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Story Notes:
This story is set a few years after the events of Casino Night, in an alternate universe where Jim never returned from Stamford.
Author's Chapter Notes:

Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.

Jim glances up from his laptop and she is a few feet away, waiting patiently for an older man to wedge a giant duffle into the overhead compartment.  For a second it doesn’t register.  Her face is familiar but contextless—she could be his cousin, his accountant, his preschool teacher. Then the signal reaches the part of his brain that still keeps him up some nights, and a kind of sickened tightness fills his chest. Her name is instantly in his throat.  “Pam!” he calls.

She looks over, eyes widening.  “Hey!” she says.  “What are you doing here?”

“Going to Vienna. You?”

“Madrid,” she says. “One-way ticket.  I’m—“ The man behind her coughs meaningfully, and she notices the aisle in front of her has cleared.  “Oh, whoops,” she says, “I’m holding everyone up.”

“OK,” he says, and watches her shuffle forward and out of view.  His fingers are clamped around the armrest of his chair. He takes a deep breath, and then another, and relaxes.  He’s thought of this, thought of running into her somewhere. He’s pictured it many ways, but never brief, never dismissive.  Inconsequential.  Over. Over in just a few seconds, and accompanied by such an overwhelming feeling of relief.  Well, that could have gone so much worseMaybe now you can finally

And it could be that easy, it could, really.  A funny little coda to neatly cap this non-existent thing between them, this thing he once hoped into existence.  Except that she’d said One-way ticket and now he can’t un-hear it, and so, without a thought in his head, he stands up and scans the rest of the plane. 

He finds her after a moment, across the aisle and three rows behind him. She catches his eye, and smiles.  “Hey, are you travelling alone?” he asks, and then, when she nods: “Do you want to try to switch seats with someone?”

The woman next to Pam grabs for her purse.  “I can move up there, if you like,” she says.

“You don’t mind?” says Pam.  “That’s fantastic, thank you!”

Jim hastily stuffs his belongings into his laptop bag and negotiates his way back to Pam.  “Hi again,” he says.  “Sorry, I was going to die of curiosity.  You say you’re moving to Spain?”

“Looks like!” she says, her pleasure at his tone of shock obvious.  “Can you believe it?”

He can’t, and that bothers him for a reason he doesn’t really understand. “I guess it’s been a few years,” he says.  “It’s possible you’ve been through some kind of life-changing experience. Or you’ve been brainwashed by a cult.”

“The Cult of Convincing People to Go to Spain?” she says doubtfully.  

“No,” he agrees, “you’re right, that’s not likely.  So… you just decided to pick up and go?”

She shrugs.  “I have a college friend who’s letting me stay with her for a little while,” she says.  “And then I’m going to just see what happens.  You probably think I’m way too old for this,” she adds, when he says nothing.

“No,” he says.  “I’m just surprised.  I thought you’d… you’d have a different kind of life by now.”

She shakes her head ruefully.  “You and my parents both.  I’m just having a mid-life crisis a decade early, they think.”

Sitting next to each other, they are both talking more to the back of the headrests in front of them than to each other.  It’s kind of comforting, this not having to look at her, especially when he asks questions like, “And Roy...?”

She bites her lip.  “That is a long story with a stupid ending,” she says.  

“Well, I think our alternative is Paul Blart: Mall Cop,” he says lightly, “so either way…”  She is quiet, and he feels uncomfortable letting the silence stretch.  “This is just so weird, seeing you here.”

“I know,” she says.  “It’s nice, though.  A nice surprise.”


“Five sips of wine in a plastic glass,“ she says.  “Oh, the high life.”

“We are truly living the dream,” he says. His left leg sticks out into the aisle, and his right leg is bent awkwardly at the knee and tucked under his left. Flying coach is always murder on his back and limbs, but for once he isn’t thinking about it.

“So what are you going to Vienna for?” she asks.

“You may not believe this,” he says, “but I’m going to study the cello.”

“You’re right. I may not believe this.  In fact, I’m sure I don’t.”

He shakes his head.  “I can’t believe how cynical you are now.  Why crush a boy and his dream?”

“Okay,” she says, “then how many strings does a cello have?”

“I’m assuming we’ll be learning that in the first week.”

She laughs.  “You’re losing your edge.  Time was you could nearly have sold me that story.”

He considers the plastic stem of his glass, rolling it between his fingertips.  “I’ll be a famous cellist one day, Pam Beelsey, you’ll see.”

“You don’t even have to tell me what it is you’re doing,” she says, “I'll deduce it, all Sherlock-Holmes-y.  I’ll be right, too.” 

“That’s a very confident statement,” he says.  “Go ahead.”

She points to his laptop bag.  “For example, you’re on a business trip. You could be making a presentation…”  She cranes her neck at the sheaf of papers sticking out of the side pocket.  “…but you aren’t.  You’ve got course materials there, so you’re either going for training or you’re the trainer.” She glances sideways at his face, presses her lips together.  “Ah, you’re the trainer.  You’re such an easy read.”

“No, I’m matriculating with the Vienna Cello Conservatory, Class of 2012,” he insists.

She ignores him.  “This is not your first time doing this,” she says.  “You have your own headphones and the stewardess recognizes you.”

He frowns.  “What?  I mean, I’m a regular on this flight, but I don’t think I’ve seen her before.”

“Well,” says Pam, “you’re wrong.  You might not remember her, but she remembers you.  Just trust me.  Moving on,” she says, “you’re not working in paper anymore.  You’re doing something you actually like.”  

She gives him an appraising sideways glance, and he feels low buzz beneath the skin of his face and neck. “You may be onto something,” he says.

“Judging from the suit, it’s still something like sales,” she says.  “And it looks to be a thing where you have to make a pretty solid impression. On the other hand, here you are in the budget seats with us riffraff. So you’re going to schmooze with some important people, but also need to be thrifty, so… you are working for a charity or a non-profit.  Yes?”

“Yes,” he says.  “And also I’m a cello enthusiast.”

“Whatever it is you are,” she says, “it suits you.  I mean it.  You look happy.”

He smiles and there is a comfortable pause, during which he considers telling her that she’s at least partly wrong.  The impulse is nearly a physical weight; he can feel it pressing behind his eyes, at the back of his throat, in the middle of his chest. 

Chapter End Notes:



The Office is making me feel nostalgic these days, but for episodes that do not actually exist.  Dundies 2008.  Flu Shot Week.  New Dress Code.  Anyway, the only way to address that kind of nostalgia is by setting a story in a past that never happened, so that's what I've done.  Enjoy!

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