Danny's was the kind of steakhouse you found in places like Scranton or Albany or Hartford, small East Coast burgs with big-city ambitions. So even though there wasn't a cattle ranch within a thousand miles, the place had a kind of cowboy motif that permeated every square inch, from its fence-post railings to the bison's head mounted over the fireplace.
Roy used to take Pam here on special occasions, like when he bowled 300 or on the second anniversary of their engagement. Chintzy chic, she thought of it, but she didn't dare mention that to Jim, whose idea it was they come here for their first date.
In fairness, it was the nicest place in town that didn't require a reservation. It was commencement weekend at University of Scranton, which meant most every hotel, motel and restaurant was booked. Only a call to his high school buddy Danny Corrigan, made while Jim was still 100 miles out on I-80, freed up a table so last minute. She didn't expect she'd be taking her eyes off him for a while anyway, so the décor was no matter.
"Let me get this straight," he said as he sidestepped the maître d' and pulled out her chair himself. "Dwight was in charge for what, four hours, and he painted Michael's office black, gave a lecture on Appalachian top soil and appointed you Assistant to the Regional Manager?"
"Secret Assistant to the Regional Manager," she corrected him, cocking her head a little to the right and half-smiling.
It was a throwaway look, the kind you usually don't notice on people. He'd never miss that look again, though. It was the look she gave him at Bob and Phyllis's wedding when he told her he liked the way she danced. This night would go better than that one, though.
"If the universe was fair, I would not be 300 miles away the day Dwight gets his first taste of real power," he lamented.
"What if the CIA was to bump up his security clearance?" she said.
"He might be needed on sewer patrol," Jim brainstormed. "You know, guarding against a terrorist attack from below."
"It's a dirty job," she said, almost giggling but at the same time aware just how easy this was. They could always talk. Whether they were conspiring against Dwight, complaining about Michael or just mulling their mundane jobs, it was always easy.
And then for so long it hadn't been anything.
Pam suddenly became aware that neither of them had said anything for—a minute? Longer? She wasn't sure. Jim was smiling at her, his eyes squinting slightly like he thought she was about to say something and wondered what she was waiting for. The waiter saved them from even a moment's awkwardness, though.
He'd ordered her the chicken marsala, her favorite though she couldn't remember that ever coming up in conversation. It didn't surprise her that he'd remember if it did. He ordered the strip steak. An hour later, they'd barely touched either. Instead, they talked.
They reminisced about times spent together and compared notes about their time apart. There were no taboo subjects or uncomfortable silences. Despite having so much to hash out, neither tip-toed around anything, whether it was Roy and Karen or the thousand hopeful moments since he'd returned to Scranton that had ended with words unspoken and opportunities missed.
He noticed the candle, inordinately tall for its holder when they first sat down, had shrunken to an uneven gob of wax with barely a flicker at its center. What little light it threw off in the muted dim of the restaurant managed to catch her eyes and sparkle in a way that he swore made his heart skip a beat. Or maybe it wasn't the candle.
As she related what those first few months were like for her after she called off the wedding, he felt a pang of regret in his stomach for leaving her like that. It melted away again as she told him about enrolling in art classes, decorating her new apartment or even singing at a bird funeral, which he understood with little explanation was done out of compassion for Michael.
"I think the waiter is trying to tell us something," she said.
"Something like, 'You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here?'" he replied, picking up the credit card receipt and putting it in his pocket as he stood up.
He took her hand as she rose from the chair. It was a tiny gesture, but at the same time the kind of treatment she could get used to. They walked to the door, which he opened for her with his right hand while still holding hers with his left. When they were outside, under the clearest sky she could remember seeing, he pulled her close to him and kissed her gently.
After a moment, he whispered to her, "Maybe we could go for coffee, talk some more."