He knows as soon as he drops to one knee that he’s going to have to play this trick again. It’s the look on her face – like her heart has jumped into her throat and there’s no more air in her lungs, and he can almost see her thoughts and her pulse trying to outrace each other. Hell, time even slows down for him, and he knows it’s a hoax.
Then there’s that shock, the moment of realization, the “I hate you” that he hasn’t heard in so long, like music to his ears, and he’s hooked. It feels so right, so wonderful, being down on one knee and looking up into her eyes, it’s like the first hit of a drug that goes right to his head. And he loves it so much that he wants to do it again, get in as many of those moments as he can before the real one puts an end to them forever.
Because you can only propose once. But if you’re a master prankster like Jim is, the possibilities for feeling that high are endless…
So he waits a week, waits until she forgets about the prank and the half-serious conversation at her desk, waits until the haze of emotion dissipates, and then he tries it again. He picks an ordinary workday and saunters up to reception, to take Pam out to lunch, and she stands up to greet him and then suddenly he’s on one knee and there’s that rush again, that total sense of rightness, of completion. The whole office is deathly silent, and Pam is looking at him with the same breathless anticipation as the last time, and she looks so hopeful that he almost hesitates to spring the punch line on her.
But he can’t have it be the real thing, not in front of the office like this, not kneeling on the grimy decades-old carpet with Dwight breathing heavily through his nose and Phyllis trying not to giggle and Andy wolf-whistling and all of that. He just can’t. So he murmurs, “Sorry, I dropped my pencil,” and gets back up, and everyone else goes back to work, thinking it was just a misunderstanding, they jumped to conclusions, Jim was never planning to propose at all.
Pam, who knows better, glares at him. She smiles, but it’s guarded, not quite like the last time. “What is wrong with you, Halpert?” she sighs, and Jim knows from the sigh that he’s been forgiven again.
He helps her into her coat and holds the door open for her, piling on the chivalry. “I told you to stay sharp,” he reminds her, and she giggles. “I’m slippery, Beesley.”
“Like the tuna you are,” she retorts, using the nickname because she knows it annoys him. “How much longer am I going to have to put up with this?”
“Can’t tell you that,” he says happily, as they walk out into the golden spring sunshine. “Sorry, Pam, that’s not how this thing works.”
The little black box burns a hole in his pocket, and when he reaches for his wallet to pay for their lunch, his fingers brush against it. He hasn’t felt a jolt like that since the first time he touched her hand.
The second time, he wakes up fully intending it to be The Day, the big one, the real McCoy. All that jazz. The big Kahuna. Whatever. He’ll think up more clichés on the way to work, he’s so damn happy, he so fucking nervous, he feels like he’s been hooked up to one of those huge stadium batteries and the wheels in his brain are coursing with electricity, whirring in high gear, his heart is pounding full steam ahead like a runaway train before he even walks through the office doors.
Everything’s ready, he’s checked the reservation, and double-checked, and checked so many times that he’s on a first-name basis with the girl who answers the phone at the fancy romantic restaurant downtown. And the roses are ready, and he’s placed the special champagne-and-dessert order with the waiters already (twelve hours early, but dammit, he doesn’t care if they think he’s a freak), and he’s got the words all planned out in his head. It’s going to be fantastic, it’s going to be magical, it’s going to kick her ass. Just like he promised it would.
She’s been busy for the past week or two, what with the finals for her art class coming up and Michael’s sudden desire to replace his nonexistent love life with efficiency in the workplace. More than once Jim has been woken up at two in the morning to find Pam still studying or designing or doing any one of a number of other things, until finally she took pity on him and made him stay at his own place the previous Friday. (He was kind of embarrassed and kind of proud to realize that he almost doesn’t remember his own address, he hasn’t slept at home for so long.) And then she was busy all weekend, so he didn’t really get to see her at all.
Maybe that’s why his senses seem heightened as he walks into Dunder Mifflin that Monday morning; maybe that’s why there’s such a spring in his step, such a hammering madness in his heart. It’s like withdrawal symptoms, and he can’t wait to catch that first glimpse of her again, that first unbelievable kiss. When has every minor separation become unbearable heartbreak?
He laughs at himself, in the elevator on the way up to the top floor. He’s been without her for less than forty-eight hours, and already he’s falling apart…
And then he reaches into his coat pocket and he says to himself, that’s okay, because after tonight he’ll never have to be without her ever again.
Those are his thoughts as he opens the door, turns to close it carefully behind him, and walks slowly towards reception, savoring the anticipation. And sure enough, there she is – with her back turned to him, the phone pressed between her ear and her shoulder, her curls spilling down and catching the light from the open window. He calls her name, and she mutters a quick goodbye into the phone and whirls around. That’s almost it, right then and there – his legs jerk in an instinctive reaction and he almost falls down, he wants to propose so badly. He loves her so much it’s frying his brain, and he doesn’t care.
“Jim!” she cries out, sounding immeasurably relieved, and he takes a closer look at her and suddenly his heart is falling, right down from his throat, past its usual resting place, and into the pit of his stomach. Pam is deathly pale, and her eyes are red-rimmed and under-shadowed from lack of sleep, and as Jim crosses the last few steps to reception she doubles over, coughing hard into her cupped hands. Then she sniffles and looks up at him with such complete and total misery that Jim’s heart breaks clean in two.
“Hey,” he says quietly, leaning over the desk to give her a quick hug, which she gratefully returns. “You okay?”
“I’m fine,” she sighs, but Jim can tell that really she’s anything but. She puts one hand to her head, and grimaces in pain. “I just have a headache. Really,” she adds, hoping beyond hope that maybe he’ll buy it and secretly glad that he won’t.
“Right,” he says, making no effort to hide his skepticism. He’s amazed by how worried he is, how irrational he feels. He doesn’t think he’s ever felt this way before, this scared and upset over nothing. Definitely not that one time when Karen got the flu and didn’t come into work for a whole week. Oh, he had been a good boyfriend, but now…
Michael screams something in a shrill voice from behind his office door, and Pam winces. Jim takes advantage of her distraction to move behind reception, and pull her up out of her chair so that he can wrap his arms around her properly. She sinks into his embrace so completely that for a moment he’s afraid she’s passed out; then she looks up at him, and he presses a long, lingering kiss to her forehead. It’s far too warm, just as he suspected, and he touches the back of his hand to the spot where his lips had touched a moment before.
He knows in that moment that all of his plans are shattered. He can’t possibly ask her today, not when she’s sick and miserable and only half awake; he can’t ask her the most important question of their lives, ask her to make such a huge decision, when she’s shaking with fever and not thinking straight. And besides, he wants that moment to be magical, fantastic, and she’s in no shape for that today.
But he still thinks she’s so incredibly beautiful, and the tired smile she offers him makes him go weak at the knees again, and he’s afraid he’ll propose out of reflex, out of sheer crazy love. Instead, he leans down and tries to kiss her, but she moves at the last minute so that his lips graze her too-hot cheek. “Come on, Jim,” she murmurs. “Don’t – then you’ll just get sick too.”
He promises to take a stiff shot of orange juice once they get home, and he kisses her again; this time she lets him, because she’s too tired to resist and because they both know that his kiss is the best way to make everything better again.
Jim doesn’t propose that day. Instead, he tells Michael that they’re leaving and takes Pam home, and he brings her blankets as she curls up on the couch, and he sits and watches bad romantic comedies with her, and he kisses her once or twice over her protests, and he does all the good boyfriend things he’s been dying to do for years. And then, when she’s asleep, he phones the romantic restaurant downtown and cancels the reservation. He calls the florist and tells them to deliver the roses meant for that night to her apartment. Then he takes the small black box out of his pocket and locks it in the bottom drawer of his nightstand, to wait for another day.
The third time is a complete and total accident. Having a secret for so long without being discovered has made him cocky, so that when he pulls the little black box out of his pocket in the break room he barely even bothers to check that no one’s watching. That’s why Andy catches him off guard; the obnoxious Cornell grad comes up behind him and slaps him on the shoulder, and the black box goes flying, out the break room door and tumbling towards reception.
Andy says something obnoxious, but Jim isn’t listening; his heart is beating ice, his brain is frozen in sheer unspeakable terror and all he can see is his future, his dreams, his happily ever after go rolling across the floor and into the black abyss of loneliness that he had been lost in for so long…
He leaps after it, hands outstretched, and he doesn’t think he’s ever moved that fast. Andy yells something, but Jim is way past listening to him; his entire universe has shrunk to a few inches across, to the distance he has to cover before he can reach his prize, before Pam can see him and ruin everything.
His fingers finally close around the ring box just as it rounds the corner, in plain view of reception, and he lands hard on one knee, bruising his leg in the process.
Pam hangs up the phone and turns around, taking it all in with one glance – her boyfriend, kneeling down on the other side of her desk and staring up at her with wide, deer-in-headlight eyes and dangerous things going on in his head at very high speeds. His hands are stretched out in front of him, clasped together like he’s pleading with her, his fingers concealing something she can’t see. The agony on his face is so complete that Pam almost bursts out laughing.
Jim is frozen in place, every muscle wound as tight as it will go, waiting for the axe to fall – for the questions, the realization, the surprise, the complete failure of every ass-kicking plan he’s been working on for the past few months. But instead of calling him out, Pam just smiles expectantly.
“What is it this time, Halpert?” she asks pointedly. “Lost a contact lens? Looking at a stain on the carpet?” She laughs, and Jim just stares, dumbfounded. “I’m not falling for that anymore,” Pam continues, as Jim struggles to understand what she’s saying.
Then realization strikes, and he scrambles for an answer, while he slowly and gratefully slips the little black box back into his pocket, keeping it closed in his fist the entire time. “No,” he mumbles, “No, I, um, shoe’s untied,” and in the surge of adrenaline he’s forgotten that he’s played this trick before.
“You used that one already,” Pam pointed out, as Jim slowly stands up and brushes the carpet fibers from his clothes. “What’s the matter, Jim? Running out of ways to torment me?”
Jim puts on his most charming, crooked smile, and tries to pretend like nothing’s wrong. But something is wrong, deep down where he feels things without knowing why – Pam’s smile isn’t reaching her eyes, and there’s a look on her face that’s worrying at the fringes of his memory, dredging up pangs of sympathy and regret.
It’s all too much for him to handle, especially with his heart just now slowing down from the deafening crescendo of panic, so he leans over and kisses her, in front of the entire office; it catches her off guard but she eagerly returns the kiss, and Jim knows that it’s fixed, at least for now.
Then he remembers where he’s seen it before – that look on her face when she realized that this was another fake-out. It’s the same look she had every year at the Dundies when she got the Longest Engagement Award, and the same look that she’d given Roy when he said things like ‘eventually’ or ‘someday’. It was a look that had haunted Jim for months after his return from Stamford, and one that he hadn’t seen since they’d started dating. But there it was again – the slight scowl, the glazed look as she retreated to some inner sanctuary, went into hiding from the world.
It was a look that spoke volumes; that said, this hurts and this isn’t funny anymore.
Jim had devoted five years of his life to protecting Pam from that feeling, and the thought that he’d caused it made him sick to his stomach. He swore then, as he walked slowly back to his desk with his thumb resting on the box in his pocket, that the next time he got down on one knee, it would be for real.
“Hi, everyone. Jim Halpert here. I – well, I wouldn’t introduce myself, but Matt the camera guy says this little segment might actually go on one of those celebrity news shows instead of just on ‘The Office’. So, for the people who don’t watch our show – I’m Jim. And, uh, long story short, I’ve been in love with my best friend for five years, and for the past thirteen months we’ve been dating. So. I don’t know why they decided to do a special segment on it now –
“Oh. Damn. She showed you the ring? Really? Okay… in that case, yes, we’re engaged. As of last night, actually. So yeah. Um… we were going to keep it secret for a while, just because, you know… just promise me you won’t tell Kelly about this. Or Michael. Or Kevin. Or…
“What happened? Well, the thing is, I’m not going to tell you. Because we signed a contract with the producers of the show, saying we’d keep everything secret until the episode premieres… so that’s good, right? It’ll bring our ratings up. But, even if I could tell you, I wouldn’t. No offense, it’s just that Pam and I decided we wanted to have a little bit of our lives to ourselves.
“Well, I can tell you that there were flowers – roses – and fireworks, over the water. And champagne and candlelight… and, oh! a unicorn. Yup. Big huge horse with a horn. Oh, and Dwight was there – he’s going to be my best man…
“No, seriously though, it’s all confidential, at least for now. But I can tell you that it kicked her ass. And I can tell you that she said yes. There were conditions, though – like, we had to set the date for the wedding right then, and not postpone it for anything, up to and including a natural disaster. So, May 23 – mark your calendars. If there’s a flood or something you’ll get to see Pam and me getting married in a lifeboat… Hey, now that I think about it, that is not a bad idea. Maybe I’ll get one of those little Italian ones, the little gondola things. Could be cool. I don’t know, I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.
“Look, no matter how many times you ask me what happened, I’m still not going to tell you. No spoilers on this one, guys. Sorry.
“Last question? Seriously? Wow, short interview. Okay, shoot.
“ ‘Do I feel like I did right thing?’
“Absolutely, I do.
I can’t believe you even had to ask.”
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
Author's Chapter Notes:
This is just a little thing I wrote after recovering from the incoherent squee-worthy happiness of Chair Model. Enjoy the story!
Chapter End Notes:
Review, please! I'm new to this site and desperate for feedback. Reviews are like Jim's shoe being untied! :D
cloudyskies is the author of 2 other stories.
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