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Author's Chapter Notes:
Notes: This story is payment for JAMinnyc’s donation to the Support Stacie Stocking Stuffer Author’s Auction. She has been a fantastic owner! I would like to thank her for her generosity and thank all of those who bid on me during the auction. Special thanks to JamJunkie14 for not only being gracious when outbid, but for serving as my beta for this story. I hope that you enjoy it! Happy holidays, everyone!
Disclaimer: I own nothing, and I intend to infringe on no one. I just borrow these wonderful characters for a little bit, and then I put them right back where I found them.


Dear Pam,
Wishing you the best during the holiday season. Actually, I wish you the best all of the time. I think about you all of the time. Do you ever think about me?


Pam,
I just wanted to let you know how much you mean to me. Your friendship is important, but my feelings for you are so much more than that. I know that I have no right to say this, and maybe you won’t want to hear it, but I love you, Pam.


Pam,
It’s Christmas, and they always say that Christmas is the time when you should let people know how you really feel. I know that this is probably a stupid thing to do, but I just have to tell you. I’m in love with you. I have been for a while now, and I just can’t


Pam,
Okay, so I know that you and Roy have been together forever, and I know that you’re engaged, but I really don’t think that he makes you happy. If you were my fiancée, I would do everything possible to make sure that you were happy.


It was all Billy Squier’s fault. “Christmas is the time to say I love you,” Jim murmured under his breath as he looked down at three Christmas cards that he had ruined in trying to get it right. He stared at this fourth card, shook his head and tossed it aside as he stood up from the kitchen table. He ran his hand through his hair as he paced the room muttering, “This is nuts. Do you really think this is going to work?” He sighed as he looked at the gifts that he had assembled to put inside of the teapot he had bought for her. They seemed stupid to him now.

He had been so excited when he drew her name. He knew right away what he wanted to do. He ran out after work that night and bought the teapot, knowing that she would love to be able to have tea at her desk. That idiotic song was playing in the store. That stupid song followed him home in the car. He thought it was a sign; the cosmic go ahead, so to speak. For the next two days he plotted and planned. He had rifled through his desk at work, seemingly looking for paperclips, but instead searching out the hot sauce packets he had surreptitiously slipped into his pocket after the hot dog incident. In his center drawer, he found the mini-golf pencil, and when he went home that night, he carefully clipped the yearbook photo from his annual. Jim picked up the picture he had cut from his high school yearbook and scowled at it. Why would she want this? he thought derisively. The hot sauce packet and the mini golf pencil, both invoked memories of laughter he had shared with her, more of those moments when everything felt right, perfect. That is, until she went home to Roy . He dropped back down into the chair and ran his hand over his face, trying to dispel the image of Pam laughing as she perched on his bed. It had been all he could do to stay in the chair, gripping the arms and trying not to leap at her.

And then he got down to the serious business of making a mix tape. After all, they both had a tendency to snicker each time Michael offered to make one for someone. Jim pulled out an ancient boom box, and started dropping CD after CD into the player, recording each one onto the cassette while he burned discs from his iTunes account to transfer to long outdated media. He picked up the mix tape, twirling it between his thumb and forefinger as he smiled, picturing the look on her face when she saw it. It was kind of a joke between them, but also, the tape contained music that he actually wanted to share with her. It was filled with songs that could possibly convey how he was feeling much better than any stupid Christmas card could. He could picture her listening to it, smiling at the seemingly random Christmas songs he had thrown in for good measure. “Billy Squier,” he muttered as he tossed the tape back onto the table.

And still, he looked at the rejected cards. He knew he had to say it. He knew he couldn’t rely on random lyrics that spoke to him, but may not say anything at all to her. It was time. Now or never, he reasoned. No one knew better than Jim what a holding pattern Pam’s relationship with Roy had been in. No one knew better than he how unhappy that made her. No one knew anything, because no one knew her like he did. Not even Roy, he thought as he picked up the pen again. Even Billy Squier couldn’t wrap everything he felt for Pam up in three words and tie it with a bow, but that was all her had.

Jim sat at the table, his pen poised over the fresh new card he had pulled from the box. He pressed his lips together, and then told himself, Keep it simple. Just tell her how you feel. He bent over the card and wrote as neatly as he could, ‘Merry Christmas, Pam. I love you. Jim’

****

“Yankee swap sucks,” Jim muttered under his breath for the camera’s benefit. He had been so excited. Once the card was finally written, Jim had felt like a weight had been lifted. All morning long, his stomach danced nervously, knowing that soon she would know. And then, it all fell apart. His frown grew deeper as he watched her swipe the iPod instead of the teapot he had chosen especially for her. She smiled apologetically, and held up the box as she said, “It’s an iPod,” as if that could explain her betrayal.

And it felt like a betrayal. She knew that he’d picked that teapot out just for her, and still she didn’t want it. It hurt, and he felt stupid because it hurt. He watched as the teapot changed hands again, wondering how he was going to get it back, hoping that the new owner didn’t peek inside before he could get to it. As she sat clutching her iPod, Jim could barely look in her direction, a fact that the camera didn’t miss. After the gift exchange was complete, the real wheeling and dealing began. Dwight, of all people, ended up with the gift he had selected for Pam. Jim tried to negotiate while Dwight shoveled snacks into his mouth, quoted Billy Zane, and adamantly refused. When Dwight held the teapot up to his nostril, it was the last straw. Jim stormed from the conference room with the cameras hot on his heels. He sat in the other room simmering as he spouted off to the camera about how he never intended Pam’s present to be used for that. He stood up, took three deep breaths and walked back out into the common area.

While Jim stewed, Pam and Roy fiddled with the iPod. She kept her eyes on the tiny screen, murmuring to Roy about how the iPod would change the way she worked out and tried to squelch the twinge of guilt she felt as she scrolled through the menus. She listened with half an ear as Roy babbled something about how he had planned to get her an iPod for Christmas, and how this had just saved him a ton of money. She glanced up at him sharply and asked, “So, what are you gonna get me instead?”

“I don’t know, maybe like a sweater or something,” Roy answered without a thought.

Pam turned to look at him incredulously, and then glanced over her shoulder to see Jim sitting at his desk. Her cheeks flooded with color as she ducked her head, knowing that he had probably just overheard their conversation.

Michael burst through the office door with a case of vodka, and suddenly things were looking up. Kevin turned the music up a little louder, the punch was generously spiked, and everyone began to mingle again. Except for Jim. He hadn’t meant to eavesdrop on her conversation with Roy, but he was sitting right there. Disgusted, he abandoned his desk and flopped down on the couch next to Oscar, his arms crossed firmly over his chest as he proceeded to sulk. Pam and Roy drifted into the breakroom, where Roy and Darryl promptly got into a conversation about their fantasy football teams. She hoisted herself up to sit on the counter, and peered through the blinds as they argued. She saw Dwight cradling her teapot in one hand as he pulled a price tag from the bottom, and felt a sharp pang as she realized that she had made the wrong choice.

Michael roamed around, shooting random pictures with his digital camera, waiting for the fun to begin, trying desperately to get the party rolling. He gathered as many people as he could into the conference room and started lining up shots of vodka. Three shots later, Michael clapped a hand on Jim’s shoulder and said, “Loosen up, Jimmy, it’s a par-tay!”

“Having a great time, Michael,” Jim answered with a smirk.

“You people, you don’t know how to have fun! You’re all crazy. Sitting here, just watching the fun bus pass you by,” Michael said as he wrapped his arm around Jim’s shoulders and gave him a hearty squeeze. He raised his hand, snapped a quick picture of the two of them, and then said affectionately, “You’re all nuts. Loosen up! Have a good time! Live a little!”

“Oh, I’m livin’ the Vida loca,” Jim said dryly.

Michael snorted and gave Jim’s shoulder a little shove as he leaned in a little too close. “You wanna hear something really nuts?” he asked with a low chuckle.

“Sure, why not?” Jim asked with a shrug.

“I just saw Pam trade Dwight for that teapot you bought!” Michael snickered. “I mean, seriously Jim, it’s a nice teapot and all, but come on, an iPod?” he asked as he cracked up. “I think our little Pammy has had too much of the punchy!”

Jim’s brow knitted as he glanced over at Michael. He opened his mouth to say something, and then changed his mind. Instead, he pushed away from the conference table and mumbled something about the bathroom. Clutching his cup of Christmas cheer, he scanned the room looking for signs of Pam or Dwight, but came up empty. Kevin kicked the music up another notch as the dancing began, and Jim finally spotted Pam sitting at her desk. He wandered up to the desk and said, “You know, you don’t have to answer calls during a party, just thought you should know.”

Pam smiled sheepishly and said, “Um, no, I was just, um, checking out my present,” she said as she placed the teapot up on the desk for him to see.

Jim smiled and shook his head a little as he stammered, “But…”

“I traded with Dwight,” she explained. “Um, just, I figured, you know, you went to a lot of trouble, and that means a lot,” she said sincerely. When he smiled at her, she swallowed hard and shook her head as she said, “And, also, Roy got me an iPod, or was going to get me an iPod, so…” she added as she looked up at him.

“Well, either way,” Jim said, blowing past the part about Roy’s intended gift. “This is an amazing gift,” he told her as he pointed to the teapot, “because it comes with bonus gifts.” Pam looked at the teapot curiously, and Jim softly told her, “Look inside.”

With a delighted smile, she stood up and reached for the lid. “Oh my God!” she laughed as she pulled the yearbook photo from the pot. “The yearbook picture!” Pam cried excitedly. Pam continued to laugh as she pulled item after item from the pot. Out of the corner of his eye, Jim spotted the card lying on the desk as she raved, “Incredible!”

She pawed through the rest of the gifts asking, “Is this the Boggle timer?” as Jim picked up the card and surreptitiously slipped it into his back pocket.

“I didn’t think you would get that one. I really didn’t,” he said with a grin as he leaned on the counter again.

“Oh, I got it,” Pam said with a dazzling smile. She placed the timer on the counter and started around the end of the desk. When Pam approached, Jim turned toward her as she wrapped her arms around him for a hug. “The card was so sweet. I love you too,” she said affectionately.

Jim blinked away his shock as he released her, unsure of what to say. Pam grinned up at him and said, “I’m gonna get some punch, do you want some?”

He shook his head and pointed to the plastic cup on the counter as he said, “No, I’m good.”

Pam nodded and headed for the conference room, and Jim watched her walk away. With a heavy sigh, he pulled the card from his pocket, and placed it back on the desk where he found it. “Well, Billy, I tried,” he murmured as he turned and went to join the rest of the party.

He sat next to her at Poor Richard’s, listening to her go on and on about the yearbook picture and what I dork he was. Jim smiled sardonically as he sipped his beer, and tried to ignore the fact that Roy sat on the other side of her. Roy’s arm rested on the back of her seat possessively while he ignored Pam, as usual, instead arguing with Ryan about the BCS bowl selection process.

“I swear, I thought it was ketchup,” Pam said with a tipsy laugh, her hand landing on Jim’s thigh.

Jim looked down at her hand pointedly, but Pam was oblivious as she reached for her drink. “Well, uh, it’s an easy mistake,” he said at last. He stared straight ahead, willing his body not to respond to the heat of her hand seeping through the thin cotton of his pants.

Pam snorted and said, “Yeah, happens all the time,” as she gave his leg a friendly pat and then pulled her hand away.

Jim nodded slowly and then said, “Well, it’s no iPod, but I’m glad you liked it.”

“It’s better than an iPod,” Pam insisted, leaning in close to be heard over the music.

Jim tensed as her warm breath washed over his ear. He could still feel the imprint of her hand on his thigh, smell the scent of her shampoo. “I have to get going,” he blurted as he sat up and began to shift from his seat.

“Already?” Pam asked, looking up at him doe eyed.

“Yeah,” he said with a definite nod. “Uh, have a good time with your parents tomorrow,” he said lamely. “Um, Merry Christmas, Pam,” he added, his voice softening, almost getting lost in the thrum of the music.

“Merry Christmas,” she answered, still gazing up at him intently. “Thank you.”

Jim nodded once and then raised his hand to the rest of the table. “Merry Christmas, everyone,” he called over the din.

There was a murmur of returned holiday wishes, and then Jim turned to head for the door. He had nearly made it to safety before Michael bounded up to him, capturing his arm as he cried, “No! No! You can’t go yet! Packer’s got the mistletoe, and we’re gonna kiss every girl in the bar!” He thought for a moment and then said, “Well, not the married ones, or Pam. Don’t wanna get Roy all riled up,” he said with a nervous laugh.

“Sorry, Michael, I have to run,” Jim told him as he pointed to the door.

“Five more minutes,” Michael pled.

Jim shook his head, figuring if he could resist Pam’s pleading eyes, Michael didn’t stand a chance. He patted Michael on the arm and said, “Have a Merry Christmas, man.”

“Yeah, yeah, you too,” Michael answered, clearly disappointed.

Jim offered him a small smile and said, “Awesome party. The best ever,” he added as he backed toward the door.

Michael’s face brightened instantly as he said, “It was, wasn’t it?”

With a nod, Jim was gone. Minutes later, he sat in his car waiting for the heater to kick in. With a flick of his wrist, Jim turned on the radio, and Billy Squier wailed about Christmas being the time to say I love you. “Screw you, Billy,” he said as he punched the buttons, choosing to be assaulted by ‘Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer’ rather than have to listen to Billy’s crappy advice again.

****

She knew it was a lie. Well, maybe not a lie, but a little bit of bullshit. Roy had never planned on getting her an iPod. Hell, he couldn’t even manage the sweater. Pam looked up at Roy’s smiling face and wondered how someone she had been intimate with for almost ten years could know so little about her. She didn’t care that it wasn’t an iPod. She didn’t care that it wasn’t even the mythical sweater. What she did care about was the fact the Roy didn’t care enough to even put minimal thought into her Christmas gift. She looked down at the Boscov’s gift card in her lap. She bit back the urge to remind him that she didn’t even like shopping at Boscov’s. Instead, she smiled tremulously and said, “Thanks.”

“There’s a hundred bucks on there, so you should be able to get yourself something nice,” he told her proudly.

“Cool,” she managed to squeak out.

“Glad you like it, Babe,” Roy said as he pressed a quick kiss to her lips. “Now, how about you make us one of those fabulous big Christmas morning breakfasts, huh?” he asked as he sat back and reached for the remote.

Pam frowned as she looked down at the card clutched in her hand. “Uh, sure,” she said as she stood up and shuffled into the kitchen in her slippers. She tucked the gift card carefully into her purse, and then turned to the refrigerator, blinking back tears of frustration. Pam pulled a carton of eggs and a pound of bacon from the fridge and placed them on the counter. After retrieving the milk, she let the door slam shut as she set the carton next to the eggs and braced her hands on the edge of the counter. She inhaled deeply as she stared at her engagement ring and whispered, “I can’t do this.”

She heard the sound of a marching band playing as Roy flipped through the channels, and reached for the cordless phone. She held it in the palm of her hand for a moment, her thumb itching to dial the number that she knew by heart, but rarely used. Instead, she hit the ‘On’ button and let it dial the one it had been dialing all too frequently lately. She tucked the phone under her ear and began to pull pans out of the cabinet near the stove. “Hi, Mom,” she said in an overly bright tone as she turned the burner on to heat a skillet. “Merry Christmas.”

“Hey, Sweetheart. Merry Christmas to you,” her mother answered affectionately.

“So, was Santa good to you this year?” Pam asked, opening the package of bacon. As she layered strips of bacon into the skillet, she listened carefully as her mother listed all of the things her father had picked out for her. “Wow, that sounds great,” Pam murmured. “Dad always knows just what to get you,” she added wistfully.

“Well, honey, he’s had years and years of practice. Believe me, there were a few clunkers in there,” he mother laughed. “So, what did Roy get you?” she asked.

“Um, a, uh, gift card,” Pam said, trying to inject a note of enthusiasm into her voice.

“Oh. Really?” her mom said hesitantly.

“Yes, for Boscov’s,” Pam said with a nod as she cracked an egg into a bowl with a little more force than necessary.

Her mother laughed and said, “Boy, he is clueless, isn’t he?”

Pam tossed the shell into the kitchen sink and lowered her voice as she asked, “Is it always going to be like this? Am I always going to be disappointed?”

“Aw, Sweetie,” her mom said softly.

“Would it kill him to put a little bit of thought into it? Would it kill him to think about me once in a while?” Pam demanded.

“You know that Roy loves you,” her mother said gently.

“Does he? Does he even know me?” Pam asked, her voice choked with tears. “I don’t know if I can do this,” she whispered.

“Pam, honey, it breaks my heart to hear you so upset,” he mother said. “Roy is just… He’s not the kind of man who does things like that, that’s all.”

“I can’t help it, Mom, I want more,” Pam cried softly, gripping the phone.

“Oh, I know you do,” her mother said sympathetically. “But, honey, I’m not sure that Roy is the kind of man who can give you what you want.” She took a deep breath and said, “Maybe you should talk to him. Tell him how you feel. Tell him that you’re upset, that you need more from him. Some men just need a little more direction,” she suggested.

Pam looked up and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. “Yeah,” she agreed softly as she spotted the box holding the green teapot that Jim had picked out for her sitting untouched on the kitchen table. “And some don’t,” she murmured.

Her mother laughed and said, “Sweetie, if you can find one that doesn’t, you should scoop him up and run away with him.”

“But, Roy,” Pam said in a confused tone.

“Honey, Roy is Roy, and you love him because he is Roy. Talk to him, you’ll figure it out,” she encouraged.

“Yeah,” Pam agreed. “I, uh, I have to go,” she said quickly as she realized that she was about to burn the bacon on one side. “Breakfast.”

“Okay,” her mom said softly. “It was good to have you home with us yesterday.”

“It was good to be home,” Pam said with a watery smile.

“Merry Christmas, Baby.”

“Merry Christmas, Mom,” Pam said as she ended the call and set the phone aside.

She picked up a pair of tongs and began to flip the strips of bacon as she sniffled softly. To drown out the sound of the old war movie blaring from the television, Pam turned on the radio she kept on the counter, and hummed along as Billy Squier sang about Christmas being the time to say I love you. Every once in a while, Pam’s eyes strayed to the box sitting on the table, and she smiled thinking of the treasures buried deep within her pretty green teapot. With a sigh, she returned her attention to her breakfast preparations. Pam knew that despite her mother’s advice, Christmas falling on a Sunday and the office being closed Monday for the holiday meant that it would be a long couple of days until she had someone that she could talk to again.

****

Tuesday morning, Pam was at her desk when Jim walked through the door murmuring his usual, “Good morning, Pam.”

“Good morning,” she answered with a smile. “Good Christmas?” she asked.

Jim nodded and asked, “You?”

“Pretty good,” she said, letting her eyes fall to the reports she was collating for Michael.

“Spend all day yesterday loading up your new iPod?” he couldn’t resist asking.

“Oh, uh, no. I didn’t get an iPod,” she said without looking up.

“No?” Jim asked, trying to keep his smirk in check.

“Nope, not this year,” she said in an overly bright tone as she looked up at him with a wan smile.

“Well, maybe for your birthday,” he said as he nodded and walked to his desk, allowing his smile to break through once his back was to her.

“I won’t hold my breath,” Pam muttered as she went back to her collating.

All morning long, her eyes were drawn to him. All morning long, Jim pretended that he didn’t notice. At lunch, he smiled that easy, friendly smile as she asked him to hand her a packet of ketchup. Jim acted like he didn’t see her frown when she saw that the packet he gave her actually was ketchup. All afternoon, Pam waited for him to come over to her desk to swipe a jellybean. All afternoon, Jim kept his head down, feigning interest in the files he was sorting on his computer.

When he stood up at leave, Pam gathered her purse from her desk drawer and said, “So, busy day, huh?”

“Yeah, well, a good day to straighten out my files and stuff,” Jim answered as he shrugged into his coat.

“I love the teapot,” she said as she gestured to the pot she had rinsed and left on her desk, ready for the following morning.

“Good,” Jim answered with a nod. “Night, Pam,” he said as he slung his bag over his shoulder and headed for the door.

“Night,” she answered with a small sigh as she collected her coat and walked toward the warehouse door to meet Roy.

By Thursday, Pam felt as though she were cast adrift, both at home and at work. At home, she tried to talk to Roy. She tried to tell him how she felt, but all she got were a few nonsensical grumbles and a disgruntled, “It’s a big store. Are you seriously telling me that you can’t find one thing that you like in there?” She put it aside, just as she always did, and tried to focus on being more direct about what she wanted and needed. The night before, she had dropped down onto the couch as he watched a basketball game and tried to watch it with him. When halftime came, and Roy began to surf through the channels, she made her pitch.

“So, I was thinking, we should go out New Year’s Eve,” she started tentatively.

“We always go out on New Year’s Eve,” he answered.

“Yeah, I know, but not to a party or someone’s house. There’s this big thing at the Radisson, like a dinner and dancing thing. I think we should get all dressed up, and go out, just the two of us,” she suggested hopefully.

Roy nodded distractedly as he found an extreme sports show on one of the channels. “Yeah, sounds nice. We should do that sometime.”

“Not sometime, Saturday night,” Pam said impatiently.

“Yeah, that’s what I meant,” he answered quickly. “Let me check it out and we’ll see, okay?”

“You’ll look into it?” she asked skeptically.

“Yeah, let me see what the deal is,” Roy said with a shrug.

“Okay,” Pam said quietly as she stood up. She walked back to the bedroom, telling herself not to get her hopes up, but finding herself staring into her closet trying to find something she could wear. After pawing through her clothes a second time, Pam sighed and said, “I need to go shopping.” She paused for a moment, and then remembered the gift card that Roy had given her. She smiled slowly and murmured, “Maybe it wasn’t such a bad present after all.”

Meanwhile at work, Pam was wondering if she had done something wrong. Jim was as friendly as usual, laughing and joking with her when she was nearby, but he didn’t seek her out. There were not plots hatched as he hovered over the front desk, there were no made up games to be played as he ate his ham and cheese at lunch. He answered her questions, he asked her a few, he commented on their co-workers, he chuckled at her observations, but something was missing. Something was off.

As he got ready to leave for the night, Jim stopped at her desk, thumping his heel of his hand on the counter as if he had just remembered something. He pointed to Pam and said, “Oh yeah. You and Roy have plans for New Year’s?”

“I think so,” Pam said with an apologetic smile.

Jim held up one hand and said, “No big deal. Mark and I just decided that we were going to have some friends over rather than do the bar thing this year. You guys are welcome to stop by if you want,” he offered.

Pam nodded and said, “Um, maybe we will. I’m not sure though. I think we’re going to the thing at the Radisson.”

“Ooh, fancy,” Jim said as he lifted his coat from the rack, and tried to keep his face blank.

“Well, it would be something different. Usually I just end up hanging out on someone’s couch with the other girlfriends and watching Roy play poker with the guys,” she said with a wry smile.

“Well, it looks like this year you have options,” Jim said in a slightly clipped tone. “Night, Beesly,” he said as he headed for the door.

“Night,” Pam called after him, scowling at the door as it closed behind him.

Friday night, Roy had plans to go with Kenny to some monster truck show that Kenny had scored tickets to, so Pam hit the Steamtown Mall. She browsed her way through Boscov’s, trying to find something sexy to wear on the racks of picked over party dresses. She finally settled on a simple black sheath with black bugle beading around the scooped neckline and a pair of strappy black satin shoes that would probably not survive a night in the salt and slush. She paid the additional thirty dollars over and above the gift card value, and as she stuffed her change into her wallet, she smiled when she spotted the corner of the yearbook photo she had hastily slid into one of the compartments. Anxious to get home, she grabbed her bags and hurried for the exit.

Once she reached the quiet of the apartment, Pam hung the dress up in her closet, placed the shoes on the floor beneath it, and then changed into her cozy flannel pajamas. She shuffled back into the kitchen in her slippers and put the kettle on to boil. While it was heating, she fished in her purse for a ponytail holder, but instead came up with the mix tape Jim had made for her. Pam smiled happily, thinking of the hot sauce, pencil and Boggle timer stashed safely in her desk drawer at work. She slipped the tape into the pocket of her pajama top, and finished brewing her cup of tea.

Mug in hand, Pam wandered into the living room and over to the bookcase that held her old stereo. She opened the cassette player and dropped the tape in before shuffling over to the couch and reclining back with her tea cradled in her hands. She smiled widely as she heard the opening strains of Mariah Carey’s version of ‘All I Want for Christmas’ and tapped her toes along with the beat. Humming along happily, she set the tea aside as the first song drew to a close and picked up the pencil and sketch pad that she kept on the end table. By the time Switchfoot started ‘Learning to Breathe’, Pam had found the sketch she had started a couple of weeks before and smiled at the image of Jim collapsed face first on his desk. Before she knew it, she was completely absorbed in trying the get the line of his back just right.

Three songs later, she frowned at his hand and began flipping through the pages, looking for the sketch she had done of his hands just days before. The Killers were singing ‘Mr. Brightside’ as she found it, and cocked her head as she tried to puzzle out what she was getting wrong. She closed her eyes, trying to block out the sound as she pictured him in her mind’s eye. “Movement,” she murmured. “Fluid,” she added as she opened her eyes and flipped back to the drawing she had been working on.

A short time later, her head bobbed along as Cheap Trick wailed ‘I Want You to Want Me’ and she added a few soft strokes of her pencil to his hair. The tape ended, and Pam set the pad aside. She took a sip of her now tepid tea and stood up to go flip it over. She sat back down as Bruce Springsteen and his E Street Band launched into ‘Merry Christmas, Baby’. Pam grinned as she picked up the sketch pad and began to leaf through the pages. She smiled as she saw the drawing she had done of Jim standing straight and tall on a paper box, proudly wearing a paper clip chain holding a yogurt lid medal around his neck. She continued through the book, grinning as the tape played on and she realized that only Jim could make a mix where it seemed natural for Kenny and Dolly’s ‘Islands In the Stream’ to meld into The Cure’s ‘Pictures of You’, sandwiched between the Chipmunks singing their Christmas song and Run DMC rapping about Christmas in Hollis. Pam’s smile slowly faded as she found herself pausing every few pages to study another sketch of Jim. Jim pensive, Jim happy, Jim bored, Jim’s hands, Jim’s neck, Jim’s smile; page after page of her book filled with him. She puzzled over each and every one as the tape turned spool to spool. She stopped, staring intently at a sketch of his earnest hazel eyes as the soft strains of ‘Collide’ filled the otherwise silent apartment.

Pam set the book aside, his eyes seemingly fixed on her from the cushion beside her. She stared blankly at the stereo nestled into the bookshelf, lost in thought. Suddenly, ‘Are You Gonna Be My Girl’ jolted her into action. She leapt from the couch, hurried into the kitchen, and rummaged through her bag for the card that he had given her. She tore the envelope in her haste to free the greeting card, completely ignored the glittering snow covered scene on the front, and instead, zeroed in on the seven words he had written inside. ‘Merry Christmas, Pam. I love you. Jim.’ She read them over and over again, those simple words finally seeping through the haze of friendship and affection that had clouded her eyes the first time around. Pam braced one hand on the table, the other clutching the card so hard that her fingers creased the heavy 60 pound card stock that the card was printed on. “He loves me,” she dared to whisper aloud. She looked up, her eyes bright and clear as if the fog had finally lifted. She turned and walked back into the living room to turn off the tape, but stopped short when she saw his eyes staring up at her from the couch cushion and heard Lifehouse confess Jim’s inability to keep his eyes off of her.

Pam stood gazing at his eyes, unconsciously pressing the hand holding the card to her heart as the lyrics of the song washed over her. She took a deep, shuddering breath as she desperately tried to recall if there was even one drawing of Roy in that book, but came up empty. Pam blinked back tears as the song ended and she stood rooted to the spot. A small laugh escaped her, and she clamped her hand over her mouth to stop it as she heard the opening riff of Billy Squier’s ‘Christmas Is The Time To Say I Love You’ coming from the speakers. She sank down onto the couch next to the sketch pad and shook her head in wonder as she looked into Jim’s eyes. “You love me?” she asked softly. “Oh, Jim, please don’t love me. I’m too screwed up to love.”

Pam toyed with her engagement ring, turning on her finger as she bit her lip. She glanced at the clock on the DVD player and then jumped up. She rushed for the phone in the kitchen, and dialed quickly. When the call went through, she blurted, “I think I met the guy who knows what I need, but it isn’t Roy.”

“Is it Jim?” her mother asked gently.

“Yes,” Pam admitted in a choked voice. “I think it’s been Jim for a while now.”

“You need to be sure, Sweetheart,” Pam’s mom said softly. “Be very, very sure.”

****

Saturday evening, Pam stood in the bathroom checking her reflection in the mirror. She smoothed her hands over her hips and exhaled loudly. “Okay, last chance,” she said with a firm nod.

She tucked a strand of hair back into the pins that held it away from her face and then glanced down at her shoes as Roy called, “You ready, Babe?” through the bathroom door.

Pam met her own eyes in the mirror and said, “Yes, I’m ready,” as she steeled herself for the make or break moment.

She opened the bathroom door and saw Roy standing in the hall wearing the sweater she had given him for Christmas and his favorite jeans. He looked her up and down appreciatively and chuckled as he said, “Wow. You look great, Babe, but isn’t that a little dressy for an evening in Lonnie’s basement?”

“Lonnie’s basement,” Pam repeated, wishing she were more surprised than she actually was.

“Yeah, we’re playing cards,” he said with a laugh.

“We’re not going to the Radisson,” she said dully.

“Aw, no, Babe. Who wants to pay that much money to stand around with a bunch of people they don’t know drinking overpriced drinks and listening to some crappy band?” he asked.

“I do,” Pam answered, lifting her chin stubbornly.

“Come on, you know you’ll have fun once you get there. You always like Lonnie’s girlfriends,” he said dismissively.

“Yes, but they never like him very much after they spend New Year’s Eve in his basement watching a bunch of guys drink beer and play poker. Why do you think he always has a new one?” Pam asked, crossing her arms over her chest.

“Yeah, well, they’re not as great as you are,” Roy said with a charming smile.

Pam stared at him incredulously for a moment. “You aren’t going to take me out tonight,” she stated flatly.

“Yeah I am, I’m taking you out to Lonnie’s,” Roy argued.

“I don’t want to go to Lonnie’s,” she said through clenched teeth.

“Pammy, please, don’t start this crap now,” Roy said in an exasperated tone.

“How about I finish it now?” Pam asked in a low voice, twirling the ring on her finger with her thumb.

“Are you threatening me?” Roy scoffed.

Pam shook her head slowly and then tilted it to one side as she asked, “Roy, what’s my favorite flavor of yogurt?”

“What?” he asked with a laugh.

“Tell me. What is it?” she demanded.

“Why are you asking me this now?”

“Just answer the question,” she insisted.

Roy shrugged and said, “I don’t know, strawberry?”

Pam nodded slowly as she unfolded her arms and slipped the engagement ring from her finger. She held it out to him and said simply, “I can’t marry you.”

Roy stared at the ring in disbelief as he asked, “Why? Because it’s not strawberry? Fine. Blueberry,” he said derisively.

“Roy, take your ring,” she said softly.

“No! It’s your ring,” he insisted.

Pam shook her head again and said, “Not anymore, it isn’t.” When he refused to take the ring from her fingers, Pam let it fall to the carpet at their feet. “You dropped the ball. Again,” she said quietly as she stepped past him and headed for the door.

“Where are you going?” Roy demanded as she slipped into her coat.

“I’m going out,” she answered as she pulled the car keys from her purse. “I need the truck. I’m sure one of the guys will come to get you,” she said calmly.

“Pam, you can’t just leave like this. Come on, I’ll take you to the stupid Radisson,” he said impatiently.

Pam shook her head once more and said, “No, Roy. I’m done.” She gathered her purse and said, “I’ll stay at Angela or Meredith’s tonight. We can talk tomorrow about how we’re gonna split things up.”

“Because I won’t go to a stupid hotel party?” he asked angrily. “This is all because I don’t want to go hang out in some ballroom all night? Jesus, Pam, how spoiled are you?” he sneered.

“I can’t marry you because I don’t think I love you anymore, and I’m pretty sure that you don’t love me,” she said quietly. Pam opened the door and turned to look at him as she said, “Roy, you think you know me, but you don’t know me at all.” With more calm than she felt, Pam pulled the door closed behind her.

One thing that she did know well enough about Roy was his temper, so she knew that she had to get out of there without a confrontation. As fast as she could move in her new shoes, Pam hurried out into the parking lot. As she opened the driver’s door, she heard Roy call, “Hey! No way! You can’t take my truck!” as he ran from the apartment building.

Pam jumped into the truck and pulled the door closed, hitting the lock button even as she started the engine. She backed out of the space, narrowly missing his toes as she straightened the wheel. When she put the truck in drive, she cracked the window and called, “My name is on it too,” before she pulled away, leaving him staring after her as the snow fell in huge fat flakes in the beams of the headlights.

****

Jim answered the door, and plastered a happy smile on his face as Michael waved brown paper bag wrapped bottle in his face. “Jim! I brought a wee drop of the grape!” he cried excitedly.

“Hey, Michael, you made it,” Jim said as he stepped back from the door.

“I did! I did! Let me at that karaoke machine,” Michael said with a smug smile.

“Oh. We didn’t rent one for this party,” Jim told him, trying to hold back his smile as he remembered the edict Mark had issued when they began planning the New Year’s Party. ‘Dwight, yes. Michael singing, no’ he had said in no uncertain terms. Jim happily complied, knowing that Michael would find out about the party one way or another. Instead, he issued a pre-emptive strike in the form of an invitation on Thursday.

“No karaoke?” Michael asked, clearly bereft.

“Sorry,” Jim offered with a helpless shrug.

“Man, I was looking forward to doing another duet,” Michael said dejectedly.

“I know, me too,” Jim said with a wry smile. “Here, let me take your coat, you go on and get a drink.” Jim took Michael’s coat from him and watched as he trudged, defeated, toward the kitchen.

Jim tossed Michael’s coat atop the growing pile in the spare room, and then stopped to talk to Kelly for a minute just as the doorbell rang again. Jim excused himself, and as he pulled the door open, Dwight demanded, “Is Michael here yet?”

“Uh, hi, Dwight,” Jim said as Dwight pushed past him into the house.

“Is Michael here?” Dwight asked urgently.

“He’s in the kitchen,” Jim said as he pointed.

“Good,” Dwight said with a satisfied nod. “Hello, Jim,” he said in a more pleasant tone before turning toward the kitchen.

“Hello, lunatic,” Jim muttered under his breath, shaking his head as he started to close the door. “Wait!” he heard someone call out. He pulled the door open again in time to see Pam hurrying up the sidewalk holding her coat closed tightly as she tottered on high heels.

“Hey, careful,” Jim said as he hurried out to capture her elbow and escort her into the house. Once the door was closed behind them, Jim smiled down at her and said, “You came.”

“I did,” Pam answered with a solemn nod, letting his smile warm her from the inside.

“I thought you had plans,” he said, unable to wipe the grin from his face.

“Nope, no plans after all,” Pam said with a quick shake of her head.

“Is Roy coming?” Jim asked as he pointed to the door.

“No, Roy’s not coming,” Pam answered quickly.

“Well, okay,” Jim said, his happiness at having her all to himself overriding his disbelief. He clapped his hands together nervously and said, “Well, uh, let me get your coat, and then we’ll get you a drink.”

Pam nodded as she began to shed her coat and said, “Sounds good.”

Jim’s jaw dropped as she handed her coat to him. “Wow,” he breathed.

“Oh,” Pam said as she glanced down at her party dress. “I guess I’m a little overdressed.”

“You look beautiful,” he said in a low soft voice. When she looked up at him quickly, Jim offered her a sheepish smile and said, “Besides, Kelly’s here, so I can tell you, you are not overdressed.” He pointed to the spare room where they were tossing the coats and said, “Let me, uh, be right back.” When he returned to her side moments later, Jim smiled as he shoved his hands into his pockets to keep from reaching for her. “So, you need a drink,” he said with a nod. One of his traitorous hands escaped its pocket prison and gestured for her to precede him to the kitchen before resting lightly on the small of her back for just a few seconds to guide her along.

Pam was greeted by a chorus of hellos from the Dunder Mifflinites stationed in the kitchen. “Oh my God, I love your dress! Don’t you love mine?” Kelly asked as she twirled for Pam to get the full effect. “I totally scored! It was forty percent off, and then at the After Christmas Sale it was an additional twenty percent on top of that, and then I had a gift card,” she crowed. “Aren’t gift cards the best? I just love them. I think that a gift card is the best thing that anyone can give you, I mean, who wants someone else picking out their stuff for them anyway?” she asked as she rolled her eyes.

Jim handed Pam a cup of wine and spoke softly into her ear, “Michael brought it, so it may be Thunderbird. Consider yourself warned.”

Pam smiled as she lifted the cup to her lips and took a tentative sip. She shook her head slightly and then took a larger gulp of the wine, closing her eyes as it coursed down her throat. “Pamarama, I have to tell you, you are lookin’ hot tonight!” Michael said as he stepped forward and gave her a clingy hug. “Smokin’ hot!” he said with a grin as he leaned back, not taking his arms from her waist.

“Watch it, you’ll scorch yourself,” Jim cautioned.

Michael laughed and said, “Hey, might as well go down in flames.”

“Michael,” Pam said as she tried to wriggle out of his grasp.

“Oops, sorry. A little too much,” he laughed. He glanced around and said, “Good thing the HR cops aren’t…” he trailed off as he spotted Toby lounging against the counter in the corner. “Ugh, God!” he groaned as he let go of Pam.

“Michael, you should ask Mark if he plans to break out the Twister game since there’s not karaoke,” Jim suggested.

“Oh, man! I am killer at Twister,” Michael said excitedly as he turned to head back into the living room with Dwight on his heels.

“Thanks,” Pam said as she tugged nervously at the hem of her dress.

“Well, I’ll pay for that later, so you owe me,” Jim said as he took a drink of his beer.

Pam simply smiled as she raised her cup to her lips again, her left hand toying with the necklace she wore as she sipped. Suddenly Kelly lunged at her, yanking Pam’s hand away from her throat as Pam choked on her wine. “Oh my God, Pam! Did you lose your engagement ring? Oh, you poor thing! One time, I lost a necklace that my parents gave me, and I felt soooo horrible. I looked everywhere, and when my dad asked me about it, I just burst into tears. Seriously, like floods of tears,” she babbled. “Does Roy know? Have you told him yet? Man, I bet he was upset. It was insured wasn’t it? You should always insure important pieces of jewelry. I know my dad puts everything that he gives to my mom or me or my sisters on a special policy that covers, like, everything…”

Pam colored, feeling all of the eyes in the room focus on her as Kelly went on and on. Finally she said in a soft but firm voice, “I didn’t lose it.”

“Oh, thank God!” Kelly cried dramatically. “Why aren’t you wearing it? Oh, I get it, it didn’t go with your dress. Well, that makes sense. That’s why when I get engaged, I want to help pick out my ring. Guys just don’t understand that a ring has to be able to go with everything, you know?” she said as she finally released Pam’s hand.

Pam glanced around, catching Phyllis’ worried gaze, Stanley’s mildly interested one, and Ryan’s speculative smirk before turning to look at Jim. When she met his concerned hazel gaze she said, “Its fine. Everything is fine.”

“Good,” Phyllis said, her voice tinged with doubt.

Pam tipped her cup back and gulped down the rest of her wine before handing the cup to Jim with a weak smile and saying, “More, please.”

“Sure,” Jim murmured as he took the cup and moved to the counter to refill it.

When he returned it to her, Pam looked up and whispered, “Can we talk? Somewhere private?”

Jim gave her an imperceptible nod and murmured, “Upstairs,” as he lifted his beer to his lips.

Pam nodded and said in a louder voice, “I think I’ll go see if they got that Twister game set up.”

A few minutes later, Jim drifted into the living room to see Michael bent over as Dwight kicked the spinner with his toe. “Left hand red,” Dwight called out to himself as he ducked down and attempted to go under Michael to place his hand on a red circle.

As Jim placed his foot on the bottom step he heard Michael yell, “No, Dwight, no!” as he toppled over onto the mat. “Everyone knows that the taller person goes over, Dwight, over!” he said angrily.

“I’m sorry. We didn’t play Twister when I was growing up, we played Sauerkraut Splat,” Dwight explained. “Let’s play again,” he offered.

Michael stood up, brushed himself off and said, “I don’t want to play again. This party sucks,” he spat as he stalked off to the kitchen to fix himself another drink.

Jim smiled to himself as he jogged up the steps, pleased that he wouldn’t have to worry about giving Michael any future party invitations. He poked his head into his bedroom and found Pam standing with her back to the door, hugging herself tightly. Jim took a breath, willing his heartbeat to slow as he tried to gather his thoughts. “I guess the Twister game didn’t pan out the way Michael had hoped,” he said as he shoved his hands into his pockets and leaned against the doorjamb.

Pam turned to look at him and smiled, but it never reached her eyes as she asked, “Dwight went under, didn’t he?”

Jim nodded and then pushed off of the doorway to step into the room. “What’s going on, Beesly?” he asked gently.

Pam’s wince turned into a sheepish smile as her cheeks flooded with color and she looked down at her shoes. “What makes you think something is going on?” she asked, stalling for time.

Jim shrugged, the corner of his mouth pulling down as he said, “Oh, I don’t know. You say you have plans and then you show up here all dressed up, except you’re missing one thing. The thing you wear with everything,” he added with a nervous laugh.

Pam looked up and asked, “What’s my favorite flavor of yogurt?”

“Mixed berry, why?” Jim asked with a perplexed frown.

“That’s why,” Pam said as she let out the breath she hadn’t realized she was holding.

Jim cocked his head as he took another step closer to her, keeping his hands buried deep in his pockets as he asked, “It’s all the yogurt’s fault?”

Pam fidgeted nervously, twisting her fingers together as she shot him a shy glance and then said, “I really loved my Christmas present.”

“I think you already told me that, but I’m glad,” Jim said with a chuckle.

“The hot sauce, the pencil and the timer are in my desk at work. Every time I open that drawer, I smile,” she said with a soft smile. “The yearbook picture, well, that I like to keep close, just in case, you know? I put that in my wallet,” she said with a nod.

“Wow, space in the wallet. I’m really moving up in the world,” Jim said sardonically.

“Shut up,” Pam said with a laugh. “I use the teapot every day, you know that,” she continued.

“I think I’ve spotted it.”

Pam looked up at him with a shy smile. “I listened to the tape the other night. I mean, I really listened. At least, to some of it,” she rambled.

“O-kay,” he said cautiously.

“The rest, well, I was drawing, and I realized as I listened to that tape and flipped through my book, it’s all you,” she said with a helpless shrug.

“Me?” Jim asked, the blood rushing in his ears as his heart began to hammer.

“I gave Roy the ring back. I told him that I didn’t love him anymore,” she said so softly that Jim had to lean closer to be sure he had heard her correctly.

“Oh, wow, Pam. I’m sorry,” he said gruffly as that traitorous hand once again escaped its confines and gestured helplessly in the space between them.

Pam cocked her head as she looked up at him and asked, “Are you?

“I’m sorry that you’re upset,” he said cautiously. “You’re my friend, and I want you to be happy.”

“Did you mean what you wrote in my Christmas card?” she asked bluntly.

Jim blinked as he reared back slightly and said, “What? Oh, um, yeah. Sure, I meant it,” he said, trying to sound casual, but his voice broke and gave him away.

Pam narrowed her eyes and asked, “Did you mean it, mean it?”

Jim laughed and said, “No, I lied.”

“I’m serious!” Pam giggled as she took a swat at his arm.

“What do you mean did I mean it, mean it,” Jim tried to deflect.

Pam rolled her eyes in exasperation and growled at him as she gritted her teeth and glared at him. “Did you mean, ‘I love you, you’re a really cool friend’ or did you mean the, ‘I love you’ kind of I love you?” she demanded.

Jim’s eyes danced as he glanced down at her tiny balled fist. “Uh, both,” he blurted, feeling a sudden surge of confidence rushing through his veins.

“Both,” she repeated as she eyed him skeptically.

“Pam, if you’re asking if I meant that I’m in love with you, then the answer is yes. That’s what I meant all along,” he told her in a low raspy voice.

Jim watched her apprehensively as his words sunk in, and then his eyes widened as she smiled her relief. Suddenly, Pam threw her arms around his neck, and that hand that had been betraying him all night finally did the right thing, spreading over her back and holding her steady as she pressed her lips to his in an exuberant kiss.

When she drew back to look at him, a brilliant smile lighting her face, Jim smiled as he tucked a wayward curl behind her ear and whispered, “But you are a really cool friend.”

“I have a lot of stuff to sort out,” she said as she looked up into his warm hazel eyes, marveling at how well she had managed to capture them with a pencil.

Jim nodded and said, “Yeah.”

“I know that Christmas is over, but I think New Year’s is as good a time as any,” she said earnestly.

“For?”

“To say I love you,” she said with an impish grin.

Jim leaned down and kissed her sweetly, drawing her lips against his. He pressed his forehead to hers, his heart beating against hers as he held her tightly and whispered, “I hate Billy Squier.”

Pam’s smile was wide as she pulled back slightly and said, “Really? I love him.”

“You would,” he muttered.

“Not as much as I love you, but yeah, I do,” Pam teased as she tangled her fingers in the curls at the nape of his neck.

Jim kissed her again, this time crushing her to him as he angled his head and parted his lips, shyly touching the tip of his tongue to her lips and groaning as they parted invitingly. The kiss seemingly lasted only a fraction of a second, but must have gone on for minutes as they tasted and tested one another, capturing each other’s sighs and holding them safe.

They parted, and Pam stepped back, breathless and wide eyed, her fingers trailing over his cheek as she let her hand slide slowly down his throat to his chest. She looked down at it as she felt the steady strum of his heart beneath her fingertips. “We should probably go back downstairs,” she said at last.

Jim nodded and said, “Yeah, we should.”

Pam looked up at him and asked, “You don’t mind waiting, you know, until I can get things settled?”

Jim smiled as he chuckled softly. “I’ve waited this long.” When he saw the troubled look in her eyes, he cupped her cheek and spoke softly as he said, “No, I don’t mind waiting as long as I know there’s something to be waiting for.”

“Kiss me at midnight?” she asked coyly.

Jim smiled as he said, “Try to stop me.”

“Kiss me at one?” she asked with a twinkle in her eye.

Jim grinned and used his most enticing salesman voice as he said, “This is an amazing New Year’s Eve because it comes with bonus New Year’s Eve kisses for every time zone.”


JAMhands is the author of 14 other stories.
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