After the events of Casino Night, Pam is adrift and Jim is anchored.
A spin on early Season 3 that relies far too heavily on nautical imagery and references to Titanic...
Categories: Jim and Pam Characters:
November 22, 2019 Updated:
February 16, 2020
Disclaimer: I own nothing, apart from my collection of The Office inspired t-shirts and a gift voucher from winning a The Office themed trivia night (which may just be the highlight of my life to date). Any lines of recognisable dialogue are adapted from the show.
The title comes from the song You, Me & the Sea by Green River Ordinance which obviously I recommend you listen to at least fifty times on repeat because it's a great song.
1. Chapter 1 by JennaBennett
2. Chapter 2 by JennaBennett
3. Chapter 3 by JennaBennett
4. Chapter 4 by JennaBennett
5. Chapter 5 by JennaBennett
6. Chapter 6 by JennaBennett
7. Chapter 7 by JennaBennett
8. Chapter 8 by JennaBennett
9. Chapter 9 by JennaBennett
Chapter 1 by JennaBennett
Oh look, it's me starting a new multi-chapter fic that no-one (myself included) was anticipating... Fun...
Work, as it turned out, wasn’t that difficult when you actually, you know, worked.
He was anchored in place, and that place was work. Before this, when he considered what his life would be like to feel tied down to the one spot, he pictured himself as steady and predictable because it was good. This wasn’t that.
This was stuck.
He felt the claws of the rut tighten their hold on him with each passing day. But, it was comforting in a way. If he really thought it through, this sense of being tied to work was what – all – he had going for him at the moment.
As it turned out this, the monotony of selling paper, was the only thing that kept him slightly tethered to reality. Without it, he felt the dark waves of depression tugging at him and threatening to the tear the line still linking him to the surface.
The line hadn’t snapped yet, but he felt it wearing thin. There was only so much work he could do to keep him steady. Nonetheless, he dug himself deeper into the sand and clung on for dear life as the storm raged around him.
Considering how much he’d thrown himself into this new job, Jim was getting himself a reputation. He knew exactly what they were saying about him and he’d never been so insulted. Even if it seemed from the outside, they weren’t wrong.
He’d stumbled on a conversation between Andy and Karen as he’d stepped towards the breakroom in search of his lunch. The latter who was far too sharp and angular, both in appearance and personality. In a way, she reminded him of Angela, but it was determination or work ethic or something he didn’t quite have a read on and not an unflinching moral compass that drove her rigid approach.
“He’s ambitious,” Karen had stated, her brow pinched tight. “I know the type,” she scoffed.
“Josh is eating it up,” she added.
Andy nodded enthusiastically. “Is he single?” If there was one thing Jim had learnt about Andy in the few weeks he’d been working there, it was that the oddity that was Andy considered himself quite the ladies man. If Jim’s observations were anything to go by, this was a completely unfounded self-assessment.
Karen shrugged. “There’s no ring.”
“He better stay away from the office ladies,” Andy puffed out his chest. “I’m the catch here.” And there was the confirmation of all the opinions Jim had formed on Andy and catch he was not in anybody’s eyes but his own.
“He better stay away from my clients,” Karen’s tone was dry, but it rang with sincerity all the same.
Jim had decided it was better to eat out of the office that day. He’d gingerly backed away unseen.
He saw the way Karen rolled her eyes every time Josh directed a comment at him in a meeting.
So no, so far, the Stamford Office wouldn’t be getting his vote for most welcoming branch.
But hey, his sales were good. Great even. He was fast becoming Josh’s right hand man and oh god he was the Dwight of this branch.
He didn’t have much, but he did have work so that sounded about right.
He wasn’t sure he could reconcile himself with becoming Dwight? That was a blow.
He wished he could tell her about it. She would laugh, that adorable little giggle. The one where her hand rose and she covered her mouth. The one where her eyes sparkled with unshed tears of pure joy. The one where he was overcome with that strange mixture of pride and defeat because he made her laugh like that, but Roy never could.
He needed to get out of his head again.
He worked himself deeper into the rut. He made five sales that afternoon.
The only distraction that worked, albeit momentarily, was talking about goddamn paper.
Of course when he stepped into the office that morning, the day after realising he had morphed into his worst possible form – a Dwight – it became all the more difficult to tune into the distractions that kept his line to the surface from tearing.
“Jim,” Josh hustled him into his office. “Valerie’s broken her hip. Poor old duck. Can you man the phones at reception for the day?”
This was what being a yes man got him. He wasn’t the Dwight, he was the Pam.
Being the Pam was going to make it damn hard to stick to his plan of not thinking about the Pam.
“Sure,” he finally managed to murmur as Josh stared at him questioningly.
“You know to redirect the calls and all that guff?” He waved his hand dismissively.
“Yep. My friend,” and boy didn’t that taste bitter coming out, “was the receptionist at Scranton. I’ve got a pretty good grasp on it.”
“Great,” Josh clapped him on the shoulder. “I knew I could count on you.”
Jim hadn’t even gotten used to Dunder Mifflin, this is Valerie - it just sounded off - and now he had to bare with something else?
“Val’s going to be off for a least a month,” Josh was muttering. “We’re going to have to find someone to fill in.”
He hoped whoever took her place had a simple name, something that flowed well, a single syllable even...
He isn’t sure what possesses him to say it, but the words bubbled up and spilled over. “You could advertise through the generic reception Dunder Mifflin email, it goes out to all the branches. You might get someone with experience to temp.”
“You’re a sharp kid,” Josh grinned at him. “I’m glad we snapped you up.”
It felt a little hollow as he headed over to take his new place at the reception desk.
He sits by the phone for a few minutes and feels oddly isolated from the rest of office, not that he talks to anyone here all that much anyway.
It strikes him, the desire to put out a jar of jelly beans to lure his co-workers over for a conversation. He doesn’t even like these people.
Yet, it somehow feels lonelier up here. That part of his heart that’s been holding onto to Pam all these years starts to throb.
By the end of the day he aches all over.
The waves at the surface are getting rougher, he can feel the line holding him to some semblance of reality tugging and twisting in the current. The knots in his stomach tighten.
Her hand shakes as it hovers above her cursor. Habit and muscle memory order it to drop back to the mouse and continue scrolling, but she’s frozen.
Her eyes scan the small print at the end of the email again and again. It doesn’t change. It’s still there.
By the tenth time, she has it memorized. Her eyes continue scanning, but her mind fills in the words.
She already knows part of it. They have a receptionist network of sorts. So, she’s aware that Valerie, the receptionist from Stamford, had a fall and is in hospital.
What she doesn’t - didn’t - know or even consider, is this. She runs her eyes over the print again. Vacancy (temporary). Receptionist. Stamford branch. Applications close September 15th.
She shouldn’t. She couldn’t. Could she?
She’s plunged back to a moment last week, she’d been sketching at her desk when Kelly had called her into the annex. Her sketchbook had remained, opened at her desk.
By the time she’d managed to escape Kelly’s well intentioned and completely overbearing fashion advice, Oscar and Gil had been huddled at her desk.
She slipped within earshot, unnoticed. She heard Oscar murmur something and Gil scoff.
“Real art takes courage, okay. And - and honesty.”
“Well, those aren’t exactly Pam’s strong points,” Oscar replies.
His tone is gentle, but the sting is fierce. She feels the color drain from her face. They’re talking about her sketch.
“Yeah, exactly,” Gil’s voice is rough, abrasive, it strips the air from her lungs. “That’s why this is motel art.”
She blinks back tears and hastily retreats to the break room. She’s heard enough. She can’t stomach the pity that will surely sit in Oscar’s gaze if he spins to find her there.
It takes her a moment, at her apartment in the evening as she sobs into a bottle of wine to find the truth in the statement.
Gil was a dick. But Oscar was right. Honesty and courage are not her strong points.
Since then she’s been trying, really trying to be more honest and courageous. So far, this has entailed her correcting the barista who got her order wrong.
Even that had been a stretch.
She’d whispered, almost pathetically and umm-ed and ahh-ed her way through saying, “actually I ordered green tea and this is black.” She’d blushed fiercely when the barista had eyed her up and down before sighing and drolly stating “okay.”
The green tea had felt like success as she sipped it in her car on the drive into the office though. She was chalking it up as a victory.
But this? This is crazy? This is taking the line between honesty and courage and turning it into stalker-y and creepy.
Her hand aches where it still hovers. She drops it to the desk with a thud. It mirrors her heartbeat, loud and desperate.
She worries her bottom lip between her teeth in indecision. Gil’s derisive snort plays over and over in her mind, that’s why this is motel art. Motel art.
Motel art was her life with Roy. She’s better than motel art now.
She’s not sure what happens, she doesn’t remember consciously making the decision...
But somehow, ten minutes later, she emerges from Michael’s office with his blessing? She would’ve said permission, but she knows Michael and Michael would definitely go with blessing as his preferred term.
She’s in some sort of a trance. She floats back to her desk and replays the somewhat baffling conversation. It appears Michael has been far more perceptive to her personal life than she ever thought possible. It’s strange just how kind he can be in light of all his quirks and inherent Michael-ness.
“Pam,” he’d smiled gently after she’d stumbled over the words and twisted her tongue around the truth. I want to apply for the Stamford receptionist position. It’s just temporary. He’d eyed her carefully. “I think that’s a good idea.” He’d finally said.
“You tell Jim that his position here is still open.”
“I,” she’d mumbled, shaking her head.
“I don’t know what happened,” Michael opens his hands to her and shrugs. “But, I know that Jim was in love with you.”
She manages a gasp in response.
“It can’t have been easy for him to stick around and watch you marry Roy.”
She doesn’t think she’s ever seen Michael so sincere. Tears prick her eyes and she swallows hard to keep from sobbing.
“You’ve been so sad lately and I don’t think it’s all Roy,” he adds. “I’m going to share some wisdom with you. It’s the philosophy I live by.”
She wishes Jim was here so achingly because she has no idea what Michael is about to say, but she knows that she wants to share it with him. Her heart trembles in her chest. It hurts so damn much.
“Never, ever, ever give up.” Michael murmurs.
The tears trickle out. She can’t hold them in. “I won’t,” she finally manages to choke out because it seems like Michael is waiting on an answer.
“Good,” and his hand reaches over the desk and settles on her shoulder and it’s not at all inappropriate and it is somehow deeply comforting. The sobs come harder.
He frowns slightly and pats her gently a few times before withdrawing his arm to push the tissues on his desk towards her.
As she settles and dabs at her eyes, he picks up his phone.
“Jan,” there’s a smile in his voice. “I need a favor.”
She can hear Jan’s standard frustrated with Michael tone from across the room. He rolls his eyes slightly at Pam, before pointing at the phone and pressing on. “I know you want someone on the inside for that receptionist spot at Stamford, none of that pesky, costly training.”
Jan response is too soft for Pam to hear. Michael winks at her which she takes as a good sign.
“Well, our own Pam-a-lama-ding-dong is looking for a temporary sea change. Her, uh, grandmother,” Michael shrugs at Pam, “lives in Stamford and is dying... So, you know, it’s perfect!” He beams at Pam. She hopes she’s too stunned for the cringe to reach her face.
Jan must say something in the affirmative, because Michael is giving her the thumbs up. He continues umm-ing and ahh-ing at appropriate times with Jan, before he stresses again the benefit of, “an inside job” and “no training costs.”
It must work. He adds, “yeppers, I’ll get her to submit her resume as a formality. Don’t worry about it, Ryan can fill in here for a few weeks.”
Then he’d shuffled her out the door with an oddly formal handshake to “seal the deal” and another gentle pat on the back.
“You bring our boy home,” he’d whispered in her ear as he’d seen her through the door.
She hadn’t been able to bring herself to nod. Who was she to control that?
Jim had left. Just up and left. He hadn’t given her a chance to do anything about it.
This was her chance to do something. She wasn’t sure what. But, he didn’t just get to leave like that. It wasn’t fair.
She opened a blank document. She wrote her name at the top. It didn’t take her long to put together something that vaguely resembled a resume.
The cursor blinked before her, asking her what the hell she was doing.
Again, she considered whether courage, honesty and stupidity were one and the same.
She’s been feeling adrift. She’s been waiting on someone to save her. Roy had tried, in a very Titanic-esque way on that stupid booze cruise back in January.
The ship, that was their relationship, was already sinking. At the last moment, he shoved a piece of wood that was setting a date under her nose and demanded she cling to it. Meanwhile, he drifted further away and even though she wanted to reach out and save him, it just wasn’t possible. The whole thing was already too far gone.
Jim, on the casino night, had been her lifeboat. He’d tugged her from the wooden debris that was barely keeping her afloat and provided her with another option. She’d been too scared to let go of the thing that had been buoying her for so long and so she’d hesitated, temporarily clinging tighter to her rapidly failing barely bobbing above the surface raft.
Of course, that’s where the terrible Titanic metaphor ended, because the lifeboat didn’t throw you back in after you paused for too long and didn’t reach out to grab it quick enough.
Nonetheless, she was adrift. She was still swimming for shore. But… The lifeboat was gone. The wooden door wasn’t worth clinging to, it was likely to completely disappear below the surface if she put her weight onto it once again.
So now she had to save herself. There was no other option.
She swam, occasionally stopping to scull and take in how far she’d come and how far she still had to go.
Deep down, she wished the lifeboat would turn around and come back for her, and she didn’t have to do all this hard work herself. However, it had been months so that wasn’t happening and she was a realist at heart.
She just kept putting one hand in front of the other and striking forward. She was tired, there was a bone weary exhaustion running through her, but with each stroke forward she was stronger and the shore loomed closer still on the horizon.
She was going to apply for the Stamford job. She was going to get it. She could feel the current changing around her as she typed her resume. The winds and the waves were working in her favor for the first time since the ship had sunk. She gathered the momentum and hit submit.
Thanks for reading!
Chapter 2 by JennaBennett
Pam wondered how many times you could mull something over and still call it a second thought? Surely there had to be a term for when you rethought something so persistently that second thought was more accurately seventy-fourth thought?
She considered coining a word and really making her mark on the world, but the more she thought it over, overthinking was about all that stuck and that was already a thing. In fact, overthinking was an art form that she was beginning to perfect.
It started the same way every time. She replayed the conversation with Michael over and over in her mind. His kindness struck her on each replay and it seemed that he knew more than he knew.
Her next step was to re-evaluate her decision to put in for the Stamford position. That thought inevitably was followed by what could only be described as regret.
After the regret, which was often the lengthiest part of the process, she was back to steady determination. Oscar was right, had become her mantra, she needed more courage and more honesty. Still, she was swimming in circles with these thought processes.
Yes, this could be a disaster. But what wouldn’t be a disaster would be how she handled herself as she weathered the storm.
The overthinking had been happening more and more frequently after the events of this morning.
Jan had called reception to let her know that she had received her application and discussed it was Josh, the manager of the Stamford branch and could she start Monday?
“Yes,” she managed to whisper meekly, before clearing her throat with her newfound steely determination and practically screaming a second, “yeeeeees,” down the phone line.
This was proving to be another interaction that she was now Pam-patently-overthinking and second-thought-ing.
Well, she couldn’t fix screeching at her boss’s boss, but she could do a little something to soothe her other thoughts.
She went with the practical first. A quick moment in the staff directory had poor, injured Valerie’s number in front of her. She chewed her lip. She hoped Valerie was doing okay. She also hoped this wasn’t too upfront, but it seemed like her best bet.
She dialled the number and waited for the muffled click as she connected. “Hello?” Valerie murmured.
“Oh hi, Valerie. It’s Pam, from Scranton,” she was all sweetness.
Relief flushed through her at Valerie’s warm reply. “Hello Pam. It’s nice of you to call.”
“I wanted to see how you were doing?” Pam questioned gently. “I was sorry to hear that you were unwell.”
“Bless your kind, little heart, Pam,” Valerie gushed and Pam was grateful that the couple of other interactions that they’d had, had been in the same vein. “I’m doing okay. This broken hip is a real pain – literally. To be honest, I’m mostly worried about Socks. My terribly irresponsible granddaughter,” she huffed, “is apparently feeding him and I’m just really not sure it’s happening. I’d love to get home and check on him, but oh, you can’t do anything about that Pam dear. I’m sorry for rambling at you.”
“Actually,” Pam reached into her honesty and courage. “Maybe I can?”
“Whatever do you mean? You’re all the way in Scranton sweet girl.”
“I’ve offered to fill in for you,” Pam shrugged, a gesture definitely missed by Valerie.
“Oh that’s lovely,” Valerie’s tone was all sincerity. “Missing that tall drink of water from Scranton are you?”
“You could say that,” Pam blushed fiercely. Valerie had no idea how close to the truth she was.
“Well, you must stay at my house. It’s win-win. You can look after my Socks. Oh, I’d feel far more comfortable with him in your capable hands.”
“No, no. That’s too much,” Pam insisted weakly. Very, very weakly.
“Nonsense. You must. It will work out wonderfully for everyone. I’m so glad you called, Pam. You let me know when you’re coming into town and I’ll get my granddaughter to give you a key, hopefully she can manage that.”
“Thank you, Valerie. If it’s really not too much trouble? I’d love to look after Socks.” Pam had no idea what kind of creature Socks was, but based on the name she was guessing something with paws. Valerie didn’t seem the type to be the proud owner of an anaconda or tarantula with a ridiculously counterintuitive name?
She said her goodbyes and thanked her lucky stars at the way that this particular call had worked out. The current was swelling in her direction for the first time in a long time. It may have been a mirage, but she swore for a moment she could see the shore in the distance.
That taken care of, there was another thought that she wanted to settle.
She swept gracelessly into Michael’s office. Her nerves at the conversation ahead, and essentially showing her hand to Michael getting ahead of her. She managed to knock a pile of paperwork off the corner of his desk as she brushed against it on her way to sitting down.
“Way to make an entrance, Pam,” Michael grinned at her, a twinkle dancing in his eye and good god was this how she thought of Michael now? That he was endearing, and not absurd? Although, wasn’t that always how she coped with his eccentricities?
“Ugh,” she attempted words.
Michael nodded politely as if she’d achieved her purpose.
“What can I do you, Pamster?”
“I, uh,” she recalibrated - be honest - her mind ordered. “I wanted to ask you about something you said yesterday?” It came out sounding like a question, but she celebrated her forthrightness regardless. Baby steps.
“Yes?” Michael settled his chin in his hands, rested his elbows on the desk and gazed encouragingly at her.
“You want to know how I know that Jim is in love with you?” Michael supplied.
She gaped at his insight and nodded far too enthusiastically in response.
“As Jim’s best friend, present company executed,” he swept his hand in Pam’s general direction. She didn’t bother correcting him. He was kind of right, had she been executed, Michael would certainly have still been… Michael to Jim… “And father. No,” he pursed his lips, “more handsome brother figure,” a wide grin emerged as he congratulated himself on accurately describing his relationship with Jim. “He told me,” he finally got to the point.
“Oh,” Pam breathed and felt a momentary twinge of grief for how desperate Jim must have been feeling to have bared his soul to their boss in such a raw way.
“It t’was the night of the booze cruise on Lake Wallenpaupack. I was at the bow of the boat, uh,” he cleared his throat as he considered, “navigating because that Captain Jack was an imbecile.”
Pam bit back the giggle that threatened to rise deep in her belly. She wasn’t sure she’d call being tied up at the captain’s bequest after almost causing an unnecessary mass evacuation navigating, but sure.
God, she wished Jim was still at his desk and she could slip away from this conversation to whisper to him conspiratorially in great detail. There was no one else she wanted to tell. There was no one else who would get it, not even their other co-workers.
The heady wave of regret really helped to keep the laughter at bay.
Michael was continuing in his recount, she turned her attention away from her thoughts and back to his words. “Jim came to hang out with me, because you know how he was, always wanting time with his best brother. Anyway, he said that he really liked you and I told him not to give up. He was sad because of that whole Roy thing. But do you know what I told him?”
It didn’t take her long to consider it, it helped that her conversation with Michael had been running on a loop through her overthinking mind for the last twenty-four hours. “Never, ever, ever give up?” she whispered.
Michael’s eyes lit up. “How did you know that?” he exclaimed brightly. “Did Jim tell you?”
“You told me, yesterday.”
“Oh, right,” he grinned widely. “Yeah that. I also told him BFD, engaged ain’t married.”
“Huh,” Pam murmured. “Well, thanks Michael,” she added softly.
“Pam… Jim, he, he said some really nice things about you. I could tell he meant them.”
Her face twisted, unable to decide if it should smile or cry. She finally settled on more awkward silent nodding. Strangely enough, Michael seemed to get it.
Of course, then he Michael-ed.
“If it doesn’t work out with Jim,” he regarded her carefully, his hand extending across the desk to lay on hers. “You know what, Pam? If in ten years, I haven’t had a baby and you haven’t had a baby…”
“No, Michael,” she replied swiftly and surely, pulling her hand gently out from under his. “You’re my big brother figure too,” she attempted.
“Twenty years?” he hedged.
She did the math. It still seemed too possible. She absolutely could not risk it. “No, Michael.”
“Sure,” as in surely not physically possible.
Michael’s hand rose and she very tentatively shook it. “It’s a deal.”
“I think it’ll work out with Jim,” she lied through her teeth solely for Michael’s benefit.
He nodded thoughtfully. “If Love Actually taught me anything, it’s that a grand gesture will always work out.”
She delicately extricated herself from Michael’s office and returned to her desk. It was rare, for her to hope this desperately that Michael would be right.
As she slipped away, she missed Michael open his desk draw and pull a packet of Lifesaver mints from his desk. “I love these bad boys,” he mumbled, tearing them open and tossing several into his mouth.
The old adage of a watched pot never boiled seemed to also fit with the clock. It seemed the more Jim stared at it, the less it moved. Each second felt like it lasted a minute as 4.15pm ticked over to 4.16pm.
The issue with watching the clock, was that Jim could pinpoint the exact moment something happened. Like, at 4.19pm Josh emerged from his office with a grin.
“Good news all. Jan just called, a receptionist from another branch has volunteered to come fill in for us. She’ll be here Monday.”
“Thank god,” Karen sighed. She’d been manning the reception desk temporarily, Jim had returned to his desk to speak with a client and she’d been drafted in. “This is making it difficult to hit my sales targets for the day,” she grumbled, before levelling Jim with a gaze that suggested it was his fault.
What the hell was her problem anyway?
Josh winked at her. “Can’t have all my best salesmen stuck manning the phones,” he agreed. As he spoke, he floated over to Jim’s desk and clapped him on the shoulder. “Right, Jim?”
Karen’s glare intensified. Right. That. That was her problem.
It served as a stark reminder that he was the Dwight here which only shrivelled his soul further still. He considered how he could shrug off the reputation he’d accidentally built himself.
There was only one thing that came to mind and he just wasn’t ready. He couldn’t. There was too much of her tangled up in it all.
Even walking past the Jell-O aisle in the supermarket tied his stomach in knots.
That was the difference here in Stamford. It wasn’t just that he was throwing himself into his work. It was everything he wasn’t doing.
He wasn’t sneaking handfuls of jellybeans throughout the day. He’d couldn’t even stomach the same lunch he’d eaten everyday for years on end anymore. Ham and cheese was a staple of the past.
Second only to the moments he’d shared with Pam, the facet of his work that had brought him the most joy over the years was pranking Dwight.
That’s what was missing here. That’s why he seemed stale to his new colleagues. He was no damn fun.
Although, from the little he learnt of Karen he thought maybe she’d turn her nose up at his pranks. He had her pegged as another Angela, so he envisaged her acting similarly, lots of eyerolling and sharp sighs.
“Is she hot?” Andy spun in his chair to face Josh, eyebrows raised. Jim had lost track of the conversation unfolding around him.
“I don’t know,” Josh lips curled down at the edges. If Jim had to guess, Andy was not in the running at all when Josh considered his best salesmen.
“Copy that,” Andy nodded.
Jim processed Josh’s words from earlier. “Did you say she was coming from another branch?”
The blood slowly drained from his face. His tone was terse. He felt Karen’s eyes on him. He struggled to collect himself. “Did Jan say which branch?” he managed to choke out.
Josh shrugged. “Nope, I didn’t ask.”
“Who cares, as long as we can make sales,” Karen chimed in.
Jim attempted to reign in his spiralling thoughts. It wasn’t her.
She would never do something so spontaneous. He knew her. She didn’t jump into things without considering them, carefully and painstakingly. Like that internship in New York, it was a no brainer, but not Pam. No, Pam had to put absolutely everyone first to the detriment of herself. She would never leave Scranton in the lurch by filling in at another branch. She would consider everyone else’s needs first.
But. But. But. If it was her. If she’d taken the chance? He couldn’t stop his mind from wondering.
He knew she’d called off the wedding. The hopeful, pathetically desperate section of his mind whispered that she’d done it for him. But then she hadn’t called. The flickering fire of optimism had been smothered with reality.
If she followed him to Stamford, surely that would mean something right?
He couldn’t allow himself to hope. It was an exercise in futility.
He needed to stick with what he was doing, he needed to cling to the sand he was anchored in and hold steady. That was the only way he was ever going to get past the pain that his entire being now resonated with.
The thoughts turned over in his mind. It was a pointless cycle. One part of his brain declared that it couldn’t be her and he was driving himself crazy for no reason. The other part fanned the flames of hope back to life, because if it was her, imagine what it could mean?
It wasn’t until Andy slung his back over his shoulder and whistled a tune, pausing to throw out a, “see ya tomorrow, Big Tuna,” that he realised it was 5.03pm.
Huh. Josh’s announcement had served one purpose after all. He’d held steady for another day. He took a deep breath and slipped from his seat and out the door.
Thanks for reading! I won't draw out this pre-Stamford set up much longer - next chapter features Pam and Jim in the same room. Get keen...
Chapter 3 by JennaBennett
“Mornin’ Jimmy,” Henry drawled from the security desk as Jim stepped through the doors.
He paused, dropping his hand on the desk. “Henry,” he nods in greeting. He taps his hand and takes another step.
“The new receptionist is here,” Henry adds.
Jim freezes. It’s stupid. His heart catches and stutters a beat. Stupid, he berates himself. Stupid, stupid. It’s not her. He’s taking ten years off his lifespan over nothing.
“Real pretty thing,” he continues, oblivious to Jim’s internal breakdown. “Real nice too.” He raises a takeaway coffee cup. “She bought this for me.”
Jim clears throat and winces at the desperate keen behind his words. “Did you get her name?”
Henry furrows his brow. “Uh. She said it all one big breath, like she was real nervous. She was all, hi-I’m-somethun-somethun and smiled her pretty smile at me.” He shrugged. “Hey, when you find out, come and tell me so I can say good mornin’ proper when she rolls in tomorrow.”
“Yeah, sure. Yeah,” Jim nodded, still too distracted by his spiralling thoughts. Pam was nice? Pam was pretty? The prettiest. Ugh, he was pathetic.
“Did she have curly hair?”
Jim could hear everything he wasn’t saying, like that’s a weirdly specific question to ask about a new colleague, James...
Despite the deepening frown etching his face, Henry decided on answering. “Umm, kind of, big loose waves I guess.”
Jim felt the knot in his chest begin to loosen. That wasn’t Pam. Her curls were frizzy and tight and so damn perfect it ached to think of them.
He laughed, an awkward, heady and relived thing. Henry continued to eye him speculatively.
“Have a good day, Henry,” he grinned and meant it. The morning instantly felt all the brighter with the weight lifted from his chest. He’d almost let the sinkhole open up and swallow him whole over nothing. The internal storm swelling in his gut calmed and there were only blue skies ahead.
“Uh-huh. You too, Jimmy.” It appeared Henry would be questioning his sanity for the near future. That was fair. Still, he had to count his victories where he could.
He settled against the wall of the elevator as it rose and caught his breath. Somewhere in the wave of relief washing over him, there was sting that reeked suspiciously of disappointment. He stomped it down deep and congratulated himself on his good fortune.
All would be well. The pit of despair in his chest would finally start to fill. He’d throw another brick of denial onto each day and wait for it to sink. One day soon, one would stick and the ache would lessen.
The elevator door opening plunged his newfound goodish mood into darkness.
That was Pam’s bag on the reception desk.
He would recognize that aged brown fabric anywhere.
It wasn’t just the same bag, it was the bag. It had only caught his eye for a split second, but there was that tiny blue stain in the corner from the day her pen exploded and... and...
Clearly, he was losing it. Completely. Because beside the reception desk, stood a well-dressed middle-aged woman. Andy was next to her making polite conversation and gesturing around the office.
Obviously, this was the new receptionist.
Her tried to get past the bag. Surely, someone could have the same bag as Pam? It wasn’t limited edition. Roy had bought it for her like 3 years ago, so it probably retailed for about seven dollars.
The stain was just a coincidence. He was looking for things that weren’t there. All this worrying for nothing had his mind playing tricks on him.
Besides, the new receptionist had sort of wavy shoulder length blonde hair which fit Henry’s description. He supposed she was kind of pretty if you were into moms and Henry definitely had a good few years on Jim, so it made sense that this was his idea of attractive.
With the world righted on its axis, he stepped into the office. Andy grabbed at him as he walked past.
“Tuna,” he crooned. “This is Ellen.”
“Hi Ellen,” he outstretched his hand, all manners.
“Hello...” she turned her nose at him.
“Jim,” he supplied.
“Jim,” she added curtly. It seemed he and Henry had a different idea as to what constituted nice.
He bit back the sigh and tried to get used to the idea of, Dunder Mifflin this is Ellen, playing in the background all day. It just didn’t have the right ring to it.
“Welcome to Stamford,” he finally managed.
Ellen raised her brows at him in response. She was very prim and proper for a receptionist. Now that Jim was close, he could tell her clothing was all expensive brand name stuff. She was gazing around the office with steady disinterest.
“Andr—“ she turned on Andy, but was cut off by the quiet,
“Jim,” that was breathed behind him. He could barely hear it over the sound of the wind being knocked out from under him. He turned slowly and couldn’t keep his jaw from dropping.
There she was.
With her hair styled in big soft curls, wrapped in a warm grey cardigan he’d never seen before.
Instinct took over. Before he thought it through, his arms were opening and she was grinning and stepping into him.
Her arms wrapped around him and all thoughts he’d had about moving on and making progress laughed mockingly.
He reluctantly released his hold when he realised it was bordering on far too long for your average office greeting and stepped back.
“Hi, I’m Pam. I’m new here,” she whispered with a gentle grin, her eyes bright with something that he couldn’t quite name. There was a spark he’d never seen reflecting in her steady gaze. He blinked slowly, but it was still there when his eyes opened.
He answered her with a wide smile. “It’s really you,” he murmured.
The wisps of hope tugged on his tear ducts and he bit down on the inside of his cheek to get himself back under control.
“Hi Pam,” Andy boomed. “This is Ellen, my step ma.” He thrust his hand between them.
Oh. Jim had forgotten about Ellen. Mystery solved.
“Hi,” Pam smiled sweetly, her gaze flickering to land on Andy momentarily, before returning to rest on Jim.
“So, you know our Big Tuna here?” Andy clapped him on the shoulder.
“Oh yeah,” she gazed openly at him again and he felt the tips of his ears pinken. She raised her brows at the Big Tuna and he knew there would be follow up questions. “He’s one of my best friends,” she added wistfully and Jim felt the shutters close on the flickering hope – no, wilful ignorance the pragmatic side of his brain screeched - that had somehow crept back in.
Friend. Friend. Right.
He hardened his heart, gave his best politely disinterested smile, and murmured, “Yep. Old friends.” Somewhere in the depths of his soul he managed to add, “have a nice day, Pam,” before he stumbled to his desk and planted himself in his seat.
Somewhere between reception and his chair his hurt reverted to anger.
He sat and he stewed.
Why had she come here just to rub salt in his open wounds?
He was grateful for the distraction, when Josh summoned the sales team into the conference room. Josh had this weird, very un-Michael-like, habit where he actually managed his employees.
“What’s going on with Fairfield County schools? Karen, did you generate that price list?”
Jim didn’t see Karen’s frown. He was too busy glaring through the slit in the blinds at the blurred figure, holding a phone to her ear at reception. “Um, shoot. Uh, I will. Sorry,” Karen’s tone was heavy with annoyance – directed at herself.
“Okay, just get it done. Jim, will you make sure?”
He startled slightly at his name and it took him a few seconds to focus up and replay Josh’s request in his mind. “Oh yeah, definitely.”
Karen quietly glowered. “Suck. Up.” Andy coughed in a move that was very fourth grade. “Josh, did you hear what I said?”
Jim was unintentionally the Dwight of this office, but Andy wanted to be the Dwight of this office. It did very little to endear him in Jim’s opinion.
“Thank you, everyone,” Josh sighed, bringing the meeting to a close.
Jim returned to his desk. He spent his morning alternating between trying not to watch Pam because he didn’t know what she was doing here and he didn’t want to, and trying to watch Pam because he didn’t know what she was doing here and all he wanted to know was why.
For the first time since arriving in Stamford, he didn’t make a sale. The storm was back and it was bigger than ever, he felt the line holding him steady creak and wane under the pressure.
Pam closed her eyes and pictured the tide turn. She’d had a clear sight to the shore when Jim had opened his arms to her. Somehow, in a matter of minutes a rip had rolled in and was tossing her about.
One moment she’d clearly been swimming in one direction, back to Jim and then something had changed. He was distancing himself from her, she wasn’t an idiot. The rip tugged at her and set her spinning in the wrong direction.
Pam knew how to extract herself from a rip. She could still hear the lifeguard, from her Bethany Beach vacation in the fifth grade, “if you get caught in a rip, don’t panic. Don’t try to swim for shore. You’ll tire and likely drown. Instead, swim at an angle to the shore, you’ll meet less resistance and you’ll be able to break free of the rip.”
The lifeguard had also instructed them on how to avoid a rip in the first place, but it was too late for that. She’d missed the warning signs. The lack of breaking waves had lulled her into a false sense of security. She really wasn’t sure what to look out for in this instance.
The hug? That had been all Jim, her Jim. She wracked her brain, coming up short on the moment he slipped from her Jim to this distant stranger.
She waited for her chance to swim parallel to the shore. She didn’t approach Jim at his desk, it was too direct.
At noon, he pushed back his chair, stretched him arms above his head and took a deep breath. Her eyes traced the movement. He was dressed differently. There was more of a professional aura around him. He wore a blazer.
She found herself missing his forearms and kind of got why the Edwardians had been so big on long sleeves. It turned out there was an appeal to literally any piece of uncovered skin.
His arms drifted back down, he caught her eye as she continued to stare. She felt herself begin to blush. He snapped his gaze away, standing from his chair in one sharp movement. He strode to the breakroom.
She pulled her teapot from the depths of her purse and followed him. Parallel to the shore, she reminded herself. Honesty. Courage. So many mantras.
“Hey,” she exclaimed far too brightly. She winced a little and attempted to dial down on the courage. It was too much.
“Hey,” Jim echoed, his tone far duller.
She watched in uncomfortable silence as he pressed buttons indicating his selection on the vending machine.
“What happened to grape soda?” she murmured, sounding far more like herself.
He shrugged. “Oh yeah. I’m trying to move away from that. Getting into more of a bottled water phase.”
Pam tried to ignore the double meaning. I’m trying to move away from that. Like he’d moved away from her? Literally upped and moved in a matter of moments with no damn warning. “Oh, you’ve changed so much,” the sorrow leaked into her voice.
“Well, I’m evolving, Pam.”
She wanted to say so was she, and it was for the best and she was ready, but it was too direct. Besides, it sounded like Jim’s version of evolving wasn’t the same as hers. His words rang hollow.
Still, she had to try… something. “I’d love to hear everything about Stamford. Are you busy tonight, or… you want to grab a coffee or something after work?”
Please toss me a life preserver and pull me from this rip her mind pleaded with him as she waited him out.
“Oh! Umm… tonight, actually? No, I’m uh, I have plans,” his hand rose to rub the back of his neck in that patented Jim way that usually filled her with warm affection. Today, it twisted her stomach in knots.
The sting of rejection was fierce and she bit back a wave of embarrassment at the tears that pricked her eyes so suddenly. Given the rest of the conversation, she’d known her chances of a yes were slim and yet her reaction was still so visceral.
“Oh, yeah, no. You know. Whenever,” disjointed phrases were the best she could do.
She sunk to a chair and watched Jim open the fridge with stiff shoulders. He eyed his sandwich, but shut the fridge without pulling it out. Bottled water in hand, he stepped back through the door.
“I’ll ask again tomorrow,” she managed to croak. She wasn’t sure if he heard her, but the slope of his shoulders twitched and she swore he paused for a second before continuing his retreat to his desk.
She wondered if it was worth congratulating herself for her courage if it was all in vain?
No matter the outcome, she was saving herself. It was the reminder she needed. She rose and finished making her tea. She thought back to her Titanic comparison and dammit, Rose had made it and lived the rest of her life without Jack. She would fight for Jim, but leaving Roy had been for her and her alone.
As always, thanks for reading!
Chapter 4 by JennaBennett
Pam sipped at her tea and steeled herself to return to her desk. Her desk that allowed her a direct view of Jim. A direct view of evolved Jim who didn’t drink grape soda and apparently was over her, or at least telling himself that.
God, she hoped he was lying.
She hoped there was still a chance.
The slim brunette that sat in the desk behind Jim opened the breakroom door and nodded politely at Pam. She groaned as she reached the vending machine. “Dammit,” slipped from her lips.
There was a pause. Pam took a chance. “What’s up?” she asked, reaching around all the Jim thoughts swirling in her mind to find her amicable receptionist voice.
The brunette swung to face her, her clothing was all very serious and business-like and for a second she was reminded of Angela. But, the woman in front of her softened noticeably at her question and thoughts of similarities to Angela floated away. “Uh, nothing. They’re just out of Herr’s chips.”
“Don’t worry about it, it’s just not my day,” she shrugged. “I’m Karen,” she added.
“Pam,” Pam smiled. “And tell me about it. It’s not my day either.”
Karen sunk into the seat across from her. “Worse than missing salt and vinegar chips?”
“Oh, about the same.” Pam felt herself giggle ever so slightly. So, things with Jim were not going along swimmingly today, but maybe there was an opportunity for something to go right.
“It’s not even the chips,” Karen sunk her head into her hands. “That new salesman – ”
“Jim,” she supplied.
Karen arched a brow. “Jim, oh you’re not friends with him or something?”
“Or something,” Pam confirmed with an eyeroll. That was closer to the truth than anything else she supposed.
Karen groaned a little. “Well, your something Jim is the new teacher’s pet and I’m sorry, but he’s driving me a little crazy.”
Pam attempted to keep her eyes from bugging from her head. Teacher’s pet? Jim? It didn’t seem likely. “Really?” her voice was a few octaves too high.
“Yes?” Karen answered, eyeing her curiously. “My sales are good, but somehow his are… also good,” she finished lamely. “And now Josh has him overseeing me.”
Pam tamped down her disbelief. “Huh. Well, Jim I can’t fix.” Wasn’t that the understatement of the century. “But, meet me at my desk in ten minutes and I’ll see if I can solve your other problem,” she winked.
Karen cracked a smile.
Pam finished the last of her tea in a gulp and rinsed her mug quickly. She paused by the vending machine and mumbled the number written on the worn service sticker in the corner under her breath over and over again as she shot Karen a tentative last smile and wandered back to her desk.
She jotted the number down on a post-it.
Things with Jim were looking less than ideal, but this, this was definitely swimming parallel to the rip. She could make a new friend. She could have a little bit of fun. She could be the Pam that Jim remembered, the Pam that he had fallen in love with at one point.
Sure, he wasn’t the Jim that she lo – whatevered right now, but maybe, just maybe she could help him get back to that. If he was going to work hard and become industrious and stuffy at work, it didn’t mean that she had to.
It may not have been the most brilliant, well laid plan that she’d ever come up with, but it was a plan and it would have to do.
She cradled the phone to her ear and dialled the number written on her pad. The ringing was short lived as the receiver crackled to life. After a gruff greeting she plastered every ounce of charm she could muster into her tone.
“Hi there Mike.” She smiled enthusiastically into the phone, hoping it would translate to amicability. “I’m calling from Dunder Mifflin Scra – Stamford,” she had to catch herself. Old habits and all that. “…about the Herr’s Salt and Vinegar chips,” she continued. “Our vending machine is unfortunately all out. They’re a real favourite here.” She nodded and hummed appropriately as Mike informed her, rather frankly, that he wasn’t too fussed about their shortage. “See, the thing is,” she schmoozed, “people are bringing chips from home and not spending their money in your vending machine.”
Mike evidently wasn’t too fussed.
“Thanks anyway,” Pam sighed. “You’ve been such a gem.” She hoped the sarcasm wasn’t bordering too closely on impolite, but really? She wasn’t asking for anything too far outside of the bounds of reality.
She took a steadying breath and considered that possibility perhaps her interaction with Jim had left her in slightly more of a funk than she was admitting to herself. She didn’t have time to get into her typical overthinking, because Karen was floating over to her desk looking a little inquisitive, but friendly and open all the same.
She fixed a warmed expression on her face and greeted Karen with a, “so that’s a no on the West Side Market.”
Karen’s brows raised.
“It’s the supplier that fills the vending machines,” Pam shrugged.
Karen broke into a grin. “I’ve been puzzling over what you meant by solving my other problems.”
“Restocking the vending machines, obviously,” Pam matched her smile.
She didn’t mean for her eyes to creep over Karen’s shoulder and meet Jim’s questioning stare, but they did.
Apparently, her interaction with Karen was drawing some interest. She caught herself lost in his stare for a second too long and Karen’s gaze followed hers. She deflated somewhat and swung her attention back to Pam.
“I better get back to work, my supervisor,” she rolled the word over her tongue like it tasted bitter, “is waiting.”
Pam pulled herself back into the conversation. She reflected on her plan, she was going to pull Jim up to her level, not settle on his anchored in miserable monotony. Work was supposed to be at a least a little bit fun. She could remember how to do that.
“Wow. I never pegged you for a quitter,” her eyes sparkled despite her seemingly serious tone.
Karen snorted. “Oh, I am not a quitter.”
“Prove it,” Pam mouthed, pulling the phone to her ear once again. “Should I call the warehouse that ships to the supplier?”
“Do it,” Karen nodded earnestly, settling her elbows on the counter and leaning towards her.
Pam’s movement on the keys was interrupted by the arrival of Andy. “Hey. What are we doing? What’s the game? I want in,” he beamed at the both of them.
“Oh, it’s no game,” Pam deadpanned.
Karen’s head bobbed up and down in agreement. “It’s serious work.”
“We’re trying to get these chips for Karen,” Pam added, her tone still steady and matter of fact.
Andy eyed them both carefully, when he spoke it was as if he were addressing elementary school students, “did you check the vending machine?”
“Oh, the vending machine!” Karen tapped the side of her head with the click of her tongue. “How did we miss that?”
“I have no idea,” Pam murmured, awe at Andy’s genius creeping purposefully into her words. “We went right for the copier,” she shook her head morosely.
“And then we checked the fax machine,” Karen added with a shrug.
“Yeah, nothing there,” Pam sighed.
Andy gaze flicked between the pair of them, the furrow between his brow deepened.
“Did you check your… butt?” he finally managed to utter before traipsing back over to his desk.
“Oh my god,” Karen grinned from ear to ear and Pam had to clap a hand over her mouth to keep from giggling. She tried to keep herself in the moment with her new friend, but she thought she caught a glimpse of Jim in the background staring intently at his paperwork with maybe the smallest makings of a smile curving the edges of his lips.
She decided that she was swimming just parallel enough to get herself free of the rip after all.
He was trying his very best not to watch.
How, in the space of less than a day, had Pam managed to win over the coldest person in this office? Karen was giggling. She was standing at Pam’s desk holding her sides and beaming. Jim didn’t think he’d seen her crack so much as a smile in the months that he’d been here.
In his mind, Karen was the Angela of this branch and yet there she was, all bright eyed and carefree after one interaction with Pam.
Despite his intentions to not to pay them any notice, after years of practice, he was finely attuned at hearing Pam from a reception desk. He could make out every word.
Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Karen double over in laughter as Pam grumbled into the receiver in her best likeness of Mike from West Side Market.
So, yeah, whether he wanted to or not, he was definitely listening.
“Well, we got a shipment of Herr’s salt and vinegar chips, and we ordered that about three weeks ago and haven’t… yeah. You have ‘em in the warehouse? Great. What is my store number?” she grimaced at Karen.
“Uh, six. Wait, no. I’ll call you back.” She hung up and shot Karen an apologetic smile. “Shut up,” she mumbled with a wide grin as Karen laughed, her head steadily shaking.
“I said shut up,” Pam groaned, but she was all light. There was no seriousness and then she was grinning back at Karen, wide and toothy and it was everything. She was genuinely happy.
In spite of himself, he felt a small smile nudge at the edges of his lips. There was something about Pam and joy that was just infectious.
He tried to remind himself that infection in general was bad and he’d already caught that particular disease and look at where it had gotten him.
Strangely enough, it didn’t shift the smile from his lips. What did that, was Andy appearing at his side. He managed to stifle his groan.
“Tuna,” Andy nudged him. “You’re friends with pretty Pamela the receptionist, right?”
Jim was struck with the uncharacteristic urge to punch him. Maybe it was the reminder that friends was all he would ever be with Pam? Maybe it was that he knew what would come next because this was Andy and he was generally proving himself to be a predictable being?
“Is she single?” There it was.
“N – ” she’s engaged his mind finished on autopilot. Oh. Oh. “Yes?” he finished lamely, kind of forgetting that he was answering Andy and more for his own benefit.
She was single. Pam was single. She was in Stamford.
Phyllis had called him, a few weeks before June tenth and gently, but very purposefully mentioned it to him.
Pam hadn’t called. She hadn’t messaged. She hadn’t emailed. He’d taken to checking his spam folder every day, just in case somehow something slipped through. He hated answering no called id numbers, but he’d picked up every one, just in case she’d changed her number.
He wasn’t sure when he’d given up. But he had. She hadn’t reached out.
This, her somehow materialising in his office here was the first contact in months.
He didn’t know what to think of it.
It was too little too late.
Except, it wasn’t little, it was huge for Pam. Pam didn’t take chances. Pam didn’t risk it all. Pam didn’t throw caution to the wind. Pam didn’t move to a new city. Pam wasn’t single.
He didn’t know what to do with a world where he was wrong about these things?
“N-yo?” Andy was squinting at him. “Yes? She is single? It’s not a hard question, Tuna, my man.”
“Yes, she is single,” Jim tested the way the words sounded rolling off his tongue. They tasted tentative, but tinged with something he hadn’t felt it a long time that seemed a little like possibility.
Andy grinned. “She’s a hottie.”
Andy seemed to be waiting for some sort of response to the affirmative. Jim nodded stiffly. Once.
“Dibs,” Andy puffed out his chest. He winked at Jim. Jim stared blankly at him in response.
For some preposterous reason known only to Andy, it seemed this meant that Jim wanted more information as to why Andy was making this assertation. “She,” he paused, gesturing wildly over his chest in a terrible approximation of breasts, “has bigger ones than Karen,” he whispered conspiratorially. And wow, Jim really did want to punch him.
Thank god Karen chose that moment to turn from the reception and march back to her desk. She glared at Andy on her way past and for a second Jim was terrified that she’d overheard them and would tell Pam.
But, then her glare slipped to him and he realised this was the same thing as always. She was annoyed that Josh favoured him and his newfound work ethic just a little too much. He remembered he was supposed to be overseeing some asinine task that she was supposed to be completing, but he couldn’t quite remember the details. Something about a price list, but that was as much as he had. It turned out, having Pam here was already detrimental to his work whether he had anything to do with her or not.
For a split second, he considered leaning into it and embracing his old way of working – with far less work involved and a whole more joy. It only took another second for him to remember that his joy had been taken from him and stomped to pieces in a nondescript office building parking lot. He was anchored in place for a reason and it would be foolish to pull up and just sail away into the unknown.
He picked up his phone and used every ounce of his energy to make a sale. The little buzz of feeling like at the very least he could do this, at least he was sort of successful at something faded immediately this time.
He didn’t know if he’d just tried it one too many times and the fade was natural or if it was from the laughter peeling out from behind him as he hung up the phone.
“I’m calling a supermarket in Montreal,” Karen was saying as Pam pretended to hand her a message. He knew her tells. He knew that the post-it in her hand as she stepped over to Karen’s desk contained little more than a cute doodle.
“Nice,” Pam chuckled.
“Bonjour. Je cherche des tchips de la marque Herr’s. Non? Ah… Merci quand meme. Au revoir,” Karen enunciated.
“Well?” he could hear Pam bouncing on the balls of her feet in anticipation.
“No luck,” Karen sighed, but Jim thought he could detect a smile in it. He resisted the urge to spin around and check.
“That’s a shame,” Pam pouted with dramatic flair reminiscent of Kelly. “It sounded good,” and that was her soft smile, the genuine one, where she poked out the tip of her tongue ever so briefly and never failed to make Jim’s heartbeat quicken ever so slightly if he was on the receiving end of it.
But he wasn’t.
And somehow in that moment he turned into the worst version of himself, a version that reminded him all too much of Roy and he really wasn’t that person.
He spun in his chair and turned on Karen sharply. “How’s that price list coming?” Because apparently he was jealous that Pam was making a friend that wasn’t him and smiling that smile that wasn’t for him anymore and it hurt.
Even though, at his very core he knew that Pam making a new friend, particularly a girlfriend was brilliant because her circle of female friends had shrivelled and wilted under Roy’s influence and maybe he’d filled that role a little too much in recent years.
Pam having friends was great and she needed friends and they didn’t usually come this easily. Who was he to get involved?
But, it was too late for all these thoughts to spin frantically through his mind because he’d already opened his mouth and Karen was glaring pointedly at him with unrestrained disdain and worse, so much worse, was the look of disappointment and way Pam’s entire affect shifted and drooped.
He’d seen it before.
It was the look she got after Roy did something heartless and utterly selfish. It harkened of the look she’d had the day Roy had told her not to apply for the graphic design program in New York.
For some reason, it only made him angrier. Mostly at himself, but it came out at Karen. Pam’s new friend. “Well?” He snapped.
“I’ll get right on that,” she clapped back. “Boss,” she sneered.
“Good,” he ground out and without allowing himself to look at Pam again, he swung his chair fiercely back around.
“Sorry,” he heard Karen whisper to Pam. He felt, or imagined he felt, the wind from Pam’s shoulders rising and falling as she shrugged in response. She pressed her post-it, a cartoon rendering of a chip packet onto Karen’s desk and brushed past Jim.
The movement forced the air from his lungs. After he sucked in another gulp, his anger had subsided and he was left with a whole lot of guilt.
The remainder of the afternoon passed in relative silence. He could feel the glower radiating from Karen as she sat behind him. It didn’t take much time before she curtly slapped the price list on his desk and retreated to the bathroom.
Pam slipped from her desk and grabbed her coat at Karen’s departure.
She was back a couple of minutes later, wearing a determined smile that faded slightly as she met Jim’s gaze. She walked purposely past him and he heard the tell-tale crinkle of a packet of chips being deposited on a desk.
He kind of owed her – them – an apology for his outburst. Something subtle? His sales list lay dormant as he chewed the end of his pen and considered his options.
Karen slipped back to her desk as he mulled. She gasped in delight. Pam grinned at her from the reception desk.
For a few moments after that, the office was filled with the munch and crunch that accompanied every packet of chips.
The sound filled him with a renewed sense of hope. Pam was in Stamford. She was still Pam. She was kind and funny and she’d sought him out. She’d come to Stamford. That was a gesture of sorts.
It couldn’t hurt for him to put the feelers out. It couldn’t hurt from him to throw in a gesture of his own.
5pm rolled around and Jim wasn’t watching the clock. It wasn’t until he overheard Karen pause at reception on the way out that he realised it was the end of the day.
“Thank you, Pam.”
“You’re welcome,” she smiled sweetly.
“How did you manage it?” Karen’s elbow propped on the counter as she stared at Pam expectantly.
“A magician never reveals their tricks,” Pam answered solemnly and Jim felt himself softening all the more towards her.
“I can’t live with the not knowing!” Karen exclaimed brightly.
“Oh fine, you’ve convinced me. I just called the manufacturer, who referred me to the distributor, who referred me to the vending machine company, who told me that they sell them in the machines in the building next door,” Pam shrugged.
Karen laughed lightly. “Now that I know your secret, I suppose you have to kill me.”
“I suppose,” she sighed.
“See you tomorrow, Pam.”
Pam smiled widely and echoed her farewell.
Jim gathered his things. He didn’t stop at reception, but he raised his eyes for a moment. “Good night, Pam,” he managed to murmur as he met her gaze for the briefest second.
She flushed ever so slightly and he almost missed it. “Night, Jim.”
Despite their farewells, she grabbed her purse and trailed him to the elevator. They rode down in silence. He could feel the warmth radiating from her even with the distance between them.
He wasn’t sure how he was faring any longer. Someone at the surface was tugging insistently at his moorings. He could feel the rope tightening and he was starting to stretch skywards. He’d been at the bottom for so long, he couldn’t quite remember what it was like at the surface. Was change ever a good thing?
Thanks for reading! I took that French from a transcript, so if it's wildly inaccurate, please let me know...
Chapter 5 by JennaBennett
I've had it pointed out to me that the timeline of this fic is a little unclear - probably because I'm pulling scenes from all over the place in Season 3 and chucking them in here... So, for clarities sake: this is taking place around the same time as Gay Witch Hunt. The Convention has not yet happened. Pam and Jim have had no contact since Casino Night.
He was in the breakroom with his coffee the following morning as she swept in with what he guessed was a renewed sense of determination to make some sort of amends with him.
“Jim, I have to talk to you about something very serious,” she stated, but the laughter lacing her tone assured him that it was anything but.
She settled on the chair next to him. “You’d better sit down,” she entreated, her words still a stark contrast to her smile. He leaned back into the chair he was already seated on and raised a brow at her. She chewed on her lip and shrugged at him. “I rehearsed this whole thing and you were definitely standing in my head.”
How was it that she could always make him smile even when he wanted to remain indifferent at best?
“Do you want me stand up?”
She shook her head and met his eyes with a bright grin. For a moment, it was a year ago and nothing had changed – he still loved her fiercely and secretly and she hadn’t sent his life spiralling off course. But this was now. And now he was trying not to.
“Anyway,” she murmured mostly to herself. She cleared her throat, “stick to the script, Pam.” She levelled him with a wink and his heart stuttered in his chest at how she managed to make the most meaningless gesture into a thing of aching beauty.
“Jim,” her tone was hushed and solemn, however, her eyes still twinkled with humour. “I need to break this to you.”
“Yes?” he managed to croak. So much for indifferent.
“Jim,” his name was a plea on her lips. “The people here,” she flicked her head around, as if to ensure that no one was listening in. “They view you as the Dwight of this office.”
It was something he’d gotten used to over the years. These little moments where it struck him as to just how completely and utterly perfect she was for him – that they were for each other. He didn’t believe in soulmates as a concept, but in these little moments like this maybe he did.
So yeah, he was used to this.
First, the realisation that they were meant to be in that crazy deigned-from-the-heavens that shouldn’t even exist kind of way… That was always followed by a steady ache in his chest, where he envisaged was another crack forming in his heart because she wasn’t his. No matter how destined they were for each other, it wasn’t to be.
He braced himself for it again now, the next crack. He wondered how many cracks it would take before his heart just full on shattered? The events of the casino night had left it riddled and oh so frail. There wasn’t much more it could take.
This time though, the crack didn’t spread like usual. Sure, he felt the initial sting, but he didn’t feel the spread.
Pam was gazing at him with careful concern etched over a barely veiled smile. She thought this particular titbit was somewhat hilarious. She was waiting for him to share in the joke.
That wasn’t new, what was though, was the almost entirely faded tan line on her bare ring finger that he couldn’t keep his eyes from resting on as she cupped her cheeks in her hands and leaned towards him expectantly.
After masking himself so carefully yesterday, a thin smile managed to slip through.
“I know,” he stage-whispered and shuddered theatrically.
She giggled. “This won’t do.”
“I’ve been,” he mouthed the word like it was dirty, “working.”
She scrunched up her nose. “Lame.”
He shrugged. “I had nothing else to do here.”
She frowned ever so slightly, but didn’t push because of course she knew why. “If you’d like to change up your image, you know where to find me.”
She offered him a final soft smile and rose to settle herself at reception and start the day. He watched as she switched the phone over from straight-to-voicemail.
The half formed thought that he’d considered yesterday afternoon shifted into a definitive plan. He could shake up his image as Pam had so delicately put it and show her that maybe he was ready to broach whatever it was that she’d come to Stamford to tell him.
It had to be something, Pam wouldn’t have shown up just for the sake of showing up.
She was more careful than that. More considered. He’d spent his entire evening and a rather sleepless night ruminating on it all.
She wasn’t cruel. She wasn’t here to toy with him. Of that much he was sure. Of anything else, he was decidedly less sure…
There was the thought that she was here to attempt to rekindle their friendship and nothing more than that. She’d made that clear enough back in May.
Then there was the second train of thought, that was more difficult to wrap his mind around. This was the one that he tossed and turned over through the night. He couldn’t stop himself from wishing that the Pam who was here, was the Pam who smiled at him softly from beneath her lashes and whispered me too and kissed him back.
It was that Pam who had called off her wedding to Roy, he was sure of it. He had all his fingers and toes crossed that this was the Pam who followed him to Stamford too.
He really wasn’t sure though, and that uncertainty was enough to keep him anchored in place. He wasn’t going to throw caution to the wind, but he was going to nudge. He was going to let the boat above him take up all in the slack and drift a little in her direction.
He had a plan.
A quick glance over to reception as he took his seat only increased his hopes that the Pam who was here with him was the Pam he willed it be. Carefully placed on the counter sat a glass jar, filled to the brim with blue, pink and green jellybeans. His top three flavors.
She flashed him a wide smile and he couldn’t help the matching one that formed on his face in response.
Her gesture prompted a gesture of his own. No sooner had he settled in his chair then he was rising out of it again. He stuck his hand in the jar, his face still spread in a grin.
She waited until he’d chucked a couple in his mouth before she spoke. “What do you think of Andy?”
He swallowed roughly. “He’s not really my type.”
“Noted,” she shook her head ever so slightly and prompted him with her hands as if to say seriously.
“If Michael Scott and Todd Packer could somehow conceive a child together, it would be Andy.”
Pam shuddered. “Ugh, can you imagine?”
“We don’t have to imagine… because Andy,” Jim grimaced.
“So?” Pam hedged.
“So what?” he asked, even though his heart was both sinking and desperately trilling at where he suspected she was headed.
“I think we should put his stapler in Jell-O.” Yep, exactly where he thought.
“This isn’t amateur hour, Beesly.”
He didn’t miss the way she flushed at the familiar way her name rolled off the end of his tongue. It emboldened him.
“Tell you what, you brainstorm your best, original ideas and meet me in the breakroom at lunch?”
“Deal,” she murmured, eyes still shiny with what he hoped was emotion.
He dipped his hand in the jar again and retreated to his desk chewing on the sugary goodness.
He had a good feeling about his plan.
She’d been in a such a good mood all morning. Two promising interactions with Jim. It had felt like old times, but in the same breath there was a sense of new possibilities.
Sure, he’d rejected her coffee invitation yesterday. She was content with telling herself that she’d blindsided him.
He’d been surprised. She had hurt him deeply back in May. It was natural that there was some residual anger.
Still, she couldn’t have made any other choice in that moment, she needed time to process. And, that was Jim in the breakroom yesterday – surprised and without adequate processing time. She wasn’t giving up until she gave him that.
She let herself bask in the positives. He’d come for jellybeans. He hadn’t completely shot down the idea of pranking Andy. He’d kind of suggested that they would eat lunch together. So yeah, the basking was going well.
The glow was interrupted shortly before lunch. Andy.
Andy, with the very creepy and yet completely harmless vibe would not let up with the staring. Worse still, he was now sitting on the edge of Jim’s desk and ogling her.
Their conversation was muted, she couldn’t make out a single word. What she could make out was that Jim’s expression was completely sincere and earnest. It was an artform he had perfected with the years at Dunder Mifflin, his genuine sincere and forced sincere were exactly the same expression. So were hers. You couldn’t work with Michael for that long and not perfect it.
She had no idea what they were up to.
Before she had time to really consider it, Andy had crossed the room to stand before her desk.
Her instincts scream oh no and as it so happened, her instincts were not wrong…
“Pam-a-lama-ding-dong,” and this man-child before her somehow defied the rules of time and space to be Michael’s love child, it was as good as confirmed.
“Listen, you’re cute. There is no getting around it.”
There’s no getting around the terrible feeling she had about this.
Despite pretending to work, she could tell that Jim was straining his ears to listen in, although Andy was speaking far too loudly and making the task all the more easier for him she was sure.
“So… I don’t know if you like country music,” she does not. “But I was thinking maybe one of these days we could drive out to a field,” sounds like a good way to get murdered, “crank, up some tunes, smoke a few Macanudos… maybe even toss a disk around.”
Is she dreaming? She’s dreaming. This is the stuff of her nightmares.
“Utway ooday ooyay inkthay, Ampay?” Literal nightmares.
She clears her throat and tries everything in her power to keep her tone even, “wow… I – ”
“Shh. Think about it. I’ll hit you back.”
There’s no mistaking the silent laughter wracking Jim’s body.
She sits, stunned. She’s barely had time to compute the conversation when Jim is easing back in his chair and heading for the breakroom.
She waits for the door to swing shut behind him before she trails him in. His eyes are on her the moment she enters the room.
“Wow. That was… wow,” she managed to mutter, slowly shaking her head, her eyes still wide with it all.
“I’ve still got it,” it’s a statement, but she treats it like a question.
“Oh,” her eyes run over him, her tone low, “you’ve still got it.” She watches him shiver at the double meaning. Yes, she thinks, I meant it exactly like that.
His voice is gravelly when he speaks, “so you’ll stop with the comparisons to Dwight?”
“Where’s the fun in that?” she grins cheerfully.
Jim shakes his head seriously at her, but his smile belies the movement. “For that… just you wait to find out what else I’ve told him you love.”
He’s smiling at her like it’s a year ago and she’s seriously considering making some sort of dramatic declaration…
The door to breakroom swings open and the moment is lost.
Karen drops into the chair beside Pam, not before shooting Jim a look. And oh, right. She doesn’t like him. She thinks he’s a stiff suit. The goofy grin he lopes across the table confuses her momentarily and Pam senses that she softens somewhat. Even so, she angles her chair towards Pam.
“We should go out for drinks tonight,” it’s nice to know their blossoming friendship has survived the night.
Pam’s about to answer in the affirmative, when Karen adds, “there’s a Chili’s just down the street.”
“Umm,” she manages and even in that one attempt at a word she comes across as a flustered mess.
Karen eyes her carefully. “As friends,” she clarifies. “Not like a date.”
Jim chokes on his water.
Pam blushes furiously. “No, no. I didn’t think that, it’s just that.. Jim?” she struggles to find the words.
“Beesly here, is the proud recipient of a lifetime ban from all Chili’s restaurants,” Jim shrugs.
“Oh,” Karen laughs. “So, Chili’s is out. How the hell did you manage that?”
Pam once again flounders and looks to Jim to provide the words.
“Second drink,” is all Jim says like it clears up anything for Karen.
Pam’s head drops into her hands. “It’s so embarrassing,” she murmurs through her fingers.
Karen shakes her head, “if anything, I’m now more interested in being your friend.”
“I was a mess that night,” she groans.
“We’ve all been there,” Karen shrugs. “So, we’re on for drinks tonight? At a non-Chili’s venue?”
Pam nods her head from where it rests in her hands.
“Cool. You can teach me what second drink means.”
When she manages to raise her eyes from pressing into her palms, Jim is watching her quietly, his gaze awash with something that transports her back to that night. A warmth rises within her and starts to spread.
She matches his gaze, locking eyes. She senses Karen watching and hears her slowly back her chair away. “Okay, talk to you later, Pam,” and then she’s gone.
The air between them electrifies. She’s beginning to think they could power a city when Jim clears his throat. “How much of that night, do you, uh, remember?” he swallows roughly.
“All of it, I think,” she murmurs and she watches flickers of it float through Jim’s memory as she gazes into his eyes.
“Even the part, where you…”
“Kissed you?” she supplies.
“Yes?” she says, even though obviously he already knows. And just like that, she feels clear of the rip. It becomes easier to swim, she’s no longer straining with every stroke. Jim is leaning towards her like she holds all the answers and maybe she does.
She takes a deep breath and starts to swim for the shore.
As always, thanks so much for reading!
Chapter 6 by JennaBennett
Can we all agree that anything said on Office Ladies is canon? That’s what I’m going with...
“So, you do remember,” he finally manages to breathe. “I’ve always wondered.”
Her cheeks are painted pink. “Yes, but Jim. I think I was aiming for your cheek and I just somehow kind of missed.”
He schools his expression, but she sees the disappointment rolling off of him in waves. He mumbles, “I figured as much,” which is clearly a lie.
“I didn’t mind that I missed,” she clarifies carefully. “It was… nice.”
He brightens somewhat. “It was?”
“Yeah, it was.” Her face is in her hands again. Can she ever have a conversation with Jim without sinking into a pit of embarrassment? Apparently not.
“I was doing this whole speech acceptance bit.”
“Thanking God for your award?” he chuckles hesitantly.
“Exactly,” she grins, pulling her face level with his once more. “It got me thinking though, the kiss… not my show-stopping speech,” she clarifies.
“What were you going to ask me?” falls from his lips and the tips of his ears turn a delightful shade of blush-red.
“In the carpark?”
“I don’t know exactly the words, but everything.”
He furrows a brow.
She wrings her hands together. “My mind was spiralling, with just… everything.” He’s still looking confused which is understandable given how poorly she’s clarified. “I think the crux of it was that I wanted to ask if you liked me? Or if you thought I should break up with Roy? Just everything,” she finishes lamely.
“Yes and yes,” he answers solemnly.
“Me too, I think. Deep down, even then.”
She can tell he wants to ask, but why not on casino night, but he doesn’t. He just contends himself with smiling softly at her.
There’s a steady heave, persistent and forceful and the anchor holding his heart at the bottom dislodges. He bobs towards the surface, still putting in puffs of resistance, jerking downwards. But for one step backwards, it’s two steps forwards. The darkness around him recedes a little, he can see the glow of sunshine at the surface. The storm is easing.
“So, what should we do to Andy?” he asks after a comfortable silence. She hears everything that he isn’t saying. She takes it for what it is, a tentative olive branch. He may not be okay with how it all went down last May, but maybe just maybe he’s starting to see that all hope is not lost. The lifeboat may just turn around and come back for her yet.
She shrugs. “You’re full of great ideas today. What do you think?”
“Honestly, I was just teasing earlier. You can’t go wrong with a classic office supply in Jell-O.”
She grins. “It’s nice to ease into these things.”
“Test the waters a little,” he agrees and they’re not talking about Andy at all. “Oh Pam,” he beams at her. “You’re going to love the treat Andy has organised for you this afternoon.”
A grimace curls her cheeks. “You’re not supposed to be pranking me,” she grumbles.
“I’m not. I’m pranking Andy.”
“Sure thing, Big Tuna?”
He groans. “I ate a tuna sandwich on my first day here, which was clearly a mistake of epic proportions.”
“I’ll say,” Pam shakes her head far too condescendingly. “You should’ve eaten something more reflective of your true self.”
“Like another man named Jim,” he deadpans.
“Yes,” there’s a twinkle in her eyes. “Or,” she clicks her fingers, “an assistant to the regional manager?”
“Cannibalism, Pam? Really that’s the best you’ve got?” He says, despite it being essentially the bit he had done moments before.
He gets an exaggerated sigh in return. “Oh,” her smile stretches widely across her face and his heart stutters in his chest and all the work he’s done to distance himself from her is moot. “A Slim-Jim,” she breathes, bright and buoyant and just for him.
“Yes,” he concedes. “That’s it. That’s exactly what I should have eaten.”
She tilts her head gently, eyes suddenly serious. “Ah, it’s too bad. What’s done is done. You shall only be known as Big Tuna from this day forth.”
“I will curse this day forevermore,” he answers her, equally stoic.
He knows she’s kidding, but the laugh that bubbles from her, joyous and pure, is enough that he would live with the terrible misnomer for the rest of his days.
He’s in danger of falling back into all his worst patterns from the past few years of his life. He can’t cope with another bout of hopeless pining.
Pam glances at her watch and audibly groans. “I should probably get back,” she gestures over her shoulder in the general direction of reception.
“Me too,” he sighs.
There’s a pause. She makes no attempt to move. Instead she chews her bottom lip and stares straight into his eyes. “This was nice,” she murmurs. “I’ve got, uh, plans tonight.”
“Not a date,” he grins.
“Yeah. But would you like to, umm, have lunch again tomorrow?” She punctuates her words by laying her tiny hand over his.
He clears his throat, there’s a lump of possibility rising that he struggles to speak around. “I like to have lunch everyday, Pam,” he deflects with humor, falling back on familiar coping mechanisms.
She rolls her eyes ever so delicately as her cheeks pinken. “With me?”
What was he saying about hopeless pining? It seems there’s a little less emphasis on the hopeless for the first time in ever.
It’s barely there, but she traces a delicate pattern over the back of his hand as she withdraws hers. He bites the shiver that threatens to course through his body in response. His hand is branded with the shape of hers. Her fingertips have ignited tiny pinpricks of heat, each a fire burning, sparking the torch he carries for her to flare to life bigger and brighter than before.
When he pulls himself together, no easy feat, she’s still staring at him, anxiously awaiting a response.
“Yes,” he breathes. “Lunch. Tomorrow.” And he’s lost the ability to form full sentences which is just brilliant and will definitely make it easier to do his job.
Her answering smile stretches from cheek to cheek. He’s momentarily blinded by it, her face glows with steady happiness.
“Good. That’s good.”
She returns to her post at reception. He returns to his desk. He spends the afternoon staring unabashedly at her. Some habits die very hard, particularly when the fire has been stoked within him once again.
It’s not until she heads to the kitchen to refill her tea that he manages to bring his gaze to his desk and attempt any semblance of work.
It’s short lived.
Moments after he’s running his eyes over the paperwork on his desk, a figure appears in the edge of his vision.
“What’s the deal with you and Pam?”
“You like her.” It’s a statement.
“It’s none of your business.”
Karen folds her hands over her chest. “I may not like you very much, but Pam seems cool.”
He shrugs again.
“I don’t get it. She clearly likes you. I just can’t seem to figure out why…”
Despite himself, his lips stretch in a wide grin. Pam clearly likes him?
Karen’s glare softens somewhat. “You didn’t know that she likes you… Huh.”
He clears his throat and tries to drop the facade he’s been clinging to for months. “Pam is cool. It’s just, complicated.”
“It doesn’t seem that complicated. She’s into you. I’m pretty sure you’re into her. I think earlier was the first time I’ve seen you crack a smile since you started here. Just ask her out,” Karen shrugs like it’s that simple.
And it’s the culmination of many things, but at Karen’s easy assessment, he feels the anchor complete its final ascent and rise from the water. Just like that, he’s free in the current. It swells around him and for the first time in months he lets it carry him.
At 4.55pm, Andy materializes at her desk. He’s clutching a ukulele and grinning widely. She locks frantic eyes with Jim.
There’s no preamble. He strums the ukulele and she’s forced to endure the worst secondhand embarrassment of her life. He serenades her with a pig Latin version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow. It’s truly horrific. She wills the floor to open up and swallow her whole.
Josh emerges from his office at the noise and glares at Andy like he’s grown a second head. She blushes fiercely. Two minutes have never felt so long.
She politely shoots Andy down. After he retreats with his tail between his legs, she stalks over to Jim’s desk.
“I’m not pranking you, I’m pranking Andy,” she hisses making dramatic air quotations with her fingers.
“Yes,” he grins.
“Jim,” she shakes her head. “That was terrifying.”
“It was magical. I think it could be a real love connection.”
“I did not come here to have a love connection with Andy,” she mutters.
Maybe she’s said too much. Or maybe she’s said just enough. Jim is looking at her, really looking at her, just like he used to when she pretended not to see. She blushes fiercely.
“What did you come here for?” His tone is light and carefree, but his gaze has an intensity that tells her how she answers this questions matters.
“I -” she starts, only to be cut off by Josh’s commanding,
“Jim, can I see you in my office.”
“Duty calls,” he sighs theatrically, but the disappointment behind his gaze is palpable.
“I came for you,” she murmurs to his retreating back and wonders if she would have found the courage to say it to his face.
Karen pulls her from spiraling too deep into her thoughts, with a gentle, “Pam?”
“Hmm?” she manages and Karen waves her over to her desk.
“Meet you here?” There’s a website for a nearby bar on her screen. “It’s only a couple of blocks away. I have a to run a quick errand, is 5.30 okay?”
“Sounds great.” And it does. It also gives her time to maybe talk to Jim. The thought bolsters her spirits.
Karen pulls her purse from her bottom drawer and rises from her desk. “See you soon, Pam.”
“I’ve still got a few things to finish up here,” Pam smiles, heading back to her desk.
“Uh-huh,” Karen jerks her head in Jim’s direction and apparently she hasn’t missed much. With one final grin, she steps into the elevator.
She’s just started a new game of Solitaire when Jim emerges from Josh’s office. He shoots her a very apologetic smile before picking up his phone.
She decides to hell with it, because she’s trying to be a bolder and braver person and she heads to his desk to wait out his phone call.
“Oh hey man,” Jim is saying as she settles against the edge of his desk. “How’s things?”
After a moment his eyes bulge and he chuckles. He presses the speaker button and Ryan’s voice comes to life. “it’s creepy. How Pam hasn’t quit yet is beyond me.”
She raises her brows questioningly at Jim. “Michael’s been staring at Ryan,” he mouths. “Why don’t we ask,” he answers loudly.
“Hi Ryan,” she takes her opening. “Uh. Michael doesn’t stare at me.”
He curses. “When are you coming back?”
“Not yet. Whenever the receptionist here is cleared to work.” Whenever she sorts things out with Jim she mentally adds.
“Seriously, your staring was nothing compared to this,” Ryan sighs. “I need to quit this job…”
“Pam’s staring?” Jim is laughing at her. “Why are you staring at Ryan?”
“I haven’t been,” she huffs. “I was staring at the...desk.”
“I sit in your old desk now,” Ryan explains and it dawns on Jim.
“Oh,” he gasps. There’s a pause as they stare at each other. Pam fiddles nervously with her necklace.
“I, uh,” she starts to say as Ryan says -
“Look man, is there a reason you called, or just to catch up on my fresh hell?”
“Can you just leave a message for Michael to call me back in the morning?”
“Sure. Hurry back, Pa—” and Jim hangs up on him.
Jim is looking at her with these wide open eyes that scream second chances and missed opportunities.
She fumbles over her words, too lost in way she can see all his defenses crumbling. All their interactions have been slightly muted since she had decided that following him to Stamford was the best way to fix things. There’s been a wall between them, built purely from Jim’s hurt and her own hesitation to dive straight into outright declarations. The shutters are lifting in Jim’s gaze. The eyes staring back at her are no longer clouded with fear and confusion. He looks like he’s free of the storm.
She sees the shore clearly now. It’s no longer on the horizon, it no longer has her questioning if it’s a mirage or if she’s actually bound for dry land. She can almost reach out to touch it. It’s only going to take one final push. She plunges forward.
Gone is the careful, the veiled attempts at letting Jim know what he means to her. She’s close enough that it’s beyond stupid to swim in circles. She’s direct. She’s bold. She’s brave. She’s everything she wants to be. “I called off my wedding for you.”
Jim gasps, but waits for her to elaborate. She wonders if he’s drifting closer to her consciously or if it’s muscle memory. Or maybe it’s just this thing between them that’s always been tugging them towards each other. It’s magnetic.
“You didn’t give me time. That sucked, Jim,” her voice quivers, she takes a moment to clear her throat. “It was like I was drowning, Roy was a weight around my ankle tugging me down. You threw me a life preserver. I needed time to untie my life with Roy before I could reach out and grab on. By the time I got free, you were gone.”
“I, uh, didn’t think you wanted to be free of Roy,” he mumbles. “That’s what you said,” he winces sharply at the memory.
Her heart aches for him, for them, for that whole mess that was the casino night. “I didn’t realize how close the ship was to sinking. Once it went down, I panicked. I thrashed about in the water for a moment. I lied to you, Jim. I think I knew that even then. I was a captain content to go down with my ship. I didn’t know I could be rescued.”
She’s talking in convoluted metaphors, but she’s been comparing the whole thing to Titanic in her mind for far too long now, so that’s what spills out of her. Jim seems to get it, he’s nodding slowly.
“You swept in to rescue me, and for a moment, I clung to wreckage. I was supposed to sink with the ship. It was expected.”
She darts a glance up from under her lashes and receives another steady nod from Jim.
“Pam,” he rasps and she’s suddenly struck with the image that he’s been drowning too. “Where does that leave us now?”
She didn’t know the answer, but now she does. It strikes her right at the moment her feet hit the sand. She can stand. She can wade her way to the shore. So, she does.
“We swim for the shore. We stand on our own on dry land. We find each other again, but no one’s sinking, no one needs saving.”
He’s looking a little lost now, and maybe her metaphors aren’t the clearest she can be.
“I think,” she starts slowly. “I need to figure out who I am without Roy… and once I figure that out, I’d like to explore who I am with you.”
He’s silent. She can see the cogs turning in his mind, as he processes what she’s asking of him. Standing here, bathed in silence that’s heavy with uncertainty, she knows something of what he felt last May.
It’s hard. She gets it. She gets why he didn’t give her much time. She gets why he turned tail and ran away. Mostly because she rejected him, sure. But more than that, the vulnerability that comes with declaring your feelings is akin to wearing your heart on the outside of your body. It’s exposed, it’s far more susceptible to damage.
She’s barely declared anything in comparison to his I’m in love with you. She’d essentially implied that she’d like to date him after she gets her shit together. He had torn his heart from his body and handed it to her on a platter, only to have her send it back to the kitchen.
She understands now, far better than she did in the aftermath of casino night. It’s harder to hold it against him.
The more she considers it, the more she reconciles with it. The part of her that’s been holding on to a shred of anger falls away. It’s forgiven. He had his reasons for running and she understands them now.
She stands her ground. She waits him out.
“I’d like that,” he finally murmurs. “What… how?”
“We find our way as friends again, and then,” she kind of gestures between them.
“Then I ask you out,” a grin breaks free, splitting his face from cheek to cheek and he’s her Jim again, larger than life.
“Yeah,” she breathes. And then she’s sending all sorts of mixed messages because she’s canting forward and wrapping her arms around him.
She feels more than hears a nervous laugh huff from him and he’s returning her hug, his lanky arms gripping her tightly to him.
There’s a pulsing behind her ears and she’s not sure if it’s the blood rushing through her veins or the pounding of Jim’s heart. Either way, she breathes in time with it and feels more content than she has in months.
Jim’s hands start to move, rubbing a soothing pattern along her shoulders and down to the small of her back. Her arms flare with goosebumps. A shiver courses through her. Her body reacts without her conscious permission. One second it’s a hug between old friends and the next she’s nuzzling Jim’s neck and her lips are pressing into his collarbone. He shudders and she feels it in every inch of her body.
“Pam,” his voice is strained. “How long do I have to wait before I ask you out?”
“Not long,” she promises, her words washing across the bare skin of his throat. She delights in the blush rising on his skin where her breath hits him.
“Good, that’s good,” he murmurs and his lips brush her temple and she wants to change her answer to now.
She wants to kiss him. The wave of want that crashes over her is overwhelming. Gone is any semblance of thought. It’s the time to act.
She starts to lean back in his embrace, just enough that she can look him in the eye, just enough that she can press her hips to his. She meets his gaze and then drops her eyes to his lips. He gulps, his eyes grow darker. Her tongue darts out to wet her lips. She leans forward. The music swells around them.
Oh. That’s her cell.
God dammit. She groans in frustration and then giggles at the echoing groan emitting from Jim. She extricates herself with a pout answering her phone on a sigh.
“Oh, hey Karen,” she bites her lip. “Yup, I’m on my way.” She offers Jim an apologetic smile. “I’m late for meeting Karen.”
He nods. “Lunch tomorrow?”
He walks her out. The elevator ride is poles apart from yesterday. They stand as close as possible, shoulders pressed together. Her pinky brushes against the back of Jim’s hand. She’s buzzing with what she tells herself is excitement about being back on the same page, but really it’s just an awareness of him. She can touch him now, even just platonically and it’s not loaded with a guilt she can’t quite put her finger on. The knowledge thrills her.
She’s on dry land. All that’s left to do is walk along the water’s edge and take his hand.
There’s only another chapter or so left in this. Fingers crossed it doesn’t take me over a month to update again...
Chapter 7 by JennaBennett
I don’t know where this update came from, but here we are...
Pam comes in early the following morning. She’s tired. She stayed out far too late with Karen. There’s something about having a new girlfriend - a girlfriend really, because somewhere in the midst of Roy, her friends floated away and the wives of Roy’s friends hollowly took their places - that makes her throw away her carefully structured routines just a little. She can catch up on sleep tonight.
Still, she’s here early and despite the exhaustion lingering in the wings, she’s buzzed. It’s silly because he won’t even be in yet, but she doesn’t want to wait another moment to see him. The cautious part of her needs reassurances that their conversations yesterday happened and that they’re really working towards something again.
It’s one of those moments where she feels like she’s thought about him enough to will him into being. She stumbles and almost trips over her own feet to find Jim at his desk when she wanders into the office a good forty-five minutes early.
“Oh,” she manages as he grins up at her sheepishly.
She’s so distracted by the warmth from the blush crawling up her cheeks that it takes her far too long to process what’s before her. Jim isn’t at his desk.
“Morning Pam,” he murmurs and it’s so gentle she wonders if that’s what it would sound like with his cheek pressed into a pillow first thing in the morning. He swallows roughly and her eyes follow the rise and fall of his Adam’s apple.
It’s strange, but her gaze catches on his bare forearms. She crooks her brow and something’s different.
“Pam?” a gentle question, almost a caress drops from his lips. Right, she hasn’t formed a coherent sentence yet.
“Hi,” she breathes.
“Hey,” he grins and finally her appraisal makes it to his hands. His hands that are clutching a tub of Andy’s stapler suspended in bright yellow Jell-O. Her face cracks into a wide smile.
“Your sleeves are rolled up,” she blurts and that’s what’s different. These past couple of days in Stamford, Jim has been buttoned up. He’s been in full suit and tie, his dress shirt stretching all the way to his wrists. He’s been stuffy Dwight-Jim, this Jim before her is Jim-Jim. The world rights on its axis.
“All the better for dirty work, Beesly.”
“Mmm,” she nods in agreement. “Dipping the ends of your shirt in yellow would be a dead giveaway.”
“Exactly.” He holds up how bare arms. “Stealth mode,” he winks and then cringes. “Can we pretend I didn’t just say that.”
Pam shakes her head, bites her lip and gazes out from under her lashes. Some may even call it flirting. “Nope, I like you dorky.”
Jim flushes and getting to work early has been everything she wanted it to be and so much more.
She watches him finish up, carefully depositing the Jell-O-ed office supplies into Andy’s desk draw. He heads to the kitchen to wash his hands. She’s behind her desk, switching her computer on, when her teapot appears beside her, steam billowing from it.
“Thanks Jim,” she beams.
He taps his fingers on the counter, that way he always does when he’s buying a few moments of time. A jellybean finds its way into his mouth. He chews steadily and swallows. “So, what time were you thinking of taking lunch?”
She glances at the clock in the corner of her monitor and groans. “9.30?”
Her impatience wins her a brilliant grin. “That wouldn’t be soon enough,” he agrees and everything she feels for him catches in her throat and all she can do is nod.
“How about 12.00?”
She delivers another graceless nod.
The elevator dings signally the loss of their own private world. A few workers trickle out into the office. Josh exchanges a pleasant greeting as he passes.
“Do me a favor?”
“Absolutely,” she answers seriously.
“Deliver Andy a document that needs stapling sometime this morning?”
“Consider it done.”
She’s actually kind of busy. The phone rings fairly constantly for the first hour or two of the morning. Time passes quickly, anticipation for lunch builds steadily in her guts.
At 11.30 she remembers her promise. Jim’s on the phone, but she figures it’s worth seizing her moment.
She hands Andy a haphazard pile of paper and shrugs when he grumbles at her. He opens his drawer and shoves his hand into it without so much as glancing down. He stares at his hand, now sticky with Jell-O with the strangest look on his face. Pam backs away slowly.
His mouth opens and the words begin to spew forth, becoming more and more erratic as he continues. “Okay… Who put my stapler in Jell-O? Good one. But uh, seriously, guys who did this? Seriously guys, who did this? I need to know who put my stapler in Jell-O, or I'm gonna lose MY FRICKIN’ MIND!”
Jim drops the phone back into its cradle and turns wide eyes on her. They have the most unspoken of conversations and she’s reaching for her purse and drifting towards the elevator all without making any sudden movements.
Jim joins her in the parking lot less than a minute later. “Oh my god,” he breathes.
“Maybe, we go easy on the pranks with Andy,” she offers breezily.
“Oh. My. God.” His eyes are still wide.
“All of Dwight’s reactions suddenly seem so measured.”
“Calm,” he agrees.
“Muted,” she adds.
“What universe are we in where anything about Dwight seems reasonable?” He says it so sincerely that she’s doubled over laughing and forgetting how to breathe.
He pats her back as she draws in ragged half-breaths. “Seriously guys,” she chortles in her best likeness - under the circumstances - of Andy.
Her breathing evens out, Jim’s hand is still heavy on her back. She straightens and it slips lower, a warm tingling presence despite her coat. “Where do you want to go for lunch?”
“I have somewhere in mind,” he shrugs.
“Can I drive?” she beams and somehow his lanky frame folds perfectly into her new little Yaris.
“This is great, Pam,” he enthuses. “I’m really proud of you.”
“I love it,” she nods. “It’s more me.”
He flips through her CDs and decides on the latest Interpol album with a soft smile. He must know that she only bought it because it reminded her of him and swaying and first not-dates.
He directs her to a park and she’s a little confused, but it’s a beautiful sunny day so she doesn’t question it. She has food back at the office. She’s in on this lunch date for the date not so much the lunch.
His cell chimes and he glances down. “I’ll be back in one second,” he grins, but she recognizes the twist of nerves behind it.
He darts over to a car that’s just pulled to a stop over next to where hers is parked. “It’s probably a little cold,” he apologizes. She’s glancing at him, her brow furrowed in confusion until she catches a glimpse of the logo on the bags in his hands. Her mouth drops into a perfect O and her eyes well with tears.
She thinks that maybe she was drowning for so long that she got used to the feeling of the current swelling around her. She’s found the shore, but she’s still on sea-legs, wobbly and uncertain. This, this moment here with Jim, she’s steady.
He’s maybe the world's biggest idiot. He has Pam all open and eager before him and he’s doing that thing he always does. He’s coming on way too strong and scaring her off. It’s every moment he flirted with her just a little too openly and she’s gotten her haunches up, hissed at him and backed away.
He just gets carried away in how much he loves her and he forgets that she isn’t in this as much as he is. She said she wanted to be friends. She said she maybe wanted more. And here he is again, diving into the deep in while she’s wading in the shallows.
So yeah, he’s an idiot. He got carried away in this lunch idea and he wanted to take her where he’s always pictured taking her, since that fateful first lunch on his very first day at Dunder Mifflin. But, they’re in Stamford so his ideal lunch location was all kinds of impractical.
Then, inspiration had struck and now he’s the idiot who begged, cajoled and paid his kid sister to deliver them lunch from Scranton.
“Cugino’s,” Pam gasps. “How?”
He rubs the back of his neck with his free hand. “I umm, got Larissa to deliver,” he explains weakly and waits for the sting of her rejection. It’s too much. He’s come on too strong. He’s an idiot.
“Jim,” she breathes. “It’s perfect.”
Somehow, that’s the moment he knows. She’s in this. She’s really in this.
He watches her carefully, there’s a moment of hesitation and then she’s drifting forwards. She presses her lips to his cheek and lingers. He’s oh so tempted to turn his head and catch her lips with his before she pulls away, but she asked for time.
The ball is in her court. He’s beyond thrilled that she’s stepped in from the sidelines and has joined the game. She can take all the time she needs to lob it back to him.
She steps back, her face diffuses with an adorable shade of blush pink. His hand rises to cup his cheek. It’s very fifth grade, but he feels as if he’ll never wash it again.
“Shall we eat?” she smiles.
He gestures to the park bench and she takes a seat. He spreads the takeout between them.
She notices, because she’s been paying more attention than he realizes. He’s chastised himself many a time over the years for making too much out of every little interaction - especially recently, when he’s dug in his memories to decide just how badly he misinterpreted their friendship. He’s starting to believe that maybe he didn’t misinterpret it all.
“Oh Jim,” and he offers her a bashful grin to find her eyes full and bright with unshed tears. “You remembered.”
He did. The spread before them contains not only her favorite dish - Risotto alla Pavese, that she’d had on their lunch not-date - but also the newish breadsticks that she’d been desperate to try last year. Roy doesn’t really like Italian food, she’d sighed. Only pizza, but he thinks Cugino’s is too stuck up. Jim had figured this meant too traditional.
He offers her a shrug. “I, uh, like to think I’m pretty good at remembering stuff when it comes to people I care about. I’m a sentimental person, I guess.”
“It’s nice,” she offers sweetly. “I’m not used to having someone notice,” she adds with a furrowed brow. His heart aches for all that she hadn’t had with Roy.
The air hangs heavily between them, too wrought with emotion for a casual lunch between friends. Nothing about what he feels for her is casual and he’s past masking it. And miracle of miracles it seems she feels the same way.
Although, they were still them and easy friendship sat at their foundation. Pam arches a brow at him, her tone infinitely lighter than it had been a moment ago. “What,” she pauses to break the end off a breadstick, “is the craziest thing you’ve sentimentally hoarded from the office?”
“Sentimentally hoarded?” he snorts. “What does that even mean?”
“Something you’ve kept purely for sentimental reasons, that in the hands of anyone else would be considered junk. Like,” she wracks her brain for a moment, “I still have my yoghurt medals from the office olympics.”
He frowns at her theatrically. “Junk? Those are priceless treasures.”
“You’re right,” she nods solemnly, with a sparkle in her eyes.
He tilts his head, pretending to carefully mull the questions over. “My dundies?”
“You shut your mouth,” she gasps and the likeness to Michael sent him spiraling into fits of laughter.
“You know I’m kidding.”
“Who do you think throws them in the trash immediately?” she replies, with the gentle shake of her head that insists that yes, obviously she knows he’s just messing with her.
“Oh, for sure. That one probably made it to a bin before he left Chili’s.”
“Mmm. I think she keeps them, but definitely not on display.”
“Yeah, I’d believe that,” he concedes. “She’d probably see it as wrong to toss something her boss had given her.”
Pam nods her agreement. He plucks the other breadstick from the bag and shoves a piece into his mouth.
“Creed?” he guesses around a mouthful.
Pam swallows. “He probably tries to sell them,” she snorts.
He chuckles. “Without a doubt.”
He wonders if she’d kept her longest engagement ones, but doesn’t want to ruin the lighthearted turn their conversation has taken.
She pries the lid from her lunch and he does the same. The conversation lulls as they eat.
“I left the longest engagement ones with Roy,” she admits and for a second he wonders if he’d asked the question aloud after all. “I could hear you not asking.”
He smiles ruefully.
“My whitest sneaker one has pride of place on my mantle though.”
He finds his answer, the one he hopes falls on the sincere and not so creepily obsessed side of things. “You warned me about Dwight, on the day I started at Dunder Mifflin.”
“When I sat my desk, he handed me his business card and I turned and held it up to you and you laughed and he glared at you and you rolled your eyes. That’s when I knew.”
“That I liked you... I kept a bunch of stuff -”
“If the sentimental hoarder shoe fits,” Pam smirks gently.
“Yeah. That was the only thing I didn’t hide away when I moved to Stamford.”
“It reminded me of you, but it also reminded me of Dwight which helped dull the edges. It’s on my desk here,” he shrugs. “That’s the thing. Junk to everyone else, but meaningful to me.”
She’s not saying anything.
“It’s stupid,” he sighs.
“No,” she finally says and her voice is sure, strong. “It’s not stupid at all.”
He starts to eat again. He’s pushed his luck and he’s sure her carefully constructed boundaries more than enough for one innocent lunchtime conversation.
She speaks, and her voice wavers, but he meets her eyes and there’s a certainty behind them that he almost doesn’t recognize. “I want to kiss you again.”
That’s a very strong ditto from him.
“But,” she hedges, “I’m scared once I start kissing you, I won’t be able to stop.”
That doesn’t sound like a problem to him and oh, he’s saying it out loud. “That doesn’t sound like a problem to me.”
She smiles wryly. “A couple of years ago, Isabel made me read an article. I’d had an argument with Roy and spent the night at her place. It was about the perks of being single.”
“Okay,” he doesn’t exactly know where this is headed, but he’s with Isabel - single is better than Roy.
“There was a section that talked about serial daters, those people that are never single, the moment one relationship ends, they jump to the next. That’s me.”
“I’d hardly call one serious relationship jumping around.”
She gives a slight shake of her head and elaborates. “It said that those people don’t know who they are as a person. They only know who they are as a couple. So, that’s why.”
“Why I can’t kiss you again… yet.”
Her saying things like that is making it very difficult for him to stick to his guns about her making the next move.
“I get it, Pam. I feel like we kind of covered this last night.”
“I know,” she worries her bottom lip anxiously between her teeth. “I’m trying to remind myself,” she admits.
He feels his heart skip a beat. Actually feels it, one second it’s thudding in his chest and the next it’s screaming oh fuck and grinding to a halt. He has to gulp down a sharp breath of air to kickstart it up and running again.
This. This is what it feels like to be on dry land again. This is what it looks like when the storm has cleared. It’s everything he dreamt it could be and so much more.
Thanks for sticking with me on this one!
Chapter 8 by JennaBennett
A couple of things...
First of all, ugh. I just realised when I posted the last two chapters somehow anything italicized got lost along the way (along with some intended inflection I'm sure). So, I've gone back to fix that.
Also (and more importantly), the Season 3 timeline is not canon-compliant in this story at all, so there's that...
Jim is a patient man. His declaration on casino night was a moment of desperation, not impatience.
He’s waited on Pam before. He can wait on her again. That’s what he tells himself and yet somehow his hands are busying themselves with stuffing the leftover breadsticks back in the bag. He tosses it to the ground beside them and then there’s nothing between them and he’s scooching over. Right as his mind reassures itself that he can wait her out and be all kinds of patient, his arm decides to do its own thing. His fingers stretch out and extend around Pam’s side and suddenly his arm is clasped tightly around her shoulders and he’s tugging her firmly against his chest.
She comes willingly, soft and pliant in his arms. He’s careful not to face her; at least that’s one instruction his brain manages to give his body that it follows. He knows that if he shifts his face even imperceptibly from staring straight ahead he’ll lose any semblance of self-control and the heady desperation from their last kiss will be back in full force.
This is enough… for now.
Pam is warm against him, unmoving. It’s funny because he’s been running ever since he left Scranton all those months ago and now there’s a calm. He’s stopped. He’s standing still. It’s only here, in this moment of peace with her that his head clears. He’s done running.
He doesn’t know what that means. Does he move back to Scranton? Is that the next logical step?
If there’s hope of a future with Pam, a reality he imagined many a time, but never really considered what that could mean, he has to figure it out.
He wonders what the endgame is for Pam here. Does she want to leave Scranton?
The questions swell in his mind and threaten to interrupt his sense of calm. There’s too much up in the air, but it feels far too soon to vocalize all these thoughts. He just wants to sit in this feeling of contentment for a minute.
Pam stirs against him. His breath catches in his throat as she dips her face into his neck and he thinks that maybe he’s hallucinating because she’s pressing the faintest of kisses into the exposed skin beside his top button.
He decides it’s not breaking too many of the unspoken rules of I’m not ready yet to drop a kiss into her hair. He breathes her in, a heady mixture of some sort of floral shampoo and something inherently Pam.
“We should get back to the office,” she groans into his chest.
He gruffs out an, “I guess.”
“This was the best, Jim. I just… thank you.”
“You’re the best,” he answers honestly before he has the chance to second guess himself. He runs his hand in soothing circles over her arm and reluctantly retreats. When he pulls away and straightens up, they’re both baring bashfully pinkened faces at his admission.
He meets her eyes and grins a little. Her answering smile makes his day even brighter.
He gathers up their things and trails her back to the car. The return drive to the office passes far too quickly. Her hand sits on the gear stick and he has to jam his under his knees to stop himself from reaching out and twining his fingers with hers. His heart trills a little at the thought that she probably wouldn’t push him away if he did make a grab for her hand.
There’s another hum under the gentle music filling the car. The air buzzes between them, loaded with the promise of things to come. I’m trying to remind myself loops in his brain, over and over again, each time tinged with slightly more desperation than the last. Soon cannot come quickly enough.
They step back to into the office and something is off. The easy joy following them back from lunch seeps away. The atmosphere is heated, and not in the painfully delightful way cramped into a car with Pam had just been. All eyes flicker to Josh’s office. He shoots Pam a confused look and returns dutifully to his desk.
It appears Josh has been awaiting their - well, his - return because his backside has barely hit his chair and Josh is summoning him into his office. He steps in to find another familiar face.
“Hi Jan,” he murmurs in greeting.
“Oh good, you’re here. Ready to talk logistics?” her gaze swings back to Josh.
“The Scranton branch is closing, Stanford will absorb some staff,” Jan replies brusquely.
The air rushes from his lungs. Oh. He doesn’t work there anymore, that’s true enough, but it’s like a phantom limb. He still feels it. It still hurts. What will it mean for Pam?
He tries to tune back in, Jan is explaining what’s to come. He needs to know what it means, he needs to know that Pam - that everyone - is okay. God, Michael will be utterly devastated.
“So, Josh will be running what is now called Dunder-Mifflin Northeast, which is all the offices north of Stamford.”
He nods, his expression blank.
“And Jim, if you want the job, you'll be his number two.”
He doesn’t know what to say. He just wants her to get to the part about what’s happening to everyone from Scranton.
He manages another brisk nod.
“Good,” Jan replies. “I -”
And Josh cuts her off, “excuse me, Jan, I'm sorry... I'm going to have to stop you there. I, um, will not be taking the job.”
Jan pales noticeably. “Wha... excuse... why not?”
“As of today, I have accepted a senior management position at Staples.”
He swears he hears all the air in Jan’s lungs whoosh from her body.
“Today?” Jan’s pallor shifts from chalky to red. Jim knows that look. It’s the someone (usually Michael) has done something very stupid and potentional detrimental to the company look.
Josh offers her a sharp nod.
“You leveraged your new position with us into another offer?” Jan shakes her head, tacking on, “damn it, Josh. This whole restructuring thing was based around keeping you. I…”
“I'm sorry, all right? It's done, it's done,” he shrugs and Jan throws out that quietly disappointed glare that she’s perfected from years of managing Michael Scott.
“I’m going to make some calls,” Jan sighs.
Jim follows her out, softly mentioning, “say what you will about Michael Scott, but he would never do that.”
Jan stops for a moment and purses her lips at him. “You know what. You’re right,” she concedes and offers him a half-smile.
What. The. Hell. his thoughts whirl. His personal life is finally coming together - sort of, only to have his professional life fall apart - sort of.
He just wants to sit on the shore with Pam and watch the waves roll by, and yet the tide is coming up fast, threatening to wrench them from the sand and toss them back to sea.
There are whispers as Jim is called into Josh’s office. Pam finds herself mirroring everyone else in the office and keeping her eyes locked on the shut door.
Karen appears in the corner of her vision. “There’s a rumor,” and her voice is laced with worry.
“What?” Pam murmurs.
“Umm. It’s just I know you work there, so… I don’t want to worry you?”
Pam pulls her gaze from the general direction of Josh’s office to frown at her friend.
Karen sighs heavily. “Apparently the Scranton branch is being closed.”
“Oh,” and her eyes prick with tears, sharp and biting. “Oh.”
“Yeah,” Karen watches her, concern etched over her countenance.
The phone rings and she answers on autopilot.
“Pamela,” Dwight demands over the line. Her gut clenches at his voice. She aches for them all, herself and her strange, strange people.
“Hi Dwight,” she tries to sound brighter than she feels.
“When are you returning? You need to clear out your desk.” And this is Dwight’s way of saying he misses her and he doesn’t know how to handle this news.
“Why?” She needs confirmation.
“Jan called Michael. We’re all fired.” There it is. Oh god.
“Are you okay?” She doesn’t know if she is.
“Please. I have a perfectly profitable beet farm to fall back on. The rest of you are doomed in this economy.”
He’s not completely wrong. Her mind flashes to the few hundred dollars that she has to pay each month to cover her car loan. That’s going to be trickier without a steady paycheck. Her rent is higher now that she has a place all to herself too.
Still, she can be a silver linings kind of person when she feels like it. Does it make her a terrible person if the best silver lining she can think of right now is Valerie never returning to work and Pam taking over her position in Stamford permanently?
At least Jim’s job is safe she rationalizes.
“I don’t know when I’ll be back, Dwight,” she sighs. “Please don’t go into my desk.”
It’s almost as if she can hear his hand freeze midair. She loses some of the politeness. “Don’t go into my desk,” she orders.
“Ugh. Fine. You have twenty-four hours.”
Dwight starts to say something else, but she doesn’t hear him. Josh’s door opens, and Jan fills the doorway.
She steps towards the conference room, Jim on her heels. He murmurs something and Jan pauses to listen. Pam almost swears that she can make out the words Michael Scott on his lips.
Jim drops to his desk, his eyes wide on hers.
“Bye Dwight,” she cuts him off mid sentence that she’s paying zero attention to and the phone slips back into its cradle.
Karen lays a comforting hand on her shoulder. She wants to pull her eyes from Jim’s and offer her a grateful smile, but she can’t look anywhere but him.
She moves here now, right? That’s the only logical thing to do. She can up and pack her life and make this interlude in Stamford permanent.
She actually kind of likes the idea. She has friends here, as in multiple. Stamford is on the ocean, it’s kind of beautiful. She’s always wanted to paint the sea at sunset.
She’s halfway to opening up a web browser and searching for jobs in Stamford when she remembers her family. It’s far enough away here that she feels like she’s in a different time zone. But you know what, there are phones and busses and trains and they can visit. When Jim was here and she was in Scranton it had felt far. Too far.
She offers Jim a weak half-smile before turning and offering Karen the same. “It’s nice here in Stamford,” she says, “maybe I’ll start over here.”
She starts to type receptionist positions + Stamford, before she jams her finger onto the backspace button and squares her jaw. Her fingers hurry across the keyboard to form art school + Stamford.
Her search is cut short as Jan emerges from the conference room. “We need to close a branch,” she announces, “and, uh, it looks like Scranton is going to absorb Stamford.”
The room erupts into general chaos and Jan pinches her brow sharply. “Josh will inform you if you will be offered a position in Scranton. I’m leaving him with the list now. If there isn’t a position for you, you will be offered a severance package.”
Jan ushers Jim back into Josh’s office and whatever conversation they have is short. She’s in and out within a couple of minutes, leaving a cluster of very angry and confused people at Josh’s door.
Pam swears she sees a whisper of a smile on Jan’s face at the mayhem waiting for Josh. Jim also hastily scrambles back to his desk.
Jan pauses in her escape at reception. She looks at Pam carefully for a moment before informing her that, “you best get back to Scranton, Pam. You’re needed far more there, than to wrap things up here.”
“Oh, okay. Sure.” And she clicks the search browser closed and lets herself forget that it was more than a fleeting thought. She loves her art classes in Scranton and that’s enough for now. She lets herself feel the relief at her job being saved. There’s plenty of it to feel.
“You can take the rest of the day,” Jan tells her. “Josh can get one of the sales staff to man the phone lines for the afternoon.” Another little smirk quirks her lips and Pam is hit with the realization that maybe Josh annoys Jan more than Michael does.
She nods and makes a show of closing her emails and logging off the computer. Jan seems satisfied with that. “See you in Scranton,” she offers her a courteous smile and strides into the elevator without a glance back at the pandemonium behind her.
Pam releases a breath she doesn’t realize she’s been holding in. She meets Jim’s gaze again and he jerks his thumb at the relative privacy of the break room and she nods her agreement.
They meet at the same table they’d sat at yesterday, it feels like a world away. There had been so much nervousness and uncertainty. Now they know where they stand, but not where they stand.
“Jan told me to go back to Scranton - immediately,” she confesses.
“Jan offered me the number two position, at Scranton,” Jim grins. “I accepted.”
Her face breaks into a wide, toothy smile.
“Looks like we’re both going home.”
She dives across the table and into his arms. He chuckles, a strangled thing as her fierceness knocks the air from his lungs, and holds her tightly to his chest.
Home. That’s what this is, the warmth of Jim surrounding her. She’s struck with the strangest thought, she was never the Rose in her silly Titanic analogy. She’s the Jack. She’d practically let herself drown instead of demanding the space she needed on the door. She’s done with that. She’s a bolder, braver Pam who gets what she wants.
“I’ll call you tonight,” she promises Jim.
Karen lingers at the break room door, pausing her exit. “What’s Scranton like?”
Pam grins. “Completely crazy. You’ll love it.”
She’s met with a puzzled half-smile. “I don’t want to be unemployed,” Karen groans, her almost-smile fading. “It could be okay to move I suppose, especially knowing I’ll have a friend there,” the smile returns.
“Definitely. I’ll show you the sights.”
“Not the Chili’s?” Karen teases.
“Everything but,” she laughs. “If you think of any questions, call me.”
“Okay. Thanks Pam,” and she’s opening her arms and embracing her in a quick hug.
It doesn’t take Pam long to pack the few things she has at Valerie’s house. She makes a quick call to fill her in, and thankfully Valerie’s fairly nonplussed at her likely redundancy. “I can finally do that trip I’ve been planning,” she shrugs off Pam’s sympathies.
Pam wishes her well and tells her to look her up if she’s ever in Scranton and that’s that.
She scratches Socks between the ears. “I hope that slacker granddaughter remembers to feed you,” she murmurs in farewell.
With that, her time in Stamford comes to a close. She starts the drive home and is struck with the thought that she’s accomplished what Michael requested of her.
She’s bringing their boy home.
I'm 99% sure there's only one chapter left in this. Thanks so much for reading and reviewing!
Chapter 9 by JennaBennett
This is it, the final chapter. I hope you're in the mood for all the cheese...
When she wakes the next morning, her apartment greets her. She enjoyed her time in Stamford, but this feels like home. It’s reflective of her life with Roy, and the house they shared, that this place holds meaning for her so quickly. Their old apartment was her home for years and yet it always felt like Roy.
It hits her how much she loves it here, this little space to call her own. It’s all hers.
The pastel yellow walls, cheerful and bright, like the first flicker of sunlight peaking through her blinds on a balmy fall morning. They’re hers.
The tricky back lock, that the realtor had struggled with when she’d shown her the place. Pam feels like she’s the only person in the world who knows how to angle the key just right to get it to open seamlessly on the first try. It’s hers.
She looks around her furniture, eclectic and eccentric and exactly to her taste. There’s a rug on the floor beneath the flea market coffee table that she knows Roy would have loathed. She loves it. She picked it. It’s all her.
It’s strange, but staring at the chips and cracks in the corners of her yellow walls alone in the early morning she feels the second skin she’s been wearing for most her adult life with Roy start to fall away. The moment is fleeting, a thought that drifts in one ear and out the other. The contentment it sparks stays with her.
And just like that, it’s time for work.
She dresses quickly, picking the pink cardigan that Roy had shrugged at when she’d asked if he thought she should buy it. It makes you look like a little girl he’d waved her off dismissively. She’d bought it anyway, because she liked it. She wears it now. She assesses herself in the mirror and decides she doesn’t look childish at all. It’s professional enough, but not at all clinical. She looks friendly and approachable. There’s something in her smile that looks bright and new.
Michael screeches her name as she walks into the room. She’s surprised to see him there so early, but after a moment she realizes that he’s completely keyed up, eyes wide and erratic. He reminds her of the time Roy’s nephew found the sugar jar and ate a good half dozen spoonfuls before anyone noticed. He’s buzzing.
“PAM! Pamela. Pam, Pam, Pam,” and before she has time to react, he’s wrapping his arms around her in a tight bear hug. “You did it!”
It hits her, well, like an enthusiastic hug from Michael. He’s here early to greet her. Oh Michael, bless his hyperactive cotton socks.
“What did I do, Michael?” She asks as she gently extricates herself. She hopes that keeping her tone measured will help to settle him down.
“You saved the branch.” That’s an interesting interpretation. She hangs up her coat and watches Michael bounce on the balls of his feet, smile wide.
He nods enthusiastically. “Yep.”
“Jan called me twice yesterday,” he frowns. “The first time was not good. She told me that our branch was closing. It hit me right here, Pam.” He clutches at his chest and he looks so genuinely choked up that she reaches out to pat his hand.
“But then, I remembered you and I remembered how brave you were being, going after the thing you love and it inspired me to do the same. So I drove to New York and Dwight and I went to David Wallace’s house to make a stand for the thing we love the most.”
“Oh,” Pam says, not at all sure how that fits with Josh’s betrayal and all the events that had gone down in Stamford.
“It worked, Pam,” his eyes shine brightly with unspilled tears. “We sat out there all day and then Jan called me again and said that Stamford was closing, not us.”
“You went to the CFO’s house?”
He nods. “And it worked. I saved the branch and you saved the branch because you were my inspiration.”
“Wow. Umm, Michael. That’s really something,” she manages and has to force the sincerity to color her words through clenched teeth. It’s such a Michael move. She can’t wait to tell Jim. She waits for the wave of grief to engulf her, like it has every time she’s had that thought since he left. It doesn’t come. She really can tell him now. Her heart flutters within her chest.
“I decided I wasn’t going to leave until he changed his mind and kept Scranton open. It was good Jan called when she did because I was getting really desperate to use the bathroom.” And that’s too much information for Pam.
“I’m so glad it worked out.” There’s that sincerity.
He grins at her. “It really did, didn’t it?”
“Jim’s coming back,” she breathes.
“I know,” he’s bouncing again. “He called to tell me after Jan’s second call, the good one.”
Pam bites the inside of her cheek at the truth that she knows, but Michael doesn’t know she knows, that Jim had indeed called Michael with the intention of quickly broaching the news. What neither of them mention now is that Michael then proceeded to call Jim back seven more times to wax nostalgic about the whole thing. It was very sweet, at its core, despite Jim joking about needing to change his cell number immediately.
The remainder of the morning passes in familiar chaos. As much as she liked working at the Stamford branch, it took being away from them to realize just how much she adores these truly insane coworkers of hers. Ryan is particularly grateful for her return, the look of pure agony in his eyes dulling around the edges. After finding her back at her post behind reception, he hides in the annex all morning, relief radiating from him.
Jim calls her just before lunch and fills her in on a few more details. “Jan is trying to make things as difficult as possible for Josh now that he’s given his notice,” he murmurs quietly.
“There was definitely a vibe of less than impressed radiating from her yesterday,” she agrees.
“She phoned this morning and ordered me to return to Scranton as quickly as possible. I’m packing up my desk as we speak. I’m going home to pack up my apartment as soon as I’m done here.”
The relief billows in her chest. It’s all so real. She knows he’s coming, but somehow the distance between them has planted little rumblings of possible disaster deep within her.
“I should be back in town tomorrow.”
She sucks fresh, relieved air into her lungs.
“That’s soon,” she breathes. “That’s good. I’m glad.”
There’s a lull, she can hear him bumping around and guesses the thuds are his belongings he’s dropping into a box.
“Oh hey, so Karen was offered a Scranton job.”
“That’s great,” she enthuses and genuinely means it.
“Yeah. Jan gave her the same message to move as soon as possible. I think that’s part of her strategy for making Josh’s life hell.”
“What? Move on anyone competent as soon as possible?”
“Exactly,” he snorts. “Andy has been offered a job too, and Jan told him to take as long as he needs.”
Pam chuckles. “Jan knows her people.”
“That she does.”
She glances around the office and finds no one paying her much attention. “By the by, Michael and Dwight went to David Wallace’s house yesterday.”
“What?” She swears that she can hear Jim’s jaw hit the floor.
“Uh huh. In what was a harmless, I think, silent protest in response to the news of Scranton closing.”
They both know that it would have been one of them to gently suggest to Michael it wasn’t the most brilliant of ideas. Without them, well that left Toby, or maybe Oscar as the voice of reason and Michael wasn’t likely to be swayed by either of them.
“Yep. So, Michael now believes that he saved the branch.”
Jim understands what she isn’t saying. He always seems to, at least before she blew up their friendship with misinterpreted. “Good job, Michael.”
“Right.” And just like that there’s a silent agreement to let Michael keep his victory. The first rule of Stamford is that what happens in Stamford, stays in Stamford.
“I’ve got to go,” he sighs. “Desk is emptied. Time to pack up my place. Luckily, I barely unpacked in the first place.”
“See you tomorrow?” She bites down on her lip in anticipation. She can wait one more day if she has to. The thing is, she doesn’t want to.
“That’s the plan,” he smiles. “Talk to you later, Beesly.”
It takes her a full five minutes after the call ends to notice that she’s still wearing the soft smile that seems to follow her after every interaction with Jim. He’s coming back tomorrow. It’s almost too much joy for her to process.
She’s spent the past couple of months drowning, swimming around in circles and barely holding herself afloat. It’s funny how much has changed since she decided it was time to save herself.
Jim wasn’t lying. His apartment is still a disarray of half-unpacked boxes. It’s the outer turmoil mirroring how unsettled he’s felt lately.
He’s packed and on the road in less than an hour. The closer he gets to Scranton, the lighter he feels. With each exit sign he passes, another residual tug from the anchor that’s been weighing him down falls away.
The Welcome to Scranton sign greets him in the last light of the day and he feels the last of the weight slip from his shoulders. He takes a deep breath, his lungs filling more completely than they have in months.
He’s home, and not just in the physical sense. It’s the fact he knows that Pam is waiting and wanting to see him that’s adding to his sense that this is his place in the world. This is where he belongs.
Jan has arranged for the company to cover a hotel for the next week to give him time to find a place and get situated. Mark has given his old room away to a cousin, but excitedly tells Jim he will kick him out. As they catch up, Mark laments that it’s been a harsh reminder that sometimes it’s easier to appreciate family from a distance.
Jim chuckles at that. It’s another silver lining to this whole thing. He’s close enough to hang out with his sister again. He can go to his parents for their long-standing Sunday brunch tradition. So yeah, it’s good to be back. Although, all these bonuses to the move back pale in comparison to this budding thing that awaits him with Pam.
He’s in a fluster as he heads into work the next morning. He knows everything is okay. Yet, there’s a tiny fear that flits through his mind that Pam will be different back here surrounded by their colleagues. Less open, less eager. He hopes dearly that he’s wrong.
He steels himself, and desperately tries to tamp down on his expectations. He pushes the door open.
Pam glances up as he steps over the threshold. She grins widely at him. He hasn’t even had time to hang up his coat when she’s around the desk and throwing herself into his arms.
He feels her smile against his shoulders and knows what he has to do. “Hi, I’m Jim. I’m new here,” he teases, mirroring her hesitant greeting from Stamford.
“It’s really you,” she smiles, her tone lilting and playful. She gets the joke, because of course she does. She always does. God, he loves her.
Despite everything in the past few months, all the ways he’s tried to forget, to move forward, his love for her has only grown. He’s been fooling himself to think that moving on was something that had been happening for him. Any notion of forgetting her had been tossed from his mind at her appearance in Stamford. She fought for you. She wants you. His hopes flare at their easy interaction.
They’re still in the doorway. She pulls back ever so slightly and glances around the office. Dwight is glaring at them. It’s all for show, they all know he’s delighted that Jim’s back. Other than that, no one is paying them much attention.
Michael is in his office and the wall is doing a wonderful job of obstructing Jim from his view. One more step and they’re in his line of vision.
Pam seems to notice that Jim is yet to garner the attention that his return merits too, and she presses her small hands into his chest and prods him to back up.
They’re out of the office and into the hallway in a couple of shuffled steps. Her hands are still bunched at his chest. He glances down at them and warmth pools low in his stomach. She follows his gaze and blushes, letting her hands drop to her side.
He doesn’t say a word, just watches and waits on her. Something that looks a whole lot like courage flashes across her face. She slips one of her hands into his and tugs him into the stairwell.
It’s silent. All he can hear is the erratic thumping of his heart. Her blush deepens. Her gaze has been determinedly locked on his chest, but she lifts it now and tilts her head towards him.
He has a moment of clarity, that this is it. His future starts now, but then his mind is too overwhelmed to process any sort of coherent thought. Pam presses her lips to his and all he sees is stars. There’s none of the hesitation and pain burning below the surface. He responds enthusiastically, opened mouthed and a little desperate. She deepens the kiss instantly. She tastes like day old jellybeans, peppermint tea and second chances.
He didn’t know you could feel the beginning of the rest of your life in the press of someone’s lips to yours, but here he is. He’s ready for his life to change. He’s free of all that anchors him to the ocean floor.
The last time her lips had been on his, he could feel his life ending. He could feel her slipping away. This time, his head spins with the possibilities and his heart pounds with the promises of things to come.
She starts to pull away, but he wraps his arms around her and tugs her in for another brush of his lips over hers. “Are you,” he breathes into her skin, “free for dinner tonight?”
“Yes,” she gasps and the heat from the tiny puff of air as she answers him brands his very being with joy. This is what it is to be truly happy.
“It’s a date,” he states, his tone rich with emotion.
He feels her lips curl as she smiles into the kiss. He leans back to gaze at her, he wants her to see the pure wonder that he feels radiating from him. He finds her eyes sparkling with watery tears. She’s as overcome with emotion as he is.
They stare at each other for a long moment. His hands rise to cup her cheeks. All that’s left is the calm. They’ve weathered the storm, they’re no longer at sea. All is well.
Thanks for joining me on this one! It took far longer than I anticipated, but here we are...
Side note: I'm sorry for switching tense a billion times in this story. It's terrible, I know. One day I may come back and clean it up a little, but today is not that day.
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters and settings are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.