Jim spends New Year's Eve with Mark and his girlfriend, at a bar downtown with a ridiculous cover charge. It's crowded and hot, and they watch the ball drop on the tv in the corner, everyone in the bar shouting the countdown.
Mark kisses Sarah and Jim takes a swig of his beer and pretends he's not thinking about kissing someone at midnight, about how you're supposed to kiss the person you want to spend the whole year with. About where Pam is right now -- it's never stopped bothering him, all these hours when they're apart, when he has no idea where she is, or what she's doing. All the stupid little mundane life things.
"Hey," says Mark, and punches him in the arm. "Do I have to buy you a shot, or what?"
Jim grins despite himself, and looks up to find Sarah smiling at him.
"It's 2006!" she says, lifting her glass. "Here's to... great things and big changes." Mark raises his eyebrows at Jim and Jim shrugs, and they all clink.
Jim's starting to think longingly of home and bed when someone behind him says his name. It's Katy, in a low-cut shirt, half empty drink in hand.
"Katy!" he says, and somehow they're hugging. "Hey!"
"Wow, hi," she says, when she steps back, and he scratches the back of his neck.
"Uh, how have you been?" he says.
"Okay," she says, and she's standing close enough -- closer than she needs to -- that he can smell her perfume. "Oh, happy new year!"
"Yeah, you too," he says. "Got any fancy resolutions?" He's drunk enough that most things right now seem like a good idea, and Katy's as pretty as she ever was. He still likes her hair.
He kisses her beside the jukebox. Twice, and she smiles up at him, and three more times, long and slow, his hands skimming the skin where her shirt meets her jeans.
He tells himself this isn't cheating on Pam, because honestly it's really, really not, but he goes home alone anyway.
January starts cold and empty and all Pam's stories start with 'we'. Christmas Eve at Roy's parents', Christmas morning at hers, and Jim doesn't know why it's bothering him so much more now.
That's not quite true -- he does know, and it has to do with those few stupid hours after the Christmas party. Driving around with Pam, not daring to ask any questions and hoping, hoping. That maybe she'd broken up with Roy. Maybe it was over, and this thing between them can stop being what it is, can be right.
But no -- he'd popped it like a bubble and everything's still the same and he can't even get in his car anymore without thinking of her.
"So what'd you do?" Pam asks, and he shrugs, elbows on her desk, just like every day, every day the same.
"I was pretty busy, actually," he says. "Lots of presents to steal in Whoville."
"Even the roast beast?" she asks.
"Please," he says, "who do you think you're dealing with?"
The week before the first quarter leadership whatever, Michael stands by the door as everyone leaves and hands out a list of things to pack.
"A bathing suit?" says Phyllis, looking at her piece of paper.
"Shhhhhhut--not everyone has theirs yet," Michael says, waving her away. "Come on, come on," he says, as Jim waits by Pam's desk for her to put on her coat.
Pam starts laughing as soon as they get through the door, looking at her sheet. "A ski mask?"
"Wow, a toothbrush?" Jim says. "Do you think this is an overnight?" He tries to keep his voice casual. Asking for no particular reason, no sir.
"Who knows?" says Pam, as they get to the door downstairs. "But I hope you know where your rubber-soled shoes are."
"Yeah, I'll have to... work on that," he says as she veers off toward the truck. "Okay, see you."
"Bye," she says, and waves. Jim looks down at his keys as he walks, tosses them in the air, catches them.
Jim showers fast, shampoo, bar of soap, then stands in the hot water, letting it run down over his face. He's been keyed up all week, all month, all year, since he met her, and when he reaches down he's half hard already.
He used to have this rule, no thinking about Pam, because it seemed too sad even for him. It never lasted, though, and these days the fantasy Pam from before tends to get mixed up with his memories of the real one from now, and both get confused with the things he still wants to do to her and it's-- weird. His dick is hard, and he thinks about her hand here, her mouth here, how she looked and felt in his bed...
He finishes fast, and when he's done he stays in the shower, hands braced against the tile, until the hot water runs out.
11:30 and he can't sleep. With a sigh, he rolls over and grabs for his phone. He has to squint at the brightness of the screen in the bedroom, and he scrolls through his whole address book twice. Pauses, hovers, then flicks back up the list.
"Hey!" he says, when she answers on the second ring. "I didn't wake you up, did I?" In the background he can hear Leno's voice, tinny laughter.
"Nope," she says. "What's up?"
Jim rolls onto his back, puts his free hand behind his head.
"I'll be perfectly honest with you, Katy," he says. "Not a whole lot." With the phone pressed to his ear, her laughter sounds small and close.
Jim makes both the traffic lights near his house which puts him a whopping four minutes early to work. He walks into the building with his hands in his pockets to keep them warm, thinking sleepily about coffee.
Pam's waiting for the elevator looking half-asleep, and he's awake, just like that.
"Hey!" he says, and she blinks, then smiles.
"Morning," she says, then makes a face and steps forward to push the already-lit elevator button three times. "I think it's broken again," she says.
Jim looks up at the numbers above the doors, with the 3 lit up, then shrugs and follows Pam to the stairs, holding the door to let her through first.
"Maybe today will magically go by really fast," she says, as they start up the stairs, and he laughs.
"Oh, yeah, I'm sure that'll happen any day now." Pam grins and looks up at him as they turn onto the first landing.
"Oh, hang on," she says, "you have an eyelash--"
Jim freezes and lets her reach up, brush her thumb across the skin right below his eye. Her hand is chilly from being outside and she smiles and pulls away after a second.
"There," she says, and Jim grabs her wrist before she can let her hand drop. It's an impulse, just like bringing his other hand up to her face, just like kissing her before she can say anything.
She tastes like toothpaste, morning, and she's small and warm, and she kisses him back, for just a second, before pulling back and away. She looks around nervously, but it's just the two of them in the stairwell.
"You're crazy," she says, but she doesn't sound mad.
Jim tries hard to keep his grin to himself as he follows her up the rest of the stairs, and he reaches out and squeezes her hand fast just before they go through the door. The look she gives him over her shoulder is enough to keep him warm all morning.
"So, big day," Jim says after they get out of Michael's Titanic-themed meeting. "I hear Leonardo diCaprio might show up."
"Yeah, you'd love that," Pam says, smiling.
The warehouse guys finally spill out of the conference room -- "ready to get my booze on," Darryl is saying -- and Roy comes up behind Pam.
"Hey, babe," he says, wrapping his arms around her waist. "Halpert."
"Uh, hey," says Jim.
"So is this gonna be great, or what?" Roy asks. From where he's standing, Jim's pretty sure he can't tell that Pam isn't meeting Jim's eyes, just as much as he isn't meeting hers. "Hey, you bringing anybody?"
"Oh," says Jim, "Um, I'm not sure."
Pam's eyes flick up to his face quickly, then away. Roy's hand is resting on her hip, where it curves into her stomach, and Jim's kissed her there, he's kissed her right there. It seems like something that should make him feel good when he looks at Roy and his bland, unsuspecting face, but instead he just feels kind of sick.
"I have to go back to the phones," Pam says, disentangling herself from Roy, and Jim can't tell who the apology in her voice is for.
"Hey, Katy, it's Jim," he says, when she answers the phone. He's on the landing in the stairwell and he makes himself stop pacing and lean against the wall.
"Hey, what's up?" she says after a pause.
"Not much," he says. "Hey, listen, um, I know this is kind of last minute, so you know, no pressure, but, uh, my work is putting on this booze cruise thing tonight, and I was wondering if you wanted to go."
"Oh!" Katy says. "Tonight?"
"Yeah, at like 6, I guess?" he says. "I mean, it's a work thing, and you know the people I work with, but it could be fun."
There's another pause, and he bites at a hangnail, feeling weirdly like he's back in junior high.
"Okay, sure," she says. "I can do that."
"Awesome!" Jim says. "Great. Do you want to just come meet me here, or...?"
So he doesn't want to play third wheel all night -- so what? It's ten minutes past five and he's cleaning up his desktop to kill time before the thing tonight. And Katy's nice, and pretty, and perfectly unoffensive in every way. He'd only stopped calling her because he thought maybe this thing with Pam would-- but it isn't, and it's stupid to just sit around waiting for something to change. Maybe this time things will click with Katy and he'll feel it, and he can stop feeling the way he does these days.
Or there's the other possibility, the one he's pretending not to think about; if having Pam there and Katy there is weird for them, is weird for Pam, what does that mean? If she doesn't like him with Katy the way he doesn't like her with Roy, how does that change the game? Will she...
Jim realizes he's been moving the same folder around for three minutes, and sits back with a sigh. He looks over toward Pam, who's reading the newspaper Oscar left in the break room earlier. She looks up when he leans back in his chair, and he raises his eyebrows -- watch this -- and sets about convincing Dwight that the Loch Ness Monster has been sighted right where they'll be sailing.
"Oh, hey," he says by reception, as Pam's pulling on her coat. He lowers his voice even though the only other person around is Creed, all the way back at his desk. "Um, I invited Katy to come along tonight."
Pam pauses for just a second in the middle of pulling her hair out from her collar.
"Oh," she says.
"And, uh, I wanted to tell you and just... make sure it wouldn't be weird." Pam looks down for a second, but maybe it's just at her scarf.
"Oh, yeah, no," she says. "Of course. That's totally cool."
"Yeah?" he says, and she looks up, right at him. Her lips are pressed together a little, and her eyes look sad, and it kind of freezes him in place, how much he knows what she's feeling, how much they feel like a them right now.
"Yeah," she says, softer, like she doesn't want to. "It's probably a good idea."
"Yeah," Jim says, looking down at the desk. When he looks up again, she gives him a tight, wry little smile, an in-this-together smile, and it twists his heart. He wants to say, "sucks, huh?" because it does, and he knows it, and he can tell she does too, even if this is treading dangerously close to the territory of Things Not Discussed.
Maybe he would've said it anyway, but before he can decide, the door opens, and it's Katy, smiling, cheeks pink from the cold.
"Hey!" she says to him, and then, "Hey, Pam!"
"Hi!" says Pam, and it's just-maybe the faux-bright voice she uses with Michael sometimes.
"You ready to set sail?" he says. Katy laughs and he puts a hand on the small of her back, guiding her toward the door.
When he glances back at Pam, she turns away fast, before he can see her face. It's kind of sick, how that makes his heart speed up.
When they pull into the marina parking lot there are already three or four cars he recognizes, and the camera guys are climbing out of their van two spaces away.
"Hey," says Katy, as he shuts off the engine, and he looks over. She reaches out and tugs a little on his tie. He'd forgotten that about her.
"I'm glad you called," she says, and kisses him quickly. It's nice, kissing Katy. It's kind of a pleasant change to kiss someone without feeling like he's about to go into cardiac arrest.
"Oh, yeah, totally," he says, and she smiles at him before they get out of the car.
Jim hasn't been out on Lake Wallenpaupack in years. Not that he can see anything in the dark, anyway. He can tell this, the boat, would be nice in the summer, when it stays light really late, and you could stand on the deck to watch the sun set, other boats in the water. Now it's just cold.
It turns out that shockingly enough there's not much to do on a booze cruise besides drink. And watch Michael ... well, be Michael.
So he's trying to do both those things, and pay attention to Katy, and none of it's really working, because all he wants to do is ask Pam about this artsy fartsy high school past. Possibly demand pictures.
(And okay, maybe he's distracted, too, by Pam making fun of the cheerleader thing just to him, in front of Roy and Katy -- it's a little thrill, like when she calls him at work and makes him have a conversation about Dwight that requires Jim to make up complicated answers so Dwight won't realize he's being discussed. Or meetings with Michael when they both have to be very, very careful not to laugh while they mess with him, or he'll figure it out.)
"Get me another drink?" Katy asks, and he blinks and looks over.
"Yeah, sure," he says, standing. "You guys want anything?"
Roy shakes his head, and Pam lifts her mostly-full beer, so Jim wanders off to the bar and gives his order.
He's leaning on the bar waiting when the girl Jan brought to babysit Michael comes up.
"Hey," he says. "Brenda, right?" She looks over and he straightens up and extends a hand. "Jim," he says. "Halpert." Her hand is cool and firm when they shake.
"So," he says. "Is this the most professional event you've been to this year, or...?"
She laughs like she wasn't expecting to, and drops her eyes to the bar.
"The Nashua branch," she says. "Had a brunch at the Radisson. I'm pretty sure they skipped the limbo section."
"Man, they're totally missing out," Jim says as the bartender slides his beer and Katy's vodka tonic across the bar, and she smiles.
"I'll send them a memo," she says dryly, and gives the bartender her order.
"Wow," Pam says for the third time after Michael finishes his... dance.
"You said that," Jim points out, sitting back in the booth. Pam makes a face at him.
On his right, Katy puts a hand on his shoulder and leans in, against his arm, as she listens to Roy talk to Darryl in the next booth over. Something nudges at the inside of Jim's foot -- it's Pam's, and when he gives her a look, she raises her eyebrows and darts her eyes over to Dwight, who's walking by with two beers. He can't help grinning -- Dwight Plus Alcohol is one of their longest-running projects.
They both watch Dwight cross the boat and hand one of the beers to Michael and the other to Captain Jack, who looks like he didn't ask for it.
Jim looks back at Pam and makes a face. Damn.
She shrugs. Oh well. Katy laughs loudly at something Darryl is doing.
"Hey," says Pam, later, as he's leaning against a pillar watching Michael try to convince someone, anyone, to let him do a snorkel shot. "You wanna get some air?"
"Yeah, definitely," he says.
It's colder than he remembered outside, with the lake breeze, and they're only three steps out when the door opens again and one of the camera guys comes out following them. Which is maybe just as well -- when they're alone, he spends all his time trying to figure out if they're alone, or if they're Alone Like That, and what, if anything, he should do to turn the former into the latter and it's just... well, it's stressful.
Though that doesn't stop him from wanting to kiss her up against the railing now. Twine his fingers with hers and get her to make that one little sound in the back of her throat, like she's happy in spite of herself.
Instead she shakes her head and he looks out over the water.
"Sometimes I don't get Roy," she says, and it's like a door swinging open: they don't do this ever, talk about Roy, the ways she doesn't get him, the ways maybe she does get Jim. It has to mean something, because then she brings up Katy-the-cheerleader, like she's asking him about everything, giving him a second chance. Feeling him out.
He freezes up. He's never thought about how to put it in words, the Pam thing, it just is. "I'm totally into you" doesn't really seem like it's going to do the trick. "Remember when I pretended it was cool if we fooled around as friends, but it's killing me, because I like you so much, but I don't seem to have the balls to tell you?" All his maneuvering to get here and now he's second-guessing himself.
He can't see the camera, but he can feel it, a vague pressure somewhere behind his left ear. If he said something now (should he say something now?) -- if he kissed her -- they wouldn't know it wasn't the first time. It would be like starting over, erasing everything from before.
But if she doesn't feel the same thing, he could ruin everything, all of this, and the idea of not being able to touch her ever again makes him feel sick.
He can't-- he doesn't know-- he can feel his heart in his throat and she's smiling at him and he's not even managing to smile back.
When she brushes past him to go inside, his stomach doesn't unclench at all. There's this space inside his chest like he's lost something.
Okay. Okay okay okay. Michael and Captain Jack are trying to draw him into their web of bad metaphors and it's not distracting him at all from feeling miserable and desperate. She gave him the sign, a chance to take back everything he's said about them just being friends, and he blew it, so what's she going to think now? And the more he thinks about it, the less it seems like he has to lose; they're not just friends anymore, and they're not more than that, and he needs to sack up and change things.
His pulse hasn't slowed down from before and he looks over at Pam, across the boat and-- okay. He's doing this.
The camera's in his face the whole way over, and if he's going to throw caution to the wind, he might as well go all out. When he tells it he'd save the receptionist (save her, save himself, save them) it feels kind of like the first true thing he's ever said to it.
He has all this adrenaline.
And then just like that, Roy opens his mouth and everything changes. He loses her.
The first time he heard about Roy was at lunch at Cugino's with the new receptionist. They were talking about oversleeping -- namely, how fast he could get to work when he did, and he was making her laugh with a story about Dwight having to tell him his shirt was buttoned wrong.
"What about you?" he asked. "Do you live far?"
"Not too far," she said, taking a sip of her soda. "My boyfriend and I actually just got an apartment right off of Drinker."
"Oh!" he said. Crap. "Wow."
"Yeah!" she said, and her face lit up in this way that did something funny to his insides. "Yeah, we've never lived together before, so it's kind of exciting. Like, getting furniture and stuff." She shrugged and made a face at herself. "This is my super-exciting life."
"No," he said, pushing through his twinge of disappointment. It would fade. "That sounds really cool."
"Yeah," said Pam, smiling again. "Yeah, it is."
Her face now is like her face then -- happier, even. Even from halfway across the boat he can tell she's crying a little. She presses her face into Roy's chest and when she pulls back he leans down and kisses her. Jim looks away.
Far away and numbly, part of him wonders if this would hurt as much if he hadn't half-gotten her for a minute there, a month or two. Would he Eternal Sunshine it away, if he could? Stupid question -- he already knows the answer.
"Hey!" says Katy, plopping down beside him. Her face is flushed and she's smiling, and she slides a hand across his knee under the table.
"I think I'm going outside," he says, downing the rest of his drink and standing up abruptly. She blinks, but recovers quickly.
"Okay, cool," she says, and follows him out.
Outside he walks around the deck twice without saying anything, Katy keeping pace beside him, and then he gets stuck on the warm square of light at the door, on what's inside it. He's both too drunk and not nearly drunk enough.
"Do you think that'll ever be us?" Katy says, following his gaze to Pam and Roy and Roy and Pam, and it's such a fucking stupid question that he can't even deal with it.
"No," he says, without looking away from inside. They're so wrong for each other.
"What is wrong with you?" she says, and it's almost satisfying to have someone sound that sharp to him, so he's not the only one beating up on himself. "Why did you even bring me here tonight?" It's a valid question.
"I don't know," he says. If he'd been five minutes earlier. "Let's break up."
"What?!" Katy says, and he keeps from looking at her as long as he can. "You're a jackass," she says, when he finally turns his head.
"Oh, come on," he says, and it gives him a vicious little thrill, to be saying what he really feels. Too little, too late. "We're completely wrong for each other. So, what, we're supposed to just pretend everything's fine, that being miserable is better than being alone?" Through the door the song that was playing finishes, and in the silence he can hear Roy laugh.
"Well, fuck you, too," Katy says, and slams through the door. He should go after her. His hands are cold.
This is the worst night ever, and it's never going to end. Outside is cold, and inside is awful, and he keeps switching when he can't take any more.
He finds Michael on the upper deck, talking to one of the cameras. Michael and his ridiculous booze cruise and his failure of a presentation, his sad, empty little life.
Jim feels like a switch has been flipped tonight; he started talking, telling the truth, and he can't stop. He's too tired to care anymore. The documentary camera's right behind them and he's still talking about Pam like this entire year of playing it cool, telling it lies, doesn't matter at all.
BFD, says Michael. Never, ever, ever give up, says Michael.
Jim's yeah sticks in his throat. Yeah, engaged ain't married, but swaying isn't dancing, and sex isn't love. And none of it matters now, anyway.
His legs feel weird back on land, even after only a few hours on the boat. It seems like it was longer.
In the parking lot, Michael throws a snowball at the prow of the boat (it misses by a good twenty feet), and Katy glares at Jim some more, and Roy keeps his arm around Pam the whole walk to their truck. She doesn't look over at Jim at all.
The ride back to work so Katy can get her car takes place in icy silence, which he knows he deserves. She gets out without saying goodbye and shuts the door too hard.
So that's that. So that's everything. Pam's getting married, just like she always was, but for real, and now he gets to figure out how to move on. Deal with the fact that he's never going to get to touch her again. End of the line. Game over.