Future Looks Good by Maxine Abbott
Summary:


 

 

Canon-divergent, lyrics inspired, plot-bunny directed, get Jim back to Scranton fic set in early season 3 where Michael makes a yearbook, Pam makes a phone call, and Jim makes a decision. 


Categories: Jim and Pam, Episode Related Characters: Andy, Danny Cordray, Dwight, Ensemble, Jan, Jim, Josh Porter, Karen, Michael, Other, Pam
Genres: Angst, Drama, Drunk Pam/Jim, In Stamford, Inner Monologue, Romance, Workdays
Warnings: Moderate sexual content
Challenges: None
Series: None
Chapters: 9 Completed: Yes Word count: 33002 Read: 5389 Published: July 31, 2021 Updated: September 02, 2021
Story Notes:

This is one of those... heard a song and thought it would be interesting to make it about Pam and Jim so I wrote a fic to convince myself it was.

As in Gold, the first story where I went off-script, it has its base in canon but very quickly shifts course.

This story has a soundtrack starting with the titular song that inspired it. Chapter titles are straight from lyrics or song titles.

And for my second time ever, I felt the need to have a beta – this time the very wise and insightful Darjeeling and Coke helped me immensely. The timeline was a real mess before his help. POV’s were bouncing back and forth like a Ping Pong game and lots of important words were spelled wrong- I’m a DoLt. Any remaining issues are entirely due to my stubbornness or carelessness.  Many thanks DJC!

One more note... cover art and title may be misleading - there is nothing supernatural in this story - (for those who heard tell)

Oh and another one more thing - I don't own any characters from the office (except my Funco Pops) or concepts or well you know the drill. 

1. This Man He Talked to Me - One Republic by Maxine Abbott

2. Feels like there's oceans between me and you once again - Seafret by Maxine Abbott

3. We keep this love in a photograph - Ed Sheeran by Maxine Abbott

4. Ain't nobody hurt you like I hurt you But ain't nobody love you like I do- Ed Sheeran by Maxine Abbott

5. Oh If I'd only seen that the joke was on me -Bee Gees by Maxine Abbott

6. Love the One You’re With – Stephen Stills by Maxine Abbott

7. The Greatest Show- the Greatest Showman ensemble by Maxine Abbott

8. Future Looks Good (Reprise) - One Republic by Maxine Abbott

9. I feel like for the first time in a long time I am not afraid -Ben Rector by Maxine Abbott

This Man He Talked to Me - One Republic by Maxine Abbott
Author's Notes:

The song that sparked it all was Future Looks Good– it was a stretch to make it about Jam but that was the challenge in writing this.

Woke up starin' at this, starin' at this empty room
Looked at thousand different pictures that your mother took of you
You see I had this crazy dream last night, this man he talked to me
He told me everything that's good and bad about my history

But he said that you are, you are the future
He said that you are, you are the future
And the future looks good

 

This story unfolds slowly and not always in a linear timeline. While writing I felt the need to refer to a timeline to keep it all straight in my head – but DJC helped with the timeline. Still pay heed to the date tags to help understand the order of events.


 

The future looks good..

 

Wednesday, November 8, 2006

Jim was back in Scranton.

He was sitting on a barstool at Poor Richard’s, a barely touched beer in front of him. Next to him was Michael Scott, which should have been his first clue. He knew something had to be up because, well, who goes for a drink alone with Michael if they can avoid it.

But this version of Michael seemed somewhat different.

It wasn’t that he looked unlike himself. He had on the same professional attire. His hair was neatly groomed in the usual style and his face was closely shaved. He was, however, drinking his beer from his World’s Best Boss mug. But that wasn’t the weird thing. In fact, with Michael, that he brought his own mug to the bar with him was well within the realm of normal.

No, the thing that made the whole exchange not quite right was the conversation.

It was well thought-out and intelligent. It was reasonable and didn’t contain cliches and wrongly used words. This Michael addressed Jim like a skillful attorney, rattling off evidence in a case as to why Scranton should be the branch to remain open and why he was the better choice to head up what would be known as Dunder Mifflin Northeast. Like an impassioned Perry Mason, his voice thundered when he got to his biggest argument, his loyalty to the company and commitment to his employees. Employees he thought of as more than just staff, but as people and people he thought of as his family.

The points he delivered were cogent and valid. He testified that a fun office was the kind of place where the workforce was happy and how these contented employees worked harder, worked together and brought in more sales.

He made the point that customers who were greeted by cheerful customer service reps were more likely to forget their grievances and repeat their orders, despite a hiccup that might otherwise send them running off to Osprey or Staples. He stated suppliers that dealt with happy agents cut better deals and the end result was higher profits for Dunder Mifflin.

Worked into his argument was the theory that employees were analogous to elementary school students; they needed a recess to blow off steam every once in a while. Without it they were drones, easily bored, frustrated with the repetitive tasks of cold calls, taking paper orders, answering phones and balancing the books. To succeed in their jobs, they needed the chance to mix some fun into their day and that arrived by way of joke emails, office parties, movie days and field trips.

To the corporate office it might appear in Scranton far too many hours were spent goofing off and in time-wasting meetings that were more often than not just as easily handled by email. Jan had more than once cut off his funds due to the large sums of money he’d misspent on parties and frequent unnecessary outings. But these, Michael said, were the magic ingredients that made his office the top producer of all the northeast region.

Jim wasn’t sure about all of the things he expounded on but he was right about one thing. The Scranton office did outsell Jim’s current office, even though Stamford should have been the higher volume market with its vast concentration of corporations within it and proximity to New York City and the more affluent clients that existed there.

Taking a sip from the mug that boasted his final argument beforehand, Michael leaned in closer to Jim and whispered to him that he was the secret weapon. Scranton did so well because he was the boss, the world’s best boss. He said the secret to Scranton’s success was his managerial style and that he ran the office not with an iron fist but with a velvet heart.

Central to this, he crowed, was love. Love for the people that worked for him, love for the company he worked for, love for the paper they sold. Love, he said, was the most powerful element to everything in life. And love was going to save them both.

Jim wasn’t sure he could disagree, at least to part of what he said. Love had been the most influential force on his life so far, being what dictated where he now worked, where he now lived and the thoughts that dominated his thoughts most days. But how could it save him, if it was one-sided?

As Jim sat thinking about the power of love over him, Michael began to wax poetic about his employees, sharing observations and his exhaustive knowledge about all Jim’s former co-workers, knowledge that was uncharacteristically insightful, at least for Michael it was.

He even mentioned affection for Toby, further alerting Jim to something being off with the man he was drinking with.

But Jim ignored the nagging feeling. His interest in what Michael had to say outweighed his apprehension, so strangely fascinated by the insights Michael had about each one of the employees he once shared his office with, he ignored the warning signs and stayed transfixed on his old boss as he rambled on.

Jim had always felt Meredith was a little bit crazy but he never knew that seeking a better understanding of her own quirkiness had prompted her to enroll in night school to obtain a degree in psychology. 

He’d known Phyllis enjoyed knitting, but he found it hard to believe among her other pastimes were burlesque dancing and writing evocative poetry.  

And he’d mistakenly thought he knew Pam better than anyone but learned even more about her as Michael shared her fear of ghosts, how she only liked peaches in their fruit form, never in desserts and how her dream house was one with a terrace off the bedroom she could adorn with flowers.  

Curiosity once again overshadowed rational thought when Jim asked Michael to share what insights and secrets he had about him. Michael was all too happy to comply with his request and inched his bar stool closer to Jim. With outstretched arms and both his hands placed upon Jim’s shoulders, he once more called him grasshopper, evoking a strange déjà vu sensation as he enlightened him on what he first saw in Jim when he first interviewed for the job.

It was Jim’s wit and jocularity that got him the position, outweighing his lack of experience and the absence of any demonstrated interest for the job. Michael said he hired him to add a little zing to his humorless workforce and to place a buffer between himself and Dwight, who was getting a little too clingy.

The history lesson continued as Michael detailed how clueless about paper Jim was in his early days, but how under his tutelage Jim learned to peddle 20lb letter bond and triple-bonded cardstock as well as the best of them. But even before he was able to describe the difference between gloss text and 24# uncoated to his customers, it was all his other qualities that made him valuable to their team. Talents like his cheerful demeanor and delightful pranks, that even though drove Dwight to near insanity sometimes, were ultimately the impetus that pushed him to outsell Jim and in turn everyone else. Michael shared how as the months passed with Jim gone, Dwight’s need to best him was declining along with his sales.  

When he got around to Jim’s history with Pam and how their joyful friendship created a lively atmosphere in the office that in its absence was now sometimes bordering on depressing, Jim took a long swig of the beer he had been nursing up until now. Hearing Michael talk about their friendship hurt, his lovelorn condition even harder to bear now than when he first ran away 6 months ago to escape the pain of her unrequited love.

Piercing was the sting, especially in the aftermath of recent events. Events that had led him to foolishly believe there was still hope, that her broken engagement and their hours-long conversation meant they might still have a chance at a happy future. But now that he knew she was out in the dating arena, the illusion was shattered along with his heart.

He’d recently, by way of her technological shortcomings and a trip to the bar of her own, learned she had a type–suave and sophisticated, handsome and smooth-talking, the anti-Roy, but also a far cry from who Jim thought himself to be.  It was knowing she was now dating this brand of man, the breed she was obviously attracted to, that clued him into why she hadn’t called him when she called off her wedding. It wasn’t about him. At least not about wanting him. He imagined his confession served to make her realize something she never had before, that she was desirable and worthy of a much better man than she had settled for. But now that she knew it, she was going for what she wanted, and what she wanted wasn’t Jim.

That harsh reality was crushing. Their accidental phone call, that occurred back some weeks ago because he’d forgotten to get in his picks, and also forgot the three digit phone extension of the man who acted as commissioner of the fantasy league, had him buoyant again. He’d never expected her to be there but she answered the phone and after just moments of hearing her voice, all the pain of the past months was forgotten. By the time they hung up, he was a kid on a swing, adrenaline pulsing, so high up the chains rattled, hands gripped tight to keep himself airborne. But the high was short-lived and soon he was grounded again, this time plummeting from a height he foolishly pumped himself up to. This time the impact upon landing was near catastrophic.

Jim drank hard to numb himself while Michael went on talking about how strongly Jim felt about Pam, bringing up things that he shouldn’t have known, couldn’t have known even if he were surveilling the office emails for years and not just for a week last year before corporate got a call from Oscar hinting at a lawsuit and shut it down.

The things Michael talked about were Jim’s private feelings.

How the feeling of her head on his shoulder caused a stirring in his body and a flutter in his belly and evoked a feeling of giddiness in him where he’d be happy to have his body be her pillow for the rest of their lives.

How the fit of full body giggles that came over her watching him prank Dwight was more uplifting than watching his favorite comedy and the vision of laughter flitting around her eyes was now a permanent recording in the collection of footage that played on repeat in his head.

How the sadness he felt watching Roy shoot down her dreams over and over again gnawed at his insides and how the anger directed at him when he pushed her to pursue them in spite of Roy’s opinion caused him more distress than if he had eaten every expired item breeding mold in the depths of the kitchen fridge.

How in simple things like sharing an air high five, a communicative glance, or a mock bow complete with an introductory hand roll, and knowing these silent signals were like a covert language only they spoke, he always felt there was an unspoken bond between them. He’d been sure all he needed was to summon the courage to tell her how he felt.

But he’d done that already and all it got him was a job transfer to a new city with a new boss, one who didn’t seem to have the interest and investment in his employees or company that his old one did.

After spitting back the good and bad of Jim’s history loving Pam, Michael went back to talking about the dilemma he was facing, now that corporate was definitively planning to consolidate and close a branch.  

“I’ll keep fighting for my family and do everything I can until there’s nothing more I can do. You know my motto. It works on so many levels – in business, in sales and in love.”

Jim once again turned to him, with a broken set of eyes, dark and forlorn but deep below the black haze a little glimmer remained, just enough that they may one day display the magnetic, personality-filled gleam that once lived in them.

And that’s when Michael jumped up on the bar and started to dance the ridiculous moves that he did the night when he first gave the very same advice to Jim that he spouted again now.

Slapping each thigh as he spoke, Michael said it again, the words that set off this whole train wreck.

“Never ever, ever give up.”

And that’s when Jim woke up.

As Jim came to, he realized he’d fallen asleep, right there in the conference room. While the rest of the office went about business, he was catching up on sleep that eluded him at night. He hadn’t been in Scranton, instead the visualization was just another in a series of strange dreams that started about two weeks ago, the unwelcome companion to bouts of insomnia and restless anxiety that came along for the ride. If he thought about it, all his sleep issues had begun six months ago, revealing themselves along with the true feelings he finally let out. Back when he misinterpreted their friendship but then kissed her anyway, and in doing so, lost her for good.

He could blame his daytime fatigue on restless nights brought on by a new bed or the different ambient noise outside his window or stress about the new position. But he knew it wasn’t that that kept him up at night and tired all the time.

Relocation wasn’t the problem nor was it the solution he hoped it would be.  The distance hadn’t made him feel better—it didn’t make him stop thinking about her smile, her mischievous laugh, or the way she made him look forward to coming to work.

But mostly it hadn’t cleansed him of the taste of her lips, lips that he should never have sampled because as they say, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

The harm of that small taste was like a poison that entered his body and set up camp, refusing to leave even so many months later.

His plan had failed.  Removing himself from Scranton wasn’t removing the toxin of knowing what he could never have.

But somehow while functioning on limited sleep he managed to get through work days. So while Stamford hadn’t been a remedy for his disease, being in a new place did at least help to keep him focused on something besides her. Funny how once she was the reason he looked forward to work and now work was what he threw himself into to escape thoughts of her.

With the newfound dedication to selling paper, he found himself doing quite well in his new branch, making a good impression on his new boss and pulling in some decent sales.

So at least the move was good for his career, even if it was a career that gave him little joy.

Joy would have to come from somewhere else. It no longer was something he felt when he walked through the doors of Dunder Mifflin.

After months of convalescing, there were baby steps, a modicum of progress in his rebirth, as Jim slowly adjusted to his new reality. He would sometimes grab after hour drinks with Matthew the documentary cameraman that came over from Scranton to film his transition. Matt was his partner in exile, though his was not self-inflicted. When Jim requested the move, he too was uprooted from the home he’d made in Scranton and sent to Stamford to capture the aftermath of Jim’s evolution.

Jim sometimes wondered why he was still here. Why PBS felt the need to follow him months later was quite unclear to Jim. He was no longer part of the Scranton office. Surely the everyday activities of a displaced paper salesman couldn’t be all that interesting. 

But at least he had a familiar face around, a friend with whom he could dish on the people in Connecticut and compare them to the ones they knew back home, even if they never spoke aloud about the one particular person Jim missed.

Just as in Scranton, talk of what the film crew so clearly knew from their through-the-lens observations was verboten. For the most part Jim was relieved for that. With that topic off limits, he could simply enjoy a beer at the bar with a companion from his old place without thinking of her.

As more time passed, he found he was able to open himself up to new friendships as one began to develop with Karen, the attractive saleswoman that sat behind him.  Plus, despite the universe’s practical joke of granting him an office neighbor that had issues with boundaries and anger and gave Dwight a run for his money in his ability to exasperate Jim, he nonetheless found himself reluctantly becoming friends with the guy who dubbed him “Big Tuna” on his first day.

And with three friends to speak of, he could consider his social circle increased. Enough so that after a few more weeks, so too were the hours at night he was able to sleep.

As more time passed, Jim found himself finding small reasons to smile and was laughing a little more each day. Playing pranks helped. So did the games of Call of Duty, the one strange, unprofessional thing they engaged in here. Even though he sucked, and Karen, Andy and even Josh let him know regularly just how much he sucked, playing did help him to further assimilate to the office culture and strengthened the bond forming with the fun brunette that liked to blitz attack him.

At this point the insomnia had almost gone away. The dreams, well, she still popped into his nighttime reveries from time to time, but he preferred it that way. He wasn’t ready to give her up entirely, even if the only way she could be in his life was in his dreams.

And then the phone call happened.

It still imprinted in his mind, Thursday, October 19, 2006, the date he thought would replace and erase June 10th as fate of his happiness.

“Dunder Mifflin.”

“Ah, hey…”

“Oh my God…”

And just like that, every bit of self-preservation Jim had worked towards in the last months slipped away The quiver in her voice reached his ears and he once again fell under the spell that was Pam, never in his life so happy to be cursed with bad timing.

Within the conversation was confirmation that things were really over between her and Roy. It wasn’t a complete surprise since he’d heard about it from both Michael and Kevin, but with those two you never could be sure they had all their facts straight.

She told him the when, four days before the wedding, but never the why.

She didn’t go into many details but being she had moved out and was living in her own fancy new apartment he pretty much gathered it was truly over with her former fiancé and this wasn’t just another postponement of the marriage that she had committed to years ago.

They spoke for hours. It felt like old times and he wasn’t quite sure what to make of that since in the past all they’d ever been was good friends, she’d made that clear—even if it felt like so much more than that to him.

But that was when Roy was in the way, crowding the landscape, blocking the vista. Now with him out of the picture could something more possibly be on the horizon for them?

No, he rebuked himself for even letting himself think of it again. It wasn’t much but he’d made some headway in getting over her. He couldn’t let himself be swept under once more. She hadn’t reached out to let him know of her situation, not in 5 months. If she had wanted something to happen, why wouldn’t she have called instead of letting a random but happy accident be how they finally reconnected?

Maybe, he rationalized to himself, it was the same thing that kept him quiet for years despite feeling something so deep for her that it sometimes hurt to breathe when he thought of her marrying Roy.

But no, he backtracked again, if it hadn’t happened for them when they were in the same office how could it when living in different cities.

She’d said it herself, it felt far.

And he agreed.

But back after that devastating night, the night when he lost everything to her, first at the poker table and then in the gamble with his heart, what he wanted, no, needed was distance. It was like he told the documentarian when asked why he requested the transfer, he had no future in Scranton. His future was marrying someone else and he couldn’t bear to be anywhere near as they began theirs.

But five plus months eclipsed from her light, well, that felt unnatural, too.  So, when he heard her voice, it was like feeling the sun through a window, there was warmth and there was brightness but not quite enough and he wanted to throw up the pane and feel the glowing rays on his skin again.

He wanted nothing more than to reach through the receiver to touch her hands. How much he needed to soak up her smile, to drink in her laughter but when for some inexplicable reason, the call had its abrupt end, he was back to his window but now the sun had moved, its angle no longer positioned to let light in.

Once again it felt like there were oceans separating them instead of only two mere state lines. The distance felt too much, where before it felt not enough.

Even if there was the chance they could try at some long-distance thing, he felt he wasn’t ready to open himself up to the pain again if it didn’t work out. No, better not to get his hopes up. Best to draw the shades and not be tempted to open that window again.

But then the dream he had that night said different.

The recurring nightmare of that whole year was something he’d come to expect, almost welcome of late because at least he got to see her. Pam was always a vision, even more than he remembered, ethereal and stunning in a silky white gown. Her beautiful face remained hidden behind a delicate veil as she walked to the altar to meet her groom. And like clockwork, every single time Jim would burst into the church just moments after the officiant uttered “forever hold their peace” only to watch her and Roy seal their union with a kiss.

But this time he somehow arrived ahead of the speak now part of the sermon.  He threw open the doors and raced to the altar just in time to voice his objection only when he got there it wasn’t Roy standing next to Pam. When the groom looked back at him with confusion, sorrow and anger all competing for dominance on his face, it was Jim's own face staring back at him. As freaked out as he was, Pam was even more so and ran off crying, and Jim was left there with his doppelganger, who had begun throwing punches at him until Dwight of all people jumped in and pepper sprayed them both.

Waking up in tears and a cold sweat, Jim tried to interpret his dream.  He wasn’t usually one to take stock in the meanings of nighttime visions, but this one was hauntingly vivid. It had to mean something. He spent most of the next day looking at dream websites and congregating what he found online with what his own mind told him made sense. But no website was better at telling him what his own brain had already self-analyzed. He was getting in his own way, acting as his own worst enemy, letting pride or fear or simple stupidity obstruct what could be a beautiful future with the woman he still loved.

But still he felt paralyzed to act and at the same time was terrified of what he might be missing by not calling her again. The door may have reopened but still he was unsure what was behind it.

After a full day of deliberation, he made his decision, which was not to decide, not right away anyway. Maybe he would call her again in a few days. In that time maybe she’d make the next move and call him. For now, he’d put a pin in the situation and try to take a break from thinking about her and what he should do.

But not thinking about her wasn’t easy.

~~~

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

He thought about her all that week, every single day.

The day he heard the news from Josh and Jan began no different from the rest, with thoughts of her. It was one of those days where he couldn’t get her out of his mind for no reason other than he’d run out of fabric softener while doing laundry the night before. It was as good a reason as any to get over himself and give her a call, and he almost did until he got in his own head.

He talked himself out of it saying she probably wouldn’t even remember the conversation they’d had the day they spent shopping for Kevin. And once again he’d be the fool who saved hot sauce packets and who played free cell all night just to hear the ts-ts-tch-tch-tch that made his heart skip a beat, remembering little things she did or said because to him they meant everything.

It was also one of those days where he was sure being at Stamford was going to slowly drive him insane. It began with another encounter where he, who had little reason to smile, forced one to his face when his neighbor joined him in the elevator of his building only to have him roll his eyes and smirk as if Jim was making a pass at him instead of merely comporting himself with baseline friendliness. He kept forgetting where he was, in the straight-faced, keep your eyes down land of the reticent.

However, it seemed there were those whose reserve wasn’t quite so rigid. After months being in the office with him, Andy had become anything but reticent. He told him strange secrets about his love life, or at least the one he wanted to have, and shared every opinion he had on Jim’s hairstyle, lunch choice and even the tone of his speaking voice.

This particular day he spent singing. The same song all day. The song that was bad enough when Bobby McFerrin sang it, but was even more annoying when it was Andy crooning it on repeat, as if trying to get Jim to heed the advice, don’t worry, be happy.

But Jim couldn’t stop worrying. Worrying about whether he should call her, worrying about what the meeting scheduled for later with Josh and Jan was about, worrying about whether he’d be able to get the annoying diddy out of his head that night or whether he’d have another crazy dream that night with Andy trying to hook him on an imaginary fishing line while serenading him with Who Let the Dogs Out or Mmmbop.

By the time Jan arrived and Jim was called in to Josh’s office for their meeting, he was hoping to hear news that had it come days before would have been devastating. News that his new branch was closing and he was being sent back to Scranton.

To hear that now would be almost a blessing. It would get him away from Andy and his annoying singing which on his best day was worse than Dwight’s lectures on martial arts and fire safety.

It would get him back to his family and friends and strangers who were cordial and even convivial as they went about their daily lives.

But most of all he wouldn’t have to decide about calling her or even thinking about what their call meant. He would have a chance to see what could happen without having to make any decision. Fate would make it for him and he would get to go home and see what the future had in store.

But the news Jan gave Josh and him was actually the opposite.

“As of right now your office is the front-runner to stay open. David won’t make a final recommendation to the board until the full six-month period is up but unless something drastic happens it looks like Scranton will close and this office will become the headquarters for DM Northeast.”

Jim knew this was good news but hearing it felt like someone had reached into his chest and pushed his heart down into his stomach where it was pulverized by the swirling bile that rose up in it.

“Jim, we want to thank you for all the hard work you’ve put in this last half year since you’ve been here. When this all becomes official, your role will become even more substantial as we’re going to want Josh handling big picture stuff, major clients and new deals. He’ll be out of the office even more now so you’ll be our man on the ground dealing with the day to day.”

Again, Jim knew he should be happy. He’d only asked for the transfer so he didn’t have to be where he felt had no future and now that he was here, his future was looking really good. So why didn’t he feel happy?

“Jim, we know you have a lot of friends in Scranton and will be sorry for them but we’re asking you to keep quiet about this until the official notice is given. We are still deciding who, if any of the staff will be offered a spot here and we may come to you for your input.”

Jim of course agreed even though all he could think about his friends losing their jobs, one friend more than the rest, and worried about how he would be able to stay silent about the news if and when they talked again. Right then he decided he couldn’t call her now because of what he might let slip if he did. If she called him, well, then Dunder Mifflin be damned, she would learn of everything, as she resumed her sovereign position in his priorities and loyalty.

The meeting continued as they went over sales figures and projections. Surprisingly, Stamford was still lagging behind Scranton in sales but that must not have been David’s only consideration in deciding.

Earlier in the meeting while Jim’s mind was off in Scranton imagining the devastation on her face when she got the bad news, Jan had been listing the qualities that she saw in both Josh and Jim. The qualities that were integral to the future success of the branch and the whole company.

Leadership, knowledge, integrity, reliability, respect for employees and that pesky loyalty.


 

End Notes:


Still with me? I am a big dreamer – wake me up in cold sweat, heart pounding, what does it mean kind of dreamer – so dreams and sleeplessness make a lot of appearances in my stories.

Once again – big thanks to DJC who was as patient with me as Jim was with Andy.

Feels like there's oceans between me and you once again - Seafret by Maxine Abbott
Author's Notes:

First of all thanks to everyone who has read and reviewed so far. It really makes my day to read all your thoughts and know you are enjoying.

It seems like you're all still with me in the order of events. Hopefully it won't get too confusing with this next chapter that starts on the day of the crazy dream and then backtracks twice to earlier events.

This title song is on my Jam playlist because of Boredhswf’s amazing Pam and Jim montage. Her talents go beyond her amazing writing. Check out her video.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8tn6VHlHJFo

 


I wish I was worth

What I know you deserve

You know I'd rather drown

Than to go on without you

But you're pulling me down

Feels like there's oceans
Between me and you once again


 

 

Wednesday, November 8, 2006

“Never ever, ever give up.”

Jim blinked opened his eyes to find he wasn’t at Poor Richard’s. Instead of a dimly lit bar, he was adjusting to the harsh light of the empty conference room. Crazy dreams, they weren’t limited to just deep of night slumber anymore. Now it appeared they could haunt his daytimes too. It seemed any time his eyes got heavy and his brain shut down, his subconscious became a breeding ground for the inane and ridiculous.

This one with Michael felt so real, in part because it wasn’t far-fetched for Michael to be enjoying a beer at Poor Richard’s in real life but more because there was so much truth to the things dream-state Michael Scott spoke of. The dancing on the bar, however, that seemed a step too peculiar, even for Michael.

He reached his hand up from where it lay flat on the table to wipe away the trickle of saliva that had escaped from a dry, cracked corner of his mouth and dribbled down to his chin. Under his head was the ersatz pillow for his unplanned nap, a spiral bound book that lay open beneath him and left divots on his cheek.

It was the same book Josh had given him towards the end of the day while making fun of Michael with snide comments and hearty laughing.

“Get this Jim. Your old boss had these books made up. All the suits at corporate got one.”

It had been there on Josh’s desk, a coiled presentation that at first glance seemed like it was a company profile or annual report.

"Bad enough he made that movie to show on our first meeting with David. Now he’s following up with this. I think he actually believes making this joke of a book is going to convince corporate to keep the Scranton office open instead of ours.”

The thick booklet was printed on glossy stock paper and had a metal spiral binding, making it seem very official and not at all like a joke as Josh made it out to be.

“As if showcasing the clowns you used to work with would be a positive thing. Like featuring collages of the ways they waste time in a picture book doesn’t make Michael seem even more incompetent and more careless with company resources.”

As Jim got a closer look at the book, he started to realize why Josh was having a hard time keeping the smirk off his face as he spoke about it.

“How did you ever work with that moron?”

From where he sat Jim could just about make out the title, The Faces of Scranton, the companion piece to the award-winning film, which was printed on the cover of the book Josh was now handing off to him.

“Jan showed it to me when she was by this morning to follow up with me about a few things in regards to plans for the future here.”

Jim had been wondering about their morning meeting and was just a little nervous she was there to call Jim out for his actions earlier in the week, maybe even to rescind the position Jim was up for.

“I imagine they’d all had a laugh about it in New York. Anyway, she left hers here and I thought you’d get a kick out of seeing it, being you’re right here on the first page.”

As Josh handed off the publication, Jim got a better look. What he originally thought was a polished presentation was in essence a yearbook with a group photo on the front page. The shot was clearly photoshopped, with some of the heads wildly out of proportion in relation to the sizes of the bodies they belonged to. Meredith’s photo in particular was gruesomely wrong, the unnatural angle of her neck eerily reminding him of the freakish position of Linda Blair’s head after it rotated a full 360 degrees in The Exorcist.*

Creepier still was the headless body, his own, not quite hidden in the back row, his head floating in a small callout box off to the side with a caption that read “Gone, But Not Forgotten.” Jim shuddered at seeing it. But it wasn’t completely inaccurate. Since he’d left Scranton, and her, there were days he felt lifeless, as the decapitation and caption insinuated.

Inside the book there were pages full of photos featuring the many events they’d held over the years. Aside from the collages of holiday parties, team building activities and general office mayhem, there was also a dedicated photo spread for every one of his former co-workers.

Angela Martin, Kevin Malone, Oscar Martinez.

Their names were prominently displayed at the top of their page along with a headline that described who they were and what they did.

Stanley Hudson, Dwight K. Schrute, Ryan Howard.

Their chronicles were displayed in photos, snapshots of their lives, moments from childhood right on through to the last Dundies event held a few months after Jim had left for Stamford.

Creed Bratton, Phyllis Lapin, Kelly Kapoor, Meredith Palmer.

Biographies of varying lengths accompanied the photos, there to highlight their roles and responsibilities along with the qualities that made them special.

Toby’s page was conspicuously missing.

Jim thumbed through it as he left Josh’s office, snickering only until he was out of Josh’s view. Back at his own desk, he took a closer look, the smile on his face becoming something more of affection, brought on by nostalgia rather than ridicule.

Still, what was evident from flipping through the pages were the vast differences in how the two offices were run. A glance around his current office on any given day would reveal hard-working salespeople on calls or focused on computer monitors that displayed sales leads and industry news instead of high scores and forwarded email jokes.

Often the desks were vacant, but not because they were in an unnecessary conference room meeting or goofing off in the breakroom. Desks sat empty because the industrious sales staff went on many outside calls, quality control followed through on their inspection visits, vendor relation reps were out relating with their vendors.

Outside sales calls here were highly encouraged and incentivized by Josh who went on quite a lot himself. Stamford ran like a machine, all the cogs and wheels doing their part to keep everything running smooth. It was hard to understand why they couldn’t quite catch Scranton in sales.

Of course, they had Call of Duty days, day when the Stamford machine was refitted to attack and destroy in the online game Josh was so obsessed with. Jim had not been the precision part Josh had hoped for when he started, but at least he was not a liability anymore after some extra tutoring from Karen.

But even on these days, when they spent half of it engaged in online battle, the “get shit done” to “horseplay” ratio was tipped to favor real work. After Call of Duty, the salespeople were pumped and often came back from afternoon calls with monster sales, the accounting team was laser-focused on capturing past due receivables and new business reps crossed enemy lines to win over new territories.

The sheer number of photos in Michael’s book with his old colleagues eating cake, engaged in pranks or playing limbo on a party boat showed the stark contrast of wasted time in Scranton against productive time in Stamford. Jim knew the photos didn’t even show the half of it—even with a camera crew watching their every move, the team in his old office were still highly distracted from real work, most often by Michael and Jim knew there wasn’t quite the analogous benefit to the nonsense that went on back there.

But truth be told he missed the tomfoolery and his Scranton office friends and seeing these photos only accentuated what he’d been feeling still after almost six months away. Melancholy overcame him as he flipped through the pages, but it was seeing her page that had his heart pounding and clouded his head with uncertainty, musing over what he was going to do.

 

Two days earlier…Monday, November 6, 2006

He’d already gone to Jan about what he heard, not able to fully disclose all of it, out of loyalty to Matthew, the other refugee in Stamford with him, but shared enough, he supposed, to get some reaction from her.

He got a reaction, but it wasn’t quite the one he’d expected.

Jan didn’t seem at all shocked to hear what Jim had to say, that Josh was planning on leaving for a job at Staples if Dunder Mifflin wouldn’t match his monetary offer.

“Thank you for bringing it to my attention but honestly, it’s not a shock. Josh is a go-getter and a hustler. Of course, we want him hustling for us but I’m not surprised he’d want to take advantage of the situation here.”

Jim was a little surprised Jan was taking it so lightly. That he had even been talking to Staples, their biggest competitor, seemed a huge breach and cause for concern but Jim was still green in the way things worked higher up on the corporate food chain.

“Happens all the time in business. I leveraged an opportunity or two to get where I am. It’s how the game is played, Jim. But we feel Josh’s managerial skills and professionalism still make him the better choice to head up DM Northeast. We’re prepared to match whatever salary they are offering.”

Jim was pretty sure that what Josh was doing went beyond pursuing a bigger raise. Plus, there were a lot of moving pieces that relied on Josh being a loyal and dedicated manager which Jim was quickly learning he was not. But this was a sticky position he was in. Josh could remain his boss after all and ratting him out would not win him any favors should Jan reveal it to him that he was the snitch. But he also felt a duty to the company to prevent the damage Josh could impart if they kept him on. He knew he had to tread lightly with what he said next.

“Maybe you shouldn’t,” Jim countered anyway, “Maybe there’s a better option you could take.”

Jim couldn’t believe he was suggesting what he was but knowing enough of what Josh was up to he felt he had to. He couldn’t be sure how it would all play out but it had a potentially devastating effect for him, the Stamford branch and even the whole company. But he had to paint his story with a delicate hand. He heard a lot but not enough to make an outright accusation. Doing so might paint himself out of his promotion or even his job and at the same time put Matthew in a bad spot with his employer.

Jim tried to give Jan a perspective from the underlings, that if Josh was even considering making a move now, he wasn’t proving himself to be good leader. He had without a doubt lost his confidence in the company’s future and even if he stayed on, his attitude trickled down, no matter how much Dunder Mifflin paid him. At least that’s what Jim tried to argue since he couldn’t speak directly to what he and Matthew had heard in the review of the office recordings as he’d promised he wouldn’t bring it up.

But Jan wasn’t hearing it.

“Jim, I’m going to stop you right there. I think your affection for your old buddies and boss are clouding your judgement here. We both know what goes on in your old office and we both know even if we have to pay Josh more than we were originally planning, it’s worth it. Better to have him in charge than the alternative.”

Jim knew what Jan was saying made sense. He knew what he had suggested and so did Jan. Whether they called him the other option or the alternative, it was Michael they were talking about. His ex-boss and her ex-lover, something he still couldn’t quite fathom. So even if he didn’t know exactly what kind of antics were still going on in his old office—the little knowledge he had because he was somewhat involved in them—he was also up against a woman’s scorn, Jan’s, which would be hard to prevail over.

Plus, he was pretty much aware that despite his absence, Scranton still operated in the same manner, wasting time, money and resources thanks to Michael, Dwight and to some respect him, though Pam was probably the only one who figured how he was behind Dwight’s metal detecting their co-workers and checking everyone’s seat for bombs.

It was, in fact, his involvement in pranks at his old office that led him to know what he knew. He had only come upon his information from overhearing it when he was in the office early one morning sending out a fax from Future Dwight.

He knew he was up against a losing battle but even so he wasn’t quite ready to give up. Money was always the bottom line and so he tried that course, bringing up how Scranton still brought in more sales in spite of the management.

But again, Jan shot him down.

“I know Scranton does slightly better, I’m not quite sure how, but I believe with a few key personnel changes and Josh at the helm we can make up for any shortfalls from Scranton closing.”

Personnel changes, that meant Dwight would be offered a place in Stamford too. Harassing Dwight, he realized it was something he actually did enjoy and even missed, but he knew it was really because of Pam that he enjoyed it so much. Torturing Dwight was fun but it was the time spent at reception scheming up new ways to provoke him that made it better. And whether they acted together or he flew solo, it was seeing her face come alive with sparkles of laughter whenever he put his office supplies in Jell-O or wrapped his phone in Saran Wrap that gave him the real satisfaction. Anything that could bring that smile to her face brought one to his as well. True, he loved playing his pranks, but the joy from pranking his old colleague was all wrapped up in her.

Having to deal with Dwight without Pam there with him too was not something that would make his situation better and he knew Pam would likely not be coming over. Stamford already had a receptionist. And she didn’t even blink, let alone laugh, when Andy freaked out about his gelatin-encased calculator.

“Frankly Jim, I’m surprised that you are bringing this all up. If I recall, you were the one who wanted to transfer, to get away from some issues you were having in the old office. Would you even be prepared to go back, that is if we even offered you the opportunity? Playing musical offices isn’t exactly showing your own professionalism. Quite frankly, neither is calling out your boss.”   

At this point Jim wasn’t sure what he wanted anymore. He knew he wasn’t really happy in Stamford. Sure, there was Karen, who had become a friend and maybe something more since Friday night. She was attractive, smart and friendly but as much as he enjoyed messing around with her at work and even though he’d taken the messing around to a place way past pranks and goofs a few nights ago, he wasn’t quite smitten. The world around him didn’t suddenly become ten times brighter when she was near. He didn’t crave her smile and feel weak when she laughed. There wasn’t that feeling of giddiness and completeness around Karen, not like there had been from almost the minute he met Pam.

He thought back to that first meeting, when he first laid eyes on the smile that she greeted him with as he made his way to the front desk where she sat. He recalled the warm glow emanating from her crystal green eyes and the bubbly smile that lit up her face as she welcomed him, taking a few minutes to get to know him before letting Michael Scott know he had arrived. They engaged in small talk while he waited in the spot where the carpet would slowly become more and more worn from how often his heavy feet would tread over it in the years to come.

Right away, she got him. The very fact that she warned him about Dwight told him that she was playful, observant and a very good judge of character. And she was cute too, with a bouncy little laugh that seemed to magically settle his first day jitters.

Before she even knew of Jim’s love of pranks, she shared how she habitually forwarded all the telemarketing calls that came through the main number to that other young salesman in her line of sight, the one with the funky middle part, the short-sleeved shirt the color of a UPS truck and a look of gritty diligence on his face, even though all he was doing was rearranging the bobble head dolls that lined his desk.

One look at the mischievousness behind her eyes as she described his frustration when he got fooled by a robocall or tricked into extending his car’s warranty told Jim she would go on to be his partner in crime. And he was right. A day later they were already scheming new ways to prank him together. When he suggested hiding all his writing utensils, she claimed she could do better than that and pulled open her drawer full of non-working pens, claiming she never threw them out because she knew there would be a use for them someday. He clapped in delight at her reveal, already head over heels over the pretty receptionist, only to be shocked later that day when he learned not only was she engaged, but the humorless oaf that was to be her husband worked right downstairs.

With Karen, their initial meeting was almost the opposite. Daggers seemed to shoot from her eyes as Josh introduced them, her resentment hard to disguise. Matthew mentioned how she ridiculed him in her first talking head and he could swear she was burning a hole in the back of his head with the scornful looks he caught in the reflection of his computer monitor. But the mocking tone she took with him over the first few weeks slowly softened as she got to know him, especially after the expedition he initiated to find her favorite chips. His mission to get her to loosen up and like him may have tipped the scales too much the other way. Now they were friends, very good friends but Jim still wasn’t sure he wanted it to become much more than that, despite his actions on Friday night.

He felt somewhat guilty about what had happened, knowing she would expect next steps, real dates and nightly phone calls while he was still unable to think of anyone but Pam.  Even though that same night he learned Pam was still not meant to be his future.

The situation with Karen gave him a new understanding of Pam’s position all those years, in the way he wanted nothing more than to be with her while she saw him as nothing more than her office bud. But at least she stopped him at a kiss, where Jim knew he let it go too far with Karen. They hadn’t slept together but he crossed over the boundaries of friendship when he crossed the boundaries of her blazer and blouse during the make-out session in her bedroom.

Aside from the messy situation he created with Karen, there was also Andy who, when he wasn’t having anger issues, was tolerable, maybe could even be considered a friend, but never was going to become a replacement for Mark or George or any of the buddies he’d had in Scranton.

And then he wasn’t sure what would happen to the job in Stamford. From what he heard things could go south fast and he had no intention of following Josh even if he were to try and bring him over to Staples.

Hanging up with Jan and returning to the office he tried to put it out of his mind. Jan had assured him his position as the number two was still secure. He hadn’t completely derailed his opportunity by inculpating Josh. He would still get to be the man on the ground but for how long, he wondered?

However long it was he supposed he could spend the time looking for something else, maybe back in Scranton or maybe Philly so he’d be ready to jump ship if and when things got too bad.

But the thing that kept his head spinning was her sad voice, her panic, her fear about what she would do now that she had rent, car payments and a whole lot of debt paying for a wedding that never happened. Even though once again she could not be his, he still couldn’t bear to think of her in any kind of distress.  Distress he learned of when he called her back after he realized he’d missed her calls, well maybe not missed, maybe just didn’t remember them happening at all.

Friday, November 3, 2006

He called Pam late that Friday.

He would have called her sooner but it was only earlier that day he learned from Karen what a quick look back at his phone’s history might have told him sooner had he thought to take a peek.

Pam had called him, in fact she’d called him twice on Wednesday, the second of her calls he learned, was answered by Karen and only because at the same moment he flipped open his phone, his stomach did a flip of its own.  It may not have been a Call of Duty day at the office but there was still a war taking place, only it was inside his abdominal cavity as the dinner of spicy eel and the far too many shots of Jägermeister battled for dominance. It was all he could do to toss his phone over to Karen just moments before he tossed his cookies into a nearby trash can.

But memories of the calls never formed, they instead vanished into that vast black hole that also housed texts he’d written but never sent, conversations he wished he’d had but never did and visions of a future that disappeared when she uttered I can’t.

He’d learned of the calls earlier but the day’s events kept him from calling her back any sooner and so it was only after he met with Matthew that he was able to ring her, ready to apologize for taking so long.

He was pacing outside the Starbucks working off nervous energy and his unease over the information he just uncovered with Matt when he dialed her number.  She answered on the first ring and barely got out the word hello before her voice cracked and she began weeping in between choking out words.

It was a little hard to hear her between the slurring, she’d obviously had a lot to drink already. On top of that, persistent sniffling and background noise from a crowed bar drowned out every other word. From what he could make out it seemed the whole Scranton office had gone out to drown their sorrows.

In between mottled sobs he could have sworn he also heard a mumbled confession about how she called off her wedding in part because of him, but he couldn’t be sure since most of the uttering was swallowed up in tears and hyperventilations. When he heard her say you’re now on the path to marriage with someone else, he knew it was all just drunken rambling since he was still very single and very much still in love with her.  

Once before he’d witnessed her that drunk. It was at Dundies night. Between her apprehension about getting another “longest engagement” award and what he assumed was another fight with Roy, she’d managed to get so blitzed she fell off a chair and got herself banished for life from Chili’s. But at least on the night of the awards ceremony she became a happy drunk.

The very drunk Pam weeping into his earpiece was not happy at all. She was basically losing it as she cried about the branch closing, her looming money troubles and how she was too late. Too late for what he wasn’t sure but he just listened, waiting for a pause so he could try and calm her and ensure her he would do everything he could to help things work out for her. But her sobs got deeper and her words became unintelligible and he was getting ready to start driving to Scranton so he could be there for her in person even if it would take him two hours to get there.

That is until he heard Danny freaking Cordray start hitting on her at the bar.

What was he even doing at Poor Richards? It didn’t seem like the type of place that Mr. Smooth and Sophisticated would deign to visit. He assumed that’s where they were since she said they were all there, all shell-shocked from the news and that was where they always went after a tough day in the office. But things change. In the six months he was gone maybe they found a new haunt to frequent. One that appealed to the more cultured set, guys like the Danny Cordray.

Wherever they were, he was there too, that smarmy, pompous, smooth talking, extremely attractive, Osprey paper salesman and this time it wasn’t one of their clients he was working over, it was Pam and even though moments ago she was miserable, now she seemed to be eating it up. Jim, Dwight, even Stanley they all knew Danny, having competed with his charming ways, ways that seemed to worked on women as well as office managers and CEOs.

His whole operation was slick, Jim had to admit but he never thought Danny was Pam’s type. He could only hear what was happening through the phone but could still picture the scene playing out. He sauntered over, with his smoldering eyes and that perfectly coiffed hair that seemed to make women swoon and lightheartedly gave Pam a hard time for being so tense and gloomy in the bar and remarked how he couldn’t have that. Jim imagined him gently removing the phone from her hands, commenting on how whomever she was speaking to was causing her grief (and who says whomever anyway) and despite her protests he managed to get her to acquiesce and put down the phone. But the line stayed open, the call didn’t end and Jim heard every bit of his pick-up, up to and including getting her number and setting up a date for the following night.

He was only relieved she hadn’t left with him that night, that might have killed him, thinking of him taking advantage of her drunken state more than he already had. Had that been the case would have gotten right into the car and driven straight there despite not knowing where there might have been, finding himself enacting the scene from West Side Story where Tony wandered through the streets only in this case, he’d be calling for Danny Cordray instead of Chino.  

But that didn’t happen. He knew because Kelly’s distinctive high-pitched squeals were soon traveling over the airwaves and though he held it away from his head, her irritating prattle rang in his ears as if she were right there with him and not just transmitting through the speaker of his phone. She’d come over to Pam as soon as Danny left, obviously in a similar drunk state, or perhaps not. With Kelly, sober or highly intoxicated sounded very much the same, vociferous prattle and marathon speed dialogue with no conventional pauses in her sing-song timbre.

She sat down next to Pam, squeaking without breaths over the sounds of the bar, throwing question after question about the guy Pam had been talking to; who was he and when were they going out. Questions soon became declarations that he was so sexy with the splash of grey in his hair and confident swagger and then once she learned who he was and what he did, she boldly stated that he would get them both jobs at Osprey. Leave it to Kelly to forget any woes they were having as soon as there was something to gossip about.

But soon even Kelly’s mood changed back as she remembered their situation and what it meant for her and Ryan and she began pleading with Pam to have Danny find a job for him, too. Please, Pam, please, she carried on as if Pam was the new Osprey hiring manager already and not just Danny’s new love interest.

Jim listened a bit longer, waiting for Pam to speak again but with Kelly’s long-winded blathering he knew it was unlikely. Finally, after 15 minutes more than he’d otherwise have tolerated listening to Kelly ramble on, he could take it no longer and finally hung up.

He wondered how Pam and the rest of the office had even found out about the almost certain decision to shut Scranton, but he knew that gossip always found a way to spread especially when it was bad news, so he put it out of his mind.

What popped in instead was the eerily real feeling dream he’d suddenly remembered, brought on perhaps from hearing Kelly’s voice. In it, Kelly had brought the whole office, including him to a Diwali celebration at the local high school gym.

While there, Michael proposed to Carol, the realtor he started dating Jim’s last week in Scranton, the one that he’d chosen over Jan. The Carol in his dream, of course said no, where he wasn’t sure what the answer might have been had it been Jan in his head.

Then, while they all looked on, he began singing his rendition of Adam Sandler’s Chanukah song, which made sense only because Jim knew Michael had trouble distinguishing between holidays and customs of any religion other than Christianity.   

His dreams had been pretty wacky lately but where this came from was beyond him. It wasn’t really about the job or about Pam except for a last part that he recalled where Michael, in his sadness over the rejection reached over to kiss her, and to his shock and horror, she kissed him back.

Lately, dream deciphering was his new fixation and therefore at least five different dream interpretation websites were bookmarked on his computer. However, he knew dreaming about the love of your life kissing your old boss wouldn’t come up in the searches on any of them.

Had it been a premonition about Pam being free but still not wanting him?

Whether or not it was, Pam was in fact moving on and not with him.

And now aside from the despair brought on roughly 6 months ago, as strong today as the day he left town, and the worry he still felt thinking of her losing her job, there was a new pressure weighing down on his psyche, a new puncture in his already weak heart–she was going on dates, with men like Danny who he couldn’t compete with even if he weren’t living miles away.

The hope he only just started to have after the one phone call between them that he thought might have meant something, it had passed, just another thing stolen, like so many clients over the years, by Danny Cordray. His courage to try again was depleted. Just as soon as it came, it was gone, just like any phone calls between them that would soon cease to exist once she ensconced herself in a new relationship.


 

End Notes:

I know, I know- what calls on Wednesday? What does Jim know about Josh? And what happened with Karen? All will be revealed.

Meanwhile any thoughts on everything so far are always lovely to hear and wildly appreciated.

Oh, and the open phone line, not likely? Well then I direct you to the future when Jim gets a very long, very drunk voicemail from Pam while she was out with her art school friends. Seems the girl does not know how hit end.

*One more note here, John is a fan of this movie, and haunted by this scene something I discovered after I had already written this when I heard an interview with him. It’s a great listen if you have the time. 

SAG-AFTRA Foundation Conversation with John Krasinski

We keep this love in a photograph - Ed Sheeran by Maxine Abbott
Author's Notes:

OK  -this should tell you a little something about how this chapter opens. 

Loving can hurt, loving can hurt sometimes
But it's the only thing that I know
When it gets hard, you know it can get hard sometimes
It is the only thing makes us feel alive

We keep this love in a photograph
We made these memories for ourselves
Where our eyes are never closing
Hearts are never broken
And time's forever frozen, still

So you can keep me
Inside the pocket of your ripped jeans
Holding me closer 'til our eyes meet

You won't ever be alone, wait for me to come home 

(My apologies to someone who knows who she is)

Wednesday, November 8, 2006

Try as he did to not think of her now, it was futile to push thoughts of her out of his head, even had her beautiful face not been staring up at him from within the pages of the book. Over and over, he chastised himself for being a fool to be concerned with her.

Her life was her own.

It was not tied to his and never was.

Her problems were not his to fix.

Still, he couldn’t stop worrying about what she was going to do and how devastated she had sounded when they talked Friday and how much it pained him to hear her that way.

That alone wasn’t the reason he couldn’t sleep at night even if it was the foremost in his mind. There was also the confusion about what she meant that he was on his way to marriage. He replayed that over in his mind nightly finding no reasonable explanation for her comment.

There was also guilt over Karen’s feelings for him that while he couldn’t reciprocate, didn’t keep him from flirting and joining her for a drink that led him back to her place and into her bedroom. For her it was the start of something, for him it was just a way to numb him from everything he’d learned that day.

He’d gone long enough without a romantic connection both mentally and physically and while she’d never be Pam, she could be just the thing to help him rebound. He knew he could continue to let her be his antiseptic, let her temporarily block the pain for as long as they were both employed in the same town but did he want to be that guy? A who made promises with his body he had no intention of keeping.

He carried stress about his own job security, responsibility to himself to think of his own career, and uncertainty as to what was unscrupulous versus simple self-preservation.

The uncertainty compounded his indecision about what to do about his boss, who he knew had crossed a huge ethical line. But complicating things was his promise to Matthew and of course the residual heartache that the months hadn’t done much to make go away and new pain that she was out there dating again and it still wasn’t him.

His burden and sleep deprivation finally caught up to him as he sat staring at photos, the images blurring his tired eyes making them heavy and wet, while his mind drowned in the memories the photos evoked.

He closed his eyes to bring up one more, the memory of his lips on hers, them alone in the dark office, only to feel her hands slip from his again before the plunk of his head on the conference room table jerked him awake for a brief moment before the whole backdrop of the conference room morphed to the bar and Pam became Michael.

While fast asleep in the conference room with a picture book under his head, the rest of the office made leave for the day as Jim travelled back to where he left his heart, Scranton.

Waking what felt like hours later, the book was still open to the page that at its top read Pam Beesly, Receptionist with a Heart of Gold. Its edge was moist from where his sweaty brow lay atop it. He raised up his heavy head and the book stayed stuck to him momentarily before slowly peeling away and landing back on the table.

From the pages below the subhead seemed to whisper to him.

Sweet as the jelly beans she keeps on her desk to keep us energized. Nobody answers the phone quite like her.

Her beautiful green eyes stared back at him from photos taken long before he knew her. Eyes he’d know anywhere as they were burned into his soul.

In one, a curly headed moppet played with a toy phone, the expressive emerald irises revealing her joyful spirit. In another, a tiny glimpse of her pink tongue stuck out from behind her toothy grin as she held out a handful of jelly beans while on the lap of an oversized bunny.

One had a middle schooler with a proud smile, holding up a canvas, a watercolor painting of the Historic Scranton Iron Furnaces with a small blue ribbon attached. Just below it was another shot in which Pam was a vision in pink, a corsage on her wrist, a satin gown clinging to her curves. Jim knew just out of frame was Roy, her ex and he hated to think of that goon with her on prom night and what they likely did later that evening. What he himself had planned with Julie Simonson for the night of his own prom unable to get the nerve to do anything more than deep kissing and a bit of heavy petting at the end of the event.

There was also the cap and gown graduation shot and the one with her working behind the counter at Carvel.

The one with her holding up the “First Day at Dunder Mifflin” cardboard frame around her head while posed in front of the Scranton Business Park sign was pretty much the same as the one he had, only it had her optimistic smile instead of his hesitant grimace.

Aside from Kelly’s and strange enough, Creed’s, hers by far had the most photos from her childhood years, photos taken by her mother or father and shared with Michael to create this book. Jim wondered how he got it done so fast since only about week had passed since the news of Scranton’s fate seemed to come to light. He didn’t know Michael had been working on this book since he showcased the film at his first meeting with the CFO and had only stepped up the production as fears of Scranton's shut-down spread to their branch.

Despite having more photos from her pre-Dunder Mifflin days, there still were plenty that Jim knew exactly when were taken because he had been there too. Looking at them he could almost feel himself at the early Dundies ceremony where she held her award up for the camera, the touch of sadness hidden behind her smile making him feel bad for her all over again.

He felt the flash going off as Kevin snapped the photo of her proudly holding up her gold medal for Skeetshruting, while also remembering Angela’s sneer that was not caught on film but he had also noticed and never told her about.

When he saw the photo of her on ice skates, he felt her hand in his, feeling the heat that radiated from hers to his despite the gloves they wore that day. The way her touch set off little sparks as it pulsed through his body was still preserved in his memory.

He remembered clearly the way he felt when he watched her joyfully sprinkle tinsel on the office tree, and how it almost had him spilling his feelings via a card which he still had tucked away in his nightstand drawer.

There was one he didn’t remember though, taken it seemed since he’d been gone. It had to be recent since he had an eidetic memory of every item she ever wore from the pale pink cardigan that was her favorite to the periwinkle stunner that she wore when he broke his heart, and he’d never seen this sweater on her before.

It was Pam at the desk, phone on her ear, jelly bean container in its rightful place but something was missing. She was smiling but the something lacking was the radiance that her smiled usually possessed. 

It pained him to see this less vibrant image of her, pained him more to think about what Michael had said in the dream he just had, that it was the absence of their friendship that drained the luster from her eyes. Five plus months without her, he knew had changed him.

Then one phone call really meant for Kevin but like kismet had reached her and he was feeling almost himself again. That is until the ones that followed.

The one this past Friday, the one he thought might be the start to a brand-new future for him and a path back to her, instead set off a chain of feelings and events that had him falling apart in the conference room.

And try as he might to recall the one on Wednesday, he still couldn’t even remember it, but his phone held the proof of its occurrence.

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

“Beeeesly!”

Pam had to hold the phone away from her ear as a very excited and very loud Jim boomed through the earpiece.

“Hi Jim, is this a good time?”

“It’salways a good time for my pal, Beeeessly,”

Jim responded a little bit softer, trying unsuccessfully not to slur and give away just how drunk he was as he walked away from his desk towards the conference room.

“I texted you earlier, but you didn’t get back to me so I wasn’t sure.”

“You TEXTED me?”

Jim took the phone from his ear to inspect the messages he’d received and through his blurred vision tried to make out the words on the small pixel lit screen.

“Oh yeah, you did.”

Jim read off Pam’s text, trying to do his best Pam voice, his talent for impersonations glitching out due to his condition so he sounded more like Meredith than Pam.

“Jim, are yoooo around? I have something veery funny to share with you.”

Pam laughed anyway, more about drunk Jim than his attempt at imitating her.

“For you, I’m salways around but first I have something I have to tell you. I ate eel tonight.”

“Wow, Jim, getting pretty adventurous there in Stamford.”

“I’m evolving Pam. Stamford Jim eats eel and washes it down with Jager meiser… mister… Jägermeister.”

“And from the sound if it, a whole lot of it.”

“Not that much, just a few shots.”

Jim tried to remember how many it had been, tallying them under his breath but stopped when he realized he’d lost count after four.

“SssBeesly, what were you eating tonight?”

“Me, umm some Naan and Samosas and I tried something new too, Gulab Jamun.”

“What’s Gublub Jammin?”

“It’s an Indian dessert. They’re these sweet, berry-sized, solid milk balls.”

Even near-inebriation wasn’t enough to stop it, he’d been trained and trained well to recognize any and all instances to use the catchphrase no matter the context or conversation. No exception here, it had to be done.

“Thhhat’s what she said!!!”

Pam laughed heartily enjoying the punchline usually associated with Michael. Even though she still heard plenty of that’s what she saids in the office, she’d been missing the ones Jim and she would mouth to each other when they knew one was looming from their boss.

“Good one, Halpert.”

Jim was still laughing at his own joke when he suddenly stopped, wondering why Pam was eating Indian food. Could she be out on a date? Did Kelly set her up with her brother? Did Kelly have a brother?

                “Why were you eating Indian food, Beesly?”  

“So tonight, we… all of us from the office went to a Diwali festival celebration with Kelly. That’s actually what I wanted to tell you.”

“That you went to a Dwali cebralation… cerelbration… umm, party?”

“Well yes, but really what happened there.”

Pam went on to describe the night, how Dwight showed up in a kurta, but how Michael came in his two headed Michael costume from last year and Carol, his date was dressed as a cheerleader which she had mocked but later felt bad for. She described his singing and dancing and then how he interrupted the festivities to get on stage and propose to her in front of everyone.

“Michael’s getting married?!?”

“No, of course he’s not. She didn’t say yes. In fact, she left him here and then I had to try and cheer him up and then he tried to kiss me.”

“You KISSED Michael?!?”

“No, Jim are you even listening? He tried to kiss me but of course I didn’t let him. Ughh, I can’t believe you would even think I could do that. But I did agree to drive him home. He’s inside trying to find his shoes. Wait no, I must have missed him come back out cause I can see him trying to lift the door handles of random cars—Michael, my car is a blue Yaris, that’s a black Altima. No blue Michael, that’s silver.”

Pam’s voice both got louder and further away as she turned to yell at Michael.

“Jim, I think I should go before Michael crawls into someone’s car. You’re probably not going to even remember anything I told you anyway. Maybe I’ll call you tomorrow so I can tell you when you’re sober.”

“Hey Pam, wait you gotta secret to tell me, I mean, there’s a secret, um something you should know. I’m not sppposed say anything but I gotta tell you cause, well cause I always tell you everthing. But you gotta keep it quiet. I’m not sppposed to tell.  But I’m tellin you so you can need to get start looking for another job cause Scranton is closing.”

Before Pam could respond to the words he let slip out, Karen was calling Jim back to their desk area where Andy in his own drunkenness had tripped over his own feet while carrying two stacks of the forms they’d been tasked with entering.  Well moments before it was two stacks, one of entered forms and the other yet to be entered forms, but now they were all just scattered all over the floor- with no way to know which was which.  Even drunk, Jim knew the disaster this was. They would essentially have to start all over again. His alcohol-clouded eyes could still focus enough to read the fury on Karen’s face. If he didn’t step in there might be a murder on his watch. He wanted to keep talking to Pam, but he was the assistant regional manager or the assistant to the regional manager or some kind of manager. Whatever he was he was supposed to be in charge and so it was up to him to do something about the situation.

“Pam, I gotta go. Karen needs me. We’re pretty involved right now. It’s an office thing but it’s very intense…Yeah, I’m coming Karen.”

After he reluctantly hung up and realized there was nothing much to do, aside from try to calm Karen down, he did the only thing that might make the situation less disastrous. He had a few more shots.

 

End Notes:

Now I get it when everyone says how much fun it is to write drunk Jim.

Ain't nobody hurt you like I hurt you But ain't nobody love you like I do- Ed Sheeran by Maxine Abbott
Author's Notes:

I’m doubling up on Ed Sheeran – but imagine it coming from Pam. (Double apologies to same person)

Ain't nobody hurt you like I hurt you
But ain't nobody love you like I do
Promise that I will not take it personal, baby
If you're movin' on with someone new

'Cause baby you look happier, you do
My friends told me one day I'll feel it too
And until then I'll smile to hide the truth
But I know I was happier with you

Sat in the corner of the room
Everything's reminding me of you
Nursing an empty bottle
And telling myself you're happier, aren't you? 

Pam’s job as receptionist was to talk on the phone, which made it ironic that for months she’d been scared to pick it up and call Jim.

She flipped open her phone so many times to try to. She even got as far as dialing his number once or twice but always hung up before the phone rang never quite getting the nerve to complete the call.

How would that go anyway?

Hey Jim, I know you transferred offices to get away from me after I rejected you and I know you probably have a pretty great new life in Stamford that I know nothing about, but I’m single now so why don’t you give all that up and transfer back here.

She knew he was aware she hadn’t gone through with the wedding. She knew Michael told him at the sales convention they attended together and probably he was aware even before that. Gossip never stayed quiet for long in their office and though his desk was miles away, his email was still just a click of the send button. Someone, maybe even a few of her officemates would have sent him the digital dirt the minute Pam showed up with her finger suddenly devoid of the constrictive band she’d worn for over three years.

But he hadn’t called. Even after the convention the only call that came from Connecticut was from the copier company based there when she’d put a complaint through to their main office when their machine went on the fritz yet again. When she saw the 203 come up on the call screen of her phone, her heart nearly stopped as she imagined what she would say at hearing his voice but the pain she felt when it was only Steve from Xerox, was not caused by any cardiac arrest.

Jim was never the type to stand on principle. She thought he’d have gotten in touch even just to see how she was doing because he was her friend. The fact that he hadn’t, told her that he might not even be that anymore.

So, the months went by and still she didn’t reach out. The oceans between them grew deeper. Despite feeling freer than she had in years, she still was stuck in the undercurrent of her inability to act.

But then fate stepped in and 203 lit up on her screen again. This time when she answered she didn’t let her mind even consider the possibility it might be him.

But this time it was.

She knew he hadn’t expected her to be there, it being well after 5:00. She was only there late to babysit Michael and complete the report Jan had requested regarding his activities. But she didn’t care, it was Jim and at the sound of his voice she forgot everything else.

It was awkward at first but only for a few minutes and before long they were Pam and Jim again shooting the shit for what felt like hours, what was hours, she realized after they’d hung up.

They didn’t get too deep into what happened between them or why she left Roy or how she had made the biggest mistake of her life not telling him she loved him too. No, she’d left that to a future conversation, as she hoped there would be more of them. When days passed without hearing from him again, she began to think maybe she’d read more into the call than there was. After all he hadn’t meant to call her. She was just the person who answered the phone. It said a lot that he’d had more contact with Kevin since he’d left than with her, which up until that call had been none.

She wasn’t sure what gave her the courage to call again on the night of Diwali, especially when he hadn’t responded to the text, the beacon she’d issued first to test the waters. But while she waited on Michael, she decided it was time to start acting on her gut, results be damned. Calling couldn’t make things any worse between her and Jim. If Michael could do it, so could she. He’d survived the humiliating results of his impromptu proposal and she had to admire the way he kept right on acting on his impulses, even if they put her in the trajectory of a very unwelcome kiss from him.

She had a good reason to call too. She knew if anyone would get as much of a kick of the night’s events it would be him. And she wouldn’t let the call end so abruptly tonight, except now she remembered she’d promised to play chauffeur and wasn’t sure how much time she would have to speak before Michael found his shoes. Certainly not enough to move past the small talk and onto topics the abrupt end to their last conversation had stilted.

But she decided to call anyway.

Hopefully it wouldn’t be a singular event. Hopefully, they’d have another fun conversation like the other night which would lead to more comfort between them and more phone calls and eventually she could tell him how she was feeling, had been feeling since the day she realized he was gone.

“So, he got up on stage and started singing, you know the Adam Sandler song.”

“Gobble, Gobble Gickle?”

Pam could just see the mirth pouring from Jim’s eyes as he imitated Adam himself, only with the wrong song. Wow, he was pretty wasted she thought as she corrected him.

“No more like, put on your Sari. It’s time to celebrate Diwali.”

“I prefer Gobble, Gobble, Gickle.”

“Focus, Jim.”

“Ah, sorry, I just like that song. I wish curry only cost a nickel.”

More laughter erupted from the phone. He was being as bad as Michael.

Pam looked around to see if Michael had returned yet with his shoes. Still nowhere to be seen, she went back to her conversation with drunk Jim, using her years of training to redirect him as she often had to do with her boss. Jim was a little easier to get back on track and she went on to tell him about the proposal that followed his musical act.

It wasn’t until Michael did return however, that the conversation turned towards the serious. But it wasn’t the kind of serious she had hoped for. Instead, it was rather portentous news about the fate of her job, all of their jobs in Scranton. But before she could say a word in response, she heard a female voice calling Jim’s name, not his first name but Halpert, the playful name she had so often called him during their friendlier times.

This raspy voice she heard had the kind of deep throaty tone she could only assume drove men wild, especially when it was calling out their names and even though it sounded a touch angry, it had an ownership behind it, as if she had full possession of him.

It was so jarring to Pam she couldn’t completely focus on last thing he said about their branch, did he say it was closing? Her mind was so preoccupied with who this voice belonged to and who she was to Jim she couldn’t be sure she really heard what she thought she heard.

“Pam, I gotta go. Karen needs me. We’re pretty involved right now. It’s an office thing but it’s very intense…Yeah, I’m coming Karen.”

Pam tried to say something more, to ask him to elaborate about the thing about Scranton closing but Jim had already hung up and Michael was now setting off the alarm to a green Honda Civic so she had to deal with him before she could even try to call him back.

Pam couldn’t believe how the night had turned. She had been so excited to call Jim and talk with him again, laugh about Michael and follow up on the conversation from the other night. This was supposed to be a phone call to change things. Well change things it did.

Anxious for the entire ride, Pam reached for her phone the second the door shut after Michael exited from the back of her car, and nearly jumped out of skin when he suddenly appeared at her driver’s side window.

After insisting that no, she did not want to come in a take a tour of his place, and only after she witnessed him retreat into his condo and shut the door, did she scroll to the last number dialed and hit send, unsure if Jim would even pick up. She wasn’t sure what she would be disturbing now with this Karen, but being too concerned with what he’d said about the branch she put it out her mind.

Even if it was a date she’d be interrupting, she had to find out what he mumbled before he hung up and if it was definite or just a rumor he’d heard.

It rang a few times before it connected but no one said hello. There was a weird shuffling sound, followed by muffled statement spoken from what seemed far off from the phone’s handler.

“Don’t tell her about us and how we’re going to be the ones to last.”

Then she heard the voice again, clear as day and sounding quite perturbed as it projected into the phone.

                “Jim Halpert’s phone.”

An office thing. They started as an office thing. It could have been more but she screwed that up. Seems like he was onto his next office thing and he said they were already pretty involved.

“Um hi, could I talk to Jim?”

“Jim is currently indisposed. He’ll be unable to do any more talking tonight. I’ll let him know you called.”

The phone went dead before Pam could even give the voice on the other end her name. The voice that sounded irritated and angry that some female kept calling as she and Jim were trying to enjoy what sounded to be a pretty wild night.

She could only assume that the smoky voice answering Jim’s phone belonged to his new girlfriend. The one he’d called Karen before, the one he got drunk with, the one that was basically telling Pam in so many words that Jim was unavailable now and would be forever.

He was dating someone. Someone from his office. Someone who’s looks she could only imagine was as sexy as her voice. And according to him it was intense, going to last, intense.

But also, Scranton was closing. How would she manage now that she was on her own? She’d depleted everything she had saved over the past months after the breakup. Without a job what would she do?

At that moment, Pam wasn’t sure which was the worse news.

End Notes:

Short one to give a peek at what poor Pam is going through over in her city. And a little more drunk Jim.

Thanks to all my readers and reviewers. It means so much to hear from you. 

Oh If I'd only seen that the joke was on me -Bee Gees by Maxine Abbott
Author's Notes:

This chapter was a tough one to find the right song.

In the end I went with this oldie by the Bee Gees

 

I started a joke which started the whole world crying

But I didn't see that the joke was on me oh no

I started to cry which started the whole world laughing

Oh If I'd only seen that the joke was on me

Early Morning, Friday, November 3, 2006

Dwight was the top salesperson in Scranton so the likelihood he would be offered a job in Stamford was pretty high, nothing Josh—he’d met him after all— or Jim could say to Jan was likely to change that. Jan knew what an oddball he was but she also knew the sales he brought in. Dwight could still choose not to take the job especially with his farm some two and a half hours away, but knowing Dwight he might not only take it, but commute to and from Connecticut daily using the travel time to pump himself up for a day of annoying Jim just like he used to.

Whether he was offered the Stamford job or not, his days in the Scranton office were limited but Jim still had a full box of his old stationery which he couldn’t let go to waste. Time to double up on the faxes he was transmitting as a prank on him. That meant getting into the office earlier but now that he was back to dreams of her and tossing and turning instead of sleeping, he was up anyway. Better to spend the time in the office torturing Dwight from afar than lying in bed worrying about what his crazy dreams meant.

This morning the fax he sent read:

Dwight,

You are on high alert for this afternoon. Michael will have an incident in which he will fall down and hit his head. You must be there to prevent this from happening so after lunch you must not leave Michael alone, not even for a minute. You must ignore the phone, ignore your bladder and ignore him when he demands you leave him be. His health and well-being depend on you so don’t let him down.

Cordially, Future Dwight

What Jim hadn’t known was that Michael had recently heard bad news that really did make him feel lightheaded and faint and was holed up in his office working on some mystery project ever since.

But Jim had no way of knowing this, the drunken chat with Pam that might have offered a clue, was still a blur than never quite solidified to a memory. Sending Dwight this fax was just a way to mess with him and toy with Michael a little bit too. Jim knew Dwight would stick like glue to him all afternoon waiting to play hero and save him from a head injury or worse.

As the fax transmission sheet slowly inched out from the machine, he couldn’t help but wonder, would she notice Dwight’s shadowing of Michael, and if so, would it make her beam in that all-knowing way, aware he was somehow behind it? It made him think once more he might call her.

Two weeks had passed and they still hadn’t reconnected. She hadn’t called and not even a friendly text popped up on his phone since their long but accidental chat.

But he hadn’t called either.

He wanted to, wanted to take his dream at face value and stop blocking the future he thought possible but in the weeks of mulling it over he decided he’d made enough first moves. The ball was in her court and it looked to him like she had no intention of serving it up. It was looking more and more like point, set, match… point Beesly… game over. Again.

Instead of hitting his desk to launch off a quick IM,  to fill her in on the fax from the future that Dwight would soon receive, he wandered to the kitchen to put up some much-needed coffee. He measured the grounds into the filter, adding an extra scoop for potency. Being first in the office meant he set the brew level and he needed the high-test now that his sleep issues were back.

After he flipped the switch on the industrial machine to begin the brewing of the magic elixir, he lay his head down on the table and closed his eyes.

The soothing sounds of the coffee gurgling and wall clock ticking were just enough to lull him to a light doze, sleep that he was jolted out of as he heard the front office door open again.

He assumed it was Matthew who was often in early to set up the cameras so he poured himself a coffee and went out to say hello and maybe offer up a talking head about the fax he just sent off to Dwight. But the voice he heard moving through the office space wasn’t that of the cameraman.

“Hi honey…No, the meeting is at noon. I stopped in the office first to check the latest from last night’s order form consolidation since those numbskulls I’ve got working here had to stay late again to finish what they couldn’t get done Wednesday…Yeah, even with the new guy in charge.”

Once he realized it was Josh and heard himself referenced in the conversation, Jim slunk back into the conference room curious to hear how much damage he’d done to his own position after he failed to manage a simple task the other night.

“Even with Jim overseeing it they still can’t manage to do something as simple as data entry without messing it up, but I get the sense Andy had something to do with it since Jim’s usually a pretty competent guy.”

He was happy to hear he wasn’t being blamed for the catastrophe of the other night but didn’t want Josh to know he was there overhearing his private conversation with what seemed to be his wife.

“Thanks sweetheart, but I told you this meeting is really just a formality. After the last meeting, the VP said it was pretty much a done deal, this meeting is just to go over some of the logistics…I just wish I didn’t have to drive all the way to Framingham again but I figure while I’m there I’ll feel him out on the six-month plan, see if he can wait out the extra months in order to maximize their gains.”

Did Jim just hear Josh say Framingham? That was where Staples headquarters was. Was he leveraging his new job into a position there? What would that mean for them and what was the six-month plan? He slipped further back into the room, inching closer to wall to get a better listen to the chat happening on the other side.

“Don’t get ahead of yourself...Yes, that is if I go over right away…then they’ll put us up in a corporate apartment until we find something but I think I’ll be here a little while longer and we’ll have six extra months to find the right place. Yes, I know you want to be in Beacon Hill. I promise if things go to plan, that’s where we’ll go…. I’m just hoping that Jan is willing to match my offer so I can sock away some extra dough while I pick up a few new clients to bring over…I don’t know I guess then you’ll have to get the C-class instead of the S-class but it will still be a Mercedes…Maybe they’ll put Jim in charge here, he’s still pretty green though... Yeah, they could still close Stamford. I’m not really sure but I’m covered either way and I don’t really care what happens here once I’m gone… Since when do you care about my employees?...oh, it sounded like you were… …Listen I hear some of my guys showing up and I’d better get on the road... I love you too. I’ll call you after the interview.”

As he hung up Jim heard what Josh did too, the sound of the front door to the office opening again. Peeking out of the glass window of the conference room he saw this time it was Matthew. As he shuffled in, he glanced around and immediately spotted Jim hiding in the conference room, nearly blowing his cover by calling out. Luckily, Jim had years of experience speaking with nothing more than his eyes, and Matthew as a cameraman was adept at reading and interpreting the body language that was telling him Josh needed distracting so Jim could sneak his way back out of the conference room.

“Hey Josh, how are you doing? Think I might be able to get a talking head with you this

Relieved his soundless message was received by Matt, Jim watched the cameraman approach Josh’s doorway and get turned down yet again for the interview he’d been trying to secure since he came over. Nonetheless, as Matt asked, Jim was able to slink back to the kitchen where he stayed until the rest of the staff started rolling in to the office and joined him in the kitchen to grab the coffee Jim had put up earlier.

“Uh man, whoever made the coffee this morning made it too strong again.”

Jim tried to shrink his large frame into the corner as Andy griped about the coffee. Despite their bonding session over shots of Jäger, this other brown tonic could still be a point of contention when not made to his liking. With Andy, what could set him off was still a gamble and one never knew when coffee would be the root of a day-long bad mood, or worse cause him to pound his desk or kick a wall. Jim had enough on his mind this morning without having Andy throwing a tantrum while hopped up on more caffeine than usual, but if were to happen, Jim certainly didn’t need him or anyone else knowing he was the one responsible.

After using up half the communal creamer, Andy left with his mug, now super-charged with sugar as well as caffeine leaving Jim to loiter in the kitchen longer still to wait out Andy’s temper.

The rest of the office rolled in and out, greeting him with silent nods and lukewarm smiles. Martin tried to chat him up about the upcoming Patriot’s game, but with the Eagles on a bye week and his focus tied up in what he just overheard he wasn’t in the mood to talk football and Martin sensing it, grabbed his coffee without comment about its strength, and returned to his desk.

Jim still couldn’t quite wrap his head around what he just overheard and what it meant for the fate of the two offices. He was still in a haze, waiting until Josh left again on his travel to Massachusetts when Karen came in, her eyes bright as they fixed on Jim, her smile a little broader than it had been before she noticed him.

“Hey Jim, TGIF right? Any plans tonight now than we finally don’t have to spend the evening here again?”

Even with his mind on so many other things, Jim couldn’t help but play with Karen as he formulated his witty response.

“Right, two nights in a row is about all I can take of order forms, raw fish and Andy’s acapella. I’m glad we got that done. Tonight, I was planning to go out for sushi, find a karaoke bar and knock back some Jägermeister shots. Wanna come?”

Karen made a face of disbelief that slowly morphed to a smile as she realized he was joking.

“I think you’re cut off from Jägermeister, Halpert. You cannot hold your liquor at all. For such a big guy, you’re kinda a lightweight. Did you like never go to college or a rager?”

Jim never thought of himself as a lightweight before, but he didn’t usually knock back shot after shot of 70 proof liquor. It was hard to believe that Karen, in her all of 110 pounds or so kept up, going shot for shot with them and didn’t seem to get anywhere near as drunk as he and Andy did.

And then he realized she couldn’t have. There was no way. He was about to call her on it but she kept on ribbing him.

“… and you have trouble remembering to use your phone voice when you drink. I think the building across the sound heard you screaming into the phone the Wednesday night. Which reminds me, whoever you were talking to that night called back when you were puking in Gary’s trash can.”

Jim couldn’t remember talking to anyone on the phone Wednesday night. He wondered who it was that… he called… called him? Neither scenario rang a bell. Wow, if he forgot a whole phone call, he really couldn’t hold his liquor. According to what she’d just said, he’d had a full conversation with someone and now he wondered who it was. Hopefully not his mom, or worse his brother, but if it was either of them, they’d have called him the next day to either give him a talking to or a ribbing about it. He pulled out his phone to look at his history when he suddenly remembered why he was hiding in the kitchen and the other phone call he was curious about.    

“Hey, Karen, did you see Josh when you came in.”

“Yeah, I saw him down in the lobby. He said he was on his way to some meeting and he’d be back in the office much later. Why, did you need him?”

“Um, yeah,” Jim lied, “but I guess I’ll catch him later.”

Jim returned to his phone, scanning through the history and suddenly the smile that had been on Karen’s face had nothing on the one that came over his. He found it hard to believe, no matter how drunk he may have been, that he’d forgotten speaking with Pam. No wonder he felt like hell the next day. He must have been beyond blitzed to not remember the call he’d been waiting on almost two weeks.

Turning to hide his own broadening grin from Karen and pour himself a fresh cup of coffee now that his original cup had gone cold, he realized how inconsiderate he was being. Karen did, after all take care of him Wednesday night, getting him home— he now realized she had to have been sober since she drove him—and helped him into his apartment, making sure to set him up with Tylenol and water before she left.

He knew she was into him but now he really couldn’t start something with her.

Two weeks ago, maybe.  

Back then he might have given it a go but after learning Pam had called, it was not going to happen.

But still they were friends and he was being rude, too caught up in his glee to even notice the mélange of disappointment and nervous energy coming over her face when he turned back around.

Still holding the pot, he noticed her grab a mug and hold it out for him to fill it, her hand shaking as if she’d had a shot or two this morning but it was merely her nerves as she tried to work up the courage to suggest they really go to dinner or share a drink after work.          

“Um, Jim I’ve actually got no plans tonight myself if you wanted to grab a beer or dinner someplace other than Sushi Jo. We could go by Richard Cory’s and see who our favorite bartender shares his Midori shot with tonight.”

Jim knew it would come to this sooner or later and he didn’t want to lead her on. He would have to go easy on the flirting and set some boundaries and even though it would be nice to have another friend to spend time with outside the office, that started by turning her down for tonight.

“Thanks for the offer, but after the two late nights, I think I’m going to just head home and have a lazy evening.”

It wasn’t a complete lie; he was hoping to have a lazy evening while he talked on the phone with Pam.    

“Another time maybe.”

Karen’s voice got quieter and a touch less lively as she directed her gaze away from him and quickly splashed the appropriate amount of Hazelnut Coffeemate into her cup before she left him alone in the kitchen.

Once she was gone, he filled up his own mug, nearly spilling it in his distraction brought on by the two very different phone calls. He wasn’t sure which to focus on first.

There was nothing more he could find out about the call that he had in fact taken part of, even if still no memory of it surfaced; not at least until he spoke to her and that he wanted to do in private and after he had a chance to think what he might say.

That left the other call to focus on. The call that wasn’t actually with him, but he knew more about, even if it wasn’t much.

With a renewed hope as to a future and a love back in Scranton, more than ever he had to figure out what Josh was up to. With what he just discovered he could possibly save her job and get himself back to his home. Matt, too who he assumed was just as anxious to return, having heard small bits about someone that he maybe had a thing for back where they were from. But first he had to get more details. It seemed like there was something more to Josh’s plan than just jumping ship for Staples.

With hot coffee in hand, he left the kitchen in search of his friend, the only one who knew his history and his real reason for leaving Scranton in the first place. They’d never discussed it since coming to Stamford but there was no way Matt didn’t know and the way he never spoke her name or referred to her directly in Jim’s presence confirmed it.

It still seemed odd to Jim that nearly six months later, Matthew was still here but now more than ever he was glad for it. Matt had been his only friend in the early days of Jim’s relocation, someone Jim could talk to when he wasn’t busy recording the day-to-day monotony of life in Stamford or the private interviews that were a huge part of whatever this thing was they were creating for TV.  Today, he would turn to his friend for a big ask.

Jim had always tried to respect the proper boundaries most of time but as they were each other’s only connection to back home they became quite friendly and even grabbed a drink from time to time, despite it being frowned upon by the network. Jim had never crossed the line before and asked him to share footage but this was an extenuating circumstance. He had to know what Josh was up to. His own job depended on it, but more importantly hers did.

He caught up with him in the conference room, where Jim shut the door behind him and flipped the blinds letting the rest of staff believe he would be doing a talking head. This time, however it would be Jim asking the questions.

“Matt, buddy. Thanks for saving me this morning but now I’m going to need another favor.”

Matt was still busy unpacking his equipment and preparing it to begin his craft of capturing the events of the new day.

“Yeah Jim, what was that this morning? Not a good idea to make Josh the target of your pranks. He’s your boss you know and a lot savvier than Michael ever was. Probably not your wisest move but if you’re going to be pulling something, as a pal you gotta let me know so I can be prepared with the camera when the prank lands.”

In the past, Jim and Matt shared a few private laughs following Jim’s attempts to victimize Andy and followed it by dissecting the reactions over beers. While tippling, they also discussed the tension turned attraction of Karen towards him.

So it seemed likely the two items of news that Jim only learned this morning, Matt must have known about already and he harbored a fraction of resentment his friend hadn’t shared either of them. But he knew why. It was one of the things that made his relationship with Matt tricky. Jim couldn’t pull the journalist trick of saying things off the record, and he was no fool to even try and Matt was bound by his job to hide from Jim what he learned through his footage.

Forgiving his friend for keeping such a big thing from him, now that he learned that he had spoken to his crush back home he needed to know more. With it no longer a secret, he hoped Matt could share at the very least what he may have said during their drunk conversation.

But as anxious as he was to ask about that event, currently his focus was on uncovering whatever the deal was with Josh. He pushed back his elation and curiosity and ignoring the jocular tone of Matt’s reply, Jim responded blankly.

“Not a prank, Matthew and I need your help. Josh is up to something. I think he’s making a move to go to Staples, but maybe not right away, I can’t quite figure out what his plan is but it could screw everyone, me, the guys here, our pals in Scranton,” he paused before he spoke her name, even though he knew Matt was well aware of everything that happened between them and his feelings about her, “and Pam.”

Jim knew full well how good the camera crew back in Scranton were at getting their spy shots. He’d learned they caught him and Pam plotting against Dwight on numerous occasions and he even suspected they’d caught the fateful kiss based on something Matt slipped out accidentally during one of their unsanctioned trips to the local bar.

He only hoped that Matt had the same skills and had caught Josh in other secret conversations that could reveal more.

“I’ve never asked you before to share what you are filming but do you know anything?”

Jim knew he did.

Matthew looked up at him, his eyes darting to the portable mike pack Jim still had to wear as part of the agreement he made back in Scranton when the filming began.

It’s off,” Jim assured him before he continued, “better yet, can you share some of the footage you recorded in the last month or so. I bet there’s something in the tapes.”

Jim took a seat at the table watching Matt as he meticulously brushed the lens of the camera like a makeup artist applying blusher to his subject.

“Jim, man, I don’t review the footage before I send it back to my producer and you know I’m not supposed to even talk with you about this stuff. And even if I wanted to show you, I’ve already turned over everything up through Wednesday night, and man if there was ever footage to share it would be that, there was some funny shit happening the other night.”

Jim, fully aware now that Matt had witnessed everything up to and including a conversation with Pam on Wednesday night, almost forgot about the whole Josh thing, anxious to learn more about his conversation with her instead. But as he was already crossing a line even asking for help with the Josh situation so he put off pressing him for the details of that mystery too.

“Yeah, I’m sure it was a hoot. My mom’s sure to get a kick seeing me shitfaced on TV. But right now, I’m more concerned what she’s going think when I’m out of work. You gotta know something. I know I’m asking you to break the rules but I’m desperate.”  

Matt put down the wand in his hand and picked up a bulb which he used to blow air around the glass eye that saw all, revealed secrets and in some ways predicted the future.

“Ok, I’ll say this and you didn’t hear it from me – I mean it, I could lose my job…but don’t trust Josh. He comes off as a good guy, a team player but he is a Class A bullshitter. That big sale you made a few months ago, all you right? But I heard him tell Jan how he set it all up and then let you close it cause that’s the kind of manager he is. I’ve followed him to fancy client lunches where the client,” Matt raised his fingers to make accentuate the word in air quotes, “is his wife and you know he’s expensing that shit. And I’ve heard him tell both Andy and Karen, to watch out for you because you’re a spy for corporate. But really that’s all I know.”

Matt flipped the camera around and fiddled with something on the other end. Not unnoticed by Jim, he put his hand in front of the lens stopping him from beginning his day of footage.

“Hey man, can you hold off on the filming. You can’t drop that shit on me and then stick the camera in my face.”

“Sorry Jim, force of habit, you know. But like I said there’s not much I can do. I already turned in all the past stuff and I can’t think of anything else.”

As he spoke however, Jim saw a look come to his face, his eyes darting up as proverbial smoke escaped from his head. Jim knew he had a thought. He pulled Jim to the far corner of the conference room and signaled for Jim to drop his voice down. Whispering, he began again, so quiet, Jim almost couldn’t hear him.

“Listen, you’re not even supposed to know this and I’m really putting my job on the line if they find out I told you but I’ve got the place miked up to catch additional audio. I have one right outside Josh’s office feeding to a portable recorder and I haven’t checked that yet. Let’s catch up after work tonight and I’ll see if it got anything. But seriously, my ass is on the line if anyone finds out so you can’t say a word. Even if we do hear something, you can’t let anyone know you heard from me.”

Matt lifted the camera onto his shoulder and left the room to begin his day of recording the events of the Stamford branch. His primary subject however, remained in the conference room deep in thought.

It was bad enough she’d be losing her job if her branch closes, but to lose it so Josh could parlay his position to a place at Staples; to have everyone there be out of work so Josh could buy his wife a fancy car and a fancier house in Boston, that wasn’t right.

He could only hope Matt’s bugs, cause that’s what they were after all, caught something more than him, Karen and Andy goofing off and he left the room to begin what would be an excruciatingly long day.

 

End Notes:
It's been a thrill to get your thoughts on this one. Thanks to all who have read and reviewed so far.
Love the One You’re With – Stephen Stills by Maxine Abbott
Author's Notes:

Don't be angry, don't be sad
Don't sit cryin' over good times you had
There's a girl, right next to you
And she's just waiting for something to do

And there's a rose, in the fisted glove
And the eagle flies with the dove
And if you can't be with the one you love, honey
Love the one you're with

 

Remember the story is unfolding in a non-linear fashion and by the time Jim has had his crazy dream this day has already occurred – the call at the end, too. But this chapter will add a little more perspective and knowledge to what’s already transpired.

Late afternoon, Friday, November 3, 2006

He met Matthew at a faraway Starbucks immediately after work. He knew he didn’t need to worry about the cameraman following him there since the cameraman was who he was meeting.

Even so they both decided it was better not to meet near the office where anyone else from Dunder Mifflin might show up. On a late Friday afternoon, they were more likely to be caught at a bar that served IPAs and not Mocha Grandes but they didn’t want to risk it so the Starbucks they chose was a bit out of the way.

Matthew was at a back table when Jim came through the doors of the unfamiliar coffee bar. Stopping first to pick up a few coffees for them, it was the least he could do to pay back the favor he was asking, he was thankful there was not a long line. He was more than anxious to see if Matt had learned anything more. Plus, the sooner he met with Matt, the sooner he could call back Pam. 

Wasting no time to line the steaming hot beverages with hand-saving corrugated sleeves, he grabbed the coffees and head back to where he’d spied Matt earlier, sitting with his laptop open and his headphones on.

Lost in his own thoughts, Matt didn’t hear as Jim slipped in next to him setting down two blistering hot paper cups, nearly spilling them in the process. It was only when Jim clapped his seared hands together in attempts to dissipate the heat that Matt was broken from his concentration. Greeting Jim with a nod while he pulled off his headphones, he switched over to the laptop speakers and cued up the audio again.

“Thanks for the coffee but I think you might need something stronger when you hear this.”

He pressed play and though the audio was mixed with the staccato tick of the office clock it was clearly Josh’s voice that he heard. Who he could be talking to was anyone’s guess, but even the single side of the recorded conversation was enough to fill in the blanks.

“There’s one guy I’d consider bringing over once I settle in...Yeah, the new one since he’s got the connection back to the Pennsylvania accounts. He’s got a good head on his shoulders even if he is a bit of a sad sack but it’s really about the accounts he could bring over…. And my plan seems to be working, they’ve just about ready to close the Scranton location so the regional accounts there will without a local branch and ripe for the picking.”

The voice seemed to get louder and softer on a loop. Jim assumed Josh was pacing. The guy was constantly in motion, whether biking to work, hitting the gym or just taking laps around the office, something Jim noticed he often did while behind the closed door of his office. Jim imagined his kinesis was his way of alleviating his conscience as if guilt from his unethical practices could be excreted through constant motion and sweat.

“I think if I don’t ask too much they’ll match it, but I got to ask for a big enough bump to make it convincing…if they don’t, well I go over right away…even if they close this branch I’ve been slowly chipping away at our top clients… and I’ll make it worth it for Jim to jump over. He’d be a fool not to. This place is a sinking ship. Listen, bud I probably shouldn’t be talking here…no the office… I had to stop off to check a few things since I was gone all day… Nah, no one is here, are you kidding, it’s a ghost town here after 7:00… …there was a ton of traffic from Massachusetts..., no, I’m on the mobile but just in case.... No, but I’ll call you from home.”

Matt stopped the recording on the laptop and directed his glance to Jim’s gaped mouth and wide eyes staring back at him in disbelief. The look on Jim’s face clearly a manifestation of the misconception that he’d been working for a decent guy, a manager with integrity and his team’s best interests in mind.

“See I told you, I can spot an asshole when I see one, even when well-disguised. But it looks like you don’t have to worry about yourself, he’s got plans for you, too. You know anyone in Massachusetts?”

Jim did in fact, and it would be nice to live near his brother and work for a company with stability, but he barely gave it a second thought. There was so much wrong with what he’d heard, part of which Matt voiced in his next comment.

 “Although I’m not sure if some of the shit he’s pulling isn’t illegal in some way. You probably wouldn’t want to be tied up in that. Plus, who knows if that dick would follow through and bring you over.”

Jim had no desire to be connected to Josh’s diabolical plan, no desire to work for Staples and no desire to see the Scranton branch close. What he really wanted was to find a way to save Scranton, get transferred back to his job there, and find a way to convince Pam they were meant to be together.

Based on what he just listened to the situation was worse than he imagined.  Josh was putting everything at risk, planning to take out both offices with one dick move. And even if Stamford survived his evil strategy, she was still going to lose her job, which distressed him even more now that they were back in touch and there was even the slightest chance that she was romantically interested in him. And even if she weren’t, even if she still was only interested in being his friend, he knew he would never stop worrying about her, never stop wanting to protect her even at the cost of his own job security.

“Yeah, I have no intention of going to Staples. But I do think I’ll go to Jan. Tell her what I heard this morning. I promise not to mention any of this,” he waved his still singed hand around Matt’s laptop.  

“Hopefully, it will be enough to change the plans. They’d send you back?” Jim questioned. “If Stamford closed, you’d get to go home, right?”

Absolutely, I’m contracted. That’s why I had to come here. But what about you, you sure they’d let you go back?”

“We’ll have to see. Listen man, thanks a lot. I know I can’t use what I heard but it helps me feel better about going behind his back now that I know what a douche Josh is. Hey do you mind if I take off. There’s something else I’ve got to do tonight.”

“Sure, I’m good. Thanks for the coffee. Good luck with talking with Jan Monday… Oh, and tell Pam I say hi.”

There was a quick wink from Matt before he took a sip of his coffee and slipped the earphones back on his head. Of course, he knew Jim would be calling Pam. It was his job to know everything and Jim for once, was thankful he did.

Jim left the Starbucks, in one hand his untouched coffee, finally cooled down enough to hold, in the other his cell phone. With his stomach in knots, coffee was the last thing he needed, especially Starbucks which always seemed to burn a hole in his duodenum. Without taking even a sip, he added his cup to the trash, a heap of white and green cardboard slowly becoming sullied by brown as the liquid poured from his receptacle and stained the once pristine pile of used cups.

He took a few laps in the parking lot, Josh’s practice seeming to make sense to him now, although he was purging his distress and nerves and not unprincipled actions.

On the fourth lap he leaned against his car and flipped open his phone scrolling past the A’s to where her number was stored under Beesly. He took one more deep breath before he hit send and surrendered to the anticipation of hearing her cheerful voice.

But the voice that answered was anything but cheerful and the call he trusted would put all his other difficulties temporarily out of his mind, instead further contaminated the mountain of problems the last few weeks brought on. Not only was she inconsolable and not making sense in her drunk state, by the time he hung up he knew she was not thinking of a romance with him, not when Danny Cordray was interested in her.

He felt foolish and suddenly drained of all his energy. All day he’d been pouring all his hope into the idea of a second chance, a vessel for happiness while the rest of his life fell apart around him.  Now he knew he’d been filling up a glass with a hole at the bottom and he felt as empty as the used coffee cup that lay sideway on the pavement next to his car.

He finally hung up, his eyes now one shade redder than they had been when it was just poor sleep causing their discoloration. He got into his car and pulled it from the spot ready to head home and crawl into bed with plans to stay there all weekend but mid-way through the parking lot he threw the car back into park and pulled his phone back out.

“Hey, where you at Filippelli?”

End Notes:

More to come from Friday Night.

 

The Greatest Show- the Greatest Showman ensemble by Maxine Abbott
Author's Notes:

I was in the middle of writing this chapter when on a run this song popped up and with endorphins raging and the chapter on my mind, this song took on a whole new meaning but WOW did it fit. The Greatest Show – the show, lets say that refers to the documentary being filmed and yeah, I know this song is really about the circus, but isn’t a circus an apt description of the Scranton office.  But when you hear the words, they take can a whole other meaning. See for yourself…

Ladies and gents, this is the moment you've waited for (whoa)
Been searching in the dark, your sweat soaking through the floor (whoa)
And buried in your bones there's an ache that you can't ignore
Taking your breath, stealing your mind
And all that was real is left behind

Don't fight it, it's coming for you, running at ya
It's only this moment, don't care what comes after
Your fever dream, can't you see it getting closer
Just surrender 'cause you feel the feeling taking over
It's fire, it's freedom, it's flooding open
It's a preacher in the pulpit and your blind devotion
There's something breaking at the brick of every wall it's holding
All that you know, so tell me do you wanna go?

It's everything you ever want
It's everything you ever need
And it's here right in front of you
This is where you wanna be 

Now of course I do like to take some liberties when it comes to the meanings of song lyrics - as this whole fic is based on one that might not make anyone else but me think of Pam and Jim, but isn't that the fun? 

 

Wednesday, November 8, 2006

He’d fallen asleep in the office and he knew why. The body needed sleep to revive itself, fight off disease and remain healthy.  The mind needed it to recharge and function properly. Without it, thinking clearly was hopeless and concentration, what was that?

Since it was becoming more and more difficult for him to find his way to the REM period during the customary time at night, his brain decided to shut down and reboot during the day. It wasn’t a particularly refreshing slumber, the soothing effects of his nap diluted by Michael Scott’s appearance in his dream. But it was the only rest he got because when went to bed at night sleep would not come.

On Tuesday night he maybe amounted three hours, and not all at once, (giving him a new empathy for what Hannah was always complaining about), which was still the most he’d gotten since he woke up at her place Saturday morning.

Friday night was the last time he slept soundly at all, the new bed and warm body next to him having more effect than the little pink pills that had none except to give him fever dreams that occurred without the slumber that was supposed to accompany them.

 

Friday night, November 3, 2006

He’d stopped things before they got too far, but not soon enough. Not before they were rolling around in her bed, their shirts somewhere on her bedroom floor. She was down to a lace bra and the bottom half of her pants suit. He was bare-chested.  With his eyes closed she could be anyone and he let the image of Pam’s smile be the thing he thought of as he kissed her and dug his fingers into her slender back and under the delicate, still clasped strap.

But when he opened his eyes again and saw her dark pupils and freckled nose he realized he had already let things go a step further than he wanted to. It was too soon. He’d only just a few hours earlier lost Pam for the second time and it wasn’t fair to Karen to jump into bed with her. Not when he wasn’t sure what he wanted to happen between them. He knew a one-night stand with a co-worker was never a good idea no matter how much he was in need of a diversion from his mounting troubles.

He quickly pumped the brakes, pulling away from her to catch confusion setting into her eyes. He didn’t want to lead her on but if he didn’t explain himself, their existing state of affairs would go sour fast. They still had to work together in the office and who knew for how much longer.

Whether he believed it or not, he knew he needed to give her something so she wouldn’t feel used and retreat back to the brusque demeanor she had with him when he first arrived. He knew he could do it, feign his interest, possibly even convince himself it could grow into something more. He’d done it with Katy and he may have been able to stick it out had it not been for the circumstances of the night when he finally gave up on pretending to want to.

So, he said just enough to put a glimmer of hope back on her face as he grabbed her hands and soothed her with words he wasn’t sure he meant, that he liked her, liked her a lot but wanted to take things slow.

With all they’d done already and the look on her face, he felt he couldn’t rush out of there either, so instead he slid back on the bed to recline against her headboard. He patted the spot on the bed next to him and she scooted up so he could put his arm around her. Jim said he wanted to get to know her better before anything more happened and so they talked, never putting back on the clothes they’d removed in the rush of their earlier passion, the awkwardness of grabbing them now just slightly more awkward than laying together half dressed.

He kept things light. He made no mention of his history with Pam. He told her nothing of what he was learning about Josh.  Nothing was said by him that was personal in any way. He mostly asked questions and let her talk about herself, where she went to school, her first job, how long she’d been working at Dunder Mifflin. They joked about Andy and complained about Hannah, who even made Karen uncomfortable when she whipped out her breasts and pumped in the open. As it got late, he knew he should go, but somehow laying there with her as she told him secrets about the rest of their officemates took his mind off things and calmed him to the point where sleep was finally able to descend on him.

Next think he knew, it was morning. Karen was asleep beside him but had changed to purple tee shirt with large Greek letters that peeked out from under the cover. He was still over the duvet, but she’d draped a sheet over his bare chest and his work pants.

As quietly as he could he tried to slip off the bed, but the movement he created as his weight shifted from the soft mattress woke her.

“Hey, don’t wake up. I’m going to head home. But I’ll give you a call later okay?”

“Mmhum,” she murmured and rolled back over.

He called her late Saturday but they barely spoke more than few minutes. She was headed out with some girlfriends and invited him to go. He declined and told her he’d see her Monday which he knew disappointed her, he could hear it in the crack of her voice when she replied.

Upon hanging up, a silence filled his apartment and his soul. The feeling made him weary and yet he was still unable to do anything but think, his mind racing with thoughts, mostly of her, but not the her he just hung up with.

It was back to his nights of unattainable sleep, the guilt over what he’d done with her just one more thing weighing on him.

Thursday, November 9, 2006

Three in the morning was never a good time to make a decision but Jim tried to anyway by drawing up one of his pro and con lists. It didn’t do much to ease his crisis of conscious but it did bring him to decide it was time to call David Wallace, time to share what he knew.

He wasn’t sure exactly what he would say. He knew he had to keep his source to himself. He couldn’t mention the recording. He couldn’t screw Matthew over like that. But David didn’t have to know he’d learned what he did from the documentary recordings. He could just say he’d overheard it, just as he caught the conversation when he was in early faxing Dwight. He’d have no proof but David would have to believe him. He’d have no reason not to. He just hoped David would react better than Jan had and not see Jim as the company traitor.

He flip-flopped a half dozen more times before morning, sometimes even for the briefest of moments wondering if he should be that guy and go over to Staples with Josh. But he quickly abandoned that idea. Legality aside, he was raised with ethics and a conscience. With his moral compass going haywire if he did, he might never sleep again.

Besides, there was one item on his list, one thing that whenever he looked down at the nearly illegible words he scrawled out in his stupor, that appeared to him as if backlight and typed across a marquee. Three letters that no matter what he tried to do to rid them from his vernacular, could not be erased from his mind or his heart.

PAM.

No matter how far away he would go, no matter who he tried to love in her place, no matter how much he tried to wipe her from his soul, she was always first in his thoughts and he couldn’t bear to know of her distress.

It was in part, why he left in the first place. Sure, it was self-preservation, to make the pain of her marrying another easier to bear but deep down he knew he left to free her too. He removed himself from her radius in order to spare her the angst of knowing how much she had hurt him. To keep her from having to see his pain every day as the fateful date neared. To save her the guilt that could wrack her sleep and contaminate her dreams as his were now.

Things hadn’t turned out as planned. She hadn’t gotten married but by not doing so, and whether or not his ill-timed declaration played its part, it left her in a much tougher spot now that she was on the verge of being unemployed while in debt from a wedding that didn’t happen and with a ton of new expenses—the going rate of freedom, was not cheap.

For Jim, the bottom line was he had information that could possibly save her job and whatever the result could be for him, he would do whatever was in his power to be her hero, even if she may never know it.

He made the call from the car, while parked in the lot outside the office.  When David’s assistant answered he insisted it was urgent that he speak to him, preferably in person.  Talking with Jan over the phone didn’t go well. If this were to go any better an in-person meeting was required. 

Stephanie told him he was unavailable, not taking any meetings this week. She would see if he was free to meet Jim sometime next week.

But next week, Jim knew, would be too late.

He sat immobilized, all but his head which crashed against the steering wheel. When seconds later he regained his motor skills, the only movement was his fist juddering into his lap harder and harder until his thigh was numb. He was about to head into the office, plead with Matthew to anonymously email David the audio when the phone he’d thrown into the passenger seat started twitching, the vibration that preceded the audible ring tone rattling the whole front seat.

It was Stephanie calling back to ask Jim how soon he could be at the New York office to meet with David.

Jim was already in reverse before he audibly answered her and an hour later, he was sitting in reception at the Dunder Mifflin corporate office. 

Dunder Mifflin, this is Grace.”

The voice was an octave higher, but had the same sing-song quality. The last time heard the melodic lyrics, the song of the receptionist, was three weeks ago when his heart nearly stopped as her voice flooded his ears and the wave of love he had for her rushed back to the forefront from where he had tried to bury it.  

The ocean he tried for months to put between them had ebbed once again ever since that call. The moat of water meant to protect him was now reduced to a puddle, not enough to keep her from his daily thoughts.  Hell, it seemed there was something to remind him of her in every moment. The familiar greeting that just rang in his ears being just another thing to make him think of her.

He looked up at Grace with wide eyes and pursed lips and half expected he would see Pam behind the circular desk, and for a second he did.

And it made him even more certain in that moment. As much as he knew every thought of her pulled him back under, he also knew he was doing the right thing. Even if they weren’t destined to be together, even if he would drown again back at the Scranton office as she dated Danny or men like him, he knew he had to convince David to keep Scranton open.

The next time he looked up it was to see David coming out to greet him and bring him back.

“Jim, good to see you again. Thanks for coming in so fast.”

He seemed tense.  Not at all like the first time Jim met him when Jan introduced him after they discussed his transfer. That David seemed much more laid back and relaxed. Now, even his walk was robotic and stiff as they traveled back to his office.

“Come on in.  Let’s talk.”

David shut the door behind him and retreated to his seat behind the desk. Without looking up he began, speaking before even Jim settled into the seat opposite him.

“So, I assume you are here about Josh.  Jan told me you warned her about his job offer at Staples.”

Jim took his seat and a deep breath.

“Yes, but, well I didn’t get the chance to give her all the facts.”

David leaned back in his chair and brought his palm to his face but rather than wait for Jim to say more he spoke out again. 

“Jim, Josh came to see me late yesterday with his offer.”

No, Jim thought. It’s done. Josh got his ask, Scranton’s doomed and I’m probably fired.

Still, he was here so he figured what could it hurt to say what he came to. Maybe he could still convince David of what Josh was up to, even though he wasn’t completely sure himself. But before Jim could open his mouth again to say more, David cut him off a second time.

“And I fired him on the spot…and had the lawyers send a letter to Staples threatening a lawsuit if they hired him.”

Jim’s mouth dropped to a gaping “o” and his eyes widened, a miasma of relief and confusion clouding his irises.

“What, how, ah Jan said you intended to match his offer. What happened?” 

Genuine disbelief was all over Jim’s face which seemed to please David.

Jim. I know.”

“You know?” Jim inquired, not sure what exactly it was David knew but he was about to find out.

“Probably more than you. I know all about his client poaching and his strategies to weaken our positions. How he planned on staying long enough to close down Scranton, so he could bring twice the clients over with him. He’s even gone on calls to our clients with contracts for Staples.”

“Holy Shit,” Jim began trying to stop himself before the expletives tumbled from his lips,  “ah, excuse me.”

“No Jim, I think that language is warranted here.”

“But how, I mean, I only heard the, ah heard him Friday. And Jan, she made it seem like you were still all in for Josh when I spoke to her on Monday. She even berated me for bringing what I knew to her.”

“That’s when we thought he was just looking to leverage his opportunity. That’s a pretty common thing and like she said, we would kind of expect it from someone like Josh. But what we learned since then, that’s a whole other level of egregiousness.”

David pressed a button on his computer. From out of the speakers, he’d heard the recording he’d listened to on Friday night with Matthew. When it finished playing David spoke again.

“This recording is just the tip of the iceberg.”

David flipped his screen so Jim could see what was playing next, a business lunch with Josh and another suit. The sound was low but just enough to make out. David only played it for about a minute but it was enough for Jim to figure out it was a sales call, but he was acting as a representative of Staples and not his own company.

“There’s more. In total I’ve got three different video clips taken by the PBS crew. What I needed to know was were you part of the plan since your name came up more than once.”

Jim began to state his case that he wasn’t but once again David didn’t let him speak, waving him off to assuage the worry now on his face.

“But I can see now you had nothing to do with any of it. I was somewhat confident. I don’t know you well but I could tell you’re a solid character. Plus, you’d already gone to Jan but I had to be sure that wasn’t just a deception to feel us out.”

Jim still was still a bit shell-shocked at all he was hearing and still unsure how David had come by the recording and the other footage he had.

“I’m glad you know I had nothing to do with any of it. I was just as surprised as you when I discovered what he was up to. But how, um how do you have that?”

David leaned back again in his chair as he explained.

“So, I’ve been suspicious of Josh for a while. Actually, pretty much since the day I met him. But I had no real reason for it. It was just a feeling. Something in his eyes and the way he’s always moving. I mean the guy never sits still.”

Jim had picked on that too, but he, unlike David Jim had originally tried to emulate it seeing it as an admirable trait, his athleticism, the biking and workouts and the way he bounced everywhere. That is until very recently when Jim gathered there might be something more to the constant pacing and his love of action video games; that he used it all as a way of purging his conscience.

“And he said I all the time when referring to his branch, never we or us. Plus, his expense reports always seemed to have a lot of expensive lunches that didn’t match up to any significant new contracts. But Jan seemed to like him and it seemed so did the clients. Professionalism, she said, leadership and charisma, that’s what he brought to the table and why we needed a guy like Josh representing us, especially when compared to someone like your old boss, who she always seemed to be exasperated with.”

Jim knew what that was about too. Even though Jan and Michael had that hard-to-understand and quite disturbing to think of romantic fling that had since ended when he took up with his realtor, Jim knew it wasn’t just spite that caused her exasperation. Michael needed a lot of babysitting and his shenanigans could wear out the patience of Mary Poppins.

“Yeah, well at first impression, Josh does come off better than Michael, but say what you will about him, he’s loyal to his people and this company. He would never do anything like what Josh has. And believe it or not, he’s a really good salesman. I mean he’s clueless sometimes about almost everything else but he knows how to close a sale.”

“Yeah, I know. Remember I am the CFO. I’m aware of what he generates, individually and as leader of his branch.”

“Right, of course,” Jim concurred, feeling he should leave his endorsement of Michael at that but then remembering his dream from yesterday he added one last thing.

“Plus, the Scranton office well it works well maybe not in spite of his playful nature but because of it.”

David nodded at the last thing Jim said. He’d seemed to loosen up significantly since they sat down and begun their talk. The furrow of his brow settled back to a more relaxed angle. The harshness of his mouth seemed to curl to an almost smile, especially as they discussed Michael.

“Okay Jim, I’ll give you that. But anyway, back to Josh. I had nothing concrete to base my negative judgement of him on, so I needed more information before I could make any recommendation to the board. That’s why we made the new position. It was really meant to be an outside hire. Someone who can bring in some additional sales but also keep an eye on things and report back to us. However, as you know we always post openings on the company boards and when Jan came to me saying you were interested in the position it all seemed to fall into place.”

Jim thought back to the day he found the job opening. Actually, it was Dwight who pointed it out, urging him to transfer after he’d discovered all his complaints had gone into a folder Toby stored under his desk instead of to the corporate office. The rest had just fallen into place for him too, just not really the place he wanted. The place he wanted was to be was wrapped in her arms after he confessed his love for her but since that didn’t happen, he wound up in Stamford instead. And now he was sitting here, learning how his heartache in a small way may have saved the company from Josh’s sabotage.

“I knew you were a good salesman. Michael had told me on more than one occasion and like you said, he knows sales. Jan said you’d fit in well at Stamford, being such a charismatic guy yourself. Plus, I knew PBS wanted to keep following you for their show but to do that they needed to renegotiate the terms we made with them. The new terms stated I got to see all the footage that had anything to do with Stamford.”

So, David must have known about Call of Duty, and the night they got drunk and the pranks Jim played on his co-workers. He hoped he wouldn’t get fired as a result of all this anyway. But hopefully David could overlook all that since in a roundabout way, he was the reason they found out about Josh.

“It was too much footage to go through and after the first month, I asked them to just make me a highlight reel of anything having to do with Josh. I just got the reel with the recording I just played you Tuesday but it’s been so busy I only got finished reviewing the whole thing late last night. Seems your PBS people caught wind of an interesting story this thing with Josh, so much that they sent some additional cameras from Scranton to catch some of Josh’s meetings. One was with one of the Staples people himself. He made a big mistake coming down to Connecticut to meet over lunch. That’s the footage that has the most incriminating evidence. It’s what’s going to keep Josh from working in this industry ever again and keep a lot of our Stamford clients locked in with us. Staples won’t be able to go near any of them without legal ramifications.”

David pressed a button on his phone asking Stephanie to send Jan in to join them.

“So now as you can imagine we have to decide about the branches. Stamford was the smart choice when I thought I had Josh and you running it. That is before I had my suspicions confirmed. And even though it’s the metro branch, the overhead is a lot more there than in Scranton. It doesn’t quite seem worth the extra cost, especially if you are willing to transfer back to Scranton and be the number two there.”

Jim thought about it as they waited for Jan to come in and talk about logistics. He knew it would probably come to this if he was able to convince David about Josh and save the Scranton branch and Pam’s job with it. But he was still unsure about going back with what he’d just learned about Pam too. Whether David sensed his hesitation or it was just coincidence he quieted some of Jim’s fears by adding.

“Of course, you just left there for what I understand were some personal or was it personnel issues? A certain bespectacled oddball,” he joked thinking Dwight, Scranton’s top salesman, but from what he knew, also a very strange fellow was what would keep Jim from wanting to go back.

“If you don’t want to go back there, we can find a spot for you, maybe even here to manage client relations. Even though they can’t go to Staples, the clients out of Stamford’s office will still need some attention, but we don’t quite need a whole office to manage that. What do you think? We’d prefer you in Scranton—I’d be hesitant to let Michael have free reign without someone like you keeping an eye on him, but I don’t want to lose you so we’ll do what we need to work it out.”

Even though David got it wrong about who the person was making him uncertain he was still giving Jim an out, a way to avoid having to be there watching her develop a new relationship with someone other than himself again. But as he thought through his options, he realized how much he missed his friends and his family.

How much he missed smiling at people who smiled back.

How much he missed playing Fantasy Football with Kevin and discussing the weekly stats in person.

How much he missed Angela’s brownies and even her snark.

How much he missed chatting, scratch that, listening to Kelly ramble on about who knows what she was talking about most of the time.

How he missed intelligent conversations with Oscar and not so intelligent ones with Michael.

But most of all, he missed her.

Being away from her didn’t make him any less unhappy. In fact, the longer he was away the more his heart hurt from not hearing her laugh, seeing her smile and knowing how she was doing on a daily basis. It didn’t matter anymore he would never be more than just her friend.

Being merely her friend, he realized was not as bad as not having her in his life at all.

Maybe it wouldn’t be so hard this time. After all he’d made it through years when she was with someone right there in the office with them.

He wondered what it was like for Roy now, being stuck in an office with the woman who dumped him, practically at the altar. He thought about it only because he hoped the hurt Roy was experiencing was some kind of karmic payback for the sadness and hurt, he’d made her feel so many times in their years together.   

This time he wouldn’t have to watch them together. He’d be able to keep a blind eye to the blossoming romance between her and uggh, Danny and hopefully he at least would treat her better than Roy ever did and appreciate what he had.

Jan interrupted his thought process as she entered the room, wearing obvious frustration on her face, her body language also revealing her frazzled state. Normally, polished and put together, Jim had never seen her seemed so unraveled, at least not when she wasn’t dealing with Michael and his old office. He knew this new development must have her in her own state of uncertainty, dealing with her own romantic turmoil now that she would continue to have to work with Michael. He knew the man drove her crazy both in business and in affairs of the heart. And like Jim, she would also have to watch as he now was involved with someone else.

Jan took a seat next to Jim haphazardly dropping a folder of papers on David’s desk when she did.  Pulling it together before they got back to brass tacks talk, she straightened her body and did her best to appear calm and collected. They began talking about the options now that Josh was out, how soon everything would happen and who it made sense to move over to Stamford.

They discussed a new salary for Jim, no matter where he decided to go, a significant bump plus a sizable bonus for his loyalty. As they talked, Jim half listened while he continued to mull things over in his head.

As for which of the Stamford crew he felt best to go over to Scranton, he suggested Martin and Tony and to his own surprise, Andy. And he insisted on Karen. If he went back with his own romance brewing, he could return with the armor he needed to protect his heart this time. He felt enough of a spark with Karen, at least he told himself he did.  He realized that tactic didn’t work when he asked out Katy, but it would be different this time with someone that wasn’t just a facsimile of what he couldn’t have.

It would have to be. Because he knew no matter how much his head was screaming be sensible, think of your career and what being proximal to David could mean for it, he was going to take the action led by the beating in his chest and return to the proximity he knew and still ached for. His job, his surroundings, his self-preservation, nothing else mattered more than having her laugh back in his life. There was no other choice, he was going to take the position in Scranton.

Upon giving them his answer, David relaxed fully back into his chair, his transformation back to the easygoing, friendly type Jim remembered meeting back in May was now complete. Jan however, seemed to be more stressed and edgy than when she first walked in, if that was even possible. He’d never seen her in such a state and wondered just what had happened between her and Michael.

Jan rose from her seat nodding at Jim as she turned to return to her own office and begin dealing with the paperwork that went along with the cosmic shift. As she left, she shot Jim a look; fused on her face was an apology and gratefulness, fear and anxiety and the mutual understanding at what they had in store back in Scranton with Michael in charge. Jim returned with a small shrug and his signature eye brow raise and closed mouth smile.

As soon as she was out the door, David rose too, his signal to Jim that there was no more to discuss until Jan had finished with the details and made the announcements to the two offices. Jim reacted in kind, standing up and extending his handshake as David offered his.

“Again Jim, I’m glad you’re staying on with us and I’m glad we’ll have you in Scranton again. Jan will be out later today to your office to give them the news.”

“Thanks David. I’m looking forward to going home.”

Jim started for the door but then stopped and turned back to David who had come around to walk him out.

“Hey can I ask you something.  If all this didn’t happen with Josh, do you think the book Michael made would have had any impact on your decision?”

David chuckled at Jim’s mention of the book

“You saw that huh? That book it was something all right. But to be honest, no, I don’t think it would have swayed my decision. It gave me a laugh, a little better look at the folks I’ve got working for me in Scranton, but would it have made me change my mind, not likely.”

He paused and a pensive look came over his face and he though more about what Jim had asked.

“But in hindsight maybe it should have.  It does make me feel better about having Michael the one left in charge.  It does tell me the kind of person he is. Like you said, loyal and dedicated.  And that’s who we should have representing this company.”

Jim nodded. The book had an impact. Maybe it wasn’t the lynchpin that saved Scranton but it told David what was most important about the man he was putting his faith in.

“And Jim you also proved your character today.  I’m glad you’ll be his number two.  I see big things for you.  Your future looks good.”


 

End Notes:
I originally had written it to have Jim and Karen sleep together but I just couldn’t have him do that – not when his feelings were still so wishy-washy about her and with where I knew this story would go – it would not look good. So, I scaled back and made it be just enough to make him feel bad but not enough to make him a total dick. I think it was the right choice.
Future Looks Good (Reprise) - One Republic by Maxine Abbott
Author's Notes:

Remember this song, the one that inspired the whole story - well I had to make these lines fit too

Oh, call me any time that every time you're losin' it
And tell me anyone and everyone who makes you feel like shit

Because you know anybody, everybody else can lie
But honey I won't see you with a broken set of eyes

SO this story has been largely written for a long, long time. Just in need of some finessing before each chapter post. Around the time I first wrote it, back a lot of months ago now, after the OL where they talked about Flex Time – NML put up a plot bunny to have Jim doing the flex time at reception. This is a bit of twist on that, it’s not Jim at the desk, but I think even better- for this story at least.

Had it not been for his growling stomach, he might have gone right to the car after leaving the corporate office. Had he arrived at his car and called even 30 minutes earlier the call might have been received by her and the cheer he’d have heard in her voice he would have merely equated to her relief and happiness that her job was safe.

More likely, he wouldn’t have called at all and let Jan be the one to reveal their reversal of fortune once she had completed the logistics and paperwork.

But he had missed breakfast, unable to think about food that morning, much less chew and swallow anything and keeping it down if he did was a hit or miss proposition. But the curse of Jim’s metabolism, aside from his lanky build was he couldn’t miss a meal and not have his stomach growl in protest, which it had done in the office with David. He’d ignored it but he knew they both heard it. In fact, it was after the distinct gurgle arose from his midsection that David stood up and wound up their meeting.

Lunch was a must before he drove back to Stamford. Luckily in the city of New York, food was available at every turn and so he didn’t have far to go to satiate his noisy stomach.

He stopped into a place at the corner of where his car was parked in the nearby lot.  The sign identified it as Famous Ray’s.   

 

It seemed the fame had a surcharge. $6.50 for a slice and a Coke. He’d never paid so much for pizza, pizza that he couldn’t even taste since he scarfed it down so fast.  

 

It was another reassurance he’d made the right choice. With the cost of living here his generous bonus would be gone before he could even cash it. Things were even more expensive here than in Stamford which was already much more than in Scranton. He saw the monthly parking rates of the lot where he parked and it was close to what he had paid in rent for the house he shared with Mark. Luckily for Jim, the office validated his parking for the meeting today otherwise he’d be out another 50 bucks for the two hours he’d left his car deep in what felt like an underground bunker a block from the office.

 

But it wasn’t about money. He was after something else in his decision.

 

Happiness.

 

It was the only thing he had on his mind now. He had been happy in Scranton. Sure, it was tough watching her with Roy. And he’d never felt pain in his heart like the crushing ache that came from hearing her say “I can’t” and later from her pulling away even after the kiss that he swore had her saying “I can.”

 

He knew now lips were never meant to hear and so that’s why they heard wrong. His ears too, must have malfunctioned when they twisted her words to make them sound like she’d said, me too before they reached his brain.

 

But the pain, still palpable at times had become more bearable with each day that passed and he was hopeful he’d be able to find his way back to happiness as her friend once again.

 

He wished for her happiness too and hoped that the news would bring some of that back to her. But he had decided while inhaling his slice of “famous” pizza that the news was best delivered by Jan or Michael or anyone but him. He wasn’t yet ready to be merely her friend again. He needed to prepare, build a better wall, one with sturdier bricks and stronger mortar. According to the preliminary timeline David and Jan had mentioned back in the meeting, he had about two weeks. Two weeks to become as good a mason as he was a salesman, better perhaps. 

 

Still hungry after the slice, he ordered another but the two hours his parking ticket was covered for was almost up so he ate it while he walked back to the lot. He’d forgotten to grab napkins and being he already wasn’t the neatest eater when sitting at a table, he knew he was leaving oil and sauce on the corner of his mouth and down his chin as he walked and chewed, something confirmed when the parking attendant’s eyes went straight to the lower portion of his face as he handed over the ticket.

 

He tried wiping it with the back of his hand but now the oily sauce was on his hands and shirt sleeve as well as his face.

 

No wonder Pam didn’t want me, he thought as he waited for the attendant to return with his car. What would she want with a schlump like me who can’t even eat without making a mess of himself? She didn’t want to be with the messy goof, the class clown, the jokester. She might enjoy the pranks, revel in the silliness and admire wit in a good friend, but when it came to the person she wanted to be, she wanted suave and professional.  And now that she’d rid herself of the other schlump in her life, the one that had a unexplainable hold on her for so long, she was free to pursue the life she wanted with that type of man. 

 

His car finally arrived and he slipped the guy who delivered it a few saucy dollar bills as he himself slipped into the driver’s seat careful not to touch too much inside the car except the glove box where he hoped he had stashed some napkins. Sure enough there were a few, probably left over from the fast food he had on his last drive back to Stamford from Scranton, back in October when he went home to celebrate his birthday with his folks and his hometown friends.

 

He grabbed a napkin and finally wiped away the grease from his face and fingers. Hands clean at last he went to close the glove compartment when the light from the interior dome caught on something that refracted back into his eyes.

 

Pushing aside the flashlight and the car manuals, the maps and phone charger that no longer worked with his current model phone, he came upon the metallic disc that had caught the light. It was a crinkly gold circle still linked to a paperclip chain, the yogurt lid that with her artistic creativity had been transformed into the keepsake award for their office Olympics. He’d had this one hanging from his rearview for some time after the ceremonial day. He took it down not too recently, as the sun’s glare kept bouncing off it and into his eyes as he drove. He decided then it was not safe for him to be distracted by its gleam or the memories it evoked.

 

But finding it today was a reminder of what he’d be going back to and all the fun they once had. Pranking Dwight, goofing around, putting on screenplay readings and elaborate events of silliness, they were good together, partners, a perfect team and even if they were not meant to be a romantic couple, they were best friends once and hopefully could be again. That started today, not in two weeks. And his first act as her best friend would be to give her the news that would return the smile to her face.

 

He first had to get out of the city and navigating the streets required most of his attention but as soon as he hit the West Side Highway he pulled out his phone and dialed his old office.

 

 

 

“Dunder Mifflin, this is Kelly. How may I direct your call today?”

 

He didn’t know how but somehow he knew it wasn’t Pam even before Kelly picked up the phone line.

 

“Hi Kelly. It’s Jim. I was expecting Pam. Is she not in today?”

 

“Jim, hi. I haven’t heard your voice in so long. You sound different. I didn’t recognize it was you. How’ve you been? Did you hear about our office? Can you believe it? Jim, did you know? You know when you transferred there. Is that why you left? Because you were aware of what was coming? You know, Michael said you and Josh were BFFs. Is that how you found out? From your BFF in Connecticut? Did he tell you to come over because we were getting shut down? How did you know him back then anyway? And how come you didn’t tell us? Or at least me? I thought we were friends, Jim? You know I should hang up on you right now. But I won’t because I’m forgiving like that. See that’s how you act like a friend, Jim.  Anyway, things are so bad here. Everybody’s sad and nervous and on edge. It’s been like a real downer here and that’s really hard for me since I’m such a sunny person, you know. Everyone is grumpy. Well except Stanley, he seems almost excited. Between you and me I think Angela’s even gone on an interview or two. She’s disappeared twice this week for extended periods of time. I think it’s going well because she always comes back with what is almost a smile on her face and you know how rare that is. I think Dwight’s interviewing too since he’s also gone a lot. Michael just mopes around here with this weird look on his face. You know we haven’t heard anything more yet and we’re not sure when it’s going to happen. Toby won’t tell us much but I’ve tried to listen to him on the phone. It sounds like they could move some of us over. How’s the customer service there Jim? Do you have any say in who they’ll relocate? If you do, you’ve got to tell them me. Me and Ryan. Both of us cause I won’t go without him and he won’t go without me. He promised.  Please Jim, please. I can’t go without him. Oh, and do you think I’d like Stamford? What’s the vibe like?”

 

Kelly,” Jim was finally able to interrupt Kelly’s prattle when she finally took a pause after her last question, “about Pam, is she out sick today”.

 

“Pam, no she’s on her lunch hour. It’s my flex time today to cover the front desk.”

 

Of course, Jim thought, flex time. Ever since the day of their office Olympics when their biggest client was unable to get anything but voicemail for the whole day, Jan decided someone needed to be at the desk anytime it would be unmanned for more than 15 minutes. But Kelly at the front desk. Voicemail was certainly the better option here.

 

“Come to think of it maybe she’s interviewing too since she left the office and she never goes out to lunch.”

 

Or… she’s on a lunch date,” Jim mumbled under his breath, suddenly second guessing his decision to make the call, while seriously reconsidering his decision to take the position back in Scranton. He wasn’t even there yet and already he was feeling like he had back when she slowly decimated his heart as she planned for a future with someone else.

 

 

He hadn’t intended to say it aloud but it slipped out. Hopefully Kelly hadn’t heard, hopefully her mind was already thinking ahead to her next rant so she would have missed the quiet remark that blurted out from Jim’s lips.

 

But Kelly’s ears were as sharp as her tongue especially when what she was hearing was anything resembling gossip or that she could add her two cents to.

 

“No Jim, she’s definitely not on a date. She swore off dating – twice now. After she called off her wedding, she was so mopey. It was weird, I mean she called it off so why was she sad. I tried to convince her to get back out there because she was like bumming us all out with her sad face all the time. Nothing like a new romance to get over a failed one, right Jim? Anyway, I helped her pick out new clothes and gave her tips on flirting. It took forever, like over two months and I practically had to strong arm her into it but I finally made her agree to a double date with me and Ryan and my neighbor, Alan. These two should have been perfect for each other and I can’t believe they didn’t hit it off. I mean, they were both into drawing and stuff. It was like a match made in heaven, just like Ryan and me. But I guess she didn’t think so, she told me there was no chemistry. I tried to get to her to give it another try with him. Chemistry, doesn’t have to be there from the start, you know. Right? It’s not like it’s the only thing to build a relationship on, you can slowly find love too. And slow and steady wins the race, right? Except for in the case of Ryan and me, we were hot and heavy from the start but that works for us. But Pam, she seems like the the type that needs time to let things build. That’s why for months I kept bugging her. But she kept telling me she’d pick her own dates. She didn’t need my help. Anyway, I digress.”

 

Um, you think? This time Jim knew enough to keep his thought to himself.

 

 Finally, last Friday when we were all out after we heard the news, it was pretty devastating for all of us and she was drinking pretty heavily, almost as much as she had that night when she got plastered at the Dundies. You remember Jim when she fell off the chair and was acting all goofy and silly.”

 

It was exactly the same thing that came to mind when Jim first heard her voice Friday night. Pam wasn’t one to get rip-roaring drunk often, but when she did, she left an impression. Had the circumstances been different, Jim might have played with Kelly here, pretended he had no idea what she was talking about, but this conversation had already gone on long enough. He just wanted Kelly to get to her point so he kept his mouth shut and let her go on.

 

“Of course, you do Jim. It was you she sat with you all night while drinking like a lush. I mean she was totally out of control. Her speech after her Dundie, man how embarrassing. The way she danced back from the stage, what a dork. She even kissed you that night. Come on Jim you have to remember that.”

Of course, Jim remembered. Her lips on his, that was the highlight of his evening and even though it lasted less than a second, in that second he became more liquid than solid. He should have been the one in a heap on the floor.  But he knew it wasn’t a real kiss. It was the four drinks, and the second drinks and the excitement of having won something else besides longest engagement that had her acting impulsively, celebrating her win with a peck to the mouth of her best friend. But Jim remembered the taste of her lips, so soft and warm, a mix of salty and sweet still lingering on them from the frozen margarita she’d just finished. He could almost taste her lips again now but the memory was not of that kiss but the one they’d shared 6 months ago after another work event, this one with not quite such a happy ending.

 

Thinking back to the Dundies again, he realized that night was the first time Jim had been her hero without her knowledge. He’d never told Pam it was him who convinced Michael the joke had grown stale and a different award would get more laughs. But that’s what friends did, they found ways to make sure their friend stays smiling, gets home safely and keeps her job, and they do it without letting on they were behind it.

 

“Yes, Kelly, I remember. But what happened when she was drunk at the bar this time?”

 

Kelly had no idea that Jim had been on the phone with Pam that night. That he had heard the desperation in her voice made worse by the copious amount of alcohol she consumed. That he had been witness to the pick-up at the bar. But there was obviously more that he hadn’t been aware of, something she might have said earlier or after Jim hung up and he was desperate to know what Kelly knew and what she meant when she said Pam had sworn off dating again.

 

“Oh yeah well, we were in shock you know about what we heard about the branch closing. Meredith ordered us a round of shots. Pam downed hers before anyone else and I then I think she may have swiped Angela’s to knock back with the rest of us. It’s not like Angela was going to drink it but I think we were all pretty surprised. Then she had a few more drinks after that. She even kept up with Meredith, drink for drink.”

 

Jim was getting impatient with Kelly, losing hope she would ever divulge anything new or revealing to him. He was seconds away from hanging up when she finally said something that pricked his ears.

 

We were all so bummed about the news but Pam, she seemed so much sadder than everyone else though and maybe not just because of the job stuff. Which was weird since she seemed pretty happy at the Diwali festival, but who wouldn’t be. Diwali is so much fun. I looked awesome by the way. I wore the most amazing sari. And you should have seen Ryan in his Kurta, he looked so handsome.”

 

                “Kelly, focus. Tell me about Pam and what she said that night?”

 

“Chill, Jim. I was getting there. So, she was all weepy about the job but I think she may have also been sad about Roy too. Maybe being at Diwali without a date made her lonely. Or Michael proposing made her remember how she burned down her own life when she called off her wedding. I kinda think she was planning to start things up again with Roy that night because I saw him show up at the festival, but he took one look at Pam dancing and then turned right back around. I think she got stood up.”

 

This was not the news Jim wanted to hear. Pam back with Roy, that was worse than Danny.

 

“You know by Friday she was probably really regretting not getting married when she had the chance. Anyway, after her many drinks on Friday, she started jabbering on and on about her love life. It was hard to listen to. I mean, I’m all for girl talk but this was, like too much.”

 

Was she serious? Kelly having a hard time listen to someone else’s love troubles. Got a mirror Kelly? How many times had he got caught listening to her amble on about her situation with Ryan? And it was nothing compared to the times he had to imagine Pam was held captive to Kelly’s tearful rants when Ryan didn’t call her or chose to go out for lunch instead of eating with her in the breakroom.

 

“She kept going on about it, lamenting how she’d known love, real true love, but hadn’t realized it at the time and how she had sent him away, the one she was meant to be with, the person she loved more than she even knew. She went on about how in one night she’d hurt him and cast him out and off into the arms of someone else. Someone called Karen, which is strange since I’ve never heard any talk of Roy dating someone new.  Up until the other night he still seemed very, very into Pam. Now, if I’d been dumped like that, no way, there’d be no second chances with this woman.”

 

Kelly’s self-delusion aside, she was finally providing Jim the information he was waiting for and while it wasn’t like he had a choice anyway, he let her continue.

 

“Yeah, like before Wednesday he was like up in the office more than ever and so this one time when he was in the breakroom getting his kajillionth soda for the day I asked him if he was still into her and he told me to get lost and mind my own business.  Jim, can you believe how rude that is?  Roy can be a real jerk, sometimes. And he’s so unsophisticated.  I mean he’s good-looking and all – ooh and you should see him now; he’s been working out and taking better care of himself – but sometimes I wondered what Pam saw in him. I thought she could do better than a warehouse guy. Don’t you think Jim?”

 

Jim couldn’t agree more but he didn’t answer Kelly because his mind was stuck on something she’d said earlier about him dating a girl named Karen. Karen was a common name but was it possible that Pam could be talking about him? Him and Karen? How would she have even heard of her? Did he bring her up during the conversation he couldn’t remember? But what would he have said? He hadn’t done anything with her at that point and it wasn’t even something he’d been considering, not until he spoke to Pam on the same night she was ranting to Kelly, and he learned the call from a few weeks back, the one that he hung his hopes on, didn’t mean to her what it meant to him.  

 

The thoughts running through his head distracted him from what Kelly said next and when he finally started listening again, she was talking about Pam’s date with Danny.

 

“So… she went on the date Saturday and now it’s Thursday and he still hasn’t called her.  She said she doesn’t care that much, she wasn’t all that into him, he’s not really her type. She was just trying to move on and was flattered he liked her or at least she thought he did. But she feels like shit now because she feels used even though all they did was kiss. She said she got the sense on the date that he was expecting her to sleep with him and when she didn’t, he quickly changed his attitude towards her. She said she knew he wasn’t calling again, he was only ever interested in getting her in the sack and that made her feel even more terrible. Then she starting going on again about how she made the biggest mistake of her life giving up the man who saw her and loved her for all that she was and all that she might be. Her words, not mine I would never say something so sappy. And she’s a bit delusional if she thinks that was Roy. But anyway, she said she was done with dating. Forever. Crazy, right Jim? I mean if I had given up on dating after one bad date, I wouldn’t be with Ryan. But anyway Jim, I think she’s interviewing because aside from the being mopey and sad which by the way she’s been pretty much for months, now she’s really freaked out about losing her job too.”

 

Jim had long since pulled over. He had at the first mention of Karen, unable to focus on the road and Kelly at the same time and trying to make sense out of everything he was hearing. Kelly had a tendency to exaggerate, get things wrong, make the story more complicated than it needed to be but in this case Jim was pretty sure she’d gotten it all right. Pam wasn’t with Danny. She wasn’t with Roy and if he was deciphering correctly, her sadness was not about her cancelled wedding, or that loser who didn’t call her back after their date. It was that she’d thought she’d missed her chance with him. Her biggest regret was turning him away when she did.

 

How he wished she were on the phone now so he could tell her. Tell her about the Scranton branch staying open and how her job was safe, but more than that, about how he still loved her, how he never stopped and how he was coming back soon. And sitting there with Kelly still rambling on about who knows what now, he started flashing back to all the photos of her and to his dream and Michael’s words. And suddenly he knew he wasn’t going back to Stamford today.

 

As the cars whizzed by on the highway and Kelly kept talking, he reached back into the glove compartment, this time to pull out a map.

 

He wanted to get back on the road but he didn’t want her to wait until he got there to take away the worry about her job. That, he could let Kelly take care of. Knowing Kelly like he did he knew telling her was the fastest way to get word back all his old friends, but mostly to Pam.

 

He cut Kelly off for a fourth or maybe fifth time, he’d lost count a long time ago and finally shut her up by delivering news that had her in silent disbelief for longer than he thought possible with Kelly. And he

was right. As soon as he told her how it was his branch that would be closing and not Scranton, after the minute of dead air she suddenly squealed with delight bringing everyone into the bullpen. Jim hung up as he heard her share the news with those who were around. The rest he knew would find out in no time, certainly before he got there, no matter how fast he drove, which was as fast as he could, praying the whole time he was driving out of the friend zone and straight back into her heart.

 

~~~

 

News spread fast in Scranton, Kelly’s announcement superseded Jan’s call to Michael by only a few minutes and it was on that call that Michael learned about Jim’s small role in saving the branch.  And if there was anyone who leaked news faster than Kelly, it was Michael who came out to proclaim Jim as a hero and put Dwight on the task of having a plaque made up for him which had Dwight sneering and claiming how if it were him in the situation, he would had been able to save both branches.

 

Of course, the documentary crew was right there to catch all of this and began capturing the excitement, the hugs and smiles and cheers of ‘hip hip hooray’ for Jim that seemed to aggravate Dwight further. Pam walked in from her lunch to another chorus of praise for Jim and quickly learned not only that her job was safe and the branch was staying open, but what Jim had done and how he and a few other Stamford people would be joining them in a few weeks, permanently.

 

One by one, they were all called into the conference room for interviews to share their personal reactions and feelings now that their jobs were safe.

 

Dwight, in his reiterated how he could have been a bigger hero but slipped in a comment about how it would be good to have some competition again.

 

“Phyllis and Stanley, ha, they’re not even on the same playing field. And Ryan, well he isn’t even playing in the league. If he had just completed my initiation tasks, I could have made a man out of him. But let’s see Jim do that.”

 

Stanley, though having remarked earlier how retirement might be nice, seemed relieved.

 

“It was nice to have those few hours when I thought it was over. I guess my daughter will be able to go to college after all. And I can go back to dreaming about Florida until the next time we get shut down.”

 

Kelly was delirious with joy and Ryan who followed her seemed nearly as delighted though he tried not to show it.

 

Even Angela smiled as she delivered her statement that yes, it was very good news and yes, she was happy but she’s not looking forward to new people to get used to. She’s barely able to tolerate the ones she worked with now.

 

Everyone else who came into the conference room for their thoughts was overjoyed, everyone except Pam.

 

Sure, she was happy she still had a job. She’d never realized how expensive living on her own would be.

 

And the news that Jim was coming back, that was of course good news too. But Pam was still under the impression that Jim had moved on and was quite serious with Karen, who she could only assume would be one of the other salespeople coming over too.

 

And if there was anything she’d learned since she’d begun dating and quickly swore it off was that she wasn’t going to be over Jim anytime soon and having him back when he was clearly over her would be slow torture, especially in knowing she was the fool who passed up her one chance at a future with the man she still loved.

Sitting in her interview, she tried to put on a brace face.

“Of course, I’m happy to have my job. I didn’t want to have to move in with my parents. And I’m really pleased to hear what Jim did for us. Everyone just loves him, now more than ever. He’s a good guy. I always knew that about him but to think he put his own position on the line to save us. And we’re all so happy he’s coming back. And I hear he’s got a new girlfriend that could be coming over too. And I’m happy for him and excited to meet her. I’m not surprised he found someone there. He’s the kind of guy any girl would want. He’s going to be a great husband to her and I think he’ll be a fantastic dad when they have kids.”

It wasn’t hard for the cameraman to see through her lackluster smile and glossy eyes that revealed a sadness despite the happy news. Sadness, that Jim was returning, but wasn’t returning to her.

It was then that the door swung open, a surprise to everyone in the room, even the doc crew who usually knew all. Standing there was Jim leaning into the doorway, rapping his fingers on the glass as he apologized for the interruption before turning back to Pam to ask,

“Are you free for dinner tonight?”

End Notes:

We all know where we go from here…or do we? It’s canon divergent so I can still alter the timeline.

I feel like for the first time in a long time I am not afraid -Ben Rector by Maxine Abbott
Author's Notes:

I feel like new sunglasses, like a brand new pair of jeans
I feel like taking chances, I feel a lot like seventeen…

I feel like a young John Cusack, like making big mistakes
I feel like for the first time in a long time I am not afraid
I feel like a kid, never thought it'd feel like this

Like when I close my eyes and don't even care if anyone sees me dancing
Like I can fly, and don't even think of touching the ground
Like a heartbeat skip, like an open page
Like a one way trip on an aeroplane
It's the way that I feel when I'm with you, brand new.

 

I know this is a different universe that ATGIG and Another First Date but it’s my universe so why not have them converge so we can visit a familiar place and face to those in the know. 

The bonus check arrived about a week after he’d been back, and just as quickly it was gone. It wasn’t quite enough but it was a big help. He paid for more of it by cashing out some savings bonds and dipping into his rainy-day fund. He financed the balance. He held onto it for about a month more before he decided he didn’t want to wait any longer.

He knew he was taking a chance but he couldn’t risk waiting either. Waiting was something the old Jim did while he overthought and overanalyzed what he knew was in the cards all along. They were destined to be together. The fates knew it, how else could he have wound up back here?

Still, they hadn’t even told anyone in the office they were dating yet, their reasons for keeping it yet undisclosed many.

Nonetheless, Jim suspected many of them knew. Kevin was always smiling and nodding at them when they were together in that knowing way of his. Phyllis was always bringing up romantic restaurants she’d been to with Bob Vance, and if he had to describe her voice with a bodily quality he’d say she was winking her words. Even Kelly who was pretty wrapped up in her relationship with Ryan, had remarked to him after he’d returned that she was glad to see the smile back on Pam’s face and she knew it was because of him. Of course, she might have been referring to his small role in saving their branch and their jobs, but he felt like there may have been something more to her comment. Maybe she’d finally pieced together everything Pam had said in her weepy confession at the bar and later that week. That it hadn’t been about Danny or Roy, and her current joyfulness since Jim had returned could only mean one thing. Pam hadn’t missed her chance with the man she truly loved.

Stanley was still oblivious, but then again, he was oblivious to everything. It took him two weeks to notice the four new employees in the office even though one of them currently sat right next to him.

But if the office knew about them, they didn’t come outright and say they did, which was nice for a bit. It was so much healthier that the early days of their new romance was free from commentary and influence from their officemates which now included Andy, the lone Stamford transplant who actually made it past the first three weeks in their circus of an office. Karen, who given the choice, decided not to come when Jim gently revealed to her everything about Pam and what he felt for her, and after the magical first date, what he knew she felt for him too.

The documentary crew were well aware of their status, especially since Matthew was now so much more than a cameraman.  He was one of Jim’s closest friends and had even joined him and Pam on a double date when he reunited with the crush he himself had left behind when he’d been sent to Stamford.  But the crew kept it quiet even while they doubled up on the time they spent filming the new couple.

Nice as it was to have the privacy, Jim didn’t want to wait any longer to share the news. But more importantly he didn’t want to wait any longer to make his dream come true. Not the crazy one with Michael or the one with the two Jims but the one he’d had the night after his first real date with Pam. The one where she said I do instead of I can’t and said it to him.

As sure as he was, they were meant to be forever, he was nervous that his timeline to start forever might seem a bit rushed to her. Sometime after he moved home, on a date where Pam enjoyed a second, second drink, Chili’s wasn’t the only game in town that served large fruity cocktails on their happy hour menu, he began to tease her when she began slurring words and giggling at his every word. Naturally, she gave it right back to him, sharing in detail every ridiculous bit of his own drunken discourse the night she called while he was blitzed on Jägermeister. When she finished her mocking of him, she went on to describe everything his missed the night of Diwali, every outrageous incident that happened that night and finally it made sense to Jim why he thought he’d dreamed about Michael proposing to his realtor girlfriend and then kissing the girl he had always wanted to be his.

Still, Pam’s ridicule of Michael’s hasty and impulsive action worried Jim. Would she feel Jim was also rushing things, like Carol become freaked out about him asking so soon and slowing begin to pull away as Carol seemed to do in the weeks following his impromptu proposal. When a few weeks into Jim’s return, Carol officially called off their romance permanently, no one was surprised, not even Jim who hadn’t even been there to witness the first phase of the nose dive into relationship doom.

In a way it was what had Jim concerned that his could follow the same destructive flight path if he acted as impetuously as the boss who was once again his fearless leader. It was the fearlessness he wanted to emulate, admiring how Michael went with his gut, no matter what the situation.

In the end though, he knew he wasn’t Michael and that may have been a good thing. And Pam wasn’t at all like Carol and their history was more than that of a realtor and client who had a few casual dates.

Still, he would make sure to ask in private, well at least not in front of a packed gymnasium during the most important Hindu holiday. Hopefully if she wasn’t ready just yet, it wouldn’t be so awkward and unusual that it would send her running.

Of course, the pain of her previous rejection still was a thought, a residue that he couldn’t completely wash away like the stain that still remained on the shirt he wore to his meeting with David, the slightest touch of yellow tinged the sleeve’s edge, barely noticeable to anyone else but if he looked closely enough, he could still see it.

But just as prominent in his memory was the smile that lit up her face when he showed up in the doorway that same afternoon and resurfaced when he came to pick her up for a true first date that evening.

Over the days that followed that first date, he’d learned she’d come to regret her actions from the fateful night of the casino event and wished she had it to do over. He hadn’t misread her kiss, he just reacted too soon. She just needed a little more time to process, to come to terms with what she had been feeling for longer than she could admit at the time.

Hearing from Jim that his abrupt departure and radio silence in the months that followed were not meant to hurt her, but rather were intended to free her from any guilt that she had not been able to reciprocate his feelings for her, in some ways made her more upset with herself that she too had kept silent for so long after he left.

By the time she came to help him pack up his things in Stamford so Jim could leave that part of his life behind him and move home, they’d made a promise to always talk things out, even if they got scared, even if things were confusing and hard to process.  

Though they’d only been dating a few months, they’d discovered what they really felt in the months they’d been apart. That they’d been together for years, both of them deep down knowing that what was building between them was so much more than friendship, it was a love so strong that like the stain on his shirt, nothing could wash it away either.

Tonight, he wore a different shirt to Christopher’s, the same place they went that first night. Beth, the sweet and tolerant waitress who never once rushed them the night they spent hours at the table, barely nibbling on the meals they finally had wrapped up to eat at home, was their server once again. And though they were just another couple at a restaurant he was sure was site to many proposals, on this night she seemed downright giddy when he asked her to be at the ready with champagne.

They ordered a little quicker this night but it was no less romantic than the first visit. The flowers on the table complimented her beautiful green eyes, the shimmering lake view made the perfect backdrop and the brilliant smile that once again bloomed on her face as he dropped down to his knee assured him that his future didn’t just look good, it looked absolutely perfect.

End Notes:

Hope you enjoyed how it all wrapped up. Thanks to all the readers who have come along for my first fix-it fic. Another big thanks to a great beta - Darjeeling and Coke. This one couldn't have been posted had it not been for his help!

And thanks to everyone who has made this community so much fun to be a part of...see you next time. 

This story archived at http://mtt.just-once.net/fanfiction/viewstory.php?sid=6070