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Darling, We'll Always Have Minneapolis/St. Paul

Listen, little lady, the truth is, I'm no good at goodbyes. You probably know that better than anyone. But now is no time for tears, Brianne. If I were a different man in a different world, I'd be just about ready to shed one or two myself, but we gotta be brave right now. For us, for the company, for this whole crazy spinning rock we all live on. Your last few weeks filling in for Mariah won't amount to a hill of beans if you look back in despair. We may not have a future together at the same branch office but, darling, we'll always have Minneapolis/St. Paul.

Buck up, kiddo. You can't say we didn't give it a shot. But let's face facts: That Region Five product-developers conference was ages ago. We were practically kids then, back in '04. When I look at you now, I still see that innocent young girl who coordinated the presentation on quality control for the X300 laser printer. And that says a lot, sweetheart.

I remember it like it was yesterday. The bigwigs from Peoria wore gray, you wore a tasteful combination of red and yellow. You were the only thing capable of lighting up that Bloomington Marriott auditorium, and, baby, you lit it up good. If only the X300 could boast such brilliant color.

Still, even a guy like me, hardened by too many senseless meetings and too few coffee breaks, can't help but want to relive that whirlwind weekend in the Twin Cities. We did all the things worth doing in the area. The Washburn High School performance of Annie Get Your Gun. Buying hot dogs outside the Twins–Cubs game at the Metrodome. That bridge. The two trips to the Mall of America. Of all the Wicks'n'Sticks in all the world, we can say we saw the best.

Aw, but it's just the same old story, isn't it? Two crazy kids meet in Minneapolis and put their hearts on the line in a world that threw its heart in the gutter a long time ago. But that night, walking by the strip malls in the dirty Memorial Day snow with you on my arm, the world didn't seem so cold. Even with a wind chill of minus 4.

It would take a thousand heartless conference calls with a thousand heartless printing-supply purveyors to make me forget the dinner we shared after your presentation. I didn't even notice the Bloomin' Onion between us. And how we talked about our mutual interest in the St. Anthony Falls historic site with such passion—I decided at that moment that I wasn't going to claim the meal as a work- related expense.

That little out-of-the-way Outback Steakhouse will always be our special place.

That weekend, everything else disappeared, like the way your perfume masked the city's sulfur smell. The streets seemed so quiet and empty. Maybe it was because we were lost in the moment. Or maybe it was just because most places closed at 10 p.m.

But, for your own good, Brianne, I'm telling you: Don't hold onto the past too tight, or it'll just slip away. Besides, things have changed. I'm not the same guy who worked on toner cartridges down on the second floor. I'm on paper-feed alignment now. The man who drank Ultimate Margaritas with you at Friday's is long gone. And my Honda Accord? It's a Toyota Corolla now.

None of that matters, though. We both knew that Mariah's maternity leave wouldn't last forever. And as someone who's in charge of new employees, I can honestly tell you, we're already overstaffed.

I know. It's tough stuff saying goodbye, kid. But your branch needs an honest product manager like you. Neither of us can deny that. And I've got a job to do, too. Where would the company be today without my work on paper-loading trays and collation?

Wherever you end up—Aurora, Des Moines, or Grand Rapids—just know that we'll always have that one weekend.

Goodbye, Brianne. And don't call me when you get to Racine.

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