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Story Notes:
So obviously TPTB did not go the direction post-"Cocktail" that I did, but I still enjoy this little fic, maybe I'll write a follow-up someday.
Author's Chapter Notes:

disclaimer: everything belongs to NBC Universal, I own nothing.

edit: changed Jim's car in the last vignette, thanks for catching that, you detailed crazed fans ;)

Mid-November (The Merger)

She waited for him to leave the room before she gave up on the fake smile. A high five, the guy she's moving for just gave her a fucking high five.

I'm not moving for him, she quickly reminded herself, I'm moving for a job, people do it all the time, Jim just did it 5 months ago. I'm moving for a job and if something romantic comes out of it, then that's just a bonus.

While her occupation was to convince people to buy overpriced paper all day, she certainly wasn't a skilled enough saleswoman to convince herself that she was moving just for a job. She was moving to a small, mountain Pennsylvania town she'd never been within 50 miles of for him. She had found herself gazing past her computer screen for months; staring at his broad shoulders, studying the way his hair curled at the nape of his neck, praying he would turn around and shoot her one of those brilliant smiles. She couldn't let him walk out of her life without at least asking him out. And he told her he wanted her to come - at least that's how it sounded to her.

For some reason her hand still stung from that high five.


* * * * * * *

Late November (The Convict)

A red Corolla pulled up next to her, and her heart started to beat faster when he looked over and smiled. She jumped out of her SUV and practically skipped to the rear bumper where he stood waiting for her.

There wasn't really any feeling that matched that "new relationship" high. She laughed at every joke and beamed at every touch; everything about Jim was so exciting for some reason. She took his hand and they walked towards the entrance of the Scranton Office Park.

A few feet from the double doors, he stopped suddenly. His hand slipped out of hers.

"Hey, can we talk about something really quick?"

Karen turned to face him. Her heart started beating faster again, but for a significantly different reason.

"Please don't take this the wrong way, but I don't think we should be too obvious about, you know, seeing each other."

Karen felt her face contort into a puzzled look.

"It's just . . . the camera crew, they're pretty relentless. I don't want them being in your face all day, especially since you're just getting settled and working with new clients."

"Okay," she replied nervously.

"You're not mad, are you?" he said, his eyebrows raised in worry.

She shook her head. "No, I think we need to act professional at work anyway." She surprised herself with the steadiness of her voice.

"Okay," Jim said, keeping a pace behind her as they walked through the doors and towards the elevator.

Later, with the cameramen preoccupied filming Michael trying to boost the moral in accounting, she shot Jim a smile, and her stomach dropped when he looked away.


* * * * * * *

Mid-January (Traveling Salesmen)

There was something unnerving about looking down to her shoulder and seeing curls in her normally bone-straight hair. No matter how many times Karen tried to toss them over her shoulder, they crept back into view. It was a constant reminder that something was off, like Jim's voice when he initially denied ever having a "thing" for Pam, the miles wide gap between his story of an innocent crush and Phyllis' account of a love-sick man, or the fact that he didn't even attempt to take her hand when he told her he was happy she came to Scranton; he just took another sip of his coffee.

She looked at him as they sat at a stop light but he only looked ahead, his jaw tense and his shoulders tight. She didn't dare ask but she was dying to know what he was thinking about. What the real story between him and that sweet but unremarkable receptionist was. What made him always tense up when she touched his arm or his back at work. She looked away from him and out her window, once again brushing the unnatural curls back behind her shoulder.

* * * * * * *

Early February (Ben Franklin)

It was as good as time as any to bring it up; giggling in the kitchen about the Ben Franklin impersonator that winked at Pam. Karen wanted to be friends with her, yet she couldn't help but feel that Jim's old crush was hanging over them.

She knew it would be awkward, but she couldn't have predicted this. Witty and articulate only a moment ago, Pam stood before her stuttering and bumbling about how great it is she's going out with Jim. She then finished off by saying "sorry." She skillfully dodged the question when Karen asked what she was sorry for, but Karen knew. Pam was sorry Jim was so free around her, that she could make him snort with laughter while Karen made him chuckle at best. She was sorry that they could seamlessly pull off a prank together because they had done so a hundred times before Karen knew of a town called "Scranton". She was sorry that all she had to do was smile and Jim would start to slip away from Karen and back into her.

Karen resolved to never let Jim have to turn to Pam for a prank again.


* * * * * * *

Late February (Cocktails)

As they climbed up the steps to her apartment, Jim pulled his phone out of his pocket and turned it on to listen to his messages.

"Hey, Mark found my gloves," Jim said, "I guess I dropped them right outside his front door."

Karen chuckled, "Nice one, Halpert." She fumbled with her keys and opened her apartment door before turning to see Jim facing away, his posture slightly slumped as he listened to a message. He slipped his phone back into his pocket and stood silently before Karen softly said his name.

"Um, that was Pam," he said quietly. "She told Roy about - about what we talked about, and I guess he lost it, broke some glasses at Poor Richard's."

"The warehouse guy? Why would he be so upset?" Karen said with a light, nervous laugh. Jim looked over at her, then down to the concrete. "Jim..." she started. What haven't you told me now?

"He's upset because Pam was engaged to him when I kissed her."

She was initially more alarmed at his new-found straightforwardness than the news itself. It took a couple moments for the gravity of what he just said to sink in.

"You - you left that little detail out," she said, staring at the keys in her hand.

Jim ran his fingers back through his hair, "I know." He was silent for another minute before turning towards her, "Karen . . ."

"I'm tired," she said quickly, avoiding his eyes. I'm so tired.

"Yeah, me too," he replied.

She slowly backed into her apartment. He didn't even try to follow her. "Good night, Jim."

She locked the door behind her and waited a minute before peeking out her front window. She saw the silver Saab back out of its spot and zoom to the exit of the parking lot. "Turn right, Halpert," she whispered, "turn right and go home."

After a moment the little car started to move. He turned left.

Karen sank down to the floor and covered her eyes.

NobleLandMermaid is the author of 22 other stories.
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