Up in the Air by WanderingWatchtower
Summary: "Make music with the chatter in here
And whisper all the notes in my ear."
-Oviedo
-- Blind Pilot

An Airport AU.


Categories: Jim and Pam Characters: Jim/Pam
Genres: Fluff, Romance, Travel
Warnings: No Warnings Apply
Challenges: None
Series: None
Chapters: 5 Completed: No Word count: 14689 Read: 2068 Published: March 29, 2022 Updated: November 07, 2022
Story Notes:

Once upon a time I listened to a song that briefly and vaguely mentioned an airport bar and suddenly I wanted to write about Jim and Pam in an airport. Very loosely inspired by aspects of the movies The Terminal and Serendipity as well.


As usual, I own nothing.

Up, up, and away!

1. Chapter 1 by WanderingWatchtower

2. Chapter 2 by WanderingWatchtower

3. Chapter 3 by WanderingWatchtower

4. Chapter 4 by WanderingWatchtower

5. Chapter 5 by WanderingWatchtower

Chapter 1 by WanderingWatchtower
Jim slid out of the cab and threw his messenger bag over his shoulder before retrieving his carry-on from the trunk. The swirling wind and snow whipped around him as he tugged on the lapel of his coat and rushed into the Denver airport. Once inside, he checked his watch and cursed under his breath. He was rarely on time for anything and then with an unexpected accident on the interstate on the drive here, he was pretty certain he was going to miss his flight home.

He had spent the last week at an office supply conference, which is just about as thrilling as it sounds. But the paper company he worked for, Dunder Mifflin, had recently expanded westward and Jim couldn’t deny that it was a good opportunity to be in Denver, networking with potential clients and partners. Why they had to hold the conference in the dead of winter, now that he wasn’t so sure about.

He picked up his step, grateful he didn’t have any bags to check, when he heard his phone chiming. Keeping his pace, he began searching every pocket. The problem with winter weather (which he was no stranger to, living in New York) was the sheer amount of pockets there seemed to be in all the layers he had to wear to keep warm, and for some reason he could never remember which one he put his phone in. Finally, he felt it as he reached into the left inside pocket of his coat. He looked at the screen and smiled, but before he could answer it, he collided with something–no–someone. Papers went flying, just like they did in the movies when two people run into each other, and he couldn’t help but find it just a little bit comical.

“Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry,” he chuckled, as he bent down and scrambled to help pick up the papers. “I was just running to make my flight and I’m…” He caught a glimpse of the woman he had run into. Auburn hair pulled up into a loose bun, strands falling out, but perfectly so. She wasn’t looking at him, just at the scattered papers. Jim slowed down, looking at her. “I was just in my own head I guess.”

The woman, who looked to be around his age, shook her head, still not looking at him. “It’s fine,” she clipped, obviously frazzled. But even so, there was something about her that made it hard for him to pull his gaze. She was beautiful, no question. But there was something else he couldn’t quite put his finger on. Something that seemed so familiar, though he was sure they had never met before.

She picked up the last of the papers and finally turned to him, hand outstretched. Her eyes were a beautiful shade of green, almost like his own but deeper and it caught him off guard. She really was pretty, even behind the obvious frustration on her face. The woman sighed and stretched out her hand further.

“Can I…have those?” she asked him, gesturing toward his hands.

He looked at the papers in his hands and quickly shook his head, remembering what he was doing. He handed the stack to her. “Oh, yes! Sorry. And, sorry for…” he gestured wildly to the general area surrounding them. “...that. What just happened.”

“Just…watch where you’re going next time,” she said with a shrug, her initial irritation loosening, softening the furrow of her brow. He thought he saw the corner of her mouth tug upward, but she turned away too quickly to be sure, scurrying off to wherever she was headed before he accidentally took her out like a linebacker. Tearing his eyes away from her when he remembered he had a flight to catch, he caught sight of one stray piece of paper they had missed on the ground. He picked it up and examined it. It was a drawing of a couple, each of them with a baby in their arms. They were looking at each other, and even though it was a loose sketch, you could see the admiration and love they had for each other. Jim wondered if this woman he had just run into had drawn it herself. Maybe the woman in the drawing was actually supposed to be her, and that was her husband and her babies she was rushing to get back to. Subconsciously, he hoped it wasn’t the latter, which was absurd because he didn’t even know this woman and would likely never see her again in his life. But still, he told himself that she had to have been the one that drew it.

He checked his watch, cursed again, and took off running. He was definitely missing his flight now.


***


Finding a bench to sit on, Pam straightened the papers in her hands. They weren't really all that important, just some sketches she had done on her trip. Mountain landscapes, strangers at local cafes, and a lot of Michael, Holly, and their new twins. Michael was the first boss she ever had back in Scranton. He had started his own business and was in desperate need for sales help. Pam was also desperate for a job, so she accepted. Michael turned out to be a pretty incompetent boss, Pam admitted to herself that she wasn't cut out for sales, and the company ended up going under. But somehow, despite Michael's general idiocy, Pam grew to love him. They remained friends after their failed start-up and got even closer when she introduced him to the HR representative at her new office, Holly. The two of them hit it off quickly and got married within the year.

That's what had brought her to Colorado. Michael and Holly moved back to help Holly's parents right after they got engaged. Holly got pregnant almost immediately after they moved, and after she gave birth to their twins, Pam just had to visit them. Especially since Michael and Holly named one of them Morgan—Pam's middle name.

She had a lovely time with them, but this whole day definitely could have gone better. She slept through her alarm, left her phone charger at Michael’s house, got stuck in a giant traffic jam on the way to the airport, finally arrived, only to find out her flight had been delayed due to weather. And not just a little delayed. Six hours delayed. And then to top it all off, some guy ran right into her, knocking her notebook out of her hands, sending all the loose sketches in it fluttering around them. And then he laughed.

The laughing should have made her mad. To be truthful, she was pretty frustrated. But there was something in his soft chuckle as he scrambled to help her that eased the frustration a little. When she finally looked at him, she was caught off guard by his looks. Hair perfectly tousled and a warm smile tugging at the corner of his lips. And he was tall. Somehow, he was able to seem genuinely remorseful while also remaining lighthearted and playful about nearly knocking her flat in the middle of the airport.

But things hadn’t gone her way that morning (or the afternoon) and she felt like she needed to let her frustration out on something tangible. So even though he was charming, and kind, and helped her immediately, she huffed and told him to be more careful before rushing off, instantly regretting not just thanking him for helping her. Or telling him it was actually fine. Or, you know, smiling.

She tucked her notebook in her bag and sighed. Something felt off today, and not just because of all the things that had gone wrong. She felt a little empty, which was weird for having just spent the last three days hanging out with her dear friends and holding cute babies and getting a break from the mundane aspects of her life back home. She should feel restored, not depleted.

Maybe it was seeing how genuinely happy Michael and Holly were. They were building this life together and despite drowning in diapers and getting what must feel like mere minutes of sleep, they were glowing—blissful, even. And while that made Pam so grateful to see her friends that way, it made her realize how much she didn’t feel that way about her life right now. She wasn’t unhappy with her life. She had a lot to be grateful for and it could always be worse. But things had begun to feel stagnant—unremarkable, really. She was known to thrive in the comfort of familiarity. But now there was the nagging urge to change something. She wanted to glow too.


***

Three minutes. He missed his flight by three minutes. He practically begged the woman at the gate to let him board but she was an iron wall, unable to be budged, persuaded , or charmed into letting him on that plane. Running his hand over his face, he turned around toward the desk to see what other options he had for getting home.

“We do have one more flight headed to New York tonight,” the man at the desk relayed to him. “There’s one stop, but you wouldn’t have to de-plane, as it’s continuing onto JFK.”

“Okay,” he said, lacking enthusiasm. “I guess let’s book that one.”

The man clacked away at the keyboard. “Also,” he continued, not taking his eyes from the screen. “Your flight doesn’t leave for several hours. I hope that’s not a problem.”

Jim sighed. “Nope, not a problem.”

“Great.” The man grabbed the boarding pass that had just printed and handed it to Jim. “Try not to miss this one, huh?”

Jim gave him a smile that was laced with perhaps a little too much sarcasm, and headed toward the nearest bar. He had plenty of time to kill. A couple beers couldn’t hurt. He walked into the nearest one he could find, a place called Spirit in the Sky, and sat down on a corner stool at the bar before ordering a beer. He put his face in his hands, suddenly feeling exhausted. The thought of having to spend the next—he looked at his watch—five hours in an airport didn’t help.

He heard the stool two seats down scrape against the tile and lifted his eyes that direction, sitting a little straighter. It was her. It was the girl he had accidentally plowed over earlier.

She didn’t seem to notice him, or perhaps she didn’t even remember who he was. It was a brief interaction and she was obviously flustered, so he couldn’t blame her if that was the case. He, however, would probably always remember her face. She had such a simple beauty that made it hard to forget. He traced the rim of his glass with his middle finger, looking at her in his periphery, and debated whether or not to attempt talking to her.

He cleared his throat. "We uh, keep running into each other," he started. She turned to look at him and he saw the slight recognition in her eyes. "Thankfully it's a little less literal this time," he chuckled carefully.

Much to his relief, she smiled. And it wasn't one of those fake, "please stop talking to me" pity smiles, either. It was soft, and genuine, and made him lose his train of thought.

"Yes, and this time is a little less painful."

Jim gave a playful wince and peeked at her through one eye. "I really am so sorry. I feel terrible."

Pam waved her hand as if she was batting away the words he just said. "It's okay, really. I actually am sorry for how mean I was about it."

"I didn't think you were mean," he said quickly. "Maybe frustrated, but that's to be expected."

"It's just been…a long day so far." She set her drink down and stuck her hand out. "I'm Pam," she said with a smile.

He wiped his hand on his jeans (why was he sweating so much?!) and took hers. "Jim."

"So, Jim." He really liked hearing his name on her tongue. "Where are you headed, and so quickly?"

He popped a pretzel in his mouth and smiled, grateful she was joking about it. "I'm going back home to New York. I was in Denver for work. But unfortunately, missed my flight."

"Ah, I see. Mine got delayed," she said with a shrug.

"And where are you headed?"

"I'm from Pennsylvania."

Jim sat up straighter. "Hey, me too! What part?"

"I thought you said…"

"I live in New York but I grew up in Scranton."

She slammed her hand on the bar with a giant grin. "Shut up! That's where I'm from!!"

He turned toward her and threw his hands up in disbelief. "You're joking! What high school did you go to?"

"Valley View."

He pointed toward himself. "West Scranton!"

She shook her head a little, still smiling. "Of all the gin joints."

"Small world," he laughed.

They continued talking about Scranton and offering up places they may have crossed paths without even knowing. Then Jim could feel the conversation slowing and tapering. He wasn't ready to be done talking to her. They had only just met, but for whatever reason he felt the need to know everything about her—to see places she's been, pets she's had, figure out pet peeves and favorite ice cream flavors. So he said the first thing that came to his mind.

"I have a question for you. How many words per minute does the average person type?"

She smirked, and he convinced himself that he saw relief in her face—that she was happy he kept the conversation going. "I type 90," she shrugged.

He scoffed. "Shut up. Mavis Beacon doesn't even type 90."

She giggled and all he wanted was to figure out how to keep that sound ringing in his ears. "It's true!" she protested.

"Okay, I said average."

"Seventy? How many do you type?"

"Forget it." He couldn't wipe the smile from his face. Being with her, this essential stranger, felt so comfortable. "I was just going to brag. Forget it."

She bit her bottom lip as a snicker escaped and it sent a current through him. "Come on, tell me!"

"No!"

"You have to tell me now." She gave him an exaggerated pout.

Jim sighed and put his hand over his eyes. "Sixty-five." Her snickering got louder, causing him to chuckle as well. "Okay, no need to laugh."

She feigned seriousness. "No, that's…respectable."

"Respectable."

Easily, an hour passed as they talked. The topics of conversation were mostly surface-level, but Jim couldn't help but notice that they were sitting closer to each other than they were an hour ago and he tried to internally deny how many times he had to stop himself from touching her leg or her hand involuntarily.

"So, when's your flight?" he finally asked her.

Pam checked her watch and rolled her eyes. "Not for another…three hours."

"Well, the flight I was able to switch to doesn't leave for about four more hours. So it seems like we both have some time to kill."

She smiled. "So it seems."

"You free for dinner tonight?" He cringed. That sounded way more forward than he meant it to. "I just mean…we'll both be here a while and I hear the airport McDonald's here has like two Michelin stars…and," he glanced up at her. "I wouldn't mind the company. Airports kind of suck."

"Two Michelin stars, huh?"

"Oh yeah, tons of awards. Their McDouble is as fine as fine dining gets."

"In that case," she said. "I'd be a fool to turn that offer down."

He felt his shoulders relax and he stood up. "Okay then. Let's see what the Denver International Airport has to offer."

His phone rang in his pocket, but he ignored it. He watched as Pam gathered her things. Whatever it was, it could wait.
End Notes:
Happiest of birthdays to our own emxgoldstars!! 
Chapter 2 by WanderingWatchtower
Pam liked airports. There were so many people to watch, some coming and some going, but everyone was heading somewhere. She liked to create stories for the people around her. She would picture tearful, but joyful, embraces as a son made it home to visit his mom for the first time in too long. She imagined those kids, bright-eyed as they got off the plane and saw palm trees for the first time. A college freshman leaving home for the first time to attend school and putting on a brave face, but nervously texting her parents until she boards.

She wondered what kind of stories people made up about her.

She wondered if they assumed the man walking by her side was her husband, or boyfriend. She bet nobody would guess they had just met and had only met because he literally ran into her.

And of all the people in the airport—all the places they come from and go to, this man she met just so happened to grow up in the same small Pennsylvania town she did. They swam in the same community pool, ate at the same restaurants, and now they just so happened to be stuck in the same airport.

He interrupted her train of thought. "Okay, before we eat, there is one thing I have to do."

"Okay…"

"I promised my niece I would bring her home a souvenir and I have a feeling all the free pens I got at the conference aren't going to cut it."

"Okay, but did you get any of those rubber wristbands? Frisbees? Tote bags?"

His eyes widened. "Wow, I really suck at getting free stuff."

"Yeah, you really dropped the ball," she shrugged.

"But not the stress ball. I got four of those."

Pam snickered and glanced to him as they walked, unable to hide her smile. It struck her in the bar earlier, the way they were able to so easily play off each other. She would make a joke and without skipping a beat, he'd enhance it. They would switch off with the harmony and melody of conversation, just like the jazz music her dad always used to listen to. None of it planned, but smooth and effortless regardless—like they had known each other for years.

"Anyway, I'm a sucker for a good airport gift shop," Jim continued. "You could help me pick something out. If you want to, that is."

It didn't take her long to agree and they turned into the nearest shop that had brightly colored shirts reading "Denver" in big, bold letters across the front. Pam maneuvered over to a tower of personalized key chains.

"What's your niece's name?" she asked.

He came up beside her, standing close enough that she could smell his cologne. Only it didn't exactly smell like cologne. It was something more familiar. But whatever it was, she could feel it causing her pulse to pick up. "Her name is Vanessa."

Pam turned the tower and ran her fingers across the lowest row of keychains. "Vallerie, Vincent, Victoria, Vivian…no Vanessa."

Jim picked up a keychain and furrowed his eyebrows. "How is there a Beatrice and not a Vanessa?"

"You could get her the Beatrice one. I'm sure she wouldn't notice."

He grinned (and she tried to ignore the fact that she had begun to crave seeing his smile) and turned the keychain over in his hand. "You're right. She's only 4 and can't read yet."

They laughed together as he put the keychain back and they continued looking for a gift. But she also kept looking at him. She knew she wasn't in a place in her life to be staring at this virtual stranger in the airport and wishing she knew everything about him, but no matter what she did, her eyes gravitated to him. She told herself it was innocent. They would go their separate ways and she would go back to her life in Scranton.

She should feel happier about that last part.

"What about this?" She heard Jim say. She looked over to see him holding up a small purple dinosaur wearing a Colorado Rockies jersey. "It's Dinger!"

"Wait, you know the mascot's name?"

"And you don't?" he feigned a surprised look. "But I think my brother would kill me for bringing in any sort of baseball related thing into his house that wasn't Phillies related. Moving on."

The whole time they were looking though overpriced knickknacks and stuffed animals, Pam couldn't help but envision Jim giving whatever they found to his niece. She barely knew him, but something told her he was an amazing uncle. She pictured him scooping up a little girl as she threw her tiny arms around his neck, a look of delight on her face. She bet he was the favorite.

Eventually she found a small stuffed bear with "Denver" stitched on the belly and Jim said it would be perfect. He placed the bear on the counter, but also put a shot glass next to it along with the smallest bottle of fabric softener she had ever seen.

Pam raised her eyebrows. "Does your niece have a drinking problem?"

"We really need a 12 step program for her." He smiled. "No, just a dumb thing I started collecting when I was younger and now can't help but buy one whenever I go somewhere."

"And the…" she pointed to the fabric softener.

"Oh, yeah. I'm out."

"So…you are going to buy it at an airport? That thing probably costs like $9," she laughed.

Jim just shrugged. "It's my favorite kind. Why it's in an airport gift shop, I don't know. But I'm not going to question it."

Suddenly she realized that was what she smelled on him earlier. Not cologne, but fabric softener. All these little revelations about him only made her want to know more of what constructed him. Luckily, she still had about two and a half hours to discover it.

***

The fabric softener (that was actually only $4.99) clinked against the shot glass as Jim put them in his messenger bag and they walked out of the gift shop. He put his hands in his pockets and stopped, turning toward Pam. "Where to now? You hungry?"

He hoped she wasn't ready to be done hanging out with him, but he half expected her to say she was actually going to head to her gate early, without him. Say that it was nice to meet him—wish him a safe flight. He probably shouldn't be flirting with a stranger anyway.

"Practically starving," she said with a wink, and he felt his shoulders relax.

"We can't have that, now can we? Pick a place and let's do it."

She squinted. "Hmmm…okay. Don't laugh. It's not two star Michelin McDonald's, but I really want—"

"Please say–"

"Shake Shack," they said simultaneously.

A wide smile spread across Pam's face. And that smile looked really good on her. (Not that he noticed. He definitely wasn't noticing or feeling or anticipating every smile she gave him.)

"Their burgers," she said.

"So good," he agreed.

He thought about offering to pull her suitcase or take her bag, but that felt like approaching a line he wasn't sure he should cross. They had a couple hours. They could have fun and that would be it. Harmless and innocent. Just two kids from Scranton stuck in an airport together and making the best of it.

They continued talking as they walked and as they stood in line, only pausing to give their orders. Then they picked up right where they left off when they sat down.

Jim was good with people. He was a salesman after all, and a pretty good one at that. But he had never in his life felt this comfortable talking to another person. There were no lulls—no breaks in the conversation. He wasn't scrambling to think of something to say. He had to remind himself multiple times that they had only met hours ago rather than years.

"So tell me," he said as he crumpled his napkin and put it on his tray. "What were all those papers I sent flying in the air this afternoon?"

Her cheeks turned a perfect shade of pink. "Just some sketches."

He reached into his messenger bag and pulled out the sketch he had picked up and scooted it across the table. "You missed one."

She picked it up and gave it a glance over before meeting his eyes again. "My friends. Michael and Holly and their new twins." She had answered the question he didn't even ask, as if she anticipated it. "They're the ones I've been staying with out here. The reason I visited, really."

She glanced back down at the paper and he detected something behind her eyes as she looked at her sketch. Not sadness, but perhaps something adjacent to that.

"It's really good," he offered, getting her to look at him again.

"Hmm?"

"The sketch. You're really talented."

"Oh," she waved him off. "No, these are just what happens when I need to give my hands something to do."

"Well, I think that picture is amazing. Here." He grabbed the Shake Shake receipt from off of Pam's tray and dug for a pen in his bag. "Give your hands something to do right now," he said, tapping the receipt.

Pam gave a playful sigh but gave into his request. She began scratching lines on the back of her receipt. As the lines began to come together, Jim saw exactly what she was sketching. It was a man and a woman sitting next to each other at a bar. He couldn't tell, but he was pretty sure that bar was in an airport. Perhaps in Colorado.

He watched as she lifted the pen, tilted her head to look at the sketch, and then scooted it back across the table to him. "Best I can do for slippery receipt paper and a crappy promotional pen," she smirked.

"Hey," he said with mock protest. "This pen is the best…" he looked at the side of it. "...The Paper Mill has to offer."

"Well, their pens suck."

Jim took the receipt and tucked it carefully in his wallet. "I guess I'll just have to take it from the professional."

"Don't you sell office supplies?"

"Not pens!"

"Fair enough," she smiled.

Jim checked his watch. There was only about an hour before Pam's flight and he felt the time slipping through his fingers. He wasn't ready for this whirlwind friendship to end. In the hours they had spent together, neither of them had offered a last name, a phone number, an address, or anything of that kind. It felt like an unspoken agreement—no real specifics, just an afternoon as strangers. Only, they didn't exactly feel like strangers anymore.

She looked at him, noticing he was checking the time. "Hope you aren't sick of me," she said playfully.

That couldn't have been further from the truth. He shook his head. "Definitely not. What do you say we find one last view of these mountains before you have to board? I passed a good spot after I missed my flight earlier. Perfect view of the Rockies, and we might be able to catch the sunset."

She flashed a smile. "Lead the way."

***

Jim wasn't lying. Pam looked through the big windows between gates C23 and C24 and marveled at the perfect view of the snowcapped Colorado mountains. The storm had cleared, leaving the sky a clear bluish purple, swirling with gold as the sun began to set. She took a mental picture, hoping to paint it when she got home.

Jim leaned in closer and subtly pointed to a man sitting at the adjacent gate. "Okay, here's the game. Come up with a story for that guy."

Her favorite thing to do.

She shifted her body, and in doing so, inadvertently made the gap between them even smaller. But he didn't pull back.

"Oh, I already started. His name is Brad. He runs his own business. But nothing big, just a small 'Mom and Pop' kind of thing for…something."

"Garage door parts."

"Garage door parts," she chuckled. "And what brings him to Denver, Jim?"

"The garage doors, of course."

Pam let out a laugh and then quickly hid her mouth with her hand when "Brad" looked up.

Jim was also having a hard time concealing his smile. "No, no. He's actually here visiting his oldest daughter."

"Because her garage door broke."

He nodded. "Because her garage door broke, but really it had been a while since he had seen her. So instead of walking her through it over the phone, he flew out here to spend some time with her because he missed her. And her garage."

There was a sincerity and sweetness behind his words, and she caught herself as she nearly put her hand on his knee. That is not what this was.

"I like that," Pam said softly. "Way to go, Brad."

"What a guy."

They continued finding people to create stories for as the sun fell behind the mountains, until an alarm sounded on Pam's phone and her heart fell. It was time for her to leave.

"Well," she said, unsure of what else to say. This had easily been the best day she had had in a very long time.

"I guess you had better go," he said. But neither of them moved. "Maybe I'll randomly see you at Gerrity's Supermarket during my next trip to see my parents." He gave her a sad smile and she knew he was just as disappointed to be ending their day together as she was.

"Thank you, Jim," she said with as much sincerity as she could. "Today was…wonderful. Even you running into me," she winked.

"It was my pleasure. Happy to sweep you off your…" He cleared his throat. "Happy to run you over anytime."

She tried not to notice the shade of pink his ears had turned. He looked over to her. "Can I ask you something that you can say no to?"

She panicked internally. They had avoided giving away too much about themselves and it felt better for everyone if they kept it that way.

"Yeah, what's up?"

"Can I…give you a hug?"

She smiled. Something about the way he asked made her feel like she was a teenager again. It was so sweet and innocent.

"Absolutely."

He let out a breath that was more like a laugh and stood up. She followed, stepping toward him. Initially she planned to give him a platonic hug—like one she would give an uncle. Something safe. But the way he looked at her. She couldn't help but snake her arms tightly around his neck, standing on her toes, pressing her cheek to his. After a millisecond of what she presumed was shock, she felt his hands slide around her back as he pulled her closer.

She honestly didn't want to let go. Her eyes fluttered shut as she tried to memorize the scent of fabric softener mingled with aftershave and the way his right hand migrated to the middle of her back. He turned his head and buried his face into her shoulder. "Have a good flight," he whispered.

She pulled back and put her hands on his shoulders. Why did she feel like she was holding back tears?

"You too," she smiled. She pulled the handle from her carry on and began walking to her gate, stealing one last glance behind her at Jim, his hand raised to wave goodbye.

There was a heaviness that sat in her chest as she boarded the plane—a sense of loss, which seemed absurd. But she couldn't deny it. Somehow, in only a matter of hours, Jim had put his stamp on her and she knew she would never—could never—forget today.

She sat down in her seat and checked her text messages after she realized she hadn't looked at her phone all day. She replied to some, ignored some, and went to put her phone back in her bag when she heard a now-familiar voice, albeit a little more out of breath than normal.

"So, uh, looks like you're not going to get rid of me that easily."

She found herself speechless. "Jim? What…"

He wiped a bead of sweat from his brow. "Turns out I'm an idiot that can't read times on boarding passes correctly and this is my flight.'

"But you're…" she paused as Jim let another passenger slide past him in the aisle. "You're going to New York."

"Correct. With a stop in Philadelphia," he grinned. "I stay on the plane while you get off and then it continues to New York."

She didn't believe in fate, but this was definitely starting to get close.

"I definitely had to sprint to get to the gate on time, but I made it."

"Where is your seat?" she said, still a little dumbfounded.

He checked his ticket, looked up at the numbers above the seats, then pointed to the window seat in the row opposite the aisle from her. It was then realized she was holding onto hope that fate had taken it one step further and made it so they were sitting next to each other. It felt a little cruel that he would be so close, but not close enough to talk to him.

Jim finally realized there was a line forming behind him and took his seat, continually glancing over the aisle to Pam with a smile. They played this game of eye tag until they were 35,000 feet in the air and Pam had to use the bathroom.

She stood there, looking at herself in the tiny, hazy bathroom mirror. She looked the same. So how did she feel so different? She fixed her hair a little, wiped the smudged mascara from under her eyes, and headed back to her seat. She stopped halfway down the aisle when she saw the brown tousled hair in the seat next to hers. She suppressed a smile and continued forward.

"Sir," she said. "I believe you are in the wrong seat."

Jim looked up from the Sky Mall magazine and grinned. "I may have promised to buy a cocktail for the guy next to you if he switched me seats. Threw in my bag of complementary pretzels for good measure."

She beamed, not caring to hide it anymore, and slipped past him to her seat.

"Buckle up," he said. "We have a long flight ahead of us."

But somehow, it still didn't feel long enough for her.
Chapter 3 by WanderingWatchtower
Jim always assumed the people who designed airplanes were much shorter than him. He took the emergency exit row as often as he could because it always came with a little extra leg room. But now as he sat in a non-exit row with his knees turned in, nearly touching Pam's, he didn't mind so much.

It was a bold move, he admitted, to trade seats to sit next to Pam. He almost didn't do it. But he realized as soon as he saw her stand up and move toward the back of the plane, that he probably had only one more chance to talk to her before he never saw her again and the thought of that sent a panic through him. So he approached the man in the seat next to hers and said something to the effect of, "Hey man, is it okay if I trade you seats to sit next to my girlfriend?"

Oops.

He's not sure why he even said it. Maybe he thought it would persuade the man more? He just hoped the guy didn't say anything to Pam. All he knows is that it worked and he would buy the guy a drink as a cover.

"So why are you flying into Philly instead of a closer airport?" he asked her.

She shrugged. "Cheaper. Just trying to…save money, I guess."

"Makes sense," he said, sensing there was more to it but didn't want to pry. "I've always liked Philly."

"Really? I guess it's fine. I don't know if I could ever see myself living there, but it's fun to visit."

"See," he said, adjusting his watch. "I always envisioned having my own business and having an office in downtown Philadelphia. It always felt like 'the big city'. I mean, I realize I live in New York City now, but I absolutely loved going to Philly as a kid. There's some nostalgia thrown in there. But I guess New York and a paper company I definitely don't own will have to do."

She looked at him and he couldn't tell if it was a change in the plane's air pressure or her smile that made his stomach flip.

"And what kind of business would you run?" she asked him.

"Garage door parts," he winked. He pocketed the sound of her laughter and continued. "No, probably something with sports. Maybe sports marketing or something. I don't know, probably just a silly dream I had as a teenager."

"I don't think that's silly at all," she said, her face painted with sincerity. He realized how close they were sitting, with their shoulders touching and their heads dipping in toward each other. The close proximity was mostly to combat the noisy hum in the cabin of the plane, but he would be lying if it didn't feel like something more.

"I have a very important question for you," Jim said, looking her straight in the eye. For a split second, she looked worried. So he turned one corner of his mouth into a smile and asked, "What drink do you get on a plane when you fly?"

"Diet Coke."

"Wrong," he stated. "The correct answer is ginger ale. Always."

Her eyes widened and she chuckled. "Really? But I don't have the stomach flu."

He shook his head. "It is scientifically proven to taste better when flying through the air at hundreds of miles an hour."

"I'll take your word for it."

"The only other acceptable answer would have been grape soda, but they don't ever serve that on planes, which is a damn shame."

She bit her bottom lip in a smile and giggled quietly. "Should I ask the flight attendant to cut the crusts off your sandwich too?"

He furrowed his brow as she continued.

"Because you're a child."

He put up a finger to correct her. "Hey. A child with good taste." Then he shrugged and muttered, "Nobody likes the crust anyway."

They continued their easy rhythm of conversation until the flight attendant made her way to their row.

"What can I get for you, sir?" she asked in a pitch only dogs should be able to pick up.

"Ginger ale," he said, elbowing Pam when he heard her stifle a laugh. He glanced at the fright attendant's name tag. "Thank you, Kelly."

"Of course! And what about you, ma'am?"

"Diet Coke, please. No ice."

Jim raised his eyebrows and looked to her, mouthing, "No ice?!"

"Perfect!" Kelly chirped. "And speaking of perfect, I totally don't ever do this and like, probably shouldn't, but I just need to say that you two are such a cute couple. Like, I wouldn't go as far as like Brangelina or anything, because they're like, next level hot, but you two are so cute."

"Oh, we aren't—" Jim started, but Kelly didn't seem to be listening.

"I'm sort of seeing this guy, but I'm not sure where it's headed? But like, I'm super into him and he's SO hot and frankly so am I, so I feel like we are a good match. I like him SO much. He works at a bowling alley, which is kind of blech, you know? But he always lets me get free nachos from the grill there. I don't really like nachos, but I think it's sweet that he makes them for me. But he kind of ignores my texts a lot so I don't know if it's going to work out."

Pam's eyes were wide as she glanced to Jim, clearly amused, and opened her mouth to speak without getting very far.

"He also didn’t want popcorn when we went to the movie theater and then I was like, well I can’t order popcorn if he doesn’t, and so all I could think about during the movie was how much I wanted popcorn. And it was a movie I really wanted to see, too. Anyway. Ginger ale and Diet Coke, no ice. Coming right up!"

Jim and Pam turned to each other, initially speechless, before crumbling into heaps of hushed laughter. Instinctively, as if to stabilize himself, he grabbed onto her hand as they both attempted to form words and talk about what had just happened. It wasn't until she pulled her hand away to wipe a loose tear that he even registered he had been holding it.

He flexed his hand, then clenched it. He wanted to remember how it felt but also told himself to forget, because the feel of her palm against his might become all he could think about and they still had two hours left in the flight.


***


Pam had definitely noticed that he grabbed her hand. The moment it happened, all the blood pulsed to her chest as her heart leapt and she clenched his hand back. But she could tell it was an innocent reaction and not flirtation, so in an attempt to avoid any awkwardness, she slipped her hand out to wipe her eyes. If he didn't mention it, she wouldn't either.

"What just happened?" she asked him, coming down from her laughter. Quickly she felt the need to clarify that she was talking about Kelly and not the feeling of his hand encasing hers. "Bowling alley? Popcorn?"

"Free nachos?"

"Actually that part doesn't sound too bad."

She wasn't sure if she should mention the fact that they had just been mistaken as a couple. She definitely knew shouldn't mention the rush she felt when it happened. But maybe, just in her own head, and just for this flight, she could pretend they were something more. It felt harmless enough.

She watched as Jim began scrolling through the in-flight movies.

"Nope…seen it…definitely not…possibly…noooope…"

She leaned in, catching the scent of him again. They really could make a cologne out of it. "Let me look." She glanced through the list of box office flops and straight-to-video titles. "These are terrible," she laughed.

"Truly terrible," he agreed with a smile.

"Oh wait! I found one! Pretty in Pink! A literal gem."

He furrowed his eyebrows. "Is that the one with Molly What's-Her-Face?"

Her mouth fell open. "Molly What's-Her—Jim. That is Molly Ringwald and she is a national treasure and we are watching this."

"And I don't have a say in it?"

"None."

He chuckled. "Fair enough. Isn't the guy in it named like Froggy though?"

"JIM. Duckie. Now give me your earbud."

Jim cocked a smile and began untangling the cord of his headphones, handing one side to her. It occurred to her then that they had both just assumed they would watch a movie, and that they would watch it on one screen, and share headphones. It was as if they had flown together countless times and this was their routine, when in reality, she didn't even know his last name. The fluidity and ease of their instant friendship continued to amaze her. And that's all it was: friendship.

She had to lean in slightly in order to see his screen, and once again, the close proximity caused her heart to flutter. The opening credits rolled and a smile came to her lips as the familiar scenes played on the screen.

"Is that Goosey?" Jim whispered.

"Are you kidding me?" She punched his arm playfully when she realized he was just messing with her.

It didn't take long before her day started catching up to her. Her eyes felt heavy as she tried to concentrate on the movie. She didn't want to fall asleep because she knew she only had a couple hours left with Jim and she didn't want to waste them. Even if they weren't talking, just watching, she still felt like it was something she didn't want to miss. Time felt fleeting and precious.

But she had woken up very early.

And it had been a long day.

So she decided she could rest her eyes, just for a couple minutes.


*****


At first, he wasn't sure if she was asleep when he felt her head rest on his shoulder, so everything but his pulse froze. Slowly, he craned his neck to catch a glimpse of her face. Her eyes were closed and her shoulders were moving slowly and rhythmically, but what he noticed first was the faint smile on her lips. She was definitely asleep, but she looked so content, so peaceful. He couldn't help but smile to himself.

He paused the movie, figuring that since it was one of her favorites, she wouldn't want to miss it. If he was being honest, he was actually very much enjoying it, more than he thought he would, but he wanted to watch it with her.

Suddenly he didn't know what to do with his hands. Instinctually, he wanted to put a hand on her knee, but that couldn't happen. So he kept switching between folding his arms and just laying them in his lap, cautious not to wake her.

Kelly came by with their drinks and she made a pouty face and doe eyes, mouthing, "Sooooo cuuuuute!" as she handed both drinks to Jim. He smiled uncomfortably and thanked her. Gently, he placed the Diet Coke on Pam's tray table, but the movement caused her to stir. When it registered that she was laying on his shoulder, she blushed.

"Sorry," she said with a nervous giggle. "Guess I was more tired than I thought."

"Don't apologize," he said quietly. "I'm told I have very comfortable shoulders. Nobody would blame you."

She smiled and rubbed her cheek. "I just hope I didn't drool on you."

Jim pulled on his sleeve so he could look at this shoulder. He flashed her a winking smile. "All dry."

"Good," she grinned.

For the first time in hours, he wasn't sure what to say next. Not because they didn't have anything to talk about, he was sure they did. They could probably discuss cardboard and still not want the conversation to end. But he felt time closing in on the two of them and it was suffocating. There was so much he wanted to know, learn, and memorize about her that he didn't know where to start. He didn't know if he should joke and keep things light or dive deeper and use their last fleeting moments to discover more things about her he'd come to miss.

And as if the universe could feel his inner turmoil and wished to make it worse, the pilot came on the overhead speaker to let them know they would be beginning their descent into Philadelphia. His stomach churned. He simply wasn't ready to say goodbye.

The look on Pam's face mirrored his. He wanted to go back to watching Pretty in Pink and feeling the weight of her head on his shoulder as he breathed in the scent of her shampoo and forgot about everything else. He wanted to stay in this bubble they created where he didn't know her last name but knew she picked the pickles off her hamburger and wanted a house with a terrace and that she broke her arm in the third grade.

But he also knew that wasn't possible.

She looked at him and gave a tiny shrug and a sad smile, seemingly reading his mind. And it was then he realized they didn't have to talk. They could just be. He could spend his last thirty minutes with her simply being in her presence. Because if he was honest with himself, he also wasn't so sure he could refrain from saying something he shouldn't.

Because of the limited space and Jim's long limbs, their legs were flush together and had been since they began watching the movie. As he ran his hand down his leg, he felt her own hand next to his. His heart stuttered with the contact, but Pam didn't pull away. Slowly, and without looking at him, she spread her little finger out and grazed it over top of his, nearly linking them together. The thought crossed his mind that she might have a boyfriend and perhaps this gesture was instinctual. More evidence that he shouldn't be doing what he was doing. But he caught her gaze—a fleeting glance, really—and he knew it wasn't an accident on her part. She knew what she was doing.

They sat together in silence, fingers touching and eyes out the window looking down on the city lights of Pennsylvania below them, Jim's heart beating wildly despite the calm he felt. This would have to do. He knew all the time in the world would likely never be enough, so this moment together would have to do.

They touched down in Philadelphia and the cabin lights turned on.

"Hello, passengers," a voice buzzed above them. "Welcome to Philadelphia! If this is your final stop, please make your way to the front of the aircraft to exit the plane. If your final stop is the JFK airport, please remain in your seat while we refuel and continue on to New York. Thank you for choosing to fly with us today."

Jim met Pam's eyes. "Guess this is it," he said quietly.

"Guess so," she whispered.

They stood up together so Pam could slide into the aisle. Jim reached into the overhead bin and grabbed her bag for her.

"Thank you."

"Happy to," he said, forcing a half-smile.

She put her hand on his arm. "No, really. Thank you."

He understood. "Happy to," he said more sincerely. For a split second he considered saying "screw it" and asking for her number, or if anything, her last name. But his gut told him it was best if he didn't. She hadn't asked and neither would he.

She gave his arm a slight squeeze, then tiptoed up to give him a soft kiss on his cheek. "Bye, Jim."

"Bye, Pam."

Her eyes were glossy as she gave him one last smile and walked down the aisle and out of the plane.

Jim collapsed in his seat, a feeling of complete emptiness washing over him. He still was in utter disbelief that in only a matter of hours he had connected with someone so fully and deeply, that her absence was now all-consuming. That the thought of never seeing her again burned a hole in his stomach.

So why was he still on the plane?

He shot up, nearly banging his head on the overhead bins, grabbed his belongings as fast as he could, and decided to go after her.

He weaved through the crowds, apologizing to those he bumped and nudged along the way, making his way to baggage claim. Pam had about a five minute head start on him but he was sure he could still get to her. Fate had aligned so many situations today, so finding her seemed like the only possible outcome.

Finally, he caught sight of her curly hair and smiled. Just as he was about to call out for her, a man appeared from behind a group of people and wrapped his arms around her. She hugged him back tightly, and as they broke apart, he leaned down and kissed her. She smiled, took his hand in hers, and the two of them walked away together.

The room spun a little and Jim could feel his heart pulsing in his head as his brain registered what his eyes had just seen. He knew there was always the possibility she was unavailable, but the confirmation of it sent an intense flurry of disappointment through him. He mindlessly ran his fingers over the cheek she had kissed just minutes before, confused, hurt, and angry at himself for ever believing it could be anything more than two strangers in an airport.

He ran his hand over his face and turned back toward the terminal.

By some miracle, they let him back on the plane and he sank back into his seat. He put in his headphones and turned on his music, but none of the melodies seemed to hit his cerebral cortex because all he could think about was every interaction and conversation he had with Pam. He tried to recall any sign she may have given that she had someone back home, but all he could remember was connection. He wasn't looking for connection, but it was impossible to deny.

He got back to New York close to midnight. Normally he liked the way the city was always awake. He liked the buzz and life it seemed to carry. But it all felt like too much as he hopped on the subway to go back to his apartment. He got off a stop early and walked the remainder of the way, because he knew as soon as he walked in his door, his normal life would officially resume and his day with Pam would continue to be pushed into his past with each passing day. He climbed the seven flights of stairs, each one taking him further away from her.

He unlocked the door and dropped everything in the entryway, ready to deal with it in the morning. He changed into a pair of sweats and a t-shirt and slid under the covers. He felt the bed move beside him and a pair of hands that were much more familiar before today wrap around his waist and a pair of lips press against his shoulder.

"Welcome home," a sleepy voice said.

"Thanks," he whispered back. "Get some sleep. We'll talk in the morning."

She hummed in agreement and turned back over. Suddenly he was racked with guilt. He was a hypocrite and he knew it.

"Karen?" he whispered into the dark. But she was already asleep.

He didn't sleep at all.
End Notes:
Ooop.

(Also, big thanks to TPB for helping me with the Kelly portion, even though she'll never read this.)
Chapter 4 by WanderingWatchtower
Author's Notes:
Oh hi. Meant to finish this chapter ages ago but turns out that summer with four kids is basically like running a circus. Add in a little covid, a lot of sleep deprivation, and it's a miracle I can even remember my own name at this point. But I wrote it! Here you go.
"Madison and Elijah want to go out tomorrow for dinner. She said she wants to try that new Mediterranean place, but I'm not sure I'm in the mood for that. Jim?"

"Hmm?"

She set the plate she was washing in the sink and sighed heavily. "Have you even been listening to a word I've said?"

"Of course," he lied. He was only half-listening. "Madison. Dinner."

She gave him a look that told him he had narrowly avoided trouble and went back to the dishes. It had been a week since he returned from Denver and it felt as if he had been transplanted into someone else's life. Everything was familiar but nothing was the same. He had been trying his hardest to pretend that everything was normal, but even his mom could sense something was different during her weekly phone call. He shrugged it off, telling her work was busy and he wasn't sleeping well because of it. She dropped the subject but Jim could tell she wasn't convinced.

One thing had been true, and that was that he wasn’t sleeping well. He would close his eyes and try to count sheep but those sheep would start to morph and their wool would turn into soft auburn curls and soon they weren’t sheep at all. He was counting Pams. Then he would just start imagining one Pam–the only Pam–and replay all their conversations, feeling a pang in the pit of his stomach. And every night, he would convince himself he was just hungry. He would shake the image of her and head to the fridge at an ungodly hour. He had probably gained 5 pounds in a week just trying to forget her.

It was obvious Karen was onto the shift in his demeanor, even though he was desperately trying to act normal. He would catch her staring at him from the other side of the couch, eyebrows knitted and mouth turned down studiously, as if she was trying to dissect every muscle twitch or intake of breath. Normally, he loved how attentive and aware she was. She could always tell when something was bothering him and would try to make it better. But right now he just wanted her to stop looking at him.

Meeting Pam, whether he liked it or not, had put his relationship with Karen under a magnifying glass. All the flaws and weak spots that he could once ignore or explain away had become glaringly obvious. And he began to worry if that magnifying glass was held there too long, it would only begin burning a hole in the relationship. It wasn’t just small things either, like leaving the cap off the toothpaste or the millions of bobby pins she left all over the apartment. It was deeper things, like the way that she could never seem to admit fault for anything. Instead, there was always a deflection or excuse. There was jealousy. Not just about other women, but professionally as well. They worked together and any time he got a bonus, raise, or an especially glowing performance review, she never seemed genuinely happy for him unless she got the same. She constantly told him he joked too much and couldn’t take anything seriously, always telling him he needed to grow up. The longer they were together, the more she seemed annoyed by things he would do. It hadn’t always been that way.

He tried—really tried—not to compare his girlfriend of two years to the girl he met at the airport and spent less than 24 hours with, but what did it say about his relationship with Karen that such a fleeting encounter could cause him to question everything? And what did it say about the girl at the bar in the Denver airport? He’d never been more confused.

He stood in front of the bathroom mirror the following night, fixing his hair before they left for dinner with their friends. Karen came in behind him and grabbed her toothbrush, then slinked her arms around him from behind. Normally he welcomed that sort of gesture, but lately it just made him feel claustrophobic. He offered a smile to her through the mirror when she peeked around his tall frame. Then she unlatched her grasp on him and applied toothpaste to her toothbrush before walking into the hallway, brushing her teeth. Jim let out a sigh as he stared at the small white cap sitting at the edge of the sink, trying to remind himself that it never really bothered him before.

The drive to the restaurant was quiet. Karen occupied herself with her phone and Jim honestly couldn’t think of a single thing to say to start a conversation. Instead, he reached forward and turned up the radio a few notches. Without taking her eyes from the screen of her phone, Karen reached her hand to the knob and turned it back down. "Too loud," she droned. “I have a headache.”

Dinner with Madison and Elijah was fun, but Jim found himself feeling disjointed. Normally he loved to tell jokes, converse, and generally have a good time, but this time he stayed quiet and gave courtesy smiles. He could feel Karen’s eyes on him and could picture her pursed lips even when he wasn’t looking her direction. She’d probably make a big deal of it at home—force him to stay up and “talk it out”. But he just couldn’t get himself to fake the amount of enthusiasm that would make her happy.

“Well,” she said as they walked in the doors to their apartment building. “You were quite the peach tonight.”

“I have a headache.” He knew it was petty, but he said it anyway. Karen just rolled her eyes and entered the elevator. Once on their floor, Jim let her exit first and fell in stride behind her as she walked to their apartment. Karen stood to the side as he pulled out his keys and stuck it in the lock, only to find it was already unlocked.

“You didn’t lock the door?” Karen said.

“You came out after me. You didn’t lock the door.”

“No, I am positive I did. I always do.”

“Well, it’s unlocked. I went down to get the car and you hung back to finish your make-up, remember?”

“My key must be faulty or something, then.”

“The key you’ve had for a year?”

“I locked it,” she insisted.

Jim realized that in the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t a big deal. Nobody had entered their apartment and all their stuff was right where they left it, but everything just seemed to bubble up at once.

“Oh my gosh, Karen, can you just admit you were wrong? For once? You forgot to lock the door! Big deal! It’s okay to admit that!”

She drilled holes through him with her glare. “Excuse me?” she said quietly.

Jim ran his hands through his hair and over his face, then placed them on his hips and met her eyes. “I’m sorry.”

“Are you?”

He let out a sigh and shrugged.

“What the hell has been up with you lately?” she asked.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that you are acting so weird. You’re distant, you’re irritated. You barely said a word at dinner tonight when normally you have to be the class clown everywhere you go.”

Jim dropped to the couch and slumped over with his elbows on his knees, looking to the floor. Of course he was acting different. He was different.

“I just…” He didn’t even know what to say. He wasn’t sure he could say the words he was thinking. “I don’t think I’m happy anymore.”

“In general, or with me?”

He looked up at her, defeat on his face, his silence speaking volumes.

“Jim, what are you saying?”

He wasn’t saying anything, which was probably worse.

What are you saying?” she hissed again.

He took a deep breath. “I’m saying…I’m done.” There it was. Bandaid ripped off. 

“Are you kidding me right now?”

Jim couldn’t seem to meet her gaze. “I can stay at Mark’s tonight.”

“So that’s it. Two years, and that’s it? It’s over? What happened?!”

“It’s not…it’s not just one thing. Honestly, I don’t think we are right for each other anymore and I think we need to move on.”

He could hear the emotion begin to creep into Karen’s words and it broke his heart. He knew he needed to end things but that didn’t make it any easier.

She sniffled. “Jim…”

Finally, he brought himself to look back up at her. “I’m sorry, Karen,” he whispered, trying to swallow tears of his own.

She swiped a sleeve over her eyes quickly. “Like hell you are,” she said coldly, and brushed past him into the bedroom. Honestly, this was not where he thought they would be when the night started. But despite the pain he was feeling, he also felt an immense sense of relief. It was confirmation that the decision was right.

He stayed on the couch, trying to process what he had just done and the conflicting emotions that came along with it. From the bedroom, he heard a suitcase zip. He walked back to the bedroom, confused. “I told you I could go to Mark’s.”

“I don’t want to stay here,” she said shakily. “I’m going to Shannon’s. I’ll come by on Saturday to get all my things.”

“Karen…we need to figure out…”

“Don’t.” She glared at him. “Not right now.”

Jim hung his head and stepped aside as she left the room they had shared for the past year and walked out the front door without another word.

*****

There would be no counting sheep (or Pams) for Jim that night. He stayed awake, attempting to sort out his thoughts. It was undeniable that the shift in his life and in his relationship was because of his encounter with Pam at the airport. He would be a fool to think otherwise. But it wasn’t solely about Pam. Sure, she sparked it but it wasn’t as if he was breaking up with Karen to be with Pam. He didn’t even know her last name and in any case, she wasn’t available.

No, he was breaking up with Karen because one day in the Denver airport showed Jim that there could be a better fit for him. He could find someone who laughed at his jokes instead of rolled their eyes at them. He could find someone that inspired and encouraged him instead of competing with him. He could find someone soft, and gentle, rather than cold and rigid.

He rolled to his side and checked the time on his phone. 3:16 am. He sighed heavily and opened up Facebook, hoping that some mindless scrolling might put him to sleep. He swiped his thumb a few times, then almost mindlessly touched the search bar at the top. He typed in P-A-M and pressed enter. He wasn't sure what he was expecting, but all of the profiles that came up were definitely not the Pam he wanted to find. Why would they be? He turned off his phone and turned to his back. Closing his eyes, he allowed himself to play back his day in the airport one more time. Running into her, both literally and later figuratively at the bar. The gift shops. The endless, easy conversation. The way she chose to draw the two of them on the back of a receipt. The way she—

He sat straight up in bed.

Flinging the sheets to one side, he scrambled out of bed and dug in the back pocket of his jeans, grabbing his wallet. He whipped it open and pulled out the small white paper.

He unfolded it, turned it around, and searched it frantically with his eyes, then beamed.

Her Shake Shack receipt.

At the top, it read:

CARDHOLDER NAME: P. BEESLY

His heart was racing. Beesly. Pam Beesly from Scranton, Pennsylvania.

He sat on the edge of the bed, took a deep breath, and opened his phone.
Chapter 5 by WanderingWatchtower
Author's Notes:
Finally found the motivation to come back to this lil guy. Hopefully the next chapters aren't too far behind. Thanks for sticking with me! 
Pam slumped onto her elbows on the counter at the coffee shop where she worked. Blowing a stray strand of hair from her face, she flipped over the order pad in front of her and began mindlessly doodling. It had been an abnormally slow day at work. She had already cleaned the machines, the tables, the floor, and organized all the fridges and cupboards. She was just waiting for the bell on the door to signal a customer or for 3:00 to roll around so she could go home. She used to welcome the slow quietness. Now it just opened up her mind and brought thoughts of airports and gift shops and deep green eyes that actually saw her.

When she first got home from Denver earlier that week, she was able to keep busy enough to keep her mind off of the airport, for the most part. It felt like nothing short of a fever dream whenever she allowed herself to recall that day–how everything seemed straight out of one of her favorite rom-coms, right down to the minor detail about how she was engaged to someone else.

And had been engaged for three years.

In fact, that's how long she had worked at the coffee shop. Initially she got the job to earn a little extra money for the wedding. She was already working for Michael’s pet insurance company, but she had only sold policies for a turtle and a gecko in six months and quite honestly, knew the company probably wasn’t going to last long anyway. And she was right. After Michael’s company went under, she got another job as a receptionist at a printer sales company, but their branch ended up closing three months after she was hired. But not before she was able to introduce Michael to her HR representative, Holly.

After that, she picked up as many extra hours as she could at the coffee shop, but it didn't leave much room for saving. She told herself (and her fiance Roy told her too) that this was the reason for such a long engagement. But in the back of her mind, there was a nagging thought that if he (they, she told herself. They.) really wanted to get married, they would find a way.

The bell on the door rang, snapping her out of her thoughts.

****

"Yeah, Mom," Jim said into the phone as he brought a t-shirt to his nose, sniffed, and threw it into a duffle bag on his bed with a shrug. "I realize it's been a while since I've been home. That's why I'm taking the day off and coming down this weekend."

That was mostly true. Okay, only partly true. He had been meaning to visit his parents for the past few months but now there was a chance of potentially, maybe, possibly running into someone else in Scranton. He ended the call with his mom and habitually opened up Facebook. He tapped the search bar and as he did, a list of names he had previously searched dropped down. His thumb hovered over the name at the top.

Pam Beesly.

He had opened her profile no less than 30 times in the last six hours. Maybe it was to remind himself that he didn't make her up. In any case, he clicked on her profile picture–a photo of Pam and a girl he would bet money was her sister–and swiped through each one. Just like every other time he had done this, he stopped on the fourth picture in. He sat down and examined it, even though it made his stomach clench. It was Pam standing next to a man, probably about his height but much huskier. Her left hand was out, flashing a diamond ring to whoever was behind the camera.

He swiped back through the previous pictures. No wedding dress. He backed out and looked at her profile. "Engaged"

So, he thought, even though that picture was taken three years ago, it didn't appear she had gotten married. But he also knew for sure that the man he saw her with at the airport was the same one in the picture and it *definitely* wasn't her brother. He began scrolling again, when he was suddenly startled by the buzz of the dryer, making him nearly drop his phone. That was enough Facebook stalking for the day.

He tucked his phone in his pocket and zipped up his duffle bag. It felt wrong to message her if she was engaged, so he hadn't. But what if he happened upon her at the grocery store? No harm in that.

As he crossed the city lines into Scranton, a sudden nervous energy began humming through him. He began wondering if every car he passed could be hers. He understood that Scranton wasn't a tiny city but it also wasn't like New York. The chances of randomly coming across her here might be fairly slim, but they definitely weren't zero. And after all, he ended up on the same flight as her, who was to say he couldn't run into her on the streets of Scranton too?

He pulled into the driveway of his childhood home and turned off the engine of his car. A tiny wave of embarrassment came over him. Had he really driven all this way, fueled by the idea that he might randomly run into her? Then what? She was engaged, as far as he could tell. Was he supposed to swoop in and whisk her away from a relationship she had obviously been in for years? And that was only assuming he even found her. He didn't know where she lived, or worked, or hung out. All he had was her name and the absolute inability to stop thinking about her.

He sighed. Regardless, he owed his mom a visit, so he told himself he would at least stay the weekend.


****

Pam walked through the front door of her apartment, slipped off her shoes by the door, and flung her purse on the couch. Fridays used to be her favorite day but after working in the service industry, the luster of weekends had worn off. She still had to work the following two days. She checked her watch. 3:30. That meant she had roughly an hour until Roy was home from work. Until then, she had complete control of the TV, as well as the music she blasted while she cleaned, or painted, or just did…nothing.

It dawned on her that she was relishing the minutes she had alone rather than counting down the minutes until she got to see her fiance. But maybe that's just how it was when you had been together as long as they had been. Though, truthfully, that thought wasn't entirely comforting either.

She sat on the couch and tucked her legs up under her, grabbing the remote. After scrolling through Netflix for a few minutes, she sighed and switched off the TV. The apartment was clean for once, so there was nothing to do there. Painting, or even sketching for that matter, lacked its normal appeal as of late. So, she picked up her phone. She opened Facebook, clicked on her notifications, and furrowed her brow.

Jim Halpert liked your profile picture

Who was…

Then her heart skipped. It couldn't possibly be. She quickly tapped on his name and staring back at her was Jim. Denver Airport, Knock-Her-to-the-Floor, Gift Shop Jim. She brought her other hand to her mouth and looked around her apartment as if there was someone else there to marvel with her. She brought the phone closer to her face and zoomed in on his profile picture, trying desperately to quell the fluttering in her stomach but it was hopeless.

It was him. He had found her. He wanted to find her.

The night she had gotten home from her trip to Denver she had typed "Jim New York City" into Facebook, but obviously didn't get very far. She had instantly felt guilty as well, searching for him while she laid next to Roy. So from then on, she had refused to let herself try to find him and confined herself only to the thoughts of him that creeped in when she let her guard down. She assumed he was probably doing the same. Until now.

But why only the one single like on a picture from three years ago? He hadn’t messaged her (she checked) and it was just that one profile picture he had liked. Her mind was reeling. It wasn’t until she heard the door open that she realized she had been looking through Jim’s profile and pacing for the last 45 minutes and now Roy was home. She quickly turned off her phone and put on a smile.

“Roy! Hi!” she said with far too much forced enthusiasm. “How was work?”

“Same old,” he droned. He didn’t ask about her day. “Hey, is it cool if I play poker with the guys tonight?”

She frowned. “We were supposed to be going to dinner with my parents.”

He subtly rolled his eyes, but she caught it. “Can we just…cancel? This one time?”

It wasn’t “this one time.” It was the third time in four months.

“Roy…”

“C’mon, babe. They just grill us every time about setting a wedding date. I already told Darryl I could go.”

“And I already told my parents to make the reservation. Last week.” For whatever reason, she felt a surge of courage. “And what if we actually set a wedding date? Would that be so bad?”

He grumbled and rubbed his hands over his face. “I don’t want to talk about this right now.”

“You never do,” she muttered, causing him to stop and look at her.

“What?”

She knew Roy would never hurt her, but she absolutely hated when he got angry. “Forget it,” she spat. “Go play poker.”

He breezed past her without a word and headed to their bedroom. Pam folded her arms tightly to her chest which was now filled with frustration. She pulled her phone out of her pocket to call her mom, trying to think of what excuse she would give her this time. When she unlocked the screen, Jim’s Facebook profile was still pulled up. Her eyes lingered on his picture one last time before exiting out of the app.

And for the first time in three years, she admitted to herself that she wished things were different.


****

“You really don’t have to come with me,” Betsy Halpert said as she sat at the kitchen table, jotting down a grocery list. “I’m sure you have better things to do with your afternoon!”

Jim scoffed playfully, taking a bite of a carrot. “Better things than hanging out with my beautiful mother at the grocery store? Never.”

She gave him a squinted smirk. “I don’t think you’ve gone grocery shopping with me since you were 12.”

“Listen, it’s been a while since I’ve seen you. Can’t a guy want to spend time with his mom?”

“Are you going to tell me what happened with Karen?” she asked, not looking up from her list.

“Okay, maybe I do have better things to do.”

Betsy chuckled. “You don’t have to tell me. It just seems so…sudden. I want to make sure you’re okay.”

Jim sighed. “I’ll promise to fill you in if you promise to buy a carton of rocky road. Deal?”

“Deal,” she smiled back.

Truthfully, he did want to spend time with his mom. His brothers always gave him crap growing up for being such a mama’s boy, but nobody had ever had his back the way Betsy did. But even more truthfully, he was looking for any excuse to go places around town on the off chance he ran into Pam. Realistically, he knew he could probably find out where she lived with a quick Google search but even that felt too forward. So he made the decision to come to Scranton for the weekend and let fate, whether he believed in it or not, take the lead.


He pushed the shopping cart for his mom as she pulled items off the shelf and marked them off her list. Jim glanced at the woman at the end of the aisle. Hair was too straight. The next woman was too tall. Then too blonde. He wished he could stop thinking she would be around every corner.

"So," Betsy said after setting two cans of black beans in the cart. "Karen."

He let out a big breath. "Karen."

She stopped walking and looked at him with the sincerity and empathy only a mother could have. "Are you okay?"

He gave a half smile and nodded. "Yeah, it was time."

They continued walking while Jim tried not to swivel his head every direction looking for someone who was most likely not there.

"You know," Betsy said. "Karen was a lovely girl. I really liked her a lot."

Jim felt a twinge of sadness realizing the breakup might have disappointed his mom, even though he knew it was best for him. She continued.

"But she wasn't the best for you, sweetheart."

"What–"

She cut him off. "Moms always know."

"I was with her for two years and you're telling me this now?"

"You're a grown man, son. Despite the fact that you just put Fruity Pebbles and grape soda in my shopping cart. You can make your own decisions, even if they will give you diabetes."

He laughed, but his thoughts immediately went back to the airplane when Pam teased him about his drink of choice. What would his mom think of her?

"All I'm saying is that toward the end of your relationship with her, it felt like you were always holding your breath around her."

It struck him how true that was. Maybe moms really did always know these things. "Yeah," he agreed. "I think we…I…figured out we weren't perfectly suited for each other anymore."

She smiled at him. "So, is there someone else?"

The question took him by surprise.

"No…" He didn't mean for it to sound like a question.

"If I buy you rocky road AND cookie dough, will you tell me?"

He hung his head with a laugh. "Moms really do know everything, don't they?"

She patted him on the back. "And don't you forget it."


Jim and Betsy sat at the kitchen table together, each of them dipping spoons into bowls of rocky road and cookie dough ice cream.

"Your father and I are heading to dinner in an hour, so I shouldn't be eating this but…"

"But it's so good."

"It really is," she laughed, taking another bite. "So tell me about this girl."

"Hmm," Jim mumbled through chocolate and marshmallow. "I feel like I may have given you the wrong impression. There is kind of a girl but it's…complicated. And won't ever happen."

She kept her eyes on him, waiting for more. When he didn't elaborate further she tapped the edge of his bowl with her spoon. "Don't make me get you another scoop."

Jim chuckled and shrugged. "I met her at the Denver Airport, okay? And we spent a few hours together and she was…" he couldn't help but smile. "Mom, she was funny, and kind, and beautiful, and…"

"And…?"

"Engaged."

"James Duncan Halpert," she scolded. "If you did something with an engaged woman while also in a relationship with Karen, I–"

"Mom, relax! Nothing happened."

Betsy's shoulders loosened. She looked across the table at her son, the smile still playing on his lips and he was obviously still replaying his day with this mystery woman. "Alright." She dropped another scoop of cookie dough ice cream in his bowl. "Start from the beginning."


*****

Pam picked at the garlic bread on her plate, trying to fake an appetite. Her parents sat across from her, equally as silent as they ate their food. She had made a last-minute decision not to cover for Roy when her parents had asked where he was after she had shown up unaccompanied at the restaurant. Honestly, she had grown so tired of making excuses for Roy, so she told them exactly where he was. Helene Beesly, who had known Roy since he was 16, was obviously unimpressed with the information, but Pam was too frustrated to care.

Normally, Pam would brush it off. She would enjoy dinner with her parents, go to bed early, and by the time morning rolled around she would convince herself it wasn’t a big deal. But for the last week, every little (or big) thing Roy did seemed to snowball. She couldn’t convince herself to let anything go, and now it was as if she was staring at a giant display of all of Roy’s shortcomings.

Pam and Roy had been high school sweethearts. It was the classic story of the jock falling for the quiet artsy girl. She wore his football jersey at school on game days and he hung her picture on his locker door. He wasn’t always the perfect boyfriend, but he tried. For every time he messed up, he made sure to sincerely make up for it afterward. But gradually, after being together for a few years, he began to ask for forgiveness less often and rather just expect it instead. But he was all she had known. There was comfort in familiarity and she wasn’t sure she knew how to be anything other than “Roy and Pam”. Their lives and histories were so intertwined. Their parents cruised together and his nephews all referred to her as Auntie Pam. They shared an apartment, a car. She could read his mood and calculate his actions without a thought. It was hard to imagine a life different from the life she was living.

Until now, that was. Now she couldn’t stop imagining it. And it scared her.

The Beeslys finished their meals (or at least tried to finish them), gathered their things, and walked to the front of the restaurant. Before getting too far, Pam realized she had left her to-go box of leftovers on the table. She knew Roy would be hungry at whatever ungodly hour he got home that night, so she said goodbye to her parents and went back to the table. As she passed back through the lobby of the restaurant, she caught sight of a woman sitting on a bench. Something about the woman caused Pam’s gaze to linger. There was something so familiar about her. She wondered if it was an old teacher, or maybe she was a regular at the coffee shop. It wasn’t until the woman met her eye and gave her a warm smile that it struck her. Her eyes were the perfect shade of green and Pam had pictured that smile regularly for the past week.

She looked just like Jim.

The resemblance was unmistakable. Pam’s pulse quickened as she frantically tried to talk herself out of the thought. There’s no way it was his mom. It would be too much of a coincidence. Her mind was playing cruel tricks on her now and she really just needed to go home and get a good night’s rest.

But as she opened the door and felt the crisp Pennsylvania air hit her, four words from the hostess stopped her dead in her tracks.

“Halpert, party of two!”

Her head whipped backward and she saw the woman and her husband stand and follow their waiter into the restaurant. She felt a chill run from her toes to her scalp and it wasn’t because of the below freezing temperatures outside. She felt like her heart was going to beat straight out of her chest as she watched them walk away. Those were his parents. She was feet away from Jim’s parents and she had no idea what to do next.

She had to talk to them. Fate brought her this far and now she had to do the rest. But just as she was about to follow them, her phone rang. Normally she would have ignored it, but she figured she could use the phone call to stall and work up the courage to actually talk to Jim’s parents.

“Hello?”

An automated voice was on the other end of the line.

“Hello. This is a collect call from the Scranton Police Department on behalf of the inmate Roy Anderson. Do you wish to accept the call?”


End Notes:
Okay bye! 
This story archived at http://mtt.just-once.net/fanfiction/viewstory.php?sid=6139