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First Loves and Second Chances

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April 2007

“Hello class of ’97!
If you can believe it, it’s been 10 years since our class has graced the halls of Scranton Senior High School! Now it’s time to gather back together and catch up with our friends and classmates! This reunion will take place on Saturday, June 23rd, first with a family-friendly picnic at 1pm then drinks and snacks at 7pm at the Electric City Events Center. The full itinerary is enclosed along with your RSVP card. Whether or not you can make it, please enjoy the contents of this packet, including a letter from someone you may recognize.
We hope to see you in Scranton this June!

Sincerely your class president,
Stephanie Stucci”

Pam Beesly barely remembered getting this packet a few weeks ago, her mother was in town for dress shopping and brought the large envelope embossed with a cardinal red knight on the front. The reunion date just so happened to be the exact same day as Pam’s upcoming wedding, and she admittedly felt a bit smug returning the RSVP with a “decline” next to her name. This reunion was going to be attended by people still hanging out around Scranton, eager to relieve their high school glory days. They would be looking back, and Pam just wanted to look into the future, to her upcoming wedding and her new life with the man she loved.

But the man she loved was at some bar right now, after he stormed off in the middle of an argument. Pam was not someone to pick fights but she was overwhelmed with wedding planning and by her count the only things Roy had even done was buy a ring and set a date. The decorations, the venue selections, the invitations had somehow all fallen on Pam’s shoulders and she didn’t think it was unreasonable for Roy to do at least one more thing. Somehow this all erupted into him saying he felt smothered by her, and her saying she felt like there was no support from him. After a door slammed and a truck engine roared off, she grabbed the nearest alcohol she could find and stomped to the spare bedroom, the one she was always hoping to convert into an art studio but now mostly was just a bunch of unorganized boxes, including a box where all the non-important, non-spam mail ended up waiting to be organize.

The future was not exactly looking bright either, she felt like she had been rejected for every decent paying graphic design-related job in Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton. She’s been telling Roy for years, the jobs she was striving for were in Philadelphia or New York, trying to hint they should move closer. He would only counter-hint that he was on track for the warehouse foreman position at his work, and once he landed that he would get more money. Besides her receptionist jobs were okay-paying and would be flexible once they had children, Roy would say.

She should amend her previous statement: Roy had done a few things for the wedding, namely attended the menu tastings (after she narrowed down the entrees) and was in the process of selecting a band (from a box of tapes she gathered). It wasn’t logical or fair to compare wedding planning to child rearing but she couldn’t help but think it would be a similar situation: Roy showing up for the fun stuff and her doing everything in between. She wanted to be a mother, someday, but recently the idea of having Roy’s children caused her unease. Especially if they had boys, they’d be tall and barrel chested, probably get his blue eyes and dimples that so often charmed her, along with his stubbornness, his way to make his wants and needs important and urgent, hers something that can be dealt with later.

Pam took a large swig from of one of Roy’s beers (he would not be happy to find her drinking one of his expensive micros from the back of the kitchen fridge and not a cheap domestic he kept for friends in the garage) and slipped her finger under the flap of the manila envelope. She pulled out the papers, and was face to face with her own writing. “Where I see myself in 10 years”. Behind the letter to herself a small collage of photos, she was curious how much time Stephanie Stucci spent on this if every member of her class received one. Steph was always an overachiever. Pam smiled at the photos, she didn’t care too much about hair styling back then and her hair was frizzy and everywhere. Her clothes always bore the marks of her many painting and drawing classes. How did it get flipped, Pam wondered, her 18 year old self should have been the one worried about appearance, lacking in confidence in her relationships, not her 28 year old self.

Her eyes felt onto the last photo in the collage and drew in her breath. It was some candid photo the yearbook club must have taken: Pam in an oversized sweat-shirt with smudges all over, one hand on the strap of her backpack, the other in the hand of a lanky boy, dark mop of hair on his head. She closed her eyes for a moment, letting herself remember a face she hadn’t seen for nearly a decade, a brilliant smile and a pair of bright eyes that greeted her after most of her classes.

Flipping back to the essay, she read her 18 year old self’s vision for the future, living in a big city with a great art job, a big studio space to all her own, the dreams of someone unfettered by the reality of rent and rejection. She then reached the final paragraph.

“I hope that in 10 years I will be with someone who loves me, who supports me and is always encouraging me, someone who makes me better but also is made better by me. And it may sound silly, but I think I’ve been lucky enough to find that already, and I hope when I read this letter in 2007 that I have held onto it.”

With a shaky hand and blurred vision, Pam set the papers beside her on the bed, then began twisting the engagement ring on her finger. The one with the yellow-gold band she didn’t quite like and the stone setting she didn’t quite want, but settled for it because it was less expensive, just like she settled for this tiny house with no room for her to make art, for the office jobs that would never lead to a career. The wedding venue, cake, dress, invitations, nothing was her first choice, she had to be practical.

Someone who makes me better and who is made better by me. Maybe once upon a time, Roy made her better, gave her encouragement and support, and she did the same for him, but those days seemed like a distant memory. Now it was petty fights and her begging him to at least act interested in planning his own wedding and settling for the fact that he wasn’t. Settling for his vision of their future where he would be the one to pursue a steady career while she needed something flexible, something she could easily leave or do part time once she had his children. Always settling.

Her cellphone rang from the other room and she stood slowly, knowing it was Roy and knowing she should be moving faster in case there was an issue and she needed her. But she enters the living room long after the cell stopped ringing, just in time for the ding of a new voicemail.

“Hey Babe,” the slurring voice started, “I’m at Kenny’s, and we’ve both been drinking so… I should probably stay here tonight. Um… I think we’re both so stressed out that we ended up saying things we don’t mean, but tomorrow I want to work on everything. I need to do more, I want to do more. Um… I love you Pammy, I’ll see you tomorrow, g’nite.”

There was a time where Pam would have felt guilty, felt like this message was a sign that Roy truly loved her and wanted to worked harder and do more. She would have agreed they were both to blame, would have thought he was being responsible staying over at his brother’s rather than risk driving home. But the truth was he was just trying to shift the blame to her, and that he purposefully got too drunk at Kenny’s so that he would have an excuse not to come home and deal with anything tonight, counting on her to be less angry and more forgiving tomorrow, to settle for yet another compromise.

She took a deep breath and shook her head, scrolling through her contacts and hitting “SEND”.

“Hey Penny,” Pam greeted the voice on the other end.

“Hey Pam, what’s up, are you okay?” her little sister said, surely confused by Pam’s late phone call.

“I’m okay, um, do you think you can come get me? I’m at home.”

A long silence before Penny spoke again, “Pam, what’s going on? Is… is Roy…?”

“We argued and he left, he’s at his brother’s for the night,” Pam quickly answered, knowing her sister was imagining a much more volatile situation. “I’m okay, I just…”

“I’ll come, Pam, I’ll be there in half an hour,” Penny said.

Pam closed her phone, headed to the hallway closet where her luggage was kept, and wheeled the bags into the main bedroom. There wasn’t room for everything so she grabbed her nicest, most professional work clothes, a few shirts, pants and skirts, and a couple pairs of shoes. She then moved to the spare bedroom and started putting books, documents and art supplies in the second suitcase. The last thing she grabbed was collage of high school photos and the letter still on the bed. She smiled as she looked once again at her carefree teenage self; she was doing this for her. Her eyes studied the boy in the last photo, his hair sadly almost covered his eyes but there was still a smile on his face. Not the big brilliant smile that was etched in her memory, but something smaller, more personal. With extreme care, she slipped the photos and the letter back into the envelope and put it in the front pocket of her suitcase.

Penny arrived shortly after, and as she took Pam's bags out to her car, Pam sat in the kitchen trying to decide what to write to Roy, scribbling out several unsatisfactory notes before settling on a simple "I'm sorry."

"Ready, Pam?" Penny called from the entrance way.

"One minute," Pam replied, her right thumb and index finger on her ring. The band slipped over the first knuckle and she hesitated, wondering if this was rash, if she was really ready to change everything.

"You've got this, Beesly," she heard a male voice say in the back of her mind.

Pam smiled. "I've got this," she announced to herself. With the ring on her note, she stood and flicked off the light switch. Without so much as a glance around the apartment, she walked to the door where her sister was waiting. "I'm ready."

Chapter Text

April 2007

About fifteen minutes into the ride, Jim Halpert was really starting to regret taking the train from Stamford to Manhattan. Not because it added a good half hour to his travel time, though that was another downside, but because it was leaving him to fret about his upcoming interview at the corporate offices of Dunder Mifflin. At least if he was driving he would have to focus on the road and traffic, now all he could do was just overthink all possible questions: What’s your greatest strength and weakness? How do you work under pressure? Why do you want this job?

“Because my girlfriend all but applied for me,” he thought to himself with a small chuckle. He shouldn’t think that, Karen didn’t apply to this position for him, she just very strongly suggested he do it. The vice president of regional sales spot was open thanks to what was rumored to be a spectacular flame-out by Jan Levinson. She had been dating Jim’s old boss, Michael Scott, for six months so the news of the “meltdown” was of no surprise. Karen always scoffed at the tales of working under Michael Scott, declaring “This cannot be true, he’d be fired” at Jim’s retelling of things like speaking like Apu from the Simpsons to his Indian co-worker Kelly, making everyone take time off watch Michael fight Jim’s old deskmate/nemesis Dwight, shouting “this boat is sinking” on a lake cruise to the point that someone jumped off. Then there was the cocktail party at CFO David Wallace’s house, when after months of rumors Jan and Michael announced their relationship, and Jim could tell Jan regretted the announcement instantly as Michael could barely contain his giggles and “that’s what she said”s at any and all possible double entendres.

Karen and Jim had a good laugh about the Jan and Michael situation but if Jim thought about it long enough, it also brought out a change in Karen. They had been together for nearly a year, it was all registered with HR, everyone knew and no one had accused them of being inappropriate at work. As the assistant regional manager, Jim was technically Karen’s superior (though the title was as meaningless as he always teased his ex-coworker Dwight about, mostly just signing things on the days the regional manager Josh wasn’t around) but no one made accusations of favoritism. Still, before that cocktail party, Karen and him had fun at work together, playfully bantering and finding ways to fill slow afternoons with things like searches for chips and trying to pass off the squeaky chair to each other. After the cocktail party, and the second-hand embarrassment felt for Jan, Karen was different at work. Distance, maybe even a touch cold, a little like she was with him when he first moved to Stamford. Not that Karen was ever much for public displays of affection, but Jim missed even the small little strokes of his shoulder when she passed by or her trying to fix his unruly hair in the breakroom.

He sighed remembering the almost-fight over his hair for this interview. He saw no problem, David Wallace seemed to like him just fine with his longish hair, but like the application, Karen basically dragged him to the barber. “No one in New York is going to take you seriously with that hair,” she said, “You may as well be homeless.”

It shouldn’t have gotten under his skin the way it had, Karen wasn’t trying to be mean, and she was right, he needed a professional haircut for this professional interview. Still, it made him wonder if she had always thought that about his hair, about him, that he was just some likeable idiot who needed to be told what to do all the time.

Snap out of it, Halpert, he thought, returning his attention to possible interview questions. Describe a challenge you had to overcome at work. Easy, losing his biggest client to Dwight but still managing to be a top 10 salesman for the year. What’s your greatest weakness? Karen had coached him on this one, make sure to turn the negative into a positive, like that he knew he could get over confident and push too hard on a sale, so he had learned to back off a little with initial sales then gently push to up orders during renewals.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years? He struggled with this one, at least when imagining himself in ten years in a professional sense. Personally, he wanted to be married with a couple kids, playing HORSE with them in the driveway. He didn’t really see himself at Dunder Mifflin still, then again, he hadn’t really seen himself at Dunder Mifflin for the five years he had been there.

What did Karen say again about this question? He remembered Karen had written up a few pointers and put it in his expense report folder in his satchel. He started to riffle through the bag, pausing when finding a large white envelope with red emblem on it.

“Oh no, your tenth high school reunion?” Karen said when she spotted this on his coffee table a month or so ago. “Can't believe I'm dating such an old man.”

He scoffed, and opened up the envelope, finding the itinerary and rsvp form inside, along with another envelope addressed to himself in his own handwriting. “Looks like it's on June 23rd,” he told Karen, tucking the other contents back inside.

“Are you thinking about going?” Karen said with a skeptical tone.

Jim shrugged, “It’d be good to see some of my old teammates.” Someone who was definitely not his basketball team was crossing his mind, though.

Eventually he would send back the RSVP that he was not going, and slip the large envelope into his work bag unread. Now here he was facing the same envelope, knowing he should keep digging for his expense reports and the interview tips. But instead he opened the white envelope up, slowly sliding out what looked like an essay in his own handwriting with some photos behind it.

“1997 - Where do I see myself in 10 years by Jim Halpert.” the top of the essay read. Jim laughed at little reading the first few lines, oh how idealistic he was, thinking he could easily get a job like being a sports journalist in Philadelphia (or that being a journalist paid well at all), just needed a four-year degree and a little hard work. He envied his younger self, not really being aware of the terms that now ruled his life: quotas, cold-calls, tonnage prices, customer retention, loss leaders. His younger self hadn’t endured the task of sitting next to Dwight Schrute or Andy Bernard, or been under the management of Michael Scott.

“Just over year ago I finally got the courage to talk to a girl that I had been wanting to talk to for months. I was so scared she’d reject me, we didn’t seem to have anything in common, but my dad told me that most good things in life are a little scary at first, and that the worst thing would be her saying no. Of course my intention when I talked to her was to ask her out, but first we were just friends, even best friends. Now that we’ve been dating for a year, my favorite thing about her is her smile. Don’t get me wrong, I like some other stuff too, but when she smiles at me and when we laugh together it’s like everything feels okay. I can’t predict the future and it seems silly to try, I can only hope that when I read this in 2007 I still have that smile to remind me even when things are tough, everything is okay.”

Jim chewed the inside of his lips as he flipped to the photo collage behind the letter, pictures of him playing basketball, hanging out in the hallways, and the last one a photo of him hand in hand with the girl he was gushing about in his letter. He hadn't seen her in nearly 10 years, last he heard she was engaged or married or something, living in Pennsylvania, though not in Scranton. Sometimes he was tempted to reach out and get in touch, seemed a shame to lose all contact when they were once so close. Then again it still stung, even nine years on, how quickly and completely it fell apart.

He let his eyes linger on the black and white photo, her hair a little frizzy and everywhere, her smile so wide and sincere. Karen had a nice smile, her perfect white teeth framed with full, shapely lips, something a little mischievous behind it which at certain times drove him crazy. But the girl in the photo, she had the sweetest smile he had ever seen, even still.

A muffled voice announced they were pulling into Grand Central soon, and Jim put the pictures and letter back in his satchel, and stood to get ready to disembark. After a quick transfer to midtown, then an elevator up, he was in the Dunder Mifflin corporate offices. His mind wandered to the 18 year old boy in the photo, hand in hand with the girl with the sweet smile. That boy would probably be aghast at him applying for this suits job, pushing paper and working for “The Man”. The girl though, she wouldn't love it but she would be encouraging, always encouraging.

“Mr Wallace will see you now,” a young, pretty assistant wearing a blue tooth headset said, and Jim took a deep breath and stood. He heard Karen's slightly smoky voice in his mind repeating her interview tips, “Remember to make it a positive even if the question is asking for a negative, hold eye contact, sit up straight, don't move your hands too much.”

But then a softer voice started speaking in the back of his mind, “You'll be okay, Jim, people like you, you make them laugh and you make them feel listened to, just be yourself.”

Towards the end of the interview, during the “Do you have any questions for me?” part, Jim ask if it was required of him to be a Knicks fan, because he'd be unable to take the job if that were the case. David Wallace laughed, and Jim was pretty sure he was going to get the job. He knew Karen would be pleased when he told her, would flash him that smile with the blindingly white teeth and full red lips. He found himself thinking about how he longed to see a different smile, something a little softer and sweeter.

Chapter Text

February 1996

“Pam what pieces are you submitting to the show?” Liz asked, popping a french fry into her mouth.

Pam shook her head and set down her sandwich, “I’m really not sure, Mrs Miller thinks I should put in the oils from this semester but I don’t think they’re very good.” The curating for the Spring semester art show would start soon, and Pam’s teacher indicated that Pam may get one of the coveted ‘feature’ spots, where a handful of students get an entire wall worth of space.

“Don't be silly, Pam, that one still life is amazing,” Liz replied, tucking a raven-colored lock behind her ear. Liz was a senior, and befriended Pam when Pam took intro photography, in which Liz was the teacher’s aide. Pam thought her photos were beautiful and would be shocked if Liz didn't get scholarship offers from the many art schools she had applied for and was waiting to hear back from. “It should go in your art school portfolio.”

Pam made a small protest before Liz launched into all the reasons Pam should go to art school and the reasons she would get a scholarship. “I just wish the applications weren’t so pricey,” Pam said. And by “applications” she meant everything about art school.

“Do cheesy paintings of people's kids and pets, that's how I swung it,” Liz said. Her eyes shifted to just passed Pam's head and across the cafeteria of Scranton High School. “So this guy’s been nervously looking over here for five minutes.”

“What guy?” Pam said, swiveling her head, before getting chastised by Liz for being so obvious.

“He’s a basketball player, brown hair, tall.”

“Very descriptive,” Pam teased.

“Shut it, I think he's a junior, the one who went out with Hannah Gilbert for one hot second. Herbert?” Liz looked at her tray in great concentration. “Halbert?”

“Oh yeah, um, Halpert, yeah he was in my lit class last semester.” Pam turned around again and searched for the lanky boy, trying to recall her interactions with him in literature. He sat in the back of the class due to his height, and they had never really spoken to each other, but he always smiled at her and seemed nice enough.

When Pam spotted him in the cafeteria, his eyes met hers and he smiled widely. Pam smiled back and felt her cheeks burn a little.

“Pamela Beesly, are you flirting?” Liz said in her best mom-tone.

Pam shrugged, “He’s cute. Though I don’t know, not sure if he’s really my type.”

Liz lowered her head and mumbled a little, “Well, tell him that to his face because he’s coming over.”

“What?” Pam asked a little loudly. Liz almost laughed, then looked up and smiled before pretending her fries were the most interesting thing in the world.

“Hey,” a voice above Pam said.

Pam turned and craned her neck to try to meet the boy’s eyes. “Hi.” Her mind was drawing a blank on his first name. Something with a J?

“I um, I couldn't help but notice you got the mixed berry yogurt,” the boy said, his nervousness starting to show as he didn't seem sure what to do with his hands.

Pam's brows met and she looked to the pink cup on her tray, “Yeah?”

“It's just, well, I got one too and right when I opened it I noticed it was expired, so I just thought…” He grabbed the yogurt cup off Pam's tray and inspected the date on the side, then showed it to Pam, “yeah see, expired.”

Pam looked at the date, which was indeed two days ago. “Oh, wow, look at that.” She looked back up at the boy and smiled, “Well, thanks. You helped me dodge a bullet here.”

“Just a concerned classmate,” the boy said, setting the yogurt cup back down on her tray. He stood awkwardly for a moment before offering his hand. “I'm Jim, by the way. We were in lit-”

“Lit class last semester, yes, I remember,” Pam replied, putting her hand in his. It was large and warm, completely engulfing hers, and she felt her cheeks get hot again when he squeezed her hand a tiny bit. “Pam.”

“Pam,” he repeated quietly, and Pam suspected he was already well aware of her name.

Liz put her hand out as well, “And I'm Elizabeth, but go by Liz.”

Jim looked over to Liz a little startled, as if he honestly forgotten she was there, and let go of Pam's hand to shake Liz’s. Pam missed the warmth of it immediately. “Sorry, Liz, nice to meet you.” He stood back and ran his fingers back through his floppy brown hair. “So, um, do you guys, um…”

The end-of-lunch bell rang and the cafeteria volume rose as everyone started stacking their trays and gathering their things. A group of tall boys came up to Jim, one handing him Jim’s backpack and talking about practice after school. Liz looked to Pam and made a “let's go” motion with her head, and Pam chewed her lip while reluctantly grabbing her bag and following Liz. A few paces into the hallway, Pam looked to see Jim and his friends just coming out of the cafeteria. All the other boys went the opposite direction, leaving Jim by himself, and Pam set her jaw.

“I'll see you after class, Liz,” she stated, heading towards Jim and ignoring Liz calling her name in confusion. She approached his figure, still towering over her even though she was now standing, and hesitated before touching his shoulder.

He turned and when he realized who she was he smiled widely, and Pam felt a warm feeling in her stomach. “Hey Pam.”

“Hey, I just . . . you seemed like you were about to say something when the bell rang.” Pam stammered, no idea where she was going with this.

“Oh yeah,” Jim said with a laugh, “I didn't really have anything to say, just trying to think of something.”

“Okay,” Pam said, now having the same issue herself. “Well, thanks for the heads up about the yogurt,” she said, backing away a little.

“Can I walk with you to your class?” Jim said quickly, as if he wanted to get the words out before he lost the nerve.

Pam blushed a little, “Yeah, sure, it's painting, are you going that direction?”

Jim nodded, but Pam had a hunch he would have nodded no matter what, and they started down the hallway.

“So you play basketball?” Pam said.

“Are you just assuming that because I'm tall?” Jim replied in a rather serious tone.

Pam’s neck stiffened and she shook her head, “Oh, sorry, Liz said you were on the team-”

Jim smiled, “I'm kidding, Pam, yes I'm on JV.”

Pam laughed and looked down the floor, still no idea how to continue the conversation; she knew nothing about basketball, and was sure he didn't care much about art.

“What kind of paintings do you make?” Jim said after a moment.

Pam lifted her head and smiled, “Oh, um, this term we’re working on oils, I'm better with watercolor though. I like landscapes and still-lifes mostly.”

“I bet you’re awesome at oils,” Jim said, giving Pam that fuzzy feeling again with his compliment. “I can't do much beyond stick figures.”

“It just takes lot of practice, I'm sure basketball is the same,” Pam countered. As they approached the art classrooms, the display cases on the wall changed from sports trophies and academic plaques to drawings and paintings.

“Any of these yours?” Jim asked, looking at the names along the bottom of the art pieces.

“Oh yeah, um,” Pam walked a few places to near the end of the case, where her oil still-life had been mounted since the first class critique. “This one.”

Jim eyes widened a little at the painting. “You painted this?”

Pam nodded and couldn't help but smile as Jim so thoroughly studied the painting. “The theme was ‘decay’ thus the cow skull and the rotting fruit.”

“Yeah, it looks really morbid and artsy,” Jim teased. “But you really just captured everything, the colors and the shadows and the texture.”

“Are you a secret art critique?” Pam asked with a laugh.

“Nope, I just know talent when I see it,” Jim said with a quick glance at her. Pam wasn’t really sure what to think of all this, this lanky boy striking up conversations for no good reason, walking her to class, being rather observant with her art.

The 2-minute bell rang and Pam hated for this to have to end, she just wanted to walk down the hallways and chat with Jim all afternoon. “Well, thanks for walking me to class,” Pam said.

Jim smiled, “Thanks for show me your painting.”

“Hey, you, um, you can eat lunch with me and Liz any time.”

The corner of Jim’s mouth lifted into half smile he raised his brows, “Yeah?” Pam nodded and Jim then got a serious look on his face. “I don't know, I might miss some of the riveting, intellectual conversation with my teammates.”

“Oh really?” Pam said, started to get use to Jim’s style of banter. “Well, at least swing by and make sure my yogurt isn't expired.”

“Okay, I will for sure do at least that, tomorrow then?”

Pam smiled and nodded.

“Awesome,” Jim said with a grin. The final bell rang and Pam was sure she heard Jim mutter ‘shit’ under his breath. “Later, Pam!” he said, taking off down the hallway.

Pam laughed watching the lanky boy all but sprint, then blushed when she realized his class wasn't close to hers at all, that he would be late just because he wanted to talk to her.

The next day at lunch, after Pam looked at the cafeteria doors for the 50th time, Liz sighed heavily. “Pam, he's not gonna come eat with us.”

“Where is he then?” Pam asked, looking at the table where a number of basketball players sat.

“He’s probably skipping lunch so he at least doesn’t look like he's rejecting you," Liz said with a shrug. "But he'll be back with them Monday and pretend you two never talked.”

“He wouldn't do that,” Pam said quietly.

“He's a boy, and a jock, he would absolutely do that.”

“Why would he come talk to me and walk me to class and all that if he's just going to pretend nothing happened later?” Pam said, skeptical.

“I don't know, maybe he doesn't know the unspoken rule that jocks don't fraternize with art geeks, his friends probably filled him in at his jock-ball practice last night,” Liz said.

Pam picked her yogurt cup and scowled a little, “Yeah, you're probably right.”

Just as her thumb slipped under the tab of the yogurt lid, someone snatched it out of her hand. “Wait, wait!” Pam looked up to see Jim, squinting his eyes at the expiration date. “Okay, you’re good,” he set the yogurt down, walked to the other side of the table and took a seat. “Sorry, I had to talk to my English teacher about an essay extension,” he said, pulling a paper bag from from his backpack. “Hey Liz, Pam was showing me the art case and I noticed a really cool photo with your name under it.”

Pam held back a chuckle as Liz glanced at her, dumbfounded.

“The one that was a photo of a girl, but it was on top of a bunch of trees?” Jim explained.

Liz stared at Jim for a moment, and Pam kicked her foot under the table,  “Sorry, yeah, um, that’s an overlay.”

Pam peeled off her yogurt lid and couldn’t help but grin as Liz explained photography techniques in far too much detail for a novice to understand, but Jim listened intently and at least pretended to follow along. His eyes occasionally met Pam’s, corners of his mouth curling slightly, and Pam thought she may need to take back what she said to Liz yesterday about Jim Halpert not really being her type.

Chapter Text

August 2007

Pam had had her fair share of interviews; graduating with an art degree in a declining economy will make one very use to the interview process, and one style she always hated was the panel interview. She supposed she understood the purpose: stress out the candidate and evaluate how they perform under pressure.

The panel she was in front of today was the marketing director, art director, and project director of Osprey Marketing, and they were determining if she was good enough after a three month internship to come on as a junior designer. The art director was an art school friend named Alex, who actually helped Pam get this internship as he was one of the first people she called after leaving Roy and highly encouraged her to come to New York City. She was slightly concerned about their history back in art school, until she found out Alex was married with a baby now and figured they could put the past behind them.

The project director, Sarah, was in her late forties with a very stylish Manhattan haircut. Pam had not yet decided if Sarah disliked everyone or just disliked her but their conversations were always a bit terse, ending with Sarah saying, “Just get it done” no matter how ridiculous the clients needs were or how little time the interns had.

And then there was Danny Cordray. He was incredibly handsome, charismatic and came off to Pam as incredibly full of it, making marketing director a perfect fit for him. He thumbed through Pam’s portfolio and looked at her with an overly-confident and blindingly white grin. “Well, Pam, I think you’ve shown good potential so far.”

“Thank you, Danny, I really have learned a lot these three months,” Pam said with a smile, Danny didn’t seem satisfied unless people were smiling constantly, it reminded her a little of being a receptionist again, clients with nothing better to do complaining to her boss that the atmosphere was ‘cold’ if she didn’t greet them in the most cheerful of tones.

“Have any of your designs made it production?” Sarah asked, peering over at Pam’s portfolio with that borderline-scowling look on her face that she often had.

Osprey had four interns who sat in a small room and mostly got projects for small clients: local restaurants and boutique shops. “Yes, I’ve done several ad designs for various shops, and presented a couple logo redesigns.”

“What about for our larger clients?” Sarah asked.

“I’ve made it to the final cut on two larger clients,” Pam answered. The interns were also encouraged submit designs for bigger projects, like logos for hospitals and other large organizations, though Pam had yet to see an intern’s design get selected.

“But not selected,” Sarah said, her tone a bit dismissive.

“Sarah, you know the client never chooses the best design,” Alex added. “You remember the King & Queen’s Supermarket fiasco?”

Sarah gave a laugh that startled Pam, maybe because she had never heard the older woman laugh before. “I suppose you’re right.” Danny also chuckled and Pam make a mental note to ask Alex about this inside joke at some other time.

Danny closed Pam’s portfolio and leaned forward at the table, “I have one final, question, Pam.” He narrowed his eyes slightly and dropped the phony grin, Pam suspected he knew this expression somehow made him more good-looking in an almost intimidating way, and she hated that it was kind of working on her. “Where do you see yourself in 10 years?”

Her mind raced back to April, when she found that letter from her 18 year old self and decided to break off her engagement. Roy took it like she thought he would, he first was angry, driving over to Penny’s and making wild accusation about her cheating on him and trying to swindle him by collecting on canceled deposits. It ended with Penny’s boyfriend Matt, who thankfully was about as large as Roy was, escorting him away and telling him to stop making a damn fool of himself before a neighbor called the police. Then a week later came a series of late calls with Roy crying and sounding drunk, begging her to tell him what he did wrong, promising they could work it out. He sounded so miserable that she nearly gave in to his request to meet up and talk, only several long talks with Penny about how this would only lead to Pam going back to him and that she may never get the courage to leave if something went wrong again stopped Pam.

She heard nothing for three weeks and then Roy called again, sounding normal if a bit sad, asking to meet at a coffee shop so they could talk. Pam agreed, and decided she wouldn’t tell Penny until after the fact. Roy was surprisingly reflective about his part of it, said he realized how little he was doing for the wedding and that he wasn’t being considerate of her in general. He also apologized for the outburst at her sister’s and the drunken, tearful phone calls. “I just didn’t want to give up without a fight, but I went about it the complete wrong way.” Pam wondered if his sister, who Pam did get along with pretty well and was very aware of Roy’s domineering nature, had talked some sense into him.

They parted with a hug, and Pam knew she held on just a bit too long. She closed her eyes and remembered back when his blue eyes and dimples made her melt, how secure she once felt in his large arms and how good it often felt when he moved above her and inside her. He nestled his nose in the crook of her neck, her breath on her skin and she knew he was thinking the same thing, that maybe they can be together just one last time with no expectations.

Somewhere she found the strength (or maybe guilt installed by her sister’s many lectures) to drop her arms and step back, signaling the hug was over. It seemed to break the trance and he quickly dropped his arms as well, mumbled some well-wishes and walked off with slumped shoulders.

It was good closure, despite her nearly giving in at the end. She thought back to his line about not giving up without a fight, which in the moment she dismissed as macho nonsense, but as she thought about it, she was a little bit grateful he did try to “fight”, if only because it showed her that she made the right decision. And maybe, in some cases, it was good to “not give up without a fight.” There was one case in particular where she wondered if it would have made a difference.

And with that and the cancelling of the wedding, it was time to change everything, including every vision of where Pam saw herself in 10 years. She at the very least needed to try to make it as an artist, move to the city, intern somewhere and see where it takes. In 10 years she wanted look back at her 28-year-old self and say, “I tried my hardest and did my best.”

“Pam?”

She blinked and came back to the Osprey conference room, three pairs of eyes looking intently at her. “Right, in 10 years,” she said, putting on a smile. “Well should I be offered this junior designer position, I want to take the next few years to grow my skills and strengthen my experience. And I know in this field I need to always be prepared for changes in technology and in the needs and wants of the client, but I’m adaptable. I really hope whether I’m here or anywhere else that I have advanced in my career and grown as a professional designer.”

The smarmy smile returned to Danny’s face and he nodded. “Thank you, Pam.” He motioned Sarah and Alex to lean in a huddle, and Pam resisted the temptation to crane her neck and try to listen in. When the huddle broke, Danny stood and reached out his hand, “Well, Pam, congrats, you are Osprey’s newest junior designer.”

Pam’s eyes widened, “What?” She looked to Alex, who pushed his glasses up on his nose and gave her a big grin, then over to Sarah who actually had a smile on her face. “Oh my God, thank you!” She jumped to her feet to shake Danny’s hand. “I didn’t think…”

“We’d be crazy to let you slip away,” Danny said. “And we actually have your first project as a junior designer ready.”

“You do?”

“Yeah, I’ll let Alex and Sarah here take the lead, on that, I have a pitch to go make downtown,” Danny said. He walked around the table and stopped to give Pam’s shoulder a squeeze. “Well done Pam.”

“Thanks,” Pam replied, beaming.

“So this project is a completely branding of a subsidiary website of a paper company, they need logos, style guides, promotional materials, the works,” Sarah stared.

Pam, still on the high of learning she got the job, looked at Sarah a bit stunned. “Oh, I’m starting this project right now?”

Sarah smirked, “Yes, Alex was going to go meet with the CFO at 3pm but since you’re taking the lead we think it’s best for you to go.”

Pam looked over to Alex with wide eyes, “Like, by myself?”

“Well, I can certainly go with you if you’d like…” Alex stammered.

“Pam, I think you will handle things just fine, just read through the company profile and try impress Mr David Wallace as much as you impressed Mr. Cordrey today.” Pam had absolutely no idea how to interpret Sarah’s words, tone, or expression but somehow it felt like some kind of backhanded compliment.

Pam nodded and took the client folder, while Alex explained they would contract website coders to actually build the website, Pam would be more in charge of the layout and look. Her eyes scanned the company profile: mid-range paper company looking to modernize and compete with larger outlets like Staples and Office Depot. She read through the location of the branches, Stamford, Connecticut, Nashua New Hampshire, a bunch in Upstate New York, and narrowed her eyes when she read the last one: Scranton, Pennsylvania.

“Alright, Pam, well, you know where to find us with any other questions, and if you want to take lunch and then head to midtown, that’s fine,” Sarah said as she gathered her documents.

Alex watched Sarah leave the conference room, then his eyes met Pam’s. “Pam, I am fine going with you if you’d like, just because Sarah likes to ‘throw them in the deep end’...”

“It’s okay, Alex, I think she’s right, since I’m taking the lead, I should go alone. I can always ask you for help later.” She smiled, “Besides, I think I have a good lead in there.”

The subway to midtown was sweltering to the point that Pam took off her jacket so as not to sweat through it. She wiped her brow and tried to remember where on earth she heard the name of this company before. If they were a small paper company in Scranton, they were surely around when she was growing up. Maybe they came to her school’s career fair or sponsored some sporting events, it was just so familiar.

She arrived at the Midtown skyscraper well ahead of schedule and was able to freshen up her sweated-off makeup in the lobby restroom before boarding the elevators. Her hair sadly now had a slight frizz but it would just have to do.

Pam didn’t have to wait long before being called back to David Wallace’s office by a tall, beautiful, bluetooth-wearing assistant. Pam walked behind her, looking closely at the carpet and not paying attention to the name plaques on the doors.

To Pam’s great relief, David Wallace was far more approachable than other executive types she had encountered in New York. He had a kind face and softer tone to his voice that put Pam instantly at ease. He actually reminded her of an older version of Alex with his dark hair and glasses.

“So how long have you been working at Osprey, Pam?” David asked, organizing some documents on his desk.

“Three months,” Pam said somewhat reluctantly.

“Okay, and how long have you been doing graphic design?”

Pam took a deep breath in an attempt to calm her nerves. “Design was my concentration in school, and I’ve done a good amount of freelance, but Osprey is actually my first full-time design job.” David pressed his lips together, clearly not impressed with her lack of experience, and Pam quickly rummaged through her bag. “Here’s some of my work,” she said, handing him her portfolio.

David’s face went from skeptical to impressed as he flipped through the pages, “Well I worked with Osprey at my previous company so I know if Danny and Sarah have confidence in you, then I do also.”

“Thank you, sir,” Pam said, restraining her smile. “I, um, I saw that Dunder Mifflin had a branch in Scranton, which is funny, because I grew up there.”

David smiled, “That’s great, actually, you’ll be working closely with our VP of sales who came out of the Scranton branch.”

“Oh really?”

“Yes,” he glanced through the glass panes by his office door. “Looks like he’d back from a meeting. I’ll grab him,” he said, stand and walked around his desk.

Pam straightened the hem of her skirt, snapping her head towards David when he called for a “Jim.” Her heart rate increased and she felt a dryness in her mouth before telling herself to snap out of it, there were probably thousand "Jims from Scranton" in New York City.

David walked back to his chair, “Jim’s been in New York about three months as well, just came from the Stamford branch but was in Scranton for a time. But it’ll be good  that you’re both from there, I think you two will really have a feel for the market and what kind of site to make.” His eyes returned to the door and and Pam started to slowly turn in her seat. “There he is, our VP of sales.”

She at this point had rotated enough recognize the figure, lanky as she remembered. Her eyes fell on his hands everything felt like slow motion as they travel up the sleeve to the lapel, then a white collar, then a familiar pair of lips, then a nose and finally on a set of hazel-green eyes that she foolishly thought she had forgotten, which looked every bit as stunned as she felt.

“Jim.” she somehow choked out.

Chapter Text

August 2007

Jim kind of hated his new job.

There were definitely things he liked, the money was good for one, he genuinely liked David Wallace and worked well with him, and having an actual office with a door and a Midtown Manhattan view was pretty nice.

The commuting was definitely wearing him out. In Stamford his place was ten minutes from work, he'd head to work in the morning at a quarter to 8, and after work he would hit the store, have dinner ready by 6:00, 6:30 if he and Karen were making something fancy, go to bed after the sports segment and get plenty of sleep. Now commuting was taking two hours out of his day, and that was just to Manhattan. It was expected of his position to visit all the branches once each quarter. Early on he did an overnight stay in Nashua, two weeks ago he did the upstate New York circuit, flying to Buffalo and then driving a rented car back, stopping at several branches along the way. And, thanks to the constant crises of one Michael Scott, he had been to Scranton a half dozen times. He didn't mind the actual visiting of branches, he actually rather liked being back in a slower paced office and around regular office workers, but the driving and the hotel sleeping was tedious.

He couldn't decide if it was was helping or hurting his relationship with Karen. She was of course thrilled he got the job, and was able to pick up his Assistant Regional Manager position in Stamford along with a raise. Jim's lease was up in May, so they decided to take the plunge and have him move in with her, which was just as well since he was always over at her place anyway. But even though they lived together now, the commuting was cutting into their personal time; she was usually still in bed when he left in the morning, and they didn't cook together on the weekdays anymore, which he kind of missed.

They did now have a standing Friday Manhattan date, she'd take off early from work, take the train in and meet him in the lobby in a slinky cocktail dress, always with a restaurant chosen and usually tickets to a show reserved. It was fun, certainly, going out on the town with his beautiful girlfriend, but not really any more fun than sitting at home in sweatpants, eating Chinese take-out and watching a rented movie.

The show-absolutely-no-affection-at-work rule was still in effect. It was for the best, now that Jim was actually Karen's superior rather than just technically. He pushed it too far about a month ago, when Karen and Josh came to the corporate offices for a meeting. Karen's hair was up, her long neck exposed, causing Jim be entirely unfocused on the meeting as he could only think about his lips on her tan skin. After the meeting, he very professionally asked her if she wanted to tour the corporate office and the newly remodeled breakroom. She lifted a brow but agreed anyway. When they passed the handicap restroom, he quickly surveyed the hall and when he saw no one around grabbed her arm and pulled her into the restroom. He latched the lock and gently pushed her against the wall opposite the sink.

"Jim," she said in an almost annoyed tone before his lips were on hers, one hand on her waist and the other stroking her beautiful neck.

"I could barely get through that meeting," he said, low and husky.

"Jim." she said more firmly, though not resisting his kisses yet.

"You know how distracting your neck is," he growled, nipping at tan skin below her earlobe, his fingers slipping just under the waistband of her work trousers.

"Jim!" She all but shoved him away. "What is wrong with you?"

He took a couple heavy breaths, feeling himself grow angry at her disgusted face. Was he really that repulsive to her? "I just…"

"Just what, thought you'd try to get us both fired?" she snapped, straightening out her blouse. "Jesus, sex in the corporate bathroom? I guess we'd at least top Jan."

He scoffed, he wasn't going to try to have sex with her, he just wanted to make out a bit, see her smile at him for the first time today, see if she was thinking about him as much he was thinking about her.

"Seriously, Jim, what is the deal?"

He looked down to his shined shoes, "I hate that you pretend we're nothing when we're at work."

Now she was scoffing, "What, do you think I'm doing that to hurt you? We have to be professional, anyone gets a whiff of favoritism-"

"I know, I know," he shoved his hand in his pockets. "You just do it so easily, I wish I could too," he said in a halfway sarcastic tone.

Karen shook her head, "Let's … not have this conversation right now." She walked to the door and unlocked the deadbolt. "Wait a few minutes before you leave this room, okay?"

She was gone before he could even say anything, and he leaned against the wall, barely able to look at the figure in the mirror.

When he got home, there was a long talk about their relationship, something Karen was fond of whenever they had a spat. He agreed that he crossed the line and that they do need to be professional when at work together. She agreed that being professional didn't mean having to be so cold towards him. The evening ended with him lying back on the bed and her on top, gyrating her hips in a way that made him almost forget her earlier rejection and describing in very not-suitable-for-work terms how badly she wanted him to take her right on the conference room table earlier. Not sixty second after they finished, she was asking what kind of restaurant they wanted to go to for their Friday Manhattan date. He casually tried suggesting they just stay in and order Chinese. She blew off the 'staying in' part but did recall hearing about a dim sum place in the West Village they could try. He didn't argue.

Jim kind of hated his job, especially now that he had been put in charge of 'New Media'. Since he was the youngest VP, the belief was he'd be the most tech savvy and the best choice to bring Dunder Mifflin into the 21st century with an actual functioning website. And of course he agreed to it, even though he could barely use the Blackberry he was all but assigned to when he took the job.

When David called him into his office, Jim kept a sigh to himself but did remember the designer working with Dunder Mifflin on this website was coming in today. He hoped this designer could just take the lead because Jim certainly had no idea what he was doing. Jim also hoped the designer was friendly and genuine, not like that phony cheese ball Danny Cordray.

He almost knew who it was just from her hand, small with slender fingers, a freckle on one of the knuckles. His breath caught when he saw her golden brown curls, and he's sure his heart stopped momentarily once he saw her face, her wide green eyes which still entered his thoughts far more often than he would ever admit.

She seemed equally speechless, managing to say his name in a small, shaky voice.

"Jim, Pam was just telling me she's also from Scranton."

Jim took far too long to process David's words, and looked to the CFOs confused face. His inner-salesman finally kicked back into gear and he smiled. "Pam Beesly, wow," he took her small hand and gave it a firm shake, her arm was limp as a noodle. "This is crazy, David, Pam and I actually went to high school together."

"Oh really?" David said smiling, turning to Pam.

She slowly stood and smoothed out the wrinkles in her clothes, a small smile on her face, although her eyes were still wide with shock. "Um, yeah, yeah we did."

"Well, I think this collaboration was just meant to be, then." David walked over to his desk, grabbing a portfolio and a folder, "Let's move to the conference room and start in on the details of this project."

"Sounds good, I need to pop in my office real fast if that's alright," Jim said, pointing his thumb back over his shoulder.

"Absolutely, Pam and I will go set up," David said, motioning to Pam the direction of the conference room. Jim maintained his grin until he reached his office, once the door was latched behind him he leaned against it and pushed the heel of his palms into his eyes.

That turned out to be a mistake as closing his eyes just allowed memories to play more vividly in his mind. They were all of her green eyes; wide when he grabbed a yogurt cup from her tray in the cafeteria, shiny when he arrived late to her art show but still just in time, bright when they agreed to go on a date date together; focused when he leaned in to kiss her, searching when he so tentatively pushed into her for the first time, worried when their cars went in different directions to different universities, red and wet when she said she couldn't do it anymore.

Snap of out it, Halpert, he told himself. It was nearly 10 years ago, they were just kids and it was just high school. If he could work every day for the past year with someone he was sleeping with, he should be able to handle working for a few weeks on a website with someone he dated 10 years ago.

He shook out his arms and hands and took a few deep breaths before leaving his office and heading into the conference room where David and Pam were already seated, David's assistant Candace was booting up a laptop for them to use. Candace then asked if anyone wanted tea or coffee.

Black tea, splash of milk, no sugar, he unconsciously thought.

"I'll have Earl Grey, and if you can put in just a little milk that'd be good," Pam said.

"And for you, Mr Halpert?" Candace asked.

"Um, coffee, black, two sugars," Jim said. He caught Pam's eye and she smiled slightly, he wondered if she had just correctly predicted his drink order like he predicted hers.

As long as he didn't look directly at Pam too much, he was doing fine in the meeting, talking about the goals of the website and estimates from the Dunder Mifflin bean counters of how much it would add to business. He did make the mistake of looking at her left hand, the lack of a ring making him nervous. The nervousness turned to near panic when Candace poked her head in, saying David had a call.

"I should take this, but you two keep chatting," David said, leaving the conference room.

Jim tried to keep up his don't-look-directly-at-Pam-too-much method, flipping to the next page and talking about user interfaces. He stopped and looked up to her wide eyes, "I hope you know what a user interface it because I sure as hell don't."

Pam let out a laugh and the tension finally dissipated a bit.

"So this is weird, right?" Jim asked quietly. Pam nodded in agreement. "And like getting weirder the longer we pretend it isn't weird?" he added.

Pam laughed again, "Yeah, acknowledging that now might stop the progression of weirdness."

"Okay, then weirdness acknowledged," Jim said with a smile. He knitted his brows, "So, um, how have you been?"

Pam tilted her head, "Fine, well, it's been a rough few months, but I got an internship at Osprey and as of today I'm a junior designer there, so things are better."

"Rough few months?" Jim said, eyebrow raised.

"Yeah, um," her right hand instinctively covered her left, specially her left ring finger, "I was actually suppose to get married this summer. But... it didn't work out."

"Sorry to hear that," Jim said, though he couldn't say he was very sorry.

"It was for the best, it lead me to moving to New York and trying out design." She stared at his hand resting on the conference table. "How about you?"

"Can't complain, got this job a few months back, living in Connecticut." For a second he considered not mentioning Karen but it didn't feel right to do so, "Um, my girlfriend and I are looking into moving a bit closer."

There was a flash of sadness on her face at the word 'girlfriend', or at least Jim thought there was, but Pam quickly covered it up with a smile. "Great."

"Like, really only just researching, not like we'll be closing on anything any time soon," Jim's mouth kept moving despite his brain's desperate pleas to stop. "I don't really want to move but the commute is a drag."

Pam nodded and smiled politely, and Jim felt the awkwardness setting back in.

"Did you, uh, did you go to the reunion?" he asked.

"I was about to ask you that," Pam said. "No, with me moving here, the timing of it didn't work out."

"Yeah, same with me and getting this job," Jim said. He traced his finger along the edge of the table, thinking about his silly letter to himself and the photo collage with him and Pam in the hallway holding hands. "Do you get that packet-"

"Sorry about that, " David said, rushing back into the conference room. Jim jumped a little in his seat, and Pam looked startled as well. David pulled his chair up and brought his laced fingers up on the table, "Pam, do you think you can outline the site development on the design end?"

Pam gave Jim a bit of a panicked look, to which Jim tried to smile reassuringly. You've got this, Beesly, he tried to say with his eyes. Pam seemed to get the message and she smiled, took a breath, and flipped through some of her papers. "The first step will be settling on a logo, from that we will have the colors and a basic style that we will want to carry through the site. We also want to focus on having an attractive and intuitive user interface," Pam glanced over at Jim and gave him a wink, causing Jim to wonder if he was maybe having heart trouble as it seemed to be stopping and starting in intervals. "No point to making the site if no one likes using it."

She rattled off a few more design terms and set up the general time-line for the site design, handling every question that David threw at her with ease. Jim couldn't help but feel a little proud.

"So should we plan on the three of us meeting again and looking at some logo ideas in, say, one week?" David asked, "Is that enough time, Pam?"

Pam nodded as she gathered her things, "That would be fine." Everyone stood and Pam shook David's hand. "I'm really excited about this opportunity." She then turned to Jim and offered her hand, "Jim, it was really good to see you."

Earlier in David's office, he was much too nervous to think much about the fact that they were touching, but this time he took her hand a little slower, as small and warm as he remembered. Their eyes met and he gave her hand a small squeeze. "I'm looking forward to working with you."

Pam said her good-byes and left the conference room, shyly looking back at Jim at least twice. He blinked and was back in the hallways of Scranton High School, watching her go to class with her paint-stained backpack over her shoulder, her ponytail bouncing as she turned her head to look at him.

"Well, Jim, I was a little skeptical about her lack of real-world experience but I think this is going to work out," David said, interrupting Jim's daydreaming. "I can tell you two have a great rapport, which is good since you'll be working so closely on this."

Jim felt his mouth go dry, what did David mean by 'closely'? But he managed to stammer out that he agreed with David, and the men left the room to go to their respective offices.

Jim kind of hated his job, he hated the commute and the dress code, he hated the weird strain it was putting on his relationship with his girlfriend, and he hated being in charge of "new media".

And yet, for the first time, he was also kind of excited about his job.

Chapter Text

March 1996

Jim Halpert had a problem. He had a crush, a desperate and unbearable crush, on a girl who only saw him as a friend.

The crush started about seven months ago, when he was in Literature and was seated one row over and one seat behind a girl with curly hair, green eyes and a pretty smile. Her name was Pamela Beesly, though she was quick to ask the teacher to just call her Pam. She was friends with the girl behind her and at the beginning of class or during pairs exercises Pam was often turned in her seat and Jim could hear and see her easily. Jim felt like he got to know her pretty well through the semester; he learned she was into drawing and painting, that she had an eclectic taste in movies, and her favorite music was Alternative Rock with some TLC and cheesy 80s mixed in. She had a sister in 8th grade, same as his little sister Larissa. And with the way she talked about her weekend plans, he was pretty sure she didn't have a boyfriend.

Jim did his best to act like he wasn't eavesdropping but he wanted to hear everything, and when he and Pam made eye contact once or twice every class he would smile, hoping maybe she'd include him in their conversation. She would smile back, a slight pink tint would reach her cheeks, but that was about as far as interactions went.

And sadly, thanks to basketball season, his schedule was moved around and he wasn't in Literature or any class with her the next semester. He figured between not having classes with her and being preoccupied by basketball, the crush would fade. But then he would see Pam in the cafeteria, smiling and laugh, and he'd get the same flutter in his chest that he got all last semester.

He rarely talked to his parents or siblings about things like this, crushes and girlfriends, but when his older brother Tom was home from college one weekend, Jim asked him how Tom would go about talking to a girl he liked but wasn't in class with and didn't have any friends in common with. Jim tried to bring it up casually, playing video games in the basement.

"Uh oh, does Jimmy have a crush?" Tom teased.

Jim rolled his eyes, "Just, what do I say that doesn't make me sound like a weirdo?"

"Who is it?" Tom had only graduated from Scranton High School the previous year, and Jim knew his older brother considered himself knowledgeable of all the pretty girls in the entire school.

"You don't know her," Jim mumbled.

"Freshman, huh?"

"She my year, and she's not a cheerleader or a booster so I doubt you know her," Jim snapped.

Tom's eyes widened a bit before he let out a laugh, "Wow, yeah, you got it bad!"

Jim tossed his video game controller on the floor and stood up, "Forget it."

"Aw, c'mon Jimmy!" Tom said.

"What's going on?" Their father had just come down the stairs, heading for the fridge full of sodas and beer.

"Jim's too scared to talk to a girl he likes," Tom said with a grin.

His dad arched an eyebrow at Jim and smiled slightly before turning to Tom, "Don't you have an essay due on Monday?"

"Yeah," Tom said, turning back to the TV and resuming his game.

"You think you wanna get working on that, or is my tuition money going towards yet another C?"

Tom looked back to their father's rather stern face, then switched off the game and grumbled as he stood and walked to the steps. Jim's dad gave Jim a smile and a shrug, then grabbed a beer and a soda and asked Jim to sit down with him.

"Asking your brother for girl advice, huh?" his dad said with a smirk, handing Jim the soda can.

Jim scratched the back of his neck and tilted his head down, knowing his cheeks were bright red. "Yeah, dumb idea."

Dad popped open his beer and took a sip, "So, wanna tell me about her?"

Not really, Jim thought, but he figured he needed to say something to get his family off his case, "She was in my lit class and I would overhear her talk to her friend, and she seems like she's really funny and really nice, but, I don't know, we don't really have anything in common and now we're not even in class together anymore."

His dad nodded and took another swig of beer. "Did I ever tell you about meeting your mom?" he asked after a moment.

"Yeah, you guys met at Penn State," Jim said, bracing himself for some pointless 'when I was your age' anecdote.

Dad chuckled, "Yes, we did. But did I tell you how?" Jim shook his head and Dad smiled, "Well, she worked in the library, I asked her to help me find a book for a research paper one day and she was so cute and sweet and immediately I got the biggest crush on her. But, I had no idea how to get something going beyond asking her for help at the library."

Jim finally looked up and sat a little straighter. "Why did you do?"

"Well, one day, after really jazzing myself up for it, I walked up to her desk and said that I was looking for a novel to read for fun and if she had any suggestions. She kinda smiled and told me a few of her favorite books to read, so I went and checked a couple out. I read through them and when I returned them, I made sure she was at the check-in desk and talked about how much I enjoyed her suggestions, just went on-and-on about it. I slipped in there that we should grab a coffee and talk more about the books. She smiled and said okay, and well, we've been together since."

Jim looked down to the soda can in his hands, "Were you afraid she was going to say no?"

"Of course I was, but I figured, worst thing would be she says no and I'm too embarrassed to set foot in the library for a week, and that I could get over that. But I wouldn't get over not trying and potentially losing out on something great." His dad leaned forward and looked Jim in the eyes, "Jim, in my experience, most good things are pretty scary at first. But you can't get the good things if you don't try."

The words stuck with Jim, that he can't get the good things if he doesn't try. He had to at least try and talk to Pam, but when could he do it? Smiling at her when they were near each other in the cafeteria line wasn't getting it, nor was trying to encourage his basketball teammates to sit a little closer to the windows where she always sat with her dark-haired friend.

Then came the day Jim noticed his yogurt was expired. Instinctively, he looked over to Pam only to see the same pink cup on her tray and a ridiculous plan formed in his head: this was his chance. His brain tried to talk him out of it, listing the reasons it was dumb to go over there and tell her her yogurt was probably expired, and that she would think he was a creep. But she turned and smiled at him and immediately the rest of his body signed onto the dumb plan and he stood and made his way to her table.

So far the dumb plan was working, kind of. Jim was having lunch with Pam and her friend Liz nearly every day, talking and laughing with them and then walking with Pam to painting class afterwards. And he really liked that, having a new friend, especially someone as funny and sweet and talented as Pam was. But once in a while their hands would bump together in the hallway, and he would remember, great as this friendship was, how much he wanted to be more than that.

It sometimes was worst than just not talking to her, being her friend but also having such a hopeless crush. He had no idea how to tell her without it making it weird, or without jeopardizing the friendship they were forming. She would have to make the first move in that direction, he reckoned, although he was doing his best to give her the opportunities to hopefully make that first move.

One big opportunity came up in early March: her art show. Pam found him at last week at his locker, handing him a flyer and shyly asking if he could come. She had earned a featured spot and would have a whole display dedicated to her work. He said he would of course come to the show and the smile she gave him made his heart beat twice as fast.

But now there was a problem: The Scranton Boys Varsity Basketball Team was on a roll, going to the conference championship game for the first time in a decade. The game was scheduled for Friday - at the same time as the opening reception for the school art show. Jim was finished with the junior varsity season, but the pressure was high for the JV players to attend, to the point that his coach said any JV player that skips the game better have a doctor's note to excuse them. The coach laughed, but every player knew he was only half-kidding.

Jim reluctantly mention Pam the game while walking to her painting class, and that it was kind of important for him to go. "I'm so sorry, I would much rather go to your art show."

"That's fine, I understand why your coach wants you to go. Besides, the show will be up for a month." If Pam was upset she hid it well, her smiled seemed sincere.

"Can a request a personal tour at a later date then?" Jim asked with a smirk.

Her cheeks reddened a little, "We'll see if I have time."

"Because you're going to be just too famous after Friday?" Jim teased.

"That's right," Pam replied. They said their goodbyes in the hallway and he watched her go into class. Usually she would look back at him and smile before walking into the classroom but today she kept her head tilted down and never looked to him.

Friday came and at lunch Jim, on his way to sit down with Pam, was intercepted by his teammates, insisting he eat lunch with them today. He looked to over Pam, who smiled weakly and gave a shrug, and Jim smiled back before sitting with his team. The cafeteria all but broke out into a pep rally when the principal came over the loud speaker to wish the team luck; everyone at Jim's table stood and started hooting and hollering. "Oh, and there is also the opening reception of the art show in the library from five to seven pm." The principal added at the end. Jim couldn't bring himself to look at Pam.

The conference champion game was definitely a thriller. With five minutes to go, Scranton High was maintaining a consistent lead, though Dunmore was only ever behind by one or two scores. Jim looked to his watch: 6:40. If the game finished in exactly five minutes, he could maybe slip out, and make it to the library with a few minutes to spare. But between a lengthy time out and some arguing between the coaches and refs, the game clock was hardly budging.

Jim looked again, 6:45pm, still three-and-a-half minutes on the game clock, and another delay due to another time out. Jim looked to the gym door; he was at the end of the bench and could possibly slip out unnoticed.

"Halpert!" Jim had gotten only about five feet from the bench before his coach shouted at him. "You got somewhere better to be?"

At least six pairs of eyeballs were on him and Jim started shuffling back. Then he paused: sure, he wanted to see his high school get the conference title. But he also has made a promise to his friend (that he just happened to have a hopeless crush on) to be there for her first art show.

"Halpert!" Jim ignored his coach before the gym door slammed behind him. He was in full sprint down the hall to the main staircase, then up and to the left for the library.

The reception table was being cleaned up and it appeared the only people there were the art teachers and a handful of students. Jim looked quickly around the maze of temporary displays and then got the attention of one of the teachers.

"Excuse me, is, um, is Pam Beesly still here?" he asked.

The teacher nodded and pointed towards the back of the library, gently reminding Jim he had about ten minutes. Jim thanked her and made his way through the art maze, nervous when he saw a ponytail of golden brown curls. She was facing away from him, playing with the long sleeves of her purple turtleneck.

"Hey," he called to her softly.

Pam turned quickly, her eyes widening when she saw him. "Jim, hi. Is - is the game over?"

Jim tiled his head from side-to-side, "More or less."

"Okay" Pam said, suspicious. "Who won?"

"I think they are both winners for the hard fought game," Jim said. He took a step closer to the display and started to study her paintings. "Wow, these are all amazing. I bet everyone was crowding around your display."

"Um, sure, I mean, my parents and little sister came, a few friends."

"Well, I'm going to make sure all my friends come by and see these also," Jim said.

"Jim," Pam said softly after a moment. "Did you… leave the game early to come here?"

Jim looked to her out of the side of his eye, and gave a small smile with a shrug.

"Isn't your coach going to be mad?"

"I think he's already mad, he kind of yelled at me as I left the gym." He looked to Pam, her eyes even wider than before and her fingers nervously lacing together. "Hey, my only regret is that I didn't ditch the game sooner. Because judging by the crumbs on the reception table, I missed a pretty mean snack plate."

Pam giggled, the worried expression mostly leaving her face.

"And besides, the most important thing is to be there for my friend," Jim said quietly. He looked at her nervously, and her slightly red and shiny eyes studied his face.

"Okay, everyone, we'll be closing the doors in five minutes," a teacher shouted across the room.

Jim turned to Pam, "I hope the offer of a personal art show tour at a later date still stands."

"Like I said before, we'll see," Pam said with a smirk.

Jim shuffled his feet, trying to jazz himself up for his next question. "Hey, um, are you hungry?" Pam nodded and it gave Jim the little bit of extra courage he needed. "I was thinking we could get some burgers."

"Okay, yeah, um, I have my car here, what about you?"

"Nah, I was going to catch a ride, so, this works out well." He nodded towards the door, "Ready?"

Pam smiled and they walked side-by-side out of the library, down the stairs and out the door. As they walked towards the parking lots, they heard cheering and car horns coming from the gymnasium side of the school.

"Sounds like we won," Jim said.

"Yeah, sounds like," Pam replied. She was silent for a moment before shyly saying, "I'm sorry you missed it."

"I'm not," Jim said, tossing her a smile then looking back ahead. After a few paces he felt a brush against his knuckles, and then something curled around his fingers. He tried not to react, worried if he looked at her with the slightly dumbfound look he knew he had on his face that she may pull her hand away. Instead he gave her fingers a squeeze and started asking her what her favorite burger toppings and milkshake flavors were. Her hand stayed in his until they reached her car.

There was definitely going to be hell to pay the next time he saw his teammates or his coach, but Jim wasn't sorry. Not one bit.