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Welcome to Austenville, 2

June 05, 2020 11:21AM

Welcome to Austenville

Special thanks to Karen for the peer review. She had to wade through my iterative mess of an ending so you don't have to.

EvelynJean -- rest easy -- Tripp (crazy coffee guy) isn't Darcy. There's more about Darcy in Ch 3 and beyond so stay tuned.

2: The First Catalysis

While Alice and Officer Wentworth both knew a crime had been committed, Alice believed that it had been done to her while Officer Wentworth acted as if it had been done by her. He started asking a lot of incriminating questions like was the car really hers and had she been drinking earlier.

The officer got on the radio and spoke with Chief Brandon and arranged for a tow from Thorpe after all. He took a few pictures of the crash and wrote down Alice’s version of events.

"Ma'am, looking at this scene, would you like to amend your statement?" he asked when she was done.

"What? No," said Alice, defensively. "I left my car parked on the side of the road. I locked it too, I know I did. Someone else must have crashed it."

"How do you reckon someone broke into your car and drove it into a tree when it was out of gas?" Wentworth wondered. "And why break into your car if they didn't take anything?"

Alice tried to pinpoint the exact moment when her day had officially turned into a nightmare. Maybe she was dreaming. Maybe if she pinched herself she would wake up.

She did not wake up. Her day only got worse. The tow truck arrived and the driver had a long conversation with Wentworth that involved a lot of private jokes and references to people she didn't know. The worst part, however, was when he addressed her.

"You hit Tripp's sister's tree," the mechanic told her in a tone that clearly communicated that this was a very bad thing. "He is going to go crazy when he finds out," he warned her, although how one could tell the difference between normal crazy and hit-a-tree crazy was beyond her.

At the rate she was going, she'd still be in town when that happened.

She tried to call her brother on the ride back to the station but couldn't get any reception. She sat in stunned silence the rest of the way.

A drab mouse of a woman was in the front of the public safety office, talking to the chief, explaining that someone named Will had forgotten his paycheck and she was here to pick it up.

Brandon sighed his hound-dog sigh and fished an envelope out of a bank of cubbies. "This is the last time, Lois," he said. "Next time he'll have to come in himself. And what's wrong with direct deposit? His sister works at the bank, for pity's sake."

The woman promised to give him the message then scurried away. When she was gone Officer Wentworth couldn't help asking, "Did Price forget his check once again?"

The name clicked for Alice. "You have a Will Price working here?" she blurted out.

"Why?" Brandon asked. "Do you know him?"

Not exactly, thought Alice. "You've got a William Price, a Frederick Wentworth, and a Christopher Brandon? And all three of you work as police in Austenville?" She would admit to the possibility of meeting a real person who had the same name as a literary character, but not three of them all working together.

"Austenville has nearly two-dozen public safety officers," Brandon stressed, missing her point. "All of us are cross-trained in police, fire, and EMT duties."

"Can you please drop the act?" said Alice, trying not to raise her voice. "Can you please stop being the character for a couple minutes? Someone wrecked my car and I don't really want to deal with a bunch of LARPers. Is it even legal for you guys to run around with guns and police badges when you're not who you say you are?"

Alice wasn’t technically arrested, but she was detained after her outburst, which only made her more angry, at least temporarily. Which was why she ended up handcuffed in the interrogation room for an hour to "cool off."

After her time-out was officially over, another officer came to speak with her, someone she had yet to meet. He introduced himself as Officer Dennis and offered her a bottle of water before asking her to explain her behavior. The time in detention had been vital in helping Alice realize that she needed to get out of this town as quickly as possible, which meant that she had to get on the good side of the local law enforcement. She blamed her outburst on low blood sugar and the heat and just being overwhelmed by the damage to her car. She was the epitome of non-threatening, not exactly groveling but not above using men’s stereotypical interpretations of young women to her advantage. Officer Dennis nodded and took notes. He asked her again what had happened to her car and she repeated the same story she had given to Officer Wentworth.

Then he asked her how long she was going to be in town.

“I’ve got to get to my brother,” she said. “I won’t be here a moment longer than necessary. Please, just let me go and I promise to be good and keep my head down.”

That was enough. Austenville wasn’t Mayberry, but it was close enough.

Jason Thorpe at the garage told her he could get it fixed in a few days at first, but the longer she stood there and marvelled at his speed, the longer his estimate became, so that by the time she left, rolling her suitcase behind her, the car wouldn’t be ready for a week at the earliest. There were the parts to source, the insurance company to wrestle with, all the repairs to be made, and some additional work she no doubt had always wanted but had been unable to get before -- here he rattled off a list that included heated seats and a moonroof -- that was best to do now.

Alice interrupted him. "But I don't want any of that stuff," she said emphatically. "I need to get to my brother as soon as possible. I don't care about heated seats."

The mechanic looked at her pityingly, as if no one in her right mind would turn down such an offer. He tried to change her mind, flirting outrageously, but she stood firm, and when it became clear that Thorpe was going to keep suggesting unnecessary repairs, she told him, "No," and then claimed that she had some phone calls to make and left.

She tried to reach her brother again but there was no connection. She’d have to find a landline, but where? She was stuck in Austenville for the next seven days or so. She’d need a place to sleep cheaply, but first and foremost she needed to eat!

As she walked down a street, she caught sight of a familiar and welcome face. “Anne!” she exclaimed. “I’m so glad to see you.” And then she explained everything that had happened to her since the two parted ways earlier that day.

Anne Darby was suitably sympathetic. “Let’s get you something to eat,” she said, and directed Alice to the Sweet Nothings shop. The bells hanging on the door tinkled comfortingly and the smells beckoned her. The woman behind the counter smiled and welcomed them. Anne recommended the soup of the day, and Alice was sold.

The soup came with a heel of crusty bread and a milky coffee. Not having eaten since breakfast, Alice gobbled it down. She had just gone back to the counter to pick out a dessert when the bells jingled and another customer rushed in. Alice flinched, expecting it to be the town vagrant come to harass her once more, but it was only a hurried woman not much older than Alice herself.

She spoke her greetings to Jenny behind the counter who told the customer -- Kelly was her name -- that the usual was ready to pick up. Jenny then handed over a paper bag and Kelly paid and walked out, calling out her thanks and goodbyes as she went. It all happened so fast that Alice wasn’t even sure that Kelly had noticed anyone else was in the shop.

Jenny chatted amiably with them, and Alice thought the barista was just the sort of person that Alice couldn’t stand. Jenny was tall and blonde, pretty and friendly. She was the kind of woman that guys couldn’t resist, and if Alice had a boyfriend she’d be in constant fear that he would leave her for an upgrade.

Jenny made the appropriate noises of commiseration upon hearing Alice’s story. Anne then spoke up and asked if Jenny would bring Alice to Longbourn to ask for a room. “I’d bring her there myself but I know Agnes would charge double for the room. If you ask, I’m sure Alice will get a discounted rate.”

Naturally Jenny agreed. She escorted the other two women to the front door, flipped a sign that said, “We’ll be right back!” and locked the door behind her. Here Anne Darby announced she needed to get going. She had a family dinner to get to.

Alice thanked her profusely then let her go. She turned back to Jenny and smiled encouragingly.

Jenny brought her to the Longbourne and spoke with Agnes Bennet, saying just what Mrs. Bennet needed to hear to consider Alice a good friend, and any friend of Jenny Mason was sure to be a good guest at Austenville’s best bed and breakfast. Of course, given that Alice would be staying for a whole week and that the tourist season wasn’t yet started, she could certainly give Alice a discount and a room with an ensuite.

Alice took her key and went to her room. She collapsed on the bed and just lay there for a moment. Agnes Bennet was exactly the sort of person Alice imagined she would be based on her literary namesake. The woman was exhausting even in small doses, and that was on top of all the other events of the day. Alice wanted nothing more than to change into her pajamas and pull the covers over her head, trusting that tomorrow couldn’t be as bad as today.

However, when Alice opened her suitcase, she discovered that her fancy shampoo had leaked out of its bottle and all over her clothes. She might be able to rinse them out in the tub, but they wouldn’t be dry in time to wear, not tonight, not tomorrow morning.

She groaned, and groaned again more loudly. Then she zipped up her bag and wheeled it back down the hall, past the front desk, and out again onto the street where she pointed her steps toward the laundromat.

The bright sign of Lynch Cleaners welcomed her and Alice recognized the attendant as the woman who had picked up her lunch in a flash at Sweet Nothings. Kelly was very helpful, and not as stunningly gorgeous as Jenny, so Alice took an immediate liking to her. After dumping everything into a washer and starting the cycle, she sat back and started to chat with Kelly.

Kelly’s story was small-town boring but eventually became recognizable. Her grandparents had bought the laundromat. Her dad had added the dry cleaning service. Kelly was in college when her mother died. She took a semester off to recover from the grief, then decided to stay home to look after the laundry when it became clear that her father didn’t have a head for business. Kelly had hoped her younger sister would join her at the laundromat, but Jill didn’t want any part of it. She had used getting an education as her initial excuse to get out of putting in a full week’s work, then wedding planning, then being a newlywed. When Jill became pregnant, she announced she was quitting for good. By then, Walt Lynch had remarried a woman named Elise who was only five years older than Kelly. Unlike Anne’s mother, Elise had no interest in something as mundane as a laundry. She and Walt dumped the business completely onto Kelly although they -- and Jill -- still expected a portion of the profits and were not above reaching their hands directly into the till on their way to dinner. Boyfriends were noticeably absent from Kelly’s own story.

Kelly had even taken Alice to the back of the store where the two scrubbed the suds from the inside of Alice’s suitcase. After having transferred the clothes to the dryer, Alice sat back and felt her stomach grumble. The soup had only been two hours ago, but it was time for dinner.

“Do you mind if I pop out to get a bite to eat?” she asked.

“Mind if I come with you?” Kelly asked.


Martin’s Pizzeria had an amazing fig and onion pizza, and the medium thin crust was the perfect size for the two of them. A few beer bottles sat between them, the laundry was forgotten, and the talk turned to family.

“I really need to call my brother, but I can’t get a signal here,” Alice complained. “Have you never heard of cell towers in Austenville?”

“Oh, we use the city-wide wifi. Here, give me your phone,” said Kelly. Alice handed over the device and Kelly went into the settings. When she handed back the phone, Alice finally had a signal.

Alice gushed her thanks and spent a few moments checking her messages. Dean had called a few times, and sent a few texts: “What’s your ETA?” “When will you get here?” “Where are you?!” “CALL! ME!! ASAP!!!”

Alice slumped in her booth. “This is not good," she stated the obvious and showed the screen to Kelly.

"He's starting to sound like my father," frowned Kelly, "except every text he's ever sent me sounds like the world is about to end unless I drop everything to handle his problems. What happened to your brother?"

Alice shrugged. "That's the worst part: I don't know. He wouldn't tell me why, just told me to get to Maine by this afternoon. This isn't like him."

"Is there anyone else you can call to pick you up and take you to him?" suggested Kelly. "Like a friend in the area or a boyfriend?"

"My friends are all in D.C. And there's no boyfriend," said Alice. "None since freshman year." She couldn't keep the bitterness from her voice which earned her an inquiring look. Kelly didn't want to pry, but if Alice was in a talkative mood, she wasn't going to refuse to listen.

Alice rolled her eyes. "Okay. So I had a boyfriend in high school. We got accepted to different colleges; he was going to the west coast, I stayed on the east coast. We tried to make the long-distance relationship work, but it didn't. I mean, yes, it did at first. Christmas break was great. But he decided to stay put for Spring break; he said the airfare was ‘too expensive.’” She wagged her fingers in the air to call attention to the lie. “I mean, I'm sure it was, but I could sense him pulling away. When we first started college, we'd email or text each other a few times a day and phone each other every weekend. But by March, it would take him a week to return my emails, he never replied to my texts, and whenever I suggested we have a call, he pointed out the time difference and said he couldn't do it. I felt like I was turning into a clingy girlfriend, and nobody likes that. Clingy girlfriends have a way of morphing into crazy ex-girlfriends. But we were so far apart. What were my options?"

"What did you do?" asked Kelly.

"I asked him if he was happy with our relationship," Alice said. "I was trying to be subtle but it was like a dam broke. He said no, he wasn't happy, hadn’t been for months, and he was so relieved I felt the same way. He had been dreading coming home this summer just to break up with me, but since I had brought it up, why wait? I never saw him again." She drank a swallow of beer. "I found out later that he had been seeing someone since just after winter break. He’d told her that we had broken up at Christmas. Moral of the story: no more long-distance relationships."

Kelly shook her head. "There's a number of lessons to learn from that story." In her opinion, it wasn't the distance that mattered.

Alice then asked for Kelly's heartbreak story. After all, it was only fair to share.

"What makes you think I have a story?" Kelly squirmed in her seat.

"Everyone has a story," Alice remarked.

Kelly sighed and traced patterns on the tabletop. "Well, I suppose it’s like yours. I had a high school boyfriend and it ended poorly," she summarized. "He asked me to the winter formal our senior year and from then on we were inseparable. And then we graduated, and right after commencement he…" Her voice trailed off to a whisper. "He asked me to marry him."

"He did what?" Alice yelped.

"Keep your voice down," Kelly shushed her.

"He asked you to marry him when you were both 18 years old?" Alice marvelled, trying to be quiet. "What century did you graduate in?" Seeing the hurt look in Kelly's face brought Alice down quickly. "I'm sorry," she said. "It's just, who does that?"

"Don't worry. Your reaction was actually a lot calmer and nicer than when I told my parents. They were adamantly against it. They were convinced we were too young for anything so serious and final. They had a lot of compelling arguments against it. In the end, I turned him down. I wasn’t ready for marriage yet. I didn’t want to lose him, but I couldn’t accept him. He didn't take it well. It was all or nothing with him. He took my no as a complete rejection, joined the military, and was gone before Fourth of July." There was disappointment in her voice rather than a grudge against ill-treatment.

"And you never saw him again?" prompted Alice.

Kelly laughed painfully. "I wish it was that easy. No, he moved back home when his tour was up. The first thing he did was get a serious girlfriend -- someone I knew, naturally; the curse of a small town. For a while they lived together. Everyone thought they'd get married but then they broke it off after a few years and she recently married someone else."

"He sounds like a jerk," Alice tried to commiserate.

"He's not," Kelly corrected her quickly. "He was my best friend, and I still miss him even though I see him all the time." She frowned at her plate. “We weren’t together for very long and we had already split up, but when Mom died, he was the one I wanted to talk to. Of course I didn’t know how to get in touch with him. And after that, it seemed too late. I still love him, if you can imagine that, not that it does me any good. Not that it ever will.”

The two fell silent for so long that the waitress brought their check. Kelly grabbed it before Alice could reach for it. “My treat,” she announced.

They argued back and forth but Kelly didn’t back down. They finally settled it that Alice would handle the tip. Kelly took the check to the cash register while Alice stayed behind to place a few bills for the waitress and gather her things. As she stood up, she thought she recognized a familiar silhouette in the booth next to hers. She leaned over for a better look.

“Officer Wentworth?” she piped up.

A guilty, trapped look flashed over his face before being replaced by his typical steely glare. “Move along, Miss Parks. You didn’t see me here.”

“Y-yes sir,” she said obediently and went to find Kelly. Was Officer Wentworth keeping an eye on her to make sure she didn’t get into any more trouble? Would he be hovering ominously in the background during her entire weeklong stay?

The walk back to the laundromat was short and Alice made quick work of pulling her clothes out of the dryer and dumping them into her suitcase. She was just saying her goodbyes to Kelly and thanking her for a surprisingly pleasant evening when Officer Wentworth walked in.

“Officer Wentworth,” Alice said familiarly before thinking better of greeting him after their last conversation in the restaurant. Kelly was no better and stood there silent and blushing.

Wentworth first fixed his glare on Kelly, then Alice. “Good night, Miss Parks,” he said dismissively.

Alice glanced at Kelly for guidance. If her friend didn’t want to be alone with the cop, Alice would find a way to stay.

Kelly wobbled a nod. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Alice,” she said reassuringly.

Feeling as if she was making a mistake, Alice wheeled her suitcase out of the laundromat. It was only later, in her rented room as she was folding her clothes neatly, that she nearly cried out at the discovery. “Kelly Lynch!” she exclaimed. “Kellynch! That was Anne Elliot.”

Welcome to Austenville, 2

NN SJune 05, 2020 11:21AM

Re: Welcome to Austenville, 2

Shannon KJune 08, 2020 02:26PM

Wrong Name

BiancaJune 07, 2020 03:03AM

Re: Welcome to Austenville, 2

Ariadne not logged inJune 06, 2020 05:37AM

Re: Welcome to Austenville, 2

Alicia MJune 05, 2020 09:32PM

Re: Welcome to Austenville, 2

EvelynJeanJune 05, 2020 08:18PM

Re: Welcome to Austenville, 2

Mari A.June 05, 2020 02:58PM

Re: Welcome to Austenville, 2

LiseJune 07, 2020 02:04PM


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