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Pam wondered how many times you could mull something over and still call it a second thought? Surely there had to be a term for when you rethought something so persistently that second thought was more accurately seventy-fourth thought? 

She considered coining a word and really making her mark on the world, but the more she thought it over, overthinking was about all that stuck and that was already a thing. In fact, overthinking was an art form that she was beginning to perfect.

 

It started the same way every time. She replayed the conversation with Michael over and over in her mind. His kindness struck her on each replay and it seemed that he knew more than he knew. 

Her next step was to re-evaluate her decision to put in for the Stamford position. That thought inevitably was followed by what could only be described as regret. 

After the regret, which was often the lengthiest part of the process, she was back to steady determination. Oscar was right, had become her mantra, she needed more courage and more honesty. Still, she was swimming in circles with these thought processes.

Yes, this could be a disaster. But what wouldn’t be a disaster would be how she handled herself as she weathered the storm. 

 

The overthinking had been happening more and more frequently after the events of this morning. 

Jan had called reception to let her know that she had received her application and discussed it was Josh, the manager of the Stamford branch and could she start Monday? 

“Yes,” she managed to whisper meekly, before clearing her throat with her newfound steely determination and practically screaming a second, “yeeeeees,” down the phone line. 

This was proving to be another interaction that she was now Pam-patently-overthinking and second-thought-ing. 

Well, she couldn’t fix screeching at her boss’s boss, but she could do a little something to soothe her other thoughts. 

 

She went with the practical first. A quick moment in the staff directory had poor, injured Valerie’s number in front of her. She chewed her lip. She hoped Valerie was doing okay. She also hoped this wasn’t too upfront, but it seemed like her best bet.

She dialled the number and waited for the muffled click as she connected. “Hello?” Valerie murmured.

“Oh hi, Valerie. It’s Pam, from Scranton,” she was all sweetness.

Relief flushed through her at Valerie’s warm reply. “Hello Pam. It’s nice of you to call.”

“I wanted to see how you were doing?” Pam questioned gently. “I was sorry to hear that you were unwell.”

“Bless your kind, little heart, Pam,” Valerie gushed and Pam was grateful that the couple of other interactions that they’d had, had been in the same vein. “I’m doing okay. This broken hip is a real pain – literally. To be honest, I’m mostly worried about Socks. My terribly irresponsible granddaughter,” she huffed, “is apparently feeding him and I’m just really not sure it’s happening. I’d love to get home and check on him, but oh, you can’t do anything about that Pam dear. I’m sorry for rambling at you.”

“Actually,” Pam reached into her honesty and courage. “Maybe I can?”

“Whatever do you mean? You’re all the way in Scranton sweet girl.”

“I’ve offered to fill in for you,” Pam shrugged, a gesture definitely missed by Valerie.

“Oh that’s lovely,” Valerie’s tone was all sincerity. “Missing that tall drink of water from Scranton are you?”

“You could say that,” Pam blushed fiercely. Valerie had no idea how close to the truth she was.

“Well, you must stay at my house. It’s win-win. You can look after my Socks. Oh, I’d feel far more comfortable with him in your capable hands.”

“No, no. That’s too much,” Pam insisted weakly. Very, very weakly.

“Nonsense. You must. It will work out wonderfully for everyone. I’m so glad you called, Pam. You let me know when you’re coming into town and I’ll get my granddaughter to give you a key, hopefully she can manage that.”

“Thank you, Valerie. If it’s really not too much trouble? I’d love to look after Socks.” Pam had no idea what kind of creature Socks was, but based on the name she was guessing something with paws. Valerie didn’t seem the type to be the proud owner of an anaconda or tarantula with a ridiculously counterintuitive name?

She said her goodbyes and thanked her lucky stars at the way that this particular call had worked out. The current was swelling in her direction for the first time in a long time. It may have been a mirage, but she swore for a moment she could see the shore in the distance.

 

That taken care of, there was another thought that she wanted to settle.

She swept gracelessly into Michael’s office. Her nerves at the conversation ahead, and essentially showing her hand to Michael getting ahead of her. She managed to knock a pile of paperwork off the corner of his desk as she brushed against it on her way to sitting down. 

“Way to make an entrance, Pam,” Michael grinned at her, a twinkle dancing in his eye and good god was this how she thought of Michael now? That he was endearing, and not absurd? Although, wasn’t that always how she coped with his eccentricities? 

“Ugh,” she attempted words. 

Michael nodded politely as if she’d achieved her purpose. 

“What can I do you, Pamster?” 

“I, uh,” she recalibrated - be honest - her mind ordered. “I wanted to ask you about something you said yesterday?” It came out sounding like a question, but she celebrated her forthrightness regardless. Baby steps. 

“Yes?” Michael settled his chin in his hands, rested his elbows on the desk and gazed encouragingly at her. 

She paused. 

“You want to know how I know that Jim is in love with you?” Michael supplied. 

She gaped at his insight and nodded far too enthusiastically in response.

“As Jim’s best friend, present company executed,” he swept his hand in Pam’s general direction. She didn’t bother correcting him. He was kind of right, had she been executed, Michael would certainly have still been… Michael to Jim… “And father. No,” he pursed his lips, “more handsome brother figure,” a wide grin emerged as he congratulated himself on accurately describing his relationship with Jim. “He told me,” he finally got to the point.

“Oh,” Pam breathed and felt a momentary twinge of grief for how desperate Jim must have been feeling to have bared his soul to their boss in such a raw way.

“It t’was the night of the booze cruise on Lake Wallenpaupack. I was at the bow of the boat, uh,” he cleared his throat as he considered, “navigating because that Captain Jack was an imbecile.”

Pam bit back the giggle that threatened to rise deep in her belly. She wasn’t sure she’d call being tied up at the captain’s bequest after almost causing an unnecessary mass evacuation navigating, but sure.

God, she wished Jim was still at his desk and she could slip away from this conversation to whisper to him conspiratorially in great detail. There was no one else she wanted to tell. There was no one else who would get it, not even their other co-workers.

The heady wave of regret really helped to keep the laughter at bay.

Michael was continuing in his recount, she turned her attention away from her thoughts and back to his words. “Jim came to hang out with me, because you know how he was, always wanting time with his best brother. Anyway, he said that he really liked you and I told him not to give up. He was sad because of that whole Roy thing. But do you know what I told him?”

It didn’t take her long to consider it, it helped that her conversation with Michael had been running on a loop through her overthinking mind for the last twenty-four hours. “Never, ever, ever give up?” she whispered.

Michael’s eyes lit up. “How did you know that?” he exclaimed brightly. “Did Jim tell you?”

“You told me, yesterday.”

“Oh, right,” he grinned widely. “Yeah that. I also told him BFD, engaged ain’t married.”

“Huh,” Pam murmured. “Well, thanks Michael,” she added softly.

“Pam… Jim, he, he said some really nice things about you. I could tell he meant them.”

Her face twisted, unable to decide if it should smile or cry. She finally settled on more awkward silent nodding. Strangely enough, Michael seemed to get it.

 

Of course, then he Michael-ed.

“If it doesn’t work out with Jim,” he regarded her carefully, his hand extending across the desk to lay on hers. “You know what, Pam? If in ten years, I haven’t had a baby and you haven’t had a baby…”

“No, Michael,” she replied swiftly and surely, pulling her hand gently out from under his. “You’re my big brother figure too,” she attempted.

“Twenty years?” he hedged.

She did the math. It still seemed too possible. She absolutely could not risk it. “No, Michael.”

“Thirty?”

“Sure,” as in surely not physically possible.

Michael’s hand rose and she very tentatively shook it. “It’s a deal.”

“I think it’ll work out with Jim,” she lied through her teeth solely for Michael’s benefit.

He nodded thoughtfully. “If Love Actually taught me anything, it’s that a grand gesture will always work out.”

She delicately extricated herself from Michael’s office and returned to her desk. It was rare, for her to hope this desperately that Michael would be right.

As she slipped away, she missed Michael open his desk draw and pull a packet of Lifesaver mints from his desk. “I love these bad boys,” he mumbled, tearing them open and tossing several into his mouth.

 

 

The old adage of a watched pot never boiled seemed to also fit with the clock. It seemed the more Jim stared at it, the less it moved. Each second felt like it lasted a minute as 4.15pm ticked over to 4.16pm.

The issue with watching the clock, was that Jim could pinpoint the exact moment something happened. Like, at 4.19pm Josh emerged from his office with a grin.

“Good news all. Jan just called, a receptionist from another branch has volunteered to come fill in for us. She’ll be here Monday.”

“Thank god,” Karen sighed. She’d been manning the reception desk temporarily, Jim had returned to his desk to speak with a client and she’d been drafted in. “This is making it difficult to hit my sales targets for the day,” she grumbled, before levelling Jim with a gaze that suggested it was his fault.

What the hell was her problem anyway?

Josh winked at her. “Can’t have all my best salesmen stuck manning the phones,” he agreed. As he spoke, he floated over to Jim’s desk and clapped him on the shoulder. “Right, Jim?”

Karen’s glare intensified. Right. That. That was her problem.

It served as a stark reminder that he was the Dwight here which only shrivelled his soul further still. He considered how he could shrug off the reputation he’d accidentally built himself.

There was only one thing that came to mind and he just wasn’t ready. He couldn’t. There was too much of her tangled up in it all.

Even walking past the Jell-O aisle in the supermarket tied his stomach in knots.

That was the difference here in Stamford. It wasn’t just that he was throwing himself into his work. It was everything he wasn’t doing.

He wasn’t sneaking handfuls of jellybeans throughout the day. He’d couldn’t even stomach the same lunch he’d eaten everyday for years on end anymore. Ham and cheese was a staple of the past.

Second only to the moments he’d shared with Pam, the facet of his work that had brought him the most joy over the years was pranking Dwight.

That’s what was missing here. That’s why he seemed stale to his new colleagues. He was no damn fun.

Although, from the little he learnt of Karen he thought maybe she’d turn her nose up at his pranks. He had her pegged as another Angela, so he envisaged her acting similarly, lots of eyerolling and sharp sighs.

 

“Is she hot?” Andy spun in his chair to face Josh, eyebrows raised. Jim had lost track of the conversation unfolding around him.

“I don’t know,” Josh lips curled down at the edges. If Jim had to guess, Andy was not in the running at all when Josh considered his best salesmen.

“Copy that,” Andy nodded.

Jim processed Josh’s words from earlier. “Did you say she was coming from another branch?”

The blood slowly drained from his face. His tone was terse. He felt Karen’s eyes on him. He struggled to collect himself. “Did Jan say which branch?” he managed to choke out.

Josh shrugged. “Nope, I didn’t ask.”

“Who cares, as long as we can make sales,” Karen chimed in.

Jim attempted to reign in his spiralling thoughts. It wasn’t her.

She would never do something so spontaneous. He knew her. She didn’t jump into things without considering them, carefully and painstakingly. Like that internship in New York, it was a no brainer, but not Pam. No, Pam had to put absolutely everyone first to the detriment of herself. She would never leave Scranton in the lurch by filling in at another branch. She would consider everyone else’s needs first.

But. But. But. If it was her. If she’d taken the chance? He couldn’t stop his mind from wondering.

He knew she’d called off the wedding. The hopeful, pathetically desperate section of his mind whispered that she’d done it for him. But then she hadn’t called. The flickering fire of optimism had been smothered with reality.

If she followed him to Stamford, surely that would mean something right?

He couldn’t allow himself to hope. It was an exercise in futility.

He needed to stick with what he was doing, he needed to cling to the sand he was anchored in and hold steady. That was the only way he was ever going to get past the pain that his entire being now resonated with.

The thoughts turned over in his mind. It was a pointless cycle. One part of his brain declared that it couldn’t be her and he was driving himself crazy for no reason. The other part fanned the flames of hope back to life, because if it was her, imagine what it could mean?

It wasn’t until Andy slung his back over his shoulder and whistled a tune, pausing to throw out a, “see ya tomorrow, Big Tuna,” that he realised it was 5.03pm.

 

Huh. Josh’s announcement had served one purpose after all. He’d held steady for another day. He took a deep breath and slipped from his seat and out the door. 

Chapter End Notes:
Thanks for reading! I won't draw out this pre-Stamford set up much longer - next chapter features Pam and Jim in the same room. Get keen... 

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