It was all he could think since he got in that morning, the two words repeating over and over in his head like the pre-recorded ‘your call is important to us, please continue to hold’, he and Dwight played to customers to demonstrate the difference between them and the big box stores.
The glare of contempt he wore on his face when he first met eyes with the damned proposal thief, he was sure the cameras noticed, but Andy was too jubilant to detect. Granted, Jim had lots of practice keeping his demeaner calm and his face neutral through emotions that ran higher than they were even now, so it was no wonder Andy was oblivious.
As he strutted around the office like a dog with a huge bone, sticking out his paw as if he were wearing the diamond that should have been on Pam’s finger by now, Jim had to walk away so not to punch a hole in the wall, as Andy had done last year.
It was bad enough he’d stolen the proposal party Jim puppet-stringed Phyllis to set up, but he abused the event by requesting the hand of an undeserving Angela, who accepted as if she were reluctantly agreeing to the terms and conditions to view an article about cats on the internet. Anyone who couldn’t find it in herself to smile with her reply, especially since it was obstructing the million-watt smile that he had been anticipating all day, didn’t deserve a ring, even one from Andy.
By the time the party ended Andy had done more damage than he had back when he broke through layers of plaster. This time what he crushed wasn’t office property, but three hearts, hearts much more deserving than that of the woman whose reason for wanting to get married seemed a lot more like spite than true love. And even if one of those hearts belonged to his worst enemy, his worst enemy that is until now, it was too much to watch him strutting around again this morning.
As Andy paraded through the office donning the smile that Pam should have been wearing last night, Jim thought about the brooding faces of his desolate desk mate and more importantly, his should-be fiancée and the feelings he’d been having about the nard dog with went from mild insults to cutting expletives, some too derogatory even to think. The only thing that made him feel even mildly better was that today Angela still seemed her same unhappy self. To see her smiling and happy might have further depressed Pam and in turn, decimated him.
Andy wasn’t alone in his cheery mood. With Toby now off to Costa Rica, the only one who might have been more elated than Andy was Michael, but Jim was determined to change that. He knew he couldn’t fix things for Dwight, and even though he knew firsthand how crippling the pain he was feeling was, he wouldn’t even try to cheer him up.
He hadn’t however stopped thinking about how to make things up for Pam. To give her an engagement to rival the one that had been rightfully hers, usurped by his new nemesis.
With the fireworks proposal now in the possession of Andy and Angela, he had to come up with a back-up plan, a way to ask that wouldn’t seem anti-climactic after Andy stole his fireworks and his thunder last night.
They hadn’t talked much about the party or what happened there after they got home. Instead, they focused their conversation on her good news about art school. Her quietness, however, told him something was bothering her. When they got into bed, she claimed to be too tired after all the excitement of the day to respond to the delicate kisses he planted on her shoulder. And it was no wonder, she probably sensed they were tinged with his own touch of sadness, since he was also distressed from the turn of events.
Overnight he tossed and turned, surely keeping her awake as his every movement elicited a gentle moan from her side of the bed. Normally, the little noises she made were like a lullaby to him, but tonight they were a reminder of the plain-as-day disappointment that came over her face earlier as they left the party, hand in ringless hand.
As he lay awake, his anger at Andy growing with every minute that sleep wouldn’t come, he tried to think up a new way to pop the question that could be as special as the woman on the receiving end of it.
The first idea that came to him, was a fake email from Pratt detailing the specifics of her course load along with a syllabus for the rest of her life but his e-mail hacking skills were not up to the task. Besides, he didn’t want to take anything away from her accomplishment, and not just because it was the one thing keeping her spirits up now that there was only one life-altering event she could share with her mom and dad when she called them in the morning to tell them about the big news.
The longer he lay awake the harder it became for his mind to focus on what he thought should have been easier to devise. His plans to torture Dwight never took so long to surface in his head. By morning all he’d come up with was to cover the beam on the underside of her mouse to keep it from working, hoping she’d call him over for help before she flipped it over to investigate why. The cause of its malfunction would be the small note he’d have taped there that would read, From the minute I met you I knew we clicked. Marry me, Pam.
Whether brought on by fatigue that muddied his thoughts or just plain old uncertainty, by the time they arrived at work that morning he’d scrapped the idea. It was way too corny and not nearly special enough, and besides he was afraid her first inclination might be to call the help desk and not him. The way things were going, she’d wind up engaged to the IT guy.
So instead, he cordoned off the mouse plot in the part of his brain reserved for the ways to drive Dwight insane. It was too good not to use in some capacity, of course with a very different note, since the only thing that clicked when he met Dwight was the ball point pen that his new colleague fiddled with all that first morning until Jim removed the springs from all the tips rendering them unclickable and unusable.
But it was a prank for another time, one he’d keep on ice waiting for when Dwight wasn’t reeling from his own romantic loss. Jim wasn’t cruel enough to do it today, although he thought a little harmless joke could be just the thing to brighten his mood, which he noticed didn’t seem as bad as it had last night. Dwight always seemed to bounce back faster than most, but Jim had to assume he was still in his own private pain.
After a few laps around the office, Andy took his seat at last and began in with his calls. Of course, each client he called got to hear of his good news, and so did Jim. Could he get more annoyed this morning?
Since he worked at Dunder Mifflin, he knew he could. Daily annoyances were a given and Michael’s emergence from his office was often just the thing to do it. Except this morning, it was the opposite. Just like yesterday it was Michael’s inanity that inadvertently helped him. Today, like before, he had Jim thinking of another place with sentimental meaning for him and Pam. This time as he skipped around the office singing, I'm Walking on Sunshine, the song that replaced Goodbye Toby as his celebratory anthem, it brought Jim back to the time Pam convinced him to wake up early to go see a sunrise at Nay Aug Park.
There was something that came over him on that morning while he walked silently with her at daybreak. As the sun painted the sky with metallic specs of copper and fire and cast its radiance over the landscape in the distance, he felt something shift within him. He knew before then he was in love but it was in that moment that he could taste eternity with her, know their souls would be tied to each other forevermore. It was there in the sky, in her touch, in the way she looked away from the horizon and into his eyes, the gold of the heavens reflected in hers. There were few words spoken that morning, but there didn’t need to be. So intimate was the moment, in the place where the subject of art she painted had first become part of her and after that sunrise it was in him as well.
Yes, he would take her there again tomorrow and while the sun arose, he would fall to his knee and tell her how his world was never so bright and alive until she came along.
Soon, Jim was humming in his head along with Michael, despite the rain that began to fall in the late afternoon that seemed to sour everyone else's mood.
The rain that didn’t let up until Sunday night.
First it was Andy, and now Mother Nature was throwing a wrench at him.
God himself was laughing from above, saying what else you got Jim, cause I’m having fun messing with you, as if he was the Dwight in the scenario.
Now Monday, they sat face to face at a table adorned with chrysanthemums; he’d requested a certain waitress but forgot to ask for a particular flower. Appearing nonchalant was becoming a bit of a struggle, this being his third attempt, but hopefully the old adage was right. Still, his sweaty palms were making it hard to keep hold of his silverware. He’d dropped his fork twice already and she would start to get suspicious soon, despite his many playful fake-outs over the past few weeks.
With rattling nerves, he tried to focus the conversation on the original reason for the Monday night celebration and not on this being his proposal: Plan C. They discussed what classes she was most excited for and which she felt most apprehensive about. They talked about Brooklyn and New York, and how much he looked forward to coming to visit her so they could explore the city together.
With luck, she would not see it coming, the little scheme he set up after the weekend’s fell apart, if only because he suggested the dinner immediately after she told him about Pratt. Christopher’s was the natural place to celebrate her acceptance along with the year of dating they were coming up on that Saturday. They only went to their favorite restaurant on weekdays anymore, so here they were on a quiet Monday, remembering what they were feeling that first night. Pam had been giddy with excitement to share with Beth it was their dating anniversary since she would get a few points for that. Jim was pretty sure Beth would have been aware of the noteworthy date, even if he hadn’t spoken to her about it in private earlier while pretending to visit the men’s room.
What Pam didn’t know was that this visit, this contingency to the contingency plan, would award Beth not only a few extra points, but the big win.
It was a little bonus, one he’d never considered a priority in his thinking about where to pop the question; this was about him and Pam and while he was rather fond of Beth and pleased she’d wind up a consequential beneficiary, when and where he asked was about it being meaningful and special for the woman who he loved with every fiber of his soul.
But Christopher’s was a natural choice, it wasn’t where they first fell in love and it wasn’t where she brought him to connect their souls but it was where they had spent hours laughing, crying, and finally communicating what they always felt for one another. What they never could deny, no matter how hard they tried. It was the place where they started their journey together at last after too many years circling what he always thought was predestined, and what ultimately was truth; that they were meant to be. It was also the place they returned to time after time to enjoy a good meal and romantic evening, just as they had this evening.
Tonight, the same meal he devoured with gusto on past visits, was only picked at, anticipation filling his belly with butterflies leaving little room for anything else.
“Is your meal okay?” she asked him quietly, her face suddenly shifting from the delighted joy she had worn while they planned all the things they would do in the city that Fall, to a slightly more serious expression as she also pushed food around on her plate.
“Yeah, I guess I wasn’t as hungry as I thought.”
He tried to mask his nervousness and stall what he began to wonder if she knew was coming. Beth was not due to bring the champagne until they were nearly done with their meal, which at the rate they picked at their food, would be a while. When it arrived, he planned to toast her accomplishment, their milestone and the overwhelming happiness she would grant him by agreeing to become his wife, dropping to his knee, this time not for an errant knife but to ask her what he had planned to since Thursday. What he almost asked her as he stood in the doorway of the conference room when he came back from the job interview in New York. Let’s face it, what he thought about since he first laid eyes on her.
“How about yours?” He nodded to her dish which was also still mostly untouched.
“Um no, it’s fine. I guess I’m not so hungry either.”
She set down her fork and took a sip of water as her second Mixed Berry Smash had been drained faster than usual that evening.
“Jim, can I ask you something?”
“Anything,” he replied, gulping back air, like it was a sedative that would calm him and give him strength to remain cool through whatever she was about to ask.
“Thursday night, were you? I mean, I felt like you were planning something, was that…”
He could tell she didn’t want to ask but needed to know. If only she waited to bring this up until later, but he couldn’t bear to watch her struggle through her query, so he cut her off to grant her an answer, knowing tonight might no longer go as planned either.
“Was I going to ask you to marry me? I was Pam. It was supposed to be our night. And I’m so sorry that Andy stole your proposal. But once he did what he did, well you wouldn’t have wanted me to follow that?”
“No, I guess not.”
Jim wasn’t a former football player like her last fiancé but he was suddenly thinking like a quarterback. It may be time to call an audible. He set down his silverware, and subtly brought his hand to his pocket, ready to drop to the traditional position, when she choked out another question of her own.
“And this weekend. Since when do you want to get up early on Saturday. What was that all about?”
She knew it was unlike him, to set an alarm on the weekend and she saw right through his ruse of pretending to think it was a weekday. But with the rain that still was pelting at the windows, he knew his morning had gone the way of the party. Frustrated and cursing Andy once more, he apologized with a kiss for waking her and focused his angry energy into bringing a little joy to their morning by other means.
“Pammm,” he lamented.
He had warned her it was going to kick her ass. Right now, it was him getting his ass kicked. By Andy, then the weatherman and now even she was making it increasingly more difficult to make the moment as mind-blowing as he promised it to be, as extraordinary as she deserved it to be. He began to doubt that this was going to be the right time or place.
“You really want to ask me that. You really want to know what was going to happen this weekend? Where’s the fun in that?”
Tell me, Jim,” she pushed with a little more lightheartedness in her now teasing tone, her smile a little lopsided, her words a little slurred, the second drink clearly hitting her more than usual since she’d eaten so little. “What was it going to be, and what happened?”
It was clear to Jim she knew his second plan was derailed this weekend too.
“The rain, that’s what happened. What it was, was that I wanted to see another sunrise with you.”
“I knew it, I knew there was a reason you were sulking around the apartment, beyond leaving your umbrella on your desk at work. Mostly since we know how to make the best of a rainy day.”
She said the last part with a shy but very suggestive smile and he recalled the ways she cheered him up that morning and again in the afternoon too after he became irrationally upset the rain had continued through the day, since Sunday was looking like it would be out of the question too.
“I would have loved both those proposals, and my butt would have been quite kicked indeed. So now what?”
As the words escaped her mouth, he swore he could hear more laughter from above. It seems God wasn’t done toying with him just yet.
“Come on, Pam. You’re not supposed to ask. You’re going to take away all the surprise. How am I supposed to kick your ass with all these questions?”
Her face got serious again. Not sad serious-like how she seemed the other night when the show of lights was over but her days without a ring on her finger still were not-but there’s something I want to say serious. But before she could say more, he started blurting out thoughts that were not going to help keep the element of surprise going.
“Pam, that look I caught on your face the other night. God, I wanted to kill Andy. I knew you were upset. You have to know I’d have done anything to go back in time and beaten Andy to it. Ever since then I’ve been wracking my brain to come up with something even close ...”
It was Pam’s turn to cut him off.
“Jim, I’ll be honest. I was upset. It was super romantic sitting watching fireworks with you, real ones this time and it had me thinking how symbolic the moment would be if only you would have...”
Jim looked down at his plate. It was exactly the reason he’d paid Phyllis to get those fireworks. He’d had a whole speech prepared about all the moments they’d shared right there in the office that led them to that instance. Freakin’ Andy.
“But now,” she went on. “Well, just knowing you were going to ask is enough. I was upset that night but by morning I guess I figured it out. You were pretty restless and not yourself either. I know you pretty well, Halpert. I knew what had to be bothering you.”
Another shift in her tone alerted him that she absolutely meant what she was about to say.
“You know with me leaving for Pratt in a few months, it’s probably best we wait. We’ve talked about not wanting to have a long engagement and I’m going to be so busy with my lessons and just being a student again. Planning a wedding can be super stressful. There’s so much to do and quite honestly, the only color schemes I need to be thinking of now are those having to do with palette theory in design.”
The weight of the ring box in Jim’s pocket seemed to get heavier and heavier as the words spilled from Pam’s mouth.
“Besides, this way I’ll be more likely to be surprised. Because the way I see it, anything now, I’ll have known was coming.”
It was true. He could hardly surprise her now and from what she was saying, she wanted the surprise. Why shouldn’t she? She’d known he wanted to marry her for a while now. They’d talked about kids and marriage and their future together plenty. This last part was about creating a magical memory for her, for them and this was not going to be it.
He wondered if she had been aware of his plan for tonight? He knew now she had been aware he planned to asked her twice already. It was likely her hesitancy in asking him about it was more her tentativeness to find a way to let him she wanted him to give it some time before he asked again.
Though he was bursting to go through with it, in the end he decided she was right. It was best to wait so they wouldn’t spend the first three months of their engagement apart. And of course, that was when Beth arrived with the champagne.
With a grin that might have given it all away had the plans not changed she set down two flutes and presented the bottle.
“So, my loves, what are we celebrating?”
Pam responded first and all but accused Beth of subterfuge.
“Oh Beth, don’t pretend you don’t know,” she teased. “You remembered our month anniversary, there’s no way you didn’t know we were celebrating a year tonight.”
Beth’s worried eyes relaxed as she looked to Jim, searching his face for her next cue.
“But we are also celebrating that Pam got into art school at Pratt,” Jim added. “It’s a really big deal. It’s a very competitive and elite program. And I am beyond proud of her.”
He knew Beth would be quite taken aback as it was not the script they’d discussed. Sure enough as he spoke, he took notice of the puzzled expression on her face and the worry in her eyes and tried to alleviate it with his own.
“The program is in New York and she’ll be moving there for a few months so this may be our last time here for a while. We’ll have to put a lot on hold until she comes back. But they’ll be even more to celebrate when she does because she is going to rock it.”
Luckily for Jim his co-conspirator was quick to grasp what he meant and improvised her role as best she could. Still, he was afraid her cheeks were going to splinter apart with the fake smile she had plastered on it. Currently, he wasn’t sure who was more upset by the altered plans, him or her.
“Well, I had no idea you were an artist.”
The affectation in her voice was so heightened, Jim had to do something to interrupt, lest it would crack from her disappointment. This was starting to be a trend, his letting down women with his un-proposals. He’d have to explain why to her later and leave her an extra tip to make up for the un-win, although he was pretty sure she was indifferent about the game and more concerned about the reason for the change of heart.
“She is and a really good one. Here, take a look at these.” He whipped out his phone where he stored photos of some of his favorite pieces. While the tiny screen could never do them justice, it was just this reason he had taken the photos of her works with his phone; to brag on his talented girlfriend to his family, his friends and now Beth.
“Wow, Pam you painted those? You are very talented.”
Jim scrolled through the mini gallery on his phone, sharing the hourglass still life, the oil of a vibrant sunrise and the gelatin encased stapler sketch, which evoked a curious expression.
“I call that one Office Supply in Aspic,” Jim offered. “It always inspires Pam’s artistry when I prank Dwight with Jell-O.”
When he arrived at the watercolor of figures kissing on a moonlit bridge Beth all but clapped with delight.
“Oh, I recognize that, that’s here.”
“It is,” Pam beamed as she confirmed.
“Well, they are all lovely. Jim’s right. You are going to do amazing in art school.”
“Thanks Beth. I hope so since it is taking me away from this guy for three months.”
“If anyone could survive the distance, it’s you two. I could see it when you first showed up here and it is still so apparent today, you two are madly in love. A love that strong can survive anything. Three months will be a cakewalk for you lovebirds.”
And with that she finally poured the champagne staying just long enough to hear their first toast.
“To you, my beautiful artist.”
After Beth left them alone, they sipped their bubbly and reminisced over the magical year they’d had. Beth was right, their love was so strong. Three months apart wouldn’t change that. Six months apart hadn’t diminished for a moment the love he had for her and that was before he knew she felt the same. What he felt was permanent, never-ending, eternal.
Three months would be hard, but he knew they would come out even more devoted on the other end. Still, he couldn’t help but wish she’d be leaving for New York with his ring on her finger, to remind her and everyone else he would love her forever.