"So, long haul, where do you see yourself in ten years?"
To the older man sitting across the desk, it appeared that the younger man was taking a second to compose himself. Jim was gathering his thoughts as he considered the question. He looked down briefly to run his fingers over the yogurt top one more time before he looked back up at David Wallace.
"You know, I thought I knew until just now. I even had an answer waiting for you because I thought this might come up." Jim paused to collect his thoughts again.
"So, you're saying you're not sure now?" David asked, a look of concern starting to form on his face.
“Actually, now that you ask, I see myself clearly. A wife, a home, maybe a couple kids." A smile was forming on Jim's face as he spoke. "I'm successful in my career and happy with who I am. And I think that's back in Scranton."
David was definitely confused now. "This job is a corporate position here in New York though. I thought we were clear in that regard."
"No, you were clear. What I'm saying is thank you for your time, but I don't think I'm right for this position." Relief and even a bit of courage started to seep into Jim as he took in David's reaction.
There was only a look of shock on David's face. "May I ask why?"
"It's for personal reasons."
David was now leaning across his desk at Jim. "I gotta be honest with you Jim, I was basically considering this interview to be just a formality before offering you this job. We'd be back to square one because of this. If I'm going to tell that to the CEO and the board you need to give me something more."
Jim took a deep breath before he answered. He wasn't sure how he felt about spilling his heart out to the CFO of Dunder-Mifflin, but that feeling of courage was still there, so he let it fill him some more. "About a year ago, I ran to Stamford to get away from problems I was having in Scranton. Those problems went away while I was in Stamford and as you know of course, now I'm back in Scranton. If I left there again for New York, I think I'd always be wondering why. I know this position would mean having to visit all the branches, including Scranton, and I don't think I could take that."
"Huh," David was still looking confused. "You're sure about this?"
"I don't think I've ever been surer about anything."
"Okay then. Well, thanks for coming in today," David told him as Jim was starting to gather his papers. "One thing though: I feel like I've gotten to know you a bit, Jim, and if I'm off base here let me know." Jim looked up. "Off the record, what's this about? Relationship issues?"
"Her name's Pam and I'd be an idiot if I let her get away again. Even if that means staying in Scranton over New York."
David leaned back in his chair and curiously a smile came across his face. "Jim, you know I'm a family man; my wife and I have been married for fifteen years so I've been down this road before. If you don't mind, can I give you some advice?"
"Forget what you've seen on TV or in the movies; always be honest with her. It won't matter how many years you've spent telling her the truth, because one lie can wipe it all away. Set that up first." David kept talking for a few minutes giving the younger man a brief relationship lesson, and as he did Jim felt the corner of his mouth draw up in a smile.
Jim finished gathering up his papers and stood up. "Again, thank you for the chance to interview."
David shook his hand warmly. "You're welcome. Best of luck to you."
"Thanks," Jim said with a smile and turned to leave the office. As he walked to the elevator he knew he had to get back to Scranton as soon as he could, which meant he had an uncomfortable conversation in front of him.
In the elevator he pulled out his phone and punched in Karen's number. She answered on the second ring. "Hey, I just got out. Where are you? Still with friends?"
"Yeah," she replied. "They met me in a café a couple blocks away from the hotel. We got a table outside. There's an open chair if you want to join us."
"Yeah, I can be there as soon as I catch a subway."
"Great see you then."
"Ok, great, see you then. Bye."
As happy as he was knowing he was going to head back to Scranton, Jim still felt dread as the elevator doors opened and he made his way out to the street.
"There's no easy way to do this, so just do it, Halpert," he told himself as he made his way down the street to the nearest subway station and back to the hotel he and Karen were staying in. They had booked two nights, but Jim knew he wouldn't need the second night now. He packed his clothes and belongings and brought them back down to his car before heading down the street.
The walk to the café only took a few minutes. Karen was sitting with two other women, smiling at them. She saw him walking up and waved him over. "Jim! Over here."
Jim took a deep breath to steel himself as he walked up. "Hey Karen."
"Hey, sit down. How was the interview?" She gestured to the empty seat at the table.
"Yeah, no, it was good. Hey, umm, listen. Could we talk over here in private for a sec?"
Karen's smile faltered a little at his words. "Sure."
They walked a few steps away from the table and out of the stream of pedestrian traffic on the sidewalk. They sat down on the edge of a small fountain outside the cafe.
"I withdrew my name from the job and I'm going back to Scranton this afternoon. If you want you can drive back with me, but after that I don't think we should keep dating. "
"What?" Karen's voice was quavering as she listened to Jim.
"I'm really sorry. I know this is going to suck for you. I never wanted to hurt you, but regardless of everything, my future is still in Scranton."
Karen's eyes had fallen to look at the sidewalk. She looked back up at him. The shock and pain were clear on her face. "This is about Pam, isn't it? You still have feelings for her, don't you?"
"Yes," Jim said softly.
The impact of what he had just admitted had clearly hit her. She put her hands on her head, stood, and turned in a circle before looking back at him with disbelief on her face. "I don't know what you want me to say!"
Jim got up to face her. "You don't have to say anything. I just needed to tell you. I'd understand if you don't want to head back now. I already have all my stuff out of the room. You can have it for tonight if you want to stay."
She slapped the key card out of his proffered hand to the sidewalk. "So, what am I supposed to do?"
"I can give you money for a bus or train or whatever you need."
Anger replaced the hurt on Karen's face. "So that's it then? 'Sorry I'm dumping you while we're two hours from home for another woman. We can ride home or here's bus fare' Real classy, Halpert."
"I know," Jim's throat was tight as he answered her.
"Keep your car and your money. I just...just...just go." Karen didn't give him a chance to answer. She turned her back on him and sat back down next to the fountain with tears in her eyes. Her friends, who had been looking on, immediately got up and closed ranks around her.
Jim turned and made his way back to his car. He knew he had hurt her. If she hadn't been with her friends, he never would have left her in New York. The drive out of the city was harder than he thought it would be.
It had to be done and better quick and decisive than lingering over anything, he thought. The drive across New Jersey was quiet and subdued and he started to calm down. She's an adult. She'll be fine.
The low fuel light winked on as he crossed back into Pennsylvania. He took the first exit he could and pulled into a gas station. After filling his tank, he walked inside to get a drink. While reaching for a grape soda his eyes fell on the red and white cans of Coke in the cooler. He suddenly remembered Pam pushing a similar can across his desk after an afternoon of mostly playful silence. He smiled as the memory washed over him as he paid for his soda and made his way back to his car.
The rest of the drive back to Scranton was easier after that. Memory after memory played like a movie. Pranks pulled on Dwight, items placed in a teapot, her eyes lighting up when she laughed, and more flashed through his mind. He turned into Scranton Business park and made his way upstairs to Dunder-Mifflin. He was disappointed to see Pam wasn't at her desk when he walked in. One of the doc crew members was coiling an audio cable in front of Michael's office.
"Hey man, do you know where Pam is?"
"Yeah, she's in the conference room doing a talking head."
Jim had already turned to the door before the crew member was done talking. He opened the door without preamble. She was sitting in the usual interview spot. A cameraman and the documentary director sitting across from her. He saw her shocked expression as he called her name.
"Pam! Sorry," he said with a nod to the camera as it panned up at his sudden appearance before he looked back at her. "Um, are you free for dinner tonight?" His heart was in his throat waiting for her answer. He didn't have long to wait.
"Yes," was her immediate response.
"Alright, then it's a date." He turned and closed the door.
"Whoa!" He whispered the word to himself and took a deep breath bending at the waist. Now what do I do? Glancing around he saw his sudden appearance had remarkably gone unnoticed by the office staff. In fact, the main office seemed quiet. Michael, Dwight, and Andy were nowhere to be seen and Stanley was absorbed in his computer. Phyllis was in the kitchen fixing a cup of tea and the accountants were busy with their end-of-the-week paperwork. Merideth was concentrating on yet another game of Free Cell and Creed, well, Jim didn't know what he was up to and that was fine. Crossing over the familiar path to reception Jim found a piece of scrap paper and found himself grinning as he wrote a note and left the office before anyone could notice him.
"I'm sorry what was the question?" Pam felt her face glowing as she looked back at the cameraman and director. They were equally shocked at Jim's sudden appearance.
"You know, don't worry about it. I think we're done for the day," the director told her.
Pam burst up from her chair and started to take off her mic. Her hands were trembling in excitement and the cord became tangled in her cardigan. She got the wire free and practically leapt for the door. Looking around she didn't see him, and half-jogged half-walked back to her desk. There was a folded piece of paper with her name on it, in Jim's familiar handwriting, propped next to her teapot. Carefully she picked it up and unfolded the note.
Sorry I missed you. I just got back from corporate, but you weren’t at your desk. I figured I should let you know I've got dinner plans for tonight with this really cute girl I just met. You might know her. Kinda short, pretty smile, curly hair, looks great in a cardigan.
Seriously though I need to get home and shower after that drive from New York. I have a really big favor to ask you for tonight. Could you wear that dress you wore on Casino Night and take a cab back to the office and meet me at my desk at 7:00? I know that may seem like a lot. If that won't work give me a call. If it does work, I'll see you here at 7:00.
P.S. You don't have to worry that this is going to turn into some crazy kidnapping scheme. My kidnapping van broke down last week and is still in the shop. Something about calipers.
Her eyes were stinging from the tears that had welled up and her cheeks were starting to hurt a bit from the wide grin on her face. Glancing at the clock showed there was only fifteen minutes before everyone would start to leave. Michael still wasn't back. After he had found Dwight and Andy painting his office, he had immediately demanded his office back just the way it had been before he left. Knowing her boss as she did Pam was unsurprised that Michael had felt the need to personally, "managerealize," in his words, the exact color needed to repaint his walls, so he had left with them to find the right paint. Crossing quickly to the annex she found Toby starting to put his papers away.
"Hey Toby," she said as she walked up.
"Oh hi, Pam. Something I can help you with?"
Pam was certain she was bouncing up and down in excitement but tried to stay calm. "Since Michael is still gone, you're the go-to-guy around here. I had something come up and was hoping I could leave early. We're not really expecting any more calls today and if there are any the voicemail can keep them till Monday."
"I don't think that'll be a problem," Toby told her in his usual slow voice.
"Great! Thanks so much!"
She all but ran back to her desk to shut down her computer and gather her things before slipping out the door to the elevator. She made sure her key to the office was on her key ring as she stopped at the security desk on her way out.
"Hey, Michael said he might be back later tonight with some supplies for the office and you know he doesn't have a key to the parking lot anymore. He did tell me to ask you to not close the gate tonight, so he could bring that stuff upstairs."
The security guard hadn't even looked up from his magazine before he answered. "Friday night is cleaning night. I don't lock the lot anyway."
"Ok, well, I just wanted to let you know." If there was a response Pam didn't hear it as she was out the door and walking to her car. It took everything in her power to hold the speed limit on the drive back to her apartment.
When she had closed the door behind her and hung up her coat, she made her way back to her closet. The blue dress hadn't been worn since Casino Night. Every time she had looked at it the memory of Jim walking away after their kiss had hit her. It was the last time she had seen him until he had come back to Scranton after the merger. Still, she hadn't the heart to get rid of it.
There were a few wrinkles in the fabric, accumulated from when she had moved into the apartment. Nothing some steam can't fix, she thought as she brought the dress into her bathroom and hung it up on the towel rack next to her shower. While she waited for her shower water to warm up she changed into her bathrobe, called the cab company, gave them her address, and what time she wanted to be picked up.
"How much will that be?"
"It's already taken care of," the cab company receptionist told her.
"Yeah, about twenty minutes ago we had a man named Jim give us a call and tell us that if a Pam Beesly called for a ride from this address to where you want to go that he would take care of the fare. Is that ok?"
The glow that had been surrounding Pam's heart since Jim had asked her out grew even larger. "Yeah, that's fine. Thanks."
She hung up her cell and walked back to the bathroom. The water was just the right temperature and she straightened out her dress before she disrobed and stepped in. She lingered in the shower, letting the hot water wash her stress away. Finally, she washed the last of the scented shampoo and conditioner out of her hair and turned the water off. She put her bathrobe back on and stepped out to wrap her hair in a towel. Just as she had planned the hot air and steam had erased the few wrinkles in her dress, so she took it back to her bedroom and laid it flat on her bed. She took her time getting ready. It had been far too long since she'd had an excuse to linger with her wardrobe and appearance.
Obviously, Jim has something in mind. She was lost in her thoughts while curling her hair. I did shut him down in that exact spot. I wonder if he's going to try and kiss me again? I don't think he's mad at me. He looked really good in that suit. Do I invite him back in here after dinner? Where are we going for dinner? I wonder what he'll be wearing? If he asked for my Casino Night dress I'll bet he'll be wearing that black sweater. Is it weird that I can remember exactly what he was wearing that night?
Soon enough she had her dress on, her hair done, and her makeup on. Looking at herself in the mirror she decided that every detail was as close as she could get it to when she had last worn this dress. The only addition was a pale blue wrap since it was a touch colder outside than it had been on Casino Night. Glancing at the clock she was surprised to see that her taxi was due in less than ten minutes. Her bedroom window looked out on the parking lot of her apartment building, so she had a clear view to wait for the cab.
It showed up right on time. Gathering her purse and after locking the door behind her, she made her way down to the taxi. A fluttering in her stomach started the moment she sat down in the back seat and only grew as she rode the familiar route back to the Scranton Business Park. It didn't take any more time than when she drove herself, but to her the ride seemed over in a flash.
"Let me get you something for a tip," she told the driver while digging in her purse for some cash.
"Don't worry about," the driver told her. "The guy who set this up already took care of it."
"Oh, well, thanks for the ride."
She got out of the cab and looked around the lot. The only car in the lot was the van the cleaning company used. Inside, the lights were on in the lobby and she could see an extension cord snaking down the first floor hallway. The lights inside Dunder-Mifflin were all out when she looked up. Taking a deep breath to steel her nerves, she walked inside to the elevator.
The doors opened and she turned to the door leading to the office. As she was expecting, the door was locked and the lights were off. Digging out her key she let herself in and disarmed the burglar alarm. She went around and turned on a few lights close to her desk and Jim's. She didn't figure they would be staying long and didn't want to have to turn a lot of lights back off. She settled next to his desk as the clock over ticked to read seven.
Okay Jim, I'm here. Your move.
Jim had his car parked on the street up from the office and waited a beat after the taxi left to pull into the lot. He wanted to give her time to make it upstairs and unlock the door before he arrived. He parked, turned off his car, and went inside. It seemed to take forever for the elevator to return to the ground floor and even longer for it to make its way back upstairs. The nerves, and a bit of the fear, he had felt on Casino Night were back. The doors to the elevator opened and he stepped out. He had found the sweater he had worn on Casino Night and tugged it down to straighten it out before he turned to the familiar office door and walked in.
At first his plan had been to walk right over and kiss her again. However, while he had been getting ready David's advice to be honest with her kept ringing in his head. If this is going to work she needs to know what's been going on with me, he thought.
She was leaning against his desk looking exactly like she had that fateful night months ago. Now, as then, the only thing going through his mind was how beautiful she looked. He stopped short at the sight of her and the soft smile that had bloomed on her face. Getting himself under control he stepped over to her and reached out his hands, to which she reached out and took them.
"Hi," he said softly, a smile forming.
"Hi yourself," she replied.
"You look amazing."
"Thanks. That sweater is still great on you too."
"Thank you." He looked down briefly before looking back at her. "I'll bet you're wondering why I asked to meet here like this."
"First, I want you to know right away how thrilled I am to be taking you out. However, there's some stuff I need to say first." He took a deep breath before continuing. "I'd like to reset to the last time anything made sense. The last time I felt like my life did make sense was right after we kissed here. Then afterwards, I didn’t know what to think."
"You weren't alone in feeling like that."
"Yeah, I had a lot of time to think while I was in Stamford. I realized that I had just dropped a huge bomb on you not just once, but twice. First in telling you how I felt and then by just walking up here and kissing you. I was wrapped up in how I was feeling and thinking that I didn't really think about how you might take it, just how I fantasized it might go. Of course, that night didn't go like I thought it would. So I ran to Stamford. I tried to cut everything out because it hurt so much."
Tears were starting to brim in her eyes as she listened to him. She could feel her throat tightening as memories came back to her too. He hadn't been the only one hurting after that kiss.
"I was-," she started but he cut her off.
"I'm sorry to butt in, but I need to get this out. After, I'll gladly listen to anything you have to say. Okay?" She nodded back to him and he took another deep breath before continuing. "I was hurting, and I knew you had to be hurting too, which made me hurt even more for hurting you, and on and on it went. Finally, my brothers and sister came up to check on me, so did my parents and some other family, and it took a while but eventually the pain lessened and at least it felt like I could breathe again. I was sure you were furious with me, which is why I didn't call or anything. And then Karen was there, and she was nice. So, we started going out and it was good, but not great. I thought that eventually it would get better, but then we were all transferred back here, and you were, are, still here.
"Everything I'd ever felt for you came back that day I walked back in and you ran up to hug me. Then it was like the roles were switched. I was with someone and you were free. I still didn't know what to think or do. So, I just kept going hoping something would change. And then last Friday, you showed up again. You literally walked through fire and wished I'd come back.
"It was all I could think about this week. On the outside I was still going through the motions, you know? Planning everything I'd need for my interview. But there was still something I couldn't pin down. That is until I saw this."
He reached into his pocket and held up her note and the yogurt lid medal. Pam couldn't hold back the tears or sniffles now. She wiped them away as he went on.
"David Wallace asked me what I liked best about Scranton, so I said the friendships. Then he asked me where I saw myself. I looked back at this thing and all I could think about was you and how the only thing that mattered was getting back to the one woman who's gonna make this all worth it. So, here we are, and I know I must sound really selfish, but I'm asking that if we can reset from Casino Night, then you'll get your wish. I'll come back, not just to Scranton, but to you."
She couldn't say anything. She was acutely aware that the only thing keeping her upright was Jim's desk behind her. The only thing she could do was to reach out and hold him. His arms surrounded her instantly as she buried her face in the shoulder of his sweater. The hot tears in her eyes soaked into the wool as she felt him start to slowly rock her side to side.
She had been hurting. For years she had been hurting and the memories came. The pain had always been there. A fiancé who even after years of adulthood was still essentially the same guy he had been in high school. A best friend who wanted more than she could give him. That same friend lost, then back but in the arms of another woman. The ever-present feeling that this was not where her life was supposed to be. The heat of red coals under her bare feet. Then she remembered something else: courage.
They stayed in each other's arms for what seemed like forever. Since she decided she was going to be more honest after her art show, Pam had worked hard on putting her heart together. Not for anyone else, but for herself. It had been a long, hard journey, but she was happy with how she had come to forgive herself and even start to like herself in a way she never had before. Now, while standing wrapped in Jim's arms she felt her heart reach out to the man who had dropped everything to come back to her. Eventually Pam felt the tightness in her throat loosen up and she felt she could speak again. Stepping back, she looked up at him.
"Are you done?" He nodded. She took yet another deep breath and she knew she had his undivided attention. "You suck, you know that," she said as she wiped the last tears from her eyes.
"Here I was just beginning to feel free to completely be myself and that I didn't need anyone to make me happy and you waltz back here and drop that on me. You were, are, right, Jim. I'd been hurting, for a long time. Since before you even started here in Scranton if I'm really being honest. Then I saw that fire, and those coals. I decided I didn't want to be hurting anymore. I was done. So, it was like I was throwing my pain into those coals and when I was on the other side it was like I could do anything. Then I remembered the night you told me how you felt and suddenly, I could do the same. So together or just friends, it didn't matter anymore. But now we're here, and you asked me out and I've said yes and I'm happy and scared and excited and hopeful all at the same time.
"I don't want to reset because that would mean I'd lose what I've found since you've been away, and I like that about me. But how about instead we just restart?"
Jim smiled down at her. "I think I'd like that even more.” He took a step back and Pam immediately missed his arms around her. Confused, she looked down at the hand he suddenly extended towards her. Hi, I'm Jim. I'm new here and I'll be working in sales."
The moment was defused, and Pam couldn't help but bend over laughing. She was beaming when she looked back at him and took his hand to shake. "I'm Pam, and I should tell you I'm about to have dinner with a guy from work. If he ever stops kidding around, that is."
Jim cocked his head to one side before grinning with one side of his mouth. "Oh? Well, don't worry. Most people call me a huge stick in the mud. In fact, my idea of a good time after work is to count birds."
For the second time Pam dissolved into a bout of laughter. When she finished she looked back up at Jim who was grinning back at her. "Okay Halpert, that's enough," she said with her own grin. "Welcome back."
"It's good to be back," he said as he continued to smile at her. Pam felt herself smiling back at him. "Before we head to dinner I do have one question for you."
"May I kiss you?"
"I thought you'd never ask. Of course." Her eyes were sparkling as she reached out and leaned towards him.
Jim leaned down and kissed her. One arm snaked around her waist while the other gently held her between her shoulder blades. The uncertainty he had felt last time they had kissed was gone and all Jim could focus on was the feel of having her in his arms at last. The years of pining after her were gone and he resolved to do everything he could to make this relationship last.
Pam slid her hands around the back of his head as the kiss lengthened. She had never been kissed like this before. The sparks running down her spine was a new and wonderful experience that was something she felt she would never get enough of. All the fear and guilt she had felt when they last kissed had utterly vanished, replaced by the sheer joy of being so close to Jim.
Eventually they broke the kiss and rested their foreheads together. They were both smiling gently at the other. It was Pam who finally broke the silence.
"You look like a cyclops this close."
It was Jim's turn to double over laughing. When he had caught his breath, he gestured to the door. "How about we head to dinner?"
"Sounds great, just let me turn off the lights and lock up." She closed the office as Jim waited by the door. She finished locking up and joined him at the elevator where the doors were already open.
"Also, I'm sure you've guessed by now, but I did end things with Karen," he told her.
"How'd she take it?" Pam asked as she pushed the button for the first floor and the doors closed.
"Angry. Can't say I blame her."
"She'll be ok. She's strong," Pam told him, taking his hand.
"Yeah, I know," he said as he intertwined their fingers and the doors opened. "But that's all in the past. Tonight is about you and me and dinner."
"Where are we going?"
"I got lucky and scored reservations at that new Italian place." Jim held the lobby door open for her and they made their way across the parking lot.
"Casa Bella!" Pam was impressed.
"You got it," Jim told her as he opened the passenger door of his car and Pam sat down.
Jim got behind the wheel and started making their way to the restaurant. Pam slid her hand over to hold Jim's during the trip across town. They quickly fell into some of their old habits of joking around with the other. The conversation was easy and fun all through dinner at the restaurant.
"Okay, serious question time, Beesly." Jim's flat expression matched his tone of voice as he speared another portion of the cheesecake they were sharing for dessert. Pam just looked back up at him with a questioning look in her eyes since she had just taken her own bite. "Coke or Pepsi?"
She almost snorted her cheesecake out and broke into what she was sure was the hundredth grin of the night. "What kind of question is that? More importantly, we've known each other how long and you still don't know which one I like?"
"How am I supposed to when Michael only stocks the machine at work with generic stuff?"
Pam shrugged. "True. For the record, it's Coke. Got hooked on it back in high school."
"Thus, the unflinchable jinx rule?"
"Exactly. What else do you think the pep band was up to while you basketball jocks were running up and down the court?"
"I had a few friends in the band back when I was in high school, you know. They never said anything about stuff like that."
"What did they play?" she asked, spearing more cheesecake.
"Trumpet, I think. It was a while ago."
"That explains it," she said while pointing her fork at him. "Typical cocky brass players, especially trumpet players. They never really got into the fun we did in the woodwind section."
Jim speared more cheesecake for himself. "So, what did you play then?"
"I stopped after ninth grade, but it was oboe."
"Why did you stop?"
"We only had a few periods open for electives and there was a drawing class I wanted to take, but it was at the same time as band."
"From what I've seen of your artwork, I think you made a good choice."
Pam grinned at him. "Thanks. Do you want the crust?"
"Half for you, half for me?"
"Sure." He used his fork to split the final piece of crust in two and stabbed the bigger half. "Open up," he said and started lifting it up to give to her.
Her grin turned into a grimace of playful shock as at the last second, he ate the offered piece himself. She swatted his arm and picked up the other piece with her fork. as he chewed with a grin on his face. "Not nice!"
Soon after they were on their way back out to Jim's car. Pam noticed the night was warm and the stars were out. "This has been such a great evening. I don't want it to end."
"Who says it's ending?" Jim asked as he pulled out of the parking space.
"You only asked me to dinner. If you have anything else planned it would be gentlemanly to ask my permission first," she mockingly scolded him.
"Does the lady mind staying out a bit longer even if the destination remains a secret?"
"The lady does not mind at all."
Jim lifted the back of her hand to his lips and gave it a quick kiss. "Wonderful."
He turned his car onto the road but kept her hand in his. Pam leaned over and rested her head on his shoulder while rubbing his upper arm with her free hand. It was a short drive to a local park with a large gorge running through the center. Jim led her over a large covered bridge spanning the gorge to sit on a bench overlooking the scene. He wrapped one arm around her shoulder and held her hand with the other.
"Nice view," she said.
Jim wasn't looking out over the gorge but rather down at her. "Sure is."
She noticed him staring and grinned back up at him. "Jim, does all this mean you want me to be your girlfriend now? Like not just a couple dates, but full on dating?"
"It does, Pam," he told her softly. "Will you be my girlfriend?"
She didn't respond, but instead reached up with her free hand and pulled him down to kiss him again. The sparks she had felt earlier were back. They were both grinning again when they broke apart.
"Of course I will."
"I could get used to that," he told her.
"Me too. Do you think it's weird that we're kissing like this on our first date?"
"Oh, absolutely!" She laughed at what sounded like obvious sarcasm. "I don't know about you, but I've always been a kiss-on-the-second-date kind of guy."
"Right," she said skeptically but with a smile. "Which is why you asked to kiss me not three hours ago just as this evening was starting."
"No! I'm serious. I've honestly never been one to kiss on the first date."
"What made tonight so special then?"
He pulled her a bit closer before he answered. "Special exception for a special lady."
She didn't have the words to respond to that. Instead she scooted over until she was sitting on his lap and buried her face in the wool of his sweater. He responded by wrapping both arms around her and holding her. They stayed that way listening to the river at the base of the gorge cascade over the rocks at the bottom. It was Pam who finally broke the silence.
"What were you thinking about just now?"
"Two things," he answered. "The first was, 'No matter what, don't let her go Jim. Don't let her go.'"
"Hmmmm, that's nice. What was the second?"
"That even though a lot has changed since Casino night, one thing still hasn't. Pam." She looked up at him when he said her name. "I love you."
There was only one thing she could say to express the radiant joy she felt at hearing him say those words. "I love you too, Jim."
They shared their third kiss of the evening. Soon after they got up and headed back to the car. Jim let her pick the music as he drove to her apartment. They walked hand in hand to her door. Jim promised to pick her up in the morning for their second date and before she let herself back in they shared a final goodnight kiss.