Pairings: Jim/Pam, Karen/Pam, Pam/Toby, Roy/Pam
Spoilers: Up through "A Benihana Christmas"
Word Count: 6,292
Summary: In which Pam lets go, crawls back, finds something she wasn't looking for, and finally gets her happily ever after. Sort of.
Author's Note: I really don't know where this came from. Originally, it was going to be a 5 Things fic inspired by the fact that Pam has all of these truly phenomenal ships, all of which I am enamoured with (seriously! Jam! Pam and Roy! Pam and Toby!! Pam and Karen -- who knew? -- I want them all!!), and then every section except the first one turned epic, so I scrapped the first one (because, really, it was just an attempt to get five, and I'm not sure Pam/Andy ever deserves to see the light of day). Anyway, all of these stories sort of tied into each other, and turned into one big Pam-kinda-finding-herself-through-all-th
i. like home
And it’s not like Jim forgets – he tells her happy birthday as soon as he comes in in the morning, and when Michael forces the whole office to sing to her, he catches her eye and grins and something flutters in her stomach. But when five rolls around he just says goodbye as he grabs his coat and walks out, and it’s not enough, she feels like he’s starving her, which is completely unfair because he suffered in silence for so much longer than she has and it’s not even his fault, not really. It seems like he doesn’t laugh as much anymore, but Karen makes him smile and he deserves at least that, and Pam knows, technically, that Jim is allowed to move on. That he should, even. It’s just that the hope refuses to waiver and there’s this constant ache in some place she can’t pinpoint; she knows there’s no chance but she believes it less and less every day.
She turns off her computer, watches the screen fade abruptly to black, and all of a sudden there’s the rapping of knuckles against her desk and happiness wells up inside of her, so strong that it’s almost violent.
She looks up and it’s just Roy standing there, but she doesn’t let her smile falter. She hopes he can’t see her disappointment, because he looks so earnest and awkward and she’s still not used to seeing him like this. He misses her, which she knows on some level but doesn’t really like to think about because even though he’s completely wrong for her, he’s Roy and he was her world for nine years, and she doesn’t like the idea that she’s hurting him. And besides, there are the odd little moments when she misses him too.
“Hey,” he says, smiling. She likes the beard, but she’s never told him. It feels dangerous, somehow; a little too close, to do something like that. It would probably be easy to fall back into old habits.
“Hi,” she responds as cheerfully as she can.
“Happy birthday.” He shuffles a little from foot to foot, and it’s almost funny to see him like this. (And definitely cute, but she’s not going to focus on that.)
“Oh. Thanks.” And she thinks that maybe that will be that, but he’s still standing there.
“So.” He laughs a little, nervously. “How do you feel?”
“Old.” The word is out of her mouth before she quite registers what she’s saying, or how true it is. (Which is very, she realizes.)
“Well, you look great,” he informs her, a little bit shyly.
She scoffs a little, because she’s been sitting here all day getting more and more depressed (which is stupid; she’s just being melodramatic), and by the time lunchtime rolled around she hadn’t really felt the compulsion to go freshen up her makeup because she’d walked in on Jim and Karen kissing in the break room. It hadn’t been hot and heavy, or anything; just a quick, couple-y brush of lips, and she’d slipped out so fast that they hadn’t even seen her, but it had still left her shaking and nauseous and hollow. The fact that she likes Karen makes it harder somehow. It shouldn’t hurt so bad. “Oh, I’m sure.”
“No, you do,” Roy insists chivalrously. After a moment, he adds, “You’re doing your hair different.”
“What?” She looks down absently, hand fluttering to one careful curl. “Oh, uh, yeah, I am.” It’s funny, because she’d used to stand in front of the bathroom mirror while he slept, attempting pale imitations of hairstyles from glossy magazine pages, wielding a curling iron and fighting in vain and now that it’s finally not about him, not at all, he catches on. “You noticed.”
“Yeah,” Roy says. “It looks nice.”
“Not that it wasn’t nice before,” he amends quickly. “It’s good either way.”
“Thanks,” she says again, and there’s this stilted, awkward quality to their conversation that takes her back to being sixteen, walking to class together with their shoulders brushing and so much left deliciously, maddeningly unsaid. She shakes her head a little, tries to remember that she’s a grown-up now. “I think I might go back to the old way, actually. It’s not worth the trouble.”
He frowns a little bit. “Huh.”
“What?” she asks, feeling strangely defensive all of a sudden.
“Nothing,” he says, his gaze faltering.
And a year ago, she would’ve just let it go, but things aren’t the same anymore. Not even close. “No, what?”
“I dunno,” Roy says, and he takes a few steps back like he’s getting ready to run if this doesn’t come out right. “Just . . . guys are jerks, okay?”
She blinks. “What?”
“And it’s not worth it to beat yourself up over them or whatever.” He rubs his beard awkwardly as he meets her eyes again. “You’re too good for that.”
For a second, there’s a lump in her throat that she hates, and she guesses it’s because she’d been stupid enough to think that maybe it could all be okay with Jim when he came home but everything’s so empty now, just little echoes of what it had used to be, and here’s Roy being sweet and thoughtful and knowing, somehow, what she’s feeling, even if maybe he hasn’t figured out the specifics. He’s never been perceptive, not where it counts, and she can’t even count how many times she’d wished for him to be like this, just a little nicer, just to see her for once.
“Okay,” she says, and smiles at him.
He laughs a little, like he’s relieved. Shoves his hands into his pockets. “Okay.”
For a second, it’s just quiet, with them looking at each other and it’s this weird blend of terrifying and comfortable all at once. She decides that maybe, at least a little bit, it’s always going to feel like home with him.
“So, uh, I’ve got some stuff for you, actually,” he announces, tilting his head back toward the door. “Down in my truck.”
“Seriously?” This time, her smile is genuine.
“Yeah.” He watches her as she stands and grabs her purse. “There’s a package from my mom – she didn’t have your new address.”
She reaches for her coat. “Aw, that’s so nice of her.”
“She says hi,” Roy continues. “She, uh, misses talking to you when she calls.”
She feels a twinge of sadness that’s not about Jim. It’s almost refreshing. “Tell her I miss her, too.”
“Will do,” he says, just a second too late for it to be casual.
“Great,” she returns as she slips her coat on.
“And, uh, I actually picked something up for you too,” he goes on, and his voice falters momentarily as she comes to stand next to him – not with the easy intimacy that they’d used to have, but still maybe just a little bit too close after everything that’s happened. “I don’t know if you’ll like it, but, uh, I just saw it and it made me think of you.”
“You didn’t have to do that.” She thinks that maybe it’s the first time she’s ever had the opportunity to say that to Roy.
“Sure I did,” he counters, and he grins at her like he means it, dimples and all. It’s familiar and nice and helps her remember why she stayed with him so long in the first place. It wasn’t all just laziness and a fear of change.
“Well, okay,” she says teasingly, nudging him slightly as they head out. “If you’re gonna insist on buying me stuff . . .”
He laughs and actually opens the door for her, and she wonders if both of them needed this to happen for reasons she’s never even considered before. And she knows that tomorrow she’ll come in and Jim will be there, wonderful and perfect and not hers anymore (if he ever was), and it’ll hurt all over again – but for the moment, she just wants to forget, and it feels a little bit okay with Roy laughing next to her. As they walk to the elevator, their shoulders brush.
ii. it would be so easy
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Dwight insists, his eyes blazing.
“Come on, Dwight,” Jim says, slamming a fist onto the conference table in admirably well-played frustration. “This isn’t the time to play around. This is serious stuff.”
“I have no involvement whatsoever with the Central Intelligence Agency,” Dwight spits out each word with a viciousness that’s equal parts hilarious and terrifying. “Nor have I ever.”
“Dwight, Dwight, Dwight, that’s not gonna cut it anymore.” Jim claps a hand onto Dwight’s shoulder and leans down, locking their gazes with almost indecent intensity. “This isn’t some game anymore. I’m telling you. This is for real.”
Dwight’s ferocity wavers. He leans in closer. “How can you be sure?”
“I told you,” Jim says impatiently. “I intercepted a transmission on my phone. Andy is a Russian spy.”
Pam turns her laughter into a cough with impressive speed. Still, it’s enough to draw Dwight’s attention.
He narrows his eyes, then mutters perfectly audibly to Jim, “Does she need to be here?”
“I told you already,” Jim reminds him sharply. “She’s my partner.”
Dwight shows absolutely no qualms whatsoever in studying her with a scrutiny that is truly disturbing. Pam fights to keep her expression blank. “In what?”
“The pursuit of justice within our fine nation,” Jim says solemnly, not missing a beat.
It seems to work for Dwight. “Ah.”
“So.” Jim lets out a long, weary sigh. “Where do we go from here?”
Dwight devotes a moment to ardent contemplation, then delicately phrases his response. “If I were to have any sort of connection to the CIA – which I do not – I suppose I would have the ability to contact them, informing them of our current situation.” A self-satisfied smirk flicks at the corners of his mouth. “They’ll take it from there.”
“Thank God,” Jim sighs again, this time in relief. “You’re the best, man.”
“Yes,” Dwight agrees.
“Thanks, Dwight,” Pam throws in.
“I have to go,” Dwight announces at once, standing up with a sudden, frigid urgency. “Time is of the essence.”
“Definitely,” Jim agrees earnestly.
Dwight strides to the conference room door, pausing in the doorframe to cast one last lingering glance at them. “This meeting never happened.”
“What meeting?” Jim responds obediently.
A slow, eerie smile stretches across his face. “Exactly.”
As soon as the door slams behind him, Pam is laughing – the overwhelming, painful laughter that makes you struggle to breathe and feels like it’s never going to stop. She knows she must look ridiculous, all doubled over gracelessly at the table with tears stinging in her eyes, but it feels so whole and cathartic and good that she can’t bring herself to care. Jim’s cracking up, too, from where he stands across from her, gasping for breath and sounding sort of like some kind of dying animal, but in a cute way. If, you know, that’s actually possible.
Pam tries to speak. “That was . . .”
“Yeah,” Jim chokes out. “Yeah.”
And they’re gone again, just laughing like idiots and Dwight is probably watching them through the glass, which will blow the whole thing, but it’s just that stopping is impossible.
“Oh, Pam,” Jim finally struggles to proclaim, sinking exhaustedly down into the chair next to hers as he chuckles, “This needs to stop. Now. We need to just . . . get a hold of ourselves.”
“Right,” she agrees, wiping tears from her eyes and cheeks. “Because this is serious business.”
“Exactly,” Jim agrees emphatically. “It’s serious, serious business, Beesly.”
“Yeah,” she agrees faintly; she’s lightheaded and her stomach sort of hurts from laughing, and she can’t remember the last time she felt this happy.
“So, Pam,” he begins after a second, breaking out his inquisitive reporter tone that she hasn’t heard since he used to work here before – well, before everything.
“Yes, Jim?” she responds, as poised and professional as she can.
“How,” he asks, “on earth did you think of that?”
“Alias,” she responds simply.
“Ah.” Jim nods. “Jennifer Garner. Nice.”
“Lena Olin, actually,” Pam says matter-of-factly.
“She’s the Russian spy?”
“And Jennifer Garner’s mom,” Pam confirms.
“Ouch.” Jim feigns a flinch. “That’s gotta be complicated.”
“Lots of family drama,” Pam responds solemnly.
“Lena Olin,” Jim says thoughtfully. “Hey, she was the one in that movie with Daniel Day-Lewis and the bowler hat, right?”
“The Unbearable Lightness of Being,” Pam nods.
“Right. That movie was . . .” He scrunches his brow (adorably, and she feels like she shouldn’t be allowed to notice anymore because he’s with Karen but if there’s a way to not notice, then it’s sure beyond her), and finally settles on, “Strange.”
“I liked it,” Pam protests mildly.
“Well, yeah,” Jim says, all teasingly dismissive, “But you liked Legally Blonde.”
“Oh, shut up,” Pam instructs, rolling her eyes and trying to ignore the part of her that’s overwhelmed with giddiness, that can’t believe they’re talking just like they used to. “The Unbearable Lightness of Being and Legally Blonde aren’t even close to being remotely similar.”
“Legally Blonde,” Jim says again.
“At least I didn’t like it as much as Katy,” she counters without thinking. And then all of a sudden the easiness between them disappears and she remembers so well it hurts what it felt like to kiss him. To let his hands slip from hers.
“Yeah,” Jim says, breaking the silence, and he sounds too casual. “That wasn’t the best match.”
Pam doesn’t know what she’s supposed to say to that. She kind of misses Katy, who had annoyed the hell out of her with her perfect bouncy curls and stupid chatter and the way she’d always played with Jim’s tie and laced her fingers with his like they were in junior high – who had never felt like a threat, and God, she’s a horrible person, to think things like that.
“So,” she says, damning herself as she does it and she doesn’t know why she can’t just shut up, “Uh, does Karen like Legally Blonde?”
Jim just stares at her for a second, asking her some silent question. He has the most expressive eyes, and she doesn’t want to understand what they’re telling her, not now. She looks down.
“No,” Jim finally says. “No, she does not.”
Pam forces a stale laugh. “That’s good.”
“I like her a lot,” she ventures after a minute, and her voice is way too high as she looks back up at him. “She’s great.”
“Yeah, she is,” Jim agrees. “She’s really fun to be with.”
“She is,” Pam says earnestly, because the Christmas party war with Angela had been way more fun than she’d expected; it’s been so long since she’s had a friend like that. Fashion shows at lunch don’t count, much as they might like to.
“We spent like all of last weekend in front of her TV with her X-box,” Jim says, shaking his head in humbled disgrace. “She totally kicks my ass at everything.”
This time when she laughs, it’s for real. “I can see that.”
Jim makes a sheepish face. “Yeeeah.”
“We’re thinking of going shopping this weekend,” Pam tells him without quite knowing why. “We decided maybe we’d learn how to knit together, so we were going to go pick out some yarn and stuff.”
“Now, that sounds exciting,” Jim deadpans, smirking at her a little.
“Is that sarcasm, Halpert?” she inquires playfully.
“What? No. No way.” He shakes his head. “Knitting’s hardcore. Definitely.”
“It is,” Pam confirms with as much attitude as she can muster.
“I said it was,” Jim reminds her.
“And don’t you forget it,” she instructs.
Jim holds up his hands in something like surrender. “I won’t.”
She looks as smug as she can. “Good.”
“And if I do, I know that you will remind me,” he concludes. “Probably in a way that’s scary, much like right now.”
She giggles. “You know I will.”
“I know you will,” he confirms, sort of softly. His eyes are warm and happy, and she realizes for the first time how close he is. It would be so easy for their knees to brush. She doesn’t know if what she feels is the warmth of him or just the possibility of it.
“So,” he says after a moment.
“So,” she repeats, a little uncertainly.
She doesn’t know if something changes in the air (fizzles and dies), or if she was just imagining things to begin with. In any case, he’s perfectly normal as he asks, “How, exactly, is Dwight going to contact the CIA?”
“Oh,” she says, trying to keep her voice steady, “I said that all he had to do was leave his letters to them in the very bottom of the dumpster out front, addressed to Chadwick I. Armitage. A team of highly qualified agents checks the dead drop at 12:51 AM every other night.”
“Chadwick I. Armitage,” Jim repeats quizzically.
“It’s code,” she informs him earnestly.
“Very subtle,” Jim remarks.
She shrugs modestly. “Dwight seemed to think so.”
“You,” he says, grinning, “are a genius, Miss Beesly.”
She can’t help smiling back. “Well, I learned from the best.”
The corner of his mouth twitches upward in a lopsided half-smile. “What can I say?”
They laugh and she thinks that maybe things are going to be okay, and maybe it’s better that it doesn’t all wrap up in some pretty fairytale ending. At least they’re friends.
“Hey,” she says after a second, and she doesn’t mean anything by it at all; she’s just giving him a hard time, that’s all. “What happened to you not pranking anymore?”
He stops laughing. The smile fades from his face and his eyes darken with seriousness and there’s only enough time for disappointment to sink into her stomach at the idea that she’s ruined things again and then all of a sudden he’s kissing her, his hands in her hair and his mouth desperate and sad and sweet against hers. She can’t think. Her lips part and she breathes him in.
iii. like lightning
Karen’s not crying, and somehow that makes it even worse.
“I always knew,” she says blandly, staring into her tea. “I mean, I could feel it. That he didn’t feel the way I did.”
Pam doesn’t know what to do. They’re sitting in the middle of Pam’s living room floor, legs crossed Indian style. Karen hates tea – she’s a coffee girl – but it’s all that Pam has and Karen had said it was okay. It’s the kind of thing that makes Pam feel better, steam and the smell of peppermint, and she just hopes that maybe . . .
But the thought won’t finish itself. She doesn’t know what she hopes for, exactly. Something other than this. Mazzy Star’s on the stereo, turned down so low that it’s just a melancholy whisper and faint melodies like swaying, and Pam figures it’s not helping any. Still, she doesn’t want to get up to turn it off.
“I’m sorry,” she says, and her voice is timid and the words aren’t enough.
Karen smiles a little, bitterly, and looks up at her. “Yeah, I know.”
“I don’t even know what to say,” She can’t remember the last time she felt this miserable, or this helpless. “I never wanted you to be caught in any of this—”
“I get it,” Karen interjects, a little harshly. Her voice is raspy and tired. “It’s one of those things you can’t control.”
“Yeah,” Pam agrees softly.
“God,” Karen says, and laughs as she looks up at the ceiling, “I told myself over and over that I didn’t move here for him. Because that would be creepy, right? Stalkerish.”
“It was for work,” Pam reminds her, as gently as she can. “People move for work all the time.”
Karen just laughs again, and only once. The sound is rich and dark and sad. She’s still beautiful in sweatpants and a tanktop, her sweatshirt unzipped and pooling around her elbows; her hair’s pulled into a sloppy ponytail and she hasn’t got any makeup on. There’s still that effortless sophistication underneath all of it, though; she’s got the kind of beauty that Pam has always envied, and it doesn’t seem right that she’s not enough for Jim.
“I don’t know what it is about him,” Karen says dully, leaning back against the base of the sofa. “He’s not even my type.”
Pam leans back, too. “Yeah.” It’s the only thing she can think of to say. She feels so useless.
“He’s so sweet,” Karen says. “I’ve never really gone for that before. I dunno. Usually I wouldn’t look twice at him. But there was just something . . .”
She trails off, and Pam holds back a sigh. “I know what you mean.”
Karen looks over at her; Pam feels a sudden surge of panic, but it turns out she just smiles, wryly. “I guess you do, huh?”
“Don’t worry about it,” Karen interjects, her gaze shifting back to the ceiling. “I told you. I’m okay.”
“Okay,” Pam says quietly.
For a second, they’re just quiet, and the music seems so loud. (You’ll come apart and you’ll go blind.) More than anything, she just wants to change the stupid CD.
And then all of a sudden, Karen starts talking.
“Back when we were still in Stamford, the vending machine ran out of my chips, and he spent the whole day trying to get me some.” She laughs shortly. “I mean, who does that? Guys don’t do stuff like that anymore. Guys probably never did stuff like that.”
Pam is struck by something; it leaves her feeling empty and cold. “Did he get them?”
“Yeah,” she says distantly. “He’d never tell me how.”
Pam swallows. “French onion?”
“Herrs,” Karen responds obliviously.
Pam bites her lip and pulls her knees to her chest. “Huh.”
And Pam knows that she doesn’t have any right to be the miserable one in this situation, so she tries to ignore the sickening hollowness in her stomach. It’s just chips.
But then Karen looks at her, just looks at her, and somehow she knows. Pam isn’t used to this, this sharp, immediate understanding. It’s been a long time since she had a girl friend.
Karen shakes her head, a vicious smile pulling at her lips. “That son of a bitch.”
Pam’s immediately struck with the compulsion to defend him, because he’s Jim and he’s not that kind of guy. But she realizes that Karen knows it too – that she just needs something to bitch about right now. It’s easier to have a villain. So she doesn’t say anything.
Karen takes a sip of her tea and pulls a face. “What happened with you guys?”
“Not much,” Pam says, because wow, is she ever not ready to go there.
“Bullshit,” Karen proclaims, and leans over, bumping her shoulder against Pam’s. “You’re gonna have to do better than that.”
“I don’t know,” Pam responds, nudging Karen back. “We were friends for years. But I was with Roy, and I just never really thought about it, you know? I always felt it, I guess, but . . . he was just Jim. And I guess . . .” She pauses. “I guess he sort of liked me all that time. And one night, he told me. And he kissed me, and . . . I told him I was staying with Roy. So he left.”
Karen frowns sympathetically. “That’s hard.”
“Yeah,” Pam says, and laughs a little, because the idea that it can be summed up in two words blows her mind a little. “And . . . I guess I just finally sort of thought that was it. Like maybe it was over, and I missed my chance. I had no idea that he was going to—”
“Maybe you should go for it,” Karen cuts in. “Maybe you’re soulmates.” It’s not bitter when she says it; just teasing, and Pam is thankful.
“Maybe we’re not,” Pam contradicts.
“You never know until you try,” Karen counters.
“Maybe he was just supposed to save me from getting married,” Pam suggests, and it’s strange to hear herself saying it out loud because she’s never even let herself think it all the way until now. “And that’s it.”
“What do you mean?” Karen’s leaning with her left side against the couch now, watching her. Pam idly studies the circles under her eyes, the way her hair sneaks from her ponytail to hang around her face.
“I would have married Roy otherwise,” Pam says. “And there’s no way I would have been happy.” She takes a sharp breath in, steadying herself although she doesn’t know why. “So maybe it’s a good thing he kissed me.”
“Must have been some kiss,” Karen says wryly, “to make you call off your wedding.”
“It was disorienting,” Pam responds, a little unsteadily. “I couldn’t remember what it was like to kiss someone who wasn’t Roy. And as soon as he did it, I just knew –” She knows her face is flushed and the memory sparks something in her that seems horrible and out of place in this moment. “I’m sorry. This is like the worst time ever to talk about this.”
“Yeah,” Karen admits with a tired smile. “It’s pretty bad.”
“You always seem so strong.” It’s a stupid thing to say, but she can’t help it.
“Don’t let that fool you,” Karen instructs, traces of forced humor lighting her tone, her head drooping onto Pam’s shoulder. “I feel like crap.”
Pam rests her head against Karen’s. “I’m sorry.”
“Yeah,” Karen murmurs.
Pam closes her eyes. “Are you going back to Stamford?”
She feels Karen shrug against her. “There’s not really any reason to stay.”
It surprises her, how strong the disappointment is. “Well, there’s always Michael.”
“Oh, yeah,” Karen says, scoffing. “Definitely worth sticking around for.”
“And I like having you here,” Pam goes on, and feels strangely brave saying it.
“Probably easier to say now that I’m not the other woman anymore,” Karen retorts sardonically.
“It’s not that,” Pam insists.
Karen sits up, pulling away to look at her. “What is it, then?”
“We’re friends,” Pam says weakly, and reaches over to tuck a flyaway strand of hair back. Her fingers graze Karen’s cheek by accident, and she means to pull her hand away but all of a sudden Karen’s is on top of hers, warm and firm and silently insistent. Pam doesn’t know what to say or how to slip gracefully out of this moment, or if she even wants to. She’d almost think that time had stopped, except the music keeps on playing. (She’s just like lightning. She goes right through you.)
iv. fairytale landscapes
Toby likes black jellybeans, which is the kind of thing that Pam can appreciate. It takes awhile for her to figure this out about him – or anything about him, really, other than that he’s perpetually gloomy in a way that kind of makes her want to give him a hug. He’s subtle and quiet and it had surprised her when he first started talking to her, back while Jim was at Stamford and things were strange; he’d just started pausing at her desk every so often. She wonders if Jim ever told him about – well, any of it, and maybe it’s pity that prompts him to come over here.
But maybe not, she starts to think. After Jim comes back, he stops doing it. Which makes her wonder, for just a second, but she can’t quite believe it. Toby’s got a kid and a life and somehow he just seems so much more grown up than she is, so much more weathered by the world. (Although some days she can’t help but suspect that she’s getting there.)
It’s just that Jim doesn’t eat the jellybeans anymore either, so they’re sort of depressingly neglected. Pam starts putting out extra black ones just in case, because Jim’s got Karen and it doesn’t bode well for the jellybeans. Even after they split up, it’s never quite the same. Karen’s sadder than she’ll admit and Pam knows just how much it hurts to see Jim with someone else, and so even though she and Jim are both single, finally, it just never happens. It doesn’t feel right.
One particularly depressing rainy Tuesday, Jan comes in, winds up having a screaming match with Michael, and storms out so violently that one of the cameramen actually has to leap out of her way. Things have been shakier than usual since the whole Jamaica incident, and really, Pam can’t really blame Jan in that department.
Toby makes the mistake of asking Michael if something’s wrong. Everybody knows that his relationship with Jan stopped being strictly professional a long time ago, not to mention the fact that it goes completely against company policy, but no one really wants to acknowledge its existence. It’s just too many different levels of disturbing. Unfortunately, it’s sort of Toby’s job.
“You know what, Toby?” Michael retorts viciously, standing in the middle of the office and speaking loud enough that he’s got everyone’s attention within about two seconds. “At least I have a girlfriend. At least my wife didn’t leave me. And you’ve been divorced for, what, three years now? Jeez. Get over her, already. ‘Cause it seems pretty obvious that she’s over you.” As he spins on his heel to retreat into his office, he adds in a low grumble, “Who can blame her?”
Pam doesn’t usually hate Michael; he’s too pathetic for that, and she’s sort of fond of him, in a complicated way that she doesn’t like to examine with too much depth. But Toby just looks so downtrodden and miserable that she can’t help but be overwhelmed by a particularly strong wave of resentment for Michael.
“Here,” Pam says, and pushes the jellybean dish toward him mercifully. He sort of smiles sadly at her and picks a black one out. He doesn’t eat it, though. Just stares.
“You know, not many people like black jellybeans,” she points out as brightly as she can, trying to salvage something of his dignity with casual conversation.
“Huh,” Toby says, and he’s still looking at the jellybean instead of her. She wonders if maybe that came out wrong, if it sounds like she thinks he’s weird because of it or something.
“I think it’s pretty neat,” she tries to amend, smiling at him.
He lifts his eyes from the jellybean. “You wanna go out to dinner with me?”
It’s the most direct thing she’s ever heard him say, almost completely stripped of the trademark hesitancy that makes him Toby, and she’s so shocked that her response flies out of her mouth without permission. “What?”
Immediately, he turns bright red, his eyes falling to the floor as he shuffles his feet nervously. “Never mind. I just thought—”
“Okay,” she cuts in, maybe a little bit too loudly.
He looks up, surprise lighting his face. “Really?”
She nods, and puts on a bright smile. “Sure.”
“Um,” he says, “all right.”
“All right,” she echoes.
He smiles at her, and for the rest of the day, she feels a little bit like she’s floating somewhere outside of her own head. Everything feels surreal and weird and did she really agree to go out with Toby?? She glances at Jim a couple of times but all she can see is the back of his head, and she doesn’t know why she’s looking at him in the first place.
“I think I’m freaking out,” Pam gravely announces to her reflection once she and Karen sneak into the bathroom for some sorely needed girl talk.
“Why?” Karen asks, placing her hands on her hips and eyeing Pam quizzically in the mirror.
It defies explanation. Pam wrings her hands together. “He’s Toby.”
“So?” Karen demands. “He’s the only person I can think of who deserves this more than you do.”
“And then there’s all that stuff with—”
“Don’t say Jim,” Karen warns.
“Say Jim and I’ll hit you,” she threatens.
“Dude. You don’t think I’m serious?”
“No, I do,” Pam concedes, sighing.
“Good,” Karen says triumphantly. “But . . . I dunno, I’m sure that I’m not exactly the most unbiased person ever where this is concerned, but it seems like maybe trying to move on could be good for you. You know. Just go for something completely new.”
“This is new,” Pam admits.
Karen smirks at her in the mirror, then reaches into her purse for her lipstick.
Pam bites her lip. “He’s kinda cute, isn’t he?”
“Definitely,” Karen agrees, pulling the top off her lipstick. “He’s got that whole sweet mopey puppy thing going on that just makes you want to—”
“Hug him, right?” Pam finishes.
Karen smiles wickedly. “Sure. Okay.”
Which takes her to a mental place where she’s really not sure she wants to go.
They wind up going out that Friday night – nothing that fancy, just a movie and dinner and the movie is bad and the food’s not much better, and they don’t kiss goodnight or anything, but they talk a lot more than she’d expected and when she goes back into her apartment she feels light and glowy and she beams at herself in the bathroom mirror for no particular reason. He calls her the next day and it’s a little bit awkward, because he’s not really a phone person, and they don’t make any other plans for the weekend, but it’s nice just to talk. He tells her about Sasha’s penchant for Disney movies – she likes Belle the best, and they’ve watched Beauty and the Beast four and a half times so far this weekend (“And soon,” he adds, with a sort of grim resignation, “it will be five”). Pam laughs and asks if he can sing ‘Gaston’ by heart, and Toby says he can but he’ll spare her for now. Afterward, she spends the afternoon painting at the kitchen table, fairytale landscapes in watercolors, all pink skies and fields of blue-green. They’re kind of silly and romantic, but she likes them. It’s been awhile since she’s felt inspired.
When they see each other at work on Monday, nothing’s really changed, except she sits next to him in the conference room when Michael calls a meeting to discuss the importance of keeping one’s romantic relationship with a coworker completely private and how no one has the right to know about it, ever, because it’s none of their business.
“Like, if Angela wanted to go out with, I dunno, Dwight—”
“Excuse me?” Angela cries out.
“Erroneous!” Dwight barks. “I am not sexually attracted to her.”
“Cool it, guys!” Michael exclaims. “God! It’s just an example.”
Pam glances at Toby and he smiles a little bit at her, and she realizes that she’s not the only one who’s put two and two together where Dwight and Angela are concerned. It’s sort of a relief, not to have to live in secrecy.
“I thought I was the only one who knew about them,” she says later that night when they’re walking out to the parking lot.
“No,” Toby says, “I’ve kinda known about it for awhile.”
“It’s so weird, isn’t it?” Pam asks, wrinkling her nose.
“I dunno.” He shrugs his shoulders lightly. “It’s sort of nice that they found each other.”
“Right,” Pam says, laughing. “There’s somebody out there for everyone.”
“Something like that,” Toby agrees, and smiles a little bit as he glances down at her.
“So,” Pam says as they step outside, “How long do you think it’ll be ‘till they go public?”
“Oh,” he says, “forever.”
She giggles and then they fall into a comfortable silence, and it’s funny to feel even remotely okay here after everything that’s happened. She glances around and it’s like a monument to everything that never worked with Jim – that’s where he said he loved her, that’s where he told her about him and Karen, and remembering hurts even when you’re trying to start over.
It’s just a parking lot, she decides.
“Hey, uh, Pam?”
“Yeah?” She looks up at Toby, shaken out of her reverie.
He’s staring at her sort of thoughtfully, a frown creasing his forehead. He opens and closes his mouth a few times, stammering out first syllables of words before abandoning them, and she smiles at him and waits. Finally, he says, “This doesn’t have to . . . be anything, if you don’t want.”
She hadn’t been expecting that, not with everything so new, and it feels a little bit like being slapped. “What do you mean?”
“I get it,” Toby says carefully, and looks at the pavement, “if you just said yes because of what Michael said. And we work together anyway, so it’s probably better if we don’t—”
And it might be stupid and cliché, but it feels right, so she stands on tiptoe and silences him with a kiss. It’s not sweeping or epic or anything; just something quick and fluttering, like a whisper, and when she pulls away he’s staring at her with something that might be awe.
“Sorry,” she says, oddly breathless. “I, um, didn’t mean to interrupt you or anything.”
“That’s okay,” he offers lamely after a moment.
“Okay,” she says awkwardly, and she feels strangely electric, like there are sparks in her veins. “Good.”
The second time, he leans down to kiss her, and her feet stay firmly on the ground. She smiles faintly against his mouth as she closes her eyes.