The stranger at reception is clearly straddling the line between good salesman and conman. He’s charismatic and smooth and it’s no surprise to Pam that Michael is hanging onto his every word.
A simple glance at the back of Jim’s neck tells her that he too is hanging onto every word – with a completely ulterior motive to their fearless leader – he’s primed and ready to step in and save their boss should he unwittingly sign his life away.
“Really?” Michael exclaims brightly. “A seminar?”
Pam senses more than sees Jim’s ears prick up further still and she stifles an eyeroll at Michael’s unparalleled enthusiasm.
“How about right now?” he beams, all but pulling his cheque book from his pocket.
She thought that too quickly. There it is.
Jim’s chair rolls back sharply as he spins around. “Michael,” he murmurs gently. “Are you sure this is the best idea?”
Thankfully, their uninvited guest waves away the offer of payment. “The seminar is complimentary,” and this is a scam if Pam’s ever heard of one. Michael has apparently not.
Michael brushes Jim off with a dismissive wave. “What’s to lose, Jimbo?” he grins.
Jim throws up his hands in easy defeat, it’s not worth the argument and the blow to Michael’s feelings. There’s an unspoken knowledge that someone – let’s face it, it will probably come down to her – will be able to talk him down before money changes hands.
Pam doesn’t miss how Jim’s careful to avoid her eyes as he faces down Michael. It still stings. It always stings. Things just aren’t the same since his return from Stamford. It hits her how much she misses him in the simple moments like this.
He’s back, but he’s not back. She only gets carefully wooden glances, with the blinds drawn down over his true emotions.
It’s not the time to dwell.
Michael is ushering the salesman/definite conman into the conference room. “Conference room, five minutes,” he trills.
She groans, head in her hands. She’s not in the mood for this today. There’s too much Jim in her head and not enough in her reality. She rises her face to find Jim’s gaze snap away from her. He still watches, he’s just careful to avoid eye contact… and conversation… and acknowledging that she still exists… and that the faint indentation on her left ring finger is rapidly fading and they still haven’t talked about it…
She stares at the back of his neck for a moment and tries not to memorise the soft hairs that float down the nape of it. She knows she’s fighting a losing battle. There’s already an exact representation of it locked away in her mind. It’s all that comes out when she sits down to sketch of an evening.
She looks away and tries to play it off as daydreaming when she feels Karen’s eyes sharp and judging on hers. She wills herself not to flush with the awkwardness of it all – being caught red-handed and green-eyed. Once again.
Michael materialises in the conference room doorway, grinning widely. “In, in. Come on in, everybody,” he waves his hands wildly as he speaks. “We’re in for a treat.”
Pam less than willingly makes her way over to the conference room. She carefully selects a seat to the side, closest to the door, to answer the phone if need be she tells herself when in reality it’s just so she has a means of escape.
Jim strides past her without so much as a backwards glance and plants himself on the opposite side of the room – still in the front row, with easy vantage to the doorway, because he’s no rookie. Karen settles in behind him and Pam wonders if she knows the back of his neck as well as Pam does. Is the raised ridge at the top of Jim’s spine the last thing Karen sees when she closes her eyes at night?
The rest of the office file in, seating themselves in roughly the same places they always seat themselves. Toby slides in last and drops into the chair next to Pam. She offers him a soft smile in greeting, in contrast to the way Michael’s brow scrunches as he glares at Toby which neither of them miss.
Michael beams at his audience. “This is Craig. He’s going to tell us about a wonderful opportunity. He says it’s out of this world.”
“Thank you, Mike,” the salesman – Craig apparently – offers Michael a generous smile. “Hello everyone, I’m Pastor Craig.”
Beside her, she feels the gentle brush of wind as Toby slowly shakes his head. “Michael,” he interjects softly, his tone ripe with frustration. “You can’t talk about religion in the office.”
“Get out,” Michael hisses and Toby tucks his tail between his legs and leaves, with one last pleading look at Pam to reign Michael in. She knows when to pick her battles with Michael. She’ll step in before he signs his life away.
“It’s fine. He’s definitely going to hell anyway,” Michael prompts Craig to continue. She doesn’t miss the baffled look the pastor gives Michael with that statement, but he clear his throat and continues on as if uninterrupted –
“What’s your name miss?” he offers Kelly a wide smile that Pam can only describe as sly. Kelly on the other hand seems to interpret it as charming.
“Kelly,” she chirps, eyes flashing to everyone in the room, ensuring that they see that she is the one who has been singled out by this handsome stranger.
“Well, Kelly, I love you.”
Kelly smiles widely. “I love you too.” Beside her, Ryan rolls his eyes.
“I love all of you, all right? And I don’t care what you’ve done. God hates the sin, but he loves the sinner.”
Kelly’s smile fades and is quickly replaced by a pout, at the all inclusive turn Pastor Craig’s speech has taken. If this were a year ago, Pam’s eyes would be locked on Jim’s and they’d be sharing a grin over the shared understanding that is Kelly thriving as the centre of attention.
But it’s now. Pam stares at her hands instead and wills the meeting to come to a quick close.
She zones out for a moment or two, lost in thoughts of years past and the joy these inane conference room meetings used to bring. When she tunes back in Pastor Craig is telling them to blow out their sin and Michael is giggling because that’s what she said.
“Hallelujah. So, keep breathing, blow out those sins and forgive yourself.”
Meredith raises her hand. “What if you’ve got no sins to forgive?” Pam bites the inside of her lip and has to consciously tell herself not to meet Jim’s eyes. She glances at Ryan, because sometimes he kind of seems to get it, but his head is tipped back and he’s staring at the ceiling with wide incredulous eyes.
Angela turns on Meredith with a snort. “Please.”
“If anyone hasn’t sinned here, it’s probably Pam,” Kevin assesses carefully.
She feels the eyes in the room turn on her, all pairs apart from the ones she really wants to look into.
“Actually, we Christians believe that all people are sinners. It’s, uh, kind of our whole thing,” Craig, the voice of reason adds.
Angela is clearly struggling with Kevin’s statement. She dismisses Craig and turns on Kevin. “Grow up Kevin. Pam called off her wedding. She probably had an affair,” she snorts.
Michael has a brief and completely unwelcome moment of clarity. “Shut up, Angela. If Pam was going to have an affair she’d have it with Jim.” The gears click over in his head. “Oh my god, you guys totally had an affair! That’s why Pam called off the wedding! But why did you leave?” he turns on Jim.
“We did not have an affair,” Jim groans at Michael, as Pam carefully states –
“It wasn’t an affair.”
Michael fixates. “It. It? So it was something?”
Pam tries to tamp down the panic she feels rising.
“It’s none of your business,” Jim snorts.
She mentally slaps herself, because that’s just more confirmation as far as Michael is concerned.
He’s standing now, his face mirroring a sideshow clown, mouth wide, swinging from Pam to Jim. “Did you do it in the office?”
“Oh for Pete’s sake, it was just a kiss,” Karen shrugs. It seems she thinks she’s putting a stop to it.
The entire room erupts.
Kelly screeches, clasping at her face, eyes bulging.
“I knew it,” Angela hisses.
Phyllis winks at her.
All the other reactions are lost to the chaos.
Pastor Craig seizes an opportunity. “We all make mistakes. We all have lust in our hearts.”
“It wasn’t lust,” Pam whispers, loudly enough for those at the front of the room to catch.
At the same time Jim murmurs, “I wouldn’t say lust.”
“Well, I’m sorry. I don’t know you guys that well. Maybe you’re in love then.”
Pam freezes. She can’t look Jim in the eye. She can’t look anyone in the eye for that matter.
“Not love,” Jim grounds out.
“Not in love,” she mirrors him and tastes the lie in her words.
“So you say, but Lord, I’m sensing something going on right here. Y’all feel that?” the pastor waves his hand between Pam, who sinks into her chair and begs it to swallow her whole and Jim, who is burning a hole through the wall with the intensity of his stare. His attempts to avoid looking at her altogether whilst this mess is unfolding don’t slip by her.
“Ooh yeah,” Michael swings his eyes between them with a wide smile.
Karen shakes her head. “Great,” she snarks.
Jim frantically gestures at Karen, swinging his arms around. “No. Uh, actually, we’re… we’re dating so…”
“Oh uh. Okay.” Craig isn’t convinced.
Kevin looks between Pam and Jim. “So, what is it guys? It is love or lust?”
“Love, it was definitely love,” Michael levels Jim with a less than subtle wink.
“All right guys, enough is enough,” Jim finds himself completely ignored by his colleagues.
Michael hangs his head, “it doesn’t matter. Even if they were soul mates. Jim moved to Stamford.”
Michael’s pained expression is a fairly accurate likeness as to how Pam feels about that whole thing too.
“Look, Pam is not my soulmate okay.”
Pam actually thinks he’s wrong on that count. And damn it hurts to hear him publicly declare it to their co-workers.
“Yes, fine. When I first started working here years ago… I … I had a little crush on Pam. There I said it, okay. Are you happy?”
Pam swallows down her heart. So, this is how he wants to play it. “Exactly. And at one point I had a crush on Jim, and that’s all in the past.” She can add lying to her list of sins. It’s very much the present, although crush is an understatement.
“Exactly,” Jim does a double take and his eyes are on her now. “Wait, what did you… when did you… did, what, you yeah no. Never mind. Doesn’t matter, doesn’t matter because if even if we, because it with the timing and everything. It’s yeah, so, you get it, so stop.”
The room stands still for a moment.
“He didn’t know,” Kelly breathes.
Kevin gasps, hands clasping his cheeks as he exclaims, “do you still love each other?”
“What?” Jim exhales.
Pam nods, then seems to notice what she’s done and back peddles. “We've moved on,” she has a hard time keeping the regret from her tone. By we, she means Jim, obviously.
Jim, who didn’t miss her nod and is looking at her a little like she hangs the moon.
He fumbles with his words as he stares at her. “Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Uh-huh. And, you know, and anyway, it, it, it doesn't matter, bec-, we've, we've all, you know, and, and, and besides, you know, I've, I'm with, I've got, I'm with, umm...”
“Karen,” Karen supplies sharply.
“I'm with Karen. Yeah, no, I, I, I know your name, obviously.”
“Guys, this is amazing,” Kelly’s tone rings with glee.
“Yeah, I'm generally a cynic, but this? Wow,” Creed adds his two cents.
“She didn't know that he didn't know, and now he knows that she knows...” Kelly murmurs, her voice rich with wonder.
“We fucking get it, Kelly,” Karen rasps.
Somewhere in the reveal, Pastor Craig has decided it’s all a bit too much. The potential payoff comes with far too much drama and he’s in over his head. He nods cordially at Michael, offers Pam a slightly apologetic smile and slips out the door.
If she could laugh in this moment, she’d laugh a little that it’s her crazy instead of Michael’s that has somehow driven a guest from the office.
The steam rising from Karen’s ears is surprisingly enough to prompt Michael to end the mayhem. “Great meeting team, lots of breakthroughs,” he grins through clenched teeth. “Back to work.” He claps his hands and ushers them from the room.
The office is buzzing with this new knowledge.
Pam shrinks under the weight of it all. She hunches her shoulders and huddles over her desk and wills herself to disappear. The pitying looks in the aftermath of her not-wedding have barely subsided and now there’s this.
Kelly, in particular, seems buoyed by this new information. She’s embracing it with unbridled passion, which means she floats from the annex to the breakroom window and beams at Pam roughly every forty-five seconds.
Kelly isn’t the only one though... Pam has spent the past twenty minutes very seriously considering quitting her job and leaving instantly.
Michael has been acting in a decidedly Michael like fashion. Whenever she forgets herself and glances towards his office, he holds up a piece of paper with ‘Team Pam’ scrawled in big block letters and grins widely at her. She pretends not see when he bellows. “Jim, Jimboooo,” and flashes the makeshift sign at him also.
She’s oddly touched by his gesture. It’s nice to see someone still has a little faith in her these days.
She can’t bring herself to so much as glance at Karen. She can feel her growing surlier by the moment from across the room. The warmth of her wrath radiates over to Pam and causes her to shrivel at her desk and beg it to swallow her whole.
Her head is burrowed in her ‘work’. She senses more than sees Kevin approach Jim’s desk and offer to draft a pros and cons list for him - to help him pick between Karen and herself.
Dwight chimes in with a scoff. “Not necessary. Pam is the superior mate.”
Her heart softens for a moment, because despite it all, sometimes Dwight’s not so bad. Then he adds, “she has wider hips, making her better suited for birthing,” and she retracts the aforementioned thought.
Michael materializes at her desk and she continues to stare unconvincingly at the blank computer screen.
“Pam, sometimes the best way to stop people from annoying you is to go along with the joke,” Michael wisely advises. Pam bites back a scoff at the irony considering Michael is topping the list as one of those annoying people (despite just how well intentioned he may be).
Against her better judgement, she finds herself taking Michael’s advice.
She should always know better than to take Michael’s advice. This isn’t amateur hour. The rational part of her brain apparently upped and left with Pastor Craig to escape the mayhem.
She starts off with sarcasm dripping from her tone, “oh yeah, I can’t help myself being around all that.” She gestures vaguely in Jim’s direction. “I can barely control myself,” her eyeroll game is strong. “I just want to kiss him again,” and dammit her voice breaks on the k in kiss and her false bravado is gone and his eyes are on her and it takes everything she has not to dissolve into tears.
Somewhere in the midst of her embarrassing monologue, Michael’s gaze has shifted from teasing to pure sympathy and it sends her spiralling further still. She catches Kelly’s head bobbing in the break room again in her peripherally, her eyes wide with pity and she loses the last semblance of self-control.
Her only saving grace is that Karen at least has taken a bathroom break and isn’t around to witness her descent into full blown emotional wreck.
“I’m going to take an early lunch,” she manages to murmur and curses the way her voice breaks and betrays her further still.
She reaches for her coat with trembling hands, finally gasping a breath as the door latches behind her.
She’s waiting for the elevator, staring intently at the little floor lights and willing it to move faster, when he reaches her. “Weird day,” he offers after a few beats of silence.
She hums a response, unable to drag her eyes from the flickering lights.
She can feel him looking at her now. She’s not sure what to do with it.
The elevator arrives on their floor. She watches the doors glide open. She steps inside. He lingers in the hallway. She punches the button for the ground floor.
Her eyes dart to his as the doors slip shut once again. He’s watched her carefully and there’s something that almost looks like hope under all the resignation. It makes her brave.
“Have,” she murmurs in the second before the doors latch and the elevator lurches downwards. “Have, not had,” she repeats to her warped reflection on the metal doors as she descends.
She’s still staring at herself and wishing away the tired lines shadowing her eyes when the elevator dings to alert her she’s reached her destination. The doors slowly begin to slip open as she makes no attempt to move, continuing to stare vacantly at the space revealed between them.
Somehow he’s there.
Her heart catches.
“Stairs,” he grunts, answering the question she hadn’t asked.
Her mouth parts in an oh, but no sound comes out.
“I, umm. Have?” He hedges.
“Have,” she asserts a little more firmly.
She sees him lose whatever internal battle his mind is waging and his face breaks into a grin.
She makes no move to step out of the elevator so he climbs in.
He rubs the back of his neck, a nervous habit that harks of the old Jim, her Jim. “Have what, Pam?” he murmurs as he slips into her space.
He seems taller than she remembers as he stands beside her in this tiny metal box.
He stands several inches away from her, not touching and yet the delicate hairs on her arms stand on end. She can feel the heat that radiates from him, the innate Jim-ness that lends its warmth to the room. She’s so aware of him it hurts. Her body can’t control her response to him, it’s automatic. He hasn’t paid her any attention for so long, that when he does, in a few mere words he manages to unsteady her. She shivers under the phantom of his touch.
She bites her lip as she struggles with what to say. Finally she manages to whisper, “have a crush,” but it comes out wrong because it’s more than that, so much more than that. “On you,” she adds dumbly, biting down on the inside of her lip.
Jim stares down at her, his eyes darkening as they trace the movement of her mouth as she winces when her teeth meet her flesh.
She clears her throat. “I love you,” spills from her lips. “I know I’m too late. I know you’re with Karen, but I just needed you to hear it once.”
Her moment of courage finally propels her to put one foot in front of the other. She can’t stick around to hear his I can’t and his I’m going to stay with Karen. She’s not as brave as he was.
She plunges from the elevator and out the door.
He catches her in the car park because of course he does. This is her casino night it seems and don’t all their pivotal moments happen on this stupid piece of asphalt?
His hand clasps her wrist, the warm sparks tethering her to him. She stills her escape.
“Have,” he declares, “me too,” before leaning forward and suddenly her fingers are weaving through his hair and his lips are dancing with hers, heavy and demanding.
A loud whoop fills the air and she reluctantly breaks the kiss to glare at Michael, who waves at them from the conference room window. He presses his Team Pam sign to the window. It’s upside down, but he doesn’t seem to notice.
Dwight quickly appears beside Michael and even with the storeys between them, Pam catches the upward quirk of his lips before he quickly schools his features.
The remainder of their colleagues materialize. It’s very obvious that they’re standing up from ducking below the window where they’ve been watching and not walking into the room... Typical.
Michael’s smile shifts to a tight grimace as Karen works her way to his side to stonily stare down at them.
Pam winces under her glare. She unwinds her fingers from Jim’s hair and tries to step from the enclave of his body. His fingers tighten in their resting place on the back of her neck. Each fingertip branding her skin with wild flickers of awareness.
She stills her retreat, but chokes out her name. “Karen?” It tastes like battery acid, burning her lips and her cheeks as it drops from her mouth.
Jim frowns. He shakes his head. “You,” he manages. “It’s always been you, Pam.”
She smiles softly in spite of herself - she hasn’t felt much like his first choice lately.
It’s then Pam realizes that Jim’s still staring at her lips... Her smile stretches into a genuine grin. “That’s sweet,” she murmurs, her fingers rising to trace his lips. He leans back in, she presses her fingers more firmly against his face. “But, Karen is watching us.” He jerks unsteadily back and follows the line of her eyes.
“Oh,” he manages.
“I’m surprised you couldn’t feel the hole that her wrath is burning into the back of your neck,” it’s almost a quip and it brings a gentle upward turn to his lips. He cringes as he meets Karen’s withering gaze.
“I haven’t been very fair to her,” he hangs his head and loosens his grip on Pam. “Or you,” he adds, wish a bashful glance back to her.
“Neither have I,” she concedes. “To you,” she adds. “I’ve been pretty nice to Karen all things considered.”
After a pause, she sighs. “I shouldn’t have been with Roy for so long. It was stupid.”
“I shouldn’t have been with Karen at all,” he parrots, but there’s no jest, only truth. “It was stupid.”
She can’t help but smile. “I want to kiss you again, but the audience is a bit much.”
He chuckles ever so slightly and takes one of her small hands between both of his. “Pam,” he murmurs solemnly. “Are you free for dinner tonight?”
“Absolutely,” she beams. “It’s a date,” she adds.
His face does this funny thing where he smiles so widely that his eyes well with tears. The tips of his ears flush pink. He’s never looked so beautiful. “Great,” he finally manages to articulate and his voice swills with emotion. He sounds like he did on casino night when he said you have no idea how long I’ve been waiting to do that.
He clears his throat. “Is 7pm, okay? There’s something I need to clear up first.” She knows that he really means someone.
“7pm is perfect.” He’s still clasping her hand in his and she tightens her grip and tugs him back into the building.
She taps the elevator button and the doors open immediately. Neither of them move to step inside - the foyer affords them something the parking lot had not, no prying eyes.
Pam leans forward and finds the distance closes quicker than she anticipated. She’s barely inclined her head when Jim’s lips find hers once again.
She doesn’t realize they’ve moved until her back is pressed against the panel of the elevator and they’ve selected every floor. “Maybe a little bit of lust too,” she winks when they finally draw back for air.
“Beesly,” he admonishes, his eyes bright.
Although, when he arrives to pick her up for their date that evening and she entices him inside for the “tour” that ultimately means they miss their reservation... he concedes that perhaps a little lust is also at play. “Lord, I’m sensing something going on right here,” Pam giggles as she waves her hand over Jim’s groin. They’re tangled on the floor, beside her sofa and it’s funny because she’s never quite known what it feels like to have her life fall into place, but now she does.
She doesn’t say it, because it feels too soon, but if - when - they get married, she’s going to track down the smooth talking conman that Michael invited into their conference room - and their lives – today and have him officiate the wedding.