Chapter One: Change
She knew something was up. Jim's neck was tenser than usual, he kept running his hand nervously through his already-tousled hair, and when she walked by, his gaze flickered nervously up to her before drumming his fingers on the desk and scribbling something on the sales reports spread out haphazardly in front of him. Pam wasn't an assertive person by nature, but she knew Jim too well. He wasn't like this, ever. In fact, he was the opposite - always laughing, teasing, smiling. Always relaxed and playing pranks on Dwight and making faces at the camera when Michael was being an idiot. Always there for her.
Finally, at lunch, she couldn't stand it anymore. He was undeniably one of her best friends, and when things got out of sync it just felt… weird. Things in their friendship had felt fragile, or strained, somehow. Jim's demeanor had shifted slightly, and she couldn't quite shake the feeling that he was hiding something from her.
Maybe she was paranoid. Of course she was. All the same, there were the moments when she'd talk and realize he wasn't saying anything, just looking at her. She'd catch him staring and he'd hurriedly pretend to be absorbed in something else. These were things that she considered to be small, insignificant moments.
Except then there was the way she felt. Their dynamic wasn't the only thing changing. She couldn't, wouldn't, put a finger on it, but something in the way she saw him had changed too. His name caught in her throat; she felt herself giggle too loud and too long when he was around; she became irrationally happy when he walked into the room. She wasn't stupid. She was just… wary, and absolutely not in denial about anything. At least, that's what she told herself. Besides, it was far easier to assume that this was coming from Jim as much as – or even more than – herself. Right?
Good lord, she had a fiancé.
She shook her head fiercely, curls bouncing against her face, and told herself to get over it. Peering through the door, she glimpsed Jim's familiar head and heard him cough, the kind of short, involuntary cough he gave when he was either uncomfortable or being uncharacteristically diligent.
The door squeaked slightly as she opened it.
"Jim?" she said quietly, sliding into a seat next to him. He looked up, brow furrowed. "Hey, what's going on?"
He glanced at her and put down his sandwich. "What d'you mean?"
"I, uh, I noticed you seem a little more… a little…" She tugged the sleeves of her cardigan over her fists, fingers knotted anxiously in her lap, and simply asked, "You okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine." His attempt at a smile made something like pity flash through Pam and she noticed that he was fiddling with a piece of paper, turning it over and over in his hands. "Really. Just a little, uh, nervous about something." He exhaled and leaned back, unconvincingly casual.
Pam watched him, weighing the options. She could keep up the questioning; after all, she cared about him – a lot – and had to admit that this would gnaw at her until she figured out what was keeping him from being his usual open self.
Then again, nosiness was never attractive. She could leave him alone… but what kind of friend would that make her? What if something bad was going on? Just because Jim acted so happy-go-lucky didn't mean his parents couldn't fight, or his friend couldn't move away, or a relative couldn't die.
Making up her mind, she took a deep breath to gather her thoughts and pressed, "Well, what is it? I can help you, I can talk about it if you want."
"No thanks, I'm good," he said, laughing slightly. "Go on, eat. I gotta get back to work. Those mines won't sweep themselves!"
Pam smiled. "Your dedication to this company truly astounds me."
He grinned, shrugging. "What can I say? I mean, really, who wouldn't want to be a Pennsylvania based mid-size paper company regional salesman?" He fell silent and merely looked at her, smiling a smile that faded instantly. Then, clearing his throat, he stood up, stretched, and patted her shoulder. "Don't worry about it," he said firmly. "See ya later, Beesly."
Pam waved him off before realizing that in his hurry to depart he'd forgotten his lunch bag and left the piece of paper sitting an arm's length away. She bit her lip, curiosity getting the better of her.
It was probably nothing. Probably just something from accounting he'd been studying. Then again, since when had Jim actually made any attempts to work? Slowly, hesitantly, she reached out. Her fingers touched the edge of it when she pulled back her arm as though a spring had been activated.
No. This wasn't okay. Jim never violated her privacy like that. If she left her journal open right under his nose, there wasn't a doubt in her mind that he'd stay away. That's what friends were like, the two of them in particular. They had no special connection, nothing more than pals, buddies, comrades. And she wasn't the type of person who'd cross boundaries. For god's sake, she was one of the most cautious people she'd ever met.
But… she had to know. This was the first time in years that Jim had ever come close to being reserved, a job that normally belonged to her. Except when she was with him. That was when her walls came down, when she could be herself, when her shyness disappeared.
And in return, she wanted to look out for him, and she couldn't do that unless she knew what was going on. He was practically a brother.
Why did that comparison feel so wrong?
The camera zoomed in on her and she cringed guiltily. The cinematographer, who was generally unacknowledged and blended in with the wallpaper, shot her a look that felt very judgmental.
"What?" she said defensively. "I wasn't going to…"
Except she was going to, and she knew it. Once the crew's attention was diverted by Andy's daily a cappella performance, she snatched up the piece of paper and unfolded it.
It was just some numbers Corporate had faxed over a few weeks ago. Something sales-related that Pam hadn't cared about and neither, she thought, had Jim. Slightly disappointed, mostly relieved, she leaned back and sighed. Then a thought struck her and she quickly glanced around the break room. Angela was nibbling on an almond, Stanley was doing a crossword, and Oscar and Kevin were in some argument about the retail value of M&Ms. Nobody would even notice her. Nobody ever did, except Jim.
Almost dreading what might happen, she flipped the paper over. There, in Jim's adorably messy schoolboy handwriting, was a bulleted to-do list (entitled "Long-term goals") and an untidy paragraph underneath. The last one on the list was circled multiple times with a crooked heart next to it. It said:
tell P how I feel about her
and then, in newer-looking ink, an arrow pointed to it saying
do it before R announces engagement!
Pam's heart fluttered. She sought out Jim's hunched-over figure through the glass door and felt the usual warm sensation in the pit of her stomach. It was a type of sibling-like fondness, or so she had convinced herself, but maybe that was just because it wasn't the way she felt around Roy. Roy, who she'd loved since high school. Her fiancé.
Yet somehow her feelings for him seemed…old. Taken for granted, on both ends. Almost colorless, whereas everything about Jim's presence was not only comforting, but exciting and wholly enjoyable to her.
Not that Roy wasn't, of course. She frowned, thinking of her fiancé, a topic that she subconsciously avoided around the office. Maybe for Jim's sake, maybe for her own.
Now she was thinking about him, though. They'd met when she was a dorky little "artsy fartsy" and he was the sometimes-unpleasant football jock. Somewhere along the line they grew to love each other, and she had to admit, he was great. Yes, they fought, and sometimes he didn't give her the respect she wanted and felt she deserved. And sometimes he didn't pull his weight in their relationship. But there was no getting around the fact that he was charming, got along great with her family, and had known her the longest of any of her friends.
Jim looked up and locked eyes with her. He grinned and waved, but as he turned back to his work his smile faded again and his eyebrows raised in the way they did when he was worried.
Pam traced her finger down to the underlying paragraph. He'd written a lot. She had to squint to read the increasingly illegible scrawl.
come on, man, you have to do this. just admit it. you've been in love with her forever. sure, you're friends. but don't deny that want to be more than that. it's all you've wanted since you first met her. just grit your teeth and do it. maybe a miracle will happen and she'll feel the same way. just do it, go on. do it today. I mean it. just tell her. all you want is to hold her and feel her needing you the way you need her. it's always been like that. it always will be like that. do it. it's important. and if she doesn't feel the same, then hey, you'll just have to move on and suck it up. you can't live without her. maybe it will be torture. but it's a risk you have to take.
Pam's breath snagged in her throat. Her hands trembled, dropping the paper.
It wasn't like she'd never suspected. Obviously, there were signs, and plenty of them. Those seemingly small, insignificant moments began piling up in her head, like the way that his gaze sometimes lingered too long on her smile, or his hand brushed against her and he quieted, eyes filled with what she now realized was longing. She'd always disregarded it. Why in the world would either of them ever want to be more than they were now?
And why did she feel good? Happy? Pleased? She ducked her head – Andy had stopped singing and the camera man had returned to focus on her – and gathered up her things, preparing to leave.
Before she could escape, however, the door opened and she quickly covered up the list with her hand. It was Michael. Great.
"Hello there, fellas, milady!" he shouted, grabbing Stanley's crossword and chucking it across the room. "Ah, Pammy!" He bowed, then spun around and attempted to do finger guns.
"Hi, Michael," she said patiently.
"Did you see that? What I did with my hands?"
She raised an eyebrow. "Yes, I did."
"That was an observation, not a compliment –" she started to point out, but he interrupted her, announcing,
"Today is a wonderful day."
When no one said anything, he repeated himself. There was still no response except a loud and very derisive huff from Stanley in the corner, who had retrieved his book with a disgruntled look.
As she seemed to be the only person providing for Michael's emotional needs, Pam asked tonelessly, "Why do you say that?"
"I can't tell you, it's a secret!" he all but yelled in her face, then pulled back and clasped his hands, trying and failing not to beam. "Oh boy, I can't tell you, sorry, I just can't."
"That's perfectly fine, Michael," Oscar said, getting up.
"Alright, well, you're a jerk," Michael muttered as he left. "Anyone else want to know my secret?"
"If it's a secret, Michael, then you can't tell it," Kevin said. "I mean, you tell secrets all the time, but if it's a real secret, you shouldn't tell." He thought for a minute, then gave an affirmative nod.
"Okay, buzzkill," Michael said. "Pam, no?"
She shook her head. "No thank you."
He paused, looking extremely disappointed. "Well then. I've got to go talk to Corporate about some claim of 'sexual harassment'. You all had better get back to work and have fun, because that is what we do at Dunder Mifflin. We have fun."
"If I have to work, it will not be fun," Stanley grumbled. "I am getting a headache, Michael. If you'll excuse me." He snatched up his crossword and shuffled out.
"Catch you on the flippity flip!" shouted Michael, sitting on the counter before hopping off and, thankfully, returning to his office. Kevin wandered out of the room, leaving Pam. Knowing that she wouldn't be missed until a fax came through, she grabbed a bag of Doritos and tried to feel indifferent to Jim's feelings for her.
He was undeniably everything that could be good in a guy. He was kind, caring, funny, handsome, and treated her with respect and - could it be? - love. Since he'd walked through the door and smiled at her, she knew they'd share something - something that while to her appeared to be friendship, to Jim it was this…well, what was it, anyway? His little self-directed pep talk made it abundantly clear that it was more than a crush. What was she supposed to think?
The worst part about this situation was that underneath her neat clothes and polite, unromantic relationship with Jim, Pam felt the same way. But it didn't seem like love to her.
Was it? When you loved someone, did it mean that you felt safe with them, that you wanted to be around them as much as possible, that you just wanted to fall asleep in their arms? With Roy in the picture, he was the only example of alleged "love" that she had to compare Jim to.
Roy was admittedly unpredictable. She didn't always feel safe with him. Sometimes he was hard to be around, and sometimes she ended up trying harder to avoid him than be with him. But come on, all relationships have their rough patches, and this was something she'd learned to accept. It had never occurred to her that they were simply the wrong people for each other.
So which one was love?
No, that was stupid. Why was she even thinking about such a thing? She was engaged to Roy Anderson. She would be Pamela Morgan Anderson in no time. Jim was her friend. He was like a brother and probably always would be. It had to stay that way. Why were her feelings so infuriatingly unclear?
She threw the rest of the Doritos away and tucked the piece of paper into her pocket before returning to her desk, where Jim was grabbing a few jelly beans.
"Hey," she said as she sat down in her stiff desk chair and signed onto the computer.
"Hi," he said, sounding a bit calmer. "I, uh... listen, are you doing anything today after work?"
"Yeah, sorry," she said, and she genuinely was. "Roy and a bunch of his friends are going out for drinks and he wants me to come along." It was a pretty regular and tiresome thing, Roy dragging her to his outings, especially considering that she wasn't even a participant. Somehow she didn't feel like it was her place to sit at a bar until one in the morning as her boyfriend and Darryl did shots and cracked extremely crude and demeaning warehouse jokes.
"Oh." Jim's jaw clenched. "Um, okay then. Can you let me know when you're free?"
He turned and walked back towards his desk. Pam watched him go, feeling a tug in her chest.
"Jim," she spoke up suddenly.
He spun around in his chair, a look of boyish hopefulness crossing his face. "Yeah?"
"I'll just cancel with Roy."
A grin crossed Jim's face. "Really? Won't he be mad?"
He would, but Pam would deal with it. She'd dealt with his jealousy all through high school and college; she could do it again. In any case, Roy knew Jim was a good guy. "Yeah, I know. I'll make it up to him. So… what do you say? Rooftop picnic, 5:30 tonight?"
"Sounds like a plan, Beesly." He shot a rubber band at her and she ducked, giggling despite herself. "I'll grab a pizza and sodas if you get some napkins and dig out a few chairs."
"Deal." She grabbed a paperclip and chucked it back at him.
"If you wouldn't mind, could you two children please keep your hands and desk accessories to yourself?" spat Dwight, glaring at both of them.
"Yes, I would mind. I would mind very much, in fact," Jim said seriously. "Sorry."
"Sorry for what? I don't need your fake apologies, Jim."
"For this." He swept a pile of papers off Dwight's desk.
Pam laughed, relieved that Jim was back to his old self. As for herself... what was going on? Why had she suggested another rooftop picnic? The last one had been considered a "date" by Jim, and she was only leading him on. She didn't want to lead him on. She shouldn't. Why would she?
As much as she hated to admit it, maybe she too felt the way he did.
Fine. Tonight, she would go with the flow, and see what happened. That was a good plan.
This was so unlike her; she was usually so calm, cool, and collected. What had changed? Nothing. Everything. Goddamn change. It just complicated everything.
Despite herself, she looked over at Jim and felt a smile spread across her face. This – he – was what had changed her. Having him in her life… he was irreplaceable. Between work stresses and wedding woes, she needed someone to vent to, and Jim was there.
She couldn't help sneaking a glance at him again. He didn't look up, but he continued highlighting large blocks of text with a trademark, goofy smirk on his face.
Sighing quietly, Pam returned to writing fake emails from the president to Michael, an ongoing project she and Jim had started awhile back. As always, work was ever such a productive place.