once upon a time I was a fairly prolific writer of Office fictions. I wrote many, many of them; some good, some bad, most uneven, and it was pretty fun, but eventually I kind of got burnt out on the show.

Well, about a week ago, I happened to catch a mini-marathon of episodes I hadn't seen and it was like meeting up with an old girlfriend and not being able to remember why you broke up. I'm not really caught up with the show by any means, but once I do I could easily see writing some large and detailed. Until then, I wrote this piece of crap to get my wheels spinning again. Sorry if it sucks.

Coping.

the following is set between the second and third seasons

Jim sauntered into his new Stamford office with a spring in his step, saying a fond hello to everyone he met.

"Morning," he said.

No response.

"Good morning," he said, undaunted, to another coworker.

Again, nothing.

"Morning, Antonio," Jim said, looking over the larger man's shoulder at the paper he was working on so diligently. "I like the way that one's turning out."

"Don't look at me!" the larger man hissed, clutching the paper close to him to shield it from Jim's eyes.

Jim turned to the camera in wide-eyed confusion.

x

JIM: So, there's a guy here whose desk is completely surrounded by coloring book pictures.

Pause.

JIM: I thought they were by his kids, but... no, he does them himself between calls.

Jim nods.

JIM: And yet, HE'S not the office Weird Guy.

Pause.

JIM: I am.

x

There was something unusual about Ryan that day; a smile on his face that seemed totally out of character, a wistfulness in the way that he gazed up at the clouds that suggested a man totally at peace with the world around him. A kind of simple joy that most wouldn't associate with the small Scranton office-space without first hearing the words "fire! everybody out of the building!"

To many, it would seem wholly unexplainable.

"So, when did you find it?" Oscar asked casually.

"Find what?" Ryan asked, stirred from his daze.

"Your Lump," Oscar said, not coarsely, but as though it should be obvious. "When did you find it?"

"This morning in the shower," Ryan admitted.

x

RYAN: I don't want it to be serious, you know. It's just...

Pause.

RYAN: It seems like it would really put things in focus, you know?

x

Across the office, Pam was trying her best to be distracted. She pretended to read interoffice memos, trying not to notice she had to pretend harder than before that she wasn't pretending, she checked her various online profiles and marveled at how many friends she didn't have, occasionally she turned her gaze to Michael's door and hoped that he would burst out of it and do something incredibly distracting (arguably the only thing he was good at)... in short, Pam did everything she could to keep herself from picking up her phone and calling Jim.

Even at that moment, she was trying very hard to visualize not telling him she'd made a mistake and could he please come back so that they could trying being a couple, then a try being a married couple, then a married couple with children, then a married couple with children who somehow solved all the world's financial and economic problems before the age of six. Or maybe just calling him to suggest they try being friends again.

That would just be a silly thing to do.

Her eyes drifted back to the spot where they had their first kiss (well, actually their second, but in Pam's mind it was all one super-moment known only as Kiss)... somehow the wonder of that moment had been completely stripped away and that remained was the searing pain. Her hand reached over towards the phone, preparing to dial His Number by their own volition...

...When Michael called out her name loudly.

"Yes, Michael?"

"I need your opinion on something," he said nervously. "Woman's perspective."

Pam nodded, Michael always said that when he needed the funnies explained to him. "I'll be right there," she said, casually setting her phone down.

x

PAM: It's mostly Archie that confuses him.

She nods.

PAM: One time, it made him so angry he kick a dent into desk this big.

She indicated a sizable dent with her fingers.

PAM: But he just can't stay away.

x

"No, I understand that you're frustrated, sir, we just..." Jim began, frantically trying to keep the customer on the line, "No, I understand that you've been with us a longtime and we want you to stay with us, but... sir... sir, I'm sorry you feel that way, but..."

And then the customer hung up, leaving Jim flustered. "I just had a customer accuse me of raping him," he said.

Then he realized no one was listening, there was no one sitting nearby, and that the receptionist he was hoping to share an aghast giggle with was nowhere in sight.

"...and it was about a twenty cent price increase," he said to no one.

x

JIM: Yeah, I really think I'm starting to fit in here.

x

"...you could really live without consequences," Ryan continued, "I mean, you're not going to be there to regret it, so why should you care?"

Oscar nodded. "Not having to work is enough. You could just burn through your finances without worrying about the future."

"And if you want to sit at home watching tv and smoking weed, no one will say anything," Creed inserted.

Ryan and Oscar nodded.

x

RYAN: Imagine, being called a hero just for getting out of bed every day...

x

Jim stared at his sandwich. He had no interest in eating, could not have been more repelled by it, wasn't even sure why he'd packed it in the first place; but he knew he had to eat it and do the best he could with it, even if he wasn't quite sure why. He brought it to his mouth and prepared to take the first bite.

Andy sauntered past. "Hey, what's up, Big... Tuna?" he asked, taking a glance.

Jim really hoped he didn't have to work with Andy very long.

"I bunch of us went in on some Thai food and I wanted to know if you wanted to pay in," Andy said.

"Thanks for thinking of me, Andy, but I didn't order anything," Jim replied. In fact, he hadn't been asked.

"I got a massaman, cos I'm a Massa-Man," Andy informed him.

Jim nodded. "I'm just going to go with my sandwich," he said, holding it aloft.

"Excellent, excellent," Andy affirmed, still hanging around for reasons that Jim couldn't understand.

And then it hit him.

"Do you need to borrow some money for the delivery guy?" Jim asked.

"Just five bucks," Andy admitted.

"No problem," Jim said, fishing out his wallet.

"Actually... make it ten," Andy added, "I like to tip generously."

"Sure," Jim handed over the money. He really hoped he didn't have to work with Andy very long.

x

"So, if this really is something fatal, what are you going to do with the time you have left?" Oscar asked.

Ryan shrugged dreamishly. "Travel. Go to all the places I ever dreamed of. Just live life to its fullest."

Darrell nodded. "Definitely quit this place."

"I'd quit a lot of things," Ryan said blankly.

"I'd find my high school girlfriend," Creed said, "convince her that she was the One and get here to take my back for the end."

"Don't you think she's probably married by now?" Oscar asked.

"Why?" Creed replied "she'd only be nineteen."

"I'd write the Great American novel," Oscar said, choosing to ignore him. "I think it would really improve my focus and I'd really be driven to finish things while I still had time."

"It would be great to have that kind of clarity," Darrell rejoined.

The other men nodded.

"All those things you've put off so long, just caught up in the business of living... suddenly, you'd be able to get them all done," Darrell said softly.

Kevin broke down whimpering. "I can't believe I almost had it and I let it slip away!"

His coworkers moved in to comfort him.

Ryan's eyes set in determination. "I'm going to get this checked out now."

The other men wished him luck as he grabbed his coat and headed out the door.

x

Jim was in the middle of filing a complaint report for the man that accused him earlier when one of his more attractive female coworkers walked up to his desk.

"Hey, Andy told me to get this file to the Tuna," she said, "you're the Tuna, right?"

"That is my name, yes," Jim agreed. "You're Karen, right?"

"Yeeeepp," she confirmed, drawing the word out.

"Hi," Jim said back.

There was an awkward silence.

"Okay, well, consider yourself filed," she said.

Karen turned to leave and noticed an odd look in Jim's eyes, like he was just about to cry. "You fitting in okay?"

And for a moment, Jim couldn't help but he incredibly honest. "Not really."

Karen looked at the lost, exposed, fairly adorable man before her... and whacked him across the back of the head with the file she'd walked over to deliver. "Get over it," she said brusquely.

And Jim watched perplexed as she walked away.

x

KAREN: I don't know, Jim seems okay to me.

She shrugs.

KAREN: I kind of think I'm going to like working with him.

x

When Ryan walked back into the room, the other men immediately cast their eyes to him, daring to hope.

Ryan shook his head sadly.

His coworkers swarmed around him, issuing comforting words. "It'll be okay," Oscar assured him.

"Yeah, you'll get through this," Darrell said.

Creed patted him on the shoulder. "Sorry you don't have cancer."

Pam watched the other men embrace Ryan from across the room and for one brief moment, she finally accept that she needed that kind of human contact, that type of complete acceptance, and before she knew it, she was dialing Jim's extension at the Stamford branch on the phone system.

Meanwhile, across miles and state-lines, Jim was so overcome by his loneliness and isolation that he doing the exact same thing, dialing Pam's number and damn the calls reached out for each simultaneously, desperately clawing for a real connection...

And both lines came up busy.

Jim set the phone down and got back to work.

Pam heard the busy signal and quietly hung the phone up.

It was a silly idea anyway.

x

RYAN: You know, I try to be hopeful. Things will work out in the end...

He nods.

RYAN: Someday, I'll die of cancer.