Being sensitive always had drawbacks.
For Pam, they came in the form of nightmares. Her subconsciousness blended the lines and characters from the books and movies she’d cried over with her everyday experiences and let that mix to haunt her nights. Sometimes she was grateful to her job, which kept her exhausted enough to just fall into the dreamless slumber.
But then Pam discovered she could cope with her dreams. The main trick was to remember that all that happened wasn’t real — and that meant it couldn’t actually hurt her. Perhaps, if she had thought about it more, she’d even have written a manual, something like ‘How To Survive In The Dream: The Ultimate Guide.’ But she barely had time for her art, not speaking about anything else, so this guide had remained just as a vague idea — something she could have joked with Jim about.
So when she found herself sitting in the conference room, she wasn’t surprised; it must be another office dream. In fact, she was even relieved a little as it was a nice change from her usual I-can’t-move-and-I’m-late-for-my-wedding dream or someone-wants-to-kill-me-and-I-can’t-hide-or-run-away dream. The office dream was mostly harmless.
And there was Michael, speaking animatedly about his new method of charming the customers. Somehow, it involved wearing mustaches. It didn’t make any sense, but again, it was classical Michael’s behavior.
‘Pam! Pam! Pamster! What did I say! Mustache, Pam!’
And then all the people in the room stared at her, and the regular office dream turned to be that horrible I-made-something-humiliating-in-front-of-everybody-I-know dream. At that moment, Pam wrapped her arms around herself and told herself once more that it existed only in her mind. It didn’t help.
‘You are the face of the office, Pam! How could you do your job if you don’t follow the simplest rules?’
And she noticed with horror that everyone else had mustaches. Dwight, Kevin, Oskar, Phyllis… even Angela glared at her disapprovingly with little Poirot-style mustache on her face. How on Earth had she managed to get them? Pam felt as the blush crept on her cheeks and the tears started to form in the corners of her eyes.
‘Hey, Pam! You could take mine if you want to.’
Of course, it was Jim. Who else could it be? He wore a bushy fake-looking mustache and a warehouse uniform and smiled lightly. It just confirmed her sureness that this whole situation existed only in her imagination; the real Jim hated to dress up, even for Halloween. She nodded, smiling in return. When she did so, Jim ripper his fake mustache off his face and carefully placed then above her upper lip.
‘There,’ he said, smoothing the edges gently. ‘Much better.’
‘And what about you?’ she worried while he shrugged nonchalantly.
‘I’ll grow my own, no worries,’ he tapped her nose with his forefinger. ‘Or even a beard.’
‘A beard?’ Pam giggled. Nobody shamed her anymore, and that was because of Jim. He always was there to save the day; he was just the best. Pam rose on her tiptoes, threw her arms around his neck, and hugged him tightly. He encircled her back, returning the hug.
His embrace felt so nice, so warm and comforting. Like a fluffy blanket in a winter day. Or a cup of tea when you were sad. Did it always feel that way? Pam wondered, lingering the sensation and swaying slightly in his arms. Why didn’t they hug at all? They definitely should have given it a try.
Pam felt that Jim let his arms loose, breaking the hug, but Pam didn’t want it to end yet. She turned her face, and her lips met his. Even in the dream, when she knew things weren’t real, it felt daring.
He tensed immediately, and Pam instantly regretted her decision that obviously returned that dream to its previous humiliating stage. But in a heartbeat, Jim kissed her back, lifting her easily from the ground, and she was worried no more.
Suddenly, the location changed. They were running between the trees, their feet bogged down in the snow. Jim was still in that warehouse uniform, but she found herself wearing that little white lacy gown — something she’d bought almost a year ago and didn’t have a proper occasion — or mood — to take it from the shop’s wrapping. Pam felt as panic rose inside her chest; her usual mantra ‘it’s just a dream’ didn’t work.
‘What are we running from, Jim?’ she cried loudly; the more she ran, the more tired she was and started to lag behind Jim. He looked at her concerned.
‘You’ve broken the toaster oven, Pam. You know better than me what does it mean.’
Oh God. Roy was going to kill her; somehow, she knew that the fact that she kissed Jim didn’t make him as mad as her ruining his breakfast menu. She tried to catch up with Jim’s quick pace, but the snow became deeper, and the roots appeared unexpectedly under her feet. She tripped over one and fell down, her face dipped in the snow. She heard as Jim stopped on his tracks.
‘Run!’ she exclaimed desperately. ‘Run! He comes after me, he won’t even find out that you also were there!’
But instead of retreating, Jim picked her up on his arms and ran with her; his long legs overcame the snowdrifts easily. Pam threw her arms around his neck and looked back, searching for Roy chasing them and not finding him.
‘The shelter is down the hill. We’ll be safe there,’ he whispered in her ear. Despite the winter and her half-naked condition, it was his voice and his warm hands on the bare skin of her knee and forearm that made her shiver.
Her eyes saw the darkness now, alarmed and disoriented, her heart pounded frantically in her chest. She was cold, still feeling that winter coldness; the comforter barely covered the right half of her body.
God, what was that? She’d seen pretty realistic dreams before, but this was something new. The worst nightmares combined with her mantra that stopped to work exactly when it was so necessary. If Jim hadn’t been there… Pam blushed at this thought. The way she had acted around Jim in that particular dream also was something she’d never allowed herself to do. She wondered briefly, if they would have reached the shelter and what might have happened next…
A violent sound made her gasp, but it was just Roy snoring; he always started to snore when he fell asleep on his back. Pam nudged him, and he turned away onto his side, mumbling unconsciously; it was almost a Pavlovian response, learned after years and years of their cohabitation. When he moved, he wrapped himself in their blanket; Pam tried to fight for her small piece, but he pressed the fabric firmly under his body. Resigned, she stood up and went to the linen closet for the extra comforter. The material was cold against her skin, and Pam curled into the fetal position, trying to warm herself up. She closed her eyes, trying to fall asleep; till the dawn, she had no more dreams.
Jim had quite a good morning, but his cheerful mood lasted exactly until that moment when the familiar old truck pulled on the parking lot right before him. He already felt that sick feeling in his stomach that appeared every time he witnessed a lovey-dovey exchange between Roy and Pam. But this time, though, it was only Roy; he slammed the door of the truck and went straight to the warehouse. The sick feeling in Jim’s stomach remained, but now it was the mix of worry for Pam, a sparkle of gloating, and a barely recognizable tingle of hope.
Pam was late for about half an hour and looked distressed. She gave him a watery smile and a greeting wave of the hand before she turned her computer on and picked the phone up, trying to catch up for her delay under the stream of Dwight’s scolding. She didn’t even take her coat off.
‘Oooh, Dwight, you won’t like this,’ said Jim, looking mindfully at his monitor.
‘What’s the matter, Jim?’ Dwight responded with an irritated roll of his eyes, turning from Pam’s desk, though.
‘According to this very reliable article, this year, the Comic-Con will be canceled,’ Jim said and shrugged apologetically.
‘No, it won’t!’ Dwight rushed to his own desk and tapped on his keyboard. ‘What article was that?’
‘Oh, sorry, I’ve just closed it. But you could google it. Use keywords ‘canceled’ and ‘this year,’ for starters.’
Pam mouthed ‘thank you,’ not taking the handset from her ear. Inspired with this little success, he strolled to the kitchen to make her a cup of tea. She definitely looked like she needed some.
‘It’s not Comic-Con, you idiot,’ said Dwight with unhidden superiority as soon as Jim entered the room with a mug of hot beverage. ‘It’s Connecticon that will be canceled.’
‘Oh, really?’ he smiled lightly. ‘Well, good for you. Have you already made a costume? Remind me, who you are going to be, Mario?’
‘Moriarty,’ scoffed Dwight.
‘So we will be deprived of witnessing you in the plumber uniform and mustaches? That’s a shame,’ Jim said, reaching the reception. Pam was watching the whole exchange with a slight frown.
‘How could one guess that Dwight is such a fan of British literature? I think we should do something about it,’ Jim mused, handing her a cup of black tea. Pam looked at it with a strange expression, as if she didn’t expect it. This puzzled him a little; it wasn’t a rare occasion when he made her tea, or she made him coffee. That was what the friends did, after all. He almost didn’t cringe at the word ‘friends.’
‘Yeah,’ she replied after a pause. Her smile was still small and tired, but it was a progress nevertheless. ‘Let me think. A mysterious disappearance of his bobblehead, a note demanding ransom, little clues that have to assure that Dwight has done that himself… I don’t know. I probably need to refresh my memory of Conan Doyle.’
‘Well, it’s a pretty awesome plan, as for me,’ he smiled. Pam just shrugged sheepishly. For now, it was enough; Jim tapped his fingers on the counter, took a jellybean, and returned to his desk.
Fifteen minutes later, Michael arrived, and Jim raised his brows at the sight of the worst Rhett Butler makeover he had ever seen. He briefly wondered how much hair gel and eyeliner he had used to gain such a result.
‘Attention!’ Michael said. ‘Conference room in ten minutes, everybody! I have a great idea that will give us new customers. Let’s do some work and make our sales rise!’
Jim smirked and looked at Pam, expecting to share with her the silent amusement about Michael’s folly. Instead, his smile disappeared little by little.
Because Pam stared at him, eyes widened, lips slightly parted, the blush colored her cheeks; she stared with such intense, as if she knew.
He had no idea how long they stared at each other; it felt like an eternity, though lasted, probably, about half a minute. Finally, Michael said something to her, and she snapped out of that haze, and, after giving the boss his messages, slipped quietly from her place and disappeared behind the front door of the office. Jim waited for two endless minutes and went after her.
She hid in the stairwell, as he supposed; she hugged herself with a confusion printed across her face. She almost jumped when he opened the door, and for a moment, Jim was sure that she was terrified to see him; but it lasted for only a moment.
‘Hey, are you okay?’ he said tentatively. ‘Of course, Michael’s appearance is horrendous, but not that much…’
Pam shook her head.
‘No, it’s just…’ she sighed. ‘Have you ever had that feeling when something happens, and you know that you’ve already seen it, or done it, or…’
‘Wait a minute, Beesly,’ Jim smiled, feeling as relief filled him. ‘Are you saying you’ve never had a déjà vu?’
‘I have,’ she said defensively. ‘It’s just a little… different.’
‘Okay, I know a perfect solution to beat the déjà vu. Do you trust me?’
She nodded solemnly.
And then he tapped her nose with his forefinger.
Jim expected that she would laugh, that she would call him dork or smack his arm. What he didn’t expect was the return of this intensity in her gaze.
‘Why did you do that?’ she asked, barely audibly, her eyes huge.
‘My dad always said that if you have the déjà vu when someone has to do an unexpected thing,’ he explained perplexedly. ‘To pinch an arm, to tap on the nose, like that. Did it… didn’t it work?’
‘No,’ she whispered. ‘But thank you for trying. And… there was something else in that dream that hadn’t happened yet. ’
And then she stepped closer, and her arms twined his neck, and her hair ticked his chin. Jim stood motionlessly, stricken with her proximity, unable to think straight. It was as this was him who had the déjà vu and she was the one who tried to caught him off guard. Well, she definitely succeeded. At last, his hands came to life, and he hugged her back, carefully encircling her back. Jim heard her quiet sigh and felt her face move; the next thing he registered was the gentle touch of her lips on his cheek.
His heart went rat-atatat violently, and he seriously suspected his ribcage would be bruised inside. Not saying that she definitely registered that change.
‘Thank you, Jim,’ Pam said, at last, breaking the hug off and smiling a little sad. ‘You’re… just… the best.’
She went away, and Jim stood still, half in shock, half in hope.
She didn’t say ‘the best friend’ after all.