Returning to Scranton on a late August evening, as the sun is already setting on the horizon and the sky is tinged with oranges and blues, she never thought things would turn out so easy between them.
She just needed someone to order her around. That's how she seems to work, something that must change from now on, because all the excuses she looked for and found to get in touch with him, she discarded one by one for fear of. The email she wrote to tell him how his gaydar prank turned out and never sent. All the times she searched for his extension in Stamford, even though she'd learned it by heart from the first time, to call him with the excuse that he forgot to take a sales report or a client list she knows he won't need at his new job. That time she ran into Mark at a bar, one of the few nights she decided to go out with her friend Isabel, she found it an ideal excuse to call him that night and tell him that Mark had complained that he hadn't heard from him practically since he left. And that she hadn't either. And yet, she kept staring at his number on her cell phone, not daring to hit the call button, because well, if he hadn't contacted either of them it was because he definitely didn't want to hear from anyone or anything from Scranton. And the most important of all, the call, email, message, card, fax, telegram, smoke signal telling him that she had called off her wedding, and that she was definitely single and also in love with him.
All those responses from him that she imagined in her head, with reproaches, angry replies and even indifference kept her quiet as a mouse hiding in a corner, for most of the summer.
Until someone in the office pushed her to change that.
Jan has been locked in with Michael for at least thirty minutes now. She doesn't know if the other coworkers are listening in as well, but she notices that the conversation is quite serious. She can't see anything because the blinds are down, but she hears snippets of phrases and words when Jan or Michael raises their voices. Balance of sales, declining revenues, customer losses, overstaffing, low productivity, are terms that lead to nothing good, and she fears that in addition to having cancelled a wedding, losing ten years of her life, losing her best friend, and losing the person she loves, she may lose something else, her job, at the time in her life when she needs every penny she earns.
When Jan walks out and slams the door behind her, she brings her hands to her temples and begins to rub them vigorously as she closes her eyes. Pam looks at her because she is turned in her direction and is expecting her to speak to her at some point. She understands the frustration she must feel with Michael, because he can behave, when in trouble, like a ten year old child. She feels like telling her her trick for dealing with Michael, but she thinks she wouldn't listen to her. No one listens to her anymore.
"Can I help you, Jan, do you need anything?". Pam can't watch her suffer, so she can't help but ask.
Jan opens her eyes, and seems to realize in that moment that she is in the middle of an office that is not her own, behaving in an unprofessional manner, far removed from the strong, determined figure she has learned to be in New York. She also seems to realize at that moment who is speaking to her, becoming aware for the first time of the woman beyond the reception desk. She turns her gaze in the direction of the rest of the office, and can see that no one else is looking out for her, which is as good as it is bad. She directs a friendly smile at Pam.
"Thanks, Pam would you have a headache pill? I think It's going to explode."
"Of course, I'll get it for you now" Pam steps out from behind her stall, and hesitates before standing in front of her "Would you like a chamomile tea too? It has relaxing effects."
"Sure, anything will do me good. I'll wait for you in the conference room. I'd like to chat with you."
She understands this as an order.
Pam sheepishly walks back into the conference room, not knowing what to expect from this impromptu meeting. Jan is pointing to the chair next to her, and she stumbles a bit when she tries to sit down. She feels clumsy and small next to this businesswoman. As Jan hands her the cup of chamomile tea she has prepared herself, she takes a close look at her perfectly painted dark red fingernails with the perfect length. Her perfume envelops her in a pleasant way, thinking that it will cost a small fortune, next to her cheap supermarket perfume. That one she puts on every day out of habit, and also to try to finish the bottle at once, and thus have the chance to buy at some point, a perfume similar to the one Jan wears.
"Take it." Jan pushes the cup a little further toward her. "I'm fine with water." She takes an aspirin from the bottle and takes a sip of water. She throws her head back as she swallows, in a gesture Pam thinks she does on a regular basis. "I just need a few minutes of quiet before I get going again. Some normal conversation, no double entendres, no jokes or awkward rhymes".
Pam smiles a little half-heartedly, and picks up her mug to take a small sip. She doesn't know any topic of conversation Jan might be interested in, so she waits for her to speak again.
"Is everything okay around here?, Michael? Ryan in his new position? Dwight?". Pam thinks Jan is going to name the whole office, but stops there.
"Yeah. Everything's normal." She says cautiously. "We haven't had any incidents, or noteworthy events." Except for Jim's departure, but she doesn't tell her that.
"Ryan?. I don't see good numbers from him. Do you think he's making an effort?"
"I'm not a salesperson, I can't say if he's trying hard enough. But he's serious and responsible." She nods with a small smile, which soon disappears, when she remembers who Ryan is replacing. Of course Jim would do better, with much less effort, and much greater charm. But she's not one to throw shit on any of her peers. So she goes out of her way to defend Ryan a bit. "He's still getting the hang of the position, I think."
"I hope it doesn't take long for him to get the hang of the job. Since Jim moved, overall sales in this office have dropped quite a bit." Jan is drumming her fingers on the table. She looks thoughtful. "I think Michael was wrong to put someone with no sales experience in Jim's position. I don't understand what he sees in that guy, Ryan."
Pam grimaces, which she hopes Jan hasn't seen. The conversation, this talking about another co-worker's, Jim's, is not at all comfortable for her. She can't wait to finish her cup of chamomile tea and get up and go back to her reception bubble, where no one will disturb her. But the damn liquid burns like hell. She can only take small sips.
"How do you see Dwight conducting a sales training seminar?" Jan asks, after breaking the nearly minute-long silence that has settled between the two of them. "He's our best salesman. In years. But....."
"Yes. But." Pam lets out a smile and meets a knowing look from Jan. She seems to know exactly who Dwight is and what Dwight is like. "I don't know how he does it month after month to outselling anyone. I really don't. I don't get it."
"Yeah, I don't get it either." She gets quiet again, and finishes drinking her water. Pam thinks the meeting will be over in a few seconds, but Jan doesn't get out of her chair. "Maybe it's better if Jim runs it. He's charming." Pam looks up in surprise at Jan's compliment to Jim, and thinks she sees a dreamy look on her face. "Or Karen." Jan turns her gaze back to Pam again. "I'd like you to attend."
"Me?" The strangeness of the suggestion flashes across her face, and Jan gives her an open smile, to instill confidence.
"Yes, I think you'd make a good salesperson. You're good with people, empathetic, maybe a little shy, but everything can be improved." Jan squeezes her hand, and Pam feels self-conscious. "Think about it. We want to do it for people like Ryan, but also to promote other positions."
Pam nods without committing much. It's not her aspiration to be a salesperson at Dunder Mifflin. In fact, she doesn't feel qualified for it. It's not just shyness. It's conformity, lack of courage, low risk-taking ability. It's a lot of flaws that make her where she is. And she doesn't just think about this company, and her position at Dunder Mifflin in particular. She thinks about her bachelorhood, and how far away in time and distance Jim is. She hasn't even dared to call him yet. She fears his reaction, just as she would fear the reaction of any customer she insisted more than once to buy paper from.
"Anyway, I have to go now." She says, finally, pulling her chair back from the table to get up. "I still have to go to Stamford, and get in time for a last-minute meeting in New York." Jan picks up a folder lying on the table. "I should have couriered it instead of traveling across three states." She sighs. "But i thought the trip would take some stress off me, though." He looks toward the wall dividing the conference room from Michael's office. Pam understands her unspoken words perfectly. "I wish I could go straight to bed. I don't feel well at all." Jan leans against the living room table, and lowers her head, and Pam worries.
"Is there anything I can do for you, Jan? Do you want another pill? Shall I call Michael?".
She shakes her head as she stands up.
"Can you take this for me to Stamford?". Jan laughs defeatedly. It's a joke. As if it's something no one else can perform.
"Sure." Pam's mouth speaks before she has given it any serious thought. She doesn't know why she said that, maybe it's her subconscious that has betrayed her life of cowardice and decided it's time to do something. The very thought of traveling to Stamford, makes her hands shake, she sees it as she holds them out in Jan's direction to hand her the folder. She does so, and Pam audibly exhales the air that fills her lungs.
"I'm not quite sure....," Jan hesitates, looking at the folder. "What's in that folder is confidential, Pam, and should be delivered directly into the hands of Josh, the Office Manager."
"Got it. It's an easy task. No peeking, and deliver only to Josh."
"Right." Jan still doesn't trust much, but finally smiles "I appreciate it. We'll pay for your gas and food. Don't forget to run the expenses through accounting, so you get your money back, and any incidentals you call me." She looks at her watch. "You should leave now if you want to get back to Scranton at a good time." It's 11 a.m.
"Sure, I'll get going."
Pam walks out the door even though her legs are shaking. She doesn't drop the folder to go to the restroom before leaving, but picks up her coat and purse and heads for the bathroom with more resolve than she has. She doesn't see the stares of her coworkers, wondering what has happened that she has to leave in the middle of the morning. She doesn't care. She feels important. She's on a special, confidential mission. And personal. Most of all personal.
Before leaving for good, she looks in the mirror. She sees her dark circles under her eyes that are beyond repair. She sees her hair frizzy from lack of care, and tries to comb it with her fingers. If she had known, she would have combed her hair this morning with her curling iron, and put on a little more make-up. She would have put on different clothes. She doesn't look good at all, but she tries to improve the image she sees in the mirror by painting her lips. The reflection gives her back the face of the same old dull, ungraceful girl, not the sophisticated, elegant and beautiful girl she wants to be today. She exhales with resignation and says to herself, "Let's go," to give herself strength.
Three hours and a half on the road give her plenty to think about. The nerves settled in her stomach are still there every time she thinks about seeing him again. She doesn't know what to say to him. She doesn't know whether to have a friendly, insubstantial chat, without any meaningful content, or directly ask him for forgiveness and express her feelings for him. She tries to imagine all possible scenarios, to prepare herself in advance for what might happen. His possible rejection, his contempt, his refusal to look at her or talk to her. The worst of all scenarios and the one that has been holding her back all this time from calling him and talking to him. If this happens, she wants to come out with her head held high, and above all, without sinking and crying. She may be capable of that. She did it with Roy when she called off the wedding. There were tears but they were his. The determination and resolve she had at the time is what she wants to find when she gets to Stamford.
And Stamford arrives and she is no longer calm. Her hands are shaking and sweating again, and her temples are throbbing so much that she thinks anyone who notices can see her forehead veins swell and deflate. She wishes she had a smoke so she'd have something to do to delay her entrance into the corporate building. She lowers her forehead to the steering wheel as she turns off the engine, and gently taps it repeatedly trying to give herself the courage to propel herself out of the car and into that glass door. There is a moment when she stops thinking. She stops thinking, and feeling, and imagining. She looks at the folder, her target, picks it up and decisively opens the door. She closes it tightly and walks, almost runs, towards the building. She crosses herself as her grandmother did, as she enters the elevator.
"Good afternoon, can I help you?". Her counterpart Helen, is the one who greets her. She has spoken to her a few times, and always thought she would be a young woman. However, Helen has to be nearing retirement, but her voice is so soft and caring, she sounds like a shy girl in her twenties. At least she has the relief that Jim isn't going to fall in love with another receptionist.
"Hi Helen, this is Pam from Scranton." Pam extends her hand to greet her. A hug, when she doesn't know her in person, seems too much for her.
"Hi Pam! I didn't know you were coming! Welcome to Stamford!" Helen returns the greeting, and sits back in her chair with a broad smile. "It's nice to finally meet you.
"Yeah, me too." Pam looks around and sees the office space occupied by the workers' desks in that branch. She doesn't see Jim sitting at any of them. "Wow this office is bigger than ours." She goes back over table by table again, copier, bookshelf, corners of the room that she can see at that moment, and confirms that Jim is not there. She notices the windows, and the sun still high on the horizon, over the sea. She likes what she sees. She loves it, in fact. If those were the views in Scranton, she could stand to spend day after day a little better. "You have wonderful views. You can see the sea."
Helen watches her sweep around the room, until her gaze again rests on hers.
"What brings you here, visiting in town?".
"Oh, no. I'm actually here on Jan's behalf. I have to deliver this paperwork to your boss, Josh." Pam lifts the folder for Helen to see over the reception desk.
"I can deliver it to him, if you'd like," she says as she reaches forward to take the folder, but Pam pulls it away in time.
"Sorry. Jan's orders are that I'm to hand deliver it to him."
"Sure. Let me let him know you're here."
Helen motions for her to follow her, and as she heads for Josh's office, she catches a glimpse out of the corner of her eye of a table with several photos on it. She thinks she recognizes them, and her heart stops at that moment. She's almost certain that the table by the window, which is empty, is Jim's, but she can't turn to look at it, because Helen is already introducing her to Josh. As she leaves, she closes the door behind her, and Josh has her sit down on the other side of his table. She checks that Josh has a window overlooking the harbor just for him.
"What can I do for you, Pam?" Josh gives her a seductive smile, which creeps her out a little.
"I brought this for you, from Jan. It's confidential." She hands him the folder. He picks it up, opens it and closes it again, placing it on top of other papers beside him.
"We were expecting Jan," Josh says clasping his hands together and resting his forearms on the table and leaning a little closer to her, which makes her flinch and instinctively lean back in her chair. "Not Pam. From Scranton." Pam thinks she sees one of his teeth flash, as if he were in a toothpaste commercial.
"Yes. Jan started feeling sick when she was in our office. I offered to bring the paperwork. She'll call you on Monday." She talks to him too fast, making too many gestures with her hands, trying not to make too much of the fact that she thinks Josh is trying to flirt with her.
"Are you Michael's secretary?" asks Josh, rolling his chair further toward his desk.
"Yep. And the receptionist," she says cautiously.
"So if I call your office, you answer the phone? Good to know." He pulls his hands apart and runs them through his hair. Then he checks his shirt cuffs - of course, he's wearing cufflinks - and adjusts his tie. Pam starts to get a kick out of watching his every pathetic gesture. As if she doesn't know what everyone is saying about him. As if she doesn't know he's married. As if she doesn't know he's had affairs on every trip and at every convention. "Are you leaving already or...?".
Pam doesn't let him finish. "I was actually going to ask you about Jim." She turns her head toward the glass window behind her, but the blinds are drawn, and she can't see beyond that room. "Since I'm here, I'd like to talk to him, but I haven't seen him outside."
"Jim? Sure, you were co-workers, weren't you?"
"And friends" It feels good to say it, to make it clear to him that her relationship with Jim is a little closer and more important. He looks at his watch. She looks at her. It's four o'clock in the afternoon.
"My salespeople had to visit some clients today. They should get back to the office before they go home. I don't think he'll be late."
She doesn't overlook the fact that he calls them "my salespeople," As if the company were his own, and he wasn't just another smug guy whose position has gone to his head. Michael doesn't seem so bad anymore.
"Okay, then, with your permission I'll wait for him to come back."
She gets up before he adds anything else, opens the door and closes it behind her, and stands in with the office in front of her, and the three tables on the left, empty. The second is the one with the photos. She slowly approaches it, as the images in the frames become recognizable to her. Jim's family photos. She stands at the edge of her desk, and looks around to see if anyone is watching her, but everyone seems busy at their tasks. She picks up the photo in which he is with his older brother, and runs a finger across his face. The Jim looking back at her from the photo smiles at her, and her stomach shrinks at the memory of his bright smile. She puts it back on the table, and notices the yellow post-it with the smiley face and the Smile! warning. She can't help but run her finger over those letters of his as her eyes glaze over.
She turns to the front desk and asks Helen where she can wait. She points her to the break room at the back of the office. It is a larger room than the one in Scranton, but has the kitchen included, plus five tables and four chairs at each. She sits down at the one farthest from the door, but gets up right away. She wants to see when Jim arrives, and from that table she can't make out anything. She finds the one with the right position so that, looking through the glass in the door, she can see his table, and sits down in the chair at the right angle. She looks at her watch again. It is a quarter past four. She hopes it won't be much longer.
She looks around, and sees on the table next to her, a stack of magazines. She gets up again, and goes through them one by one. They are disgusting. All about business and companies. Nothing like the Vogue, InStyle or Esquire that Kelly almost always brings. The last one, however, is a National Geographic with a summary of the best photos of 1999. She picks it up and sits back down in the strategic chair, when she realizes she hasn't eaten anything all day. Her stomach seems to become aware and growls under the palm of her hand. She looks around at the snack machines, but decides that the knot in her stomach may turn into something worse, if she eats or drinks anything. And she can't let it break down at such a crucial time in her life.
She concentrates on the photos she sees, artistic, colorful most of them, though there are some in black and white that she finds heartbreaking. She is drawn to the work of photographers, and considers taking some classes in the technique and art of photography. Asking Roy to give her back the camera her parents gave her two years earlier, which she has never used, and so it was left forgotten in her old house. With the door closed she doesn't hear the office door open, and with her attention on every detail of every photo, she hasn't seen a smiling Jim, followed by a brunette with long hair and exotic features, head towards the break room as they talk to each other. She is startled when the door opens and she hears Jim's voice. Her heart begins to beat at supersonic speed.
"You should have warned me...I felt used, Karen."
"The price to pay for getting the sale, Jim."
Pam is shocked to see him. She stands up slowly, as Jim looks at her dumbfounded. The girl behind him keeps talking.
"When I buy my new Jimmy Choo's with this commission, I'll thank you properly."
Pam is unaware that the girl's voice, slowly dies away as she watches them, the whole scene. Pam is petrified with her hand on the magazine, which she has closed in fright, as she tries to make a move that will unlock her. She can only concentrate on his gaze. On knowing if he's angry at her being there, or not.
"Pam?" Jim, breaks the silence between them.
"Hi Jim," she manages to articulate. Her body decides to move towards him, and he does the same and moves towards her. She doesn't know who it is that initiates the hug, but she is aware that it is the most intense hug she has ever experienced. He squeezes her with desire and she lets herself be enveloped, wishing never to be separated from him. She feels like giving him a kiss on the cheek but doesn't dare, and he at last loosens his grip, but his hands won't let go, they are clamped around her waist as he lowers his face to look at her closely.
"You're here! What are you doing here?" he almost laughs when he speaks, and Pam knows he's not angry, at least for the moment. "This is surreal," he says shaking his head. She notices his longer-than-normal, more tousled hair, as if it's the last thing he thinks about in the mornings. He looks even more handsome to her than he did in May. Or maybe it's how long it's been since she's seen him.
"A little bit. Yeah." She feels her nerves surfacing and looks around trying to do or say something that will make her keep his smile on his face. She watches as the girl who came in with him, has turned around and heads for the door to leave. She focuses on his eyes again, and she thinks she gains confidence as the seconds pass and she manages not to look away again. "It's so good to see you, Jim." Before she thinks much about it, she hugs him again, and this time it's less tight, but longer, and their hands move around each other's backs.
"What are you doing here?" he says into her hair. "What are you doing here?" he repeats, half astonishment, half strangeness. And he pulls her tighter into his arms.
Across the office, Karen has approached Helen and asks about the girl in the break room. She learns that it's Pam, a colleague from the Scranton branch. The receptionist. Someone Jim has never told her about, and she can say she has heard many stories from Jim's former co-workers told by Jim himself. But her he's never mentioned at any point, and that makes her feel terrible.
"Do you want the official or the unofficial version?" says Pam, when he asks her for the fourth time, and she breaks off to answer him.
"Uh, let's go with the official one, which will be the boring one, and then you top it off with the unofficial one," he says without taking his eyes off her.
"The official one. I'm here to deliver some paperwork to your boss, on Jan's behalf."
Jim raises an eyebrow, puzzled that she's the one who came all this way, and that it's Jan who sent her.
"Okay, then we'll get back to that Jan assignment. Tell me now the unofficial one."
She nods her head a little, as her smile dances across her face.
"The unofficial one, I just... needed to see you." She bites her lip. She's not quite sure of her choice of words. She doesn't know if she's said too little or too much in Jim's view. To her it's a lot, but she may be wrong.
Jim expands his smile, and his eyes smile with her. "I like the unofficial mission. I like it."
Pam looks at her watch. It's a quarter to five.
"I don't know if you'll want to, but there's this thing...," Pam wriggles her fingers in her hands, like a little girl. Jim looks amused at her nervousness. "I'm getting paid for today's meal, and I'd like to take you out to dinner...to talk." She exhales the air from her lungs, and sees Jim's face turn more serious, and that makes her recoil in her enthusiasm. "If you have other plans, that's fine...".
Pam freezes when she hears that. Worst-case scenario. Worst-case scenario. Don't cry. Don't cry. But Jim notices the anguish in her gaze and qualifies his words. "I mean, I don't have any other plans, and I can't remember the last time a girl asked me out to dinner so yeah.... let's do the dinner thing....and talk."
She smiles again. "Actually the invitation will be courtesy of Dunder Mifflin."
"Finally something good comes out of here." Jim says raising his eyes and hands to the sky. And she laughs, delighted. "Give me a few minutes to finish up some things and make a couple of calls," he says looking down at his desk "Can you wait here?".
She nods yes, and watches him walk out the door to his desk. She takes a good look at the girl sitting behind him, who follows his walk until he reaches her height, where she gives him a shy smile that disappears as soon as Jim sits down. Pam thinks she likes him.
The minutes pass slowly, and she no longer finds the magazine photos attractive. She prefers the attractive one she sees through the break room window, a green-eyed, brightly smiling handsome man who glances in her direction from time to time, but it's not clear to her if he can see her from there. She smiles back at him just in case. She also sees the look of the girl behind her, coming through the glass door, and she looks sad. A reflection of the one that has been her own when she looked at Jim's old desk and saw only Ryan sitting there. She looks at her watch, and it's five o'clock. She looks up and sees the back of the brunette girl standing next to Jim's desk. She doesn't see him, but ten seconds later, she turns back to her desk, leans over to turn off her computer, and as she glances back at her, she walks off in the direction of the office door. She watches the shuffle of people leaving their desks, and walks away. The man who sits in front of Jim, also stands next to him and leaves shortly after. Josh's door opens, and he also exits. She can't see Helen to know if she has left or not, but she thinks she and Jim are the only ones left in the office. She watches him work on his computer. From the way he is typing, how long it takes him to stop, she thinks he is sending an email. It's certainly no excel table. She realizes how creepy it sounds to know something like that. He clicks the mouse for the last time, and watches him get up from his chair. It's now, when she doesn't see the familiar gesture of grabbing his jacket off the back along with his bag, that she realizes he's wearing his full suit in Stamford. And she thinks she knows it's a new suit, or at least one she's never seen him in. Perhaps the dress code there is even more formal than in Scranton. With his bag slung over his shoulder, he walks over to her, and she closes the magazine and stands up.
When he enters he says nothing. She sees determination in his eyes. A look similar to that night in May, and she knows without a doubt what he is going to do. She has time to prepare herself in two seconds, to assume it, because he leaves the bag on the table and catches her face with his hands to kiss her. She instantly relaxes and sees the worst-case scenario dissipate in her mind. And she lets herself go. In that kiss she puts everything she has, everything she feels, hoping that for him that will be enough to forgive her.
"I think the girl sitting behind you likes you," Pam says as they end the kiss, his face still too close. Jealousy makes her speak, and that surprises her.
He snorts through his nose to keep from laughing, taken aback by the comment. He breaks away from her and looks at her with an amused expression.
"Karen?" -she's heard that name somewhere-. "It's possible. But I'm more into girls who sit where I can see them." His fingers trail down her cheeks before he removes his hands from her face for good, to grab his bag and sling it over his shoulder.
"You've rehearsed that line," she says with a laugh, as they head for the office exit.
"I actually got it out of a book from Michael: Phrases Made for Picking Up Secretaries."
She laughs again "I hope that book really doesn't exist."
He laughs behind her.
In the parking lot, Karen, the elegant girl with silky, shiny hair, watches through her car window as the boy of her dreams squeezes the girl who dresses like her grandmother against his car, to kiss her the way she wishes he would kiss her. And she can't figure out what this Pam has that she doesn't have.