Title: A Good Start
Series: “Past Perfect”
Authors: austin360 and hannasus
Fandom: The Office
Summary: She pictures them coming back here every year to celebrate their anniversary and grins like a little girl. (Jim/Pam)
Spoilers: Through “The Job”
Author's Note: Chapter 1 is here. Props to ciachick711 for betaing.
A Good Start
Pam watches Jim while he drives and he’s so devastatingly handsome it makes her breath catch in her throat. He glances over, catches her looking at him, and smiles. At the next red light Pam works up the nerve to lay her hand on his knee. He puts his hand on top of hers and squeezes. She glances out the window and smiles at the setting sun. She can’t quite believe she’s actually here with Jim. Here. With Jim. He threads their fingers together and she smiles even wider.
He’s made reservations for them at Michaelangelo’s, which is a really nice restaurant—nicer than Pam’s used to. Even though she dropped a few not-so-subtle hints, Roy never brought her here, a fact for which she is now profoundly grateful because it means it can be her special place with Jim. She pictures them coming back here every year to celebrate their anniversary and grins like a little girl. Slow down, she tells herself. One date at a time.
When the hostess leads them to their table, Jim places his hand in the small of Pam’s back, sending a flood of shivers up and down her spine.
“Do you want get some wine?” he asks when they’re seated. “Or maybe a couple of kamikazes?” He gives her a lopsided grin and Pam’s heart skips a beat.
“Wine sounds great.”
The wine list is heavy enough to use as a blunt weapon and staring at the names of all the Burgundies and Cabernets and Rieslings makes Pam feel out of her depth.
Jim seems to know exactly what to do, though, and after asking whether she likes red or white he smoothly orders a bottle of Pinot Grigio with an impressive-sounding Italian name. She wonders when he became so worldly and if it was something he picked up in Stamford.
Then it occurs to her that maybe Jim’s always been like this and she just never saw that side of him. He’s probably the type of guy who takes girls to fancy restaurants all the time. Which then of course makes her wonder if he ever brought Karen here. Her stomach flips unpleasantly and she shakes her head quickly, trying to get rid of the jealous feeling snaking its way through her brain. No, she tells herself. He’s here with you now. Karen’s in New York. She doesn’t matter anymore.
She distracts herself by reading the dinner menu. Everything sounds exotic and delicious but she chooses the roast chicken because it’s one of the cheapest entrées. Then when Jim orders the filet mignon for himself she feels stupid and wishes she’d been more adventurous. She wonders if she should change her order, but starts to panic and ends up handing her menu to the waiter. The whole asking-for-what-you-want thing still needs some work.
Once the waiter leaves there’s an awkward lull in the conversation. Pam nervously picks at a slice of bread, suddenly keenly aware of exactly how strange it is to be all dressed up and in a place like this with Jim. Even when they were friends they hardly ever ate out alone together. And never anywhere this nice. Seeing him across the table from her, looking totally hot in that dark brown shirt with no tie for a change, he’s like a completely different person from the one she used to share Cokes with in the break room. She looks away nervously.
“Oh, hey,” Jim finally says, breaking the silence. “What was up with Dwight walking you out earlier? Are you two like BFFs now?”
She perks up. “Oh my god, you don’t know about my super secret promotion!”
Jim’s eyes get wide and he grins in delight. “Dwight gave you a super secret promotion? Beesly, you’re holding out on me!”
She tells him all about being secret assistant to the regional manager for half a day and Jim laughs when she gets to the part about her yelling at everyone in the conference room. With the return to familiar conversational terrain it starts to feel more like old times again and Pam relaxes a little.
“So,” she says, taking another sip of wine, “what happened with Michael? You know you have to tell me, no matter how awful it is.”
“Okay,” Jim says, resting his forearms on the table. “I will tell you, but then we must never speak of it again.”
Pam laughs. “Deal.”
“Well, I don’t know if you know this, but apparently dating Michael has caused Jan to go completely bat-shit bonkers.” And then he tells her about Jan spilling her crazy all over the floor at corporate.
“Yikes,” she says.
“Exactly. And while a normal person would probably try to back away from the crazy, Michael’s response, of course, was to immediately invite her to move in with him.”
“Oh, that is not good,” Pam says, shaking her head. “Those two make a really messed up couple.”
“You’re telling me? I’m the one who got stuck after work today listening to Michael’s sordid stories of their sexual escapades.”
Pam leans forward excitedly. “Like what?”
Jim shudders dramatically. “Let’s just say it involves the phrase ‘pony play’ and leave it at that.”
“Oh my god!” Pam squeals, then slaps her hands over her mouth when she realizes that some of the other diners are staring at her. “I mean, oh my god!” she repeats more quietly.
“I know! Nature recoils. As, by the way, did I.”
“Ugh. That’s just—okay, you know what?” she says. “Maybe we shouldn’t talk about work after all.”
“That is an excellent idea,” Jim says, leaning back in his chair. “I don’t really want to bring Dwight and Michael along on our date. So what should we talk about instead?”
“I don’t know, anything.”
“Hmmm.” He rubs his chin thoughtfully. “How about movies?”
Pam shakes her head. “I haven’t really seen many movies this year.”
“Why not? I thought you loved movies.”
“Yeah, I dunno. I guess I haven’t had anyone to go with, really.”
“Oh.” Jim gives her a sort of pitying look which is so not what she wanted. She’s basically turned her whole life around and she wants him to be proud of her, not feel sorry for her.
“What about television?” she says to change the subject. “Have you been watching ‘Project Runway’?”
“No, I actually... I haven’t really been watching that much TV.” He becomes intensely interested in brushing the crumbs off the tablecloth in front of him.
Right,” says Pam. “Of course.” Duh, because of Karen. He would have been too busy taking his girlfriend out to movies and fancy restaurants while Pam was home alone eating Pasta Roni and watching “Skating with Celebrities.”
She flails around for something else to talk about. “So, are you still living with Mark?”
“No, he got married, actually.”
“Married! When?” She kind of can’t believe Mark and Lisa got married and she didn’t even know. It’s a symbol of just how much she and Jim have drifted apart.
Jim sits up a little straighter. “Last fall.”
“Wow, that’s great. So it’s just you in the new place?”
“Well, me and the family of midgets living under the sink, yeah.”
Pam looks at him seriously. “And do the midgets come standard with the unit or do you have to pay extra for that kind of an upgrade?”
Jim laughs. “Definitely extra for the midgets.”
She loves that she can still make him laugh. “So is it a nice place? Do you like it?”
“Yeah, it’s pretty cool. It’s not as big as Mark’s, but it’s all mine. I can leave my delicate unmentionables lying around the house if I want.”
“You have a lot of delicate unmentionables, do you?”
“A few,” Jim says, quirking a smile.
“I guess it’s gonna be kind of weird for you now, with Karen still living right down the street,” Pam says.
“Yeah.” Jim’s smile fades. “Can we maybe not talk about Karen?”
It bothers her that he doesn’t want to talk about Karen, even though she knows it shouldn’t. “We’re gonna have to talk about her eventually.”
“Why? We never talked about Roy.”
“There’s nothing to talk about, I didn’t marry him.” She shrugs like it’s nothing, like it didn’t turn her whole world upside down.
“Hey, thanks for the heads up about that, by the way.” He says it lightly, and with a crooked grin, but it’s not quite enough to disguise the bitterness.
She looks down at her lap, where her fingers are absently tracing the place where her engagement ring used to be. There’s not even a dent anymore. “Yeah, well, I looked, but it turns out they don’t make unsave-the-date cards.”
“Too bad you didn’t have access to a phone or anything,” he says in that same jokey way, but she sees right through it.
The sarcasm hurts and she lashes out, the words coming out even harsher than she intended. “Maybe you should have stuck around long enough to find out for yourself.”
“Wow,” Jim says, his voice low and cold.
“I’m sorry,” she says quickly. “I didn’t mean—”
“No, what was I supposed to do, Pam? Wait for you forever? Let you reject me a few more times?”
The anger in his expression makes her stomach twist in knots. She doesn’t want to be talking about this now, but somehow she can’t just let it go, either. She spent too many months keeping everything inside to just drop it now that they’ve started.
“You have no idea...” She pauses, takes a breath. “This year has been really hard for me. It would have been nice to have my best friend around to talk to.”
“I tried to talk to you when I came back.”
She gapes at him and feels hot anger bubble up. “When? The day you completely ignored me and then flaunted your new girlfriend in my face?”
“No, in the parking lot, when you told me that we were just friends, and that I should do whatever I wanted. Thanks for the permission, by the way.”
She can’t believe they’re having this argument. Not now. Not when they were so happy just a few minutes ago. “What was I supposed to say?” she hisses, trying not to raise her voice.
“Pam. I said I—,” Jim starts, but the waiter appears with their food and they both fall silent. She takes a sip of wine but it leaves a sour taste in her mouth.
“You know what?” Jim says quietly when the waiter leaves. “Let’s just drop it.”
“Fine,” Pam says. But it’s not fine. She stares miserably at her stupid twenty-three dollar baked chicken. Her appetite is completely gone and she has no idea how they ended up here.
Jim’s not eating either, just pushing his mashed potatoes around with his fork. But Pam’s angry. And he more he picks at his food, the angrier she gets.
“Why didn’t you come to my art show?” she asks.
“What?” he looks up from his uneaten steak.
“My art show,” she repeats firmly. “You had to know how important that night was for me.”
“Yeah,” he says, avoiding her eyes.
“I guess Karen probably didn’t want you to go, right? I mean, I guess I could understand—”
“That’s not it. It had nothing to do with Karen.”
Pam feels like she’s caught in an avalanche and the ice and the snow are dragging her down towards the jagged rocks waiting at the bottom. She doesn’t say anything, just looks at Jim and waits.
He sighs, sits back in his chair and looks her straight in the eye. “I wasn’t at your art show because I didn’t want to go.”
The words fall from his mouth like razor blades but she doesn’t flinch. She sits perfectly still. Doesn’t breathe. Doesn’t blink. Her pulse is roaring like thunder in her ears.
“I’m sorry,” Jim says, a little desperately. “But you and Roy were back together and I’d already—”
“I want to go home,” Pam says abruptly.
“—seen about all I...” Jim stops and stares at her. “What did you say?”
“I want to go home,” she repeats slowly. Her throat feels raw and tight and she knows if she’s not careful she’s going to cry.
Jim looks frightened. “Please, Pam, let’s not do this.” His voice is pleading with her and so are his eyes.
She looks at him and thinks she should probably feel sad, but she’s numb all over and the only thing she knows for sure is that she can’t stay here a minute longer. “Are you going to take me home or should I call a cab?”
He looks at her helplessly, like he’s trying to think of some way to talk her out of this. Then he shakes his head and the muscles in his jaw tighten. “I’ll take you home. Let me just pay the check first.”
“I’ll wait by the car.” Pam grabs her purse and flees the restaurant.
The night air feels cold while she waits for Jim to come outside. It’s even colder inside the car on the drive back. Neither of them speak. When the CD cycles back around to “You Love Me,” Jim reaches over and turns it off.
They pull up in front of her apartment and he turns to look at her for the first time since the restaurant. “Listen, Pam—”
She doesn’t wait to hear what he has to say. This is already the worst night of her life and she just can’t handle anything else so she jumps out of the car and runs up the walk to her apartment. When she’s inside she leans against the door, listening. A minute later she hears Jim’s car drive away.
Pam sinks to the floor and cries.
Continue to Chapter 4