Jim is the first person she sees.
At least that’s what she tells herself is the reason she grabs the internship pamphlet off the table, sneaks out of the conference room, and catches him before he heads back downstairs.
“I think you should do it,” he says with zero hesitation and a huge smile on his face. “That’s great!”
It’s exactly what she needs to hear from someone, anyone, that maybe this thing she’s dreamed about her whole life could finally, really happen. Like there’s a window through which she can see something amazing and, with his words of encouragement, it begins to open.
“It’s really cool,” she agrees, pulling out the pamphlet. She hands it to him, tells him all the details. He listens and nods and smiles and he knows nothing about her private life, really, but he’s seen her art, watched her draw. His support means everything to her.
“This is awesome, Pam,” he says, his eyes scanning the pages, and she loves the way she can tell he’s actually reading it. That he truly cares. “And Jan said you can do it? Like, with work and everything?”
She nods. “Corporate will give me paid leave if I commit to completing the program. She said she’d have to pull some strings but they’ve done this sort of thing before.”
Jim shrugs. “Sounds like an easy decision to me.”
He grins at her and she feels a smile forming on her own face, almost like a reflex. It happens so often with the two of them it’s practically muscle memory.
“Yeah… yeah,” she says.
It should be easy. She’s young, she’s ready. She wants to do something with her life that isn’t just answering phones at Dunder Mifflin.
There’s only one problem.
“I’ll have to see what Roy thinks.”
Her mind spirals out in a hundred different directions now, like there’s a tiny crack in the window she’d been looking out of, expanding fast, like a spiderweb.
Jim narrows his eyes. “You don’t think he’d go for it?” His lack of confidence in Roy is all too apparent.
“I… don’t know, actually.”
Pam isn’t very confident he’d go for it either, and for a moment she wishes she didn’t have to tell her fiancé at all; that she could just live here, right now, just her and Jim and this dream.
And then, very suddenly, the window stops cracking. As he hands her back the pamphlet and puts his hands in his pockets, smiling at her in that kind and supportive way she’s come to expect, she knows the real reason she wanted to tell him first.
It’s because somehow, when she’s with Jim, it always feels like her dreams could come true.
Roy is the last person Jim wants to see coming towards him. Just the other day the entire office found out about his feelings for Pam, and while a showdown with Roy feels inevitable, he wouldn't have minded delaying it as long as possible.
“I know you're a good guy,” Roy says, however. “And I know that that crush ended a long time ago, so... you know. We're cool, right?”
Jim nods, relieved. “Yes, Yeah.”
Sure. Fine. Whatever you say.
Roy’s hand grips Jim’s shoulder firmly, maybe more firmly than he needs to. It says to Jim we’re cool but also watch your back. The guy is a bit of a lunkhead but when it comes to marking territory, he’s a pro.
As Roy walks away, Jim wonders where exactly he’d heard the rumor about his crush. It couldn’t have been from Pam, could it? He somehow doubts that, considering he’d just heard from Roy’s own mouth how little he cares about anything Pam has to say.
What did he hear, how much had he heard… Jim’s dying to know but he’s also somewhat relieved that the secret is out now, at least partially. Roy doesn’t know that the crush never actually ended. Roy doesn’t know that he still thinks about Pam every night as he falls asleep, that she still takes up almost every waking thought as well.
Roy doesn’t know that he’s still madly in love with her.
But then again, neither does Pam.
He sighs, and heads back over to the truck to help Ryan and Stanley unload the boxes. At the very least, he muses, that love has been pretty easy to hide.
Roy holds the pamphlet in his hand. He barely glances at it.
“I don’t know. It just seems like a huge hassle right now, and you already used all your vacation time.”
Pam calculates her next move. It doesn’t have to be a hassle. Jan had done everything in her power to make this as easy and affordable as possible for her.
“Jan said they would give me paid leave,” she explains.
Roy looks at her, but as happens sometimes, she feels like he’s not really listening.
“Maybe we should think about it some more,” she suggests. “Talk it out, you know? I mean… I’d really like to do this, Roy. I think it might open some doors for me.”
“Doors to what? Pam, you know none of this art stuff is ever actually going to make you any money.”
He looks unconvinced and she wonders if money is even the real issue.
“I know it’s a long shot, but shouldn’t I at least give it a try?”
He makes a face. She knows that face. It means his mind was made up before they’d even begun.
“It’s an internship. It’s not like you’re even guaranteed a real job afterwards or anything.”
She bites the inside of her cheek in frustration. He could be right, of course, but if she doesn’t try, nothing will ever happen.
She isn’t really sure why she says the next part. Maybe it’s because naming another person who supports her makes all of this more real, or maybe she just wants to feel like she has someone on her side. Maybe it’s simply her best friend’s voice in her brain rooting her on. In any case, it just sort of comes out.
“Jim thinks I should do it.”
Roy looks at her with that crease at the edge of his eye that, over the years, she’s come to recognize means he doesn’t like what he’s just heard. At all.
“Jim… Halpert?” he asks, almost as if it’s the first time she’s even mentioned his name. She knows that isn’t the case, but she rarely, if ever, talks about Jim with Roy. “What the hell does he have to do with any of this?”
“Well, nothing,” she quickly backpedals. De-escalating Roy has become a honed skill over the years. “I just mentioned it to him and he thought it sounded like a really great opportunity for me.”
“Opportunity?” Roy scoffs. “He’s only saying that because he’s got his little crush on you. He’ll say whatever he thinks you want to hear.”
She sighs. “That’s not true. He’s my friend. He just wants what’s best for me.”
Besides, that crush was over a long time ago. He couldn’t wait to tell me that part of the story.
Roy’s eyes narrow. “And you don’t think I want what’s best for you?”
“I never said that.”
“Because I do, and I’d hate for you to go through all of this and it just comes to nothing.”
She nods slightly, tears beginning to pool in her eyes.
Nothing. He’s right, it probably would lead to nothing. But sometimes she worries that no matter what she does, everything in her life will always lead to nothing anyway.
“This is just a waste of time, Pam. And I really wish you’d talked to me before Halpert started putting all these ideas in your head.”
“He didn’t,” she protests. “I just think--”
“No,” Roy says with a decisiveness she’s seen before, handing the pamphlet back to her. “Not this time.”
He stalks off towards the warehouse, and she stands at reception alone. She stares down at the pamphlet, then over at the office phone. She doesn’t look away, afraid if she catches anyone else’s eye she might start to break down.
Eventually the phone rings and she knows she has to answer it but there’s a sick feeling now, a roiling in her gut she knows means that no matter what she says, no matter what she does, this is not going to go her way. She’s stuck here: trapped, caged, cornered. And there’s nothing she can do about it. So she does the only thing she can do in these situations, the same thing she’d done in the conference room with Jan. The thing she’s been so used to doing for as long as she can remember that she hardly realizes she's doing it anymore: she starts convincing herself this is not “her way” anyway.
He’s been feeling hopeful lately, and he can’t really explain why.
The hope is what keeps him here, glued to this desk every day. The hope that Pam will finally open her eyes and see in him what he’s seen in her as long as he’s known her.
He has no reason for it. Pam and Roy have finally set a date for their elusive nuptials. There’s an actual clock ticking down to an event he dreads more than anything he’s ever dreaded in his life. But at the same time, when that clock hits zero, there will be a huge weight off his shoulders. He won’t have to hope anymore.
Maybe he’s just looking forward to the after.
When Pam tells him about this exciting new opportunity, he’s genuinely thrilled. Maybe something like this is exactly what she needs to break her free of habits she’s fallen into; to get her out of here, spread her wings, do something for herself. This would make her happy, he knows it.
Back down in the warehouse, however, Roy is not happy.
“Don’t tell her what to do!” he barks at Jim, which, even caught up in the shock of it all, he finds incredibly ironic. Which of the two of them actually ever tells Pam what to do?
Roy shoves him, which to Jim seems so unreasonable at this moment he immediately wonders what he’s like with Pam. He can’t help it. He’s seen Roy react physically before.
Surprised as he is, Jim’s first instinct is primal, to stand up for himself and keep his aggressor at bay. He’s cognizant of the fact that Roy is not open to a calm discussion -- now or any time, really -- but refuses to abandon his own principles either. So he shoves him right back.
“I was just giving her my opinion,” Jim says.
Darryl holds Roy back from what Jim can only assume would be a fairly one-sided ass kicking, and Michael, wide eyed, looks as confused as ever.
“This has nothing to do with you!” Roy barks. “This is between her and me, all right? You need to respect that!”
His words have their intended effect, and Jim stays quiet. Perhaps he’s right, that Jim’s sticking his nose in where it doesn’t belong. But Pam told him about it, didn’t she? Even if Roy doesn’t give a shit about his feelings on the subject, Pam clearly does. Regardless of the multilayered and fraught complexities of Jim’s feelings for her, at the heart of everything, he and Pam are still friends.
There are a million things he wants to say to Roy, and it feels like the perfect time to say them, if not for the audience currently surrounding them.
She’d be great at this.
She deserves this.
Maybe most importantly:
You don’t deserve her.
But he doesn’t say any of it.
He doesn’t, because deep down he knows that at the end of the day, it’s Pam who needs to say these things. It’s Pam who needs to be making these choices. It’s Pam who needs to want something badly enough to go after it.
And if she can’t do that, what’s the point?
She sits alone in the kitchen, hoping for Jim to turn up. It’s neutral ground for them. Switzerland. She’ll sit here as long as it takes until he arrives, which, eventually, he does.
He closes the door a little harder than he needs to and glances at her briefly, looking slightly pissed off. She doesn’t really know why. She’s been waiting about twenty minutes to talk to him but now has absolutely no idea what to say. Maybe she just wants him to shrug and smile and tell her it’s okay, that whatever she decides, everything will be fine.
He doesn’t. Instead, he pours himself a cup of coffee, not looking at her.
“So, you’re not doing it.”
He reeks of disappointment. She could suffocate from it.
“How did you know?”
She suspects exactly how he knows, although Roy talking to Jim about her isn’t something she wants to dwell on for too long.
“Why not?” is all he asks.
“No big reason,” she lies. “Just a bunch of little reasons.”
There are always a million reasons not to do something.
Jim, as usual, sees right through her. “Come on.”
“Roy’s right,” she says, and she hates that she’s invoked his name at all, but she feels the need to remind Jim there’s someone else involved in her decisions. That it’s not just her whose life would be affected. Besides, in his own way, she truly believes that Roy does want what’s best for her. “There’s no guarantee it’s going to lead to anything anyway.”
Jim rolls his eyes. “Roy said that?”
He looks at her expectantly, palpable heat coursing between them. The tension isn’t something she can ignore anymore; it’s there. It’s always been there, she’s just been trying her hardest to look in whatever direction she can that isn’t directly at it.
But she’s tired, she’s so tired now.
“You have something you want to say?”
She wants him to say it. It. She’s wanted him to say it for a long time. But she knows he won’t. Just the other week, when he did finally admit what she’d suspected for years, he’d made it very clear he no longer felt that way.
And even though part of her wishes he still did, what could she possibly do about it? She’s getting married in a couple of months.
“You have to take a chance on something sometime, Pam,” he says, and there’s a layered look deep in his eyes she can’t quite decipher. “Do you want to be a receptionist here, always?”
She’s never felt judged by Jim — her best friend — for as long as she’s known him. She doesn’t believe he intends to be cruel, but this hurts. It hits way too close to home because, quite frankly, she knows he’s right. If she never chooses something different, she will be a receptionist here. Always.
She has to be okay with that. She has to, because she has no alternative.
“Excuse me, I’m fine with my choices,” she snaps at him.
There’s fire in his eyes, a challenge. She doesn’t recognize it in Jim, really. Why is he so upset about this? It doesn’t impact him in any way. She’d like to believe he cares about her future this much but it isn’t as if he has any stakes here.
“Yeah,” she lies again, because she can’t tell Jim the truth: that she's scared he's right. She doesn't want to feel this way but she’s in so deep now she can’t find the surface.
He slowly backs away from her and she can physically feel her heart aching with every step. She doesn’t want to fight with Jim. He’s the only one besides her tenth grade art teacher who has ever supported her artistic pursuits. But she doesn’t stop him. She can’t decide which is worse -- having a wall between them, or a mirror: the one that shows her exactly the kind of person she never wanted to be. The one Jim is holding up to her right now.
She doesn’t want to look into the mirror. So she chooses the wall.
Pam looks down at the table, starts spinning her engagement ring around her finger, saying nothing else. She can feel his glare from across the room.
“Okay then,” he says, and she dares to briefly glance up. He looks more indignant than anything else. She wants to interpret this as annoyance she didn’t follow his advice, that she’d chosen Roy’s over his. As if she’d even made her own choice. But before the door closes something changes, and she sees an expression she does recognize: pity.
“Jim,” she says, and he stops at the door. He waits, and she isn’t really sure what to say to him, she just doesn’t want to leave it like this.
This is about more than the internship, more than a house with a terrace. She’s tired of feeling trapped. She wants someone to pull her out of her corner, she’s dreamed about that for such a long time. But now that person has a face. That person is real. And she’s terrified she will never have the courage to let him.
“It’s just… not as easy as you think it is.”
He looks at her for a moment, then clicks his jaw. She can hear the tapping of keyboards in the bullpen, the phone at front reception ringing, waiting for her to answer it.
“It could be, though,” he says.
He walks out of the kitchen, leaving her alone.
It’s been a couple of days since Roy confronted him in the warehouse. Jim has thought long and hard about it (that’s what she said) and made the decision to do exactly what he’d asked… stay out of it. Pam certainly hasn’t brought it up again, and as much as he’d like to be the person who helps her believe she deserves something better than what she’s settling for, he isn’t that person and he never will be. She has made that abundantly clear.
It’s Valentine's Day, and typically he’d use this opportunity to give her a little present or a card, do something nice to make her aware that he thinks about her, he remembers her. But today he does nothing.
He isn’t afraid of Roy. He’s certain if they ever did come to blows, he’d lose, but it isn’t about that. It’s just humiliating being the target of the office meathead, especially now that virtually everyone knows why.
Roy said that Jim needed to respect boundaries, and maybe he was right. But more importantly, Jim wants to respect himself. And continuing to intervene where he’s clearly not wanted can only bring further heartache.
“Happy Valentine’s Day,” he tells Pam half-heartedly as he heads out for the night.
She gives him a melancholy goodbye, and as much as he hates seeing her sad, he can’t help but admit to himself that he secretly enjoyed watching bouquet after bouquet arrive all day, none from Roy.
What will it take? he’d wondered. How much disappointment can one relationship possibly withstand?
Out in the parking lot, he unlocks his car door and checks his voicemails as Phyllis emerges, dwarfed by an enormous stuffed teddy bear. He throws his stuff into his car and rushes over to help her.
“Thanks Jim,” Phyllis says sweetly as she climbs into her car, the bear taking up her entire back seat.
“Drive safe,” he says with a little wave, closing her door.
Just as he gets back to his own car, he sees a flash of Pam’s hot pink sweater at the front door as she exits for the day.
It's been a struggle lately between the part of him that always wants to talk to her, always wants to be near her, and the part of him that wants to maintain his dignity (and avoid an ass kicking). He isn’t sure what’s appropriate. But he looks up, catches her eye. It’s enough, apparently, because she starts walking towards him.
“Hey,” she calls out. “I thought you left.”
His eyes dart nervously around, looking for Roy’s truck in the vicinity, but he sees nothing.
“Oh, I was, but Phyllis needed help with her… um, really big bear.”
Pam stops about six feet away from him, and they both stand a bit awkwardly, neither really knowing what to say next. Their rapport has been disrupted and it feels unnatural, but he doesn’t even know what he wants anymore. Even at its best, whatever they are won’t be what they are forever, and every day that inches closer to her wedding date is a painful reminder of that.
“So, are you guys going out to a nice dinner or something?” he asks. The man is clearly a perpetual disappointment but surely Roy has something up his sleeve for his betrothed.
Pam’s mouth sets into a tight line. “Not this year, we’re saving money and everything, you know.”
He nods, knowing that if Pam were his, no such rule could ever apply if it put that look on her face.
“Hey, about… the other day,” she says, and his heart starts to race. In all the times they’ve had some kind of argument or disagreement, Pam has never once brought it up after the fact.
“Oh, that was just--”
“I’m sorry,” she says. “I mean it.”
They look at each other for a moment, and he tries to read her expression. What exactly is she sorry about?
He shrugs. “It’s no big deal. It isn’t any of my business.”
She bites her lip, like she wants to say something she shouldn’t.
“But it is,” she says. She won’t meet his eyes anymore, instead looking down at the pavement. “I mean, I made it your business. You were just trying to help me, and I guess… Roy just doesn’t understand that. He doesn’t know what we are to each other, really.”
He wonders why that is. That Pam has kept the nature of their friendship hidden from her fiancé isn’t really a surprise, but the reason for it remains elusive to him.
What they are to each other remains elusive to him, too.
“I overstepped,” he says. “In the kitchen. I’m sorry, too.”
He wants to take some accountability for their estrangement. Despite her defensiveness, he’s been painfully aware over the past several months that his actions have come from an entirely inappropriate and desperate love for her that he’s unable to either articulate or control.
“I’m sorry if I made you feel inadequate, Pam. I need you to know I don’t think that about you.”
She nods. “I know that.”
“I just think you’re really talented,” he shrugs. “And I only want good things for you. That’s all.”
“Thanks,” she says, a bit shyly. “I really appreciate that.” She smiles at him, and it’s finally that real, genuine smile again that he hasn’t seen in a few days. “I also wanted to tell you that I talked to Jan, and explained that… well, that right now just isn’t the best time.”
“What did she say?”
Pam smiles but looks down at her feet. “Maybe next year.”
“Yeah,” he nods, wondering if she means it. “Next year.”
Next year feels like another lifetime. A lifetime in which, yet again, he suspects that he and Pam will no longer be the same.
“I really hope you do it,” he adds. “Someday. I really think you should.”
She looks him right in the eye. “I want to, Jim,” she says, very softly. Deliberately. “I hope you know that.”
He doesn’t know what they’re talking about anymore. He doesn’t know how to respond. Her gaze is so intense he can hardly bring himself to look into her eyes, so he looks at her hand instead, at her engagement ring. Something designed to be a symbol of everlasting love, but he can only see it as a physical representation of someone who is holding her back.
He wishes things were different. He wants so badly to have been the one who’d put it on her finger in the first place but he can’t turn back time. He can’t make her do anything, the way Roy does. He wouldn’t want to.
And he can’t make her choose him instead.
Finally, he lifts his eyes to meet hers and smiles sadly.
“Have a good night, Beesly. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
She nods. “You too.”
He gets into his car and drives out of the parking lot. As he leaves, he glances into his rearview to see Pam still standing exactly where he’d left her.
Jim is the first person she sees.
At least, he’s the first person she wants to see upon receiving the news of her acceptance from Pratt. She feels a huge grin spreading across her face, then looks up for his matching one. He isn’t in the bullpen, so she dashes through the office until she finds him in the break room.
He’s the first one she wants to tell. He’s always been the first one she wants to tell.
He gives her exactly what she wants, what she needs, what she expects, which is that smile. He throws his arms around her and she melts into his embrace.
“See how easy that is?” he says.
Jim is with her. He’s always with her, and she knows he’s especially with her right now.
“Thank you,” she whispers into his ear.
“For what? You did it.”
She laughs, his overgrown hair tickling her cheek. “I know, but I couldn’t have without you.”
“I think you could have,” he says meaningfully, leaning back. “But you’re welcome.”
Pam closes her eyes briefly, enjoying the moment. “It’s a really nice feeling, having someone in my corner.”
“I always have been,” he smiles. “Even when you didn’t know it.”
She loves that about Jim: not only is he in her corner, he’s her number one fan.
“I’m really proud of you, Beesly.”
He looks at her adoringly, and she remembers that very same Jim from a couple of years ago in the bullpen. She wishes she’d seen it then as clearly as she does now: that his support had never wavered, and it’s never been difficult to get, either.
The window is wide open, and she can feel a warm breeze on her face. Only this time, there’s no one to close it.
See how easy that is?
It is easy. It always should have been.