Disclaimer: I don't own The Office. Duh.
Spoilers: Everything through Drug Testing.
Author's Note: I haven't written fanfic since… forever. But since moving to England (where you have to pay a huge tax to own a tv) I have become addicted to The Office as it's the only thing I can watch, as it's the only thing I can download (Mac user!). So, I've become addicted and seen each episode more times than I would like to admit. So today when I sat down to write an essay on the dark age Migration Period, this is what came out. It's a one-shot, one-sitting piece with no read-through-edit that ended up being much darker than I intended. But it's what came out. Enjoy… or not?
Summary: In September, the new reality show all the employees of Dunder-Mifflin: Scranton have been waiting for is finally about to air. Sort of a dark Jam story.
She wasn't the type of girl who walks out on her fiancé right before the wedding. She didn't know if such a girl existed outside of what was in the movies and on television. But then, she reminded herself, she was one of those girls on tv now.
She had seen the commercials, they all had. At first she had thought it was strange to be part of NBC's new fall line-up. She didn't think it was her in the commercials, and it was only when family and friends and those sort-of friends she hadn't spoken with since grade school started calling her and congratulating her and asking her questions – Could she introduce them to the guy who plays the foreign doctor on ER? Could she introduce them to the guy who plays that quirky doctor on Scrubs? – that she began to realize. She was one of those girls on television. She tried to tell herself, as she told all the people who asked, that it really wasn't that big of a deal. Every network was going to be airing a workplace reality show. It was just the new trend, like Survivor and The Apprentice only far more dull. She told everyone that public would get bored with watching a bunch of people sell paper and answer phones and attend awkward required social events. She told everyone all of this, she even told herself, but she didn't really believe it.
When the commercials had started in early August they were just snippets, just flashing pictures really, of every day life. By late August they had expanded to include sound bytes. Michael's "greatest hits" from the Dundies – Had he really tried to parody Elton John? She didn't remember that night except in blurry patches, and some drunk guys picking a fight during Tiny Dancer had definitely not registered – and the time Dwight told them all that Brad Pitt was dead were both featured heavily. All the nonsensical stuff, everything that could be summarized in thirty seconds of "Look how funny these people are!" was what played in the commercials. She was hardly ever in them, and was always in the background. So when people started calling her – Because she really did look like that girl behind the desk in that new show? Was that really her? – she tried to tell them all that it was no big deal. She knew that the show wouldn't be about her, and understood enough about editing – she wasn't an editor of course, but Roy made her watch all those horrible sitcoms and reality shows with the dumb fat husbands and the too-skinny girls drinking a milkshake made out of bull testicles, so that all she could do was try to deconstruct them, think about what the show's creators could possibly be thinking – to know that the show would have to follow a plot arc. She thought about what had happened in the past year of filming, thought about what would probably make it do the small screen: Meredith's late-May acceptance into rehab, Kevin's cancer scare, the constant threat of downsizing only helped along by Dwight's constant attempts to fire people whenever Michael stepped out of the office. And of course, because television loves shallow romance, Michael's one night stand with Jan would probably be turned into the love affair of the ages. Pam was expecting all of this from the commercials.
It was late September when NBC launched its new fall line up – with Sunday night centering around "The Office: An American Workplace" – and Michael threw a party so they could all watch the premier together. Staying late at the office for one of Michael's bizarre theme parties was once thing, but coming in on a Sunday night? She would much rather watch the show in the comfort of her own living room. Or she would have wanted this, if it she and Roy hadn't gotten into a fight earlier in the day.
It had been like this since the wedding. She would suggest something, he would misunderstand her suggestion, and, somehow, a fight would escalate from what was no more than a simple misunderstanding about whose turn it was to pick up the dry cleaning. That morning hadn't been any different. They had woken up, were just finishing a silent breakfast of cold – and dry, since whose turn was it to buy milk? – cereal when the bickering had started again.
"What time do you want to head over to Home Depot?"
"Oh, Pammy, come on, you know I can't do that today…"
"No, I didn't know that. I thought we said we were going to go today."
"Yeah, we did, but remember how I was telling you Friday night that Darryl's cousin is playing in a really big game? He's really good, Darryl says there are scouts coming. I want to see this kid, and I promised Darryl I'd come." Pam stared at Roy blankly while he looked back at her, his mouth stretched into a dumb smile, his eyes giving that look that said 'I'm begging, but only because I know I'm going to get my way.' It was as if he cared more about some friend of a friend's junior college football game than he did about this. Worse yet, Pam though, it was as if he didn't even care at all. As if he had forgotten a promise again. "Oh come on, Pam." Roy's face fell. He pushed himself up from the table he himself had made, keeping one hand resting against the white pine Pam had picked out while pressing the other against his forehead. In this position, he looked down at his empty bowl and shook his head. "Ever since…"
"Ever since what?" She tried to dare him with her eyes to say it out loud. She didn't want to be the one to say it first. She wanted to dare him, but he didn't look up at her.
"Ever since… you know." He gave an exasperated sigh. He was exasperated? She bet he didn't even know what 'exasperated' meant. She bit her tongue for thinking this. "Look, Pam, we have time still. We'll go to Home Depot next weekend. But today, I really just want to go to the game with Darryl."
"No, you're the one who volunteered to build this thing. I thought you wanted to do this-"
"I do, but not today. Why do we have to go today?"
"Why?" She knew he was right. They didn't have to go today. They did have time. Months. But she didn't want to admit it. Every time she let him off the hook it became a little bit slipperier to put him back on it. If she forgave him for going with Darryl today, then who knew what would happen next weekend? Maybe a high school buddy would be in town visiting, or maybe he wouldn't feel well, or maybe… Maybe he just wanted to put this off forever because it would make it seem like it wasn't real. Like they weren't stuck with this. "You know why. Because we have to get things ready! It's September, almost October already! You've been saying you were going to do this since July!"
"Hey, I will do it. I still have…" He took the hand from his forehead and started counting off on his fingers. She hated when he did that. He should know how to count in his head by now. He balled the fist and slammed it against the table. "I still have months, Pam! I'm going to the game today, and that's that."
"Yes, I can. Why don't you just go out an buy one if your so set on getting everything read now? It would probably be better. You're always saying how I'm not as good with tools as I used to be. If you just buy one, then we won't have to worry about me accidentally cutting off my hand or something." He was trying to appeal to her.
"Fine. Fine, I'll just go to Target or something. Since it doesn't really matter to you anymore-"
"It does matter-"
"Not as much as a football game apparently!"
They were silent, Roy standing, her sitting. She poked her spoon around the half empty bowl of cereal. She wasn't feeling well. Suddenly she was glad there was no milk in the house. The thought of milk disgusted her. The thought of everything disgusted her.
"Look…" She was using her 'Let's make amends' voice. "It's fine. You go to your game, I'll just go shopping by myself. You're right, it will probably be better this way."
"Fine." Now he was angry, she could hear it in his voice.
"What time do you think you'll be home?"
"I don't know. It will probably be a long game… And we might go out for a drink after…"
"Roy…" This time she sighed. "But the show premiers tonight."
"So? Who cares?" He picked his bowl up off the table and dropped it in the sink. He didn't wash it. "It's like you keep saying, we're not really going to be in the show anyway. It's just gonna follow that jackass the whole time-"
"Don't call Michael a jackass!" She didn't know why she was defending Michael.
"Oh, come on Pam, you hate him too! You were right there with us making fun of this party he's throwing tonight-"
"So, just because I make fun of him doesn't mean I don't think it's nice of him to throw a party-"
"Well if you think it's so great then why don't you go?"
"Well maybe I will-"
"Well I think you should-"
And then Roy left. For Darryl's cousin's junior college football game. Roy went to watch some kid dumb enough to think he might make it out of Scranton. Pam was smarter than that. She knew when she was just dreaming. She knew she'd never make it out of here, not now at least.
So she'd sat at the table and tried not to cry – and almost succeeded – and then she'd cleaned herself up with every intention of going to Target. There was no point in putting things off anymore. This was her life, she had to accept it. She'd made her choices and she was fine with that. She wasn't the kind of girl who made big, dramatic gestures. She was the kind of girl, even if she was on tv now, who lived the life she'd been working towards for so long. She was still that kind of girl, but she didn't want go to Target. Instead, she sat at home, doing nothing. And then, that night, went to the party.
"Spamalamadingdong! Glad to see you could make it!" Michael ushered her into the conference room where the tv was turned on and folding chairs were set up in front of it. She looked around to see who had come. Surprisingly, most of the office was there. Dwight (of course), Angela (though she vaguely remembered Angela saying that Jesus would never have approved of television), Phyllis (who always seemed to actually enjoy the social events), Meredith (back from rehab since July), Kevin, Kelly, Oscar, even Creed and Toby.
"Beesly, what a surprise." And Jim. She hadn't seen him at first – she didn't know how she hadn't seen him, he was usually a head taller than everyone else in the room – but there he was, hovering over a snack table loaded with Shasta soda and Sam's Club cheese-flavored tortilla chips. "I thought you said you weren't coming…"
"Oh well, you know me," she shrugged, her whole day seemed better now, she felt so much lighter, "I'm unpredictable. And what about you? I seem to recall you vowing never to come into the office on a weekend."
"Oh, yeah, well, I'm unpredictable too." He held up the can of grape soda he was drinking from. It would always be their inside joke, his grape soda and ham and cheese and her mixed berry yogurt. They laughed together about how things never changed. "Where's Roy?"
Except things do change.
"He… stayed home. Didn't feel like watching. Figures the warehouse staff probably won't get much airtime anyway."
"He's probably right. I don't know how much any of us 'normal people' will be featured really. From the commercials this sort of looks like it will turn into 'The Michael and Dwight: Aren't You Glad You Don't Work Here' show."
They both laughed a little, then she watched as he took a sip of his soda. Then they stood in silence together. Not like the good silence that they used to share, not even the like uncomfortable silences she could never forget – once on that booze cruise and once when Jim had been jinxed to a day of keeping his mouth shut when the soda machine was out of Coke. No, this was a different silence, one which had occurred with alarming frequency ever since Jim had gotten back from his two weeks in Australia. It was a dumb silence, like they just had nothing left to say to each other. So Pam took a Shasta from the table and turned, so that she was sort of standing next to Jim, and they watched, in silence, everyone else in the room. It was maybe more painful than any other silence they had shared. Maybe, but not really. She thought back to the absolute worst one. Jim's last day before Australia, her last day before taking time off for her wedding.
The office had thrown a surprise party, a joint one, for them, her and Jim… and Roy. To celebrate the wedding and Jim going away. Only, Angela, short-handed on the party committee without Pam being in on the secret – even though she always knew, it was hard not to notice a party being planned – had delegated the job of ordering the cake to Michael. And Michael, forgetting maybe, what and who the party was for, or maybe just getting distracted by something shiny, had called in the order wrong.
When the cake was "unveiled" – when Angela took its plastic cover off, doing the job herself because she couldn't trust anyone else not to ruin the frosting on the supermarket cake – Pam didn't notice anything wrong at first. It looked just like every grocery store cake from any grocery store. It was a bright shade of white, brighter than frosting should be, and looked like it weighed surprisingly little. There were a few purple sugar roses adorning each corner and in the center, in purple frosting, written in that cursive that all supermarket cake-makers seem to know it said "Congratulations Pam & Jim." She didn't see what was wrong at first. She might not have noticed if Angela hadn't started groaning and rolling her eyes, if Kelly hadn't started giggling, if Michael hadn't apologized profusely. Roy, who had been standing behind her, his hands resting on her shoulders, squeezed them a little too hard. But she hadn't minded that. Instead, she had been stuck on Jim, what he was doing. While everyone else started to laugh – even Roy, who loosened his grip and slapped Michael, maybe really too hard, playfully on the back – Jim had just stood there, silent. Bad silent. All the rest of the noise in the room faded as he looked at her and she looked at him. It wasn't like any of the other silences. Or it was, only different. It was only them, she knew, who could feel it, and she felt it so strongly, like the whole room was shaking, vibrating around this silence, that she wanted someone else to feel it too. She wanted Roy to interrupt them, to squeeze her shoulders again and make the silence fall away. But he didn't, or maybe he did, but she didn't feel it and the silence didn't break. It was like when Jim had stared at her on the boat, Michael's fake Titanic, and she had kept thinking in her head "I'll never let go Jim" and then she had let go and looked away. It was like when she told him he could tell her anything when he couldn't talk at all and, she hadn't known if he knew, the look he'd given her had said more than any words they'd ever spoken. It was like being on the roof that night they'd stayed late to read Michael's screenplay because it sort of felt right that it should be just the two of them. Pam and Jim. Just like the cake said. It was like every silence they had ever shared, but it was worse. Worse, she thought, because it might be the last silence they would ever have.
And then Dwight, after being shoved by a very passive-aggressive Angela (did Jesus really approve of passive-aggression?), spilled his cup of fruit punch all down her white Oxford collar. The silence was over, and Roy was helping to clean her off, but was only really making the stain bigger, rubbing it into the fabric.
She excused herself to the bathroom where she played with the sink, pretending the water and the gooey green soap from the dispenser that smelled like pine trees and chemicals would really remove the stain. She staid in there for awhile. Phyllis came in seeing if there was anything she could do to help, maybe find some club soda? Pam told her to go back to the party, said that she would be okay. She staid in the bathroom for awhile, she didn't know how long, but by the time she came out, Jim had left.
She hadn't seen Jim again until after the wedding. Until after Australia.
The first day he got back they didn't talk at all. They didn't talk the second day either, except to offer cordial 'hellos' and 'goodbyes.' The third day they had just exploded with things to tell each other. They didn't talk about anything big, they couldn't. So, instead of discussing the wedding – they would never breach that subject, Pam knew – or Australia, they talked about Ryan finally quitting and Dwight's new shoes and how the vending machine no longer sold Skittles. She only learned that Jim was seeing someone – A girl he'd met on the plane back from Australia, wasn't that the cutest thing she'd ever heard! – from Kelly. Pam didn't know the girl's name. She didn't even know if she and Jim ever broke up.
So things do change. The silence as they waited for their show to start was proof.
When it got closer to 9:00 – Sunday night at 9:00, Pam, who knew nothing about editing or producing or being a studio executive, knew that was a bad time slot – Michael forced everyone into the folding chairs and shushed them even though no one was making any noise. Pam was excited, she couldn't deny it.
"You ready for your life to change?" Jim asked her jokingly as Michael dimmed the lights – Pam thought he may have had the dimmer switch installed just for this moment.
"Totally. Don't be mad at me when I forget your name tomorrow, now that I'm the star of a big network television show."
"I'm a star too, Beesly."
"Yeah, but I'm the receptionist. You're just one of the sales people. I stand out."
"Sounds like someone's already planning her spinoff…"
"If you're really lucky, maybe I'll let you be my butler. Or chauffeur, I do hear that you have an awfully nice car-"
"SHHHH!" Michael practically screamed at them as a catchy theme song began to play and pictures of Scranton came on the screen.
"I see they went with a basic piano number instead of letting Creed compose something," Jim whispered to her. Pam laughed as other instruments joined the piano and names and faces started appearing on the screen. Was everyone going to be listed in the opening credits? Even Devon? That would be awkward. First came Michael, then Dwight, then she thought she saw her hand whiting out a mistake Michael had made – That would probably be her biggest moment – when Jim came on, and then, to her surprise, she did too – She didn't know why she was surprised… they must be listing off everyone in the office. Maybe in seat order, closest to farthest from Michael's office? – and then there was Ryan – That didn't fit into seat order… – and then the song ended. What about everyone else? She heard Kelly give an annoyed "What!" Maybe, Pam though, each episode they would feature different people in the credits. But she knew, and looking back she would always have to say that this is when she knew, that everyone else wouldn't get as much airtime. She'd joked about it, and even though she had never really thought it possible, now she realized that she really was going to be one of the stars of the show. The receptionist. What they would show about her she really didn't know. Nothing had happened in the past year that they'd been filming! She probably led one of the most boring lives in the office, and yet, there she was, in the opening credits.
Michael was practically giddy as the episode went on. He made a lot of comments about how pasty he looked, how much heavier he had been, waiting for someone to compliment him on the makeover he had given himself since shooting had begun. Dwight paid him those compliments. Meanwhile Pam cringed when she saw herself come on screen. She looked really beige. Didn't she look beige? She wanted to ask Jim, but when she turned to him she saw his face fall. What was wrong?
"Oh no…" Jim muttered, Pam knew he was talking to himself, but she listened anyway. "They shouldn't have…"
Pam turned back to the screen, looking for whatever Jim was seeing. At first she didn't notice anything. It was pretty much just like an average day of work – And it was before everything had changed, which made it sort of surreal to watch – there was nothing cringe-worthy that Pam could see. She was about to try and bring up her beige-ness again when she noticed. Jim, Screen-Jim, was talking about paper, tonnage prices, and then, he was talking about her. There was nothing strange about it really, technically, but the way show cut right to her next, eating yogurt and then… Giggling, and shrugging inwardly, as if flirting with someone who wasn't even there. She saw something in her giggle and shrug. Something she was sure everyone could see, even though she didn't remember ever seeing it herself then. That was when it occurred to her. Exactly what had occurred to Jim occurred to her: this season's story arc, it was going to be about THEM.
Horrified suddenly, feeling that feeling in the pit of her stomach, the feeling she had come to recognize over the past weeks, she stood up.
"Pam, where're you going? The show's just getting started?" Michael sort of glared at her, as if mad that she would want to miss this. "There's still gonna be another episode on toni- Oh! OH! Who remembers that? That was hilllarious!" Michael's attention was distracted away from her, back to the screen where Dwight's stapler was jiggling around in jello. She remembered that day, remembered all the times Jim had put Dwight's stuff in jello, letting it chill in the breakroom fridge, confident that neither Michael nor Dwight would ever find his prank-in-the-making. Pam thought of the jello and it only made the feeling in her stomach even worse. She had to get to the ladies' room. Now.
Pam ran out of the room towards the bathroom. She shoved the door open, found her way into a stall and made it there just in time. She felt horrified, not just because she was sick – She was used to being sick now, it had started being a familiar feeling a few weeks ago – but because of everything. Because of the show. Because of her giggle and shrug. 'Jim said mixed berries? Awhh yeah, he's onto me…' It kept replaying in her head. She felt sick again.
She heard the door open, not in the way it had crashed open when she'd come in, but someone pushing the door gently, trying to be quiet.
"Pam?" It was Jim. Of course it was Jim.
"Yeah, yeah, I'll be out in a sec."
She pulled some toilet paper from the roll she was eye-level with. She wiped off her mouth, then grabbed some more to wipe off her face. She threw the paper in the toilet and flushed. She still felt like she might be sick, but it was a completely different feeling than the one she was used to.
"Are you alright?" She could tell by the sound of his voice that he was still by the door. Too shy to come into the girls' room, even when it was just the two of them. Maybe because it was just the two of them.
"Yeah," she pushed herself up to a standing position, took a deep breath, and walked out of the stall. "I'm fine, it's just…"
"Yeah, I figured, but I thought I'd check on you." He paused, he was smiling, and awkward smile, an 'I want to comfort you, but I don't really know what to say' smile. She smiled back at him and he gave a small sigh of relief. She saw it, though she figured he wouldn't want her to say anything about it. "I thought they called it 'morning' sickness for a reason."
"No, no…" Pam shook her head. Her smile was faltering. "The name's just a lie they tell you so that you'll get pregnant without realizing that it means you'll be queasy twenty-four/seven."
"Yeah, I would hate that," Jim smiled, giving a little laugh as he spoke. "That's why I never want to get pregnant."
Pam gave a little laugh too. She'd heard a lot of morning sickness jokes lately – most from her mom, in sympathy, some from Roy, who thought vomit jokes were just as funny as poop and fart jokes – but for some reason she felt the urge to really laugh at this one. Really laugh at the idea of Jim, pregnant, hovering over a toilet, puking. It wasn't funny. It was gross. But she was laughing. And laughing. And she didn't know when the tears started, but she figured out that they had when Jim started towards her – all the way into the girls' room – murmuring "Oh, Pam…" softly as he took her in his arms.
He had once said, two years ago now after she'd had a bad fight with Roy, that he would always be her shoulder to cry on. And that had made her laugh too, thinking that she'd never be able to reach his shoulder.
"Shhh…" His shushing wasn't anything like Michael's. It wasn't loud or harsh, but quiet, a natural sound. When she had the baby, maybe she would invite him over to shush it for her. He'd be good at that. His hand found its way into her hair. She could feel his fingers moving, getting caught in the curls and sort of tugging the barrette she always wore out of place, but she didn't care. She wanted him to keep holding her. Wanted it to be like it once was… Only it had never been like that. "It's alright Pam. It's just the mood swings… When my sister was pregnant, she turned into an almost literal manic-depressant. Laughing like a clown one second, crying her eyes out the next."
From where she was, nestled into Jim, her face pressed against his chest, she started laughing. He pushed her away, not unkindly, in fact gently, and looked down at her.
"Laughing like a clown?" She asked, the smile returning to her face.
"Clowns laugh," he answered defensively.
"No, clowns make other people laugh." She laughed herself. "When I think of a laughing clown, all I can picture is that one from the movie It…"
"And that clown was no laughing matter…"
They were both laughing now. Both laughing, his hand still in her hair – Which was now a mess, but she found she really didn't care – her arms still wrapped around his middle, even though they weren't touching chest to chest anymore. Standing like this, tears down her face, Jim in her hair, in the middle of the girls' room, Pam wanted to keep laughing forever.
"Come on," Jim said, smoothing her hair that could never actually be smoothed. She wanted him to keep trying, wanted him to keep getting his fingers, his clumsy fingers, tangled in her curls. "Let's get out of here."
"I don't know if I'm ready to go back to the conference room…"
"I wasn't talking about the conference room. It's a dumb show. I have to put up with Dunder-Mifflin every weekday. I don't want to watch Michael's highjinx and Dwight's… Dwight-ness when I don't have to. Let's go somewhere else."
"Anywhere. Where do you want to go?"
She thought about it for a minute. She couldn't go out for a drink anymore, not since… July. And she didn't want to go for a late dinner, the thought of food made her sick.
"How about Target?"
"Well, yeah, they're open 'til 10, right?"
"I think so, but why do you want to go there?"
"Well, there was this fight and… You know how Roy was going to build the crib? Well, now he's not. And I figured I could probably find one at Target, so-"
"No, Pam…" He took his hand out of her hair. She knew she had broken everything again. Saying Roy's name, bringing up the baby, bringing up that life was never going to be the same. Her felt her face fall.
"You're right, that was a dumb idea." She shook her head. "Jim, I'm… I…"
"No, you can't get your baby a crib from Target. Roy, he'll come around. You'll see." Jim was smiling at her again. A weak smile, but it was there. "You guys… You're going to be okay."
"Yeah." As she said it she knew didn't believe it. Not in her heart. But looking up at Jim, she saw that he did believe. And she saw that he maybe needed to. Because Jim could still have a good life. With his Australia-plane girl and away from Dunder-Mifflin. Maybe in Hollywood where he would become a big star. Jim could still have it all, even if she couldn't.
"So, no crib shopping. But we can go get coffee, or tea?" He took her hand and started pulling her out of the bathroom. "Come on. I'm sure there's one chain coffee place still open. I know peppermint tea always used to make my sister feel better."
"Sound good." She let herself be pulled.
"Oh, Beesly." Jim put his hand on the top of her head. It wasn't like before. It was different. Like a brother. He might have been giving her a noogie.
Things do change. She wanted things to change for him.
They walked past the conference room, collecting their coats off the rack as they heard voices from what must have been the second episode filling the office. Pam thought she heard Screen Michael talking about mintchocolatechip cake for Meredith's "birthday" party. She laughed to herself.
"Ready?" Jim asked as he buttoned up his coat. It was cold out for late September.
"Yep." Pam nodded, zipping up hers.
"Great." He opened the door to the main office as Screen Jim's voice filled the room: "She's so great…"
Pam saw Jim cringe. She sympathized. She knew she would never watch their show again.