Posted on: 2011-12-09
Anne Eliot planned on chalking 2011 up as the worst year on record. In fact, she planned on throwing her own personal "Good Riddance, Misery" party on December 31, 2011. As long as 2012 was at least slightly better than 2011, she would be happy. Heck, the world could end, and she would consider that to be a better year.
But 2011 had been awful. First, Eliot Enterprises, her father's business, went under and was bought out by Croft Industries. And the CEO of Croft Industries was Adrian Croft, husband of Lucy Wentworth-Croft, the older sister of Anne's ex-fiancé, Erik Wentworth. As it happened, with Adrian and Lucy in town, Erik who had just finished his PhD in British Literature got a position at Kellynch College.
The man she hadn't seen in four years was suddenly back in her life, living two doors down from her, in fact. And Anne was heartbroken. She'd broken up with Erik four years earlier when it became apparent that their lives were going in separate directions. She was headed to grad school at Uppercross College and he was headed to Queen's College in Belfast. She didn't want to force him to commit to a four or five year engagement. That was just cruel.
But now, as fate would have it, they were both back in Kellynch teaching literature in the same English department where they had once been undergrads together. They seemed to have an unspoken agreement to avoid each other as much as possible that they were both keeping faithfully.
Throughout the year, Anne had gone to six weddings and she still had a seventh on Christmas Eve. And she had been a bridesmaid in each of those weddings. Back in college, she had spent four years living in Austen House with a group of lovely other girls-Jen Bennet, Elinor Dashwood, Liz Bennet, Kate Morland, Emma Woodhouse, Francesca Price, and now Marianne Dashwood. Only Marianne Dashwood would get married on Christmas Eve, and only Chris Brandon would agree to have his wedding on Christmas Eve.
Over the past twelve months, each of Anne's roommates had gotten married. She was only single one left of the bunch. And Jen and Charles Bingley, who had gotten married on New Year's Day, already had a baby girl, Lily Olivia, who had been born in November.
But Anne had always ended up alone after all of those weddings. Oh, sure Will Darcy, Charlie Bingley, Ed Ferrars, Chris Brandon, and George Knightley always danced with her at weddings. And Will even went so far as to get his cousin, Mike Fitzwilliam, go to a couple of the weddings as her date. But as nice as Mike was, that couldn't change the fact that he had been transferred to Vienna in September and was currently dating a very pretty Austrian girl.
She wanted to be happy for her roommates; she really did. But as Anne put on her burgundy dress and silver heels, she knew she was jealous. She didn't want to be jealous of Francesca Bertram who had finally married the love of her life in September and was now throwing up at regular intervals. Francesca deserved the happiness that Josh had finally given her after breaking things off with Molly Crawford a year and a half earlier and realizing that his best friend was actually the woman of his dreams.
On the other hand, she had little trouble being jealous of Marianne Dashwood who had gone from boyfriend to boyfriend over the years before being diagnosed with cancer three years earlier and settling down with Chris, a man whom Liz Darcy deemed to be "almost too wonderful" for Marianne-or really any woman. Indeed, Anne was a little confused as to why she was the maid of honor instead of Elinor, Marianne's cousin and longtime best friend. But Elinor had admitted that Marianne didn't want to have a matron of honor when there was still someone around to bear the title of "maid." Mercifully, Elinor and Jen Bingley had been more than willing to help Anne write a kind and endearing toast.
But in spite of it all, Anne knew she would be going home alone at the end of the night-and probably with the bride's bouquet in her hands. Still, she was determined to be the perfect bridesmaid. She walked down the aisle with Ed Ferrars and smiled her best. She did blush when Ed slipped her a tissue before they started walking down the aisle. "I know you, Anne," he whispered in her ear. "You always get teary-eyed at weddings."
Somehow that had only made her smile more.
As she watched Marianne and her dad walk down the aisle, Anne noticed Erik Wentworth sitting behind Gina Darcy and next to Jane and Mark Rochester. There was no sign of Lindsey Musgrove anywhere near him. In fact, as she took a quick glance around the church, she didn't seen Lindsey anywhere.
The reception was lovely, all the class and elegance that Anne expected out of Chris and Marianne. She gave a toast that talked about how well suited the bride and groom were to each other and how inspirational their love for each other was. She talked about how devoted Chris had been to Marianne while she battled cancer a few years earlier. Anne danced with Ed, Will, Charlie, and George, caught the bouquet, and then spent most of the rest of the evening with Lily Bingley and Ava and Jacob Rochester.
Around ten-thirty, Anne was sitting by the dance-floor with a sleeping six-month-old Ava Rochester in her lap watching Ed and Elinor, Will and Liz, Jane and Mark, Charlie and Jen, Henry and Kate, and Emma and George dancing. Seven-year-old Adele Rochester was dancing with her godfather, Josh Bertram, while Francesca talked to someone off to the side of the dance floor. "They all look so happy," a deep voice said suddenly, interrupting Anne's (slightly jealous) thoughts.
Anne looked up to see Erik standing next to her. She smiled. "Yeah, they do."
"Can I sit?" he asked.
She nodded. "Yeah, it's a free country."
He laughed and sat down, stretching his long legs out in front of him. "You look tired, Anne."
She shrugged. "I can sleep in tomorrow. Nobody in my family gets up early for Christmas anymore."
Erik shook his head. "That's sad."
"It's all right," she replied in a forced cheerful tone. "Marianne is the last of my really close friends to get married. I don't mind wearing myself out for her. And besides, I'm resting now. All I'm doing is holding an adorable sleeping baby."
He ran a long, slender finger over Ava's leg. "You always were a natural with kids, Anne."
"How's Lindsey?" she said.
He shrugged. "I don't know and don't care. She's dating some grad student. They started dating after the car accident."
She ignored his comment about the car accident; it had been a mere fender-bender from what she'd heard from Will and Ed. "I thought you were all hot and heavy."
He shook his head. "I wasn't serious and she knew that. She was just a light distraction from what I really wanted."
"And what is that?"
Erik picked up the bouquet from the table behind them. "Do you really not know, Annabelle?"
"You haven't acted like you were interested," I replied, adjusting Ava in my lap.
"I was confused. You ended things all those years ago. I thought you didn't want me."
"You clearly weren't listening when I said that I loved you but I didn't want to make us suffer through a five year engagement."
"You could have come to Belfast with me."
I sighed. "Well, that was four years ago. And it didn't happen."
"Do you regret that?" he asked.
"Of course, but that doesn't change it."
Erik nodded. "But it could change the future."
"Only if we want it to," Anne replied.
"Do you want to?" he asked as he leaned forward, his brow furrowed.
Without thinking, she nodded.
Erik smiled. "Then find something to do with the baby and come dance with me."
She glared at him. "I know that I haven't seen you in years and we're finally fixing an awful situation, but I can't just leave the Rochesters' baby sitting here on her own. She can't take care of herself."
He looked around. "Surely there's got to be somebody who can hold her."
Just then, the song ended, and Mark and Jane came over to Erik and Anne. "Hey, Anne," Mark said. "We'll take Ava back now. We're going to head home. Adele and Jacob want to be in bed before midnight to make sure that Santa gives them their presents."
Anne handed Ava over to Mark with a smile. It still amazed her how he had gone from a forty-year-old playboy to a devoted husband and father. Around the same time that Erik had left for Belfast, Mark had learned that he had a three-year-old daughter, the product of a brief affair he'd had with a co-ed while teaching at McGill University. Through a series of events that weren't entirely clear to most people, Mark had acquired full custody of the little girl. Then, he'd hired Jane Reyes as a babysitter, only to fall in love with her and marry her.
"Have a merry Christmas, Anne," Jane said as she settled two-year-old Jacob on her hip. "If your family gets to be too much for you, don't be afraid to call us."
"We mean that," Mark said. "The kids would be more than happy to make your Christmas merrier."
Anne smiled. "I'll remember that."
"And even if you don't, we're expecting you for New Year's Eve. And if you try to skip that one, my husband will bring you over by force."
"I'll be there," Anne promised.
"Wonderful, we're looking forward to it," Jane told her.
"And seriously, don't forget to call us tomorrow if your family is too much," Mark added, kissing Anne on the cheek.
"Good night and Merry Christmas," she replied with a smile.
After the Rochester family left, Erik looked at Anne. "So can I have that dance now?"
She shook her head. "I think the reception is over. I need to help clean up and then head home."
"Can I get a rain check then?"
She shrugged. "I don't see why not. New Year's Eve is only a week away."
"You look lovely, Annabelle," Erik said as he helped her put on her coat. "I don't think you've changed a bit in the past four years."
"That's not what Lindsey said you told her," she whispered bitterly.
"Hey, I was angry when I first came back. I said and did a lot of stupid things. If you want to hate me forever, I would understand that."
He had done so many stupid things and essentially insulted her to her face numerous times. "And then what happened? Why are we dancing together now?"
"I heard you arguing with Darcy and Rochester at the department Christmas party."
Anne blushed and was grateful for the darkness that kept Erik from seeing her face matching her dress. She had spent a good half an hour disagreeing with Will Darcy and Mark Rochester over who loves longest when all hope is gone-men or women. "You must think I'm a fool."
"No, I'm the fool, Annabelle. You never stopped loving me, did you?"
"I knew I was being an idiot the whole time, but I couldn't help myself."
Erik smiled. "Well, I'm glad that you couldn't because I know what I want for Christmas."
Before he could say anything else, Anne lost her balance on some ice, her left ankle buckled, and she flew to the ground.
"I knew I shouldn't have worn heels," she sighed as she tried to collect her purse and the two bouquets that had flown out of her hands.
Erik bent down at her level. "Let me see your ankles."
"They're right there," she replied, pointing at her feet. "They're the painful things in the stupid silver heels."
"I'm glad to see you haven't lost your sense of humor," he replied, feeling her ankles with his hands. "But I think that at least one of these ankles is sprained. Why don't I take you home and we'll get your car back later?"
She nodded. "That's fine."
"Can you walk?"
"What do you think?"
Erik laughed. "All right, hold onto your stuff and let me pick you up."
Once they were in his car, Erik looked at Anne. "You're staying with me tonight. Or I'm staying with you. I don't really care, but I don't want you to wake up alone tomorrow with a sprained ankle and no one to help you out."
She nodded. "We can stay at my place. It's probably cleaner."
"What are you saying? Maybe I've changed in the past four years."
"Erik Wentworth, some things do change over time, but your cleaning skills are not on that list. Some things will never change."
"I'm sorry. Cry me a river." I already cried a river over you, she thought but did not say.
Back at her apartment, Erik helped Anne to her room and left her alone while she changed into her pajamas. Before she went to sleep, he came back into the room to check on her. It was only then that she remembered the last thing that he said before she fell. "Erik," she said sleepily. "What was it that you wanted for Christmas?"
"All I want for Christmas, baby, is you," he replied before tenderly kissing her forehead. "Now get some sleep and we'll talk in the morning."
She nodded and rolled over. Maybe 2011 would end on a better note than she'd expected.
Posted on: 2011-12-20
Anne Eliot was very confused when she woke up on Christmas morning. The sunlight was streaming in through the curtains, and there was music coming from the kitchen. The kettle was whistling, and a deep, rich baritone was singing "The Twelve Days of Christmas."
Then she tried to climb out of bed and pain shot through her left ankle. It was then that she remembered the events of the previous night and whose lovely baritone was coming from the kitchen. So she pulled the offending leg back into bed and decided to wait and see what happened.
A minute later, Erik strolled into her room, still singing about six geese a-laying, with two steaming mugs in his hands. "I made you hot chocolate," he told her, setting a mug down on her bedside table.
She smiled. "Thank you, and Merry Christmas."
He sat down on the bed. "Merry Christmas, Annabelle."
That elicited another smile. "How'd you sleep?"
Erik shrugged. "I've had better nights of sleep, but I survived."
"Did you sleep on the couch?"
He shook his head. "On the floor in here; I was worried about you."
"Oh," she said, surprised. "What time is it?"
"Ten o'clock," he replied before taking a sip of hot chocolate.
Anne raised her eyebrows. "Are you serious?"
"Yep," Erik said. "Why are you surprised?"
"I've never slept in this late on Christmas. I'm always the first one up so that everyone else has hot chocolate and cinnamon buns while we open presents."
"Well, this year it's your turn to have someone make you hot chocolate and coffee cake."
"I hope someone made my family breakfast this morning."
"May and Chuck are over there, aren't they?"
Anne nodded. "Yeah, I guess they could make breakfast."
"Annabelle, your family can take care of themselves for one day. For now, let someone else take care of you."
She sighed. "If you insist, I guess…"
"Your ankle insists. Now, do I still need to take you over to your dad's place today?"
"No one will help me there," she mused. "But I really should go. They are my family."
"Okay, I'll take you over there, you can deliver your presents, and eat a few cookies. But then we're going to see the Rochesters or something fun like that."
"Don't you have family you should be spending the day with?"
Erik shook his head. "Adrian and Lucy went on a Christmas cruise so I'm all alone for the holidays."
"That's awful," Anne moaned. "No one should be alone at Christmas."
"Then you'll just have to be charitable and keep me from being alone at Christmas."
Anne laughed. "And how will we do that?"
"We're going to Mark and Jane's."
She looked at him. "What makes you so willing to spend your Christmas looking after me?"
"I told you," he replied. "All I want for Christmas is you."
"So you want to get back together?"
Erik nodded. "If that's what you want, that's what I want. So, is that what you want?"
Anne nodded. "With all of my heart, it's all I want. It's all I've wanted for the past four and a half years."
"Then take a shower, get dressed, and we'll run your stuff over to your dad's place. And then, we're going to the Rochesters' house."
Erik had been right that no one noticed Anne's absence from her family's holiday gathering. When they arrived to drop off her presents, her father was nursing his third glass of scotch while yelling at his grandchildren who were supposedly being too noisy. Eliza, her older sister, was browsing an online dating website. Mary was taking a nap, and Chuck was on the phone.
Anne was in her father's house for less than fifteen minutes. "I can't believe that they don't care that I'm not spending Christmas with them."
"You know what they say. You can't pick your family," Erik said as he helped her into the car.
"I know. But sometimes, I wish that whoever was in charge of such things had given me a better family."
"Hey, before you get too morose, please remember that we're about to go spend time with an absolutely charming family where you'll get a world of attention from a couple of little kids."
Anne laughed. "I love the Rochester kids. They're delightful."
"Mark and Jane are pretty great too," Erik replied.
"I love Jane. She's so wonderful."
"But you don't like Mark?"
"I adore Mark," Anne sighed. "Sometimes, I envy Jane her happiness. She meets a strong, decisive man who has a bit of a mixed past, but then he gets his act together and gives her the most amazing life imaginable. And for a girl like me, that's a little rough to watch. Don't get me wrong; she deserves him. She very much so deserves him. But I want to know when I get a turn to have a guy who is even half as wonderful as Mark."
"Why is Mark so amazing?" Erik queried softly.
"I'm not sure how to explain it. But I think it's because of all the changes that he made when Adele came into his life. He became this really responsible man who was willing to be a loyal and devoted father, husband, and friend. He is so devoted to Jane. And he's an amazing father to Ava, Jacob, and Adele. You know just by being around him that they're his most important priority."
"And you're jealous of that?"
Anne nodded. "I shouldn't be, but I am. And if I'm telling you things that I shouldn't admit, I can also tell you that I'm jealous of Jen, Liz, Elinor, and Francesca."
"But you're not jealous of Kate, Emma, or Marianne?" Erik teased.
"No, I'm jealous of them too," she replied. "In fact, I'm very jealous of Marianne and Emma."
"Why are you so jealous?"
"I want what they have."
"You wish that I'd never gone to Belfast."
Anne shrugged. "I suppose that I wish that we had parted on better terms when you went to Belfast. But it's no use regretting the past; we can't change it. And it does me no good to be jealous of my friends."
Erik raised a hand. "Stop before you start moralizing like Liz's little sister. You deserve happiness. And you had a good point when you said that we should wait until after we were done with grad school before we made any major commitments to each other. But I couldn't see that then."
"You were hurt. I understand that. I didn't handle the situation in the best way possible."
"Anne, stop taking all the blame upon yourself. Not everything that has happened in our lives is your fault. And regardless of what has happened in the past, I want to look at the future. I told you what I wanted for Christmas. Can I have it?"
Tears slid down Anne's cheeks as she nodded.
Erik put a finger under Anne's chin so he could look her in the eye. "Is that a yes?"
She nodded again.
He grinned. "Marry me, Annabelle?"
Then she laughed. "Isn't it a bit too soon for that one? I've only just agreed that we can be together."
"As far as I'm concerned, it's about four and a half years too late. I should have found a different way of handling things four years ago."
"What else could you have done?"
"I didn't have to go to Belfast. I could have stayed here with you. We could have gotten married and started a family. We could have been like all of our friends. And instead, we're…"
"Alone on Christmas," Anne said, automatically finishing Erik's sentence.
He nodded. "If I hadn't gone to Belfast, we could have been together on Christmas with children. We could have gotten married and had a baby or two by now."
"Well, what's done is done, and we can't change the past."
"No, but we can change the future, Annabelle. We can get married and move forward in life."
Anne smiled. "I like that plan. I like that plan very much."
"Then marry me on New Year's Eve, and we can begin the new year free from the burdens of the past."
Anne laughed. "Erik, can we do that legally? I think we need a bit more time to arrange a license and all."
"Then marry me on Valentine's Day."
"That I will do, I promise."
Erik kissed her. "Now, let's go see the Rochesters. I suppose that they'll be happy for us after all."
"And you've gotten all you want for Christmas?"
"All I wanted and more," he replied.
"Then I have all that I have ever wanted."
Posted on: 2012-01-28
Anne and Erik had agreed on a Valentine's Day wedding. It would be held in Liz and Will Darcy's living room. "I know it's a bizarre location," Anne had told her fiancé. "But they live in that huge old house and we both know that they'll let us use it if we want."
"Liz is always saying that it's the perfect house for throwing a party," Erik had replied.
"And our wedding is going to be a party?"
"The greatest party of 2012," Erik told his fiancée. "We're getting married the Saturday before Valentine's Day. Your family isn't invited. All of our best friends are invited. And you've got the seven coolest bridesmaids ever."
Anne grinned. Of their own accord, Emma, Kate, Liz, Elinor, Marianne, Jen, and Francesca had decided that they would be Anne's bridesmaids. Anne had asked Elinor to be her matron of honor, a title to which the pregnant Mrs. Ferrars had readily assented. And Elinor's husband, Ed, was Erik's best man.
Anne had said that she didn't care what anything looked like; she just wanted to marry Erik. She was wearing Elinor's wedding dress. Because Anne had decided she didn't want anyone to have go out and buy a new dress just for her wedding, all of the bridesmaids were wearing black dresses they already owned.
"You're getting married," Elinor told Anne two days before the wedding. "Shouldn't you be a little more nervous?"
"Nah, I've loved Erik for years," Anne replied, spreading out across the couch. "This is the fulfillment of years of dreams."
"Honey, I had been in love with Ed for three years before we got married, but I was still nervous the week before my wedding."
"It's different. I don't know. But I know that all of my dreams are coming true and I have no reason to worry about my wedding day. I can't explain it, Elinor. I'm just not nervous."
Her friend smiled. "I guess I'm happy for you. And maybe I'm a little jealous. I was freaking out for about three days before my wedding."
"I never understood that. I'm just happy that I'm finally marrying Erik. I can't think of any reason why I would be nervous."
Elinor rested her hands on her pregnant belly. "You have a lifetime of happiness ahead of you. I know it."
"Hey, you're the expert in that area. You are ridiculously happy."
"Yeah, I married a poor philosophy professor who became completely estranged from his family so that he can be with me. And we're having a baby in April."
"And you're blissfully happy," Anne said.
Elinor smiled. "I never would have wanted Ed to break with his family over me, but I wouldn't trade our lives together for the world. I love being his wife."
"That's what I want with Erik," the bride-to-be told her. "I want to come home every day and know that I'm coming home to my husband and that he's mine and no one can ever take him away from me."
Elinor laughed. "That was the best part of my wedding day. We went home and I looked into those gorgeous pale blue eyes. And I knew then and there that we really are together until death parts us. And only death can part us. No more Lucy, no more crap from his family, nothing; it's just us against the world until the day we die."
Anne smiled. "He won't leave me ever again. We're getting everything we wanted for Christmas for the past four years and we're getting it every day of our lives."
Two days later, Anne walked down the makeshift aisle in Liz and Will's living room. No one gave her away, but she didn't care. The only person she would have wanted was Ed and he was busy being the best man.
And Erik was waiting for her by the fireplace with a smile and glowing eyes. Ed was grinning at her and Elinor looked like she was about to laugh. In fact, Anne thought she might start laughing from happiness.
She managed to make it through the ceremony without laughing, even after the minister said, "It is my pleasure to present to you for the first time Mr. and Mrs. Erik and Anne Wentworth."
She even managed to walk back up the aisle without laughing. But when they were out in the foyer, she doubled over laughing.
"What's this about?" Erik asked. "Do you think I look funny in this penguin suit?"
His wife shook her head. "Nothing's funny, Erik. It's just, I'm so happy that I think I could burst from it. I'm so happy."
He laughed and pulled her close. "You're mine, baby. You're mine forever. You're stuck with me until one of us kicks the bucket."
Anne laughed again. "And I wouldn't want it any other way."
"Good, because you're all I've ever wanted."
And then Anne laughed again. This time, her husband laughed with her.
The reception was beautiful. Ed and Elinor gave heartfelt toasts talking about the value of love, joy, and hope in Erik and Anne's relationship. "While this relationship has not been perfect or easy, these two people are incredibly committed to each other," Elinor said. "Their relationship is built on a mutual respect and trust that is inspiring to others."
"The path to love rarely easy," Ed said. " And these two have had a harder path than most. But it is in the journey that we find ourselves and find out what we are really made of. Anne and Erik's journey has lasted many years but now, they will travel together forever. They have lived their own lives and battled some incredible obstacles on their own. But now, they have each other. They will journey forward together."
"We're here today because of love," Erik said. "Anne and I are married because we love each other and we wish never to be parted from one another. We were separated from each other for over four years and those were the hardest, most painful years of our lives. We learned from that pain and those struggles. And it has made us better, stronger people. Now, we are together. Annabelle, I love you. I love you so much, and I cannot imagine my life without you."
"You're all I've ever wanted. Like most girls, I had a dream guy as a child. But you exceeded even my wildest dreams. You're all that I've ever wanted and more. When you asked me to marry you, you said that I was all you wanted for Christmas. Well, Erik, you're all that I want. I love you with all that I am, and you are all that I want, all that I could ever want."
And then her husband kissed her.
They didn't live happily ever after, but then no one really does; that's the stuff of fairy tales. And Anne and Erik had something that was better than a fairy tale; they had real life. They had three children-Beatrice, Sebastian, and Laura. They worked side-by-side at Kellynch College for many years. And they died within a month of one another at the age of 96.