Jim Halpert's plane touched down in Sydney after a flight so long it put the dragging hours of his workdays in perspective. He hadn't been able to sleep like he'd hoped, and he knew that once it caught up to him, the jetlag would be murder on his already frayed nerves.
He made his way from Sydney to Manly, a short but dreary bus ride with rain blasting the bus windows clean – a bad way to start off his vacation. By the time he arrived and checked into his hotel, though, the rain had stopped and the gray clouds had parted to reveal a dark sky patched in with stars. Jim didn't leave his room at all that night, just laid in bed staring at a spot on the ceiling the same way he had on the plane. And once again, he didn't sleep.
He got up at sunrise and summoned up the courage to leave his hotel. He stood on a dune that rose up from the beach and dropped his eyes to the lonely shore below. It was almost empty. He'd forgotten that the months were different in Australia. Back in Stamford or Scranton, June would mean the months were warming up toward the hot peaks of July and August, and the beaches would be packed. This one was empty. That might have had something to do with the hour, too, he thought. Not everyone had reason to be awake at six o'clock on a Saturday morning.
Enough is enough. I think we should set a date for our wedding. How about June tenth?
For once he agreed with Roy – enough was enough, for both of them. Enough for Roy because Pam shouldn't have to go on wanting and hurting and being ignored, and enough for Jim because he shouldn't have to, either. At least it was over. Pam got her fairytale wedding, and he got to be free.
June tenth, he thought. Independence day. Because he wasn't enough of a jackass, enough of an idiot to go after someone else's wife. Fiancee was one thing; in Michael's words, "engaged ain't married." But even Michael had to realize that marriage was completely different. An engagement could be broken off with a word, a conversation, a fight. It was still informal, still between two parties. But marriage – breaking that off required lawyers and money and time, all things too complicated to be undertaken lightly. Too complicated to be considered over a coworker's crush.
And if he hadn't had a chance when they were engaged, he sure as hell didn't have a chance now that they were married. Now that they'd taken vows in front of a church that was probably stuffed from altar to entrance with family and friends who were thrilled to see them finally tying the knot.
Pam deserved that kind of happiness, he thought, trudging down the sticky sand. She deserved a fiancee who loved her enough to promise her forever, to care for her in sickness and in health, to carry her over the threshold of her dream house with its sunny rooms and flowered terrace. She deserved so much.
I can't remember the last time someone made me dinner.
Involuntarily, his hands clenched in his pockets. He'd make her dinner every damn day for the rest of his life if he had the chance. He didn't. That had been his only chance, grilled cheese sandwiches on the roof of a paper company. That was all he got. He hoped Roy would do better than he had.
He'd transferred to Stamford after what he'd come to think of as The Kiss, because how do you come back from that? You don't, really, he'd said so long ago and now he knew he'd been right. This was exactly why office romances didn't work – because after everything went up in smoke you had to stare at the ashes for eight hours every day, five days a week, while you tried to believe that if you squinted you could still see a spark. And he was done with being pathetic, done with being that guy, done with casting lonely glances up at the reception disk and listening to the way her voice quivered sometimes when she answered the phone. He hadn't spoken to her since – he'd already said too much and now there was nothing left to say.
He looked down at his watch, realizing he'd never reset it from Eastern Standard. It was eight o'clock at night there. He wondered what time the wedding had been. He'd never given Pam his new address precisely so he'd never get an invitation. She could have gotten it from the company directory, he was sure, but he knew she wouldn't do that. She'd understand.
He was at the water's edge now, the tide chilling his naked feet. He was cold. His sweatshirt wasn't protecting him from the chill in the morning air, and his legs were bare beneath his cargo shorts. Nonetheless, he took a few steps forward, letting the water make its way further up his calves. The freezing waves were beginning to wake him up from his week-long stupor and the insomniac nights that came with it.
When he couldn't take the cold anymore he turned around and walked along the beach, just out of reach of the water lapping at the sand. The horizon was shot with pink and orange, fading up to the dark blue left over from the night. He looked up at it and nodded to himself, thinking – Yeah, I can do this; I can keep going.
I'm fine with my choices.
He walked back up toward the dune and sat down with his back against it, staring up at the changing sky. He dug his fingers into the sand, still wet from yesterday's rain, and closed his eyes. They'd be married already. They would have already left for the honeymoon, tin cans tied on the back of Roy's truck, clattering out a goodbye song to the waving crowd behind them. They'd probably already checked into their hotel, wherever it was they ended up going.
He heard someone clambering over the dune above him, and then he felt the sand dislodged by the new arrival start to slide down over his face. He grunted softly, turning his head to shake the sand out of his eyes. He rubbed at them until he could open his eyes without them burning and blinking against his will.
The newcomer was still picking out a careful path down, and he put his hand up to his eyes to prevent being attacked by another avalanche and prayed to be left alone.
Slowly he moved his hand, staring even as his brain went on autopilot and flashed a grin, forcing his mouth to form a "Hey" and throw it up at the woman still trying to get down the steep sand-hill without losing her balance. Because what else could he do, really, with Pam Beesly only a foot instead of a continent away?
He sat up, realizing that he hadn't showered since the day before his trip and therefore probably looked and smelled like hell, while she looked – well, like Pam.
She finally made it down and flashed him a quick, embarrassed smile. "Sorry. About the..." She motioned to her face. "About the sand."
He shrugged and nodded, the automatic grin long gone. "No big deal."
"Can I, um –"
"Yeah." He moved over, not so much to let her sit down – God knew there was enough room for that, they had the whole beach to themselves – as to keep a little distance between them.
She sat down beside him but not too close, and he saw her swallow as she looked from him out to the surf.
"What are you doing here, Pam?"
A long moment passed before she let out a nervous little laugh. "God," she said, clearly more to herself than him. "I really thought I knew what I was going to say when I got here."
He wasn't used to seeing her this uncomfortable, unless it somehow involved Michael, and her nervousness made him nervous. Although, truth be told, he was already nervous. Or maybe nervous was understating it – his heart was hurling itself against the bars of his ribs, pounding out the same ache he got back in college when he used to jog in the mornings and he ran too fast. He shifted, hoping to alleviate a little of the pain and only succeeded in caking more sand on his legs.
At last he said, again, "Pam, what are you doing here?" and his voice was so loud and angry that it made him jump, made her jump. He didn't think she'd seen him angry very much, certainly not at her.
"I came here to see you," she said in a low, hoarse voice. "I, um... I probably should have called."
"Pam," he started, and then stopped; finally he decided it was best just to ask, take one step toward shutting off the jackhammer in his chest. "Aren't you supposed to be getting married right about now?"
"Yeah," she said, then deadpanned, "Guess I forgot."
He looked over at her with an unsmiling expression that indicated just how much humor he had to spare.
"I'm sorry. I am. I just don't know how to say this."
He quirked a brow, as if to say – say what? His left hand, the one on the side away from her, was clenching around a fist of sand like a stress ball and his nails were biting into his palm.
"I'm not getting married, Jim," she blurted. Her shoulders were shaking lightly and she looked like she was about to start crying. "I wanted to tell you that. In person."
He knew he should say something, but didn't know what, so he kept staring at her, waiting for the rest of the story. There had to be a rest of the story.
"And I didn't know how to tell you – I just decided a few days ago – I knew you were coming here and I didn't think I could get it down in an email or a phone call." Her words tumbled out over each other but her eyes stayed fixed, resolutely, on the empty beach spread out in front of them. She cleared her throat and sucked in a jagged breath. "So... now you know."
"Pam." Her name hitched in his throat.
"I know it's been months and you might not even feel the same" – she was talking so fast he could barely hear her – "but if you do, I'm going to be here for a while and you're going to be here for a while and I just thought – I thought maybe we could be here together."
She turned her head and met his gaze with red, glossy eyes. His mouth opened, and he searched for something intelligent to say, something intelligent to do, something better than laughing like a madman and running up and down the beach and coming back and kissing her senseless.
In the face of his silence, she lowered her eyes and sighed, an ironic smile twisting her mouth. "And if you don't," she said, resignation creeping into her voice, "I can always trav –"
"I do," he said suddenly, startling himself with his own voice, full of life and hope, adding a "Pam" to his declaration because he couldn't stop saying her name like an idiot. He leaned forward, scooting towards her a little awkwardly to bridge the distance between them, reaching out to brush a stray hair away from her mouth. "Of course I do."
Her eyes lit up, incandescent, dropping a tear down her cheek and into his palm. Then she launched herself at him with such force that he fell backward, the weight of her body forcing a little laugh out of his chest that exploded against her mouth as she kissed him.
After a moment he pulled back, furrowing his brow above his grin, to ask, "How did you find me, anyway?"
She blushed and looked down, curling her fingers into the fabric of his sweatshirt.
"Oh, this is going to be good, isn't it?" He rolled over, pinning her between his arms. "Come on, Beesly."
"I got Michael to look at your email," she said, bright red by now but laughing anyway. "You sent the reservations to your work email and he still has that email surveillance thing so –"
He shook his head admiringly. "Well played." His voice lowered, almost to a whisper, and he searched her face as he asked, "So you came all the way to Australia to find me?"
"I thought that after – everything – I wanted to make some sort of gesture to..." She hesitated, and then soldiered on, her hands still tangled near his chest. "To let you know I was serious."
"Well, thank you," he said with his trademark charm, a bantering tone that belied how grateful he was, how right she was, how much it meant that she understood.
She linked her arms behind his neck, her eyes growing serious. "I missed you, Halpert."
"Yeah?" He pretended to think for a moment. "Come to think of it, I missed you too."