A New Life

When Jim came into the office on that cold and dreary Monday morning in March, he knew immediately that something was off. Ryan the Temp was sitting at Pam's desk, talking on Pam's phone. Pam was nowhere in sight, and Jim noticed her coat wasn't in its usual spot on the rack.

He waited until Ryan had finished transferring the latest call and asked, "Hey, where's Pam?"

"Uh, not sure," Ryan shrugged. "Michael just told me to fill in until he could get someone permanent."

Jim's world began to spin, but he tried hard not to let it show.

"What do you mean? What about Pam?"

Ryan just shrugged again.

"I guess she quit. Michael seemed pretty cheesed off about it, but I didn't get any details." He looked at Jim, puzzled. "Didn't she say anything to you?"

"No," Jim admitted, the stone sitting in the pit of his stomach getting heavier by the moment. "I haven't heard from her."

The phone rang again, and Ryan picked it up.

"Dunder Mifflin, this is Ryan."

No. This was wrong. There must be some mistake. She was probably just out sick, and Ryan had misunderstood. It was no big deal. She wouldn't quit without telling him. She just wouldn't.

He turned and made a beeline for Michael's office, not knowing or caring who was watching. He paused in the doorway—Michael was sitting at his desk, his head in his hands. Jim rapped softly on the door.

"Hey, Michael?"

Michael looked up.

"Jim! Jim Halpert, my main man. What can I do for you? You're not quitting on me, too, are you? Off to elope with Pam? You'd better not...I don't need any more problems piled on me this morning."

So it was true. Jim swallowed hard.

"No, I just wanted to ask about Pam. She didn't really quit, did she?"

Michael let out a big, blustery sigh.

"That she did, Jim. That she did. Called me early this morning, said she was sorry she couldn't give me notice, but that she couldn't bear to come back and work in such close proximity to Roy. Can you believe that? I mean, what am I supposed to do here? Do you have any idea how difficult it's going to be to find someone to replace her? First, there's the cost and the trouble of advertising the position, reviewing all those resumes and calling references—it's a nightmare, I swear. And then I have to go through all those interviews, and I mean, god...they're such torture. I can't believe how selfish some people can be..."

Jim slowly sank down into the chair across from Michael.

"Wait. Back up. What do you mean she couldn't stand to be near Roy?"

Michael just stared at him. "You mean you don't know?'

"Know what?"

"Wow. I can't believe she didn't tell you. I thought you two were best buds and all that?"

"Michael..."

"I mean, this is major news. I can't believe I know it before you do! Then again..."

"Michael."

"Really, people do like to confide in me. I just have that quality, you know? Like, people know that if they tell me something, it's going straight to the vault. Nobody's gonna get that sucker out."

"Michael!"

Michael lifted his eyebrows innocently. "What?"

"What about Pam and Roy?" Jim was barely containing his impatience now.

"Oh, well...you're going to love this, Jim. This is fantastic news for you, buddy. Are you ready for it?"

Jim sat on his hands to prevent them from going straight around Michael's neck. He nodded.

"Seems our little Pammy had a big, busy weekend. Decided not only to quit her job, but to quit her fiancé into the bargain! She and Roy are no more. The wedding's off, buddy. The...wedding...is...OFF!"

Michael leaned back in his chair, his hands laced behind his head, watching for Jim's reaction with a huge grin.

Jim had no idea how to feel. Concern, elation, worry, hope, fear, despair. He kept his gazed fixed firmly on the Dundie statue sitting on Michael's desk.

"What...how...do you know what happened?"

He couldn't believe he was asking Michael, of all people, for this information. But desperate times...

"No idea—she wouldn't say. I bet she caught him cheating, though, don't you?" Michael actually started laughing. "Or, no...wait, get this...maybe he postponed the wedding again! What an idiot!"

Jim just stared at his laughing boss, wondering what exactly would happen if he punched Michael in the face. If he could be certain he would not be sent to jail in addition to losing his job, he might have done it. After all, was this job even worth having if Pam wasn't going to be there?

Then Jim heard his phone ringing. He threw himself out of Michael's office, grabbing for the phone. It would be Pam, he was sure, calling to explain...calling to reassure him that she was okay and although she had quit her job, they would remain friends. She was leaving Dunder Mifflin behind, but not him.

"Jim Halpert," he said breathlessly into the phone.

"Jim, this Bill Sykes over at Branson's. Just returning your call from last week. Sorry I couldn't get back to you sooner..."

Jim's heart sank.

"Mr. Sykes, I'm sorry. Now's not really a good time for me. Could I maybe call you back a little bit later?"

A moment later Jim hung up the phone. Branson's was a big account, and Mr. Sykes a needy customer, but Jim couldn't bring himself to care. Why hadn't she called? He checked his voicemail, even though the light wasn't blinking. No messages. He checked his cell phone. Had he forgotten to turn it back on after the movie on Friday? But it was on and in working order.

Get a grip, Halpert, he told himself. It was still early. She would call.

Wouldn't she?

By two o'clock that afternoon, Jim was close to losing all hope. She hadn't called, and he had spent one of the most miserable days he had ever known in the office. People were watching him, whispering, wondering. Kelly had come over before lunch to grill him about the breakup, and it was humiliating to have to tell her over and over again that he didn't know anything. She refused to believe him.

"Come on, Jim. You two were, like, best friends! I understand if she swore you to secrecy, but I'm sure she didn't mean me. I mean, I was going to be a bridesmaid, you know!"

Jim knew no such thing, but he let it pass.

The worst part was knowing that Pam wasn't coming back, ever. This wasn't like when she went on vacation. He hadn't realized how much he relied on her to get him through his day.

He missed her every second.

Why didn't she call?

He cursed himself for being so selfish. Pam had just broken up with the man she had been with for ten years. No matter what the reason, her heart must be broken. He should be worried about her, and he was. He was very worried. If only he could be sure that she was all right. He had this mental image of her crying, hurt and lost and in pain. It was almost more than he could stand, and he was powerless to do anything about it. He wanted to be with her, to comfort her, to give her whatever it was she needed.

But obviously she didn't need anything from him at all, did she? He must have grossly overestimated their friendship—otherwise she would have called. He felt sick.

Or maybe she was waiting for him to call her? Maybe he should go to her...

But he didn't know where she was. And he didn't want to overstep any boundaries.

It occurred to him that she might not even be in Scranton anymore. Pam was very close with her parents, Jim knew, and without Roy and her job here, she didn't really have any good reason to stay. What if she had decided to go live near them? Two hours away...

Finally, he couldn't stand it anymore. He waited until Dwight went to refill his coffee, and then dialed Pam's cell phone from memory. It went straight to voice mail.

"Pam? Hey, it's Jim. Just wanted to, you know...check you're okay. I, uh...I heard about what happened with you and Roy and I'm really sorry. I hope you're okay. I...I mean we...miss you here. Give me a call if you feel like talking, okay? Or if not, I understand...Anyway, I guess I'll talk to you later...hopefully...Um, bye."

He put the receiver down, and for the next ten minutes he jumped whenever a phone rang. He had hoped she was just screening, and would call him back immediately when she realized who it was that had called.

No such luck.

All in all, it was a miserable day.

Five o'clock finally came an eternity later. Jim drove home through the dark and cold streets of Scranton, planning the rest of his evening. His roommate Mark was spending the evening at his girlfriend's tonight, as usual, so once again he would have the whole place to himself. Maybe he'd get drunk. Maybe he'd get really, really drunk. And then call in sick tomorrow. Maybe he'd call in sick for the rest of his life.

The thought of spending another day in that place without Pam was almost intolerable.

But all thoughts of self-pity flew away as Jim turned onto his street and noticed a car parked out in front of his house. As he drew nearer, he could see that it was Pam's car. And as he pulled into his driveway, he saw the outline of someone sitting on his front stoop, waiting for him in the dark.

It was Pam.

His heart started to pound. She was here. She was here. She hadn't forgotten him, after all. Suddenly, though, with a jolt of fear, Jim remembered his earlier musings about the possibility that Pam might move away from Scranton. Was this going to be goodbye, then?

Please don't let this be goodbye.

Pam stood up as he climbed out of the car, her hands in her pockets and her shoulders hunched against the cold. The walk to his front door had never seemed so long.

"Hey," she said, and gave him a small smile. Her cheeks were rosy with the cold, and she looked absolutely beautiful.

"Hey," he said, still slightly in shock to see her there. A not-entirely uncomfortable moment passed, and then he simply asked, "Are you okay?"

Her smile slipped away, and she nodded.

"Yeah...I'm gonna be, anyway."

Something in her face, the way she spoke, made Jim want to take her in his arms—to comfort her. But the strange stiffness of her posture told him that his embrace wouldn't be welcome just then.

"Do you want to come in?" he asked, because he wasn't sure quite what else to say.

"Um...is it okay if we stay here for awhile?" she asked. "I don't know...I just need to talk to you and for some reason it's easier out here."

"Sure," Jim said. She was right—no matter how cold, the darkness of the night offered protection. He just wondered what exactly it was she needed protecting from.

Pam hesitated, then said, "I guess the rumors were flying at the office today, huh?"

"Oh, yeah," Jim said, trying to match the lightness of her tone. "Speculation was rampant. You should have heard Dwight."

"Oh, god. What?" Pam was smiling in spite of herself.

"He thinks you were kidnapped by government agents."

"'Government agents?'" Pam laughed. "What does that even mean?"

Jim shrugged, smiling.

"No idea. I was afraid to ask him to elaborate."

Pam giggled, and then suddenly grew sober again.

"Do you want to hear what actually happened?" she asked.

"I do if you want to tell me."

She shrugged. "Nothing happened, that's what. Roy didn't do anything to me, I didn't do anything to Roy, it was just..."

She held her hands out helplessly to her side, as if the words wouldn't come. Then she started speaking rapidly, as if to get through the story as quickly as she could.

"Friday night, Roy went out drinking with his buddies, like always. He came home and passed out on the couch, like always. And then he started snoring, like always. For some reason, it was really bugging me. I was sitting in the kitchen, trying to read, but all I could hear was that damn snoring. It was like...like it was going to drive me completely mad, you know? I just...I wanted to smash his face in with the pillow."

Jim couldn't help a small smile.

"Go on, Halpert. Laugh it up. But I mean it...I was on the verge. I knew I was being unreasonable, so I tried to talk myself down. I tried to remind myself of all of Roy's good points, and all the reasons I was going to marry him."

Pam sighed.

"And that's when I realized...I couldn't think of any reasons. Wait. That's not entirely true. I could think of lots of reasons. The problem was, none of them were the right reasons. Do you know what I mean?"

"Yeah, I think so," Jim said.

"And it just hit me all at once...how many years I had wasted. So much time."

She shuddered, and Jim wasn't entirely sure it was only from the cold. Then she continued her story.

"It was scary. I tried to talk myself out of it...like it was just cold feet, you know. But I was awake almost all night, thinking of it. I thought so much my head hurt. And when the morning came and I still felt the same—I knew I had to leave. Roy went fishing with his brother, and I packed up my car. When he came home, I told him I was leaving him."

She shook her head at the memory. "God, it was...it was horrible."

Jim took a hesitant step towards her, but there was still that invisible wall between them, forbidding him to come any closer. She looked up at him, tears in her eyes.

"I'm sorry I didn't call to let you know I wouldn't be back, Jim. I wanted to. I wanted to so badly."

Jim swallowed. "Why didn't you, then?"

Saturday. She had left Roy on Saturday, and almost two whole days had passed since then.

"I needed to take care of some things before I spoke to you. I don't know how to explain...it just seemed important to settle things first."

"Settle things?"

"Like where I was going to live. I stayed with a girlfriend Saturday, but Sunday I went out and found an apartment. And today I got a job."

"A job?" Jim felt like an idiot, parroting her words back at her. But somewhere, deep down, a bubble of hope was rising. An apartment...a job...she wasn't leaving. She would still be here in Scranton...

"Yeah," she said, smiling again. She dropped a playful curtsey. "You are now looking at the hostess with the mostess. Starting Wednesday, I'm a waitress. At Chili's."

Jim's mind boggled. "Chili's? But I thought you had a lifetime ban!"

"Yeah, well...I'm on probation the first three months, and subject to random drug tests and breathalyzers, but they decided to give me a break after I told them my sob story."

Jim laughed out loud at this.

"Why waitressing, though? Why not another office job, with your mad typing skills and all..."

"Waitressing lets me work at night, and it pays better. This way I can go to school during the day."

"You're going back to school?"

"Yeah...I'm going to finish my degree. Maybe teach art to little kids someday."

"Wow, that's so great, Pam. Really. Wow."

"It seems like a lot, doesn't it?"

"Yeah," he said, still trying to take it all in. "It's like you've got a whole new life, just like that."

"Just like that...I know. But I've already wasted so much time, I couldn't stand to wait one more day."

She took a deep breath, and Jim suddenly realized that she was nervous about something. He waited.

"Anyway, that's why I'm here now," she said, staring back down at her shuffling feet. "I wanted to do those things first ...to get things set in motion—before I spoke with you. So you wouldn't feel pressure, or...I don't know..." She hesitated.

Jim was lost—he had no idea where she was going with this. He knew it was important, though.

"Pam, what is it?" he asked softly.

Pam looked out at the night sky.

"God, this is hard. Okay...Jim, I have to tell you something. And I don't know how else to say it so I'm just going to, you know...say it."

Jim would have laughed, but his heart was somewhere up in his throat, preventing all forms of expression.

"So, okay...here goes. Friday night...when I realized I wasn't in love with Roy anymore...I also realized that there was someone...someone else...that I did have feelings for. Quite strong feelings, actually. I...it's you, Jim."

She was looking anywhere else but at him, but he couldn't tear his eyes away from her face. He felt like his skin was the only thing holding him together.

"I'm not expecting anything," she continued. "That's why I did all those other things first...so you'd know I wasn't counting on you to rescue me, or anything. And I know you said that you got over that crush you had on me a long time ago. But I was wondering if maybe...we could try...I mean, if you wanted..."

Jim swallowed hard. "I lied."

Finally, she looked at him. "What?"

"I lied," Jim said again, meeting her gaze. "I never got over it. I tried, but I couldn't. And it's not just a crush, Pam. It's so much more than that...it's…I'm totally crazy about you."

God, it felt good to finally be able to say that.

Pam just looked at him, a look of wonder on her face. Then she smiled. A beautiful smile, filled with joy and relief and gladness. And with the smallest "Oh!" she at last threw herself forward.

Jim wrapped his arms around her as she buried her face against his coat. He felt her body relax against him, all the tension leaving her body. He bent his face to her hair, and inhaled the scent of her shampoo. He couldn't remember ever being so happy in his entire life. It almost scared him.

She was so warm, and so small, and she fit perfectly against him. He pulled her in tighter and closed his eyes.

They stood like that for a long time, just enjoying the moment. Jim didn't ever want to let her go, but he knew he'd have to eventually. It seemed like it was getting colder every second.

He felt something soft brush against his cheek, and he looked up. It was snowing.

"Hey," he said softly. "Look."

Pam pulled away slightly and gazed around. "Oh, how beautiful."

She smiled up at him, and their eyes locked. An eternity passed.

"I love you," Jim whispered finally.

"I love you, too."

He bent his head down and kissed her. Her lips were as soft and sweet and warm as the rest of her, and Jim felt he would never need anything else in his life, ever, if he could only have this. This moment of perfection.

When they finally broke apart, Pam laughed softly and shook her head.

"What?" Jim asked, smiling.

"It's amazing," she said. "These past few days...they've been awful—some of the worst days of my life. I've been terrified out of my wits. And then I come here...and this...and you...you make everything seem okay again, Jim. You always have."

"It is okay, Pam. Everything's going to be fine. Trust me."

"I do. I trust you."

"Come on then. Let's go inside."

And with that, Jim took Pam by the hand and led her in to the warmth and the light.