- Text Size +
Story Notes:

So, this is a little bit of an indulgence and it really may only be interesting to me but I’m chancing posting it anyway. I’ve been writing this all along, as I desperately wanted to hear from Pam in this story, but there never seemed like the right place to put it in Aeternum. 

This is essentially Aeternum from Pam’s perspective: her story before that fateful dinner at the Morgans, what she saw and felt with him and times when James wasn’t around. It’s not chapter for chapter with Aeternum, and not as full as James’s story but as I kept writing it seems to have found its own voice.

It should be obvious but if you haven’t read Aeternum yet, you should start there first.

Disclaimer: I don’t own The Office or Jim and Pam but I do own James. He is mine to do with what I want and I would very much like to keep him.




Dearest Penelope,

It has been nearly seven months since I have seen you last and I have written you thrice now. I will never admit to missing your ornery morning temper or the way you insist upon leaving your music sheets all over my writing desk but I will admit to thinking on them enough to commit the memories to ink and paper.

My life is all but unrecognizable now to what it was only a short time ago and it seems time has altered in some way. The calendar tells me it is approaching Thanksgiving time but it feels as though I have only slipped into the following week. The core of who I am has reshaped itself, I feel. I am no longer struggling against an ill-fitting form but instead have exhaled into a place and time I was meant to exist in.

I always thought fate to be a fanciful idea if not altogether absurd. The idea that some unseen force nudges you onto a veranda or pulls illogical replies from your lips to strangers as it propels you blindly toward some determined future was preposterous.

I no longer think the notion fantastical. He is that fate for me. Complete and unquestionably.

I wish there were more words to explain what I now know but I fear what would spill out of me would never quite match the enormity of what it has become. I only hope you find that same fate someday.

I have news but wish to wait until I know for certain. That is a wretched thing for me to do, but I trust that once I can share my suspicions with you, you will understand my caution.


Give Mother my love.








I always knew what my life would look like.

It was all written out for me, each chapter clearly defined in the ultimate novel of fulfilling my purpose. I would be an obedient daughter. Focus on my studies—not too much, no one wants a truly learned woman—keep my eyes down and my skirts clean. When I was old enough, I would marry Roy Anderson. It had been arranged since childhood. We would live in Asheville and he would inherit my father's business. I would be his delicate ornament and bear him many sons. That was my lot in life and my worth. Nothing more, nothing less.

No one asked me. Not once did anyone look in my direction and inquire 'Is this what you want, Pamela?' Even if they had I would not be truthful in my response. Truth for a woman was not often what society wanted to hear. I knew my role well and it would be a shock and dishonor to my family to dispel with honesty: I want to paint, I want to live in a city somewhere and I want to love my husband, not merely tolerate him and out of that love perhaps some children. God has a funny way of laughing at your plans.

Penny breezed through the parlor buzzing with unseen energy. It always seemed to radiate off of her like the rays on the big yellow sun I would put in the top corner of drawings as a child.

"I saw Mr. Anderson today as Mother and I were leaving the quilting circle. He is such a handsome and delightful man," she glanced over her shoulder as she put her sewing kit neatly in the basket near the chair.

"You should marry him then."

She had the decency to look mildly scandalized even though we had had this same exchange many times."Pam, many girls would be delighted to have the circumstances you find yourself in. There are no men left, not here anyway, and you have one of the best willing to take your hand in marriage."

He would prefer Penny. I knew it, she knew it, and she pretended to ignore it out of some sense of sisterly kindness. She was taller and more graceful. Her fair flawless skin and her yellow hair that shined in long loose locks down her back, always made her seem so perfectly put together men could not help but stare. She attracted light when she entered a room and even though she was fourteen months younger than I was, she outshined me in every way. I was shorter, my hair was an unruly mop of curls that never seemed to look quite right in the humid Carolina air and my dressing gowns, unlike hers, always dragged on the ground.

"Willing and eagerly are two entirely different things. It is not me he wants in any case. It is Enfield."

When my father brought his Irish bride from Savannah to the Carolina wilderness with the promise of a land grant he also met a young blacksmith named Joseph Anderson. In a turn of fate one evening, he won an old Needham rifle in a poker game and my father, always one to see a way to make money, asked Anderson to help him replicate the clever loading gate. It took them several years before they refined the manufacturing process enough to turn a profit, but eventually, it became successful in the years leading up to the war. Joseph was always envious of my father's larger stake and capital in the company and under the guise of placating him, I was offered to his son.

"Is that not enough for you? Honestly, you act so anguished that you have an arrangement and a birthright that you forget some of us are not as fortunate. A man willing to support you is as much as we can expect in the terrible results of this war."

I hummed in a non-committed fashion, in an attempt to drop the subject as I closed the book I had been reading. Most days I could almost completely ignore the subject of my future husband and pretend he didn't exist. Roy had always regarded me with obligated sufferance and I detested being alone with him as he was far too liberal with his hands than was appropriate. I had mentioned it to Mother once, only to feel the shame of her condemnation.

"He is a man, dear, you mustn't tempt him," she had admonished that sweltering afternoon in the parlor.

"I do not believe I was tempting. I was merely sitting on the bench in the garden. He told me to stop talking so perhaps I was talking too much. I did not like the way he was...touching me," I said, waving my fan faster out of embarrassment.

She had set down her needlework then with annoyance as she made her way to the large mahogany parlor doors, "Well, you must have done something to encourage him. You have to accept the responsibilities of your actions, Pamela. Pleasantly. You do not want to offend him."

My mother's advice was always more confusing than helpful.

Penny sat at the piano, her right hand absently playing the G clef notes on the piece in front of her, making a cheerful baroque background to her words and pulling me back into the present, "Father wants us to take dinner at Madison's tonight and then we are going to be at the Morgan's tomorrow evening."

I groaned audibly. I enjoyed a full social calendar but not filled with my mother's friends. And while the war had tampered that down considerably I still did not look forward to dry conversation and stiff uncomfortable dresses for the few occasions someone in Asheville society was in the mood for entertaining. My father knew what being seen about town, parading his fully frocked daughters around for others to see, would do. Even though one was spoken for it still multiplied his chances of finding a husband for the other. Our stock value increased the more desired we were and he had always been a scrupulous businessman.





Glancing uninterestedly around the room of the upscale dining hall that I had dined in for years, I realized my life was stagnant, a numbing parade of dinner parties and teas in the same boring drawing rooms and salons. It was times like this, fleeting and momentary, that the desire to see the world outside of western North Carolina felt particularly strong. We had traveled, of course, as any wealthy family had, but those glimpses didn't satisfy but instead had made the thirst stronger.

I noticed a stranger alone at a table along the edge of the room as strangers stood out boldly against the dull grey sea of faces I had seen for years. He was a Union soldier, even rarer still. Most of the Union soldiers I had met were either cold and indifferent or cruel and malicious. When Stoneman's troops were camped outside the town, they were like vultures, with an air of conquerors, looking upon us as something to take if so inclined. Three of them cornered Penny and me in the General Store one afternoon, their eyes predatory, all while whispering things I had only read about in my aunt's illicit dime novels until a high-ranking officer stepped into the shop and they scattered like vermin.

This Union soldier seemed different. The way he sat in his chair, unassuming, his long legs tucked in an unruly tangle beneath him. Haunted and forlorn, there were a thousand stories contained in the way he glanced around the room and particularly the way his graceful tanned hands wrapped around the crystal glass before he tipped it back quickly. I studied him surreptitiously between braised lamb and the soufflé, for if nothing else he was a novel form of entertainment for yet another monotonous dinner. He looked weary, after what was likely a long, hard journey into the mountains, the skin beneath his collar slightly cleaner and paler. He glanced over at me once, our eyes meeting for a second, and my cheeks flushed in shame at being caught. Embarrassment burning in my chest, I didn't turn in his direction for the rest of our meal, and when it was time to leave I chanced one final furtive look only to find his table empty and the mysterious Union soldier gone.





"Why does it take you nearly twice as long to pin your hair as it does me?"

"Perhaps it is because I am the Cocker Spaniel, remember?" I huffed and pushed away from my vanity. "I'm not sure why you are in such a fevered rush, it is only dinner at the Morgans. There will not be anyone of interest, I assure you."

"Yes, but we get to witness the thinly veiled insults Mrs. Morgan hurls at mother and that always proves entertaining."

Samuel and Nancy Morgan had lived on Montford Avenue for as long as I could remember and were one of the most influential families in Asheville. It had been the town gossip over tea for years that Mrs. Morgan had lost several babies, one surviving only a few months, before they had Emerson. He was delicate, not brawny, despite Mr. Morgan's efforts to send him away to boarding schools to toughen him up. Mother had often been the only society lady visiting Mrs. Morgan during her periods of absence but their relationship had always had an undercurrent of competitiveness; their friendship laced with hints of animosity but only so far as politeness would allow.

I smoothed fine silk gloves up my forearms as Penny pulled open the large doors to our wing of the house, sending two startled servant girls scrambling.

"Did you see that a letter came today?" She glanced back over her shoulder at me to the swishing of our skirts down the long hallway. "It was from Aunt Mable. She says I am more than welcome to visit next month and stay as long as I like. The balls in St. Louis, Pam! There will be Parisian dresses and dashing men nearly everywhere I turn."

I was happy for her, truly. I would flee the limitations of the mountains for the unending promise of the frontier in a blink if I could. I had always been fascinated by the cities but there was something mysterious and alluring about carving out a life in the unblemished plains. The dime novels painted a picture of heroic men and fearless women conquering the wilds on the sea of grass and I had been swept away by them many an uneventful afternoon.

One story, in particular, had caused me to reread it so many times that the edges of the pages tattered and the corners well creased. It was a story of a young widow named Margaret who had been destitute only to meet a handsome and dangerous man out west. She shaped a life of love and adventure out for herself in the endless waves of golden grasses. She was courageous and I wanted to be her. I wanted to seize control of my life and plot its course instead of drifting wherever the current of family and society's expectations for me pulled me along.

But she was fictional and I was very real; sweeping romance and excitement was only something found on ink and paper.

"I want you to be on your best behavior tonight, girls," father had scolded as the carriage door shut behind us with a jolting thump. I always found it amusing that we would take the carriage when the Morgan's home was only a few houses down from ours. It was all for appearances, of course.

"There will be a Union Colonel joining us this evening and we want to make our best impression don't we?"

"Why father? It's not like I would marry a rotten Yankee," Penny looked horrified in the dim light of the carriage and I shook my head in annoyance. I often wondered how we were of the same stock as her taste in men seemed so foreign from mine.

"Not all the Yankees are rotten, dear," mother's soft voice corrected from the opposing darkened corner.

I immediately thought of the soldier from the previous evening, and as I wiped my nervous palms against the silk stripes of my skirt wondered if perhaps they were the same.

They were the same.

He stood across the Morgan's receiving room, nearly transformed from the bedraggled man I had seen the previous evening: his boots now polished and his shirt clean, the short beard he had had was now completely gone, and so much taller than he had seemed sitting down. He looked-well, I suppose I should not be assessing the appearance of a man who was not my betrothed. I definitely shouldn't be noticing the way he laughed into his glass of brandy or the way he kept looking in my direction. He could not possibly be looking in my direction, he must be looking at Penny. They always look at Penny.

What would I even say to a man who fought against so many of my neighbors, whether I happen to likely agree with his ideology or not? Mercifully, I was placed on the same side of the table at dinner so all I had to navigate was Mrs. Morgan's terrible sherry and Penny's occasional elbow.

"The Colonel is rather handsome don't you think?" Penny's whispered question pushing the curls off my neck. The party, mostly distracted by conversations at the other end of the table, enabled our hushed exchange.

"I thought he was a rotten Yankee?"

"Why are you so course tonight? I can appreciate a gentleman despite his unfortunate place of origin. Did you see the way he was looking at me?" she pressed on.

For a moment I swore his eyes were meeting mine but he also seemed irritated, the very idea frustrating. I imagine the handsome Northerner had a dozen more interesting ways to occupy his time than in the parlor of a backwoods aristocrat.

"Colonel Halpert, Mrs. Morgan tells me you are to marry upon your return to Philadelphia."

I suppose he was not looking at either one of us then.

Mother's question brought the attention of the entire room and I leaned forward to catch a glimpse of his profile.

"Yes, Ma'am. Her family, the Moores, are quite prominent in Philadelphia. They have been planning furiously, I am sure."

His voice, hearing it so uninterrupted now, made my heart strum slightly harder in my chest. A ridiculous reaction, I scolded myself. He was just a man. A man with a fiancée. In Philadelphia.

"I trust they will be pleased to see you home and in good health," mother continued to prod and I cut my eyes at Penny with a slight look of exasperation. Mother was often relentless in pursuit of any unmarried man of the right age in her presence. They were all potential prospects and she dug for information like a crazy old man looking for lines of gold in the rocks of a cave.

"Yes Ma'am, I am certain they will."

I sat back rebelliously against the plush stuffing of the chair, an act that would surely earn me a pinch on the arm from my mother for impropriety if she wasn't so distracted by trying to politely criticize Mrs. Morgan's choice of centerpiece. As the servant placed the fourth course in front of me with practiced ease, I imagined what kind of woman would be waiting for him. Beautiful and cultured, no doubt, in grand Philadelphia society. And tall, I imagine she was quite tall to match him perfectly.

Not short with a mop unruly curly hair that her sister teased looked like a Cocker Spaniel when it was clean. Not a woman that had hardly been out the South. Certainly not someone like her.

I blinked, startled at the way my mind had so effortlessly betrayed me, and discreetly pushed the mostly finished glass of sherry away from my place setting. That was certainly enough for me.

The evening pressed forward with mother and Mrs. Morgan continuing their usual friendly game of who knew the most gossip in the parlor. The men retreated to the study for cigars and Mr. Morgan's newest brandy, their deep voices echoing across the marbled hall, with one exception.

I noticed his tall frame in relief against the deep black of the mountain forest. An outsider that had sequestered himself to the cool night air, the moonlight making a shimmering rim around the shape of him and glistening off the polished sword hanging from his hip.

A mysterious impetus compelled me to join him. Curiosity and a desperate pull of the stars it seemed wanted me to speak with a man I had only just met and I felt powerless to stop the inevitable. I thought of Margaret and of courage and of choices, inhaling as deep as my corset would allow, and stepped out onto the veranda.

"Are you trying to escape my mother's poor humor or one of Mr. Morgan's political rants?"

He looked startled for a moment like I had just appeared as an apparition and began speaking but then smiled easily and I suddenly felt a rush of heat as if he was warming the very night around us.

"Neither, just enjoying the cool air."

He was doing both, the slight pull on his lips giving away his true intention and his voice was warm and rich like the amber liquid he swirled in his glass. The light from inside made the gold buttons on his dark blue coat glimmer slightly.

"You are not very good at deception, Colonel Halpert."

His voice dropped low, his northeastern accent more pronounced, "No Colonel. The war is over." There was a wash of relief and pain over his expression for the briefest second and I saw that he was not a man that reveled in the tragedy of war but was also the sort of man who did not run from it.

"Thank the heavens above. I've never understood why a country would be so eager to send its boys and young men off to slaughter."

"That is quite a strong opinion for a lady."

He looked at me then, something akin to amused interest shone through the soft glow from the dining hall that illuminated half of his face. I had never had a man regard me with genuine intrigue the way he was instead of the patronizing tolerance men do when they care very little about what a woman was saying or that she was even saying it. My father told Penny and me that a marriageable woman was beautiful and silent, that what she brought to the world was a pleasant gaze for her husband and lovely children to fill his home. I remember imagining an empty vessel, sublime and delicate; a dull shape waiting to be filled by whatever a man wanted, like a hand-painted vase on a mantle. I rippled with indignation at the memory, wishing I had the bravery then to say the rebellious words that longed to fall from my lips, to tip that vase and send it shattering.

Something about this particular man emboldened me, the contemplative expression he wore called from deep within me, setting me alight.

"Well, I do have my own mind, Mr. Halpert."






There were defining moments in a person's life. Moments, where there was a decision to be made, or an event that propels someone to change.

I suppose my father's death in the Morgan's study should have been one of those moments. The truth of it was far from any sense of a deep life-changing significance but instead felt as though an inevitability had come to pass. I did not pretend to be fond of my father. He had at times been cold and unloving as many men were but his episodes of violence had switched a part of me, like a key in a lock, blocking my heart away forever out of self-preservation. He could not hurt me like he had hurt Mother if he could not reach me and that part of me was beyond his grasp.

The recent days had been filled with polite words and sympathetic expressions all wrapped in low whispers and black crepe and wool. There had been many funerals in recent years, too many to count if I had to be honest. Every day the women from Asheville would gather at the towering wooden doors of the large church on Valley Street to search the tintype photographs of soldiers that had been sent back from the battlefields. I would often stop to study them, not waiting for a lost lover, but instead to search for childhood friends or acquaintances. The faces that would stare back at me, with their pre-war courage on display, would haunt my dreams knowing that those faces no longer existed but their likeness was forever frozen on a thin piece of tin. Sometimes it was just a list of names scratched on thin parchment and it was hard to ignore that the lists would get longer as the suffocating clouds of the war covered everything, stormy and dark.

The entire first floor of our home was filled with the quiet rumble of hushed voices and the occasional muffled sob behind a black handkerchief. Faces I had known my entire life and many that I had never seen before nodded in condolence as I passed through the clusters of mourners.

I noticed him then at the edge of the room looking out of place and yet stoic all the same. I had almost forgotten about our conversation on the veranda and the way our simple words had caused my stomach to fall slightly, the way the fullness of his eyelashes had briefly interrupted the intensity of his gaze and made me hold my breath. It had all disappeared like a morning mist in the harsh sunlight of day when the pleasantness of the evening had turned to tragedy.

As I watched him study the titles on the spines of the books on the shelves behind where he stood I felt a wave of frustration at the dichotomy he created in my mind. This betrothed stranger stirred more in me than the man I was supposed to marry and it was suddenly unfair. He was charming and mysterious and would surely make a wife very happy and instead I was being forced into a life with a man who had been known to liken me to breeding stock. A man that never considered my words so thoughtfully or smiled so warmly.

I had unfairly questioned James's presence instead of being grateful at his kindness, a lame attempt to push him away, to just leave me alone in my bitter fate. But instead of being deterred by my rudeness, he stayed, and almost seemed amused at my unladylike defiance. Roy appeared, driven by obligation not concern or grief, simply fulfilling what was expected publicly. When James stood in such genuine contrast to Roy's patronizing condescension all I could do was return his smile.

"You do not have to indulge his demands."

He ducked his head and glanced in my direction with a small agreeing nod.

"If you leave in the morning he will likely forget he even asked you to join him in his drunken state." I continued, trying to ignore the way the corner of his mouth lifted slightly in a wry grin.

"I will go tonight and let him buy me a whiskey or two. It is no trouble, truly. And I will stay another day," his eyes lingered a little longer before they fell away and he added, "to rest my horse, and if any other needs should arise, of course."

A strange feeling of contradiction, of needing him to go so I could forget about him and desperately wanting him to stay a little longer, made a tightness in my chest that I could not explain.

"Of course."





One by one the servants had drifted away as they completed the last of their tasks for the evening leaving the house still and quiet for the first time in days. The drawing room mantle clock ticked softly as the last log of the fire gave up its battle against the inevitable and collapsed into ash and embers.

I looked down at my book again, realizing I was still on the same paragraph for the third time before shutting it with a sigh.

"Pam, are you not weary? The hour is late." Penny stopped in the doorway, her dressing gown wrapped tightly around her and her hair in a braid, tied with ribbon matching the braid in mine.

"I was just finishing up," I commented as I rose to place the book on my desk and I noticed her hesitation.

"Is it terrible that I'm not all that sad?" Her voice sounded small echoing the thoughts that had crept on the edges of my mind over the previous days and I sighed at the heaviness of it.

"No," I sat back down on the small plush chaise lounge and she joined me. "No, it is not terrible. Father was cold and cruel and ill-tempered."

She twisted the tasseled end of the silk sash of the gown between her fingers as she spoke, "If I am honest it is more relief I am feeling, even though I do feel dreadful about it."

I nodded and placed a hand over her fidgeting ones in her lap, stilling them.

"It is imperative that we are here for Mother over the coming days she will need us."

She whispered a quiet 'yes' in agreement and we both turned to the amber glow of the fireplace as if it held all the answers for the nagging weight of our conflicted emotions.

"I saw Colonel Halpert at the wake today and he seemed to be lingering quite a bit around you," she said with more spirit and a suspicious sidelong glance.

"Penelope Beesly, you watch your tongue!" I scoffed and stood, feeling exposed suddenly as if all of my secrets had been read aloud. "He is just a gentleman with concerns about our well-being and I am an engaged woman." I needlessly rearranged the items on my desk to pretend my abrupt motion from the lounger had a purpose. "And he prefers to not be called Colonel."

I could feel her eyes on my back so turned to give her an aggrieved look to reinforce my words only to catch her knowing smile.

"He seems to be concerned about someone's well-being that is for certain."

"You have been reading far too many of those silly dime novels. It has made you ridiculous."

"You read those silly novels too might I remind you, and I know what I saw." She stood, making her way to the large oak doors of the drawing room as Ms. Rebecca entered quietly. "Just enjoy a handsome man's attention for once instead of pretending to be scandalized at the very thought."

"I...I am not pretending," I stammered as she turned on her heel and left the room just as Ms. Rebecca spoke, drawing my attention.

"Are you done with the fire ma'am? I can put it out before I go on to bed for the evening."

"Yes, of course, thank you."

As I lay in bed staring at the ceiling, my anger at Penny still simmering, I attempted to replay the events of the day and what could have possibly led her to believe there was anything but pleasantries exchanged between me and Mr. Halpert.

I had a fiancé and he also had a fiancée. That was all there was.

There were no lingering glances or smiles that made an unfamiliar flutter in my chest. There had been not been the same warmth and comfort I had felt on the veranda. Nothing in the way he leaned in slightly to speak to me.

There was not be any of that because it was not something that could happen, I nearly convinced myself.

"Miss Pamela! Miss Pamela!" Came hissed in the darkness and I sat up in my bedclothes straining to see the darkened shape in the doorway.


"Mr. Anderson is at the kitchen door and he insists on seeing you at once."





You must login (register) to review or leave jellybeans