Pam sipped at her tea and steeled herself to return to her desk. Her desk that allowed her a direct view of Jim. A direct view of evolved Jim who didn’t drink grape soda and apparently was over her, or at least telling himself that.
God, she hoped he was lying.
She hoped there was still a chance.
The slim brunette that sat in the desk behind Jim opened the breakroom door and nodded politely at Pam. She groaned as she reached the vending machine. “Dammit,” slipped from her lips.
There was a pause. Pam took a chance. “What’s up?” she asked, reaching around all the Jim thoughts swirling in her mind to find her amicable receptionist voice.
The brunette swung to face her, her clothing was all very serious and business-like and for a second she was reminded of Angela. But, the woman in front of her softened noticeably at her question and thoughts of similarities to Angela floated away. “Uh, nothing. They’re just out of Herr’s chips.”
“Don’t worry about it, it’s just not my day,” she shrugged. “I’m Karen,” she added.
“Pam,” Pam smiled. “And tell me about it. It’s not my day either.”
Karen sunk into the seat across from her. “Worse than missing salt and vinegar chips?”
“Oh, about the same.” Pam felt herself giggle ever so slightly. So, things with Jim were not going along swimmingly today, but maybe there was an opportunity for something to go right.
“It’s not even the chips,” Karen sunk her head into her hands. “That new salesman – ”
“Jim,” she supplied.
Karen arched a brow. “Jim, oh you’re not friends with him or something?”
“Or something,” Pam confirmed with an eyeroll. That was closer to the truth than anything else she supposed.
Karen groaned a little. “Well, your something Jim is the new teacher’s pet and I’m sorry, but he’s driving me a little crazy.”
Pam attempted to keep her eyes from bugging from her head. Teacher’s pet? Jim? It didn’t seem likely. “Really?” her voice was a few octaves too high.
“Yes?” Karen answered, eyeing her curiously. “My sales are good, but somehow his are… also good,” she finished lamely. “And now Josh has him overseeing me.”
Pam tamped down her disbelief. “Huh. Well, Jim I can’t fix.” Wasn’t that the understatement of the century. “But, meet me at my desk in ten minutes and I’ll see if I can solve your other problem,” she winked.
Karen cracked a smile.
Pam finished the last of her tea in a gulp and rinsed her mug quickly. She paused by the vending machine and mumbled the number written on the worn service sticker in the corner under her breath over and over again as she shot Karen a tentative last smile and wandered back to her desk.
She jotted the number down on a post-it.
Things with Jim were looking less than ideal, but this, this was definitely swimming parallel to the rip. She could make a new friend. She could have a little bit of fun. She could be the Pam that Jim remembered, the Pam that he had fallen in love with at one point.
Sure, he wasn’t the Jim that she lo – whatevered right now, but maybe, just maybe she could help him get back to that. If he was going to work hard and become industrious and stuffy at work, it didn’t mean that she had to.
It may not have been the most brilliant, well laid plan that she’d ever come up with, but it was a plan and it would have to do.
She cradled the phone to her ear and dialled the number written on her pad. The ringing was short lived as the receiver crackled to life. After a gruff greeting she plastered every ounce of charm she could muster into her tone.
“Hi there Mike.” She smiled enthusiastically into the phone, hoping it would translate to amicability. “I’m calling from Dunder Mifflin Scra – Stamford,” she had to catch herself. Old habits and all that. “…about the Herr’s Salt and Vinegar chips,” she continued. “Our vending machine is unfortunately all out. They’re a real favourite here.” She nodded and hummed appropriately as Mike informed her, rather frankly, that he wasn’t too fussed about their shortage. “See, the thing is,” she schmoozed, “people are bringing chips from home and not spending their money in your vending machine.”
Mike evidently wasn’t too fussed.
“Thanks anyway,” Pam sighed. “You’ve been such a gem.” She hoped the sarcasm wasn’t bordering too closely on impolite, but really? She wasn’t asking for anything too far outside of the bounds of reality.
She took a steadying breath and considered that possibility perhaps her interaction with Jim had left her in slightly more of a funk than she was admitting to herself. She didn’t have time to get into her typical overthinking, because Karen was floating over to her desk looking a little inquisitive, but friendly and open all the same.
She fixed a warmed expression on her face and greeted Karen with a, “so that’s a no on the West Side Market.”
Karen’s brows raised.
“It’s the supplier that fills the vending machines,” Pam shrugged.
Karen broke into a grin. “I’ve been puzzling over what you meant by solving my other problems.”
“Restocking the vending machines, obviously,” Pam matched her smile.
She didn’t mean for her eyes to creep over Karen’s shoulder and meet Jim’s questioning stare, but they did.
Apparently, her interaction with Karen was drawing some interest. She caught herself lost in his stare for a second too long and Karen’s gaze followed hers. She deflated somewhat and swung her attention back to Pam.
“I better get back to work, my supervisor,” she rolled the word over her tongue like it tasted bitter, “is waiting.”
Pam pulled herself back into the conversation. She reflected on her plan, she was going to pull Jim up to her level, not settle on his anchored in miserable monotony. Work was supposed to be at a least a little bit fun. She could remember how to do that.
“Wow. I never pegged you for a quitter,” her eyes sparkled despite her seemingly serious tone.
Karen snorted. “Oh, I am not a quitter.”
“Prove it,” Pam mouthed, pulling the phone to her ear once again. “Should I call the warehouse that ships to the supplier?”
“Do it,” Karen nodded earnestly, settling her elbows on the counter and leaning towards her.
Pam’s movement on the keys was interrupted by the arrival of Andy. “Hey. What are we doing? What’s the game? I want in,” he beamed at the both of them.
“Oh, it’s no game,” Pam deadpanned.
Karen’s head bobbed up and down in agreement. “It’s serious work.”
“We’re trying to get these chips for Karen,” Pam added, her tone still steady and matter of fact.
Andy eyed them both carefully, when he spoke it was as if he were addressing elementary school students, “did you check the vending machine?”
“Oh, the vending machine!” Karen tapped the side of her head with the click of her tongue. “How did we miss that?”
“I have no idea,” Pam murmured, awe at Andy’s genius creeping purposefully into her words. “We went right for the copier,” she shook her head morosely.
“And then we checked the fax machine,” Karen added with a shrug.
“Yeah, nothing there,” Pam sighed.
Andy gaze flicked between the pair of them, the furrow between his brow deepened.
“Did you check your… butt?” he finally managed to utter before traipsing back over to his desk.
“Oh my god,” Karen grinned from ear to ear and Pam had to clap a hand over her mouth to keep from giggling. She tried to keep herself in the moment with her new friend, but she thought she caught a glimpse of Jim in the background staring intently at his paperwork with maybe the smallest makings of a smile curving the edges of his lips.
She decided that she was swimming just parallel enough to get herself free of the rip after all.
He was trying his very best not to watch.
How, in the space of less than a day, had Pam managed to win over the coldest person in this office? Karen was giggling. She was standing at Pam’s desk holding her sides and beaming. Jim didn’t think he’d seen her crack so much as a smile in the months that he’d been here.
In his mind, Karen was the Angela of this branch and yet there she was, all bright eyed and carefree after one interaction with Pam.
Despite his intentions to not to pay them any notice, after years of practice, he was finely attuned at hearing Pam from a reception desk. He could make out every word.
Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Karen double over in laughter as Pam grumbled into the receiver in her best likeness of Mike from West Side Market.
So, yeah, whether he wanted to or not, he was definitely listening.
“Well, we got a shipment of Herr’s salt and vinegar chips, and we ordered that about three weeks ago and haven’t… yeah. You have ‘em in the warehouse? Great. What is my store number?” she grimaced at Karen.
“Uh, six. Wait, no. I’ll call you back.” She hung up and shot Karen an apologetic smile. “Shut up,” she mumbled with a wide grin as Karen laughed, her head steadily shaking.
“I said shut up,” Pam groaned, but she was all light. There was no seriousness and then she was grinning back at Karen, wide and toothy and it was everything. She was genuinely happy.
In spite of himself, he felt a small smile nudge at the edges of his lips. There was something about Pam and joy that was just infectious.
He tried to remind himself that infection in general was bad and he’d already caught that particular disease and look at where it had gotten him.
Strangely enough, it didn’t shift the smile from his lips. What did that, was Andy appearing at his side. He managed to stifle his groan.
“Tuna,” Andy nudged him. “You’re friends with pretty Pamela the receptionist, right?”
Jim was struck with the uncharacteristic urge to punch him. Maybe it was the reminder that friends was all he would ever be with Pam? Maybe it was that he knew what would come next because this was Andy and he was generally proving himself to be a predictable being?
“Is she single?” There it was.
“N – ” she’s engaged his mind finished on autopilot. Oh. Oh. “Yes?” he finished lamely, kind of forgetting that he was answering Andy and more for his own benefit.
She was single. Pam was single. She was in Stamford.
Phyllis had called him, a few weeks before June tenth and gently, but very purposefully mentioned it to him.
Pam hadn’t called. She hadn’t messaged. She hadn’t emailed. He’d taken to checking his spam folder every day, just in case somehow something slipped through. He hated answering no called id numbers, but he’d picked up every one, just in case she’d changed her number.
He wasn’t sure when he’d given up. But he had. She hadn’t reached out.
This, her somehow materialising in his office here was the first contact in months.
He didn’t know what to think of it.
It was too little too late.
Except, it wasn’t little, it was huge for Pam. Pam didn’t take chances. Pam didn’t risk it all. Pam didn’t throw caution to the wind. Pam didn’t move to a new city. Pam wasn’t single.
He didn’t know what to do with a world where he was wrong about these things?
“N-yo?” Andy was squinting at him. “Yes? She is single? It’s not a hard question, Tuna, my man.”
“Yes, she is single,” Jim tested the way the words sounded rolling off his tongue. They tasted tentative, but tinged with something he hadn’t felt it a long time that seemed a little like possibility.
Andy grinned. “She’s a hottie.”
Andy seemed to be waiting for some sort of response to the affirmative. Jim nodded stiffly. Once.
“Dibs,” Andy puffed out his chest. He winked at Jim. Jim stared blankly at him in response.
For some preposterous reason known only to Andy, it seemed this meant that Jim wanted more information as to why Andy was making this assertation. “She,” he paused, gesturing wildly over his chest in a terrible approximation of breasts, “has bigger ones than Karen,” he whispered conspiratorially. And wow, Jim really did want to punch him.
Thank god Karen chose that moment to turn from the reception and march back to her desk. She glared at Andy on her way past and for a second Jim was terrified that she’d overheard them and would tell Pam.
But, then her glare slipped to him and he realised this was the same thing as always. She was annoyed that Josh favoured him and his newfound work ethic just a little too much. He remembered he was supposed to be overseeing some asinine task that she was supposed to be completing, but he couldn’t quite remember the details. Something about a price list, but that was as much as he had. It turned out, having Pam here was already detrimental to his work whether he had anything to do with her or not.
For a split second, he considered leaning into it and embracing his old way of working – with far less work involved and a whole more joy. It only took another second for him to remember that his joy had been taken from him and stomped to pieces in a nondescript office building parking lot. He was anchored in place for a reason and it would be foolish to pull up and just sail away into the unknown.
He picked up his phone and used every ounce of his energy to make a sale. The little buzz of feeling like at the very least he could do this, at least he was sort of successful at something faded immediately this time.
He didn’t know if he’d just tried it one too many times and the fade was natural or if it was from the laughter peeling out from behind him as he hung up the phone.
“I’m calling a supermarket in Montreal,” Karen was saying as Pam pretended to hand her a message. He knew her tells. He knew that the post-it in her hand as she stepped over to Karen’s desk contained little more than a cute doodle.
“Nice,” Pam chuckled.
“Bonjour. Je cherche des tchips de la marque Herr’s. Non? Ah… Merci quand meme. Au revoir,” Karen enunciated.
“Well?” he could hear Pam bouncing on the balls of her feet in anticipation.
“No luck,” Karen sighed, but Jim thought he could detect a smile in it. He resisted the urge to spin around and check.
“That’s a shame,” Pam pouted with dramatic flair reminiscent of Kelly. “It sounded good,” and that was her soft smile, the genuine one, where she poked out the tip of her tongue ever so briefly and never failed to make Jim’s heartbeat quicken ever so slightly if he was on the receiving end of it.
But he wasn’t.
And somehow in that moment he turned into the worst version of himself, a version that reminded him all too much of Roy and he really wasn’t that person.
He spun in his chair and turned on Karen sharply. “How’s that price list coming?” Because apparently he was jealous that Pam was making a friend that wasn’t him and smiling that smile that wasn’t for him anymore and it hurt.
Even though, at his very core he knew that Pam making a new friend, particularly a girlfriend was brilliant because her circle of female friends had shrivelled and wilted under Roy’s influence and maybe he’d filled that role a little too much in recent years.
Pam having friends was great and she needed friends and they didn’t usually come this easily. Who was he to get involved?
But, it was too late for all these thoughts to spin frantically through his mind because he’d already opened his mouth and Karen was glaring pointedly at him with unrestrained disdain and worse, so much worse, was the look of disappointment and way Pam’s entire affect shifted and drooped.
He’d seen it before.
It was the look she got after Roy did something heartless and utterly selfish. It harkened of the look she’d had the day Roy had told her not to apply for the graphic design program in New York.
For some reason, it only made him angrier. Mostly at himself, but it came out at Karen. Pam’s new friend. “Well?” He snapped.
“I’ll get right on that,” she clapped back. “Boss,” she sneered.
“Good,” he ground out and without allowing himself to look at Pam again, he swung his chair fiercely back around.
“Sorry,” he heard Karen whisper to Pam. He felt, or imagined he felt, the wind from Pam’s shoulders rising and falling as she shrugged in response. She pressed her post-it, a cartoon rendering of a chip packet onto Karen’s desk and brushed past Jim.
The movement forced the air from his lungs. After he sucked in another gulp, his anger had subsided and he was left with a whole lot of guilt.
The remainder of the afternoon passed in relative silence. He could feel the glower radiating from Karen as she sat behind him. It didn’t take much time before she curtly slapped the price list on his desk and retreated to the bathroom.
Pam slipped from her desk and grabbed her coat at Karen’s departure.
She was back a couple of minutes later, wearing a determined smile that faded slightly as she met Jim’s gaze. She walked purposely past him and he heard the tell-tale crinkle of a packet of chips being deposited on a desk.
He kind of owed her – them – an apology for his outburst. Something subtle? His sales list lay dormant as he chewed the end of his pen and considered his options.
Karen slipped back to her desk as he mulled. She gasped in delight. Pam grinned at her from the reception desk.
For a few moments after that, the office was filled with the munch and crunch that accompanied every packet of chips.
The sound filled him with a renewed sense of hope. Pam was in Stamford. She was still Pam. She was kind and funny and she’d sought him out. She’d come to Stamford. That was a gesture of sorts.
It couldn’t hurt for him to put the feelers out. It couldn’t hurt from him to throw in a gesture of his own.
5pm rolled around and Jim wasn’t watching the clock. It wasn’t until he overheard Karen pause at reception on the way out that he realised it was the end of the day.
“Thank you, Pam.”
“You’re welcome,” she smiled sweetly.
“How did you manage it?” Karen’s elbow propped on the counter as she stared at Pam expectantly.
“A magician never reveals their tricks,” Pam answered solemnly and Jim felt himself softening all the more towards her.
“I can’t live with the not knowing!” Karen exclaimed brightly.
“Oh fine, you’ve convinced me. I just called the manufacturer, who referred me to the distributor, who referred me to the vending machine company, who told me that they sell them in the machines in the building next door,” Pam shrugged.
Karen laughed lightly. “Now that I know your secret, I suppose you have to kill me.”
“I suppose,” she sighed.
“See you tomorrow, Pam.”
Pam smiled widely and echoed her farewell.
Jim gathered his things. He didn’t stop at reception, but he raised his eyes for a moment. “Good night, Pam,” he managed to murmur as he met her gaze for the briefest second.
She flushed ever so slightly and he almost missed it. “Night, Jim.”
Despite their farewells, she grabbed her purse and trailed him to the elevator. They rode down in silence. He could feel the warmth radiating from her even with the distance between them.
He wasn’t sure how he was faring any longer. Someone at the surface was tugging insistently at his moorings. He could feel the rope tightening and he was starting to stretch skywards. He’d been at the bottom for so long, he couldn’t quite remember what it was like at the surface. Was change ever a good thing?