Spoilers: Set before the Jan/Michael scene in Branch Closing
Word Count: 1,752
Summary: Sometimes it feels like her whole life has come to revolve around Michael Scott. The thought makes her ill and a little light-headed, and usually drives her to the nearest pack of cigarettes.
Author's Note: Because, sure, she was more or less professionalism and poise personified in the episode, but surely she must have been at least a little antsy. Oh, Jan. You and your unwavering facades. I love Jan.
It’s a two and a half hour drive to Scranton.
Jan doesn’t know how many times she’s made the drive, and doesn’t want to. Sometimes it feels like her whole life has come to revolve around Michael Scott. The thought makes her ill and a little light-headed, and usually drives her to the nearest pack of cigarettes. Officially, she’d quit smoking three years ago.
She’d decided at this time last year that it doesn’t count if she’s in Michael’s general vicinity.
This morning it’s different. Her hands don’t shake as she grasps the steering wheel – steadily, confidently, ten and two. She’s wearing three-inch heels and a new pantsuit (a skirt would have been out of the question – she doesn’t want Michael staring at her legs) and her favourite perfume, which she'd staunchly avoided until Casino Night because of something Michael had said about it. She wonders, fleetingly, if that’s cruel, but dismisses the thought at once.
She switches the radio to the classical station and finds herself caught in the middle of an anguished operatic lament. Something from La Boheme, which she’d seen with her ex-husband years ago and hadn’t particularly enjoyed. The music is beautiful, but she’s never been particularly sympathetic to doomed lovers. Romance can be approached with just as much practicality as anything else. Swooning and dying have never inspired much sympathy in her.
In her head, she reviews what she’ll say. She’s decided that it’s best to go with the standard things: she’ll simply explain that the board reached the conclusion that the Scranton branch can no longer be justified. Josh will ensure the best future for the company, and if anyone chooses to question it, all they need do is consult the facts. She supports the decision because it’s the superior option for the good of Dunder Mifflin. And if her life will be a little easier without Michael Scott in it – well, that’s a purely coincidental plus. What it all comes down to, after all, is that it’s business. Nothing personal.
(He will be completely irrational, she knows. He’ll glare and protest and yell and spit her name out scornfully, like sour milk. She’s prepared for it. She won’t so much as flinch.)
It’s certainly none of the company’s concern if Michael’s life happens to be this place. It’s hardly a professional matter that he adores every single person in his office to a maddening degree, starving for their approval, yearning to simultaneously serve as best friend, father figure, and personal comedian. He even hates Toby with such fierce devotion that it’s almost touching –
But this is all completely inappropriate. Michael has to understand that – his inability to is perhaps the greatest of many flaws – but he won’t. He’ll refuse to, obstinately. These people are his people, and the fact that he makes most of their lives hell is completely lost on him.
She grips the steering wheel a little bit tighter. It occurs to her all at once that maybe he’ll cry. The notion is so horrible and so likely that she refuses to let herself entertain it.
The drive seems faster than it ever has before. Usually, the dread mounts slowly and steadily, and by the time she pulls into the parking lot of the Scranton office, she feels like she’s walking into certain death – a war zone, or maybe the gallows. This morning, there’s no trace of that.
She turns the car off, twisting the key so sharply that it’s almost vicious, and checks her reflection in the visor mirror. Her makeup is immaculate. Her hair is still perfect. There’s something ridiculous about spending nearly a half hour with the curling iron every morning, but Michael had told her once, in a display of characteristic tactlessness, that he liked it better straight. It’s become steadily curlier ever since.
He’s stopped commenting on her appearance over the past few months. She supposes it’s because he’s seeing Carol, who had been lovely and sweet and remarkably normal. Jan doesn’t bother to remember much about Casino Night, but she can still recall blonde hair and a constant smile. Michael certainly seems enamored with her; he mentions her often enough. When they fight and he brings her up, Jan knows perfectly well that he’s doing it to make her mad. It’s achingly immature, the vengeance tactics of a petulant sixth grader. She’s always sure to keep her expression even and stare right into the camera, to show how much it doesn’t affect her, how she’s irritated at how insufferable he is and that’s it.
She can’t recall precisely when he stopped staring at her with that unsettling reverence. It seems like even weeks ago she’d still catch him at it on occasion; the fact that he was (inexplicably – surely he must drive Carol out of her mind, surely there isn’t someone in this world who actually finds him tolerable) no longer single didn’t seem to plague him in the slightest. He’d grin at her when she walked through the door or tease her during phone conversations about how much she missed him. On an especially bleak Monday in October, he’d made a particularly tasteless comment about the way her legs looked in one of her shorter skirts. Thank God he finally seems to be past that phase.
She likes not having to worry about whether or not he finds her attractive. Sitting across from him is much easier when she knows for certain that he isn’t remembering what it’s like to kiss her.
Of course, she realizes as she flips the visor back up, she won’t have to worry about it anymore. This is it.
This is it.
She feels disquietingly neutral as she steps out of the car and meets the brisk morning air. Her heels click efficiently against the pavement. She spots Ryan and Kelly walking into the building ahead of her; Kelly is chattering incessantly, as per usual. Ryan glances backward and offers her a joyless half-smile that’s more like a grimace. Michael’s told her all about Ryan and Kelly’s relationship, despite her repeated assurances that it’s not business-related and therefore she's not interested. Usually, Michael imitates Kelly’s voice when he does this. Not surprisingly, she annoys the hell out of Ryan. Jan wonders why he hasn’t broken things off yet.
She raises a hand in response, gives him a fluttering wave.
She exchanges a few polite words with the security guard on her way to the elevator, dallying long enough to ensure that Ryan and Kelly go on up without her. (She just wants a moment alone to gather her thoughts, that’s all.) She presses the button and waits for a minute or so before it opens with an amiable ding. For a second, she’s filled with the foolish compulsion to take the stairs. It’s impractical. Stupid. Elevators won’t always remind her of Michael.
(Why had she kissed him? Because she’d wanted to, but that had been a lapse in judgment and it’s for the best, really for the best if she doesn’t think about it. Ever.)
She’s the only person in the elevator and it’s quiet, horribly quiet. Good morning, Michael. I’m afraid I have some bad news: we’ve decided it’s in the company’s best interest to close the Scranton branch. The board voted last night. You’ve been a valuable addition to this company and they asked me to thank you for your years of service.
The elevator door opens quickly, jarringly. For a second, her stomach lurches.
He’s irresponsible. (She strides toward the office.) Occasionally brilliant – she’ll give him that – but hardly professional or polished, and that’s what this company needs. With Michael, everything is a leap of faith, a risk, a chance. He has a bizarre artistry to the way he works and this, this is business. Certainty and cold hard fact. There’s no room for Cosby impressions and friendly evenings at Chili’s.
(She remembers that first striking realization that he wasn’t inept at all, throwing herself into his arms and laughing, just laughing with him. And then, after that – well, it was not professional conduct. It isn’t the way things work. He makes – made her feel sixteen, and that alone is alarming enough to prove that he doesn’t belong with this company.)
She steps inside and smiles and says hello to Pam and notices idly that she’s doing her hair differently. Her first instinct is to wonder whether it’s for a man, but that’s ridiculous and sexist and certainly not the way she tends to think. She’s just nervous, but only slightly, and it’s fine to admit it. She has every reason to feel unsettled; Michael’s been her foremost concern (professionally) for what feels like forever now and it will be strange to tell him that everything is over.
Pam asks her if she wants her to let Michael know she’s here, but Jan’s already worked out precisely how this has to go and responds that no, she’d like to talk to Toby first.
They speak alone in the kitchen and Toby is every bit as professional as she’d anticipated, all ‘hmm’s and understanding nods. He assures her that he’ll make sure it stays quiet around the office. It invigorates her, how easy this is.
And then, as she turns to go—
“Are you okay?”
She stops. “Hmm?”
“Well,” he says, and shuffles a little uncomfortably, and she’s not going to deal with this, not now, “I know that you—”
“I’m fine,” she cuts in brightly, and smiles to prove it.
When she comes back out to the front desk, Pam calls Michael in his office and tells him that Jan’s arrived, even though he can see her through the open blinds. He’ll probably be displeased to see her, she reasons; they’d fought the last time she’d checked up on him. He’ll probably start scowling at the sight of her. She knows better than to expect anything more from him.
Michael tells Pam to send her in. The cameras are in there with him, and for the first time, the notion is oddly welcome. She gives Pam one last smile and doesn’t take a deep breath, doesn’t need to, because quite frankly, it will be a relief to put an end to all of it, the immaturity and the arguments and the purely unwanted flirtations. And after all, it’s been coming all along, hasn’t it?
When she steps into his office, he smiles at her. Starts to sing.