“I’ll show you every version of yourself tonight”
His eyes glazed over. This was newly written, added into the margins in bright blue between paragraphs that had faded and yellowed with age. Every sign pointed to the words that followed on a page he was only just beginning to understand were not meant for his eyes.
I thought I’d be brave tonight. I thought I’d show you I really am Fancy New Beesly, and then I realized I was going about it all wrong. You didn’t need to see how I had changed. You needed to see that I knew how you hadn’t. You’re still Jim, even if you never speak to me again after tonight. You’re the same Jim who encouraged me to pursue my art and didn’t let his own feelings distort mine about Roy. It was like I’d been walking around without my contacts for four years, and then you left and it all just clicked. I’d been blind. I was so used to the way I’d thought the world worked that I hadn’t let you in it. You were something separate, not quite real. You were my escape from an unhappy life that hid under the guise of monotony as normal. But what is normal? Marriage? Kids? By all rights I should have married Roy on June 10th. I should’ve been the same girl he met when we were kids, should’ve gone along with what he wanted so that “the football god of high school” (Forgive me. That was terrible.) wouldn’t leave me for someone better.
I was never better. I was never anyone’s first choice until you. I think you knew it, too. I think you know it and I think seeing me admit it in front of everyone hurt you as much as it hurt me because it reminded us both that I’m not your number one anymore...and that’s my fault. I couldn’t have stopped you from going but I could have been the one to bring you back.
“You were,” Jim whispered, his fingertips skimming down the page. “You were.”
“Hush, when no one is around my dear / You’ll find me on my tallest tip-toes / Spinning in my highest heels, love shining just for you”
Jim sank to the floor, dust blooming all around him, burning eyes tracing over the perfect curvature of her handwriting and coming to rest on the next paragraph that looked the same as all the others but might as well have been highlighted in beet red.
I could have told you what Casino Night meant to me. It did mean something, Jim. I think it’ll always mean something. Before you kissed me, I loved you privately. Even when you said you were in love with me, I managed to push it aside and tell myself that it didn’t matter that you felt the same way. Your secret smiles and your cute impressions led to just that. Secrets. Impressions. I thought I’d never be allowed to love you so I tried to lock that part of me away where no one could find it, but it didn’t work. You saw through me. You always see through me. You didn’t get the wrong impression, you didn’t misinterpret or misunderstand. It was all me, Jim. I was scared that my beloved secret wouldn’t be so secret anymore and I panicked. I thought I couldn’t have you, and it was only after you left that everything made sense. I could have you. I could have had you all along, but I was too afraid to try.
When I get home from work, I think about you. I can’t help it. I feel like I can only love you properly if I love you alone. Messed up, isn’t it? I must’ve finally thought so too because I still can’t believe I came right out and told you I missed you. At least now when I lose you I’ll know that it wasn’t without trying. I said something. Finally. You’ve probably thought that Roy was the person that I was incapable of speaking up to all along. Well, you’d be wrong, Jim. It’s you. I wasn’t truly afraid of being honest with Roy because it wouldn’t break me to lose him, but losing you? I didn’t think I could survive it.
Jim looked at the door, half rose, and sank back to the floor, eliciting a small creak he knew didn’t belong to her. “Pam?”
He hated it when his voice cracked.
“Hush, I know they said the end is near / But I’m still on my tallest tip-toes”
I’m still not sure I can survive it, but there’s nothing left for me to lose now. When you transferred to Stamford without telling me, I knew it should’ve been over. That was it. You’d realized I was holding you back and now you were moving on to your new amazing life. Fancy New Jim. Ha. That stings a bit, even now. I used to call you “my Jim” in here. Did you know that? ‘I can’t believe my Jim did that.’ ‘My Jim made ten sales today.’ ‘My Jim is a basketball star.’ That last one was sort of a joke but sort of not. I never had any interest in basketball before I found out you played. You could’ve been the worst player in the world and I wouldn’t have noticed. When you came back with Karen, I finally figured out that my Jim wasn’t mine anymore and I knew I should give it up. We both did, didn’t we? You were moving on, and yet I still had hope. I kept that hope until I found out you were going to New York. I left you a little note in your files. I shouldn’t have, I know that. I just needed you to know I’m going to miss you for the rest of my life, okay? And I needed to tell you that...‘just once’...That’s what you said, isn’t it?
Between that paragraph and the next was another scribbled line in blue ink, this one a bit blurred like it specifically had been left out in a small downpour.
“I can change everything about me to fit in”
If you were someone else I wouldn’t have told you. I wouldn’t have found the nerve. With Roy, I hid every part of me that didn’t agree with every part of him. With you? I never had to change myself. I can change everything about me but I won’t. I’ll change myself for myself and no one else, not anymore. That’s one of so many things I wanted to tell you tonight and one of the few I didn’t dare.
When Jim’s gaze fixed on “You are not like the regulars / The masquerade revelers / Drunk as they watch my shattered edges glisten” his heart tightened in his chest. Something about that line was familiar. Why did he know it? Everything in blue was clearly new. Fresh. When had she done this?
You’re Roy’s antithesis. He’s all I knew and I’d gotten used to his indifference. You’re not impassive when I’m struggling with my career or where my heart lies. You’ve only given up on me once. I’m trying not to do the same with you. God, I’m trying so hard, Jim.
He knew exactly what she was talking about. He knew, and the stab of guilt that tore through him was as real as it was all those years ago.
“And they called off the circus”
I called off the wedding for you. I never would have done it for myself. I never would have realized there was anything else out there. I never would have tried.
“When they sent home the horses and the rodeo clowns / I’m still on that tightrope / I’m still trying everything to get you laughing at me”
It didn’t make sense to me, at first, why I still thought of you when I wasn’t at work. Obsessed over you might be the better term. I thought it would stop when I found out you left but it only got worse.
The front door opened and shut, keys jingling as they landed on the tray. Jim heard it distantly, barely at all over the pounding of his own heart. “Pam?”
“Jim?” she called back.
He couldn’t see her but he could. She’d be toeing off her shoes and setting aside her paint splattered smock and sweeping into Cece’s bedroom to see if she’d finished her book report.
“Your mom took the kids to see Santa.”
“Without us?” she laughed, her footsteps echoing up the stairs. “Babe, where are you?”
“The attic.” He leaned out over the square cut hole in the floor in time to see his wife appear at the base of the ladder, red gold curls bouncing, streaked with blue paint. “Stay there. I’ll be down in a second.”
Too late. Pam was already climbing the steps. She managed to get up all of them and even put her arms through the entrance before she finally tripped and squealed, reaching for him. Jim caught her upper arms and pulled her through, flicking on the overhead light bulb dangling from a rusted chain. They’d meant to redo this room when they’d first moved to Austin but over time they’d gotten used to tucking things into what Phillip referred to as “the grown-up hidey-hole,” which sounded a lot worse than it actually was. They’d yet to fix it up which only became more apparent when Pam’s cream colored skirt caught on one of the crooked boards. Jim sat her up beside him then ducked back down to untangle her from the floor, his stubble tickling along her bare legs and making her laugh.
“What are you doing up here, sweetheart?” Pam teased, running her fingers through his hair.
Jim’s heart swelled at the endearment and he shook his head to pull it together before he seriously started crying like his ten-year-old daughter when she misplaced her stuffed dog. “Oh, I was just, uh—um—” What had he been doing when he’d stumbled across the ghost of A Written Record of Jim’s Screw Ups From When He Was An Idiot? “I was looking for Phil’s blue train.”
“What? He hasn’t played with that in years!”
“I know,” Jim chuckled. “But, um. Cece was playing with Puppy Halpert and then Phillip was saying how he wanted one and Cece said he couldn’t have one because you made it just for her.”
“Yeah. And then he remembered you painted that train Helene got him because it wasn’t his favorite color and it was all he talked about until she came to pick them up.”
Pam leaned back and Jim flinched when her hand came down right on top of the open journal. “Huh. I can’t think where we put that, I know—Jim.”
“Were you reading this?!” she yelped, fumbling with the black journal with the jumble of water color paper and pictures sticking out from the sides where they had been taped in.
“I didn’t mean to! I—” Jim massaged his forehead with the heel of his hand. “It was on top of the train,” Jim said, hopelessly gesturing towards the plastic crate in the corner like it would provide all of the answers. “I set it aside and it just kind of fell open like you’d been through it recently or something.” Jim flipped back to the page where the blue ink started and pointed at it. “Isn’t that from the fountain pen I got you for your birthday?”
Pam flushed and pulled the journal towards her. “Maybe.”
His eyes widened. “You’ve been up here alone?! Without me?!”
“Well, being up here alone would imply that I was up here without you…”
Jim cradled her face in his hands and tilted it left and right like he’d find the proof of an accident from what could be weeks or even months ago on her skin. “Did you fall?”
“No, I didn’t fall!” she said with feigned indignity, crossing her arms. She waited a moment then squinted one eye at him and smiled slowly. “I twisted my ankle stepping over one of your old sets of golf clubs.”
Jim gasped. “Is that why you were limping around at Phillip’s soccer practice and making him get things for you because you couldn’t get up? I just thought your feet hurt from running around the field chasing after the kids!”
“I think all the soccer moms thought the same thing. That’s why they made me stay home from practices on bed rest for two weeks after that, even though I took Phil to Alex’s birthday party a few days later and I was completely fine…”
Jim dropped his hands and leaned forward, pressing his forehead to her’s. “If anything happened to you because of this stupid attic I would lose my mind. Why’d you come up in the first place?”
Pam’s fingers traced patterns over his palms until he couldn’t take it anymore and squeezed their hands together.
“I had just finished that journal you got me from that brand that has the DM logo that looks like Dunder Mifflin,” she laughed, poking him in the chest, “and I was all proud of myself. Then Cece came running through the living room during a play date and they knocked a glass of water over and it nearly fell on top of the notebook. I figured I should put it somewhere safe and then I remembered all my old journals were in the attic so I brought it up here and, well.”
“You reread this one?” Jim offered, nodding at the leather bound journal lying between their crossed legs.
“Yeah. Oh, it was so silly. I was just flipping through and then I saw this part I wrote the day I told you I missed you at the beach and I—I just—” she broke off with a giggle, burying her face in his shoulder. “It reminded me of this Taylor Swift song—”
“Oh my God. Cece finally got to you. Wait, it’s not from that—that one. What is it called? Flack? Flack No More?”
They dissolved into laughter that only somewhat subsided when he nudged the top of her head with his chin. “I thought we agreed that one was too inappropriate for her.”
“Not all of them are. Anyway, I added some of the lines from the song just for fun.” Pam pulled the journal into her lap and ran her hand down the page. “Where were you?”
“There was something about rodeos.”
“Ah. Got it. One line left. Want to hear it? You’ve come this far.”
Jim blushed. “Sure.”
“‘I’m still a believer but I don’t know why / I’m still on that trapeze / I’m still trying everything to keep you looking at me’. And then I wrote—or, I had written, like, twelve years ago—‘The ache never stopped.’ Which, like, how dramatic.”
“I think it’s sweet,” Jim murmured.
Pam leaned into him with a soft sigh. “And then I said, ‘When you came back I knew I was getting a second chance, not that I deserved it. I won’t give up on you. You can hate me, or like me but not love me, and I’ll still have hope. The job should be the end, I know that. I just can’t help it, Jim. I don’t know why but I’m not giving up on you.’” Pam shut the journal and tossed it into the crate. “I might have to burn that now.”
“But I’ve already read it,” Jim grinned. “It’s all up here now, Beesly.” He tapped a finger to his temple and she playfully swatted his hand.
“This is so embarrassing.”
“How? I’m embarrassed you ever thought I didn’t love you anymore. Even when I didn’t want to, I still loved you, Bees.”
“Sometimes you don’t want to?”
“Didn’t. And never since you called off the wedding. Between Casino Night and that, I only wished I could stop loving you because I thought it was what was fair to you. I’d come on too strong and you weren’t interested, and I owed it to you to back off.”
She shook her head and leaned up to catch his lips with hers, her hands sliding over his chest and into his hair. “You didn’t come on too strong. I just wish you’d told me you were leaving.”
“I know,” he said, and deepened the kiss until she tugged on the back of his hair and came up gasping. “Too much?”
“Not enough! When did the kids leave?”
He checked his watch. It was only five-thirty. “Maybe an hour ago. Your mom said she’s taking them to see the zoo lights too since she’s not sure when she’ll be able to come out here again and she’s worried that by the time she does they’ll have outgrown such activities,” he said, managing to keep a straight face if only just.
Pam covered her mouth with her hand. “She said that?”
“She said that.”
“What, does she think Cece won’t like her anymore in three months when we go down to Scranton for our birthdays?”
“No. I think she honestly believes that by then her granddaughter will be approximately thirty years old and no longer have any interest in the childish pursuits of her youth.”
Pam giggled and grabbed him by the tie, dragging him towards the ladder. “We have more time than I thought!”
“Yeah, so why are you pulling me downstairs leash style like I’m Puppy Halpert?” Jim said, turning the light off as he tripped past it.
“Please. If you were Puppy Halpert I would’ve just tossed you down.”
“Is that so?” Jim’s socks hit the carpet and he quickly folded the ladder back up into the ceiling. “Pam, I can’t believe you would toss a puppy. What’s wrong with you?”
“Well, how would you do it? That’s a lot of steps.”
Jim raised his eyebrows at her and figured she probably knew what he was thinking, that he was sure it did seem like a lot of steps when every one represented a potential fast pass to the hospital. “I would’ve carried him—” He paused to press her up against the linen closet and make a warm trail with his mouth from the corner of her jaw to the dip of her collar bone. “—thank you very much.”
“No, thank you.”
“I’m sorry! I’m trying to be sexy. Is it not working?”
“It’s working too well,” Jim said, looking over his shoulder at the door to their bedroom at the other end of the hall. “What if it’s too cold for the zoo? How will I ever explain my Don Juan behavior to your mother?”
“Don Juan? Jim. Jim, honey. I know that journal entry must’ve been flattering for you but that’s an ego no no.”
“A no no?” he laughed, stealing another kiss as he walked backwards and fumbled for the door handle. “Who am I, Phillip?”
“No. Close though. You’re Philly Jim, remember? It all makes sense now that you agreed to name him Phillip.” She waved her hand over her head and squinted into the distance. “You’re living vicariously through him, right?”
“You remember that?” He wouldn’t admit it but he would probably be embarrassed for the rest of his days by memories of the tiny avatar that bore his resemblance in a game he couldn’t currently remember the name of.
“I remember a lot of things.” She winked at him. “I’m a mirrorball and my love shines just for you.”
“Are you...Did you just quote Taylor Swift at me? And you’re a mirrorball? What’s with that? Why are you a mirrorball?”
“Are you on your tip-toes because I’m so tall?”
“I didn’t think it was possible, but your Taylor Swift talk is turning me off,” she said, even as her fingers skipped along the edge of his belt.
“Sorry. What if we play that one I said Cece can’t listen to until she’s fifty?”
“‘Mad Woman’? Oh, I see how it is. That’s your idea of a romantic song.”
“What? No, no. Come along.” He’d gotten her sweat shirt off of her at this point and pulled her into the bedroom by the sleeves that he’d looped around her back. “I’ll show you a romantic song.”
Pam made it a struggle for Jim to get “I’ll Make Love to You” going so he thought it was quite the cause for celebration when he succeeded at last. He barely had time to set the phone down on the dresser before Pam was on top of him and he had no idea what song was playing anymore, not to mention any notion of his own name.
“I love you,” she said against his lips when she was finally nestled against his chest, heart stuttering in time with his.
“I love you. All the time. Every day. If you ever have any questions about that, we can go over some more of those old journals.”
“I can’t,” she giggled, tongue appearing between her teeth. “I can’t read.”
“‘I’m a mirrorball.’”
Jim pulled her closer to him and buried his face in her hair. “You are such a dork.”
“I’m your dork.”
“Yes. Yes, you are.”