually, his eyes never wavering from the paper as he filled in suitcase for 12 across: traveling piece of luggage.
“So, what did you do today? Any underground wheelchair racing leagues I should know about?”
“Oh, Madge on the fourth floor would know more about that than I do.” The words seemed to roll seamlessly off her tongue to join his charming banter, though her muddled brain was still hesitant and wary in the eyes of this comfortable stranger.
But it was in this strange bubble of comfort with Jim that her earlier worries began to mount. She couldn’t discuss these things with her mother or her sister or Roy, but suddenly, this Jim? He seemed to be the perfect person. The one who had strolled through her door and hit the pause button on her worries with a bag of chips and a few stories from her forgotten past. If anyone in this weird new world would listen to her frustrations with appropriate responses, it might just be him.
She dropped her gaze to her lap where her fingers began to pull at the loose threads of her cast.
“But aside from the narcotics Yankee Swap party that we had between rounds, I uh… I met the Bride of Frankenstein today.”
Immediately following a low chuckle, his brows mirrored hers in the way that they knit together in the middle, but his expression was more confusion than frustration. It took him a moment to realize that the jokes had ended, that she was talking about herself, evident in the way that her eyes went soft and blurry for just a split second, the way that she bit her lip, wincing when she remembered the thin gash there that was on the verge of healing, the way that she refused to meet his eyes.
His Hey, though still soft, had a reprimanding edge to it, and now his fingers, suddenly forgetting their earlier hesitancy, wrapped around her casted hand as insistently as his eyes were pleading with her Please don’t do this.
She cocked her head in a way that said This hurts so much and I don’t know how to make it stop.
But suddenly, he was the one who could make it stop.
“I’m serious, Jim.” Her words, so small, cut him to the core. “You can’t even tell that it’s...me under all of this.”
She motioned to the cuts and bruises, the bandage that was taped neatly to her forehead where a few hairs had been trapped. What happened next finally gave the monitors attached to her body a job.
“Of course it’s you, Pam. Who else could pull off this shade of purple?”
She’d never know it, but the slight laugh that bubbled from his throat was solely used to mask the sob he was trying to stifle.
His fingers, so long and yet dainty, ran featherlight across her face, tracing every last cut, bruise, nick, and otherwise imperfection that rendered her speechless not hours ago. When they met the cut on her lip, she was hot all over, the beeps of her heart rate monitor becoming more insistent.
“I look like someone who...I don’t know…”
“Was in a serious car accident? You know, you’re not wrong, there.”
His smile wasn’t making her feel much better, but the way his hand was still lingering on a cheek that was in its final stages of swelling told her otherwise.
“Pam, you get to be upset about all of this, okay? It’s...it’s a lot to process. Of course you look a little different, but it's...all of these? They tell the story of how you fought back, how you're fighting back. You beat this. It’s okay to be angry and sad and pissed off? But please, please don’t sit here and be sad about a few bruises on your face. It’s going to crush me if that’s the way you feel.”
“Come on. Just tell me it’s terrible already. I look like Chucky or something. Get it over with.”
“Oh, shut up,” he chuckled, his fingers lightly brushing the fallen curls behind her ears. “You’re beautiful.”
Those damn flashes were coming back, but this time it was crossword puzzles and throw pillows and Shut up, you’re beautiful all over again. The speeding blips of the heart rate monitor were fear and apprehension this time, as her body tensed under his hand. His muttered sorry was almost sad as his fingers reluctantly trickled away. It seemed as if he was trying to hold on, and the part of her that had called him safe earlier was screaming for him to not let go.
Though his touch wavered, there was something intense behind the forest in his eyes that latched on, the very same tunnel vision from her first night of consciousness that locked her in. It was uncomfortable and comfortable all the same. She wanted to run out the door and have his hands back on her face all at the same time. She truly didn’t know what to do. And it was in that moment that busting up whatever had suddenly flooded the room seemed like the best option.
“God, I wonder what Roy thinks about all this. He hasn't really said much, you know?”
Her laughter was a buffer for the nerves that were suddenly overcoming all of her frustrations. Something inside her screamed that bringing Roy up was a horrible, terrible, idea, but at the same time, he was pulling away, if ever so slightly, and her heartbeat was beginning to regulate.
Then, she noticed, his eyes were preoccupied with the floor again, and she was suddenly craving to see his eyes, his face, something other than the top of his head. Her wish was granted, however indirectly, when his hand ran through his hair.
“Yeah, I mean, he loves you, so…”
The awkward silence was broken by an orderly with a wheelchair, another CAT scan, Penny taking Jim’s spot for the rest of the afternoon.
Then there was Roy, who gave her the answer she’d been seeking earlier when he said, “You’ll heal soon, Pammy. I’m sure you’ll look like your old self in no time.”
It was nothing compared to Who else could pull off this shade of purple?
He stayed for fifteen minutes and darted out, without much more than a Goodnight, Pammy and a a stiff kiss on the forehead.
All the while, between medicine doses and bland hospital food and mom and dad, she saw Jim’s shoes through the door to the waiting room. He’d chosen a chair that was just outside of her line of sight, but those shoes, now a matching pair, kept drawing her gaze. Those same tattered Nike’s that had no partner not days before.
Those same Nike’s that she saw in her nap dreams.
“I’ll bet you a bag of chips that I can beat you, Beesly."
“Not a chance. I’m well trained in mini-golf.”
Those shoes, following her along the bricked edges that outlined the mini-golf course, his arms outstretched “for balance,” but making his lanky body look comedically awkward and gangly and goofy as he tiptoed along the balance beam.
“Hole in one!”
“That does not count!”
“Oh, it so counts, Beesly!”
“You kicked it in with your foot!”
“Did not. You’ve said it before, I have big clumsy feet. Nothing I could do about that. Genetics and all. Thanks for playing. And remember, Pam: I like Doritos.”
He’d bent down to pick up the golf pencil that she threw at him, the one that had bounced off his nose, landing between those shoes. She’d been laughing still when he stood upright again. She didn’t want to say anything at the time, but she was pretty sure she’d seen him discreetly pocket the pencil.
When she awoke from that dream, it was a hazy waking, one that would bring her right back to sleep in only moments. But those shoes, still stuck to the hallway floor, called out to her. Fighting the lead in her limbs, she sat up, peeked out the door, and let his name, Hey, Halpert? break the weighted silence on the recovery floor.
His nose appeared first, followed by the rest of his long body when he stood and peeked around the doorframe.
By the way his hair was matted to one side and the way his eyes were still glassy, she realized that she’d pulled him from a nap.
“You totally kicked it in with your foot.”
This is my proof to Comfect that I can handle 3 WIPs (at least, this week, anyway...)
“Jimmy...this is Pam.”
His sister’s words squealed across telephone wires from somewhere in his parent’s basement. Pam had left not ten minutes ago, after a weekend that was, despite almost seventy-two hours spent with only one another, not long enough by far. Though he’d wanted to stay on the phone with her while she drove back to Scranton, he also wanted her to drive safely, and after the promises of Call me when you get home and still not enough kisses goodbye, she had disappeared over the horizon, five long days standing between him and the next time she would be back in his arms.
He couldn’t have wiped the smile, stretching from ear to ear, from his face if he tried.
Still on his Pam high, still reeling from the fact that she had been here, had said I love you, was finally ready for this, he had to tell someone, and he had dialed Larisa’s number without a second thought. It had taken him all of a few minutes to dish the important details of what he was now dubbing “The Best Weekend of My Life.”
Her only response, through a smile that he could imagine from across New England, were Jimmy… this is Pam.
Coincidentally, they were his only thoughts, too, and would be for the remainder of his week.
While he typed up expense reports and heard the Stamford receptionist answer, all he heard was Dunder Mifflin, this is Pam.
While doing his weekly grocery shopping, the brand of fabric softener read not as Snuggle, but as Beesly.
When he found a tube of her chapstick roll out from underneath the passenger seat of his car, he had a momentary desire to press the strawberry goop to his lips. He settled for pocketing the tube instead, a smile curling his lips at the thought of being able to give it back to her in just a few short days.
Because this was Pam. And it was Jim. And they were finally at the start.
Spontaneous memory recovery was common, the doctors told him. But it didn’t necessarily mean anything.
He had to hide his face, beat down the spectacular joy that lit up his cheeks and made his smile blinding, when she’d said You totally kicked it in with you foot, when that good for nothing doctor took his hopes and dreams in the palm of her hand and flattened them, all with a smile on her face.
Pam could wake up in the morning with certain events suddenly back in tact, as if they’d never left, she’d told him. They could come at any moment in time, truly, being triggered by anything and everything under the sun. But in the end, she still thought it was 2003. She still thought she was engaged to Roy.
Her memories of Jim were still limited to bedside chats and that one fleeting moment on the golf course.
It was frustrating, really, these moments when he saw the sparkle behind her eyes, the one he only saw in those private moments in the office when they shared an inside joke, or watched in awe while a prank they’d initiated on Dwight unfolded, or he comforted her after a fight with Roy and he watched the flame that had been extinguished reignite.
It was the same spark that had lit behind her eyes from the moment she’d shown up on his doorstep almost two months ago, telling him that she loved him, starting their life from the beginning that had no end.
He’d seen it, sitting in this hospital room beside a woman whose head was supposedly vacant of him. That’s what made this all so frustrating. He couldn’t very well latch onto her shoulders and shake her until she remembered, and they’d already put roadblocks at the idea of simply revealing everything to her in order to not impede her recovery. So, for the umpteenth time in this never ending saga that was Jim and Pam, he would wait.
She was asleep, and although it was 8:30 on a Friday night, he didn’t dare venture out onto the already scarce Scranton nightlife scene while the dreams she was having bore the potential to bring her back to him.
The Phillies were up 4-to-1 against the Mets, but he couldn’t even enjoy the domination of Ryan Howard and Shane Victorino tonight. Forcing the heels of his hands into his eye sockets, he took a deep breath, opening them only to find one pair sleek shoes and a contrasting dirty pair of Converse edging dangerously close to his own chair. He knew who bore each before his eyes had so much as met their ankles.
“I did a little snooping and called in some back up.”
Penny Beesly was nothing if not forward and vocal about her opinions, he had come to realize. Unfortunately, so was his kid sister, Larisa. Her raised eyebrow and crossed arms resembled an all too familiar look that usually followed a stupid decision of his. But her eyes spoke volumes of sadness and sympathy, true concern for her shell of a brother who was essentially becoming part of the stiff hospital chair that he occupied.
His smile was sheepish and defeated as he glanced back and forth between this odd scene from somewhere deep in the Twilight Zone, where he was being cornered by both Pam’s sister and his own.
“Hey big brother,” came his sister’s voice, one so typically riddled with sarcasm and insults, but was now comforting, if not sad. It was scary how, the older they got, the more she morphed into a punk-rock version of their mother.
Larisa slunk in slow motion to the chair connected to his, as if sudden movements would pop his bubble or something. As her body finally slumped into the chair, Penny was already turning away.
“I’m going to make a coffee run. Anyone need caffeine?”
“I’ll take a black, if you’re asking,” Larisa said with a smile and a shrug.
“Sure thing. Jim?”
He wasn’t thirsty, but he needed something to do with his hands besides flip his cell phone open and closed again to reread the text messages that he’d saved over the past two months.
I know I just left your place, and I’m only at the stop sign at the end of your street, but I just wanted to say I missed you. Because I can. So, miss you.
This Friday? Absolutely :) Please. I already can’t wait :)
God, you’re such a dork. Of course I think cheesy bread is superior to normal breadsticks. I’m not a Communist.
:) :) :) I love you too, Jim <3
Text hearts are NOT cheesy, you fun sucker <3 <3 <3
Hey, can you pick up butter on your way over? I’m out.
Ok, drive safe please. See you soon :)
The last one taunted him, menacingly so, but he kept it all the same.
“Uhm, yeah, sure. I’ll just take whatever she’s having. Thanks, Penny.”
Penny nodded curtly with a stiff smile before turning on brisk heels to somewhere far enough away to give them their space.
The blips of machines, groans and moans from patients, the buzzing of the overhead fluorescence, and Harry Kalas’ voice congested the 8 inch gap between Jim and his sister.
“So...tell me. What’s going on in that head of yours, Jimmy?”
Her posture mimicked his in the way that they each had legs spread apart, elbows leaning on knees; she differed in the sense that her head was held higher than his was, but really, she couldn’t blame him. Rocking to the side, her knee tapped Jim’s, encouraging him to glance up from where his head had come to rest below his shoulders. His eyes, sunken and somber, were so pained, having gone back and forth between hope and soul crushing blows, that she wondered how they were still rooted inside of his skull.
His smile was attempted but failed sheepishness, fleeting, before his lungs emptied and his head shook between his knees.
“This...this fuckin’ sucks, Larisa.”
She tried her hardest to ignore the way his chuckle was painted black, but she couldn’t. It devastated her to see her big brother this way, after all they’d already been through.
She covered his jean clad knee with her hand, squeezing him gently, chuckling under the feel of his bony skin. It didn’t matter how much “muscle” he claimed to put on, he would always be Skeletor in her eyes.
“Yeah? Keep going.”
He knew what she was doing, knew exactly what she was doing. But if this was the game plan, maybe it was what he needed.
They’d been like this since they were kids. Tom and Pete had buddied up long before Jim was born, so when Larisa came along, he felt the urge as her big brother to form a pact, and consequently, to always protect her. The bond they’d formed was insurmountable to most. Whenever one or the other was feeling sad or mad (in their younger days) or frustrated or misunderstood (the older they grew), they’d find somewhere quiet, and just let it all out. There were no interruptions in the stream of words that spilled and tumbled in anger or anguish, heartbreak or resentment. Aside from the occasional, “Mhm? Keep going,” their ears were a sounding board for one another.
It was truly only in those desperate times when this call to action was needed. When his girlfriend cheated on him in college. When mom and dad didn’t support her decision to pursue writing instead of her lifelong love of medicine.
When Pam had left him utterly broken in the bullpen of Dunder Mifflin, Inc.
With his sister’s eyes still pleading, only the crack of the bat resounding behind him, he gave in.
“I just...I feel so helpless, ‘Riss. Which makes me feel terrible, because Pam is literally lying in there, actually helpless right now. I have no right to feel that way. No right. But I can’t...I can’t do anything. I can’t do anything about it. I can’t make her feel less helpless. Everyone keeps telling me to just be there and be strong and that I’m doing the right thing, but...every time her eyes go back to the past, it’s like...should I even be here? I mean, she wants...she wants Roy. She’s made that clear. Or, at least she keeps bringing him up.”
He shrugged. His hands wrung between his knees, complexion fading from peach into white and different shades of red.
“But she thinks they’re still together, so, it technically makes sense. It just, it just sucks, Larisa. I put in all of this time, waiting and hoping and stealing these little moments with her, these itty bitty little moments that anyone else would be crazy to stockpile, but god did I stockpile them. I filled a teapot with them for god's sake. I organized them into tiny little files labeled Pam and I let them overtake everything else in my life because nothing was more important to me than seeing her smile or making her laugh.”
He was speaking emphatically now, his hands maneuvering in the dull air to create pictures of the love he had for the woman who had succumbed to exhaustion in the next room.
“I don’t even know why I’m speaking in past tense. Nothing is more important to me than her. Nothing. I still do all of those things, too. I put another picture into the file cabinet today. She had her fingers covering her mouth while she giggled, because she was embarrassed about making a dirty joke. And it was so...it was so Pam, ‘Rissa. Her eyes had these little flecks of gold in them, and I just...I can’t stop.”
His eyes left for a moment, walked back to that memory, and she could see those same flecks of gold in his everchanging green. Still, she waited, listened.
“God, there was this...this point where the Pam parts of my brain were overriding the ‘important’ things in life. I couldn’t walk down the damn chip aisle at Wegman’s without purposely looking for Sun Chips. Didn’t want to smell the fabric softener on my own clothes because it would send me back to this stupid little comment she’d made once. But at the same time, I was forgetting to do things like, like shower and eat and do my job, because all that mattered to me was Pam. All that matters to me is Pam.”
The desperation in his eyes was breaking her heart.
“And she...she was telling me today about...God, I can’t even say it.”
His eyes found the sky then, a glass overcoming them, falling silently down his cheeks and onto those same jean clad knees that she’d been squeezing.
“She’s devastated by all of this, Larisa. She thinks...with the cuts and the band-aids...I couldn't even stop myself from telling her how wrong she was, how beautiful she is. And I can’t...I can’t do anything to fix it, damnit. I’m not a doctor or a nurse or a goddamn wizard who can wave a magic wand. I just want to...make this all go away for her. The pain and the bruises and the frustration. I can see it, too. I can see how frustrated this all has her, and it isn’t good for this damn healing process. It isn’t good for her. She shouldn’t have to be confused and frustrated on top of being sad and scared and...she just looks so little, Larisa. So, so little. I just want to sit on that bed and pull her into my arms and hold her until this all goes away. But I don’t know. I genuinely do. Not. Know. What to do. If...if she wants to be with Roy...”
Larisa watched as her brother shrugged, as his head hung lower than his shoulders, his hands clasped between his knees, almost as if he was one of those animatronics from Chuck E. Cheese, closing his performance just as he’d begun.
Their eyes met, equally glassy; Larisa truly did feel deeply for her brother, this man who had spent so much of his adult life doing nothing but love the woman in the room across the hall. She could see just how much this was genuinely tearing him apart. Covering his hands, she gave him an encouraging squeeze.
“But Jimmy...this is Pam.”
He bit his lip, almost as if to say I know, or to bite back more tears, maybe.
“You guys have come too damn far to be anything but happy, Jim. I can’t let you give up now. I can’t let you give up ever, but...right now, I think, as hard as this might sounds, she needs you the most. She needs your love and your security, and she needs you in her corner for when her world is falling apart, which is pretty much her new version of normal. She might not remember you the way that you remember her, but that’s exactly why you need to be here, and not groveling or feeling sorry for yourself. Tell me that you feel sorry for yourself. Lay it all here when you can’t take it anymore. But when it comes to Pam? You need to do everything you can to remind her what you two had, Jimmy. What you still have.”
In their moment of on the verge breakdowns, Penny and her cardboard coffee carrier served as their saving grace.
“I don’t mean to eavesdrop, but I second all of that,” she offered along with two steaming styrofoam cups.
In all of her graceful form, Penny dropped her body less than elegantly into the chair next to Larisa.
“I can only do so much, Jim,” Penny continued, “and believe me, she does not want to hear about how little I think of Roy. I’ve given it to her since the beginning.”
Penny chuckled darkly, taking a hearty swig from her own coffee as Larisa sipped at hers and Jim picked absently at the styrofoam.
“I just wish she could remember, I don’t know, something. These little flashes are almost...demoralizing when she doesn’t make any connections. And the discouragement trumps any celebration of progress. It’s like this never-ending cycle of bullshit.”
“Well, you got something out of her today, didn’t you?”
He shrugged, tracing the letters that spelled out CAUTION: HOT, and wondered who the poor son of a bitch was that couldn’t predict the temperature of a cup of coffee.
“Don’t be so modest, Jim. You did that. You helped her to connect those dots. It was small, but it was something.”
“No. No buts. Whatever you did, it obviously triggered something. Maybe you just keep going down that road? See where it takes her?”
His mind drifted to their conversations of Dunder Mifflin and that’s what she said and, of all people, Michael Scott. To crossword puzzles and mini golf and his big feet and the promise of flash cards. Suddenly, the wheels began to turn.
Penny hadn’t seen his eyes this bright since Pam had returned her Is he cute? text with a picture of the two of them making goofy faces at the camera.
Larisa had offered to take him home and spend the night, but he declined politely, promising to make time to share at least one meal together the next day. It was for the best; she wouldn’t have gotten a wink of sleep by the way the lights in Jim’s apartment lit up his windows well into the dawn, scissors and glue working more frivolously than they ever had in his elementary days.
He returned to the hospital after a good night’s sleep, a shower, a phone call to confirm plans for lunch with Larisa (“No offense, but I’m not about to be conscious enough for breakfast.” “Larisa, it’s 9:30.” “And? I’m going back to bed. Goodnight”), and a quick check that his art project was securely tucked into the back pocket of his jeans. After greeting the morning nurses--offering to grab a coffee or a morning bagel for the ladies on shift--he did a quick peek into the window of her closed door, his eyes met immediately with the intense blonde that covered the back of Penny’s head. When blue eyes replaced golden locks in the snap of her neck, she only shook her head twice, left right, left right, before his vertebrae snuggled into cookie-cutter forms in his waiting room chair. It was close to eleven when Penny’s heels click-clacked the tile floor.
Penny met Jim’s big, round, hopeful eyes--Bambi eyes, she and Pam would call them--with a sigh.
“Sorry, she doesn’t really want to see anyone right now.”
His nod was understanding, the fire that lit his bones around midnight still present, still lingering, This is Pam his mantra for the day.
“That’s fine. I can understand that.” Before She’s probably tired from having people in and out of her room all day could finish his string of thoughts, Penny cut him off.
“Have I mentioned how much I hate Roy, Jim? Just, remind me, have I mentioned it?”
Her sarcasm was biting, but it made him laugh all the same, albeit bated, so as not to become the victim of her next beheading.
“I, uh, I think you may have mentioned it once or twice.”
“Good, I won’t have to give you the earload this time. I really fucking hate him, Jim.”
It clicked, then, that maybe Pam’s mood had less to do with exhaustion and more to do with the man whose presence was already darkening the color of the room.
With this realization, he pushed against the arm rests with both hands to lift his lanky body from the chair, took a deep breath, and cocked a smile as a new surge of confidence lit through his veins. Knocking lightly with just the knuckle of his pointer finger, he poked his head into the small opening of the door, meeting eyes who were fighting between somber and rage, darting back and forth so quickly, he wondered if she’d actually seen him. But when those same eyes snapped to the middle, eyebrows finding a middle ground, all movement ceased.
“Well, someone looks like she could use a morning pick-me-up.”
Her eyes softened at the corners, and although her brows still told a tale of apathy, the way that her lips twitched said otherwise.
This is Pam.
His steps weren’t tentative as he sought the chair next to her bed, his lips didn’t turn down when her enthusiasm for his presence wasn’t shared. He simply reached into his back pocket, produced a small purple box, and casually set it in her lap.
There was that smile.
“Multiplication cards?” she asked with a skeptical chuckle as she turned the box over in her hands for further inspection.
Her brows still met in the middle, but now they were turned up, just so slightly, teetering on the edge of annoyed and getting there.
“I never go back on a promise, Beesly. I was serious: I‘m genuinely worried about your third grade math skills being lost up there. We probably should have started this five minutes ago, honestly.”
And there was that laugh.
This is Pam.
She dumped the cards carefully from the box, still stiff and square and new, before handing him the deck, watching intently as his deft fingers shuffled the large cardboard.
“You’re shuffling them?”
“Obviously,” he drawled, exaggerating the way that his eyes closed and his head tipped with his words. “Come on, Pam. They put these things in order. How are you supposed to make any sort of gains if zero-times-zero is followed immediately by zero-times-one?”
Her eyes closed with a smirk, chest heaving just slightly with her laughter.
“Alright. Case in point. Continue. I wouldn’t want to disrupt the master at work.”
“Thank you. That’s all I ask.”
He gave the cards one more good toss around, letting his eyes wander only for a moment to the pile of magazines with titles like Total Bride and In-Style Wedding that sat beside her bed, looking like they’d been haphazardly tossed aside.
“We’ll start you off easy here.” Holding up a card with large block print displaying 1 x 2 = ? he continued his serious schtick, complete with animation in his wide eyes and dynamic brows. She perched her chin between thumb and pointer as if deep in thought before offering the obvious answer, only breaking character to breathe out a giggle when he wiped his brow and uttered Phew.
“Oh god, I’m not sure if you can handle this one. We went pretty tough pretty quickly here. I don’t want to stress you out.”
With deep breathing and wandering eyes to boot, he flashed her the next card. She mirrored his shock, inhaling sharply and clutching her chest.
“Oh god, I was never very good with sixes. Six times four?”
“It’s okay, Pam. You can do this, I believe in you.”
“Okay, okay. So, six plus six, carry the one…” she scratched her pointer finger in the air between them, scraping out what was clearly meant to be a math equation.
There was the girl he knew.
This is Pam.
They tumbled through a few more cards before he flipped her latest (twelve times seven; tricky, but she made it) to the bottom of the deck. Her eyes scrunched around her nose when the next card presented itself. He bit the inside of his lip to contain his reaction.
“Hmm? Something wrong, Beesly? It’s not another six again, is it? Listen, if you’d like to phone a friend, I won’t judge, promise.”
She shook her head, trying to clear what had snapped from a steady stream of sarcasm straight into confusion.
“Not exactly. It’s more of an...annoyed looking black man.”
Ahh. So she’d gotten Stanley first. Not the most ideal pick, but he’d make do.
The grin that bit the corners of his cheeks was so innately smug that it tickled her somewhere deep inside.
“Correct. Now, can you remember his name?”
Now it was ignorance that twisted her brows upward as she cocked her head, staring into the eyes of the man who clearly hadn’t wanted his picture taken at that exact moment.
“Am I...supposed to?”
“Well,” he began, his confidence fading into a more shy demeanor, “that’s eventually the hope.”
She watched her fingers dance in front of her face, reaching out delicately to pluck the card from his hands. Holding it between casted and uncasted fingers, she ran her fingertips over the edges, noticing the smooth transition from card to Scotch tape. There was a hint of purple curled at the edges of the picture where he’d assumedly tried glue at first. Flipping the card gingerly, so as not to disturb the disgruntled face of the man any more than he already was, she found more paper, this time met with scrawled handwriting that was eerily familiar.
Very specific sense of humor
(But also cheating on his wife...and cheating on that woman, too, probably)
She grabbed the pile of cards, sifting through the next several, only to be met with the faces of people who sat at desks and were surrounded by office supplies. Her eyes began to well, but words beat her to it.
“Are these...Jim? I can’t even…”
“So, these are the people we work with,” he cut her off, wanting to halt any and all signs of tears before they could grow. “I figured you might think multiplication was too easy, once your skills all came rushing back. I had to throw in a challenge for you somewhere.”
He shrugged, eyes turning sheepish as his grin turned sideways.
She was in his arms unexpectedly, having thrust her body across the bed as far as her general balance would allow. Taken off guard, he scooted to the edge of the chair quickly, catching her body as it clung to his, hard.
It probably wasn’t intentional, he knew, that her nose wound up buried in the crook of his neck, that her breath was comfortingly warm on his throat. Not intentional at all. But as her whispered thank you etched itself into his skin, he squeezed her just a little bit tighter.
They alternated between silly math and Dunder Mifflin employee trading cards, covering Stanley (“How many affairs has he had?” “We don’t know, Pam. We truly do not know,”), Angela (“This is the one you were telling me about, isn’t it? You were right, she does look uptight,”) and Andy (“So, technically we work with him, but he--” “He did something. He had to leave. He did something, Jim. I swear it,”) before there was a knock at the door. The smell of burgers and fries consumed her senses before her eyes rested on a girl that reminded her strikingly of Jim.
“I was told I might find you in here.”
Pam watched Jim’s body turn and his eyes grow, meeting the faded jeans and dark hoodie of the girl in the doorway.
“I was promised a lunch date, but I’m happy to third wheel. I’m glad I brought extra!”
As a second chair was situated at her bedside, Pam eyed the woman hesitantly, watching her pull boxes of French fries, burgers, and chicken nuggets from the grease laden bag before speaking again.
“God, Jim, no need to be rude. Sorry. I’m Larisa, Jim’s sister.”
When her hand met the outstretched palm of her new visitor, a sigh of relief took Pam by surprise.
“So, what have you two kids been up to today? I hope my brother hasn’t been boring you to death. He has that effect on people.”
Pam giggled, fingering the deck of cards that she still possessed before Larisa, mouth already stuffed with fries, motioned at the buffet she’d set up.
“Oh, help yourselves by the way. Technically speaking, I could finish this all by myself, but I’d rather not have to do that, or we might end up with matching beds here, Pam.”
Jim and Pam were happy to busy their mouths with McDonald’s, sharing a glance as Larisa plucked his deck of cards from the tabletop.
“What are these?”
She turned them over in her hand, flipping the Stanley card on its back and reading with intent before she moved on to the next.
“Oh, your brother made me flash cards. These are people we work with, apparently. I kind of remember this guy. He’s quirky, I know that much,” she mused, pulling the Andy card from the middle of the discard pile.
Larisa gave Jim a sideways glance, a grin creeping towards him, before she took the unread pile of cards.
“Aww. That’s kind of awesome. So what does the Jim card say? ‘Big nose, dork, enjoys long walks to the fridge for cheap beer?’”
Pam giggled, her eyes apologizing to Jim amidst the shared laughter between herself and Larisa, all the while wondering if there was a Jim card and if there was, what it would tell her about him that she didn’t already know.
“Thanks, Rissa. I really appreciate the vote of confidence.”
Jim rolled his eyes before plucking a handful of fries from the soggy cardboard box.
They chatted idly, Pam asking Larisa about herself while sharing the few details of her wedding that she had planned.
“So, wow, you and Roy, huh? Almost seven years? Damn, girl. Show me your ways. I haven’t been able to lock down a man for more than a few months without finding a problem.”
Pam’s laughter was awkward now as she reflected on her relationship with Roy, specifically the way that he had left her this morning.
“Trust me, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. But, I guess when you have something that’s lasted this long, you fight it out, you know?”
Larisa nodded, sipping on her Sprite.
“That’s true, I guess. But, I mean, I have a friend who is still dating her high school sweetheart, and all she does is complain. He’s stuck in the glory days and she just wants to grow up and move on, but they’ve been together for so long that, like, she feels bad leaving him, and she doesn’t know how she would start over, so she stays. Good for you guys though, honestly.”
For the first time since Larisa had stumbled into her room, Pam’s eyes found her lap. Idly picking at a loose thread in her cast, she felt her lips produce a mumbled, Yeah, thanks, before eyeing Jim. His eyes showed concern, and he seemed to be trying to communicate with a look that her body understood when she was suddenly nodding her head, and he was taking the hint.
“Hey ‘Riss, do you want to do me a solid and get me a coffee? This Coke isn’t going to cut it.”
She nodded once before gathering the mass of fast food containers to dispose of on the way out, fully intending to take her sweet time.
“Absolutely. You want anything, Pam?”
“No, I’m good, thanks.”
With the door clicked shut, Pam’s eyes found her lap again.
“You wanna talk about it?”
The voice that met her ears was warm and soothing, not at all like the one that had clipped her on the way out this morning. Her head panged with I don’t want to talk about this anymore, but her heart was more trusting, insisting that this man with the flashcards be privileged to her secrets. It took her a minute, but once the words began, they poured out like a flood.
“Roy stopped by today. Kind of early, actually. I thought maybe he wanted to have breakfast with me or something. I had this whole big plan, too. I made Penny bring me all of my bridal magazines, and I was going to have her put some...some cover-up on all of this, and we were going to spend the day together, just me and Roy, you know?”
He simply nodded, his eyes trained on her cheeks, her lips, her eyes as she spoke, seeming to whisper Go on, I’m here.
So she did.
“He was here for like, five minutes, Jim. He stopped by to say hi, ask what the doctors had said, and then told me he was going to the lake with Kenny for the weekend. I mean, seriously?! I’m holed up in the goddamn hospital and he goes to the lake? God!”
As she recounted their argument, line for line, it took everything in his power to quell the redness that was undoubtedly rising in his cheeks. He simply nodded, knowing that he needed to move his body somehow to keep from punching a hole in the wall. When she’d finally finished, her face flushed and cheeks red, they hung in silence while he debated his response.
“You know, Pam, I could feed you a ton of lines about how this is hard on him, too and maybe he just needs some space, but it would all be bullshit.”
She looked genuinely shocked at first, but her expression grew more confident as he continued.
“You’re right. He should be here. Not that I’m not thrilled to spend my entire Saturday hanging out with my favorite receptionist, but I should be having my ass kicked out of this chair right now. So.”
It was his turn to inspect his hands, a hint greasy from his lunch, but otherwise clean. When his eyes found hers again, he could see her struggling to find words, struggling to know what to say. He hadn’t ever been this forward with her about his feelings towards Roy. Aside from telling her to take a chance on something, he vented most of his Roy frustrations to Mark over a Friday night beer. But as he continued to remind himself that This is Pam, and his Pam was surging with a new bought of confidence, he could not, would not let her go back to that place where she was used as a doormat. Before she could get up in her head, he reached across the bed and plucked a bridal magazine from the bedside table.
“So, Beesly, what’s the color scheme?”
She watched as Jim crossed one leg over the other, balancing a floral covered magazine spread between his large hands as he thumbed through the thin pages.
“Well, what was the big plan for today? Colors? Flowers? Please tell me you’re doing a cake and not one of those weird-o donut contraptions.”
In the strange darkness in which her day had begun, she was finally seeing the light as it cascaded around the man in the chair.
“Well, um...Roy wanted...I guess the colors are blue and gold. Go Cougars, I guess…”
Jim returned her half-hearted fist pump with a look of disgust.
“Oh, god, Pam. You’re really going to let him model your wedding after your high school? Come on, Beesly, I thought I taught you better than that.”
After he produced a few chuckles from somewhere hidden within her, he continued.
“Now, come on. This is the afternoon of the Beesly dream wedding. Consider my your fairy godmother. Hit me with your wishes.”
For the next several hours, they transitioned between magazines, somewhere along the way commandeering a pair of scissors, large paper, and tape. He did the cutting, as her right arm was out of commission, and she stuck to building the collage, arranging flowers and cakes with centerpieces and venues that she wouldn’t be able to afford even if she wasn’t marrying Roy. He focused much of his attention on cutting, but when he snuck glances at the way her poster board was coming to life, he had to smile. This was Pam.
When her parents arrived in the early evening, Jim wordlessly cleaned up their scraps, shooing her away when she tried to help, motioning for her to visit her parents as he worked silently around them.
After the crowd died down and she was left with a few moments of silence, she shuffled frantically through the deck of cards that he’d left behind, her heart stopping when she landed on the one she’d been looking for.
The face staring back at her was newly familiar, but also not so new. His eyes were pinched shut in this picture, his tongue sticking out to the side through white teeth. It was an extreme close up, so she barely registered the color of his shirt or the bearings of his environment. She’d have to ask him, next time, who had taken the picture. She turned the card over, cautiously, anticipating his own description on bated breath.
James “Jim” Halpert
Pretty decent salesman (when he isn't hanging out at reception)
Green jelly bean aficionado
Best friend to one Pamela Morgan “Beesly” Beesly.
And don't you forget it ;)
We're diverting from the typical format of "flashback that ties in" for this chapter, and possibly the next, but with good purpose. Hold on, folks.
The water lapping at his ankles did little to conceal the pull in his chest as he stared out over the lake, his eyes absently following his brother’s jetski, but his mind somewhere back in Scranton. It killed him to see that look in her eyes, the one she’d had so many times before that he had ignored, or worse, just hadn’t seen. Not until she’d called it quits. Not until that day she had taken the ring off her finger and set it down on the kitchen table. It had taken him so long to see what was right in front of him. But by the time he had, it was too late.
Kenny had been his saving grace this weekend, pulling him by the bootstraps to head to the lake instead of mope at her bedside. But Roy had all but stomped his feet in the driveway, demanding that Kenny at least let him say goodbye to her before they took off.
It had also been Kenny’s idea to create some distance, despite what the doctors, and Pam’s family, and Pam herself, had been saying.
“It’s just Pammy, Roy. She’s fine now. She don’t need you hanging around the hospital. You’ve got better things to do. Now let’s go.”
So he distanced himself, figuring it was for the best. She was with Halpert now. She’d remember him soon enough, and they’d go back to their happy little lives that didn’t involve him.
Even if she was asking for him.
Even though he was still mulling over his fuck up and wondering if this was his second chance or something.
So he had fully intended on entering that hospital room with words of encouragement, ones that said Your mom really misses you and You’ll have time to catch up with your sister and I’ll come see you first think Sunday night when I get back. How about I order us a pizza and we can watch a movie or something? Instead, upon seeing those eyes, so filled with hope and wonder and awe of his presence, he was blasted back to the past, to having her in his arms and having his ring on her finger and the rest of the future awaiting them.
The reminder that, he had all that. Had mocking him from its past tense. That he had wrecked it. Pulled the carpet out from underneath them, or whatever. This had been his doing. So, just like the old Roy, he checked in and checked out, facing the wrath of Kenny the entire two-hour trip to the lake while he pouted and refused to say all but two words: Just drive, while the past played itself over in his head.
Meeting her in high school.
Their first date.
Their first real date, after that goddamned hockey incident.
Moving in together.
Planning a wedding together.
Starting a new job.
Too many nights spent at the warehouse.
Out with the guys.
At the bar while she cried herself to sleep.
Fighting. A lot.
Beers and wings and nights spent half in the bag.
Weeks spent flirting with that bartender who had too jet black hair and too many tattoos and breasts that spilled over the top of her too-tight shirts.
Pressing his lips against every one of those tattoos, while that jet black hair spilled across the pillow his fiance used at night.
Everything crumbling into unrecognizable shambles.
That, no matter how hard they tried, would never resemble the puzzle they once had formed.
And she was none to blame.
This was all on him, and he knew it.
He was no better while they spent the day at the lake, Kenny and his cousins cruising by on their speeders while his waded in shallow water, bumping backwards to gently dip into the sandbar on more than one occasion. Watching from his perch on a log around the campfire, while the three boisterous and brawny Anderson’s chugged beers and tossed things into the fire for fun, while he fiddled with the label on his own barely touched bottle, kicking rocks across the dusk covered ground.
Tossing and turning while snores gurgled in throats, ringing off the shallow ceilings of their cabin.
When dusk and dawn met for an early morning rendezvous, purple haze tickling an orange glow over the fog swept beach, he remembered the smile she wore as he twirled her around the dance floor, her purple prom dress glowing under cheap gymnasium lighting. His smile at the memory was somber, sad, but glad that he had it. Although it was only five in the morning, he was suddenly anxious to get back to Scranton, to make good on the promises he’d made to her in his head. He’d get her that pizza, flip through wedding magazines with her, even if, in the back of his mind, he knew she’d probably be picking things out for a wedding with Halpert one day. He could pretend, though. He owed her that much. He could play in the past, if it meant one more day in a life that he could’ve had, if it weren’t for his own transgressions.
Pam awoke with her head heavy and drunk with sleep and narcotics. She wasn’t allowed to sleep late, because there was always a constant hum of doctors and nurses and orderlies and Sit up, sweetie, you need to take this. But she must have slept through it all last night, must have been fed breakfast in her sleep and allowed to continue dozing, because the sun that streamed through from the hallway was even blinding. When she picked her head from the pillow, she felt the stiff, shiny plastic, and peeled it from her cheek.
It was the Jim card.
She must have fallen asleep next to it, or on it, or something.
Somewhere inside, she wondered if that was the reason she’d gotten such a good night’s sleep.
The clock poised above her door ticked from 10:07 to 10:08, and she sighed contentedly, closing her eyes as a comforted grin tickled her from the inside. For a moment, she thought she might just fall back asleep. Penny knocking on the door wasn’t the worst disturbance to those plans; she’d definitely had more than her fill of rest.
“Well, good morning, sleeping beauty. I was worried I was going to have to grab a prince to come wake you up, but I see you’ve already found one.”
She pointed to the card that Pam still cradled, almost protectively, Penny could argue. Pam’s cheeks, so light and pale from being horizontal for over twelve hours, now flushed, all of the blood in her body collectively filling her cheeks to the point of a dull ache.
She brushed her sister off, thought secretly hoping that she’d bring Jim back up again as she said changed the subject.
“Spending your Saturday at the hospital, sis? That doesn’t seem quite as glamorous as New York City nightlife.”
Penny quickly shut down the creeping blush, the embarrassment that hit her head on that she hadn’t actually lived in New York for the past year and a half. But this Pam didn’t remember that. This Pam didn’t know that she’d graduated college and moved back into town. Years in the drama club had Penny well versed in convincing lies, though. Her parents had plenty of experience, once actually believing that she had spent a Saturday night of St. Patrick’s Day weekend “studying for a chemistry test.” It was almost too easy.
“And miss the cutie that comes to change your bandages at four o’clock? Absolutely not. I plan on sticking around until I get that number, so don’t heal too quickly, you hear?”
Pam giggled, reveling one of the only positive outcomes of this whole mess: spending quality time, albeit forced, with her little sister.
“I’ll do my best; thanks for your concern.”
It didn’t take her long at all to bring up Jim. As Penny spoke, rehashing the night she’d spent at mom and dad’s, and I remembered why I never wanted to have a dog when Mollie woke me up at 4 o’clock this morning to pee, Pam’s eyes clicked back and forth between her sister, who wasn’t paying any mind, and the clock. When five minutes ticked by, five exactly and not a minute more, the words were tumbling out of her almost against her will.
“So has, uh...did anyone else stop by while I was asleep?”
“Oh, you mean like Jim?”
Her eyes, shining with hope, suddenly washed with embarrassment as they found her lap, clicking back towards her sister’s blue gaze as quickly as her eyes had dropped.
“Yeah, I mean...no...sure. Has Jim been...by today...at all?”
Her eyes fell again, this time to avoid the telltale signs that Penny’s face would give away her answer before her words did; the ache in her chest that didn’t want to show disappointment in her eyes if Penny said no.
“He was here about a half hour ago, but his sister said something about food, so I think they’re making a brunch run for all of us. They should be back with a boatload of Denny’s soon.”
“Oh man, Denny’s? God, I could really go for a--”
“He already had your chocolate chip pancake order at the top of this list, Pammy. I’m pretty sure this guy knows you better than you know you.”
For the third time in the better part of five minutes, Pam’s eyes met the soft cotton of the blanket in her lap.
This time, it was to hide her grin.
When Jim and Larisa returned with bags of styrofoam containers, they bribed some orderlies into letting Pam eat lunch in the waiting lounge area, Penny and Larisa pushing tables together while Will and Helene situated enough chairs to accommodate the growing brood. Jim took the liberty of helping Pam get into her slippers and maneuver with her IV pole to join her support crew. A familiar warmth spread when his fingers gently held her wrist, covered her lower back gently to guide her. The dizziness was probably from not standing for awhile, she tried to convince herself. The brain injury. Definitely not from the way Jim was holding her upright as she walked twenty feet across the room.
She watched in awe as Jim cut up her pancakes, not bothering to miss a beat in the conversation that he was having with her father about the Eagle’s preseason outlook. Her mom was talking with Larisa about her college aspirations (she was in school for something to do with writing, Pam gathered), and Penny interjected wherever she saw fit, which was the only typical thing about this whole situation.
As the scene unfolded, Pam watched astounded, wondering if this was just another strange drug-induced dream she was having, one in which one of her supposed coworkers and his sister got along better, more easily with her family in these past twenty four hours, than Roy and his family had in the past seven years.
Penny had made her feelings about Roy clear from the very beginning. She was a first impressions kind of girl, and it took a lot to make her budge. Her parents tolerated Roy at best, understanding and respecting the love that she as their daughter held for him, but were cautious all the same.
Yet here they sat, crowded around three small tables, the remains of breakfast--that he had picked up, and no doubt paid for--scattered around, sharing laughter and easy banter as if they’d been friends for years. The way his mother’s hand so easily found Jim’s knee in a reassuring gesture when dad had said something to tease him--the fact that dad was teasing him--had questions piling in her already clouded head.
When she began to feel tired and weak, he waved off mom and dad and Penny, insisting that they accompany Pam back to her room while he and Larisa resituated the waiting room to its proper state. While it was nice to have Sunday morning spent with her family, she felt her gaze being pulled so often to the doorway that she wondered if her family noticed her mental absence.
Mom was pulling a stack of Get Well Soon cards from her purse, but she was too busy noticing the way that Jim’s shoulders pulled at the Foo Fighters t-shirt he was wearing while he used an antiseptic wipe to void the table tops of any syrupy evidence to truly care what Aunt Pat had written.
Dad told stories of his crazy week at work, but her eyes were drawn to the warmth in Jim's smile as he brought the packaged leftovers to the nurse’s station, the words she couldn’t hear on his moving lips no doubt something along the lines of I can stop by the cafeteria if you’d like something else.
Dr. Livingston gave updates, most positive, she assumed by the smiles and contented noises bubbling from her family. None of it registered, though, as she watched Jim sit beside his sister, passing her an earbud that wound its way to the iPod that seemed comically small in his large hands. Her medical news paled so far in comparison to the sudden inherent need she had to find out what was playing through those speakers.
There was mention of continuing and upping her physical therapy regimen to prevent atrophy in her muscles, as she was resting so much. She hadn’t been participating in anything too taxing yet, simple motor functions and memory games that made her feel like a preschooler. But she was doing better, able to use the bathroom on her own and maneuver in and out of a wheelchair with minimal assistance. She’d begin today with assisted walks, whether with a PT or family member, so long as she immediately vocalized any signs of fatigue or struggle, followed by a schedule of treadmill walks and more focused muscle strengthening. If all was well by Friday, she would get to go home.
It was that word home that hung heavy on her heart as her family lounged around her room, smiling and chatting like it was any normal Sunday that they were spending together. Baseball droned on in the background, Penny rolled her eyes at something her parents were saying, and dad even broke his typical no PDA rule and gave mom a kiss on the temple. Yet among so much love, a pit still formed in her stomach.
In five days, she could be going home.
But what did home even entail?
She lived with Roy, of course. Roy, who hadn’t spent more than a day with her collectively since she’d been sidelined in the hospital. Roy, who was at the lake with his buddies instead of bringing her chocolate chip pancakes and joking around with her father about if the Phillies were ultimately better than the Pirates. Roy, the man she was marrying.
She’d awoken from surgery, from being physically cut open, to hope in her soul and an overwhelming love in her heart that she would be marrying this man with whom she’d spent her childhood growing with, understanding what it meant to have a relationship, to love and lose and fight and make up and grow with someone. But there was that itch, the reminder nagging behind her stitches that maybe, just maybe, the growing they’d been doing hadn’t so much been together, but more apart.
And that terrified her.
Especially when the conversation in the room diverted to something she actually felt like replying to.
“Pam, sweetheart, what’s this? When did you put this together?”
Mom had found the poster that she and Jim had worked so diligently on yesterday, her Saturday spent planning a wedding that she wasn’t even sure had a set date yet.
“Oh. Um. Yeah, Jim and I...Jim helped me put that together yesterday. Um...Roy and I were supposed to look over things but he uhm...he’s at the lake, so…”
It was a struggle to find words for so many reasons. Roy, her fiance, was at the lake, for one. Roy, who had been so tentative and hesitant and overwhelmingly distant by her bedside since the moment she’d awoken.
Second, as she ticked them off, was the constant of this Jim, the man who had so oddly been here, conversely waiting at her bedside when she’d startled into consciousness. And he was always here, hair mussed and eyes tired and shoes mismatched, but always smiling, and though timid, always wanting to just be with her.
Lastly, her eyes wavered across the images that they’d taped to the posterboard--that Jim had somehow magically produced, she added to the column--images that were vacant of harsh gold and royal blue and footballs as centerpieces, but so strikingly filled with everything she’d ever wanted. Quietly beautiful pastels, flowers that gave a subtle pop, little splashes of sparkle and charm. A church, with vaulted ceilings and stained glass, without a hint of that musty smell. A quaint celebration with enough room to dance; twinkle lights just in case the stars didn’t shine brightly enough.
Not officiated by his wide receiver from high school, out in the middle of the woods. The same burly droll who had made a drunken speech at their engagement party that poked fun at how long it had taken prissy Pam to give it up and given her a scanty apron that said Sunday Funday across the cartoon chest.
Not at the VA Hall, because his buddy had a connection.
Not catered by Hooters with a midnight snack of nacho bar.
While her mind played over the nimble fingers that had cut carefully, double checking that she wanted the lavender or the peach? before extracting the photo carefully from the magazine, realizing that This wasn’t even his wedding, mom’s sugary words pulled her back to reality.
“It’s really beautiful, honey. Maybe someday.”
“Yeah, maybe if Roy ever stops dragging his feet.”
Her words were edged with laughter, fraught with irony.
Mom reached over, clasping both hands over Pam’s casted arm, her smile speaking words of sad reassurance.
In the late afternoon light, mom had to cook dinner and dad was getting tired. Penny had to work in the morning. It was better that way, the PT mentioned. Less distractions for her “workout.” But as she said her goodbyes and was helped into the hallway for her walk, the words came without pretense.
“Actually, could Jim come with me?”
The orderly, a man who couldn’t possibly be much older than she was, gave her a knowing glance.
“Fine, I see how it is, Ms. Beesly. Pass up quality time with me for the big guy. I get it.”
He feigned offense, clasping a hand over his heart. She giggled, but only momentarily, as she watched Jim peek out from behind the conglomerate of people shuffling in and out, plucking the earbud from his ear.
“Sorry, I think I missed that,” he chuckled, pushing himself to his feet.
“Our patient here needs to start going on walks for her PT, but she seems to be playing favorites tonight. She’s all yours.”
His grin was wary with shock as he took the IV pole.
“Woah, wait a second here. So many questions. Does she come with instructions? Do I need to feed her? What about a leash? Is she rabid?”
Clutching the IV pole in one hand while fidgeting with tubes in the other, he was met with chuckles from orderlies and nurses alike, acknowledging the orders that their walk was not to exceed fifteen minutes.
“I’ll have her back before midnight. Wouldn’t want her turning into a pumpkin, right?” Unable to hide his grin, he turned toward her, outstretching his arms towards the endless hallways. “So, shall we?”
The quiet that absorbed the atmosphere of a Sunday evening ICU wing was peaceful, calm, not as intense as the past weeks had been. Still, they walked in silence at first, hearing the scratching of her slippers, the squeak of the wheels on her IV pole, the clop clop of his sneakers over the typical whirs and beeps of machines. This way, it almost felt normal.
“God, it feels nice to get out of that room,” she finally said, throwing her head back just enough to stare at the ceiling as she made her proclamation.
“I’ll bet,” he replied with a chuckle, trying his best not to stare at her for too long, to not revel in the way that the new pigment in her skin made the light shine from her all the more brightly, the way that she was genuinely smiling, if only for just a moment.
“So uh...I...I didn’t get a chance to thank you for helping me yesterday.”
His lips quirked to the side, one eyebrow raised as a Hmm? peeked out of his throat.
“With my...the wedding stuff. Seriously, Jim. You didn’t have to do that. I...it was…”
Their steps came to a matching halt, his eyes seeking hers as he could taste the worry that admonished the air around them.
“It was my pleasure.”
The way his lips curled up so genuinely told her just so. But still, her running thoughts from earlier caused doubt.
“Well, yeah, but...I mean, it isn’t even your wedding--”
“I know that.”
Trust me, I know that.
His eyes found the ground this time, as they picked up their leisurely pace, squeaks from the wheels settling between them.
“I wish...I wish it could actually be like that.”
It took him a moment to realize that she was talking about the wedding board, because in his head he was responding Me too, and It can be and It is, my love, you just don’t remember.
The pressure in his chest reminded him that the wedding he had planned not twenty-four hours prior wasn’t for him, wasn’t for them, but in her mind, was for Roy.
Roy, who had disappeared without a trace, had left her to fend for herself in this decrepit place.
He shrugged, eying her from the side.
“Why can’t it be?”
She laughed at first, a guffaw from somewhere deep in her chest. “Have you met Roy?”
Her eyes widened then, realizing that she truly didn’t know the answer to that question. His face softened though, seeming to read her mind.
“Yes, I’ve met Roy. The warehouse workers do mingle with us from time to time. He's also kind of, uhm, engaged to my best friend, so...”
With an appreciative nod and another breath, she restated her question.
“So, have you met Roy? He’d never go for any of that stuff. He’d call it girly and tacky and probably say something like That’s chick stuff, Pammy! It’s my wedding, too, and then demand that we hang up, like, football banners or keg stands or something.”
It was another of those moments in her time spent recovering that made his heart break. Not because she didn’t remember loving him, or because he was back in Jim-Pam-Roy purgatory; it wasn't about feeling sorry for himself. But because he had to sit here and watch her, watch the Pam who had come so far in standing up for Pam, settle back into a mindset of being told what to do. His strong, independent, brave Pam was shrinking back inside herself.
To hell with his wants and his needs and his desire to sweep her off her feet and kiss her like Prince Charming to break this damned spell. He just wanted Pam back. The Pam who was proud of herself, who stood up for herself, who took chances and could say yes or no of her own accord.
So, rather than settling back into his Old Jim ways, when they were just friends and he’d say what he could to please her, he pushed her, just a little.
“Well, Pam, it’s kind of your wedding, too. You get to have an opinion.”
But there was that wall again, the frustration and sadness and hesitancy lain up like bricks up to her hairline as she shook her head.
“No. I mean, you’re right, it is, but there are...some of these things are just...if I bring it up, we’ll probably just fight about it. I don’t want to take a chance on that.”
“You’ve gotta take a chance on something, sometime, Pam.”
They were stopped now, his words hanging as low as his gaze that hit the floor, memories of I’m fine with my choices assaulting him from all those years ago. Because back then, they hadn’t been her choices, and she’d come too far to revert back to those old ways again. He pulled his eyes slowly to her, a body that was dwarfed by thin hospital cotton, goosebumps rising on uncovered legs. Maybe he’d see if the doctors wouldn’t mind him bringing by a pair of sweatpants for her, if she’d be up and walking now. He didn't want her getting pneumonia on top of everything else.
She was thinking, intently, her eyes so laser focused on the IV bag, he thought she might burn a hole in it. In the back of his mind, he was secretly hoping she was remembering something. But instead, she just shook her head, smiled at him apologetically, and whispered, “Sometimes, I just don’t get Roy.”
Suddenly, her entire body went cold, as if winter had rushed through the hallway doors. The scent of antiseptic was replaced with freshwater and fish and maybe a hint of alcohol. His eyes lingered on her as she processed, for something like half a minute, their intensity so burning and severe that she tried to pull away, but ultimately couldn’t. It wasn’t the first time she’d felt trapped beneath his gaze, the forest of his eyes deepening to charcoal as he lingered.
The deck of a ship, cool metal beneath her fingers, You cheered for them, didn't you? A-W-E-S-O-M-E, jealousy, jealous of Katy? Who is Katy? Pam six-point-oh, June 10th, he was going to say something wasn’t he?
It was a whirlwind, nearly knocking her to her feet, when strong hands were at her waist, spreading the width of her back, a soft Woah, hey, take it easy, Beesly as his eyes widened in concern, finally snapping her from her trance. There were no doctors in their vicinity, and suddenly, the floor was disappearing from beneath her, his arms holding her protectively to his chest. Winding her hands behind his neck felt almost second nature as she curled her nose into his chest, but the scent of him, that spice and mint and a hint of lavender because he likes to steal my lotion even though he denies it only had her clinging to him harder.
What’s going on what’s going on what’s going ON?
His words, thick and soothing like honey in her ear, pulled her back to reality.
“Shh, hey, it’s okay. I’m going to go get the doctor. I probably wasn’t paying attention to how long we were walking around. It’s my fault. I’m sorry.”
His fault. His fault. As he set her down gently on the bed, smoothing her hair and tucking the blanket around her now shivering body, he had the audacity to think that this was his fault? She clutched at the edge of the blanket, willing the temperature of the room to skyrocket, when she heard a knock at the door. Probably Jim, returning with Dr. Livingston. This would be fun. Explaining to the doctor that she was physically fine, that she’d just had a mental breakdown would not be the slightest bit embarrassing.
But no. Peeking out from behind a bouquet of daisies was the pair of blue eyes that had stolen her heart over a pair of triangles.
“Hey, Pammy. Mind if I come in?”
I tried to write an entire chapter of this story without someone crying. I'm moderately proud of myself in my success.
Also, shoutout to Coley in here. See if you can find it.
Ahem. Buckle up.
Roy pushed his way past her door with his blue eyes hopeful and the lines in his face turned upwards, and with her head spinning and those blue eyes seeming to pull her into a trance of comfort and ease and this is your future, she let outstretched arms pull him to her chest, burying her nose in the line between his pecs.
“Hey,” he started with a sad laugh, “what’s going on?”
“I...I just...missed you.”
Though the words came with a sniffle, she found herself forcing them out, almost feeling guilty at her own lack of tears. This was Roy. It shouldn't be this difficult.
But it was different. His chest was harder, more defined, devoid of the comfort it had once nestled her in. His face, too, was thinner, sharp lines outlined by carefully manicured hair. She could still smell the lake on him, but it was oddly devoid of his typical post-lake wafting of alcohol on his breath and painted into his skin. She felt his chest heave against her in a sigh before he whispered I missed you too, Pam into her hair.
Dr. Livingston entered then with Jim closely in tow.
“Well, Ms. Beesly, I see we may have outdid ourselves already, huh?”
His smile was accusatory, reminiscent of the way her mother would look after catching young Pam with her hands in the cookie jar before they’d eaten dinner. When Roy pulled back, straightening his body with a slight cough, he stayed rooted to her side. The glance that passed between Roy and Jim worried Pam, as it spoke with tensed brows and large eyes. It was as if a standoff was ensuing right in the middle of her hospital room, and if that were the case, she wasn’t actually sure who she wanted to win that fight.
“I think what we’ll do is take your time down to ten minutes a session, accompanied by an orderly. You’re welcome to have one of your visitors accompany you, of course, but we’ll keep medical personnel involved just as a precaution. I’d also like to order a CAT scan tonight, just to be on the safe side. And then I’d like you in bed for the rest of the evening.”
It was like a prison sentence, so close and yet so far, all because of a lousy boat that was now proverbially flooding her thoughts. In the end, she decided to go it alone, leaving the two tense men to fend for themselves in her absence as she was wheeled to her scan, letting the waters of that night drown over her like a tidal wave. If she concentrated hard enough, she could see him, standing there on the deck of the boat, those eyes shining and hopeful, dipping into worry and doubt, and then hauntingly sombering.
She knew it was Jim, knew that in that moment, he was thinking about what he wanted to say in response to whatever their conversation had been. She felt reluctance in her chest, the guilt, the overwhelming congestion in her heart that didn’t know which way to turn.
Her CT was normal, but with elevated blood pressure causing unnecessary stress, she was advised to send her guests home for the evening and rest. She was torn though, as the men passed knowing glances back and forth, both seemingly trying to be the last ones in the room with her. She passed her own eyes back and forth slowly, this dynamic clearly the case for her rise in blood pressure.
It was odd, immensely so, as each of the two men knelt to embrace her before departing. Roy’s body around her was comforting and familiar with an ache that had certain parts of her heart jumping, but it was also stiff, reticent, and desperate maybe? He clutched her biceps before letting go, the look in his eyes full of sorrow and regret, contradictory to the way his lips were trying so hard to smile.
When Jim’s long arms wound their way around her, they were tentative at first, careful and reserved. But once her hands were up and under his arms and on the small of his back to return his embrace, she swore she felt an exhale of relief against her neck, the quick tightening of his arms, a small strangled sound in his throat, when she squeezed him back.
It was so sad, the way he hugged her as if he was afraid she would slip away. For that, she squeezed him once more for good measure, a tickle in the back of her mind slowly spelling out the word home.
Monday began bright and early with breakfast, pain meds (now on a lessened dose), and physical therapy--this time with an actual PT instead of James Halpert, M.D. It was frustrating to no end, the fact that she had to take frequent breaks during simple tasks like walking up and down the hallway, but she was determined to become a normally functioning human being again by Friday when she--hopefully--got to go home.
There was that word again.
It was Monday, four days away from potentially being released from the hospital, and she still didn’t know where exactly she’d end up when that time came.
It was a conversation thad unfolded when mom came to visit for lunch, Pam’s fingers twiddling in her lap as her mother picked at the salad she had brought.
“Are you excited to be out of this place?” Helene started between crunches.
“Definitely,” Pam said with a chuckle, eyes still fixed on her fingers rather than the stale bread of her barely touched sandwich. “I just...I want to be home.”
Her eyes fluttered closed on the word home, seeing several different places, different beds, different people. Mom and dad, Roy, Penny, no one, Jim.
It was Jim’s appearance that had her eyes popping open, the words jumping from her lips.
“Mom, where...I mean, who...How do I….? I can’t take care of myself when I get out of here, right? Like, I’m going to...need someone at first...”
Her eyes were pleading as Helene Beesly’s hand moved to cup her daughter’s cheek, the Pammy in this bed no different than the girl at five years old with the springy pigtails and the fever that kept her home from school.
“Oh, sweetheart, we’ll take care of everything, don’t you worry.”
“Yeah but...I mean, am I going to go...do you think I should go home with you, or back to my place with...Roy works a lot, and...do you think they’d give him the time off?”
Her mother’s eyes and expression were tentative, walking on eggshells like they’d all been doing since she had woken up. But setting her lips firm, she chose careful and decisive words.
“I think, under the circumstances, they would, but honey, I think it’s going to be in your best interests to...stay with your father and I for awhile. Come home, let us get you situated, and once you’re back on your feet, we’ll...we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it, okay?”
It wasn’t exactly the answer she’d wanted, but it gave her heart respite from the worry that had been lingering. She could put it off, at least for a little while longer.
Jim returned after lunch, which she was still wary of. He was taking half days? To come visit her in the hospital? Yet, here was Roy, absent and distant and running off to the lake and, well, not here. If he couldn’t give her--his fiance for crying out loud--the time of day while she was still in the hospital, would he truly be able to take care of her after? Maybe mom was right. Maybe it would be best for her to recuperate at home, her childhood home.
When Jim, always accompanied by a mystery bag, came with a larger package today, she was immediately pulled into a different sense of wondering.
“Hey,” he said, his smile soft, smoothing her worries like melting butter. “How’s the patient today? Any hallway catastrophes to report?”
“No,” she retorted, her eyes falling somewhere between embarrassed and Seriously, Jim? “I made it down the hallway and back in one piece, thank you very much.”
“Alright Beesly.” From across the room, he lifted one hand in the air. Somehow, her brain understood, and no sooner was her own hand up in the air than they were extending hands towards each other, the gesture clicking as they simultaneously dropped their arms.
Jim’s head dropped momentarily, in an attempt to hide the grin that was creeping around his cheeks, shaking slightly from side to side.
“So, I have to assume you’re probably exhausted from all of that physical exertion today?”
“Obviously,” she retorted, falling so easily into the wall of banter he’d presented her with so early on. To accompany her charade, she flung dramatically against her pillow, throwing an arm over her forehead. “God, Jim, walking up and down the hallway is just...I don’t know how you do it. Is there any way you could give me some pointers? Because I don’t think I can take this much longer.”
He chuckled, stationing himself at the opposite end of the room as he began digging through his large bag.
“I think something like that could be arranged. Just be cautioned though, last time I tried helping a patient in this hospital, I made her swoon so badly, she almost passed out.”
He glanced over his shoulder watching her expression fight between rolling her eyes and creeping with blush.
“But I’m glad that you’re zonked out, because my plan today fully relies on you being a zombie.”
When tangled cords wound up towards the TV, it made sense.
“Did you seriously cart a DVD player into my hospital room?”
“Did you sneak in something X-rated to keep us occupied?” she retorted with a waggle of her eyebrows.
“Not quite, although I could probably arrange that, if you’re up for it,” he said with breathy laughter, his hand casually rubbing at the back of his neck. “No, but, uh, I kind of took the liberty of making a little tape for you at work. Kind of like Flash Cards 6.0, I guess.”
He shrugged then, bringing the remote with him when he shut off the lights and settled into his chair.
“What, no popcorn?”
“You severely underestimate me, Beesly.”
After producing two bags of popcorn, and offering a smile and sheepish roll of the eyes, Jim pointed the remote at the DVD player and pressed PLAY.
Suddenly, flashing before her eyes, shaky camera angles and all, were the faces that he’d glued to multiplication cards, only now they had voices to match the inscribed personalities.
“Hey Pam, this is Oscar. I work in accounting here at Dunder Mifflin. You and I get along pretty well, actually. Don’t tell anyone else I said this, but I consider you one of the only other intellectuals here that can keep me sane. I hope you’re feeling better, and that your recovery is going smoothly. We can’t wait to have you back at work.”
The Latino man’s smile was warm and friendly, kind. Familiar.
“Wait this is for Pam, right? And she has no memory of who I am, right? Nice.” No sooner was the large bald man licking his lips and running a palm over his bald head than he was uttering, “Hey, Pam. This is...Johnny Depp. I’m on a break from filming some awesome movies with a ton of smokin’ hot babes right now, so I thought I’d take a shot at accounting.”
From somewhere behind the camera, Jim’s voice pleaded, “Kevin, come on man.”
The other man, Kevin, just giggled.
“Just kidding. This is Kevin. It sucks that you can’t remember anything. But I’ll definitely help you out when it comes to keeping reception stocked with candy. You usually do jelly beans, but sometimes you mix it up. I like it when you put those little Rolo things out. But Jim likes the jelly beans, so…”
He waggled his eyebrows, and as Jim ventured to the next patron, he turned the camera towards his own face, shaking his head with wide eyes.
“Oh my god! Pam! Pam, I miss you so so so much! Oh my god, we have so much to catch up on. So, Ryan--”
“Kelly, this is supposed to be about you.”
“Uh, Jim? This is about me. I haven’t even told the story yet.”
Behind the camera, she heard him mutter I didn’t bring enough tape for this, his breath hidden behind the high-pitched stories of Kelly.
“Hello, Pam. My name is Angela Martin. It is unfortunate to hear about your accident. I pray that you find your way to a speedy recovery. Can I go back to work now?”
With wide eyes, on-camera-Jim shrugged, as if to say, That’s Angela for you.
“Hey sweetie, this is Phyllis. We’re all gunning for you. I was so heartbroken to hear about your accident, but I know you’ve got plenty of people with you who love and support you. That Jim Halpert guy certainly seems to be taking special care.”
Her video diary ended with a wink, and the real-life-Jim next to her had his head turned slightly away from her as his hand crept to the back of his neck.
“Can you just say your name for the camera?”
“Stanley Hudson.” The deep voice that came from the annoyed looking black man suited him, she thought.
“Awesome. And what is it that you do here?”
“Pass the time until I can go home.”
“Spectacular. Anything you’d like to say to Pam?”
“Cherish the time that you have without your memories of this place, darlin’. Cherish it.”
The quirky guy, Andy, played his banjo, and their HR rep, Toby was all sorts of awkward, but there was something in him that she felt that she needed to hug.
And then, there was the one face whom she recognized and could pull consciously into focus, Michael Scott.
“Pamalama! Wow, this is weird, isn’t it? I haven’t been nervous around the cameras in forever, but now that it actually matters, I’m kind of afraid of saying something stupid. Anyway, this is your boss, Michael Scott speaking. Some might call me the master of comedy, others might call me the World’s Best Boss,” he said, gesturing to the mug of coffee in his hands. “Our young Jimbo here often refers to me his best friend forever.” On-camera-Jim turned the camera around for a split second, furiously shaking his head. “But we have a lot of fun in this office. And you’re a big part of that. It’s not the same without you here. Your sub, Ronnie? She’s terri--she’s not you. And we’re really pulling for you over here. So, get your rest and get better so I can see your pretty face every morning instead of that ugly mug. We really miss you, kiddo.”
She was then led on a guided tour of their office building, one she remembered visiting only twice: once when she had lunch with Roy and needed to grab a soda, and then for her actual interview. Although she was familiar with so many of the places he brought her to, it was just somehow better with that shaggy hair at the wheel, especially when he was giving her a thorough tour of the coffee mugs and who they each belonged to (apparently critical information, according to on-camera-Jim), and reminding her of little things like which clock ran ahead by four minutes (and therefore was the one to pay attention to).
By the end of the video, she was using her blanket to dab at her sniffling nose.
“Oh, god, I must be in the mood for embarrassing myself this week, apparently,” she said, taking the box of tissues that Jim was now offering.
“Hey, it’s okay,” he chuckled, feeling a surge of confidence as he reached up to lightly stroke her arm while she settled down.
She could only nod her head, offer a grateful smile, the realization dawning on her that You’re being way nicer than my fiance and I’m entirely unsure of how to react here might not quite be the appropriate response. But instead, on the subject of their workplace environment, she knit together a question that had been nagging her for some time.
“Hey, this might sound, I don’t know, weird, or random but have you...have you...seen Roy and I together? Like, at work?”
His eyebrows pinched in the middle, knowing that this Pam wouldn’t find Yup, and I’m still in the process of kissing that out of our systems, so could we maybe not go there? funny or charming. His face hardened as he chose his words carefully.
“Uhm, I mean, yeah, I have...in the past. He eats lunch with us sometimes, and he’ll come to get you at the end of the day if he finishes before you get downstairs, but uh...yeah. That’s it, I guess,” he finished with a nervous chuckle.
“Oh.” His answer made sense, but she wanted more, needed to continue digging. “So...how do I even word this? Uhm...how...how is he? How is Roy?”
“How is Roy? I don’t…” His hand was at the back of his neck again, and she was beginning to wonder if this was a nervous tick of his.
“Like, how is he...with me? How does he seem?”
Out of all the conversations they’d been having, explaining to Pam--Pam who thought she was still engaged to Roy--what her relationship with Roy looked like to an outsider--an outsider who just so happened to be in love with her--had not topped that list in the slightest. It dawned on him that this might be his chance to break through to her without really letting on to what was happening with her mental status, to show her, in no uncertain terms, that Roy didn’t treat her well in the past, connections to his current whereabouts solid proof of that fact. But he would have to be careful, which is where he let his apprehension lie.
“He seems...I don’t know, Pam. I mean, he comes to eat lunch with you sometimes, but he’s not...and then sometimes when he’s waiting for you to be ready to leave he’s really...Pam, honest to god?” She nodded, encouraging him with eyes and lips paused in worry. “He’s...not always the greatest. I know you’re...you’re engaged and everything, but I just...as your best friend? You deserve to be treated so much better.”
Her eyes glistened as her head bobbed slowly, wanting, needing him to continue.
“There have been times when the three of us will be having lunch, and it’s almost like, like you’re not there. Like, his comments are off the wall, Pam. ‘Set my sandwich down because I’m kind of disgusted’ off-putting. Or, he’ll find someone else to talk to, and you just...Pam, you get this look on your face, and it kills me. Like he came up here to spend twenty minutes with you and he can’t even give you that much. And you don’t say anything about it because you know it will start a fight and it just...it breaks my heart, Pam. You should have so much more than that.”
She could hear it in his voice, the way the sadness ripped him apart, but it was the look in his eyes that really solidified everything. He looked so little, so much like a child in that moment of large, wide eyes and a new, chilling softness coloring his cheeks. The innocence of fear and utter dejection at her pain cast a shine over his eyes, a slight pale in his cheeks, as if her suffering sucked his life, too.
She shuddered at the thought, trying to piece together a life where another man was so pained by her mistreatment that his heart was breaking. It was odd, too, that in just three months, Roy had gone from seemingly perfect to this bad. Was Jim exaggerating? She had no recollections to prove either way, but there was something fuzzy about all that was going on.
Sure, Roy hadn’t always been the most perfect man for the seven years that they’d been together. He left her in Wilkes-Barre on their first date, enjoyed his liquor, and had a foul mouth. Her parents weren’t his biggest fan, and his sister positively loathed him. But they didn’t know the real Roy. The man who had bought her a tiara from the Dollar Tree, and held her hand in the hallway on their way to classes even when the cheerleaders were giving them all nasty grins, and held her tenderly when they made love.
As those thoughts cascaded, so too did a still small voice that reminded her that, while most of those memories were nice, they were all from their days at Valley View High, when the brick walls of a school building defined their lives, Friday football games and homecoming dance pictures reminding everyone of their status. It was when they hit the real world that she saw his true colors shining past the reminders that she tried to front that This was the future.
So he enjoyed the nightly beer or three? Didn’t many?
He swore like a sailor, but it was most often when his friends were around, so did it matter? Did it matter more that his friends were always around?
Or more, when they weren’t around, because he was leaving her to be with them instead?
Jim’s words hung heavy, Set my sandwich down because I’m disgusted and breaks my heart and more than that.
But what more could there possibly be?
She was engaged to be married. She had a home. She had a career--well, not quite a career, but a job that provided them with income enough to live comfortably.
Maybe not comfortably, but they had a roof over their heads and food and running water and heat in the winter, didn’t they?
Eventually, after the wedding, they would have a family, and she would have a bunch of littler Roy’s that loved her. Little Roy’s who learned how to hock a loogie before they could speak in full sentences, probably, and whose dirt bikes would tear up her front lawn. But wasn’t that what being a mother of boys was all about?
The silkiness in his words, their warm timbre, pulled her from her twister of thoughts, his Hey, you okay in there? presented with a warm smile that contradicted the sadness that still painted his eyes.
She sniffled again, closing her eyes as she managed a tight smile.
“Yeah, yeah, sorry. I just...I’m trying so hard to remember all of this, Jim.”
To remember a time when Roy would be so terrible to me that it would put that look on someone’s face.
“...and it's like I can feel it in there…”
I can feel that something isn’t right...
“It’s like a, a sneeze is built up inside of me and I just need to go...I don’t know, snort some pepper or something.”
...and I so desperately need to put the puzzle together that it’s painful.
“It sucks. It’s hard. But this gave me so much, and I don’t want you to think I’m not grateful, because I so totally am.”
He was grinning behind eyes that still spoke his truth of frustration and hurt, her words obviously still wrecking him inside.
“Oh, you so totally are? Are we back in high school, Beesly? Because I’m pretty sure you’re just faking this injury to get out of the basketball unit in gym, and until you have a legitimate doctor’s note, I’m going to be giving you some serious stink eye from the court.”
She snorted, countlessly thankful for his uncanny ability to brighten her mood.
When her eyes fluttered, he patted his thighs, stretching from the chair.
“I should probably let you rest for a little bit, but hey, on the subject of high school, I almost forgot.”
Out of his Mary Poppins bag, he pulled a folded bundle of clothing, handing them to her with a grin and a shrug.
“I figured these would be way comfier than that stupid gown.”
She simply shook her head, chuckled, as he surprised her again that afternoon. He waved as he left the room to let her change and rest, not releasing his held breath until he was safely in the waiting room.
It was a bold move for sure, to give her one of his t-shirts from high school. He knew that she preferred the ones with his last name on the back, but that would have been a total can of worms he wasn't yet prepared for, and neither was she. He opted instead for the maroon tee, CONFERENCE CHAMPIONS 1994 emblazoned in gold at the chest. It was still sitting folded on her bed when he’d keyed into his apartment that morning, so he’d taken it as a sign.
Sure enough, she was entirely curious when, after putting on her black yoga pants, the t-shirt that he’d given her was entirely foreign. Roy played basketball. Roy went to Valley View. But here, as she pulled the worn cotton over her head, a scent that was so familiar and yet so startling choked her senses, a warm fuzzy tingling spreading from each nerve ending.
All at once, she was transported to a bed that wasn’t hers, a chest that wasn’t Roy’s, but a voice at her ear that had become all too familiar in weeks past whispering God, this is so surreal, and I love you so much and I don’t think I’ve ever been happier in my life than I am right now.
The flashes that had come thus far were hazy, fuzzy around the edges, blobs at best. But this was so inherently different, sharp images of messy chocolate hair and bright green eyes and that smile curving so lopsided around his cheeks as he peered at her from a distance close enough for their noses to touch. And that smell, that smell that was spicy and minty, with chocolate on his breath from their dessert, was so potent that she had to look frantically around the room to be sure a new stimulus hadn’t entered her environment.
It was Jim.
It was so obviously Jim, his t-shirt under her cheek, his smile so close to hers, the tickle of his hair on her forehead.
His arms wrapped around her so warmly, his legs encasing her body, the heat that was present not necessarily stemming from the fact that they were both fully pajama-ed and tucked under a comforter.
It was a memory, her first vivid memory, and all she could do was sit in terror.
The terror that she couldn’t place it.
The terror that she had this memory of lying in bed, with Jim, when she was still engaged to Roy.
The terror that she wasn’t feeling remorse.
Her worries exhausted her into a fitful rest until later that afternoon when blue eyes sat across from her.
She could just ask him, as awkward as that would be.
Have you been distant because I cheated on you?
Is this why you and Jim keep looking at each other like you kicked each other’s puppies?
What happened to us, Roy?
But instead, it was How was the lake?
And the answer she received gave her everything she needed, and more than she bargained for.
“It was fun, I guess...I mean...no, that’s a lie.” He chuckled, hanging his head, as she pinched her eyebrows and felt the tingling spread from her head to her fingertips.
“I spent the whole time thinking about you, Pam. How I should be here, and not on a goddamn jetski.”
He was hanging his head now, shaking it back and forth, his hands clasped between spread knees.
“God I...I fucked it up, Pammy. I fucked it all up. This...I don’t deserve you, ya know? I just...I want to prove that I can.”
The puzzle became fuzzier still. He messed things up? What did Roy have to do with it? The guilt was still mounting, a tightness in her throat making her words strangled.
“Roy what are you--”
“I’m so sorry, Pam. For...god, for everything. I didn’t...I spent so much time not even seein’ you. I took you for granted so much, and all you ever did was try to make it right. And I threw that all away. God, even after...even after what happened with Melissa, you let me back in, and god knows I didn’t deserve that.”
“Wh...what are you talking about?”
Roy's stream of consciousness was wrecked, like a rowboat in a tsunami. She knew all too well that she and Roy had their fair share of problems, but didn’t every relationship? As the lines in his forehead shifted from apologetic to tension and regret, something was obviously wrong. But what it was, she couldn't tell.
Melissa happened six months after they’d gotten the jobs at Dunder Mifflin. Six months after he’d met the warehouse guys and starting frequenting that bar several times in a week. Six months after he let the guys talk him into needing to hit something else before he got hitched and branching out from mousy little Pammy Beesly.
Six months after her memories came to an abrupt halt.
His words were choked, eyes wide like saucers as he tried desperately to reign in those words, send them back across the universe where they belonged. But it was too late.
Her face was red hot, palms tingling under fingernails that clenched, a pressure she couldn’t even feel as too much too much too much mounted within.
“Roy, who’s Melissa?”
He sat, mouth agape, grasping at open air as his eyes shifted rapidly from side to side.
“I...god, Pammy, I...you knew though. Before the accident, you...you knew. We talked...I…”
“What do you mean I knew?”
Her voice was growing now, heat in her words as she sat up straighter in bed, wires becoming tangled with every move she made.
“You...I mean...fucking christ almighty, I just fucked this all over, didn’t I?”
He didn’t seem to be speaking to her anymore, as he shot out of the chair, hands clutching either side of his head as the color drained to his feet, his body shooting into the air as he began to pace.
“ROY.” She was shouting now, the beeping in her heart monitor quickening in a pace that she ignored.
“I...Pammy, I swear, we didn’t...it was the doctor’s idea! I didn’t even want to do this! You gotta believe me on that, I wanted nothing to...with Halpert and all...but Pammy, you knew. You...you saw it happen.”
His voice broke on that last phrase, the one that cut through at the same depth as it was the doctor’s idea and with Halpert and all. Was Jim involved in this little charade, too? As blood boiled behind her eyes and flushed her cheeks, she needed answers before her head truly popped.
“I saw. What. Happen?”
His sigh was equal parts pleading and defeat, palms prone towards the sky as his lips pulled downward in protest.
The look he gave Jim as a tall body edged through the partially open door was dually Save me, please and I fucked this up, dude.
“Hey, is...everything okay in here?”
Their twisted expressions were answer enough, but Jim needed to pry, to discover why her voice had just ripped through the hallways, causing heads to peek out of doors four rooms over.
“Uh, Halpert, man…”
“I want you out.” Her voice cut like a razor, both sets of eyes darting to her face to discover which one of them she was actually talking about.
“Both of you. Out. I want the doctor. And I want my mom.”
It was Jim’s soft Pam that was cut off by her sharpness, Please. Just. Now, and he took it upon himself, with eyes soft but alert, to head out of the room.
The way her eyes bunched together and her mouth was situated into sharp, downward angles screamed anger, frustration. But her eyes told a different tale, one of immense fear, as she stared into the equally petrified eyes of a man who was clearly hiding something.
In her impatience, the feeling of desperation, the haziness of it all, she was somehow pressing the call button for the nurse repeatedly, maybe somewhere in there yelling for her mother, and a flurry of concerned bodies were suddenly in her doorway, obtuse behind frustrated tears, but there all the same.
The Ms. Beesly’s? and Is everything alright’s? and Sweetheart, what happened’s? were too loud, too insistent, and she pinched her eyes shut, her lips pursed, as she somehow managed I want to know what’s going on in a voice that sounded to her own ears like she was underwater.
Knowing glances and parted lips happened in slow motion, as an amalgam of phrases and words entered her consciousness.
Things like retrograde amnesia, loss of memories, best course of treatment, doing what we thought was best leaked from their mouths like betrayal.
But it was three years that had the nurse wrapping an oxygen mask around her nose and mouth as her body sank lifelessly to the bed, twitching uncontrollably as the sobs ripped from her tired lungs into the walls of Geisinger-Community Hospital.
Phew. That was a doozy. Reviews are kindly welcomed :)
I think my favorite thing about writing is when the work takes you by the fingers and types itself. This idea was nowhere on my radar, and yet here it is, weaving its way through the rest of my story. I hope you like it :)
The jealousy panged in his gut like a suckerpunch, one that truly didn’t belong anymore, as he watched Halpert’s shoes disappear into her room. By lunch, he hadn’t so much as moved a box of paper, and feigning illness, he was out the door and parking his truck in the now familiar lot at Geisinger Community’s trauma center. But with his hands stuffed in his pockets as he followed the white and blue tiles to Room 172, the heels of black Nike’s beat him to the punch. He rounded the corner as Halpert’s shoes disappeared past her doorway.
He hadn’t meant to eavesdrop or pry or whatever, and made a certified lap around the building to the vending machine and back after he watched Halpert press play on a DVD, feeling kind of awkward and imposing. But, sitting with his knees spread wide as he waited outside her opened door, he couldn’t help but clench his fists at the soft words that tiptoed out the doorway.
He knew he had been a terrible fiance. He knew he was inattentive and rude, boorish and vulgar. He didn’t treat her the way she deserved to be treated when she was his, the way he had when they were younger. He’d taken advantage of what he had with her, and made assumptions about what it meant to spend forever with someone, to give your whole heart to another rather than taking theirs hostage and remaining only self-involved. It was how he had lost her.
What he didn’t need was for all of his transgressions to hit his ears at the lips of another. Halpert’s words were harsh and stinging, a blow to the head. And with all of those things fresh in her ears, he figured it was the best opportunity he had to say he was sorry, to truly make up for every moment he had spent being less than she deserved. But there he went, his mouth running away faster than his brain could catch up. He slipped. Right into the mud. Like when the four-wheeler would get caught in a hidden ditch, the tires flinging the slick stuff everywhere. She’d always hated cleaning the stains out of his jeans. She’d always done it, but her eye roll was undeniable each time he’d come home covered from head to toe in brown sludge.
But this time her eyes weren’t rolling. No. They were bulging, the tiny veins creeping red on her irises as she asked him for the second time in their lives Roy, who’s Melissa? It had sucked the first time. But she’d walked in on them, so there wasn’t really much to explain, more than where they’d met and, well, why. She spent two weeks at her parents’ place, came back, and after he spent a little time groveling, she said she would come back, so long as he promised it wouldn’t happen again.
And it didn’t.
Not to the Pam whose memory was still in tact, who had shoved those things away and buried them well enough to still plan a wedding with him until she finally came to her senses and ditched him for a guy who would treat her right.
But to this Pam, the one who thought they were happy new homeowners who would spend their evenings picking color schemes and first dance songs and planning menus? It was all a fresh wound, adding to the ones that were finally beginning to heal on her cheeks.
He was making her relive quite possibly the worst part of their relationship all over again.
But this time, instead of sending her out the door in tears to her mother’s place across town, it sent her into some sort of convulsive state, where she couldn’t catch her breath, and the monitors around her were beeping like crazy, and her face was turning a shade of purple that cast a weird glow on her bruises. He never meant to cause her pain, but this was so much different. This had him crying and breathless and running from the room, both because he’d been banished and because the air in the room seemed to immediately thin. It didn’t even register that Halpert was outside the doors wheezing too, his own face blotchy and pinched while doctors and family alike tried to calm Pam naturally until sedation was the only option.
He once thought that his biggest regret in letting down Pam was by being dishonest, was cheating for over two months and getting caught and not doing everything in his power to make her believe it wouldn’t happen again. But now, with gravel from the hospital parking lot kicking around his ankles, he realized that he’d been wrong all along. His biggest regret was not loving her enough in the first place.
He’d never seen her like this.
Shades of purple so haunting beneath the oxygen mask, the cries from her throat almost barbaric, eyes burning when her tears were finally dried up and spent. They had to hook some sort of sedative to her IV, one that made her eyes roll back in her head as she slunk lifeless into stiff white cotton, a sight that almost had him reaching for the mask.
On the other side of the doorway, though, he was too far. Too far to help silence her cries and justify the lies and apologize until his lungs were dry and his lips were blue. His daily pledge to her was that he do her no harm, that he spend every waking second of his life showing her what it truly meant to be loved. Now, his actions were hanging in opposition. Despite the doctor’s decision, and what medicine and logic said would be right for her, he had done the very thing he had set out not to do.
She was in more pain now, possibly, than she had been throughout her entire hospital stay.
And he was to blame.
Torn between shoving through the door to her room to plead his sorrow at her feet and shoving through the doors of intensive care into oncoming traffic, he settled for taking a walk, his path aimless as he trekked through the hallways of the hospital that had quickly become familiar in his daily routine. He passed several elevator banks, opting instead for a staircase that would take him to the common area where vending machines and kiosks galore would await. But he wasn’t hungry, couldn’t stomach even the thought of food.
So he pressed on, his feet heavy but quick as he paced the halls, hearing stray coughs and moans, incessant beeping and the sounds of quick feet and shouting when a crash part blew past him. Down a left turn and two quick rights, he heard infants crying and gurgling, camera shutters snapping photo after photo. A nursery. He approached the glass, his fingers tapping as fleeting images from a future they might never have churned in his gut.
He felt as though he’d walked miles, the weight of his afternoon finally pressing down on him, shoving his rear end into a chair and his head into his hands, the beginnings of grease peppering his scalp unnoticed to fingertips that still were still numb and tingling.
He must have dozed, his head hunched between his legs, his back bent low at and awkward angle, because all of a sudden, he was being shaken back into consciousness by a hand so small, he was almost uncertain it was present on his knee.
“Hey. Mister? You’re snoring.”
The voice was insistent, raspy but high pitched, and as he blinked his eyes open, the frown and pinched eyebrows matched the annoyance. She couldn’t have been more than five years old, and the mass of blonde curls was wild and untamed, much like the personality that was already oozing from her rainbow striped leggings.
Still stunned, Jim shook sleep from his eyes and ears, blinked the sand away, and managed something like Huh? that had the little girl pointing at his nose, her eyes scrunched and her chin jutted forward.
“You were snoring. I can’t hear the TV. And Nurse Johnson gets real mad if I put it any higher than 8 this late. I already have it at 8.”
With her hands on her hips, the remote sticking out from her left, he had to chuckle in spite of himself, apologizing quietly as he twisted in the chair to stretch his back, blink his eyes rapidly, take in his surroundings. It was another clone of a waiting room, not unlike the one he had already grown accustomed to in another part of the hospital. Bland enough for him to settle into a memory of Pam, sitting on the couch in his apartment with the TV remote in hand, volume pushing on 40 before he covered his ears and winced.
“Beesly? Are you deaf?”
Her eyes didn’t even waver from the television, her lips pursed in concentration as Sawyer and Kate bickered in the jungle about one thing or another.
“You make a better door than a window.”
She cocked her head, doing her best to see around his thin frame as he stood in front of the sizeable screen.
“Seriously, my neighbors can hear this. Edna and Greg are like, in their nineties. I don’t think they watch Lost. You’re probably going to wake them up. They go to bed at like 5:30,” he said, his fingers already wrapped around the remote to wrench it from her fingers and turn down the volume.
“Hey! Now I can’t hear!”
With eyes wide, he turned to face her, Pam’s eyes still trained intently on the fictional program.
“Pam, do we need to get you outfitted for hearing aids--”
“Shh! Jim. Seriously. It’s Lost night.”
With his eyebrows quirked, he laughed--as quietly as he could--shaking his head as he settled into the corner of the couch with his arm resting along its back. As soon as he was settled, she scooted her body into the crook of his arm, her head finding his shoulder without a word spoken. Without her gaze wavering from the TV. What he thought was a move to hold his hand had him quirking his eyebrow as her fingers snaked over his on the remote to bump the volume back up to thirty-seven. He watched the mass of curls atop her head shift when the air puffed in his chest from a chuckle, murmuring, “If this is how it’s going to be for the rest of my life, I’m going to invest in a pair of headphones” into her mane with a soft kiss quick to follow.
Eventually, his eyes settled back on the little girl, her feet kicking the air where they failed to meet the floor from where she sat two chairs over, her eyes glued to the television as a blonde teenage girl sang on stage, some annoying kids’ pop song that he would have to beat out of his head later that night with his own earbuds. Her head was cocked to one side, her gaze intent as the kid show drama played out. As soon as the commercial hit, without pulling her eyes from the screen that was mounted into the ceiling, she said, “You know, they have extra beds that they can put in the rooms. Daddy got one so that when we visit mommy, he can sleep over sometimes.”
It was so much, and almost too much in the seconds it took for her to speak, for him to process. This little girl, seemingly alone in the waiting room of a hospital, on disciplinary terms with the nurses. Her mother in the hospital. Her father having sleepovers, just to be close. His worries were suddenly so small. When he found his voice, it was rough and scratchy.
“Oh-oh, really? You must come here a lot if your daddy sleeps over sometimes.”
He didn’t know how to ask, how to pry into the life of a child without the words Stranger Danger flashing above his head, so he waited for her to come to him.
“Yeah. Well, kind of. Mommy’s here all the time. She doesn't get to leave. So sometimes I come with daddy, and sometimes grandma and grandpa come and get me so I can go to soccer practice.”
“Oh. That sounds…” Fun? No. Interesting? She’s a kid, Halpert. “Well, I...I get it. Definitely not the most fun thing in the world to do.”
“You’re tellin’ me.” The way her eyes rolled, her voice hitched in a sarcastic tone, had him loosening up a bit.
But in his quest not to pry, he coughed in their silence, focused his attention on the program that he now recognized, thanks to his niece, as Hannah Montana. The characters were annoying, the songs likewise, but the little girl seemed intent on focusing all of her attention to the plot, her legs kicking all the while, the remote clasped between both hands in her lap.
“So why are you here?”
She was blunt, but not forceful, her head tentatively turning at a forty-five degree angle to see him from the corner of her eyes as another commercial played. It was all he had left to stop his face from scrunching, submitting to tears and breaking down in front of a child whose mother was bedridden somewhere. As he gathered his thoughts, the best way to explain this to a child, she interrupted him with, “Is your mommy having a baby, too?”
He chuckled, tension dissipating quite a bit at the thought of his mother at fifty-seven years old bearing another child. It also made him a little nauseous, but that was beside the point, especially when it clicked in his head that her mom was not only being hospitalized, but that this little girl’s new baby brother or sister could possibly be in danger, too.
“No, no, my, uh...my mommy is not having a baby. But that must be exciting for you, right? Is this your first time being a big sister?”
Her yes came with a puff of air, a sigh that told him she was less than thrilled. But he didn’t have to pry, as the words continued to tumble out. “It was exciting, until the baby made mommy sick. Now I’m just mad at it.”
With the layers of the onion peeling away, Jim continued to connect dots, to put distance between this little girl and his own peril.
“I’m sure the baby didn’t make your mommy sick on purpose,” he offered with a shrug. “It is just a baby, after all.”
She seemed to contemplate this for a moment, her chin perched in her fingers while her lips pursed and her eyes found the tiles in the ceiling.
“Okay, yeah, but, what if,” she began, her pointer finger jutting high above her head as her tiny mind formulated a theory, “what if the baby is just trying to get a head start? Like it’s trying to hog mommy from me before it even comes out? My best friend Peyton said that her new little baby brother-- Hold on, Hannah Mom-tana is back.”
And the moments from TV show to commercial seemed nonexistent, as she picked up right where she left off.
“...was so annoying when he was borned. Her mommy even brought a bed into his room! Can you believe it? I’m not about to give up my nigh-night story for a crying baby.”
Her lip furled outward in a pout at the same moment that her arms crossed, the remote now folded under her armpit.
“Hey now,” he chuckled, remembering his own fears about Larisa being born and his status as “baby of the family” being revoked. “Babies aren’t that bad. I had a baby sister growing up.”
Her angle changed now, so that her head would have to actively turn to see the television.
“Really really. I was about four when she was born--”
“Hey I’m four, too!”
His smile was warm, watching her hazel eyes light up, her legs tuck underneath her body so that she was sitting on her knees now.
“Did she try to make your mommy sick so that she could steal her?”
His head dropped, but only for a moment.
“No. No, she definitely didn’t do that. But, uh, I do remember that when my mommy’s tummy was really, really big, she couldn’t hold me on her lap anymore.” He watched then as the little girl’s eyes grew serious, her head nodding in agreement as he spoke. “And I was so, so mad that some other kid wasn’t letting me cuddle with my mom. I even had this plan to sell her away when she was born so that she couldn’t take my mom from me.”
She looked shocked, on the edge of How could you do that?! and Wait here while I grab a notebook and pen, but he pressed on when she asked, “So, what did you do?”
“Well, I stayed mad for quite awhile. But then one day, my dad said that it was time for mom to have the baby. I saved up a bunch of price tags from our bananas so I could put them on her once she came out but then...She was just so small. And so cute. And I got to sit on my mommy's lap again to hold her, and when I looked down at her, I swear to you, she smiled at me. And when she smiled? Man, I knew that it was going to be my job to protect her. I had to be there for her, be her big brother. It’s one of the most important jobs I’ve ever had.”
He looked on as her bottom sank onto her calves, her gaze disappearing to think. Despite the return of her show, her attention now focused solely on Jim.
“So, did you do it? Did you ‘tect her?”
“Oh, yeah, absolutely. I tried my best anyways. There were times when she fell of her bike and skinned her knee, or some kid was mean to her at school, and I felt really bad, like I wasn't doing my job. But then, I had the best job of making her laugh again. I mean, can you believe that that gets to be you pretty soon?”
Despite wary eyes, her lips began to quirk upward at one corner.
“Yeah. Yeah that does sound pretty cool.”
She settled back into her regular seated position then, eyes back on Hannah Montana, but her questions found no bounds now, as she spoke over a musical number.
“Hey, you beat up the bush!”
He pushed air quickly through his nose in both laughter and query.
“You beated up the bush. That’s what daddy says I do when he asks who made the mess in the bathroom and I don’t answer him.”
It took a minute, but he nodded in the realization that he’d been caught.
“Why are you here?”
He took another deep breath, looked up to the ceiling, and turned his attention towards the little girl with the golden curls.
“My um..I...You have a mommy and a daddy, right?”
“And they’re married?”
“Well I...I’m not married yet, but I do have a girlfriend. Kind of like your mommy and daddy, but we’re not married yet.”
His thumbs twiddled in his lap.
“So you’re gonna get married?”
Staring down at his fidgeting fingers, he quirked a smile. “Hopefully, yeah.”
“Is she having baby?”
“No. No, she’s uh...she’s definitely not having a baby,” he chuckled, reminiscing on the month and a half that they’d been dating, and their mutual agreement to take things slow. It would be physically impossible for her to be pregnant. For the time being, he was okay with that.
“So why is she in the hopstickle?”
Here, he waited, deep in thought, processing the best way that he could explain all of this to a four year old. He thought of his niece Vanessa and how she didn’t quite understand great-grandpa’s passing at three years old. He thought of conversations had with Sasha, feeling so out of place when he had to remind her that momma and daddy still both loved her very much, even though daddy had a new house and momma had a new man living with her.
“She uh...she was in a bad car accident. Someone...another car crashed into hers and...she hurt her head pretty badly.”
It seemed to work well enough, the little girl’s Oh seeming to stem from understanding, shock, sorrow all at once.
“Yeah,” he continued, as if affirming that yes, this was his current truth, a reminder of sorts. “So. She’s on another floor right now until her head gets better.”
“So what are you doing up here watching Hannah Mom-tana?”
The little girl’s tone right now was almost a mockery. What are you doing here, Jim? Pam’s in the recovery wing and you’re in the maternity ICU watching the Disney Channel? Pathetic.
“Oh. She’s uh...she’s resting right now. You need a lot of rest when you have an owie on your head.” He tapped his temple twice, closing one eye to emphasize his point.
“But daddy stays with mommy when she rests.”
He was backed into a corner. This little girl was a spitfire, for sure, as she interrogated him, made him question his intent, scrap up a defense in his own honor, before he realized that the words he was preparing might break him.
“I...she...sometimes, when people...bonk their heads, they...they have trouble remembering things. She...she doesn’t remember me.”
It was the first time he’d spoken those words out loud. She doesn’t remember me. Doesn’t remember who I am. Has no recollection of the years we’ve spent together. His voice broke, despite his best efforts to keep the dam from flooding in front of this innocent little bean.
Her small Oh pushed through the cracks more, and it took his every effort to push back the tears and suck back the snot and keep a little girl from witnessing a mental breakdown.
This was a bad idea. Telling all of this to a little kid? A four year old? He was probably traumatizing her. She was already dealing with bedridden mother, and now, she was probably going to have nightmares about her parents forgetting her--
“Grandma doesn’t remember me sometimes.”
And there it was.
“A lot of times, she calls me Annie. That’s my mommy’s name.”
Her eyes flitted downward, but only for a split second.
“And daddy says that it’s not her fault, and that she still loves me. He says the dementors don’t like her memories, so they try to trick her. But the medicine is supposed to fight them. But he said that her heart really still loves me, so even though her words are silly sometimes, I should do my best job to remind her that I love her. That’s one of my jobs at home. My other job is cleaning my room and picking up the dog poop. Which I hate.”
As a self-proclaimed sap, he wasn’t surprised to find tears in his eyes, but he flicked them back with his fingers, not wanting to appear weak in the eyes of this little girl.
“Daddy says it’s okay to cry, too. He said it’s okay to feel sad, but to remember to still be strong for mommy. So we shouldn’t cry in front of mommy, ‘cause we don’t wanna stress her out. Even though I don’t know what that means.”
She shrugged then, slipping out of her chair to the table that sat in the middle of the U-shaped arrangement of chairs to bring him a box of tissues. He sniffled, a chuckled Thanks beating past his smile as he dabbed at his nose and eyes.
They watched the next show in contented silence, something about a teenager who could see the future but made a mess of things trying to stop it. Eventually, she toddled away, down the hall without so much as a goodbye. He didn’t have time to be disappointed when she returned a minute later with an armload of books.
“Wanna read to me? Daddy’s sleeping. He was up a long time last night because baby was really sick, so I don’t wanna wake him up.”
Jim nodded slowly, his grin soft and warm as she climbed into the chair next to him. They breezed through four different books, the character voice that he used so often with his nieces and nephews and Sasha Flenderson rusty but finding its way with each page that was read. When a pair of shoes entered the room, attached to a man who was yawning widely and rubbing one eye with a closed fist, she jumped from the chair and straight into his arms.
“Hey, princess. What are you doing, bothering this poor man?”
Jim shook his head at the man’s, presumably her father’s, apologetic gaze over the top of her head, curls so high they met his line of sight.
“She wasn’t bothering me,” Jim assured him, collecting the books as he watched the little girl yawn against the crook of her father’s shoulder.
“Yeah, dad. I wasn’t bothering him. He’s here with a sick friend, too.”
“Oh, really? Well, maybe when we go to the chapel for mommy and baby, we can say an extra prayer.”
Her head bobbed up and down frantically, the father’s stare apologetic in a new way as he spoke to Jim.
“That would be great. Thank you. Uh, likewise.”
As he shoved his hands in his pockets, the little girl and her father turning to leave, her head sprang up as she all but yelled, “Wait! I don’t know your name. How are we s’possed to pray if we don’t know your name?”
He smiled them, her innocence a welcome change to the hell he’d been through as of late.
“I’m Jim. And uh, my girlfriend’s name is Pam.”
“Jim and Pam,” she repeated. “Got it.”
“And I can pray for Annie and baby, right?”
“Yup, Annie and baby,” she nodded. “Baby doesn’t have a name yet, because we don’t know if it’s a boy or a girl. If it’s a girl, I want to name her Princess Sparkles Unicorn. And if it’s a boy, I’m sending it back to the Stork.”
Both men shared a much needed laugh then, as Jim shook hands, learning that Annie was married to Ben and that he would be in their prayers, both men promising to say hi if they saw each other around the hospital. These walls could be a drag, it was nice to have support, and all that jazz. As they turned to leave again, it was Jim who stopped the little family.
“I don’t think I caught the big sister’s name. She could probably use a prayer too,” he offered.
“I’m Cece. Cecelia Marie.”
Hi. Remember when I had 3 WIPs going at once and I thought I could handle that AND the start of a new school year. HA. THINK AGAIN, ME!
But anyways. We finally had a lazy weekend, and I remembered that I had a lil baby of a story here that I wanted to add to. Hope y'all enjoy it :)
She was drowning in a black sea, the curly white of the word Betrayal swimming around her in intricate patterns, beckoning like a Siren only to choke the life from her eyes. But being under the surface was a much better alternative to the open eyes of reality, the pang of eggshell white and beeping machines that screamed in constant reminder, Three years, three years, three years.
It all made sense now: the lines on their faces dug deeper, the hardness in their stares and the way their words were trapped in sporadic vice grips that only made anomalous sounds come out when she asked imperative questions like Why are you staring at me like that? and Why is Jim always here? and Who’s Melissa?
After doctors and nurses and interns and moms and Penny’s and Jim’s and Roy’s had all been purged, sedatives became her new best friend, numbing her mind from the painful reality that she had finally (finally?) been awoken to. It wasn’t a high or a low, but the feeling of being positively desensitized to any stimuli that dare threaten to make her see, to make her feel, to make her be anything more than lying immobile, letting the bright white of the ceiling tiles bleach her eyes until the veins were spidering, begging for release.
She wasn’t aware of how much time had passed between finding out and mental breakdown and numb numb numb to now. Looking at a clock, at a reminder of time and time passed and all that time lost would surely send her senses into overdrive, would start her right at the beginning. So instead, she refused to look ostensibly like a petulant child, her body dramatically turned to face the wall, away from the door so that she wouldn’t be able to see the seconds continuing to tick away, more time wasted to add to her growing pile of three years three years three years. Because if a tree fell in the forest and no one was around to hear it, did it even make a sound? Or something like that.
Doctors and nurses came and went, and their service she couldn’t rightly refuse, but she did her best to be as still as possible without outrightly refusing their attempts to check her blood pressure and shine an annoying light in her eyes. She let them lift her arms and check her bandages and poke and prod without much help from her end, limbs limp, and though not necessarily restraining, not making things much easier either.
Her room was under strict orders (from her, now that she had all the details) to not, under any circumstances, let either of those men so much as squeak a sneaker anywhere near her doorway. She’d managed that much, upon waking up and being asked how she was feeling (How was she feeling? Oh, I don’t know, maybe like someone had just pulled a rug out from under her feet, only beneath the rug was a canyon that didn’t end but simultaneously had the floor constantly hitting her in the face. A floor that was probably on fire), but aside from that, her throat was raw and red and not up for much more than the occasional grunt when some medical personnel would ask her to move an assorted body part or rate her pain on a scale of one-to-ten (the pain is gone. It’s literally. All. Numb).
When mom came back with red rimmed eyes and a nose that was a constant drip of wetness, Pam didn’t even have the decency to think of any description other than pathetic. She almost felt bad for her Mom, if you’re just going to sit here and cry, maybe you should go.
Maybe she’d feel bad about it later. Maybe she’d feel something later.
Dad wasn’t much better than he was back in the day, when she was a teenager and would come home with boy problems. It was almost formulaic, the grunt, “we only want what’s best for you Pammy,” cock-of-the-head, shrug. This was no different. Aside from the fact that, this time, she wasn’t getting the car keys taken away for being out at Roy’s past curfew, or being told she couldn’t go to art school in the city. No, no, no. This time, she was being conspired against. And not just by her family, but by the whole slew of ‘em. Family, friends, doctors she didn’t even know. People she didn’t even know.
Somehow, in the depths of her hurt, this one seemed to hurt more than the rest.
And, quite frankly, she couldn’t put her finger on why.
It made sense, to be upset that someone you had just gotten to know had actually been lying to you the whole time. Someone whose trust you valued, literally taking it between his hands and crumbling it like a cookie. But this was inherently different. Because she knew him.
She just didn’t remember him.
Which made this whole ordeal that much worse.
She’d had her fair share of fights with mom and dad. Sibling spats were inevitable.
But then there was Jim, the only memories of him being in this hospital or coming in weird flashes, like a broken stained glass window with only patches of light breaking through with no real pattern, like boats and cheerleaders and grilled cheese sandwiches and cuddling in bed in his t-shirt.
The one that he had given her just...today? Yesterday?
She’d slept for almost an entire day, according to the date on the whiteboard whose blue letters had changed from Monday to Tuesday. It was almost taunting, the big, loopy lines that read Patient Name: Pamela Beesly; Status: Post-Op Brain Surgery; Today’s Plan: PT and rest; Notes: Goal! Home on Friday! :)
She surely wasn’t smiling anymore, was almost certain that one of the scars she’d take home as a souvenir would be a permanent frown and indentations between her brows that kept them pulled together. What kind of receptionist looked constantly irritated? She might just have to find a new job after all.
Screw the people on the cards and the people in the video tape. Screw the amount of time it took for him to put it all together, right? Because he had lied, just like the rest of them. He lied, and just when she was starting to wonder why the spicy, minty, lotiony scent on the collar of...his...t-shirt felt so familiar, felt so warm and right to be wrapped up in. Now, it was choking her, as her fingers touched the edges of the faded maroon cotton, found a small hole in the front--
The team went to my place to celebrate after the game, and my dog jumped into the middle of us all and clawed the front of it. I didn’t even get to wear it to school before it was ruined!
She had to get out of it. The damn shirt was making it hard to breathe, making her monitors beep faster as panic set in. The shirt was big and she was getting lost in all of its intricacies, couldn’t find her way out.
It felt like drowning all over again.
But as the world went dark, her head stuck in a hole somewhere, her quick breaths heating up the cavern of this goddamn shirt, it was gone. The light was back and blinding. She was topless, trying to catch her breath, and in the arms of her sister, as Shh, Pammy, it’s going to be okay overwhelmed her into oblivion again.
When she awoke again, sweaty and warm with a heavy head, Penny still sat at the foot of her bed. Judging by the clock above her doorway, she’d been out for only about an hour, apparently enough time for Penny to find herself a full cup of coffee and a muffin, which she thrust across the space between them with a soft but firm Here, you should eat something.
It was then that she realized that the pang in her gut oddly wasn’t pain or hurt or betrayal. It was Put that muffin in my stomach. Yesterday. Maybe go for a french fry run, too. So, for the first time since it had all hit the fan, she complied with the request--with a scowl on her face, but still.
It wasn’t hospital quality, but rather Otis Spunkmeyer, so she took her time savoring the soft cakey texture and the bite of the blueberries, her teeth sticking together as she did her best not to inhale it on the spot. It wasn’t until the muffin was halfway devoured, her cheeks puffed out like a chipmunk, that she realized she’d been duped.
“You have to forgive them all sometime, Pammy. We were honestly only doing what the doctors said was best for you.”
Although she tried, words couldn’t make it past the partially chewed muffin that was glueing her mouth shut like rubber cement. Instead, she settled for furrowed eyebrows and an I’m going to listen but I’m not going to like it expression.
“Seriously. Think about what would have happened if you woke up from brain surgery to not only find out out that you’d been in a terrible car wreck, but had lost three years of your life. That would have been devastating, Pammy. Somewhere buried under that grudge, you have to know that.”
It still stung, like salt on an open wound, to hear three years prick her ears, the constant reminder that she had no manual to an entire chunk of her own lifetime, one that was eligible for preschool attendance. She swallowed her pride, her grudge, her muffin.
“And finding out now, after being led on for weeks, isn’t?”
“No. You’re right it is. It’s absolutely devastating.”
Affirmation, she wasn’t expecting. She felt slightly uncomfortable, wiggled down under the covers a bit as her shoulders met her ears. It was then, with her eyes trained towards her lap, that she noticed the maroon peeking out from beyond her toes, folded neatly at the end of the bed. Her head snapped then, wondering for a moment what the hell she was wearing. The tiny blue dots of the hospital gown jumped out at her criss-crossed gaze. Her heart was heavy, if only for a moment.
“But, Pam, listen. It’s not like any of us were really on board with this, either. When your doctor said that we shouldn’t just...tell you...everyone was against it. Mom and dad hated the idea. Roy didn’t want to... And poor Jim. I mean, he’s been hurting more than all of us, Pammy.”
Penny capped her words with a shrug, sort of like That’s all I have to say on the subject; the rest is up to you.
But Penny’s words didn’t make anything better, really, rather, they only affirmed everything that had already been said. We’re doing this for your own good, Pammy. It was the best course of treatment, Pammy. We didn’t want to, Pammy, we promise. You know, but we’re still holding back, Pammy. All empty words, flying in her ears and straight to the fire that hadn’t quite settled.
“I don’t want to hear it anymore,” she replied, her caustic laughter not so much as bouncing off her sister’s fresh manicure. “I...I deserve to be upset about this. I’ve been here for two weeks living through this...this...bullshit lie, and I’m damn well going to sit and pout.”
“Fine. Sit and pout. Be mad. But when you’re ready, I’m sure there are some people out there in that waiting room who would like a chance to explain, and probably fill you in on everything you’ve missed. Or forgotten, or whatever.”
Penny waved her tripped words dismissively away, trying her best to maintain her composure as her big sister’s face didn’t so much as twitch at the suggestion.
“I graduated college.”
This time, her words were anything but authoritative, suggestive, demanding. They were soft, tentative even, as they always were when she shared something with Pam. They’d done their fare share of bickering in the past, as all sisters do. But there was something about those quiet moments, when Penny would crawl into Pam’s bed with eyes that shined, hesitant until she had her sister’s full attention.
And in that moment, her heart broke. Her sister, whose demeanor had been nothing but New York City business woman since the moment she stepped into the hospital room, was suddenly fourteen years old, telling Pam about the boy in her biology class who had passed her a note to ask her to the spring dance. The Beesly’s weren’t really huggers, per say, but as Pam’s scowl broke for the first time in nearly a day, the lines in her eyebrows turning up as her lips stretched and her eyes filled with tears, Penny was right there to scoop her up.
It was odd, hearing these memories that she had once lived recounted, some of the edges fuzzier than others as Penny detailed the past three years of her life. There were struggles with classes, arguments with professors, the eventual breakdown that pushed her into this now vigorous, hard demeanor that she carried herself with. A four-point-oh. Several competitive offers for high-paying jobs after graduation. A name for herself.
They cried, laughed, hugged in all the right places, Penny patient as her big sister grappled with some things that were right on the edge, being slow and cool and comforting. It wasn’t until Pam asked about Roy, about how much Penny had done so far as the maid of honor, that Penny was at a loss for words.
“Come on, Penny. There’s something you guys aren’t telling me.”
She was hesitant, her eyes focused on the designer jeans of her lap, her freshly manicured nails, their glossy paint catching the lowlights of the hospital room.
“You’re right,” she began, her words seeming to have miles between them. “But it’s not my story to tell.”
Their eyes met then, Penny vulnerable for the first time since Pam had seen her in this setting. She followed with the words that Pam was dreading, though their coming expected.
“You have to let them back in, Pam. You have to talk to them.”
Her heart and her throat were stuffed all of a sudden, like she’d swallowed a bag of cotton. She wanted answers, and yet the thought of actually trying to obtain them was more terrifying than the crash she had presumably just lived through.
It reminded her so much of high school, when she and her friends would gush over boys that they liked, but then as soon as the opportunity to talk to one presented itself, she’d blush and close up and chicken out.
But this wasn’t high school and pimply boys anymore. This was three years of her life. Three years, she choked back, that she needed to piece back together.
She closed her eyes, willing the tears to find a home somewhere other than her cheeks. When Penny was saying It doesn't have to be now, you know. Take all the time you need, she shook her head.
“No. No, I need to know. I...can you send Roy in here?”
There was worry in Penny’s eyes as she slowly rose to her feet, watching her sister’s frustration replace the momentary sadness and fear as the backs of Pam’s hands attacked her cheeks, red pigment consuming her pale skin.
She watched as shiny black boots were replaced with beat up leather. As her eyes scanned over worn jeans (the hole in the left knee was from four wheeling) and a long sleeved blue T (she bought him that shirt for Christmas in 1999. He was so bad about buying new clothes), the fury seemed to spread, to build again by the time she met his eyes. Though she never really met his eyes, per say, because he was doing his best to avoid her gaze altogether.
It reminded her so much of her first day being awake in this hospital, the way he walked as if the floor were covered in eggshells and was also on fire. He sat on the chair so gingerly that she wondered if he was afraid that it might collapse.
And then, it was all awkward.
He stared at his hands, pushing his fingers together, clasping and unclasping. Rubbing the back of his neck in a way that reminded her of Jim, but more rough, less nervous. It fueled the bubbling of anger in her temples, the momentary thought of That’s what Jim does, and you don’t get to take that from him taking her by surprise when not moments ago, all of her feelings for either of these men were nothing short of fury.
“This is your show, you know. You don’t get to do the puppy dog face while you wait for me to say something.”
Her tone was biting, something new that she thought had stemmed from waking up in a hospital bed to find out that three years of her life had disappeared. But, oddly, this sense of charge was a little thrilling, this boldness enlightening. Maybe it wasn’t so new after all.
“I know, I...I just...I don’t even know where to start.” He meshed his fingers together rapidly as he mumbled, in and out, in an out, the blue in his eyes so brightly contrasted to the way his face dropped, his features hung in sadness.
“How about with Melissa. Let’s start there.”
The look in his eyes was almost astonishment, a sad Really? Please, Pam, anything but that, like when a mother told her child that they had to go apologize to the kid that they had teased, even though everyone else thought the joke was funny.
She crossed her arms then, nodding once, her lips set in a thin line.
He took a deep breath, leaned back in the chair, looked towards the ceiling, and began to string the words together.
As he recounted the details of all that happened with Melissa, he saw little recognition in her eyes. In its place, though, he saw belief. Belief, despite the fact that she couldn’t remember a damn thing. He felt his chest tighten, knowing that, even though she was three years in the past, it didn’t phase her one bit that he could have pulled something like this off.
“So...that’s...Melissa.” His words tailed with a short chuckle, sort of an This sucks and it’s out in the open again and there you go.
He could see the wheels in her eyes turning as she processed in her head, slowly at first, but a distinct clarity hit them the longer she sat there.
“And...what about us, Roy? Something tells me I have a lot to catch up on from the past three years.”
He nodded, a sharp intake of breath happening with the jerk of his red eyes to the side.
She cried a little. But then, she cried a lot. It wasn’t anything close to wracking sobs or noisy, ugly crying, but there was a steady flow of tears when the words We broke up, Pammy and We just...we weren’t good together anymore. I think we both knew it passed like a stream through her ears. She was surprised when he corrected himself, when he choked out Actually, you dumped me, and I guess you finally came to your senses. It was sweet, the way he admitted his faults, took the blame. It used to be his face that was soft and his words that were hard. But somewhere, with the newly defined lines of his jaw, these three years had matured his words, if only just a little.
“I didn’t treat you the way you deserved to be treated, ya know? And even after...even after Melissa…God, Pammy, you should’ve just gone.” He caught himself then, shaking his head and searching her face for a reaction, though she wasn’t quite sure what to say just yet.
“Not that, like, I didn’t want to be with you. Because I did. God, I swear I still did. I just mean that...you didn’t have to stick around...for me. You shouldn’t have. Because I fuckin’ ruined it. But you did. Because you’re just...you’re too good, Pammy. Pam. I’m sorry. I know you don’t like being called that. I wish I would’ve known back then.”
It was the first time she’d seen him smile in awhile. It was soft around the edges, but it didn’t reach his eyes, those same blue eyes that she had lost herself in for six--no, nine--years. They were watering now, something she’d really never seen them do, save for a handful of times. When he tore his ACL and missed out on the football scholarship he’d been working so hard towards. When they had their first fight, and the words I think we need to take a break pushed past her shaky lips as he fell to his knees in protest.
The night he proposed.
This man before her, the one with whom she had grown up, had planned a future with, she was no longer in love with. But as he sat before her, naming his transgressions and expressing his regrets for not loving her enough, she felt a tugging on her heartstrings. She would always love him.
“So, I guess that answers my question of who I’m going with on Friday. Definitely not you,” she chuckled as she flicked stray tears from her eyes.
He laughed along with her, soft and hearty, before his eyes fell, pulling the corners of his mouth down and open with them. She waited, learning in this strange conversation with her, now ex-fiance, that she wasn’t the only one in pain. He was coming to terms with the words he was forming, too.
“Yeah, we, uh…” She could see him struggling still with his words, and waited patiently, though she fidgeted with a loose string on her cast while he did so. “Pam, you were, uh...you were leaving my place with your last box when you uh...when you...crashed.”
It was a soft noise, one that could have been missed, had he not been so focused on her reactions, on the way her shoulders dropped a little, her head cocked.
“Yeah. You, uh, you got your own place. I haven’t seen it yet, but from the sounds of it, it’s cozy. I’m sure you’ve got all of your art up on the walls and stuff.”
He was smiling, genuinely, at the thought, trying to push back the memories of I don’t want that chick stuff on my walls, Pammy! in favor of her in her element now. He settled instead for, “It was good to see you smiling again. You deserve that much.”
It seemed like a finality, as they took several minutes to absorb the conversation, to pick their heads up and blush at one another. This was the end of the Roy and Pam chapter, although by the looks of things, she had set out to close that book a few weeks ago anyway.
So why, now, in the middle of a hospital room, were tears pricking her eyes?
He stood, crossed the distance between the chair and her bed, and wrapped his arms around her body. These past few weeks he had been so mechanical and distant in his touches. But now, with his chin on her shoulder and his nose turning towards her cheek, she flew backwards in time, to high school dances and late nights in his truck with her feet up on the dashboard and remembered that this lug of a man wasn’t all that bad. Just because they weren’t meant for each other didn’t mean that their time together had been wasted.
He helped her grow, helped her change, helped her to learn how to face her fears and stick up for herself, no matter how roundabout the road to get there had been.
When he pulled away, he touched his lips softly to her forehead before moving awkwardly back to the middle of the room, his large hands shoved deeply into his pockets.
“Just so you know, you can call me at any time,” he began, tracing the big toe of his work boot in an arc along the floor. “Not like I’m trying to make a move or anything, I just...if it’s hard, or you want to talk, or you want someone to yell at...I’m still here. I still care about you, Pam.”
She nodded, words still lost on her as she directed all of her efforts into suppressing the tears that threatened.
He was about to leave when his voice, still rough with tears that he would probably deny later, said, “Oh, and Pam? Cut Halpert a break, okay? If you can sit here and forgive me of all people…”
His words were lost then, as she watched his gaze fall to the floor, watched him nod his head, watched him head towards the door. He clapped his hand on the frame, absorbed the small smile she gave, and said, “Well, bye Pam,” and offered one last smile before he disappeared.
She waited until he was out the door to let the tears fall, to let her lungs emit the sobs that stemmed from so many places, she didn’t even know where to begin.
It wasn’t a stream of consciousness, but more of a conglomerate of everything that swam behind closed eyes as she cried. It was Roy, past present and future. Triangles and pick-up trucks and house keys and Melissa and You were leaving my place with your last box when you crashed. But then, it was Jim, and Cut Halpert a break, okay? coming from the one place she had least expected it.
At that moment, as she tried to catch her breath, tried her damndest to just let every emotion release itself, to be free, she couldn’t do it. Couldn't cut him some slack or let him in. Not yet. That was enough emotional trauma for the day.
When she woke up to a nurse in her room and new meds in her IV pole, she saw the edges of maroon clutched between her fingers, peeking out from beneath her cheek.
I love reviews almost as much as I like describing tears in metaphors in literally all of my stories.
Ugh. I love ya guys.
The sun had dipped below the horizon line well before he returned to the patch of tile that he had no doubt worn down from the pacing he had done in front of her door over these past weeks. He sat for no more than five minutes before he grew restless again, switching between pacing and standing and sitting and balancing his chin in his hands. For the better part of an hour.
At the advice of Penny of all people, he went home on that wretched night, leaving Ben and Cece in a different ward. She would be asleep for awhile, Penny said. Sedatives would knock her out until at least morning, Penny said. He needed his rest too.
And she had been right.
He had convinced himself on that car ride home that there was no way he would sleep, that going home would only allow him to have the same worries with a different backdrop. But upon seeing his bed, toeing off his shoes, and crawling across the mattress, he was out like a light, falling quickly into a long and dreamless slumber.
He awoke to natural sunlight casting grey shadows across his bedroom floor. His head was heavy, his eyes dry, his lips parched and begging for water. So he pushed his fatigued body into the kitchen, wondering for a moment if he was sleepwalking when his feet tingled with every step.
The cereal was bland, the orange juice tart with age. It was only something to put in his stomach anyway, to give him the right amount of fuel necessary for sitting and waiting and twiddling his thumbs.
He only noticed the half empty, half gallon of chocolate milk in the back of the fridge when he went to put the orange juice carton away.
“And what, dare I ask, is that doing in my shopping cart?” he asked, his voice riddled with exaggeration as she bounced on her toes, a childlike grin pulling her lips to her ears.
“For drinking. Obviously. I thought you were an intelligent man, Jim Halpert. Obviously, I’m going to have to reconsider that assumption.”
Curious, he plucked the plastic jug from its place among the necessities that they had actually set out for that evening: Cereal, apples and bananas, frozen veggies, chicken breasts, paper towels, a bottle of white wine, a package of Oreos.
The condensation from the jug dripped down his wrist, hitting the tile of the bread aisle at Wegman’s.
“I’m a little confused,” he pressed, watching her peruse two loaves of bread, one wheat and one white. “I don’t remember putting chocolate milk on my shopping list.”
“You didn’t. I did.”
Her reply was so nonchalant, so casual. So, we’ve been doing this forever, that he let the jug fall back into the cart with a clang.
“Hey! Watch the goods! You’re going to dent it.”
“I don’t think a dent in the jug is going to affect the taste,” he chuckled, noticing that she had abandoned the bread to inspect her precious chocolate milk.
“See. That’s where you’re wrong,” she claimed, her eyes so focused on checking for dents as her fingers skimmed carefully over the seemingly uninjured plastic.
“Okay crazy,” he chuckled under his breath. Wheat bread this time. White was starting to upset his stomach. Besides, Pam had mentioned that she liked her PB&J on wheat bread. Maybe one day soon, she would start making her lunches at his place...
“It’s okay.” Her voice, soft and cheery, jogged him from the trek that his mind had taken down a road that quickly shot from making lunches together to making our kids lunches after they’ve gone to bed, kissing grape jelly off of her nose, checking in on their sleeping beauties one more time before stealing off into their own bedroom to--
It wasn’t the kiss on his cheek that separated the two statements, the light but intentional brush of her fingers from his shoulder down his arm before squeezing his fingers gently and meandering in front of his cart, her head slightly cocked to one side. It was the promise of those words, You’ll learn, the promise that they still had so much more to learn about each other, so many more ways to grow with one another, and the simple acknowledgement that they would get there.
He was so lost in his own thought, grinning like an idiot as she walked in front of him in one of his hoodies and a pair of jeans, her flip flops slapping the tile floor, that he hadn’t realized how far ahead she was until she turned around, grinned, and beckoned with her pointer finger.
Later that evening, when he kissed the chocolate milk from her lips, he cursed his earlier self for ever second guessing the purchase in the first place.
By now, it was probably soured. But he kept it there, hastily, angrily, brushed a tear away, and slammed the door.
She was still asleep when he arrived, or rather, she was still on a heavy dose of drugs that kept her body in a near coma like state. In a way, this was worse than when her body was doing it naturally, protecting her as she healed rather than protecting her from him.
Roy was on his way out by the time Jim settled into a seat. There was a new lightness to his step, a bounce in his once hung shoulders. His eyes were pointed forward rather than at his shoes.
On a different day, in a different lifetime, it would have given Jim pause, made him nervous and lightheaded and maybe a little bit nauseous. Today, it gave him hope.
Until, that is, he saw Penny disappear into Pam’s room, only to come back a short while later with a grim expression and a curt shake of her head. In no unspoken terms, he knew that she didn’t want to see him.
But as he let his heart speak for him, make his every decision despite what logic dictated he do, he waited in that chair, just in case she changed her mind.
A weight had been lifted from her shoulders, only to be replaced by a ton of bricks, pushing her down and making it difficult to breathe.
After Roy left, after her cathartic crying experience, after a well deserved rest, she awoke to her sister at her bedside. She waited the appropriate amount of time before asking, So, how’d it go?
It took Pam awhile to form the words, to decide where she wanted to start. Her lips parted and closed, parted and closed. Penny was patient, her features soft and composed as she gave her big sister all the time she needed.
“I’m not engaged anymore.”
She expected the words to exit her body like a cleanse, to be washed away of the new realizations and push them back to the past, where they belonged.
But that was the problem with this whole losing through years deal, she realized. Her past was all of a sudden her present again. So instead of letting her words leave on a sigh of relief, they left with a hitch in her voice and fresh tears, her cheeks stretched tight as she clenched her teeth in a sore attempt to stop them.
She braced herself for the telltale Penny one-liners about Roy.
We never liked him anyway.
Good riddance. You would’ve been wasting your life with that one.
And you’re upset about that? God, Pam, get your head out of your ass. See this as a blessing! You’re the one who called it off, anyway.
It was a welcome surprise when her sister’s voice, small but still comforting, said, “I know, Pammy. I’m so sorry. I know it hurts,” instead.
“I guess I shouldn’t be so upset,” she said through snotty tears and an ironic chuckle. “I’m the one who ended things.”
Penny was pulling away now, offering her big sister a tissue as she nodded slowly.
“You did. But it wasn’t a night and day thing, Pammy. It took a lot out of you.”
Pam sniffled, dried her nose, and honed in on the truth that her sister was finally clueing her into.
“But, in the end, I think you had to learn how to just be you. I think being with Roy, letting him destroy you over these past couple of years, it really opened up your eyes.”
Hearing words like destroyed describe the forgotten years of her life made her flinch, but as Penny continued, she found herself in an uneven sense of ease.
“I’m really proud of you. Don’t get me wrong, it was hard to watch you go through so much bullshit over the past year or so. But Pam, you came out stronger. You found your voice, and you learned to speak up for yourself, to go after what Pam wants. I think that’s what you really needed. And I hope that girl isn’t lost inside of you after all of this. I hope she finds her way back to us.”
On the one hand, her sister was speaking about her like she hung the stars in the sky. But at the same time, this person Penny was describing was so foreign to her, so ridiculously out of reach that she choked back laughter, then a sob, realizing that she wasn’t sure how to find her way back.
“So,” Penny started again, “do you want me to get Jim? I’ll bet he’s--”
It was firm, the most stable her voice had been. Her head shook rapidly from side to side, insistent on her decision despite the look on Penny’s face.
“I guess you’re right,” Penny recoiled slowly. “You’ve probably had enough for today. I should let you get your rest anyway. I’ll just tell him to come back tomorrow--”
“No, Penny. You don’t get it.”
Penny paused, in agreement with her sister’s assumption of ignorance.
“I don’t...I can’t see him. I just…”
Something about this admission sparked fresh tears, the I can’t of her statement causing her to flinch and clutch her eyes and reach for her ringless finger in a flurry of moves that had her shaking her head faster to purge the feelings.
“He lied too, Penny. And...I…”
She bit her bottom lip, her tears flowing freely now.
“Why does it hurt so much worse with him?”
Her words were a choked whisper, and Penny saw no choice but to grab the hands of her sister and hold on tightly, biting back her own tears as she whispered back, “Because he lov...he cares about you so much Pam.”
It was more decisive this time, but exhausting all the same.
Still, when her sister left the room to let her get some rest, Pam couldn’t help but peek her head out the door, seeing a mop of brown hair fall dejectedly when Penny no doubt told him that he wouldn’t be stepping foot in Pam’s room that day.
In the late afternoon, she was alone. An orderly accompanied her on a mostly silent walk for her daily PT, conversation stilted and awkward when the poor young man finally got the hint that Pam didn’t want to talk. As she rounded the corner, her sour mood softened at the sight of a girl not much older than a toddler effectively dragging her father down the hallway.
“He’s gotta be down here somewhere, daddy.”
The voice was insistent, her expression determined beneath untamed curls that Pam couldn’t help but empathize with.
“Oh! There’s a doctor. Maybe he can help.”
“‘Cuse me, mister.”
Pam watched as the little girl released her father’s hand and ran the twenty foot gap to the orderly who was walking her down the hallway. Suddenly, she was face to face with this little girl.
“How can I help you, sweetheart?” her orderly asked.
“Do you know where Jim is? His friend is staying in the head boo-boo part of the hospital, but I can’t find him. He has brown hair and is really tall. His nose is kinda big, too.”
Cece’s arm extended high above her head as she described just the man that Pam’s heart was breaking over.
“I’m sorry, kiddo, I’m not sure--”
“His friend’s name is Pam. She doesn’t 'member him and it made him real sad because he said he wants to marry her someday. But don’t worry, she’s not having a baby.”
Pam’s breath caught in her chest. Her head snapped sideways as she felt the orderly’s eyes on her, his mouth open in stunned silence as Pam dragged her gaze from the eyes of the stunned father slowly towards the little girl.
“Um...hi. My name is Pam. I...I might be who you’re looking for.”
The little girl’s eyes went wide with wonder, her lips parted enough for Pam to see tiny white teeth, a pink tongue.
With a nod from her orderly, she knelt in front of the little girl, wild curls now level with wilder curls, putting them nose to nose.
She was used to the stunned stares, the wide eyes when someone new saw the yellowing of the bruises on her face. She bit her lip in anticipation of the cries and cringes, especially from a child, but instead, this little ball of fire had a tiny hand raising slowly, her fingers touching from Pam’s temple to her cheek.
“I like your pretty colors.”
“Thank you,” was all she could muster, her lips curling into a grateful smile as the little girl continued to scan her face, to tickle her cheeks.
“Jim said that you got-ed a boo-boo on your head. Does it hurt?”
“Only a little,” she said, her words stronger now and growing. “The, uh...the doctors gave me some medicine to help with the pain.”
“That’s good,” Cece nodded. “Daddy said that mommy couldn’t have medicine to make her owies go away because it might hurt my baby sister. But she’s gonna get better now that the baby is out of her tummy. That’s why I came down here. I wanted to tell Jim about my new baby. Do you know where he is?”
Her head was nodding slowly, but quicker than she could control her own reaction, as if her body were working mechanically against her.
“Oh, good. Could you show me?”
Cece was already grabbing onto Pam’s hand, tugging before she stood up all the way.
“Cecelia, sweetheart, we shouldn't--”
“No, it’s okay,” Pam said with a chuckle, righting herself next to the little girl who was growing impatient. “I...I can show her.”
Their walk down the hallway was silent save for the squeak of their shoes. Pam chewed the inside of her lip, still trying to piece this whole thing together. Cece’s mom must have had birthing complications. But where did Jim fit into that equation?
Had she said something about getting married?
They rounded the corner, the familiar sight of the top of Jim’s head, his chin cradled in his palms, greeting them. As soon as Cece recognized him, her hand was gone, and she took off across the floor.
His head shot up at the sound of his own name, and Pam watched his expression go from somber to confused to a widespread grin.
“Hey, Cece. How’d you find me all the way down here?”
His eyes searched for any sign of her father, worried that she might have escaped, knowing already how independent and adventurous the little girl could be. His grin upon seeing Ben faltered as soon as he noticed the rest of the little group that had gathered in the now congested waiting area. Their eyes locked for only a moment before Cece pulled his attention again, by climbing into his lap.
“I didn’t. I found Pam. And she said she knew were you were. But guess what? I’m a big sister now!”
Her words were flying at a million miles a minute, but he was stunned elsewhere, watching Pam watch him, trying his best not to break down and shove the little girl to the floor in favor of breaking down at Pam’s feet. He concentrated his best on Cece’s words, choking out a, “Wow! That’s great! Congratulations! Is it a boy or a girl?” but his eyes told a different tale than his tone.
“It’s a girl. Her name is Nora Jane Humphreys. But I’m still gonna call her Princess Sparkles Unicorn.”
The last portion was whispered, her tiny hand cupping around Jim’s ear. But Ben and Pam still heard, and Ben chuckled as he leaned down towards Pam with a whisper of his own.
“I’m so sorry about all of this. She’s our little spitfire, Cece is. We can leave you guys alone. I know you’re still in recovery, and you probably need your rest.”
She offered Ben a shy smile and nod.
“No, it’s okay. I’m kind of tired of the same company, you know? Don’t worry about it.”
Every fiber of her being pulled her attention back towards this odd scene of a little curly headed girl in Jim’s lap. Her heart ached as it swelled, beat more quickly through the cotton of her nightgown.
When Cece was beckoning in her direction, waving with her whole hand as she said, “Pam, do you wanna see pictures, too?” her feet seemed to move of their own accord, pulling her into the seat next to Jim. With no armrest between them on the bench style seat, the little girl squashed herself onto both of their laps, pulling a wad of Polaroids from the Hello Kitty purse that was strung around her neck.
It took all of her power to focus on the little girl, on the pictures and stories and She doesn’t even cry a lot! Hey Pam, did you know that Jim was gonna sell his baby sister? I would never sell my baby sister, because despite the center of attention between them, her eyes were focused one person to Cece’s right, on the green eyes that were darting back and forth all the while.
It was strange, the way she could read the apology, the sorrow, the passion in his eyes, all between flicks downward into the little girl’s lap. It told stories of I’m sorry and I want to make this right and something she couldn’t quite put her finger on.
It was so reminiscent of the flashes she’d had, of him on the boat, the pleading and the longing and something she just couldn’t place. But she could feel it. Deep in her bones, she could feel it pulling at her, doing its best to claw its way out of her.
But as she continued to stare, continued to try to make sense of all this, she fell Cece’s hand tugging at her wrist, pointing to the picture that the four year old had clearly taken herself of the baby. It was mostly blanket, with a hint of chubby chin. Pam did her best to ogle over the picture, earning a grin from the little girl.
When the pile of pictures was neatly tucked back into her purse, Pam had the sudden craving to know more about the relationship she had just been dragged into.
“So, Cece. How do you know Jim?”
The little girl’s reply was instant.
“Oh. He was snorin’ in the waiting room while I was trying to watch Hannah Mom-tana. So I woke him up and he read me books.”
It was so simple, an afterthought, really, as she shrugged her shoulder and hopped off their laps.
“Hey now,” Jim countered, laughter in his voice. “I don’t snore.”
“You do too snore.”
Their voices were identical in inflection, down to the emphases and the cock of the eyebrow. Jim and Ben shared a freaky expression before turning back towards the woman who had just knocked him down a peg. Cece was giggling behind her fingers. Behind Pam’s fingers was a look of shock, of confusion, and a little bit of frustration. Where did that come from?
Once again, she was shocked from her rollercoaster of emotions, a bouncing set of curls in her face as Cece brought her attention off the runaway track. The little girl was beckoning with her fingers, an indication that she wanted to whisper into Pam’s ear. The look on Cece’s face was all business as evidenced by the scrunch in her eyebrows.
Pam’s spine went cold when the little girl let her secret brush past her lips.
“Jim said that your owie made you forget some stuff. But it’s okay. My daddy says that when grandma forgets, we just have to tell her how much we love her, and be patient, ‘cause she’ll remember. So that’s what I told Jim. But mommy says if daddy isn’t listening, sometimes she has to kick him in the nards to make sure he’s paying attention. Whatever that means. Don’t tell Jim though.”
It was too much and just what she needed all the same. Her reaction was part laughter mingled with a choked sob that she muffled with a palm across her lips.
“Thank you,” she whispered back to Cece, who was signalling a “thumbs up,” that Pam warmly reciprocated.
“Alright, little girl. It’s about time we stopped bugging these nice people and got you home.”
With that, Cece was bounding into Ben’s arms, her arms wrapped snugly around his neck.
“Hey, daddy? Can Jim and Pam come see baby Nora?”
Jim and Pam shared a look, then snapped their gazes to Ben, both intent to let him know that it was okay if he declined his four year old’s offer.
“You know what, baby? Nora’s still sick, so right now she can’t have visitors. But what if we got Jim’s phone number, and once she and Pam are feeling better, maybe we could have a little visit?”
Cece’s eyes beamed, and she clapped her hands together, her toothy grin sparkling as Ben fished his phone from his pocket.
“If that’s alright with you guys?”
Jim nodded, his eyes finding Pam as he said, “Yeah, that would be great. Pam?”
She watched his eyes settle on the floor first, then his knees, then finally meeting hers, his lips parted in anticipation. Her smile was shy, her slight nod meant for him before she turned to face Cece.
“I would love that. You’ll be my first call as soon as I’m all better.”
When the little girl exclaimed, “Yay!” she was shushed by her father, a reminder that, “We’re in a hospital, baby, I’ve told you this. You have to keep your voice down,” obviously something he’d said many times since the little family was first admitted.
“Sorry,” she whispered loudly, nuzzling into her father’s neck.
As goodbyes were shared and their little group dwindled down to two, Pam’s orderly disappearing once he checked to make sure she could get back to her room okay, a soft tension settled back on the waiting room.
She didn’t want to stay, but she had no desire to move, either. Her body was still tingling, her head a little fuzzy from whatever had just happened in those past ten minutes of her life. Right now, she couldn’t form words, had no energy to sit and have another heart wrenching conversation with this man whose eyes shined with so much emotion, presumably all for her. But suddenly, just the thought of leaving him made her heart tear in two.
But it was getting late. The sun was on the horizon, soft purples and blues feathering the parking lot, dusting through the windows. She was exhausted, but that was nothing new nowadays. At the same moment that this thought crossed her mind, he was smiling at her softly, almost shy, as his eyes dropped to his lap, before cocking his head towards her door.
“Can I...do you want some help? I don’t want you to take a spill on your way back.”
His kind words were delivered in a tone that reminded her of the sandman, gravelly and thick, a little raspy. She was nodding slowly, her smile small as he extended a hand to help her up.
His touch was gone as soon as it was there, the tingling in her fingers lingering long after he had watched her get into bed safely. It didn’t pass her by, the way he hadn’t touched her, had only hovered closely as they made the short journey to her room.
Her body sagged the instant her muscles became absorbed by the mattress, her eyes dropping almost immediately. It was the perfect excuse, much better than I really don’t know what to say to you right now
, or These feelings are too overwhelming
. Instead, she nodded when he hovered nervously between the door and the chair next to her bed, her eyes only finally coming to a close when he was sitting right beside her.
Thank you thank you for all of the love! :)
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters and settings are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.