A long silence had followed Karen’s “yeah” and Pam seemed to be unable to speak.
Maybe she had pushed it all. Going out for drinks, asking what the matter was. Maybe she, Karen, was just too eager to get to know somebody in this forgotten town. Other than Halpert, that was.
Trying to ignore the awkward silence, she swirled her drink and took another gulp. Maybe they could order something to eat, she suggested, but Pam didn’t seem to be listening to her.
“You know Christmas? When you said Roy was cute?”
Karen raised her head from the menu. Now, this was something.
“Yeah. He’s kinda hot, isn’t he?”
Pam chuckled humourlessly. “You can say that. He’s been working out.”
Karen waited. Pam seemed to be lost in some kind of memory, but after a moment she shook her head.
“How much had Jim told you about us- about the office, before you all came to Scranton?”
Karen frowned a little. She remembered asking about Michael, whom she had briefly met in company events. And then about their colleagues…
“Very general stuff,” she said, not really wanting to admit how strange Jim’s silence had seemed to her back then. “I kinda… we left in a hurry. One day we were working, the next day we were merging with you and I was moving here. He told me about Dwight-”
Pam waved her hand with a smile. “They go way back,” she said reminiscent, and it was a little unnerving realising how many things Pam must’ve known about the guy Karen was dating that she had no clue of.
“Yeah, the pranks…”
She laughed a little. “Some of them were very clever. He once got all of Dwight’s possessions inside the vending machine…” Pam laughed and Karen joined, half-heartedly, not sure if she was really understanding the joke. “Well… anyway, back then I was engaged to Roy.”
Karen almost choked with the drink she had just taken. “That Roy from the warehouse? He was your fiancé? What happened?”
Pam sighed. “Official version is, I got cold feet.”
Karen nodded in understanding. It happened, and it took a lot of courage deciding not to go through with a wedding. “Official version, huh?”
“Yeah… well…” Pam sighed again. “Ok, this is very weird to say, so I’ll just say it, and well… maybe it won’t be weird at all.”
“Jim and I had- were friends, very good friends. Accomplices in the pranks. You know, buddies.”
Karen nodded, even though a cold chill ran down her back. If they really had been such good friends, how come Jim had never mentioned her until they all met at Scranton that first day? Suddenly she felt she really didn’t want to know what Pam might be about to tell her. Not like this, anyway.
Pam was still speaking. “... then some days before the wedding, he told me…” she sighed. “It turns out he had a crush on me-”
“He what?” For a moment Karen considered that Pam was making all this up. That she was trying to make it sound much more interesting. Maybe she had imagined it?
“Told you it was weird,” she went on quickly, as if she wanted to avoid the inevitable jumping into conclusions. “So, he told me. And, to tell the truth, I had a crush on him too, only I didn’t want to admit it because I was engaged. And then he asked me if I was marrying Roy, and I said that yeah, I was, and he left. To Scranton.” Pam took a long sip. “And I cancelled the wedding,” she added, just as Karen was about to find her voice.
It made some sense now. How Halpert rarely talked about Scranton even though he’d lived there his whole life. How he seemed like a stranger in a place where he had worked for years.
“Why are you telling me this?” Karen finally asked.
Pam sighed. “I thought- I wish you knew all this before me having to tell you. But then, if you did, you wouldn’t have wanted to even say hi to me, right?”
“Well… maybe.” Karen admitted.
“See? Neither would I. So… today…”
“Today you helped me,” Karen said, as if it was the worst accusation that could be made. “Why?”
Pam pressed her lips. “Because I really think he’s being an idiot. And maybe because I’d like my friend back. Not the one that had a crush on me. I think that boat sailed away months ago. Just… you know, a friend in the office… I had a lot of fun planning the second Christmas party.”
Karen didn’t know how to answer that.
“I’m sorry,” Pam said, and suddenly Karen saw a force in her she had only seen once before, at Christmas. “I think he should’ve told you all of this before coming here. Maybe it’s not relevant now, but it was relevant then.”
Karen sighed. She was right, of course. But then, would she, Karen, had come to Scranton? They weren’t really dating when she decided to move. She wasn’t even sure he had feelings for her; she knew the risks.
“Did you call off your wedding because of Jim?” she asked.
Pam looked at her, straight in the eye. “I shouldn't have been with Roy. And there were a lot of reasons to call off my wedding. But the truth is, I didn't care about any of those reasons until I met Jim.”
Karen sighed and realised her drink was empty. “Well, fuck. You’re in love with him.”
Pam seemed to consider that for a long moment. Unable to stand still, Karen made signs to the waitress for a refill of her drink and without asking, ordered another one for Pam too.
“I… I don’t know.” Pam’s voice came low, as if she was really considering every word. “Because, honestly, he’s been acting like a jerk since he came back.”
Karen had a feeling urge to defend the guy she was dating, but instead she asked. “How so?”
Pam shrugged, her eyes fixed on her hands. “He’s kind of… dunno. I guess nobody would have noticed, but to me he’s very cold. Off putting. Which I totally get, really. He moved on, and that’s… that’s fine. Only…" she looked at Karen. "I'm not in love with who he has become now."
"But you were in love with him before…" maybe she was masochistic. What use was there in digging into this?
Pam just nodded, and looked relieved at the waitress arriving with their drinks.
For a moment none of them spoke.
Ideas swirled in Karen’s mind. How her last weeks had been, living in a dingy hotel, feeling lonely in a town where everything was closed after 11. And the elusive Jim, whom she was dating. But what was that, really? Having dinner or drinks together every other day. A couple of movies. Him, staying the night at her hotel room, sometimes. She had fun with him, and she liked her independence, but…
Karen drained almost all her drink before speaking again.
“You know there is a simple solution to all of this.”
From looking down at her drink, Pam’s head moved so fast Karen was sure she’d have a cric on her neck. “I didn’t know there was something that needed a solution.”
At his, Karen laughed humourlessly.
“Well, I’m not a fan of being the rebound girlfriend. Which, obviously, I am.”
“Pam,” Karen interrupted. “I am. Obviously. I now wonder if he’d ever asked me out if we were still at Stamford.”
Pam looked at her for a long moment. “If you’re right, that means he still has… like… feelings for me?”
Karen shrugged. “Or something.”
Pam shook her head. “I don’t think so.”
But Karen was not to be fooled. In Pam’s eyes there was a new brightness. Was it hope?
“Listen, maybe not. Maybe I’m the love of his life or whatever. But you were right. He’s not been honest with me, and he’s not been nice to you. He needs to grow a pair and make up his mind.”
Pam snorted. “Yeah,” she said slowly. “I think you’re right. He kinda… he’s all wishy washy.”
“So, I’m going to break up with him.”
“Yup. Simple.” Karen nodded, trying to convince herself as much as the woman sitting across from her. “I’m gonna tell him that I know. That he needs to find out if he’s in love with you or not. And the only way for him to do that, is being alone. I don’t wanna be a distraction of his true feelings, if there are any. And well… if it turns out he’s not in… into you,” it was hard to say the L word, even in these circumstances, “then he’ll ask me out again in a few weeks. Or he’ll ask you out and…”
“I’ll move on, Pam. I told you. I’m not a rebound. I can ask for a transfer. Go back to New York. It’s not like I know a ton of people in this town.” She laughed again. What an irony, really, that the only other person with whom she felt an affinity was also… what exactly?
“You know… I wish I was a bit like you.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You know what you want. You make it happen. Just like that. I wish I was like that. I wouldn’t have stayed ten years with Roy… or… I don’t know… things would’ve been different.”
Karen considered her.
“You did leave Roy.”
“That takes a lot of courage.”
“I was scared to death.”
“And yet you did it.”
Pam just nodded.
Karen took a deep breath. “It’s difficult to… I don’t know… to make decisions. There we were, in Stamford, first some of you were coming, then it was the other way around, and I could’ve quit, you know? Then and there. Or asked for something else. And then… I asked Halpert, should I come here? First he said I’d be better off closer to New York or something like that. Then he said I should come… This is literally the first time I make a life altering decision because of what a man said.”
“Ugh, join the club.”
Karen laughed. “The irony is, I might have been so mistaken.”
Pam pressed her lips together.
“We’re doing this, Pam. I’m telling him I know it all. And let’s see what happens.”
“I don’t wanna compete with you,” Pam said, with a small voice. “I really… I don’t wanna be hoping and wishing for something that might be long gone. I don’t wanna chase after him… maybe I’m just tired.”
“I’m not saying we should compete,” although the temptation was high. But that wouldn’t be honest, Karen knew that. “Let’s just… be us. Let’s be a team. Bros before hoes… or whatever-”
“Sisters before misters?” Pam offered.