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When Jim was a freshman in college, his roommate Sean went completely crazy over a girl; called her at all hours, bought her presents, convinced himself that when she said “I think we should take a break,” she meant, “I think you should prove your love,” and that when she said “I have a restraining order,” she meant, “Please come over tonight.” Jim called Sean’s parents to bail him out and talked to his friends about how crazy his roommate was and swore he’d never be that nuts over a girl.

Lately, though, Jim’s starting to wonder. His brain has turned into a roller coaster. The kind that makes you throw up. He spends half of his day parsing everything Pam says for subtext. He spends the other half hating himself for it. He’s even started leaving little things on her desk: a pack of the gum that she likes, a comic clipped out of the paper that will make her laugh. He's got a system for how often he's allowed to do it, a complicated formula practically involving the quadratic equation, so that it won't seem like it's too much or like he's a creepy stalker going after a woman who's clearly told him she's not interested. This is what he's come to. Maybe he should call Sean in whatever nut bin he undoubtedly was committed to and commiserate.

Mark’s sick of him talking about it. He’s just started parroting Jim now, echoing whatever conclusion Jim reaches. You’re right, she’s totally flirting with you, Jim. You’re right, she doesn’t love you, you should find someone else. You’re right, the fact that she stole some of your chips at lunch is totally laden with symbolism. No, I’m not tired of talking about Pam. Yes, I am being sarcastic. Jim’s had to force himself not to start every conversation at home with, “So tell me what this sounds like to you.”

Unfortunately that leaves him alone in his head a lot, and his head’s turning into a pretty scary place to be.

*****

He’s loitering around Pam’s desk. Again. He swore to himself that he was going to stop doing that. He’s got three clients to check in with before lunch, so he doesn’t really have the time to be chatting anyway. And if he’s at her desk, the camera is too, which means adopting his Don’t Look At Me, I Just Work Here Jim persona, which he’s starting to hate. But he keeps thinking about that Friday night, about her saying she loved him, and how for one split second – for the tiniest, best second of his life – it seemed like she really meant it. He keeps thinking about her head on his shoulder and the smell of her hair when he kissed her after she drove him home and all of those messages on his voicemail, and he finds himself digging through her candy bowl instead of doing his job and imitating what he would act like if he weren’t in love with her. Story of his life.

“Pamboni!” Michael barks as he sails through the door.

"Ew," Pam whispers to Jim before turning to face Michael.

“What’s on the slate for today?” he asks.

“Jan’ll be here at eleven for the Women in the Workplace seminar. And she said to remind you about the meeting with the CFO in New York next Tuesday and that you’re to be on your best behavior.” She stresses the last two words, as if she’s talking to a disobedient child. Jim covers a smile with his hand. He imagines Jan said it the exact same way. At the mention of Jan’s name, Michael straightens his posture, his hand drifting to his tie to smooth it nervously.

“Jan called?” he asks, studying the memo slip Pam hands him with forced casualness. “Did she say anything about me?” Jim snorts and turns it into a cough.

“What…I just told you.” Michael looks at Pam blankly. “About the CFO meeting?”

Michael clears his throat and looks up, gives the camera a tight smile. “Very well, I will be in…my office. Doing…stuff.” He moves towards his office and the camera trails him.

“When is Jan getting here again?” he calls back.

“Eleven!” Pam’s voice carries a hint of exasperation. Michael waves his hand vaguely and disappears into his office, the camera guy scurrying in behind him. The door closes with a click and they see them setting up for an interview. Pam rolls her eyes and shrugs.

So…big meeting at corporate on Tuesday, then,” Jim says.

“Yep.”

“You do realize what this means, don’t you?”

Her brows knit. “What?”

“Michael. In New York. On Tuesday.”

“Okay, and?”

“Tuesday is Valentine’s Day.” He takes a peppermint out of the bowl and drops it on the top of the desk, holding it under his fingertip and sliding it back and forth over the laminate.

“Oh.”

“And he’ll be in New York. With Jan.” He punctuates each word with a swish of the mint across the desk. Her eyes widen as his meaning sinks in.

“Oh! Oh wow.”

“I know. Awk-ward.”

Pam cringes. “You don’t think he’d…do anything, do you?”

“Like embarrass himself horribly with some overt declaration of undying love?” Jim asks, batting the peppermint between his hands. “Yeah, I’d say the odds of that are fair to guaranteed.”

“I wonder if he got her a Valentine,” Pam muses, overlapping the edges of her cardigan across her chest with her hands, as if the idea alone makes her uncomfortable.

“You choo-choo-choose me?” Jim suggests. He knows it’s one of her favorite Simpsons episodes. And he knows Roy never gets it when she tries to quote The Simpsons to him. He’s become someone who tailors his humor to gain points against the guy whose fiancée he’s sleeping with. Fuck. He hates himself. But then Pam giggles and he doesn’t give a shit, because she seems happier than she has in a while.

“You can actually pinpoint the second when his heart rips in half,” he continues. She’s still laughing, holding her hand against her stomach as if it hurts. He grins and calls himself ten kinds of idiot.

*****

He catches her attention during the seminar and she rolls her eyes. Interesting how it doesn’t matter which executive is in there; eye-rolling will be induced regardless. He does a little of his own when Michael decides to have a spontaneous seminar too, making them gather in a circle and clap. He’s not surprised when Jan kicks them out and Michael ushers them out the door.

“If we have to do trust falls, I’m quitting,” Ryan mutters under his breath as they file out.

Turns out there’s nothing like spending a day with Roy to make Jim’s head spin. Who knew you could feel guilty and sorry for a guy at the same time that you wanted to punch his teeth in? Roy calls him a good guy, says he knows that Jim’s crush is history, and Jim feels ill. But then he complains about Pam talking of all things (and if Roy thinks that listening to Pam is a hardship Jim would like to a) take her off his hands, and b) introduce him to Katy and her endless chatter about shopping) and Jim just feels irritated. He wants to say, “Oh yeah? Well she does a hell of a lot more than talk with me, you jackass, so shove that in your Poconos,” but he does still have some sense of self-preservation.

He has to wonder, though. If this is the guy Pam spends ten years of her life with, if she can choose someone like Roy, then how could she ever feel anything for a guy like Jim?

Kevin corners him late in the afternoon. “So you dodged a bullet with Roy back there,” he says, darting his eyes around as if Roy might be lurking behind a stack of boxes waiting to attack.

“Mmhmm,” Jim murmurs noncommittally.

“You know I’ll back you up, Jim,” he continues earnestly. “But if anything happens with you and Pam-”

“Nothing’s going to happen, Kev,” Jim interrupts, and it hurts to say it, as if he’s just realizing it now instead of for the hundredth time.

*****

He makes a break for it after lunch, ostensibly to check his messages, but mostly to get away from Roy and his twin desires to apologize to him and deck him. His mother would be dismayed at her son harboring such violent thoughts. There’s nothing important on his voicemail, so he hangs up and steels himself to return to the belly of the beast, but Pam comes out to catch him before he leaves.

When she tells him about the internship, he can hear the desire for approval in her voice. He thinks it sounds great, and he tells her so, and she smiles and he can almost imagine their life together. She told him first, is all he can think. She wanted him to know before anyone. That has to mean something, right?

*****

She’s in the break room when he goes to get some coffee, and he knows that she’s not taking the internship. He can tell in the way she’s holding herself: defeated, broken. She’s dull, lifeless Pam in a cardigan again, with a dead-end job and a deadbeat fiancé and he knows without asking that she’s not doing it.

“Do you have something you want to say?” she challenges, and it’s all he can do not to say everything that’s in his head. How Roy’s strangling the life out of her, how she deserves more, how he loves her to distraction and would do anything to make her happy, even outlandish things like talk to her and take her on dates even if they go out to dinner every single night and encourage her to do something that makes her happy for once.

But he doesn’t. He's way too nervous and angry for a conversation about some internship, and he knows it's not the internship they're really fighting about. Every conversation they have now is loaded, like they’ve become walking, talking, fucked up metaphors. So when Pam defiantly says she's fine with her choices, his stomach turns to lead and he has trouble breathing. Even Sean couldn't misinterpret that.

He doesn’t say goodbye when he leaves that night. He calls Brenda on his cell and loudly talks about their upcoming date and doesn’t even look back over his shoulder when he walks out the door, even though he wants to.

 

*

Simpsons quotes from the episode “I Love Lisa”