Sam clears his throat, and the dull thud that ensues, and which springs directly from the underside of the hardwood table top, tears a grimace across his lips. He calls out, "You alright down there?"
Dapperly perched on the arm of the sole couch in the room, he watches as one Diane Chambers, foal-like in holy, yet wobbly determination, emerges from behind his desk. Her white knuckles are first to materialize, folded over the top of her head, fingertips attempting to soothe her scalp which, he presumes, has gotten the brunt of her encounter with the solid material.
"Fine, thank you."
A simper at her dismissive tone, the thought crosses his mind of reaching out and offering steady support. Something he would do, were it not for the hint of unease that transpires in the way she puts off meeting his gaze - first by swatting at her knees with both hands to dust off the fabric of her jumpsuit with unusual precision, and then by carefully checking her tiny clutch bag - for what feels like well over a minute - in search of nothing she finds, that tells him he'd better not move; not speak, unless invited to.
A moment later, he hears her take a breath. Lips pursed, her eyes scan each of the four walls that encase his office, as if thoroughly inspecting the room for the very first time, before finally, if tentatively still, acknowledging his physical presence.
"You um…" she visibly swallows " ...you knew I was here."
He nods once, attempting to disguise thorough amusement "I caught your checkered bottom peeking out from the back of the desk there earlier." he tilts his head as if looking for her under the table top again. "Thought I'd come back in when I saw Woody leave, see if you'd need help looking for a lost hairpin, or something. Wondered if you were maybe looking for a place to spend the night. You know, in your new unemployed condition." He diligently surveys her features her for signs of usual annoyance before continuing" In which case I'd suggest you take the couch, instead." he pats the leather cushion by his side. "Less bricky."
Diane's gaze falls to the floor, and Sam would swear he's never seen as sheepish an expression on her face before. Her fist balls down and drops loudly onto the plank of dark wood, bumping the side of the telephone, and knocking the handset off the switch hook. It falls to the table with a loud thump.
Accident or intent?
The faint howler tone from the receiver hums through the otherwise quiet atmosphere, and for a second it seems like she's going to fix it. Instead, he finds himself staring at her as she stares at the telephone, like she's looking right through it.
"Woody, um. He let me in to make some calls. Calls that I… needed to make." Diane makes a seemingly swift recovery and rests her hip against the desk.
Instinctively, Sam leans forward."Okay."
"I hope you don't mind."
"Not at all."
She looks him dead in the eye, and he holds her gaze for what feels like a long time. Long enough to confirm his suspicion that the now off-the-hook telephone is as far from the reason she's back in his office now, as he is far from his once-upon-a-time promising career in baseball.
He's about to clear the air - unsure as to whether he needs to do it for her, or for himself - and ask if they're embarking upon a staring contest, when she concedes.
"Actually." Diane stares down at her balled up fist, picks up the seemingly forgotten handset, and sets it back on its hook with the same absent mindedness she'd employed when she'd previously sent the thing flying. "That's not true." Pause. "The truth is, I came in here to talk to you. I wanted to apologize, Sam."
It's Sam's turn to swallow, and he does so while hunching forward again, full bodied this time, inching closer to the edge of the armrest like he needs to be closer to hear her better.
"Apologize for what?"
"For yesterday... For my tempestuous retreat from the bar following our argument. For allowing my emotions to overcome my rationale. For…" she peers at him from under her lashes, offers him a somewhat amused apologetic smile that, much to his surprise, eases his guard, relaxes his spine "... calling you a troglodyte."
He finds it near impossible to hold back a grin. "Hey now, don't worry about that. That's probably the nicest thing you've ever called me during a fight. Come to think of it, even outside of one. I took it as a compliment."
Diane seems to lighten up a little at his words, the corner of her lip lifting to mirror his own countenance. The tension in the room seems to slowly thin out.
"I also want to apologize for eavesdropping." Not so fast, tension. "You see, the reason I knew you were going to fire me, and that which gave me the upper hand at presenting you with my resignation letter before you would get a chance to dismiss my services yourself, is that... I was here that night, Sam. In the bar."
"What nigh…" It takes him a second to hop onto her train of thought and ride it with her, and when he finally manages to catch up, his heart picks up speed as he envisions its destination. "You mean the night when…"
"When Janet suggested you let me go, yes."
"You were here." She nods once. "At Cheers." She nods again.
"I was just returning from covering the pool table in the back room when I saw you and Janet had stepped inside. I should have made my presence known, I know, but I... I suppose I didn't know how to interrupt so I... crouched... in between the stools and…" Diane exhales, as if her confession both relieves and exhausts her. "...overheard your entire conversation." She looks at him now, but his mind is somewhat shot, too busy carrying him back to that night, even though his eyes are set on her face. "I am so ashamed, Sam."
He mumbles, amused "So ashamed that you did it again just now."
Part of him wants to laugh at the childish tone she adopts in her defense. So Diane. So like what, up until not ten minutes ago, he thought he'd never get to experience again, after she'd stormed out of this very office the day before, with what had sounded like a definite goodbye. He's surprised at how glad he is at the opportunity of one more round, though, while at the same time painfully aware that she's been made privy to his grapple with the concept of imminent marriage. Of imminent marriage to Janet.
"So you heard… everything?" an unnecessary and futile question traded in as a dollar bill for time.
"Everything." She's pacing back and forth, walking the horizontal length of his desk and back again. "Which explains why I went home and wrote that illogical, unsound letter. Something, I now realize, was utterly adolescent of me, and demeaning of my dignity, and of your own." Sam knows, by the synchronised drop of her chin and shoulders, that she's going to speak his language now. "I was just so angry, Sam. And, I suppose, in a subconscious manner I was hurt and…"
But Sam's mind has paused at the mention of her resignation letter, the one he had crumpled up and thrown to the floor after their heated argument the day before. The same letter he had, not ten minutes later, and for no reason he would allow himself to delve into, straightened out and neatly slid into a folder on top of his file cabinet.
As Diane rambles on in the background of his thoughts about shame, and hurt, and feelings, Sam finally gets off the couch. He reaches the file cabinet in what feels like a slow motion move, and removes the letter from inside the folder. Without a second glance, he holds it out to her. "You mean, this letter?"
"Yes, that…" Diane reaches for the familiar small pile of paper and examines it, an astonished look on her face. "This is my letter. You kept this?" Sam's hands have sunk into his pockets in his all too familiar attempt at nonchalance. As if his hands are his most impish traitors. "Why did you keep this?"
Her question lingers between them for a second. Now would maybe be a good time for him to dig into that reason he'd pushed away before, recognize he'd always known it, tell her the truth; say, I kept it because it might be the last thing I'd ever receive from you. Instead he hears himself say, "I thought I'd keep it in case you wanted to come in, throw another one of your fits, and take back your resignation again."
That seems to rile her up, but as per usual, Sam only realizes it might once he's delivered the blow. Never one step ahead, constantly several behind.
"I do not throw fits! They're called changes of heart."
"Boy, you must keep them surgeons busy."
Diane throws him that look that makes him feel like a five year old, and he drops his chin to his chest accordingly.
Her tone is softer when she breaks the silence, though "Are you saying you'd hire me back, Sam? Is that why you have yet to put an ad for a replacement waitress?" Of course she'd heard that, too. Damn it, Woody. "You're saving the spot for me, should I want it again?"
Feeling a game change coming on, Sam leans into it, and rests his elbow on the file cabinet, runs his fingers over the framed baseball league photograph that's adorned the old metal crate for as long as Cheers' been in his possession.
"Maybe. I mean, if you couldn't find anything else and really needed the job. I know you're not skilled in much..."
He doesn't look at her, doesn't have to, to know the tension is once again rising between those four walls, mounting up to the level it had attained during their shouting match not twenty-four hours prior. He braces himself, almost ashamed of the all-too-familiar pleasure causing his ribcage to tingle in anticipation of yet another good squabble with the best opponent in town. Diane delivers on cue.
"Please, as if I'd ever come back to work here, after being unceremoniously fired on account of your girlfriend asking you to do it. Or should I say, your fiancée. As a matter of fact, you couldn't drag me back in if you summoned Hercules himself to carry me across the threshold."
She has dared go there. She insinuates that which, although true, he'll never admit to himself, let alone to Diane fucking Chambers. The tingling in his ribcage grows all the more intense, and he redresses his posture, as if needing room to let the feeling expand.
"Oh, yeah?" He understands the measure (or lackthereof) in his own voice. She's getting to him. Getting under his skin. He feeds on every bit of it, like he's always done. "Well, hear this 'cause I'm only going to say it once: if I were to call anyone at all with a dumb name like that, it would be to barricade the door, lady. Keep you on the cold side of it."
He recognizes the glint in her eye as she builds up her comeback; it's too late.
"Funny, I was under the impression that this was the cold side of the door. Why else would you wear a jacket to work every day, lately? I would presume Janet's breath of exceptionally fresh air would simply require you to wear warmer socks."
He's reeling now. Mad as hell. His teeth are doing the whole biting down on his lip thing because they can't bite her. Bite that smart mouth of hers, to stop it running amok.
"That's it! You need to get out. Go on. Get out." he circles around his desk to grab her elbow and usher her towards the door. Diane's seemingly unaffected, allows him to easily carry her off as she flips through every single page of the letter in her hands, which he takes the opportunity to point at "And take that damned thing with you. It's thicker than that damn Russian book I nearly killed myself reading that one time. I've since realized I enjoy life too much to be tricked into reading anything that long ever again and dying of boredom. So you see, I wouldn't have time to go over it, anyway."
Diane shakes her arm out of his hand violently. "No. No, of course you wouldn't have time. Not with all the uh, recently added items to your reading list? What's on top of that stack, again, "How To Be First Lady If You're a Man", "Conned Into Marriage With a Smile", "How To Play Second Fiddle In Tune"?
Sam's tongue runs over his upper teeth in exasperation. She's winning, and he needs her to get out before she starts hearing the applause building up inside both of their heads. Throw it in his face in an undisputed checkmate move.
"Out!" He pulls the door open and urges her outside of the room, but before her foot crosses the threshold, she stops. She turns.
"There's one page missing."