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Author's Chapter Notes:
The chapter title is relevant, and will become increasingly so.

In the course of the evening Pam stayed very close to Jim, not necessarily by a conscious choice but rather by a subconscious preference for his company. She found herself serving as an unofficial hostess for the evening, a behaviour she thought of as a natural result of her day to day role as Colonel Scott’s de facto hostess despite the fact that she had never found herself falling into these habits at any other party she had attended outside of the Colonel’s aegis since beginning that position While floating around in this capacity she found her attention being drawn consistently to Angela and Dwight—neither of whom was dancing even the country dances but who stood on opposite sides of the oval main parlor staring at each other throughout. Once Pam happened to walk by Angela while looking for Ryan on Jim’s behalf, and she heard her friend whispering softly to herself. She later found herself helping Jim with a minor prank on Dwight (removing his sword-belt without his noticing and placing it in the umbrella stand) that required her to come into close proximity with the lieutenant, and she could have sworn heard Angela speak. As she had found herself surprisingly invested in the thought that these two were meant for each other, she whipped her head around, only to see Angela still standing on the far side of the hall. Her disappointment momentarily distracted her from her purpose in Jim’s prank, so it was quite fortunate that her role was simply to obtain the lieutenant’s attention while Jim did the busy work of the prank, and her sudden turn and intake of breath had accomplished this inadvertently.


Later, sitting with Phyllis Lapin (who had commandeered Jim’s attentions and thus hers during one of the lulls in the entertainment), she found herself at a loss for conversation when Jim excused himself to attend to something the butler had brought to his attention. She saw Phyllis smiling over at her with a warm expression on her face and sought about her for a topic, hitting on the issue of Dwight and Angela. However, the phraseology she chose to do so proved hazardous—a shy inquiry as to whether Miss Lapin had observed anyone at the dance showing signs of an unacknowledged inclination towards a surprising flirtation produced only a raising of the older lady’s quizzing glass and the laughing assurance “If you mean yourself and dear Mr. Halpert, you need have no fears on that score, or on mine! I’ve known James from his cradle, and there’s no doubt he’s knees-in-boots for you! You needn’t worry I’ll be telling anyone, mind, as I’ve no doubt you children will find your way where you want to go without any intervention from maiden aunts.”


Pam had no idea what to do with this information, presented as it was with the air of one not entering into a confidence or divulging a secret but rather acknowledging a well-known but politely occluded fact. She was utterly flummoxed both by Phyllis’s calm assumption that she was engaged in a deep flirtation with Jim and her easy confidence that Jim was in love with her. That Jim Halpert thought of her, Pam Beesly, in that way was…well, it was actually extremely flattering and very intriguing, but it was also a total shock.


It was not a shock she was to be provided an opportunity to process and absorb, as just that moment she saw Jim re-enter the parlor in the company of one Miss Katy Scott. Miss Scott’s face was vaguely flushed, while Jim at first glance appeared entirely composed but a key or interested eye with a fond familiarity for his preferred mode of self-presentation—say, Pam’s—could tell that the smooth composure covered sheer consternation. Unfortunately, Pam was not best positioned to consider what the cause of that consternation might be, having just sustained a notable shock to her own system, and the only thought that came into her head was that Jim was supposed to have escorted Miss Scott to his party and was currently undergoing the intense embarrassment of having failed in his duty. As this would also entail his squiring Miss Scott around the social circle in a desperate attempt to redeem his previous behaviour, Pam felt a sudden and intense need (which she did not reflect upon) to find herself somewhere, anywhere else. She muttered some kind of apology to Phyllis, whose eyes had been drawn to the same picture as hers, and hurried out to the side parlor where the games of chance were set up. Had she but lingered a moment longer she might have seen Jim’s head snap around at her movement and an abortive raising of his arm, or heard Phyllis say contentedly to herself “I knew it! That has put the cat among the pigeons and no mistake.”


Jim Halpert was feeling extremely ill at ease. He had been vaguely aware that he had been paying more attention and respect to Katy than he ought, given the state of his own inner emotions, and he had planned this party carefully with her social schedule in mind as well as Roy’s, knowing she was engaged with her cousin the Colonel to attend the opera as part of the Dowager Duchess’s party. This was not with the intention of cutting Katy out, but certainly with the idea of quietly reversing any implication that he carried a torch in her direction. What he had not counted on was that lady feeling hurt that she had not been given the opportunity to express her regret at not being able to come, much less that the Dowager Duchess would come down with a headache, bringing the Colonel to cancel the outing entirely. This set of circumstances led Miss Scott to enquire of Ryan Howard (whom she had run into about an hour before the event while dining out) what entertainment might be on offer that evening, to her receiving, unbeknownst to Jim, an invitation to the party, and to (after a requisite amount of time spent re-costuming herself for a night at a house party rather than the opera, with suitable breaks of time to feel most put upon by the unkindness of Mr. Halpert in not inviting her himself) her arrival quite fashionably late to Mark and Jim’s apartments.


This, then, was what the butler had called Jim aside for, and while he had risen to the occasion with glad words and a smile on his face, he was inwardly reeling. Katy was simply not supposed to be there—and her presence, and the general assumption that emanated not only from her but from all and sundry that his place was by her side, could not help but disconcert him. He rigorously refrained from staring at Pam Beesly as she hurried from the room, but he could not help the twinge of pain that rose when he saw her do so out of the corner of his eye. He became aware that Katy was addressing him, and responded desultorily but apparently well enough to satisfy her. Unfortunately, he had apparently unwittingly agreed to dance, and as the musicians chose that moment to sweep back into performance he found himself dragged to the floor by the elegant Miss Scott. There was nothing for it but to go through the motions, though he contrived despite the gyrations of the dance to keep an eye upon the doors through which Pam had passed a few minutes ago.


Katy had no notion of the confused and sickly thoughts tumbling through Jim’s brain. She was quite relieved to find him so thoughtful, in fact, after becoming nearly ill thinking he did not wish her at his party. Only the recollection of Ryan’s languid “Halpert told me you would be at the opera tonight” kept her from demanding an answer from him as to where her invitation had gone off; she was somewhat mollified, in fact, by the consideration that he knew her social schedule so well. The idea that she had not failed to mention the Dowager Duchess’s outing to the opera in any conversation in the past week did not enter into her head. She was also pleased to find herself quite the center of attention due to her late entrance alone, and she beamed out at her admirers as she spun around Jim. Perhaps this evening would be a good one after all, even despite the twin disappointments of not going to the opera and having to wrangle an invitation from Ryan Howard to Jim’s party.

Chapter End Notes:
Thank you to all who have read and provided feedback of whatever sort. More farce-like elements coming soon.

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