Aquarelle Blooms by PenciledCadenzas
Summary:

Following a crushing showing at the art exhibition, Pam is offered a new path forward by her instructor. Finding confidence and a renewed sense of self worth, she is afforded the opportunity to break free from an oppressive and toxic environment. What happens when Jim stumbles intor this alternative life and witnesses her growth firsthand? (Late Season 3 - AU) 

 


Categories: Episode Related, Jim and Pam, Alternate Universe Characters: Ensemble, Jim, Jim/Karen, Karen, Michael, Pam, Pam/Roy
Genres: Angst, Drama
Warnings: Adult language, Other Adult Theme
Challenges: None
Series: None
Chapters: 4 Completed: No Word count: 17895 Read: 2051 Published: December 05, 2020 Updated: December 28, 2020
Story Notes:

Hi there. I’m new to this archive and Office fan fiction in general, although not entirely green to other fan fic writing realms. Still, I haven’t really written anything creative in nearly a decade. But I suppose these bizarre, pandemic times have left me seeking old solaces, like The Office and fandom inspired works.

 

Plot:

Following a crushing showing at the art exhibition, Pam is offered a new path forward by her instructor. Finding confidence and a renewed sense of self worth, she is afforded the opportunity to break free from an oppressive and toxic environment. What happens when Jim stumbles into this alternative life and witnesses her growth firsthand? 


Begins with the art exhibit from “Business School” then will progress to a more AU plot line. Rating may change as details of this become more clear. 

 

Note: The story title refers to an effect or made by adding moisture (paint or water) to a partially dried wash. I found the metaphor apropos for Jim and Pam's relationship: one always giving too much after the other has recoiled (or dried out) and beautiful catastrophes ensue. Blooms are also referred to as cauliflowers, but that would make for a rather silly title. 

 

Italics = Internal thoughts/musings and occasional emphasis when clear.

 

I hope you enjoy, and please let me know what you think!

 

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.

1. Chapter 1: Lifted Paint by PenciledCadenzas

2. Chapter 2: Aerial Perspective by PenciledCadenzas

3. Chapter 3: Gouache Sunlight and Pained Overtures by PenciledCadenzas

4. Chapter 4: Lullabies and Masking Fluid by PenciledCadenzas

Chapter 1: Lifted Paint by PenciledCadenzas

Chapter 1: Lifted Paint

 

"Motel art..."

 

Lambasted wrinkles pleated into the familiar frames of her brow, as imaginary red X's and tightly looped critiques overlaid the faded edges of each work in her mind.   Flowers at full bloom, fruit sparkling without defect, cups of unchipped porcelain... Her brush had blended out the imperfections to offer rosy images that held no place in any reality. Certainly not her own, the pebble of truth dropping harshly into the pit of her stomach.  

 

"Real art takes courage...and honesty..."

 

Pam glared at the illustrated mug, her eyes searing past the translucent layers of dried pigment to the initial wash coats. An underpainted crack appeared along the smooth lip as her mind swirled to that morning last May before life muddled into a watercolor and she was forced to blink back tears.  

 

— -- —

 

Plunging the kettle beneath the tap, her mind mimicked the water that ran endlessly into the dark vat, as she stared into the sink. Pam needed caffeine. Well, truthfully, she needed something quite a bit stronger. But sleep had evaded her since chocolate curls had slipped through her fingers and sage glances disappeared down a dark hallway.

 

Where was he...?    

 

Pam walked into the office that morning with a plan, or at least a semblance of one. She was going to make Jim talk to her, knowing he wouldn't want to. Knowing she had devastated him a mere three days prior. But she would get him to listen. She would apologize for the hurt she knew she'd caused him; for her reaction, dazed and cold as it was to the warm truth of his proclamation. She was going to explain that she had been caught off-guard, that she hadn't understood the depth of his feelings for her, and she was only starting to reconcile with the depths of her own.

 

Her breath caught at that thought; the thief that had denied her the dreamless sleep she so desperately needed. The memory of soft lips tattooing urgent kisses of I'm in love with yous upon her skin naturally captivated Pam's conscience most waking hours since Friday night. But when her mind melded into a foggy, languid landscape and Roy's gentle snores played a familiar lullaby, it was this realization that galloped in on a jolt of anxiety, stripping the bedsheets from her quaking body and propelling her out of the room. Night after night, she would sink onto the landing, gasping for air as the ever-growing comprehension that she too wanted more than that dawned on her. She just needed time...

 

"PAM!"

 

Metallic reverberations blended in sardonic harmony with Dwight's tinny voice, as the inundated kettle crashed into the basin of the sink. "Sorry, Dwight!" 

 

Quickly twisting the knob and pouring out the excess, Pam retreated from the sink to a far corner of the counter space. She shoved the plug into a nearby outlet, fumbling several times, before peering into drawers in search of her tea stash. Her movements disconnected and angular, Pam could hardly blame her colleagues for the pinpricks of eyes that traced the nape of her neck. If she could just find the damn tea box and get her mug, she might be able to calm her nerves. Gather her thoughts. Maybe have a passing chance at convincing her colleagues that she was, in fact, not a deranged lunatic? Probably too late for that...

 

"Looking for these?" Toby's voice broke her reverie. Glancing up, she saw him holding a small, wooden cigar box, that Pam had repurposed into a storage container for her tea collection. "I think you must have left it out on Friday...it was by the fridge." He meekly continued while handing her the box, sensing the question written in her pointed look.

 

Realization softened the features of her face as Pam nodded a silent apology. Of course, she'd left it out. She and Jim had been far too consumed in their playful banter over who would owe who more by the end of Casino Night. Banter she had long convinced herself was categorically friendly, and not the obvious flirtation that it was.

 

Well, Halpert, I definitely am the one in debt to you now...

 

"Thanks, Toby." Pam gave a weak smile and turned back to the counter to open the box, breathing in the miasma of bitter roots and notes of cedar as she did so. Her fingers tread lightly across the paper envelopes, thumbing their way past Earl Greys and Oolongs until they landed on the desired Scottish Breakfast. Somewhere between basking in the comforting smells and opening the cabinets in search of her mug, Pam became vaguely aware that the room had continued with the morning routine following her chaotic interruption. Kelly resumed her gossip session with Ryan, while Dwight and Toby meandered about the kitchen, eyes occasionally darting towards the receptionist in mild concern.

 

"But Kelly," Ryan countered in an argument Pam had not held the brain capacity to follow until now. "Why would he choose to move to Stanford? He doesn't even own the necessary quota of polo shirts and boat shoes to live in Connecticut."

 

Pam, finally spotting her mug on the uppermost shelf, raised her arm to its highest length; her fingers grazing the porcelain rim. Had she not been so determined to retrieve the cup, she may have noticed Kelly's uncharacteristic hesitation or knowing glance. But she was already lost in the memory of handing her clean mug to Jim, who had effortlessly placed it atop the high shelves. She'd never considered the possibility that there would come a morning where he wouldn't be there to retrieve it from its lofty home.

 

"No, Ryan...Kelly is right," Toby interjected softly. "It was a small promotion with a viable path for upward mobility either there or at the corporate branch. He said he didn't have much going for him here in Scranton, said it was a bit of a no-brainer, so Jim took the job."

 

They assumed she'd lost her balance, falling over the toes she was perched upon. But Pam knew. As the world washed away to enveloping darkness and she was gripped with the sensation of falling, she knew her brain and heart had composed a momentary caesura in response to Toby's cadenza. 

 

Jim was gone.

 

It was the one thing that penetrated the empty chasm of her mind as her eyes fluttered open. Blinking away the fluorescent beams that oversaturated the world around her, Pam reluctantly came to. She was greeted by a sharp pain that radiated from the side of her head, leaving her vaguely aware of the shadowy figures hovering above her.

 

"Dwight, you idiot...get off her! We already lost Jim to corporate sabotage; we can't afford to lose Pam too. Our 'Office Hotness Meter' would be down by like forty percent. So, shut up and call 911!" Michael's panicked voice filtered into her conscience like a distant call through water.  

 

"No...no, you don't have to..." Pam heard the words slip from her lips in a saccharine slur that likely didn't do much to help her case. "I'm fine, really...I...ouch!"

 

She'd raised her hand to her head, still too aloof to recognize that the cup was still grasped between her fingers.

 

"No, Pam... you already hit your head plenty on your way down, and you went down hard, no need to keep beating yourself..." Michael chortled.

 

"That's what she said...?"

 

She had, thankfully, been fine. Angela had reluctantly driven her to the Emergency Room where they performed a thorough inspection, complete with an MRI to rule out any concussion. Pam left the hospital with three tiny stitches along her hairline and a badly bruised ego, largely thanks to Angela's passive-aggressive chiding.

 

Miraculously, the mug faired only slightly worse; staying mostly intact save for a chip along the rim. In doing so though, it also rendered it useless in the office as Pam didn't want to risk slicing the delicate skin of her lips on the broken edge. She'd mulled over the thought of throwing the thing away, it wasn't after all a sentimental piece in its origin. Yet, much to Roy's annoyance, Pam couldn't bring herself to part with the porcelain. 

 

For two weeks it sat atop their kitchen table until it joined all her possessions, encased in tissue and moving boxes. When she came across it again in her new studio apartment, she placed it alongside her easel, deciding that it would make an appropriate water cup. Pam could not explain why then, on a humid day in August, she was enticed to paint the damaged pottery. 

 

Her brush had danced across the paper leaving trails of shadow and structure in its wake. Creamy yellows blended into moss-tinged greys, as her fingers held the sable fibers to a desaturated blue in her palette. The dusky hue traced delicate cracks along the painted rim before Pam blotted the excess paint from the absorbent paper. She lifted the mug, bringing it closer to her eye line as her teeth bit gently on the stick of the brush. 

 

Pam was never quite sure how long she sat like that, staring at the mug, studying its defects.  But at some point amidst that long wait, she had lost her courage; her hands rushing to lift the paint and smooth the cracked edges with glazed washes. Her brush distorting the truth with a passive illusion of contentment.

 

— -- —

 

Just as she'd always done with everything in her life. "Courage…Honesty…Well, those aren't Pam's strong points."

 

Pam's eyes, muted by the words and memories swirling behind them, drew a path of disgust along the soft shapes and gentle lines of architecture before her. Oscar was right. Even in something as inconsequential as a still-life, Pam had painted a censored reality, glossing over the pain of cracked porcelain and missing vehicles.

 

Stepping closer to her artwork, her shoulder lightly brushed the white panel, and she felt the unstable vibrations of the temporary structure ripple up her arm and crash chaotically through her core; noting a kind of kindred sentiment to the façade.  Her shoulders skimmed her cheeks as she made to block the dewy rectangles of pastel palettes and shadows from view.

 

Gliding over the diluted phthalo blue fibers it held, Pam gripped the plastic tack, pulling as the sharp corners cut into her fingertips; a distraction from the molten stone burning the inside of her gut. She had half a mind to grab the cotton paper and rip each from the pins that secured them to the panel, but she feared that would attract more attention to the work she was beginning to qualify as garbage. She needed to get out of there...

 

"Pam-casso!"

 

Pam spun around; the pin nearly flung sideways with the sharp action.

 

"Sorry I'm late, I had to race across town." Michael shrugged as he approached her display, beaming with the thrill of having just arrived barely in time.

 

"Oh, Michael…" Pam stumbled over the simple words, both shocked and lacking the motivating energy to exert anything more. Of all the people to show up... She thought, wordlessly praying he would say uncharacteristically little, perhaps even quietly, and leave quickly.  

 

"Wow!" Michael turned his attention to the watercolors. "You did these… freehand?"

 

Pam nodded gently before giving a soft "Yep."  She twisted the joints of her fingers as if the anxiety could be wrung out onto the concrete floor, before pulling on the violet sleeves to calm the tick.  

 

"My God..." He gasped, approaching the painting of the cup, "...These could be tracings!"

 

She felt the subtle blush prick her cheeks as she held her breath. "Oh! Look at this one." Michael gestured to their shared workplace. "Wow! You nailed it..."

 

Pam looked on as Michael gazed in adoration at the rendering, leveled by the genuineness with which the man spoke.

 

"How much?" Michael breathed.

 

Pam shook her head. "What do you mean?"

 

"I don't see a price."

 

"Um…you wanna buy it?" She asked, her face scrunched in a skeptical grin.

 

"Well, yeah," Michael replied as if the prospect of not purchasing it was so inconceivably ridiculous. "Yeah, we have to have it for the office. I mean, there's my window...and there's my car!" He exclaimed seeing his pride and joy. "That's your car?"

 

"Uh-huh." Pam nodded with a weak laugh, hoping she hid how touched she was by his notice of the simple details. Grateful he wasn't too observant.

 

"That is our building...and we sell paper." He stated with the gravity of something far more profound, and Pam wasn't sure how to respond to the factuality of it. They stood in comfortable silence as he gazed at the painting, awe and delight awash upon his face before turning to Pam. "...I am really proud of you."

 

Pam stared at him for a beat, the words flooding over her like sunlight onto a withered plant, offering nourishment she didn't know she needed. Tears threatening to break, and words lost to her lips, she raised her arms, wrapping them gently around Michael's neck. "Thank you."

 

It was a simple irony that at the moment she felt most like a fraud, Michael would be the one offering some comfort and dignity to her.

 

— -- —

 

The zipper whirled as it skimmed the perimeter of the oversized portfolio, Pam keeping careful watch along its track, ensuring that paper edges and broken threads stayed out of reach of the plastic teeth. Michael had departed moments earlier, following some light small talk and a horrifically awkward misunderstanding involving a candy bar that Pam was determined to block from memory. She had promised to bring in the office illustration as soon as she had a proper frame, before bidding him and the camera crew goodnight. Standing from her crouched position, she glanced around; the gallery was quickly emptying of people and color as her fellow artists mimicked her recent movements, removing and stowing their work into stiff black bags and archival boxes. Releasing a sigh on the shallow gust of the overhead fan, Pam collected her things and walked towards the exit.

 

Her fingers had barely brushed the cool stainless door handle when her ears pricked at the sound of her name, sharp against the indistinct murmurings surrounding her. Pam turned to locate the source, eyes scanning the collection of cliques and individuals crowding the small lobby, before landing on a raven-haired woman who waved lightly at her, beckoning her retreat. Pam smiled in acknowledgment before withdrawing to the back of the room.

 

The woman, petite only in physical presence, was surrounded by a beaming crowd comprised mainly, Pam recognized, of her fellow classmates. Nudging her way gently towards the center of the group, she sensed the buzz of energy that echoed from each artist, as they chatted excitedly with those around them.

 

"My dear, gifted students..." a commanding yet tender voice broke the agitated stir as Pam found herself center stage to her instructor, Madeleine Shay. The asymmetric hem of Madeleine's dress lilted gently from side to side across her calves as she glanced about the room, a kind smile caressing her rouge lips. Pam gazed upon the young woman, who couldn't have been much older than herself, with admiration; her eyes crawling over the creamy, chiffon pleats of her dress juxtaposed with harsh, black, brush strokes, abstract and dazzling in its design. Her dark hair was brought up in a simple, low hanging knot, and Pam couldn't get over how put-together she always seemed to look; such a contrast from her own present state. Looking down at her black jumper and knit turtleneck, a costume she wore to look the part, she wondered if she would ever have the courage or elegance to pull off a garment that demanded such confident authenticity.

 

"Congratulations on an exceptional gallery opening! I'm so very proud of every one of you. The improvement you have each made over this last semester is astounding and speaks to the painstaking time, diligence, and heart you've dedicated to your craft. I know it's not typical of an art exhibition, but I welcome you to applaud each other now in honor of your combined achievement."

 

Pam meekly joined in the echoing clatter of applause; her eyes downcast as a venomous thought that these words were not intended for her crept up her spine along a shiver of self-doubt. She was in the process of fighting back the poison when Pam was lightly jostled by the elbow of the man next to her, who was clapping a bit too enthusiastically. "Sorry..." she heard the unnecessary apology fall from her own lips, and she took a step back, easing away from the front row and embarrassment.

 

"I know you will continue that same diligent and heartfelt work over the summer. I was delighted to see nearly all of you were enrolled in our summer masterclass festival in July. Remember there is still time to register! We've invited some incredible guest artists to workshop with students individually and in groups. It should be a treat! In any case, if I don't see you before then, have a wonderful and well-deserved break and lovely rest of your evening!"

 

The room erupted again in a mixture of hearty whoops and applause, the assemblage of artists pushing their way towards their ethereal teacher. Pam found herself haphazardly shifted back to the exit. It was just as well, she thought chewing lightly on the nail of her thumb. While she had wanted to thank Ms. Shay for her invaluable guidance and instruction, the night had left her depleted. I'll write her a card, something more heartfelt than anything I could express now...

 

Turning to go, a momentary déjà vu lapsed over her as Pam's name, again, carried over the busy chatter. She glanced back only to find herself face to face with Madeleine, who must have pulled herself from the throng of students.

 

"Pam, I'm so glad I caught you..."

 

"Ms. Shay, thank you so much for..." Pam and Madeline began simultaneously.

 

The art instructor raised her hands as she lightly shook her head. "Please, Pam. Call me Madeleine."

 

"Oh...sorry, Madeleine...thank you. I've so enjoyed your class and have been so appreciative of your patience with me."

 

"Patience?" Madeleine contemplated the word choice. "Whatever do you mean, Pam? You're a joy to teach and always prompt with your assignments, which I imagine can be challenging, what with juggling a full-time job."

 

Pam bit her lip, trying to determine how to proceed. She hadn't meant to say patience, not exactly. But the Freudian slip had slid off her tongue before her brain had had a chance to catch up; so very much like several other conversations she could think of. "Oh...I just meant...I'm so far behind everyone else in the class. They all have years of training and ridiculous talent. Just look at what Leo has done..."

 

"Oh hush." Madeleine gave a dry laugh before glancing around, ensuring they were out of range from eavesdroppers before continuing in a low voice. "I have many things I could say about Leo and his overextended ego, but I probably should reserve them for a more appropriate time." A light smile played on Pam's lips at her words.

 

"In any case..." Madeleine continued, mirroring her smile. "Pam, I was actually coming over to say just how impressed I am with your work. You've really expanded your technique and I can see your thoughtful prose coming through, especially in some of your current, in progress, works."

 

For a third time this evening, tears threatened to break from her watery gaze, forcing Pam to look away as she blinked back the pain. "Um...thank you. I know I don't always depict much in my work, I've been trying to be braver though..." And failing…

 

Madeleine studied the woman before her, seeing the inner toil wrecked upon her features. "Pam, I noticed you weren't signed up for masterclasses this summer. I think you could really benefit from hearing from some other artists; seeing their journeys and methods. Also learning how they decide to approach their topics. It's very difficult..."

 

"I would really love to, Madeleine..." Her stomach dropped at the sound of her own voice, knowing the explanation would be a humiliating one, as the bills she'd piled on the kitchen table attacked her gut with tiny paper cuts from afar. "Truly it seems like an amazing opportunity. It's just...a receptionist's salary, well, money is really tight right now."

 

The understatement of the century, Pam cringed at her admission. Since calling off her wedding and the subsequent move into her own studio apartment, Pam had been thrown into a new reality of living paycheck to paycheck, a prospect not completely foreign to her, but uncomfortable in its consistency. Slowly, she'd become a bit more financially stable, recovering from the down payment she had made on her used Yaris and settling into a strict budget. She'd cut costs whenever possible, including at Christmas, when she opted to give illustrations and homemade pranks rather than purchased gifts. But even after all of that, the costs of paints, paper, and especially classes had started to cut into her more prudent grocery budget, which her stomach routinely reminded her was not sustainable.

 

"Oh, sweetheart." Madeleine breathed, reaching to gently rub Pam's arm. "I'm so sorry. That was terribly presumptuous of me. You know, Marywood does offer work-study and scholarship options. I know they can be more difficult for part-time students to receive but I'd be happy to make some calls, see what I can come up with?"

 

Pam released a shaky breath, followed by a grateful smile, nodding. "That would be amazing. Thank you."

 

"It's no trouble, I'm happy to do it. Worst case, you would always be welcome to audit the seminars. And actually…" Madeleine paused, her index finger tapping lightly on her bottom lip, thought plaguing her face. "…This may be a long shot, and feel free to say no, of course, but I might have a gig you could be well suited for. It's Friday nights and every other Saturday afternoon at my studio. Unfortunately, artists and art teacher salaries aren't terribly profitable either, but I've been holding these 'wine and watercolor date night' events over the past year and it's been going quite well. Apparently, there isn't a ton to do on weekends in Scranton." She joked and the pair chuckled for a beat before she continued. "I could really use an assistant though, just making sure everyone has the supplies they need throughout the class, walking the room, helping them with techniques, pouring a glass of wine on occasion…but I promise you wouldn't just be a bartender."

 

Pam laughed, "No, that sounds just fine. Wonderful really."

 

"I'm so glad to hear you say that." Madeleine beamed. "I'd also occasionally need you to cover the class on your own when I have a gallery opening or university event, if you are available. I know that might seem a bit daunting, but I think you would be really good at it. You have a lovely sense of humor and the disposition for this sort of work. And while I don't think there is a soul alive who could claim that teaching will universally boost your confidence, I think you may really benefit from the experience."

 

Pam nodded again, unsure of how to respond to this last statement. Privately, she thought Madeleine was right, it could indeed be an enormously positive opportunity for her. Yet the thought of teaching a large group of strangers drowned her nerves in anxiety.

 

Madeleine at once picked up on the sense of dread written clearly in Pam's mannerisms. "Why don't you think about it and I'll email you the details. There's no pressure either way. On that same note, even if you do take it don't feel obligated to enroll in the festival. I know what it's like to be tight on cash. Although I should mention, we certainly aren't 'making it rain' by any means. But I hope it will help and allow you to pursue your passions. Because you are talented, Pam. Don't let anyone make you feel otherwise."

 

It took every ounce of strength Pam had to restrain the emotions that threatened to break her resolve. Smiling back through a shaky breath, she nodded and gave a quiet, "Thank you."

 

Madeleine smiled, giving her arm a quick, comforting squeeze. "Absolutely. I should let you go; I've got to say goodbye to the rest of this lot anyhow. But look for an email from me in the next day or so, and we'll go from there."

 

"Okay. Good night." Pam gave a genuine smile as she watched Madeleine turn and walk towards the thinning group of students, who greeted her return with glowing faces. She looked down at her hands which were trembling slightly despite the weight of the portfolio and purse they still held. The tremor, she knew, was no longer so much the result of anxiety, as it was from excitement, optimism for the future, and the earth-shattering kindness and comfort that she had received from both Madeleine and Michael. It shook her to the bone, not dissimilar to the shock a hypothermic patient experiences after stepping into safety. Their actions were a blanket of warmth after nearly a year of the bitter frost she had otherwise experienced from one-time friends and colleagues.  Closing her eyes and releasing a calming sigh, Pam made her way again to the door, pushing it open and exiting more confidently from the gallery than she had entered.

End Notes:

Do let me know your thoughts on this, if I should continue or if it’s just rubbish, or anything in between.  

 

Next up: Pam calls Roy to tell him the good news and we see an AU version of another scene play out.

 

Chapter 2: Aerial Perspective by PenciledCadenzas
Author's Notes:

Thank you all so much for your incredibly thoughtful reviews; they’re so encouraging and a real bright point to my day! 

 

My italicized texts disappeared but I either fixed it or some coding angel fixed it for me! Oh, I fixed Pam’s car to a Yaris in the first chapter (oops). Ok, here we go! 

Chapter 2: Aerial Perspective  



“Colors become weaker in proportion to their distance from the person who is looking at them.”

-Leonardo da Vinci, on aerial perspective 

 
 

Her thumb hovered above the dimly glowing arrow; three-lettered names casting mirrored shadows in the pale highlight of her eyes. There was no reason for him to still reside there, in the ranks of that selective list. She could not even recall the last time the pad of her thumb had descended past playful teasing of the green button, while backlit pixels traced his slender, linear characters.   

 

That was a lie. It was the tenth of June; an ordinary day made extraordinary only by the whirling thoughts of canceled ceremonies and that damn phone call.  

 

The tears that stained her cheeks that day were no less briny or astringent than any that fell in the weeks that followed or preceded it. They stung her swollen skin, ungoverned by schedules or obligations, indiscriminate of dates or fingers batting them into submission. They were an accessory Pam wore to mark that time; when the familiar vivid hues of life were diluted by complementary colors and umber. “Her grey period” she remembered declaring those summer months; a passive attempt at artistic humor that matched her underexposed outlook.   

 

But that day. That stupid, pathetic monument to the disaster that was her life rather than the colossal step in a new direction she had to remind herself it was. When her sister had pulled Pam off the saline-soiled pillow she’d cradled against her since the night before; dragging her into Scranton’s sun-soaked streets in an attempt to window shop her way to distraction. It was a valiant effort, Pam remembered. The mix of light exercise and brightly lit displays a healthy alternative to the tequila flights and cheap cocktails Penny had planned for the evening. But she didn’t have the heart to tell her sister there was nothing that would ultimately distract her from that day. Especially once she’d made that abysmally sober call.  

 

Straight to voicemail. The memory still a blade to her heart; his escape to Australia sending him a far greater distance than the ten thousand miles that physically separated them. She’d allowed the familiar lilt of his recorded voice to color her faded soul before racing digital tones to press “end call”. Fifteen seconds; the pathetic extent of her courage. 

 

But she was going to be braver now, right? That was what she had just decided as she walked—no, strode—the short distance between the gallery exit and the driver’s side door of her Yaris. When generous words of encouragement and commiseration had elevated her spirit and heart to reach unexplored heights. That was after all why she wanted to call someone, anyone—well, someone—to modestly boast and share her excitement and optimism for the future.  

 

Why was she letting this pull her down? He’d be happy for her...at least he would have at one time. He was probably busy this evening, but he would have been there if he could. Pam could hear her heart beating its anxious soundtrack in the back of her throat as she gazed with determination at the tiny screen, willing herself to depress the button.   

 

Her courage, this time, was measured by two disappointing clicks.  

 

“Hey, Roy...yeah I just got into my car...” Pam closed her eyes, hiding the shame that resided in them from the night. Indistinct music and garbled voices pulsed against her eardrum as she tried to understand the unintelligible noise. “Hey, I can’t....no, I can’t understand you. Can you go somewhere quieter?”  

 

“Come...Poor Richard’s...Karaoke Night.” The prepositions overwhelmed by what Pam could only assume were poorly belted melodies of karaoke participants.   

 

“No, Roy...I’m...I’m really tired,” Pam bemoaned, inserting her key into the ignition, her foot descending onto the clutch in anticipation. “I was just calling to tell you about...”  
 

“Oh my gosh is that Pam?!” The distinct arpeggio of Kelly’s voice overwhelmed any background noise that attempted to slip through the speaker.  “Pam! Pam! Oh my gosh, you have to come tonight, we're having so much fun. We HAVE to do a duet together.”  

 

“Hi, Kelly.” The edges of her mouth begrudgingly lifting in a false grin, an automatic reaction to the familiar timbre. “I don’t think I’m going to make it tonight, my vocal cords need to get retuned...you know, like a piano? It’s a whole thing...”  

 

“Yeah, yeah, whatever. You have to come, Pam!” Kelly bemoaned. “EVERYONE is here. Ryan is telling us about Michael's disastrous presentation at his school today. It was so embarrassing. You gotta hear him tell it!”  

 

Any semblance of a smile, evaporating with the pang of her words as she released the clutch. Everyone had gone to Karaoke Night rather than her art show. Who was everyone...?  

 

“Kelly, can you put Roy back on, please?”   
 

“Sure thing. But you better be here in twenty minutes because I’m putting us down for Toxic by Britney and I will be mortified if I have to sing it alone.”   
 

Pam rolled her eyes, knowing that as long as she held the attention of the room, Kelly would never be mortified by any song choice. “Ok, sounds good, Kelly. Is Roy anywhere nearby?”  

 

The indistinguishable fuzz of the cell being passed across an undeterminable distance crackled across the line before Roy’s voice bellowed into her ear again. Pam drew the phone back a few inches as preventative care to an ensuing headache.  “HEY BABE! So you’ll be here in what, ten...fifteen minutes?”  
 

Her lids shuddered, already exhausted by this conversation “I...no, I’d really like to just go home but...I wanted to tell you about what my teacher, Ms. Shay...Madeleine said...”  
 

“Ah, I yeah wanna hear all about that...”  
 

Pam paused, hearing the distraction in his voice, hoping it was imagined. “Wait...are you being sarcastic or....”  
 

“Of course not...Pam, I’ve been...telling all of these guys about your art...and how it was the prettiest art of all the art in that uh...”  
 

“Gallery...and, that’s really nice of you. Um, like I was saying, Madeleine...”  
 

“Hey Pam, I can’t really hear you, I think the connection is busted...or this stupid phone. But you’ll be here soon, right? You can tell me then about all the great things that Cray lady said...”  
 

“Shay...”  
 

“Right, Shay—...ok, well I gotta go, we’re doing shots. I’ll order ya a double. See you soon, Pam!”  
 

The sudden silence hung like smoke inside the cabin of her car, as the high-pitched ring of tinnitus beset any sense or cognitive thought available to her. “Shit!” She cursed herself, knowing that her choice was made, knowing that she was the one making it. Acknowledging the poor decision it would inevitably be. Allowing it to happen.  

 

“Ughhhh!” Pam moaned into her steering wheel as her fingers pushed aggressively against the key, igniting the engine; the hatred she held for herself muffled by the low purr. Well, at least I’ll find out who "everyone" is...and where we all really stand.   

 

The shimmering lights of red and yellow that illuminated the streets of Scranton peered through the driver’s side window, casting elongated graduations of highlight and shadow along her purple sleeves. As reds turned to green, Pam’s hazy musings of dark-haired couples singing classic rock ballads in nauseating harmony were interrupted only by her own berating conscience. A rhythmic tick, syncopated against a flashing green arrow, announced Pam’s arrival as she pulled into the dark lot behind Poor Richard's.   

 

Her lips, wrapped in an ‘O’, released a long, cool breath as she cut the engine. I’ll be quick. I’ll find Roy, tell him the good news, discretely dispose of whatever shot he ordered for me, and leave. I’ll be in my bed in thirty minutes...ok, in forty-five minutes.   

 

It was, she would later think, an act of God—perhaps the same deity that had been in that Chili's a year ago—that she thought to glance into her rearview mirror before opening her car door.  

 

She watched as the confidence she longed for strode merrily through the backdoor of the bar, accompanied by indistinct bass lines and heady laughter of strangers and friends alike. It walked hand in hand with its equal, its complement; the hue that brought out the best and brightest in the other, she was certain. Her easy mastery of color theory was one of her natural talents. And the pair was walking right towards her.   
 

A familiar double chirp that usually signaled her chance to leave the office without uncomfortable elevator rides, sounded nearby. He was parked two spots down, with Kevin’s car, she realized, nestled between them. Pam sank deep into her seat, her fight or flight reflex playing her ribs like a marimba. I should go. I should just pull out and go home. They probably won’t notice me. He wouldn't recognize my car in the dark, right...? Her mind a prancing jackalope in an ancient wood.  

 

But isn’t this what you wanted to know...? The truth a bed of stinging nettles that she had agreed to lie upon. Reflexively, she sought to shield her conscience, to shut down, not think about it; deny the difficult reality before her. She was so well-practiced in this dance that she almost didn’t catch herself performing it. But for once, she did, and she was done with this act.  

 

She’s livid. And hurt, but mostly livid at what they have become. Not friends, not lovers, not even enemies; all of those took a particular level of commitment and acknowledgment. They required both parties to actually care, even in a twisted capacity about the other. And it was clear, as she watched his head tilt back in a hearty laugh, his hand interlaced with Karen’s, unweighted by sorrow, or pain, or guilt, that Jim had moved on, and truly no longer cared for her.  

 

She waited until the slam of two doors echoed across the lot before opening her own. Slinging her purse over her shoulder, Pam extricated herself from the safe confines of her vehicle; flinging shut the door with more force than necessary. Looking over to his glowing taillights, she timed her stride, marching to the tempo he had decided for them, as usual. Her eyes glared past the dashboard, seeing the ruffle of unkempt hair that caressed the back of his neck—an all too familiar sight to her these days—as he checked his rearview window.  

 

His pirouette choreographed perfectly with her subtle plié. Pam bit the inside of her cheek as she watched the green and yellow stars that danced in the reflection of his eye suddenly be submerged in stunning darkness. She would never admit to anyone the satisfaction she enjoyed in seeing the smile he had worn throughout his recent promenade fade from his face when he saw her, spotlighted in the effervescent shine of his headlights.   

 

Her expression remains stoic. She will not cry or break. She just wants him to know that she knows. They aren’t friends, they are less than that.  

 

Pam did not look back as she traveled the brief distance to the pub entrance. She did not notice his car linger; stalled in place for more seconds than necessary. Nor did she see the hand that rose from the passenger seat to nudge the driver forward, breaking his trance. By the time her hand brushed the cold metal of the door, he was gone. And that was just as well for Pam. In the clarity of the night, she had resolved herself to be brave. To move on. To not care either. 

 

— -- — 

 

 

Whether it was curiosity or bitterness or pitiful self-destruction that led her into that bar that night, she’d never know. Yet as the door swung open and she was met with the musty malodor of cheap beer and spilled vodka, Pam’s intuition that this was a horrible idea was confirmed in her mind. Standing on the threshold, she hesitated, considering retreating for only the hundredth time in a matter of twenty minutes. But before her foot could cross behind her in an elegant pivot, a familiar shriek erupted from nearby and she was suddenly engulfed in a trilled appoggiatura of speech.  

 

“Pam!! You’re here, oh my God, you just missed the craziest thing!” Kelly’s voice, an icon of perpetual motion, nearly knocked Pam off her feet. “I almost had to make Ryan be my backup singer, but wouldn’t you know that just as I was walking up to the stage, Kevin...get this, so he’s playing Texas Hold ‘Em with Darryl and Roy's brother which, by the way, what losers play cards when there is karaoke, am I right? Anyways, all of a sudden, he gets super upset and pushes away from the table and is all ‘You know what...I am never, ever playing with you two again!’ and then he turned and tripped on an extension cord and crashed into the karaoke machine and...” 

 

“Oh my God, is he ok?” Pam interrupted, her brow furrowed in concern, only then becoming mildly aware of the, thankfully, lowered volume in the bar. 

 

Kelly gave an exasperated sigh, “Yes, Pam, he’s fine...a bunch of dollar bills fell out of his coat pocket and Darryl was all ‘Looks like we found the missing cash after all’...but that’s not the point, Pam. The point is that they are trying to fix the machine so that we can do our duet and I swear to God, if they don’t get it fixed soon, I am going to scream because I have been waiting for like forty minutes for the...” 

 

Pam’s focus floundered from Kelly, her ability to mask her disinterest waning considerably in her fatigue. It wasn’t that she didn’t like the young woman. Kelly had been a saving grace of sorts during her separation from Roy and others. She had enthusiastically taken Pam under her wing, introducing her to hipper styles and trends, moderately distracting her from the cavernous hole in her heart. But as her eyes darted across the bar, seeing Ryan, Phyllis, Bob Vance, Meredith, Creed, even Angela and Dwight—the collection of her colleagues talking jovially amongst themselves—she was hit again with the particular pain of realizing how little they valued her. Perhaps that’s not entirely their fault though...perhaps if I valued myself a bit more... “I’m really sorry, Kelly, that’s awful...” Pam heard her voice interrupt her own thoughts. “Have you seen Roy? I need to talk to him.” 

 

Kelly’s eyes flashed darkly, knowing she was being brushed off, but at once masked the snub with an artificial smile she had perfected in her years of customer service. “Oh, yeah of course! He’s right over there in the corner...” 

 

“Great, thanks, Kelly...” Pam said distractingly, her focus turning in the direction Ms. Kapoor had indicated.  

  

“No problem, Pam! I’m going to go yell at the bartender to see how long it will take them to fix the karaoke system. I’ll let you know when it’s our turn...” 

 

Her eyes settled on the burly man, his face alight with laughter and inebriation, standing on the opposite side of the room with several warehouse comrades and Kenny. His pale cerulean eyes shone despite the distance and poor lighting, and Pam was taken aback by a striking moment of clarity.  While she would never expect him to be as passionate as she was about art or visual masterworks, she knew that the muted glow of feigned interest that had bedaubed his face earlier that night at the gallery was merely a fleeting attempt to appease her. And though she appreciated the effort, it was clear that his attendance was not so much to support her but to check an obligatory box on his temporary list of ‘Ways to Win Pam’s Favor’.  

 

She knew it would only be a matter of time before he’d consider such propitiation won and old habits would return in full force. He didn’t mean it, he was trying his best; but the fact that Roy was tragically blind to was that his love for her was not in the person that she was but the idea of a person he wanted her to be. And if she was truthful with herself, she knew that her heart mirrored his.  

 

“Hey, Roy...” 

 

“PAM! Oh my God, you just missed t’f—funniest shit...” Roy beamed first to her and then his buddies knowingly, his arm falling sloppily around her shoulders, bringing her into an awkward side hug.  

 

“Yeah, I heard a bit of it from Kelly...” Pam replied, her shoulders tensed beneath his heavy embrace. 

 

“Oh, crap...where’sh your shot...” He twisted around searching for the glass.  

 

“Thatsss fer Pam?” Kenny said in a slur of words not uncommon to his vernacular. 

 

“Roy, I actually don’t need...”  

 

“Nah I gotta go getchu one...celebrate your big success...” Roy said as he moved behind her towards the bar, ignoring her repute. 

 

Pam exhaled a tired sigh, the dull headache she’d been fighting back was winning a recent resurgence.  
 

“Yeah, Pam...Roy was going on and on about how pretty your art was...” Philip said brightly. 

 

She almost bought it. But Pam saw the lie like a beacon on the elderly warehouse worker’s face and she winced. “Thanks, um...I’m gonna go see Roy, I’ll be back...”  

 

She walked towards the bar, the vague knowledge of what she needed to do sending ripples of unease through her limbs. “Hey, Roy, listen...please, don’t get me anything, I’m not staying. I just need to talk to you...” 

 

Roy’s face went momentarily pale at her words, “Wh...what’s wrong, whaddya need to talk a— Oh! Your teacher lady...what was she goin’ on about?” 

 

“Oh...” Pam shook her head, that conversation a distant memory in her mind. “Yeah, she’s offered me a gig, thing. I’ll get to help teach watercolors on Friday nights, and some Saturdays. It’s not a big deal, it’s just for one of those Wine and Paint things I’ve maybe told you about...?” 

 

“Fridays, eh?” Roy questioned. “Well...whattabout date night...Fridays ’r always date nights...” 

 

Pam stared at him, utterly baffled. She couldn’t recall a time when Friday nights were ever synonymous with “date nights”. To be honest, she couldn’t remember the last time they had gone on a real date that didn’t include Kenny or a stop at Darryl’s to watch the game. “Right, well...I really could use the income and it’s a really generous offer from Madeleine...” 

 

“Babe, if you need money...” 
 
“No...” Pam shook her head, feeling herself losing control of the conversation and her patience. “No, Roy...I need to be able to pay rent and pay for my classes. I need to be self-sufficient.” 

 

“W—why doncha you move back in with me...I can take care of rent, especially with Kenny staying in the second bedroom.” 

 

Wow. “Roy, no...listen, that isn’t a solution right now. And this isn’t even what I really needed to talk to you about. But I am taking that job. It’s a good thing for me, it involves something I’m passionate about, and I can still keep my receptionist position.” 

 

“Well, I’m passionate about us, Pam...” Roy’s voice edged with a simmering annoyance that articulated past pickled slurs. “And I came to your show tonight...don’t you appreciate that?” 

 

“Of course,” Pam sighed, her hand raising to massage her temples. This wasn’t the time, she knew. She shouldn’t push him through this conversation when he was drunk and wasn’t listening, and all Pam longed to do was retreat to the warm comfort of her bed and let the day become a forgotten memory. But there was a gleam in the pit of her stomach, a shining ray of determination to be brave, to stand up for herself and her own desires; to be honest, and to be listened to. A spark that she knew, if she diffused now, would be lost forever. “Roy...I need to tell you something...” 

 

— -- — 

 

She could never be certain what exactly had triggered that insatiable need to confess past transgressions. The words were written into her diaphragm before her lips could filter them through any constructive means. She just needed him to know, because he wasn’t understanding, and he wasn’t hearing her. Roy couldn’t see what they had become.  

 

When once she had likened him to an oversized sweatshirt: comfort-ridden and familiar, she now realized, in the years of that comfort, she had lost herself; her slight form becoming overwhelmed and obscured. Her dreams forgotten and perspective dulled. Now, her eyes gaining focus on the man before her—if she could call him that amidst his tantrum—fit her like an itchy sweater that was shrunken and stiff; suffocating and restrictive. She had, in every way possible, outgrown him. 

  

“We’re done, Roy. This is over.” Her voice, calm in its strength and resolve; measured in the truth it wielded.  

 

Pam’s tears reflected the shards of glass that erupted behind her as she hurried to the back door of the bar, unable to look back. From one chaotic scene to the next, she emerged from the bar to see Phyllis, Bob, Ryan, Kelly, and Meredith harmonizing in improvised laughter over a story or joke she took no interest in.  

 

“Pam!”   

 

“Hey, where are you going?” 

 
Pam glided past them, their words a meaningless jumble of syllables until Ryan shouted in cruel comic relief. “Ok, Crazy!” 

 

She almost toppled over in the abruptness of her pause but maintained full composure, the rigidity of her stance anchoring her as she turned on the spot. “Why didn’t any of you come to my art show? I invited all of you! That really sucked...” 

  

They simultaneously choked on the poignancy of her words. “It’s like some of you act like I don’t even exist.” And she knew that, in all likelihood, she meant that for someone else, but she wasn’t caring about them anymore.  

 

— -- — 

 

As she sat in the driver’s seat, her hands gripping the locked wheel, clinging to its stability, a luminous memory took flight in her mind. Releasing a shaky breath, she reached into her purse, her fingers filtering through the contents to find the pseudo metallic cube, before raising it into eyesight. In a flurry of clicks and beeps, she eviscerated the two names from the list that denoted her “Favorites”, the ghosts of their three-lettered names still glowing in the darkness behind her eyelids. It would take a few blinks, and perhaps a few more tears, but eventually both would fade and she could be free.  

 

End Notes:

I know, none of this is depicted in *any* facet of the story summary. We will eventually get to all of that. I promise! And yes, I know I steamrolled these perfectly natural and beautifully depicted events from the show into one, colossal, nightmare for Pam. But...I wanted to explore this wash of scenarios and get Pam to that “unapologetically herself”, Beach-Day Pam on an earlier time table. Although, not necessarily as a means to get her with Jim more quickly, but simply to see this beloved character blossom and get *everything* that she wanted. Which yes, of course, does include Jim. Don’t worry, folks...I’m no sadist and I can read the room. I just want to see her soar. Well, both of them. Together. Eventually. :) 

 

 Please let me know your thoughts; I’ll hopefully get another chapter up soonish. BTW, this story will likely be 5-6 chapters, give or take, if such timelines interest you. I have it pretty well outlined, but some things may still get added or cut. 

 

Aerial Perspective: “The effect or illusion that light, shadow, and the atmosphere have on a subject. Creating a sense of depth in painting by imitating the way the atmosphere makes distant objects appear less distinct and more bluish than they would be if nearby. Also known as atmospheric perspective.” 

Chapter 3: Gouache Sunlight and Pained Overtures by PenciledCadenzas
Author's Notes:

Our dear Pam may have to (inwardly) take a few steps back, experience a brief recoil of reflection and anxiety following her actions in the last chapter. But she'll bounce back. Sometimes, you have to fake it ‘til you make it. 

Chapter 3: Gouache Sunlight and Pained Overtures

  

“Remember that casino night about a month before we were supposed to get married? I kissed Jim...He told me how he felt, and I guess I had feelings too. And we kissed...” 

  

Roy's face was a charcoal sketch upon the inside of her skull, scored with piqued lines and shadows of ire. She could not rid her mind of the memory of it, as Pam knit herself into her bedsheets with exaggerated movements, sleep dancing out of reach. The stale sweetness of caramel and cloves, pierced by the sting of alcohol, still lingered in her nostrils. His breath a cheap whiskey; absent the peaty complexity or wooded finishes she associated with a higher grade of liquor. Sharp and potent, the kind one drinks for the sole purpose of arriving at insobriety rather than the journey to it. The kind that requires a lack of regard for ramifications to ones’ self or their immediate company. Fitting… 

  

Pam had miserably woken just two short hours after diving into the warm confines of her bed. She cursed the darkness that engulfed the room, stubbornly refusing to glance at her clock, knowing the hour to be too few for her current status. Her mind instead was a hamster wheel of self-critique and apprehension over the events of the evening.  

  

Why did I tell him? I could have just broken it off, said it wasn’t working; that they shouldn’t be trying to change each other. They both deserved better than that. It would have been so much easier. Sure, he wouldn’t have understood, but at least there was a chance the bartender might not have had to file an insurance claim. Could have saved him all that paperwork... There she was, doing it again. Assigning blame to herself for Roy’s actions. Damn it.

  

At least I didn’t say ‘have’. Present tense. He’d probably kill me...or Jim. She shuddered at the thought. Pam couldn’t bring herself to fully consider whether Roy would actually assault anyone. In their worst days, he had terrified her; screaming into her face, his spit invading the tears that trailed her cheeks. He would dig at her insecurities, pulling on the tatters of her self-worth. In the end though, the abuse that fell from his mouth had always satiated him; with Pam left licking invisible wounds, her mind an inhospitable refuge to its host. 

  

Still, this time had been different. He’d been enraged to the point of physical damage, even if not to a person, but to private property. She’d witnessed him teeter on the edge before, but Pam couldn’t remember a time he had acted so violently, and it left her body quaking the entire drive home. 

 

Should I warn Jim? Pam pinched the bridge of her nose at the thought of his name, a synonym for headache, a new swarm of nerves barreling through her. 

  

HOW do I warn him? How, when he barely talks to me? How, without telling him that I admitted to Roy that I had feelings for him before I could even admit that to him? As she had so many times before, Pam imagined driving to his apartment in the dead of night and spilling a year's worth of epiphanies onto his doorstep. Carving the truths she had hoped to share with him months before upon the wood of his front door. Acts that would leave him no choice but to absorb the pieces of her that her body no longer accepted as her own; her heart little more than an infected appendix. She shook her head in the dark, wishing the thoughts could fall from her ears and sink into her mattress rather than swirl in her mind. You’re not supposed to be caring about him anymore…remember? He's moved on...and so should you. 

  

“You suck...” Pam whispered the truth to the overhead fan rotating above her bed, and it wasn’t immediately clear even to her who she addressed. Dismissing the thought, her attention instead fell to a local light source. 2:56 am She cursed the hour, her gaze following the rusty fog the alarm clock emitted over the room that was her entire apartment. The memory of the last quasi-normal conversation they'd had emerged in the darkness. 

  

“Oh yeah, my fancy new apartment...I have one bedroom, one bathroom, and a closet.” 

“And how many kitchens?” 

“I have one kitchen.” 

“Wow, you got totally taken for a ride, Beesly. Most apartments these days have like three...how are you going to cook every meal of the day in one kitchen?” 

  

Pam bemoaned herself for inwardly chuckling at the joke. Might as well have lied about the kitchen too. She had after all, casually left out the fact that the 'one-bedroom' was also her one living room, one dining room, and flowed seamlessly into her one, solitary, kitchen. And frankly, that was enough for her. Tidiness was a natural necessity with such a small and multi-functional living area. But her most cherished possessions hung on the walls or were nestled between canisters of tea in a kitchen cabinet. The fact was that Pam had never been one to take up much space. 

  

Yet in that phone call, after they had eased into jokes and narration of recent events like no time or heartache had passed between them, she could just make out the edge of reverb in his voice. The faint vibrato of what she now understood to be his promotion, bounding off a glass wall of 'evolution' he'd constructed for himself, resonating through the handset. And in that moment, following a day spent tracking Michael's every movement while her brain flipped through a Rolodex of excuses to give her landlord for her late rent, her life seemed to reflect more of a demotion than the upgrade she inwardly knew it to be. She had been in a post-demolition phase of her renovation, and Pam had not been quite ready for Jim to see the exposed scaffolding or insulation. 
 

How many lies were there between them? She grabbed the pillow beside her head to smother the aggravated moan. Pam could not wait for his eviction from her mind. For thirty more minutes, she lay amongst her tangled sheets, begging sleep to visit her again before throwing off the blankets and accepting her very tired fate. 

 

Forgoing the overhead light, she carried her watercolor block across the twilight-soaked room to the single aperture of her studio. Unlike the rest of the apartment, the window was large; floor to ceiling, and several panes wide, with a rolling arch rounding off the top. It was her favorite feature of her home. And while the showroom she'd visited before signing her lease staged a bed along the natural light source, Pam chose to surround it with her favorite things. Delicately, she balanced the blank canvas upon the easel and collected the infamous mug that sat on the windowsill beside it to replace the rinse water. 

 
Turning to the kitchen, she briefly paused to glance at her palette, the action met with a sigh. She really needed to clean it, the paints a muddled tie-die upon the enamel-coated tray. But Pam had been trying to preserve the dregs of her watercolors for the last week, reviving them daily with spritzes of water and extending mediums. Her lips pressing thin as she deliberated, Pam finally decided that 'tea' was the answer—sleep would have been preferred but—she'd make herself some tea and then tackle the dilemmas that vexed her. 

 
By the time she’d returned to the cotton paper, the softest glow of magenta was bleeding into the indigo dusk of the night sky, slowly banishing the smattering of stars as it grew. Gazing out as she held a warm mug to her lips, Pam basked in the tingling spices of her white ginger tea and the sky before her. She placed her mug a foot or so from the cracked one, careful to make sure the handle was angled in contrast so she wouldn’t confuse the two mid-paint. Looking down at her empty palette, she reached for the tiny, depleted tubes that held little to no remnants of pigment within them. Pam stretched out her arm to her craft shears and snipped the creased end of three squashed, metallic containers and, pinching the edges to increase the opening, she spooned out what little remained of the paint with a worn-out brush. 

 
Payne’s Grey, Alizarin Crimson, and in anticipation of the daybreak, Brilliant Yellow gouache. Fresh starts called for fresh paints, she had decided, and it was payday! Pam could imagine no better way to celebrate than texturing opaque sunlight into a richly pigmented dawn. 

  

— -- — 

 
The whirl of her hard drive crackled in counterpoint with the soft rustle of air through the office’s ventilation system. It was 7:38 am and Pam was the sole occupant in the building, save for Hank of course. Drawn to the delicate quiet, it had become a routine for her in the past year to arrive early to the office. While it was no different than the subdued nature of her own apartment, it was also distinctly less lonesome. She couldn’t quite place why that was, although she suspected it had something to do with echoes of laughter that shuddered the walls and memories of lime Jell-O still lingering in the air. In any case, Pam regularly enjoyed a sense of peace in those mornings from which she could settle into a fresh cup of tea and check the phone messages without interruptions from Michael. 

 
This morning had seen an especially early arrival though. After completing the initial washes of mid-tones and setting her painting to dry for future shadows, Pam had thankfully managed to drift off for an hour or two of dreamless slumber. But as distant church bells beckoned the faithful’s first Angelus prayer, Pam was jolted awake by the incessant buzz of her cell phone clanging against the hardwood floors. Her hand made quick to scoop up the irritating brick, before she rolled her eyes as Roy’s name appeared once, twice...five times in a row. Pam grieved her lack of sleep with a hearty groan and her finger held the power button, silencing the phone indefinitely. Alas, she was awake again and so was her anxiety. 

 
So, just shy of two hours later, Pam was showered and dressed. Her hair was dried—not in tight, frizzy, curls, but sleek loose spirals that gently framed the curve of her jawline—and her make up brushed naturally over the contours of her face. She looked surprisingly good compared to how she felt, the four intermittent hours of sleep that she'd been blessed with doing understandably little for her general outlook. Pam hoped that Kelly's mantra of "you'll feel confident if you look hot" had some truth behind it. She would need it, after all, she was going to have to face all of them in the light of day following her outburst. Not to mention her glacial stare.

  

Pam shook away the disquieting thoughts and logged into her email. She was surprised to find a new message, not from Roy as she feared, but from Madeleine. 

  

— 

 

From: Madeleine Shay < m.shay@ marywood. edu > 

Date: Thursday, April 5th, 2007 10:23 PM EST   

To: Pam Beesly < pbeesly@ dundermifflin. com > 

Subject: Watercolor Classes 
 

Dear Pam, 

  

It was so wonderful to speak with you tonight and I hope you are enjoying a restful evening. Despite the class being a short, 12-week course, I was delighted by your extensive progress and I do hope you feel the same. I just wanted to follow up with some more information on the teaching opportunity we discussed earlier. 

  

As I mentioned before, these events take place every Friday at 8 pm at my off-campus studio, which I will include the address for in an attached flyer. Due to their popularity, we have also added alternating Saturday afternoons, at 3:30 pm. These tend to be made up of larger groups rather than couples; often we will have bachelorette parties and birthday celebrations which make these sessions quite a lot of fun. The next Saturday class will be on the 13th of April. 

  

All sessions last about two hours, although I would need you to be there to help me set things up around 7 pm on Fridays, 2:30 pm on Saturdays, and stay a short time afterward to assist in general clean up. As participants arrive, you will check them in, as everyone should have a prepaid reservation so that we don’t exceed capacity. Occasionally we have someone show up without a reservation, but I'll go over those situational details in-person. During classes, we will essentially co-teach; with one of us at the front demonstrating a walk-thru of the process, while the other circles the room to help and refill supplies as needed. As you become more comfortable with instruction, I'll have you demonstrate while I circle so that you feel solid should I need you to cover the class alone. If there is a weekend you are not available, that is completely fine. When possible, please provide me advance notice, as I intend to limit the class size on dates where only one of us is present. 

  

As far as compensation, I am able to offer you $20 per hour, which I realize given the sparse number of hours per week is not an especially large fee. However, my hope is to eventually expand the studio’s offerings both in quantity and diversity. I do not wish to speak prematurely, but should you find that you enjoy the work, and everything goes well—which I expect it will—I may be able to offer you a higher workload in the future. 
 

Now, this is quite last minute, so do not feel any obligation to say yes, but if this proposal entices you at all, I wanted to invite you to attend tonight's class. It would be valuable for you to see how things work and get your bearings. With the University of Scranton currently on Spring Break, I anticipate it being a rather quiet class. Again, no trouble if you cannot make it. 

  

So, let me know your thoughts, and please, if you have any questions whatsoever, don't hesitate to ask. 
 

Cheers, 

Madeleine 
 

Madeleine Shay, M.F.A. 

Adjunct Professor of Art and Illustration 

Marywood University 

  

— 

  

Her lips lightly curled as they pulsed against each word, silently reading the text to herself. It all seemed a bit too good to be true; too perfect of a fit. Pam had become so used to the mediocre crumble of everything in her life, that her eyes instinctively retraced the introduction, convinced she’d find another name addressed there. 

  

But there was only her name. And as she skimmed over the email again, her breath imperceptibly growing deep and quick in anticipation, the questions of self-doubt were forced to resign to the excitement blooming in her chest. Sandwiched between phrases of ‘thank you’s and formal niceties, her fingers danced out a reply before she could convince herself otherwise. “Yes, I’ll be there...” 

  

Pam buried her face into her hands, silently cursing the men in her life that robbed her of so much sleep. She would be dragging with fatigue come evening, she knew, but the realization that she would need this to look forward to was becoming clear; the arrival of her colleagues a simmering kettle in the back of her mind. She was assured in herself that she had done the right thing, at least where they were concerned, but that didn’t mean she was eager to face their reactions. 

  

Drifting from her hands, Pam’s head slunk down onto the cool vinyl of her desk. She basked in the calming sensation as her lids fluttered shut. 
 

“PAMELA MORGAN BEESLY, ARE YOU CONSCIOUS? DID YOU FAINT AGAIN? HAVE YOU OVERDOSED? WHAT KIND OF NARCOTICS ARE YOU ON?” 
 

"Jesus, Dwight!" Pam had nearly leaped out of her skin amidst Dwight's shouting. She swore she only lay there for a moment, but the next thing Pam knew, Dwight's voice was ringing in her ears. "I'm fine, I just didn't sleep well last night and got in early…I guess I drifted off." 

  

"Lack of sleep is not an excuse for workday fatigue," Dwight said matter-of-factly. 

  

Pam scoffed. “Well, luckily it’s not the workday for another…” she glanced at her watch, “oh, four minutes…” She now noticed that several of her workmates—Phyllis, Oscar, and Angela—had quietly entered the office, leaving her to sleep. 

  

“Thanks to me, otherwise you would have slept through the entire day, likely, and I would have to write you up for insubordination…” Dwight said smugly. “Face it, Pam. You owe me.” 

  

Pam glared at the man and his mustard shirt and his horridly matching tie. It was moments such as this one when she really wished she had her pranking comrade to do a royal number on the senior salesman. “Whatever, Dwight…” 
 

His beady eyes narrowed as he continued to look upon the receptionist, much to Pam’s annoyance. “Is there anything else I can help you with?” 

  

Dwight didn’t waste a second to respond. “Pam, I have no interest in art which is why I did not attend your art show last night. I find art frivolous and a waste of time that could be better spent perfecting the heirloom manure I use at Schrute Farms. Or in the case of last night, recreating some seriously killer jams. However…” Dwight paused before continuing more quietly. “I did not intend to hurt you or upset your extremely fragile, womanly emotions.” 

  

From anyone else, she would have been horrendously offended. But knowing Dwight as she did, Pam recognized these words to be the sincerest form of apology that he was capable of. “Oh that’s…that’s ok…” 

  

Without another word, Dwight nodded and turned on the spot, walking briskly to his desk. She watched him unpack his briefcase, trying to not think about what “heirloom manure” entailed, before turning her attention back to her computer. As she wiggled the mouse to wake the hard drive, she noticed that Madeleine had responded to her message. Her reply was written with a bright and bubbly enthusiasm that warmed Pam’s heart. Grinning to herself, she opened the attachment included in the previous email. 
 

A wine glass painted with polychromatic splashes of watercolor blossomed upon her screen. The kaleidoscope of pigments was overlaid with black text, reading "Sip, Sip, Monet!" in gentle, hand-lettered cursive. It was cute but elegant, a perfectly fitting advertisement and Pam expected nothing less from her instructor's event. Grabbing a piece of scratch paper from the recycling bin, she scribbled the necessary information and filed the page away in her purse. 
 

There are certain details that one can only learn about another human being through extensive time and attention. They cannot be admitted through conversation or witnessed on a whim. To anyone else they are tiny, indiscernible minutiae that pass through sensory filters without thought or care. But to those who have discovered and identified them—committing them to memory either subconsciously or otherwise—these intimate details are treasured knowledge that identify and ground them in authenticity. 

  

For Jim, it’s the tempo of his stride; the andante that chimes the keys that swing from his fingers. It is his fanfare, the theme song he inadvertently composed through habit and comfort. It announces his arrival, and for a long time, it was the overture to her smile. 

  

On this morning, it played a fugue; an unfamiliar countermelody interrupting his well-established subject, making Pam’s stomach curdle. She refused to learn this variation, having no desire to know how his keys harmonize with Karen’s. She was rigid, her bones locked in position, eyes gripping the screen of the computer as if under hypnosis. She counted the seconds as they passed, listening to the rustle of jackets being pulled from arms. Holding her breath, Pam waited for the pair to hang their belongings upon the coatrack behind her before proceeding to their desks. 

  

Karen entered her peripheral first, taking long, graceful strides past the receptionist, her silky hair lilting gently in her wake. Silence echoed cruelly behind her. She knew he was still there, skimming the perimeter of her space. Pam could feel his eyes kiss her neck and it made her want to throw up. She really needed to breathe. Gripping on to feigned bravery, Pam spun around in her chair. 
 

Their friendship had been a collection of tiny moments spent making the other laugh; quiet connections of knowing simpers and subtle glances. Yet when green met hazel now, there was no laughter, no jokes. The only mutual connection was one of pain and sorrow. What shocked Pam more than the intensity however, was that the bond existed at all anymore. 

  

“Pam-casso! Pamma Donna, you know like Prima Donna?" 

 
"Hi, Michael..." Pam tore her gaze from Jim's, addressing her boss who strode in with a happy jaunt. 

  

“So, do you have the painting? I thought we’d do a whole hanging ceremony and everything...” 

  

“Um, not yet, Michael...sorry. I’m planning on going to the art store over the weekend and I’ll get the supplies to frame it. So...Monday?” 

  

“Oh, well don’t you know, I have a frame just here....” Michael revealed a frame from beneath his arm. It was sleek and sophisticated, and she honestly wasn’t sure how Michael managed to get one since last night. Pam supposed his evening had not been nearly as exciting and still, she’d have traded it for hers in a heartbeat. 
 

“Oh...Michael, that’s amazing! Except my portfolio is at home...” 

  

A look that was only recognizable as utterly boyish, disappointment—a child being informed that the ice cream truck was out of everything but grape sherbet—painted Michael's face, and Pam momentarily considered offering to drive home. "I'm sorry, Michael… Monday, though, I promise." 

  

Michael nodded sadly as he sulked away and into his office. Pam instinctively made to roll her eyes at Jim, but found that he wasn’t looking at her. His sight was downcast and distant, and for the briefest second, Pam forgot her own bitterness and ache and wanted only to bring him back into her orbit again. But, giving an imperceptible shake of his head, Jim exhaled and walked away from her without a word. It was the most he had given to her in months, and it had been awful. What the hell? 

  

— -- — 

  

There was little opportunity for Pam to contemplate the odd interaction that morning. Michael immediately beckoned her into his office. He woefully explained that, in carrying in the “massive” picture frame, he had strained his hands. “Therefore,” Michael continued, “I need you to sign my signature on this quarter’s batch of inventory forms.” 

  

“How many are there?” Pam asked, not wanting to know the answer. 

  

“246 forms…to be done in duplicate…” 

  

Perfect. 

  

Much to her surprise, Phyllis approached her desk two hours into her signature extravaganza, offering to take a stack off her hands. It was a small gesture, but an appreciated one; and Pam knew it was her subtle way of apologizing for her absence the evening prior.  While the rest of the office remained distant, Pam found she didn't mind so much. She didn't need pomp and circumstance after all. She just needed to be treated as more than a shadow. 

 

— -- — 

 

Pam's hand was aching when the camera crew requested her presence in the conference room for a talking head. She rotated it around the joint, stretching out her fingers as she sat, waiting for the sound guy to set her mic.  

  

“So, we saw Roy’s outburst last night. Is this the end for Pam and Roy?” Brett, the senior producer asked as he skimmed a pad of paper for subjects he wanted to cover. 

  

Pam’s gaze narrowed upon the peppered haired man, annoyed by the predictable intrusion. “I’m sorry, I don’t really have much to say about it.” 

  

Her response was just measured enough that it was a second before Brett adjusted his narrowly framed glasses and looked up from his notes. “It was a pretty violent reaction to your discussion. Are you ok?” 

  

Pam knew what he was really asking, where this was heading: Did he hurt you? Has Roy been violent towards you in the past? Eventually arriving at, "Also, are you still in love with Jim? She was equally aware that her response mattered little; opinions had already been cast by both crew and likely the future audience. But she could control this if she played her cards right. She would just have to cast lines of interest elsewhere. “It was terrifying, but I’m really glad that is all over. And I am not responsible for his actions regardless of what I told him. That's all on Roy.” 

  

Brett’s eyes grew wide at her response. “You seem different, more grounded… We noticed you left the bar pretty angry last night yourself. We didn’t catch it, Matt was kind of cornered by Roy and our other camera was out of commission, but some of the staff mentioned you kind of let them have it.” 

  

Of course they did… “Well...yesterday was really hard, it really hurt that none of them showed up for my art show. And, not coincidentally, I have decided that I'm going to be more honest. I'm going to tell people what I want. Directly. I’m done being a doormat. So, look out world, cause ol' Pammy is getting what she wants." The words cascaded off her tongue in a dialect she did not recognize, yet one that felt entirely her own. “...And don’t call me Pammy.” 

  

Brett released a hearted laugh that trailed into his follow up question, “So it sounds like some good things came from all the mess?” 

  

Pam paused again, this time a light smile played on her lips. “I do think there will be some good that comes from it. You know, it’s not how I would have ever wanted it all to happen, gosh, not by a long shot. But in the end, it was eye-opening and I'll be stronger for it. Oh! And I have a new part-time job that I'm kind of starting tonight. So yes, things are looking up." 

  

“Oh? What is the new job?” Brett motioned to his assistant, Kayla—a mousy woman with pale features—to make sure she was making note of this. 

  

“I’m going to assist my art teacher, in some watercolor and wine classes.” Pam began, now grinning broadly. “Essentially, we’ll walk a group of adults through how to do a particular painting as they all get moderately intoxicated. And hopefully no one accidentally drinks the paint water.” 

  

She knew the documentary crew would just use it as a plot device; their interest was not in her as a person but as a subject. Even so, this was the first time she was able to share this news with a cognizant party and it filled her with emotion. "You know, I'm sure most art majors would find it beneath them, it's really not a serious gig or anything. But I'm excited about it. It should be a lot of fun!" 

  

“Do you have any teaching or related experience?” Kayla chimed in, and Brett responded with a silent thumbs-up and approving nod. 

  

Pam took that as a sign to answer the question, it was a fair one after all. “I guess I don’t really have much previous experience aside from my own art studies. Although I suppose I played a server of sorts for all of Roy’s Superbowl parties with the warehouse crew, so…I know I can pour drinks with the best of ‘em…” 

  

She chuckled darkly at her own joke and looked at Brett and Kayla, who both offered smiles that could easily have been mistaken for a cringe; pity marking their stare. Pam hid the slight embarrassment behind pursed lips and continued quickly. "And…I have assisted Michael plenty of times when Dunder Mifflin asked him to give presentations to other branches. I’m pretty sure some corporate newbie who’s never met Michael sees his long tenure and thinks he’s the perfect candidate to bestow wisdom on recent hires…Yeah, those haven’t gone terribly well either…” 

  

Pam nodded silently for a beat, reflecting on awkward memories of trudging through snowy car parks and into poorly lit conference rooms, heavy suitcases of Michael's paraphernalia in tow. She sighed audibly, unsure of how to get this talking head back on track. "I'm excited for this though. It should be better than either of those things I just talked about. And I'm hoping most things will be...better that is." 
 

— -- — 

 
Mace-tinged tears stained the skin that encircled her eyes. It was not immediately clear where emotional droplets began and chemically induced ones ended, but the effect was the same. Pam was crying. 

  

So was the rest of the office, a natural reaction to Dwight having just emptied an entire can of (what turned out to not simply be mace but) bear repellant spray into the office. It was supposed to have been directed at Roy; however, given the nature of bear repellant—it is after all intended for outdoor use to halt an, on average, 600-pound grizzly bear or "Ursus arctos horribilis”, as Dwight would ‘appropriately’ correct the camera crew during his talking head—it had acted like a teargas grenade, forcing everyone to flee the premises. Easier said than done, of course, what with most of them now temporarily blind and hacking on the searing aerosol that now coated their lungs. Eventually though, they all managed to walk, crawl—or be carried, in the case of Michael by Dwight—to the parking lot. 

  

The whole affair had been a scene straight out of a slapstick comedy. Pam would later admit to herself that, had it not been her ex-fiancé attacking the man she ostensibly had feelings for, she would have likely been laughing at the turn of events. But as she sat in the open hatchback of her car, speaking to the police officers for the third time in the hour since their arrival, she could not find a drop of humor in the evening. 

  

"Ok, thank you, Ms. Beesly. That concludes my questions for the time being." Officer Clark spoke gruffly as he had during the entire conversation. "Do you have anything you want to add to your official statement?" 

  

Pam shook her head, soaking up the remaining tears with the tissue she’d been offered. “No.” 

  

The second officer, a middle-aged woman with golden brown hair and grey eyes, placed her hand on Pam’s shoulder. “You have a place to stay, right?” 

  

She offered a nod as her only response. “Yeah, she said that they were separated.” Officer Clark reminded his partner. 

  

“Right, well here are both of our cards. If you think of anything else, you can dial directly to these numbers.” Pam weakly smiled in thanks and collected the two cards from the officer’s outstretched hand. 

  

The documentary intern, Chase, had been instructed to stop at a pharmacy and retrieve saline for the office; Kevin having already exhausted the office’s first aid supply into his own eyes. Pam observed him from across the lot, as he approached each of her colleagues who stood around the building entrance. Each took the bottles graciously, except for Jim, who passed his bottle to Karen and gestured his decline of the second one Chase offered him. 
 

She stared at Jim, both seeing and not seeing him across the space that separated them; a hazy reality encircling her sight. Is courage measured in honesty or in letting go? Whether it was courage or fatigue or pure adrenaline, an impulse bloomed deep within her to tell Jim, explain everything, apologize and lay it all out on the table, right there in that godforsaken parking lot. Scooting off the bumper and shutting the trunk, Pam began to walk towards the crowd, her gaze dead set on his tousled locks.  

 

But as she passed Michael's Sebring, a reflective flash caught her attention, and she performed an about-face. “Hey Pam, wait up…” Kayla called after the receptionist and she quickly ended her interview with Michael. Pam made no attempt to turn back, heading directly for her vehicle. “Hey wait!” 

  

Arriving at the driver’s door she fumbled with her keys, cursing the lack of a remote lock. She heard them around the corner of her car just as the key found its way into the slot and with a quick twist, she threw open the door. “Pam, just hold on for one second…” 

  

Damn it. Her left hand gripped the top of the car door as she tossed her purse and mace-saturated sweater across the center console, before pausing, not looking back at the woman. 

  

Pam could hear the hesitation in Kayla’s breath before she spoke again. “Listen…I know this was shitty. I mean, I know things have been hell for you since last May…” 

  

Her mouth curved wryly, and she snorted on a sardonic laugh. “I’m sure it’s made for great television though,” knowing the truth before she heard the silent reply. Pam rotated to face Kayla with impatience set in her jaw. 

  

The look was not lost on the young assistant. “Look, you know we’re going to have to talk to you about this, and Brett...he’s great, but you know he’ll push you harder for more details if you wait.” 

  

Pam rolled her eyes and sighed, shaking her head lightly before Kayla gave her pitch in calm even tones. “We can do a really quick interview, just you and I. In the alley around back, away from everyone. Five minutes, three questions tops.”  

  

She contemplated the offer, knowing they’d likely try to hold her there until Brett finished interviewing Dwight if she refused. “Fine…” her reply came in a whisper. 

  

Kayla nodded encouragingly, before gesturing to Matt, the cameraman, to move. "Ok…we'll get set up around the corner." 
 

Pam nodded. “I just have to put fresh contacts in, I’ll be right there.” She indicated to the contacts case she was holding before dipping into the seat of her Yaris. Leaving the door ajar, Pam sifted in her purse while making occasional glances into her rear-view mirror. She watched Kayla and Matt slowly make their way to the edge of the lot before rounding the corner into the alley. That was her cue. 
 

Pam slammed the door shut and threw the contacts case in her bag, having already replaced the pepper-soaked ones earlier. Her fingers did not fumble this time, as the key hit the ignition in unison with her foot on the clutch. Shifting quickly into reverse and then drive, Pam sped to the exit of the lot. Ignoring the furrowed brows of her colleagues, she laughed lightly as she distantly saw Kayla peer around the corner; the woman’s confused face morphing into one of annoyed amusement in her rear-view mirror. 


 

End Notes:

Thank you for reading, I’d love to know your thoughts! I hope I’m not plodding along too slowly or being too introspective with Pam. I got really into my own head last week—a lot of “If I’m not boring them with the plot, I’m definitely will be with this asinine email” shenanigans—which delayed posting for a bit. Anyways, I think with things a bit more established, the plot will start to pick up more. At least that is my hope. In any case, thanks for trudging along with me. 

Chapter 4: Lullabies and Masking Fluid by PenciledCadenzas
Author's Notes:

The song that is referenced is by Sara Bareilles, entitled “Once Upon Another Time”. If you are not familiar with it, I’m including a link below. I definitely recommend a listen, it’s lovely. While the song was not written at the time of season three, I’m using it anyway. https://youtu.be/mIXlPxblIpQ 

Chapter 4: Lullabies and Masking Fluid  

  

Her laughter faded on an exhale, as echoes of levity mocked her chromatic reality; dissonance breaking diatonic peace. It was tantalizing to enjoy her great escape, to bask in the brief thrill of trickery; but even the brightest light can be blocked into shadow by a large enough obstacle. Pam stared ahead, drawing the soft flesh of her bottom lip in between her teeth, a crease knit lightly in the valley of her brow line. The road before her was an endless river of tarmac, interrupted by broken amber lines and chalky banks leading to the entrances of bland strip malls. Yet she did not see any of it.   

  

Vivid images, memories, overlay her sight; pictures of moments unbridled by capsicum smoke and chaos, the seconds just before Roy’s attack. Her error had been written in his glance; confused sorrow and humiliating betrayal lightly inscribed in the golden flecks of his irises. A look she recognized as one that had reflected in her own. Yet a question muddled the green. Whether it was “Why?” or “Really?” or “How dare you?” she couldn’t tell, and Pam supposed it didn’t matter much. They all resolved in Jim’s unforgiving glare.   

  

In the memory of it, she could feel her panic rising; building atop the embarrassment of her private life put on such violent display. Jolts of anxiety fired in her belly, before creeping into her throat where her breath drew in sharp, raspy, gasps. White-hot needles pierced her flesh before the cold dread seeped into her bones and the tell-tale feeling of impending death scorched her core. Recognizing her increasingly inhibited state, Pam quickly pulled over to the side of the road, tugging on the parking brake. The moment her car came to a complete stop her exhales accelerated, washing the skin of her forearms with goosebumps. Her fingers grazed the center dashboard, seeking relief. They found the rounded corners of plastic edges, giving slight resistance against her pressure; yet still, she coerced until the cassette disappeared into the console slot. A soft welter of mechanical din whirled below her shaking breaths, preluding the gentle hum of her deliverance.    

  

Once upon another time   

Somebody's hands who felt like mine   

Turned the key and took a drive   

Was free...  

  

A flickering candle against hollow arpeggiated chords lit the cabin of the Yaris in a canorous glow. Pam felt the music wash over her, a cascade of calming notes longing to soothe her inflamed psyche. She willed her body to absorb the harmonies, allowing the chordal progressions to fill the flailing sails that were her lungs.  

  

I recall the sun sank low   

Buckley on the radio   

Cigarette was burning slow   

So breathe   

  

Gradually, her breath came under control as she timed each intake and exhale with the song’s lilting cadence. Closing her eyes, she meditated on the vibrations of her surroundings; the motor of her car, the haunting melody emitted from her speakers, the quaking of her own form. Pam breathed through each of them, aligning with the rhythms of the atmosphere to suck the venom from her body.  

  

Just yellow lines and tire marks   

Sun-kissed skin and handlebars   

And where I stood was where I was   

To be   

  

She had listened to this song a thousand times. Meditated to it, permitted the lullaby to soothe her to sleep amidst long, troublesome nights that sank into grey mornings. Still, it wasn’t until this moment that Pam had really considered the lyrics and what they signified. It was a coming of age ballad, an ode to the moment of innocence lost, the moment of realization that the world was not a pearl to be held in the palm of their hand. And it resonated throughout her along a horrifically sad chord.  

  

No enemies to call my own   

No porch light on to pull me home   

And where I was is beautiful   

Because I was free  

  

The tragedy for which Pam fought back tears again, as she flipped on her turn signal and entered the line of traffic, was the realization that life would likely never be simple or uncomplicated. And if she were to be perfectly honest with herself, her final whirl of artless bliss had ended in a parking lot on a warm night in May. Possibly even several years prior, when he had walked in the office for the first time to a rhythm she would later know by heart.  

  

Once upon another time   

Deciding nothing good in dying   

So I would just keep on driving   

Because I was free  

 

The music dissipated into a fuzzy silence before a light click tolled the end of the mixed tape. The pavement whirling below and her own thoughts were all that serenaded Pam now, as she drove aimlessly forward. It would be another fifteen minutes before she realized where she was heading, although time was hardly a concept she was presently aware of. Turning into a residential neighborhood, her car glided along the curved streets as she subconsciously navigated the mazed community before pulling over in front of a series of identical, beige townhouses and turned off the engine.   

  

Pam was hardly surprised when she looked upon the home that Jim and Mark used to occupy. The summer prior had seen several inexplicable visits to the abode, only one of which had been planned before igniting the engine.  

   

— -- —  

  

“Hey babe, you feelin’ alright.” Roy’s voice filtered over the familiar fanfares of Sports Center as she closed the front door and turned the lock.   

  

Despite the painkillers the ER doctor had administered, Pam’s head still ached; although it wasn’t clear if that was from her stitches or the flurry of thoughts rolling through her mind. She hung her purse on one of the coat hooks that lined the hallway and gingerly walked the length of the entrance, which opened to a small living space. There she found him, exactly as she imagined, lounging across their couch with his feet propped on the far armrest. She eyed the dried mud that clogged the treads of his soles, Roy not having bothered to remove his work boots despite her history of numerous requests. Pam opened her mouth to say something, but words were lost to her own lassitude. Truly, she didn’t think she could handle being accused of nagging. 

 

“Hey...Darryl said you had to go to the hospital?” Roy briefly looked up from the TV at her before returning his attention to the sports commentary. “I was out doing deliveries all day and missed your call. Everything ok?”  

  

Pam dropped her gaze, familiar with this absence of concern, but only beginning to vaguely recognize its unacceptability. “Yeah, Angela drove me. I thought...I thought you would meet us at the hospital so she could go home?”  

  

“Oh...sorry, babe,” Roy said, his tone barely matching his words, eyes never lifting. “Darryl never mentioned that, I figured I’d just wait for you at home.”  

  

Her mouth gaped open, unable to form words in response. Instead, she turned to go, mumbling something about needing to lie down and pretending to not hear his questions about dinner. Sleep did find her eventually, though restlessly on a tear-stained pillow. When she woke at 3 am, alone in bed but not her mind, Pam tiptoed downstairs to find Roy passed out on the couch. The bluish glow of the television illuminated the leftover beer and pizza covering the coffee table, spotlighting a mess for her to clean up later. Soundlessly, she grabbed the truck keys from beneath the takeout box and without a word, left the house.     

  

— -- —  

  

Pam recalled the solemn drive, not entirely dissimilar to the one she had just conducted; both soured with distraught fatigue, both arriving at the same destination. That time, however, she had experienced utter anguish at finding Jim’s car absent its spot in the driveway, a “for lease” sign in its wake. She hadn’t been sure what she was going to say to him then; perhaps her prepared speech from the office, perhaps a full declaration of love. But she never had the chance. He was gone, just as he was now. For even if he was physically present in Scranton, the Jim she knew had never returned, that fact made abundantly clear in his earlier glare. And if she could grasp that, then possibly she could mourn this loss rather than cling to unattainable hope.   

  

Her thought was interrupted by the ring of her cell. Reluctantly, Pam reached for the phone, glaring at the green glow that displayed an unrecognized number. For a moment, she considered letting it go to voicemail, worried it might be Brett or Kayla, or even worse, Roy calling from jail. But against her better judgment, she hit accept and brought the phone to her ear. “Hello?”  

  

“Hello, is this Pam?”  

  

She went white, immediately recognizing the lyrical voice. “Ms. Sh...Madeleine! Yes, I mean, this is Pam.”  

  

“Oh good, I was worried I...well, I hope it is alright to contact you by this number. It was listed in your student registration information at Marywood...”  

  

“Oh! Oh, no that is fine, this is a good number.” Pam stammered, completely thrown off balance by her instructor’s call.   

  

“Wonderful, I just wanted to touch base before tonight’s class...”  

  

“Shit...” The curse flew faster than her hand could cover her mouth.   

  

“Pardon?”  

  

“Oh, I’m so sorry...I just, um...dropped something.” Pam’s gaunt reflection stared back at her in the rearview mirror. She was more exhausted than she had been in living memory, the hangover from her anxiety attack sinking into her muscles. Her face was white save for the lines of mascara and puffs of red that contoured the skin below her eyes from the mace-induced tears. But Roy's actions—and Jim’s coldness—had already robbed so much from her life; like hell if she would let them take this away from her. Her eyes snapped to the car’s clock; 6:34 pm. She had enough time to make it there but not enough to properly fix the mess that was her face, as she eyed the smudges of misplaced makeup.  

  

“Oh...no worries, I’m sorry to call without warning, if this is a bad time?”  

  

“No, it’s alright. I mean, it’s an ok time. I’m just trying to collect...uh, myself...” Pam said as she licked the pad of her thumb and vigorously scrubbed at the skin below her eyes.   

  

Madeleine’s light laughter could be just made out on the other line. “Well, I can certainly relate a bit with that. I actually...I needed to ask for a favor, to be honest.”  

  

Pam stopped scrubbing for a moment to listen. “Oh?”  

  

“Yes, I suppose I should first confirm you are still available to come to tonight’s class?”  

  

“Yes, absolutely. I’m really so thrilled for this opportunity.” Pam began, looking again in her rearview mirror at her face, resuming her excavations of the stains. "I’m embarrassed though, I might be a little late tonight, I can be there around 7:10...”  

  

“No, no, don’t worry about being early to set up this time, this is so terribly last minute to begin with, I’m thrilled you can make it at all. I certainly wasn’t expecting you until the start of class at eight o’clock.” Madeleine paused before continuing. “I was, however, going to ask if on your way here you might be able to stop at the Scranton Art Supply on Burbank Street? I have an order of masking fluid that just arrived, and I was wondering if you might be able to collect it for me? I hate to ask, I’m just in a bit of a bind presently.”  

  

Again, Pam stopped her motions and listened to her instructor, who, for the first time in her memory, sounded a bit imperfectly composed. “Oh, that’s not a problem. Is everything alright?”  

  

“Well...yes, yes everything is fine. You see, I have this volunteer project with the public schools in New York that I’m leading tomorrow. It requires more masking fluid than I had on hand and my order just came in this afternoon. I was about to head out to pick it up when a shelf I installed last weekend, er...poorly installed, as the case may be since I now have several jugs of acrylic covering my floors. Thankfully, no harm was done, except for the lost paint, which I’m having a time cleaning up...gosh, I must sound like a terrible disaster or at least a dreadful carpenter.”  

  

“No...” Pam chuckled, reflecting on how little Madeleine could ever resemble a disaster when compared to her present state. “No, not at all. It would be no trouble to pick up the masking fluid.”  

  

“Pam, you’re a dream. Thank you!” Madeleine effused. “The order should be under my name, just tell them I sent you, ask for Jerry if there is any trouble. And you know what, feel free to pick something out for yourself too, just have them charge my account...”  

  

“Oh, no I couldn’t...”  

  

“Pam, you’re saving me from an enormous embarrassment. They won’t be open in time for me to pick up the supplies tomorrow morning before I’m due in the city, and I can’t have this mess here in the studio when people arrive tonight.” Madeleine insisted. “I feel this is the least I can do. Of course, don’t buy a set of kolinsky sable brushes, but if you need anything, a pad of Arches paper or if you’re out of a tube or two of paint… Just bring back the receipt so I can keep track of expenses. And consider yourself on the clock.”   

  

Pam was at a loss for words, and could only resign herself to a breathy, “Alright...”   

  

“Wonderful, ok Pam, I will see you in a little bit, hopefully the floor won’t be lacquered in orange and purple by then. Thank you again, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your help.”  

  

Looking down at the phone in her hands, Pam wasn’t sure if she actually ever uttered a ‘goodbye’ at the end of the conversation. She was shocked again by the kindness and even more so the appreciation that Madeleine held for her even in such a simple request. Old Jim aside, if there had ever been an instance at the office when someone had asked for a favor and responded with something greater than a mumbled ‘thanks’ or worse, bellowed criticism or complaints over the length of time it had taken to complete the courtesy, Pam could not recall.  

  

Glancing out the window at the house that stood for a few happy memories and many moments of loss, Pam started the engine of her car. Giving the smallest hint of a nod, she bid the memorial to her grieving ‘adieu’ and navigated her way in the direction of the art store.   

  

— -- —  

  

Things took much longer at Scranton Art Supply than she’d expected. The store clerk, who portrayed a green nervousness, could not locate Madeleine’s order in the backroom. She hadn’t entirely minded the extra time to roam the aisles, eyeing the store’s incredible inventory. To humor herself, she’d even taken a moment to look at the genuine kolinsky watercolor brushes they had on display and nearly choked on air when she saw the price.   

  

The single Da Vinci ‘Maestro’ size eight, round watercolor brush was on sale for $95, and she swore she saw a price tag that read $325 taped to the stem of a Winsor and Newton round-ten. No, she’d manage just fine with her squirrel and sable blends. They were nothing special, her entire collection could be purchased for the price of the single Winsor and Newton brush. But she had kept them in decent condition, reshaping the hairs after each cleansing; and they would last her another couple of months or so.   

  

By the time they had found the masking fluid order and rung up Pam’s choice of Daniel Smith’s Extra Fine watercolor tubes in Alizarin Crimson and Mayan Yellow, she was beginning to regret not bringing an option for dinner with her. Truthfully though, her fridge had been bare, and she could not will herself to eat another peanut butter sandwich. Especially after she swore she heard Kevin make a comment to Oscar on how PB stands for Pam Beesly; likely due to her now predictable lunch option. Grabbing the box of supplies from the counter and thanking the clerk and his manager, Jerry, for their help, Pam rushed out of the store to her car.  

  

As she pulled out of the parking lot, Pam made an executive decision to get groceries tomorrow morning and stop at the Purple Pepper Deli tonight along the way. In the back of her mind, she knew it wasn’t the most economical choice, but she was starving and it was payday. She also knew she needed something with a few more nutrients than the typical value menu. So, ten minutes later, with a cider-brined bourbon pork sandwich and a side of roasted veggies in hand, Pam raced to Madeleine’s studio.   

  

— -- —  

  

“Does everyone have a sheet of graphite paper? Eric, I’ll get you one…oh, thank you, Rebecca.” Madeleine’s voice lilted over the chatter of the room as Pam entered the studio.   

  

Cheery, twinkling, lights bowed between industrial pendants, which hung from the white cathedral ceilings of the converted bungalow. Mismatched art pieces splattered color along the pale blue walls above shelves of neatly organized art supplies. Six long tables were set up to form a broken oval, with smiling patrons sitting mostly on the exterior sides so they could easily watch their leader at the far end of the room.   

  

“Pam, let me help you with that...” Madeleine said as she stood from her stool and made her way towards the entrance.  

     

Madeleine looked the definition of Parisian-artist chic; with her black, knit turtleneck and tapered, black chinos contrasting with her signature ruby lipstick and paint-splattered apron. Her dark hair hung delicately, spiraled in a large, white clip, with several loose tendrils framing the clean lines of her face. Madeleine beamed as she approached Pam, her arms outstretched to collect the box of masking fluid. “Everyone, this is Pam Beesly. She’s going to be assisting with the instruction of these classes. Pam is a remarkable artist and especially talented in watercolor and gouache mediums. We’re so lucky to have her. So, please, give her a warm welcome!”  

  

Handing Madeleine the box with a grateful smile, Pam thought she saw the woman falter when their eyes briefly met. But any hint of wavering faded and her attention quickly turned as the group of twenty or so clapped in embracing applause. She was grateful for having put in some effort this morning to her wardrobe, even if her makeup was wiped clean from her face and her choice of outfit was intended to hide her lack of sleep. She at least looked more put together than she felt.   

  

“Pam, I believe there is a spot opposite me on this side of the room. We’ve just begun tracing our outline with graphite paper. Feel free to either observe or follow along and help those around you.” Madeleine said as she turned with the box and retreated to the back of the room, before addressing the class. “As this is her first time here, Pam will be observing mostly but she may come around and offer guidance throughout the class.”  

  

Pam found the empty stool that Madeleine had reserved with a small piece of paper taped to the table reading ‘Seat reserved for Ms. Beesly’. Sitting down, she smiled at the group of ladies who surrounded her.  

  

“Hello, Pam is it?” The elderly woman sitting to Pam’s right asked cheerfully as she extended her hand. She wore a bright smile that matched her peacock-blue framed glasses and carmine blouse. Pam accepted the handshake with her own. “My name is Ruth, and to your left is Theresa, and over here is Rebecca.”   

  

Pam smiled at each of them and shook hands with Theresa when the woman offered hers. “We’re what you might call ‘regulars’ you see,” Theresa said with an air of elated pride before taking a sip of her wine.   

  

“That’s right, we’ve been coming to these from the very beginning.” Rebecca chimed in.  

  

“In fact, it was Clara, who couldn’t make it tonight because her grandchildren are in town, but anyway, she was the one who came up with ‘Sip, Sip, Monet!’ with Ms. Madeleine,” Ruth said with a light laugh.  

  

“That’s right she did...” Rebecca’s own laugh fit perfectly into her friend’s. “We tried to tell her it was a ridiculous name, but then Ms. Madeleine insisted it was perfect.”  

  

“That’s Ms. Madeleine for you though...always eager to lift up other people’s creativity. Even the silly stuff.” Theresa said with admiration.   

  

Pam couldn’t help but smile at the ladies’ commentary; they were filled with such jollity and exuberance, and their assessment of Ms. Shay was apt. “She certainly does.”  

  

“Ok, how is everyone doing? Have we finished tracing?” Madeleine’s voice floated over the champagne bubbles of conversation.  

  

“Pam hasn’t...” Ruth blurted with cabernet courage.  Pam’s mouth dropped at the woman’s gall, a laugh not far off.  

  

“Ah yes, Ruth, thank you. And might I ask how far have you progressed on your own tracing?” Madeleine said with a smile, not missing a beat.  

  

“Not very far...” Ruth giggled, leading the classroom in a titter of laughter.  

  

Madeleine nodded, “Ah-ha, well, a little bit less cheek and a little more trace from your lot may just do wonders. Pam, don’t let these lovely ladies fool you, they don’t in fact, run this operation.”   

  

“Yes, Ma’am!” Ruth saluted earnestly, chuckling as she went back to tracing the outline onto the watercolor paper.   

  

“As everyone is finishing up tracing, we’re going to go on to some warm-up exercises. For those who are farther away, you can watch what I am doing on the screen behind me, which is projecting from the camera we’ve hung above. So just follow along on your scratch paper, and let’s start with some wet-on-wet techniques...” Madeleine said as she brought forward her scratch paper.   

  

Pam glanced up and noticed for the first time the small camera and screen hanging from the ceiling that displayed Madeleine’s workspace and her demonstrations in real-time. It was all so well thought out and professional, and Pam was blown away by the ingenuity of it. Looking back down at her own space, she saw the assortment of supplies that had been given to each participant: cold-pressed watercolor paper; a palette of liquid watercolor paints; a mason jar of water; several round brushes of contrasting sizes; a piece of graphite paper; and the outline of a hummingbird in mid-flight, gracefully approaching the blooms of a wisteria branch. In the of her space was a small stemless glass. Not wanting to tempt her own fatigue, Pam politely turned down Ruth’s offer to pour a glass of wine from the bottle the woman brought. Instead, She quickly set to work, tracing the outline and catching up with the rest of the group just as Madeleine finished the various technique introductions.   

  

“Great, so now before we jump into our painting, let’s do our oath. Pam, this is a little tradition I’ve started with these classes. We have everyone raise their wine glass and repeat after me: I will be kind to myself...”  

  

The class responded as a chorus in kind, “I will be kind to myself.”  

  

Madeleine grinned as she continued, “...I will not judge my own work against others...”  

  

“I will not judge my own work against others.”  

  

“...And I will enjoy this moment for myself,” Madeleine concluded.  

  

“And I will enjoy this moment for myself!”   

  

“Here, here!” Rebecca motioned her glass to Ruth, who lightly clinked it with her own.  

  

“I’ve found we all tend to be a bit too hard on ourselves in day-to-day life, and art should be a means of escaping that. So, whenever we start to criticize ourselves or our work, I like to refer back to the oath.” Madeleine explained to Pam by way of the entire class.   

  

Pam nodded with a grin that stretched from her lips to her eyes. She wasn’t sure exactly what she’d expected from these classes, but what she had already experienced was far deeper and more encouraging than anything she could have hoped for.   

  

“And with that done, let’s get to it. We’re going to start with this very pale, greyish-blue shadow along the belly...” Madeleine continued, as she wet her own brush.  

  

— -- —  

  

“It was an absolute joy meeting you, Pam,” Ruth said cheerfully as she drew the strap of her purse over her shoulder. “I’m looking forward to learning more from you. And I’m going to work on that texturing technique you showed me. That was really something.”  

  

Pam beamed, “Well, thank you, Ruth. It was lovely meeting all of you, I can’t wait for next week’s class!”  

  

The group of women followed the path of participants to the studio’s foyer and exited into the quiet night. Pam looked to Madeleine, who was collecting her own palette to bring towards the large metal sink that stood in the back of the room. “Pam, do you mind grabbing any of the supplies you see left on tables and bringing them to the counter just here?” Madeleine said as she gestured to the counter space that sat perpendicular to the sink.   

  

“Of course!” Pam did as requested, bringing an array of abandoned palettes and mason jars to the back of the room.   

  

“So, I’m curious to know your thoughts?” Madeleine asked as she looked up from the palette pan she was rinsing.  

  

Pam’s eyes grew large at the question. “Oh, where to even begin? I thought it was incredible. Honestly, I wasn’t sure what to expect with this sort of class structure. I mean, I didn’t know how seriously people would take the painting aspect...”  

  

Madeleine laughed lightly, “Yes, I understand. And sometimes it can be more of a party than an educational experience. I’ve learned that it is best to just go with the flow during these classes, not to have any expectations. Especially since the clientele changes weekly, for the most part.”  

  

“That makes sense...” Pam nodded, retreating to a long table to collect more used supplies. “At the same time, I really respect how in-depth you went with this lesson. I mean, you touched on everything from color theory to dimensional form. It felt more like a non-major, collegiate intro to water coloring than what I suppose I’ve imagined these to be.”  

  

The young instructor nodded before turning off the sink water and laying the brushes she had been washing to dry horizontally on a toweled rack. Madeleine then turned to face Pam, while leaning against the rim of the sink. “Did you ever have the opportunity to take a pedagogical course during your studies?”  

  

Pam paused as she organized used brushes in her hand, her eyes remaining low to avoid Madeleine’s. “I started one…”  

  

“Started?” Madeleine’s gaze narrowed.  

  

Swallowing back a lump of embarrassment, Pam continued. “I was initially enrolled in one during my junior year at Marywood. My ex-fiancé, well…I ended up dropping out because money was tight and a job as a receptionist came open. It wasn’t anything special but it was full time, with benefits. I suppose I convinced myself that, after saving up for a bit, I could go back and finish. Five years later, that’s what I’m trying to do now.”  

  

Madeleine nodded slowly, her brow still furrowed. “Well, that’s really admirable. It’s extremely difficult to come back after any time away from school. Most people never manage it.” She paused before continuing. “You have a real knack for teaching though, which is why I asked. I watched you with Ruth and the other ladies today, and it seems to come naturally to you.”  

  

Pam met Madeleine’s gaze fully for the first time and smiled modestly. “Thanks, they are a fun group. And they seemed eager to absorb whatever advice I could offer.”  

  

Madeleine smiled, “Yes, I suppose that is my point. I approach these classes without expectations, but at the same time offering the full extent of knowledge that I can. There is this connotation that art is stuffy and elitist, or that only those born with natural abilities can enjoy it. But in truth, anyone can learn to paint and everyone should be able to enjoy art.  In fact, very few are born with natural ability or instinct for it. Mostly, any achievement comes from continuous work, interest, and the proper instruction. So, that’s what I try to provide and encourage here. Some will absorb it and others won’t, but as long as they enjoy the process then you’ve planted the seed in them. Art should be for everyone; not just majors or professionals.”  

   

Pam’s lips turned upward to match her teacher’s. “I agree.”  

  

“Good,” Madeline said pointedly. “And now, as both a mentor and hopefully a friend, I have to ask, are you doing alright? It’s the curse of an artist’s gaze, but when you came in this evening, I couldn’t help but notice your eyes…”  

  

“Oh…”, her own gaze dropped again. Pam had hoped that the redness would have reduced enough by the time she entered the studio, but now realized it was wishful thinking. She wasn’t sure where to begin; how to explain the events of the day without revealing more embarrassing truths than she already had.   

  

“So, I have an open bottle of Merlot that needs to be finished off, would you like to help me with that?”  

  

Pam gave a weak smile and nodded.   

End Notes:

Credit: the oath that Madeleine begins her lesson with is largely influenced by philosophies taught to me in various orchestral pedagogy in college as well as the oaths Sarah Cray (from Let’s Make Art) incorporates into her lessons - which are excellent! It may be wirth noting that Sarah was a huge influence for this story. She is an incredible teacher of art and watercolor mediums and she has always reminded me a little bit of Pam.

 

I hope it doesn’t seem completely uncharacteristic that Pam would experience a mild anxiety attack following Roy’s episode once she escaped the office. She’s habitually put up a wall of denial to Jim (well, everyone, including herself). I can’t imagine anyone going through everything  Pam did within that year, without much of a local support system, and not experience some level of deteriorating mental state.  

 

Anyways, thank you for reading and I always appreciate knowing your thoughts!  

This story archived at http://mtt.just-once.net/fanfiction/viewstory.php?sid=5941