Jim shouldered open the door to the office. He was sure Pam wasn’t in yet because Roy’s truck wasn’t in the parking lot. So just please, please, please let Angela be away from her desk until he’d set everything down. Scanning the office, he quietly hurried around the reception counter. Good. Angela was bustling about the kitchen, making a pot of coffee. Jim smiled to himself and began to arrange the items on Pam’s desk.
He slowly set down the short, wide vase. No way was he going to splash water all over Pam’s desk and then have to rush to the kitchen to get paper towels. Good, good. No spillage. But, shit. The flowers had all flopped to one side when he carried them up from his car. Jim tried as best as he could to reproduce the nice arrangement that Mrs. Butler had made this morning. Well, even if he didn’t have his neighbor’s eye for arranging flowers, Pam would enjoy smelling them all day. Fresh cut lilacs and lily of the valley – he was positive she’d like them.
Jim balanced the lavender envelope against the clear glass, smugly congratulating himself that he’d thought to coordinate the card and the flowers. Most guys would never think of that.
The present itself, though … now that was a sorry mess. He had absolutely no talent for wrapping presents. He always bribed Larissa into wrapping his Christmas gifts for the whole family. Jim turned the box over in his hands. He did his best – really – but it was a lumpy, rectangular mass of wrinkled, creamy white paper. The paper looked so nice before he got his hands on it. Pam would definitely laugh at him when she saw how much tape he’d used on the damn thing. He shrugged. Making her laugh was part of his charm, wasn’t it? Whatever. It was done now. He set the rumpled package to the right of the vase. Now he just had to wait for the birthday girl to show up.
Jim strode to his desk, peeled the messenger bag from his shoulder and set it on his desk. He sneaked a casual glance in the direction of the kitchen. Perfect! Angela was just emerging from the ladies room – he was off the hook. Angela would only confront him if she actually caught him red-handed with the presents. Even if she smelled the flowers, he was sure she wouldn’t make a point of approaching him. She was too passive-aggressive for that.
Jim nudged his mouse and waited for the flicker and hum as his monitor sprang to life. Better to look busy when Angela passed his desk.
“You’re here earlier than usual today.”
Gotta love Angela. Could she manage any more condescension in six words? Jim shuffled some sales order forms on his desk and pulled out a black pen with a flourish. He refused to meet Angela’s eye, hoping it would make her move on more quickly.
“Yep. Lotta paperwork to finish today. Been a busy week. I’ve got a mountain of orders to process.”
Angela hovered near his desk for a moment but Jim resolutely maintained his attention on the mound of papers in his hands. With a distinct harrumph, she moved toward her desk. As she passed Pam’s desk, Angela suddenly stopped and cocked her head to one side. Leaning over the reception counter, she harrumphed again and glared at Jim, arching her eyebrow and narrowing her eyes in wordless accusation. But, as he’d predicted, she didn’t say a word.
Jesus. It was Pam’s birthday. She was his best friend. How could Angela find fault with his bringing her a present or two? Jim forced himself to smile sweetly at Angela before turning his attention back to the paperwork on his desk. With an angry toss of her head, Angela snorted and returned to her desk.
"Whatsa matter, babe?”
“Nothing. It’s 7:30 and look at this. We’re gonna be late.” Pam grimly watched the traffic inch along the North Scranton Expressway. But that was total bullshit. She couldn’t care less about getting in late. What did piss her off was that Roy totally forgot her birthday. Her fucking twenty-fifth birthday. No card. No birthday kiss. No offer to take her out for a birthday lunch. No present on the kitchen table. She always made sure there was at least one present waiting for Roy in the morning when he woke up on his birthday. She couldn’t believe he forgot her birthday.
Well, she wasn’t going to say anything about it. No way. She wasn’t going to beg for some attention on her birthday.
At least when she got to the office, Jim would have some kind of funny birthday card on her desk. He always got her the funniest birthday cards. And there would be cake. As annoying as Michael could be, she had to admit that he never let the Party Planning Committee miss anyone’s birthday. Well, except Toby’s. But she made sure that they never forgot Toby.
How the hell could Roy forget her birthday?
Jim combed his fingers through his hair. The little clock at the corner of his monitor said 7:47 AM. Pam was always on time, so she should arrive in about 13 minutes. Oh, man. He hoped she liked her gifts better than he did. Twenty-five. Today she was twenty-five years old. It was a big deal. He’d seen so many things he would have loved to get for her. At Kay Jewelers he’d seen the perfect necklace – really delicate, just like Pam – a thin white gold chain with a pink freshwater pearl every couple of inches. He could just envision it circling her neck. The color of pink would look beautiful on her. But it cost $149 – not a Best-Friend-Jim kind of present.
He’d thought about getting her an easel and acrylics and paintbrushes because, really, it still pissed him off that Roy had talked Pam out of that internship in New York. Jim was sure that Roy would never let Pam spend any serious money on art supplies. But, again – too expensive to be a buddy present. And, when he’d thought about it, he figured it might start an argument, too. He didn’t really want to get into the whole you have to take a chance on something, sometime, Pam thing on her birthday.
When he was walking through Boscov’s, he’d spied a simple sundress that would look gorgeous on Pam. It was full of pastel pink flowers. But a dress? No way. He could get away with a sweater maybe. But not a dress. Too personal. Only a boyfriend buys dresses for a girl. Come to think of it, that dress would’ve looked great with the necklace that he couldn’t buy her.
Everything Jim wanted to buy for Pam was an if-you-were-mine-I’d-do-anything-to-make-you-happy kind of present. The kind of present he wasn’t allowed to even think about getting her.
So he’d settled on a small Georgia O’Keefe print that he found at the Philadelphia Museum of Art; he thought Pam would like the light and the lines and the motion in it. He wanted something small enough that she could hang on the wall on the inside of the reception counter. He was pretty sure she didn’t exactly have free rein in decorating the apartment she shared with Roy. And, besides, he liked the idea that, after he left, she’d have something in her cube that would remind her of him.
Jim had been thinking more and more about asking for a transfer to another Dunder-Mifflin office. Things were really great between him and Pam lately. Really great. All day long it felt like she was his. But every day, at five o’clock, he felt a dull ache as he watched her step up into that truck. He ached for both of them. He wanted her so much. He didn’t want his time with Pam to end with a metaphorical punch of the clock. He wanted to do things for her, and with her, and to her. Instead he had to watch her go home with Roy – who apparently was happiest when Pam didn’t bother him with her conversation. A little part of Jim died five nights a week.
During the day, while he was with her, he could keep those thoughts at bay. But, when he went home, well that was another story. He knew there was no way he could keep working with her after she became Pam Anderson. And he’d procrastinated too long to be confident that he could find another job before June 10th. But the company would probably be willing to transfer him to another office. He knew there were openings in Nashua and Utica. Maybe something closer would open up in the next few weeks. With any luck, he’d be gone by June 10th. Of course, for that to happen, he’d have to get off his ass and actually call Jan.
So he’d gotten this print at the museum and taken it to Michael’s Crafts to have it framed so Pam could keep it at her desk. With what he’d paid for the print, the mat and the frame, it was almost as expensive as all the gifts he wanted but couldn’t get. But he could probably pass it off as a pre-framed piece and Pam would never have any idea how much it had cost him. He just hoped to God he was right about her taste, because he’d hate to have spent $130 on something she didn’t like.
Actually, he didn’t give a rat’s ass about the money. He just wanted to give Pam a gift that she would love. She deserved that – and he wanted to be the one to give it to her. Roy sure as hell never went out of his way to do anything that was all about Pam. Anything at all. So, Jim wanted to make her feel how special, how important she was – to him, anyway. It was something he always wanted to do – and, of course, he couldn’t do. He thought that her twenty-fifth birthday might just be his one chance to make a sort of grand gesture – on a small scale. A mini grand gesture. His excuse would be – it’s a big birthday. Still, as much as he wanted to, he knew that buying anything that screamed I love you was out of the question.
So, as he’d been thinking earlier, now he just had to wait for the birthday girl to show up.
The more Jim thought about it, the less he liked the idea of watching Pam open the card and gift. What if she hated Georgia O’Keefe? They’d never actually had a conversation about artists or anything. He’d just assumed that he’d recognize things that Pam would like. He could be totally wrong, though. Crap. It was too much pressure all around.
The clock said 7:58 AM. Jim felt a sudden urge to make a fresh pot of coffee.
Pam shoved the door open and marched into the office. The traffic had opened up just in time. If she’d had to spend another twenty minutes in that truck with Roy, she was sure she’d have reached across the seat to choke him.
She strode to her desk, ready to fling her purse into her drawer, and stopped dead at the sight of the bouquet sitting in front of her monitor. Lilacs and lily of the valley. Pam closed her eyes and breathed in deeply. Oh, that was beautiful.
She sank into her seat and gently fingered the delicate lilac blossoms and the little velvety white bells of the lily of the valley. A pale lilac envelope leaned against the squat vase. And to the right of the vase was a misshapen and bedraggled package. She smiled quietly as she picked it up to examine it. The wrapping paper was a disaster – wrinkled and lumpy and covered with about a yard of scotch tape. Her eyes twinkled in merriment as she traced the tape and the wrinkles. Such a guy wrapping job. She loved it.
Pam stood to scan the office for Jim. No sign of him – he must be in the men’s room. She set the gift back on the desk. She could wait till Jim was at the desk to open it. Her mom didn’t raise her in a barn, after all. But she’d check out the card. She could use a good laugh this morning.
She ran her finger under the lip of the envelope and slipped it open. As she pulled out the card, she flipped it toward the front to see the cartoon of dancing cows or acrobatic babies or whatever Jim found this year. But the card was a handmade collage, a lilac bouquet made from swatches of pastel rag paper. Beautiful, not funny at all.
She opened the card. No preprinted greeting, just a note in Jim’s neat hand.
May 5, 2006
No cheap laughs this year. (I hope you’re not disappointed!) I happen to know that today is your twenty-fifth birthday. Pretty big deal, not your run of the mill birthday, you know. So I got you this spiffy handmade card instead of the usual cows, babies, aliens and rednecks. I’ve even decided to spare you the singing this year. We both know it’s never pretty. This year’s birthday celebration is going to be a classy affair all the way around.
So, here’s your present. It’s not a big thing but I think you’ll like it. I hope you’ll like it, anyway, because it would be kind of hard to return. (I got it at the Philadelphia Art Museum when I went to a Phillies game last month. I looked at everything they had – and you know how much I like shopping, so there’s a present right there! I wanted to find something that was small enough to fit into the space in your cubicle. This one really made me think of you. Not sure why. But I hope I was right.
AND I’m taking you to lunch today. Viewmont Diner, up in Dickson City. And you know what that means! You only turn 25 once, Pam. I think it’s an event that definitely calls for a big piece of turtle cheesecake. We have 12:00 reservations at the best table in the house. You remember – that booth in the back that’s far enough from the kitchen that you can’t hear the cooks yelling at the waitresses to pick up their orders.
So anyway, Beesly, HAPPY BIRTHDAY!
Jim bit his lower lip as he stood at the doorway to the kitchen, watching nervously as Pam read her card. She suddenly threw her head back in laughter and looked up at the kitchen for him. She caught his eye and a broad, silly grin spread over both of their faces as Pam began to frantically wave him into the office. Jim glanced over his left shoulder as if looking for someone behind him.
Pam shook her head and pointed her finger at him. Again, Jim glanced about him and motioned to himself. Me?
Pam nodded slowly and beckoned him with the curl of a finger. Jim took a shaky breath and pushed his way through the door. Jesus, this girl had no idea the effect she had on him. He sauntered slowly toward the reception desk.
“Come on!” Pam whispered urgently. “Hurry!”
“What’s the rush, Beesly?” Jim teased as he hesitated by his desk.
“I hate you. Just get up here.”
“So demanding. Are you going to be this pushy all day today?”
“Stuff it! I’ve been waiting patiently for you so I can open my present.”
“Oh, well. That is serious. Commence with the unwrapping, by all means.”
Jim leaned his elbows against the reception counter, smiling in anticipation as Pam picked up the lumpy package and shook it gently.
“Heckuva wrap job, Halpert!”
Jim playfully lunged over the counter and grabbed the package from Pam’s hands. “Nice manners, Pam. Your mom would be ashamed. Well, since you don’t approve, maybe I’ll just give this to someone who’s not so picky about the wrap job. My mom always taught me not to criticize gifts. Sheesh, Beesly.”
Jim tucked the box under his arm and turned toward his desk.
“No!” Pam laughed as she wheeled around the desk and pulled on Jim’s arm. “I’ll stop. No more criticizing. I promise!” Pam’s eyes twinkled merrily as she crossed her heart.
“Okay, Pam,” Jim said as he grudgingly handed the box back to her. “Not a word about the tape, Pamela, or I’ll take it back for good!”
God, she looked adorable as she exaggerated the motions of cutting open the package and squeezing her lips sealed. She could barely swallow her laughter.
Jim could feel his heart pounding as Pam opened the box and lifted the frame from the crinkling tissue paper. Please let her like it. Please let her like it. Oh, fuck, she’s disappointed.
Jim extended his hand toward the frame. “You don’t like it. I’m sorry. I can take it back and try to find you something better.”
“Oh, no!” Pam clutched the frame to her chest. “No. I love it.”
“C’mon, Pam,” Jim shrugged a shoulder. “You don’t have to do that.”
Jim nodded glumly.
“Oh, I’m not faking it. Not at all, Jim. This was my favorite painting in the whole exhibit. How did you know? Did you talk to Penny?”
“Um, no, Pam. I don’t even know your sister’s number. I was just lucky, I guess.”
Pam stroked the trees in the foreground of the painting, her voice full of wonder. “It was my favorite painting in the whole show.” Hugging the frame to her chest, Pam said, “I love it.”
Jim cocked his head quizzically. “Then why didn’t you buy it?”
Pam tilted the frame and traced the mat around the print. “Because I knew –” she paused as she bit her lip. “Because I looked around the museum shop but I never was able to find it.”
Pam leaned back in the booth, giddily surveying the carnage before her. She always had the best time when she was with Jim. The drive over was one silly game after another. Jim sang Happy Birthday to her in the persona of each of their coworkers. They plotted their next prank against Dwight. She’d forgotten how much she used to enjoy the drive to the Viewmont. Twenty minutes alone with Jim all to herself. There was no one – no one – who could make her laugh like he did.
Maggie remembered her, which was pretty cool since it had been over a year since they’d gone to lunch at the diner. The turtle cheesecake was always the main draw for her. Once they stopped carrying it, Pam had lost her enthusiasm for the diner. There were other places where she and Jim could go for lunch when they needed to escape from the office.
And Maggie had led them straight back to “their table.” They always said they liked the back booth because it was far away from the noise of the kitchen. But both of them knew it was because they could be at their silliest and no one would be in earshot to make them feel self-conscious.
When they approached the table, Pam noticed six small lumpy packages aligned neatly across the table. Jim told her to open them from left to right. They were all little figurines or trinkets somehow related to her Desert Island Top Five Movies. How did he even think of things like this?
They talked and laughed their way through the whole lunch. And, sure enough, Maggie brought over a big slice of turtle cheesecake with two forks. It was delicious. Jim didn’t want to take any but Pam insisted on feeding him a few bites. And that was the moment when things got weird – tense and charged. Every once in a while Pam forgot herself. She'd let him see how she basked in his attentions and something would shift and he suddenly wasn’t just her best buddy, Jim. She could tell he was reading things into it and she didn’t want to give him the wrong idea.
“Here, Pam, I packed another piece of cheesecake for you to take home.”
The voice to her left startled Pam from her rumination.
“Oh, my gosh! Thanks, Maggie.”
“Don’t thank me. Thank Jim – he bought the whole cheesecake.”
“The whole thing? Is he taking the rest of it home?” Pam held out the Styrofoam box to Maggie. “Should he have this piece?”
“No, no. He’s not taking any of it home. He wanted you to have turtle cheesecake for your birthday and we don’t carry it anymore.”
“He told me you have it once in a while now.”
“Nope. We don't. So, if he asks, you just tell him that I gave you an extra piece as a birthday present.”
“Maggie, why are you telling me all this?”
“Because I think someone should know when a friend goes above and beyond like this.” Maggie made a sweeping gesture over the table, strewn with toys and dessert plates.
“So. Are you still with that other guy?”
“Roy?” Pam glanced down at the table. “Yeah. We’re, um, we’re getting married in June.”
“That Roy must be pretty special. He must treat you really well for you to pass on all this. From someone who looks like that.” Maggie nodded in Jim’s direction as he emerged from the men’s room. “Well, I just wanted to make sure you’re still just friends. ‘Cause I know a girl who’d work really hard to make him happy. Thanks.” Maggie patted Pam’s shoulder as she turned away from the table and strode briskly toward Jim.
“Hey there, good lookin’!” Maggie tore the top sheet from her order pad, folded it neatly in half and tucked it daintily into Jim’s breast pocket. “Today’s number is Melissa.”
Jim laughed. “Not today, Maggie. Pam’s watching. She’s gonna think you’re hitting on me.”
“Of course she is! And no she won’t. I told her what I’m doing.”
“You told her you were gonna give me a girl’s number?”
“Pretty much, yeah.”
“You’ll thank me later. She doesn’t deserve you, though. You know that, right? You really should call one of these girls. I guarantee you, any one of my daughter’s friends would treat you better than this.”
“Maggie – she treats me fine. She’s my best friend.”
“Don’t even go there, Jim. No one goes to these lengths for a friend. Look at that table. You’d never do that for Mark or Dave. And you’re here with them every Saturday morning.”
“Look, Maggie, I’ve got to get back.”
Jim followed Pam into the elevator feeling content and self-satisfied. The lunch had gone great and Pam got a kick out of all her presents. Things got a little out of hand when she insisted on alternating bites of that damn turtle cheesecake. She was feeding him for Christ’s sake. In an instant, the mood shifted from playful to provocative. Arousing. It was more than he could handle and he’d fled to the men’s room until it passed.
But he’d recovered nicely. He was good at that. Expert. And he’d managed to rekindle the playful vibe they’d had going the rest of the morning. Things had turned serious again, just for a moment, on the ride back. She’d turned to him as they sat at a traffic light and thanked him for making her birthday so special. I don’t think Roy even remembers it’s my birthday, to tell you the truth. He'd felt so many things as she said that. He hated to admit it but he’d felt gleeful first. He relished any chance he had to make Roy look bad. But Pam sounded so wounded that he immediately felt guilty and sorry for her. He’d said something stupid like – Well, never fear, Beesly. I will never pass up the opportunity to give you cheesy gifts. It worked though, whatever he’d said. She smiled and things were okay for the rest of the ride back to the office.
Jim was pretty pleased with himself that he was the one making Pam’s 25th birthday a special day for her. It made him feel important to her – and he liked that. Kind of a lot.
He held the door to the office open for Pam and followed her toward her desk. She suddenly gasped and stopped in her tracks. There on the counter was a huge – fucking HUGE – flower arrangement. And, he had to admit, it was beautiful. White calla lilies interspersed with pink roses. Classier than he would’ve expected from Roy.
Jim’s stomach fell as Pam clapped, actually clapped, and sighed in a relieved tone, “He remembered.”
She removed the little envelope from the arrangement and extracted the gift card.
Hey, Babe! Happy Birthday!
Put on your best dress tonight because we have reservations at the French Manor! You only turn 25 once and we’re doing it right.
Pam turned to Jim. “I feel so bad that I thought he forgot. These are my favorite flowers. I love calla lilies. And that’s the color rose that Roy gave me for our senior prom.”
Jim tried to feel happy for her. Really, he did. But he spent most of the afternoon feeling like the cheesecake just didn’t agree with him.
Pam padded through the quiet apartment. Roy was at his Monday night out with the guys. Chances were fifty fifty whether he’d come home. They watched Monday Night Football during the season; during the rest of the year, it was poker night. Either way, a lot of beer was involved. Pam had grown tired of staying up all night, worrying that Roy’d been in an accident. He finally agreed to just stay at Darryl’s whenever he was too drunk to drive.
Pam enjoyed her Monday nights alone, actually. She could draw, paint, have a long hot bath with a good book, knit – even though she’d never admit that one to her friends. Too much like a little old lady.
She pulled the open bottle of pinot grigio from the fridge and poured herself a glass. At some point, she really should try another kind of wine. Or at least a different brand. She swished the bottle a bit, peering at its contents. Not much left, may as well take the whole damn bottle with her. She had the feeling she was going to need a good buzz tonight. Wallowing in her disappointment was never a good idea – but that rarely stopped her.
Pam took a long draw on the glass of wine, like she was drinking a Bud Light or something. She sank down on the sofa and began to finger the objects on the coffee table before her. The right side of the table was crowded with the flowers Jim had cut for her and the seven – seven! – birthday gifts he’d given her. The flowers were wilting, but still fragrant.
Pam’s eyes drifted closed as she tilted her head back, drinking in the scent of the flowers, remembering. “You’d love Mrs. Butler’s back yard. She’s got flowers everywhere – all these mounds of color. She’s really great. She says I should have you over sometime so you can paint it. Anyway, she suggested that I pick some for you. Let me have the run of the yard and pick anything I wanted.” A smile crept over her face as she tried to imagine Jim wandering through his neighbor’s back yard, examining all the flowers with a critical eye.
She set the flowers back on the table and idly picked up the Beany Baby. Punxatawny Phil. When she’d asked him how he’d figured out her favorite movie, Jim had just smiled enigmatically. After she pressed him about it, he simply said, “Oh, I think I know you pretty well, Pam. That was an easy call.”
And this little print. How did he do that? The Philadelphia Museum gift shop was pretty damn big. Why did he choose this one thing? “I don’t know. I thought you’d like the light? And the colors?” He’d said it like a question. She couldn’t tell if he was being evasive or if he just knew at some deep level and couldn’t put into words what had drawn him to that print. Either way, he was dead on right. It was the light in the foreground that she loved most about the painting. And the interplay of the golden hues against the intense black details. But how did he know?
Pam turned her forlorn gaze to the left side of the coffee table. Roy’s flowers stood tall and crisp. The pink roses had fully bloomed and completely filled the gaps between the calla lilies. The arrangement was gorgeous. At dinner she’d complimented Roy on his choice of flowers. “Oh, is that what the florist picked, babe? That’s really great! I knew they’d do a good job.”
The only other item on the left side of the table was a $150 Boscov’s gift card. He’d pulled the card from the inside pocket of his jacket and pushed it over the linen tablecloth toward her. She was left speechless when she’d opened the greeting card and the gift card fell out. She’d picked it up, stunned, and just stared at Roy silently for a moment. He beamed, “Yeah, I know it’s a lot, Pam. But I want you to get yourself something really nice for your birthday. You end up returning half the stuff I give you, anyway. So this way, you’ll have something you really want, you know?”
Pam turned the gift card over in her hand. Her fiancé didn’t know what to get her, so he gave her a fucking gift card so she could buy her own 25th birthday present? Why couldn’t he be more like Jim?
Okay, that wasn’t fair. Not the same guy at all; she knew that. Roy did his best. It wasn’t his fault that she never told him that she didn’t like heavy French food. And she did return half the gifts he gave her. They either didn’t fit, or she already had one, or they were the wrong color…
But still. She’d been with the guy for like a third of her life and he didn’t know what to buy her? That was pretty stunning if she thought about it. They’d started going steady when she was seventeen and lived together since she was twenty-two. And he didn’t know what to buy her.
With an angry flick of the wrist, Pam tossed the plastic card back onto the coffee table and turned her attention back to the arrangement of little figurines on the right side of the table. Jim had taken such care to make her birthday perfect. And he'd spent a fortune on her. She knew that. That print wasn’t some inexpensive preframed piece he got at the museum. He bought the print and paid a lot to have it nicely framed. She knew because she’d asked if “Lake George, Autumn” was available in a frame. It wasn’t. And she knew Roy would never go for what it would cost to have it custom framed, which was the only option since it wasn’t a standard size. So, she’d forlornly decided to forego buying the only thing she really wanted at the museum shop.
Maggie said Jim bought the whole turtle cheesecake. Even if she gave it to him at cost, it was probably thirty bucks or so. And who knew how much it had cost him – both in time and money – to find all those mementos of her desert island movies.
She picked up the water globe and shook it, watching the snow slowly drift over the corpse and the kneeling figure of Chief Gunderson. Just like the movie poster. Who the hell even knew there was such a thing as a Fargo water globe?
Setting down the globe, Pam picked up the miniature topiary and the drugged out little smiley face button. Her mind drifted back eight months.
“Um, Fargo, um, Edward Scissorhands, Dazed and Confused...”
“Ooh, definitely in my top five.”
“Yes. In my top three, so suck it.”
Damn! He’d even given her the presents in the right order! Pam set down the trinkets and took a sip of wine. Roy probably couldn’t remember what she told him last night, much less something trivial that she said eight months ago. She took a hard look at the glass of wine in her hand, gulped down the remainder and poured out the rest of the bottle.
Setting the wine glass on the coffee table, she picked up the diamond shaped paperweight and the little sword fighting Wesley figurine. She turned the crystal diamond over in her hands. The facets sparkled in the light. She was sure she’d never mentioned that her favorite moment in the movie was when Claire takes off her diamond earring and gives it to Bender as a memento of the connection they made on that day in detention.
“Breakfast Club. Um... The Princess Bride and...”
“Okay that's five.”
“No, my all time favorite!”
“Pam, play by the rules.”
“All time favorite.”
“Play by the rules. Dwight. All time favorite movie.”
And there it was. End of the game and she never told him that she loved Groundhog Day more than any other movie. Could watch it over and over and never get tired of it.
She gently grasped the little Beany Baby and poked its wiry, honey colored fur with her index finger. She loved watching Phil Connors remake himself and work, work, work until he finally succeeded in making Rita fall in love with him. The movie was so funny but so full of angst, too, because of the purgatory that Phil was in. Loving being with Rita every day but dying inside because every day was February 2nd. Groundhog Day over and over, never moving forward because Rita couldn’t see the man he’d become, couldn’t see the love he offered her.
A tear slipped down Pam’s cheek. She couldn’t pretend anymore that she didn’t notice, didn’t understand that Jim was living in that exact same purgatory. She knew he loved being with her every day. Well, five days a week. Jesus! Just say it. She knew that he loved her. He had the most beautiful, expressive face. He thought he hid his feelings well but, no. He was transparent, totally transparent. She could see love and hope and enjoyment in his eyes when he spoke to her. She also could see fleeting moments of pain and fear and frustration. Jim never wanted her to see those emotions so he recovered quickly – or walked briskly away – whenever she was careless with his feelings. Which, she had to admit, was all too often lately. Don't take this the wrong way, but... you should go for that job. Swaying isn’t dancing. Well, I mean, it's an iPod. You look like you have something really important to say and you just can't for some reason. Come on, you can tell me. Jim, you can tell me anything.
Pam began to cry. Why could she just not bring herself to leave a man who didn’t get her? Who, after eight years, couldn’t think of a single meaningful gift to give her? Who didn’t remember that she hated rich food? Who damn dear once a week spent an all nighter drinking with his buddies, leaving her home alone? When there was this wonderful – incredible – guy who knew her like he knew himself and offered her all he was and everything he had. Who spent every day, waiting to wake up and find that it was February 3rd. Why could she just not do this?
Jim bustled about the house, grabbing Mark’s gift and the oversize Coleman cooler. He hadn’t told Kathy he’d come early to help her set up the party but, from what Mark said, he knew she was never ready when the first guests showed up – so, she’d appreciate the help. He knew for a fact that she never bought enough beer or ice, so he’d stop for those things on the way to her house.
He just had to get the hell out of the house before he went out of his mind. Too much thinking about things he could do nothing about. He must’ve really fucked up with Pam’s birthday. When she came in on Monday, she was tense and withdrawn. Really withdrawn – she hardly spoke to him all week. And she’d taken her gifts home on Friday and never brought them back to the office. Not one. For all he knew, she took them home and chucked them all in the trash.
Thursday and Friday she called in sick. So Jim had absolutely no idea what the fuck was going on. Yeah, he did. It was too much when he gave her all that crap. He’d been so determined to show Pam how well he knew her, how much attention he paid to her. It was kind of disgusting, actually, how he’d gloated to himself when Pam confessed that she thought Roy had forgotten her birthday. What kind of friend does that?
Jim angrily threw the gift in the cooler, grabbed his keys from the hook in the foyer, and backed out the front door.
“What the –”
Jim whirled about. “Pam?”
Pam had slipped one foot out of its sandal, using it to rub the foot he’d tromped on a moment earlier. Her face was the pinkest he’d ever seen it. She winced as she gingerly massaged the toes of her left foot. Christ! He’d stepped on her with his full weight. He probably broke her toe or something. He hurriedly set down the cooler and reached toward Pam, stopping his hand inches from her arm.
“Oh God, Pam! I am so sorry! Do you – You think anything’s broken?”
Pam looked as mortified as he felt. “Um, no, I don’t think so. I mean, I can stand on it, right?”
“Oh. Okay. Good.”
Jim shifted his weight from one foot to the other, waiting for Pam to say something. But she didn’t. She just stood there, looking miserable, staring intently at his legs. He finally looked down – all the way to his shoes – to see if there was something on them. No. Nothing there.
Pam looked tense and uncomfortable. Standing with her feet firmly rooted, she swished her skirt as she fingered the handles of a large gift bag that hung in front of her. It crinkled rhythmically as she bumped it with the left knee, then the right, then the left – over and over. It was kind of mesmerizing.
Jim’s eyes swept up from the gift bag. His heart began to beat faster as he took her in. Holy hell, she looked gorgeous. Her dress was a shade of blue that looked beautiful on her. It was all sort of gathered and flowy. And the top of it cut in at the shoulders, leaving them exposed. He wedged his hands deep into his pockets to keep them from reaching out to brush her shoulders and arms.
Pam was still staring mutely at his feet, so he let his gaze drift up to her face. She was wearing makeup – not that she needed it – and her hair was swept up into a high ponytail.
Jim had never seen Pam look so beautiful. He always thought she looked pretty but this? This was beautiful on a whole new level. He’d never seen Pam look this – glamorous, somehow. And it made him suddenly self-conscious, feeling thoroughly underdressed as he stood on his stoop in a T-shirt and shorts.
What was Pam even doing here? She’d hardly spoken to him in a week and now this? Was all this effort for him? Don’t be stupid. She was probably on her way somewhere else. Meeting Roy, most likely. Was this the way she always looked when they went out? Lucky bastard.
Jim cleared his throat, still waiting.
“So, Pam, what –”
“I, um –”
“Oh, sorry. You go.”
“No. You, um, you go.”
“No. Nothing, really. Just –” Why was this so hard? “Why are you here?”
Pam looked stricken, like he’d slapped her or something. Fuck! He needed to think of something funny. Something to break the tension. But she was standing there looking so beautiful and so broken and his brain was just on overload. Nothing would come. He stared into Pam’s eyes, silently pleading for her to just go on.
Pam flushed all the way to her neck.
“You look, um, really pretty. Are you on your way somewhere?”
Pam snapped out of her reverie. “No. But—” she gestured to the cooler sitting on the ground between them “—you are. I should get going.”
Pam began to turn toward the street.
Pam turned to face Jim expectantly.
Keep her here. Just keep her here.
“What’s in the bag?” he said, pointing to the gift bag that still bounced from knee to knee.
“Oh.” Pam hesitated. He could see her mind working feverishly to concoct some sort of story. But her brain must have been as overtaxed as his, because he could see she was coming up as empty as he had. She finally sighed and extended the bag toward him. “I brought this for you. Happy Birthday.”
What the hell did that even mean? He knew Pam knew his birthday wasn’t in May.
“Um, Pam? My birthday’s not for months.”
“I know that, Jim. October 17th. This is from last year.”
“You gave me a present. You gave me Raising Arizona.”
“That wasn’t what I wanted to give you. This was.”
Jim tilted his head toward Pam with a questioning quirk of his eyebrow.
“Just open it.”
She wanted him to open a present out here on his doorstep? This whole conversation was getting more awkward by the minute.
“Out here on my doorstep? How about we go inside for a minute?” Jim unlocked the door and held it open for Pam. As she passed him, Jim caught the scent of her perfume. Pam never wore perfume. He always wondered what kind she’d wear. This was flowery but not too sweet. He liked it.
And holy mother of God, the dress was a halter. Pam’s whole back was exposed. There was absolutely no way she was wearing a bra under that thing. His gaze traveled down to her sandals. Her painted toenails peeked out naked from the straps. So. No pantyhose, either. She probably wasn’t wearing a damn thing under that dress except a pair of underwear. He wondered what kind of underwear she preferred.
Jim eyed the fabric under her ponytail. Just a couple of buttons. And the skirt had a zipper down the back. He imagined kissing the hell out of her as he freed her hair from that rubber band and slid that zipper down and unbuttoned those two little buttons. The fabric would slide down over her hips and pool at her feet and she’d look like that goddamn Birth of Venus painting. Except better. Because she was Pam.
“Oh!” He gestured down the hallway toward the living room. “After you.” As he walked behind her, he frantically tried to rearrange himself so it wouldn’t be so obvious that he was fucking her brains out in his head.
Pam entered the living room and stood by the mantel with her hands folded. She still looked agitated, hands clutching the bag with her thumbs circling about each other.
“Pam, relax. Have a seat.” He hoped he sounded more relaxed than he felt. With a flourish, Jim sat down on the sofa and gestured beside him.
“Okay.” Pam sat so close to him that their knees bumped, sending a shiver up Jim’s spine. “Now will you open it? Please?”
He swallowed hard. Take a breath. Don’t let the voice crack. “So impatient today! Fine.” Jim turned to the bag which he’d set on the floor before him and removed the tissue paper from the top. He reached into the bag and withdrew an ivory sweater. “A fisherman knit sweater? I’ve always wanted one of these! Where did you get it?”
“You really like it?”
“Absolutely. It’s beautiful.”
Pam smiled in relief. “I made it.”
Holy shit! She made this for him? Jim spread the sweater in his lap and slowly traced the pattern. It was intricate and – as far as he could see, anyway – the stitches were perfect. It must’ve taken her forever. He grinned giddily. “Pam, this is magnificent! You made this? For me? Really?”
Pam nodded solemnly with a wide, proud smile.
Jim abruptly stood and pulled the sweater over his head. He flexed lightly, stroked the length of his left arm, ran his fingers admiringly along the finished edge at his hips.
“It fits me perfectly! How did you do that?”
Pam blushed and her eyes glistened, but she said nothing.
“Wait. You said that you made this for me last year. Why didn’t you give it to me then?”
Pam handed him a birthday card. “It’s all in here.”
“I can’t believe you made this for me.” Smiling at Pam, Jim slipped his finger under the lip of the envelope to tear it open. He pulled the card out of the envelope and laughed as he began to read aloud, “Happy Belated Birthday, Jim. I’m only about 200 days late, so there’s something.”
Pam suddenly rested her hand on Jim’s arm. “Stop. Is it okay if I just go sit out in your back yard until you’re finished?” All at once, her face was full of apprehension. “I thought I could watch you read this. But I can’t. You can come and get me when you want?”
“Um, sure, Pam.” Jim watched her scurry through the sliding glass door to his back porch. She glanced backward and found Jim watching her. She bit her lower lip as she motioned like she was opening a card. She mouthed, “Read!”
Jim smiled and mouthed back, “Fine.” Leaning against the mantel, he turned his attention back to the card in his hand.
Happy Belated Birthday, Jim. I’m only about 200 days late, so there’s something.
You know I’m not good at saying how I feel, so I’m writing this out. Four times now – no kidding! I really hope I get it right this time because my hand’s starting to cramp! A few weeks ago, you told me, “You have to take a chance on something, sometime, Pam.” Well I am now. I’m taking a chance on a lot of things, actually. I’m telling you a lot of things here that I never, ever thought I would say. So … Here goes …
Do you remember last spring when Phyllis spent her breaks for weeks and weeks making a fisherman knit sweater for Bob Vance? One day you told this story about your college girlfriend. You told us that she liked to knit and you asked her to make you a fisherman knit sweater. She said they take too long, so you should just go ahead and buy one. But you told her you wanted to have people say, “Cool sweater, man!” so you could tell them that your girlfriend made it for you. You said that you teased her about it over and over. Told her that if she really loved you, she’d knit you that sweater. But you broke up at the end of the semester and she never did make it for you. You were laughing when you told us the story, so I guess it didn’t bother you too much.
But, after I heard that story, I kept thinking I wanted to make you that fisherman knit sweater. So I bought good Aran wool yarn – because I planned to make you a sweater so beautiful that strangers would ask where you got it. And, of course, you’d proudly tell them that your best friend made it for you. I worked on it every week when Roy went out for his poker game with the guys. I finished it in August and I was so proud of how well it came out. I knew you’d be surprised – you don’t even know that I knit, do you?
But when it came time to give it to you last October, I chickened out. I was afraid you’d leap to the wrong conclusion about my making it for you. You know, since you told us that story. And I didn’t want you to get the wrong idea, so I never gave you the sweater. But I wanted to! I could just see you wearing it on a chilly day, with your cheeks flushed and your eyes laughing and those messy little wings your hair makes right above the collar. Yeah, I thought you’d look pretty handsome in it!
So you’re probably wondering why I’m giving you this sweater now.
Last week, you gave me the best birthday presents! I couldn’t believe how much effort you put into making the day perfect for me. I love, love, LOVE my Georgia O’Keefe print! Of all the things they had in that store, you got me the one thing I most wanted. How did you do that?
All those little toys to match my Desert Island Top Five Movies? Perfect! And how did you know that my favorite movie of all time is Groundhog Day? Sometimes it kind of freaks me out that do you know me so well!
I loved the flowers you cut for me. They smelled beautiful all weekend.
And Maggie squealed on you. (When you were in the bathroom.) She told me that you bought a whole turtle cheesecake because they don’t carry it anymore and you wanted me to have my slice. She said “That Roy must be pretty special. He must treat you really well for you to pass on all this. From someone who looks like that.” (Maggie’s words exactly.)
Well, turns out Roy had forgotten about my birthday until my mom reminded him a few weeks ago. And those beautiful flowers I was so excited about? The calla lilies and the roses from my prom? He didn’t actually pick them out. He just called a florist and told them how much he wanted to spend. The place where he took me to dinner was so fancy that we were both uncomfortable for the whole dinner. And he didn’t know what to give me, so he got a $150 Boscov’s gift card.
For my 25th birthday, he wanted me to buy my own damn present.
I don’t want to sound materialistic. It’s not really about the gifts. But – I've been with the man for eight years and he didn’t know what to get me. No clue. To tell you the truth, I think he hardly thought about it. But you gave me perfect, perfect gifts. You made me feel like the most special person in the world. And this isn’t the only time you’ve done that. At Christmas, my teapot was perfect, too. I love tea but it never occurred to me to buy a teapot for work. And it was even better because you’d stuffed it with all those reminders of times we’ve laughed together.
Because you make me laugh all the time! Last week, that day when I jinxed you was so much fun! Watching you tear up over your relative who “got caught up in the world of drugs,” leaving you stuck with Kelly on a rant, passing you phone calls you couldn’t answer … I couldn’t believe you went along with the whole thing! Such a good sport. But I was going nuts because you weren’t talking to me. It made me antsy all over to see you and not talk to you all day. I needed to hear your voice. I love your voice. I kind of get lost in it sometimes. Well, a lot of times.
I’ve never felt that way about Roy. I never wanted him to talk so I could just listen. You know, we could go for whole evenings and not talk. At all. Sometimes when I’d start to tell him about my day at work he’d cut me right off if he wasn’t in the mood. And, even when he listened, a lot of times it felt like he was just humoring me.
You’ve never make me feel that way. Ever.
I have to admit something. Two weeks ago, at Michael’s birthday at the ice skating rink, I was faking it. I do know how to skate. I just wanted you to hold my hand and stay close to me. I was feeling all sentimental because I loved that you were willing to go to Wal-Mart with me and spend thirty bucks of your own money to get all those gifts for Kevin. You are so kind to everyone. I bet you’d even do something nice for Dwight if he needed it!
Oh, and that Maggie is something. I’m sure she knew exactly what she was doing when she gave you that girl’s phone number right in front of me. It ticked me off. I didn’t want to think about it at the time but I sure thought about it this week. All week. I was jealous. Really jealous. Way more possessive than someone should feel about a guy she’s best friends with.
Can you tell I’ve been thinking a lot lately? This week I finally let myself realize that you wouldn’t be getting the “wrong idea” if you came to the conclusion I was afraid of last October. I did make that sweater because I really loved you. I do really love you. And I think you love me, too. Oh my God, I hope so, anyway.
So, like I said at the beginning of this letter, I’m taking all my chances now. There’s no ring on my hand – yes, you can stop and look! – and I have my own apartment. That’s where I’ve been the last few days. My parents & Penny & Isabel took off on Thursday and Friday to help me move. I spent yesterday calling the caterer and the florist and the minister and everyone else I needed to notify that we won’t be needing their services on June 10th. (I haven’t called the band yet. I thought you should know before Kevin!)
So I’m pretty much scared shitless right now and I don’t know exactly what’s in my future. But I really hope that you’ll want to be part of it.
P.S. I think this is the longest letter I’ve ever written but I think I finally got it right this time. As close as I’m going to get, anyway. Fifth time’s the charm! So I’m putting this into an envelope and heading right over to your house before I chicken out. I hope you’re home!
Jim combed his fingers through his hair. Was this for real? He’d so convinced himself that he would never have a chance with Pam that he could hardly absorb everything she’d written. He sidestepped over to a chair and sank heavily into it. He had to read this again.
Jim read the letter straight through two more times. Then he read it once more and let himself linger over certain passages.
I’m telling you a lot of things here that I never, ever thought I would say. … But you gave me perfect, perfect gifts. You made me feel like the most special person in the world. … I needed to hear your voice. I love your voice. I kind of get lost in it sometimes. Well, a lot of times. … I do know how to skate. I just wanted you to hold my hand and stay close to me. … All week. I was jealous. Really jealous. … I did make that sweater because I really loved you. I do really love you. And I think you love me, too. Oh my God, I hope so, anyway. … There’s no ring on my hand – yes, you can stop and look! – and I have my own apartment. … So I’m pretty much scared shitless right now and I don’t know exactly what’s in my future. But I really hope that you’ll want to be part of it.
Wow. She did love him. He’d been right all along. He knew she felt it, too. And now she was right outside – waiting for him to tell her that he wanted to be part of her future.
Jim shakily stood up and pushed the sliding glass door open to step out to the back porch. Pam paced the far end of the yard, biting at her thumbnail. Jim approached her quietly, almost reverently. As he drew near, he could hear her sniffle softly.
Pam turned to him, her eyes full of tears. “I misinterpreted, didn’t I?”
“Oh.” Jim shook his head and opened his arms to her. Pam took a step toward him and he wrapped himself around her, burying his nose in her hair, tenderly stroking the soft skin of her back. He held her until he sensed that her tears subsided and then he stepped back. His hands made their way to Pam’s neck; his thumbs skimmed along her jaw line and gently pressed upward, tilting her face toward his. He cradled her face in his large hands, silently brushing away her tears with his thumbs. He smiled and dipped down to graze his lips lightly against hers.
“No. You didn’t, Pam. Not at all.” Jim took Pam’s left hand into his and traced her bare ring finger. His expression was dazed as he lifted her hand to his lips and kissed it where the ring used to be. “It’s been years.”
Jim turned his gaze to Pam’s face and smiled in wonderment. “Say it out loud?”
“I love you.” Pam took a deep breath and continued in a tremulous whisper. “It has been years. And I’m sorry. So sorry.” Standing up on her toes, Pam wrapped her arms about him and tearfully nestled into Jim’s neck. “I do love you.”
“Shh.” Jim whispered into her hair. “Don’t cry, Pam. Hey, look at me. Please.”
Pam looked into Jim’s eyes.
“I love you, too. Always have. I think I always will.”
Pam turned away as a single tear slipped down her cheek. Looking down at her feet, she whispered, "I wasted so, so much time."
"Hey." Jim's hand cradled her chin gently as he tipped it upward and leaned in to kiss her softly. "Doesn't matter. We're here now. We have all the time in the world."