“Roy, I already told Allison that we would be there.”
Roy shrugs, his eyes not moving from the television, “We’ve known her since junior year, she’s not gonna miss me for one party.”
“And Kenny won’t miss you for one poker night. You see each other every week, we haven’t hung out with Allison since March.”
“Babe, tonight’s the last game of the year, which means I could win us some sweet Christmas money! I gotta go.”
Pam rolls her eyes, knowing that the “last game of the year” has been the excuse for the past three games. “You’re always the one talking to people at these things, Roy. I’m barely going to know anyone there except for Allison, who is obviously going to know everyone, so she’ll be busy. What am I supposed to do all night?”
“It’s a Christmas party; the same Christmas party you’ve gone to for the last, like, ten years. You drink, open cheap, trashy gifts, eat cookies, and go home. Find someone to talk to, I’m sure Al will introduce you.”
Pam huffs, “Fine. You’ll go with me to her New Year’s party, though, right?”
“Yeah, sure, promise.”
She sticks her earrings in and slips on her shoes before giving Roy a quick kiss goodbye, “Tell Kenny I said hi.”
“Will do. Have fun, Pammy.”
Allison spots her from the porch just as she closes her car door, waving enthusiastically behind the railing. She almost cringes at the nickname, hoping no one else will pick up on the nickname and start calling her that. She already hates when Roy and Allison do it, but she’s learned to stop asking them not to. She waves back before reaching into her back seat for Allison’s Christmas present.
Once she reaches the porch, Allison immediately pulls her in for a hug, making Pam laugh. “Hey, Alli! Merry Christmas! Here, this is for you.”
“Thank you!” She pulls back, grinning, “I’ve missed you so much, we need to hang out more. Where’s Roy?”
“Poker game,” Pam says, to which Allison rolls her eyes. “I know. I told him he should skip it, but he insisted. He says hi, though, and that he’ll be here for New Year’s.”
Allison wraps an arm around Pam’s shoulders to lead her inside, “Pammy, you let that boy walk all over you, you know that?”
“I do not.”
She laughs, “Yeah, okay. Maybe it’s good he didn’t come, because now you can get wasted and not have to worry about babysitting him.”
They reach the living room, which is decked out with tinsel, lights, and a couple of trees. Christmas music is playing from an iPod in the corner, snacks and drinks are lined up against the wall near the kitchen, and the original Grinch is silently playing on the TV. If she pretended the iPod was Allison’s old cassette player, Pam would almost think she was back in high school. Allison loved throwing parties, her birthday parties seemed to grow more extravagant every year, and every Halloween party had a different theme based on whatever scary movie Allison was obsessed with that year, but Christmas has stayed the same.
“This looks amazing, Alli.”
“I’m missing a few bows that are supposed to go on the stairs, but everyone is here for the booze and my mom’s cinnamon rolls anyway, so it’s fine.”
“Whatever, you know everyone is here because you throw awesome parties. The fact that your mom’s cinnamon rolls are amazing is just the cherry on top.”
“You’re too kind, Pammy.”
They both turn to see someone across the room waving who Pam doesn’t know, but Allison is all too happy to see. “Justin! Oh my God, Pam, I’ll be back. Have a drink, mingle, eat some cookies, I’ll talk to you later.”
Before Pam can respond, Allison is across the room.
She glances around the house, finding a couple of faces she recognizes from previous parties, but she had never talked to. The house gets fuller every year, Allison never shies away from handing out invitations. Pam met a couple last Christmas that Allison had met in line at the store, so it’s hard to keep up even if she did talk to people more during these things. She heads for the snack table instead of the crowd, hoping some wine and cookies will help ease her into the party.
“This party is kind of crazy.”
Pam’s on her third cookie and halfway through her first glass of wine when someone leans up against the wall beside her. Pam vaguely recognizes her, knows she has been to at least a few of Allison’s other parties, but she’s only seen her in passing. “Yeah, Allison’s really good at this.”
“How do you know her?”
“We went to high school together, my fiancée was friends with her boyfriend at the time and when they broke up, she ditched him but kept us around.”
The girl smiles, opening a bottle of beer, “Sounds like Al.”
“How about you?”
“We’ve been stuck with each other practically since birth. Our moms are old friends, and, luckily, we always got along, even if she is a pain in the ass sometimes.”
Pam chuckles, “Yup, sounds like Al.” She takes another bite of her cookie and swallows before looking back over, “I’m Pam, by the way. I’ve seen you around before, but I don’t think we’ve actually met.”
The girl’s eyebrows furrow for a second, “Huh, I didn’t think we had met either, but Pam sounds familiar.”
“It’s not an uncommon name,” Pam shrugs, “Maybe you heard it somewhere else.”
“Yeah, probably. Anyway, I’m—”
“You finally met Pam!” they both look ahead to see Allison in front of them, “I’ve been wanting to introduce you guys for years! Oh my God, where’s your brother? Pam, you have to meet him, I was in love with him when we were kids.”
Pam laughs, “And you’re not anymore?”
Allison waves her hand, “Nah, too lanky for my taste. But you’ll like him, he’s hilarious.” She stands on her tip toes to get a better look around the room, “Where is he? I know I saw him earlier.”
The girl shrugs her shoulders, “I dunno, probably being a party pooper like usual. I had to beg him just to come tonight.”
“What’s new?” Allison, still up on her tip toes, gasps once she spots him. “I see him! He’s on the couch, watching The Grinch even though it’s muted, what a weirdo. He’s lucky I love him.” She glances over at Pam, who smirks and raises an eyebrow, “As a friend, God.” She circles her mouth with her hands to be heard over the music and crowd before calling out, “Jim!!”
Pam wouldn’t have thought anything about it. She’s met lots of “Jim”s growing up; just like “Pam”, it’s not exactly an uncommon name. But Allison’s lanky comment and the similarities that Pam can now see between him and his sister, she finds her heart beating a tiny bit faster with the possibility that it is him.
And then her suspicions are confirmed when he makes his way towards them. She grins when he notices her, and she’s surprised to feel her stomach flutter as soon as his eyes meet hers.
“Wait,” Allison looks between them, confused, “you two know each other?”
Jim nods, his grin unwavering, “Yeah, we work together.”
“Oh my God!” His sister grabs Pam’s wrist and squeezes it, “You’re Pam! The Pam!”
Pam giggles and looks back at Jim, “The Pam?”
She can see the blush creeping up his cheeks, but he rolls his eyes and shrugs it off, “Don’t listen to anything she tells you, she’s crazy.”
“Not as crazy as you are about—”
Jim quickly moves to wrap his arm around his sister’s shoulders, bringing it around to cover her mouth, “Okay, Larry, I think someone spiked the eggnog, you’re more insane than usual.”
She pushes his arm away from her, “First of all, eggnog is disgusting. Secondly, don’t call me Larry, you know I hate that.” She looks at Pam and grins, and Pam notices how similar it is to Jim’s, “I’m Larissa.”
“Right,” Pam nods, “of course; I don’t know how I didn’t see it earlier. Jim’s told me about you.”
“Oh God, do I need to do damage control? Jim used to let me practice putting make up on him until he was fourteen.”
Larissa holds her hands up in surrender, “Okay, fine. Oh! Al, I need to tell you about Aaron.”
Larissa grabs another beer and then Allison’s hand and starts pulling her away, “My boyfriend, but we’re breaking up soon.” Before they get too far, Larissa turns back to Pam, “You’ll stop him from moping around, yeah?”
Pam smiles up at Jim, her tongue poking out through her teeth, “Yeah, sure.”
“Great, talk to you later! Let me know if you need more blackmail!”
Jim groans as Larissa drags Allison away, her conversation about Aaron fading in with the crowd around them.
Pam finds herself a little disappointed that Larissa had left, wanting to know more about her comments about “the Pam” and what the end of her “not as crazy about” sentence was going to be. But then she looks over and sees Jim smiling at her, making her stomach flutter once more. She must be hungry.
She grabs a cinnamon roll and then leans back up against the wall again and smiles, “Sorry to pull you away from The Grinch. I’m sure watching that was more fun than getting teased by us.”
“Meh, it’s alright, the book is better anyway.”
She laughs, “I just can’t believe you’re here, and that you’ve been friends with Allison since diapers and I didn’t know! How have we not run into each other before?”
Jim takes Larissa’s spot next to Pam, “Al was mostly Larissa’s friend growing up, so even though I’m always invited to these things, I don’t go very often. Not much of a party person, I guess.”
“What got you to go to this one?”
“I was promised Alfredo’s for lunch tomorrow if I was her designated driver tonight.”
Pam raises an eyebrow, “That’s it?”
Jim feigns shock, holding a hand over his heart, “Are you questioning the power of Alfredo’s Pizza Café?”
Pam laughs, “No, no. I just thought it would take more than some dough and cheese to get a non-party person to go to a party. Maybe I should have bribed Roy with that, too.”
“He’s not here?”
“Nope. Poker with his brother.”
She looks over at him when he doesn’t respond, and sees he seems to be contemplating something. After a moment he nods towards the living room, “Here, come with me.”
She follows him through the crowd which has seemingly doubled since she’s arrived, trying to stay close. She reaches forward and holds his wrist so she doesn’t lose him and is surprised at how warm he is. She wonders for a moment if it’s because of the crowd or if he’s always like this, but then he’s leading her past the living room and to a side door near the front of the house.
“Why are we going into their coat closet?”
Jim reaches up to the top of the door frame and pulls down a key, laughing, “It’s not a coat closet, look.”
He unlocks the door and leads her inside a room that’s bigger than her own bedroom. There are bookshelves along one wall with board games, a TV with a PlayStation and a GameCube hooked up on the opposite wall, and a pool table in the middle of the room.
Jim closes the door behind them after Pam steps in, “You really didn’t know this was here?”
“How did you know this was here?”
“This was the kids’ playroom when we were younger and we were over here all the time, then they upgraded it for Alli’s thirteenth birthday. They keep it locked during parties, so no one breaks anything, but I usually hang out in here when I do show up.”
“What the hell, Alli.”
Jim laughs, “Don’t be too offended, I’m pretty sure she keeps this place secret so her parents will eventually forget about it, and she’ll have a place to hide her boyfriends.” He gestures to the bookshelves, “Wanna play a game?”
“Absolutely I do.”
After two rounds of Uno, they’re now halfway through a game of Life, Pam is trying to decide whether or not to go to night school, when Jim gets up and crosses the room.
“What are you doing?”
“I almost forgot,” he opens one of the drawers in the entertainment cabinet and pulls out a bag of Reese’s Christmas trees, “this is also where they hide the best candy.”
“Ooh, toss me one!” She catches the one he throws over to her, opens it, and sticks it in her mouth before moving her little car forward again. “You know,” she says once she’s swallowed, “the Christmas trees are good, but the pumpkins are way better.”
“Take it back.”
She grins, “No way! Come on, nothing beats a Reese’s pumpkin.”
“Except for a Reese’s Christmas tree.”
“Unbelievable. You’re not one of those people who think Twizzlers are better than Red Vines too, are you?”
“Twizzlers are so much better.”
“No, Jim, seriously? You’re joking.”
He leans forward and spins the spinner, “I take candy very seriously.”
“Yeah, sure.” She steals another chocolate out of the bag as he moves his car forward. “Okay, which is better? The book or the movie?”
“Those aren’t candies.”
“I’m hoping you can redeem yourself here. You know, since your candy knowledge is lacking.”
He laughs and tells her to take her turn, “I guess it depends on the movie.”
“What about The Wizard of Oz?”
“Never seen it.”
“What? The yellow brick road? Flying monkeys? ‘I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore’?”
“Oh, that Wizard of Oz.”
“So you have seen it!”
Pam groans and then giggles, “You’re useless, Halpert.” He chuckles and his eyes meet hers, his smile genuine and… there’s something else that she can’t quite determine, but it makes her pause.
Tonight has been fun. After Roy said he wasn’t coming, she was almost dreading the party. She’s not good at small talk, everyone preferred talking to Roy anyway, and she would rather be at home watching a Hallmark movie. But Jim turned it all around. Instead of making her mingle with strangers like Roy would have done, he brought her here to play games and have fun. He always does; work has actually been enjoyable ever since she showed him to his desk two years ago. He knows how to make her laugh, what she likes to do, he knows her.
She shakes her head, a smile playing on her lips. “Fine, what about—”
Before she can ask about another movie, they’re surrounded by darkness. The muffled noises outside of the door are now silent aside from a couple of short, startled screams.
“Pam? You okay?”
She looks over in his direction, though it’s too dark to really see him. “Yeah, no, I’m fine. What happened?”
“No idea. C’mon, let’s see if we can find Allison.”
“Jim, I can barely see you two feet in front of me, how are we supposed to find her?”
“Just stay close, we’ll figure it out.”
She stands up, trying to remember the layout of the room so she can follow him out to the party. She ends up making it all of three steps before her shin collides with the coffee table, her “Ouch!” quickly followed by something shattering.
“Are you okay??”
She mumbles a string of curse words under her breath as she rubs her shin. “Yeah, I’m okay. I definitely broke something, though.”
“Don’t worry about it, I think it was the cup I got Alli like eight years ago.”
“Ugh, sorry. I thought the table was further away and so when I—”
“Pam, seriously, it’s fine. I got it off the clearance shelf, last minute, because I forgot to get her something. Just be careful walking around it.”
She nods, even though she knows he can’t see it, and tries stepping to the side to avoid the glass. She immediately hears the crunch under her shoe as she steps forward, and she sighs. “I can’t see anything.”
It’s quiet for a moment and she almost wonders if he walked off, not knowing she wasn’t behind him, but then she hears the quiet squeak of the wood as he takes a step towards her. “Here,” he says, and for a moment she isn’t sure what he’s talking about but then he grabs her hand and her breath catches. He’s warmer than he was earlier, now she knows it’s from more than just the party, and wonders if he can feel her skin heating up as well.
He clears his throat, but his voice still comes out a little shaky when he says, “You good?”
She’s close enough to him now to almost see him, his outline peeking through the darkness now that her eyes are slowly adjusting. She feels the tug on her hand as he walks forward, and she quickly follows, sticking as close to him as possible without tripping over his heels. Once they’re out of the room she feels him hold onto her hand a little tighter as people crowd around them, and she’s thankful for the darkness so he can’t see the blush creeping up her cheeks.
Just as she expected, she can’t see anyone. She sees outlines, can feel people all around her, but can’t make out who’s who in the dark. She’s sure she would have lost Jim already if she wasn’t now gripping his hand as well, scared to lose him in the sea of people.
“So, you were right.” She jumps at his voice being suddenly closer to her. She looks in his direction, can make out his eyes and lips and the hair sweeping across his forehead with him this close.
She blinks a couple of times, remembering he had said something but, for the life of her, couldn’t think of the words. “What?”
“You were right. I have no idea how we’re going to find her.”
She nods, though she isn’t really sure. Tonight has felt different ever since she saw him walking towards her, like a flip had switched and a current runs through her every time he looks her way. She can just barely see his lips twitch up into a smile, and then he’s leaning down to tell her something else but all she can feel is his cheek brushing against hers and his breath running down her neck as he whispers into her ear. The words he’s saying match her thoughts: jumbled, confusing, incoherent; she doesn’t understand any of it.
He’s about to stand back up when she brings her hand up to his face, her fingers playing with the hair at the nape of his neck as she looks at him. His face is now only a couple of inches away, and she can see the confusion spread across it. She almost lets him go, figures she’s been reading him wrong, and she shouldn’t do anything to risk ruining what they have, but then he’s looking at her differently. He glances at her lips and when his eyes move back up, she sees the hope behind them.
She pulls him down and when his lips meet hers, the noise surrounding her disappears. She’s not sure where she is now, but it’s somewhere with only Jim, his tongue tracing her lower lip and her hands in his hair.
She lets go immediately, stepping back and opening her eyes, only to close them again when it’s too bright. She slowly opens them this time, adjusting to the light, and sees the power is back on, Allison is right next to her, and most of the crowd is looking at them. She feels her face grow warmer and warmer the longer she stands there not doing anything.
She looks up at Jim, whose hair is messed up and his lips are a little red, but his face is full of concern. She shakes her head, taking another step back. She’s not sure why she kissed him. She’s engaged; the only reason she’s here right now is because her fiancé befriended Allison ten years ago. She can feel her heart racing, her skin feels like it’s on fire, she hates that everyone is looking at her. She shakes her head again, more adamantly this time, “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t… I can’t…”
His voice is almost pleading now, and it breaks her. She can feel the tears welling up in her eyes and her chest tightening. She doesn’t want to hurt him, she wants the look that he’s giving her to disappear, for them to go back to twenty minutes ago, when everything was normal. When her and Jim were just good friends, and she could go home to Roy, and not be questioning everything she knew right now. She’s spiraling, she knows that, but she can’t stop. She feels like the carpet has been ripped out from under her, but instead of hitting the floor, she just keeps falling.
Her voice is quiet, “I should go.”
Allison puts a hand on Pam’s arm, “Hey, why don’t we go upstairs, okay?”
Pam nods, she wants to leave, but the thought of driving sounds exhausting right now. She really just needs to be away. Away from everyone staring, from the noise, from Jim. She lets Allison lead her to the stairs but as soon as they reach the first step, she feels a hand on her other arm and she looks over to see Jim.
Allison steps in first, “Jim, I don’t think right now is a good time—”
“Pam, please. One minute, I swear, and then I’ll leave you alone; I’ll leave the house if you want. But I need to tell you something before you go.”
“What is it?”
He glances at Alli who nods, “I’ll go get you some water, you can just go to my room when you’re done.”
Jim waits for her to leave before taking a deep breath and then looks at Pam. “I’m sorry. I know this isn’t good timing, and I know you’re already freaking out and this is probably just going to make it worse, but I can’t let this go without telling you everything. This isn’t just a random kiss, or a crush or whatever.”
“No, please, hear me out. I know you’re engaged. I was never… I never, ever wanted to hurt you, or make things difficult, or anything. But we’re here, and you need to know that I love being your friend, but I really want more than that, if you do too.”
She swipes at a tear that fell down her cheek, “I don’t know.”
“I know. I’m sorry. I just needed you to know.”
She nods but she doesn’t say anything, doesn’t know what to say, so she turns and walks upstairs.
A couple of minutes later, Pam hears the door slowly open and then gently close. She’s laying on the bed, covering her face with her hands, but she can hear Allison set a glass of water on her nightstand and then feels the mattress dip as she sits beside her.
“Are you okay? You wanna talk about it?”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know if you’re okay, or you don’t know if you want to talk about it?”
She uncovers her face, the tears now streaming down the side of her face, “I don’t know anything. I’m engaged to Roy, so I don’t know why I kissed Jim, I don’t know why I liked it, I don’t know why I want to kiss him again, I don’t know.”
“Maybe you want to kiss him again because you like him.”
“I can’t like him.”
She looks at Allison like she’s grown a second head. “Because I’m getting married to someone else next year.”
“Yeah, married to someone that you’ve been engaged to for two years and has put off the wedding four times now, even when you have told him you didn’t want a long engagement.”
“Yeah, but Roy—”
“Roy is great. He’s a good friend with good intentions and all that cheesy crap, but maybe that’s just what he’s supposed to be. A friend.”
“We’ve been together for, like, nine years. I can’t just end it.”
“You can, though. Who’s stopping you? Yeah, nine years is a long time, but I’ve also known you that long and you’re not as happy as you used to be, Pammy. Content, sure, and there are times when I think maybe I was wrong and you two are good for each other. But I saw your face when you saw Jim tonight, and that is how you should always look.”
Pam’s eyebrows furrow, “I was just surprised.”
“Pam, you were excited. He was, too. Maybe even more than you were.”
“We’re just good friends.”
I love being your friend, but I really want more than that.
His words come back to her, each word weighing down on her like a brick.
“Well,” Allison lays down beside her, resting her hand on top of Pam’s, “wouldn’t it be kind of nice to date your best friend?”
“I mean, yeah, but…”
“There’s always a million reasons not to do something, Pam. And maybe I’m biased here, since he was my first love, you know,” she smiles when Pam giggles, “but I think Jim is a pretty good reason to take a chance on this.”
“It’s just… it’s not that easy.”
“Never said it was.”
Pam sighs, letting everything that has happened tonight sink in. She was excited to see Jim, more excited than she had cared to admit to even herself. And tonight had been so easy with him, but that wasn’t necessarily surprising to her. He always made things easier, was always trying to make her laugh or do something fun even when she didn’t think it was possible. She’s only known him for two years, but the past two years have been great with him on her side, even just as friends.
She turns her head and looks at Allison, “Is he still here?”
Alli grins, “He was talking to Larissa when I came up here, so probably.”
It takes a couple of minutes for Pam to gain the courage to actually go downstairs, but when she does, he sees her immediately and stands up. His face is full of fear and concern and a million other things that she never wants to be the source of again, but she can also see the sliver of hope that he’s holding on to in his eyes. He walks towards her cautiously, as if she’ll bolt if he goes too fast, but she knows that she’s not going anywhere anymore without him with her.
The party is still going on; music is playing, people are talking, but she once again feels like her and Jim are the only two people here.
He just looks at her for a second, seemingly trying to figure out how she’s feeling, but when it’s not clear he says, “I’m really sorry about that. I totally get it if you just want to be friends, I’m fine with that, I’ll move on, whatever. I just—”
“Jim. No. I don’t… want you to move on.” She takes a deep breath before continuing, her voice coming out stronger than she thought it would, “I’m breaking up with Roy. I’ve liked you for a while, but I wouldn’t let myself admit it; even after I kissed you, I tried denying it. But I can’t do that anymore.”
“Really? I mean, I had always… I hoped that maybe one day you would give me a shot, but if you’re happy with Roy, I don’t want to make things difficult… I just want you to be happy.”
“Tonight has been the happiest I’ve been in a long time. I had gotten comfortable with Roy which I thought was good enough, but I want more. I want to feel the way I do when you look at me.”
He grins, “You have no idea how long I’ve wanted to hear that.”
Her smile matches his and she takes his hand, his touch easing the last of her nerves as she threads her fingers through his. “I’m going to need a little bit of time. To talk to Roy, cancel wedding stuff, move out, all that stuff. But I’m in this, Jim.”
“That’s okay,” he squeezes her hand, “I’m pretty good at waiting.”
One year later
“Are you sure we can’t cancel?”
She looks over at Jim, “We’re practically there already.”
“There’s still time to turn around. We can go back to your place, watch a bad Hallmark movie, or just go to your room and not watch a bad Hallmark movie.”
“Jim!” She smacks his arm when he smirks at her, but the smile on her face betrays her annoyed tone. “We’re going to the party. Allison wants to see my ring in person, anyway.”
He takes one hand off of the steering wheel to reach over and grab hers, kissing the skin right above the new ring on her finger before intertwining his fingers with hers and resting them on the center console. “If I knew this ring would have you running off to show everyone, I wouldn’t have proposed. Then I could still have you all to myself.”
She rubs her thumb back and forth across the back of his hand and sighs, “We have three more Christmas parties this week, but then I’m yours. Promise.”
He pulls in front of Allison’s house, parking the car before looking over at her, “I can still drive away; last chance, Beesly.”
She leans over the console to kiss him quickly before letting go of his hand and opening the car door, “The faster we make an appearance the faster we can fake sick and leave.”
He gets out of the car and circles the front to her side, grabbing her hand once more as they walk to the door. “You know Alli and Larissa won’t let us hear the end of it if we leave early.”
“You’d better practice your coughing to make it believable, then.”
He opens the door for her, and she’s immediately ambushed by Allison as soon as she steps inside, her hand taken from Jim’s grasp to awe over her ring. Before she can even take her coat off, Allison is dragging her further into the house, talking about flowers and bridesmaid dresses and asking Pam how she’s thinking of wearing her hair for her wedding.
An hour later, she finally manages to break free, and finds Jim snacking on a cinnamon roll and m&ms by the back wall, almost exactly the same spot she was last year when he walked up to her.
“Alli finally let you go?”
Pam shushes him and steals a bite of his cinnamon roll. “I don’t think she’s noticed I’m gone yet.”
He offers his plate to her so she can take some m&ms as well, “Sounds like you’d better hide.”
“That, my dear Jim, is exactly what I came here to do. C’mon.”
She grabs his free hand and pulls him through the crowd toward the front of the house. She reaches up to the top of the door frame, grabbing the key. She unlocks the door and quickly ushers Jim inside, closing the door once they’re both in.
But, this year, she locks the door too.