He almost changed his mind twelve times. Once he even pulled into a rest stop off the highway and parked in the shadow of the little building that housed the bathrooms to think it through. I'm not that guy, the rational part of his brain told him. We're not that couple. It was easy to think it, harder to give it the credence it deserved. He kept seeing Roy's expression, his knowing (and possibly calculated, if you held to the belief that Roy had the mental capacity to manipulate) proclamation: "Wow."
Wow? Was it really a wow kind of thing? So she was going out a lot. Drinking a lot. She'd made lots of friends, that was a good thing. Jim wanted nothing more than for her to be happy, to wring every drop out of this experience because it's what she wanted. And at the end of it all, she come back to Scranton. Back home. Back to him.
Really, maybe his sudden decision to hit the road had nothing at all to do with Roy's blunt implications. Maybe he just wanted to see her, was that so weird? He hadn't seen her in two weeks and he missed her. He just wanted to hold her, kiss her, hear her laughter so he could bring it back with him in preparation for another long week with Ryan at reception and a hole in his heart.
He was not checking up on her.
It occurred to him at some point not far from his exit that that particular assertion would hold more water if he had called to tell her he was coming.
So he wanted to surprise her, so what? He liked to surprise her. She got that goofy grin and her eyes went all shiny and it made him melt.
Still, maybe he should call …
Too late. He parked as close to her building as he could get and went inside. He knocked several times and waited with dimming anticipation as he realized she wasn't home. He checked his watch. 11:32 p.m. Was this the same girl who had told him not very long ago that she was trying to get to bed by 8?
He used the key she'd given him and went into her dorm room. It was dark and chilly. He lay down on her bed, stretching his legs out (this couldn't be a standard-size mattress; his calves hung off the end) and staring up at the water stains on the ceiling. Surely she'd come back soon, and he'd be here and she'd be surprised and happy to see him.
He was startled awake by the sound of giggles and voices echoing in the hallway and the sound of a key scraping against a lock.
"I could get it in if the doorknob would stop moving!" Pam's voice proclaimed. Tipsy, indeed.
Then another voice, a male voice. "I know, it's crazy. Here, can I help?"
"Sure, if you think you're smarter than this doorknob, go for it."
Jim sat up as the key slid into the lock. He stared dumbly at the door, his stomach suddenly in knots.
"Yay you!" Pam bubbled at her companion, stumbling into the room. "You got it in! THAT'S WHAT SHE SAID!"
The light seemed to explode from above as the guy with Pam flipped the switch. His eyes immediately met Jim's across the room, but Pam was too busy laughing at her own joke to notice him. Jim cleared his throat, and she spun around.
"Jim! Oh my God!" In a flash, his lap was full of Pam, warm and soft, smelling lightly of fruity martinis and secondhand smoke. He held her and forced a smile, his eyes drifting momentarily back to the guy hovering awkwardly in the doorway.
"Hey, man," he said, raising a hand in a semblance of a wave.
"Hey," Jim said.
"Oh yeah! Sorry, Jared, this is my Jim; Jim, this is my best Pratt friend Jared. He keeps me honest."
The two of them laughed; Jim just stared. "What does that mean?"
"Let's just say this one has a wild side when she gets one too many Cosmos in her."
"Let's just say," Jim said. His pasted-on smile was beginning to feel like a rubber mask.
"Well, I better head back to the group. I'm sure you guys want some time alone," Best Pratt Friend Jared said, and Jim nodded.
Pam extracted herself from Jim's embrace and crossed the room to Jared in three stumbling steps. "Thanks for walking me home," she said, throwing her arms around his neck. He hugged her back, pointedly avoiding Jim's unwavering gaze.
"Anytime, Beesly," Jared said, making Jim's blood pound harder through his temples.
"Yeah, thanks for taking care of her, man." Jim said. "I'll take it from here."
When the door closed behind Jared, Pam turned back toward Jim, her cheeks brightly flushed and that shine in her eyes that he had envisioned on his way here—though this shine was due more to vodka than surprise.
"What are you doing here?" she asked. "I mean, I'm thrilled you're here, but … why in the middle of the night? Why didn't you call?"
"I wanted to see you."
She sat next to him on the narrow bed and wrapped her arms around his waist. "I'm so glad," she said. "I've missed you."
"I've missed you too. A lot."
She frowned, studying his face closely, and traced a finger over his lips. "What's this?" she asked.
He looked at her questioningly.
"This fake smile you're giving me. What's wrong, Jim?"
He shook his head. "No, nothing we're going to discuss tonight. You need some sleep; don't you have your eight o'clock tomorrow?"
"What do you mean nothing we're going to discuss? So there is something. Jim, tell me."
"Not tonight, not until I get my head clear."
"What does that mean? Jim, you're scaring me."
He moved toward the end of the bed and started taking her shoes off. "Pam? I love that you're here with me, right now, and that you're safe and that you have people around to keep you that way because you make some stupid choices sometimes. I love you."
"I love you too, Jim. What's—"
He put a finger against her lips, cutting her off. "But right now I'm a little bent out of shape, and I don't think it's something we should talk about while you're drunk and I'm angry."
"A little bit, yeah."
Her brow furrowed. "Why? What did I do?"
"I didn't come here to fight with you."
"But you did come here. For the first time ever without telling me you were coming. Why?"
"Let's just go to sleep. Tomorrow we can meet for breakfast after your early class and we'll talk it out, okay? Things will be easier in the morning."
"Are you … you're not upset about Jared are you?"
"No. Not about Jared. Though I don't remember you ever telling me about him before."
"He's a friend."
"He's your best Pratt friend. He keeps you honest." Jim couldn't stop the sarcasm from bleeding through in his tone.
She sat bolt upright, the already-high color in her cheeks brightening even more. "You're jealous!" she accused. "You think something's going on between him and me?"
"God! No!" He forced his volume down. "No. I trust you, Pam. I don't know if I trust Jared, but I trust you."
"I trust Jared. He walks me home just about every night and he's never made a move, ever."
"Well give the man a gold medal. How many times has he refrained from seducing you when you're sloppy drunk?"
Her mouth fell open, and she looked at him as if he'd slapped her.
Jim sighed in frustration and ran his hands through his already disheveled hair. "Pam. I don't want to do this. Please, let's not do this."
"I didn't start it," she said. "You're the one who's angry."
"I'm not, okay? I'm going to go to sleep, and you're going to go to sleep, and tomorrow we can talk like rational people. Like Jim and Pam. Okay? This is getting blown out of proportion."
"Jim…" He looked up at her and was dismayed to see there were tears standing in her eyes. Another kind of shine, one he never wanted to see. "It's not easy. Being here, being away from home. Away from you. I miss you so much sometimes it's hard to breathe. So I lose myself in the people I've met here, the ones who are nice and funny and help me to feel less alone. Is that so terrible?"
He reached out and took both her hands in his. "No, of course it's not."
"You trust me, Jim, I know you do. This isn't you."
"You're right. This is Roy."
She looked shocked. "Roy, what?"
"I ran into him tonight. I was hanging out with the warehouse guys and he just showed up. He … I don't know, Pam, he just sort of got under my skin. I let him get under my skin. And that's why I'm really here. I forgot who we are for a little while. I forgot, and I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, Pam."
A couple of tears spilled down her cheeks and she was silent for a few moments, looking into his earnest eyes. "You know me, Jim. You know my heart."
"And I know yours."
She moved closer. "Don't forget anymore. If you start to forget you talk to me. You don't get lost in your head. You don't come to check up on me. And if I start to forget, I'll talk to you. It's our way; it's our only way."
He nodded, trailing his lips along her neck as she whispered these words in his ear.
"Promise me, Jim. Trust is who we are. It's us. Are we clear?"
"Yes ma'am," he whispered huskily, lying her back down on the bed and bracing himself above her. "I love you Pam Beesly."
"I love you, Jim Halpert."
And there, on her too-small dorm bed, they slipped back in step with one another.