Posted on: 2011-03-14
Juliet Richardson had always intended to marry. As a young girl it was apart of her dream and even as a teenager it was a dream still strong. It was also at this time that she discovered that great authoress of the English language, Jane Austen. After this discovery her ideas on matrimony became very clear.
"Leah, I'm certain that Mr. Darcy is out there somewhere, waiting for me." Mr. Darcy, that tall brooding man in need of lessons in laughing has been the ideal spouse for many women ever since Jane Austen captured his essence on paper. For Juliet, he was the only one.
"Are you really sure Juliet? After all he is a fictional character and it isn't fair to measure a real man against him." The firm rebuke was gently said by Leah, Juliet's younger sister and best friend. "Besides, just because you think our family is like the Bennet family doesn't mean you have to base your life off theirs."
As the two sisters laughed, Juliet couldn't help but counter, "But we are like the Bennets. There's five of us sisters and we all fit perfectly into a role in the Bennet family; Mama's emotions go up and down and Dad, well he does go hide in his den most of the time."
"And you are his favorite which would make you Elizabeth. What about the rest of us?"
Juliet warming to her subject expounded on the virtues or lack of, in her sisters. How Rachael had so many schemes and was always getting into trouble; how Abigail would rather be reading philosophy books more than anything else; how Cassandra though a little shy, wanted to do everything that Rachael did. "You are the prettiest out of all of us Leah, and by far the nicest. That would make you Jane Bennet without a doubt."
Leah, who by now could barely control her laughter, had to remind Juliet that in addition to all their sisters they also had a younger brother. After thinking for sometime on how their brother fit into the story of Pride and Prejudice she could only come up with one answer.
"Brandon is here to ensure that none of us have to marry a Mr. Collins!"
As Juliet grew up she found that, Leah was right, few of the boys she dated ever came close to her ideal. There were many more Mr. Collins' out there than she thought. After many failed dates in college, one being with a guy who actually thought it was alright to drive over parking lot planters like they were at a monster truck rally, Juliet decided to give up searching and let Mr. Darcy find her. This is why at twenty-seven, she turned down a date with her handsome new neighbor. She knew what she was looking for and he wasn't it; or so she thought.
Juliet first met him in the spring. She came home from work to find a moving van parked in front of her apartment. Trying to make her way through boxes and pieces of furniture to the stairs that led to her apartment she was run down by a kid on a skateboard. Trying to pick herself up she encountered a hand and instead of finding a teenager attached, it was a young man about her age.
"Sorry about that." He hoisted her up off the ground with very little effort. Still holding on to her hand he shook it and introduced himself. "I'm Benjamin Quinn. I'm moving into apartment 204." He was happy and excited and full of energy.
Juliet, tired after her long day at work could only manage her name and apartment number. Benjamin, unfazed by her short response, continued to talk about his moving process. The conversation was lost on her, however, as she was completely distracted by his hair; which was styled in a Mohawk and dyed neon blue. It was that day that Juliet Richardson decided Benjamin Quinn had too much energy and that Mr. Darcy would never dye his hair blue.
Even after his hair turned to a nice normal brown color, Juliet continued to turn down Benjamin Quinn's every offer for a night out. Almost a year later she was surprised at his persistence and acceptance of her rejection. But every 'no' made her feel a little more uncomfortable in his presence.
"Jules! Wake-up!" Juliet's eyes blinked open and she stared blankly into the face of her sister, Leah. Grabbing at the coffee she held out, Juliet sat up in her bed and glanced at the clock. "It's just barely double-digits on a Saturday morning and you're already waking me up. Why did I ever give you a key to my place?"
Leah laughed. "You gave me a key so I could come in a make sure you're watering that fern I gave you. Besides its 11:15 already; well into the 'double-digits.'"
"In my defense, I water that fern everyday."
Pulling a chair over to the bed Leah propped up her feet and Juliet snuggled back under her covers. "So what brings you over this early?"
"Just visiting, Jules. I thought maybe if you weren't busy we could go shopping."
Juliet was never one to turn down a shopping trip and an afternoon with her sister was exactly what she needed. All while getting dressed she debated whether she should tell her sister about her most recent encounter with her neighbor. This decision was taken away from her when, as they exited Juliet's apartment Benjamin was just locking his own door.
"Good morning Ben!" Leah, a frequent guest at Juliet's, knew Benjamin quite well and greeted him warmly.
Ben, always the cheerful one, greeted each sister with a brilliant smile and a hello. Leah smiled in return while Juliet wished she could sink into the floor. Knowing her sister noticed her awkwardness, she knew she would have to explain.
Trying to avoid the topic of Benjamin during the shopping excursion was difficult for Juliet considering he was never far from her mind and Leah brought him up at every opportunity.
"You know you're really lucky you have such a nice neighbor; Ben's a great guy."
Juliet refrained from answering by staring intently at the nearest t-shirt rack. Seeing that she wouldn't meet her eyes Leah knew that something had happened between her and Ben. "Juliet, are you alright?"
"Oh Leah! He asked me out last night. I couldn't say no again so I slammed my door in his face. I hate being rude but he's just so dense about it.
"Why do you say no? He's always really nice when I come over. What could be the harm in going out with him just once?" Leah always wanted to give everyone the benefit of the doubt.
"I want to get married, not date around. He doesn't fill any of my requirements for a potential husband. He had blue hair and a Mohawk! He rides a skateboard around town and he doesn't even have a real job."
Leah laughed outright. "Juliet would you listen to yourself! So he likes sports and is a little more casual in his finances than you. You are a little bit of a workaholic though." Juliet had to grudgingly admit that she didn't really know what kind of job he had just that he didn't keep regular business hours.
"That's no reason why he couldn't be successful," Leah reasoned.
"But I'm supposed to be Elizabeth Bennet. That means I need a Mr. Darcy and he's not it. What would be the point of me going out with him when it wouldn't go anywhere?" Juliet looked down at the shirt she was holding, checked the price tag, sighed, and put it back on the rack. Looking back at Leah she added, "I really don't want him to think I'm a jerk."
Leah smiled as she shook her head. "What did I tell you about dating in high school?"
"Don't compare my dates to a fictional character," said Juliet with a guilty look.
"I think you should give Benjamin a chance, at least as a friend. He might surprise you."
Juliet stealthily avoided her neighbor for the rest of the weekend. She knew Leah was right. She had never given him credit as a person; she could only see that he wasn't Mr. Darcy and immediately dismissed him.
Home from work on Monday, as she watered her fern like she told Leah she did, she came to a decision. "Next time I see Benjamin, I'll be nice. I might even smile." Looking at her fern she realized she was talking out loud to the only other living creature in her apartment. "Great he's got me so mixed up I'm talking to plants." Putting down her watering can she stepped away from her plant. "I really should get a dog or something. At least they're more responsive than a plant."
As if on cue a loud barking noise could be heard right outside her door. A muffled 'hey' and 'be quiet' came softly to her ears.
"He got a dog," she said drearily to her fern. "Don't do it Juliet, don't go out there." But curiosity got the best of her and she went to look out the window. Sure enough, there was Benjamin Quinn with a brand new basset hound. Glancing up from his dog, he saw her through the window and beckoned her to come out. She knew she was going to be awkward but her weakness for dogs, basset hounds in particular, won out.
"So you got a new dog." She winced at such a statement of the obvious and then she winced again for caring what he would think. Benjamin however didn't seem to notice.
"Yeah, I did. I thought I would like the company and I saw him at the shelter. He was practically begging me to take him home."
Bending down Juliet scratched him behind the ears. "He does have those pleading brown eyes. They could make you do anything."
"They reminded me of yours."
Blushing bright red she was glad the dog gave her an excuse not to look at him. She coughed uncomfortably and changed the subject. "Have you named him yet?"
"You know I couldn't really think of the right one. I was thinking Jake or --"
"He looks like a Charles." Contemplating the dog, Juliet didn't realize she had spoken out loud until Benjamin responded.
"I like that. That's a nice strong name." She looked up and saw Benjamin smiling at her like she had never seen before. She knew he liked her; or else why would he have asked her out so many times? But she had never seen him smile like that. She stood up and shivered.
"Oh hey, you're cold." He reached out a hand as if to touch her, but dropped it back to his side instead. "I'll let you get back inside."
Juliet sighed but didn't make a motion to go indoors. "Why are you so nice to me all the time? I certainly could be nicer to you on occasion."
If Juliet had been looking at Benjamin instead of her shoes she would have seen a small look of panic cross his face. As it was, when she did look up all he did was shrug his shoulders.
"You're easy to be nice to." Juliet just shook her head, but smiled at the compliment. When she shivered again, this time against the cold, Benjamin really did say goodnight.
"Come on Charles let's let Juliet get warmed up."
"You're really going to name him Charles?" said an astonished Juliet.
"Like I said it's a good strong name." He winked and said goodnight.
As Juliet got ready for bed that night she realized that that was the first real conversation they had. One in which Benjamin hadn't ask her out. Trying to sleep she wondered why that bothered her.
Juliet was still determined to be kind to Benjamin and they began to talk more when they met; in the hallway, on the stairs, or in the parking lot. Having Charles around certainly improved their relationship. She was swiftly falling in love with his dog; so much that she started to keep a box of dog treats in her pantry. That's why when Benjamin asked Juliet a few weeks later if she would watch Charles while he was out of town she practically jumped at the chance.
"It'll only be for the weekend. I'll be back by Sunday night," he said as he opened the door to his apartment to show her where Charles' food and bed was kept. "He'll sleep anywhere really so if you want you can keep him at your place."
She followed him into his place and was slightly shocked by what she saw. It was clean and orderly; the furniture she recognized from when they first met but now she saw they were nice pieces. There were few decorations; some sports posters on the walls and three framed photographs on the fireplace mantle.
She walked over to study the pictures more closely and saw that the smaller one was of Benjamin, in fishing gear with an older man who could only have been his father and on the other side was a family photo, a young Benjamin with a brother and sister. The large one in the middle was a beautiful lady that bore a striking similarity to Benjamin. She looked at the pictures for awhile and didn't notice that Benjamin had come up behind her until he spoke.
"That's my mother. She died a few weeks after I graduated high school."
Seeing a look of pain cross his face Juliet knew they must have been really close. "She was very beautiful." She offered him a comforting smile and he took it gratefully. Turning back to the mantle she asked about the fishing picture.
"That is my stepfather, Derek. Fishing was one of his hobbies and he always took me. My stepbrother never wanted to go." Picking up the family photo he pointed out each of his siblings. "This is my older stepbrother Damian and my little sister Grace. Of course this photo was from awhile ago."
Thinking of how she lived close enough to her family for all of them to visit frequently she asked if he was close to his.
"Grace just started her first year of university and is living on campus. But she comes back to Derek's for holidays, which is just a few hours north of here." Curiosity filled her as she watched his face change from a happy smile to a grimace when she asked about Damian. "Damian," he let out a big sigh. "Suffice to say I have no idea where Damian is. He was never one to keep in touch."
He turned away from the mantle as Charles came bounding out from the bedroom. After sniffing Benjamin hello he went straight to Juliet. Laughing and hugging the dog Juliet gave him the treat that was in her pocket. Charles effectively broke the somber mood that arose from the pictures. Quickly giving a tour Benjamin handed over Charles' supplies and his spare key.
"Thanks for watching him," he said as she left.
"Not a problem. After all we are neighbors."
He smiled and opened his mouth to say something but no words left it. She smiled too as he closed his door but it faded away as she realized that he still hadn't asked her out again.
Juliet loved having Charles for the weekend and was very sorry to see it end. When Sunday came she noted that she hadn't talked to her fern once and that it was slightly wilting; Leah was not going to be happy. Charles however, was much more satisfying to talk to and all weekend long she asked the question that was uppermost in her mind. Why had Benjamin suddenly stopped asking her out? Sure she had rejected him every time but that had never stopped him before. She couldn't understand why this bothered her.
She didn't just ask Charles these questions. She also asked Leah when she came over for an early dinner on Sunday.
"After hearing about his mother and stepfather I feel a little sorry for him. After all, even though Mama and Dad don't always get along, they're both alive and together and they do love us."
"You know what, Juliet? I think you're starting to like Ben." Leah gave her a smirk over the dish she was drying.
"No, that definitely isn't it." Juliet defiantly shook her head and Leah lifted her hands in surrender.
"You can stay in denial all you want. Just be waiting for a big 'I told you so' when you finally admit it to yourself."
After the dishes were done, the sisters said goodbye and Juliet took Charles for a walk. Coming back from the dog park, the pair found Benjamin on the stairs. Charles who was at Juliet's feet suddenly perked up and ran as fast as he could to his master.
"Hi Juliet." Benjamin smiled and Juliet coming slowly up the stairs smiled shyly back. At their ankles, Charles began to seek attention from his master and they broke eye contact.
"Do you want to come in? I'll gather up Charles' things."
Benjamin looked up from his dog. "I don't want to interrupt your evening"
"Of course it won't be interrupting," said Juliet and went to open her door. "We are neighbors."
Benjamin followed her in and answered positively to her query about a drink. Juliet came back from the kitchen with two glasses of iced tea. Seeing Benjamin standing in her living room she had a strange urge to laugh at her very girly decor. Benjamin's masculine form seemed out of place among the bric-a-brac and bouquets of flowers. Inviting him to sit, they drank their tea and began to talk with Charles resting peacefully between them on the floor.
"So Benjamin, what is it that you do exactly?"
"A bunch of different things really." Flashing a smile he explained, "My family calls me an entrepreneur. This weekend I was up in the mountains teaching for this national snowboarding event for kids." Juliet gave him a look that requested further information. "When I was in college I was training to snowboard in the winter Olympics. I had to stop after that because of an injury but I still wanted to be involved in the sport, so I started to teach."
Since she knew next to nothing about sports other than the Olympics being a big deal, she didn't know how to respond. She quietly sipped her tea until Benjamin gentlemanly offered another subject.
"That's quite a book collection you have," he said as he gestured toward her overflowing bookshelf. "Do you have a favorite?"
She was glad for a topic that she could expound on. "Actually I do. I love all of Jane Austen's novels but my favorite would be Pride and Prejudice. It's a classic English novel."
"I think I had to read that for school at one time. That's the one with Elizabeth and Darcy right?" Seeing her nod in the affirmative he continued, "I always remember the Darcy guy being kind of a jerk."
A shocked Juliet rallied to defend her hero. "But he was only shy!"
They debated Mr. Darcy's characteristics and many other topics until night and Juliet saw that they had many ideas in common. Realizing that Benjamin might possibly be tired after his trip, Juliet said her goodnights and gracefully gathered Charles' things to go.
"Thanks for taking care of Charles." Benjamin took his dogs things as he exited.
"That's what neighbors are for." Juliet smiled and closed her door. Now that master and dog had left, her apartment felt empty and she couldn't explain why. "It's just that I'm going to miss Charles," she told her fern as went to bed. She wasn't convinced.
The following Monday was a holiday and Juliet decided it was the perfect time for a visit home. Hearing that his favorite daughter would be home, Thomas Richardson threw a barbeque bash, which was difficult to do with scattered patches of snow still on the ground. Enveloped in a bear hug from her father as soon as she arrived, Juliet's holiday got better from there as her entire family came together for an afternoon. Laughing and talking, she enjoyed her time with her family; even though she had to endure comments like "Why aren't you dating?" from her mother and youngest sisters.
"Everyone is still the same," she said aloud with a chuckle to her empty apartment once she was home. Fixing herself some tea she decided to finish her holiday by reading her favorite parts of Pride and Prejudice. Settling in her living room she didn't realize that she had a complete view of her neighbor's entry until she looked up through the window to see Benjamin standing on the stairs with a woman. Tall, blonde, gorgeous, and trendily dressed, she was everything Juliet wasn't.
With eyes glued to her window instead of her book Juliet watched with an uncomfortable feeling in her chest. The blonde beauty said something and Benjamin laughed putting an arm around her shoulders as the blonde placed a quick peck on his cheek. They continued down the stairs, out of Juliet's line of sight.
Slowly rising from her chair, replacing her book on the shelf, she tried to examine the uncomfortable feeling that hadn't quite gone away. Moving toward the kitchen to replenish her tea Juliet caught sight of her fern. She asked it one pitiful question. "Why?"
Panic-stricken she began to pace her living room trying to sort her emotions. After a few minutes of this she glanced back at her fern as if it might have some advice to give. It said nothing but noting its slight browning she picked her most prominent emotion, anger, and threw it all at the unsuspecting plant.
"If I'm suffering then so are you!" She went to bed without watering her fern; however it was several hours before sleep claimed her.
A few weeks later the world was in the full loveliness of spring. Flowers and plants perked up to reach the newly blue sky, including Juliet's sadly neglected indoor fern. As for the fern's owner, a little black rain cloud seemed to follow her every move and try as she might she couldn't break through.
Leah, worried about her sister, tried everything she could to shake her out of it; shopping trips yielded no results, nor manicures or chick-flick movie nights. Finally, tired of Juliet unresponsiveness she changed tactics.
"Juliet Anne Richardson you'd better wake up!" Leah, using her key, barged into Juliet's apartment on Saturday morning. Unfortunately for Juliet, it was well before the clock showed any double-digits. Groaning and grumbling, Juliet stumbled out of bed and followed her sister into the kitchen thankful that even in her anger, Leah had still brought her coffee.
"You've got me worried sick with your depressed attitude Jules. What is wrong? Is there something I can do?"
Unable to evade such a straightforward question, Juliet hid her face. "Benjamin hasn't asked me out since I slammed the door in his face. It bothered me but it wasn't until last week that I realized why." Looking up at her concerned sisters face Juliet plunged on with her confession. "Now I really want him to."
Instead of the promised 'I told you so' Leah sat next to her sister and pulled her into a comforting hug. "Oh Jules, maybe he's just giving you space."
"No he's not. I saw him going out with some blonde last week. Suffice to say I'm pretty sure he's over me." Juliet was despondent and it worried her sister but there was very little she could do in a situation like this. Hugging her sister closer, Leah let Juliet cry on her shoulder.
Juliet felt better after having talked things out with her sister. Not as good as new, but better. Feeling like some fresh air she decided to go for a drive; she wasn't prepared however to see Benjamin on the landing. Mumbling a quick hello to his greeting she quickly went down the stairs and almost ran to her car leaving a completely bewildered Benjamin behind.
Hours later she came back, but her refreshed feeling plummeted as she saw the blonde beauty exiting Benjamin's apartment. Looking closer however hope sprung anew as she noted tear stains on the blonde's face. Maybe they had broken up!
"Are you Juliet Richardson? Ben's friend?" Juliet tried to shush the malevolent part of her mind as the blonde spoke.
"Yes. Is there something I can help you with?" Leah would have been proud of her perfect politeness and civility.
"I'm Grace Quinn, Benjamin's sister." Alarm bells went off in Juliet's head and she saw a family resemblance. She felt like a fool. That feeling however was quickly replaced by one of dread as she heard Grace's next statement. "He was in a car accident today and is at the hospital. The doctor's are positive about his recovery but he has to go in for surgery. He told me to 'tell Juliet to watch Charles.' I didn't have your number so I came down to feed Charles and to let you know."
Stunned, Juliet blinked twice before her faculties returned to her. She grabbed her purse and Grace and drove to the hospital.
Immediately upon arrival Juliet went to find a nurse on duty. "He's not out of surgery yet but he should be soon," was all the information the two women received.
"He's going to be fine. He has to be." Grace surprised them both by talking to a relative stranger. Benjamin had said that she was shy in new social situations but love for her brother must have overcome any awkwardness. "He's the best big brother anyone could have. When mom died, he took off a year of school so he could stay at home and help me and dad cope. He missed his chance at scholarships and had to pay his way through college." Grace paused trying to hold back tears. "He was always there for me, and for dad." Juliet didn't know what to say but she put her arm around the younger girl in an effort of comfort.
Sitting in uncomfortable plastic chairs Juliet and Grace waited; they waited and prayed.
A nurse came up to Grace and Juliet with a bright smile. "He's out of surgery now. He's not awake, but he is out and doing fine." Both women sighed in relief and followed the nurse to his recovery room. The nurse left them and Grace soon followed saying she needed to call her father to give him the news. Juliet was left alone with a man who she had begun to care for and who might possibly still care for her.
Thoughts and emotions flitted across her face as she watched Benjamin sleep. "Do you know why I kept rejecting you?" She made a confession that she didn't think she would have the courage to do if he was awake. "All my life I've thought that I was Elizabeth Bennet and that all I needed to be happy was to find my Mr. Darcy. Leah told me not to base my life off of a book. She was right."
Laughing a bitter laugh at herself she continued, "I missed a lot of experiences because they didn't fit in the requirements of Pride and Prejudice. I should have known that a novel written almost two-hundred years ago wouldn't really come true today. Even if it did I had my characters backward. I'm more like Darcy than you are. With my mind closed to new experiences, being a jerk, just like you said he was. And shy. I was scared that everything I ever thought wouldn't be real." Standing she leaned closer to his face and whispered, "My biggest regret is saying no to you."
"You really don't have to make dinner for me." Benjamin had been home from the hospital for a few weeks. He and Juliet's fern were recovering nicely thanks to the attentions of Grace, Juliet and her family. "Grace and I will do fine on our own."
"Well I already made dinner so you have to eat it. Besides Grace has to get ready to go back to school; she can't cook for you all the time." Juliet was helping Benjamin over to her apartment and Grace was already there setting up for dinner and playing with Charles.
A quiet 'thanks' left Benjamin's mouth. "No thanks are needed. After all we are neighbors"
"Yes, yes we are." A nervous smile showed on his face. "Juliet? Do you think," he hesitated and Juliet had never seen him this nervous. "Do you think you would want to maybe, be more than neighbors?" He was flustered and Juliet noticed that he nervously played with his fingers. "I'm saying this wrong. Do you want to get dinner with me?"
"You mean like a date?" At his confirmation she immediately thought about her Mr. Darcy. Remembering Leah's advice she silently told herself that Mr. Darcy is a fictional character. Benjamin was nothing like him; nothing like what she had thought she wanted. But he was real, a real man of integrity and goodness. Looking into his eyes, that like Elizabeth Bennet's were very fine, she knew her answer. A beautiful smile appeared on her face as she carefully said, "I would love to."
A smile lit up his face as they went into dinner. He had opened her mind and taught her that life would always be unexpected. The world was much bigger to her now. She was not Elizabeth Bennet and she didn't have to live a life prescribed by a book.
She had no idea what her future was going to bring and she didn't want to. But maybe someday they would be more than neighbors.