One of the best things about Pam’s new job is the opportunity to people-watch. For the first month or two she was a little too shy to look up when she didn’t have to, though. She only spoke when Michael came up to bother her or if someone asked her to make a copy. Jim would come up and talk to her too, but that felt less like being forced to talk and more like a welcome relief from the phones, the computer, and Michael.
Once she begins to feel more at home in the office, she starts looking up from her computer more. The office is really an interesting place to watch - she can almost see it as some kind of reality show. Some kind of demented, bizarre reality show.
There’s Stanley, who had this trick of punctuating every work-action with adding a word to his crossword puzzle. She watches him for almost a whole day. Answer the phone. Fill in a word. Type up an e-mail. Fill in a word. Crunch some numbers. Fill in a word. It’s almost hypnotic.
“I thought you were engaged,” Jim says, appearing at her desk and startling her.
“And Stanley’s already married. Are you trying to plan a dual-affair thing? Is my personal assessment of you totally wrong?”
Pam feels herself blush. “Have you ever watched Stanley?” She nods across the office at him. “He has this really intense crossword-work rhythm.”
Jim watches Stanley for a while, and then looks back at Pam with a weird look on his face. “I never have. That is…astounding. Nice observation, Beesly.” He watches Stanley a few minutes more. “Look at him go. Man.”
Pam might feel a little too pleased that Jim seems impressed with her, especially for something as stupid as people-watching.
The day after she realizes that Stanley is some kind of office robot, she realizes that the whole office is equally fascinating. There are these big, insane displays by Michael every so often, but even the quiet of the office is pretty interesting. Phyllis chews on the end of her pens – but only the blue ones. She will occasionally chew on one of her white-bodied ones, catch herself, look disgusted, and stop immediately. Every hour, on the hour, Angela takes out a picture of one of her cats and kisses it (Pam has counted at least six different cats so far). On Wednesdays, and only Wednesdays, Meredith checks her watch compulsively. M&Ms are to Kevin what crossword answers are to Stanley.
Oscar keeps a book of poetry on his desk and keeps a pretty consistent cycle throughout the day. He’ll start fairly calmly, but then gets this really pinched, strained look around his face like he’s about to punch someone. Before he really snaps, he grabs the book, reads something from it, and seems to feel much calmer. The whole cycle repeats two to three times on an average day.
Kelly likes to walk through the maze of desks to the bathroom while sighing as if inviting the rest of the office to ask her what is wrong. No one ever does. Every so often, Toby will walk through the office and survey everyone. Often he will catch Pam’s eye and look flustered and leave very quickly. Creed looks around like he’s expecting the enemy to drop in on him and Dwight does his job with a fervor that cannot be healthy.
Jim has this way of running his hands through his hair that’s completely distracting. He fiddles with a pen or pencil almost constantly – Pam can tell he’s bored, that he’s just too smart to do this job. She figures that really, most of the workers in the office are a little over-qualified. They all seem to have settled in well enough, though – Jim still lets his restlessness show.
He plays little pranks on Dwight and has a very specific way he flicks his wrist when answering the phone. Whenever Dwight or Michael do something particularly crazy, Jim pulls a “really?” face, sometimes to his computer, to himself, or to Pam. Usually he schlumps in his chair, but when he has a client on the phone he leans forward in his seat as if he were talking to them in person. Pam can tell when it’s a really big sale, because his whole face gets into the conversation and he talks with his hands. It’s very cute.
She feels guilty, a little, because a woman with a fiancé should not spend so much time studying one of her coworkers, no matter how adorable his floppy hair is. But it’s just a little silly thing, right, it will pass, she has Roy, and Jim is just a really nice friend.
Sometime that winter, a cold starts making its rounds of the office slowly but steadily. Pam would have recognized this even before she started developing her tremendous people-watching-prowess: sniffles and coughs punctuate the workday. One day she has to find where they keep the corporate-ordered tissues, as the box that’s been on her desk since she came to work has finally been used up.
Jim holds out pretty far into the season – his turn with the Office Plague doesn’t hit until after New Year’s. Pam sits at her desk and frowns at the sight of Jim holding a cheap, scratchy tissue to his nose that’s been rubbed red by the harsh material. When she’s at the grocery store later, after work, she finds herself in the paper products aisle with a box of Puffs tissues in her hand.
She’s not doing this for Jim, she reassures herself as she tosses the tissues in her cart. It’s only a matter of time before she succumbs to the cold as well, and it will be nice to have good tissues then. And she should have considered this for her co-workers before, really. It would have curbed Michael’s whining.
She’s just ready to check out when she remembers the inevitable coughing phase of the cold. She’s running later than she told Roy to expect her, but still she doubles back to the pharmacy and gets three different brands of cough drops. For the whole office. Naturally.
She sets a mix of the cough drops in the candy dish the next morning, instead of the usual jelly beans. Most of the office is on the mend, but the drops still disappear quickly. Jim picks out three honey-herb Ricolas throughout the day.
Pam has no excuse for buying a second bag of the honey-herb cough drops that night, but she does anyway.
Any niggling guilt she might feel doesn’t stick around too long. The next day, Jim comes up to her desk (his nose looks less red now that he’s using the nicer tissues she brought in) and digs through the dish of cough drops, nasally chatting away. He’s got a new plan to sabotage Dwight’s cold-immunity system that Pam helps him to perfect. His face falls slightly when he sees that there are none of his usual kind of cough drop left. Still, he picks up a different kind of drop and says “thanks for medicating the office,” with a genuine smile before he starts back for his desk.
“Halpert!” Pam calls softly to stop him. “Get back here.” She gestures for him to come closer to her desk, to lean in closer and closer until they are far closer together than a sick man and an engaged woman should ever be. It makes Pam’s heart thud in her chest and she can actually feel her pulse in her neck, which she thought was an invention that romance authors thought up. She carefully holds up the bag of Jim’s cough drops in front of her nose. “Don’t tell anyone,” she says conspiratorially behind the bag.
For a second Jim doesn’t react at all, and Pam worries she’s overstepped some line. Then his whole face lights up and he grins at her like the sun.
“Beesly, you’re incredible,” he says. “I’d kiss you if I wasn’t sick.”
And he is still too close to her (but she brought him there) and they’re grinning at each other and what, exactly, is Pam doing?
The realization only flashes in her eyes for a split second, and her smile doesn’t drop, but Jim feels the quick burst of awkwardness too. He backs up and clears his throat, which makes him break into a coughing fit.
Pam shoves the box of tissues at him and rips the bag of cough drops open, presses one into his free hand (her hand tingles stupidly where it touches his) and rubs his back until he gets his coughing under control (that hand tingles too).
He smiles gratefully at her and gestures feebly at the water cooler. He pops the cough drop into his mouth and Pam watches him fondly as he goes.
She keeps the bag of cough drops hidden at her desk for him. He seems reluctant, at first, to come to her desk and get another one. So later that day, when he starts coughing again, she gently chucks one of the lozenges at him – and after that they seem to go back to business as usual, both mutually and silently agreeing not to acknowledge any awkwardness between them. Not that there’s any cause for awkwardness. Just a temporary little crush that will pass.
When she drives home that night, Pam’s throat feels a little scratchy, so she pops one of the honey-herb drops into her mouth. It’s not the kind she normally likes, but the new flavor is kind of nice. It’s very weirdly sort of exciting that it’s the same kind of cough drop Jim had tasted all day. Maybe the flavor would be sort of stuck on his lips and kissing him would almost taste like the cough drop.
She pulls up to a stop light and shakes her head. This crush really is getting the better of her.
She wakes up with a stuffed up nose and a decidedly scratchy throat the next day. She feels like she’s been run over. Not by a truck, or anything, more like a tiny economy car, but the feeling is definitely present.
Then she remembers how happy Jim looked when she brought him the cough drops the day before and she thinks her being sick might be worth it.