“Pam! Pam!” Michael called to her, waving his arms. She rolled her eyes and sighed, tugging at the bottom of her shirt, trying to pull it further down her midriff. It was a bit too short.
“Helloooooo? Pamela!” He was starting to get frustrated, she considered keeping her eyes averted, but instead appeased him,
“Hi Michael,” she said quietly.
Joining the rest of the group she began to turn around, not focusing on Michael’s speech about how they were going to “kick ass” in the volleyball tournaments this year. Michaels’ booming voice began to silence in her ears and all she could hear was the beating of her heart, thumping against her eardrums as she watched behind her, wondering if he’d show up. It had been months since she’d even spoken with him. The emails had stopped, he hadn’t come to the last meeting that was held for salesmen, (or at least that’s what Michael had said when she’d asked) and every time she went on the Dunder Mifflin website, the picture from last year’s Stamford Branch hadn’t been updated. Pam started to wonder if she could be charged with a misdemeanor, some days it felt like she was stalking him. But it only was because she was forgetting the way his dimples appeared when he smiled, or how his eyes lit up every time he asked her to pull a prank on Dwight.
She felt her stomach turn over, as she caught someone in a yellow shirt, the cotton stretched across her taut belly, linking hands with the lanky man she’d been hoping wouldn’t come
“Pam?” Her plan of studying a piece of grass laying on her white sneaker, and pretending to be invisible hadn’t worked.
“Pam Beesly?” His hair was pushed to the side; a toothy grin appeared on his face as he walked over and wrapped his arm around her frame, hugging her unexpectedly.
“Hey,” She stammered, lifting her right foot behind her left.
“I wondered if you’d be here today. God… it’s so good to see you.” She couldn’t believe how genuine he sounded; if only her chest wasn’t pinched, she might be able to hold a normal conversation with him. She glanced behind him to the woman that was now watching her, her lips parted into a smile when Jim turned around to beckon her.
“Sarah, this is Pam, you remember, I told you about Pam?” At the mention of Pam’s name, Sarah slipped her arm around Jim’s waist.
“Of course,” Sarah’s dark hair was in a bob, curling right under her ears. She was just a hair shorter than Jim, and Pam tried not to notice how thin she looked; she could barely tell the woman was pregnant.
“The artist…right?” Sarah asked shaking her hand. Pam caught the glitter of the ring on her left finger and swallowed.
“I try, you know,” Pam remarked shyly.
“I hoped I’d see you at the picnic last year, but you weren’t here,” Jim cocked his head confused.
“Yeah, Roy and I uhh…” Pam glanced down; she was having trouble keeping his gaze.
“We were having some issues, and so I just decided it’d be best to stay home,” she nodded trying to convince both Jim and herself.
“Well, God, it’s just…really, really great to see you Pam,” Her hands clenched, trying to ignore the sparkle in his eyes. He was happy. He was giving her the look he used to give when they’d sneak away together, just to escape Michael, and now it was for someone else. Someone prettier, someone younger, someone who was carrying his child.
“You too,” Pam retorted.
“So, um…what’s new with you?” Pam hated small talk, and now she was participating in it.
“Well, actually,” Jim looked to Sarah with a smile, “I’ve been going back to school to get my degree in teaching English, and I’m done next month,” he laughed a bit at the end of his sentence.
“Jim, that’s…” she was speechless, “that’s so great!” Pam nodded, pressing her lips together. She truly was happy for him, he deserved all of this.
“What about you?” Jim asked.
“Oh you know, still in Scranton. I um, I finally applied to art school though,”
“You did? Pam, that’s great!” Jim smiled, and touched her arm. She felt goose bumps crawl up her arms.
“I guess I should get back,” she pointed behind her at Michael.
“Yeah, yeah definitely,” Jim nodded, swallowing, and looking back at Michael with a smile.
“It was really nice to meet you,” Sarah smiled warmly and patted Pam’s arm with her hand.
“You too,” Pam tilted her head, nausea starting to creep up in her throat.
“Stay in touch Pam,” Jim said quietly, just to her. She nodded, wondering if he meant it, and watched him walk off. She sighed watching them walk off together, linking hands once again- Jim laughing at something Sarah had said. It was clear he was just so happy, Pam wondered if one day she’d be happy too.
The picture on Claire’s desk, Popsicle stick framed, a little felt heart in the corner, was mocking her as she stared at it. It was warm the day that photo was taken, the sun was shining in her eyes when her mother told her to say cheese, her father’s arms wrapped around her and a smile on his face. She shut her eyes tightly trying to place herself back on that day, just when she was trying to remember what the beach smelled like, it started in again. She could hear her father downstairs, moving about the kitchen talking to himself. She moved quickly to the door and shut it, the white wooden door meeting its frame.
He’d been doing this for weeks now. First, he was silent. He’d move about the house, trying to busy himself with grading papers he’d let pile up from work, and attempting to do laundry and other household chores before it just got to him. After, Claire would hear him up late at night in her parent’s bedroom thinking that he was the only one up, and she could hear him crying. The first time, it turned her stomach over and instead of going to him; she’d crawl back in bed, put music in her ears and end up crying herself to sleep. But now, he’d taken to this, and she wasn’t sure which was worse. She was sure her father hadn’t looked her in the eyes since everything happened. He’d come home from the hospital, held her as he told her what happened, and then it stopped. The next day she went back to school, he told her We need to keep things as normal as possible forgetting the fact that he, had now been out of work for a month. Now, he was sitting down in the living room, the television on, although she knew he wasn’t really watching it. Talking to her.
Pulling her brown hair back into a pony tail and securing it with an elastic, she found her sweater underneath her pillow and slipped it on. Looking over at the calendar on the wall, this month a black and white pinto pony, she glanced at the date, October 22, 2018. It had been exactly a month since her mother died. Her stomach grumbled and she realized she couldn’t hide upstairs in her bedroom for much longer. Sighing, she opened the door and carefully made her way down the stairs, using the banister for support. Stopping at the bottom step, she peered into the living room, staring at the back of her father’s head. His shaggy brown hair speckled with gray was in disarray; he’d been running his hands through it.
“Should we put her in advanced classes?” Claire listened, wondering if her father actually believed that her mother was there.
“I dunno, I mean, she’s incredibly smart, and…” he rubbed his hands against his jaw, “Sarah, I just think she could do so well.” Claire watched him for a few moments; he’d get up from the couch, then sit back down, and do it all over again. Jumping, the telephone rang from behind her in the kitchen, and before she could bolt back up the stairs, her father turned around meeting her gaze. She felt a lump in her throat, it was the first time he’d actually looked at her in so long. She couldn’t help but notice the shadows under his blotchy eyes and without his usual dark-framed glasses, he looked so different. Claire wasn’t sure if he had been crying, or not sleeping. Maybe it was a bit of both. The phone continued to ring behind her, and she waited, wondering if he was going to get it. When he didn’t move, she broke away from his gaze and hurried into the kitchen to pick up the phone.
“Hello?” She brought the cordless phone up to her ear, without bothering to look at the caller I.D.
“Yep, hang on,” She brought the phone into the living room and outstretched her arm.
“Dad, it’s for you,” Her father took the phone from her and shutting his eyes, answered it.
“Hello?” Claire watched him, wondering who the woman was on the other end of the phone.
“This is Jim,” Claire moved to the couch and curled up in the corner of it, keeping her eyes focused on her father. The phone had stopped ringing lately. After the funeral, and after her grandmothers had finally left their house, her father convincing them they had enough trays of lasagna to last them a year, no one had called anymore.
“I see. Alright, well, thank you for calling; I’ll speak with her about it. Yep, Bye.” Jim pressed the button on the telephone and took a seat on the other end of the couch. It was silent for a few moments, the hum of the television on mute the only thing Claire could focus on. She looked down at her pink speckled fingernails, they were starting to chip. It was clear now, this phone call had something to do with her.
“Claire,” She jumped at the sound of her own name. “Why haven’t you been going to classes?” Contorting her mouth to the side, she bit her bottom lip.
“That was one of the school’s guidance counselors. They said you’ve been cutting now for the past week,” Jim hit the power button on the remote of the television, asking for his daughter’s attention back. When she didn’t respond, Jim shook his head with a sigh.
“Kiddo, I know things are tough right now and-“ she cut him off.
“Dad!” Claire looked over at him; he could tell her eyes were swimming. Had she cried at the funeral? he wondered, this looked so unfamiliar to him. “You don’t even know what’s going on. You’ve been in your own world, talking to Mom like she’s here, and not going to work…” she stammered over her words trying not to cry, “and you expect me to just act like everything’s fine? “ not succeeding she let a few tears escape down her cheeks.
“You have no idea what it’s like for me at school. Everyone always asking about you, wondering how we’re doing, telling me ‘Oh it must be tough to lose your Mom, huh?’ I’m tired of it,” She got up angrily, knocking over a few magazines from the coffee table and stormed into the other room. Jim let her go, deciding to wait a few moments before going after her. Sarah had always taken care of these things. He was there for fixing cuts and scrapes when she was learning to ride a bike, for helping her with her homework and kicking around soccer ball. Ever since she’d turned thirteen, she’d gotten moody, and he couldn’t help but curse whoever was listening for losing his wife at the worst possible time.
He cleared his throat, hoping Claire would turn around from the seat she’d taken at the island in the kitchen. When she didn’t move, he came up behind her, and took a seat next to her at the barstool, watching her pick at some cold lasagna. He propped his head up on his hand,
“You sick of that stuff yet?” He asked quietly, pushing a strand of hair over the top of her ear. She shook her head no, and placed another piece of pasta in her mouth.
“So, I guess if we’re never going to talk again, I should install some sort of messaging system between you I, huh?” He watched, hoping she’d break a smile.
“Maybe we could try Morse code…that might be kind of fun,” He smirked when he saw her lips were turning up,
“Oh! What if I installed some sort of system between our windows? I could put a tin can in your room, and one in mine, connect some yarn between them. How ‘bout it Claire? It’ll be ‘Old School’” he grinned, making air quotes.
“No Dad,” she looked over at him, her lips turned up in a smile
“So you’re going to talk to me now?” Jim raised an eyebrow.
“And…I’m sorry,” she glanced down at the floor. “it was just one class. English. And Mrs. Bradley kept asking about you, wondering when you were going to come back to work, and I just couldn’t take it Dad. All the kids whispering,” she looked back up at him, and he brought a hand out, to touch her chin.
“Listen, I get it. I really do, and I should be there myself, I know I should. Sitting around here is helping any, but Claire I…” Jim paused; he felt the urge coming back on to cry. Claire noticed he was starting to get uncomfortable, and stood up, moving to stand between his legs. She wrapped her arms around his neck, holding on to his sweater. “Me and your Mom, we’ve been together for thirteen year. I guess… I guess I just don’t know how to function without her.” he ran his hand along the back of her hair
“I get it Dad.” She looked up at him,
“Can we get ice cream?” she whispered. Jim looked up to the clock, it was only eleven.
“Sure, let’s go spoil lunch,” He nodded toward her plate. Claire
“Great, and um…Dad?” He looked back at her from the entryway.
“Yeah munchkin?” He slipped a hat on his head,
“I’m going to need new notebooks while we’re out,” She bit her lip, as she knelt down to put her tennis shoes on.
“What happened to the ones Mom bought you before school started?” Jim asked, opening the front door, and holding it for her. She got up from the stool in the mudroom,
“I kind of…threw them out when I was mad last week,” Jim rolled his eyes at her.
“Sure, we’ll go to Staples while we’re out,” He promised. She watched him for a moment, unsure of whether or not to say anything.
“Dad, Mom always got my folders at Target, they just have more, and usually they’re prettier than the boring ones-“
“I get it,” Jim smiled at her, “We’ll go to Target, besides, I should probably get some food while we’re there anyway, the fridge is sort of…empty,” Jim raised an eyebrow.
“Well, there is all that lasagna,” Claire suggested. Jim began to smirk, until she smiled back,
“How about you and I get out the cookbook and make something real for dinner tonight?” He offered.
“You want Filipino Chicken?” Jim asked, giving her a little nudge out the door.
“Will you grill it?” She asked, stepping out onto the pavement.
“You bet,” He shut the door behind him and locked it.
“I love you Dad,” the sun hit her forehead, illuminating her hair. Jim shook his head in disbelief. How had he managed to completely forget how good things were between him and his daughter?
“C’mon, if I beat you to the car, I don’t have to give you allowance this week,” He teased, and began to jog to the car, leaving his daughter giggling close behind him.