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Welcome to Austenville, 3

June 08, 2020 11:29AM

Welcome to Austenville

I'm a little dazed that so many ppl didn't watch Once Upon a Time! It was a bit of a guilty pleasure/telenovela and some entire seasons were just cringey with way too many tasteless Disney tie-ins, but that might be the point. Why, why was I thinking that other people watched this?

And this timid voice in my head is like, "maybe ppl think this is a creative story because they don't know what original source you're lifting from?" And then this brash voice is all, "shut up and take a compliment." So thanks very much for the kind reviews.

Thus far, it's felt very Persuasion-y, but now we introduce the P&P and Emma parts, and you find out what Darcy does in Austenville.

3: Plotting the Second Act

Tripp cradled his second cup of coffee the next morning as he walked his route. He didn't run anymore -- what was the point of getting nowhere faster than other people? -- but he still covered the same ground every day. And he could drink coffee while walking, a serious improvement over running.

He slowed his steps on Main Street as he approached two other figures blocking his sidewalk. They were huddled close together, kissing, so they didn't take up much space but this town wasn't big on public displays of affection. People might hold hands but they didn't engage in full-frontal smooching in broad daylight. It was enough to merit a stare.

When the pair finally separated, Tripp saw that they were none other than Frederick Wentworth and Anne Elliott. Sure, she might be known as Kelly Lynch in Austenville, but that didn't change who she truly was. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, after all. At her core, Kelly was Anne Elliott, perpetually in love with Frederick Wentworth and unable to do anything about it. Tripp knew it, just as he knew how wrong it was, but he was the only one in town who seemed to know how everyone's stories were supposed to work out, and he had been branded as mentally unstable as a person could be without getting locked up. He was tolerated and condescended to, rather like a stray dog everyone fed scraps to yet nobody wanted to take home. No one ever believed his occasional ravings. Being taken seriously was just about as impossible as finding someone who knew who Jane Austen was, or as ridiculous as watching Fred Wentworth make out with Anne Elliott.

He blinked when he realized they had stopped to look at him. Then he shut his mouth which had been hanging open.

"Morning, Tripp. Are you going to have a good day today?" asked Wentworth, his hand still resting on Kelly's hip.

Tripp said the first thing that came to him: "A frabjous day!" It wasn't even a real word. Outbursts like that had him questioning his own sanity from time to time, but it fit the picture the other two had formed of him.

Wentworth whispered something to Kelly, kissed her a few more times, then got back into his car with a nod of farewell and drove off. Kelly waved at the departing brake lights and then went inside her store.

Tripp remained where he stood, trying to make sense of it. The residents of Austenville had been stuck in a never-changing cycle for years. The only new thing in town had been Mayor Darby's engagement to Dr. Singer, and Tripp was firmly convinced those nuptials spelled doom for the small town. As much as it was natural for Frederick Wentworth and Anne Elliott to kiss and make up, he had given up on actually seeing their reconciliation. What had possibly changed in the last day or two to upset the balance and knock those two back onto the path of their destiny?

He decided to visit the laundromat and find out.

Kelly was near the door, having not moved much since entering. When she saw Tripp come in, she looked away bashfully, then covered her burning cheeks and fought off a fit of giggles.

"I'm sorry you saw that, Tripp," she choked out. "You did see that, right?" It looked like she just realized she might be on the tail end of the most amazing dream ever.

"Oh yes, I got an eyeful," he assured her. " But how did it happen? I thought you two were ancient history."

Kelly giggled again. "Oh, it was the most random thing! I had gone to dinner with a new friend and we got to talking about ex-boyfriends. I told her the whole story about Fred and me, and all the while Fred was sitting in the booth right behind me! I had no idea he was there but, oh, how embarrassing!" She paused to press her hands to her flaming cheeks.

"Anyway, after we left the restaurant, he followed me here and we had a little heart to heart."

"You must have had a lot of ground to cover if you were still at it this morning," he observed but Kelly wouldn't reply. "And who is this new friend with a went-worthy ex? I can't imagine there's anybody in town you don't already know."

This was a topic in which Kelly felt safe speaking. "Her name is Alice Parks. She's only in town temp--"

"Alice Parks!" Tripp exclaimed, remembering her as the stranger from yesterday. "Where is she?"

"Now, Tripp, she's not from around here," Kelly warned him. "She's not used to your ways. I don't want you pestering her."

"Of course not. Scout’s honor!" Tripp meaninglessly promised. "Besides, how can I avoid pestering her if I don't know where she is to avoid her? If I wanted to stop somewhere for breakfast, should I avoid Longbourn, for instance, or Barton?" He tried to be clever but he was almost too excited to play it cool.

"Why don't you go to Sweet Nothings instead?" suggested Kelly.

Tripp nodded and showed himself out. He would just have to check both places.

He found her in the dining room at Longbourn, having breakfast for one at a table clearly meant for two. “We need to talk,” he said, dropping into the seat across from her.

She yelped in surprise and dropped her butter knife.

“Let me begin by admiring your powers of Persuasion” he said with a meaningful look.

“Wh-what do you mean?” she asked guiltily.

“I mean, I see you’ve met Anne Elliot.”

“Her name is Kelly Lynch,” said Alice, admitting too much.

“Yes, and people here call me Tripp. That doesn’t change who we are. And you know exactly what I’m talking about, so let’s not pretend otherwise.”

“You’re all characters from Austen’s novels. You're not real,” Alice stated. “None of you are.”

"Not real?" Tripp repeated, offended. He reached out and pinched her. She yelped. “That felt pretty real, didn’t it? I assure you, we’re as real as you are," he told her. "Do you even know who your author is?"

Alice opened her mouth to answer that she had no author when he stopped her. “No, don’t tell me. It’s irrelevant. The question is, Alice, can you help me save the town?”

He looked at her expectantly and sipped his coffee. Alice was saved from an immediate response by someone else barging into the room.

“Tripp Haber, you deranged vagrant,” growled a teenager, “I thought I smelled your stench. Get out of here before I tell Mom.” She stalked over to the sideboard and crammed a pastry into her mouth.

“Lydia Bennet, you worthless truant,” he shot back from the rim of his cup, “shouldn’t you be in school? It’s 8:30 at least. Norris will have your guts for garters.”

Lydia rolled her eyes and stomped out. A few seconds later they heard the front door open and slam shut.

Tripp turned his attention back to Alice. “Well, what's your answer?" he asked, beginning to tap his foot impatiently.

"What's wrong with the town?" she asked in response, stalling for time.

He scoffed at her failure to grasp the obvious. "What's wrong? What's wrong! Have you met the people in Austenville?"

"Yes? And they don't know who they are?" she guessed.

Tripp’s shoulders slumped in disappointment. "It doesn't matter if they knew or not, although knowing would make it easier. We all have to act out our stories and fulfill our destinies, and knowing their destinies certainly helps, but people are missing. Important people are missing. We've got Mrs. Bennet's four-and-twenty neighboring families. We have all those young people that Sir John Middleton invited to Barton for picnics and dances. We even have all the residents of Laura Place. But there are two people I cannot find, and their absence threatens the entire town. They are William Collins and Elizabeth Bennet."

Alice felt herself getting drawn into the story in spite of its ridiculousness. "But what can I do?"

"I myself am very curious to find out what you can do," Tripp admitted. "But there has to be a reason why you came here when no one else ever arrives. There has to be a reason why you were able to bring Fred and Kelly together, now. There has to be a reason why your car hit Nelly’s tree."

"How do you know about the tree?" she asked nervously.

"Because Jason Thorpe thinks keeping a secret means you have to speak in a whisper," he told her confidentially. "Don't worry. I'm not angry. Your car suffered the worst from the altercation. That seems fair. But it's obvious to me that you are meant to be here. And for what other reason than to stop the wedding?"

"Wedding? Wait. Who's getting married?" Alice was having trouble keeping pace with his rapidly changing thoughts. "I thought you wanted to find missing people."

He rolled his eyes. "The Singer-Darby wedding. It's next Saturday. And if the mayor marries Dr. Singer, there's no point in finding Elizabeth Bennet."

"Who--" she began, then stopped. She should be able to figure some of this out on her own. Darby had to be Fitzwilliam Darcy, and naturally he was the mayor of Austenville, but who was Dr. Singer?

"Caroline Bingley and Fitzwilliam Darcy," snapped Tripp when the silence went on too long. "You know Austen. You've read Pride and Prejudice. You know it would be catastrophic if those two wed. I don't think our town could survive it."

"You want me to break up a wedding?"

"Obviously. You spent a few hours with Kelly last night and suddenly Persuasion is on track. If you can meet Mayor Darby, who knows what might happen?"

Who knew, indeed? "Can you even arrange for me to see the mayor?" she asked. "I mean, it's not like you work at City Hall, right? The mayor is probably pretty busy and doesn't have spare time to waste on a random visitor who has already promised the cops to keep a low profile. And what can I possibly do to make him call off a wedding? I mean, with Persuasion, it's pretty obvious in retrospect what I should have done was exactly what I did, but what can I possibly do to make Darcy leave Caroline Bingley at the altar if there's no Elizabeth Bennet?"

At that Tripp leaned back in his chair and stared at the ceiling. It was odd watching him think quietly rather than dodging the verbal projections of his thoughts.

"All right," he said at last. "Let's have lunch and we can plot from there."

"Now?" She wasn't yet finished with breakfast.

He gave her a withering glare. "At noon, on the square, like sane people. I'll make a picnic. It will be the picture of normalcy. Make yourself presentable. And if we spy the mayor taking a midday stroll, I'll be sure to throw you in his path."

"And what about you?" Alice asked, grasping at tatters of self-esteem. "Will you make yourself presentable too?"

"What's wrong with me?" he said in all innocence.

"Really?" She wrinkled her nose. When Lydia had said she could smell him, she wasn't half wrong. And he was wearing the same clothes as yesterday, as probably the last few weeks. How was picnicking with a smelly, dirty, loud vagrant in front of City Hall an attempt to keep her head down?

"What does it matter when the world's going to end in two weeks?"

"I’m here now, so take a shower," she told him.


Alice spent the rest of the morning making phone calls and sending emails. She had already left her brother a stalker-worthy number of voicemails along with an epic email and he had yet to respond. She was getting worried about him but none of her friends were able to pick her up. The only thing that kept her from a full-blown panic was a curt email from one of Dean’s friends saying that her brother was fine, just in need of a wingman. Alice thought that was a strange reason to beg his sister to join him in Maine but lacking a competing explanation, what else could she think?

She also spoke with her insurance agent. The company was challenging Thorpe’s original estimate and the agent recommended she speak with the garage directly to resolve the conflict. Her agent was too busy to come up and work with her himself but he had a colleague in town who might act on his behalf.

"You have a representative in Austenville?" Alice asked, not really sure she believed it. How could the real world have a toehold in this place?

"Well, he's not exactly ours," came the voice over her phone. "He's unaffiliated, so we can use him." He gave her the address and she promised to find the guy after lunch.

By the time she walked to the city center, the pastries of the morning were a distant memory to her stomach and she was in the mood for lunch, and she could not imagine why she had entrusted the responsibility of procuring food to Tripp. She also couldn't believe that she had agreed to meet him, but at least they were in a public place. Should he do something truly weird, there would be witnesses. In the end, she was forced to conclude that he was not terribly crazy. He was still grieving for his sister and probably depressed, but if people thought he was harmful or dangerous, he wouldn't be out walking the streets. And he was the only person she had found so far who understood how odd this town was, peopled with fictional characters, and didn't make her feel crazy for wanting to talk about it.

She had some time to kill when she reached the green space so she meandered to the statue that looked over the government building. The plaque announced the man was General Mason Tilney, a local war hero. "Naturally," Alice sighed.

She had staked out a park bench and was sitting contentedly, watching people pass, when she finally spotted Tripp. He had showered and changed his clothes, but he was wearing what she could only describe as a costume. It looked like a track suit from his high school days; it still fit him, mostly, but he had grown taller since then and it was out of fashion. He was carrying one thing in each hand: a coffee cup, and a small brown paper bag that Alice desperately hoped contained a wad of cash so she could buy real food at one of the nearby restaurants.

"Happy?" he said as he sat down and handed her the bag.

"Yes?" she guessed. He had washed, and smelled of soap, so that was a big improvement. "But why are you wearing that… outfit?"

"Because I was otherwise out of clean clothes except for pajamas, and I can't imagine Officer Fred turning a blind eye to that. I threw everything in the washer and then forgot to move it to the dryer in time for our appointment. Plus, there's lunch," he said with a small gesture to the bag.

Alice was almost afraid to open it but he was going to do it for her if she didn't hurry up, so she held her breath and peeked.

"Eggs? Three eggs?" she counted. "Are they cooked or do I need to do more to them?"

"Of course I boiled them," he replied, indignant. "What else distracted me from the laundry? I was going to make egg salad but it turns out I don't have any other ingredients. And I didn't have time to run to the supermarket because I was busy doing laundry." His tone made it clear that this was all her fault.

Alice took out an egg and cracked it gently. She was unsure what calamity she most expected: that the egg was undercooked or just plain rotten. The egg, however, was perfectly done except for being completely plain.

"So what does Mayor Darby look like?" she said for a new topic.

Tripp shrugged and grabbed the bag from her. "Exactly like you'd expect: tall, dark, and handsome; old-money style; soft-spoken; hates crowds and public speaking. If you look at him for the first time and don't immediately swoon, either you’re just not into men or it's not Fitzgerald Darby."

Alice fought the urge to smile at his description. Perhaps someone was a little jealous.

"Does the mayor know he's a character?"

Tripp shrugged then shook his head. "I've never asked him but no one I've ever asked has admitted to knowing. And eventually I quit asking because it was making the wrong people nervous. And when you think about it, why would an entire town pretend not to know this sort of thing when they know it makes me agitated? I've been vocal enough. If anyone else had figured it out, they could easily have sought me out."

He handed the bag back to Alice. It contained nothing but shells. She sighed slightly, then cleared her throat. He had managed to bring coffee for himself, but had nothing for her. She was just about to say that she was going to dash over to one of the shops to buy a bottle of water when his face -- his entire body -- soured.

"What is it?" she asked in a moment of curiosity.

"Fred and Kelly," he growled. "Right behind us."

Alice peeked. Sure enough, it was Officer Wentworth and Kelly Lynch enjoying a much more photogenic and substantive picnic. They laughed and snuggled, drank bottles of juice, and even fed each other morsels of food. Alice thought it was cute, even romantic, but she could see it made Tripp uncomfortable.

"Wow, they're really making up for lost time," she commented, feeling that Tripp would appreciate some sympathy.

"It's disgusting," he declared. "Don't they realize that some of us are bachelors?"

Alice decided to distract him and asked him to identify other people in the park and milling about the shops. He obliged grumpily, eventually going so far as to point out who owned the various shops, but the mayor did not appear.

"So who are you in the novels?" Alice asked when the thought occurred to her.

"I’m filler in Sanditon."

"Sanditon?" she repeated. "But that novel was never finished." Alice had never bothered to read it.

"Are you implying I'm incomplete," he asked, his temper flaring, "that I am somehow not all there?"

Alice’s eyes grew wide. "No?" It seemed safer to lie.

He watched her carefully for a moment. "Very well," he continued. "I was a catalyst, much like you. I would flirt with the heroine, dance with her, be charming and nonthreatening, make the reader confused about who ends up with who, make the hero jealous enough to act. I live with my sister, in perpetuity. I don't actually get the girl, ever. That's why having to watch those two love birds --" he jerked his head in the direction of Fred and Kelly -- "go at it in public sticks in my craw."

Alice then kept him busy until the amorous picnickers had returned to work. When she saw that they were gone, she checked her watch and saw that it was after two o'clock.

She interrupted his latest character sketch to tell him that she needed to go. "I'm sorry we didn't see Mr. Darby but I've got to go and talk with Geoff from National Farmers about my car. Then I probably need to go to the garage and reason with Thorpe over his estimate. Maybe we can do this again. Next time I'll bring lunch."

"Why do you need to see Geoff?" he asked with intense interest.

"Because I can't afford to fix my car on my own, and I shouldn't have to. My insurance agent wants me to talk with a local agent. So who is Geoff, by the way, originally?"

"George Knightley," he replied.

"And he and Emma Woodhouse are..." she prompted.

"Related by marriage but not particularly fond of each other."

"Really?" asked Alice. The pair had always seemed like best friends in the book.

"They both excel in giving unsolicited advice. Emily can be really hands-on with the life-coaching. They had a major rift over the pizza place and haven't spoken to each other since."

"When was that?" Alice asked in spite of herself. She really needed to get going but she couldn't walk away.

"Five years ago, give or take." Tripp wasn't exactly sure time worked properly in Austenville but he had been nowhere else for comparison.

"But -" Alice sputtered. When did Mr. Knightley and Emma Woodhouse have a five year split? How was that even possible?

"I told you things were wrong here," Tripp reminded her. Quick as a flash he grabbed her wrist. "What do you say to fixing Geoff and Emily?"

Alice tried to free her wrist. "Aren't you worried that they'll end up like Officer Wentworth and Kelly, picnicking in the park?"

"Fred is a show off," said Tripp, loosening his hold until Alice could pull herself free. "I've played pickup basketball with him over the years, and he's skins every time. Geoff is more understated. He knows how to behave in public. So what do you say about Geoff and Emily?"

Alice was hesitant. "How would we do that?"

"Make him bring you to trivia night at Jennings’ bar tomorrow. If you are a catalyst like I am, that should be enough."

Do you know who your author is? (I have no idea who my author is, btw. Not enough magic or undead creatures or funny romps or iambic pentameter or international travel or spaceships for, um, just about anyone. Who writes boring slices of modern life?)

"he's skins every time" Something about Wentworth being the type of guy to whip his shirt off at the drop of a hat just seems fitting. Prove me wrong. (And if the phrase doesn't mean anything to you, Google "shirts versus skins".)

Welcome to Austenville, 3

NN SJune 08, 2020 11:29AM

Re: Welcome to Austenville, 3

Alicia MJune 08, 2020 10:49PM

Re: Welcome to Austenville, 3

Shannon KJune 08, 2020 02:38PM


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