Proper Tea Is Murder by Comfect
Summary:

A Coffeeshop AU.

Pamela Beesly, recently unbetrothed graphic designer, stumbles into The Comedy Roasters, a new coffeeshop with a manic owner and an intriguingly attractive barista. 


Categories: Jim and Pam, Alternate Universe Characters: None
Genres: None
Warnings: No Warnings Apply
Challenges: None
Series: None
Chapters: 43 Completed: Yes Word count: 38761 Read: 16039 Published: March 21, 2021 Updated: March 31, 2022
Story Notes:

I do not own any Office IP. 

There are obvious connections to canon here, but this is a fairly loose AU. 

This will probably update fairly regularly, but I doubt it will be every day like I usually do--still trying to get back in the swing of writing for this fandom.  

1. Chapter 1 by Comfect

2. Chapter 2 by Comfect

3. Chapter 3 by Comfect

4. Chapter 4 by Comfect

5. Chapter 5 by Comfect

6. Chapter 6 by Comfect

7. Chapter 7 by Comfect

8. Chapter 8 by Comfect

9. Chapter 9 by Comfect

10. Chapter 10 by Comfect

11. Chapter 11 by Comfect

12. Chapter 12 by Comfect

13. Chapter 13 by Comfect

14. Chapter 14 by Comfect

15. Chapter 15 by Comfect

16. Chapter 16 by Comfect

17. Chapter 17 by Comfect

18. Chapter 18 by Comfect

19. Chapter 19 by Comfect

20. Chapter 20 by Comfect

21. Chapter 21 by Comfect

22. Chapter 22 by Comfect

23. Chapter 23 by Comfect

24. Chapter 24 by Comfect

25. Chapter 25 by Comfect

26. Chapter 26 by Comfect

27. Chapter 27 by Comfect

28. Chapter 28 by Comfect

29. Chapter 29 by Comfect

30. Chapter 30 by Comfect

31. Chapter 31 by Comfect

32. Chapter 32 by Comfect

33. Chapter 33 by Comfect

34. Chapter 34 by Comfect

35. Chapter 35 by Comfect

36. Chapter 36 by Comfect

37. Chapter 37 by Comfect

38. Chapter 38 by Comfect

39. Chapter 39 by Comfect

40. Chapter 40 by Comfect

41. Chapter 41 by Comfect

42. Chapter 42 by Comfect

43. Chapter 43 by Comfect

Chapter 1 by Comfect
Author's Notes:
Pam finds herself in a very strange new coffeeshop.

Pam was in such a daze as she walked up to the door at the Starbucks that she didn’t see the “Location Closed” sign until she was already tugging at the door. Great. This was just what she needed. It wasn’t hard enough being an aspiring freelance graphic designer working from (your parents’) home after a big breakup with your boyfriend of ten years (fiancé of three)—but now she didn’t even have somewhere to work.

Oh, sure, she could technically go work back home, but her mom and dad were both recently retired and that meant space was at a premium in the home: the breakfast nook had all her mom’s crafting supplies bursting out of it like the onions in the raised beds out back, and the den was not only already her dad’s domain but now had boxes upon boxes of fishing tackle piled on all the spare spaces that hadn’t already contained his seeming lifetime supply of Field and Stream. So there was really nowhere but the kitchen table itself or her once-and-former bedroom for her to work. The latter was too cramped for anyone over fourteen (ignore the fact that she’d lived there until eighteen and was living there again), full as it was of not only her own clothes and books and toys from childhood but all the spare things her mother had stuffed in there over the years, and the former…well, having her mother making excuses every half hour to come and check on her was more likely to make her tear her hair out in frustration than produce any actual movement on the website she was supposed to be putting together.

She could use Penny’s room when she was at her community college classes, she supposed, but ever since the perfume incident in sophomore year they’d had a tacit agreement not to occupy each other’s spaces any more than they absolutely had to.

So Starbucks it was.

Or rather, had been.

She leaned against the cool, closed door and thunked her head against the glass. What was she going to do now?

She thunked again, a little too hard this time, and opened her eyes in pain, only to catch a glimpse of a sign across the street.

“The Comedy Roasters,” it said, in big bold Papyrus font that made her cringe. “Wifi” it said underneath, in Comic Sans. It looked like the word “Free” had been crossed out, and then written in again in big block handwriting, then crossed out again and written in again.

Well, fifty-fifty odds weren’t bad—and since she felt a headache coming on, she could probably use the caffeine as well. Her mom kept slipping fives and tens into her pocket whenever she went out to work “just so you can get yourself something nice and not worry about invoices and things” so she had the money for wifi anyway, she suspected. As well as whatever they’d sell her that wasn’t coffee.

It was ironic that she spent so much time in coffee shops and hated the actual taste of coffee, but given that ‘coffeeshop’ was clearly just a stand-in for ‘place that will sell you non-alcoholic drinks,’ she wasn’t too worried. Even the ‘Roasters’ in the name didn’t mean they wouldn’t at least have tea.

She hefted her bag with her laptop in it, looked both ways, and darted across the street.

Whatever they had at “The Comedy Roasters,” it had to be better than sitting at home watching her mother crochet another grand-niece a blanket while openly inquiring about “whatever happened with you and Roy, anyway?”

She pulled open the doors and slipped into the surprisingly large and airy space of the other coffee shop.

Whoever owned the shop was clearly into stand-up comedy: there were giant pictures of Eddie Izzard, Eddie Murphy, Richard Pryor, and George Carlin, one on each wall, and the names of the drinks on the board, now that she glanced at it, were all clearly jokes of their own.

Well. Puns. Ish. On what she assumes are the owner’s or employee’s or someone’s names.

“The Schrute On Sight”

“The Great Scott!”

“The Halpert Helper”

 “The Todd (Six) Packer”

“The Oscar Martinis”

The latter two names clue her in that this is that new-fangled sort of coffee shop that also has a liquor license. It’s no skin off her nose—she doesn’t really drink anymore (when she’s feeling nasty with Izzy or Penny she’ll joke that Roy got the alcoholism in the breakup) but she’s not planning to be here late into the evening when people are more likely to drink those drinks and get rowdy.

She’s just here for tea, wifi, and a space that isn’t full of a) her family, b) her family’s possessions, or c) memories she really doesn’t have time for right now.

This odd place seems to tick all those boxes, so she makes her way up to the front, where a tall, lanky man is leaning against the cash register, seemingly zoned out.

She wonders if she’s going to have to cough or tap on the counter or something to get his attention, but as soon as she walks within three feet of the register he swings up onto his feet—if she thought he was tall leaning, she now realizes he is more like a pine tree with a messy haircut—and smiles a smile that, if she were ten years younger and not relatively fresh off a breakup, would probably have had her swooning all over the gleaming wood polish of the front counter.

“Hi! Welcome to The Comedy Roasters.” Somehow she can hear the capital letters. “What can I get you?” A loud cough comes from the back somewhere—there are swinging doors to what she assumes is a stockroom or something—and he rolls his eyes. “I mean, what’s on tonight’s setlist?”

She can’t help it. She giggles. “I’m so glad you started with the first one, because I honestly would have no idea what you meant if you hadn’t.”

He grins again and she’s seriously considering that swoon despite everything. “Yeah, I know. But this place is my boss’s love child, so he wants everything done just so.” He leans slightly over the counter. “Just so you know, this is kind of a soft open.”

“What does that mean?”

He shrugs. “It means we’re open, but we’re not like open open.” He can clearly tell that this doesn’t mean anything to her, so he clarifies again. “It means we don’t have a full menu yet.” He gestures at the board. “What you see is what you get.”

“But what do I see?” She looks up at the board, which does not actually specify what any of these oddly named drinks might be. “What is a Schrute on Sight?”

“Ah.” He leans further over—now he might as well be whispering in her ear, and she finds she really, really does not mind it, even though she doesn’t even know this guy’s name—and says, with a hint of humor around the edges of the words: “You don’t want that.”

“I don’t?”

He cocks an eyebrow. “Beet juice, dark roast coffee, and simple syrup.”

She shakes her head. “You’re right. I truly do not want it. How on earth did you come up with it?”

“Thereby hangs a tale. You see, we’ve been open for three days, and we already have one regular customer.” He glances around at the empty shop as if making sure that said regular is not present. “That’s his regular order.”

“And the name?”

“He rejoices in the name of Dwight Kurt Schrute.” He grins again. “And before you ask why we have beet juice on a limited menu opening, he brought us a supply himself. Forty gallons worth. Apparently he owns a beet farm just outside town. Michael got a pretty reasonable rate, if there is such a thing as a reasonable rate for forty gallons of beet juice.”

“Michael?” She’s trying to hold onto this conversation with both hands.

“Oh, right! Michael’s the owner. I think you’re actually the first person other than Dwight who’s come in here and doesn’t know him personally.” He gestures at the board. “Oscar Martinez, the accountant at the company that owns the building who handles our account. Todd Packer, his best friend, who you should be very glad is not here. Jim Halpert, barista extraordinaire.” He winks at her, leaving no doubt as to who that is. “And of course, Michael Scott, owner/roaster.” He lowers his voice. “He insists I call him the roaster, even though I actually have to roast the beans myself.”

“A very humble man indeed.” She smiles back.

“Exactly.” They stand there smiling for a moment before she jolts into consciousness of how awkward it must seem that she hasn’t actually ordered yet. “Uh…do you have tea?”

He grimaces. “Next week? We have, uh…” he points at the board again as he lists options down the board. “Coffee, espresso, beer, gin. I guess milk? Oh, and beet juice.” He sticks a  thumb behind him at what she sees is an array of syrups. “In multiple flavors. But the tea and the pastries aren’t here yet.”

“Oh.” She sizes up the menu again. “So the Halpert Helper is…”

“Four shots of espresso in a twenty ounce coffee.” She stares at him in horror and he has the grace to look ashamed. “Michael and I worked twenty-hour shifts to get this place open. He’s my dad’s best friend, so…” he shrugs. “It wasn’t always easy to stay awake.”

She nods. She can understand doing ridiculous hours of work for people she’s close to. “You mentioned milk? Can you steam that?”

“Yup.” He pops the p.

“And is that…cinnamon brown sugar syrup?” She points over his shoulder and he turns around to look, giving her a view of a very attractive back and ass.

“It is indeed.”

“Can you give me steamed milk with a pump of cinnamon brown sugar syrup?” She thinks for a moment. “Make that two pumps.”

“I can at that!” He doesn’t smile again, but the sides of his eyes crinkle upwards, and she still feels like swooning.

End Notes:
So, it's been a while since I've been on this site (y'all have kept it up so well in my absence, I'm really enjoying reading through the Recent Fics). But I was looking for coffeeshop AUs on the site and didn't find any I liked (feel free to correct me if you have ones you think are excellent) so that gave me the urge to write again.
Chapter 2 by Comfect
Author's Notes:
Pam works at the coffee shop (still the first day).

Pam doesn’t actually get much work done that first time: the cinnamon brown sugar steamer is really good, but it’s decaffeinated (or, more accurately, non-caffeinated) and her body has adapted to a constant stream of tea at all times in the weeks since she broke up with Roy and stopped having him nag her anytime she made tea (“the kettle’s making a fucking racket again, Pammy!”). So she’s dragging a little bit, and it’s just enough that the fascinating job of correcting the colors of this website ever so slightly to the pink end of the spectrum (“it’s, like, the best of the best colors, I don’t know why you put that ugly blue on my site, it’s like you want me to fail. Gwyneth says you can’t have blue, it clashes with the feng shui of the Internet”) is not able to hold off “staring at the barista” for her attention.

The only way, in fact, that she gets any work done at all is that she blushes and looks down at her work every time that he looks at her, and that’s often enough that she manages to get the (actually extremely easy) job done and sent off to her demanding client by the end of the cup of hot milk.

The wifi, it turns out, is not only free but doesn’t even have a password—and it’s not hard to figure out that SeinfeldShouldNeverHaveBeenCancelled is this shop’s network. So she logs in, trusting in the ridiculously expensive antivirus program that her dad insisted on shelling out for when he discovered her job involved sending things to and fro on the Internet will keep her safe from any strange intrusions resulting from having an unsecured wireless signal.

She’s pretty sure that the way that the barista is glancing at her is an indication that he’s at least a little interested in her, but while she may be doing the same thing to him she has promised herself (against Izzy and Penny’s strenuous objections, but still) that she is not on the market until she can at least move out of her parents’ house and into some kind of living situation where she wouldn’t be forced constantly to think of her first and only relationship if things ever got serious.

Because yes, she had sex for the first time in the same bedroom that she’s sleeping in now, and yes, it was with Roy, who she thought for a ridiculously large fraction of her life approaching half was the only man she would ever be with, and no, she would not like to have any of those memories assailing her with any new man she should happen to be interested in having over.

Not that there have been any new men, recently. Except maybe this barista, but the whole point of this little mental breakdown she’s having while waiting for the damn site to confirm that the changes have permanently been made is that he is not an option—nobody is an option—until she is living somewhere else.

It would be convenient if the rest of her that isn’t her higher-order thinking skills would get with that program. She is not going to fall into bed with the first man to smile at her after Roy (even if it weren’t her uncomfortable single bed at home—though she has to admit, she’d been annoyed that her parents hadn’t gotten her a bigger bed once she and Roy started officially spending time there over holidays as a couple, and now she’s grateful that she doesn’t have a giant Roy-inspired bed to flop around in and let her traitorous body start to miss him).

All right, this barista, this Jim Halpert, isn’t the first guy to smile at her since Roy. But he’s the first one she’s actually considered smiling back at, and that’s bad enough.

He’s still looking at her, isn’t he?

He is.

Though to be fair, this must be a very soft open for the coffeeshop because she’s still the only customer in here who hasn’t been taking a to-go cup, and there have only been a few of those. It helps, because it means she’s not feeling guilty at all for occupying a whole-ass table for a few hours on the back of a single purchase of a single non-caffeinated drink, but it does mean that she can’t really blame him for looking over now and again.

And again.

She finishes the job and decides against starting up anything more strenuous—it took her far too long to do a fairly simply task, and while she does charge by the hour so technically she’s making money by slowing down, she’s only really just starting out and you don’t want a reputation for dragging your feet.

So instead she finds herself browsing Zillow, because what’s the point of promising yourself you’ll date and do other, date-adjacent activities once you have your own place if you don’t look for your own place?

Even if you can’t afford it.

Scratch that, especially if you can’t afford it.

So she’s scrolling through apartment listings—all out of her price range—and to avoid being too depressed about the fact that she can’t afford four walls and a bathroom to call her own (or even to call technically-her-own-but-on-paid-loan-from-someone-else-she-isn’t-related-to), she might as well look at the full houses for rent and sale as well.

She doesn’t want a full house, but they’re pretty, and some of them have the kind of wraparound terrace she wishes she could afford. Few of them—they don’t make them that way here, so someone has to have commissioned it special—but some.

OK, she does want a house, but not now, so it’s safer, easier, nicer to herself to look at them.

And then she stumbles across it.

It’s not, technically, a house. It’s an acreage? Definitely not a mansion, but something with a lot that big is the sort of place that ought to be a mansion.

But no, it’s not a mansion, or even a particularly fancy place even though it’s huge.

It’s a beet farm.

End Notes:
OK, the first few chapters will be slow, then we'll go into a more typical coffeeshop-AU where it's got some time skips between visits. Thank you for the welcome back, and thanks for reading!
Chapter 3 by Comfect
Author's Notes:
Pam finds out more about Schrute Farms.

“Schrute Farms” is far too much of a coincidence to be, well, a coincidence. This has to be where that strange man that Jim described as their only regular lives and works. It just has to be. As she clicks through the images on the listing she becomes more and more concerned for the man—she could tell from the drink order he was deranged, but the way the property is described and the sheer number of “original” (read: dilapidated) elements on the property suggest that he may simply be insane, possibly from drinking the water in the “original, unfiltered well” on the property.

Also, the price on the place is ridiculously low, even for a rental. Even for an insane property like this one.

Or, maybe not. Because she realizes as she reads further into the description that this is not a case of someone who has decided to carry on a weird family tradition of beet farming and then given up and decided to rent the place out to whoever will take it. It’s not a case of someone who has drunk well water and lost all their marbles, either.

It’s a case of someone who is deeply, deeply wrong about what Zillow is.

Like, fundamentally, deeply misunderstanding.

Because Dwight Kurt Schrute (she wonders which of the two men occasionally visible in the photos on the site he is, and decides it really does not matter because they’re equally distressing as options) is not trying to rent out his beet farm on Zillow to anyone who wants to live there.

He’s trying to use Zillow to find hotel guests.

That ridiculously low rent is per night, not per month. It’s actually a reasonable per-night rate, if you forget what it is you’re renting per night or the fact that again, you are on Zillow.

She debates for a moment whether this is a cry for help, or whether someone just simply did not inform him of what Zillow was. She decides, after reading the pompous and self-importantly bloated property description again, that it’s neither. Dwight Schrute seems to think this is innovative, original, and brilliant of him.

He thinks he’s moving into a new market space no one has tapped yet.

Has he never heard of Expedia or Priceline or even Hotels.com?

Heck, Hotwire would probably be his best bet, since people there don’t get to see the property they’re choosing, and no one in their right mind is going to choose to live at Schrute Farms, where the biggest bed she can see is probably a twin extra-long, and several of them are smaller.

Where the “five bathrooms” are one modern facility and four outhouses—one all the way in the beet fields.

Where the “spacious outdoor exercise space” is literally another beet field, with the text promising that “pulling beets is not only nutritious, but good cardiovascular exercise for children as young as eight!”

Where the promised “morning food service” (is this his way of calling it a bed and breakfast?) appears to consist solely of beet-derived items, with the exception of “homemade milk.”

She really, really, really does not want to know what differentiates it from normal milk, especially as she didn’t see any cows on the property.

On the other hand, she really, really does, as long as she doesn’t need to be the one actually doing the finding out.

She glances up from the screen, which she has been focused on in horrified fascination for what turns out to be much longer than she’d thought, and once again notices Jim’s eyes are on her.

This time instead of flushing and turning away, she gestures him over.

“What can I do for you?” He saunters out from behind the counter, and while it was one thing to see him from the slight separation of the counter and realize how tall he was and how much she liked that, it’s totally another to be seated and have him looming over her. “Need a refill?”

“Uh…sure.” The thing is, she’s really not good at talking to guys she finds attractive. She has no practice being chill or suave or interesting to them, and even though she’s not interested in actually dating right now it would be nice to be at least one of those things towards the one guy she’s at least attracted to that she’s seen since Roy. She was always the nerdy, artsy girl in school and never talked to those kinds of guys except Roy, and then Roy was always jealous so she never talked much to them after (not that she saw all that many of them then either). So she’s deeply out of practice, if she ever was in practice, and while she thinks they had some good chemistry at the checkout register, she’s probably fooling herself. “Cool.”

That was perhaps the dumbest thing she could have said.

Before he can turn away and go make her another drink, though, she remembers through her haze of attraction-fueled panic that that’s not why she called him over.

God, he came when she called, didn’t he? Wait, that’s just called being in the service industry, don’t read anything into that Pam, it’s creepy.

Right. The thing.

“Did you say your regular was named Dwight Schrute?”

“Yes?” The look on his face says as plain as day that he did not expect Dwight Schrute to come up again in their conversation—even if she hasn’t known him very long, she can read that loud and clear.

“Does he by any chance own a farm called, imaginatively enough, Schrute Farms?”

“Yes? That’s what the barrel of beet juice says, anyway.”

“A barrel?” She almost gets sidetracked by that oddity but soldiers on. “Nevermind. Did you know you can rent Schrute Farms? Like, I’d say as a hotel or bed and breakfast or something, but it’s here on Zillow.”

“What?” He crouches down next to her and it’s all she can do not to breathe in the scent of him like a creeper or something. “You have absolutely got to show me, please,” he asks with surprising urgency.

So she does.

End Notes:
Ah Dwight, bringing our two potential lovebirds together through the power of being very, deeply odd. Thanks everyone for reading!
Chapter 4 by Comfect
Author's Notes:
Pam's second visit

During that first visit, she ends up getting only just enough done to justify the time to herself, but barely noticing the time itself as it flowed by. Even though she’s only actually near the barista—near Jim—a little, while they gawked at Dwight’s ridiculous Zillow listing, and he quickly moves back to the register when new customers come in, that moment of connection with him grounds the edgy giddiness that had been bubbling up in her and allows her to focus more on her work without losing her awareness of his presence in the room.

After she makes her way home again her mother asks innocently about how the day had gone and Pam is embarrassed to find her entire face flushing. She hadn’t really been that focused on the cute barista, had she? She’d sent out a project, even if it was something minor like changing colors, and she’d answered one enquiry (her first blind one from the little Craigslist ad that her mother had suggested she put up the week before), so it had actually been a somewhat productive day. She’s glad that her mother is bustling about the kitchen with cookies baking, so she doesn’t actually look up and catch Pam’s blush, and by the time she looks over Pam has found her voice and managed to force it into some semblance of normalcy.

She thinks her mother still suspects something, but it’s diffuse enough that there’s no follow-up, and so she doesn’t have to directly confront whatever it is that she’s feeling.

It’s merely convenience that brings her back to the shop the next day, she tells herself. Convenience and the need to get the hell out of her mother’s house while the woman bakes another several dozen cookies for the Rotary Club luncheon.

The smell of baking is delightful, but the kitchen is a busy zone and therefore the table is out, and she’s still not great at working in her bedroom.

So the coffeeshop is obviously the logical place.

She can’t deny her own disappointment when she slips through the doors of The Comedy Roasters and the barista behind the counter is neither tall, nor lanky, nor possessed of a smile that makes her insides melt. He is smiling, but it’s the kind of manic smile that she suspects strongly might conceal a great deal of tension.

She’s half-convinced she had simply imagined Jim, or built him up to be something he wasn’t. Maybe her memory is messed up, or she was particularly vulnerable yesterday, or something, because clearly this is not Jim—and yet the nametag he’s wearing, once she gets in range to see it, clearly says “Jim Halpert” in a font she’d never consider using even if a client begged her to.

Alright, she’s not doing that well in her business. She’d use the font, but she’d need to take a shower afterwards.

“Hi! Welcome to The Comedy Roasters! What’s on tonight’s set list?” His manic smile turns more genuine as he recites the spiel, which is probably the only time that corporate-mandated speech like that had ever made someone happier.

“Uh…” she reads the menu again. It hasn’t changed from last time. “Do you have tea yet?”

“No. I don’t think so. Maybe.” He says these in quick succession before she can get a word in. “Jimbo!” He shouts. “Did the tea come in yet?”

“What?” The man she thought she met yesterday comes through the double doors from the back, carrying a box and she thinks she might actually have sighed in relief, but neither of them notice, so maybe not.

“Do we have tea yet? The hottie with a body wanted to know.”

“Michael. Stop objectifying the customers.” The man she thinks is Jim rolls his eyes and then peers around the counter to look at her. “Sorry!.” He puts the box down and turns to ‘Michael,’ who must be the owner. She remembers Jim mentioning him, now. “And stop wearing my nametag. I told you to let me know if there were any customers.”

“And I did!” Michael looks like a toddler who just grabbed a coffee cup off the counter and is very proud while everyone else is just waiting for the splash and smash. “We have a customer! And she’s a…”

Jim slaps a hand over Michael’s mouth. “Ah, let’s just keep that between us guys, shall we?” He uses his other hand to undo the apron with the nametag. “And remember—just because you’re wearing my apron….”

“…Doesn’t mean I should be serving customers. But what’s the fun in that?” Michael sulks, then brightens and turns to her. “Besides, it was a compliment! I’m sure that she appreciated the thought!”

Jim, bless him, doesn’t even have to glance over at her to deny that. “And I’m sure that she did not.” He sighs. “Michael, just get in the back.”

“I’m going, I’m going.” Pouting, he disappears into the back and Jim slips the apron over his own neck. It comes down to a normal height on him, which makes Pam realize in retrospect it was almost dragging on the floor on Michael.

“I’m really sorry about that.” Jim’s face twists a little—why does it look so adorable—and he sighs. “I’m going to have to add to my apologies with the fact that no, we do not have tea.” He raises a finger. “But! Whatever you do want is on the house. It’s the least I can do after…all of that.”

She’s just so glad that he’s not imaginary. “Another steamer then.”

“Great. What flavor?”

“Surprise me.” She realizes that she actually really does want to see what he chooses for her—whether they actually have the connection that she thought, or whether that was as imagined as she was afraid the entirety of him was a couple minutes ago.

“Can do.” He grins and it’s like the sun coming out. “Good surprise or bad surprise?”

She smiles back—she can’t help it, it’s infectious—and rolls her eyes. “I think I’ve already had my bad surprise here for this morning.”

“Fair enough.”  He shoos her towards a seat. “Go along, I can’t surprise you if you stick around. I’ll bring it out.”

She goes, laughing, and thinking about how she’s gone a full 360 since walking into the shop: from excitement to see him again, to disappointment and distress at finding ‘Michael’ instead, and now…back to the butterflies.

Butterflies she’s hoping she’s about to drown with steaming milk.

End Notes:

I promise that Schrute Farms will return! But I wasn't going to pack the two of them off to a B&B on no acquaintance! 

 And yes, I don't have a high opinion of Michael's capacity to be appropriate.  

Chapter 5 by Comfect
Author's Notes:
Pam settles into a routine.

It easily becomes her tradition to slip into The Comedy Roasters every day—even on those days where she doesn’t really have any work to do, but she needs to just get out of her parents’ house for a little bit—and while she doesn’t settle on a single flavor, she drinks a lot of steamers.

The tea is always out: she has a sneaking suspicion that Michael forgot to order it, and the impression she gets of Jim is that he’s doing his best not to directly contradict his boss-stroke-family-friend if he can avoid it.

It’s fine. She likes hot milk. And besides, she likes it there enough anyway.

She’d probably camp there full-time if they actually had the tea she likes.

She comes to understand and appreciate Michael more once she’s no longer disappointed that he’s not Jim, and once he comes to recognize her well enough to stop with the terrible comments and jokes. She thinks he’s kind of like a hedgehog, which Izzy used to have as a pet (the imaginatively named “Hedgey” is off in hog heaven somewhere by now, but was a beloved companion to their mutual youths). If he doesn’t know you he curls into a ball with his spikes out—in Michael’s case, tasteless ‘jokes’ and nonsense—but once he warms up he’s a little ball of fluff with a cute nose.

Well, Michael’s nose isn’t that cute, but the point remains. She gets to know the man he actually is: the sort of guy who loves coffee shops and the “whole vibe where creative people get their creativity on!” but doesn’t know the first thing about roasting or brewing the stuff; the sort of person who heard the word ‘roast’ and immediately thought about Comedy Central late night TV and also the sort of person who, once that idea got into his head, was completely unable to let it go and so created an entire novelty shop persona around it; the sort of sad but ultimately lovable person who knows deep down that he will never actually be able to tell searing insightful observational jokes like his idols, but cannot stop himself from trying instinctively.

He’s a complex person and while he’s not really her friend she doesn’t mind sharing space with him anymore, which is good because about half the time she comes in he’s the one manning the counter. Jim is, after all, also a real human with real human needs, including break time and even days off, so she can’t count on having him there every day.

But when he is, The Comedy Roasters goes from being a nice little hangout where her mom won’t ask how she’s doing and her dad won’t be a bit weird about her having broken up with Roy (whom he had always looked on as a surrogate son) to being a beacon of light in a dark world.

Not that she thinks her world is actually especially dark, but the brightness of Jim’s presence and his smile makes her think of Plato’s Cave and people who mistook fire for sunlight. She had studied art when she was in school, though through one thing and another she hadn’t actually graduated, but there were general education requirements as well and she’d found herself in a philosophy class that had actually been really cool. For a brief period she’d imagined herself not as an artist but as a philosopher, hanging around a Greek agora all day debating the nature of reality. That was never really her goal, just a passing whim—but she wonders now if she could have that, if Jim would be the sort of person who would talk to her about the big things that seem like small things, about imponderable and unanswerable questions that are important because they are questions, not because they have answers.

She thinks he might.

But whenever she considers opening her mouth to have that conversation, she remembers that while he may be the sunlight in her cave, she is just another customer to him. Sure, she’s a regular customer (though no Pam-inspired drinks have appeared on the order board with their accompanying pun as of yet) but she’s a customer. He’s friendly and smiley and kind to everyone, not just to her. She remembers the other lesson she learned in college while she was waiting tables to make rent (since Roy hadn’t yet gotten his job in the shipping warehouse): customer service smiles aren’t real.

She doesn’t think she’s like the tired businessmen and angsty teens she’d waited on at the Applebees, trying to grab at scraps of human connection from someone simply paid to smile and nod as if they cared, but she’s wary. She doesn’t want to reach out to Jim for connection and find out that she’s been looking at a mirage this whole time.

So instead, she waits. She goes into The Comedy Roasters and types and draws and sends ever so many emails, and she looks over at Jim, but she doesn’t say anything more than the occasional joke while ordering, or when he comes by to wipe the table near her.

She lets his laugh roll over her and smiles in return, but she doesn’t presume.

She realizes that she’s probably being overdefensive, overcautious, but she can’t help it. If Jim’s grin is the brightest light she’s ever seen, it just makes her more afraid of having to go back into the shadows.

So she drinks, and she works, and she watches, and she tries very hard to tell herself it’s not creepy.

Sometimes it’s even convincing.

End Notes:
Gotta have some angst, right? Don't worry, this will resolve quickly (not the story as a whole necessarily, but the angst she's feeling now). Thank you for reading!
Chapter 6 by Comfect
Author's Notes:
The much-suspected peek at Jim's POV.

Jim Halpert has a problem.

All right, to be fair, Jim has many problems, and he has ever since he opened his stupid mouth and mentioned to his dad that he, Jim Halpert, knew how to operate an espresso machine (which was itself the result of the fact that Mark’s dad was a coffee snob, so his college roommate came to school not with an illicit tea kettle or hot pad, but an entire freaking espresso machine for their dorm room). Mentioning it was not stupid in and of itself. But mentioning it when he knew his dad was on the phone with Michael Scott, his old buddy from—actually, he didn’t know exactly how his dad had gotten mixed up with Michael, just that the two of them were as thick as thieves even though they were very different people—and that Dad always had his volume dialed way the hell up and on speaker, because he was going deaf and didn’t like to admit it, well that was stupid.

Because of course Michael heard, and since Michael was somehow in possession of the money, inclination, and free time to start a coffee shop of his own and not the knowledge of how to actually do any of the necessary steps to actually doing it, he immediately enlisted Dad to twist Jim’s arm into helping him.

Not that Jim didn’t like Michael. But he had known going in it would be a lot to be working for him and seeing him every day, and while his dad did negotiate him some surprisingly good terms of employment, and he had really been listlessly wandering about waiting for someone (anyone) to even respond with a no let alone a yes to any of his post-college job applications, it was constantly running at fifty-fifty whether this was a marvelous windfall of an opportunity that fell into his lap or the worst thing that ever happened to him.

So yeah, Jim has had problems for a while now. Michael is a whole passel of problems. Dwight Kurt Schrute is his own barrel of them. The espresso machine that is about two steps too complicated for the kind of coffee shop they’re trying to be is another. But those are mundane, ordinary, everyday problems.

This is different.

The other problems? He knows what to do with them. He’s used to them. They’re like white noise: sure, you might go deaf like his dad, or have a headache all day, because of it, but your brain also learns to tune it out.

He is physically incapable of tuning this problem out, because it comes in the form of the most perfect woman—no, the most perfect person—he has ever met.

Part of what makes her perfect of course is her imperfections. The way she always slinks into the coffee shop like she’s a little embarrassed to be there (that’s fair: it’s Michael’s dreamscape, she ought to be a little embarrassed to be in it). The way she laughs like it constantly surprises her that she’s capable of laughter. The little dance she does when she finishes a game of solitaire even though he’s pretty sure she’s telling herself she’s at the coffee shop to work.

The fact that she comes to a coffee shop every day even though he’s pretty sure by now that she doesn’t like coffee. Not just doesn’t like, but probably can’t stand.

Despite or perhaps because of all of that, she’s perfect.

She makes him laugh. Now, an outside observer might not really think that was all that impressive. Jim Halpert is an easygoing guy. He’s likeable. He likes in return. He seems like the sort of person who laughs a lot, and he is. But most of the time, he’s laughing because he’s the one saying something funny or noticing something that other people didn’t. He doesn’t have a lot of people in his life (his sister excepted) who can make him laugh on demand, intentionally. He’s not counting Dwight, whom he laughs at, or Michael, whom he laughs for because he doesn’t want to cry. He means actual, intentional, humorous laughter.

She’s funny.

And it doesn’t hurt that she’s drop-dead gorgeous in that casual, this took me a little effort but only as much as I’d do for myself and not for your male gaze thank you very much way.

So why is this a problem?

It’s a problem because Jim suddenly finds himself zoning out at work, staring at her back as she types away at her computer (that’s not a huge problem, because he doesn’t actually have all that much to do, but it’s awkward when he’s trying to use the steamer). It’s a problem because he’s mopping the floors near where she sits three times a day to have an excuse to get closer to her, and because she’s a creature of habit who sits in the same chair at the same table most of the time, you can actually tell the difference in wear on that part of the floor. It’s a problem because he’s had to physically prevent Michael from putting “The Cleveland Steamer” on the board as her drink order three times already, because Michael thinks it’s funny for some disgusting reason.

Mostly, it’s a problem because he’s in customer service, and it’s a really bad idea to date your customers.

Not that he’s convinced she’d be interested. He hopes, hopes a lot, but he’s not going to be the one to initiate anything. After all, she’s coming to the shop for her own reasons, and they don’t have so many customers that he can drive one away. Besides, if he did that he wouldn’t get to joke with her at the counter or have her gesture him over when she finds something cool on the Internet.

Basically, it’s a problem because he’s a coward.

And he knows he’s going to go right on being a coward as long as he can.

End Notes:
Thank you for reading! I do promise a happy ending for these two, but they're gonna dance around a bit more first.
Chapter 7 by Comfect
Author's Notes:
Pam develops a routine.

Pam starts to find a routine in her visits to The Comedy Roasters (she finds herself pronouncing the capital T in her head, which she would have said was impossible before), and it is, fundamentally a calming thing.

She comes in, as early in the morning as she can make herself. It’s not always easy to make herself get up—not that she’s depressed, but Roy always used to get her up ridiculously early to make him breakfast before he went off to his job in the warehouse, and not getting up early anymore was one of her claims of selfhood and freedom when they finally, finally broke up—and it’s not always easy to get out of the house, because her mom is always up before her and always wants to chat.

And yes, she likes chatting with her mom, but still. She’s got shit to do: specifically, she’s got a coffeeshop employee to visit.

Not that she ever tells Jim that the only reason she’s so insistent on coming to the coffeeshop early every morning is because he works the morning shift. Michael, it turns out, is not a morning person. At all. On one of her first days in the coffeeshop, she overheard him telling Jim a very long, shaggy-dog story about how he’d tried to encourage himself to get up earlier in the morning, including a very distressing incident with a grilled foot. She is glad he’s given up trying to get up early, if that’s the way he was going about it. Michael may not be her favorite person in the world, but he’s important to Jim, and thus to her—and besides, if he hurt himself what would happen to the shop?

Also, she does like him, underneath all the ridiculousness and the kneejerk ignorance. He’s sweet, and sad, and she’d like him not to hurt himself more than he already has.

So she gets in early every day, if she can—not as early as she used to with Roy, because she’s doing this for her, not for Jim, even if she’s doing it because she likes spending time in the same space as Jim—and she makes her way into the coffeeshop, and she asks if they have tea yet.

It’s becoming a running joke between them by now, the variety of reasons why they don’t have tea on the menu.

One day it’s “Michael ordered it, but they forgot it in the shipping container.”

The next it’s “Oh, right, I’m sorry, our order paperwork only went to S this week.”

“Oooh, I think we did get some of that, but Michael dropped it in the sink while washing dishware. The drainwater probably tasted great, though!”

“Fun fact: did you know you can’t brew loose-leaf tea in the coffeemaker like it was coffee grounds? Or that you shouldn’t put an entire order of tea into a single coffeemaker? Michael does. Now.”

“Bad luck! We got some of that last night, then Dwight’s beet juice containers leaked. Would you like some beet tea, or shall we let that go?”

So every day, like clockwork, she buys a steamer instead. She went through all the flavors of syrup, and now she’s working her way through double-combinations, with Jim egging her on. Some of them are obviously good (caramel and English toffee might as well be the same anyway); some are surprisingly good (why is there a ginger lemongrass, and how does it possibly work with anything else?); some are merely disappointing (it turns out caramel simply overwhelms mint); some are horrid (green apple and grenadine, yuck).

But she’s committed to the bit by now, and Jim keeps playing along, and that’s enough for her.

It’s still not on the menu—she wonders if that’s intentional, and doesn’t ask—but Jim keeps making them for her, so who really cares?

Then she goes and does her actual work, however much or little that might be. She’s actually doing pretty well right now: someone in the architecture program at Marywood asked her to do some graphic design work for the program’s handouts to prospective students (she’s still not sure why the graphic design program at the same university didn’t do it, but she doesn’t look gift horses in the mouth), and that led to students in the program asking her for help with their personal websites as they graduated and tried to show off their portfolios online, and that, combined with the slow trickle of work from people on Craigslist has kept her at least in steamer money plus a little kept aside.

After she’s done with the main work for the day, or when she’s reached a reasonable break if there’s a lot, she waits for a break in the customers—this is usually between the morning rush and the lunch crowd, on a slow day for her, or just after the lunch crowd if she’s swamped—and goes up to the counter to chat with Jim.

She’s very proud that she’s actually taken the initiative to go chat with him. It took her a week to decide that if he wasn’t actively busy it wasn’t really invading his time, and she knew that if he brushed her off she’d just go back to her computer, so it wasn’t really bothering him.

Fortunately, he seemed happy to chat while restocking and cleaning up the counter and machines, so…they just started talking. Every day. For as long as he doesn’t have a customer.

And since she’s discovered that The Comedy Roasters does almost all of its business around the commuters in the buildings nearby (rushes in the morning, at lunch, at the 3pm dragging hour, and after work), that means they chat a lot.

She loves it.

Then whenever there are customers (all too often including one Dwight Kurt Schrute), she goes back to work, finishes up whatever she was doing or whatever came in during the day, and heads home early enough that her mother doesn’t complain that she never sees her daughter.

It’s a good routine.

A nice routine.

A much nicer routine, honestly, than she ever imagined she’d have after she broke up with Roy.

And while she’s getting a little sick of steamers, it’s a routine she’d be happy to keep up for the rest of her life, she thinks.

End Notes:
Soon, that routine will be disrupted! Thanks to all who've read, reviewed, or given jellybeans. I appreciate you!
Chapter 8 by Comfect
Author's Notes:
Meet the cast.

Over time, Pam gets to know the other regulars at the shop as well. It’s not a conscious decision, and she’s not sure she’s actually passed words (beyond “excuse me” or “I think that’s your order”) with all of them, but when you’re in a coffee shop most of the day on most of the days, you get this kind of diffuse knowledge that you can’t be sure where it came from, but you also can’t get rid of.

Dwight Schrute is at once the easiest and the most difficult of the other regulars to get to know. Easy, in that there is no mistaking him, not from Jim’s descriptions and not from his own inimitable stylings when she does finally encounter him. He is loud, German, and very precise in his orders and his disdain for the slightest variation from them. One time he orders a coffee at precisely 192 degree Fahrenheit (yes, he did specify Fahrenheit: Pam and Jim had a good laugh after he left at the idea of doing it at that temperature in anything else. “Oh, excuse me this is twice the boiling point of water at 192°C!” “No, no, it’s beyond frozen, a full chunk of coffee ice at 192K!”) and yells at Jim when the pocket infrared thermometer he pulls out has it at 191°F. She is fascinated by his strange personal hygiene, his obsession with beets, and the knowledge that, at any time, she could go through Zillow and buy herself a night at his macabre beet farm.

It’s also veeeeeery interesting that he requests a coffee at 192, when he himself drinks only the Schrute On Sight. There is, however, another regular who drinks their coffee at near-boiling (though she does not possess, to Pam’s knowledge, a infrared thermometer). Angela Martin is, as far as Pam can tell, an American Girl Doll come to life, except that would be a massive insult to the American Girl Dolls line. But she definitely dates from the first half of the twentieth century, dresses the part (although she does not, to Pam’s unending disappointment, wear kid gloves or spats—probably disdaining them as ostentatious) and has been heard to mutter, when another patron ordered Michael’s St. Patrick’s Day-themed drink, that “green is a whore’s color, even in drinks” (this was not Pam’s objection to the choice of beverage: hers was the much more reasonable  consideration that it was not in fact anywhere near St. Patrick’s Day. Apparently Michael liked to be prepared). Angela and Dwight were, Pam and Jim decided, simultaneously eminently suited for one another and a horrific combination. Pam suspected that she drank her coffee boiling because she believed that heating it so hot burned the devil out of it, since she had once heard her complain when served an actually drinkable beverage that “cold coffee is Satan’s bean.”

She wondered what Angela thought of her potential beau’s preference for coffee cooled by beet juice and sugar.

Oscar Martinez did not actually drink martinis, though Michael never stopped trying to upsell them to him (“gay people drink fancy booze!” he insisted once, before Jim had to take him back into the back). He did, however, bring a good book and sit and sip his caramel macchiato most Wednesdays, and Pam could not deny she approved of his taste . For a while the book was The Handmaid’s Tale; when he switched over to Game of Thrones she struck up a conversation—they both loved the medieval history of it and rolled their eyes at some of the gratuitous sex and violence—and thus her first non-barista friendship in the coffeeshop was born.

Oscar was sometimes accompanied by his friend Kevin, who was…not like that. On the days when Oscar and Kevin came in together, Kevin ordered hot chocolate. Always hot chocolate. The menu did not actually feature hot chocolate, but it seemed that Kevin was happy with whatever Jim made as long as it was called hot chocolate. This was a running gag, she eventually discovered—Jim and Kevin were in a fantasy league together and this was apparently the result of one of them losing a bet (she could never figure out which)—and while she appreciated Kevin’s loud belly laughs when Oscar or Jim made him amused, she avoided him, with Oscar’s connivance, after he stared at her breasts for just a little too long the first time they met. He wasn’t actively creepy, but she didn’t really need that energy in her life. Not after Roy’s friends, anyway.

There was another man who wanted to be a regular at the coffeeshop, and was on the days when Jim was the only one in, but who Michael always chased out with a broom when he stuck his head in the door. His name was Toby, she gathered, and he sometimes had a little girl with him that seemed to be his. But he was so quiet that she never really found out more, at least not until she knew Jim well enough to go to a party at his house—but that was much later on. He was the only other person she ever heard ask for tea, though, so she appreciated that.

Kelly Kapoor, however, was the opposite. Pam didn’t really want to be friends with her, but that was apparently not an option. Kelly was talking the entire time she was in the coffeeshop, rain, shine, or whatever, and it was a miracle honestly that Jim could decipher her order out of the words that continually spread out from her like a protective shell. She decided that “the slightly less cute than me girl in the corner”—as she dubbed Pam—was going to be her newest friend, and there was nothing Pam could do about it. She learned a lot about both celebrity culture and coffee brews along the way: Kelly drank it white enough to draw on, but insisted that despite all the half-and-half, the underlying brew was still vital to her happiness. She would vary it up, however, drinking Ethiopian one day, Brazilian the next, and Ecuadorean the third. “Fashion, you know,” she would say with a wink—and Pam did not know, but was definitely not going to ask. Fortunately it seemed that Michael’s odd ordering paradigm always had whatever it was she wanted available, so she was always in a good mood when Pam was by her.

Todd Packer was also a regular, but the less said about him, the better.

The best part of learning about all these people, though, wasn’t them—though she liked Oscar and eventually Kelly. It was the way that knowing them meant she knew Jim better—and that he knew her as well, as they exchanged thoughts and confidences about the other strange beings who inhabited the world of The Comedy Roasters.

End Notes:
If you noticed someone is missing: don't worry, they might still show up, they just aren't regularly in the coffeeshop at the start of this fic. Thanks for reading! I really appreciate all your feedback!
Chapter 9 by Comfect
Author's Notes:
A discussion of college majors, and a title drop.

She learned about Jim’s past in drips and drabs, over the days and weeks she kept coming in. It wasn’t really a surprise to learn that he went to Marywood, or that the rest of his family had as well (“it’s a family school, like it would be if one of my ancestors founded it,” he jokes, “except none of us got our names on the buildings”). It was, after all, a local school and Jim was clearly a local boy. Scranton to the core. He showed her some footage one day that he shot on his phone, centered on the Penn Paper building, and it would be obvious just from that, if nothing else, that he loved the place. Apparently he and his friend Mark were just out driving one day in Mark’s Jeep, and he started taking photos and then video—and he still hadn’t deleted it.

“You shot this yourself?” She couldn’t deny she was impressed. “Were you a film major?”

“I wish.” He shook his head, leaning out over the counter towards her and pushing a jar of jellybeans that she had not previously noticed towards her. “I hear tell there are jobs in film. At least behind the camera, if not in front.”

“Why not in front?” She took a jellybean and popped it in her mouth, waiting for his reply.

“With this face?” He gestured all around with one hand.

“Yes, with that face.” She popped another jellybean. “What other face?”

“You have looked at me, right?” He made a funny face and she did her best not to break.

“Maybe once or twice.”

He pulled another face, and this time she did laugh. “Fine, fine, what was your major then, if not film?”

“Guess.” He winked, and she swooned a little inside. Seriously, did he really think that he wasn’t handsome enough to be on the front side of the camera? Humility was one thing, but was just silly. Wait, what had he asked? Oh right, she was supposed to guess what his major could have been.

“Hmm…let me see.” She drummed her fingers on the counter. Fortunately no one else was in the shop to notice what she was doing, or that she was taking Jim away from his work. Even Michael was somewhere else today, or so she assumed because there had been no loud thumps or cries of “I’m OK!” coming from the back.

What might Jim have majored in? Obviously not film, though he’d taken such good footage…maybe the whole thing about being in front of the camera was a fake-out?

“Theater?” she guessed.

“Nope.” He popped the p. “I see what you did there, though. Nice try.” He raised his eyebrows distractingly. “Two guesses left.”

“Who said I only got three guesses?” She raised an eyebrow right back. “I don’t recall agreeing to any limit.”

“Come on now, it’s standard!” He smirked. “If you came up to someone and they offered you guesses, you’d assume it was three guesses.”

“Not if they didn’t say there was a limit!” She shook her head. “I thought better of you, Jim. I really did. Changing the rules after the game has started? Shame on you.”

He hung his head playfully. “Fine. Go on. Guess away.”

“You know, I ought to just go get the Marywood catalog and go through one by one.” She stuck her tongue out at him. “It would serve you right.”

“Don’t be boring, Pam.” He started to putter away the detritus left by previous customers.

“Fine.” She rolled her eyes and thought again. Not film or theater. What did she actually know about Jim? He was funny, loyal, interesting, hot…but none of those necessarily pointed to a specific major. If they had, of course, that major would probably have been flooded with students to the point where it could no longer accommodate them. After all, who wouldn’t want to be like Jim, if it were just the result of which college major you took? She had been a art major, of course, but she thought that it was rather that her own interests had led her to art, not the other way around.

So what did she know about what Jim was interested in, besides “not so much coffee as you’d think” and, well, seemingly the exact same things as her?

Huh.

There was an idea. Maybe he was an art major. But no; she and Jim were, she thought, complementary, not identical. Besides, if he were an art major, he definitely would have had more comments to make about the actual design work he’d caught her doing on more than one occasion as he mopped around her. So art was out—and so, probably, were related fields like art history.

But what would complement art the way he complemented her? What would make Jim Halpert tick?

There was, in the end, only one real possibility.

“You were a philosophy major, weren’t you?” she asked with a sigh and a shake of her head. “You like arguing too much to have been anything else.” She narrowed her eyes. “And you accepted my objection about definitions, so you clearly care too much about them—which doubly confirms it.”

He shook his head, and for a moment she thought she’d overthought it, but then she realized what he was saying. “Pam, Pam, Pam. I should have known you’d figure it out. I was a philosophy major. I wrote my thesis on Marxism, actually.” He looked up and grinned. “But of course, you know, that proves why I can’t ever serve you tea here.”

“Why not?” She frowned, perplexed.

“Because I have to follow in Marx’s footsteps.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, obviously Marx would never actually serve a pot of tea if he ran a coffeeshop.”

“Why not?”

“Because he thought that proper tea is murder.”

End Notes:

I think that joke is usually written as "proper tea is theft," but I heard it as murder first, and I prefer it that way.

 

Thanks to all who've been reading! I appreciate it. 

Chapter 10 by Comfect
Author's Notes:
A very short introduction of a new character.

For Pam, the coffeeshop was a welcome respite from everything else in her life. It wasn’t that she disliked her life—not at all!—it was just that so many of the day to day cares and concerns she had didn’t seem important or significant or even (in a certain sense) real when she was there, and that was an enormous relief.

So of course, it couldn’t last.

Not that the coffeeshop went out of business. From what she’d gathered from Jim and Michael, that was practically impossible, because Michael had the money to keep it running even if it didn’t make money—and because, for whatever weird reason (maybe because he owned the building [how did he own the building? She hadn’t yet found that out] so there was no rent or maybe because there was foot traffic at the times she wasn’t there) it did make money. Nor was Michael likely to stop running what was in apparently his lifelong dream.

No, it couldn’t last, and so it didn’t last, because it was too good to be true for another reason.

On the day it happens, Pam is a little late to the coffeeshop, even for her. Her mom had wanted to talk about whether they should get a pet (she thinks she was really asking if that would save her marriage, which Pam doesn’t even want to think about) and that had stolen an hour when she could have been there already, and then she’d had trouble finding a parking spot nearby.

So she’s late. Not that she has a specific time she has to get there, but she’s well aware that from her routine and her own perspective, she’s running late.

She bursts through the doors of The Comedy Roasters and the first thing she sees is Jim, with a look on his face that she can easily identify as pure, outrageous amusement, like he’s watching one of those silly YouTube videos he’ll show her on his phone occasionally. Except it’s not his phone he’s looking at: it’s the two customers in front of him.

One is, and she is not in the least surprised to see this, Dwight Kurt Schrute, large as life and twice as German. He’s pontificating (she can’t hear it, but she knows Dwight by now) with large sweeping gestures to a smaller woman—not Angela—who is trying to order something from Jim, but keeps getting derailed by whatever Dwight is saying.

Pam makes a face at Jim, who smirks back, and approaches the counter.

That’s when things go wrong.

Nothing actually bad happens, of course. Not in any sense anyone else would understand. But as she approaches the counter the woman finally manages to pay for her drink and turn around and that’s when it hits Pam.

It’s Izzy.

“Pam?” Her friend turns to greet her and one of Dwight’s expansive swings catches her in the face. “Ow!”

“Izzy?” She decides to ignore the way Jim is hissing at Dwight for ‘hitting another customer’ and focus on her friend. “What are you doing here?”

“Uh…trying to get coffee?” Izzy grins. “Ideally without beet juice, but you never know.”

“No, no, no! You need to get…” Dwight tries to interrupt and Jim hands him something small and white which Dwight instinctively sticks into his mouth. “Mmmm!”

“Come on, I haven’t seen you in forever!” It’s been like a week, but since Pam had been seeing her most days before she started coming to The Comedy Roasters, often at Starbucks, that does probably seem like forever.

“I’ll bring your order out to your seats,” Jim volunteers, and Pam shoots him a quiet thank-you smile. “Which syrup, Pam?” he adds before Izzy can steer her fully away.

She glances at the wall behind him. “Balsamic fig.”

“Nice choice.” He grins and she can’t help but grin back.

“All right. We are sitting down, and then you are telling me everything, Pamela Beesly.” Izzy tugs her over to a seat and pushes her into it. “Starting with who that is.”

End Notes:
Sorry this is so short, but I wanted to get Izzy in here, so here she is!
Chapter 11 by Comfect
Author's Notes:
Pam and Izzy, heart to heart

“Come on, Izzy.” Pam tries her best, but her best friend is indefatigable (always has been) and her puppy dog eyes aren’t helping.

“Come on Pamela.” Izzy pouts. “You never tell me anything interesting anymore! Come on, just one little tidbit!”

“His name is Jim.” She realizes in that moment that she has lost: her little bubble of The Comedy Roasters as an alternate reality where it can just be her and Jim and the weird people who make up the rest of the regulars without any interference from the outside world is going to collapse. She should have said something, anything else. Started with the story of how she got here, maybe—not that Izzy is going to be that interested in the fact that the Starbucks is closed, she obviously already knows that, but at least it wouldn’t have put that voracious, chop-licking look on her face. Or maybe started with why she’s drinking balsamic fig steamers—except that would lead back to Jim again, wouldn’t it? She’s only experimenting with the menu because it makes both of them laugh. Or maybe even…something else. Michael, maybe, or…

Shit.

She should have started with Dwight. Maybe there’s still a chance?

“And the other guy is Dwight Kurt Schrute.”

“The cute one?” Izzy looks over.

“No, the German one.” Dwight is currently demonstrating…actually Pam doesn’t know what Dwight is demonstrating, but it sure as hell looks like he’s doing a Nazi salute. Jim is egging him on without visibly egging him on, something she’s not sure when she began to recognize but which makes a little something in her soften. He’s just so hilarious, and it’s often so subtle. Like, she can’t hear what either of them is saying, and she’s not sure it would even make sense if she could, but she’d bet that if you read out a transcript of it in a flat voice like Dwight’s it would sound perfectly sincere, inquisitive, maybe even helpful.

Inflected in Jim’s voice the way she knows Jim talks, though, she has absolutely zero doubt whatsoever, even without hearing any of the actual words yet, that it is sarcastic. And funny. And just…Jim.

“What are you on about?” Izzy smirks at her and snaps her back into her head and the realization that, oh right, this is all about to change. “The German one is the cute one.” The smirk turns shit-eating in a moment. “Ooooooh, does someone have a crush on the barista?”

“Shut up.” Pam has known Isabel Poreba for…well, not actually for that long, even though she’s her best female friend. She’d kind of drifted away from a lot of her high school friends over the years, something she’d only realized in retrospect once she broke up with Roy and discovered that he’d basically isolated her from her entire social network along the way. Izzy had been a friend from after that, made through friends neither of them was close to anymore, and they’d just clicked perfectly, so well that even Roy’s eye-rolls at ‘going over to Izzy’s again’ hadn’t been able to slide her out of Pam’s life completely. But for all they might not have know each other all their lives, Pam still knows very well that literally the only way to get Izzy off of a topic is to refuse to engage. Shut it down. Tell her to shut up, and move the conversation along.

“Shut up,” she repeats. “It sounds to me like someone has a crush on Dwight.”

“Well, duh.” Izzy rolls her eyes. “I’d like him to get his Deutschland uber alles of me, if you know what I mean.”

“I really don’t and I would prefer not to, thank you very much,” Pam shoots back.

“Oh, have you really not…since Roy? Does that mean you’ve forgotten? Because I think my little sister has some kids books on the topic you could borrow.” Izzy smirks again and Pam kicks her under the table.

“So not the point. I know what you mean, I just don’t ever want to think about it.” She smiles, though, both so that Izzy knows that it’s just another tease (not that she really does want to hear about that with Dwight, but if Izzy needs to, they can talk about it) and in her own personal triumph that they’ve moved the conversation away from Jim. “He literally owns a beet farm, Izzy.”

“So he’s a small business owner?” Izzy grins. “Very entrepreneurial. Very attractive.”

Pam snorts. “You think so? Here, let me show you.” She flips open her laptop and goes to the bookmarked page with Schrute Farms’ Zillow listing. “You will not believe what he charges for one night.”

“One night, huh?” Izzy’s eyebrows waggle up and Pam groans.

Not like that.”

End Notes:

When will Jim arrive with those drinks? When I'm good and ready, that's when.

 

Thanks for reading! 

Chapter 12 by Comfect
Author's Notes:
Jim talks to Izzy and Pam.

Of course she has the page for Schrute Farms open when Jim finally makes his way out from the counter with their drinks.

“Woah, Pam, taking a trip to Beet City?” He winks and puts down the drinks. “One coffee, no beets, one balsamic fig steamer.” He puts down what looks like a shot glass. “One coffee with b beet juice, just in case you wonder what you were missing, courtesy of the gentleman in the corner.” He nods over towards the far corner of the coffeeshop, where Dwight has grumpily started piling random objects on a table and assembling…something. “Oh, and I just wanted you to know—we have a special today on Jello. If anyone wants any.”

“No, thank you…Jim.” Izzy makes his name sound lascivious and waggles her eyebrows and Pam wants to die. “I think my friend here might be interested in ordering something else off menu, though, if you know what I mean.”

Pam has now shifted from wanting to die to being pretty sure she has died, and this is hell, and her only saving grace is that apparently Izzy has also died and gone to hell, which she deserves because she is a betraying traitor. Her face is bright red—she can’t see it, but she can feel the burning in her hands as she hides in them—and she can’t even imagine having the guts to look at Jim right now, not even to apologize. He has to be looking at her; he has to know what Izzy is talking about. She’s going to have to move somewhere like Australia just to get away from the embarrassment, and the worst part is that no one has said anything and the moment is just hanging there, taunting her.

Jim takes a breath—she can hear it, like she’s attuned to the range of his voice so much that even a small intake of breath goes straight to her ears—and she can’t even imagine what he must be thinking right now other than that she and Izzy are crazy stalkers who need to be run out of the coffeeshop post-haste for his own safety. Does The Comedy Roasters stock tar and feathers somewhere in the back? It seems like the sort of thing Michael would have bought even though he’s apparently forgotten basic items like tea, and she doesn’t doubt that somewhere here there is a rail for them to be run out on too. It’s awful. She’s going to lose this one place that has felt like a bastion of…of…not of sanity, per se (not with Dwight as a regular) but of normalcy, the one place where she could not even be Pammie Beesly, formerly engaged to Roy Anderson, college dropout, but just “Pam,” cool graphics designer—or graphics designer anyway—who drinks steamers in interesting flavors.

And also she’s going to have to stop seeing Jim every day, and that’s worse.

“I know. I’m sorry.” She cringes. Of course Jim is sorry. He’s sorry for her. He’s taking pity on her. He’s heard what Izzy is so obviously saying and he’s trying to do his best to let her down gently. She doesn’t want to be let down gently, because it’s only when she’s being let down gently that she lets herself realize that she’s actually built this up more in her head than she’d let herself be aware of before, and being let down gently is just being lowered a couple of feet gently before being released above a twenty-story chasm that she’s dug for herself, because she really really likes Jim. Like, more than she’d thought. A lot more than she thought. No, more than that. Ugh. This is the worst.

“I keep trying to get Michael to put the steamers on the menu, but you should hear the jokes he makes about it.” Wait, is Jim talking about actual off-menu ordering? “And don’t get me started on the tea.” There’s a creaking sound that might be Jim pulling up a chair, or the ceiling falling down, but not even that would make her look up so she doesn’t know, and then he continues. “I’ve been trying to get that on the menu for weeks, and it goes in one ear and out the other. I’m Jim, by the way. You obviously knew that, but I figured I ought to introduce myself, seeing as you’re friends with my favorite customer.”

She’s his favorite? Or is that just something he says to all the regulars. Well, besides Dwight, because if he said that to Dwight he’d probably get pepper-sprayed in the face while the beet farmer yelled something about false flag operations.

“Izzy.” Izzy is definitely laughing, and Pam kicks her under the table. “Pam and I used to get coffee all the time, but…”

In an instant, Pam weighs the embarrassment she has already felt from Izzy insinuating things in front of Jim and the desire it has inspired to continue to play ostrich with the table against the possibility of her insinuating more things and makes a decision. She looks up, kicks Izzy under the table again and interrupts her. “But then dear Izzy suddenly had places to be, didn’t she?” She smiles sweetly at her friend and gives her best version of her mother’s “not here, not now” face (as learned from years of watching her mother argue with her father without words, especially about Roy). “Like she does right now.”

Izzy rolls her eyes. “Except they were cancelled today, weren’t they, Pam.” She kicks back. “And I’m so glad, because I got to come here and see what’s had our Pam so excited.”

“Yes, it’s a lovely coffeeshop, isn’t it?” Jim smiles in a way that makes Pam think he’s deliberately ignoring Izzy’s pointed comment. “I’ll be sure to tell Michael you said that. Michael’s the owner, by the way.” He stands up then and nods to them both. “And also my boss, and he’d be extremely annoyed at me for sitting so long when there’s coffee to be made! Nice to meet you Izzy. Good to see you, Pam. Hope the balsamic fig isn’t too disgusting.”

And then he practically flees back behind the counter.

Pam is a little confused—if there’s one thing she know about Michael, it’s that he’d be ecstatic to see Jim talking to customers, since he has a whole shtick about how ya gotta hustle in the coffee game—but grateful that he’s now out of Izzy’s conversational range. She takes a sip of the balsamic fig steamer

And yes, Jim is right: it’s absolutely disgusting.

End Notes:
Thank you for reading! Next chapter will probably be another Jim POV.
Chapter 13 by Comfect
Author's Notes:

 I was going to do Jim POV but a Dwight/Izzy interaction snuck up on me, so we're getting that first. Sorry if you were looking forward to Jim! Next time, I promise. For this chapter, our summary:

Pam ends up needing to change.

“Soooooooooooooooo….” Izzy draws out the word. “He’s definitely into you.”

“Iz…”

“No, Pam, I’m not going to let you hide from this one.” Izzy sips her coffee and makes an impressed face. “Especially not if it means I don’t get to come drink here again. This is actually good!”

“You think all coffee is good,” Pam complains, seizing on the one non-Jim-related part of that statement. She feels a fizzy feeling in her chest that’s neither entirely pleasant nor entirely unpleasant: if she focuses on the feeling itself, it’s warm and buzzing, but if she focuses on the fact that she’s feeling a buzzing in her chest and warmth in her face, she halfway wonders if she’s having a stroke or a heart attack or something. She knows this is related to Jim, and specifically to the idea that Izzy thinks Jim is into her, which implies that this might possibly not be all in her head. But she doesn’t really want to pass out at the table, so she’s going to avoid that if at all possible.

Fortunately, at least initially, Izzy is distractable. “No, Pam, I don’t.” She takes another sip. “I choked down that burnt sludge at Starbucks because you were actually getting out of the house and being productive, so I wanted to encourage it—and because I don’t like any of their other drinks any better, except for the ones that are basically milkshakes and I was not drinking a milkshake every time I wanted to see my best friend somewhere other than her parents’ house.”

She puts the coffee cup down carefully, almost reverently. “But this…this is drinkable. This is good. So that Jim of yours is doing something right at least.” Her eyes narrow. “Speaking of which, don’t think you can make me forget we were talking about him!” She jabs a finger at Pam. “He likes you. And since you’re redder than you were that time you fell asleep on your watercolor of a sunset, you like him too.” She keeps eye contact while she reaches for her cup. “I knew it. I knew I saw something there!” She takes another sip, and Pam is just annoyed enough at her crowing to not point out that she’s accidentally picked up the cup with the beet juice in it.

This is a mistake, as it happens, because in the next moment Pam is the one wearing the beet juice coffee.

“What the…” Izzy looks down at her coffee cup and realizes it’s the one that Dwight sent to her, a size smaller than the one she was drinking from before. She carefully takes another sip, prepared this time. “Huh. This is surprising.”

“You think you’re surprised?” Pam is thankful, she supposes, that the beet juice coffee is on her and not her laptop, but it’s still not exactly comfortable. “I’m the one who’s suddenly in beet couture.”

“Actually, beet couture is much more fashionable than anything I have ever seen you wearing.” Dwight Schrute is suddenly at their table—he must have seen Izzy drinking from the beet coffee cup and headed over—and, to her surprise, hands her a napkin. “Fact: beet greens, properly treated, make a renewable, sustainable, and fashionable fabric that is both breathable and light.” He turns to Izzy. “Fact: beet juice in coffee is shown to increase cardiovascular function, intelligence, and stamina.”

Pam takes that moment to flee to the restroom, napkin in hand.

End Notes:
Another shorter chapter just to keep our plot moving. Thanks for reading!
Chapter 14 by Comfect
Author's Notes:
The much-promised Jim POV.

When Jim comes back out from the back, Pam is nowhere to be seen, and he spirals again.

He’s just finished calming himself down from before, and now his worries have gone off in another direction entirely. Before, he was worried that his presence was causing Pam awkwardness: that her friend had clearly caught onto his increasingly obvious interest in Pam, and was using it to tease her in a way that was making her uncomfortable.

A small part of him was, of course, hopeful. Maybe it wasn’t his interest (painted across his face as he was sure it was) that Pam’s friend had been picking up on, but something from Pam. After all, she’d been talking mostly about what Pam wanted, what Pam thought, what Pam was doing. So there was room there, he had thought, for this to be not entirely in his head.

But he had had to admit to himself that this was probably wishful thinking, and that even if it wasn’t, Pam sitting there with her head in her hands was not exactly the reaction he’d have hoped for. He could hope that this was just embarrassment—a friend pushing her buttons the way that Larissa would definitely be making fun of him tonight if he was fool enough to tell his little sister what had happened—but there was also the chance that it was an aversion to having him around with her friend around, or that she didn’t want to look at the way he was looking at her.

He’s spent the last ten minutes in the back restocking things that were already properly stocked before but that Michael had messed up (he insisted for some reason on stocking everything alphabetically, which was extremely confusing when they disagreed about whether “filters” were “filters, F” or “coffee filters, C” from day to day). He’s calm. He’s collected. He’s accepted that he can’t control whether it was Pam’s friend’s assumptions about Pam or about him that motivated her extremely pointed language. He’s ready to go forward to wherever that means they’re going: whether that’s him backing off and just serving her steamers and (eventually, someday, come on Michael) tea, or continuing whatever sort-of friendship they’ve worked their way into, or going (as he’d really like to) further. He’ll follow her lead. If she doesn’t lead, he’ll just…stay. In stasis. There are worse places to be than across a counter from her—even if she can’t look at him if he sits down at the same table.

But now—she’s gone. Has he really run her off? He can’t believe he’s screwed this up so badly. All he wanted to do was to get her and her friend away from Dwight, and then to learn a little more about her, and now…now Dwight is at their table, and Pam isn’t, and he can just see everything he’s been quietly hoping and wishing for falling apart.

It’s not that it’s not her fault. He probably screwed it up, with his overeagerness and his excitement to meet one of her actual friends, one of the people she sees somewhere other than across a counter or at a table in a coffeeshop she only comes into to do her work. Someone who knows who Pam is beyond her avoidance of coffee and her easy laugh (and her own good sense of humor). Someone who’s probably been there for the hard parts of her life, the ones he knows deep inside that he’d like to share with her but doesn’t feel like he can suggest he should.

And now instead of getting that, he’s driven the friend towards Dwight Schrute of all people (and it’s rather distressing that they seem to be hitting it off, if he’s honest) and apparently driven Pam out of the shop entirely.

Well, not entirely. Her bag is still here, and her laptop is still open. But for a moment he’s sure that that’s just a sign of how badly he’s freaked her out: she’s run all the way out without any of her stuff.

Then it hits him. That’s not Pam. Pam isn’t the most prepared or organized person he’s ever met, but she’s not Michael. If she felt the need to get out of there, after he’d already left, she’d at the very least have taken her laptop with her. She does all her work on it. It’s probably more precious to her than her own self. There’s no way she left it, unless she was actively dying—and he’s pretty sure that her friend would not be flirting with Dwight Godforsaken Schrute if that were the case.

And indeed, here comes Pam back out of the bathroom. Her eyes flit across Dwight and Izzy and then—blessedly, thankfully, heartstoppingly—over to him, and she gestures with her head and rolls her eyes at him, and he can breathe again.

She trots over to the counter and he slumps against it slightly. She’s not mad at him. She didn’t run away from him. She’s avoiding Dwight. That makes perfect sense. How could he ever have doubted that their connection was real, even if he still suspects that it may be, well, more real on his end?

She leans up against the counter, grabs a candy, and nods towards her friend and Dwight. “So. Do you think he’s getting her number, or just trying to sell her more beets?”

It’s not that funny, but the relief means that Jim may never have laughed harder in his entire life.

End Notes:
Thanks for reading! I appreciate you.
Chapter 15 by Comfect
Author's Notes:
Oh how the turntables (at least, about college majors)

Pam cannot get over the fact that Izzy is apparently flirting with Dwight Schrute of all people—and only a few minutes after they met! It makes her feel…actually, she’s not entirely sure how it makes her feel, except that it is clearly not OK that Izzy is flirting and Pam is not, even though Pam has had a probably unrequited crush on the man in front of her for several hundred times longer than Izzy has even known that Dwight existed.

It’s OK to flirt, right? As long as Jim knows it’s not necessary for him to actually reciprocate her feelings (because, you know, service industry job and all) it’s OK for her to at least express a little bit of how she feels about him. Low key. Make it obvious that he’s not going to lose a tip or your custom if he doesn’t reciprocate your feelings. Just…having a little fun, two adults being adults in the same space.

You can do this, Pamela.

“Maybe for Dwight, asking if she’ll buy more beets is a way of getting her number.” Jim stops laughing at her little joke and plays along, and she falls just that extra bit more in unrequited crush-like love with him for it. His voice shifts registers into what is clearly intended as an imitation of Dwight (also, she’s heard his Dwight impression before—but it’s good enough to be recognizable even if she hadn’t, she thinks with fondness). “Question: what is your phone number for delivery purposes. Question: are you going to be home at 6:30 pm to take receipt of your new pallet of beets? Question: would you be free for dinner afterwards?”

She giggles and does her own Dwight (not, she thinks, as impressive as Jim’s). “Fact: service times for beet delivery improve by 20% if you choose to go out with me.”

He guffaws. “Now, I’m sure Dwight would insist that it’s impossible for a Schrute to deliver 20% faster because they are already the fastest in the universe.”

“Except that if you told him that, he’d then insist that a Schrute can do anything, and so logically a Schrute can also outdeliver a Schrute.”

“Could Dwight make a delivery so fast that even he couldn’t beat it?” Jim taps his finger to his lips, drawing Pam’s eyes inexorably up and almost but not quite distracting her from what he said.

“HAH!” She points an accusatory finger, definitely not at all trying to deflect from the fact that she was just thinking about kissing him. “I said you were a philosophy major. That’s a total philosophy major question!”

“I beg your pardon, that is a theology major question.” Jim looks what she can clearly identify as mock-offended. “In philosophy we don’t make sloppy assumptions like ‘God exists’ without further evidence.”

“So you’re saying Dwight’s a god, now?” Her voice comes out as saccharine as possible. “Because I don’t recall anyone mentioning God, even if the classic version of the question you posed is whether God could create a rock so heavy he couldn’t move it.” She smirks. “And while we might argue over whether God exists, Dwight definitely does.”

“More’s the pity.” Jim nods sagely. “I concede the point; that was a total philosophy major question.” His eyes narrow. “Wait, you weren’t a theology major, were you?”

“You take that back!” Without thinking, she reaches across the counter and smacks his arm lightly.

He puts up both hands. “Consider it taken.” He shoves the jar of candy towards her. “Here, amuse yourself while I make my penance by discovering what you did major in.”

She pops one into her mouth. “I’m waiting…”

“Hmmm…” He looks at her—really looks at her—and she finds herself half-squirming under the intensity of his gaze and half-wanting to jump across the counter and pin him up against the rows of whole-bean coffee bags behind him. There’s something about receiving the whole depth of Jim’s gaze, directly and squarely, rather than the skittering glances and half-committed winks she’s used to that is simultaneously intoxicating and terrifying, like the one time Roy convinced her to try a Long Island Iced Tea without telling her the first two words and she found herself drunk in a Chili’s without realizing how it had happened and freaked the hell out. Except that was a wakeup call that she desperately needed to listen to and this was…well, maybe it is one too, but it was a very different sleep that she was waking up from. This isn’t waking up from denial about who she was becoming or who Roy already was, but rather awaking the slumbering awareness that maybe Jim was just as focused on her as she was on him—and maybe that was OK.

“Hmm…not theology, not philosophy—you’d have mentioned if we had the same major.” His fingers taps on his lips again and she follows the movement, swaying a little towards him, though he doesn’t seem to notice. “You do graphic design, but it’s definitely not the hard coding side of it—it looks too visual. Could be English or journalism or communications, but I can’t see you in one of those specific-job majors, and if you were a creative writer you’d spend more time beating your head against a wall.” He rubs the back of his neck and it somehow draws her attention to his chest as he stretches his arm out. She likes what she sees, but then again she has pretty much liked everything about Jim at this point. “Not the sciences—not that you couldn’t do it, but nothing has given me the impression that you like science, and I can’t see you majoring in something you didn’t like.” His hands slap down on the table, breaking her out of her reverie. “Got it!” He grins, wide and excited like a particularly friendly puppy. “You, my dear Pam, were an art major.”

“My dear Pam, is it?” Pam jumps almost half a foot as Izzy slips up next to her and raises an eyebrow at Jim—where did she come from? Where did Dwight go? Why is she interrupting? “Tell me, Jim.” Izzy crosses her arms. “What exactly are your intentions towards my friend here?”

End Notes:
Next, assuming my shift key keeps working: Jim's intentions towards Pam. Thanks to all who've read and reviewed!
Chapter 16 by Comfect
Author's Notes:
Jim's intentions, Pam's reactions.

His intentions? Pam is going to kill her friend. Isabel Poreba, died age twenty-six, daughter, sister, and traitor, deeply mourned by everyone but her best friend who murdered her when she damn well deserved it.

For a brief moment she almost wishes she were more like Dwight (she can hear her inner voice-of-Jim saying “bite your tongue!”) because she thinks that Dwight is the person she knows, for a given value of knows, who is most likely to be able to figure out a tactical weapon from the available materials. Maybe she could pummel Izzy to death with sugar packets, or stuff the change from the tip jar down her throat (…why are there so many nickels?), or slice her to death with papercuts from the novelty bookmarks that Michael apparently thought were the perfect advertising tool for a place that has exactly zero books in it at most times.

Actually, the coffee and especially the espresso machine probably could be deadly, but getting Izzy over there would be the difficulty. Pam knows from past experience (also known as “that time Pam wanted to drunk-dial her technically-abusive ex-fiancé and Izzy had her phone) that getting Izzy to move when she doesn’t want to is not something that is in Pam’s wheelhouse. So any options that involve moving her involuntarily to the other side of the counter are out, even if she would have Jim’s assistance.

Speaking of Jim’s assistance, or at least of Jim, she has apparently dithered too long plotting ways to kill her best friend (non-Jim division) to actually interrupt him and he’s…oh god, he’s actually answering Izzy.

Seriously.

Which, for Jim, is extremely unusual in Pam’s experience.

“That depends entirely on her.” Jim has this thing he does that Pam has never been able to replicate and has never really seen anyone else do before, where he makes eye contact with someone and it seems like he has his full attention on them and completely understands where they are coming from and what they are thinking about. It’s one of the things she finds really deeply attractive about him, but she also thinks it has to be part of his customer service face; in another life, perhaps, he’d make a great salesman, and it can’t hurt as a barista either. He doesn’t whip it out that often, but he’s definitely doing it now. His eyes are firmly on Izzy, not even darting aside to Pam, and he’s…still, in a way that Jim is rarely still. He’s almost always moving in some way, rocking to the beat of a song only he can hear or moving fluidly between the stations behind the counter since he seems to be the only real employee here and so does all the work.

But now he’s stationary, still, and immobile, as if moving while answering Izzy’s question would somehow detract from the sincerity of his reply. “My first priority is that Pam shouldn’t be uncomfortable, and I think your question is making her uncomfortable, so that’s all I have to say.”

And suddenly he’s moving again and she takes in a breath (for the first time in what she suddenly realizes feels like a long time) and Izzy is turning to her with this look of utter and complete glee on her face and Pam just cannot take it.

For the second time in five minutes, she runs for the bathroom.

And then runs right back out, because if she were Jim she would definitely totally one hundred percent take that as a rejection and while he didn’t actually, you know, explicitly say that he would like to ask her out it was kind of strongly implied in that and she would really like him to know that this is not a rejection, it’s a stress reaction.

…She may kind of have said all of that aloud. To his face. In front of Izzy.

But hey, honesty is a good quality, right? The sort of thing people look for in a partner?

She hopes?

End Notes:

Jim POV upcoming! See how Jim reacts to Pam's blurtings!

 Someday, when I next update.

 Thanks for reading! 

Chapter 17 by Comfect
Author's Notes:
Jim's reaction.

“If I were you I would definitely totally one hundred percent take that as a rejection.”

Really? She had to run back into the room to tell him explicitly what he already heard loud and clear? He couldn’t pretend it didn’t hurt, but…yeah, he could see why she’d come in and say that. Running away was a pretty clear signal, but he’d seen the guys who refused to read that signal before. He’d even had to toss a couple of them out of events he’d organized in college—the debate club singles night had ended up attracting way too many of the kind of guys who thought that “no” was not only not a complete sentence but the first step in a debate that they were going to win by sheer volume—and so while he thought he wasn’t the kind of guy to pursue someone who said they weren’t interested, he could see why she’d think that she needed to be more specific, more clear, more detailed in that rejection.

After all, if there’s one thing he’s learning about Pam, it’s that she’s really careful with her words, and so of course she’d feel the need to use those words to make things as crystal clear to him as possible.

And hey—he knows himself even better than he’d like to, after all these years of living in the same body, and he can’t entirely deny that if there was ever a girl he’d met that he’d go after even after she’d left him rejected, it was probably Pam. He could see a world in which he’d do something stupid like go after her and kiss her, only to get rejected again, and have to face the reality that he was more of a jerk than he wanted to think.

So yeah. Maybe he ought to be grateful. She’s spared him that, at least. She’s told him unambiguously where he stands. One hundred percent rejection. Honestly, for all that he knows a lot of people read rejection as cruel, this is kind of her.

“And while you didn’t actually, you know, explicitly say that he would like to ask her out it was kind of strongly implied in that.”

Yeah, hence the rejection. Though again, he’s noticed Pam is careful with her words, and it’s nice that she’s giving him the respect of assuming that he’s careful too, and paying attention to what he’s said. But yeah, she knows. She’s got the right handle on the stick, she’s not missing anything, the words that came out of his mouth meant what she thinks they meant. He’d definitely grabbed onto the implication of her friend’s request for his “intentions” with both hands, and while he’d given them both an out by pointing out that it was super uncomfortable to have your friend ask that in front of you, everyone in the coffeeshop clearly knew what he meant.

Hell, even Dwight Kurt Schrute probably knows, and what that guy understands about human emotional signaling could fit on the back of all the teabags that this coffeeshop still somehow doesn’t have (seriously, Michael, what the hell is wrong with your ordering system?).

Though…Dwight may well have gotten twice the women’s phone numbers since this shop started that Jim did. He’s fairly sure that Angela is at least not entirely unresponsive to whatever questionable charms lie in the fabled “Schrute genes” of which Dwight will not stop boasting, and it looked a lot like Pam’s friend Izzy just gave him hers too.

This is a depressing world, if that is all true.

But it’s not like being (he really really hopes) a better person and a nicer person and honestly just a more emotionally sound person than Dwight actually means the universe owes him anything. Those same guys he’d had to kick out of the debating club date nights had always gone on and on about how they were nice guys, and so he has zero sympathy with anyone, not even himself, saying “but I’m a nice guy.”

It still sucks though.

At least he has proof that Pam understands his words, even if she’s not interested. She’s rejecting him, but at least she’s doing him the honest good truth of rejecting what he was truly offering, and letting him know outright.

God, she’s such a good person.

“And I would really like you to know that this is not a rejection, it’s a stress reaction.”

Wait.

What?

So Jim was a Marxist philosopher by undergraduate thesis, and generally interested in politics, and the good life, and the proper organization of a society—those kinds of general, fuzzy, humanities-based questions that (in his not-particularly-humble, full-of-four-years-of-learning, senior undergraduate wisdom) only philosophy truly grappled with properly.

But he’d taken a full undergraduate courseload in philosophy, which included a class on logic. And that class had been full not of philosophy majors like Jim who liked basketball, and debate, and parsing out the technical differences between a communist and a socialist worldview, but of comp-sci majors taking logic before they could do the coding and programming they were actually interested in.

And he’d made quite a few friends among them, and started hanging out with them, and he still used some of the slang borrowed from their particular line of work.

All of which was to say that upon hearing those words Jim.Halpert.exe encountered a fatal exception.

Abort/Retry/Fail?

Retry.

It’s not a rejection?

What Pam was saying—all that stuff about it being one hundred percent reasonable to feel rejected—was all about how she wasn’t rejecting him?

She was stressed?

Well of course she was stressed! He was stressed too! It was a stressful situation! He was—apparently they were—being put on the spot!

But if she wasn’t rejecting him…

Well, Jim had taken logic, but he was a humanities major at heart, and he knew that for all that logic insisted that all statements could be reduced to pure binaries, this was not one of those times.

She might not be rejecting him, but she definitely wasn’t accepting him either.

And Pam was careful with her words.

But if she wasn’t rejecting him, she was probably interested in hearing some more of his words.

To help her decide.

And then his mouth moved on its own.

“I’m sorry you’re stressed, Pam. Would some tea help?”

End Notes:

Will there be tea next chapter? Read along to find out. 

Chapter 18 by Comfect
Author's Notes:
Tea finally appears in this fic.

“Would some tea help?” Of course some tea would help. She’d been trying to get tea from this silly place for weeks now. But she also knew Jim—while the sort to play pranks, yes, definitely, 100%—was not the sort of person who would have denied her tea while there was  tea to be had.

Not if he liked her, as they seemed to be somewhat sort of moving towards acknowledging.

So while she nodded, because she wasn’t going to lie about this, she was also very confused.

She was even more confused when Jim literally jumped the counter and ran out of the coffeeshop.

“Was it something I said?” Izzy inquired.

Pam hit her on the arm. Hard.

“I guess I deserved that.” Izzy leaned against the counter and rubbed her arm. “But seriously, that guy was mooning over you, I couldn’t just sit there watching you each make cow eyes at each other.”

“Bad form.” Before Pam could respond to Izzy (which would probably have been something along the lines of “what the hell is wrong with you”) Dwight Schrute was speaking. This seemed to be all of a piece with what she knew of Dwight—he wasn’t the best at noticing social cues that would indicate that he shouldn’t talk—and so she was more focused on the words than the rudeness of them. “Don’t tuck in your thumb.”

“What?” She and Izzy both turned to stare at him.

“The punch.” He grabbed Pam’s hand and demonstrated. “You kept your thumb inside when you hit her arm. If you do that, you’ll break your thumb.” He frowned. “Well, assuming you hit hard enough. How many kilopascals of pressure do you think you were applying?” He poked Pam’s arm. “Well, maybe just pascals.”

“What are you talking about?” Pam openly stared at him. “I wasn’t trying to hurt either of us.”

“Hm. Never strike an opponent you aren’t willing to put down. If I were to hit you, you wouldn’t be rubbing your arm. You’d be dead. She’d be dead. Jim Halpert” there was definitely a hiss in that name, which was actually oddly impressive when you considered there were no sibilants in the words “would be dead. A proper attack should take out the enemy and remove all possibility of retribution. That’s what my grandpappy taught me, and he fought in World War II.”

“For the Americans or the Germans?” Pam rolled her eyes.

“My grandpappy wasn’t a traitor!” Dwight pulled himself up to his full height and sniffed. “The Germans, of course.”

Izzy was staring at Dwight in what Pam really hoped was horror and not attraction. All Pam herself could think of was that Jim was going to be absolutely devastated that he’d missed this: she was going to have to recount it in excruciating detail when he got back.

Assuming he did get back.

Which, given that he’d just sprinted out of his place of business at full speed without saying anything to anyone, was perhaps not entirely a given.

“Pamela.” Dwight’s voice turned indulgent and condescending. “If your concentration is going to wander like this, you’re dead meat. You can’t punch someone and then stand around loosely! Attack! Attack! Attack!” He waved his arms in the air at her as if trying to spook a turkey. “Constant vigilance!”

“OK, we’re going to get you some more beet coffee.” Izzy grabbed Dwight by the shoulder and steered him away, mouthing ‘I’m sorry’ at Pam over his shoulder. “Someone is getting really cranky.”

“I’m not a crank! It’s important that she learns the basics of tactics and strategy!” But Dwight let Izzy drag him off, and Pam tried her best not to think about the fact that apparently discovering Dwight had Nazi ancestors he was proud of wasn’t dissuading her friend from contact with him.

Unfortunately, now that Dwight was not interrupting her she had plenty of time to wonder what had happened with Jim. Was he so spooked by her saying she wasn’t rejecting him that he felt the need to reject her preemptively? Or…

Or was it a stress reaction like hers?

Or what?

Before she could go too too far down that rabbit hole and end up in Wonderland, she was startled by the sudden reappearance of Jim, still running at top speed but this time back behind the counter.

He was clutching a bag from the CVS down the street, from which he pulled…tea.

A Bigelow assortment, specifically.

“Sorry about that! We didn’t have any on the premises, but I can now officially offer you our very first The Comedy Roasters tea, on the house.” He grinned, still panting a little from the run, and pulled the tea out of the box, fanning it towards her so she could see the varieties. “So, what will it be?”

End Notes:
So, what tea should Pam drink?
Chapter 19 by Comfect
Author's Notes:
Pam drinks tea.

Pam was utterly flummoxed. She had definitely not expected Jim to actually go out and buy tea with his own personal funds for her. That had not even been on her radar screen.

Jim seemed to sense her overwhelmed response and quickly whipped out a series of paper cups from behind the counter.

“All right! We’re going to have a sampler party.” He pulled the tea back towards himself and started laying them one by one into the cups, leaving the torn papers with the names of each tea in front of each cup as he did so. “Lemon Lift.” A yellow package, with the words black tea across it. “Constant Comment.” Orange, also apparently black tea. “Earl Grey.” This, unsurprisingly, was grey—and again, black tea. “English Teatime.” This was the black tea in a blue varietal, apparently. “Plantation Mint.” He grimaced. “A little colonialist for me, but you do you Bigelow.” To Pam’s surprise this was also black tea, though the green packaging was appropriate for mint. “And finally, the most originally named of all, Green Tea.” This was an unsurprising green, with the words green tea and classic across the package.

He bowed slightly. “Your tea, milady.” As he rose from the bow, a grin sprang into life across his face and distracted Pam entirely from the tea. “Well, just add water.” He started filling the cups one by one with hot water from a spout on the drip coffeemaker.

Pam just watched him. Not because she couldn’t think of anything to say, or because she was overwhelmed—though she was, still, a little—but because she could. She had clear and fairly unambiguous evidence that Jim was not just being friendly and flirty because it was his job, but was actually genuinely interested in her—so interested that he had left his place of work and gone entirely out of his way to accommodate her wishes and needs—and so she could finally let herself just look at him in the way that she’d been avoiding doing before. She’d been stealing glances and letting her eyes slide towards and then off of him for what seemed like forever; now she didn’t feel like a thief in the night anymore. She could just look, and so she did.

She liked what she saw. This was not in itself a surprise. She’d known that Jim was aesthetically pleasing from the first time she’d seen him, and nothing in his personality or her experience with him had in any way changed that initial impression, except perhaps to deepen it. After all, when she’d first seen him she hadn’t realized that for all his lanky glory and his broad shoulders the real beauty of him was in the joy in his eyes and the rhythm of his movements; that his smile was so much more attractive than his merely physical body (though that was, uh, quite attractive on its own as well); that watching him do things was more interesting than just watching him be pretty.

Now she knew all of that, and she had the chance to take it all in.

But she also realized as she finally let herself indulge that she really, really wanted to paint him. Not just to sketch him, or to take a picture (it will last longer, she thought to herself, and considered just how much she’d like anything she got of Jim to last), but to dig out the oils that were somewhere in the closet in her childhood bedroom (abandoned there long before she’d moved back in after the disaster of her relationship with Roy, back when she’d been trying to accommodate his whims and his belief that paint and by extension paint supplies were “just disasters waiting to happen, Pammy, how would I get oil paint out of a work shirt huh?) and really go to town on a portrait.

She wasn’t sure that oils could really do justice to the motion of Jim, but they might be the only medium she knew of that had a hope in hell of capturing the glow of him, the way his soul seemed to pour out of the limiting confines of his body and make everyone around him better, happier, more alive. Even Dwight was more Dwight with Jim around.

Speaking of which, she was brought out of her reverie by Izzy nudging her and Dwight scoffing something that sounded like “inappropriate secondary market items.”

“Uh…thanks.” She cursed her slow tongue. “I really appreciate this. I…uh…” she grabbed the first cup she saw and took a sip.

“Ahh, HOTHOTHOT.” Just like Jim, she thought, and was very grateful that she was too busy trying to cool her mouth by making little ah-ah-ah noises to actually say the second part out loud. She breathed out over the tea to cool it and took another sip.

It was the green tea, of course. Pam had a complicated relationship to green tea. She had always wanted to like it—it was the kind of tea that you had when you wanted to meditate or to concentrate, a light refresher and not a heavy wake-me-up of a beverage, the most tea-like tea in some sense to her—but never really did except at Asian restaurants, where (not to be exoticizing or essentialist) they really did a better job with it than she could do on her own, probably because they actually bought good green tea and knew what to do with it.

This was not that tea, so it was not actually that good.

But it was special in a manner all its own because Jim had made it for her, so in that way, she thought, it tasted better than anything she’d ever had before.

Which was silly, because she’d been drinking drinks he’d made for weeks, but there you go.

End Notes:
TEA!
Chapter 20 by Comfect
Author's Notes:
Pam and Jim drink tea, and another title drop.

Pam waited for the rest of the tea to cool down enough for her to drink while ostentatiously avoiding Izzy’s eyes. Fortunately, she had a perfect distraction from Izzy in the person of Jim, who was hanging back and clearly waiting for her to make the next move. Which usually she wouldn’t do—she couldn’t count the number of times her friends had asked when she was going to take the next step with Roy, first in terms of getting married and then, much later, in terms of finally getting out—but, well, it was that or acknowledge the smirk that she knew was on Izzy’s face even as Dwight was talking to her about how he didn’t drink tea because it would sap his manly essence.

Which, ew.

But also, it gave her the chance to actually talk to Jim.

“Thanks.” She smiled at him.

“You already said that.” He grinned, and gestured at the variety pack. “Mind if I…”

“Oh, you said you were getting me tea, but it was really for you, huh?” She grinned back. “Please. I want to know what improper tea a real Marxist drinks.”

He glanced at the teabags. “Well.” He shuffled them around. “Obviously, Plantation Mint is out, as I already said.”

“Obviously.” She nodded, then grabbed the Plantation Mint he’d already poured her and started drinking. “Go on.”

He raised an eyebrow but continued. “English Teatime would be a respectable contender, because Marx lived in London for a long time.” He poked at the teabag. “Except, clearly, when he was saying proper tea was murder, he must have been talking specifically about this kind of tea.” He flicked the teabag back in the box.

“I see.” She finished the Plantation Mint and moved on to the English Teatime. “I assume the same goes for Earl Grey?”

“Naturally.” He inclined his head in acknowledgement. “An English earl’s tea must be proper, and thus murderous, even if that particular earl was the prime minister who passed the Reform Act.” He shook his head. “And of course, that Reform Act still banned women from voting, so it couldn’t possibly be right for a true egalitarian communist to drink that tea.”

“Of course.” She smirked as she reached for her own Earl Grey. “Please, do continue.”

To her surprise, he stuck his tongue out at her, which only made her think about other things that tongue could do. She flushed, hoping she could attribute it to the heat of the remaining tea, and made a ‘hurry up’ gesture. “Or are you just stalling?”

“Stalin comes after Lenin who comes after Marx. Get your history right.” He winked. “And if anything, I was always more of a Trotskyite than a Stalinist.”

“Now you’re definitely stalling.”

He spread the Lemon Lift, Green Tea, and Constant Comment out in front of her, then started switching them around like he was playing three-card monte. “Right. So, Green Tea might seem like a strong contender because it wouldn’t be proper tea by an English standard, but it is by a Chinese standard, and anyway the name is just too basic even for a man who named his book on capital Das Kapital.” He flicked it into the box with quick fingers. “Also, a lot of contemporary Greens identify as Marxist, but most of them are more interested in environmental justice than labor issues proper. Progressives, but with their own non-Marxist stance.”

She rolled her eyes. “I thought you said philosophy, not poli-sci.”

“I was in debate!” he protested. “Anyway, you’re an art major, right? You can’t tell me that logo is worth drinking.”

She hummed in agreement as she started downing the now-cooling cups of tea. The weird choice of all-caps for the words GREEN TEA did bother her.

“So. Two options left.” One was in each of his hands and he spun them in his fingers, drawing her attention again to how he moved them and making her blush again with the way her own thoughts were going. “Marx did want to lift up the working class,” he gestured to the Lemon Lift, “but I’m sure he didn’t think that such a lift would be a lemon.” He tossed it in the box. “On the other hand, Das Kapital is a thousand pages long, which means Marx always had a constant comment on society and the economy.” He ripped open the bag and dropped it in a cup, then filled it with water.

Over his shoulder he added a last thought. “Also, I happen to like Constant Comment best. Nice spices.”

Pam couldn’t help it. She burst out laughing.

End Notes:
Thanks for reading! More Dwizzy coming next chapter, assuming I don't change my mind.
Chapter 21 by Comfect
Author's Notes:
Dwizzy and JAM get in an argument about capital and cats.

The rest of the morning actually went surprisingly well, all things considered. If by “all things considered” you meant “ignoring the way that Izzy kept feeding Dwight Schrute attention and he kept responding to it.”

Which Pam did. Because she was doing her best to ignore that, and to focus on the feeling of fuzzy warmth in her stomach every time she sipped on the tea. That feeling could just have been the feeling of a hot beverage sliding down your gullet and into your stomach, tracing a path of fire as it went, but she rather suspected it wasn’t since it didn’t dissipate when it hit her stomach but intensified, as if a family of butterflies had set up residence in her insides and was forced to flutter away to safety every time she took a sip.

So, it was either love or sudden-onset stomach cancer, and she knew which one she thought was right.

She and Jim stayed flirting (she could call it flirting now, right?) at the counter while Izzy and Dwight were over at his table, and she was distinctly torn between wondering if her friend was all right and being extremely grateful that she’d been distracted from Pam’s love life by her own.

Dwight was making sounds with his mouth that were apparently what it sounded like when you drove a tractor the wrong way through a beet field but which sounded to Pam like he had been taught how to beatbox while wearing noise-cancelling headphones in a sealed room by someone standing outside of it who hated him.

When she shared this observation with Jim, it made him snort. She felt good about this for about a half nanosecond until she realized he had been actively drinking boiling-hot tea at the time.

One quarter-roll of paper towels and an ice-pack later, she had finally gotten to see Jim shirtless, but not for the reasons she’d imagined.

“I will be calling the health department.” Dwight’s clipped tones cut across the room, belying Pam’s sense of safety from him and Izzy. “It is unsanitary for a worker to be unclad in close proximity to foodstuffs according to the Scranton Municipal Code.”

“I was just demonstrating how capitalism demands the shirt off the worker’s back,” Jim insisted. “See, it’s back on now!” To Pam’s grave disappointment it was. “I hope you took pictures, because otherwise the health department is never going to believe you. And I should know—this will be you third complaint this week.”

“Hmph.” Dwight sniffed. “I did not take any pictures because unlike some people, James, I am not such a petit bourgeois as to carry a smartphone camera on my person at all times like some kind of status symbol.” He pulled out an old, battered Nokia. “This cell phone has been in the beet fields during harvest and survived. I dare your newfangled cellular devices to manage that.”

“He does realize that the Nokia 3310 is still a modern invention, right?” Pam whispered to Jim.

“I’m not sure. I think he may think it was handed down by his Nazi grandpappy,” Jim responded. “But where does he get off thinking I’m petit bourgeois? Michael is petit bourgeois, I am the working class.”

“Mmm…” Pam hummed. “How much do your parents make again?”

“Fine.” Jim rolled his eyes. “But at least I don’t own a farm. That makes Dwight a capitalist.”

“And proud of it.” Dwight had apparently overheard that comment. “The possession of capital is what separates the predator from the prey.” He shook his head. “In the Serengeti of life, you are the gazelle, and I am the lion.”

“Are you?” Pam couldn’t help but ask. “And what kind of lion? Male or female?”

“Male of course!” Dwight puffed out his chest. “My mane is the pride of my pride!”

Pam raised an eyebrow at Izzy, who had made the mistake of admitting she was a biology major in college one night, with an interest in feline zoology. They had bonded over one particular fact about big cats when Pam had called Izzy right after breaking up with Roy, and she was not about to miss the opportunity to use it now. “Hey Iz, what do male lions do?”

“Lounge around and do nothing while the women make the kill.” Izzy sighed. “Come on, Dwight, let them be.”

“Fine. But you’re on thin ice, Jim. One more shirtless episode and I will call the health department again!”

“I know you will, Dwight.” Jim rolled his eyes. “I know you will.”

“And this time they won’t let it go to voicemail!”

End Notes:
Thanks for reading!
Chapter 22 by Comfect
Author's Notes:
Pam gets out of the coffee shop with some of her dignity intact, despite Izzy's best efforts.

Dwight’s call did go to voicemail. Pam wasn’t exactly disappointed, since the last thing she wanted was for something serious to happen to Jim or to The Comedy Roasters, but she was a little bit sad that the absurdity of the situation hadn’t been escalated by finding out exactly what someone on the other end of that phone call would have been like.

Dwight retreated to the other end of the coffeeshop, complaining about how he was a sheriff’s deputy (“volunteer, self-appointed, unofficial,” Jim whispered to her and Izzy) and that meant that the health department had to accept his “officially unofficial referrals” and he would speak to their manager.

This seemed to be a little much even for Izzy, which on the one hand Pam appreciated since it was good to know her friend wasn’t completely besotted with the odd German beet farmer, but on the other was unfortunate since it meant she didn’t let Pam and Jim alone to do any of the activities that Pam could have imagined were possible between two people who had just admitted they were interested in each other within the confines of one of their places of work.

She wondered if there was a supply closet somewhere in the place…

But Izzy’s presence and the appearance of actual other customers meant that Pam had to content herself with finishing her tea, thanking Jim, and heading home. She accepted a to-go sleeve from Jim for the last, rapidly cooling cup of tea (Plantation Mint—it wasn’t like she was going to leave it undrunk if he had poured it, even if she agreed with him about its colonial-imperial associations, and besides mint tea was actually pretty good), humoring him even if she was pretty sure she wouldn’t need it.

And then she and Izzy were out the door and she had to fend off her friend for the entirety of the walk to her car, and then fend off her mother when she got home because her traitor of a best friend had told her that Pam and the barista had hit it off.

It was only when she finally escaped to the safety of her childhood bedroom that she was able to focus on anything other than survival (or so it felt), and even then she was suddenly attacked by an important realization that required her attention: while she had removed most traces of Roy in the room after the breakup, because of course she had, she hadn’t updated the room at all to reflect Pam herself, rather than Pam-before-Roy. When she’d removed the picture of them on the day he proposed, and the one of her kissing his cheek when his darts team won first place at Poor Richard’s the one time that she convinced him not to drink for an hour before the match, and the one of him winking at the camera that (she had thought) showed his best side when he wasn’t drunk, she hadn’t actually put up anything she’d done or acquired since she was sixteen, when she’d started dating him.

Sure, there was stuff on the walls. She wasn’t a hermit and she hadn’t lived her life in a hermetically sealed bubble. But the stuff was a combination of movie posters that early teen Pam had liked, artwork from the beforetimes, and random stuff her parents hadn’t had any other space for and she’d thought “why not” about, like the one poster from Aunt Dotty’s time in college theater that her dad had gotten framed that one time when he’d been struck by a particular wave of pride in his little sister and Pam liked the colors of.

There was nothing in there that spoke to Pam, not to Pammy Beesley, age sixteen—or come to think of it, Pammy B., fresh out of elementary school. There was none of the more experimental stuff she’d been doing recently (to be fair, it was only so experimental to do watercolors, but still—she’d branched out from staplers and buildings to impressionistic swirls of light, which made her feel better). There weren’t even posters of the bands or movies she liked now.

This had to change.

She was sipping on the now-entirely-room-temperature tea and checking eBay on her phone for poster ideas when she finally slipped the sleeve off the cup and realized why Jim had put it on there in the first place.

CALL ME, the underside of the sleeve proclaimed, 308-726-7327.

And then on the far side of the loop: JIM (in case you didn’t realize)—this last part scribbled in smaller letters, like he’d worried she’d forget.

She smiled at the sleeve.

He was silly—and he was adorable—and he was, apparently, really interested in her.

The last part felt best of all.

End Notes:
Thanks for reading!
Chapter 23 by Comfect
Author's Notes:
Pam redecorates.

The next morning, after smiling ridiculously at it for longer than she would have felt comfortable admitting, Pam slipped the coffeesleeve into her purse after carefully programming Jim’s name into her phone, and set about doing what she really should have done the day she’d moved back in after ending things with Roy—or maybe not then, because she’d been utterly physically and emotionally exhausted, but soon thereafter.

Or maybe, a little bit of her said not loudly but enough to be heard over the din of voices within her, something she should have been gradually doing all along, since she’d changed since she was a child.

She was going to redecorate.

Step one of that was to remove literally everything from the walls and heap it all on her bed. Well, step one was to remove it from the walls—the bed was a side-effect of lacking any other consistent flat space to put everything that wasn’t already covered in the various things her mother had stuck up in her room over the years “just in case you want it later” crossed with all the things she had actually needed or wanted herself. There were plenty of those on the bed too (she had lost the battle of “how many pillows is actually reasonable for one person’s bed” long ago) but they could be covered more easily, since she had actually managed to keep the bed sleepable.

Step one-A, it turned out, was to go find her dad and get a hammer, and step one-B was to add an impact wrench to that, so that she could actually take everything off the walls. Because Pam had been in more than one room in her life that had had a lot of things on the walls before that had been taken down but left all the spots and the nails and the screws and all the other ways of hanging things that had been used over the years still in place, and she had no desire to have her room become that. It was depressing enough to realize how much all the things on the wall had spoken to a Pam that wasn’t here anymore; it would be much worse to leave the gaping wounds on the wall where that Pam’s stuff had been.

Step one-C, which probably should have been step two but she hadn’t actually thought of it, was to repaint the walls, because it turned out that having posters and paintings and such over half the wall and not the other half over a light wall color meant that you could still see where every single painting and poster and etc. had gone when they had been up, even in their absence, even without the nails and the screws and so on. And while Pam was willing to be a little avant-garde about this, she wasn’t so avant-garde as to embrace the differential fading on her walls.

That meant step one-C-little-Roman-numeral-i was to move everything in her room out of her room so that she could actually paint the walls.

It was about the point at which she was reaching one-C-little-Roman-numeral-ii (figure out what paint color the walls were, or what new color her parents would let her repaint) that she realized she hadn’t had lunch. Or breakfast. Or anything at all. Fortunately, Penny’s room was the only other one being blocked by the assemblage of random dressers and other furniture she’d lugged out in the hallway, and Penny didn’t care, so she left it.

And so it was from her parents’ kitchen table, munching on a hastily-assembled sandwich made from whatever she could find in the fridge (and thus, ham and cheese) that she finally texted Jim.

Since it was two-fifteen in the afternoon, she was ravenous enough to overcome her jitters at having his phone number, and just threw herself into it.

 

Hey!

Sorry I’m not there today!

Tell Dwight hi!

 

That was too many exclamation points. She looked demented. And the way her phone had autocapitalized every line made her feel like she was definitely not giving the casual, flirty, cool vibe she was hoping to give off.

Though, to be fair, Jim had met her before, so that was probably a lost cause anyway.

The little dots started and then stopped and then started and then stopped and she wondered why it was taking Jim so long to reply to her.

And then she realized that she hadn’t actually told him it was her—and he’d given her his number but not the other way around.

 

This is Pam, btw.

 

She quickly deleted the period (what am I, seventy? Get it together, Pam) and uncapitalized the T, then wondered if it looked weird that the other texts were capitalized and the T wasn’t, then stopped herself from thinking about it more by hitting send.

Who was she kidding? She still thought about it more.

Ugh.

She faceplanted into her ham and cheese.

Texting was the worst, except for all the other ways of communicating.

End Notes:
Jim's reactions on the other end next! Thanks for reading!
Chapter 24 by Comfect
Author's Notes:
Jim gets Pam's texts.

It had been an awful day, frankly. Jim had started out on the wrong foot—quite literally, in a sense, because Michael had dropped a whole box of bagged coffee beans on Jim’s foot when they were unloading the truck that morning—and only gone downhill from there. They’d had a bunch of new customers, which was theoretically a good thing, except that every single one of these people seemed to be the categorical definition of the worst: insanely detailed orders spewed at twice-normal speed and including ingredients they didn’t even have on the menu; new customers whom, therefore, he had definitionally never met before refusing to give their names even at the surprising height of the morning rush because ‘if you were a good barista you’d know me and my order’; irreconcilable demands that the customers were certain were the height of reason, leading to an increasingly bizarre argument in which Jim was forced to draw on all of his philosophy and debate experience to remember that he theoretically enjoyed a free-flowing exchange of ideas through words, even if those ideas in this case consisted of the question of whether it was possible to make a dairy-free drink with only whole milk (‘no, not soy, not coconut, not almond, not oat, you idiot, regular milk, how dumb do you have to be?’); Dwight.

God, it was a bad day when Dwight was the best thing that happened to him.

Seriously, though, Dwight being Dwight actually managed to clear out the line by loudly insisting on his beet coffee, and his spitting out of ‘do you work here?’ and ‘wait in line for your drink, queueing is what separates civilized men from beasts’ actually made Jim’s life easier for once.

It was confusing.

Worse, Pam hadn’t come in. He’d actually convinced Michael that since someone had drunk all six types of the ‘fancy experimental tea’ that he’d bought, they should invest in more of it, and the supplier had been willing to toss an extra box onto their delivery, and so they actually had tea, and then Pam didn’t come in.

He wasn’t sure what to do with himself, which was ironic since everyone else in the coffee shop seemed to have a very specific, if frequently contradictory, idea of what he ought to be doing at all times.

He went through his tasks, now that Dwight had beaten off the worst of the worst, with a mechanical automation that, had he been in his best spirits and clearest mind, would have directly reminded him of Marx’s theories about the alienation of labor by capital. Since he was not, it just made him sad. That was probably for the best, he would reflect later, since if he had thought of it he’d just have wished he could have mentioned it to Pam, and that in turn would have made him sadder.

His phone buzzed—somehow Dwight heard it over the normal sounds of the coffee shop and yelled something about unprofessional behavior that Jim decided he was too un/professional (choose whichever worked for you, he mentally shrugged) to have noticed—and he glanced down out at it of a combination of instinct and a sense that even if it was a stupid spam text it wasn’t going to be any worse to read than the rest of his day had been to live.

Hey!

Well, that was informative, unidentified number. Spam text it was, then. He swiped to archive the conversation—no point in having a spam text at the top of his recent texts—then swore as another text from the same number returned it to his recents, prompting another minilecture from Dwight that he equally quickly ignored.

Sorry I’m not there today!

His breath caught. Was this Pam? He couldn’t think of anyone else who wasn’t there, or who would expect him to notice that. Except he couldn’t afford to get his hopes up, not after this day had been so shitty .Maybe this was just a wrong number.

Tell Dwight hi!

Not a wrong number then, or if so then a very suspicious coincidence.

He thought about what to write back, assuming it was Pam—or whether he should just write back “is this Pam”—when Dwight rang the bell at the front (a new innovation Michael was trying, Jim suspected precisely because Michael was rarely the one who had to answer it) and he rolled his eyes.

He had almost put the phone into his pocket again when the last text came through.

this is Pam, btw

He greeted Dwight, for the first time possibly in his life, with a smile
End Notes:
Back to Pam next chapter. Thanks for reading!
Chapter 25 by Comfect
Author's Notes:
Pam talks to her parents.

So on the one hand, it turned out that her parents (well, her dad) were rather sticks in the mud about what colors she could paint her room. “After all,” he’d said with a soft smile that still annoyed her, all the more because it was soft, “isn’t the theory that you’re going to move out again? And your mother and I really don’t want to have to repaint the walls again ourselves. Think of my back!”

On the other, they still had more cans of the original paint for her bedroom walls (and Penny’s, and theirs, and most of the house—they’d bought a lot of this paint) down in the basement in Dad’s so-called workspace which was really more of a place for him to read his interminably long Civil War histories in peace. There it was, in a cabinet. She wasn’t going to question why her dad had held on to that stuff, or why they’d overbought by so much (had they gotten a deal? Had he had some idea of painting more parts of the house, or repainting more often? Had he miscalculated and been too stubborn to admit defeat—or had Mom?) because it was a godsend to her that even if she didn’t get to pick the color, she got to repaint.

And so repaint she did.

It certainly occurred to her while she was slapping up new paint on the walls that it was highly ironic that this was more actual painting with physical paints than she’d done in years. In fact, she decided to text this to Jim, only realizing then that she’d left her phone on the kitchen table at lunch (at which point she remembered why: no point in risking it accidentally getting painted).

Her mom looked up from the table as she walked into the room. The Beesleys ate late, a relic from when Pam’s mom had had a long commute, so even after hours of painting it was still not dinner time, and so her mom was still ensconced at the table.

“Oh, here, honey.” Her mom handed her the phone. “You got a text from an unknown number, I didn’t know if I should delete it.”

Pam was hit with the sudden realization that she had not actually saved Jim’s number in the phone, just texted him—and with the follow-on discovery that if her mom found out that the text was from the same person that Izzy had mentioned to her, she was never going to get that phone back without a full-on interrogation.

“Oh, I had a new client. Let me see if that’s them.” She wasn’t technically lying—she did have a new client—but that client was very firmly ensconced in her phone under her proper name. “Thanks.”

She didn’t grab the phone outright, but it was a near-run thing.

“Oh, Pam?” Her mom’s voice raised at the end of the short sentence, which was a tell. “What’s this I hear about a new man in your life?” When Pam did her best to glare at the person who gave her birth in an appropriately quelling manner, she raised her hands defensively. “I just want you to be happy.”

“It’s just very new, Mom.” She sighed. “And we’re taking it very slow, don’t worry. I’m not going to end up living in sin and betraying my values again anytime soon.”

“That was your grandmother, not me.” Her mom let her hands fall onto the table and pick at the edge of the label on the Coke bottle she had been drinking when Pam walked in. “I don’t care where you live or who you live with as long as you’re actually happy and thriving. I hope you know that.” She sighed. “And you have had a spring in your step the last few weeks—especially today—so I do hope you are happy. ”

“I am, Mom.” Pam gave up the idea of doing more painting—she’d gotten the base coat on the wall anyway, and she didn’t really need to move the things back into the room if Penny wasn’t coming home tonight—and sat down next to her mom at the table. “I really am.” She leaned her head on her mom’s shoulder and accepted the way her mom immediately patted her on the head. “And you’re right. He’s the reason I’m repainting the room—not that he’s going to be staying there anytime soon!” She straightened up in a panic. “It’s just…he made me realize that I want to move forward.”

“If he can do that for you, then I like him already.” Her mom kissed her on the forehead. “What’s his name? If you don’t mind my asking?”

Pam unlocked her phone and opened the texting app. “Jim.” She glanced at the text, actually three texts in a row, sent several hours ago by now.

glad you’re ok

miss you here

Dwight says he will drink all the tea if you don’t come back

“From the way you’re smiling at your phone, I’m going to assume that isn’t a new client after all.” Her mom chuckled softly. “As I said, I think I like this Jim already.”

End Notes:
Next: the full Pam remodel, Pam 2.0. Thanks for reading!
Chapter 26 by Comfect
Author's Notes:
Pam triages art.

Step one-C-little-Roman-numeral-iii was finished: that is to say, Pam had repainted her walls.

All right, technically it was Step one-C-little-Roman-numeral-iv, because step one-C-little-Roman-numeral-iii had been finding the spackle her dad had stored in the garage for some reason all his own and fixing all the little holes in her walls. But whatever number it had received, it was done.

She’d spent the night in Penny’s bed (her sister having cheerfully texted her permission because she wasn’t coming home anyway, something about a concert down in Philadelphia—Pam was doing her best not to concentrate on the fact that her little sister was much cooler and more put together than her, which should not have been simultaneously possible) and now she was finally on to step actual two.

Figure out what the hell she was going to put on the newly repainted walls.

She toyed for a moment with not putting anything up at all, and just basking in the fact that she had actually painted her walls herself this time around. That lasted long enough for her to sit on her bed and stare at the blank walls for five minutes while trying to pretend she wasn’t depressed by them. Then she moved on.

No, she needed real things on the walls. She wasn’t going to go whole hogwild here—she’d taken the point that if she wanted to move forward and back out of her parents’ place, she couldn’t have invested too much in decorating what would no longer be her space again—but she did need it to feel like her space and not a slightly-too-personalized hotel room or a terrifying miasma of past memories.

So.

Step two-A was to go through all the stuff that had been on the walls, currently piled up in the hallway, and figure out what to keep. Which things did she actually still want on her walls? Which things didn’t belong on the wall anymore but were worth saving? Which things weren’t even worth saving, despite the fact that until yesterday she’d been perfectly willing to let them continue to occupy valuable real estate on her walls and in her head?

The things she’d only acquired because of Roy went in the last category: the poster for Wrestlemania that he’d given her when she’d said she liked Hulk Hogan’s sense of style in yellow, which she’d put up because he’d asked where it was one time even though he’d actually gone to it and she hadn’t been able to; the tickets to their prom that she’d had framed for him and had somehow ended up in her room instead of his; the sketch she’d put up because it was the first one he’d ever complimented unprompted (even if the compliment was just ‘hey, whatchya doing? Looking good, Beesly, now, are you going to go to Jimmie’s with me or not?’).

Yeah, she’d considered whether it was good enough to keep anyway and…no. Roy’s taste had been terrible in everything, except for her.

That was what she kept telling herself anyway, because she knew it was true in everything else.

He’d even liked Natty Bo more than Yuengling.

Anyway.

The insipid painting of a sunset went away, just like the others.

She did keep some things she’d done because of Roy, including the watercolor of his childhood home, which she’d caught at the golden hour and looked breathtaking, if she did say so herself. She was intensely grateful she’d been in a phase when she’d painted it when she’d been incredibly insecure about her figure painting, especially feet, so she hadn’t actually included Roy or his family. And she’d actually gotten a little carried away and added a terrace to the second floor because she thought it looked pretty, which was why she hadn’t ever given it to Roy. As a result, it didn’t look exactly like his family house, and it didn’t have him in it, and she was proud of it. So it stayed.

Also staying was their class photo from high school. Yes, if you squinted you could see Roy with his arm around her, and that wasn’t the best thing to wake up to in the world, but she had other friends back then, and she liked remembering them.

Besides, this was her childhood bedroom. It deserved to keep some childhood memories on the walls.

But most of the stuff went out, and only a little of it went in the pile to store.

Which left her a gigantic amount of white space to fill—even if her graphic design profs had insisted that you needed some white space to make contrast, she felt this was a bit too much—and not nearly enough stuff to fill it.

Which led to step two-B: if you don’t have the art, make it.

For this, though, she was going to need something to fortify herself.

Maybe some tea.

And maybe not at home.

End Notes:
And back to the coffeeshop next chapter! Thanks for reading!
Chapter 27 by Comfect
Author's Notes:
A short chapter with several ass jokes.

Pam was later getting to the coffee shop than she had anticipated, partly because the pile of things she had to move had not actually gotten substantially smaller, and partly because her mom insisted that she move more of it than she originally intended to “in case Penny came back home while you were out.” The odds of that were below nil—Penny had been texting her, and knew she was using the hallway, so she was intentionally steering clear—but trying to convince Mom of that wasn’t worth the effort when she’d have to move the stuff eventually anyway.

So it was quite late in the day by the time she peeked through the doors of The Comedy Roasters. Jim had his back to her, making someone something to drink, and she took a moment to admire the simple shape of him, the way just looking at him brought some of the tension out of her shoulders and relaxed her core. He turned around and she was gratified that she could catch the moment when he noticed her: his smile went from customer service to genuine, and she noticed a tiny motion of his hand as if to wave before he remembered he was carrying a hot beverage and stilled it.

She made her way slowly over to the counter as Jim called out the drink and was glad to see that while there were a lot of customers in the shop, for some reason none of them were actually in front of her in line.

In fact, they seemed to be queuing in one corner of the coffee shop, underneath the Eddie Izzard poster, where something was going on.

Well, she could always ask Jim about it—but before she could, he slipped out from behind the counter and approached her, grabbing her hands and pulling her back around the counter.

“Hey.” He grinned at her and she just smiled up at him.

“Hi.”

He squeezed her hands. “I’m glad you’re here.”

“Me too.” There was a beat where the two of them just looked at each other, and then each visibly startled as Michael burst out from the back.

He paid no attention to either of them, however, as he rushed past and joined the crowd underneath the Eddie Izzard sign, pushing and shoving while yelling “I’m the owner.”

“Is he wearing…” Pam couldn’t complete the sentence, but Jim was looking at the same thing and sighed.

“No. Thankfully, those are not assless chaps.” He bent down and whispered in her ear. “They’re chaps with a picture of an ass printed on them.” She giggled and he squeezed her hand, which made her realize that they were in fact still holding hands. “He had them specially printed himself, though.”

“Oh, no.” She couldn’t believe she was smiling at that, but Jim’s presence was simply too infectious, as was his excitement. Then she thought of something horrible. “Do you think that means…it’s still his ass?”

“Oh God.” Jim stared down at her in horror but she could see the twinkle that was still in the corner of his eye. “Which is worse? That Michael would take a photo of his own ass and print it on his own chaps, or that he would have pictures of someone else’s ass available to him?”

“He has internet access, though, right? That means he has access to infinite asses at any time.” Pam realized what she had just said and flinched. “Oh my god. Michael has access to infinite asses at any time. She glanced over at the crowd, which had finally parted for Michael to make his approach to whatever lay within it. “Do you think that’s Rihanna’s ass? Or maybe Beyonce’s?”

Jim nodded. “It’s probably Beyonce’s. Michael is Beyonce, always.”

End Notes:
I was not kidding in the chapter description, was I?
Chapter 28 by Comfect
Author's Notes:
Fluff and nonsense.

Pam resolved then and there never to actually find out which ass was printed on Michael’s chaps, nor why he thought that a work-appropriate choice even for a business that he himself owned and therefore could not be fired from. But it was unlikely that she would ever be in a situation to ask, since he had completely ignored her and Jim (and her technically illicit position behind the counter, not to mention their clasped hands) in order to wade into the morass that was the clump of customers in the corner under Eddie Izzard.

Pam found herself quite intrigued as to what, precisely, might be causing such a stir.

When she asked Jim, he rolled his eyes. “A purse lady.”

“A purse lady?” She raised an eyebrow at him. “Like, one of those old ladies who has a clown car for a purse, and tries to stuff an entire ham inside there at the grocery store? What does she have in there to attract that much attention, Michaelangelo’s David?”

“Uh, no…” Jim rubbed the back of his neck with the hand not still holding Pam’s. “A lady who sells purses.” He shrugged. “And before you ask, no, I do not think Michael has suddenly developed an extensive and nuanced sense of accessorized fashion. It’s....” he shrugged again. “She’s hot.”

“Oh.” Pam didn’t like the way it made her stomach feel to hear Jim say that. He must have noticed it in her voice because he squeezed her hand.

“I’m not interested in her, it’s just…look at how Michael and the other regulars are acting.” He gestured and she noticed that indeed, the shop’s mostly male clientele was all there and practically drooling. Kelly was the only one not doing so, sitting in the far corner with what might have been trying to be an unreadable expression but was clearly jealousy. That, if nothing else, convinced Pam that Jim was speaking from an objective place of knowledge and not personal attraction; if Kelly had seen this woman as anything other than a threat she’d have been sitting side by side with her chattering up a storm.

Besides, she trusted Jim. Even if she had a bad history with roving eyes, she hadn’t actually seen his rove anywhere but Michael’s ass, and since they’d both been eying that particular monstrosity she could hardly complain.

“Anyway, I’m glad you’re here.” He squeezed her hand again. “I needed someone else sane to watch the circus with me.”

“Is that the only reason you’re glad I’m here?” She tried to be more flirtatious and cute than anxious, and wasn’t sure if she succeeded.

“I mean, it’s on the list, but it’s not number one.” He grinned. “Number one, by the way, is the tea. Seriously, I got Michael to actually stock some tea and it’s pretty good. I mean, I think so at any rate. It’s not like I’m a tea aficionado like some people I know.”

“Really? That’s number one?”

He bent down and kissed her, very lightly. “It’s number one on the list I actually wrote down, because if Michael found it I didn’t want to be too embarrassed.”

She decided that that was definitely not an adequate first kiss from Jim Halpert, and dragged him down for a more proper one. Then, after an amount of time she was definitely not counting, they both straightened up and she cocked an eyebrow again.”

“You actually wrote it down?” She made a grabby hand with her free hand. “Share, share.”

He pulled out a napkin scribbled with messy handwriting. “Ask and ye shall receive.”

“Am I supposed to read this?” She elbowed him in the side. “Or prescribe it in a pharmacy?”

“Oh ye of little faith.” He held the paper up and made a great show of presenting it to be read, like it was an official proclamation or the Declaration of Independence or something. It required him to finally let go of her hand, but since it was for her entertainment she supposed she’d allow it. After all, it was impressive enough that they’d kept holding hands through the kiss—and that no one had noticed yet.

“1. Tea.” He glanced over at her. “Do you want the elaboration or just what I actually wrote down?”

“List now, elaboration…at leisure.” She grinned up at him and, realizing that since he had initiated a kiss between them she could do the same, pulled him down for one. “Possibly not at your workplace,” she added once she’d released him, but the crowd around the purse girl (poor woman) was paying them no mind.

“Beesly.” He groaned. “You’re killing me.” At her questioning look he rolled his eyes. “Every time you pay with your credit card it throws your last name up on my screen.”

“Oh, right.” She shrugged. “That makes sense.”

“Anyway…” He cleared his throat. “2. Calm.” He raised an eyebrow and she gestured for him to go on. “3. WTF Michael?”

“Ah. That’s the purse thing?”

“Actually, no.” He grimaced. “I’ll tell you later. 4. Purse.” He handed her the paper. “With four question marks after it.”

“Poor Jim.” She grinned at him. “Four question marks worth of concern. How ever did you survive?”

“Poorly.” He snuck an arm around her waist and pulled her close. “But, better now.”

End Notes:

Me to me: I can let Jim and Pam be happy? 

Chapter 29 by Comfect
Author's Notes:
Enter Dwight again.

They spent the rest of the morning people-watching from behind the counter as the mostly-male crowd surrounded the purse girl. It was, as Jim remarked to Pam, rather like going to an aquarium at feeding time, only with less blood and more pheromones.

None of the men seemed all that interested in actually buying anything, which made Pam feel bad for the purse girl. A few women did come by, and from what Pam could tell of the products they emerged with the purses seemed reasonably nice, but for the most part it was just a horde of men preening and primping, one (and thankfully only one) in ass-plus chaps.

Dwight came in about an hour into Pam’s time in the coffee shop, and made a beeline for the counter.

“You can’t be back there.” Of course, his first words were snippiness to Pam, not even engaging with Jim. “It says employees only.” He pointed at the sign hanging off the counter near where Pam was standing. His voice had a whine in it that Pam was easily able to identify as the complaint of someone who had been told off about the sign themselves more than once. In fact, she was pretty sure that sign had not been there when she’d first come into the shop: she would put money on the idea that it was actually there precisely because of Dwight K. Schrute.

“Ah, but you see, she does work here.” Jim winked at her from the side not facing Dwight and gestured to the box of tea she was standing next to—which they had conspicuously failed to open in the last hour—with an expansive hand. “She’s our new tea-taste-tester-in-chief.”

“Say that five times fast,” Pam mumbled under her breath and was rewarded with a hitch of breath from Jim that was definitely a choked laugh.

“But…” Dwight glared. “She’s not wearing a The Coffee Roasters apron!” He pointed at Jim, who was wearing exactly such an item. “How can she work here if she’s not wearing an apron?”

Jim scoffed. “Obviously, Dwight, aprons are only for cleaning and coffee-handling staff. She’s a taste-tester.”

“Aha! But a taste-tester would have to handle the coffee to taste it!” Dwight pointed at her. “J’accuse!”

She rolled her eyes and cut in before Jim could say anything. “I’m a tea-taste-tester, Dwight, not a coffee-taste-tester. I only handle tea, which comes in boxes and bags, so there’s no residue. Obviously I don’t need an apron.”

Jim beamed and did not scotch her bullshitting, much to her relief.

“Exactly. Now, if you don’t want to order anything…”

“I do!” Dwight glared but seemed willing to be distracted from his accusations, which Pam considered to mean they had won. “One Nutritious, Undeniably Tasty Beet-Activated Glass, please.”

“…Sure, Dwight, I’ll make your usual.” Jim sighed. “3.55.” Dwight handed over what was clearly a pre-counted pile of coins and marched over to the pickup spot of the counter, a few feet away. Despite that, it was clearly a march, and Pam would have bet it was to Deutschland Uber Alles as well.

“What was that?” Pam asked as soon as Dwight was plausibly out of immediate hearing range. “What are you making?”

“It’s the Schrute on Sight. He doesn’t like the name, so he’s been trying to get me to change it. He says that if we put some more advertising into the name more people will buy it, so he wants us to talk up the benefits.”

“He does realize that he spelled out nutbag, right?”

“No, I do not believe he does.”

“Where’s my N.U.T.B.A.G?” Dwight bellowed, proving Jim’s point as he pounded on the pickup counter. “Stop pal-ing around with your fellow workers and get me my N.U.T.B.A.G!”

Jim and Pam dissolved into helpless giggles as Dwight grew increasingly red in the face.

End Notes:
Soon, Dwight and the purse girl (and her name).
Chapter 30 by Comfect
Author's Notes:
Pam talks to the purse girl.

When the crowd finally thinned out enough for Pam to think it safe to make her way over towards where the purse lady was selling her wares, it was already well into the afternoon. She hadn’t actually achieved any of what she was looking for from going to the coffeeshop—well, if you looked at it from one angle, she’d been totally distracted from her renovations at home, so she supposed in a sense she’d achieved part of her goal—but she was having enough fun laughing with Jim that nothing else really mattered.

She took advantage of a momentary lull—she thought it might have been the point when the men who were supposed to be working that day realized it was actually time to head home, despite the fact that none of them had gotten any work done because they’d been in a coffeeshop all day—and slipped up to the purse seller, a slim redheaded woman with impeccable style.

The purse entrepreneur looked up warily. This was, Pam reflected, reasonable given that she was fairly certain that the only interaction she’d have had with another woman at the coffeeshop would have been with either Kelly (clearly jealous) or Angela (…Angela).

“Hi!” Pam smiled, and tried her best to put the other woman at her ease. “I’m Pam.”

“Katy.” Even the wariness in her eyes couldn’t keep the perkiness out of the other woman’s voice, and Pam immediately wondered if she had been a cheerleader—and then castigated herself for caring at all. That was a Roy thought if there ever was one, and she was doing her best to not be like Roy anymore.

“Nice to meet you! I love the purses.” Pam smiled again. “Did you make them yourself?”

Katy looked around at the remaining men who were obviously looking at the purses—handbags, really, they were quite large Pam realized—only enough to try to plausibly be exploring the wares and not the saleswoman, and shrugged. “Sort of.”

Pam did her best not to look threatening as she followed up. “Sort of?” She noticed Katy looking a bit more uncomfortable and suddenly a realization sprung into her mind fully formed like Athena from the brow of Zeus. “Did Kelly accuse you of selling knock-offs?” She lowered her voice and leaned in. “Don’t worry, she’s just afraid you’ll steal attention from her. She’s not actually going to report you to the Better Business Bureau.”

Katy let out a short exhale—which given her general state of discomfort with the conversation was probably, Pam decided, the equivalent of a cartoon character collapsing in a heap of bones and skin—and nodded. “She did.”

“Yeah, don’t worry about it.” Pam picked up the nearest bag and ran a careful eye and then a finger along the decorations. “Let me guess—hand embroidered on a provided base?”

“How did you…” Katy looked up and met her eyes for the first time, properly, and Pam realized she was so young. Not that she was actually any younger than Pam in years, necessarily; in fact, if pressed, she’d have guessed they were only about a year apart. But she was young in spirit; for all she was being pressed on all sides by only-somewhat-wanted attention in the coffeeshop (and, Pam would guess, in any number of other locations too) she hadn’t gone through quite as much as Pam had in the last few years with Roy and then with not-being-with-Roy.

She suddenly felt a need to protect that spark of…not innocence, exactly, but high spirits. Katy deserved a friendly face that wasn’t interested in getting into her pants.

She shrugged nonchalantly. “When you’re working on an art degree, sometimes they make you practice fiber arts even if you’re doing painting and graphic design.” She slid into the chair next to Katy a moment before Dwight could fill it, turning a cold shoulder to him that caused him to stare at another handbag as if that had been his intention all along. “Nice color palette, by the way. I wouldn’t have thought you could make a brown background do that much work for you.”

Katy brightened at this—Pam would have bet whatever the cost of all those handbags on the table was that this was the first legitimate interest in her actual work she’d attracted in the entire time she’d been here—and the two of them entered into a lively discussion of design principles, interrupted only minorly by any need for Katy to actually interact with her potential customers, who seemed to treat her primarily as a living diorama and not as an actual factual sales representative.

End Notes:
So the last few weeks have been crazy, but hopefully I'll have a chance to get back to semiregular updates on this at least this week! Thanks for reading and reviewing!
Chapter 31 by Comfect
Author's Notes:
Pam and Jim prank Dwight.

All good things must come to an end, and so it was with Pam’s time chatting with her new friend. Katy was awesome, she couldn’t deny, but some of the men who had been hanging around her had wives and girlfriends who had come to get them—and so it was only right to let her actually try to sell her wares for once, rather than vainly crying out about details of stitching to an otherwise unresponsive and leering audience.

To her absolute lack of surprise, Katy was good at it, turning women who’d been glaring at her from the minute they walked in into avid advocates for her workmanship (workwomanship?) within moments, with only a glad smile and a look that suggested “you and I know how men are, don’t we?”

Pam would have wondered if that was the same charm that had been turned on her, and whether she was all right with it having worked, if Jim hadn’t sidled up to her as soon as she was free of the crush and murmured “it was nice of you to go in there and make friends.”

Right.

She’d chosen this.

She’d been the one to go in and make friends.

Katy hadn’t converted her; she’d converted Katy. Or perhaps, wonder of wonders, they’d just befriended each other.

Thus buoyed by Jim, without his even knowing it, she slipped back behind the counter and watched Katy work her magic, much more aware of what was going on than she had been the first time, earlier today, when she’d slid into Jim’s space.

She didn’t miss the ugly look Dwight shot her as she once again entered the zone he could not touch, and neither did Jim.

“Want to pull a prank on him?” He grinned down at her as she glanced up.

“Absolutely I do.”

“Great. Follow my lead.” He squeezed her hand where no one could see it, under the counter, and then suddenly straightened and increased the volume of his voice, clearly pitching it so it would carry to Dwight. She’d have thought he would have to yell at her to do that, but something about his posture or his tone or something made it so that she could tell he was louder, but it didn’t feel overbearing.

Or maybe it was just Jim. She did, after all, feel safe at him, and she had a lot of experience being yelled at, so she could tell the difference right away.

“What? You didn’t buy anything?” She hadn’t, but only because Katy’s bags were not designed to hold a laptop, unlike her current ‘purse,’ and she never went anywhere without the device anymore. But why was Jim making a point out of it? She glanced up and he winked from the side of his face not facing Dwight.

“No, I didn’t.” She sighed, theatrically. “I wish I could have.”

“I know, right?” It was amazing how he managed to enunciate so clearly that she was sure Dwight could hear every word without making it obvious he was putting any effort into it. Maybe it was the debate team experience. “It’s such a shame that no one else realized they were manbags instead of lady’s purses.”

She caught on immediately and slumped, putting her chin in her hands on the counter. “It really is. I thought all those men realized it, but they didn’t buy anything. Apparently no one is smart enough to recognize cutting edge fashion when they see it except me.”

“Well, Beesly, that’s because you’re special.” The side of his mouth quirked up and she knew he was saying that for her more than Dwight. “But…” here he raised his eyebrows “she must be so disappointed that no men have been willing to take the plunge on such a modern and forward-thinking fashion scheme. I hear it’s all the rage now, but you know Scranton men…”

She realized that he didn’t know Katy’s name. “That’s right. Katy is just so disappointed in all the Scranton men who don’t understand.”

Jim sighed theatrically. “If only I hadn’t bought my own designer bag yesterday online. I would have loved to be an early adopter of Katy’s work.” He shook his head. “But you know, once you’re a Yves St. Laurent guy” Pam had no idea if that was the correct French pronunciation, but she was proud of him for trying, “you sink so much money into it that you just can’t take advantage of the opportunities in front of you.”

“So sad, Jim.” She shook her head too. “If only you’d known there was a more fashionable, yet somehow more affordable option coming to your own coffeeshop the very next day.”

“Oh well.” He managed to look relieved and chastened at the same time—maybe he had been a theater minor as well—and shrugged. “At least I know there’s no one here who’s brave enough to upstage me.”

“MAKE ROOM YOU IDIOTS!” Dwight at last took the bait, plunging into the midst of the horde again and shoving people out of the way unceremoniously.

Pam and Jim dissolved into giggles and Pam decided right then and there that they owed Katy at least dinner for having imposed Dwight on her.

But it was totally worth it.

End Notes:
Next: the end of the Katy arc (not that she will disappear forever, but the end of this bit of it at any rate).
Chapter 32 by Comfect
Author's Notes:
A specific date is arranged.

Dwight’s manpurse was very becoming, Pam had to admit. Or rather, it would be if Dwight’s entire aesthetic aside from the very attractive bag were not so decidedly opposite to the purse itself. It was like watching a vampire try to put on makeup in a mirror: no matter how ethereally beautiful the subject, and no matter how transcendentally perfect the makeup, nothing good was going to come out of it because they simply did not work together.

She made small talk with Jim behind the counter while they both suppressed the urge to tell Dwight this, instead making sure to loudly compliment the purse itself whenever conversation lagged. She thought this was helping, in that Katy’s sales actually picked up quite a bit after Dwight broke the ice: though whether that was due to their enthusiasm or the fact that the later afternoon clientele had more women in it (and more intelligent men) was open for debate.

As the hours turned and turned she became aware that she did actually have to get home so she could finish that bedroom. She definitely had the inspiration that she needed in not just the person of Jim but the realization that she did indeed have an ongoing life after Roy, boyfriend aside (but also boyfriend very much not aside because she had a boyfriend now and it was Jim).

But she didn’t actually want to leave Jim’s side.

This was a conundrum.

Fortunately it was a conundrum Jim was uniquely qualified and motivated to solve, as he casually (oh so casually, so casually that Pam suspected very much that it was not casual at all) suggested that his shift was over at six—“Michael likes the late crowd, the sort of people who drink caffeine until midnight, so that’s all him”—and perhaps Pam might be willing to meet him somewhere for dinner? Perhaps Italian, maybe…Cugino’s? If she wanted to?

She wanted to.

“Great, then it’s a date.” He rapped the part of the counter that could swing up like a gate for emphasis.

“It really is, isn’t it?” She thought she’d thought that but apparently she’d said it out loud because Jim grinned at her. He was terrible for her brain to mouth filter, but she didn’t mind all that much, she decided.

“I know, right? I feel like I oughta pinch myself.” He did so, then shook his head. “Nope, still not dreaming.”

“Are you sure? This could be one of those dreams where there are bedbugs or something biting you, so you feel the pinch but it’s not really a pinch.” She tsked at him, mock-serious. “Jim, I could be one of those Inception people. I could be incepting you right now. Maybe this dream is all so that you’ll show me where the hidden secrets of good Italian cooking in Scranton are, and once we get to Cugino’s poof. You’ll wake up wondering whether you’ve truly ever met me in real life at all.”

Jim shook his head. “No, that can’t be it, because I’m incepting you right now. I needed to know the best kind of tea in the Bigelow starter pack, and there really was no better way to do it than to sneak into your dreams and pretend to be a coffeeshop employee for several weeks.”

“Ah, that explains it.”

“What?”

“Why my heart keeps racing like a top that won’t stop spinning whenever you’re around. It’s your totem.” She covered her face in her hands. “Oh my god, now I know it’s definitely not a dream, I would never imagine I could say something as embarrassingly corny as that.”

“Hey, hey.” He put his arms around her. “It wasn’t embarrassingly corny.” She could somehow feel him smirking through his chest even though she couldn’t see his face. “Corny, yes, but not embarrassingly so, since we’re going on a date in twenty minutes.”

“Twenty minutes?” She twisted in his arms and looked up at the clock. “Jim! You expect me to be ready for our date in twenty minutes?”

“Why not?”

“Because…because…because I’m wearing this dumpy pink cardigan and my hair is all askew and…”

“And you look lovelier than a handbag.” He leaned down and kissed her, quickly, on the lips. “And I happen to like that pink cardigan. But if you want to put our date off…”

“No. You are not getting out of it that easily, mister.” She pushed at him and he rolled his eyes but stepped away. “But I am going to freshen up in that bathroom now, “ she pointed, “and I will meet you at Cugino’s after your shift.”

“It’s a date.”

“Yes, you said that already.” She rolled her eyes at him but couldn’t help smiling.

He couldn’t help smiling too, apparently. “It seemed important to repeat.”

“Dork.”

End Notes:
So no actual Katy in it, but that's the end of their time in the coffeeshop with her (she might reappear later, if I remember to do that). Thanks for reading!
Chapter 33 by Comfect
Author's Notes:
A first date

Cugino’s was…well, Cugino’s was Jim’s favorite restaurant, actually. It wasn’t an accident that he’d suggested it for his and Pam’s first date (first date. They were actually dating. Him and Pam!) because he knew two things about Cugino’s: one, he was going to enjoy whatever it was he ordered, and two, if a girl he was dating didn’t actually want anything on the Cugino’s menu they were not going to have a good time.

Not that he had any actual concerns in that regard. He’d been doing his best to watch Pam without being creepy about watching Pam, and he flattered himself he’d done a pretty good job of it, and there was absolutely no question in his mind that she was the sort of person who would have the opposite problem at Cugino’s, if anything. He’d been having that problem himself for years (not years of dates—that had actually been fairly rare—but years of not stopping himself from going to a good restaurant just because he didn’t have a date). He would look at the menu and he’d just freeze. What should he have? The calzone was amazing. The lasagna was better than his mom’s, and that wasn’t his opinion, that was his mom’s opinion (and a large part of why she had stopped making lasagna at home and just dragged them all out to Cugino’s whenever she felt a craving). The meatball sub was in and of itself a justification for being a carnivore.

It was, in short, the sort of place where Jim could not decide on what to eat.

Today, as it turned out, he did not have that problem.

The reason for this was currently sitting across from him, with her own menu flat on the table and her hands moving rapidly as she described a particular piece of art that she’d seen in the Everhart Museum a few months ago.

“But you don’t understand, Jim,” she said, leaning forward with enthusiasm. “The use of purple.” She sighed. “Just…I could never use that much purple—the hat, and the shirt, and the way there are even purple highlights around the eyes—but I want to use that much purple, and she just did it.”

“I know what you mean.” He actually did. His sister Larissa had grown up completely obsessed with dinosaurs—like, there was still a quilt that his grandmother had sewn on Larissa’s childhood bed decorated with the ‘Larissasaurus’ that she’d insisted for years she truly was underneath—and so she’d dragged the family to see the full-scale Stegosaurus fossil cast at the Everhart just about every other weekend. As a self-defense mechanism he’d started getting into the other permanent collections at the Everhart, so he knew exactly what painting Pam was referring to, even though she didn’t seem to realize that she had quite as interested an audience as she did. “Garrett’s work is amazing.”

“Wait, you know the painting already? Why did you let me describe it to you in such detail?” Pam covered her face and he was pretty sure she was mumbling something about disasters and catastrophes.

He reached out instinctively and pulled her hands away from her face, not letting go when he had her hand against the table again. “I know the painting, but I don’t see the painting the way you do.” He squeezed her hand and she squeezed back, which he took to be a good sign. “I saw the lady, and the alcohol, and the cigarette, but I didn’t see the composition you explained to me. I noticed that I couldn’t see the other person’s face, but I didn’t ask why not. It’s much more interesting when I hear you talk about it than when I just remember it myself.” He gestured with the hand not holding hers. “It’s called Tête-à-Tête, right?”

“Right.” Pam seemed to have calmed down a little, and her hand was still in his.

“So, I mean, we…this is kind of one of those too, right?” Why did his face decide today was the day to start a program of blushing? “Uh…I mean, if you ignore all the other tables.” They were in one of the little two-person round-tops by the window, actually, so it was pretty easy to look out to the street and ignore the busy restaurant behind them. “So…composition me. Tell me how you’d paint this.”

“Well.” Pam looked him up and down and quirked an eyebrow. “I don’t think I’d chose to paint you in that.” He looked down and realized that there was a coffee stain right on the center of his shirt. Pam had tidied up for their date but he hadn’t, a decision he was regretting strongly just now.

“So the shirt has to go?”

“Definitely.” She flushed but kept on going. “Uh…I think you have a green one though, that would go well with the lighting here.”

She’d noticed what shirts he wore?

“And…I think you’d have to move over here, actually.” She gestured a little to the left. “So that I could get the window curtains and the shape of the seat just at the edge of the canvas.”

He obligingly scooted over.

“Great.” She grabbed his hand again as soon as he was done moving. “Now we aren’t drinking or smoking, so we’d need something to draw the eye to the table.” She squeezed. “But I think we’ve done a good enough job of that, don’t you?”

God, he was a total goner for this woman. But then again, he’d been one since she’d first walked into the shop and opened her mouth. “I don’t know. You have another hand.”

“I need that to paint, Jim.” She stuck out her tongue and if he’d thought he’d been in love before, what words did he have left for what he was now that he’d seen her like this. “Anyway, the key part is the red.” She pointed at the menus on the table, which were indeed red—not that he’d ever thought about the color of Cugino’s menus before. “I’d want to make sure that was clearly associated with you, so I’d probably put your free hand on one.”

“Why is that?”

She shook her head. “Jim, aren’t you the one who told me you’re a Marxist? How else are they going to know?”

He couldn’t help laughing—no, he had to be honest with himself, giggling, like a giddy schoolgirl or a dog in Duck Hunt—and they were both still like that when the waiter finally came to take their order.

End Notes:
Thanks for reading! The painting she's talking about is indeed called Tête-à-tête, and by Priscilla Longshore Garrett, and you can find it on the Everhart Museum website.
Chapter 34 by Comfect
Author's Notes:
Pam's POV on The Date

It was a good first date.

Pam didn’t usually say things like that, even in her head. Not that she’d been on a lot of dates recently, or really at all. She’d been swept off her feet at sixteen by a high school football player (the star linebacker, in point of fact) actually stopping by her locker and aw-shucksing his way into asking her out, and asking her about the picture she’d had tacked up inside the door. She’d later found out that he’d asked because he was afraid the guy in the picture was already her boyfriend, not because he’d liked the picture—which was doubly insulting because it was her grandfather and she hadn’t made him look that young. But at the time she’d been charmed and flattered and all the other things girls were when Roy Anderson flashed his dimples at them and had shaved specially for the occasion.

She’d gone on dates then, of course. That was what dating couples did in high school, and they’d been going steady (as she put it) and hanging out pretty often (as Roy did) throughout. He’d even brought her flowers a couple of times unasked, and not just for prom either. They’d gone on dates and he’d picked her up in his car and he’d even taken her to the museum a couple of times because he knew she’d like that. He’d spent the whole time looking around for dirty art—the first time in the whole museum and the second time in a special Georgia O’Keefe exhibit because ‘he’d heard she did naughty drawings, and you like that kind of painting anyway, right Pammy?’—but the thought counted, right? Or at least the thought-adjacent-thing.

And she did like Georgia O’Keefe, so there.

But after they’d kept dating into college, the dates had gotten fewer, and when they’d moved in together they’d basically stopped altogether, unless you counted Sunday Night Football and boxed mac’n’cheese every week as ‘their special time together’ as she’d been somewhat horrified to find Roy did when they were yelling at each other during the breakup.

And after Roy there really hadn’t been anyone, except a few really bad blind dates. The worst had been with the cousin an acquaintance of her mothers’. Mrs. Bernard was a perfectly nice woman, but her cousin (her husband’s cousin, she’d insisted, and Pam had only paid attention to that detail too late) had been the kind of man who somehow thought that the college he’d gone to was the most important and interesting thing about him.

She had met the kind of guy who peaked in college, but at least they’d mostly thought that what they’d done in college had been the key. Call-me-Andy Bernard had just thought that saying the word “Cornell” would be the key to unlocking her heart. “It’s in the Ivy League” indeed.

At least if he’d said “Brown” that would have been a color, and she was an artist, so maybe they could have made something out of that.

But whatever they would have made would not have been a Rainbow Connection, no matter how he’d serenaded her with that dreadful song. At least he hadn’t gone into Pig Latin (that would have had her looking around for the candid camera) though he had messed up the lyrics once badly enough that she’d been afraid he was going to.

So she’d packed him back up north to his Ivy League cow college and thanked her lucky stars that she was perfectly fine being single. Really. Totally. Completely.

She’d gotten, in fact, to the point where she’d almost forgotten about it, because she was trying so hard to convince herself she hadn’t actually gone on any dates since Roy. It was better to let herself imagine Roy had ruined dating for her than to remember how much of a trainwreck she’d made.

But now she didn’t have to do that. She could think about dating after Roy without cringing because she’d actually found someone she liked who liked her back and shared mutual interests without being creepily into her (there was another blind date to forget with a guy who’d clearly Facebook-stalked her really badly because he’d kept coming up with nonsequitur reasons to mention the late 90s bands she’d still been into when she’d made her page. The fact that she’d just not updated her  “Favorite Music” since 2006 hadn’t discouraged him, as he’d just moved on to her “Favorite Quotes”—which unfortunately for him were not only equally old but put up by Roy and not her due to a laptop mixup she’d never corrected because it struck her as romantic then and funny now).

No, the date with Jim was just..good. No, not just good. Excellent. Top drawer.

And better yet, he seemed to think so too.

It was really a shame that her mother had to interrupt that by calling. With her voice. Like some kind of Boomer (though, to be fair…she was).

That sort of thing ought to be reserved for emergencies and extended car warranties, she told Jim in a sad voice after hanging up with her mom, and she felt a little warm glow of happiness when he laughed and agreed.

But unfortunately her mom had gotten it into her head that she needed the stuff out of the hallway for some reason (which Pam had completely forgotten about) so she needed Pam to come back and finish with her room. She was shocked to realize it was only 7:30—a date starting at 6 had a way of leaving the night free—and she was genuinely sad when she had to tell Jim her mother wanted her home.

He cracked a curfew joke, as she’d known he would, and to her relief had asked when he could see her again.

She’d been so afraid she’d botched it (or her mother had) that she just blurted out “anytime. Literally anytime” and then hid her head in her hands.

“I’ll hold you to that, Beesly.”

The next thing she knew, she was being kissed.

It was a pretty good way to end the night, even if it was super early.

End Notes:
Don't worry--more fluff to follow.
Chapter 35 by Comfect
Author's Notes:
Pam gets to work in her room.

The next day Pam was actually able to be productive by her mother’s and the world’s standards and not just hers. For herself, of course, the day before had been more than productive: it had been startlingly, amazingly full of wonderful discoveries she never thought actually possible. She had a boyfriend again! One she liked, and more importantly, one that seemed to like the real, authentic her. If there was one regret she had from her time with Roy (and there was more than one regret that she had from her time with Roy) it was that she had been a somewhat inauthentic version of herself from the beginning with him, and had never been able to change back into Pam-herself.

It was, she supposed while musing about her communist-inclined new boyfriend when she was supposed to be finishing up the touchups on the walls of her room where the first coat had been too light (to be fair, she was doing that—it just takes time for paint to dry, Mom), a kind of false consciousness that had led her to believe Roy was interested in her as herself and only discover later that she had been sending him signals that indicated she was other than what she truly was. She didn’t blame Roy for that (there was plenty of additional blame to go on him without adding things he didn’t deserve on top). But she had become aware over the years—some before they exploded and a little after—that she had been playing the role of artsy-fartsy girlfriend to the football player and not recognizing the true circumstances: that she was not artsy-fartsy, with its implications of performative insincerity and self-deprecating irony, but just fucking artsy, thank you very much. And that if her boyfriend/fiancé/holy-shit-almost-husband couldn’t deal with that, if he needed her to hide it under the guise of irony and inferiority, she was not going to stand for it.

To be fair, again (and she was going to be fair about this if it killed her), she had bought into it for a long time too: hence the false consciousness. She had been oblivious to the myriad ways in which not only Roy but Pam herself denigrated her interests, and she had had the false ideal that it was a good thing in and of itself to be dating someone popular and macho.

She knew better now—not just that she knew that she did not want that, and that in fact the work Roy put in to staying popular and macho was a lot of what drove them apart but also that she now could recognize the ways in which past-Pam also did not want that, but was incapable of expressing or even fully thinking it.

So it was a breath of fresh air to remember that her current boyfriend (her current boyfriend) was not that kind of guy at all. That he probably did have his own image of what Pam was like (all people had images of what the people they knew were like, she had one of him too) but that image was both less falsified than what she’d presented to Roy and—crucially—not her fucking problem.

Apparently today was a day for swears. In her head, anyway—with her mom hovering around the corner she wasn’t going to do it out loud except (as now) when she dripped paint in her eye.

Ouch.

Fuck.

Anyway, she thought as she scrubbed at her face in the bathroom and then donned the safety goggles she hadn’t bothered to put on before, she had a boyfriend.

That was good.

And he had already texted her that morning (a picture of Dwight angrily pounding away at a giant typewriter at one of the chairs in the café, along with the caption “why won’t it upload my files?”) and she had texted back and it had not been a complete disaster.

So things were going well in Pamland. She finished up the last touches and threw herself down the stairs to the kitchen table, where she had rolled out a big piece of butcher paper (one of the great things about moving home had been that she’d found a bunch of art supplies from when she was a kid that had just been sitting there unused, including more than one roll of butcher paper that her father had shrugged and said was on sale when she was twelve). She had already sketched out her room walls before going to paint, and now she sat there, pencil in her mouth, thinking about how to arrange the pieces of art she had chosen to keep along the walls.

“Remember the furniture,” Penny had texted when she’d mentioned she was doing this (texting her sister being a favorite method of procrastination). “Don’t put art behind your bookcases.”

It was good advice, so she carefully layered in the various bookshelves, the bed, the chairs.

Huh. She had more wallspace left than she thought.

She took a picture of the butcher paper and texted it to Jim.

It turns out my bedroom’s bigger than I thought it was!

A moment later a reply came back.

Beesly, is that an invitation?

She giggled.

Do you want it to be?

Instantly: you’re killing m ehere! I’m stuck at work until Michael gest back from break

She liked the typos.

That’s OK. She smiled to herself. There’s wet paint on the walls anyway.

But soon, she knew, there wouldn’t be. And she had to think: when exactly would she invite that new boyfriend of hers over to…see the big walls?

End Notes:
Thanks for reading! Sorry for the irregular updates!
Chapter 36 by Comfect
Author's Notes:
Pam visits the shop again.

 The next time Pam ventured into the Comedy Roasters, she was disappointed not to see Jim there. It had been all she could do to make sure her mom didn’t come with her (she had been dropping hints all morning about how she could really benefit from some caffeine, and also from meeting this boy who was making her daughter smile so much, but Pam had finally been able to pawn her off with the excuse that she would really like her mother to meet Jim in a neutral territory, so to speak). So it seemed fundamentally unfair that after all that work Jim wasn’t even there.

Yes, Michael was entertaining in his own sweet way as he did his best to imply that Jim had confided in him with waggling eyebrows and a wide grin. And the tea was delicious, now that she actually had time to sit and drink it: yes, it was mostly a basic set of options she could have bought for herself at any half-decent grocery store, but there was something oddly luxurious in letting someone else prepare it for her, even if that someone else wasn’t Jim. Tea tasted better when it wasn’t drunk in stolen moments after a quick microwave.

Maybe the British people she’d seen online were less wrong than she’d thought when they said tea shouldn’t be made in the microwave. Though to be fair, they probably also wouldn’t have approved of the spigot off of the old-school coffee machine that Michael had installed next to the brand new espresso makers.

“Some of our clients are old-school,” he explained when Pam expressed a question as to why the two-burner diner-style clunker was taking up space. “They really prefer the orange handle for the decaf and the black for the real stuff, if you know what I mean.” Pam was fortunately quite inured from Jim’s descriptions and her prior experience to Michael’s desire to make even the least reasonable things an innuendo, so she just rolled with it. It was actually kind of endearing, if you thought about it from the right angle. Michael really did want everyone to get what they needed out of the coffeeshop, even if it was completely duplicative of what he already had.

“And here’s one of them now!” Michael grinned and bounced up and down like a little kid waving—it was nice to see he didn’t just do that to perform for her—and Pam turned around to see a smiling older woman and what Pam judged to be her husband making their way to the front counter.

“Michael!” The man stuck out a hand. “How’re the GEs treating you?” He pumped Michael’s arm enthusiastically. “Cold and tight, I’m guessing?”

“That’s what she said!” Michael was a little too excited to say that, given the sentence he was replying to, but Pam wasn’t going to be the one to point it out.

“Hi, I’m Phyllis Vance.” The lady was still smiling. It seemed infectious, so Pam smiled back.

“Pam Beesly.” She nodded at the man who was now slapping Michael quite hard on the back while talking about energy efficient refrigeration. “Your husband?”

“Oh yes. My little Bobby.” Apparently saying his name drew his attention, and Pam was quickly introduced properly to “Bob Vance, Vance Refrigeration,” before he eventually turned his attention back to talking shop with Michael. Evidently he’d supplied the fridge at the front where the milk and other creamers were kept, as well as the ones in the back for keeping supplies cold. “Michael here bought the top of the line,” he added, “though I still think for your space, maybe the Samsung…anyway.” He shook Pam’s hand again, almost absent-mindedly. “Nice to meet you. If you ever need a fridge, you tell ‘em Bob Vance sent you.”

He laughed a little too much for that, and Phyllis took pity on Pam and explained. “My Bobby handles all the new accounts himself, so you’d be telling him he sent you himself.”

“Oh.” Pam laughed as the penny dropped. “I’ll make sure I do. What was the name of your company again?”

“Vance Refrigeration. Bob Vance.” And with that, apparently, Bob Vance, Vance Refrigeration was out of conversation about anything except fridges themselves, which he mercifully turned on Michael instead of Pam.

“Phyllis!” Whatever awkwardness might have ensued between Pam and Phyllis was dispelled by the arrival of the person she was most looking forward to seeing in the world. “How’s my second-favorite customer?”

End Notes:
I am not dead! Thanks for reading!
Chapter 37 by Comfect
Author's Notes:
Pam talks with Phyllis while thinking of other things.

The amazing thing about Jim, Pam thought as she watched him work, nicely ensconced at the nearest table to the cash register with her new friend Phyllis, was that he didn’t ruin anything when he showed up.

She knew that was a low bar. If anything, it was a limbo stick, and someone who could slither under it deserved to be not just not dated but ignored. And yet Roy Anderson had frogboiled her into accepting it, turning up his misbehavior by degrees as he checked out of their relationship in such a way as to make her start doubting her own instinctive understanding of how people worked. He had slowly disassociated her from the part of her that liked meeting new people for instance. She had forgotten how nice it could be to just sit and chat with someone you hadn’t met before but got along with—like Phyllis Vance, who reminded her of her great-aunt Bertha, who had been one number short of a cuckoo clock but an absolute darling, and who was currently describing her beloved Bobby’s refrigeration business to Pam for the third time in half an hour.

Not that Phyllis was as loopy as Aunt Bertha. Rather, she seemed genuinely so adoring of Bob Vance, Vance Refrigeration (currently performing an impromptu check on the minifridge in Michael’s office—a space Pam hadn’t known existed until today—because Michael said it ‘kept making noise’) that she was simply incapable of carrying on a conversation for more than fifteen or so minutes without looping it back around to him.

Pam understood. Had she been in control of their direction she had no doubt that she would have looped back to Jim just as much.

He was just...well, he wasn’t perfect. “Nobody’s perfect,” they said at the end of her mom’s favorite movie, Some Like It Hot, and Pam believed it—even if she doubted that Jim was masquerading as a gender he didn’t identify as—so she was certain that there were flaws and warts in Jim just like in any other real human. But he was better than perfect; perfect was a circle, all untouchable surface, while Jim was a puzzle piece with weird, squiggly edges that nestled right up against her own weird squiggles in companionable union.

It was good that Phyllis was going on again about freon shipments, because Pam needed something cool to think about instead of the implications of that image.

She had been a little worried for a half-second or so after Jim had shown up that he would say or do something to make the Vances not like her or her not like the Vances anymore, but he’d apparently known Phyllis since before she was a Vance (the way he called her “Ms. Lapin” suggested maybe a schoolteacher, though she was currently waffling between that and the neighbor next door) and had cheerfully made her her favorite drink on the house—with Michael’s enthusiastic agreement—before doing the same for Pam and letting them wander over to the table to start drinking them.

Pam was still wondering where he’d gotten the liquor for the old-fashioned in front of Phyllis, but what she didn’t know wouldn’t hurt her she supposed, and she was very determinedly ignoring the lack of liquor license on the wall.

It was Michael’s problem anyway.

That was the thing about Jim—he seemed not just to have a life outside of her (Roy had had that in spades—no pun intended, though he had played a weekly game of spades for high stakes with his buddies once Lonny had decided poker was “too basic” because you could watch it on cable now) but also a space for her in that life, already waiting. Meet old friends of his? She’d find herself sitting down with them across a cafe table. Compare favorite musical artists? He’d find a remix of their two favorites playing together already on his phone (though a small part of her had thought that he’d picked Tony Bennett just to match with her preference for Lady Gaga, the way he’d then started a random shuffle of other Tony Bennett songs had convinced her otherwise).

Basically, whatever they did they seemed to do unconsciously in concert, and it was amazing.

She sipped her tea—see, he really was amazing, he’d gotten her tea after all this time—and pretended to listen to round four of “Bobby Vance realizes there’s a gap in the Scranton cold food market.”

As long as she could watch Jim working, she’d stay there all day.

End Notes:
Thank you for reading! I switched laptops and so lost the thread of the story here, but now I should be up and running again!
Chapter 38 by Comfect
Author's Notes:
Pam decorates.

It had been a mistake to stay at The Comedy Roasters all day, Pam admitted to herself as she felt her eyes cross again with exhaustion. But as she looked back on it, she couldn’t actually regret a single moment of it. Yes, she had come home only just before dinner (thank goodness she was still living with Mom and Dad—the thought of making dinner for herself after dragging herself home would have been a killer, and Jim unfortunately had already had plans to hit the gym with his roommate, Mark) and so she was only now, in the dark of night, finally affixing new paintings to her walls. And yes, it was probably a little bit dangerous and definitely a lot bit annoying to have to figure out a level, properly tack on the Command strips, and hoist her art above her head (why had her parents bought a house with such high ceilings? Who had made a house with such high ceilings, and why?). But would she change any of that for having spent less time with Jim today?

No, no she would not.

Not even though she had really not had that many chances to hang out with Jim during the day. The Comedy Roasters had been fairly slammed—oddly enough, Michael’s extremely weird approach to marketing, mostly consisting of chatting up random strangers in the bars that lined the street and talking up his shop, seemed to be working—and Jim was much (much) better at running both the cash register and the espresso machine than Michael, so he’d been the one manning the front the whole time. But since she’d decided that she rather liked watching him in his element, that hadn’t really been a problem—and the fact that he kept slipping her new tea throughout the day had managed to keep her spirits up and her self awake.

In fact, she was probably awake right now only because most of the tea had been caffeinated.

On an impulse, she pulled out her phone and texted him.

Nice work today

She decided that felt too much like she was something like his boss—god forbid she should ever be Michael, nice as he might be sometimes—and tacked on another message.

Nice ass too

Was that too forward? No, they were dating, it was fine, she told herself.

Oh God. Was it too Michael? Had that actually separated her from him at all?

She didn’t want the answer to that question.

Thanks for the tea

Ugh, that was so lame. So lame. But it was also...probably not something Michael would text? So that was probably a bonus?

Thankfully for her insane and crippling bout of self-doubt, Jim apparently had his phone on him.

Thanks Beesly

She smiled down at the phone. What was it about Jim calling her by her last name that made her so happy? She almost didn’t want to know, out of fear that it would evaporate or somehow curdle with knowledge. But whatever it was, she appreciated it in the moment—and her therapist did always tell her to live in the moment.

How’s it hanging?

Seriously, you said you were hanging pictures, I need an update

Her smile at the phone turned into a full-fledged grin. He was so dorky and he was all hers. It was a pretty good feeling.

She shot a couple photos of the art she had managed to get up. It was all stuff from her younger days, still—she wasn’t up to new watercolors or oils yet, but there was at least some stuff from before Roy that she hadn’t put up before because he hadn’t liked it. Mostly Rothko-style big blocky colors, because he’d never seen the point in them, even though she was proud of the work she had done to get them just right. One of them looked like sunrise over the water to her, even though it was just big splotches of red and blue and yellow, and she had put it right at the foot of her bed so she could look at it every morning.

That was the one she sent to Jim.

Sweet

She was deeply afraid for a moment that that was all she’d get from him—like when Roy had told her her art was the prettiest of all the arts and thought that was a good enough compliment to get him laid—and almost put the phone down before it buzzed in her hand again.

Tell me, did you steal that Rothko from MOMA on your last trip to NYC?

Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone

As long as you tell me how you did it

And let me in on the next heist. Gotta stick it to the man, you know. Art belongs to the people!

Seriously, it’s good

She let her breath out in a whoosh. He was a serial texter, and a goof but at least he wasn’t a complete Roy. And after all, he was her goof.

End Notes:
Did I expect to spend this much time not in the coffee shop in my coffee shop AU? No. Do I regret it? Also no.
Chapter 39 by Comfect
Author's Notes:
Pam gets an unexpected commission.

Pam wasn’t sure exactly what she had expected to result from texting Jim her art. Well, she knew one thing: she had been hoping, in some small part of her that was still only hoping and not simply believing, that he would reveal yet another way in which he was not Roy Anderson. Not that she wanted to keep thinking of him and Roy in the same sentence, or even the same brain, but it was kind of inevitable when you had had a grand total of two (2, dos, deux, due, shtayim) relationships of more than one meal’s duration in your life that you would end up comparing them.

And honestly, it wasn’t about Jim, or Roy, that she didn’t want to keep comparing them. After all, Jim was inevitably going to win those comparisons, or if he didn’t she was going to run screaming into the Lackawanna River and let it pull her into the Susequehanna. But for herself, for fancy new Pamela Morgan Beesly, she needed to stop it. Because she wasn’t Pamela Anderson. She wasn’t Roy’s in any way, shape, or form anymore. But every time he popped into her head as a comparison, she was, in a little tiny fundamentally distressing way, pulled back into that mental state.

So no, she hadn’t really sent the text of the photo as a test. She’d had a brief moment of panic when he’d just said Sweet, but that hadn’t been the reason for the photo in the first place. No, she’d just...wanted to share something of herself with him. Because she felt like they were connected already, somehow, in most of the ways that mattered, and she wanted to make sure it was all the ways that mattered—at a sane healthy pace, of course. No breakneck rush to marriage like she’d heard Kelly nattering on about to Jim a few weeks ago (apparently there was this dreamy guy named...Riley? Ryker? Ryan? that was also a customer and that she was obsessed with). Just...a normal, healthy, connected relationship.

And he’d passed that test, if you could call it a test, with flying colors. She’d fallen asleep with a smile on her face and a pseudo-Rothko on her wall and life was good.

It was a few days until she could actually get back to the coffeeshop, which made her unhappy because she’d been there most days for a while now. But Mom needed something and then Dad needed something (rare and therefore urgent) and then even Penny needed something (even rarer, and therefore all the more urgent) and before she knew it it had been three days. Not that she was suffering actual caffeine withdrawal or anything—honestly, given Penny’s insistence on teaching Mom how to use the espresso machine she’d bought them last Christmas, she was probably over-caffeinated, if anything—but whatever the equivalent was of Jim, she was that.

She supposed she was missing him, though that didn’t seem like nearly strong enough language for it. Perhaps if she’d gone into writing as her fine art instead of painting, she would have found the words. Something poetic. Something witty. Something more than texting Jim “miss you” alternating with “I miss you” three times a day (she still wasn’t entirely sure what kind of texter she was—what kind of texters they were—so she couldn’t decide on the use of I). But since she hadn’t, she didn’t, and she had to confine herself to those plaintive texts.

Which, thankfully, he did.

Every time.

Still, she missed him a lot, and it was with grave disappointment that she once again realized that it was Michael, not Jim, at the counter of The Comedy Roasters when she finally made her way back again after three long days of family time.

She was so disappointed—or maybe just so used to Michael blathering on—that she didn’t actually register the words he was saying to her until he was about halfway through.

“...and hang it on the wall of our shop!” He gestured emphatically towards the place where Eddie Murphy stood facing George Carlin on the opposite wall. “You know, we’ve had complaints from customers that we need more ‘upscale art’,” he made finger quotes around the word, “and I’ve had to stop myself from giving them the old heave-ho, the Oklahoma Hayride, the riding out of town on a rail,” he acted these out in turn, inaccurately to Pam’s best knowledge “because the customer is always right, you know, except when they’re not. And they were not. Can you believe they wanted Mr. Izzard here to close his shirt?” He gestured to where “Eddie Izzard: Live at Madison Square Garden” showed an ample amount of chest and sighed.

Then he brightened as he seemed to remember what he was talking about—which was a relief to Pam, as she definitely didn’t.

“So anyway, I heard you and Jimbonicus talking about how you do, you know, the whole artsy thing,” he gestured wildly again and Pam’s heart sank “and I was all like ‘Jim, you gotta show me if you have any of her stuff, maybe the punters—you know, that’s what Mr. Izzard calls them, punters, because British and all—” he giggled inexplicably “maybe the punters will like that better. And then he showed me this piece you did, with the red and blue and the yellow, and I was like boom, gotta have it, gotta put it right up there.”

Here he interrupted himself by jabbing his finger a little too hard up next to the Eddie Murphy wall-hanging, causing it to teeter dangerously, and Pam realized for the first time that these weren’t actually painted or stuck onto the wall but just...sort of laid onto it, like Michael had forgotten the existence of tape. She wondered how they’d stayed up all this time—or whether Jim was just constantly putting them back up each night.

After putting “Mr. Murphy” back up on the wall, Michael turned around and beamed at her again.

“So what do you say? We’ll pay you, of course, for the use of the art. And it would be nice to have something a friend painted to brighten up the place.” He stuck a hand out. “Is it a deal?”

Pam didn’t know what she’d expected when she’d texted Jim her picture, but it definitely wasn’t this.

Still, she wasn’t stupid, either. She stuck her hand out and shook Michael’s enthusiastically. “It’s a deal.”

End Notes:
This story still exists! I'm not going to make any extravagant promises about actually remembering to update, but at least I got this one up. Thanks to anyone still reading--or anyone new who decides to pick this one up.
Chapter 40 by Comfect
Author's Notes:
Pam and Katy talk.

It took Pam a lot less time than she’d expected it to to get a piece of art that she and Michael agreed about up on the wall of The Comedy Roasters. In fact, it actually took more time for them to agree on a price for that piece of artwork, because Michael insisted on paying her more than she believed it was worth. In fact, his initial offer was so high that she speculated out loud when she finally got lunch with Katy that he was spending more on one piece of art than she’d spent at his coffeeshop the entire time she’d been going there—even though she’d been meticulous about not letting Jim comp her too many drinks now that they were dating.

“So?” Katy raised an immaculate eyebrow (seriously, Pam thought, it was like she had an entire wardrobe and makeup department for a TV show putting her together in the morning) and then jammed her whole deep-fried burger into her face.

Pam knew that she was right. She and Katy had started meeting up for lunches at the aptly named Coney Island Lunch, first because Katy had (to Pam’s surprise) suggested it, and then because it had quickly become tradition. So she knew by now that Katy’s view of the art business was very direct: take what people would pay you for your art—in her case, handbags, in Pam’s, painting—add 10% for the fact that they didn’t really understand what you were doing, add another 10% because the buyers were trying to get themselves what they thought was a good deal and you should negotiate, and go from there.

Pam rather admired her for it, but was constitutionally incapable of doing so herself. But it was nice to have someone else in her corner about this.

“So I feel bad taking advantage of him!” She distracted herself temporarily in her own meal—a Texas Weiner, which she had literally never been brave enough to order when she came here with Roy back in the day for fear of merciless jokes—and only stopped when she noticed her dining companion had stayed silent. “Say it.” She shoved the basket of fries over towards Katy. “You know you want to.”

That’s his decision to make.” This was Katy’s guiding light, her principle of action, her cogito ergo sum. Someone could not buy her handbags. Someone could buy her handbags at the price she set. That was their decision to make; she was not going to feel bad about it. She had been gently encouraging Pam to do the same—or sometimes, as now, not so gently. She bit into a steaming fry aggressively. “Seriously, didn’t your boyfriend say something about a windfall or a lottery or something? He’s got more money than Jesus, let him spend it on you instead of those godawful Fatheads or whatever they are on the wall.”

She held up a hand. “And before you say anything, I’m aware that Jesus had very little money, thank you.” She rolled her eyes. “You don’t go to two years of Bible camp without at least reading a Bible.”

Pam grinned. She hadn’t been going to say anything about Jesus’s poverty, but she did have to admit that she’d been thinking about it. Maybe her boyfriend’s Marxist obsession with class had rubbed off on her just a tiny bit. “Only two years of Bible camp?” She made a quizzical face. “How did you get out of the rest of them?” She knew Katy had had a strongly Baptist background growing up—they’d gotten drinks last week and Katy hadn’t been able to resist telling the joke about how you keep a Baptist from drinking all your liquor on a fishing trip—and fairly strict parents.

“Cheer camp.” Katy winked. “The only thing more important than church on Sundays was football on Fridays.”

Pam nodded, thinking about her own high school experience dating Roy. “True enough.”

Katy pushed the fry basket back across the table. “But how did we start talking about me? Take the money, Pam.” She rolled her eyes and Pam finally had to admit to herself that her friend—her new friend!—was right

And so Pam did.

Actually, she couldn’t resist trying to negotiate at least a little with Michael. It really did feel like taking candy from a baby, accepting that much money for her art.

But when he misunderstood her “I’m not sure about the price” as a demand for more and doubled his offer, she stopped trying.

Sometimes you just had to accept good fortune, as she told Jim that night over text.

All the time, Beesly, he wrote back.

And don’t forget, you deserve it.

End Notes:
We're probably getting into the home stretch here, story-wise. Though who knows how long it will take me to write that! Thanks for reading and reviewing!
Chapter 41 by Comfect
Author's Notes:
Pam finds herself in a good space.

It was really strange, like, really really strange, to walk into The Comedy Roasters and see her own art on the wall. Katy said she should just get used to it, and insisted on taking a selfie with her (a concept Pam would admit theoretical knowledge of, but no practical skills at) in front of the wall where Michael had hung her artwork, then tagging her in it on as many platforms as she could convince Pam to sign up for (“it’s brand management, Pam!”). Izzy, apparently, was still going to the shop too, though she and Pam now tended to meet up at the hipster bar down the street from her apartment, because somehow Pam now had ten-dollar-cocktail money courtesy of Michael’s unfamiliarity with the concept of how the free market worked (not, as Jim repeatedly pointed out when she observed this, that there was a free market in art—or anywhere else, come to that—but the principle was still there). So when they did meet up for not-worth-the-price-but-still-alcohol, her friend mentioned it, and they ended up having what was a surprisingly nice conversation about Pam’s inspiration for it. She’d almost forgotten that she’d conned Izzy into an art minor in college through sheer force of enthusiasm, and that her friend had, in turn, become pretty darn enthusiastic herself.

In fact, Pam reflected, she’d almost forgotten, in the Roy-times, that anyone cared about art.

But they all did. Michael; Katy; Izzy; even Dwight, weird and creepy as he seemed at first, second, and fiftieth glances, had embarked on a long lecture the next time she’d seen him about the “influence of Kandisky on her work” that she’d realized halfway through was not a criticism but actually his way of expressing appreciation.

In return, she didn’t mention that it was Kandinsky.

And of course, Jim. Jim, who somehow managed to have something delightful to say about her art every day that was different every day. It wasn’t deep, learned, esoteric stuff, either. He wasn’t studying color theory or mouthing off about obscure Renaissance techniques that he claimed she’d absorbed through the collective unconscious or any of the things that the boys who’d tried to impress her in college had done (though at the time she’d just been annoyed because she was taken, and Roy’s, now she was annoyed all over again in retrospect that they hadn’t even bothered to have anything interesting to say). He was just, apparently, looking at the art. Every day. Carefully. And then telling her something he’d seen and liked about it. Or even something he’d just seen; he wasn’t shy about asking why she’d made certain choices, and he always listened when she explained, even if she could tell he would have painted differently (in the alternate universe where he also painted, of course). He was respectful and interested and attentive to her work.

It was like the opposite of...no. It wasn’t the opposite of anything.

It was just nice.

It was pleasant.

It was, frankly, something she’d always wanted deep down inside and never let herself admit she wanted, because it had seemed so unlikely she’d ever get it.

The fact that the art discussions were interspersed with some blisteringly hot kisses and a good deal of the best other conversations she’d ever had, dates or no dates (though they were definitely dates) was just a bonus.

Pam was not surprised to find herself happy. That was progress she’d already made before she met Jim; she’d done the work and processed the past and all that jazz to the point where she was capable of understanding that she was capable of happiness, that she deserved happiness, that she was not the sort of person happiness would inevitably avoid, and did not have to be content with contentment.

But she was happy, and while she’d been at the place she’d needed to be before becoming happy, she hadn’t actually been happy before.

It was like...well, she didn’t have a great grand metaphor ready for it, or even a simile, but it was kind of like the time Jim finally coaxed her into trying a tea latte instead of just tea at the shop. She’d known she wanted something at the place that was not just hers (the tea was already hers; not that no one else bought it, but it was definitely there for her) but more than she would have had somewhere else; not just hers, but theirs, unique to both The Comedy Roasters in her experience of coffeehops and The Comedy Roasters’ experience of her, Pam, as a customer. And the tea latte had been it; it had satisfied her and it had surprised her and it had pleased her and she hadn’t had one before (unlike the Bigelow assortment on its own).

And the way her life fit together now was like that. It was like what she’d had before (a tea latte still had tea in it). It was like what everyone expected from her, if they had expectations she cared about at all (a tea latte was a latte, in an espresso joint). And it was amazing.

Being happy was all it was cracked up to be, it turned out—when you were really happy, and not painting yourself into a corner by doing paint by numbers on someone else’s outline of happiness.

Pam Beesly was happy, and there was nothing anyone else was going to do about it, thank you very much.

End Notes:
I am alive (again)! I think this has about 2 chapters left, and I will endeavor to do them and not forget again. Thanks to all who are still reading (or pick this up new); I really appreciate you!
Chapter 42 by Comfect
Author's Notes:
Pam meets someone important.

When Pam arrived at The Comedy Roasters to work that afternoon—on an actual website commission, from someone she’d never met before, for real money, based entirely on word of mouth from the touch-ups she’d ended up doing on Katy’s site after their last lunch together—a friendly-looking woman about her mother’s age was standing in front of her painting, sipping something out of a to-go cup.

“Hmm.” Pam did her best to ignore the woman’s contemplative sounds as she placed her order with Michael, but of course Michael being Michael couldn’t let her be.

“Pam!” he hissed at what she suspected he thought was an appropriate volume. Her basis for assuming this was primarily the way his voice was higher-pitched and a bit breathy, like he was whispering, except that it was, in that way, rather like the beverage that she remembered Arthur Dent ending up with on the Starship Heart of Gold in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series that she’d devoured in high school: almost, but not entirely, unlike a whisper. “Look, Pam!” He very unsubtly pointed at the woman’s back as she continued to eye the painting. “Paaaaaaaaaaaaaaaam.”

“Yes, Michael?” Pam was going to kill him if he kept this up, and then she was going to have to explain to Jim that she’d killed his old family friend, and then they were going to have to flee to farthest Peru or somewhere that didn’t have extradition treaties (Dwight would know, she found herself thinking, and felt horrified to realize that she was perhaps actually friendly enough with Dwight to know that about him). At least they probably had internet there—they had internet everywhere—so she’d be able to complete the commission. And Jim would come with her, even though Michael was his old family friend, because he was Jim and he would always have her back. But it would still be awkward.

“I think she likes it,” Michael added in his whisper-adjacent scream.

“That’s lovely, Michael.” She handed him her credit card. “The tea latte, please?”

“But Pamalamadingdong!” She didn’t even wince, though she did expand her fantasy about fleeing to farthest Peru with the detail of where, exactly, she would dump Michael’s body into the Lackawanna to make sure it wasn’t found until she escaped. “Don’t you want to ask her about it?” At least he took the credit card and rang her up.

Then, as he handed back her card and started to turn to the espresso machine, Michael turned the tables and killed her instead.

“It’s your future mother-in-law, after all! The old Wicked Witch of the West! Do you need me to get a bucket?”

For a brief and panicked moment, Pam thought that Michael somehow meant that this was Mrs. Anderson (she had never been granted the right to call her by her first name even after becoming engaged to her son, much less after finally leaving him). What had she said to Michael? What would she do? This fear was wild in her for that instant even though it was plainly not Eugenia Anderson (on second reflection, perhaps it being Eugenia was the reason she had never been allowed to use it). She was taller and slimmer, and also actually looking at a piece of Pam’s art with something other than a cocked eyebrow and a question about why Pam was wasting her time on it.

The panic receded, or perhaps it was better to say that it transmogrified into something else when she realized who Michael must actually mean. This, then, was Jim’s mother. Of course, Michael would know who Jim’s mother was. He was a friend of the family after all.

“Michael Gary Scott!” The woman turned around, her hands crossed over her chest in an achingly familiar pose that Pam had seen dozens of times. She’d never imagined Jim had stolen it from his mother. “What on earth are you saying to her?” She unfolded herself and stuck a hand out as she approached Pam. “Don’t listen to a word he says, dear. You must be Pam. And I’m Betsy.” Pam shook her hand in a daze. “I’ve been looking forward to meeting you. You’re quite the artist. Jim showed me some pictures earlier, but I couldn’t really feel the thing until I saw it for myself, you know.” She shook her head. “The primary colors are a bold choice.”

Pam shook herself internally. Talking to Jim’s mother—meeting Jim’s mother without him there—was terrifying in a way she hadn’t expected and that probably had more to do with her own internal triggers than with the woman, Betsy, in front of her, but talking about her art was something she’d been working hard to get good at. This, she could do. “Thank you!” She smiled, and to her slight surprise it felt natural. “I’m not sure bold was what I was going for, but it’s certainly nice to hear.”

“What were you going for?” Betsy steered her to a table and gave Michael a look that Pam’s experience with her own mother suggested to her meant ‘you will do the obvious thing I am hinting at you to do,’ which knowing Michael probably meant it was intended to cover both ‘shut up’ and ‘bring Pam’s drink to us when it’s done.’

It was not a surprise at all that anyone who knew Michael treated him like their child, even when they appeared to be similar ages.

“I was hoping for ‘energetic,’” Pam answered as she sat down across the little table from Betsy. “I started with the red and yellow, because I was thinking of sunrises and sunsets, and the blue just demanded to be included.”

“Sunrise over blue, hm?” Betsy had sat them down where they could both look at the piece. “Red sky at morning, sailors take warning?”

“Something like that.” Pam smiled. “What brings you here?”

“Probably the same thing that brings you here.” Betsy grinned.

“You’re working on a website commission too?” Pam wasn’t sure when her fear had transformed entirely into comfort, but there was something so familiar about bantering with Betsy that she couldn’t help herself—she answered like she would have with Jim.

“No, she’s here for me.” Jim plopped down at the table next to her and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek before reaching one long arm over and hugging his mother. “Though now that I’ve said that, she’ll probably start up a website design business just to spite me.”

Pam and Betsy both giggled at the same time, which turned into guffaws, while Jim just rolled his eyes at them both.

End Notes:
And now there's just joining Jim left to round out the story. Thanks for reading!
Chapter 43 by Comfect
Author's Notes:
Pam plays the long game and gets Jim.

“Seriously, Pam, it’s so nice to meet you.” Pam would have been lying if she’d said that she hadn’t worried at least a little bit about meeting Jim’s mom. Not a real worry, but that kind of light worry that might attend any important occasion, even if you didn’t have any particular reason to suspect it would go wrong. Plus, if she was honest, a little extra, because for all that she’d put the whole Roy thing in the rearview mirror, it was the entirety of her track record for meeting her boyfriend’s parents, if you didn’t count little Timmy Moscowitz’s parents when they’d declared themselves boyfriend and girlfriend in second grade on the playground until his mom came to pick him up (the next day he’d decided that Dolores Garcia’s dolls were better than Pam’s, and that had been the end of that). And so it couldn’t help but color her anticipation of meeting Jim’s.

But despite any jitters she might have had, Betsy was lovely, and—perhaps even more importantly—her presence didn’t seem to inhibit Jim around her in the least. Their banter was still their banter; if anything, Betsy contributed. It was clear where Jim had gotten both his quick sense of humor and his anti-capitalist sensibilities from, as Betsy had apparently been working for the Teamsters since graduating college herself in the late 70s, “right about when everyone had given up on Jimmy Hoffa.” She and Pam bonded over lamenting the difficulty of unionizing freelancers—or rather, the institutional barriers to doing it, since Pam was quick to point out that if she could get a union to set rates for her work, she would, but the National Labor Relations Board was unlikely to certify a class for ‘anyone with a computer who might decide to edit a website’ and there weren’t strong barriers to entry in her field to define who was and who wasn’t a web designer—and the importance of benefits. Betsy was very smug when she pointed out that she’d been the one to tell Michael in no uncertain terms that he had to offer those for anyone working at The Comedy Roasters. “It’s the least he can do, honestly, after becoming a capitalist,” Betsy sniffed. “Such a betrayal.”

“Is that why you’re the only employee here, Jim?” Pam nudged her boyfriend in the shoulder. “Can’t afford any more full-time workers?”

Betsy snorted. “Is that what he’s been telling you?”

“Mooooom.” Jim whined and Pam cracked up.

Betsy rolled her eyes at her son. “Michael’s happy to bring on more workers, but my son here refuses to move into a managerial role, and Michael won’t expand if he doesn’t.”

“Mom, you know managers are on the side of capital.” Jim stuck out his tongue, and for some reason it was cute instead of childish. Or maybe both; Pam wasn’t too picky where Jim was concerned, and she knew that about herself but didn’t mind. And besides, it wasn’t the kind of childish that was going to lead to pulling pigtails or fighting on the playground. “You raised me better than that.”

“Managers can be labor too, as long as they don’t get alienated from the workforce,” Betsy insisted. “You wouldn’t stop being a barista just because you made sure everyone else clocked in. Think of it as a union foreman—you can have responsibility and still be on the side of the angels.”

“I thought Marx was an atheist? Religion as the opiate of the masses, and all that?” Pam inquired, and Jim grinned at her and then turned to his mother.

“See? Pam gets it.”

“Metaphorical angels, James.” But Betsy was clearly amused as well. “I can see the two of you are well-matched.”

“Mom!”

“Thank you, Betsy.” Pam knew she was a little pink, but she wasn’t going to pretend she didn’t like hearing good things from Jim’s mother.

“Don’t mention it, dear.” Betsy patted her hand. “It’s nice to see him happy.” She turned to her son. “Now, if you’re so insistent that you’re a laboring man, do some labor and get us both refills.”

“Sure, Mom.” Jim rolled his eyes but stood up. “Your usual?”

“Of course, dear.”

“And you, Beesly?” He reached for her cup. “This doesn’t look like your usual tea.”

“It’s not. It’s a tea latte.” She handed it over and grinned up at him.

“A tea latte? Really?” He made a shocked face and it was her turn to roll her eyes. “Don’t tell me Pam Beesly has given up on a plain, ordinary cup of tea all of a sudden?”

She winked at Betsy and shrugged. “But of course, Jim.” She fought down the smirk that was forming at the edges of her mouth and faced her boyfriend with the most innocent face she could muster. “You’ve convinced me that I couldn’t possibly have a normal cup of tea and date a Marxist like you. After all, you told me yourself when we first met: I’m non-violent, and proper tea is murder.”

End Notes:
And there you have it! 38000 words for one bad joke. Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed this coffeeshop AU!
This story archived at http://mtt.just-once.net/fanfiction/viewstory.php?sid=6003