They’re hiding from his first official Dunder Mifflin birthday celebration in the stairwell when he asks her. (Michael has been working on something behind closed doors all morning, and Jim has the sinking feeling it’s a video tribute. With Michael it’s better to be safe than sorry.)
“Hey, Mark and I are throwing a dinner tomorrow for my birthday. A few of my friends, Larissa – figure we’ll drag out the grill, try to take advantage of the good weather while we’ve got it. Want to come?” (He tries his best to make it sound casual, like his chest doesn’t feel tight waiting for the answer.).
Pam hadn’t been expecting that. A giddy thrill shoots up her spine, and she feels like her cheeks are going to hurt if she grins much wider.
“How could I turn down another chance to celebrate the start of a Jim Halpert-filled world? So worth doing twice.”
“You’re going to be providing the alcohol, right?”
“We both know you’re not coming if I don’t."
Technically, Roy’s invited, too. Pam describes it to him as “kind of a dinner party – his sister’s coming, she’s supposed to be this huge physics prodigy,” and she’s aware that she’s making barbecue and beers sound like something her fiancée would never in a million years want to do. He says he was planning on spending Saturday helping Kenny with this car he was trying to restore, and she tells him that’s fine.
The thing is, Pam has never been the kind of person to have a big group of friends, and the past few years had been… well, lonely.
She hadn’t really fit in anywhere in high school – there was probably a world where the volleyball girl with the football star boyfriend and the pastels in her backpack signed everyone’s yearbook, but in her class at Valley View the jocks thought she was weird and the artsy kids thought she was a shallow poser. Having a serious long-distance boyfriend put a major crimp on her social life at Marywood, and she lost touch with the few girls she bonded with when she dropped out. Penny is busy at NYU, not that they’ve ever been that type of sisters. Isabel is working full-time and going to school at night to get her hygienist’s associate’s degree, and they’ve never really recovered from the fight they had about her leaving college. Roy’s friends are polite enough but ignore her unless she’s serving food, and their girlfriends and wives don’t get her sense of humor. She’d been hoping that the Dunder Mifflin job would help, but most of her co-workers are way older, Angela took an instant dislike to her for “living in sin,” and Catherine always seemed to be looking over her shoulder for someone cooler to talk to.
Becoming friends with Jim over the last few months? It was breaking a fast with a 12-course meal. All of a sudden she had someone who actually wanted to hang out with her again, someone who understood her – someone besides Roy, of course.
Jim inviting her to this, their first non-work hangout, meeting people from his non-work life… it’s a clear signal that it’s a big deal to him, too. That they’ve become real friends, not just two people leaning on each other to get through another endless day at a boring job with batshit crazy co-workers and a little boy for a boss.
She’d been hoping to get across how much he meant to her with her present, but nothing she came up with seemed 100% right, and she ended up making him a Dwight voodoo doll from office supplies and writing him a nice card. He’d given her one of her favorite of his smiles, the you’re evil and I love it smile, and said “Beesly, how’d you know? This is exactly what I wanted,” but… not quite what she was going for. Now she thinks he maybe got the message anyways.
She wants to be able to enjoy the moment, and Roy and Jim got along fine when they bumped into each other but were both pretty uninterested in anything more than that. She’d have a better time without having to chaperone him around, and Roy would get to enjoy his day off. It’s not even a lie – Larissa is majoring in theoretical physics at Penn, and Pam does want to meet her, and jokes aside it does sound like it’s more dinner party than booze-soaked kegger.
They’re allowed to have their own things. There’s nothing wrong with any of this. Nothing.
Pam spends an alarming amount of time early that afternoon picking just the right jeans and sweater combo and makeup so she looks good, but not like she’s trying hard. Jim tells her most people will get there at 4:00, but they’ll probably start setting up around 2:30, so she knocks on his door just after 3:00, and is surprised to be greeted by someone who just has to be a Halpert.
“Yeah,” Larissa says, recognizing the look. “I’m a girl Jim. It’s unfortunate for me.”
It’s true that the broad shoulders and strong jawline don’t translate too well to female features, but Pam immediately concludes that she’s going to like Larissa a lot.
She’s more and more sure the more they talk. When Larissa was about seven, she matter-of-factly tells Pam, she decided she wanted to be Jim when she grew up and,with the exception of having found something slightly more respectable to focus her creative energies on she’s never changed her mind. “When you meet my other brothers, you’ll understand,” she says, and Pam cracks up because it’s so something Jim would say. She tells Larissa she’ll look forward to it. (Jim warns her she really shouldn’t.)
Larissa knew exactly who Pam was when she introduced herself. The same goes for Mark and his girlfriend Lisa, who they find hanging out with Jim in the kitchen husking corn. It makes Pam feel warm all over, and so does the look on Jim’s face when he pronounces the potato salad she had quietly made that morning “exactly what this shindig needed” and ushers her over to stand next to him.
She usually doesn’t love dealing with strangers, but she feels comfortable with Jim at her side, including her in their jokes and leaning towards her to quietly tease or conspire with her against the others. She finds herself chatting happily away with them as they finish the side dishes and season meat and set up picnic tables in the backyard. It’s a beautiful Indian summer day in northeast Pennsylvania, and Pam is calmer and cheerier than she’s been in a long time.
She spends the evening at Jim’s right hand. He introduces her to everyone as his partner-in-crime, and they all seem to recognize her name – his college friend Sasha calls her “the famous Beesly.” Pam glows.
She notices, and keeps noticing throughout the night, that she’s the only Dunder Mifflinite there. And it’s not like he never hangs out with anyone else at work. What they have is special. Each time, she steals a bunch of Jim’s chips in celebration, and makes fun of him when he complains.
She exchanges horror stories of years working retail with Melanie from Jim’s high school, more or less proves the viability of a women’s professional basketball league to Will who he plays hoops with at the Y, and brainstorms better presents for next year with Tomas who grew up and went to college with Jim and Mark and is a hugely valuable resource. She insists on getting his email over Jim’s objections.
She collects a lot of embarrassing tales from Jim’s past that she fully intends to use against Jim in the weeks to come, and cracks everyone up with her dramatic reenactment of how they tricked Dwight into cooking Michael’s shoes in the microwave. She keeps looking over at Jim’s face to see how she’s doing – and every time she does, he’s looking at her, too.
The steak is cooked just how she likes it. Her potato salad is a hit and Frank asks for her secret ingredient. (She shifts her eyes from side to side to check if they’re being observed, gestures him to come closer, leans over to him, and tells him it’s a goddamn secret. Jim laughs, and thinks for about the 1000th time, she’s perfect.) The sun seems to hang just over the horizon for hours, casting a lovely orange light over the backyard that she can feel her fingers itching to draw. Jim is beaming at her, his you’re the greatest thing since sliced beets smile. Seriously, she can’t even remember the last time she had an evening this nice.
(Larissa puts her head on Jim’s left shoulder and whispers to him that she gets it now, why he’s having such a hard time getting over her. Pam is toasting something Lisa said, and doesn’t seem to notice.)
Folks start to drift away around 8:00, but there’s plenty of Yuengling left and Roy isn’t expecting her home at any particular time, so she sticks around to help clean up. She gives Larissa her IM and tells her to stay safe on her drive back to school, and realizes that except for Jim and Mark and Lisa, everyone else is gone.
They’re alone in the kitchen. Jim washes dishes. She dries. (He imagines what it would be like if this were every night.)
“Do you think they liked me?” she asks, fluttering her hand over her chest in imitation of some vapid middle schooler and pretending she’s just kidding.
He gives her a look like he knows full well she’s not. “They loved you. I knew they would.”
There’s a silence that feels a little too heavy. Jim tries to lift it by making a crack that Larissa trading him in for her, and Pam giggles and tells him she’s thinking about it too, but it falls right back over them. She’s leaning against the counter, and his hand is close to her hip. There’s a little too little space between them.
And on some level she’s years away from admitting to herself, she’s been playacting all day. Pam Beesly stars as Jim’s New Girlfriend in “Jim’s New Girlfriend Meets His Friends For the First Time,” gets rave reviews.
And maybe that’s why she lets the moment linger. Why she holds his stare. Why she lifts her hand to his shoulder. Why she doesn’t flinch away when he sucks in his breath a little as her thumb touches his collarbone.
She hugs him. “Thank you for inviting me, Halpert. I’m so glad we’re friends.”
“Me too, Beesly. Me too.”
When she remembers this afterwards, she will think about the hug, and not the moment before.
She stays up late after she gets home, using colored pencils to try to capture the way the autumn sunlight cut through the trees. Roy goes to sleep without saying good night to her. She doesn’t really notice.