This is basically me wanting Pam and Karen to be friends and having someone neutral tell Pam she deserves better.
Loosely follows episodes from season 2 starting at Booze Cruise (not all of them). All chapters are written and will be posted as they get edited.
Title from Breathe Me by Sia.
Cross-posted on AO3.
1. Booze Cruise by lfdm
2. The Injury by lfdm
3. The Carpet by lfdm
4. Boys and Girls by lfdm
5. Valentine's Day by lfdm
6. Michael's Birthday by lfdm
7. Drug Testing by lfdm
8. Casino Night by lfdm
So, Karen was on a booze cruise. In January. Because her new boss was either insane or a complete moron, she wasn’t sure which yet.
She surveilled the scene before her and weighted her options. She could go back and sit with Martin, but Andy was there now, having apparently sucked up to Michael long enough. And there was only so much Andy she could take, especially outside of work hours. Angela’s table was out too as she might get a warmer reception by going outside on the deck. That woman did not like her, and the feeling was mutual.
She wondered, not for the first time, who took their employees on a boat night ride in the middle of winter in Pennsylvania. Michael Scott, that was who. That lead her to curse Josh, once again, for taking that stupid job at Staples and leaving the ship. Quite literally. She might be drunker than she realized. Though that might just be the trauma from having witnessed Michael dancing.
She saw that Pam and Jim’s girlfriend were by themselves at the table and took her chances. While she hadn’t wanted to crash the weird double date that was happening before, she liked Pam well enough, and she was running out of options.
She took a sip of her beer and made her way over there.
Jim’s girlfriend was talking as she got closer.
“I would love to be engaged. How did you manage that?”
What kind of question was that? Karen sat down and gave an encouraging nod to Pam who seemed uncomfortable.
“I’ve been engaged for three years; you don’t want my advice,” Pam replied.
The redhead didn’t take the hint. Karen should probably figure out her name at some point.
“Still, Roy is so great. You are very lucky.”
Pam’s discomfort was growing exponentially, and she was looking at Karen probably hoping for some help. Karen would not leave her hanging.
“I’m sorry, I know Jim introduced us at some point, but I can’t seem to recall your name?” She asked the redhead, riding the line between polite and insulting very tightly.
“Oh, I am Katy.”
“So how did you and Jim meet? I don’t think I have heard that story yet.”
She saw Pam relax and patted herself in the back for a job well done. Then she tried to picture Dwight buying a woman’s purse from Katie and failed miserably.
“So, you know all these crazy stories we had heard over the years about the Scranton branch?” Martin asked her as they watched Roy propose to Pam in front of everyone apparently for the second time. Michael was bursting at the seam and looked ready to propose to anyone who entered his line of sight. Meanwhile, Jim looked like his dog had just died. Or like, you know, the girl he liked just got engaged to someone else, again, while his girlfriend cheered on.
“Yeah?” she replied.
“I don’t think they did it justice.”
“We’ve only been here a month,” Martin continued.
“Has it been only a month? Stamford feels like a hundred years away.”
“I thought the cameras following us around all day would be the weirdest thing about working here, but now I am almost glad they are here. You know, for documentation to prepare for the ineluctable lawsuit.”
“I don’t know how you were able to stay after the whole ‘Prison Mike’ thing. That was insane,” she responded, shuddering as she remembered that fucking bandana.
Martin shifted beside her, and she turned to face him. He looked around for a second, before leaning towards her and speaking in a lowered voice.
“Can I tell you something that’ll stay between us?”
“I am in talks with a company not too far away from here. I am waiting to have secured a position before giving my notice.”
Karen was stunned, though she wasn’t really surprised. Martin was the only person from Stamford that had made the move that she liked. She was very glad Hannah was still on maternity leave, she couldn’t imagine her and Angela in the same room. It would really suck to see Martin go. But she couldn’t fault him for wanting to leave.
“Congrats man. That’s awesome.” She smiled and meant it. He smiled back.
“It isn’t done yet,” he cautioned.
“I have no doubt you’ll get it. And if not this, then something else.”
He grinned and held his beer bottle and she clinked hers gladly.
“But I will never forgive you for abandoning me here.”
She was taking a minute to herself outside, trying to sober up and not to reflect too much on the fact that her boss had caused people to jump overboard when Jim stepped outside.
“Hey,” she greeted.
“Hey,” he responded, still looking like a dejected puppy.
He came to stand beside her by the railing.
“So, how long have you been in love with Pam?”
So, it was possible that 1) she hadn’t successfully sobered up yet, and that 2) alcohol made her even more direct than usual. Whatever, it was a fair question.
Jim snapped in her direction, now looking like a dear in headlights. Apparently, alcohol also made her fond of animal metaphors, who knew.
His head was shaking before he even started speaking. “I’m not…” he stopped himself and sighed deeply. He turned to stare at the dark sea.
“Is it that obvious?”
She gathered all the tact she had left.
“Do you want the truth?”
He smiled ruefully, shaking his head once more.
“I guess not.”
“Though, I am still wondering if everyone is playing a prank on me by pretending not to notice.”
Right, tact. She had it somewhere.
“She seems great.”
“Yeah, she is. And warm. And funny. And… engaged.”
He seemed almost close to tears. In that moment, she tried very hard to figure out how much of her opinion was appropriate to share based on the very little she knew about these people who just had entered her life a month prior. Though how much time was needed to see that Roy usually made Pam miserable and small while Jim made her light up and smile. Fuck it.
“Feel free to ignore me because I am a bit tipsy and I don’t know you very well. But have you ever told her how you feel? Explicitly?”
He frowned at her.
“She has always been engaged.”
“Alright, and I get that. But from my understanding, which again is limited, she hasn’t been happily engaged for a while now. And it’s not an alcohol-fueled spur-of-the-moment re-proposal that is going to change that. She could benefit from knowing she has a choice.”
He appeared lost at that.
“I feel like she has to know. Like I thought we had a moment tonight, but she…” he didn’t continue.
“Alright,” she conceded, for now. “Though, next time I would advise against breaking up with your girlfriend in a fit of despair on a boat. Where you are both stuck.”
He chuckled. “Fair enough.”
“Okay, now please explain to me what Dwight is doing.”
Being in the office after Dwight had left for the hospital with Michael and Jim was like being in a room where the oldest, noisiest, most ineffective air conditioner was turned off unexpectedly after hours of being on. It was like rediscovering what quiet could sound like.
Karen was still trying to figure out how most people in the Scranton branch could come in day after day work for Michael and not have a mental breakdown. Sure, Josh used to be patronizing at times, with some pretty sexist undertones, but overall, she had been able to do her job mostly unencumbered. Michael was cycling between being overtly sexist, racist and childish at a breakneck pace that left her bewildered and overwhelmed. Seeing people’s apathy towards it didn’t help.
So after working more efficiently in the last two hours then she had the whole morning (or week really), she felt like she deserved a break and went for a snack. Entering the breakroom, she saw Pam sitting at a table drinking what appeared to be tea and reading a magazine.
Karen decided it would be a great opportunity to get to talk to her. She hadn’t had the chance yet, and Pam seemed by far one of the sanest people in the office. Karen would need allies if she was to survive there. With that in mind, she greeted her warmly as she bought a chocolate bar from the machine. “Hey, Pam.”
Pam looked up from what she was reading. “Hey, Karen.”
“Have you heard anything yet?”
“Yes, Dwight has a concussion, but he should be alright in a couple of days.”
“Though he was kind of… nicer. Concussed.”
Pam visibly bit down a smile and Karen counted that as a win.
“Mind if I join you?” she gestured at the empty chair.
“Not at all.”
“Thanks,” Karen said as she sat down. She was then able to see that Pam was reading a wedding magazine.
“Doing a lot of planning?”
Pam started nodding. “Yes, and not a lot of time to do it.” Her head tilted down, in a self-deprecating manner Karen had seen her do before.
Karen wondered what a neutral way was to engage the conversation about how her fiancé seemed like kinda of an asshole. During the short time she had been here, Roy had not made a great impression on her. The last time she had seen him, he had come to pick Pam up at the end of the day and he had berated her for not being ready and had asked her what could be so important about her job. Pam had laughed it up as a joke, but Karen had seen her discomfort. So yes, Roy had made a strong entry in the d-bag category for Karen. Probably no way to say that nicely though. At least, not yet.
"So, are you doing a local reception? "
"Yes. Roy, hmm, we don't want to spend too much on the ceremony and both our families are from around here, so it makes sense."
Karen was sure it made sense to someone.
“Right,” she answered as genuinely as she could. Time for a change of subject before she voiced an opinion that nobody had asked for.
“Can I ask you a question?”
She saw Pam tense up imperceptibly, like she was preparing for an attack. Karen wondered how many people questioned Pam’s relationship to her face. She could think of at least one person, but the bias there couldn’t be overstated.
“Sure,” Pam responded reluctantly.
“On a scale from one to ten, how crazy was what happened this morning with Michael for Dunder Mifflin Scranton? How does “grilling your foot on a Foreman Grill” fits in your daily lives? Because, try as I might, I don’t think I have a full perspective on the local landscape yet.”
Pam relaxed visibly and actually smiled a little.
“That’s a good question. Many great minds have tried and failed to establish a comprehensive Michael Scott insanity theorem.”
Karen laughed. “Yeah, I’m not surprised.”
“From a humble observer, I would place it as a seven.”
“Only a seven?” Karen asked, only half joking and groaning internally.
“Yes, you have the stupid yet unpredictable premise, the classic and insulting overreaction, and then the legendary conference meeting with props and guests,” Pam paused in reflection. “I guess Dwight being concussed might bring it to an eight.”
“I think Dwight being nice brings it to an eight, rather than him being concussed.”
“You might be right about that,” Pam conceded graciously.
“Let me calibrate this thing further. What would be a four?”
Pam was now fully engaged, her eyes bright with mirth. She took on an expression of faked seriousness. “Let me think. A four would stop productivity for at least two hours but wouldn’t require any paperwork with HR or necessitate a call from corporate. That rules out the fire or the Dundies.”
Karen mouthed the word ‘Dundies’ uncomprehending.
Pam continued undeterred. “I believe the Secret Santa turned White Elephant party would be eligible, and so would be the Office Olympics probably.”
Karen stared speechless for a moment longer before replying. “Okay, you and I need to go for a drink at some point because I need more context for all of this, and I believe alcohol will be necessary.”
Pam looked surprised yet pleased at the suggestion. “Yes, that’d be great.”
“Awesome. I have so many questions. And I am a little afraid to ask what a ten would be.”
Pam then proceeded to blow Karen’s mind forever.
“Have you heard about Michael and Jan yet?”
Karen was ready to put this day behind her, with all the other days that preceded it. Though the smell might haunt her forever. She made her way into the bar and found Pam sitting at a table waiting.
“What a fucking day,” Karen exclaimed as she sat down. “Aren’t you happy to be back from vacation?”
Pam chuckled. “Yeah. Whoever did this really didn’t need to go that far to celebrate me being back.”
Karen snorted. “Wait, you didn’t hear about who did this?”
Pam’s eyes widened in anticipation. “No! Who?”
“Some guy named Packer or something.”
Pam did a full body wince, which was notable, because Pam usually had a nonchalant bordering on blasé attitude regarding the office’s shenanigans. “Well, that makes sense, I guess. I bet Michael loved that.”
“Yep,” Karen responded as she checked out the cocktail menu. “He couldn’t be happier about it.” She needed something strong, with a lot of bright colors and fruits in it, and a sugar rim if they had them.
“On one hand, couldn’t happen to a more deserving person,” she continued. “On the other hand, anything that happens to Michael happens to us ten times worse, so…”
Pam nodded in agreement. “Yep, this is definitely a win-lose situation.”
A waiter came and took their orders. Karen couldn’t wait to start drinking. She hoped Scranton wouldn’t turn her into an alcoholic. But at least, she had made a friendship with Pam that translated outside of the walls of Dunder Mifflin. Even though they spent most of their time complaining about what happened within those walls.
“So, what did I miss while I was gone?” Pam asked.
“Well, I closed a couple of clients, so that was nice. I will spare you the “compliments” I got from Michael about it,” Karen said, feeling compelled to make actual air quotes. The phrase “womanly charms” echoed in her head against her will. She repressed it to the darkest corners of her mind.
“Oh, Jim almost convinced Dwight he needed to marry Michael so that he couldn’t testify against him.”
Pam burst out laughing.
“Didn’t the fact that same-sex marriage is not legal in Pennsylvania make it difficult?”
“Strangely enough, not the biggest hurdle. Dwight was ready to drive to Massachusetts at some point. I offered to be a witness.”
“How nice of you.”
“I know, right?”
“So, why did it fall apart?”
“You know what? I’m not really sure. It was a several days affair, and at some point, I kinda lost interest.”
Pam looked a bit wistful. She probably wouldn’t have lost interest.
“Oh, Jim. I’ll need to ask him about it.”
Right, not touching that one. Their drinks arrived and Karen felt the rest of the tension in her back melt away as she took the first sip from the sweet concoction she had already forgotten the name of.
“What about you? How was your vacation?”
“It was good. The weather was nice,” Pam responded, nodding, like this was an acceptable answer.
“Come on, you have to give me more than that. Did you get to ski at least?”
“A bit at the beginning,” Pam said evasively. Probably feeling the weight of Karen’s stare, she continued reluctantly. “I’m not the greatest skier.”
“Why did you go to a skiing resort then?” Karen asked before she had the time to consider whether she was being too harsh.
“I kind of wanted to go to the beach. I love it in the winter.” Pam took a sip of her drink. “But Roy doesn’t like it so…”
“It’s not like I mind skiing. It’s just that I am not great at it. And Roy had promised he would stay with me on the slopes.”
“Yes, at first. But he clearly wasn’t enjoying himself. And then, he met up with some friends and I guess it was easier for him to just go with them rather than be stuck with me.”
Karen knew she was staring incredulously at Pam. She also could feel Pam retreating into herself, which wasn’t the point either. Or maybe it was.
“Okay, Pam. Here’s what I propose we do. We are going to order a second round, and by the time it arrives, we will have finished the first one. Then, and only then, we’ll start unpacking this together. Does that sound good?”
Pam seemed to consider this for a moment, then she clearly made her decision as she finished her beer in one go.
Karen smiled and flagged the waiter.
“Okay, so back to the beach versus ski thing. You don’t like skiing; he doesn’t like the beach. How did you arrive at a decision?”
“I guess someone needed to compromise. He also said that with him agreeing to set a date for the wedding this summer, he felt he deserved a fun vacation. Or something to that effect.”
Karen was almost speechless. Almost. She was also starting the feel the effects of the alcohol. “What the fuck? He didn’t do you a favor by agreeing to set a date.”
“I know. He didn’t say it exactly like that.”
“But that’s what he meant.”
Pam didn’t refute it.
“Okay, never mind that,” Karen said, although she minded very much. “He doesn’t feel like going to the beach, fine. There was nothing you could have done, the two of you, that you would have both enjoyed?”
Pam looked kinda lost. “I guess we didn’t think about it like that.”
“But you did tell him you didn’t want to go skiing.”
Pam started to pick at the seams of her sleeve in an obvious tell about how uncomfortable she was with the conversation. “I think I reminded him that I wasn’t great at it, at least not like him. And that I wouldn’t enjoy myself. That’s when he promised to stay with me.”
“Which he didn’t do.”
Karen steeled herself. There were moments that were make-or-break in a friendship, and right now she didn’t want to be the type of friend that said nothing when you had a piece of salad stuck between your teeth. But, you know, with a fiancé instead of a piece of salad.
“So, feel free to tell me to fuck off. But why are you with him?”
Pam didn’t say anything. But she didn’t tell Karen to fuck off either.
“Why do you stay with a man that needs a reward for accepting to spend his life with you, that thinks of you so little as to take you on a vacation he knows perfectly well you will not enjoy and that makes promises he breaks without any consideration?”
Tears started to fall from Pam’s eyes. Karen felt an opening and went for broke.
“Do you want your entire life to be like this? Because Pam, if he is doing this now, being married will not make him change. You deserve so much more than that. You deserve someone that wants and enjoys spending time with you. You deserve someone that makes you a priority because you being happy matters to him. Pam, you deserve all of this.”
Karen couldn’t wrap her head around the idea of Jan and Michael together. She was half convinced that Pam was pulling her leg about that stuff and somehow had gotten the whole office to play along. Jan radiated confidence and professionalism, and Michael radiated… there were no words for what Michael radiated. Or at least, Karen refused to think about him long enough to find them. But she liked Jan, though she would like her more if she got rid of Michael altogether. She was glad for the women in the workforce meeting, even if it had turned into a shitshow. She got to talk one on one with Jan about career development within Dunder Mifflin and outside of it. She was still pondering all of this while choosing a snack from the vending machine when Jim entered the breakroom.
“Hey, Karen. How was your meeting? Learn anything interesting? Michael had some fascinating ideas about what you were discussing in there.”
Karen shuddered. “I will literally buy you anything you want from this machine if you promise never to tell me what those ideas were.”
Jim chuckled. “Deal.”
They sat at a table with their loot.
“It was helpful actually. Jan was telling me about some positions that might open at corporate soon. She didn’t know whether I would have enough seniority within the company to apply. But at least I am on her radar now.”
Jim seemed taken aback. “Oh wow. That sounds like you were actually productive in that meeting.”
“Don’t worry, there was also a lot of bullshit, stuff about second base and slut shaming Jan.”
Jim smiled at her jokingly. “Faith in Dunder Mifflin restored.”
Karen toasted that with her can of soda.
“So, you are thinking of leaving then?” Jim asked.
“Yeah. I mean, aren’t you? I can’t see myself working under him for much longer.”
Jim seemed to think about that for a second.
“I guess I got so used to it that it doesn’t shock me anymore. You know, like the frog in the hot water thing.” He started to pull apart the wrapper from his candy. “But yes, lately, I have given some thoughts to leaving.”
“By June of this year maybe?”
He looked at her ruefully.
“Yes, maybe around then.”
Karen was torn, she didn’t want break Pam’s confidence and tattle about what she knew of the trouble brewing between Pam and Roy. At the same time, she wanted to shake Jim until his teeth rattle and tell him to do something about it.
“Do you remember that conversation we had on the booze cruise?”
“I stand by what I said then, now more than ever.”
His focus on her sharpened in an instant. “What do you mean?”
“I mean that if you are seriously considering leaving, you might as well make sure you are not leaving something on the table when you do.”
He was staring into her like he was searching for the answers to the universe deep inside her soul, or the answers to one Pam Beesly at the very least, which might be synonymous for him. She stared back, hoping he would understand everything she refused to say out loud. That she would not recommend this course of action if she didn’t think it would be well received.
He finally looked away. “It’s just that… She has to know, right? She would have said something by now if she…” he trailed off without finishing.
“You know her better than I do, so tell me if I’m wrong, but from what I’ve gathered, what Pam knows and what Pam lets herself believe are two very different things.”
“So have you given more thoughts to the graphic designs internship?” Karen asked before taking a sip from her coffee. She and Pam had fallen across this delightful coffeehouse while they were killing time before Karen was supposed to visit an apartment.
She had decided that, even though she didn’t know how long she would remain in Scranton, she couldn’t stay in that hotel any longer. So, she had taken Pam with her as moral support through the excruciating process of apartment hunting. The first couple places they were able to visit hadn’t looked good to say the least. However, she had great hopes for next one based on the pictures she had seen. And this coffeehouse, with its wood panel walls, warm atmosphere and cozy sofas, was selling her on the neighborhood.
Pam looked similarly content, drinking her tea from the chair in across from her. “Yes, I got more details from corporate. It starts in mid-February, and it is two weekends a month. I would even be able to leave on Fridays around 12pm to get to New York. Then there is a twelve weeks program this summer starting in June.”
“That sounds great,” Karen said smiling.
“Yeah…” Pam trailed off.
“I haven’t discussed it with Roy yet.”
“Why not?” Karen asked, though she was not surprised.
Pam sighed. “We have been fighting so much lately. About the wedding and about… the other stuff.”
“You mean, about the fact that you have been unhappy and overlooked for a while now?”
Pam threw her an unimpressed look. “Yes, about that. I just know that the internship, with the timing and all. It is just going to make everything worse, so I have been putting off having that conversation.”
“Putting off the conversation or the internship?” Karen asked pointedly.
“I don’t know. The conversation, I guess. He keeps saying that it’s all coming out of nowhere. That we were happy, and I never said anything before, and it seems unfair to unload all of this on him at once.”
Karen had many things to say to that, but Pam looked really defeated so Karen went with what she thought Pam needed to hear the most.
“Hey, I’m sorry you are going through a rough time. It must suck. But you know you have the right to tell Roy how you feel. And maybe it took you a while to get there but that doesn’t matter. How he reacts to what you’re telling him now shows you what kind of man he is.”
“He is right that it is sudden.”
“Okay, then. Maybe it was a shock for him, and he might have responded badly in the moment. He has had time to reflect by now. From what you’ve told me, he is not changing his tune.”
“No, I know,” Pam said in the manner of people living through the cognitive dissonance of knowing something intellectually and yet understanding something totally different emotionally.
“The internship would be a great opportunity to give you perspective on everything,” Karen replied, trying a different tactic.
Pam nodded. “It would be something different for sure.” And in a very casual way, she continued. “Jim says I should take chances sometimes.”
Oh, Jim said that, did he? How shocking. Karen tried to keep her poker face. She wondered if this was Pam’s way to finally talk about her and Jim.
“You told Jim about the internship?”
“Yeah,” Pam smiled. “He thought it was a great idea.”
“You guys are very close. He knows you well.”
“He is a great friend.” Pam made a show of looking at her watch. “We should probably go, no?”
Well, that was one way to shut down that conversation. Though Karen looked at the time and realized that Pam, in all her evading glory, was correct about them needing to go.
As they were throwing away their trash and making their way outside, Pam spoke. “You know, I used to be so afraid of ending up alone. I’ve been with Roy for so long, the idea of being by myself was terrifying. But now looking at you, moving to a new city and searching for an apartment and making all these decisions. I don’t know. It doesn’t seem so scary anymore.”
“Why don’t you call in sick?” Karen asked Pam.
They were eating breakfast at Karen’s kitchen table. Or at least, Karen was eating breakfast. Pam was looking sorrowfully into her coffee cup. She had shown up at Karen’s door the night before with a duffel bag and eyes red from crying.
“No, it’s fine.”
“Pam. I have been at Scranton long enough to know that Valentine’s Day is bound to be ridiculous. It is not the place you want to be the day after breaking your engagement.”
Just hearing that brought fresh tears to Pam’s eyes.
“Seriously, take the day for yourself. Cry, watch reality TV or go through my liquor cabinet if you need to, but for fuck’s sake, do not subject yourself to Angela’s judgy attitude or Michael’s particular brand of caring today of all day.”
Pam was nodding through her tears.
“Maybe you’re right.”
“I often am.”
“Thank you, Karen.”
By the time Karen arrived at work, word about the breakup had clearly made its way to the upper office of Dunder Mifflin. Ryan was sitting at the reception desk like he was preparing himself for war. She saw Kelly, Meredith and Phyllis talking in ushed tones by the water cooler, wearing various shades of pink and purple. Karen stood by her decision to wear grey on this day. A few heads turned to look at her when she made her way to her desk, but she didn’t hold anybody’s interest, except from one person. Jim looked at her in askance, and she mouthed ‘later’ at him. He nodded before going back to staring blankly at his monitor. She would bet good money that he didn’t see a single thing that was on it.
By the time the giant teddy bear was delivered, she was done. She had avoided participating to any and all conversations about Pam and Roy with various degrees of grace. Inevitably, she still managed to overhear that the wedding was on hold, that the wedding was cancelled, that Roy had cheated on Pam, that Pam was throwing a tantrum over wedding flowers, that Michael had apparently called in from New York to say he was going to get a counseling certificate online to help Pam and Roy through this difficult time once he got back.
Karen was beyond pissed. She knew that Pam tortured herself with the idea of what people would think of her, that it had led her in the past to bad decisions often through passive inaction. So, to hear all those fears come true was maddening. And it wasn’t going to stop any time soon so Pam would have to deal with it eventually. Karen understood the comfort of gossip, the enjoyment of it, especially when you were not the one being discussed. But the callousness of certain of their colleagues was still staggering. Between Angela saying that Roy could do better and Andy asking how long he should wait before making his move, Karen had never fantasized that much about punching coworkers in the face. Though the better answer would have been pushing Angela and Andy together. But Karen couldn’t picture it long enough mentally to suggest it out loud. She couldn’t picture Angela with anyone. Nor Andy really.
Before she started to seriously entertain notions of bodily harm, Karen opened an IM window and asked Jim if there was any quiet place they could escape to. She immediately got a response with directions to the roof.
When she got there, Jim was already standing by the edge.
“Hey,” she said and handed him a can of soda as he turned to face her.
He looked at the can for a moment before asking in a rush.
“Have you heard from her?”
She took a drink from her own can.
“She stayed over at my place last night.”
She could see him trying to reign in the hope he must have been starting to feel.
“Are they…? Is it…?”
She considered how much she wanted to divulge. “From what she said last night, it’s over. And I can tell you it wasn’t a hasty decision. As for the rest of it, you will have to ask her.”
He nodded, then ran a hand through his hair. He was clearly getting agitated.
“Karen, what do I do here? Do I go see her? Do I wait, again?” His voice broke on that last word.
“Look, I don’t know what’s the best solution here. But my best guess? Be her friend right now. Don’t push but don’t go away. She is mourning a ten year long relationship, so that takes time. But I don’t think she has been happy in that relationship in a long time. So yeah, be there.”
He now stood still, listening to her like his life depended on it.
“And also, run interference between her and Michael as much as you can.”
Jim burst out laughing, and just like that the moment was broken and she smiled in satisfaction.
“Be there, huh?” Jim repeated. She acquiesced as she took a sip from her drink, and he nodded back. “I can do that.”
“What about you?” He continued, probably trying to keep the levity going. “Any plans for Valentine’s Day?”
She shrugged. “Well, my plans are currently going home and drinking whatever wine is left at my apartment,” she let the ‘with Pam’ unspoken. “But to answer the spirit of your question, no I am not seeing anyone.” Between the move and the new job, she hadn’t had the mental energy to go looking.
Jim nodded. Karen could see he was not in the right mindset to make small talk.
“Come on, let’s go back,” she said. “I want to see which comes first, Phyllis receiving a live pony or Meredith passing out from the booze she’s been drinking all day.”
Jim chuckled. “Yeah. I should probably figure out why Dwight was being cagey all afternoon.”
Karen went home not knowing what to expect. She had picked up Chinese takeout on the way, figuring out they wouldn’t want to cook. She opened the door to see Pam sitting on the sofa watching TV. She looked surprisingly okay.
“Hey,” she said carefully.
“Hey,” Pam responded with a small smile.
“So, what did you ending choosing: TV, booze, crying? All of the above?” Karen asked, keeping her tone light, although her interest was genuine.
“I confirmed my registration for the design program,” Pam responded unexpectedly and looking proud of herself. “I start next week.”Karen felt a huge smile take over her face.
Karen stepped away from the cake eating as soon as she deemed it safe. She was happy that Kevin was okay, and she was happy to have survived her first Michael’s Birthday in the office. She was no closer to understanding how such a man-child was able to fake it as a productive member of society enough to be in charge of other people. But her new reality had started to set in a little, and she was now almost sure she wasn’t unwittingly taking part in a long format of the show Punk’d.
She also felt relieved to get away from Pam and Jim’s weird flirting slash drawn-out courting. She was truly glad that Pam was taking the time to figure out how to be by herself, and to reflect on how she let it get this bad with Roy. She had also started her design program which took her to New York twice a month, which seemed to be going well. So, that meant she hadn’t jumped in a relationship with Jim right away, which Karen applauded. That being said, Pam and Jim in a room together were this black hole of longing and anticipation and half-spoken promises. And Karen needed some distance from all the unresolved tension.
She made her escape by pretexting having a client meeting. It wasn’t completely true; it wasn’t a client yet. But she had been working on getting that account for a while now and she got the head’s up from one of the executive assistants that the person she needed to talk to might be available this afternoon. So, she was going over there, and if she spent the rest day waiting for a meeting that didn’t happen, she would still consider that time better spent than watching Michael open presents like a five-year old.
When she arrived there, she was led to a waiting area where a man was already sitting. She sat opposite of him on a very comfortable sofa.
“Hello,” she smiled politely. He was in a dark suit with a white shirt, which wasn’t surprising in these offices. She recognized something in him she knew well, he was some type of salesman, and he was there to sell something. She couldn’t help but notice he was also extremely handsome, in his late thirties with dark hair and dark eyes. And that was before he smiled back at her.
He stared at her appraisingly for a moment. “Were you, by any chance, tipped off that Erin Wingman would have an opening on her calendar today?”
She had been, as a matter of fact. But she wasn’t going to tell him that.
“What are you trying to sell Erin Wingman on?” she asked instead of answering his question.
His smile got sharper.
“I thought so.” He leaned forward and offered his hand to shake. “Danny Cordray, with Osprey Paper.”
Shit. She shook his hand firmly and smiled wider. “Karen Fillipelli, Dunder Mifflin.”
His face lost some of its edge.
“Wait, Dunder Mifflin? Does that mean you work with Dwight?”
She couldn’t stop the wince that spread across her face any more than she could stop Michael from saying her last name in the worst Italian accent she had ever heard.
“Not when I can help it.”
He laughed and leaned back in his chair. Damn, he was handsome.
“And what about Michael Scott? I keep hearing about him, but I have never met the man in person.”
She might have audibly groaned at that. “Whatever you have heard, it’s worse.”
At that moment, one of the women from the reception area approached them.
“Hi Danny, sorry it is taking such a long time. Mrs. Wingman should be available soon. Can I bring you some water while you wait?”
“Thank you, Mary. I’m good.”
Mary smiled prettily.
“Well, let me know if you need anything,” Mary said before leaving with a courteous nod in Karen’s direction and quick backward glance to Danny.
“I guess that answers the question about who tipped you off,” Karen said raising an eyebrow.
Danny didn’t bother to deny it. He shrugged good naturedly.
“It’s a big account. If being polite to the receptionists gets me through the door? Well, it’s not like it is a hardship.”
“I don’t think she wants you to be polite.”
“She is a bit young for my taste,” he responded, staring straight into her eyes. She felt a frisson of something going through her spine. That guy was a bullshitter through and through. But it had been a while, and she could do with some excitement in her life right now. She would start by winning the account from under him.
“What about you?” he broke the silence between them but not the electricity. Was he really asking her if she liked them young? “Who tipped you off?” he continued, smirking, knowing full well where her mind went.
She didn’t give an inch. “Now, why would I tell you that?”
“Fair enough,” he conceded. “How about a wager?”
“What type of wager?” she asked intrigued. This was going to be fun.
“Whoever wins the account pays for dinner.”
“Shouldn’t the person who loses pay for dinner?”
“Call me old-fashioned, but I like to pay on the first date.”
Motherfucker. That guy was slick.
Karen was in the middle of telling an increasingly bewildered Danny via texts about her day and how she had been interrogated by Dwight dressed up in a sheriff’s uniform before having to submit to a drug test when her landline rang. She saw it was Pam calling and answered.
“Hey. Am I bothering you?”
Karen looked down at the cell phone she had thrown on the sofa by her side when she had reached for the landline. She was better off finishing her tale the next time she saw Danny face to face. There were some things you couldn’t convey with the written word, like the shape of Dwight’s hat. She held the phone against her ear with her shoulder to be able to shoot Danny a quick text saying she needed to step away for a bit.
“Nope. What’s up?”
“Nothing much,” Pam responded hesitantly. “I just… Today was crazy, right?”
Karen assumed that Pam wanted to talk about something in particular, but didn’t know how to bring it up. Karen was happy to play along until Pam found her footing.
“You can say that again. Did you ever figure out what Michael took that made him ask Dwight to pass his test for him?”
“Oh wow, I didn’t even think about that. I can’t imagine Michael on drugs.”
“I don’t want to consider it.”
“Aren’t you curious?”
“It can’t be much worse than the Michael we know.”
“Don’t say that. You’re going to manifest it into existence. I keep thinking we’ve reached the bottom of the insanity that is the Scranton branch of Dunder Mifflin, and I keep being wrong.”
Pam chuckled on the other side of the line, before lapsing into silence. Karen could guess by now what Pam wanted to talk about and decided to help her out.
“So, you were extra flirty with Jim today, with your Jinx shenanigans,” Karen ventured, testing out the temperature.
She heard Pam sigh. “Yeah…”
“And do you feel about that?” Karen prompted.
“I don’t know,” Pam paused and then forged ahead. “On one hand, I really like it. When I am with him, it feels effortless and exciting, and I enjoy who I am in those moments. And this is not new, but it’s like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. But at the same time, it’s like another type of weight is there instead, if that makes sense? Before, when I was with Roy, having fun with Jim was safe because I knew nothing could come of it. But now…”
“But now, it becomes real. And it becomes something you could lose,” Karen finished for her.
“Yes,” Pam breathed out.
“And taking risks is not something you enjoy,” Karen continued.
“No,” Pam agreed, her voice shaky. “I really don’t.”
“But this is a risk worth taking. And I think you know it. You just need a minute to catch up.”
“There was a moment today. When Jim couldn’t talk. I made a stupid joke about him being able to tell me anything. And he just looked at me with so much… I chickened out.”
“Pam, that’s okay. You shouldn’t rush into anything you’re not ready for.”
“Don’t you think it’s too soon?” Pam asked sounding unsure.
“You’re the only who can know that.”
“I know, I know. But I am asking for your opinion anyway.”
Karen took the time to think about it. “Honestly?”
“If you feel ready, then no, I don’t think it’s too soon. But the most important thing, in my opinion, is that you find your boundaries. Yes, I tend to think Roy was an inconsiderate asshole and I believe Jim would treat you way better than Roy ever did. But you let Roy get away with murder, and Jim isn’t perfect. Nobody is. He is going to fuck up, it is inevitable. So, you need to be able to communicate your needs, to say no. If you think you can work on this, possibly with Jim’s help, I say go for it.”
“It’s hard,” Pam said after a while.
“I know. But it’s worth it.”
“Yeah.” Silence rang out for a moment or two. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to dump all of this on you,” Pam finally said.
“Come on, what are friends for?” Karen asked jokingly yet sincerely.
“In any case, I appreciate it. Thanks.”
Karen didn’t expect that comment to touch her like it did. She swallowed back down the sudden wave of emotion.
“So, tell me about you. How are things with Danny?”
Karen was relieved about the change of subject. There were only so many feelings she could take at once. And talking about Danny made her smile.
“Things are surprisingly good.”
“I really didn’t think this thing had a future when we started it. But we get along pretty well. I keep expecting him to get bored but so far, he hasn’t.” Under that slick exterior, Danny had a goofy side that she really liked. He didn’t appear to be as much of a player as she had originally expected.
“We spent the whole weekend together last week. We had to stay in because of the weather, and yet it passed so fast.”
Karen had worried they would eventually run out of things to say to each other. The sex was great, but it could only take them so far. Even fantastic sex couldn’t sustain a relationship if it was followed by awkward conversations and uncomfortable silences. But that hadn’t happened with Danny. She enjoyed her time with him inside and outside the bedroom equally. It truly helped that Danny seemed to be fascinated by the inner workings of Dunder Mifflin, because Karen needed to vent often and in details. Her other friends didn’t grasp the full reality of Dwight Schrute and the likes.
“I don’t know, it’s fun.” Karen finished lamely with a shrug that Pam couldn’t see.
“Do you think it could get serious?” Pam asked the question that Karen had been trying to avoid thinking about for the last couple of weeks.
“Maybe,” Karen edged. But the more she actually considered it, the more she knew the answer. “Yes, I think it could.”
“A risk worth taking?” Pam further questioned.Karen smiled. “A risk worth taking.”
"You are bringing your boyfriend tonight, right?" Jim asked, covertly looking around as if to make sure they were alone, though his tone was playful.
"Yes, I am bringing D-"
"Wow there!" Jim interrupted. "No need to get into details and ruin the surprise for anyone. Just, can you give me a heads-up when you arrive?"
She looked at him suspiciously. He was being entirely too gleeful. "Why?"
"Oh, nothing really. I just need to find the perfect vantage point of view to see Dwight's face when you arrive with him."
It finally dawned on her what he was getting at. How had she not considered that bringing Danny to a Dunder Mifflin party would mean exposing herself to Dwight’s comments about loyalty and corporate espionage.
"I don't think that Michael has ever met him, so that might be more of a delayed reaction. I'll have to keep an eye out for that one."
They had not entered the warehouse for more than two minutes before she saw Dwight sprinting towards them like a hellhound on a mission.
“Karen, what is the meaning of this? Why is he here?” he asked in a rush, looking at Danny with open hostility.
“Hello, Dwight. Nice to see you again,” Danny greeted cheerfully.
Karen spoke before Dwight could respond. “Hey, Dwight. This is my boyfriend, Danny. I believe you’ve met before?”
“Do you even know who he works for?”
“Believe it or not, it has come up, yes,” she answered already wary of this whole conversation. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Jim standing a few feet away from them, grinning like the asshole he was.
“Yes, she stole a client right from under me the first time we met,” Danny added, clearly enjoying himself too. “It was like fate.”
Dwight groaned like he was physically in pain. “You probably let her win this one to stroke her ego and to lure her into a false sense of security.” That preposterous jackass. He turned to look at her with a sense of urgency. “Karen, he is most certainly trying to steal important information about Dunder Mifflin from you. Don’t let your weak female impulses blind you.”
She was fighting her weak female impulses to knee him in the junk. She turned to Danny, putting on an air of concern.
“Is that true, Danny? Is that why you were asking about our market prices the other night in bed?”
“No!” Dwight exclaimed.
“No, that was just general curiosity,” Danny said at the same time. “When I asked you about your client list, that was to spy on you.”
“Was any of it real?” she asked imploringly, wondering if she could get Dwight to faint on the spot.
“Well, you see, during the honey pot training, they teach you to compartmentalize your feelings.” Dwight was buying this wholesale. You’d think he would get wiser after being pranked for years by Jim. “However, I fell for you anyway,” Danny delivered this looking straight into her eyes.
“Oh good, that’s fine then.” She reached out and kissed him gently on the lips. She could feel the weight of Dwight’s horrified stare on them. She smiled at Danny. “Come on, let’s get a drink.”
Danny smiled back and kissed her once more. He then turned to Dwight. “It was good to see you again. Let’s catch up later, okay?”
They headed towards the bar leaving a sputtering Dwight behind them.
“Danny Cordray! My reputation precedes yours, as they say.”
Michael had appeared out of nowhere as they were enjoying a drink after losing spectacularly at the blackjack table.
Danny shared a brief side glance with her before chuckling.
“That it does. Michael Scott, I presume?” He asked politely. She had tried to prepare him for this, but there are things you can only experience first-hand.
“The one and only,” Michael laughed delightedly. “Dwight has been talking my ear off for the last hour about needing to be careful around you. Something about James Bond and jars of honey? I just tuned him out after a while.”
“Don’t we all?” Karen muttered but Michael went on, blissfully unaware.
“So, Danny, what do you think about Dunder Mifflin? Not too shabby, huh? When was the last time that Osprey Paper had an event of this caliber?”
“I can honestly say that we never had anything quite like this,” Danny managed to respond completely earnestly.
Michael couldn’t look more pleased.
“Quite right. And who knows, we might convince you to join us, right?”
Karen could feel the dread from this whole encounter fill out her entire body. Even Danny, usually unflappable, laughed somewhat nervously, though he never lost his smile. “That’s an interesting thought. Still, I am happy at Osprey’s right now.”
“Come on. I’m sure that Karen would enjoy having her man working with her every day.” He winked at her, and it would require so much alcohol to block out that image from her memory. He turned back to Danny. “Don’t tell Ryan I told you this, but we could use another good-looking man in the office. What do you say?”
Did Michael even understand the concept of awkwardness? Without looking at Danny, she knew that he was struck speechless. As much as she would enjoy this in other circumstances, she felt it was her duty to get them out of this mess.
“Was it Jan I saw, Michael?”
“Huh? Oh yeah,” Michael smiled sheepishly. “I sort of invited her.” He laughed nervously. “I also invited Carol. Actually Danny, you might be able to help me with this. I’m sure it happens to a guy like you all the time. How do you deal when you invite two women to the same event? And they both turn up.”
How was that possible? Why?
“Michael, that is a very tricky situation you find yourself in,” Danny said in a serious tone. “One that only the most skillful of men can come out of unscathed.” Michael was hanging on his every word. Karen herself couldn’t wait to hear what type of bullshit he would come up with. “I will give you the best advice I’ve ever been given.” Michael nodded fervently. “Let love guide your way.”
Michael looked like he had just found religion. She finished her drink in one go.
Karen stepped out of the restroom when she saw Pam rushing outside in her blueish dress. Karen followed to see if she was okay, only to see Pam and Jim standing in the car park, looking at each other like they were the only beings in the universe. She knew she should leave them alone, but she saw the camera guy hiding behind a bush, and that was justification enough for her tipsy brain to stay where she was and see what would unfold.
“Pam. You have to know, right? I understand that you need space right now. And I would be happy to wait for you as long as you need. But tonight, I just need to know that you know,” Jim said imploringly.
You couldn’t make this shit up. These two were straight out of a Shakespearian play.
“I know, Jim. Can you tell me anyway?” Pam responded, getting even closer to Jim.
“What are we doing?” a voice behind Karen said. She jumped slightly and turned to see Danny standing right behind her.
“Shit, you scared me.” She gripped his arm and waited a second for her pulse to calm down. He smiled. He had such a great smile.
“Sorry about that,” he said, not sounding sorry at all. “So, the spying?” he asked nodding towards Jim and Pam who were now holding hands.
“Shut up, I am weirdly invested in the love lives of my friends.”
He laughed. “Okay.” He put his arms around her and they both watched as Jim and Pam figured their shit out. They finally closed the remaining distance between them and kissed. Karen was almost moved to tears.
“Come on,” Danny said. “Let’s give them their privacy. And you can always watch the playback later.” He pointed in the direction of the cameraman still filming from the bushes.
Jim couldn’t stop giggling as she recounted their encounters of the third kind of the night. Pam had the decency to try to hide the fact that she was laughing.
“Shut it, Halpert. I’m pretty sure Dwight is planning to kidnap me at some point to stage a deprogramming or something.”
“Yeah. I don’t think it helped when I told him I saw you staring blankly at your monitor and muttering in Russian.”
Pam nodded before adding. “He seemed very interested when I said I saw you lurking in the office after hours.”
They looked at each other in acknowledgement of their respective cleverness. To say they were glowing was the understatement of the century.
“I hate you both. Meanwhile, Michael has mentioned something about having us over for dinner.”
Jim tore himself from Pam’s eyes long enough to answer. “That sounds exciting.”
“Laugh it up, but I am pretty sure the two of you will be invited too.”
She was hoping to knock some of the smugness from his face, but instead he looked back at Pam, obviously amazed at being associated romantically with her. God, they were nauseating. She smiled against her better judgement regarding indulging this type of behavior. She felt Danny reach around her and squeeze her arm gently. She turned to him, and he kissed the corner of her face. She let herself bask in the contentment of the moment.
Later, after Pam and Jim had left to go flirt some more at the poker table, she and Danny were sitting together enjoying some time alone.
“Any idea when you’re going to tell them about your new job?”
Karen glanced around, making sure no one was within earshot.
“I am planning to give Michael as little time as legally required. You saw how he was. Plus, now I am sure that Dwight will be convinced this is somehow because of you.”
“You don’t think you’ll be able to explain to him I had nothing to do with it?” he asked with a smirk.
“Sure, Dwight is a reasonable type of guy.”
“Alright. What about Jim and Pam?”
Yeah. As much as she complained about the Scranton branch of Dunder Mifflin, she wasn’t looking forward to telling the two friends she had made there that she was moving on. She had expected to be ecstatic about the prospect of leaving it all behind, but it was proving more difficult than she had originally thought.
“It’s okay that you are going to miss them,” Danny reassured her gently after she failed to respond. “And you’re not moving, you will still be able to see them socially.” This was not the first time they had had that conversation.
“I know. I guess I was waiting after tonight. It’ll be nice to have this one good memory. Weird and ridiculous, but nice nonetheless.”