“Sometimes I just don’t get Roy.”
The deck rocks beneath their feet, the lull of waves lapping at the edges of the boat reminds him that they’re on unsteady ground. It’s nothing new. He’s always on unsteady ground when it comes to Pam lately.
She gazes at him expectantly, eyes bright and cheeks pink. She looks especially beautiful tonight. The lights from the shore float behind her head, a glowing halo tangling in her curls.
His heart clenches tightly in his chest.
Something about the half-light and her murmured confession he takes for an invitation, and his mouth opens, the truth spilling from his lips before he has time to apply his usual filter.
“Sometimes I don’t get him either.”
The honesty drips from his tone. There are few things he is certain of with the same raw conviction. It’s a truth he knows deep in his heart of hearts. He does not understand Roy Anderson.
He may not know what love is, but he sure knows what it isn’t.
And it isn’t Roy Anderson.
It isn’t last month when he promised to buy Pam an iPod for Christmas and then… didn’t. It isn’t getting engaged and never setting a date. It isn't having the best person in the entire world in front of you and not realizing her worth each and every day.
“What does that mean?”
He doesn’t miss the way her eyes narrow. She’s always so defensive of him. Time has taught him that Pam can offer a criticism of Roy, but his honesty will only bring trouble. In the past, when he’s agreed too enthusiastically with critiques on Roy’s behavior Pam crosses her arms across her chest like she’s holding herself together and glares at him. She’s an injured, cornered animal, quick to bite back and seek an exit.
He’s learnt to let her say her piece, offer a placid agreement and shrug off Roy’s inadequacies.
He can’t tonight.
“He has...he just doesn’t seem to understand how lucky he is.”
They say in the moment before your life ends that it flashes before your eyes. This is the moment he blows his own chance with Pam and it feels a lot like his life is ending.
He sees her. He only sees her.
In the background of seeing her, he sees Roy. Impatient and snappy. Quick to jump on her flaws - of which there is only one as far as Jim is concerned and it’s her blatant inability to see Roy for what he is. He sees the times Pam’s face has crumpled and she’s painted on that fake smile that appeases Michael and no one else.
He sees the day her car broke down and Roy wasn’t answering his phone.
He sees her, eyes flickering to the door on Valentine’s Day only to dim with every delivery she directed onwards to others.
He sees her now.
Her cheeks are pinker still. He thinks maybe it’s not so much the cold any longer. A flush of red rises up her neck.
She rubs her hands together. She’s nervous.
Her eyes say the usual when it comes not Roy. Not, you’re wrong, but please don’t bring this up.
Her utterance of his name echoes that intention. It’s like she knows Roy’s failings and accepts them. She shouldn’t have to. He wants her to know that she shouldn’t have to.
“Maybe I don’t know what love is, but the way Roy treats you, that’s not…”
He can’t seem to finish a sentence.
She inhales a sharp breath at his half formed truths. Her expression is stricken. Her mouth drops open.
It’s a whisper. She knows he hears her, because he recoils slightly like she’s physically pushed him away.
And maybe she has. She’s pushed him away in every other way possible, she may as well have actually stepped forwards and shoved him.
The boat rocks unsteadily beneath her feet, paralleling Jim’s words. Her eyes plead with him to stop, to not disrupt the careful status quo she’s built her life around.
Her name is a desperate plea. The last breath of a drowning man. She can’t.
She can’t be what he wants.
Her life is tethered to Roy’s. They’re stitched together with a permanency she doesn’t know how to unpick. It just is.
Even if she wanted something different, she can’t.
There is a lot of good to Roy, even if Jim doesn’t see it. There’s steadiness and predictability. That’s supposed to be part of it all, right?
The mask that Jim wears so carefully slips. In his place, there’s a burning man who stares at her with pure agony flaming across his face.
He blinks slowly, deliberately and then he’s back.
Friend Jim, the version of him that doesn’t make her question her choices.
She watches the gears turning in his head. His mouth drops open and she decides that this is already too much said. They don’t do this.
Roy belongs in that quiet corner of their friendship of that remains unspoken.
Jim has tried to pull him out, but she needs to shove him back in, down so very deep.
She cuts Jim off before he has a chance to unbalance them further.
It’s an apology. It’s an excuse. She’s going back into the safe confines of inside, where Jim and his confrontations remain silent.
He offers her a resigned frown. And then that facade wears thin once again and he reaches out a hand. He’s shaking and she’s not sure if it’s the motion of the waves beneath them or his own nerves.
She freezes in place. Her body locking down by default. She’s never been one to fight, or even flight, freezing stock still in place is the only reaction she understands.
It’s how she lives her life, stuck motionless living the same day over and over again with Roy.
She watches his chest shudder with a gulping breath and then the back of his hand brushes against her cheek.
The burn is instant. She melts. Her head cants towards him, chasing his retreating fingers.
“You’re everything, Pam. I wish he treated you like that.”
He says it so softly that she wonders if he meant to say it aloud at all.
Her gaze has been fixed on his hand and his words force her eyes back to his face.
He looks so sincere that her heart stutters painfully in her chest. He really thinks that?
The desire to lean forward and kiss him courses through her. It’s not new, it’s swept through her before and she’s written it off as curiosity. She’s only kissed Roy and in some moments with some men (Jim, and only Jim her heart whispers) she’s had that sort of morbid I wonder… moment where she considers what it would be like.
The ferocity of it in this moment takes her by surprise. Every nerve ending screams at her to close the gap between them and just see.
Her eyes flicker shut.
She’s not sure why she’s speaking. She pauses, her tongue darting out to wet her lips.
She takes half a step forward. The anticipation pooling low in her guts eggs her on.
There’s a rush of warm air and the buzz of activity in the background is suddenly far louder than before.
There’s a giggle and then the door clatters shut, they’re still alone on the deck, but the moment closes with the door.
She wrenches her eyes open.
Her voice is strained. The spell is broken. She can’t kiss Jim on a booze cruise with all their colleagues and her fiancé.
She can’t kiss Jim.
She offers him a wide eyed and panicked apology and then she flees.
He stares at the horizon for a long moment.
He said too much. He didn’t say enough.
The rail she was leaning against suddenly seems too empty.
He could have sworn she was about to kiss him. His emotions dart up and down and side to side. He never gets seasick and yet his stomach is churning.
He makes his way back inside because what else can he do. She’s back at their table. Katy is chattering at her, she’s frowning at her hands, spinning her ring in that way she always does when she’s feeling out of sorts.
Before he can make his way over to her and throw himself at her feet once again, Michael is grabbing his arm and tugging him into the argument he’s having with their boat’s captain.
“Suppose your office building is on fire, who would you save?”
He knows his answer without a moment’s hesitation. Michael rambles on about salesmen and profit centers.
His answer beats through him, a steady pulse, constant and life affirming.
He doesn’t stop to think about who he stands next to. He shows his hand.
He’s never been that great at poker. It’s no big secret. He knows that Angela’s game in the office is counting the times he goes to her desk.
Even Roy isn’t blind to it. There was that one time he lost it a little at Jim crowded over Pam’s desk, his chest warmed with the almost press of her hand in his.
There’s something about tonight that has him dropping his guard all over the place.
It doesn’t matter that Roy is beside him.
He speaks his truth.
“I would save the receptionist.”
His words smother the conversation. Michael breaks off mid sentence to gape at him.
The bulky man at his side processes his response slowly.
Jim is still looking at Michael, but he feels Roy shift towards him.
It’s an old psychology trick, that whoever someone’s feet are directed towards in group conversation indicates who they are the most interested in.
He stares at his hands and notices that all feet in the circle shuffle slightly towards him.
“What’s that supposed to mean, Halpert?”
Roy’s tone is curious, and maybe a little puzzled. It’s like he expects Jim to placate him as normal. He considers the ways he could cover his true intentions and say something about how she’s his best friend in the office or he could give an answer that pacifies Michael like how she knows the most about the clients. Hell, he could even appease Dwight by saying something about getting the woman and children out first.
Instead he shrugs.
He lets them fill in their own blanks.
Captain Jack is oblivious to the tension swelling around them.
“This guy gets it. When I was in the Navy I almost died. I wasn’t thinking about profit centers. I was thinking about my first wife. The day I got back to shore, I married her.”
Roy glowers at his side. He seems to expand to his full-size, somehow taller and stockier than he was before the Captain’s mouth had opened.
He rounds on Jim, the earlier alcohol induced exuberance fizzling out of his gaze.
Captain Jack doesn’t understand that Jim’s proclamation was kindling that his words have dosed with accelerant.
“I meant what I said. I would save the receptionist.”
Jim’s voice is steady. If Roy wants to beat him to a pulp, Roy can beat him to a pulp. So be it. He’s done pretending this is all okay.
Roy wouldn’t save the receptionist.
She would be an afterthought.
Roy would be celebrating making it out of the building with his warehouse buddies and Darryl or someone would have to mention Pam before Roy would even think to look for her.
It’s a demand. He already knows the answer. He’s already watched the whole thing play out like a haunting noir film in his mind.
There’s a fire burning inside of Roy now and it isn’t about saving Pam, it’s about pummelling Jim.
And then before Roy can wind his fist back and put it through Jim’s skull, his world narrows to the sharp intake of air that fills the space over his shoulder.
He recognizes her from gasp alone. He doesn’t need to turn.
Roy doesn’t seem to hear it.
The axis of Roy’s world isn’t balanced on her very presence like his is.
The hiss of his name is what gets his attention.
Her hand settles on his arm, a warning to reign it in.
This isn’t Roy’s first rodeo. And by rodeo he most definitely means drunken brawl.
This isn’t Pam’s first time of pulling him back from the brink either, he can see the weariness in her glare.
She tugs him away, out to the deck. It pinches at his heart a little because the deck feels like it belongs to them now.
Pam retreating with Roy our the same door tarnishes the memory.
She doesn’t speak, she just pulls him out to the cold, fresh air and crosses her fingers that it’s enough to start to sober him up.
His grumbling isn’t enough to get her speaking.
He knows how much she hates it when he has too much to drink at these things.
She didn’t catch the full conversation, she just saw Roy’s posture change in response to something Jim had said and it was enough to pull her from her seat and towards them.
She takes stock of him carefully. He’s pissed off. That much is clear.
“You’re my girlfriend.”
His words are ice to her veins. Fiancé her heart bemoans, but it’s not worth the air in her lungs to repeat aloud. If he doesn’t get it now, when will he ever?
At least there’s some hint of possessiveness to his words. That has to mean something, right?
What does it say if he only seems to notice her when another man does…
“What did he say?”
Roy rounds on her now. Eyes already slightly bloodshot.
He still drinks like he’s nineteen. His body responds with far less good natured youth.
Her heart picks up speed and it’s so different to the last time she’d been out in this salty air.
Her heart had fluttered in her chest then, frantic and wistful.
Now, there’s adrenaline and a hint of fear. Roy isn’t violent. Not towards her. But, his unpredictability is enough to set her pulse to jittery. She’s not scared, she’s just a little nervous. It’s the same mantra she’s repeated for more years than she cares to remember.
“He said that he would save you. It’s bullshit. Not to mention fucking embarrassing. He basically said that I was too chicken shit to do it.”
Ah. This is a side of Roy she knows all too well.
He’s annoyed that Jim has implied that he is weak.
He doesn’t hear what Jim is really saying. She does. The warmth creeps up her cheeks and keeps the wind at bay.
What is she being saved from? Is this ship sinking. It sure feels like it tonight. She feels the grounding beneath her feet losing more and more stability as the evening wears on.
Jim is saying too much and Roy isn’t saying enough.
She’d like to think she could swim for the land all on her own if she had to.
“What are you saving me from?”
She keeps her tone even and slightly disinterested.
Deescalating Roy is second nature. She knows which buttons to push and when not to.
She tries not to think about the whole Jim declaring he would save her thing. He’s filterless tonight and it terrifies her more than she cares to admit, even to herself.
It makes her slightly more honest too and it troubles her deep in her soul how much she’s twisting the truth of her life for herself.
“If there was a fire in the office.”
Her heart thuds again. She’s glad she’s not hooked up to one of those hospital machines. She’d have nurses running in and out all night to check on her if that was the case.
Jim would save her. He would. She believes the sincerity of it without a shadow of a doubt.
She closes her eyes for a moment and pictures it playing out.
She can see it so clearly, the way that Jim would grab her hand and pull her away from the burning building.
The truth hits her like a sharpened blade, severing her connection to Roy as it slices through her body.
If their office building was on fire, she would save Jim. There’s a flicker of guilt for the fact that Roy wouldn’t cross her mind until sometime later in the parking lot.
Her mouth opens before the finality can truly set in.
“I think we should call off the wedding.”