Pam comes in early the following morning. She’s tired. She stayed out far too late with Karen. There’s something about having a new girlfriend - a girlfriend really, because somewhere in the midst of Roy, her friends floated away and the wives of Roy’s friends hollowly took their places - that makes her throw away her carefully structured routines just a little. She can catch up on sleep tonight.
Still, she’s here early and despite the exhaustion lingering in the wings, she’s buzzed. It’s silly because he won’t even be in yet, but she doesn’t want to wait another moment to see him. The cautious part of her needs reassurances that their conversations yesterday happened and that they’re really working towards something again.
It’s one of those moments where she feels like she’s thought about him enough to will him into being. She stumbles and almost trips over her own feet to find Jim at his desk when she wanders into the office a good forty-five minutes early.
“Oh,” she manages as he grins up at her sheepishly.
She’s so distracted by the warmth from the blush crawling up her cheeks that it takes her far too long to process what’s before her. Jim isn’t at his desk.
“Morning Pam,” he murmurs and it’s so gentle she wonders if that’s what it would sound like with his cheek pressed into a pillow first thing in the morning. He swallows roughly and her eyes follow the rise and fall of his Adam’s apple.
It’s strange, but her gaze catches on his bare forearms. She crooks her brow and something’s different.
“Pam?” a gentle question, almost a caress drops from his lips. Right, she hasn’t formed a coherent sentence yet.
“Hi,” she breathes.
“Hey,” he grins and finally her appraisal makes it to his hands. His hands that are clutching a tub of Andy’s stapler suspended in bright yellow Jell-O. Her face cracks into a wide smile.
“Your sleeves are rolled up,” she blurts and that’s what’s different. These past couple of days in Stamford, Jim has been buttoned up. He’s been in full suit and tie, his dress shirt stretching all the way to his wrists. He’s been stuffy Dwight-Jim, this Jim before her is Jim-Jim. The world rights on its axis.
“All the better for dirty work, Beesly.”
“Mmm,” she nods in agreement. “Dipping the ends of your shirt in yellow would be a dead giveaway.”
“Exactly.” He holds up how bare arms. “Stealth mode,” he winks and then cringes. “Can we pretend I didn’t just say that.”
Pam shakes her head, bites her lip and gazes out from under her lashes. Some may even call it flirting. “Nope, I like you dorky.”
Jim flushes and getting to work early has been everything she wanted it to be and so much more.
She watches him finish up, carefully depositing the Jell-O-ed office supplies into Andy’s desk draw. He heads to the kitchen to wash his hands. She’s behind her desk, switching her computer on, when her teapot appears beside her, steam billowing from it.
“Thanks Jim,” she beams.
He taps his fingers on the counter, that way he always does when he’s buying a few moments of time. A jellybean finds its way into his mouth. He chews steadily and swallows. “So, what time were you thinking of taking lunch?”
She glances at the clock in the corner of her monitor and groans. “9.30?”
Her impatience wins her a brilliant grin. “That wouldn’t be soon enough,” he agrees and everything she feels for him catches in her throat and all she can do is nod.
“How about 12.00?”
She delivers another graceless nod.
The elevator dings signally the loss of their own private world. A few workers trickle out into the office. Josh exchanges a pleasant greeting as he passes.
“Do me a favor?”
“Absolutely,” she answers seriously.
“Deliver Andy a document that needs stapling sometime this morning?”
“Consider it done.”
She’s actually kind of busy. The phone rings fairly constantly for the first hour or two of the morning. Time passes quickly, anticipation for lunch builds steadily in her guts.
At 11.30 she remembers her promise. Jim’s on the phone, but she figures it’s worth seizing her moment.
She hands Andy a haphazard pile of paper and shrugs when he grumbles at her. He opens his drawer and shoves his hand into it without so much as glancing down. He stares at his hand, now sticky with Jell-O with the strangest look on his face. Pam backs away slowly.
His mouth opens and the words begin to spew forth, becoming more and more erratic as he continues. “Okay… Who put my stapler in Jell-O? Good one. But uh, seriously, guys who did this? Seriously guys, who did this? I need to know who put my stapler in Jell-O, or I'm gonna lose MY FRICKIN’ MIND!”
Jim drops the phone back into its cradle and turns wide eyes on her. They have the most unspoken of conversations and she’s reaching for her purse and drifting towards the elevator all without making any sudden movements.
Jim joins her in the parking lot less than a minute later. “Oh my god,” he breathes.
“Maybe, we go easy on the pranks with Andy,” she offers breezily.
“Oh. My. God.” His eyes are still wide.
“All of Dwight’s reactions suddenly seem so measured.”
“Calm,” he agrees.
“Muted,” she adds.
“What universe are we in where anything about Dwight seems reasonable?” He says it so sincerely that she’s doubled over laughing and forgetting how to breathe.
He pats her back as she draws in ragged half-breaths. “Seriously guys,” she chortles in her best likeness - under the circumstances - of Andy.
Her breathing evens out, Jim’s hand is still heavy on her back. She straightens and it slips lower, a warm tingling presence despite her coat. “Where do you want to go for lunch?”
“I have somewhere in mind,” he shrugs.
“Can I drive?” she beams and somehow his lanky frame folds perfectly into her new little Yaris.
“This is great, Pam,” he enthuses. “I’m really proud of you.”
“I love it,” she nods. “It’s more me.”
He flips through her CDs and decides on the latest Interpol album with a soft smile. He must know that she only bought it because it reminded her of him and swaying and first not-dates.
He directs her to a park and she’s a little confused, but it’s a beautiful sunny day so she doesn’t question it. She has food back at the office. She’s in on this lunch date for the date not so much the lunch.
His cell chimes and he glances down. “I’ll be back in one second,” he grins, but she recognizes the twist of nerves behind it.
He darts over to a car that’s just pulled to a stop over next to where hers is parked. “It’s probably a little cold,” he apologizes. She’s glancing at him, her brow furrowed in confusion until she catches a glimpse of the logo on the bags in his hands. Her mouth drops into a perfect O and her eyes well with tears.
She thinks that maybe she was drowning for so long that she got used to the feeling of the current swelling around her. She’s found the shore, but she’s still on sea-legs, wobbly and uncertain. This, this moment here with Jim, she’s steady.
He’s maybe the world's biggest idiot. He has Pam all open and eager before him and he’s doing that thing he always does. He’s coming on way too strong and scaring her off. It’s every moment he flirted with her just a little too openly and she’s gotten her haunches up, hissed at him and backed away.
He just gets carried away in how much he loves her and he forgets that she isn’t in this as much as he is. She said she wanted to be friends. She said she maybe wanted more. And here he is again, diving into the deep in while she’s wading in the shallows.
So yeah, he’s an idiot. He got carried away in this lunch idea and he wanted to take her where he’s always pictured taking her, since that fateful first lunch on his very first day at Dunder Mifflin. But, they’re in Stamford so his ideal lunch location was all kinds of impractical.
Then, inspiration had struck and now he’s the idiot who begged, cajoled and paid his kid sister to deliver them lunch from Scranton.
“Cugino’s,” Pam gasps. “How?”
He rubs the back of his neck with his free hand. “I umm, got Larissa to deliver,” he explains weakly and waits for the sting of her rejection. It’s too much. He’s come on too strong. He’s an idiot.
“Jim,” she breathes. “It’s perfect.”
Somehow, that’s the moment he knows. She’s in this. She’s really in this.
He watches her carefully, there’s a moment of hesitation and then she’s drifting forwards. She presses her lips to his cheek and lingers. He’s oh so tempted to turn his head and catch her lips with his before she pulls away, but she asked for time.
The ball is in her court. He’s beyond thrilled that she’s stepped in from the sidelines and has joined the game. She can take all the time she needs to lob it back to him.
She steps back, her face diffuses with an adorable shade of blush pink. His hand rises to cup his cheek. It’s very fifth grade, but he feels as if he’ll never wash it again.
“Shall we eat?” she smiles.
He gestures to the park bench and she takes a seat. He spreads the takeout between them.
She notices, because she’s been paying more attention than he realizes. He’s chastised himself many a time over the years for making too much out of every little interaction - especially recently, when he’s dug in his memories to decide just how badly he misinterpreted their friendship. He’s starting to believe that maybe he didn’t misinterpret it all.
“Oh Jim,” and he offers her a bashful grin to find her eyes full and bright with unshed tears. “You remembered.”
He did. The spread before them contains not only her favorite dish - Risotto alla Pavese, that she’d had on their lunch not-date - but also the newish breadsticks that she’d been desperate to try last year. Roy doesn’t really like Italian food, she’d sighed. Only pizza, but he thinks Cugino’s is too stuck up. Jim had figured this meant too traditional.
He offers her a shrug. “I, uh, like to think I’m pretty good at remembering stuff when it comes to people I care about. I’m a sentimental person, I guess.”
“It’s nice,” she offers sweetly. “I’m not used to having someone notice,” she adds with a furrowed brow. His heart aches for all that she hadn’t had with Roy.
The air hangs heavily between them, too wrought with emotion for a casual lunch between friends. Nothing about what he feels for her is casual and he’s past masking it. And miracle of miracles it seems she feels the same way.
Although, they were still them and easy friendship sat at their foundation. Pam arches a brow at him, her tone infinitely lighter than it had been a moment ago. “What,” she pauses to break the end off a breadstick, “is the craziest thing you’ve sentimentally hoarded from the office?”
“Sentimentally hoarded?” he snorts. “What does that even mean?”
“Something you’ve kept purely for sentimental reasons, that in the hands of anyone else would be considered junk. Like,” she wracks her brain for a moment, “I still have my yoghurt medals from the office olympics.”
He frowns at her theatrically. “Junk? Those are priceless treasures.”
“You’re right,” she nods solemnly, with a sparkle in her eyes.
He tilts his head, pretending to carefully mull the questions over. “My dundies?”
“You shut your mouth,” she gasps and the likeness to Michael sent him spiraling into fits of laughter.
“You know I’m kidding.”
“Who do you think throws them in the trash immediately?” she replies, with the gentle shake of her head that insists that yes, obviously she knows he’s just messing with her.
“Oh, for sure. That one probably made it to a bin before he left Chili’s.”
“Mmm. I think she keeps them, but definitely not on display.”
“Yeah, I’d believe that,” he concedes. “She’d probably see it as wrong to toss something her boss had given her.”
Pam nods her agreement. He plucks the other breadstick from the bag and shoves a piece into his mouth.
“Creed?” he guesses around a mouthful.
Pam swallows. “He probably tries to sell them,” she snorts.
He chuckles. “Without a doubt.”
He wonders if she’d kept her longest engagement ones, but doesn’t want to ruin the lighthearted turn their conversation has taken.
She pries the lid from her lunch and he does the same. The conversation lulls as they eat.
“I left the longest engagement ones with Roy,” she admits and for a second he wonders if he’d asked the question aloud after all. “I could hear you not asking.”
He smiles ruefully.
“My whitest sneaker one has pride of place on my mantle though.”
He finds his answer, the one he hopes falls on the sincere and not so creepily obsessed side of things. “You warned me about Dwight, on the day I started at Dunder Mifflin.”
“When I sat my desk, he handed me his business card and I turned and held it up to you and you laughed and he glared at you and you rolled your eyes. That’s when I knew.”
“That I liked you... I kept a bunch of stuff -”
“If the sentimental hoarder shoe fits,” Pam smirks gently.
“Yeah. That was the only thing I didn’t hide away when I moved to Stamford.”
“It reminded me of you, but it also reminded me of Dwight which helped dull the edges. It’s on my desk here,” he shrugs. “That’s the thing. Junk to everyone else, but meaningful to me.”
She’s not saying anything.
“It’s stupid,” he sighs.
“No,” she finally says and her voice is sure, strong. “It’s not stupid at all.”
He starts to eat again. He’s pushed his luck and he’s sure her carefully constructed boundaries more than enough for one innocent lunchtime conversation.
She speaks, and her voice wavers, but he meets her eyes and there’s a certainty behind them that he almost doesn’t recognize. “I want to kiss you again.”
That’s a very strong ditto from him.
“But,” she hedges, “I’m scared once I start kissing you, I won’t be able to stop.”
That doesn’t sound like a problem to him and oh, he’s saying it out loud. “That doesn’t sound like a problem to me.”
She smiles wryly. “A couple of years ago, Isabel made me read an article. I’d had an argument with Roy and spent the night at her place. It was about the perks of being single.”
“Okay,” he doesn’t exactly know where this is headed, but he’s with Isabel - single is better than Roy.
“There was a section that talked about serial daters, those people that are never single, the moment one relationship ends, they jump to the next. That’s me.”
“I’d hardly call one serious relationship jumping around.”
She gives a slight shake of her head and elaborates. “It said that those people don’t know who they are as a person. They only know who they are as a couple. So, that’s why.”
“Why I can’t kiss you again… yet.”
Her saying things like that is making it very difficult for him to stick to his guns about her making the next move.
“I get it, Pam. I feel like we kind of covered this last night.”
“I know,” she worries her bottom lip anxiously between her teeth. “I’m trying to remind myself,” she admits.
He feels his heart skip a beat. Actually feels it, one second it’s thudding in his chest and the next it’s screaming oh fuck and grinding to a halt. He has to gulp down a sharp breath of air to kickstart it up and running again.
This. This is what it feels like to be on dry land again. This is what it looks like when the storm has cleared. It’s everything he dreamt it could be and so much more.