The door opens with a familiar swoosh and Pam hesitates for a second before joining him at the table with her soda. "Contemplating your death again?"
He smiles wryly, because somehow she can still see right through him when it comes to some things, and completely miss the signs for others. "Wouldn't want to break from tradition." It's a pretty morbid exchange, but he discovered a long time ago that she has a very dark sense of humor and often regales her with his elaborate, fatal plans to avoid the rest of the work day.
She leafs through a well read People magazine that someone (probably Kelly) has abandoned, carefully pressing each page flat as she goes. "So what is it today?"
"Bus." He watches her hands instead of her face. It's one of his new, back-from-Stamford habits. The way they shake and twitch give away far more about her emotional state than her eyes (which she often hides from him).
"Nice. You rented Stranger Than Fiction again last night, didn't you?"
"You got me." He takes a sip of his coffee to keep his smile from becoming a full-blown grin. They've been getting along really well for the last two weeks and he wonders if now might be a good time to tell her about Karen. After some careful reflection (lack of courage), he decides he doesn't want to not ruin the good mood.
She closes the magazine, although she still fiddles with the bent upper corner to avoid his gaze. "So, um, if you're not too busy after that bus thing, I'm having another art show Sunday night. At my school. You should come." The last three words are almost a whisper, like she couldn't quite decide if she really wanted him to hear.
He continues to stare into the bottom of his cup. There are a few dregs drifting in the weak brew, and he idly wonders if you can use coffee grounds to predict the future, like tea leaves. Probably not. "That's great, Pam. Definitely, I'll come."
Pam raises her head and meets his eye for the first time in days. "Really?" She wants to ask if Karen will be joining him, he can tell, but she doesn't.
"Really. Wouldn't miss it."
When he finds the wall displaying her art, Pam has her back to him, shoulders hunched as she watches a fellow student being congratulated by a huge group. He suddenly feels like a heel for intentionally being late. While she's not looking, he scans the paintings behind her. It's completely the opposite of what he expected after seeing her watercolor of their office building hanging next to Michael's office. There's a violence, a boldness to her work that's surprising.
Pam turns and catches him staring. "Oh, hi." She tugs the sleeves of a burgundy turtleneck sweater he's never seen before down over her palms. "You came."
"I said I would." He gestures towards her collection. "These are great! I really like the..." His eyes pass over what looks like an aerial view of fireworks in an abandoned field and settle on a purple crocus pushing out of dark soil. "...the flower."
"Oh, thanks." She glances over his shoulder with a nervous smile. "Where's Karen?"
Jim sighs and scratches the back of his head, reluctant to open that can of worms. It's probably his fault, because he's been so careful about closing himself off from Pam, but he misses the days when he could read her every expression like a book, can't believe the distance between them. She's a complete mystery to him these days. "I don't know. We broke up two weeks ago."
Her smile disappears. "You...what? Why?"
The fact that his ‘best friend' (or whatever she is to him now) didn't notice he'd been dumped is a little heartbreaking. Not that she'd given him reason to expect anything else. "What difference does it make?" He fears the answer.
"It doesn't." She shrinks away from him slightly.
"Yeah. That's what I thought you'd say." She seems a bit shocked that he'd call her on it. His words come out harsher than he intends them to, but maybe it's what they need. They can't ignore the past forever. "Aren't you tired of the weirdness?"
Pam just stares up at him with glassy eyes for a moment, then turns and takes off down the hall, calling over her shoulder: "I have to go."
Frustrated, he chases after her, wanting to have a full conversation for once. "Go where? Pam, come back."
He follows her through a set of swinging doors and she continues deeper into the school, through a maze of deserted hallways, until the sounds of milling art show guests are long gone, replaced by the hum of fluorescent lights and the squeak of their shoes on freshly buffed linoleum. Pam slips suddenly through a door and he almost gets his fingers crushed when she attempts to shut him out. He catches the edge at the last second and steps in behind her, pulling the door closed. Turning for the inevitable confrontation, he almost steps on her because she's standing so close.
For the first time, he realizes they're in a bathroom, a stark, cramped space with a toilet and sink. He could touch all four walls if he spread his arms. No place to run. With a determined flick of his wrist, he throws the lock behind him, not taking his eyes off her flushed face. He's tired of avoiding his problems, waking up filled with disappointment. Finally sorting things out with Karen had been hard, but worth it in the end. He thinks maybe he's on a roll. "I know your art show isn't the ideal location, but we need to talk about this. Without the running away. If you don't want to discuss Karen, maybe we can talk about Roy kicking my ass last month."
She glares up at him, obviously feeling cornered. Too bad for her. "Okay, fine. I'm sorry Roy hit you. Five times."
Jim deliberately shifts his jaw, listening for the souvenir crack. It echoes pointedly in the tiny room. Pam has the decency to wince. "And why did he come after me?"
"Just leave it alone. It doesn't matter anymore. I'm sorry, but it's in the past." Her lips press together fiercely and it occurs to him that he's not going to get any further this way. She's never been good with confrontation.
He rubs his hands vigorously over his face until he can see sparks of red and green behind his eyelids. "You know what? Never mind. I thought you were finally..." He shakes his head. "I'll see you at work tomorrow."
"Yeah?" He pauses with his fingers on the lock.
"Thanks for coming to my art show." Her voice is meek, full of apology for something she won't name. Maybe she never will.
A growl of frustration threatens in his throat. "Good night, Pam." Silence is her only reply, so he twists the deadbolt, bruising his thumb when it doesn't budge. "What the...?" He tries again, with no luck. The door seems to be stuck. "Shit. I think we're locked in. It won't open."
Pam comes to his side. "Please tell me you're joking."
The door rattles in its frame but doesn't yield to his efforts. "I wish I were joking. It's stuck. The lock won't turn." He pounds on the door a few times. They're pretty far from the populated wing of the school though, so his expectations for rescue are fairly low.
"What are you doing? No one is going to hear that."
"Someone might come down here to use the bathroom." He bangs again without enthusiasm. "Do you have your cell phone?"
She shakes her head. "I left it in my car. You?"
"So did I. Damn it."
"At least this toilet has a lid." She nudges it down with her foot, and after a cursory examination, takes a seat. "Things could be worse."
"We could be locked in the men's bathroom."
He smiles at her joke. "Actually, it's not bad in here. Clean, good lighting, above standard smell."
"The Four Seasons of public restrooms."
"Be serious, Pam. It's a least a Ritz-Carleton."
"Wow. You must be used to some really terrifying bathrooms."
"That's why there are never any lines for the men's room. No one wants to go in there."
There's a long silence while they both contemplate what led to their incarceration in the first place. He's not sure how far he should push her, if he's ready to drag out all their issues.
To his surprise, Pam is the first to speak. "Jim?"
"Hmm." He leans against the door, futilely trying to twist open the deadbolt. All those times he would have given anything to be trapped in an enclosed space with Pam and now, well...it's kind of uncomfortable. He glances over to where she's huddled on the toilet and his breath catches because she looks like she's about to spill every single thought inside her head. "What is it?"
She chickens out at the last second. It couldn't be more obvious. "Try knocking again. Someone could walk past."
He raises his fist to the door and pounds, tempted to use his forehead instead. "Why can't we just talk, like normal people?"
"I am talking." She points to her mouth. "See? Talking."
"That's not what I meant and you know it." He gives up knocking and stuffs his hands into the back pockets of his jeans.
"There's nothing to talk about." Even she doesn't look convinced by her statement.
He sighs. "Fine. But I'm not unlocking this door until we discuss things." She chuckles faintly, in spite of her frown, so he keeps at it, hoping to find the right catalyst. "Why are you being so stubborn?"
"Can we not do this while we're trapped in a bathroom?"
Somehow he manages to keep his voice neutral, when all he wants to do is shout. "Oh, did you have a better idea for how to pass the time? Charades, maybe?"
"Don't... it's not funny."
"I'm not trying to be funny, Pam. I'm trying to communicate. Something we're both terrible at."
Not moved by his words, she stares resolutely at her feet, refusing to answer.
Well then, he'll wait her out; it's not like they're going anywhere. He can be a very patient man. "Hey." He leans back against the door, as casually as possible, trying to give her some space. It's time for a new strategy. "Let's take a break. How about that game of charades?"
She looks up and offers him a relieved smile, a sort of temporary truce. "Yeah."
Jim licks his lower lip, deeply concentrated on his efforts to rescue them from their prison with his Visa card. Honestly, it's emasculating that he's failed to save them so far. Dwight would be so disappointed in him.
"That's never going to work. It's not that kind of lock." Pam lurks over his shoulder (not that there's anywhere else to stand), offering commentary and ridicule.
"Shut up. I can't hear you."
"Then why did you answer?" There's a smile in her voice, he can tell without looking.
He shoots a death glare in her general direction and turns back to the task at hand. Any second, now, they'll be free. There will be congratulatory hugs and humble acknowledgements of his brilliance. Then, as if perfectly aware how stupid it will make him look, the credit card snaps in two, one piece clattering to the linoleum with a decidedly mocking tone.
Pam stoops and collects the half that has fallen to the floor, offering it with the expected smug grin. "Nice work, MacGyver."
"Okay. Your sarcasm is not helping." He snatches it from her and stuffs both pieces in his pocket. "It's your turn to pick a game, smarty pants."
"I spy, with my little eye... something that is... peach."
"Is it... the soap?" He presses his fingers against the dispenser and fills his palm with the shimmery melon scented liquid. It's the only peach thing in the vicinity.
She sighs in defeat. "I think we've exhausted every possible item in the room."
"Then maybe you're ready to talk?" This earns him a glare. "Or not."
"Shut up. Dwight and Angela. Dwight. And Angela."
She nods patiently. "For more than a year. They've been together longer than Ryan and Kelly."
Jim shudders. "I can't believe you kept this from me." He holds up his hand. "No, wait." I'm glad you did. This kind of thing changes the laws of the universe."
"It's actually really sweet." At his incredulous look, she adds: "I mean it. They're totally devoted to each other."
"Next you'll be telling me that gravity is fictional."
That earns a small giggle. He's making progress.
Jim rummages in his pocket and produces a bright yellow packet. "Do you want some gum?"
"No thanks." She looks up from her project, something she has explained to him as ‘pushing back her cuticles'. It's positively gruesome. "Wait. Do you think I need some?"
"I was just being polite. I'm sure your breath is fine." He chews his Juicy Fruit and watches her self-manicure. "Does that hurt?"
"Of course not." She waves him closer. "Come here, I'll show you."
He reluctantly lays his right hand on the edge of the counter, keeping the other hand safely in his pocket, just in case. "Promise?"
"Promise." She goes to work and yeah, it's kind of painful, but he doesn't pull away.
Pam bends to drink from the faucet, holding her hair to one side. Jim knocks on the door again to distract himself from how the waistband of her jeans is dipping below her tailbone, revealing a small strip of pale flesh. He could just reach out and...
"Hey." She straightens, wiping her mouth. "I forgot it's April Fool's Day."
Blushing, his mind snaps back to a decidedly less enjoyable version of reality. The one where he isn't tugging on those denim belt loops until she's pressed against his front. He clears his throat, just in case his voice is still in fantasy land. "Are you going to tell me this was all just an elaborate prank?"
"I wish. But we'll have to do something fun for Dwight on Monday to celebrate the holiday." The suggestion that she'll still be speaking to him tomorrow lifts his spirits. She returns to her perch on the toilet lid. "Hey, how long have we been in here?"
He checks his watch. "Two hours and fifteen minutes."
"That's it? It feels longer."
"Thanks. I like spending time with you, too."
Her tongue flicks out between pink lips. "Do you think we'll have to sleep here?"
He looks around their porcelain and stainless steel prison. The gray linoleum is about as tempting as icy concrete. The floor is spotless, but it's still a bathroom. "Sleep where? There's no room to lie down. Anyway, I'm sure someone will come by to clean at the end of the night."
Pam points to the maintenance schedule. "Does it say what time they usually clean?"
He examines the grid. "Five forty-five PM."
She grabs his wrist so she can see his watch. "It's eight fifteen. That's not good." She doesn't release his arm right away, makes a show of checking her handiwork on his cuticles.
He smiles, secretly pleased. "No. No, it is not."
"This is the weirdest thing I have ever done to pass to time. And I can't get it to stand up."
"No, you need more soap. Look." He lifts his hands to reveal a perfectly formed penguin.
She wets her fingers under the soap dispenser again and attempts to smooth her toilet paper elephant sculpture. "I was always terrible at three-dimensional art."
He smiles and gently guides her touch across a flank, willing away the warmth in the pit of his stomach with practiced ease. "Maybe you just didn't have the right teacher."
"Hmm. Or I should have picked a subject with less limbs." Her delicate fingers roll a tiny trunk. "You should do this for a living."
He frowns, confused. "Make toilet paper animals? I don't know if there's really a market for that."
A laugh bubbles from her chest, frees itself from concentration and repression. "No, you dork. I mean work with kids or something. Teaching. You'd be really good at it."
"Oh." He watches her work. "Thanks."
Oblivious to his stare, she puts the finishing touches on the elephant's tail. "What do you think?"
Momentarily lost in thought, he blinks at her question. "About what?"
"My masterpiece." She displays the beige, vaguely mammalian lump with a Vanna White flourish.
He couldn't be more proud. "It's perfect, Beesly. I think the penguin and the elephant are going to be very happy together."
He doesn't look up from his project of re-lacing his sneakers. "Yeah?"
There's a pause before Pam responds, but he's so caught up trying to get a slightly frayed end through a metal eyelet that he doesn't notice. After a few moments, she whispers "I have to go to the bathroom."
"That's lucky. There's a toilet right there." A long silence suggests he's missing the point and he finally catches on. "Oh, right. Well...it's not like I can leave."
She turns on the faucet full blast. "Face the corner and plug your ears. And hum."
"I don't care, as long as it's loud."
He drops his half-laced shoe and stands. "Can I warm up first? My vocal chords are very sensitive."
"Okay, okay!" He sticks his fingers in his ears and starts humming Killing Me Softly. It pains him to realize that he'll probably add it to a playlist on his iPod when he gets home. If he ever gets home.
When she's done, she taps him on the shoulder. "Thanks a lot. Now I'll have that song in my head forever."
The thought warms him a little. Maybe she has a playlist of her own. "Happy to help."
Her paper palm covers his rock fist as she lets out a small "ha" of triumph. Her fingers slide away and she holds up her hand for another round. His eyes find hers and he freezes. There. She's ready. All he has to do is pick the right opening question. They both show scissors (they're finally in tune again) and she sighs. "Can we start over?"
Jim tries to re-fold his legs in the limited space because his left foot has fallen asleep. "At Rock Paper Scissors? Is that allowed?"
She scoots across the floor so that their crossed legs are touching at the knees, the bump sending an excruciating jolt into his numb toes. "No, I mean us."
"Um..." What she's asking isn't exactly clear, but it seems like a step forward (even though, technically, it's regressing). "How far back are we talking about? Four years? Last May?"
She stops to think for a moment, then looks up, animated. "How about when you came back to Scranton? Can we have a do-over?"
"A do-over?" This is not the conversation he'd been working towards all night.
"Yeah. You can walk through the door again..." She rolls her eyes when he glances at the lock. "Or you can just pretend to walk in." She gets to her feet and tugs him up too. "Come on, it'll be good."
"Okay." He's pretty skeptical, but then after being locked in a bathroom for five hours (and feeling a bit light-headed from being so hungry), it's easier to humor her. And beggars can't be choosers. At least she's trying. He thinks back, struggling to remember the first thing he said to her. She clears her throat impatiently and the words suddenly come to him. "Hi. I'm Jim, I'm new here..."
Without missing a beat, she throws her arms around his shoulders, and just like before, he can't resist hugging her back. Only this time, she doesn't let go, presses her nose into the collar of his shirt. "I'm in love with you."
He starts to draw away, but she hangs on tightly, breath hot and quick next to his ear. "Wait...what? That's not..."
Her lips move against his skin and he can feel each word's shape as she speaks. "It's what I meant to say, twenty times that day."
"Pam..." Before he can think of a response, her mouth is on his, bottom lip fitting into the space between his where I missed you had been forming. Even though his brain is still trying to figure things out, his body reacts instantly, hands tightening on her waist, breath quickening. She threads her fingers through his hair, tugging him closer, and he has to brace one hand on the counter to keep his balance.
Distantly, Jim registers a sort of jingly sound, but it takes a few seconds to draw a connection to the source. Keys. Rescue. He's pulling away from Pam when the door swings open, the edge cracking his elbow and knocking them both against the sink. They scramble to find appropriate hand positions and expressions.
"Hello? Is someone there?" A security guard blinks at them in surprise. "What are you doing? You shouldn't be here this late."
To give Pam a chance to compose herself, Jim shifts to the left, blocking the man's view. "Believe me, it wasn't by choice. The lock is broken."
The guard heaves a beleaguered sigh. "Hmm. Likely story." He hikes a thumb over his shoulder. "Are you coming, or what?"
Jim glances back at Pam, amused by their liberator's indifference. "Yeah. Thanks."
Pam follows him out silently and Jim reaches back to find her hand. At the first turn in the hall, she takes the lead, guiding him easily back to the make-shift gallery space. The walls have all been cleared of art, with the exception of her small display, a riot of color.
He stops her as she heads for the door with a quick squeeze of his fingers. "Don't you want to take down your paintings?"
"Yeah, I probably should." Pam releases his hand (reluctantly, he likes to think) and starts to unhook a canvas from the wall. Her silence is conspicuous in the empty room. Without the intimacy of their temporary prison, the spell is broken and maybe it'll be business as usual.
Worried she won't continue with the truth, won't face what happened, he tries to jumpstart their conversation again. "I really do like these. They're...you're really good. Did you use oil paint?"
She nods, carefully stacking her work, head down. "I'm trying something new."
"And is it working for you?"
"I think it is." As she removes the last piece from the wall, she suddenly turns, clutching a painting to her chest. "It wasn't just the heat of the moment. I meant it."
He almost drops the picture in his hands, has to concentrate on setting it down gently. "Oh."
"And I'm sorry I freaked out earlier and ran away. I just started thinking about how I screwed up my life and how the only thing keeping me from also screwing up yours was Karen." Realizing she's crushing her own artwork, she adds it to the pile, then straightens to face him again.
"Pam, I'm the one who made a mess of things, not you." It breaks his heart to think she blames herself for how things turned out.
"That's really nice of you to say, but it's not entirely true. Anyway, when you told me you broke up with Karen, I realized there was nothing left to stop me from letting you know how I felt." Her hands flutter anxiously as she talks. "Which led to mild panic, which led to running away. I needed some time to get my bearings."
He catches her fingers with his own, stills her nervous movements. "Instead you had me chasing you down and attacking you."
"Not attacking. Harassing." She grins so he knows she's kidding. "I haven't had that much fun in a long time."
"Yeah, me neither." Her eyes travel down to his lips briefly and his heart skips in anticipation. "Can I help you out to your car?"
"Thanks. That would be great." The tension dissipates slightly when she bends to collect her work.
He holds out his arms and she fills them with the unframed paintings. There's a moment where she seems at a loss for what to do next and he offers her a wide smile. "Lead the way. I'm right behind you."
Two cars shine silver and blue in an empty lot, both frosty with the chill of early spring. The work week starts in less than nine hours, but sleep is the last thing on his mind. Cargo safely tucked into her trunk, he slowly rummages for his keys, wanting to draw out the moment.
"Well, thanks for your help." She rocks lightly on the balls of her feet. It's nice to see her so happy. He can't remember the last time... well, he can. It just hurts to think about.
"That's it?" There has to be more, he can't go home with the taste of grapefruit gloss on his lips and pretend nothing happened. "Thanks for your help?"
"I was being polite." The invitation in her eyes is clear. Let's finish what we started.
His hand brushes her hip, snagging one of the belt loops he had been fantasizing about earlier in the night. "Oh, good. Manners are important." Soft skin greets his thumb at the hem of her sweater.
"They are." Her inhalation swells against his ribs, encouraging his fingers. They skim around her side, lightly mapping the newly raised goose bumps on the small of her back. The vapor of her breath disperses the chill on his cheek and he leans into the shelter of her warmth. Her lips coast along the line of his jaw, tickling late night stubble as she speaks. "So, we made out, huh?"
He can't help but laugh at her unexpected levity. "Oh, you noticed that, did you?" Without being conscious of it, his arms have slipped around her waist, drawing her closer.
"Hmmm." Her head drops to his chest. "I'm really glad we..." She trails off, fingertips drawing lazy circles on his left shoulder blade. There are too many ways to finish the sentence. She pulls away slightly and smiles up at him mischievously. "And I guess there's just one thing left to figure out."
He leans back against the side of the car, bringing her with him. "What's that?"
She grins mischievously, eyes glittering with all kinds of trouble. "Your bathroom or mine?"