Three Hundred Sixty Turns Should Do It by Maxine Abbott
Summary:

The Office meets Harry Potter.

(but you don't need to be a fan or even have seen or read any HP to follow this fic, but should enjoy stories about time travel and the magic of love)

Michael discovers a Time Turner and takes Pam on a time-traveling adventure. 

Takes place after The Carpet in season 2 with attempts to be canon-compliant as much as possible considering it is a story that involves the supernatural.

Now well into Part three we've taken a small shift from canon that may diverge more...come along and see how much. 

 


Categories: Jim and Pam Characters: Dwight, Ensemble, Jim/Pam, Michael, Other, Pam, Pam/Other, Pam/Roy, Stanley, Toby, Todd Packer
Genres: Dream/Fantasy
Warnings: Mild sexual content
Challenges: None
Series: None
Chapters: 26 Completed: No Word count: 123394 Read: 10806 Published: September 05, 2021 Updated: June 25, 2022
Story Notes:

It is my archiversary.

Today, September 5, 2021

I figured what better way to commemorate it than with a fic about going back in time.

This fic is for all the friends here who are part of the MTT community. Whether we’ve had contact through discord, reviews, reads or not at all, you all make up this community I’ve had the pleasure to be a part of the last year so it's to all of you I dedicate this one.

For those of you reading this in the present, I have a lot fleshed out but it is still a work in progress so please be patient with me. I’m talking to you. 

For those reading in the future, you could be reading so far out it may even be complete. Lucky you.

For those reading in the past, I’m not sure how that would work but since it is time travel, I guess anything is possible (and bear that in mind as you read the fic)

A big thanks to GRC73 – my beta reader on this one

There are more specific dedications in the end notes too.

It goes without saying I don’t own the characters of The Office or Harry Potter or anything else for that matter except a fascination with time travel. 

And the category options don't let me choose, Past, Present and Future so it's not quite categorized correct.  

1. Part I: Chapter 1. New Carpet by Maxine Abbott

2. Chapter 2. Strange Trip by Maxine Abbott

3. Chapter 3. The Discovery by Maxine Abbott

4. Chapter 4 - New Coats and Fancy Cars by Maxine Abbott

5. Chapter 5 -Twins by Maxine Abbott

6. Chapter 6 - Code Word: Hermione by Maxine Abbott

7. Chapter 7 - 27 Seconds by Maxine Abbott

8. Chapter 8 - Questions by Maxine Abbott

9. Chapter 9 -The Brig by Maxine Abbott

10. Part II: Chapter 10. House Guests by Maxine Abbott

11. Chapter 11 - The Key by Maxine Abbott

12. Chapter 12. Bruises and the Zombie Apocalypse by Maxine Abbott

13. Chapter 13. Ghosts don't have Pockets by Maxine Abbott

14. Chapter 14 - Three Strikes by Maxine Abbott

15. Chapter 15 - COPS and Conversations by Maxine Abbott

16. Chapter 16 - Overdue by Maxine Abbott

17. Chapter 17 - For Love of Elvis by Maxine Abbott

18. Chapter 18 - The Art of Love by Maxine Abbott

19. Chapter 19 - Something Blue by Maxine Abbott

20. Chapter 20 - There's No Place Like Home by Maxine Abbott

21. Part III - Chapter 21. Boxes and Cracks by Maxine Abbott

22. Chapter 22 - Espresso and Popcorn by Maxine Abbott

23. Chapter 23 - Packer Patrol by Maxine Abbott

24. Chapter 24 - A New Twist on Randall's Theory by Maxine Abbott

25. Chapter 25 - Back from Vacation by Maxine Abbott

26. Chapter 26 - Boys and Girls by Maxine Abbott

Part I: Chapter 1. New Carpet by Maxine Abbott
Author's Notes:

Wow, this feels big. It is the most complex and longest thing I’ve written to date, so I hope you all like it.

Here goes nothing.

Michael hated his new carpet.

Like really hated it. Detested, loathed and absolutely abhorred it.

More even than Toby.

Well maybe not that much, but his feelings about the new flooring in his private office were a very close second to what he felt for the HR rep that made his stomach turn and blood boil at the mere sight of him or mention of his name.

Pam, after all her years of being receptionist and ear to Michael’s grievances about him, still wasn’t sure what the initial reasoning was for his animosity towards the gentle, soft- spoken soul. She quite honestly found him to be a calming presence in the midst of ever-present chaos, that was most often her bosses own doing. 

As for the carpet, his grounds for hating it were assorted and numerous and she was well aware of all of them.

It was stiff and industrial feeling. Below his desk, it didn’t have the worn-in spot that had become soft and cozy in the exact place where he liked to run his unshod feet in the afternoon. Besides the roughness under his toes, it had a strong chemical odor, unlike his old carpeting which over time had absorbed the smell of pizza and popcorn and the faintest hint of his Night Swept cologne. There was a comfort embedded in the scent of the old rug that was no longer swirling in the air now that it had been replaced. But the carpeting that once provided Michael a sense of calm when he was greeted by its aroma each day, had been sullied by an odor so offensive it still made him gag when he thought of it. What now blanketed the room had a formaldehyde-like odor that reminded him of the middle school biology class where one Troy Abshire had deposited his amphibian’s innards down the back of Michael’s pants.

It made for an interesting talking head, when on day two after the office remodel, Michael shared all this with the camera crew. But they weren’t the only ones privy to his feelings on the subject.

Pam knew all of this too, perhaps and more, because he started complaining about it to her just moments after Roy and Darryl finished the installation. She thought maybe, just maybe, he would let it go overnight but when she arrived at work the next morning, he was waiting at her desk with a sour look on his face that told her it would be a very long day.

His first words were “I hate it, Pam. It makes me think of frog guts in my pants.”

Hadn’t she heard enough about his memories of middle school the day before. Obviously not, as he went on to repeat the tales from his bio labs that she’d already gotten an earful of yesterday.

When he came out to grab a coffee from the kitchen, he stopped off to mention how the rancid scent offending his nostrils today was only slightly better than the one that had been removed yesterday.

Fifteen minutes after that he grumbled some more when he dropped off a contract for her to fax out.

At ten-thirty, he called her from his desk to whine about its obnoxiously bland hue, as if the grey of the previous rug contained specks of sterling and a platinum sheen that was absent from the new one.

It was exactly the same color as the old one had been.

After the call came in from Jan to reschedule the seminar that was supposed to happen yesterday but due to the discovery and subsequent carpet replacement had to be postponed, he summoned her in once more. This time it was to make her run her stockinged feet along the empty space under the desk.     

Even after Pam agreed that no, it wasn’t as soft and comfy—although she was only saying it to quiet his complaints, she never tried it out before and had no basis for comparison—he still was carrying on, trying to convince her. 

The whole morning was like this, with him coming out every 15 minutes to complain about the rigid fibers,

…or how the color clashed with the walls,

…or the way his desk felt like it was lower now, the new pile not giving it the same lift.

She groaned silently each time he popped his head out, each time with a varied complaint about something else that was wrong ever since the industrial broadloom had been laid.

When after lunch he griped about how stiff it was, she was so exasperated at hearing about how awful his carpet was she didn’t even laugh when Jim, who happened to be up at her desk grabbing some jelly beans, mouthed that’s what she said to her and Randall, the cameraman that was just off to their right.

Michael might have hated his carpet, but at this point, Pam absolutely despised it and was ready to rip it out herself just to get him to shut up. Instead, she retrieved the air freshener spray from under the kitchen sink yet again in hopes the third misting would at least make him forget about the chemical smell it gave off.

“Sorry Michael, but you are just going to have to live with it,” she barked at him as she sprayed the room.  

“The only way to get your old carpet back is to go back in time and stop your buddy, Packer from his little practical joke.”

The sound of Michael slamming his hand down on his desk startled Pam until she saw his face, the one he got when he had one of his crazy ideas.

“That’s it, Pam. I can go back in time. Just like in Harry Potter.”

She knew he’d just seen movie three, because as usual, the day after he’d come in asking her a million questions about the plot, how the magic worked and what exactly a dementor’s kiss was and wasn’t a kiss usually a good thing?

“Now how do I get my hands on one of those Time Changer things. Do you know any wizards?”

She assumed he was joking. He had to know that Harry Potter was just a story, a fantasy tale at that, but the way he said it she wasn’t so sure.

On her way back to her desk this time she stopped by Jim’s to ask him if it were at all possible that Michael wasn’t aware that J.K. Rowling’s magical world was in fact a fictional creation.

“I think he really believes there are witches and wizards who attend Hogwarts and learn to do magic.”

“And why wouldn’t he?” Dwight interjected, the supersonic hearing he was always boasting about, proving to be accurate.

“Without a doubt, they exist. You think all that came from her head? Rowling’s for sure a bitter squib, and is probably banished now, exposing their world like that.”

Accustomed to Dwight’s invasions into their conversations, they would often ignore him or tell him to mind his own business, but sometimes, like now, his nosiness warranted further attention.

This was one of those occasions where they engaged, trying to gleam more from the interfering deskmate. The information might prove useful to fuel a future prank.

“Really Dwight, you believe all that stuff about Hogwarts and magical beings is for real?”

“You think we are all Muggles and there’s a Ministry of Magic and Quidditch is a real game”

Jim really knew his Harry Potter, Pam mused. Of course, she loved it too, had read all the books so far and couldn’t wait for the final one to come out. Roy would often make fun of her, reminding her how they were written for children as if he were busy reading Proust or Faulkner when he hadn’t picked up a book himself since they graduated high school. She had to bribe him to see the films with her, owing him a favorite homecooked dinner or sex after each time he went along with her, even though he seemed to enjoy the movies almost as much as she did in the end. He would never admit it though, cashing in on his one-sided BJs when they returned home after the show.

But Jim always waited patiently for her and once she would eventually get Roy to go with her to see the films usually a few weeks after release, always seemed happy to dish with her, discoursing over things like how the movie differed from the book and what worked better in the film and what things they imagined differently in their heads.

Roy never did as he had no clue beyond what he saw on the screen, so their post-film discussion was limited to yeah, that was fun babe and the dementors were cool.

“Of course, idiots. Just like there are super heroes and aliens. Naturally there are wizards among us too.”

Craning his head around to see who else might be listening and pay heed to the others around the bullpen, he leaned in closer to them and whispered, “In fact, I’ve had a sneaking suspicion that Creed may be wizard-born himself. I’m not convinced he isn’t some form of Animagus, that he doesn’t transform into a squirrel or a mole when he leaves here at night. I’ve had my eye on him for a while now.”

“You might be right Dwight,” Jim teased, even though he knew any sarcasm in his voice would be lost on Dwight. Pam’s cheeks however, puffed up in delight as her mouth widened into the smile that had been missing for most of the day thanks to Michael’s driving her mad about his carpet.

“Noted,” Jim spoke quietly to her and directed his eyes to the breakroom which she immediately knew as the sign to meet him there in a few to plot out a new prank thanks to the information they had just learned.

Once safely in the breakroom and out of the earshot of Dwight, Jim was able to talk freely with Pam.

“So, the other day I was at Barnes and Noble and up front by the register, you know how they have those little gag gifts?”

The smile on Pam’s face was already widening as she pictured the spinning wheel that featured the boxes with the toys Jim described.

“Yeah, the things like desktop Ping Pong and the mini Zen Garden.”

“Exactly.” Jim’s smile expanded to match Pam’s at her recognition.

“Well, I’m pretty sure I saw a bunch of Harry Potter ones there last time and one of them was a Time Turner. How funny would it be if we could convince Dwight that he could go back in time?”

Laughter filled her eyes as her grin broadened, the giggle that was just below the surface, escaping into the air as she imagined it. She didn’t even need to answer before Jim was planning his trip to the nearby bookstore.

“I’ve got a sales call near there. I’m going to stop off and pick one up on my way back. You should keep talking about how much Hermione was able to accomplish by being able to revisit her days with her time travel apparatus.”

“Yeah, if Michael will give me a break today. He’s been making me crazy about his new carpet. But ooh Jim, this will be fun and I can use the distraction from him.”

While she waited behind in the breakroom for Jim to leave on his call, Pam thought about how glad she was the little bit of awkwardness between them had dissipated while she’d been away on her vacation with Roy. The day she left, after she’d learned about his crush, things between them had a similar feeling to Michael’s new carpet, a little stiff. Then, when she came back, she barely saw him. She knew it hadn’t to do with her; Michael’s office remodeling forced him back into the annex temporarily but she got a taste of a day at the office without Jim around and she didn’t like it. Even with Roy up on her floor the entire time, there was something missing without Jim’s jokes and conversation and general presence.

Once she knew he was gone, Pam made her way back too, purposely passing behind Dwight’s desk while subtlety grumbling about being behind schedule with all Michael’s trivial complaints distracting her.

“Oh, I wish there were two of me. Or better yet, I had Hermione’s hourglass thingy so I could go back and have another few hours to catch up on today’s to do list.”

She mumbled just loud enough for Dwight to hear her, hoping he would be listening in as he always did. Of course, he was, but so was Michael who happened to be heading over from her desk, probably having come from there to try and hold her captive to another gripe session, in her absence making his way to Dwight who he knew would be more sympathetic anyway.

“Well, I’m sorry Pam, if my carpet problems are not important to you as they should be. This office cannot function properly if the leader is not comfortable… and it’s your job to help me be comfortable so you should be more concerned about my comfort.”

Pam rolled her eyes at the camera she spied just over Michael’s shoulder before she turned back to him to placate him again with words of understanding, but he was already storming off back into his office. Still, he must have also heard Dwight who just as she had hoped he would, bombastically corrected her.

“Oh and Pam, it’s called a Time Turner and they are very rare. Good luck finding one.” He snickered deviously and hummed the Harry Potter theme as he also turned to where the camera was peeking out from behind the corner plant.

“Not likely,” he said with a smug smile as Pam walked away from him, a smirk of her own forming as she did.

End Notes:

To see the Time Turner – click here…

https://www.newburycomics.com/products/harry_potter-harry_potter_time_turner_sticker_kit?variant=38014077763764

Confession - I once owned one of these. I could say I bought it for my kids but really it was for me.

I do want to call out of few more of my MTT friends here,


Again, grc73 who has been beta reading for me as this story came to life. Many many thanks.

Thank you also to these folks...

Boredhswf who was also one of the first I bounced the idea off of and helped me with some advice along the way.

Darjeelingandcoke who with his excitement about this story was an additional push to set me off to write it.

Dernhelm for paving the way in writing time-travel so it didn’t seem so impossible

Noblelandmermaid for keeping this place so fun and friendly and well going.

Warrior4 who may not remember but during in a slightly off topic Discord conversation sparked the whole idea.

And basically, all you fan fiction fans, new and old, who make up this great community I’ve become immersed in. Thanks- again this is for you – hope you enjoy it.

Chapter 2. Strange Trip by Maxine Abbott
Author's Notes:
Less than week after I joined MTT, I posted my first story, tomorrow to be exact but with the weight of tomorrow's event I decided to get Chapter 2 up tonight.

Thanks to all who have come along for this journey so far and the excitement you've shown for it. It's about to get a lot more complicated (and hopefully interesting too).

“What’s that you have there?”

Michael’s eyed danced from the aerosol spray that after three persistent pushes managed to sputter out a faint mist, to her opposite hand where a hint of tarnished gold peeked out from between her fingers.

---

While Jim had been gone, Pam kept up her part, carrying on about being behind on her work, and her desire to relive the day, all for the benefit of Dwight who to her delight, was still humming the Harry Potter movie theme.

When he returned, an hour and a half later, he proceeded immediately to her desk, not even stopping to hang up his coat, effusive in his excitement to unveil his find with her.

The ear-to-ear smile he had on his face said it all. He’d been successful in his quest and it would soon be time to put part two of their prank into play.

From out of his messenger bag, he retrieved the prize, cupping it like a baby bird and placing it gently into her hands.

As he hunched behind her and watched her eager fingers fumble to open the tiny box, Michael was making his way out again.

“How many times is this today?” Jim asked as she pulled the trinket from its encasement, nodding her head in glee as she did.

The beam in her emerald eyes vanished when she looked up to notice her boss, replaced by the exasperation that often was painted on her face when Michael was driving her crazy.

“Don’t ask. I lost track a long time ago. I think I used the whole can of air freshener and he’s still complaining.”

Offering Jim a duty calls glance, she dolefully got up as Michael got halfway out, paused, and summoned her with his finger.

“I need another spritz.”

With her free hand she grabbed the aerosol can that was perched on the upper portion of the desk and stepped around it to follow him back. However, with her annoyance at the interruption and her disappointment to have to part from Jim’s company, she hadn’t realized her other hand was still wrapped around the bauble when she followed Michael into his office for the umpteenth time that day.

---

“Oh this, it’s nothing.”

The key to a successful prank, she was well aware, was that Michael didn’t know anything about it. Between his inability to keep anything to himself and his blatant idiocy, she could not let him in on their plan or let him know the existence of the item she accidently took into the room with her.

She tried to conceal it in her small hand but the long chain proved too much to keep hidden and it spilled out from between her fingers. As she attempted to pull it back up, the whole contraption fell from her grasp and onto the floor.

They both bent down to pick it up, Michael close to sneering as his hand brushed the terrible carpet again, as if the minimal contact would leave him with severe and painful rug burns.  But even with his apprehension of touching the tainted ground, Michael’s reflexes were swifter, his hours of practicing sleight of hand magic tricks giving him the advantage and he beat her by milliseconds to where it had fallen.

His action seemed at first to be one of courtesy. His intention in grabbing the necklace end and flipping it gracefully back into his hands was to return it to her, but once in his grasp he deemed it warranted inspection first, especially after he noticed her urgency to retrieve it herself.

Eyeing it curiously as he brought it up to get a better look, his scowl slowly faded as happy realization washed over his face.

“Pam, is this what I think it is?”

She was caught. He knew what it was and that was not a good thing, not if they were going to have a chance to pull off the caper they had planned. After all the effort that went into setting it up what a huge let down it would be if they could no longer make it work. Oh, and how disappointed Jim would be. She hated to be one to mess it up.

Maybe, just this time, she could let Michael in on it. It was a risk, but she could kill two birds here, distract Michael from his carpet and save the prank at once.

“Um, ahh well yeah, but Michael it’s just a…”

Creased eyelids flickered at the corners as he studied it attentively, reading the inscription that was engraved on the rings.

“I mark the hours, every one,”

He turned the outer piece as he continued, “Nor have I yet outrun the Sun…it is, isn’t it?”

Pam looked back to her desk to see Jim had retreated to his own.  Facing away from her he could not see Michael had discovered the purchase that Dwight was meant to find.

“This is a Time Turner? You did it Pam. I knew I could count on you to fix my carpet problem. So, are you a witch or do you just know one?”

“Neither Michael, it’s just something Jim picked up.”

His eyes widened even more.

“Jim’s a wizard?”

Pam sighed. It was like talking to an eight-year-old, which seemed appropriate as it was the age these kinds of collectibles were made for.

“No Michael. It’s not real, he bought it at Barnes and Noble. It’s pretend.”

But Michael wasn’t listening. He was already far away in thought, most likely trying to work out an idea in his head. She could tell by the creases forming above his nose and the intensity that caused his eyes to cross in determined concentration.

It could have been him thinking back on all the years Jim had been working there, straining to remember times he might have done something mysterious or wizard-like. More likely he was playing the last Harry Potter movie over in his head to try to recall how the magic device he believed he was holding worked.

She determined it was the latter when his brow smoothed and he returned his focus to the item, questioning her as he turned it over in his hands.

“So, what do you do? You put the chain over your head and then twist the hourglass in the middle and you go back, right?”

Pam was tired. It was already after five. She wanted to catch Jim, who was likely getting ready to go again. The prank she knew would hold until Monday, but they would have to start from scratch setting it up. It was surely too late for it now but if she got away from Michael, she could at least work out some new details with him to put into effect first thing next week.

He must have been super-excited about this one that he’d even come back at all today. It was so close to quitting time when he returned from the call, anyone else would have just gone straight home to get a head start on the weekend.

She also knew Roy would be annoyed at waiting on her too long. At this point, he was probably sitting in his truck, stewing in the lot, his anger growing with each minute he had to wait.

“Michael, you know it’s not actually going to work, right. You’re not really going to go back in time, no matter how many times you spin it.”

She didn’t have time or the energy for Michael’s nonsense tonight. After all he annoyed her with today, she was anxious for the day to be over too. Following their romantic getaway, she had Roy in a place where he agreed to do a little wedding planning each night. The night before, however, he’d bailed on discussing anything to do with venues or menus as he had promised. With all the heavy lifting, he said he was too tired to do anything but have a beer and watch TV. She had to wonder what he did in the warehouse every day if having to lay carpet with Darryl yesterday was that much more strenuous than his regular job of hauling pallets and loading boxes.

He promised her time tonight; that they could go home before hitting Poor Richard’s, a stray from the usual Friday night routine. The plan was to have a quick dinner slash wedding planning session before he would head back out to the bar. He didn’t seem to be bothered that she was going to stay behind, but then again, she wasn’t either. If anything, she was happy to skip a Friday night at the local tavern, even if it was to catch up on the laundry from their trip and do some more wedding stuff on her own.

Every minute she was stuck with her boss cut into the time before she would lose Roy to the boys and brews, a window that was getting smaller by the second.  She knew arriving home late would slice her opportunity in half and she had wanted to discuss venue options tonight. That was looking less and less likely. In fact, the longer she had to stay and deal with Michael, the more likely they’d revert to the normal routine, dinner would be wings and beer and he’d bring up the idea again to hold the reception right there in the bar.

Pam stepped to the window to see if she could catch sight of Roy’s truck idling in front. There it was, right up by the main doors. The smoke billowing from the tailpipe seemed darker and more pronounced than usual as if it were the manifestation of his anger that she still hadn’t made it down at a quarter past five. From her angle she could just about make out the scowl on his face as he gripped the wheel.

“So Pam-trotter, you want to come with me? It will be fun.”

He walked over closer to Pam. With her focus on the parking lot, she didn’t notice as he slipped up behind her, feline-like in his quiet approach. It wasn’t until he fit the chain over the both of them, his breath hot on her neck he was so close, that she knew he was there. She whipped around when she felt it and found herself head-on with him, aghast at being mere inches from his face and as she tried to remove herself, her hair got tangled in the links and she was stuck, to him and the costume jewelry that hung around them both.

Michael didn’t seem to notice as he mumbled to himself.

“Let’s see, Packer must have slipped in Wednesday night. What do I do tell this thing how far back I need to go?”

Pam was more than irritated now. She wanted to go home and here she was playing games with Michael. However, she had so much experience with her man-child boss she knew it was better to go along, knowing he would not give up easily. Best to give him directions, let him try and when nothing happened, she could untangle herself and make her escape.

“No, Michael, as I remember you twist the hourglass in the center for as many minutes as you want to go back.”

Hours was what she meant, but in her frustration her words got confused. She realized her mistake as Michael began to spin the hourglass wildly, twisting it repeatedly, over and over again, until just like in the fantastical movie the piece in the middle seemed to start moving on its own as if on a motorized mechanism, rotating faster and faster while Michael kept flicking it more and more.

She wanted to yell at him to stop, it was going too fast, they would go back too far but she quickly realized her panic was unnecessary.

The fact was irrelevant because they did not live in the world that JK Rowling created and what he had in his hands was a toy.

As she looked down at the charm orbiting on its axis that spun in his hands, she started feeling dizzy. Looking up at Michael who remained stationary in place next to her helped to ground her for a moment, until she glanced past him at the blur of motion going on around them, what she imagined could have been people moving in triple time but she couldn’t quite tell since all the figures had a Gaussian distortion that made them seem more like wisps of colors and shapes than human beings. 

She felt as if she were airborne. Her feet seemed to lift from off the surface of the office floor. The solid ground of the carpet felt a million miles away from the soles of her kitten-heeled pumps.

She blinked rapidly in an attempt to clear the vertiginous sensation but it did little to improve her unsteadiness, perhaps even worsened it. The blurred view was still an explosion of images and memories that sped by in a blur of light, traveling past her now in supersonic speed, causing her mind to spin like a zoetrope’s center. She tried once more to turn her eyes towards Michael, wondering if he was experiencing the same sensation of zooming through time.

Unable to see anything but the whirring of lights, the streaks and ripples left in their wake near blinding in their intensity, she squeezed her eyes shut to stop the vertigo and keep herself upright. She kept them closed tight, waiting for the lightheadedness to pass and the motion to end, but vibrant hues still danced by behind her sealed eyelids.

After a minute more the circular motion slowed and the colors faded back to more muted tones. Tentatively she opened her eyes again to learn the room had stopped spinning and her feet were once again planted on the carpet.

What was that?

Her rational mind grasped for an explanation for the bizarre sensation she just went through. Logic told her she’d fainted or had a seizure brought on from the chemical fumes of Michael’s new flooring. Maybe he had been right to complain all day. But she was standing upright, she hadn’t fallen and Michael was also vertical right next to her, and still way too close, with his eyes squeezed shut.

She turned to look out the window. The truck was gone. Had he left without her?

No, he wouldn’t do that. Or would he? She wouldn’t put it past him to take off and leave her to find her own way home. Still, he’d never done that before, left her stranded, no matter how late she was. Well, not since their first date at the hockey game, but that was a mistake and ages ago…

And he did leave her at the last Dundies, but that was because she refused to go with him…

… and the night she stayed behind for the table read and fireworks show, but that was at her insistence it was a work thing keeping her, even though she was sure he didn’t believe a word of it.

As she mulled over whether he had done it again, she realized it was no longer dark outside. In fact, the sun was bright in the sky and the parking lot was filled with the cars of her co-workers.

What the hell was going on?

She looked around the sunlit office and then down to her legs where streaks of daylight flooding through the blinds painted lines across the shins of her tights, giving her limbs a striped pattern that reminded her of the Wizard of Oz and the costume worn by the deceased witch Dorothy landed on.

“Michael. Open your eyes.”

Pam spoke calmly but decisively despite her own disorientation. Confusion still had a hold on her mind but since she was not yet ready to believe anything but a common-sense rationalization, she wanted Michael to weigh in with his observations. There had to be some reasonable cause for the change in the sky or the fact that her watch hands had shifted so drastically, the smaller no longer hovering between the four and five but firmly set on the eleven.

“Is it over? That was awful. I thought I was going to vomit.”

So, he had the sensation too. That ruled out some anything medical on her part. Maybe this was hallucinogenic, the fumes causing them to trip out.

“Me too. So you got dizzy also?”

Dizzy was an understatement but she wanted to play down what just happened to keep Michael from going into complete panic. However, for Michael, he seemed rather composed in the aftermath of whatever it was they both experienced.

Now that her stomach had settled and her balance returned, she felt sound enough again to take a step back from him before remembering that her hair was twisted up in the necklace that was wrapped around them both. Turning her attention to what was keeping her connected to her boss, she untangled the strands of hair, leaving a few of them behind in the chain and lifted the Time Turner from around their necks.

Free now to move away from him she took a step backward and then towards the chairs by the door, eager to sit down. But she stopped before she got there to look down at her wrist again.

“Tell me Michael, what does your watch say?”

He looked down at the timepiece and blinked a few times before he answered.

“Eleven. Damn it. We didn’t go back far enough. I swore I’d spun that hourglass enough.”

From the confused look in his eyes, she could tell he was trying to calculate how many spins would have been required to get them back far enough. It was as if he believed the item she just removed from around their necks contained actual magic.

“You don’t really believe we time travelled?”

Before he could answer she noticed the carpet below her feet. Apparently, just at the same instant he did.

“Of course, I do,” he said as his eyes lit up in joyful exuberance. “Guess I turned it enough after all. Look my old carpet is back.”

He took a deep breath in.

“Ahhh, pizza and popcorn. Wow, I’m starving. Time traveling really makes you hungry.”

Lightheaded once again after seeing the old flooring, she rushed to the chairs to sit down. She lowered herself to the seat and peeked out the blinds to the bullpen, half expecting to see Jim snickering. She was unsure how he managed this prank and a little surprised that she was the victim instead of Dwight, but was ready to congratulate him on his best one yet and was eager to ask how he pulled it off.

But Jim wasn’t at his desk. No one was. Only a few minutes had passed since she’d come in to the office. On Fridays the bullpen cleared out fast, but that fast and all at once? She turned back to Michael who was still inhaling with gusto, waving the scent up into his nostrils with an absolute goofy grin on his face.

“Michael, time travel isn’t possible. Something else is happening here. We must be dreaming.”

But she was beginning to see there was little other explanation. The impossibility of it was becoming debatable with all the tangible evidence in front of her.

She stepped hard onto her foot with the heel of her other in a last attempt to wake herself up if she was in fact dreaming, but all it got her was a hole in her tights and a searing pain she instantly regretted causing.

She had no other rationalization now. What seemed like science fiction was the only thing that made sense. Had she been told she would one day have to accept something Dwight insisted was possible, despite its being as preposterous as he often could be, she’d have scoffed and protested that there was no chance of it ever.

However, just as she thought she’d could ever feel compassion for him, but then worried about him when he drove into a pole and wound up concussed, she was finding herself once again reversing her stance when it came to him.

Knowing him as well as she did, in normal times was exasperating but here could prove helpful as she tried to remember all the things he’d said about the rules when altering the time continuum. However, it was her knowledge from Harry Potter and Hermione she would most need to rely on now because it looked like she would finally have to accept it.

She and Michael had traveled back in time.

End Notes:

It's been a great year for me here at MTT - thanks again to my fans and friends.

Sidenote:

Another thing happened around the time I first posted - a little warrior was born - Happy Birthday Warrior Junior. 

Chapter 3. The Discovery by Maxine Abbott

Now that she had come to grips with the reality that the supernatural had indeed occurred, the task at hand was to figure out exactly when they were in time.

Her only clues so far were her watch and the carpet, conclusively making it at least two days earlier. Packer had not yet snuck in to leave the hysterical package that would ruin Michael’s carpet and Pam’s next day.

She thought back to where she was the day before yesterday, in the Poconos having a romantic getaway with Roy.

God, how she wished she were still there instead of here in Michael’s office with a throbbing foot, a slight bit of nausea strangely mingled with extreme hunger, her boss to babysit, and the mystery of what day it was to solve.

It was a good trip; in fact, the mini vacation had provided a much-needed break after the busy holiday season and she quite enjoyed the time spent with her future husband. With no distractions from his brother, the boys, or the Eagles, his attention was only split between her and the skiing, perhaps the reason she hardly got annoyed with him at all during the time they were away. There was the one incident on the blue slope, but that at least got her some sympathy and an excuse to head back to the room early, where they ordered room service and he even watched an old movie with her while she iced her bruised leg.

They almost took the full week but decided to cut the trip back because with the wedding five months away they would need those extra vacation days for the honeymoon. They had yet to decide on the destination but it was the one thing Roy seemed excited to talk about. They had it narrowed down to Hawaii or Mexico, not that they could afford either one, but Roy said they’d figure it out. It was pretty much a given, since Roy always got his way, they’d wind up in Cancun. She supposed that was okay, she preferred margaritas and tacos to mai tais and roast pig anyway.

Being back two days already felt like two weeks between the incident with the carpet, the day of complaints and now this.

Continuing on her hunt for clues, she looked out to where she would be sitting had she not been off on her vacation. It followed that she wasn’t there at reception, but then again neither was anyone else. The office seemed empty. All was quiet aside from the rustling she heard from behind her, which she turned to see was Michael on all fours, caressing the carpet under his desk.

Turning back to the bullpen, this time she did notice something moving. She could swear it was coming from behind the copier and upon a more attentive glance she caught the tip of a lens directed towards the conference room which swiftly panned to shift its focus in her direction.

She quickly jumped back out of sight from the window catching one more glimpse of her own desk as she did.

Her monitor was on the right, back in the original spot before she moved it to the position where it could block Michael's face. On her first day back having to see his mug all day instead of Jim's, after he had commandeered the workspace of her friend, was not the thing she'd been looking forward to so she carefully maneuvered her screen so she wouldn’t have to. Today, or the day it had been before she wound up in this mess, she had shifted it back but found an angle that was less taxing on her neck, especially when focused on it for longer stints, as when playing solitaire or as over the last few days while searching the Internet for florists and bridesmaid dresses.  Plus, in the new spot, she could more easily glance up to see her friend after he had returned to his rightful place, five feet away and directly in her line of sight.

The computer, of course.

If the watches had shifted, it would follow the computers would also be reflective of the current time, and more importantly the current date. Pam started for Michael’s desk, noticing he was no longer under it but was instead headed for the office door to step out in the bullpen.

Shit, what is he doing?

“Michael,” she hissed in the loudest whisper she could extract, not wanting anyone but him to hear her call him back. 

The caution she took speaking his name alerted her to the mic pack that was still attached to her waist.

Does this mean they know?

It was a concern, a huge one but first she had a bigger problem to worry about, because if she didn’t get Michael back into his private office, he could potentially run into himself and completely freak himself out.

“Come back in here and close the door. In fact, lock it.”

For once, Michael listened to her and did just as he was told. Once secured safely inside she held up the amplifying apparatus she just removed and motioned for him to do the same.  Once more, he obediently followed her directions, as if he were Dwight and she the boss, and handed her the contraption.

“You can’t just go off running into the bullpen. Do you know what would happen in your other self saw you?”

“No, what?”

Pam hesitated. She wasn’t entirely sure herself; the movie didn’t go too deep into the consequences but it had been a while since she’d read the book which she had to guess had more of an explanation.

“Well, I’m not sure but according to Hermione, it’s bad,” Pam firmly warned him. “It’s a good thing it’s the weekend.”

Pam deduced it was Saturday or Sunday. Why else would the place be so empty at eleven in the morning?

Then she remembered the camera she had spotted earlier. There was no reason the crew would be here when the staff wasn’t.

Recalling the spy hidden behind the copy machine was the catalyst to bring back her insights, which seemed to be lagging a bit behind her body arriving at the current time zone. Of course, there was explanation why the place was empty on a work day, she’d forgotten her bosses’ penchant for conference room meetings.

But even that didn’t give her any more of a hint to the date since they were crowded into the room next door more often than they weren’t.

Following through on her original course to check the computer she at last made her way to the desk while Michael as directed locked the mic packs in his safe in the armoire beside it.  

She shimmied the mouse to wake up the PC and the image that sprang to life on the screen caused her to jump back from the shock of it. It was a pair of breasts, and not the most attractive ones either.

What assaulted her eyes was not your typical Internet porn or centerfold model or even a hot, young celebrity. Instead, the wilting, pale white bosom, one side sagging just a bit more than the other, appeared to belong to a middle-aged woman and not someone she would expect Michael would find appealing in the least, certainly not someone he would go clicking about on the web to look at. If breasts were his thing, and from his comments she was largely confident they were, there were plenty of sites that featured what she expected he was into. She knew because on the rare occasions she had to drop by Kevin’s desk, she caught a glimpse of what occupied his free time instead of solitaire and minesweeper. As his reflexes were about as fast as his ability to calculate sums in his head, when he finally minimized his window, she was already on her way out of his corner imagining what Angela would think if she only knew about the smut featured on the reverse side of the monitor that sat behind the glass partition separating their work spaces.

Michael, she was fairly sure, knew about the Girls Gone Wild site and had to be well aware of all the dirty web pages available out there in cyberspace, so she had to wonder whose chest this was. Her own slow reflexes, still not what they were before the cosmic shift, hadn’t yet picked up it was not a website she was looking at but a photograph.

It wasn’t until her gaze roamed down to the filmstrip below the enlarged preview pane, that she was clued in to the owner of the amorphous breasts and the event where it was taken.

On the lineup featuring smaller versions of the shots also in the folder, was a bored Jim and a blank-staring Ryan, both which could have been captured at any time, but the rest of the assembly, the raucous and wide-mouthed smiles on Phyllis and Meredith, the lampshade candid and the image of a very drunk Todd Packer, his bald head shrouded with blue silly string, these were unmistakably from a very specific time and place.

She distinctly remembered the recent Christmas party as one of the best ever. It was not because of Yankee Swap, in truth that almost made it the worse, or the abundance of alcohol consumed, or the falling snow that saw them off to an impromptu snowball fight and the promise of a white Christmas, but rather because of the very special gift she got from her dear friend, Jim.

A simple teapot.

As far as gifts went, it wasn’t fancy or expensive or even something she thought she needed or wanted, but when she opened it, she immediately knew who it was from, how much thought went into it and how much that someone, Jim, truly knew her. Giving up the chance to get it back had been foolish, and she was almost ashamed at how she allowed herself to be lured by the iPod, which would have also meant giving up on sharing his, whenever he had new tunes he was excited to play for her.

Even without the bonus gifts that were inside, but exponentially because of them, the present let her know that he cherished their friendship as much as she did and she could always count on that. It was the validation she wasn’t alone in the feeling there was an extra special bond between them, that they were a team that together could endure all the madness that went on in their office and that she could turn to him with just about anything.

But could she tell him about this?

She shook off the thought, deciding that that trust was one thing, sharing her most personal feelings was not going to scare him off, but this was something else, and as much as he would want to believe her and even if he did, well again, she wasn’t sure what could come of it.

Guess she was stuck on her own with this one, except for Michael, which was as good as being on her own.

She glanced up at him, discovered him munching on some kind of oats or cereal from a Ziploc bag that despite her hunger looked rather unappealing and set back to the mission of getting her bearings as to how many days back they’d journeyed. Turning back to the breasts she shuddered again at the sight of them.

Well at least we’ve stayed within a month’s time. 

She minimized Meredith’s boobs and when she saw the web page that was open behind it, she barely had to look at the date on the corner of the screen to know what day it was. The website that advertised the Lake Wallenpaupack Princess made the vessel they would board later that evening look much grander than it was. This she knew, because despite not having yet boarded the ship for their team building event in the present timeline, for the Pam experiencing today’s date again, the booze cruise had happened in the past.

So that’s where we are.

Pam shuffled beyond where Michael was still rummaging in the cabinet and put her ear to the wall and sure enough she could hear the other Michael revealing the details of their quarterly excursion to a chorus of groans.

With memories a bit hazy of how long they actually stayed in the meeting some two weeks ago, she decided they didn’t have much time. It wouldn’t be long before the gathering would break and everyone would retreat to their rightful spaces, which included the original Michael to his office, where she and the duplicate Michael currently were. They would need to vacate and soon.

“Michael,” she said as she turned back to where he had now moved on to a can of Pringles that he had stashed alongside his spare clothes, deodorant and Carnac turban, devouring the chips in stacks bigger than his mouth and leaving crumbs all over his suit, “you took us back more than two weeks. It’s January fourth, the day of the cruise on Lake Wallenpaupack. We’re all in the conference room and you’re telling us about it.”

"Awesome sauce. Tell me, do I know how to time travel or what? Not only do we get to go cruising again, that's what she said, but this time I can stop that guy from jumping overboard and I won't get banished by Captain Jack so I can stay and enjoy the last hour below deck instead of in the brig."

Not likely, Pam thought to herself. Two Michaels on board could only mean twice the trouble, not less.

Besides, she could think of a thousand other reasons why it was best they stayed far away from the boat tonight but she didn’t have time to argue with him now. They were running out of time before they came out of the conference room.

“I’m not sure that’s such a good idea. We really ought to lay low and not be anywhere near our other selves. Speaking of which, we need to get out of here before we,” she pointed at the dividing wall between the two rooms, “get out of there.”

“Okay, let’s go to lunch. I’m ravenous.” Michael spoke while still shoveling the Pringles in his mouth.

All too aware of the rumbling and empty feeling in her own belly, Pam decided she could eat, in fact was anxious to get some food soon. Transcending time, it seemed expended a lot of energy and she surmised the trip must have depleted the stores from what felt like her last few meals. The Pringles, even if he had offered her some, which he didn’t, wouldn’t be enough to sate her stomach, currently protesting it’s emptiness.

Besides they had to devise a plan for how to go about their time until they somehow melded back into themselves. On top of her list of things to do was to read the section of the book again that could elaborate how that would happen. But first they needed to get away from the Dunder Mifflin offices.

“I’ll take you to Chili’s.”

“Have you forgotten? I’m still banned.”

“Okay, Hooter’s then.”

Pam glared at him.

“Cugino’s?”

Thinking back on the day, she tried to recall if anyone had left the office at lunch. Upon deciding that they had all stayed in that day, she nodded her acceptance.

“Sure, but we need to leave now, before we get caught.”

Once more she peeked through the blinds. Seeing nobody about she slowly opened the door and craned her head around to see if it was safe to venture out.

“Come on,” she called back to Michael who was still fiddling in the armoire, “the coast is clear.”

The tiptoed from the room, staying close to the window, slinking around the chair and along the wall to arrive where everyone’s outwear was piled onto a single coat rack. Sifting through the layers of wool, acrylic and Goretex puffers, she found hers towards the bottom and began to put it on when it dawned on her, there were two of her but only one coat. It was at that same instant that Michael realized he left his back in his office.

“I forgot mine, be right back,” and he started creeping back the way he came.

Using a parental-sounding, but softly whispered bark, she called him back.

“Michael, never mind that. We can’t take them. Remember about our other selves. We can’t leave them with no outerwear in 30-degree weather. Not to mention, can you imagine the mystery the missing coats would stir up. Dwight would launch a full-scale investigation...”

The opening of the conference door stopped her mid-sentence. Throwing the coat back up on the rack, with hopes her aim was better than normal, it wasn’t, she pushed Michael towards the exit and the two of them made it out the front door just in the nick of time.

---

Pam and Jim trailed Meredith, still fist pumping, and Kelly, still grumbling about her new bathing suit, out of the conference room. They themselves were still giggling about pretending to have never seen Titanic. When Jim told her about what he intended to say in his next private interview, she snorted with delight and just about fell over in stitches as she pictured Michael at the front of the boat yelling ’I’m King of the World’.

“Oh, oh I can’t breathe,” she choked out as she doubled over in hysterics.

Her laughter contagious, Jim found himself cackling in an uncontrollable fit too as they neared her desk and discovered her coat on the floor.

“Look, Beesly, you laughed so hard you shook your coat right off the rack.”

This innocuous statement put her over the edge, her whole body quivered with gleeful pleasure as her guffaws got louder. It took about ten minutes before they both came down from their giggle fit, the stares from Angela and reprimands from Dwight that this was an office not a comedy club, not doing much to suppress their mirth. It was only then that she thought more about the discovery at the foot of her desk.

‘That was strange’, she mused to herself. She was in early today so she was pretty sure her coat had been buried under the few other jackets that were placed there after. How was it hers had fallen and nobody else’s did and what had even caused it? She knew it wasn’t really her laughter.

She didn’t dwell on it long, there were a ton of voicemails to listen to when she got back to her spot behind the desk.

She soon forgot about the mystery as she began to play back what she missed while they were off in the conference room learning how none of the items they’d packed for tonight would be needed at all.

---

Pam wasn’t the only one who had noticed something strange that morning. Back in the nook off by the annex, Randall played back the scenes he’d just recorded while the rest of the crew was busy capturing the ridiculousness he could only assume he was missing in the conference room.

“Yup, just what I thought,” he murmured to himself.

Anyone else might have been freaked out at the discovery, but not Randall. It wasn’t the first time he’d detected time travelers from behind his lens.

End Notes:

There may be some disagreement over the idea that Pam enjoyed her trip with Roy and to that I say there had to be something keeping her with him for 9 1/2 years (I think that's how long they are together at this point in the timeline) besides inertia. I think when just the two of them, he could show her attention and they could have fun. Don't worry, plenty of the Roy we love to hate is to come. 

Chapter 4 - New Coats and Fancy Cars by Maxine Abbott
Author's Notes:

Dropped a cliffhanger last chapter, but first we have to take care of some housekeeping. I'm one of those folks who when watching a movie/show, I need to know how we get from point A to B - all the details matter, especially in a time travel story ----so first you too have to get some of them.

(Had a hard time getting this chapter post-ready and not sure it quite is but in the interest of getting to the real story....)

“This is my treat.”

They were next on line at Burlington, holding the heavily discounted coats they picked out from the racks of the bargain-basement store.  

She was surprised to have found a full-length puffer that was pretty much identical to the one she already had, and while she couldn’t have described the regular coat the other Michael owned, she knew it wasn’t a double-breasted, slate gray, Italian cashmere, Hugo Boss overcoat in a size 46, no matter how much it was discounted.  Somehow, she convinced him to forego the ‘steal that you never get lucky enough to find here’ and go with the simple, black wool version that was a lot closer to the one that was currently draped over a chair back in his private office. She appeased him by allowing him to buy the discounted but still overpriced, rabbit fur lined leather gloves he 'absolutely needed to have' and for herself, found a colorful scarf and a nice warm pair of mittens that were much more budget friendly.

Shopping with Michael, as with almost everything else when dealing with him, was like being with a child. She mistakenly left him alone while she looked for her own items and panicked when she could not find him anywhere, forgetting briefly he was a grown man and not a little boy when she began to check the centers of circular racks where she thought he possibly could be hiding. Upon finding him outside the women’s fitting rooms, combing the discard rack, a pile of various garments piled over his arm, none of them coats, she forcefully ushered him back to the men’s outerwear section so to supervise the search for the one item they came in for. 

Feeling much like his parent as they shopped, she let him know when items didn’t fit properly, the Boss coat clearly did not, or were too extravagant, again the cashmere was a bit too much, or were womenswear; he took a liking to a suit left by the mirrors that she insisted was not unisex as he claimed and had to raise her voice to get him to put it down and stop wasting time.

She was pretty sure the gloves he found were women's too but with Michael's dainty hands they fit perfectly and she didn't have time to argue with him anymore so she kept her mouth shut.

What should have taken a quick ten minutes was nearing forty by the time they got to the registers where their roles reversed, Michael becoming the parent and Pam the child as he loaded her items onto the counter and pulled out his wallet to pay for the purchases.

Pam barely acknowledged Michael’s offer except to mumble under her breath, “this is absolutely on you, since this experience has not been a treat so far.

Michael was a generous boss. He often indulged the staff with goodies in the breakroom and little surprises from time to time but because in this instance, where she blamed him for her current state of coatlessness, she didn’t consider his offer benevolent, but instead, obligatory.

She was appreciative, however that he suggested he would to pick up the tab before she would be forced to insist that he did.

She had no means to pay for anything. When they got down to the Dunder Mifflin parking lot an hour or so ago, they realized the procedural principles that affected time travelers and their coats also applied to her purse along with her wallet, cash, cards, and keys, as well as his car and just about anything else they didn’t have on their person when they made their journey.

Lucky for her she had a male companion that kept his keys and wallet in his pants pocket. Unlucky for her it happened to be Michael.

“Just don’t take the tags off,” he whispered to her as the next free cashier waved them over.

At the register Pam tried to make herself small as Michael made jokes with the girl ringing them up, getting no response in his attempt to make her react. Understandably so, when he offered to pay with his Chili’s loyalty card and then suggested that Burlington should have one.

“You know, buy 10 coats, get one free.”

He went on with his jokes, handing her next a frequent flyer card and then his library card, “how about we just borrow these?” before finally offering up his Visa to the stoic face across the counter.

A small fake smile came to her face at last. Pam was pretty sure it was just relief that with the credit card in her hands, she could finish his transaction and get him on his way.

Michael made some comment about feeling like a king whenever he shopped here, a sort of prelude to his next routine after she ran the card and handed it back.

Michael took the Visa from her hand and replied in the deep tone and mumbled speech Pam had come to recognize as his Elvis voice.

“Thank you, thank you very much”.

If she felt anything like a child with her father before, she completely did now, shrinking down even further with embarrassment at her pseudo-parent’s attempt to get a laugh from the millennial behind the counter. Pam rolled her eyes to the young cashier who she figured was a generation too young to know anything much about Elvis. Even if she did, she was apparently disinterested in even pretending to be amused by Michael or sympathizing with the somewhat closer to her age woman who was stuck with him.

That’s when Pam made the sudden connection the girl likely thought Michael was with her, like with her, with her. Her humiliation now beyond simply being about his bad jokes and impressions, the thought someone could think she was romantically linked to Michael was so mortifying she had to step away from him and the register.

Still in character when he got over to where Pam was waiting at the exit, switching me’s for you’s in the catchphrase he recited again as he handed over her new beige puffer coat.

She only hoped Elvis would not stick around for the rest of the afternoon as he often did once he made his debut. Nobody at the office much appreciated when he brought out the King, except Dwight because laughed at everything he did and Creed who claimed to have performed with the legendary performer, but none were quite as annoyed by the voice as Pam, who always had a hard time understanding the slurred cadence that marked his impression of Mr. Presley. It always made for a longer day when she had to get him to repeat himself over and over to be able to identify who the fax needed to go to or what to do with the contract he was handing her as he mumbled.

She knew they still had lots to do today before they had to get back with the car. If Michel/Elvis was sticking around, they would surely not make it back to the office in time. Lucky for Pam, Elvis left the building just before the two of them put on their new coats and did as well.

Donning their new outerwear, the tags tucked up into their sleeves, they returned to the parking lot and Michael’s Sebring which they’d driven from the office. Pam had suggested a cab, nearly insisted on it, fearful of what might happen if Michael were to look out the window while they were gone and think his car stolen. Michael maintained they could take it on their errands and get it back before it would be ever be missed.

Not wanting to waste time discussing the everything that could go wrong with his plan, she acquiesced, even knowing what a risk it was. Michael’s ability to stay on schedule was abysmal when he wasn’t in a time loop, now that he was, she could only imagine how warped his sense of urgency and timing would be.

In typical fashion, he was off to a running start in making them late by contending they still had time to go to lunch and started in the direction of Cugino’s, but she convinced him to scrap their original plans and they should just grab slices at Alfredo’s instead. Extra worried about arriving back before the car was missed and knowing it was the closest place, she didn’t even care that it was the absolute worst pizza in town. As hungry as she was it didn’t even matter, as long as she got something into her bellowing tummy.

Never had food tasted so good. Even their normally inedible slices were like manna from heaven as she scarfed down three of them, only starting to notice the cardboard-like crust and too salty sauce halfway into the third one.

Now that they were fed and appropriately clothed for the weather, it was onto the rental place to secure a means of getting around once the Sebring was returned to the office lot, hopefully on time. As they drove to the nearby Hertz, Michael talked of wanting to rent a sports car.

“Do you think they’ll have Porsches there?”

Engrossed in her own thoughts of how to survive the next two weeks, his question interrupted her internal frustrations. Seems this trip would not be a vacation. Sure, she’d get a break from answering phones and making copies but not from keeping Michael in check. She sighed before she answered him.

“I don’t know, Michael but don’t you think you should get something a little less conspicuous,” she began to lecture him again. “And cheaper. A 2-week Porsche rental is going to get pretty expensive.”

“Yes, but I’ll be getting two paychecks this week.”

“How do you figure?”

For the briefest of moments, she thought he might be onto something and began to calculate how much extra that might mean for the wedding, until she heard his reasoning.

“Two me’s, two paychecks, right.”

Nope, Pam was fairly certain that wasn’t how it worked. Might be nice if it did though, she could use the bonus, and she more than deserved it as compensation for time traveling with Michael.

But then again, she couldn’t be exactly sure he was wrong, time travel and all that went along with it was a new concept to her too and she hadn't quite figured out all the rules yet.

What she did come to understand at that moment was she was going to have to spend the entire journey to the past, in the company of Michael. Not only would he have their only means of travel—a mid level sedan, she managed to convince him was the reasonable choice, but he was the one with the credit cards to pay for things and the key to the office where they might just have to sleep.

More than any of that however, she also was going to have to keep her eye on him to make sure his actions in the present past didn’t wreak havoc on the past future.

Starting with tonight.

She was of the mindset to stay far away from the boat.

No good could come from trapping themselves on a vessel at sea with their officemates and other selves.

But it was all Michael talked about as they waited for the rental and she could see it was going to be hard to convince him otherwise.

In the end, the experience on the boat had been a good night for her. After three years, she had a date set for the wedding at last and since that time things with Roy were almost like they were in earlier days of their relationship, happy and promising.

Sure, the evening may have started out a little awkward, especially that moment early on where Roy embarrassed her with his normal disregard for her feelings. His comment about her being all artsy fartsy in front of Jim’s cheerleader girlfriend cut deep. But as always, she held in her hurt and brought forth the mask she was accustomed to wearing in mixed company. Finding Jim’s warm eyes and hearing him defend her when his own date laughed along with hers, her disguised smile widened to a genuine one as they silently poked fun at Katy through gestures and unspoken words.

As for Katy, she felt contrite thinking it now, but when she learned that Jim’s relationship with her had ended on the boat, she was relieved.

Not that she didn’t want Jim to have someone. The catch that he was, he more than should have been part of couple, just as she was. It was just she never felt Katy was right for him. She was too perky and simple and laughed at just about everything he said, even though Pam sensed she didn’t really understand or appreciate his humor, his charms and just what it was about Jim that made him the charismatic and exceptional person he was.

That night on the boat was when Pam truly saw how wrong Katy was for him. It was after witnessing her routing Roy on, both of them regressing back to the days where she was a Bishop O’Hara cheerleader and he was a Valley View jock—which for Pam brought with it haunting memories of tagging along with Roy to parties that were not her scene, watching him get shitfaced, rowdy, and overly flirtatious with the cheerleaders who still shunned her despite her status as his girlfriend. It was also the reason she suggested to Jim they take a walk on the upper deck.

Things got a little weird upstairs too. She remembered standing there, with all her insecurities pushed up to the surface, her disconnection to the man she was engaged to having just smacked her in the face again as he, Darryl and Katy reenacted scenes from the raucous high school ragers that she never felt comfortable at—not then and certainly not years later. It was that uncertainty, that reservation, that tremor she felt deep in her belly from time to time when she imagined her life with Roy, that escaped her lips as she confided to her best friend.  

Greeted with a strange silence, she knew she’d overstepped a boundary and made him uncomfortable. Girlfriends, that’s who you went to gripe about your fiancé. She should have asked Kelly or maybe even Angela to join her, but Jim, he was who she felt most herself with, aside from Roy of course. She tried to change the subject, bring the conversation back to small talk but it was too late.

A look she’d never seen before came over his face. She didn’t know what to make of it except it was making her nervous and self-conscious and suddenly that strange stomach twinge was back only this was different, it was less a pang and more like tiny little bubbles bouncing up against her insides, traveling down her spine and causing her whole body to shiver, but having nothing to do with the cold.

Reacting to the tremble she could blame on blustery, marine air, she used the frigid temperature as an escape ladder and was below deck again before the enigmatic sensation subsided.  And that’s when her night took an even more unexpected turn, when Roy, drunk but emotive with his love for her, had decided upon and announced to everyone the date they would finally become man and wife.

The days that followed were better than they had been for a long time as the afterglow of setting the date lingered. The stash of wedding clippings that were gathering dust for three years came out from the bottom dresser drawer along with the lingerie she hadn’t had on since before she wore his ring.

On the romantic getaway to the Poconos, the normal trip she was on before just before the strange travels of today, or two weeks ago, she was still very confused how time now worked, the sexy underwear was put to further use, more even than the skis they rented for the five-day escape.

Things with Jim were also back to normal. She’d missed him while she was gone and then again yesterday when Michael took his spot, but today or whenever it was that they’d begun to plan to their latest prank, they were back to being best buddies.

So, no, she wasn’t anxious to return to the night of the booze cruise where an additional Michael’s presence could potentially alter the events of that evening.

But it seems she had no choice. There would be no talking him out of it and where he went, she knew she would have to go to in order to babysit her boss and preserve history.

Her mind stayed focused exclusively on driving as she white-knuckled it back to the Dunder Mifflin lot, clutching the wheel at ten and two and keeping just under the speed limit the whole time, afraid to be stopped without her license or any ID at all.

It was only as she left the car behind in the lot and joined him again, this time in the rented Honda, that her apprehension came screaming back as they drove away in the direction of the harbor.

 

End Notes:

So I have to believe, based on the cold open in Scott's Tots - Season 6 Episode, that Michael has been doing the Elvis voice for years, and it is not well received around the office by anyone other than Dwight, at least until Andy gets there. And I also recently learned Elvis is no longer as iconic as he once was by anyone in their twenties or younger. Still for all who are reading and want to drop a review or jelly bean, Thank You, Thank you Very Much. 

 

Chapter 5 -Twins by Maxine Abbott
Author's Notes:

And We're Cruising...

I think I broke the record for number of times having watched this episode. I really struggled to get it as accurate as I could but I may have taken some liberties with the size, scope and layout of the boat. 

 

One thing that really stood out to me is HOW DID THE camera get the shot of Dwight at the bow steering the ship (or at least thinking he was)? Unless it was taken from shore with a super powerful lens? Any thoughts - hit me. Not that it will change my story. The camera Jim motions to when he points to his watch is back on shore and it's only Randall on board with a camera (might be other crew but only one video recording device).

 

 

“How interesting, you have twins on the payroll?”

Michael pretended to know what the man standing beside him was talking about and nodded enthusiastically. He laughed along but gave away his confusion when he responded, first thinking it was Kevin and Dwight, whom the boat captain was referring to because of the three-hole, full face mask covering the large accountant’s face.

“Kevin and Dwight, no not twins, but sometimes I think they share the same brain.”

“No, not the big guys.” Captain Jack, turned back to the gangway that led up to front of the small ship and looked again at the passengers boarding. 

“The one you dubbed Marianne; didn’t you introduce me to her sister earlier when we first met? But I think you confused one of them. You also called the one from before, Pam.”

Now Michael was really befuddled. He’d never met the captain before and Pam, he was pretty sure she wasn’t a twin, although the thought of it brought some wild visions to his imagination. But he was more concerned with what the man beside him said before that about the ship’s leadership hierarchy. He had his captain’s hat and his heart set on being the skipper and absolutely did not to be Gilligan. Dual captains however, now that was an idea he could get onboard with.

“Well, speaking of twins. How about you and I be twin skippers tonight?”

“Nope Michael, not going to happen. Only twins here tonight are your employees.”

Katy and Pam, he decided. It was those two the befuddled leader was suggesting were indistinguishable from one another. Captain Jack was likely doing this circling round the harbor thing for a long time now and between the sea air, the cruising and the boozing, he was mixing up his dates and the people he met and had an acute case of double vision. Due to this, Michael felt it was justifiable for him to take charge, at least of the revelry part of the night, which he was determined to do as soon as possible.

“Not twins, but I can see why you would think that. They do look a bit alike. The prettier one doesn’t even work for me. She’s just a stowaway,” Michael lightly punched the arm of his neighbor. Then he quickly rubbed the spot where the captain looked down to before he glared back at Michael again, clearly not happy about being touched, even in jest.

~

Captain Jack raised his eyebrows at the strange man beside him. He was annoyed at being punched, even light as it was, but it was the bizarreness of this Michael that mostly had him aggravated and apprehensive.

Prettier one, he mused to himself, the woman he observed walking up his gangway and the one from earlier were carbon copies. This man next to him was an idiot and it was going to be an interesting night. 

---

“What the hell, Pam? I thought you were going to the bar for our beers.”

Shit, shit, shit.

Pam thought she had more time before she had to find a place to hide.  

What the heck was he doing by the girl’s bathroom anyway? The men’s room was around on the other side and there was little to no reason for him to be over here. Her other self maybe, but she knew where she had gone after boarding the first time she’d taken this cruise, right to the bar to get them drinks while Roy relieved himself.

As Pam tried to recall the events of the night and find a way to get away from her fiancé before he figured out something was different about her, a leggy blonde stepped out of the bathroom and crossed between them. Pam followed Roy’s eyes from the blonde’s legs to her ass as she walked back to the main section.

Well, that’s just great, revisiting tonight was off to a smashing start.

Annoyed, but trying to think of how happy he made her later in the evening, she constructed her response once his eyes returned to her face.

“I did, I mean I am, but I also had to go the bathroom.”

She tried to keep the bitterness she felt toned down even though she was pretty angry about his roving eye. Wondering now, had he noticed the legs headed to the restroom and followed them here knowing he’d sent her off to get something from the bar? She further speculated what he might have done had he not been surprised by her appearance. Probably nothing, she was used to him and his ‘come on Pammy, I can’t help but notice a good-looking woman, but you know I’d never cheat.

Still, it was only in thinking about what was coming later that calmed her ire but even so her next words still came out with a touch of attitude.

“And the men’s room is that way.”

She pointed him towards the other side of the ship, hoping he would head right off so she could too.

She now realized this was going to be harder than she anticipated. On the boat less than 20 minutes and she’d already been seen by her fiancé and lost track of Michael, because he also had to pee, oh and shit now Roy might run into him. She was going to have to be more careful and keep a closer eye on where her boss went. Thankfully, she hadn’t shed her new coat yet. The striped shirt she happened to have on today was close enough to the one she wore before; it might have even been the same one. However, the cardigan she had on over it was vastly different.

Not that Roy was likely to notice. Oblivious that one was to her wardrobe, except to gripe once in a while that she should dress sexier.

Roy would never pick up on the dissimilar sweater, but Jim might. He’d complimented her in both of them at one time or another. The gray, he’d said looked pretty on her and the chartreuse one she had on today, he’d said matched her lively green eyes. Jim, she realized, had been noticing what she wore way back since he first questioned what happened to her bright blue cardigan, back when he was first getting to know her, and she him.  

It was that sweater and the secret she shared when he asked where it went, that brought them closer and ever since changed them from merely friendly co-workers to close friends, one that would unquestionably notice she was wearing something different.

So, while she proved she could run into Roy without him picking on anything strange, he would be pretty drunk soon too making it even easier to fool him, she’d have to be extra careful not to be seen by Jim.

Roy didn’t leave though, just looked at her peculiarly as if he was beginning to notice she wasn’t the Pam he boarded with. When his brow began to furrow though, she understood he wasn’t suspicious but he was a little miffed from her touch of tone.

Anxious to find Michael and find a place to hide she smiled sweetly at him and playfully pushed him away, blowing a kiss to make up for her brashness.

His brow smoothed back and she knew it was safe again.

“Yeah okay. I’ll meet you at the table.”

He kissed her flippantly on the cheek before he took off in the direction of the men’s room calling back to her as he walked away.

“None of that light shit either. Thanks, Pammy.”

 

---

“Oh hey, which one are you?”

In her haste to get to the bar, she nearly crashed into Randall. She wasn’t exactly sure why Roy couldn’t go for the drinks after he, as he so eloquently put it, hit the head, but it wasn’t like she was a stranger to getting the beers.

She spied Jim who was headed in from the bow with a delighted grin on his face but no Katy hanging on his arm. Anxious to learn what the self-satisfied mug was all about—she had a feeling he won a particular bet—and knowing back at the table, in front of Katy and Roy it would be rude to laugh about their little inside jokes, she increased her pace so to arrive at the same time as her friend.

Her sight focused high, on the even more than usual, wind-swept hair that sat way above her eye level, she didn’t notice the cameraman until she was right upon him

It was a strange comment for Randall to make, one she would more likely expect of Creed and not Randall who had been filming them for long enough to know all their names by now.

“I’m Pam,” she responded while stepping out of his way. “So, are we going to do interviews tonight or are you just here to capture the insanity?”

“No, it’s just me on board tonight. No interviews planned, unless you have anything to share.”

“Me, no, but I think Jim might.

---

Annoyed by the nickname she told him repeatedly how much she hated, yet relieved to see Roy leave, Pam took off before anyone else would run into her and mistake her for herself. She was becoming a little light-headed and it had nothing to do with the boat’s motion and more to do with the fact that the ship had unmoored and was off on its small voyage. There was no getting off it now, not for three hours and there weren’t all that many places to stay hidden for that time, at least not that weren’t outside in the bitter cold.  What was worse, she couldn’t figure out where Michael had gotten to already.

---

Randall noticed how she lit up as she mentioned his name, as she often did when she spoke about him.

“I think he caught someone pretending to be Leonardo DiCaprio,” the Pam in front of him said with a bit of a giggle before she practically skipped off adding, “Excuse me, I’ve got to get to the bar to get drinks for me and Roy.”

The brightness in her smile dimmed somewhat as her fiancé’s name passed over her lips. It was curious how she still didn’t recognize it herself but as was said ‘love is blind’. He watched her flitter away as she made her way to where Jim was waving happily, having just spotted her.

Jim, he knew he was smitten, no matter what he tried to pull off in his talking heads. He could pretend to be involved with that Katy he brought along tonight, but nothing made his face brighten like when he was in the presence of the woman who just raced off to greet him at the bar, seeming more anxious to get to him, than to get drinks for Roy.

As she had reached him, Randall could only see her from behind, but he even so he could sense her luminosity and hear her delightful laughter as they talked while waiting to be served.

He also got his answer. He would have to look around some more for her time traveling twin.

---

Their meeting with the captain earlier went somewhat smoother than expected.

This time he and Michael got off on a better foot, thanks to her lecture on the drive over that he needed to respect him and his rules if he wanted to make any change to the evening’s results.

She was pretty confident the other Michael would still screw up the good relationship they established with the captain, likely within minutes of meeting him, again. There was virtually no way anything they did or said in the brief talk they had would prevent the hurricane that was also on board from creating an absolute disaster of the events of the evening.

Deep down, she knew it wasn’t possible to keep the other Michael out of trouble by night’s end but she also knew if her escort did anything to piss him off before his people even showed up, they might not even get to board the boat that night.  If their booze cruise didn’t happen, neither might her June 10th wedding and she’d waited long enough to set a date. She was determined to keep that particular forward momentum on track. Ultimately, it was why she agreed to go aboard early with Michael to make nice with the captain and his crew. What he might have thought when she boarded again with the rest of the office, she wasn’t sure, but it was long past now so she supposed it went smooth enough.

Besides, her mind was preoccupied with trying to make her way through the crowds of boat guests, herself included, and get to the upper deck.

She spotted herself walk back from the bar with Jim and saw her chance to dash upstairs. She knew, at least for now, everyone was situated downstairs as the night started, except hopefully for her Michael.

The space upstairs seemed even bigger than it had from land and with its many tarp-covered contraptions, giant storage pillars and sunken floor sections. It was a hide-and-seek player’s playground. 

Michael, she knew loved a good game and was surely giddy thinking of the night ahead as a chance to play all night, at least until later when, and she still wasn’t sure what he imagined he could do to stop it, he would try to keep the guest from going overboard.

She wished he’d have told her where he was going beforehand, but he was likely waiting excitedly for her to find him.

She traveled the length of the boat, checking obvious spots first, behind posts, under large plastic sheeting and inside crates she herself wasn’t sure she could fit in, but Michael might somehow find a way to squeeze himself into.

It wasn’t long before she heard something that had her cautiously making her way to the front of the bow area, where she came upon him vomiting over the side of the boat.

He seemed to be all puked out by the time she got to him, but his limp frame stayed hovered over the safety ledge, his head hung low resting on the upper bar. She quietly spoke his name and he looked up at her for a moment.

The indent from the metal pole formed a sort of crown across his forehead but his face looked anything but regal. His normally vivid eyes, were cloudy and washed out and a gray pallor enveloped his whole face which at seeing her was amplified by alarm. Fear, she assumed at not knowing which timeline she was from, triggered his gag reflex, and he turned back to the seas and retched again.

She’d warned him about the meat-lover’s slice he’d insisted on having at Alfredo’s, with its gray meatballs, slimy looking ham and unappetizing pepperoni. His face currently looked a lot like the meat that topped his pizza.   

It could have been the slice, or the old granola bar he found in his car on the way to Burlington or simply that boat travel and time travel didn’t mix. At least not for Michael who had turned back to her again, no longer looking old-meat gray but green to the gills.

But Pam was fine so far. Aside from the flux brought on by thoughts of what may lie ahead, she had no nausea or dizziness or any kind of motion sickness at all, which was strange because she did remember experiencing a bit of it while waiting at the bar for the drinks with Jim. The other Pam that is. The one that was down below presently getting used to the ship’s movement, the wave of queasiness passing once they sat down.

The only thing this Pam was feeling was highly anxious. She had this sinking sensation something about tonight was going to change everything that came after and there would be nothing she could do to prevent it.

End Notes:

Sorry that chapters are relatively short - only way I can keep this going in a timely manner. Thanks to all who read and review. I do appreciate all the comments and jellybean bestowals. 

Chapter 6 - Code Word: Hermione by Maxine Abbott
Author's Notes:

OK first - where are all the writers? Never had two of my stories live so close to each other on the most recent board.

Again sorry to be putting this out in such small increments but watching Booze Cruise episode over and over to make sure I've got the order of events and the layout close enough takes time. Again, I've taken some liberties on the size and layout of the ship and am going by the regular and NOT the supersized episode which I was so worried when came out would derail this whole story.

“Oh Pamswain, there you are.”

Even seasick he couldn’t help himself from adding some silly tag to her name, this one surprising her at its cleverness, never mind he had the pronunciation wrong. He must have looked up nautical terms back a few weeks ago when planning this shindig and learned the meaning of coxswain, hoping to find some way to work in a that’s what she said joke over the course of the night.

He stopped and stared at her, his bloodshot eyes droopy and barely open. They scanned over her face like an art appraiser trying to determine the authenticity of a painting.

“I mean you are Pam, right? Like the real Pam?”

Unsure if she was real or any of this was, she still could have been dreaming after all, she understood the meaning behind his question. If she had been the other version of herself, she might have been confused, but she had to give him some credit for the care he took not to give anything away.

Nothing he said this time alluded to their time travel, but the thing with Michael was his ability to error on the next play after he was deemed safe in a close call.

Wait, did she just use a baseball analogy? Properly? Roy would be so proud. Jim, too. Of course, it would have to be in a situation she couldn’t tell either of them about.

As much as she still had a hard time following the rules and gameplay of them, she had learned a little something back in high school when she read up on the sporting events she felt duty-bound to attend and sit through on TV with Roy. As a result, she had enough of an understanding to keep up, when to this day she was forced to watch, if still not much of an interest in them.

But she did enjoy being able to show off what little knowledge she had, and while they both still laughed when she did, Jim’s amusement seeming more of the ‘with her’ variety, while Roy’s leaning a touch more towards ‘at her’, they both showed their pleasure at her attempts.

At present, or past, or future—whenever it was, it didn’t much matter because she couldn’t share with either of them since she was stuck in a bit of a pickle—another one, and it wasn’t even baseball season, that with the two versions of each of themselves running around in such close quarters.

That was dangerous she knew. Either she or Michael could wind up bumping into the wrong version of the other and how would they be able to tell. All Michael’s suits looked alike, and though she dropped her glance to memorize his tie so she could tell them apart, she was sure he would not be able to tell his two Pams from one another.

She decided they needed a code word, to be sure they were always dealing with the version they thought they were.

“Yes Michael. If you’re asking if I’m the Pam you dragged back in time with you, I am.”

For a moment she worried if she was talking to the right one of him but remembered Michael battling with Captain Jack for authority at this leg of the trip and skulking off after getting scolded by the ship’s true CO.

“I shouldn’t have to reiterate how important it is you stay out of sight tonight. You must not be seen, especially by your other self. You got that?”

Bringing his hand up to his sweaty face, he saluted her.

“Aye aye captain.”

With labored effort to be jovial in his ailing condition, he tried to chuckle as he added, “you see what I did there, right? You get it right? Wish I had my captain’s hat to put on your head for greater effect.”

The hat, that’s right; past Michael wore that costume skipper cap, that was an easy tell. Still, it came off at some point and besides she still wasn’t sure if everything that happened that night would play out as it had the first time, regardless of them being there. Who was to know if the butterfly effect made an impact from the minute the Time Turner created a second manifestation of the events they were reliving? Did their arrival mean things could and would go off course, even while they were hidden from view? Could just the fact that there were two more bodies on the ship tonight create a paradigm universe where Michael doesn’t cause a scene and nobody jumps overboard, but to her fear, where Roy doesn’t have his drunken conversation with Captain Jack and in turn, their engagement stays in the indefinite state of an endless wait.

Not wanting to think of that possibility, Pam instead turned her focus back to her peaked travel partner.

“Yeah Michael, I get it,” she answered thankful not to have any hat that had been on his, placed on her head.

“But I’m thinking you and I ought to have a codeword. So, if we do get separated again, we know we are dealing with the right one.”

This seemed to bring a little color back to his face and he clapped in delight.

“Secret spy stuff. I like it. How about paper? No, wait, shipwreck. No, life preserver.  Ooo, ooo, I’ve got a better one, Wallenpaupack, that’s fun to say. Wallenpaupack,” he repeated.

Pam waited until he got all his suggestions out of his system.

“Let’s make it simple but something we might not say anyway tonight,” Pam offered. “It should be Hermione.”

“Hermione,” he nodded and then threw up again.

---

The boat’s lower deck, where everyone was congregated, had a layout similar to that of Dunder Mifflin Scranton but unlike the bullpen and annex of their daily residence, the principal gathering area of the vessel was surrounded by booths and counters instead of offices and conferences rooms. Where their workplace was cross-sectioned by the kitchen, the ship’s hull was broken into two main areas by a central structure which housed the staircase to the upper deck, some storage facilities and small restrooms, the men’s starboard and women’s on the port side. The bar sat at the bow, mostly hidden from view by the center console, the other side of which was where the band was set up. Out in front of the band’s staging area was a small dance floor and that’s where the action took place on most cruising nights. Tonight, was no exception. Most of her colleagues were there, as were many of the other passengers on the ship waiting for the party to begin.  She couldn’t see what was happening as she made her way to the ship’s interior deck, but from memory she knew the music and games would be starting shortly, as soon as the captain came back from escorting Dwight away from the area.

The bar was not big by any means, room for only three to four people at most to stand and because it was at the ship’s front it tended to be a bit rockier than the midsection, so generally folks didn’t hover there. Outside was a small landing that Dwight had been banished to, but he remained with his back to the inside, focused instead on the seas he thought he was navigating.

With not many places to hide Pam stayed tucked behind a large column on the starboard side knowing there would be much more traffic by the ladies room. She narrowly missed being seen on her way down, lucky that aside from some of the non Dunder Mifflin guests, it was only Stanley who passed her as she arrived on the bottom step. He had nodded at her, apparently noticing nothing unusual that Pam was at the bar, when just seconds before she’d been sitting at the booth adjacent to Phyllis, him and his wife.

She bowed her head back at Stanley but swiftly ducked out of sight, just in case he all of a sudden became a less oblivious version of himself and put it together she was in two places at once. She waited behind the big pillar until the bar area was clear of any other Dunder Mifflinites, praying none would return back for another drink while she got a coke and a ginger ale for Michael, unsure which, if any, would help settle his stomach.

As annoyed as she was with him, she still felt somewhat sympathetic that he was feeling so ill, even if a part of her felt he more than deserved it. She was fine on this boat, but she’d experienced that kind of seasickness while out with Roy’s family on a fishing trip and knew how miserable it could be. Roy’s response during that outing was to toss her a Coke from the cooler, which after she let it sit so it would not explode on her and after her annoyance that he couldn’t at least walk it over to where she sat immobilized due to the extreme nausea subsided, did help settle her stomach a bit.

Waiting for her chance to get to the bar took longer than she thought. Every time she thought she had a window, someone else would pop in, first Meredith, then Kevin, then Kelly, who took forever to order. It was without a doubt, because the poor guy behind it had to explain to her multiple times that beer, soda and wine were free but elaborate, fruity mixed drinks were not and they didn’t even have a blender for the frozen cocktail she was insisting on. In the end she walked off with some colorful concoction in a plastic cup. The bartender, she wagered to guess, was sick of hearing her whine and figured it was easier to appease her with some mix of cheap liquor and juice plus a slew of cherries and fruit wedges in order to get her out of his sight.

By the time Kelly was gone, Meredith was back, this time accompanied by Creed who began chatting with the bartender and was soon handed the silver shaker which he firmly tapped with his palm and agitated theatrically as if he were Tom Cruise in Cocktail.

She was beginning to think she might never get her opening and her concern at leaving Michael unattended was growing with each minute. Even in his diminished state, it was risky he might wander off and right into himself. As she waited for Creed to finish his mixology demonstration and for Meredith to order her drinks, the music shifted from the tropical vibes of the limbo song to a primal beat that she remembered clearly from the last time they were here, if only because Michael made a complete ass of himself with outlandish dance moves that were not quite in time with the syncopated musical rhythm.

From behind her hiding space, she could just about make him out trying to reproduce the earthworm, instead making a bigger fool of himself as he wiggled around on the ground.

She waited as Michael danced, turning inward to face the pillar when Brenda from corporate brushed past her in a rushed escape away from the craziness, so she wouldn’t be recognized. While pressed against the column could hear the chants and cheers begin, a signal that the snorkel had been brought out. That or Michael had simply stopped dancing

She knew as the party got into full swing and the shots began flowing, she herself would make her way to the bar for a second round. Watching Michael that night had her draining her own beer faster than usual, as if she were the one drinking embarrassment away. Of course, Roy downing half of hers after he knocked back his own, had something to do with the speed at which refills were needed.

Lucky for this Pam, Creed was finally on his way back to the dance floor, Meredith following behind and the coast was clear at last. She took one last look around before she slunk up to the bar ordered her sodas and disappeared up the stairs just in time.

 ---

Requiring another round after having been somewhat insulted by her fiancé, laughed at by Jim’s girlfriend and made to sit through Michael’s distasteful dance moves, she made her way back to the bar. Staying slightly buzzed was the one way she would get through tonight.

As she turned around the bend, out of the corner of her eye, she swore she spied a woman of average height wearing an eggshell-colored puffer making her way to the upper deck. The outerwear she wore looked so much like hers that she almost followed her up to check that it wasn’t. For a cold, Thursday night in January, there were a lot of people taking this cruise with them and she had to wonder what kind of people they were. Coat thieves, perhaps. In the end she decided that it had to be coincidence, her coat was hardly worth stealing and was safely tucked away behind the booth she’d been sharing with Jim and Katy since they first boarded. Instead, she turned to the bar and waited her turn to order two more beers for her and Roy.

---

With a coke-filled plastic cup in one hand and a ginger ale in the other she made her way back to the spot where she’d left Michael earlier. Big surprise, he wasn’t there.

Damn it, Michael. I told you to stay put.

Considering the condition he’d been in upon her going for the medicinal beverages she was a little surprised, but as she began to walk towards the front of the ship, she gained her clue as to what likely chased him from where he’d been convalescing. There on the deck below was Dwight, positioned at the helm, his posture ramrod straight, his attention front-focused, his hands gripped fiercely around the wooden wheel that she was fairly certain was only there to entertain any children aboard when the ship was chartered for private events and family excursions.

Of course, she’d seen Dwight there earlier while she waited by the bar but hadn’t put it together that she’d left Michael overlooking this same spot. From his vantage point with his back to the boat and his attention focused on the sea before him, he wouldn’t necessarily notice anyone behind him, but it was the flash of blonde that she glimpsed passing back through the doors that led back to the interior that was the thing that most likely forced Michael away. Angela, who noticed everything, would surely have seen her boss above her and been highly suspicious, if not outright freaked out at how he could possibly be up where he was while simultaneously acting a menace inside.

That was two mysteries solved, Pam thought, Michael’s disappearance and Angela’s grumpier than usual mood that Pam recalled from her earlier memories of the night, although the latter could have been caused by almost anything.

With Angela gone and not as worried Dwight might see her, she lingered a moment following his gaze off into Lake Wallenpaupack. Hypnotized by the vision, the reflection of the moon cast on the water was a scene she might have liked to sketch had circumstances been different. Tonight, however she hadn’t a pencil or paper and the bright orb’s glow on the surface was a gentle reminder of her own mirror image that was newly experiencing this night on the floor beneath her and set her back to her mission to make sure Michael Two did not affect the event that was to come for Pam One.

Knowing why Michael had moved didn’t get her any closer to finding where he traveled off to, so she retreated from the bow and continued her hunt, looking under the benches and behind the storage crates and even in the little life boats towards the back. Not being able to find him after an extensive search could mean one of two things. He’d either fallen overboard or more likely he’d gone below. She started for the stairs but then memory stopped her in her tracks.

Her warped sense of time not helping things, she tried to piece together the order of events that had occurred two weeks ago. She knew she herself would eventually be making her way up here, escaping with Jim to take a breather from the rowdiness, chants of snorkel shots and her own fiancé becoming wildly out of control like he used to at the wild parties from their past.

She knew she had been kidding herself that night when she told Jim he didn’t really act like that anymore.  Both then and now, she was completely aware it wasn’t just that old behavior was surfacing because of the free beer and the reminder of high school, glory days brought up by Katy.

Even now, she remained in denial how it was a regular thing for Roy to drink heavily, become boisterous and disrespectful, and ignore her until later in the night when he suddenly would remember he had a fiancé because he got sentimental or horny. What was different on that night was she had Jim’s company, his date also partaking in the out-of-control activities.

Pam couldn’t take the risk of heading down to find Michael. On the staircase there’d be no way to avoid the upheaval that was sure to follow should she be both on her way down and up at the same time. If ever there was a time she wished she could fly, this was it as she knew of no other way she could get to the lower floor where Michael almost certainly on a collision course for disaster himself.

She was trapped, stuck up here until the uncomfortable interaction with her friend transpired, something she recollected hadn’t taken long. Things got weird quickly in a way they never had before with her best friend and that night she used the cold as an excuse to escape the awkwardness.

She’d have to hope both Michaels would be okay until then.

With nothing to do but hide, she tucked herself low on the last bench and waited.

End Notes:

Thanks for sticking with this story so far. As you might have guessed, the intensity and drama begins to really ramp up with the next chapter. 

Chapter 7 - 27 Seconds by Maxine Abbott
Author's Notes:

Many thanks to everyone reading and especially reviewing this story .

There’s something to be said about time, or timing when it comes to this story. This chapter seemed to align with an episode that recently aired on the Deep Dive podcast. Those up to date will know right away what I’m referring to.

The frosty air had gone unnoticed while on her quest for Michael, but now perched low in the last row each lungful she inhaled added to the internal chill she felt knowing she would soon witness her own likeness coming up from the staircase near the front of the boat.

She’d seen herself on camera before. Her parents had a camcorder and took plenty of home video of her and Penny growing up.

Roy’s folks too, liked to record family events and holidays and would often host follow-up dinners just so they could play the show back for an audience made up of the players in their seasonal follies.

She’d even just this past November, walked in on Matt reviewing the recent talking heads and caught a few seconds of herself sharing the details of her prior performance review from Michael. From what she saw on the small monitor, her auburn hair seemed more brown than red, her nose appeared wider and her cheeks a little fuller as if the ten pounds the camera was said to add was all concentrated on her face.

She was used to the slightly aberrant image of herself on film and while it always made her cringe, seeing her likeness in video wasn’t so strange.

But this would be something entirely different and nothing could quite prepare her for the other world event she was about to observe. It wouldn’t be a recording but another living, breathing version of Pam Beesly that would soon be standing just feet away.

How would it feel to share the same physical space as the person who for whom this was a new experience? To breath the same air, to both hear and remember the roar of the water splashing against the boat and live though the same event that was already a memory burned in her brain?

Would the things she remembered about that night suddenly change if she noticed something more or different this time around or would it feel like separate experiences, happening to two distinct individuals, despite the fact that they were both her?

Trying to guess what to anticipate only made her shiver more, the thick, puffy coat doing little to shield her from the chilling sensation that seemed to be originating from within her body and not from the cool breeze blowing off Lake Wallenpaupack.

She debated closing her eyes not knowing how unsettling her reaction might be when her other form came into view. It was only the sound of movement in a row up ahead of her that made her open them again. Thinking it was Michael, she popped her head up and peeked over the benches but it wasn’t her bosses dark coiffed locks she discovered. Instead, it was the beanie capped head of the cameraman, Randall, also propped low to stay hidden and secure a spy shot of the two figures who just walked to the starboard railway.

Unable to help herself, she gasped audibly in reaction to the surprise of learning they had been filmed that night combined with the current disorientation at seeing the real live version of her past self.

She only hoped the wind whipping up from the lake had drowned out the sound of her panic and that Randall was too focused on Jim and the other Pam in front of him to notice that she was also there behind him. The documentary would take a quite interesting turn if he turned back to discover her, that is if he survived the shock of it all.

Shrinking back like a frightened turtle, she recoiled below the bench but inched herself sideways to peek out and observe herself standing at the boat’s edge with Jim.

Strange as it was to watch what she lived once before, she couldn’t tear her eyes away either. As yet, the memory unfolding before her and the one solidified in her mind remained in perfect synchronicity as she stared ahead to where the other her leaned against the railing looking up at her best friend.

Being here reminded Pam of another Harry Potter phenomenon, that of the swirling blue liquid in the pensive which, upon the addition of a fluid thread pulled from out of his brain with his wand, allowed Dumbledore to see the things he’d seen before. Pam wondered if what she was feeling now was similar to how it felt when Harry fell into the eddy in the large silver urn to relive a time from the past. She had the slight sensation of being underwater, as if floating, but that she could attribute to the motion of the boat. However, it was the ripples and shadows cast over what seemed like a scene from a movie, one where she had the starring role, that took on a mystical quality and made her recall the film she finally got Roy to take her to see.

But beyond the ethereal feeling in her eyes and body, there was something about seeing the look of her own face that seemed different from what she saw in the mirror or in photos of herself, as if Jim’s lighthearted disposition and calming presence was reflected back in the visage of the Pam she watched. Her other self glowed, her smile resplendent, with eyes that lit up like the moonbeams that danced atop the water’s flowing surface. She wasn’t able to hear the words they were speaking but she didn’t need to, she remembered most of what they talked about. As it happened, they’d said very little to each other as they waited out the way too boisterous activities happening below deck.  

Silence inhabited so much of the time they stood there. She had mentioned Roy and then Katy, which strangely wiped the happy expression from his face and seemed to destroy his skill with language.

When it happened for the first time, it felt like forever that they remained there in the muted stillness, the only words coming from Jim’s eyes and not his lips and for maybe the first time in the course of their friendship, she had trouble deciphering their meaning. At least that was what she told herself as she waited for him to say something, both then and now.

From behind her bench, she began her count.

1…

2…

3…

This night, the view she had was of her own face, not Jim’s. But it didn’t matter she couldn’t see his now. That image of his hooded lids, eyes laced with declarations she to this day refused to hear, it had been imprinted on her soul, haunting her even later that night as she lay in bed with Roy.

6…

7…

8…

She could see them just as clearly now, as she stared at the wind whipping through the hair on the back of his head, still refusing to hear what they were screaming to her.

10…

11…

12…

Instead of letting herself focus on the meaning behind his lack of speech, she hyper-concentrated on her new perspective, that of her own face and her own eyes.

14…

15…

16...

The seconds that ticked by, marked only by the hush that came over both of them, drew the smile away from her own lips too but even through the awkward quiet the light in her own eyes never faded.

18...

19...

She wondered if her eyes took on the same luminance when she was with Roy. They must, she was to be his wife and she loved him. And later tonight she could possibly get the chance to see herself glow like this again.

21…

Especially since in the next hour he would be declaring his love and setting their wedding date. That event was certain to reproduce the sparkle she was seeing now.

23…

24…

The words Roy spoke that night, those she couldn’t quite remember. She’d had a few beers and had just been complaining to Katy about how he was dragging out the engagement. It took her largely by surprise when he stood up to make his announcement. She didn’t actually grasp what was happening until the moment had passed.

26…

It would be nice to get a chance to really listen this time, record his speech in her heart to keep forever.

27…

While she contemplated how she might make that possible, she noticed her other self had once more voiced the excuse to extricate herself from the unfamiliar situation with a wordless Jim.

“I’m Cold.”

It came from inside her own head, the voice that spoke the words. The wind was too loud and she was too far away for the vocal version to reach her, but she heard it anyway, the words that broke the interminable silence.

27 seconds.

Was that unreasonably long or had it only seemed that way because of all that was swimming though her head that night? Her anger with Roy, her jealousy of Katy for being one of those girls back in high school, in fact that type of girl to the present day.

Paired with those emotions were her masked inability to read just what was on Jim’s mind, the guilt she felt pretending she hadn’t even the slightest sense and the extreme confusion about her own feelings.

It felt long watching it again tonight.

Maybe longer.

And yet she was no more ready to accept what his pensive look and lack of words had been telling her.

Her future had finally become clear in its path with a date set and her marriage happening so soon.

Acknowledging what deep down she probably knew would only complicate things.

She might have to look inside herself and admit she wasn’t satisfied. With her career, with her partner, with what the life that lay ahead would have in store for her.

But if there was anything Pam was afraid of, it was making a change.

So once more, she let her practical mind, the one scared of rocking the boat, take control.

Denial could be a powerful thing, sometimes with the ability to make you see things that weren’t there or cloud from view the things that were.

In Pam it was so omnipotent it effectively altered her thinking not once but twice now.

All the thoughts, all the feelings bubbling up from way down below, both times she was on this cruise—the ones that had been fighting so hard to make their way up through the depths, that nearly rose to the height where they might break through the surface, they were drowned once more. Her rejection of transformation of any kind causing them to sink way back to where they came from, almost as if they never existed.

And like the emotions that plummeted rapidly, the other Pam also disappeared down below passing back down the stairs that minutes before brought her up with Jim.

It was just as well, where they would go, Randall would follow and she could return to searching for Michael and then find a safe place where she could watch herself get re-engaged again.

But while her past self had walked away and gone through the doorway to the lower deck, Jim did not. He remained at the ledge; somehow looking smaller than his 6’ 3” frame as he stood gazing off at the lights along the shore.

Did she know he hadn’t been behind her that night?

On the evening of her memory, she got to the bottom of the stairs where she was greeted by Katy who she suspected was quite tipsy by then. Jim’s date asked where she had been but didn’t wait for an answer. Instead she had grabbed her by her gloved hands and pulled her back to the dance floor where most of the Dunder Mifflin women had a little disco circle going. She remembered hopping around a few minutes in her coat and scarf before she went back to sit down, Katy joining her after a few more songs, holding fresh beers in her hands.

Back then she just assumed Jim had come down behind her and stopped in the restroom or got detained himself, accosted by Michael or one of the other guys.

But now she knew Jim had not returned downstairs right away. But why? Sure, it was nice view but somehow, she sensed that was not why he lingered. Was he suddenly ill, seasick as Michael was?

No, even in her delusional state, she knew it wasn’t a wave of nausea that detained him.

As he stood at the railing she pondered if there had been something more going through his head when he’d been with her other presence mere moments ago. She’d griped about Roy before. He always just listened, letting her get whatever Roy had annoyed her with this time, out of her system.

Was it about Katy? She knew their relationship came to an abrupt end that same night. Had he needed her advice and she had failed in her role as a friend?

She walked out from behind her bench, completely forgetting about Randall and having to stay hidden once she sensed his distress.

Something told her this hadn’t to do with Katy. Something told her it had to do with her.

Her and Roy.

Her and the crush he told her he’d had when she first started. The little bit of gossip he only shared because Michael had let slip out a week ago, or was it a week from now? How was she to acknowledge the order of events that both had not yet happened but she had memories of? 

Standing here now she knew it was about her and him.

Just as quickly as she came out of her hiding spot, she realized her error and ducked back behind the pillar closer to where Jim was but not before she softly spoke his name, ready to call to him and ask him just what it was he had wanted to say when she, the other she, had been standing there. 

“Oh Jim.”

But she stopped herself.

Even if she could pretend to be the Pam who moments ago left him there troubled and alone, and even if she knew what she could say to stop his anguish, nothing she would say or do now would prevent the event yet to come tonight.

And what was impending was still what she thought she wanted.

Both of them did, the Pam for whom it had already happened and the one downstairs who had no idea it was coming, because they were one and the same.

In less than an hour she would once more have an actual wedding date set. Her dreams of becoming a bride would be closer than they’d ever been, so close that she had an appointment booked to try on gowns with her mom and Penny.

In no more than 60 minutes, both versions of herself would be experiencing happiness she’d been waiting so long for.

Right now, she couldn’t worry that a second look at the incident that preceded that pure joy, was causing conflicting feelings to form around that happiness.

---

‘Nice going.’

‘You royally screwed that up, Jim.’

‘You had your opening, what the hell?’

The Mephistopheles on his shoulder was grilling him hard, having forced away the angel that had kept him quiet while she was still there, the one that whispered, ‘she’s engaged, telling her will only hurt you both’ as he struggled to form the words that would let her know just what he felt.

The pang of regret rang in his ears and he swore he could hear her speaking his name but it must have been the wind or perhaps the water nymphs that lured sailors to their deaths by calling them into the waters through emulation of the voices of their most impassioned loves.

But he wouldn’t jump tonight, not literally at least.

But maybe, after a little more liquid courage, he could take the leap he should have just before. He shrugged off the imaginary beings, letting them be the feast for the siren that called out to him and walked to the door, this time determined not to chicken out.

---

With Jim now gone she assumed it was only a matter of time before Randall would come out from his own hiding spot and follow him to the lower deck.

She hoped it would be soon. Delicate drops of mucus had long since started slipping from her nostrils due to the cold. With no tissue to wipe them away her sniffles occurred more often but less efficiently and her gloved hand had been used more than once as a substitute.

The tips of her fingers and toes of her feet weren’t totally numb yet but were chilled to a more than comfortable temperature. Curiously, her contacts weren’t causing her trouble as they often did when cold air hit her eyes in the winter months. There was no dryness or irritation as if they weren’t even in her eyes at all but they must have been. The cloudy vision she had experienced earlier was gone. In fact, things seemed a bit clearer to her than they regularly did.  The sea air must be therapeutic, perhaps a better remedy than the Bausch and Lomb drops that were in the purse tucked away somewhere downstairs.

While her eyes were fine, her stomach was starting up with the gurgling noises again. Somehow, she would have to sneak herself over to one of the tables with food if only to grab a few cubes of cheese to hold her over.

But most importantly she was still unaware of where Michael was. The thought of two Michaels on the loose somewhere on this boat was more than a little frightening.

“Hermione.”

She heard the name spoken from behind her.

Oh good, he found her.

The voice was gruffer than normal but she assumed from the hoarseness after all his vomiting.

‘Oh, thank god,’ she thought to herself.

“Michael, where have you been?”

But when she turned around it wasn’t Michael standing behind her.

It was Randall.

Using the code word she’d given Michael and looking rather calm, not at all thrown by the fact that he’d just recorded another version of the person in front of him at the edge of the ship with Jim and then retreating down to the deck below.

“You know, don’t you?”

Randall nodded. 

“You’re not freaked out? Wait, are there two of you too? Did we somehow take you back with us?”

She thought about how she wound up along for Michael’s ride and wondered if the mike pacs that connected sound back to their camera units were some type of surrogate chain link that transported him too when the trip occurred.  

“No, it’s just me. But this isn’t my first time witnessing this sort of thing. That time I almost sh…”

Randall stopped mid-sentence, obviously wanting to be respectful speaking to her.

Pam, however, knew what he was about to say. She normally not one to curse, was thinking a slew of expletives back when she first realized what had happened. Mostly, it was directed at Michael but still the words were not usually in her everyday vocabulary.

“Yeah, I could see why. I’m still a little freaked out by all of this. And if it wasn’t happening to me, I’d never believe it was all real. But I take it you have it on film. Guess that changes the scope of your documentary, what with the proof of it in your camera.”

Randall scoffed as he directed her to follow him back to a bench.

“I don’t have proof. I have what most of my colleagues would say is a talent for editing. As least that’s what I heard when I discovered time travelers once before on a job years ago.  That last time, when I tried to show my discovery to the producers, they accused me of some in-camera post-production magic. My insistence it was real magic only got me put on medical leave, that the long hours watching the world through a viewfinder were messing with my cognitive function.  Nope, I’m keeping my mouth shut this time for a whole host of reasons, not the least of which is that I don’t want to wind up in a mental hospital.”

Another rumble abruptly escaped from Pam’s stomach as Randall set down the camera that had been still up on his shoulder. She threw her hands to her midsection as if they could muffle the sound that her puffy coat did little to dampen.

“Listen now you don’t have to worry about hiding from me anymore but you do need to find Michael, your Michael, before something catastrophic happens. But remember to stay out of sight yourself.”

He kept talking as he pulled out a granola bar from his own pocket and stretched out the hand that held it to her.

“Mysterious thing time,” he began as he released the grip on the snack. “Powerful and when meddled with, dangerous.”

She’d heard that line before. It was what Dumbledore said before he sent Harry and Hermione on their mission to repair the wrongs perpetrated on the innocent.

“But remember what Dumbledore said about the consequences, too ghastly to even be discussed.”

Either he was a fan of the movies too or he figured out from her code word that she’d pay heed to his warning with the use of the quote. Whichever it was, it was a bit funny him referencing the Hogwarts headmaster as that was who she habitually thought of when she caught sight of the middle age man who over the last year had become a fixture in their office. With his kind eyes, his thick, snowy eyebrows and often unruly beard, though not so long it needed a ponytail holder to contain it, Randall bore a slight resemblance to the school of witchcraft and wizardry’s fearless leader. In Pam’s imagination, Randall was what Dumbledore looked like when he was roughly the same age as the older of the two cameramen.

“Find him and keep him hidden and out of trouble until the boat docks and then you two sneak off when the non Dunder Mifflin people disembark. Something tells me they’ll want to get off as fast as they can.”

“But Randall we only came on board to stop him from …” she hesitated.

Randall was in the original timeline. For him the events to come hadn’t happened yet. Was it harmful to tell him? He seemed to be unfazed by knowing she was from the future but she kept thinking of all the movies she’d seen where there were rules about this kind of thing.

In her mind she heard the voice of Doc Brown, another white-haired sage, insisting that revealing what would happen could have dire repercussions on future events. But she was in the Harry Potter model not Back to the Future’s, or were they all essentially following the same rules? Could she still affect the timeline by sharing details she knew about what was to come and would telling Randall change anything? She opted to share, hoping with some of that knowledge he could become a father-like figure to help her navigate the rest of her journey.

“Listen later Michael is going to…”

Randall waved her off.

“Pam. We’re talking about Michael here; I don’t really need to know the details. I’ll see it soon enough.”

He winked at her and pat the camera he held at his side.

“Besides I’ve got to get back down. I’ve still got the documentary to capture and I’m sure I’m missing something with my Michael. But think about it. We both know who we are dealing with. Anything he does to try to change the future is bound to make it worse, am I right? Don’t waste time telling me, just find him and get yourselves hidden until we dock.”

And with that he too went below, only he took an alternate route through a trap door in one of the sunken deck surfaces and down a staircase she hadn’t known existed.

Randall was right. Their plan to change the future was foolhardy and reckless and it hadn’t even been devised yet.

But somehow things already felt different.

End Notes:

I’ll be honest, this chapter was a struggle. I believe reliving the moment would have some impact, but I also wanted to be true to the Pam that she still is at this point and that Pam is in heavy, heavy denial. But hey, even in the show it was hard to believe she couldn’t see what was so plain as day. Besides, what fun would it be if she came to her senses right here? Love to know what YOU think.

As for Randall, I played with time here too and based my cameraman on the man he is today and not who he was during the show's airing years…my story, my rules.

Check him out.

 

Chapter 8 - Questions by Maxine Abbott
Author's Notes:

It's a slow boat, this fic, both in the unfolding of the events and the posting of the chapters.

The latter because I like Pam am dealing with two timelines at once. What I mean is my method of writing this has me posting a current chapter, bouncing over to pen a initial draft of a much later chapter (currently up to 20) and then coming back to current one to layer in more, edit and ready it for posting. It certainly helps with keeping the timelines straight and with adding the circularity I so love to include. But it does slow down the posting process. 

Apologies for those few who might be waiting on it.

 

Katy was a little drunk, that was for sure. Why else was she suddenly Pam’s best friend, seeking her out to come dance, hanging on her every word and bringing her drinks? It was weird to be wooed by a cheerleader, someone who would never have given her the time of day in high school, not even when she started going out with one of the football players all the pom-pom shakers idolized.

When she began prying her with questions about Jim, it made a little more sense.

“Does he have brothers or sisters?”

“Yeah, two older brothers and a younger sister who he adores. Seems the two older ones were relentless in their pranks and teasing of them both when they were growing up, so Larissa and Jim teamed up themselves to fight back against their tormentors. But the way he describes it, it’s mostly in good fun. He’s very close with all his family.”

Pam had to wonder in their few months of dating, had he never told her about his siblings and the antics that took place among their family? She learned all about the Halpert clan within a week of knowing him. It was hard to imagine Pete, Tom and Rissa never came up in conversation, much less that Katy hadn’t been brought home to meet any of the crew over the recent holidays.

“So, what kind of things does he like, aside from making jokes and playing pranks?”

“Well, he’s really into music. He always knows about groups and songs that are a little less mainstream but still really good. Like that one song by Travis. He played you them, right?

Katy’s button nose wrinkled and her cheeks filled with uncertainty as she tried to recall the group Pam mentioned.

“Travis, hmmm. No, doesn’t ring a bell.”

Pam dipped her head back in gentle laughter at Katy’s use of the common cliché, but didn’t explain the reason. She knew it was a little rude but chances are Katy wouldn’t understand what she found so funny anyhow. If she didn’t know the song, she wouldn’t know about the song’s strange opening beats.

In her head, Pam could almost hear the unusual synth chord, that when it first rang in her ears out of a pair of shared earphones, reminded her of a wailing tea kettle. Crossfading from the ascending hiss was the rising tone of chiming bells, eerie and almost ominous upon that first listen, but ever since the effect of hearing them was comforting and even uplifting as it made her think of her friend Jim whenever she played it.

And as the third song on the mixed tape he hid in her teapot, that was quite often.

“Sing. You must know the song; he’s always got it cued up on his iPod.”

Katy shook her head, looking a little dejected, Pam’s laughter probably not helping her feel any better that she didn’t know what music groups her boyfriend liked.

With eyes darting downward, a touch of remorse rimming her irises, Pam veered the conversation away from the songs he liked to listen to and onto his personal musical abilities.

“You know he dabbles with playing guitar himself?” she half stated, half asked.

This tidbit of information she only just learned herself while at his recent party. There in his room she not only discovered his yearbook and his dorky teenaged headshot, but she also she spied the instrument tucked in a corner and asked him to play. He wasn’t bad, but clearly had taught himself and wasn’t leaving Dunder Mifflin to join any rock bands soon.

She imagined Katy must have also noticed the guitar in his room at some point and likewise asked for a private concert after a different kind of private performance.

The blank look in Katy’s vacant yet still gorgeous eyes said otherwise.

“So, he’s a musician and not an athlete?”

“Um, Jim, no he’s a huge sports guy, you had to know that, right?”

“Sort of. I know he likes to watch football.”


“He watches, and is on at least two fantasy football leagues. He also follows baseball, hockey, basketball and even tennis occasionally.”

Pam answered Katy matter-of-factly but wondered what they talked about when they were together. Was Katy just too self-absorbed to pick up on her own boyfriend’s varied pursuits and interests or was he not sharing with her? Either way, it was hard to believe Katy knew so little about Jim.

“He also plays. He was a starter on his high school basketball and was really good. Still is.”

She remembered how impressed she’d been watching him play that day at the office. Even if Michael hadn’t pulled his phony foul nonsense and cut the game short, it was his team that most likely would have been the winners, primarily due to his skills. Like a gazelle on the court, she recalled herself being drawn to his lean lines and graceful moves, paying more attention to him than her own fiancé who played like a linebacker, using his hefty body to move through the space and other players instead of using fancy footwork like his main competitor.

Taking a pull from her beer, she washed down the guilt she felt once more at her memory of being attracted to her friend during the game. Setting it down, her fingers settled on the engagement ring that had pulled her back to reality that day too. Twisting it nervously as she often did, she awaited Katy’s next inquiry.

“I'd like to be engaged. How did you manage to pull that off?”

Jim, she didn’t much mind talking about, but her three-years long engagement was not one of her favorite topics to discuss. She could almost sense a difference in the air as the conversation shifted from Jim’s athleticism to her sidelined nuptials.

“Uh, I've been engaged for three years, and there's no end in sight. So... you don't wanna ask my advice.”

The electric hum, present as Pam had rattled off the stuff Jim was into, ceased to vibrate in the atmosphere surrounding them. There was nothing exciting about a wedding that wasn’t being planned or a fiancé who after asking her to marry him three years ago, seemed to have forgotten he had.

Sensing a slight buzz return to her body, imaginably from the swig that just reached her bloodstream, she looked up to notice Jim coming towards them, no doubt to retrieve his girlfriend and whisk her away for her own tour of the upper deck.

Still, his near presence seemed to have an instant effect Pam could feel on her face.

They both turned to greet him as he arrived at the booth when quite abruptly, Roy’s slurred voice filled the space, drawing their attention to where he stood at the microphone.

“Hey, everybody. Can I have your attention for just a second…”  

---

Find Michael without being seen.

Randall said it as if it were a simple task but neither part seemed like an easy exercise to her.

Her gut seemed to agree as it gurgled and growled once more, as if in protest at the mission ahead.

Taking a moment to unwrap the bar he handed her, she sat down and began to nibble on it, feeling her stomach settle as the oats and honey filled the emptiness. She let herself rest for a minute digesting, even while knowing the minutes lost as she ate increased the danger of the situation with time-traveling Michael unaccounted for.

Still, she was somewhat confident the two doppelgängers hadn’t crossed paths yet. She felt like she would know if a cataclysmic event of that nature were to happen. There’d most surely be a major upheaval, a commotion that would bring everyone aboard to the site of convergence, creating confusion and panic, screaming and fainting, and quite possibly more people jumping out the windows into the freezing waters.

A meeting like that would cause a bigger disturbance than the incident the lone Michael caused when he announced the ship was sinking, because this time even the Dunder Mifflin people would be shaken at the sight of two Michael Scotts.

Or perhaps not. Her office kinfolk had witnessed unimaginable madness before, things never before thought possible until they were employed at the paper company under the current regional manager. Would they also be unfazed by seeing two of him, thinking it some trick he’d somehow devised as part of his presentation?

But what kind of lasting damage would it cause him, Michael? She was annoyed with him still for dragging her back in time and onto the boat. However, the former was not exactly his fault, who could imagine that Jim’s toy Time Turner would contain real magic? The latter and this new disappearing act, well that she could blame him for, and she did, but still she wished him no permanent harm.

Despite wanting nothing more than to find a warm hiding spot and wait out the rest of the evening, she scarfed down the remainder of the bar so she could get back to her search.

She rose, pulling her scarf tighter around her neck and slipping her hands back into the gloves she had removed to eat.

Not quite sure what to make of the shakiness she felt when she stood, her sea legs now less stable than they’d been earlier, she looked around as she tried to steady herself. In the distance, was a view of the night sky lit up by stars and the glow off a waxing moon but she only allowed herself a moment to be distracted by the beauty of it, focusing instead on the different structures that traversed the upper deck.

Balance regained she asked herself, shivering a bit as she composed the internal question, If I were Michael, where would I go?

Glancing once more over the expanse in front of her, she heard Michael’s giddy voice reverberate in her head, exploring of course.

Since he’d spent most of his time below this level the first time around, it was likely he started this go’s survey of the boat up here. Last trip, he’d only been in one spot while on the upper deck, handcuffed to the railing at the bow.  

As she took the first steps of her search, a sound from behind startled her and she jumped back behind the pillar that hid her from Jim earlier. Once able to investigate from the safe space behind it, she looked out again to see who or what it was. Seeing no one she determined it must have been the wind wailing through the cavernous spaces or the waves slapping up against the sides. In the stillness, the surrounding noises seemed magnified, but as far as she could tell there was nobody else around.

She was alone once again.

Solitude, it was a treasure for some, not always for Pam. There were times when the subtle voices in her head that formed questions about her choices got a little too loud when there weren’t others around to drown them out. At home, when Roy would leave her there, she would call her mom or try Isabel, watch the television shows that he refused to or if she were in the middle of a good book, the characters became her company. Anything that could distract her from her doubts and keep her out of her own head.

Coming out from behind her hiding space, she stepped to up to where she and Jim had been standing.

To be distracted, it was why she came up here with Jim that night, tonight she supposed, remembering how it just occurred again. There were plenty of people around below and yet she couldn’t quiet her mind while among them. There was one voice she knew could shut hers up so she asked him to take a walk with her, but instead of a diversion, she got silence. Silence so loud, she had to return to the rowdiness of the crowds to stop hearing it.

At present however, she supposed being on her own was best. She couldn’t search for Michael otherwise and for now that would be enough to keep her mind occupied.

To make sure of it, she layered in a soundtrack to her quest, softly singing as she walked back along the rows of benches, checking under each one for signs of her missing boss.

“Unless you sing, sing, sing, sing.”

Alternating between the words she knew and humming the parts she didn’t, she let the music fill her head as she combed the area.

Up by the stern she peeked behind the additional columns and under all the tarps that covered various boating equipment. There were more than a few places to hide up here and one never knew where Michael might find a place to conceal himself from view if he too heard the noises that might be mistaken for other people.

Moving up towards the front, she checked all the doors, including the one marked crew only, hesitating briefly before disobeying the sign, the importance of the mission eventually outweighing her fear.

Behind the forbidden door was a small supply storeroom full of spare life jackets and more of the crew’s familiar windbreakers hanging from hooks in a long row. Below a sea of yellow and orange flanking the wall were boxes of provisions, a pile of hefty wool blankets, some unidentifiable ship equipment and other surplus materials.

A small refrigerator stood in the corner. There was no reason to open it, it wasn’t like Michael might be hiding inside it, but she did so anyway, having already broken the rules, aside from being both curious and thirsty.

There she discovered, among the other contents, a stockpile of 500ml Poland Spring waters. Although alone in the room, she craned her head around to check her surroundings once more before she grabbed one, telling herself there were so many, one would not be missed.

She’d long ago set down the drinks she had obtained for Michael without ever having taken a single sip and while the granola bar was satisfying and served to quiet her belly, it was also extra dry. Gulping down half a bottle in one long swig, she debated taking a second before releasing the door, spying the Yoplaits, including a few of her favorite mixed berry flavor just seconds before it completely shut.

She felt only somewhat rejuvenated following the water and the granola bar. Hers wasn’t a big appetite, but the small repast could hardly be considered a full meal, and certainly not one that would satiate the extraordinary hunger that she suspected would be permanently present on this journey, a natural accompaniment to warping the fabric of space and time.

Never letting go of the handle she yanked the door back open, going as far as to reach inside but let it go empty-handed. Taking one of these, she decided was a step to bold for her. Besides, she didn’t have a spoon.

Forgetting the yogurt, she took another small sip of the stolen water instead, replaced the cap, and settled the bottle into the pocket with the crumpled wrapper and took a few steps back from the fridge so not to be tempted further.

Another glance around the area revealed nothing new. None of the boxes were large enough for a grown man to hide in, even Michael who once tried to hide under a towel in the lower portion of the office mail cart, but another door flanked the far side of the room. Moving away the box that stood in its way she attempted to pull it open but found it was locked.

“Michael,” she spoke into the door.

There was no reply.

“Hermione,” she uttered, thinking maybe just maybe, he actually was being cautious and remembered to only respond to the code word.

With still no response, she pushed the box back against the door and stepped back out of the storeroom to continue her search elsewhere.

With no other doors to open she walked around to the spot where she’d last seen Dwight.  He was no longer playing sailor behind the phony wheel but his departure hadn’t summoned Michael back so there was no real reason to linger.

But she did. Not for very long, but long enough to pull at her gloved hand and twist at her ring, the way she often did when stressed or faced with a difficult situation.

One, two, three turns.

That was usually enough to settle her nerves, but tonight she took an extra turn before she raised her head back up.

Ahead of her she could see another deck that jutted out slightly above the one she was on. There, on the platform she spied the canary yellow outerwear of a real crewman steering from inside a more modern control center. From behind she saw only his beanie-capped head and the myriad of gearshifts, levers and screens that he maneuvered with seemingly laser focus. He appeared to be alone up in the bridge but she couldn’t quite make out the whole area from where she stood.

She thought to check there too, knowing anything was possible with Michael. Perhaps he had made a new friend of the ship’s navigator and was keeping him company as he steered the ship around the lake.

Pam paced back and forth, scanning the area for another staircase or door that might lead up to his perch. Finding no way to reach it, at least not from where she was, she decided it wasn’t likely Michael would be up there anyhow.

Plus, she had to imagine breaching the platform of the mariner was an offense that would positively put her in plastic cuffs and she’d wind up side by side with Michael number one in the brig, that is if the night followed the same course as the original cruise and Michael number two wasn’t off taking it in another direction.

The thought had her racing back to the stern.

A new course, while good for the man who jumped, could be disastrous for her. No wonder her stomach was aflutter again, as if the granola bar Randall had shared was made of larvae that turned to flittering butterflies once in her abdomen.

It was the butterflies she was afraid of; more precisely it was “the butterfly effect she feared.”

Those small creatures had the ability to cause a typhoon through the slightest of movements.

Michael was somewhere on this boat, flapping his wings and even if he didn’t crash into himself, even if there was no new major upheaval, even if he saw no one and did nothing to create the trouble she and Randall both feared he could, his most innocuous action could still by chain of events, change her future.

Her future was a June tenth wedding but it might not be if she didn’t find Michael in time.

Back at the stern, Pam stood hovering by the spot where she watched Randall drop through the floor via a second egress to the lower deck. She reached for the catch, but instead of lifting it, she froze looking back towards the other exit.

She’d made it down those other stairs unseen before, back when she went to obtain medicinal drinks for Michael. Maybe not entirely unseen, after all she’d passed Stanley, but he was the one person who would not have sensed anything wrong in seeing her in two separate places in the span of less than a minute. However, she wasn’t sure she’d be so lucky again. This time she could be caught by someone else, perhaps even by Jim, who might still be milling about anywhere, and recalling how he seemed when last she saw him, brooding at the bar was highly likely. She knew he hadn’t been with her or Katy for a long stretch of time between their walk upstairs and when he returned back to her side, just before Roy took over the microphone and proposed a true wedding date at long last.

With the proposition of retreating down into the bar area seeming far too risky, it left the unknown staircase at her feet the more prudent way down. Still, she couldn’t make herself pull up on the plank in the floor. Though she’d seen Randall take the steps, she had no idea where this other way down let out and that worried her too.

Twist, twist, twist.

Three more turns didn’t give her the courage she needed this go around. Nor did a fourth or a fifth.

It was more dangerous she knew, to hesitate than to just go but she couldn’t make herself move.

Once again, she pulled herself back to the cruise of her memory. Was she back at her seat yet, being bombarded with questions about Jim or was she still dancing with the girls?

Wherever she was, she remembered no stairs near either spot so this way had to be the safer route down, the only logical choice.

Unless she discovered more Harry Potter magic within her and had the ability to apparate, there was no third option.

Silly as she felt, she closed her eyes and gave it a try all the same, focusing as hard as she could on the outer deck of the second level, hoping that if for some surprising reason it did work, she didn’t wind up splinching herself in the process.

When she opened her eyes again, she was still in one piece but also still in the exact same spot. She may have traveled back in time earlier, but she was just a plain old muggle after all.

Hesitating for just a minute more, she took a deep breath, looked up to the sky and then back at the trap door at her feet.  

She made one more turn of her ring before propping up the handle that lifted the floor and revealed the secret steps. Steps, she prayed would lead her to Michael and in turn, save her date.

 

End Notes:
I know, not a lot of plot progression - like I said it's a slow boat. But the next chapter is the last one on it, the boat that is, so hoping to see you back.
Chapter 9 -The Brig by Maxine Abbott
Author's Notes:

In the interest of keeping up the momentum of this story I pushed through this chapter to get it up faster. I only hope the writing doesn't suffer in exchange.

 

Down the rabbit hole she went.

It wasn’t quite a hole but the passageway that held the staircase she traveled down was narrow and confining and if only because she felt a lot like Alice in the way her day just kept getting curiouser and curiouser, it was what she thought of as she made her way down it.

Chasing the time-obsessed, white rabbit, Michael in this case, she hoped wouldn’t have the crazy repercussions they did for the titular character of the Lewis Carroll story.

Though it had been forever since she read it and there were parts she would never forget, the ‘Drink Me’ potion that made Alice smaller—how that would come in handy right about now—the mad tea party, the painting of the roses from white to red so to create an illusion for the queen that they were what she desired, most of the tale was gone from her memory. Yet she still believed it was a favorite of hers from childhood though she could not say why.

Like Alice, she wondered the whole way down the what she would find once she reached the bottom.

Unlike Alice, however, she’d been on this journey before and had some idea of what lie ahead even if she didn’t know just where the staircase would drop her off. Plus, she knew from the book and the Disney cartoon not do anything foolish like drink strange potions or eat any cake that might be lying around, even though she was still very hungry.

And though her grip on reality was not as strong as it was when she awoke this morning, the gossamer web of rationality she still clung to told her she would not come across anything of the sort.

What she did encounter at the last step was a short tunnel leading to another room similar to the one she’d discovered up above and as luck would have it, it was also empty. This space was a bit bigger but still quite tight with a low, dark ceiling that made her feel no less claustrophobic than she had been when making her way down.

Lining the wall was another row of brightly colored jackets, both lifesaving and element resistant varieties, just like in the storage room above. However, where upstairs there were many boxes along the ground and lots of extra equipment around the space, here there were only a few, leaving room for the pull-down cot that attached to the wall, currently in the down position.

To the left was another door, the edges rounded, the frame, a heavy, reinforced steel, with metal bolts circled round a window made of a double-walled glass through which she could see the comprehensive panel of control boards, dials and intercoms.

It reminded her of the cockpit of an airplane, which she’d seen up close as child, back when it was a regular practice to visit the pilots in flight and be given a pin of metal wings. Despite having not flown in quite some time, she knew because of the devastating events a few years earlier, cockpits were sealed immediately after lift-off and children of today were denied the chance to get much more than a peek and a quick hello from the copilot while boarding. She wondered however, if they still gave out those wings? How she loved hers as a child. Not because she was so interested in aviation, but because the shiny memento somehow gave her a lift and the sense her future was wide open like the skies the planes soared through to get from one destination to the next.

At some point in her youth, the souvenir was lost. She cried when she discovered it was gone, even though she was nearing her teen years and felt silly to have gotten so emotional over such a thing as losing a trinket meant for children. Since by the time she took her next airplane trip, she was too old and too timid to ask for a new pair of wings, they were never replaced.  

Taking a closer peek through the glass at the control room she observed the two chairs bolted to the ground. Draped around one of them was another of the yellow jackets, this one with the word Captain, emblazoned on the back.

Spinning back around to further investigate the space she was in, she made the error of going left instead of right, rotating 270 degrees to observe the additional portal of steel, perpendicular to the cockpit or whatever was the term for it on a ship.

With a much smaller window, positioned slightly higher so that she had trouble seeing out of it, she only knew it led out to the small outside deck on the ship’s central level because the night peeked into the confines of the space in the form of waves of moonlight that danced along the floor as the boat swayed rhythmically. Hanging on the inside of this door, was a clipboard on a magnetic hook. The sheets attached seemed to be a manifest of all the passengers aboard, a list she knew to be incomplete as Pam Beesly and Michael Scott were only listed on it once each.

Situated on the room’s fourth wall was a small desk. Above it was another porthole but it was only because of geometry she knew its vista was not out at the dark waters of the icy lake. Because of the higher placement she was unable to see anything but the lowest section of the circle, through which she could only just make out a partial view of the ship’s main inside area.

Even on tiptoe, her short stature only allowed her the slightest peek, but her prior knowledge and small glimpse told her she was looking out at where the band had their instruments set up. She was not quite able to see Michael’s face, but recognized the top of his head next to Dwight and Captain Jack. Further ahead but mostly blocked by a column in the way, she had a modest view of her Roy and knew it was her own self wrapped up in his embrace. From inside the room, she could just about make out the muffled sound of claps and hollers and only because she’d been on the other side of this wall when it first happened, she knew the captain was calling for a celebration and offering to marry them right there and then.

Her toes still tingling from the cold outside, began to further throb from trying to stay up on them to get a better glance, the pain exasperated by her annoyance with herself at her earlier hesitation. How much she had wanted to take in Roy’s exact words this time around and hopefully also catch her own reaction.

Had she not been afraid to take immediate action upstairs, she may have been down in time to break from this room and watch the scene unfold from a hiding spot with a better view.  But as usual, she had to think too much before she acted, stayed stagnant for too long, scared to take this alternate route because it wasn’t the path she knew.

Instead, she was stuck here, trying to see the last bit of this life-changing moment out a sliver of glass from the confines of the box she had found herself in.

Even if she had kept up her childhood lessons, she would never have made it as a ballerina, that was for sure since after only short bit on tiptoes, she could no longer stand to stay in the position. Without much care as to who or what the cot was there for, she hoped only for the captain to catch a catnap before evening cruises and nothing else, she retreated to sit on it and rest her feet while she planned her next move.

Closing her eyes as she gathered her thoughts, which were tumbling about frantically, behind her eyelids there formed a pattern, tartan-like in the way divergent rows embodying her emotions crisscrossed in her mind. The convergent timelines she was living through tonight were causing a dichotomy of feelings represented by colors that overlapped and only in certain places blended together.

On the one hand there was the golden happiness and renewed fire-red passion for her fiancé who after nearly two weeks of treating her with the kind of affection that made her feel truly cherished and desired, had maybe begun to fall into some of his old ways, putting boys and drinking and sports first and her at the end of his list of priorities.

It was thinking about his griping from earlier in her present day that caused her concern. Technically the grousing hadn’t happened yet since her past was, save for Michael, his and everyone else on this boat’s future and that was some two more weeks away from happening.

On top of that, after once again falling victim to her own crippling indecision, she was riddled with regret and self-loathing for missing out on a beautiful moment because of it.

She saw puce-colored fear stemming from Michael still being unaccounted for. Even with the date set as it had been before, she nevertheless felt a terror that if she didn’t find him soon, her whole world still had the potential to be turned upside down.

Plus, there was Jim, whose pale face she couldn’t seem to keep from seeing at the center of the cloth of her emotions.

With her gloves tucked back into her coat pockets, she spied the subtle glint of her ring and before she could stop herself, she was at it again, twisting the circular band around and around on her finger, momentarily blind to the fact she’d become cemented in place, engaged in the exact same procrastination that set off the state of wallowing she was in now.

She’d been given a rewind button, a chance to hear the song that she hadn’t the first time, but because her own playlist was stuck on repeat, she missed it again.

 “Stop!”

Startling herself with the sound of her own voice, she finally recognized what she was doing. Hearing herself was not as jarring as seeing herself, but it was shocking enough to serve as the wake-up call she needed to get herself back on the task of finding Michael and preventing him from adding another fragment of disorder to her already jumbled state of mind via the alteration of their history.

She knew he wanted to stop what was on schedule to happen next. That was his whole reason for boarding this boat, and though it seemed like a laudable desire, she couldn’t know what potentially worse event might occur in its place. Besides, what possible plan could he have up his sleeve to prevent it?

She only hoped Michael realized any attempt was futile and maybe had returned to the upper level on his own. Either way, any minute now all hell would break loose, interrupting the romantic dance that was etched in her mind now intermingled with the new memories she’d been forming all evening.

During her first time experiencing the night, the diversion was unwelcomed, downright disastrous in fact, but tonight it was an opportunity. There would be at least 10 minutes of all-out bedlam at which time she could get from her current hideout, do a sweep for the AWOL Michael and return to the upper deck, with any luck with him also in tow, that is if he was still hiding out on this level.

She rose again on her toes to peek once more through the porthole and prepped herself to be ready, planning to make her departure just as she saw him make his way back to the stage. Even though she knew it wouldn’t be much longer, she lowered herself again, deciding this time she would act first and not let her fear control her. She stepped up to the exit door, grabbed the handle and slowly pulled it open, popping just her head out first to check if the coast was clear.

It wasn’t.

Luckily Captain Jack and whatever female guest he was directing to where he ‘drove the boat’ were too busy laughing to notice her slam the door back shut. She barely had time to pass back through the tunnel and start back up the staircase before she heard them open the door and fall onto the cot she’d only just minutes ago been sitting on.

---

Ryan assumed he’d been wrong but at the time he’d sworn it was Michael he’d seen out on the landing by the third bathroom. The one he locked himself in most of the night in order to try to get some studying done. He recognized the obsessive look on the man that watched him from behind the dirty glass when he came out to take a break and stretch his legs. It was enough to make him run back inside to the cramped and foul-smelling quarters before his nose got a whiff of cleaner air and his limbs had a chance to loosen up at all.  

It was when a few minutes later he heard the commotion back outside his space, that he supposed he’d imagined the figure in the window; that the man he saw was merely a delusion brought on from hours of reading by faint light while the turbulent motion of the boat and pungent odors of both the latrine and the lake overwhelmed his equilibrium and lucidity.

This was because there had been no doubt when moments later, upon hearing the shrieks and pandemonium, that it was his ridiculously inappropriate and imprudent boss behind whatever calamity was ensuing. Naturally, he was correct; when drawn from his hiding spot in time to see a man jump out the window into the icy water below, he found in the middle of the fray, the middle-aged, man-child who had caused him more grief in the short time he’d been temping at Dunder Mifflin than he’d experienced in perhaps his entire adult life.

But that meant it was someone else who’d been staring wistfully at him through the glass.

He really needed to get off this boat, not due to concern it was sinking as Michael had just announced but because it was making him see things, and not just things, duplicate Michaels, a sure sign he was very ill indeed.

More curious than concerned upon hearing the ‘man overboard’ announcement over the loudspeaker and aware any further study was futile amid the chaos, he mixed in with the Dunder Mifflin crowd to watch as a band of yellow jackets rushed to the decks to rescue the man who threw himself overboard. The captain was not among them as he was directing Michael away in another direction, using a series of choice words to berate him as he intermittently barked orders to the remaining crew. It was then that he once again experienced the hallucination, this time quite certainly from the seasickness that had gotten much worse with the added turbulence on the water and inside the ship. Running through the still hectic crowd of frenzied passengers he imagined he once again saw his boss.

Yeah, he desperately needed get off the boat.

---

In the time it took her to take the steps back up and come back out through the trap door, hovering and peeking out first to ensure no one would catch her before she wholly emerged, so too must the original Michael have made his panic-inducing announcement downstairs. She had only just tasted the cool night again, the lungful of fresh air and sky full of stars doing wonders to calm her mind after the adrenaline rush of the near miss below, when she heard the splash of what she knew to be an overly impulsive man hitting the water. She ran to the boat’s edge to witness the rescue as inflated rings striped with red were tossed over the side and the unfortunate victim of Michael’s foolhardy speech was lifted back to safety onto the front deck.

When she turned back away after the extrication, there before her was Michael.

“I couldn’t stop it Pam.”

Aside from the washed-out pallor still bleaching his skin, he appeared dejected and ashamed. She hadn’t remembered him being so remorseful the first time it happened. Sure, he told her he wanted to stop it but even he had said the reason was so that he wasn’t put into a temporary jail for the remaining leg of the cruise. She never suspected there was a more altruistic motivation behind it.

She presumed over time he came to feel bad about the chaos he caused and for the man who jumped. Or maybe it was always in him, but he was unable to express it in front of the people who looked up to him or at least were supposed to. Either way the look on his face now was kind of breaking her heart.

She hardly needed to confirm it, she knew from how he looked it was her missing Michael. Besides if history stayed true, which it seemed to have so far, the other Michael, had been dragged away by Captain Jack, not to be seen again until the following day at the office.  But in not knowing what to say to comfort him, her silent, pitying stare must have been interpreted as a request for the code word.

It came out more like a croak than a word, “Hermione.”

Pam nodded in acknowledgement, her eyelids dropping along with her head to say she was aware before he even opened his mouth.

“Michael, I’m curious, how did you think you were going to stop it anyway?”

When he didn’t respond, Pam placed a hand on his back and gently guided him back to the room with the water and blankets. She had no idea what he’d been doing for the last 45 minutes but he had to be cold and thirsty as well as sorrowful.

“It’s okay. He didn’t drown, but you knew that. Come, I found a place we can stay hidden until we dock soon.”

Michael seemed relieved when inside she showed him the fridge and he didn’t hesitate to grab a yogurt, which after he ripped away the gold lid, he slurped up like a stray dog that hadn’t eaten in weeks. As he inhaled the creamy treat, squeezing the last bits up from the plastic cup and sticking his tongue in it to lap up any last traces that clung to the side, Pam all the while cringing from the sight, she began to tell him all about how the cameraman knew. This was not the shocking news to him it had been to her. Maybe this whole ‘keep the two Michaels apart’ hadn’t even been necessary. Discovering a second version of himself, he would see nothing strange of it, not like any other rational adult. He wouldn’t faint from the shock or think he’d gone mad. This man was still a child inside and with that came that innocent acceptance of magic, miracles and fantasy.

However, unless she too woke up soon to find herself having a quite curious dream like Alice or the Hollywood version of Dorothy, she too would have to accept that magic exists, just as L. Frank Baum, J.K. Rowling and every fantastical author out there had actually intended their audiences to believe.

“Hey look,” he said spying the piles of stiff brown fabric, “think one of these might be an invisibility cloak?”

She rolled her eyes at first, but then thought on it a minute. She herself had tried to apparate earlier, even though she deep down knew it was never going to work. But who could have thought the Time Turner would and yet here they were on the boat again. But then again, even if out there existed a magical cloth that could make them disappear, what would it be doing here on the Lake Wallenpaupack Princess?

“Not likely, Michael,” she sighed. “Besides what good would it do us now. We’ve got about another half hour or so to remain here and then we are going to slip downstairs and out with the other passengers.”

The closet felt even more crowded now with the two of them inside of it, more so because of the aroma of vomit and sweat emanating off of her companion. She hated to leave him, but now that she finally was able to stop worrying about locating him, she needed a little time to herself to clear her own head.

Once more history gave her foresight. Jim would tell her tomorrow how Michael had been zip tied to the rail on this level, so before she could take her walk she had to be absolutely sure that this Michael would also not be able to move from his spot. She couldn’t exactly zip tie him, although there were plenty of the plastic bands in closet with them.

Instead, insisting that he stay put until she came for him, she stuck out her pinky and linking it with his, had him seal his promise not to leave in the one way she knew the child inside of him would never break. In Michael’s eyes, the pinky swear was the equivalent of JK Rowling’s unbreakable vow, bound by sanctity and too revered to be broken.

With the self-assurance he would not leave this time, she grabbed the top blanket off the pile, wrapped it around herself for extra warmth and left him behind in the space, concerned he might clear out the rest of the yogurts but not letting it bother her too much.

As she walked along the deck again, with the heavy wool material draped over her head and body cloaking her face into shadow, she imagined she might resemble one of the little Jawa characters from Star Wars, the original one which she’d only just seen recently.  She’d rented the movie on Jim’s insistence, following a lengthy conversation where he tried to explain to her that to fully appreciate Revenge of the Sith, she needed to watch the first three films, which technically came later in the story timeline. He’d told her to make sense of the future you had to revisit the past. Or was it the past made more sense if you had knowledge of the future? Either way, it was all very confusing to her.

All she knew is that it was one of the few times when she saw Jim and Dwight in harmony on something, both insisting she’d appreciate the more recently released movie more after seeing the ones from the way past and for that reason alone, she made it a priority to watch the first of the three over the break. She did so on her own, on a night Roy was out drinking with the guys, since he’d seen it as a kid and didn’t need the refresher plus, as he remarked, ‘he wasn’t a Star Wars geek, like her friends upstairs.’ Besides, he didn’t need to anything to ‘appreciate’ the rental except a few beers and his girlfriend to not ask questions throughout it. She didn’t bother to remind him for the upteenth time that she was his fiancée.

When she returned to the office after the new year, she informed Jim, she would stick to the Harry Potter movies, she wasn’t a huge fan of A New Hope.

Harry Potter back in her mind as she continued in her stroll, she considered the possibility that Michael was actually onto something. The blankets might not make them disappear like in the wizarding world, but they could use them to disguise themselves when later they would need to slip in and integrate themselves in with the crowds to get off the boat.

Michael, the original version, she knew by now was somewhere up here with her, after having been banished and handcuffed in a makeshift brig, that was intended to keep him from producing further trouble as well as be the punishment for all that he had already caused.

Recalling the shame on his alter-ego’s face after the incident repeated for a second time, she had the thought to go speak to the original him, posing as her other self. He’d never know the difference and perhaps it would be a comfort to him, now that she knew how bad he felt about what he had done.

As she rounded the corner, she noticed he wasn’t alone. Jim was there beside him.

Sweet Jim had gone to check on Michael.

That’s how he knew about the zip ties. She had asked him but in classic Jim fashion, he joked saying he had his ways. Pam just assumed Michael had told him, since Michael seemed to tell Jim everything, calling him into his office whenever he had a problem and needed advice or just wanted to get something off his chest.

Stopping in her tracks and retreating a few steps to duck back into the shadows she found a spot a safe distance away so she could witness her best friend extend his good nature and bring solace to their boss.

She was close enough to see them clearly but from where she stood around the corner she was blocked from being seen herself, however over the waves and winds it was hard to make out the words being spoken, particularly Michael’s whose back was to him.

Jim however, she knew him so well she could practically read his lips and his mind and she could tell it wasn’t just for Michael’s comfort that he was there. Something on his face said he was in crisis, too. She hadn’t thought he’d taken the breakup with Katy quite that hard, but possibly he did, or was it that his guilt too much to bear? Or was it something else, something she maybe had sensed that night, had all but confirmed earlier but was still too fearful to acknowledge?

She scarcely dare breathe as she stared at his eyes, which appeared as dark as onyx, deep and dusky but still glistening like jewels, perhaps moistened from the gusts of sea air that were whipping through and rustling his hair. Unsure as to why, she felt her heart’s rhythm grow faster, fluttering like the fish that sculled the waters below them.

“That's... great.”

What was great? she wondered, aware of cynicism in his voice. His tone seemed to shift as he continued but she missed some of the words that were drowned out by the noises wafting in from the aquatic expanse beyond them.

“… have a big thing for Pam, so...”

She’d known this. She’d heard about his past crush, right from him in fact, the day before she left on her vacation with Roy. So why was the echo of her heartbeat suddenly so loud she thought both men might turn back to hear where the deafening thumps were emanating from?

“Yeah, I know.”

What did he know? For once she wished she could hear what ridiculous words were coming from Michael’s mouth.

Was he reminding Jim she was engaged back when he started or in true Michael fashion responding with a statement completely irrelevant to the disclosure? Most likely, he was comparing Pam to Katy, pointing out how much cuter his current girlfriend was than her.

As she listened to Jim agree with the voice in her head that planted words she couldn’t make out over the wind, she couldn’t keep from experiencing feelings of self-doubt and insecurity, the kind that made her feel she was lucky she had someone who loved her even if she didn’t always get him. 

At the same time, she couldn’t help being washed over by a wave of disappointment, the same one she felt when in the same instance she both learned of Jim’s previous infatuation with her and that it had long since passed. That any romantic feelings he had for her were a momentary tick on the timeline of their relationship, a flash of heat that cooled before it could flourish beyond a friendship, because she was involved with someone else and Jim was not the kind of guy to pursue someone else’s girlfriend, much less fiancée.

Once again just like back then, or was it as she soon would, this time continuum thing made her feel like a hamster running in circles on a wheel going nowhere, she felt a wave of guilt for her feelings. It wasn’t like she would leave Roy for him, especially not now, so why was she so sad that he no longer felt that way.

Or might she have? If she’d known sooner, before the date was set, might she have reconsidered staying with Roy? Was what she had with Jim only platonic because she wouldn’t admit it could be, it was, something more?

It didn’t matter now, what’s past is past, she thought.  Except it wasn’t, not since the paranormal event that shifted everything.

Still, he had a crush, past tense, so the point was moot.

“Yeah. She's really funny, and she's warm. And she's just…”

After that she didn’t hear anything else and this time it wasn’t because of roars coming off the water or the whistling gusts blowing about. It was as if in that instance her whole world went silent. What he felt was real and now and his the words she heard coming out from him were a confirmation of what she suspected earlier, that little intuition she banished away as she focused on what was to come later in the evening.

It was more than she could handle at the moment. She felt weak and dizzy and if she hadn’t had time and space fall out from under her already today, she might have thought that she was floating somewhere above herself as what she heard sunk in.

It wasn’t then, it wasn’t over and it wasn’t just in her mind.

From out of her pockets her hands flew at each other, the overwhelming need to twist and fiddle with her fingers drawing them together like magnets to metal.

Instinctually, she found it, the band with the cluster of stones that she couldn’t help but to physically fixate on whenever her anxieties flared. Even while hidden under the glove that kept it from sight, its presence blinded her.

She was engaged, the date was set. She loved Roy and tonight he showed, in front of everyone, how much he loved her. No matter what Jim felt, or for that matter what she did too, she had made a promise to the man downstairs and she wasn't ready to break it.

But now with what she heard, how was she going to face Jim at work the next day?

It took a minute, but it eventually came to her. She wouldn’t see him tomorrow, at least this version of herself wouldn’t. With no reason to return to Dunder Mifflin, aside from keeping Packer from his foul deed some two weeks from now, it would also be that long before she would be with Jim again.

As much as she would miss him, as much as she knew they would need to talk, as much as she wanted to make him understand how much his friendship meant to her, it was probably for the best that there would be this waiting period before she saw him again.

To adjust to the new dynamic of knowing his feelings, she was going to need what the magic Time Turner had granted her. She was going to need some time.

 

End Notes:

So interesting factoid you may have picked up from this chapter - in the original stories L. Frank Baum wrote about Oz, it was never intended to be a dream. Oz was a real place to visit and it was only in the movie that Dorothy's visit to the land only happened in her head while she slumbered. Interesting huh?

Oh and I said I wasn't using any parts of the supersized episode. I lied. Ryan's  little interlude scene here was adapted from it.

OH and a little shoutout to DJC - for you know what. 

Part II: Chapter 10. House Guests by Maxine Abbott
Author's Notes:

Fast Fact- this story is broken into three parts and this chapter begins Part II. It just so happens, due to the method of writing I've followed in writing this story, I also just completed the draft of the last chapter (21) of Part II. So as you my loyal readers (thanks to all of you who are) begin a new section, so do I. 

Part III - here I come - Yikes! 

 

Sunlight beat at her eyelids but Pam refused to let herself be drawn from what seemed a strange and fantastical dream. Clinging to the ethereal state of half awareness, half trance which she flitted in and out of, aware it was still the sandman’s spell that altered the cadence of Roy’s snores and made them seem off in the distance and not right beside her, she reluctantly cracked open one eye to get a peek of the clock on her night table. Without glasses on she knew it would still be fuzzy, but she had the jumbo display unit situated so close she could interpret the blur to know if she had more time to stay in her dream state or she might as well get up and start her day.

This morning it was neither.

In the instance before she could fully unseal the single eyelid that felt glued shut, she became disoriented and confounded, vaguely aware that something was not right but unable to process precisely what it was. Her sleep had been deep and quite sound, undisturbed by the rough movements that usually disrupted it in the wee hours of the night, especially on a night when Roy had a drunk a few too many, as he did on the boat last night. She had the strange sense as her mind slowly adapted to morning that he wasn’t even in the bed with her.

Instinctively, she drew up the cozy blanket to her face, the sweet scent of a foreign fabric softener that drifted into her nostrils was another telltale sign she was not in her own place, apparent after she finally caught a peek, first with a single open eye and after a blink, both, and found no clock, no bedside table and no Roy.

The gritty crust that hugged her lids made it difficult to blink away what she imagined was still a crazy dream. Clenching them shut again, she wondered if she had removed her contacts last night, their overnight wear causing the extra stickiness but also the clarity with which she viewed her surroundings. Dried out lenses however, didn’t explain what might be behind her bizarre AM illusions, and she could only imagine what might be the cause was a slumber so deep she was still held captive by it.

Clearing away the sandy substance that coated her lashes, she wrenched open her eyes and focused once more on her surroundings. What she saw before her was in perfect focus, clear as day, perhaps even sharper than she’d ever experienced before with her glasses on or contacts in. As was her memory of the day before and how she came to be on the pull-out couch in the small office slash guestroom with her boss curled up on a tufted bench in the corner.

She in fact hadn’t removed her contacts and only because in this altered new time dimension she somehow had perfect vision, even without corrective lenses.  

She had the sense something was different with her eyes the whole time on they were on the boat last night but with no reason to suspect that time-travel corrected myopia, she still had to argue with Michael once they had come ashore that yes, they had to find an open drug store, because no, she could not just stick her contacts in water instead, and why not – because I just can’t Michael.  

It was in that situation it was fortunate Michael’s mind was in so many ways like that of a child’s, in that the circular logic was enough to end the discussion, at least temporarily.

It wasn’t until much later, after first learning that Randall’s wife also wore contacts and had plenty of solution at home, while she stood in the bathroom of the cameraman’s small apartment and tried to remove one of the transparent domes that enabled her to see without an overlay of haze, that she was astounded once again when there were none in either of her eyes. Strange that her watch, her clothes, even the small bruise she had on her leg from the tumble she took while skiing on her vacation, they all traveled back with her, but her contacts and more remarkably, her poor eyesight did not.  Too tired and having been through too much already to give it much thought, she accepted that one of the mysterious benefits of time-travel was vision correction.

“Good Morning, Pamcake. What do you think they serve for breakfast in this joint?”

In the time it took for her to get her bearings, Michael had awoken too. From his upbeat demeanor and speech it seemed apparent he had not experienced the same kind of the bewilderment she arose to. Quite the opposite in fact, it was as if he visited the past on a regular basis. He was chipper and in a bizarrely good mood, even without the George Forman grill and bacon he asked for and was denied by his hosts the night before.

In the less than full year Randall had been around as one of the cameramen filming the documentary, he’d come to know Michael well enough to not ask questions. Though unlike Pam, he’d yet to experience the future where the reason for his request would be made absurdly clear, he seemed to know it could only be something preposterous and havoc causing and fortunately for Michael, shut down the conversation immediately. If he had heard even the slightest bit of Michael’s insane morning habit, he may have been kicked out of the cameraman’s home right there and then, and then he might be sleeping in the car instead of where they were.

“Michael, remember what I said last night. Best behavior, right. That means this morning too.”

---

As per the instructions Randall had given to Pam in their brief encounter on the upper deck, she and Michael managed to slip out amongst the other passengers, who just as he predicted were clamoring to disembark the moment the ship was anchored. The rattled guests, too fixated on getting off the boat hadn’t noticed the arrival of the two figures garbed like refugees. The brown blankets shrouded over their bodies and ensconcing their heads offered them concealment as they emerged from the upper deck and became one with the crowd headed for the exit.

Since all the Dunder Mifflin people were corralled off and detained so to allow the more flustered people an early exodus, Michael felt safe to discard his camouflaging blanket prematurely, but Pam convinced him to keep it on until they were safely to the parking lot. She was sure there was nobody on this adventure cruise that would want to see his face right again. Even when they dropped them at the bottom of the gangway, she didn't want to steal and felt guilty enough about the water and yogurt they took, she told him to keep his head down, his mouth shut and to keep walking. It wasn’t often that Michael obediently followed orders but, in this instance, he was as deferential as Gilligan was to the Skipper.

They made it to car without being recognized by anyone, but when they arrived at the vehicle it didn't respond to the fob Michael pulled from his pocket. Pam was almost certain it was because he was trying to use his Sebring keys, but when he held it up closer to the car door, she could see the tag from the rental place and was momentarily as confused as him and becoming considerably nervous. All she wanted to get away from the boat before they might be spotted by a co-worker or themselves.

Not hearing the distinctive beep-beep didn’t stop him from repeatedly pushing down on what he insisted was just a bum key fob. It was after he tried multiple times that he started trying the other buttons. The sound of a car alarm off in the distance emerged over the hum of vehicles starting up and the whir of the lake lapping against the legs of the pier just as she remembered they had parked much further back and way on the other side from where they were.

“Michael, this is not our car.”

The far-off alarm halted instantly when she told him to hit the panic button again but by then the true owners arrived, horrified to find the man who had ruined their evening cruise was seemingly trying to break into their car.

The woman threatening to call the police was a concern but it was her burly male companion with his clenched jaw, flaring nostrils and turned down brow that had Pam more concerned. She was no stranger to the body language, having seen it many times before.

Clearly, he had his own thoughts as to how to take care of the matter.

She’d never been on this side of an altercation but had plenty of experience being the one with the hot-headed partner, only this woman did not seem as if she would be trying to talk hers out of roughing up Michael. 

Fearful not only for Michael’s safety but about stirring up any more attention with any form of heated exchange, particularly now that the Dunder Mifflin crew could be off the boat and heading into the lot to retrieve their cars, she timidly tried to reason with the couple. It took a bit of explaining how it was honest mistake and much groveling about how terribly sorry they were for all the night’s misfortunate events for the man to let it go. It was only after she shared of her own exasperation in working for Michael, and concurred that yes, her boss was a huge jackass that she was able to pull Michael away and escape the tenuous situation.

Her agreement with the couple in calling him names, she knew it hurt his feelings, and no matter how true it sometimes was, she felt bad she had to in this case. Still, it was preferable to reluctantly join in on the Michael bashing than to have them cause a scene. They were too close to being through the night only to be discovered because she was concerned about bruising his ego. Better to have his self-worth take a little beating in lieu of his face. 

But she could see it in his eyes, how offended he was. It was one thing when she and Jim, or any of his office family criticized him; he was used to that and could generally handle even the most disparaging verbal abuse they could dish out. But it was also her and them that more often defended him against outsiders like Captain Jack and hecklers at Chili’s and bullies in the parking lot. She knew she was going to have a very pouty Michael to deal with later but for now she just wanted to get to the refuge of the car.

Backtracking across the lot was risky. Roy’s tuck and Meredith’s minivan were both on the way, but luckily they made it to the other blue Honda unseen. Once there, however, Michael gave her the silent treatment. He opened the door for her to get in but refused to talk to her or even start the engine to warm the car up.  

“Michael, stop being a baby and turn on the car.”

He didn’t move.

“Michael, come on stop pouting. I just said what I said to keep things from getting out of hand. That guy was pretty angry and I needed to defuse the situation.”

He had no reaction, except to cross his arms over his chest.

“Michael, it’s cold and I’m tired and I just want to go home.”

That’s when it hit her, they had no home to go to. Pam couldn’t go back to the small house she shared with Roy and Michael couldn’t go back to his new condo. Both would be occupied by their other selves that night. It was just one more dilemma they’d have to figure out due to what was the truth, her boss was a jackass.

But until she convinced him she really didn’t think it, they’d weren’t going anywhere or doing anything and that included thinking of a place to sleep that night.

“I’m sorry Michael, you’re not a jackass. Anyone could have mistaken the cars and as for the other thing, well anyone who couldn’t tell you were being metaphorical about the boat sinking, well they’re the jackasses.”

“Right, what was up with those people? If they had just waited…”

His voice was defensive but his eyes showed remorse, just like earlier. Pam realized at that moment just how much he genuinely wanted to right the mistake he’d made the first time around. But that history had been written, twice now and that meant Michael was experiencing double the guilt. It was enough to make her want to hug him, and so she reached over and wrapped her arms around him in a clasp full of emotion. Michael, first stiff with resentment, after seconds in Pam’s arms, released the firm hold of his limbs and leaned into her embrace. His head felt like lead as it dropped onto her shoulder, as if holding the weight of everything they’d been through and all that he’d done.

---

Angela sneered as she passed the car with the lovers entwined on the way to her own. She’d purposely parked far away from her co-workers, knowing by the end of the night she would have had enough of their inappropriate behavior. Tonight, it wasn't just them who had her wanting to throw up from their tactlessness and ill decorum. Tonight, Michael subjected her to the bad manners and tastelessness of strangers, on a boat no less, in the middle of winter, with way too much booze being served.

If that wasn't enough, she'd had to witness one very drunk and indiscreet couple going at it on the boat. It was disgusting, the PDA, where they seemed more like farm animals with no impulse control than adults who knew better.

If she hadn’t just past that couple again when she rushed off to get to her car, she might have thought it was the same one. However, since she left them only minutes before still making out on the pier, she knew this had to be some other inappropriate couple.

“Heathens”, she mumbled as she averted her eyes away from the iced over windows that in her opinion still did not provide amble privacy for what she imagined was going on inside or soon would.

She continued her muttered rant as she hurried to her car.

“People have no decorum these days. Can’t even wait until they’re out of the parking lot.”

Arriving at the gray Ford, she rushed to unlock the door and get out of the cold, pulling out her phone once inside to check the message she anticipated would be waiting for her. 

Monkey, looking forward to showing you who the real captain is.

Taking off her gloves in order to text a reply as the car warmed up, she typed back.

I’m on my way to port.

Without waiting any longer for the cabin to heat up since thinking of what she had to awaiting her tonight elevated the thermostat of her tiny body more than the engine ever could, she pulled into drive and navigated the car in the direction of Schrute Farm.

---

To Pam’s relief, after the hug, Michael was finally done sulking and put the key into the ignition. The car seemed to take forever to warm up. For minutes the only temperature rise came from a new impasse, a heated discussion about what to do next and where to go. Pam insisted the first stop be a drug store to get her contact solution, a toothbrush and toothpaste and something more to snack on, followed by a motel where they would need two rooms.

Michael maintained back at the office they had everything they could possibly need including water for her contacts and a comfy couch in the reception area where she could sleep.

“Dwight sleeps on it often and says it is quite comfortable.”

Pam took a deep breath before she replied, thick white clouds escaping from her mouth as she exhaled her annoyance.

All the more reason, not to go there, she thought but kept it to herself deciding to try to reason with him instead how the office was not an ideal place for them to camp out for two weeks.

Peeking around the spacious parking lot as she tried to calm down again—it was amazing how in moments Michael could make her forget she ever felt sorry for him and infuriate her more than before—she noticed as they sat arguing it had for the most part cleared out. Far across the lot she could no longer see the truck or the van, Jim’s Toyota or Michael’s Sebring or any of the familiar cars she knew. What autos that were left were mostly up closer to the boat aside from what probably belonged to the ship crew in a cordoned off section of the parking area.  

Knowing reasoning with Michael was a losing proposition, she was about to give in and agree to go back to the office only after a stop at CVS, when she noticed there was still an SUV parked a few spaces away from them, a vehicle she swore she’d see before but wasn’t quite sure who it belonged to.

“Michael, whose car is that?” she asked pointing out at the maroon Dodge to their left, concerned it could be Stanley’s wife’s or she just was forgetting in the moment what model Creed drove. Come to think of it she wasn’t sure she noticed him behind the wheel of anything.


“That, I’m pretty sure it’s Randall’s,” he said evenly, in contrast to the belligerent tone of moments before. “Yup, there he is.” 

Pam looked up to see the cameraman walking toward them, hauling a case with his equipment, his warm eyes smiling even while his thin lips were tautly closed in a level line under his white walrus mustache. For some unknown reason, Pam was relieved to see him again. Maybe because he was the only other person aware of the predicament they were in or perhaps because he had always reminded her a bit of her father mixed with a favorite high school art teacher who had once encouraged her, and ever since their recent encounter, she saw him a lot like Dumbledore too, thanks in part to the situation but also because of his piercing blue eyes, that twinkled with gentleness and a touch of mischievousness just like in the books.

Following their interaction on the boat, she inexplicably had come to see him as a sort of spiritual guide through the confusing journey she found herself on and so as he neared, Pam stepped out from the bit of warmth that was just beginning to fill the interior, to greet him and seek out his thoughts on what they should do as they waited out the period until they fused back into the linear timeline.

His mouth remained for the most part rigid, except for the faintest of upturn at the corners, but still his face seemed to expand to a slight smile as he stopped at the rental car Pam stood in front of.

“Well, that was an adventure, was it not? I did not see that shipwreck coming.”

The edges of his mouth widened just a touch more while he crafted his pun, while a derisively raised pair of eyebrows moved with his gaze back towards the car where Michael was still inside rubbing his hands together, probably regretting having not started the engine and the heat sooner.

Pam followed his view, her own lips extending into a toothy grin after a slightly delayed reaction to his marine humor.

“But I guess you did.”

Pam gave a small nod to him, her eyes rolling as her head turned from Michael and back to Randall.

It was enough to draw Michael out, knowing from their body language and facial expressions, he was being discussed and was likely being denigrated even more.

As Michael joined them Randall went back to his more serious expression, the one he tried to keep on his face during the hours of filming in the office. It was a wonder to Pam that he could so regularly keep his face straight with all the ridiculousness that he witnessed, but he seemed to have a technique for staying stoic. In the time she’d known him, she had only seen him break into laughter a handful of times. But still she could tell he was a kind man with a good sense of humor and a generous heart. She’d only had a few short conversations with him when the cameras weren’t rolling, but she knew that he was an animal lover, he had even done some pro bono work for the ASPCA, he liked the same music as her mom, he joked often but always in fun, never with malice, and just like her, he couldn’t watch old Christmas movies without blubbering.

She couldn’t recall how they got to talking about It’s a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street a few weeks back, but however it came up it was enough to give her more of a sense of the caring soul he possessed.

“I see you made it off undetected but what are you still doing here?”

Pam turned to Michael and then back to Randall before she answered.

“We are not really sure where we can go?”

There was a silent beat as Randall nodded gently, taking a moment before he spoke again.

“Hmmm, I guess that is a problem.  Time travel not all it’s cracked up to be, heh Michael?”

Michael didn’t answer right away. His eyes darted, first to the ground, then to the sky, then to Pam. She could practically see the gears turning in his head as he tried to conjure up a good response to Randall’s obvious tease.

“That’s only because I didn’t have time to prepare, but I’m already devising my plans to make the most of it. I’m going to use my time to do things I never could before. Maybe I’ll learn another language or take up piano or become a master chef.”

“In two weeks?”

Randall said it but it was exactly what Pam was thinking. As usual Michael’s grand tactics were much more ambitious than his capabilities.

“Michael before you go off and enroll in culinary school, can we discuss where we are going to sleep tonight. This day has been exhausting and I’m spent. You must be too.”

She looked at him earnestly, knowing his day to be as trying as hers, perhaps even more before turning back to the man she hoped could make Michael see reason where she failed to.

“Randall, do you know of any decent motels that won’t break the bank? We’ll need to stay for two weeks and Michael needs to be able to cover for two rooms over that time.”

“I can’t afford that; I’ve got a mortgage now and besides I’m already shelling out for the car. Why can’t we just sleep at the office?”

Now Pam was getting frustrated at having to go another round about why not.

“For one, there are no beds and no showers and I don’t feel like having to sneak out at the crack of dawn and have to find someplace to be all day and then wait until it is safe to go back again every night. Besides with all that, when will you have time for your cooking and piano lessons?”

Without his camera rolling, Randall didn’t need to keep it together and was free to react naturally. For maybe the third or fourth time she actually heard him break into a full-on belly laugh. And as much as she was still worried, Pam burst into giggles too.

It took him almost a minute to speak again. Not so much because he was still laughing but more likely he was contemplating what he was about to offer.

Before he could open his lips to begin, a gust of wind rocked in from the nearby lake, so strong Pam needed to grab hold of Randall to steady herself. A thunderous blast rang out from the ship they just departed, its din seeming to shake the ground they stood on.

Three heads turned back to where the ship was docked.

There was no need for a warning toll, the boat was moored for the night. Pam had to assume it was some ritual of the crew to signal the end of another cruise.

The blare echoed in her ears as another wind, this time gentler but no less frosty, wafted over them. The clang from the Wallenpaupack Princess died down, sounding a little like bells as it faded off, leaving the trio in an eerie silence before Randall broke it.  

“Listen, Pam’s right. It is getting late and I hate to think of you sleeping in the office as who knows what kind of mess you can get yourself in there.”

He looked at Michael as he spoke but then shifted his focus to Pam as he went on.

“Besides, I’ve got a daughter and I can’t help thinking about what if it were her with no place to go. Listen Pam, I’ve only got one spare room, my workspace, but it has a pull-out couch. Sorry, but Michael will have to sleep on the floor in the main room. And Michael, count your blessings you’ve got Pam here with you. If it were Dwight instead of her, you’d both be sleeping in the car.”

“Randall, thank you so much. Really, we are so grateful. Is it okay that we stop off so I can pick up contact solution and get us some toothbrushes?”

“No need, Gabby, my wife wears contacts too, so she’ll have plenty and I’m sure we have some spare toothbrushes.”

“Are you sure she won’t mind?”

“My wife, not at all, she’s that type, always welcoming and watching out for everyone, even strays her husband might bring home.”

“Okay, thank you again so much Randall. You are a lifesaver.”

She nudged Michael who seemed to be back in his petulant mood, evidently not enjoying the little jabs from her and Randall any more than the insults from outsiders or the sleeping arrangements he was offered.

“Yeah, thanks for the floor.”

“Okay, so I’m in the Village Park apartments off Potomac. You should try to follow me but just in case, it’s pretty easy, take 84 to 81 to North Main. 24 Townhouse Blvd. You got it?”

Pam nodded and repeated the simple directions back to him.

“84 to 81 to North Main. Got it.”

Randall started towards his car turning around before he was out of their earshot to add, “And Michael, please don’t make me regret this.”

It was hard to get lost with the easy-to-follow directions given to them but somehow Michael missed the ramp to 84. Fortunately, the error only cost them an extra 5 minutes before they were back in route. Pam knew just what a big deal it was for Randall to be opening up his home to them and didn’t want to cause any trouble and that included being late to arrive. Once back on the proper road, she began her lecture, feeling a lot like a parent prepping her child before church or a meal at a fancy restaurant.

“I mean it Michael. Your best behavior, whatever you think that is, make it even better than that.”

End Notes:
Not much to say except, I love to hear your thoughts- even if it's just a few lines to say you're having fun, it's always a thrill to hear. 
Chapter 11 - The Key by Maxine Abbott
Author's Notes:

Remember it's all about the journey so while there is no Jim in this chapter, her experiences still matter. Plus, I hope at least they're fun to read about -she is with Michael after all.

My apologies taking so long to get this chapter up - every time I went to post I found more that needed editing or correcting. (remaining issues are still likely but without hiring an editor, there's little hope of addressing them all)

“Michael, what did Jim say to you last night?”

They had just pulled out of the apartment complex when Pam blurted out the question that had been on her mind most of the morning.

“To Jim, I never spoke to him. I didn’t speak to anyone last night. I swear. You told me not to and I didn’t. Not even when I was trying to…”

Pam cut him off before he could finish.

“No, Michael. Not last night, last night, Two weeks ago, last night. When Jim came up to talk to you after you were hauled off by Captain Jack.”

Michael was a two-fisted driver, not quite a firm knuckled ten and two-er but he did keep both hands loosely planted on the wheel as he steered. However, her question seemed his seemed to make him grip it that much tighter.

“Uhm Jim. Hmm. I can’t remember. Did I talk to Jim on the boat that night? Nope, can’t recall having any conversation with him.”

He kept his head facing straight ahead, never taking his eyes off the road, yet Pam could see the nervousness in them. The intensity with which they stared out ahead was a dead giveaway he was trying to hide something.

“Michael, of course you did. You already told me about it. Remember, last Friday. First you pretty much let the whole office in on the secret he confided in you. Then later you repeated it again to me. In your office, remember? But it’s okay because Jim also told me about the crush he umm…”

She paused. Jim had told her that day he used to have a crush, long ago, but it was over. He’d told her it ended as soon as he learned she was engaged. But between what Michael had told her that same day and what she overheard last night, she was fairly positive that it was not over and perhaps was more than just a crush, both then and now.

“Jim already told me how he feels about me.”

“Nope, uh uh, no way. Not going to do it Pam. I already said too much that day. I let my good friend Jim down and I’m not going to do it again.”

All of a sudden, he was a vault?

The big joke around the office was always telegraph, telephone, tell-a-Michael. Everyone knew you don’t tell Michael anything unless you wanted it to spread like wildfire. Was this another side effect of time travel, his ability to be discreet?

Pam was quite shocked to learn Jim had confided anything in their boss knowing he could not keep a secret to save his life. But he had and Michael of course, had let it slip. In overhearing part of the exchange herself, she had some additional context to what Michael blurted out at the end of that long day, but not enough to know exactly what Jim’s true feelings were.

There were things he shared last night that she hadn’t quite been able to hear over the wind but she was now desperate to know and Michael knew what they were. Pam figured all it would take was a little nudge to get him to spill so she pushed him some more. Surely if he knew she’d seen them talking he’d give up more of the details.

“Michael, last night on the deck, when I left you in the storage room, I saw you guys. I heard him telling you how he has a big thing for me. I hear him say I’m warm and…”

This time it was Michael who did the cutting off.

“Nice try. If you heard, then why are you asking? Nope, going to the grave with this secret. I’m not going to tell you anything more about how thanks to me, Jim’s not giving…”

Michael’s right hand released the wheel and flew up to his mouth.

“Damn, I almost did it again. That’s it, Pam. New topic. What language do you think I should learn this week?”

---

Randall’s place was not at all what Pam had expected, not that she had ever given any thought to what kind of an apartment the cameraman lived in until they walked through the door.

The apartment itself had a somewhat standard layout, but with luxury fixtures and detailing and an open concept living/dining room combo that extended from the foyer, with a kitchen to the left and a long hall to the right where she supposed the bedroom and office were.

Within the space, the furniture was a mix of high-end, contemporary pieces and Ikea’s best, an eclectic combination styled around the room’s centerpiece, a sophisticated and timeless, but yet too-big-for-the-room, tufted-back sofa in alabaster white.

The couch wasn’t the only thing that seemed just a little out of place in the modest-sized apartment. Randall too, seemed somehow different from his usual self, but Pam couldn’t quite place her finger on what it was.

“Come, come, meet my better half.”

He took on a more casual tone as he ushered her and Michael into the room as if they were old friends he’d invited for dinner and not the documentary subjects, who upon slipping through a wormhole in time had become misplaced and stranded, relying on Randall’s good nature and perhaps poor judgement to grant them temporary shelter.

Wrapping his arm around the woman who emerged from the hallway holding a lens case and bottle of solution, he introduced her.

“This is my beautiful, kind, too-good-for-me, wife, Gabrielle.”

“Gabby,” she offered with a warm smile as she switched the items to her other hand so she could shake Pam’s and then Michael’s but when she reached for his, rather than clasp hers in the traditional manner, he instead pulled it to his lips to plant a kiss on the back of it as if she were the queen.

Looking only moderately surprised, she allowed the courtly gesture, then looked back at her husband who locked eyes with her in a silent communication that reminded Pam of the way she sometimes passed messages to Jim without ever saying a word.

When Gabby turned back to smile at her guests, it came to Pam who she looked like, the actress Emma Thompson. Not how she looked in Harry Potter with the thick rimmed, coke-bottle spectacles, although she wondered if she too would have to wear glasses like those if it weren’t for contacts, nor the Nanny McPhee version with the bulbous nose, chin mole and snaggletooth. It was more like her character in Love Actually, or a slightly older version, with a few more wrinkles around her eyes and mouth but with the same warm smile, sharp nose and high cheekbones.

It was no wonder Randall knew the Harry Potter movies so well, they must watch everything her actress doppelgänger appeared in.

After short bit more of conversation, Randall excused himself for the kitchen and Gabby led them back through the hall to the bathroom where they could wash up. She’d handed each of them a stack with a towel and a brand-new toothbrush, plus clothes they could sleep in. Michael was given a pair of Randall’s old sweatpants that would no-doubt be way too long and too big, and an old concert tee-shirt from Led Zeppelin’s 1975 tour. For Pam, she had a pajama set in pink adorned with tiny butterflies.

Aside from a request for bacon from Michael, things had gone relatively smooth when they came back out after taking turns changing and washing. Pam was still in a slight state of shock about her eyesight, but being too tired and too confused, she decided not to make mention of it, not that she could explain if she had.

Apparently, Randall was quite weary himself from the long day of shooting, first at the office and then on the boat, so after he reminded Michael once again he was not to sleep on the couch, he and his wife retired to their own bedroom at the end of the hall.

As they walked off together, Pam wondered how much Randall had told his wife about why they needed a place to stay, and what she genuinely believed. Was the connection between husband and wife so strong that she was willing to accept even the most preposterous explanation that the two visitors to their home were essentially time-traveling facsimiles of their other versions with no place to stay, if only just because he said knew it to be true? 

Did she have that same kind of relationship with Roy where he would believe it if she were to tell him she was here from the future or would he think she were drugged or having some sort of mental breakdown? Most likely he’d just reproach her for hanging around Jim too much, bellowing that the stupid pranks she often described to him on their drive home were not funny when Jim pulled them on Dwight, but even less so when his influence was causing her to play them on him.

No, she decided. She couldn’t tell Roy something like that. She couldn’t even tell him she believed in spiritual beings like ghosts and angels, afraid he would chastise her for taking her Sunday school lessons way too literally and being overly superstitious. She was just grateful he was willing to be married in a church, as religion was not high on his list of priorities. When it came to raising children with her faith, she wasn’t sure what to expect from him but she supposed she’d cross that bridge when it came about. Children were probably way off in the future anyway and presently she had another kind of problem with the child that was currently in her life, her boss.

Michael, despite the fluffy comforter and full pillow he was given, seemed rather unhappy with his accommodations on the main room’s hardwood floor. Pam just hoped his complaints were not overheard by the generous couple and she warned him again to keep quiet and stay off the pristine ivory couch he was told was not suitable for sleeping on and left him for the room where she, as he so pointedly stated out in his displeased grumbles, at least had a sleeper sofa waiting.

The bed in the small office was opened and made up. The blankets awaiting her on the pull-out seemed even fuller and more luxurious than the one left with Michael and there were two plump pillows at the head. Everything looked and felt brand-new except for the scent of a detergent or softener, which filled her nose as she nestled herself underneath the covers, indicating they had been washed at least once before.

Pam had slept on many a pull-out couch in visits to relatives and friends but never one as comfortable as the one she settled into, which she figured was due more to how tired she was and less about the mattress itself, but either way she drifted right off.

She couldn’t have been out more than ten minutes, when a rap on the door awoke her from the dream she was already in.  Michael, not even waiting for her to answer before he cracked it open, stuck his head in and whispered loudly.

“Pam, are you up?”

“Huh, wha, Michael. Now I am.”

Without invitation, he tiptoed in with pillow and blanket in hand and complained again about the cold floor and the glare from the parking lot floodlights, pleading with her for permission to sleep in the office with her. Pam was too tired to do anything but murmur her consent after which Michael made himself a makeshift bed out of the little bench she hadn’t before noticed before on the opposite side of the room. After a few adjustments of the pillow and his body, he settled down at last and she too was able to get back to sleep, not awaking again until morning.

When Pam fully came to and got her bearings, Michael was flipping through a photo album that she was sure hadn’t been out in the open for him to find. In fact, she wasn’t sure where he’d gotten it from but with his ignorance of personal boundaries, as it turned out there in the room with her as the new day began was the more prudent place for him to be. If he was out in the common space come morning he could be rummaging through the kitchen or bugging Gabby to cook him some breakfast, or doing something else to get himself in trouble with their hosts. At least in here with her, they awoke around the same time and she could keep him from doing anything stupid while unsupervised. It was then she decided, however long they were welcome to stay here, they would have to be roommates.

It being Friday and a work day, Randall had already left for Dunder Mifflin but his wife, Gabby, who they learned during their brief conversation was a former schoolteacher whose current employment was limited to occasional substitute teaching and tutoring, was still home and having a cup of coffee when Michael and Pam came out from the home office.

She was as gracious as she was the night before, offering breakfast and hot beverages and insisting they were no trouble and were welcome to stay as long as they needed. Pam had to wonder how much Randall told her about his experiences filming at Dunder Mifflin. Obviously, not all that much if she were open to having Michael as a guest for more than a day or two. That is until what she said next.

“Oh, and Michael, I’ll tell you what I used to tell my students. You get three strikes and then you’re out.”

---

Little more than an hour later they were back in their own clothes and on the road. The plan was for Michael to drop Pam back by her house to shower, change and pack a bag of necessities for the week to come. While she was at her house, Michael would head back to his own condo to do the same then return to pick her up when he was done.

After Michael succeeded in changing the subject from Jim and the chat they had on the boat, Pam took the lull that followed as an opportunity to reiterate Gabby’s words, instilling in him that he had only two passes if he did something foolish. She was extremely apprehensive that even with his most worthy attempts to be a civilized and well-mannered guest, three strikes were not going to be enough.

Not by a longshot.

But she could only hope for the best and remind him that it would not be at all wise to bring his George Forman grill back with him.

“Well of course I can’t take my grill.”

Well, for once he’s thinking rationally.

“If I took it what would my other self do without it?”

Okay, maybe not completely rationally.

The time jump still had her head a little discombobulated and her fixation on what she overheard kept her from thinking about what other events would come to pass while they were here in the past; however, with all the talk of grills and bacon she was reminded of what Michael was scheduled to do Monday morning before work, and that was grill his foot.

Amusing as it was when they first heard it—she could still picture the absolute delight on Jim’s face when he shared his insane misfortune over the speaker phone—it had caused quite the chaotic day in the office, not to mention the chain of events that followed the morning call, leading to Dwight’s concussion.

“Actually, maybe you should take it away from your other self. Do you not recall what is going to happen on Monday? If you take it you won’t wind up grilling your foot with it. Just make sure you leave it in the rental car. Do not bring it into the apartment.”

Michael scoffed at this.

“Pfftt, that was nothing. I healed in no time. That afternoon if I recall. Even without my medicinal yams.”

He furrowed his brow in annoyance.

“I’m still a little miffed Ryan didn’t find those for me.”

Pam had heard talk of pregnancy amnesia. Roy’s mother spoke of it often when she talked about the morning sickness she’d had with every child and the difficult labors she experienced each time and yet she had four children. She once explained to Pam how somehow after the birthing process, the mind was erased of all the pain and discomfort that went along with bringing babies into the world so that you would be able to go through it again.

Clearly, Michael had some form of this, only his birthing process was the trip through time and what he forgot was what a baby he himself had been that whole day.

“Yeah, well do you recall the pain in the ass you were all morning. How you carried on? And how your actions affected the rest of us?

“What happened to the rest of you?  I’m the one who was hobbling around all day? I’m the one who experienced what it was to be disabled.  I’m the one who had to go to the hospital.”

“Um, to take Dwight there after he crashed on the way to pick you up and gave himself a concussion. Have you forgotten that?”

Michael didn’t respond except to ask what his next turn was and it wasn’t until after making the right on Union Street that he spoke up again.

“Okay, how about instead of taking away the grill I just leave myself a note.  I’ll write in big bold letters - don’t step down on this grill.”

Somehow Pam knew that no mere note was going to prevent Michael’s injury, but they had arrived at her house and she was anxious to get inside and take a shower so she dropped the matter.  She knew she wasn’t getting anywhere with Michael and besides, who was she to deny Jim the fodder for all the jokes he would get in that day. In the end, Dwight was fine as well and she did enjoy seeing that different side of him even if it was short-lived.

Upon pulling up to the small house she shared with Roy, she instructed Michael to wait in the car while she ran around back to retrieve the spare key she kept hidden in a crack of one of the flowerpots on the small landing outside the home’s rear entrance. She placed it there for Roy’s use when his own keys were confiscated by the bartender at Poor Richard’s or one of his more responsible friends. It was the rare instance that he actually used it, as he was mostly too drunk to even remember it was there. Instead, he would more often lean on the doorbell or pound the door calling out Pammy, Pammy, wake up and let me in, way after she’d gone to bed.

He must have remembered it once over the past month or so because it wasn’t there when she went to retrieve it from the hiding spot. In her mind she replayed the prior weeks trying to recall when it was. It would have been around the holidays which he seemed to feel were best celebrated by going out drinking consecutive nights in a row as opposed to the way she liked, staying home, wrapping presents and watching the holiday movies while enjoying hot cocoa with candy canes. Yes, she remembered at least one night where she wasn’t awakened at 2AM to let him in. She supposed she was grateful he finally learned to use it but damned if she should she expect him to remember to return it so it would be there for the next time.

Or for the rare occasion where her own time-traveling twin might need it.

Michael was shifting gears to leave when she came back to the car.

“Not so fast,” she exclaimed. “The spare key wasn’t there. I’m going to…”

Michael set the car back into park and drummed on the steering wheel before lifting his finger to tap his lips. If he were a cartoon she might be seeing smoke emerging from his ears as his mind began to churn up a plan, with an animated light bulb popping up in the moment to follow.

“Okay Pam so here’s what we’re going to do. We’ll drive to the office and sneak in up the stairs. It’s a good thing your desk is up front, not as long you’ll have to slink across the floor. There’s a spot right past the couch where it’s extra creaky when you’re down on all fours down there.”

His hands demonstrated a crawling motion while she wondered when and why he would have been in the situation that necessitated snaking along the reception area floor and just as soon decided she didn’t want to know.

“Of course, you’ll have to wait until you are not there at the desk. What time do you take your morning bathroom break?”

He didn’t wait for her to answer, not that she had one for him as her trips to the restrooms were not tied to any schedule as his seemed to be.

“Then you’ll steal the key from your purse. You’ll sneak back out. Don’t forget to watch out for that creaky spot. We’ll go to the hardware store, make a copy. You’ll have to get it back right away so you don’t notice it missing, so we’ll return directly after the store to the office but this time we’ll take the back stairs. You need to mix it up sometimes, take a different route, you know. After we put the original key back, then we can come back here to get your stuff.”

Pam lowered her eyes as he droned on, lifting her lids again when he stopped to take a breath.

“Or I could just go ask the landlord, who also happens to be Roy’s aunt, to let me in. She lives next door.”

A hint of disappointment flickered in Michael’s eyes as his face dropped in defeat. It wasn’t hard for Pam to figure out why. For him, a morning engaged in a super spy mission, was not only a thrilling means to pass the time but would provide the perfect material for his screenplay and the agent Scarn character who starred in it.

Michael was still unaware she had discovered it, had no clue she immediately shared it with Jim and was oblivious the staff enjoyed a most amusing table read of his script that same afternoon; an afternoon that extended into the evening when she stayed behind to enjoy a rooftop dinner and somewhat lackluster but still highly entertaining fireworks show with Jim. Thinking back on the night, she felt a faint twitching in her cheeks and twinkle in her eyes, as much from having knowledge of Michael’s alter-ego as it was from the joyful memory of the night she’d spent goofing around with Jim.

“But wait right here, don’t go anywhere yet.”

She couldn’t have him leave before she was absolutely sure she could get inside her house but she was somewhat confident that wouldn’t be an issue, Roy’s aunt would likely be home. It was only shortly after ten a.m. and she’d never known the woman to come out of her house before noon. Much like her nephew on non-working days, she lazed about in her sleepwear all morning. Sweet as she was, she wasn’t an ambitious or active woman except when it came to chatting and spreading gossip.

But Pam also decided to let Michael have his fun thinking about secret missions if only for a little bit longer so she added,” If she’s not home, we’ll have to go to your plan B.”

Leaving the car, Pam walked to the entrance on the far side of the house, since the neighboring Anderson’s only use for the front door was to hang a wreath on it at Christmas and yell at Jehovah’s Witnesses through it; even the mailman knew to come around when he had packages or mail needing a signature. Aunt Janet probably wouldn’t even answer if she knocked at the front, but at the side she would know her morning visitor was familiar.

Even so, Pam prayed she wouldn’t ask too many questions as to why she was back home on a Friday morning and hoped she wasn’t waking her up. She knew the woman was always awake early to make her husband breakfast, as Roy had more than once commented how his both his dad and Uncle Keith enjoyed eggs or pancakes and sometimes even French toast in the morning served by their wives and only half-jokingly asked why she didn’t do the same for him. Pam’s answer was to slam a box of cereal on the table in front of him and storm out of the kitchen.

What she wasn’t sure about was if Aunt Janet returned to bed after her husband left for the day. But when she opened the door, just moments after Pam knocked, the older woman as suspected was still in nightwear, but seemed happy if not a little surprised to see Pam standing there.

“Why aren’t you at work dear?”

Not quite as good at the secret spy stuff as her boss, she stammered a bit before she answered, “Oh, I’m um running errands with my boss and I ah realized I forgot my um purse at home this morning so I was stopping off to get it and well, without my bag, I don’t have my key to get in.”

Okay, maybe not so bad. The years of playing partner to Jim in his devious pranks on Dwight must be sharpening her skills for subterfuge.

Unless that is, Janet decided to come over with her to open the door for her. In all her years, she almost never forgot to take her bag with her, this morning being no exception. She was one hundred percent certain of it as she’d lived the day already and knew it would not be anywhere in the house.

“Oh, okay hon.”

The older woman turned to grab a set of keys from the table Pam knew sat just off to her right.   

As she handed them to Pam she added, “I thought maybe it was because you and Roy were playing hooky to celebrate setting the date.”

The corners of her mouth wobbled deviously and her eyebrows lifted with conspiratorial amusement.

“Congratulations, sweetheart. June is such a lovely time to get married. Vicky was so excited to share the news last night.”

Pam thought back on her night, the version she experienced two weeks back. Roy was too drunk to drive home that night after all his snorkel shots, so he took the passenger seat while she drove. Normally she’d have been bothered by how plastered he was, but that night she was ecstatic because she was preoccupied visualizing herself as bride. She couldn’t wait to get home and unbury the magazine with the dogeared page from the bottom of her night table drawer. She prayed the gown that caught her eye three years ago or at least something like it, was still out there in one of the bridal boutiques.

Now that they were really engaged with a date and everything, they could start looking at venues, choosing flowers and planning a honeymoon. Her patience had been so close to its breaking point, so much she had been thinking of putting an ultimatum before him, even if unsure if she would ever have the strength to follow through on it.

But now she didn’t need to. His incessant stalling no longer threatened to poison what they had. He at last seemed excited about getting married, so much so, he’d even called his mother to share the news while Pam navigated the way home. Of course, knowing the Anderson women, this would have set off the phone tree in which one of the very first branches was Aunt Janet.

“You know she’s been on his case for months now, telling him he was crazy to make you wait. She even wanted us to jack up the rent on you guys, to tell you only married couples continue to get the family discount in the hopes it would light a fire under his ass. I think she threatened him with that recently even though I told her the only person who should be lighting matches was you. Guess you finally did something to heat that boy up. Good for you, Pammy.”

Pam suddenly had to wonder whether it was flames that got him to act, or fear of losing out on the discounted rent they got from his aunt and uncle. Whatever it was, she had an appointment to look at dresses in a few days, well, now she supposed it would be a few weeks away again. But she had waited this long so she could handle an extra 15 days.

However it came to pass that he at last set the date didn’t make much difference. What mattered was after all the waiting, in five months she was going to have her wedding and be a bride.

End Notes:
Thanks to those reading and letting me know you're enjoying. Always a boost to hear from my readers.
Chapter 12. Bruises and the Zombie Apocalypse by Maxine Abbott
Author's Notes:

A few housekeeping notes -

This story is what kept me from feeling like I could be part of the holiday fic exchange and after all the great submissions, I felt like I missed out (though truly loved reading all yours).  So I tried to add a little holiday spirit to this chapter, but then it got so long I broke it into 2 so now the season references are in the next one.

What is in this one is a little nod to an amazing writer and friend whose Virtus is a great read. If you've read it you'll know exactly where that comes in. 

Lastly, you will see I changed Randall's last name - once again the Supersized episodes bit me. In Sexual Harassment - SS there is an exchange where we learn Randall Einhorn was the full name of resigning CFO that makes room for David Wallace (which we just so happened mentioned in NML's fic yesterday too) so it couldn't also be the name of the cameraman filming them.  

 

 

Whether it was because she still was dressed in her robe and slippers or because she was headed back to bed, to Pam’s initial relief, Roy’s aunt decided not to accompany her to the house.

But after she handed over the spare key and through her yawns told Pam to bring it back over later with Roy so she and her husband, Keith could toast them together, Pam realized it would have been better if she had. She knew she couldn’t come back later because she wasn’t the same Pam that would be here tonight with Roy.

Palpably aware she had to get the key back right away and had only a small window of time before Janet went back to bed, she rushed over to her house’s front door and unlocked it without going in. Taking a quick detour at the car, to tell Michael he was free to leave now, she returned to Janet’s, thankfully before her soon-to-be-aunt retired back to her bedroom to take a mid-morning nap.

“Pam, honey, you’re back?” she asked as she opened the door once more for her future niece. “Did I give you the wrong key? I’m a little discombobulated this morning after the late night making phone calls. You know we’re all just so excited for you two, and Vicky wanted everyone to know right away.”

She gestured for Pam to come in while she turned back to the table from where she grabbed the correct key earlier.

“No, the key was right. Thank you. I wanted to return it right away because I don’t know if we’ll make it over later. I remembered we are going out to celebrate ourselves tonight and I’m not sure when we’ll be back.”

It wasn’t a complete lie. They were going to Poor Richards for a few drinks after work as they often did Friday nights. And least they had in her history. Who knew, maybe in the new timeline Roy would have another surprise for her and would suggest going out for a fancy dinner after they hung out with the warehouse crew. He might even propose they skip the bar altogether and just spend the entire night with each other.  Pam knew it wasn’t likely, even if this whole thing was a dream, and the longer it went on the more she was acutely aware it was happening for real and not just in her head, Roy was still Roy and unless she suggested going somewhere like Anna Maria’s or Christopher’s, they weren’t going anywhere but home with a take-in pizza. And she distinctly remembered arguing over whether to get it with extra cheese or pepperoni.

“Oh okay, well then another time.”

As she leaned in to offer a congratulatory hug, Pam could only hope the fluffy coat concealed the pungent odor she was sure to be giving off.  With all she’d gone through yesterday in her many trips; not only the one that took her on a sprint back in time, but the shopping excursion with Michael and the cruise that left her with the scent of the lake in her hair and on her body, plus all the nervous energy and piercing confusion that had to be escaping out of her pores, she was certain she did not smell like a person who had showered for a day of work just a few short hours ago. At least if Janet did catch a whiff, she might assume it was her own eau de not-yet-bathed as it was obvious she’d also not taken one herself yet.

If she had smelled anything she gave no indication when she wrapped her arms around Pam and spoke the same words she had when she called Pam that very day.

“Congratulations dear and welcome to the family. We are all so thrilled that you are becoming an Anderson at last.”

It had to be coincidence the time of day was almost exact to the moment as the call that had come from Aunt Janet in her other reality, the one she no longer would get at Dunder Mifflin because Pam showed up at her door instead.

---

As she walked, her pace a little slower on this trip, back to her house, Pam wondered if that little change would make a difference somehow in the time continuum, or if it would just be that one less member of the Anderson clan would call her to offer her congratulations on this day. Last night, in both versions, it seems no one in the family had gotten to go to bed until the entire phone chain had heard the news and marked the date in their calendar. That is except Roy, who that night was out like a light before Pam had even returned from washing up in the bathroom.

So much for continuing the romantic evening that began on the boat with dancing and kissing and promises of passionate sex when they got home. Still even if he hadn’t fallen asleep, Roy was probably too drunk to anyway. He’d had a lot of snorkel shots when she left him unattended and while he was superfluously romantic and amorous all night, he was also very sloppy.

If truth be told, it was much better he was out cold when she returned to the room. On other nights when his drunkenness interfered with his abilities, he would either try for way too long to get it to work, which was more exhausting than pleasurable for Pam, or on occasion become angry and place the blame on her, through slurred speech and hurtful words assert she wasn’t sexy enough to arouse him properly.

Still, the last night of two weeks ago she’d been too worked up to go right to sleep, but not because she was thinking of the sex they didn’t wind up having. What kept her up was a mind filled with all that was to come, the excitement of planning the wedding, of meeting with florists and listening to bands, dress shopping with her bridesmaids and her mom and finally walking down the aisle as she had been dreaming of for years.

Thinking back on it as she walked into the house today, she could practically hear Roy’s snores in her head and she recalled how she occupied herself as she listened to the noises coming from her future husband on that night from her past. 

Taking care not to be too loud, she’d sat on the edge of the bed and fully opened the drawer of her nightstand, rummaging through it for the magazine that had her dream dress dogeared to return to when this day arrived. 

With all that she piled in the only real private space of their shared room, from the sketch books and scrunchies, saved trinkets like the pretend gold medals from the office Olympics and silicon charity wristbands from who knows where, it was not easy to find the three-year-old Modern Bride that she swore she stashed there when they first were engaged. Before she found it, however her excited fingers landed on something else. It was a photo, but not one of model bride in a white gown. Instead, it was a 3 x 2 headshot of a dorky, teenager, just one of the items planted in her gift teapot, the bonus gifts that he’d surprised her with at the office holiday party, the photo included just because he knew how much it made her smile.

And once again, for a beat, it did.

But this smile had different pulse than the ones that surfaced both of the other times the photo was discovered first in the book itself and then in her Secret Santa present. It was subtler, less carefree and more introspective, and it dissipated quickly, as if wiped off by the disruptive snort that escaped from the other side of the bed.

What triggered this altered smile and what Jim didn’t know, was that on that night, a night that had begun with flashbacks to her own high school days and not-so-fond memories of feeling awkward and out of place at rowdy parties, a part of her had been thinking what if she’d met Jim then, in high school, before she’d started dating Roy. Would they have been the good friends they were now? Could they have been more?

A memory almost forgotten until now, the heaviness she felt then as she came across his photo seemed to return, except now there was the added weight of what she had learned last night.

Back on that night, with guilt rising up like heartburn in her chest, she pushed aside the photo, pushed aside her thoughts of him, not wanting to reflect any further on their earlier exchange. She’d brooded too much over the mist of confusion that arose from their uncomfortable silence. There was room only for one cloud that night, the one she’d been floating on since Roy proposed the date.

Today, it was not as easy to wipe clear the haze.

She still was riding on that pillow of joy about her upcoming marriage. Hugging Janet reminded her again what a warm, caring family she would soon be part of. She felt truly blessed in that way.

Being in the home she had with Roy reminded her of the life they shared but she couldn’t help but think of everything that was said last night by Jim. And now it was no longer just what she heard in the silence some two weeks ago.

Today the fog in her head was amplified by what she stumbled upon in this new dimension, the words he’d shared with Michael.

She hoped a hot shower would help; the pressure of the jets would somehow wash away the contamination of her knowledge. That as the bathroom filled with steam from the heated spray, her confliction too would cling to the mirror only to evaporate as the cool air rushed in when she opened the door.

The shower did help, at least it did until she stayed so long the temperature dipped. But even as the water went from luxuriously hot, to still warm enough to be soothing, to tepid and on the verge on going completely cool, she remained under the water’s flurry, not ready to face the cold awaiting her on the tile floor.

Twisting back the handle when the last bit of warmth had run out, she pulled back the curtain and took the five steps to the vanity where she’d left the fresh towel and wrapped it tightly around her body, a single shiver escaping before she acclimated to the climate of the steam-filled room.

On the way back to the bedroom, the makeshift turban keeping her wet hair off her back began to unravel and she let it cascade down her back like a veil, the same way she used to when playing at being a bride as child. She smiled, thinking of the memory and how her childhood playtime nuptials were soon to be a reality. She was getting married and an actual veil was just one of the many items she would need to decide on and soon, now that the date was set and five short months away.

They hadn’t done much yet in the way of planning aside from discuss the honeymoon and kick around some wedding venues, one of which was the hotel they had just returned from a few days ago after their quick winter getaway in the Poconos. These two weeks she suddenly found herself with might prove to be a blessing, affording her some extra time to research the places they might hold the reception, as well as many of the other details they needed to work out.

Now where had she put that folder with the wedding packages offered at the hotel?

Wrapped only in her towel, her still drenched curls now cascading around her, rivulets of water running over her shoulders and back leaving a trail of droplets down the hall, she wandered the house looking for them, checking all the places they might have be left.

Returning to the bedroom, she head to the tall dresser thinking maybe Roy could have taken another look and placed them upon it afterwards. It didn’t seem likely as his interest in being part of the planning had died out after one consultation with the wedding planner at the hotel. In fact, she could sense his annoyance during the women’s detailed speeches and photo showcases of past events. Pam had promised him it would be quick and as the meeting ran longer than she had anticipated, it began to interfere with their morning slope time. She tried to suggest they ski in the afternoon instead when the woman stepped out of the room to grab the menus and package brochures, but he just grumbled that would cut into happy hour instead and he was damned if he would miss out on twofers of the overpriced beers served at this resort. When the planner returned to the room, a stack of papers in her hands and sat back down to go through the options, Roy abruptly cut her off letting her know they were perfectly capable of reading the menus on their own and didn’t need her to recite off every appetizer available to them. Without even waiting for her response, he stood up to leave, at least issuing a thank you to her for the meeting and information. Mortified at her fiancé’s behavior, Pam apologized for his abrupt exit, gathered the papers that were spread out on the desk in front of her and with her head down and a mumbled thank you, also left the office to catch up with Roy.

She didn’t think they could be in her bedside drawer but she checked there all the same. But just as she thought had no luck. Running out of thoughts where they could be, she even thought about looking in his night table, breaching the sacred privacy of the drawer where they each could keep their personal possessions. But before she crossed that line, it came to her why she couldn’t find the wedding package folder.

They hadn’t been on that trip yet.

She was only confused because in nothing but her towel, the ugly purple splotch, now tinged with vicious streaks of yellow, quite like the shade of one of Dwight’s shirts, was still there on her thigh. This version of herself had already took a tumble on a blue run she knew she was not quite a good enough skier to traverse, but the other Pam hadn’t.

She didn’t even have to wonder if it would happen again. Roy would no doubt still be frustrated having to stay with her on the easier runs and so she would once more make the choice to take the lift with him up to the mountaintop where the harder blue and black courses took off from.

When she’d skied it last week, it started okay, maybe even better than okay. Though taking it very slow, she was handling herself well and had made it down about halfway, her confidence growing as she managed to keep herself upright while she slalomed around the little moguls along the way.

Roy had even praised her and though she asked him to stay close, he yelled out she’d gotten the hang of it and sped on ahead telling her he’d meet her at the bottom. Even without him there, she started feeling rather proud and even dared to let herself go a touch faster and that is when the flurry flew past in the form of a pack of teenage snowboarders who went crisscrossing in front of her and whipping up white powder as they weaved around her, disturbing her concentration and her equilibrium and before she knew it, she was down, both her skis off in opposite directions and her pride hurting slightly more than the leg than she knew would sport a sizable bruise by the next day.

Releasing her hold on the metal grip of the night table she sat back on the bed and touched down on the ugly mark, to see if it still was tender to the touch, and found that yes, it was. Curious the nature of a bruise, how something so unsightly and so clearly unnatural caused so little pain until one pushed upon it. It was a little like the issues she knew existed in her own relationship with Roy. She could ignore the ugliness as long as she kept it out of sight and didn’t press and so that’s how she handled it.  She covered it up as best she could so she wouldn’t have to look and avoided putting any pressure on what she knew would be sore if she did.

The difference was that with a bruise, time was the healer, and as it passed all the unsightliness and soreness eventually went away until it became as if it was never there. Because Pam believed the main welt in their relationship was the three years she waited on him, the hideous mark grew larger and larger as time marched on. But now with that behind her, the injuries would heal, the color of their relationship would fade back to it the flesh tone it once had been.

Despite the time dedicated to the mystery of the missing bridal package menus and what followed as she daydreamed about wedding stuff, she was still on track to be ready when Michael returned for her. Though she was explicit in telling him to not honk when he pulled up just in case Janet was up again and paying attention, she wanted to be waiting at the door to make sure, so she ate her lunch in record time after she’d gotten dressed.

What did set her back was packing, mainly because she had to do it twice. The initial go-around was a complete failure.

In her first attempt, she pulled out her regular overnight bag and piled it with her most comfortable and favorite weekend wear, happy not to have to bother with pencil skirts and tights for a bit. However, after she loaded in her cable knit sweater, her fluffy fleece pull-over, some casual tops, a few pairs of leggings and a second pair of jeans to go with the comfortably, broken-in pair she put on, it came back to her what Michael had said about his grill, what would my other self do without it?

And then she was unpacking. And changing.

She knew she couldn’t take most of the items she had packed and dressed herself in. If all of sudden, half her wardrobe disappeared, well, she didn’t know what her other self would think except that maybe she was losing her mind. With a weekend coming up, and then a ski trip with Roy, she couldn’t take any of her regular casual wear, nor could she take much of her standard business attire since she would have a full five days of work next week.

The only items she had doubles of were the skirt, button-down and cardigan she’d worn for two days now and these were in serious need of a washing. However, the duplicates she found hanging in the closet and even though it might be puzzling to her other self how they wound up in the hamper, at least they would still be there to find.

Gathering clothes for her stay at the Stewart’s place, even if she could return back to do a wash and swap things out in a few days, was somewhat time-consuming. She had to find items that wouldn’t be missed but she could feel presentable wearing in public.

She started in the laundry room grabbing a few pieces from the shelf where she kept clothes in need of the mending she never got around to. Well, she had time now to do some of that while she waited out the weeks, so along with the items, she grabbed the matching color spools of threads and the buttons that had fallen off from her small sewing kit. From the spare bedroom they used for storage, she pulled out her retired clothing box, and retrieved a pair of jeans that upon trying on, decided were actually not all that bad and a few other items that had noticeable stains or holes that had rendered them unwearable, except in extreme situations such as time travel.

Next, she hit the go-bag, the emergency duffle that after the devastating event of 9/11, became a staple item for most households, or at least the more prepared ones as she had pointed out to Roy when year after year, he teased her for updating the medications and checking the batteries shortly after the holidays. About a year back he insisted nobody kept one anymore and it was a waste to keep buying Advil and Pepto that expired while it sat unused in the bag. Thinking perhaps he was right and she was being overly cautious—the extra clothes she stored in the bag were after all items she did like when she bought them even if they were specifically purchased for keeping stored for emergencies, some even still had tags on them—and so she asked Jim the next day at work if he had one.

He said he didn’t, at which Dwight interrupted to tell him he was crazy and added that Pam’s bag was grossly understocked. That without a 10lb container of salt, water purification tablets, a portable solar panel, machete and the most important item, a shotgun, she would never survive a zombie apocalypse. By the time he was done with his list, they were both doubled over in laughter, to which he’d replied.

“Just wait, you’ll be sorry when I’m the only one in town prepared for Armageddon. I promise you Schrute Farm will be the only safe haven and you two will not be invited.”

At this, they had to leave for the kitchen, unable to keep themselves or their overflowing giggles contained.

The next day, however, Jim was at her desk waiting to tell her how he he’d spent the night setting up his own emergency bag, but not one filled with night vision goggles, weapons and a hazmat suit. Instead, his was an old gym duffle which he packed with a bunch of spare underwear and socks, medicines and flashlights and some extra cash, the last item one Pam had not thought of before. After work she returned the clothes she had taken out the night before back to the bag and added a few twenties and a ten to a side pocket.

Today, as she grabbed the warm boots, the new casual pants, sweater and the $50 cash, she silently thanked Jim, and even made a mental nod to Dwight. It wasn’t quite the doomsday he predicted, but time travel was certainly not something she would ever have thought she would need the bag for, and here she was thankful she had a pair of old snow boots, the only item from his list she decided to add. But how she wished she had left herself a decent bra. The one in the bag, aside from being slightly stretched, had the underwire poking out and a clasp off the back missing. She probably should have just thrown it away and replaced it in the go-bag a long time ago with a newer, better fitting, more comfortable one, but she didn’t so this was what she was stuck with.

From the many different sources, she managed to pull together a decent enough wardrobe to get her through at least four days without gaslighting her other self in the process. She assumed she could make a trip back later with Michael if she found there were something else she needed from home, but for that she would need to find that spare key. With packing having taken twice the time she thought it might, she was already running up against the clock even if Michael was late, as she predicted he would be. Unless the key was in the next place she looked, she was not going to be there to meet him as he pulled up.

And of course, it wasn’t.

End Notes:
Never have I realized how much can be messed up by time traveling. No wonder it's so hard to write.
Chapter 13. Ghosts don't have Pockets by Maxine Abbott
Author's Notes:
Nothing earth shattering in this chapter but it does contain the little bit of holiday - better late than never.

A half hour later the key still hadn’t turned up.  

Neither had Michael.  

With nothing more to do but wait, she went on searching as she did. Every so often she’d step up to the front windows to pull back the curtains and peer down the street to check for his car. Each time it wasn’t in sight she went back to looking for where Roy could have left the key. 

In her desperation, Pam almost went back to Janet’s to ask again for the one she’d borrowed earlier. But unable to come up with a good reason why she was both still at home and why she would need to keep it for a week, she decided against that plan. She was already concerned about when Janet next talked to Roy. It wasn’t that aunt and nephew had regular gab sessions. More and more as Pam became entrenched into the Anderson family, whenever Janet had news to share or needed something from them, she would first ring up Pam. In fact, most of her communication with Roy was now by way of Pam, however in this case she might just decide to call him to offer congratulations and in the process spill the beans about Pam’s mid-morning stop at the house. 

She hadn’t thought much about it when she had gone to Janet’s earlier but in the hours since she realized what a mess she may have created by stopping there. If Janet did speak to Roy and then he asked her about it, she, her other self, would have no clue what he was talking about.  

But there wasn’t much she could do about it now so she tried to put it out of her mind as she went on looking for the key that she figured had to be somewhere in the house. 

The next place she searched, deep in the various pockets of pants Roy had thrown in the hamper to be washed, still didn’t produce the item in question, however between the three pairs she collected another 23 dollars. She felt a twinge of guilt pocketing his cash, but since she’d been telling him forever to empty his jeans before leaving them for her to wash, she felt somewhat justified in taking it. And now more than even before it was technically their money. 

"Finders, keepers, Roy", she whispered as she threw the jeans back into the hamper, checking at the bottom of the bin just in case the missing key fell out and landed there. 

By the time she finally located it in the den, under a pile of fantasy football prep sheets that Roy left out on the table he used as a desk, Michael was over an hour late. Not terribly worried yet, she pulled out the Harry Potter book she had packed in her old overnight bag and pulling up a kitchen chair to the front window she began to read a bit of The Prisoner of Azkaban hoping to find more clues about the rules of time travel and what they could expect in two weeks’ time when they caught up to the point they traveled back from.  

Because an hour late for Michael was the equivalent of ten minutes late for the average person, it wasn’t until another thirty minutes passed that her panic set in.  She still had plenty of time before she and Roy arrived home. It wasn’t yet four and being it was Friday, Poor Richards would be their first stop anyway. Often it was Roy’s last on the days she couldn’t convince him to leave for dinner or that they should be spending the time together, just the two of them, and not surrounded by his warehouse buddies at a crowded bar. If memory served her, they stayed quite a while there tonight as the guys he worked with were regaling them with rounds to celebrate their engagement, as if she hadn’t been his fiancée for three years. 

The longer it was with no sign of Michael, the more distressed Pam became that he was lost trying to make his way back to her house or that perhaps he’d completely forgotten her altogether and she didn’t know what to do. 

She couldn’t call him.  

Even though his cell phone had been in his pocket when the Time Turner hurdled them back to yesterday and therefore had traveled into this dimension with him, she wasn’t sure which of his phones would ring if she were to dial his number. Both of them, she had to assume and well that would certainly cause some additional problems. 

Plus, Michael in stereo, yikes, she didn't think she could handle that. 

No, she’d already opened a can of worms with her interaction with Janet and even being here in the house making slight changes to the way things were when they’d left this morning was concerning. Not that she thought Roy would notice anything gone or moved, but she might. She didn’t want to risk any other potential complications. 

All she could do was wait and grow more anxious and annoyed as she did. When at long last the Honda pulled back into her driveway, she raced out of the house to meet him before he could do something stupid like lean on the horn which would surely send a curious Aunt Janet to her window to see who was honking for Pam who should have been long gone by now.  

Throwing her back in the bag seat before she joined him in the front, she began to berate him for being so late. 

“Michael, where were you? Has time travel made you forget how time actually works? We said two hours, not four and a half.” 

Michael turned to explain but Pam yelled at him to drive, insisting he first get off her street before he spoke a single word of whatever ridiculous explanation she knew was coming. 

As soon as they turned the corner, he drove to the side of the road and pulled something out from his pocket. 

“Okay Pam, first you’re going to want to start being nicer to me when you find out where I’ve been.” 

Crumbled in his hand was a small slip of paper with a series of numbers printed in dot matrix type print. She recognized the ticket having seen it a few times on Kevin’s desk scattered among his mess of papers and business receipts. At the top was the green icon she identified clearly as the Pennsylvania Lottery logo. 

“Michael what’s wrong with you? You were two hours late to get this?” 

“Yeah, it did. I mean, I was. I had to find a place that had the winning numbers printed outs.”  

Pam crossed her arms and stared at him with the same stern look she always did when he made up some outlandish tale that she didn’t buy for even a second. She’d fallen for his jokes, excuses and false tales a few times in the past but ever since his ‘fake firing’ she learned to doubt first and perfected the parental look that usually brought out the real version of his stories. 

In typical Michael fashion, he lowered his head and turned his eyes away as he admitted the truth.  

“Well no, getting this only took about forty minutes. But I had to stop at three different stores to find one that had the printed winner sheets and well then I was so far off the route that it messed up my bearings and I kinda got lost trying to find my way back to your house.” 

That she could buy. In fact, it was exactly what she thought had happened as she sat waiting on him. Knowing it for certain helped to lesson her annoyance but not her confusion. 

“But hey sue me. But you won’t need to because we are both going to be millionaires.” 

When she suddenly realized what was going through his head, she silently shook her own, closed her eyes and let it fall into her hands before she calmly spoke. 

“Oh, Michael,” she sighed. “Time travel has made you forget how time works.” 

Now it was his turn to look confused. 

“What do you plan to do with these numbers?” 

“Play them of course, once we travel back.” 

“Michael, think about it, when we go back, we are going into the future again. We’ll have no more knowledge of what’s going to happen after we go back then we do now. Including what lottery numbers are going to be drawn.” 

“No, but I have them right here. See this is the list of the winning numbers. The official list. I didn’t trust myself to write them down, that’s why I went all over to get the print-out. Not every store has them, you know. So, when we get back, we play these numbers and then sit back and collect our millions.” 

“No, Michael,” Pam sighed as she looked dolefully at him.  “You have last night’s winning numbers. We are going forward.” 

“No, we’ll be going back, right in two weeks. You keep saying we’ll go back.” 

“Yes, back to the time we left from, in the future.” 

“Ah, um okay,” he hummed, pretending to understand, but as his eyes danced to the corners and a row of lines splintered across his forehead, she knew he was still trying to work it all out.   

Pam figured he would get it eventually. He was oblivious sometimes but not stupid. He’d have to realize the numbers he’d wanted to take back with him would be meaningless, in fact already were. 

But she thought about it, for a second doubting her own logic as she grappled to figure out if she was the one who had it wrong; if there was some chance he had it right and she was the one confused. The more she pondered about their situation, the more she began to think, what if he was onto something? He still had the Time Turner right, and they learned the things they had in their possession when they made the trip back did in fact travel with them.  

Did that mean they could use the Time Turner to go back even further and take along the winning numbers that Michael had slipped back into his pocket, apparently yet unable to work out why they were useless?  

She turned to look at him again. His brow was no less wrinkled, his lips were still pursed, his face displaying the same incomprehension it did when he looked over the quarterly P&Ls Oscar had him review and sign before submitting to corporate.   

But while his sported a familiar dazed expression, Pam’s lit up like a Christmas tree as her mind began to dance with the possibilities.  

The wedding she could have without limitations on the cost of the venue, the length of the guest list or the expense of her dream gown. Then, following a reception she could only fanticize about in her current financial situation, they could honeymoon in Paris, that is if she could convince Roy it made for the more romantic, post-nuptial getaway over Hawaii. Somehow, she didn’t think that dinner atop the Eiffel Tower, hours touring the Louvre and strolls along the Champs-Élysées were quite his idea of a good time. But Hawaii could be amazing, too. Not as much art or European culture to soak in, but luaus, snorkeling with sea turtles and relaxing on the beach, she could get on board with that.    

But hey, they’d be millionaires, they could take two honeymoons, one for her and one for him. Then after their month of travel she could give up her job as the Dunder Mifflin receptionist and spend her time painting using all the inspiration she’d have soaked up while abroad and in the islands.  

But that would mean she wouldn’t get to see Jim anymore and even thinking about that made her kind of sad. But with her winnings, he wouldn’t have to be stuck at Dunder Mifflin either. She could hire him to be an agent for her or a coach, of what she wasn’t sure, but she could come up with something. 

But would it be weird to employ her best friend to do some bogus job just to keep him close? Jim, while not devoted to paper, might still be a bit too proud let her hire him with some creative title and made-up work description.  

Plus, it might make Roy uncomfortable to see them together on a daily basis.  

The more she thought about it, the more she realized the whole idea of their second selves going further back in time was not just chancy but downright dangerous, especially since it meant there would be three Michael Scotts running around instead of just two and she was pretty sure no amount of money was worth that risk. 

“Ohhhhhh.” 

The sound of Michael figuring it out at last broke Pam from her thoughts, just about the same time she was giving up on her own dreams of becoming a millionaire too. 

It was just as well. She’d heard time and time again how money couldn’t buy happiness. It’s a Wonderful Life, the holiday movie she’d just watched another at least four times over the recent Christmas break demonstrated that in its perfect magical way. 

She could be happy without a big fancy wedding or an exotic honeymoon as long as long as she had a husband she loved, Roy. And as she recalled from the movie, there was another lesson to be learned from Clarence, something about the importance of friends, the exact wording of the quote he left written in the book she didn’t quite remember, but whatever they were, it made her think of the friendship she had with Jim. 

What they shared was a special closeness, a bond that filled the gaps of what she sometimes felt missing in her romantic relationship. One where she felt comfortable sharing secrets she couldn’t even tell Roy. One where they spent most of their time together smiling and laughing but even when something chased her smile away, Jim was the one who she could rely on to listen and help and bring it back. He was her best friend and she hoped always would be. Their friendship was too important to risk ruining for anything. She knew it wasn’t just her commitment to Roy that kept her from ever entertaining thoughts of anything more with him. It was fear of potentially jeopardizing the closeness they shared. The same reason why she tried not to read much into his attentiveness and devotion.  

But now, knowing what she could no longer deny he felt was weighing on her, the knowledge of his feelings throwing everything in her world out of whack. It was a very good thing she had a few weeks yet to reconcile it all before she would have to see him again.  

By now Michael had driven off, after he too had accepted he wouldn’t be winning anything upon their return to the present. But because Pam’s internal distraction lasted just a bit longer than his confusion, he would up taking a left where he should have taken a right.  

Turns out it was just as well for Pam knew of a strip mall on the next block with a large liquor store and a florist. She had been thinking to tell Michael to stop off somewhere so they could pick up some gifts to bring back to Randall and Gabby. It was the least they could do for taking them in and being so welcoming. 

With this wrong turn they found themselves in a place where she could get both the things she had been thinking of. 

--- 

Shopping for wine with Michael was something of an experience as he picked up bottles and butchered their names while they walked around the store trying to agree on what to buy. After she nixed the White Zinfandel on special at the front that he claimed was his favorite, and probably was judging from what he knew of wine, she pushed him towards the reds, where a sampling table had a bottle of Chateau des Jacques being poured for patrons to try. 

Michael of course, pretended to be an expert on the subject and began using words like vintage and bouquet, and after he picked up a sample and swirled it around in the plastic cup he gulped it down in one swig. But the longer he interacted with the store sommelier, the more he only made a fool of himself, his ignorance apparent when he proved to know nothing about wine including how to pronounce, Beaujolais.  

Where the brand being served at the sampling station might have been a good choice, she was so embarrassed by her boss, that she marched him into the next aisle where he beelined to a straw-wrapped, wide-bottomed bottle, the kind she hadn’t seen in years except for as the candle holder in the Lady and the Tramp, Disney cartoon she watched with Roy’s niece when they spend the holidays with his family.  

“Oooh, Chee-antie,” he cooed. “I bet they’d love this. It’s a classic.” 

Pam shook her head and he set the bottle back down following her walk further down the aisle. 

The next one he picked up was a magnum-sized Sutter Home Cab. 

“How about this one?”  

He struggled to articulate another grape variety, properly leaving off the silent ‘t’ in Cabernet, but when it came to the Sauvignon, it was so far off she had examine the bottle to see what was written on it. 

“It’s twice the wine at half the price.” 

Pam took the giant bottle away from him and telling him no, set it back on the shelf. 

“Our hosts are Randall and Gabby, not Meredith. We’re looking for a gift to say thank you for having us, not we’re here to party til we puke. How about this?” 

She held up a Pinot that she’d enjoyed once before and fell just within the price range she thought was appropriate. 

“Holy canoli. $28 dollars. With tax that will be over $30. The Zinfandel they had up front was only $9. What makes this so much better?” 

Convincing Michael the Pinot was the right choice was not easy but he did eventually give in, that is until he learned she expected him to pay too. 

“The wine is your idea. Why do I need to pay for it?” 

Pam hadn’t told him about the money she gathered from her house. It wasn’t that much anyhow, fifty dollars borrowed from the go-bag, the cash pilfered from Roy’s jeans and some singles she’d left in her evening bag the last time she had occasion to use it. All totaled she had $77 and that had to last her two weeks. 

Besides, Michael had a credit card where all she had was the small amount of cash, a lone key and an old empty purse she thought to grab as she gathered her things. She could pay him back for the purchases when the bill came in next month and her access to her ATM card and bank account were restored. Besides, their homeless status was all his fault, so why shouldn’t he pick up the tab on the gifts for the patrons who took them in? 

She was feeling a lot like a fugitive, or maybe a ghost, without a license, credit card or anything that proved who she was. It was weird to be so anonymous, a nobody with an old, empty purse filled with only a Chapstick and a wad of cash held together by a rubber band. 

She hadn’t thought to take her passport or her checkbook until they were miles from her house but she at least had the spare key. On Monday, maybe Michael could take her back home again to retrieve them. For the weekend she would have to remain a ghost. 

It could be worse, she thought to herself as they waited on the line, having explained to him she had no means to pay, feeling only slightly less guilty lying to him than Janet. 

It wasn’t even a full day yet that they’d been back in time and the lies were piling up along with the potential problems from their being here. On top of that were things she had discovered that she wished she didn’t know, and the things she couldn’t help but worry about while they had another two weeks to hang about in the past, the least of which was how she was going to live on $77 for that time.  

At any rate she had Michael with her. Michael of whom she was both envious and grateful because he still had his keys, wallet, and identity. They were all in his pockets upon their crossing over. 

Crossing over, was that what happened to her? It sure felt like her demise when she experienced the crushing ache in her body, flashing images before her eyes and mind-bending dizziness as she was hurled through time. 

Could it be that is what actually occurred?  

She wasn’t time traveling but instead had died and this was her afterlife or rather her purgatory, being stuck here with Michael. That she could not fully move on to heaven because something was not exactly right when the explosion or heart attack or her otherwise unexplainable death occurred and she would need to fix something here on earth before she did? 

Again, thoughts of the holiday movie came to her. Could Michael be the one sent to help set things right before she either awoke from her coma or went on to her afterlife? Figures she would get Michael as her guardian angel but even in the film, the simple-minded and bumbling but golden-hearted, innocent Clarence got the job done, with a little assistance from Joseph. 

Could Randall be the Joseph helping Michael? Why else would he ever have agreed to let Michael Scott be a guest in his home? 

But whether she was in fact a spirit, a lost soul or she had simply fallen into a wormhole of time, her current train of thought was way too heavy to be having on line at the liquor superstore so she turned her reflections to the more mundane like how she had no pockets when whatever it was that happened to her or them took place. 

It had always been her opinion that women’s clothes should have pockets; that it was some conspiracy of the fashion industry that ladies’ apparel had a lack of places to keep their belongings and even when they did have small compartments, they were often too shallow to keep anything more than a lipstick. Women, most of the time had way more to carry than men and on top of having more expensive clothes to begin with, had limited options that contained any useful pockets so were also burdened with the added expense of a purse just to keep their extra necessities on them. And then when you needed said purse, it was tucked under your desk instead of with you in Michael’s office when you do the unimaginable— take an unplanned journey through time with your boss. 

It was all the more reason why she felt justified in sticking Michael with the bill for the wine. 

--- 

“Everyone seems so excited we set the date. My phone was ringing all day. I heard from both your sisters, Aunt Sue, Aunt Jenny and most of the cousins.” 

Roy didn’t answer except to mumble yeah as he peeled out of the parking lot. Between the phone calls that kept her from her faxing until late in the day and the Friday night time cards that Michael hadn’t signed until after five-thirty, it was almost six before she made it downstairs to where he was waiting in the truck. She knew he was annoyed since happy hour was only until seven. She chose to ignore his bad mood and kept on talking to him, hoping to bring back some of the excitement from last night by bringing up his family and the wedding. 

“I was kind of surprised that Aunt Janet didn’t call though. I would think she’d be the first one after your mother.” 

“Yeah normally, but why would she call you to congratulate you again when she already did when you went by the house to get your bag?” 

Pam fingered her purse as she wondered what he was referring to.  

“Get my bag?” she questioned silently to herself. 

What on earth was he talking about? Had happy hour started with a few beers in the warehouse?  Was he not fit to be behind the wheel?  He often didn’t recognize when he was too impaired to be driving and she had to insist on taking his keys.   

“Oh, and what kind of errands does Michael have you running on with him? You know I don’t think you should be in the car with him, I’ve seen how he drives…” 

Under her breath, despite still not knowing what the hell Roy was talking about, she mumbled to herself. 

“Yeah, well at least he doesn’t get behind the wheel when he’s downed a few…” 

“ROY, LOOK OUT!” 

Roy immediately swerved his pick-up out of the way of the SUV that had meandered into his path, all while leaning heavy on his horn. Roy hadn’t noticed the automotive interloper until he was within a fraction of an inch from crashing with them, but veered quick enough to avoid a collision.   

He must not have started his night early after all. No way he could react that fast unless he was sober.  

The other driver apparently had not been looking before making his lane change, perhaps he too was in a rush to get to half price drinks at the bar or was coming from a happy hour himself. Except when she looked back at the other motorist, who once he realized his mistake pulled back to his own lane, he seemed alert and was waving in apology. 

But Roy was busy flipping off the remorseful middle-aged man, cursing at him through Pam’s open window which he rolled down in anger. 

Pam’s first reaction was to shrink back in her seat, mortified and slightly scared at his unreasonable road rage. Clearly, it was an honest error on the other driver’s part, one he acknowledged, but that didn’t seem to make Roy any less infuriated.  

“Relax Roy,” she tried to calm him. “It was a misjudgment. He knows. You don’t have to get nuts.” 

“Get nuts,” he screamed back, now at her.  “He almost hit us. Did you know the kind of front-end damage he could have caused if I hadn’t been able to get over?” 

“But you did so no harm actually happened. Come on, we’re late for happy hour.” 

Yeah, and whose fault is that?” he bellowed. 

“Come on Roy, he’s already waved an apology so why not leave it alone now?” 

He didn’t. 

“I have a good mind to run him of the road with his fancy Range Rover.” 

With that he pulled up behind the other driver and rode his tail, still cursing at him from behind, which seemed to make the man drive slower until Roy tore out from behind him and now passing him on the other side began to roar through his own open window. The other driver, no longer passively apologetic, had become enraged himself and was yelling back.  

A little scared of the escalation, Pam begged Roy to settle down but this only seemed to fuel him up. Luckily, the other driver finally backed off and turned at the next intersection. Pam had to wonder if it was his regular route or he’d come to his senses enough to not want to get any further into with the burly, 6’ 4”, hothead she was driving with. 

Roy having not yet cooled down when they arrived at Poor Richards, slammed the door violently behind him as departed the truck. Pam let him go into the bar alone. Try as she did to not be rattled by what she just witnessed, she couldn’t stop from wrenching her hands together or prevent the lone tear that hovered precariously on her lashes before spilling down her cheek. A few deep breaths and minutes later she exited too. By the time she’d joined him in the bar, she’d all but forgotten the strange exchange about her mysterious errands with Michael, missed calls with Aunt Janet and her purse. All she could think of now was how his uncontrollable rage would definitely get him into trouble one day. 

 


End Notes:
It's a Wonderful Life is such an amazing movie. I watch it every year in December and it still holds up.
Chapter 14 - Three Strikes by Maxine Abbott
Author's Notes:

Those who like my OCs, this chapter is for you.

Those who like to bet, place them now. 


Michael’s three strikes didn’t take long.

By some small miracle it wasn’t until late Friday that the first infraction occurred. But it was more due to the fact they didn’t get back to the Stewart home until after dusk than it being the result of any self-restraint on his part.

Despite the late hour, Gabby smiled warmly as she welcomed them back into her home.

“I was expecting you sooner. I thought you were just going to pick up a few of your belongings and head right back.”

From within the apartment, the accented voice of a heartbroken man could be heard coming from the television, underlined by a melancholy music that filled the room becoming louder when the on-screen dialogue stopped.

When next, the sad song shifted to a twangy country tune and Pam recognized the female voice speaking, it clued her in to just what show Gabby had been watching while waiting on them.

“Oh, I hope we didn’t keep you from anything,” Pam replied with worry. Opening her home to two wayward travelers was beyond kind and generous, especially when their trip was even more strange than the one playing out on her television and more akin to an episode of the Twilight Zone. Pam’s intent was for them to be nothing but the most gracious and considerate guests. Keeping their host waiting for them all afternoon certainly did not start them off on the right foot.

“Oh, not at all. I ran out on a few errands this morning but I had no other plans, except catching up on some of my shows.”

“We were planning to be back sooner…” Pam threw an accusatory look to Michael before she continued, “but we got delayed.”

Presenting the small floral bouquet in her free hand she added, “and we made a few stops.”

Gabby held the flowers to her nose taking in their scent.

“Fresh flowers, mmmm, and these are beautiful and so fragrant. Thank you.”

Pam smiled shyly in response as Gabby stepped aside to let them through the doorway. With her right hand now free, she swapped the slender gift bag from her other one to it and adjusted the small, shabby duffle of her clothes and essentials that rested on her shoulder before she walked through.  Behind her Michael followed, dragging a large wheeled suitcase.

Not aware of the giant case until he took it from the car’s trunk when they arrived at the apartment complex, Pam winced as he pulled it out. They had been gone so long it was way too late to make Michael head back to his place to swap it out for something smaller. She regretted not giving him more detailed instructions on what he should and shouldn’t bring, but at least he didn’t take the George Foreman grill. At least she hoped he didn’t. Who knew what was packed in the oversized luggage?

In his other hand was a present of donuts which he insisted would be a better gift than flowers or wine. Since he was driving, and paying, she had no choice but to let him make one more out-of-the-way stop to pick them up.  

“We brought donuts,” he sang as he extended the pink and orange box with a proud smile on his face.

Pam put down her overnight bag and handed off the tote containing the wine.

“Oh, and this, too.”

“Well, how considerate of you.”

Gabby set down the box on a console table inattentively, without first taking a glance of the assortment of flavors inside. She did however, delicately lift the neck of the bottle to take a peek at it, her kind eyes returning to Pam after she read the label.

“This will go well with the dinner I was planning. Thank you. That was very sweet.”

Interrupted by a deliberately executed constriction of his laryngopharynx, Gabby turned back to Michael who sounded like an old man coughing up a lung.

Pam, wearing a measured stare, turned to him too.

“You okay, Michael?” Gabby asked.

On his face was a pained expression Pam had seen before many, many times. Spread across his lips was the tension of holding back. His bulging cheeks were filled with the air of his desperation to keep from blurting out what he wanted to share. Pam knew he was losing the battle, had lost already.

Practically spitting all over their host as the pronouncement escaped from his taut mouth, Michael blurted, “Pam has no money. I paid for all of it. So, it was her idea, but my gift to you. Except the donuts, that was all me, soap to do-nuts.”

Pam could swear Gabby was channeling her friend as she pulled her lips together and lifted her eyebrows in mock surprise. Her expression was the embodiment of Jim as she flashed Pam the same exact look he always had for the camera when Michael did or said something ridiculously wrong. But it erased from her face so fast, Pam wasn’t sure if it was real or what she witnessed on Gabby was just a manifestation of what she’d come to expect from Jim in such events.

Directing her gaze back to Michael while adjusting her tone to the somewhat higher pitch and slow tempo used in speaking to a child, Gabby addressed him as if he was.

“Well then, thank you too Michael. It’s all so very thoughtful.”

The three retreated deeper into the main room, when suddenly the blare of a warning signal rang through it, the blast repeating itself over and over, increasing in intensity until Gabby grabbed the remote that sat on the end table and with a few clicks stopped the program playing and shut off the television.

Had she been even a tad uncertain before what Gabby had been watching, Pam was indisputably sure now and knew exactly where in the show’s timeline Gabby was.

If she hadn’t seen the episode a month earlier, the reverberation of the booming alarm, amplified due to the surround sound speaker system that it played through, might have caused her to panic just like Michael, who in jumping back almost knocked down the box of donuts that were sitting precariously on the table behind him.

“Relax Michael it was just the TV,” Pam assured him while pulling him away from the table. Grabbing the box she asked Gabby, “Shall I put these in the kitchen?”  

“Thank you, Pam, I’ve got them,” she said as she placed down the remote and took the donuts back from her.

From there she led them back to the office which doubly served as their temporary room, leaving them to deposit their belongings while she returned to the kitchen to drop off the wine and donuts and set the flowers in a vase.

Back by the dining room table, the three joined up again after a few minutes. Gabby was just setting down the colorful arrangement on the table.

“So, I’m going to start prepping for dinner. I thought I’d make pasta and chicken. It will be nice to have some company for a change. It’s been a long time since I’ve made a meal for more than just for Randall and myself. But you two should make yourselves at home.”

Pam knew she couldn’t allow Gabby to make dinner for them while they just sat around and relaxed. It was something that annoyed the crap out of her whenever Roy lounged in their den while she cooked for them both, which was pretty much all the time. As a guest, she had to at least offer to keep her host company, if not help with preparing the meal.

 She was about to volunteer her assistance when Michael beat her to it.

“Would you like some help?”

Truth be told, she was only slightly surprised. She knew Michael was often clueless but she also recognized that deep down he had a kindness to him and would always try to do the right thing, even if his attempt at the right thing sometimes ended up being a disaster.

“I’d love to help, too.” Pam added, hoping Gabby knew her offer was no less forthcoming despite her Michael’s beating her to the punch in extending it.

“It’s so nice of both you to offer but as you can see my kitchen area is a little tight. And I’m not sure how much there is for all three of us do.  How about Pam helps with the cooking and Michael you can assist Randall with the clean up after.”

The gloomy look on his face gave away what he thought of her distribution of duties but Pam knew him well enough to know it was something more than just a dislike of rinsing dishes.

“What is it, Michael?”

“I was hoping to get started on my culinary lessons. Gabby was a teacher so she’s bound to be excellent at instruction and from the size of Randall’s belly, she must be a good cook too.”

Pam tensed up as she was pretty sure his comment was going to count as his first strike, but seeing Gabby chuckling, she relaxed her shoulders again and let out the breath she’d been holding since it came from his mouth.

“Well Michael, I taught fourth graders reading, writing, and arithmetic so if you really want to learn how to cook, you’re better off watching Food Network.”

Gabby clearly knew who she was dealing with. Whether it was due to a warning from her husband or just plain intuition from her years as an educator, she knew enough to get him out of their hair while they worked, and he was sent off to watch television until Randall got home and dinner was ready.

Pam felt like a schoolgirl herself, having been chosen to assist her teacher. She was also looking forward to spending the time alone with Gabby as they made dinner. She often helped her mom over the holidays and while they busied themselves in the kitchen, they always had their best chats. Unlike Michael, Roy never offered his help even at her parents’ house, and as it would have it, neither did her sister Penny, so it was always an intimate affair where the cooking and conversation seems to mix naturally.

She felt similarly at ease with Gabby, relaxed in an unexplainable but comforting way, and looked forward to chatting with her as they cooked. Having the additional company of her often-juvenile boss would absolutely counteract that calm and hinder the process and the girl talk.

As Michael made his exit, Pam asked what she could do and was directed to grab the eggs from refrigerator while Gabby busied herself collecting some ingredients from the pantry. With both women engaged with tasks, they both also missed seeing Michael pitstop at the far counter before he left them to relax on the alabaster sofa.

He was gone less than five minutes when he called out from the living space off to the side of the open kitchen.

“Hey, you have one of those TiVo machines.”

The comment about her husband’s size may not have rattled her but this one seemed to, so much so that she promptly set down the pasta and jar of sauce she was holding and rushed to where his voice carried from.  

“That is off limits to you. You hear? Don’t touch it.”

She managed to stay composed but spoke sternly as she hurried over from the kitchen to the sofa. Pam trailed her, anxious about his fascination with the machine that could no doubt get him into trouble. Michael’s technology track record was spotty. On the one hand, he could program his computer to mass distribute his dirty jokes by email, on the other he often misdirected private emails from Jan and corporate to the same extensive list. Not to mention, it was Pam who always had to set up the equipment for Movie Mondays at the office since he couldn’t figure out how to switch the source input to get to the DVD player.

To her initial relief, neither the TiVo remote or the one for the television were in his hand when they arrived. Instead, they found him stretched out on the pure white couch eating a gooey chocolate covered donut.

Calmly but firmly, Gabby reprimanded him, Pam presumed in the same way she might talk to her own children or the 4th graders she used to teach.

“Michael, if we didn’t want you sleeping there, what made you think eating a chocolate donut on it would be, okay?”

“Oh, don’t worry. I’ll still be hungry for dinner.”

Remarkably she still kept her voice cool and collected as she answered him back. Pam admired her patience. She didn’t understand how it was possible, but admired it all the same.

 “Young man,” she began, scolding him like a child and not a grown man who was only about 12 or 13 years her junior.

“This is not about your appetite. It’s about my couch. Go finish that donut at the table and then you can wash your hands. Then and only then can you return to the couch.”

With his head down in shame, Michael made his way to the table grumbling about the obscured view of the flat screen.

“Oh, and that was your strike one.”

Michael didn’t say another word.

Once back in the kitchen, Pam apologized for not catching him upon his leave with the donut.

“Not your fault. Kids can be sneaky when they know they are doing something they shouldn’t. You learn to spot it once you are a parent.”

“But Michael’s not a kid,” she responded, despite regarding him as an overgrown child so much of the time.

“Isn’t he though? I’ve heard plenty from Randall. But don’t worry, I missed this one too.”

“Yeah, but I was watching him. At least I thought I was.”

“Well hon, let that be a lesson for when you have kids of your own.”

She paused and turned to Pam, the focus on the green eyes she stared into, piercing and deliberate.

“You can’t always see what’s right in front of you.”

“Noted,” Pam responded, appreciative for the advice about caring for children. She knew she had a lot to learn on the subject, never feeling all that comfortable around Roy’s niece, or any kids for that matter. But now that she was one step closer to having one of her own, she knew it was time to get better.

But there was something about the way Gabby spoke to her, as if she knew about Pam’s insecurities. Or could it be her that her insecurities were making her think the exchange was something more than simply an experienced parent, and schoolteacher at that, imparting her wisdom on the younger generation?

It had Pam wondering where Gabby had taught when she did. The older woman looking into her eyes could have been one of the teachers when Pam went to Valley View elementary although Pam was positive she hadn’t been hers. She specifically remembered who she had for 4th grade; Mrs. Hardcastle, who was old as dirt and mean as a devil. She would have very much preferred to have Gabby, or Mrs. Stewart as she would have called her back then.

As they got back to cooking and more casual chatting, Pam, in asking Gabby what school she had worked at, learned she and Randall weren’t from around Scranton. In fact, they were not even from Pennsylvania, having moved from New York when Randall landed the opportunity to work on the documentary. Their real home was an hour north of the city and was currently being rented out while they temporarily relocated to their current apartment as it would be too far to commute every day to where his job was.

Gabby shared how they decided not to buy something new right away, instead were waiting to see how long the gig lasted.

It explained the mysterious door past the bathroom that Pam learned was a third but uninhabitable bedroom, crammed wall to wall with boxes and precious possessions they’d had to remove from the house so the couple who now lived there could fill it with their own memories.

“So how do you like it here in Scranton?” Pam asked of her.

“Oh, it’s been okay. All my family and friends are back in New York so of course I miss them. It’s a bit hard to meet new people at my age, but I’ve made a few and I go back to New York about once a week.”

It dawned on her why Gabby seemed happy to be putting her and Michael up. It must have been lonely for her during the hours Randall was busy filming at the office. The staff hours might have been nine to five, but most people except maybe Stanley were often there late and the crew were always still there when she left, and often were there before she arrived too. On top of that with the many extracurricular events they’d been holding more recently she imagined Gabby must have been alone quite a bit, well into the night sometimes.

“But to me it was more important that Randall have the chance to work on this project. It’s his passion, and being part of a groundbreaking and life-altering project like this is a long-time ambition.”

Pam didn’t exactly think of what they were filming as groundbreaking or life-altering. It was a documentary about a paper company.  Pretty basic stuff if you asked her, but then again, she wasn’t a television exec or documentarian, so what did she know.

“Early on he sacrificed a lot for me, me and our family so now I am just so thrilled for him that I’d live in Antarctica if that’s where the job took us.”

Pam stopped cutting the pepper she had been slicing for the salad to give Gabby her full attention as the wife of the man she saw every day, but knew little about, gave her a some more insight on him and the relationship they shared.

“When we met, he had not too long ago graduated from NYU film school and was doing quite well landing jobs as a second AC.”

“What’s that?” Pam asked, knowing very little of what went into film and television production. It was only when the crew began filming them at Dunder Mifflin she even learned about half the stuff that went into making a tv show, even one that was meant to be a portrait of real life.

For example, she had no idea what a boom mic was and she still found it a little strange that they needed Brian to follow them around with that very heavy looking equipment to capture their audio, especially when they all were required to wear those annoying mic packs. 

“Oh, they basically move the camera equipment, operate the clapboard between takes, and do a bunch of other stuff to help the DP and operators.”

DP, she knew that one. She’d heard the term a lot when the crew first came around but had also heard Jim say it often when he was talking game stats with Kevin and Ryan. Roy must have used the abbreviation too; he was not as much a baseball fan as football but still watched the games and discussed them almost as much. But since she had long ago learned to tune him out whenever sports came up as a topic of conversation, she only remembered hearing it spoken from Jim. Besides she would never dare to ask him what had her curious, knowing he would make her feel stupid as he explained.

Finally, though tired of being confused she worked up the courage to ask Jim what the documentary had to do with baseball. After he got over his bewilderment at her question and then recovered from his joyful little fit of laughter, he assured her it was an easy mistake and clarified when he used it, he was referring to a double play but when the crew referred to it, it meant Director of Photography. Even just the memory of the interaction brought a flush to her cheeks she hoped Gabby didn’t notice.

She didn’t.

She seemed too swept away talking about the early days with the man she was obviously devoted to, her attention lost to both her tale and the task of breading the chicken.

“Not very glamorous stuff but a foot in the door. By the time we were getting married he’d managed to move on to B camera operator and during the early part of our marriage, he found steady work on a local production. But once the kids came along, the hours and travel weren’t exactly conducive to family life and so he took a hiatus and a job at an office. He spent a long time pretending to be a business man.”

She motioned for Pam to fill up the pot near the sink while she transferred the plate of crumb-coated poultry to the counter next to the stove. Waiting for Pam to meet her there she only continued after Pam set down the heavy cookware.

“But after a few years when I knew he was unhappy selling ad space, I told him I couldn’t watch him give up on his dreams and sent him back to camerawork. Oh, don’t forget the salt.”

Pam grabbed the shaker and gave it a couple of shakes.

“He’d fallen a little behind in the industry in the years he worked as a salesman and had to start all over again. It was a struggle at first, both financially and for him being back at the bottom at his age, but he still seemed happier at his job than the years working as an executive. So much so that when he wanted to give it up a second time, I wouldn’t let him. I took up tutoring to make up for the shortfall in his salary and made sure in his non-working hours he got to spend quality time with the kids. And of course, I got creative with our date nights. Instead of fancy dinners, we had moonlight picnics in our backyard so we didn’t need a babysitter. All the while, I kept on assuring him and letting him know how much I believed in him and that he would be a DP himself soon enough.”

“And did he, become a DP?”

“Yes, on a number of things. He does quite well now but most of the stuff he’s been on was pretty boilerplate to him. He did a lot of commercials, became quite known for that. But this was something different, this documentary he’s on now with your office, it’s something that really excited him in a way I hadn’t seen in a while so I told him he should go for it with no hesitation.”

“Wow, he’s lucky to have you. It sounds like you sacrificed a lot for him.”

Gabby stopped what she was doing and looked straight at Pam, the dreamy smile on her face illustrating her profound pride and intense love for the man she married and raised a family with. 

“No, I never considered it a sacrifice. It was just part of being in a healthy and loving relationship. When you love someone, you support their dreams and the things that make them happy and fulfilled. And you find the compromises so you both can be.”

 

---

 

Pam wasn’t in the room when strike two occurred, but she heard two versions of what happened, one each from Randall and Michael. Seems teasing about her husband’s size was okay, but comments about her children’s ‘awkward’ phase and turning down their photos on the desk and tables in the makeshift guest room was not.

Michael tried to explain his actions to Pam, claiming he left the adorable baby photos faced right because babies and little kids were always cute, but everyone, even Hilary Swank and Brad Pitt turned gawky and weird-looking in adolescence. He’d said this to Gabby, adding he was sure they’d grown out of their teenage uglies when he told her that photos of what they looked like now would be better to put on display where her guests slept.

Cringing as he mounted his poor defense, the way he himself described what he’d said and done was far worse than the account she heard from Randall, she took the tone with him she’d learned from Gabby, calm but direct.

“I really don’t want to sleep at the office and being you are on very thin ice with Gabby, you are going to have to try a lot harder not to do or say anything to offend her or Randall for that matter.”

She knew she was going to have to keep a better eye on him too. No more allowing him to be alone even for a minute.

But it was already too late.

The final nail in the coffin had unknowingly been struck while Pam had left him on his own to do some sketching when she was supposed to be babysitting while the Stewarts had their regularly scheduled Saturday night date, no longer held in the backyard but out a local restaurant. Of course, she wasn’t told she was in charge, but she put that responsibility on herself.

She had worried about him alone in the living area when she retreated to what was temporarily the guest room but as she couldn’t concentrate with COPS on in the background, the show Michael had to watch because it was the best thing on television that night, she decided it was worth the risk. With the surround sound setup, she had idiocy coming at her from all directions. She had enough of that at work, she didn’t need to see or hear more foolish behavior while she was on an accidental break from it. A break brought about by the person usually at the forefront of the all the insanity. She should have known she couldn’t escape it completely.

“Why not turn off the TV and read? There’s are shelves full of good books in the office, or I brought the Harry Potter. You can read about all about Hermione and Harry’s adventure in time.”

But Michael wasn’t in the mood for reading, not when the TV was his to control again. Once Randall arrived home Friday night, Michael had no say as to what played on the large living room television and was forced to watch lots of news programming and college basketball, neither of which he knew much about or cared for. Pam elbowed him hard when he asked Gabby if they had a TV in the bedroom which fortunately shut him up before he earned another strike but she knew he was agitated not getting to view what he wanted.

Not a fan of watching the foolhardy behavior of criminals, drug addicts or the police chases that the show he chose tonight featured, she retreated to the other room but she knew enough to leave the door open.

He was only a few feet away. The door to the office was ajar so she could hear him, but the sirens and screams were not attacking her from all sides. The donuts were gone. Between Michael and Randall, who wound up appreciating them as much as Michael said he would, they didn’t last long. He had been warned multiple times about eating anything at the couch. What other trouble could he get into?

They all found out Sunday evening, when their hosts went to catch up on the episodes of Lost they’d recorded on the fancy DVR machine.

When for the first time since they’d arrived, she heard Gabby raise her voice in anger, it was a wonder she’d kept her cool as long as she had, she knew immediately what had happened.

It was a shame, too. The little couch in reception would be a lot less comfortable than the fold-away bed she’d been sleeping on. However, it was not her future sleeping arrangements that made her sad, it was that she was so much starting to enjoy spending time with the Stewarts, particularly Gabby. But as she heard the woman screaming out, out, out, she knew the visit with Randall and his wife had come to its end.

 

End Notes:

So did anyone really think there was any chance Michael would get to be a guest of the Stewart's for long. Frankly I'm surprised he lasted as long as he did and I'm the one writing it.

For those of you interested, the show Gabby was watching was Lost, the episode was Season 2, Episode 9 - "What Kate Did" and the accented voice was Sayid, the female, Kate.

Thanks for reading. 

Chapter 15 - COPS and Conversations by Maxine Abbott
Author's Notes:
Read carefully and you might catch me disparaging myself.

In the end there was no forced exile, at least not for Pam.

Michael on the other hand, was given 20 minutes to pack.

As Pam watched him solemnly refill the suitcase he had only emptied just days before, the expression of shame clearly manifest in his downcast eyes as he transferred piles of casual clothes from the spare chair and suits from the closet back to into his luggage, she wasn’t sure if what she felt was anger or pity or some combination of both.

None of the terrible things he did were ever out of malice.

Ignorance, yes.

Impetuousness, yes.

Foolishness, yes.

Still, he always meant well and she believed him when he tried to explain he was only trying to record COPS, to show Randall another documentary style program that might inspire him in his current work.

However, there were times she felt exactly as Gabby did and understood why she wanted him out of her sight and home at once.

As usual his behavior and subsequent banishment, though unintentional, would have its repercussions for her.

His refuge at the office was going to be complicated and a little risky.

Complicated because Pam, having no car, was reliant on him to get places. Plus, she might still need him to purchase things that she with her limited funds and lack of credit cards could not. She’d spent some of her money when she and Michael went on a breakfast run on Sunday, picking up bagels and orange juice to share with their hosts and more of the donuts Randall enjoyed so much. Michael didn’t seem to notice when she pulled out her cash to contribute, or if he did, he didn’t ask where she had gotten it from. What little funds remained she needed to make last.

Risky, because without Pam to keep an eye on him the likelihood he might get caught or do something that could wreak havoc on the future was as high as the probability of him kicking Toby out of any given meeting.

So, although not asked to leave she felt as if she had no choice but to join him at Hotel Dunder Mifflin and she began to pack herself.

It was really only because Randall, and to a larger degree Gabby, pleaded that she stay, as if she were doing them the favor by remaining on as their guest, that she set her bag back down in the office and agreed to let Michael go without her.

Still Pam worried how his taking his refuge at the place they worked was troublesome. Timing, being it involved counting, was not one of his strong suits. And if he were late getting out of the office one morning, who knew what disaster could ensue.

But because Gabby wanted Pam to stay and Randall did all he could to always keep his wife happy, he adjusted his own schedule, setting his alarm for even earlier each day so he could get to Dunder Mifflin before anyone else to make sure Michael got up and out on time.  

Additionally, she made Michael agree to check in every day for a status update and to give her a play by play on where he planned to go and what he intended to do for the day. He promised too, he would provide her transportation so she could get back to her home to swap out clothes and other stuff, and do her laundry.

Even Gabby, who had calmed down significantly by the time he was leaving, agreed to allow him back into her home on a case by case and as needed basis.

Awaking alone in the provisional bedroom felt strange, not that it wasn’t bizarre before when each morning she had to remind herself where she was and how she’d gotten there. But at least on her first Monday being in the room by herself she wasn’t awakened to a barrage of disoriented panic from Michael and didn’t have to explain why he was sleeping on a bench in a crowded room with his receptionist or warn him to keep it down when he stirred with excited plans for all the things he planned to do while off from work. Pam should have been able to sleep in that first Monday, but couldn’t. Her head was already turning thinking of what could happen if Michael didn’t make it out before everyone else arrived that day.

As she lay there, she remembered what day it was, the morning the original version of her boss would arrive late after burning his foot on his Foreman grill.

I should have tried harder to get him to hide that thing, she uttered in her mind while she stirred in the bed.

While she would not have chosen to come back in time exclusively to alter the events of that day, not that she had any choice in making this journey at all, now that she was here, she felt she should have tried harder to convince Michael they could have stopped Dwight from getting concussed. Plus, preventing his injury would have benefits beyond protecting Dwight. It would spare everyone from being annoyed all that day with Michael’s attention-seeking behavior as he carried on about his ‘disability’.

“Oh, no,” she suddenly said aloud.

What if he gets out on time but goes right back to his condo? He could wind up walking in on himself.

Pam couldn’t stop her thoughts from spinning wildly, still unsure what might transpire if either of them stumbled onto themselves. The Harry Potter book she’d read again over the weekend had not given her any more clues. She tried to reason with herself, thinking silently, what's the worst that could happen?

Michael goes mad, he has to take a leave of absence from Dunder Mifflin. They find a new manager or maybe promote from within.

Jim, perhaps.

But that would mean he’d be her boss which could be okay, except it would also mean he would exchange his bullpen desk for the glassed-in office. She’d be left alone with Dwight and his replacement, who she supposed would be Ryan. Somehow, that seemed like a lot less fun than the current arrangement with Jim just a glance away or a short walk from where she was.

He’d still be at Dunder Mifflin though, and hopefully he would make the trip to her desk just as often. Only, she realized as she kept on ruminating on the outcome, he’d have to become more managerial and the trips would have to have a real purpose other than getting his palms read, comparing Free Cell scores or plotting a prank, and his promotion would surely put an end to their days of laughing and goofing off together.

Or, it could be worse than even that. They could make Dwight the manager.

---

Dwight could barely focus on the street signs during the drive to Michael’s condo, but it scarcely mattered as he navigated his way strictly by rote, having committed the route to memory after he’d accompanied him to his closing a few months back and then joined him again to help him move in.

It was the double vision however, that made it more difficult, the lane demarcations weaved and bobbed past his eyes as he sped down the streets to save Michael.

Still in a haze as he entered the front door, which had been left unlocked, he thought little of the fact but for a moment of clarity where he began to yell up the stairs.

“Michael, never leave your front…”

It was gone, the thought. Whatever thing he was lecturing Michael about had evaporated as his attention was now focused on the voice that carried from above even as he saw Michael pass through the den and out the sliding back door. 

“Is that you Dwight?  Damn it, I wanted them to send Ryan. Hurry upstairs, I’m in pain here. And I’ve gotta go.”

Even in the fog he was in—although he had never experienced this kind of vertigo before, not the time Mose hurled the barn door shut into his face nor when he came to following his passing out after applying pesticides without wearing the strongly-recommended, full face respirator since he knew his body had a more powerful internal filter than any face mask would provide—he knew double vision couldn’t separate images of people and their voices, at least not by floors.

“Did you get the toilet paper?” the upstairs Michael called out.

Did he? He hardly remembered anything since running out of the office upon hearing his boss’s distress.   He looked down at his hands to see if he was holding any. They were empty except for his keys.

“I did not, toilet paper, you.” Dwight answered still staring towards the glass slider door although he could no longer remember why.

“Dwight, I told you I needed toilet paper. Check the downstairs bathroom. There’s got to be a little bit left on the roll down there. And hurry. My bowels wait for no man, but they do wait for Charmin.”

---

Michael’s check-in call was late and Pam’s fears were apparent both from the frown lines drawn across her forehead and the relentless twisting of her hands. Gabby’s soothing assurances that everything would be okay calmed her a bit but it wasn’t until she heard from him that she was able to stop stewing.

Michael had taken Pam’s advice after all and did try to get back to his condo in time to move the grill, but in just thinking about the bacon, he got hungry and so stopped in to the Glider Diner for breakfast, which took longer than he anticipated and so once again he was too late to prevent the events of the past. So late in fact, that he arrived just before Dwight and narrowly escaped being seen when he snuck back out moments after he walked in.

Holding it in, he went on to detail to her, he expected would be easier with the frigid air freezing his bowels as he waited in the cold in the backyard.

A shudder spread through Pam's whole body as he whined about how torturous it was to wait for Dwight to come and go with the injured version of himself before he could get back inside to take care of his morning business. And how after he was finally able to get back in his place, his insides were too frozen to come out. On top of that he had no toilet paper.

Gabby looked on with mild curiosity as Pam’s made cringy faces and shook even more.

Pam stopped him before she had to hear anything more about his bowels. She’d learned too much about his bathroom schedule in the years she had worked for him and much more than anyone should ever know in the three nights they shared a room and the guest bath. She refused to hear anything else.

All she wanted to know was when he would be coming to drive her back to her place, to which he said he was unable to know until he had taken care of the things she didn’t want to discuss.

It was Gabby, in the end after insisting it was no trouble, she was going out anyway, who gave Pam the ride back to her house to get the passport and checks she’d been waiting all weekend to go back for, unable to recover her identity until Roy and her other self went back to work.

Gabby dropped her off and continued on to the bank, arranging to pick her up again in 45 minutes. It wouldn’t be enough time to do a laundry so she’d have to ask Michael to bring her back again tomorrow.

She was able to find her passport and grab a couple of checks and made sure to change her bra. The one she had grabbed from the go-bag was ill-fitting and uncomfortable, worse than she had imagined it would be when she put it on. When this whole ordeal was over and she refilled her emergency stash, it would not be among the items she kept. Between the missing clasp and the underwire digging into her side, she knew it was not fixable. She’d tried to sew closed the hole but within an hour of it being on it just reopened. It would be taken back to Gabby’s only because she couldn’t leave it in the trash of her own house as she might find it there.  

But by no means was it worth saving.

She looked around her place for any indications their time travel was making changes in her other life, differences triggered by the tiny shifts her being on the boat and back at her home the other day may have caused. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Her home looked the same as always after a weekend, for the most part tidy and clean, as much of her Saturday was always devoted to that. But as it was every Monday, Roy’s dresser drawers were left half open, a mostly-drunk cup of coffee sat atop it, the sweats and tee he slept in lay on floor, less than two feet from the hamper. She thought to tidy it all up, to save her own self the trouble of doing it later but instead devoted the last of her time to gathering some of the smaller watercolors and old sketchbooks her companion asked to see.

She was still not sure she remembered ever mentioning her artistic hobbies to Gabby but figured maybe it was Randall who had. Nonetheless she was happy to show them off over the lunch they planned to have back at the apartment after they shopped together for the week’s groceries.

At the supermarket, Pam offered to pay but Gabby just waved her away when she pulled out the check at the register. She had been more than prepared to contribute, feeling it was the proper thing to do, but was just a bit relieved not to, worried she might overdraft their account since Roy was known to withdraw cash on the weekends from their joint account, often neglecting to tell her about it. Of course he would yell at her for the bounced checks she wrote to pay the utility bills having to apologize when she pointed out how it was his own fault. But this overdraft she wouldn’t have been able to blame on him. Or explain for that matter.

---

Over their lunch back at the apartment, the two got to know each other more while Pam showed off the artwork she’d gathered.

“This one is just so detailed. You’ve captured the absolute delight in the subject’s eyes but I detect a bit of something slightly sinister going on there too. It’s quite remarkable what you are able to convey in a pencil drawing.”

Pam looked down at the sketch that she’d doodled in the office what felt like a lifetime ago. She’d only recently met Jim back then but had been slowly getting to know him and his ways. If she remembered correctly, he had just switched the plug to his own mouse into Dwight’s computer and was waiting for him to get back to start messing with him by randomly moving his cursor as he got back to work.

It was just as Gabby described, the look she caught on his face and she felt compelled to sketch it, a bit of glee dancing into her own eyes as she encapsulated the moment in graphite. That is, until Dwight went berserk trying to figure out why his mouse had taken to moving on its own and Jim began suggesting demon possession and she couldn’t help but giggle in response.

She was thrilled the unique mix of joyful exuberance and deviant plotting she spied in his emerald irises translated onto the paper.

“Thank you,” Pam replied softly with a hint of pride but also the bashfulness she always felt when showing her art.

“I assume this is Jim.”

The way she said it made Pam think of Phyllis, her voice taking on the same gleefully suspicious intonation while her eyes lit up with the same sparkle she’d seen come over the older saleswoman whenever there was something to gossip about.

Pam looked back at her with a touch of curiosity in her own eyes which Gabby read loud and clear.

“Oh, Randall’s told me all about everyone, Dwight, Jim, Creed,” she said with a little lift of her voice indicating she knew just what a strange bird he was.

“I’ve heard all about the crazy stuff that goes on in your office and the cast of characters you work with. And much of the nonsense Michael has put you through. From what he says goes on at Dunder Mifflin, it sounds like there’s never a dull moment.”

“Well, I wouldn’t say that. We have some lulls… like when Michael is out of the office,” Pam said with a laugh and a little hand drum on the table for effect.

The chuckle and nod she got in response from Gabby, emboldened her to share more. It was similar to how she would talk to her husband or any of the crew in their talking head interviews, but this setting had a casualness and an intimacy that put her much more at ease.

“In fact, it’s my job to revive Jim when he nearly dies from boredom during those times. Did you hear about our Office Olympics?”

“I did. So creative and from what Randall said it was a blast for everyone. You and Jim sound like a fun team and great friends.”

“We are. He’s one of the people that keeps me sane when things like mystery excre...” she paused about to describe the latest office craziness, the one that resulted in her being here at her cameraman’s house but remembered it hadn’t yet happened and decided it was best not to bring it up... “well it sounds like you know all about the insanity that goes on there.”

Fear of saying anything more of the future, Pam took a bite of her sandwich instead but Gabby not missing a beat continued the chat and brought the topic back around to what had just occurred in the current timeline.

“Oh, and I understand your fiancé works with you too in the warehouse. Randall hasn’t said much about him, but he did mention you’ll be getting married soon.  That you just the other night, set the date.”

Having lived through it twice now only intensified the reality of what at long last was going to occur in five months, but as Gabby said it aloud, it felt more real to her than ever and she felt herself get warm and a bit flustered. Unsure why, since it was everything she’d wanted for the last who knows how many years, she started to shake and the nibble of the sandwich that she had taken seemed to multiply and overwhelm the space in her mouth and she was suddenly unable to swallow.

Gabby noticing her distress quickly refilled her glass from the pitcher and urged her to take a sip.

The liquid did the trick and the bite went down, but still didn’t feel quite right as it traveled down to her stomach.

“Okay hon?”

“Yes, thank you. I’m not sure what that was but I’m better now.”

“Oh, nerves, I’m sure. Every bride to be gets them.” Gabby smiled warmly at her.

“Usually not until a few days before, but you seem to be on a different timeline. Maybe the time traveling has something to do with it,” she added with a wink.

Pam was still unsure how Randall had convinced his wife the three of them were not completely out of their minds when he brought them home but she was relieved both that she could be honest with her about her situation, and that it was a good excuse as to her sudden strange reaction about getting married even if she herself knew it wasn’t that.

Pam was thumbing the page of her book, about to turn to the sketch she’d wanted to show next, a drawing she remembered creating of the camera that her husband was always partially hidden behind, his single blue eye peeking out, piercing even in the black and white version she drew.

However, she hovered a moment longer on the sketch of Jim, admiring the mischievous magic she’d drawn in the eyes of her friend. When she turned the page to where she had penciled Randall busy at his craft, her eyes were pulled to a detail in the sketch that she hadn’t remembered depicting. It was something that happened from time to time when she got so lost in the art she didn’t see the little details of what she was creating until she stepped back to look at what was in front of her. Here it was the shaded penciled streaks illustrating the gleam off Randall’s wedding band, casting rays that looked as if they came from the lens itself.

“You must be missing him very much.”

“Oh, absolutely I am, I think I’m having prank withdra...” She stopped herself before she finished.

Gabby meant Roy, her fiancé, not Jim, her office buddy. What did it say that her thoughts went right to Jim?

Nothing, she told herself. She'd been looking at his sketch when she heard it that’s all. Except she wasn’t. By then she had already turned to the page with Randall.

Still, she had been in the moments before and on top of that she was still thinking about the secret she knew about his feelings and trying to reconcile how she was going to deal with it when she was finally back in her own time with him.

Plus, she did miss Jim too, that was true. Knowing what had been going on all day at work, it was more than understandable she would. His reaction to hearing about Michael’s burnt foot was priceless, his jokes throughout the day were hysterical and yet he came through for Dwight in the end. He was such a good guy, of course she would have him on her mind today. And yesterday and every day since she’d overheard him and Michael on the cruise. When she looked up from the book, she noticed the curious look now spread across Gabby’s face.

“You mean Roy, don’t you? Of course, I miss him. I’ve never been away from him this long, not since we moved in together. It’s definitely weird.”

It was weird but it wasn’t necessarily a bad weird. If she thought about it, she didn’t think she missed Roy all that much.

If at all.

Not yet, she assured herself. It’s only been a few days and she’d been too busy to think much on it with all on her mind. Now that Gabby had brought him up though, she was sure she would begin to.

After they finished with lunch, Gabby excused herself to makes some calls and book some tutoring sessions with her young clients. Pam offered to get a head start on prepping for dinner, eager to earn her keep as a guest but she was waved off again and told to take the time for herself.

“It’s not often you have all this free time. Michael wasn’t so off when he wanted to make the most of his extra time, except in the expectations and execution. But I’m sure there’s plenty you can do to get a head start on research for the wedding or other personal stuff. You can use the computer in the office.”

Pam thanked her for the idea and set off to look up some florists. After looking up three, she promptly lost interest and found herself playing online Sudoku instead, wanting desperately to call Jim to brag on her latest score but knowing sadly she couldn’t.

In her mind, however she sang, Sudoku. Level moderate. 18 minutes. Suck on that, Halpert, feeling the déjà vu of remembering she’d already left him that message in the future.

That got her thinking, she’d taken this challenge before so shouldn’t she have been able to get a better time this go around and now she wondered why she hadn’t.

Weren’t you supposed to learn from your earlier mistakes?

---

Randall came through the apartment door just as Pam was setting down the silverware next to the three plates on the table.

She was enjoying the domesticity of the dinner routine she’d become part of in the few days since she had arrived. She and Roy rarely ate at their table when home, most often taking their meals on the couch in front of the TV and not always at the same time. But the Stewarts ate together most nights and because food was not allowed anywhere near the white sofa where the television was, it was always served like it had been in her childhood home, at the dinner table with questions about the day and lively conversation.

“Have I got a story for you, hon.”

He obviously thought she was his wife and went silent momentarily when he looked up to see Pam as he set down the bag he’d had on his shoulder.

“Oh, it’s you Pam. You’re not going to believe what you missed today,” he continued as Gabby joined them, a plate of rice and broccoli in her hands.

“But of course, you were there so you know. Which makes me wonder why you and Michael didn’t try and prevent today’s debacle?”

This was different. On the boat he hadn’t wanted them to do anything to interfere with events that were going to happen but now he was asking why they hadn’t tried to stop the burnt foot fiasco.

“Oh, I did. At first Michael wouldn’t listen but then he told me he was on his way this morning to stop it and got there too late.”

Apparently having no clue as to what they were talking about except it involved more Michael shenanigans, Gabby returned to the kitchen to retrieve the main dish.

“Well in a way I’m glad he didn’t. We got some classic footage today. He was in rare form. Sorry Dwight had to go through it though, even if it was pretty funny.”

“He’ll be fine in the end. Back at work tomorrow,” she told him. It seems he knew that too; she learned he’d not been the one to make the trip to the hospital, this time it was Matt who went with the trio. But he had heard when Jim called her to share the news which she considerately got to Angela by way of telling Oscar.

Gabby returned and they all sat down to eat, Randall and Pam filling her in on the events in the office that day, their stories only differing in minor details.

“That explains his request for bacon. Of course, it’s no less ridiculous.”

Her eyes tilted to the ceiling for a moment of mocking before returning to her plate.

“Pam, why do you think Michael couldn’t stop his accident this time. Seems like he should have been able to do something to prevent it since he had the foresight of it happening.”

“Gabby, honey, this is Michael we are talking about.”

“Oh, he’s not all that bad. A little impulsive and childish, but not a complete fool.”

“That’s not what you said the other night.”

They all chuckled remembering the words spewing from her mouth as she kicked him out of the apartment, calling him a number of not-so-nice synonyms of the word.

“I’m not really sure,” Pam replied to the original question once the laughter stopped. “It’s the second thing we’ve wanted to change but couldn’t. I’m beginning to wonder if we can. If our being here in the past won’t have any bearing on anything in the future because we can’t change anything since we were already there.”

The words from Pam began a very lively discussion on time travel and the different models that played out in films and literature. She explained again how since they were traveling by way of a Time Turner it was likely to be the same as in Harry Potter, the theory being they had always gone back only they didn’t know they had.

They’d all three read the books, Gabby in particular was well versed in Potter lore so she could discuss salient points with her fourth graders when they brought them up.

“That’s right, Harry saw himself cast the Patronus even in the first version of the events and essentially saved himself,” she chimed in. “Is that what you really think is going on?”

“I guess I can’t be sure. I just know it was after Michael spun the Time Turner that we went back in time.”

With that Randall started to sing the Huey Lewis song that served as the soundtrack for the movie he saw as closer to the experience she was having. He seemed to believe it didn’t matter the method of transport but what they were living through was more like the Back to the Future example, where things could be altered but every little change could have huge consequences so it was best not to mess too much with the past.

“Oh, and what about what Kathleen Turner’s really smart friend said in Peggy Sue got Married.”

She’d seen the movie Gabby was talking about, the one with Nicholas Cage and the aforementioned actress but the line didn’t ring a bell in her mind. Nor could she recall how the time travel in it turned out or remember much about the characters at all. All she remembered of the friend was he wore glasses, was smart and carried a little notebook around just like Pam had done in high school, only his likely had equations and intelligent facts and not useless drawings like hers.

“Time is like a burrito in that it folds over itself and comes around to just touch the other part and you can fill it with anything you want.”

“Gabby, hon, what does that even mean?”

“Oh, I don’t know, I just always liked that line.”

“I think you just like it because you love Mexican food,” he teased.

“Not just that”, she refuted.  “I thought it sounded so romantic and indicated you could change your destiny. In fact, he even says this to her, the science guy. Change your destiny, and marry me. She doesn’t of course. In fact, if I remember correct, she winds up still with the Nic Cage character, even knowing how unhappy she was in the future.”

Randall smiled knowingly at her. The way he looked at her, she could see how much fun he had with his wife, ribbing her yes, but all in jest. But there was something more there too, like a precious secret that they shared. His eyes sparkled as he bantered with her and the look reminded her a lot of what she’d seen on her own face the night of the booze cruise, only it was when she was with Jim. It was still too bad she hadn’t arrived in time to inspect the nuances on her face when she was with Roy.

“That’s another trope in time travel, the immutable timeline. Less like a burrito and more like a rubber band. You can pull it to make changes but it will always snap back. Eventually time finds a way to course correct and what was temporarily changed happens anyway.”

Pam leaned in to listen as he explained this. It made sense, especially in their office. Had they been able to stop Michael’s accident and therefore Dwight’s concussion, he might still have been injured in another way.

“So, you’re saying if Dwight had been spared today, he might have still driven into the pole on another fool’s errand for Michael.”

“Without a doubt. The way that one drives, I’m surprised it hadn’t happened yet. He’s always peeling off like that and we all know he thinks he’s impervious to injury. Fact, I have superior genes.”

Pam followed Randall’s lead, pumped up her shoulders and put on her best Dwight voice.

“Fact, Schrute bones don’t break.”

“Fact, never been hospitalized even when I was born.”

Gabby had heard plenty about Dwight, but learned a whole lot more as they continued with his most common quips leaving the time travel discussion behind.

---

That night as she lay on her pull-out bed in the office she thought again about the dinner conversation and the time travel models. She still wasn’t sure which version they were experiencing, the one where they could damage the future with their actions or the one where they’d always been back so it made no difference what they did, what happened had happened, or even the one Gabby described, where they could fill their experience with anything, but she was also like Randall in that wasn’t quite sure she understood this one.

However,as she drifted closer and closer to sleep, she kept coming back to the idea they were helpless to change anything. This whole trip back would be for nothing since they wouldn’t be able to stop what was always meant to be.

End Notes:

Thanks to those still reading and checking in - always love to hear from you.

 

 

For your listening pleasure:

 

Back in Time 

Chapter 16 - Overdue by Maxine Abbott
Author's Notes:

Did someone request some JAM?

I aim to please.

In fact I got a little carried away so this is a long chapter.

Hoping the Jam factor is enough to tie you over until we head into Part III.  

 

“Pam, I’m so lonely.”

She had picked up the call before it ever rang a second time. It was out of habit that any time she heard a phone she immediately glanced at the caller ID screen.

This time was no exception. Except while here at the Stewarts she had to travel a few steps to the desk where an expansion handset stood upright in its cradle in order to read the back-lit numbers that popped up.

Normally when these familiar ten digits flashed on the display it meant disaster, grief or some other disturbance and—in the case of her other existence yesterday, or almost two weeks ago in this one—absolute chaos stemming from a burnt foot, a concussion and a trip to the hospital.

But today she was more anxious than apprehensive to get his check-in call.

She knew Gabby had jumped into the shower and couldn’t answer, otherwise she would never think of picking up her host’s phone, even knowing it was a call for her. But she didn’t want to miss Michael. She had an outing to keep them, well mostly him, busy today and out of trouble.

The idea to visit the library this week had come to her when she first went back to her house. While searching for the wedding brochures that she never found, she instead came across an overdue book.

Except at that point, it wasn’t overdue yet.

The library had a generous renewal policy and allowed for extra time, to a limit. Her last allowance expired while she was going through the motions of the last two weeks—and in this timeline it would soon be up.

But in her previously lived life she had completely forgotten she was even reading the book.

About halfway in she lost interest in finishing it. But since Pam was the type who liked to see things through, even when she knew this story wasn’t quite for her, she didn’t take it back to the library.

Instead, she tucked it away, figuring she still had time and that she might one day decide to pick it up again with renewed excitement.

It wasn’t until she got home from the ski trip with Roy that she even remembered she still had it out when the red exclamation point-flanked e-mail showed up in her in-box with the bold words Overdue Notice in the subject line. Reading the computer-generated email that included the amount of her fine she found herself slightly mortified.

It wasn’t that the $1.60 was going to break the bank or that her borrowing privileges were in danger of being suspended. 

It was more that Pam hated to be that person who didn’t do what was expected of her and kept something long past the due date.

On Friday, back in the time before that email arrived, she found it again when Michael left her waiting the extra hours for his return.

The idea to take it with her crossed her mind. With all the newly found free time, she could give it another try. Perhaps she might like it better on the second read. Her eyesight was improved, maybe so was her taste in books.

She remembered wanting so much to like it when she first began, being that it garnered such critical acclaim. It made her feel like there was something wrong with her that she didn’t feel the same as the reviewers so she kept pushing through. But even Oprah and Oscar’s praise didn’t make her it any easier for her as she slogged through mind-numbing dialogue and a plot she couldn’t identify with. It was the first time in her life she’d ever quit a book halfway through. She only hoped Oscar wouldn’t suggest it for Finer Things.

But in the few minutes she took to skim the first pages again, she realized that all the time in the world was not going to make it any better. Still, she thought she might at least exchange it at the library for something she would enjoy more. But in the time she spent waiting she changed her mind again, deciding it was a bad idea to mess with the future by returning the book in the wrong timeline.

Removing it from the house would be just another potential means to gaslight herself if there was a chance her life would carry on with minor differences over the next two weeks. If for some reason she remembered about it and how it was due, but then it was nowhere to be found, that would be another basis to think she was going nuts.

Had she had the kind of fiancé that did her unsolicited favors like bringing back her books on a trip of his own to the library, she might have thought to grab it. But knowing Roy wouldn’t even know where the local library was, she knew it was best she leave it behind.

She had done enough messing with things at the house, she didn’t want to shake things up anymore.

But she didn’t see the harm in leaving it in a more conspicuous spot where her other self would notice it and maybe have a chance to take it over to the library sometime before she left on the ski trip so it wouldn’t be quite so late.

She even felt daring enough to dogear a page as a test to see if her little nudge worked. If she could get Michael to go, she could look for her copy of the book with the folded down page 333 to see if it had been reshelved.

When during her stop home yesterday she noticed it still was under an even higher pile of junk mail by the door, she pushed the supermarket circulars, Olive Garden and Chili’s coupons aside to reveal a bit more of what they’d been hiding.

Knowing the book wouldn’t yet be returned didn’t keep her from suggesting they visit the library, but first she had to respond to Michael’s lament.

“It’s been less than two days since you left here. You can’t be that lonely yet.”

“Pam, it feels unnatural to be away from the office this long.”

“Didn’t you sleep there?”

“Yes, but not while anybody was here. Except the ghost.”

He lowered his voice to a whisper.

“I think it’s one of Creed’s ancestors.”

“Michael,” she began but got interrupted as he continued his story.

“Sunday night when I came back, I swore I caught a glimpse of someone or something hovering around his desk and next thing I knew, poof, it was gone. But something tells me it’s been back. I keep getting wafts of that distinct Creed odor and get the sense those same beady eyes are staring down at me while I sleep.” 

“Okay Michael, that’s just weird.”

Pam wasn’t one to doubt the existence of ghosts. She’d seen one long ago when she took a summer job as a waitress at the Banshee Pub and she still wasn’t convinced she wasn’t one herself. If that wasn’t the case, she was at least living through another kind of supernatural phenomenon. So maybe there was a ghost at Dunder Mifflin, but since Creed hadn’t passed away it was unlikely the spirit was him. It was more likely Creed was growing sprouts again in his desk.

“And you can’t be that lonely. Not in a day. What do you usually do over the weekends?”

“Count the hours until it’s time to go back in and see everyone again.”

That was just sad.

But she wasn’t entirely unsympathetic. Theirs, hers and Michael’s, was a strange situation to be wandering about by oneself. Since as yet she hadn’t had to experience that—aside from the hours in her house while she waited for him to come back for her, and during which she did have her moment of panic—she wouldn’t fault him for not wanting to be alone. She was sure if the situation were reversed, she might be having a harder time with all the solitude.

She’d been lucky. Ever since Randall revealed he knew when they were from, she had the good fortune to have been taken under the wings of the Stewarts, which felt very much like a godsend, and she still felt like maybe it was. This couple felt a lot like a surrogate family, so much so she couldn’t be sure they weren’t there as her spiritual guide through this craziness.

Getting to know them better, both Randall and Gabby, was worth all the trouble of being homeless, penniless, and in a sense anonymous since she was the duplicate version of the two of her running around Scranton. Whether or not she and Michael would complete their mission and keep Packer from ruining his carpet in the next week, she was feeling more than a bit thankful she’d made this journey through time. It was unlikely she’d have gotten to know Randall quite so well otherwise, and she certainly wouldn’t have had the opportunity to meet his lovely wife.

There was just that one hitch to the experience, that one discovery that she might never had known the depths of, if had it not been for the toy Michael threw over her head and spun wildly, forcing her into this dimension with him. That little thing where she learned about Jim’s true feelings. She still wasn’t sure just how she felt about it and just how she was going to deal with it in her future. Sure, she had heard about his crush, or more accurately, would find out about his crush, but in that memory, or was it a premonition at this point, either way as the story went, the infatuation was a thing of the past. Thanks to J.K. Rowling and the magic trinket Jim bought, she knew the real truth and was unable to stop thinking about it since she’d heard it.

If she were honest, most of the time the new knowledge filled her with an overwhelming happiness, a reassurance the bond she shared with him was not one-sided, and a stirring in her body as she more than once woke up in the middle of the night having dreamt about kissing him on the boat, by his desk at the office, and in the bed she sat on when she discovered his yearbook at the party he threw some weeks back before the holidays.

Now that it was out there, what he really felt for her, she realized the little things she did over the course of their friendship were probably something more than just the actions of just pals. The way she found herself staring at him when he was unaware, the times she planned her trips to the kitchen, ‘accidentally’ at the exact moments he disappeared from his own seat, the beam that came over her face whenever he came by her desk for a jellybean or to plot a prank on Dwight with her assistance. Sometimes just a look up from his work to give her a midday wink her was enough to set off a twinkle in her eyes and plump up her cheeks with a smile so broad it almost hurt her jaw.

Then there were the little actions she couldn’t say were not flirtations, the dancing over to his desk, the requests for his latest music discoveries, the split-second kiss she planted on him after winning her Dundie award. Sure, they were a little bit more than friendly, but still innocent, never meant to develop into anything more. When people were thrown into situations in an office environment, where they spend more time together than apart, there were bound to be ‘work couples’, the term that had come to define the pairings that formed from such circumstances. Dunder Mifflin was full of them, her and Jim, Stanley and Phyllis, Dwight and Michael, yeah, they weren’t always between members of the opposite sex. They weren’t supposed to develop beyond that, they were relationships to help each other get through the sometimes-interminable work days, until they could get back to their true loves or personal lives.

Had she gone too far with those innocuous actions? Had what they shared ventured into dangerous territory, the harmless infatuation becoming too much for both of them to ignore. Is that why he shielded his gentle green eyes from hers with half-mast lids as they stood for what seemed an eternity on the deck of the boat? Is that what was buried in them when he lifted his lashes after keeping them hidden so long as she waited for him to speak? Is that why he said those things to Michael about her, because he too was unsure about what their relationship truly was.

As much as she couldn’t deny her own feelings or stop the dreams, she also felt confused and conflicted. No matter what she thought she felt for Jim, or him for her, she was engaged and was thrilled about getting married to the man she shared a long history with. They’d grown up together, coming so far from the kids they were when they met in high school, well maybe not that far, if she took into account Roy’s earlier behavior while on the boat. But he made up for it later that evening and now that the wedding date was set, she knew much of the resentment and anger she’d been feeling towards him would go away, just as her annoyance with him on the Lake Wallenpaupack Princess had disappeared the minute he made his announcement. At least it had in her past, future, whatever. Now she wasn’t so sure, being in the two places at once was messing with her memories and her frame of mind.

It was this she told herself every time Jim popped back into her thoughts, every time she imagined herself telling him with kisses how she felt the same, every time his face was what she saw through a gossamer veil standing beside him instead of Roy. That her feelings for Jim weren’t real, they were a temporary attraction brought on by proximity, by his being there to listen when she needed to vent, by his ability to make her laugh aloud when she had a rough day or was just feeling a little blue.

She figured now that Roy had stepped up, what drew her to Jim in the first place would somewhat diminish. Her habit of comparing the two men would cease. His golden allure would lose a little of its glimmer as it often does with the passing of time. If it happened with Roy, it would eventually happen with Jim too.

They would still be friends, best friends always, but that’s where she would have to draw the line. She was getting married, to Roy and that was what she wanted.

So why couldn’t she stop picturing Jim’s face?

««««««

It was early for a jellybean but as usual a sugar fix wasn’t the real reason for the visit to her desk.

Craving her smile and a distraction from a morning of monotony—Dwight was back but it was too soon to resume his regular routine of pranks considering the concussion he suffered yesterday— he strolled over to reception.

Next to the candy dispenser was a book, he assumed the latest Finest Club reading material.

“Meeting today?”

“Huh?” She looked up. There was smile he had come for.

“Oh, the book? No, it’s actually up there as a reminder I need to drop it by the library on my lunch break. I remembered it this morning and it’s already overdue.”

He was about to pick it up to see what she’d been reading when it registered in his head she said she was planning to run it over during the break. If she wasn’t there for lunch, he’d be left to sit with… well it didn’t matter who else it was, it just wouldn’t be her.

“Hey, I just had a thought. I’ll be right back.”

»»»»»»

Even before their conversation, Pam had been feeling sorry for Michael having to be on his own–even if it was his own fault he was banished. She had thought to suggest this particular excursion for today in order to let Gabby have some private time.

Still conscientious about spending too much money, her own, but taking his into consideration too, the public library was not only free but there would be almost no chance of running into anyone. Plus, she figured she could help him pick out some easy-to-follow fiction and some of the Michael-speed, dummies series, ‘teach yourself’ books that could keep him occupied once they parted ways again. It was too bad she always kept her own library card on her person, since in this case it was the other person that had it. She’d neglected to think of that fact when she came up with her idea. So she wouldn’t be able to check anything out today, though not because her account was delinquent with an overdue book but because once again she had a purse instead of pockets.

It would have been nice to pick up something new to get swept up in, considering all the free time she now had, notably in the period before she went to bed. In her home she found she didn’t get to read all that much and when she did, she most often was catching up on her club-assigned book.

When Roy stayed out late, she would get caught up on shows he wouldn’t watch with her or made phone calls to her mom and dad, and sometimes Penny or Isabel, preferring to speak to them when she wouldn’t be overheard. Answering the question, was she ever going to get married, always made her uncomfortable with him in the room. 

Only occasionally while he was out, would she take to her bed with a good book to curl up with.  More than not it was the required reading for Finer Things. But there was something different about diving into a book that was only for her. Getting lost in the texts, hearing the accents and lilts of the characters in her head, seeing the beauty of a landscape as described by the architects of the pages, becoming intimate with the story unfolding, it was something she still craved but rarely got to experience of late.

When Roy was home as they turned in for the night, her fiancé always seemed to get amorous the minute she picked up anything printed with words and would carry on about his needs if she were not also in the mood or merely wanted to get through a chapter before she focused her attention on satisfying them. Most often the bookmark would return to the same spot it had only just been removed from. And when he himself were too drunk or not feeling particularly romantic, he wanted the room pitch black and complained about the blinding beam her small lamp threw off, which in reality was not enough to read by anyway.  

Michael seemed a little less than enthusiastic about her idea but agreed to give the library a visit if she consented to spend another day with him later in the week. Books, he insisted, did not make as good company as people. She didn’t bother to fight with him, even if she disagreed.

Just as she was hanging up, a freshly showered and dressed Gabby poked her head into the office and asked Pam if she would be okay alone for a while today as she had back-to-back tutoring sessions starting at eleven.

“As a matter a fact, I’ve agreed to spend some time with Michael today. He’s lonely.”

A sardonic grin and eye roll accompanied Pam’s comment to Gabby but she just smiled in return. It was her reply that showcased her kindness towards the man who just the other day had caused her to raise her voice, according to Randall, for the first time since their own kids were teenagers.

“Oh, that’s good. I’ve been feeling guilty about kicking him out. Not enough to have him back mind you, but I’m glad you’ll keep him company today.”

Not sure if her comment was meant as a reminder that he was still banned from her home, Pam immediately added, “Not here of course, we’re going to the library.”

If Gabby had been hinting, she showed no indication of relief that Pam got her message. But she did get excited when Pam mentioned the library.

“Oh sweetheart, if you are headed to the library would you be kind enough to do me a favor. I’ve got a book that’s overdue. I keep forgetting to bring it when I meet my students there and today’s sessions are at the elementary school. Would you mind returning it for me?”

It was good to know Pam wasn’t the only one who couldn’t manage to get her borrowed books back on time.

“Yes, of course. I’m happy to.”

She ducked back out and returned with a paperback in one hand and a dollar in the other handing them both to Pam at the same time.

“I’m sorry, it’s overdue otherwise I’d suggest you read it. It was very entertaining,” she said with a wink.

Pam looked down at the image on the cover, a half-naked man, the glistening torso and chiseled abs only partially obscured by the title, Her Guardian Angel. On the second glance, she noticed the pair of wings that spread from the Adonis’ back. Once more, she was reminded of her matronly officemate, who also had a thing for the desperately romantic and somewhat erotic in her literary selections. While Gabby and Phyllis had dissimilar looks and body types, they seemed to have many parallel interests.

“It certainly seems so,” Pam said as a warm blush rose up her face and she tried to tuck the book into her otherwise empty purse finding it a bit too thick to fit. 

“Oh, and if you haven’t agreed to meet him again tomorrow, I’d love it if you joined me on my trip to the city. I have a doctor appointment in the morning but it shouldn’t be long. After there’s an exhibit at the Met I’ve been wanting to see and something tells me a visit to the art museum is something you would really enjoy.”

“Yes, absolutely,” she repeated, the flush of her skin now accompanied by a gleam in her eyes and cheeks puffed in an ear-to-ear smile.

««««««

They had just passed through the sliding glass doors when Pam realized she’d left Gabby’s book in the car.

“Oops, I forgot the book.”

Michael groaned as if they’d parked the length of a football field from the doors instead of in the second row outside the entrance, in the spot he settled on after just missing someone pulling out of a prime location just to the left of the doors.

He still circled the lot twice looking for something a little closer and even followed another patron to secure her spot, until she slipped between the two cars she looked to be headed to and into the row he was trying not to park in.

They might have still been driving around the crowded lot had a frustrated Pam not barked that he was wasting time to save them from a measly extra five steps. She was sure it was her annoyance that caused her to forget when they parked and exited the vehicle.

And now the same someone who needing convincing to even visit the library and was happy to keep circling for front row parking, seemed in an extreme rush to get to the books.

A mother with her two small children slipped by them in the entryway. Michael turned to follow them with his eyes before turning back to her with, griping like the white rabbit about being late.  

“It’s fine Michael. You don’t need to come back with me.  Just give me the keys and I’ll meet up with you after I return it. Where will you be?”

He pointed to the children’s section and head off in that direction once he passed them off to her. She soon understood his hurry when she noticed the flyer he’d been blocking and then heard the announcement that story hour was just getting started.

Rolling her eyes she watched him before turning the other way through the doors leading to the parking lot.

»»»»»»

 

“I think you are right, the Appvion Alpha Free is a good compromise for our budget and the environment. I had no idea the thermal paper was so toxic.”

“Most people don’t. It’s not exactly something my clients think to ask but I thought it would be important to you, being as the library has a new green initiative.”

Jim had to stifle a laugh when he first met the bun-wearing, middle-aged woman who introduced herself as Jane Bookbinder but cliché look and uncanny name aside, she wound up being quite pleasant to talk to and not at all what he’d expected.

Still, he kept his pitch free of too much of the humor, or any of the sports chatter and small talk he used with some of his regular clients. Keeping things strictly business seem to work with her and soon he found himself with a larger order than he had anticipated when he called for the last-minute appointment.

“You’ve done your homework. I appreciate that.”

It was true, he had done his homework. In fact, he’d been doing it ever since he was summoned in by Michael to discuss his progress with this particular client. He knew about the ‘going green’ campaign, knew they were switching over to the Dewey Decimal system after having tried the Library of Congress method, studied what their needs would be as they followed through with both changes.

But originally, he had intended to just shoot an email illustrating all the ways Dunder Mifflin could be of service. He’d tried so many times in the past to get them to see him, he thought that was all he could do to try to win the business.

He’d have to remember to thank Pam when he got back to the office because the woman across from him clearly appreciated the personal attention. If it weren’t for wanting to keep Pam from running the errand that would take her away for nearly all of her lunch hour, he might not have worked so hard to get today’s meeting and otherwise would not be sitting here giving a one-on-one demonstration to the library's decision maker.

“I had no idea there were so many options available and you’re right it does help to see and feel it all in person.”

Jim pulled out the rest of his paper stock samples and Mrs. BookbinderPam was going to get such a kick out of that—removed her tortoise shell glasses and let them hang down around her neck as she caressed each one within her perfectly manicured fingers. She may have had stereotypical hair and chained spectacles but she was actually a stylish dresser, and quite professional and business-minded, and reminded Jim a lot of Jan.

Maybe that was why when he came in, he initially thought the patron he saw her reprimanding in the children’s section was Michael. But that was impossible. He’d just left Michael at the office.

The meeting with the librarian, as productive as it was, was called short after about 15 minutes when her phone rang. It didn’t matter though, Jim had already taken the bulk of her order.

With her call on hold she asked if they could finish up another time.

“Absolutely,” he spoke as they both rose and she walked him to the door.

“I will get this order filled as soon as I get back to the office. Glad you had the time to see me today.”

“Well thank you for coming in and going over all this with me. I look forward to working more with you, Jim.”

Jim shook hands with the head librarian, and strolled back to the front desk, a sizable supply order in his hand which he switched out for the book he pulled from his messenger bag when he arrived at the circular desk.

He had to hand it to Michael, closing the deal with Lakawanna County was a real coup, or coupe, as he heard Michael saying in his head, which caused him to chuckle just at the same time the girl sitting behind the counter informed him of the twenty cents fine. Unsure how to explain his laughter to the confused face in front of him, he said nothing but reached into his pocket and withdrew a handful of nickels which only made him laugh more.

“All good?” he asked before he lost control thinking now of Dwight and the reaction his rules-driven deskmate might have to Jim’s little cackle had he not been a paper salesman but a clerk at the library instead.

‘Overdue books are no laughing matter. Think of all the people waiting for,’ Jim looked down at the book he was returning for Pam, ‘The Corrections. Your actions are selfish and wrong.’

Fortunately, it was not Dwight but a wide-eyed young woman who nodded slowly and suspiciously at him as she answered.

“Yup, account’s been cleared. All good.”

He left the building with the smile still on his face, wondering some more how bumbling Michael managed to secure the client he himself couldn’t win over until now. Of course, back when he first started calling on the library, neither he nor Michael was aware it would take more than charm, humor or personal service to get the business, as it was a county-wide decision which paper supply company serviced the county’s municipal institutions. But after the meeting a few months back, the one where Michael landed a golden goose while the rest of the staff stayed late to read about Goldenface–all thanks to Pam’s finding Michael’s Threat Level Midnight script–the road was paved for a big chunk of Jim’s future commission checks. And then with an overdue book she led him the rest of the way there.

Thinking about how it was her who got him here today and remembering all of the fun they back on that night had to be the reason why he imagined he was seeing her now.

»»»»»»

Where could that book be?

Pam expected Gabby’s book to be there on the seat when she unlocked the car door, but it wasn’t.

She checked the back and under the seats and still she couldn’t find it. She knew she had it at some point in the car. She distinctly remembered reading aloud the words on the back cover, A love so strong it will shake Heaven and Hell and Michael making gagging noises when she did. She thought she might agree with him in this case. It did not seem like her kind of book. Phyllis’, yes, Angela’s, not a chance in hell and not generally hers either. She was a little surprised it was Gabby’s.

It was just another reason for her suspicions it was all a dream, this whole experience. As real as it sometimes felt, it had to be just that, a crazy dream. Books don’t just disappear into thin air in real life. And people don’t time travel.

It was too bad, she was just beginning to enjoy this dream and was looking forward to her to visit to New York and the Met tomorrow but as far as dreams go just when realize you are in one, you wake up.

But she didn’t. Not even when she pinched herself or when the deafening sound of a fire engine roared from the street over into her ears. She never even turned to see where it was coming from. Living close to the station, the sirens often woke her, but this time she wasn’t sleeping.

Finding herself still standing at the rental car in the library parking lot she had to once again accept all that she was experiencing was actually happening.

And if it was, then the book had to be in the car somewhere. Once more she ran her hand along the surface under the seat and this time it was there, right in the middle, quite impossible for her to have missed before, except that she had. Grabbing the book before it disappeared again, she locked up the car and turned to head back towards the library.

««««««

The sound of a siren was piercing through the parking lot as he made his way to his car.

It stopped just as he arrived at his Corolla and that’s when he noticed another patron on the other side of the lot with a pale puffy coat and auburn curls pulled back into a clip just like Pam wore it.

First Michael, then Dwight and now her. What was happening with his head today that was making him think of them all? Pam, that was easy, she was always on his mind, but Dwight? It had to be the rushed lunch. He always got a little brain fog when he didn’t have enough to eat but the last-minute meeting meant he had to rush out before he could fully finish his meal or enjoy his break time with her.

But this woman, he could swear it was Pam, sensed it when that almost electric stirring he felt whenever she was near began to buzz through his body.

But what was she doing here and whose car was that?

The vibrations became stronger as he continued to stare at her back as she opened the passenger door and reached her arm in. He was about to call out her name so she would turn around and then it came to him.

Instead of calling out, he looked down at his side, and flipped open the phone that had been thumping in his pocket, still set to vibrate for the sales call.

“Jim Halpert.”

It was her on the other line, checking to see if he had returned her book.

Slipping into his car, now that he knew the woman he’d been staring at had to be somebody else, he assured the actual Pam that was on the phone it was done.

“I even took care of the hefty fine you owed young lady.”

“Oh yeah, how’d you manage to scrape up that amount?” the voice on the other end joked.

He went on to tell her how the in-person meeting helped secure him a larger order and with it a larger commission and thanked her for being the reason.

“You reminded me with your book, that I should be going in person.”

“See I knew there was a reason I took that book with me today. It’s like some external force was telling me it was important to get that book back, today, and look how things worked out.”

“Yeah, Beesly. You seem to be right. I guess some things are meant to happen. Oh, and you’re going to get such a kick when I tell you about this librarian.”

»»»»»»

If the stacks of books Michael aggregated were any indication, the library turned out to be a worthwhile excursion. There were a few small hiccups but luckily none of which were more disruptive than a quiver of the diaphragm.

The first happened when Pam almost lost the library book but the trouble didn’t end when it miraculously turned up. When she tried to return the borrowed item at the desk, there seemed to be no record it had been taken out in the first place.

Despite the label that expressly showed it was property of the Scranton Public Library, it was not registering in the system and so the clerk who seemed confused before Pam even stepped up, didn’t know what to do. Pam didn’t want to leave it without ensuring Gabby’s account would be cleared but ultimately did when the young woman at the counter promised her everything would be as it should be in the end.

The next small issue was finding Michael who had been yelled at and chased out of every section he had been in so far, starting with the children’s room and ending up where Pam finally caught up with him in the business aisle, thumbing through a book she later noticed was entitled, First, Break All the Rules, What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently. Beside him on the ground was the stack of the books he accumulated. Pam helped to bring them to the reading room where they stayed for a bit until Michael got overly excited again when he yelled out, “Look Pam, I do this,” which elicited a finger to lips, shhhhhhh from an older librarian who rushed in to chastise them both.

Deciding it was time to go, Pam once more helped bring the collection of books, DVDs, and audiobook CDs up to the counter where they would once more cause trouble for the young woman who sat there.

It was as if he hadn’t been to the library since he was a kid as the card he pulled out from his wallet looked like it was from the 1970’s. Back at Burlington, she had barely noticed it when he jokingly held it out the cashier, but now she took note of just how ancient it was, less a card than a slip of paper with a sticker barcode and his name handwritten across the top and undersigned by a Juliet Scott, who she knew to be his mother’s name. It took twenty minutes for the poor girl who struggled to help her before with the mysterious book return to now update his account and provide him with a new card, one that would allow him to take out more than six items at time, the limit on accounts granted to those under the age of twelve.

Michael left with more books than he could ever read in the time before they went back, even if that was all he would do between now and the Friday after next. Among them were books to learn a new language, Teach Yourself French, En avant!, and the cookbook, Le Répertoire de la Cuisine, the French language version, because he insisted to cook like the French you had to read the instructions as they were nativitly written. Somehow, she convinced him to take out America’s Best Kitchen Cooking School Cookbook as well, the one she knew her mother swore by, even though she doubted he’d ever attempt to make a single recipe from either. He also took out Guitar for Dummies, despite not owning a guitar, at least that she knew of, Getting the Love You Deserve, Politics for Dummies and Art for Dummies, which Pam thumbed through herself while he had sorted through the DVD movies up at the front. Among his literary selections, he picked up Moby Dick, War and Peace and a coincidentally the very same book, that she still had out at home, The Corrections.

She almost warned him how tedious and uninspiring it was, but changed her mind. She guessed he wouldn’t get around to reading it, in fact he wasn’t going to crack a single one of the books, except maybe the ones on CD, and in crack she meant it literally. What she was sure of was sure they’d never be returned on time. So much for saving his money, his overdue fines were going to be through the roof.

Of all the books taken out on his account, only two would be returned on time, the ones Pam had carefully chosen for herself, Marley & Me and The Time Traveler’s Wife, the latter picked hoping it would be as useful as entertaining. But from the little reading she’d done so far, she found the time travel depicted in the story couldn’t be further from what they had experienced. Having thought it was unfortunate to time travel pocketless, she was now glad she hadn’t arrived in the past completely naked, all the more because Michael was her traveling companion.

The book would offer no additional clues for their situation, but she was already enjoying it so she took it out anyway.

««««««

It was well after 2:00 when they left the library, their stomachs both singing the song of hunger. Michael’s was a low rumble, like the hum of distant thunder from a far off storm. Pam’s however, was embarrassingly loud, the sound comparable to a train roaring to an unexpected stop.

“Was that your stomach?”

Mortified, she dropped her hands to cover her abdomen as it answered his question with an even louder noise.

It wasn’t unusual for her belly to protest its emptiness with boisterous gurgling. In fact, Jim liked to tease her he knew it was time to take a lunch break when the noises floating over from reception began to sound like a Mack truck driving through the office.

“Wow, Pam. What is happening in there? I mean, that is one noisy stomach. I heard of your gut telling you something but does is have to yell like that. What could it possibly be saying?”

He doubled over laughing at his own joke. Pam didn’t find it so amusing though. Skipping her mid-morning yogurt would have been fine if they still had lunch at a regular hour, but it was well beyond that due to the extra-long stay in the library plus there was the added time travel effect which she had since figured out was the cause of her excessive hunger. 

“It’s saying I’m hungry,” she snapped back. “It’s 2:40 and we haven’t eaten lunch yet.”

Michael quickly recovered from his fit of laughter when he noticed Pam’s tone.

“Yeah, I’m hungry, too. Apparently, not quite as hungry as you,” he had to add.

“Since we’re so close to it, why don’t I take you to Cugino’s like I had wanted to last week.”

As it was so late, she figured they were safe to eat there. Even client lunches, should any of the Dunder Mifflin sales team be hosting one, should be over by the time they arrived.

“Sure Michael, Cugino’s sounds good.”

»»»»»»

It was nothing new that the man in the car was focused elsewhere. The thing that was new was the woman his attention was focused on. The woman with whom he just dined at Cugino’s with.

The woman who was not his wife.

If he had been paying more attention to his surroundings and not the woman he met in his doctor’s waiting room when he had his last physical, he might have noticed the unusual pairing headed past the car and into the restaurant to have a late lunch.

The same two that when he finally parted ways with his own unorthodox date and head back to the office, he would have seen in her regular spot at the reception desk and in the bullpen making small talk with his staff.

But it was Stanley, and though not a crossword puzzle book his face was buried in but another woman’s bosom instead, he still missed the sighting and that was a good thing. There was only so much his heart could take. Heavy Italian food and his first extra-marital affair were doing enough damage. The added shock of discovering a duplicate Michael Scott might very well had done him in.

 


End Notes:

Personal note- was not a fan of The Corrections and my apologies to anyone who was. (but I did read to end).

I am a huge fan of The Time Traveler's Wife. Read it at least three times. (not a fan of the movie though)

Never read Her Guardian Angel

And since this story has become like a movie in my mind as I write it, it should also have a soundtrack (which sort of began in the last chapter.) So, here’s what I picture playing in the background as we get the two scenes in the library parking lot.

Collective Soul - Turn Around

As always thanks to my readers and reviewers. I hope it's still a trip.

Chapter 17 - For Love of Elvis by Maxine Abbott
Author's Notes:

I did an insane amount of research for this chapter. From travel directions to artistic movements, music of the 70s, and Elvis, I did more deep dives than Angela and Jenna for this one.

 Authenticity is challenging but I feel worth the extra effort. 

Pam was over the moon excited for her outing with Gabby. It wasn’t often she got to go to an art museum in New York City in the middle of the week.

In fact, it was never, not mid-week, not even on the weekends because she never suggested they take the trip.

She knew how it would go if she did, the excuses he’d make, how it was too long a drive or too expensive to park the truck or that looking at paintings was the last thing he wanted to do with his time off, even knowing how much it would mean to her.

And if she never asked him to go with her, she never had to be disappointed when he wouldn’t and that’s why she never made the request.

That made the chance to go with someone whose company she genuinely enjoyed an extra special treat.

Following lunch with Michael the day before, and despite the risk it posed at a time of the day when Aunt Janet would be awake and also so close to when she and Roy could be on the way home, she had him swing by her place to grab some needed things for the excursion into the city. Thanks to Dwight, she had the boots from her go-bag to keep her feet warm, but she decided she’d need something a little nicer to wear for a trip to Manhattan and a heavier, layering sweater she could shed in the museum but would keep her toasty as they walked through the urban streets.

It was a risk she knew, taking a piece of apparel she wore so often but if she could get it back home before the weekend then hopefully her other self wouldn’t even notice it was gone for the time she’d have it.

There was one last thing she wanted to take, another chancy acquisition should the other Pam find time and motivation to draw over the next few days, but having her extra-special, colored pencils with her was a must.

Surely her muse would be stirred after the visit. The beauty of the city would be inspiration enough but on top of it they were headed to the home of the largest collection of art in the whole country. There was no scenario where she wouldn’t want to create some form of expression of her own once back to Scranton.

They got up super early to leave, before even Randall that morning so Gabby wouldn’t be late for her doctor appointment. With city traffic so unpredictable, extra time was needed to offset any gridlocks or bottlenecks that would delay the arrival to where they were headed.

Just the same as when Pam drove in her mother’s car, when they got in the radio was tuned to GEM 104.5, the station that spanned the decades of music from before Pam was born on through the 90s, but nothing from the current century. Gabby began singing along right away with what she recognized as The Four Seasons when their iconic voices came on with the engine.

Oh, what a night. Why’d it take so long to see the light?”

As the guest, Pam wouldn’t dream of suggesting a station switch, but even if that weren’t the reason, she was more than okay with a change of pace from what was her normal musical preference. The song playing had a kind of familiarity within it, like a memory that could have faded to oblivion if not for a photograph that preserved an image of a moment in time. Her childhood days were filled with these, events only remembered as aligned with the snapshots in the albums back at her parent’s home.

That same feeling of nostalgia washed over her hearing what her mother played so often in her own past, the recollection of her mom’s voice carrying the words to the backseat as she drove her and Penny to school, dance and volleyball practices. Many of the song’s catchier lyrics would became further embossed in her head from their serial rotation of airplay at Gerrity’s and Target.

She knew it so well she could practically sing along, and did, joining Gabby on the next line.

“Seemed so wrong, but now it seems so right.”

Simultaneously Pam and Gabby reached for their seat belts, harmonizing the clicks of the buckles to the beats of the chorus and were soon on their way. Their slightly off-key voices filled the car as they made their way through the neighborhood to the interstate, Gabby echoing every line while Pam hummed along to the lyrics she didn’t know.

Once the song ended, Gabby lowered the radio a touch.

“One of the best parts of a girl’s road trip, the singalongs, right? Although I’m a little surprised you know that one so well.”

For some reason Pam felt funny about telling her it was one of her mom’s favorites. She knew Gabby was around her mother’s age but already on this excursion the gap seemed to not matter. They were just two friends on the way to spend an exciting day in the city. Instead, she just mentioned how it was one of those songs everyone knew. However, the next song that hummed from the speakers she’d never heard before. And as much as she enjoyed a singalong, it required both parties to know the lyrics.

With no new tune to bond over, she asked instead about the exhibit Gabby wanted to see.

“Oh, it’s called Sleeping Eros. I’m a sucker for anything having to do with romance, or cherubs or seraphim for that matter, so I couldn’t let this one go by without seeing it.”

“Oh well it sounds interesting.”

She wasn’t saying it just to agree, art depicting love, she was sure to enjoy, assuming the exhibition would feature more than just sculptures of cupid and other winged representations of the Greek god of romantic love. Surely paintings and sketches of lovers who’d been blessed by his arrow too were to be featured in what they would observe there.

She was likewise expecting they would be able to see more than the one museum gallery in the time they had planned for the visit. With nobody waiting for her at home, they had hours to roam the exhibits and she was excited to view some of her favorite impressionist’s works. Though she often felt she should investigate some of the more avant-garde styles like cubism and surrealism so to expand her own creative sophistication, she couldn’t help her leanings toward Monet and Degas, Pissarro and Sisley. To her, their mastery of expressing the light and movement in a scene via the most delicate swipes of the paintbrush was absolutely fascinating and could sweep her away in reflection.

She herself, felt more confident using richer colors and bolder strokes and often leaned towards the post-impressionistic when she took brush to the canvas. Maybe it was because in her own life she felt so muted, her art was her chance to be a little daring.

But even though she painted with a somewhat heavier hand, it was anything in the style, be it post, neo or the classic defined by Monet, that were the artistic movements she gravitated to on her rare visits to local museums, or during the one time she managed to convince Roy to take in a little culture when they dropped into the Barnes when on a visit to Philly.

“Is there anything special you think you want to see while we are there?”

Pam shifted in her seat as she considered Gabby’s question, thinking today might be the chance to branch out beyond what she already knew.  But when she opened her mouth, what came out was nothing radically different from the first thought that popped in her head after Gabby asked.

“Oh, I haven’t been there in so long, at least not since I was much younger, so I’m happy to get the chance to see anything at all. But if there’s time, I would love to see the galleries with the European paintings, where the Impressionist artists are featured.”

“Time, we’ll have plenty of time. My doctor’s appointment should take no more than a half an hour, then we’ll have all day to take in the art at the museum.”

Gabby turned to flash the briefest smile.

“I will make sure you get to see everything you haven’t yet.”

Pam felt her eyes moisten, unaware why she was suddenly awash with emotion but feeling something strange come over her. She chalked it up to being on her way to a personal utopia she’d been longing to visit for some time. Quickly, she blinked back the wetness forming so not to let her companion see, though what lingered was the smoldering heat that often filled her nose with any intense feelings. The accompanying blush, she hoped Gabby would not notice or find strange if she did.

With her focus back to the road in front of her, Gabby continued, her tone having a hint of the same quality that also embodied the queries posed for the documentary being captured by her husband.

“Would you call yourself an impressionist? I’m no art critique and I’ve only seen your sketches, but is that the style you paint in?”

Though Gabby’s eyes looked straight ahead, Pam couldn’t help but feel seen, the conveyance of genuine interest inherent in the tone of the question.

“Oh no, I paint so rarely and mostly still lifes. Those are more in the style of the post-impressionist movement.”

“Still lifes, like Van Gogh's Sunflowers?”

“Well yeah except I’m no Van Gogh and I tend to paint more office supplies and coffee cups. I do find there’s a lot of beauty in ordinary things.”

But for the unknown song playing softly from the speakers, there was a beat of silence as Gabby seemed to contemplate her words.

“Isn’t that kinda the point…” she finally spoke taking another beat before she added,“…of art, of love, of life?”

Pam’s golden lashes fluttered once more to wash back tears, this time brought on by the way Gabby seemed to see right into her soul, into what it was she loved about being an artist or at least an aspiring one.  Gabby got it and how she expressed it back to Pam had her a little choked up. 

She took a moment to compose herself, not wanting to come across as too emotional before she attempted to speak her agreement but before she could, the melody that was backdrop to their conversation finished playing and the deejay’s charismatic voice came on to announce the next song, another Pam did not recognize.

…This groovy one-hit-wonder soared to number one and spent a half year on the charts. Here’s Alan O’Day’s Undercover Angel…

There must have been something about the track that made the woman sitting beside her go back in time herself, if not in body but in mind. Though the laugh lines around them remained, the eyes they flanked took on the sparkle of woman reliving a sweet memory as the opening bars of the song began to play.

Extruding an essence that no longer made her think of Phyllis, but instead took on another office persona, her voice rose an octave as she squealed in delight chanting, oh my god Pam turn it up, turn it up. Pam swore the spirit of Kelly had taken over her body, she was so animated in her excitement.

Pam did as she was told and raised the volume but didn’t dare speak as her companion belted out every line of the archetypal seventies pop song, the melody sweet and breezy with lyrics that were both strange and beautiful in the story they conveyed.  By the time the chorus played the last time, Pam had garnered enough of the refrain to be able to sing along but still did not join in, as Gabby seemed almost reverent in her vocalizing of each line. The dreamlike look on her face clearly had her in another place as the song echoed.

When it was over, Gabby reached back for the control knobs to lower it to a volume that would allow them to speak again.

“I guess you like that song?”

Gabby, having returned almost to the composed state of the middle-aged woman she was, still wore a Cheshire grin on her face as she explained.

“It was a huge hit in my day. On the night I met Randall, I think it played no less than four times in the car. It always brings me back to the night when we fell in love.”

“It was playing that time, too?”

“Well, they were one and the same, so yeah.”

Pam’s eyes swept over from her own left hand and the small cluster of stones to the radiant sunbeam reflected on the dash from the sparkling solitaire glistening on the ring finger of the driver. Following the ray of light down to Gabby’s hand and then back up to her face she felt a pang of envy that had nothing to do with the size or brilliance of the stone.

Love at first sight. Pam believed in it even though it wasn’t quite how it happened with Roy. Theirs was relationship that took its time to kindle and sometimes she still was in disbelief it did. She never imagined the popular jock could take a liking to the shy, quiet girl she was, but when they were paired in science lab and she helped him get through chemistry, they became first friends and then something more. She didn’t even know she liked him, not until when during a study session he leaned in for an unexpected kiss. Even then, she was more shocked than smitten, but who turned down the star football player when he whispered how much he was into you and so they began dating.

But she’d seen plenty of romantic movies and read enough romance novels to have a sense of what that instant attraction felt like, of how an immediate connection could make you feel. She imagined it would be something a lot like what she felt when she first met Jim–that little dance of delight that she experienced in her belly as he laughed wholeheartedly when she warned him about Dwight. That perhaps but heightened, marked by a desire to run her fingers through his messy hair as she sampled his lips in a kiss, which was what she might have admitted she felt had she not been engaged to Roy at the time.

Gabby and Randall, she supposed had experienced this, an initial spark that stayed ignited through all the years they were together. But did that make it any less romantic than marrying your high school sweetheart, something she would get to do, five months from now? The thought did make her smile again, until Gabby broke into her wedding daydream.

“I must say Pam, I am a little surprised to hear you say you don’t get to the Met that often. It’s not as if it’s so far away that you couldn’t visit every now and again.”

“Oh well, it’s not really Roy’s thing.”

“What going to the city?” she asked innocently.

“Well, that, and going to museums and he’s not all that excited by looking at art.”

She wasn’t sure what made her speak the truth. It was strange, chatting with Gabby was a lot like being in front of the camera in the talking head interviews, it was hard to keep from being anything but completely honest no matter how much she tried to hold back what she was actually thinking.

“Well, that’s surprising, being that his wife-to-be is an artist. “

“I wouldn’t say that,” she contended. “It’s more like a hobby.”

“Either way it’s something you are interested in. You would expect he would show some interest if only because of you?”

She spoke the words sweetly, without any condescension or rancor towards Roy but it still made Pam feel like she had to make excuses for her fiancé.

“What kinds of things does he like? What do you like to do together?”

In her head Pam rattled off a few of his hobbies, drinking, talking sports, watching sports, making her watch sports but she didn’t mention any of these out loud, surprised she was able to keep at least these thoughts to herself.

Pam considered what were their common interests. There weren’t many anymore. She honestly wasn’t quite sure how many there ever were, even back in high school. Back then most of the things they did were things he wanted to, they went to parties and games, hung out with his crowd on the weekends, messed around in his car until curfew. She always thought after high school he’d mature a bit and he would start showing some interest in more of the things she liked such as art, reading, and watching old movies. But to this day these weren’t pastimes they did together or even talked about. If she wanted to discuss a book she’d read or an old movie she saw she usually waited to bring it up with Jim. He either would have read it or seen it or at least asked her what it was that she found interesting if he hadn’t.

But Roy, the last time they discussed the written word was when she helped him study for English in high school.

The things they still did enjoy doing together weren’t exactly the things she wanted to share and she was quite sure Gabby wasn’t asking about their sex life with her question.

But then she remembered the trip they just took. Skiing was more his thing, but she enjoyed it enough when she could keep to her own pace. Or at least she told herself she did. Plus, they had a plenty good time when it was just the two of them at the fireside bar when they finished on the slopes each day.  Over his beers and her apres-ski cocktails they reminisced about their high school ski trips and the crazy things they did back when they were teenagers.

Well, the crazy things Roy did and she watched.

During warmer months, she knew they both liked the beach, for the most part because she could read or sketch while he rode the jet skis with Kenny or the other friends they went with.

These were things she could share with Gabby that were not just what they did in the bedroom.

“Well, we like enjoying the outdoors together. Like we just came back from a ski trip, well actually, we haven’t gone yet, we, the other me and him leave Friday after work. And in the summer, we like to go to the beach a lot.”

“Well, that’s nice. Randall and I like the beach too. I’m not much of a skier though.”

It was quiet again after that for a bit except for the soft sound of the music humming from the speakers. It was another song from her companion’s generation, but one that sounded vaguely familiar, probably something else she heard a little less regularly in the supermarket or the waiting room at her own doctor’s office. She wished it was one she knew better, well enough to revive the aforementioned singalong since the silence was just a bit uncomfortable, in that they left her to her own thoughts.

Pam hoping not to answer anything more about her and Roy, but knowing they still had a long ride ahead decided it was time to ask some questions of her own. She was interested in learning about how she and Randall came to meet, a good love story was always something she enjoyed hearing, but wasn’t sure if she was bold enough to ask about it.

While she was considering whether it would be appropriate to ask, Gabby began to reminisce on her own.

“Me and Randall, now we had a bit of a bumpy start, too.”

Pam was not sure where Gabby had gotten that hers had a bumpy beginning. Earlier in the week during one of their lunchtime chats, she told her all about how they met in high school and started dating despite being from different crowds. Over the meal she shared much of their general history from their school days on through setting the date for their upcoming wedding. But she never gave any indication of any bumps along the way, except maybe the long wait between getting a ring and real plans to follow through on the promise of marriage.

At least, she didn’t think she had. Had she said something to give away the doubts she sometimes had that she and Roy were not quite a match made in heaven. Still, it was good to hear that even romances that seemed to stand the test of time, might not have begun so smooth.

“Really, I thought you said you fell in love from the first moment you met?”

“That’s true, I just didn’t know it. It took a little time to figure it out. It’s a bit of a quirky story.”

The corners of Pam’s mouth tilted up to match what was happening on Gabby’s. Pam loved a quirky story and was eager to hear.

“It starts with Charlie. He was my boyfriend when we met.”

“Wait, you had a boyfriend when you met Randall?”

She nodded.

“Mmhumm. He was the primary reason we didn’t start dating immediately. But of course, he’s also the reason we met. Well, him and Elvis.”

“As in Elvis Presley?”

“That’s right the King. He was it for me at the time. Elvis, not Charlie. I was only dating Charlie a few weeks.”

Pam nodded, a little confused but intrigued nonetheless. She also couldn’t help but think about someone else who had a bit of an Elvis obsession, maybe not so much the way Gabby did, but enjoyed doing an impression of him quite often, and had just the other day when they were buying new coats.

“Now I know it’s a little strange, my generation wasn’t exactly still all gaga for him, Elvis, but I’ve always been a little late to the scene.”

Michael too, Pam thought, as she suddenly had a better understanding of why he too loved Elvis, or at least loved talking like him.

“I was still a huge fan, you might even say a little too fanatical. But it was in a roundabout way, my obsession with him that sent me Randall. Oh, and also got me my very impractical couch.”

“Now this I want to hear. I’ve gotta say I’ve been wondering about that couch, not that I would ever have asked about it, but since you brought it up.”

Gabby didn’t begin her tale with the story of the white sofa.  She started by sharing more about her love for Elvis.

“While my friends were listening to the Beatles and the Stones and Zeppelin, I was still listening mostly to Elvis. When they moved on to Elton John and Queen and ELO, I still fixated on Elvis. I didn’t let myself accept there were other sounds out there I might like, accept the possibility that I could like any other music as much as his. Since his was the music I first loved I thought nothing else could ever be as good or bring me as much joy.”

“So, you only listened to Elvis?” Pam asked curiously. She couldn’t imagine listening to only one singer or group and nothing else although sometimes it felt like she did, as a never-ending cycle of Springsteen CDs played on rotation in Roy’s truck, even though he knew The Boss wasn’t her favorite.

“Not quite, I was still a regular teenager who went out and went to parties and drove in cars. Back then we didn’t have CD players or those iPod things so we could only listen to what came on the radio or what we played on our vinyl records at home.

Pam didn’t have an iPod she had a Prism DuroSport. She almost had an iPod but she gave it up for a teapot. A teapot that came with a mixed tape. It was one hundred percent the right choice.

Music was one of the special things she and Jim shared. Or that Jim shared with her. Her knowledge of new music was pretty much limited to what she heard on the local pop station in the rare times she got to choose the station in the truck or at their home. It was mostly thanks to Jim’s suggestions she ever branched out beyond Kelly Clarkson and Maroon 5. 

When Roy bought her the DuroSport for Christmas, she went right to the cassette Jim gave her, knowing the mix he made would be a perfect combination of old songs he knew she liked and new sounds he thought she might enjoy. Every song had eventually made it to the playlist on her Duosport, coincidentally thanks to Dwight who clued her in the Russian website where she could purchase them all for cheap. But despite these contributions from the other two men, it was Jim she thought of whenever she played her music and it was Jim she was still thinking of even as she stared off at the sign for Mount Pocono, where she had just gone/would go skiing with her fiancé in a few days.

Suddenly feeling a wave of guilt for her thoughts, she turned back to Gabby who was still chatting about the music of the time, Elvis, and her boyfriend, Charlie, while Pam’s mind had wandered off slightly.

“So, when I heard the devastating news Elvis had died, I told Charlie I wanted to go to Graceland to pay my respects and asked him to come with me.”

Pam turned her head back from the sign they rolled past to look at Gabby again, wide-eyed and with a curious smile overtaking her face.

“Okay, wow when you say you were obsessed, you meant it.”

“Well, I was, but it was also the seventies. My generation could be a little wacky like that. We thought nothing of taking off to another state to catch a concert or pay our respects in vigil after the King’s death.”

“So, did he? Did he go with you?”

“Charlie, no. He told me not to either and we kind of had a big fight about it. But I was going. Nobody was going to tell me what I could or couldn’t do.”

Pam was impressed. At age 26 she still didn’t have the backbone to stand up for the things she wanted. Case in point, her first trip to the Met since she’d gone with her mom ages ago was years later when the cameraman’s wife invited her along during her fantastical time travel experience. Young Gabby it seems would have insisted they go or simply had gone alone. She quickly learned it was just what she did when she wanted to go to Memphis to leave a memento outside her idol’s famous home.”

“Wow,” was all she could think of to say at first. After a beat of silence, she asked.

“Did you break up because of it?”

“No, but it still put a small dent in our relationship. It being so new, a fight over my choices wasn’t a good way to start.”

She paused as if waiting for her to respond with a comment, but then gently shook her head and murmured something Pam couldn’t quite make out but sounded a bit like didn’t happen yet Gabrielle.

“The week before I left was tense but he still drove me to the airport and before I head into the terminal he told me he was sorry, that he’d been inconsiderate of my feelings. He said he wanted to make it up to me and he would be there the next day to pick me up the next day when I flew back.”

I wonder what that’s like, hearing I'm sorry.

Pam was used to half-asked apologies, tickles instead of contrition and sometimes got nothing at all, only time’s passage putting an end to their fights. She thought this Charlie sounded sweet and was surprised to know something ultimately broke them up. She was about to find out what, or rather who but first Gabby gave her a glimpse of history, sharing what it was like to be in Memphis in the week following the untimely death of the man who changed music.

The way she told it, with a documentary style narrative, gave her another clue as to why she and Randall were a good fit, plus made the long trip seem to fly by faster. Before she knew it, they were well into New Jersey. 

“So, like I said, Charlie was supposed to pick me up at the airport, but he had this crazy, unpredictable boss that was always keeping him late, you know the type…” she added sardonically.

“Me, no. My boss is a saint. He is respectful and mature and very considerate of my time. He even granted me two extra weeks of vacation time… of course in another dimension, with no money, means of transportation or if it weren’t for you and Randall, without a place to stay.”

Sometimes she was still in her own disbelief that this was truly happening and more shocked that her new friend believed she was a time traveler and not just completely mental. But what a relief it was to have someone else besides Michael to spend this time with, someone who seemed to understand the strangeness of the situation and who by bringing her along today was making her experience as enlightening as it had been difficult. 

“I told you it’s no trouble. It’s nice to have a new friend. I’ll be sorry when you go back to your time.”

Pam had to wonder why that should make a difference. Now that they’d met, they could remain friends even after next week when she was back to herself. Pam could only suppose Gabby was concerned once she didn’t need to, she wouldn’t want to spend time with a woman from her mother’s generation, but it was quite the opposite. She felt more at ease with Gabby than she did with the girlfriends of Roy’s buddies, who were her own age. She could talk a little easier with Gabby, than to Angela or Kelly who were also closer to her peer group. Isabel, her closest girlfriend, didn’t want to go to art museums with her or sit around and talk about old movies. She wanted to go out dancing and gossip about the gang they knew from college. And while Pam enjoyed that too, she had other interests that her new friend seemed to share. Gabby, while never going to be her best friend, that would be a little weird and besides that was and always would be Jim, could still continue to be a welcome part of her life.

Pam was about to reassure her of this, but before she could Gabby was back onto her tale.

“…so of course, that night he was detained when my flight was due. We had no cell phones back then; he had no way to let me know he wouldn’t be able to get me.”

“Uh-oh. What happened?”

“I’ve got to say Charlie truly was a good guy when it came down to it. It turns out he wasn’t the guy for me but not because he didn’t treat me right.”

Again, a pause from Gabby was met with Pam’s silence. So, she went on.

“Stuck at work and unable to get word to me, he arranged for his roommate to come pick me up from my flight so I wouldn’t be stranded.”

“Randall!” Pam exclaimed.

“Randall,” her companion confirmed.

“I had only seen him for a blip the night Charlie came over to me at the bar to ask my number. The few nights I was at his place we were, umm, getting better acquainted when his roommate came home and snuck past us on the couch and right into his room. So naturally, I didn’t quite recognize him.”

Pam wondered a bit what young Randall might have looked like, before his hair turned salt and pepper gray and perhaps before he donned a mustache and tufted beard. His eyes which still glowed with a jewel-bright blue, must have been striking on a younger man’s face.

“So, I stood outside the terminal watching for Charlie’s car to pull up all the while observing this other vaguely familiar guy waiting in his old Chrysler, very animatedly crooning the song playing so loud I could hear it through his open window as I walked back and forth past him, all the while unaware he was my ride.”

“It was that song, wasn’t it? The one we just heard.”

“Yup,” she nodded. “Undercover Angel.”

Something in the way she spoke the song’s title, in whispered reverence, led Pam to think again of the song Jim played for her on his iPod on the night they swayed together in front of the Dunder Mifflin building. She could barely make sense of what the lyrics meant and couldn’t name a single other song by the group but it didn’t matter, whenever she heard it following that night, and it was often since he put it on her Christmas teapot, mixed tape, it always made her smile thinking of the fun they had that evening.

Gabby too, wore a dreamy grin as she thought of the song that had that same effect on her. Even in profile Pam could see a physical transformation had taken place on her face as she began to talk about her husband. There was a resplendence that shone in her eyes and a luminosity that brightened her whole visage.

It was a look she knew was familiar, a facial quality she’d seen on someone else, somewhere else, quite recently in fact, only she couldn’t place whose face it was that she’d seen that same glow of love, probably on television, the character or show, she couldn’t think of in the moment, especially with her time jump still messing with her memories.

Gabby seemed almost trance-like as she retold what happened next, describing how watching him singing brought the first genuine smile to her face, perhaps since she touched down the day prior in Memphis. And how when he turned to see her eyeing him curiously, he slowly turned the color of a beet.

She relinquished the rest of the story with such detail, Pam felt almost as if she were intruding on a first date between two soulmates, even though Gabby wouldn’t have called it that at the time, since she was dating the man who sent him out to pick her up.

On their way home–a quiet ride at first until the angel song came on again on another station and she teased him about his energetic warbling but then found out how fun it was when he suggested she sing along with him–they got swept up in a deep conversation and connected in a way she had yet to with her new boyfriend. Talking about everything from music to growing up in Austin, Texas, her, and Cincinnati, Ohio, him and how they both came to be in New York, and they were soon at her Bayside apartment.

As tired as she was after the tearful day she had, she couldn’t seem to leave the car and they kept right on talking, laughing and singing together both to the frequent Elvis songs being played on the radio in tribute and the little diddy that was her introduction to him that came on again no less than two more times while they went on chatting for another two hours. When they finally said goodbye, they both knew it was the last time they would talk like that since the next reason they would have to be together would be when she was back in the company of her boyfriend, his roommate.

As clear as it seemed to Pam from the story, who Gabby was meant to be with, she also understood why she didn’t act immediately upon what she felt that night. It was a tough thing to do, breakup with someone you liked a lot, even if you thought maybe there was someone else who could make you happier. It was something she dwelt on once or twice herself, always coming back to her history and comfort with her long-time partner and fear of rocking the boat.

Hearing Gabby’s resonant voice speak again drew her from her own thoughts and back into their story.

“Over the next six months, we saw a lot of each other when I would spend nights at their place, the three of us smushed together on the little couch in their cozy living room watching Laverne & Shirley and Charlie’s Angels. Occasionally, I tried to set him up with some of my girlfriends for double dates but he never seemed very interested. Of course, I never caught on to why. At least not until the week Charlie had this big assignment at work that kept him late every night that week.”

The radio began to crackle and fade as the car started into the Lincoln Tunnel. Pam had been so rapt by the story she hadn’t even noticed they’d come that far, gone through the toll booth or made egress into the underground passage.

“Things hadn’t much progressed with Charlie, and I think both of us were a little unsure how much we really were right for each other but neither of us wanted to admit it, which made us both try a little harder to make each other fit in one another’s lives. That week for instance, I stayed over every night at his place since there was little other time we could spend together, though sometimes he didn’t even walk through the door until I had gone to sleep. Randall, however, was between assignments and was home every night and so it was me and him who enjoyed each other’s company through the week, domestically making dinner, watching TV and continuing what we started on the car ride home.”

Traffic slowed in the tunnel, which was just as well, since Pam figured once through to the other side, navigating the city streets would take top priority and with the story still unfinished, she didn’t mind the extra time Gabby now had to complete it.

“The weekend finally came and Charlie and I spent most of Saturday locked away in his room, making up for the time missed over the week. But all the while, as I lay with Charlie, I imagined being on the other side of the wall, in the other bed, staring into the crystalline eyes of the man I had been slowly falling for all week, and if I were honest with myself, who had long since replaced his roommate’s place in my heart when it was him who showed up at the airport on Charlie’s bequest. But with no sign from Randall that I was anything more to him than a friend, I continued through the motions with Charlie, hoping that what I felt for his roommate would shift back to the man I was dating.”

Deep down Pam knew the feeling she spoke of. She hadn’t even admitted it to herself before this very moment but she could no longer deny there were nights when she closed her eyes she imagined a different man beside her, one who not so long before, on a very rocky boat trip revealed he did feel something stronger for her than friendship. But he didn’t tell her, he told Michael, and besides she was already in too deep. The man in her bed wasn’t her boyfriend of six months, it was her fiancé of three years, the same guy she’d dated for over six years before that and the only one she ever had a romantic connection to.

Before she could think any more about the parallels of their stories, Gabby continued with hers.

“Saturday night was a poker night with the boys they had planned for a while. I was going to head home but Charlie asked me to stay. He promised to beg out of the game early and we could go for late night snacks at the diner. While the game was in full swing in the living room, I worked on my lesson plans at the kitchen table. Randall came in to grab some cold beers and that was it. He made some joke that got me laughing but then his face froze and his sapphire eyes bore into mine with a gaze so piercing I felt I might shatter and disintegrate in fragments onto the linoleum floor. When after what felt like eternity he spoke, I swear I could feel the pen I was holding melting in my grip from the heat building up in my body.”

It wasn’t her life or her history but Pam felt the pressure of the situation as if it were her own and began to twist her ring in the same way she had so often before in her own most emotional times.

“I don’t know what gave him the courage with Charlie and the gang right there in the other room, but he blurted out how he felt about me, how he’d been feeling ever since that night he picked me up at the airport.”

“Oh my god, then what happened?”

“Well things got a little ugly when Charlie came into the kitchen to see what was taking so long getting the brews and found his roommate kissing his girlfriend and me kissing him right back.”

They were out of the tunnel and as suspected, Gabby focused her attention on the delicate art of driving in the city. Pam stayed silent to let her concentrate on the drive, herself lost in the imagination of what may have transpired in the aftermath of that night. Once Gabby navigated to 10th Avenue, she picked up her tale once more.

“A few days later Randall moved out of their shared apartment and in with me. Eight months later we were having our first dance as man and wife to Can't Help Falling in Love and six months after that Elissa was on the way.

“Elissa after Elvis?”

“That’s right. Elissa Charlotte. Charlie never spoke to either of us again but we honored him anyway. After all, without either one of them, Elvis or Charlie, we might never have fallen in love.”

End Notes:

For the tracks to accompany this chapter I couldn’t decide which song to feature she here’s all three.

 

Oh What A Night 

Undercover Angel Wonder if anyone else has every heard this one before

Can't Help Falling in Love There are so many versions of this one but I had to go with the classic Elvis for apparent reasons.

 

Chapter 18 - The Art of Love by Maxine Abbott
Author's Notes:

Despite being somewhat satisfied with this chapter's original draft when I returned back to layer and edit it, I felt a certain, for lack of a better term, ho-hummness to it. Perhaps, because I came back to it after drafting the climatic, Part III chapter close to the end. But in the interest of moving this story along and getting to that exciting back-end chapter I'm posting it as is. Otherwise, it may just break me. 

The city traffic was enough to keep Gabby focused on the crowded streets leaving Pam's mind to drift to her own romantic history and what was potentially becoming her own love triangle, one she would have to address after the two weeks Michael had inadvertently granted her to dwell on it.  

 

It wasn't until they were driving up Madison Avenue that she decided to focus instead on where she was now, traveling the streets of New York with its fancy stores and majestic buildings, and not let her guilt and confusion overshadow her enjoyment of the day.  

 

"What a beautiful church. That's not St. Patrick's Cathedral, is it?" 

 

A truck blocking the road kept them idled in front of what with its cloud-reaching spire and elaborate rose window, to Pam might have been the famous New York City church.  

 

"Oh no dear, St. Patrick's is further south in midtown and a lot larger and grander. This one is St. James Church. While it may not be as big or have quite as storied a history, you are right, it is very impressive and lovely in its own way with its understated elegance."

 

Pam only said a quiet, "yes, it is," in response, slightly embarrassed at her mistake and once again thinking of another James that she only just minutes ago finally managed to expel from her mind. 

 

Luckily, they had begun moving again and the view out her window offered an escape from the thoughts threatening to fill her head again. Losing herself studying fashions displayed in the windows of stores whose names she only recognized from reading The Devil Wears Prada, the occasional People magazine with its "Who Wore it Best" section or InStyle's "Look for Less" feature, she managed to keep her head free of anything else but where she was and the day ahead for the rest of the drive to the unremarkable building underneath which was an open-to-the-public garage.

 

As Gabby handed over the keys to the attendant, Pam surveyed the below ground lot and caught sight of the signs posting the daily rates. The cost of parking in a New York garage for the day was only slightly less than what she'd paid for the entire outfit she had on, including the boots she was thankful to have in light of the residual snow, slush and giant puddles she'd also viewed from the out of the car as they drove through the metropolitan streets.

 

Distracted by the shock at what the asterisks indicated, an additional 18.375% tax which was on top of the surcharge that large SUVs and trucks carried, she almost stepped into one such puddle as she exited the car. Roy hadn’t been exaggerating when he told her how much it would set them back driving the truck to the city. Even if they just picnicked in Central Park and took in all the free sights that New York had to offer it would make for a very expensive date, one that they really couldn't afford while saving for a wedding. Still, they couldn't afford those jet skis or even the Pocono trip and yet when it came to skiing, snow and water alike, the money spent didn't seem to be an issue.

 

Though thankful Gabby drove an Elantra and not an SUV, Pam still began tabulating how much today's excursion would set her back after contributing less than a fraction of her share, and what she might be able to save for food next week as she walked alongside Gabby up to the street. She only hoped the effects of the sodium from of a steady diet of Cup of Noodles would reverse themselves when she was back to a single timeline.  

 

But no matter how expensive the day would be she was thrilled to be there and knew it would be worth every penny. 

 

"… and so I feel it's worth it."

 

It was Gabby parroting back her thoughts that drew her from her inner monologue. But how did Gabby know what she'd been thinking? Had she spoken what she'd been rummaging around in her head out loud?

 

"…the doctors here, they're the best in the field for my condition, even if it means a bit more of an out-of-pocket expense and a trip to the city every few weeks."

 

Pam at that moment, realized she hadn't heard a word Gabby had said since they left the lot, her mind so consumed with money and food and potential high blood pressure. Too embarrassed to ask her to repeat herself, she once more quietly agreed as they stepped passed a tuxedo clad doorman and into the fancy 5th Avenue address. Once through the ornate entrance, Pam stood patiently by as Gabby checked in at the lobby desk, feeling a bit out of place in such an upscale building. 

 

Had they been the only two in the elevator, Pam may have worked up the courage to admit she hadn't heard her before and asked again as to the condition and reason for the visit, but just before the doors closed another couple walked in, stepping between her and Gabby and keeping them apart and unable to speak while they ascended up to the fifth-floor doctor's office.

 

"Well, they were quite rude," Gabby commented as they stepped out of the cab leaving the man and woman to continue rising to an upper floor, "stepping in between us like that. Who does that?"

 

Even angry, Gabby has a lightness about her that matched the ethereal feel of the lavish waiting room behind the door marked only by a gold plate identifying it as Suite 555. The wall behind the desk was similarly simple, with only the physicians' names, but nothing to identify what issues they treated, leaving Pam still in the dark as to what brought Gabby there every few weeks.  

 

Pam made her way to one of the plush chairs set around the waiting area as a woman dressed all in white at reception cheerfully greeted Gabby and let her know it would be just a minute until she would be called back. Although as inviting as a cloud, Pam hovered precariously on the edge of the chair, repelling the cushion like a magnet turned the wrong way around, too consumed with worry about Gabby to relax into the seat.

 

Gabby excused herself from the gate keeper, returning to a Pam whose stiff body and squinched up face gave away her fretfulness at having still not been able to ask about the reason for the visit.

 

"Is it serious, your condition? I'm sorry I must have missed what…"

 

Gabby stopped Pam with an interposing reply as she sat down in the neighboring, cloud-like chair.

 

"Oh, poor dear you look so concerned. It's nothing at all, just a slight deficiency that needs to be monitored. I promise, not worth that terrified look on your face. I'm just here for a quick check-up and then we can be on our way."

 

With her words, the wrinkles of worry that had been spread like arched inchworms across Pam's forehead settled just in time to hear the call from the nurse who stepped out from a door on the other side of the room.   

 

"Gabrielle, you can come on back."

 

The explanation, though not detailed, was enough for Pam to relax and ease into the back of the chair, which turned out to be as comfortable as it looked. She still had no idea the specialty of the office nor the conditions that were treated here but according to Gabby it was nothing she should worry about, which was a huge load off. There was little room left in her mind to add her new friend’s health to the myriad of weighty thoughts pulsing through her head since they came up from the parking lot.

 

As Gabby was whisked back to the examination room and she was left alone with only them for company, she tried to preoccupy herself by thumbing through one of the magazines on the side table. Picking up a Cosmopolitan, she of course opened it directly to a quiz entitled “Is He Your Soulmate.” Not exactly what she wanted to read in her state of flux, especially since she never once got the answer she wanted, not even when she embellished her answers with what she so often wished were her reality.  Rather than be disappointed again, she flipped to the “Healthy Hair Tips for Every Tress Type,” looking for some wisdom for taming her frizzy locks but found herself discouraged anyway finding the same useless advice that never seemed to work for her. 

 

Switching out the Cosmo for a Time Magazine, she was still unable to concentrate and not just because she wasn’t all that interested in reading about the year’s advances in medicine or the Manning brothers who she’d heard more than she cared to know about from Roy and even a fact or two from Jim. 

 

Another time she might be able to focus on any one of the highbrow topics in the news publication but today her mind kept wandering back to what she’d learned in the car about her new friend’s history and how romantic their story was. Almost like a fairy tale with a happy ending, except maybe that Charlie never did forgive them. 

That must have been a tough thing to bear. Pam knew how uncomfortable it made her when she thought someone didn’t like her. It was why she continued to be nice to Angela, not because she cared so much to have her as a friend but because she needed Angela to not dislike her, even if Pam didn’t even like her and hated feeling judged by her condescending looks and snarky comments. 

 

Hoping to find something interesting to read, she kept flipping pages and discovered way in the back, a single page in the “Your Time” section about modern marriages. It didn’t have much, some stuff about cake toppers and invitations but it got her thinking again about her upcoming wedding and how happy she was she would soon be getting married. 

 

It was twice now, she got to experience that feeling of being overjoyed when it happened, even though both times Roy had started the night by pissing her off, first by carrying on like he had in high school and being more excited about snorkel shots than being with her and then on her repeat version of the boat trip with his wandering eye and offensive behavior.

 

But she couldn’t deny what she felt when later when he picked a date, pure happiness and love.

 

As she often did, she once again told herself it was the waiting, the long engagement that had been causing all her doubts. 

 

It was that and then Jim’s confession and her discomfort at knowing his feelings and now hearing the tender love story of how Gabby and Randall came together that was making her think all not was as blissful as it should have been in the months leading up to the marriage she’d waited years for. 

 

Or could it be more than that?

 

Was it that there someone else better for her like there was for Gabby? A certain floppy-haired, salesman who like Roy, also loved sports, but unlike him, didn’t expect her to. Who expressed interest in her artistic nature and the more cultural things she liked to do? Who knew the Jets and Sharks were not just athletic teams, and that Frankenstein was the doctor, not the monster and what horcruxes were? Who read something more than box scores and could appreciate and share an interest in art and culture. Who seemed to know when she needed a laugh to brighten up her day or a push to try something new or just a bag of French onion Sun Chips or a mixed berry yogurt because her stomach was calling out to him with its unnaturally loud afternoon grumbles?

 

Maybe, but could she risk what she knew she had for something she didn’t know where it could go?

 

Could she chance losing her best friend for a shot at more, even if it meant she might not have either in the end?

 

Could she have someone she did love, hate her for giving up on them just as he was finally able to truly commit?

 

Could she make a change, go back on her word, forget about the history with Roy and take the gamble that she could have a similar fairy tale ending too, taking a hard left when her whole life she always kept right?

 

She still had no answer when Gabby came back out with the question on her lips that allowed Pam to push away all her misgivings and just be excited about the rest of their day.

 

“Ready to visit with cupid?” 

 

 »»»»»»


As they walked from the doctor’s office towards the museum, Pam again thanked her companion for bringing her along and tried to hand her what little cash she had in her purse, holding a few dollars in reserve to buy a bag of chips or a yogurt at lunchtime.

“Put your money away. I invited you. This is on me.”

“But the parking was so expensive, and on top of that there’s the cost of the museum and the gas and tolls. What I’m offering I know is a fraction of my share, but I at least want to give you something.”

Again, Gabby waved her off.

“Pam, you're my guest today and I can't tell you how much I appreciate that you are here with me. Your company is all the payment I need. And let me also say I’m thrilled to share this experience with a real artist.”

Reluctantly, but also thankfully, Pam closed her purse and they continued their walk along Fifth Avenue to the museum. She wasn't all that big a fan of ramen noodles and hadn't been looking forward to eating only them for the next week, especially with the extraordinary hunger she'd been experiencing since making the time jump.

A real artist, she wasn’t sure she could justifiably be called that. What she considered herself was a hobbyist, a dabbler, a dilettante. Maybe one day she could be more, but right now she was a receptionist who liked to draw and paint.

She did however, reflect on how maybe she was able to see things differently, finding art in nature and buildings and even the mundane. For instance the parade of city buses that drove along the block was beautiful in her eyes, all the ads that were plastered across it, to her like murals of colors and shapes where others might just see words and pictures. It was in this way of looking at things, she maybe could offer her friend some insights as they took in the works in the museum.

For Pam, there was art all around her already, the aesthetics of the city a masterpiece in itself to take in. She marveled at the subtle hues along the block, on one side a canvas of vanilla and ecru buildings flanked by emerald awnings and silver scaffolds, on the other, a carpet of snow covered much of the park, with charcoals, embers and more shades of sage and pine green extending up from the white blanket which suddenly reminded her of the part of the story she still hadn’t heard.

What about the white couch?” she asked with a child’s curiosity, the straightforward question a reminder Gabby never did get around to explaining about the sofa that she herself called impractical.

The soft wrinkles around Gabby’s eyelids deepened as her face broadened once again into a sentimental smile.

“You ever have a desire, a yen for something you saw or witnessed you knew you wanted immediately, and that stuck with you forever after?”

She did, she’d never spoken about it or even considered it much since she was little, but it was always there. However, she didn’t bring it up, thinking it was silly, only murmured her acknowledgment so Gabby could go on.

“Years later, after Graceland opened to the public, we took a family trip there. Walking up to the entrance the first time was like striding into heaven, the Corinthian columns that graced the doorway like pearly gates I was granted admittance through. Once inside, I saw it in person, the iconic living room, with the stained-glass windows that divided it from the adjoining music room. But what I was most taken with was the long, white couch that had been implanted in my memory from back when I saw it in a magazine. The image of my idol strumming his guitar while he leaned against the pillows of his ivory backdrop. I told Randall on that trip how I always dreamed of having one just like it after seeing the photo years ago.”

It seemed a strange thing for her to fixate on but who was Pam to judge, her dream was to have a terrace with flowers off her bedroom. 

“Of course, Randall being Randall promised when we could finally afford to buy a house, a pure white sofa would be the first piece of furniture we would purchase for inside of it.”

“How soon before you got your house and your couch?”

“The house, about a year and a half. The couch, well I knew it was insane to get a white couch with young kids, hell even with adults, as your boss demonstrated. Even once the kids were grown and off to college, I knew it was just a silly dream I once had so I didn’t ever bring it up again. But then Randall had the opportunity to work on your documentary and we moved to Scranton and you could imagine my surprise when I walked in to our new apartment to see he had gone out and bought me my white couch.”

“Wow, that is just so romantic. The only thing Roy ever surprised me with for no reason was a pair of jet skis that I never wanted in the first place.”

If Gabby had heard the last part of her response, she pretended not to or maybe she was as dumbfounded by the absurdity of it as Pam had been when he told her about the purchase.

“Yeah, it was. But I had long since decided owning a white couch was ridiculous, not ideal in real life and having one would not change mine for the better no matter how long I had dreamed of it. But how could I tell him that after that hugely romantic gesture? So now I own a couch that I have to worry about every time we sit on it.”

“Why not get rid of it?”

“What and break Randall’s heart after he went to all the trouble to get it for me?”

“But if it is no longer is what you want, why would you keep it?”

“That’s a good question, Pam. A really good question.”

««««««

For Pam, entering the museum was her own visit to Graceland, with parallel Corinthian columns flanking the doorway on the other side of which was Pam’s own heaven. The arrived just in time for their scheduled slot to see the Eros exhibit and made their way through the building to the hall where a multitude of cherubim were on display.

Gabby wasn’t kidding when she said she had a thing for cupid. She descended upon the winged statue that stood just inside the entrance as if greeting an old friend, spending quite a long time admiring the sleeping figure from every angle. It was her inspection of the cherub’s back where she seemed most impressed with the detail that went into carving the bronze deity. As sculpture wasn’t Pam’s forte, she had nothing to add when Gabby began to talk of the exquisiteness of the wings.

They took their time visiting each item in the exhibit, and at each one that featured the deity of love, Gabby took in the piece with devoted veneration. Pam was drawn more to the few drawings depicting the various Greek gods than to the objects d’art as she could more relate to the process of their creation. It was just after one when they saw all there was to see of Sleeping Eros and the rest of the art of love and they decided to head up to the enclosed rooftop garden cafe to have a bite to eat before they took in any more of the majestic works on display in the floors below.

Over lunch, which Gabby picked up, insisting like a true mother that a yogurt was not a proper meal, they chatted casually, discussing the pieces in the exhibit they just saw and what other art museums they liked to visit. Pam asked to hear more about her life with Randall and her family but something seemed to shift in Gabby since they entered the museum. She bore the same lightness in her person, her good nature seemed unchanged but it was as if she wasn’t prepared to share any more of her own history for some unknown reason. 

Just as Gabby assured her, after lunch there was plenty more time to tour the others works of art, but Pam knew there would never be time to see it all. However, knowing she had someone who would be happy to go again with her, and next time she would pay her own way, she decided there was no need to rush to try to do too much.

“So where to now?” Gabby asked as they waited for the elevator. “Time to see your impressionists?”

Something shifted in Pam too over the day. Perhaps she was inspired by the tale of Gabby and Randall, the love story that happened by chance when they weren’t expecting it. It could also have been due to the shared secret of Gabby’s change of heart about the couch that she had wanted for years, that is until she got it. Either way, she decided it was time to be more like her new friend, to take a risk and do something different from her usual.

Still, she wasn’t brave enough for a big leap. She had experienced enough turbulence when she passed through time a week back now and was still unsure what to expect when she caught up to herself in the present. She wasn’t ready to take any giant steps towards anything just yet. Baby ones were about as much as she could handle at the moment but maybe if she could do one thing that wasn't pre-planned and as expected, it could lead her to more in her future. She could start by simply suggesting a different wing to visit.

“I’ve changed my mind,” she spoke boldly while she opened the map to find out where in the museum to find what she was looking for.

“I think it’s time I discovered something new.”

End Notes:

St. James Church is on 71st and Madison. If you google map it, you'll see it's not anywhere near as stately and iconic as St. Patrick's but this is the Pam who in the future thinks Connecticut is in a different time zone (that is if her future hasn't dramatically changed from her experiences).

I have no songs for this chapter but choose any Elvis or NY song you like. I have photos to share instead:

 (Parking rates in New York are no joke)

 

Elvis on his couch

 

A photo from Graceland which I myself have been to even though, until researching this story, I was not all that much an Elvis fan. (Gabby's generation is not mine)

Oh, and the Time Magazine articles were real:

Time Magazine December 2005

The link above opens to the Your Time section with the wedding stuff. 

The cover story is The Year in Medicine, page 106 has the Manning brothers article, plus page 108 has a Harry Potter movie review,

PLUS for you Jane Austin fans turn the page for the P&P review, (discussed just the other night in the watercooler) and on page 38 there's a photo of Elvis Impersonators.

And here is an article about owning a white couch that amused me. 

https://www.countryliving.com/home-design/a45093/owning-a-white-couch/

Yeah, my google search history is confusing the hell out of the algorithm.

Chapter 19 - Something Blue by Maxine Abbott
Author's Notes:

I've been trying to get these chapters out with some regularity, but sometimes life gets in the way of timely posting. Since it's been a while let me remind you where we are in the story. It's Thursday – a week from when then landed back in time and a week and a day to go before they catch back up to it. Pam and Gabby just spend yesterday (and the last two chapters) in NYC going to visit the doctor and then the Met. Pam learned much about Gabby's history with Randall and spent a lot of time pondering her own history with Roy and her friendship with Jim and is starting to think more about that. And by the end of the last chapter she decided she wanted a change – by change, she wanted to visit a different wing of the museum but hey, that's a big move for Pam.

As for what's ahead, well let's just say time travel has a way of shifting the canonical events that we know – sometimes well ahead of schedule. You'll see.

Having the luxury of borrowed time, her special pencils and the inspiration provided from the prior day’s trip to the city, she had been sure she would be compelled to sketch, but the motivation didn’t seem to be coming to her.

Visions in her head were slippery, dancing around then escaping before she could grab hold of any of them, at least for long enough to set them to the blank paper in front of her.

What seemed to be chasing off her muse were thoughts of Roy, and the ways he’d been disappointing her the past few years.

Ironically, it was absence, the very thing said to make the heart grow fonder, that was forcing her discontent up to the surface. Was it just another of the irregularities in her parallel existence that instead of feeling the pain of missing him, what she felt was the dull ache of being let down by his actions and inaction in her life with him?

When it came to the things she enjoyed in her everyday life, the old adage similarly didn't apply. It was hard to miss what you loved to do, when you had completely forgotten what it felt like to experience the joy of doing them.

But now, what she'd tasted again over the last few days was not sitting right in her system. Even just the little nibble of doing things she loved was an overindulgence she couldn't digest properly after years of being starved.

But could she put that all on Roy? Sure, he was typically the one to choose the way they spent their time, but that was only because she didn't speak up and insist that she was there too.

She long ago ceded her agency for the sake of their relationship. There were the rare instances where the ghost of an inner tiger would claw her way out to growl for her own desires, but even after the loudest roar, her stripes could still not change. Because her standing up usually led to a fight or a chit owed to him, to keep the relationship in a good place, she was often the one to back down.  It was just less volatile to go along with the Roy plan but did that make it his fault that she lost part of herself in the process?

Much as she tried to ignore the sour feel in her belly, push away the dark clouding her brain and picture instead the masterful works she saw yesterday, she kept coming back to her dissolution with the man she was supposed to marry, but more so a disappointment in herself.

She closed her eyes and tried to go back to the museum. Gabby, she was aware when she made it, would offer no resistance to her suggestion and yet she hadn't been prepared to take the lead through the halls of the Met. It was that feeling when she did, in choosing where to go and what to see, that she felt as vibrant as the avant-garde paintings on the walls of their first stop after lunch. Works of art she discovered to be quite stunning in their own way, all the more for the sense of power they seemed to conjure up in her.

If she could envision those works again, she might be able to chase away what was gnawing at her today. But they wouldn't come, nor would the classic masterpieces of Monet, Renoir and Seurat they still found time to see yesterday.

Wisps of what they saw flashed like holograms behind her eyes, the more familiar impressionistic canvases lingering just a bit longer inside her lids, but after their visit to the more experimental wings of the museum, seemed somewhat muted and even mundane. But even with her appreciation of and desire for the new, she wasn’t yet ready to give up her love for what was her first inspiration.

The harder she tried to hold the beauty in her head, the more she kept drifting to other days and other places, both in her real past and in this more recent one that she still wasn't sure was authentic. Where the artwork danced in and out, there was one vision that loitered longer than anything else, the episode from the boat when she heard Jim confess his feelings for her.

A week now she’d had to consider the scene that lived rent-free in her head from the moment she'd came upon it.

“… have a big thing for Pam, so...”

“Yeah. She's really funny, and she's warm. And she's just…”

In her rare situation, that was forced upon her by Michael and even to a small degree, by Jim himself, she had, depending on how she viewed it, a curse or a gift, she never would have had otherwise—being able to contemplate exactly what she herself felt about the declaration that came directly from his own lips.

What scared her was how she was certain by now, whatever it was between them, was not one-sided and that for the first time she was not sure she could continue to ignore her growing love for the man that was not her fiancé.

Though she hadn't been able to decipher all that was said as he stood on the deck with their boss, deep down she knew it wasn't over, what he claimed was a crush from long ago. When seven days earlier, what she heard made her weak and dizzy and unable to focus, after she regained her equilibrium, she found herself flattered, validated, and for the fraction of the second she allowed herself to feel so, happier than she’d been in a while, perhaps even more than both times she lived through Roy choosing a date for her to be married.

The curse of it was how short-lived that happiness was, replaced almost instantly by unease and disquiet as she knew she couldn’t or wouldn’t leave Roy. Had he said it earlier that same night, confessed to her instead of Michael on the original night of the trip, she wasn't even certain her reaction would be any different, only more difficult for her because she would surely have to hurt him in the process. But her commitment to Roy, the promise she didn't know how to go back on, made her feel like she had no choice even though her own heart felt torn.

It pained her to imagine what the aftermath of her response might have been; the ways in which their friendship would mutate after she rejected him. How could it not with the truth of his love out there and her essentially telling him she didn't want it, even if that was a lie.

It would for sure weaken the bond that kept them linked to one another and to Dunder Mifflin. She knew she would stay as long as Roy worked downstairs, but Jim, who knew where he might go if their relationship became strained and how much she would miss him if he left.

But he hadn't said it to her and that meant, despite what she heard, she could keep things as they were, not risk what she had with either of them. 

Except now, because of the Time Turner, things were different. The week that passed for her without Roy or Jim in it granted her something she wouldn’t have had if she’d had to return to work the next day—time.

Time to adjust, time to reflect, to compare and look inside herself and gather strength to possibly do what she might never have considered before.

Time, it was a glorious thing and something she learned was pliable, if only with the little bit of magic she had always been suspicious was out there. Not the magic of witchcraft and sorcery like in Harry Potter, but of the unseen forces and signs the universe put out to be found. But if she were to trust in what was happening to her, she had to accept more kinds of magic did exist or at least the sort that bent time and hurdled to this place where she could fully contemplate it.

And she had more of it, another week to come to a decision, the biggest of her life, which is why she forced Jim out of her head too, wanting to savor what was left of her freedom from having to make any big decisions besides what she was going to sketch while she waited for Michael to come around today.

But even after she succeeded in banishing both the men in her life from her head, she still was not able to invoke the beauty they saw or a cityscape or memory of her view of Central Park. She knew she wanted to leave a gift of her art behind for her host, so she went over to the computer in the room and tried to find what Gabby had described, an image of her idol with his white couch as his backdrop.

Finding the iconic photo Gabby spoke of yesterday easily on the Internet, and having a static vision to inspire her, she finally was able to sketch. Using delicate strokes, she began to depict the legend with his Fender guitar and the white couch that in truth looked nothing like the one in the living space outside her temporary room but was nonetheless the reason it was there.  However even as she penciled in features of Elvis’ pompadour-styled dark hair, she was noticing how the profile seemed to look a lot like someone else, someone she still couldn’t quite get out of her head.

He looked different with his hair full and lush, yet groomed and slicked back to sit high above his forehead, but no less dashing. What she saw in the photograph, Elvis’ pensive gaze on the strings, was currently replaced by the look of longing he wore as they stood by the rail on the boat.

Realizing her drawing no longer resembled the star Gabby had once been obsessed over, she pushed it away, before reaching for it again to crumple it up to a ball and toss in the wastebasket under the desk.

She would need to start over, draw something else, but it wouldn't be now. A glance at her watch reminded her how malleable time was, how what felt like minutes had been over an hour and Michael would soon be there to pick her up for the day's activity.

Today, the plan was to go ice skating. On their morning call where he bemoaned to her how bored and lonely he had been when she took off with Randall’s wife, he also reminded her of the promise he could choose what they would do together that day. It wasn't quite what Pam had said, but thinking ice skating could be fun and definitely less risky than any other ideas he might dream up if she vetoed it, she agreed to go.

She only hoped she wouldn't be too tired later to get back to the drawing. With little else she could present Gabby to show her appreciation for opening her home and taking her along to New York, she wanted to at least leave the small token before she would depart from their home Friday night. Of course, her intention was to return with a more substantial gift for each of them once she was reunited with her wallet and credit cards. For Randall, she planned to buy a bottle of the Scotch she saw him pour himself every night and for Gabby, she would look for something with cherubs seeing how fascinated she seemed to be with them.  But an intention couldn’t be gift wrapped, and while neither could her art since she had no extra money to purchase the paper, at least it could be presented as she said goodbye.

It was hard to imagine she’d been with them almost a week. In some ways it seemed longer, the connection she felt with the cameraman and his wife had grown quite close in the last few days. In other ways it felt like she just got there and was almost sad to be leaving. But with her and Roy taking off on their mini vacation tomorrow from work, she needn’t take advantage of their hospitality any longer, not when her own house would be uninhabited until mid-next week. She would likely need to come back to the Stewarts again once she and Roy returned, so leaving them to their privacy for the upcoming days seemed like the proper thing to do.

What was also appropriate with her soon to be empty house, was opening it up to Michael. She was mostly dreading having him stay with her, but after all he’d done for her all week, driving her around and picking up the tab for lunch and groceries, she didn’t feel she had much of a choice and owed him as much. She had the room after all, and the inflatable mattress, plus the office had to be uncomfortable after so many nights. But just like Gabby, she would have to set some ground rules, and this time keep a much closer watch on him. At least she didn't have TiVo, so she was safe there.

The ice rink was nearly empty for the Thursday afternoon session but it turns out it wasn’t everyone else there she had to worry about knocking her off her unsteady skates. It took three laps whipping past her at full speed and one, inch-from-her-feet, hockey stop that unsettled her enough she almost fell over, but still did drench her legs with a flurry of wet snow shavings, before he realized how tenuous her balance was on the ice. But once he saw how shaky she was, he stopped his showboating long enough to teach her how to glide on her skates. Under his tutelage she was able to find her footing and actually began to enjoy herself, managing to forget all the other worries that had been skating through her mind before the outing.

She almost considered it when he suggested they come again tomorrow, but in the end decided she wanted to get spend a little more time alone with Gabby. Besides, she was about to get all the Michael she could handle, so she felt it best to get a little separation from him until he descended upon her and her home.

On the way home from the rink, he broke the good news that he would not be coming to stay with her at her house.

“I’ve booked a trip to Sandals, Grenada. Not only is it all-inclusive, but I learned there’s no better way to learn a language than to immerse yourself somewhere it’s spoken. So, when I get back, I’ll be well rested, well-fed and fluent in Spanish.”

It was almost a good idea and would certainly keep him out of trouble, even if his bronzed skin might be hard to explain next Friday.  She was however, somewhat certain Spanish was not the native language or even spoken much at all on the Caribbean Island, and was about to tell him, when he broke out in laughter.

“I’m just joking. I wouldn’t go off on another trip without my new travel companion. But we should consider this place for our next excursion. Did I mention it’s all-inclusive?”

There was zero chance she would ever go to Sandals with him, but she kept that to herself, not wanting to get into the many reasons why it was never going to happen.

"Michael, this trip was more than enough travel for us this year. And I'm already using all my vacation days with going away next week and then my wedding and honeymoon."

"I guess," he said, his voice becoming sadder as quiet filled the car after her rejection. If this was his reaction to what was an absurd invitation, it got her thinking again how drastic the effect could be from being turned down.

Not surprised at the power his gloominess had over her, she heard herself make the offer again to at least come stay with her for the few days, immediately realizing how as usual she was self-sacrificing her own good fortune to make someone else happy.

"It's tempting. Normally, I'd love to spend an evening or two at Casa Anderson… see what I did there, but truth is I'm quite enjoying myself staying at the office. There's a lot to discover in our little home away from home."

Cheery once again, he began to tell her about his evenings at Dunder Mifflin and the explorations of the spaces he was discouraged from visiting during working hours and those he was unaware even existed.

The warehouse, he said was like an amusement park, especially without Darryl there to tell him what he could and couldn’t touch. Pam had to wonder what kind of messes her fiancé and the rest of the crew were finding when they got in each morning and how long it would take before they reported the curious break-ins where nothing was stolen but things were strangely out of place or, knowing Michael, potentially broken.

He discovered how nice the woman’s bathroom was, remarking however how he didn’t appreciate the thing written about him on the wall. He had taken to sleeping on the cozy couch in the potpourri-scented room. Pam made a mental note to have it steamed cleaned next week and in fact have the whole place sanitized once she learned how he was thrilled at the convenience of knowing he could wake in the middle of the night and already be in the bathroom when he had to go.

But it was the large closet space below their floor that he said was his greatest finding. In it was an old, rusty and exposed, but working shower. Between the kitchen, the ladies’ room that became his temporary bedroom, the warehouse playground and the means to wash up, he had all the luxuries of home, but with none of the rules set upon him when he was a guest in someone else’s place. 

He was most excited about the space with the shower. With no doors separating it from the rest of the room, he learned during his combined morning shower and singing sessions, what an acoustically-perfect sound chamber the closet was. The lyric baritone when channeling his inner Elvis reverberated seemingly forever off the walls and even his falsetto had a pleasing echo as it bounced back to his ears.

When next he tested the audio quality in the room from out the small boom box he borrowed from the warehouse, he discovered how harmoniously the bass frequencies and treble tones combined, rivaling the acoustical renown of Tinks.

Excitedly, he shared his plans with Pam. How he would contact Billy Merchant again, this time to inquire about renting the space in order to convert it to a dance hall and lounge, a place for Dunder Mifflin employees to go blow off steam during a tough day. With much more capacity than in the conference room and no table to remove before each disco session, he asserted it was going to be awesome. She could only imagine all the extra work converting a closet to a discotheque would entail for her in the future.

However, in the present she was grateful he preferred to spend his nights at the office and focus on plan café disco since it meant he wouldn’t be coming back to stay with her.

««««

The last dinner with the Stewarts was lovely. While she was off ice skating with Michael, Gabby had prepared one of her favorite meals, and Randall came home with a pie for dessert. The couple was obviously still too new in town to know no place had pies like the Glider Diner, but she happily enjoyed her slice anyway and made a mental note to work a tip about the diner into a future conversation with Gabby.

Or maybe all she had to do was bring it up at the office. Randall apparently had picked up his share of tidbits about everyone who worked there via the day-to-day conversations that happened between the more amusing antics the crew he was part of was hired to capture on camera. It had to be how he knew about her love for pierogies prepared with caramelized onions like her mom used to make, and how salmon was a treat she didn’t get to have often since Roy wasn’t a fan of fish. Naturally, he’d shared what he’d learned with his wife in order for her to have planned the perfect meal to end her week with them.

The next day, following a lunch on her own since Gabby had some errands to run before her afternoon tutoring sessions, Pam got back to her drawing. This time she scrapped all attempts at sketching Elvis, as the Elvis that lived in her head had Michael’s voice and Jim’s face. Instead, she did her best to retrieve in her mind a vision of the sculpture her host admired so much at the museum and managed to produce what she felt was a precise outline of what she’d remembered.

Proud of the sleeping cupid she drew, she added depth and detail with shades of mossy green blended with highlights of deep blue and signed her name in the corner when complete. She knew it wasn’t much of a gift but somehow, she knew Gabby would love it. Tucking the drawing into her sketch book, she planned to give it to Gabby just before she left.

When she was done, she thoroughly straightened the room she’d been sleeping in that week, folding up the sheets and towels and piling them on the pull-out which she folded back up to a couch once more. There was really nothing more to do but wait until Gabby got back and then Michael came around to chauffeur her home, so she went to grab the library book she’d finished from her packed bag and start it again. Now with the foresight gained having competed it through to the end, her perspective would be different and so too would the read. But it was that kind of story, where with each read, she knew she’d see something new, maybe even a clue to help her with her own time travel situation.

The book had shifted to the bottom of the duffle, so she burrowed through the clothes and assorted other items to feel around for it when she felt something prick her finger. It took a moment for her to register what could have caused the almost painless stab and didn’t believe her eyes when she saw the glint of the tiny gemstone there at the bottom of the bag.

It was the sapphire earring she’d lost years ago, sister to the one that remained lonely in its original velvet box, buried deep in her dresser drawer.

The pair, which they had been when Roy gave them to her as the first birthday present after they got engaged, had only been together for a few months before their inadvertent separation. Finding the mate and remembering the gift had Pam feeling regretful of her complaint to Gabby that Roy had never surprised her with anything romantic. Even though they were given for an occasion, a birthday from years ago, and as she later found out, had been suggested by her own mother (not a big revelation, Roy coming up with something blue to wear at the wedding was absolutely not an original idea from his head), they were still one of the most thoughtful presents he’d even given her.

She remembered how devastated she was when she lost one and how scared she was to tell him. 

Because she’d been wearing the little blue studs so often, she was sure he would notice when they fell out of the regular rotation of adornments for her ears.

She searched high and low for weeks, determined to find the lost gemstone before she would have to tell him it was gone, changing routines and clothes to keep it secret until it turned up. She would wait until he left the room to put on her jewelry in the morning. The berry blue cardigan she bought to match the earrings got switched out for her older pink one. She kept her hair loose in the morning to hide her ears, not pulling her curls back into the clip until she was up at her reception desk.

It never turned up.

But Roy never noticed either.

She’d been terrified of the conversation when he asked why she never wore them anymore but it never happened. Not once in almost three years did he ever ask about or suggest she wear the gift he gave her. And since he didn’t ask, she never told him about the loss.

Funny thing was, Jim had noticed. Not so much about the earrings but he asked her why she stopped wearing the vivid blue sweater, the one he said looked really good on her. Their friendship was still new at that time, and that’s why she became so embarrassed when she broke into tears telling him about the lost earring. But there was no judgement from Jim, only a shoulder to cry on and an offer to help her look for it, even though she was sure by then it was long gone.

She knew sooner or later she would have to tell Roy she would not be wearing the something blue he gave her to their wedding. She only hoped when the time came, he would be as calm and understanding as Jim had been.

To be fair, there was no real cause for Jim to become upset. The gift was not from him and he wasn’t her fiancé. The symbolic stones absent from her ears had no deeper meaning to him like they should to Roy. But still she somehow felt she wouldn’t have been as afraid to tell him if had been the one to give her them, if he were to be the man who would be waiting at the end of the aisle when the lucky blue that competed the saying was not his gifted earrings but a periwinkle handkerchief or sky-colored bra under her gown instead. Somehow, she knew he would only be upset for her and not at her as she feared Roy would be when he eventually found out. It was the first time she ever let her mind wander to think about him in Roy’s place and just as quickly, she pushed the idea out of her head.

After the months, then a full year passed and still no date was planned, she began to think it was in a small way her own fault, that the stones held some power and losing one was what was keeping her wedding in a state of limbo.

It was only her mother’s dismissing the notion that convinced her one had nothing to do with the other and their time would come soon enough.

After a while, she stopped worrying about the missing ‘something blue’ but from time to time the idea crossed her mind she’d be married by now if she hadn’t been so careless, consuming her with guilt when it did.

It wasn’t the only thought that sometimes filled her head and riddled her belly with an ulcer of remorse every time.

More and more she remembered that vision she once had where Jim was the groom waiting at the end of her veiled walk down the aisle.

Every time it appeared to her, she would just as quickly banish it, send it off to the oblivion where the lost blue earring must also have gone.

Until this week.

This week, something had changed.

It wasn’t just that she was not in her home with Roy or that she didn’t miss him as much as she felt she should.

It wasn’t just what she heard Jim say on the boat or that he was the person she felt the ache of missing as she went about her days.

It wasn’t the comparison of her romance to that of Gabby’s, a charming fairy tale that sounded too idyllic to be true.

It was all of it and more, the combination of everything contributing to a revelation that slowly grew as the days ticked by. Maybe she was realizing she didn’t truly want to marry Roy and through this experience she could find the courage to call it off.

But she couldn’t be sure it wasn’t just the extraordinary circumstance giving her pause. That she wasn’t real and therefore neither were her feelings. Being stuck in what felt like a movie plot, made her think she couldn’t trust her state of mind; that everything would change again when she woke up from the fantastical dream or when lightning struck the clock tower and the film approached its conclusion.

As she headed into her last week, and back to the home she lived in with Roy, she hoped she would find more of an answer. Despite his physical absence, she imagined being in their space would help the feelings of doubt go away, and bring back the absolute delight she’d been feeling before she came back in time.

That bliss, that elation they’d be getting married, tangible in her mind before her trip, ever since had begun to fade like the McFly family in the photo Marty had during his time travels.

Until, just like Sleeping Beauty, a prick of her finger spun everything around.

Only this was a very different fairy tale. One where she had already been trapped under a three-year curse that at long last seemed to be lifting.

And now that the missing earring was back in her possession, she had reason to believe all the disenchantment she'd been having about Roy and her marriage to him, would soon float away too.

The sapphire she held between her fingers felt full of the magic she had always believed in. Its timely arrival was no doubt a blue beacon, a sign from above pointing her back to the love she had with Roy, and directing her to once again bury any feelings she imagined she could have for Jim.

And so back into the vault they went.

The reunited stones, once back in her ears, could again be amulets of her love for Roy and a reminder of how things once were and how they could be again, now that the wedding was happening in five short months.

And she couldn’t wait to get home and put them both on.

End Notes:

I know, it was one step forward and then a football field's length back.  By the end of the chapter, even I wanted to shake her and I'm writing the one writing the story but it's still season two Pam and you know what they say about those stripes, they don't change, at least not yet they don't.

The soundtrack song for this chapter  -  I love this lesser-known, in my head - from Jim to Pam ballad and though it doesn't quite fit the story line, I decided to share it anyway. And maybe, though it's released ten years after this story, she'll hear it. Anything is possible in a time travel story.

Blue Ain't Your Color

Chapter 20 - There's No Place Like Home by Maxine Abbott
Author's Notes:

Last read in 360:

Pam tried to sketch some art for Gabby, but Elvis looked like Jim who she was having a harder time keeping out of her head. Michael and Pam went ice skating and discussed his adventures back at the office after hours. Pam enjoyed a last meal with the Stewarts. Pam drew the Sleeping Eros instead as a gift for her host and while waiting for Michael to come pick her up found a long-lost earring that she took as a sign.

ꚙꚙꚙꚙꚙꚙꚙ

It’s a long one folks so buckle up – usually try to keep them shorter but I just didn’t see a place to break this in two but feel free to read in pieces. I suggest breaking for dessert like Pam and Michael did.

Waking up in her own bed, with her blue earrings on, didn’t quite make the difference she expected it might.

If anything, her sleep was more restless and unsettled than it had been while she slumbered at the Stewart's.

She still awoke in the same anxious state, with her heart racing and her mind struggling to reconcile where she was and where she had gone overnight. The feeling of disorientation no less palpable even as her eyes took in the familiar walls of her own bedroom. Maybe it was due seeing them with a clarity she wasn't accustomed to instead of the hazy blur that had always been her view before she reached for her glasses or put in her contacts.

But something told her it wasn't just that. Just as with each morning since the Friday following her repeated outing on Lake Wallenpaupack, there was an unease as she wakened, a perception something hugely significant had happened while she slept but just what, she couldn’t put her finger on.

An awkward sense of not knowing what was real and what was part of the visceral dream.

A feeling a lot like déjà vu, but with the acute awareness it was no mere glitch in her memory making her feel like the days she was living had already passed, even as she went about them taking new actions and engaged in new activities. 

And how each unique thing she experienced left a discordant imprint of the day in her head.

It was no wonder every morning began in the state of flux it did.

But as with every other daybreak of the last week, once the heart palpitations slowed and she reconciled the two divergent days with any overnight visions she added to the mix, she was almost able to accept the reality she was in.

And while her slumber had been more troubled and broken up, the morning fretfulness subsided faster than usual. Maybe being home did help after all.

Perhaps, the difference today was the touch of the surrounding familiar, the comfort of her bed, the sound of a fire truck's siren blast as it passed by outside her window and the scent of her sheets, a mix of her regular fabric softener blended with the faint whiff of Roy’s masculine aroma.

Her existence, as she knew of it in this other dimension, seemed more believable and real with the backdrop of her own house and her more recognizable life, and yet she couldn't one hundred percent trust that it was. Especially with the house so silent and only her reflection in the bathroom mirror to confirm she was there and keep her company.

Into it she stared, touching her face to sense its realness and searching it for hints of the happiness she expected to have upon returning to the home she made with Roy. Seeing only a vacant expression staring back at her, she reached back to gather her hair off her face in preparation for the three-step cleansing routine she had forgone while at the Stewart's. Though she missed many a day too at home when too distracted in the morning to do more than splash her face with water, she expected the full week of neglect was in some way responsible for lack of glow on her skin. 

It was here she caught the sparkle she had been looking for in her eyes, flashing off her ears instead, the faceted blue stones gathering the light refracted from hot bulbs in the wall fixtures and sun streaks streaming in through the window. 

The reminder of what the gems represented, and the upcoming event they were intended for, brought a genuine smile to her face that lingered for a beat, until seized upon by a breach into the vault where she had stored all the new information collected while reliving her past life and shoved all the unspoken feelings the knowledge stirred up inside of her.

What was supposed to be impenetrable, closed off with an airtight seal, was showing to have gaps where the doubts and the what-ifs seeped in to taint what she thought she knew and how she felt.

However, in this mixed-up, backwards situation, where time was layered back over itself and events were not always as they presented, it was hard to even trust what she saw with her own eyes, what she heard with her own ears and what effect being aware of it all had on her heart.

Real or not, she was trying desperately to not let any of it sway her intentions of moving forward. Knowing the depth of what Jim so clearly still felt for her, despite his telling her it was a little crush that was over a long time ago in the yesterday of her other life, should have no bearing on her circumstances.

Accepting it didn’t make her any less engaged or any less devoted to Roy.

At least she wanted to believe that.

But as she stood in front of her own image what she saw staring back was not the face of an elated soon-to-be bride. Even when she forced her lips to curl up into a smile, it didn't spread wide enough to reach her eyes. It didn't remind her of the resplendent glow that came over Gabby's face as she shared the tale of her and Randall’s romance. It didn't even match the radiance that she recalled on her own face as she stood across from Jim when they first reached the railing when back on the boat.

How she longed for her poor eyesight at that moment, wanting nothing more than to blur out what was in front of her. Turning on the faucet, she didn't even wait for the temperature to warm before she splashed the water to her face, obscuring her vision but not the memories of the week she just relived.

As she exfoliated and scrubbed, she kept her eyes closed while her mind wandered about, thoughts of all the emotions brought to light from conversations she witnessed and rather interesting ones she had; realizations about herself and the two men in her life taking on an intensity that reminded her of the more experimental pieces of art she and Gabby admired the other day at the Met.

Recollections of times Roy made her feel small and insignificant lined her mind like sharp-edged formations of angry violets, shocking indigos and gangrene olive hues, whereas thoughts of fun times with Jim seemed just as vivid but more like splashes of paint that in their haphazardness screamed of the playfulness and optimism he seemed to always have for her.

But randomly popping up were also the many good memories with Roy. As she continued with the foaming cleanser, the second tier to the process she'd been practicing since her acne-filled high school days, many more of these arrived, she supposed taking so much longer to reach her consciousness because they had to travel from further back.

They were more like watercolors, subdued and diaphanous, but she was sure they only seemed less vivid because they were blunted and watered down by issues and fights that the last few years with him were layered with. Every relationship had them and it was only because she was not in a romantic one with Jim that his colors seemed brighter, that the abstracts she associated with him had fewer of those harsh edges.

Moreover, she was wary of letting the things she saw and felt while in this dimension become the catalyst for change in the other, since she was still not sure what this other dimension even was.

No matter what she experienced here, on the other side was her real life and she was afraid to jeopardize what she’d waited so long for.

It was a week ago now, or was it three, her brain no longer able to correctly track the passage of time, that at last she had seen the light at the end of the tunnel.  She would have her wedding and become wife to her man. That’s what she’d been waiting for and it was going to be worth the wait. It had to be.

Never mind that over the course of the week there were those misgivings hovering, making her doubt he was the one meant to be her man.

But even now as she tried to convince herself, seeing a marriage as the end of a tunnel just didn’t seem right. Marriage wasn’t a destination; it was a journey to take together.

But it was also a binding of hearts joined through a history and there was no denying she had that with Roy.

And he did love her.

Finding the earring yesterday was a reminder of that.

What could be a stronger sign from the universe that she was meant to be with him?

And she did love him, despite all his faults.

It was her homecoming with the one blue stud in her ear that brought that love to the forefront of her mind. As soon as she walked in the door, her arms full with her duffle and the small bag of groceries picked up from an out-of-the-way supermarket, purchased with her short supply of cash, she felt his both his presence and a small sadness that he wasn't really there.

Unloading what she bought, a smaller yield since for it was only what she needed for herself, she felt odd not unpacking Doritos, which he devoured by the bagful and his Lucky Charms cereal and reflected on the thought that she had only herself to cook for this week.

There was a strange enjoyment she got from making him happy, buying his favorite foods and preparing the meals he liked. If he was around when she arrived home from shopping, he’d sometimes join her in the kitchen to unload, and the little smile that would come over his face as she unpacked his snacks, was enough to bring one to hers too. And even though they almost never ate their dinners at the table, he was no less full of praise for her cooking, both in his compliments or his greedy devourment of the meal as they watched TV.

After unpacking in the kitchen, and recovering the earring that she'd kept hidden in her dresser ever since the mate went missing, she moved on to unpack her travel bag, bringing her worn clothes from the week to the small room in the back where the washer and drier were. A basket of dirty laundry sat upon the machine waiting to be washed with Roy’s old jersey lain on top. She fingered the peeling decal that used to spell out Anderson as the name on the back had lost a few letters in the years since he picked her out of all the cheerleaders, female jocks, and other popular girls at Valley View to be the one to wear it the day after the championship game. The name that after nine years would at last be hers.

Back before that was even a thought in her mind, it just made her feel special to be his girlfriend, as she realized that’s what she was when after a few weeks of seeing each other only outside of school he finally let it be known she was the girl he was dating by grabbing her hand as they walked out of class and leaving her with a kiss at her locker.

Remembering that kiss and how, though it was no more than a quick peck it made her happier than if she had been named homecoming queen, something that even as Roy’s girlfriend was never going to happen at her school.  She could practically feel it on her lips and that same elation washed over her.  This time the kiss making it official would have a more accurate definition of the word since it would also be the one that made her his wife.

Just like back then, she lived through a period of uncertainty about what she was to him and where things were going that had her confused and self-conscious, but she had learned early on about his issues with taking risks and adapting to change.

The only place he had claimed to have no fear when it came to making big moves was on the playing field.

But everywhere else, he said it was paralyzing to him. She got that. It was a way they were alike, and one of the things that they found they had in common when they were first getting to know each other.

In their early days and through most stages of their relationship he assured her his hesitance was not about his not wanting to be with her, had no bearing on his love for her. He always had troubles with taking any big steps before he knew he was really ready. It was knowing this that allowed her to accept the six-year wait for the initial proposal and the three-year wait for an actual date.

But in the early stage of them, before she knew all this and before they went public, she had her concerns that he was only pretending to like her so she would keep helping him in class and tutor him in private. When she taught him enough that he no longer needed as much of her help but continued to come over for extra lessons or just to hang out, she let herself believe he was really into her and even though it was secretive, that they were dating.

There was something too, in the way he got so excited as she helped him to grasp the concepts that confused him and would gush over how no one else was ever able to get him to understand the science crap they were forced to learn.

She liked the feeling helping him gave her and felt gratified that she alone could reach him on a deeper level, and that she was the one he said made him a better student and even a better athlete with his desire to make her proud.

To this day he still would turn to her when there was something he didn’t understand and claimed she knew how to explain things in the way he could, whether it be comprehending the plot of a movie or learning how to set up an Excel spreadsheet to track his fantasy football players. And she still got a huge high from being his tutor.

Thinking back on those early tutoring dates had her reflecting about what else they did when they were supposed to be studying.

The make-out sessions that got quite intense and very quickly moved past kissing and heavy petting, as he tutored her in a very different subject.

That physical connection between them still existed. He, though a little thicker around the middle, still exuded a masculinity that she was still attracted to.

When it came to lovemaking, they had a familiarity with each other that came from his having been her first and only. He’d been only a little more experienced than her when they started dating, so they learned together what they liked and how to please one other.

Their sex life was good. Sure, sometimes she wished he concentrated more on what he knew she liked and paid a little more attention to her arousal before making it all about his but there were the times when he put that effort in it, and mmmm.  Even just thinking about it while stood alone in the laundry room had her blushing. As she thought about what he and her alter ego had been doing just the night before at the hotel, she felt her cheeks flame up even more. Just as their love life had once again heated up in the weeks after the night of the booze cruise.

It was one more confirmation to her that now that they were once again on track, their relationship would spring back to all that it once was, with the issue of his commitment, no longer clouding over what they had.

And while she knew setting the date didn’t fix everything and her life with Roy was not always perfect, it was good. And she could work a little harder too, to be the person who helped him be the Roy she fell in love with.

She decided she was going to be happy in her choice, stick to her original decision, the one to go ahead with plans to marry her high school sweetheart. She was almost convinced it was the right one for her.

Then why did she still feel so unsure?

She chalked it up to being alone in their house.

It wasn’t something new, it wasn’t even something she didn’t look forward to every so often leaving her to her books or control of the television, but today it seemed harder than usual to enjoy.

No wonder Michael seemed so desperate to spend his days in this existence with her. In his real life, except for the time he was at Dunder Mifflin, he was always alone.

As she thought more about it, she realized this week his time at the office was when the rest of his employees weren't there, so once he got kicked out of Randall and Gabby’s house, aside from the limited time he spent with her, he was pretty much alone all the time.

It had to be hard on him, like it was for her now.

She was doubly confused why he chose not to stay with her at her place, but decided not to look a gift horse in the mouth. As much as she felt a little lonely, she knew it was safer not to have Michael as a house guest.

As the weekend passed, the time alone got easier and Pam found ways to busy herself, to keep her brain occupied and not focused on the men who without even knowing it, kept attempting to impinge on her thoughts and make a mess of her plans for the future.

The book she began again back when waiting on Michael was an even better read the second time, but she felt listless after more than an hour with a story she knew where was headed and took to taking breaks where she would sketch images of Clare, the artist featured in the novel. She was too afraid to depict Henry for fear he would have the face of a different man, just like when she drew Elvis. The one whose heart it still pained her to think of breaking now that she was choosing Roy.

She wasn’t sure who she identified with more, the artist left behind or the traveler who defied the science of reason, but when Henry would go to his other timelines, Clare would pass the time he was gone with her craft which is what gave her the idea to do the same.

Digging out her easel and watercolors she soon found the hours no longer interminable as she lost herself in painting.

Using a cup of tea as the first model, she carefully daubed at the paper canvas to recreate the ridges of the mug and the shadows it cast on the wall behind it. Setting up a bowl of fruit next, she had to use her imagination to conjure up the green grapes and pears that would fill it up. With her limited funds she'd only brought a small batch of red ones and three bananas, and they had been meant for her to eat, rather than be the subject of her still life art.

Her memory served her well and being quite pleased with the result, she used her mind's eye to evoke other images to recreate; a bouquet of her favorite peonies which she planned to feature at her upcoming wedding but in this case the vase was a reproduction of a ewer she’d admired in Gabby’s kitchen.

Her mind drifting to the office, she honed in on her internal memory to replicate the Swingline stapler that sat at her desk before trying her hand at an abstract, using splashes and sprays off her brush to represent the jelly beans she kept atop it.

Losing track of time, if that was even possible being these days in that she wasn’t quite sure if time was passing her and not the other way around, she painted through the hours and by the end of the weekend she had created enough pieces to have her own wing at the Met.

Even so, despite the craft she lost herself in, she still had bouts where too much quiet got to her.

It was mostly at mealtime, after the roar coming from her middle announced it was time for a break and a bite, when she left the easel for the kitchen and sat down to lonely meal after lonely meal.

While she’d eaten by herself many a night while Roy was at the bar or out with friends, even that first Friday dinner seemed much sadder and isolating after the lively dinners she’d been having with Gabby and Randall.

By the time Sunday night rolled around not only did she realize she had not heard from Michael in a few days, a concern in itself, but was also desperate for some company, and she decided to call him.

On the first night when he dropped her off, while on the way back to her place, they worked out a system so they could stay in touch with one another until the time she needed to vacate her house again. The plan involving her letting the phone ring a specific number of times and then Michael would ring her back and pretend to be a weight loss pill salesman. Of course, the fake salesman call back to her was unnecessary since it was only this Pam who was home to receive any landline calls, but it seemed to make Michael happy to be in on some form of secret plan so she went along. In the end having the arrangement was a good thing when on Monday he forgot the number of rings, not surprisingly as, by his design, they changed with the day. Eventually, Pam had to speak aloud after the third call she made to the two Michaels. Luckily, when both Michaels answered again and again, they both seemed to assume there was a delay and echo in the phone as Michael Scott here reverberated through it. She almost hung up as she had the first two times but, in the end, she used her own best sales pitch in a phony voice to sell them both diet pills, praying her Michael would figure it out, hang up and call her back.

She heard one of the lines disconnect and wasn’t quite sure which of the two left the call, only realizing who stayed on the line when he remarked how he had been overeating the last week and could use a miracle pill to help him lose the weight he was sure he had put on, but could she do better on the price.

When finally, she revealed it was a call from his Pam and not a cold-calling salesperson, she with apprehension invited him to join her at her place for lunch the next day.

It was as if she’d asked him to the prom, he reacted with such emotion, his voiced getting choked up as he accepted and asked what he should bring and how he should come dressed and if she liked red wine.

She immediately worried she was making a huge mistake, but still did not rescind the invitation.

“Wear what you would any other day, Michael. And don’t bring wine. This is not a date. After my last few meals by myself, I thought of you eating alone each day and thought you might enjoy the company.”

She thought she heard him crying on the end after she spoke and when she caught his indelicate snort, the inhaling of mucus and tears up though his prominent nose she knew he without a doubt was.

“But Michael, don’t make me regret this. It’s just lunch and while we eat, we can devise a plan for our Packer stakeout since we don’t want this whole trip to be for nothing.”

The sniffles from the other end which had all but tapered off came back as Michael seemed to remember the odors that overtook his office, first from Packer’s package and then from his horrible new carpet. 

“Oh yeah, Packer. Forgot about that. Good thinking my Pink Pamther.”

For a man who could tell her the name of the kid who tortured him in his middle school science class, she was more than a little nonplussed he didn’t remember how this whole tricky time travel situation started and who essentially, they had come back to stop from making the mess that began it.

Reminded again, how his memory of useless information had an elephant-like quality, but for important details was more like a sieve, she recited her address again. She didn’t need him knocking on the door of Roy’s relatives looking for her when he came by tomorrow for their 1:30 lunch.

“And Michael, park down the block and try to be discrete when you come to the door. Better yet, come around back so nobody sees you.”

Of course, the next day at 12:30 the front doorbell rang.

She hardly had to look out the peephole to know it was him but tiptoed up to reach the small circle just above her eye line. The distorted view of two Glider Diner bags held high next to Michael’s grinning face softened the annoyance she felt that he was both early and at the wrong entrance and she swiftly stepped back to open the door only to find he was no longer there.

The knock on the back door a minute later told Pam he just remembered his instructions.

Pam walked back through the kitchen to the rear door and ushered Michael in.

“I didn’t know what you liked so I got a few different sandwiches, burgers, cheese fries and of course, pie.”

Well at least because he was early, Pam had not yet started making the egg salad she had planned on serving and it was sweet of him to bring options. It was obvious he still was on the time traveler’s diet. Not only was he feeding the extra appetite that seemed to be a side effect of bending time, but seemed to no longer be worried about the pounds he gained by indulging that voracious hunger.

Pam had all week been trying not to give in to the demands of her often-ravenous stomach, eating only enough to quiet the sound of the insistent rumbles. Not only because her budget prevented her from overdoing it while food shopping but because of concern about which version of herself would remain at the end of this journey. The one that did would need to fit into a wedding dress by summer, and it was that she told herself when she still felt unsatisfied after her lonely meals.

But as Michael unloaded the sandwiches from the bag and the smells of bacon and burgers wafted through the room, she decided one day of overeating couldn’t hurt.

Over lunch they had a quite pleasant chat, about Michael’s explorations in the warehouse and his plans for his new disco café which she learned more about as they feasted on the abundance of food.

Even with the enthusiastic appetite they shared from their similar condition, they were too full after the big meal to enjoy the pie right away.

She hadn’t anticipated they would indulge in a multi-course feast, and hadn't expected the extended visit and she certainly hadn't planned on giving him a tour of her home, so the makeshift art studio she'd set up in the family room was still a haphazard mess. All the watercolors she had spent the weekend working on were left out to dry, the display of them covering most of the surfaces in the space.

However, Michael's request to see the rest of her place and the suggestion they retreat to the den wasn't so unreasonable. It just felt too rude to deny him that courtesy while they digested in order to make room for the delicious pie the Glider Diner was known for.

And if she were to one day be a true artist, the whole point was to have others view her work. Art was meant to be seen and shared. And it was just Michael, he had color-by-number paintings hung on his office wall. It felt silly of her to be so self-conscious but she was. Even being proud with herself wasn't enough to wash away her own self-doubt.

But reluctantly she set down her ice tea, hoping he would parrot her action before she invited him to follow her down the hall to the den. He trailed but with his hand still firmly grasped around the sweating glass.

As he entered the room, from behind her she heard the gasp and whipped around expecting to find his ice tea spilled on the carpet or worse, splashed all over one of her paintings.

But the glass still sat firm in his hand as his face lit up, his eyes nearly bulging out of their sockets.

“Wow, Pamcasso. You did these? Freehand”

Pam smiled demurely at first but soon she was grinning as his eyes darted from the easel where her most recent work was still in progress to the others that lined the table.

“Yup”

“My God. These could be tracings.”

As he gushed, warmth surged up from her nose as her eyes filled with moisture. Suddenly overcome with emotion, she stood back, trying to hide her teary face as he took in her art. The way he studied each piece with wondrous fascination was just as she had the other day while taking in Matisse and Picasso. Because she knew Michael had no poker face whatsoever, she also knew his reaction was genuine.

His eyes passed over the few still lifes on the table but it was when he turned to discover the series of buildings that sat atop a slipcovered couch that he became transformed.  

Right into his alter ego of Elvis Scott or Michael Presley as the character was also known as.

“Honey,” he said while curling up both his collar and lip. “You painted my beloved Grace Estate. Thank you, thank you very much.”

While normally irritated by the Elvis-impersonating Michael, today she was tickled by it, if not a little surprised he could identify the home she depicted. Of course, he didn’t quite get the name right but that was classic him.

“I’m surprised you know it, Michael.”

“He’s the King is he not? Doesn't everyone know about his palace?"

"First Michael, it's called Graceland not Grace Estate."

He dropped the bad southern drawl and uncurled his lip and the Michael Scott she knew was back.

"Are you sure?"

"Yes, Michael, positive. And I think most people know the correct name but probably wouldn't know what it looked like, and wouldn't be able to identify it in a painting based off my memory of a photo I pulled up on the Internet. I'm quite impressed. You know Gabby is also a big Elvis fan and…"

Pam started to explain what had inspired her to paint the iconic residence of Gabby’s, and apparently Michael’s idol, but he seemed to have lost interest in anything Elvis as he moved on to the next painting. He took a step up to get a better look, the wet glass now dangerously close for her taste, but to her complete shock he realized it before the droplets running down the side dripped onto her hard work and he handed his drink off to Pam.

“Look at this one. Wow. You nailed it. That's our building Pam, our home.”

Pam walked to the nearby sill to set down the glass.

"There's my... window,” he continued to gush over the watercolor.

“...and there's my car! My real car, not the boring Honda I've been stuck driving this past week. Wow do I miss my Sebring. I miss you baby.”

He crooned to the painting, reaching out to pet the lone car depicted in the lot.

“Careful, Michael.”

She knew the paint had long since dried. All of them had, even the one still on the easel. She left them out because she could, because she felt proud of what she accomplished and with Roy not there she could keep them out a few days more to remind herself of the talent she had within her. The talent she felt she might one day put to use if she could just hone it a tad more and find a place where it was valued.

"I want it, Pam. I want to buy it for the office.”

“You’re kidding, right.”

“Why would I be kidding? That’s our building and you’ve done an incredible job capturing it. It needs to be on display and where better than inside the walls of Dunder Mifflin? So how much?”

Unable to keep herself from doing it, she reached her arms around her boss to hug him. Nobody had made her feel so talented before, not even Roy who’d been claiming to be a fan of her art since high school, and yet not a single item of her creation was on display in their home, until now, and due to the circumstances, this exhibition would have a limited run.

A limited run that following that afternoon had one less piece.

She didn’t want to take any money from him, considering that he’d been covering so many of the expenses over last week, but he insisted. Of course, when he went into his wallet for her payment, the only paper in there was an old dry cleaner receipt and a gum wrapper so her compensation was a chit.

Still, the slip that read I owe Pam Beesly for this absolutely stunning and awe-inspiring painting of art, was worth more to her than gold.

“Now, where can I go to get this masterpiece framed?” he asked as he picked up his purchase to admire it once more.

“Um, Michael’s”

He stared at her blankly

“Um, Pam.”

“No Michael. The store, Michael’s. You can buy a frame there.”

Had he really never heard of the craft chain that bore his name? She could only imagine the mini explosion happening in his head. Moreover, the bigger disaster that would occur when he entered the arts and crafts emporium being it was the kind of place that could inspire someone like Michael to try his hand at scrapbooking, candle-making, baking, floral arranging, and more, and all at once. 

She almost thought to suggest she go with him so he wouldn’t overdo it. She did want to pick up more paint and while it might be nice to spend the next month in artisan workshops in the conference room, she knew it was unwise to have the rest of the staff pulled away from their real jobs to make jewelry, decorate woodworks or commemorate memories into a book with stickers and other embellishments.

But she decided against it. For one her cash was almost gone and she herself often got carried away when shopping at Michael’s and knowing herself might blow the rest of it replenishing the paint she used up this week. She didn’t think Michael’s would take an IOU, even one from a fellow Michael, though she could see him asking how much of a discount they give for customers who bear their namesake, and that was only a fraction of the mayhem she predicted witnessing if she accompanied him on that shopping trip.

The trip she was already on with him had been trouble enough and though at that moment, she was basking in the joy of Michael’s tremendous praise, it wasn’t quite enough to ameliorate all the concerns their travel created.

Besides, she had something she wanted to do after he left her alone again.

»»»»»»»

Glider Diner’s pie never tasted so good.

Back in the kitchen, they refilled their bellies with the sweet taste of apples and spices, but for Pam it wasn’t just her stomach that was overstuffed. Her mind too was swirling with too many thoughts to fit comfortably inside.

One meditation taking up space in her head, was the confidence she was feeling about her talent. Sure, she knew it was Michael and his opinion wasn’t worth much but still she felt a boost to think about art classes or find some way to do something more with it once this vacation from reality was over.

But that wasn’t the only thing she had on her mind. Foremost in her head presently was the reflection that their home had not a single piece of her artwork hung up in it. How Roy’s reaction to her art was never even close to what her bosses had been.

She recalled the last thing she drew for him, the sketch on the homemade holiday card she attached to his gift, a colorful drawing of the jet skis, sinking into snowy fields instead of the lake where they regularly were put to use. Santa’s hat hung off one of the handles.

It wasn’t a masterpiece, but she was proud of how it came out, and while he made some comment about it when he opened it, she hadn’t seen it since and wondered had he tossed it away with the wrapping paper.

She knew he wasn’t as sentimental as her, saving every generic card that he bought, even though they always said the same simple three words…love you babe…and nothing more, ever, but she’d put so much thought into the picture and the note written inside, that she thought he might.

In the thought that he could have, once Michael left, she went looking for it. He didn’t have a decorative round box for mementos like she did so there were not a lot of places it could be, his dresser drawers, the shelf of the bookcase with his Xbox games, the closet with his sports stuff, and the bedside table she’d never before looked through, out of respect for his privacy. Privacy, and a small bit of a preservation instinct figuring there would be magazines or DVDs she didn’t want to know about.

But things were different this week, they felt somehow unreal and yet she felt aware of things in a way like never before. It was as if everything was heightened, each new discovery had meaning, the signs in this universe were like billboards, urging her to do things she might not do otherwise.

Plus, ever since Michael had fawned as he did over her paintings, the question gnawed at her. She needed to know if he had saved her card, or any card from her over the last nine years they were together.

She pulled open his drawer with only the slightest hesitation and sure enough there on top was a dirty magazine. Growing up, she knew her dad had a stash of Playboys. It was, according to her mom, quite normal for men. But the publication she stumbled upon she could tell was much raunchier than those featuring topless women and spread-eagle centerfolds. This one featured a kind of debauchery that made her feel both dirty and ashamed, and at the same time inadequate in that her fiancé felt the need to look at pornographic images for erotic stimulation.  

Oh, gross Roy.

The picture she formed in her head of him in the bathroom or bed with the magazine she quickly pushed aside. It was so not what she was hoping to find for as she looked for proof of his love and pride and way more repellent than she expected she might. And this was what he was ogling in their home, in the bed where he made love to her.

It was too much to think about and she slammed the drawer shut, deciding she didn’t need to know if her card was in there if it was in the same place as his filthy porn.

For the first time since arriving back in time, she had no appetite, not even hours after their lunch feast. She couldn’t paint, or concentrate on the pages of her book, and even the television couldn’t settle her mind, so she washed up and turned in early for bed, hoping her dreams might erase the images she hadn’t even opened the cover to see but were all she could.

She had trouble sleeping at first, still thinking about the magazine that she found and the card she didn't. However, once she did, she fell hard, only stirring as she continuously shifted her head on her pillow, even in deep slumber unable to find a position she could settle on.

Without fully awakening, she discovered the culprit of a physical discomfort, the extra-long post of the small blue earring jabbing at her skull at every contact with the pillow. It happened in a hazy state, her conscious mind not in any way aware of her finger's movements to twist off the backing and remove the stud. In the dream, the earring made it safely to the bedside table, to be recovered again once she awoke. But dreams, no matter how real they seem, can't change the pull of gravity which drew the gemstone to the ground as her hand missed the surface of the side table, and buried it within the fibers of the carpet.

She had no memory of the midnight activity. In the morning her head was far from any thoughts of the symbolic jewelry, preoccupied again by a search for the card or any other sign he was proud of her talent. Willing herself to forget what was still there, she returned to go rummaging through the same drawer. Now that the sacred seal was broken, she couldn’t help herself from what she tried to justify wasn’t snooping since she had a particular item she was searching for.

Removing the offensive magazine from the top, she found a holiday card. It wasn’t hers, but a promotional mailer from The Vitamin Store plugging supplements to maintain good health during the season of overindulgence.

This he saves?

Under it was some sort of receipt, the sales slip folded in half, which upon her opening it she discovered was a note, the computer-generated text faded and covered by a rounded and looped handwriting undoubtedly scrawled from the hand of a woman. If there was any doubt of that, what was written on the small paper made it clear.

If you change your mind, give me a call. -Kathie.

A tiny heart dotted the i of her name and her phone number was printed in large numbers below.

Change his mind about what?

About cheating?

About getting married?

The note itself wasn’t exactly proof that he’d done something wrong, only that he’d met some floozy named Kathie, probably on a night she’d left early from Poor Richards, and this Kathie was interested in him.

If anything, what she had written was indication she knew he wasn’t available.

But why had he saved it? Why was it here, stashed in the drawer and not immediately crumpled up and tossed out as she would have done had she been hit on by some rando in a bar. Of course, she would never let it get to that point, never get so cozy with someone that they would make their move, knowing full well she wasn’t single, just as he wasn’t.

Doubts and suspicions flaring up like an outbreak of eczema that she knew would only get worse by scratching, she still continued digging through the mess of CDs and pens, ticket stubs and random keys, playing cards and

…box of condoms.

It could have been from years ago, back when they were still using them, before she went on the pill. Somehow, she doubted that, since she’d gone on her birth control before they moved in together and the whole bedroom set was part of the furnishings that came with the house they rented from his aunt and uncle, a clear indication this box was a purchase made after then.

There was that spell when she was on antibiotics for a sinus infection. She warned him about how the medicine would significantly reduce the efficacy of her birth control, something he didn’t quite understand until she plainly said if they didn’t want to get pregnant, they would have to use condoms for the month. Maybe these were from then, even though she distinctly remembered they never did wind up using them. Instead, he insisted on the pull-out method since he hated the sensation of, as he described, having his thing choked in a tight, plastic wrapper. Given that they would be married soon enough, or so she thought at the time, she acquiesced, but worried every time she might wind up a mother before a wife.

He must have bought them just in case, she told herself now. She remembered how it had taken a lot of cajoling on his part to get her to take the risk and if it came down to wearing one or going without, he’d do what he needed to do. There was no way he’d practice abstinence for a month. He grumbled and complained enough through the week she was sick, he was sure to have condoms ready if that’s what it took once she felt well enough to resume sexual activity.

Yeah, these were from then. She was sure of it; she even had the faint recollection of him buying them. They must have sat in the drawer unused for years, except on closer inspection she saw the seal had been breached.

The open box was a complete gut punch but it was finding it was one short that had her running to the toilet ready to lose her lunch.

Looks like he may have changed his mind.

As a teenager, Pam was a huge fan of theme parks. Her favorite, the roller coasters. Bravery, hard to summon in other situations, came naturally to her here. Of course, they were just rides, no real risks were being taken, but knowing she could do something others were afraid of, even her six-foot-four boyfriend had to be coaxed to go on Lightin' Loops, gave her a little high.

It wasn't without some trepidation, and she wasn't completely impervious to the wave of nausea brought on by the jerky motion and anticipation of what lie on the other side of the ascent, but after the first rise and fall she could suppress the ill feeling and embrace the exhilaration of the experience. But when a ride was brand new, when she had no prior familiarity with the arc of the twists or how long the drop would last, then the vacillating movement combined with the anxiety awaiting the unexpected, kept her queasy throughout, though in a sort of thrilling way that made it more fun.

But the older she got, the less she went to places like Six Flags or Hershey Park. The thrill rides she once so enjoyed, no longer seemed worth the long waits and didn't have that same ability to make her feel courageous.

This whole time-travel trip was like being at a brand-new theme park, on a ride that though she’d been on before, felt unexperienced and unfamiliar. For days, she’d been ping-ponging between emotions, between the draw of two different tracks she could take. One was the safe one, the one she knew didn’t always excite her anymore she’d been on it so many times, but at least knowing what to expect, didn’t make her want to throw up. The other, untested and unknown she knew would make her feel a little unwell at first but once that feeling passed would be the more exciting way to go down.

But now, her safe track was the one making her nauseous, but not in that kid at an amusement park, fun overdosing, too much excitement, kind of way. This felt more like the bug that came on the next day, from all the shared germs and unhealthy eating and the not quite fully cooked hot dog and greasy French fries that constituted lunch.

She managed not to vomit, but couldn’t help the tears that exploded from her eyes as she lay across the tiled floor in the bathroom.

After an hour, maybe more, it felt like hours but her watch said otherwise, she got up and tried putting the house back in the order she’d found it when she arrived. She needed to vacate again tomorrow since she and Roy were due back while she and Michael simultaneously had a stakeout planned to catch Packer and keep him from defecating in his office.

But it was hard to motivate, hard to do much more than think about her find.

Even though she knew nothing for sure, she spent the day unable to shake the ill feeling she had.

Every bit of new information she was gaining in this trip to the past seemed to be slowly chipping away at her future, and this last piece, if he had cheated on her with this Kathie or some other unnamed floozy, felt like a giant sledgehammer knocking it all down. This offense was more than could be repaired with any amount of plaster or even the most heart-felt apology.

But had he? She couldn’t be sure. It was one condom. For all she knew it could be in his shaving kit on the trip with them. There had to be some explanation. As much as the evidence seemed to be pointed that way, Pam didn’t want to believe that Roy would actually cheat.

But until she was reunited back with herself in the current timeline, she had no way to find out and even then, she wasn’t sure how she might figure it out unless she straight out asked him. And she still had no idea if she would remember any of all this or how this trip would even end.

Unable to clean or eat or do much else she went to bed early again.

She woke the next day to a damp pillow stained with the salt of the tears she’d cried all night. But somehow, as if the river that she drowned herself in baptized her with a new resolve, by morning she was strong enough to focus on what lie ahead, the last few days in the past, the transition to the future and all that would come from where she’d been.

She still had no answers, the decision she thought was solid was no longer irrevocable, if ever it even had been, but she had the determination to keep it together as she completed the journey and figured out who she wanted to be with and more importantly who she wanted to be.

 

At least she hoped she could. 

End Notes:

The hardest part of writing this chapter was understanding how Pam and Roy ever even worked for a second, much yet nine years. I mean these two just don’t belong together. But sometimes that’s hard to see when you’ve hung on as long as Pam has and I do hope I’ve presented a few ways she might be confused about what they once had and how they still had some connection.

I do want to also announce that aside from a short but important epilogue to close it up, this story is finished, BUT and I borrow the term from DJC, in vomit draft form. Which I am finding, means they still need a LOT of work. But it does mean no more bouncing off to the back end in between the new chapter posts – so you might just see some faster updates...or maybe not.

Thanks to all who are bearing with the wait and are still reading, reviewing and/or dropping jellybeans. I appreciate you all.

Part III - Chapter 21. Boxes and Cracks by Maxine Abbott
Author's Notes:

With this chapter we enter Part III- which for the most part occurs at Dunder Mifflin.

In case your forgot, here's what our time travelers have been up to.

Pam went home and did some painting. She got lonely and invited Michael over for lunch where he found her paintings and even bought one. After he left Pam went searching for a card she created for Roy. She found some other stuff instead including a note from a girl and a box of condoms with one missing... 

 

Boxes.

Rectangular receptacles, like the ones that held reams of paper and office supplies.

Only these repositories weren’t shelved in the warehouse or stacked up around their work space. They were lined up in her mind and the only reason she was able to sit calmly waiting with Michael in the Dunder Mifflin parking lot.

It was only by stashing away all the suspicions, the questions, the guilt, and the fear into neat little compartments it was possible for her to carry on as if it were any other Wednesday evening, never mind the fact that nothing about the day was typical.

Over the years Pam had become quite good at compartmentalizing her emotions, keeping separate all the nagging thoughts that would pop up in her everyday life, but now that she was living a second one, the boxes were filling up at an alarming rate and threatening to overflow.

But before she left her house, she made sure all the lids were on tight. She knew she would need every last bit of her tolerance and all her wits about her for the night she was about to spend with her boss.

It well after 7pm and still Dwight hadn't passed through the front doors of the Scranton Business Park building. His Firebird, Pam had to assume, was parked in his usual spot, the one he insisted had an extra inch and three quarters of space between the lines, making it the safest place for him to avoid being sideswiped by Meredith’s minivan or a wedged in because of Kevin’s lousy parking jobs.

On the rare occasions Jim beat him in to work, he would of course pull straight into that one, but it wasn’t often since Dwight was habitually early to arrive and frequently one of the last to leave, as he was again tonight.

According to Michael, who'd been waiting on him nightly for almost two weeks, his schedule was rather erratic. Sometimes, he'd be gone by six, another night it might be quarter to eight before he came out. Thankfully, Michael knew it could be a while before they could go inside and had suggested they pick up dinner to eat in the car while waiting on him to leave. They’d long since finished their meal, but the lingering aroma of the French fries was already making Pam’s stomach grumble with a touch of hunger again.

“I told you, you should have gotten the Triple Whopper.”

Michael rubbed at his belly, the wide-eyed smile of a minute ago contorting into a grimace before her eyes just as the glass doors they were watching swung open and out sauntered the hefty frame of Dunder Mifflin’s most dedicated, and yet aggravating paper salesman.

Without even being in his presence, his actions had a way of irritating her. In this case it was by imposing her to an extra hour confined to a car with Michael as he carried on about all the fun they were going to have during their stakeout while he scarfed down fast food.

“Thank God he’s out. I feel a different kind of whopper coming on.”

And now she was going to get another earful about his irritable bowels. Thanks a lot, Dwight.

The sour look on Michael’s face, Pam mirrored back to him with her response.

“Ugg, Michael, keep it to yourself.”

Pam turned back to watch Dwight disappear from view as his favorite spot was just beyond their line of sight, and waited for him to resurface behind the wheel of the retro muscle car she only just last week watched him drive into the gate they were currently waiting outside of.

She couldn’t help but wonder if their time travel resulted in his having a second concussion and what that meant for his health. As annoying as he could be, she realized during the first one he was her friend and would hate to think what was only supposed to be a prank could wind up having long-term, negative effects on his well-being.

Expecting him to drive back into view at any moment, Pam insisted to Michael they lower their seats back and get down beneath the windows so that they themselves wouldn’t be seen as he passed them.

After his snicker and the subsequent that's what she said, Pam hadn't predicted but should have, they ducked down and waited.

And waited.

And waited some more.

For all his constant talk of being impervious to even the most extreme winter temperatures, Dwight seemed to take forever waiting for his car to warm up.

When finally he emerged with a trail of billowing smoke rising out of his tailpipe as he passed their idling Honda, they slowly raised their seats back up.  Pam kept watch out the back to make sure the car continued off the block off in the direction of wherever his farm home was.

"Is that the newest fashion statement?" she heard Michael ask as she turned back to him.

"Is what the newest fashion statement?" she parroted back.

"Wearing only one earring?

She reached up to touch her ears. Yup, one of the blue studs was gone again. She might otherwise have checked in her hair or along the scarf that sat on her neck but she knew she wouldn’t find it. She knew it was lost again, this time perhaps for good. 

"Well that makes perfect sense."

Internally, she felt one of the lids of the boxes shift, leaving the contents exposed but the warehouse worker in her brain hurried over to shove it back down but not in time to keep one thought from escaping. Whatever it meant that she had found the earring a few days ago, the fact it was gone again had to mean something too, especially in light of what else she had found in the days since.

"I think you are wrong there. Two ears, two earrings, perfect sense. One earring makes imperfect sense."

"Can we forget about my earring and concentrate on getting inside. Or have you forgotten you have to use the bathroom?"

She couldn't believe she was bringing it up. At any other time, Michael's irritable bowel would be the last thing she would want to be talking about, but today the alternative was to dwell on her lost jewelry, and she knew that would open the Pandora’s box to all the other worries she was trying not to think about.

"I'm okay for now but we should probably get going. My bowels wait for no man. But they do wait for Charmin."

As Michael put the car into drive, Pam took the once again, lone earring out from her ear and tucked it into her coat pocket.

Michael pulled into the lot and reluctantly drove to the furthest spot from the door. He insisted Packer wouldn’t know the rental was Michael’s but Pam maintained it was still best to park where he might not notice the extra car when he got there.

Stepping out as soon as he turned off the motor, she noticed how much colder it had gotten while they had been waiting inside as if the weather was indicative of what her heart was trying not to feel. A shiver ran through her as she walked around to the back, meeting Michael at the trunk where they grabbed their bags. Michael was still grumbling about having to park so far when his spot was available.

Despite their hurry to get to the entrance, Michael still stopped short when he spotted a crack in the pavement.

"Pam, be careful. Don't step on that. It's bad luck."

Pam had never before noticed the long split in the concrete on this side of the lot. Roy always parked around back by the warehouse and when he didn't drop her off or pick her up from out front, she walked around the other way to where his truck was. If she had though, she would probably just as Michael advised now, try not to step on it, ever. Logically, she knew nothing bad would happen if she did, but why chance it?  

"One more reason why I'm glad I don't usually have to park all the way back here. All these cracks to have to avoid. No wonder terrible things keep happening here. I bet you guys are always stepping on this as you come in."

“I doubt that’s what it is, Michael,” she scoffed to him even as the superstitious side of her wondered if his theory had any merit.

There were no more obstacles blocking their way to the office but for the guard who she noticed as they got closer.

“What about him?” Pam nodded towards the watchman still at his post.

“Who Hank? Don’t worry, he’s used to me coming and going at all kinds of weird hours, even before I started sleeping here. He’ll barely even notice us.”

Michael was right. He said nothing as the unusual pair walked in, only nodded quietly as he gathered his things as if he was waiting on Michael’s arrival before he got up to leave himself.

She wondered what he thought they might be doing here after hours, but was more relieved he asked no questions as they made their way up to their home for the evening.

««««««

Five or so hours earlier Michael picked up Pam from her home and together they shopped for the provisions they would need for the night or nights. She knew they would have to stay at Dunder Mifflin keeping watch for Packer until he came and was, as planned, turned around after being deprived of leaving his, not the slightest bit funny and in truth quite disturbing, package. She was hoping following this overnight, Randall would take her in again for her last one as a time traveler, but she hadn’t been able to ask him yet having not seen him since their last meal almost a week ago.

Either way she knew she needed clothes for the next few days, one of them an outfit for work, the exact one she’d worn when she traveled back, only she couldn’t remember exactly which shirt she’d paired with her taupe skirt, black tights and gray cardigan. While there should have been duplicates of all the items she wore that Friday with the magic of time travel creating clones of not only people but also the clothes on their backs during the trip, but she couldn’t find a button-down in her closet that had a twin. Not in the hamper or laundry room either. She must have taken it with her to the Poconos.

It might not have mattered anyway, their goal for tonight was to alter the future, to prevent a certain event that would shift everything to follow, including quite possibly what she might choose to wear on Friday. 

Unsure what that would be, she grabbed a few shirt options. Knowing herself as well as she did, she just went with instinct and chose one with multi-colored stripes, one in pale green, and another striped in blue to pack with the rest of her workwear. Hopefully she’d be back to a single entity before the missing pieces were noticed by her duplicate self.

Between that and the other clothes items she packed she hoped she had enough to keep her cozy and warm for however many nights she had to sleep in the office with Michael.

She would have liked it to be none. She would have liked to leave Michael to be the sole watchman but knew that without her there to supervise, the mission would fail and she’d be no better off than she had been before he roped her into the fantastic voyage they were on.

The trip hadn't been all bad.

Complicated, yes, particularly so with needing shelter, clothes, and nourishment for two weeks and not always the means to secure it for herself. No wonder Hermione only went back a few hours at a time.

Confusing and mystifying, even more so. Even coming into it with the belief that unexplained phenomena were out there and the universe was full of signs and spiritual cues, had not prepared her to fully accept the magical muck she was knee deep in.

But there was a lot of good she gained while here, such as meeting Gabby who brought her to the Met, which in turn set off a spark to do more of the artistic endeavors she loved. There was the time she devoted to her painting. There was even her first sale of a piece, even if it was only to Michael.

Overnight she'd wrestled with her state of mind about everything else.  

Like learning Jim's true feelings, and recognizing her own, which knowing his seemed to draw out.

But it was what she found out about her own fiancé that had caused her the most anguish.

Still afraid he may have cheated, and uncertain if she could ever know for sure, she once again questioned whether marrying him was the right thing to do, but was just as unsure about calling it off. It still was possible he hadn’t, and then she’d be blowing up her life for a suspicion.

If life were a movie, it would be time for the fairy godmother or guardian angel or mysterious stranger to show up to tell her what to do. But the only one she expected to see tonight was Michael, and he was not definitely not someone she could talk over her love troubles with. No matter how close they were getting over this strange trip, she knew not to confide in him, nor did she expect he could provide useful advice. She still wasn’t sure what Jim had been thinking on the boat when he shared his own with him.

With only herself to rely on, her morning was consumed with packing and straightening up and making sure no ends were left loose in the house, but also tiding up the mess the time spent at home had left in her head.

All that she managed to pack up internally, she was well aware wouldn’t stay down for long. But it only needed to hold put for one more night.

She was hoping that after tonight was over, she could spend her last one with Randall and Gabby. Have the chance to talk her situation over with her new friend. Gabby knew what it was like to be torn between two lovers and somehow made the right choice. Plus, she was an unbiased party, unlike her mother who knew and loved Roy or Isabel who had been never his biggest fan.

That conversation however, would have to wait since tonight she was stuck here with Michael, babysitting him and his buddy Packer who they expected to show later, all so they could change the events to follow.

That day, the one that ended with a Time Turner around her neck, she absolutely did not want to relive.

She never thought about it before but if they failed, she might find herself in a permanent loop, stuck on a Möbius strip of time, just like Bill Murray, but instead of repeating February 2nd, she’d be forced into reliving a full two weeks over and over and it wouldn’t be with Andie MacDowell, who she had a bit of a girl crush on once upon a time, but Michael Scott she’d be trapped with for all eternity.

She shuttered thinking about it but when they made their last stop before the office, at Blockbuster for movies, which Michael said no slumber party stakeout should be without, she picked out Groundhog Day from the classic comedy section.

»»»»»»»

Michael dashed off to the bathroom almost the minute they walked in, leaving Pam alone in the bullpen. It felt somewhat strange entering the office again after having been away so long but only until she saw the note peeking out from under the keyboard on her desk. She didn't even have to look to know it was from Jim. For him it had only been a few days, but she expected he would have lots to share of his time left alone with Dwight and Michael.

It opened with Welcome Back Beesly, written in big bold letters, below which he listed with detailed description all the pranks he’d played on Dwight while she’d been gone and all the ridiculous things Michael said and did in her absence. Little did he know she was collecting her own treasure trove of Michaelisms with his time traveling double, not that she would ever be able to share them.

Feeling much more acclimated after reading the note, she looked around the rest of her space, careful not to move too much around until she remembered that Ryan had been in her spot the last few days and she didn’t need to be all that concerned with making sure things were as they were.

Before heading to the kitchen to join Michael, she took a look around the empty office for anything that might have changed from her absence and Michael's nightly visits.

Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Dwight had a new bobblehead, but otherwise his desk was as she remembered it.  Stanley’s cars were still as they were before. The amount of M&Ms in Kevin’s jar was significantly reduced but that would make perfect sense for the number of days since she last saw it.

Only the arrangement of her workspace was different but she assumed that was Ryan’s doing.

Seeing nothing to indicate the time travel had made any major impact on her other life, she returned the note to its spot under the keyboard and went to join Michael in the kitchen.

««««««

Tired after the drive home, she would have liked to get right into bed as it was pretty late and tomorrow at the office was some woman’s seminar that Jan was coming in for. She had no idea what to expect, but knew it would be a busier day than usual, especially on the heels of her few days off.

Sleepy as she was, she was also never one to be able to leave the unpacking for later, so upon entry into the bedroom she plopped her travel suitcase on the bed and started the process. Setting a pile of the dirty clothes on the ground beside her, she began the trips to return what was unworn to their regular homes in the closet and her dresser. Roy, in contrast was not at all concerned with his bags and was already stripped to his underwear, headed to the bathroom with his shaving kit, the only thing Pam knew he would take out of it until later in the week. The rest would get unpacked as he needed it, or when she told him she was starting the laundry and to bring her his dirty clothes from the trip. Knowing him, everything else would sit in the bag until she either nagged him about it or more likely, unpacked the remaining items herself.

It was on the third walk back to the bed when she felt the small prick under her foot.

“Oh my gosh. My earring!”

“What earring?” Roy asked coming back into the bedroom, hand down his boxers, scratching himself.

Pam bent down to pick up the cause of her slight pain, the stud she had to assume had been hiding in the bag for years, and hitchhiked with the laundry to the floor.

With the newly-found gemstone in her possession again, excitement superseded her judgement, and she blurted out excitedly what was better kept to herself.

“The sapphire stud. The something blue you gave me for my birthday to wear at our wedding. To be finding it again now, how perfect is that? Like the universe knew.”

Roy’s reaction however did not mirror hers.  He was less excited that it had been found and more angry to hear it have ever been lost.

“What do you mean finding it again now?”

It occurred to her he still hadn’t realized it was ever gone, which would make sense since she never told him. Still, having found it, she felt it safe to reveal it now, never thinking what she read as a sign of promise for them was actually a poisoned chalice.

“What the hell Pammy? I spend my hard-earned money on expensive jewelry for you and you lose them. I can’t believe it. That’s so wrong Pammy.”

“Yeah, Roy. I lost it on purpose. I decided you don’t get pissed enough when the remote is missing. Let’s up the game and lose an earring just to mess with you.”

She knew it was goading him. She knew it was better to just say sorry and he’d calm down sooner, but she was growing tired of his hot temper and the way he talked to her sometimes. Just before they left on this trip, he blew up over a small amount of cash he accused her of taking. Money, that even if she did, which she knew she didn’t, was missing from the pocket of jeans she repeatedly told him to empty before she did the wash. After the fight they had long ago, when she washed his fantasy picks, she’d told him it was his responsibility to make sure his pockets were empty before items were put in the hamper, or thrown on the floor near it.

“But you know what’s wrong. That for almost 3 years you didn’t notice I haven’t been wearing them.”

“How was I supposed to notice? I don’t look at your ears every day.”

"Well, that's not all you don't notice."

She was pretty hot herself now, feeling the emotions color her nose and cheeks red.

“Maybe if you paid a little more attention to me instead of your fantasy football and your beer, you…" she let the rest trail off, afraid to let things escalate even more when she just wanted to finish unpacking and get to bed.

"…never mind."

She began to leave for the bathroom when he grabbed her arm.

"No, not never mind. How am I the bad guy here? You lost the expensive topaz earring I got you and I'm at fault."

"Sapphire."

She felt her eyes well up with angry tears she knew would begin spilling if she didn't get out of the room, and pulled herself free from his grasp.  In minutes she'd gone from elation to ire, which was going to come out as a fountain that she didn't want him to see. It always did and she felt weak for not being able to express her anger without falling apart.

"What?"

She managed to keep it together long enough to bristle one last thing before she stormed off.

“It's a sapphire, not a topaz. See you don't even know what you bought me.”

“Whatever, Pammy. Thanks for ruining our vacation,” she heard him roar at her as he slammed the door behind her.

Once safely away from Roy in the bathroom, she let herself cry as she unclenched the fist holding the tiny stud and set it down on the vanity. The facets and post left a mark on her skin but it was the impression of the fight that hurt more. Big, fat, chunky tears stained her face while she sat on the lidded toilet pulling paper from the roll next to it to blow her nose and wipe her eyes.  He was right about one thing, what had up until now had been a rather fun vacation, felt ruined.

When the anger ebbed and the drops subsided, she rose to wash up. The sight of the gem next to where Roy had left his shaving kit nearly brought on a fresh round, but she sucked her emotions back and tried to tuck them away into the internal box where she stored all the other misgivings. The earring she picked up and put in the medicine chest for safety while she washed up. Now found, she had no intention of losing it again down the sink drain, but she also had no desire to wear them tomorrow as she initially had. She wasn’t even sure she wanted to dig out the mate tonight.

Turning on the faucet, she let the water warm up, looking up at her reflection while she waited. Into the mirror she stared at her swollen, red nose and her blotchy, tear-stained face, both expected after the session of weeping. But it was her eyes that she was drawn to fixate on. The crying had tinted them pink and irritated the lenses she wore, which should have clouded their focus. Instead, she saw clearly the sadness that was in them. Sadness that should not be there following a fun vacation with her future husband. Sadness that seemed to pop up when she should be at her most happy.

How the hell did it even sneak in this time? One minute she was ecstatically amazed at the timing of her finding, of a sign she thought was being sent from the universe.  Seconds later it was reason for another fight.

The fights were supposed to be happening less now that she now longer needed to bury resentment about his stalling. Things were supposed to be better now that they were going to be getting married soon, but if anything, ever since setting the date, their issues seemed to be multiplying.

The thing in the car last week. The argument over the missing money. The fact he seemed no more interested in planning a wedding than he had before. Now this.

All these little cracks in her relationship, the ones she thought would go away, they were not repairing themselves but rather seemed to be splintering in the last two weeks.

She never stopped to think they had not been brought about from waiting on a wedding, but perhaps they were there from the start. That they were faults in the foundation itself.

For the first time, she considered it before she dipped her head down to the sink to wet her face with the running water.

End Notes:
As always, thanks to everyone reviewing and reading. 
Chapter 22 - Espresso and Popcorn by Maxine Abbott
Author's Notes:

Where we were:

Michael and Pam go back to Dunder Mifflin to try and stop Packer while Pam tries to stop all her emotions from exploding out of the internal boxes she has set up. 

Regular timeline Pam, finds the earring time-traveling Pam found and then lost again and it becomes another fight with Roy. 

Where we are going: 

↓ 

Popcorn had just been placed in the microwave in preparation for the start of the movie marathon when Pam heard the sound of someone moving about in the bullpen.

She was somewhat sure it couldn't be Packer yet. They'd only been up in the office about twenty minutes. In that same time frame, Michael had been to the bathroom twice and was in there for a third time eating his words about the Triple Whopper.

But it seemed too early for the goon to be there, unless he like them, had been waiting for Dwight and the guard, whose name already slipped her mind, to leave. However, her gut told her he wouldn't show up until much later.

It would be convenient if it were him out there. Then they wouldn't need to stay up all night keeping watch for him.

Sleeping would still be a challenge. Between the lack of a bed and the overload of worries, she'd was well aware she might not get much anyway but at least the Packer Patrol, as Michael had cleverly named their night of surveillance, would be behind them.

Whether or not it was him in the bullpen now, she was sure it was going to be a long night either way.

Before stepping over to look, she gave the men’s room a rap and then tiptoed to the door to peek through the blinds. It wasn’t just a single person she spied through the slats, but two bodies mulling about, however neither were tall, bald and obnoxiously loud. Instead, it was two women, one dragging a cart full of rags, spray bottles and other supplies, and one, almost as petite as Angela, wearing an industrial vacuum on her back. Both were busy at their job of cleaning the office.

“They keep coming later and later,” Michael remarked as he walked up to join Pam at the window ducking down so the pair wouldn’t see him.

Pam had her suspicions as to why, confirmed by his next statement.

“And they always seem unhappy to see me here when they show up. I don't get it.”

Pam did. She was sure he got in their way or made offensive comments or otherwise found ways to make their task more difficult than it needed to be, just as he often did with his own staff.  

“Come on, before they see me and yell at me again. I have no idea what they are saying but it's scary as hell, especially when that little one gets going. Now's a perfect time to show you the future site of Café Disco and then we can take cover in the warehouse until they’re done.”

Pam hardly thought it mattered to hide out. Being here with him she could prevent Michael from being the nuisance she knew he could be and angering the women as they worked. But what would they think that she was here so late with him? Might they suspect an affair?

On second thought maybe we should make ourselves scarce for the next hour, she mused to herself.

It was silly to worry what two cleaning ladies might think, but the just idea of anyone assuming she was involved that way with Michael made her decide it was best to hide. It was probably better to get out of their way.  Without two extra bodies around, they could be done faster.

Besides, Michael hadn't stopped talking about the secret room downstairs he wanted to show her and this would be the only time they could get away to see it without leaving his office unattended.  

««««««««

“So over here, I plan to put the sound system and here I’ll set up a coffee bar with expresso machine.”

“Espresso, Michael.”

“That’s what I said, expresso.”

It wasn't unusual for Michael to get a word wrong. Her hair clip was a 'baguette'. He often called her into his office after his 'epipheries' and there was her favorite, when she would hassle Jim why he hadn't yet landed the 'liberry' account. Every time he said it, Jim would flash her a look and rub his belly, making her crack up. One time he even stuck a post-it with a bold Li- written on it over the 'Mixed' on her Mixed Berry flavor yogurt. She felt a little silly when Angela caught her laughing by herself in front of the 'refridgerfrator', but lucky for her she had Michael's mispronunciation of the appliance to blame, and even got a nod of understanding when she explained it was thinking of how he said it that had her amused.

She almost felt bad about correcting Michael’s pronunciation when they went to the library last week. Jim was going to be so disappointed when next Michael pestered him about the account. Of course, there was the chance they wouldn't remember any of this, and he'd be back to saying it as if it was a fruit.

But this was one of the rare times when Pam understood why he said expresso as he did. Until Oscar corrected her, with his actually, though commonly thought to be pronounced with an ex, the proper pronunciation is espresso, she herself had made the mistake of calling it that too. 

Of course, she immediately looked it up. She thought for once, Oscar must have been wrong. It really made no sense, not only was the drink made by expressing the beans but also was made quickly, so why it was pronounced as such, with an ess instead of an ex, was beyond her. But the Internet confirmed what Oscar said was true.

Feeling a little like the pedantic accountant in doing so, she also corrected Michael.

“No, Michael, there’s no ex.”

“Are you sure? There should be an ex.”

“You know what Michael, in this case, I think I agree.”

Validation spread over his face in the form of an effulgent grin, which in turn made her smile too as she continued to looked around the small room, spying the wall with the shower unit which then wiped it away.

It was not what she envisioned when he told her about it. Although he said it was rusty and exposed, she hadn’t expected it to be a section of dirty tile with a few knobs and a nozzle jutting out from it. But from what Michael told her, it ran both hot and cold water, and on top of that, the pressure was heavenly. She supposed in a pinch she could use it but only after she tested that the lock on the room's door worked.

After the tour, they made their way over to the warehouse while Michael continued to outline his decorating plans to her and talk up how fantastic his café was going to be.

Pam had to admit it could be a nice spot to take a break from work and quite frankly, him, if done up as he was describing, but for now it was just an old closet that she was happy to get out of.

Based on Michael's experience from the last two weeks, they had another 30 to 40 minutes to wait out in the warehouse before the cleaning staff were finished and they could go back upstairs. Although she'd been down to the warehouse plenty of times, he seemed equally excited to show her around it as he had the secret space.

A blast of cold hit Pam the moment they stepped through the door and with each step down it only seemed to get colder. She knew from Roy that the large doors remained open all day as they loaded the trucks. As such, the air inside was nearly as frigid as the temperature outside but that wasn’t an issue during his day. The workers liked it brisk with all their physical labor to do. It was hard to see how but even in the dead of winter, Roy and the guys got sweaty and smelly as they loaded and unloaded boxes, and, as she knew, played basketball in the down time. The odor coming off him when she got in the truck at the end of the workday was not always masked by the body spray he often doused himself with before they drove home. The warehouse guys might appreciate learning about the shower in the nearby room.

On the few occasions she went down to see Roy during working hours, she always took a sweater, knowing how cold it was but even so after the visit always went straight to the kitchen afterward to make a cup of tea, the chill in her bones after seeing her fiancé hard to shake without something to warm her back up from the inside.

Tonight, though the loading deck door had been shut for a few hours now, it seemed colder than usual without the extra bodies working in the space creating their own source of heat.

Having left her sweater behind and with nothing more than a thin cotton tee, she began shivering. It was the kind of cold that got inside and stayed there even after the surrounding temperature warmed back up. The cup of tea she was already thinking about having once they could get back upstairs might not be enough, and she feared she’d never be able to get rid of the chill if she spent too long down here.

Seeing her quaking, Michael offered to take off his top for her to wear.

“That’s sweet Michael, but then won’t you be cold.”

And bare chested, she thought. She knew his shirt would not be enough to offset the frosty temperature, and she definitely didn’t want the extra discomfort of a half-naked Michael keeping her company.

She was just about to head back up, the cleaning ladies could think what they want. Besides, if Michael stayed behind to explore as told her he liked to do every night, they would have no reason to suspect anything unusual was going on between them.

“Hmm, well I can see if there’s a flannel or something in one of the guy’s lockers.”

It was a good idea, not as good as going back upstairs, but she didn’t think it was safe to leave him alone in the warehouse. Even though he’d been here every other night without incident, as least that she knew of, she also knew that was just luck that nothing catastrophic had happened and there was only so much of that luck left.

But rather than take Michael’s shirt, leaving him to wear Lonny’s or Glenn’s, she assumed Roy would have something she could put on in his locker.

“Or I can see if Roy has something.”

Michael upon being given his reprieve took off towards the rolls of clear plastic on the wall, no doubt to test out the bubble wrap dance floor he told her was part of his plan for the office discotheque, while Pam hurried over to where the lockers stood on the other side.

The first thing she noticed when she opened Roy’s was the tangy odor, a mix of musk and sweat, simultaneously offensively pungent and alluringly sweet but it was what taped up to the inside of the door that took her breath away. She had to blink a few times before she could truly trust what her eyes were seeing, but there it was. The holiday card with the hand-drawn Wave Runners, the one she’d searched the house for but never found, because all this time it had been here in his locker.

Where she had been shivering from the chill of the air less than a minute ago, she’d all but forgotten how cold she was, focusing only on the one thought that sang in her head.

He did keep it.

Her card was here all along, and it was all she needed to know the art she created meant something to him; that he appreciated it and was impressed by her creative talents. Why else would bring it to work to hang in his locker if not because he liked it so much, he wanted to see it every day?

Finding it was enough to make her forget all the other stuff she found.

Almost.

But with all the other worries still locked in their boxes for now she could only feel the elation of the moment, glimpsing at what he gazed upon every day during the time they were floors apart.

Below the card, also taped to the door was a photo. Not of her or even of them, but of him alone at the helm of his 300-horsepower water scooter, a white crest of spray shooting up behind him as he straddled it.

It was one of many photos she took that first day when they took the new jet skis out. While she waited on the shore for Roy and Kenny to finish with their pissing match of dangerous stunts and driving too fast for her comfort, she snapped away with the new camera she received as a recent birthday gift from her parents. 

By the time Roy had finally come back to take her out for a spin, she’d used the up the whole SD card with photos of him, the lake and the cloud formations of the late day sky. The one he had pinned up was her favorite of the bunch too and the more she thought about it, the more she read it as another appreciation of her artistry. She likened it to how in Clueless, the character Elton kept Tai’s photo, because Cher had been the one to take it. Roy must be doing the same, displaying the best of the photos she shot during the beach outing.

All this time she wasn’t sure he even noticed her talents. He never acknowledged out loud what she could create with a pencil or a paintbrush or a camera. He never said anything complimentary when he caught her doodling. He never oohed and ahhed over the drawings she sketched during her down time at the reception desk that she would sometimes show him in the truck before they drove home. When on the rare times she would take out her paints at home, his only comment was, ‘I see it’s artsy fartsy time again’.

He never even seemed to even recognize that the cards she gave him every birthday and holiday were personally created, each one made from her own hands and heart and tailored to suit him—from the first one, a Christmas card with a snowman donning a football jersey and helmet both with his number, to this last, with the jet skis he couldn’t wait to return to the lake with every summer over the long stretches of winter.

But maybe she’d been mistaken to think that Roy wasn’t proud of her artistic side.

It was easy for her to read his attitude the wrong way. Her love of drawing and painting was one of the things he still teased her relentlessly about, just as he had back in high school when she took advanced studio art as her elective instead of home economics with the jocks and cheerleaders he ran with. Because he was constantly mocking her, she kept her aspirations mostly to herself. Sure, she made cards for him and showed him her sketchbook from time to time, but she never tried to talk to him about how she wanted to do something more with it.

The teasing, she figured that was one of those things boyfriends did, like how he made fun of her being a lightweight or when he pestered her in the morning to hurry up and get her contacts in so he didn’t have to endure her nerd look any longer than he had to, even after she went out and bought more stylish frames. She knew it was always in jest because of the smile he said it with, but she didn’t always find it funny.

But it was that he also never praised her, never followed with a serious comment to say how impressive her cards were or asked to see what she was drawing when she pulled out her pencils, that kept her silent and even caused her to doubt herself.

But maybe she was looking at his mockery all wrong.

She’d long ago stopped reading into everything he said and did, trying to figure out what he really meant. Once they got engaged, she no longer felt the need, the ring on her finger was all she needed to know.

Roy was to a large degree, still a child. He hadn’t grown much since high school, in some ways since middle school. And like a little boy, she knew he had trouble with straight out saying what he was thinking.

When he was upset about something, it came out as hostility and anger.

Apologies were made with silly faces and tickling.

Even when he proposed, he didn’t say much as he pushed a ring box across their breakfast table one morning. Pam had been too excited about what was happening to notice how few words he said as they got engaged.

The way he was about her art, maybe he was proud but his childlike mentality and inability to share his true thoughts had him expressing himself in the only way he could, with juvenile heckling.  Maybe the ribbing was his way of showing her, the equivalent of a little kid pulling on her ponytail in the kindergarten schoolyard because he liked her.

He did notice her talent. He was proud of her.

The photo and the card there in his locker were the proof.

Despite the temperature of the warehouse, a new warmth came over her as she looked again at the two representations of her artistry and this time she also saw the small third item taped up a bit separated from the other two. It was her, a photographic representation of the girl that once existed back some years ago, a snapshot from their high school days. In it, her hair was shorter but just as frizzy, her cheeks fuller, her smile wider. She had on his football jersey over her turtleneck, the garment so big it seemed to dwarf her smaller frame.

The old photograph was faded, the colors now muted and broken down from the years of exposure. Still seeing it was like a having another Time Turner in that it had her traveling further back in time to when their romance first began. When she felt like the luckiest girl in their school because he, who could have dated his pick of girls, had chosen her.

She passed her fingers over the photo, smiling as she did and then did the same to the more vibrant one of Roy among the waves. As she did, the chill of the cold air returned to her body, a shiver passing through her as if she were in the water with him being splashed by the cool surf.

Her body stiffened again and she ran her hands along her arms in attempts to create heat from the friction, before bringing them to her face over her nose to make a cavern of warmth from her breath. Neither effort did as much as putting on the large sweatshirt that she spied once she looked past the items on the door.

The chill not entirely gone yet but feeling warmer than she was, she went to close the locker, stopping just short of lifting the latch that would seal it shut. She yanked it back open, not realizing when she did the card shifted from under the cellophane strip whose adhesive bond was not as strong as it once was.

In all the years they were together, she’d never gone through this locker, just as she’d never gone through his bedside table, but again, once she breached it she was curious to see more, to learn more of the secrets that his private spaces held.

Where going deeper into the drawer had only revealed more doubt, including the suspicion of his infidelity, she hoped here in the locker, where he’d hung her card and her photo, there might be other hints of his devotion to her.

She started to loot through the jumble on the shelves, moving aside the work gloves and the bottle of Axe, the box of Slim Jims and broken sunglasses. Finding a snorkel among the other stuff confused her until upon closer inspection she inhaled the stale smell of beer. Seems following the boat trip, Roy had purchased his own to do shots with the rest of the warehouse guys who hadn’t been invited on the office retreat.

It was coming upon a book, Marley and Me, that she halted her search.

Roy, reading a book?

At that moment she had another memory of the booze cruise, a vision of sitting next to Katy while both the boys were off elsewhere and that look on Katy’s face as Pam shared things about Katy’s boyfriend the girl hadn’t previously known. She imagined it was same look she had on her own face now.

Except, technically Katy was not Jim's girlfriend. He’d told Pam the following Monday, how they were never that serious and that he called it off that very night on the boat. Katy’s lack of insight about Jim was understandable, they hadn’t dated long and according to him, were never all that compatible to begin with.

But Roy was her fiancé and she thought she knew most everything about him. As far as she knew, reading for pleasure was not something he did. Or was it? Maybe this was him growing, maturing, trying to make a change, maybe even because he knew it would make her happy. That it could be something they talked about and shared as they grew older together. She was sure she had mentioned wanting to read Marley and Me, in fact had dropped the hint for a possible stocking stuffer since she didn’t really need another pair of see-thru underwear or another set of his and hers shot glasses.

She decided this was her gift, he not only bought her the book, but was reading it too. It was just taking longer than expected because he was doing it during breaks at work.

But even finding the card, or her photo or even this revelation couldn’t completely erase the fear she had that Roy was keeping something bigger from her than the fact he was reading a book. That the effort to do something he knew would make her happy was just an attempt to assuage his guilt over the something terrible he had done.

Anxiously, she picked it up to inspect the pages for a clue as to why it was here in his locker. She hadn’t quite convinced herself that any of what she made up to explain its presence was the real reason it was.

As she turned it over in her hands, she noticed a bulge in the middle where a thicket of paper that seemed to be serving as a bookmark held the place. She opened to the spot to see how far he’d gotten, if he was in fact reading it, when it struck her that maybe he wasn't doing this for her, maybe it was someone else he was reading for. That’s why it was hidden away here.

With a lump in her throat to match the one she pulled out from in between pages 34 and 35, she found what seemed to be more than just a placeholder, but a note. A deep black ink seeped through to the other side of what was clearly a hand-written message.

She knew it was wrong to pry, that she had no right to be here going through his locker and reading his notes, but with all her other findings and all her suspicions she knew this might be her only chance to get at the truth.

With only a small measure of hesitance, she began to unfold it and that is when the distinctive blue square wrapper dropped down to the floor. Her head, as if suddenly made of lead, also nosedived with her eyes to follow the fallen condom to where it lay on the ground. It was the same brand as the missing one from the box and while yet unused, its turning up here left her with more questions than before.

The note, she hoped would answer them.

The first thing she noticed was the sloppy scrawl that covered the page. Her best guess told her it was a not a woman who wrote this and even if it was, the handwriting did not match that of the message she’d found in his drawer with the phone number.

In all likelihood this was from one of his warehouse co-workers and with eyes darting to the bottom she discovered it was in fact from Darryl. Understandable, Darryl was his boss and his friend and the note was likely some work thing or about their fantasy league and Roy stuck it in the book to save his place.

Except why was there been a condom wrapped inside of it?

Swallowing nervously, she returned her eyes to the top of the page.

Hey buddy, Thanks for letting me use your place. That girl was hot to trot. Here’s a condom I owe you, man. Hope it wasn’t a problem I broke into the box you had it the bedside drawer. This girl was so horny, she wanted to go again and I only had the one. I think this is your brand.

You know, you ought to get your woman on the pill. No reason you still need to be using condoms after all this time if you’re monogamous.

Speaking of Pam, I heard her mention she wanted to read this book. I just finished it so she could borrow it now, save you the trouble of picking it up for her.  It was a good read. You might even consider giving it a try after she’s done. Like I’m always saying, you oughta read a book once in a while.

Oh, and I might have forgotten to put the spare key back in its hiding spot. And bro, your picks that week were pretty good, but not good enough. Still beating you by 42 points.

Anyway, thanks for the use of your place and the extra wrapper.

Pam let out the breath she had been holding. Never could she have imagined she’d be happy to find out there’d been another woman in her bed but because it meant the missing condom hadn’t been used by Roy, she was. At least at first. Until she began to consider what she just discovered.

Curling up her whole face in disgust just thinking of it, she wondered how often this kind of thing happened when it dawned on her how lucky she was that Darryl and his ‘hot to trot’ girl hadn’t come around while she’d been there this past week. Of all the dangers she had considered in going back home, the trip gets cut short, Janet and Bob notice the lights on, she forgets herself and answers a phone call from his mom or hers, having Darryl come by to get busy in her bed was not on the list.

Normally, she liked Darryl. He was a mostly a good influence on Roy in that he was conscientious about doing his job well and had some more evolved interests that Pam could see beyond drinking and sports. Plus, he was a sweet guy, often doing nice things like passing along a book he knew she wanted to read. But he could also be a real pig sometimes and ewww, knowing he’d been in her bed having sex with some random woman, twice, just thinking it made her cringe. She had no idea when this was, but she was positive Roy did not wash the sheets after, since she wasn't sure he even knew how to use their washer. She was the only one who washed the bedding ever and she did it every Sunday, meaning she’d surely slept in Darryl’s sex sheets at some point.

Jesus Roy.

She supposed she should still be comforted to know he wasn’t cheating but the last bit of evidence found in his locker was not exactly delighting her in the same way finding the saved drawing or that he might be reading a book, did. Still, she wasn’t quite sure how to categorize this one, another ding in the bad stuff that comes from messing with time side or should she consider this a plus since it exonerated Roy and put him back in her good graces. On second thought, good graces was an overstatement being he was offering up their home as if it were the Dunmore Motor Lodge which everyone knew as the kind of establishment where rooms were charged by the hour rather than the night.

She decided to put that part out of her mind and focus instead on the other knowledge she came upon from rummaging through his personal space, the good things she learned.

Roy was being faithful, Darryl even said so much in the note.

He was potentially reading a book for the first time since they graduated.

But more than anything else what made her happiest was learning he was prouder of the art she created than she ever knew before.

She made a mental note to start washing her sheets more often and gently shut the locker just as Michael, wrapped like a mummy in bubble wrap, appeared at her side.

“Pam, Pam, check this out.”

He went to drop himself to the ground, but without full flexibility in his knees he struggled, making him look like a bowling pin bobbling back and forth, hovering precariously before toppling over.

Once down, he rolled himself along the floor, the bubbles exploding as he trundled back and forth sounding like kernels erupting similar to the snack still waiting to be popped in the microwave upstairs.   

“I’m popcorn.”

Unable not to, Pam burst out in laughter, so hard that tears formed in the corners of her happy eyes. Her middle shook in delight watching her childlike boss have his fun playing on the warehouse floor. No wonder he was content to spend the week here with no adult supervision.

Her mood so elevated since her discoveries, she was almost tempted to join him when he beckoned her to. It was only the thought of the hard, cold and dirty surface below them that stopped her and giggling she blurted out, “that's what she said.”

Michael stopped his roll at her feet to look at her with a mix of curiosity and pride, not knowing the reason for her comment but his face showing he was tickled nonetheless that she said it.

“Oops, did I say that? I thought I thought that.”

Pam continued to chuckle as she went on to explain her reasons for refusal as well as thinking aloud his catchphrase, “you know since the floor is cold, dirty and hard.”

“A good one my young recruit. I taught you well,” he uttered as he untangled himself from the plastic around him and sat up, gathering up the popped bubble wrap and with it the card she hadn’t noticed had fallen when she secured the locker door.

“What’s a Tiki Barber and why are his services so expensive? He must give a really good shave though cause look at all these other guys that go to him?”

Now it was Pam’s turn to squint her eyes in question as he continued with his reciting of names and corresponding numbers.

However, it didn’t take long before she figured out what he was reading off the back of her card. Without recognizing any more of the other names Michael rattled off, she was well aware these were all players on Roy’s fantasy football team and her handmade art was nothing more to him than a place to jot down his all his picks and their scores.

End Notes:

A word about Darryl. Yeah he's quite something in this chapter but I always felt his character too came a long way since the early seasons. I mean remember him in Sexual Harassment, and how he was with Roy in Basketball and at Dundies and on the cruise. Seems Roy was a bad influence on him too and it wasn't until later when Roy no longer worked there that he becasem the Darryl we knew and love. Guess Roy wasn't right for him either. In later seasons, we do learn he likes to read. Anyway, I stand behind my portrayal of him here.  Think I'm wrong...let me know. 

The warehouse and the office and the closet. I've always been confused what floors they all are on. In any case, the way to the warehouse is either from the larger loading dock or down the stairs as we see on the show. 

Oh and, snicker, snicker, Roy eats Slim Jims. 

Thanks to all reading and reviewing...I always love to hear your thoughts. 

Chapter 23 - Packer Patrol by Maxine Abbott
Author's Notes:

Where were we?

Oh yeah, hiding out from the cleaning staff in the closet with the odd shower and then in the warehouse. Michael had his fun with some bubble wrap while Pam got some good news, some bad news and some gross news. 

UPDATE: Thank you TD for your fan catch- little continuity error that I have since fixed. 

 

It was much warmer on their floor, which struck Pam as ironic as they sat waiting below the large blue letters that spelled out refrigeration since the cleaning ladies were still not done in Dunder Mifflin.

After their own clean-up in the warehouse to dispose of the copious amounts of popped bubble-wrap, Michael estimated they'd have completed their job, but when they got back up, this time via the front staircase at his insistence, the duo had still had not left.

Sitting outside the doors of Vance Refrigeration she at least wouldn't find any additional bad news, or freeze, but she would have preferred they come up the back. At least then they could wait in the annex while the pair finished up in the bullpen.

“Tell me again Michael, why didn’t we come back up the way we went down? We could be in the annex waiting for them to leave instead of stuck here in the hallway.”

She tried to convince him as they left the warehouse it was better to go back how they came, but lost. In normal times she might have put up more of an argument but her resistance was all but worn down from the two weeks of dealing with him and everything else that the influence of time travel was dumping on her. What little fight was left in her, she knew she would need for something more consequential than which stairs they took. Reluctantly, she had followed him to the front passageway.

“Ugg no the annex is where Toby's desk is. I try never to go back there. And I like to switch things up. Keeps things exciting.”

“Switching staircases, ooh that’s a wild ride. Plus, things have been plenty exciting since you took us on the time-bending trip don’t you think? I’ve had about all the excitement I can handle.”

And way too much new information, she added to herself.

“What happened to fun Pam, who makes that's what she said jokes and likes Bill Murray movies? Wow, you women and your turn-on-a-nickel moods. Roy must really have to be on his toes around you.”

If cold stares had transformative properties, Michael would have been encased in a block of ice and from the way he sat frozen in place she wasn’t entirely sure her glower didn’t drop the atmospheric temperature to one lower than inside the units that were sold from the office they were seated in front of. 

But as was always the case with Michael, he couldn’t stay still or quiet for long.

“You know Pamerator,” he intoned, his voice shifting on the final syllable of this latest nickname he dubbed her with, pointing to the sign for effect, if his inflection or wink wasn’t enough for her to get his meaning.

“Ever since our lunch the other day, I’ve been wondering something.”

Knowing Michael as she did, Pam braced herself for some ridiculous or invasive question about her home or sex life with Roy.

“With talent with yours why aren’t you doing more with it?”

It was not the question she was expecting and this time Pam was the one stunned into silence. The cold anger, that seconds ago had been radiating from her eyes thawed as they softened, their hostile hue easing from the shade of an overripe avocado to the color of one not yet ready to eat.

Michael, never one to wait out a pregnant pause kept right on talking, his need to fill a silence taking precedence over the plan he had to surprise her.

“Ever since I bought your painting, I’ve been rehearsing this improv piece for when we showed up for our stakeout. I couldn’t do it before in my rush for the bathroom and now waiting on these slow cleaning ladies is ruining the spontaneity of the whole bit.”

Now it was confusion that kept her silent. That, and Michael’s complete incomprehension of how improv and spontaneity worked. She knew to wait for it though, a ridiculous explanation would soon follow.

“So, I had this scheme devised for when we walked into our home away from home. I’d trip and bump into the wall and accidentally knock down that Million Ream Sales plaque that hangs outside my office.”

He rose from his seat on the floor with a flourish, the cue he'd gone into acting mode as he stepped out to stand in front of her.

“Wow, this spot is the perfect place to display the great work of art I just acquired. I want it to be the first thing I see as my workday begins… as our workday begins since here everyone else can see it too. Let it be a message, our inspiration to achieve greatness all day. Let it show everyone who passes it the beauty of our workplace.”

The presentation took on a sermon-like quality as he paced the space opposite where she sat leaning against the wall outside the Vance Refrigeration office. Though her pew was the floor and his pulpit was illusory, the tone of his voice and projection of his speech had her feeling like she was in church listening to her pastor preach the gospel.

“Oh and what's this? Hmm, seems like I’m not the only one that had the marvelous idea to display this brilliant work of art. What does this note say?”

He pretended to take down an imaginary index card from where the pretend plaque had been and read aloud from it. The gestures were over-done and his speech over-emoted, but Pam was still moved to tears by the performance.

“Future home of one Dunder Mifflin building painting by the famous and talented artist, Pam Beesly." 

He adjusted his tone to regular, non-acting Michael to ask in an aside. 

"Do you plan to use your maiden name for your art, or will you go by Anderson?”

The question took her by surprise as she'd never given any thought before to how she might sign any pieces she created. None of what she'd painted had a signature, and right now with how she was feeling about Roy, she didn't want his name anywhere near her creations.

"I'll keep Beesly, I think," she mumbled dropping her head to hide the emotion coming over her face. After the discovery that her card seemed to have little more sentimental value to Roy than a place to jot down football stats, Michael’s praise meant everything.

“So how come?”

Michael kept in his non-performance cadence, yet was still quite expressive, but Pam knew him well enough to tell his show was over. Pulling herself together she took a beat before responding.

“How come what?”

“How come you aren’t doing more with your artistic talents?”

It was a good question, but not one Pam had an answer for.

“I don’t know Michael — I think about it now and then and I have wanted to bring it up with Roy. I do need to talk to him about me doing something more with art, whether it's taking classes or finding a space to do more painting, but it never seems a right time to have that conversation and now with planning a wedding…”

“Talk Schmalk,”

He cut her off and up went the lip again, his role changing but the act back on.

“Honey, talk is cheap.”

What was it with him and Elvis this week? It was the third time he’d brought out the Presley impersonation. Or was she just noticing it more because now it made her think about Randall and Gabby’s incredibly romantic story.

“In the words of the King…” he went on…   

“A little less conversation, a little more action.  Seriously, I could carve out a space for you in my Café Disco where you can paint and put up a little gallery. We could host some pancake breakfasts with the artist.”

Once again, Michael’s words turned her insides to mush causing her to blink back tears from her lashes.

“Serve them up with a little espresso,” he said the word both correct and with a slurred southern drawl.

Despite her attempts to keep them contained, the droplets fell from out of the corners of her eyes as she began to laugh and cry simultaneously.

For once Michael stayed serious, as serious as he could while doing a poor impersonation of the famous pompadour-coiffed entertainer.

“Mark my words little lady, you keep at it and you’ll do very well. I see it very clearly. You have a future to go after if you just never ever, ever give up.”

Another time she might have scoffed at Michael. Any other day, the idea he could predict the future would have been as comical as the performance art he had wanted to stage for her on their way back into the office. Today was not that day.

Considering how he made her feel with his admiration and his surprisingly sage advice she couldn’t bring herself to full out ridicule him.

Besides, he seemed to have had some kind of magic to make the Time Turner work, who’s to say he didn’t also share Trelawney’s power to see prophecies.

Still, she couldn’t help but to respond with a small wisecrack to mask her effusive emotion.

“Well thank you, Nostradamus! I certainly hope you are right.”

“Who’s Nostradamus? I was being Elvis.”

Pam had to chomp down on the insides of her cheeks to keep from laughing, ultimately failing to keep the guffaws contained as Michael began rubber leg thrusting and almost fell down. When he regained his balance, he turned to look out for the cleaning crew.

“Man, aren’t they done yet? I’m suddenly craving a peanut butter and banana sandwich.”

As if cued by his announcement, the sound of the door opening and the women's chatter chased them back to the stairwell where they watched as the two exited into the elevator. Once gone Michael and Pam made their way back to Dunder Mifflin where Michael beelined for the kitchen again, this time to make his sandwich.

With no bananas to be found, Michael had to settle for a plain PB&J which Pam joined him in having, and even indulged in a second with him upon his suggestion. It took almost two weeks but she was at last figuring out the correlation between the intensity of their experiences and their hunger. The more stimulating, stirring, or otherwise extreme the circumstance, the hungrier she felt afterward. With all the ping-ponging emotions she felt over the last hour, first finding the card and the book, the condom and the note, bringing relief and a touch of disgust, then her disappointment after Michael revealed what had been written on the back and finally the tug on her heart as he spoke to her about her art and her future, it was no wonder she still wanted to raid the refrigerator even after the two sandwiches but settled on the popcorn they eventually programmed the microwave to pop.

“You know I predicted this?”

Where before the gibe was her own defense mechanism kicking in, here it was Jim's influence on her that made her respond so sardonically. In its way, his sarcastic wit had been rubbing off on her ever since her friendship with him began.

“What did you predict this time, Jeanne Dixon?”

Perhaps this other fortuneteller, he might be familiar with.

The confusion written on his face said he didn’t but it didn’t stop him from sharing his prophecy.

“Remember back when we were throwing that surprise party for Meredith? I was talking through some ideas to put in her card and I said something like Meredith had a little lamb. Don't bring that lamb to work or it'll poop on the floor.”

This was even more ridiculous than his rehearsing improv.

“Come to think of it, I think I was the one to plant the idea in Packer’s head. I betcha he has my office bugged. First thing when we get back to our time, you’ve gotta get Sadiq in here to do a sweep of the place.”

“Um I’m not sure that would be something he’s qualified to do.”

“Of course it is. Not only is he tech support, but he’s probably a spy too.”

Pam didn’t even bother to answer as she walked out of the kitchen before the sweet feeling she was having for Michael was neutralized by his tendency to stereotype everyone and his outright absurdity.

From out of the conference room, Pam retrieved the three-shelved cart with the DVD player and television and wheeled it out to situate in front of the couch at the entrance. Michael followed a few minutes later with the popcorn. Not knowing when Packer would show up to cut their movie marathon short, sometime before midnight Pam could only hope, had Michael whining to choose the first one they watched.  

"No Michael, I don't want to watch Tommy Boy."

"Yet again," she muttered under her breath since she had seen it more than a few times with Roy and had no desire to sit through it again with Michael.

He only pouted a minute before finding the Harry Potter DVD in the stack of blue Blockbuster cases she'd piled on the bottom shelf.

"This one has the Time Turner and the Dementors?" he asked holding it up so she could see the title on the case of the spine.

Pam nodded and settled herself down with the bowl of popcorn, knowing from the lift of his brow and the little sparkle in his eye, he deemed it an acceptable alternative.

From where they sat side by side on the gray couch, she could see the spot on the wall that currently was home to the plaque featuring various salesmen’s names. But she knew that behind it, taped there, was a card that reserved the space for her artwork to be hung as soon as they returned to their own time. He’d made a point to slide the plaque to the side to show her a peek of it before he sat down himself.

It was that small card that kept her from being annoyed with him as he asked endless questions even after the FBI warning and previews were over and the movie got underway. That same item kept her irritation at bay as he got way too comfortable and close to her on the moderate size couch and spilled the popcorn on her more than once, every time he jumped out of his seat from the appearance of the dementors or boggarts in the form of giant spiders.

The card wasn't a panacea. It was hard to completely forget all the ways he could get under her skin, even from before this latest time-bending stunt, but she’d come a long way from how livid she’d been when he dragged her back in time. Then dragged her onto the boat. Then got himself, and almost her too, booted from Randall’s.

But in the two weeks since then, while trapped with him in this other dimension, she gained a better understanding and closeness to him than in all the years she’d been working as his receptionist and intermittent babysitter.

Never before had she had the opportunity to witness his vulnerability, or feel his loneliness, or get a sense of the genuinely kind heart he had. It was only through this experience she was able to observe how he saw the best in his people and wanted to inspire them to achieve greatness all while still showing them a fun time while doing it. It was only through the intimate moments they had on the boat, at the library, the ice-skating rink and during their lunches, out and at her home, that she came to see more than just the immaturity and idiocy that until now she’d thought were his most defining traits. She knew now, he was so much more than he seemed.

Randall and his wife Gabby may have been supportive throughout her strange journey but it was Michael who had become like a father figure. In truth, it wasn't that he'd become one, but rather always was one, believing in her and caring for her in his unique way. She just never truly noticed it before now. Granted, it was hard to see below all the masks he wore and beyond the childish behaviors that overshadowed his more admirable qualities.

She still had no idea what was going to happen when they caught back up in time, if the things they were experiencing in this reality would stay with them or all that they’d come to know here would no longer exist, since logic said there could only be one timeline and one set of memories.

She hoped she’d remember it. It would be a shame to lose this gift of closeness and the special bond they created over this time. She decided she wouldn’t forget. She would find a way to lock it in her brain and make it part of her, of them. In their future, they would remain as close as they were at this moment while watching Harry Potter during their Packer Patrol. It didn’t mean she wouldn’t still get annoyed or lose her patience with him. She knew he would still find ways to make her crazy but now she would try to view it with a different attitude, with the tolerance usually reserved for family and close friends.

She didn’t expect she would need to call up that sort of patience again quite so soon, but she found it hard not to when she realized he had fallen asleep. After all his excitement about the stakeout and his insistence that more coffee wasn't necessary, he was too pumped about the movie marathon to be tired, there he was, out like a light, head back, mouth agape, a trickle of drool leaking out from the side and down to his chin.

It should have been obvious that he'd nodded off when the millions of questions stopped, but as the film was up to the part where Hermione revealed her own Time Turner, she was so focused on it, she just assumed he was too. And frankly she hadn't noticed his silence until a guttural splutter coming from his deep in his throat broke it and got louder with each subsequent inhalation he unconsciously took. 

She's not sure why this irritated her so much. She'd become practiced at sleeping through all kinds of snorts and snores and noises that made jackhammers sound like they played music, while Roy slept off his most rowdy nights. But as with Roy, it was easier to sleep through the cacophony versus sitting awake listening to it. And just the fact Michael was sleeping already and not conscious and alert to keep watch for Packer's arrival was enough for her to want to send him flying off the couch with an aggressive shove, but she held back and only gave him an enthusiastic nudge.

But her enthusiasm had a little more punch behind than she intended, and he went down just the same, violently, like a branch that snapped off a tree in a wind storm.

The thud of the impact resounded with an alarming crunch as he came in contact with the ground. But it was soon drowned out by a deafening explosion of memories that suddenly roared inside her head. They came on like two movies, each at maximum volume, playing in her head, using the same screen, yet she was able to see them both as if through the surface of one another, while one more played in the theater next door that she could hear too.

Where once she had a distinct set of recollections for each one of the Pams that lived through the past two weeks, she could no longer distinguish between the two as her mind became a jumbled mess of remembrances and experiences, creating what was in essence a third timeline made up of changes that occurred ever since she and Michael showed up again in their recent past.

Some were small nuances, tiny shifts in what she knew from before, like when she found her coat on the ground that first day and her momentary confusion about how it got there, displaced by the measure of guilt she felt as she and Jim both reached down to pick it up, the brush of his hand on hers causing an illicit stirring inside of her. It wasn't new, that tingle she sometimes felt from his touch, but before now she hadn't remembered it as part of that day.

It was a weird sensation, like everything new had happened to someone else but she knew that someone was her. She was watching the scenes unfold from outside her own body instead of within it, but it didn’t feel dreamlike or unreal.

As the stream of new visions flooded her brain, she glanced to Michael to see if he was having a similar rush of memories take over his.  From the way he shot up from where he crashed to the ground, she knew he was.

Something in the way his face contorted and how he cradled his head in his hands told her his new memories were as numerous and pervasive as hers.

Not everything about her what she newly remembered was drastic. The previously unexperienced elevator ride with Kelly, where she went on and on about her secret crush on Ryan wasn't life-altering, even if it was exasperating. And the library book Jim returned for her saved her some pocket change and provided some laughs as he told her about his call with the librarian named Bookbinder.

But some things she remembered seemed to exist with a paradoxical layer surrounding them, in that she recalled feeling like she was losing her mind searching high and low for bras and a sweater she had no idea where they could have disappeared to, but combined with the knowledge of where they actually had gone made perfect sense.

It was the incidents with Roy that rattled her the most. The accident they almost were in was scary enough, but it was his road rage that left her in tears as she thought how quickly he could go from mild irritation to absolute fury. She’d seen him get angry before but there was something about the intensity that day that raised the red flag higher up the pole.  Maybe it was seeing it from this outside view that made it seem worse than it really had been.

Then there were the fights, the one about the missing cash and the more upsetting one about her lost and found earring. But he had been right about the money. She had taken it, even if she didn’t know she did because it was another version of herself and even if it was sort of his fault for not taking it out from his pockets like she’d asked him to do a million times.

As for the fight that happened just a few hours before, at least she had stuck up for herself and hadn’t let him see her cry. Maybe she’d made him see things from her point of view and he felt bad for the way he reacted. He was asleep when she came out from the bathroom. She couldn’t know he wouldn’t apologize in the morning since her morning hadn’t happened yet. It wasn’t likely, but nothing was impossible, especially in this weird, new double life she was living.

At least, she knew she still had both earrings, or did she? They may now be split across two dimensions and more than ever she wasn’t sure those two would ever come back together because clearly something radical had occurred when Michael fell off the couch.

“What just happened?” he asked as he released his hands from his ears.

“I don’t know, but it can’t be good.”

Slowly he reached down into his pocket and withdrew the Time Turner.

“There was no bubble wrap protecting it this time.”

She never imagined he would still have it on him. She figured he’d tucked it away into a drawer or his armoire but it had been on him all this time, on the side that hit the ground when he crashed to the floor.

Taking a closer glance Pam could see the damage the fall had caused. By and large, the trinket looked the same as when she first saw it when Jim showed it to her, but an outer ring where the inscription was etched, had cracked and broke apart.

This wasn’t his fault. If anything, it was her own. Keeping it on his person made the most sense and it was her shove that send him down, crushing the piece when he landed. It was obvious the break to the Time Turner had affected something in the time space continuum and how they were experiencing their dual lives.

Things inside her head seemed quiet again an indication they were caught up to the current time and with their other selves sleeping there was nothing new to remember. But what was going to happen when morning came, would the tumultuous fusion of new and old memories begin again?

More importantly was the damage going to affect their ability to become a single being upon arriving at the date they went back. They had never known for sure that they would, but always assumed it would occur largely as it had in the Harry Potter movie they’d just been watching. But the Time Turner wasn’t broken in that version of the story.

“We need to try to fix this,” she insisted as she took the ornament from his hands, inspecting the extent of the crack to the exterior ring. Thankfully, the most essential part, the glass hourglass in the center was unharmed. The separated circle was nothing a little super glue wouldn’t be able to repair. 

And lucky for them, she knew just where to find some.

The prank Jim played on Dwight a few weeks back, only required a drop of the stuff. The tube left over, after he successfully and permanently depressed the Operator button, she distinctly remembered him stashing it in his middle drawer.

“I think Jim has some in his desk,” she uttered to Michael as she wandered over to her friend’s workspace.

“Has some what?”

“Glue,” she answered as she pulled open the drawer feeling slightly guilty going through it, even more than she had going through Roy’s. But this was a desperate situation where she was not quite snooping. She was only trying to fix what was broken and set things back on track again.

The glue wasn’t all she found.

Inside the drawer, there was a toy snake and the box of crayons he’d once replaced all Dwight’s pens with, some extra staples, rubber bands and...

piles and piles of her doodles...

There was a rainbow of them, post-it notes of orange, pink, blue and yellow, all adorned with silly caricatures and other drawings designed to make him laugh during the long days they spend at Dunder Mifflin. From the amount of colored paper piled up in the space, it seemed like he had saved every one she ever gave him.

She could no longer say she wasn't snooping, but she couldn’t help herself as she shuffled through them all. She even found the one she first made for him, the one on pure white, the full sheet drawing displaying the words ‘Welcome to Dunder Mifflin’ across the top and ‘do not feed the wildlife’ along the bottom and featured animals with the heads of their co-workers scattered around the page.

Seeing all of them was like opening the teapot all over again and taking numerous trips back into her past. Each little doodle was like a silver wisp set afloat into the magical Pensieve, the memories as vivid while she viewed them now as back when she first drew them for him. With each one she examined, she felt a bolt of joy explode inside her, until she came upon a sealed envelope with Pam written across it.

“Did you find the glue?”

Michael was suddenly right behind her, jolting her back to the present, or at least the present she was in, but not before she came to the realization of what Jim had been trying to tell her with all the teapot goodies. It was not so different from what he’d been trying to say with his silence on the boat, what she half overheard him later tell Michael, further confirmed by the pile of doodles tucked away here for years. She could only imagine what was spelled out explicitly in a still sealed envelope with her name written and underlined on the outside.

Shaking, she slammed closed the drawer and turned to hand Michael the glue.

“Uh yeah, here.”

She left it with him and ran off for the bathroom, hoping to get there before the tears fell and before Michael could notice them.

As soon as the door shut behind her, her body went limp as she melted down to the ground, becoming a lump on the floor much like the one that sat in her throat.

It was too much.  The warehouse and the locker, the condom and the book, the card on the floor and the one on the wall, the broken Time Turner and post-it notes and whatever was in that envelope in Jim’s desk. All of it was all piling up and spilling out and affecting the balance she spent so long and worked so hard to maintain.

Despite reflexively thumbing the scale, which she realized she'd been doing for years, it wasn't enough to keep all the weight of the recent days from tipping the other side down. And yet, she still felt paralyzed, locked into the life she had settled on when she put on Roy's jersey and posed for the photo that still hung in his locker.

Wracked with the tears that had been building for almost two weeks, these were different from the ones she’d cried when thought Roy cheated or the ones she only just learned she’d cried when he nearly ran the driver off the road or they fought about the earring. They were a little closer to the droplets she shed after Michael bought her painting and again when he showed her where he planned to hang it, but still they felt different even from those. What fell from her eyes was the joy of knowing she was cherished, not by Roy but by Jim, but with that joy came the fear that her whole life was meant to change, had to change, and she still didn’t know if she had the strength to make it happen no matter how much she wanted it to.

A part of her wanted to leave right now, take Michael with her and let Packer go ahead and show up to deposit his foulness on the carpet so tomorrow would stay as it was, the version of life she already knew and was resigned to live out. When Friday came around, she’d figure out a way to stop the time loop, head off Jim at the downstairs door making it so he wouldn’t be able to bring the Time Turner up to a place where Michael had any chance of getting hold of it.

Once she blocked that event she could just continue on as she had been doing for years. She could pretend none of this ever happened.  If Michael was the only other person who knew about their journey to this altered past, she was sure she could convince him he dreamed it all, then five months from now she could still marry Roy and find some contentment in the sporadic moments of genuine happiness with him.

But he wasn’t the only one who knew they were here changing the course of episodic events at Dunder Mifflin and in their lives. Randall and Gabby knew too, but neither knew about what was supposed to happen tonight setting off the events of tomorrow.  Letting it occur and then denying she had any knowledge of it or the time travel would set everything back to the status quo. Randall himself had said he was put on medical leave the last time he witnessed time travelers. She was pretty sure he’d stay quiet too. It would mean having to pretend she knew nothing of his wife, thereby losing the friendship she found in Gabby but what else could she do to get back to the way things were. Maybe in the future, she could find a way to get him to reveal that she exists and find a reason they could meet in real life.

It would have to be a plan for another time, right now she was too busy thinking about what would happen tomorrow, as things had been after they discovered what Packer had done, before they knew it was him who had done it. It was a pretty crazy day but the thing that stood out most was how much she missed Jim when he was forced off into the annex.  How even though Roy had been upstairs the whole time, the day still felt wrong and defective. In that version, they hadn't had a fight the night before. In fact, they had just come back from an enjoyable vacation, so that the day still felt off, not right, broken should have told her something.

She finally understood what that something was.

After what she'd come to learn in the two weeks she just relived, it was no longer possible to downplay exactly what it was that Jim felt for her.

But more than that, it was getting harder and harder for her to deny what she felt for him.

And in two more days she would have to deal with it, because who was she fooling, she wasn’t going anywhere tonight except back out to the bullpen to wait for Packer to show up so they could send him away.

In less than 48 hours, she would have to see Jim again, this version of herself. The one that knew about the doodles and the way he looked after she left him on the boat and the things he said to Michael. This version, who could no longer lock away and deny the feelings inside of her but still didn’t know what to do with them.

What's more they were heading into the unknown. Tomorrow would be the first day that things would veer dramatically from what they once were and it would be all new to both Pam and Michael, both Pams and both Michaels. All Pam knew right now was that Jan would be coming in to do a Women in the Workplace seminar, as the need to cancel it at the last minute would no longer exist. Everything after that, including what a Women in the Workplace seminar was, was anyone’s guess.

It was too much to think about, the broken Time Turner that still needed fixing, getting rid of Packer, her desire to make a career with her art skills, the uncertainty about her future with Roy and if she could go on with the wedding that was being planned, the unknown days ahead but most of all, the tug, no yank on her heart from a man that was not her fiancé, but treated her better than he ever did.

Where could she even begin?

Of course, a list. It was how she always dealt when she got overwhelmed. She would make a list and start with the easy stuff. She knew the harder to face items would still be there, but as more of the items written down were exed out, it would seem easier to confront the unfaceable.

Pulling herself together, she raised herself up from the ground and left the bathroom, nearly crashing into Michael who was waiting on the other side of the door.

“You okay kiddo? I was worried.”

“Yeah Michael, I’m fine I just needed a few minutes to process. Now I need a …”

Before she could finish her sentence, her stomach let out one of its monster grumbles.

“Sandwich,” Michael answered for her.

She nodded in agreement and nudged Michael back to the bullpen, nervous to leave the door unattended. Instead of another PB&J, she grabbed a yogurt from the fridge, a spoon from the drawer, took a deep breath and rejoined him.

«««««««

Pull yourself together.

Eat Something.

Fix the Time Turner.

Un-superglue Michael’s hand from the desk. 

Get rid of Packer

Get back to current time

Make a final decision about who and what you want

Pursue something with art

Pam looked down at the list.

It felt good to have almost as much crossed off as there was to tackle, even if what she’d managed were just the easy tasks. Well, except for the fourth item which even after finding nail polish remover among Kelly’s many grooming supplies was still a bit of a challenge.

The next one, getting rid of Packer, she anticipated being able to mark off within the next few hours. The tricky part was doing it without Packer seeing her here with Michael and assuming they were having a secret romance.

That left only three to carry out.

One was out of her hands. She still had no idea if the damage to the Time Tuner would have prevented their reunification in a few days, however she and Michael managed to glue the outer ring back together. With their alternate selves still fast asleep in the other timeline, it was unknown if the additional memories had stopped, but as for the Time Turner, it seemed back to its former state.

It was the one after that on the list she was struggling to wrap her head around.

Despite all that she’d seen and everything she’d heard, including the chants from within her own heart, she wasn’t able to fully shut the door on what she had with Roy.

She’d traveled so long and so far on that path she felt obligated to stay the course, even in the face of all the signs pulling her in another direction.

Yet, with every pull on her heart, from Jim, from Michael, from the universe in general, it was getting harder not to want to explore where another path might lead her, not only in love but in all the parts of her life.

All her life she’d looked out for signs, anomalies from the routine, chance happenings that she believed pointed her to what was meant to be. Like finding her blue earring after so much time, or returning to relive the day Roy finally set the date. But the earring was lost again almost as soon as she found it and reliving the boat trip meant having to once again face what was she had been intentionally blind to the first time around.

Then there was finding Jim’s yearbook photo while back at her house, and what were the chances she would need to go searching in his drawer for glue on their stakeout. Couldn’t that also be construed as the universe directing her to find the all the doodles he saved.

Maybe there weren't signs. Maybe it was all just chance events that meant nothing more than they happened when they happened. None of what she’d seen was flashing in neon and so eminent there could be no doubt.

A sign that monumental she would know instantly. It would leave her with no choice but to act. Her fate would be out of her hands as divine intervention led her to her true heart and home.

She was fairly certain that kind of enlightenment was not going to present itself tonight.

»»»»»»»»

It was hard to stop thinking about them all, but somehow she left all her anxieties and worries on the list she'd made and joined Michael in their makeshift movie theater for the second feature.

Packer showed up just as Bill Murray was driving himself and Punxsutawney Phil off a cliff, just after one AM, reeking of alcohol and so tanked-up he didn’t even question what Pam and Michael were still doing there though he did become somewhat belligerent when Michael told him he had to leave again and couldn’t drive himself home.

Pulling Michael aside, but keeping her eyes trained on Packer for any sudden motion, she began to whisper vehemently that he was the boss, he needed to stand up to him, falling silent as she noticed the balding ass stagger over to where they stood outside his office, unbuckling his belt while he did as if he had no intent on letting their presence keep him from the dropping off package he had come to deposit.

Averting her eyes as his trousers dropped, she pushed Michael towards him and when he alone couldn't direct the giant oaf to the men's room, she assisted in guiding Packer through the kitchen door and into the bathroom.

They stood guard outside the door and discussed next steps.

Pam agreed he was in no condition to drive and wanted to call for a cab, not keen on the idea of staying behind at Dunder Mifflin alone. Michael insisted on driving him home personally.

“Really Michael, even knowing what he was here to do, you still care enough to drive him home yourself.”

Michael began to pace the section between the bathroom doors. 

“Well, I can’t let him drive and I’m not sure he won’t if I don’t take him,” he spoke with reservation as he made his way back to her a first time.

Pam knew he was right about that. Seems Packer had already driven to the office in the state he was in, making her hate him even more for the others his drunk driving put at risk. Michael was not wrong in wanting to keep him from doing it again.

“You could take his keys and put him into the taxi.”

Under her breath she added, "and while you’re at it take away his key to the office. Why does that buffoon even have a key when I don’t?"

He seemed not to hear the last part as he was back on his second trip past the closet between the restrooms to his pivot point at the ladies. Spinning on his heel when he got there, he made his way back, his response much more resolute this time.

“That’s not what a friend does. A friend goes the extra step, makes the extra effort.”

Again, he was right. Jim proved that to her every day with things he would do for her. Like always asking her if she needed anything on his trips to the breakroom or kitchen and skipping part of his own lunch to return her library book. When she struggled with the copier, he was often quick to her side to help clear the jams, even after ruining a shirt or two early on when the cuffs became stained with explosive ink. Ever since, he began his work day with rolled up sleeves ready to go to war with the machine alongside her when it revolted.

Even after their rare fights, he was always the one who took the first step to make things right, sometimes with Sunchips in her favorite flavor and sometimes with an actual apology.

But Pam never shit on his carpet, or did anything even close to that awful, even if she was now keenly aware of what it took for him to be a good friend while wanting to be more than that.

“Yeah, well I guess I don’t see how Packer is worthy of your friendship.”

Packer, who had just returned from the men’s room, his package left in the proper place in this altered timeline, belched loudly, the smell of beer and his sweat offending Pam’s nose even from where he stood two feet away. In an effort to escape it she exited for the bullpen, leaving Michael to at least get some coffee and food into Packer. But instead, they followed her out, arguing still about the driving arrangements.

“Okay you nerds. If you’re still not going to let me drive, who’s taking me home? Pam, I know you want to see my pad.”

He stumbled closer to them, tripping on the desk chair in his path which he planted himself into as he mumbled, “I know I’d like to see your pads.”

Pam glared at Michael as if the words came from his mouth instead of Packers, grabbing his arm and pulling him aside again.

“I’ll admit, he can be rude and a handful sometimes but we have fun when he’s not being a jerk. We have this history and he’s the only best friend I’ve ever known.”

“In my opinion, you put up with a lot for that friendship.

“Yeah, I know, but it's like no matter how awful he can be—I don’t know how to not be his friend anymore. There’s something unexplainable keeping me tied to him, something I’m not sure how to break.”

Pam couldn’t see what was so hard about telling someone who didn’t treat him the way he should be treated to take a hike, no matter what their history. But it was late, she was too tired, and she didn’t have room on her list to add teaching Michael how to get out of a bad relationship to it.

She waved her hand as if to say go ahead. She hated the idea of sleeping in the office alone but knew there was no use arguing anymore.

Pam walked back to the reception couch while Michael grabbed his coat out from under Pam’s, leaving hers on her desk chair. After helping Packer back into his, the two of them made their way to the front door.

Michael ducked his head back in as Packer continued to the elevator.

“I’ll be back early to get you before anyone else shows up. I promise.”

Pam knew he wouldn’t but it was just as well. She had a nagging feeling she was going to be stuck at Dunder Mifflin tomorrow, hiding out from everyone including herself, which would be strange but perhaps necessary with a brand new, unexperienced day about to happen. She didn’t know why but something told her it was important that she witness it. 

End Notes:

Had a Trelawny/Nostradamus/Jeanne Dixon-like prediction in the last set of reviews. Is this what you saw?

PS - gotta say I feel proud to have figured out the code to make the strikethrough text even if I got some help from my gen-z son who knows stuff. 

Chapter 24 - A New Twist on Randall's Theory by Maxine Abbott
Author's Notes:

I'm too tired to recap all from the last chapter...but here's a quick list to spark your memory:

Elvis and Premonitions

PB&J sandwiches and movies

Snores and a broken Time Turner

Glue and Doodles

Tears and Lists

Puxatawny Phil and Packer 

This next one doesn't have a lot of forward movement - think of it as the calm before the storm. 

 

After Michael left she made herself as comfortable as possible, layered between two sheets and a light blanket she'd brought from home. Even so, she barely was able to sleep, not when a few feet away was the desk with a drawer full of her doodles and an envelope with her name on it to keep her mind from shutting down.

In addition, being alone at Dunder Mifflin in the middle of the night wasn’t making it any easier to succumb to the exhaustion that her body felt. Neither was her worry about the Time Turner, and if the arrival of morning would also bring a new flareup of overlapping memories about a day she had yet to live. Tomorrow, she knew would be different from what she currently remembered of it and though she was cognizant of why, it was still very confusing.

As if that wasn't enough to keep her awake, there was also everything she’d come to know over the last two weeks, prompting her to make a decision she never let herself even consider before. Thoughts of it might have always been inside of her, but her boxes had always been shut tight, her vault sealed.

Now, because of the information overload, what had been locked away was out, existing as a complete life form, beating and breathing and struggling to stay free. Fussing and fighting for dominance as her brain danced back and forth with the choice she had to make. Distant memories of good times with Roy were now interrupted by Jim’s ‘may I cut in’ as thoughts of him flooded the crowded dance floor that was her mind.

When at last she was able to drift off to some form of sleep, it wasn’t Roy or Jim she saw, but Gabby and Randall, or at least what she imagined they might have looked like back when they danced to Elvis at the wedding that could have just as easily not happened had it not been for their magical kiss in the kitchen.

It was dark still when Pam was jolted awake. What had moments ago been the sound of silverware on glass, a united clanging persuading the imagined bride and groom to join lips again, was suddenly the shrill tone of the alarm blaring from the clock that read 4:30AM.

Slamming her hand down to stop the noise that took her away from the long-ago wedding, she looked for any sign that Michael had returned. Finding nothing to indicate he had, she took another beat to search her memory for new ones, in the case her other self had also awoken early unable to sleep after the fight she'd had with Roy last night.  

Noting nothing she hadn't already known, she carried her fatigued body to the women's restroom to check the couch for Michael. She knew he’d been making his bed there in the days before she joined him here. Perhaps he had come back and succeeded to slip by her in the few hours she actually managed to sleep.

With still no sign of him she grabbed her overnight bag and rushed down the back stairs to the secret room with the unexplained shower. Despite the locking door she hadn’t been sure she could get completely undressed with Michael anywhere in the building. Now that she knew he wasn’t, she felt slightly more comfortable but still not enough to strip down to nothing. She was thankful she had the foresight to pack extra underwear affording her a pair she could keep on while she showered.

He was right, the pressure was heavenly and if she weren’t concerned about him returning while she was washing up, she may have spent longer letting the penetrating spray take her away from all her troubles, if only for the shortest respite.

Once showered and back upstairs, a protracted quiet indicated her Michael had not yet come back from dropping off Packer, which as alarming as it was, she was somewhat thankful for. After coffee and something to eat she would be better equipped to handle him, that is if he showed up at all.

By now he had to know enough not to arrive once the regular work day began.

At least, she hoped he did. It certainly would be easier if she only had to keep watch for her second self today, but somehow she knew he’d not only show up, but at the exact wrong time and she'd have that fire to put out too.

With what she figured was at minimum another half hour before anyone else showed up she returned to the kitchen. No other sound filled the space except her stomach starting up with its morning rumbles, not yet at maximum volume but headed there if she didn’t get something in it soon.

As she put up coffee, the only memory that remained of the new day ahead was waking in a relatively good mood, even if a bit apprehensive about what might be awaiting her in the office after the few days away, and going about her normal morning routine. That nothing new had formed could mean one of two things—that she'd overslept back at home and had nothing new to remember yet, or their glue job did the trick and the prevailing remembrance about the way today began was the offensive aroma in Michael's office, that is until she made new ones as the day went on.

Hyperaware of her every action and how it could affect the day, she worried if the freshly-made coffee would be curious to whomever showed up first, but then quickly put it out of her mind as she told herself mysterious self-brewing coffee wouldn’t be the strangest thing to ever occur in this place.

Time running out, she sat down to eat a quick something. Even after two bowls of cereal and one of the toaster pastry things Michael bought for them to share, she was still ravenous, not a surprise with all the emotions she was feeling so she returned to the fridge to see if she had any yogurt that hadn’t expired while she was out on her vacation. Most of them had, but she did find one that still had time. It wasn’t stealing, she argued internally, if she was taking something from herself.

Focused on swiftly swirling the berries in the small container, she didn’t hear the sound of someone entering the kitchen until he spoke.

“Morning Pam.”

For a second, she thought it was Michael, but as she whipped around, she saw it was Randall, eyeing her curiously. Something in the way he looked at her indicated he was not sure which version she was.

“What are you doing here so early? I would think you’d soak up every last minute of your time away from this place.”

Was he fishing for her to reveal something? The first time he came upon her like this, he used the code word he had overheard to let her know what he knew.  She couldn’t understand why he didn’t just call her Hermione again.

Figuring she’d help him out, with the hopes the reason he wasn’t using it wasn’t that when they broke the Time Turner, they also erased his memories of knowing there were two Pams floating around in this timeline.

“Randall, it’s me, Hermione.”

If he had looked confused before, his squinched up nose and furrowed brow indicated he had no idea what she was talking about by calling herself the young witch from the JK Rowling stories.

Oh shit, she thought. This day was going to get more complicated than she thought if Randall didn’t know she was a time-traveler. Not to mention, who was to know what other damage they may have caused when the ring around the Time Turner broke.

“Huh? Who’s Hermione? I mean I know she’s a Harry Potter character but what do you mean you’re her?”

He stopped and craned his head around the kitchen as if he himself was looking around for someone hidden with a secret camera, like she and her officemates often were.

“Oh wait. Pam, tell me, where’s Michael?”

“Which one?” she answered giving it one last try since she still felt there was something different in the way he was talking to her, the coded questions, the odd looks.

Her response seemed to calm his face, bringing it back to the relaxed look she was used to seeing on him, that is when his face wasn’t hidden by the contraption that, ever since her return trip to the boat, she knew caught more than she ever could have imagined.

“Ah so it is you? Future Pam, right?”

Breathing a huge sigh of relief, Pam nodded. “Yes, I am the time traveling version and boy am I glad you know that.”

“I wasn’t sure.  It's not beyond Michael to have called Pam on her vacation to ask her to come in early on her first day back to help him prepare for Jan's…" he air quoted the rest, "gabbedy gab, gossip fest."

Randall was right, not knowing what the new future had in store for them today, she had no idea what the other Michael might be doing now that a whole new timeline was being written. He could arrive early, especially since he had been all aflutter about the fact that Jan was throwing this seminar in the first place. He'd even suggested she postpone her trip back when he first found out, worried she would not be around in the days before it to help him prepare for the event. She refused, knowing there was no way Roy was going to allow that. Besides, Jan assured her when she scheduled it, there was nothing special they needed to do, except be ready for an illuminating session with her fellow female co-workers. Michael's worry, she knew had something to do with what happened when they had that client meeting, but there was nothing she could do to help him with that even if she been around yesterday, in either timeline.

It did mean she had less time than she originally thought. On top of that, if Randall was in this early, it meant Matt could be in soon too, and Brian and the rest.

“So, if you are future Pam, then I guess the question isn’t what are you doing her so early, but what are you doing here at all? Today's not the day you traveled from, is it?”

So, he did know she came back from an earlier time, knew there were two versions of Pam to potentially encounter, but why hadn’t he known about the code word? And what did that mean in the larger scheme of her own memories and going back?

She couldn’t worry about it now, not when she realized she’d lost more time, the minutes she thought she still had before she had to find a place to hide.

“Um no, but we stayed here last night to…” she stopped herself, remembering how he didn’t like to know about events that hadn't happened yet. Did this count? It wasn’t really the future or the past, at least not anymore.

“Have you been staying here? You know you are welcome to come back to my place. You don't need to subject yourself to more time at the office with Michael. But, tell me what kind of hijinks are we in for today? I want to be ready for all the good stuff.”

Now it was Pam’s turn to look at him all confused. Not only did he forget the code word but he seemed to have a whole new attitude about knowing things about the future.

“Your guess is as good as mine Randall. We um, changed some stuff, Michael and me, last night, so I’ll be living today for the first time just like my other self.”

Randall nodded, then pressed her to share, looking fascinated as she went on to tell him all about what had been the events that were supposed to happen, with Packer and the stinky package and the new carpet, right up to when Michael got his hands on the Time Turner and brought them back.

He went from laughing to almost crying before he got hold of himself as she told him how they stopped that awful creep, Packer last night before he could leave his little present.

“Michael left to take him home and still hasn’t come back. I’m a little worried they might have had an accident or something. That somehow Packer convinced him he could drive or just distracted him in some way. Michael's not his best when he's tired and we were up late.”

“Now that would have been something great to capture for the doc."

Pam looked at him slightly horrified.

"The package, not the accident of course,” Randall clarified. “I’m sure Michael’s just being Michael. He’ll show up. At the wrong time of course and we’ll have to watch out for that but I wouldn’t worry about it too much. Things always have a way of working themselves out.”

This was a whole new tune for Randall. With the mind meld of the memories after the turner broke, her head was still jumbled as to what he had said and when about their time travel, but she swore she remembered him not wanting to know what she knew. Adamant, he was about not knowing anything more than what he witnessed with his own eyes. The Randall she had come to know wouldn’t let her tell him anything about the future or how they came to be here again in the past. Now he was asking her questions about what to expect. It was strange, but maybe again, it had something to do with the break and repair of the magical apparatus.

She was about to bring that up, when out in the bullpen she heard the sounds of the door opening and people coming in. Both she and Randall turned back to look who it was and finding it was more of his crew, he relaxed but Pam frantically slurped up the yogurt she’d started. She knew it might be awhile until her next meal and she readied to make herself invisible before the others came in for coffee or to set up.

“Hey relax. They won’t know you’re one of two.”

“They might notice the different clothes. I mean later, when the real me shows up. I have no idea what I’ll be wearing but I’m sure it won’t be this since it’s no longer at my house for my other self to put on.”

“Ooo, you are right there. Let me go distract them while you finish up.”

Randall left her in the kitchen to scarf down the rest of the yogurt and was back before she’d taken her last spoonful.

“I told them to set up some extra mics in the conference room. That way you can sneak out to get your bag or whatever you need from your desk.”

“Thanks Randall. I think I’m good. I guess I should just find a place to hide now. Got any good places?”

He seemed hesitant to give most of them up but shared a few of the spots he liked to tuck himself away so not to be seen as he filmed her and her co-workers including one behind a giant stack of boxes in the accounting area she had never noticed before.

“There’s also the little closet between the bathrooms. I don’t think anyone ever goes in there except Sadiq and sometimes Meredith because she has a little booze hidden in there. You won’t be able to see much unless you crack the door but there’s no better place to catch the good stuff than here in the kitchen.”

Pam swung around to look to the closet between the two bathrooms.

Randall was right. There was always some juicy gossip to be heard in the kitchen. It seemed to be the place where her co-workers went when they had something to discuss not meant for everyone to hear, including the cameras but she was coming to realize it wasn't the safe place they thought it was and there was little escaping what Randall's lens would find.

She herself had many a private chat with Jim in here, often to complain about Michael, Angela, but most of all Roy. But not all their kitchen meet were about her problems. Many were to help him plot out a prank away from Dwight’s prying ears. The very thought of them cheered her momentarily and she pondered if might catch any confabs she and Jim could have today.  

As for the closet, in all her years here she never once opened it, she had no idea what was even in there.

Suddenly curious about that too, she walked over and grabbed the door handle pulling it open to see what was inside.

Metal shelving took up the bulk of the space, on which there were rows of binders, some cleaning supplies, little plastic trophies, spare Dundies she supposed, and office equipment, most of it broken or too old to be used any longer. In the center was a stack of boxes, covered with the various paper mill logos although Pam was sure it wasn’t paper stored in them. Stepping into the remaining space not occupied by giant CRT computer monitors or the boxes, she lifted the lid of the top one. There among more of the same binders that were piled on the shelves, some old plaques and framed artwork was a half empty bottle of Wild Turkey and a leather and metal strap contraption attached to a small red ball.

She shuttered as she realized what the item was and immediately let the lid fall back down. Meredith was not only a drunk, but into some very kinky stuff.

With all that was stuffed inside of the space, there was not much room left for her. She knew she would not be able to stay there all day as it was. It was way too confining to spend any more than about an hour with her legs crammed up into the crevices left between all the junk. Not to mention, there was the risk Meredith would be visiting her bottle, needing a swig after sitting through whatever this seminar with Jan was about.

Even when Randall suggested they move around the boxes she couldn’t see a way her limbs wouldn’t go numb being all crunched up for hours. She could hardly imagine how he was able to hide in it, moreover with his large video camera but apparently he had. It had her wondering how many private conversations he had filmed while they were unaware.

They were able to move a few things including one of the bigger old computer towers, which he planned to relocate to another closet in the back by where Kelly sat. With it gone she managed to get a little more comfortable in the space, maybe even enough to rest her eyes until it was safe to venture out again. Perhaps once Jan gathered the women in the conference room there’d be a time when she could sneak back through the annex when she knew Toby was somewhere else.

Randall was just getting ready to take away the computer when she called him back.

“Hey Randall. How come all of a sudden you’re not scared of knowing the future?”

He set down the large unit he was holding on the table and turned back to Pam.

“What do you mean?”

“So, before you didn’t want to know anything about what was going to happen. You said all this stuff about the repercussions on upcoming events if I even hinted at what was to come.”

“I did?”

Randall was shaking his head as if trying to remember his own past.

“I can’t recall saying that.”

Pam struggled to think back on her interactions with him, harder to do with so much in her head, new memories, old memories, ones that no longer existed except for in her mind and ones that maybe she was making up altogether. They absolutely had a conversation about time travel theories with Gabby at his apartment and he had said something about it when they were on the boat. But had he said what she thought he did in how knowing information about the future was extremely dangerous or was her intense recollection of it being said from Back to the Future?  Had she attributed the preaching of the scientist in that tale to her personal advisor of her own time travel adventures.

“Now that I think of it, maybe it wasn’t you. Maybe it was Doc Brown.”

“Like in the movie? Great Scott!"

He imitated the Christopher Lloyd role, adding a bit of a Michael Scott to his impression since it was a catchphrase her boss also used with some regularity.

"Yeah, but if you recall in the end, he broke his own rule. He followed his instinct and it was a good thing too or he might have been killed by the Libyans.”

Randall smiled warmly at her, his normally blue eyes brightening as he did into a more teal tone, a shade with hints of green and gold sparkling from them, like in those of a newly transformed superhero.

“Remember my theories about time travel.  We talked about them. See I know you think you guys changed things by stopping Packer and sure, temporarily you did. Much better that he didn’t leave a dump on Michael’s carpet, right, but the universe has a way of bringing things back around. So, if Packer was meant to crap on the carpet and it was supposed to be replaced, eventually it will be replaced. Which is a good thing because his carpet is pretty nasty anyway, am I right?”

Pam said nothing and just stared as Randall went on with his thoughts on the subject.

“I see time like a rubber band, for the most part it, the band will snap back. However, I amend my original statements on the matter. When you stretch it too much, at some point it will lose its elasticity and won't stretch anymore or any longer.”

Back at home in a basket in the bathroom there were a bunch of hair bands that were exactly as he described, stretched too many times around her wavy tresses they could no longer be used, their stretch pushed past the limit . She wasn't sure why she didn't just throw them out when they got to that point but for some reason, she tossed them back into the basket every time and now the useless ones outnumbered the ones that she might use to pull her hair up. Good thing she didn’t sport a ponytail very often.

“So, what are you saying, do you think Packer will be back tonight to try again?”

“Maybe, maybe not. I think what I’m trying to say is no matter what you do here while back in time, in the future things will always happen as they were meant to be. But even that is changeable if you want it to be. But it has to come from you, not some predetermined fate you believe has it all mapped out.”

Just as the last word escaped his lips, the door to the kitchen swung open. Angela who had been just about to step in, was briefly distracted by something or someone in the bullpen, giving Pam just enough time to mouth a thank you to Randall before she shut herself inside the closet.

Randall picked up the computer equipment again, softly humming a familiar tune as he walked to the door leading back to the annex. From her hiding spot, she could hear the refrain growing fainter, but Undercover Angel, the song she identified through by the melody alone, continued on in her head.

End Notes:

Like I said, not much in plot progression but I hope still an enjoyable read and a little breather before the major events to come. Thanks to all still on this journey with me.

Chapter 25 - Back from Vacation by Maxine Abbott
Author's Notes:

Some of you might remember a little discussion over in the Discord where we discussed Pam and Roy’s ‘song’. This is the chapter I was drafting back then. Well, part of it anyway. After going back to layer and edit the chapter got way too long and so it’s now two chapters.

One thing was for sure, her vacation was over.

Pam mused to herself what it meant that Roy left her in the parking lot without so much as a kiss or an I love you or even a ‘have a good day’. When they woke, all seemed back to normal. There was no mention of the earring or the angry words they'd hurled at each other the night before. From the way he went about his morning, Roy seemed to have forgotten they'd even had a fight and Pam was glad to put it behind them. He even lacked his typical morning sluggishness. His night’s sleep was apparently unhindered and refreshing while hers had been troubled and less so. However, without his usual morning sloth slowing them down, they were out the door ahead of schedule and arrived at Dunder Mifflin quite early.    

But as she walked from the car to the office, she wondered if he was still harboring a little anger or if today was just another morning. Most often she was the one to initiate any affection as they parted ways for the day but with what happened last night still nagging at her, she didn't.

It was a short walk to the door but she was practiced at pushing down the stuff she didn't want others to see, and by the time she was pulling the handle she'd packed away the bitterness left over from the incident the night before. She couldn't have anyone thinking she had less than a wonderful trip with Roy.

And for the most part it was good, their little getaway. A waste of money and vacation days in light of the upcoming wedding but with some of what she’d been thinking and feeling in the days since they set the date, it was a needed break for them and they did have a lot of fun, skiing and enjoying the amenities of the resort and their luxury hotel room.

Had it not been for the fight last night she wouldn't have to struggle so to paint a smile on her face. Forcing thoughts up to her mind of the good time they had and the romantic nights they shared made it a little easier to keep it there. Thinking about the upcoming wedding also helped.

It was just as she pressed the button to her floor and allowed the elevator doors to close in front of her, that the planted smile turned genuine. She would be seeing Jim today. Just picturing the morning ahead catching up with him was enough to widen the curl of her lips into a grin that reached her eyes.

“Hold that door, Hermione!”

Without hesitation, Pam stuck her hand between the closing steel doors and held them open for a very tired looking Michael. By her best guess, his fatigued look was courtesy of a late night watching Harry Potter movies. He called her Hermione two more times after he joined her inside. A few weeks back he came in calling her Lucy and asking her what she remembered. It had taken her all day to figure out he’d just watched ’50 First Dates’ on Jim’s suggestion the night before.

But a movie marathon alone couldn't explain why he raced out as if she were Voldemort the minute the doors opened. It was when she thought about who else they'd be seeing today that his rushed departure and uncomfortable demeanor made a little more sense.

Though he'd only been a few steps ahead of her, Michael was nowhere to be found when she stepped through the main door to the office. As if he possessed the power of magic just like Harry Potter, he had disappeared.

Walking to her desk, she had the sensation something else was off today. She had only been out a few days but it seemed as if the furniture had been rearranged in the time she was gone. The couch was about a foot closer to the door, the table beside it moved too, and the coat rack was inched nearer to where she sat.

Even her desktop was shuffled around and it made her wonder if they brought in someone to man reception in her absence. And were they perhaps still here, misinformed about her return date since there was a cream puffer coat remarkably similar to the one she had on draped over her chair.

She wasn't sure why but something felt very strange about it being there. For one, having Ryan the temp meant there was no longer a need to call in an external staffer as had been done in the past. She’d given him a primer on her duties Friday before she left so he could be, as Michael had put it, the Receptionator, now available with chest hair and balls. Her job wasn't all that complicated. Ryan seemed competent enough to answer the phone, take messages, deliver faxes and file.  It was curious to think they may have had him replaced by whomever owned the coat covering her seat.

As she looked more at it, she got the sense she'd seen it before. It looked a lot like hers, different in ways only she would discern and yet that wasn't why it seemed familiar. She knew it didn't belong to anyone one else they worked with but maybe its owner had been a visitor to Dunder Mifflin in the past. Oh no, was it Katy’s?  Was she back with Jim, or could she be with Ryan now? She knew Ryan had asked Jim about her a few times after he learned their relationship was over.

Would she jump to his friend so soon? That was a move that even with her own limited dating knowledge, Pam knew was just not done. Besides, would someone like her even be interested in someone like Ryan? Not likely. She could do much better and had when she was seeing Jim. Though Pam never saw them as compatible, she also couldn’t see Katy following up a catch like Jim with Ryan. Unless she was trying to make Jim jealous. That she could see Katy doing.

With a shake of her head she attempted to banish the thoughts of Katy, particularly ones where she would take up with her friend again. But it was a flashback to the boat that made her realize she was obsessing over nothing as she remembered just what the peppy cheerleader type had worn to the cruise. Her winter jacket was a rich brown, and though she told Angela the fur trim on the hood wasn’t real, the wink Pam caught her throwing to Jim said otherwise. Though glad to realize it wasn’t Katy’s, she was back to wondering who it belonged to.

She looked around to see who else might be around to ask. The office seemed empty except for the sound guys and cameraman who were getting things set up in the conference room. While they were always friendly, she still didn’t feel comfortable enough to bother them.

The only other person she knew for a fact was here was Michael, though the version she rode up with seemed very unlike his regular self. Aside from calling her Hermione while he eyed her curiously, he looked like he hadn’t slept at all the night before. She’d never seen Michael with stubble but this morning he had the dark shadow of a beard forming over his chin and upper lip.

It had to be due to the looming visit from Jan that he seemed so out of sorts. Pam still wasn’t sure about exactly what went on between them after following their big client meeting, but whatever had happened, it was impulsive and illicit but not something Jan was proud of or looking to continue. She made that clear by her harsh treatment of him when she returned for his performance review.   

Delusional Michael however was sure this visit was an excuse to see him and the seminar was in a ploy to discuss him, no matter how many times Jan had tried to drill it into his head it was neither.

And yet Pam could understand his nerves with her coming into the office again after their, she shuddered as she thought about it, hookup. Romantic affections, whether acted on or not, had a way of making situations uncomfortable, something she herself got a taste of when Jim revealed his once-upon-a-time crush on her.

She felt somewhat like Michael, having her own apprehension about seeing Jim again after their last interactions before her trip. She’d almost forgotten the awkward state things had been left Friday, now back to the forefront of her mind. She prayed all would be back to normal today and hoped he would be in soon. With the Women in the Workplace seminar Jan beginning at 10:30, there wasn’t a lot of time for catching up beforehand, especially with her own missed work to sort through first and any last-minute preparations Jan was bound to request of her. If she had to wait until the afternoon to know the true state of things with Jim, she might go crazy.

“Hurry up, Jim,” she whispered to herself as she picked up the puffy parka she decided had to be Jan’s. That had to be where she’d seen it before. Jan must be here, probably in the kitchen grabbing a coffee and lecturing Michael about boundaries and how they were not a couple.

But the more she thought about, the more she told herself that there was no way she and Jan wore similar coats and concluded the matching parka was more likely to do with some prank Jim was pulling.

It was rare, him playing pranks on her instead of Dwight and she wasn’t sure how she felt about him plotting one on her now. But if it was what he needed to do to lighten the awkwardness between them, she supposed she was glad to be his victim.

When she moved the additional coat to the rack she noticed it still had tags hanging off the sleeve providing further evidence that it was him. The lengths he went for his pranking craft she was well aware of— arriving hours earlier than anyone else to set up his tricks, investing in multiple packages of Jell-O, practicing accents with her until he was one hundred percent convincing as a variety of foreign emissaries all with the similar mission of stockpiling beets for their countries.

In this case it was buying a duplicate coat so he could play some kind of silly joke on her. She wondered what was in store as she walked to the kitchen to grab her own cup of coffee. Caffeine was sure to be a necessity today, and not just because Jim was up to something she needed to be on her toes for. She was certain she would need plenty of extra energy to babysit Michael, too. Before she got through the door however, the sound of someone scooting around the bullpen turned her around but when she looked back she found herself still alone. Although assuming it was just her nerves making her hear things, she walked the length of the bullpen again to look around for anyone, specifically Michael knowing he was there somewhere, but all she saw were the same crew still in the conference room. If the person she glimpsed in the kitchen wasn’t Michael, and god only knew what he was doing with that old computer, where he had gone remained a mystery. Either way, she would need that coffee to even begin dealing with her tiresome boss again today.

When she returned from the kitchen, which had been vacant with only the scent of brewed beans to indicate anyone else was there before her, one of the two coats from earlier was gone, but hers was now joined by two more. It was all she needed to be certain that Jim had arrived in the minutes she had been gone along with the owners of the two new ones, a heavy-weight, German styled trench and a plain wool overcoat she knew to be Angela’s. Looking around for him, she found only the other two newcomers sitting at their desks.  In response to her greeting to them, each responded politely with a nod and a welcome back but neither asked about her trip before they returned to their task of looking extremely busy and not like they had just arrived together from the same place, which Pam suspected they had. But still there was no sign of Jim. That left the question of where had the other coat gone?

Scanning the office once more for clues but finding none, she returned to her desk and began to rearrange what had been put out of place. Her day was off to a strange start already.

She only just restored the jelly bean dispenser to its home on the ledge when she was greeted by a mass arrival clump consisting of Kevin, Kelly, Oscar and Michael heading up the rear? Had he slipped out to fix himself up? He must have because while gone only ten minutes or so, he seemed to have showered, shaved and changed his shirt and tie. Did he have a secret room somewhere or was this all more of the prank on her that Jim must had been planning the whole time she was away?

“Spamster,” he crooned as he made his way up to her desk.

“Um, Pam plus Spam plus...?”

Okay this was not part of any scheme of Jim’s. This was just normal Michael.

 “Hamster.”

“Right,” she looked past him once more to see if Jim was in the group that was making its way up to the Dunder Mifflin door behind him. Jim, wasn’t there but Jan was and her coat was a long black trench-like thing just as Pam suspected.

“Welcome back! How was your vacation?”

“It was great.”

Which it had been up until last night, but she wasn't about to tell Michael anything about that.

"Um Jan’s here.” Pam pointed to where she was chatting with Phyllis as they walked in.

Michael stepped away from Pam to greet Jan who began barking at him almost immediately.

Turning away to reconfigure her side table back to working condition, she noticed the piles and piles of filing that Ryan had left for her.

The smile she had worn coming in, made brighter when she thought about seeing Jim, was fading fast.

It was clear her first day back was not going to be without its mysteries and aggravations. But just as she began to let out an audible groan, her eyes caught sight of a note sticking out from under her keyboard.  The handwriting she recognized immediately and just like that all seemed right again.

<<<<<<<<<< 

She’d only been in the packed closet about 25 minutes and already her legs were beginning to cramp. And so far, she hadn’t witnessed anything worth being holed up for. Who she thought was Angela, who liked to boast of her punctuality and almost always beat her in to work, in this case turned out to be her other self, and while watching herself pour a cup of coffee was indeed a strange sensation, the act itself was not unusual. Confusing herself for Angela, that was, but she was tired and preoccupied and thought nothing more of it.

It seemed a long wait before Angela did come into the kitchen next, accompanied by Phyllis, both identified by their voices alone.

“I’m looking forward to today.”

“Really, I am not. I can think of a thousand ways to better spend my time than gathered in the conference room gossiping about who knows what.”

“Well, I love girl talk.”

She heard the sound of clicking heels and then door to her right swooshing closed, she could only assume one of the two entered the restroom.

“Of course, you would since it’s what whores love.”

It was clear who remained behind from the whispered words alone.

Angela left the room just as Oscar came in. She only knew it was him because of Angela’s stern reprimand that just because she’d be stuck in a meeting all day, it did not mean he should play the stupid paper triangle game with Kevin while she was not there.

Making out Oscar’s greeting to Phyllis as she came out from the restroom and then hearing both of them leave, she inched open the door a smidge to see if it might be a good chance to exit herself but quickly shut it again as she heard Kelly’s shrill voice ranting about something with the person she came in with.

“It is not.”

Recognizing her own voice, she froze, wondering what had her back so soon to the kitchen. It wasn’t often she needed a second cup of coffee, but then she remembered the new memories of the fight from last night. Although after fixing the Time Turner there had been no new visions of what happened to her other self after she went to bed, she still knew herself well enough to know she had not slept well.  

“It absolutely is. Pam, if there’s one thing I know it’s breakup songs, and You Were Meant for Me is one hundred percent about a broken-up couple.”

The more aware, clear-sighted, time-traveling Pam stuck in the closet sang the verses to her and Roy’s song distinctly in her head. 

Kelly was right. Why had she not picked up on this before?

“I think we should just agree to disagree on this one, Kelly. I’m too tired to argue.”

“Whatever,” Kelly snapped back as her voice faded off towards the door. “But I’m still absolutely, positively, without a doubt right about this.”

After she and Kelly left, it became quiet in the kitchen, eerily so. She assumed it meant the seminar with Jan had begun but it didn’t explain where all the guys were.

Still, she’d had enough of being cramped up in the tiny closet and so took the lull as an opportunity to sneak away to one of the other hiding spots Randall mentioned.

Once more, she cracked the door just a touch when all of a sudden it swung way open. With almost no time to react she did all she could to hide, which was no more than cover her face with her hands and pray the person who caught her didn’t freak completely out when they discovered her.

“Who you hiding from, Patricia?”

Creed saw nothing unusual about her being in the closet and seemed more interested in getting into the box behind her than discovering why.  Still, she hurried past him before he could start asking questions or could notice anything strange about her. Thinking it the safer way out, she took the exit leading into the annex where she was able to slip by Toby into Kelly’s nook, praying she’d been right in her assumption all the women would be in Jan’s meeting.

Kelly to her relief was not there but the space was not empty. There under the desk, hiding, though not very well with his feet were sticking out, was Michael. Without having to even think the name Hermione, she knew which one he was.

Holding her index finger to her lips, she slowly drew back the jacket and found him fast asleep.

Was he trying to get caught by Toby and give him a heart attack?

Actually, she wouldn’t put it past him to try that except she wasn’t sure he was savvy enough to come up with that complex or malicious of a plan to get rid of his nemesis.

However, she was stuck. Waking him would surely cause him to react and attract attention to both them but she couldn’t leave him here either for Kelly to come back and find him later. Plus, she had planned to somehow make her way back to the bullpen to spy on the day from one of the more spacious and closer to the action, yet clandestine areas Randall had shared with her earlier.

Before she could even decide what her next move was going to be, as if he was conjured by her thoughts, she heard her savior come to the rescue once more.

“Hey Toby, can I get a moment to get a talking head with you.”

“Hey Randall, sure thing. Here?”

“No, let’s head over by the sign in front.”

 

End Notes:

So once again I thought it was pretty strange that this was the Pam/Roy song. Did they ever even listen the lyrics beyond those two lines or what? But since it was canonically their song, I’m sticking to what I wrote.

If the chapter feels slightly incomplete, the rest will be up soon. My goal was to make the portions more digestible so consider this the amuse-bouche.

 

 

Chapter 26 - Boys and Girls by Maxine Abbott
Author's Notes:

Now you see why I had to cut the chapter. I almost considered doing it again as it still runs long, but felt it was important the rest of what transpires here is read together. Anyway, I hope this chapter was worth the extra week wait. 

You might notice some familiar chapter titles making this a good time to remind that I do not own anything to suggest copyright infringement including these repeated episode titles.

There’s a tidbit in this chapter that has its roots in a superfan scene- since not everyone has access or has seen I posted a makeshift video of it in the plotbunnies section of Discord.

 

Some might also remember our Discord chat about The Wedding Singer, more in end notes about this. 

Remarkably, and with great thanks to Randall, she was able to wake up Michael and get him safely down to the secret room on the first floor. Leaving him made her nervous of course, but like on the boat she made him pinky swear not to move from the spot until she came to get him. Besides, from the way he was yawning and the glazed over look in his eyes, she was fairly confident the only place he was going was back to sleep.

In her rush to get back she herself forgot to grab anything from the stash of snacks she left there earlier. Reminded by a noiseless but brisk movement in her abdomen, it was only after she stepped up to the office door that she even thought about the food downstairs again. After the larger than normal breakfast she’d eaten, it seemed too soon to be hungry again but since the rumble she felt said otherwise she clamped her hands to her belly hoping to keep the gurgle from getting any louder.

Michael, the second version—or was this one the first; calling this one the primary Michael made sense as he was living his first experience with this day, but then again after the changes their other selves had made to the timeline, so was the other one. Whatever way she chose to classify the Michael currently pacing in front of the conference room, he seemed much more rested than the one she just left. Rested but not relaxed. In fact, he seemed so much more on edge than usual. Her view from just inside the doorway was not clear enough to make out the look on his face but still she knew him well enough to know just what he was thinking and doing. Even though he was preoccupied with the meeting that was occurring, everyone else in the bullpen was still carrying about their normal business and would surely see her if she tried to slip in.

But just as she was about to retreat and head around to the staircase leading to the annex, he called them to gather behind Jim’s desk for an impromptu men’s seminar of his own. As the shifting of seats and scooting together started she thought she might just have the window she needed to sneak back in unnoticed so she waited a moment more.

To her benefit, he began the session by having the group clap emotively, and it was during this distracting round of applause she was able to slide over from the front alcove without being seen and shrewdly tuck herself into the hideaway across from accounting.

It was clear from the overexaggerated laughter that he erupted into next, imitated by Kevin and outdone by Dwight, the true purpose of his meeting was to annoy Jan and interrupt whatever was happening behind the closed doors where the women were.

It wasn’t long before Jan stormed out the door to kick him and his band of merry men from the bullpen, banishing them to the warehouse.

What that resulted in was the females in the conference room and all the males downstairs —all but Toby who she saw evade the gang and head back to his space in the annex, and her spying on an empty room. As risk-averse as she was in her regular life, she had taken a huge chance in this one to get back into the room and was left with nothing to see. Her number one reason coming back upstairs was to observe Jim, to experience how this newly enlightened version would feel being near him and now he was downstairs, hanging out with Roy no less.

With nothing to do but wait, she found herself growing anxious. She needed something to keep her busy while she waited. After a quick glance around for cameramen, she was glad it was Matt and not Randall who followed the boys out, she felt safe to come out briefly from hiding. Still keeping low and furtive, she got over to her own desk where she had her pencils and paper. It could be some time before the groups took some sort of break, and sketching would help take her mind off what was going on in each of the gender specific meetings.

The longer she sat there, the more she drew, recreating the events of the recent past with graphite representations of items that stood out in her recent memory, things like the Time Turner, and a sleeping Eros, and a pair of studded earrings. Earrings, if she still had the complete set, meant to be worn at her wedding.

The one she was no longer sure she was going to have.

And yet still wasn’t sure she was ready to call off. Not without a more definitive sign directing her what to do.

Pushing away the paper given that it wasn’t bringing her any closer to making a decision, nor was it helping to curb the curiosity about what was being said on the other side of the glass wall, she began to wonder what was going to happen at the end of tomorrow.

Ever since the nauseating spin that took them back, the passing hours felt static. She knew time was still progressing and yet her sense of it felt irrelevant, the days ahead for her original life were preordained to exist much as they had been, as she remembered.

But now it was if she could feel time moving again. In the silence of the room, the ticks of the clock on the wall were thunderous, synchronized in step with her own beating heart that seemed almost as loud. No longer on a path she knew where was taking her, no more certain what her future had in store, she felt lost and unable to make decisions for the Pam that was that enclosed in the conference room. That Pam was still stuck in her past, acting without the knowledge she alone had.

The longer she sat there, the more she sympathized with Michael being unaware what was being said in Jan’s meeting. Except where in his case, there was little to suggest the conversation was about him, in hers, it very well could be since she was in there, engaged in it.

The strangest part to her was how as the minutes of this day passed by for the second time, still the only moments she could call up of how it had transpired before involved the debacle with the carpet, too much Michael and not enough Jim. Everything happening to her now was an element of her past and yet none of it was captured in her memory.

The sensation of her current state felt familiar in the way dreams often did upon waking. Like the times when she came to, all aflush and wildly happy, aware she’d been experiencing some amazing other existence as she slept but unable to summon back any part of where she’d been or what she’d been doing in her subconscious mind.

Somehow, even while those dreamlike episodes had evaporated into a black hole of her own oblivion, their remained a visceral sense of another life, leaving her feeling like she had retrograde amnesia of her own dreams.

Only this was her real life, and someone else was living it for her. But that someone was her.  

That is if it even was a real life. Once again, she imagined the worst, that this whole thing wasn’t some alternate reality her mind made up while she lay in a hospital bed or on the side of the road after a terrible car accident. A mechanism of her psyche to cope to the tragedy that had befallen her.

Whether or not that was what was happening to her, it was her current reality, at least until tomorrow.

The longer she sat the louder the ticking of the clock seemed to become, the staccato rhythm soon joined by the tiny grumbles beginning again in her stomach, each one a reminder to get back to the better hiding space before the groups broke for lunch. Knowing her own next meal could be awhile yet, she thought to grab a handful of jelly beans from where she kept the refill stash in the bottom drawer. Not a lot were left in the bag but hopefully it would be enough to quiet the noises rising from her belly.

Lifting herself from the where she’d been sitting cross-legged under her desk, she gathered up the drawings and peeked over the ledge to look around before slipping over to the crevice between her space and the accounting pod, and not a moment too soon because just as she got back in behind the boxes, the front door opened and in walked Jim, looking quite uncomfortable and not at all like his cheerful self.

It was pure luck she’d vacated the space when she did. From where she had been, she knew she wouldn’t have been seen by anyone merely walking by. What she hadn’t anticipated that Jim’s first stop would be at her desk to grab some jelly beans of his own. Even without her other version there to talk to, he lingered in his regular spot for a beat, looking almost lost as he scanned the items in her area before turning to peer wistfully over to the conference room. From her hidden alcove, she followed his gaze to the door when it swung open and none other than she, herself walked out.

The view from where she was tucked into a corner wasn’t great but she craned her head and body around in such a way to get a better look and eavesdrop on the pair while staying concealed. The first thing she noticed was that look again, the one she hadn’t been able to place when she saw it overcome Gabby’s face while she shared the story of her first meeting with Randall. Now, watching herself greet Jim it came back to her the other time she’d seen it.

It was on the boat, the last time she was witness to her own face when she was around him. There was no other way to describe the smile she wore as soon as she saw him but resplendent.

“How's it going down there?”

There was a lilt in her voice, a sing-songy quality that instantly seemed to change Jim’s cheerless disposition as well as her own.

“It's not going well…” he began, his tone getting lighter with every word until he seemed almost buoyantly happy.

“...actually nope, I take that back. It's exactly what you'd expect from a Michael-led male bonding session. What are you girls doing?”

The Pam behind the wall thought about what she might say in response at precisely the same moment the Pam out by Jim’s desk said pretty much the same thing she was thinking, word for word.

“We watched a video about our changing bodies.”

Jim took another peek inside the conference room, most likely looking for the TV, which she figured was where she wheeled it to after Michael left her last night to take Packer home. He might have even bought her story had she not directly given herself up with telling eyes and a cracking smirk.

Oh boy, my poker face needs a lot of work.

As she watched herself giggle, Jim opened his mouth to speak but before he could say anything he was cut off by a somewhat more serious version of herself.

“Um... but hey? Something kind of cool. There's this internship in graphic design that Jan was telling us about. She made it sound, like, really great.”

Pam’s eyes bounced from the glimmer in her own to the fascination in Jim’s and followed their glance to the folded brochure she held in her left hand.

Without missing a beat Jim responded, seeming almost as excited about whatever it was as she seemed to be.

“Nice. Well, what's it all about?”

Yeah, what is it about?

Now more than even before she wished she hadn’t repaired the Time Turner so fast. Had she waited even just until this afternoon then new memories of the day could be filling in her head, and she would have a little more information about this art-related internship. But in remembering the chaos that occurred when it cracked, she realized it was best they had. There was already an overload of confliction in her head making her existence feel fuzzy and illusory. Plus, the incongruity of messages from her brain and her heart were like flies at a picnic, relentless in their increasingly loud buzzing and becoming harder to ignore. Better she be the fly, unnoticed on the wall, catching small bits of information through the interaction with Jim. She knew she couldn’t trust what her other self might be remembering anyway; that version had long since accepted there were flies in her life and was content to live with them.

Watching herself and Jim she might be able to glean a few details being that he always expressed interest in what she talked about and was the type who would ask questions she would be only too happy to answer.

Except this time. He didn’t even wait to hear her out before he told her to go for it.

“I think you should do it. That's great!”

“It's really cool.”

“Hey, walk with me to the bathrooms. I want to hear more but I only have a few minutes before I have to get back down there.”

And like that, they were gone and so was anything more she was going to learn about this fascinating opportunity.

Jim came out first from the kitchen without her and after a quick stop at his desk left for the warehouse again. Knowing herself as well as she did, she didn't even have to see it to know she stayed behind to read over the entire pamphlet, likely with a yogurt or an early nibble of her 4:00 candy. The frozen chocolate she kept stashed in the freezer was her go-to in times of sadness, stress or even when she was super-excited. From what she knew of last night and what little she saw of today, she imagined it was all three she was feeling.

Thinking about herself eating in the other room brought her attention to her own stomach which somehow had stopped grumbling even though she hadn’t had anything more than the few jelly beans before. Lucky too, as the rest of the women came out one by one, Phyllis came out to make a phone call, Angela to input something at her computer, while Meredith and Kelly went right to the kitchen laughing about something as they passed through.

Quiet settled over the bullpen after each returned to the conference room, herself last. It was just the lull she needed to squeeze a trip downstairs to check on Michael and grab a bite from the food she’d stashed in the room where he was. She knew her stomach wouldn’t stay silent for long and she had hoped to be able to fill it and then get back upstairs in time to catch any more of the office gossip after the two meetings broke for the day. She might even be lucky enough to overhear an exchange with Jan back by her own desk. It was very interesting, this art internship, whatever it was.

She first heard the grumble of her stomach again before she even saw him come around from the front entrance. As if she knew he would be coming, her past version also reemerged from the conference room to greet him up by reception. The angle of her view was slightly blocked and they stood too far for her to make out any of her words but as the other Pam showed him the brochure, she knew she was not promoting it well. She had to give herself credit though; she didn’t give up right away. Standing firm in front of Roy she seemed to be advocating for herself, perhaps even using the tactics she’d seen Jim and Dwight both pull out when pushing upgraded paper to their customers. But it didn’t help. In the end, her salesmanship had a lot to be desired because though she couldn’t hear a word, she could see by the shaking of his head and the way he slapped the folded leaflet back into her hands he still wasn’t sold.

She should have known it was too good to be true, this opportunity that seemed to come from out of nowhere, and at a time when she was ready for something like it as Michael had just lit the fire in her to do something more with her skills and talent.

But she was no stranger to putting aside her desires and her feelings because they didn’t align with his. And the timing, while good for the Pam evolving into a stronger version of herself, might not be right for the one she watched argue with Roy. That one she knew was seeing his point, whatever that point was that had him rejecting the idea so hastily. As if proving which version held dominion, that the one behind the boxes was no more than the extension splintered off the original, resignation to Roy’s decision started to spill over to where she was once again accepting his rejection.

It left her operating in two simultaneous mental states where the pull of her hands to each other to twist at her ring was met by an opposite force repelling them from another. As the tautness between them ebbed and tightened over and over, something inside of her roared. It was probably her stomach again but even so, as she watched the crestfallen shadow of herself walk head down back into the conference room, this version managed to keep her hands apart, clenched them into fists and starting asking angry questions.

What happened to the woman who stood up to him last night? Where had she gone?

She knew. The other Pam would soon be back, the one who let him crush her spirit and her ambitions in order to keep their relationship from becoming volatile and unstable.

But when did she learn to accept his dismissal of her aspirations?

When did she come to hide what she was all about because her dreams weren’t aligned with his?

When did she become so quick to follow in his wake, even when it wasn’t the direction she wanted to go?

Just because his passions weren’t the same as her didn’t mean he shouldn’t be supportive, especially if he claimed to love her.

Jim had different interests from her too, he was just as into sports as Roy was and his knowledge of and regard for the world of art didn’t expand beyond collecting her doodles and sketches. And yet he seemed to know more about that side of her, more of what it meant to her to be offered a chance to create in her work. He, unlike Roy, saved more of what she created for him, even the silly little cartoons she never expected him to and he unquestionably encouraged her to pursue her talent. By contrast, Roy used her creations as a scratch pad, saw her passion as a hobby, an inconvenience even, and immediately railroaded her first chance to do something with it.

Suddenly when became why and for that she had no answer. But she knew she could no longer accept it and she knew that no matter what else she figured out before she returned to herself, she knew the most important thing was she had to make this version stick.

Upon her return to her own time, she intended to return something else too.

The ring back to Roy.

Intended, but she would she follow through? She was no closer to knowing what would happen to all the new memories she made while in this dimension. If the transition occurred like it did in the movie and she dissolved into nothing, leaving only her original self, would they all fade away also, or do they stay and become part of her? She still didn’t know if she’d remember all she’d learned, felt, experienced.

And even if she did remember, would she still have the resolve to do it. How could she ensure she didn’t lose the power and strength she’d found in her journey?

In one day more, the sorrow in her heart, fire in her feet and anger in her head might fizzle as she became good old Pammy again. And she didn’t want to be her anymore.

No, it would have to be tomorrow. She wasn’t sure how yet but she would have to do it. This Pam, the reformed version, the one activated after Michael’s super spin of the Time Turner and by the influence of new models and experiences seen with new and improved eyes.

What began as small observations and droplets of understanding had over the course of two weeks snowballed to an avalanche that with its collapse created this new Pam, somebody who had the strength to call off something she knew neither of the versions wanted any longer, even if only one of them knew it.

But there still was the aftermath if she did forget her experiences here. She had to hope that she knew herself enough, that deep down the other Pam also knew Roy was not the man she should be marrying, was not the man she truly loved.

That when she learned of what she’d done, she would be relieved to find she did. That whatever weird dream state that she might not understand or remember happening, would nonetheless leave her grateful it had; that while in some unexplainable trance she’d found the courage to do what she did.

She knew whichever version of herself she was left with on the other side, the one who remembered or did not, either way she was giving herself freedom just like Harry and Hermione gave Sirius Black and Buckbeak.

Somehow though, it didn’t seem enough. She would need to be sure she did know everything that transpired while here, otherwise she might too easily return to her old life, not knowing what gave her the strength to break away from it in the first place.

But how?

She gained little help from the two books she had hoped would be guides to understanding what she was going through. Her experience, though like Harry’s in some ways and Henry’s in others, had nuances making it too different to look to them for insight.

She closed her eyes to think, conjuring up visions of all the time travel movies she had ever seen to remember one with a plot where the traveler had to get a message to their future self. When she opened them again, unsuccessful in recalling anything that might help, they focused on the drawings she was working on earlier and it was all she needed to see to remind her of another movie, not quite about time travel but close and adorably cute with Drew Barrymore and Jim’s secret favorite, Adam Sandler. Though he would never admit it, she knew he’d seen and loved everything the SNL alum starred in, most notably, The Wedding Singer, which she like to tease was the real number one movie on his desert island list and not When Harry Met Sally as he liked to claim.

Taking a page from the plot of a more recent film from the funny man Jim loved so much and sneaking out from her space to grab a few more sheets from the stack of paper next to the printer, she snuck away to the kitchen while the office was still quiet.

Since her stomach was now anything but noiseless, she stopped at the freezer before making her way back into the closet where, as she wolfed down the entire frozen chocolate bar, she began to write down everything in her own unique way, complete with sketches and a shorthand language only she could understand. She planned to leave it for herself in the fax pile with a post-it on top to make sure tomorrow, after it happened and she went back to oblivion, the other her would find and read the entire manifesto before she went downstairs to meet Roy and go home for the night.

Mixed in with the account, she sprinkled secrets she and just a few others would know, like the story she told Jim back when he was new at Dunder Mifflin. The one where as a little girl she had a chipmunk jump into her lap while she read a book. She also wrote down about the pair of silver wings she received as a child, her favorite souvenir from her first airplane trip that she only just remembered about while back in the captain’s quarters on the boat. She covered the pages in other memories from long ago, ones she realized now she had only shared with Jim and not with Roy, her fiancé.

To be sure she could convince herself the journal and its contents weren’t part of some trick being played on her by him, more often she was his pranking partner as opposed to his target but one never knew what he might do in fun, she also included her dream about one day having a terrace with flowers. That dream she’d never told a soul.

»»»»»»»»»

Pam slammed closed the freezer.

She’d come home optimistic after the best vacation she’d had with Roy in some time. Strangely there had been some misgivings forming for her right up until they’d left. It was odd, as much as she was thrilled they’d finally set a date, the ticking clock seemed to add a layer of pressure that caused them to fight more. In some cases, it was about the same old things, his road rage, his drinking too much, his tendency to forget when they had plans, at least ones that didn’t involve hanging out at Poor Richards with the warehouse guys or entertaining his brother at the house. The upcoming wedding added some new issues like his disinterest in the planning and watching their finances, the latter issue brought about when he accused her of stealing pocket change from his jeans. However, the getaway was just what they needed to reconnect and just the thing to reassure herself marrying Roy was still the thing she wanted. Sure, there was her little accident that while not entirely Roy’s fault, may not have happened had he not left her on a run she wasn’t skilled enough to ski alone. Plus, there was the way he embarrassed her with the wedding coordinator at the hotel. But aside from those, it was a great trip.

But then they came home to have a row about earrings, spoiling the post-vacation high she was on and leaving such a bad feeling it spilled over to her morning even if he seemed to have let it go overnight.

The diminished affection when they arrived at work, whether due to the fight or just his regular lack of attentiveness, and the strange interactions with Michael on the elevator and at her desk added to her stress over the day ahead but it was thoughts of Jim that made her happy to be back. Prank or no prank, that maybe Michael’s spontaneous meeting had delayed, Jim seemed just as glad to see her again too, all the weirdness from before was gone. From there her day had only gotten better and quite exciting with the internship Jan presented, but as usual exhilaration soon turned to disappointment, when Roy showed up.

And now someone had eaten all her chocolate.

Cursing her co-workers, she stomped back over to her desk to grab her wallet and trek to the vending machines in the breakroom.

«««««««««

All the staff were back at their desks now that the women’s seminar and impromptu men’s session had ended. Most were too engaged in catching up on sales calls and expense reports and whatever other duties today’s events took them away from all day to notice Pam’s angry tread and gloomy countenance as she came back to her desk and quickly head back to the breakroom.

Everyone that is but Jim, who picked up on it right away and followed her back to see why she’d gone from elated to utterly dismal between the times they’d spoken, even though he was almost completely certain he knew what or rather who was the cause of her foul mood. 

»»»»»»»»»

Judging from the quiet in the kitchen, the office seemed to have emptied considerably fast and she almost felt safe to emerge but looking at her watch it was only 6:10. Someone was likely still here. Knowing how much time was lost today in meetings, catching up on work was sure to detain a few of her co-workers.

That’s why she jumped again when the door flew open, or at least tried to. There was little room to move, much less hide from the person at the door.  To her relief this time it was only Randall who assured her that they were alone. Michael, on Randall’s suggestion left early to avoid Darryl’s wrath and his departure spawned a mass exodus.

“Come on out sweetheart. After everyone tore out of here I told the rest of my guys they could leave considering all the craziness that went on.”

He reached his hand to help her out, which she took eagerly. In the long hours of waiting, her body seemed to have molded to the position she had curled herself into and she wasn’t sure she could pull herself up without his assistance.

“Come out and relax for a bit. You both had a pretty emotional day.”

Pam looked up at his kind eyes once again, thankful he was there but now curious what sort of trouble the duplicate Michael had caused today.

“Who me and Michael? What happened to him?”

“As a matter of fact, I haven’t even seen Michael, your Michael that is, a good thing since Michael one created enough turmoil for ten of them. No, I was talking about you and yourself. I don’t know what you know about today but it was a rough one. I’ve never seen you two fight before and I imagine your other self is feeling rather bad about everything.”

“Fight? I’d hardly call what happened a fight. I couldn’t exactly hear but I saw and the whole thing happened in less than a minute. I showed Roy the brochure, he said no, I tried to argue, he got mad and stormed off and as usual I let him have the final say. But not anymore. I’m done with…”

Something in Randall’s eyes stopped her, the look said it wasn’t what she witnessed while still hidden in the bullpen that he was talking about. Something happened after that.

“No, it wasn’t the thing with Roy. It was the thing with Jim in the breakroom.”

What thing with Jim?

She couldn’t imagine any situation where she would have fought with Jim but according to Randall she had and it was so bad that even the cameraman was experiencing distress over it.

“Listen, I’m really not supposed to do this but since you’re not really you it’s not technically breaking the rules. And I think you ought to see this.”

Pam had seen him and Matt playing back footage on the screen of a camera a time or two ever since they’d begun their filming at the office, but she’d never been invited to watch it together with them as they reviewed.

She wasn’t this time either.

Randall instead left her alone after he cued up what he caught of her and Jim arguing in the breakroom.

She braced herself for what she was about to see on the tiny monitor, unconsciously twisting at her fingers, mirroring the motion of her on-screen version just as Jim walked into the frame.  

“What happened? What’s changed? Why aren’t you doing it?”

He was gentle with her as he spoke, as he always was. It was her who got defensive almost immediately.

“It’s just it’s not the right thing at the right time. There’s like no big sign that says it’s right for me. My gut always tells me what…”

“Your gut or Roy’s?” Jim interrupted his tone still tender but with a little sharpness clinging to the edge as he spoke Roy’s name.

“Mine”, the Pam on the screen spit back. As she watched, she could hear her own voice laced with a venom directed at the wrong man.

“But he’s not wrong. There’s no assurance this could lead to anything and the timing’s not right. But it’s my choice and I just don’t feel it’s the direction I should be taking right now.”

“Pam, no one is going to hand you a road map for your future but this is pretty damn close. I hate to see him be the reason you can’t follow it.”

“He’s not,” she fired back. “This is my decision, my choice and I’m fine with my choices.”

Jim brushed his hand ferociously through his hair, as if he was trying to rub sense into his brain to shut this argument down and stay quiet but all it did was make him look angrier with his hair askew and his judgmental stare.

“You are?”

Randall, before he left her, showed her how to use the controls to pause the playback, assuring her it was not only protected from being erased but already backed up after she warned him about her limited competence with technology and her fear of messing something up.

On her first attempt, she was able to freeze the replay, wanting nothing more than to erase it but knowing even if she would, though she would never intentionally do that to Randall, or could, it wouldn’t change anything that had already happened in her past and according to Randall’s theories was probably the timeline correcting itself. 

Jim had never taken such a heated tone with her in all the time she’d known him but could she blame him with the way she was shooting daggers at him.

But why? Why was she lashing out at the man who recognized her talent and encouraged it and believed she could do more than answer phones and make copies? The man who made her smile every day, laugh harder than with anyone else and other than in the scene she had frozen on the tiny screen, light up whenever he was close. But even with angry words passing between them, there was still a glint of energy radiating from them that was charged, heated, passionate.

With Roy before all she saw was her sadness and cowardice, his toxicity draining the life and fire right out of her.

Why was she arguing about her choices? Choices he knew weren’t actually hers because Jim, not Roy knew her better than anyone and plainly wanted something more for her.

Here she was fighting with Jim when it was Roy she was mad at. Roy, who even though she’d not been able to hear a word of the exchange, she still knew had told her it was a stupid idea, that her art was a hobby and nothing more. Roy, who after 9 years still didn’t consider her feelings and made her feel small and told her what she could and couldn’t do. Roy who still didn’t get her while the man she watched now did.

She wanted to scream at herself, rush into the scene, shake the foolish girl taunting her from within the camera and smack the scowl right off her stupid, angry face.

Instead, she pressed play again to see what more her idiotic twin was going to say.

“I am and besides it’s none of your business!”

It was as if she cut him, the blade of her words had ripped him open and tore out his heart, but despite the pain she undoubtedly observed in his moistened eyes it didn’t stop the last bit he had to say before he walked out of the room.

“There’s never going to be a flashing billboard that says this way to your future. It’s not about signs, it’s about taking the opportunity to do what is best for Pam, not Roy, you. My business or not, unlike him, it’s only you I’m thinking of.”

And then it was just her in the room, in both scenes and they were both crying. She stopped the playback again before the next footage began. She didn’t need to see anymore. Through her tears if was hard to see anything clearly anyway.

So much for the perfect eyesight she attained here, her past self still had such a damned case of myopia she couldn’t see how right everything he said was.

But there was one thing he was wrong about, there were signs and they were everywhere.

Maybe not in the other timeline but in this one.

There was the one hanging under the plaque by the entrance and more were piled in a desk drawer. Both said she did have talent and her art was appreciated, even if it was only by Michael and Jim so far.

Every time Michael brought out his Elvis impersonation it was a callback to the story of Gabby and Randall and how they had almost lost the chance to be with each other solely because she had met someone else first.

Though her other self still refused to see it, or perhaps she did now that Kelly so persistently pointed it out, but that her song with Roy was about a couple who didn’t wind up together was a big tell. That Jewel believed her lover would come back to her was almost as delusional as Pam thinking Roy still made her happy.

Then there was this whole experience of hurdling through time —if that wasn’t like a huge flashing billboard then she didn’t know what was.

But truth was she didn’t need a sign, she just needed to open her eyes within this supernatural world where time travel existed and she didn’t even need corrective lenses to see what was right in front of her. What had been all along.

But what she needed was someone like Michael to admire the talent she had and let her know it was important she follow her own dreams.

She needed to see Randall bend the rules to let her see what she missed and hear his words of wisdom so she could learn the future was not immutable, not because of time travel but because she could control it herself.

She needed to meet Gabby, so she could show her it was okay to step away from something good to be even happier, even if that meant hurting someone you still cared about.

She needed to see Roy from a different angle to see how they’d grown apart, or how maybe they were just never right for each other to begin with.

She needed to understand she was the catalyst of her own happiness and while the whole world was singing songs and posting up signs to point her there, she had to be the one to make it happen.

The irony was how it took angry words and her first real fight with Jim to bring her to the decision that took way too long to come to.

She was choosing him.

Choosing him for the right reasons too. Not just because she found out he liked her. Deciding to be with someone just because of that, it wasn’t enough to build a lifetime relationship.

She learned that after being with Roy. It had only taken nine years.

But if she thought about it, it had only taken two weeks, two weeks over which she came to see her whole romance with Roy was predicated on him being interested in her back in high school. There was never really anything in him that made her feel true attraction to him. He was the popular jock and he was handsome so when he said I like you, she just felt like she should like him in return.

But in truth, they were not compatible. They never were.

But with Jim it was different. There was instant chemistry. She felt it at that very first meeting but had pushed it down to where it couldn’t interfere with what had begun long before she met him.

And it wasn’t just that, the more she got to know him, the more she found they had in common. And what they didn’t they both seemed interested in learning to like from each. Except baseball. She wasn’t sure she would ever like baseball. But with Jim she knew she didn’t have to.

Because Jim wasn’t about molding her to his specifications, he was about letting her be who she was and who she was, was one hundred percent in love with him.

And tomorrow, she was going to tell him.

Tomorrow was the day she would rewrite her destiny and Randall and Michael were going to help her do it.

End Notes:

I really do hope I addressed all my typos, overly repeated words and run-on sentences. To my pseudo-betas (and you know who you are) drop me a line if I have - I can't read this one again. Or anyone who sees something, say something.

I hope what came across in some of my passages is just how utterly confusing trying to wrap your head around time travel is, the complete paradoxical nature of it. Writing it can make you feel the same way, it's a mind F*#&.

 So The Wedding Singer - for those of you who missed the Discord chat - doesn't the story of Julia and Robbie sound really familiar. I'm not sure which name would be worse to wind up with Pam Anderson or Julia Gulia. And if you are a Jam fan and have not seen this movie- you really should.

The bit of my chapter that mentions this movie is not only a nod to this but also to TD. There's also a few nods to Warrior sprinkled within.

 ps…my apologies to the baseball fans, nothing personal meant there.   

 

Love to all reading. Hope you enjoyed. 

 

 

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