A/N: Thank you for the reviews. You keep reading and reviewing, and I'll keep writing.
Disclaimer: These characters are not mine. Based on movieverse portrayals of characters.
A secretary holding an MBA was severely underemployed, in HR's eyes. Company policy dictated that there were salary bands for jobs - but there were also corresponding salary recommendations for employees holding certain paper qualifications.
Too qualified to be a secretary, yet simultaneously too valuable to re-cast in a different role, Virginia Potts defied categorization. A number of meetings were held to discuss her case (as well as a few other similar situations), and as a result of those discussions, an employee and salary policy review was mooted in an effort to ensure Stark Industries' employee compensation remained competitive and fair. In the meantime, Pepper would be paid the median between an MBA-holder, and the highest salary band for executive secretaries.
Pepper was, thankfully, blissfully unaware of all this. She would have been mortified had she known the tizzy her MBA had thrown the HR department into. But no, she was happily enjoying the first few weeks of free-calendar bliss after completing the gruelling programme - she wouldn't be complaining to herself about the vanilla life she led, not for a while at least. The MBA was satisfying, but it had entailed very, very hard work and discipline from her. It was time to take a break and coast a little in life.
The best thing about doing her MBA (besides the Louboutins that the raise had bought her) was that Pepper met friends there. Her first seatmate was Jillian, a young executive from Dell computers, who turned out to be an avid windsurfer on the side. Pepper only managed to turn down three invitations from her before caving to a invitation to try it out at the Malibu yacht club.
It was worth the price of the sunburn she had gotten from the five hours out in the sea, and over a leisurely bbq dinner with Jillian and her other windsurfing and yachting friends, Pepper resolved to herself that she'd be more adventurous with sea sports and new experiences from then on.
Another coursemate-turned-friend was Daniel, a marketing manager in Universal Studios. Young and brash with oodles of self-confidence, Daniel reminded Pepper of the videos she'd seen of the CEO of her own company, Anthony Stark. Daniel was a rare gem in the midst of all the Californian movie fakery: he was seriously in love with the movie industry, and had always dreamed of starting his own version of Cannes.
"Perhaps in Asia," he told Pepper, as they finished a school project discussion. "Asia's got so many stories to tell, but they need a platform to bring it all together for them." Pepper remembers smiling at his bright-eyed enthusiasm, and accepting his gift of two DVDs: "Spirited Away" by Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki, and Royston Tan's "15", an "up and coming filmmaker" from Singapore. These two gifts started a modest but well-curated film library in Pepper's one-bedroom apartment.
There was also a Seattle native, Amy, whom by her own admission was a "failed starlet". Turns out she had moved from the Starbucks state to California with the stereotypical dreams of being a movie star, but ended up being propositioned by as many porn moguls as there were stars on the walk of fame. "It was worse than I imagined, but not as scary as I made it out to be in my head," Amy confided over drinks one night. "I ended up surfing around the job websites in Disney, and applied for a job at Buena Vista. Turns out, I'm pretty good at the distribution business," she said.
Amy is 5"5, a blonde bombshell, always on the move, and smart to boot. They end up working together on class projects most of the time they're doing the MBA together.
Pepper always thinks she got the better deal in that friendship. They still hang out occasionally when both feel they need a quiet night out sipping fruity martinis at a nondescript bar somewhere.
Somewhere around her fourth year of working for Stark Industries, Pepper realises that she's fallen into a nice routine. Work, exercise, some social outings with her colleagues and MBA friends, some very casual dating (it was hard to say no and see the rejection she gives echoed back to her in the guy's face), and the occasional field trip to Stark Industries plants. She had suggested this to HR, that it would help internal communication and employee buy-in if they could have the opportunity to see what it was that the company actually did.
When they took her suggestion on board (with a nice "thank you for your suggestion" $20 Target voucher), she takes every single field visit. Some, like the algae biofuel water tanks, she visits twice, fascinated by the idea of a future fuelled by little green blobs of mush. She asks questions, and never thinks it out of the ordinary that an accounting graduate clad in 4" heels could be asking questions of a 5'2" microbiologist from Japan.
It was somewhere around this time that she found the accounting discrepancy which would change her world forever.