Jim Halpert had a lot of regrets. But one of the biggest ones he had these days was signing the release form agreeing to have his likeness, words, and actions taped at "any and all times relating to work performed at Dunder-Mifflin or events including Dunder-Mifflin employees." At the time, he hadn't even given it a second thought. Who the hell was interested in seeing a show about people working for a paper company?
The show's "pilot" had just been released that May. Everyone knew that summer shows were "fluff" -- shows that no one really watched because most people actually did things during the summer other than watch television. At least, that's what Jim was hoping for. That no one would watch it and they would go back to their lives; the show would be just another blip on the huge radar of reality television.
Of course, all of Jim's family and close friends had known all along that his office was being filmed for an upcoming reality show. They were constantly peppering him with questions like "What's it like to be filmed? Is it all staged? Do they make you say certain things?" The answer to the latter questions was no, of course. You couldn't make up some of the stupid things that Michael and Dwight managed to say on a daily basis.
Jim was aware that there would be a certain amount of "creative editing," going on, so to speak -- he'd taken a few media classes in college and had actually written a term paper about the production of The Real World. That show, of course, was almost completely manufactured and fake, from the "diverse cast," to the "arguments," to the things they said in the Confessional.
That was why Jim wasn't surprised that so many of his friends assumed that the scenes on their "office" show had to be set-up to some degree. After meeting Dwight, however, his old roommate, Mark, had been all-too-convinced how real it was.
Jim was transferring to the Stamford branch at the end of May. Things hadn't worked out the way he hoped with Pam -- she had given him some lame line about how she had been with Roy "too long to change things now." He knew, and she knew, that was just an excuse, but Jim was tired of trying to beat a dead horse. He'd already taken the leap: told her he was in love with her, kissed her afterwards (and he was sure she had kissed him back), but still... she hung onto this ridiculous idea that it was "too late" to break up with Roy now.
The two weeks before he was set to leave for Stamford were awful. They were barely speaking, and when they did, it was usually only to relay phone messages or calls. Jim was miserable.
It was only made worse by Michael's insistence that they all get together for a "viewing party" the night that the pilot aired. Jim was planning to skip it, but Michael turned it into a viewing party-slash-going away party for Jim, and Michael insisted that he had to attend. "Attendance is mandatory for all Dunder-Mifflin employees," Michael announced.
Given that Michael had somehow conned corporate into sponsoring the event, most of the office agreed to go, since it meant free food and drink. They all gathered at Poor Richard's that night [since Pam was banned from Chili's, Michael's number one choice] to watch the first episode. The bar was fairly busy. Apparently, word had gotten out that the "official" screening party for The Office: An American Workplace was to take place there, and since the show was set in Scranton, many Scranton-area residents came to check the show out. Richard, the bar owner, was selling one dollar Jell-O shots and a drink called the Michael Scott (a 7-and-7 with lime juice and a splash of SoCo). Michael couldn't have been more flattered to have a drink named after him.
Several local newspapers and one local television news station had come out to interview the office staff that night as well. When Jim revealed he was transferring to the Stamford office in a week, all the media wanted to know why. Jim explained it was a better move for him professionally. He felt like he was lying through his teeth, even though he really wasn't: it was a better move for him, professionally. The pay was better; it was a promotion in both title and responsibility. It also meant that he was getting one step closer to having an actual career at Dunder-Mifflin, not just a job.
When the show came on, the bar went silent. Jim watched the opening credits come up on the large-screen television on the wall. Stock footage of Scranton, their building, the Dunder-Mifflin logo, then shots of everyone in the office. He cringed when his face came up on the screen. Jim glanced over at Mark, who sat next to him at the bar. Mark snickered at him as the show started.
There were so many things Jim noticed while watching the show: Michael called him "grasshopper" -? That was one of many lame phrases yet to come, he was sure...
Jim never knew Michael had bought that "Worlds Best Boss" mug himself. He had told the office it was a Christmas gift. From a Secret Santa. (But not from the Secret Santa gift exchange.) He claimed it had "mysteriously" been left in his office. So much for that.
Angela's cat party? He didn't even remember that. He glanced over at Pam, who happened to be standing next to Angela. Angela glared at her, then at Jim, and stormed off to the bathroom. Pam didn't look at him. Jim turned back to the TV, and couldn't help but notice the way he leaned over her desk - odd, how casual he looked doing that. He wondered what everyone else thought - if it looked strange to them as well.
Jim glanced around to see if Roy was there. He finally caught Roy sitting at the other end of the long bar with Darryl and Lonny, laughing and taking shots of liquor. He looked over at Pam again, who was now sitting by herself at a small table near the bar. He wondered what Roy would think about what was going on. Would he think it was weird that Jim hung around with Pam? Would he be able to see that Jim was attracted to her? As far as Roy knew, he thought Jim had a crush a long time ago - not anymore.
Jim didn't think Pam had told Roy about their kiss on the company Casino Night. Jim quickly thought about it. There were probably a lot of little instances where Pam and Jim had hung out together that Roy didn't know about. Jim remembered the cameras following Pam and him up to the roof on that night Jan and Michael took the Lackawanna County rep out to lunch. The next morning, he had joked about it being a "date." Would they include that on the show? That hadn't happened that long ago. What about the time Pam had come over to that party at his house? Would Roy be jealous that she was in his bedroom? It wasn't like anything had happened.
The only time anything really "bad" actually happened was that one time he'd kissed her. But she'd said no. And the cameras hadn't been there when that all happened (thank God), so it wasn't like Roy really had any evidence to go on ... right?
He turned his attention back to the screen when Mark poked him in the arm, laughing out loud.
"Dude... what ... the hell?" Mark guffawed.
Dwight was pushing down the "pencil barrier" that Jim had created between his and Dwight's desks. Dwight was saying, "I could fall -- and pierce an organ."
Jim glanced over at Dwight, who quickly caught Jim's eye and stared at him indignantly. Jim turned back to Mark, who was still watching everything incredulously.
"Dude, I know you told me all these things, and I know that I've met Dwight, but this is hilarious. Are you guys always like this?"
Jim smiled crookedly. "Well, you know... you gotta do something to keep from falling asleep at work." He shrugged.
The rest of the night was a blur. He had too much to drink. When they were saying goodbye to everyone, Pam had cautiously approached him by the front door. Jim saw her glance back into the bar, and he looked, too. He thought he saw Roy engaged in conversation with one of the cocktail waitresses. Jim turned back to see her staring at him. She had a weird look in her eyes - it was that same look that she'd had when they were at Chili's for the Dundies last year and she drank too much (oh God -- were they going to show that on the show? He'd forgotten about that until just now.)
Jim swallowed hard. Mark was standing next to him, which helped, because right now Jim was so tipsy, he could have kissed her right there, in front of the entire bar, Roy included. Better judgment came in the form of a roommate, who stood next to Jim with his arms folded across his chest. Mark, of course, knew about what had happened between him and Pam, and he was sympathetic to Jim. Mark knew the only reason Jim was moving to Connecticut was because Pam had said no.
Pam looked between the two of them, seeing Mark staring at her critically. "Um, yeah, I just wanted to say that... you know..."
Jim stared at her. He was starting to see two of her, which wasn't good. "Is there a point here, Beesly?" he spit out. It came out harsher than he intended, so he smiled to try and lighten the mood. Really, he just needed to get to bed. They were all supposed to be at work tomorrow morning still.
"Um... well, you know, I'm just sorry about things being weird and all, and I just wanted to let you know, I think things came out okay, you know, overall, I mean - really, the person that looked the worst was probably Michael, don't you think?" She smiled nervously, showing her teeth.
Jim smiled again. "Yeah, pretty much. I felt bad that Michael made you cry. I never knew that's why you--"
"Yeah," Pam said.
"I mean, you know, I thought you had a headache, obviously--"
"Yeah," Pam said, pursing her lips. "I was kind of hoping they wouldn't show that. Sort of embarrassing to cry on the first show, you know?"
Jim nodded. This conversation was probably more than they'd said to each other in two weeks. It felt really good to talk to her. He suddenly felt like he wanted to hold her. It made his chest ache, looking at her. They stared at each other for another moment without saying anything, when Mark suddenly cleared his throat, causing both of them to quickly look at him, and then back at each other.
"Well," Pam said, clasping her hands together, "I suppose you need to get home and sleep..."
"Yeah," Jim said, rubbing the back of his neck.
"And, you know, I need to, uh - try and drag Roy back home and into bed." She grimaced after saying that. Probably a poor choice of words.
Jim was too drunk to notice. Instead, he said, "Well, yeah, then I guess I'll see you tomorrow-?" Before he could think about it, he quickly pulled her into a goodbye hug. At first, she was stiff, but her arms came around his back a second later. He felt her hold on a second longer than necessary.
Jim sighed and let go when his roommate cleared his throat again. When they got out to the car, the first thing Mark said to him was, "I don't know what the hell that was."
"Don't worry about it," Jim said, slumping over in the passenger seat as they made the short drive home.
Much to Jim's chagrin, the show had become a surprise summer hit. He was in Stamford now, and Michael had called him to let him know that the network informed him they were going to air twelve episodes over the summer, and then the rest as a mid-season replacement that fall.
Jim also found out that Pam and Roy's wedding was postponed that summer, after Roy's dad ended up in the hospital. Jim felt bad about it - but not really. That almost made him feel worse.
Jim really wanted to know if they'd set another date, but that would require talking to Michael, or someone in the Scranton office, something he really didn't want to do. As it was, when Michael called initially, he'd made an awful comment to the effect of, "Good news - there's still a chance for you, buddy!" On that note, Michael explained that Roy's dad had a heart attack, which had led to the wedding being postponed. Who knew what kind of comments further questioning would prompt?
As it was, his co-workers at Stamford were morbidly curious about his relationship with Pam since he'd transferred and the show had started airing. It became more and more apparent as the weeks went on that his attraction for Pam had been anything but subtle, and due to plenty of clever editing, the show's producers made the most of it. He was amazed, watching even the "early" shows (that was almost two years ago, now) how obvious it was. He wondered why Pam had seemed so surprised when he'd confessed his love to her.
Was she really surprised? Or was she just in denial? He certainly knew he'd felt her returning the kiss on Casino Night. And, she had kissed him at the Dundies, not the other way around. Jim wondered if Michael was going to give Pam the "Longest Engagement Award" again at this year's Dundies since Jim wasn't around to talk him out of it. He'd probably think it was morbidly hilarious, especially since they'd gotten so close to actually getting married this year.
What an asshole Michael could be sometimes.
In the past few months, Jim was getting calls almost non-stop from old high school friends, acquaintances, and occasionally, strangers who just wanted to talk about the show. Corporate had mandated a new, strict policy banning any personal calls to and from the office, except in the case of an emergency. That cut down on the majority of the calls, but somehow, his cell phone number must have been leaked, because in one day, he had forty voice mails on his phone, mostly from squealing girls who didn't sound older than sixteen who said how he was "soooo hot, ohmigod."
This certainly wasn't what he imagined when he signed that release form that September afternoon, almost two years ago. Things had been so different back then. Now, he couldn't even go to the grocery store without someone asking, "Hey, aren't you that guy who's on that reality show?"
It wouldn't be so frustrating, except that everyone wanted to know what was going on with Pam. Was it really that obvious?
He was surprised Roy hadn't showed up on his doorstep wielding an ax. That being said, though, he was secretly glad no one except his family, his new boss, and Mark had his new home address. He really didn't want anyone coming over. He just wanted to crawl into a cave until this was all over.
Given the way the show had taken off, Jim shouldn't have been surprised when a camera crew showed up at the Stamford office, claiming that they wanted to shoot some footage of him at the new office. They promised they wouldn't take up a lot of time -- they were mainly trying to round out the story; show Jim in his new work environment and see how he was getting along.
"You're a pretty popular guy," Jack Nelson, the cameraman, commented as the sound guy helped Jim hook up his microphone. Everyone in the office was staring at Jim as they prepped him for the camera. Jim smiled sheepishly.
Jim's boss, Josh Porter, came out into the main office, and called everyone into a meeting. He quickly covered the fact that, yes, there would be a camera crew in the office filming for a brief period of time (Josh loudly emphasized "brief" in front of the cameramen, who were filming the meeting), and yes, everyone would need to sign a waiver and non-disclosure agreement for legal purposes.
"Does this mean we're going to be on television?" Donna Brookfield asked. She was a short, stout woman who worked in the accounting department. Jim joked that her brain was the size of a peanut, because everything had to be explained to her twice. She was also obsessed with their reality show. She spent an hour asking Jim questions about the show every week.
Josh looked at the camera crew, and then back at Donna. "Possibly ... I don't know. Look, they're just here to wrap up some stuff with Jim. They're mainly going to be at the Scranton branch."
"I would love to be on TV," Donna said dreamily.
"As I'm sure we all would, but honestly - we need to bring up our productivity. Due to the slow market in this area, we've slipped down to the fourth-out-of-fifth position in the company. We can't afford to waste time. I know Jim knows that, and you all know that, so, you know, let's just do the best we can to get our work done and just pretend like the cameras aren't even there."
The room quickly burst into discussion as everyone speculated about what was going on. Jim rolled his eyes and went back to his desk. He had a presentation to prepare for the following day. He really didn't have time for this.
The rest of the summer dragged long. It was a particularly hot and muggy summer, and Jim didn't have much of a social life anymore, living by himself in Stamford, so he spent long hours at the office, and his nights holed up in his tiny apartment, re-watching episodes of their TV show he'd saved on his DVR.
Pam hadn't talked to him at all since he'd left for Stamford. There were a couple brief moments in the beginning when he called to talk to Michael, but she quickly nipped that in the bud by giving him Michael's direct extension. Now he didn't talk to her at all.
He talked to his mom sometimes, who was constantly worried about the state of his love life, especially after watching the show. Jim felt embarrassed talking about it to her, and mostly avoided the topic when she brought it up. He made up stories about girls he was seeing so she wouldn't ask him about it anymore. The truth was, he hadn't been on a single date since moving to Stamford three months ago.
His coworkers, specifically, one of the sales guys, Chris, was always trying to set him up with someone. He made a lot of crude jokes and always talked about how a "deep boning" would solve all his problems. "Nothing like a little beaver for dinner to get your mind off things, you know?"
Jim just ignored him most of the time.
One day in early September, Josh called the office staff into an meeting. The grim look on his face told Jim that it probably wasn't going to be good news. Sure enough: "I've just been informed from corporate that they are shutting down this branch."
The room instantly became a wall of noise as everyone turned to each other to discuss the matter. "What about our jobs?" one person shouted out.
Jim heard George, an older guy that worked in Quality Control, groan loudly. "I knew it! I knew we would lose our jobs!"
Josh held his hands up in the air until the room became silent. Everyone looked at him expectantly. "I'm sorry about this, but it's beyond my control. They have decided, due to the exemplary performance of the Scranton branch --"
The room erupted into noise again. "Figures," one person said, "they're only doing good because of that stupid TV show!"
Donna from accounting said, "I don't know why they didn't film us - then we'd still have jobs!"
Josh held his hands up again and waited. He continued: "Not all of you will lose your jobs. I will be meeting with you all individually this afternoon to discuss employment options and-or severance packages. Please be advised that if you are asked to transfer, you will have to relocate. That is all for now."
Jim's head spun as he processed this news. This branch was closing? They were merging with the Scranton branch? Would he still have a job? Or more important, still - would he still want his job if he had it? Did he really want to go back to Scranton? Could he?
Two hours later, Josh called Jim into his office. Jim walked in, closing the door after himself after Josh motioned for him to do so. He sat down in front of Josh's desk and tried to swallow the large lump that had developed in his throat. He certainly didn't want to lose his job, but he really didn't want to go back to Scranton, either.
"I don't want to keep you wondering," Josh said, "so I'll just let you know now -- your job is safe. Michael specifically stated to me that he was interested in having you come back if you want the position."
Josh really didn't know much about what had transpired back at the Scranton branch. He didn't watch the documentary. When Jim interviewed for the position and met with Jan and Josh, he stated that he was interested in the transferring because it was a step up on the company ladder. That was a reason any manager could understand. Who didn't want to move up?
For so long, Jim had avoided taking the step to move up in his career. He hadn't transferred to Stamford because of ambition. He'd transferred because Pam had said "no." And now they wanted him to go back to the very thing he'd been running from?
Josh continued: "Of course, Dunder-Mifflin would pay for your moving expenses, and you'd have an additional week of paid vacation time to get re-settled."
"Are there any other salespeople moving back to Scranton?" Jim asked. He thought about the three other people he worked with.
"We have one additional opening at Scranton, yes. I haven't met with him yet, but we're going to make the offer to Eric."
Eric Johnson was the only salesperson that Jim really got along with in Stamford. They got along because Eric didn't ask him a lot about his personal life. They just worked together. He was a decent salesman, too.
"I see," Jim said. "Can I have a little bit to think about it?"
"I suppose," Josh said. "We're really trying to get everything taken care of today. If you're not interested, I'll need to know as soon as possible." Josh paused for a moment, considering Jim. "Is it because of the cameras?" Josh asked him. "Is that why you're not sure about going back?"
Jim looked at him. "Yeah," he said. It was really only a half-lie. "It's just ... it's hard to get work done when they're around all the time. I don't know. I mean..."
"If it makes you feel any better, they're transferring me to Scranton as well," Josh said.
Jim's eyes grew wide. Michael and Josh in the same office? Their management styles were so completely opposite - he wondered how that was ever going to work out. Maybe Michael...? His thought trailed off.
"Is Michael still going to be working there?" Jim asked. For a moment, Jim actually felt worried for Michael. It wasn't just like he'd bounce back. This job was Michael's life.
"Yeah," Josh said. Jim thought he saw Josh roll his eyes. "They're converting the office space so we can accommodate everyone. With the rapid increase in sales due to the television show, I guess they decided that Scranton needed two managers. So, yeah." Josh smiled tersely at Jim.
Obviously, he wasn't keen about the idea of sharing an office with Michael. Interesting.
"Yeah, just give me a few hours," Jim said. He got up and walked out.
Jim took his lunch at that point. He left the office and went out to a local deli to get a sandwich so he could think about everything by himself. He really didn't know how he felt about going back to Scranton. He really wasn't interested in having to sit in that office every day and look at Pam. Still engaged (maybe married?) She probably still wouldn't talk to him. Still, could it be any worse than working here? Having no social life, spending all his nights re-watching the moments of his life past, wondering if there was any way he could have done it differently?
At least if he went back to Scranton, he'd actually see her again, even if she wouldn't talk to him.
Maybe they could even pretend things were normal again. He could just tell her to forget he said anything to her. At least then he wouldn't be so empty. So lonely.
At least in Scranton, he knew people. He had friends to distract himself.
He'd also be back on camera, while they recorded the minute details of his train-wreck love life.
He could always just work there for a while until he found something different. Something local, but not Dunder-Mifflin.
When he got back to the office, he noticed Josh's office door was open. Jim walked in. "I'll take the position."
Jim really didn't feel nervous about coming back into the office until he walked through the glass doors, and immediately saw a camera trained on his face. He smiled quickly at it, and saw the cameraman turn around to face Pam, who was sitting at her desk, concentrating very intently on her computer screen. Jim glanced at her as he walked by, then back at the camera. Great.
Dwight was smirking at him as he sat down at his desk. There was a large, what looked like hand-made card sitting on his desk with the words, "Welcome back, Jim." He opened it up and saw everyone in the office signed it, including Pam. She'd drawn a little picture next to her name - it was a cartoon drawing of him. He smiled, and looked up at her, but she was still concentrating on her computer screen. Jim quickly looked away as he saw the camera watching him.
Damn. They already knew exactly what to look for. It was going to be really hard not to look at her all the time.
He turned to Dwight, giving him a look. "What are you smiling about?"
"Oh, I don't know," Dwight said. "I just think it's amusing that the branch you got promoted to ended up shutting down. And now you're back here." Dwight glanced at Pam, and then back at him. "I bet you didn't know that Pam broke up with Roy."
Jim looked surprised for a split-second, then he remembered. "No, I didn't." He tried to appear disinterested by unpacking some items onto his desk.
"Are you going to try and make a move on her now that she's single?"
Jim looked up at Dwight, annoyed. He noticed the camera was watching their conversation. "No," Jim said, annoyed. He went back to what he was doing.
"Everyone knows that you liked her. There's whole communities on the Internet about how you were in love with her. People write fanfiction about you."
"Fan-what? Just -- shut up, Dwight," Jim snapped, and got up. He went to the break room to get a cup of coffee.
This was not happening. He was not going to be able to work in this environment. It was bad enough that Pam didn't even want to talk to him, but now Dwight was making fun of him! What next?
"Jiiiiiiimmmmay... Jimarino! Jim-man!"
Michael bound into the break room with his "World's Best Boss" mug. "Fill me up, my man!" he said, holding the mug out proudly. Jim filled his cup. He beamed at Jim. "Did you know that I had an article written about me in Small Businessman Monthly last month?"
"Uh, no... I didn't."
"Yeah, it was about our successes here, the TV show, they even had me come to New York to do a photo shoot."
"Wow," Jim said. He really wasn't interested.
"I have a few extra copies. I bought fifty issues, so... yeah. I'll leave one on your desk."
"Great," Jim said.
"Welcome back, buddy!"
The day was a bit chaotic as all the new staff moved in and everyone became acquainted with their areas and new positions. Jim regained some of his old clients, but was now given a list of new ones that they'd gained since the airing of the show. The conference room had been transferred into Michael's new office (he insisted on getting the bigger room) and Josh was moved into Michael's old office. They had picked up some extra office space in the building to use as their new conference area. All the desks in the office were filled, a few new ones had been added, and the office was bustling.
Michael came to the front of the office. "Attention, everyone! Quick meeting in the new conference room! Pam, put the phones to voice mail. C'mon, quickly, now."
Everyone filed out the front door into the new office / conference room space. Even with a bigger, new conference room, it was crowded. Their office had suddenly gotten a lot bigger. The camera crew was squeezed into a corner in the front of the room.
Jim glanced over at Pam, who was seated two seats away from him. He caught her looking at him, but she quickly looked away. He couldn't believe she'd broken up with Roy. Was she mad at him? Jim wondered why she hadn't called him. Was she afraid he would say something like, "I told you so?" So many thoughts had been running through his head since he'd heard that news. He didn't know what to think.
He found himself stealing glances at her every few seconds.
Michael was standing at the front of the room, next to a printed out sign that said, "Dunder-Mifflin Scranton is Family." He pressed play on a CD player, which belted out "We Are Family" for about two minutes. Michael turned it off abruptly. "Welcome, everyone. I want to introduce myself - for those that don't me, I am Michael Scott!" He smiled brightly, first at the crowd, and then at the camera. "I am the Regional Manager for this very successful Dunder-Mifflin branch, and I'm happy that you've all had the privilege of coming to work here.
"I want you to know that I am a friend first, and a boss second. So if there's ever anything you need to talk about... well, my door is open." Sitting on a seat next to him, Josh Porter cleared his throat. "Ah, yes --" Michael said, looking down at Josh. He motioned to him. "Working under me --"
"With you," Josh interrupted.
"Err, with me, but you know, as a secondary manager here, is the former manager of the downsized Stamford branch, Josh Porter."
Everyone clapped as Josh stood up. "Thanks, everyone. I am here in a regional manager capacity as well. You all know that things have been pretty busy here, and we want to keep things as productive as possible, especially with so many people working in this office, we all need to work together and cooperatively. Michael and I will be working together, sharing responsibilities - I expect you all to do the same, be respectful, get to know each other, because we're all going to be working in close quarters."
"So make sure you wear your deodorant --- Creed," Michael said. Everyone turned to look at Creed, who was looking back at Michael with his mouth open.
"What?" he asked.
"Never mind," Michael said, "let's all just ... get back to work."
The day seemed like it took forever. The best moment of the day happened when Jim figured out how to lock the wheels on Dwight's chair and Dwight fell over trying to roll the chair backwards. Angela as the safety officer, demanded to inspect his head after he fell. "You've already had one concussion," she said, bending over him. It seemed like she spent a little too much time "inspecting him." That part was actually kind of creepy.
When the end of the day rolled around, Jim waited until most of the office had left. He got up and went over to Pam's desk.
"Hi," he said, looking down at her. He stood up straight, resisting the urge to bend over the countertop like he usually did. He knew the camera was watching them.
"Hey," she said, looking up at him, but then quickly looking back down again. He watched as she nervously repositioned the Post-it notes and pens on her desk.
"Look, I really ... want to talk."
Pam sighed lightly. She didn't look at him. "I don't know if that's a good idea."
Jim continued to stare at her, and finally, she looked up at him. She saw the pleading look in his face.
"I mean, the cameras are everywhere, and I've been getting really nasty e-mails and letters sent me to and, I mean, you know, we have to monitor all our calls now, and --"
"I know," Jim said. "Dwight told me there's this stuff called fanfiction, and they write stuff about us -- I mean, you know, the people here--"
"I know," Pam said. "Dwight printed some out for me. Some of it's really nasty." She paused for a moment. "I mean, don't they know that we're real people? We have feelings, and it's not always easy..." She pressed her lips together, and looked away.
Jim nodded. "I just ... will you come meet me somewhere? Just ... to talk?"
Pam looked at him, trepidation in her face. "I …"
"I mean, we haven't talked in months... and, you know, it's weird." He smiled at her, teeth and all, and she couldn't help but smile back.
"Okay," she said. He watched her as she wrote something quickly onto a piece of paper, folded it up and handed it to him. "That's my new cell phone number," she whispered to him. "No one except my family has that number."
Jim smiled to himself as he walked out the door, not saying anything more. The camera followed him until he got into his car, smiling the entire way.
They ended up meeting at a restaurant called Cooper's Seafood House in Scranton. It was an older restaurant with tall, black vinyl and wood booths. Jim felt like they might be able to hide out in one of the booths -- plus, they had excellent crab legs, which was just what he needed tonight.
As he waited in the parking lot for her to arrive, he realized he wasn't sure what car she would be driving. She and Roy had always driven to work together, and in all the time they worked together, he never knew whether she had her own car or not. She must have gotten one now, he thought. He watched carefully as the cars pulled into the lot, looking for her face. Finally, about five minutes after the time they'd agreed to meet up, he saw her pull into the lot in a late model maroon Saturn.
She parked the car, and as soon as he saw her get out, he got out as well, meeting her at the sidewalk coming up to the building.
"Hey," he said, touching her arm.
It almost looked like she blushed as they walked up to the restaurant together. He noticed she had changed from her usual skirt and button-down shirt into a pair of slim black dress pants and a scoop-neck top. Her hair was pulled back as usual, but she'd pulled a few stands out on the side so they framed her face. She was wearing lip-gloss, and he detected a faint flowery scent on her. She must have put on perfume.
He smiled at her as he opened the door to the restaurant, gesturing for her to go ahead.
It was a Monday night, so the restaurant wasn't overly crowded. The hostess's face immediately lit up upon seeing Jim and Pam's faces. "Oh ... my ... God... you guys are from the The Office ... you're Jim and Pam... oh my God."
Pam's face immediately went from pink to bright red in a matter of seconds. "Maybe this wasn't such a good idea," she mumbled to Jim, about to turn around.
Jim grabbed her arm, surprising both himself and her with the force of his grip. He immediately loosened his hand, but still held onto her. "Stay," he said through gritted teeth. He turned to the hostess and smiled. "Um... yeah," he said, "and we'd really like a table in the most private area possible." While he was saying that, he pulled out his wallet and handed twenty dollars to the hostess.
She smiled brightly, barely able to contain her excitement. "Oh my God, okay," she whispered. "Like - are you guys dating now?"
Jim really wanted to tell the girl that it was none of her business, but really - their private lives had pretty much become public business these days now that the show had taken off. He breathed deeply, still holding Pam's arm. "No," he said, letting go of Pam. "We're friends."
"Oh," the girl said, looking between the two of them. "Okay." She grabbed two menus and brought them to the back corner of the restaurant, where they sat in a booth.
After she left, Jim said, "I bet she can't wait to go home and write about that on her Myspace tonight."
Pam smirked, despite herself. "Oh, the internet will be buzzing tonight..."
They didn't really have any real conversation the first twenty minutes they were there. Jim asked her about what sorts of things happened after he left, Pam asked him what he thought about Stamford and the co-workers he'd brought back with him. He didn't ask her about the wedding that didn't happen, or why they broke up.
Jim had an idea why. Anyone with a brain could tell from watching the show that Jim was interested in Pam. And that maybe ... she had feelings for him, too. He guessed that Roy probably noticed that as well.
Pam had never told Jim she didn't have feelings for him -- just that she had been with Roy "too long to break up with him." That was what killed Jim. It was more like a resignation. She had been too scared to change. Too scared to move on. Even when it was so obvious it wasn't working. Maybe then - Roy had done it for her? He wondered about that.
Almost like she was reading his thoughts, Pam said, "I know you want to know why Roy and I broke up."
Jim was pretty sure he knew why it happened. The real question was how it had happened.
At least, he hoped he knew why. He took a large gulp of water, unable to speak. Finally, he said, "Why?"
Pam looked away, and then back at him. "Roy and I watched the show together - for the first few times. But then he started to get mad about it. He said it made him look like a jerk."
Too bad it's because he is a jerk, Jim thought. "Yeah?" he said instead.
"That, and he couldn't stand the fact that it looked like you had feelings for me. He kept commenting about how much we hung out together; how you were always at my desk, how we flirted too much, and maybe ... you know, maybe ... he thought, maybe I had feelings for you, too."
Jim raised his eyebrows at her, but said nothing.
She licked her lips. "So, yeah... after that, we didn't watch any more shows together. But then, I guess, when he'd go out to the bar, he'd get all these people making comments to him. And then we started getting nasty mail. And e-mails. And phone calls. And we fought. A lot." She stopped for a minute, running her hands through the back of her hair.
Jim was fascinated by watching her do that. He wanted so badly just to reach out and touch that hair himself. And hold her tightly. And tell her how much he was in love with her. But he just stared at her with his large, brown-hazel eyes. He crooked his head to one side as he looked at her.
"One day, the arguments got so bad, he pulled out a bunch of glasses from the cabinet and started breaking them. There was glass everywhere. He was so ... frustrated. We were yelling a lot. I got really upset. But I realized at that moment ... that it wasn't right. That we couldn't live like that. That he wasn't the person I fell in love with so many years ago. That we'd almost gotten married, but here we were - back in perpetual engagement and maybe ... maybe I really didn't want to be married to him, and I guess, more importantly, maybe I didn't have to be married to him." She looked up at Jim, her eyes shining and moist. "I was so afraid of what would happen if Roy found out, if he saw... everything... I just kept going on like nothing was wrong..."
Jim quickly reached across the table and grabbed her hand. "What do you mean, 'found out?'" he asked. He was pretty sure he knew what Pam meant, but he wanted to hear her say it.
"That... what I said to you, back in May... when I told you I couldn't ... that I was wrong." She phrased it like a question. "I ... I do have feelings for you, Jim. I have for a long time, I just -- I couldn't tell you. I couldn't even tell myself, I didn't want to admit it, but once the show came out and everything was there -- it was there, and it was so obvious, and ... I didn't know what you were going to say, we haven't talked for so long and I was so afraid..."
Jim squeezed her hand tightly as she put the napkin up to her face to wipe her eyes and cheeks, now spilling over with tears.
"I'm sorry," she said through the napkin. "I'm so embarrassed."
She tried to let go of Jim's hand, but he put his other hand over hers, staring at her until she looked at him again. "Don't be sorry," he said. "I... I don't know what to say right now." He grinned, and she smiled back. They looked at each other for a minute, not saying anything. "All I did was think about you the entire time I was in Stamford."
"Me too," Pam said.
"You thought about you?" Jim asked, making her laugh. It lightened the mood.
"No, I thought about you. And... I don't want to really jump into anything right away, but I don't want to lose you. Again."
Jim looked at her tenderly. "I'll do whatever you want me to do. Anything. I love you, Pam."
His gaze at her was so intense, she had to look down so she wouldn't start crying again. "Thank you," she whispered. "Thank you for understanding."
Jim patted her hand, and went back to finishing his plate of crab legs, which had now gone cold. Cold, perhaps -- but totally worth it.
Just then, a young girl, probably about thirteen, bound up to them, practically screaming. "WOW! I cannot believe it, you guys are totally Jim and Pam, aren't you? I've never met a celebrity before, I can't believe it's you, can I get your autograph? Wow, this is so cool!" She thrust a cloth napkin at Jim as well as a pen. Jim looked at Pam, shrugging as he signed the napkin, and handed it across the table. "You guys are the greatest, I just love the show ... hey ... wait... are you guys dating now?"
Jim looked at Pam again, and then noticed the waitress coming their way. "Check, please!" he called out to her.
Comments are welcome and appreciated.
Author's Chapter Notes:
Response to the "Reality TV Hit" challenge at More Than That.