Author Notes: So this is it. The final installment of my story about the love that dare not speak its name. If you don't want fangirls complaining about how they think it didn't happen, that is.
Two things before I go: 1) Have you seen Hilary Swank's body? Totally hot. 2) That thing Michael said when leaving the motel? "We're off like a herd of turtles"? Yeah, my dad says that. All. The. Time. The rest of that goes: "A herd of turtles?" "Of course I heard of turtles," said like an old country gentleman/foghorn leghorn. Even at its best, it's not even approximating funny.
November 13. Scranton.
The drive had been on autopilot, with a simple mantra repeated over and over and over again inside her head. Must return to Jim... Must return to Jim... Must return to Jim... Divine orders or her heart's longing desire; she didn't care which. Just the mantra as she forced her little blue Yaris faster and faster down the highway toward the office and him and home and the life that she wanted for herself (punctuated occasionally by a verbal "what the fuck am I doing?" and an ever tighter gripping of the steering wheel).
And with her heart pounding, she pulled into the parking lot, into her normal spot, and waited.
The day drew to a close. One by one, her coworkers exited the building, each giving her a look of surprise or shock followed by one of disappointment or sympathy. Some wanted to talk to her, others didn't, but both received the same answers from her.
She waited in silence, leaning against the trunk of his car, until Jim stepped through the lobby doors and into the fading sunlight. When he finally looked up and saw her, he too showed the surprise, but instead of disappointment or sympathy, all that was there was love, and she smiled.
But she felt a bit of a grimace appear upon her face, too. "I'm coming back the wrong way," she told him, standing to try to meet his height. "It's not because of you."
With Jim away at one of his pick-up basketball games, and nothing good on tv, Pam is left alone in the house with her thoughts and the surviving half of the scary clown (which had managed to defeat her - apparently it's a load-bearing clown). It's not a place where she wants to be. It gives her far too much time to wonder.
So she wonders. She wonders about the consequences of decisions she didn't make. She wonders about people who aren't here right now but that she wishes were. She wonders about her parents and her family. She wonders about giving up and growing up and growing apart and growing old and getting old and dying. She wonders about the road not taken. Robert Frost would be unimpressed.
She hasn't been falling out of love with Jim, annoyed with him over years of neglect and being taken for granted, hasn't had the time to analyze everything about him, all his annoying habits... she isn't a fool. She knows he isn't perfect. And she loves him, fully, foibles and all. And she would never for anything give him up because she loves him.
Exactly the way she loved Roy, long ago.
Back then she had not taken the time to think for herself, or to think period, but this time she is thinking. This time Pam pores over every tiny detail, scrutinizes every littlest event, reaches back to everything that she has ever learned, and explores the deepest crevasses of her soul. Ignorance is bliss.
Punching in a number on her phone that saw frequent use over the summer and fall but that she hasn't used in months, she doesn't wait a moment before she blurts, "You were right."
She shouldn't be surprised that his answer is a groggy and confused, "What?"
"Ummm... hi?" is her second attempt at making coherent conversation.
There is a pause from the other end of the line. "Pam Beesley?"
"You know, they have these phones that show you who's calling now. In fact, I'm pretty sure you're using one right now."
He chuckles. "Well, holy crap, you're right... You know, I... I never thought I'd hear from you again."
"Yeah, I'm, uh, sorry about what went down back there. I think that might be the worst thing I've ever done." She has a list. The race for the podium is pretty tight. "You have no idea how many times I almost dialed your number when I thought the coast was clear. Because it's looked up for so long at me and said, 'call me, please,' like every day."
"So am I your dirty little secret?" Alex singsongs, and just like that he is teasing her again, like nothing big and tragic had ever happened between them. She feels the corners of her mouth rising involuntarily.
"Oh, no, no. Not at all. Okay, yes. Listen, I wanted to talk to you, seriously. I've had this problem all my life where I sort of don't talk about things that I should be talking about and everyone suffers because of a lack of any meaningful communication and then there's fighting and vengeance and all sorts of horrible things and I don't want to do that anymore. It's my New Year's resolution."
"Mine was to learn how to do my own oil changes."
"You don't even have your own car. Shut up. I have to start talking about this before I chicken out."
"Alright," he says, his tone quieting down immediately. "When you're ready."
"Thanks," she replies, taking a deep breath in preparation. She can do this. She can talk about things like a normal person. A normal person who has to explain why she acted like a mentally retarded five year old, that is. "What you said before. You were right. I was scared," she admits. "I'm not strong. I'm not a risk taker. That... I've known that for a while, but the way I acted... I've been driving myself to distraction trying to figure this out."
Alex chuckles. "Yeah, I've been wondering about that myself."
"That was some hardcore self destruction, wasn't it?" she agrees. "There I was, having more fun than I've ever had in my entire life and training for a career that I really wanted. And then I go and blow it all to smithereens just because I slept with you? Hardly seems like a proportionate response, does it?"
"You're telling me. I mean, I know I'm no Casanova, but really..."
"Quiet, you. Do you want to hear the explanation or not?"
"Sorry. Go on."
"So... on to the self destruction..." It would help if she actually knew how to articulate what she wants to say. Which is what you get when you don't talk much in real life. "I've... never known how to get what I want?" she sort of states, timidly. "And so I never did. And somewhere along the line I crossed over from accepting my mundane, sucky life, to actually being comfortable with it. Too comfortable to risk abandoning it to go after my dreams. I know that doesn't make any sense. I'm sorry if the English language hates me."
"I've always been on better terms with Hindi. We go camping every Fourth of July."
"Doofus," she sighs, shaking her head. "I could have done the art thing many times in the past, but I didn't. I always thought it was my ex-fiancé holding me back from pursuing art, and I resented him for it, but now I realize that it was just me. I was the one who was holding me back."
"I'm sure you're being too hard on yourse - Wait, you mean you've been engaged before Jim? You're quite the popular young lady."
"Don't I know it. I was also felt up by my office's HR rep and hit on by a Ben Franklin impersonator."
There is nothing you can say after a revelation like that. At least nothing related. Unless you were also hit on by a Thomas Jefferson impersonator. "You know how school isn't something on its own? How it's a stepping stone, a way of prepping yourself for something real?" Alex murmurs in agreement. "Well, to me, it was something. To be doing something other than being the receptionist. But I'm too scared to stop being the receptionist. I was always going to go back to Jim and Scranton and working at a paper company. It feels kind of empty now," she admits. It felt kind of empty at the time. It's worse now.
"Then why did you do it?"
Alex pauses, and she thinks that he's unsure, too. "Either. Both," he finally decides.
"They're actually the same answer," she remarks after some thought. "You have no idea how much I want that life you guys were offering. I dreamt about it. Thought of ideas I could use. But I always knew I was going to go back to Scranton. I had a life there. A fiancé. Commitments. So my dreams stayed as just that: dreams. And I was okay with that. Jim was supportive of my art, but I knew he didn't want to uproot his life, even if it was for me. But we loved each other and we did have plans for the future and I was happy. But then it's this summer and I never got to see him and his brothers suck and he's trying to give away my Snoopy mug and we're not connecting and you were there being all sweet and he wasn't and I'm not as reserved as I used to be."
"Pam, I really appreciate you calling and trying to make things right but please... make sure you breathe during your exposition."
"Hey, I'm breathing. I sneak them in on alternating vowels," she jokes, after pausing to catch her breath, but this is a serious conversation. "But then we had sex and I felt horrible because I'm in a committed relationship, but I still wanted to. And I was already conflicted about this whole thing, the possibility of maybe having to drag Jim kicking and screaming away from Scranton if I was going to make this whole art thing work. I... just wasn't going to do that to him, too. So, as tempting as the career in New York was, I wasn't going to take it. As much as I wanted to. You can imagine how pissed off I was about that."
"And then I came in with that speech I rehearsed and made it worse."
"Yeah. You really know how to suck. No, but seriously. I'm a big scaredy cat. You were right... but I just couldn't handle it," she says, quietly, with more than just a little shame.
"It doesn't sound like you were scared," Alex scoffs, missing the point. "You, it sounds to me like you were just being, trying, to do the right thing and that's commendable."
She sighs, angrily. "Alex, I sabotaged myself just so I wouldn't have to make any tough decisions or difficult lifestyle changes." And closed a door that could have led her to achieving her dreams and to a sense of fulfillment and happiness that wouldn't so easily be opened again. When did her life become like a tv show? Oh, right. When it did. "And now I'm stuck here, art school drop out, feeling sorry for myself. And that's my story. As best as I can figure it out."
"Pam, don't be so hard on yourself. I'm not mad at you for having different priorities. Making a career change and moving is a big step. A huge step. You don't - there's no shame in being frightened."
"No, you don't understand," she practically cries. Why is he forcing her to spell it out? "I was scared to admit that I might not be happiest with Jim."
"Oh," he says, after a long, long pause.
"So... Desperate to change the subject... I haven't talked to you in a while. What's up?"
"Nothing much. Visited the fam for Christmas. Starting second semester. I'm taking that typography in new media course you recommended. It's excellent, by the way. Oh, and I nailed Dr. Cyphers."
"Really? How is she?"
"How are things with you now?"
"Oh... I don't know... Existential conundra. My parents might be splitting up. They're arguing quite a bit and my dad warned us that he might be crashing on our couch soon. It sucks. That along with being a failed artist."
"I know. My parents split just as I was finishing high school. I was - well, you're shocked because you never expect it. But it's funny. When I look back at it now, I wonder how they managed to stay together for so long. And, hey, being a failed artist worked out fine for Hitler. So you at least have that to aspire to."
She giggles in spite of everything. "Thanks. Dwight will be happy about that."
"Heh. Yeah... Pam?"
"I love you."
"I love you too."