There's no way Pam can stay in Scranton after she ends things with Jim, so she gives her notice at work and calls Sarah from art school.
"Would you mind if I came?" she asks, even though they've hardly talked since Pam dropped out. It's her own fault, really: once she quit the program and came home her time in New York just receded into a kind of vague watercolor blur, fuzzier by the day until it was almost like it never happened at all, some thought she entertained for awhile. "Only until I find a place of my own. I just--" Pam swallows, blinking, blinking again. "Really would like to be someplace that's not here."
She must sound completely hysterical and desperate because Sarah agrees without even asking why. "Of course," she says, like it's not totally random and a giant imposition, and Pam thinks it's possible she'll cry from relief. She clutches her cell phone in one sweaty hand. "Stay as long as you need."
They throw her a miserable goodbye party in the conference room, a Powerpoint slideshow set to Madonna's "Take a Bow", Michael making Runaway Bride jokes. Jim's taking some vacation time. He won't return her calls.
Toby comes over and hands her a piece of ice cream cake, the plate buckling precariously under its melty heft. Pam steels herself a little. He's been giving her these mournful hangdog looks all week, like she's abandoning him personally by leaving Dunder Mifflin, and Pam is sorry but she just cannot take anybody else's disappointment right now. "So, when you get to New York," he begins sadly, like New York is Saskatchewan or the moon or the bottom of a well. "What are you going to do?"
Pam almost laughs, because that's the million dollar question, right? She has no idea. She separates the layers of ice cream with her fork, a complicated excavation. "They have phones everywhere, don't they?" she asks eventually, looking out the window at the office. "I'll guess I'll just... find some to answer."
Sarah is amazing, really: she's got a job with Random House designing jackets for picture books and a great little apartment near Columbia, up by the park. She doesn't pry. They go for pizza in Brooklyn and drink a lot of wine and sit on the floor inside the Temple of Dendur at the Met; Pam applies for about a thousand jobs and signs herself up for a still-life class at the 92nd Street Y. She's okay. She is Keeping Busy. She walks so much that when she collapses onto the futon at night she's too exhausted to cry, to go cold and clammy with panic that she's completely and irreversibly destroyed the best thing--the best person--in her life.
She usually does that in the shower instead.
After a week of traipsing through tenements that are all way out of her price range, Pam answers an ad on Craigslist for a place on 16th street that's only a little more than she can afford: 1 BR in 2BR apt--high ceilings, creaky floors. Good light. No dishwasher, you lazy slob. Dogs okay. No hipsters. The email she gets back is from someone named Pacey wanting to know if she can come by this weekend to take a look. Pam doesn't know if Pacey is a girl's name or a guy's name--this is the kind of problem you run into if you've spent your entire life in Scranton, Pennsylvania and everyone you ever knew is named Amanda or Mike--but she decides it doesn't matter as long as he/she doesn't look visibly homicidal. She's worried she's already worn out her welcome. She's worried she's already getting worn out.
"I'm coming with you," Sarah decides on Saturday, tossing her Life & Style on the ottoman. One of the many benefits of living in Sarah's apartment is unlimited access to gossip magazines. Both of them are rooting for Jessica Simpson. "To see this place."
"Are you sure?" Pam asks, digging around in her bag for her little pop-up subway map. "I can really just meet you at the thing later." They're supposed to go to this installation in the Village later on, this crazy thing with mirrors she read about online. Pam gets a tiny thrill out of calling it the Village, like she's lived here for more than nine days.
Sarah shrugs. "Whatever. It's fine. I don't want you to get lost again. And I'm concerned this genderless person is going to be super shady."
"A genderless villain?" Pam asks, laughing a little. It feels nice, like she's stretching a muscle she hasn't used in awhile.
"Yeah, go ahead and make fun, but when I save you from the Asexual Serial Killer of the Lower East Side you're going to be glad I tagged along. Now come on, Pamela," Sarah says, scooting her out the front door and locking the deadbolt behind them. "Let's go find you a home."
It turns out Pacey is a guy, which feels kind of weird to her. But Pam's a New Yorker now, right? Guy roommate, no big deal. And anyway, Pacey doesn't look like a serial killer. He just looks normal, harmless, like the kind of guy your grandma would set you up with.
He gives Pam and Sarah the tour in a half-hearted, casual kind of way, naming rooms as they walk past the doorways. "Living room, my room, your room, kitchen." The room that would be Pam's is completely empty, so it echoes when she walks in and Sarah inspects the closet space. There isn't much of it--it's New York--but the apartment's actually a little bigger than she expected. Which means for a Scranton apartment it's tiny, but you probably get used to that at some point.
Pacey's room is a mess, the floor covered in clothes, the sheets crumpled. It's going to be weird if she takes the place--living with a guy but not living with him. A guy with his own room. The bathroom has that vaguely dingy look to it that guys' bathrooms always seem to get, where it's not exactly filthy, but you get the impression it hasn't been really cleaned since maybe the Reagan administration. At least the living room's a little better, even if there's still stuff scattered on the available surfaces, unopened junk mail on the coffee table. The Mets are on the muted TV, and the couch has a sheet thrown over it as a cover, like all her friends' couches did in college. She just hopes it's covering stains and not, like, springs sticking out of it.
As Sarah's looking out one of the windows, checking out the view of the street down below, Pam says, "What happened to your last roommate?"
Pacey's standing in the doorway with his hands in his pockets. "Moved in with his girlfriend," he says, making a rueful face. Somehow taken together, his face and his tone imply this is an inexplicable mistake otherwise reasonable people persist in making, but that he guesses they have to learn for themselves. It's kind of funny, the way he says it. After Jim and Roy, Pam knows the feeling, and for a second she wonders what happened there, with Pacey.
The morning light is coming yellow through the windows, making even the shabby things around look warmer, nicer. It hits Pacey's chest, lighting up the blue of his t-shirt and leaving his face in shadow. "You have a dog?" he asks.
"No," Pam says, looking around to see how many outlets there are. She counts two right off the bat, and there's probably another one behind the couch.
"Too bad," Pacey says, and when she glances over at him he smiles a little. She can't tell if he's joking or not. "I tend bar," he says. "So my hours are a little weird. Hope that wouldn't bother you."
"No, that's fine," Pam says, and asks how much the utilities usually run, and this is by far the best place she's been able to almost afford. Well, the only place she's been able to almost afford, but it's not like it's terrible. Plus, she's really cramped Sarah for long enough. And she likes the light.
When she says she'll take the place, Pacey just asks when she can move in.
The first night Pam spends in her new place is strange. Pacey's working, so she's there all alone, and it feels strangely dark and quiet, even though it's also a relief not to have to make small talk with a stranger when she's all exhausted from moving. Not that she had all that much stuff to move, but still.
She lies in her new bed, staring at the ceiling, and can't sleep. There's noise drifting up from the street--she's still not to used to that, to city noise all the time--and she listens to it, someone yelling in a language she doesn't know, a car honking. Light from the streetlights slats dim through the blinds, and she was planning on getting up early to send out more resumes, so she really needs to sleep, not lie here thinking about Jim, but she can't seem to make her mind stop turning.
She tries not to check her phone to see the time every five minutes, but it's 1:15, then 1:41, then 2:19. She hears a key turning in the front door, then the jingle of keys getting tossed down on the coffee table. She lies there listening to Pacey's footsteps in the hallway, to the refrigerator opening. It's weird, having a guy she doesn't really know living out there, living with her. Weird listening to the little going-to-bed noises of someone who's not Jim. Water running in the bathroom, shoes getting kicked off, the bedroom door opening and closing again. Weird, and it should be unsettling to have him out there, but she must fall asleep pretty soon after that because she doesn't check her phone again until 9 in the morning. It's the latest she's slept in a long time.
Somehow she lands an interview at a gallery in Williamsburg on Tuesday afternoon--an assistant to an assistant kind of thing, mostly phones, but still there's no way she's going to get it--and when she makes it back to the apartment Pacey is standing barefoot in the little kitchen, a pile of onions on the cutting board. "Hey," he calls, turning down the music--he's blasting Stevie Wonder, which she thinks is sort of amusing--and wiping his hands on his jeans. "How'd it go?"
"It was okay," Pam says, hedging. She's exhausted--job interviews turn her into a basket case, Insecurities on Parade. "I think I might be grossly underqualified."
Pacey makes a face. "Bullshit, you nailed it. I can already tell you're one of those girls who cries about failing all the time, and then the test comes back and you got a hundred and two, because you did the extra-credit."
"You have to do the extra-credit!" Pam protests, laughing. "Just in case."
"Uh-huh. And meanwhile, I was crying about failing all the time, too, but I was actually failing, so... different."
"Right." Pam wants to tell him she's living proof that being an overachiever in school has absolutely nothing to do with being an overachiever in life, but she thinks they probably don't know each other that well yet. "What're you making?" she asks instead, calling over her shoulder as she goes into her room and changes out of the one suit she owns into a pair of cotton pajama pants. She's got things set up almost how she wants them, a framed Rothko poster on one wall, some doodles her grandmother did back in the forties. On her dresser are a couple of vanilla candles and the Guatemalan worry dolls her mom bought her after she broke up with Roy.
"White chili," he calls back. "You hungry?"
Actually she was starving after her interview and inhaled a random and ill-advised bag of Chex Mix on the subway, but she doesn't want to be rude. "Sure," she says, coming back into the kitchen. He's finishing up and Pam watches him for a moment, how quickly his hands move. His kitchen stuff--knives, stainless steel bowls, a KitchenAid on the counter--is expensive-looking, the kind her mom has back in Pennsylvania. He looks relaxed, like he knows what he's doing. "Do you cook a lot?" she asks.
Pacey nods. "Used to run a restaurant, actually."
"Really?" She tries not to sound too blatantly surprised. Not that she doesn't think he's capable of running a restaurant--she doesn't even know him--but this afternoon she walked by the bar where he works, and it's... not nice. "Here?"
He shakes his head. "On Cape Cod."
"Is that where you're from?"
"Mm-hmm." He opens the fridge and pulls out two Amstels, raising his eyebrows, and when she nods he hands her one. He looks at her like he's measuring, trying to guess. "And you're from... Ohio?"
"Close. Pennsylvania." She smiles a little. There's no dining room table--there's no dining room, period--so they take their bowls and sit on the floor in front of the sofa, Pam digging a Rolling Stone out of the pile of postal detritus to use as a placemat. "Why, do I look that lost and Midwestern?"
"You don't look lost at all," he says, shaking his head. "You just look kind of... brand new."
He says it like it's a good thing, like she's a blank canvas as opposed to an empty yawning pit, and Pam wants to thank him but she doesn't know what she'd say. "How'd you end up in New York?" she asks instead. The chili is amazing, familiar and totally different both at once. She thinks there might be cinnamon in it.
Pacey takes a long swig of his beer, looking kind of rueful. "I followed a girl."
"Uh-huh," he says, and the subject is very definitely closed. "And yourself?"
"I followed... something. I don't know." Pam shrugs, and then she just tells him. "I was engaged."
Pacey raises his eyebrows. "Whoops."
"Yeah. He was great," she says with conviction. She feels compelled to explain about Jim, to defend him. "He is great. More than great. But it was just... more about what we thought it would be than about what it actually was. Does that make sense?"
"Nope." Pacey grins, handing her the open bag of tortilla chips. "Broads."
Pam laughs a little, she can't help it. "Shut up."
"You shut up."
After dinner they sit on the couch eating ice cream and watching back to back episodes of NCIS, which Pacey for some reason thinks is one long episode, and he's all confused when the two plotlines never intersect. "How are you not following this?" Pam asks incredulously, spooning more pistachio into her bowl. "It's made specifically for grandparents!"
"What?" Pacey shakes his head, gesturing with the remote. "It is not! This show is very complicated."
"Have you never watched procedural television before?"
"Apparently not with your level of commitment, no."
"That makes me sad for you."
"Smallest violin in the world," he agrees, and Pam smiles. He's easy to be with, she thinks, one of those people who can talk to anybody. There's nothing stressful about him.
"All right, kiddo," he says when the show is over, getting up and taking their empty dishes into the kitchen. "I will see you in the morning."
Pam can feel her eyebrows knit together. "What, did all this crime-solving tire you out?" she calls after him. "You going to bed?"
Pacey reappears in the living room with his jacket, grinning. "Going to work."
"Oh." There's no reason for Pam to feel disappointed about that, but lately she's kind of gotten used to having feelings that make no sense, so. She raises the pitch of her voice a little bit, cheerful, like when she used to tell the cameras how well things were going between her and Jim. "Okay. Have fun."
"I always do." Pacey looks at her for a minute: he's got the same expression as before, when he was trying to figure out where she came from. "You all right here by yourself?"
She nods quickly. "Yeah, yeah, of course. See you tomorrow."
"You bet." He locks the deadbolt behind him, which Pam appreciates--the snick of the tumblers is satisfying, the sound of things falling into place. She lays her head on the arm of the sofa, flipping channels 'til she falls asleep.
Pam doesn't get the job at the gallery, but she keeps sending out resumes, and she goes on more interviews, and just when she's resigned herself to the fact that she's never going to make it in New York, that she's going to have to move back in with her parents, this little hipster clothing company calls her back for a receptionist job that she didn't think she was anywhere cool enough to get.
When she hangs up the phone, feeling dazed, Pacey comes wandering into the room, eating an apple. When he sees her face he says, "What?" through a mouthful of fruit.
"I got that job," Pam says. She's starting to smile, feeling it spread over her face. "At the designer."
Pacey beams at her. "Knew it," he says. "Of course you did. Champagne? We should have champagne."
"Okay," Pam says, grinning, and she thinks they'll have to run down to the corner liquor store to get it, but Pacey just goes to the fridge and gets a bottle out. "You already have some?" Pam says as he starts to get out the corkscrew.
Pacey just shrugs. "Had a feeling," he says.
"You did not," Pam says. There's no way he thought she'd get hired there, when she dresses like someone's mom--Kelly Kapoor's words. Besides, when she told him she was interviewing there, he made fun of hipsters for like ten minutes straight.
He grins at her sideways. "Well, I knew you'd get something eventually," he says. She can't believe he bought champagne just in case. That's so nice.
They don't have any champagne glasses or anything, so Pacey pours it into two mugs, handing one to Pam, the one that says, Capeside Is for Lovers. "To gainful employment," he says, holding up the other mug for her to tap. It's got Dunder Mifflin's logo on the side, and Pam clunks them together. When Pacey takes a sip, he's smiling at her over the rim, and Pam's feeling like maybe coming to New York wasn't the worst decision in the world after all. A job, a roommate--maybe everything's going to work out fine.
It's strange, getting back into a work routine after being unemployed for awhile, regular hours, 9-5. She doesn't see Pacey as much now that their schedules don't really overlap.
Some mornings when she gets up for work, early to take the train all the way out to Brooklyn, Pacey's asleep on the couch with the television flickering, like he was watching an episode of something after work to unwind and just fell asleep there a few hours before. Pam's never sure whether she should wake him or not. She usually doesn't, tiptoeing around the apartment so he can get some rest, his face all quiet and relaxed against the couch cushions, usually still wearing jeans, his stocking feet curled off the end of the couch. Everyone looks sort of nice when they're asleep, she thinks--sympathetic with all their defenses down like that.
Once, even though she's being extra quiet, he wakes up while she's gathering her stuff from around the living room, putting her cell phone and keys into her bag. His head comes up on the couch with a start, and his hair's flat in the back with half of it sticking sideways and his eyes won't seem to open all the way. He looks confused and sleepy, and for a second Pam wants to pat him on the head and tuck him back in.
"Hey," she whispers. "Sorry."
He blinks a few times and moves his mouth that way you do when you've just woken up and it's dry. "'S cool," he says, voice all sleep-rough. He squints at her, eyes screwed up in the bright morning light, looking at her ballet flats and not-anywhere-near-cool-enough-to-work-at-her-company dress. New York makes her feel insecure a lot. "You going to work?"
"Yeah," she says.
"Sucks," he says, rubbing at his face, hand rasping over his stubble. "It's early."
Pam tries not to laugh. "Yeah, pretty much," she says. "You should go back to bed."
He nods groggily and sits up, resting his elbows on his knees for a second and yawning hugely. "Yeah," he says through the yawn. He stares at his hands for a long moment, that way you do when you're really overtired and end up sitting on the edge of the bed staring at the sock you're putting on for a full ten minutes. "Yeah," he says again, and pushes himself up from the couch. He starts pulling his shirt off as he heads towards his bedroom, like he's going to put on pajamas when he gets there, and Pam just sees his bare back for a second, the wedge of his shoulder blade, the planes of his muscles shifting as he moves. Yeah, it's weird living with a boy sometimes.
"Have a good day," she calls down the hall to him, just before he disappears through his bedroom door.
His head comes up and he smiles, a slow groggy smile. "Yeah, you too," he says, and the memory of his bedhead, his sleepy expression, keeps her wanting to smile for her whole commute.
After a couple of weeks at work one of the designers, this girl Claire who's probably twenty-two or twenty-three and weighs about ninety-five pounds, stops by Pam's desk and tells her how much everybody likes the new interoffice mail system, and how glad they are to have her aboard. "We go out for sushi on Thursdays, if you ever want to come," Claire says, sneaking a couple of M&Ms out of the dish. Pam figured it would be easier to get to know everybody if she kept candy on her desk in this office, too, and she was right, although here it's like this big secret that anyone ever eats anything but raw fish.
Anyway, she's cautiously optimistic about the whole thing, her job and the apartment, her ability to navigate New York without inviting a violent death. She only got lost once this week, on her way back from dinner with some people from Pratt, and when she called Pacey for directions he talked her home no problem. In her bravest, Mary-Tyler-Moorest moments, Pam can almost convince herself that even though her last couple of months in Scranton were really, really horrible, maybe they were actually just a way to get her here.
She was hoping the breakup would be some sort of catalyst for Jim, too, but when she checks his Facebook status it says trying to figure out how many gallons of borscht will fit in three standard desk drawers, so she guesses maybe it wasn't.
She's left him a couple more messages since she's been here--it's probably unhealthy, since the fact that he never picks up or calls back communicates pretty effectively that he never wants to talk to her again--but Pam hates the idea of Jim hating her, of how totally baffled he was by her restlessness right up until the very end. The idea of him living alone in that house. Ugh, the whole thing just makes her so sad and defeated and guilty, like it was all a giant waste, and just. God. It sucks. By the time Pacey comes out of his bedroom in jeans and an undershirt she's worked herself into a black, malignant sulk. "What's wrong with you?" he asks, dropping his shoes on the floor and pulling a soft-looking gray sweater over his head. He smells very clean.
"Huh?" Pam shakes her head, a little shrill. "Nothing."
"Okay," he says, in a voice like he thinks she's full of crap. "You feel like coming out? My buddy from home is in town."
"The one who lives in LA?"
"That's the one." Pacey nods. "Full disclosure, he's kind of a tool, but he's actually a really good guy. Plus he's rich now, so he'll probably pick up the tab."
"Hm." Pam considers. She really, really does not want to get off the couch--she's already wearing sweatpants, and she's got work in the morning, and she kind of just wants to sit here and mainline America's Next Top Model until she passes out--but then she remembers how the whole point of moving to New York was so her life would be different than it was in Scranton, and she clicks off the TV. "Yeah," she says. "Totally. Give me five minutes."
They've been tossing her clothing samples at work since she started--Pam's not sure if it's a perk that everyone gets or because her actual wardrobe is just that terrible--and once she's in her bedroom she debates for a minute, then pulls on a pair of skinny-ish jeans and a stripey cardigan thing that's way too thin to provide any actual warmth. Pacey raises his dark eyebrows when she comes back out the door. "Looking good, Beesly."
"Really?" His voice does a weird thing to her stomach, the beginnings of a blush at her neck. God, she is a ridiculous person. "You realize these are hipster clothes."
"Well, then, I take it back. You look like a twelve year old boy."
Pacey's friend is this floppy-haired blond guy named Dawson who develops teen dramedies for the CW. He's in town to go to meetings for this new show about vampires living in a Midwestern subdivision which he refers to--twice--as "Twilight meets Our Town." He talks about Los Angeles the way Andy used to talk about Cornell and she wishes Pacey knew Scranton people so she could nudge him and whisper, "California: ever heard of it?" Mostly she sits there and drinks. When Dawson gets up to go to the bathroom she busies herself shredding her cocktail napkin into confetti until Pacey kicks her under the table. "Okay," he says. "Go ahead."
Pam looks at him as blandly as she can. "What?"
"Say what?" Pam asks. "I don't have anything to say! He's perfectly pleasant."
"Perfectly pleasant, she says." He is unconvinced.
"Yeah, as... pleasant as someone who name-drops Steven Spielberg three times in a forty-minute conversation can be, but--"
"Ha!" Pacey likes that; he grins and points the mouth of his beer bottle in her general direction. "I knew you weren't nice."
"Uh-huh. Whatever, Beesly. Guy's my best friend since birth, but by all means, don't hold back."
Pam shakes her head, but she's laughing. "You are such a jerk."
"Oh, now we're name-calling, are we? At least I have friends."
"I have friends!"
"You have me."
Well. Pam doesn't know what to say to that, exactly, but Dawson comes back to the table and orders another martini, so she guesses she's off the hook. By the end of the night she's sort of pleasantly buzzed, all the sharp edges filed off her dark mood, and she's thinking Dawson's actually not so bad--he keeps inviting them both out to his house in Laurel Canyon, where he's got an Infinity Pool. Finally he signals the bartender for the check, then turns to Pacey and puts a brotherly hand on his shoulder. "So," he says, his voice low and conspiratorial. "I had dinner with Jo last night."
"Oh yeah?" Pacey drains his beer. From the look on his face Pam can tell that Joe, whoever he is, is not someone they usually discuss. "How's she doing?"
What is it with these people and their ambiguous names? Pam tries to keep up. "She's okay," Dawson says. "They're talking about making that book series she worked on about the girls in the boarding school into a sitcom, so she might come stay in the Canyon for a few days." He pauses dramatically; it occurs to Pam that this is a person who really appreciates a pregnant pause. "She asked about you."
Pacey nods slowly, unimpressed. He is completely closed for business. "And my wasted heart?"
"Dawson. I wish her the best, truly. And I wish whatshisface all the unwashed clothing and Malcolm-X eyewear he could ever want." Pacey looks at Pam, sort of surprised, like he's forgotten for a moment that she's there. "How you doing, Beesly? You fading on us?"
The bar is still totally crowded when they go to leave, a solid wall of bodies to try and weave through. Pam gets a little weird about trying to negotiate huge groups of people all smashed together, but Pacey puts one big hand really lightly on her lower back and then they're out on the sidewalk, the fresh air sharp and sort of cold. "Wanna cab it?" he asks, and she nods.
Pacey's quiet all the way home, streetlights flickering over his face as the BBC drones softly on the radio. Pam doesn't know what to say to him--seeing as she's a complete and total failure at relationships she's not exactly in a position to offer any advice--but when the cabbie makes a sharp turn and sends her sliding sideways into him she stays there, her arm pressed into his, and watches the city skitter by.
Pacey has the guy drop them in front of the 24-hour deli a couple of blocks away from the apartment, running inside for Vitamin Waters and Bagel Bites, and they head down 16th street toward home. Pam's freezing--this sweater is completely useless, she's never wearing it again--and he puts one arm around her as they walk. "Can I ask you one thing, and then I'll drop it?" she ventures softly. The heels of her shoes echo on the sidewalk.
He slows down a little, looks at her warily. "Uh-huh," he says.
"Is Joey the girl you followed here?"
"And it didn't end well?"
"It did not end well, no."
"Okay." They climb the front steps to the apartment; Pacey hands her his house keys, and Pam lets them inside. When they get to the landing she stops. "For what it's worth, Pacey, I'm glad she got you to come to New York."
Pacey smiles at that, his face cracking open, and Pam feels something settle in her chest. "For what it's worth, Beesly," he tells her, shutting the door behind them, "I'm glad she did, too."
Pam's social life slowly comes together--which it should, given how hard she's working at it. She's determined not to just let things happen to her anymore, so she calls people she knew at Pratt, and she goes out with Pacey and his friends when he asks her, and any time people from work are eating at the new vegan place or whatever, she goes along. And it's good, really, even if seeing acquaintances is always more exhausting than seeing friends, and sometimes it feels like all she has here are acquaintances. Except for Pacey. He's not exhausting, somehow.
The possibility of dating again hadn't really crossed her mind. After Jim, she just feels worn raw, like that whole part of her life has a bad sunburn she doesn't want anything to touch. Whenever she and Sarah are out at a bar and a guy hits on them they laugh and ignore him.
But she's spending more and more time with Pratt people, especially Alex, who always seems to be the one getting the group together. So she probably shouldn't be surprised when he finally asks her out--Jim always thought Alex had a thing for her, after all. But somehow it's surprising anyway. Maybe it's how he asks that surprises her, his head ducked like he's nervous, like he's been wanting to do this for a long time.
She says yes automatically, taken off-guard and not wanting to hurt his feelings, but the way his face lights up when she says it--just, all the weight of those expectations, of someone maybe having been secretly in love with her for who knows how long. It feels like a lot, even though she knows he's not Jim, even though she knows in her head that it'll be good for her to date again. Get back on the horse or whatever.
She doesn't tell Pacey she has a date though. She's not even sure why, except that she feels like if she thinks about it too much, she might freak out or something, panic. It's just awkward, and she doesn't really want to talk about it, somehow. Well, she tells Sarah. And Leigh. But that doesn't count.
She and Alex go out to a gallery in Chelsea, this exhibit of paintings that give Pam that feeling she gets when something's really good, that deeply unsettled feeling in her stomach, like she doesn't know if she wants to throw up or if she wants to tip forward and fall into the work somehow, get lost in it. Alex really likes it too, and it's weird these days, how she's always out with people who know about art. Sometimes it makes her a little self-conscious, like she's worrying about whether her reactions are sophisticated enough, whether she's being critical enough. Just--wanting to fall into a painting, that's not exactly high critique, you know?
Not that Alex looks like he's finding her lacking at all. He keeps giving her these little looks like he really likes her, and it makes Pam feel odd. Maybe she's not ready for this after all, even if Alex is fun and nice and seems into her.
He walks her back to her apartment at the end of the night, and she's already decided that she'll kiss him at the door, but not invite him in or anything. "This is me," she says outside the door. "Thanks for dinner and everything. I had a lot of fun."
He's kind of ducking his head, hands in his pockets, and for a second the resemblance to Jim is really startling. "Yeah, me too," he says, and then he's looking at her, taking a step in. She's suddenly wishing she were already inside, already in her pajamas, which is weird because it's not even that awkward.
Alex kisses her, just on the corner of her mouth, and it's a nice kiss, sort of a sweet kiss. He's just barely pulling back when the door bursts open and Pacey comes out, still putting one arm into the arm of his hoodie. He looks really startled to see them there, and Pam's not sure if it's because it's always startling when you walk through a door and someone's unexpectedly standing right in front of it, or because Pam and Alex were kissing.
It's probably ridiculous for Pam to be quite this mortified, but God, she really, really is.
"Oh," Pacey says, and he has a really weird look on his face. "Sorry. I didn't know you were out here."
"No, of course," Pam says. Her face is all hot--she's got to be bright red. "I just got back. Sorry. Um. This is Alex. Alex, this is my roommate, Pacey."
"Hey," Alex says, and the guys shake hands.
"Are you going to work?" Pam asks, and she must be flustered, because it's midnight and Pacey's shifts never start this late--besides which, he has his work schedule on the fridge and she specifically noticed this morning that he wasn't working tonight.
"Nah, I'm just running down to the bodega on the corner," Pacey says. "You want anything?"
"No, thanks," Pam says, and Pacey leaves really fast, like he's worried he's in the way. Which makes Pam feel even weirder.
She and Alex look at each other and kind of laugh awkwardly. "Sorry," Pam says.
Alex shrugs. "It's fine," he says. "So, um... I'll call you?"
"Yeah," Pam says. "Sounds good." And he kisses her again before she lets herself in the apartment.
She's in her pajamas by the time Pacey gets back from the store, relieved to be out of the date clothes she doesn't feel quite comfortable in, back on the couch with a rerun of Friends playing. Pacey looks a little surprised when he comes in and sees her, which is funny because probably fifty percent of the times he lets himself into the apartment, this is the tableau he's faced with.
"Hey," he says. He has a carton of ice cream in one hand. "What, you didn't invite that dude in?" His tone is kind of flippant, almost a little on the mean side, which is really weird because in all the months Pam's lived here, Pacey's never been even a little bit mean.
Pam blinks a couple of times, not sure what the deal is here. "Um," she says. "No, I didn't, um--"
Pacey must see it in her face, how he rattled her, because his face shifts and he waves at her to interrupt. "Sorry," he says. "Forget it, I was being an asshole. You want some ice cream?"
"Yeah," Pam says, feeling relieved, and he goes into the kitchen to scoop it for them, reappearing in a few minutes with two bowls. He bought her favorite, Pam notices. And they don't talk about Alex anymore. Which is fine--it's not like Pam wants to talk about Alex, particularly. It's just a little weird to avoid the topic altogether, since they usual do at least a casual post-game whenever either of them is out without the other. At least a "Fun night?" or a "What'd you end up doing?"
Pacey probably just got distracted by the Friends rerun, though. He laughs really, really hard at Ross's fajitas, so.
On Tuesday Pam gets back from staff lunch at the organic burrito place to find three messages from Pacey in her inbox. He's home during the day so he likes to spam her work email, sending her links to restaurants he thinks they should try, or a list of reasons why Dunkin' Donuts is better than Starbucks, or incredibly creepy Craigslist ads for guys looking to be spanked with ping pong paddles. You are so lucky you found me and not this dude, Beesly, he wrote upon forwarding her that particular treasure. It's a jungle out there.
Today he's got top-secret, up-to-the-minute Sid and Nancy intelligence--they have these neighbors across the hall who might be married or might be brother and sister, Pam and Pacey can't tell, and any breaks in the case have to be discussed immediately and at length. A month or so ago Pacey saw a strange woman leaving their apartment as he was getting home from work, and once their mail got delivered to Pam and Pacey's accidentally and there was a handwritten envelope addressed to both of them. Sid and Nancy are arguing about Nancy whoring around!!! Pacey writes today, and Pam can almost hear his voice as she reads it. Totally married. Totally. I think. Although maybe not for long, all things considered.
"You know, it's possible they're wondering the same thing about us," Pam said one morning a couple of weeks ago, when she and Pacey ran into them on the way back from the bagel place. She was expecting him to laugh--an obligatory chuckle, at least--but he just looked at her blandly and changed the subject to the perversity of veggie cream cheese.
God, boys are so weird.
Anyway, there are no strange women leaving their apartment at 3 in the morning. Pam's lived here four months and Pacey hasn't even been on one date. And it's not like girls don't hit on him, either--one weekend, Pam went out to dinner with some Pratt people and still felt kind of hyper afterwards, so went down to Pacey's bar to hang out with him until his shift ended, and this girl was all over him. He left with Pam, though. When she asked him if he wanted her to get lost so he could make his move, he just rolled his eyes at her.
Pam hits reply. Further investigation is necessary, she types, smiling a little. What do you know about wiretapping?
All of a sudden it's summer, close to ninety every day, the whole city gone muggy and rancid. The train home from work is miserable, a thousand sweaty people smashed together; Pam closes her eyes and turns up her iPod and tries not to think of her empty, air-conditioned car sitting forlornly in her parents' driveway back home. The back of her neck is damp. She gets herself a FrozFruit from the place on the corner and by the time she gets back to the apartment most of it has melted, her hands sticky and sweet. "It's hot," she whines, instead of hello.
Pacey's got the AC cranked all the way up--they've only got the one, an ancient window unit that wheezes more than anything else--but it's still crazy warm in here. He's standing with his shirt off at the bathroom sink, an electric razor in his hand. "Oh hey, you're home," he calls. "Come here and make sure I didn't miss any spots?"
"Yeah, just let me change my clothes," she calls back, dropping her purse on the sofa, her popsicle stick in the trash. "I'm disgusting."
"Uh huh." Pam goes into the bedroom and throws on boxers and a tank top, scoops her hair into a big curly mess on top of her head. "Hi," she says, coming into the tiny bathroom. "Whoa."
"I know, I know." Pacey makes a face at her in the mirror. "I look like a skinhead."
That is... not what Pam was going to say. His hair is short, cropped close to his head like a soldier or something, and just, with the no shirt on it's, yeah. Surprising. Pam blinks. He looks older. His eyes are very, very blue. "No," she says slowly. "I actually like it a lot."
He keeps looking at her in the mirror, something like interest passing over his face. "Yeah?"
"Yeah." Pam blinks again, recovering. "Maybe you can do mine next."
"Should give you a mohawk." Pacey grins. "Just take a look at the back real quick?'
"Sure," she says. He bends down a little, but he's a lot taller than her and the angle is weird, so Pam climbs up on the lid of the toilet seat and peers down at the top of his head. "I think you're good," she tells him after a moment. "Whoops, no--right there." She taps a longish spot behind his ear.
He hands the razor up behind him. "Go to town."
"Oh. Okay." Pam flicks it on and cleans him up a little, brushing stray hair from the back of his neck. "Stop moving," she instructs, bracing one hand on his freckly shoulder. His skin is warm beneath her palm.
"I'm not moving. You smell like limes."
"I had a popsicle." Pam thinks she might be dehydrated. "So what is this, like, your summer 'do?"
"Yeah." Pacey laughs a little. "In high school I spent the summer on this boat--"
Pam turns off the razor. "You spent a summer on a boat?"
"Couple of summers, actually."
"What are you, a Kennedy?" Sometimes Pam thinks she could talk to Pacey every day for the foreseeable future and he'd still find ways to throw her, like he's already lived so many lives. "You're a mystery, you know that?"
"Me?" he asks, giving her a hand down onto the bathroom floor. The tile is cool beneath her bare feet. "I'm an open book."
"Sure you are. You wanna see about dinner? Now that you're all ready for your walk-on in American History X?"
"Sassy." Pacey chases her out of the bathroom, laughing in the heat.
The heat wave keeps up, so everyone in the city is cranky all the time, walking around with sweat beading on their foreheads, short-tempered on the train. Pacey hangs a sheet over the doorway of the living room to try to make the one window unit more effective, and it sort of helps. At least, Pam still sweats when she's in the living room, but when she pushes her way through the sheet to go get something in her room or in the kitchen, the hallway feels ten times more like an oven than the living room, stuffy and humid even with all the windows in the apartment open.
There's really only one place that's bearable, and it's when you sit in the middle of the floor, right in the airstream the AC unit is wheezing out. They drag an old futon mattress out to that exact position, rearranging the TV a little so you can lie on the futon, letting the coolish air ruffle your hair, and watch TV at the same time. Even then, it's not like you're cool, exactly. Pam always ends up there when Pacey's at work, in a tank top and boxers, eating ice cream and wishing she was daring enough to risk just taking all her clothes off. But Pacey could always come back from work early unexpectedly, even though he never has, and anyway Pam isn't really that kind of person.
When Pacey is home, they end up in a lot of bickering fights over who's got the best position on the futon. Pam says that it's not fair that Pacey's home during the day and so can always claim the best spot before she gets back from work, and Pacey says that maybe somebody who's eating the gazpacho someone else made for them shouldn't be such a whiny baby. He laughs pretty hard when he says that, though.
Pacey's flipping channels, head pillowed on his crooked arm, and Pam's watching the reality shows and Law & Orders slide by, feeling too listless to even care what they land on. It's too hot to care about anything much. Pacey's not wearing a shirt. "What do you want to watch?" Pacey asks.
Pam shrugs. "Something good," she says. They've got a bowl on the futon in between them that was full of ice cubes ten minutes ago, and is now full of smaller ice cubes and a lot of ice water. She fishes out a cube and rests it on her forehead, enjoys feeling the cold.
"That is... nonspecific," Pacey says. He reaches over and flicks the ice cube off her head, which is just as well because it was starting to give her brain freeze a little bit.
"Hey," she says, though more out of habit than actual annoyance. She has to pee anyway.
She stands up, unsticking her tank top from her back, where the sweat's apparently been collecting. That's attractive. "Where are you going?" Pacey asks, looking up at her. She can see sweat on his collarbone, along his bare skin, and his scalp is a little bit red under his buzz cut, like he's gotten a little sunburned since he cut his hair off. It still startles her to see him with so little hair. It's... still a good look.
"Bathroom," she says, starting to head for the hall.
"Oh," Pacey says. Then, "Hey, get me a popsicle while you're up."
"No way, lazybones," Pam says, but she'll probably actually get one for him. She wants one too.
When she flips on the bathroom light, everything goes abruptly dark. Oh crap, she forgot again. It's a small building, and the wiring's really old, so if the AC is on and you turn on the bathroom light, about half the time it blows the fuse. They've been trying to turn off the AC when they're going to turn on that light, but they keep forgetting, which means Pacey keeps having to trek down to the terrifying, dimly lit basement, and he keeps saying that if he gets serial killed, she's going to be responsible.
"Oh, fuck," Pam hears Pacey say wearily in the suddenly quiet apartment. No TV blaring, no AC running.
"Sorry!" Pam says. She pees in the dark, expecting that when she comes out, Pacey will be heading for the basement, but when she gets two popsicles and goes back into the dim living room, he's still just lying on his back on the futon.
"The fuse blew," Pam says, like Pacey doesn't know.
"I'm sick of that basement," Pacey says. "You go flip the breaker."
"I don't know how," Pam says, settling down next to him and handing him the orange popsicle. Orange is his favorite.
"Hmm, too bad," Pacey says, but doesn't go to move. It really is too hot. The sun's just set outside, sky lingering pink, but it's getting progressively darker inside, and they're just sitting there in the quiet, too lazy to do anything. "It's hot," Pacey says after a long silence. He seems to be trying to eat his popsicle while still lying down, and it looks like it's dripping on his face. Pam wonders if the light was on if there'd be little orange specks all over him.
"That's because the AC isn't on," Pam points out.
"Because someone blew the fuse," Pacey says, and she doesn't even notice him moving, but suddenly there's an ice cube down her back, freezing cold against her spine. Pam can't help it, she shrieks.
Pacey's laughing so hard he can barely talk, and Pam's wiggling around, trying to get the ice cube out. "Oh my God, I hate you," she says, and hits him on his bare shoulder. His skin is very hot, and he pokes her in the side, going to tickle her, and God, it's really too hot to do any touching of any kind, but it's just pretty funny. She flicks her popsicle at him, so sticky drops get all over his chest, and he groans. "Pam, gross," he says, and when she goes to do it again, he grabs her wrist, and then they're laughing harder, tussling a little bit. "No, no, no, stop it," he says, pushing the popsicle away from him, and she's still flicking it at him, but he's pressing her back and rolling over so he's sort of pinning her down, holding her wrist against the futon, looming over her.
Oh. And suddenly it's weird, his body holding her down like that. She's even more aware of him, of all the places their skin is touching, the little bit of hair on his chest, his muscled arms. She sort of freezes, and she sees his eyes flick to her mouth. Oh God. "Um," Pam says.
Pacey blinks, and looks at her for a long second, looks her right in the eye. Then he abruptly lets go of her wrist and rolls off her. "Fine, I'll go flip the breaker already," he says, his voice surprisingly normal, so normal Pam feels like maybe she imagined that little moment. Though he's not really looking at her anymore. But that's probably just because he's heading for the basement.
Her heart's beating really fast for awhile after that, though.
Pam can't sleep. She rolls over and over in the dark that night, rearranging herself on the warm mattress, feeling edgy and jangly-limbed. She's sweaty again, even though she took a tepid shower before she came to bed, her hair all big and crazy. Pam sighs. She listens to the clang and jabber on the streets below, the bars letting out, the slam of a car door and the sound of it gliding away from the curb. She's going to have to break down and get an AC for the bedroom, that's it. This is getting ridiculous.
Finally she gives up and takes her pillow into the living room, thinking she'll get a couple of hours on the sweet spot in front of the AC, but when she pushes her way through the sheet she sees Pacey's already there, conked out on one side of the futon in a pair of shorts that used to be sweatpants. Sneaky. For a second she's just going to suck it up and go back into her room, but it's so miserable in there that just the idea of it makes her feel a little hysterical. Pam squints in the weak orange light, eyeing the mattress on the floor, the long straight line of Pacey's backbone. Really there's plenty of space. They wouldn't even be touching. She stands there, debating, until for one ridiculous moment she wonders what Jim would think--and then Pam realizes, with a kind of delicious thrill, that in her new life the only person she answers to is herself.
And right now, herself wants to sleep on this goddamn futon where it's cool.
"Scoot over," she whispers, picking her way across the room and nudging him a little with one bare foot.
"Hmm?" Pacey turns his head and looks up at her, voice low and raspy. "You sleeping here?"
"Yeah, is that okay?"
"Yeah, yeah, of course." He nods slowly, moving over a bit. "You want me to go back to my room?"
Pam suspects it's an offer born more out of tired incoherence than actual chivalry, but still, it's nice. "You're fine," she tells him, stretching out on the opposite side of the mattress, plenty of room in between. "Just stay where you are."
She falls into a deep, narcotic sleep almost immediately, but a couple of hours later she's awake again, disoriented, her back pressed firmly against Pacey's side. Pam blinks. It's been a long time since she shared a bed with anyone else, and she'd be lying if she said it was entirely unpleasant to share one with him. The AC and late hour have made it pretty bearable in here; the heat of his body feels good against her spine. He seems very solid. Pam lets herself enjoy it for another guilty moment, then shifts as stealthily as she can back to her end of the mattress. Pacey stirs anyway--he reaches out sleepily, knuckles grazing her upper arm. "You awake?" he mutters.
"Yeah." Pam stretches a little, lifting her hair off her neck. The clock on the dvd player says it's close to four. "Are you awake?"
Pacey yawns. "Yeah." He heaves himself up off the floor and she thinks he's heading into his bedroom but he comes back a second later with her Nalgene bottle, ice clanking against the plastic. He takes a long sip, then hands it down to her. "Here."
"Thanks," she says, rolling over onto her stomach and drinking some herself, shivering pleasantly with the cold of it. Pacey lies back down next to her, careful, and now it's kind of awkward in a way it wasn't when she first came in here, like here they are lying in this bed together, and she's not even wearing a bra, and she remembers that weird moment before and realizes he probably thinks she's trying to pull something totally shady, and--
"My mom used to have me count back from a thousand," he tells her, his voice totally normal. He tucks one arm under the throw pillow he's using and looks at her in the dark. "If I couldn't sleep."
"My mom too." Pam smiles a little at the memory. "She used to have to sit and rub my back while I did it, though. For a long time I was afraid to go to bed alone."
"Your mom's nicer than my mom."
"Or I was just brattier than you."
"Well, you're still brattier than me."
They're quiet after that, breathing. Pam swallows. She watches the minutes on the clock flip by, five and then ten. "Are you awake?" she whispers again, and she hears him chuff out a little laugh beside her.
"Yeah, Beesly. I'm awake."
They lie there. They look at each other. Pacey reaches out, very deliberately, and runs a hand over her lower back. There is a moment in which Pam does not breathe. "This help?" he asks, so quiet she almost can't even hear.
"Well," she says softly, surprised at the steadiness of her voice. She feels like every nerve in her entire body is concentrated beneath his warm, heavy palm, singing from the base of her spine. "Yeah."
"All right." So he keeps doing it, back and forth over the thin cotton of her tank top, against her skin in the place where her shirt's ridden up. Pam tries not to make a sound. She's not entirely sure what the implications are here but when she rolls from her stomach onto her side his hand rests on her hip and she kisses him because she's been thinking about it all day. All month. Whatever. His mouth is cold and wet.
"Hey, Beesly," he says after a moment, pulling back a tiny bit, forehead crinkling like maybe he's a little nervous. "Is this okay?" Pam nods and he kisses her again, harder this time, his tongue rasping over hers, and just--huh. Wow. "Are you going to freak and move out in the morning?"
Pam considers. Her heart is knocking away inside her chest. "I don't think so," she says slowly, feeling herself smile. "Why, is that what happened with your last roommate?"
Pacey laughs and closes what space there is between them, his broad body solid against hers. "Shut up."
Pam thinks she should probably be mortified, or panicking, or something--here she is, lying on the floor making out with a guy who's not even her boyfriend, who is at this very moment slipping his capable hands inside her tank top, thumb skating over her navel--but the truth is she's giddy and grinning, running her tongue along the muscles in his chest. His skin tastes like the raspberry popsicle she flung at him earlier and Pam hums a little, pleased. It's not fraught. There's no unbearable breaking pressure here, nobody's fantasies to try and match. It's just--his knuckles are at her rib cage, sliding upward with a singularity of purpose--nice. God.
Neither of them is wearing very much, and it's strangely intimate to be already in pajamas when they're making out, like they do this all the time. She has no idea where this is going--well, she thinks as Pacey's hand cups her breast, okay, she has a little bit of an idea--but no idea about the longterm, if they're going to be a thing, if Pacey wants to be her boyfriend, if anything. And it's so different--with Jim, she always knew what was going to happen, what Jim wanted, who he was, where he was always, always going to work. And she liked that then, how predictable it was, how safe. It wasn't until later that safe started to feel cowardly, when she failed her class and had to run home to Scranton where she knew what the rest of her life was going to be like, where she didn't have to risk anything.
Maybe that's why she moved to New York this time, though, in the end. To see if she could function without her whole life stretched out in front of her, predictable, two-point-five kids and the next thirty years just like the last thirty.
Pacey, though. Who knows what might happen? Maybe they'll spend a summer on a boat, or open a restaurant, and that should be terrifying, all that unknown, but instead it feels a little exhilarating, like the city feels to her some days when it's all street performers and gallery openings and buskers in the subway and cabs honking, like she's a part of something big, all this possibility. She's smiling against Pacey's mouth, and when he pulls back to tug her tank top over her head, he says, "What?"
She doesn't even know how to say what she's smiling about, and he's grinning at her, that sweet grin of his, and she raises her arms to help him get her shirt off. "I can't believe you lived on a boat," she says when he comes into view again. Her hair's probably all sticking up, frizzy in the humidity, but Pacey isn't looking at her like he cares about that.
He laughs. "I can't believe you're thinking about that now," he says, and leans in to kiss her again, hands hot against her skin.
Outside, she hears a couple of raindrops clang as they hit the top of the AC unit, the wind picking up in the trees outside. More and more droplets start to hit, making a ruckus against the metal, and thunder rumbles in the distance, and she wonders if the heat's finally going to break. Pacey's rolling over on top of her, full weight pressing her down, and when she puts her hand up to cup the back of his head, it rasps through his buzz cut, feeling strange and stubbly. She's smiling, she can't stop smiling.
Pam wakes up when the sun comes up far enough that it's shining right in her eyes, just catching the corner of the futon where her head is. Pacey's barely in shadow, so he's still asleep, one arm flung around her waist. It feels nice, the warm weight of it, Pacey's face pressed into the nape of her neck, and Pam's just enjoying it for a long sleepy moment before what happened really hits her. Just--oh God. They had sex. She had sex with her roommate, and you're not supposed to do that, right? Sleep with your roommate? This is probably going to be really awkward, and she doesn't know what she even wants here, except... except, well, it's nice, lying with him pressed against her. It must have cooled down overnight, because out the window the sky's a clear blue, none of that heat haze left, and the living room's pleasantly cool, so Pam's getting goosebumps where the air from the AC hits her, all the bare skin where Pacey isn't touching her.
She's just lying there wondering what to do when he shifts behind her, making a mumbly noise and nuzzling his face into her skin, pulling her in closer. She doesn't know if he's really awake yet. "Hi," she says, then immediately regrets it. That was dumb. Oh God, she's starting to feel really self-conscious.
"Morning," Pacey mumbles and for whatever reason his voice relaxes her some, makes her feel a little less freaked out. It's just Pacey, who's so familiar by now, who makes her stir fry and watches Lifetime original movies with her so they can make fun of them. It's not anything scary.
Pam rolls over to face him, so she's on her back while he's still on his side, leaning over her. He reaches out a hand and runs one finger down the side of her face, his eyes cast down so his eyelashes look long against his cheeks. He's looking at her like... well. It's nice, the way he's looking at her.
Pam figures they should probably talk about what happened, where this is going, probably just get it over with. She takes a deep breath. "So," she says, about to launch into it.
But before she can Pacey interrupts and says, smiling, "Want some breakfast?"
Pam blinks. He makes her breakfast a lot of Saturdays--it's just so ordinary, their regular routine, like they didn't wake up half naked together, like nothing's changed at all. "Um, sure," Pam says, taken aback.
She throws on some clothes before going down to join him in the kitchen, feeling a little awkward, still not knowing where this is going to go. But when she leans against the kitchen doorway, Pacey's standing in the open fridge in just his boxers, sniffing at the milk. He looks back at her and makes a face. "Thiiiiis is sketch," he says. "You want to go down to the diner instead?"
And then they're walking down their street in scrubby Saturday clothes, the way they've done a thousand times before except that now Pacey keeps bumping her with his shoulder every few steps. It's nice. She keeps laughing. She's not wearing any makeup, and her hair's just in a ponytail, and Pacey's wearing his rattiest t-shirt, eyes still sleepy. He keeps smiling at her, and the cool air feels fresh and bright after the rain, the smell of water everywhere.
Maybe they have to figure out where this is going at some point, but for right now, it's okay to just sit across from each other in a booth, stealing bites of hash browns off each other's plates, Pacey with that light in his eyes. Pam sits and eats her breakfast and wonders how they'll spend the day.