ficsbypunim (ficsbypunim) wrote,
ficsbypunim
ficsbypunim

the courage to change the things i can

Why yes, I am alive.

So, sometime back in the late Middle Ages, I finished my first "Office" fic. I said I wasn't ready to publish it at that time, but would do so "soon." Soon, in punim!time, apparently means months later when everybody's forgotten about it. Harumph.

It's probably bad form to give as extensive an author's note as this before the fic, but screw that, I'm doing it anyway. "I just have to say a few things," if you follow.

This fic, to stay on that same line, is my coal walk. I dicked around with this idea in my head for so long before I finally felt able to put it on paper, and even now, eleven months after I started writing it, I'm still only comfortable publishing it to my private Sooper Sekrit fic journal, not to The Masses. I don't want to get burned in effigy on my first run in this fandom, y'know? I can pull that shit with HPers; not so much with "Office" fans.

Some people are going to love this. Some are going to hate it. Some are going to go "WTF was that?" What I really want people to understand about this story is that it is just that - a story. A history of one woman that I find plausible given her character as portrayed in the show. There's no political or moral agenda about it - it is what it is. And I am unspeakably proud of it.

I'm leaving this post public for a little while so more people can see it, then will flock it.

I want to thank my mother for her incredible insight, sowritesauds for her unwavering support, and cork118 for a helluva beta.

And now - *deep breath* - I give you the epically overdue story.

Title: the courage to change the things i can
Author: shyshutterbug
Beta: sowritesauds; cork118
Rating: ...R? Hard PG-13? You decide.
Word count: ~8800
Pairings: Pam-centric gen; established Roy/Pam; unresolved Jim/Pam
Warnings: Adult themes and language; mild violence; mild sexuality

____________________________________________


the courage to change the things i can


***


She found out on a Tuesday.

Pam’s periods had always been highly sensitive to stress; between attempting to plan a wedding of indeterminate date and the recently mentioned prospect of a camera crew adding to the insanity that was Dunder Mifflin Scranton, she figured it was reasonable enough that her cycle might be thrown off a bit. After ten days, however, she got a little worried. After two weeks, she got a lot worried.

So, at 11:53 on Tuesday morning, she told Roy she had plans to eat lunch with Jim and told Jim she had plans to eat lunch with Roy. She snuck Roy’s keys out of his locker and drove his pickup exactly 2.4 miles to Rite Aid. Last time she’d comparison-shopped pregnancy tests in the Family Planning aisle, Pam had been seventeen and scared out of her mind. Now she was twenty-five and...scared out of her mind.

She opted for the generic Rite Aid brand (“Compare to Clear Blue Easy!”). After some change-fumbling at the counter with the bored-looking teenage girl snapping her gum, she made a beeline to the bathroom at the very back of the store and locked herself in the stall.

The most frightening part of seeing the two pink lines on the stick was the complete lack of connection she felt to...this. This pregnancy, embryo, baby, life, parasite, child, cell-cluster, whatever you wanted to call it...it felt like something very distinctly separate, like something that was not a part of her. She felt none of the immediate, protective, maternal instinct her mother had described; instead, she felt uncertain and numb. Alone. Pam was pretty sure she wasn’t supposed to feel ambivalent upon learning she was pregnant with her fiance’s baby.

Pressing her fingers to her temples, she tried to breathe normally. She had to talk to someone, anyone who might understand and tell her what to do. Roy seemed the most logical person, but he was the person Pam least wanted knowing about this. He’d no doubt put this whole mess on her, blaming her for intentionally missing her birth control pills to get him to up the wedding date or some such nonsense. Or worse, he might be insistent on having the baby. Worse yet, he might get excited about it.

Her mom’s shift didn’t end till four o’clock. Phyllis had called in sick today; she might otherwise be an optimal choice. She barely knew Meredith, certainly not at a level where she’d be comfortable discussing such personal information with her. Talking to Angela about pregnancy options seemed counterproductive at best; talking to Kelly seemed the quickest way to disperse the information to the entire office, and she shuddered at the thought of Michael and Dwight and (God help her) Kevin knowing about this.

For a brief, desperate moment, she considered talking to Jim. She could not exactly pinpoint why she dismissed the notion so quickly.

In the end, she fished out her cell from her purse, shakily dialed her parents’ number, and after the beep, blurted out, “Momitspamineedhelppleasecallmewhenyougetthisbye.”

She barely remembered the drive back to Dunder Mifflin. The rest of her work day passed in a blur of Free Cell and Michael’s all-too-frequent exclamations of, “It’s Paaaam-tastic!” Jim obviously knew something was wrong; he made a few jellybean visits to her desk, asking if she was feeling okay. She insisted that yes, she was fine, just a little tired. Jim didn’t appear to buy it for two seconds, but nodded with a sympathetic smile and let her be, for which Pam was eternally grateful.

She felt her phone vibrate in her purse at a quarter after four and had to sit on her hands to prevent herself from answering it.

At one second past five o’clock, Pam flew out the door, with a haphazard “see you later” and a wave to Jim. She wasn’t even to the elevator before she had her phone out and heard her mom’s calming voice on her voicemail, saying she was calling as requested, and was she all right, and please to call her when she got the message, because she was a little worried.

She tried to appear calm when Roy walked up to the truck in the parking lot and slung an arm around her shoulder with a “hey, babe.” Settling in to her seat, she casually mentioned that she was feeling a little under the weather and might go to bed early tonight. “That actually works out great,” Roy replied, “because Lonny’s having some of the guys over to watch the fight, and I told him I’d try to go.” For the first time in their relationship, Pam was glad Roy’s priorities were utterly fouled up.

Roy dropped her off at their place, parting with, “There’s a bottle of Advil on the bathroom sink,” before he pulled away. Once inside, she locked the door, changed to her squishiest, most comfortable, least sexy pair of pajamas, and dialed her mom.

The phone picked up on the first ring. “Hello?”

Just the sound of her mom’s voice was enough to bring forth tears Pam didn’t know she was holding in. “Mom...”

“Pam? Honey, what’s wrong?”

“I’m pregnant.”

There was a beat of silence, maybe two, before, “Oh, Pam...”

Pam started sobbing in earnest now – wrenching, red-faced, headache-inducing, completely unladylike crying. “I’m sorry, Mom, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry,” she babbled nonsensically, forgetting for a moment that she was an engaged woman in her mid-twenties.

“Pam,” her mom said gently. “Pam. There’s nothing for you to be sorry about.”

“Okay,” she replied in a small voice, feeling more like a child than ever.

“Have you told anyone? Roy?”

She shook her head, as though her mom was right there in front of her and could see her response. “No,” she sniffled. “I didn’t want to tell him before...before I...” She trailed off in another round of pained sobs.

“Before you decided what you wanted to do?” her mom prompted carefully.

She nodded again. “Yeah.”

Her mom sighed, and in her mind’s eye, Pam could see her flexing her manicured fingers on her maroon bedspread; the mental picture was almost enough to make Pam drive all the way to Reading, just to have her mom hold her and tell her it’d be fine and just fix it. “Well, what do you want to do, Pam?”

“Roy would...Roy would be furious if he knew,” Pam said frantically. “We haven’t talked about kids, not seriously at least, but he doesn’t want one now, I’m sure of it. He’d...he’d...”

“I didn’t ask what Roy wanted, honey,” her mom interjected gently. “I asked what you wanted. This is your decision. What do you want?”

Pam stayed silent for so long that her mom had to prompt her a few times before she answered. Even though the answer to the question had been in her head since she’d seen the test results in the Rite Aid bathroom, she had tried to avoid actively acknowledging it.

Pam’s voice was barely above a whisper. “I can’t.”

“You can’t what?” Mrs. Beesly asked quietly.

Pam took a deep, calming breath. “I can’t have this baby. Roy...we can’t do this.” She took a pause to choke back another pained sob. “We...can’t be parents.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah, I think I am.”

Pam babbled on and on for the next few hours, not really conscious of what she was saying, only grateful that her words were being heard. Her mom, true to form, just let her talk. Around eleven, Pam felt exhausted and completely cried out, and so they ended the call with a promise to talk the next night.

Roy came home around one in the morning and slipped into bed smelling of cigarettes and Cool Ranch Doritos. Pam woke up from a sound sleep to run to the bathroom and vomit.

***

Meredith found out on Wednesday.

Pam came in to work looking positively green, but brushed off Jim’s worried glances and offers to tell Michael she was going home sick. She must’ve caught what Phyllis had, she said; it would surely pass in a day or so.

She logged in to her computer and brought up her daily programs in their usual order: appointment scheduler (took forever to load), Sudoku (next in priority, naturally), and her email account. Buried amongst Michael’s forwarded pyramid scheme invitations and some financial memo from Oscar was a subjectless email from her mom, written in what was an obvious attempt at code, lest someone use the fax machine in visual range of her computer screen.

“Plnd Pthd Reading, $425 <12 wks, $25 sedation (opt), need 2 appts, can do Fri/Sat. Love, Mom”

Pam closed the email quickly and looked around, as if reprimanding anyone in the vicinity for having the audacity to be around her at that moment.

The day seemed at first to be status quo at Dunder Mifflin Scranton. Michael’s chosen Pam-nickname for the day was the thoroughly uninspired Pam-and-Cheese-Sandwich, which he used to address her whenever she had to intercom his office. A very exasperated Jan arrived unannounced mid-morning and walked straight into Michael’s office and shut the blinds without saying a word to anyone. Jim was sneakily adding a coin to Dwight’s headset whenever he went to the restroom or the kitchen, finally enacting a prank he and Pam had been planning for weeks now. She wished fervently that she wasn’t too distracted to fully appreciate it.

Just before lunch, Creed decided it was time for some mung beans, and the odor wafting over to reception was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Pam rushed to the ladies’ room, hand over her mouth, tripping over her Keds in the process.

After a few long moments bringing up everything she’d ever eaten, Pam brought her head up to catch her breath. Rocking back on her heels, she put her head in her hands and groaned before she wretched again. She jerked at the feel of a cool, damp paper towel being pressed to the back of her neck. She looked up, expecting to see Phyllis; instead, it was Meredith standing over her with a wan, too-understanding smile.

“We’ve got some raspberry tea in the kitchen,” Meredith said. “Couldn’t live without it when I was pregnant with Jake.”

Pam suddenly felt like she might faint. “How did you – ?”

Meredith shrugged. “Women know. C’mon, I could use a little pick-me-up myself.”

Pam blankly followed Meredith into the kitchen, unusually sensitive to the possibility that someone might be lurking around the corner that she didn’t want listening. Fortunately, they appeared alone.

“How far along?” Meredith asked lowly, setting a tan box of red raspberry leaf tea on the counter in front of Pam and pouring a substance of unknown alcohol content into her Big Gulp cup.

Pam grimaced. “Six weeks or so. I really don’t know; I just found out.”

“Roy know yet?”

Pam grimaced again and shook her head.

“You gonna tell him?”

Pam looked up at Meredith; it stunned her how casually she had said it, and even though she was vaguely cognizant of her plan to not tell Roy about this, it was the first time Pam really, truly embraced the fact that she didn’t have to tell him.

“I don’t know. I don’t think so.”

Meredith nodded. “He’s hot, but he’s got a helluva temper.” She took a sip of her drink and looked down at the Formica table, seemingly lost in thought. “It’s not as bad as you’re thinking it is,” she said quietly. Pam looked up at her in surprise, and Meredith met her eyes evenly. “Get sedated if you can; it really does help. Make sure you take a sweater, because you’ll freeze your ass off otherwise. If they offer you free birth control, take it. Don’t wear jeans; they’re a bitch to put on afterward. And make sure you tell Roy you’re on your period when it’s over, because if you have sex that first week, you’re in real trouble.”

The shocking candidness threw Pam for a loop. She felt a bizarre impulse to ask more questions, to hug Meredith, and to scream that it was too much for her to hear, all at once. She managed to eek out a “thanks” before the microwave dinged and Stanley walked in to grab his lunch.

Pam spent the rest of her lunch break on the roof, sipping her tea and playing with her cell phone, trying to work up the nerve to call the number her mom had sent her. Finally, with ten minutes left on her break, she took a deep breath, dialed the number, and pressed Send.

The woman on the other end was very pleasant, if obviously rushed. She asked the basic questions – when was your last period, what day do you want to come in, first and last name, date of birth. Pam scribbled her instructions down in shorthand on the back of a bank statement she found in her purse – “ID for Mom and me, $250 Fri, $200 Sat, cash or credit, fast Sat.” She thanked the receptionist, hung up, and went back down to the office, where she replied to her mom’s email in similar code: “10:30 Fri, 8:30 Sat. Will come down tomorrow night if okay w/you. Love, P”

At half past two, she turned on automatic voicemail for a few minutes and snuck back to the annex to ask Toby if she could take a personal day on Friday for a family friend’s funeral. Toby gave her the day off without question and offered his condolences on her loss. The irony made Pam shudder.

When Roy came up from the warehouse at the end of the workday, she told him she was going to visit her mom for a long weekend. Roy told her they couldn’t afford for her to take a day off work. Pam told him she was taking paid leave, and he didn’t say another word about it.

***

Jim found out on Thursday.

Pam was having a horrible day. Thursday was the day Michael discovered the caramel macchiato, thus giving him not only a sugar high, but a caffeinated sugar high. Thursday was also the day Michael decided to take note of the fact that Pam’s breasts had gotten bigger – news which, of course, he imparted to the rest of the office rather publicly. Kevin, in an attempt to get to reception and gape as fast as possible, smacked his knee on his desk while standing. Oscar rolled his eyes. Jim stared straight ahead and blushed. Dwight was in the middle of listing multiple causes of sudden adult breast growth aloud, pregnancy among them, when Toby came out from the annex and told Michael that this particular conversation was “not appropriate for the workplace.” Michael shot a few boos and hisses in Toby’s direction before he desisted.

Jim invited her to have lunch with him on the roof. Pam had done well all Wednesday evening and most of Thursday morning with food, but by noon, she was back to sipping on raspberry leaf tea and keeping a clear path to the restroom at all times. Just as disappointed as Jim surely would be, she declined, saying she was still feeling sick. Jim’s face fell, but he managed a crack about how spending the day around a hyperactive Michael was enough to make anyone feel sick, and maybe he could use that excuse to go home early. She laughed then, for the first time in days.

Roy came up from the warehouse at four-thirty, full of smiles and a kiss for Pam, which, she knew from years of experience, either meant he wanted something or he’d done something bad. “Listen, babe,” he began, “Kenny thinks he can get a really great deal on some kinda fancy bass boat or something. I’m driving out to Williamsport tonight to help him bring it back to town; wanna come with?”

Pam froze. “Roy, I told you yesterday – I’m going to my mom’s tonight. I need the truck.”

“Well – well – can’t your mom come here? She’s got a car. Or maybe somebody can take you?”

“Yeah, Roy. Who do you know who’d drive four hours round trip on a work night?”

“Babe, I promised Kenny. C’mon...you can see your mom anytime.”

Yes, and Kenny can buy a ludicrously expensive, big-ticket non-necessity anytime, too. “But...but I...” The fight went out of her, and she couldn’t formulate an argument. Shaking her head with downcast eyes, she threw her hands up in defeat.

“Thanks, Pammy,” he said in a cloyingly sweet voice that made him sound like an eight-year-old. “I’ll see you on Monday, yeah?”

“Just let me get my bag out of the truck before you go,” she called after him as he walked away.

Slamming the passenger side door a little harder than was strictly necessary, Pam stormed upstairs and shoved her duffel under her desk before burying her head in her hands. She was trying desperately not to cry, but between the stress and the hormones, her will was losing the battle. She was trying to decide how she could discreetly procure a Kleenex when a tall shadow fell over her head.

“You okay?” a smooth, rumbly voice asked from above her.

She nodded without looking up, then sniffled without thinking.

Jim gently grabbed her wrist and helped her stand. “Stairwell.”

As soon as the glass doors of Dunder Mifflin swung shut, Pam burst into tears. She blubbered out that she needed to go see her mom tonight, but Roy was taking the truck, even though he knew she had to go see her mom, and she had no way down to Reading, and could Jim believe what an insensitive asshole Roy was being? Jim pursed his lips as if he was trying to prevent himself from speaking and instead just rubbed her back soothingly, letting her cry and rant as much as she liked.

“Pam, it’s okay,” he murmured. “It’s not a big deal, I promise. I can take you.”

“Jim, I’m not going to ask you to drive all the way to Reading and back on a weeknight!”

“Good to know, but I don’t recall you asking, Beesly,” he said with a smile. “Seriously, I don’t mind. It’s not all that far.” He took a deep breath. “Pam...I’m really, really sorry Roy pulled that kind of stunt with you. Especially after your friend...I’m so sorry, Pam.”

In that moment, it became abundantly clear to Pam how much she had needed Jim over the past few days. “I...I think I can get you some gas money...”

Jim shrugged and handed her a tissue. “Don’t worry about it.”

Without any preamble, she flung herself at Jim and hugged him fiercely. “Thank you,” she mumbled.

At around 5:30, Jim made a quick stop on Google Maps while Pam nicked a few tea bags from the kitchen and wrote some quick notes down for Phyllis, who was taking over reception for Friday. Jim tried to make small talk on the elevator ride down, and as they tossed her bag in the backseat of his little Corolla, obviously trying to distract her. After a quick stop at a gas station, they headed off toward Reading.

Pam couldn’t stop looking at Jim out of the corner of her eye as he drove. There was something strangely elegant even in his most mundane movements, like fiddling with the CD player or flicking on his turn signal when they merged onto 476. While she’d never overtly acknowledged her attraction to Jim, she’d never explicitly denied it, either. There were no two ways about it; Jim was an exceptionally good-looking man, and Pam knew she’d probably find him handsome regardless of their relationship, just as she found her favorite actor attractive despite knowing nothing about him. Physical attraction didn’t translate to emotion; it was simply hormones on holiday. But she wouldn’t dare admit to herself how much more there was to it than that with Jim, how much the lunches at Cugino’s and doodles during meetings and pranks on Dwight and shared smiles and easy conversation and pure, unfiltered mutual understanding meant to her. She certainly didn’t share those things with Cary Grant.

Pam became suddenly hungry about halfway to Reading, and so at her suggestion, they stopped for dinner at a diner outside Palmerton, where they both ordered iced tea and grilled cheese sandwiches. (Both further concurred that Jim’s grilled cheese was far superior.) They talked about menial, inconsequential things – Jim’s high school basketball coach, the downsizing rumors, Michael’s assertion that his thinning hair just made him that much sexier – and for just a moment, Pam lost herself in the easy banter, the comfortable feeling that being in Jim’s company brought forth. For a few fleeting minutes, the circumstances evaporated around her, and Pam felt like she was just having dinner with her best friend.

Reality came crashing back to her upon that very realization. Looking at Jim as he flicked through his wallet to find a tip for the waitress, Pam found herself unable to hold back any longer. He was her best friend, and she needed her best friend right now.

As they got back in Jim’s car and prepared to get back on the road, Pam said in a quiet little voice, “No one died.”

Jim tore his eyes from his seatbelt for a brief second to look at her with raised eyebrows. “Sorry?”

“No family friend died. I told Toby that so he’d give me tomorrow off.”

Jim’s brow furrowed. “Well, we’ve all told a little white lie here and there to miss work; it’s not a big deal, especially if – ”

“I’m pregnant, Jim.”

Jim’s head snapped up to look at her, eyes wide, but Pam couldn’t bring herself to look back.

“I’m going to Reading to get an abortion. My mom will drive me back to Scranton Sunday night.”

Jim stared at her, mouthing silently like a fish without water for a few seconds before murmuring, “Jesus, Pam.”

Pam nodded, unable to look at him. Her eyes started to sting when a hand, large and warm and gentle, rested between her shoulder blades.

“When’d you find out?” he asked softly.

“Day before yesterday,” she replied in monotone.

Jim’s countenance suddenly darkened, as if something had just occurred to him. “Roy...I mean, he wouldn’t let you take the truck...Pam, did he – ”

“No,” Pam cut him off, “I didn’t tell him anything about it. “He would be so...” She trailed off. It wasn’t often at all that Pam really acknowledged that Roy’s temper frightened her and that this was a major problem in their relationship.

He’d only hit her once, back in college, when a thoroughly inebriated Roy had spotted Pam hugging a male friend and promptly misinterpreted things. The argument that followed had almost ended their relationship, between Roy’s claims that Seth was “infringing on his territory” and Pam’s assertion that she was not property and that Roy had better never, ever put his hands on her again. A night apart and several aspirin on Roy’s part later, he arrived at Pam’s dorm with a dozen roses and acknowledged that he’d been an ass, and all was forgiven. Aside from the occasional grab of her arm in anger, he’d never gotten physical with her since. But his yelling and verbal violence, especially when alcohol was added, did quite enough damage on its own. It terrified Pam to actively recognize the part that factor had played in making the decision not to have the baby.

“He’d be furious if he knew,” she finally finished.

Jim nodded, his hand starting to move in slow, soothing circles on her back, and she felt tiny bits of tension starting to bleed away. “How are you doing...with all of this?”

Pam let out a bitter chuckle. “I’ve been better.” The tears finally surfaced, but she didn’t succumb to sobs; she just let the tears slide down her face while she talked. “I’m...scared and sad and guilty and frustrated and...unbelievably nauseated, and...” She shut her eyes. “It just sucks, Jim.”

Pam heard as he unbuckled his seatbelt and as his door opened and shut. Seconds later, she felt a cool breeze hit her face as he opened the passenger side door and crouched on the ground. A slight pressure on her shoulders forced her to turn in her seat to face him. Warm, careful hands cupped her face, brushing stray tears away, and the gesture was so sweet that Pam opened her eyes to meet his.

“I know,” Jim said softly. “I know it sucks. Pam, I’m so, so sorry.” And Pam wholeheartedly believed him. She knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Jim just got it. There was something tender and deep and concerned in his eyes, something beautiful and heartbreaking that she somehow felt like she should have been able to recognize but couldn’t.

During the rest of the drive to Reading, Pam told Jim the entire story, from Rite Aid to her mom’s email to Meredith’s unexpected kindness to raspberry leaf tea to Kenny and his stupid bass boat. Jim was an uncommonly good listener; he knew exactly when to prompt or react, when to be anecdotal, and when to keep quiet and let the words come. Their only interruption came just minutes before they arrived at the Beesly house, when Pam’s mom called to tell her she was jumping in the shower and she’d leave the key under the ficus plant.

Jim walked her to the front stoop, insistent on carrying her duffel. Once Pam had retrieved the key, she turned around and curled her hair behind her ear. “Jim...” She was at a momentary loss for words; “thank you” seemed remarkably insufficient. “I can’t even tell you what it means to me that you’d drive me down here.”

“Don’t mention it, Beesly,” he said, shifting her bag off his shoulder so he could give her a hug. “Are you sure you’re gonna be okay?” Pam nodded into his chest.

“It’s late,” she murmured. “You should be getting back on the road.”

“Yeah, I guess so,” Jim replied, reluctantly letting her go. “If you need anything – I mean anything at all – you call me, okay?” he said seriously. Pam nodded again. For some reason, she really didn’t want him to go.

Jim gave her a shoulder a quick squeeze. “Get some sleep, Beesly,” he said warmly, disappearing down the sidewalk toward his car.

Pam moved aimlessly inside her childhood home and upstairs to her bedroom, where she collapsed onto her bed fully clothed. She only stirred when her mom came in to drape a blanket over her and give her a kiss on the forehead.

***

Pam’s consultation was on Friday.

She woke up around nine that morning feeling like hell. Her tongue was fuzzy, her neck was stiff, her breasts ached from spending the night in an underwire bra, and...oh, great, she’d fallen asleep with her contacts in, too. Despite the fact that she’d slept a long time and barely stirred during the night, she felt dazed, almost as if she’d woken up during a very deep period of sleep. She’d dreamed, too, when she’d really wished she wouldn’t. Dreamed of going into work on Monday and learning that everyone knew what she’d been up to, and being scorned or humiliated or both. Dreamed of being forty-five and learning she was unable to conceive because the procedure made her sterile. Dreamed of Roy finding out and alternately leaving her and hitting her and weeping.

Dreamed of Jim pushing a little boy with curly hair and big ears on the swings and smiling back at her.

Bleary-eyed, she forced herself out of bed, blindly yanked an outfit out of her bag, and headed to the shower, turning the water on as hot as she could stand it. The steam was somehow very soothing.

Shannon Beesly was standing at the kitchen counter, fiddling with the coffeemaker and muttering under her breath at something on the thirteen-inch TV in the corner. She looked effortlessly elegant, even at 9:30 in the morning, which, given that Pam was walking in with wet hair and gray sweats on, almost made Pam laugh. “Hi, Mom,” she said in a small voice.

Mrs. Beesly turned, and her face lit up like the sun had just come out. “There’s my girl,” she said, immediately walking over and enfolding Pam in her arms. Pam burrowed into her arms like a child, relishing the comfort.

“Did you sleep okay?” her mom asked, holding her at arms length. Pam nodded, not mentioning the dreams. “Hungry? I could whip something up if you want...”

“Not really,” Pam replied. “Maybe just some toast. And can we put a pot on for tea?”

“You got it.” Pam collapsed onto the bench on the far wall of the kitchen and watched her mom busy herself with bread and butter and jam and the toaster.

“It’s not that far a drive,” Mrs. Beesly was saying. “I figure we don’t need to leave for another half an hour or so.”

“If you don’t mind, can we leave a little earlier?” Pam asked. “They told me today would be two or three hours; I figure the earlier I get there, the earlier I’ll leave.”

“Two or three hours? Just for a consult?” Mrs. Beesly asked with narrowed eyes.

“Well, I’m sure they have a lot of patients to see,” Pam replied.

“Yes, but still...well, sure, we can go early if you want.”

“Thanks, Mom.”

They wound up leaving about twenty minutes after that exchange. Pam was quiet the entire drive over. Her mom didn’t push her to talk, figuring she just needed to ruminate for the time being; unfortunately, there was no ruminating to be done, as Pam’s mind was blank during the drive.

Planned Parenthood’s Reading location was in a nondescript building on Fourth Street. There were no protesters picketing outside, and for some reason Pam found herself surprised, even though she’d never explicitly pictured walking into the clinic when she played the scenario over in her head. The parking lot had very few other cars in it; Pam’s mom found a good spot close to the entrance and they headed inside.

There were two women already in line for the front desk when Pam walked in. One, a willowy blonde, was turning in her paperwork expressionlessly; the other was a small girl who could not have been older than 15, clutching her arms around her chest, accompanied by her weary-looking mother. The girl looked back at Pam with a terrified expression. Pam tried to smile at her.

The waiting room was reasonably nice. There were two couches and numerous armchairs, all upholstered in navy blue and yellow material. A large TV hung on the wall in one corner, just above a water cooler. A huge bulletin board hung from one wall, peppered with pamphlets on every birth control method known to man; a large and lovely painting that appeared to be a black-and-white watercolor of a woman hung opposite this corkboard, just above one of the couches. Pam’s mom caught her gazing at the art and whispered, “Let’s sit over there, okay?”

The woman at the check-in window (“Carolyn,” her nametag proclaimed) was on the heavyset side with dark hair and glasses. It took Pam a moment to find her voice when Carolyn asked for her name.

“Pamela Beesly,” Pam finally replied, printing her name on a sign-in slip. Carolyn went to copy Pam’s ID and that of her mom (“for security reasons,” she explained without prompting) and came back to hand Pam a clipboard with a stack of forms. The medical history, she made sure to point out, was two-sided.

The forms were actually a bit more challenging than she expected, but Pam welcomed the distraction. She’d had a heart murmur when she was born but it went away shortly thereafter; did that mean she still had to list it? Did having her wisdom teeth removed count as a surgery? How in God’s name did you spell “erythromycin”?

And this was all before she got to the spot labeled “Person to contact in case of emergency (other than the person taking you home).”

She sat there, pen poised in her hand for over a minute. Finally, she scribbled Jim’s name and number and flipped the paper to the back before she could change her mind.

The last form in the packet was the only colored paper in the bunch, a light green form labeled “Emotional Triage Sheet” at the top. Reading over the questions, Pam realized that this was to document and discuss her feelings about her decision – something she was not sure she really wanted to do, but figured was probably inevitable.

If you considered options other than abortion, what were they?

Without warning, it bizarrely popped into Pam’s head to write, “Carrying to term, if only it were my best friend’s baby and not my fiance’s,” and she felt an inexplicable urge to laugh at the insanity of that statement. Shaking her head to rid herself of the thought, she instead wrote, “None.”

Was this a difficult or easy decision to make?

Pam thought for a moment, then wrote, “Neither.” Then she crossed it out and wrote, “Both.”

Whose decision is it for you to have this abortion?

She pressed the pen down hard as she wrote, “MINE.

Have you discussed your decision with anyone? Whom?

“My mom, my best friend, a co-worker.”

Does your partner know of your decision, and if so, is he supportive?

Pam took a deep breath before writing, “No.”

What are your thoughts about ending your pregnancy?

Pam chewed on the end of her pen thoughtfully for a moment before leaving it at, “This is the best choice for me.” They were pro-choice here, were they not? Seems they’d understand if she kept it as simple as that, even if it really wasn’t.

Ten minutes later, a woman in her forties who must have used the same hair color Meredith did stuck her head out the door to the back office and called, “Pamela.” Pam and her mom followed her through the doors and down a hall to a fairly small exam room. The redhead identified herself as Sam, an ultrasound tech. She was very personable, with a big smile and good sense of humor. The ultrasound was not the most comfortable thing in the world, but nothing Pam couldn’t handle.

Seven weeks and three days. Sam offered to show Pam her ultrasound; Pam declined. It was harder to hear weeks and days than she’d anticipated; it somehow made it that much more real.

Moments later, Sam led them down the hall to the lab. A tall, beautiful black woman with a figure to die for gave her a wide smile and gestured for her to have a seat.

Pam despised needles with a rare passion and clutched at her mom’s hand while Hope pricked her finger. “You’d be a horrible diabetic,” her mom said with a wink when Pam finally loosened her grip. “Sorry I’m such a chicken,” Pam mumbled when Hope came over to put a band-aid over her finger. Hope gave her a wide smile and brushed off her apology like it was nothing.

The wait for the counselor was long and excruciating. Pam and her mom both started leafing through old issues of People and Time while waiting in the lobby. After a bit, Mrs. Beesly leaned her head back and closed her eyes. Pam watched a little bit of the morning news program on TV before flipping over a “How Are We Doing” evaluation sheet in her consent form packet and sketching a nearby floor lamp. She had just finished up when she heard her name called. Pam grabbed her purse and looked at her mom as if to ask if she was coming.

“I can’t go back for this part, hon,” she said gently. “Your counseling session is private.”

Pam had been avoiding her nervousness quite well, up until that moment when her mom couldn’t be with her.

“It’ll be fine, honey,” Mrs. Beesly said, squeezing her hand. “I’m right out here.”

Pam nodded shakily and walked back through the back office doors.

Her counselor’s name was Nicole. She was about the same age as Pam, with a welcoming face and a smooth, soothing voice that Pam could somehow imagine reading books on tape. She asked if Pam had any questions, to which Pam shook her head, not really because she had none but because she had far too many and couldn’t single one out at the moment. Nicole nodded and assured her that if she had any, to just interrupt her.

Nicole opened a chart with Pam’s name at the top and pulled out the green sheet she’d completed earlier. “I know it’s a little weird for me to ask you to tell me how you feel about all this when you’ve just met me, but do you think you could tell me a little about why you decided to come here today?”

Pam paused, trying to determine the appropriate response. “I...um...”

Nicole smiled warmly. “Take your time. It’s not a pop quiz; I just want to make sure you’re comfortable with doing this.”

“I hate being here,” Pam said quietly. Nicole raised her eyebrows just slightly. “No, that’s not right – I hate that I have to be here. I hate being in this situation. But the alternative...” She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Roy can’t be a parent right now.” She paused for half a second before adding, “Neither can I.”

“Roy’s your partner?” Nicole asked.

“My fiance,” Pam replied.

“And you haven’t told him about all this?”

“No. I...don’t really want to think about what would happen if I did.”

Nicole’s brow furrowed in concern. “Do you think he’d hurt you?”

Pam shook her head to deny it. “I...” She paused again. “I don’t think so.” Now it was Pam’s turn to frown; why couldn’t she have given a flat-out “no” in response to that question?

Nicole nodded. “But you do have some support, right? It says here you’ve talked to your mom and a couple of friends; have they been supportive?”

“Oh, yeah,” Pam replied. “My mom’s in the waiting room, actually...and my...my best friend drove me down from Scranton. Jim.”

“Good, good. Well, good support is the most important thing, both going in and coming out of this situation; as long as you’ve got people you can talk to...” Without meaning to, Pam tuned Nicole out a little bit; she was realizing a very scary thing – that for all she knew about the man she’d spent so much of her life with, she couldn’t figure out a way to not make him sound like bad news to a third party.

“So, do you feel okay to proceed today?” Nicole asked suddenly, breaking Pam’s reverie. Pam smiled a little smile and nodded.

Nicole walked Pam through the procedure and consent forms next, translating things into plain English and getting her to initial and sign in all the right places. “Before I let you go,” Nicole said just as Pam’s hand started to cramp, “I have one more form to give you. Before you leave, you’ll meet with the doctor; he has to give you some information on risks and alternatives to abortion, just to satisfy the state laws. You’ll sign this one after you talk to him.”

Pam thanked her sincerely and went back out to the lobby. Mrs. Beesly had apparently found a copy of the Eagle and was browsing the TV listings when Pam curled into her side on the couch.

“You doing okay, kiddo?” Mrs. Beesly asked, stroking her hair.

“I haven’t decided yet,” Pam replied honestly. Her mom nodded, kissed the top of her head, and pointed out that “When Harry Met Sally...” would be on TBS that night.

Pam soon found herself in a small counseling room with her mom on her right and Dr. Sullivan, a twinkly-eyed guy in his sixties who looked like a bizarre cross between Santa Claus and Wolf Blitzer, across from her. He spoke in a slow monotone, describing risks and complication rates. Partway through his dialogue, Mrs. Beesly surreptitiously reached over and grabbed Pam’s hand.

When Dr. Sullivan had ensured she has no more questions, Pam signed the form she was given earlier affirming that yes, she’d followed Pennsylvania state law. Nicole came back in to remind her not to eat or drink after midnight and to run her credit card for the consult fee, and after that, Pam was free to leave.

Pam had a sudden wave of exhaustion on the way home, wanting desperately to get back under the covers and curl up into a ball. Mrs. Beesly had wanted to take Pam to lunch, but seeing how tired her daughter was, took her back to the house so she could take a quick nap. Pam immediately dropped her purse and crawled back into bed, staying awake just long enough to hear her mom say she was going to run to the grocery and would be back soon. This time, she didn’t dream.

It was far later than she’d expected when she woke up that evening. The dying light outside was casting shadows in her old bedroom in a very odd, unsettling way, and it was that, more than anything, that inspired her to get up. Slipping her feet into slippers and throwing her hair, now tangled beyond all recognition, into a ponytail, she walked tentatively into the hall and down to the living room. Mrs. Beesly was sitting on the couch, watching Billy Crystal pace the streets of New York City on New Year’s Eve. Pam went to the kitchen and heated up some leftover macaroni and cheese and tuna (a Beesly family specialty) before returning to the living room.

After the conclusion of the movie, both women gave up TV as a bad job. Pam sat diligently picking at a stray piece of tuna with her fork when her mom’s voice interrupted her concentration.

“Pam, how’d you get here?”

Pam sighed, not really sure she wanted to discuss how she’d arrived in her current...predicament. “I don’t know, Mom. I was being so, so careful, and I can’t figure out how we – ”

“No, no, you misunderstood me,” her mom interrupted. “I mean...literally, how’d you get here, to Reading? I thought you said you were driving down; Roy’s truck isn’t in the driveway...”

“Oh, yeah, right,” Pam said. “Kenny had to go pick up some...er, purchase...and Roy took the truck to help. Jim drove me down.”

Mrs. Beesly’s eyebrows rose almost imperceptibly. “Jim...your friend from work, Jim?”

“Yeah,” Pam replied, smiling a little. “He was there when Roy said he had to take the truck and offered to drive me down.”

“Wow. That’s a long trip...and on a work night.”

“Mm hmm.”

“Sounds like he’s an awfully good friend.” Her tone of voice was almost too gentle; it was the same tone she’d used when Pam was sixteen and mentioned Roy’s name a little too casually in conversation.

“He is,” Pam said softly. “He’s...he’s really, really great.” There was a rumble of thunder in the distance.

Mrs. Beesly rested her hand on top of her daughter’s. “Pam, are you happy with Roy?”

Pam jerked her head around to stare at her mom incredulously. “What?”

“Are you happy with Roy?” her mom repeated patiently.

Pam was silent for a moment. “What kind of a question is that?”

“A mother asking her daughter if she’s happy in her current relationship? A perfectly reasonable question, I think,” Mrs. Beesly replied evenly.

Pam tried, but the words “of course I am and it’s ridiculous to suggest otherwise” simply wouldn’t come, overpowered by the shock that someone had dared to ask her the question at all. “I...I, um...we...I...” She stopped and swallowed audibly. “I love Roy.”

“I don’t doubt that,” her mom replied. “I only wonder why he’s not the one here holding your hand through all of this.”

Pam was bordering on annoyance with this conversation. “Mom, you know Roy.”

“I do,” her mom agreed. “And I know that somewhere in the past several years, you decided that Roy was up to meeting the challenges that come with loving you. And yet, here we are...and where is Roy?”

“It’s not his fault that he’s not here, you know!” Pam said, her voice laced with panic. “I kept it from him! I’m the one who didn’t want him to know! You can’t fault him for not being here when he doesn’t even know what’s going on!”

“I’m faulting no one, Pamela,” Mrs. Beesly said warningly. “I don’t fault Roy for his absence right now, and I don’t fault you for not telling him. I’m just saying that...” Her mom sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose. “Sweetheart, you didn’t tell him you were pregnant, or why you were really coming to Reading, because you were afraid of his reaction. You’re living in fear, honey. For the first time, your relationship with him is being tested, really tested, and you can’t even trust him with the basic information, let alone trust him to discuss it rationally with you, and certainly not to respect or support your wishes. Is that love, Pam? Is that really what you want for yourself, for your children?”

Pam’s tears came fast and angry. “Too much,” she murmured wetly. “I can’t handle this right now. Too much.”

Her mom’s expression softened, and she gathered Pam into her arms. “Whatever you choose, your life will work out as it’s supposed to,” she said softly. “But right now, you still have the reins in your hands. You still have the ability to build your life the way you want it. If marrying Roy is what you want – if he treats you the way you think you deserve to be treated – then I trust your judgment. But you owe it to yourself, and to him, to think about that.”

***

Pam’s procedure was on Saturday.

Rain was coming down in sheets that morning, and the sky was so dark with clouds that eight o’clock in the morning almost looked like night. The drive to the clinic was painfully slow, the windshield wipers in the Beesly family’s little Accord going full blast, Pam’s mom muttering obscenities at her fellow drivers under her breath. Pam was a little dazed; this had to be one of the stranger experiences of her life. Stranger still was that she felt absolutely no urge to cry.

The clinic was busier today than it had been yesterday; many more women were sitting around the lobby, along with the odd uncomfortable-looking man. In stark contrast to her long waits and thumb-twiddling of yesterday, Pam checked in and was immediately escorted into the back, where she had her vital signs taken. Nicole was there with a smile to make sure she had no lingering questions. When Pam assured her she had none, Nicole gave her something for nausea and a high dose of ibuprofen and sent her back to the lobby with assurances she’d be called back soon. Within minutes, she was escorted into a room only slightly bigger than the one she’d had her ultrasound in and was told to undress.

Sitting on the cool table, staring at the stirrups and bare instrument tray, made things seem very real to Pam. This was happening. This would now be a part of her history. She suddenly flashed back to those first few weeks and months with Roy, when they were still in high school, eons ago now...back when she thought she couldn’t possibly get any luckier than to have the football hero pick her, the geeky little artsy girl, as his girlfriend. This particular scenario had never in a million years crossed her mind back then.

A flushed, slightly out-of-breath nurse who seemed to move twice as fast as normal humans did came into the room at that moment to start Pam’s IV. Pam was not thrilled with the prospect of another needle, but offered up her hand just the same.

“D’you want me to go get your mom?” the nurse asked gently, patting Pam on the shoulder. Pam nodded, and just as quickly as she’d arrived, she hurried out the door, ushering Mrs. Beesly into the room moments later

Mrs. Beesly pulled the chair over next to the table where Pam was reclining, smiled at her, and grabbed her non-IV hand. Pam was shaking a little bit, but her mom didn’t comment. They sat in silence for a few minutes before Pam spoke up.

“It’s not just that I’m not ready for a kid,” Pam said, quietly but not tearfully. “It’s not even that Roy’s not ready for a kid. It’s bigger than that.”

Her mom nodded. “I know.”

Pam was silent again for a moment, thinking about how to say what she meant. “If I had this baby,” she said finally, “I’d be trapped.”

Her mom closed her eyes, sighed, and nodded. “I know, honey.”

Pam laughed humorlessly. “This sucks, doesn’t it?”

Mrs. Beesly leaned down and circled her arms around her. “Our best options often do.” Pam heard her try to hide a sniffle, but didn’t have a moment to comment before her mom continued, “I can’t pretend I’m any happier about this than you are...but I want you to know that I’m proud of you. There really wasn’t a good choice for you to make here, but you still found the inner strength to make the best choice for you. That takes a tremendous amount of bravery, Pam.” She raised her head then and looked her daughter straight in the eye. “And I am begging you not to let that courage go.”

Dr. Sullivan chose that very moment to arrive, and all Pam could manage was, “I love you, Mom,” before the sedatives kicked in.

She drifted in and out for the next six minutes. Though she couldn’t remember it well afterward, she noted at the time that it felt like an extended Pap smear followed by a two-minute long terrible period. Her mom’s hand in hers was a constant, and Dr. Sullivan’s “Pamela, everything went fine” was her signal that it was over.

That same flustered nurse came in, started collecting vital signs and cleaning her up, and asked her questions to try to keep her from falling too far under. With the help of the nurse and her mom, she woozily got to her feet and followed their lead down the hall.

She didn’t really know or care where she was going until she got there. The recovery room was spacious and well lit, the back wall lined with recliners, each with heating pads and blankets draped over them. A kind-looking, older nurse stood from her desk to help Pam into a recliner, and once she was settled, advised her to sit and relax while she got Pam some water.

The sedatives were making Pam incredibly sleepy, but she was “with it” just enough to take a few sips of water and offer her arm to have her blood pressure taken. Letting her head loll to the left, her eyes met those of the blonde girl who’d been in front of her in line at her consult yesterday, now sitting in the recliner next to her with much the same numb expression.

“You okay?” the blonde asked her hoarsely.

Pam nodded. “Yeah, I’m okay.”

“It’ll get better,” she assured in as soothing a voice as Pam figured she could manage.

“Thanks,” she mumbled, almost entirely drifting off.

Pam was drugged up enough to barely remember being discharged from the clinic, or being helped out the back door of the clinic and into the car, or her mom settling her on the couch in the living room with the TV on a low volume and a knit blanket draped over her. She slept off most of the rest of the day.

Still immeasurably groggy, Pam awoke later that evening to the feel of her mom running a hand through her hair.

“Sweetheart, Jim called about an hour ago,” she said softly. “He wanted to make sure you were okay.”

At those words, for the first time since her procedure, Pam started to weep.

***

The fib she’d told Toby had obviously made the rounds of the office, and Monday morning, there was a sympathy card from her co-workers on Pam’s desk. She permitted her mouth to curl into a sad, ironic sort of half-smile before she slipped the card into her desk drawer and got to work.
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