Series: “Past Perfect”
Authors: austin360 and hannasus
Fandom: The Office
Summary: And now he’s surpassed even Roy in the Worst First Date contest. Jim Halpert for the win, ladies and gentlemen. (Jim/Pam)
Spoilers: Through “The Job”
Rating: PG-13 (for language)
Author's Note: Chapter 1 is here. Thanks to ciachick711 for betaing.
The Bleeding Heart Show
When Jim’s alarm goes off Friday morning he’s already awake, staring morosely at the bumps on his ceiling. He was way too busy reliving his catastrophic first date with Pam last night to get any sleep. He still can’t believe some of the things he said to her. He can’t believe some of the things she said to him, either.
And now he’s surpassed even Roy in the Worst First Date contest. Jim Halpert for the win, ladies and gentlemen.
He wishes he’d kissed her again by the car at the beginning of the date. Maybe then they would have missed their dinner reservation. Maybe they wouldn’t have had that horrible fight. Maybe he’d never have to have seen the look on her face when he told her why he wasn’t at her art show.
And if wishes were ponies he’d be knee-deep in shit. Reluctantly, he drags himself out of bed, cuts himself three times shaving, and nearly brushes his teeth with Tinactin. His eyes stare back at him from the bathroom mirror, red and hollow. He gets dressed mechanically and drives to work in a daze.
When he pulls into the parking lot Pam’s car is already there and he feels a sharp pain wending its way from his heart to his throat. He sits in the car for a while, spinning the keyring on his index finger, trying to figure out what he’s going to do when he sees her. Should he wait for her to say something first? Should he try to apologize? He has no idea how to move forward from where they left things.
His phone buzzes and he fumbles for it, desperately hoping it’s Pam, but it’s a text from Karen. “OMW back from NY. We need to talk.” And now this day is, like, perfect.
It takes him another five minutes to work up the courage to go inside. When he does Pam’s there sitting at her desk, just like every morning. Only this morning when he comes in she looks away, refusing to even acknowledge his presence, and Jim’s heart caves in on itself. And of course there’s Randall the cameraman, capturing every agonizing moment for posterity.
He walks numbly to his desk and takes off his jacket. He cannot possibly survive a whole day of feeling like this. Screw it, he’s going to go talk to her. Right now. Cameras be damned, he’s got to try and fix this.
As he approaches the reception desk Pam turns her back to him and puts something in the fax. Not really a promising start, but Jim refuses to be deterred. His resolve is rock solid.
Just as he opens his mouth to say something Dwight comes in and pauses at Pam’s desk. “Good morning, Pam.”
Jim immediately aborts Operation Talk To Pam and develops a sudden interest in finding a green jelly bean.
“Good morning, Dwight.” Pam actually looks up and smiles at Dwight. Dwight!
Out of the corner of his eye, Jim sees the camera swing back to him for a reaction. He tries really hard not have one.
Dwight looks him up and down suspiciously. “You look like crap, Jim.”
“Thanks, Dwight.” He pops a jelly bean in his mouth and sneaks a glance at Pam, but she’s still ignoring him.
“Hey, Pam,” Dwight says, leaning on the counter, “is that the same water bottle you were drinking from yesterday?”
“Um, yes.” Pam glances nervously from the water bottle to Dwight.
“Did you know that there are carcinogenic toxins in the plastic that break down and seep into your water? If you use a disposable water bottle for longer than 24 hours, it will give you cancer.”
“Yeah, I don’t think that’s true,” Pam says, turning back to the fax machine.
Wow, it must be a really important fax, Jim thinks sourly, the way she’s hand feeding each sheet in one by one instead of using the automatic document feeder.
You know what? Forget it. There’s no way he’s talking to Pam with Dwight hanging around. Jim gives up and goes back to his desk, leaving them to their fascinating conversation.
“No, it’s totally true,” Dwight insists. “That’s how Alanis Morissette got breast cancer.”
“Alanis Morissette never had—”
“Cancer is no one’s friend, Pam. Except for cockroaches. They’re just waiting for us to die off so they can rule the earth again. Do you want to help the cockroaches?”
Randall turns the camera on Jim for a reaction to Dwight’s idiocy, and he somehow manages to muster the expected look of exasperation.
When the camera moves away he opens his email in the vain hope that Pam might have sent him a note. But there’s nothing in his inbox but a string of forwards from Michael and some spam advising him to “Listen to the voice of your penis.” Awesome.
He starts up his instant messaging client, but it says Pam’s unavailable. Only she’s not unavailable, she’s sitting RIGHT THERE, talking to Dwight about cockroaches.
He notices the blinking light on his phone and scrambles for the handset, remembering the day she left him seven messages. He’s got two voicemails... and both of them are from customers.
Pam is literally three yards from him but she’s never felt further away. And every time the door opens, he worries that it’s going to be Karen, which does nothing to improve his state of mind.
To distract himself, Jim decides to start returning some of the calls that stacked up while he was in New York. Thanks to a miscounted order he ends up doing actual work for a whole half hour.
When he gets off the phone Dwight’s back at his own desk and Pam still hasn’t signed on to IM. His new mail notifier is flashing, though. This time it’s an email forward from Kelly warning him about muggers who use ether-laced perfume on their victims. Delete.
Ken stops by his desk. “Hey, Jim, you ready?”
And then he remembers. The interview. The one he promised to do today. Crap. Ken’s going to ask him about Karen and about Pam and about the date last night and what the hell is he supposed to say?
“You promised,” Ken says. “I didn’t send the cameras along last night and you said—”
“I know,” Jim says, rubbing his forehead. “It’s just... Look, things didn’t exactly...” He stops, afraid to say too much. “It wouldn’t really make for a very interesting interview.”
Ken gives him a wry grin. “Yeah, it’s funny how people always say that before giving the really good interviews.”
As luck would have it Michael chooses this exact moment to come out of his office and announce that he’s implementing a series of policies to make the office more environmentally friendly. “Everyone in the conference room!” he shouts excitedly over the general chorus of groans.
Ken grimaces and Jim gives him a what-are-you-gonna-do shrug even though secretly he’s overjoyed to sit through one of Michael’s inane meetings if it gets him out of a humiliating on-camera interview.
He heads into the conference room and sinks into a chair. There’s a picture of a baby panda bear inexplicably taped to the wall and he stares at it curiously. Pam comes in a minute later, her gaze slipping over him like he’s not even there. She clutches her notebook to her chest and takes a seat on the other side of the room from him, next to Dwight. Jim watches darkly as Dwight leans over and says something to her and she smiles back. It’s like she’s formed an alliance with Dwight just to spite him. Jim crosses his arms and stares at at his shoes, resolved not to look at her again.
“As of today, Dunder-Mifflin Scranton is a paperless office,” Michael announces proudly when everyone is seated.
Phyllis raises her hand tentatively. “But we sell paper.”
“Really, Phyllis?” Michael snaps. “Because after 14 years I had no idea that this is a paper company.”
Phyllis answers with a death glare which Michael ignores.
“Obviously we’re not reducing the paper we sell. We’re reducing the paper we use, which saves the company money, saves trees, and saves endangered baby panda bears.” He gestures proudly at the picture on the wall. “Win-win-win.”
Dwight’s hand shoots into the air. “Question: how does it save panda bears?”
“Because pandas live in the rainforests that will not be chopped down thanks to our environmentally friendly policies.”
“Pandas don’t live in rainforests,” Pam points out tersely, and Jim can’t resist looking up at the sound of her voice. She looks tired and annoyed and he takes more satisfaction from that fact than he probably should.
Michael gives her a condescending look. “Of course they do, Pam. I think you’re confusing them with polar bears, who live in the Antarctic. And instead of questioning my zoo-olo-logical knowledge you should be taking notes. I want you to type up a list of the new policies and make copies for everyone in the office.”
The look that crosses Pam’s face elicits Jim’s first smile of the whole day.
“Okely dokely,” Michael says. “First of all, no more using fax cover sheets. That’s simple enough, right?”
There are a few wary nods around the room.
“We will also be eliminating all paper and styrofoam cups from the kitchen. Also plastic eating utensils.”
“How am I supposed to eat my Cup O’ Noodles?” Kevin asks.
“Bring a spoon from home, Kevin.”
“All I have at home are plastic spoons I stole from here,” Kevin whispers, and Jim gives him a sympathetic look.
“No more paper napkins, paper towels or Kleenex,” Michael continues.
“No Kleenex?” Toby says. “Don’t you think that’s a little unreasonable?”
Michael’s eyes narrow to slits. “No, Toby, unlike you, I do not hate the planet, so I think it’s the least we can do.”
“I’m affected by seasonal allergies,” Angela says.
“Handkerchiefs,” Michael says. “They’re environmentally friendly and they’re fashionable.”
“Ugh,” Kelly says, making a face. “Handkerchiefs are, like, so gross. And totally unsanitary.”
“Who even uses handkerchiefs anymore?” Oscar says.
Dwight smiles smugly. “I never leave the house without a handkerchief in my pocket.”
“Exactly,” Oscar mutters.
Michael is starting to get that wild-eyed look like his head might pop off at any moment, which cheers Jim up a little. And then Karen walks into the room and all his cheer evaporates.
She pauses in the doorway and looks from Jim over to where Pam’s sitting across the room, then back at Jim. Her appearance is as flawless as always—the pitiful jilted girlfriend is not exactly Karen’s style—and he’s suddenly conscious of how shitty he must look today. He stares back down at his shoes, grateful for Meredith and Kevin taking up the seats on either side of him.
Karen finds an empty chair next to Andy, who leans in to whisper something to her. Whatever it is, Karen suddenly looks like she wants to vomit. Pam, meanwhile, stares intensely at her notebook like she’s busy taking notes and successfully ignores everyone.
Michael continues to rattle off his list of increasingly ridiculous policies, which Jim pays only marginal attention to, until the meeting finally degenerates into a general cacophony of grumbling and complaining.
“This is the hottest spring we’ve had this century.” Michael shouts over the din. “And do you know why? Daylight Savings started a whole month early this year. You’d think they would have considered the effect that a whole extra month of daylight would have on the planet, but apparently not. So now it’s up to us to take action before we all end up swimming to work every day.”
“That is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard,” Stanley says.
Michael reaches over and tears the picture of the panda off the wall, brandishing it for emphasis. “Save the panda, save the world, Stanley. Can you live with yourself if you let the pandas die?”
“Yes,” Stanley says sourly before going back to his crossword.
“The tribe has spoken! And by tribe, I mean me. Reduce, reuse, recycle! That’s going to be our new mission statement from now on, and if you don’t like it... well then you can just talk to the hand.”
“Reduce, reuse, recycle,” Andy repeats. “That’s a really cool slogan, did you make that up yourself?”
“As a matter of fact, I did,” Michael says proudly.
Jim can’t resist looking toward the camera and shaking his head.
“You should, like, totally have that put that on a t-shirt or something,” says Andy, engaging his hyper suck-up drive.
Michael beams. “Good idea! I just wish everyone were as excited about saving the planet as Andy, here. Pam, see how much it would cost to have a bunch of t-shirts and posters printed up.”
“But doesn’t that defeat the whole—”
“Just do it, please.” Michael wads up the picture of the baby panda and tosses it into the trashcan rather than the recycling bin sitting right beside it. Jim watches as the camera captures all of it, then turns to Pam for a reaction shot. She smiles wanly and stares back down at her notebook.
As soon as the meeting ends Jim rockets out of his chair. He’s halfway to his desk when Karen intercepts him and asks if they can talk. He desperately wants to say no, but he can’t really think of a nice way out of it so he follows her glumly into the kitchen.
There’s really nothing left to talk about, he thinks, shoving his hands into his pockets and leaning against the counter. Not that that ever stopped Karen before.
“I’ve been thinking about what you said yesterday...” Karen says, pacing nervously.
Jim tries to pay attention, but all he can think about is how much he doesn’t want to be here. And anyway isn’t one of the benefits of breaking up with your girlfriend supposed to be that you no longer have to care what she thinks?
He sneaks a look through the blinds and sees that Dwight is back at Pam’s desk, leaning over the counter and talking to her animatedly about something or other. And then Pam looks over at the kitchen and for the first time that day they make eye contact. Jim smiles uncertainly. Pam looks immediately away. Nice.
Karen’s still talking and he tunes back in just in time to hear, “—work on this some more before we just give up.”
He stands up straight. “Wait, what?”
She gives him an exasperated look. “I said that we’ve got something worth saving here and I think we should give this another—”
“No, Karen, I thought you understood I—” He falters. How can he say this so she’ll get it? “There’s nothing to work on. I don’t want to be in this relationship anymore.”
“Oh.” She looks upset for a second, then quickly rallies. “Okay. Well maybe if we took a break, you know, spent some time apart...”
“I’m in love with Pam.”
“You say that, but—”
“We went on date last night.”
Karen recoils like she’s been slapped. “Okay, then.”
“No, I mean, you waited, what? Three whole hours after you broke up with me, right? You gotta move on sometime.”
He sighs. “I told you yesterday—”
“I know,” she says quietly, shoulders slumping. “I’m the idiot that came back here thinking maybe I still had a chance. Way to take a hint, Filippelli.”
There’s pain in her voice and Jim hates that it’s his fault. And it’s not like he doesn’t care about her. She’s this amazing, cool person and he really wanted to make it work with her. Part of him still kind of wishes he had.
He reaches out and takes her hand, giving it a squeeze. “It’s my fault. I don’t think I did any of this right.”
“No, I really…I just wanted... well, this,” Karen says, holding up their intertwined fingers. “I wanted this. A lot.”
“I did too, but, Karen, it was like I was just going through the motions and I can’t do it anymore. You deserve better than that.”
“Yeah, I always was out of your league, Halpert.” She smiles thinly and he’s relieved that she’s not exploding all over him. “So how’d your interview go, anyway?” she says.
He shrugs. “No idea.”
“You haven’t heard anything?”
“No, have you?”
She shakes her head. “At least we know it’s probably not going to be Michael, huh?”
They both laugh. Jim happens to glance out the window and sees Pam watching them. He lets go of Karen’s hand.
“Yeah, so I think I’m probably going to take a sick day,” Karen says. “I can’t really hang around here and watch you and Pam... you know.”
It makes Jim feel kind of ill to think about how very much it’s not like that, but he can’t say that to Karen so he just ducks his head awkwardly.
“If it’s okay, I’ll come by this weekend to pick up my stuff,” she says. “I’ve got a hoodie and some t-shirts—”
“—and that hairdryer,” he adds.
“Yeah and my Shins CD.”
“Sure,” Jim says. “That’s fine, just, uh, call me.”
Karen looks at him. “I guess this is it, huh?”
“Yeah, I guess it is.”
She’s just standing there so Jim steps forward and hugs her. He’s afraid maybe it’ll be one of those awful clingy hugs that he has to forcibly extricate himself from, but he should have known Karen’s stronger than that. It’s over before he knows it.
He follows her out of the kitchen and manages to slink back to his desk without looking in Pam’s direction.
Karen thumps the surface of his desk on her way out. “See you later, Halpert.”
“Yeah,” Jim mutters, nodding at her once before averting his gaze to stare intently at his computer screen. He’s certain he can feel Pam’s eyes boring a hole in the back of his skull.
He checks his instant messenger again but Pam’s still “unavailable.” There’s a new email in his inbox but it’s from Kevin—a link to a video of a gorilla picking its nose. Delete.
After the conversation in the kitchen he feels better about the way he left things with Karen. But he knows Pam saw them talking and now he’s afraid she might get the wrong idea. He considers trying to talk to her again but Kelly’s standing at the front desk chittering about some hairbrush that, like, totally changed her life.
He starts a new email to Pam. On further consideration he deletes her name from the “To:” field because the last thing he needs is to accidentally send her a half-written note.
He tabs to the body of the email. Stares at the screen. Has absolutely no idea what he wants to stay.
Baby steps, he tells himself. Start small.
Yeah, that isn’t working. He deletes and starts over.
Lamer. Should he be more casual?
Blargh. Forget the greeting. Just start writing.
The cursor blinks at him tauntingly. Come on, dummy, write something. He presses his fists against his eyelids, trying to will the perfectly worded email into his brain.
His instant messenger dings and he lunges for the mouse.
Kevin Malone: Did u watch the video? Isnt it awesome???
Then Ken taps him on the shoulder and points to where Randall’s setting up the camera in the conference room. “Let’s go, Jim.”
“Um, I’m kinda busy right now—”
“Yeah, you can probably watch the gorilla pick his nose later,” Ken says.
Jim hauls himself to his feet and trudges to the conference room like a condemned man. He stops just inside the doorway and looks back across the office. His eyes meet Pam’s just before Ken shuts the door.
While Ken and Randall finish getting everything set up Jim fidgets in his chair and cracks his knuckles nervously
“Okay,” Ken says. “You ready?”
Jim nods numbly.
“Tell me about what happened with you and Karen in New York yesterday.”
“Uh...” Jim clears his throat. His mouth is full of cotton and his palms are sweaty. He wonders if this is what the beginning of a panic attack feels like. “We, um, broke up.”
After a pause Ken says, “Uh huh. Can you expand on that a little? And remember I need you to make it clear who you’re talking about.”
“Try to incorporate the question into the beginning of your answer. You’re great at this Jim, so just relax, okay?”
“Okay,” he says, as if relaxing’s actually an option at this point.
“Go ahead whenever you’re ready.”
Jim opens his mouth to speak and his mind goes utterly and completely blank. “Um... geez, I’m sorry, what was it you wanted me to talk about again?”
“Tell me what happened with you and Karen in New York yesterday,” Ken repeats patiently.
Jim nods. “So, Karen and I broke up yesterday...” He pauses, his mind racing for something he can say that doesn’t reveal too much. “Things have been sort of winding down between us for a while and... well, it just felt like it was time. It’s amicable, though. I mean, so far. Karen’s great and, you know, we work together and all, so I’d really like to stay friends.” He grimaces. “Wow, that’s not a cliché or anything.”
Ken nods approvingly, though. “Good. Now can you describe what you did when you got back from New York and why?”
“When I got back?” Jim says dully. “You mean—”
“The Pam stuff,” Ken says. “Just talk as much as you can about what you did and why, and, you know, what happened after.”
Jim nods, wipes his palms on his pants legs, and starts. “After I got back from New York yesterday I asked Pam out on a date. And... she said yes.”
“What finally made you do it?”
“I did it because... because of what she said on the beach the other night. And because she put this note...” Jim pauses. What the hell, he figures. “I did it because I’m in love with her. I mean, it’s not like it was exactly a secret or anything, right?”
Ken’s smiling now. This is exactly what he was looking for. “Great! Now tell me about the date.”
“The date,” Jim repeats, as his insides go cold. “The date, yeah. Um... I picked her up at her apartment and we went to dinner. At Michaelangelo’s.” He stops and presses his lips together.
“How was it?” Ken prompts.
“How was it? It was...” Feeling queasy, he looks into the camera and then looks back at Ken. Doesn’t say anything.
Ken frowns. “Jim?”
“Yeah?” He can feel the sweat beading on his forehead.
“Can you tell me how it went?”
Jim shakes his head and stares down at his hands. “No, I really can’t. I’m sorry, man.”
“Are you okay?” Ken asks gently.
“Not even remotely,” Jim says, leaning forward and pressing his head into his hands. He knows Randall is zooming in for a closer look at his misery. “Can you turn off the camera now? Because I can’t do this anymore.”
Continue to Chapter 5