Author: allthingsholy
Title: Long Stretch of Highway
Disclaimer: Umm...really not mine.
Email: allthingsholy(at)yahoo(dot)com
Summary: It doesn't feel any different, finally knowing you will never be more than this.

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In Stamford, your desk is next to a window and you sit across from a blonde woman named Emily. She keeps pictures of her kids taped to her computer screen, and doesn't mind when your papers sometimes spill over onto her desk.

Working for Josh isn't so different from working for Michael—both are pretty useless, but Josh's jokes are better, and he doesn't use the voices.

Most days, the office is quiet. The fax machine buzzes and beeps, and the phones ring, and fingers click away against keyboards. You increase your commission by 15 the first month. It surprises you how easy it was to leave, how much less it hurts than you thought it would.

The vending machine guy is named Paul, and the receptionist is an older black woman named Regina, who doesn't eat sweets.

--

You called over to Scranton once, were made to call to confirm a price change on manila folders. You tried Dwight's extension direct, and got a machine-voice telling you the number had been changed. You gave up on Stanley's extension, and Phyllis', and Ryan's, and finally called the front desk.

"Dunder Mifflin, this is Pam." Her voice was tight, strained. You hung up and got Emily to call for you.

--

You talk to Jan more than you did when you worked for Michael, have actual conversations with her now. She's funny, you've found, and much more easy-going when she's not worried about business. You went out for drinks one Friday night, both of you on the way out of the office, and you talked about your future with this company. She sees room for improvement, advancement. There's a district manager position open in upstate New York.

This is your career, you realize. It doesn't feel any different, finally knowing you will never be more than this.

--

You're named top regional salesman, and Dwight sends you a threatening email. Michael sends an ecard that you're afraid to open at work. You don't hear from Pam.

--

You've started dating a woman in your building. Her name's Sarah and she's got straight red hair, and you like that about her. She works at a bookstore downtown, and has a degree in English literature. She gives you books to read, worn down copies of classics by Russian authors, tells you about narrative styles and the social commentary of the post-modern period. You don't love her, not yet, but most nights, when her hand's on your chest and she's got one leg hooked over yours, you think you could.

--

You're in the break room eating your ham and cheese sandwich when Josh calls everyone into the conference room to tell you all about the merger. They're transferring most of the personnel to Scranton, he says, and you feel your shoulders tighten.

You tell Sarah over dinner that night, tell her you're moving back to Scranton. It's your job, you say. You don't ask her to come with you, even though you know she's waiting for you to.

Michael comes a week later to familiarize himself with his new employees. He has you take him around, introduce him to the staff that'll be making the move, the ones that haven't chosen to stay in Stamford. Emily smiles at him, high and tight, and explains about her kids and the superior school system. You aren't surprised to find you'll miss her.

--

The call to Mark is short and easy to make. He hadn't gotten a new roommate—Jill moved in with him, and they can afford the rent—so you're more than welcome to stay until you find a new place.

You check out New York housing costs on a whim.

--

Your first day back in Scranton, you put on your navy blazer and the faded red tie. You stop to pick up coffee at the Dunkin Donuts down the street from the office, and fight the feeling of inevitability that's settled itself in your stomach.

In the office parking lot, you sit outside for a full ten minutes, watch Toby walk inside, watch Michael carefully park his Sebring. It doesn't surprise you at all when you put your car in reverse and drive straight out of Scranton, ten miles above the speed limit all the way to 81 North. You call Jan on your way upstate, and drive the whole stretch with your windows rolled down.