Work, as it turned out, wasn’t that difficult when you actually, you know, worked.
He was anchored in place, and that place was work. Before this, when he considered what his life would be like to feel tied down to the one spot, he pictured himself as steady and predictable because it was good. This wasn’t that.
This was stuck.
He felt the claws of the rut tighten their hold on him with each passing day. But, it was comforting in a way. If he really thought it through, this sense of being tied to work was what – all – he had going for him at the moment.
As it turned out this, the monotony of selling paper, was the only thing that kept him slightly tethered to reality. Without it, he felt the dark waves of depression tugging at him and threatening to the tear the line still linking him to the surface.
The line hadn’t snapped yet, but he felt it wearing thin. There was only so much work he could do to keep him steady. Nonetheless, he dug himself deeper into the sand and clung on for dear life as the storm raged around him.
Considering how much he’d thrown himself into this new job, Jim was getting himself a reputation. He knew exactly what they were saying about him and he’d never been so insulted. Even if it seemed from the outside, they weren’t wrong.
He’d stumbled on a conversation between Andy and Karen as he’d stepped towards the breakroom in search of his lunch. The latter who was far too sharp and angular, both in appearance and personality. In a way, she reminded him of Angela, but it was determination or work ethic or something he didn’t quite have a read on and not an unflinching moral compass that drove her rigid approach.
“He’s ambitious,” Karen had stated, her brow pinched tight. “I know the type,” she scoffed.
“Josh is eating it up,” she added.
Andy nodded enthusiastically. “Is he single?” If there was one thing Jim had learnt about Andy in the few weeks he’d been working there, it was that the oddity that was Andy considered himself quite the ladies man. If Jim’s observations were anything to go by, this was a completely unfounded self-assessment.
Karen shrugged. “There’s no ring.”
“He better stay away from the office ladies,” Andy puffed out his chest. “I’m the catch here.” And there was the confirmation of all the opinions Jim had formed on Andy and catch he was not in anybody’s eyes but his own.
“He better stay away from my clients,” Karen’s tone was dry, but it rang with sincerity all the same.
Jim had decided it was better to eat out of the office that day. He’d gingerly backed away unseen.
He saw the way Karen rolled her eyes every time Josh directed a comment at him in a meeting.
So no, so far, the Stamford Office wouldn’t be getting his vote for most welcoming branch.
But hey, his sales were good. Great even. He was fast becoming Josh’s right hand man and oh god he was the Dwight of this branch.
He didn’t have much, but he did have work so that sounded about right.
He wasn’t sure he could reconcile himself with becoming Dwight? That was a blow.
He wished he could tell her about it. She would laugh, that adorable little giggle. The one where her hand rose and she covered her mouth. The one where her eyes sparkled with unshed tears of pure joy. The one where he was overcome with that strange mixture of pride and defeat because he made her laugh like that, but Roy never could.
He needed to get out of his head again.
He worked himself deeper into the rut. He made five sales that afternoon.
The only distraction that worked, albeit momentarily, was talking about goddamn paper.
Of course when he stepped into the office that morning, the day after realising he had morphed into his worst possible form – a Dwight – it became all the more difficult to tune into the distractions that kept his line to the surface from tearing.
“Jim,” Josh hustled him into his office. “Valerie’s broken her hip. Poor old duck. Can you man the phones at reception for the day?”
This was what being a yes man got him. He wasn’t the Dwight, he was the Pam.
Being the Pam was going to make it damn hard to stick to his plan of not thinking about the Pam.
“Sure,” he finally managed to murmur as Josh stared at him questioningly.
“You know to redirect the calls and all that guff?” He waved his hand dismissively.
“Yep. My friend,” and boy didn’t that taste bitter coming out, “was the receptionist at Scranton. I’ve got a pretty good grasp on it.”
“Great,” Josh clapped him on the shoulder. “I knew I could count on you.”
Jim hadn’t even gotten used to Dunder Mifflin, this is Valerie - it just sounded off - and now he had to bare with something else?
“Val’s going to be off for a least a month,” Josh was muttering. “We’re going to have to find someone to fill in.”
He hoped whoever took her place had a simple name, something that flowed well, a single syllable even...
He isn’t sure what possesses him to say it, but the words bubbled up and spilled over. “You could advertise through the generic reception Dunder Mifflin email, it goes out to all the branches. You might get someone with experience to temp.”
“You’re a sharp kid,” Josh grinned at him. “I’m glad we snapped you up.”
It felt a little hollow as he headed over to take his new place at the reception desk.
He sits by the phone for a few minutes and feels oddly isolated from the rest of office, not that he talks to anyone here all that much anyway.
It strikes him, the desire to put out a jar of jelly beans to lure his co-workers over for a conversation. He doesn’t even like these people.
Yet, it somehow feels lonelier up here. That part of his heart that’s been holding onto to Pam all these years starts to throb.
By the end of the day he aches all over.
The waves at the surface are getting rougher, he can feel the line holding him to some semblance of reality tugging and twisting in the current. The knots in his stomach tighten.
Her hand shakes as it hovers above her cursor. Habit and muscle memory order it to drop back to the mouse and continue scrolling, but she’s frozen.
Her eyes scan the small print at the end of the email again and again. It doesn’t change. It’s still there.
By the tenth time, she has it memorized. Her eyes continue scanning, but her mind fills in the words.
She already knows part of it. They have a receptionist network of sorts. So, she’s aware that Valerie, the receptionist from Stamford, had a fall and is in hospital.
What she doesn’t - didn’t - know or even consider, is this. She runs her eyes over the print again. Vacancy (temporary). Receptionist. Stamford branch. Applications close September 15th.
She shouldn’t. She couldn’t. Could she?
She’s plunged back to a moment last week, she’d been sketching at her desk when Kelly had called her into the annex. Her sketchbook had remained, opened at her desk.
By the time she’d managed to escape Kelly’s well intentioned and completely overbearing fashion advice, Oscar and Gil had been huddled at her desk.
She slipped within earshot, unnoticed. She heard Oscar murmur something and Gil scoff.
“Real art takes courage, okay. And - and honesty.”
“Well, those aren’t exactly Pam’s strong points,” Oscar replies.
His tone is gentle, but the sting is fierce. She feels the color drain from her face. They’re talking about her sketch.
“Yeah, exactly,” Gil’s voice is rough, abrasive, it strips the air from her lungs. “That’s why this is motel art.”
She blinks back tears and hastily retreats to the break room. She’s heard enough. She can’t stomach the pity that will surely sit in Oscar’s gaze if he spins to find her there.
It takes her a moment, at her apartment in the evening as she sobs into a bottle of wine to find the truth in the statement.
Gil was a dick. But Oscar was right. Honesty and courage are not her strong points.
Since then she’s been trying, really trying to be more honest and courageous. So far, this has entailed her correcting the barista who got her order wrong.
Even that had been a stretch.
She’d whispered, almost pathetically and umm-ed and ahh-ed her way through saying, “actually I ordered green tea and this is black.” She’d blushed fiercely when the barista had eyed her up and down before sighing and drolly stating “okay.”
The green tea had felt like success as she sipped it in her car on the drive into the office though. She was chalking it up as a victory.
But this? This is crazy? This is taking the line between honesty and courage and turning it into stalker-y and creepy.
Her hand aches where it still hovers. She drops it to the desk with a thud. It mirrors her heartbeat, loud and desperate.
She worries her bottom lip between her teeth in indecision. Gil’s derisive snort plays over and over in her mind, that’s why this is motel art. Motel art.
Motel art was her life with Roy. She’s better than motel art now.
She’s not sure what happens, she doesn’t remember consciously making the decision...
But somehow, ten minutes later, she emerges from Michael’s office with his blessing? She would’ve said permission, but she knows Michael and Michael would definitely go with blessing as his preferred term.
She’s in some sort of a trance. She floats back to her desk and replays the somewhat baffling conversation. It appears Michael has been far more perceptive to her personal life than she ever thought possible. It’s strange just how kind he can be in light of all his quirks and inherent Michael-ness.
“Pam,” he’d smiled gently after she’d stumbled over the words and twisted her tongue around the truth. I want to apply for the Stamford receptionist position. It’s just temporary. He’d eyed her carefully. “I think that’s a good idea.” He’d finally said.
“You tell Jim that his position here is still open.”
“I,” she’d mumbled, shaking her head.
“I don’t know what happened,” Michael opens his hands to her and shrugs. “But, I know that Jim was in love with you.”
She manages a gasp in response.
“It can’t have been easy for him to stick around and watch you marry Roy.”
She doesn’t think she’s ever seen Michael so sincere. Tears prick her eyes and she swallows hard to keep from sobbing.
“You’ve been so sad lately and I don’t think it’s all Roy,” he adds. “I’m going to share some wisdom with you. It’s the philosophy I live by.”
She wishes Jim was here so achingly because she has no idea what Michael is about to say, but she knows that she wants to share it with him. Her heart trembles in her chest. It hurts so damn much.
“Never, ever, ever give up.” Michael murmurs.
The tears trickle out. She can’t hold them in. “I won’t,” she finally manages to choke out because it seems like Michael is waiting on an answer.
“Good,” and his hand reaches over the desk and settles on her shoulder and it’s not at all inappropriate and it is somehow deeply comforting. The sobs come harder.
He frowns slightly and pats her gently a few times before withdrawing his arm to push the tissues on his desk towards her.
As she settles and dabs at her eyes, he picks up his phone.
“Jan,” there’s a smile in his voice. “I need a favor.”
She can hear Jan’s standard frustrated with Michael tone from across the room. He rolls his eyes slightly at Pam, before pointing at the phone and pressing on. “I know you want someone on the inside for that receptionist spot at Stamford, none of that pesky, costly training.”
Jan response is too soft for Pam to hear. Michael winks at her which she takes as a good sign.
“Well, our own Pam-a-lama-ding-dong is looking for a temporary sea change. Her, uh, grandmother,” Michael shrugs at Pam, “lives in Stamford and is dying... So, you know, it’s perfect!” He beams at Pam. She hopes she’s too stunned for the cringe to reach her face.
Jan must say something in the affirmative, because Michael is giving her the thumbs up. He continues umm-ing and ahh-ing at appropriate times with Jan, before he stresses again the benefit of, “an inside job” and “no training costs.”
It must work. He adds, “yeppers, I’ll get her to submit her resume as a formality. Don’t worry about it, Ryan can fill in here for a few weeks.”
Then he’d shuffled her out the door with an oddly formal handshake to “seal the deal” and another gentle pat on the back.
“You bring our boy home,” he’d whispered in her ear as he’d seen her through the door.
She hadn’t been able to bring herself to nod. Who was she to control that?
Jim had left. Just up and left. He hadn’t given her a chance to do anything about it.
This was her chance to do something. She wasn’t sure what. But, he didn’t just get to leave like that. It wasn’t fair.
She opened a blank document. She wrote her name at the top. It didn’t take her long to put together something that vaguely resembled a resume.
The cursor blinked before her, asking her what the hell she was doing.
Again, she considered whether courage, honesty and stupidity were one and the same.
She’s been feeling adrift. She’s been waiting on someone to save her. Roy had tried, in a very Titanic-esque way on that stupid booze cruise back in January.
The ship, that was their relationship, was already sinking. At the last moment, he shoved a piece of wood that was setting a date under her nose and demanded she cling to it. Meanwhile, he drifted further away and even though she wanted to reach out and save him, it just wasn’t possible. The whole thing was already too far gone.
Jim, on the casino night, had been her lifeboat. He’d tugged her from the wooden debris that was barely keeping her afloat and provided her with another option. She’d been too scared to let go of the thing that had been buoying her for so long and so she’d hesitated, temporarily clinging tighter to her rapidly failing barely bobbing above the surface raft.
Of course, that’s where the terrible Titanic metaphor ended, because the lifeboat didn’t throw you back in after you paused for too long and didn’t reach out to grab it quick enough.
Nonetheless, she was adrift. She was still swimming for shore. But… The lifeboat was gone. The wooden door wasn’t worth clinging to, it was likely to completely disappear below the surface if she put her weight onto it once again.
So now she had to save herself. There was no other option.
She swam, occasionally stopping to scull and take in how far she’d come and how far she still had to go.
Deep down, she wished the lifeboat would turn around and come back for her, and she didn’t have to do all this hard work herself. However, it had been months so that wasn’t happening and she was a realist at heart.
She just kept putting one hand in front of the other and striking forward. She was tired, there was a bone weary exhaustion running through her, but with each stroke forward she was stronger and the shore loomed closer still on the horizon.
She was going to apply for the Stamford job. She was going to get it. She could feel the current changing around her as she typed her resume. The winds and the waves were working in her favor for the first time since the ship had sunk. She gathered the momentum and hit submit.