Title: Between Friends
Setting: Mid-season two, no specific spoilers
Word Count: 3,570
Summary: “You realize, of course, that we could never be friends,” Billy Crystal says. Meg argues valiantly against it, and Pam feels a little bad for her, because she’s wrong, isn’t she? She’s completely wrong. The whole point of the movie is that they’re perfect for each other and their friends know it and the audience knows it and even they know it, on some level, but they just can’t bring themselves to admit it. It’s frustrating and futile and kind of depressing, and she’s not really in a romantic comedy mood right now.
It’s weird, but Pam sort of likes Mondays.
Not that she hates the weekend, or anything: working here, especially, the idea of the weekend becomes something approaching sacred very, very fast. It’s nice to have a little two-day escape every week, where you don’t have to worry that saying “Good morning, Michael” will result in being forced to listen to every word in the English language that rhymes with your name (Bam. Clam. Spam.), or that bringing carrot sticks for lunch will land you with a frighteningly intense lecture about the superiority of beets to all other vegetables. Ever.
So, yeah. Weekends can be nice.
It’s just that she’s alone a lot: Roy likes to go out with the guys, which she doesn’t mind or anything, but it gets a little old every once in awhile. She kind of wishes they had a pet, but Roy hates cats and he’s allergic to dogs, which is a shame because she always sort of envisioned a nice house with kids and a terrace and a golden retriever. Not that it really matters, because she’s got Roy, and that’s the important thing.
(Still, she’s picked out dog names, Shadow for a boy and Lily for a girl; Jim liked Shadow but made fun of Lily, like what, is it short for Lillian or something? She’d pretended to be upset at this and come to work the next day to find this little stuffed pink dog waiting for her on her desk, with big imploring button eyes and a blue collar and a sloppy makeshift paper tag that said ‘Lily’. She keeps it in her sock drawer, just because she doesn’t know if Roy would understand that it’s just a silly little thing, just a joke between friends.)
So, yeah, usually, her weekends aren’t all that exciting, or anything – Desperate Housewives sort of tends to be the highlight, and even then, it’s not the actual show she likes, really, so much as making fun of it with Jim the next morning. She doesn’t really get why Jim watches Desperate Housewives – “I’m a man of many secrets, Beesly,” he tells her whenever she tries to ask, which makes her laugh – but both of them have faithfully fallen into it, and every Monday gets at least five minutes of avid discussion. Jim likes Lynette the best, which Pam appreciates. She had figured he’d go with Eva Longoria, like any male that breathes, so the Lynette thing surprises her. She asks him about it once, and he pretends to act all offended that she thinks he’d go for the skanky (gorgeous, Pam points out, and Jim just scoffs like Eva Longoria’s got nothing on a good frazzled down-to-earth working mother) chick who’s prone to affairs with teenage gardeners. “Besides,” he says, fiddling with a paperclip and looking up at her occasionally, in that cute (friend cute, she means) way he has where sometimes for some reason it seems like he’s too shy to look at her, “she has the same birthday as Michael, and let’s just not go there, okay?”
Michael’s favourite is Susan. Jim decides on a particularly boring Tuesday that it’s probably been love since Lois & Clark.
“The no-nonsense career woman,” Jim says, nodding in mock-solemn approval, and Pam giggles. “Nice. I guess it works, with the world’s best boss—”
“World’s best boss?”
“Oh, Pam,” he says, agonized. “Don’t contradict the coffee mug.”
“Sorry.” She hides her smile behind her hand.
“Anyway, where was I?”
“You guess it works.”
“Ah! Yes. Thank you.” He drums his fingers against the desk. “I guess it works, what with the world’s best boss—” he pauses to fix her with a mock severe look; she keeps the straightest face she can, and he nods in very serious approval after a second, “—unable to resist a lady in a business suit—”
And just as the last word leaves his mouth Jan sweeps in, a whirlwind (as always) of graceful efficiency as she strides toward Michael’s office.
Jim doesn’t have to say anything, just looks at Pam with that look he gets, the Jim look, and suddenly they’re laughing so hysterically she feels dizzy, almost breathless. It seems like the only time she laughs this way is when she’s with Jim.
He’s a good friend.
Probably her best friend, she realizes one day, and the thought is a nice one so she smiles across the room at him. He’s on the phone, but he smiles back anyway, big, and for a second it feels sort of weird – but good weird, like they’re the only two people here.
Dwight scoffs and the weird good thing shatters; Jim shakes his head slightly and apologizes to the client on the phone, asks them if they could repeat that, please. He’s still kind of smiling, the corners of his mouth turned up just a little.
She smirks at him even though he’s not looking at her and then drops her gaze, absentmindedly doodling hearts on the notepad in front of her.
They eat lunch together every day, and most of the time someone else is there too, but occasionally it’s just the two of them, and Pam doesn’t mind. She’s never really had a guy friend before, she realizes – she was always sort of shy around guys in school, because the girls who hung out in the art room at lunch didn’t exactly have to beat the boys off with a stick or anything. She’d always just felt safer with girls; with guys, you had to worry about what they would say and what they were thinking when they looked at you (if they looked at you). And then there was always the great “they only think about one thing” line that her dad had sworn by religiously, and she’d been the last one out of all of her friends to finally get kissed.
Her best friend, Chloe (who starred in all the school productions and looked a little like Audrey Hepburn, not that Pam was jealous), had been the one to sort of set her up with Roy in the first place. Chloe was dating Roy’s best friend and Roy and Pam had tagged along, awkwardly brushed aside to sit together at the movies and pointedly ignore the fact that their friends had their tongues down each other’s throats. One night, Roy had given her a ride home, just the two of them, and she’d just pushed aside an old Burger King cup to grab her purse off the floor of the car when all of a sudden she looked up and he was kissing her. It had been sudden and sort of sloppy, and she remembers wanting to die for a second just because she hadn’t been expecting it, hadn’t even imagined that maybe Roy thought of her that way. But the second kiss (three days later in an empty classroom) had been better, and the rest was history. She’s not really sure whether Roy has ever been her friend.
Jim’s not like that at all. On the day that she sleeps too late to pack a lunch and then forgets her wallet in the car, he buys her Cup Noodles from the vending machine so that she doesn’t have to walk back down to Roy’s truck in the rain. He plays rock-paper-scissors with her to determine who has to return to Kelly the Very Berry lipgloss she dropped on the break room floor. Pam wins with scissors and teases him about it, because he consistently loses at rock-paper-scissors to her and how sad is that?
“Please,” Jim says, and his eyes are always so warm and bright when he smiles at her. “I let you win.”
“You let me win?”
“Uh huh,” he clarifies, and lets her steal one of his Doritos.
She scoffs at him. “How do you let somebody win at rock-paper-scissors?”
“Well,” Jim says matter-of-factly, and then looks at her very seriously. “You know them,” he informs her, the words tinged with earnestness so sincere that it’s absurd, “down to the tiniest details. So perfectly that you can tell everything about them – including what they’re most likely to pick in rock-paper-scissors.”
“Is that so?” she asks, and realizes that she’s smiling, or maybe beaming. She’s blushing a little, or maybe it’s just hot in here, because that would be stupid, to be blushing.
“Yes,” he says, and nods with utmost solemnity. “That is so.”
For a second, they just look at each other, and there’s the buzz of the florescent lights and the hum of the refrigerator and she realizes that outside the window, the camera guys are filming them. Her heartbeat speeds up all of a sudden, and she feels like she’s a kid who’s been caught with her hand in the cookie jar or something. Jim sees that she’s uncomfortable and she knows he’s about to ask what’s wrong and all of a sudden she really, really doesn’t want that, although she has no idea why.
“You’re so full of it,” she declares instead, and smiles to show that everything’s okay.
He takes a sip of her Coke as revenge, and she spends the rest of lunch teasing him about cooties.
“You and Jim are so cute,” Kelly tells her once when they’re both in the bathroom; Pam washing her hands, and Kelly touching up her makeup.
Pam twists the dial on the sink abruptly, so that the water stops, and then immediately wishes she hadn’t. It seems too quiet all of a sudden. “What?”
Kelly smiles at her in the mirror. “He’s totally, like, your best friend, isn’t he?”
Relief rushes through her. “Oh,” Pam says, and hopes Kelly didn’t notice anything (which is a safe bet, with Kelly). “Yeah. I guess he is.”
“That’s so cute,” Kelly reiterates, wielding a mascara wand with a practiced effortlessness that Pam knows she’ll never be able to manage. “You know, I really wish I had a guy best friend.”
“It’s nice,” Pam says after a moment, dully. She always winds up feeling dull next to Kelly, who’s all sparkles and hot pink and completely foreign to the notion of the awkward pause.
“Yeah,” Kelly agrees, and widens her eyes to brush mascara across her lashes. “Although I’d want mine to be gay.”
Pam’s not really sure what she’s supposed to say to that, so she settles with, “Oh.”
“But not, like, Jack-on-Will-&-Grace gay,” Kelly clarifies quickly, like it’s completely important for Pam not to get that impression. “Rupert Everett-in-My-Best-Friend’s-Wedding gay. Sexy gay.”
“Sexy gay,” Pam repeats blankly.
“He is such a babe,” Kelly says, and lets out a reverent sigh. “Like, I get that Julia didn’t get the guy in that one and everything, which sucks, but I almost thought she did better than Cameron, because that American guy? So had nothing on Rupert Everett.”
“You know, he’s actually gay,” Pam points out, and it seems a little weird that Kelly doesn’t know this already.
In the mirror, she watches Kelly’s mouth form a startled ‘o’. “Seriously?”
It feels sort of wrong, to know a celebrity fact that Kelly doesn’t. And besides, everybody knows that, don’t they? Pam guesses it’s just that sort of thing, where you ignore what’s obvious because it just makes stuff easier that way.
“Yeah,” Pam confirms, and feels a little guilty all of a sudden.
Kelly looks disheartened for about two and a half seconds, and then she’s saying, brow furrowed thoughtfully, “Ryan kind of looks like Rupert Everett, don’t you think?”
“Um,” Pam says, “sure.”
“But Ryan’s not gay,” Kelly rushes to add.
“No,” Pam agrees.
“Believe me,” Kelly says, and lets out a short laugh that’s almost vicious, “I would so know it if Ryan was gay.”
“I didn’t think he was,” Pam assures her.
Kelly relaxes a little, and reaches into her purse for a tube of lipstick. “And Jim’s not gay,” she prattles on.
“No,” Pam says.
The lipstick freezes in midair, and Kelly’s just staring at Pam like she’s having some big epiphany. Suddenly, Pam realizes how much she really doesn’t want to be here anymore.
“You know,” Kelly says pointedly, “in When Harry Met Sally, they say that it’s impossible for a man and a woman to be just friends.”
“Yeah,” Pam says, and her voice sounds a little funny in her own ears, “well, that’s just a movie.”
Kelly shrugs and blows herself a kiss in the mirror. Pam takes the opportunity to get out while she still can.
It’s bad, but sometimes she hopes that Roy will forget about her – not forget forget, of course, but just not come up to get her right when he’s done with work. Because sometimes, she and Jim are still in the middle of one of their jokes, or they’re caught up in plotting what they’ll do to Dwight tomorrow, and Roy doesn’t really get any of that. Once, she’d tried to tell him about the time they convinced Dwight it was Friday when it was actually Thursday, and Roy just sort of stared at her like she was crazy and finally just went, “Uh . . . why?”
“It was funny,” Pam had said lamely, and he’d turned up the radio and they’d driven home not talking or holding hands, Roy with one hand on the wheel bopping his head along to Aerosmith.
And it’s just that she has such a ridiculously fun time with Jim, even though most of the time they’re just pretend arguing or making up stupid office games. (His new favourite is the one where they shoot staples at each other across the room making machine gun noises when Dwight isn’t looking, and then act like nothing’s happening when he asks what they think they’re doing.) It’s funny, that they act like complete idiots around each other most of the time, but she never feels stupid when she’s with Jim. She just feels like Pam, in a way that she doesn’t even with Roy sometimes.
She figures this is because she’s in love with Roy, and there’s that weird uneasiness that always has to come with romance. She and Jim are just friends.
On Friday, she and Roy are supposed to go out to dinner – it’s sort of a big deal, because it feels like they never do stuff like that anymore – and their reservations are for seven. She’s got a new outfit she wants to wear, and she kind of wanted to try something different with her hair, but it’s already half past five and Roy still hasn’t shown up, so she’s sitting at her desk pressing the ‘random article’ link on Wikipedia over and over again. She’s in the middle of scrolling down the page about Mantenna (a member of the Evil Horde, villains of the Masters of the Universe franchise, with four legs and pop out antenna eyes – which is, wow, really pivotal knowledge there) when she hears the door swing open.
It’s not Roy, though; it’s Jim, and he’s soaking wet and windblown from the rain outside. His hair’s even more tousled than usual, and she can’t help thinking that he looks adorable. It’s an okay thing to think, she decides at once. After all, he’s a guy, and she’s a girl, and it’s not like thinking he’s adorable actually means anything beyond the fact that she has eyes.
“You’re still here,” he observes, sounding surprised.
“I’m still here,” she confirms, and closes the Wikipedia window. It seems kind of pointless, now that she’s got a more welcome distraction.
“I thought you and Roy had the whole dinner thing tonight,” he says, and for a second it almost seems like he’s being too casual about it, but that’s a dumb thing to think.
“Yeah, well,” Pam replies, trying to match his nonchalance for a reason she doesn’t really understand, “they must, um, not be done down at the warehouse, because he still hasn’t come up here.”
“Really?” Jim says, and he looks confused, “’Cause Darryl was leaving when I was, and—” But before the familiar sinking feeling even settles into her stomach, he’s switched gears entirely, grinning at her as he walks up to her desk. “So, what are you doing up here all by your lonesome?”
“Plotting world domination,” she returns innocently.
“What?” he asks, feigning appalled shock. “And you didn’t invite Dwight?”
She gasps. “I knew I was forgetting something.”
“Sloppy, Beesly,” Jim comments, grinning at her. “Very sloppy.”
“So,” she asks, leaning forward on her elbows, “what are you doing here? Nine to five just isn’t enough anymore?”
“Oh, that, definitely that,” he confirms, nodding solemnly. “Also, I forgot my wallet.”
He didn’t. Pam remembers watching him slip it into his back pocket as he gathered up his stuff to leave for the day. A funny feeling strikes her, something tingly and sort of anxious. Normally she’d call him on it, but suddenly that doesn’t seem like the best idea, and she’s not sure why.
“Sloppy, Halpert,” she says instead. “Very sloppy.”
He chuckles and makes his way over to his desk, searching the desktop first before beginning to rummage through drawers. She feels awkward watching him and knowing that he’s lying to her, especially since the only reason she can come up with is that he’s doing it to – to see her. She doesn’t know why, exactly. To check on her, maybe. Maybe he saw Roy’s truck was still in the parking lot and just came up to see if she was still here. And that’s okay, of course; it’s great, even. It’s the kind of thing that friends do.
But she still doesn’t get why he’d make up some excuse to come up here. She kind of feels like maybe it’s not any of her business, in a way. And so she sits here and she watches him search his desk and, more to make her laugh than anything else, Dwight’s, until he finally announces defeat and says he must have dropped it on his way out.
(Which could be true, she guesses, but still she can’t shake this feeling.)
“Hey, have fun tonight,” he says, pointing at her as he makes his way out, and for a second she doesn’t even get what he’s talking about until it hits her that he means dinner with Roy.
“Oh – yeah,” she says, and hopes she doesn’t sound as weird as she feels. “Definitely.”
“See you Monday,” he calls over his shoulder, and he turns for a second to grin at her before he leaves.
“See you Monday,” she echoes as the door closes behind him.
Roy doesn’t show up until six fifteen (by which time she’s read about Franz Jevne State Park, the Canton of Fruges, Ethel Bentham, the California sheephead, and the 1955 College World Series before getting irritated and just shutting down her computer). It turns out he wasn’t working late, after all – he and some of the guys in the warehouse got into a really intense game of darts, apparently, and he hadn’t wanted to leave in the middle of it. He’s grinning as he recounts to her how he kicked their asses, and she thinks to herself that “kicked their asses” is a really stupid way to talk about a game of darts, because darts isn’t the sort of thing that really involves kicking at all and it’s really just a dumb expression to begin with.
She reminds him about the reservations, and she can tell right away that he’d forgotten entirely and that he doesn’t really want to go. She guesses that she should be used to this by now, but all the same, her hands are clenched up into tight fists in her pockets as she tells him it’s okay, and that she doesn’t really mind staying home tonight anyway. He doesn’t hold the door open for her on their way out, which is no big deal, because she’s pretty sure that every woman in this age has to come to terms with the fact that chivalry is dead.
Jim always holds the door, without even seeming to realize he’s doing it, but that’s different.
They wind up ordering Chinese and Roy falls asleep in the middle of Yes Dear; she’s glad to have the excuse to change the channel. She eats egg noodles with a fork (she’d used to enjoy chopsticks, but now it seems kind of stupid to go to all that trouble) and channel surfs for awhile before coming across When Harry Met Sally, which she hasn’t seen for years but remembers liking. She tries not to think about the conversation with Kelly; considering how crappy she already feels, it’ll probably just give her a headache.
“You realize, of course, that we could never be friends,” Billy Crystal says. Meg argues valiantly against it, and Pam feels a little bad for her, because she’s wrong, isn’t she? She’s completely wrong. The whole point of the movie is that they’re perfect for each other and their friends know it and the audience knows it and even they know it, on some level, but they just can’t bring themselves to admit it. It’s frustrating and futile and kind of depressing, and she’s not really in a romantic comedy mood right now.
“The sex thing is already out there so the friendship is ultimately doomed and that is the end of the story.”
Pam decides she feels more like reading, and shuts the TV off.