You are a radio. You are an open door.
I am a faulty string of blue Christmas lights.
You swim through frequencies. You let that stranger in
as I'm blinking off and on and off again.
Late in the afternoon of the launch party, Pam sent an IM to Jim's computer. I have an idea, it said.
Jim read the message, pushed away from his desk, and went into Michael's office, shutting the door behind him. Pam kept working on retyping the index cards in her Rolodex, which was the project she'd come up with yesterday for killing the last hour of the day. The entire directory was already on the office network (last month's project), but she kind of liked using the typewriter.
Fifteen minutes later Jim emerged from Michael's office. Pam turned slightly in her chair, raising an eyebrow, and he gave her a subtle nod. Michael followed close behind, clearing his throat.
"Everyone," he said. No one looked up. "People. Ladies and gentlemen."
"Damen und herren," Dwight said, raising his voice. "Achtung!"
"Dwight, just – stop," Michael said. "Nazi weirdo."
"Did you want something?" Stanley asked with a sigh.
"It has come to my attention that I am neglecting an important duty," Michael said. "I know that as the father of this family, it is my job to shelter you all from the acid rain of corporate, with a giant umbrella of… shelter. But now I have a more important job than attending galas in the Big Apple. And that job is being a good boyfriend."
"Michael, if you're going to tell us about what you and that – woman do in the privacy of your own sinful bed, I'm going to file another complaint with Toby," Angela said.
"Angela, the love between two people is a beautiful thing, and Toby will never understand anything about that."
"Hey, Michael," Pam said. "What are your boyfriend duties?"
"My boyfriend duties are being supportive of my girlfriend, and that means not socializing with the people who tried to ruin her life."
"You're not going to the party in New York?" Kevin asked. "You said they had really good hors d'oeuvres."
"They do, Kevin," Michael said. "But my woman comes before even those little crab cakes with the mustard sauce."
"What about cocktail weenies?"
"Even those, Kevin. Even those."
"So you're going to stay here?" Phyllis asked, looking resigned. "At our party."
"No, Phyllis," Michael said. "Although I know you expect my presence at the head of our family table, my presence and… other things are required at home. And some wine. And maybe some of those cocktail weenies. Does anyone know where you can buy those?"
The room got noisy as Kevin and Dwight debated the merits of various delis, Creed weighing in, and Jim got up to lean on the reception counter when the camera swung to follow Andy over to accounting. Pam scooched her chair back to the computer and smiled up at Jim.
"You totally owe me," she said. "I think it's going to be someone else's turn to pick up Michael's drycleaning next week."
"What, you wanted to spend the evening here without me?" he asked. "Way I see it, we're both winners here, Beesly."
"Hey, I had a nice night planned. I was going to fake the stomach flu and order in Chinese."
"You wound me deeply," he said, clutching at his chest. "Were you going to get the mushu pork?"
"I was going to get the mushu pork and the fried shrimp."
They smiled at each other for a moment, and then Jim dropped his glance to the counter, toying with a pen someone had left there.
"You know," he said quietly. Pam always liked him like this, lashes on his cheeks and a little shyness in his voice. It usually meant something good. "I actually have a ticket to the New York party."
"Yeah, David Wallace sent me one."
"I know. I thought about trying to sneak you in under my coat."
"You really want to go?"
Jim spun the pen around, keeping his finger in the middle of it. "Well. I thought it might be – you've never been to a corporate thing. I thought it would be nice for you to meet some people."
"Oh." Pam licked her lips. Jim didn't look up.
"You don’t have to – "
"I actually got a ticket too."
Jim looked up at last, raising his eyebrows. "You did? How – "
"Uh, Ryan gave me one last week."
"I can't believe what an ass he's turned into," Pam said. "Well, actually, I can. But it would be kind of fun to go see how much worse he is in New York, huh?"
"If for no other reason, yes."
Jim looked at her for a moment longer, not quite smiling, and then straightened up, tapping out a brief drumbeat on the counter. "So I think the plan of attack is that I walk Michael out to his car, and you follow in a minute or two."
"Wow. You're taking one for the team."
"I think I owe to him. I did just talk him into spending the evening alone with Jan."
Pam frowned, tilting her head to the side. "To be fair, you also forced Jan to spend an evening alone with Michael."
"True," Jim said. He leaned forward to drop the pen in her pen cup, and lowered his voice. "Uh, wear that new dress, OK?"
Pam felt the color rise in her cheeks. She'd bought the dress on impulse last weekend, heavily discounted, and at Jim's suggestion but with her own money. The black satin wrapped snugly around her waist and hips, the thin diamante straps stood out against her pale skin, and it looked great with a pair of black peep-toe heels she'd almost forgotten about. She had been planning to wear it for their four-month anniversary.
"OK," she said. She knew he could see her blush, and he held her glance for a little while before turning away.
Sneaking out was easy. Angela was preoccupied with both straightening the cups in neat lines and ignoring Dwight's attempts to hand her a ruler, and while Phyllis caught Pam's eye as she shrugged into her coat, all Phyllis did was narrow her eyes and tape the piece of crepe paper she was holding a little higher. The remaining camera guy was still following Andy, and when the warehouse door closed behind them Pam slipped out the front door. She took the stairs, which she'd been doing lately as part of an attempt to get a little more exercise, and found Jim at the bottom of the stairwell, peering through the window in the lobby door.
"I think I lost him," Jim said when she put a hand on his back. "He really wanted us to come over for dinner. Again."
"We're going to have to go eventually."
"Over my dead body."
"Maybe we could hire stunt doubles. Or grow clones in a tank. Do you think Dwight knows how?"
"I wouldn't put it past him," Jim said, turning around. He bent to kiss her, sliding his fingers into her hair. "But can we avoid discussion of Dwight and human clones for the evening? I'd like to enjoy the party."
She smiled against his mouth. "I make no promises."
At home she did a little touchup on her hair, wrapping the curls around the iron with more skill than a few months ago. Learning how to look nicer had been easy, once she had a reason to bother with it, although sometimes she felt like she should have been doing it for herself all along. Baby steps, though.
The dress was a tight shimmy but she managed the zipper herself, and even dug out a dark pink lipstick that was too much for work. It was the first thing her mother had bought for her when she moved out of the old apartment, even before the blender, and Pam remembered trying it on and wiping it off, every morning, until she finally tossed it into the bottom of her makeup bag. It was still darker than she was used to, but she pressed her lips together and went with it anyhow.
She was slipping on her heels when Jim knocked on the door, and it was a little nerve-wracking just making it across the living room in them. He hadn't seen her in anything dressier than a lace skirt since – well, not for a while.
His look when she opened the door was worth the too-high heels and the struggle to zip up her dress and burning her pinky on the curling iron. It was the kind of look she'd spent most of last year dreaming about, and the kind of look she was still getting used to, the way it made her legs feel weak and her head swimmy. It was all she could do to just smile back.
"Ready to go?" Jim asked, his voice a little rough.
"I, uh, need my purse," she said. Pam waited, but he didn't move, so she turned to pick up her black velvet bag from the end table by the door. She opened it to check that her invitation and ID were in there, along with the lipstick, and then stepped out, locking the door.
Less flustered now, she finally took in Jim's shirt, a deep cornflower blue, and his nice black slacks with shiny black shoes. He was tieless, and he'd swept his hair off to the side, not as severely as the day of his interview but enough that he looked different, a little more polished. A little less like her Jim.
"You look really nice," she said. "Is that – is your shirt new?"
"Uh, I got it a while ago and never wore it," he said, one nervous hand going to the back of his neck.
"It looks good," she said, and reached up tentatively to touch his cheek. He opened his mouth, but didn't say anything, so she leaned in to kiss him. It made things feel more right, because kissing was easy now. Everything was easy.
"You smell good too," she whispered. She felt his breath, the slight scratchiness of his cheek, and suddenly driving to New York in uncomfortable clothes for a party full of strangers seemed like a really dumb idea.
Jim pulled back. "You look – amazing. Are you really sure you want to go anywhere?" He slid his hand around her waist, the satin making a swishing sound as he pulled her closer.
"And waste all this work?" Pam asked, smiling.
"Oh, it won't be wasted."
The temptation was strong for a moment, but she squirmed away. "You promised me an evening in the big city. I expect follow-through."
"You'll get follow-through, believe me," Jim muttered, and leaned in to kiss her neck quickly.
"Wait," she said, and raised her hand to his hair. "Can I mess with this just a little? Girlfriend prerogative."
Jim rolled his eyes and she combed her fingers through the waves of his hair, loosening it until he looked more familiar.
"Better," she said, and slipped her hand into his.
Friday night traffic sucked, and Pam kicked off her heels and challenged Jim to endless games of twenty questions. He was on question eleven when they pulled into the parking garage of the hotel and they sat in the car until he narrowed it down, on question eighteen, to "vegetable that grows on a vine."
"I don't think vegetables on vines are actually vegetables," he said. "Like tomatoes."
"You're saying a pumpkin isn't a vegetable?"
"Is 'pumpkin' the answer?"
"No. That's nineteen."
"Shit. Uh. Vegetables that grow on vines. I think I'm going to have to end the torture and go with acorn squash."
Pam shook her head, feeling her curls brush the back of her neck, and grinned. "Nope. Zucchini."
Jim quirked an eyebrow. "Is that supposed to be suggestive?"
"I don’t know what you're talking about. Zucchinis remind me of our neighbor who was always trying to give them away all summer."
"Sure," he said sarcastically, and leaned in to kiss her, hand lingering on her cheek.
The hotel lobby was cool and dark, and they followed the noise of a crowd into the restaurant. Jim stopped when they reached the entrance, fishing for the invitation in his jacket pocket. Pam handed hers to the attendant at the door and took a step forward, waiting for Jim, who paused for just a second and followed her.
Pam recognized exactly no one in the room. Jim snagged them little glasses of sake from a passing waiter and she sipped at hers, glancing around. A few people were gathered near a camera on a small balcony upstairs, but she'd had enough of cameras for a lifetime and she hoped there wouldn't be some kind of required introduction. Jim was looking up to watch a big screen, and when he snorted with laughter she looked up too.
"Craig," he said, at her inquiring glance. "That guy is something else."
"The Albany manager. I've heard some really crazy stories about him."
"Crazier than Michael?"
Jim took a sip of his drink, considering. "Different kind of crazy."
She nodded and looked around again, this time searching for food. There was a buffet against a nearby wall, and she was just about to suggest they investigate it when Jim tugged at her elbow.
"Ryan," he said, pointing. "Ready to talk to the man of the hour?"
Ryan stood at the top of the stairs leading up the balcony, with the air of a king surveying the land. A cluster of people were talking to the camera behind him, and he glanced over with an approving, benevolent look.
"Do you feel like we're going to talk to the Wizard of Oz?" Pam whispered as they went up the stairs.
"Yeah, but there's no man behind the curtain."
Pam snorted, and looked up to catch Ryan's eye. She saw a hint of discomfort in his face before he gave them the same slick smile she was already coming to expect, and he looked her up and down, appraising.
"Hey," Ryan said, jerking his head upwards. "Good to see you guys. I didn't realize you'd be coming, Jim."
"Wasn't planning on it until David sent me the invite," Jim said, leaning against the balcony railing.
"Great. We definitely wanted some of the younger personnel here tonight."
Pam waited, but Ryan didn't say anything about her invitation.
"This is nice," Jim said. "Corporate really went all out, huh?"
Ryan shrugged. "Took a while to get them to see the PR value of a public launch. David was on board, though."
"He's pretty on the ball."
There was a pause. "I like the website," Pam said. "The layout's really, uh, intuitive."
"Yeah," Ryan said. "We ended up with a really cutting-edge design firm. I really wanted to hit the ground running. Really go for that professional image."
"Right," Pam said. She glanced over at Jim.
"Are they the guys who designed the Hotmail website?" Jim asked.
Ryan frowned. "Uh, I don't think so."
"Oh. I thought – 'cause you know, it looks a lot like Hotmail."
Ryan narrowed his eyes. "Huh. I hadn't noticed that."
"Yeah," Jim said. "The color scheme, definitely. And the navigation."
"Good to know," Ryan said. "Maybe I'll have some people look into that."
"Not a bad idea," Jim said.
"Well," Ryan said. "Good to see you. I should go circulate." He nodded towards the room and brushed past them.
"Wow," Pam said as he went down the stairs. "There is definitely no man behind the curtain."
"That's all Ryan," Jim agreed, following Ryan's progress through the room with an odd look in his eyes.
"I guess New York really changes people," Pam said.
"Maybe," Jim said with a shrug. "Hey, there's someone I want to introduce you to over there."
Jim crossed the room, his stride long and purposeful, and Pam followed behind. The next hour was spent making small talk and meeting a series of people whose names she knew she would never remember, all of whom were men. There was one female VP, looking sharp-boned and severe in a merlot-colored silk dress, obviously expensive, and Pam felt a little awkward in her Macy's sale dress. Audrey was friendly enough though, and Pam wondered how she felt about Jan getting fired.
"So things are a little different at corporate now?" Pam asked, taking a sip of sake. "With Ryan there, I mean."
Audrey made a face, just a slight twist of her mouth and a brief frown, before composing herself again. "Different? I think that's the word."
"Are there any other plans like the website? I know Ryan said it was just the first step – "
"To a new Dunder-Mifflin? Yeah, that's the pitch. We're still in the, ah, planning stages of the newer projects."
"But we're really going computerized? Is that going to – I mean…" Pam trailed off, not wanting to ask about layoffs. Someone always needed to answer the phones, she thought.
"Like I said, we're in the planning stages." Audrey's words were brusque, but something in her eyes dared Pam to press a little more.
"I guess you'll have to wait and see how the website goes," Pam said carefully. "And how Ryan – fits in."
Audrey glanced sideways, lowering her voice. "Look, he's got David's ear for now, and the company needs new ideas. But we're not built to play the price wars. Service is our big selling point, and I don't see how routing people through a website is going to further that."
Pam smiled. "You know, our top salesman actually out-sold the website today."
"That Schrute guy? The one who did the crazy speech a couple years ago? He's a maniac."
"He sells a lot of paper."
"Well, yeah, that's what I'm talking about. And you're from Scranton. We know how Michael Scott runs that branch. But like you say, you guys sell a lot of paper."
"I always figured that was why Jan – " Pam stopped, blushing.
Audrey heaved a sigh. "Let's not even go into that. Yeah, she could be a real bitch. But she was sharp and smart, and they cut her a raw deal. If David – "
"If David what?" he said, coming up behind Pam.
"If David would care to join us, I'd introduce you," Audrey said smoothly. "David, this is Pam – I'm sorry, I didn't catch your last name."
"Pam Beesly," Pam said. She could tell she sounded small and nervous, and she cleared her throat. "From Scranton," she said, louder.
"David Wallace," he said, putting out a hand. Pam shook, grasping his hand firmly. "Are you in sales?"
Pam shook her head and smiled, trying to feel brave. "I'm the receptionist."
David looked blank. "Oh."
Pam hated to do it. "I’m here with Jim Halpert."
David's face relaxed and he nodded. "Oh, Jim. Great guy. We were sorry we weren't able to find a place for him in corporate."
"I'm sure he's sorry too," Pam said. "He's right over there," she added, gesturing to her left. "I know he wanted to thank you for the invitation."
"Great," David said, obviously relieved to be released, and he made his way through the crowd towards Jim. Pam looked back at Audrey.
"David really likes Jim," Audrey said. "You know Ryan only edged him out with his MBA."
"I figured as much," Pam said. She didn't mention that Jim had withdrawn his application. "Of course, I'm glad he didn't go to New York."
"You wouldn't want to live here?"
"Oh," Pam said, blinking and realizing she'd never really thought about it. "Maybe. I might be applying to design school."
"Did you know we've got an in-house design program?"
"I did," Pam said.
"You should consider it," Audrey said. She lowered her voice again. "There might be a place for Jim at corporate in the future, if you know what I mean."
"OK," Pam said quietly. "Um, thanks."
"No problem," Audrey said. She took a swallow of her cosmo, finishing it off, and adjusted the strap of her dress. "I should get out and mingle. Let Ryan explain the shopping cart program one more time." She rolled her eyes. "But it was good to meet you, Pam – Beesly?"
"Let me give you a card," Audrey said, producing one from her clutch. "Keep in touch."
"I will." Pam turned the card over as Audrey moved off, and read Audrey Mifflin in raised red letters.
She tucked the card in her purse and wandered over to stand at Jim's side. He flashed her a grin and kept talking to David about basketball, so she touched his hand and headed for the buffet.
Jim joined her fifteen minutes later as she was working on her second midori sour and a plate full of tempura. He snagged a piece of zucchini, smiled for a second, and took a bite.
"Having a good time?" he asked, swapping his empty wine glass for a full one, taken from a lacquered tray. "I saw you were talking with Audrey Mifflin for a while."
"Yeah. Who is she exactly?"
"I think she was Robert Mifflin's niece. She's been with the company since college."
"She had a lot to say about it."
"And she doesn't like Ryan."
Jim raised his eyebrows. "Really."
"Really," Pam said, smiling. "Speaking of…"
"Yeah, we should probably hunt him down again and compliment his tie or something. First one to get him to say 'aggregated profit margin' wins."
"Mm," Pam said, drinking a little more. The noise of the room and the sweet alcohol were starting to give her a pleasant buzz, and it was nice to rest here against the table, pressed against Jim's side. She tipped her head towards his shoulder and he put a hand at the small of her back.
"This is fun, you know?" Jim said. "I'm really glad we came. The last corporate thing I was at…" He stopped, and Pam felt a little chill puncture her buzz, remembering.
"You don’t have to – " she said.
"I spent half of the night shooting hoops with David," he said. "So I can't really complain. But I'm glad I'm here with you." He hugged her a little closer and stood up. "Shall we?"
Pam paused. "Jim, Audrey was talking about that design program. You know, the one Jan told me about last year."
Jim opened his mouth to say something and turned it into a smile. "That would be really cool, Pam. Are you thinking about it?"
"She gave me her card. I thought I might call her next week."
"She was asking – do you think you'd ever want to move here? I know you moved twice last year, but…"
Jim's smile faded. "Um. I don't know. Are you getting tired of Scranton or something?"
"It's not that," Pam said quickly. "It's just that it seems like there might be more opportunities here. For both of us."
"You want to leave Dunder-Mifflin?"
"No, she said there might be a job for you at corporate eventually."
"Oh." Jim swallowed and looked up at the ceiling. "I don’t know, Pam. Can we talk about this later? Right now I kind of just want to go make fun of Ryan's beard."
Pam took his outstretched hand. "Only if we actually talk about it, OK? I don’t want to be the nagging girlfriend, but it's important." She smiled, trying to lighten her serious look.
"It's important," he agreed. She let him pull her to her feet.
It didn't take too long to find Ryan again, lounging against the bar with a champagne flute in his hand. His tie was loosened and his shirt was unbuttoned at the neck, making him look a little less like a smug executive and more like the newest employee at Dunder-Mifflin Scranton.
"Hey again," he said as they approached, sounding friendlier than before. "Having a good time?"
"Yeah, actually," Pam said. "It's kind of fun to meet people outside of our branch."
Ryan nodded. "Yeah, it is. That's why I gave you the invitation." He took another sip of his champagne, draining the glass.
"Oh, that's why," Jim said. Pam frowned and nudged his foot with hers.
"I was thinking about maybe applying to the in-house design program," Pam said. "Now that I've got a little more experience with computer graphics."
"Oh, right," Ryan said, putting his glass on the bar. He looked around for another drink, not meeting her eyes, and picked up a bottle of beer "I know we had a few good people come out of that last year."
"So you've got professional designers working at the company?" Jim asked.
Ryan stopped, looking straight at Jim. "Yeah," he said, and twisted the cap off his beer. "David reminded me when I got back to New York last week."
"They did a real quick turnaround on the website logo."
Neither of them said anything.
"Well, I’m glad you were able to get it done the way you wanted," Pam said softly. "Maybe I'll be one of those professional designers next year."
Ryan looked at her, something like gratitude in his face. "You're thinking about moving here?"
"Maybe," Pam said. She looked at Jim. "It's just something we're talking about."
"Well, I wouldn't blame you for wanting to get out of Scranton," Ryan said. "Twenty-eight years there was enough for me."
Pam shrugged. "It's not so much about Scranton. It would just be fun to try something new."
"And I guess you're thinking about corporate again?" Ryan asked Jim.
"To be honest, I haven't thought about it," Jim said. "I'm pretty satisfied with the position I'm in now."
"It's always nice to be somewhere familiar," Ryan said.
There was another charged pause. Pam glanced around and noticed a tray on the bar filled with what looked like jelly sushi. "Uh, is that some kind of dessert?" she asked.
Ryan turned to look. "Oh. No. They're jellied cocktails."
"Like jello shots?" she asked. "I haven't seen one of those since college."
"Not exactly," Ryan said. "Here, I think this one's a tequila sunrise." He pointed to a little triangle shaded in orange and red, which she took gingerly and popped into her mouth.
"I saw them in a bar in LA last month," Ryan said. "They haven't really made it to New York yet, so we had to borrow one of their bartenders for the night."
"Wow," Pam said, swallowing the jelly. It tasted pretty much exactly like a jello shot.
"What's this one?" Jim asked, putting down his empty wineglass and reaching behind Pam.
"Probably vodka," Ryan said. "Most of the clear ones are Grey Goose. I prefer the bourbon."
Ryan and Jim each chewed their little squares, and Ryan reached for another.
"They're actually kind of good," Pam said, picking up a creamy, seashell-shaped one. "I think that's vanilla Absolut. Try it, Jim."
Two mojito slices later she realized exactly how strong the jellies were and she leaned back against Jim, who seemed to be coming to the same realization after a few gin and tonic stars. He wrapped his arms around her, hands warm on her hips, and her earlier buzz turned into a kind of blissful hum, the darkened room receding away from her.
"So, Ryan," Jim said. "Tell us about big city life."
Ryan swallowed a blue cube and leaned sideways against the bar. "Well, you know. It's pretty fast-paced. But rewarding."
Ryan gestured to his suit. "I don't want to brag. But whatever Dunder-Mifflin's shortcomings are, they compensate their executives extremely well." He spoke his words carefully, enunciating the long words precisely, and Pam could see the effects of that last jelly on him too.
"Hunter still around?" Jim asked.
"Nah. He went with his band to try to get a contract out in LA." Ryan shook his head and rolled his eyes. "Some little label. I don't know. Kind of a waste."
"Did you see him while you were in LA?" Pam asked.
Ryan paused. "Uh. There wasn't really – I didn't have time to socialize. I had, you know, a lot of meetings."
Pam noted Ryan's furtive, sideways glance, and tucked it away for later consideration. "Must be nice to get to travel."
"Oh, yeah. But New York's home now."
"Did you get a cool apartment?" Pam asked.
Ryan just smiled. "You'd have to see it to believe it."
"Neat," she said. She closed her eyes and leaned her weight backwards a little more. Jim tightened his hands on her hips, and then reached out for another jelly.
"Jim," she said. "Aren't we driving home?"
She felt him shrug. "We could always just get a room here."
"We didn't talk about that. I didn't bring anything – I'm not going to wear this dress again tomorrow."
"It's a nice dress," Ryan said. Pam opened her eyes.
"Thanks," she said, and glanced down quickly.
"I like the straps," Ryan said, reaching out to touch one of the little rhinestones. Pam felt Jim take in a quick breath behind her.
"Thanks," she said again. "Um, Jim bought it for me."
She had no idea why she said that, but it made Ryan look upwards, clearly meeting Jim's eyes.
"You've got good taste, Halpert," Ryan said.
"I know," Jim said.
They stood in silence for a moment, Ryan still leaning in a little. His blue eyes had darkened, and there was something intense about the way he was looking at her. She could see the sheen of sweat at the hollow of his throat, a looseness in his body, and smell some kind of spicy cologne caught in the warm air of the crowded room. Pam felt the heat in her face rise, her breathing quickening.
"We should probably finish these," Ryan finally said, looking at the tray. He ate a green triangle, taking his time over it, and looked up at Jim with that same intensity. "Jim?"
Jim took a mystery red blob, leaving one pink cube. "All yours, Pam," Ryan said, gesturing, and then picked it up. "Here." He moved his hand towards Pam's mouth and stopped, just a few inches away.
Pam caught her breath. Jim didn't move. She opened her mouth, and Ryan dropped the cool, sweet jelly on her tongue. His fingers brushed her lips as he took his hand away and she startled a little, closing her mouth without really meaning to. Ryan lingered, running his thumb along her lower lip, and looked up at Jim again, smiling. It wasn't a nice smile.
Jim still wasn't moving, and Pam's head cleared enough for her to turn away from Ryan, leaning into Jim. The taste of grapefruit and vodka was bitter on her tongue now.
"So we have to see this apartment to believe it?" Jim asked. Pam thought she could feel his heart pounding, just like hers was.
Ryan smiled wider. "You want to see it?"
"Can you get out of here?"
Ryan glanced around and shrugged. "It's winding down. I just gotta shake a few hands."
Jim kissed the top of Pam's head, his arms still tight around her as Ryan walked away. She swallowed hard and measured out a breath.
"So, you want to stay the night?" she asked.
Jim nodded above her.
"It's probably better that way," she said. "It's kinda late, and we both had a lot to drink."
"Or eat," he said, bending to kiss behind her ear. She smiled.
"Did you get any real dinner?" she asked.
"Don't need dinner," he whispered, kissing down her neck. It tickled, sending shivers down her back, and Pam could feel herself getting more buzzed by the minute. The music had quieted down, and some soft, dreamy song she didn't know was playing.
"Do you know what song this is?" she asked, trying to clear her head. Jim slid one hand up along her ribs, and his hair was soft against her cheek.
"No," he said in her ear. "But I bet we can dance to it."
Jim turned her to face him, one arm still around her waist, and took her hand. He looked down at her with a smile and it was just like it had always been, the two of them and no one else in the world.
"We haven't actually danced together before," she said quietly.
"We can figure it out." Jim took a small step to the right and she followed, feeling kind of silly in the middle of people standing around with drinks. But no one was watching, and it was hard to think about anything else, the alcohol making her tingle as they swayed, Jim looking down at her like that.
He looked up over her shoulder after a moment, though, and the soft look in his eyes went away.
"Ready?" Ryan asked.
Pam was cold by the time they got into the cab, fifteen minutes later. The cab was chilly too, and it smelled like cigarettes and old vinyl. She slid in after Jim, snuggling against his warm side, and Ryan followed her.
She didn't quite know what to do with herself. She tried to keep her leg away from Ryan's, because her skirt was pulled up a little too high, but she had to rest her feet on either side of the bump in the floor. Jim had his arm over her shoulders, and he moved his other hand to rest on her thigh, fingers brushing her bare skin.
"Is it a long ride?" Jim asked.
"Not too far," Ryan said. Pam looked him sideways, watching him watching Jim's hand on her leg, and she was drunk, too drunk to even begin to know what to do with all of this.
Jim kissed her neck again. Ryan slid down against the seat, sighing and stretching his legs. He let them fall apart, like guys always did, and now his leg was right up against hers, no escaping it.
"This was a good night," Ryan said, looking out the window. "I think the first stage of the plan is going well."
"What's the next stage?" Pam asked, her voice a little breathy. Jim had turned so that his mouth was resting against her temple.
Ryan quirked a smile, and raised his hand to wag a finger at her. "Trade secret, Pam." He dropped his hand, his fingers curling against her thigh, and leaned his head back, closing his eyes.
Jim kept pressing kisses into her hair, and after a moment Pam sighed and let herself relax into him, warm and solid. Ryan's fingers were cool against her leg, and neither of them moved.
She was almost asleep when the cab stopped, and it was hard to climb out into the cold night air. Ryan paid the cabbie, handing him a bill and not waiting for change, then opened the lobby door with the swipe of a keycard. He swiped it at the elevator too, and gestured Jim and Pam inside.
Pam shifted from foot to foot, still dizzy, as the elevator went up fifteen floors. She brushed against Jim's arm, then Ryan's shoulder, and concentrated on watching the green numbers light up. The jerk when they stopped made her stumble a bit, and Jim put his hand on her back, steadying her, as the doors slid open.
The elevator opened right into the apartment, which was a wide, open space straight out of an architecture magazine. Cement columns reached for a high ceiling, large pieces of abstract art hung on the brick walls, and a dark wooden platform bed, covered in obviously expensive linens, dominated the room. It looked like a designer had decorated every inch of it, and nothing at all like Ryan.
"Wow," Pam said. The room was dark, but faintly illuminated by the city lights coming in through the window that took up the entire opposite wall. She crossed over to look out, her heels clicking on the polished wooden floor, and pressed her fingertips to the cool glass. Fifteen stories down was too far so she looked up instead, over the smaller buildings to where the big ones downtown reached up to the grey, starless sky. "You weren't kidding."
"I told you," Ryan said.
"Come look," Pam said, turning back to Jim, who was shrugging off his jacket to lay it on a long, sleek sideboard in the same wood as the bed. Ryan poured out what looked like scotch into three heavy, blue-smoked glasses.
"I can see from here," Jim said. "Very cool."
"It's making me dizzy," she said, looking back out. "I always get weird around heights. I think I'm going to fall, even though I know I won't."
"Come back over here then," Jim said, and there was something strange in his voice.
She took in the buildings and the lights one more time and turned to make her unsteady way back across the room. Jim handed her a glass and put his hand on her bare back, between her shoulders.
"Cheers," Ryan said, pulling off his tie.
"To a new Dunder-Mifflin," Jim said, sounding soft and a little dangerous. Pam leaned back into his hand as he drank.
"I don't think I've ever had scotch," Pam said, peering into her glass. "Is it good?"
Jim put his glass down, half-empty. "It's different. Try it."
She took a cautious sip. It was cool on her tongue at first, but she felt it burn after she swallowed. "Yeah, different," she said, grimacing a little.
"This is actually a pretty smooth scotch," Ryan said. "We can put some water in it, if you want."
Pam shook her head. "I like different."
A heavy silence fell and she took another sip to cover it, drinking more this time. She could feel the flush it gave her, making her eyes water.
"Ugh," Pam said, as the scotch took effect. "My feet are killing me. I'm sitting down." She went to the black leather sofa facing the window and flopped down in the middle of it, kicking her heels off and stretching out her legs. She looked back at Ryan and Jim, both of them watching her, and that flush wasn't going anywhere any time soon.
"It's been a long day," Ryan agreed. He looked at Jim, who didn't move, and crossed the room to sit next to Pam, almost close enough to touch. "You wouldn't believe all the stuff I had to take care of."
"Tell me," Pam said, turning to face him, her head resting on the cushion behind her. Her buzz wasn't going anywhere either, and she was getting that giggly feeling now where she just wanted to smile at everyone.
"Paperwork," Ryan said. "And phone calls. The CEO wanted to run over some of the numbers for the site, and of course someone had to write his speech for tonight."
"What a hassle," Jim said, wandering around to look at a large canvas covered in blue splatters.
"Well, I had my assistant do it," Ryan said. "Clint has a degree in public relations, so he does a lot of writing for us."
"Oh my god," Pam said, and she actually did giggle. "Do you remember that time Michael wanted us to tell stories about our dead relatives and I told him about Hilary Swank in Million Dollar Baby?"
Ryan smiled, surprising her. She'd only seen him smile for real a couple of times, usually with Kelly when he thought no one was looking. "That was ridiculous. Does he still do that kind of thing?"
"Oh, what do you think?" Pam laughed, rolling her eyes. "A couple of days ago we had to tell him about our hopes for the future. I told him I hoped for a color copier, but I don't think he got it."
"Wow. I so don't miss that."
"Hey, your Mufasa story was pretty good. I was very impressed."
"Well, your song for the bird funeral was… something else."
"There really was a bird funeral?" Jim asked, sounding a little less strained than before. "I thought Creed was making that up. Although in my defense, he also told me that you guys had a rave in the break room."
"Jim, of course there was a bird funeral," Pam said. "You missed out on so much while you were in Stamford. Come sit down." She patted the cushion and Jim sat close to her, stretching his arm along the back of the couch and resting a hand on her leg.
"Let's see," Pam said, raising her hand to count on her fingers. "There was the time Michael kissed Oscar."
"You told me about that one," Jim said.
"And Dwight kissed Oscar," Ryan said.
"Dwight tried," Pam said.
"Ew," Jim said.
"Then Dwight took me out to his farm and tried to put me in a coffin," Ryan said.
"You never told me that," Pam said.
"Are all of these Dwight-related?" Jim asked.
"Um," Pam said. "Oh! There was that time Michael decided to take us to Kelly's Diwali festival – " She stopped, looking at Ryan. "Uh, that was when Michael proposed to Carol in front of everyone and it was awful."
"You told me about that too," Jim said, and she remembered that stupid text message she'd sent, and the reply she never got.
"Yeah, that was weird," Ryan said, his face more guarded than before.
"Sorry, I – are you seeing anyone now?" Pam asked quickly. "I mean, since – "
"Yeah," Ryan said. "Nothing serious. But, you know, I meet a lot of people at clubs and stuff. I don't date people at work anymore."
"Oh," Pam said. Jim began to stroke her leg, his fingers slipping under the hem of her dress.
"Well, you can't really do that at corporate," Jim said, and that dangerous note was back in his voice. "You don't want to get involved with one of your superiors."
Ryan shrugged, and leaned in a little. "Not everyone is my superior," he said, and Pam could smell the scotch on his breath, mingling with his cologne.
"I guess there's always Clint," Jim said. Pam felt her chest go tight, and Ryan's eyes narrowed.
"He's not really my type," Ryan said. He was looking at Pam now, and her head was heavy, like she couldn't turn away. She was having a hard time focusing her eyes, and the scotch was making her tingle all over.
"No?" Jim asked, his voice soft.
Ryan shook his head, and lifted his hand. He hesitated, then ran his knuckles lightly along the top of Pam's breasts, back and forth, just below her collarbones. She breathed a little faster, watching Ryan's downcast eyes, his dark lashes almost on his cheeks. Jim didn't stop touching her, working his fingers down to the inside of her thigh.
Pam stopped breathing altogether when Ryan leaned in farther, pressing into her. But he looked up into Jim's eyes, not hers, and he slid his hand over to touch Jim's throat, then to curl into Jim's hair, pulling him forward.
It was unreal, watching them kiss in front of her, eyes closed and Jim unresisting. Pam swallowed, hard, her breathing constrained by the two of them close on either side of her. She could see Ryan's mouth open, and his tongue flick into Jim's mouth. Jim pulled at Ryan's lip with his teeth and kissed Ryan again, harder, with slick, wet sounds. Pam made a small noise, her face burning hot, and squirmed as Jim's fingers moved upwards, under her dress.
Ryan pulled away just a little, his mouth almost touching Jim's. "I want to fuck your girlfriend," he whispered.
"You always do," Jim said.
They turned to Pam and she didn't even know what to do, both of them looking at her like that. Jim's mouth was red and wet, and Ryan's breath was warm on her face. She closed her eyes and squeezed Jim's hand.
Ryan tasted like Jim and scotch when he kissed her. Pam opened her mouth under his and he pressed in, licking with quick strokes. His beard was scratchy and for a stupid second all she could think about was Roy, because she never had gotten used to that beard. Jim kissed her bare shoulder and she moaned against Ryan's mouth, reaching up to touch his neck. He kept kissing her, faster than she was used to, impatient and insistent, making her even dizzier than before.
Jim's free hand slid around the back of her neck, turning her away. Pam kissed him gratefully, and the familiar feeling made it a little more real. Ryan bent his head to her other shoulder and left a hard little line of kisses that went across to her back, right above the zipper on her dress.
"OK?" Jim breathed, his tongue in her ear. "OK?"
Pam nodded, and arched her back when Ryan began to unzip her dress. Jim's kisses were soft on her cheek, her throat, as Ryan licked down her spine, using his teeth. She breathed faster when Ryan slid down one strap of her dress and scratched lightly at her shoulder.
Jim stopped kissing her and turned her again, tugging at her shoulders until her back was to him. Ryan moved up to kiss her and pulled her close with his fingers in her hair. He was even more insistent this time and she leaned into it, pushing her hands into the open collar of his shirt. Jim finished unzipping her dress and slid his hands forward, fingers tickling her ribs, until he was cupping her breasts.
Pam gasped and tightened her fingers on Ryan's shoulders. Jim sucked at her neck, strong enough to leave a mark, as he caressed her, pinching her nipples until they were tight and aching.
"Oh, god," she said, barely making a sound. Ryan kissed her again.
There was a rhythm now, Jim's hands on her and Ryan's mouth against hers. She let her head fall back and Ryan kissed her throat. He took one of her hands and pulled it down so she could feel how hard he was through his dress pants, then wrapped her fingers around him. He squeezed once, pulling both of their hands together, and let go to slide his hand along her side where the fabric of her dress fell forward. His nails scratched her skin as he bit at her earlobe, tonguing her diamond stud.
Pam turned to kiss Ryan again, tightening her hand around him until he made a soft sound against her mouth. Ryan reached forward.
"Fuck," Jim said. She felt him breathing short and sharp as Ryan's hand moved, and his hands went still on her. Her heart was beating so hard that it almost hurt, feeling Jim tense up behind her, his teeth on her neck.
Ryan didn't stop kissing her, and Pam slid her hand up and down with slow, careful strokes. Ryan lifted his hips, pushing his tongue deeper into her mouth. Jim shifted restlessly and pinched her nipples again until she twisted in his arms.
"Come on," Jim said, and stood up, pulling her with him.
Pam half-stumbled to her feet, breaking away from Ryan. Jim turned her around and she kissed him fiercely, pulling his mouth down to hers. She worked at his shirt buttons and ran her hands over his chest as Ryan pressed up behind her, hard against the small of her back. Jim helped her pull off his shirt and she worked at his belt and fly with clumsy fingers. Ryan stepped away for a few moments while she slid down Jim's zipper, and then he moved in again, his bare chest warm against her back. He bit her shoulder, and slid down the straps of her dress.
Jim moved back to pull down his pants and boxers, toeing off his shoes and socks. Pam let her dress drop to the floor. She met Jim's eyes and it was just like every time, when he looked her up and down as if he couldn't believe what he was seeing.
Ryan reached forward to cup her breasts and then down to tug at her underwear, and by the time Jim had her on the bed, walking her backwards as he kissed her, Ryan had the rest of his clothes off. Her head spun as she fell on the soft down comforter, pushing it back so that she was lying on the sheets as Jim crawled onto the bed, kneeling over her. He pulled at her shoulder, rolling her half on top of him, and Ryan lay down next to her, sliding his hand down her back to stroke her ass. His fingers were still a little cold and she shivered, gasping against Jim's mouth.
Jim turned away from her to say something to Ryan, and Ryan turned on a small lamp and reached into the bedside drawer. Pam moved down, kissing Jim's throat, and slid one leg between his, grinding down a little. Jim tugged at her hair, moving his hips up to meet hers.
Ryan put his hands on her again, pushing until she was all the way on top of Jim with her legs spread. She didn't stop kissing Jim, biting at his jaw, until she felt Ryan kneeling behind her.
"Wait," she said, feeling suddenly panicked. It was hard to think straight, but she knew what he was trying to do. "I don't want – "
Pam looked down at Jim, her eyes wide, and shook her head a little. He nodded.
"Like this," Jim said. He sat up halfway, moving Pam until she was on her side, and rolled over to face her. Jim lifted her leg over his hip, and reached down to run his fingers down the inside of her thigh as Ryan moved behind her.
"Better?" Ryan whispered in her ear.
"Yes," she said to Jim.
Jim moved his hand higher, stroking her. His fingers found her clit and she arched her back as Ryan slid between her legs, the condom cool and slick. Ryan pressed up, not quite making it, so she reached down to guide him into the right place.
Everything stopped when Ryan pushed into her, the angle making it a tight fit. Pam closed her eyes, making a sound low in her throat, and Ryan's breath was hot in her ear. When she opened her eyes again Jim was watching her, with an unreadable look that twisted at her heart somehow. He glanced away before she could say anything, biting his lip as he kept stroking her with gentle fingers.
Ryan began to move, with short, sudden thrusts that made Pam catch her breath again and again. She held onto Jim's shoulder, clutching him tight. Jim slowed down his movements, tapping against her clit and moving farther down. He stopped touching her for a moment and she felt him stroking Ryan, wrapping his fingers around the base of Ryan's cock. When Ryan pushed upwards Jim pressed his fingers into her, his short nails scraping as he spread her wider, and Pam writhed, gasping with every stroke.
Then Ryan slid his hand down her hip, pushing away Jim's hand between her legs. Jim didn't look up, just curled his fingers around his own cock, which was making a wet spot on the sheets beneath him. Pam tried to keep her eyes open, watching Jim stroke himself, and Ryan twisted her clit, rolling it between his fingers. It was rougher than she was used to but the little edge of pain felt good, pushing the rising pleasure upwards.
"Gonna make you come so hard," Ryan breathed into her hair. He thrust into her faster, harder, and she could feel the edge of orgasm building, making her muscles tense up and her toes curl. She moaned, almost a whimper.
Jim looked up again, watching her face, and her mouth dropped open. It was terrible, the way he was looking at her, like he was watching her slip away from him, and her heart really was breaking now.
"Ryan, stop," Pam gasped, putting her hand on his arm. He kept moving and she pulled away from him, half-sitting up. "Stop."
She reached for Jim, letting Ryan slip out of her, and moved until she was kneeling over Jim, pushing him inside. Jim grasped her hips, moving with her, and she leaned down to drop her forehead against his, her hair hiding their faces.
"Jim," she whispered, and all she wanted was to make that look go away with the movement of her body, her kisses on his cheek and throat. Jim buried his face against her neck, and she felt his mouth move against her skin. He reached down to touch her, and then she was coming so hard she was shaking, clutching the pillow under her as she cried out against his shoulder. Jim groaned her name and followed her, thrusting up hard and holding her hips steady.
Pam tried to catch her breath, still shuddering, and rolled onto her back. Ryan looked dazed, his hair a mess. He'd never seemed so young.
She moved onto her side and touched Ryan's chest, his eyes on her. She was just about to slide her hand down the line of dark, curly hair when Jim reached over her, wrapping his hand around Ryan's cock. Ryan closed his eyes as Jim stroked him, and Pam saw his stomach go taut when he came, biting at his lip. Jim squeezed him once more and let go, dropping his hand to rest on Pam's hip. She closed her eyes.
None of them moved for a long while, resting in the dim light. Jim's fingers were damp against Pam's stomach, and he breathed slow and deep. She could hear Ryan breathing too, his knee just barely touching hers.
When Pam opened her eyes again, Ryan looked like he might be asleep. She raised herself up on one elbow and leaned down to kiss his cheek, his beard rough against her lips, and then his mouth. Ryan kissed her back for a moment and pulled away, sitting up.
"You guys can take the bed," Ryan said, his voice low as he looked down. He leaned forward to take a throw blanket from the end of the bed and stood up, bending over to pick up his clothes.
Jim wrapped his arm around Pam's waist, pulling her close, while Ryan put on his boxers and went into the bathroom. She kicked her legs until they were under the comforter, and reached down to pull it up over them. She watched the light under the bathroom door, waiting for Ryan to come out, but he was gone a long time, and eventually she closed her eyes again.
Pam woke up to the sound of drawers opening, the wood squeaking. She opened her eyes cautiously, but the light was dim and grey. She moved her head and wished she hadn't, as a wash of nausea swept through her. Ryan was sorting through a dresser drawer, wearing black pants and a white, unbuttoned dress shirt with a tie slung around his neck. It took her a moment to orient herself, and then she swallowed hard and curled into Jim a little more. He didn't stir.
"Hey," she said softly. Ryan turned and acknowledged her with a lift of his head.
"There's some sweats here," he said, nodding at a pair of blue pants draped over the back of the couch. "I'm just trying to find…" He looked in the drawer again and pulled out a black tank top with a glittery pink heart on the front. "This got mixed up with my stuff."
"Thanks," she said.
Ryan nodded and buttoned up his shirt, tucking it into his pants. "No problem."
"Are you going into work?"
"Yeah, I have to meet with a guy from finance and finish some projections for Monday. Saturday's a good time to get stuff done."
Pam didn't say anything for a moment. Ryan knotted his tie, pinning it with a small silver tie tack.
"Do you miss anything about Scranton?" she asked.
Ryan looked up for just a second and shrugged. "No."
Pam watched as Ryan piled papers in a briefcase, then shut and locked it. He glanced in a wood-framed mirror on the wall, running his hand through his hair, and turned back to her.
"There's a good café two blocks west," he said. "The one with the red umbrellas. Don't get the chorizo."
"Thanks," she said. She raised herself up, wanting to say something more, but he wouldn't really look at her. "Uh, I guess we'll see you."
"Yeah," Ryan said, and pressed the button for the elevator.
After he was gone Pam lay there for a long time, watching the room grow brighter and trying not to feel so sick. She really needed to go get a glass of water, but Jim was still asleep, and she wanted to be in bed when he woke up. She counted bricks in the wall across from her, tried to see shapes in the blue-splattered canvas, and thought about things. There was a lot to think about.
Jim finally moved, rubbing at his nose like he always did because he snored just a little. He looked tired and confused when he opened his eyes, clearly trying to make sense of the strange surroundings. Pam touched his cheek and he focused on her, half-closing his eyes again.
"Hi," she said.
"I feel awful."
Jim didn't say anything else, just licked his lips. Pam smoothed her thumb over his cheek, catching on the slight stubble.
"Jim, I don’t ever want you to change because of me."
Jim closed his eyes all the way. He was quiet for so long, she almost wondered if he'd fallen back asleep.
"That's the problem," he said finally.
"If I don't change. And then you decide – "
"Jim," she said. He looked at her. "I'm not going anywhere. I want you to be who you are."
"You say that now."
She frowned. "When did all of this start?"
"You're just – you're doing so well with all your classes, and, you know, Ryan's got this whole – "
"This is not about Ryan," she said. "You know that."
"Yeah, well, you seemed really into the corporate thing last night."
"You were the one talking to everybody," she said. "Jim, they like you. You would have done so well here."
Jim looked down again. Pam slid her hand away, trailing her fingers down his jawline.
"Why did you want – this?" she asked hesitantly.
"I guess," he started, then stopped. "I spent a really long time watching you with someone else. And I don't know, it was like picking at a scab or something. Like I wanted to see how far I could push myself."
"Don't," she said. "You always do this. You make things worse for yourself like you deserve it."
Jim glanced up, surprised at the heat in her voice. "I don't – "
"You do. If you're going to change anything, change that."
Jim reached out and brushed his thumb over her lips. She kissed it.
"I love you," he said.
"I know," she said, and smiled. She sat up, kissed him right beneath his ear, and whispered, "Love you too."
She was just about to slide out of bed when Jim put a hand on her arm. "Why did you want this?" he asked, sounding a little like he had last night, tight and dangerous.
Pam thought for a moment, looking for the right words. "It felt good," she said simply. "I hadn't done anything like this before. And I thought you wanted it."
"Well," he said, and it seemed like the cloud had passed. "I think from now on I want you all to myself."
"Deal," she said.
Jim rolled over and stretched, arms behind his head, as Pam got up and went towards the couch, gathering clothes as she went.
"Ryan left?" he asked.
"Yeah," she said. "I think working Saturdays definitely goes on the list of reasons not to work at corporate."
"Jesus, yeah," Jim said, wrinkling up his nose.
Pam pulled on her underwear and Ryan's sweats, and reached for the shirt. It smelled like that Britney Spears perfume, which she only recognized because she had a bottle of it sitting on her dresser, a Christmas present from Kelly.
"Ryan said there's a café around here," she said. "But I just realized I don't have any shoes."
Jim sat up and looked at her, barefoot with the sweats falling off her hips, and broke into a grin. "I think high heels would really complete that outfit."
"Shut up," Pam said, and tossed his boxers at him.
Jim slid out of bed and put his arms around her, kissing her on the forehead. "I'm not sure I really want you putting more clothes on."
"Oh, really," Pam said.
They got out of the cab three hours later, Pam in a pair of Ryan's sweat socks and carrying her dress and heels in a paper bag. The valet at the hotel raised an eyebrow as he handed Jim the key.
"I don't think I've ever done the walk of shame before," Pam said as they crossed the parking lot, limping along in her socks.
"At least you're not wearing a swimsuit," Jim said.
Pam stopped dead, pulling his hand until he turned. "This is a story I have not heard."
"This is a story you are never going to hear."
"We'll see," she said, and gave him her best sultry look, glancing sideways through her lashes.
It drizzled on the way home, the chill in the air a hint of autumn on the way. They drove through Dunkin' Donuts, and Pam had already won twelve straight games in a row by the time Jim stumped her with "ring-tailed lemur." There was an Antiques Roadshow marathon on PBS when they got home, and they went through three bowls of popcorn guessing the values of armoires and tin Uncle Sam banks. Later Pam drew rows of houses and tall buildings for her illustration class, sketching in a starry sky above, and Jim watched her until he fell asleep, his breath soft against her hair.