It was their least romantic Valentine's Day by far. Even less romantic than last year, when the sitter canceled on them and Pam wound up covered in spit up, (thank you Phillip), while Jim wound up dealing with one of CeCe’s worst tantrums to date. Because at least on last Valentine’s Day, they were stable, and now… well now, now they were drowning.
She was standing in the kitchen, trying to get a break from the fight they had been having for hours now. She had left him on the couch, she just couldn't look at him anymore. She hadn't seen him like this, ever. So torn up and raw. It was terrifying.
Pam just didn't understand why everything had to change again, why he had to take this job, why Scranton isn't enough for him. They were so happy, they had finally figured it out, and he ruined it. God, she needs some tea, something to settle her emotions. She reached up into the cupboard, searching for her grandmother's old teapot, when instead she pulled it out. The teal teapot, the first real gift he gave her. She had used it every weekend before they moved. But then it got lost in the shuffle, like so many other things in their life.
She remembers that time in her life so vividly. The long days spent IM’ing and sharing stolen moments over coffee and jellybeans. He had loved her for years before she could ever dream of returning the feeling. Sometimes, she swears, she can still feel the weight of her old engagement ring. That thing made her feel like a heavy weight champion, carrying around a promise that she made to a man that she didnt love. She remembers eating dinner alone when Roy was out with the guys, replaying every last detail of her conversations with Jim. wishing that he was sitting across from her, imagining a life where she never had to say goodbye to him at the end of the day. And she got that, and now it was all slipping through her fingers, her worst nightmare coming true.
“Hey,” he said as he walked into the kitchen, leaning up against the wall opposite to her. He looked exhausted, the product of a three hour long fight and a long day of work.
“Hey,” she breathed out, looking down at the teapot in her hands. She couldn't face him right now, it was all too much.
“Is that the teapot?” he asked.
“Yah,” she turned it over in her hands, examining all the chips and imperfections it had picked up in the seven years since he gave it to her.
“Wow, I can't believe we still have that.”
“Why would we have gotten rid of it?” she asked him.
“I don't know, I thought maybe one of the kids broke it or something.”
“I miss the haircut you had when you gave this to me.” She told him, in an attempt to break up some of the tension between them. Besides, she really did miss his old haircut, and the long mornings she spent running her hands through it. The lazy intimacy that defined so much of their early relationship. She liked his new more “professional” look of course, but she misses the too-long hair she fell in love with.
“I know you do.” he said
“Do you ever miss who we used to be? Like, when we first started dating?.'' It was a dumb question, but she knew that. It wouldn't help them get anywhere, but she just needed to know.
“Sometimes. I miss my sleep, and getting to finally call you my ‘girlfriend’, but I don't miss living apart, or having to hide our relationship.”
“I guess, I just wish that I could go back to before everything got complicated again. When it was simple. It was the first time that I felt like I could breathe, and now… now,” she told him.
“Hey, hey,” he said, bridging the gap between them, she began to cry. He wrapped his arms around her, holding her in an iron grip to her chest.
“We're going to get through this. We got through it once, we can do it again,” he whispered into her hair, a promise that he desperately wanted to keep.
She wished that she could believe him, that words could still be enough.
They fell asleep in one-anothers embrace for the first time in a long time that night. She had missed listening to the beat of his heart and the feeling of his hand in her hair. They felt like them again in these moments, and it was intoxicating.
She loves this man so deeply and wholly that she swears it would tear her open to lose him, but they can’t keep hiding things from each other. They have to try, they have to get through this. They have to survive.
Celecila Halpert has a problem, she has nothing to wear to homecoming.
She had gone shopping with both her mom and her friends, but wasn't able to find a dress that she liked and could also afford. She had told herself that she would go out shopping again by herself, but life had happened, and now the dance is two days away and she is screwed. So, she did what any reasonable sixteen year old would do, she went digging through her mom's closet.
Her mom had given her explicit instructions not to go looking through her things, but come on, aren't rules meant to be broken? Besides, she's out with Dad and Phil, so it's not like she has to KNOW. No harm no foul.
Going through her mom's closet felt like decoding a secret message. Years worth of clothes stuffed into a dresser in the corner, the drawers so full they would barely close. Most of her dresses were hung up on the other end of the closet, the nicer ones in garment bags. That's where she started, unzipping the dresses one by one. She came across her mom's wedding dress, (accompanied by a very torn veil), a black cocktail dress, a short purple dress, and finally, what she had been searching for. It was a gorgeous knee length blue and purple iridescent piece, with little glittery flowers shining on top of the color.
She pulled it out of the bag and laid it on her parents bed, taking off her clothes to try it on. It fit like a glove, her very own Cinderella gown.
“We're home!” she heard her Dad call from downstairs, the door closing behind them.
“Shit, shit, shit.” she muttered under her breath as she began unzipping the dress, but she was too late, her mom already halfway up the stairs.
“Oh my god.” Pam said when she saw her in the dress, her hand flying over her mouth.
“I know, I’m sorry, but I was looking for a home-”
“Do you know what that dress is?” her mom cut her off, “Do you?” she asked again, her voice more firm this time.
“Well, no, but-” Cece tried to tell her, but stopped as she watched her mom get on her hands and knees and dig under her bed.
“That dress,” she said, standing up, holding a shoe box, “that dress- '' the words were stuck in her throat, caught in a trap of memories too vivid to escape. A world she thought she left for good, pulling her back in.
Cece was looking at her, really looking at her. She seemed angry, uneasy in her skin. It was as if she had seen a ghost, her life flashing before her eyes.
“I think it's time that you know that story, the whole story.” She lifted the lid off the shoebox, and pulled out the documentary.
She followed her mom downstairs, the dress making a swishing sound as she walked.
“Jim!” her mom called, “Get in here!”
Her dad made his way into the living room, stopping dead in his tracks when he saw Cece. the same look of shock, of horror, coming over him. He shook his head, checking to see if it was real, or if his eyes were playing some strange trick on him.
“Jim,” Pam said again from her place on the couch. She held up the DVD’s, “The Office, an American Workplace” was printed on the front of it.
“Are you sure?” he asked his wife, she nodded, telling him to go get Phillip as she loaded the first disc in.
Pam was standing in front of TV when Jim and an annoyed looking Phillip came back down. Phillip sunk into the couch next to Cece, Jim joined Pam at the front of the room.
“So, you know how we were in a documentary before you guys were born, and when you were little?” Pam began, the kids nodded.
“Well, we think it's time that you saw it. That you know the whole story.” she finished, before sitting down with Jim, pressing play, and settling in for the ride.
The kids know the story, or at least, the rough outline of it. They know that she was engaged before him, that it took years for them to come to their senses, and that once they got together, Cece and Philip were not far behind. All the things they don't know weren't meant to be hidden, but in an attempt to move on, to grow from the pain, it was left out. Love confessions, transfers and ex-girlfriends missing from the puzzle, washed out by the tide.
The documentary started, and after an introduction from her parents' old boss, a scene came on of a much younger Pam fighting with Roy, Jim sitting at his desk, solem at the sight of her with him.
“Wow, Mom, Roy was the worst.” Phillip said, his eyes fixed on the screen.
“Yah, he was.” Pam breathed out.
A few minutes later Pam appeared on the screen again, this time tipsy and getting up to accept an award. Cece watched as she planted a huge, drunk kiss on her dad's lips. Her dad cracked a smile on the other end of the couch at the sight of it.
They were both on screen now, on the roof, eating grilled cheese. The same grilled cheese she's been eating her whole life, the sandwich that never fails to make Mom a bit misty eyed when her dad makes it for her. It was beginning to click, little by little, the whole picture coming into view.
“We played this song at our wedding,” her mom said, her own small smile now on her face. “Except that night, we actually danced.”
The story shifted once again, the documentary now following her dad home, to the apartment he once shared with his friend. She can't remember a time when she didn't live in their house in Austin, so seeing what was effectively her dad's bachelor pad felt jarring. He had a life before them, a life so that was almost so enticing that he almost chose it over this one.
Her mom was sitting on his bed, laughing at a dorky old photo of him, (the very photo that now sits framed on her mom's nightstand), her dad looking on, his eyes saying everything his voice could not.
She watched her dad give her mom the teal teapot that they once used for tea parties. A childhood memory now carrying ever more meaning. She watched Roy kiss her mom, showering her with promises that they all knew would be broken, and her dad breaking down in front of everyone. A disjointed speech and a hasty breakup punctuating the awful night that began with an awkward pause on the deck and a missed opportunity. She watched her mom cry over a house with a terrace, her career, and a love that at the time was hopeless. Her dad in the warehouse, dealing with a one two punch to his pride, Roys threats inspire more than just fear in him. At the end of the couch, Jim squeezed Pam’s hand three times, their own little code, a reminder that it's over now, that they made it out alive.
Then the scene shifted for the final time in that episode. Her parents were standing outside, in a parking lot actually. It seemed so innocent, so sweet, until… she couldn't understand what was happening, how it was her parents on screen. The confession was tumbling from his lips, her face frozen in shock.
“What do you expect me to say to that?” she watched her mom ask on screen.
“That you love him,” Cece thought, “that you can, and that you will.”
She's seen her mom twirl her wedding ring a million times, it's a way that she grounds herself, so seeing her do it with another man's ring was horrifying, it was all wrong, so wrong.
She glanced over at her parents as the scene changed. Her dad had his arm around her mom, holding her close. Her mom seemed fine, eyes glossed over, staring at the TV, at her first real kiss with her husband. They were hanging onto every word, even if Cece knew that they were as familiar as the back of their hands. That they've probably played that night over a million times in their heads.
She watched her dad walk away, leaving her mom, drowning in what she now knows to be a well of pure hurt, so broken it's a miracle she was ever repaired.
Her mom stood up to change the episode, slightly unsteady on her feet. Phil shifted beside Cece, she could tell that he was holding back tears.
“Do you want to keep going?” her mom asked her, noticing their obvious distress. “I know it's a lot.”
“No, it's okay.” she tried to reassure her, even if she was currently shedding tears onto the very same dress her mom wore on the TV.
Her mom pressed play on the new episode, and they were greeted by a shot of her dad with another woman, a woman she had never seen before.
“Who's that?” she asked her dad.
“Karen,” he said, letting out a sigh. She wanted to ask him more, but he looked deeply uncomfortable as it was, squirming in his seat at the sight of his old self.
She sunk further into the couch, feeling like the wind was being knocked out of her with each passing scene. At times it was too much to look at the screen, so she watched her parents' reaction instead. Her mom’s breath seizing whenever the on-screen Pam was staring at her dad, the longing in her eyes piercing the lens of the camera. Her dad seemed to grimace whenever he saw his old self with Karen, like it made him feel sick. They were both watching, relieving one of the worst times of their lives.
Her mom reached across the couch, laying her hand on Cece's arm when a shot of her on a beach came into view.
“I called off my wedding because of you” Pam told Jim on screen.
Her mom had crawled out of her dad's embrace, sitting at the edge of the couch, looking at the TV like it was all she was ever made to do.
She was so vulnerable, so broken, so exhausted. It was stange, seeing her bad-ass mom find herself, right before her eyes. She had never realized how long it took, how much work her parents put in to rise from the ashes. To pick up the pieces, and build a new life.
She started to cry again when he finally asked her out, the yogurt lid medal and a simple question enough to bring her dad to his senses. The gesture that cemented their love, so simple, so them.
Her mom got up to change the dvd, smiling for the first time since they started watching.
“Now you know,” she said to them. “That's how your dad and I started.”
“I had no idea,” Cece said, “that you guys went through all of that, that you made it through all of that.”
“Yeah,” her dad piped up, his voice hoarse, he had been crying, “when you really think about it, it's a miracle that we're even here today.”
“How come you never showed us this before?” Phil asked. Pam came to sit next to him, cupping his face with her hands. Forever babying him, even if he's a teenager now.
“Because, baby. It's A LOT for your father and to have to relive, and we didn't want to upset you.”
“It's taken us a long time to come to terms with it. We made so many mistakes back then, and we wanted to make sure that we could handle you guys knowing about them, finding out that it wasn't a fairytale.” her dad added, putting a hand on her mom's shoulder.
She sat with that fact for a moment, the knowledge that it took years for her parents to process everything. Love confessions, broken engagements, and heartbreak happening all at once, coming together like some sick cocktail.
“But it was worth it, right?” she asked, a question she had been holding onto since the beginning spilling out.
“Of course it was.” her mom said, turning to look at her dad. He smiled at her, one of those one-thousand watt smiles that he reserves only for her.
“I wouldn't change a thing.” he told them, but really he was saying it to Pam. Cece now knows that everything he's done since he met her, was for Pam.
Phil began to get up, slightly disgusted by his parents. He can only put up with so much lovey-dovey stuff, he's only human.
“Wait!” her mom called after him, “Do you want to see our wedding video?”
He shook his head, explaining that he would rather go play minecraft than watch his parents be in love for another thirty minutes. She let him go, content to just watch it with Cece.
Her dad put in the DVD this time, her mom snuggling back into the couch, Cece's head falling onto her shoulder.
“You see that little bump under my dress?” she asked her. Cece nodded. “That's you.”
“I still can't believe that you ever had me convinced that I was planned.” she said with a laugh.
“Hey! You went ‘unplanned’, you were just a little earlier than we were expecting.” her dad told her, smiling.
“Yeah,” her mom sighed, “a little over a year early.”
She smiled, her parents, just as in love as the day they got married, each other's better half.
The wedding was just as she expected it to be. Sweet, meaningful,and full of mishaps. But what really struck her was what her dad said when it was over.
”Plan A was marrying her a long, long time ago. Pretty much the day I met her.”
The love that created her, that has fostered her amazing life, so turbulent in the beginning, yet so sure of itself. They survived the unimaginable, and barely speak about it. She knows that she will spend the rest of her life trying to understand how they did it, how two people can endure so much hurt to get to one another.
In the end she wore the dress to homecoming, her mom urging her to give it new life.
“It's the memories attached to it that matter, not the dress itself” is what she told her. Those words that would stick with Cece for the rest of her life, her mom's strength forever taking her breath away.
Her dad cried when she saw her with her date, whispering to her mom that it was all so surreal, that he couldn't believe they had reached this point.
“We did.” he told her as they watched Cece drive away. “We made it.”
Under the same moon that he confessed his love to her all those years ago, he kissed her. Holding her in his arms, telling her over and over that she is his everything. That she made it all worth it.