The date did not go well.
It started out with a disagreement about which date it was—he’d joked it was their third, or at least their second, and she’d insisted it was the first, and he hadn’t been able to control the look of disappointment on his face that she hadn’t played along. And she hadn’t appreciated the look, and she hadn’t been able to stop herself from reacting, and he’d reacted to her reaction and by the time the drinks came they hadn’t really been talking to each other.
This wasn’t a problem in the old days—before they were dating, ironically—because they could speak so eloquently without words. But now that same strength was a weakness. When Jim thought “God, why is she being so hard on me? I’m really trying here,” Pam saw it in his face. And when Pam thought “does he really expect me to pretend he hasn’t been giving me the cold shoulder for months?” he could tell it in her eyes. They fell back on pleasantries and small talk and all the kinds of things you say when you don’t know what else to say—but every little nothing was a reminder that they used to be able to skip all that, or to make it mean so much more, and so each time one of them mentioned the weather, or work, or traffic, it was like a fresh bruise on their collective soul.
There were a lot of bruises. Not all of them were fresh, but they all hurt.
They opted out of dessert and drinks, and they walked back to their respective cars in near-silence.
His breathing said “I’m sorry this sucked.”
Hers said “I’m sorry too.”
But they weren’t talking, and each of them was too hurt by the past—and by the evening—to trust that they’d heard the other one’s thoughts correctly.
They said goodbye and there wasn’t even a chance of a goodnight kiss.
She cried in her pillow.
He cried on his.
The next morning he left a bag of Sun Chips on her doorstep with a note.
It said “I don’t care what date it is. I just want to have more with you.”
She knocked on his door fifteen minutes after she found it.
They didn’t go out on a second date.
They stayed in instead. There wasn’t much talking, but it went pretty well.
For their third date, they played a game Jim called “reverse Jinx.” Whenever they were both silent for more than a minute, they yelled “Jinx,” and the loser had to talk seriously about how they’d felt over the last four years until they could buy the winner a Coke.
The rules were neither unfailing nor rigid, but they got them past a lot of awkward moments—and, they would both later agree, saved their relationship from becoming too reliant on their nonverbal communication, both good and bad.
Their fourth date was at Jim’s, and it was lovely. He cooked (grilled cheese), she washed the dishes, and she accidentally left a ring on the counter that she’d taken off in the soapy water. Jim did not give it back. She had so much fun she didn’t notice. It was like they were back to being best friends, only now neither of them had to restrain themselves from running their hands through each other’s hair, or stopping a sentence to kiss the other, or...anything. It was everything they’d ever hoped it would be. Easy. Smooth. Loving. They agreed to keep it secret from the rest of the office (no one wanted Michael’s commentary on their relationship) but to otherwise be as public as they wanted. Which was a relief to them both, since each had been keeping their eagerly interested family up-to-date.
Their fifth wasn’t really a date. They just went to the mall together, because that’s what couples do and they were a couple now. While Pam was at Dress Barn, Jim told her he was going to Gamestop.
He went to the jeweler’s instead with the ring he’d stolen.
She found out eventually, but she forgave him.
After all, she figured it was bad luck to hold a grudge against your fiancée.