“This has gone on long enough,” Michael called the super secret stealth meeting (his name for their get together that no one else had agreed to) to order.
Angela sniffed dismissively. “I don’t see why we should help.”
“It’s Christmas,” Phyllis shrugged. “What better time to help someone.”
“I think little baby Jesus would want you to show some kindness,” Michael entreated less gently.
His words were met with a snort. “You all bring up Jesus when it’s convenient, but I don’t see you living Christlike lives.”
“Are you kidding?” Meredith sighed and Angela leveled her with a steady glare in response. Meredith threw up her hands in defeat. “Jesus turned water into wine, he was a hell of a lot more fun at a party than you are.”
“Pam has 12 out of 12 of the symptoms of clinical depression,” Dwight interjected. “I think we should help,” he empathized the ‘we’ with meaning.
“Fine,” Angela relented with a sigh.
“Good girl,” Michael enthused with a friendly pat to the shoulder. She glared at him.
“I don’t see why you’re making such a fuss,” she added. “All it’ll take is a quick phone call to Roy and he’ll have her back. Problem solved.”
“Oh sweetie,” Phyllis’ tone dripped with sarcasm. “This isn’t about Roy.”
“It’s Jim,” Michael uttered gleefully. “Our prodigy son!”
Angela’s mouth dropped. She folded her arms over her chest. “No. I will not help that hussy. Count me out.”
Dwight leveled her with a pleading gaze. She turned her head away from him.
“You know,” Michael mused, ignoring Angela’s outburst. “We could kill two birds with two stones here and bring our Jimbo back to Scranton as well as fix his love life.”
“Three birds,” Dwight corrected. “We’re also going to cure Pam’s depression.”
“So, what’s the plan?” Meredith clapped her hands together, keen to begin.
She was met with blank stare after blank stare.
“Huh,” Michael finally added. “Step one, everybody brainstorm their best plans and we’ll meet back here tomorrow.”
Kevin stuck his head into the conference room. “Caw. Ca-caw,” he chirped.
Michael gave him a two fingered salute. “The pigeon has returned to the nest,” he murmured. “Retreat to your battle stations.”
Pam settled into her desk at reception, staring vacantly at the message button flashing with new voicemails. She missed her colleagues scramble back to their desks with all the delicacy of uncoordinated elephants. She missed the way all their eyes very obviously drifted over to her every few seconds. She missed the way Michael’s brow furrowed deeply with concern as he asked her if she’d had a nice lunch. She missed the way it deepened further still at her mumbled noncommittal response. She was missing a lot these days.
Michael had meant well with his plan to plan a plan that would snap Pam out of her funk. He was good at that, well intentioned plans.
Unfortunately, his strength did not lie in follow through.
By the time the team reunited the following day to discuss their ideas, he had lost... interest wasn’t the right word, because he really would’ve liked to have fix things for both Pam and Jim... motivation was perhaps a better fit.
“Let’s just call Jim and tell him how much Pam misses him,” he whined, after listening dispassionately to a rather convoluted and intricate plan suggested by Dwight. It had involved Mose in disguise and the training of messenger pigeons so he wasn’t completely off base in shooting it down very quickly on the grounds of it being too much work.
“I think that’s a nice idea, Dwight,” Phyllis offered kindly, “but I don’t think it would be possible to pull off before Christmas.”
Dwight nodded sharply in response. “I suppose the timeline to train the birds makes it a little hard.”
“That’s what she said,” Michael chortled.
Nobody else so much as smiled.
Kelly jumped theatrically to her feet. “Ohmygod,” escaped in a hurried breath. “That’s what we should do!” she exclaimed, eyes bright with excitement. “We should She’s All That Pam!”
She was met with blank faces. “You know, make her hot?”
“She is hot,” Michael grinned. Kevin almost smiled before noting the cringes everyone else was wearing.
“Michael,” Oscar sighed.
“Picture this,” Kelly continued, ignoring the interruption. “Jim as a hot, young Freddie Prince Jr.”
“I can picture it,” Meredith nodded along appreciatively.
“A prince?” Michael gasped excitedly.
Dwight scoffed. “Jim’s bloodline is nowhere near royalty.”
Kelly folded her arms and glared at the pair of them. “Ugh,” she pouted. “You two have no idea. He’s a movie star.”
Michael’s face lit up and he radiated with fresh energy. “Ohhh, a movie. Let’s watch it... for research. I’ll send Pam out on an errand.”
Creed thrust his head through the door, “Tamara’s back.”
Michael shook his head. “Pamela,” he corrected.
“Sure,” Creed answered easily.
And with that the meeting disbanded.
Michael remembered his part. He sent Pam out with a list of errands for the upcoming Christmas party. Angela grumbled under her breath as he did. Those were her errands, dammit. Pam would screw it up and then these fools would see Angela as the bad guy when she scolded - no, firmly and justifiably corrected - Pam.
They spent the afternoon watching the movie and that was that. There seemed a general consensus that they’d forgotten the reason they were watching the movie in the first place.
That was that indeed. There were no more meetings. There were no more plans. All that remained were the concerned glances at Pam.
Michael emerged from his office determined to undermine any productivity. This wasn’t his conscious thought, it was more along the lines of I’m bored, but it was the outcome nonetheless.
“Stanley, the manly,” he trilled, schooching up onto Stanley’s desk, accidentally pushing the power button on Stanley’s computer in the process.
Stanley growled in frustration. “Michael,” he warned. “I’m trying to work.”
“Boring,” Michael scoffed. Nonetheless, he slid from the bigger man’s desk. He knew when to pick his battles (or not). “Pfft, working?” Michael clapped Stanley on the back. “Your computer isn’t even on!”
From her chair, Phyllis had the perfect view of the steam rising from Stanley’s ears. She tried to clamp down her smile, knowing it would do little to soothe Stanley’s irritation. She’d have a chuckle about it later.
Her prime location had the unintended effect. Michael caught her eye and decided to make her the next victim of his need for entertainment.
“Phyllis, old gal, what’s -“
She cut him off with a sharp, “we’re the same age, Michael.”
He withered under her glare and quickly moved on. He approached accounting, but a pointed look from Angela made quick work of that plan. He stomped his feet and grumbled. “I miss Jimbo, you’re all lame.”
There was a sharp intake of breath from reception. The office stilled.
All eyes swung to Pam.
Her expression was pained and she gazed blankly at her computer. She didn’t seem to notice the collective stare leveled in her direction.
She blinked slowly and carefully. By the third squeeze, the hurt in her eyes had eased ever so slightly. She took a deep breath before clicking her mouse and seeming to return to the present.
She still didn’t notice how carefully she was being watched.
Michael, however, finally processed the impact of his words and noticed the collective concern radiating from his employees. He cringed ever so slightly at his completely accidental slip.
“I need my party planning bitches,” he decided because of course he would attempt to fix things in the worst way possible.
Angela audibly sighed. “Why Michael? The Christmas party is completely under control.”
“Because I said so,” Michael hissed.
Angela shoved her chair back with a disproportionate amount of force and swept past Michael and into the conference room.
Phyllis trailed her in.
No one else moved.
“Uh, Pamela,” Michael entreated gently.
“Huh?” Pam murmured, raising her gaze from the screen before her, confusion etched over her face.
“It’s time for a meeting. Party Planning Committee.”
He ushered her towards the conference room. She allowed herself to be directed.
“We lost Jim and Pam this year,” Oscar sighed with the shake of his head. Stanley grunted in response.
Kevin looked at him curiously and carefully stated, “Pam still works here.”
“But she’s not the same,” Dwight snorted. “Keep up, Kevin.”
He shared a knowing look with Oscar before shaking his head and getting back to his work.
“On the same page as Dwight,” Oscar lamented. “What a year...”
“So, my party planning bitches,” Michael started.
“Call us that one more time,” Angela hissed, her eyes steel.
“My party pl -“ he started before noticing her expression and Phyllis’ slowly shaking head.
“Uh. planning ladies,” he finished lamely.
“Yes, Michael,” Phyllis answered politely as Angela continued glowering and Pam picked at a loose thread on her sweater and stared at the floor.
“Corporate has a competition,” he beamed excitedly. “They want someone to design a Christmas card to send out to all our important clients. If we win, we get to go to the corporate Christmas party in New York.” He pulled a crumbled memo from his pocket and waved it around with gusto.
Angela snatched the weathered paper from his hands. “Michael, this was sent out last week.”
“So what,” he threw up his hands.
“So, the competition closes today,” she huffed.
“The day is still young,” Michael decreed.
“The winner gets to attend the party, with their choice of plus one. Not the whole branch,” she continued cooly.
“Uh huh,” he nodded enthusiastically. “I’ll be the plus one for whoever wins,” he puffed out his chest.
He clapped his hands together, eyes bright with joy. “Get designing. I can’t wait!”
“That certainly lessens the incentive,” Angela muttered.
“I wouldn’t want to go with you anyway,” Michael griped at her.
Angela pinched the bridge of her nose and shook her head. “I’m getting back to work. This meeting is closed.”
“Pfft. We don’t need her.”
“I can’t draw, Michael,” Phyllis stated.
Michael waved a dismissive hand and Phyllis too, escaped from the conference room.
He swung his full attention to the last person still seated in the room. Pam had managed to bring her gaze from the worn carpet and was now staring wistfully out the window.
“Pam?” his tone was far more subdued.
Pam was oblivious, but she wasn’t oblivious all at the same time. She knew Michael was treating her gently. She was both touched at the gesture, the real effort and kindness that Michael was putting in to toning down on some of the Michael-tricities, and incredibly frustrated that she couldn’t get herself in check. Her miserableness had seeped into work. It was difficult to believe, but this was her making an effort. She wasn’t tearing up every time there was some reminder of him at work anymore. That was progress, right?
“Pam?” he tried again and she shook herself back to reality.
“Yes, Michael,” she answered dully.
“Here,” he pressed the memo into her hands. “Can you please help me win this?”
She read it carefully, a furrow in her brow. “I’m not sure, Michael...”
“Please,” he pleaded carefully. “You’re my only hope, Pammy-won-konobi.”
She flinched at the Pammy, but her better side won out. It was Christmas after all. Just because she was morose didn’t mean everybody had to be.
“Okay. I’ll see what I can do.”
“Be with you the force,” Michael bowed awkwardly.
Despite herself, she almost cracked a smile. Of course then it struck her who she would most like to share the peculiarities of this conversation with and she was twice as miserable as she had been.
Joy was a double edged sword. Anything that made her smile in the office instantly brought her sorrow because she no longer had the person she most wanted to share her moments with. The kicker was that it was all her fault. She could have had him. She’d ruined it. And now she had to live with the deeply depressing consequences.
So, to say she wasn’t feeling the Christmas spirit this year was the understatement of all time. Designing a corporate Christmas card wasn’t exactly where she was at, but she’d placate Michael because why not.
She returned to her desk and put pen to paper.
Or at least, she had every intention to put pen to paper. She thumbed the memo a couple of times before reading it again, carefully. A party in New York two days before Christmas? With Michael as her plus one? And there would be no getting out of that, because he’d be bitterly disappointed and sulk for weeks on end should she have the gall to invite anyone else. She cringed at the thought. That was a definite nope. After consideration, it was crystal clear that this was a competition that she did not want to win.
It was funny, in a mirthless hollow sort of way, that in light of how down she appeared at work, she was actually happier at home. Sure, this was the first Christmas she was spending alone in almost ten years.
Her life was a pendulum of highs and lows. On one hand, leaving Roy had been freeing almost and whilst she wasn’t overflowing with happiness, she was content in a way she hadn’t been in years. She was taking art classes and she’d made some friends and there was no one questioning her about how she spent her time and who she was with when she returned home late in the evening. But, then there were the lows. One low in particular. Jim had left. He had just upped and slipped completely from her life overnight leaving a giant gaping hole that she didn’t know how to fill. It was harder to pull the covers over it at work. It was far, far easier outside the office, because he’d never really been in her life at home so things hadn’t changed so much there.
She could still paint. She could still paint, because Jim hadn’t been so wrapped up in her art to the point that all her art reminded her of him. Some content was off limits. She’d wanted to practice her still-life for her class with her teal teapot and had fast ceased with that idea.
Her pencil settled on the page and errantly started forming Christmas-like shapes. At least that was her intention.
As her eyes traced the lines on the page a frown furrowed her brow. She would have to try harder. And by that she meant try harder to make it terrible. Her first attempt was actually somewhat decent and she couldn’t have that. Christmas Eve-eve with Michael in New York. She shuddered at the thought. Nope. Not happening.
She let herself finish the design. It wasn’t her best work, but it was objectively too reasonable to submit.
She brushed it into the trash can by her feet. There was no point in keeping a company card design, it wasn’t like she could hand it out to her family.
She set out on her second design with far more concentration. It was difficult, but she very deliberately drove her pencil around the page with uneven strokes.
The end result was a complete mess. It wasn’t that her drawing itself was terrible, but corporate probably weren’t looking for a maniacal Santa-esque figure setting the company logo on fire.
She added a few final touches and presented it proudly to Michael.
“Pam,” Michael grumbled. “This su-“ Dwight stood on his foot pointedly. There was a flicker of anger that was quickly replaced with recognition. “Ss-is great...”
“Thanks Michael,” Pam lied softly. She was neither thankful nor completely ignorant of the interaction that had just taken place. Dwight’s obvious sympathy felt like a new low.
It wasn’t possible.
It just wasn’t.
And yet here Michael stood before her, with a grin stretching from ear to ear. “Congratulations to our very own Pam-casso!”
No. No, no, no.
In his hand he waved the tickets to the corporate Christmas party, his chest swelling with pride.
She blanched. This was less than ideal. Although, considering the general disaster that this year had been, perhaps it was fitting for it to end like this, at rock bottom.
The thought twisted her cheeks in the tiniest makings of a smile. After this, being Michael’s date at a formal event, surely the only way to go was up.
She had nothing suitable to wear. But, that only cemented this whole thing as the lowest of lows.
“What do you think?” Michael preened. He was dressed in a full tuxedo, long coattails flopping down his legs.
“You look great, Michael,” Dwight gave him a hearty thumbs up.
“I wasn’t asking you. I was asking Pam.”
Dwight’s huff gave Pam the moment she needed to compose herself somewhat. She was grateful for the preview, so that they weren’t having this conversation for the first time in the lobby of the party.
“You look very formal,” she managed.
She was fairly certain that this outfit was from his magician collection. It reminded her of a circus conductor, or whatever the word was for that. Her mind was drawing a blank. All she could focus on was how she could stage an illness that would let her avoid this party, but also wouldn’t mean that she’d have to miss any work. Death was seeming like the best option. It would get her out of the party and paying rent. Win-win.
“What will you be wearing?” Michael studied her very carefully. “You’re my arm candy, Pam. You have to look hot.”
She shook her head at him, eyes narrow.
“You won the prize, I’m actually your arm candy. Whatever,” he brushed her off, completely missing the point. “You still need to look good. We have to do Scranton proud.”
She wanted to wear a paper bag over her head. Or better yet, her pajamas, on her sofa, still tucked away in her apartment and not in New York.
She shrugged in response to Michael which was clearly a mistake because not even half an hour later she somehow found herself in the Steamtown Mall with Michael, Phyllis, Kelly and Angela.
“This is pretty,” Kelly insisted, pressing a hanger into her arms. She eyed the hot pink fabric speculatively. “You have to try it on.” Her tone left no room for negotiation.
Phyllis looked down her nose at Kelly’s choice and pushed her own option into Pam’s hands.
Michael bubbled with excitement, a dropped soda bottle just waiting to explode. “Try these too!”
Angela primly crossed her arms. She was having no part in this. None of the dresses in this store were appropriate for a tramp who had thrown away her engagement for another man. Or, as Kelly held up another low cut number, perhaps hussy was exactly the target audience of this disreputable establishment. She would never deign shop here herself.
She sniffed her discontentment and was unsurprised that her distaste was ignored by her insufferable colleagues. Typical.
Pam fingered the fabric of a dark forest green dress. It seemed fitting for Christmas. She added it to her pile.
“Fashion show,” Kelly crooned, clapping her hands together in exuberant joy.
Pam cringed at the reflection staring back at her. The hot pink number was essentially two strips of fabric that left very little to the imagination.
“You have to show us, Pam.” The demand from Kelly was pointed.
“This is a no,” she sighed, before opening the fitting room door and taking one very tentative step forward.
“Wowzas!” Michael gasped. “Wear that!”
Angela glared at her. “Under no circumstances,” she hissed.
Huh. In agreement with Angela. That was a first when it came to fashion.
“You have to own it,” came Kelly’s advice. “Really you know,” she thrust her own chest forwards,” and strut.”
“Nope,” she retreated into the relative safety of the dressing room, locking the door behind her.
Phyllis’ option was next. It looked exactly like something Phyllis would wear. She examined the fabric with a crinkle in her nose, if she wasn’t mistaken, this was the exact fabric of her grandmother’s living room curtains. Fun.
She slipped into the dress and felt what was left of her youth slip away. Phyllis beamed at her when she stepped back into view.
Kelly scoffed. “No way.”
“I liked the hot one more,” Michael whined. “That’s an old lady outfit.”
Phyllis' smile slipped and twisted to a glare. “That’s the same dress I wore to my engagement party with Bob Vance.”
So double no then. Not that Pam was even considering it for a second.
“Exactly,” Michael waved his hands with indignation.
She ducked back behind the locked door to avoid the daggers that Phyllis was leveling in Michael’s direction.
She ran through her next several options quickly. All the dresses that Kelly had deemed classy were more befitting of a twenty year old in a nightclub which Pam most definitely was not. Plus, the way Michael looked at her in them had her tugging the fabric down her legs and willing it to stretch beneath her knees.
She found similar issues with Michael’s choices. None of them were quite sophisticated enough for what she imagined a corporate Christmas party in New York to be. She wanted to walk that fine line between something nice and something that did not encourage Michael to see her as a sexual being. She was beginning to think a burlap sack might just do the trick.
Soon, only one option remained. The deep green number that she’d impulsively plucked from the rack.
She pulled it on, her back to the mirror and fastened the zip with a satisfyingly smooth slide. The sooner she got this over and done with, the sooner she could leave (and dig through the back of her closest for something). She was starting to think the periwinkle silk tucked out of sight may just be her only option and she really didn’t want to go there.
She pushed the thought from her mind. Letting her eyes pool with tears with her coworkers impatiently waiting on her was not on the agenda.
She stepped from the dressing room and waited for the comments to start. Instead she was met with stunned silence.
“What?” She murmured after a moment. “Is it see through or something?” She spun back around and caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror. Oh. It was a pretty perfect dress.
“You look really nice, Pam,” Michael said simply.
“You do look acceptable,” Angela echoed and then seemed to remember herself. She rolled her eyes. “Are we done yet? We’re all wasting company time here.”
“That’s hot,” Kelly agreed. “But, like classy hot. Like Nicole Kidman on a red carpet.”
Pam swallowed around the emotion. “Thank you,” she answered them all, letting her eyes meet with Angela’s, hoping the sincerity was ringing clear.
Maybe there was a little bit of Christmas magic left in the world after all.
She changed back into her work clothes and let her gaze run over the price tag on her perfect dress.
And nope. That was a nope. That was… there was one too many zeros and nope. Not happening.
She wrung her hands as she opened the door. “It’s too expensive,” she told her waiting crowd with downcast eyes. The collective gasp had hot and heavy pinpricks of moisture forming in the corner of her eyes. “It’s fine. I think I have something I can wear at home.”
They returned to the office with spirits low. There was no magic, there was only crippling reality.
And yet, when she trudged up her driveway that evening, a simple box greeted her. She carefully unlaced the bow and slipped the lid back and there it was. Her dress. Sparkling even under her dull porch light.
She sighed deeply and let the tears that had been pushing for escape all day travel down her cheeks.
Michael she decided. Sweet, ultimately good natured (and terrible with finances) Michael had come through for her.
Her heart clenched and she appreciated the gesture so intensely, even though it was insane and she would have to return it.