The tree lights twinkled, reflections of color dancing along the pale peach walls - red, blue, yellow, green. Jim could catch the changing pattern just out of the corner of his eye as he stretched out on the couch to watch the Sixers game. He could hear the soft strains of the Christmas music floating from the bedroom, where Pam had shooed him out so she could wrap some presents. Earlier that day they had played together in the kitchen, baking batch after batch of cookies, and the small apartment still smelled of cinnamon and sugar and chocolate. With ten more days yet to go, Jim already thought this was the best Christmas he'd ever had.
The basketball game was entering the second quarter when Pam walked into th living room, a Dunder Mifflin paper box in her arms. She sat down on the floor, and he watched with interest as she emptied the box on to the floor and coffee table. First came the stacks of Christmas cards, followed by the roll of address labels cheerily decorated with snowmen and holly branches. There were matching stickers to place on the back flap of the sealed envelopes, and three booklets of self-adhesive stamps. When she scattered a few colored pens across the table and opened up a steno book, he slid down from the couch to sit on the carpet next to her.
“What's all this?”
“Christmas cards. I can't believe it's already mid-December and I haven't even started.” She waved her hand toward the bookshelf across the room. “I usually have these mailed out well before I get any of theirs.”
Jim glanced in the direction her hand hand pointed, and noticed the collection of holiday cards neatly propped along the shelving. “So it's some sort of competition?” he asked with a hint of gentle teasing evident.
“No,” she sighed, flipping through her steno book, “It's just that it takes me a while to do all of these, so I've usually started by now.”
Jim leaned over her shoulder and saw address after address filling the pages of her notebook. “Wow – how many cards are you sending?”
Pam shrugged. “A few. I guess about fifty.”
“Fifty! Do you do this every year?”
She nodded. “It's one of those family traditions that I can't remember not doing.”
He put out his hand. “Can I see the list?”
She handed him the notebook and leaned back against the couch as he scanned the names and addresses.
“Who are all these people?” He asked in amazement.
“Friends from school, aunts, uncles, cousins...you know, the usual suspects.”
The voices of the sports commentators on the television was the only sound as Jim scrolled through the names. “Tibby Wetherford?”
“A great-aunt on my mother's side of the family,” she explained. “Or maybe she's my great-great aunt. I never remember.”
“Great name,” he mused.
“I think she's about ninety-three these days.”
“And does she send you a card?”
“Oh yeah. She writes the greatest notes about her life in New Mexico.”
Jim nodded, and continued perusing the list. He flipped one page, then two before stopping at another name. “Peggy Anderson?”
“Oh, that's Roy's cousin.” She paused for Jim's reaction, but when he said nothing she continued. “She was one of the few people from his family who talked to me after I called off the wedding. She was really supportive, and we've sort of kept in touch.”
Jim rested his hand on her leg. “Hey,” he told her, stopping her explanation. “I don't care if you're still friends with his family, you know.”
“I know,” she smiled, and reached for her list. “I better get started. I'm going to be here a while.”
Jim tried to get back into watching the game, but he could see Pam placing stacks of cards into little piles, and the intensity of her concentration was nothing short of adorable. He pulled himself closer to the table.
“So this is serious business,” he joked. “I don't think I've ever seen you looking this dedicated at work.”
“I'm not,” she grinned. “The benefits of this are better.”
“And the benefits are...?”
“Getting cards back, of course.” She tilted her head toward the bookcase again. “By the end of the year those shelves will be filled with so many different, beautiful cards. It's nice to get something in the mail other than bills.”
“And then what?”
“What do you mean 'and then what'?”
“What do you do with the cards? Is there a place you can recycle them or do you just throw them out?”
“I save them,” she said. She was amused by his lack of knowledge on the whole process. “I mean, I save a good number of them. My favorites, mostly.”
“You must have boxes of old cards in your closet by this point.”
“In the crawl space, actually,” she replied with a grin. She continued her preparations sorting out the envelopes across the table, grouping by size and then by color. When she was done with that she looked up at Jim.
“Unfortunately, I'm missing my favorite Christmas card.”
“What happened to it?”
“I wish I knew. It came with a present I got two years ago, but when I went to open it, it wasn't there any more.” She finished speaking and raised her eyebrow at him, issuing him the silent challenge.
If Jim was surprised by her reference he hid it exceptionally well. “Huh. That's funny.”
“Yeah, isn't it? I mean, how could a card just disappear like that?.”
“Dunno,” Jim shrugged. “But how could it be your favorite Christmas card if you never even got a chance to open it?”
“Because it was from someone who meant a lot to me.” Their eyes met, and a shadow of a smile crossed her lips. “I still wonder what was in written in that card.”
“Probably just the usual Christmas greetings.”
“Maybe,” she agreed. “I like to think that it said something special and important, which is why it saddens me to have lost it.”
Jim tilted his head and gave her a half-smile. “Well, if you lost it, I guess there's always the chance you could find it again someday.”
“I'd really like that,” she said. “That would be like a Christmas miracle.”
“I'm sure it wouldn't be anything that impressive,” he replied, pulling himself closer to the coffee table. “Can I do anything to help with any of this?”
“Really?” Pam seemed surprised at his offer. “You wouldn't mind?”
“Why would I mind?”
“Well, usually...” she stopped, then rephrased her reply. “I'm used to doing all of them by myself.”
“I bet. But given that you are now with a guy who can actually write, there's no reason for you to do it alone.”
“Jim!” Pam couldn't help but laugh. “You're awful.”
“I'm kidding!” he grinned. He leaned over and kissed her temple. “But let's not pretend like we both don't know why you wrote the Christmas cards yourself every year. You probably signed his name on the ones for his family too, right?”
“I didn't mind doing it,” she answered diplomatically. “It helped me get into the holiday mood.”
“I suspect it's more in the spirit of Christmas to do this sort of thing together,” he replied, reaching for one of the felt-tipped pens. “Where do you want me to start?”
Jim was happily preparing the envelopes with return address labels and postage stamps when he glanced over at Pam and noticed her deep in thought. Her brow was scrunched together and a frown tugged the corners of her mouth down. He knew every expression on her face, and this one told him she was worrying about something. “What's the matter?”
She'd been so lost in thought that she jumped slightly at the sound of his voice. “Oh, nothing,” she mumbled, picking up her pen. “Nothing important really.” She stared down at the blank card for a moment, and when she looked back up at Jim she could see he wasn't at all convinced by her answer. “It's stupid,” she said sheepishly.
“I'm good with stupid,” he smiled. “Tell me.”
She recapped her pen and twisted it nervously between her fingers. “It's... Well, I was thinking... and, well, oh never mind. It's stupid.”
“So you keep telling me.” He took the pen from her hand and placed it on the table, then pulled her closer, putting his arm around her. “Just say it. Am I not putting the stamps on at the right angle?”
She finally laughed, and leaned back, resting her head against his shoulder. Maybe it would be easier to just say it if she didn't look right at him. She took a deep breath. “I was just thinking that last year was the first time I'd ever sent out cards with just my name on them.” She could feel him nod, but he said nothing. “I mean, for years the cards were signed from both me and Roy since we'd been together so long and were engaged, you know.”
“Yes, I remember it well.” His inflection made it clear that it was not, however, remembered fondly.
“And, well – I just thought it might be nice if this year I put your name on the card too. If you wanted to. If you wouldn't mind. You don't have to, of course. I know we're just dating, and it's not been all that long at that.”
She felt his body shaking with laughter. “Are you done trying to talk me out of it?” He asked. “Because I'm not sure I've ever heard such a compelling argument against something. I see why you're not in sales.”
“Well, I'm not trying to presume anything by suggesting - ”
“Pam.” He said, sounding suddenly serious.
“What?” She looked up anxiously.
“Shut up, okay?”
She grinned. “Okay.”
He hugged her tightly for a moment and kissed her again. “I'm not really clear enough on relationship etiquette to know exactly where joint card-giving falls on the spectrum, but I think it's safe to say that we've at least reached that point. However, I'm going to have to insist on two conditions.”
Pam threaded her fingers through his. “Oh, really?” She responded.
“And they are?”
“First, this is not an opportunity for you to work on your forgery skills. I'll sign my own name. ”
Pam giggled. “Okay.”
“And I want to use the green pen. That's non-negotiable.”
“Is that your second condition?”
“No, actually that's part two of my first condition.”
“So what's the second condition?”
“I get to add some names to the list.”
“Names like who?”
“Friends from school, aunts, uncles, cousins...you know, the usual suspects.”
“You didn't tell me you send out Christmas cards.”
“I don't. But now seems like a great time to start.”