From The New York Post, April 29, 2014: There's no greater aphrodisiac than a happy woman with a full life, who is passionate about something besides getting a ring on her finger. Just ask George Clooney.
November 23, 2013, London, UK
"I saw that," said Sarah Campbell as she watched her best friend and flatmate turn away from an admirer. "You certainly caught someone's attention."
Jane Fairfax rolled her eyes, thinking about the man who had just raised his glass to her from across the Sir Elton John Exhibition Hall at the Human Rights Action Centre. "Oh, please. His A factor is screaming." A factor as in American, the term she had coined for the greater or lesser degree of brashness and cockiness apparent in so many from the U.S, something she had observed plenty during the four years she had lived in England. Jane tried very hard to reduce her own expression of that factor, and hoped she'd achieved it.
"So what?" Sarah grinned. "He's very good-looking. Don't tell me you didn't notice."
Jane had noticed. How could she not? The man had drawn eyes to him from all over the room from the moment he'd entered the reception hall. It wasn't just because he was tall, well-built and handsome, although he was that. It was that damned A factor again, that quality of loudness that had little to do with the flashiness of one's clothing or the volume of one's voice, yet still seemed to project, Look at me! Look at me! For this reason, Jane felt certain he was American.
"And did you see his gorgeous hair? I'd love to run my fingers through it."
"Sarah! You're terrible! This is your engagement party!"
"Just because I'm getting married doesn't mean I can't still fantasize. And you know Peter trusts me."
Jane grinned. She hadn't actually been worried about Sarah's relationship with her fiancé, Peter Dixon. It was obvious within five minutes of being in the couple's presence that they were madly in love. Marriage wasn't something Jane wanted to consider for many years to come, but whenever it happened, she hoped her relationship would be similar.
"Anyway, you look fabulous. I knew you'd catch someone's eye tonight in that dress."
Jane ran her hands down the 1960's vintage gold lamé dress she and Sarah had finally found after searching four different thrift shops that day. She was ridiculously pleased with the find--it hugged every curve, flattered her complexion, and best of all, was affordable.
"There they are, the most beautiful woman in England and the second most beautiful!" a voice called out.
"Eugenie!" Sarah cried as she reached out to embrace the woman that approached them. Despite the occasion, Eugenie James was dressed in her usual attire, a brightly colored peasant skirt, white t-shirt, and Birkenstocks. The only concession she'd made to the event's formality was to pull back her long grey hair, which she usually wore down around her shoulders, into a loosely knotted ponytail.
"Now let me look at you." Eugenie kept her hands on Sarah's arms as she leaned back to inspect the younger woman. "Aren't you stunning! The perfect bride to be!"
Sarah smiled as her green eyes sparkled beneath the short layered cut that swept across her forehead. She also wore a vintage dress that she and Jane had found that day, hers a black cocktail A-line from the 1950's.
"And Jane," Eugenie said, turning to hug and kiss her, "you look amazing as well. The reason you're second is because tonight is Sarah's night. When you get engaged, you'll be the most beautiful and she'll be second." They all laughed.
"Speaking of which, where is Peter?"
"He's around." Sarah motioned across the room with her hand. "I'm certain he's mingling with many of the last minute guests that are here tonight. Peter's company is generating new interest now that he has a major investor."
Eugenie curved her lips into an O. "That's right, the mysterious investor! Will we have the opportunity to meet him tonight?"
Sarah nodded. "Peter said he promised he'd be here."
"Good! I want to personally thank him, since you wouldn't be engaged without him."
Jane smiled, thinking about how many times over the last several years she had listened to Sarah fret that she and Peter would never be able to marry. Between Peter's struggling start-up firm and Sarah's status as a doctoral student, their finances wouldn't allow it. Two months earlier, however, a venture capitalist had approached Peter to offer a major infusion of capital into Re-Energised. With their money worries lifted, Peter had finally proposed.
Eugenie was craning her neck to look about the room. "Oh, there's Peter! And who is that with him? Could that be the investor?"
Jane and Sarah turned toward the direction Eugenie faced and saw Peter walking toward them with the man they'd seen earlier. "Ooh," said Sarah, "he's with Jane's admirer."
Eugenie grinned, her eyes lighting up behind her wire-rimmed glasses. "An admirer, Jane? When did you acquire this?"
Jane shook her head. "No, no, no! I have no idea who he is. Besides, he was probably looking at Sarah, since this is her engagement party."
"Jane! He was most certainly looking at you." Sarah turned to Eugenie. "I noticed him staring at her for a while, and when she finally turned to look at him, he raised his glass and smiled at her."
"Wouldn't that be something, if he is Peter's investor and he's taken a fancy to you, Jane? He's quite handsome. Where's he from, I wonder?"
"The U.S.," Jane answered, just as Sarah said, "Jane thinks he's American."
Eugenie furrowed her brow. "He looks Oriental to me. Although I suppose that doesn't mean he isn't also American. I should know by now not to doubt your national sixth sense, since you always seem to be right about that."
By then, Peter and the other man had reached the three women. Peter's face lit up when he drew close to Sarah. He was a slender man with a bit of a beak nose and receding brown hair, but his warm, inviting smile--almost always present when Sarah was around--made him attractive.
After he had greeted and kissed his fiancée, Peter turned to introduce his friend. As Eugenie had pointed out, the man, who wore a charcoal grey, double-breasted Armani suit, appeared to be of Far Eastern ancestry. As Sarah had noticed, he had thick, jet-black, well-coiffed hair. Recalling Sarah's comment, Jane blushed as a vision came to her of running her fingers through it. Life had been so busy for so long, she couldn't remember the last time a man had made an impression on her like that.
"Darling," Peter said, "may I present Mr. Frank Churchill? He's the investor who has given new life to Re-Energised. Frank, my fiancée, Ms. Sarah Campbell."
"A pleasure to meet you," Sarah said, holding out her hand.
"And you," Mr. Churchill answered in a voice that was deeper and sexier than Jane had anticipated. "Peter has told me wonderful things about you, and you're as beautiful as he described."
Sarah and Eugenie began laughing, causing Mr. Churchill to hold out his hands in surprise. "Did I say something funny?"
"Oh, no," Eugenie said, "only that Jane here predicted you'd be American and she was right."
The man turned toward Jane and smiled, a beautiful smile with deep dimples. "It's that obvious, huh? I hope that doesn't prejudice you against me." He turned toward Peter. "Will you introduce me to these other lovely ladies?"
"Of course," said Peter. "These are dear friends of ours, Ms. Eugenie James and Ms. Jane Fairfax."
Mr. Churchill took each of their hands in turn, holding them probably longer than was necessary to greet someone for the first time. When Jane said, "I'm pleased to meet you, Mr. Churchill," his grin broadened.
"Ah ha!" he said. "No wonder you figured me out. You're American, too. Where are you from?"
"L.A.," Jane answered.
"Hey, so am I! What brought you to the UK?"
"Oxford," she replied. "That's where I met Sarah and Peter."
He raised his eyebrows. "A Rhodes scholar? I'm impressed."
Just then, Mr. and Mrs. Campbell, who had been busy with the caterers, approached. They hugged Eugenie, having already spoken to Sarah and Jane when the young women first arrived. "Peter, dear," Mrs. Campbell said, "your mum and dad are here now. We should begin the program."
"Oh, yes! Mr. and Mrs. Campbell, this is Frank Churchill, my new investor. Mr. Churchill, my future in-laws."
Frank Churchill greeted Sarah's parents, and then asked Peter whether he still wished for him to say a few words. After Peter confirmed that he did, Mr. Churchill began to follow Peter, Sarah and her parents toward the dais in the front of the room. He turned back for a second and winked at Jane. "Ms. Fairfax, we'll have to talk more before the night's over to share ex-pat stories."
As the group walked away, Jane ignored Eugenie's smirk. When she realized that Jane was determined not to say anything, Eugenie finally nudged her. "You have an admirer indeed."
Jane sighed. "Eugenie, he's an obvious flirt. If it weren't me, it would be someone else."
"And I'm too old and Sarah's too engaged, so you're all that's left? Nonsense! He noticed the beautiful, brilliant woman you are. I hope you won't let this opportunity pass you by."
"What does that mean?"
"It means make sure you talk to him again tonight. And go out with him if he asks."
"He's not going to ask."
"I bet he will, and if he does, please say yes. He has a beautiful voice, by the way. He sounds a bit like your president."
Jane had to laugh at that. She didn't think he sounded like President Obama, but if she had only heard his voice and hadn't seen him, she would have sworn Frank Churchill was black.
Their conversation was silenced by Mr. Campbell's "Good evening," at the microphone, the Scottish brogue of his childhood still evident. After welcoming and thanking the guests for coming, he said, "We are so pleased that you have joined us for this very special occasion. Our little girl has met the man of her dreams, who has asked her to be his wife."
Following the applause, Mr. Campbell shared about how much he appreciated Peter and the love he had for Sarah. Sarah's mum and Peter's parents followed with similar praise for their future daughter- and son-in-law.
At last it was Sarah's turn to speak. Petite even in very high heels, she had to lower the microphone, but her voice projected easily about the room. "This is a dream come true," she said. "I almost have to pinch myself to believe that this is real. Peter and I have known each other for four years. We met as graduate students at Oxford and became fast friends. I still remember the day I realized that I wanted to be so much more than friends with him. My flatmate Jane--there she is"--at this, Sarah waved to Jane, causing the crowd to turn toward her--"is here tonight and she and I were suitemates at the time and part of the same group of friends at Oxford. I want you to know that I have her permission to share this story."
Eugenie nudged Jane again and tilted her head toward the dais. Although everyone else had turned their attention back to Sarah, Frank Churchill, standing beside Peter, was staring at her, his lips quirked into a bit of a smile. Jane met his eyes boldly and then turned back to Sarah, as if instructing him to do the same. She certainly didn't want him looking at her during the tale she knew was coming.
"We had hired a punt one afternoon on the River Cherwell. Another friend of ours was a bit sloshed and attempted to stand up while we were rowing. The punt began to tip and Jane started to fall overboard. Instantly, Peter grabbed her by the jumper and pulled her back. She barely got her toes wet."
Laughter and applause followed, and Jane cringed a bit as she felt many of the eyes in the room turning her way again. She exhaled to increase her courage. She had given Sarah permission to tell the story, and it was one of her favorite's about Peter, too.
"Peter of course is not the most muscular of men," Sarah said with a mischievous grin, to more laughter, "but he showed strength and bravery when it was needed. And once he knew Jane was all right, he insisted he'd done nothing special. I knew that day that I loved him."
Jane smiled, remembering Sarah's surprised confession to her that night. Feeling her own deep appreciation for Peter that day, she'd told Sarah that she better make a play for him or she (Jane) would.
Peter walked over and kissed Sarah as she passed the microphone to him. "Isn't she amazing?" he said as she stepped aside. "I'm the luckiest bloke alive. Beyond that, I don't know what else to say, because I cannot give speeches. So, I will pass this microphone on to someone who can, a new friend and someone who, other than our parents, has made this event possible tonight by investing in Re-Engergized: Mr. Frank Churchill."
Mr. Churchill tugged at the bottom of his suit jacket as he stood up before the crowd. "I appreciate the introduction, but I am inadequate to say anything tonight more important than what has already been said. I've known Peter just a short time, and I met Sarah for the first time tonight, while this room is filled with people who have known and loved them for years. I will say this: in the two months that I have known Peter, he has impressed me with his vision and passion. He believes in a world in which affordable solar energy can become widespread at all levels of society, in which no one is left behind as the resources for powering our world become scarcer. If you ask him what his inspiration is, he'll tell you that it's Sarah, both her love for humanity and the life he wants to create with her. After meeting her tonight, I understand why. So to Sarah and Peter"--he raised a wine glass in his hand--"congratulations, and many, many happy years together."
As sounds of "Cheers" went up around the room, Eugenie smirked again at Jane. "Oh, he's good. I could listen to him talk all night. Remember, don't miss this opportunity!"
Jane had to admit that she was intrigued by Frank Churchill, but she never had a chance to speak with him. He spent the rest of the evening surrounded by people fighting for his attention, and she wasn't about to hover around him like a groupie. When she was waiting for Sarah to finish her final goodbyes to the guests before departing, however, she heard him call her name.
"Ms. Fairfax, I apologize for neglecting you. It seems you've had some interesting adventures in this country," he said with a grin.
She smiled. "On occasion."
"I have to leave right now, but perhaps I can have your phone number, and talk to you some other time?"
Sarah glanced at her with a smile as Jane recited her number and Mr. Churchill entered it into his mobile. He then clasped hands with both her and Sarah before saying goodnight.
Although she and Sarah had traveled to the Action Centre via the Tube, Peter drove them home. Sarah gushed throughout the ride about Frank Churchill. "Jane, he has it all: intelligence, success, charm, gorgeous face, body, hair, voice..."
"If I didn't know how much you love me, I'd feel a bit insecure right now," Peter quipped.
Sarah laughed. "It's just that it's been a while since she's had a date, and what a man to have one with!"
"He hasn't asked me for a date yet," Jane reminded her from the back seat, "just my number."
"That's a start! Wouldn't it be something if Jane and Frank Churchill end up together?" she asked Peter.
"Hmm..." was all he said in response.
"What are you thinking?" Jane asked him.
"Well..." Peter said slowly. "He has a reputation as a ladies' man. I don't want to see you hurt."
Sarah and Jane were both quiet for a moment, contemplating his words. Sarah finally said, "If he does ask you out, perhaps you can go into it forewarned. Have a good time with an amazing bloke, but don't let your heart become engaged."
Jane shrugged. "I guess I can do that. I'm not interested in a relationship right now anyway. Besides, I doubt he'll actually call."
That night before bed, Jane emailed her grandmother and Aunt Maddy, as she always did, about the events of the day. When she finished, she typed "Frank Churchill" into a search engine. "Holy cow," she whispered as thousands of hits returned. She clicked on several links and began reading. He was thirty-one and already a multi-millionaire, an owner or stakeholder of numerous enterprises. She recognized the names of several companies from the news. One repeated name made her pause: the Highbury Group, headquartered in Los Angeles. Frank Churchill was on the board of several of the companies within that partnership. She knew Highbury Group well because her aunt Maddy had worked there for many years when Jane was growing up. Interesting.
She clicked on "Images" and several photos popped up on her screen. In some Frank Churchill was dressed as sharply as he had tonight, and in others he was more casual. He seemed to have a thing for pairing business suits with Western-style belts and suede shoes. It made her laugh. He was so American.
The other thing that the images revealed was that Frank was, as Peter had said, a ladies' man. She finally grew tired of looking at photo after photo of beautiful models, actresses, and heiresses on his arm at various functions in cities around the world. Jane sighed as she shut down her laptop. If his wealth and status weren't already a barrier, these photos made it clear--he was not the kind of man that would date an ordinary woman working for a lowly non-governmental organisation. Frank Churchill was never going to call her, and it was better that way.
When more than a week passed and she didn't hear from him, Jane felt relieved. She could get on with her life.
December 5, 2013
By the time the alarm on Jane's mobile rang at six AM on Thursday morning, she had already been awake for about a half hour. She was a naturally early riser; the alarm's purpose was to prod her to get out of bed. She had always liked lying in during the early morning quiet, while it was still dark outside, as a chance to reflect and plan and prepare herself for whatever lay ahead. She mused that her aunt Maddy would tell her to also spend that time reciting affirmations, a habit Maddy had adopted after overcoming breast cancer a decade earlier. "You're up anyway! Why not give yourself some love, sugarpuff?" Maddy would say. "Attitude and gratitude, that'll get you through anything!" Jane smiled, hearing Aunt Maddy's voice in her head. Giving herself praise and pep talks wasn't Jane's thing, but counting her blessings she could get behind. At the top of the list were her aunt and grandmother, the two women who had devoted their lives to Jane and were still with her, despite the health challenges they both had faced.
The five minute snooze on the phone sounded again, and Jane rose to begin her day. It would be a long one, as she offered keyboard lessons at a community centre in Hackney every first and third Thursday evening of the month. Evening was still a long time away, however, and now it was time to run. Jane had competed in track and field in high school, but had abandoned running to focus on her studies in college. Sarah had changed that, encouraging her to don her running shoes again and to try distance running. In the last several years, they had run several 10ks together, and Sarah had now convinced her to participate in the Surrey half-marathon in March.
She and Sarah met in the kitchen a short while later. "Any scones left?" Jane asked.
Sarah nodded as she took a gulp of coconut milk and smiled. "I saved you one." She pointed to the last of the almond scones Jane had baked a few days earlier.
"How's that paper coming?" Jane asked. Sarah had been up late the night before, stressing about a research paper she had to complete.
"Almost done," Sarah replied. "I should be able to finish it and send it off before this afternoon."
Jane grinned. "Hey, you might even be able to do something fun with Peter tonight."
Sarah sighed. "That's if he's free! I can't believe how busy we both have been lately. I'm so glad the term is almost over so we can finally get this wedding planned."
After eating, the two young women left the second floor flat they shared to catch the tube from the nearby Bethnal Green Underground Station, each of them with a backpack strapped across her shoulder. Although Sarah was still a student, Jane should have been past the backpack stage, but it was so convenient for her she couldn't yet give it up. Her backpack carried her work clothing, shoes, purse, lunch, the environmental report she'd read the night before, and the latest issue of The Economist.
After two transfers, Sarah and Jane arrived at Southbank Centre, the waterfront arts complex not far from Jane's office. They walked a short distance to Jane's office building where they greeted Abdullah, a Somali security guard who worked the 7-to-3 shift in the lobby.
"Morning, sisters," he teased, making them laugh as always. Abdullah insisted that Jane and Sarah were related, despite the difference in their skin colors. They were the same height and build, and when he saw them in the mornings like this, they were always dressed similarly in spandex leggings and hooded sweatshirts.
"It will be a nice day, after the rain," he added.
"I know!" Jane replied. "I won't have to worry about my hair today."
Abdullah chuckled. "But you would have run anyway. You two are so dedicated."
Sarah and Jane took the stairs to the fourth floor--this was their warm-up--and dropped their backpacks at Jane's desk in the suites of Sustainable London. Although the door was locked when they arrived, the alarm was already disabled, indicating that someone was in the office, probably Andrew.
By the time they had walked downstairs again and exited the building, the sun had started to come up. This was the main reason they had traveled all the way to Jane's job like this, as they preferred not to go running in the pitch darkness of early December mornings. That, and the fact that it was so beautiful to run along the south bank of the Thames.
"Ready?" Sarah asked.
Jane nodded and added, "By the way, thank you. I know you were up late last night." Sarah could have slept in if she had wanted to.
Sarah shrugged. "If it weren't for getting up with you, I might blow off both running and my paper. So thank you."
The women ran for about forty-five minutes before returning to Jane's office. Sarah retrieved her backpack and said goodbye, planning to spend the rest of the morning in a nearby café to finish her paper. After she departed, Jane pulled out the flat iron and small bag of toiletries she kept in her desk and took them, along with her backpack, to the full bathroom down the hall. Eugenie had had it installed when their organisation had first moved into this building five years earlier, in order to encourage employees to bike to work with the knowledge that if they needed a shower afterward, they could take one. She even supplied towels, which they all took turns washing in the mini washer above the toilet, and hanging to dry on racks. The washer and shower both provided grey water for flushing.
It had taken Jane a while to get comfortable with the idea of showering at work, even though she could lock the bathroom door and knew there was another toilet down the hall if someone needed it while she occupied the shower. After hanging her trousers and blouse so that the steam would remove any wrinkles, she showered quickly, changed clothes, and spent some time curling her hair before returning to her desk to start her workday.
Jane sat down with a cup of Earl Grey tea and, as she did each morning, looked at the pictures on the wall above her desk of the four women who provided her daily inspiration. Two, of course, were Grandma and Aunt Maddy, but the other two she had never met. The first was Majora Carter, the MacArthur fellow and environmental justice activist from the South Bronx. Jane had watched her TED talk, "Greening the Ghetto," as a freshman in college and had been so inspired by her passion and determination that she remembered thinking, I want to be her when I grow up!
The second was Wangari Maathai, the late Kenyan environmentalist and women's rights activist who had been the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Underneath the photos were quotes from the two women, including Carter's definition of environmental justice: "No community should be saddled with more environmental burden and less environmental benefits than any other," and Maathai's tribute to her land: "Earth and water, air and waning fire of the sun combine to form the essential elements of life and reveal to me my kinship with the soil."
Jane looked up and waved at Alyssa, who occupied the desk opposite hers.
"Is Eugenie in yet?" Alyssa asked.
"I haven't seen her. I think she had a meeting with one of the borough councils this morning."
Eugenie had founded Sustainable London in 2007 and continued to serve as its director. Her goal was to ensure that all of Greater London was prepared to meet whatever environmental challenges the future would pose. When Jane was doing research for her Social Policy master's thesis, she had interviewed Eugenie about Sustainable London's work in the lowest income communities of the city. Jane had asked Eugenie some rather pointed questions about why there was only one person of colour working for the organisation and none on the board. Apparently, they had each come away from the interview suitably impressed with the other; at the end, Eugenie had asked if Jane would like to come work for her upon graduation. Since she was hoping to stay in England and couldn't without a work permit, and recognized this as an opportunity she would love, Jane had accepted readily. Jane and the other staff members--Alyssa, Derek, Arjun and Andrew--worked with community members throughout London's boroughs to identify ways to improve the sustainability of their communities, while Eugenie spent much of her days reaching out to potential donors to fund community projects, and to local politicians who decisions and support would determine whether identified projects could move forward.
At the end of the workday, Jane traveled by bus to Hackney, where she offered free keyboard lessons twice a month on Thursdays, and twice a month on Saturday mornings. She had moved to London in the summer of 2011, shortly after graduating from Oxford and not long before riots rocked the city following the shooting death of an unarmed black man by police. Watching the violence on the telly with Sarah each night, Jane knew she had to step up and do something to help in this, her new home.
She decided to visit Pembury Estate, a large housing development in Hackney where some of the worst of the riots had taken place. Sarah had freaked out a bit, considering the trip too dangerous, but Jane was determined. She had grown up in South Central L.A., and so knew how to carry herself in a similar neighborhood. Not to mention that as a Los Angelena, she was familiar with police/community conflicts.
On that first trip to Hackney, Jane has spotted a small community centre on the street where the bus had dropped her off. She entered, unsure what to do except offer whatever services she could provide. She had had the opportunity to speak with the programme director, Margaret, who expressed her appreciation for Jane's willingness but was uncertain how she could use her.
While they spoke, Jane noticed a piano in the corner of the small lobby. "What do you use the piano for?" she had asked.
Margaret glanced over. "Oh, that. It was a donation, but it's out of tune. Some of our clients play it on occasion, but it mostly takes up space. I'd really like to get rid of it."
A wonderful idea came to Jane. She had purchased a keyboard during her time at Oxford, but she missed her piano from home. Playing a keyboard just wasn't the same when it came to classical music. "What if..." Jane paused, then continued. "What if I take the piano off your hands, and swap it for a keyboard? A keyboard can be stored away when not in use, to free up space. And then I could come back to offer free keyboard lessons to whomever wants them?"
It took Margaret a mere minute of thinking before she agreed. Peter was able to help Jane find a few friends and a truck to move the piano to her flat and bring back the keyboard, and so Jane's musical service to youth in Hackney began.
That evening, she had four students, Diya, Amir, Jessica and Daniel. Shortly after she began her lesson with Diya, her mobile chimed, indicating the receipt of a text message. Jane silenced her phone to prevent any further interruptions.
Each lesson progressed smoothly. Jane always enjoyed having ten-year-old Daniel as her final student of the evening. He was a sweet boy and immensely talented, and his mother Rose always brought Jane a thank you gift that would become her dinner. Tonight was no exception. When Rose arrived to pick Daniel up, she carried a still-warm plate wrapped in aluminum foil. It smelled delicious, and Jane couldn't help but lift a bit of the foil for a peek. "Mm, fried plantains, my favorite!" she said. The plate also contained peas and rice and salad.
"I have good news for you, Rose," she told her. "I've already told Daniel that I spoke with the director of the Winthrop Music Academy. He is willing to give Daniel an audition. He'd like you to call to set up a time for it." She handed a business card to Rose.
"Ohhhhh, Jane!" Rose cried. "I am so happy! My husband Roger said nothing would come of it, but I told him that you're a fellow Bajan and you would make it happen!" She reached over to hug Jane, and then to embrace her son, who squirmed away from his mother in embarrassment.
Jane grinned. Although she had told Rose before that she had only visited Barbados once at age ten for her great-uncle's funeral, she didn't mind being referred to as a "fellow Bajan." Rose's accent--and food--reminded Jane so much of her grandmother that it always made her feel a little less homesick.
It was after nine PM when Jane arrived home and began preparing herself for the following day. As she plugged in her mobile to recharge, she remembered that she had received a text message earlier that evening. She opened it and read, "In town this weekend and hoping you're not busy. F.C." She didn't recognize the number, and it took a few moments of thinking before she recalled anyone she knew with the initials F.C. Was she at last hearing from Frank Churchill?
If he would be in town this weekend, did that mean he was currently out of town? If so, where was he, and was it too late to respond to his text? She hesitated for a moment, and then decided to type back, "I'm free." If he were busy or asleep, he could just respond the next day.
Within thirty seconds, however, she received a response, "How about dinner and a show on Sat?"
Not wanting to seem too eager, she texted back, "Sure."
His text came immediately. "Great! I'll call u tomorrow when I get back. Have a good nite."
Jane stared at her mobile for a minute before a huge smile broke out on her face. She had a date with Frank Churchill!
From the voice-over introduction to the 2009 BBC production of Jane Austen's Emma:
Emma Woodhouse was born with the sun shining... And so, the sun continued to shine brightly on Emma.
But other children in Highbury were not so fortunate. Young Frank Weston's world was turned upside down [when his mother died].
And little Jane Fairfax's life was never to be the same when her aunt fell on hard times.
And so Jane and Frank were forced to leave Highbury and trust their fortune to strangers, while Emma stayed comfortably at home.
"This one!" Sarah called out, handing Jane a navy blue skirt as they attempted to pick an outfit for Jane's date.
"Too short," Jane dismissed it. She had already rejected several other possibilities for one reason or another.
Sarah threw up her hands. "Oh, come on, Jane! You need to show off those gorgeous legs of yours."
"It's December," Jane reminded her. "It's chilly out." While it rarely got horribly cold in London, this wasn't L.A.
They finally compromised on a knee length black pencil skirt ("At least he'll still get to see your calves," Sarah had joked), along with an sleeveless emerald blouse that offered just a hint of cleavage. Jane would wear a short black jacket over it.
"OK, turn around, let me look at you." As Jane spun around, Sarah said, "You look amazing. Remember, you're going to have fun tonight. Don't do be too serious."
Jane pressed her lips together, trying to repress the silly smile she had worn all day. "I'll remember."
Peter arrived soon thereafter and he and Sarah departed, so Jane was alone when her doorbell rang. She took a deep breath as she answered the door. There Frank Churchill stood, smiling and wearing khaki trousers, a black knit shirt and blazer. He held in his hand a bouquet of multicolored freesias. For a brief moment, she was rendered speechless. Her interactions with him had been so brief at the engagement party that this was the first time she had had a prolonged, close-up look at him. He was a very handsome man, especially when he smiled, with his beautiful even teeth, deep dimples, and prominent cheekbones. Her eyes flashed to his hair, and again she hoped for a chance to run her fingers through his wavy black locks. How could a man have hair that beautiful?
"Good evening," he said, his grin widening as he appraised her appearance, seeming pleased. She found herself mesmerized by his deep and soulful voice. "May I come in?"
Get it together, Jane! she told herself. "Um, yes," she said, her voice sounding hoarse. She cleared her throat and opened the door wider to let him in.
A look of amusement crossed his face, as if he were suppressing laughter. Jane feared she was making a huge fool of herself by acting like a love-struck teenager.
"You're shorter than I remember," Frank said.
From another man, that might have sounded insulting, but Frank said it with such good humor that Jane's nervousness immediately dispelled and she started laughing. Yes, she was a lot shorter than he was, even in her high heels.
"How short are you, anyway?"
Grinning now at his cute way of asking the question, Jane answered, "Five feet two."
"A woman after my own heart! You still think in feet and inches."
"Just for height. When it comes to distance, it's metric all the way."
Frank held out the flowers. "For you."
"Thank you," she said as she took them. "And thank you for breaking the ice."
He grinned. "My pleasure."
She offered him a seat as she found a vase, filled it with water, and placed the flowers in it. "Ready?" he asked when she was done.
Jane nodded and picked up her purse. Frank stood and offered her his arm. She placed her hand inside his elbow, and then realized she'd need to let go to lock the door to her flat.
"You look very beautiful, by the way," Frank said as she took his arm again.
"Thank you," she said, feeling herself blush. "You look really good, too."
He grinned. "I figured you thought that by the way you were staring at me."
Jane laughed again. This guy was vain, but in such a... goofy way, that it was charming.
They rode the lift down to the lobby and exited to the street. Frank told her that he had had to park a few streets away, and offered to get his car and return for her. She shook her head and told him she didn't mind walking. That was normally true--she loved to walk, but generally wasn't wearing four-inch heels. She knew her feet would regret it, but nevertheless, she wanted to stay with Frank rather than have to wait for him, and she didn't want to seem like a woman who needed to be pampered. So walk they did.
She had to keep herself from gasping when they arrived at his car. Frank's silver Tesla was as beautiful as its owner. She felt a little thrill at having her first opportunity to ride in an electric vehicle.
They drove easily through the London streets to Chinatown, a relatively short distance from her Bethnal Green neighborhood. "Do you like Chinese food?" Frank asked.
"I love it," she answered. "I love most types of cuisine."
"Once more, you're proving to be a woman after my own heart." This was the second time he'd said that, and Jane wondered if this was something he said to every woman he dated.
Frank pulled into a car park and paid the fee. "We'll have to walk again, about two streets. Are you okay with that? I can always hail a taxi."
"Walking's fine," she assured him. "It's a beautiful night."
They bypassed several large and elegant restaurants as they walked, many with the word "Palace" in their names, and finally came to a small storefront with the neon sign in the window bearing the name "Ting's Diner." Frank held open the door for her and led her inside. The interior was small, somewhat dark and crowded with booths. Most of the diners were likely of Chinese ancestry. Jane was a bit surprised; the place did not look at all fancy, and appeared to be more of the type of inexpensive ethnic restaurant she liked to frequent rather than a place where someone like Frank would eat. Perhaps the food was first-rate.
Frank was greeted by the waitstaff in Chinese, and he responded in kind. They were led to a booth, where he extended his hand as Jane slid in. He sat down opposite her. A young woman promptly brought them a metal pot of tea. Frank turned over one of the two small cups already on the table and asked if she wanted some.
As he poured, an older woman wearing an apron approached their table. With a bright smile on her face, she spoke rapidly to Frank and placed her hand on his shoulder. It was a gesture of familiarity, which impressed Jane far more than taking her to any expensive venue would have.
Frank laughed and replied to the woman, while holding his hand out toward Jane. Jane only understood her name.
The woman then turned and addressed Jane in English. "What would you like? Our best for you tonight."
They'd been given no menus, so Jane picked the safest choice for her diet. "Something with tofu and vegetables?"
"Oh, yes! Do you like spicy or no?"
Jane grinned. "Definitely spicy."
The woman smiled and turned back to Frank, who spoke again to the her in Chinese. With another pat of his shoulder, she departed. Jane assumed their order was now placed.
After taking a sip of her tea, she took a stab at a question. "Was that Cantonese?"
"Did you grow up speaking it?"
He nodded again. "I did. My grandparents were from Hong Kong. I lived with them for part of my childhood." He smiled. "So. What do you think of this place?"
Jane wasn't sure how to answer at first. She liked it a great deal, but for a split second, wondered whether Frank considered her a cheap date. Not that she wanted him to spend a lot of money on her, in fact it would make her uncomfortable--but she didn't want to feel as though Frank considered her lesser than other women he might date. No, she thought. The fact that they were going to the theatre later argued against him being cheap right now. She was overthinking this--and taking too long to respond, since Frank, looking concerned, asked, "You're not pleased with this? We can go elsewhere, if you'd like."
"Oh, no!" Jane gave him a reassuring smile. "I really like it. It's just..." she peered at him, a thought suddenly occurring to her. "You talked to Peter, didn't you?"
He raised an eyebrow. "About what?"
"About what I'd like. I mean, how did you know I'd like a place like this?"
Frank laughed. "There's this thing called Google? I found a little notice about a speech you gave last year on the importance of patronizing small local businesses to support sustainability." His smile broadened. "So you are pleased."
"More so because you've obviously been here before than if you had just picked this place for tonight at random."
"My grandmother was a great cook. When I find someplace that reminds me of her cooking, I tend to eat there a lot."
With these little tidbits of information, Jane found her curiosity about Frank increasing. "Where did you grow up?"
"Beverly Hills for the first five years of my life, Hawthorne for the next six, and then Beverly Hills again until I graduated."
"That's a big contrast," Jane remarked, thinking about the difference between wealthy Beverly Hills and working class Hawthorne. His journey resembled her own in some ways. "How did that come about?"
"My mom died when I was five. Since my dad is English and he traveled a lot for work, my grandparents were worried that he'd ship me off to Europe somewhere and they'd hardly ever see me. They offered to have me come live with them. So I moved from my parents' house in Beverly Hills to my grandparents' in Hawthorne. I moved back with my dad at age eleven when he remarried."
"I'm sorry about your mom," she said, deeply empathetic since she'd been there, too. "How did she die, if you don't mind telling me?"
"I'm sorry," she said again before growing quiet. She couldn't imagine which was harder, watching a parent die over time from an illness as devastating as cancer, or losing them as suddenly as she had.
Frank shrugged slightly. "In some ways, it's hard to remember her, because I was so young. At the same time, there's a hole there that never really goes away."
Jane nodded. She understood. "So you must have appreciated the chance to live with your dad again."
Frank tilted his head. "I didn't see him much more after I moved back in with him than I had when I lived with my grandparents."
At her puzzled look, he explained. "If he wasn't busy with his own work, he was traveling with my stepmom trying to help her establish and expand her cupcake business. You know Cuddly Cupcakes?"
"Yeah, I loved that place when I was a kid! I was so excited when I read that they might be opening a store in London. That's your stepmom's business?"
"Not anymore. She handed over the reins to my stepbrother Ryan a few years ago."
"Oh, you have a stepbrother. Are you guys close?"
"Oh yeah. We were on our own a lot, so we became really tight. Our friendship was the best thing to come out of the four year marriage of our parents."
"Wait, you were on your own a lot at eleven? How old was Ryan?"
Jane stared at Frank incredulously, trying to grasp what he was telling her. "Your parents left a fifteen-year-old and an eleven-year-old on their own?"
"We weren't entirely alone. We had live-in servants, and my grandparents checked up on us."
"Still. I bet you and your brother got into a lot of trouble together."
Frank laughed. "Oh, we did! Ryan was cool, because he didn't mind his kid brother hanging around him."
"That probably made you grow up too fast."
With a grin, Frank rolled his eyes upward and nodded. "Probably."
Their conversation came to a pause due to the arrival of their meals. Jane's plate was placed before her along with a fork. She set the fork aside and picked up a pair of chopsticks from a vase in the middle of the table, snapping them apart, and began to eat.
Frank, who had started into his meal of shrimp, pork and vegetables, looked up in admiration. "You're good with a pair of sticks, I see."
Jane smiled. "I grew up in California! Lots and lots of bowls of pho in my past."
"I just realized that we've been talking a lot about me, and I haven't learned anything about you. So where are you from?"
"Not that far from Hawthorne. We might have bumped into each other as kids."
He was more right than he knew. "I also went to Beverly Hills High."
Frank leaned forward in surprise. "Don't tell me we were there at the same time!"
Jane shook her head. "I was class of 2005. You were class of 2000, right?"
He grinned. "Someone else used Google, I see."
She pursed her lips and nodded. "You caught me."
"I know you went to Oxford. Where'd you do your undergrad?"
Frank exhaled and covered his forehead as if he were in pain. "Just when things were going so well between us... Ugh! I'm going to have to ask for the check."
Jane giggled. "Don't tell me--you went to Stanford, didn't you?"
Frank nodded. "Berkeley," he mumbled, sounding stunned. "I can't believe you went to Berkeley." Then he laughed. "I'm enjoying your company, so I guess I can forgive that. Anyway, what about your family? Big, small, lots of brothers and sisters?"
Jane shook her head. "I'm an only child. My parents died when I was four."
"Both your parents?" Frank whistled. "Wow. How?"
"A car accident on I-5."
"I'm sorry, too," he said. "It seems we have something major in common."
"I know. I completely understand what you mean about the hole that never goes away."
Frank stared at her for a while, his expression serious. After a few moments, Jane spoke again. "You mentioned that your dad is English."
Frank smiled and held out his hands. "It's in the name."
"Are you telling me you're a descendant of Winston Churchill?"
"Of one of his cousins, actually."
"Is that why you moved to England?"
"Kind of. Because of the years I spent with my grandparents, I knew a lot about my Chinese heritage, but very little about my British heritage. So I chose Cambridge for my MBA."
Jane suppressed a smile, thinking that the Cambridge-Oxford rivalry was as intense as the Stanford-Berkeley one. As if he knew what she was thinking, Frank pointed at her. "Don't say it."
She couldn't hold her smile back anymore, and started laughing. "So," she finally said, "how did your parents meet?"
"My mom went to Stanford, too, and she did part of her junior year abroad in the UK. She met my dad and they fell in love. He wanted her to stay, but she was determined to finish her degree. Dad had already finished university, so he followed her back to Cali instead."
"And you've done the reverse. Will this be your permanent home?"
Frank look thoughtful for a moment. "I don't know. I don't know if any place is my permanent home. I maintain a house here and in L.A., but I travel a lot. I don't think I'm in any one location for an entire month at a time."
He grinned. "What about you, Ms. Fairfax? Will England be your permanent home?"
She shrugged. "As long as my work permit is still good." She grew quiet. "I know I want to go home at some point. I miss my family."
"Who raised you after your parents died?"
"My aunt and my grandmother."
"Another thing we have in common, living for part of our childhoods with grandparents."
"I know!" Jane mused. "It's almost like you're my long lost brother."
With that Frank's expression turned sensual. "Brother? Definitely not." He reached for her hand and began to stroke it. "You and I are definitely not related."
His touch, his look and his sexy voice were combining to send shivers down Jane's spine. Remembering that they were in a public place, she gently withdrew her hand from his and took a few more bites of food. He grinned at her, but also returned to eating.
They continued to talk and eat until Frank realized they would be late for their show if they didn't move on. The show he took her to was Stomp at the Ambassadors Theatre, a thoroughly thrilling rhythmic performance. Afterward, they stopped by a pub for a drink and to talk some more. It was close to one in the morning when Frank finally drove Jane home.
Amazingly, he found a parking spot within thirty meters of her flat, for which Jane was grateful, since her feet were screaming by then. He turned to Jane when he stopped the engine and said, "Let's put those Altoids to good use." She laughed, a little embarrassed that she hadn't been as discreet as she thought she'd been when she'd tucked the mints into her mouth during the car ride. Then she did what she had been dying to do all evening--slipped her fingers into his hair as Frank leaned toward her to kiss her. Not surprisingly, he was a great kisser, and their snogging soon turned deep and intense. Completely turned on, she suddenly realized that this was a bad idea--they were in his car, on the street. She pulled back, but smiled to let Frank know that it wasn't from any displeasure. Frank said softly, "I had an amazing time tonight, Jane, and I'd really like to spend the rest of it with you."
Jane hesitated. She had never slept with a man on a first date before, but she'd never felt like this on a first date before, either. She recalled Sarah's words--"Have a good time with an amazing bloke, but don't let your heart become engaged"--and she made a decision. "I'd like that, too," she said.
From Emma Approved, QA6:
Jane (in response to the question, "Coffee or tea?"): Tea. It's very soothing.
Frank (covering his face with a look of total exasperation): It's flavored hot water!
Jane: Coffee is technically that, too.
Jane woke up around seven the next morning, feeling really tired but happy. She wasn't sure how late it had been when she and Frank had finally fallen asleep. She watched him for a while as he continued to snooze soundly. Before she had admired his face; now she could admire his body. He was lean but muscular, with an athlete's physique. He had a tattoo of Chinese characters on his upper right arm; she would have to ask him what it meant.
After a few minutes, she realized it was unlikely she'd fall back to sleep, so she rose from bed and decided to go for a run. Hoping he wouldn't awaken before she returned, she left Frank notes in two places, on the pillow where she'd rested her head, and on the bathroom mirror. She left a note on Sarah's bedroom door as well, letting her know Frank was there. She knew it was doubtful that Sarah would see it, given that she was probably at Peter's place, but thought it wise to alert her just in case.
When she returned much more energized from her run about an hour later, she peeked in on Frank, who was still sleeping. Good, she thought. It would give her a chance to straighten up the flat. She took a quick shower, curled her hair, and then began tackling the dishes in the sink. She checked the refrigerator and found very little that she could make for breakfast. She considered running out for bagels, but was certain Frank would wake up during a second excursion outdoors. He couldn't sleep that long, could he?
She had been sitting on the sofa reading for a half hour or so when she finally heard her bedroom door open and saw Frank emerge, wearing the shirt and trousers he'd had on the night before. He had a bit of a shadow on his face, mostly on his chin, and his hair, while disheveled, still looked good. His eyes were only half open.
"Good morning, sleepyhead," she said with a smile.
He flashed a small smile and pointed at a nearby door. "That's the bathroom, right?"
Jane nodded, and he entered. He emerged a short while later and walked over to sit beside Jane. He flopped his head onto her shoulder as if going back to sleep. She nudged him off with a laugh, saying, "Come on, now, I've been up for a few hours."
"What time is it?"
Jane looked at the clock on the wall. "Ten-twelve."
Frank raised his left eyebrow. His left eye was wide open while his right eye was still shut. "And you've been up a few hours?"
He laughed. "You're nuts. You know how late we went to bed?"
Jane smiled. "I remember."
Frank smiled seductively. "It was a good time, Ms. Fairfax." She was wearing shorts, and he began to trail his fingers up her thigh. "So these are the legs that were wrapped around me last night. Very shapely."
Jane shrugged. "I run."
"Oh, that's what that note in the bathroom was about. You run competitively?"
"I used to. Now I'm training for the Surrey Half-Marathon in March."
"Have you run it before?"
"No, just 10ks. I've been trying to challenge myself to run a little farther each day."
"Mmm," Frank said, obviously bored now with talk of running and far more interested in her legs, which he was still caressing. She crossed one of her legs over his and leaned in to kiss him, and just as quickly leaned back.
"Sorry," Frank mumbled. "Do you have any more Altoids?"
Jane rose from the sofa and walked toward the front door, upon which her purse was hanging from a hook. She rummaged inside, located the small case of mints, and tossed them to him. She started to walk back to the sofa when Frank spotted her piano, now fully tuned, well-polished, and positioned against the wall beside the door.
"Do you play?" he asked, pointing at the instrument.
"Are you good?"
"Let me hear something."
Jane sat down on the piano bench and reached for the nearest score, Clementi's Sonatina in C major, and began to play. Within a minute, Frank said with a grin, "OK, OK, I got it: you're very good. Now get back here."
When she drew near with a smile, Frank pulled her into his lap and slipped his hands beneath her tank top. They kissed for real this time, his mouth now tasting sweet and hot. They fooled around for a while and ended up lying in each other's arms on the sofa. "I really like you, Jane," Frank said, his hand stroking her arm. His words startled her. He said them in such a sexy, flirty voice, she couldn't tell whether he was referring to his emotions or just his physical reactions.
To hide her confusion, she joked instead. "I guess you're awake now!"
Frank chuckled. "Yeah, but I need some coffee. Do you have any made?"
Jane shook her head. "We don't have a coffee maker."
Frank sat up suddenly, bringing Jane up with him. "You're kidding! How can you not have a coffee maker?"
"We just don't."
"It's because you have an espresso maker, right? Tell me you have an espresso maker."
She laughed. "No, neither Sarah nor I drink coffee. I have several types of tea though. May I make you a cup?"
Frank's mouth hung open and he squinted his eyes at her. "You drink tea? That's flavored hot water!"
He groaned. "How can you say that? Coffee is bold. Coffee is strong. Coffee is exciting!"
Jane snickered. "Coffee is not all that! It's just a beverage!"
Frank groaned again. "You're killing me, Jane! First it was Berkeley, and now it's... tea!" He spat out the last word as though he were describing something grotesque.
"There is a solution, you know. We can always go out for coffee. I don't have any food here anyway."
Frank smirked. "Oh, nice save! Maybe you and I have a future after all."
They made a plan to drive to Frank's place so that he could shower, shave and change clothes, followed by brunch at Tibit's, London's oldest vegetarian restaurant. Frank suggested the venue, which she thought was sweet. She hadn't yet told him she was vegan, but he'd obviously figured it out, probably based on what she'd ordered for dinner.
Frank lived on the eighteenth floor of a high rise in Kensington. The lift from the garage to his floor was fingerprint activated. The front door opened to a huge living room/dining room area, opposite a large picture window with a grand view of Kensington Gardens, Buckingham Palace and the London skyline. The hardwood floors were well-polished, and all the furniture was either black or white. As if to match the decor, a baby grand piano stood beside the window, its black and white keys gleaming in the sunlight.
Jane raised her eyebrows. "You didn't tell me you played!"
Frank grinned. "I don't."
"You have a baby grand piano just for show?"
"I thought it would look really cool in here, and it does."
Jane smiled. "May I?"
Frank stretched his arm toward the piano. "Be my guest."
As he turned to leave the room, Jane walked over to the piano and sat down. She ran her fingers gently across the keys and then tapped a few to ascertain that it was in tune. She then began to play Chopin's Nocturnes. Caught up in playing, she wasn't aware when Frank returned to the room until she felt a soft kiss against the back of her neck. She stopped and turned to look up at him as he continued to run his lips across her neck and throat.
"Don't let me stop you," he murmured. "I'm enjoying the concert."
His kisses were very distracting, not to mention that his face now felt soft and smooth and he smelled wonderful. Jane inhaled. "Um, Frank? I can't really play when you're doing that."
He slid onto the bench beside her and drew her face toward his. "Then let's do this instead," he said before meeting her lips with his own.
After about a minute, Jane pulled back. "Actually, I've now been up almost five hours, and I'm really hungry. Is it all right if we go?"
Fred nodded reluctantly, and then smiled. "All right, let's go."
At the restaurant, Frank asked her about being a vegan. "Was it an animal rights thing?"
Jane shook her head. "A health thing. My maternal grandfather died of a heart attack when my mom was fourteen; he was only thirty-eight. My grandmother ended up with kidney failure from Type II diabetes when I was fifteen, and now she's on dialysis. But the biggest blow was when my Aunt Maddy was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was sixteen, and she was just in her thirties."
"Wow," Frank said softly.
"Since my grandmother and Aunt Maddy raised me, you can imagine how freaked out I was by the possibility of losing either of them. Anyway, Maddy is the one who first went organic and then vegan as a way to maintain her health once her cancer went into remission, and I followed her example. She's now a ten-year survivor."
"It must be great to still have her in your life. Did your aunt and grandmother spoil you?"
"Not really. They had very high expectations for me. After my grandfather died, my grandmother had to raise two girls on her own, and without a whole lot of money or education herself, she managed to send both of them to college. But my mother dropped out to marry my father when she got pregnant with me. And then Maddy dropped out when my parents died. By then my grandmother was often sick, and now she had me to take care of, too. Aunt Maddy was only twenty-one, and suddenly she found herself having to work full-time to support a family."
"Were you supposed to make up for what your mom and your aunt didn't achieve?"
Something in his tone hit her the wrong way. "It wasn't like that, and in any case, my aunt eventually got her bachelor's degree, although it took a long time." Jane exhaled, trying to find a way to explain. "My grandmother and aunt made so many sacrifices for me. I can't let them down. I have to show them that everything they went through, all their struggles, were worth it."
Frank was quiet for a few moments. Finally, he smiled a little and said, "Gee, now I feel guilty because my grandparents spoiled me."
Jane laughed. "I can tell. But you've still done pretty well for yourself, in school and in business."
"Immigrant grandparents will do that to you. They push."
"I know! I have one."
"Really? Where's your grandmother from?"
He grinned, and Jane could tell Frank was thinking that immigrant grandmothers from former British colonies was yet another thing they had in common.
After finishing their meal, they took a walk hand in hand through Piccadilly Circus, during which Frank asked whether she wanted to return to his place, "to finish what we started on your sofa this morning."
As tempting as that sounded, Jane declined. "I need to go grocery shopping and do laundry."
Frank looked disappointed, but said okay. He was somewhat quiet on the drive back to Jane's place. When he pulled up on her street, she asked him what his plans were for the coming week. "I'm flying out tomorrow morning for a ten-day trip to Singapore, China and Japan."
Frank nodded and grinned. "But I'll make sure there's some pleasure in there."
She worked up the guts to say, "Maybe we can see each other again when you get back."
"Maybe." He got out and walked around his vehicle to let Jane out and walk her to her door. He held out his hand to her when they arrived at the entrance of her building. She took it, and he gave it a gentle squeeze. "I had a nice time this weekend, Jane Fairfax. I'll call you sometime."
With that, he turned back toward his car, leaving Jane, after having had such a satisfying weekend, feeling strangely empty inside.
From the introduction to the 2009 BBC production of Jane Austen's Emma:
"We must let Jane go," Jane's aunt says. "Captain Campbell is very well set up. He will give her the education we cannot."
Jane's grandmother replies in tears, "But we can't just let the child go! Our lovely little girl!"
"Mother, we'll have to leave this house soon for one smaller. We promised that we would do our best for Jane."
As they lead Jane out to a carriage, her aunt tells her, "Now remember, Jane, to write to us as often as you can. You'll become wonderfully accomplished someday!"
Jane had a standing appointment every Sunday night. If she neglected to email her aunt and grandmother at least every other day, or if she forgot their weekly phone call, they'd be on the phone immediately trying to make sure nothing was wrong. She hated to worry them, so at ten PM sharp every Sunday, she made a call to her family's home in California. She'd reach them at two in the afternoon in Los Angeles, having given them plenty of time to return home from church.
"JAANNNE!" Aunt Maddy squealed as soon as she answered the call.
Jane grinned, even as she held the phone away from her ear. Maddy's enthusiasm always made her smile.
"Tell my baby girl I love her!" she heard her grandmother shout in the background. It was how she always started their phone calls.
"I love you too, Grandma!" Jane called back, although she knew Maddy would have to pass on the message. Jane didn't talk directly to her grandmother anymore, as her hearing was too poor for them to communicate clearly on an international call.
"MAMA! Jane loves you, too!" Maddy shouted, to which Grandma responded, "I know!" Jane had to hold back her laughter. It was a silly ritual, but they did it every time. No matter where Jane was in the world, this would always be her tether.
They continued to talk this way, with Jane and Maddy conversing and drawing Grandma in through messages passed back and forth. Neither of them had been able to successfully convince Grandma to get a hearing aid. A real beauty in her youth and still attractive at 68, Grandma was a little vain, and ashamed of the swollen and misshapen veins in her arm from dialysis. Jane and Maddy thus knew they had to use finesse to get Grandma to accept anything else that would make her feel less pretty. It had taken a lot of pleading for Grandma to finally agree to purchase glasses. Watching TV and reading were definite incentives for corrective lenses, and she could always take them off in public. On the other hand, Grandma insisted she didn't need a hearing aid when she had closed-captioned TV and a naturally loud daughter.
"Tell her Brother Robinson's son is getting married!"
"Brother Robinson's son--" Maddy repeated.
"I heard," Jane interrupted, since Maddy rarely seemed to remember that although Grandma couldn't hear well, she could. "That's awesome! I'm so happy for Anthony. Is she a nice girl?"
"MAMA, Jane says it's wonderful! She wants to know if he's marrying a nice girl!"
"Oh, she's very nice! Very pretty, too!"
"Please tell Anthony congratulations for me."
"We will! Hey, how are your kids?"
"They're doing well. Daniel has an audition with that music school."
"MAMA! The little Bajan boy got a music school audition!"
"Tell him his granny in America is proud of him!"
"I'll tell him," Jane said with a smile. Upon learning that Daniel's parents were from Barbados, Grandma had adopted him, even though she'd never met him.
"Mama, she'll tell him! Oh! Did I tell you I took a hot yoga class? Girl, I thought I was going to die! I told myself if this is what I need to do to get in shape, I will love all my curves just the way they are!"
Jane smiles turned to laughter. Maddy usually got her rolling.
"I didn't even think I'd make it through the class, but I kept telling myself, 'Jane's running a marathon, Jane's running a marathon. If she can do that, you can do this!' You are still planning to run it, right?"
"Half-marathon, and yes."
"MAMA, Jane's still running that marathon!"
"Tell her I'm proud of her and to keep it up."
"JANE! Mama is--"
"Proud of me, I know."
"And so am I! You keep it up, you hear me? There was a time I was as skinny as you are."
"Real men like curves, though," Grandma said.
"MAMA! She's skinny, but she's got plenty of curves, exactly where she needs them! Not that it matters, because she's focused on her career right now!"
"That doesn't mean she can't meet somebody."
Jane grew quiet, her good mood suddenly dissipating. The day before, she had anticipated saying those very words, "I met somebody," on this phone call, but now she was no longer sure.
"How was your weekend? Did you do anything special?"
Jane told Maddy and Grandma about seeing Stomp, and the wonder of watching the cast create incredible music and beats out of ordinary objects. She couldn't bring herself to tell them that she had seen the show with someone.
When her call ended, she knocked on Sarah's door, wanting a chance to talk. She had heard her flatmate return home a short time earlier. "Come in," Sarah called out. It was close to eleven, but Jane knew that Sarah would be up for a while. Her studies required many long nights, and although the fall term had officially ended the day before, she was used to going to bed late. Short, blond and very pretty, Sarah had spent her life fighting against being stereotyped by cultivating a very academic persona.
Sarah sat cross-legged on her bed reading a bridal magazine as Jane walked in. Jane took a seat in the small pneumatic chair at her desk. "How are Maddy and your grandmother?" asked Sarah, who knew her friend's routine.
Jane smiled, spinning slightly in the chair. "They're doing well. Maddy made me laugh with a story about taking a hot yoga class. How about you? How does it feel to be done for the term?"
"Fantastic!" Sarah exhaled in joy. "I feel as if real life can actually begin now, at least for a few weeks. Hey, I haven't told you yet that Peter and I are talking about holding the wedding in Glasgow."
"Your dad must be thrilled about that."
"He is. We'll hold the wedding at my grandparents' church, and when we're there this Christmas, we'll look for a place for the reception. You're still coming with us for the holidays?"
"Of course," Jane replied. "I'll probably return after Boxing Day, if that's all right. Rose wants to invite me over for a thank you dinner."
Sarah grinned. "That's fine. I'm sure her food will be a good deal better than my grandparents'." Her smile widened. "So, you haven't told me about your date yet."
Jane sighed heavily. "Uh-oh," Sarah said. "Did it not go well?"
"No, it did. It just ended... weirdly." Frank's goodbye had felt like a rejection, leaving Jane frustrated and confused. She proceeded to tell Sarah about the weekend, finishing by saying, "I can't believe I slept with him! I feel like such a fool!"
"Don't do this to yourself," Sarah told her. "You said you had a good time."
"Then don't regret what happened. He either decided he's not into you, or he's an arse who doesn't like not getting his own way. He's a rich man. It's not unexpected."
Jane nodded to acknowledge the point.
"Jane, either chalk it up to a mistake you had fun making, or hold onto it as a good memory, but don't let it affect your life. He's not worth it. Or I should say, you're worth so much more."
Jane chewed her bottom lip. "You're right."
Sarah stepped off the bed and walked over to hug Jane. "Just remember, if you hear from him again, keep your head and don't let him touch your heart."
Jane gave her friend an appreciative squeeze, and thanked her before saying goodnight. When she returned to her room, however, she admitted to herself that Sarah's warning was already too late. Who was she kidding to think that she could have a lighthearted fling with someone and just move on? It wasn't that she wasn't a risk taker; she was, whether that meant conquering stage fright or standing up to powers that be or traveling to impoverished nations or riot-torn neighbourhoods. It was just that her decisions were almost always serious ones, made because she felt a conviction about whatever she was about to undertake.
With Frank, there had been no conviction, just the desires of the moment, and now she was deeply embarrassed that she had acted so hastily. She was one of who knows how many women he dated, whose company he no doubt enjoyed--he seemed to like people in general, and attractive women in particular--but whom he probably quickly forgot about once the next pretty face came along. Okay, maybe that was unfair. She didn't know him well enough to make that judgment about him. But that was the problem, wasn't it? She didn't really know him, and had already been intimate with him. She had never been a hookup or friends with benefits type of person. There was no way she could be that way with Frank, if she ever saw him again.
And dammit, she wanted to see him again. That was the real problem. She had liked Frank from the moment he had teased her about her height, and her feelings had grown from there. She considered him extremely attractive, she loved that he found so much humour in everything, and she admired the fact that beneath those surface qualities he seemed to have depth and intelligence. He had said some things during the weekend that suggested he reciprocated her feelings, but she couldn't be sure whether flirtations fell from his lips as easily as overripe fruit from a tree, or if his words were more meaningful. And the way he had left things--was he saying, "It's been fun, but see ya!" or was he just pissed off that she had things to do rather than spend more time with him? Neither option was promising nor comforting.
Well, she needed to stop worrying about it. Frank would either call again or he wouldn't. In the meantime, she had many areas of her life that needed her attention.
On Monday morning, she read the quotes above her desk again to remind herself what her focus should be: "No community should be saddled with more environmental burden and less environmental benefits than any other," and "Earth and water, air and waning fire of the sun combine to form the essential elements of life and reveal to me my kinship with the soil."
She understood that kinship, having felt it since she was a young child. She had grown up in the city, but each time she stepped into her backyard, she was transported to another world. "The park is for playing, but the yard is for growing," her grandmother had always told her. She remembered Grandma taking her hands and running them through the soil. Jane had marveled at how the dirt could feel cool and damp even on a hot day, and at the tickle of earthworms and roly polies that crawled around her fingers. "This, child," Grandma would say, "sustains us all."
By the time Jane was thirteen, however, she began to find the whole thing silly. Her family hadn't made a living from agriculture since her great-grandparents' day. At that point in her life, the Bates' huge backyard garden was just an annoyance to her. She was continually embarrassed at Grandma or Aunt Maddy yelling at the neighbourhood boys who jumped their fence to steal ripened tomatoes and plums for inner-city versions of paintball fights. She also grumbled about the chores it added to her life, such as hauling buckets of water that filled up during showers out to the yard to water trees during the increasingly frequent times in which California faced water shortages. Her family didn't have any sophisticated grey water reclamation system other than young Jane's arms and legs.
Jane was never a bad kid, but she wasn't above typical teenage moodiness. That all changed when Grandma's kidneys failed during Jane's fifteenth year, and when Maddy was diagnosed with cancer six months later. She knew that the last thing they needed was any stress coming from her. Their garden became a lifesaver when money became tight after Aunt Maddy took a leave of absence from work to care for Grandma and herself. She would never return to full-time work, instead turning to financial consulting from home.
One of the few times Aunt Maddy had ever really been stern with her occurred when Jane came home one afternoon to tell her that she had been hired as a cashier at the Popeye's down the street. "Jane," Maddy pointed at her, "walk right out this door and go back and tell them you quit."
"But we need the money, Aunt Maddy!" Jane had protested.
"No, YOU need to stay focused on your studies. I will not let you do anything that takes away from that. You hear me, young lady?"
"Yes, ma'am," Jane replied, before leaving to carry out Maddy's orders.
Unable to work for money, Jane dedicated herself to maintaining their garden, and began to use its produce, previously shared freely with neighbours, for a more traditional means of sustenance: barter. In this way they managed to get their hair done, keep the car running, and fill the pantry with food that couldn't be grown during Jane's high school years.
"Jane," Alyssa said, startling her from her thoughts, "it's time for the staff meeting."
Jane quickly gathered up the report she had been compiling and followed Alyssa to their office's small conference room. Once everyone was assembled, Eugenie got started right away. "All right, updates. Jane, why don't you begin?"
Jane opened up her binder. "As you know," she told her colleagues, "the Lancaster-Beckworth Foundation provided the seed funding for my position and my current project. I submitted a status report to the foundation administrator two weeks ago, and last Friday I received an email inviting me to present my project before their entire board of trustees on the 24th of February."
"Awesome!" said Arjun, who was about thirty. He and Jane had been hired at the same time as part of Eugenie's efforts to expand the organisation's diversity. He had a very interesting story--he and his wife were both born and raised in London, but he was Hindu and the child of Indian immigrants, while she was Muslim and of Bangladeshi descent. "Are they planning to renew your funding if they like it?"
Jane smiled. "I certainly hope so!"
"Lancaster-Beckworth is one of the largest philanthropic foundations in England," Eugenie noted, "so we've asked them to triple the amount of funding they provided before. It would allow us to expand this project on a large scale, as well as continue to keep Jane and Alyssa on staff."
Jane's presentation would be both the culmination and the beginning of a major dream of hers, one that started with her decision at age sixteen to maintain her family's gardens. It was then that she learned how beneficial her family's habit of saving shower water had been. During times of water rationing, the Bates' gardens grew lush and green, while those among their neighbours who also gardened often had to let their plants die. Needless to say, Jane stopped complaining about having to haul grey water.
In the last four years that she'd been overseas, California's drought had gotten much, much worse. Her home state, which produced nearly half of the U.S.'s food, was rapidly turning into a giant desert. As a result, the second noun of Wangari Maathai's quote had become much more significant to Jane: Earth and water. No amount of earth could provide sustenance without water, the principal element for sustaining life.
London had the opposite problem: too much water and flooding. But the poorest neighbourhoods were often the least prepared to handle the rising waters, a phenomenon that was happening more and more frequently. Local engineers and the government would continue to find ways to strengthen the Thames Barrier and other anti-flood measures to protect the city as a whole, but what resources would be available to help those most in need? That's where Jane's project could make a difference.
"What would their funding allow you to do?" Derek asked. Derek was in his mid-thirties and had been with Sustainable London from the beginning. He and Eugenie had worked together at a bank and frequently used to talk about doing something more important with their lives. When Eugenie decided to start the organisation using some of her family's fortune as startup capital, Derek had followed her.
Jane turned to another page in her binder. "I've done research about community initiatives in several cities across the U.S. that are experimenting with systems to better absorb storm water runoff and filter out contaminants before they enter and overflow the groundwater and sewer systems, such as open tree pits, curbside planters and rain gardens. The best thing about most of these ideas is that they don't cost huge amounts of money to install, and ordinary people can be taught how to create them."
"Including youth!" Alyssa announced, to everyone's laughter. At twenty, she was the youngest staff member of Sustainable London, in charge of youth outreach.
"Do you plan to have young people carry out these projects?" asked Andrew. In his early forties, Andrew was a very big man, about six foot four and largely built, but one of the kindest people Jane knew. He and his wife Ife were originally from Nigeria. He had been the only staff person of colour at Sustainable London back when Jane interviewed Eugenie for her master's thesis.
"Yes, and Alyssa's been doing a great job reaching out to many of the youth organisations in the city to get them interested," Jane answered. "A lot of kids want to do something that will really make a difference, and once you explain to them what this is about and how it can help their communities, many of them want to help."
"We're talking to university students, too," Alyssa added.
"That's right," Jane went on. "Especially university students studying landscape architecture or town planning and the like. They're looking for hands-on experience in their fields, and giving them a chance to design these systems provides that."
"But it's the teens who are coming up with the visions," Alyssa said. "Many of them are so talented, especially the ones who like to tag. I've been asking them to take their artistic skills and draw what their neighbourhoods will look like when these water systems are in place. It gives them ownership, and so they'll protect it. The university students then try to help them work out the specifications."
"I'm very proud of both Alyssa and Jane," Eugenie said. "They've worked very hard on this project, and it's really coming together. I've been working with a few of the borough councils to agree to serve as demonstration areas for this. As Jane said, providing one rain garden or one curbside planter is inexpensive, but if you want to transform an entire neighbourhood or borough with these systems, that's going to cost a lot. That's why we want Lancaster-Beckworth Foundation to step up their funding."
Jane's colleagues asked a few more questions before they turned to projects the others were working on. She returned to her desk after the meeting encouraged by their support but knowing she had much more to do to make sure her presentation wowed the Lancaster-Beckworth trustees at the Feburary meeting.
Her week passed quickly with Jane being much too busy during the day to think about Frank. When she finally wound down every night, however, he would intrude into her thoughts again. She had told herself for so long that she didn't want a relationship, but now she realized that maybe she did. She envied Sarah and Peter's happiness, and wondered what it would be like to have that for herself.
She still felt embarrassed about her behavior during the weekend, but now felt far more foolish about continuing to debate the question "did he like me or not?" in her head instead of finding answers. By Friday, Frank still hadn't called, and Jane decided to find out once and for all whether Frank was, as Sarah put it, not into her or just an arse. He was traveling for ten days, which meant he should be back in London by Wednesday, December the 17th. The following Saturday was the winter solstice, during which Eugenie held an annual dinner and celebration. Would Frank want to go to something that was a bit off-beat, if it were possible he wanted to see her again?
There was only one way to find out. She texted him, "Eugenie's having solstice dinner Sat the 21st. Want to come?" She took a deep breath and hit Send, knowing that Frank's response--or lack thereof--would answer her gnawing questions. When she didn't hear from him at all that day, she assumed that it was time to forget all about Frank Churchill. Mid-morning on Saturday the 14th, however, she received a text from him that read, "I would love to."
The day that Frank accepted Jane's invitation, he had called her, and they had talked a couple more times before he returned to London the following Wednesday. He wanted to see her on Thursday evening, but she had music lessons, so they made plans for dinner on Friday. He took her to another small storefront restaurant, this one Pakistani. "Are you impressed with this one, too?" he had teased her.
Jane smirked back. "Not really. Now, if you had broken out into Urdu, then I might have been impressed."
He scowled. "Oh, yeah? What languages do you speak, Ms. Fairfax?"
"French and Spanish."
"Let me guess: you're fluent in both of them, aren't you?"
Jane hesitated for a moment before nodding.
"I knew it," Frank laughed. "I guess I have to take you to Barcelona or Paris sometime, to see you in action."
Was he serious or not? Jane couldn't tell. "So," she said, trying to sound casual, "what else do you speak besides English and Cantonese?"
"Nothing besides what little of my high school French I remember. But," he added with a grin, "I always learn to say a greeting and thank you and a few other keys phrases for whichever country I'm visiting. You know, where's the beer? Where's the bathroom? Stuff like that."
They made it an early night because Frank was still jet-lagged, and Jane had promised Sarah a day of wedding dress hunting on Saturday. She and Sarah met with success the next day by shopping at vintage clothing stores once again. They selected a gown of eggshell white satin with a full skirt and lacey bodice, for a great price of only 85 pounds. In order to not have to carry it on the Tube, they shared the cost of a taxi ride home, laying the dress in its garment bag across both their laps.
When they returned, Jane and Sarah began to get ready for the solstice party. During the two years that Jane had worked for Eugenie, Sarah and Peter had attended a number of events with Jane's boss and mentor and had become good friends with her. Peter arrived at their flat early and left soon thereafter with Sarah, carrying with them the dish of curried couscous and chick peas that Jane had made for the supper, as well as their own offerings of ale and cranachan, a traditional Scottish dessert made from toasted oatmeal, raspberries, whipping cream, and whiskey.
When Frank arrived a short while later, he told Jane he had something for her. "I thought this might be a good occasion for it."
Jane looked in surprise as Frank handed her a small purple velvet-wrapped box that was tied with a cream-coloured ribbon. "You don't have to buy me anything."
He shrugged. "I wanted to."
She untied the ribbon and opened the box, finding inside a gold necklace from which a floral pendant dangled.
"It's a Risis orchid," Frank explained. "It's the national flower of Singapore. They dip the actual flower in gold to make these."
She touched the pendant gently. "It's beautiful."
"Allow me." He took the box from her hand and removed the necklace. Jane turned around so he could fasten it around her neck. He wore a huge smile on his face when she turned back to face him. "Now, you'll always have a flower from me no matter where you are."
Jane smiled and thanked him, feeling really touched that he had thought to give her this gift.
They had about an hour's drive ahead of them to Eugenie's house in Surrey. During the ride, she asked Frank to tell her about some of his travels. He described the voyage to Asia he'd just concluded, an ice-fishing trip to Norway he'd taken about six weeks earlier, and being totally unprepared for cold weather at the beach during a visit to New Zealand just before their first date. "It was almost summer there. I expected it to be hot! I almost hopped on a plane to Australia just to thaw out, but then I decided to come back and see you instead," he added with a flirty grin.
Jane rolled her eyes. Surely she wasn't what brought him back to England. He was on his way back anyway, and seeing her was maybe just a bonus.
"What about you? Where have you traveled besides England?"
Jane told him about her trip to the Caribbean to meet her Bajan relatives at age ten, and day trips to Tijuana as a kid and to other European cities since she'd lived in England. "But my most memorable trips took place during two summers. I spent the summer after my junior year in college working with an NGO in Guatemala. The summer after my first year at Oxford I worked with a children's orphanage in Sierra Leone."
"Jaaannne," Frank said. "Doing good around the world!"
She shook her head. "That's not the point. I was there for one summer each and then went back to my life in the developed world. It's more important to help the people who actually live there build upon their local resources so that they can take care of themselves when people like me leave."
Frank didn't respond for a moment, and then shouted, "All right, then. Local resources. Power to the people!" making Jane laugh and shake her head.
They eventually arrived at a two-story, twenty-five room Georgian style house that stood on two acres of land in a small village in Surrey. This was Eugenie's holiday and weekend home, which she had inherited from her parents; during the week she lived in a flat in London. Eugenie had worked to reduce the carbon footprint of her ancestral property, installing solar panels and composting toilets (which, Jane had learned during her time overseas, were not at all unpleasant), and making other eco-friendly modifications without taking away from the house's historical character. A family of caretakers lived in a smaller house on the property, and Eugenie also donated space on her land to local community gardeners.
Small soy candles glowed inside mason jars that lined the walkway from the drive to Eugenie's front door. Inside the foyer, the house smelled richly of pine, curry, cinnamon and other spices. Peter and Sarah along with Jane's coworkers were already present and socializing in a large front parlour, so Jane walked around the room to introduce Frank to them.
"This is Andrew and his wife Ife," Jane presented the first couple.
When Frank and Andrew shook hands, Frank's eyes grew large. "Wow, what a grip!" he said with a grin.
"I'm so sorry," Andrew replied.
"Oh, no, it just means I need to work out more!" Frank said and they both laughed.
"This is Derek. Derek, Frank."
The two men greeted each other. As Jane turned to move on, Derek whispered in her ear, "Oh, he's a hottie!"
"Shh!" she whispered back.
"This is Arjun and his wife Sabina," Jane went on, leading Frank to the next couple.
"How you doing, mate," Arjun said to Frank.
"A pleasure," Sabine added.
"And this is Alyssa and..." Jane's co-worker was standing with a guy she didn't recognize, who was, like Alyssa, similarly tatted and pierced.
"Jonathan," Alyssa said. Her friend didn't speak, but merely nodded at both Jane and Frank.
They went on to meet some of Eugenie's other friends around the room, a few of whom Jane had met at previous gatherings.
"Who owns the bloody Tesla in the drive?" a voice echoed into Eugenie's parlour. Coiffed in stringy blond dreadlocks and dressed in a woolen Rasta sweater, the owner of the voice soon followed. Jane gritted her teeth and sighed. Diggy was here.
Frank raised his eyebrows. "That would be me."
"And who are you?" the newcomer asked.
Jane stepped between the two men. "Diggy, this is my friend, Frank. Frank, this Eugenie's nephew, Diggy." Divorced many years earlier, Eugenie had never had children. Diggy was her only living relative.
Frank held out his hand, but Diggy refused to take it. "Just like a Yank to spend the most money you can on the most pretentious auto you can find," he sneered. "But we'll see whose smiling when peak oil hits."
"Diggy, please," Jane said sharply, and then looked over at Frank to see how he was taking Diggy's rant. He didn't seem upset, but rather amused.
"It's an electric car," Frank grinned. "They generally don't need oil. That's the point."
Many of the assembled guests had stopped their conversations and had begun to watch the interaction. "You think it will matter when it all goes to hell? You'll find your Tesla stripped and burned out on the road, while I'm relaxing in my transition town."
"Where the folks who stripped and burned my car will politely knock at your door?"
Several people laughed. Diggy looked around and glared at them. "You Americans think everything will last forever. Well, it won't!"
"True," Frank said. "So instead of looking forward to some coming collapse, why not do what we can to prevent it? Including having guys like me buy Teslas."
More laughter followed, and Peter clapped Diggy on the shoulder. "Give it up, mate. You're losing this one."
"Digman!" someone said sternly.
Jane looked up to see Eugenie, having entered the room in response to the commotion, standing in the archway. She held a lighter in her hand.
"Diggy, I think we need to light more candles in the dining room. Why don't you be a love and do that for me?"
Diggy snatched the lighter from Eugenie's hand but turned back to Frank, muttering, "Bloody wanker." He then looked at Jane and said, "I never reckoned you for a sellout," before walking away.
Thoroughly embarrassed, Jane placed her hand on Frank's arm. "I'm really sorry," she whispered.
He laughed. "Why? He's not your fault."
Eugenie approached them. "Please forgive my nephew. He tends to be overzealous and under thoughtful."
"Not a problem," Frank assured her. "I always enjoy a good debate."
"Jane, will you please help me in the kitchen?"
Jane released Frank's arm and followed Eugenie into her spacious kitchen, which boasted a charming combination of old-fashioned wooden cabinets and modern, energy-efficient stainless steel appliances.
"Frank isn't angry, is he?" Eugenie asked once the swinging door had shut behind them.
"I don't think so," Jane answered. "He seemed to find Diggy funny."
"But you seem upset."
Jane nodded. "I'm embarrassed on Frank's behalf. But also..." She thought about what she wanted to say. She had known Frank was rich from the beginning, and she'd soon learned that he liked to live well. Eugenie was rich, too, but she lived very simply. That shouldn't matter, should it? She wasn't sure. "Do you think I'm a sellout, Eugenie?"
"Please tell me you're not letting something Diggy said bother you. Jane, he's a thirty-six year old man who pretends to be one of the people, when he's really an unemployed trust fund baby spending down his inheritance and waiting for his aunt to die so he can inherit some more." She gave a short laugh. "Little does he know that I'm leaving most of my money to charity."
When Jane didn't respond, Eugenie went on. "Frank seems like a decent fellow, but even if you don't share all the same politics, it doesn't matter."
"Because it's hard enough finding a satisfying relationship in this world." She leaned toward Jane with a playful smile. "For that reason, I never let my politics interfere with my relationships, or vice versa!"
Jane had to smile at that comment, and then laughed when Eugenie winked and said, "So make sure you follow that rule tonight. If you want!"
The rest of the evening went well, with a chastened Diggy mostly keeping his mouth shut. Frank really knew how to work a room, telling stories that had everyone laughing. The group shared a potluck supper that included a variety of options for herbivores and omnivores alike, plenty of mulled cider and ale, and their intentions for the coming year. "Since my current project will soon be completed," Jane shared, "I intend to find new directions professionally and personally." The assembled guests raised their glasses and drank to that, as drinking to everyone's intentions was a big part of the fun. Whether the contents were alcoholic or not depended on the person bearing the glass.
"Hmm," Frank said when it was his turn, "I intend to learn lessons I never have before."
"Good one!" Sarah encouraged him.
When Frank drove Jane home later, she asked whether he had enjoyed himself. "Oh, I had a very good time! Even our little rasta buddy was fun. I do have a question."
"Eugenie called him Digman. He wouldn't be Digman Tucker, would he?"
"Yes, that's him. How did you know?"
"There's a company I serve on the board for, and all the board members regularly get hate mail from a Digman Tucker." Frank grinned. "It's a good thing you didn't tell him my last name, or he really would have lost it."
"The agribusiness?" Jane paused, thoughtful. "They're not the most sustainable of companies. I can see why Diggy would target them."
"It's improving. We started a new line of organic foods last year."
"But that's a fraction of their overall business. It can't begin to make up for the damage they're doing with the rest of their operations."
Frank's smile faded. "Are you going to argue with me, too? It was funny coming from him. Not so much from you."
Jane didn't respond, hearing Eugenie say again, "It's hard enough finding a satisfying relationship in this world. For that reason, I never let my politics interfere with my relationships, or vice versa." Could she follow that philosophy?
Frank put on some music and they drove the rest of the way back to London without speaking, listening, ironically, to the sounds of Lorde.
When they arrived at Jane's street, there were no open parking spots, so Frank idled in the road in front of her building. "Frank," she said slowly. He turned to look at her, his expression hard to read. "You can pull into the same car park as last time," she went on, "if you want to stay again."
His face softened. "You want that?"
"Yes," she said firmly.
Now Frank smiled. "Carpe diem, Jane. Seize the day."
She smiled back. "Or the night, as the case may be."
From a character analysis of Jane Fairfax in Emma, from Schmoop dot com:
Maybe Jane keeps her cool so well because, well, she actually is pretty cool. She's the only self-made woman in the novel. Orphaned when she was young, Jane quickly learns that she's got to be good at taking care of herself. She sings, plays the piano, sews, and is about to start teaching--in other words, she does just about everything that a woman could do in her time. And she does them all really, really well. In fact, Emma hates her at first because she's just too...good!
When Jane woke up the next morning, Frank was again in a deep sleep. She had come to the conclusion that due to all his travels, his internal clock was probably all messed up, so when he had the chance to sleep in, he took it.
She rose and went to the living room, where she found Sarah and Peter sitting on the sofa, talking. "Good morning," Sarah said. "Peter and I were just talking about going out to breakfast. Do you want to join us?"
Jane pointed her thumb toward her bedroom. "Frank is here, and he's still sleeping."
Peter raised his eyebrows as Sarah spoke again. "Well, we could leave you two..."
Jane laughed. "That's not necessary. Why don't I make breakfast? I think I have what I need for pancakes." Since she was a kid, pancakes had been something she had loved to make and eat.
They agreed, and Jane returned to her bedroom to try to rouse Frank. She lay down beside him, thinking again about how handsome she found him, and gently kissed his lips. After a few such kisses, he cracked open one eye and threw his arm around her to pull her closer. "Nice way to wake up," he said.
Jane smiled and kissed him again, this time more deeply. His morning breath was much better than it had been two weeks earlier, but that was understandable. This time, he had brought with him a small travel bag with a change of clothing and toiletries, including a toothbrush. When he removed the bag from his trunk the night before, he had assured Jane, "I didn't pack this with any expectations. I was just kinda, sorta hoping."
Frank began to slip his hands beneath her clothes, so she pulled back. "I need to go make breakfast."
"Why?" Frank asked, nuzzling her neck. "I have everything I need to eat right here."
Jane laughed but pulled away further. "Sarah and Peter are here, and I promised them."
Frank exhaled heavily and mumbled something under his breath.
"What was that?"
Frank wore a pout on his face, but his eyes twinkled. "Nothing. I'll get up." He sat up, stretched, and slowly rose to his feet. Finding his bag, he pulled out a T-shirt and pair of jeans. The T-shirt was black and fit snugly, emphasizing the muscles in his chest and arms and reminding her of what he had looked like the moment before he'd donned the shirt. Jane had to force herself to turn away before she decided to jump him back into bed.
He followed her out of the bedroom and stopped at the bathroom, while Jane walked on to the kitchen. She pulled a small jar of milled flax seeds from the refrigerator. She added 30 ml of the seeds along with 60 ml of water to a blender and ran it for a minute. She would let the mixture sit for a while until it became a gel about the consistency and thickness of two raw eggs. It was a good vegan replacement for eggs in pancake batter.
Once the blender stopped, she could hear Frank in the living room, talking to Sarah and Peter. She smiled. She loved hearing Frank's voice. They were laughing now, and then Sarah called out, "Jane! You need to come out here!"
"What is it?" she asked when she joined the other three.
"Frank is quite upset that we still don't have a coffee maker," Sarah told her.
Jane held out her arms. "I've told him we have plenty of tea! Some of it even contains caffeine."
Frank, sitting in a chair near the sofa, groaned. "I can't take this! How can you stand it, man?" he asked Peter.
"I'm fine with either coffee or tea," Peter replied.
"You're supposed to be on my side!"
Peter stood up. "Come on then. There's a café nearby. Let's get some."
Frank looked deeply relieved. "Thank you, thank you!"
Jane laughed again as she returned to the kitchen. Sarah followed her, and as soon as they heard the front door shut behind the two men, she said, "So?"
Jane didn't answer at first, taking a minute to measure out a few different types of flours into a large mixing bowl. Finally, she said, "Remember all your warnings?"
"Totally shot to hell."
Sarah smiled. "You really like him, don't you?"
Jane stopped sprinkling cinnamon into the flour and nodded. "I haven't felt like this about someone in a very long time."
"So don't listen to me. What do I know?"
"You're getting married. You obviously know how to have a successful relationship. Will you please hand me some milk?"
Sarah opened the refrigerator. "It's only successful because I'm lucky. I'm nobody's relationship expert."
"So what do I do? Hope I'm lucky, too?"
"Enjoy it and see where it goes, I suppose." Sarah pulled out a carton of coconut milk, passing it to Jane.
By the time the men returned and entered the kitchen, Jane had just poured the last of the pancake batter into the skillet. When Peter gave his fiancée a pointed look, Sarah opened a cabinet and pulled out four plates, and then grabbed four place settings of utensils from a drawer. "Frank, will you help me set the table?" she asked.
After Frank and Sarah left the room, Peter whispered, "He really likes you and says he has no intentions of hurting you."
Jane gaped. "What did you say to him?"
"I just asked him how he feels about you, and told him I don't want to see you get hurt."
"Oh my God, Peter, I can't believe you did that!"
"Why? Jane, you're like a sister to me. Of course I'm going to look out for you."
She exhaled, trying to hold her temper. "First of all, I'm a grown woman. I don't need you interfering in my relationships. And second, he's your investor! The last thing I want is for anything that happens between Frank and me to affect anything that happens between Frank and you!"
She clapped her hand over her mouth, realizing she had been shouting. "Dammit," she muttered. Frank had probably heard her.
Peter placed his hands on Jane's shoulders. "It's all right," he said softly. "He's pretty good-natured. I don't think I upset him, and I don't think anything you just said will upset him either."
"Please promise me you won't interfere again."
"I won't. I promise."
At that instant, the smoke alarm went off. The forgotten pancake had burned. "Oh, great!" Jane cried, laughing to release her tension. Peter grabbed the spatula from Jane's hand, turned off the stove, tossed the blackened pancake into the sink, and then reached up to wave away the smoke with the spatula until the alarm went silent.
A short time later, Jane entered the living room carrying the plate of pancakes to the coffee table that Sarah and Frank had set. Peter followed behind her with a jar of maple syrup and a teapot for Sarah and Jane.
Sarah and Peter let Jane and Frank sit next to each other on the sofa, while they took chairs at opposite ends of the coffee table. No one mentioned the smoke alarm or Jane's outburst. Instead, Frank took Jane's hand and squeezed it, giving her a gentle smile. It reminded her again how much she liked him.
"So, oh brilliant one," Frank said to Sarah after everyone had started eating, "tell me about this PhD program you're doing."
Sarah smiled. She loved talking about her research. "Jane was the impetus for it."
"Really?" Frank said, smiling at Jane.
"Yes. When we were in our master's programme together, she would argue on occasion that one reason social welfare programs have had more acceptance in European countries than in the U.S. is due to the relative homogeneity of the populations. People have an easier time accepting that their tax supports other people if they feel a kinship with them. It made me wonder whether growing diversity here in Great Britain is affecting attitudes toward social welfare programmes, and if so, what can be done to mitigate that impact."
Sarah continued to answer Frank's questions, ending by expressing her wish to someday travel to the U.S. to conduct comparison studies. "Jane's aunt and grandmother have already promised me a place to stay whenever I come," she said with a grin.
After breakfast, Peter and Sarah left to visit his parents. Frank looked at Jane and said, "So, show me around your place."
She held out her hands. "This is it. You've seen it all except for Sarah's bedroom."
"No, I haven't. What's that scraggly looking jungle out there?" He pointed at the dead or dying plants on her balcony.
"That's my container garden," Jane told him. "I need to get around to clearing it out. It will look much better when springtime comes."
"How long have you been a gardener?"
"All my life. Both my grandparents grew up on farms, my grandfather in Georgia and my grandmother in the Caribbean. When they bought their house, they started growing stuff in their backyard. They taught my mom and aunt to garden, and my aunt taught me."
"You grow stuff, huh? What kinds of stuff?"
"Well, here, mostly leafy greens and herbs. But back in California, we grow everything: fruit trees, all types of vegetables, everything. We always produce more than we can use, so we end up giving or trading most of it to people in our neighbourhood." Jane laughed. "We can some of it, too. My aunt Maddy loves to can, especially jams. She comes up with some... interesting combinations."
"Uh..." Frank looked at her with a weird expression.
Jane laughed again. "They're actually not that bad. They just take some getting used to."
"No, thanks; I'll pass," Frank grinned. "So your Aunt Maddy sounds like an interesting person."
"She is! She's actually kind of like you."
"Like me? How?"
"She's very outgoing. Larger than life."
"Now I need to see a picture of Aunt Maddy. Do you have one?"
She stood up and motioned for him to follow her to the piano. On the wall above it and on a small shelf beside it were a number of framed photos. Jane picked up one of Maddy and herself at her graduation from Oxford.
"You look like her," he commented. "You have the same smile. What else do you have here?" He motioned to the other pictures.
She picked up a faded photo. "My grandparents on their wedding day."
"Your grandmother was hot!" Frank said. "That's who you really look like."
Jane smiled. "My mom, too," she said, showing him a similar wedding photo of her parents.
"Hey, is that you playing at Carnegie Hall?" he asked, spotting another picture.
Jane nodded. "I was sixteen, and was selected as one of three kids from California for a youth concert there. I was scared to death, but this was when Aunt Maddy was going through cancer treatment. I kept telling myself that if she could be so brave, so could I."
"You're very impressive, Ms. Fairfax," Frank said, bowing to her. She waved off the praise.
"Cute kids," he remarked about a picture in which Jane was surrounded by a half dozen children.
"That was taken at the United Together Children's Centre in Sierra Leone."
"That's where you went when you were at Oxford, right?"
She nodded. "It's one of the poorest countries in the world, and there are thousands of orphans. About eighty kids live right at the Centre, and a couple hundred more kids who still live with their families come to the Centre for schooling or medical care."
"That's where you learned all about power to the people?" he teased.
Jane rolled her eyes. "I already knew, but being there reinforced it. All the staff at the Centre are from Sierra Leone. They have offices in Oxford, the U.S., and U.A.E., but those offices exist mainly for fundraising and awareness. We knew before we left that as volunteers our job was to help and support, but the Sierra Leonans run the show."
Frank nodded. "Makes sense."
"Anyway, one day I'm going back to adopt one of the kids."
Jane nodded. "Really. That's one of my life goals."
Frank was quiet for a moment before noticing another picture. "Hey, you know the Woodhouses." He was looking at Jane's high school graduation photo, the only graduation pic she had that included her grandmother, who had been physically unable to attend her later graduations. In addition to Aunt Maddy and Grandma, Maddy's former boss Henry Woodhouse was in the picture, along with his daughters Isabella and Emma. Emma was also in a cap and gown.
"That's right, you know Mr. Woodhouse because you do business with the Highbury Group." She recalled reading about that during her Google search for information about Frank.
Frank nodded. "I vaguely remember Henry's older daughter, too. She was a freshman when I was a senior in high school. You must know them through his younger daughter."
"No, through Mr. Woodhouse. Aunt Maddy was his office assistant for many years, and now her company, Bates' Financial Services, is under their umbrella."
"That's your aunt's company? I've seen the name in Highbury Group reports. We have to stop doing this, Jane."
"What, finding connections?"
"Yeah. So you must have been good friends with the younger one, Emma."
Jane hesitated. "Not exactly."
Frank raised his eyebrows. "What's that?"
She shook her head. "Nothing." She wasn't going to badmouth the daughter of one of Frank's business partners.
"Oh, come on, I sense a story here."
Jane sighed. "Mr. Woodhouse arranged for me to transfer the Beverly Hills High, since it was a much better school than the one I was slated to attend. Emma was really excited to have me there at first, but she wanted me to become Emma 2.0. When she realized I wasn't interested, she dropped me as a friend."
Her freshman year in high school had been one of the hardest times imaginable for Jane. It wasn't that Emma was mean to her; she wasn't that type of person. But Emma was very popular and her opinion carried a lot of weight, so once she decided Jane wasn't her friend, a lot of other kids followed suit.
"Good for you," Frank said.
"What do you mean?"
"You stood up for being yourself in high school. That's not an easy thing to do."
In truth, Emma's sister Isabella had helped Jane a lot. One day Izzy pulled Jane aside and said, "Don't let Emma get you down. She's jealous of you, you know."
"Me?!" Jane had exclaimed. "Why would she be jealous of me?"
"Because you do everything so well--schoolwork, music, running. Emma doesn't do anything that well. Plus, you don't adore her the way everyone else does, and she hates that."
Izzy's pep talk had worked, and Jane was able to return to school feeling stronger and more confident. Eventually, she had made friends and found her own niche.
"I have an Emma Woodhouse story," Frank said, interrupting Jane's recollection. "Remember when I told you about my ice-fishing trip to Norway?"
"Well, my brother got married last month, and the ice-fishing trip coincided with his wedding, so I had to miss it."
"You missed your brother's wedding?"
"That's what I just said. It conflicted with my trip. So Emma was coordinating the wedding, and somehow--"
Jane interrupted him. "You missed your brother's wedding to go ice-fishing?"
"It wasn't just an ice-fishing trip. It was a chance to meet with some important potential investors for one of my companies. That's where they were going to be, so that's where I needed to be."
"But your brother only gets married hopefully once in his life. How could you miss that?"
"He understood. Now, are you going to let me finish this story or not?"
"Emma Woodhouse planned the wedding, and when she learned I wouldn't be there, she somehow obtained my private number and left me a series of increasingly... strident messages, yelling at me for not coming. I kept thinking, This woman doesn't even know me, and she's totally off the hook!"
He stopped laughing when Jane said, "I don't blame her! This is one time when I agree with Emma."
"Hey!" Frank started to look annoyed. "I'm not the only one who missed the wedding. Ryan's parents didn't make it, either. They were busy, too."
Jane's eyes widened. "Ryan's parents didn't make it? Poor Ryan. How could you guys do that to him?"
"You don't know my family," Frank suddenly snapped. "We understand people making the decisions they need to make based on business. Remember Ryan and I at home as kids when our parents were out trying to build my stepmom's company?"
Jane exhaled. "I'm sorry," she said. "You're right, I don't know your family. I don't understand it, but if Ryan was okay with all of you not being there, then it's not my place to judge it. I do wonder whether Ryan's wife was okay with it."
Frank was quiet for a moment before saying, "Not really. That's why Emma was yelling at me."
His words hung in the air. Finally, Jane asked softly, "Are you going to get a chance to make it up to them?"
"I don't know. I was thinking about going home to L.A. for Christmas, and then maybe spending New Year's in Vegas, but now I have something else I'd rather do."
"What could be more important than seeing your brother and his new wife?"
"What are you doing for Christmas? Assuming you celebrate it."
"I do. I'm going to Scotland with Sarah and her family."
"So maybe I'm going to Scotland, too."
"Now you're just making stuff up. Is there some reason you don't want to see Ryan and his wife?"
Frank started grinning. "I have to be really direct with you, don't I?"
"What are you talking about?"
"I want to spend the holidays with you. That's if you want it, and Sarah and her family don't think it's too tacky of me to invite myself along. I'll pay my own way, stay at a hotel, all that."
"What about your brother?"
Frank placed his hands on Jane's face and gently stroked her cheeks with his thumbs. "Jane," he said, looking deeply into her eyes, "I want to spend the holidays with you."
She stared back at him for a while, and then a slow smiled spread across her face. "I'll talk to Sarah."
Author's note: The United Together Children's Centre is inspired by a real place, the All As One Children's Center in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Their U.S. offices are located in my community, and I have had the honor to meet several of the wonderful people working with this group. As with my fictional organization, the UK offices are located in Oxford. You can learn more about them at allasone dot org.
Emma Approved spoiler/note: Frank did in fact miss the wedding of his stepbrother, Ryan Weston, to Annie Taylor (Mr. and Mrs. Weston from the novel). Ryan's family's absence from the wedding made Annie consider canceling, which prompted Emma's series of phone calls to Frank. If you watched the series, you may remember that when Frank didn't respond to Emma's messages (because he was busy ice-fishing), Emma gave Annie a gift "from Frank" and a letter welcoming Annie to the family. However, a week later, an actual gift and letter from Frank arrived--which Emma assumed was a response to her messages. However, it would have taken at least two weeks for a package to travel from Europe to the U.S., which meant that Frank sent his gift at least a week before Emma made her calls.
'...his temper and spirits--his delightful spirits, and that gaiety, that playfulness of disposition, which, under any other circumstances, would, I am sure, have been as constantly bewitching to me, as they were at first.'
Jane Fairfax, describing Frank Churchill in Jane Austen's Emma, ch. 48
Sarah's family was very pleased to have Peter's key investor join them for Christmas. Sarah left for Scotland with her parents on Monday morning, but Jane, Peter and Frank were unable to leave until Tuesday evening, which was Christmas Eve.
The three of them sat together during the four and a half hour train ride from London to Glasgow. "Her family really wanted me to stay with them?" Frank asked Peter. "I was more than happy to get a hotel room."
"No, they insisted. They're very hospitable." Peter grinned. "I should warn you, though: you will be sharing a room 'with the lads.'"
"With Sarah's brother and me. Her grandparents are rather old-fashioned."
"Oh, so I can't stay with my boo?" Frank placed his arm around Jane's shoulder and pouted.
"'Fraid not, mate. If it's any comfort, I won't be with mine, either."
Justin, Sarah's younger brother who was a student at the University of Leeds, met them at the train station in order to drive them to his grandparent's house. He greeted Peter and Jane with hugs, and then was introduced to Frank. "So you're the bloke with all the money?"
Frank grinned. "I guess that's me."
Justin apologized to Peter for Sarah's absence. "She went to Christmas Eve services with our parents and grandparents. Mum wanted her to speak with the minister to set up a time to discuss your wedding."
They arrived at the Campbell household after about a twenty minute drive and were welcomed warmly by Sarah's parents and grandparents. An older woman, the elder Mr. Campbell's widowed sister, sat in a nearby chair while greetings and introductions were exchanged.
Sarah knelt down beside her great-aunt. "Aunt Sophie, you remember Jane, don't you? And this is another friend of ours, Mr. Frank Churchill. Frank, this is my great-aunt, Mrs. Sophie Ferguson."
"Hello, Mrs. Ferguson. Good to see you again," Jane said pleasantly, although she knew the woman's return greeting would be anything but.
As she had anticipated, the older woman barely acknowledged them, while muttering, "Too many young people in the house. So much for a quiet Christmas!"
Undaunted, Frank addressed her. "A pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Ferguson. How are you tonight?"
"Terrible," she answered. "My arthritis is acting up, and I don't like anything Andrea cooks. I think she's trying to poison me. There's nothing good on the telly anymore, and it's so cold right now, I can't stand it. My stockings do nothing to stop the wind, and look at my legs! You can see my varicose veins through them!"
"I'm sorry, ma'am," Frank replied sincerely, "but I can't look at your legs. Jane is my girlfriend, and she'll get very jealous."
Mrs. Ferguson appeared puzzled for a second, as if she weren't sure she had heard Frank correctly. She looked rapidly back and forth between Frank and Jane, and then, to everyone's surprise, burst out laughing. "You're a cheeky one, aren't you?"
"I have been told I have exquisite cheekbones," Frank said, his smile showing them off, "but on this side of the pond I assume you're referring to my sass?"
"Ha! Where did you find him, Sarah?" Aunt Sophie sat up straighter in her chair. "He is much more interesting than that boring intended of yours."
Sarah slipped her arms around Peter's waist and leaned against him. "Yes, but Peter is the one who loves me."
"Ah, your loss." Turning to Jane, she said, "You'd better hold on to him. I'm not that old."
Jane had to bite her tongue to suppress her laughter at Mrs. Ferguson reveling in her youth again after so recently complaining about arthritis and varicose veins. She was also quite pleased that Frank had just referred to her as his girlfriend.
"Aunt Sophie," Sarah's mother interrupted, "please let the young people take their things to their rooms."
"Oh, yes, go," Aunt Sophie waved her hands toward them. "Just make sure you come back down to see me," she said to Frank.
Frank reached down and took one of her hands, bringing it to his lips and making her preen. "Of course. It will be my pleasure."
Sarah accompanied Peter, Frank and Jane upstairs, and when they arrived at the first room in the second floor hallway, all of them exploded in laughter.
"Frank, I don't know how you did that," Peter gasped, "I've never seen Aunt Sophie smile before, let alone laugh!"
"I can't believe she was flirting with you!" Sarah cried. "Or you with her!"
"I'd better watch out. It sounds like she's planning to fight me for you!" Jane grinned.
Frank suddenly swept his arms around Jane and drew her close to him. "She doesn't stand a chance," he whispered in her ear.
"I certainly hope not!"
It was well after midnight by then, so after "the lads" were settled in, Jane and Sarah walked down the hall to a bedroom with matching twin beds that they were to share. They prepared for bed and went to sleep soon thereafter.
Jane and Sarah woke up the next morning when Frank and Peter knocked at the door. Having very much missed them, the men joined them on their respective beds, Peter sitting behind Sarah and wrapping his arms around her, and Frank sitting down next to Jane, holding her close.
A short while later, Justin knocked and entered. "Good morning and Happy Christmas!" he announced. He carried a decorated tin of chocolate candies. "Our grandmother makes these every year," he said.
"This is how we always start our Christmas mornings, eating chocolates," Sarah explained to Frank.
Everyone took a piece except Jane. "Too early, or not vegan?" Frank asked.
She shook her head. "I don't like chocolate."
"How can you not like chocolate?"
"I just don't. I never have."
"I don't understand that," Frank said, "because I love chocolate." His mischievous smile left no room for doubt about his double meaning.
"Oh, shut up!" Jane laughed.
"You should be glad she doesn't like chocolates," Justin said. "You should ask her what she likes instead."
"Justin!" Sarah scolded, but Peter laughed while Frank looked at Jane expectantly.
"I don't know," Jane replied slowly, pretending to ponder her response. "Maybe I like variety."
"Uh oh, Frank!" Peter teased.
Frank raised his eyebrows. "That's your answer? You can't be more specific?"
Jane smirked. "Why do you care, as long as I like you?"
For that, he kissed her, making Sarah say, "Awww."
They heard a knock at the door. "Children," called the elder Mrs. Campbell, "breakfast is ready."
Sarah shook her head and sighed. "We revert to being children whenever we stay with our grandparents."
After breakfast, everyone gathered in the living room around the Christmas tree to exchange presents. Sarah squealed when she opened her present from Peter, a new iPad.
"What is that?" Aunt Sophie asked.
"It's a tablet. It's a type of computer," Sarah answered.
"A computer? What kind of man gives his fiancée a computer? I would have booted my husband from the house if he'd ever given me a typewriter or some other foolish machine as a present."
"Believe me, Aunt Sophie," Sarah smiled, "this is a much better gift than a typewriter. It's exactly what I wanted." Perched on a footstool, she slipped her arms around Peter, who sat at her feet, and kissed his cheek.
It was Jane's turn to open her present from Frank. Until he reached for it, she hadn't noticed the baby blue Tiffany bag under the tree.
"Ooh, Tiffany's!" Sarah's mum said. "I like this gift already!"
Jane opened the bag to find a small box. Inside was a pair of earrings made from pink sapphires surrounded by diamonds. "Oh, how lovely!" Sarah cried.
"Now, that is a romantic gift!" Aunt Sophie said. "Peter, you need to take notes from this man. This is what you give a woman you love, not some foolish computer nonsense."
From his position on the floor, Peter's face started turning red.
"She's a student, Sophie," Sarah's grandfather chided his sister. "A tablet is something she can use."
"Says a man who understands nothing about women!"
Their bickering gave Jane a chance to temper her reaction, which hadn't been one of joy. Instead, her first thought had been, Oh no, what if these are blood diamonds? The blood diamond trade had been one of the causes of the devastating civil war in Sierra Leone that had exacerbated the severe poverty she had witnessed during her summer there. The earrings were beautiful, but could she accept them?
"Try them on," Frank said.
Not wanting to seem rude or ungrateful, Jane slowly removed the backs from the earrings in order to place them through the holes in her earlobes.
"They look beautiful on you," he said. "Not that you aren't already very beautiful."
"Now that's a compliment!" Mrs. Ferguson said. "Peter can't say Sarah looks beautiful holding a computer!"
"Yes, I can!" Peter said defensively.
"There is something sexy about a woman with technology," Frank quipped, making everyone laugh. Jane looked at him and smiled, thanking him with her eyes for sticking up for Peter.
The day progressed, more relatives arrived, and after enjoying plenty of food and music and good company, Jane forgot she was wearing the earrings. About four in the afternoon, her mobile rang. It was Aunt Maddy. She went upstairs, away from the commotion, in order to answer the call.
"JAANNE! Merry Christmas!" her aunt greeted her.
"Tell my baby I love her!" Grandma shouted.
"I love you, too! And Merry Christmas!" Jane shouted back.
It was still early morning in L.A., and Maddy told her that she and Grandma would be having dinner later in the day with the Woodhouse family. "Did I tell you Emma started a business? She's doing event planning and matchmaking and all sorts of wonderful things!"
Matchmaking? Jane thought, but she said, "Tell her I wish her well."
"Oh, I will! And how's your Christmas going? How is Sarah's family?"
Jane began to share some of the day's events, and then smiled. "Aunt Maddy, I have something to tell you."
When Jane finished sharing her news, Maddy shrieked, "MAMA! Can you believe it? Jane is seeing somebody! What's he like?"
Jane smile widened as she began describing Frank. "He's handsome, intelligent, and funny. Very funny, actually. He's even managed to make Sarah's Aunt Sophie laugh."
"I'm so happy for you! I can't wait to tell the Woodhouses! Jane is so successful, and she has a new boyfriend!"
Jane's heart leaped into her throat. "No, Aunt Maddy! Please don't tell the Woodhouses!"
"Why not, sugar puff? This is good news! Don't you want to share it?"
"No, I don't! I mean, this relationship is so new, and I don't know where it's going yet. And you know me." Jane felt a bit foolish making such a request. After all, it had been eight years since she'd last seen Emma, and the other woman's opinion of her didn't really matter anymore. However, Jane had never felt comfortable sharing her personal life with people she didn't really trust.
Fortunately, Maddy understood. "That's right, I forgot how private you are when it comes to your relationships. All right, I won't say anything. But I can still wear a silly smile on my face because I'm so happy, right?"
Jane laughed. "Yes, you can!"
That night as they were settling into bed, Sarah was busy playing with her new iPad.
"You really like that, don't you?" Jane said with a smile.
"I love it! And I'm so glad Justin talked my grandparents into getting Wifi last year, so I could access the Internet. Listen to this," she began to read, "Tiffany & Co. is committed to sourcing our materials in an ethical and sustainable manner. The company has a long history of environmentally and socially responsible practices, and we believe that sourcing our precious materials responsibly is of the utmost importance.
Tiffany has a zero tolerance policy towards conflict diamonds. We have taken vigorous steps to assure that conflict diamonds do not enter our inventory. Tiffany buys diamonds directly from the mine, where possible, and always from countries that are participants in the Kimberley Process."
Jane stared at her. "What are you doing?"
Sarah smiled sweetly. "Giving you information. Of course, that was from the Tiffany web site, so I checked in with Global Witness, and read this: 'Out of 30 companies that were asked about their policies on conflict diamonds by letter and a follow-up telephone call, only five responded, according to Global Witness. Of those five, Tiffany stood out because it described how it has tried to strengthen its sourcing and auditing policies precisely to ensure that it was not dealing in conflict diamonds.'"
"Sarah! How did you know I was worried about that?"
Sarah grinned. "Because I know you well! And I saw the look on your face when you opened your present. I reckoned you were wondering whether you could wear these earrings in good conscience. Now you know you can." She looked up at Jane. "So what do you think about them now?"
A smile broke across Jane's face as she reached up to touch her ears. "They're beautiful. There's something whimsical and unique about the pink sapphires. And even though they're very classic looking, they're not so formal that I can't wear them every day." She wished Frank were standing there. Now that she could appreciate the gift, she could better appreciate the giver.
"That's my Jane, finding the practical qualities of a romantic gift!" Sarah laughed, and then scrolled across the tablet's screen with her fingers. "By the way, I found them on the Tiffany website. They cost--"
"Don't tell me!" Jane cut her off. "I don't want to know."
Sarah nodded. "All right then, let's just say that he's willing to spend a lot of money on you."
Jane was quiet for a moment, trying to digest and accept the idea. She thought of something else. "Did it bother you, what Aunt Sophie said about Peter's gift to you? Or the way she compared him to Frank?"
Sarah shook her head. "Not at all, and I told him so. Peter is amazing, Jane. He's not flashy in any way, but he's solid and kind and generous, and to me that is everything."
"He is. He's perfect for you."
"Do you remember when we used to go out to parties during our first year at Oxford? I was always looking for the really hot, really outgoing men, and you always wanted the ones who were quiet and serious. It's funny how we've both ended up with the opposite of what we thought we wanted then."
Jane nodded. She remembered. There was a time when a guy like Peter was what she considered her ideal. In fact, there was a time when she thought Peter was her ideal.
But Peter had never made her feel the way Frank made her feel. Which was what, exactly? She thought about the past day and how Frank had managed to charm prickly Aunt Sophie and had eased some of the pressure on Peter with his joke about women with technology. Even his double entendre about chocolate, borderline inappropriate as it was, had made her smile because it hinted to Jane where his affections lay. She loved that about him, loved how he made the world around him brighter with his delightful spirits and playful disposition, and suddenly, an old-fashioned word that perfectly described her feelings came to her: bewitched. Jane was completely bewitched by Frank Churchill.
Jane and Frank stayed with the Campbell family through Boxing Day, and returned to London on Friday morning. Jane wanted to return because Rose had invited her for dinner Friday evening. She rested her head against Frank's shoulder during the train ride back, watching him fiddle with his smartphone. At one point, she asked what he was doing.
"Checking my Twitter feed. Do you tweet?"
Jane shook her head.
"Why not? I would have pegged you for being social media savvy."
"You may not realize this because you've been around people who know me well, like Sarah and Peter, but I'm a pretty private person. I just don't get putting all your business out there for the entire Internet to see."
"You don't have to let everyone know your business. You can talk about topics of the day and not even mention your private life at all. Or you can do stuff like this." Frank handed Jane his mobile, where she could see on the screen a tweet he'd just written: "New Years in Vegas, too cliche or just right? #crowdsourcing"
"I thought you weren't planning to go to Vegas."
Frank grinned. "I'm not."
"Then why write something like that?"
"So people don't know where I am."
"I don't know. Whoever might be following me on Twitter."
Jane wrinkled her forehead, completely confused.
"Tabloids can be pretty vicious here, and I have business competitors," Frank explained. "I don't always want them to know where I am. Sometimes silence isn't good enough. It can be better to deflect at times."
"I still don't get it."
"OK, it's like this." He took the phone back from her and scrolled down a bit, to a tweet from the 7th December that read, "big plans tonight #partybus #australia."
"You weren't in Australia on December the 7th. You were on a date with me."
"I know. I came back to London for it."
She looked at him skeptically. "You said that before."
Catching her look, he said, "It's true. I was in New Zealand and miserable, and considering hopping a flight to Oz. But then I thought about a gorgeous woman I had met a couple of weeks earlier. I decided to ask her out, and if she said yes, I'd fly back to London. If she said no, I'd go on to Australia."
Still doubting his story, Jane said, "And I said yes."
Frank smiled and tapped her cheek with his finger. "You did. You were worth coming back for."
She had to smile at that. "But the tweets?" she asked, still confused.
"I'm not that big a deal, but there are some paparazzi that follow me. I didn't want you to get caught up in that."
Jane was quiet for a while. It suddenly occurred to her that dating a wealthy guy like Frank was about more than just realizing he could buy expensive things. There was a whole world he was a part of, that followed his moves, that had expectations about how he lived his life, and probably about the women he dated. She wasn't sure how she felt about that.
Frank asked her a question, and she had to ask him to repeat it. "When do you go back to work?"
"January the second," she answered.
"And when does Sarah come back?"
"I'm not sure. The Hilary term doesn't start until the 19th. I know she wants to stay in Glasgow and get as much wedding planning done as she can before she has to return."
"It must get lonely in your flat without her."
Jane glanced at him. "It wouldn't be the first time I've been alone. I don't mind it so much."
Frank chuckled. "I forgot I have to be direct with you."
She smiled. "I know what you were implying."
"OK, what was I implying?"
"You wanted to know if you could stay with me."
"Shows what you know--NOT!" When she raised her eyebrows, he said, "I wanted to know whether you would stay with me. At my place. Until Sarah returns."
Jane thought for a moment. "No."
Frank glowered at her, and then changed his expression to a sexy smoulder. Jane burst out laughing. Calming herself, she said, "No, I won't stay with you until Sarah returns, but I will stay with you until New Year's Day. How about that, honey?"
He smiled. "I'll take what I can get. And you called me honey."
"You like that?"
He leaned his forehead against hers. "Oh, I like that, Ms. Fairfax. I like it a lot."
After a moment, Jane sat back, thinking about staying at his place and realizing that there was still a lot she didn't know about him. "May I look at more of your tweets?" Maybe that was a place to start to discover more about his life.
He handed her his mobile again, and she began to scroll through his Twitter feed. A recently posted goofy Christmas photo of a blond couple made her smile, and then she realized she recognized the woman. She nudged Frank with her elbow. "Who are they?"
"That's my brother Ryan and his wife."
"Your brother is married to Annie Taylor?"
"You know my sister-in-law? Not again," he laughed. "Why am I not surprised? How do you know her?"
"Annie's mother and Mrs. Woodhouse went to college together, so their families were good friends," Jane explained. "Whenever we went to the Woodhouses for holidays or parties, Annie and her family were always there."
"What do you think of her?"
"Annie's very sweet, so Ryan is a lucky man. What do you think of her?"
"I can't really say. Ryan's pretty happy, but I've only met her once."
She pursed her lips. "You really need to go visit them."
"I know, I know."
Jane continued to scroll through his tweets. Coming across one from the 9th of October, she read aloud: "Met some sexy new friends in Munich. Let's see what adventure comes next. Going off the Grid YO!"
"Give me that!" Frank snatched the phone from her. "That was before I met you. This is the last time I let you read my Twitter feed."
She grinned mischievously. "I could always sign up for Twitter and follow you. Since you're putting it all out there on the Internet. For everyone to see."
Frank laughed. "Touché, Jane, touché."
When they arrived in London, Jane took the underground to her flat, where she packed a suitcase of clothing and personal items for the next five days. Frank did not accompany her, taking a taxi to his own flat instead and telling her that he would pick her up later in his car.
Although she had been in his flat before, when she arrived there that afternoon with her things, knowing that she was to stay for a while, she couldn't help feeling a bit shy. Frank seemed a little nervous too, which she found cute. He began showing her around. His very large main room was entirely open. In front of the picture window directly across from the entrance was, of course, the baby grand piano, but other areas of the room were set up for separate purposes: in one corner was a dining area with a glass table and six black chairs, along with an armoire of dishes; another corner was obviously Frank's rec area with a billiard table, a bar, and a workout bench surrounded by weights; in the middle of the room was a large leather sofa, love seat and chair surrounding a black and white patterned rug and facing a big screen TV on the wall and a fireplace beneath it. To the left of the entrance was a large kitchen, separated from the main room by a breakfast nook. Beyond the kitchen was a corridor.
"Seriously," Frank was saying, "make yourself at home. Anything you want to do in here, you can."
"Except for one thing."
She looked up.
"The building is pretty secure, so you'll have to be careful going in and out. I'll make sure all the front doormen know who you are, so you can get in and out the front of the building. I'll give you a copy of the key to my flat. To go out the back via the garage, you'll have to be with me because of the hand print activation." He ran his hand through his hair. "Uh, when we go out the front, we probably should go separately."
"Remember when I mentioned that there are a few paparazzi who follow me? You and I exiting or entering the building together would be a really good time for them to catch us on camera. I'd rather avoid that if we can."
"That's probably a good thing." Jane paused and licked her lips.
"What do you mean?"
"I've been thinking about what you said on the train about the paparazzi. Back when I Googled you, I saw a lot of pictures with you with a lot of different women."
"That was before I met you--"
"I know; that's not what I'm saying. It's just... I have been working really hard to establish myself in my career, and it would be very difficult to suddenly become just another woman on Frank Churchill's arm in a Google image."
"You're not," he said softly.
"I know. I just don't want to be known as Frank Churchill's girlfriend."
"You don't want to be my girlfriend?" The hurt in his voice was unmistakable.
Jane reached up to place her palm on his cheek. "Of course I do. I just don't want to be known as that. Or only as that, I should say." He was staring at her intently. "Frank, I think we're saying the same thing. You don't want us to end up in the tabloids together, and neither do I."
He nodded slowly and placed his hand over the one that caressed his face, removing it and squeezing it. "Okay. Time to see the rest."
He released her hand and picked up her suitcase to lead her down the corridor. On the left, he opened the first door to show her a laundry room and storage area. The next door down was his home office, which included a desk bearing a laptop and printer, several filing cabinets, and two large bookshelves filled with books.
Across from the laundry room was a bathroom. The final door on the right led to his bedroom. The room was large, with huge windows across two of the walls revealing splendid views of the London skyline. A four-poster king sized bed dominated the middle of the room, which was decorated in beige and burgundy colors. "There's another bathroom in here," he said, pointing to a door opposite the bed.
After she had looked around, Frank placed her suitcase on the floor and took Jane into his arms. "I've missed you," he said softly.
"We've been together for the last three days."
"You know what I mean," he grinned, before lowering his head to kiss her.
That evening, they left from the front entrance of Frank's building five minutes apart, since they were taking the Tube to Hackney. Waiting for Frank to meet her at the Gloucester Road Underground station again felt weird, but Jane knew that this was what they had agreed upon. When they arrived at Hackney Downs, Daniel was waiting for them with a man who had to be his dad. "Hi, Jane!" Daniel waved at her.
Daniel allowed Jane to hug him, and then she reached out to shake the hand of the man with him. "You must be Roger."
"Yes," the man smiled. "Nice to finally meet you." Roger was a couple of inches shorter than Frank, husky, and had a small mustache.
Jane turned slightly. "This is my boyfriend, Frank." Earlier that day, she had called Rose, who said that Frank was more than welcome to come, too.
Frank and Roger shook hands. "Good to meet you," Frank said.
"You, too," Roger said. "This is my son, Daniel."
Frank exchanged a fist bump with the boy before the four of them began walking toward Pembury Estate housing development. The family, whose last name was Judson, lived in a fourth floor flat. From the moment they entered the building, all sorts of smells filled the air, mostly good ones of spices and foods cooking behind various doors.
"Jane!" a young girl with cornrowed hair cried out when they entered the Judson flat. She ran over and wrapped her arms around Jane. Karyanne, Daniel's six-year-old sister, had met Jane a few times when she had come with her mother to pick up Daniel from his music lessons.
"Hi, sweetie!" Jane looked down at her. "How was your Christmas?"
"It was so good! Father Christmas brought me a Barbie doll!"
"Really? Well, he told me that your new Barbie might need a friend, so guess what?" Jane reached into a paper bag she was carrying, pulled out a oblong wrapped box, and handed it to Karyanne.
"Yay!" the girl shouted, as she began to rip off the paper.
"Did you bring me anything?" Daniel asked.
"Daniel!" his father chided.
"Of course, Daniel, I wouldn't forget about you!" Jane reached into her bag again and pulled out a "Arsenal--Greatest Goals" DVD.
"Oh, you're an Arsenal supporter?" Frank said. "Who's your favorite player?"
As Frank and Daniel started talking football, Rose emerged from the kitchen. "Jane!" she said, walking over to hug her. "Happy Christmas and New Year to you!"
"You, too!" Jane hugged her back. She reached into her bag and pulled out a final present, a Christmas card which she handed to Rose. "Open it later," she whispered. The card contained a fifty pound VISA gift card. Roger had been out of work for a year, and while Jane knew the gift card would really help them, she also knew that Rose would rather Roger not know Jane had given it.
"Is this your boyfriend?" Rose looked over at Frank.
"Yes! Rose, this is Frank. Frank, this is Rose."
Rose walked over to hug Frank as well, saying, "Ooh, you two are going to make some pretty babies someday!" Jane ducked her head in embarrassment, but Frank just laughed.
They all sat down to a dinner of fish, cou-cou, and peas and rice a short while later. "Did you grow up eating like this?" Frank asked Jane.
"Not all the time, but my grandmother did like to make Bajan food about once a week."
"What about you?" Rose asked. "What did you grow up eating?"
"I grew up on Cantonese food. My grandparents were from Hong Kong. There are some similarities. You know, like rice," Frank grinned.
Roger laughed. "Oh, that's everywhere in the world just about!"
Frank turned to Daniel. "So I hear you're really good at the piano?"
Daniel shrugged, but his mother said, "Oh yes! The Winthrop Music Academy has given him a scholarship to start going there in January."
"Very nice!" Frank said. "You should be proud of yourself. Hold your head high."
Daniel grinned. Hearing those words from a young man like Frank probably had a bigger impact than if Jane or his parents had said it.
"Will I get a chance to hear you play tonight?"
Daniel shook his head. "We don't have a piano. I only get to play the keyboard when I go to the community centre."
"But Miss Margaret said she would let you come practice more often, even when Jane's not there," Rose said. "Once you start at that school, you're going to need so much more practice."
"I don't want him to have to give it up, like I did," Roger said. "I used to play in a band in Bridgetown."
"Did you play keyboard, too?"
"No, bass guitar. But I came here and had to work so much that I never had chance to play. Then I had sell my guitar before I could teach my kids."
"That must have been heartbreaking," Frank said.
"Oh, yeah. That's why when Rose saw the sign about Jane giving music lessons at the centre, I told her to sign him up right away."
"And this one," Rose pointed at Karyanne, "is going to start when she turns seven. Right now it's a little too hard to get her to sit still and focus."
A smiling Karyanne looked up from the conversation she was having with her Barbie dolls, who were seated beside her plate at the table.
"Jane has been a godsend to us," Rose went on. "Getting Daniel an audition for the school means he has a future now. He's not going to end up in trouble like some of the other boys around here."
Frank looked over at Jane, his smile barely concealed.
"It's people like Jane who are making this neighbourhood a better place," Roger said. "It's good, too, that the kids see a black woman teaching them. It helps them know that if she can do it, they can, too."
"We wish there were more like her," Rose added. "She can only teach a few of the children."
Frank's smile was no longer contained. Feeling his hand on her knee under the table, Jane knew she had to look away from him. She turned to Karyanne, asking her what she had decided to name her Barbies.
On the Tube ride home that night, Frank placed his arm around Jane's shoulder and leaned his head against hers, looking deeply into her eyes. "What are you doing?" she asked.
"Just looking at you," he whispered, smiling.
With his free hand, Frank reached for hers. "Because I think you're incredible."
Jane looked down at her fingers entwined with his. "Thank you for coming with me tonight."
Author's note: Frank's tweets were pulled from his Twitter profile, created by the folks at Pemberley Digital. Not sure whether they intended it this way, but after tweeting regularly from September-December, Frank's Twitter profile goes silent for the next several months (other than to exchange a handful of tweets with Ryan). I'd like to think my little convo between Jane and Frank has something to do with that. :)
The photo of Ryan and Annie Weston was taken during ep. 23, the Emma Approved holiday party, and posted on Ryan Weston's Twitter profile (which Frank follows).
I have to admit, researching Pembury Estate, where riots occurred in 2011 following the shooting death by police of an unarmed black man, was very eerie and upsetting, given current events in Ferguson, Missouri.
"She's amazing. She's smart, kind, caring, gorgeous! I mean, her great qualities are endless!"
Frank Churchill, describing Jane Fairfax in Emma Approved, ep. 71
"She is a complete angel."
Frank Churchill, describing Jane Fairfax in Emma, ch. 54
Jane awoke the next morning to sounds, faint but audible, of someone moving around Frank's flat. She assumed he had arisen early until she saw him sleeping beside her. Had she imagined the noise? No, there it was again. Someone was definitely moving around. She nudged Frank gently. "Mmm," he murmured in response.
"Frank," she whispered, "I think someone's here." Right after she spoke, she felt silly about her fear. It would be impossible for someone to break into a place like this with so much security, so whoever was present certainly posed no threat to them. Did Frank have any household staff? That sounded so odd in this day and age, but people had them. In fact, she remembered him saying he grew up with servants.
Frank rolled over toward her and opened one eye. "That's just Betty, my housekeeper. She won't disturb us." He reached for her to pull her against him, but now that she was wide awake, Jane realized that she needed the loo. She kissed him lightly and said, "I'll be right back."
"Mmm," Frank said again, wrapping his arms around a pillow instead.
Jane rose and found her undergarments lying on a chair. Putting them on quickly, she then looked for the silky robe she had packed in her suitcase. Only after she had entered the hallway and walked a short distance did she remember that Frank had an adjoining bathroom and there had been no need for her to exit his bedroom at all. She started to return, hoping that the housekeeper hadn't spotted her, but it was too late.
"Good morning, miss," said a cheerful voice. Jane turned to see a slender young black woman, wearing an apron over jeans and a white collared shirt, dusting the paintings along the wall in the corridor.
"Good morning," Jane replied, feeling somewhat embarrassed, as if she had been caught leaving a guy's dorm room in the early morning hours back in college.
"May I get something for you?" the woman asked.
"Oh no, I'm just looking for the toilet."
"Right there, miss." The woman pointed to the door a short distance away. Jane entered the room adjacent to Frank's bedroom, which probably shared piping with the bathroom within.
When she emerged, the woman had moved on to the living room. Feeling awkward but not wanting to treat the woman as unimportant, Jane walked toward her.
"Hello again," the woman said as she approached. "Is there something you would like? Perhaps some coffee?"
"No, I want to introduce myself. I'm Jane."
The woman smiled brightly. "Oh, you're Miss Jane! Mr. Churchill has spoken about you. I am very glad to meet you. My name is Betty."
"Are you from Nigeria?"
"Why, yes! How did you know? Have you been to my country?"
"No, I just recognize your accent. I would love to visit someday."
"Oh, you should! Mr. Churchill has been there on business. The last time he went to Lagos, he took a side trip to visit my family in their village. It was a complete surprise to them, and to me! I was here in England and knew nothing about it. My family had heard so much about Mr. Churchill, it was like a movie star had come to see them."
Jane smiled. Frank had that star quality all right. When she felt an arm wrap around her waist, she realized he was standing there. "You telling stories about me again, Betty?" he said with a grin.
"About your visit to my family, Mr. Churchill." Turning back to Jane, Betty said, "Ever since his visit, my mother has no problem getting my brothers and sisters to study. They knew he was paying for their schooling, but now that they have met him, all my mother has to say is, 'Don't do that, Mr. Churchill will not like it,' or "Make sure you do this, and Mr. Churchill will be pleased.'"
Jane laughed and looked at Frank. To her surprise, he looked a little embarrassed for a moment, but that expression quickly vanished. He flashed Jane a smug smile, as if to say, "See? I can help other people, too" before turning back to Betty. "Is Stephen doing better in his maths?" he asked.
"Oh, yes, he is! And Dorcas is preparing to take her exams."
As Betty and Frank continued to talk about her family, Jane found herself beaming. Whichever Frank was feeling--embarrassed or smug--the story she had just heard was really, really cool. So sweet were her thoughts of him right then that she didn't catch a question Betty addressed to her. "I beg your pardon?"
"Would you like breakfast? I can make eggs for you and Mr. Churchill."
Not wanting to offend Betty by telling her she didn't eat eggs, Jane politely declined. "Please don't trouble yourself. I was planning to go for a run."
Betty laughed. "You are meant for each other. Mr. Churchill rarely eats breakfast either."
Frank shrugged. "As long as I have my coffee, I'm good."
Remembering that she really did need to go on her run, Jane excused herself. She returned to Frank's bedroom, changed into her running clothes and pulled her hair into a ponytail, before going back to the living room. Betty, now vacuuming the rugs, pointed toward the kitchen, where Jane found Frank sitting at the breakfast nook, drinking coffee and reading The Financial Times. Looking at him, she suddenly felt breathless and had to inhale deeply in order to speak. "Are you fine with me going for a run right now?"
He placed the paper down on the counter. "Oh sure. Are you planning to run in Hyde Park?"
"Carl is at the front desk right now. I'll call down to let him know you're coming."
Jane swallowed and nodded again. She moved closer to Frank to kiss him goodbye, and his hands on her back felt electric. She gazed into his eyes, causing him to smile seductively. "You do still plan to go running, right?" he asked.
She lowered her eyes and extricated herself from his arms, knowing that if she didn't, she would be unable to leave. "Yes. I'll see you soon."
Jane took the elevator down to the lobby, introduced herself to the doorman, Carl, and then began to quickly stride the three block distance to Hyde Park as a warm-up. She spent a few minutes stretching before starting her run along the path that circumnavigated the park and arrived at Buckingham Palace.
As she ran, she tried to process the emotions she had experienced while watching Betty and Frank talk. She recalled thinking she was bewitched in Scotland, but this feeling was even deeper and sweeter. She had imagined Frank walking into an African village and acting like he was right at home. She smiled; she was sure that was exactly how it had happened. Frank was always that way, she realized. His A factor was obvious, but somehow, that didn't stop him from being a citizen of the world. She and Frank had experienced similarly disrupted childhoods, but for her, it made it hard to feel as though she fit in anywhere. In high school, she was often conscious of being the girl from South Central. In England, she was always aware of being American. Frank, on the other hand, seemed to fit in everywhere. Maybe it was his multicultural and multinational heritage that made him that way.
No, it was more than that. Frank was more extroverted than she was, but his schmoozing and gregariousness weren't all about him, she realized. He cared about other people. He treated everyone--no matter their race or nationality or social class--the same way, whether he was dealing with a grumpy old Scottish woman, an obnoxious wannabe Rastafarian, or a Bajan family living in Pembury Estate. He was an equal opportunity schmoozer, she thought with a giggle. He was paying for Betty's siblings to go to school, something that was probably a pittance to him financially, but he had gone so much further than that. He had visited them in their home, in order to get to know them and serve as an inspiration to them. He continued to keep up with them and ask about them by name.
He was, she thought, the most amazing man she knew.
Memories of their recent days together filled Jane's mind throughout her run. When she returned to his building, Carl phoned upstairs to let Frank know she was back. He opened his door immediately upon her knock; Betty was nowhere to be seen. She entered and stared at him, his dark brown eyes making her melt inside. "Jane, are you okay?" he asked.
Not sure what his response would be, she blurted out, "I love you."
Frank's face lit up into an expression of pure joy. "Oh Jane," he uttered softly, his voice deep and melodic. He cupped her face to draw her near, murmuring, "I love you, too," as he kissed her over and over. Jane pressed her body against his and lost herself as their tongues danced together until they were both breathless. Frank pulled back, his fingers tracing the side of her face. "You know what you do to me when you look at me with those doe eyes of yours?" he asked.
"What?" she smiled.
"Come on," he smiled back as he took her hand to lead her to his room.
"I should shower first."
"I don't care."
"I do." As sexy as the snogging had made her feel, she still felt grimy from her run. "I'll just be a few minutes."
Frank nodded reluctantly. They entered his bedroom, and Jane slipped into the huge adjoining bath. The tub/shower was a porcelain structure almost as large the entire bathroom in her flat. Jane pulled off her sticky clothing and was about to place a shower cap on her head when she heard a knock. Before waiting for her to answer, Frank entered. He was naked and his expression made his desire obvious.
Frank took her hand and stepped into the shower with her, tugging the curtain closed around them. He pushed a button along the side of the showerhead and a perfectly warm and delightfully vigorous spray of water engulfed them. Their lips met as he leaned against her, pressing her back against the wall. Jane purred in pleasure. There was nothing she wanted more at that moment than for Frank to fill her.
Sometime later, Frank carried her, her legs still wrapped around him, to his bed. They cuddled together for a while, still damp and unclothed. Jane couldn't remember ever feeling so satisfied so she was surprised when Frank spoke up in a worried tone. "I think we just messed up. I wanted you so badly, I forgot about a condom."
"Don't worry, I'm on Norplant."
"You are?" Frank looked at her with surprise. "Have you been on it the whole time we've been together?"
"So... we didn't actually need condoms all this time?"
Jane pursed her lips. "You know as well as I do that it would be stupid not to use them these days."
Frank sighed. "Yeah, you're right." He twisted one of her damp ringlets around his finger. "I like your hair like this."
"Yes, but as soon as it dries, it's going to go poof." Jane held her hands out in a circle around her head. "That's what happens when you don't give me time to put on my shower cap." She smacked him on the bum.
"Oh, yeah, spank me, baby!" he joked, and they both laughed.
"Have you ever thought about doing something to leave your hair like this?"
"Wearing it natural? I've considered it. Aunt Maddy has worn her hair natural for about ten years, ever since it started to grow back, and she loves it. I'm just not ready to take that step." Jane wrinkled her nose. "Although I should be. I know how toxic relaxers can be."
"Didn't Chris Rock make a movie about that?"
"Yeah, Good Hair. He dissolved a Coke can in a bucket of water and relaxer."
Frank looked at her with huge eyes. "And you put that stuff on your head?"
"I know," Jane acknowledged. She then looked at him more earnestly. "So are you saying you wouldn't mind if I started wearing locs or braids or something like that? Not that what you think would matter if that's what I chose to do."
"I wouldn't mind at all. Why would I?"
Jane observed him for a moment. "We've never talked about the fact that we're in an interracial relationship." She grinned. "I mean, other than you saying you like chocolate."
"Correction: I believe I said I love chocolate."
Jane smiled at the memory and then said, "Seriously, do you ever think about it?"
"Honestly, I don't, because it doesn't matter to me. I'm a biracial kid myself." Frank furrowed his brow. "I mean, it does matter. Like what Roger said last night. But it doesn't matter matter." He sighed, a slight frown on his face. "I'm screwing this up, aren't I?"
Jane laughed. "No. I think I know what you mean."
"Does it matter to you?" Frank's expression was still serious.
"Do I love the fact that you're a Chinese English American guy? Yes. Does it matter? Not at all." She kissed him tenderly, repeatedly, until he smiled again. "I only thought about it now because we were talking about my hair. A black woman's hair is fraught with politics and meaning."
Frank chuckled. "I'll remember that." He stroked his hand down the side of her body, along her hip and thigh. "I will say, this is why I noticed you at Peter and Sarah's party."
"My skin color?"
"What you were wearing. You had on this sexy gold number that made your figure look incredible. And the color was striking against your skin. My eyes went right to you, and I knew I had to meet you."
Jane's entire body filled with warmth. She slipped her leg between his and pressed her breasts against his chest, kissing him deeply. "I love you everything about you," Frank murmured against her mouth.
"Why?" Jane winced as she asked, knowing the question was breaking the mood, but she needed to know.
"I just told you."
"Not why you wanted to meet me. Why you love me."
Frank sighed. "You're not going to do this to me, are you?"
"What's wrong with asking? Don't you want to know why I love you?"
"How can you not love me?"
When she scowled at him, Frank's face grew more serious. "OK, I'll try to answer. Jane, I think you're amazing. I was attracted to you from the very beginning, but you know that. On our first date, we had so many things in common that I felt a connection with you. Like you'd understand me." He paused for a moment, as if thinking. "I soon discovered that you have a lot of passion. Passion for people, for the world..."--he pulled her closer to look deeply into her eyes--"...for me."
He again began tracing her curves with his hands. "And you're a really good person, Jane. You're so kind and caring. You're the type of person who would make friends with my housekeeper."
Jane smiled. The interaction with Betty that morning had had an impact on both of them.
"You have integrity. You care about doing what's right. Hearing about you yesterday, and what you're doing for Daniel and those other kids--it's like you're an angel or something. It inspires me. And that's why I love you, Jane Fairfax."
Jane found herself unable to speak. No man had ever said such words about her. Fortunately, Frank couldn't maintain the serious mood for long, and his face broke out into a grin. "Now... how about some more unsafe sex?"
She laughed and thought, I love you, Frank, I love you so much, as their mouths met again.
© 2014 Copyright held by the author.