The cameraman’s lens was trained on Jim who in turn was fixed on the figure behind the circular desk in his line of sight.
It was nothing new.
He’d been gazing that way for years. When he’d been forced to take the seat with his back to it, he’d subconsciously angled his monitor so the reflection it captured would be the same as the one he’d been staring at since he first started at Dunder Mifflin. Even during his short stint in the Stamford office, he’d find himself sometimes lost in a daze, his eyes focused on the window but instead of the harbor, the vision he saw was a mirage of the curved desk back in his hometown and the curly-headed receptionist that sat behind it.
Lost in his own head as he gazed, he felt a smile come to his face and shook his head in awe that it was all real. That the visions of sharing holidays and weekends and everydays with her, images that had once only crystallized in his head, were now memories they’d made together. That the feeling of holding her hands and kissing her lips and worshipping her body, once only a sensation his mind could trick his body into feeling while dreaming, was now what he had the pleasure of experiencing very palpably and very regularly.
No longer was he left to imagine how she spent her holidays as they took their leave from work the last day before the winter break. This year he experienced the wonder of sharing them with her, from the old traditions that they were excited to bring into each other’s lives to the new ones they had begun now that they were a couple.
Today he watched her absent-mindedly as she sipped from the new mug with the carton beagle that had arrived days before—the mug, another reminder of the magical holiday season they’d celebrated together and just how implanted into his family she was becoming.
He couldn’t see it, but he knew just out of sight, hidden behind the desk, was the teal teapot. The teapot he’d given her during a very different Christmastime two years ago.
Simple as it was, the ceramic vessel had extraordinary powers to transport him back in time, to summon memories of when he bought it. When he pulled her name for the office gift exchange, it felt like a sign, a push from Eros, or Cupid or whatever deity was in charge of his romantic destiny to tell her what she truly meant to him.
As per the rules set forth for Secret Santa, he had a budget of twenty dollars, not a large sum in which to purchase a gift that could convey the intense feelings he had for her. He struggled to come up with something that could tell her how well he knew her, how much he wanted to make her happy, how much he loved her and how he would do anything to be the one she loved in return.
When he came up with the teapot, he knew he had nailed it, especially once he added to it the bonus gifts that he hoped would draw out that magical smile of hers, the one where her eyes flashed a little extra twinkle, her cheeks radiated with the glow of her laughter and the tip of her tongue peeked out from between her perfect teeth.
It was a safe gift too should Roy happen to see it. Jim knew Roy wouldn’t read anything more into a teapot. To him it would have been seen as nothing special, just a mere token gift from one colleague to another. He’d have no idea how much thought had gone into it. Hell, Jim wasn’t even sure if Roy knew Pam liked to drink tea, him being so self-absorbed and oblivious to all the things that made her the extraordinary person she was.
In contrast, when it came to Pam, there was nothing that Jim didn’t notice, nothing that didn’t add to the feelings that were growing stronger every time she smiled, or joined him in a prank, laughed out loud at one of his or shared a little tidbit about herself that he hadn’t known before.
Each new quality he noticed made him more and more crazy about her. As time went on, his once solid insides were becoming more and more like the Jell-O he liked to put Dwight’s office supplies in. There was nothing he found he didn’t like about her, except maybe her fiancé and how she let him treat her. It upset him to know he noticed all the little things, where Roy didn’t. Maybe he had once upon a time and stopped but Jim knew if she were his, every day he would find something new to love about her. He would cherish her always.
Through the teapot he hoped to convey this. Every one of the items he placed in it, though on the surface trivial and seemingly insignificant, had meaning and a connection to something he loved.
Her smile and adorable laugh were tied up in the yearbook photo.
Her feistiness was embedded in the little pencil she’d thrown at him.
Her limited taste in music but openness to give his a listen was recorded onto the cassette tape.
Attached to the hot sauce packets was her careless side, that came out when she was hungry but also inside them was her ability to laugh at herself.
But if the teapot or the yearbook photo or the hot sauce or mixed tape or any of the other trinkets didn’t say enough, he’d put down his heart into the card, the card that if Roy did see, there would be no mistaking it for a friendly holiday message from a co-worker.
He still had that unopened card.
Its home had moved around a bit since he slipped it back into his suit pocket. It had been kept on a top shelf of his closet, then his nightstand drawer when he relocated to Stamford. When he’d moved himself and his belongings to his childhood home for the two-week period before his new lease back in Scranton began, he tucked it into the shoebox from his Allen Edmonds Oxfords.
He thought about giving it to her on this, their first Christmas together, but something held him back so the shoebox was where it still remained, though now in the closet of his own apartment.
But even without the card to speak for him, he once again poured his soul into the choosing her holiday gifts. Not having to keep it under twenty dollars helped. So did not having to hide his feelings any longer even if he did have to put on an act for a week as he set up the first present. The one he surprised her with after Isabel’s Ugly Sweater party. The one that wasn’t even a present, not in the traditional sense because it wasn’t something she’d keep, not like an item of clothing or piece of jewelry and not something they could do like see a show or take a trip.
In spite of its more symbolic nature, or maybe because of it, she said it was the most special thing he gave her, the gift that had it been all he bought for her, would have still made it the best holiday surprise she’d ever received.
But it wasn’t her only gift. He had bought her jewelry, an anklet with a small gold seashell charm. When he saw it at the jewelry store, he knew it was for her, something she’d wear close to the feet that walked on fire to work up the courage to let him know what she’d been feeling and what she wanted. That night at beach was the true turning point that brought them together and the look on her face as she opened it told him she knew just what he’d meant for the anklet to say.
Of course, there had to be a gag gift, and this one he gave her next. She wore a confused look on her face as she took the strange shaped and badly wrapped item from under the tree. The look remained as she ripped off the paper to discover a step stool and only gave way to glorious laughter when Jim announced his days of dropping everything to come help her get stuff from her second shelf were over.
Her happy chortle continued as she unfolded the stool and stepped upon it to christen it and thank him with a proper, perfectly aligned kiss for all her gifts, including him.
Not able to contain himself once he started, he kept shopping, resulting in a stocking stuffed with lots of other things he knew she’d like, a box of herbal tea, a peony scented candle, a set of new Pastel pencils, the Outlander book he’d heard Oscar suggest, a heart shaped picture frame and a little silver duck that he noticed caught her eye at a little shop they stopped in by the outlet mall.
She laughed when she pulled it out, knowing why he bought it but explained she had been eyeing it because she thought her mom might like it for her garden.
And she laughed even harder when he pulled out the shaving brush and stand, similar to the one he’d been eyeing at the same shop and he shared with her he’d thought it would make a nice gift for his dad.
Silver duck and shaving brush included, the gifts were worth every penny but they’d both way overspent and so they’d had to cut back on eating out – it had been a lot of grilled cheese dinners the months leading up to and following the holidays. The one exception was to be New Year’s but a favor for his brother put a wrench in that plan.
In the end however, New Year’s in New Jersey was the perfect way to wrap up a year that began a little rough for both of them but by the 365th day had become one that they both could say was the best year of their lives.
“Hey Idiot. Didn’t anyone ever tell you it was impolite to stare?”
Dwight had just returned to his desk. Normally, Jim might have responded by shifting his gaze to Dwight and staying focused on him for the remainder of the afternoon. But he already had a prank lined up for later that day so he knew he’d have his fun when the timers he strategically placed in and around his desk began to sound their alarms one after another just as Pam would pretend to put a call through from his biggest client but not before remarking, “um, Dwight he sounds a slight bit angry.”
Knowing what was to come allowed Jim to fight his current instincts as Dwight crawled under his skin. Ignoring him, he kept his gaze on the woman with whom, as each day passed, he fell deeper and deeper in love with.
She, being intently focused on her computer screen, probably deep into a game of solitaire or searching online for something fun, yet inexpensive for them to do that weekend, hadn’t noticed him watching her yet.
And then there it was, broadening across her face as she looked up to notice his glance, that same magical smile that drew him in deeper still and pulled him from his desk to hers.
“Christopher’s tonight?” he asked as she approached. “I think it’s time we made up our New Year’s dinner.”
“Michael’s got other plans?” she questioned before agreeing.
They hadn’t been to Christopher’s in months. They’d been meaning to get back since missing their New Year’s plans, but there always seemed to be something that kept them away. Post-holiday fatigue, unexpected snowstorms, and an impromptu inventory night to make up for the one where Kevin hadn’t realized he had to input the quantities into the program and not just write them on sticky notes that the guys in the warehouse pulled off the boxes the next day.
They’d finally made plans to go last week on the same day Michael had invited them to dinner at his condo. For once they truthfully did have plans that weren't just doing anything that wasn’t a double date with their boss and Jan.
Michael as usual seemed disappointed, but retreated to his office in defeat. Later that morning, however a memo went around instructing everyone to share their favorite restaurant, the more romantic the better, for a Valentine’s Day newsletter he was putting together. Unable to wait even 10 minutes for a suggestion, he soon called a conference room meeting to survey the staff in person, clueing Jim in that Michael was up to something. Pam was first to be polled and she almost let it slip, their special spot, but quickly changed her answer to Friendly’s when she caught Jim’s eye and his subtle head shake.
“We really like ice cream,” she added.
“Sharing a sundae is super romantic.” Jim threw in for added effect.
It was hard to know how he figured it out, maybe through Phyllis, or maybe he was just smarter than they gave him credit for because when they pulled into the parking lot of their favorite place, Jim immediately spotted the red PT Cruiser and without a beat turned around. That night instead of seeing Beth, Pam waited in the car as Jim picked up take-out, purchased with the gift card that arrived with the mug.
Jim peeked over the ledge to catch a glimpse of what had Pam so absorbed by on her computer, just missing whatever it was as the screen saver took over and his own likeness popped onto the monitor, a sweet photo that his mom took of the two of them at Christmas.
“It’s Wednesday. I’m pretty sure it’s improv night.”
“Then it’s a date.”
Beth was excited to see them when they arrived but it was a busier than usual Wednesday so it wasn’t until later in the meal when she got a chance to say more than a quick hello when she took their orders.
“So where have you two been for the last 3 months. I thought you were coming to ring in the New Year with me,” she asked as she at long last got a chance to linger at their table and give them a bit of guilt trip for staying away so long.
“We had a family emergency,” Jim shared causing a look of alarm to come over Beth’s face.
“I wouldn’t call it an emergency, Jim,” Pam expounded as she saw Beth’s worry. Jim’s brother needed a last-minute sitter for his kids so that’s why we had to cancel.”
“Well family first,” Beth spoke demonstrating her understanding. “And how were your holidays? Wonderful, I take it?”
Beth took a quick peek at Pam’s hand which Jim noticed. He’d certainly thought about it, but the ring was still tucked away with the card in the shoebox.
“They were perfect,” Pam eyes twinkled as she answered. “And yours?”
“Profitable. My son was with his father this year for Christmas so I took all the holiday shifts. We were packed here every night. And to be honest, it was nice to see so many of my regular customers. It was like having my extended family with me to celebrate. But I missed you two.”
“Wow, you give guilt like my mom does.”
Pride bloomed on Beth’s face at Jim’s comment.
“Speaking of profits, any big wins for you during our absence?” Pam asked.
“I did okay, won a week here and there but had no big streaks. But that does remind me of a story to tell you two. It had to do with an anniversary.”
Jim set down the drink he’d just finished and waited for Beth to continue.
“I met this guy at the gym. Actually, I’ve kind of known him a while, we’ve been flirting with each other ever since we shared a laugh over the guy who liked his music or whatever he was listening to in his headphones just a little bit too much,” she winked as she bobbed her head wildly up and down in demonstration.
Jim raised his eyes with curious musing but said nothing.
“Anyway, he finally asked me to grab a coffee after a workout one day and asked for my number. After a few calls and another coffee date, he asked to see me for dinner. Of course, I agreed.”
“That’s wonderful Beth. Did you have the dinner yet?”
“Well, that’s the kicker. Two days later I got to see him at dinner,” she responded to Pam’s inquiry, “The one he was having to celebrate his anniversary, here…with his wife.”
“Oh, that’s terrible. What did you do?”
“Oh boy, more than anything I wanted to forgo 25 points so I could throw a drink in his face… but I’m a professional. I held my tongue through the meal, smiled at his unsuspecting wife, poured his champagne. When I left the bill, I wrote on it to lose my number which was little dangerous but I was so mad.”
“As you should have been. What a swine!” She looked across to Jim who, though she knew would never do such a thing, was still a member of the sex that had perpetrated this heinous act. “What is wrong with your sex?”
“Aw Pam, leave him out of it. He’s one of the good ones.”
“Yeah, leave me out of it,” Jim said sheepishly. “No, but Beth, on behalf of my sex I do apologize for some of the pigs out there. I know the type...” he looked across to Pam whose countenance said she knew just the person to whom he was referring to.
“That must have been just awful.”
“At least he left me a pretty big tip, hush money, you know. And he hasn’t shown up at the gym since. Oh, excuse me loves I’ve got a new table,” she said as she noticed the hostess seat a group of ladies in her section.
Beth left to attend to her new patrons while Jim and Pam continued their meal.
“You know we should try and set her up with someone.”
“Ok cupid, who are you thinking? It’s not like she’s near our age? You know a lot of men in their… what do you think mid 50’s, early 60’s?”
Pam thought about it a bit.
Jim let her think about her suggestion before he voiced his opinion.
“Um, I thought we liked Beth.”
“Yeah, guess not. I just feel so bad for her. She’s really such a nice person and she seems lonely.”
Pam, right on cue, got up to visit the restroom as she always did after she finished her meal, leaving Jim to think about Beth’s situation and how lucky he was he was no longer out there.
Dating was rough, he knew from experience. Of course, for him it hadn’t been rough because of any trouble finding dates. He never had much of a problem with that. No, it had been rough because his heart had been captured from the first week he started at Dunder Mifflin and even while he dated other women, he’d known he’d never truly be able to give it to anyone else.
He looked out into the night sky and thanked his lucky stars he would never have to.