Pam could feel the subsiding heat rising in her cheeks again. She could barely swallow the bite from her sandwich. And, for a split second, she sensed tears pricking her eyes, and she fought to keep them at bay.
"Why wouldn't I want to go?" she asked, hurt, her voice faltering. "I was....looking forward to spending time with you."
So they were talking about her. He must have told Karen about them having dinner, and she wasn't comfortable with him going.
"Do you....want to cancel?" she asked, fearing his answer. "Do you not want to go?"
Jim shook his head and quickly said "No. No, that's not what I meant."
He stopped speaking for a moment. Wait. She was looking forward to spending time with him? What did that mean? Jim mentally slapped himself for jumping to such stupid conclusions. Pam just wanted to be friends again. And so did he. It wasn't a date. It could never be a date.
As long as he had Karen, there would be no 'Jim and Pam dates'. Not that he was even sure that he could have gotten enough courage to ask her on a date if he even wanted to. It would be just too weird. Even without Karen and without casino night.
"I just didn't want to make feel like you had to go if you didn't want to."
Pam shook her head fiercely.
"Don't think that way," she said, looking at him intently. "I was really glad you asked. I mean, I'm looking forward to it."
She didn't want to hold his gaze any longer than she needed to; her goal wasn't to make him uneasy, but to show him that she was sincere.
On a whim, she put down the spoon for her yogurt, and touched his hand. Her fingertips brushed over the back of it, and then she drew it away, not knowing if she had overstepped the line between them.
"Good. I mean, I'm glad that you wanted to go." The last thing that Jim wanted was for Pam to feel as though he was being controlling. She had probably gotten enough of that from Roy already.
He stiffened just a little when she touched him, but he smiled at her all the same. He didn't remember them ever being any sort of physical with each other, but it didn't bother him. He only felt a little guilty.
But Karen hadn't seen and Pam had been so discreet about it that it was probably not all that noticeable.
His hand felt so good under her touch, so soft and warm. She wanted to reach out again, but when he'd visibly stiffened, she decided to err on the side of caution.
She suddenly recalled the day of the mock fight between Michael and Dwight, at the karate dojo the year before. Her and Jim were messing around, just goofing, when he had lifted her up in the air after merciless tickling. His hands, his fingers on the bare skin of her stomach nearly made her faint, and she remembered the wounded look he had when she shoved him away under Meredith's gaze. She wrapped her hand around her yogurt, and felt lonely.
"Are we just meeting at Cugino's, or are you picking me up....?" she let the question trail, so she wouldn't be putting any pressure on him.
"I could pick you up." Jim said. "It might be easier that way."
He paused. He wanted to touch her again. It just felt good, but he knew that he couldn't and more importantly, he shouldn't.
He couldn't just shove Karen to the side. Karen always seemed to be at the back of his mind. It was like she was there, even when she wasn't. It was odd how suddenly even just talking to Pam could make him feel so guilty.
He placed his hand on hers again. Just one more time would be enough and then he could be done. He left his hand there for a few seconds (which seemed to drag on forever) and then pulled it away, mumbling "Sorry."
JESUS CHRIST, was all Pam could think as Jim drew his hand away from hers, which was still wrapped around the yogurt carton.
She lifted her hand from it so she could grab it back, even reached out toward him, but chose to brush a lock of hair away from her face instead.
"No w-worries," she stammered. How deep were you when someone holding your hand for the briefest of moments, was enough to reduce you to nothing? To dust? A melting puddle of self?
She looked at the clock and stood, collecting her trash with her. "We should get back to the lion's..well, the housecat's den," she spoke with a smile. "By the way, picking me up would be great."
He nodded. "You're probably right."
Jim hadn't really noticed Pam's almost taking his hand. It seemed to him as though everything was finally getting back to the way that it used to be. Well, as close as it could have. This was a little different. The whole 'We're friends but holding your hand makes me feel better than it should' thing was just a bit different.
"I'll see you later," he said, getting his trash and throwing it away. And then he remembered, Pam had moved. "Where do you live now?" he asked somewhat awkwardly.
Pam laughed aloud. How the hell was he going to get to her house, if she didn't tell him her new address? She was so wrapped up in what was going on, she'd forgotten to let him know.
"It's 423 Avon Road," she said. "I can write up some directions for you, if you want, and send it over IM."
Mental note, she thought, clean living room ASAP.
"That's all right. I got it."
And then he remembered, they were supposed to be at work. "I'll see you later, then." and with that he turned and headed out of room, thinking that tonight might not be all that bad.
She called a quick "Later" to his back, and then turned to the table to wipe off the crumbs they'd made.
What just happened here? She took a deep breath and smiled to herself. Then, she looked at her watch again.
This is gonna be a long afternoon, she thought.
After a quick run to the bathroom, she was on her way back to her desk, with a slight spring in her step.
A very long afternoon.