He’s tired again. She can tell by the way his head dips a little lower, baring more of the back of his neck than usual. Every now and then he straightens up, but it only lasts about thirty seconds or so before his head begins another lethargic descent. His breathing is slow and deep. She can’t hear it, but she can see the slight rise and fall of his shoulders.
She wonders why he’s so tired. Is he still catching up on sleep from the nights of long talks? Or did they have another talk last night? They probably did after the way she’d bungled that conversation with Karen. What was wrong with her? It’s like her psyche is purposefully sabotaging her, making her fumble over lies and reveal the truths that she wants to keep hidden. She hates her psyche. Stupid psyche.
His head pops up again and she watches it slowly descend. She imagines his eyes fluttering halfway closed.
Maybe they did talk last night. Maybe she asked him if it really was “just a kiss.” Maybe she said, “I talked to Pam. I didn’t get the impression that it was ‘just a kiss.’”
How would he respond? How much damage control would he have to do? Because he couldn’t have told her the truth. How could he have told her the complete truth about the kiss and manage to leave her with the impression that it was “just” anything? It wasn’t possible for her to call it “just a kiss.” She hoped it wasn’t possible for him. “Just” belonged nowhere near that night. That kiss.
She’s trying to get answers from the back of Jim’s neck, but she’s finding that she and the back of Jim’s neck have communication problems. Much like she does with Jim himself.
Then she feels it again, that uneasy feeling, and she knows that Karen is watching her. She immediately turns her attention to her computer and pretends to type something. She just ends up typing the word, “just” a few dozen times. Karen has been watching her a lot today. She’s probably concerned that Pam will leap over her desk and throw herself at Jim.
She imagines actually doing it—just going right over to his desk, wrapping a fist around his tie and yanking his lips up to hers. Karen would shoot up out of her chair and ask what the hell she was doing. Pam would just slide innocently back to her desk and reply, “What? It was just a kiss.” That does get a little smile, but it quickly disappears.
Pam hadn't meant to leave seeds of doubt in her mind. Karen wasn’t just trying to clear the air with Pam yesterday in the break room; she was staking her claim and Pam had messed that up by throwing in her own bid. It was a complete accident. She had meant to assure Karen that she never had feelings for Jim. She had meant to tell her that it was nothing, that it was just a kiss, after all. She had meant to lie. Stupid psyche.
She botched the whole thing up and now Karen was watching her, probably for any sign of lingering affection. Pam supposes that spending hours staring at the back of a person’s neck might qualify as a sign of affection.
And then Karen is standing and walking into the break room. Pam feels herself stand. She feels herself following Karen. She hears herself say, “Hi,” and she sees her hands fill a teapot with water and put it on the stove. Not her teapot, not the one Jim gave her, the one that she thinks of fondly as “Jimpot” (even though she would be mortified if anyone knew that). She felt stupid using that teapot at work. Jimpot is safe at home, hiding where she can use it in private and think thoughts that make her happy and sad at the same time.
She feels herself grab a mug from the cabinet and put a teabag inside. The whole time she sees and feels and hears herself doing these things, her mind is screaming, “MAYDAY! Get out of there! Out! I know you’re going to try to fix what happened yesterday, but trust me—you are GOING to screw this up!”
Karen is stirring cream into her coffee when Pam finally speaks.
“Hey, I just felt like we left things really weird yesterday, and I was just like,” she rolls her eyes and sort of sticks out her tongue. “Ech! You know? Out of it. I was really distracted. I have this art show coming up and I’m just always sort of… you know… I think it might have come off like I’m ‘chasing after Jim’ or something.”
Pam ends her rambling with a laugh, but it sounds more like a sigh. Scoffing would be a better word. She’s scoffing at the very idea of chasing after Jim, like he isn’t the thing occupying her thoughts every second of the day.
“Oh, no. Totally, I understand. It’s fine. You were… clear,” Karen says. When she says ‘clear,’ she says it emphatically, like saying it forcefully will make it true. She’s smiling, but it’s not a real smile. It’s like she wants them both to agree on this so they can move past it, whether or not it’s true.
“Yeah, I just wanted to make sure that you knew exactly what I meant to say. It was just a crush that he had.”
Pam is sure that she says he and not we or I. Yesterday Karen asked her if she still had feelings for him and that implied that she had a crush like Jim did. Which of course she did, but there was no way that Karen was going to know that.
“Right. Yeah, he told me.” There it is again. The smile. Pam knows that she should just stop now, but she can’t stop her mouth and all of a sudden it’s open again.
“Right. And the kiss was… it was just a kiss. I don’t want you to feel like weird about me. Like…” Pam’s voice trails off. Like what? Like I’m competition? Like I tried to flirt with him just yesterday morning about SLEEP? Well, with flirting like that, you have nothing to worry about. Pathetic.
“Yeah,” Karen says to fill the pause. “Well, from what I understand it was sort of one-sided, so I promise you—no hard feelings.”
Pam winces a little at this. It wasn’t one-sided. Not at all.
“I mean, I know that you weren’t exactly all there at the time, so…” Karen continues. She’s smiling kindly, like she’s accepting an apology.
Pam frowns. Karen thinks she wasn’t “all there”? What does that even mean? Is she calling me stupid? No! Of course not. Karen wouldn’t do that.
“What?” Pam asks dumbly.
Karen leans forward like she’s about to tell Pam a secret and Pam finds herself leaning in as well.
“Well, Jim told me that you had had a lot to drink that night. So it’s totally understandable. If I had to try to go back and explain why I did some of the things I did when I was drunk… You know?” She smiling more now, but it’s more authentic, like she’s trying to make Pam feel better.
“Oh, um… I… guess I had a couple of glasses of champagne, but…” Pam stutters. All she can think about is when she tried to use the drunk excuse on Jim and he didn’t buy it. They had definitely established that alcohol was not a factor that night.
“Champagne, huh? Wow, you were really living it up in that Chili’s.” Karen’s eyebrows are raised and she looks amused. Pam’s frown deepens. Did I step into a different conversation?
“Chili’s?” Pam says it like a question. There is a pleading tone in her voice. Please tell me what we’re talking about because I’m lost.
“Yeah. I heard that you got prrrretty excited about the ‘whitest sneakers’ award, which I think is totally true, by the way. Props for excellent sneaker care,” Karen says happily. Now the smile is full-blown and it hits Pam all of a sudden.
He didn’t tell her about Casino Night. He didn’t tell her about that kiss. He told her about the other kiss, the first one. The one where Pam was drunk from second drinks and happy and Roy-less and she just… went for it. That was the kiss he chose to tell her about?
“Yeah,” Pam hears herself say numbly. “That was… embarrassing. I got totally drunk and just…” Just did what I’d been wanting to do for four years.
Karen is still smiling. “Yeah, so it’s obviously not a big deal at all. You were drunk and he said that you never even talked about it afterwards.” Karen pauses, as if reconsidering this detail. “I hope this isn’t awkward. You know, because you and Jim never really talked about it and now I’m like, interrogating you about it. I don’t mean it like that.”
She realizes that Karen is staring at her, waiting for a response. Her head is flooded with thoughts, but she can’t say any of those. What did Karen ask? Awkward… right.
“No, awkward is not the word I would use… At all. This is fine. Good. I’m glad we cleared this up. So…” Pam clears her throat, which suddenly feels tight. “So um, good.”
The teakettle starts to sing and Pam has never been happier about boiling water in her life. She gestures at the kettle, which is behind Karen.
“Oh, sure! Sorry,” Karen says. She shifts away and toward the door. “I’ll just…” she trails off and gestures at the door. They smile at each other like they just had a nice chat about the weather and Karen walks out of the room.
Pam busies herself with the kettle, burying the teabag in water and watching it bleed everywhere.
He told her about the kiss at the Dundies.
Well, that kiss was nothing…
Their first kiss. She remembered it, of course. She wasn’t sure if Jim knew that. He probably assumed she did, but if she’d told him she didn’t he wouldn’t have pushed it. She was drunk, and for once all of the denial holding her back floated away in a lovely haze of half-melted El Nino Margaritas. And he was so much fun and so funny and so… Jim. It felt good to just throw her arms around him and do it.
But neither of them thought that it was serious. At least, she was pretty sure that he didn’t. It wasn’t a declaration of love. Maybe it was a declaration of… crush? Did those exist? It didn’t really matter. The question that was most pressing at the moment was why did he tell her about that kiss and not the other kiss?
There was no reason to tell her about any kisses if he was going to leave out the one that really mattered. Maybe he felt guilty. He probably felt the need to come clean about kissing her, but… But what?
And then Pam feels the tiniest jump of something hot and light in her chest. She doesn’t dare give it a name, but her psyche tells her that it’s hope (damn psyche). She imagines that he wanted to say their second kiss, their real kiss, was “just” a kiss, but he couldn’t. She imagines that he couldn’t say there was anything just about that kiss. That he could have lied, but it was like… something wouldn’t let him lie like that, wouldn’t let him do such an injustice to such an honest moment. Their only truly honest moment.
She knows it doesn’t change anything. Jim is still with Karen and Pam is still stuck trying to foster a relationship with the back of Jim’s neck. But at this moment it hurts just a little less. He knows that kiss was everything. It was like his psyche sabotaged him. He couldn’t take away from that moment they shared.
She rethinks her position on psyches.
Psyches kind of rock.
When she goes back to her desk, tea in hand, and ignores the strange sensation that tells her Karen is watching her again. She stares boldly at the back of Jim’s neck and decides that maybe her psyche is sabotaging her for a reason.
The next day she brings Jimpot back to work. Baby steps.