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Story Notes:

Several years ago, I stumbled across this online list of bad writing prompts: https://www.chicagonow.com/listing-beyond-forty/2013/11/40-really-awful-writing-prompts/ The list is hilarious and worth a read, but one of them caught my attention when I found the list again:

24. Incorporate the line: You had me at Jell-O.

Enough said, really.

Author's Chapter Notes:
I don’t own The Office, or the line “You had me at Jell-O.”

 

It was the first rainy day after a good two weeks of it being sunny. The March slush had been melting as it was exposed to sunlight for the first time in its life, but today was cold, rainy, and dark. For Jim, it seemed like the perfect day to turn off his alarm, throw the covers over his head, and fall back asleep. Except he couldn’t, because today was his first day of work at Dunder Mifflin. His first real job.

Finding work had been a rather slow process after Jim graduated from college. He spent the summer working at a kite shop near Lake Wallenpaupack, which had been a nice change of pace after four years of tests and papers. Fall and winter were a little less pleasant, as he juggled job interviews with a part-time internship at a software company with conversations with his dad about how he should be conducting his job search. This all explained why he was still living with his parents, although he had plans to move out soon.

Jim forced himself out of bed and thought back to his interview as he got ready. His new boss, Michael Scott, had opened his office door with an ice cream carton in one hand. That would have been alarming on its own, considering it was 10:30 in the morning, but as the two shook hands, Jim noticed that the ice cream carton was actually full of cereal and milk. He didn’t know if that was better or worse.

Within thirty seconds, Jim had quickly realized that there was no need to be nervous for his interview. Michael had sat down on the other side of his desk, asked Jim one question about what kind of work he had done before, and then spent the rest of the time talking about why he didn’t like the Easter Bunny and how water boils faster when you cover the pot with a lid, but it’s more dangerous.

Michael concluded the interview by hiring Jim on the spot and asking him to start that Monday. Jim thought he was joking at first, but the man had seriously eaten Cinnamon Toast Crunch out of a mint chocolate chip ice cream carton and then bunny hopped around his office, so a sudden job offer didn’t seem so crazy.

What Jim remembered the most, though, was the pretty receptionist who had greeted him when he came through the door, smiled reassuringly as Michael whisked him into his office, and walked him to the elevators as he left. She had apologized for Michael’s behavior, which was nice on the heels of Michael loudly introducing Jim to a dozen disinterested stares and the whirr of the copier. She was the only light in the office, a warm candle in a dull room. Well, except for Michael. Michael was like a neon sign in a bar.

Jim shook his head and smiled at the memory before shrugging at his reflection and heading downstairs. He knew his mother would be cooking up a storm. He was tempted to be a little insulted that his mom was making him breakfast on his first day of work, like he was in high school again, but he appreciated the gesture. He also knew the days of homemade coffee cake and perfectly fried eggs were limited.

The drive in the rain did not quell Jim’s first day nerves, nor did the realization that he didn’t remember if Dunder Mifflin was on the second or third floor. He scanned the list of companies in the lobby before taking the elevator up two stories.

There was no reason for him to be nervous, he told himself on the ride up. He was good at sales. He was a hard worker, when he wanted to be. And it wasn’t like this job was going to turn into a permanent career. If he wasn’t the best salesman in the room, it didn’t matter.

Jim walked out of the elevator and through the glass Dunder Mifflin doors, encountering the gaze of the receptionist. She wore a light blue collared blouse and a gray pencil skirt and appeared to be setting aside a sketch when Jim walked through the door. Her inviting smile somehow made him less nervous and gave him butterflies. He loved it.

“Hi!” she said brightly, turning her chair to stand up. “Jim Halpert?”

“Hi, yes,” he replied, trying not to trip over his words. “I’m sorry. You’ll have to remind me of your name.”

“It’s Pam. Pam Beesly.”

“Pam! Right, so sorry.”

“You’re fine,” she said, waving her hand in the air. “I don’t know if I even told you my name when you had your interview. Um, I’ll go tell Michael that you’re here.”

Jim stood awkwardly by the front desk until Pam retrieved Michael.

“Jim Halpert!” Michael said loudly. People looked up briefly before returning to their work. “Alright everyone! Time to haze the new guy!” Michael lurched at Jim for a punch and Jim braced himself until Michael started laughing. No one joined in. “I’m kidding! Corporate said we can’t do that anymore.”

Anymore?”

“We did it one time and the guy lodged a complaint,” Michael lamented.

Jim looked over and Pam, who nodded, almost imperceptibly, in confirmation. He made a mental note to ask her about it later. He suspected she would be good at telling stories.

“Well, Pammy here can get you all set up,” Michael continued. Jim noticed Pam wince a little at Michael’s nickname for her. “But if you have any questions, I’ll be in my office. I’m sort of like the 411 of the office, if you know what I mean.”

Pam sighed a quiet smile as Michael disappeared into his office. “You’re just going to be at this front cluster here,” she said, taking a stack of papers from the top of her desk. She handed them to Jim and lowered her voice slightly, as though she were telling a secret. “And I want you to enjoy this moment, because you’re never going to go back to this time before you met your deskmate, Dwight.”

Jim chuckled and glanced over at the man sitting on the left side of the cluster of desks. “Thank you for the warning.”

“We just gave you the information for a few of our accounts. Just to get you started,” Pam explained, gesturing to the papers she had handed him.

This information did not sit well with Dwight, who scoffed and said, “I told Michael that we shouldn’t give handouts. Let the new people get their own accounts, like the rest of us.”

Pam smiled sympathetically as Jim shot her a glance, and she headed back to reception.

“So. Not big on the handouts, are we?” Jim said as he sat at his desk.

“Frankly, I don’t know why we’re even hiring,” Dwight said. “In my interview, I told Michael that I should be the last person he ever hires.”

“Did that work out for you?”

“I would say so. In just five months I became assistant regional manager.”

“Oh okay,” Jim said, knowing he only had a few days at most to play up the “new guy” facade. “So you’re like Michael’s sidekick?”

“Uh, more like we’re both the heroes. Michael is like Captain America and I’m like Ironman.”

“Or he’s like Batman and you’re like Robin.”

“I literally just said we’re both heroes.”

“Okay, I think I get it. You’re like Mario and Luigi.”

Dwight tossed his pen on his desk and folded his arms. “Have you not been listening to me?!”

Jim glanced over at Pam, who was clearly trying not to laugh out loud. This was going to be fun.



Jim was still a little too nervous and eager to blend in to notice how slowly the first two hours of the day went by. He set up his computer and work email, met Toby in HR and a few others who sat near him, wrote down his phone extension, got into a few more interesting conversations with Dwight, and talked to some of the other sales people. Phyllis in particular was very helpful, and she even walked Jim though his first cold call. He went to the bathroom around 11 and on his way back to his desk, he encountered Pam making tea in the kitchen.

“Hey there!” she said. “How’s your first day going?”

“It’s been pretty good,” Jim answered honestly. “Is Dwight always like that?”

Pam smiled as she rifled through the box of tea bags. “I wish I could say that he’s just putting on a show since it’s your first day. But yeah, he’s always like that.”

Jim noticed her blue shirt and gray skirt again and couldn’t help but say, “Hey, uh, we’re matching.” He gestured to his own blue button down and gray trousers. He didn’t tell her that both of his articles of clothing were hand-me-downs from his dad, whereas her outfit looked like it had been made for her.

Pam grinned amusedly. “Yeah, we are!”

Jim ran his fingers through his hair. “I left my hair clip at home, though.”

“I might have one in my purse you can wear.”

Jim laughed, relieved and flattered at the way she took his lame comment and made it funny.

“Oh, hey, before you go. Michael was going to take you to lunch today but he had to go to corporate at the last minute. So, um, it’s gonna be me.” Pam finished her sentence with a shrug and a small but enthusiastic smile.

The butterflies had mostly calmed down at this point in the day, but Jim felt their resurgence at the news Pam had given him.

“Is 12:30 okay?”

“That sounds perfect. See you then, Beesly.”

He couldn’t help but notice the way her smile grew bigger and her eyebrows went up as he called her this.



Jim offered to drive them after Pam suggested Cugino’s. The rain had calmed to a cool mist by the time they pulled into the parking lot. They settled into a booth by the window, ordered the same thing (cheesesteaks with fries and root beer), and slipped effortlessly into their conversation.

Jim knew it was inappropriate for him to be thinking this, but he couldn’t get over how pretty she was. And she was so sweet and funny and smart, to boot. He had only known her a few hours, but it was like the universe had caught wind of every attribute of his dream girl, and presented it to him all at once.

Of course, it was very possible that this was all a dream. She might tell him that her evening plans were to watch the basketball game on TV and fire up Madden during halftime, and then he would wake up.

“You gonna watch the March Madness championship tonight?” he asked, knowing he was pushing his luck.

Pam chuckled. “I don’t know if I’ll watch the whole thing. But my fiancé has a bet on it, so we’ll definitely have it on.”

Whump.

Jim’s heart slammed against his chest and stayed there insistently until his brain had caught up with what she had just said.

Her left hand was under the table, but it wasn’t like he didn’t believe her. And he knew it would just be a slap in the face, a reminder of how he had conveniently missed the sight of her ring all morning.

Jim cleared his throat. “So, um, you’re engaged? Congratulations.” He hoped his voice sounded steadier to her than it did to him. He couldn’t really hear himself speak over the deafening sound of his heartbeat.

“Oh, thanks,” she said casually. She twisted her napkin in her hands and placed the white paper on the table. Her ring caught his eye immediately.

It was sparkly, delicate, modest. Like her. Another man had noticed her already, because of course he had.

Jim’s mouth felt dry. He took a quick sip of his root beer. “When’s the wedding?”

Pam’s cheeks turned slightly rosy, and she hesitated before she answered. “He actually just proposed a few months ago so we haven’t planned anything yet. I would love a summer wedding, but that would be really soon, so, um… yeah.” She finished with a shrug and a smile at her left hand before going back to her meal.

“Well… that’s really exciting. Congratulations.” He cringed internally because he had just said that.

“Thank you,” she said, fiddling with the crust of her sandwich. “And thank you for asking about it, too. No one at the office has taken much interest.” She popped a fry in her mouth and chased it with a sip of root beer. “Even though he works in the warehouse.”

Double whump.

“Oh, he does?” Jim choked out.

“Yeah, he actually helped me get the job with Dunder Mifflin. I’m sure you’ll meet him soon. He comes up and has lunch with me a couple times a week.” Pam paused and stirred the ice around in her glass. “Just between you and me, I wish he did that more. But I know he likes being with his friends.” Suddenly embarrassed, she bit her lip, as if she wanted to hold back what she had already said. “Sorry, you didn’t need to hear me say that.”

Jim swallowed uncomfortably, not sure what to say next. Everything he thought of seemed wrong. “It’s okay,” he said finally.

It wasn’t a lie, but it wasn’t really the truth either. He didn’t want to overstep his boundaries, but it seemed like she needed a friend. If no one in the office was taking much interest in her wedding, and her fiancé couldn’t make it to lunch half the time, surely she could use someone in her court. He could be that much for her, right? Before their outing, he had been thinking of asking her out eventually. That was clearly out of the question now, so he could settle for being her friend. It was funny how this lesser responsibility seemed like more of a demand on him.

 

 

The rain was coming down in sheets as they stepped outside of the restaurant.

“Shoot, I left my umbrella in the car,” Jim said. He lifted the collar of his jacket to see how much of a hood it could give him.

“Oh stop it. Just share mine with me.” Pam held out a large yellow umbrella with a green trim and pressed a button to open it. The sections of the umbrella were pointed. “See? It’s like a flower!” she said enthusiastically as she offered him shelter.

The umbrella was big but not exactly roomy, and Jim hunched over to make up for their difference in height. Sharing an umbrella was a task meant for people who really wanted to be next to each other, he realized. 

Still, he and Pam breezed through the potential awkwardness during the drive back to the office. They were talking about their favorite music as they walked in, when Dwight wheeled around with an insincere smile.

“Jim!” he said. “Do you know what you did wrong?”

Mildly panicked, Jim quickly glanced at Pam, who replied with a wide-eyed shrug. “Michael was supposed to take Jim to lunch, but then I took him instead,” she explained to Dwight.

Dwight waved his hand dismissively. “That’s not what I’m talking about.” He stood up from his chair, picked up Jim’s phone from the receiver, and handed it to him. “You forgot to send your phone to voicemail before you left. You got two calls while you were gone.”

This didn’t seem like a very big deal to Jim, but he knew better than to say so. He grabbed his phone from the receiver. “Okay, I’m just gonna listen to my messages now and I’ll make sure to set it to voicemail the next time I have to leave the office.”

Dwight rolled his eyes. Jim quickly sat down and listened to the two voice messages. The first one was actually from Michael, who was calling him from corporate and apologizing again for missing their “lunch date.” The second one was from a company he had made a sale to earlier, and it was just to ask about a payment method. Nothing urgent.

Having taken care of the second call (he ignored Michael’s. What was he supposed to do?) Jim strode over to reception. He took a few jellybeans from the little dish Pam had set out, and the rattling noise alerted her to turn around in her chair.

“Hey, there,” she said. She leaned forward and propped her head up in her hand with her elbow on her knee.

“Hey. Um… do I need to be worried?”

She shook her head. “Nah. People forget to set it to voicemail all the time. This is just Dwight being Dwight.”

“Okay, well, I guess that’s good.”

He took a couple more jellybeans, not wanting the moment to end. “Solitaire?”

Pam glanced back to her computer. “Yeah. You get really good at it when you work here.”

“Guess I’ll have to start training.” Jim mimed stretching his calf against the reception desk, and Pam laughed. Her musical smile seemed contraband now, in a way that it hadn’t before. He didn’t know if it was okay for him to make her laugh this way. And he didn’t want to know the answer to that question.



Michael walked through the door a few minutes later. Jim tried to think of an excuse for being at the reception desk, but it didn’t matter because Michael was nothing but delighted to see him. 

“Jim! My protege! Can I escort you into my office?” 

Pam smiled down at the desk before turning back to her computer, and Jim found himself smiling at the back of her head before following the direction of Michael’s outstretched arm.

“So!” Michael said, taking a seat behind his desk. “Want an Oreo?” He produced a box from under his chair.

“Sure.”

“They don’t feed us enough at these dumb corporate meetings,” Michael said. He handed Jim a cookie, then took one for himself, twisted it apart, and put a half creme-side down in his mouth. “I wanted to talk to you about going on a sales call,” he mumbled. “Dwight has a meeting with a new client tomorrow, and I want you to go with him.”

Jim groaned silently. “Okay,” he said, trying to keep his voice neutral. “Thank you for thinking of me. Does Dwight know about this?”

Michael tossed a blank cookie into the trash. “No, but you can go ahead and tell him.”

That should be interesting, Jim thought. “Okay. Anything else you need from me?”

Michael’s face was suddenly split in two with a childlike smile. “Actually,” he began, ducking his head as he rummaged through a drawer in his desk. He pulled out a deck of cards. “Can I show you this magic trick I’ve been working on?”

Jim didn’t like the fact that this request didn’t surprise him at all, but he tried not to think about it too much. “Go for it.”

Michael fumbled through shuffling the deck, dropped a few cards that just so happened to all be the eight of clubs, and led Jim through an elaborate “lie detector test” before concluding that Jim’s card was the eight of clubs. Jim feigned amazement and Michael finally let him go.

When he got back to his desk cluster, Jim took a deep breath and said to Dwight, “Michael told me to tell you that I’m going on your sales call with you tomorrow.”

Dwight’s brow furrowed, as if he couldn’t tell if Jim was being serious or not. “You can’t come on this sale with me.”

“Why not?”

“Because I have had 29 successful sales in the row. I’m on track to break the company record.”

“Dude, I’m just along for the ride. I don’t have to say anything if you don’t want me to.”

“First of all, do not address me as ‘dude.’ I am your superior. Second… You know what…” Dwight stood up from his desk. “Michael!”

Jim sighed a little and shook his head as Dwight all but ran into Michael’s office. He turned to look at Pam, but her back was towards him as she looked at her computer. His eyes lingered on her hair clip before he tore his eyes away from her and back to his computer. He was sure the habit wouldn’t last long.



Dwight eventually agreed to let Jim come along on the sales call, under the condition that Dwight could record all their interactions with the client. Michael looked a little bemused when Dwight made this request, but he didn’t say anything against it. After their conversation, Jim decided he needed some time away from Dwight, so he walked to the break room, stared at the vending machines until he convinced himself that he did not need a grape soda, and walked back. He ran into Pam in the kitchen on his way to his desk, and he briefly wondered if she timed it all on purpose.

“So I’d say Dwight is treating you pretty well,” she said as she poured hot water into her mug.

Jim rolled his eyes and smiled, leaning against the kitchen counter with a sigh. “He’s like the kid in class who reminds the teacher that there’s supposed to be a test.”

“Or the kid who writes extra questions and staples them to the back of the test.”

Jim laughed. “Good one.”

“You’re a good match for him, though,” Pam said. “He needs someone to mess with him a little.”

Jim thought back to everything he had said throughout the day and started to worry a little. “It’s not out of line, though, right?” he said quickly. “I mean…”

Pam cut him off, “I’m gonna tell you a secret.” She leaned in a little, and Jim felt his heart skip a beat as he got closer to her smile than he had ever gotten before. “Nothing happens here. Anything you want to do to keep Dwight’s attention away from the rest of us will be very appreciated.”

A smile crept over Jim’s face, prompting Pam to point it out. He shrugged. “I don’t know. I’m just thinking about this kid I went to summer camp with. Reminds me of Dwight a little. It was mean, I know, but no one in the cabin liked him, and we pulled a bunch of pranks on him.”

“That’s how summer camp goes.”

“Yeah. I don’t know. Some pranks were better than others. Like, uh… we replaced his underwear with girls’ underwear. Put his sunscreen in Jell-O. Hung his jacket from the flagpole.”

Pam’s eyes sparkled with mischief. “Okay. You had me at Jell-O.”

Jim laughed. “That’s what you took from that?”

“Well, I think Dwight would file a complaint with the police if you disrespected the flag.”

“Probably.”

Pam warmed her hands on her mug of tea, and Jim heard her ring clink against the flowered ceramic. The quiet sound seemed to echo for minutes on end, rattling around in Jim’s brain until he cleared his throat abruptly.

“I guess I should get back to it.”

A flash of disappointment flickered on Pam’s face before she smiled and nodded. “Me too,” she admitted. “Seriously, though. Things are really low-stakes here. Don’t hesitate to give Dwight what he deserves. We’ll all thank you for it.”

“Maybe not on my first day.”

“Yeah. Good call.”

He would do something one day, though, Jim decided as he sat back down. A day when no one was expecting it. He would do something subtle, but brilliant, and funny. And Pam would laugh at it, and he would smile like it was the easiest thing in the world. Maybe she would look at him and remember their conversation in the kitchen, and she would know that she was the inspiration for whatever he did.

Oh, yeah, and maybe Dwight would get annoyed in the process, too.

 

 

Jim waited for Dwight to leave for the day before he went to do the same. Pam hadn’t yet moved from her post at reception, and Jim found himself lingering in his seat, waiting for her to leave, too. 

God. What was he doing? He could tell himself all he wanted that he just wanted to hang out with his friend for a few more minutes before the day ended, but he had a crush. A big one. And she was engaged.

Get out while you’re ahead, Jim told himself. He stood up and adjusted his blazer, glancing towards reception as he slung his bag over his shoulder.

A man in a warehouse uniform was confidently walking towards Pam’s desk. He was tall, big, and blandly handsome. Pam smiled when she saw him, and Jim felt his heart free fall into his stomach. Dear lord, is that her fiancé? Please don’t be him, please don’t be him.

With the same smile on her face, Pam met Jim’s eyes. “Jim! This is my fiancé Roy. Jim is new to the office,” she explained with a look to her left.

Roy nodded once and extended his hand. “Hey, man. Good to meet ya.”

“Yeah, you too,” Jim said quickly. Roy’s meaty hand felt stifling as Jim accepted it, although perhaps it was also the quiet guilt that had been building up all day until it was now too big to ignore.

Their hands broke apart, and a long second of silence hung in the air before Pam cleared her throat. “Um, I think we’re going to head out. You coming, Jim?”

“Yeah, I guess so.” Michael had already given Jim some final words of wisdom on his way out (if one could call them wise) so Jim didn’t have a reason to stick around. Well, not one that he could vocalize, anyway.

He followed Pam and Roy out to the hallway and into the elevator, tucking himself in the back corner as he tried to give them space. No one said anything on the ride down. Jim figured no one knew what to say. He certainly didn’t. All he could think about was how he had been crushing on an engaged girl for an entire day and couldn’t seem to talk himself out of it no matter how hard he tried.

A cool, gentle wind greeted them as they stepped outside. The rain seemed to have stopped, leaving only puddles and drippy windshields as a lightless sunset dimmed the sky.

Roy had begun talking about stopping somewhere before he and Pam went home--Jim was trying not to eavesdrop--so he just caught Pam’s eye and waved as he stepped over to his car. Her answering smile was discreet, but her sparkling eyes told a different story. It was then--actually, it was every moment he looked at her, but it was especially then--that he knew what would be making this job worth it. His boss was crazy, his deskmate was crazier, but tomorrow couldn’t come soon enough.

And so, as he watched Pam climb into her fiancé’s truck, he took a deep breath and tried to tell himself that maybe it wouldn’t be so bad.

After all, he had her at Jell-O.

 

 



ThePinkButterfly is the author of 10 other stories.



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