Another First Date by Maxine Abbott
Summary:

Beth the waitress returns!

A series of stand alone, slice of life, one-shots in Pam and Jim's life, all tied together with the thread that runs through them; they all end with dinner at Christopher's, where (in my headcanon) they had their first date. 

The first and the last chapter (not yet complete) work in tandem, but everything in between is its own story if you want to pop in for one whose title strikes your fancy. 



 


Categories: Jim and Pam, Present, Past Characters: Angela/Andy, Cece Halpert, Dwight, Ensemble, Jim/Pam, Other
Genres: Angst, Fluff, Holiday, Humor, Hurt/Comfort, Kids/Family, Married, Pregnancy/Babies, Romance, Weekend, Workdays
Warnings: Adult language, Mild sexual content, Secondary Character Death
Challenges: None
Series: Gold Mine
Chapters: 12 Completed: No Word count: 46848 Read: 22329 Published: February 14, 2021 Updated: January 18, 2023
Story Notes:

It's Valentine's Day so I thought I post a little romance, well romance young parent style.

I've actually been sitting on this one for a bit since I usually don't like to post something that isn't fully fleshed out from start to finish. And while I know where this one goes (since it starts almost at the end) I haven't worked out all the pieces but I'm feeling romantic and, in the mood to share. Hopefully, I’ll be inspired along the way.

Each chapter will share a time in Pam and Jim’s lives, covering the span from the first date to the titular another first date in 2014 (almost a year after the documentary has aired and before the events of the finale). Each will end at Christopher’s, the restaurant Jim brought Pam on their first date in my first MTT fic, All That Glitters is Gold In chapter 8 of that, we meet Beth, their waitress and she becomes a fixture in their lives and my fics. 

Oh and by the way the only thing I do own here is the name Beth. Jim, Pam, Cece, Phillip and all the rest of the characters in this universe I do not but it's with love that I write about them.  No copyright infringement intended.   

1. The Morning Tango by Maxine Abbott

2. Flower Power by Maxine Abbott

3. Rules of the Game by Maxine Abbott

4. Losing Points by Maxine Abbott

5. Perfect Presents and Lucky Stars by Maxine Abbott

6. Bean Counter by Maxine Abbott

7. Best Laid Plans of Mice and Salesmen by Maxine Abbott

8. Fools and Clowns by Maxine Abbott

9. Dry Spell by Maxine Abbott

10. The Alien by Maxine Abbott

11. Before and After by Maxine Abbott

12. Blessings by Maxine Abbott

The Morning Tango by Maxine Abbott
Author's Notes:

The present before we go back to the beginning.

March, 2014

“Hello, can you tell me if Beth will be working tonight.”

While Pam showered, Jim was on kid duty, responsible for making sure they didn’t get into too much mischief, which was not an easy task with a 2-year old and a nearly 4-year old.

“Cece, give your brother back his toy,” he called out to his daughter as he spied her pulling the toy cell phone out of Phillip’s grip.

“Sorry, not you. I was talking to my daughter.” Jim directed his attention back to the conversation on his phone while still keeping an eye on the powder keg that was brewing on the floor in front of him.

He knew why she wanted the phone. Cece was a little parrot, she wanted to do anything Jim was doing and right now he was making a call on his cell phone so naturally Cece would want to do the same.

Phillip wasn’t really playing with the phone. He had it in his hand but his focus was really on the little drum he was banging on with the mallet in his other hand. And if not for physics and what was known in their house as Cece’s third law, he would likely drop both of the items in his hand and move on to something else. He was known to pick up toys, play with them for a minute and move on to the next one rather quickly, which was why their house always looked like a nursery school with toys strewn all over. Actually, a nursery school was probably a lot neater than their place because Jim was sure the teachers were a lot better at getting preschoolers in their charge to put away their toys than Pam and Jim were.

Right now, at least 4 other toys were spread around the area where Phillip was playing. At any other time he could be contented with any one of them, the Tonka truck, the Elmo doll, the Duplo train set. Phillip wasn’t that picky when it came to toys, except when Cece seemed to be interested in one of them.

Jim knew the minute Cece grabbed the phone in his hands, it would suddenly become the most popular toy in the Halpert home. They’d suddenly be in science class learning Cece’s law again – for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.  Phillip would scream and a fight would ensue between the two and they’d both be in tears just at the time Pam would emerge from the bathroom.

He quickly finished his conversation so he could intervene before the situation got any worse.

“Oh, she is, good, can I make a reservation for two at 5:30 and please can we be seated in Beth’s section. Put it under Jim Halpert. Thanks.”

He pressed end and made a show putting the phone down which Cece did too back into the reach of her brother.

Crisis averted.

He scooped up Cece and began to dance her around in his arms.

“Who’s Daddy’s special girl?”

“Cece,” she chortled back.

He knew he should have been reprimanding her for stealing Phillip’s toy but right now he was just relieved he was able to quell the scrape before any real trouble began. He was also proud that his skills at multitasking-parent-style were finally coming along and he was able to do three things at once, complete his call, pull out outfits for the children to wear that day, and set plans for the evening.

Plus, he was a little flattered that her parroting had finally moved on to him. For a while all she wanted to do was be like mommy and while the rational side of Jim knew it was a phase and she loved them both, the vulnerable side was a little jealous of her attachment to Pam. He couldn’t help but feel it was residual effects of the time he’d been away so often about a year back when he’d been involved in the sports marketing company he started with some college friends.  Pam assured him it wasn’t, that children that age just tended to be as fickle with their affection as they were with their toys but Jim was still happy she was now in a bit of a daddy phase.

“And who’s going to be 4 soon?”

“Me,” she beamed.

Jim swirled her around as she clasped her arms around him and released a full body giggle that she had inherited from her mother. By now Phillip had forgotten all his toys and teetered over to where Jim was swaying with his sister. Jim scooped up Phillip too and continued waltzing with a kid on each hip.

“You are supposed to be getting them dressed.”

Pam appeared in the room wrapped in a towel. She wanted to be annoyed but it was hard to when she saw how much fun the three of them seemed to be having.

“Oh mommy, dancing’s more fun,” Jim said as he pulled her in to join them and the whole Halpert family tangoed around the bedroom before making their way back to the kitchen for some Cheerios and juice.

After helping serve the kids, it was Jim’s turn to take a quick shower. The little dance party cut into their morning routine and put them behind schedule to get ready, get the kids to Grandma’s and still get to work on time. Still, it was worth it. Things were finally back to normal again with Pam, and these little moments with his happy family were more important than clocking in promptly at 9:00. However, it wouldn’t look good to get in late and then leave early. He never knew which Dwight would be running the office today, the friend who would overlook anything Jim did, or the tyrant who from time to time showed up to keep the office on their toes and things running efficiently.

Overdue for a visit from the Dwight who was a stickler for rules and promptness, he tried to speed things up to make up for the time they’d lost soft shoeing around their make-shift ballroom. No matter which manager showed up today, he would be leaving before the bell, (Dwight ran the office like a learning institute with school bells and report cards and recess, the latter picked up from Michael). And he’d be taking his wife with him when he did. He had a very special date at Christopher’s to get to tonight.

---

It was more than 7 years since he had brought Pam to the quaint farmhouse restaurant for their first date. The first date that almost wasn’t because he had been a stubborn fool for too long.

But when he finally came to his senses during the interview in New York, thanks to the gold medal yogurt lid she snuck into his papers, he took no time deciding to head back to Scranton and ask her to dinner.

He knew the perfect place to bring her even before he knew her answer would be yes.

Of course, he was pretty sure it would be. She’d made it clear at the beach how she felt about him, still. He, despite pretending to be over her for months, despite trying to make his true feelings go away, first by running to Stamford and then by dating someone else, had never succeeded at convincing himself there was anyone for him other than Pam. But it wasn’t until he was sitting in David’s office that he finally opened his eyes, the glint of the yogurt lid revealing the golden future he had ahead if he would just stop making believe he wasn’t still in love with her.

Jim being Jim, had vaulted away so many of the little remarks he’d overheard her make over the years, so when it came time to make a reservation, the place to bring her came to him as quickly as “That’s What She Said” came to Michael when a co-worker remarked how hard a task was.

Christopher’s was the place he’d heard her mention to Phyllis, the place she used to go with her dad but had always wanted to go to on a romantic date. It was the perfect spot for the date they had the night  he returned back to Scranton after being away for one day that felt more like a year.

And today like back then, he’d called ahead to secure a reservation, only this time it wasn’t just to reserve a table but to make sure Beth would be there too, just as she had been all those years ago. Just as she had been the many times they’d been back since. She’d become something more than a server at the most romantic restaurant in town. She’d become a friend; one they saw for many a special occasion in their lives. Sure, they’d been there a few times when they had to sit in someone else’s section or when she wasn’t even there but this date would not feel right with any other server. She had to be there for this one just as she had been there for the first.

End Notes:

So like I said this is a WIP so you may need to be patient as for updates. But I've already got a draft of the next chapter so hopefully it won't be that long of a wait for the next. 

Reviews are a good way to inspire me and make a great treat for Valentine's day. 

Flower Power by Maxine Abbott
Author's Notes:

There's a lot of rehash of date one in this return to Christopher's. For one the story is Another First Date, so they'll be a lot of remembering that one. It's also there to provide a little more background to those who may not have read All That Glitters is Gold or to refresh those who hadn't in a while. 

Also, I don't write steam (and you should be thankful I don't, it would not be pretty) so use the imaginations I know you all have.

A reminder, these characters, not mine, but the memory of a farmhouse restaurant a lot like this one is.

 

June, 2007

“Table for two under Halpert.”

The hostess behind the lectern dropped her eyes to the book in front of her scanning the page with her finger until she came to the name she was just given.

“Yes, right this way sir,” she replied looking to Jim and then Pam and back at Jim as she grabbed two gold-edged menus and motioned for them to follow.

Pam noticed the way the attractive hostess looked at Jim, like he was one of the fancy desserts on the menu, an after dinner treat that had it not been for the arm firmly wrapped around Pam that announced he was spoken for, she might like to sample.

But Jim paid little mind to the striking blue eyes that looked him over nor did he seem to notice the legs for days that were made to seem longer and shapelier from the 4-inch, pencil-thin heels she wore on her feet. Heels, that were Pam to try to pull off would only succeed in giving her blisters and produce from her a clumsy gait that would negate the intended effect of added sexuality. Pam kept her heels to the kitten variety mostly, once in a while like tonight, she would put on her stacked two inchers so she wouldn’t seem so tiny next to her tall boyfriend.

As the hostess weaved through the tables to lead them back, Jim kept his gaze up at the back of her head and the simple chestnut mane that hung straight down her back, the one part of her that seemed dull and lifeless compared to Pam’s golden and lively locks.

Occasionally he looked around the room at the ambiance or turned to peek glances at Pam, smiling at her as he grasped her hand while they made their way to a side of the restaurant they hadn’t seen on their first visit a month ago.

This side of the eatery was different indeed but no less captivating. Even though the breathtaking view of the crystal lake and light-covered bridge that spanned it were unseen from the room they now entered, a trellis wall weaved with blooming foliage and strings of shimmering lights replaced it. Through the cross-hatched gaps the moon’s glow poked into the smaller atrium and when combined with the luminant strings gave the room an enchanted forest kind of feel.

 

It had been a little over a month since Jim and Pam officially began dating. But unlike a conventional newly-paired couple there was no getting to know each other period. Similarly, they never had to play those silly games counting the days till it was acceptable to call one another again. There was no pretending they had other engagements so to space out the time between dates so neither one of them would seem too eager. Of course, working in the same office made it impossible for them to play at that but they wouldn’t have anyway – not when their years together as best friends had long since given them an intimacy that surpassed what could be attained from going out to dinners, seeing movies together, marathon phone calls or even the physical acts that followed a requisite number of dates.

What they already shared was a familiarity with one another that was layered and complex, a textured composition years in the making. One that had every conversation they shared, every laugh they giggled, every nuance they noticed, every battle they engaged in, even the ones against each other, melded together on a canvas like the works of impasto she’d been learning about and creating in her art class.

But even with what they already had, there was still so much they had lost, squandered in a year of foolishness. And there was still so much to build upon as they discovered more about each other during  nightly calls and weekends where they never parted from one another’s company except for Pam to attend her weekend art class and Jim to join his buddies for the occasional pick-up game.

The rest of the time they were inseparable, except ironically at the office. In a strange reversal of circumstances, the place they once had their only moments of connection was now where they had to pretend, portraying themselves as mere good friends as they still were keeping the relationship a secret from the office and the documentary crew. It was hard to do at first but now that the show’s crew was on a short summer hiatus and the drama over Pam’s beach speech and Karen’s abrupt resignation was forgotten, it was easier to keep what they had started under wraps. And keeping things secret added a little excitement, after all forbidden fruit always tasted a little sweeter.

 

The tables arranged in the restaurant’s annex were set up in the same style as the main room. Similar to the scene of their first visit, delicate sprays of flowers sat in miniature vases between the salt and pepper shakers and votive candle receptacles on each table. A different colorful bloom added a distinct beauty and floral scent to each region’s perimeter.

When they arrived to their own, they were greeted by the dainty white petals of the fortune teller flowers, Oxeye daisies often used for petal plucking to a chorus of, he loves me, he loves me not. But there’d be no need to deconstruct any of the blooms on their table tonight because Jim reminded Pam daily of his love through romantic gestures as well as his words.

The last time they were here was a night of many new discoveries despite having been friends for many years. Over the course of the night, so much was revealed from the pain they’d both felt when Jim left for Scranton to the undying love they revealed to each other as they reenacted their kiss from the year before.

But the very first thing he’d learned that night—aside from the fact that she was stunning in coral, the dress she wore then a perfect complement to green eyes that also featured sparkling flecks of that same color—was Pam’s love for peonies. Radiance danced across her face at the sight of the blossoms that adorned their table on that first date, filling the space with a luminous glow emitted from her coral-speckled eyes.

He was able to replicate that same twinkle in her eyes, the one brought out by the dress and brought on by the blooms by bringing her small bouquets of the flowers that she loved from time to time and for no real reason other than, what plucking the daisies tonight would be sure to reveal, he loved her.

The first time he bestowed them on her, a few weeks after the first date, she gushed, reacting how one might to a gift of jewelry or an expensive perfume not a small cluster of flowers. But since Pam couldn’t remember the last time she’d gotten “just because” flowers she reacted much like she had the day he first asked her to dinner with tears in her eyes and that adorable smile where she bit down on her bottom lip and quite literately glistened with joy.

Jim hadn’t expected her to respond quite that effusively, they were just flowers after all, but was still overjoyed to get the reaction he did, especially when her next act was to shower him with passionate kisses, the kind that made his jeans a little tighter and delayed them from getting to the movie on time.

It was just as well because that night, when they rented from blockbuster instead and then never actually got around to even watching the movie, was the night he’d been waiting years for. The night she led him back to her bedroom and they shared more than just sentiments and kisses.

Sex, it was the one thing they had taken their time with. For him, being with her at last was about so much more than physical gratification and he never wanted her to think anything different. Not that he couldn’t wait to know her in the most sensual way. From the moment he first breathed in her scent he’d wanted to experience it more intimately. How he had been longing to touch every part of her, caress the silk that was her skin, feel the response of her body to his touch and finally know the feeling of their souls connecting in a blur of bliss and passionate harmony. But on that first night when it had been less than 24 hours from when he shared a hotel room with Karen, he restrained himself, not allowing her to even suggest he come in at the end of that first date.

He wouldn’t have her experiencing any doubt of his love or regret having been with him so soon after his last sexual encounter.

He left her at her doorstep with nothing more than a brush of his lips to her temple and a date for the next night, but even so their relationship had taken on a new level of intimacy.

Over the next few weeks, despite her unspoken indications of desire and his physical manifestations of the same, they explored but would stop just on the precipice, both feeling like they needed to hold off on the last act of physical oneness until they had worked through all the emotions the last year had brought to bear.

But the night he presented the small bouquet, there seemed to be no stopping the yearning they both felt. The flowers may have started it, inciting a passion in Pam that he felt ill-equipped to defy but by the time they were back at her place it was the tantric build-up of the past few weeks that had them unable to stop the thirst to know each other completely.  Finally, their bodies could no longer deny what they both wanted and they came together in a mellifluous dance of their love that was everything they both imagined it could be and more.

Afterward, while nestled in each other’s perfectly bare contours, Jim still peppering her with tiny kisses, he remarked, “You must really love those Peonies.”  

“I like Peonies… a lot,” she replied, still quivering every time his lips brushed her cheek, her shoulder, her breast. “What I really love is you, Jim Halpert.”

She went on to justify her over the top response when he handed her the pretty pink flowers, explaining the emotional association now contained within them. Before she merely loved peonies for their cheerful beauty and sweet fragrance but since then they’d become that much more special. Forever she would see them and be reminded of the first date she waited so long for and how happy she had been since that night.

 

 

 

The first date was not all magic and romance. Yes, there was plenty of it. Jim made sure of that, choosing a restaurant he knew she would love, taking every opportunity to show his devotion to her while still sprinkling in the playfulness that first brought them together.

But they also had a lot to unpack before they could get to a place where the hard feelings and pain they caused each other would fade back into the background. And as much as they would like to have whitewashed over all of it, at least for that night, they knew the sooner they worked through it the stronger they’d be for it.

So, the night had been filled with romance and giggles, but also some tears and hard conversations. They spent way longer sitting across from each other in the cozy restaurant than what it should have taken to enjoy a meal and conversation. But for them the time evaporated as they spent hours catching up on so much, the good and the bad, their growth in the recent past and the shortcomings they still were trying to work on, tales from the last year and stories from their pre-Dunder Mifflin lives.

They talked about so much that first night, from events in their childhood right on through to Pam’s role as secret assistant to the regional manager. But when the glassed votive candles, that throughout the evening had cast a glow that was only half as bright as the ones that engulfed both their faces, had melted from a solid mass to a pool of creamy liquid they knew they’d lingered way too long at the small table. Even though the sweet waitress never once revealed her near certain vexation in attending to them for so long, they knew they were on the verge of overstaying their welcome.

Jim knew Pam would have liked to enjoy more of the romantic views outside before they returned to their car for the drive back to town. The view from the bridge was one of the many things he remembered her describing to Phyllis those many, many months ago.

He noticed the stunning view, luminescence from a full moon creating a halo of light over the arched walkway as it shone down from the sky and back up from its own reflection in the still water. How sweet it would be to share a kiss while encircled in that glow but it would have to wait until their next visit. Jim had one more thing planned that evening, a kiss in the moonlight at a different location, one that had more meaning than a bridge leading nowhere. The place Jim brought her that night he hoped would take them home.

The moon followed them back to Dunder Mifflin, to the exact spot in the ill-fated parking lot where Jim first professed his true feelings. By reenacting the confession, he had hoped to dissociate the bad memory and heartache of the place they passed by each day with a bit of revisionist history.

And on that visit, they succeeded in redefining the place that had held so much pain for both of them.

It didn’t matter that the moon was blocked by the overgrown branches of a tree badly in need of trimming, that the luminant mist that haloed them came from the artificial glare of street lights that surrounded the parking lot. Pam’s response was the only reflection Jim needed when he pressed his lips to hers for what was only the second time ever.

As if her words were not enough, her response was to draw him back so she could assure him this time how she truly felt with a second and then a third kiss.

And like that their romance was in full bloom.

 

But because they were possessive of their privacy, especially in the early stages, they decided to keep what they had between them. Jim was sure he’d succeeded in thwarting the cameras from finding them that first night but they had to work to keep the charade up at work and even in their time off.

That meant staying away from local restaurants and movies theaters. Because of their fear to be caught by a colleague or a crew member, most of their early dates were take-in meals and movies at the out-of-town theater but more often rented from Blockbuster. In many ways this was preferred and not just because there was little chance being caught staying in. Dinners at home and movies on the couch led to intimate moments. Moments where Jim learned as much about what made her who she was through conversations, as he did about what made her purr through passionate tangos where they explored each other’s bodies and made love sometimes multiple times before credits would roll.

When they did head out to a restaurant—there were those nights when a little change of pace was needed, they tried to go to a place that was less frequented by the people they worked with or they tried to plan for weeknights when they would be least likely to accidentally bump into a co-worker or the people whose job it was to learn everything about them.

Christopher’s on a Wednesday fit both criteria and so even though it was an ordinary night, they decided to head over for a fancier mid-week date.

 

 

They took their seats and the hostess left them with a smile and their menus and crossed back to her station at the entrance.

This time, the server who came to greet them was not the cheery and chatty woman who patiently dealt with them on their very long first date. He seemed just as kind and friendly, just not as loquacious. He took their drink orders and left them without small talk or an inquisition about what had brought them to the farmhouse on a Wednesday night.

When he returned with the drinks however, he also brought with him a grilled cheese and a message from Beth, the waitress from a month ago.

“Beth said to enjoy the complementary grilled cheese and she’s glad to see you back.”

“Wow, now that’s so nice,” Pam gushed.

“Please send her our thanks,” Jim said as he looked across to the section where they sat the last time, catching her eye as she momentarily looked up from the large party of eight she was attending to. He mimed a tip of a hat to her which elicited a smile and a reciprocal imaginary hat-tipping gesture.

About mid-way through the meal, Beth came in person to visit the table where they were laughing and enjoying their dinner.

“Hello you two. So nice to see you again.”

“Hi Beth,” Pam said effusively as if she was greeting a celebrity. “That was so nice of you to send us the grilled cheese. How are you? You looked kind of busy over there”

Pam wasn’t always this talkative herself but this waitress seemed to bring it out in her. That and the two Mixed Berry Smash cocktails she enjoyed with dinner.

“I was so happy to see you come in. Sorry I couldn’t be your server tonight. I take it Pete took good care of you.”

They found it slightly hard to believe they were getting this much special attention from a waitress they’d only met the one time. But they had spent a bit of time chatting with her at the end of their last visit, explaining how it was their first date but they’d known each other for 4 years. That after having to explain why two grown-ups were still playing jinx.

“Any occasion tonight? It’s been a little more than a month if I recall since you two began dating.”

Pam, a little surprised at her remembrance replied for them, “Wow, good memory. I guess Friday would have been about a month.  Tonight, we just wanted to get out for a nice meal. It’s been a lot of pizza and take-out for us.”

“Jim, Jim, Jim. Please don’t tell me you didn’t take this lovely lady out Friday to celebrate dating a month. Now I would have liked to see you here but please tell me you celebrated somewhere. Even if it were just Olive Garden or Chili’s.”

Jim and Pam both started laughing at the mention of Chili’s.

“What’s so funny?”

This time Jim was the one to explain.

“Pam here, she is banned from Chili’s. Seems she had a little too much to drink at an office event we had there.”

Beth looked shocked at the revelation, although from the size of the petite thing giggling before her now, she imagined it didn’t take much for her to go from tipsy to full-on smashed.

“I got my start at Chili’s - about 8 years ago. And from what I can remember drinking was part of the culture there. Happy hours every night. We were always taught to push the drink specials and it took a real lot to be cut off. I can recall some real rowdy office parties that happened there and I’d never witnessed anyone get banned. It must have been some night for you. I don’t believe it.”

“Oh, believe it.” Jim smirked as he raised his eyebrows at Beth and pretended to knock back an imaginary drink.

Pam turned slightly red as she began to defend herself.

“I don’t usually drink like that. It was a tough night. I was engaged to this other guy at the time, had been for like 3 years. Our boss who is a lot to handle on a normal day was throwing his annual employee appreciation ceremony which to him meant giving out awards that have nothing to do with our work performance. For example, I was about to get one for longest engagement… again. And I’d just had a fight with the fiancé that was making it even possible to get that award.”

Pam paused, her smile deepening as she gazed across the table at the man who on their very first date had brought her to the place that despite three years of hints and subtle suggestions, her former fiancé had not.

“But even back then I think I deep down knew I had a thing for this guy here,” she said, speaking a truth she’d never admitted aloud to anyone before.

“So, I refused to leave when my fiancé wanted to. It became a big fight and he left me there. Long story short, I overindulged a little bit and fell off a chair. But Jim took good care of me. It really wasn’t that big a deal but they banned me, for life.”

Jim was sitting across the table bobbing his head, much in the same manner Pam had been that night trying to grab Beth’s attention from Pam. When he had Beth looking back his way, he pretended to fall out of his seat.

“Seems like you two have a crazy history.”

Jim winked at Pam and smiled again at Beth

“Absolutely, we do.”

Beth turned back to Pam, a knowing smile on her face.

“And you are finally with the right guy.”

“I sure am,” Pam said. “And I’ve never been happier.” 

That night after dinner they took that moonlight walk on the bridge.

End Notes:
Reviews welcome and much appreciated.
Rules of the Game by Maxine Abbott
Author's Notes:

So when you are writing multiple fics at the same time there’s bound to be some spill-over and blurring of the stories – which sorta happened here. My head was so wrapped up in the feelings and emotions going on in Gold, that a tangent here was a little bit like a message to a Future Pam and Jim – for those of you who have read Gold you should be able to spot it, otherwise it’s a nice little anecdotal bit.

My apologies for those waiting on Gold -  NLM made me feel like it was important to post today for the DM birthday and this chapter needed a little less work than the next of Gold. 

August, 2007

It was another busy day in the office. Not from selling paper or doing anything that seemed remotely related to the jobs they were hired to do. No, Pam and Jim had spent most of the day babysitting Michael, taking turns keeping him from actuating the absurd in his attempts to impress Ryan, the former temp, who was now the big boss.

It was a surprise to all that Ryan had been given the position. Everyone had thought it would be Jim.

Including Pam.

More than two months ago, in her talking head, she tried to hide her feelings as she talked about how Jim deserved it, how smart and well-liked he was and how they would always be friends.

She was right, they would always be friends. And that’s what made them so strong as a couple, their friendship. A lot of things changed after he came back from New York that day. The laughter and playfulness between them didn’t. It was as much a part of their relationship as the deep conversations and the physical intimacy they shared.

The talking head she gave today was not about Jim, not directly at least.

“Ryan went from the temp to an inept salesperson to the boss and because Michael is still infatuated with him, he has made it his goal to exceed his every expectation when it comes to the initiatives he’s set forth for the company. And that means each week he plans something more outrageous than the last and Jim and I have to keep it from getting out of hand.”

She smiled a little brighter at her own mention of his name before quickly realizing her mistake in mentioning both of them together in the same sentence and quickly tried to recover from her gaffe.

“Sometimes, like when Michael has me out buying glue by the gallons, I wish Jim had gotten the job.”

Of course, she didn’t mean it. She only said things like that from time to time to throw the crew off from discovering their secret. She was becoming more comfortable with the idea of letting everyone know about them but truth was that the keeping it a secret was still kind of hot and she was enjoying the secret looks they gave each other, the suggestive IM’s they would send, and the stolen kisses they shared in the breakroom.

Today, the IM’s were not about what they did on the beach after the sun when down that past weekend. Today they were discussions on what to do to keep Michael from bringing the beach to Dunder Mifflin.

It still amazed Pam and Jim both, that the twerp who couldn’t land a single one in all the time he’d been in Scranton had been entrusted by David and the board to save the company from declining sales and obsolescence in the marketplace. But he was now in charge and was making it known with his constant memos on how to make paper young and sexy and the new projects and programs he instituted.

Ever since Ryan took over Jan’s old job, the agenda he pushed was creating a bigger social presence. He seemed to think that what the paper industry and Dunder Mifflin in particular needed was a bigger buzz around it. Finding new ways to get customers engaged, he liked to say, would surely bring swarms of new sales.

And what Ryan wanted, Michael aimed to deliver so when Ryan suggested summer Friday client appreciation days, it put quite the bee in Michael’s bonnet.

Jim had to admit Ryan’s idea wasn’t terrible. Summer was a slow time and treating clients to social events, mini-seminars and casual business mixers at the offices on summer Friday afternoons, could help get them in front of decision-making executives and differentiate Dunder Mifflin from their big box competitors.

But Ryan was more of a talker than a doer so instead of fleshing out the program and events, he let Michael run with it and that was his first big mistake. Of course, Michael, knowing Ryan wanted to make Dunder Mifflin seem youthful, took the directive to come up with over-the-top activities that were outlandish and bizarre, more geared towards college coeds than mature businessmen.

But perhaps, Ryan wasn’t so foolish here. Lazy maybe, but not misguided. Maybe he was just savvy enough to know the person who had bowed out of the job he now held, the one who left the position open for him to appropriate, would be micro-managing Michael from his number two position. And he’d been in his seat long enough to know that Pam spent hours of her day keeping Michael from getting into trouble.

And that was how Pam and Jim spent most of the day.

“Hello Pamkini,” Michael hummed as he approached her desk when he arrived Tuesday morning. “Are you ready for more beach fun?”

Pam rolled her eyes and looked across the room to Jim, beseeching his help without saying a word. She knew this was going to be another one of his harebrained ideas for the Friday client events. Last week he suggested a paper mâché party which wouldn’t have been such a terrible idea had he not wanted to create a giant statue of a transformer and charge each client back for all the paper that it would require to make it.

“Can you gather all the warehouse guys together, Jim, Dwight and Kevin too. We’re going to make this Friday’s event an indoor beach party. We need to head to the beach to stockpile sand and shells so we can start creating a beachy atmosphere in the conference room.”

Pam looked at Michael with a worn-out expression, ready to point out the many flaws in his plan. Again, the concept was not completely terrible, but his planned execution was not only outrageous but also unfeasible.

“I know what you are thinking my little bikini bottom,” Michael said responding to the annoyance that she couldn’t hide from her eyes.

“That we’ll never be able to gather enough sand to cover the whole conference room, but we won’t need to because you girls will be lying out on beach towels in your bikinis. Too bad Karen’s not still here. We could use another beach babe.”

Jim had already made his way over to Pam’s desk when he heard the words indoor and beach together, just in time to catch the look on Pam’s face when Michael brought up Karen. Karen’s name, whenever it came up still made Pam uncomfortable, just as much because she was Jim’s ex as it was because Pam knew that she probably hated Pam even more now and Pam was devastated to think of anyone hating her. 

“So you know this can’t happen Michael”, Jim started and so began a morning of talking Michael out of the event he was planning for Friday and coming up with a more reasonable replacement. Once talked out of it, Jim had to start calling up clients to explain how they need not arrive Friday afternoon in their swim gear and Pam had to run to the Toys ‘R Us to return the wading pools she’d already purchased last week unaware of what he had planned for them.

While Pam was out Jim took a quick break from his calls to clients to make a call to Christopher’s for a reservation, this time making sure to request a seat in Beth’s section. He knew she’d get a kick out of hearing the reason for this dinner.  She’d enjoyed hearing about Michael and the Dundies when they told her about them the last time they were there, laughing at the stories about their crazy office. This new tale would be sure not to disappoint.

 

~~~

 

“If it isn’t my favorite couple,” Beth spoke as she arrived at their table after the sexy hostess who had a bad habit of batting her eyes at Jim, led them back to a spot by the window.

Pam was relieved when the minx, who always stood a little too close to Jim, returned to her post at the front and Pam’s favorite server took her place tableside.  

“I bet you say that to all your customers,” Pam quipped with a large smile, happy to see Beth as their waitress again.

“You got me,” Beth grinned as she filled their water glasses. “Any special reason you’re dining with us tonight. Aside from a craving for grilled cheese?”

Jim answered for them, holding up his water glass in triumph.

“We successfully circumvented another Michael Scott debacle. And that, if you can remember what we told you last time about our wacky boss, is something to celebrate.”

Pam rolled her eyes as Jim went on to tell her all about his plans for the beach party right down to his carting in the sand and having the females of the office pretend to be sunbathing on the floor as corporate managers stepped over them and tossed around a beach ball.

“He’s trying to score points with his new boss, which incidentally used to be our old office temp,” Pam injected into the conversation, making a slight bit of an excuse for Michael where she knew Jim wouldn’t.

Beth looked around her section to see if she was needed before she responded. Pam followed her gaze to see what it was she was looking at. Two other nearby tables had diners seated at them. 

The first, a young family was very much preoccupied with the meals in front of them, the mom was up out of her seat standing over a child cutting the meat into bite-size portions, while a second child was using his hands to put pasta in his mouth but also in his hair and his sister’s lap. The dad, seemed not to notice anything but the meal he was devouring and the near empty beer in front of him. The mom’s plate, Pam noticed was yet untouched.

At the second table an elderly couple sat deep in conversation, drinking coffee and sharing the tasty-looking desserts they’d been brought by Beth before she made her way to Jim and Pam. Pam noticed how sweetly the older man scooped up a bite of the decadent cake and held it out on the fork to feed his wife. She couldn’t help but think how absolutely adorable this couple was and wondered if they were regular diners of Beth's as well.

Beth noticed how Pam seemed entranced by them.

“They are sweet, aren’t they? Been coming here for as long as I’ve been working here,” Beth shared. “He still holds her chair out for her when they sit down and they always order two desserts but only take a bite or two of each. I’ve tried to suggest they order one and share it but they always insist on ordering their own.”

Pam turned and took another glance in their direction before turning back to Beth who continued on about the older lovebirds.

“This is what they told me, it’s so beautiful…they’ve been married for 52 years and all those years together they’ve learned to make compromises. There’d many been things they had to give up or reluctantly take on, not just for each other but for their children and even their grandchildren. They say they’ve never once regretted these choices, never saw them as sacrifices. Their life has been rich with good fortune and love because they learned how to bend and flow for the sake of their marriage and family. But now in their golden years, they feel like it’s time they can have exactly what they want, but still get to feel the joy in sharing. And that’s why they each always order their own dessert.”

Pam and Jim both couldn’t help but be touched by the sweet story Beth shared. An expression passed between them as their waitress spoke, unspoken but mutually implicit that they aspired to have a life as filled with love as their fellow diners.

“Excuse me guys, but while I don’t know the family at the other table, it does look like he’s about to need a refill on his beer. While I’m at the bar, Mixed Berry Smash for you?” she pointed inquisitorially at Pam.

“Of course,” Pam giggled.

Beth turned to Jim.

“Gin and Tonic?”

“Sure, why not,” he accepted as if the idea of having a drink wouldn’t had crossed his mind had Beth not suggested it. But Pam knew he’d been looking forward to that drink ever since Michael starting bouncing around the beach ball that morning.

“Okay, I’ll be right back. I want to hear more about this office beach party.”

After attending to her other guests, she came back to the table with their drinks. Without missing a beat, she asked Jim to elaborate on the story he began earlier.

“Well Michael does sound a little bit off the wall, but your office sounds like a hoot. It must be a lot of fun to work there. We all need a little fun to get us through our work days, right?”

Jim nodded in agreement with a raised eyebrow and half smile tossed to Pam. There was no way to explain just how much fun Michael created for them on a regular basis. And how much extra work that fun sometimes created for them.

“I’ll let you two in on a little secret. We play a little game here to keep things fun and interesting,” Beth continued. “We call it the Dating Pool. It’s why I was so interested in you two the first time you were here. I thought you,” she looked to Jim with a subtle smirk, “might have been planning to propose that night by sticking a ring in the grilled cheese you ordered. Little did I know it was your first date.”

Pam smiled warmly up at Beth but noticed that Jim’s face did not also display the happy countenance that came over her with the memory of that night. But she also knew Jim too well to know why.

“Way to go, Beth – you just ruined tonight’s plan.” Jim glowered at Beth.

In response Beth’s eyes widened and the stain of guilt washed over her face. That is until she noticed the corners of Jim’s mouth turned upward into the faintest of smiles which she soon mirrored back still not completely sure if he was just messing with her or maybe she had in fact ruined the plan he had set for tonight.

“Relax, Beth,” Pam jumped in to save Beth from the compunction that was written all over their waitress’s face. “Remember we’ve only been dating a few months. We haven’t even told anybody we are together, Jim’s not out buying a ring just yet.”

Beth could have sworn she noticed Jim’s Adam’s apple bobble as he swallowed hard and averted his eyes from his date and from her. He clearly had or had been thinking about it and Beth not wanting to spoil anything for real, quickly diverted the conversation before Pam, too noticed the secret written all over this face.

“So, let me tell you two about why I was hoping it was a proposal that night.”

Pam shuffled her chair closer so she could lean up her elbows while Jim slouched back, the lump in his throat no longer doing a jig up and down his neck, but both turned their attention to Beth as she explained how the dating pool worked.

“There’s an elaborate point system but we play on the honor system. We get awarded points for a variety of situations. To begin couples always get us 2 points but we get 5 more points for couples on a first date with 5 bonus points if it’s a blind first date.”

“Ooh, so you got 7 points that night for us,” Pam squealed as she heard. “Is that a lot?”

Beth took another step closer to the table, dropping her head down a bit closer to the couple who tonight had only given them two points so far.

“Well, normally it would be but I also lost points because of you two that night. I lost points each time you cried,” she directed her eyes towards Pam.  “A point each time. But luckily you didn’t fight because that’s a 5-point deficit and we lose 10 points if a couple at our table breaks up over dinner, and though this is rare, we lose 25 points when someone throws a drink in their date’s face.”

At that moment Jim picked up his drink, looking as if his was contemplating it. He began the simulate a toss but instead shifting the course of the glass to his mouth instead and took a sip.

“I wouldn’t dare,” he began before adding, “Her drink has a lot more left in it than mine, and I wouldn’t want to get a berry in the eye.”

“Ignore him,” Pam instructed turning her attention to Jim with her own glass raised in warning while playfully sticking her tongue out at him.

“Okay, okay, settle down you two. You want to get me more points here, not less. We wouldn’t want any accidental drink tossing. Now, you’ll have plenty of chances to get me more points. We get 10 points for double dates and for dating anniversaries – years only, months don’t count although I’ve argued the first month should.”

She looked around briefly for Pete who was the one who first vetoed the one-month anniversary award.

“But feel free to come by with friends once you out yourselves since you still seem to be keeping your love a secret. I’ve gotta believe though that you’re not fooling anyone. There is love written all over both your sweet faces.”

“We are very, very good at subterfuge,” Jim boasted.

“Yes, our years of practice playing pranks on Jim’s deskmate and the constant cameras on us trained us well for this. We have very good poker faces.”

Neither mentioned the years they had to pretend and hide their true feelings about each other to everyone including themselves. They realized they had never before mentioned the documentary being filmed at their office to Beth. Of course, the mention of cameras shifted the course of the conversation.

“What cameras?”

Pam wanted to hear more about the game. The documentary was something they liked to forget when they were on their own and camera-free for however brief their breaks were. Still, she knew how interesting it always was for people when they first heard about the show and the cameras and she also knew it would not be something they could get away from sharing.

“So, our office is the subject of a documentary being filmed. For three years so far, we’ve had camera crews following us around and interviewing us on a regular basis.”

Jim added, “It’s become so part of our daily lives we forget that anyone outside our office circle doesn’t know about it.”

“But we like to forget about it when they’re not around.”

“You can’t drop that kind of information on me and not give me the details,” Beth protested. “I know you don’t know me all that well, but you must know this is the stuff I get giddy for.”

Pam really didn’t want to get into the details at that moment, it was off-camera time for them. She looked across to Jim who without speaking was somehow channeling Ross from friends, mouthing Pivaaat at her when Beth wasn’t looking.

Pam started to giggle the same way she had Sunday night when they caught the episode he was acting out. He did an even better Ross when he could do the voice, but even now her memory of it had her practically in tears making it a little bit difficult for her to pivaaat as directed.  Jim had to jump in to shift the conversation.

“Okay, we promise to tell you all about it another time but first you need to finish telling us about this game. This is the kind of thing Pam gets giddy about. What else gets you points?”

Beth made them promise to tell her about the documentary another time before she returned to the details of the game.

“We get 15 points for wedding anniversaries, 20 for silver and 25 for golden, and 15 also for birthdays, this the only instance where we get points for non-couples.”

“Um, isn’t it like cheating if you tell us about the game?”

Beth paused to think about it, “Hmm, never thought of that. Okay, nevermind.”

She started to walk away making a point of each step away from the table but then with a huge grin stepped back around to share one last bit, the coveted prize that she had been hoping for when she spotted this adorable couple months ago.

In a hushed tone she whispered,” Proposals are an instant win. I thought I had that when you guys came in that first night. No hurry, though. It’s really sweet to see your relationship develop. Plus, you should never rush into things. I did and I wound up divorced. Take it from me, better to take it slow and be sure. Now let me go get you some bread while you decide what you want.”

Jim knew Beth was talking about the meal. That he would take another look at the menu to decide on. About making the woman across from him his wife, there wasn’t a doubt in his mind.

End Notes:

This was a lot of filler fun but for those who don't know about the game from All that Glitters is Gold it explains a lot.

Oh and we know that Michael will soon tire of trying to impress Ryan or even follow his instructions (Powerpoint, Powerpoint, Powerpoint) but this is still early and Michael's still got his man-crush. 

Hope it was fun. I love to get your thought so lay em on me. 

Losing Points by Maxine Abbott
Author's Notes:

Moving right along - we're into season 4 with this chapter. Lots of fluff and some bits that may be considered AU but I hold they are still plausible and within canon. 

You can agree or disagree.  

October, 2007

 

Pam’s first mistake was wearing the green sweater.

The one Jim loved.

The one he said matched the green in her eyes and brought out the gold in her hair.

The sweater that the last time she put it on didn’t stay on very long. When he told her how beautiful she looked in it and she kissed him in response, his reaction was primal, his sudden need for her unmistakable in the way his body reacted to that kiss. And in her reaction to his reaction, a domino effect took off taking with it all of their clothes.

So yeah, Pam knew he liked the way it looked on her and knew the risk she ran wearing it. But because they’d spent the night each at their own apartments, she felt safe in putting it on. He wouldn’t see her until they were out the door and on the way to the office where they had trained themselves to curb their affections.

Even if he did come in for a minute or so that morning, being she was running late and he, unlike Roy, wasn’t one to honk and wait in the running car, she would not let him into the bedroom where the trouble usually began.

Trouble, that beautiful, enrapturing, frivolous, moan-inducing, make her body explode with pleasure, trouble.

It wasn’t like it was the sweater per se. It wasn’t revealing or particularly clingy, sheer or otherwise what might be considered by your average man as provocative attire. But Jim wasn’t your average man, and when it came to Pam, she never knew what might drive him into a sexual tizzy. Just the other day, while at the sink rinsing a dish, she used her stockinged foot to rub at an itch just below the knee of her other leg, and before she knew it Jim was behind her massaging the spot with his hands, and once he removed the stockings, his mouth, taking care of the itch on her leg but creating a much more significant tingling to other parts of her body.

So it was with the green sweater, innocuous as it seemed, it had quite an effect on both of them when she put in on.

It was the way he looked at her when he saw her in it that one morning that made it dangerous. When Jim got that look, the one that made her feel cherished and desirable and sexy, she couldn’t help but melt in response when he touched her.

The night before was one of the few nights they’d spent apart. Pam was still working on her art class project and needed to spend some extra time alone to finish it. She’d spent so much time on his birthday canvas, she’d fallen behind on the newest assignment. Still, it was worth it, the canvas she’d painted as part of his birthday gift, when revealed brought a glossiness to his eyes and that same look to his face, the one that made her toes tingle, her stomach flutter and her center emulsify.

At least a week behind from were she needed to be on this project she knew it might take a while, and knew she couldn’t have the distraction of Jim around. Try as he did to let her paint in peace, even when he didn’t say a word, she felt his eyes on her back and his silent stares were almost as sidetracking as his questions about colors and brush strokes and inspiration. 

Pam told Jim she’d need to be alone to work and would call him if she finished early but when she was still painting at midnight, they decided that they’d just see each other at work the next day.

When he showed up at her door that morning, with coffee because he knew she’d be tired and a kiss because he’d missed her last night, he noticed her in the sweater and told her again.

“God Pam, I love that sweater on you. The color, it’s like the color of your eyes and you look so pretty when you wear it.”

Blushing, Pam raised up on tip toes to kiss him, not only for the compliment but also for the coffee, careful to only brush his cheek and not his lips as that’s where things went off the rails the last time.

 

The second mistake Pam made in the break room.

The recharge he brought her that morning when he’d arrived at her apartment with much needed caffeine—she painted until well after 2am— was worthy of a caffeine-laden gift in response (never mind, that grape soda didn’t actually have caffeine) and so she bought an extra can from the soda machine.

Now that he was back on grape soda, after months of pretending he was over it, it was his preferred pick-me up beverage once again. The sugar it contained, but more so the association of the drink to who he truly was, provided the buzz that had been missing for both of them when he first had been back from Stamford.

She had planned to give him his canned refreshment at his desk where there would be no temptation to have any physical contact. Knowing Dwight’s eagle eyes were always on them kept their public interactions chaste and proper. Kevin had an unexplainable sixth sense that alerted him any time they got within a foot of each other, his head popping up like a Pavlovian dog, distracting him from work, perhaps causing the accounting errors that Angela was always going on about, but likely not as she’d been complaining long before Jim and Pam had started dating and Kevin started being suspicious.

Angela too, seemed to be particularly observant of what she once identified as Pam Pong, and in the last week her normal snarls and daggered looks seemed to have intensified, particularly whenever she noticed Pam and Jim together.

All of this served as yet another deterrent from trying to sneak any illicit touches. While in the office they tried to keep their contact minimal so nothing could be interpreted as anything other than the interactions of good friends.

But Pam was beginning to get frustrated at having to keep up the charade, and frustration gave way to carelessness and risks. They’d already been discovered by the doc crew and that meant the gig was almost up.

It was carelessness that had her thinking about the look he gave her that morning when he saw her in her sweater. The smirk he gave her now only made it worse. The way his eyes twinkled, a kaleidoscope of mischief, adoration and seduction that hid a secret wink behind them that Pam knew was all for her.

It was risky for her to recall the kiss from the morning, the little peck, that she still felt on her lips as she smiled back at him.

And it was pure reckless abandon that made her decide to do it again. Reach up and kiss him, right there in the breakroom where anyone could walk in and see them. Luckily, she thought, nobody did.

 

Except someone had.

Toby.

And soon, the entire office knew.

 

It wasn’t so bad, at first. Michael was ecstatic, carrying on about how his heart soared with the eagle’s nest or some clichéd jargon to express his happiness for them. And that was really nice.

What wasn’t was Phyllis’ comment in the breakroom, Kevin’s questions about their sex life, and Creed’s predictions on how long they would last.

And then days later when Ryan found out in the most awkward way possible, Pam thought that would be the worst of it.

And it pretty much was. Ryan insisted the dating form be filed with Toby after all and by then everyone had made their comments, both the public ones and privately in interviews with the doc crew.

By the time Thursday arrived, it was pretty much business as usual. The office seemed more excited about the leftovers from the gift baskets Michael had put together and had pretty much forgotten about Pam and Jim’s recently revealed relationship.

And that, for some strange reason Pam also found disappointing. She knew that the fact she and Jim were finally dating wasn’t life-changing for anyone else but she thought that their officemates would be happy for them for more than a minute.

She knew she was crazy to feel what she was feeling. It was better that the attention was no longer on them. She knew firsthand how much office relationships, once out in the open, could have an effect on more than just the two people in them. She also knew how much they could be influenced by those others sharing the workspace. It was one of the biggest reasons they had decided to keep things quiet at first, so they could focus on navigating their new relationship instead of steering away from the inevitable issues that would arise once the rest of the office knew.

Dwight definitely seemed to be one who was affected by their new relationship. He’d been weirdly hostile once he found out, well more hostile than normal. And moody. Pam had a good idea it wasn’t personal, at least not personal towards her. Jim that was another story, but Pam imagined Dwight would be genuinely happy for her. After all they’d had a real bonding moment when she’d been his secret assistant to the regional manager for the millisecond she held the position.

Pam was pretty sure this was still residual effects of the Sprinkles debacle. Things still seemed very tenuous between him and Angela and this seemed to be causing him to lash out more than usual. Until his relationship was back to normal, as normal as a relationship between those two could be, it was probably best not to rub their happiness in his face.

And Kelly, she nearly bit off Pam’s head for saying hello the morning after they’d been outed. Things had obviously not gone well with her reunion with Ryan. She could only hope Kelly wouldn’t find out how he, days later had asked Pam out to dinner under the pretense of interest in her design skills for the new company logo.

So rational Pam, knew it was best their 5 minutes of fame, at least when it came to their new office romance was over, but sentimentalist Pam was sorry to see it pass so quick and she lamented to Jim about it over their breakroom lunch.

“I think I know how to cheer you up. I know someone who’s always genuinely thrilled to have a happy couple in their midst.”

Pam knew exactly who Jim was referring to. Someone who could earn some points too if they showed up at her restaurant, especially if they called it second birthday, being it was still Jim’s birthday month.

It was too late to get a reservation for Friday but Jim was able to secure a seating in Beth’s section for Saturday night and that had Pam feeling better already.

~~~

It was a busy night. They’d never been there on a weekend before and now they knew they were best to keep up with their tradition of movies and Chinese on Saturday night and save Christopher’s for weeknights. There was a romantic buzz and a happy energy floating in the air, with more candles glistening and a bomb of flowers on each table, bouquets twice the size of what they usually were on the prior nights they’d dined there.  But there was also a wait.  Despite their reservation, they were still delayed from sitting right away and so Jim squeezed himself up into the only hole in the crowd at the bar to grab them drinks as they waited for their table to be free.  Jim ordered his usual gin and tonic for himself and a Berry Smash for Pam. When Pam spotted two free seats open up, she signaled for Jim to jump at them since at his stature he was better at navigating the crowd, but just at that moment the hostess found Jim and let him know the table was ready. There was one good thing about it being so busy, the hostess was too frazzled and rushed to make her normal googly eyes at Pam’s boyfriend.

Once seated at the table, Jim proposed a toast. 

“My heart soars...” he began.

Beth showed up mid clink.

In between tearful giggles Pam joined in as Beth made her appearance, "...with the eagle’s nest.”

“Uh, oh do I need to get a Coke ready,” Beth said as she heard the words come out in stereo.

Even wider smiles spread across three faces.

“We’ll spare you the trouble. There’ll be no jinxing tonight.” Jim said shooting a warning look to Pam, who seemed to have the word forming on her lips

Pam looked coyly at Jim but swallowed it along with a sip of her drink.

“So, what are we toasting loves?”

Jim finished the sip of his gin and tonic and set the glass back down ready to share the week’s tales with Beth but Pam was quicker to speak.

“We came out at our office this week.”

“Rather, we were outed,” Jim interjected. “And to some very mixed reactions.”

Just as Jim had predicted, despite how busy it was that night, Beth beamed at them as he told the story of the prohibited PDA that got them caught. Giving the couple her full attention, Beth listened with light in her eyes as he described Michael’s exuberance at learning they were a couple and the varied reactions of the rest of the office. Her eyes widened in amused interest when he went on to detail how later that week their boss’s boss had asked Pam out to dinner himself.

Pam blushed as Jim got to the part about Ryan and interrupted herself both to change the subject and also because she knew Beth would soon need to get back to her other tables, it was that busy.

“But it’s also Jim’s birthday…well the actual date was a few weeks back but we’ve not had a chance to get here to celebrate it.” Pam was a little reluctant to tell Beth she’d taken him somewhere else to fete him on the actual day.

“So we’ll be needing some candles on our dessert tonight, that amazing cake we saw the older couple sharing last time.”

Beth’s smile grew even larger as she turned to Jim to wish him well.

“Well happy birthday, Jim. I hope it was a great day and the year brings you lots more to celebrate…”

She flashed him another signature Beth ear-to-ear smile as she bestowed her best.

“and I hope you will celebrate it all here,” she added with a wink.

“Well thank you, Beth,” he responded to her but the glimmer in his eye was all for Pam. “I got a really special present this year. It was a long time coming but it was well worth the wait.”

~~~

The crowds had thinned significantly by the time Beth arrived at the table with the candle lit cake at the end of their meal. Grateful it wasn’t the kind of place that had the entire waitstaff come sing to him, Jim quietly blew out his candle once Pam and Beth finished a slightly more subdued chorus than the one he’d been serenaded with at his first birthday dinner at Anna Maria’s.

“Thank you, thank you and you’re welcome.” He nodded to Pam and then Beth before dipping his fork into the rich chocolate layers that were in front of him.

The faint lines at the bridge of Beth’s nose deepened as her brows furrowed in confusion.

“You know for the extra 15 birthday points.”

The lines on Beth’s face softened as Jim elaborated.

“Oh, the game. Yeah, except we only tally points Monday through Thursday. It’s far too busy to play on the weekends.”

Jim nodded with understanding; his mouth too full with rich crumb and decadent chocolate cream to speak.

"So, it seems,” Pam continued for him. “If we’d known, we would have come during the week.”

Pam was suddenly feeling guilty that they went somewhere else on Jim’s actual birthday, which had been on a Monday, a few weeks back.

“Don’t you worry about it, sweetie. Besides, nothing would have redeemed my score after the Monday I had this week.”

Beth took a quick peek around to be sure none of her other patrons were in need of a drink refill or a clean fork before she continued. Seeing all the diners in her section busy enjoying their meals, she directed her focus back to Jim and Pam and told them about the couples that had been there earlier in the week.

“Early on Monday evening, my first couple came in. They reminded me a little of you two, but only in that she was small and petite and he was quite tall. But once they sat down, I got a very different vibe.”

Jim was on his third bite of the cake by now and motioning to Pam to try it. Pam, speaking only through her eyes chastised him for eating while Beth was speaking.

Beth was fast becoming almost as good as Jim at reading her body language and insisted she go ahead.

“Oh go ahead...that cake it hard to resist, eat away.”

Pam smiled up at Beth as she herself dug her fork into the chocolate dessert.

“The woman, she seemed perturbed from the start, even more so when I came back to take their orders and she snapped at me because there weren’t more vegetarian options on the menu. I told her I could have the chef make her some vegetarian noodles with a side of vegetables. This seemed to make her a little happier but only for a minute. Her face scrunched in anger again when her date requested a side of beets with his well-done meat.”

Pam and Jim both set down their forks at the same moment and flashed a look to each other – obviously thinking the same thing. Beth, however, didn’t seem to notice and went on with her story.

“Like I said, once I began interacting with them, the resemblance to you two had vanished. Their exchanges seemed awkward and strained and their body language was somber and stiff. Sure enough not 5 minutes after I served them their specially-prepared meals, I heard the woman tell her date she could no longer be with him and she got up and left. The poor guy, he looked crushed. Not only did I lose points for the breakup but Pete insisted the guttural sobs coming from him as he settled the bill were worth twice the deficit, they were so disturbing. But get this, he still had me wrap up all the food they never got to eat and sat there ugly crying as he waited for me to return with his to-go meals.”

Jim was trying hard to stifle a laugh as Beth went on, while Pam kicked him under the table.

“That’s terrible, Beth. I’m sorry he cost you so many points.” She turned back to Jim who still had a laugh threatening to slip out. Accentuating her words, so Jim would understand but without revealing to Beth they were very familiar with the couple, well former couple it seemed, she continued, “but that poor guy.”

“Yeah, I felt bad for him too,” Beth went on. “It was hard not to, even with the points I lost. But believe it or not that wasn’t it for my night.”

Jim still trying to hold in his reaction forced down another bite of cake to keep himself from wisecracking. Pam knew she’d get an earful of them on the way home. She also knew they would eventually want to share with Beth how they knew the couple that had cost her the many points but once they heard the rest of the story, they decided best not to reveal that tonight.

“So not twenty minutes after the man finally leaves but I get my second disastrous couple of the night seated at the same unlucky table. I think I heard her before I saw her which was pretty remarkable in itself because she was dressed in this very clingy, hot pink, polka dot number. She also was a fan of the Mixed Berry Smash,” Beth nodded at the nearly-finished drink in front of Pam.

“She ordered three of them before their night was also cut short – but the last one she threw in her date’s face.”

End Notes:

Know what makes my heart soar with the eagle's nest - well you know.

So plausible or not?

 

 

Perfect Presents and Lucky Stars by Maxine Abbott
Author's Notes:

There are a bunch of references to some of my other stories within this one but I did want to keep those spoiler-free. But don’t worry you can still enjoy this without knowing them and I try not to give too much away.

But if your interest is piqued - the referenced stories are 

Beets on the Tree and Christmas in Their Hearts

New Year’s in New Jersey

Golden Sands – The Gift of Time

and there may be a few other references hidden in here, too. 


 

January, 2008

The cameraman’s lens was trained on Jim who in turn was fixed on the figure behind the circular desk in his line of sight.

It was nothing new.

He’d been gazing that way for years. When he’d been forced to take the seat with his back to it, he’d subconsciously angled his monitor so the reflection it captured would be the same as the one he’d been staring at since he first started at Dunder Mifflin. Even during his short stint in the Stamford office, he’d find himself sometimes lost in a daze, his eyes focused on the window but instead of the harbor, the vision he saw was a mirage of the curved desk back in his hometown and the curly-headed receptionist that sat behind it.

Lost in his own head as he gazed, he felt a smile come to his face and shook his head in awe that it was all real. That the visions of sharing holidays and weekends and everydays with her, images that had once only crystallized in his head, were now memories they’d made together. That the feeling of holding her hands and kissing her lips and worshipping her body, once only a sensation his mind could trick his body into feeling while dreaming, was now what he had the pleasure of experiencing very palpably and very regularly.

No longer was he left to imagine how she spent her holidays as they took their leave from work the last day before the winter break. This year he experienced the wonder of sharing them with her, from the  old traditions that they were excited to bring into each other’s lives to the new ones they had begun now that they were a couple.

Today he watched her absent-mindedly as she sipped from the new mug with the carton beagle that had arrived days before—the mug, another reminder of the magical holiday season they’d celebrated together and just how implanted into his family she was becoming.

He couldn’t see it, but he knew just out of sight, hidden behind the desk, was the teal teapot. The teapot he’d given her during a very different Christmastime two years ago.

Simple as it was, the ceramic vessel had extraordinary powers to transport him back in time, to summon memories of when he bought it. When he pulled her name for the office gift exchange, it felt like a sign, a push from Eros, or Cupid or whatever deity was in charge of his romantic destiny to tell her what she truly meant to him.    

As per the rules set forth for Secret Santa, he had a budget of twenty dollars, not a large sum in which to purchase a gift that could convey the intense feelings he had for her. He struggled to come up with something that could tell her how well he knew her, how much he wanted to make her happy, how much he loved her and how he would do anything to be the one she loved in return.

When he came up with the teapot, he knew he had nailed it, especially once he added to it the bonus gifts that he hoped would draw out that magical smile of hers, the one where her eyes flashed a little extra twinkle, her cheeks radiated with the glow of her laughter and the tip of her tongue peeked out from between her perfect teeth.

It was a safe gift too should Roy happen to see it. Jim knew Roy wouldn’t read anything more into a teapot. To him it would have been seen as nothing special, just a mere token gift from one colleague to another. He’d have no idea how much thought had gone into it. Hell, Jim wasn’t even sure if Roy knew Pam liked to drink tea, him being so self-absorbed and oblivious to all the things that made her the extraordinary person she was.

In contrast, when it came to Pam, there was nothing that Jim didn’t notice, nothing that didn’t add to the feelings that were growing stronger every time she smiled, or joined him in a prank, laughed out loud at one of his or shared a little tidbit about herself that he hadn’t known before.

Each new quality he noticed made him more and more crazy about her. As time went on, his once solid insides were becoming more and more like the Jell-O he liked to put Dwight’s office supplies in. There was nothing he found he didn’t like about her, except maybe her fiancé and how she let him treat her. It upset him to know he noticed all the little things, where Roy didn’t. Maybe he had once upon a time and stopped but Jim knew if she were his, every day he would find something new to love about her. He would cherish her always. 

Through the teapot he hoped to convey this. Every one of the items he placed in it, though on the surface trivial and seemingly insignificant, had meaning and a connection to something he loved.

Her smile and adorable laugh were tied up in the yearbook photo.

Her feistiness was embedded in the little pencil she’d thrown at him.

Her limited taste in music but openness to give his a listen was recorded onto the cassette tape.

Attached to the hot sauce packets was her careless side, that came out when she was hungry but also inside them was her ability to laugh at herself.

But if the teapot or the yearbook photo or the hot sauce or mixed tape or any of the other trinkets didn’t say enough, he’d put down his heart into the card, the card that if Roy did see, there would be no mistaking it for a friendly holiday message from a co-worker.

He still had that unopened card.

Its home had moved around a bit since he slipped it back into his suit pocket. It had been kept on a top shelf of his closet, then his nightstand drawer when he relocated to Stamford.  When he’d moved himself and his belongings to his childhood home for the two-week period before his new lease back in Scranton began, he tucked it into the shoebox from his Allen Edmonds Oxfords.

He thought about giving it to her on this, their first Christmas together, but something held him back so the shoebox was where it still remained, though now in the closet of his own apartment.

But even without the card to speak for him, he once again poured his soul into the choosing her holiday gifts.  Not having to keep it under twenty dollars helped. So did not having to hide his feelings any longer even if he did have to put on an act for a week as he set up the first present. The one he surprised her with after Isabel’s Ugly Sweater party. The one that wasn’t even a present, not in the traditional sense because it wasn’t something she’d keep, not like an item of clothing or piece of jewelry and not something they could do like see a show or take a trip.

In spite of its more symbolic nature, or maybe because of it, she said it was the most special thing he gave her, the gift that had it been all he bought for her, would have still made it the best holiday surprise she’d ever received.

But it wasn’t her only gift. He had bought her jewelry, an anklet with a small gold seashell charm. When he saw it at the jewelry store, he knew it was for her, something she’d wear close to the feet that walked on fire to work up the courage to let him know what she’d been feeling and what she wanted.  That night at beach was the true turning point that brought them together and the look on her face as she opened it told him she knew just what he’d meant for the anklet to say.

Of course, there had to be a gag gift, and this one he gave her next. She wore a confused look on her face as she took the strange shaped and badly wrapped item from under the tree.  The look remained as she ripped off the paper to discover a step stool and only gave way to glorious laughter when Jim announced his days of dropping everything to come help her get stuff from her second shelf were over.

Her happy chortle continued as she unfolded the stool and stepped upon it to christen it and thank him with a proper, perfectly aligned kiss for all her gifts, including him.

Not able to contain himself once he started, he kept shopping, resulting in a stocking stuffed with lots of other things he knew she’d like, a box of herbal tea, a peony scented candle, a set of new Pastel pencils, the Outlander book he’d heard Oscar suggest, a heart shaped picture frame and a little silver duck that he noticed caught her eye at a little shop they stopped in by the outlet mall.

She laughed when she pulled it out, knowing why he bought it but explained she had been eyeing it because she thought her mom might like it for her garden.

And she laughed even harder when he pulled out the shaving brush and stand, similar to the one he’d been eyeing at the same shop and he shared with her he’d thought it would make a nice gift for his dad. 

Silver duck and shaving brush included, the gifts were worth every penny but they’d both way overspent and so they’d had to cut back on eating out – it had been a lot of grilled cheese dinners the months leading up to and following the holidays. The one exception was to be New Year’s but a favor for his brother put a wrench in that plan.

In the end however, New Year’s in New Jersey was the perfect way to wrap up a year that began a little rough for both of them but by the 365th day had become one that they both could say was the best year of their lives.

“Hey Idiot. Didn’t anyone ever tell you it was impolite to stare?”

Dwight had just returned to his desk. Normally, Jim might have responded by shifting his gaze to Dwight and staying focused on him for the remainder of the afternoon. But he already had a prank lined up for later that day so he knew he’d have his fun when the timers he strategically placed in and around his desk began to sound their alarms one after another just as Pam would pretend to put a call through from his biggest client but not before remarking, “um, Dwight he sounds a slight bit angry.”

Knowing what was to come allowed Jim to fight his current instincts as Dwight crawled under his skin. Ignoring him, he kept his gaze on the woman with whom, as each day passed, he fell deeper and deeper in love with.

She, being intently focused on her computer screen, probably deep into a game of solitaire or searching online for something fun, yet inexpensive for them to do that weekend, hadn’t noticed him watching her yet.  

And then there it was, broadening across her face as she looked up to notice his glance, that same magical smile that drew him in deeper still and pulled him from his desk to hers.

“Christopher’s tonight?” he asked as she approached. “I think it’s time we made up our New Year’s dinner.”

“Michael’s got other plans?” she questioned before agreeing.

They hadn’t been to Christopher’s in months. They’d been meaning to get back since missing their New Year’s plans, but there always seemed to be something that kept them away. Post-holiday fatigue, unexpected snowstorms, and an impromptu inventory night to make up for the one where Kevin hadn’t realized he had to input the quantities into the program and not just write them on sticky notes that the guys in the warehouse pulled off the boxes the next day.

They’d finally made plans to go last week on the same day Michael had invited them to dinner at his condo. For once they truthfully did have plans that weren't just doing anything that wasn’t a double date with their boss and Jan.

Michael as usual seemed disappointed, but retreated to his office in defeat. Later that morning, however a memo went around instructing everyone to share their favorite restaurant, the more romantic the better, for a Valentine’s Day newsletter he was putting together. Unable to wait even 10 minutes for a suggestion, he soon called a conference room meeting to survey the staff in person, clueing Jim in that Michael was up to something. Pam was first to be polled and she almost let it slip, their special spot, but quickly changed her answer to Friendly’s when she caught Jim’s eye and his subtle head shake.

“We really like ice cream,” she added.

“Sharing a sundae is super romantic.” Jim threw in for added effect.

It was hard to know how he figured it out, maybe through Phyllis, or maybe he was just smarter than they gave him credit for because when they pulled into the parking lot of their favorite place, Jim immediately spotted the red PT Cruiser and without a beat turned around. That night instead of seeing Beth, Pam waited in the car as Jim picked up take-out, purchased with the gift card that arrived with the mug.

Jim peeked over the ledge to catch a glimpse of what had Pam so absorbed by on her computer, just missing whatever it was as the screen saver took over and his own likeness popped onto the monitor, a sweet photo that his mom took of the two of them at Christmas.

“It’s Wednesday. I’m pretty sure it’s improv night.”

“Then it’s a date.”

~~~

Beth was excited to see them when they arrived but it was a busier than usual Wednesday so it wasn’t until later in the meal when she got a chance to say more than a quick hello when she took their orders.

“So where have you two been for the last 3 months. I thought you were coming to ring in the New Year with me,” she asked as she at long last got a chance to linger at their table and give them a bit of guilt trip for staying away so long.

“We had a family emergency,” Jim shared causing a look of alarm to come over Beth’s face.

“I wouldn’t call it an emergency, Jim,” Pam expounded as she saw Beth’s worry. Jim’s brother needed a last-minute sitter for his kids so that’s why we had to cancel.”

“Well family first,” Beth spoke demonstrating her understanding. “And how were your holidays? Wonderful, I take it?”

Beth took a quick peek at Pam’s hand which Jim noticed. He’d certainly thought about it, but the ring was still tucked away with the card in the shoebox.

“They were perfect,” Pam eyes twinkled as she answered. “And yours?”

“Profitable. My son was with his father this year for Christmas so I took all the holiday shifts. We were packed here every night. And to be honest, it was nice to see so many of my regular customers. It was like having my extended family with me to celebrate. But I missed you two.”

“Wow, you give guilt like my mom does.”

Pride bloomed on Beth’s face at Jim’s comment.

“Speaking of profits, any big wins for you during our absence?” Pam asked.

“I did okay, won a week here and there but had no big streaks. But that does remind me of a story to tell you two. It had to do with an anniversary.”

Jim set down the drink he’d just finished and waited for Beth to continue.

“I met this guy at the gym. Actually, I’ve kind of known him a while, we’ve been flirting with each other ever since we shared a laugh over the guy who liked his music or whatever he was listening to in his headphones just a little bit too much,” she winked as she bobbed her head wildly up and down in demonstration.

Jim raised his eyes with curious musing but said nothing.

“Anyway, he finally asked me to grab a coffee after a workout one day and asked for my number. After a few calls and another coffee date, he asked to see me for dinner. Of course, I agreed.”

“That’s wonderful Beth. Did you have the dinner yet?”

“Well, that’s the kicker. Two days later I got to see him at dinner,” she responded to Pam’s inquiry, “The one he was having to celebrate his anniversary, here…with his wife.”

“Oh, that’s terrible. What did you do?”

“Oh boy, more than anything I wanted to forgo 25 points so I could throw a drink in his face… but I’m a professional. I held my tongue through the meal, smiled at his unsuspecting wife, poured his champagne. When I left the bill, I wrote on it to lose my number which was little dangerous but I was so mad.”

“As you should have been. What a swine!” She looked across to Jim who, though she knew would never do such a thing, was still a member of the sex that had perpetrated this heinous act. “What is wrong with your sex?”

“Aw Pam, leave him out of it. He’s one of the good ones.”

“Yeah, leave me out of it,” Jim said sheepishly. “No, but Beth, on behalf of my sex I do apologize for some of the pigs out there. I know the type...” he looked across to Pam whose countenance said she knew just the person to whom he was referring to.

“That must have been just awful.”

“At least he left me a pretty big tip, hush money, you know. And he hasn’t shown up at the gym since. Oh, excuse me loves I’ve got a new table,” she said as she noticed the hostess seat a group of ladies in her section.

Beth left to attend to her new patrons while Jim and Pam continued their meal.

“You know we should try and set her up with someone.”

“Ok cupid, who are you thinking? It’s not like she’s near our age? You know a lot of men in their… what do you think mid 50’s, early 60’s?”

Pam thought about it a bit.

“Creed?”

Jim let her think about her suggestion before he voiced his opinion.

“Um, I thought we liked Beth.”

“Yeah, guess not. I just feel so bad for her. She’s really such a nice person and she seems lonely.”

Pam, right on cue, got up to visit the restroom as she always did after she finished her meal, leaving Jim to think about Beth’s situation and how lucky he was he was no longer out there.

Dating was rough, he knew from experience. Of course, for him it hadn’t been rough because of any trouble finding dates. He never had much of a problem with that. No, it had been rough because his heart had been captured from the first week he started at Dunder Mifflin and even while he dated other women, he’d known he’d never truly be able to give it to anyone else.

He looked out into the night sky and thanked his lucky stars he would never have to.

End Notes:

The headbanger in the gym was not meant to be Dwight, maybe just Dwightish. After all there's someone like him everywhere, right?

Oh and the stepstool kiss was borrowed from another show- can anyone identify (other that DJC)? 

OH and day after posting this I came back from store where I found this 

(of course I bought it)

A Peony Candle with her initials - this was absolutely the stocking stuffer candle Jim bought! 

Bean Counter by Maxine Abbott
Author's Notes:
I think there was a plot bunny for a season 3 Pam Birthday - This is not that! This is the much happier and fluffier Season 4 Pam Birthday (with a tiny bit of soul searching mixed into the cotton candy).

March 25, 2008

Sweet fragrance filled her nose.

Sunlight streamed in through cracks between the window and the shade and penetrated her eyelids pulling her from sleep.

A delicate kiss brushed her forehead as she opened her eyes to see Jim hovered above her.

Of course, without her contacts in, he was still a blur, as was the bouquet of pink puffs that sat atop the dresser behind his body. But even out of focus, she could sense the incandescent smile spread across his face and knew it was peonies that filled the room with the delightful scent that brought to mind memories of their first date.

“Happy Birthday Beesly.”

Not properly conscious enough to respond with words she murmured her reply.

“Big day today, 29,” Jim continued as he sat down beside her on the edge of the bed.   

Slowly, Pam stretched her arms trying to expel the sleep from her body. How was Jim so awake? They’d both been up late last night engaged in a little pre-birthday amusement that had her singing happy birthday and then halleluiah as he did things to her body that made her wish every night was her birthday eve.

Pam propped herself up to knock him a quick peck, mindful her morning breath, which even though Jim never seemed to mind, she still was self-conscious about after years of Roy shirking from an early kiss until after she’d brushed her teeth.  

“So, Beesly. Last year of your twenties. Have you accomplished everything you planned to by age 30?”

“Um, like what?” she questioned him as her cheeks filled with the onset of a smile. 

“Climbed Mount Everest?”

“Not yet,” she chuckled in reply.

“Made your first million?”

Out popped her tongue as her giggles grew louder.

“Not even close.”

“Barreled down Niagara Falls?”

Responding with nothing more than her laughter, she fell back on the pillow again before Jim grabbed her hands and gently tugged her back up, planting another kiss on her lips as he did.

“I take that as a no. You best get up then. You’ve got a lot to do and only one more year to get to it all. But first you have an office party to attend.”

At that, Pam dropped herself back down on the bed and pulled the covers up over her head. The muffled voice from under the blanket was unintelligible but what was clear was her dread at what could be in store for her at Dunder Mifflin that afternoon.

“Oh, and I have to warn you, there’s been a little shake-up with the PPC. Obviously, you couldn’t plan your own party so Angela needed to recruit a replacement, technically a few because Phyllis still refuses to work with her and as you know Oscar dropped out a while ago. Rumor has it Kevin stepped in on this one and Michael’s been very involved too.”

Wide eyes appeared on her face as she pulled down the comforter again.

“And you didn’t volunteer because…?”

“Oh, I tried Beesly, I promise. But you know how Angela feels about me and birthday planning after what I tried to do combining the parties last year. Besides Michael said I couldn’t be trusted not to tell you what they had in store for you.”

With that, he pulled the comforter completely off her.

Pam lay immobile in the bed as Jim turned to grab something from the dresser. For a second the thought popped in her mind that he could propose today, the excessive rummaging through the drawer was for a hidden box. Nervousness and excitement had her whole body shaking as he stood with his back to her, but when he turned back around he held only his underwear and socks in his hands.

Feeling a little relieved, after all her dream proposal didn’t include morning breath and the glasses she’d just put on, she relaxed but couldn’t help feeling a little disappointed too. Not that she was expecting it yet. As much as she knew he loved her and she loved him, it had been less than a year that they were dating, but more importantly he’d a long time ago been the ear to all her complaints about her way-too-long engagement to Roy. She knew he would not ask until they were ready to set down an actual date and plan a wedding, knowing he would never want to make her wait again to become a bride and a wife instead of a perpetual fiancée. They had a few passing conversations about it and both said they didn’t want a long engagement when the time came.

But as she lay there she began to think about schedules and time and even though it was a joke, the thing Jim had said when he woke her up. Had she done everything she’d planned to by 30? If she’d gone and married Roy, she might have thought yes. She’d be a wife, maybe even a mother, have a house and a pair of jet skis.

But Jim had changed things when he told her he loved her. Switched things up, altered the timeline, as well as her expectations and aspirations. She’d been thinking a lot about something he had long ago said to her.

Do you want to be a receptionist always?

Once, when she was going to be Roy’s wife, she couldn’t imagine not being the receptionist at Dunder Mifflin. Perhaps it was because if she wasn’t she’d no longer get to see him every day, laugh with him, share secrets with him and retain that close status as best friends, the connection she thought it was they shared. If she left Dunder Mifflin, she’d have no excuse to have him in her life because she believed, and more so Roy insisted, married women don’t have male friends, much less male best friends.

But then he’d been the one to leave and she’d discovered she did want more than that. On both fronts. He wasn’t just her best friend but because she thought she’d blown up that side of things, maybe forever, she focused on new career goals.

She started small with art classes at the community college but now, in light of Jim’s support for her passions and believing in her, she felt herself ready to take a next step.

The last few weeks in particular it had been on her mind a lot what her next thing might be and how she might prepare. The internship opportunity might have past but perhaps there was something more than the art classes that she enjoyed.

She was about to bring it up when the phone charging on the desk began hopping around, still in vibrate mode from last night when they silenced it to keep from getting disturbed during the pre-birthday celebrations.

Jim made his way to the desk before Pam was even able to pull herself to an upright position.

“Birthday celebration central. Chief wish granter speaking... Ah, Hi Mrs. Beesly,...Helene. Sure, I’ll put on the birthday girl.”

Finally out of bed, she met Jim halfway between it and the dresser and took the phone from him, tucking it between her ear and chin, to talk to her mom and then her dad while she started to pull together an outfit for the day.

“Tonight? We’re going to Christopher’s” She looked back to where Jim was watching her, a prideful smile on his face as she shared her birthday plans with her father.

“Of course, I remember, Dad. I loved going to Christopher’s with you. That’s how Jim knew to take me there. I’d been sharing stories of my daddy-daughter dates at the office and I guess he remembered me talking about it.”

She smiled coyly at him, a blush coming to her cheeks as she recalled their first date and the delight she felt as they pulled up to the lakeside farmhouse she had no idea he knew about, much less how long she’d been waiting to return to it, having outgrown having her father take her to the most romantic restaurant in town.

“Thanks Dad. Love you too.”

She hung up with her parents but returned to sit back on the bed, the day’s outfit set beside her, a dreamy look on her face as she basked in memories of that date and the last 10 months.

“Ok Beesly, with that look on your face and if you keep heading back to the bed, then we are never going to get to your party.”

~~

There was little fanfare in the office that morning save for Michael who was waiting at her desk when she returned from the kitchen with coffee, her second cup that morning. As she approached, she noticed his demeaner, that of giddy excitement, like a 5-year-old who couldn’t wait to present his mother with the macaroni necklace he’d strung together as a gift. When she took her place behind the long, curved desk she was assaulted with a blast of aluminum metalized polyethylene terephthalate that clung to her clothes, became embedded in her hair and rendered her coffee undrinkable unless she wished to spend her birthday in the hospital with toxic poisoning.

Jim, who was moments behind her shrugged in response to the look she cast his way, begging the question they both were thinking, why?

Of course, they knew the answer. Michael declared as he left the night before he was excited to celebrate another office birthday with cake and confetti. His tendency to misidentify and get so close but not quite right was not limited to words, quotes and sayings.  This time the mix-up meant glitter rather than small bits of colored paper, would remain part of the décor in Pam’s space for months to come.

“Um Michael,” Jim shared more for the cameras than for his boss, who he knew wouldn’t get it anyway, “I think Pam prefers her coffee with a splash of cinnamon and not gold sparkles.”

Aside from Michael’s early birthday surprise, the rest of the morning passed like most others, slow, tedious, uneventful. A call from Ryan called Michael away before he could destroy the replacement coffee Jim went to fetch for her and everyone else bestowed birthday greetings and then went right back to their day. Even Jim had a busier than usual morning which kept him at his desk on numerous sales calls.

As a result, Pam spent her birthday morning playing solitaire, shredding old files and fielding phones calls for the rest of the office. For some reason it weighed on her more today than normal that she was still just a receptionist.  For a second time that day, she thought about the need to make a change before she entered the next decade of her life.

It was when Jim suggested an impromptu, outside lunch, clearly part of a bigger plan to get her out of the office, she knew she’d be coming back to some surprise. Just what it would be made her a touch on edge. She’d worked there long enough to know what kind of craziness could befall the guest of honor on their special day.

However, upon returning an hour later the office seemed much the same except for a decorative sign on the door to the conference room that featured a bright pink 30.

Once again, she flashed Jim a questioning look as they neared his desk.

“I warned you Kevin was involved. Guess the Kelevin doesn’t work when you use it to calculate years.”

“And you didn’t correct them because...”

“I told you I was banned from any participation, except to get you out of here during lunch.”

Just then Michael burst out of his office, bouncing on his heels, announcing to everyone Pam and Jim’s return and calling for the party to begin. 

Not wanting to deflate his enthusiasm but feeling he should know it wasn’t the big birthday they all thought it was, she spoke up.

“Um Michael, I’m turning 29, not 30.”

“Yeah, ha ha ha. 29 again, right?  What’s with you women and not wanting to get older?”

“No Michael,” Jim interjected, sparing her from having to explain, “Pam's really turning 29. She was born in 1979.”

The lines of Michael’s forehead crunched in confusion as he tried to calculate it in his head, his eyebrows then becoming taut as he glowered at Kevin who, along with the rest of their office colleagues, was joining the small crowd forming outside the conference room.

If Michael was angry or annoyed, he quickly recovered and turned his attention back to Pam with the giddy look he’d displayed earlier.

“29, 30 what’s the difference? Fact is Pam, you are getting old.”

Pam looked to Jim with mock vexation, knowing from experience that another of the qualities that made Michael like a 5-year-old was his lack of filter and as such he meant no insult with his words.

“And because you are getting old, we’ve decided to have a Euthanize Pam party! Are you ready to be euthanized?”

It was this comment though, that had no less than 5 different faces seeking out the camera with the same expression, the one most often on Jim’s face when Michael said something so wrong it was comical. Jim, however, sought out Pam’s eyes which were trained back at him in mutual pretend disbelief.

After Oscar tried to correct him, unsuccessfully since Michael’s attention was preoccupied with getting the party started, he threw open the door revealing what was meant by his very wrong statement.

On the floor was a makeshift hopscotch grid created with masking tape. Scotch tape attached a pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey game to the far wall. One corner accommodated a blow-up baby pool that was filled with toy fish that could be reeled up by the plastic rods that lay against it. In the other corner, a large metal bowl was set up to spin sugar into colorful cotton, shedding light on the blue tongue Pam had noticed when Michael first ran out from his office to greet them and the frenzied excitement with which he did. The table was strewn with party horn blowouts in every color and also held bowl upon bowlfuls of equally colorful M&Ms, Kevin’s other contribution aside from the miscalculated age. At the end of it was a stack of paper, each sheet with a list of items to be sought in a themed scavenger hunt. And there were balloons, lots and lots of balloons.

He may have thrown it a year too soon, but Pam had to admit to herself, it was actually a rather clever and very sweet 30th birthday celebration and a lot more fun than what usually constituted an office soiree. Everyone seemed to have a blast acting like children, playing the games and seeking out the hidden treasures in the bullpen, annex and breakroom. It was no real surprise, after all this was the crew that had joyfully participated in Jim’s Office Olympics.

Even the cake, a classic devil’s food with vanilla icing and sprinkles, brought back memories of her childhood birthdays and was so good she indulged in a second slice.

Her presents too were better than usual, and she wondered if some of them were now annoyed they’d been asked to contribute extra for the milestone birthday that she would wind up having again the following year. 

Presented by Angela, the main office gift was a lush and healthy Dracaena plant in a beautiful ceramic planter, which was only somewhat less charming when delivered with the instruction, “It’s meant to be one of the heartiest houseplants there are so try not to kill it.”

Toby and Oscar gave her Dragonfly in Amber, the second of the Outlander series. She didn’t have the heart to tell them she was already in the middle of the fourth book so instead she thanked them graciously and made a mental note to drop by Barnes and Noble later that week to exchange it for The Fiery Cross. Michael too had a special gift for her outside of the group present. Once again, he was practically buoyant as he watched her unwrap her “Miss Tutu” perfume.

“It’s the smell alike for Coco Mademoiselle. It’s sure to drive Jim wild.”

Pam didn’t have to look his way to know the camera was catching yet another of her boyfriend’s signature raised eye smirks.

Though she was sure she would never wear it, she’d smelled his Night Swept after all, she enveloped him with her own outstretched arms, the rare hug a thank you for the gift and the surprisingly fun party. 

 

~~~

They were still talking about the party over dinner.

“I mean aside from getting my age wrong...”

“and going all Kevorkian on you.”

Pam chuckled as she recalled the latest Michael jargon gaffe.

“Yeah, that too. But it was a good party. A lot better than the one you threw for Creed. Maybe they were right to keep you out of it.”

“I’m hurt Beesly. If I had known you wanted to spend your birthday like an 8-year-old I would have brought you to Chuck E Cheese’s tonight instead of here.”

“Ok I take it back. You have made this a very special birthday.”

Despite having just taken a sip of her drink, her mouth went dry as she saw him reach into his jacket pocket.

“I’m hoping this will make it even more special.”

When she caught sight of the robin's-egg blue hue and distinctive white ribbon she felt her throat catch and her body start to tremble.

Was he about to drop to one knee? Was this it?

It was a Tiffany box alright but she suddenly noticed its size and felt herself relax again, for a moment, until she remembered who she was dealing with. He was the type to throw her off with an oversized box and she began to quiver again.

“I hope you like it.”

Her heart sank just a little bit as he stayed seated in his chair but she didn’t let the mild disappointment alter her happy mood. She knew in her heart the question would come when it was time and it just wasn’t quite that time yet.

It may not have been a ring box but she’d never gotten a gift from Tiffany before either. With hands still quivering hands she got to work untying the satin bow, her excitement palpable as she lifted the cover to reveal the small suede pouch.  

She pulled on the satin strings to loosen the bag and from it spilled the shiny strand into her hands. Positioned at the center of the delicate thin chain was a gleaming silver bean.

“I think the bean is more of the Jack and the Beanstalk variety than jelly but when I went to buy the little heart bracelet I had planned on and saw this instead I knew you had to have it. Whether it’s a symbol of magic or candy, it made me think of you.”

Pam was pretty sure the symbolism of the bean was not about the Easter confection or magic for that matter, but more about it’s being the origin of all things, so it was still absolutely perfect as a symbol for their love. But it was even more meaningful that he chose it for her because it made him think of the jelly beans on her desk. The colorful candies that she once thought was the main reason he began visiting her space so often and that brought them closer and closer with every one he popped in his mouth.

‘Jim, I love it. It’s perfect.”

His eyes shone with pride and matched delight as she clasped the bracelet around her wrist.

“Oh, oh, oh I know that blue box.”

Beth had returned to the table to check in on the birthday girl and her date to see how they were enjoying the meal, to share a little cheer and, Pam suspected, to get a peek of the present she just received.

“That’s my boy, Jim. You can’t go wrong with something from Tiffany, am I right Pam? So, let’s see.”

Pam presented her wrist to the server who was something more of a friend by now. Beth in return, smiled wider before she tugged down the collar of her shirt to flash her own bean back at Pam.

“Look we’re twins.”

“Oh wow. You have a bean too.”

“Yeah, it’s the only piece of jewelry my ex gave me that I still wear. It was a gift from when I found out I was pregnant with my…” she paused, her eyes searching Pam’s face before scanning down to her midsection, over to Jim and then back again to Pam

“…wait you’re not…?”

“Not unless there’s something Pam’s not telling me.”

Pam let out a little giggle before she assured Beth that no, she wasn’t expecting and together she and Jim filled her in on the significance of the bean to them.

It was moments later, when Beth left to tend to her other patrons that Pam’s face went semi-serious as she commented to Jim.

“Wow, can you believe she thought I might be pregnant.”

He didn’t answer at first, instead sat there with an odd look on his face as if lost in a daydream only to wake when Pam spoke again.

“Earth to Jim. Come in Jim.”

“Ah, yeah..., I mean no, but if you were, just imagine how excited she would be.” He paused again, the look returning.

“You know it wouldn’t be the worst thing, if you were. In fact, it would be pretty amazing.”

Glowing now, Pam’s cheeks went flush and rosy as if the mere thought of creating a new life with Jim caused her face to take on the lustrous radiance of pregnancy.

“Jimmm,” she countered bashfully. “I always imagined we’d be married first. And then children.”

“Well, me too. I’m just saying if it were to happen, I’d be over the moon.”

She caught his eyes with her own and dared not look away, wanting to absorb the glint that was there in his at the moment.

A mental picture clicked in her mind, one of her and him peering over a tiny bassinet, but the image was not a photo. Instead, it was more like an oil painting with texture, and highlights and hued flecks encapsulating all the emotions running through her as he spoke of a baby, their baby.

“Well let’s just try to be careful all the same.”

It was a little strange to hear herself say that. She’d been on top of her birth control when she was with Roy, because she was concerned, but more because he was insistent. He was the one who wanted to make sure there were no surprises as he, in his words, was still a ways off from wanting to be a dad to any rugrats too soon. Pam always knew she wasn’t ready either, given her history interacting with children, but there was a small part of her for a minuscule period of time in the middle of her extremely long engagement that entertained the notion of becoming pregnant if only because it would mean they would have to push the timeline and finally get married. But it was only a fleeting thought, one that vanished as soon as she thought about how immature he still was himself. Having a baby would mean she’d be left to take care of a new tiny infant all by herself while also still attending to a very large child.

In contrast while Jim had his playful nature, she knew he was responsible and dependable when it counted. And he was amazing with kids. That she knew from observing him at the office’s Take Your Daughter to Work days and more recently watching him with the niece and nephew that absolutely adored him.

To hear Jim say he’d be ecstatic to learn she was carrying his child, well it made her fall in love with him just a little bit more. If that was even possible.

“I’m not quite ready to be a mom yet,” Pam shared her mind once again thinking back to the things he had said that morning. “In fact, you know how this morning you asked if I’d done everything I wanted to do before 30?”

“Yeah, do you want to take a trip up to Niagara,” he joked.

She smiled but this time didn’t laugh. She didn’t know why but she was hesitant to tell him how she had been thinking about trying to do something more. It was silly, she knew he’d be supportive of anything she wanted to do. It was him after all who had been pushing her to look into the internship even after Roy had made her give up on the idea.

“No, but I’m thinking about what I can do beside the community college art classes. I’m not sure if it’s more school or looking for a job that has something more to do with art or what but I think I’m ready to not be just a receptionist anymore.”

“Pam, you have never been just a receptionist. Not to me and not by any stretch in the office. That place would fall apart without you. But that being said, let it burn if you want to go for something new. You know I will support anything you want to try. You should pursue your art. You are extraordinarily talented and capable and smart and you owe it to yourself to make the most of your gifts. Just let me know how I can help you figure out what it is you want to do and you know I will.”

Pam took a heaving breath of relief. She didn’t know why it had been of such concern to tell him. Maybe because she was scared how he’d react if she told him she might have to leave Dunder Mifflin or maybe now that they were together, he’d feel different about her pursuing something more for herself. But her fears were unfounded. Jim had reacted just as he had before, wanting only for her to be her best and be happy.

“Thank you, Jim. I’m not sure what it is yet but knowing you are behind me, well that is everything.”

“Pam, of course. I am for anything that makes you happy. Always. We’ve got a lifetime ahead of us and now is the time to start making it every bit of it what we want it to be.”

Pam fingered the small bean that now sat atop her wrist. Her birthday was nearly over but with all they had talked about over the night, she felt almost like she was reborn again thus adding another layer of symbolism to her perfect gift.

It may not have been a diamond, but to Pam it signified the beginning of forever.

 

End Notes:
Oh and shameless plug here - to find out why this gift has more significance than Jim even knows read 

Butterflies, Snowballs and Divine Intervention

Best Laid Plans of Mice and Salesmen by Maxine Abbott
Author's Notes:
Freakin' Andy.

May, 2008

 Freakin’ Andy.

It was all he could think since he got in that morning, the two words repeating over and over in his head like the pre-recorded ‘your call is important to us, please continue to hold’, he and Dwight played to customers to demonstrate the difference between them and the big box stores.

The glare of contempt he wore on his face when he first met eyes with the damned proposal thief, he was sure the cameras noticed, but Andy was too jubilant to detect. Granted, Jim had lots of practice keeping his demeaner calm and his face neutral through emotions that ran higher than they were even now, so it was no wonder Andy was oblivious.

As he strutted around the office like a dog with a huge bone, sticking out his paw as if he were wearing the diamond that should have been on Pam’s finger by now, Jim had to walk away so not to punch a hole in the wall, as Andy had done last year.

It was bad enough he’d stolen the proposal party Jim puppet-stringed Phyllis to set up, but he abused the event by requesting the hand of an undeserving Angela, who accepted as if she were reluctantly agreeing to the terms and conditions to view an article about cats on the internet. Anyone who couldn’t find it in herself to smile with her reply, especially since it was obstructing the million-watt smile that he had been anticipating all day, didn’t deserve a ring, even one from Andy.

By the time the party ended Andy had done more damage than he had back when he broke through layers of plaster. This time what he crushed wasn’t office property, but three hearts, hearts much more deserving than that of the woman whose reason for wanting to get married seemed a lot more like spite than true love.  And even if one of those hearts belonged to his worst enemy, his worst enemy that is until now, it was too much to watch him strutting around again this morning.

As Andy paraded through the office donning the smile that Pam should have been wearing last night, Jim thought about the brooding faces of his desolate desk mate and more importantly, his should-be fiancée and the feelings he’d been having about the nard dog with went from mild insults to cutting expletives, some too derogatory even to think. The only thing that made him feel even mildly better was that today Angela still seemed her same unhappy self. To see her smiling and happy might have further depressed Pam and in turn, decimated him. 

Andy wasn’t alone in his cheery mood. With Toby now off to Costa Rica, the only one who might have been more elated than Andy was Michael, but Jim was determined to change that. He knew he couldn’t fix things for Dwight, and even though he knew firsthand how crippling the pain he was feeling was, he wouldn’t even try to cheer him up.

He hadn’t however stopped thinking about how to make things up for Pam. To give her an engagement to rival the one that had been rightfully hers, usurped by his new nemesis.

With the fireworks proposal now in the possession of Andy and Angela, he had to come up with a back-up plan, a way to ask that wouldn’t seem anti-climactic after Andy stole his fireworks and his thunder last night.

They hadn’t talked much about the party or what happened there after they got home.  Instead, they focused their conversation on her good news about art school. Her quietness, however, told him something was bothering her. When they got into bed, she claimed to be too tired after all the excitement of the day to respond to the delicate kisses he planted on her shoulder. And it was no wonder, she probably sensed they were tinged with his own touch of sadness, since he was also distressed from the turn of events.

Overnight he tossed and turned, surely keeping her awake as his every movement elicited a gentle moan from her side of the bed. Normally, the little noises she made were like a lullaby to him, but tonight they were a reminder of the plain-as-day disappointment that came over her face earlier as they left the party, hand in ringless hand.

As he lay awake, his anger at Andy growing with every minute that sleep wouldn’t come, he tried to think up a new way to pop the question that could be as special as the woman on the receiving end of it.

The first idea that came to him, was a fake email from Pratt detailing the specifics of her course load along with a syllabus for the rest of her life but his e-mail hacking skills were not up to the task. Besides, he didn’t want to take anything away from her accomplishment, and not just because it was the one thing keeping her spirits up now that there was only one life-altering event she could share with her mom and dad when she called them in the morning to tell them about the big news.

The longer he lay awake the harder it became for his mind to focus on what he thought should have been easier to devise. His plans to torture Dwight never took so long to surface in his head. By morning all he’d come up with was to cover the beam on the underside of her mouse to keep it from working, hoping she’d call him over for help before she flipped it over to investigate why.  The cause of its malfunction would be the small note he’d have taped there that would read, From the minute I met you I knew we clicked. Marry me, Pam.

Whether brought on by fatigue that muddied his thoughts or just plain old uncertainty, by the time they arrived at work that morning he’d scrapped the idea. It was way too corny and not nearly special enough, and besides he was afraid her first inclination might be to call the help desk and not him. The way things were going, she’d wind up engaged to the IT guy.

So instead, he cordoned off the mouse plot in the part of his brain reserved for the ways to drive Dwight insane. It was too good not to use in some capacity, of course with a very different note, since the only thing that clicked when he met Dwight was the ball point pen that his new colleague fiddled with all that first morning until Jim removed the springs from all the tips rendering them unclickable and unusable.

But it was a prank for another time, one he’d keep on ice waiting for when Dwight wasn’t reeling from his own romantic loss. Jim wasn’t cruel enough to do it today, although he thought a little harmless joke could be just the thing to brighten his mood, which he noticed didn’t seem as bad as it had last night. Dwight always seemed to bounce back faster than most, but Jim had to assume he was still in his own private pain.

After a few laps around the office, Andy took his seat at last and began in with his calls. Of course, each client he called got to hear of his good news, and so did Jim. Could he get more annoyed this morning?

Since he worked at Dunder Mifflin, he knew he could. Daily annoyances were a given and Michael’s emergence from his office was often just the thing to do it. Except this morning, it was the opposite. Just like yesterday it was Michael’s inanity that inadvertently helped him. Today, like before, he had Jim thinking of another place with sentimental meaning for him and Pam. This time as he skipped around the office singing, I'm Walking on Sunshine, the song that replaced Goodbye Toby as his celebratory anthem, it brought Jim back to the time Pam convinced him to wake up early to go see a sunrise at Nay Aug Park.

 

There was something that came over him on that morning while he walked silently with her at daybreak. As the sun painted the sky with metallic specs of copper and fire and cast its radiance over the landscape in the distance, he felt something shift within him. He knew before then he was in love but it was in that moment that he could taste eternity with her, know their souls would be tied to each other forevermore. It was there in the sky, in her touch, in the way she looked away from the horizon and into his eyes, the gold of the heavens reflected in hers. There were few words spoken that morning, but there didn’t need to be. So intimate was the moment, in the place where the subject of art she painted had first become part of her and after that sunrise it was in him as well. 

Yes, he would take her there again tomorrow and while the sun arose, he would fall to his knee and tell her how his world was never so bright and alive until she came along.

Soon, Jim was humming in his head along with Michael, despite the rain that began to fall in the late afternoon that seemed to sour everyone else's mood.

The rain that didn’t let up until Sunday night.

First it was Andy, and now Mother Nature was throwing a wrench at him. 

God himself was laughing from above, saying what else you got Jim, cause I’m having fun messing with you, as if he was the Dwight in the scenario. 

 

~~~

 

Now Monday, they sat face to face at a table adorned with chrysanthemums; he’d requested a certain waitress but forgot to ask for a particular flower. Appearing nonchalant was becoming a bit of a struggle, this being his third attempt, but hopefully the old adage was right. Still, his sweaty palms were making it hard to keep hold of his silverware. He’d dropped his fork twice already and she would start to get suspicious soon, despite his many playful fake-outs over the past few weeks.

With rattling nerves, he tried to focus the conversation on the original reason for the Monday night celebration and not on this being his proposal: Plan C. They discussed what classes she was most excited for and which she felt most apprehensive about. They talked about Brooklyn and New York, and how much he looked forward to coming to visit her so they could explore the city together.

With luck, she would not see it coming, the little scheme he set up after the weekend’s fell apart, if only because he suggested the dinner immediately after she told him about Pratt. Christopher’s was the natural place to celebrate her acceptance along with the year of dating they were coming up on that Saturday. They only went to their favorite restaurant on weekdays anymore, so here they were on a quiet Monday, remembering what they were feeling that first night. Pam had been giddy with excitement to share with Beth it was their dating anniversary since she would get a few points for that. Jim was pretty sure Beth would have been aware of the noteworthy date, even if he hadn’t spoken to her about it in private earlier while pretending to visit the men’s room.

What Pam didn’t know was that this visit, this contingency to the contingency plan, would award Beth not only a few extra points, but the big win.

It was a little bonus, one he’d never considered a priority in his thinking about where to pop the question; this was about him and Pam and while he was rather fond of Beth and pleased she’d wind up a consequential beneficiary, when and where he asked was about it being meaningful and special for the woman who he loved with every fiber of his soul.

But Christopher’s was a natural choice, it wasn’t where they first fell in love and it wasn’t where she brought him to connect their souls but it was where they had spent hours laughing, crying, and finally communicating what they always felt for one another. What they never could deny, no matter how hard they tried.  It was the place where they started their journey together at last after too many years circling what he always thought was predestined, and what ultimately was truth; that they were meant to be. It was also the place they returned to time after time to enjoy a good meal and romantic evening, just as they had this evening.

Tonight, the same meal he devoured with gusto on past visits, was only picked at, anticipation filling his belly with butterflies leaving little room for anything else.

“Is your meal okay?” she asked him quietly, her face suddenly shifting from the delighted joy she had worn while they planned all the things they would do in the city that Fall, to a slightly more serious expression as she also pushed food around on her plate.

“Yeah, I guess I wasn’t as hungry as I thought.”

He tried to mask his nervousness and stall what he began to wonder if she knew was coming. Beth was not due to bring the champagne until they were nearly done with their meal, which at the rate they picked at their food, would be a while. When it arrived, he planned to toast her accomplishment, their milestone and the overwhelming happiness she would grant him by agreeing to become his wife, dropping to his knee, this time not for an errant knife but to ask her what he had planned to since Thursday. What he almost asked her as he stood in the doorway of the conference room when he came back from the job interview in New York. Let’s face it, what he thought about since he first laid eyes on her.

“How about yours?” He nodded to her dish which was also still mostly untouched.

“Um no, it’s fine. I guess I’m not so hungry either.”

She set down her fork and took a sip of water as her second Mixed Berry Smash had been drained faster than usual that evening.

“Jim, can I ask you something?”

“Anything,” he replied, gulping back air, like it was a sedative that would calm him and give him strength to remain cool through whatever she was about to ask.

“Thursday night, were you? I mean, I felt like you were planning something, was that…”

He could tell she didn’t want to ask but needed to know. If only she waited to bring this up until later, but he couldn’t bear to watch her struggle through her query, so he cut her off to grant her an answer, knowing tonight might no longer go as planned either.

“Was I going to ask you to marry me? I was Pam. It was supposed to be our night. And I’m so sorry that Andy stole your proposal. But once he did what he did, well you wouldn’t have wanted me to follow that?”

“No, I guess not.”

Jim wasn’t a former football player like her last fiancé but he was suddenly thinking like a quarterback. It may be time to call an audible. He set down his silverware, and subtly brought his hand to his pocket, ready to drop to the traditional position, when she choked out another question of her own.

“And this weekend. Since when do you want to get up early on Saturday. What was that all about?”

She knew it was unlike him, to set an alarm on the weekend and she saw right through his ruse of pretending to think it was a weekday. But with the rain that still was pelting at the windows, he knew his morning had gone the way of the party. Frustrated and cursing Andy once more, he apologized with a kiss for waking her and focused his angry energy into bringing a little joy to their morning by other means.

“Pammm,” he lamented.

He had warned her it was going to kick her ass. Right now, it was him getting his ass kicked. By Andy, then the weatherman and now even she was making it increasingly more difficult to make the moment as mind-blowing as he promised it to be, as extraordinary as she deserved it to be. He began to doubt that this was going to be the right time or place.

“You really want to ask me that. You really want to know what was going to happen this weekend? Where’s the fun in that?”

Tell me, Jim,” she pushed with a little more lightheartedness in her now teasing tone, her smile a little lopsided, her words a little slurred, the second drink clearly hitting her more than usual since she’d eaten so little. “What was it going to be, and what happened?”

It was clear to Jim she knew his second plan was derailed this weekend too.

“The rain, that’s what happened. What it was, was that I wanted to see another sunrise with you.”

“I knew it, I knew there was a reason you were sulking around the apartment, beyond leaving your umbrella on your desk at work. Mostly since we know how to make the best of a rainy day.”

She said the last part with a shy but very suggestive smile and he recalled the ways she cheered him up that morning and again in the afternoon too after he became irrationally upset the rain had continued through the day, since Sunday was looking like it would be out of the question too.

“I would have loved both those proposals, and my butt would have been quite kicked indeed. So now what?”

As the words escaped her mouth, he swore he could hear more laughter from above. It seems God wasn’t done toying with him just yet.

“Come on, Pam. You’re not supposed to ask. You’re going to take away all the surprise. How am I supposed to kick your ass with all these questions?”

Her face got serious again. Not sad serious-like how she seemed the other night when the show of lights was over but her days without a ring on her finger still were not-but there’s something I want to say serious. But before she could say more, he started blurting out thoughts that were not going to help keep the element of surprise going.

“Pam, that look I caught on your face the other night. God, I wanted to kill Andy. I knew you were upset. You have to know I’d have done anything to go back in time and beaten Andy to it. Ever since then I’ve been wracking my brain to come up with something even close ...”

It was Pam’s turn to cut him off.

“Jim, I’ll be honest. I was upset. It was super romantic sitting watching fireworks with you, real ones this time and it had me thinking how symbolic the moment would be if only you would have...”

Jim looked down at his plate. It was exactly the reason he’d paid Phyllis to get those fireworks. He’d had a whole speech prepared about all the moments they’d shared right there in the office that led them to that instance. Freakin’ Andy.

“But now,” she went on. “Well, just knowing you were going to ask is enough. I was upset that night but by morning I guess I figured it out. You were pretty restless and not yourself either. I know you pretty well, Halpert. I knew what had to be bothering you.”

Another shift in her tone alerted him that she absolutely meant what she was about to say.

“You know with me leaving for Pratt in a few months, it’s probably best we wait. We’ve talked about not wanting to have a long engagement and I’m going to be so busy with my lessons and just being a student again. Planning a wedding can be super stressful. There’s so much to do and quite honestly, the only color schemes I need to be thinking of now are those having to do with palette theory in design.”

The weight of the ring box in Jim’s pocket seemed to get heavier and heavier as the words spilled from Pam’s mouth.

“Besides, this way I’ll be more likely to be surprised. Because the way I see it, anything now, I’ll have known was coming.”

It was true. He could hardly surprise her now and from what she was saying, she wanted the surprise. Why shouldn’t she? She’d known he wanted to marry her for a while now. They’d talked about kids and marriage and their future together plenty. This last part was about creating a magical memory for her, for them and this was not going to be it.

He wondered if she had been aware of his plan for tonight? He knew now she had been aware he planned to asked her twice already. It was likely her hesitancy in asking him about it was more her tentativeness to find a way to let him she wanted him to give it some time before he asked again.

Though he was bursting to go through with it, in the end he decided she was right. It was best to wait so they wouldn’t spend the first three months of their engagement apart. And of course, that was when Beth arrived with the champagne.

With a grin that might have given it all away had the plans not changed she set down two flutes and presented the bottle.

“So, my loves, what are we celebrating?”

Pam responded first and all but accused Beth of subterfuge.

“Oh Beth, don’t pretend you don’t know,” she teased.  “You remembered our month anniversary, there’s no way you didn’t know we were celebrating a year tonight.”

Beth’s worried eyes relaxed as she looked to Jim, searching his face for her next cue.

“But we are also celebrating that Pam got into art school at Pratt,” Jim added.  “It’s a really big deal. It’s a very competitive and elite program. And I am beyond proud of her.”

He knew Beth would be quite taken aback as it was not the script they’d discussed. Sure enough as he spoke, he took notice of the puzzled expression on her face and the worry in her eyes and tried to alleviate it with his own.

“The program is in New York and she’ll be moving there for a few months so this may be our last time here for a while. We’ll have to put a lot on hold until she comes back. But they’ll be even more to celebrate when she does because she is going to rock it.”

Luckily for Jim his co-conspirator was quick to grasp what he meant and improvised her role as best she could. Still, he was afraid her cheeks were going to splinter apart with the fake smile she had plastered on it. Currently, he wasn’t sure who was more upset by the altered plans, him or her.

“Well, I had no idea you were an artist.”

The affectation in her voice was so heightened, Jim had to do something to interrupt, lest it would crack from her disappointment. This was starting to be a trend, his letting down women with his un-proposals. He’d have to explain why to her later and leave her an extra tip to make up for the un-win, although he was pretty sure she was indifferent about the game and more concerned about the reason for the change of heart.  

“She is and a really good one. Here, take a look at these.” He whipped out his phone where he stored photos of some of his favorite pieces. While the tiny screen could never do them justice, it was just this reason he had taken the photos of her works with his phone; to brag on his talented girlfriend to his family, his friends and now Beth.

“Wow, Pam you painted those? You are very talented.”

Jim scrolled through the mini gallery on his phone, sharing the hourglass still life, the oil of a vibrant sunrise and the gelatin encased stapler sketch, which evoked a curious expression.

“I call that one Office Supply in Aspic,” Jim offered. “It always inspires Pam’s artistry when I prank Dwight with Jell-O.”

When he arrived at the watercolor of figures kissing on a moonlit bridge Beth all but clapped with delight.

“Oh, I recognize that, that’s here.”

“It is,” Pam beamed as she confirmed.

“Well, they are all lovely. Jim’s right. You are going to do amazing in art school.”

“Thanks Beth. I hope so since it is taking me away from this guy for three months.”

“If anyone could survive the distance, it’s you two. I could see it when you first showed up here and it is still so apparent today, you two are madly in love. A love that strong can survive anything. Three months will be a cakewalk for you lovebirds.”

And with that she finally poured the champagne staying just long enough to hear their first toast.

“To you, my beautiful artist.”

“To us.”

After Beth left them alone, they sipped their bubbly and reminisced over the magical year they’d had. Beth was right, their love was so strong. Three months apart wouldn’t change that. Six months apart hadn’t diminished for a moment the love he had for her and that was before he knew she felt the same. What he felt was permanent, never-ending, eternal.

Three months would be hard, but he knew they would come out even more devoted on the other end. Still, he couldn’t help but wish she’d be leaving for New York with his ring on her finger, to remind her and everyone else he would love her forever.

Freakin’ Andy.

End Notes:

Poor Beth she was So Close 

 

Fools and Clowns by Maxine Abbott
Author's Notes:

In a very small way there was a little inspiration drawn from the song I shared in Mixtape by Firefall .... 

You Are the Woman (click for link)

And while the chapter was written before the OL podcast episode this week, it is very relevant to much that was discussed.

January, 2009

They had been living in the house about a month and already it felt like their home.

In the end they did wind up setting their selves up in the master bedroom with new bedding and décor. Jim was only weird about having sex in it the first couple of nights. After a few more, he was able to erase it from her mind that Betsy and Gerald had ever slept there, or had done anything remotely similar to the activities they engaged in quite regularly. 

Along the halls, the old artwork and family pictures were replaced by Pam’s paintings and a singular photo she had enlarged of the two of them. As much as she appreciated seeing the dorky teenage Jim posed with his siblings, the rest of the childhood photos, graduation portraits and framed memories detailing the Halpert family history no longer belonged on the walls of the home she and Jim now shared. Besides, Betsy wanted them for her own new home.

The creepy clown however, was still there since Jim hadn’t figured a way to remove it from the wall, but not for lack of trying. Every night he warred with the framed vagabond in attempts to exile him from their otherwise picture-perfect home.

He read online tips from Bob Vila that suggested using a dry wall knife.

No luck.

Pam suggested using the turpentine she cleaned her brushes with.

All that did was leave a chemical odor in the air and stain a bit of the surrounding wall.

Even with a crowbar, that ugly tramp wouldn’t budge.

But other than the hideous print which she was still having a hard time understanding why his parents ever thought to buy much less hang on a wall—it could hardly be called art, that coming from someone who knew how subjective art was meant to be—and the den’s shag carpeting that sometimes gave her little electric shocks when she shuffled through it in her woolen socks, she loved her new home with Jim.

The best part, aside from the fact that she shared it with her future husband, was her dedicated art studio. Much of her spare time she spent in it, painting, but not until she brought home a space heater and Jim added some better lighting, a fresh coat of wall paint, and a plush, non-shag rug for the gallery-like, sitting area she created in the corner.

Sometimes Jim would recline in the papasan chair she brought from her place and watch her work, plying her with silly questions about her techniques and muses until she would throw him out for asking too many and keeping her from her craft.

But sometimes instead of throwing him out she would let herself become completely distracted and these times she was glad she decided the working art studio needed a cozy corner as the concrete garage floor was cold and hard. Maybe a shag rug would have been perfect in the space after all.

It was one of those times, where passion prevailed over inspiration, the fumes of paint serving as an aphrodisiac to ignite their desire for each other.

At least it was until her phone rang.

The first time they ignored it, the shrill ringtone unable to quell their appetite for each other in the moment.

But when it buzzed again, no more than 5 minutes later, Pam, out of concern for her mother who had been going through a rough patch with her dad, pulled herself from Jim’s embrace in thoughts to answer the call, checking the name on the screen before she did.

When she set the phone back down instead of flipping it open, Jim approached her again, nuzzling his lips into the spot on her neck that instantly got her excited and craving more.

“So not your mom, I guess,” he murmured into her soft skin.

“Nope,” she whispered hoping he would be too preoccupied with getting back to what they were doing to press her more.

“Neither call?”

Now she knew he was fishing. He was curious if the caller was the same both times and if so, who was so anxious to talk to her. But knowing how he felt about her friendship with Alex, she was not anxious to tell him. All the same, she was not in the habit of keeping things from him and while technically not offering up the information was not a secret, it wasn’t exactly honest either. Not telling him who it was would just make her look like she was hiding something which she absolutely was not.

“No, it was Alex.”

With the mention of his name, Jim pulled back from her neck and stopped kissing her just as she was afraid he might.

Jim was aware she still talked with the friends she made at Pratt from time to time, Alex mostly. He knew Alex was the one she had the most in common with, in that he was also a little older than the other students and had come to the extended design program after having worked a few years in an altogether different trade. They’d become good friends while she was in New York.

She also knew it bothered Jim, mostly because he insisted Alex wanted to be something more, despite Pam’s constant assurance that no matter what he wanted, she and Alex would never be more than just friends.

“Again, didn’t you just speak to him earlier?”

Pam returned to her easel and keeping her back to him, began to pack up her paints and brushes. The interruption and subsequent divulgence of the caller had already changed the tenor of the evening. There would be no more painting tonight or any other forms of creative expression for that matter.

But really there was no other way things could have gone once her phone rang. She couldn’t have ignored it with all that was going on with her parents, but when he all but asked who it was, she had no choice but to reveal the caller’s identity. It was the only action that did not feel like a betrayal to her future husband, even if she knew it would cut short what was heating up to be a very inspired art session.

She kept her head down as she draped a cloth over the work in progress and responded with a little edge to her tone.

“Yeah, my friend, she exaggerated her voice on the last word, “wanted my opinion on an important assignment he was working on for a class.”

She heard him mumble under his breath in response.

And there was no one else he could ask.”

She ignored his last comment as she picked up her phone and started back to the house leaving him to close all the lights and the studio, hoping that the tension that was forming could be left there and not brought into their home with them.

 

                                       *******************************************

 

Jim stewed as he pulled down the heavy door and twist-closed the dead bolt. Before he turned back towards the house, he tried to access the rational side of his brain, the side that assured him how much Pam loved him and how her continued friendship with Alex was just that, nothing more than what she shared with Dwight or Stanley or Andy. Tonight, however, he couldn’t stop thinking of what he overheard back when Alex had tried to convince her to stay in New York. It was then that he recognized it, what Alex felt about her because it had once been him, having those same feelings about someone else’s fiancée.

Usually, he didn’t let his own jealousy get the better of him, but something about this was getting under his skin. She’d already spoken to him once today and now he was calling back and trying her repeatedly when she didn’t answer. Plus, the fact that his call came in when it did and pretty much cooled off what up to that point was getting pretty hot, didn’t help his mood or his levelheadedness.

As much as he wanted to leave his extreme emotions back in the garage studio, he was still quite agitated as he caught up with her inside.

She was in the foyer, thumbing through the junk mail that she’d already sorted when they’d first gotten home that day. He came up behind her, placing a gentle hand on her back he hoped would counteract the irritation he was still feeling.

“You know why I get upset Pam. You know I’m usually pretty cool about him but you had already spoken to him earlier so I just don’t understand why he was calling again.”

“I didn’t know there was a limit to how often I can talk to my friends,” Pam responded hotly.

“You know that’s not what I meant. But his timing was as if he knew what he’d be interrupting.”

Her defensiveness was not helping him keep his calm. Neither was the feistiness that he usually encouraged, when she was standing up for herself against Michael or Kelly, something she’d been learning to do more and more. Even when directed at him, as it sometimes was, he appreciated her backbone. In this instance though, it was just intensifying the anger he was feeling toward the guy with boundary issues.

“Jim, I told him to let me know how he did with the assignment. I’m sure he was just calling to tell me about how he did when he finished his classes.”

“He couldn’t just text? Or leave a message. When you didn’t answer, why did he have to call again 5 minutes later?”

“I don’t know, Jim. Maybe it was a butt dial. Or maybe he just was excited to share. What’s the difference I didn’t take his call. And you know I don’t always take all his calls. I don’t encourage him, but he is my friend. Just like Crystal is your friend.”

“Crystal is Doug’s girlfriend.”

“Crystal would drop Doug in a hot minute if you were free.”

She threw down the circular she was holding and stomped off, but after a few steps turned on her heel back towards him.

“He’s just a friend Jim. I can have friends.”

“Not saying you can’t but Pam, you have to know he still likes you.”

“And he still knows I’m engaged.”

“Yeah, well, you were engaged once before, too.”

He regretted the words as soon as they escaped his lips but it was too late to take them back. Despite their heaviness, they stayed aloft in the air as if suspended in a cartoon talk bubble, the ugly declaration adhering to the wall like the painting that wouldn’t budge.

She stormed down the hall and into the bedroom. The door slammed and he was left standing in the room with the clown and his words and his regret.

 

                          *******************************************

 

Retreating to the den, he fell to the couch and let his face drop to the large hands that had only an hour earlier been running down the length of her back and cupping her bottom to draw her closer to his own body. The shift the night had taken seemed impossible with the unshakable love that filled the home they now shared. That bond, the security system for their happiness, akin to the ADT alarms that protected their doors and windows, was supposed to be impenetrable.

Yet here they were fighting over a phone call and a deep-rooted insecurity that still lingered and reared its head from time to time. It wasn’t her fault and he knew it. She’d done nothing wrong. If anything, it was him who had crossed the line years before, but if given to do it all over, he would do it again. Was this what Alex was doing now?

Thinking back on it, now on the other end of things, he had a very different perspective of it all. He could almost understand why Roy came close to rearranging his face when he had learned of Jim’s actions on the night the office had their casino event.

Still, he wasn’t Roy, and Alex wasn’t him. He had taken years to cross that line. Years where he watched her be taken for granted and overlooked and held back from all she was capable of. He’d spent years bonding with her over laughs, pranks, in-depth conversations and shared experiences. In those years he’d come to know her with an intimacy that proved deeper than what she had with the man she had committed to before she even had a chance to know who she was herself.

Alex met her four months ago, had only met Jim once and was pretty brazen in his not-so-subtle pursuit of someone whose heart was tied to someone else.

But like Pam said, she hadn’t taken his call tonight. She hadn’t hidden it from him either, and she only got angry after he reacted like a jealous fool. He tried to tell himself once before he wasn’t that guy, but maybe there was a little bit that was. For that he owed her an apology and so he made his way to the closed bedroom door.

He knocked lightly and waited for her to respond. Her voice was still tinged with ire as she did.

“Yeah?”

“Can I come in?”

“It’s your house.”

“Our house, Pam.”

Silence came from the other side of the door.

“Pam, I’m so sorry,” he whispered as he dropped his head against the wooden barrier separating them.

He heard her move towards the door but hadn’t expected it when she pulled it open. When she did, he came tumbling into the room, his gangly frame falling towards her, his hands groped to grab hold of her to keep him from face planting onto the carpet. As he fell to the ground anyway the anger that had encroached their happy new home dissolved away as hysterical laughter replaced it.

Looking up at her from the floor, tears in both their eyes from their uncontrollable giggles, he reached out his hand and she helped pull him upright.

“You didn’t need to grovel at my feet,” she teased. “A simple apology would have been sufficient.”

It felt good to joke, to be like them again.

The mishap and consequent amusement between them did more to soften the edge of their argument than words. The kiss that followed eliminated the need to say anything more.

But the next morning he awoke to a slight chill that had nothing to do with the drafty old house.

Pam was slightly quieter than usual as she dressed that morning, apparently still bothered by the events of the night before.

In an attempt to put it from her mind again, he reminded her of their evening plans.

“Don’t forget about our date at Christopher’s tonight.”

The smile she gave him took a bit of the cold he was sensing away but it wasn’t the beam he expected. Usually, the widening of her cheeks could melt ice from glass panes but this morning there still remained a thin layer of frost on the windows and in the room.

“I haven’t. I’ve been looking forward to sharing our good news with Beth since I got back.”

Then she turned towards Jim so he could help zip up her skirt, a good sign that while maybe not completely over their argument she was not holding firm onto it either.

 

                                *******************************************


“Let me see it, let me see it.”

Before they even sat down Beth was at the table, her excitement palpable, her smile baring teeth back to her molars.

Neither Jim nor Pam were surprised at her reaction but they both wondered how she already knew. It was their first dinner back as an engaged couple and it wasn’t like Jim had announced it to the hostess when he called to reserve.

“Oh Pam, it’s a beautiful ring.”

Beth looked up from the ring and back to Jim. “You did well. Wished you would have done it here but I’m just so happy for you, I don’t care I missed out.”

“Thanks, Beth. But how did you know?” Pam asked curiously.

“Well, I had the pleasure of serving an interesting couple, the Vance’s. They were quite affectionate with each other as they sat down. Naturally, I asked them if any special occasion had brought them in, and she, the wife, said it was no occasion but they’d been meaning to come here for a while. They mentioned the sweet couple in her office that also loved to come here. I’m not quite sure how I did, but I knew it had to be you two.”

Pam recalled it was Phyllis she had recommended Christopher’s to ages ago. Back when she was with Roy and still waiting to be brought here herself by someone other than her father.

That was also when Jim heard her suggestion, wanting so much to be the one to take her to the place she had raved about to their officemate. For years he waited by silently, never forgetting the exchange in the breakroom, finally getting the chance to retrieve the information from his Pam vault and take her to their now favorite place for their first date and even though it was slightly pricier and took longer to travel to, many more dates after that.

Phyllis sure had waited a long time to try out Pam’s suggestion. Pam thought it strange too that Phyllis hadn’t mentioned she’d come at last, especially since she had met Beth when she did.

“Let me tell you, I’m glad they mentioned knowing you too, because in the middle of the meal I came back to check on them and they were both gone from their seats. And they were gone for quite a while. It almost made me think they dashed and dined, but I thought there was no way they’d do something like that after telling me they knew you.”

“When was this?” Pam asked.

“It was a while ago now. You were still away in New York and since then I’ve been waiting for you to come back in. So, tell me all the details.”

A smile to match Beth’s spread across Pam’s cheeks as she told of the impromptu meeting, the rain and how romantic it was when Jim, out of the blue got down on bended knee, truly surprising her when she thought he no longer could.

“This calls for a celebration.”

Beth left them with menus that after their many visits they no longer needed, returning five minutes later with two glasses, the amber liquid inside effervescent with bubbles still rising to form a delicate ring of foam around the rim.

“Courtesy of the Vance’s,” she said as she placed the flutes down.

“What? How.”

Pam looked left and right searching the room for the other couple.

“They’re not here. But after our conversation they set it up to bring these to you when you came back.”

How nice of them, Pam reflected silently, feeling a little guilty about the not-so-nice thoughts she’d had about Phyllis when she sided with team new copier instead of team new chairs a few weeks back.

“How did it come up we’d gotten engaged?”

It was Jim who asked. Pam hadn’t needed to. Pam had no trouble picturing Phyllis and Beth hitting it off and it was no wonder the conversation got as detailed as it did. They were a lot alike, both henlike in their love of girl talk but not in a mean way, at least not Beth. Phyllis could be a little catty.

Oops, here she was disparaging Phyllis in her mind again.

She also knew how observant Phyllis always was. As far back as Pam could recall, she was onto the something brewing between her and Jim. Phyllis was likely the first to know when Jim began planning. She had been the one in charge of the party when he first wanted to ask.  

Pam assumed once the gab-fest began there would have been no stopping it. Phyllis was a gossip and it didn’t much matter with who she shared her confidences, even a waitress she just met.

“I can’t exactly remember because she had a lot to say. She told me how anyone with eyes could see you two were meant to be together but for years you both tried to deny it. She said you,” she looked at Jim, “would try to distract yourself with others but when you met Pam, nobody else ever had a chance.”

Beth turned her head again to face Pam, “And your guy, had no clue what he had or how you were slipping away day by day.”

Beth continued on telling them all she learned from their office friend, and next thing they knew, they were listening to Phyllis only the words were coming of the mouth of their waitress.

“They’re as done as this steak. They had been since the day Jim started. Just like us.”

Back in her own voice Beth added, “then she made this weird smile at Bob Vance, Vance Refrigeration. Yeah, I’m even calling him that, since it’s not only how he introduced himself but also what he signed on the credit card receipt.”

When Beth left them alone, it was Jim who spoke first.

“You know that’s true, I lost control of my heart the moment I saw you.”

“Me too, Jim. Me too. I just took a little longer to figure it out.”

“But that thing she said, the thing about you slipping away, it’s what I think about whenever I think about you talking to Alex. Even though I know that can’t happen to us I just…”

Jim shifted his gaze to her flute of champagne, a delicate few bubbles were still floating up to the surface.

“I just can’t seem to help what goes on in my brain when I think about anyone trying to get in between us. It’s not about trusting you, it’s about me and my own insecurities. I just get irrational. And that Alex, well there’s no way he doesn’t have a thing for you.”

“I’m well aware, Jim.”

“So, he’s told you, he’s into you?”

“Not exactly, but I’d seen it before.”

She paused, as she tried to find the right words to assure him that she was as done as Phyllis’  meal the evening she met Beth.

“But I’ve let him know in no uncertain terms that I am 100% in love with you and that’s not going to change ever.”

Jim nodded in understanding but Pam could still see on his face he wasn’t quite convinced.

She almost could see why he wouldn’t be. She was engaged before and yet while she still wore the ring Roy gave her, she fell in love with Jim.  Even though she knew this was it for her, that there was no possibility that she’d ever love anyone like she loved the man sitting across from her, she remembered feeling that kind of jealousy when he’d been with Karen.

She thought about how she would feel if he had stayed in touch with her, how insecure she would be if he still felt the need to talk to her. But there was a difference here and she had to make him try to see why she didn’t want to cut Alex off from her life.

“Jim, you know how when you try to talk to me about disabled lists and box scores, and I nod as if I have a clue but you know I’ve no idea what you are saying. Like when you start your griping at how long the guy was in the paint and I think you’re talking about all the tattoos on him.”

Jim laughed at the memory, the comment she made while watching a basketball game with his friends that had her mortified when he explained why Mark and Doug couldn’t stop laughing.

“Oh Beesly, you were so adorable.”

She smiled shyly, remembering her embarrassment when she learned what it meant.

“That’s when you have Mark, or your brothers or even Kevin to go to get your sports talk on.”

He nodded. Football was about the only sport that Pam could talk with him about and even then, she was not who he went to when he needed to discuss who he should put on his roster for the fantasy teams he played on.

“Well, I don’t have many friends in the creative world, particularly ones that I shared the experience of being at Pratt with or that I even know who live outside of Scranton. Alex is one of the few friends who I can talk to about things like texture and white space and what we appreciate in other works. Things you may try to understand but I don’t expect you to get in quite the same way.”

The olive of his eyes seemed to brighten a touch, emerging, she hoped, from the connection she painted for him and not from the bitter emotion that had brought about the fight last night.

“But just like you and Kevin don’t go to romantic dinners or cuddle while the sun sets or cook pancakes together on a lazy Sunday morning, Alex and I don’t either and never will. I promise, you are the only one I want to do any of those things with for the rest of forever.”

And corny as she knew it was, she grabbed up her silverware and held it out towards him.

“James Halpert, you can stick a thousand forks in me because I am completely and utterly done.”


                                                 *******************************************

 

In their rush to return home, they skipped dessert and the moonlight walk on the bridge they’d been looking forward to for months. Instead, they picked up where they’d left off the night before, going at it in the parking lot and then in the car and at every stop light on the way.

When they arrived back at the new home they now shared, they barely made it inside when he pushed her against the wall in another passionate kiss, this one way surpassing the combined heat of all those on the way back and on the path that led to the front door.

With a thud she hit the wall but it wasn’t the sound of her body against it that abruptly halted the fervent embrace. It was the din that rang in both their ears as the ugly clown, finally and quite dramatically, came crashing down from the wall at last.

End Notes:

Updated notes:

I had always meant to put this is in and plum forgot in my haste to get it up until DJC mentioned in his review so thanks DJC!

I  do see the friendship with Alex fizzling out over the next couple of weeks and after a few months non-existent as she less and less takes his calls and he eventually gives up pursuing it.

You can agree or disagree with the fact she wants to continue it all all - hit me up with review or debate in in watercooler.

 

  *******************************************

Thanks for reading. As always I'd love to hear what your thoughts and opinions on this chapter. 

Oh and Happy 15th MTT !!!

Dry Spell by Maxine Abbott
Author's Notes:

I didn't want to go too long (pun intended) before updating this one, but as usual you might notice a touch of 360 Turn's effect on this story.

See end notes for some insights on what I have dubbed the great birthdate debate - which actually wasn't all that much of a debate.

May 2009

The little white pill made no sound when it hit the mosaic of tiles that made up the bathroom floor.

That would make sense because after ten minutes crawling on her hands and knees in nothing but a towel which was slowly slipping off, it had still not surfaced.

It shouldn’t have been hard to spot, a spec of white amongst the speckled gray, multi-sized rectangles that had lined the room’s lower surface, probably since before Jim was even born. In their schedule to rehab and modernize the house, the bathroom was last on the list and now would be delayed even further unless the new company she was part of took off, something that was not looking likely.

But she wasn’t thinking of that as she felt around for the errant pill, checking lines of dingy ivory that ran between the tiles and were almost certainly not the color of the original grout and hadn’t been in years. But even in its soiled state it seemed to be the one place the small white speck might be camouflaged from view. 

She decided the pill must have spontaneously combusted when it bounced off the counter to the bathroom floor and at 4am that seemed a reasonable explanation as any for why she still couldn’t find it.

She couldn’t waste more time looking for something she believed no longer existed, at least in her current state of semi-consciousness. The van would be pulling up soon and if she weren’t out there waiting for it, she couldn’t be sure Michael wouldn’t honk or worse yet, call for her with the megaphone he used to advertise their new company as they drove around making deliveries.

Already running behind, she abandoned her search and instead spun the wheel one click to the left and pushed out the next tablet into the safekeeping of her hand and then right up to her mouth where she swallowed it without even a sip of water to wash it down.

Jim always seemed amazed at her ability to do so, given that he absolutely needed to drink something when taking any kind of medicine, even the tiny red sinus pills that he doubled up on while they suffered through their first cold together. He insisted with a nose like his, the regular dose wasn’t enough and because he had to take four instead of the normal two, that’s why he had to have an excess of liquid to wash them down, preferably apple juice. During that illness, she teased him for it, asking him if her needed a spoonful of sugar too. In answer he pulled her close and with his husky voice that was even sexier from his cold, responded, always if you’re the nurse to provide it.

She continued to give him a hard time about his pill-taking difficulties since then but always made sure to bring him a glass of something with which to wash down any medicine he needed to swallow, often offering the patient a little extra sugar with his pills.

As for her, she had been on her birth control so long she could pop them like candy and had taking them down to a science. She knew she could skip the last seven ones of the pack, they were inactive, just there to keep her on track and if she wanted to delay her monthly visitor a few days she could just start the new one early, something she never did before she started at art school and had to schedule her period to make its visit when Jim was not also in town.

Now it was a regular thing. She would adjust her cycle to their plans so it didn’t interfere with birthdays, romantic holidays, even weekends.

She was already off cycle this month but she wasn’t all that worried. The pill, she figured would show up, later or tomorrow, and she could take it then and still be protected. Besides, they seemed a little off rhythm themselves, right now there wasn’t anything going on to protect herself from.

The lost pill was never found.

By the time she got home that night, exhausted and exasperated and more anxious than the day before about how much longer she’d have a job, even if it was one that still hadn’t paid her a cent, she didn’t even remember to feed herself dinner much less recall the pill that likewise didn’t make its way to her mouth.

The next morning at 4 am, since Jim had carried her from the couch to the bed the night before, there was no alarm set to wake her. She was still snoring gently, her body curled up against the warmth of her future husband. It wasn’t until she heard the old van’s horn an hour later that she realized she’d overslept. It was Jim who went outside to silence him while she scrambled to get ready. She was lucky to run a comb through her curls and stuff a breakfast bar in her mouth before she was off.

Back in the bathroom, the dial remained in position on day 13, with another forgotten pill still encased in its plastic protection within the rotating wheel.

The entire week was a blur of early mornings, extra stress and not a lot of sleep.

By the time the weekend came she could barely remember to take off her make-up and change into nightclothes before she went to sleep, much less know which pills she’d missed and where she was in the cycle.

It didn’t matter all that much in any case since, she’d been too tired and too tense to even think about sex any time during the week.

The next two days off seemed to pass in a whirl, reason being she’d slept for almost all of it, and that was the most exciting thing that was happening in her bed.

While she managed to stay awake, aside from trying to sneak in some wedding planning and the weekend's regular household chores of cleaning, laundry and food shopping, she and Jim worked together to polish up her resume, and his too. Ever since Charles Miner showed up, Jim was feeling like his credentials would also need to be at the ready.

For the immediate situation, however, it was mostly so she could apply for some weekend jobs.

Jim had insisted she didn’t need to.

He swore to her he would never use money as a reason to postpone marrying her.

That though the words had not yet been said officially, for richer or for poorer was how he loved her, and he would have Creed marry them in the Dunder Mifflin parking lot if need be. Jim was sure he had some kind of ordination and license to perform weddings.

Of course, he also snuck in a dig about the fool who lost her over something as irrelevant as finances.

But even with his promises and assurances they would get married before the year’s end, she knew money was on his mind. Not just for the wedding, but to keep up the payments on the house and so they could start a family once they were espoused, something that had been coming up more and more during the pillow talk about the future that followed their nighttime, and sometimes daytime activities, back when they were engaged in them regularly.

Finances were on her mind too, because while she would marry Jim in her new professional work suit, hell she’d marry him in the old tee shirt of his she often wore to bed, she did want to be able to walk down an aisle in her dream dress, in a church adorned with flowers and celebrate the union with a reception at least as nice as Phyllis’ had been.

Different for sure, as she was no copycat, and besides that event had been planned previously with a much lesser groom in mind. For this future husband, she wanted everything to be sparkly and new to match how he made her feel, all the time.

Even lately, when she was too tired and preoccupied to let him take her there in the bodily sense.

How she wished she had a DeLorean with a flux capacitor or Hermione’s time turner so she could go back to when she had her original response to Michael’s going off and starting a new paper company. The one where she knew it was a big risk and the future mother in her tried to cajole him into giving up on his half-day dream. That was the instinct she knew she should have followed instead of the gut reaction she imprudently reacted on later that day.

While she was at it, she would time travel back a little further to the day Jim insisted on wearing his tux to work and get him to change his mind or at the very least bring a suit so he could swap out his attire once Charles Miner showed up.

Then, even if she still had her momentary lapse of reason, at least Jim wouldn’t be so concerned about losing his job too and their having a mortgage, an upcoming wedding and zero income.

He was good at putting on a brave face for the cameras at work and especially for her, but she knew it was affecting him. There was only so much he could hide from her.

What she also feared he was keeping concealed was his anger or at least disappointment in her.

Had she still been with Roy when she quit her job to follow Michael in his new venture, she would have gotten an earful and then some, once the cameras were no longer capturing his reaction. Had it still been Roy she was going home to during this time, each difficulty or problem the new situation created for her, from the long hours and early mornings to the lack of sleep and most of all, the effect on her libido, would have been matched by a larger beratement from him on the other end.

There was a part of her, so conditioned by her former finance’s ways, that assumed every man, even Jim, would lose their patience when things didn’t go as planned and have little tolerance for the long stretch when she wasn’t in the mood.

After over a week, she half-expected him to carry on about his needs in response to the later. As for the former, she had more than thought he was going to at the least give her a bit of a hard time when they were no longer being filmed the day of her exodus.

After all, she of all people knew better, knew what a colossal error it was to give up what she had to be part of the Michael Scott Paper Company.

It wasn’t her biggest mistake.

She’d had a few doozies before this one.

Saying yes to Roy for one. Saying no to Jim.

She had come to her senses just in the nick of time to fix the first one. The second took a little help from outside forces to make right. If not for Michael Scott’s insane coal walk challenge, David Wallace’s practical interview questions and a whole lot of courage from her, she might be in a different situation altogether. She didn’t even like to think about what that might look like.

Even art school in the end was, in her opinion, a mistake that left her both disillusioned about a career in graphic design but also dissatisfied in her old job as a receptionist and ultimately became the catalyst for her walk out.

In those first weeks, when things seemed at their worse, when she would come home too stressed to cook or even eat and it was her holding out on being intimate, she kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, for Jim to display his anger, call her a fool, tell her this was not what he signed up for.

Her logical side told her it was Jim; he wasn’t like that and there was nothing to worry about that they hadn’t made love in a few weeks. Their relationship was about so much more than the physical and he was supportive of all her choices, even this rash, impulsive, stupid, stupid move.

But there were those moments when her irrational side pushed out ahead and she worried if her running out of Dunder Mifflin and joining up with of all people, Michael Scott, was going to be the very thing that destroys yet another of her relationships, turning them from Jam, the adorable name that Kelly had coined for them, to jelly.

But Jim kept insisting he was fine; he would wait forever for her. In the years he ached for her while she was with Roy, he had gotten quite good at suppressing what his body desired. As long as he had her heart now, that was all that mattered to him, although he also let her know with a very Jim-like smirk, he rather did enjoy their sex life and would be ready and waiting when she wanted it to resume.

Deep down she knew that he’d say something like that and mean it.

In fact, the only time he did raise his voice was when she pushed him one too many times to yell at her for the predicament she put them in. He yelled, yelled how much he loved her and because of that love, he could never be mad at her for trying something new.

That night the passion he had while professing his love was enough to get her going, but it seemed that day had been a tough one at the office for him, perhaps why he could no longer accept her self-condemnation.

Another setback with Charles had him stewing in worries of his own and that concern about his work performance seemed to have a direct correlation on his performance elsewhere.

It was turning to jelly alright.

 ---

By the next Friday, another pill was forgotten as the dial, much like her head, was no longer in sync with the days.

The ring in her pill case wasn’t the only thing out of sync. Coinciding with her first few sales, when she started to gain a little confidence and feel a little better about her new job, Jim was hitting a new low at his. He’d finally discovered what a rundown* was and it wasn’t good, not for him or his sense of security at Dunder Mifflin.

The foot he’d lodged in his mouth during that first tux-clad meeting had become permanently stuck there, Charles Miner not able to be won over by the charm that Jim usually possessed.

No matter what he did, he only seemed to get himself deeper and it was making him feel like the piles of manure they’d had to shovel during their stay at Schrute Farm. Worse yet, it was Dwight who seemed to have the new boss fooled into the delusion that he was not only normal, but professional and savvy in the ways of the Scranton’s operations. It was Dwight who had become Charles’ guy, making him in a way, untouchable.

Pranking Dwight now was a big no-no, not while under the watch of the new boss.

Without that release, and her right there at reception to cheer him up through the even more interminable days, he seemed to be bringing the pressures of work home with him.

When Andy began barking at him about her, something he of course mentioned to her before he started in on his lesson-teaching prank, he thought it might provide the same boost to his mood that pranking Dwight always had. Plus, with him explaining to Andy how much love he had for her and what a good relationship should look like, he was ready to express that love in the way that they’d not been able to all month.  

They got a little head start on what was going to be an active night when he came down to her new office to share the details of how his prank went down.

Michael told them to get a room as he passed them on his way back from his sales call. When they followed him back in, they learned how that night, Pam would need to stay late to help prepare the order for the newly landed Harper Collins account.

Once home, she tried, tried to get herself in the mood, but she was just too tired.

The next night, it was him. The day of watching Charles being duped into believing Dwight was managerial material, and Dwight rubbing it back in Jim’s face took its toll. No matter what Pam tried, Jim couldn’t get the thought of Dwight as manger out of his head and there was no way he was letting Dwight into their bedroom.

Not since before they were dating had they had this long a dry spell.

When they first were together, they waited, it being too soon after he’d been with Karen. But that lasted about two weeks before his gift of peonies broke down her walls.

When her father came to stay, they curbed their activity for the time he was in the house, but the minute he left to run an errand or go to work himself, they would immediately find each other and get together for what little time they had privacy.

Even while she had been in New York and he in Scranton, they found creative ways to connect and pleasure each other from across the miles.

But this was something they’d never experienced before and didn’t quite know how to get over it.

That is until once again, David Wallace came to their rescue.

---

“I was going to send out the search parties soon. It’s been too long.”

Beth, though busy at another table, had noticed the couple the minute they walked in. They looked as happy as ever; obviously they were still basking in the pleasures of being reunited, engaged and living together in their new home.

The costs of that new home and an upcoming wedding to save for, if Beth had to guess, were playing a role in keeping them from coming in more often, but she was still ready to give them a playful tease for staying away so long now that Pam was back in Scranton full time.

Pam’s face seemed more radiant than she even remembered as Beth focused on the bright smile that was drawn across her face as she passed by the other diners on the way to their seat.  But it was the glow that Beth noticed, the rosy hue in her cheeks that most often didn’t show up until she had her first Berry Smash cocktail.

The grasp Jim had on her hand, firm with love, not ownership, combined with what Beth’s excellent intuition sensed was a kind of pride, was written on his. It had her wondering if there was something special that brought them in tonight.

Whether or not there was, when she finished with the table she was serving, she rushed to theirs to greet her favorite couple and throw them a bit of guilt for their long absence.

“Yes, it sure has,” Jim said flashing Pam one of the signature grins that Beth knew by now had a second meaning behind them.

Beth had an uncanny ability to read her customers, and these two she knew better than most. That expression said he had something else on his mind and it was not the meal, at least not the one he was going to have at the restaurant tonight.

“Way too long. I think maybe the longest we’ve gone.”

He spoke, never taking his eyes off the woman across from him even as he responded to Beth’s comment.

Pam did look up at her, and she saw it, there in Pam’s expression, that little sparkle that said something magical had happened that day.

“We’ve had a lot going on lately, a huge amount on our plates that was keeping us from our regular activities, but we finally made it back and are looking forward to enjoying our meal again tonight.”

Beth noticed the twinkle in Pam’s eyes, the suggestion not quite hidden in her expression as she flashed back to her fiancé, the corners of her mouth ticking upward as she spoke. Something was up with these two this evening, that was for sure but it was clearly not something they were going to share.

What they did finally spill were the events than had kept them away so long. Beth stayed with the couple long enough to hear about her big move as well as the reason they were back celebrating tonight.

“Say congrats to our little mogul here, in a matter of weeks, she went from her first paper sale to helping sell off the whole company.”

Pam blushed as Jim went on to brag about how she managed to land a promotion and pay increase and in a roundabout way put Jim back into good graces at their place of business, by way of summoning the Dunder Mifflin CFO, who was still a big Jim fan, into town to buy out the Michael Scott Paper Company that she was an instrumental part of.

Beth, while getting no points for the occasion, was thrilled all the same for them but it was a busy night, some award ceremony at the local middle school had swarms of families coming in to honor their offspring. She apologized for having to leave them so quickly but had to get back to her other patrons and was off soon after they ordered.

The crowds kept her occupied much of the night so she didn’t even get to deliver their meals personally, having only a quick minute to check in again as they were finishing up their meal faster than she’d ever known the two of them to eat.

They were quite evidently in a rush to get home for their something sweet after dinner.

What Beth didn’t know was that tonight they started with the dessert.  They were anxious to get home to have a second taste.

---

The buyout offer and rehiring of Pam served as the initial aphrodisiac, and the champagne she polished off with Michael, ensured they would not be able to wait until after the visit with Beth at Christopher’s that he reserved for them as soon as he heard the news.

When she exited from the conference room, he took one look at her and knew there would be no trouble tonight. In fact, they’d be lucky to keep themselves from attacking each other in the car on the way home.

It was the fastest he’d ever driven home, the feel of her fingers on his thigh and running through his hair making it a quite uncomfortable trip as his pants seemed to shrink more and more with every block.

The sound of her giddy laugh and her chants of can you believe it? made it difficult for him to focus on the road and he almost pulled off to the side and took her right there on Mulberry Street.  

Somehow, he managed to get them home safely.

When it happened, on the entrance way floor since they barely made it through the front door before their clothes were thrown off and their bodies were reunited, it felt like stars colliding.

The way they melded into each other, their bodies becoming one in a harmonious dance on the tiled hallway, it was assurance they were Jam once again and would be forever.

 

 

 

End Notes:

 

Just as I finished writing this story it dawned on me the dates between Company Picnic and Cece's birthdate just don't quite add up. Somewhere the airdates and the event dates got out of sync too. NLM did some sleuthing and discovered that The Olympics of 2010 may have been to blame and that Cece really was born sometime in February. Add to that, my take the picnic happened in June. 

No matter what, I think it is safe to assume that Cece was conceived sometime in the episodes that preceded Company Picnic. And that's what I'm going with.

* This little tidbit I found on IMDB -  Although no answer is given as to what a rundown is, in real life it is a list of sales clients that includes important information about their orders (such as quantities and frequencies). Based on real office culture, if Charles was asking for a rundown of Jim's clients, that likely meant he was planning on firing Jim and wanted the rundown to ensure a smooth transition that would not lose any clients for the company. 

Thanks to Pam and David Wallace, it never came to that for Jim.

 

The Alien by Maxine Abbott
Author's Notes:

Warning:

There is lots of vomiting in this chapter...maybe it's due to all the fluff because this whole chapter is one big fluff-fest while also being the closest thing to steam/smut I'll ever write.

The title and the whole chapter is inspired by the Andy Grammer song - Spaceship - which you don't need to know to enjoy the chapter but it's a catchy and adorable song and you'll get some of the easter eggs if you take a listen first. 

Spaceship

 

Summer, 2009

A swarm of small bugs were crawling over her uncovered midriff.

The section of grass she and Jim snuck off to while the rest of folks of the Dunder Mifflin branches mingled seemed to be riddled with ants and so too now was her belly.

Swiftly, she lowered her hand to swipe them off her but as her fingers swept violently past her torso, they went crashing into the lump that had been lying beside it.

“Ouch.”

Coming from out of the dream she realized she was not at a picnic, but instead in her bed and the lump she made contact with was Jim, whose head was not in its normal place beside her, but buried down below the covers.  The sensation she felt was not an army of insects but his breath softly tickling the spot where her sleeping tee shirt had bunched up leaving her middle exposed.

“What are you doing down there?” Pam mumbled sleepily.

Glancing first at the clock on the bedside table, she was still unable to make out anything but a neon green blur, but long since had figured out which amorphous shape was a five, versus a six and even a seven.

The eights still gave her a bit of trouble.

Lifting up the blanket, she further struggled to focus her eyes on her fiancé who was rubbing the nose that was still a half inch from her stomach.

“A little early for that, don’t you think?”

Contacts in or not, Pam could see the delight spreading across his cheeks, the little dimples she knew by heart forming at the edge of his lips as his smile broadened.

“Is that the mother of my child having such naughty thoughts first thing in the morning?”

It was Pam’s turn to grin sheepishly as she thought about it, her insides starting to tingle the same way they did whenever he would kiss her on that spot behind her ear.

Releasing her grasp on the comforter, she laid her head back down and let her lids fall again, still unsure what Jim was up to, too tired to investigate or encourage him, but happy to enjoy whatever it was he planning.

The gentle breeze on her middle returned as Jim resumed his strange new arousal move, whispering words she couldn’t quite make out. She thought maybe she could make out Cornell and Harvard, but decided she was hearing things, it was just in her head after another of Andy’s rants about his alma mater yesterday.

She’d almost drifted back off, the murmurs like white noise lulling her back under, when suddenly Jim shifted his lanky frame making the bed jerk so much it felt like turbulence on an airplane flying through a mysterious meteor shower.

At least that’s how it felt to Pam as she threw her hand up to her mouth and sprang out of bed taking off for the bathroom.

“Should I be insulted?” she heard him call after her. Never in her life had she laughed while simultaneously vomiting, but as she leaned over the bowl she realized there was a first time for everything.

---

Waiting with a glass of ginger ale, Jim hovered outside the bathroom, remembering her near violent response when he trailed her into it the first time the morning sickness forced up the yogurt she had for breakfast.

In all the romcom movies they watched, it was the best friend’s job to hold back hair and make gentle circles on the back of the vomiting character as they hung over the bowl. He was her best friend, wasn’t he, so naturally he followed her in to perform his duties as hair holder and back rubber.

He wouldn’t make that mistake again.

Now, whenever she had a bout of nausea, he kept a healthy distance, outside the room, but ready with medicinal beverages or her glasses or whatever he thought she might need afterwards.

“Who are you, Michael?”  she joked as she nearly bumped into him on her way out of the room but quickly dropped the sarcasm as she noticed the golden glass of bubbly elixir, taking it from him to sip as they returned to the bedroom.

“Getting worse, huh?”

“About the same really, just it hit me earlier today.”

Dropping to his knees in front of her, he leaned in again, gently moving his large hands along her sides.

“Hey you in there. Stop giving your mom such a hard time. It’s not nice. Besides we’ve got Dwight to do that.”

The hands flanking her middle began lightly vibrating as laughter filled her belly.

“Is that what you were doing this morning? Talking to the baby? Here I was thinking I was getting a little morning treat.”

“Yeah, and we see how you reacted to that.”

His hands shook again, bouncing up and down with the giggles that made her not-yet-showing bump dance.

“You realize our baby is no bigger than a bean and has not developed ears yet.”

“Yeah, well that’s why I have to get so close, so he or she can hear me.”

With that he planted a kiss on her navel before rising up to plant one on her smiling lips.

 

---

The following morning, she awoke again not to the alarm but to the same feeling on her stomach, which she now knew was Jim having a conversation with her abdomen. Adorable as it was, she was certain the only person who could hear him was her, and despite the deep timbre of his voice, even she was having trouble hearing it from under the covers.

Trying to still herself so not to let him know she was awake and listening, she eavesdropped on the chat going on in the middle of the bed.

“Humor, a good sense of humor is important. I’m fairly confident it’s what your mom first saw in me. I know it’s what first drew me to her. That and her gorgeous green eyes.”

The eyes he spoke of were fully open now and crinkling at the corners while a complementary smile joined them on her face.

“Of course, her yogurt breath almost sent me running…”

And with that, she realized he knew she was up and taking in everything he said. Still, it felt good to break into a full-belly cackle and not have it set off a wave of nausea.

So much so that she joined him under the covers and took advantage of being up early and feeling good enough to enjoy what she assumed things had been leading towards the day before.

---

It was the first morning all week she hadn’t felt ill but he knew they weren’t out of the woods just yet.

Breakfast every day of the past week was like Russian Roulette, with no way of telling what could set off her stomach. When just a week earlier, her morning staple of a yogurt and a muffin sat right with the baby growing inside of her, this Monday the first spoonful of her favorite mixed berry Yoplait send its mother screaming for the bathroom and soon after the same mother was screaming at its father when he went to check on his fiancé.

Tuesday, she attempted a bowl of his Life cereal, after he insisted if Mikey liked it, maybe the baby would too.

He or she didn’t.

Not in the slightest.

Pam’s belly handled the one bite she took, but the washed-out pallor that came over her face said by taking a second one she would not be so lucky. She succeeded in keeping down half a banana. Jim, in solidarity threw out his cereal and ate only the fruit’s other half, until later when she showered and he scarfed down a bowl out of her sight.

The next two days were more of the same, she was fine until the first bite of oatmeal, the test food for Wednesday and Thursday, just the smell of the cinnamon French Toaster Sticks, she insisted they pick up at Gerrity’s on the way home the night before, had her shaking her head, covering her mouth and turning back for the bathroom.

Friday, she hadn’t even made it to breakfast before the nausea hit. The only thing she tolerated were the sips of ginger ale and nibbles of the toast he made for her while she got dressed.

Jim had been the one to suggest she not take the vitamins in the morning, which may have had something to do with today’s respite, with the day before being an anomaly in that it wasn’t food or the giant yellow pills but the thought of AM relations that turned her stomach. He had been playing with her about it all yesterday, teasing her that he was still insulted about her reaction. That it hurt his feelings she was so repulsed by the thought of sunrise sex that she threw up. This morning she assured him that was absolutely was not the case. She still wanted him morning, noon or night.

The bonus was the activity, vigorous as it was, did not send her reeling for the bathroom. Quite the opposite in fact. Seems the same pastime that caused the morning sickness the day before, cured it this morning.

At least so far.

“I’m starving,” she announced as she bounded into the kitchen, her hair still all tussled and crazy, her robe on but so loosely tied so her growing-fuller-by-the-day breasts were barely covered and drawing his eyes to them again. “What’s for breakfast, besides you?”

Jim raised his eyebrows and smiled, happy to see the color back in his fiancée’s face in addition to her sense of humor which was never truly gone but sporadically put on hold when the nausea temporarily replaced it.

Starving himself, even for a weekend as it was well after their normal hour for breakfast, he held up an egg in suggestion. If thinking about eating unfertilized embryos didn’t set off her gag reflex it might be a safe to try scrambling them into creamy, yellow curds though he knew that still could.

So far, she seemed to be unaffected, so he returned to the carton and bowl on the countertop and frying pan he was heating up on the stove.

Of course, the true test would be when the scent of them cooking hit the air.

“Smells good,” she remarked, a huge grin on her face as the aroma of the scrambling eggs filled the kitchen.

Still safe. Hopefully, they’d found a source of nourishment she could tolerate in the morning. He didn’t like her going on an empty stomach until lunch when the food aversions were less intense.

Walking over to the fridge as Jim continued to cook at the stove, she began rifling through it.

“Do we have any bacon in here? I think this baby is craving some greasy, fried, pig fat.”

Jim set aside the pan and joined her at the open fridge with thoughts to help her look but got sidetracked when, along with the smell of the eggs cooking, he picked up the fragrance of her cherry almond shampoo and the subtle, lingering scent of their morning activity. Burying his head in her hair he instead wrapped his arms around her and pulling back a tangle of wayward curls, settled his lips just below her ears.

“Mmm, hearing you say greasy, fried, pig fat is such a turn on.”

---

Jim wasn’t in the bed, she could tell even though she hadn’t yet opened her eyes. She tried to when she first heard the morning chat, but it was something about baseball, her least favorite sport, so she let herself fall back under as Jim told the bean inside her something about never swinging at a first pitch.

When she woke again, she knew he was gone, disappointed she missed her opportunity to get on top of him again as she had done yesterday morning, enjoying a second round before breakfast and one more at night, but in this AM’s battle of overactive libido versus extreme fatigue, the latter won out. Maybe after they ate, she thought as she roused to join Jim in the kitchen, where he was most likely was preparing their morning meal.

It wasn’t surprising she was so tired. She was growing a tiny human inside of her, although sometimes, she was convinced what was making her so sick in the morning was another species altogether, an ET that had taken camp in the spaceship that her belly now was.

Plus, it had been an incredibly busy Saturday. After the second morning workout with her up on the kitchen counter, Jim straddled in front of her open legs doing most of the work but not all of it, followed by the first hearty breakfast she’d had all week they swiftly got dressed to head out and do the food shopping. Now that the bacon and eggs experiment was a success, they wanted to stock up, and pick up a few pints of ice cream too. Judging from her cravings, the frozen dairy treat seemed to be another native food to whatever planet their alien came from.  

Once they finished buying groceries, it was over to the mall, as she was already starting to burst out of her bras and with the dress shopping she was doing later that day, she needed to have proper support as she tried on wedding gowns, for a third time.

The afternoon was spent at the bridal shop, again, since she could no longer wear either of the last two dresses she had previously chosen.

Despite the added expense of a brand-new gown, she would never think of walking down the aisle in what she had planned to marry Roy in and so she sold it, at a loss, the dress she completely paid for and had fitted to her exact measurements.

Even if she had considered it, the poofy-sleeve and full crinoline skirt style was no longer suited to her anyway, not since she discovered the different person that she freed from deep inside after she liberated herself from Roy.

The second, she’d only just fallen in love with a few months ago, a stunning strapless sheath layered with hand beaded tulle and flaring out to an extended organza train. This was the gown that not only suited a fancy new Beesly, but she knew would be a hit with her fancy new fiancé. But it was no longer going to work, not when she was feeling her pencil skirts get tighter by the day, despite all her throwing up.

Dress shopping, even on the third go-around, was no less exciting but this time was much more exhausting, especially with her mom grilling her and her sister about their dad’s new girlfriend, and Penny comparing every gown to the one that was no longer an option.

She arrived home, crashed on the couch, slept through dinner, woke up to have ice cream followed by dessert in the bedroom, after which she was out like a light until she heard the under-the cover whispers again in the morning. 

---

Jim left in her bed to sleep. Not only did she seem to need it after her tiring day yesterday, but if truth were told he was a bit worn out himself with her sudden super-charged sex drive. He was enjoying it, that was for sure, but a morning off to re-charge wasn’t such a bad thing.

She shuffled into the kitchen a few hours later. Even tired, which he could tell she still was, she glowed. That thing he’d heard so many times about the radiant look women get when pregnant, proven true by the beauty that just joined him for breakfast.

Though he’d eaten, having taken the opportunity to enjoy his Life cereal while she slept, he jumped up, ready to prepare the meal they thought to be their unborn child’s breakfast of champions.

However, this time when he suggested the same bacon and eggs she greedily devoured the day before, she turned a shade so unnatural that if it weren’t for the white that bordered her irises and the long, thick lashes decorating the emeralds behind them, they would have been camouflaged into a face that was currently the same green hue as them.

And then she vomited in the sink.

---

“James Duncan Halpert, what did you just whisper to our baby?”

It was close to two weeks later and while the morning sickness was still happening, it seemed to happen less on mornings when below-the-blanket conversations preceded other below-the-blanket activities.

It had become a ritual for Jim, popping down to have a little talk with her belly as soon as he woke up, throughout the day too, but he never missed the chance to impart some AM wisdom to his child.

“Did I just hear you call our baby’s mother a nympho?”

Jim threw back the blanket, revealing a grin on his face that was almost as big as it had been back in the hospital when they first learned of Pam’s pregnancy.

“Well, if the shoe fits. Someone in this bedroom has hormones on overdrive and wakes up unbelievably horny every morning.”

Playfully, Pam swatted at him but he caught her hands and creeping back up to where she was, he pinned them back against the pillows. Knowing fully well she was already in the mood, he began to kiss her neck while she pretended to squirm free, her act not convincing in the slightest. Almost instantly, she went lax, melting back to the bed as he inched his way to her lips, parting them open without any resistance.

“Um. I don’t I don’t hear you complaining,” she breathed into his mouth as she retuned his kisses. “But really it’s only because it seems to keep away the morning sickness. It has nothing to do with you.”

“Oh, no?” He pressed his mouth into her swelling cleavage and his morning erection up against her thigh and when he released the hold on her wrists, she reached her hands down to remove his boxers.

 

When Pam returned from cleaning up in the bathroom following their AM tryst, another quite frequent ritual of their mornings, Jim scooted back in his earlier position with his lips close her stomach, his hands on the sides as if there was even a hint of a bump to caress.

“See your mom can’t resist me,” he teased addressing her belly but clearly speaking to her.

“Okay, I’ll admit that. But that’s not exactly something you should be telling him. Or her. Stick to your sports lessons, music recommendations and warnings about Dwight. Much more appropriate conversation than your mother is a horndog.”

“This coming from the mother who refers to the baby inside her as the alien.”  As he leaned in to whisper some more, her shivers said she felt the tickle of his words on her belly.

“Don’t worry, she doesn’t really think you’re an alien. She loves you and so do I.”

“I love you too, Daddy.”

As the voice reached his ears, he jumped back, his face displaying the astonishment and wonder of a child watching a magician perform his tricks.

Pam wasn’t fooling anyone with her ventriloquism skills. Not for a moment did it sound like the little squeak came from her midsection and not her mouth. That wasn’t what made Jim go all wide-eyed.

It was the daddy.

In the weeks since the company picnic, they’d discussed being parents, used the words father and dad and even pops once before Pam outlawed its use, but for Jim it was her calling him daddy that was a whole other level of bizarre. Bizarre in the best kind of way.  

---

Where mornings she still had trouble stomaching anything, at least on the days where Jim was unable to fulfill his copulatory duties, the evenings found her ravenous not for him but for food.

This particular night there seemed to be nothing left to eat in their kitchen. Nothing, at any rate that the alien was in the mood for.

“We could get Chili’s to go, if you want ribs,” Jim offered.

“No, no. I kind of wanted to go out tonight. I’ve got a little more energy and we should take advantage of that.”

Days when she wasn’t feeling like going straight to bed, or straight to sleep were rare lately and she knew it would be nice to get out while they still could.

“You know what we can go for.”

She rested her hands on the tiny little bump she insisted was starting to show even though Jim and her mom both said otherwise.

“The short ribs from Christopher’s. I know it’s Friday but maybe Beth can squeeze us in. See if you can get a last-minute reservation.”

---

They couldn’t get one before 8 but they showed up at 7 hoping Beth could find them a table if they arrived early.

That didn’t happen, in fact they couldn’t even get her attention with the crowds as they were, so they settled for the spot at the bar that opened up and ordered drinks and an appetizer to hold them over while they waited.

At 8:15 the hostess came around to show them to the table that lucky enough was in their favorite server’s section.

Beth rushed over as soon as she could, which was another 10 minutes after the bread was dropped at their table by one of the runners that filled out the waitstaff on weekends.

She had on her regular bright-eyed smile when she finally appeared at the table.

“Well, hello you two. Um, I know the rules are not as strict as when I was, but should you be…”

She didn’t complete her thought but as she spoke her eyes shifted from Jim to the empty bread basket and in the end rested on the Mixed Berry Smash cocktail that sat in front of Pam.

“I’m not going to lie and say I didn’t notice the glow when you two walked in, but since you always have a sparkle in your eyes and the rosy hue of love when you’re with Jim I wasn’t entirely sure. Then I saw you order an appetizer at the bar, oh and I am sorry about the wait tonight but you know better than to come on a weekend… still I am happy to see you, very happy since I think…see the bread is also all gone, and you’ve never cleared the bread basket before…so I’ll ask again. Should you be drinking that?

Pam stammered for a moment as she tried to keep the smile from spreading across her face. They hadn’t told the office or any of their friends for that matter. Was it right that they share the good news with their waitress, no matter how friendly they’d gotten with her, before Isabel, Mark or Michael?

In the end it was Jim who was unable to keep his excitement contained.

“Yes, she should but only because it’s a virgin.”

Beth clasped her hands together and practically hopped as Pam shook her head up and down with such an immense grin, she felt her cheeks might crack from the breadth.  

“Oh, such wonderful news. Congratulations. How far along? How are you feeling? This guy taking care of you?”

She turned to face Jim for a moment then back to Pam.

“I know he is. He’s such a mensch.”

Pam didn’t have time to ask what it was, this word that sounded a little like an insult, but knew it had to be something complimentary, before Beth leaned down closer to whisper to her.

“Did pregnancy libido hit you yet?”

If she had enough of a rosy glow for Beth to notice on her cheeks before, now they were so crimson she didn’t even need to answer.

“Ah so it has. Enjoy that.”

She took their order and left them to attend to other customers, coming back soon after to deliver their food personally and serve some up some pregnancy advice with the meals.

On her third visit to the table, she lingered with them a few extra minutes, probably longer than she had time for on a busy Friday night, but it soon became clear why she was devoting so much of her precious time to them.

“I can’t tell you how much I’m going to miss you two.”

“We’re having a baby, not moving to Mars,” Jim replied winking at Pam as he did. “I assure you we’ll be back.”

“Yeah, this is our special place, not only does it have huge significance to us, but the food is delicious and the service is top-notch. Beth, you’ve become a dear friend. We will absolutely be back to see you.”

“Sure, maybe you’ll make it back in a time or two before the baby comes but with the wedding and the honeymoon and all the baby prep, I’d be surprised if it will be more than that. And then once the munchkin arrives, fancy dinners are off the radar for some time.”

“Funny you say radar, since Pam is convinced she’s carrying an alien in there.”

“Yeah, well just wait until he or she starts moving around, then you’ll really feel like you’ve got extraterrestrial inside of you.”

Pam smiled up at Beth warmly, wondering when she would first experience the little flutters she read about in her What to Expect When You’re Expecting book, about to ask what it was like.

“But oh, it is so worth it. Every little bit of it, even the nausea and the heartburn and the sleepless nights once the baby comes. It’s like nothing you’ve ever experienced and the most amazing thing you’ll ever do. It’s tough sometimes that’s for sure, but so rewarding and so wonderful.”

The bright eyes of their server began to sparkle more than usual as a layer of moisture seemed to fill in over her corneas, a tiny trickle spilling out from one corner which she surreptitiously tried to wipe away.  

“Don’t mind me. I’m just so happy for you knowing what you have ahead. Before you leave tonight I want to give you my email and number so you can at least keep in touch a little. Oh wow, I am going to miss you.”

“Of course Beth, and we will give you our numbers and emails too, but I’m sure we’ll be back. My mom is so excited to babysit and as we hear it from you, we’ll need to get a little break from parenting once in a while and this will be the first place we will want to come.”

“Well maybe you will and maybe you won’t but I’m still going to miss this version of you because you’ll be different after this. You won’t just be Pam and Jim anymore. You’ll be parents.”

 

End Notes:

Yeah I know Beth is a bit outspoken - a little unrealistic -but come on so is Michael.

So what did you think of the song? While you are at it, the chapter?

Coming closer to the end of this story (which will bring it back to where it began) but there will be a few more chapters.

However, like Beth hinted at with everything going on and then the new baby, they may not be back to Christopher's for a while and likewise it might be some months before I get back to this one (have to come up with one or two more prompts before the last two that I already have in mind). Ideas are welcome that fit in the timeline.

 I however will be back soon in the other universe/fic I'm working on. Hope to see you there.

Before and After by Maxine Abbott
Author's Notes:

This short break from 360 is less procrasti-writing and more guilt-writing that I've neglected this other WIP too long. And while these chapters can very much stand on their own, they're more like one-offs so it's not a matter of losing momentum, I felt it was still time to give my other "child" some attention. And even though it's very much a chapter for the moms, especially the new ones, I didn't want to wait until Mother's Day to finish and post it.

I had an early set of eyes on this one and I thank you, my friend for reading it first.

March-April 2010

 

In her almost 31 years, Pam had experienced a progression of life-altering moments that shifted the very essence of who she was. They existed like dividing lines crisscrossed through her mind demarcating what she had been before and what she became afterwards.

She was too young to remember the first time she ever used a crayon to draw a picture but felt a fundamental difference in herself when she was presented with colored pencils by an elementary school art teacher who noticed her talent and showed her how to use new tools to add detail and depth, layers and shadows to her creative outpourings.

Meeting Roy was another of those cataclysmic events, only she had no idea at the time that the connection that felt chemical and charged when they met as lab partners in science class was on a trajectory that would lead not only to the solidification of the crystals in the experiment she performed most of the work on, but to her own personal petrification years later.

It wasn’t until she met Jim that she got a proper education in the subject of chemistry, but it took their kiss to break the bond that kept her fused to Roy and another full year for their stars to fully align, both events creating delineations of her then and now.

But Pam could identify no event in her life that introduced a more distinct difference between the before and after than when she gave birth to her first child.

There was no way to describe it, but she felt the monumental shift in herself from the moment she first heard her daughter’s cry.

It was beautiful and amazing and her heart filled with a love she didn’t think was possible to grow more of, and she was astonished to find how much the vessel could expand to fit all of that extra emotion in.

But it was jarring too, being wholly responsible for this tiny thing, even with knowing Jim was going to be an amazing father. She never had doubts he would be, just a small bit of uneasiness every time he made his joke about wanting a boy, that he’d be just a little less so when he found out his son was a daughter, a worry completely alleviated after she witnessed him become overcome with emotion in their parking lot when she shared the news with him.

Despite the relief of knowing the joke had always just been his schtick for the camera—Jim was proving to be a doting and supportive father—she still couldn’t help but be overwhelmed in her new role as mother.

It was however, the attachment she felt to her new daughter, that sensation that they were still connected and always would be, that made it so strange to leave her in those early days. That when Cece was not in her arms or a mere peek away resting in her crib or tucked into her stroller, something was terribly off.

The first time she felt it was when the nurse at the hospital took her away to the nursery. She was gone no more than an hour or so but Pam felt restless the whole time. Despite her exhaustion from the hours of labor, with Cece gone she was unable to sleep and tossed and turned even while Jim fell right off, his gentle snoring in this case not the thing keeping her from joining him. Holding out as long as she could so he could benefit from the small recharge a brief nap would supply, when the sound of her thumping heart became louder than his guttural breathing she finally pawed for the button on his side of the hospital bed to insist their daughter be brought back to them.

In the days after they arrived home—it hadn’t even fazed her to find Dwight in their deconstructed kitchen her attention was so entirely focused on her newborn daughter–she only let Cece out of her sight for the briefest of periods and even then, she was always just in the next room being watched over by Jim or her mom or the baby monitor which Pam kept attached to her hip even while she slept.

In those first days though, she never left the house without her. She physically couldn’t let her be anywhere that she couldn’t be back to her in a moment flat, despite struggling through the challenges of being a new mom.

Like the incessant crying fits that came on for no apparent reason and that she seemed powerless to stop.

While Jim was still off from work, they handled these much the way they planned pranks on Dwight or dealt with Michael’s shenanigans, tag teaming through the possible causes.

Pam would try nursing.

Jim would check her diaper.

Pam would lightly pat her back in attempts to get a burp from her.

Jim tested out his swaddling skills, which had improved slightly since the hospital, but then again so had Cece's ability to wiggle and squirm so his bindings were more snack wrap than burrito.

They took turns rocking her in various positions from the over the shoulder to the football hold (which never worked on Cece) and when all else failed, it was a ride in the car that often did the trick.

But after Jim went back to work, Pam was left to run through all of it on her own, at least until Jim returned each night to find her still unshowered, frazzled and sometimes having crying fits of her own to rival their newborn daughter’s.

But even the struggles of going through it alone weren’t stronger than the sense of anxiety Pam felt when she attempted to leave her, even if it was just to grab a shower during the short bursts when Cece would sleep.

Helene tried reasoning with her during one of her early visits to be of some help.

“You know Pammy, the separation anxiety stage isn’t supposed to happen until much later.”

Without looking up from her new granddaughter who lay contently against her legs, she took hold of Cece’s tiny hands, letting the baby form a solid grip around her forefinger.

“And it’s usually the child who experiences it. Not the mom.”

The statement only made Pam more upset, if that were possible following the mini tantrum she had when Helene suggested going out by herself for the groceries would do her some good.

But still Helene continued trying to convince her it would be fine.

“I'm more than capable of watching her while you run out for an hour. You forget you were a baby once and I managed to take care of you. Your sister too.”

Pam used the burp cloth she had over her shoulder to wipe hormonal tears from off her face. She leaned over from where she sat on the other side of the couch to see Cece’s eyes fluttering, her little arms flailing about as they often did just before she drifted into a peaceful slumber, much in the same way Jim’s limbs also flapped restlessly in the moments preceding his wafting into a deep sleep.

“Maybe I could take a quick trip while she’s napping. But I think I should pump first.”

With Cece fully under the sandman's spell, Helene carefully lifted her from the cradle her bent knees formed to bring her to the proper crib for an afternoon nap. Pam looked over to make sure her mom supported her head during the transport before she herself turned back for the kitchen and the contraption that she still felt awkward using.

She took a moment to admire the work Dwight raced to complete a few days after they returned from the hospital without her even knowing he had been there, fourteen hours, according to Jim spread over lunch breaks and evenings and the occasional early morning.

Grabbing the shields and the tubing from the drying rack and sterile bags from the newly fitted cabinet, she sat down at the table and hooked herself up to the merciless machine that made her feel like the goat they watched Mose milk during their stay at Schrute Farm some years back.

“And I did it alone,” Helene ranted loudly to be heard over the whoosh, whoosh of the pump that echoed in the kitchen she joined her daughter in.

“Did what alone, mom?” Pam inquired vociferously so to be heard over the wheezing of the breast mangling device that was drowning out her voice.

She looked down to inspect the contents of the container hooked up to her bosom. Satisfied with the output, switched the shield to her other breast.

“Raised two children… all on my own too. Your dad didn’t lift a finger when you were infants. Or toddlers. Or during most of your childhood. I did it all without any help from him.”

Turning the dial to increase the suction level on the pump so to speed up the extraction, lest she be trapped while her mom went on another rant about her father, she suffered through the discomfort of the higher setting and had a full five ounces before Helene could say anything more.

Though still not at ease about leaving, but not wanting to stay for another dad-bashing session either, she reattached her nursing bra, pulled down her spit-up covered tee shirt and went to gather her things while Helene started on the dishes that were still piled in the sink from breakfast and last night’s dinner and quite possibly the prior two nights too.

She managed to get as far as the front closet when the squeak of a cry sounded from the nursery. Freshly pumped breasts seemed to instantly refill as the whine grew louder for a moment and then stopped. But it was too late, the trip was abandoned the minute she heard the first peep and her mother hadn’t come running from the kitchen to check.

Helene did emerge however when next a follow-up whimper escalated to all out howling which carried on for the next hour. Cece’s inconsolable fit kept both moms busy in attempts to settle her down again preventing Helene from leaving to do the grocery run in Pam's place. While Grandma attempted another burping session, Pam made a quick call instructing Jim to pick up another fast-food dinner and the diapers on his way home from the office.

After a few more days of the same, it became no surprise that Helene begged out of coming to over to help. Seems Cece’s witching hour, which began around 3:30 brought about Pam’s bitching hour on schedule for 4:30 and Helene was the prime target at least until Jim walked in the door, his cheerful, “where are my girls?” replied to with grumbles and tears and Helene saying hi and bye in one breath as she escaped out the door he hadn’t even closed behind him yet.

Things ironically got a little better when Helene stopped coming. Pam at least was settling into a routine where she managed to shower every other day, switching off cleaning herself with washing the dishes and learned going out for the groceries with Cece after 3:00 was the very thing to keep the late afternoon fits at bay.

But she still hadn’t been able to separate from her daughter, even for a minute. Even while showering, with the curtain left half open, Cece sat strapped in the bouncy seat on the ancient tiled floor that still remained from when the previous generation of Halperts owned the house. She sometimes wondered if Jim himself had also spent time on the floor of this room, left to stare at the mosaic wall of ceramic while tucked in an infant seat as his own mother washed herself behind the curtain.  

---

The first time she did go out without Cece she didn’t get very far.

It was a day where the crying spell precluded with their outing to Target to exchange some pajamas Cece would never get to wear–had her aunt and uncle even noticed the height of her new husband at their wedding, what were they thinking buying size 0-3–had not been eliminated but rather delayed. 

She was still in the throes of it when Jim walked in from work that night. 

“Where are my…oops…wrong house.”

It was apparent from the way she directed her rancor his way with a piercing scowl, she didn’t for one second appreciate the joke he made in turning around as soon as he got into the den where Pam paced with Cece in her arms. 

Realizing his error, he quickly set down his satchel and head off to wash his hands, returning in record time to be passed his still wailing daughter who proceeded to spit up on his suit jacket in the middle of her howls. He knew he should have removed it first. It wasn't the first time he'd been victim to the violent spurt of projectile spit-up but better to be in that line of fire than that of Pam's at the moment.

The jacket could always be cleaned.

Cece carried on with unrelenting cries as he switched her to the other shoulder. Knowing the further risk he posed by asking, he made a follow-up inquiry all the same.

“Could she be hungry?”

If he could grab the words back from the air, he would have. New parent fatigue was disrupting his better judgement and the minute he heard what he'd said, he half expected her to rip into him like the paper he just got back from peddling at the office.

But unpredictably Pam only responded to his question by simply taking back their baby and passing him a burp cloth from off one of her shoulders.

Never one who paid much mind to accessorizing and fashion trends, it was that much more ironic that it was only now that no outfit, not the all-day pajamas nor the inside-out sweater and stretched out leggings combination, was complete without the 'shoulder pads' that Kelly insisted were making their comeback from the 80s, except in Pam's case it was less fashion statement and more about being able to quickly wipe up the copious amounts of curdled milk Cece could expel.   

She had even gone as far as to consider pulling out the bright pink Pashmina Kelly had long ago forced her to buy and was yet unworn. Had it been machine washable it would make a handy and absorbent, oversized burb cloth, but since it wasn't and with Jim forgetting to remove his jacket when he came home, they already were visiting the dry cleaner more often than ever before.

As Jim dabbed at his sportscoat, she explained without a hint of acerbity, she had tried nursing first, and no this was not Cece’s hunger cry anyway.

“Should I take her back to check the diaper?”

Pam lifted Cece’s butt to her nose and shook her head before lowering her down to try the never successful football hold in the chance it might be what it took to settle her this time.

“No Jim, this is one of her I’m going to cry for an hour just to see if I can make you join me spells. She has replaced Michael in testing my patience. But she’s already been at it for more than a half hour, so only it should only be about another 20-25 minutes until she either succeeds or gives up on trying.”

Jim giving up on his jacket himself, took it off and proceeded to set it down on the couch. Turning his back if only for the millisecond it took to set it down put him at a disadvantage not being able to see her face and sense any sudden climate changes in Cece or his wife.

Likewise, so did forgetting the minefield that a screaming baby created, especially if it was one of many that Pam had to deal with today.

But once again he let an impulsive suggestion slip off his tongue.

“You know what might help, a walk. It’s a warm night. And I think it will do you good to get a little fresh air and a break from all the crying.”

Where he narrowly missed the attitude grenade before, this time he wasn't as lucky and received a direct hit of her acrimonious sarcasm.

“That’s an idea I never had before. Go for a walk.”

But even through the sassiness she gave him, she still began to bundle their crying daughter up into the tiny Patagonia fleece, a gift from Kelly that she’d explained was the height of infant fashion but also happened to be adorable on her not to mention the perfect weight for the recent weather, and had become one of the presents Pam most appreciated.

Jim was right, sometimes fresh air did help and even if it didn’t, getting Cece out of the house would at least give him a little peace and quiet after the long day she imagined he had. After all, he was back at work dealing with all the babies there.

“What are you doing?”

“I was out before. It’s warm for us, but not warm enough for her. She still needs more than just her ‘If You Think I’m Cute, You Should See My Mom and Dad's Boss onesie if I’m going to take her outside.”

Jim took the five steps over to where Pam was placing Cece into her stroller. When he arrived, he first planted a gentle forehead kiss on one of the two things he loved most in the world, gently nudging her away to lean in and place one on the other before he continued.

“Okay, so I didn’t see that’s what you put her in today but I think we may have just stumbled on the real reason why she’s crying.”

He knew she wouldn’t laugh, not while bursts of indignant screeching still radiated from Cece’s tiny scrunched up face but he was content to see his comment had stretched the corners of Pam’s mouth to an almost smile.

In the second he had her distracted, he positioned himself in between Pam and his daughter and unbuckling her from within the harness, he lifted Cece out of the stroller and up to his own chest.

“But what I meant was you should go by yourself, take a little break. I’ll stay with her. You’ve had her all day. It’s my turn to have a little daddy, daughter time.”

“While she’s hysterical?”

Pam was all for giving Jim his chance to bond with their baby but she couldn’t imagine listening to her grating cries was the way he wanted to spend it; that hearing their little girl in distress and not knowing how to stop it was any less a needle to his nerves and no less brutal on his heart.

“I’m sure she’ll calm down soon. And if she doesn’t, I’ll manage. I’d suggest you lie down but,” he pushed his daughter off his torso to hold her up in front of him, “who could sleep with all this noise?” he spoke sotto voce shaking his own head deliberately as Cece wailed on.

“Seriously, Beesly. Go walk around the block. We’ll be fine.”

It took a bit more convincing but in time Pam switched her remaining 'shoulder pad' out for her cardigan and left her daughter and husband to get a little fresh air and more importantly a little quiet.

It was a short trip.

Closing the door behind her as she stepped onto the stoop kept the heart-wrenching sounds from reaching her ears but knowing she left her daughter in an inconsolable state still pained her. It didn’t matter the only noises she heard were the near imperceptible wind and the occasional chirp of a bird, in her head Cece’s cries still echoed as clear as they had in the house, bucking the laws of science by becoming louder with each inch she took towards the sidewalk. It didn’t matter she knew she was with her father who would do everything in his power to soothe her and was perfectly capable of watching her while she took a short walk down the block. All she could think was how out-of-body she felt as her nostrils filled with the scent of the night air instead of Desitin and baby shampoo and Cece.

She tried to continue, shakily moving along the concrete slabs, looking down at cracks that it felt like only yesterday she would have avoided in order not to break her mother’s proverbial back.

Unaware of her own movement, she kept walking in the daze that came over her as she passed the Martinelli's house next door.

If she weren’t feeling like she left her soul back at the house, it might have dawned on her she was now the mother who would be susceptible to imaginary broken spines and cracked backs, but all she could feel was that this walk seemed like the most foreign thing she’d ever done and she’d only gone the length of a single house without Cece along with her.

She willed herself to keep going but not without first looking at her phone to be sure she hadn’t missed a call from Jim summoning her back.  Having no calls meant there was no logical reason to turn around just yet, except the intense sensation she was missing an appendage. If it were possible to leave a limb behind, she would have checked to make sure she still had all hers.

By the time she got to the Johnson’s place, three doors down from theirs, she was a complete mess. Looking down at shaking legs to check they were still attached to her body she turned on her heel and practically ran all the way to their home.

Racing up the walk she forced herself to calm down before she opened the door. Inside it was silent except for a soft snore she recognized in an instance.

There on the couch was Jim, now down to his bare chest.  Cece lay sprawled across it, strapped in by the large hands that even when layered atop each other, covered the span of her whole body. They both were fast asleep.

Smiling as she gazed upon the two people she loved most in the world, immediately she felt whole again.

Another time she might have grabbed her pencil and sketchpad to capture the moment in graphite but in this instance settled for picking up her camera to preserve the memory. Fortunately, it was only Jim she woke with the sound of the shutter and the spark of the flash.

 

---

It took weeks for Pam to get to a place where she could leave Cece for any significant period of time and still it was only with Jim when she did. Eventually Jim and Helene managed to convince her they could add Grandma to the short list of acceptable caregivers, so they could enjoy a night out with each other.

Setting her up with enough pumped milk to grant them a few hours, Jim had suggested an early dinner at Christopher’s. They’d last seen Beth about a month before the wedding. They had hoped she would make the trip and join them to celebrate at Niagara Falls but understood when she sent her regrets and a small gift.

Pam was still nervous as they left the house, feeling shaky and unstable as she walked in the low heels she hadn’t worn in weeks, the last time with a much different center of balance.

“She’ll be fine,” he told her as they pulled out of the driveway. Pam fidgeted in her seat not quite as uncomfortable as when she took her first walk sans Cece, but still visibly tense to be traveling so far away their first time out together without her.

Grabbing her left hand with his right, he squeezed reassuringly while he went on to describe the latest insane thing Michael had done, hoping it would take her mind off leaving Cece and humor her into a sense of calm and thankfulness she only had one baby to take care of, and none which she had to co-manage an office with.

He soon sensed it working, the tenseness of her grip loosening until he turned to take a peek and realized that the motion of a moving vehicle had a calming and sleep-inducing effect on new mothers as well as their new babies.

He left her to sleep the rest of the way only waking her with a whispered, “Beesly, we’re here,” after five minutes with the car in park at the restaurant's lot.

She awoke with a start but after a glance back to the empty car seat, she remembered where they had been headed, turning back to the glistening lake to see a couple walking up towards the moonlit bridge that not so long ago they themselves strolled along after their meal.

And now they were parents with an infant daughter at home, who was hopefully sleeping peacefully while Grandma folded the piles of laundry Pam still couldn’t keep up with.

Just the thought she might not be had Pam growing anxious as they walked across the lot to the doors of the eatery.

Beth appeared tableside within moments of them taking their seats, just as Pam announced to Jim she would never make it through the meal and they should order their dinner to go.

The sweet scent of the hyacinths, the floral centerpiece at their table this particular evening hovered in the air along with her words.

Jim knew, though it was hidden under the white cloth that draped around them, about the vigorous dance her right leg was doing, furious shuddering and making him think of a cocktail shaker blending the drink he would skip tonight in solidarity with his nursing wife.

“Well, look who’s here. Pam, how is it you gave birth a month ago? You look just like you did the first time you came in with this handsome fella. How’s that new baby of yours? Cecilia is such a beautiful name.”

Pam pushed through her worry to paste an artificial smile on her face and when she opened her mouth to talk, the words spilled out of her much like the explosive poop that blew out from the boundaries of Cece’s size three diaper just the other day.

“Oh, she’s wonderful. We call her Cece and we are over the moon in love with her. She’s the most adorable baby, when she’s not crying. Which thankfully is getting to be more and more. We had a hard time at first, with nursing and getting her to self-soothe and all but she’s finally getting to the point where she doesn’t have a meltdown every day. But her smile is the most magical thing. I mean she smiles up at me and I forget that she just spent an hour howling for no reason. But wow is she a lot of work. I had no idea. She loves being held. Like all the time. My mom’s watching her now.”

It was the anxiety, he knew, that had his wife so Kelly-like in her loquaciousness but still was somewhat surprised at her sudden verbal diarrhea.  

“This is Pam’s first time away from her,” Jim offered up when Pam took a breath.

Beth expressed her understanding with a hidden wink to him.

“And you, dad? How’s it feel?”

“Yeah, what she said. Especially how over the moon we are. She is amazing.”

“I take it you brought some pictures.”

Pam pulled an envelope the size of a paperback from out of her purse and passed them to Beth.

Pam had stopped her excessive chatter but with nerves no less on edge, she busied herself playing with the shakers that flanked the small floral bouquet while their server and friend got her first peek of the new love of their life.

“She has your eyes,” Beth commented towards Jim as she went through the stack of photos she was handed.

“And that nose and mouth is clearly from her mother.”

“Thank God for that,” Jim remarked back as she shuffled through the rest.

“She’s just ahhh…. Truly. You two made one beautiful baby.”

Beth handed back the photos thus ending the salt and pepper dance but not Pam’s unease at being away from her child.

“Oh, and thank you for the pajamas. She’s wearing them tonight. But the dinner you sent us was probably the best gift we received. We made it last three nights and it was delicious every one of them and a nice break from scarfing down cereal or my mother’s meatloaf those first few nights home.  Speaking of which, I’m not sure we can stay tonight. I’m just too nervous. Do you think you can make our order to go?”

Glancing over to Jim before she answered, Beth caught the plead in his eyes to help him convince her to have their dinner right where they were.

“Nonsense. You’re here. I’m sure Cece is fine with Grandma. And as much as you love and adore her, all new babies are a handful and it sounds like a night away from her with your husband is just the thing you need.”

Pam opened her mouth to protest but Beth cut her off before she could get a word in.

“You deserve a break, and you’ll have to learn to leave her sometime. Why not start by enjoying tonight? Let me bring you your favorite Mixed Berry Smash so you can relax a little.”

“Oh, no I can’t have a drink. I’m nursing.”

“But you’re pumping right? You left Grandma with a bottle for her for while you were gone?”

“Yes, but I’m planning to nurse her again when we get home.”

“That’s fine, but you can just do a pump and dump when you first get home.”

In stereo, the new parents repeated the phrase with an emphasized question mark punctuating the tone of their parroting.

“You don’t know about pumping and dumping? Lady, you need to know this. A glass of wine or drink every now and then is a crucial survival tool for new moms. And it’s basically what you think it is, you have a drink, wait at least 20 minutes, pump and then dump it into the sink.”

Pam initially gasped at the thought of discarding even a drop of the liquid gold elixir that was Cece’s only source of nutrition, but once she got thinking of her favorite Christopher’s cocktail, how delightful it tasted and the powers it had to settle her mind, and after taking a mental inventory of the frozen, milk-filled bags crowding the freezer, she decided it would be okay this one time.

As always, Beth had great advice.

In the end, with a little help from the drink but more from the night out, Pam took her first step back to feeling like the person she was before becoming a mother. Though the transition from who she was before, to the parent she would forevermore be, was still a work in progress and while she’d have many days in which she would struggle to find that balance, it was that first night being just herself for a few hours and sharing that time with Jim that set her on the course to figuring out just what that was for her.

 

They arrived home that night to find Cece did have one of her crying fits while they were gone, but Helene handled it exactly how they would have and she was finally sleeping soundly, enough so that after Pam pumped and dumped, they were able to engage in another activity that also reminded her of the woman and wife she still was.

End Notes:

So just as life imitates art and art imitates life in the writing of the show it was the same here for me. While it's been a very long time since my babies were actual babies, there are those memories that never leave you. This story was in part inspired by my first memory leaving my newborn son about three days after he was born to go to a friend's wedding. I was just like Pam, having an experience like nothing I'd ever felt, like I was high not because of something I took but because something was missing and I wasn't in that moment sure I wouldn't have that sense of complete attachment forever. I obviously found my balance (my oldest is away at college now) but will always remember that feeling and hope I conveyed just a tiny bit of through this chapter. PS, we had to leave right after the ceremony.

Blessings by Maxine Abbott
Author's Notes:

So, I know this plot was written about recently and I hate to seem like a copycat (Angela: Just say "Copies". Why do you have to drag cats into this?) but I had already plotted out this for the next chapter of AFD – only I was unable to focus on it due to trying to finish my behemoth, 360. I had even put some feelers out in Discord back in May to see if we had ever heard this had happened in canon. I was going to scrap it, but a few wise friends told me to go ahead and share my take on the same event. So, after a bit of hesitation and multiple postponements for a series of other IRL reasons, here it is. Thanks DJC for the beta-read. Speaking of DJC if after reading, you are curious about Beth's comment, head over to A Real Mensch for more info and a fun read from his Rejected Cold Opens series.

 

April, 2011

As if the weather outside was controlled by her mood, the rain was pounding at the window when she woke up. Blinking open her heavy eyes, she stared up at the ceiling as they filled again, mirroring the veneer of moisture she knew covered the pane behind the opaque curtain.

She pressed her hands to her middle. The irregular nausea that plagued her the first few months with Cece was back, but she knew this current wave wasn’t from the pregnancy.

She was shocked Cece wasn’t wailing out from her crib yet. Maybe she sensed how sad her mama was and was keeping her own wails to a minimum, finding it impossible to compete with the volume of tears Pam had been crying the last week.

It was hard to believe she was gone. She knew it had been coming. Though it was unfathomable how fast it happened after her fall at Christmas, she saw her Mee-Maw go from vibrant, if at times opinionated and stubborn, to weak and feeble in a matter of months. But it still hit her like a steamroller on her heart when her mom called earlier that week with the news.

---

Jim had known exactly what the news was just from the look on her face. After she traded Cece for the cell phone he’d flipped open and passed to her to answer, it went blank for a mere moment. But it was when the corners of her mouth shifted downward and her eyes began to blink rapidly, she noiselessly revealed the sad update being received.  Cece must have sensed it too, as she began to cry, her wails much louder than the quiet tears that streamed from Pam’s eyes as she spoke.

“When?”

Jim rocked Cece as he looked on with sympathy unable to wrap his arms around his wife while trying to soothe his wailing daughter at the same time.

“Hold on Mom, I can’t hear you. Cece is crying,” she said as she motioned to Jim to go to the other room.

With expressive green eyes he silently relayed condolences and love and turned with Cece, retreating for the kitchen where he hoped some Cheerios might stop the outbreak of her tears.

Cece quieted down the minute the first circles of oats hit the tray, her chubby little fingers preoccupied with raking them closer to her so she could scoop them up and mash them into her mouth. If only it could be as simple to help Pam feel better, but he knew there was no magic cereal to console his wife.

When after ten minutes she joined them in the kitchen, her eyes had deepened to the intense sea green they often became when her emotions ran high. Joined by a glistening sheen from the dampness still within them and a tinge of red lining the lids, both were hints to the mountain of tears she’d wept while she talked with her mother. Her skin, normally clear and radiant, even more so in her recent state of pregnancy, was blotchy and marked with streaks from where they slid down her cheeks. And while the attempt to pull herself together before entering the room was a noble one, no tears were currently being shed, the crack in her voice said that wouldn’t hold for long.

“The funeral is Wednesday.”

Despite her own short, slow steps into the room, it only took one stride for Jim to reach her; his momentum towards her had begun the instant she showed up in the doorway, his own green eyes resting upon hers with an intensity mirroring the deepness of hers.

Wrapping her delicately into his arms, he expressed his compassions through his gentle touch and soft-spoken words.

“I’m so sorry baby. I know how much she meant to you…

…to us,” he corrected himself. Though he had not started on the right foot with Mee-Maw, in time she came to see just how devoted he was to his granddaughter and that turned her around in no time. That, and how happy he always was, or at least pretended to be, to sit with her through the many stories the rest of her relatives had grown tired of hearing again and again at events and visits. As she warmed to him, he grew to love her too, just as Pam said he would once she forgave him for corrupting her morals, and received him as one in her precious family.

“I just can’t believe…sepu guuh fuu.”

With her head buried into his chest, she choked what she could not finish speaking, the words sounding more like Cece’s babbles than anything intelligible and yet he knew exactly what they were. As they fell off, he felt a drop of wetness on his shirt that slowly spread across his torso while she softly wept as he rocked her.

“I know. I know.” he cooed, patting her back with the gentle strokes that he found sometimes worked on Cece when she was upset, letting Pam release her sorrow and drench his shirt.

Only after a snort that he was sure left more than just tears on the thin fabric of his tee did he attempt to draw out a laugh.

“See Cece, you’re not the only one who doesn’t know the difference between a tee shirt, a burp cloth and a handkerchief.”

Pam pulled away, tears still falling even as her lips turned upward and a tiny giggle escaped which Cece mimicked excitedly from her high chair.

Looking towards her daughter, the smile brightened a touch as she made her way to the counter and the box Jim had left open and out.

Pam dumped another handful of Cheerios in front of Cece before curling down the inner bag, fastening up the box, and returning it to the pantry. When she turned her attention back to Jim, he was stripping himself out of the tear, snot and spit-stained shirt. She waited for his head to reappear from where he lifted the fabric over it.

“Can you see if your mom can come and stay a few days? I don’t think we should bring Cece to the wake or even the funeral. And my mom may need me a lot this week. She’s already stressing about writing the eulogy and making all the arrangements.”

Jim went to drop his balled-up shirt on the chair, at the last minute switching it to his other hand instead as he heard her voice tremble again while she asked.

“Of course. I’ll call her now.”

With his free hand he reached for the landline on the counter punching through the speed dials as he continued.

“Do you think you might want to write something to share yourself? It might be cathartic, you know. At least it was for me when my gramma passed.”

Pam turned back to Cece who clearly had her fill of the Cheerios before her and had taken to dropping them on the floor. Bending over Pam swiped up a few before she swooped her daughter out of the chair and straddled her across her hip.

“I hadn’t thought…” she began, her words interrupted by Jim’s.

“Hey, Mom. It’s Jim.”

He held up a finger.

“Got some bad news this morning…”

Feeling her eyes fill with moisture again, she left Jim alone to talk to Betsy and took Cece back to den. She settled her in front of the activity table and lingered for a moment to watch her delight in pressing buttons and flipping switches, as usual becoming fixated on lifting and lowering the lid to the pretend laptop it featured.

Even she was finding her grief somewhat excessive—she knew it was in part due to the pregnancy hormones, just the other day she became downright weepy while watching an insurance company commercial featuring a dog on tv—and yet on her way to the couch as she contemplated what Jim suggested, she felt her eyes tear up again in thinking about what she might write. She’d never written a eulogy or even spoken at a funeral before—not counting the bizarre one Michael held for a bird, where on the spot, she was able to come up with the comforting words she knew he needed to hear in his fragile state. But this was different. This was for her beloved Mee-Maw, and while the memories she had of her were numerous and personally sentimental, she was having a hard time bringing them to the forefront of her mind.

She looked up at Cece, who had toddled around to the crayon shaped buttons, pushing on them to watch the colors light up as she pressed each one. Suddenly she was remembering the simple crayon sets Mee-Maw would bring her at her visits. They were always just 8 colors, never the larger 64, not even the 24 crayon sets she had asked for and when Pam would show her disappointment, Mee-Maw would just dismiss her…

“Nonsense, child”, she would say. “You don’t need more colors to make me a pretty picture. Everyone thinks they need more, but there’s beauty in simplicity. You just need to bring it out from within you. Now be gracious and go draw me something with your gift.”

She was like that when they played games too, Mee-Maw being the one adult who regularly beat her at Candyland, unlike her mom who she later realized always let her win. But playing with Mee-Maw, when Pam would pout upon landing on Molasses Swamp, again Mee-Maw would repeat her nonsense child mantra and tell her she had to follow the rules and play fair and that meant waiting until she drew a red card to get out.

It was devastating to think how Cece would never have the chance to play Candyland with her, receive her own taste of Mee-Maw’s tough love, or really get to know her at all. And how her beloved Mee-Maw would never know who the baby she was carrying now would turn out to be.

She looked up when she heard Jim say goodbye to his mom as he walked into the room, stopping to press a few of the neon-lit crayon colors with Cece before he joined Pam on the sofa.

“So, my mom will be here tomorrow and she can stay the week.”

Popping up from the seat beside him, she walked to the console where the real laptop sat amid more of Cece’s toys, various remotes and the magazines they never had time to read but still had delivered to the house every month.

“Oh good, I’ll go get her room ready. But first, I think I am going to try what you suggested.”

Picking up the portable computer, she tucked it under her arm and left for her studio.

---

Pam shifted and nestled closer to Jim, also still in bed much later than usual, seeking comfort in the nearness of his body and the slight tang that wafted off his body, mildly pungent from sleep and yet strangely alluring and intensely soothing in her current state.

Jim, her rock, who seemed to know everything she needed during this difficult time when she couldn’t seem to let go of the sorrow which was still lingering longer than she knew it should. Sure, the pregnancy was making the sadness hard to shake, but there was also the regret that she couldn’t completely follow through on what Jim had suggested. He’d been right, the writing was a release that helped ease the pain she was feeling. It took a few sessions to finish, but when she was done putting her thoughts to paper and shared it with him, he remarked on how much it said about their relationship and the impact Sylvia had on her. It was nothing she hadn’t shared with him before, and yet he said the way she expressed her love through her words felt new and how it was a beautiful tribute that was sure to be appreciated when she shared it at the funeral.

But when the time came, she hadn’t been able to. The morning of the funeral had been particularly rough. Whether it was morning sickness, sorrow, nerves or some combination of all of them, she hadn’t been able to relieve the heaviness in her belly or suppress the urge to vomit, even after she had thrown up, twice. But she managed to shower while Jim made a quick run to 7-11 for ginger ale, and Betsy did her best to attend to Cece who woke up very cranky and crying for her mama.

The ginger ale helped and Cece eventually calmed down and though she had another fit when her parents, both dressed all in black, said their goodbyes at the door, Betsy had ushered them out, assuring Pam they’d be fine but it kept her concerned their whole way to the funeral parlor.  

She had found her calm by the time they arrived and while she shed silent tears as her mother gave the eulogy, by the time it was her turn she had wiped them away and was prepared to speak. She got to the podium, set out her paper and looked out into the crowd before she began. She got as far as the second sentence when she looked up again and saw him there in the third row, unsure if his crying was for show or genuine but either way it caused her heart to pound, her stomach to churn and her nose to smolder as the tears quickly filled in her eyes from his being there at all. Promptly, she looked to Jim whose head whipped around to find the source of what was unsettling her, but it was too late. Upon seeing Michael in attendance, she broke down, overwhelmed by her emotions. It was Jim who came up to rescue her and deliver the small tribute she had written.

“Morning Beesly,” he whispered as he pulled her closer and took her in with yet unopened eyes that nonetheless seemed to sense her lingering sadness.

“You’re thinking of her this morning, aren’t you?”

She answered by burrowing her head into the small hollow at his sternum, making him in turn wrap her tighter into his arms and drop a gentle kiss atop her crown of copper curls. 

“I was thinking, with my mom still here, maybe we go to dinner tonight, just us. Maybe Christopher’s. It’s been a while...”

Betsy, of course. She was still here and must have gathered up Cece when she first cried from her crib.

She let out a sniffle and mumbled into his chest.

“Yeah, I’d like that.”

---

“Well, this a pleasant surprise!”

As Beth set down the basket of bread in the center of the table, she seemed to survey the whole of it before looking back up to smile brightly at Pam.

“What brings you two strangers in? A special occasion maybe?”

Though her eyes landed on Pam as she asked, it was Jim who responded, drawing Beth’s glance back to the drink by his hands and then up to his face.

“My mom’s staying with us for a few days.”

Jim’s skill for directing his attention to multiple parties at once was in full play as he went on, his focus simultaneously aimed to both women, the former in friendly conversation and the latter in concern for how she might react in response to the waitress’s question.  

Never one to mask her emotions well, Pam picked the water glass up to hide her face behind as she took a sip. But with her choice of shield as transparent as she was, Jim was quick to catch the flicker of grief that passed over her eyes.

Both the look and the short catch in her throat as she sipped went undetected by Beth, so Jim continued, omitting the reason for his mom’s visit.

“So, we took an opportunity to get out for a dinner at our special place.”

“Well, I’ll take it. Always happy to see you two here. And I’m sure your mom is thrilled to get some alone time with her grandchild. There’s just such a special bond between children and their grandmamas.”

She turned back to Pam who had just set the glass back down, “Am I right?”

Where before, the brief flash of sadness might have gone unnoticed, following this innocent but direct question from Beth, it was impossible for Pam to hide the mournful pang that came up to the surface. Tears flooded in her eyes and hovered on her lashes and before she could blink them back, one broke free, sliding down her cheek to the table where it left a mark on the tablecloth.

“Pam, hon, what is it?”

When the only response was a deep gasping breath, seeking explanation she looked from Pam to Jim.

“Was it something I said? Is Cece okay?”

“Cece’s fine.”

He looked up at Pam who had for the most part recovered and nodded at him.

“It’s just Pam lost her grandma, her Mee-Maw, this week. It’s actually why my mom is in town, to watch Cece while we helped out her mom and attended the wake and funeral.”

“Oh, Pam dear, I’m so sorry,” Beth spoke gently as she turned back to Pam, compassion in her eyes.

Then she shook her head almost violently, appearing to play back her earlier comment in her own head.

“And I’m so sorry for my big fat foot that I once again put in my mouth.”

Pam smiled genuinely back at her, knowing well the regret of saying something that she wished she could take back. 

“It’s okay. You couldn’t have known. And really, I’m much too emotional about it, even days later, even though we’d known it was coming for a while now. It just seems to be hitting me harder because of the hor….”

Catching herself, Pam rephrased her thought.

“…because I just can’t believe she is really gone.”

“Oh honey, there’s no timetable for grief that needs to be followed. You feel what you feel. As for her being gone, my people have a saying,” and she added what Pam guessed to be Hebrew, “Zichrona Livricha.”

“May her memory be for a blessing.

“Thank you,” Pam replied, not sure herself what the proper response was being a little confused as to the meaning of the phrase but also too timid to ask.

Jim wasn’t. Looking again at both women at once he spoke.

“We heard that said a few times after the funeral service. I think one of the people was your uncle’s wife, Rachel, who said it to you and your mom. I wondered about it. What does it mean?”

“I guess it can be interpreted in different ways…I’ve always thought it that it means that in carrying and sharing the memories of her, she continues in spirit. Her life still matters for what goodness she has left behind inside the people who knew her. Her life is a blessing that you can carry forth with you in yours.”

Pam blinked back tears again, this time seeming more in reflection than sorrow.

“I love that.”

Her brows lifted as she eyed Jim with an expressive half-grin that grew wider as she spoke.

“Of course, goodness isn’t all she left behind. She had her opinions and she let everyone know them, sometimes too aggressively, but I think that spunk and spark is worth keeping within us too. I hope I can pass a little of that spirit on to our children.”

Jim raised his glass in a tribute.

“I’ll drink to that.”

For the second time it was a toast by Jim, that gave them away, but this time hopefully Mee-Maw was smiling from above at the news. Beth surely was as she took note of the glass filled only with water that Pam held up to clink with Jim’s.

“No Berry Smash, tonight?” she asked not so innocently.

And also for the second time, they shared news of Pam’s pregnancy long before they had told anyone else, their plan to wait for the second trimester before telling friends abandoned in the moment. It was knowing they likely wouldn’t be back to Christopher’s for a while to share the news in person, combined with a strange inability to keep anything from her, that led them to reveal their secret.

“I thought so. I could see the sadness, but even that could not erase the glow. Not to mention, when have you ever passed up your Berry Smash?”

She winked and held up an imaginary glass of her own.

“Here’s to your blessings, to Mee-Maw whose memory you’ll always keep inside of you and to the other blessing you’re cooking up in there. To that I say mazel tov.”

---

“That was nice. I’m glad you suggested it. And Beth always has such meaningful things to say.”

“She does, doesn’t she.” Jim turned to face her and give her hand a quick squeeze before he pulled it back to start the car.

“Mmm,” Pam murmured an agreement that morphed into an involuntary yawn that as it ended, mutated more becoming the delightful giggle that he’d fallen in love with. The same one he’d been trying unsuccessfully to bring about all week. He had to wonder what it was to bring it back now.

“Care to share what is so funny over there?”

Eyes blinking away tiny tears that were brought on not by her sadness, but by the laughter building up inside of her.

“It’s silly.”

“Yeah, I’m sure it is. But let’s hear it.”

“I was just thinking about what Beth said, about the blessing, and it got me thinking of one of Michael’s michaelisms.”

“Which one? There are so many, but I can’t begin to think of one that would apply here.”

She began chuckling again, practically snorting before she could get it out.

“You remember when he told us about his walkabout, you know when you left him stranded at the gas station.”

“Um, because your mother locked Cece in the car.”

Pam gently swatted at him before she continued.

“Yeah, I’ll admit not her finest babysitting moment, but it all worked out okay. If you ask Michael, better than okay. Remember the story he told us about the aftermath of your leaving him…he called it a blessing in the skies. Well, that’s how I’m thinking of Mee-Maw. I’m thinking about her up there…as my own blessing in the skies.”

“I’m pretty sure that’s not what Michael meant, or who knows maybe it is. Have you ever heard his theory we are all puppets being controlled by a master puppeteer in the heavens...”

Nodding through a smile she finished Jim’s thought for him.

“…the real reason the crew is here to film us.”

Without removing his hands from the wheel, Jim raised his arms one at a time as if pulled up by strings on his elbows, tipping his head mechanically in conjunction with each arm motion. The car pulled slightly to each side with each dip of his arms and head.

“Okay Mortimer, calm yourself. You’re going to make me carsick.”

Jim straightened the wheel at once and reached over again, this time to gently rub her belly.

“Oops, sorry baby,” he crooned as he covered her whole middle with his hand. Soon he would no longer be able to. Already, she felt the bump forming, much earlier than with Cece. Likewise, with her mood swings and nausea, but mostly the utter fatigue that when it hit overcame her completely, as it was beginning to now.

“Anyway, glad that Beth cheered you up and Michael managed to get you laughing again.”

“Me tooooo,” she replied as another yawn took over her body.

“Tired huh? You had a rough week. Sleep if you want.”

His hand wandered from stomach down her knee, which he caressed lovingly before bringing it back to settle on the wheel.

Pam shifted the seat back, settling in for a catnap over the ride home.  

The week had been a rough one and she was still a wee bit sad but a little of the melancholy had lifted over the course of the evening. What had not lifted was the braid of exhaustion brought on by the busy week, all her crying, and the rising hormonal levels. Before succumbing to the sleep seizing fast control, she took a last glance over at her husband, then down to the tiny bump under the seat belt and finally out her window, smiling through another yawn as purple skies flickered past her line of sight.

Beth had it right. Michael too, with his mixed-up phrases. Up in the skies and down here on earth, she was very blessed indeed.

Just before her lids fell, she looked upward to the blessings disguised as stars and said one final goodbye to Mee-Maw. 

End Notes:

While feeling strangely nervous and self-conscious posting again after the long break, I'm hoping finally putting this one up resparks my (and perhaps others') motivation to get back to writing. 

As always I do love hearing thoughts.

 

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