Posted on: 2011-05-21
Henry had never believed in love. That is, until he began pursuing the woman who shook his world – quite literally.
He had met her a year ago at his sister's engagement party. The event was held three months before the wedding in August. He had been flirting with Wade's older sister Margaret. She presented a diversion in the course of an evening of pomp and circumstance. She was a fantastic gossip, and at first, he delighted in her appraisal of their elite company.
Momentarily, he offered to fetch her some champagne. At the corner of the ballroom, he ushered the closest server, and reached for two glasses when someone bumped into him. As he secured his footing, he happened to spill the flutes' contents onto his dinner jacket. Hearing a gasp, he turned towards the culprit of the accident.
It was Francesca, the Bertrams' adopted daughter. She looked pale, and distraught as she muttered her apologies. Her hands shook slightly as she procured napkins from the pockets of her dress. He grinned as he received the offering suddenly supremely amused.
"Napkins? Come prepared, have you? Don't tell me. You regularly douse your guests with champagne."
"No, no. This demonstration was especially for you. Have I succeeded in welcoming you to the family?"
Intrigued, he attempted to meet her eyes. She seemed annoyed at him. Yet, he had barely spoken with her since his arrival at Mansfield Estate last week.
As she heard the shrill voice beckoning her, Francesca tensed.
"Francie, you stupid girl! What have you done?" the Bertrams' Aunt Norris hissed tugging on her niece's arm, "Apologize this instance."
"I am sorry, Henry. Please allow me to pay for your dry cleaning," Francesca said blushing in embarrassment.
For his part, Henry was astonished at Norris' demonstration. She was berating Francesca like a child. Certainly, Francesca looked the part. The lack of makeup on her porcelain white face made her seem youthful. But he remembered that she and Wade had attended college together at some point. Surely, she could only be a few years younger than his sister's soon-to-be husband. He observed her quietly for a moment noting the change in her expression. Her defiant attitude towards him had disappeared.
Henry felt an odd tightening in his chest. She seemed lost and unhappy, and he suspected her aunt's public display was adding to her distress.
"I apologize, Mrs. Norris. It was actually my fault. I knocked into Francesca accidentally. Francesca, would you mind escorting me to the kitchens? I have heard club soda might do the trick in keeping the stains out."
"Let me…" Mrs. Norris began, but Henry interrupted her.
"No, Mrs. Norris. I wouldn't want to take you away from the celebration," he said grinning at her and offering his arm to Francesca.
Francesca took it, and he navigated them through the back doors. As they moved farther away from Mrs. Norris, he thought he felt her relax. Realizing the train of his thought, Henry was surprised by his awareness of Francesca. She moved with grace, and poise but occasionally, she seemed to hesitate in her movements when she remembered he was with her. She has spent some time lost in her thoughts, and she did not speak with him.
She motioned towards the kitchens, but he stopped her in the hallway.
"It's okay. I just wanted to get you away from the hyena," he said mimicking a hysterical laugh.
Francesca was taken aback. She did not like Henry Crawford. But he had seemed in full use of his faculties until this moment.
Noticing her amazement, Henry laughed, and ran his fingers through his hair.
"She looked like she wanted to make you into a cub sandwich," he said.
"And how many hours have you spent watching The Lion King?"
"Too many, obviously. It's required duty for an uncle. Max is quite a handful as I am sure you've seen," Henry said referring to the bride-to-be's Mary's four-year old son, "But you seem familiar with my source material."
"Required duty for an elementary school teacher."
"That's right. Wade mentioned something to that effect. I really don't know much about you. After all, as the best man, I should think it my responsibility to get to know the maid of honor. In fact, this is going to be one of the most pleasurable tasks I have undertaken in awhile," he said giving her an assessing gaze.
Instantly, he realized he had made a mistake. Francesca flushed angrily. Had her eyes filled with tears? What had he said to garner such a strong reaction?
"Like you've been getting to know Meg?" she asked caustically.
His eyes widened, and he shrugged his shoulders slightly.
"I suggest you stay away from my sister. In case you haven't noticed, she's married. For that matter, I would rather you limit your interaction with me as well. We're going to see Mary and Wade married, and settling down to their happily-ever-after. That doesn't require my input," she said pausing, "Or yours now that I think about it."
"Francesca, I didn't –"
"Spare me. I sincerely apologize for ruining your jacket, and I thank you for helping me before I did some serious damage."
"My pleasure," he said barely chagrined. He had gotten on her bad side. This was a first. Most people tended to like Henry Crawford. He was good-looking, intelligent, and charming, but she didn't think so. He recognized her for what she was – a challenge. And Henry Crawford loved nothing more than a challenge.
His response earned him a look of disbelief before she turned and headed for the stairs near the foyer. He watched her, and found himself grinning at the prospect of her. This was going to be fun.
Posted on: 2011-05-28
Once she had locked the door of her bedroom, Francesca sat at her desk. She straightened the summer camp registration forms on her desk. She reviewed an inventory list of art supplies, and sports equipment for the school. But, when her vision became blurry, she took a deep breath, placing her palms on her eyes – suppressing the onset of tears.
That night, she slept restlessly.
The next morning, Francesca hurried downstairs. At the foyer, she laced her running shoes, and stepped into the dewy morning at Mansfield Estate.
Finding the running trail behind the house, she set a brisk running pace avoiding thoughts of the previous night. After a couple of minutes, however, she heard another set of feet behind her. Francesca ran faster.
She knew he was closing in on her. She could already feel his body heat as he neared her. In a sudden burst of energy, Francesca outdistanced him. This time, he was not going to leave her in the dust. She did not glance back.
After several minutes, she reached a bend in the road and slowed down. The running trail curved back leading to the Estate. She stopped, resting on a couple of rocks – waiting for him.
He approached later, walking leisurely. He grinned at her, and she felt her treacherous heart beat a little faster. He removed his glasses, holding them up in front of him. He wiped off the moisture that had gathered over the lenses with the edge of his sweatshirt.
"Aren't you the regular roadrunner?" Wade teased.
For a moment, Francesca contemplated ignoring him. If only she could disappear from his sight into a world where he did not exist. His presence haunted her. She did not want to relish each of their interactions. She did not want to feel so much when he felt nothing at all.
So, she let the silence reign between them. As he adjusted his glasses on the perch of his nose, Francesca stared into the distance towards the house. He sat down next to her, and nudged her knee. Out of habit, she nudged back.
Wade laughed. He crooked an arm around her neck and ruffled her hair. His touch made her shiver, and she tried to withdraw from him.
Wade held onto her.
"What is making you so moody?" He looked sideways at Francesca who was sitting as far from him as she could.
He sighed, letting her go. "Did Mary accidentally mention that I am not going to be coaching the basketball team at your camp? I am sorry you had to hear it from her. Really, I was going to tell you. The hearings on congestion pricing just got scheduled for the next two weeks, and Chris and the team just couldn't make it work."
This was news to Francesca. But perhaps this was for the best, she thought. She would not be surprised. He did not have time for anything – or anyone – these days.
"It's okay," she said.
"Yeah? You sure about this, Francie?" he said smiling slightly, "You know, I'll find some way to make it up to you."
She stood up soaking in the sights of Mansfield Estate. Then, she turned, rested her hands on her knees, and surveyed him for a number of seconds. He met her gaze, and she finally looked away.
Her hands tingled. She wanted to reach out to him. Smooth the frown lines on his face. Run her hands through his hair. Fix the crooked glasses on his nose. Kiss the sides of his unhappy lips.
Mary would do that for him now.
"You should head back, Wade. I'll see you later," Francesca said.
"Francie, let's talk… What's going on? If you're not mad about the summer camp, then what is it?" He hesitated. "Is this about Tommy?"
She jogged away at that. He had finally asked about his brother. Too bad, she was too close to tears to form coherent sentences.
She spent the morning in the gardens keeping calm. When she returned to the main house, Wade and Mary had taken the New Haven Line to New York City. In the wake of the engagement party, Francesca spent the weekend directing the household staff on cleaning duties. Mary called her several times, but Francesca let the messages go to voice-mail.
In the meantime, Mama spent her time fussing over Thomas Bertram Sr. He had come to New Canaan for the weekend to celebrate his son's engagement, and he was scheduled to return to Washington on Sunday night.
Francesca was in the dining room packing the china into crates when she overheard a heated argument between husband and wife.
"I don't want you to go, Thomas! I don't want you to go!" Mama cried.
"I have to work," came the gruff reply.
"You promised you would retire from public life after what happened to Tommy. You even gave up your seat in the Senate. It's time for you to come home."
"I won't talk to you when you're acting hysterical. Get a hold of yourself, woman."
"I need you here. Your son is getting married. We are on the brink of losing– "
"Susan – I warn you not to finish that sentence. I warn you."
Carefully, Francesca placed one of the plates she had been holding on the table. Her hands were shaking. In all her years in this house, she had never heard the Bertrams argue with each other.
"Why? Does the prospect scare you, Thomas?" Mama said, dropping the pitch of her voice.
He stayed silent.
"Because it darn well scares me."
At that, Francesca heard Aunt Norris calling for her. Francesca went to tend to her aunt, and the voices of the Bertrams faded.