Character/Pairings: Pam; Jim/Pam, Pam/Toby, Pam/Roy
Word Count: 3,551
Spoilers: "Business School"
Summary: There are certain paintings she leaves out. She doesn't like looking at them; they feel like accidents more than anything else.
Author's Note: This last episode reminded me exactly why and how much I love a certain Miss Pamela Beesly -- I'm in awe of how realistically and poignantly her character is being handled this season. After all of the Jim trauma, it's more than understandable that her Fancy New Beesly demeanor would regress, but with that comment from Gil (who had LINES!!), which, painful as it was, she needed to hear, I think we might just see the show bringing Fancy New Beesly back. Which pleases me so much that I'm apparently moved to make really lame Justin Timberlake references.
Um. Fic now. Riiiiiight.
"And, moreover, to succeed, the artist must possess the courageous soul."
"What do you mean the courageous soul?"
"Courageous, ma foi! The brave soul. The soul that dares and defies."
-Kate Chopin, The Awakening
There are certain paintings she leaves out. The still life of the teapot, just in case, and the one of her blue dress crumpled on the floor that she’d felt oddly possessed to paint the week after she broke up with Roy. She doesn’t like looking at them; they feel like accidents more than anything else.
They don’t come with a clever explanation or fit into a specific set; they just exist because, and it’s messy and not-quite-perfect with slightly off-kilter angles and the colors either too airy or too cruel, and she just doesn’t think that’s the sort of thing that anyone’s going to want to see, especially from her. There’s nothing professional about them, and isn’t the point of all this to prove that she’s finally a grown-up?
So it makes sense.
She and Jim used to have this game, where he’d give her fake art commissions and she’d sketch them at her desk instead of working. He’d come up with the dorkiest stuff – “A unicorn in a field of flowers” or “Dwight’s grandma” or “Michael’s perfect woman” – and then he’d pay her in boxes of paperclips or candy bars from the vending machine.
They weren’t brilliant or anything – they weren’t even okay most of the time – but he’d always get so excited about it that she got used to holding back smiles as she drew, pencil moving in brisk, cheerful strokes over the backs of old memos.
And they definitely weren’t masterpieces (just something silly to pass the time), but they made him happy and she always really liked the way his face would light up.
“No, this is her. This right here is Grandma Schrute.” And this is where he’d meet her eyes and smile. “Okay, you’re officially so good it’s scary.”
Which is the sort of thing that really made her think she could do this in the first place.
Oscar doesn’t actually run into her until later, when he’s about to leave and she’s coming back from the bathroom. The lump in her throat is gone and her hands aren’t shaking too bad anymore, but the sight of him is enough to set something loose in her, a feeling that’s sick and sad and numb and wastes no time in sinking deep into her bones. He catches her eye before she can turn and head in the other direction, and it only takes a second for him to point her out to the guy with him and head over.
She forces a smile. It’s something she’s gotten good at. “You came!”
“Yeah,” he affirms pleasantly, like he hadn’t just completely torn down everything about her twenty minutes ago.
“Thank you so much,” she says, the words spilling out of her mouth effortlessly. “It’s so great of you to give up your evening like this.”
“No problem,” Oscar assures her. “We didn’t have anything else going on.” He turns and rests a hand briefly the other guy’s forearm. “This is Gil.”
“Nice to meet you.” She feels like a bad actress in a play, where sentences are nothing more than lines and the emotion wouldn’t be there if you bothered to search beneath the surface.
“You too,” Gil says, perfectly nice, and shakes her hand like it’s nothing. People are such liars, she thinks. “Hey, Oscar tells me this is your first art show.”
She stumbles over her words for a second: here it is, the awful truth. “Um – yeah. Yeah, it is.”
She waits for the snide comment, the biting, irresistible request that she never pick up a paintbrush again. Instead, he just smiles and says, “Congratulations.”
She can’t quite tell whether she’s relieved or disappointed. “Thank you.”
“So, has anyone else from work shown up?” Oscar asks, glancing around.
“No,” Pam says, keeping her tone carefully neutral. “But I get why. I mean, it was really last minute.”
“They’re missing out,” Oscar says gallantly. “Your stuff was really nice.”
“A respectable first try,” Gil agrees with an approving nod.
Well, she doesn’t say (but kind of wants to), It’s not exactly van Gogh.
“It was great,” Oscar assures her. She’s never really thought of him as kind before – just very beleaguered and sort of there (barring all three month escapes to Europe) – and she thinks maybe she should be grateful. Maybe she is, even; it’s just that she can’t quite place the feeling. “Don’t listen to anything he says,” he continues, bright and casual but tinged with the faintest touch of mercy or – God, she hopes not – pity. “He’s an art snob.”
“He’s just bitter because he can’t even manage a successful stick figure,” Gil retorts, smiling slightly at her like the two of them are supposed to be in on the joke together. She laughs like she’s supposed to; it sounds natural, more or less, and she wonders when she got so good at this.
“Seriously,” Oscar says, reaching forward to press his hand briefly against her forearm. “Congratulations, Pam.”
She meets his eyes and smiles and the thought strikes her that this would have been enough to light up her night, otherwise – she’s pretty good at getting by on what she can. If only she’d come over twenty seconds later.
“Thanks again,” she says warmly. “I really appreciate it.”
“Pam, that’s so cute!” Kelly gushes, one magenta fingernail reaching up to trace the lines of the building. “It totally looks just like here! Except tiny!”
“Thanks, Kelly,” Pam replies, trying not to sound too weary.
“Michael was so right,” she declares, pulling her hand back and surveying the painting again. “You’re sooo talented.”
“Thank you,” Pam says, forcing a smile. “That’s really sweet.”
“I totally can’t paint at all,” Kelly continues wistfully. “Except, like, my fingernails.”
“Of course,” Pam says with a nod.
“Listen, I’m sorry I couldn’t make it.” Kelly says solemnly, reaching over and encircling Pam’s wrist with her fingers. “It’s just that I had this thing, and I really couldn’t get out of it, even though I was totally all, ‘God, I have to go to my friend’s art show!’, but then the thing was all important and—”
“That’s okay, Kelly,” Pam interjects as patiently as she can. “I don’t mind that you weren’t there.”
Kelly’s eyes widen hopefully. “So you don’t totally hate me?”
“Of course not,” Pam says. She hopes she doesn’t sound as tired as she feels.
“Yay!” Kelly throws her arms around her. “Oh, Pam, I’m so glad we’re friends.”
Pam pats her on the back awkwardly. “Yeah, me too.”
When Kelly pulls away, she’s smiling all slyly. Which really can’t bode well. “Did Roy go?”
“For a little while,” Pam says and smiles back – mostly because she wouldn’t put it past Kelly to get suspicious if she didn’t.
Kelly beams approvingly. “He so loves you. Did he say your paintings were totally pretty?”
“The prettiest,” Pam confirms, and tries to sound enthusiastic. It’s just that they’re right by Jim’s desk, which makes things sort of awkward.
“That’s so cute,” Kelly sighs. “I wish I could paint so Ryan would say my paintings were the prettiest.”
“Yeah, that’s not . . . really why I—”
Apparently it’s not all that important, though, because it takes like half a second for Kelly to jump to something else entirely. “Okay, I have a question, though.”
Pam thinks she should possibly be afraid. “Yep?”
“Why don’t you paint anything pretty?”
The question throws her, and she’s not sure why. “What?”
“I mean, don’t get me wrong, the paintings are pretty – sooo pretty, Pam, seriously – but, like . . . Dunder Mifflin? If I could paint, I’d totally paint flowers and fairies and princesses and rainbows and baby Suri and . . . you know. Pretty stuff that makes me happy.” She shrugs.
Pam doesn’t know what she’s supposed to say to that – mostly because, once you get past all the fairies and princesses and TomKat offspring, it’s more or less honesty and courage versus motel art all over again.
“I guess I’m sort of used to painting the things I see all the time,” she finally replies lamely.
“Huh.” Kelly muses over it for a second. “Well, maybe sometime you should just go totally crazy and paint, like, a fairy princess or something.”
Pam bites her lower lip absently.
“Maybe,” she agrees after a moment.
“I think it would be –” Kelly’s gaze flies away from her in mid-sentence, and excitement immediately lights her features. “Ooh, Ryan’s coming out of the bathroom! Finally. He’s been in there for like forty-five minutes. Oh, God, Pam, I’m so glad we’re sitting together now, I can’t even talk about it, seriously. I can’t even – God, he looks so cute. I just want to go and hug him right now in front of everyone. I totally have to go hug him, even if it is in front of everybody. Okay, later!”
She’s across the room before Ryan even has the chance to sit back down at his desk, which leaves Pam standing by herself. After a moment, feeling almost timid, she glances back up at the painting. She doesn’t really look at her work a whole lot. She’s always figured that that’s what the other people are for.
The parking lot looks really sunny, she decides.
Pam looks over to see Creed eyeing the painting with mild interest.
“Um, yeah,” she says awkwardly. She’s not sure whether she should be proud.
“Nice,” Creed declares, nodding slightly and shoving his hands into his pockets. “Now where’s this supposed to be, exactly?”
Toby comes into the break room just as she’s leaving. “Hey, I’m really sorry I couldn’t make it.”
He sounds so genuinely apologetic (especially after Kelly) that she can’t help but smile. “That’s okay.”
He glances at her over his shoulder as he starts feeding quarters to the vending machine. “How’d it go?”
She reaches absently for her necklace, her thumb grazing lightly against the cold silver. “It was . . .”
Great. Good. Fine. Okay. They’re all on her tongue and it should just be a matter of picking one. It’s simple.
Toby turns around to look at her, his features creasing slightly with what she thinks might be concern, and suddenly it just really seems like if you’re going to tell anyone the truth, it might as well be the HR guy.
“You were probably better off going to Sasha’s play,” she admits with a sigh.
He frowns slightly. “Was it really that bad?”
She attempts a smile, but it fades into a grimace pretty fast and she doesn’t really feel like hiding anymore. “It wasn’t great.”
He puts his hands into his pockets sort of uncomfortably, and it strikes her that he seems kind of nervous. “You wanna talk about it?”
Something about this surprises her. “Really?”
“Well, it is sort of my job,” he points out, and shrugs.
And for a second, it seems like a really good idea: he’s staring at her like he actually cares, even though they barely know each other, and she knows that he’s good at his job and something about being here with him even now makes everything seem a little less hard.
But the thing is, it only takes another second for her to realize that she doesn’t know how to say what’s wrong, and he’ll think it’s silly and stupid for her to get so worked up about nobody coming and Oscar and Gil saying those things and Roy just not getting it, and saying it out loud would make everything too real anyway. Maybe she really just isn’t good at this, and maybe Toby’s too sweet to lie to her – maybe seeing the painting in the office was enough to make him figure out she’s talentless (because Michael might be uncommonly wonderful sometimes, but even she can’t make herself believe that he actually has good taste) and maybe he’ll just let her know really gently that this isn’t what she’s cut out for, and that she should just give up all the stupid things she dreams about because reality’s doing a good job of making it really, really clear that none of them are going to happen, and sometimes giving up isn’t a bad thing so much as it is very, very smart.
Toby’s still looking at her, in this way that’s soft somehow (which doesn’t really make any sense, but does anything?), and it’s initiative enough for her to make her decision.
“Um, no, that’s okay,” she tells him. “I mean, it was sort of a crappy night, but it was just my first show, right? It’ll get better.”
“Yeah,” Toby agrees after a moment. “Yeah, I’m sure it will.”
His face sort of falls, and she doesn’t get why. Maybe she’s even more hopeless than she realizes.
“Thanks, though,” she says. “For offering.”
“Of course,” Toby responds. He seems almost desperately genuine. “Anytime you want to . . . – just . . . any time, okay?”
“Okay,” she agrees awkwardly.
He smiles, but it’s forced and doesn’t come close to reaching his eyes, and brushes past her as he heads out of the break room. The vending machine’s still blinking.
“Hey, uh, Toby?” she calls after him.
He leans his head back through the door right away. “Yeah?”
“You forgot to get your candy bar,” she says, gesturing lamely toward the vending machine.
“Oh,” he says almost sadly. “Right. Thanks.”
She slips out of the break room just as he heads back in, and when she turns to look back at him for no particular reason, he still hasn’t picked anything – he’s just standing there. She kinda knows the feeling.
She’s supposed to meet Roy after work so they can go grab dinner, but she winds up staying about a half hour late. She organizes her desk and then Michael’s office, just to be thorough, and there’s still a restlessness that she can’t shake. Something feels unfinished.
At a little after five thirty she shuts down her computer and turns off all of the lights, then slips into the bathroom to freshen up her makeup before she heads down to the warehouse. She hates how dead she looks under the fluorescent lights, and wishes all of a sudden that she actually owned a lipstick that was more than a shade or two away from clear.
When she comes back out into the office, Jim’s standing by what’s technically Ryan’s old desk. He’s staring at the painting. It’s too dark to make out his features.
“Hey,” she says after a moment, not much louder than a whisper.
He looks over at her, surprised. “Hey.”
She’s still not used to it being quiet like this between them.
After a moment she asks, “Why are you standing in the dark?”
“Well, I am a vampire now,” he points out matter-of-factly. His voice is low and warm and familiar and it hits her all over again, the way she’d thought things would turn out and the way that they have.
She tries to smile. “Oh. Right.”
“Plus,” he adds, “I forgot a CD.”
“Oh,” she says lamely. “Well, then it’s a good thing you came to pick it up, I guess.”
“Yeah,” he agrees, and exhales steeply.
She guesses that means the conversation’s over, and that she should just head over to her desk and grab her purse and take off, but she can’t shake the stupid feeling that even one step would be a disruption of something she can’t even figure out or define.
“Hey,” he says all of a sudden, softer. “Nice work, Beesly.”
He shifts his gaze back to the painting.
Embarrassment swells up in her. “You don’t have to say that.”
“No, seriously,” he insists. “Granted, it’s not a unicorn in a field of flowers, but still. Impressive nonetheless.”
“It’s just the building,” she protests faintly, mostly because there’s a smile threatening the corners of her mouth and if there’s one thing she knows, it’s that it’s not smart to fall into this again.
He shrugs. “You gotta start somewhere. Not to mention,” he adds, and turns to smile at her, “that you’ve now officially topped the Mona Lisa in Michael’s book.”
She can’t help smiling back. “Oh, big ‘go me’ there.”
“Absolutely,” he confirms, and when he laughs just a little, the sound is low and sure. She crosses her arms in front of her chest.
“Hey,” he says after a moment, his voice turning serious, “I’m really sorry I couldn’t make it.”
Her eyes are stinging all at once and she just wants to shut them – click her heels, maybe, and there’s no place like home herself right out of this, except who’s to say she wouldn’t wind up right back here? It’s just that it seems all too likely sometimes.
“That’s okay,” she says. At least her voice doesn’t shake. “That’s . . . totally fine. You probably had plans. And it was really late notice, and . . . it’s fine. It’s fine,” she says again, shaking her head slightly.
Jim doesn’t say anything back – just stares at her. They aren’t quite standing in the right places, but it’s close enough, with the dark and the two of them alone here and that look on his face. Most of the time, she thinks she can’t really remember what it was like to kiss him (it was too fast and too soon; all terror and bliss colliding or maybe entwining and it would have been so easy to just forget and invent something else, something better).
She doesn’t know when she got so good at lying to herself. Maybe she’s always been.
“I’m really glad you’re doing this,” he finally says. “The art classes.”
She wants to tell him that she doesn’t know whether it’s worth it, that she doesn’t know how to be brave, to make the right kinds of sacrifices. She doesn’t know how to be honest where it counts, and maybe he doesn’t either.
“Me too,” she says.
His mouth quirks up in a tired half-smile. “’Night, Pam.”
“’Night,” she echoes, and watches him go.
Roy’s stretched out on her couch chuckling at a rerun of That 70s Show, and she’s sitting in the faded secondhand armchair with her sketchbook open in her lap. He mutes the TV when the commercials come on. It’s raining out and the window’s a little bit open; she likes the way it sounds.
“Hey, babe, are you sure you don’t wanna come sit with me?”
“No, I want to get some drawing done.”
“’kay,” he agrees easily. “If you’re sure.”
They sink into familiar silence, and she frowns at the blank page in front of her. The pencil feels awkward in her hand.
“Hey, Roy?” she asks, almost by accident.
“Yeah?” He twists his neck uncomfortably to look at her. She doesn’t think she’ll ever be used to him being this attentive.
“Which one of my paintings did you like the best?”
His eyebrows furrow slightly. “What?”
“At the art show,” she persists. “Which one of my paintings did you like the best?”
“I liked all of them,” he announces after a thoughtful second, like it’s a trick question and he knows he’s answering right. “They were all really amazing.”
She idly twists a lock of hair around her finger. “Why?”
“They looked real,” he says. “All three-dimensional and stuff. It’s pretty cool that you know how to do that.”
“What did they feel like?” She feels guilty asking – she knows it’s not fair to him – but she can’t help it.
“I dunno,” he says blankly. “Paper?”
She pulls her finger back, lets the lock of hair swiftly unravel. “That’s not what I meant.”
“I dunno,” he says again, and then – “They felt like you.”
Her heartbeat quickens all at once. If even he can see that – “Really?”
“Well, yeah,” he says, sounding surprised that she has to ask. “You painted them.”
“Oh,” she says softly. It’s a relief, in a way.
Still, the blank page seems to mock her; she traces empty designs against it with her pointer finger.
“You okay, babe?” Roy asks, and the fact that there’s genuine concern in his voice makes it worse.
“Yeah,” she says as lightly as she can. “Don’t worry about it.”
He dozes off before King of Queens starts, and there’s something comical about the sight of him scrunched onto her tiny garage sale sofa with little pink flowers all over it. He doesn’t look right here. That might have been on purpose originally, back when she still felt like she needed to escape from him.
His feet are propped up on the far arm of the couch, one ankle crossed over the other, obscuring the view of the window. There’s a hole in the big toe of his right sock. The curtains are a filmy white, and the wind turns them ghostlike and graceful. It’s too dark to see the rain outside.
With one decisive pencil stroke, she captures the curve of Roy’s right foot. The windowsill comes next, then the challenge of the curtains – drifting faintly back and forth, never pausing to fall still. She doesn’t know what she’s doing or why. She doesn’t bother considering it; she’s sick of having to stop.