Beginning, Next Section
Taking a tentative sip of her champagne, Emma surveyed the scene in front of her. Soft, elegant orchestral music floated through the ballroom, beckoning every couple, young and old alike, to the dance floor. The chandeliers above caught every facet of flickering light, gleaming as they carelessly tossed bands of color and light across the room. Red silk swags accented the tall windows without hindering the spectacular view of the night stars and the white marble floor shone so clear that Emma could nearly see her own reflection.
Emma smiled wistfully, taking a deeper drink of her champagne. The English sure knew how to throw a good party. And an even better wedding. Emma's smile broadened as she caught a glimpse of the happy couple; her newly married best friend, Rebecca Taylor. Or, as Rebecca should properly be called after this evening's ceremony in Donwell Abby, Mrs. Weston. Emma laughed with the rest of the wedding guests as she watched Robert Weston spin Rebecca around before sweeping her off her feet (literally) and into his arms.
"Miss Woodhouse," a warm, elderly voice called from behind her. "You look lovely, dear. And so grown up."
Emma turned to see Mrs. Lydia Bates, sixty-five years old and a mutual friend of both Westons and Emma's grandfather, Lucien Woodhouse. Emma gave Mrs. Bates a smile, full of mandatory brightness.
"Hello, Mrs. Bates," Emma greeted her warmly. "It's so good to see you."
"You as well, dear. That's a lovely dress Rebecca picked out for you and the other bridesmaids," Mrs. Bates assured her. "That shade of lavender is so flattering on all three of you girls. Though I dare say any nicer of a gown and you would have outshone the bride herself with all that golden hair of yours." Emma blushed and smiled. She always felt uneasy when people commented on her looks, unsure of what to say in reply. Indeed she was one of those very rare people who were both naturally beautiful and truly lacking in vanity.
"Thank you," was all she could manage. "Though I'd tend to disagree."
"Oh, you're a sweetheart," Mrs. Bates patted her arm condescendingly. "But how's your grandfather doing?"
"Better on the whole. He wasn't feeling well this past week, so he had to decline his invitation to the wedding."
Emma didn't think it proper to add that with a hypochondriac for a grandfather, he wasn't feeling well most nights, despite his truly excellent health.
"Are you finding that you miss your father and the States?"
Emma shook her head definitively.
"No, not really." She assured her. "I've lived here for almost four years now. And I visited Highbury as a child every summer with my mother."
"Before she passed away, yes. Yes, so sad," Mrs. Bates paused reflectively for what she deemed the proper time when dealing with such matters. After the prescribed moment, Mrs. Bates continued, unfazed. "Your father's an American, correct? You still have your delightful Southern accent. Where in the States did you grow up, dear?"
Emma restrained herself from making a face. If there was one thing English people always, always, always commented on as soon as Emma opened her mouth, it was her Southern accent, acquired by living in Savannah for the first seventeen years of her life (despite summers spent in England). Even though Emma had been living full time in England now for the last three years, the Southern accent had stuck.
"Savannah, Georgia. It wasn't much of an adjustment living in England though. I think it must be my mother's English blood. And it helped that my two best friends are English. They're both here, too." "Who's that dear? Rebecca, of course, but who else?"
Ah, that caught her attention. Mrs. Bates's eyes widened in surprise and she gave Emma a knowing smile.
"Oh, Mr. Knightley. Yes, I know his family very well. Such a handsome young man. And bright, too. He's getting his doctorate at Kingston University, and only twenty four years old."
"Twenty-five this past July," Emma corrected her gently, taking another sip of her champagne.
"How long have you two been dating?"
Emma nearly choked on her champagne before looking up at the elderly woman.
"Me and George?" she laughed. "Oh, we're not dating. Nothing of the sort. George is engaged to that young woman over there. Celia Edwards. That woman there, see? Long red curls."
"Oh, yes. She's quite striking, isn't she? Celia Edwards...Yes, I do believe I've heard that name. Her father is probably Carl Edwards, owner of Edwards and Alhard Oil Refineries. Yes she looks like she comes from money. She suits him." The elderly lady's eyes narrowed and she nodded decidedly. "He needs someone of good standing to help him manage his late father's fortune and estate." Mrs. Bates could be blunt when it suited her. Mrs. Bates looked back at Emma. "Do you have a boyfriend or a fiancé, dear? I imagine someone as beautiful as yourself wouldn't have trouble in such areas."
"Not at the moment. Honestly, Mrs. Bates, most students in law school don't have time for such things."
"Oh," Mrs. Bates looked entirely disappointed. "Well, what a shame."
Emma looked over at the ornate gold-gilded clock on the wall.
"Mrs. Bates, I should be returning to my grandfather. Have a wonderful time enjoying the wedding, and I'll be sure to tell my grandpa you said hello. It was lovely to see you again."
"Such a sweet girl. Every time I see you, you get lovelier. Makes me think of my youth. Of course I never had that golden hair of yours. But, good luck in school and call me when you get a boyfriend!" With a brilliant smile and a tip of her glass, Emma was gone, into the crowd of guests. Maneuvering her way out of the ballroom, Emma handed her empty glass to a waiter before ducking into the coat checkroom to grab her black velvet wrap.
"Going somewhere, Emma?" a calm, masculine voice questioned her from behind.
Emma stopped short, immediately knowing the owner of that voice. She turned around, a smile on her face (this time genuine).
"George," she said with warmth in her voice, shutting her eyes in exhaustion. Opening them once more, she walked towards him, doing her best to arrange her wrap neatly and effectively around her bare shoulders. Seeing Emma struggling with the material, George reached over her and pulled the silken lavender fabric more firmly over her shoulders.
"Thank you," she said sincerely, looking up at him.
He shrugged casually, resting his hands on her shoulders.
"What's wrong, Emma?" he questioned her, gray eyes assessing her evenly, his concern thinly veiled.
"I'm fine," she insisted, matching him look for look with her sky blue gaze.
His brow furrowed.
"I'm fine. It's really nothing," she insisted defiantly. George gaze remained steady.
"To the Emma Woodhouse I know," he began, his British accent evident with every syllable. "'Nothing' is always something. And generally something of significance."
She tried staring him down, but finding it impossible to beat those cool gray eyes of his, she stuck out her tongue in defeat. "Oh, I don't know. It's everything, I suppose."
He let his arms slide from her shoulders and motioned her to the brocade sofa in the hallway.
"I don't suppose Brandon has anything to do with this?" he speculated, his voice remaining carefully neutral.
"You mean the fact that he and I broke up? No. We had fun in our time together...a lot of fun," Emma laughed softly, momentarily lost in memory. For all Brandon Vaughn's faults, he'd been a fantastic kisser. Oblivious to George's suddenly cold expression, she continued. "My relationship with him was mainly physical, though. We had a great time, Brandon and I, but the more we knew of one another, the more we realized it would never work. He and I were infatuated with one another for a time; we weren't really in love. Once we realized that, there wasn't much to be said. He suggested the breakup in June and I agreed."
He nodded slowly as if fully expecting that answer.
"Than what is it?"
She sighed laboriously before beginning,
"I'm happy for Robert and Rebecca. Very happy," she gave him a sidelong glance. "You know I got them together."
George looked at her with incredulity.
"You don't believe me," she laughed at him. "I did though."
"No, you didn't," he assured her firmly.
"Yes, I did. I said to you three years ago, "Wouldn't Robert be absolutely perfect for Rebecca?" And you gave me your usual, tolerant look of "whatever you say, Emma," like the one you're giving me right now, in fact," she grinned at him winningly. "And than they met at my Christmas party, hit it off fantastically, and have been inseparable since."
"Yes, but he asked her to dinner," He pointed out. "They're adult enough to manage their own affairs. Interference would have just hindered them from truly getting to know one another."
Emma gave him a look of uncomprehending impatience.
"Well, regardless. They're absolutely perfect for one another."
"I'll grant you that. But that's not the issue here," he reminded her.
"It's childish, George, I know."
"Probably. Continue anyway," George said, watching her evenly.
Emma paused to give him an exasperated look, fully understanding his comment.
"Only you could get away with a remark like that." She retorted dryly.
"Yes. I'm the only one that would ever say it, either."
Emma smirked at him.
"All through my undergrad years at Kingston University, it was our little group. You, Rebecca and Robert, Hannah, James, Brandon and me. And now everyone's graduated, or nearly so. Hannah's moved to France to work for Le Figaro, James will work for his father in Harrington and Brandon's going to be an engineer for some tech. company in London. You'll be receiving your doctorate degree at the end of this year, and than you'll marry Celia. And I'll be starting law school," she sighed. "It didn't really hit me until now. It just feel's like everything's changing."
He watched her, his expression unchanged.
"It is changing, Emma. You can't be selfish. Rebecca and Robert and Celia and I will all be living nearby, at least for this upcoming year. And you should be happy with your accomplishments. You've already received your bachelor's degree and you'll be at Kingston now as a graduate student. Kingston Law."
Emma smiled at him, appreciating his effort, despite the innate scold within his speech. It was so like him to do that, try and make her feel better while scolding her all the while. "Ah, yes. Law school awaits. But after this year, you'll be finished with your education forever and will probably want to go teach at...Cambridge or something. And you'll be married. Speaking of which, isn't there a certain red haired young woman waiting for you somewhere around here, Mr. Knightley? Where is that delicate damsel to sigh your name and call, "oh Knightley, Knightley, without you I cannot so much as raise my salad fork," she teased him.
Knightley cool eyes gave her a look to freeze a forest fire.
"I'm just kidding George," she laughed at him. "You know I just do that to get a reaction from you," she paused, watching him. He wasn't in a particularly good mood, either. From the set of his mouth, he didn't look in the mood for her teasing. She switched topics. "I see you've ditched your usual Manchester United sweatshirt for an evening. Did Celia have to peel it off you?"
"I haven't seen you all summer. I'm happy to see you in something other than a sweat suit and those enormous glasses you sport during exams last spring."
Emma's eyes widened in outrage but she smiled broadly, getting up from the sofa.
"You're an idiot sometimes," was all she could manage.
"Yes, that's true," he replied casually, the corners of his mouth hinting at a smile.
"Thanks, though, for listening," she said to him, readjusting her wrap. "Call me tomorrow?"
"Tomorrow afternoon. Try answering your phone once and awhile," George suggested, wryly, stretching as he stood. He held out a hand to Emma, helping her stand. Emma tried curtsying but it turned out to be more of a bob up and down. George burst out laughing.
"Not exactly Ginger Rogers, are you?" he squeezed her hand.
"Not exactly," she laughed.
"George!" a sharp, feminine voice interrupted them, accompanied by the quick clip of high-heeled shoes. Both Emma and George turned. A beautiful red haired woman, in a striking gold gown that Emma (fashion conscious, despite George's teasing) pegged as from Chanel's fall collection, stood watching them critically. "Where have you been?" she demanded to him her accent revealing her proper Yorkshire upbringing. "With her?" Celia's tone was flat and cold. Disapproval was written on every inch of her face.
Emma bristled at Celia's tone, eyes narrowing dangerously. George, sensing that Emma was about to say something scathing and (knowing Emma as he did) probably unpardonable, put a restraining arm gently on her shoulder.
Never one to cower to anyone (least of all his own fiancée), George responded to Celia himself in an even tone, "I thought you could do without me for a half an hour, while I had a conversation with an old friend."
He walked up to Celia and smoothing out a lock of her red curls before putting one hand under her chin before leaning down and whispering in her ear. Celia Edwards, despite her previous demeanor, melted under his touch.
Emma watched the scene coolly. She turned to go, leaving the couple to their privacy.
"Night, Emma," George called after her, slipping his arm around Celia. "Get home safely."
"Night, George," she responded, not even bothering to turn around as she walked out of the Estate and into the warm, August air.
Emma's eyes glanced once more over her tome-like syllabus as she packed her textbooks back into her satchel. She'd heard that Dr. Bensen's classes were murder. From his syllabus, Dr. Bensen appeared to be living up to his reputation. She slowly stood, mentally calculating how many hours of studying she'd have to do the coming evening.
"Afternoon, Emma. How's my Southern Belle?" A warm masculine voice startled her out of her reverie. "Elton Fitzgerald!" she greeted the tall Irishman fondly. "My, Lord, I haven't seen you since you got back from Ireland. How are you doing?"
She readjusted her satchel before reaching up to give him a hug of greeting.
"Not bad, Emme, not bad," he responded good-humouredly, running his hands through his red hair, blue eyes twinkling. He swung his arm around her companionably as she walked from the classroom. "I've missed that Irish brogue of yours. You had a nice break?" she asked him.
"Very nice," he answered.
"Getting into plenty of trouble, no doubt."
He grinned devilishly at her.
"Always," he responded. "Though not enough. Lacking you by my side..."
"Smooth, Elton. Thanks," she teased him, holding the door for him to exit the building.
"Thank you, lady," he gave her a courtly nod. "So lass, I hear you and Brandon are no longer an item, much to the joy of all currently single men at Kingston Law... True?"
"Yes," she answered evenly. "But I'd rather not talk about it. That's all anyone seems to ask about and I'm not thinking about anything of the sort right now. What about your romantic entanglements?" He gave her a good-natured grimace.
"Nonexistent for the moment," Elton admitted, raking his hand through his red hair. "Fiona dumped me over summer holiday."
"I'm sorry to hear that, Elton," Emma said sympathetically. "If it's any consolation, I never thought she was right for you."
Elton nodded appreciatively.
"None of us are getting any younger, though, are we, girl?" he added, watching her with sudden intensity.
"No, none of us are," Emma agreed, ignorant of his suddenly keen gaze. "I'll be twenty-one this November."
Elton's jaw dropped and he gave a whooping laugh.
"You're only now turning twenty one? And you're in law school and have your bachelor's degree?" he exclaimed. "Blarney! You're nothing but a spring lass! I would have pegged you for nigh less than 24." Emma laughed at his shock.
"It's hard for most people to believe. I was skipped ahead a year in high school. I graduated high school at seventeen, entered Kingston as a sophomore and finished my undergrad studies in three years. So I have my bachelor's degree already. It's shocking, I know. Just turning 21 and attending Kingston Law School," she grinned at him. "Surprise."
"Well my stars," was all Elton could manage. “I'll be twenty five this year."
"Yes, I know," she nodded, eyes twinkling. "I'll try not to make you feel like too much of an old man. I should go, Elton. I'm meeting a friend for lunch."
"Yes," Elton answered, nodding and started walking towards the parking lot. "I'll just go order myself a walker and have myself fitted for dentures."
"Goodbye, Elton," she called to him before nearing a building entitled McAlister Hall.
"Goodbye, lass," was his response, his thick Irish accent distinctive over the crowd of English voices. Still chuckling, Emma ducked into the building. She stopped at a room numbered 244 before turning the handle and slipping inside.
George Knightley, unaware of her presence, was rapidly scribbling an assignment on the board at the base of the lecture hall.
As a graduate student getting his doctorate in English, he was qualified to teach some lower level English courses. The benefits were twofold: it gave good teaching experience and it paid. Not much, as he wasn't really a professor and the University was notoriously cheap. But it was something. Not that he needs the money, Emma mused. She knew that the fortune he'd inherited after his parents' death gave him the option never work another day in his life. But Emma also knew him well enough to know he could never be happy 'retiring' at the age of 26.
"And because I know you all will have plenty of time between now and Wednesday," George said to the class. "I'm expecting a summary of Aristotle's: The Poetics on my desk by 12:00 on said date. And I want footnotes. Text support and footnotes."
He underlined the last two words before turning to the class.
A hint of a smile crossed his lips when he saw Emma standing in the back of the room before his gaze shifted to his students.
"If you have any intelligent questions come see me. Don't waste my time and I won't waste yours. My office hours are listed on the syllabus. Welcome to Kingston University."
Emma smirked. That last comment about "intelligent questions" and not wasting his time, that was typical of him. She watched the crowd of frazzled freshmen push their way out of the auditorium, and moved to avoid the stampede before weaving her way down to George's desk.
"Emma," George greeted her, not looking at her as he searched through a stack of papers. Emma had to grin.
"You know what that just reminded me of?" she said to him, dropping her satchel on a desk.
"Haven't a clue," he replied, only half listening. She walked over to him, eyes sparkling.
"It reminded me of a scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Or maybe it's the one about the Ark and the Covenant..." Emma paused, her brow furrowing, momentarily disconcerted before continuing. "Anyway, it's one of the two. In the movie, Indiana Jones is teaching---prattling on about archeology or something---"
"Do I prattle?"
"Yes, sometimes," she said absently. "But that's not my point, George. In the movie, Indiana Jones is going on and on and is completely oblivious to the flock of young female students starring wide eyed and wondering at him. Do you have any idea how many cow-eyed looks I caught going your direction from the young freshmen ladies out there?" her blue eyes flashed up at him wickedly. "That's you, George. You're Indie!"
The corners of George's mouth twitched upwards, hinting at a smile. As he looked up, he also looked past her. "Is there something I can help you with, Miss?"
Emma turned to see a student of George's a slightly awkward looking girl with a mass of brown curls and wearing a plaid jumpsuit. The poor girl looked absolutely terrified at speaking with George. Emma looked back at George, amused. She tilted her head, trying to view him as a stranger would. She had to admit, he was extremely attractive.
Emma shook her head at her own assessment. Who was she kidding? At twenty-five years old, George Knightley was incredibly good-looking. She'd seen many a young woman's jaw drop when catching a first view of him. In addition to that, though, there was something in his handsome, English features that managed to convey his innate intelligence. Just as there was something in those cool, gray eyes that revealed his sharp, decisive nature.
And yet there was more to him than that. Emma knew Knightley well enough to know he had an unusual mix of interests. While his knowledge of the English language was obvious, he was also very physically active and there was an unexpected edge of daring to his personality. He'd as eagerly go play soccer on a beautiful spring morning (with his lean, fast body, he was a natural at it), as he would go mountain climbing in Italy if the opportunity presented itself.
And yet, Emma mused, part of him seemingly embraced the academic life. She supposed his brilliance was such that he couldn't do otherwise.
Suddenly realizing that an entire conversation had been going on without her, Emma brought herself back to the present, listening to what George and the student were saying.
"What I really need is housing," the girl was saying. She was an American, from the north or perhaps the Midwest, judging from her accent. "Until than I can't hook up my computer and printer. I'm practically living out of a suitcase."
"Can you pay rent?" Emma demanded suddenly. The girl looked over to her, startled.
"Well, yes, but I haven't been able to find an apartment," she began timidly.
Emma looked from the young girl to George, the solution seeming obvious.
"One of my roommates just got married and moved out of the place I'm renting."
"Rebecca Weston," George said absently, packing up his things.
"Right," Emma nodded. "My other roommate and I have been looking for someone to pick up the third end of the lease. It's a three-bedroom apartment with a kitchen, a bathroom and living room. It's not a huge place, but the rent's not bad. You could move in whenever it suited, Yvette wouldn't care. We'd just have to get the paperwork drawn up by the landlord. It's a monthly lease and you'd have to put the first month's rent down in advance. But it's not a bad place to live and Yvette and I both study constantly, so mostly you'll barely realize there are other people living there." Emma paused, smiling cheerfully before saying, "What's your name again?"
"Harriet Smith," said the girl, stunned that her problem had been solved in a matter of minutes. "Well God bless you!"
George looked from Emma to Harriet.
"Miss Smith," he said casually. "May I present Emma Woodhouse, my official problem solver."
"What are you thinking, Knightley?" Emma questioned George, taking a bite into her apple. George had offered Emma lunch at his apartment, knowing she was strapped for cash at the moment and probably couldn't afford to waste money at the cafeteria. Emma, appreciating his thoughtfulness, politely accepted. Now she sat on his couch, polishing off the last of her lunch.
"Nothing," he answered, taking a sip of coffee from a mug. "I'm correcting an essay I wrote for Shakespeare and Modern Society."
Watching him, Emma's eyes narrowed suspiciously.
"Two problems with that response, Mr. Knightley. First, what could you possibly be correcting two weeks into the semester? And second, I know you; you're always thinking three or four things at once. Probably five."
George smiled, his eyes remaining on his work.
"For your information, Miss Woodhouse," he answered. "This essay is due this Friday. As far as what I'm thinking, you're right. I'm still marveling at you offering housing to my wayward student, Miss Harriet Smith."
Emma nodded, smoothing out her tartan skirt and tightening the laces of her shoes before standing. "Well, the poor girl had nowhere to go," Emma explained. "And Yvette and I dearly needed someone to pick up Rebecca's end of the lease. We're poor grad. school students, now, both of us."
"That's right. I'd forgotten Yvette's already started medical school."
"She's barely aware of the outside world," Emma assured him.
"And you are?" he demanded.
"Yes," she replied defensively, her blue eyes going wide. "I have a social life."
"No," he corrected, looking at her full on. "You used to have a social life. Now you just go around trying to give other people social lives," he laughed at her, seeing her indignation. "But that wasn't my point. My point was, don't you think that Harriet Smith is perhaps too young to be renting an apartment with two graduate students. She's still a girl, you and Yvette are grown women."
Emma shrugged and dropped the apple core in his wastebasket before sitting next to him on a stool at his kitchen counter.
"Well, she had nowhere else to go. Plus, she's from the States. It was my duty as a fellow American."
"Emma," he began, standing up and stretching, his muscles cramped from working too long. "Despite that Georgian accent of yours, strong as it ever was, even after living here for so long, I try not to think of you as an American."
Emma laughed at him.
"George Knightley, you're one of my best friends in the world. Are you saying that if I still consider myself an American, you'd hold no love for me in your heart? You'd cast me off forever from your circle of associates?" she teased him.
George paused, running his hands through his dark hair.
"Emma," he began. He stopped short, however, as the phone rang. Looking strangely relieved to avoid giving her an answer, he picked up the receiver.
"Hello?" he said.
"I mean, I know you think Americans are dreadful as a whole," Emma began, ignoring the fact that he was on the phone. "But Savannah is truly a lovely place. You don't know; you've never been there."
She glared at him crossly.
"No, not you Rob. Emma's here, she's being distracting," George listened to the other end of the receiver before laughing loudly, his gray eyes flashing to Emma. "Yes, that's true, Robert...I've been victim to that before..."
Emma could swear she saw a blush grace his cheeks (unusual for George. He rarely blushed at anything). Emma's curiosity peaked; she gestured to him, demanding to know what he was talking about.
George paused, glancing at her before turning back towards the living room.
"Uh huh? Oh, really?" he said finally, clearing his throat. "That's brilliant Rob. Yes, well, happy to hear it. Surely...you can count on me...what's that? Oh sure, Celia too, if I can drag her, which I can. I have my methods," he smiled devilishly. "...Yes, I'll tell Emma. No doubt she'll be there. Your and Rebecca's townhouse? Fantastic. Great. Till then."
He hung up the phone.
"Well?" Emma demanded, expectant.
"Frank Churchill, Robert's cousin who's transferred to Kingston for the year finally arrived. He's staying with Robert and Rebecca until he gets his own place. They're having a welcoming party for him Saturday night."
Emma put the cardboard box down on top of the pile with as much delicacy as she could muster. She felt disgusting, covered in sweat and dirt, her arms aching. She looked across the room to Yvette, her wayward roommate (who spent most of her time locked away in the library). Yvette, sporting a Kingston U. sweatshirt and jeans, looked utterly spent as well, exhaustion showing in her pale complexion and the shadows beneath her eyes. Yvette wiped dirty hands on her faded jeans, collapsing on the floor of what was now officially Harriet Smith's room.
"Are you all right, Yve?" Emma asked.
Yvette Lorraine nodded slowly, rubbing green eyes and sighing.
"I'm fine," Yvette responded finally, her French accent barely detectable. "I had an exhausting exam this morning. Three full hours of 'fun'. I hate Saturday morning exams."
Emma nodded, appreciating the grievance. She'd suffered through more than a few Saturday morning exams in her lifetime and looked to have more now that she was in Law School.
"Well, if you want to relax tonight, Rebecca and Robert are having a welcoming party for Rob's cousin, Frank. It should be fun. You're welcome to come."
Yvette shook her head.
"I cannot," she admitted. "Ian is driving down from Cambridge this afternoon. We're going to dinner in London. It's our anniversary."
Emma smiled wistfully.
"How many years is it, now?" Emma asked.
"Six," Yvette confirmed.
"Any chance that the dashing Lord Ian Henry, will be getting close to asking you as his Mrs. Henry?" Emma said.
"Mon Dieu, I certainly hope so. It's about time," Yvette responded, standing up. "Speaking of which, what time is it?"
Emma looked at her watch.
"Later than I thought," Emma responded. "Going on 5:20. Where's Harriet? I thought she was coming to help us with these boxes. They're hers after all."
Yvette's eyes widened and gave a panicked moan of despair.
"5:20! Ian is coming at 6:00! Oh, I look dreadful. How will I get ready in half an hour?"
Speaking rapidly in French, Yvette headed for the bathroom.
Knowing that there was little she could do to calm her friend, and feeling thirsty from moving all those boxes, Emma headed for the kitchen in search of something to drink.
Harriet sat on the couch, unpacking videos and CDs and placing them next to Emma's small, rather pathetic looking television with its broken antennae.
"Do you want something to drink, Harriet?" she called into the living room.
"No, thank you," was Harriet's meek response.
"Harriet," Emma said suddenly, taking a bottle of water from the refrigerator. "I know you don't know many people in Kingston. Feel like coming to a party tonight? Some of my old friends will be there. It should be fun."
Harriet looked up, surprised to be invited.
"Well sure," she said finally. Unpacking the remainder of the box, Harriet continued, "Though I did meet a nice boy my first day here, and we've talked every day on my way to class since. I was hoping he would call me tonight."
Emma took a sip of her water, walking into the living room.
"Really?" she said, putting the drink down and smiling to the younger girl. "Tell me all about him. I probably won't know him, though, if he's an undergrad."
"Well, he's not exactly an undergraduate student," she began.
Now Emma was surprised.
"He's a grad student? I'm impressed, Harriet."
Harriet shook her head.
"No he's not that old," Harriet said.
Emma nearly burst out laughing. Now she and her friends were officially termed "old" by a freshman. Wonderful.
"He's not really a student here," Harriet continued quietly. "He works at the University, though. He's one of the groundskeepers. His name is Martin."
"Martin Christopher?" Emma asked, incredulous, putting down her drink. Martin Christopher had worked for the grounds keeping department at Kingston for the last two years. Emma would guess his age to be twenty-four, no older; he was a short young man and though decent looking enough, Emma didn't think he was anything to swoon over.
"Yes. He's just so sweet to me," Harriet reflected; she paused, noticing Emma's expression. "You don't like him?"
Emma paused, trying to be diplomatic.
"It's not that," she began. "It's just, there are so many educated men here at Kingston..." Emma paused trying to be delicate while getting her point across. "It's just, Harriet, that marrying a man with a college education assures financial stability, to a degree anyway. I know you probably aren't thinking to marry Martin just yet, but dating can always lead to marriage, especially in college."
She watched Harriet, seeing if she was getting her point across. She didn't think she was. Harriet looked puzzled.
"What I mean is, Harriet, I wouldn't settle too soon for Martin. He's a nice fellow, but there are so many young men on campus who I'm sure would like to date you, and you want to keep your options open."
"You really think so?" Harriet asked. "It's just, Martin is so kind to me. He picked me a rose from the bush outside Carvel Hall just yesterday. He said I was prettier than any rose he could ever hope to find in all the garden."
"I definitely think there are plenty of men on campus who would date you," Emma insisted. "In fact, I know of a man who would be just perfect for you. He'll be at the party tonight. Elton Fitzgerald. A friend of mine. He just broke up with Fiona Longfellow and is looking for someone new. You and he would be perfect together."
"Really?" Harriet asked, there was a cautious skepticism of her voice, but it was laced with hope.
"What does he look like?"
"Oh, he's mid height I suppose, though definitely taller than you, with red hair and bright green eyes. Very charming," she informed Harriet. "He's on his second year at Kingston Law, so he's a older than you, but I'm sure he won't mind you're so young. You're seem very mature for a 19-year-old."
"Very charming?" Harriet repeated.
Emma had to smile: wouldn't it be fantastic of Elton and Harriet hit it off and ended up getting married, just like Robert and Rebecca Weston? That would bring her total of happy matches made to two, but who knew how many more she could make by the end of the year? She should start charging for this... Emma was interrupted from her musings, however, by Yvette's scream down the hall.
"Emma!" Yvette cried, her French accent in full force. "Help!" Yvette came into the living room in a long pink bathroom, her hair in a white towel. In her right hand was a long and elegant black gown. In her left was a stylish little red dress, not overly short or low cut. Emma guessed the cut of the dress to be just right to flatter Yvette's small frame.
"What dress will make Ian really go 'wow,'" Yvette pleaded. "The black or the red? I don't want him to take his eyes off me tonight."
Emma folded her arms and tilted her head to the side, thinking.
"How comfortable would you be in that black dress?"
"Fairly comfortable," Yvette assured her. "Bought in Paris. The red dress was bought in London at Harrah's."
"The black gown has beautiful fabric. I'm sure it's absolutely lovely. Still," Emma mused, squinting.
"I'm sure he sees plenty of black going to Cambridge. Black is understated, elegant, but red draws every eye in the room, most especially his. Plus, wearing red will help him see that you can be something other than a scientist for an evening."
"Good point," she admitted, looking relieved at having it put so simply. "I'll go with the red. Thanks Emma. Good advice."
Emma shrugged, grinning. "That's what I'm here for.”
"Well, thank you," Yvette nodded before rushing back to the bathroom.
Emma turned back to Harriet.
"So, you want to come meet Elton tonight?"
Harriet nodded eagerly.
Hearing a buzz from the call box, Emma ran over to it.
"Hello?" she said, pressing the button next to the box.
"Emma?" a masculine voice asked tentatively. Emma smiled.
"Hi, Ian," she greeted him warmly. "Come on up, Yvette will be ready for you in a few minutes."
Walking through the living room and into the hallway, Emma called,
"Yve, Ian's on his way up!"
Yvette emerged from the bathroom wearing the red dress. Her makeup had been done to perfection. Her hair was perfectly coiffed and fell down her back in waves.
"I'd still feel more comfortable in jeans..." Yvette laughed nervously. "Will he approve?"
"Let me put it this way Yvette," Emma responded with a grin to her friend. "I fully expect to see a diamond on that left ring finger of yours when you return tomorrow."
Yvette looked nervous and agitated and giddy all at once. She jumped slightly when a knock was heard at the door.
"I'll get it," Yvette said quickly, walking calmly to the door and grabbing her purse. Emma and Harriet followed in quick pursuit, eager to see Ian Henry's reaction.
Ian Henry was a tall young man, good looking in his own way, his blond hair perfectly cut. He held himself with natural confidence. This evening he wore a tuxedo and held a bouquet of red and white roses.
In the three years Emma had known Ian (whenever he came to visit Yvette) she'd never seen him anything but composed. The look on his face now, though, was priceless. He looked darn close to dropping that bouquet.
Pretending like she hadn't noticed, Yvette greeted him, took the roses and handed them to Emma.
"Could you put these in water?" Yvette asked Emma, looking as though she was trying very hard herself to remain cool and collected.
"Sure," Emma nodded, squeezing Yvette's hand reassuringly. "Have a good evening, you two."
"Goodnight, Emma, Harriet," Yvette called. Ian ushered her out the door, a big grin on his face. Entirely pleased with herself, Emma shut the door behind them and turned to Harriet.
"I told Rebecca I'd be there by 6:30," she instructed Harriet, checking her watch. "Can you get ready to go quickly?"
Harriet nodded cautiously.
"Good," Emma said before reassuring the hesitant girl with a bright smile, "Harriet, my friends are really very nice people. Tonight you're going to have a wonderful time."
"Emme, can you grab that colander from that shelf above the oven? I need that salad washed off before it's served," Rebecca Weston called to Emma while examining the consistency of her three-bean soup. Emma, doing her best to help Rebecca put the finishing touches on the night's meal, tried to maneuver her way through the Weston's small, cramped kitchen.
Nearly plowing into Robert Weston (who knelt down to check on the casserole in the oven), Emma stood on her tiptoes to reach the colander.
"Here, let me get that," a hand reached past hers, easily reaching the colander.
Emma turned to see Frank Churchill standing next to her with the colander-in-question. He smiled at her, a friendly, open smile that revealed a perfect set of shining white teeth. A nice smile, she decided definitively.
Thanking him, Emma accepted the colander with a faint blush. Moving between Robert and Rebecca, Emma went to wash the salad.
"Frank," Rebecca Weston admonished him. "What are you doing in the kitchen? You're the guest of honor for the night. Go into the living room, get yourself a drink and relax."
"Yes, you're new here. Trust me, once she gets to know you, she'll have no compunctions at using you as forced labor," Emma interjected, shaking water off the lettuce leaves in the sink.
"Don't listen to her. Go, Frank," Rebecca insisted, shooing him from the kitchen area with her hand towel.
"All right, I get it. The lady of the house has spoken. I will humbly accept her decree," Frank nodded to Rebecca, and pressed his hand to his chest, his voice laced with humor.
"He learned that rule quickly," Robert Weston commented to Emma with a grin.
"Yes, he must have good instincts for survival," Emma agreed with him, grinning as well.
Flashing another brilliant smile in Emma's direction, Frank nodded and headed for the living room.
A knowing look passed between Robert and Rebecca. They both looked at Emma, entirely pleased.
"What?" Emma questioned innocently as she began breaking the lettuce apart and putting it into the salad bowl.
"Did you see that?" Rebecca Weston said to her husband.
"I believe I did, Mrs. Weston," Robert responded.
Emma looked at them, shaking her head in amusement.
"I don't know what you're talking about," she insisted. "Either of you. Meanwhile, I'm taking this into the dining room."
She held up the salad and made her way into the dinning room. Placing the bowl in between the cooked asparagus and the potatoes, she peaked into the living room to check on Harriet and Elton.
She'd introduced Elton to Harriet Smith the moment she arrived at the Weston's townhouse. Than she gave Elton explicit instructions that it was his duty to keep Harriet entertained while she helped Rob and Rebecca cook. Everything looked to be going well. Elton had barely left her side since, and Emma had heard Harriet's funny little laugh echo into the kitchen, accompanied by Elton's loud, distinctively Irish chuckle.
Emma positioned the candles on the dinning room table, thinking happily that Elton and Harriet were truly an excellent match. Elton Fitzgerald was a kind and friendly person, and Emma wanted to see him happy. In particular, she wanted to see him with someone other than his usual fair of women, such as the self-involved Fiona Longfellow. Harriet could be just the thing for him.
Striking a match, she looked up to see George Knightley enter the dinning room carrying a bottle of red wine.
"Good to see you're making yourself useful," he greeted her with a grin.
"Trying to," she responded lightly, lighting the candles. She blew out the match before it could singe her fingers. "Did you and Celia bring that?" she gestured to the bottle of wine, waving her hand above the table to clear the air of smoke.
George nodded, looking for a corkscrew to open the bottle. Emma, in search of more forks for the table, found the corkscrew and a nearby drawer and handed it to Knightley.
"Ah, there you are."
Both turned to see Frank Churchill standing in the entryway.
"Is this a private party, or can anybody join?" Frank questioned, his blue eyes (almost a mirror in shading to Emma's) looking from Emma to Knightley and back again.
"Come on in Frank," Emma greeted him warmly. "Have you met my friend, George Knightley?"
"No, not yet," Frank shook his head. "It's good to meet you George. Especially someone in such good company with the fair Miss Woodhouse," his eyes assessed Emma appreciatively before turning to George. "I've heard all about Emma from Rebecca and Robert."
Emma blushed, smiling back at Frank.
"Good things, I hope."
Frank grinned winningly.
"Most definitely," he assured her with a wink.
A loud "pop" interrupted the moment, making Emma jump slightly.
Emma turned sharply to see George placing the cork from the wine bottle onto the table. He was watching Frank, disapproval shading his eyes. Emma's mouth thinned in annoyance at him and she turned back to Frank.
"I hear you come to us after a sojourn in Paris, France. Are you adjusting to living here?" Emma asked him.
Frank nodded, his eyes lighting up as Robert walked into the room carrying a steaming casserole.
"Rebecca's an absolute peach to live with," Frank assured her. "And I can put up living with Robert for that. Right Rob?"
"Smart man. That's absolutely true," Robert nodded good-humoredly. "Is everyone ready to eat?"
"I'll go get Harriet and Elton," Emma assured him, barely managing to avoid crashing into Celia as she entered the dining room.
"Emma," Celia greeted her coolly.
Celia looked stately and dignified as always. Emma had to bite her tongue to keep from laughing.
Sporting a pressed white Calvin Kline shirt and a blue silk skirt, her red hair twisted into a French bun, Celia looked more suited for a dinner date with Tony Blair than a casual meal of casserole and three-bean soup.
"George, I was wondering where you got off to," Celia began, brushing off Emma's presence and instead turning her full attention to George. "I'm bored by myself in there, not to mention half starved, and practically parched. Pour me a glass of wine?"
Frank, a look of derision on his face, put an arm on Emma's shoulder and pushed her gently out of the dining room.
"She's pleasant," Frank quipped sarcastically to Emma, distaste written all over his handsome, good natured face.
"Tell me about it," Emma agreed.
They entered the living room and delivered the message to Harriet and Elton that dinner had been served. Helping Harriet stand, Elton thanked Emma before winking and following Harriet in to the dinning room.
Frank put a restraining arm on Emma's shoulder before she could follow them.
"Just for curiosity's sake, before we go back into the Lion's Den...Why in the world does George put up that woman? I hear they're engaged," Frank whispered to Emma.
"You'd have to ask George," she admitted. "But you're right, they are engaged."
Frank paused reflectively before speaking.
"Thank goodness..." Frank hesitated before amending his statement. "Thank goodness not all fiancées are like that."
Emma looked at him, suddenly curious.
"What?" he asked innocently.
"You looked awfully far off just now."
Frank just shrugged and gave her a faint smile.
"Just missing...Paris," he admitted, putting a companionable hand on her shoulder. "Now, let's go eat. I, for one, am eager to taste the products of your salad making skills."
"---And so, listen to this," Frank said, his eyes a bright, mischievous blue. "The next day, not one but four French gendarmes show up on my doorstep and I'm left pleading with them, saying, "No, Messieurs, I had no clue she was the daughter of the Estonian ambassador to France or that she had stolen that motorcycle."
Frank looked around the kitchen at the completion of his story, seeing everyone in absolute hysterics (Everyone but for Celia. She sat in queen-like fashion on the Weston's kitchen stool, looking faintly disapproving and intent on examining her newly painted nails).
"You think that's bad?" Elton interjected, still chuckling at Frank's story. "You should hear about this one weekend I spent in Greece--"
"Uh, oh," Emma interrupted, taking a breath to calm her laughter and wiping her eyes. "Here it comes. You'll want to cover your ears, Harriet."
Harriet just continued laughing, shaking her head. Grinning at her young friend and happy to see that she was enjoying herself, Emma bent to put some dishes in the dishwasher. When she stood, she felt a hand on her elbow. Emma nearly jumped to see Celia standing beside her.
"Emma may I speak with you?"
Surprised both that Celia would be wishing to talk with her and at the civility of her tone, Emma nodded. Excusing them both from the kitchen, she followed Celia outside onto the Weston's townhouse portico.
The fall air was just cool enough to be refreshing without giving Emma a true chill. Taking a seat on the Weston's porch swing, Emma watched Celia stand on the far opposite end of the porch, her eyes narrowing.
Emma squirmed under the critical gaze, unsure exactly what the point of Celia's request was.
"Emma," Celia began civilly. "I know you've known George for a very long time. Since childhood."
"I was six when we first met and he was eleven," Emma admitted before shaking her head in confusion and demanding coolly, "Why are you asking me this?"
Celia took a deep breath, looking out at the evening sky before turning back to Emma.
"Why are you still friends, you and he?" Celia questioned finally, her eyes narrowing on Emma.
Emma hesitated. She didn't feel like talking about this with Celia. She didn't really like Celia and certainly wouldn't willingly volunteer information about the complexities of her friendship with George Knightley. Still, he will be marrying her, Emma thought guiltily. I ought to make an effort.
"George and I have always been close," Emma began. "We'd see each other every summer, when I'd visit my mother. My parents divorced when I was five. My father is a wealthy trial attorney, so he won custody easily." Emma shrugged her shoulders, her voice distant. "Still, I was allowed to stay in England with my mother every summer. She lived with my grandfather in Highbury, caring for him, and when I was there, that's where I lived, too. My mother and grandfather were dear friends of George's parents, and we'd go visit the Mr. and Mrs. Knightley every Sunday.”
“Of course, I was just a child than, so mainly I just pestered George. It wasn't till I was about eight or so that we really started getting along, though I still loved bothering him, bantering back and forth, trying to win every argument," she shook her head ruefully. "I thought we'd drift apart the older he got. So did my mother, I'm sure...I mean...she died the following winter...so," Emma paused, her voice suddenly unsteady. Taking a deep breath, she continued. "Cancer...it came on so suddenly...she never really had a chance," Emma paused again, suddenly recalling that dreadful period with all its miserable intensity.
She desperately wanted George to come outside so she'd have an excuse to stop talking; but he didn't and the words just flowed from her memory like water from a sieve.
"George was there at the funeral, of course. When it was over, he came up to me and promised...he said that he'd be there for me if I needed it," Emma stopped herself there. She didn't think it wise to give Celia a full account of that particular event. It had been an acutely personal experience between her and George and it was something she'd never talk about in detail to anyone but him.
Emma hesitated to continue, feeling as though she'd already said far too much.
"Anyway," she shrugged, finally meeting Celia's keen gaze. "We kept in contact."
Celia's expression was pinched. If anything she looked even more displeased than she had an hour ago. Her fingers were on her engagement ring, twisting it back and forth compulsively while she thought.
"Emma," Celia said finally, looking over to Emma. "Apparently you and George have shared a lot in past years. You've known each other for a very long time and you feel close to him. Now that I know a bit about your past, I can somewhat understand why George seems to hold some sort of...attachment to your friendship," she said the words begrudgingly, with obvious distaste in her mouth. "I just want to make one thing very clear so that it gets through that pretty blond head of yours, and I'm speaking honestly here," the words she spoke next were very sharp and very frank. "I don't really care about your childhood melodrama or any other excuses you have to finagle your way into George Knightley's life. What I care about is my fiancé. And once he and I are married, I don't want you coming near him." Celia's eyes narrowed. "I am very much my father's daughter and I don't do well with competition."
Competition? Emma repeated mentally, too stunned and bewildered to speak. didn't know which emotion was suddenly more powerful: the urge to burst into tears at such callous disregard to her mother's death, or the sudden instinct to throttle Celia's pampered little throat.
She could do none of the above, however, as George Knightley chose that very moment to open the door and step out onto the portico...
...Celia spotted him at the same moment Emma did. An abrupt transformation took place over Celia's features. A mask of sweetness fell over her face and she turned to him with a pleased smile.
George, however, would have none of it. He watched Celia evenly, looking as though he were forcibly summoning every gentlemanly instinct in his body to keep himself from yelling at her. He pulled out his car keys from his pocket without so much of a word and handed them to her.
Celia stared at him, puzzled.
"George, I don't understand----"
"Go inside, Celia," he instructed her, being sure to make eye contact. "Make our excuses to Robert and Rebecca for leaving early. It doesn't matter what you tell them as long as it's civil. I'll meet you in the car," his tone was calm, collected and would brook no argument.
Celia opened her mouth to make a protest, but after taking one look at her fiancé's expression, thought better of it (she wasn't a total nitwit, after all) and did as instructed.
Watching her exit, George rubbed his temples and ran his hand through his hair. His eyes shifted quickly over to Emma.
Having George present calmed Emma's anger substantially. Wiping her eyes, she got a good look at him. She noted that beneath that behind that calm exterior of his, a cool fire was burning in his eyes. Emma had to marvel at both his composure and his restraint.
"How much of that did you hear?" she asked him quietly.
"Enough," was all he could reply. He couldn't hide his grimace. Looking for something to focus his gaze on other than Emma, George began absently searched for constellations in the night sky. He continued, "Celia and I have some serious matters to discuss. But not here..."
Emma fiddled with the zipper on her jacket as he spoke; she looked up at him after a moment.
"Mr. Knightley, I've known you for most of my life." she smiled weakly to him, admiration in her voice. "One thing has always stood true; you truly are a true gentleman. Celia doesn't understand that..."
He gave her a quick glance, too quick to read, before looking back up at the sky.
"You did nothing to deserve treatment like that, Emma," he said quietly.
"She did nothing to deserve you, George." Emma replied frankly and with casual dismissal. Their eyes locked for an instant before the door swung open. Celia barged between them, struggling to put on her cashmere coat.
Seeing Celia struggling, George moved to properly adjust the sleeve. Ignoring his aid, Celia brushed past him. With annoyance on every inch of her face, Celia trotted down to George's BMW Z3 Roadster and opened the car door before plopping herself inside and slamming the door decisively. Watching the little performance, Emma had to bite her tongue to keep from saying something unkind.
She looked over to George.
"Good luck, Knightley," was all she could think to say.
"Goodbye, Emma," he replied, placing a quick hand on Emma's shoulder before turning and walking to his car.
Hearing the hum of the car engine as George started the ignition, Emma smiled. She knew he loved that car. George might be brilliant and a University man but (like most men) nothing could make him smile quite like the sound of a well oiled motor or the sheen of a newly waxed convertible. Something else Celia would never understand about him.
Reflecting on how colossally different George and Celia truly were, Emma was startled out of her momentary reverie by the sound of the door opening behind her.
"Ah, here you are," Frank Churchill held the door open for her. His bright blue eyes graced George's car with interest. "Where's he going?"
"He's breaking up with Celia," Emma said succinctly, thanking him for holding the door as she stepped back into the Weston's' townhouse.
"Oh," was all Frank could manage, the surprise evident on his face. Frank gave a short nod of approval to the outgoing car before adding a brief blessing of, "Very, good, than. Carry on."
Grinning to himself and seeing that Emma was safely inside, Frank Churchill shut the door behind them.
Emma Woodhouse gave a slow sigh, stretching as she looked around the library. Pausing to throw a suspicious glance at the flickering desk lamp, Emma Woodhouse turned to chapter eight in her text book. Only a hundred more pages to read. Emma sighed again. At this rate, Understanding International Maritime Law would most definitely never make it to her top-ten list of books. In fact, at this rate Emma would consider it quite good natural sedative. Sick of studying, she ran her hands through her hair and checked her watch. 1:15 AM. The library closed at 2: 00.
And the ink in her pen was beginning to dry up. Not to mention that her head was aching terribly and had been for the last hour.
Plus the fact that Harriet Smith, when they'd arrived back from the Weston's party, could do nothing but go on and on about how wonderful she thought Elton Fitzgerald was. And how handsome. And tall, and charming, and polite, etc, etc, etc. Hence why Emma had elected to make her escape to the library and get some studying done (though she was more than pleased as to how well Elton and Harriet were getting along).
Emma looked at her book in disgust. Feeling entirely too tired to think coherently about maritime law; she began flipping through her notes from last class.
"I thought I'd find you here."
Not bothering to look up from her notes, Emma couldn't help but smile.
"Yes," Emma responded lightly to him. "And I'm extremely busy and extremely important, Mr. Knightley. Dare you interrupt me?"
She grinned up at him, eyes dancing.
"Is that a challenge?" he asked.
"Maybe. It depends."
"On whether the librarians are going to kick up out. That one over there is giving us a dirty look." George turned and looked to the librarian at the desk (who was indeed giving them a dark, disapproving look). He had to laugh.
"Come on," he motioned to Emma. "Get your stuff together. I'll drive you back to your apartment."
"Thank you, Mr. Knightley," she nodded to him, throwing her books and papers in her satchel and putting on her coat. She followed him out to his car, the cool air stinging her cheeks. The temperature had dropped quite a bit within the last two hours.
"So," she began, settling herself in and buckling her seatbelt as George started his car. "How'd you know where I was?"
George paused, smirking.
"I could say I just knew," he began.
"But that would be lying," she interjected with a grin.
"Right," he agreed. "But admitting that I called your apartment and talked with Harriet isn't half as interesting."
"Also true," she agreed, her smile widening. "So...you and Celia..."
"Finished," he said. The humor in his voice had vanished.
"Absolutely," he admitted. "Look in the glove compartment."
Emma opened it up and saw Celia's diamond engagement ring sitting on the top of a stack of maps.
"George," she began, not sure exactly what to say.
George's hands gripped the wheel more tightly.
"We talked," he said. "Discussed a lot of different things. I told Celia some things that needed saying, and she told me some things that she'd been thinking for awhile now. It was best to end it. For both of us. I told her she could keep the ring, but she insisted on giving it back. Goodness knows her father could by her a cartload of diamonds if he wanted to...I'm selling it back to the jeweler tomorrow..."
His voice trailed off as he turned down the street to her apartment building.
"To be honest," Emma admitted in a detached voice as she examined the ring, "I've never liked diamonds."
"Really?" he said absently.
"Yes," she said. "My mother never liked them either. Maybe that has something to do with it. They just seem so lifeless to me...Did Celia pick this out?"
"She did indeed," George admitted as he pulled up to her apartment building. "You can just leave it in the glove compartment, Emme."
Doing as told, she placed the ring inside the glove compartment and snapped it shut before moving to exit the car. As her hand reached the door, however, she turned back to him.
"You know," she began slowly, grinning mischievously at him. "Who needs sleep? You've had quite an evening. We could always go somewhere..."
"What's open?" he asked.
Now he couldn't help but laughing.
"London's open?" He repeated.
"Things in London are open..." she amended.
"Goodnight Emma," he said firmly. "Get some sleep."
Getting out of his car, Emma shouldered her satchel and took her keys from her coat pocked. She turned and watched George Knightley's car disappear down the block. Opening the front door, Emma decided she felt a mix of emotions concerning George and Celia's breakup. She felt sadness for George, and a bit of guilt...but strongest (and most surprising) of her emotions was her genuine sense of relief...
Emma watched the oven clock in her kitchen transition from 7:59 to 8:00 AM with a mild sense of dread. She'd been up since quarter-past-five, reviewing for a ten o'clock exam, and she still didn't feel entirely prepared. Emma pushed her textbooks away for the moment. Getting up from the counter, she made her way to the refrigerator in search of orange juice.
Balancing the orange juice in one hand and a glass in the other, Emma carefully deposited both items on the kitchen counter. She picked up the juice in preparation to pour it, only to be interrupted by the clear ring of the cordless phone. Emma reached over and grabbed the phone, wondering who would be calling so early in the morning (early for her friends; that is).
"Hello?" said a masculine voice.
"Hello?" Emma answered.
"Yes," she responded tentatively. "Who is this?"
"It's Elton Fitzgerald," the voice replied.
"Oh. Hello, Elton. Or good morning, I suppose..."
"I didn't wake you up, did I?" he sounded hesitant.
"No; it's okay, Elton. I've been up for awhile now," she assured him, smiling to herself. Cradling the phone on her shoulder in hopes of having her hands free, she made her way over to the counter once more and picked up the orange juice and cup.
"Harriet, on the other hand," Emma added, grinning devilishly, "Is still fast asleep. She doesn't wake up till past nine. I can tell her you called. Or, I can wake her up for you, if you want..."
"Harriet?" he repeated, sounding surprised and momentarily confused. "Oh, right. Harriet. Yeah, she's a good kid."
There was a pause.
"So, Elton," she began, trying to prompt him. "What exactly do you think of Harriet? Impressions, I mean," Emma waited attentively, hoping for a detailed confession from him.
"Harriet?" he repeated, thrown off for a moment. "She certainly seems nice enough. I mean, she laughs a lot..." his voice trailed off.
Not exactly the profession of love she'd been expecting from him...
"Right," Emma agreed, impatience creeping into her voice. Why couldn't Elton Fitzgerald just vocalize his feelings? At this rate, it'd be another two months before he ever asked poor Harriet out. "Anything else?"
"Her curly hair reminds me a lot of my Aunt Ida's, actually. Aunt Ida has just a bit of red in her hair, but in the right light it shines like the sun. Than again, my Aunt Ida has the temper to match, too," Elton added, searching blindly for something to say to Emma.
Emma smiled when she heard him say that. So he liked Harriet's hair, did he? She'd be sure to tell Harriet to wear it down whenever Elton finally asked her on a date...
"So was there something you wanted to talk about, Elton? Other than Harriet, I mean," Emma teased him.
"Right," Elton continued, oblivious to Emma's slight, teasing jab. "Yeah, there was. About that test..."
"What can I help you with?"
"Is it only up to chapter fourteen, or does it include it?"
"It includes chapter fourteen," Emma confirmed. "Anything else?"
"Yeah, one more thing," Elton paused awkwardly. "I wanted to thank you for studying with me last weekend...and I was thinking...have you ever been to the symphony?"
"The symphony?" she repeated blankly. "Yes, I've been to see the London Symphony Orchestra with my grandfather, and to the Atlanta Symphony with my father."
"Well," Elton continued. "The guy who rents my flat with me has two tickets that he doesn't want. Would you like to go? They're for Saturday night."
No sooner were the words out of his mouth than Emma spilled a good portion of orange juice on the counter and all over her white sleeves.
"Oh, no," she exclaimed, setting down the orange juice and surveying the mess.
"Sorry, Elton. I spilled something," Emma admitted, laughing at herself.
"What are you doing, Emma?" he asked.
"Discovering I can't multi-task," she responded, amused at herself and searching for a towel to clean up the mess.
"Oh," was all he could think to respond.
"Um, Elton," Emma said finally, wiping the spilled orange juice with the nearest dishtowel. "It's very nice of you to thank me for our study session with tickets to the symphony, but I'm staying with my grandfather that weekend. I haven't been able to see much of him this semester and I told him I'd come for a visit that Friday and stay till Sunday. Why don't you take Harriet with you? I'm sure she'd love to go, and you two could spend some time together."
There was a long pause on his end of the phone.
"Um," he finally managed. "That's all right, Emma. Thanks for the suggestion, but to be frank, I don't really like classical music; I just thought...well, I thought I'd help Joseph out by using his tickets, but if you can't go, that's fine. I'll just see you in class today..."
"Sounds good, Elton," she assured him. "Good luck studying."
"Right," was the extent of his response.
"Goodbye, Elton" she said, before hearing the phone 'click' on the other end. With a puzzled shake of her head, she shook her head. That was nice of him to thank her for the study session with a trip to the symphony, but why wouldn't he want to take Harriet?
Still puzzling over the conversation, Emma heard the door open.
"How was your run?" she called to Yvette. Before heading to lab, Yvette always started her morning with a mile run. Emma had a feeling that Yvette looked to be one of those doctors that actually practiced what she preached.
"Great. The weather's beautiful this morning," Yvette called to her before heading back to her room.
When Yvette emerged, she'd changed from her sweat suit into jeans and a green sweater and her hair was pulled up in a bun.
"How late were you up talking to Mr. Ian Henry last night, Yve?" Emma asked as Yvette entered the kitchen.
"Past midnight," Yvette admitted with a smile.
Yvette and Ian Henry had been officially engaged for a month now. It was obvious that the newness and excitement of it had yet to wear off on either party. Yvette and Ian spent talking on the phone, nearly every night.
"His parents want to rent a country club for the reception," Yvette said.
"So did you and he finally decide on the date of the wedding?" Emma asked.
"April 22nd. You'll still be able to be one of my bridesmaids, won't you?"
Emma smiled brightly and handing Yvette a glass of orange juice.
"Absolutely," she assured Yvette. "What color do you want the dress to be? I'm up for anything but orange."
Yvette laughed and pretended to look crestfallen.
"But Ian and I were hoping for a theme of 'burnished pumpkin.'"
Emma laughed as she pulled a box of cereal from the cabinet.
"Wonderful," was all Emma could manage. "Oh, by the way, how did your organic chemistry lab go yesterday? I know you were worried about it."
"It was fine. Long," Yvette answered absentmindedly. She paused, thinking back on the class. Suddenly her eyes lit up with a partially forgotten memory. "Oh, there was one thing. I was talking with Anita Bates in the middle of lab yesterday---"
Emma nodded. Anita Bates, granddaughter of Lydia Bates and slated to be another one of Yvette's bridesmaids. One could hardly meet a kinder, friendlier person on campus than Anita Bates, though the young woman was known for her love of idle chatter (and that mainly included gossip).
"Why didn't you tell me about George?" Yvette demanded.
Emma stared at her blankly for a moment before responding.
"George Knightley? What about him?"
Yvette rolled her eyes.
"He and Celia. I hear they're broken up at Rob and Rebecca's party. The party was one month ago. Why didn't you mention it? It's been a whole month now, and I've been uninformed."
"It slipped my mind," she said innocently.
Yvette laughed and grinned.
"It slipped your mind," Yvette repeated. "What's your opinion on it?"
"Their breakup?" Emma questioned, her eyebrows raised.
Yvette watched her evenly.
"He's one of my best friends. If he didn't feel it was right, than we should all be relieved that they broke it up before either of them did something irreversible," Emma began diplomatically. "He's certainly free to make his own decisions, but I don't know if he would have been truly happy with her. They were so different."
Yvette paused, nodding.
"That's true," Yvette relented. "I mean, we all thought she was horrible...it probably is for the best, but he must have seen something in her to begin with. George Knightley isn't the type to go throwing his heart around."
She stopped again, looking squarely at Emma.
"Emma," Yvette began hesitantly. "Did you ever stop to think of...I mean he is single now. Who knows how long that could last? You know how women practically throw themselves at him. Have you ever thought that sometime in the future..." she paused, looking for just the right words and noting Emma's look of incomprehension. "That one day you might...or that he might want..."Yvette paused again, glancing over to Emma shaking her head. "Do you have any idea where I'm going with this Emma?"
Emma laughed, genuine bewilderment in her voice.
"Not a clue," she admitted truthfully.
"I thought not," Yvette said. "You missed my point entirely."
"There was a point in there somewhere?" Emma's blue eyes sparkled.
Now it was Yvette's turn to laugh.
"Somewhere it there, yes," Yvette confirmed, pulling on her coat, grabbing a muffin and shouldering her backpack. "Never mind. I should go; I want to get to lab early today. Good luck on your exam this morning."
With a cheerful tug on the end of Emma's braid, Yvette was out the door and on her way to the library.
As Yvette exited, Emma heard a shuffle down the hall. Emma looked to see Harriet Smith shuffle into the kitchen, still wearing pajamas and a bathrobe. The girl looked bleary eyed and her hair was twice its normal volume and headed in every direction.
"Good morning, Harriet," Emma greeted her brightly, sliding a glass of juice over to the girl. "Nice to see you up. There's yogurt and bagels in the fridge; I bought them yesterday. Feel free to have some. I'm off to class. Oh, and before I go, guess what?"
Harriet gave her a dull look and rubbed her eyes.
"I was speaking with Elton Fitzgerald this morning. He compared you to someone he knows whose hair 'shines like the sun.' I thought I should tell you."
That woke her up. Harriet blinked twice before smiling, her cheeks coloring a bit.
"Have a good morning, Harriet."
With that, Emma exited the apartment, a grin on her face.
That grin only widened as she walked to the University. Nearing the steps of Garrett Hall, Emma spotted a familiar face across campus. Recognizing her, the figure gave a wave and jogged across the grassy median to meet her.
"Mr. Churchill," she called to him. "You're up early."
"And on such a beautiful morning," he responded, nodding. "It's rather warm outside for November in England."
He looks good this morning, Emma mused as he approached her. Frank was wearing a pair of khaki pants, a white linen shirt and a worn, leather jacket. Not every man could carry such a look off, Emma noted, but Frank Churchill had just the right amount of casual confidence and charm to make it look great.
"What are you doing up so early?" she asked him as he neared.
Frank shrugged casually.
"Checking a few things over with the administrative office," he admitted. "They certainly don't make it easy to transfer here the year I plan to graduate."
"No, I imagine not," Emma nodded sympathetically.
"Hey, Emma, why don't you have lunch with me today? We can go into town; you could show me a good restaurant or café or something. I'm in desperate need of a friendly face and you're the only person I know here. Besides the obvious people, of course---"
"Rebecca and Rob."
"Right," he confirmed. "And I know your friend, George. But he strikes me as a bit frosty, really." Emma laughed and shook her head.
"He just has to get to know you first," she assured him. "But sure, Frank, I'd love to have lunch with you. Meet me here at noon?"
"Brilliant. If you can show me a restaurant here that can cook true and edible food, Emma Woodhouse, you'll be my saving grace. I think Parisian chefs have corrupted me forever."
"Why do I get the feeling that you were already corrupted, Frank Churchill?" Emma answered with a smile.
"Well, that's true," Frank responded lightly and grinned. "Noon, than?"
"Right," she nodded.
With a wink and a wave goodbye, Frank Churchill turned and was gone.
Blushing as she watched his departure, Emma entered the building still smiling, suddenly not a bit worried about her exam.
For the first Sunday morning in quite some time, Lucien Woodhouse considered himself a genuinely happy man. The rheumatism that often plagued his shoulder had eased for the morning, his sinuses had cleared since the night before, even his circulation seemed better than usual.
No doubt, in Mr. Woodhouse's mind, all of these anomalies were directly related to the presence of his golden-haired granddaughter, Emma.
"You are my breath of fresh air, granddaughter," Lucien commented as they exited the chapel of Donwell Church. "Fresh air, indeed. Of course, with Emma, one doesn't the risk of catching pneumonia," Mr. Woodhouse coughed a bit before continuing. "That's why I never hold stock in opening windows. Indeed, one can certainly never be too careful with strange air, isn't that right, George?"
George Knightley held the door for Lucien and nodded dutifully before giving Emma a wink.
George had met them at the steps of the church that morning, sporting a dark blue shirt, khakis and a wistful smile. Emma's grandfather, always happy to see the son of John and Marianne Knightley, had warmly declared George to be "still a bright young man, with his father's level head on his shoulders," and urged him into the church.
His visits to Donwell Church were usually fairly occasional, usually restricted to holidays (Christmas and Easter) and one particular day in mid November. The same day, every year, in fact. The anniversary of his parents' death. Attentive to the memories surfacing in George's mind, Emma was sure to sit near that she could brush his hand in the midst of the service if need be; she of all people knew what he was feeling. After all, Donwell Church had been the location of her mother's funeral as well, eight years ago.
Now that the service was over, George and Emma were gingerly helping the elderly Englishman descend the worn Church steps.
"Thank you, George, and dear Emma," Lucien thanked them, leaning heavily on his polished cane as they guided him down the last step.
"Lucien? And Emma? Emma Woodhouse?" an all-too familiar voice rang in Emma's ears. The trio turned to see Lydia Bates, old friend of Lucien Woodhouse and grandmother of a fellow Kingston University student, Anita Bates. Mrs. Bates was hailing them down enthusiastically and headed rapidly in their direction.
"Oh," she exclaimed, exhaling as she approached the trio. "I was afraid that I would miss you all."
Emma restrained herself from commenting that in her Sunday dress, Mrs. Bates would certainly be hard to miss. Donning a bright yellow frock and a feather-covered pillbox hat, Mrs. Bates (to put it bluntly) looked like a canary.
"Good morning Mrs. Bates," Emma was the first to greet the elderly woman as she descended the Church steps.
"Good morning, Miss Woodhouse, Mr. Woodhouse," she paused when getting to George, "and good morning, Mr. Knightley. I haven't seen you at Donwell Church in quite some time."
"Unfortunately, I don't get by this way often, Mrs. Bates," George admitted, taking Mrs. Bates' hand and helping her down the last of the steps.
"Well, not without good cause, I'm sure," Mrs. Bates commented, eying George intently. "But you're looking well, Mr. Knightley, though it's been some time since I've spoken with you. Still handsome as ever, I see. I was terribly sorry to hear that you ended your engagement to that young woman, the Edwards girl. Of course that was some time ago, now," she sighed slightly. "Well, such things come and go with the young and handsome."
Emma shot George a sympathetic glance. No surprise Mrs. Bates knew of George and Celia's breakup. The Bates family, wonderful people though they were, were known for their proclivity for idle chatter---especially considering others romantic affairs.
"Well, you know George," Mrs. Bates continued, "My granddaughter, Anita, is currently unattached. Anita could do well to have dinner with such a fine young man."
George nodded politely, amused, before responding,
"Anita Bates is a lovely young woman, Mrs. Bates. She takes after you in many respects."
"Oh, but even I, in my youth, couldn't have competed with our young Emma, here," Mrs. Bates admitted. "Emma, dear, I do believe you've inherited the best of both your parents. And the best of your grandparents, at that," she looked over to Lucien. "It all started when your grandfather here married that American woman, right Lucien? How long did you and Julia live in the States?"
Lucien paused and leaned on his cane.
"After Julia and I were married," he began reflectively, "she was set on moving back to her parents home in Georgia. I agreed to lock up Highbury for the time being and we moved to the U.S. the following spring. Then Emma's father was born, I bought Julia a house in Atlanta, and we lived there till Andrew was ready to enter a University. I told Julia that we'd lived in her native country for twenty years, now it was time for twenty years in mine."
"Grandpa tried to convince dad to move with them to England," Emma interjected. She'd heard this story many a time. "Couldn't convince him, though. Born and raised in there, my father is an American through and through."
"Yes," Lucien added, thinking of both his deceased wife and of their strong minded son. "Such the pity that he never much cared for England. I blame that on Julia. He takes after her. Though it is ironic he married an Englishwoman, after all of that."
Ignoring Lucien's suddenly nostalgic expression, Lydia Bates jumped into the conversation.
"You always did favor your mother, Emma. She was quite the beauty. Have you found yourself a boyfriend, yet?"
"Not yet, Mrs. Bates," Emma admitted. She paused, looking up at the cool, cloudless sky which shone soft, temperate blue. "It's so lovely outside, today. George and I were thinking of taking a walk around the block. Would you like to join us Mrs. Bates? Grandfather?"
"Walking with all that pollen and leaf mould in the grass, Emma?" Lucien Woodhouse questioned, sniffing the air with an air of suspicion.
"That's all right, Grandfather," Emma assured him. "We'll be fine. You and Mrs. Bates can stay here and talk. George and I will be back."
Emma knew she had to act before Mrs. Bates could respond. Taking George by the elbow, she waved to the elderly pair, and motioned George to follow her.
The buildings on either side of Donwell Church were mainly residential homes, large homes mainly built in the late 1800s. It was a well-to-do area, very well cared for , mainly the residency of doctors and business executives.
Both Emma and Knightley waited until they were assured to be out of Mrs. Bates's hearing range before beginning a conversation.
"Subtle, Emma," George commented at her plan of 'escape'. His gray eyes were alight with amusement as they headed down the sidewalk.
"It worked, at least," Emma said plainly, shrugging. She sighing a bit before tilting her head up to soak in the sunlight. "My grandfather was certainly in a good mood this morning."
"Probably because the pastor's sermon was so short," he guessed, absently taking in the scenery before something caught his eyes. He paused a moment to admire a sports car parked on the opposite side of the street: a brightly waxed, red Ferrari.
Emma laughed at him.
"What are you thinking, Mr. Knightley?"
George paused and Emma readied herself for a rant about the benefits of the old model Ferraris in contrast to the newer builds.
"Your birthday is next Wednesday," George said suddenly as they came to the edge of the block and turned down the adjacent street.
Emma was thrown off for a moment and looked at him, mildly surprised. She shouldn't have been, though. He'd never forgotten her birthday once all the years they'd known each other.
"That's right, it is," she said before smiling slightly. "Do you know, I think Rebecca wants us all to go to some club in London this Friday to celebrate. It would be a whole group of us: me, you, Harriet, Yvette and Ian, Rebecca, Rob, Elton, Anita Bates and Frank, of course."
"Frank Churchill?" he questioned passively as they continued their walk.
"Yes, Frank Churchill," she repeated, her tone slightly strained. She paused, eyeing him. "I know you too well, George Knightley. Why don't you like him?"
George hesitated a bit before answering.
"I don't trust him. He's..." George paused. He ran his hands through his dark hair. "He's too...agreeable to everyone."
"Too agreeable?" she repeated blankly. "George," she shook her head. "That's the most ridiculous statement I've heard you make in quite awhile."
Now it was George's turn to laugh.
"Than you have a short memory, Miss Woodhouse," he answered, brushing off the comment. "Come on, let's keep walking."
"You don't trust him," she repeated. "And you didn't give me an answer, Mr. Knightley. Why?"
"I don't trust his intentions," George began, shaking his head stubbornly. "I don't think I've ever caught a glimpse of the real Frank Churchill. His change in demeanor, in tone, it shifts too easy."
"Everyone does that," Emma insisted. "With you he'd talk of literature, with Elton, traditional Irish customs, perhaps, or his travels. With me he---"
"With you, he flirts," George stated. Emma turned to him, her eyebrows arched.
"He does not flirt," she insisted defensively. "He and I have lunch often and he's never anything less than chivalrous. He's my friend, and I don't think you're giving him a fair chance. He's a gentleman, George, like yourself. I thought you would recognize that.."
George Knightley scoffed and his gray eyes flashed. An awkward silence fell between them for a moment. Both were more than a bit unhappy with the argumentative tone the conversation had taken. By now they had circled the block and could see the coppice of the Church coming into view. Mrs. Bates' bright yellow frock shined as brightly as ever in the cool morning sunlight and she waved to them cheerfully.
Emma stopped George mid step, resting her hand on his arm before they reached the hearing range of the elderly pair. Her wide blue eyes looked up at him imploringly. His expression was equally apologetic.
"I'm sorry, George, " she apologized to him. "I don't mean to argue with you, today of all days. You're entitled to your opinions."
"And you certainly don't hesitate to make yours clear," George responded wryly. "I just want you to be careful, Emma."
"I will. You know I always am," she insisted. "You're coming to the club with us on Friday, right?" George Knightley hesitated, a hint of a smile gracing his handsome face.
"I can't," he admitted. "I hadn't known about Rebecca's plans and I've already agreed to a prior commitment."
"Where are you going?" Emma asked, curious.
There was a long pause.
"An opera," he said reluctantly.
"An opera?" she repeated, her voice full of skepticism. "George, you never go to the opera willingly. Ever." She had to laugh as an old memory flashed in her mind. "Remember that one summer when my grandfather got me two tickets to see La Boheme and I asked you to come along with me? You bought me a glass of wine during intermission, and we sat talked in the lobby for the entire second half of the show. To this day I don't know the ending of La Boheme! You can't stand the opera. All those pretentious rich people asking you about your parents estate..."
He ran his hands through his dark hair, looking more than a bit embarrassed.
"The choice of venue wasn't mine," he admitted.
Emma paused, eyeing him skeptically before a look of comprehension crossed her face.
"You have a date," she exclaimed with a triumphant laugh. "I knew you would never go to the opera voluntarily. Who is she?"
"Lydia Sapporo," he said with a touch of embarrassment. "You probably don't remember her. She and I went to undergrad school together. She called me up the other day, I didn't realize the dates would coincide, and the next thing I know---"
"---you're going to the opera," Emma completed his sentence. She remembered Lydia Sapporo. The summer between Emma's sophomore and junior year of high school, Lydia had followed George around like a lost and wide-eyed puppy dog. Even at age sixteen, Emma had found Lydia Sapporo bothersome. She doubt she'd think much better of her at age twenty-one. She probably heard that George broke up with Celia and jumped at the opportunity to see him, Emma guessed.
By now they had once more reached Donwell Church. Emma waved as she and George approached the elderly pair.
"Emma, George," Mrs. Bates greeted them. She pushed her glasses farther up the bridge of her nose, making sure to give Emma a good and proper inspection. "Emma, your grandfather tells me you'll be twenty-one this up coming week. At age twenty-one I was marrying my first husband. If I remember correctly, twenty-one was the age your parents got engaged. It's an exciting year for young ladies such as yourself," Mrs. Bates mused, eyeing Emma kindly. The elderly woman's voice was speculative and full of promise.
Emma laughed lightly, shrugging off the comment. Yet she couldn't quite shake off the feeling that there was something almost prophetic in Mrs. Bates' words.
The night of Emma's twenty-first birthday proved to be a disastrous one---though Emma had no way of knowing that at the start of the evening.
It had all started out well enough...
The setting of the sun found Emma Woodhouse looked at her reflection in the mirror with a critical gaze. Picking up her brush, she started brushing her hair before pausing and setting the brush down again.
She certainly didn't look any older, but did she feel it? I need a haircut, she thought to herself, and not for the first time that semester. Her hair seemed to be getting more unmanageable as the semester progressed, falling down her back in soft, curling waves. And a shower hadn't helped much---now her hair just swirled around her head like a fluffy, golden halo---appropriate if she were playing a swooning Shakespearean maiden for the evening---not so great for the hip, edgy nightclub her friends were taking her to tonight. She was, of course, completely oblivious as to how many people would commit murder to have hair just like hers...
Reaching over to her stereo, she turned off her blaring CD player, just in time to hear echo of her cell phone ringing throughout her room.
So much for hair at the moment. Emma bounded across her bed to the bookshelf. It was probably her father on the phone, calling to wish her a happy birthday.
She stood at the bookshelf, looking up. Now it was just a matter of reaching the phone, an object which had been absently placed the backpack on the top of her bookshelf. Standing on her tiptoes, Emma reached for the backpack and pulled. Not finding much a result and hearing the phone's insistently merry ring, Emma yanked harder...
...only to see the backpack (and the pile of books beneath it) tumble downward at an alarming speed in the direction of her head.
Emma squeaked, taking a step backwards to avoid the oncoming avalanche. Losing her balance, she tripped on a discarded pair of shoes and fell to the floor with an ungracious thud. The books and the backpack all tumbled down around her. A paperback even managed to hit her smack on the forehead as it fell. Rolling over and rubbing her forehead, Emma glared at the offending book.
With effort, Emma crawled towards her fallen backpack. She reached in and pulled out the cell phone.
With a sigh, she clicked the 'talk' button, mentally preparing herself for what she knew was coming---yet another argument with her father telling her to move back to the States.
She loved her father dearly, just as she knew he loved her, but as both father and daughter were perhaps at times a bit too strong-willed, and a bit too sharp tongued where the other was concerned. Thus any argument between the brilliant lawyer father with his shining law-school daughter was usually fairly taxing for both parties.
Rolling onto her back, Emma put the phone to her ear. "Hello?" she answered tentatively. Emma couldn't help but shut her eyes, mentally preparing herself for what she knew was coming: another argument with her father....
"Don't sound so eager when you answer your phone, Emma---you might give a man the wrong impression..." a voice on the phone greeted her dryly.
Definitely not her father.
"Knightley," Emma sat up, her tone completely changed. She gave a sigh of relief. "I thought you were my dad."
There was a humorous pause on George's end of the phone.
"Emma, I can happily inform you that I'm not your father, in case you were confused about the issue--- your father is a tall man, strong-willed, if I remember right, enjoys a good argument, has something of an interest in law, blond hair, blue eyes----nothing at all like his daughter---"
Emma grinned as she stood, pretending to be relieved. "Well, thank goodness that's cleared up," she quipped back. "Oh, and before I forget---while I'm out partying tonight, be sure you have some fun spending your evening at the op-er-a,?" Emma grinned wickedly, waiting to hear his response. George hated the opera, and she knew it---the only reason he was going was because he had a date.
There was a disgruntled pause on his end.
"You're a cruel woman," was his flat response.
"Only cruel to those I care about," she responded sweetly.
"That's small consolation, coming from you." He responded, clearing his throat before adding, "Did you get what I sent you? It should have arrived this morning..."
"The flowers?" Emma asked walking over to her mirror, and picking up a tube of brown eyeliner with her free hand. "Yes, I did. And I wanted to thank you. They're beautiful, George---a wonderful birthday present. I was impressed. You have very good taste, did you know that?"
And she had every right to be impressed. That morning Emma woke to find a delivery boy shivering on the doorstep of her rented flat. The delivery boy had been carrying a huge, beautiful bouquet---orchids mixed with pale pink roses. Along with the flowers had come a message: "Compliments of Mr. George Knightley, for Miss Woodhouse on her twenty-first birthday."
Yvette and Harriet had gawked over the bouquet when she'd brought it in, Harriet looking wistful and Yvette amazed.
"Mon Dieu," Yvette had exclaimed over breakfast, "These are just gorgeous. And they smell just fantastique."
Harriet nodded in wide eyed agreement.
"It was shipped from one of the best florists in London," Yvette pointed out, taking a sip from her coffee.
"It's not like he doesn't have the money, Yve," Emma had answered with a casual shrug.
Yvette set her coffee cup down and put on her glasses to examine the flowers and the note. Both she dissected with a scientist's keen eyes. "Knightley must really feel guilty about not coming to your birthday party..."
Emma could only repeat her shrug. Far be it from her to understand the workings of George Knightley's mind. And all the better if he did feel guilty, as far as she was concerned. In all the years they'd known one another, this was the first time he hadn't been there for her birthday celebration.
At any rate, though, the flowers smelled absolutely divine and were now filling the whole flat with a sweet, exotic aroma.
Digging through her closet for a pair of black heels, Emma related her friends' general reaction to George.
"We all agreed it was a beautiful gift. You should have heard Yvette and Harriet's reaction," Emma continued, "It got Yvette started on this long tirade about how---"
She was interrupted, though, by an urgent pounding on her door.
"Hang on just a minute, Knightley..."
Climbing over her bed with the phone in hand, Emma opened the door. Standing before her was a flustered looking Harriet Smith, pink-cheeked and near tears.
"Oh, Emma!" Harriet's face contorted, "I've been looking and looking for something to wear tonight---something that will really make Elton notice me, but I can't find anything!" the girl took a ragged breath, ringing her hands before continuing, "and he and I have been getting along so well, lately. I was just sure if I could find something---but everything I have is so awful and I know everyone else will look so stylish!"
Emma rested a comforting hand on young Harriet's shoulder before putting the phone back to her ear. "Knightley?"
"Yes, Emma?" he responded patiently.
"I have to go. Harriet's on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I guess you can just call me tomorrow morning and tell me how your date was...I mean that's assuming your date's over by tomorrow morning---I don't want to interrupt anything if---"
"Emma," there was suddenly an edge to his tone that told her she was suddenly on dangerous ground.
"George---I gotta go. Harriet needs my help. It's important that she looks her best this evening for Elton..."
"You're not still trying to play matchmaker between Harriet and Elton, are you?" Knightley interjected, his tone denoting exasperation. "Emma, don't be ridiculous. He hasn't the slightest interest in Harriet. Fitzgerald is a grown man, and Harriet's barely out of childhood..."
Emma turned away from Harriet, retreating back into her room to yell at George.
"I'm being ridiculous? She and Elton would be perfect together---why can't you see that? She's old enough to attend university, George," Emma hissed into the phone.
"That hardly denotes maturity," he interrupted her with a scoff. "You're being foolish and blind, Emma, if you think Elton Fitzgerald would ever consider---"
"Goodbye, George," Emma repeated firmly. She'd heard this lecture before, and she didn't need it again---especially not on her birthday. Clicking off her phone decisively, she went back to the door and ushered Harriet into her room.
The dance club in London was just as Robert Weston had promised it to be---very chic, very trendy, and very expensive.
Emma had been having a wonderful time, talking with her friends in the club's rooftop garden, drinking champagne at the bar, and dancing the night away on the lower levels. Her real problems arose after her dance with Frank Churchill...
Frank had rescued her from a more-than-slightly awkward situation with Anita Bates's date, Brian. While Emma had been waiting for a glass of champagne at the dance club's bar, Brian had hailed Emma down.
As he approached, he engulfed her in a big bear hug, kissing both her cheeks and declared loudly in a slurred voice, "Happy birthday, lovely, lovely Emma..."
"Thank you, Brian," Emma replied, wincing to smell the strong whisky on his breath. He looked drunk. Where had Brian's date gone?
"Emma," Brian continued to gush, his voice slurred, "I've had my eye on your," he wagged his finger in her face, "I've seen you in Dr. Allard's class wearing some wool sweater and a little brown skirt...wow, are you hot..."
Correction: Brian was very drunk. Emma looked around desperately, hoping that Anita would show up and put a halt on Brian's behavior.
"Um, thanks Brian, but I'd best be going," Emma said looking for a way to excuse herself, "It's just...I've got to..."
"She's got to dance this next song with me," Frank Churchill interjected smoothly from behind her.
"We'll catch up with you later, man," He gracefully slipped himself between them, taking Emma's hand.
"It was nice seeing you...Brian, is it? Come on, Emma. Let's hit the dance floor."
More grateful than she could express, Emma put her champagne glass on the bar and followed him as he weaved his way down onto the dance floor.
"Thank you!" she tried to yell over the noise of the crowd.
"What?" he screamed back, smiling at her.
He just shrugged.
"Want to make it up to me?"
"Dance with me." He gave her hand a reassuring squeeze.
It was at that point, there and then, that Emma decided Rebecca Weston had been absolutely right---Frank Churchill was very charming. And definitely handsome, Emma thought, following him onto the dance floor. And besides that, he proved to be a great dancer. His movements fluid and smooth and imbued with confidence.
She'd been having a great time dancing with him (and would have happily chosen to dance the night away), until she saw a group of people headed in her direction.
Emma could see the figures as they approached: Harriet Smith, Elton Fitzgerald, Rebecca Weston and Robert were all moving towards her. It looked as though Elton and Rebecca were helping Harriet walk, supporting her on either side.
Frank, it seemed, had not seen their approach. He spun Emma around, singing as he pulled her towards him. He halted mid motion, however, when he caught sight of his approaching cousin, Robert and the limping Harriet. Holding on to Emma's hand, Frank pulled her through the crowd.
"What happened?" Emma demanded, her brow furrowing in concern. Harriet simply whimpered.
"We think Harriet's twisted her ankle," Rebecca Weston explained, looking from her husband to Emma. "She was dancing away and than she just..."
"---tripped," Harriet finished, her lower lip trembling.
"And she doesn't seem to be handling the pain well," Robert injected quietly to Emma.
"She should be taken to a hospital to have a doctor examine the bone," Emma declared. "Someone will just have to drive her there."
She looked pointedly at Elton. This just might work out perfectly---Elton will rescue Harriet, and in the midst of seeing her pain and suffering, he'll come to realize his true love for her and then it'll simply be a matter of time before they---
"I'll take her," Frank supplied amiably, nodding and taking out his keys.
"What!" Emma's head snapped around towards Frank. "No," she shook her head decisively. "No, Elton will---right, Elton?"
Elton gave Emma a puzzled look, as though she'd done something ridiculous, like suggesting he quit school and move to Thailand.
"No." he shook his head. Seeing Emma's brow furrow, he amended himself, "I mean---Frank has the faster car here, and since he volunteered first, I thought I'd let him go ahead..."
"But..." Emma looked from Elton to Harriet.
"It's not a problem for me," Frank shrugged. He motioned for Harriet to lean against him. "I know London pretty well. Come on Harriet."
"Robert and I were actually thinking of calling it a night, too," Rebecca admitted, looking from Robert to Emma as Frank and Harriet left. "We know it's not yet midnight, but it's easy to forget how quickly a night of dancing wears on your feet. We hope you don't mind, Emma--"
"No, of course not," Emma shook her head. "It's just that---"
"I'll take Emma back to her flat," Elton interjected quickly. Emma turned around stare at him quizzically.
"Great," Robert nodded in agreement. Emma had come with them in their car on the initial trip into London. "We're planning on dropping Anita and Brian off; that would really help us out by saving us another trip."
"Is that okay, Emma?" Rebecca asked, her gaze falling kindly on her younger friend.
Emma nodded, more than a little confused.
"Yes, of course," she repeated.
"We'll go find Anita and Brian. Happy birthday, my dear," Rebecca moved to hug Emma. Robert followed suit by kissing her on the cheek.
"Goodnight," Emma waved to her friends. She turned to see Elton Fitzgerald standing directly behind her.
He had an oddly triumphant look on his face. Emma frowned.
"My car is in the parking lot," he informed her.
The walk to his car had been a silent one. Emma just couldn't make sense of it all. Why would Elton not jump at the chance to take Harriet to the hospital? Surely he must have known what pain she was in. Why wouldn't he want to be there in her time of need? Why wouldn't he insist on staying by Harriet's side?
Could it be that Emma had been wrong? Could it be possible that Elton hadn't felt for Harriet as she'd presumed he had?
"No," Emma said aloud to herself, shaking her head as they were driving through the streets of London.
Elton glanced over at her before turning his eye back to the traffic. "What?" he asked.
Emma shook her head again.
"I was just thinking of something," she explained. "But it can't be right---it's too ridiculous."
Elton's hand gripped the wheel of the car ever so slightly as they turned the street corner. She saw him switch on his turn signal and move to park.
"What are we doing here, Elton?"
Peering out the window, Emma saw that they were now parked outside a hotel. Confused, she turned back towards Elton to question him...
Only to find that his lips were now being pressed against hers---she could feel his tongue seeking out her mouth and his hands slipping against the black fabric of her dress. Shocked, she pushed him away.
"Elton!" she reprimanded him sharply, her cheeks flushing bright red. "What do you think you're doing?"
"Emma," he began, moving to touch her cheek and breathing heavily. "You don't know how long I've been wanting to do that."
Emma blinked dumbly.
"Come on, Emma," he said with a grin. "You must have known." Reaching past her to open the glove compartment, he pulled out a bottle---it was a bottle of tequila. Uncapping it, he took a long swig. "I mean why in the world would I have suffered all those hours around a whiny freshman like that?" He shook his head.
"But...but...you liked Harriet---I was so sure that you---" Emma began, shaking her head. This was all terribly wrong. "You called the apartment..."
"To talk to you," he corrected her. "Come on, Emme, you can't be as naēve as all that. Here we are in front of a hotel, in the middle of London...the fates have aligned."
"Elton," Emma began, taking a deep breath. "I think tomorrow you'll see more clearly that you really don't---"
But she was cut off once more by the presence of Elton's lips. This time he had his hand up her skirt, as though he were making a valiant effort to get off her tights.
"Elton!" she shoving him away and stopping his progress in its tracks. "Stop..."
"Oh, come on," he railed at her. "You can't be such as cold as all that! I thought that was how things worked with American women---rich and easy. And I thought that you were both. Why do you think I've spent all this time around you?" He took a swig of his bottle, laughing to himself. "It wasn't because of your mind, I'll tell you that much---"
Like a flash of lightening, Emma's hand was reaching for the car door.
"Oh, come on!" Elton cried as she opened the door. "Emma, love, I promise it'll be good for you too---"
Emma slammed the door in his face, too infuriated for words. Moving out of the hotel parking lot, she opened her purse, her fingers trembling in shock and anger. She walked to the street corner in hopes of hailing down a cab---this was London, after all---surely she could get a cab. It looked like she'd have to take a cab back for the ride back to Kingston. Emma winced to even think about the cab fare she'd have to pay.
Sighing, she turned on her cell phone in hopes of checking her voice messages. Emma exhaled, watching her breath crystallize in the chill, November air. She shielded her eyes, preventing herself from being temporarily blinded by the headlights as the cab pulled up.
"Where would you like to go, Miss?" the driver asked as she climbed into the cab.
Emma told him the city and gave him the directions to her street.
"That's a nice little trip," the driver said.
And expensive, Emma thought to herself.
Punching in the access code to her voice mail, Emma heard the electronic voice say, "You have two messages."
She leaned back in the darkened cab, preparing herself from a birthday greeting from her father. The voice she heard speaking did possess that familiar Southern lilt (which Emma herself possessed, being born and raised in Georgia), but it was not the voice of her father.
"Hello, Emma, darling," the voice said. "This is your Aunt March calling---your Uncle Andrew and I wanted to wish you a happy birthday."
Emma smiled wistfully; March and Andrew weren't truly blood relations of any kind, but they'd been mutual friends of her parents since Emma's birth and thus they'd always been kin as far as Emma was concerned.
"And Emma darlin'," the message continued. "Just to warn you, your father's forgotten your birthday---Andrew reminded him about it this evening over dinner. He told me he'd be sure to call you this weekend, though, for a belated congrats. Happy 21st, my dear."
The next message immediately followed the previous one.
"Good evening, Emma," George Knightley's voice filled her ear. "As it's your birthday, this is the one night I'll allow you some gloating rights; you were right, my night has proven just as boring as you told me it would be. And you know how cautious I am to admit when you're right about things---just don't let it go to your head," he said dryly. Emma bit her lip and the message continued. "Anyway, I just wanted to tell that I wish I could have been there tonight...happy birthday Emma Woodhouse" So do I, thought Emma wistfully as the message played. There was a brief but noticeable pause in the course of the message, and George Knightley's voice became somewhat softer as he added, "Goodnight."
Emma turned off her cell phone.
She peered outside, watching the city lights flicker and fade behind the glass. Turning her gaze towards the road, Emma let a tear slide down her cheek. She wasn't sure why she was crying, exactly---if it was just the whole episode with Elton that had upset her, or the addition of George's message or the fact that her own father (her only living parent) had apparently forgotten her birthday ...
All she knew was that, despite all her efforts to make other people happy, after experiencing the first full day in her 21st year of living, at that very moment, Emma Woodhouse felt very much alone...
Emma turned the page of her text book and tried to ignore the pounding-yet-persistent headache she'd developed after Friday night. She couldn't believe it. But for the hours spent sleeping in her apartment, she'd spent the whole of Saturday and Sunday in the library. Seriously. All of it.
Which wouldn't be odd for any other grad student. But Emma just wasn't very good at working in libraries. She'd done it before---there were times when it just couldn't be avoided. But by and large, if given the opportunity she would always work anywhere else. When she studied, she liked to walk around bare-foot, with a book in one hand and a high-lighter in the other, and drink cranberry juice from the bottle, and listen to cheesy pop music on her headphones. The kind of music that she wouldn't otherwise admit to listening to---not to anyone. Not to even Knightley.
Well, okay, so maybe she would admit listening to awful pop music to George Knightley, if only to argue with him over the general state of today's music industry.
And the only reason she couldn't discuss any of that with him right at this very moment was because she was stuck in the library. And by choice, no less.
Emma sighed and shut her book.
Okay, so maybe she was hiding. Knightley would definitely say she was. Probably was saying it, actually, and to all the people she was trying to avoid right now.
She'd deliberately chosen to keep her phone turned off this whole time. She didn't want to talk to her father---who'd forgotten her birthday to begin with, so why give him the chance to apologize? She didn't want to pretend she wasn't hurt about that. And if he called now, she didn't want to forgive him.
Maybe it was spiteful, but that was how she felt.
She certainly didn't want to talk to Elton Fitzgerald. Talk about an embarrassing situation. To think! The whole time, he hadn't even been the slightest bit interested in Harriet Smith! The whole issue just gave her a headache.
And she didn't want to talk to George Knightley. The man who hadn't even been able to show up to her 21st birthday party---and because he had a date to an opera, which wasn't a very good excuse, now that she got to thinking it over. A date, he said in his message, that he didn't even enjoy. So was it all worth it? And yes, he had sent her flowers to make up for it---and in advance, even---and yes, he'd called her that night, twice. So maybe he was one of the most considerate men she'd ever met, apart from Frank Churchill. He was probably trying to call her now even...
Emma strummed her fingers on the library desk and tried to risk the temptation to turn her phone back on.
No, she amended mentally, she most certainly did not want to talk to George Knightley. He would be no help. No help whatsoever. He would no-doubt revel in some big-time gloating, due to the fact that he'd been right about Elton and Harriet, and she'd been wrong this whole time. Damn it. She hated admitting when he was right and she was wrong.
Matters were not helped by the fact that her conversation with Harriet concerning Elton Fitgerald kept replaying in her mind with painful clarity.
The look on poor Harriet's face was hard to forget...
Emma had tried her best to relate the events delicately.
"And then what happened," Harriet had asked.
"And then...then Elton pulled the car into the hotel parking lot and confessed his...feelings for...me."
"But I thought he loved me!" And then she'd started to cry.
If things were going well, Harriet would be realizing right now at this very moment---and after perhaps a few cartons of ice cream---that she didn't really need Elton in her life. That Elton wasn't half the man that she deserved and there were other fish in the sea. Taller fish. Fish who were better at holding their tequila.
And if things were going badly...then chances are Harriet was still crying. And Emma couldn't stay in the library forever. She'd have to see Harriet eventually. They did live in the same flat. And Yvette would be there---Yvette who was Emma's dear friend, but was also currently engrossed in her study of dissecting rat brains, and who would be filling the refrigerator with healthy food when all Emma wanted to eat right now was chocolate.
"Oh, G-d." Emma turned off her lap-top computer and put her face in her hands. Her 21st year was off to an auspicious start.
Why can't I live with normal people? People who are level headed. People who eat things other than dried figs and wheat bran. People who will pick up on the fact that maybe I'm having a bad day after being dumped on emotionally for a situation which is not wholly my fault, and my hair looks awful today and my head hurts and I have PMS.
She needed people who understood her. People like...
...well, people like George Knightley. Who definitely wouldn't understand the PMS part, but at least he'd listen to her ranting.
So maybe she did want to talk to Knightley after all. A little bit. Maybe more than a little bit, since her first instinct after leaving a weeping and piteous Harriet was to speed-dial Knightley and burst into tears herself. And that had been her impulse every hour on the hour since then...
Why, why, why? It's not like he could help anything. In fact, he'd probably make the whole situation worse. Tell her that she was a hopeless meddler who couldn't even manage normal relationships in her own life, let alone arrange any sort of relationship in the lives of others.
Emma's head jerked up. She knew that voice. It was not the one she'd wanted to hear. She'd forgotten who worked in the Kingston University Library on Sunday afternoons. Emma swore inwardly. Anita Bates. Resident busybody.
"Emma!" Anita came up to her with her cart of books. "Oh, my! Oh! I tried to call you at your flat, Emma---I tried and tried and tried and tried and I just couldn't get through, but I'm so very happy we ran into one another because I never see you at the library, and I really wanted to let you know because everyone else knew, but I never in a million years thought that I'd see you here on my shift, but imagine the luck at seeing you here at this very place right at the time I'm here working on the periodicals!"
"Luck," Emma repeated with a nod. She had to admire Anita's lung capacity. But her head hurt, so it was hard to force the smile. "What were you calling about, Anita?"
"My cousin!" the girl declared proudly. She pushed her glasses up her nose before taking another breath. "Joceline Fairfax. She swore me to secrecy, not to tell anyone, but she's coming for a surprise visit here! She's in Britain filming a movie for the next five months. A period piece, and they're filming not twenty minutes outside of Kingston!"
"Joceline Fairfax?" Emma repeated. "You can't mean the Joceline Fairfax? The French actress?"
"Oh, you've heard of her!"
Joceline Fairfax. Emma's mind reeled. Of course Emma had heard of her. One couldn't be friends with her French roommate Yvette, or with foreign-film lovers like Knightley, and not know who Joceline Fairfax was. She was a huge sensation in her native France---a stunning beauty and a rapidly rising star.
"Yes!" Anita confirmed excitedly. "Oh! I'm so happy! Did you know she won the Cesar award last year, and was nominated at the Cannes film festival for l'heure de Printemps! Plus she just signed a contract modeling for Chanel, though I'm not supposed to tell anyone--- she's my third cousin twice removed on my mother's side---through my aunt Jane who married my great-uncle Pierre. Anyway, Joceline begs me not to tell people anything about her, so I never mention it. But she's coming tonight, and we're throwing a party for her. I invited everyone! Robert and Rebecca Weston, Robert's cousin Frank Churchill---isn't he charming?---and Knightley of course, who I think will make quite an impression on Joceline, as he's so handsome and so very intelligent. And Yvette is coming, because she's French, so she could--"
"Speak French with Joceline Fairfax." Emma finished Anita's sentence, mainly to allow the girl a breath. She'd never met anyone who could say so much, so quickly.
"Anyway, everyone will be there. You must come! Tonight at eight. You promise?"
Emma hesitated for a very long, painful moment. Darn it. Try as she might, she couldn't think of a single valid excuse not to go.
Knightley would be there, at least. Which might be good or bad, considering the other people in attendance. Frank Churchill, who Knightley had developed a completely irrational but surprisingly passionate dislike for. And also---Emma tried not to roll her eyes as she thought this name name---Joceline Fairfax. Who Emma was already positively convinced she was going to loathe. She tried not to think about that. Instead she tried to think of the other people in attendance like Knightley, and the Westons, and Yvette, and Frank, as she gave her answer.
"Sure thing, Anita. I'll be there."
Sufficiently assuaged, a beaming Anita scuttled off. Emma shook her bag, fishing around beneath her books and CDs.
She needed more aspirin.
Emma Woodhouse shivered, fastening the top button of her coat. She'd rushed to change her clothing in an effort to arrive on time for Anita Bates' party. But she'd never been to the Bates' residency before, and wasn't sure if she'd written down the address correctly. She hoped she had the right house.
Well, at least she could tell Anita she'd tried. She was really only coming for the Westons and Frank and Knightley, but chances are that wouldn't really end up worthwhile. They'd all be too caught up chatting with the famous Joceline Fairfax.
But just because she was a well known actress, Emma insisted mentally, didn't mean she was interesting. Besides, no one could be that beautiful in real life. She probably wasn't even very pretty, up close. It was probably all lighting and makeup, and anyone could look that good if they had a team full of people working on them all the time...
Emma knocked on the door to the house, trying to repress a twinge of guilt for hoping that she actually had the wrong house number and could turn around and go home. The door swung open.
"Hello," Emma greeted the person at the door with as much Southern warmth as she could muster. "I might have the wrong house, but is this the Bates residence? I'm looking for Anita Bates---"
But Emma's smile dissipated as soon as the door pulled open further, and she caught sight just who had opened the door.
Standing in front of her was Joceline Fairfax. Who, truth be told, was easily the most beautiful person Emma had ever seen. Her outfit was simple: dark trousers, and a matching dark blue sweater. Her only piece of jewelry was a delicate freshwater pearl ring, hanging from a delicate chain around her neck.
The outfit was purposefully subdued, Emma realized shrewdly. The point was to draw attention to her face. Because everything about it, from her big green eyes, startlingly bright, to her rose petal blush, was beautiful. She stood easily five inches taller than Emma, and her cheekbones were so perfect, she could practically measure geometry with them. This girl wouldn't even be able to take out the trash without getting noticed.
Joceline smiled at her, a sweet, demure smile, and reached out her hand. "You must be Emma Woodhouse." The French accent was faint, but enough to give her voice a soft, musical quality.
Be nice, she told herself firmly.
"And you must be Joceline." Emma greeted her with warmth.
"Please, do come in."
Emma stepped inside, pledging to herself to be sweetness and gentility and everything pleasant. If either was going to be accused of being rude tonight, Emma was determined that it wouldn't be her.
"I've heard a lot about you from your cousin."
Joceline blushed. "I'm sure. May I take your coat?"
"Please," Emma nodded and shrugged of her jacket. "Was your flight to England very difficult?"
"No, quite uneventful, actually." Joceline answered with a quiet smile.
"And was it hard to get adjusted to the time difference? Although it's only an hour between them, and you gain it going from France to England..."
"No, I've adjusted okay." Joceline said softly.
"I guess, it certainly beats my eight hour flight from Georgia. I managed to watch Troy four times on one flight once. Do you enjoy traveling?"
Joceline replied that she thought it was just another step to get from one place to another.
Hrmph, Emma thought to herself, not exactly Grade A conversationalist, is she? Pretty to the point of it being irritating. At least her cousin didn't greet me at the door. She just goes on and on and on. I don't even want to be here. Why am I here again?
"Joce?' A questioning voice called from behind. "There you are, I---"
Both women turned to see a searching Frank Churchill step into the hallway. Emma arched an eyebrow at him, surprised by his use of a diminutive for the actress, and by his tone. It was soft, almost intimate. Seeing Emma, he colored.
"Pardon the interruption ladies," Frank recovered himself with his usual quick aplomb, and gave a bow to the ladies. "I meant only to announce that to you Joceline, that your cousin, the dear Anita, requests the pleasure of your company. I believe she wants to show you her collection of Brazilian worker ants, or something equally stimulating. She's upstairs."
"Thank you." Light danced in Jocelyn's eyes, but her expression remained placid. She turned to Emma.
"It's nice to meet you, Emma."
"Nice to meet you, too," Emma said.
"In the mean time, I'll keep Miss Woodhouse here occupied." quipped Frank. Emma smiled.
"Will you now?" She asked him once Joceline had left.
"It's a hard task," Frank declared with a boyish grin, "but if entertaining a beautiful woman is my cross to bear, then so be it."
"And such a burden, I'm sure!" Emma let him slip off her coat and smoothing out her dress absently. For all his pretense, Frank eyed her now and gave a low whistle.
"Nice dress," he said with a grin and wrapped his arm around her waist, leaning in close to whisper,
"So tell me, Miss Woodhouse, what do you think of the starlet?"
"Very pretty," was all she could think to say. She shrugged. "I don't know. Polite enough. Quiet. Or maybe just shy or distracted, I don't know. I've read a bit about her in the papers, lately. Supposedly she's engaged to someone, though no one knows who."
An amused look, half suppressed, flitted across Frank's face.
"Well, I might have a theory about that. Have you heard about this movie she's making?"
"Just that its being filmed outside of Kingston. In the countryside, or some estate." Frank nodded. "They're reporting on it in the Daily Mirror and the Star. She'll have to be careful while she's here, not to be trailed by photographers. Particularly considering all the talk about her in the papers. She's the talk of the Paris papers, too. Or at least she was when I left there. You saw that chain hanging around her neck?"
"With the pearl ring." Emma said. "Yes, it's beautiful."
"An engagement ring, they say," Frank continued. “She's their biggest star since Catherine Deneuve, so everything about her is scrutinized. They call it the "Affair of the Necklace."
"Any idea who it is?”
"I heard the newest suspect is Andrew Campbell. He's her next costar for this new movie of hers. It's Wuthering Heights. He plays Heathcliff to her Cathy."
"No wonder she agreed to do the movie," Emma said with a laugh. "No woman with a pulse would turn Andrew Campbell down. Kissing Andrew Campbell, and getting paid for it, not many women would call that work."
"Campbell's that charming, huh?" He asked suddenly, his voice flat.
"Definitely. And supposedly quite the ladies' man. But last I heard, he was dating someone pretty famous, someone, so what do I know."
Frank's face looked suddenly pinched. Nevertheless, he continued.
"Yeah, well there's another suspect in the matter. Ever heard of a man named Durant Dixon?"
Emma laughed. "He's only just about the most famous director in America. Of course I've heard of him. But he's married."
"Uh huh," he nodded, "And I know him."
"Through my father." Frank made the admission casually, without any hint of boastfulness. "My dad's a member of the House of Lords. It's because of him that admissions pulled a few strings and let me transfer here my final year of uni. They came for a lunch on my father's yacht last summer. Mrs. Elizabeth Dixon was conspicuously absent. But I got the feeling this Joceline Fairfax is Durant Dixon's new muse. And when she nearly fell overboard, he was the one who rescued her. Stayed with her for the rest of the day."
"Durant Dixon," Emma repeated the information, shaking her head. "An old married man. Small wonder she wants to keep in secret."
Yvette had come from the kitchen and was walking towards them, her arms crossed.
"You two are speaking awfully close," she commented speculatively, arching a brow. "Conspiring?"
"Always." Frank answered readily.
"It's a good thing Elton's not here, Emma." Yve continued.
"That's a lovely dress, and I hear he couldn't keep his hands off of you the other night."
Emma grimaced. "Harriet told you?"
"Yes," Yvette admitted. "She isn't mad at you, Emma, or at Elton, either. She said that only a good friend such as yourself would even dream her fitting of the match. She's practically ready to beatify you. She went to London for a few days with one of her friends. It'll be good for her to get away for awhile."
Emma sighed. "If not for me, she never would have liked him in the first place."
"Well, would this St. Emma consent going into the living room for a drink with the heathen folk?" Frank interrupted them, placing a guiding hand on her waist.
"Please." Emma agreed, happy he had chosen to steer the conversation elsewhere, and enjoying the feel of his hand. A small party had gathered, just as she'd expected. The Westons, Knightley, Yvette, and now herself and Frank.
"Nice outfit, Emma," Robert Weston commented as they entered. "Dressed to kill tonight?"
"Just call me Buffy," Emma answered with a wink.
"Would it be ungentlemanly for me to ask where you hide your stake?" Frank asked, his hand remaining the curve of her waist.
"A lady doesn't speak of such things in mixed company," Emma replied. Rebecca Weston's gaze shifted to Frank Churchill. There was humor in her voice. "I see Frank managed to find you quickly enough, Emma. I've been trying to reach you all weekend."
"Well, when it comes to beautiful women, my cousin usually makes fast work of things." Robert Weston laughed and a swig of his Guinness. "Emma, love, you and Frank should take a seat on the couch. And you look beautiful."
"Thank you, Robert." Frank answered his cousin, pretending the comment was for him. "I wore this tie just for you."
Yvette looked to George Knightley, shrewdly noticing that he had yet to make a comment, for all that he wouldn't take his gaze off of her.
"Doesn't Emma look nice, Knightley?" Yvette prompted him.
"Emma's charm is undeniable."
Emma's mouth quirked. "High praise, indeed, Knightley."
Knightley's eyes flashed.
"But what I have always valued most about Emma," Knightley spoke in calm, measured tones, looking first just Emma and then, accusatorily, to Frank, "is not just her beauty, but wit and her mind." He finished his drink and stood. "I'll get you a drink while we wait for Joceline and Anita to come back."
Emma opened her mouth, then closed it again. She didn't know how to respond. What's put him in such a bad mood? Frank Churchill's hand slid from the curve of her waist to touch her shoulder.
Emma sat next to Rebecca, deflated. Honestly. Men. For all that she'd known George Knightley for most all of her life, sometimes she just didn't understand him.
"Have you met Joceline Fairfax?" Rebecca Weston pressed excitedly. "She's filming a new movie, Wuthering Heights. She's going to play Cathy. And the film's going to be directed by Durant Dixon, the Oscar winning director---can you believe it?"
"Yeah," was all Emma could manage. I will be nice. I will be nice. She's done nothing to me, and she seems perfectly pleasant.
"And guess what?" Rebecca whispered conspiratorially. "Joceline and George have really hit it off. I think they're quite taken with each other. Can you believe that she's taking part-time classes in literature at the Sorbonne?"
Emma didn't even try to hide the shock on her face. "But---but I thought she was just an actress."
"Well, she's a smart actress. And the sweetest girl you'd ever want to meet. Wouldn't she and Knightley be a wonderful couple? He's so handsome and intelligent and she's so beautiful and elegant...imagine the two of them together. Can't you just see it?"
"No!" Emma responded heatedly. "They'd be terrible together."
Rebecca persisted. "I know they just met, but she's certainly better than Celia was for him. And this girl he went out with the other night---Lydia Something or other--"
"Lydia Sapporo," Emma supplied.
"Well, that didn't go anywhere. So why not? Better than Celia."
Emma rolled her eyes. "But she might be worse than both of them combined! Besides, I struggled to have so much as a five minute conversation with her in the hall. She may be beautiful, but the woman can't hold a decent conversation."
"Yes, she can, Emma," Rebecca insisted. "You haven't talked with her long enough. I think she'd be perfect for Knightley. She's just shy and self-conscious, that's all. I hear the best actresses are."
"But who's to say she's even his type!"
Robert snorted. "It's Joceline Fairfax. She's every man's type."
Emma set her purse on the coffee table and stood. "Well that's Knightley's business, not mine. And I think my drink got lost in transit somewhere. I'm going into the kitchen to get one."
Emma was relieved not to hear Joceline Fairfax's voice emanating from the kitchen. She must still be captive to Anita and her collection of Brazilian worker ants. She almost pitied her for that. The girl had patience, Emma gave her that much. The two voices she did hear were Knightley and Frank Churchill. Knightley's wasn't exactly accommodating.
"What about any of that white Zinfandel?" Frank was asking. "Is there any left? It was a nice vintage."
Knightley answered coolly. "If it's for Emma, there's plenty left. If its for you...we'll see."
Emma's jaw dropped. Knightley, who was never rude to anyone, and always, always chided her whenever he thought she was being rude---how dare he say something like that to Frank! She was about to storm in and declare exactly that, when she heard Frank's laughter---laughter! It was a loud expressive chortle, and held only amusement, not an ounce of the outrage Emma would have thought justified.
"Fair enough." was Frank's response. Emma stepped into the kitchen, seeing Frank watch Knightley with an appraising eye. "Really, Knightley, you really ought to know where I stand where she's concerned. Emma is---"
"Standing right behind both of you," she interrupted them. The declaration took even Frank by surprise.
"Frank, Knightley," she greeted them evenly, schooling her face to calmness. "Frank, could you excuse Knightley and me for a moment? Maybe you should go rescue poor Joceline from Anita and the ants. She probably needs it."
A wide grin spread across Frank's boyishly charming face.
"I knew there was a reason I liked you so, Emma Woodhouse," he declared, and leaned in to kiss Emma on the cheek. "I'll do my best to play the knight for Miss Fairfax."
He cast a glance at Knightley. "And leave you two to one another."
Emma waited till he'd left to explode. Which really, given the circumstances, she thought was quite restrained.
“Well?” she demanded.
"Why were you being so rude to him!"
"You know I don't trust him," was Knightley's answer, surprisedly heated. "We've discussed this before. And if you'd pause to examine the situation reasonably, I think you might reconsider your views on him."
She tried to count to ten, but couldn't.
"Reasonably! I'm not the one who's been unreasonable lately!"
"I'd argue you on that point, Counselor Woodhouse. Need I mention the outcome of the Harriet-Elton incident?"
Emma glared. "Yvette told you what happened?" Traitoress.
"Yes," he answered. He didn't look happy.
"I admit I was wrong, okay? But better Elton Fitzgerald than---than Martin Christopher!"
"Emma," Knightley's voice was equal parts shock and reproach. "Martin told me he asked Harriet to dinner and she refused. You're the reason she said no?"
"He's the groundskeeper for goodness sakes!"
"He's an upstanding member of the University, and a good man."
"He's a groundskeeper!" she repeated her answer to him in a furious squeak. "She can so do better than that, Knightley!"
"Martin Christopher is a fine individual, and my friend, Emma." Knightley replied. "He at least would have treated Harriet with respect, which is more than I can say for Elton Fitzgerald, or your 'friend' Frank Churchill." He took a breath, seeing her cold expression. "I just want you to think prudently, Emma."
"First of all," Emma began trying to speak in measured tones so as to not let the whole house in on their argument. But it was probably too late for that. "My emotions are my own, thank you very much! Secondly, as I have told you countless times before---Frank Churchill is simply my friend! Nothing more."
"I watch him toy with you." Knightley answered back, his eyes ablaze. "He makes people believe what he wants them to believe. If I didn't care, I could be polite to him. Do as you will, Emma. You're right. You're a grown woman. But I won't be accommodating to someone who---"
"Who what!" Emma interrupted, cutting him off. "Leaves me when I need him? You say you care about my emotions, but I've had enough of people forgetting me when I really need them!" Emma took a ragged breath, surprised with the force of her emotions, and with the tears welling in her eyes. Maybe it really was PMS, she didn't know. But suddenly she was crying.
"My own father didn't even remember my birthday, Knightley. Okay? So with everything going on, I've had a difficult weekend. And apart from you, and my grandfather, my dad is all I have left in the world, really, and he didn't even think to call---"
George's expression paled. "Emma," he began hoarsely. He watched a delicate tear run down her cheek.
"Emma." Knightley spoke the word again, this time with a velvet tone that made it sound more like a caress than a name. He took a step towards her, the wine and Frank Churchill and Joceline Fairfax and the rest of the world forgotten.
His touch was soft. He cupped his hand around the curve of her tearstained cheek. The next thing Emma knew, Knightley had wrapped his around her and for one blissful moment, all Emma's world consisted of was the warm smell of his cologne, the pillared strength of his arms, and the swift beating of his heart.
There was a tentative tap on the door.
"Emma?" It was Yvette, her roommate. Emma wiped her eyes, and looked up. Yvette looked acutely embarrassed to be interrupting. But, Emma granted mentally, it wasn't exactly the ideal place or time for them to be having this discussion with Knightley in the first place...
"What is it, Yvette?" Her roommate was carrying her mobile phone.
"Your mobile, it was ringing, and you weren't around, so I answered it," Yvette spoke tentatively. Her eyes were troubled. "But you'd better take this call, Emma."
Emma took the phone and pressed it to her ear, grateful for the continued strength of Knightley's arms around her.
"Is this Emma Woodhouse?"
"Yes," Emma answered, her gaze drifting up to meet Knightley's. "Who is this?"
"This is registered nurse Carrie-Ann Cole from St Aldate's Hospital. Lucien Woodhouse has you as his primary contact in the event of a medical emergency. You are his granddaughter, is this correct?"
"Yes," her voice came as a whisper. She suddenly felt weak.
"Your grandfather suffered a heart attack at five o'clock this evening and is in critical condition at St. Aldate's, Miss Woodhouse. I suggest you come to the hospital as quickly as possible."
Emma hated hospitals. Hated them. Even seeing them made her nauseous. She hated the sterile lighting. She hated the beeping of the heart monitors at the nurses station. She hated the smell of the air in the hallways. But most of all she hated the fact that her mother had been stuck in this place on and off for a little less than a year. Emma had managed to scrupulously avoid hospitals ever since. Knightley put his car into park and unbuckled his seatbelt. He seemed so calm.
But Emma's glare at the building was a moody one. She hadn't even gone inside, and still it affected her. She could still see a vision of her younger self in front of her eyes, about to step into this very place.
Emma tugged at her knee-high stockings. All her new classmates seemed to enjoy complaining about the uniforms, but she didn't mind them. Beyond the color scheme and the crest, there was very little difference between it and her uniform at Savannah Prep. Same pleated skirt, though this time blue and white plaid. A starched shirt. Equally uncomfortable shoes.
Getting here had been easy. There was a bus queue only a block from her new school. Grandfather Lucien told her which one went to St Aldate's, which stop to get off at, and the price. 1 quid, five pence. Emma dropped her backpack to the ground and shrugged off her blue blazer to tie it around her waist.
Her parents had come to a temporary new accord for custody. Her time in England, usually restricted to the summer months, had been extended for as long as her mother was sick. Emma would go to a local private school. She would live at her grandfather's estate. She would get good grades. She would spend time with her mother. And her lawyer father, and her wealthy landed grandfather would argue over who got to pay for her expenses.
But for the moment she was here to visit her mother, and her hair was going everywhere. She pulled a hair tie from her wrist with the intention of constraining it to a high ponytail, but a loud whistle from yards away drew her attention. She looked around. Two young men in their mid teens were eying her from across the parking lot.
"Lookin' fer a bit a critical care, Love?" one of the youths shouted out, whistling appreciatively. His friend elbowed him, an equally ribald smile on his face.
Emma frowned at them. She'd always been an unusually pretty girl. She was used to being commented upon. But now that she was thirteen and starting to develop a woman's body, the nature of the comments were also starting to change.
Tying up her long hair, she picked up her bag and made her way into the building. Where men calling out to her like that were concerned, it was best to get away as soon as possible.
Her mother's room was on the third floor. This wasn't her first visit, but it was her first after coming from a day at her new school.
"Momma?" she knocked on the door before pushing it open.
Cordelia Danes brightened at the sight of her.
"Don't you look scholarly!"
Emma looked down at her outfit, thinking there was nothing much to glow over. It suddenly occurred to her, this was the first time her mother had seen her in a school uniform. Up to this point, her school had always taken place in Georgia, with her father there beside her, not her British mother.
"Let me see you model it."
Emma placated her mother with a smile and a graceful spin. The folds of her pleated skirt spun with her.
Her mother nodded approvingly. "So take a seat, then, and tell me about this new school."
Emma did as told, taking out her pencils and paper to draw as she talked. She drew whatever was in the room that caught her eye. Plants, the television, chairs, curtains, artwork her mother had insisted having with her. Drawing helped both mother and daughter relax, and had become the root of Emma's adulthood interest in art.
But she never drew her mother, not like this, in the hospital. It was too hard, seeing how the swelling from the medicines had consumed the beautiful lines of her mother's face, dwelling on the now-bald head, the shadows beneath her eyes. Cordelia drew out there talks to hold onto what she could of Emma's spirit. But inevitably strength began to fail her by the end of the visit. Emma got so used to it, she could practically set her watch to it.
"Can you step outside and call the doctor, dearest? I'm not feeling very well."
In her thirteenth year, Emma ended up losing ten pounds in a year when most girls were busy growing out of there training bras. A petite stature that belied both parents height had followed her into adulthood, a token of that period in her life.
She tried to shake off the thought as the automatic doors of St Aldate's slid open. But she couldn't keep her hands from shaking.
"George," she whispered softly. He squeezed her hand.
"I'm not leaving you, Emma."
She plenty of forms to fill out. Knightley helped her with them, searching through her wallet for the proper id information and the medical insurance card she and her grandfather shared. She signed where he pointed to and watched as he went to go find the doctors who were caring for Lucien.
He'd been gone for a good half hour. The hospital was warm. Knightley had taken off his jacket and slung it on the chair beside her. Emma picked up the blazer now, absently running her fingers along the fabric while two nurses aids cleaned up magazines and cups from the waiting area. She could see Knightley from afar, coming towards her.
One of the nurse's aids noticed him too and grinned, unsubtly motioning for her friend to look as well. Her friend, a blonde, saw him and her eyes widened.
"Gorgeous," the friend agreed.
Emma smirked and returned her gaze to Knightley. He was always so unaware of his affect on women.
The top buttons of Knightley's pressed shirt were undone. His tie was loose. His sleeves were rolled up to reveal lean, tight forearms. He was usually tan from Sunday afternoons spent playing soccer. Or football, she corrected herself, as they called it here. But tension had darkened his gray eyes.
Some people were crushed by stress. Knightley seemed strengthened by it. The part of her mind that was floating outside of this nightmare gave an ironic laugh. When did Knightley not look strong?
"Emma?" He knelt in front of her and handed her a cup.
English breakfast tea with just a touch of milk. Just the way she liked it. The affected on the nurse's aids was automatic.
"Lucky girl," one aid whispered audibly to the other, who nodded her agreement.
Knightley clear his throat.
"I spoke with his doctor, Emma." She looked up, more grateful than words could express that he had done what he knew she could not.
"He's had a heart attack. He called 999, complaining that he was suffering from a terrible headache in the frontal lobe. They said he was disoriented, groggy. He couldn't remember your number, and the one they had on file was to your old Kingston dormitory. That's why it took so long for them to call you."
Emma blinked back tears. "Did they give him any medication? Operate or something?" She should have brought her med-school roommate Yve, as well as Knightley.
“They performed a procedure to stabilize him, yes.”
"So what can else they do?"
"Wait. Dr Benton says he'll stay in critical care. They'll monitor his vital signs, his blood pressure and swelling. He'll need medication, physical therapy, they said. And an in-home care specialist."
"Has anyone called my father?"
"I don't know," Knightley shook his head. "Emma, maybe---" She remembered her phone was off. She fumbled to turn it on quickly. If he knew, her father had probably been trying to call. If he didn't, she'd have to call him.
But she didn't have to resort to that. As if on cue, her mobile phone rang. "Hello?"
"Emmanuella Mae?" Her father's usually sonorous Georgian voice sounded tight. Emma looked down at her purse. No one else she knew called her by her full name.
Her answer to him was small. "Papa."
"What in the world is going on, Emmanuella? I've been trying to call you for two days now. And now my secretary puts a note on my desk that says your grandfather's in the hospital---"
"I know," Emma answered and bit her lips. Andrew Hamilton Woodhouse was the District Attorney for the South Georgia Judicial Circuit. If the world were coming to an end, he wouldn't find out until his secretary, Emma's honorary Aunt March, left him a note on his desk.
"I'm sorry, Papa, I've just arrived at the hospital, and---"
"Well, I know I'm not for phones myself, but why do I pay all these expensive phone bills if you're not using the darn thing in an emergency---"
"I know, Papa." Her fingers dug into her purse. He sounded upset. Had she been feeling more of her usual self, she would have recalled that she was the one who was supposed to be angry with him for the whole birthday incident. But all she felt like now was a little girl.
"It's an eight hour flight from here to there. How serious is this, Emmanuella Mae?"
Emma usually prided herself on her ability to go toe to toe with her father in conversations, but at the moment she could barely think clearly enough to keep up with Knightley's activities or inquire with the doctors. She was flailing.
"Papa," Emma Woodhouse took a humbling breath and shut her eyes, prepared to declare a statement to her father that she had not said in a very long time. "I don't know."
A pair of strong fingers gently touched her hand holding the mobile. 'I'm not leaving you, Emma.' His earlier statement echoed in her mind while he pressed the phone to his ears.
"Mr. Woodhouse? This is George Knightley." The life-long friends didn't need words. She thanked him with her eyes. "Yes, I've spoken with the doctors---"
Knightley stood, walking away with the phone in his hand. He looked more than prepared to do verbal battle with her father. She certainly didn't feel up for it. Well, if anyone could handle it, Knightley could.
A steely haired nurse who'd been standing nearby interrupted her thoughts.
"Are you Emma Woodhouse?"
Emma looked up. "Yes."
"Doctor Benton told me that your fiancé requested this paper for you." The nurse handed Emma a white paper.
Emma scanned the form---a paper to put in a request for in an home care provider. But inwardly her mind came to a halt. Had the nurse just said fiancé? What in the world would give her that idea?
"Um...thank you. But do you know how soon arrangements could be made for one?"
"No." The nurse's answer came briskly as Knightley return with the mobile. She looked to the phone.
"Those aren't allowed here."
"I know." Knightley answered calmly and handed the phone to Emma. "Can she see Lucien?"
Fiancé. The word was still ringing in her ears. Emma looked questioningly to Knightley, who deftly avoided her gaze by turning his attention again to the nurse.
"Visiting hours are over." was the nurse's answer.
"But..." Emma's voice was small. "I'm his granddaughter. There are no exceptions?"
"There's no special granddaughter provision, if that's what you mean. You're not his daughter. You can come back and see him any time between two in the afternoon and seven thirty at night," the nurse shot back.
Knightley scowled. Emma bit back a smile as she saw him shift to attack mode. They neither of them could ever back away from a challenge. Perhaps that's why she and Knightley were always butting heads. But it was also why the got along so well.
"Lucien has had partial guardianship over Emma until she came to her majority," Knightley began his reproach, his tone severe and his brow furrowed. "She should have all the rights a daughter would be allowed. She's also the main beneficiary of Lucien's estate and responsible for its care in his absence. Given the fact that Lucien Woodhouse is in critical care, Emma should be entitled to the rights and status at this facility that a daughter would have."
The nurse glared. "Five minutes."
"Fine." Emma agreed. Letting the nurse walk out of hearing range, Emma caught hold of Knightley's wrist.
"Fiancé?" She repeated the word aloud at last, and with an arched brow.
Knightley gave her an unrepentant wink. He pushed a stray blonde lock out of her eyes. His hand lingered there. "It was the only way I could get the doctor to tell me that information about Lucien's condition."
"Always a trouble maker." Humor had crept into her voice for the first time since their arrival.
"I think I learned it from the best of them."
"Did you get an earful from my father?"
Knightley nodded. "I gave him the information I'd received from the doctor, as well as Dr Benton's extension. He said he'll call you tomorrow. In the evening, I told him. You'll need time to get your strength back."
She shook her head, amazed. "How do you handle me so well?"
"Years of practice."
“That's why I love you.” She smiled at him.
Seeing this, Knightley's lips parted slightly. He looked to say something, and then seemed to stop himself very deliberately. He released a breath, and his hand fell. He spoke quietly. "You should go to your grandfather."
"Nurse 'Ratched' is getting impatient, right?"
She looked over to her. Nurse 'Ratched' was, indeed, impatient. Emma had to walk quickly in an effort to catch up. The nurse had pushed the button swinging the critical care doors open and led Emma into a large room with a triage center in the middle. Sets of long blue curtains partitioned the various beds around the room.
"Five minutes. No more. He shouldn't be disturbed." The nurse pointed to a curtain at the far end before adding dryly, "The young man with you, is he a barrister?"
"No. But he probably ought to be." Emma suppressed a proud smile. He'd successfully faced her District Attorney father, and that was no small task.
Gathering up a share of her trademark aplomb, Emma swept past the nurse and pushed back the blue curtain.
Her grandfather was deeply asleep. A young man in a white coat stood next to him, writing on a chart.
"Hello," he said, looking up from his chart in surprise. "Who are you?"
"The granddaughter," Emma answered readily. "Um...if you want me to go, I can. I sort of bribed my way in here, but I can leave if you need to---"
"It's fine." The young doctor flipped his chart closed. "We gave him a sedative to calm him. He's hardier than I'd expect for a man his age." The doctor assured her. Emma immediately felt put at ease by his calm smile. But the phrase he'd chosen struck her as funny. Her grandfather was a 'hardy' man? Well, perhaps when it counted he could be, which was a relief. But he was such a hypochondriac most of the time.
"How is he?" she asked. It was time she took up her role as his granddaughter.
"If it's within his budget, I would strongly recommend a live-in nurse from now on," the doctor continued. “He'll be permanently weakened. You should be prepared for that. But with medicine and physical therapy, he should be able to gain much of his strength back. We'll be monitoring his heart and vital signs. We'll take good care of him. We gave him a fairly heavy sedative, though, so you needn't worry about waking him."
"Thank you, Doctor."
When they were alone, she kissed her grandfather's hand and told him softly while he slept that she would come by tomorrow to make sure everything in the room was to his liking---that everyone had washed their hands and his bed linen was properly disinfected and none of the hospital food would be 'off,' or bacteria ridden. She'd make sure of it. He might be hardy in health according to the doctor, but he was still a hypochondriac.
Emma also told him that she would stay with him in Hartfield for as long as he need, and take care of his dog, Marlowe. The dog had actually been a gift from Knightley to her grandfather. She also assured him that Knightley was taking very good of her, and was doing his part to keep her from getting into too much trouble.
Emma pulled her coat on as she pushed the ICU doors open. Knightley was waiting for her. It was too late to drive back to Kingston. Hartfield, her grandfather's estate, was their best bet for the night.
Clang, Clang, Clang!
Emma Woodhouse woke with a yelp as she tumbled to the ground. The sound of Lucien Woodhouse's booming Grandfather Clock filled her ears. She raised her hands to her forehead, trying to get a sense of what had just happened.
"Emma?" Knightley's voice drifted down to her from the couch above. That had hurt. Where was she? What was going on? She rolled groggily onto her back and craned to look at the clock. That darn clock. It was 3 am.
"I'm sorry the sound woke you." His tone was dry as he added, "But so much for our old rule."
"Um..." Emma's memory was beginning to fill in the gaps of what had happened.
Emma and Knightley had arrived at Hartfield House around midnight, only to find that they were both too full of the thoughts and stress from the day to even think about retiring for the night.
It was her fault that she was lying here on the ground then, probably. She was the one who'd brought up their old rule...
"I'm too tired to sleep," was what Emma had declared once Knightley put the car into park in Hartfield's long driveway. The statement sounded counterintuitive given everything she'd been through today. But it was how she felt, and she couldn't help it. Going to bed would accomplish nothing beyond giving her a view of the ceiling to stare at. She had too many thoughts about her father, and grandfather, and Hartfield and all the things she had to do running through her head.
"So what do you want to do?" Knightley asked her as she pushed open her grandfather's front door. Marlowe came to greet them, scampering up with his tail wagging.
"Marlowe!" Emma greeted the dog with a fond smile. "Hello, baby." She bent down to rub Marlowe's floppy ear, dropping her purse and jacket unceremoniously to the floor. "Make yourself comfortable, Knightley. You know where everything is. Pick whichever guest room you want."
"I have too much on my mind. I actually might check out your grandfather's library," Knightley admitted. She watched him take off his tie and set it on a table in the entryway. "I don't think I'll be able to fall asleep any time soon either." Knightley stopped as soon as he'd said the phrase and saw her look. He knew that face and he could practically see the wheels turning. She'd already started plotting something. "Emma," there was more than an edge of caution in his tone.
"Why not go by our old rule?” she asked. Now that the two of them were installed in Hartfield---even if it was temporary---the world felt safe again. At least until dawn and the world and everything in it woke up again. "Unless of course, you don't remember it..."
"Emma," He looked at her squarely. "I would know it as well at age one hundred as I did at age nine."
During the summer, Emma's weekend visits to the Knightley house and George Knightley's visits to Hartfield had been frequent and often. And young Emma was always certain there was something fun and exciting she was being forbidden from once she'd been shuffled off to bed. The world was just as alive in the night as it was during the day, she told Knightley then, and ten times more mysterious.
The child had scrambled into nine year old George's room. Her tiny voice called out. "Knightley!" George frowned and tried to ignore her by turning the page of his book. He was reading the first chapter of his new book with his lamp light turned low. His parents had no reason to know that he was still awake. But somehow their guest had sniffed out his ruse and chosen to invade.
The boy pretended to ignore her.
"Knightley!" the five year old repeated. She pulled on his blankets in an effort to get her chubby legs up onto his bed. "Come play!"
"My name's George," he corrected the girl. The cherub's answer was a frown. "And you're supposed to be asleep."
"So are you, spos'da be." she answered in a pout.
"But you're little," the boy pressed. The child held up her whole hand wide. "I'm this many." A whole hand obviously meant something of significance. "Five."
"Oh, yeah?" George pressed. He put down his book in frustration. "Well I'm this many." He held up both his hands pointedly.
"Ten's not so much." the blue-eyed cherub answered. "It doesn't mean you know everything."
"So what do you want than?" he said rudely.
She curled up next to him. He'd never been around many children who were younger than him. She was so small. She could probably sit on their shepherd, Kit, as though it were a horse. "Whatcha readin'?"
"A book," he answered begrudgingly. "You wouldn't like it..."
"Why not? The cover's pretty..." The nine year old rolled his eyes. "Read it to me."
George glanced at Emma in the shadowy light of his lamp to see if the little girl was serious. She was. Her thumb was in her mouth, but she looked strangely determined for a five year old.
"You wouldn't like it."
"Prove it?" Seeing the tiny angel's persistent defiance made George set his book down and look at her hard. This was not an average five year old.
"If I read it to you," George spoke in the tone he'd learned from his father, "you have to stay awake. I won't read it to you just so you can fall asleep. So that means you pay attention. No sleeping..."
The little girl nodded solemnly. "No sleeping," she repeated. George began to read. The two children had finished the book by the end of the night.
No sleeping became an adage they'd used occasionally in future summers in their childhood and adolescence. It was a childhood competition between them, put in affect whenever Emma and her mother Cordelia would come to spend the night at the Knightley's home, or George Knightley would come to Hartfield. The wager? To see who could stay awake longest. Knightley called it a race for dawn. Whoever noticed the sun breaking first was declared victor for the night.
Those evenings were fun for both. Six year old Emma had allowed ten year old Knightley a good excuse to practice the art of fort-building---something he would never admit to doing while with his friends at school. It wasn't cool at age ten. But it was still fun. At seven and eleven respectively, Emma developed a talent for artwork and showed Knightley how what she'd learned could be used to draw some of his favorite comic book characters. At eight and twelve, Knightley taught Emma how to play soccer in their basement.
Over the years their exploits wandered into any part of the house that was uninhabited. They played indoor croquet. They challenged one another to different games of cards. They watched movies, they played midnight catch on Highbury's expansive back lawn. And they, of course, they had their share of disastrous events. There was the broken Tang-era style vase, or the time they accidentally caught the drapes on fire. But those were the nights that formed the root of their friendship.
"I need something to keep me from thinking about things." Emma insisted. "Apart from today, we've hardly seen each other, Knightley. You know it's true. This'll be fun. Like old times."
"If you think you're up for it," Knightley answered cautiously.
"What makes you think I wouldn't be?" She entered the living room and put her hands on her hips.
"The obvious," Knightley remarked. "You've had a hard night, Emma. You're tired."
"So are you. But neither of us can sleep." she countered. "Unless you don't think you can beat me to dawn anymore."
He shook his head, knowing he couldn't talk her out of this. "We'll see."
It was as much of a capitulation from him as she was going to get. For the first time since she'd entered university life, the two had reverted their childhood pact.
"Excellent!" Emma laughed triumphant. "You get the drinks, Knightley, I'll pick the movie."
For once he did as told without much protest, while she moved to the living room to choose a movie for their viewing pleasure. Something light and funny, she'd decided. Given the events of the day, tonight wasn't exactly the right time for watching 'Gladiator.'
As she put the DVD in, Knightley returned, handing her her drink. He took a sip of his own, watching her reaction.. He was drinking scotch on the rocks. She sniffed it, suspicious. It didn't look like he'd fixed her scotch, which was good. She hated scotch. It just looked like...Coke or Pepsi from the way it fizzled.
“I actually am old enough for alcohol, you know," she teased him. "Would you like to card me, Knightley?"
She took a tentative sip, then looked at him. Her eyes danced. It was her favorite mixed drink. She'd ordered in the last time they'd gone to a club together. That was ages ago, with a host of their old friends around. Hannah and John and her old boyfriend, Brandon had been there. She was impressed that he'd remembered had ordered on an evening so long ago.
"Trying to get me drunk?" she joked.
"It's to help you relax." Knightley cast her an amused glance. "Not that it takes a lot more than that to get you drunk."
She'd hit him with a throw pillow before plopping down beside him on the couch. “Funny.”
Boisterous 1930s movie music swelled from the speakers of her grandfather's entertainment system.
The movie's title, Knightley soon discovered, was Top Hat. Soon enough, Fred Astaire came strutting on stage.
A pained expression came over his face. "Please don't tell me there's singing and dancing involved in this film..."
Emma bit her lip, trying to hid the pert expression on her face. But she couldn't hold it in. Knightley's horror at what he was being forced to watch was obvious. She burst out laughing.
"War's war, Knightley. You're the one who's tried to ply me with alcohol. And I like this movie," she said with a grin and folded her arms, "but we'll see how well you manage to stay awake now." And maybe it really was the alcohol, but for the first ten minutes of the film neither of them could stop laughing.
But ironic that he'd been the one to stay awake while she'd fallen sound asleep three-fourths of the way through it. Of course she didn't give him much credit past that. He'd turned the movie off---probably as soon as she'd fallen asleep, and had just put down his book. One from her grandfather's collection.
"Are you all right?" he asked, seeing that she had yet to get up from the floor. He offered her a hand up. She took it gratefully. "I'm sorry the clock woke you." He paused before adding. "Your grandfather has plenty of books to keep me busy, you know. We're not children anymore. I won't hold it against you. You can go to sleep, Emma."
"No I can't," She let out a laughing breath. Her back hurt from the fall. "Not now, anyway. I'll be awake for awhile, I think." She paused. The movie was over and she didn't feel like watching another.
"I still have a chess board in my old room here. We could play a game of it."
Now it was Knightley's turn to laugh. He shook his head no. "Bad idea."
"Why?" She pouted.
"Because I always beat you in chess." Knightley answered easily. "And because you don't like losing."
She put her hands on her hips and picked up her cup. "Since when?"
"Since always." He took the cup from her hand and unconsciously gave her what Emma considered his trademark smile, the one Rebecca Weston always said could make knees weak. It didn't put Emma off for a second.
"What do you mean it's a bad idea," she persisted, reaching to grab the cup from him. "We haven't played in years! I could probably beat you now."
"No you can't. I think I'll put this in the kitchen before it comes to harm."
"Knightley." Emma followed him. "Just because you're five years older than me, doesn't mean you're the British Bobby Fischer."
"But I can still play better than you can." He placed the cup in the sink, a surprisingly wicked grin on his face.
"Oh yeah?" She leveled him with her bright blue gaze and repeated the defiant phrase she'd told him so many years ago. "Prove it."
Emma checked the clock. It was 4:30 am. They were still awake.
"Face it Emma," Knightley began once their chess game was well underway, "You're too fond of your own opinions to accept the concept of losing."
She smiled. "Why do you think I went into law? It's the only job that will pay me for debating. Unless I want to go into politics."
They sat on her bedroom floor facing one another. Emma sat casual and cross-legged, watching his black knight capture her white bishop. She held back a smile. That made his queen vulnerable. Once she captured it---if she could guess his moves right---she could have him in check in ten minutes flat.
"Then God help any politician you'd go up against."
"I don't have any interest in the political arena." she waved off the idea. "Besides, I'm just a small girl. What's so dangerous about that?"
"Entrapment with a smile. They'd go willingly into the night."
"I don't know what you're talking about," she answered sweetly. "My charms can't be all-powerful. It never seem to help me when we argue, yeah?"
Knightley took another one of her pawns and changed the subject.
"So what did you think Anita's gathering?"
"You mean from---" She stopped herself, watching his mouth thinned. Apart from our disastrous argument in the kitchen about Frank Churchill? He knew what she was talking about. That wasn't a safe topic of discussion yet. And neither of them felt like spoiling the night. "Apart from that, yes." He confirmed. "What did you think about it?"
“Are you referencing anything specific?" she asked.
Emma nearly knocked over the piece she was moving. "I don't know." She sounded disgruntled and righted the piece.
"She could use a friend in Kingston," Knightley spoke casually.
"Well, I'm sure she has lots of 'friends' already. You'll have to get in line, Knightley. Every man around seems to by vying for that role."
"Don't tell me you're jealous of her..."
"Jealous! Of an actress? Hardly."
"Just because she gives you competition for looks and attention, doesn't mean--"
"I'm not jealous," she cut him off.
"Fine." She moved her next piece. "If you think she's so interesting, next time you play, ask Joceline Fairfax. Maybe she can beat a wannabe Fischer in chess." She looked down at the board, then back at him. As their conversation progressed, she'd captured his Queen and put his King in check. "Check."
Knightley gave a pleased laugh and moved his King out of harms way. "Did I say I wanted to play Joceline Fairfax?" He countered. "You're the one I'm sitting across."
"Check," was her only answer. She was rewarded by seeing Knightley's dimpling smile deepen.
"Remember me saying you don't like loosing?"
"I'm not losing." She looked at the board. Her Queen had him on the run for awhile, but he'd managed to shield his king with his rook. She'd have to double back. She did, and pulled out her last Bishop.
"Checkmate," he countered.
Emma looked at the board again. Her mouth opened. No sound would come. She could not believe it. While she'd been thinking of a way to trap his king, he'd arranged a way to corner her own king with his bishop in one move without her even noticing. Knightley didn't say anything. He didn't need to. He'd won.
"You," was all she could manage. She threatened to hit him with the nearest pillow in reach. "Stop that."
"I'm not gloating."
"I know. And that's worse!" She shook her head with a laugh. "You should gloat. Then I could call you a bad winner and feel better about myself."
Knightley laughed too, and held up his hands in protest. "This is why you can't beat me in chess, Emma. You misapply your reason."
"Misapply my reason?" she repeated. "Do you want me to tackle you too? Don't think I wouldn't. Just because I'm small doesn't make me weak."
"I know." He looked deadly serious in his response, and his eyes burned silver. Marlowe, who'd settled between them while they played, interrupted the moment by barking his agreement and proceeded to step on the board, grabbing one of the pieces.
Emma gave a breathless laugh, though she shooed Marlowe. "Well, I'm sure Marlowe's would defend me. He's on my side. He'll make short work of you."
Knightley growled good humouredly and helped her pack away her chess pieces into the box. "For doing what?"
She moved the box back to its shelf, then gave him her best smile. "For beating me, of course." She settled down on the bed again, and yawned before declaring, "I can't remember the last time we stayed up all night together like this."
Emma hid her satisfied grin. "Yes," she admitted with a wink. "So can I."
"Just testing you." Having settled comfortably, she exhaled and shut her eyes.
It was the summer of her eighteenth year, just before she was about to begin her first term at Kingston University. To congratulate her, Knightley had offered to take Emma on a camping trip to the Lake District.
He'd been dating some awful girl at the time, someone named Mariah. Emma's hatred of Mariah was fairly equal to her disdain of her. Their Lake District Trip. The whole event would be burned into her memory until her last breath on earth, Emma knew that instinctively.
"I'd hoped you'd remember," she spoke at last. "The Lake District."
Knightley nodded. His own voice sounded distant. "How could I forget?"
It was originally going to be just the two of them. Much to Emma's ire, Mariah Bertram insisted on coming along.
"But why?" Emma complained. She knew she sounded nothing like the eighteen year old she was, and everything like a kid who didn't want to play with the neighborhood children just to be polite, but she didn't care. Emma thought Mariah Bertram's hobbies were restricted to shopping...and getting her nails manicured. And maybe her getting toenails painted to match. Emma didn't really care to find out the rest of it, if there was more. What mattered was she didn't think those hobbies included camping.
"Why is she coming?"
Knightley grinned as he stuck their gear in his car, holding up his hands wide.
"Mariah's professed a newfound interest in the subject." He was all set to go, sporting worn jeans and a plaid shirt, hiking boots. They'd gotten a rent-a-tent and everything.
Emma leaned against the hood of his cherry colored convertible.
"Since she found out what you look like," he answered with a laugh and walked away. Emma shook her head, confused in his wake.
"Knightley, that doesn't make sense!"
"So we'll go pick her up after I'm done packing the car. You're ready, right?"
"Knightley--" Emma sputtered. She watched his long legs bound up the driveway.
"I'm getting some food before we go." He called back to her. Emma smirked, though he couldn't see her. He was twenty-one, but she could swear Knightley still had what her grandfather termed a 'wooden leg.' Boys. Always hungry.
"Don't eat my grandpa out of house and home!" she yelled up to him before muttering to herself, "I want to be able to come back here to do laundry..."
Emma stomped her booted foot, watching him disappear into Hartfield House. How ridiculous was Mariah Bertram being with all of this? So ridiculous. Knightley was Emma's oldest and best friend. Emma could be a two-headed gargoyle, for all that her appearance mattered to Knightley.
So why did Mariah---and the immature part of her wanted to stomp again at the name---care that Knightley wanted to take his oldest friend on a trip to the Lake District? It was supposed to be special, just the two of them. Emma had never even been there before, and all she knew was that it had been a rite of passage in Knightley's life, and he'd wanted her to see it before she entered Kingston in the fall.
Knightley's late father was a member of the Royal Navy. The two had spent many a night camping in the Lake District during his youth. Knightley revealed this information quietly before he'd told her about going on the trip. She'd felt privileged that he'd wanted to take her there himself. But Mariah Bertram? This wasn't the first of his admirers that she'd dealt with. She was used to them by now, having met the first of an already long list of them at age eleven.
George Knightley had arrived at Hartfield one afternoon, age fifteen. Emma had run down the steps to meet him---despite her mother's scolding---only to find he'd brought a tall fourteen year old brunette with him. Cherie had been her name, and she'd had braces and a peasant skirt and lots of silver bangles on her wrists. Emma remembered that particularly, and how the bangles jingled whenever Cherie flipped her hair back, which she did whenever she said the name George. Emma had been disappointed and confused, and she didn't like the fact that this Cherie treated her as though she were a particularly stupid six year old instead of what she really was---a sixth grader who learned so quickly her teachers said she could easily be skipped ahead two years and still learn at a faster rate than her peers. The eleven year old had patiently waited out Cherie's visit.
"Oh, Emmanuella," her mother said as she'd tucked Emma into bed that night. "I know you're used to having him as your summer playmate sweetheart, but he's starting to grow up. You can't expect to have him all to yourself anymore. George is a kind boy, intelligent and already the image of his father. I know he's getting a lot of attention." Cordelia Danes kissed her daughter's brow and gave her a very pretty smile, the same one her daughter had inherited. "In a few short years you'll be bringing your own dates home, too. Then you'll understand."
The eleven year old had listened to this explanation with intellectual objectivity. She supposed she understood what her mother was trying to say. She was certainly looking forward to the time when she could have different boyfriends and do with them what she'd caught Knightley and Cherie doing this afternoon---kissing in the pine tree grove. But that didn't explain why that would change his interests, or the amount of time he spent with her. Did his girlfriends always have to intrude on the world that had been just theirs for so long? The eleven year old had escaped from her bed soon after her mother left to grill Knightley about the issue.
Her mother was right. Emma did understand, once she got her first boyfriend. She was newly thirteen. Edmund Berant was the boy's name. He was a Georgian pastor's son. He was a nice boy, cute, with a shy, charming manner and a mind for books. Between her strict father, and Edmund's religious parents, their relationship had been the picture of innocence. They held hands. They went to movies together. Edmund gave her chaste kisses no one was around. But the relationship ended when she was due to fly to England for the summer and then her mother became sick and she was in England indefinitely.
She'd had other boyfriends since, as Knightley had had other girlfriends over the years. And the only thing her mother had been wrong about was to discount the steady strength of their friendship. They'd grown even closer over the years and at eighteen and twenty one respectively they could still measure each other's thoughts with a single look. But since he went to college, most of his time was spent in studies or with friends he'd made there. They were nice people, and he'd introduced Emma to some of them. She thought it would be just the two of them. A time to remember their shared past. A time to look towards the future. To let go and prepare herself for whatever was to come.
Instead she was stuck in one of the most beautiful places in England with the Wicked Witch of the West...
"There's nothing to do here." She watched Mariah wrinkle her nose and looked around at the sloping tree covered hills. Sad. Mariah saw none of the beauty Emma could so easily perceive in the distant color-streaked mountains or the vaulted bowl of sky. She'd probably rather be in some Prada shop on High Street. "So why did we decide to stop here for the night?"
"Because it's perfect." declared Emma confidently. Mariah rolled her eyes, then sauntered up to Knightley. He was setting up their tent for the night.
"George, can't we get a room for the night in one of the cabins?" Marie formed a pout with her generous lips, "For just the two of us? And Emma---Emma can take care of herself." Seeing Knightley's expression, she rescinded her statement. "Or we can get a room for her...at the other end of the cabin complex. Please, George? A place of our own inside, just the two of us? They have some really," Marie paused breathily and twinned her arms around his neck, "cozy accommodations."
"No." Knightley planted a kiss on Mariah's and moved to start building their fire. "We stay here."
"But..." Mariah asked. "But...what if I want to use the toilet?"
"Ha!" The sound escaped from Emma before she could restrain it. "This is the natural world, Mariah," she said with a giggle and a wicked grin. "Be creative."
Seeing Knightley's dark look in her direction---that 'Emma, be nice' look---Emma smothered her smirk with her hand and turned her gaze in the other direction. She didn't need telepathy. She got the point.
Emma tried to look around for something to do in an effort to keep from laughing more.
The air was hot for August, it made her skin itch. Men were so lucky in hot weather, Emma mused. When they grew too warm, they could strip off their shirts. Not exactly appropriate for women to do the same.
She crouched down to retrieved her camera and drawing materials from her backpack. Her braid was coming undone, but Emma didn't think to fix it. It was just Knightley and Mariah here. She doubted they'd care. Opening up her backpack, she pulled out her camera and put it over her shoulder by use of its strap. That would leave her hands free for carrying her drawing pad and some charcoals. Emma rolled up her sleeves, then unbuttoned the lower part of her shirt and tied it around her waist. That was better. Cooler.
It was only when she turned around that she noticed Knightley was watching her. Mariah Bertram was watching her too and she was definitely frowning. Emma frowned too, confused by Knightley's expression and a little worried. His face had gone very still. Is he still mad about my comments to Mariah? she thought.
"It was good that I came," Mariah declared at last.
Puzzled by the comment, the 18 year old chose brushed it off. Now was the time to make a temporary exit.
"I think I'm going to backtrack a little towards the lake we passed on the way here. I want to take some pictures and do some drawing before the sun sets completely." Emma held up her supplies. Knightley looked to say something as she moved to go, but she ignored it and turned anyway. She thought it would be best if she left 'the couple' to their own devises. She shook her head. She didn't want to think about what that meant, actually...
"Have fun settling in!" she called from behind as she left from the encampment. She pulled her hair from its falling braid and quickened her pace to a light jog.
It was past dark by the time Emma returned. She'd had to adjust the light-meter on her camera to accommodate for the affects of the sunset, but she was sure she'd gotten some really good photos out of her walk. What she was most proud of though, were the new sketches of one of the Lakes in her notebook. She might even recopy her favorite one onto canvas and turn it into a painting. She shouldn't have stayed away from camp for so long, particularly at night, but once artistic inspiration took hold, it was hard to let go of it. She'd never been in a place this beautiful before.
Knightley was sitting by the fireside when she came back.
"Oh, good." The twenty-one year old noted nonchalantly when he saw her. "You haven't fallen down anywhere, or been attacked."
Emma winced. She walked over to her backpack to get her jacket. The air had cooled off drastically in the past few hours. When she spoke at last, she knew she looked guilty.
"I'm sorry. I know it was stupid to stay out in the dark by myself...and dangerous." It had been dangerous. Probably the first thing she'd learned about camping as a child was not to go off somewhere alone. Particularly at night. She dropped her camera and sat down clutching her book of drawings. "I'm sorry if you or Mariah worried about me. But it's so beautiful, Knightley. I lost track of time. I've never seen a place like it in my whole life."
Knightley's whole aspect changed when he realized what she'd said. Something sparked in his eyes, and a surprisingly boyish grin graced his face. "You like it?"
"Are you kidding?" Emma answered enthusiastically. "It's amazing." She looked around, noticing that the tent had been zipped shut very decisively. "Where's Mariah?"
"Asleep. She's not used to so much walking. She was tired."
Emma nodded. She wasn't surprised, though she didn't want to show her satisfaction of Mariah's weakness to Knightley. It would probably just make him mad again.
"Check out some of these views..." She flipped open her sketch book and showed him some of what she'd drawn.
"Emma, these are incredible."
"I had a lot to work with." She grinned.
Knightley looked at her sidelong, and then looked up. "Can I show you something that my father showed me?"
She smiled softly, immediately understanding the wistfulness of his tone. "Always."
She watched him stand and move over to his own pack. He opened it up and pulled out a blanket.
Whatever he was going to do, he'd definitely been planning it in advance. "Come on." He motioned for her to follow him into the darkness. He led her to a dip in the Valley, just far enough that the campfire flickered distant, but not so far that they'd risk not finding their way back. She watched him spread out the blanket.
"Close your eyes and lie down on the blanket."
Had any other young man said that line to her, 18 year old would have laughed, assuming he was going to try and get fresh with her. But this was Knightley. She did as told without hesitation.
When she was sufficiently positioned on her back and feeling very foolish, she heard Knightley speak again.
"Now open your eyes, Emma." She did.
And caught her breath...
"My God..." she spoke at last.
It was the only word majestic enough to fit. She'd never seen so many stars. It was like a blanket of white jewels strewn on a velvet blanket, infinitely long and stretched out above them. Emma was speechless. Tears stung her eyes. It was so beautiful. She'd been so busy admiring the views around her, she hadn't really thought to look up. She'd never seen the stars so bright, or so numerous.
There was a cloudy streak at one end that she could swear was the Milky Way, though she'd never seen it before... She looked to Knightley, expecting to see him equally enraptured by the sight of the sky. But he wasn't looking up. He was looking at her. She gave him her best smile. “Thank you.”
Knightley nodded. He moved his gaze to the stars and began his story.
"When I was a boy," he said, "my father would bring me here. Just the two of us. He knew a lot about sailing at night. Which meant he also knew how to chart a course by the stars. I've never met anyone who knows quite so much about the constellations, the moon, the planets. I wanted to learn them all. Everything he could teach me. He was my hero as a little boy. I thought he was perfect. Wanted to be just like him." Emma rolled on her side to face him, listening to him speak. "After the car accident, I guess...I thought...every time I saw the stars and remembered...I wasn't just seeing what he taught me. I was seeing him. And not just him, but the best of him. The part of him that I still aspire to be. The stars are always there, you know?"
Emma reached for his hand and shut her eyes tight. She was having trouble speaking. "Yeah."
He was quiet for a moment, his eyes fixed on the stars, and she let him have his silence. When the memories of whatever he was thinking of faded into the distance of his mind, he continued. "The best time for doing this is early, early in the morning, you know..."
"You going somewhere?" she asked him, sitting up in an effort to hide her pert grin.
Knightley hesitated. "Well, I didn't want to assume that you'd want to spend all night looking at the stars." He laughed. "I couldn't even get Mariah to stay up past---"
"Knightley," Emma cut him off. She didn't like Mariah Bertram, but she felt bad that she wasn't the type of girl that would enjoy doing this sort of thing with him, and she didn't want him to have to dwell on it either. "I want to learn whatever you'll teach me."
Knightley's smile broadened. "So no sleeping, then?" he repeated their old phrase with a wink.
"No sleeping," she agreed with enthusiasm. It was set. She curled next to him on the blanket, clinging to him for the warmth of his body.
Emma was determined to burn into her memory each story and grouping that he told her. Everything he could teach her. They were there for hours. And Knightley was right. The longer they were there, the brighter things got. She couldn't believe the sky could possibly be filled with more, but so it was. There were larger objects now, and brighter. Emma pointed to another suspicious small cluster of stars that she assumed was probably a constellation too. There was a particularly bright one at the top of it.
"So which one's that?"
"That," he answered, squinting to see what she was pointing to, "is part of Lyra. It's called Vega. The Harp Star."
"Why's it called that?"
"For what they thought it was shaped like. It's a Greek harp. The story behind it is the Orpheus myth."
"Orpheus?" she repeated.
"His music was so beautiful that one song from with his lyre made the rocks sing and the trees weep."
"One of those," Emma chuckled. "He probably did it for the women. Girls love musicians, you know. He probably had to beat them off with a stick."
"Once I tell you how his life ends, you'll understand the irony of the statement you just made. Orpheus only wanted one woman. Eurydice was her name, and his devotion to her was legendary. It's one of the great love stories of Greek culture. But nothing in love is ever made easy by the gods." Knightley paused reflectively and Emma shut her eyes. She loved the sound of his voice when he told stories.
"When she was bitten by an asp on their wedding day and taken into the Underworld, Orpheus was devastated. He swore to do whatever it took to rescue her. Taking only his lyre, he followed her, walking the path into the Underworld."
She rolled to her side and rested her head on her arms. "When he was brought to the Lord of the Underworld, he pleaded for his wife in the only way he could---through song. Even Hades was moved to tears. He agreed to return Eurydice to Orpheus with one condition. She would travel behind him, but he could not look back for the duration of the journey. He agreed. But as they climbed up towards the earth, right before they reached the mouth, Eurydice tripped. She cried out. Hearing her cry, Orpheus immediately reacted. He loved her---how could he restrain himself? He had to look back."
"Oh," Emma whispered, completely caught up in the story. Her eyes were wide, like a child's.
"He'd done the one thing forbidden to him. He'd looked back. She was to him lost forever." Knightley said softly. His voice seemed to echo in the dark spaces above them. "He traveled the world singing for her. A group of maidens approached him. They told him to pick one of them, said that they would take away his pain. But he refused. So they killed him, throwing both him and his lyre into a river. Zeus, who had been one of the gods enchanted by his music, took pity on him and raised his lyre to the sky."
Emma rolled onto her back again. She was quiet for a long moment, looking up at Lyra.
"That's so sad." She sighed contemplatively. "It's a beautiful story, though."
"Isn't it?" She nodded. Knightley eyed her in the darkness.
"If you could have any star, which would you choose?"
Emma thought for a long moment. There were so many. They were all so beautiful...
After a long silence, she pointed at last to a bright jewel, glowing pale blue a little above the horizon. It sparkled particularly bright. "That one. What is it?"
"That's not a star," he answered, leaning back on his elbows. "That's another world. Venus."
She grinned then and lay flat on her back, in awe of the sky.
"Then I guess I want a whole world. Its beautiful." She never wanted to leave this place.
"Mariah Bertram." Emma repeated the name now, remembering Knightley's old girlfriend as they relived the event. "She wasn't one of your finer choices, Knightley."
Knightley chuckled. "Why did you dislike her so much?"
Emma rolled her eyes skyward. "Listening to her fawn over you the whole time? Where was her dignity as a woman?" Emma lowered her tone to a breathless, suggestive whisper. "Why can't you just...move a little closer next to me, George? I---I'm just a helpless girl, and you're so big and strong." She burst out laughing then, and let the illusion drop, slipping into herself. "For the whole trip, Knightley, I swear..."
Stunned by mimicry, Knightley had to collect himself before answering her. "You should have been an actress."
Emma laughed. "To be compared to Joceline Fairfax all the time? No thank you." She sat up and stretched. The dull feeling of fatigue had settled into her bones. She rubbed her eyes, blinking. Then she remembered. Emma quickly pulled back the curtain. The sun was cresting on the horizon. "Good morning, Knightley."
She stood in front of the window with folded her arms, triumphant. "I won."
"Competitive to your toes." It was said with fondness. "I still beat you at chess."
If she hadn't spent the whole night awake, she would have had a smart answer to that. But she didn't say anything. Because it didn't really matter who had won what that night, and they both knew it. She knew Knightley could see the look of thanks in her face. She'd wanted him to see it. She hadn't wanted to be alone tonight, and because of him, she wasn't.
She walked him to the door. Most of the time Emma knew what he was thinking. But every once and while over the past ten years he had the occasional habit of putting up a carefully guarded wall between them. She didn't know what it meant back then when he did it and she didn't know what it meant now. All she knew was that the look in his eyes was one that commanded her not to press the barrier. She could see it in his eyes now, and she was cautiously respectful of the distance.
So Emma didn't try. She simply wished him a sweet good morning and tip-toed to give him an impulsive kiss on the cheek. His eyes closed at the touch. He must be exhausted, she thought, a little worried. When he opened them again, the wall she felt between them had become a mountain. She didn't know why, but it made her sad and dizzy at the same time.
"You should sleep." His voice was gravelly. The sound of it caused a strange shiver to trail her spin.
Her head felt light. She simply nodded, confused by the strange mixture of emotions which she couldn't even begin to put a name to. All she knew was that part of her was strongly resisting shutting the door.
"Sleep," she repeated in a whisper as she watched him walk down the hall to his own room.
At last, Emma did as told and crawled into bed. She closed her eyes, remembering the look of Knightley's face, pondering it. But she was too tired for grand insights so all that she could really think about was the fact that he had beautiful eyes and really long eyelashes. Didn't men have all the luck where eyelashes were concerned? They were always the least appreciative of the existence of the eyelash, and they always seemed born with the most beautiful ones. It was the last thought she had before drifting off. Sleep came without dreams.
"Knightley?" Emma shut off the stovetop burner and waved smoke from her nose. It was 1 pm and she was trying to make them a meal. Pancakes. Unfortunately her attempts were less than successful. Knightley would just have to settle on a beverage.
Emma tugged at her pajama top and picked up the cup of coffee she'd poured for him. I should change, too, she thought to herself. She wanted to be at the hospital by 2:30 that afternoon.
Knightley entered the kitchen in his black trousers and a white tee shirt. He held up two shirts, both her grandfather's.
"You know how I like playing dress up," Knightley joked. Emma grinned. "So look, I need to leave in ten minutes for my class. Which one makes me look like I've actually gotten some sleep."
"I have cause to know the shirt you wore here last night smells like scotch, and is probably wrinkled, so this is a good idea." She looked at the two shirts, one blue and one green, and handed him a cup of coffee to drink. She could hear the doorbell ringing in the distance and excused herself.
"Wear the blue," she called to him, jogging to the door and pulling it open. "It'll go better with your gray eyes."
Standing on the doorstep was Frank Churchill, and a bouquet of large white and yellow daisies. When he saw her, his face lit up in a broad smile.
"Good afternoon, doll-face." Frank greeted her. He paused quizzically upon seeing her sleeping attire. "Or should I say good morning?"
"Frank!" Emma took a step down onto the stoop and threw her arms around his neck. He spun her around easily before setting her down again. "These are for the Woodhouse-house. From your adoring fan club."
"Thank you, Frank. They're beautiful." He leaned in to kiss her lips lightly. It was a playful kiss and she didn't even hesitate. It was Frank. This was how he was. "We all care about you, Love. Which means we care about the people you care about."
Emma looked to the daisies, her heart swelling in appreciation for the circle of wonderful friends she had gathered around her. Knowing that Frank was here and Knightley was inside, she hesitated at asking him in too. But Frank gave so effortlessly it didn't even seem like giving sometimes. He was a great friend. Maybe, with this gesture, Knightley would be able to see that for himself and could reconcile with Frank. She fought down her guilt with ire. It wasn't like she'd done anything wrong with either of them against the other. She had nothing to hide.
"Come inside, Frank," she told him. "Have some coffee. We'll talk, the three of us."
Frank followed her into the kitchen. "Oh, do you have a maid or a cook?"
"Emma," Knightley was buttoning his shirt. "I have to go soon, but I wanted to check and---"
The two men saw each other and both stopped. Seeing the momentary flare in Knightley's eyes, Emma dropped Frank's hand and moved a safer distance away, getting a cup for herself from the cupboard.
"Knightley, Frank came with these flowers. Isn't that sweet?" She was talking at a nervously fast pace. "They smell so nice and fresh. And Frank, Knightley's been so helpful for me. Are you done with your drink, Knightley? I'm sorry I burnt the food. Frank, do you care for coffee? It's not quite espresso, but--" she paused, feeling the tension in the room and looked from one man to the other man, "---it's not so bad, yeah, Knightley?"
George took a sip of his coffee. Probably to keep from saying something he knows would make me mad, she thought dryly. "Um...Frank, take a seat." He did as told. She perched herself on the edge of the table, facing him. "Can I offer you a drink?"
She watched him scratch the back of his neck, hesitant. He shot a look, equal odds humored, satisfied, and chagrined, to Knightley, then decided it was safer to stick talking to Emma. "Look, I certainly did not come to interrupt." He grinned wickedly and Knightley. Knightley looked like he wanted to punch him. Instead, he chose to move to the sink to wash his cup. Emma released her breath.
"So I'll just leave you to your chap, Emme. Congrats, the both of you."
At last caught onto what he was trying to say. The picture that she and Knightley must present to him formed in her mind. Pajamas at 1pm in the afternoon. Knightley buttoning his shirt. It was clear she hadn't slept...obvious he'd stayed the night...
"Frank Churchill!" She laughed once her mind was finished connecting the dots. "Knightley is my oldest friend. He's stayed here loads of times. Since childhood. Is that the first and only explanation you have?" She picked up her dish towel and threw it at him, finding it humorous despite herself.
"I shouldn't have assumed. Sorry. It's just the obvious conclusion." Frank responded good humouredly.
"Frank," she began, very much the patient schoolteacher. "Poor Knightley here has plenty of women throwing themselves at him on a regular basis. He doesn't need me to be one of them." She laughed again and shook her head.
"And as far as sex being the obvious conclusion, I come from a traditional Episcopal background. I'm not having sex with anyone until I get married. And I refuse to marry unless I'm absolutely head over heels in love with the mystery man and can unflinchingly pledge my undying troth to him until the clammy hand of death takes me." She took a breath and shrugged. "And now, what with my studies and taking care of my grandpa--and maybe taking care of him forever depending on how things go...I mean, at this rate, I'll probably never marry.”
A clang of dishes followed this statement. She turned to look. Knightley looked stunned, though she couldn't imagine why. True, the subject had never been one they'd discussed before, but didn't he know her well enough by now? Men. She rolled her eyes and explained further to Frank.
"Look, my parents had a very messy divorced. Big custody battle and everything. Lots of resentment. I had to deal with that for my whole childhood. And I'm serious about wanting sex and marriage to mean you love someone and are really committed. I don't take these things lightly. So I'm waiting for marriage. Not that it's any business to you." She pretended to smother Frank with the towel, and wished she had one to throw at Knightley, too.
Why were people always so surprised by her admission? What other people decided was their business. She wasn't naive. Lots of people her age slept together. It didn't bother her. That was their decision. But her views on sex and marriage were something she'd thought about and decided upon a long time ago. She took pains to explain to every boyfriend she'd ever had. And she always listen patiently as they tried to talk her out of her viewpoint. Particularly on the waiting for sex issue. It was particularly hard with her last boyfriend, Brandon. After all, their relationship had been based almost entirely on physical attraction--- mainly been flirting in public, and make-out sessions at his flat. The boy had been charm itself. But when she refused to sleep with him it became very clear they could move no further. He couldn't stop wanting her, and he told her so. She wouldn't budge, and told him as much. It was over. But she knew in her heart what was right for her. Brandon wasn't it. And to be honest, she knew it was bad to be cynical at her age, but the whole incident made her hesitant to get into another relationship at all.
"It's just, you don't often hear people say stuff like that," Frank was saying. Emma nodded. That was true. But suddenly it occurred to Emma that Knightley wasn't in the room anymore. He'd said he'd had to go to teach. That's right.
"Excuse me, Frank, I'll be right back..." She slid off the table to go look for him. She hoped the conversation hadn't made him uncomfortable before he'd left to teach.
"Knightley?" she called into the hallway. She felt guilty. had she missed his departure already? It looked that way. She'd wanted to wish him well for the day..."Knightley?"
There was a note for her in the entryway. Emma picked it up and read it.
"Wish I didn't have to leave. Had to go to class. Call me if you need something." Seeing that he'd underlined that last sentence, Emma smiled and pocketed the note before she returned to Frank.
"So why are you so shocked about everything I said?" she said when she'd returned, reverting back to their previous conversation with her arms folded.
"You're just so beautiful, Emma." He answered as though the response was obvious, though she was having trouble following his logic.
Her mouth tightened. She wasn't sure if she should laugh or be genuinely outraged at that statement.
Her reaction veered towards the latter. "So what if you think so?" The lawyer in her roared and she added, "What does your opinion of my looks have to do with the relevancy of what I said, or why I said it?"
Frank looked a little taken aback. Knightley could always equal her when she questioned him about something in 'lawyer mode.' Apparently Frank could not. Well, he'd never seen her do it before. She watched him try to explain himself.
"I'm sure you get loads of offers for the contrary, that's all I'm saying. And I'm...impressed by your resolve to wait. And to marry for only the deepest love." He shrugged. "It's sort of my philosophy, too." Her jaw dropped. His reputation as a ladies man was not without merit by his stories. "You're kidding..."
"See, now who's shocked?" Frank laughed. He reached for her and pulled her onto his lap. His manner was always so casual, she allowed it without thinking twice.
"Well, I guess it's sort of the reverse execution of it, if you want to put it that way." he admitted. "But I've always known it would take the real thing to make me settle down is what I'm saying. To make me commit. I mean, that's what you were saying you want too, right? Only the real thing. And you're right, for the real thing, for someone he really loves, a man is willing to sacrifice, to wait. You're right. It's a good test of devotion."
She looked at him as he spoke feeling that there was something else he was digging at here.
"Well, look, Emme," Frank said at last, "You know how I am. And I was thinking last night, with everything that came up with Knightley--"
"Don't let him bother you, Frank," she interrupted insistently. "I'm sorry for it. He's usually not like that---"
"Yeah, well, I think I understand him better than he thinks. Which is why I...I thought maybe I should tell you something important, Emme. Because I want you to know that I trust you, and I want you to know that you can trust me, too. I think--I know we haven't known each other more than a few months but from the first moment I saw you, I knew that we could be close. You have a lightness about you that draws people in, and---and," He shook his head, and his tone was serious. "Maybe I shouldn't say it. I told myself I wouldn't. I really...I want you to know, Emma. I want you to know what's in my heart."
For Frank Churchill of all people, they were solemn words.
What was he going to say? Could he honestly be on the verge of saying, 'I love you?' There was an odd sort of flutter in her stomach. And what did that mean? Was it apprehension for what he was about to say? A fear that her rejecting him after he made this admission would ruin their friendship? Or was it excitement, the first beginnings of a feeling that she could actually be falling in love? She couldn't tell.
It was so easy to talk to him. To flirt with him. He was warm, and funny, and clever, and well traveled. He had a way about him that she liked. He set her at ease. But for all that...she didn't think that she loved Frank Churchill.
She was warm to the prospect of him. She knew that much. She liked him. A lot, actually. But it wasn't a heart stopping feeling. It wasn't an "I don't want to live without him," feeling that she'd heard talked about so much.
She was definitely fond of Frank. But was fondness the same as love? Probably not...but...but maybe it could become love. She'd fended off so many advances from various men in the past, that she'd just gotten really used to doing it. And Rebecca Weston had been pressing a match between her and Frank since his arrival. Maybe it was a good idea, long-term. She didn't know anymore. Would she actually know if she was in love? Her logical mind said maybe not, but her heart rebelled against the notion.
Her heart said that when she was really in love, she wouldn't have to ask if she was in love. She would just know. Was that wishful thinking? Something in books and movies, 'lies of poets' and that sort of thing? She should talk to Rebecca or Yve about all of this...
"What is it you wanted to tell me, Frank?" she managed to ask at last, though inwardly she felt like she were near a coronary.
Frank looked away and shook his head. His blue eyes had clouded. "Here I am talking when you have your grandfather in the hospital. Now isn't the right time. For either of us, probably." She nodded silently. I don't even know what I wanted him to say. But that was probably the right thing regardless.
"Can you trust me enough to wait for me to tell you what it is?"
"Definitely." Her answer this time was confident. He was right. Now wasn't the right time. She needed a bit of space in order to sort out how she felt about him.
"Good." Frank kissed her cheek. "So are you planning on going anywhere today, lass, or were you wanting to prance around in this lovely little cotton garment and use me as your armchair? We could make a fun day of it, I promise you that much." He winked.
Emma pushed at him and stood with a laugh. "I'll shower and change."
"And I'd offer my skills as a soap holder..."
"But you knew I'd decline."
"Exactly. Why risk rejection?"
Why indeed, she wondered, again happy he'd waited to say whatever was in his heart.
"With Knightley gone, I was going to take the bus today to St. Aldate's. Could I bum a ride off of you?"
"Do you mind if I come and pick you up after a few hours?" Frank asked as he pulled up to the drop area of St. Aldate's hospital. "Sorry, Emme, but I'm not good with being inside hospitals. I don't think I'd be much use to you."
"Oh, um," She didn't know what she'd expected from Frank, but the statement made her hesitate. "Sure, Frank. That's fine. Most people aren't too good with these sorts of places." She unbuckled her seatbelt and picked up her bag, trying not to project anything in the way of disappointment in him. "Pick me up at four, yeah?"
"Can do, Love."
She shut the car door and waved, watching him drive off. St. Aldate's doors slid opened in welcome.
Everything was the same as yesterday, but for Knightley absence. That she felt acutely. She remembered his calm composure, and tried to channel a bit of it herself. His note was in her coat pocket, she remembered. Emma took it out and clutched it like a talisman as she moved towards the elevator.