The barbeque is Roy's idea, both the charcoal-fueled monster in the back yard and the inevitable party to rationalize its purchase. "It'll be fun," he insists, curling his arms around Pam from behind and tucking his chin over her shoulder. "We'll have people over, I'll cook..."
"Hey, I can cook," he objects, and blows a zerbert against the side of her neck to avenge his honor. "Hamburgers, brats, some grilled onions, it'll be great. All you'll have to do is fill a few bowls with chips and put out some of those candles for the bugs." He blows another zerbert against her neck, keeping it going for much longer than any flesh-contact raspberry should be able to last, and when he finally runs out of air he pauses, sucking in another deep breath like he's going to get her again, and she shrieks, trying to wriggle out of his grasp. He gives her neck a noisy kiss, instead. "We could do it for the next UFC pay-per-view. You think?"
Pam senses, on some level, that there's a detail missing, but she can't quite put her finger on it. Sure, Roy never mentions which people he plans on inviting over, but she just assumes it'll be the usual sports-event mix of his brothers and the guys from the warehouse. She doesn't even think about it, that's how deep the assumption runs. She's so used to the rhythms of her life with Roy that thinking isn't really a part of it anymore.
* * *
There isn't any point in leaving the air conditioner on if they're just going to be in and out of the back door all night, but that means that the kitchen is boiling hot. Pam wipes her forehead with the back of her hand for the millionth time and decides that it'll probably be all right if she opens a window. The next-door neighbor has been mowing his lawn for an eternity with the loudest lawn-mower in the world, but at this point she's willing to deal with the noise for the sake of airflow.
She has to climb up on the sink to get enough leverage to open that window, jamming her knee against the divider in between the basins and trying hard not to fall in. The problem with renting an older house was that older houses have older windows, with layers of cracked paint, and splinters, and panes gone all loose. Older windows hate opening. Pam yanks on the window handles from a few different angles without any result other than making the handles feel like they're going to fall off. She can hear Roy's voice over the incessant roaring of the lawn mower; it sounds like he's greeting somebody at the front door, and if that's the case then she doesn't have much time for this. She hunches over with the heels of her hands wedged under the wood along the top of the sash, takes a deep breath, and pushes like crazy.
"Whoa, don't fall," Jim's voice says behind her, just as the window finally pops up, and she promptly loses her precarious balance. Her knee slips, her body twists sideways; she slams a hand into the side of a nearby cabinet to try to catch herself, but it's too late. She lands smack on her left hip in the sink with her right leg sticking up in the air, feeling for all the world like a cat in the middle of an embarrassing hygiene maneuver.
"Are you okay?" Jim is standing in the doorway to the living room with a six-pack of beer in each hand and a sheepish expression on his face. Pam glares at him. He shrugs. "Hey, I told you not to fall. Not my fault you can't follow directions, Beesly."
"What are you doing here?" she demands, shaken and startled and more than a little annoyed.
"Oh, you know," he says, tipping his head sideways, "there was this flyer taped up in the men's room at Poor Richard's and... nah, you know, Roy invited me." He studies her position for a moment. "Do you, uh, need a hand? You seem kind of stuck."
"No, I'm okay." She climbs out, banging her shin against the under-sink cabinet door handle. Her shorts have a wet spot from the sink, right along the hip, and she wipes her palm over it a few times. It feels like there's a bruise forming there. "Well. Hi."
"Hi." Jim holds up the beer. "Um, where should I...?"
"Sorry, sorry." She points him toward the refrigerator and watches as he opens the door and squats down to access the lower shelves. "Roy didn't say you were coming."
The lawn-mower next door stops, and silence falls heavy between them. It seems to last a long time. She can hear the television in the other room, but couldn't have named what was playing if someone paid her. Jim slowly pushes things around in the refrigerator to make room for the beer. Pam can't remember there being all that much in there; it's been too hot to cook all week and she hasn't made it to the store since the worst of the heat finally broke.
Jim clears his throat and says, "Oh," into the fridge. After a moment, he adds, "I just-- Roy just mentioned something, sort of last-minute, I guess, and... I thought you knew."
"Well, I didn't." She remembers Jim saying "see you later" in the parking lot on Friday, and remembers thinking that he'd seemed a little weird when he'd said it, but it wasn't like that would make anyone think he'd be showing up at the barbeque. It's bizarre to see Jim standing in her kitchen. She's not comfortable with this being sprung on her without warning. The guys from the warehouse are okay, because she doesn't spend eight hours a day dealing with them, and they've been coming over for so long that she barely notices anymore. The thing is, even before the cameras, she always had the office and the people in it sort of encapsulated, placed firmly away from her real life. She picks and chooses what to show of herself at the office, what she wears and what she brings for lunch and what she talks about, and she doesn't like losing control of that. Suddenly her whole life, her real life, is on display, without her getting any choice in the matter, and it's making her feel invaded and vulnerable and annoyed.
Jim finishes dealing with the refrigerator and turns around. He shoves his hands in his pockets and watches her with a hesitant expression. "Are you okay with this?"
"Sure. Sure." Pam crosses her arms over her middle, shoulders hunched over, and each hand holding the opposite elbow in a death grip. "I'm just-- no, it's fine."
"Because if this is--"
"No, no, it's--"
"I mean, we can go, it's not a--"
"I'm not going to-- we?"
Jim blinks, and opens his mouth to say something, but Pam is already tuning in to the fact that one of the voices she'd attributed to the television is Roy's, and the other… She angles around to peer over Jim's shoulder and through the doorway, and sees Roy in the living room, talking to someone with long red hair and a low-cut sundress.
"Oh," Pam says, feeling even more uncomfortable.
Katy sees her looking and waves; she keeps talking to Roy, but starts to shift her body toward the kitchen.
"Um," Jim says. "Yeah. She likes UFC, and I thought... it seemed like a good idea. Roy said--"
"No, that's, you know, it's fine." Pam nods a few too many times, and then remembers that she ought to smile. "The more the merrier, right?"
Katy breezes in, laughing. "Hey, hi!" she says, and gives Pam a hug even though they've only ever seen each other three or four times before in their lives, mostly for thirty seconds at a time. "Wow, you guys have such a cute place!"
"Oh. Thanks." Pam kind of pats at Katy, feeling sweaty and underdressed and all kinds of weird, and she gets out of the hug as soon as possible. Katy turns toward Jim with a brilliant smile, all white teeth and flawless lipstick, and on her first step across the kitchen one of her wedge-heeled sandals sticks to the linoleum, makes a ripping sound as it peels away. All three of them look down at the spot, which is faintly brown. Pam remembers Roy spilling Coke there, remembers him swearing he'd cleaned it up. Great.
Roy comes up and drapes his arms heavily around Pam's shoulders, kisses the top of her head. She's surrounded by the smell of his breath, beer and wet corn chips, and she grits her teeth under an obligatory smile, feeling smothered. "Okay, you guys are the last ones here," he says. "Come on, grab a beer and let me show you the backyard."
* * *
Roy leads Jim and Katy out to the backyard, Pam trailing behind like the untied belt on a bathrobe. It's still light out, fading toward dusk in increments, the shadows turning darker and tinting everything a little blue. The air is much cooler than in the kitchen, softer, smelling like grass clippings and sprinkler water and charcoal, run through with the scratchy song of cicadas from the droopy clump of trees and bushes that run wild along the back.
"We've got some beer on ice in there," Roy says, pointing at the big orange cooler that they'd inherited from Pam's mom. He waits to see their eyes follow, then continues, "Chips and dip and stuff is on the table over there." He points again, this time at the huge picnic table that Roy's dad had built for them, which was weathered into faded red splinters. "The grill's gonna be ready in about ten minutes. We've got burgers, hot dogs, and, uh--" He turns to Pam, snapping his fingers.
"We've, um, got some Gardenburgers in the freezer," she offers.
Roy points at her with his finger like a gun and pulls the trigger. "Right, yeah, in case you're a, right, good call. And… I think that's about it."
"Roy!" Darryl yells from where the guys are all over by the shed. "How long has this hole been over here, man?"
"What hole?" Roy yells back, and goes over to take a look.
They all stand there watching him leave. Pam keeps her gaze fixed firmly on Roy, but she can sense the expression on Jim's face even without looking. "Well," she says brightly, "this sounds like something we don't want to miss, right?"
"Holes are very underrated as a source of entertainment," Jim agrees, deadpan, and Katy laughs like that's the funniest thing she's ever heard. Pam just starts walking. When she checks back over her shoulder, they're following her, Katy hanging onto Jim's arm as she teeters across the uneven clumps of grass on those high heeled sandals.
The hole is less thrilling than advertised. It's about six inches in diameter, dirt tossed out on the ground around it, and the only interesting thing about it that Pam can see is that the guys are all staring at it with such fascination.
"Could be a gopher," Darryl suggests. "We had those the other year."
"Fuck," Roy mutters.
"Or groundhog," Lonnie offers.
Darryl shakes his head. "Nah, those end up with those Bugs Bunny type tunnels just under the ground, and I don't see those."
"Ooh, hey--" Roy snaps his fingers like a light bulb has just gone on over his head. "Rabbit! You think?"
Roy's younger brother Bill gets a stick from under the honeysuckle bush. He pushes it into the hole, testing the depth with his mouth set in an expression of intense concentration that makes him look even more like Roy. When it hits bottom, everyone sort of relaxes. "No, wait, hold on," Bill says, tipping the stick to a different angle, and it bends a bit and keeps going down. Katy giggles, sharp and short like a reflex, and everyone glances up at her, surprised. Darryl shoots Roy a look that Pam can't read. Roy shrugs at him, and then hunkers down to poke at the hole.
Darryl lifts his chin at Jim in a wordless greeting. Jim does the thing where he smiles with just his mouth and eyebrows, nods a little. Bill gives Katy a little eyebrow flash, grinning, and Katy smiles back, leaning a little closer to Jim. Roy is engrossed with the mysterious hole, and it dawns on Pam that he isn't going to be making introductions anytime soon. She clears her throat a little and gestures at the guys. "This is Roy's brother Bill, and-- Jim, you know these guys already-- Darryl, and Vinnie, and Nails, and Lonnie. Guys, this is Jim and his--" (date? girlfriend?) "--um, Katy."
Handshakes all around. Roy has the good grace to glance up and clue back into the conversation. "Oh, yeah, sorry." He stands back up. "Anyway, I think I figured it out." He holds up a little plastic G.I. Joe that's holding a little plastic shovel; both Joe and shovel are caked with dirt. "Neighbor kid."
"I used to do that," Jim says. "Underground lairs. Bunkers." He has a funny smile on his face, like he's caught between being amused at the memory and wanting to do it again. Katy makes a cooing sound and hugs his arm.
"Mine were always where the enemy prisoners went," Lonnie says. Nails tips the neck of his beer bottle at him in silent agreement.
"I lost my Snake Eyes doing that," Darryl says, sounding irritated. "This kid from down the block came over and stomped on the side of the hole and it all caved in. Fucker. Snake Eyes was my favorite."
"Mine, too," Jim agrees. "He was a real bad-ass." Darryl raises his beer bottle to him; they clink the necks together in a toast.
"Roy wouldn't let me play G.I. Joes with him," Bill complains.
"You were too little." Roy gives him the weary big-brother glare. "The one time I let you, you broke the head off Stalker."
"Stalker," Lonnie laughs. "Man, I forgot that guy. Stalker was awesome."
"Yo Joe," Jim intones, and the other guys grin at him. Pam looks around at them, noting the way their tight circle formation opened to make Jim part of the conversation, the ease of the transition from curiosity to acceptance. She's seen him do it before, but it never fails to amaze her how fast he can connect with people. Pam's never been able to pull that off, and Jim just does it with such ease, like he isn't even thinking about it; he unerringly asks the right questions or drops just the right bit of personal information into the conversation, and he's in, every time. Amazing. She stares at him in astonishment and finds herself catching Katy's eyes instead. Katy curves a smile at Pam, tips her chin up at Jim, and shakes her head proudly as though to say Can you believe this guy?
Pam almost manages to smile as she turns away.
* * *
Dusk brings the bugs out. Big ones, undeterred by the four different citronella candles that Pam set up around the picnic table. She wishes she'd had a chance to do something with the place, maybe put a tablecloth on the picnic table, get the lawn mowed; she'd meant to plant some flowers in big pots back in the spring, but never got around to it. Too late now. She makes sure to keep a smile on her face, because she doesn't want to know what kind of expression she'd end up with if she didn't.
Pam manages to corner Roy when he goes to put hamburgers on the barbeque.
"You could have told me you were inviting other people," Pam says, not specifying names. Across the yard, Jim is doing a one-man impersonation of the last Shamrock/Ortiz fight and the guys are all roaring with laughter. Katy is overdoing her reactions to him, playing to the crowd, her hands and hair and short swishy dress all in motion.
"Pammy, it's okay. We've got enough places to sit; we've got enough food for everyone. No big deal."
"It is a big deal, because you should have told me," Pam hisses, furious that she's having to spell this out, that she always has to spell these things out. "I don't like it when you spring things on me like this."
Roy glances around the backyard and lowers his voice, like he's just now figured out that they're fighting. "Look, I just forgot. I'll try to remember next time, okay? What's the problem?"
The problem is that the lawn is a bit on the shaggy side, that the kitchen floor is tacky with dried Coke, that Pam is wearing an old stained tank top and a pair of shorts that had one of the back pockets ripped off, that she's barefoot like some sort of stereotypical housewife, that she can see a comparison between herself and Katy in the eyes of every man there, even Roy, and that makes her feel small and grubby and entirely unattractive. The problem is that when it was just the normal guys showing up, she didn't feel like she had to impress anyone, so tonight she was caught off-balance and unprepared to make a good impression. She's embarrassed and she's furious that Roy would set something like this up without even thinking about how it would affect her.
"It's not how many people," she tries to explain. "It's who."
"Seriously? Jeez, you and Halpert hang out all the time, I figured you'd be fine with it."
"That's not the point," Pam snaps, and stops, trying to articulate it. Roy just doesn't get it; he's never had any difference between his public self and his private self. Roy is just Roy with everybody, in every situation, and she loves that about him, really, but she wishes that he could get it through his thick skull that not all people are like that, that she's not like that. He doesn't understand that she has private Pam and public Pam, and that some people know one, some the other, that a very select few get to know both, and that she needs to be the one who chooses if, who, how and when that line is crossed.
He doesn't get it. He's not going to get it. They've had this argument a hundred times, and she isn't going to have it again tonight.
"He's my friend," she manages finally.
"So?" Roy checks under one of the burgers to see if it's done yet. "He's an okay guy. I like him fine. We were talking about UFC a while back, and the pay-per-view came up, so I invited him."
"Roy, come on, you can't do that." She can feel the same helpless fury rolling through her chest that she remembers from when she was a kid, sharing a room with her big sister, when she'd get her side of the room neat and tidy and then come home from school to find the whole room wrecked again. "I don't go around talking to your friends and inviting them over without telling you."
Roy seems baffled. "What the hell does that have to do with anything? Do whatever you want. I don't-- what the hell, Pam? Why are you making such a big deal about this? I didn't do this to piss you off, this isn't about you."
Pam scrubs the palms of her hands over her face and forces the frustration back down. "I know, I know," she sighs. "It never is."
* * *
Pam sits at the picnic table between Bill and Katy while they're eating. It feels like Bill keeps looking at her, which is creepy on a whole new level, but the third time he leans around her back to say something to Katy, Pam figures it out. Jim catches her eye and rolls his eyes the fourth time Bill does it, and she can't help smiling back at him. Only Jim would know not to treat Billy as a threat.
Everyone's sort of all smooshed together at the hip because there's not as much sitting room as Roy claimed, so when Katy shifts in her seat and leans back, Pam can feel Katy's leg moving. All of a sudden Jim's eyes widen, his face goes beet red, and he stares directly at Katy. "Hey, now," he says in a warning voice, but there's something about his eyes and the shape of his mouth that makes it clear that whatever it is that she's doing, he likes it. Katy giggles, and Pam becomes aware that while Katy's wedge-heeled strappy sandal is still on the ground next to Pam's ankle, Katy's foot is elsewhere.
"Hey," Lonnie says from across the table, "hey, Pam, you've got a little..." He gestures at his front, then nods at hers. Pam looks down and there's bright yellow mustard gooped onto her tank top, right between the breasts where the fabric forms a droopy sort of shelf. A piece of chopped onion perches in the middle of the mustard like a tiny white nipple.
"Great," Pam says. Nails leans over the table to offer her a napkin, averting his eyes as though he were passing a fresh roll of toilet paper around the bathroom door. She accepts it and swipes at the mustard a few times before concluding that it's a hopeless case. "Excuse me," she says, and gets up. She pushes Bill to one side so she can have enough room to maneuver her leg over the bench; he squawks around a mouthful of hamburger but, whatever, he's always been a baby. She grabs her plate as an afterthought and heads in the general direction of the house.
Roy intercepts her near the steps and opens his mouth to say something, but she glares at him and he backs off.
* * *
Once upon a time, this was Pam's favorite tank top. In some ways, it still is. It isn't tight or cleavage-y or see-through, none of the seams make her itch, it comes out of the wash feeling soft to the touch, and it's a nice pink color. She retired it from public viewing three years ago after the unfortunate barbeque-sauce-on-the-counter incident gave it a long brown stripe along her ribcage, and since then she's only worn it at home. There are some specks of green on the back from when she and Roy had painted his mom's bathroom, and a big white spot over her heart from the time that they were moving Bill out of his second apartment and she hauled an armful of cleaning products to the truck, only to find that one of the spray bottles pressed against her chest was full of bleach. Now the mustard has added an exciting new pee-colored splotch, front and center, and Pam sits on the bed for a while in just her bra and shorts, trying to figure out if the shirt is worth keeping. On the one hand, it's still one of the most comfortable things she owns, and it feels wrong to throw it out when there's no structural damage; on the other hand, it's now past the point where she'd be able to wear it around anyone but Roy, and that really limits the amount of use she can get out of it. There's the nostalgia factor, of course, but it feels sort of dumb to be nostalgic about things that ended up ruining her shirt.
She settles for putting it in the laundry hamper. She'll decide later, when she's doing the laundry.
The blinds are down in the bedroom, but the window is open; she can hear the omnipresent buzzing of the cicadas, and the people in the backyard. No words, really, just murmuring voices and occasional bursts of laughter. Usually Jim's voice precedes the laughter. That makes her smile.
She puts on a clean tank-top, a nicer tank-top that isn't stained at all, and then spends two minutes chewing her bottom lip as she considers changing her shorts, too, for good measure. She settles for brushing her hair.
* * *
Roy is waiting for her when she comes back outside, that puppy-dog expression on his face. "Whatever I did, I'm sorry," he says. He's completely sincere, and she wishes that could be enough to make her feel better, that he could learn something for once, but she smiles at him and accepts his apology anyway. It's not his fault that he doesn't understand, and she shouldn't punish him for that. There wouldn't be any point to it, so she just lets it go.
Roy sits down at the top of the back steps and Pam sits in front of him on the next step down, scooting forward to make sure none of her skin is touching the chilly concrete, and using his knees as armrests. She tips her head back against his chest, and he looks down and flashes a smile at her, and everything's sort of okay again. She just wishes this was enough. She doesn't know why it isn't.
"When does the show start?" she asks.
Roy lifts his wrist to check his watch, the one Pam's mom gave him two Christmases ago. "Ten minutes."
"Okay." She leans back against Roy and watches the others.
Jim must say something funny again, or maybe Katy's going through the beer too fast, because suddenly Katy starts laughing so hard that she bends over at the waist with her hands propped on her thighs. Jim holds his hand just over her back, barely touching her, like he's making sure she's not going to fall, and he's laughing at her reaction and looking a little worried at the same time. Katy pulls herself back up by hand-walking her way up Jim's chest, and when she gets to the neck of his t-shirt she grabs onto it and pulls him down to kiss her. Jim's eyes go wide, and he puts an arm tight around Katy's waist and dips her, still kissing, like they're celebrating on the streets at the end of World War II. This receives wolf whistles and cheers from the rest of the guys. When they straighten up, Jim grins and waves, saying, "Thank you very much, we'll be here all week." He's a little flushed, and he looks at Pam and does a sheepish little shrug. Pam feels something heavy turn over in her chest, right under her sternum.
"So they're doing it now," Roy says, right up against her ear, wrapping his arms around her. "When did that happen?"
"Couple months ago, maybe," Pam says. She's trying not to think about this conversation.
"You've been holding out on me, babe. Up until Halpert told me he was bringing a date, I was telling Darryl that he should totally call Katy. He's gonna kick my ass."
"Mmm." Pam tugs Roy's arms a little tighter around her shoulders, still looking at the way that Jim's long fingers curve along Katy's hip. It's good that Jim's dating Katy, because Pam does need to be reminded every now and then that he's not just there for her own convenience, that he has his own life. It's just a little hard to breathe, watching them.
* * *
For Pam, the most wonderful thing about UFC pay-per-view nights has always been that she doesn't watch the pay-per-view. She can just sit in the kitchen with her sketch pad and draw for a few hours, or go out in the backyard and have some quiet time. This time, though, she sits picking at the label on her second bottle of beer, her sketch pad blank and forgotten on the table. She can hear the guys cheering in the other room, Katy's voice chirping over the general male clamor.
She's not thinking about Jim, she is definitely not, but this would be a lot easier if he wasn't right in the next room. She wishes that Roy hadn't invited Jim over, wishes she didn't know what it was like to have Jim in her kitchen and her backyard, wishes she didn't know what Jim looked like when he was kissing someone. She hates that Jim has seen where she lives, hates that he's heard Roy tell the dirty joke about the plumber and the lady executive, hates that he's seen the wasp nest that she's been trying to get the landlord to deal with for months, hates that he's used the bathroom where the toilet makes that obscene noise every time it flushes, hates that he offered to change the light bulb above the back door and that she had to explain that the wiring was fried. She hates that this is her life, she hates that she's able to forget about all these things until someone else is there to see them, and she hates how overwhelmed and trapped and hopeless she feels when she remembers.
There are loud noises of disappointment from the living room; Pam cranes her head over to look through the doorway. Roy has a hand clamped to his forehead and he's staring at the television in disbelief, mouth hanging open; Jim reaches over and claps him on the shoulder in a comforting manner. He says something to Roy that Pam can't hear, and Roy fakes a punch at Jim's head. They both laugh. Pam sees Jim's eyes shift up, and she thinks for a moment that he's going to look into the kitchen and meet her eyes, but then Darryl walks across her field with a bowl of chips, and it turns out that's what Jim was after.
She suddenly feels like they're very far away. Like her method of encapsulating the office away from the rest of her life has somehow boomeranged and now she's sealed off all by herself.
* * *
Pam has finished her second beer and is pondering a third when Katy walks into the kitchen. She doesn't see Pam for a moment, and in that moment she's just a person, her face relaxed, no bubble of personality pushing out from her and onto other people. Then she spots Pam, and that hyper-awareness snaps on, changing her expression and body language into a performance again. It grates on Pam's nerves.
"Oh, hey," Katy says, as if she'd been hoping that Pam would be there.
"Need something?" Pam manages to keep her tone polite, but it's a close thing. She's tired, she doesn't have any interest in talking, and she just wishes that Katy would go back to the living room to go watch the fight or snuggle with Jim or whatever.
Katy holds up the empty beer bottle in her hand, the neck tucked into the vee between her two fingers, and waggles it in lieu of explanation, her eyebrows raised. Pam nods toward the refrigerator. Katy turns her head in that direction, then back. "You guys recycle?"
They don't, actually, because Roy can't be bothered to put the recyclables in a different bin, and because Pam got tired of pulling bottles out of the trash and rinsing off the coffee grounds. Pam's not going to tell Katy that, though, so she holds out her hand and takes the empty, holding it in front of her in mid-air, planning to do something with it after Katy goes back. Katy rummages around in the refrigerator, comes up with a hard cider, and opens it with the Eagles bottle opener tied to the refrigerator door with a shoelace. She sits down at the table across from Pam, takes a pull off the bottle, and looks at Pam. Silence.
Pam sets the bottle down on the table and taps it over with a finger until it clinks against her own empties. Katy smiles too hard at that, beaming at Pam all bright-eyed. Pam smiles back at a much lower wattage.
The silence is starting to take on the aura of a badly-made horror movie, not so much suspenseful as a drawn-out dull spot to think about how this might be a good time to make a bathroom run. If Katy isn't leaving-- and it doesn't look like she is-- Pam doesn't know what to do. It would probably be rude to leave, herself. It's definitely rude to sit here and not say anything. The odds are good that she's supposed to make conversation, and she starts to panic a little because one-on-one conversation with a near-stranger is not something that she's any good at.
"Aren't you missing the fight?" Pam asks at last.
Katy dismisses this with an airy gesture. "Oh, right now it's just the lower-card stuff. I don't know any of those guys, really, so I figured I'd take a break."
"I thought Jim said you were all into this stuff."
"No, I like it, but if it's just guys fighting, then that's okay but kind of eh, whatever. But if it's guys fighting and I know them, then I know who to root for, you know? I like it when I know them. The fighting's sort of just what they do."
"Oh." Pam works that through in her head. "So you don't know these guys."
Katy, in the middle of taking a sip of cider, nods her head and then shakes it as she swallows. "I don't know the guys on now. There are some that have a fight later on that I know from the first season of the reality show-- have you seen it?"
"I don't watch reality shows anymore," Pam says.
This seems to baffle Katy. "Really?"
"It's too much like work."
Katy blinks at her, smiling, missing the obvious. "Well, this one is awesome. You should watch it. My ex, Jason, used to watch it all the time and I ended up getting into it kind of against my will, but it's like The Real World, only at the end of the episode they beat the hell out of each other instead of just being snide. It's great."
"Oh. Neat." Pam doesn't want to think about reality shows. She decides that it may be time for another beer, and heads for the fridge.
"I love your place," Katy says. From inside the refrigerator it sounds more like La dove en face, but three years working for Michael Scott have given Pam the ability to translate almost anything into comprehensible English. "It really feels like a home."
"Thanks." Pam tries not to let the word sound too sarcastic.
"It must be that there's more than one person living here."
"What?" There are four different kinds of beer, three of which Pam recognizes from long experience with past pay-per-views. She picks the unfamiliar brand, which has a green label and looks like it might contain a high percentage of alcohol, which would be a good thing right about now.
Katy raises her voice. "I said, it must be that there's more than one person living in the house."
"I heard you," Pam snaps. "I meant please elaborate on your somewhat cryptic statement, not speak up." She opens her bottle of the mystery beer, flips the cap into the garbage can, and turns around to see Katy looking confused and tired and a little hurt, before her pale mask of determined good cheer comes back online. It sucks for Pam to realize that her tone came across exactly the way she meant it, and that she's not going to be able to pretend that it's okay to be a bitch because the other person was too dumb to get it. "Sorry, sorry." She puts a hand over her eyes and breathes in and out a few times. "I'm just tired, I-- could you explain what you meant. Please."
"I don't know," Katy says, but it totally sounds like she knows, she's just being cautious now. "It's different when you live by yourself. I guess because there's just the one personality in all the furniture and stuff. No compromise, you know? It's not the same as a home home."
Pam takes a drink, and leans back against the counter. The mystery beer is dark, with that kind of taste that she senses in the back of her throat more than her tongue, like caramelized sugar moving to the edge of being completely burnt, smoky and almost sweet and almost bitter. She tries to figure out what Jim would do in this situation, tries to remember what he'd done earlier that evening. She settles on unwrapping a tiny piece of her private life. "I, um. I always thought living alone would be nice."
"You've never...?" Katy gives her a measuring look and the air in the room changes. "Really."
It takes a second for Pam to realize that it worked, that now she is involved in one of those conversations, flying by the seat of her pants and oh God, now what? "Parents to college to living with Roy," she summarizes, trying for short and sweet. There's a lot behind that: all the years living in concrete-block dorm rooms, the boy in her Economics class who kissed her behind the student union, breaking up with Roy and making up with Roy, lying in bed awake, staring at the ceiling of her dorm room and trying to decide what to do after graduation, a late-night proposal that she hadn't taken seriously, and a ring that showed up a week later to convince her that he was serious. The short version skims over all that, and Katy isn't going to get any more than the short version.
"I almost moved in with this guy a few years ago." Katy sounds defensive, like she's trying to measure up. "The guy before Jason. Nate. He asked me, and I thought about it, but..."
"He just wasn't the one?" Pam supplies, using her best sympathetic voice. She can guess what's coming. Katy strikes her as the kind of girl who had sparkly unicorns on her Trapper Keepers all the way through high school, the kind who lived in a dream-world where boys were concerned. Which is fine, but Pam is too tired to listen to a sparkly-unicorn version of somebody's love life, and she's pretty sure that this is why she doesn't have these conversations, because it always turns out that other people are stupid.
Katy looks startled. "What? No, no, that wasn't, I liked him a lot, really, but he..." She glances at the door to the living room and leans closer to Pam, lowering her voice and her head so it's like she's talking out of her eyebrows. "He wouldn't move the seat when he went to the bathroom."
Pam frowns. "From what I've heard, lots of men forget to put it down after--"
"No, no, I mean he wouldn't put the seat up." Katy's cheeks are turning red, and her voice starts both getting quieter and going up in pitch at the same time. "He thought he had this great aim, but he really didn't, and he wouldn't wipe the seat off, and--"
"Oh God," Pam says, getting it. She puts her hand over her mouth in horror and starts to laugh through her fingers. "You're kidding. Oh, my God, that's disgusting."
"I know!" Katy leans back, sounding outraged. "It was one thing when he's just spending the night a few times a week, but I kept thinking that if I moved in with him I was going to have to clean off the seat before I went, every single time, every single day, and I just--" She throws her hands in the air. "I just couldn't deal with it. I seriously could not deal."
Pam can't stop laughing. Her face is getting hot. She can't breathe. "Oh God, oh God," she gasps, and collapses into the chair next to Katy. "That's horrifying. I don't blame you. Oh, my God." She claps a hand to her chest, sucks in a long breath, and sighs. "Wow. I feel like I've dodged a bullet by only dating Roy."
"Oh, yeah. Yeah, you did," Katy says. Her mouth is curved in a delighted smile, the open-mouthed teeth-apart kind that little kids do, and it looks real, for once, like she doesn't have to work at it. "The guys out there, oh my God, you have no idea. Every time I think I've seen the worst thing ever, they prove me wrong." She takes a sip of cider. "Don't get me wrong, they're all good guys, but they're guys. You know?"
"Absolutely," Pam agrees, thinking of all the times she'd found mostly-empty beer bottles lurking on bookshelves and, once, a full mug of moldy coffee on top of the refrigerator. "I think there's something wrong with the whole gender."
Katy points her bottle at Pam, her eyes wide. "Yes. YES. Like there's something about the Y chromosome that makes it so they can't tell the difference between in the laundry hamper and next to the laundry hamper."
"Thank you," Pam says, and on a whim she tries holding her beer bottle out to Katy, the way that Jim did earlier with Darryl. To her surprise, Katy willingly clinks her bottle against it, and they drink a silent toast to the long-suffering sisterhood.
"I wouldn't mind this stuff half so much if I knew what I was getting into from the start." Katy leans one elbow on the table and rests her chin on the heel of her hand, her fingers curling up over her chin. "But when you start going out with a guy, he'll clean up before you come over, so you never find out his awful habits until you're already six weeks into the relationship. By then, you have all these other reasons to stay with him, and it seems like it would be so dumb to break up over the little stuff, so you just put up with it." She sighs. "And it's no good knowing what the last guy did, because every single time the new guy will have some brand new weird thing he does that you never even thought of before."
"Like what?" Pam asks. The beer is hitting her harder than she'd expected; it's definitely more alcoholic than the others. She's not drunk, but she's feeling tipsy enough to come out of her shell a little. This is easier than she'd expected. Talking and having someone talk back. Learning things. Sharing little things. It doesn't have to be personal. She feels like she's been wading in the shallows of a lake and a big wave just came in and lifted her feet off the bottom, leaving her helpless and exhilarated at the same time.
"Lizards," Katy says promptly, pronouncing the word like it's radioactive. "One guy I dated had these lizards, and I thought, okay, they're in their little aquarium thing, that's fine, but he kept taking them out and letting them wander around his apartment, and, ugh." She shudders. "I broke up with him when he started talking about getting a snake."
"Oh, and my ex, Jason, the one that got me watching UFC? He used to sit on the couch and play video games naked."
Katy puts her hand up like she's on the witness stand. "Swear to God. I came over one day to surprise him, opened up the door, and there he was, wearing nothing but that little X-Box headset so he could talk to his game buddies. I think the worst part was that he didn't even freak out, he was just like 'oh, hey,' and kept playing Halo. I was like, 'did you forget something?' and he was all, 'forget what?' and I was like 'oh I don't know, YOUR PANTS,' and, oh my God, it was so stupid." She holds her palm to her forehead like she's keeping pressure on a scalp wound. "Let me see... oh, Mark. Mark had all these rules about what he would and would not eat. Nothing spicy. No fish, or shellfish, although fish sticks and popcorn shrimp were okay for some reason. He thought he was allergic to bananas, even though he'd always eat banana bread with no problem. Didn't eat vegetables. Basically what it boiled down to was that he really liked the boring kinds of Italian food and anything from McDonald's."
"Was he Italian?" Pam is starting to wonder if she's ever going to need to contribute to the conversation again or if Katy's going to take care of the whole thing.
"No, I think his family was French-Canadian or something. He just really liked things that were mostly carbs and cheese and tomato sauce. Pasta, pizza, that sort of thing."
"And McDonalds, because..."
"French fries, cheeseburgers, and a whole lot of ketchup." Katy rolls her eyes. "He kept explaining how he didn't like this because the texture was weird, and he didn't like that because it was too bland, and didn't like this other thing because he ate too much of it when he was a kid and threw up, and on, and on. I think he just didn't want to admit that he ate like a two-year-old." She takes a sip of cider, gesturing at Pam to indicate that there's more to come. "Oh, and this other guy, I'd been going out with him for two months before I found out he didn't know how to wash clothes. Thirty years old and the man still took his laundry home every weekend to have his mother do it. Unbelievable."
"Oh, I believe it," Pam laughs. "Our boss has his jeans dry-cleaned, and he makes the temp pick them up."
"I think Jim mentioned that," Katy says. "I thought he was exaggerating."
Pam rolls her eyes. "I wish."
There's a moment of silence, much more companionable than the last. Pam can feel her temples vibrating pleasantly, the way they always do when she's had just enough to drink to make her tipsy. She feels so proud of herself; she'd give herself a handshake if she could. She should tell Jim later that this shit works, it really works, he should teach a class or something.
The rumbling chatter from the other room suddenly surges in volume and turns into cheers. Roy yells Yeah, yeah, that's what I'm TALKING about, and Bill does that idiotic whooping that he always does when he's happy. She can hear Jim laughing as things settle down.
"So," Katy says, "how about you?"
Pam jumps. "Me? What about me?"
"This is a two-way street, sister," Katy teases. "You've heard most of my stories; what about yours?"
"Um." Pam feels a little panicked; this is not something she's equipped to discuss. "I don't have any ex-boyfriends to talk about. Roy is pretty much the only guy I've dated."
"Well, then..." Katy nods toward the living room, arching her eyebrows. "If that's all you've got, that's fine with me."
"Oh, no, no," Pam laughs. "I don't think so."
Pam stares at her, at a loss for words.
"Oh, come on," Katy laughs. "I promise I won't tell a soul." She sketches an X over her heart with the tip of her index finger. "Cross my heart and hope to die, stick a needle in my eye."
"Mmm, no." Pam folds her arms tightly in front of her, the beer bottle pressing cold against the outer curve of her left breast. "Sorry. I only trade in kind, so you won't be hearing anything about my fiancé."
Katy gives Pam a long stare. "Oho, so that's how you want to play it. All right, then, I'll trade."
That wasn't where Pam had been planning on going with this, but the idea strikes her mind and sets it to vibrating like a gong. She glances at the living room, her heart beating hard and fast like she was sneaking out after curfew on a school night. A plan is forming in her mind, making her feel very smart and smug and, okay, maybe she's a little drunk, but not much, really. Mostly she just feels floaty and bright, quick on her mental feet. "I don't know," she says slyly, "I'll have to see if it's worth it."
Katy leans close with her voice low and a wicked look in her eye. "The next time you're at work, check Jim's socks. They don't really match, they never do. He keeps buying those bags of identical socks, in a few basic colors, and he doesn't get that once they've gone through the wash a few times they're not quite the same color as the brand new ones." She flips her hair back over her shoulder with a toss of her head. "Your turn."
Pam shakes her head, playing at being terribly regretful. "Ooh, I'm sorry to tell you that the judges will not accept your entry because it's lame." She takes a swig of beer, purses her lips, and ponders before she swallows. "Besides, every guy does that."
"Oh, like you'd know," Katy blurts, and claps a hand over her mouth, her eyes wide; looking as startled as if she'd just belched into a microphone when she'd meant to sing the national anthem.
Pam gapes at her in shock. A giggle oozes up through her chest like a bubble through honey, completely unexpected, and her diaphragm spasms a little and the giggle spurts out. Pam clamps a hand over her mouth, trying to stop, but every time she gasps in a mouthful of air it ends up coming out as another giggle on the exhale. Katy stares at her like she's gone crazy, a totally priceless expression, and that just makes Pam laugh harder, to the point where she's shaking and her chest hurts and she has to hold onto the table to keep from falling off the chair. "Oh my God," she sputters, "You-- I don't-- oh my God."
"I know, I know, I'm sorry!" Katy squeaks. Her hands are fluttering around like spastic little butterflies, touching her own cheeks, mouth, covering her eyes, and occasionally just sort of flapping in front of her collarbones. "I didn't mean-- it just came out-- oh, God, I'm such a bitch sometimes, I'm so sorry, oh my God."
That sets Pam off again; she crosses her arms on the table, puts her head down on top of them, and laughs until there are tears in her eyes. "Wow." She sighs out every bit of air in her lungs, making a noise like a deflating tire, and that makes her giggle again. She feels relaxed for the first time all evening, and she can't remember for the life of her why she'd been so convinced that she hated Katy. "I meant, Roy does that too. The socks thing. So did my dad." She props her chin up on her forearm and sticks her tongue out at Katy. "So there."
Katy grins, looking amused and relieved at the same time. "Okay, point taken. I'll come up with something better. Um..." She snaps her fingers. "I have seen Jim drink re-heated coffee that's been sitting out on his counter in the coffeemaker for two days."
"No way," Pam says, sitting straight up.
Katy holds up two fingers. "Two days. Seriously, he doesn't seem to get the whole bacteria thing at all. It's not just the coffee, he forgets to put food away, and he still thinks it's okay to eat the next morning. Then he gets these nasty stomach cramps and he can't figure out what happened."
Pam groans. "Please tell me you don't eat at his place."
"We eat out a lot," Katy assures her. "I'm not eating anything that comes out of that kitchen."
"Okay, that was a worthy trade," Pam says, waving her beer bottle in the air like she's making a royal decree. "Let me see." Her head is buzzing harder than ever, and she suddenly feels nervous that after all of that preamble she's not going to have anything that Katy would find worthwhile. "Oh. I know. Roy likes to sit on the couch to clip his toenails, and he gets his toenail clippings all over the cushions--"
"Oh, great, and then you end up sitting on them?"
"No, no, no," Pam says, "he stopped doing that about two years ago. Now what he does is, he gathers them all up--" she demonstrates, nipping at the surface of the table with the tips of her fingers "-- and then he tucks them down in the crack between the couch cushions. I mean, I appreciate that he takes the time to make sure I won't sit on them, but if he's already doing all the work of picking them up I don't understand why he doesn't just go to the garbage can and throw them out. If he's already trying to take my feelings into account, why not make it so that I don't have to be involved with his toenails in any way?"
"Oh, I know," Katy groans. "It's like they'll do things because you ask, but they just don't get the reason you want them to happen, so they either do it the wrong way, or they never remember to do it again." She leans on the table, looking a little flushed and sloppy, her eyes starting to get that sleepy glaze to them.
Pam reaches across the table and taps Katy on the arm. "Your turn," she prompts.
Katy takes a long pull at her bottle of cider and smacks her lips thoughtfully as she puts the bottle down. "Right. Actually, something that goes along with the last one-- we go out to eat a lot, like I said before, but the thing is, Jim always wants to go to the same places." She holds up her hand with her fingers curled in toward the palm and starts folding them out as she counts. "It's always either this one bar and grill over on Washington, or this little place called Auntie Mae's Parlor, or Cho's Kitchen, or..." She taps her little finger, looking thoughtful. "No, I think it's usually one of those three. Anyway, sometimes I'll suggest something like Mediterranean or Indian food, and he'll just drag his feet and mope and be a giant pain, but-- here's the thing-- if I make him go, he always has a great time, and he always loves the food, but then the next time I want him to go he'll drag his feet again." She heaves a sigh. "I don't know why it has to be such a chore to get him to branch out. It's so weird, especially since he's always talking about how I should listen to all these random indie bands, and you'd think that a guy who likes exploring music would like some different food every once in a while, for pete's sake."
"I guess there's no such thing as a perfect guy." Pam feels strangely depressed at the thought, like part of the world just dimmed. She drains her beer and pushes the empty into line with the other bottles, her hand curved with all the fingers together, like a Barbie's. She gets up and heads to the fridge-- slightly on the wobbly side, yes, but all in all, a fine effort at locomotion. "You need another cider?" she asks, only remembering to be polite when she's already got her next beer open. Her hostess skills always start to lose their luster after the alcohol kicks in.
"I'm okay for now."
The guys are yelling in the living room, their voices jumbling together, and Pam can't understand them at all-- not just the words, but them, men in general, these in particular. She stands there, the cold from the bottle creeping through her palm, thinking a little. It's starting to come home to her that, in the time she's been engaged to Roy, she's let her contact with most of her college friends lapse, and that all her social contact comes through her limited guest pass to the male world. They're great guys, but she feels so, so tired of having to explain things to them all the time.
"I," Pam says, and stops. Things seem very fast in her head, in spite of the fact that the room is orbiting around her in at a slow, deliberate pace; she feels her thoughts going too fast, bouncing off the inside of her skull. "I don't know if this one is a bad thing or not."
Katy looks at her, squinting, tipping her head like she's thinking. "It doesn't have to be," she says. "I mean, if you want. If that's something you want to say."
"I know, I just..." Pam sighs. She leans against the refrigerator and tips her head back against the yielding plastic of the freezer door. "Roy's... Roy has no taste. I mean, he likes everything, so it's all kind of the same thing to him. He'll eat anything, but it never feels like he really likes any one thing, because... you know? It's sort of sweet, because he's not a snob about anything. He's great about with new things, but he's... he's so content with what he's got that he just never bothers, and--" Her head is pounding now, like all the thoughts flowing downstream have hit a logjam; she can't find the right words to articulate this and the frustration keeps building up. "I wish I was like that, but I'm just-- I can't. I hate it. It's like, if he thinks everything's equally okay, then nothing's really special to him. Even..."
There's a soft sound at the door, like a breath, and Pam looks up sharply. Jim is standing there, his face half in the blue television-tinted shadows of the living room, his hand on the doorframe. He's looking right at her, his mouth open a little.
Pam's stomach suddenly feels like it's dropping into a cavern of ice, plummeting lower and colder all the time. The shock takes a moment to sink in, that he'd heard her talking, that he'd let her keep telling parts of her personal life that he wasn't supposed to hear, and when she finally finds her voice again, it comes out flat and hard instead of the jokey tone she thought she was aiming for. "Were you planning on eavesdropping all night, Halpert, or is there something we can do for you?"
Something in Jim's expression shuts down, like he's slamming a door between them. "Sorry to interrupt your friendly little chat," he says, and his voice has that sharp edge like it does when he's mocking Dwight, when he really means it. "Just needed to let Katy know that Bonnar and Griffin are up next." He looks at Katy, finally. "I'll save you a seat." He pats the doorframe once, lifts his eyebrows at Pam, then turns around and leaves without another word.
Katy doesn't look at Pam right away; she's staring after Jim, frowning. "Well," she says, glancing over with a lopsided smile, "I guess that's my cue." Her face is trying to do the flippant thing but her voice isn't quite cooperating. "I'll talk to you after, okay?"
"Sure. Sure." Pam nods a few times. She doesn't watch Katy leave. She can feel her heart slamming in painful, sharp jabs against her ribcage, and a hot flush pouring down her face and chest. Deep breaths don't do much to calm her down. She knew the look on Jim's face; he was angry with her, angry, as if she didn't have the right to call him on sneaking around listening to her in her own home. Sure, he wasn't doing that on purpose, but if he hadn't come over in the first place-- no, if he hadn't come over and brought Katy this wouldn't have-- no, if he just had been a good friend he would have known better than to accept Roy's invitation and-- okay, fine, so it wasn't his fault.
Pam slides down the refrigerator, folding her legs until her butt hits the floor, and sits there for a few minutes, feeling the refrigerator motor purr against her back. If Jim were a good friend, then she would make him feel welcome in her house. If he were a good friend, it would have occurred to her to try to talk to him about her life. If he were a good friend, she wouldn't confide in Katy more than she did in him, and freak out when he accidentally overheard something. If he were a good friend, she wouldn't be sitting here realizing that Roy had been treating him better than she had all night.
She sips her beer, and listens to the guys cheering in the other room. She can hear Katy's voice now and again, but she can't hear Jim's.
* * *
Pam slips into the living room along the back wall, knocking her shin against the DVD rack because her feet aren't going quite where she thinks they are. The guys are all clustered by the television, their faces lit by the flickery blue light. Katy is leaning half over the couch like she wants to jump over it and climb into the television; occasionally she hops up and down a little in excitement. Some guy on TV punches some other guy, which causes both Katy and Billy to shriek at almost exactly the same pitch. The rest all laugh at them for that and Roy reaches out and grabs his little brother by the neck to shake him in a friendly way.
Jim is behind the rest of them, slouched down in one of the droopy-seated canvas folding chairs that they bring out when they run out of space on the couches, the ones that Roy likes to take along on trips to the lake. He looks up when she comes in, then looks back at the television; she can see his jaw tighten as he turns away. Pam studies his profile for a moment before she moves to crouch down beside him.
"Hey," she says quietly, glancing at the others to make sure they're not listening. "Jim. Hey. I'm sorry."
He gives her a one-shouldered shrug, still staring straight ahead at the television. "No need to apologize."
"No, I think we both know that's not-- I mean, I know what I did, Jim and I'm sorry." It feels like she's wearing all her nerves on the outside of her body, like she can sense the air around her, but not her own skin. She carefully loops her index finger around Jim's pinkie finger, tugging, and his hand jumps a little and then goes very still. "Come on, can we talk about this?"
Jim glances at her and then away, like he's trying to pretend no eye contact had occurred. "Pam, it's okay. I'm fine."
"Well, I'm not." Pam catches Darryl peeking over his shoulder at them, looking curious. She drops her voice to a bare whisper, craning her neck to smile tentatively up at Jim. "Can you come with me for a minute? Please?"
She hears him inhale, and it seems like a long time before he lets the breath out in a rush. "Okay, okay," he says, and kind of smiles at her, almost. "This fight isn't as good as their first one, anyway."
* * *
Pam takes Jim out onto the back steps, shutting the door behind them to keep the noise inside. It's dark out there, with the moon clearly etched on the sky like a paper-punch, and the air smells like summer, cool and sweet and fresh like a slice of watermelon or a glass of lemonade. She sits on the top step, curling her arms around her knees, and looks up at him until he sits down next to her. His legs are long enough for his feet to be two steps down, like Roy's.
"So," he says.
"So," she echoes. There's a long moment where they don't say anything, just sit there, breathing, listening to the crickets and the cicadas and the wind moving through the trees on the far end of the yard. The fresh air blows away some of the fuzzy feeling in her brain, wakes her up a little. She presses her bare feet against the cold concrete step. "I'm sorry I've been such a pain all evening."
"Nah." He shrugs. They're several inches apart, but with him as the only other source of warmth and movement in the yard, she can sense his movement through the air almost as well as if he were brushing against her skin. "Don't worry about it."
"I do worry about it." It sounds wrong, somehow, or at least not quite right. "I worry," she says slowly, testing the words on her tongue, "about you."
Jim turns his head and meets her eyes, and smiles a little. She smiles back. It seems like a long time before he turns away. "You seem to be getting along with Katy pretty well," he says carefully, his eyes trained on his feet.
"She's nice." Pam keeps looking at his profile, traced pale and dim against the warm dark. "I kind of wish I'd had a chance to hang out with you more."
He goes very still. "Oh?"
"Yeah," she says, and lets her voice slide into a more joking tone. "I'm not used to so much girl talk. It made me nervous. One false move and we could have ended up staying up all night painting each others' toenails and trying to contact Lizzie Borden with a Ouija board."
Jim laughs and shakes his head. "Well, then, it's a good thing I got there when I did."
"It is." Pam grins at him, feeling things falling back into place, changing back to normal.
"So," he asks, "what did you guys talk about?"
"Hair, clothes, boys. The usual." She watches his face, and adds, "She seems to like you a lot."
"Yeah, well." Jim leans forward, bracing his elbows against his knees, staring out into the dark yard. He doesn't say I like her a lot, too, he doesn't say She's a very special girl, he doesn't say anything about Katy at all.
Pam lets it drop. She feels sorry for Katy. "Are you gonna come back for the next pay per view?"
"No idea," Jim says. "I haven't been invited yet."
"Well, then, consider yourself invited." She leans over and bumps her shoulder against his, trying to make the whole thing seem more casual. "It's kind of neat having you around."
He bumps her shoulder right back. "Oh, really?"
"Yup." She bumps him again, harder this time. "Freaky and surreal, but neat."
"Gee, thanks, Beesly." He bumps her shoulder back, hard enough to tip her sideways. The air hasn't sobered her up all the way, though, and she ends up tipping a little too far, enough to compromise her balance, and she feels gravity pulling too hard, too fast. Jim grabs her upper arm with one hand and shoots his other hand around her back to grab her other shoulder. "Whoa, whoa, careful."
She laughs in relief. "Thanks." She doesn't shrug his arm off, and he doesn't take it away. She leans into him, breathing in, smelling soap and shampoo and sweat. His arm tightens around her shoulders, and after a moment he shifts a little and she can feel his warm breath stirring her hair.
The door behind them makes a cracking sound, and they both jump involuntarily. Jim jerks his arm away from her and scrambles to his feet; Pam turns around, putting a hand back on the stoop behind her, just in time to watch the door open and Roy peer out through the screen door.
"There you are." Roy steps outside and hunches down next to Pam, sliding his hand down her upper arm, where Jim's hand had been a moment before. "Thought we lost you for a minute there."
"I was just talking to Jim," Pam explains, and she hates the apologetic tone that creeps into her voice.
"Yeah, I can see that," Roy says. He looks over at Jim, who's standing with his hands shoved in his pockets and his shoulders slumped. "Fight not exciting enough, Halpert?"
Jim shrugs. "I could tell in the first round that Bonnar's not getting his win back."
Roy keeps running his hand up and down Pam's arm. It's beginning to drive her crazy. "Man, I thought you were in the can, or something. I didn't know you were out here having girl talk."
"Gotta keep up on the gossip," Jim says mildly.
Something shifts in the air between them, and Roy chuckles. "Yeah, well, you're totally missing the best part. Griffin wins, right, and then he tells Joe Rogan that he won in spite of his inflamed vagina."
"Seriously, dude, you have got to hear this." Roy stands up and opens the screen door, bracing an arm across to hold it. "We paused the TiVo when Darryl said you weren't there. Come on." He leans into the kitchen, hollering, "Hey, Bill, you got it cued up?"
Jim holds out a hand, wordlessly, and helps Pam to her feet. "Hey, there you go, the perfect antidote to an evening of girl talk."
"I don't know," Pam says, "This doesn't sound much different from what I was doing before."
"It's okay," Jim reassures her. "Pretty soon they'll start hitting each other."
"Ooh. I keep hearing that the hitting is the best part of this whole thing."
Pam steps into the curve of Roy's arm, and she barely hears Jim reply from behind her, his voice almost inaudible. "No," he says, "I think there are some parts of this that are a whole lot better."