“They were all Stanley,” Ryan says blankly. “It was like . . . a Stanley army. An army of Stanleys. And I . . .” He lets out a hollow laugh. “I sucked.”
“Oh, Ryan,” Kelly protests, her pointer finger tracing reassuring circles against his hand, “I’m sure you were completely awesome.”
“But I wasn’t,” Ryan says a little more sharply than he means to. He expects Kelly to throw a fit about how he’s such a total jerk to her and God, does he think she can’t do so much better? Because she totally can.
But he looks up at her and she’s just staring at him, with her eyes sort of soft and understanding. It’s an accident, when he actually says what he’s thinking out loud.
“Maybe I’m just not cut out for this.”
(It makes him kind of sick to actually hear it.)
Kelly frowns at him.
“Don’t be stupid,” she instructs, and pulls his hand firmly into hers. “You’re going to be a totally kickass salesman one day, and all it takes is a little practice. And you’re way too good to give up and just be a loser, Ryan.”
And he gets that she’s just saying it because if he quits then she wouldn’t get to see him all day every day until the end of time, but still. It’s nice to hear.
Toby just likes plain old coffee, and he’s never really been into the Starbucks thing. His ex-wife is addicted to decaf mocha lattes with a shot of raspberry and extra foam; sometimes he’d stop and get her one before coming home from work, just because, and she’d smile with her eyes lit up and kiss him, breathe “thank you” in this way that made him remember why he’d fallen in love with her in the first place. It made up for having to list off his order to a disdainful twentysomething girl, feeling like an idiot for not getting it right the first time, because since when does tall mean small?
Coffee shops are one of those things that make him suspect there’s something really wrong with the world. He really doesn’t miss them after the divorce, which is a plus. (But not quite enough to balance out all the minuses.)
Pam usually drinks peppermint tea at work, but he overhears her telling Kelly once that she’s accidentally falling in love with chai lattes. He bumps into her trying to get to the fridge. Her tea almost spills, but not quite.
“It’s okay,” she assures him, and presses her hand to his forearm without even really noticing. He tries not to watch her as she heads back to the reception desk. There’s something about the way she smiles.
“Omigod, I can’t wait until Jim comes back,” Kelly says, staring after her. “They’re totally finally going to hook up, I just know it! It’s going to be so romantic.”
“Yeah,” Toby agrees, and almost doesn’t notice the sinking feeling. He’s gotten pretty used to it over the past few years.
When Pam comes to ask if he wants anything from the coffee shop, he almost just says no. But her standing there makes him brave, or maybe just stupid. He’s seen her sneaking glances at Jim and Karen, and the way that she seems younger and so much older all at once when she looks away. He wants to tell her he knows what it’s like, to think you’ve got your life all figured out and warm and comfortable only to have everything just be gone, like that.
(He also knows what it’s like to fall for someone accidentally, without noticing or meaning to, but he thinks he’d leave that part out.)
Instead, he asks for a chai latte. She beams at him and he thinks for a second that there could be something – but he stops himself there. He’s a little rusty when it comes to optimism.
Pam doesn’t come back to bring it to him, which is okay because it’s not like he’d worked out what he might’ve said to her. He winds up just putting the coffee in the trash and hoping that no one sees it there, because he’s not blind – he knows that Jim’s gonna come around, and probably soon.
Which is good. Pam deserves to be happy.
After a half hour of listening to Angela tearily rant about the travesty that befell Dwight Schrute from sales (who she doesn’t know personally, but has always respected for his ardent professionalism), he’s almost forgotten about the coffee thing. He’s distracted by the fact that Angela will very probably see to it that Andy winds up dead in a dumpster. He guesses he should do something about it, but honestly, he’s pretty okay with the idea. It took Andy about twelve seconds to pick up on the fact that Michael hates him, and Toby could do without him changing the lyrics of a bunch of songs that were popular in 1998 to chronicle everything about him that sucks.
It’s funny how eight hours here can actually make going home appealing.
“Good latte?” Pam asks brightly as he walks out at 5:01.
He doesn’t let himself look at her too long. “The best.”
He’s still smiling a little bit when he gets to the parking lot.
Jim comes over after work with a box full of Christmas lights.
Karen stares at him. “You do know that it’s January, right?”
“Be that as it may,” Jim says gravely, “this apartment is in serious need of some style. And I, luckily, have come along to bring brightness and color into your life.”
“You’re a dork,” she announces, a smile curving her mouth, and he kisses her.
They cook dinner together, which is charmingly domestic in a way that reminds her of her parents. She laughs as he gets splattered by the sauce and tries to stifle the endless questions burning on her tongue. When he touches her, it always feels like it’s on purpose, and she can’t help but picture him with Pam – shoulders brushing by accident, or his hand drifting instinctively to the small of her back when they walk side by side. She’s never had any problems about speaking her mind before, but she really likes this guy; maybe she could love him, and isn’t that kinda thing all about self-sacrifice?
“You’re quiet,” he points out later, slipping an arm around her waist as they stand back to survey the Christmas lights strung around the windowsill. They’re hokey, yeah, but she kinda likes them.
“I’m thinking,” she says.
His fingers stiffen against her hip. “About what?” His voice is nonchalant, which is enough to let her know that it wasn’t just a crush. He was in love with her. Is, maybe.
“Nothing,” she says, and turns to force a smile at him. “Don’t worry about it.”
The thing is that he doesn’t.
“But the worst part is that he was my friend.”
“I know, Michael,” Jan says, for the seventeenth time in this conversation.
“But I don’t think you do, Jan!” he cries, agonized. “You just . . . you don’t get it. I mean, no offense, because you’re really really smart, but just . . . I don’t think anyone could get it. The bond . . . that we shared. And, okay, sure, he was really annoying and kind of crazy, but I still can’t believe that he would do this to me!”
“I know, Michael.”
“He thought I was awesome! And he told me. At least … once every few days.” She imagines him sitting at his desk, burying his head miserably in his hands. For a split-second, driving two and a half hours to Scranton just to give him a hug doesn’t seem entirely ludicrous. “This one time a few years ago, we went to Poor Richard’s and had a few drinks … well, maybe a few more than a few, and then these girls walked in, but –“
Jan clears her throat pointedly.
“—not important. Right. The point is, Jan, he wound up telling me that he would follow me into the depths of hell and stand by my side battling Satan himself. You think Jim’s going to do that? You think Stanley’s going to?”
“I understand,” Jan says, “that Dwight was very special to you.”
She decides – wisely, she’s sure – not to touch upon the Satan thing.
“Hell yes, he was special!” Michael exclaims, sounding offended that she would dare to so much as imply otherwise. “He was . . . he was always there. Always there to annoy me, and say gross things about deer jerky, and be way less cool than Andy, and . . . now he’s not.” He takes a deep breath. “Why did he do it, Jan? Why would he betray me like that? I just need to know . . . why.”
Jan bites her lip. “I don’t know, Michael.”
He goes quiet for a long time. She listens to him breathe and wonders what on earth she’s supposed to say. She’s not exactly skilled at comforting people – although to be fair, she’s never had much practice.
And then, of course, there’s the general madness of it all: the fact that she’s trying desperately to make Michael Scott feel better. That she actually feels what could be considered an ache in her chest simply because she wishes he weren’t so desolate. Not to mention that she’s pretty sure the reason she can’t find her black bra is because it’s at his condo.
Life is very strange.
She’s about to ask if he’s all right, when all of a sudden he says it, very quietly.
“Why do people always leave?”
He is, she thinks, so innocent. It’s the sort of question that a child would ask, and for some reason, it’s enough to make a lump form in the back of her throat. She thinks of her ex-husband, packing his things so neutrally, telling her with unwavering stoicism the number of reasons why they never would have worked, and although Michael is . . . difficult, to say the least, she can’t help but feel thankful.
“That’s a very good question,” she finally manages, lamely.
“Well,” he says, and she decides to believe that she didn’t just hear him sniffle, “could you maybe stick around for awhile?”
She closes her eyes. The answer comes with unsettling ease. “Okay.”
He’s quiet for a second, like he’s surprised. This makes two of them.
“Thanks,” he finally says, and she thinks he sounds a little better. “You know, you are a really amazing girlfriend.”
And although she certainly hasn’t given him permission to refer to her as his girlfriend, she supposes she’ll let it slide. Just this once.
Angela knows that Mose is afraid of her. It’s just as well: despite his relation to Dwight, she doesn’t approve of him. His whittlings are frequently indecent (his excuse that they are perfect replicas of many timeless sculptures certainly does not seem sufficient), and it will be a very long time until she forgets the evening he persuaded Dwight and herself to watch Moulin Rouge with him. The thought makes her shudder.
But there are times when it’s inevitable that one must look beyond such things, and this is one of them.
“How is he?” she asks, the creaking of the rickety old staircase still ringing in her ears. Dwight has always told her that he means to replace it with a sturdier one, and Angela is glad: a safety hazard in his own home, preserved only for the sake of nostalgia – it’s unacceptable, and it worries her.
She supposes he’ll have far more time to devote to mending it now.
Mose only jumps slightly at the sight of her, and regains his composure with near-admirable speed. “Pretty bad. He won’t talk to me or come out of his room, and he’s listened to this song on repeat twenty-six times.”
Angela presses her ear lightly against the door. Everybody Hurts pours through the room, achingly. Her distaste for REM is overpowered by her grief.
“So he really quit?” Mose asks timidly.
Angela sniffles only once, then holds her head high. “Yes. He was dignified. Magnificent,” she adds, and her voice wavers on the word.
Mose reaches over hesitantly and pats her on the shoulder. Her initial reaction is to shake him off, but she realizes after a moment that it’s strangely comforting. And he is Dwight’s best friend, after all.
“Thank you,” she says grudgingly.
“Yeah,” Mose replies, and awkwardly runs a hand over his (disgusting) beard. “No problem.”
She takes a deep breath, then twists the doorknob.
Dwight is lying face-up on his bed, staring blankly at the ceiling. Even from here, she can see that his eyes are red. He’s clutching the bobblehead she gave him in his right hand.
She finds she doesn’t know what to say. He’s so brave. And this desolate, broken man she sees before her now – he is of her creation. This is her doing. All of it.
She must fix all this, but in moments like these, she can’t even begin to know how to try.
And then, quite suddenly, he looks at her.
“I’d do it again,” he says, his tone lit by quiet fierceness. “A thousand million times.”
The tears spring very quickly to her eyes.