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Story Notes:

Did I write this in half an hour after listening to "this is me trying" ten times in a row (again)? Nah, not at all. #folklore 

Anyway, this is my first fic since writing one Monica/Chandler fic circa 2005. I am old. And here we are. 

I've been having a hard time adjusting

I had the shiniest wheels, now they're rusting

The day Jim returns to Scranton, Pam barely makes it inside her apartment at the end of the day before collapsing on the ground in tears. Stop this. Stop being so melodramatic. You made it this long without him. As if that makes it easier that she thought, naively, that he’d come running back into her arms.

I didn't know if you'd care if I came back

I have a lot of regrets about that

She ran into his arms. Literally. With a hug so fierce he felt his carefully taped-together heart smash back into its original broken pieces. She smelled like honey and lavender and he’s pretty sure it’s a new shampoo. 

But of course, he’d already prepared a buffer. It’s not like it had worked so far, but he figured he’d better try for real this time. Try to move on. Because her hug said “I missed my best friend.” It didn’t say “I love you.” It said, “We’re friends. We’ll always be friends.”

It’s only been one day, and he’s torn between guilt over using Karen as a shield and regret over thinking Pam would care if he came back to Scranton. 

Yeah, she cared. She cared like a friend cares.

Pulled the car off the road to the lookout

Could've followed my fears all the way down

She wonders if she should tell Jim she tried to drive to Stamford three times. Once on June 4th, once on June 10th, and once the night she found out about the merger.

The first time, it was one in the morning and she didn’t know it yet but she would call off her wedding in less than six hours. She was lying on the living room sofa, Roy snoring down the hall, trying to think about nothing. For what felt like the millionth time in the past three weeks, she tried to block out the memory of Jim’s face the second before he told her he loved her. The second before he kissed her. The second before he pulled his hands away from her grasp and walked into the hallway and never returned, except to clean out his desk, and that was early in the morning. So early. She even got in at six after not sleeping all night. But he got there first.

The second time, she couldn’t sleep because she kept thinking about how that night was supposed to be her wedding night. And then she was thinking about his face on the deck of the boat that night. And then she was thinking about the way his voice shook when he said, “Really? You are?” after she shouted at him that she was fine with her choices.

The third time, she made it farther than before - all the way to the Connecticut state line - before she turned around. She pulled over into a semi-ditch off the highway and looked out over the guardrail and the unknown small town lights below. She thought about all the people down there living their lives with their partners or their families. She thought about Phyllis’s face when she told her she’d heard Jim was coming back. She thought about showing up at his apartment and helping him back his boxes back up. About his opening the door and her kissing him before either of them had a second to make another mistake.

She threw the post-it note with his address in her purple ink handwriting out the window, watching it fly down over the town below.

And maybe I don't quite know what to say

But I'm here in your doorway

He’d been back to visit Scranton only once while he’d lived in Stamford. His parents were worried about him, and he felt guilty that they made the drive every few weeks to see him on the weekend and probably make sure he was eating and sleeping and bathing (he was really only doing the last of those things, but they didn’t need to know that). So when his mom begged him to come back “home” for his sister’s birthday, he obviously had to. Not that he wanted to. And it was nothing against his sister. It was just that his sister happened to live three blocks over from Pam’s new apartment, and it was August 10th, and he still hadn’t heard from Pam, and he kept worrying she’d gone back to Roy after breaking off the wedding. Phyllis assured him she hadn’t, in her vague yet not-subtle emails, but he still couldn’t quite believe that she was single. Single. And she hadn’t even called to tell him.

Was she still fine with her choices?

After too many beers and mixed drinks at his sister’s, he told his family he needed some air. He found himself in front of Unit 3 at 214 Spruce and stood staring at the peeling paint and the bunches of flowers gathered in recycled pots on the doorstep. 

He felt his eyes tearing up. Mark had always teased him for “acting like such a girl” when he was drunk.

She hadn’t called him.

A light flickered on in the back room. He turned and went back to his sister’s and fell asleep on the guest room bed.

  • -

I just wanted you to know

That this is me trying

I just wanted you to know

That this is me trying

They told me all of my cages were mental

So I got wasted like all my potential

One day in late July, her heart feels the smallest bit lighter. Like it’s still a gazillion pieces of tiny glass, but at least she can breathe for a second without being stabbed in gut-wrenching pain. 

She goes to the Luzerne County Community College website and looks up the admissions requirements. She sees that they’ll need transcripts from her previous schools. She still owes Marywood two thousand dollars from the semester she dropped out to move in with Roy and failed all of her classes because she was too stupid to withdraw. Or to show up for class. 

She sure as hell doesn’t have two thousand dollars. She clicks on the Adult Education link and sees that this admissions process is much simpler.

She signs up for Watercolors (Intermediate) and Figure Drawing. Her hand is three inches from the phone before she remembers she can’t call Jim anymore to tell him she finally followed through on something.

And my words shoot to kill when I'm mad

I have a lot of regrets about that

“Nope. You're not interrupting anything.” Out of the corner of his eye, he sees her face fall. Because of course he is watching her. He’s trained in peripheral Pam vision. 

He’s a fucking idiot. He’s just not sure if he’s an idiot for turning down her offer for coffee, or for continuing to watch her face for clues and signs long after she’d told him no.

He’s misinterpreting. She doesn’t care.

He’s pretty sure she doesn’t, at least.

I was so ahead of the curve, the curve became a sphere

Fell behind all my classmates and I ended up here

Pourin' out my heart to a stranger

But I didn't pour the whiskey

One night after class, she stops by Rite Aid to pick up a bag of Oreos and maybe some grape soda since she’s feeling especially pathetic at this particular moment. Her classmates are sixty-something retirees and yet they are all infinitely more talented than she is. She can’t believe she walked in her first day thinking a semester of Art History nearly a decade ago would’ve prepared her for anything.

As she’s walking into the store, she sees brown ruffled hair in the shining light of the wine and spirits store next door.

Fuck. It’s him. 

He sees the cashier bag a bottle of whiskey, hand it to him. He turns toward the exit, and she runs into the Rite Aid so quickly that she nearly topples a sharply dressed woman carrying a prescription bag who looks like she could kill Pam if she didn’t feel so under the weather.

Pam barely cares. She just knows she can’t see him right now. She can’t talk to him about how she got into her car after class and cried for ten minutes before making it to the Rite Aid.

She walks past the fabric softener and pretends it means nothing.

  • -

I just wanted you to know

That this is me trying

I just wanted you to know

That this is me trying

At least I'm trying

And it's hard to be at a party

When I feel like an open wound

It's hard to be anywhere these days

When all I want is you

Kelly made her go to this stupid party at Ryan’s and she’s never been so furious at herself for agreeing to go somewhere. Even when she agreed to go to that hockey game and Roy left her there. Because Ryan and Kelly have been making out in the corner for at least ten minutes, and she doesn’t know anyone else here, and she’s pretty sure she’s the only single person here. 

She steps out onto the patio to get some air, and sees a guy with glasses look up from across the courtyard, where he’s sitting on a lawn chair.

He’s holding a sketchpad, and he asks her if she wants to see what he’s working on. For some reason, in that split second, she doesn’t think of her own art at all, but of the time Jim drew a sketch of Dwight dressed in a beet-shaped dress and hat and put it on her computer monitor when she went to the restroom and she laughed so hard when she came back that she had to make up a story about watching a funny internet video that she’s pretty sure only Michael believed.

The guy explains that he’s a cartoonist before she even responds. She tries to brush him off, but he seems only further encouraged by her apparently playing hard to get. She’s not sure how to say she’s not interested, so she gives a half smile -- grimace, really -- and goes back inside before he can make his way over to her.

You're a flashback in a film reel

On the one screen in my town

Karen hates Never Been Kissed. She can’t stop talking about David Arquette’s acting is stiff and Drew Barrymore’s voice is annoying. 

Jim tries to remember to nod every so often. It’s not that he doesn’t agree with Karen on most of her points… albeit with less passion, perhaps. (And he’s not sure why they didn’t just change the channel if they both disliked the movie this much.)

It’s that he can’t help thinking Pam would probably think the movie was cute and quirky. He knows she’s a fan of rom-coms and Drew Barrymore because one time she complained about Roy not wanting to go see 50 First Dates.

Stop that, he thinks. Enough. You have Karen now.

He makes fun of something in the movie that really wasn’t that funny, but it makes Karen laugh nonetheless.

And I just wanted you to know

That this is me trying 

(Maybe I don't quite know what to say)

I just wanted you to know

That this is me trying

At least I'm trying

Her feet are starting to feel like she walked in a barrel of hot sauce with open wounds. She’s not quite sure what she’s saying anymore, but she hears words like “art show” and “don’t even exist” and all she can do is stare at his cap, hoping he’ll raise his eyes enough that she can read his face.

He doesn’t. At first.

She keeps talking anyway. She says his name.

He looks at her. Finally.

InAllentown is the author of 0 other stories.

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