Series: “Past Perfect”
Authors: austin360 and hannasus
Fandom: The Office
Summary: This morning when he came into the office she couldn’t even bring herself to look at him. (Jim/Pam)
Spoilers: Through “The Job”
Author's Note: Chapter 1 is here. Thanks to ciachick711 for betaing.
Middle of Nowhere
If Pam cranes her neck just right, she can make out the back of Jim’s head through the mini-blinds of the conference room as he’s doing his on-camera interview. It’s not much, but it’s about all the communication she’s had with him today.
The way things are going, it may be all the communication they’ll ever have. This morning when he came into the office she couldn’t even bring herself to look at him. The facade of composure she had stapled on before work was such a fragile, tenuous thing that she was afraid if she looked into Jim’s eyes she’d shatter into a million irreparable pieces, right there in front of everyone.
And then when she finally did allow herself to look at him, he was with Karen. Holding Karen’s hand. Laughing with Karen. Hugging Karen. Thinking about it leaves a sour, acrid taste in the back of Pam’s throat.
If she’s honest with herself, Pam’s always been jealous of Karen. Of the way Karen seemed to slide right into her new life in Scranton, the way she seems to be able to just reach out and take whatever she wants. She always looks perfectly put together even on her worst days, she has a circle of friends to support her, and she probably knows exactly how much pasta to cook so she doesn’t end up with a million Tupperware containers littering her fridge. Unlike Pam. And, of course, Karen had Jim. Or has Jim. Unlike Pam.
She leans forward even further, just in time to see Jim put his head in his hands. It makes her heart ache and she wants so desperately to go to him. To walk into the conference room, hug him, and tell him that she’s sorry and she loves him and can they please have another chance. But the cameras are in there, and what if he tells her it’s too late, that he and Karen are back together? She doesn’t know what to do.
The main office line rings, giving her an excuse to do nothing.
“Dunder Mifflin, this is Pam,” she says hollowly.
“Pam, it’s Jan. Again. I’m looking for Michael, can you put me through, please?”
There’s something approaching desperation in the tone of Jan’s voice, but when Pam looks over at Michael’s office he’s slashing his finger across his throat and shaking his head. He mouths, “Do. Not. Put. Her. Through,” and then shuts his blinds.
“Um, he’s…on a sales call right now. I’ll pass along a message, though.”
“I’ve left four messages. So either he’s not calling me back or you’re not giving them to him,” Jan snaps.
“Never mind. I’ll try his cell,” she responds curtly before hanging up.
Michael comes bounding out of his office and leans over the front desk. Pam tries to look busy stapling waste paper into homemade note pads, in the vain hope he’ll go away without talking to her.
“Tell her I’m busy,” he says, as if they’re already in the middle of a conversation.
“Tell who what?” Pam says, feigning ignorance.
“Jan. Tell her I’m busy next time she calls. Tell her I went to the dentist—no, the doctor. Yes! Tell her I went to the endocrinologist because I have a problem with... one of my testicles.”
Some days Pam’s job makes her really sad. “I don’t think an endocrinologist deals with the… um…. with your—”
“Thank you, Pam! You’re the best!” Michael chirps, slapping his hand on the counter before disappearing back into his office. She stands to go after him, but just then the conference room door swings open and she drops back into her seat.
Jim’s hands are shoved deep in his pockets when he comes out and he refuses to look in her direction which makes her insides twist. He’s just about to sink back into his chair when Stanley cuts him off. She can’t hear what Stanley’s saying, but she can see Jim pinch the bridge of his nose in aggravation.
“We have to leave in a few minutes!” Stanley barks loudly enough for everyone in the office to hear. “It’s a two hour drive and I’m not going to be late because you forgot.”
Pam watches as Jim quietly gathers some files from his desk and shoves them into his messenger bag along with a copy of Dunder-Mifflin’s Q2 2007 Sales Guide. She tries to catch his eye as he puts his suit jacket on, but he still won’t look at her and Pam feels an escalating sense of panic. If he leaves now, they won’t get a chance to talk.
“Jim?” she croaks as he walks past her desk. It’s the first time she’s spoken to him since last night.
He freezes and turns to look at her. It’s hard to read his expression, but she thinks maybe there’s an apology in his eyes. Or maybe he’s just mortified that she’s talking to him. “I, uh... I gotta go. Sales call. In Reading.” He shifts uncomfortably.
“I’ll be gone for the rest of the day, I think.”
“Okay,” Pam says, her heart sinking. Out of the corner of her eye, she catches Randall with the camera hoisted on his shoulder, catching every expression on her face. This kind of thing must be gold for them. “Well, then. I guess…I’ll see you tomorrow?” She struggles keep her voice steady, so she doesn’t sound too hopeful and desperate.
His gives her a tepid smile. “Tomorrow’s Saturday, Beesly.”
“Oh.” So, does that mean he doesn’t want to talk to her at all over the weekend? Karen gets to see him “later” but Pam’s supposed to wait until work on Monday?
She tries not to sound crushed as she says, “Then I guess I’ll see you on Monday,” just as the phone rings again.
“I’m at the testicle doctor!” Michael shouts from his office as the main door closes behind Stanley and Jim.
Pam blinks back tears and lets the phone roll to voicemail.
She’s not going to cry, she refuses to be that girl. Instead, she heads into the restroom and splashes cold water on her face. Only when she’s sure the urge to cry has well and truly passed does she return to her desk.
On the way she catches Angela giving her a weird look. And then a moment later she hears Angela tap three times on her desk. Out of the corner of her eye she sees Dwight look in her direction and then he taps on his desk three times. Pam tries to ignore it but then Angela starts tapping again. It goes back and forth like some kind of weird Morse code for several minutes until finally Dwight gets up and approaches Pam’s desk.
“Pamela,” he says gravely. “I have something very sensitive to discuss with you. I request your presence in the breakroom.”
“I’m kind of busy,” Pam says. “What’s it about?” Dwight’s been buddying up to her since the secret promotion yesterday and it’s starting to get on her nerves. Under different circumstances she might be able to have fun with it, but not today. Not when she and Jim aren’t even speaking.
“Not here,” Dwight hisses, shooting a glance over his shoulder at the camera crew that’s currently in Michael’s office. “This is a highly confidential matter of the utmost importance.” He knocks on the reception counter three times and disappears to the back.
Pam sighs and reluctantly follows Dwight. While he sits down and places a copy of the Sears catalog on the table in front of him, she gets a soda out of the machine.
“What is it?” Pam says, sitting across from him with her Coke.
Dwight clears his throat. “Pam. It’s come to my attention that I am in need of some assistance. I am reluctant to ask for it, but,” he leans forward and braces his elbows on the table, “my girlfriend says we can trust you with our secret.”
Pam nods and laces her fingers together in her lap.
“You have experience…. decommitting to things. Which is why I’m reluctant to involve you in something so life-changing—”
“Decommitting? To what?”
“Your marriage to a certain Roy Anderson. You left him at the altar, did you not?”
Pam feels the blood rush to her face. “I did not. We broke up before the wedding, not the day of.”
“Nonetheless, I’m not sure—”
“Just tell me what you need help with, Dwight.”
“I need you to help me pick out an engagement ring. I assume you know a fair bit about… these types of things.”
Pam gapes at him. “You’re getting engaged? To Angela?” She did not see this coming, although maybe she should have.
“Pam!” Dwight exclaims, shushing her. “Angela says we can trust you to keep our secret.”
“No, totally. You can totally trust me. I won’t tell a soul.” She can’t taste her soda anymore and wonders why Dwight and Angela’s happiness makes her feel so empty.
“Now that I know that you are no longer aligning yourself with Jim and his childish pranks, I’m coming to you for help.”
Pam tries not to flinch at the mention of Jim. “So you want my advice about rings?”
“As a rule, the Schrutes don’t believe in jewelry. In my family, the male kills the biggest elk he can find and takes it to the best taxidermist in the county—currently my uncle Hershel. The bride-to-be receives it as a love offering and mounts it to the wall if the offer of marriage is accepted.”
“Mmm hmm.” She nods, forcing her mouth into a thin line to cover her amusement.
“But my beloved wants an engagement stone and I am determined to find something to adequately show her how much I care. Money is no object when my woman’s happiness is at stake.” He flips open the Sears catalog and slides it across the table. “Now. Which of these rings do you think Angela would like?”
She spends the next fifteen minutes looking at rings with Dwight, but the truth is she knows next to nothing about Angela’s taste in jewelry except for her ever-present crucifixes. In the end Dwight settles on a 1/4 carat marquis bridal set with a tiny cross engraved in the band and Pam hollowly assures him that Angela will love it.
The rest of the day passes in a sort of haze. Dwight and Angela keep giving each other sneaky sideways glances whenever the cameras aren’t around. Watching them, Pam can’t seem to stop looking over at Jim’s empty desk, can’t stop thinking about him, and feels progressively worse and worse, missing him.
She realizes that she’s actually jealous of Dwight and Angela, how they’re so perfect for each other in their weird, freaky, desk-tapping way. Here they are carrying on this secret romance in the office and totally making it work for them and Pam wonders if she’ll ever get to have that with Jim.
In the afternoon Michael makes her do carpool assignments for the whole office based on where everyone lives. She tries to tell him no one’s going to want to carpool but he won’t be swayed. It nearly kills her to assign Jim and Karen to the same carpool. Pam ends up with Creed and Andy and Kevin, which is, like, so typical of her life. But then when word gets out about the carpool plan there’s a general mutiny and Michael ends up sulking in his office the rest of the day. Pam secretly rejoices.
It’s Friday so everyone but Michael shoots out the door at five, but Pam lingers, finishing up a game of solitaire. What does she have to hurry home to? Another weekend alone, wishing she were with Jim?
At 5:20 she takes pity on Michael and knocks on his office door. When she goes in he’s staring out the window with his back to her, and the way his shoulders are slumped she knows he’s upset.
“Michael, are you okay?” she asks.
He shakes his head and sniffles pathetically. “No one liked my eco-friendly policies. I just wanted to do something good for the earth, but apparently we work in an office full of earth-haters.”
“You know,” Pam says gently, “it’s not easy to be the person leading the charge for change. People don’t really like change, even when it’s good for them. But I think it was really brave of you to try it.”
“That’s a good point,” Michael says, perking up a little. “No one liked Martin Luther King at first. Or Ghandi.”
“Exactly,” Pam says, with as much sincerity as she can muster. “Maybe you just need to start a little more slowly. Give them some time to adjust.”
“That is a very good idea. People can only take so much inspiration. I don’t want to over-inspire.”
“Yeah, you know, start with the fax cover sheets for now, and maybe later on we can go after those plastic spoons.”
“And the Kleenex!”
“Yeah, that’s the ticket,” he says, getting excited. “I pity da fool who tries to waste the earth’s resources in this office!”
“Okay,” Pam says before he gets too carried away with the ‘80s catchphrases. “So, are you heading out soon? I could, uh, walk down with you.”
He hangs his head so that his chin is nearly resting on his chest. “I don’t wanna go home, Pam. I thought I’d be excited and happy that Jan wants to be there with me, but I’m…I’m…” he trails off.
“You’re what?” Pam asks against her better judgment.
“I’m scared of her,” he hisses in a low voice, his eyes darting toward the open blinds near the front hallway, as if Jan’s eavesdropping.
Pam sighs. “Then why did you get back together with her?”
“I don’t knooooow” he moans, slumping forward so his forehead hits the desk with a sickening clunk.
“I thought I wanted to break up with her,” he says into the surface of the desk. “It seemed like the right thing to do when we were all at the mall the other day, but...”
He sits up and looks at Pam with watery eyes. “But then I saw her, and I just... I wanted to be with her. I don’t expect you to understand what it’s like to love someone that much.”
“Yeah,” she says sourly. But she does understand. Isn’t that how she feels about Jim? Come on, Beesly, don’t think, just answer. What do you want to do about Jim?
I want to fix things with Jim.
It hits her like a blast of cold air. I want to fix things with Jim.
“I want to be with Jan,” Michael says. “I’m almost 75% sure. Seventy-five or seventy. The thing is, I just don’t want to actually be with her, you know, right now.”
“Go home, Michael,” Pam says firmly. “You can’t sleep here and Jan would never believe that you’ve been at the doctor this long.”
“I checked out some stuff on WebMD. I can fake…uh, let’s see,” he sifts through a stack of printouts on his desk before finding what he’s looking for. “I can fake… temporary impotence. What do you think?”
Pam suppresses a shudder and starts herding Michael out the door as quickly as she can. She’s got things to do tonight after all.
Continue to Chapter 6