January in Scranton was colder and grayer than December, and February would be proportionately worse. Spring was still a long way off. It was something you got used to after a year or two, taking vitamin D pills and finding ways to amuse yourself without sunlight. But that first winter was hard. It was a good time to have a handmade sweater from your mom. And if you didn’t have that, Pam decided, the next best thing was… probably alcohol.
It was still weird to walk casually by Karen’s desk, pretending Jim wasn’t right behind them, watching. But Pam had really had fun with the Committee to Plan Parties, and she was pretty sure that if it hadn’t been for Jim, she and Karen would have been friends by now. Maybe not best friends, but still. Friends. And she had made a resolution well before the new year to stop doing things because of what Jim Halpert might think about them. So she stopped, directly in his line of sight, and smiled at Karen.
“Hey,” she said casually.
“Hi,” Karen answered, looking up like she was surprised that Pam was talking to her.
“So I had a lot of fun with the Committee to Plan Parties,” Pam said, starting out a little hesitant. “And I was wondering if you wanted to come over to my apartment on Friday. We can make some margaritas - not as strong as the ones we had here - and just have a girls’ night in.”
Karen smiled. “Do you have a karaoke machine?” she asked, like it was a requirement, and Pam could see why Jim liked her. They had a lot in common.
“No,” Pam admitted. “But I do have several musicals on DVD and a really good selection of nail polish.”
Karen nodded. “Sounds great. Let me get your address?” she asked, peeling off a Post-It note and clicking open a pen, and Pam gave it to her. It was too late to change her mind now, although she was thinking about inviting Kelly just to make it less awkward. Then again, it was just as likely that Kelly would make everything considerably more awkward.
“Do you need me to bring anything?” Karen asked.
“I actually don’t think I have any tequila,” Pam said. “So, that would be great, thanks.”
“No, I like Karen,” Pam insisted to the cameras. “She seems really sweet and we got along really well on the Committee to Plan Parties. It’s nice to have someone else my age around the office, too.”
She frowned. “No, I don’t have any Cointreau either. I guess I’ll just have to stop by the liquor store. In fact, maybe I should go do that now.”
“Hey,” Karen said, laughing nervously and holding out an offering of a tequila bottle to Pam.
“Hi!” Pam said warmly, smiling more broadly now that they weren’t under the microscope. She was actually really looking forward to the night in. She took the bottle and put it next to the other margarita supplies she’d spent way too much money on.
“It is so cold out there,” Karen complained, taking off her hat and gloves. Pam was a little jealous of her elegant clothes-- No handknits or cozy sweaters for her. She did look like she was freezing, though.
“This place is so cute!” Karen said, looking at the coffee table set with some romantic comedies and nail polish for the occasion, and Pam was glad she’d gone on a cleaning spree before her guest arrived.
“Oh… thanks,” she said. “I mean, it’s small, but it’s big enough for me.”
“I’ve been living at the Days Inn for weeks,” Karen said ruefully. “It’s fantastic. Really.”
“Well, thanks again,” Pam said. “Um, ready for one of my famous recipe?” she asked brightly, starting to play hostess and opening the brand new bottles.
“Says the girl who bought vodka for our Margarita Christmas party?” Karen teased, gently testing the waters.
Pam laughed, “Hey, that was just as a second option.”
“Well, it worked well as a bribe, too.” Karen accepted her drink appreciatively and perched on the corner of Pam’s couch.
“You want me to call into Alfredo’s for a pizza?” Pam suggested. “Alfredo’s Pizza Cafe,” she added hastily. “The good one. Not… the other one.”
“Good idea,” Karen agreed. “I’m such a light-weight. I probably shouldn’t have too much to drink.”
“Oh, don’t worry about that,” Pam assured her, phone in hand. “It’s Friday, and it’s Girls’ Night. If worst comes to worst, you can just borrow some pajamas and sleep here.” She didn’t know why she had said that, unless it was just the nice thing to do. “Um. Is pepperoni okay?”
“Pepperoni is great. Thank you,” Karen said, smiling and relaxing into the couch a little bit.
“I’ll go ahead and call then. Um, pick out a movie if you want,” Pam said, gesturing toward the coffee table, and turning away from Karen as she dialed.
“What? No, we totally meant to watch a movie,” Pam explained. “But we didn’t want to have to stop in the middle to pay for the pizza, and then the pizza took so long, and we just kept drinking, and talking about Scranton, and the office, and then when the pizza got there we were having such a good time I guess we forgot about it. Is there something wrong with that?”
“I am dead serious,” Karen said, but it was hard to take her seriously when she kept erupting into laughter. “I mean, you saw me at the Christmas party. I never drink this much with people from work. I am always the designated driver.”
“So the Stamford branch went out drinking a lot?” Pam asked. She’d had a little less to drink than Karen, but she wasn’t even thinking about Jim and Karen flirting at a bar. Much.
“Uh, no, mostly just work things,” Karen said. “But with some of them - you know Andy.” She started laughing again, and Pam had to join in, because, well, she did know Andy.
“He would bring hard liquor and shotglasses any time we had paperwork to do,” Karen said. “And then he would just bring an inflatable bed to sleep over at the office. Just like he was going to a slumber party or something!”
“I can totally see him doing that!” Pam said. And she really could.
“And of course he would just bully you to take a shot every time he did,” Karen continued. “So I started tossing mine into the potted plant so he wouldn’t notice.”
“Well, between that or sleeping on an air mattress with Andy….” Pam said.
“I know, right?” Karen asked. “But yeah. Inevitably he’d get someone else as drunk as he was, and trust me, no one wants to sleep on an air mattress with Andy.”
“Okay, see, that makes it sound like you’ve tried it,” Pam teased, and Karen reached out and swatted at her leg.
“Pam Beesly! How dare you!” she protested.
“Hey, I don’t know what you might have gotten up to in Stamford,” Pam said with an evil smile. “Late nights at the office, sinful behaviors like drinking and raffles, only a taxi ride away from New York….”
“Don’t you even,” Karen said, but she was laughing again. She seemed totally relaxed and happy, and Pam felt a twinge of guilt that it had taken her this long to get to know Karen. And it turned out it wasn’t awkward at all. It felt... fun. Really fun. She picked up her drink and finished it in one long gulp, knowing she would be feeling the heat in her cheeks soon and ready to do something crazy.
“Want another one?” she asked, standing up and heading back to her makeshift bar.
“I really shouldn’t,” Karen said, giggling, and Pam took that as permission to begin pouring anyway.
“But you do,” she finished.
“Yeah, I do,” Karen agreed. And Pam might have foregone the salt and made the next batch even stronger. They were having pizza, so it could soak up the alcohol, right? And who cared if she wasn’t going to have the coordination to paint nails anytime soon?
“Was I flattered? I mean, maybe? It’s not hard to be a better option than Andy Bernard’s air mattress on the floor at work,” Pam told the cameras, a little self-consciously. “But yeah. It felt good to know that Karen was comfortable enough to let loose and have fun. And that made me more comfortable too. So...everybody wins.” She smiled.
Pam woke up the next morning to find Karen still asleep beside her. The other tenants in the apartment building kept the whole place warm, and the two of them had elected not to slide under Pam’s quilt when they finally called it a night. They had talked for a while after turning the lights out, but Pam had a feeling she might have fallen asleep mid-conversation, while Karen was still boasting about her video game skills. After all, Pam was kind of used to falling asleep while Roy was still talking.
She couldn’t figure out whether it would be more awkward to stay there in bed, or to get up, start cleaning up, and leave Karen alone. In the end, she settled on a quick bathroom run before heading back to the queen bed, where Karen’s hair looked unfairly straight against the pillows. Pam’s own hair was all over the place, and now she was wishing she had dragged a brush through it after taking care of her teeth.
“Oh, God, what time is it?” Karen asked groggily as Pam stretched back out beside her.
Pam glanced at her cell phone, plugged in but in silent mode. “Umm, it’s almost noon,” she said guiltily. “Go back to sleep, it’s okay.”
“No, I’m up,” Karen said, and with a surprising demonstration of willpower, she was out of the bed and taking her own turn in the bathroom.
“There’s a spare toothbrush in the drawer,” Pam called. It was there just in case. You know, in case hers dropped in the toilet or something. Or in case she had a friend over. Like Karen.
“So I guess I should clear out and let you get back to your day,” Karen said as she came back into the tiny bedroom, but she slipped into bed beside Pam again anyway.
“You really feel like leaving?” Pam asked. “Because I kind of feel like staying here until Monday morning.”
“That sounds like a better plan,” Karen said with a groan. “Oh, God. Unless you have some good hangover food around here.”
“Leftover pizza?” Pam suggested. “Frozen burritos?”
“Ewww, no. Tell me you’re joking, Beesly.” The familiarity didn’t sting, not even a little. Because Pam and Karen were really friends now, right? It felt totally normal.
“Mostly,” Pam admitted. “We could go to the Glider, in a little while. They serve breakfast all day.”
“Is that the diner downtown, and do they serve alcohol?” Karen asked, holding up fingers to tick off her questions.
“Yes, and I don’t think so,” Pam answered. “But we can totally make our own mimosas here. If you don’t mind some really cheap white wine instead of the champagne.”
“Bring it,” Karen said. “In… like… half an hour.”
“Okay,” Pam agreed. “Half an hour.” She closed her eyes again, grateful that her curtains shut out most of the daylight.
“So cheap mimosas,” Karen said beside her. “That’s pretty civilized. No Bloody Marys for you, huh?”
“I’m kind of a snob,” Pam agreed. “In fact, I’m thinking of starting a club, for people who like things to be civilized and color-coordinated and educational. It’ll be very exclusive.”
“Sounds like a winner,” Karen said. “So am I in?”
“I think we’ll be more about Call of the Wild than Call of Duty,” Pam said. “Very discriminating.”
“Very full of yourself,” Karen countered. “Call of Duty is educational. It teaches… tactics. And history. And civilization, if you’re with the Allies.” But her voice was starting to fade in and out, or maybe it was just Pam’s hearing as she felt herself drifting in and out.
“You’ll like the Glider,” Pam said. “It’s very accessible food.” But maybe she just said the last part in her head before she was asleep again.
“The sleepover? Oh, it was fine. Just regular girl stuff. I had some extra pajamas and a toothbrush, so it was easy to turn it into an overnight thing. What? No, it didn’t put me out at all. But yeah, it was really fun. I think we’ll definitely do it again.”
Jim made his trademark face at the cameras. “Was I jealous I didn’t get invited to Pam and Karen’s sleepover?” he repeated. “Um. That’s a good question, actually. I mean, obviously, a lot of the people here would want an invitation to that party.”
The camera panned up through the blinds to focus on Michael, who appeared to be sticking a pencil up his nose to Dwight’s eager applause.
“But it’s a good thing that the branch merger is going well,” Jim continued. “I’m glad to see the employees getting along. And sometimes it’s not as much fun when the boss gets invited to the party. Besides, I probably wouldn’t have wanted to watch chick flicks and paint toenails.”
Out in the bullpen, Karen walked up to the reception desk, popping a piece of candy into her mouth with a grin.