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Welcome to Austenville, 4

June 12, 2020 11:25AM

Welcome to Austenville


4: The Second Catalysis



Geoff Knightley recognized her as soon as she poked her head into his office. "Alice Parks, right?" he said, rising to greet her. He was solidly in his forties, well-groomed, and dressed in a suit and tie.

"How do you know who I am?" she asked guardedly.

"Simple deduction," he answered with a disarming grin. "Your agent Matt called earlier and told me to expect you, and you don't look like anyone I know in town."

Hearing that made Alice feel foolishly paranoid and she went about making herself feel at ease in his company.

She shook his hand and took a seat, and they had a nice, boring chat about the extent of the damage to her car, what the insurance company was going to cover, and how much this was going to cost her, now and in the future.

"So I guess I need to take this over to the garage," she said at last, picking up a few sheets of paper from the desk.

"I've already sent a copy to Jason. He knows what he can get away with, at least with us, but he may try to convince you to pay for additional work at your own expense," he told Alice. He really had been busy! "You should still go over there and let him know you've talked with me and will agree only to these approved fixes. I've done a lot of business with Jason over the years and I've never been dissatisfied with his work, but he tends to go above and beyond if you let him, if you know what I mean."

Alice nodded. "He tried to sell me heated seats, and when I declined, he offered to heat my seat the old fashioned way." She laughed because the pick-up line was more pathetic than scary, but she didn't want to spend more time with him than necessary.

The anecdote made Mr. Knightley a little nervous on her behalf. "Would you feel better if I came with you and spoke to Jason myself?" he said. "He may not realize that he's making you uncomfortable."

She decided to accept the offer rather than refuse a helping hand, and he walked with her over to the garage. The two of them talked with Jason Thorpe who seemed to mind his manners better in front of a male witness.

The only part that got dicey was when Thorpe tried to get her to go to dinner with him. By then, it was 4:30 and Alice was starving, but she'd hide in her room at the Longbourn rather than accompany the mechanic to a restaurant.

She didn't need to invent an excuse, however, because Mr. Knightley stepped in. "Miss Parks is having dinner with me tonight," he announced. Alice tried to school her features so it didn't look like this was the first she had heard of it.

Thorpe asked where the two were going, which meant Alice could find out too.

"Kohls, of course," the older man answered smoothly. "I like to treat all my new clients to a meal there."

Later, when it was just the two of them, he apologized for interfering, but he could see that Thorpe’s personal interest was unwelcome to her, Alice’s disinterest was unperceived by Thorpe. "I hope you don't mind," he finished.

She decided the practical chivalry suited him, although it did make him feel more like one of her father's friends than someone she would know for his own sake.

"So dinner was a ruse?" she asked.

"Absolutely not!" he swore. "I realize you're not technically my client, but I still think of you as one. Are you hungry?"

Those were three magical words, reminding Alice that she hasn't eaten since breakfast if a hardboiled egg didn't count. "I'm starving," she answered. And if Tripp had wanted her to take a rain check for the next night at Jennings Bar, then he should have fed her a more substantial lunch earlier that day.

She headed directly to Longbourn to change into her one nice outfit and he soon brought his car to the front where she joined him after checking for messages from her brother. (One message: "@sea. Will call Fri”)

She was determined to enjoy the meal and -- whether it was the excellent and plentiful food, or the glass of wine that made her feel more mature than with a bottle of beer, or the lighting and conversation that made her forget she was talking with an old man -- it was surprisingly easy.

He drove her back to the bed and breakfast and left her with some kind parting words. It had not exactly been a date, it was too rooted in commerce for that, and the age difference was insurmountable, but it had been a nice evening.

She waved as his car drove away then moved to let herself into the foyer of the bed and breakfast.

“Do you know what day it is?” Tripp came from out of nowhere. He was angry, clearly, and the coffee would have spilled out of the cup in his hand had he not already drunk most of it. “I told you tomorrow. Tomorrow, not today! Now you've ruined it.”

Alice waited until her heart stopped thumping so loudly before she spoke. “It was just dinner,” she said.

“You don't get to date Mr. Knightley,” he told her. “That is Emily Woodhouse’s job, little Miss Doesn't Even Know Her Own Story.”

“You thought that was a date?” she asked incredulously. “He offered to feed me and I was starving because you gave me exactly one egg to eat for lunch. What was I supposed to do?”

“Tell him, 'Not tonight, I have a headache,’ and then get him to offer to take you out tomorrow,” he scolded. “I've already got Emily coming. What am I supposed to do all evening with her now?”

“For your information, Geoffrey is taking me to trivia night tomorrow,” she snapped back at him. “I sort of mentioned hearing about it over dinner and he invited me to go with him.”

At that piece of news, Tripp seemed to run out of argument. “You… you got him to come to Jennings tomorrow?” he asked in a normal -- albeit disbelieving -- tone.

“Yes, now if you don't mind, I'd like to get back to not being yelled at.” She turned to go.

“Wait, Alice.” He put a hand on her shoulder. “You're going out two nights in a row with the George Knightley. Are you sure you aren't falling in love with him?”

Alice wrinkled her nose in distaste. “Ew, Tripp, no. I love the original Mr. Knightley but it is a lot easier to forget how old he is on the printed page. He's practically my dad's age. Good night, Tripp. I'll see you tomorrow at Jennings,” she added to put an end to the conversation.

.o8o.

There was another text from her brother -- “Ur missing it” -- but nothing critical. She had a leisurely breakfast, a filling lunch, and an aimless stroll. She wanted to check on her car but worried that Thorpe would take it as encouragement. She sat on her bench in the town square and wondered at the stories of the passers-by. The experience was pleasantly Tripp-free.

Geoffrey picked her up at Longbourne and they walked the few blocks to the bar. Alice hadn't coordinated with Tripp beyond being there and she was relieved to find that the place was not large although there was a growing crowd.

They walked among the tables looking for two chairs when Alice caught sight of Tripp and the most attractive woman she had ever seen in person. Tripp looked much better than yesterday; not only did he look freshly showered and groomed but he was wearing clothes much more appropriate for the setting than a tank top and running shorts. He leaned toward the woman -- obviously Emma -- and made some comment. She smiled and shook her head. In that movement, she caught sight of Geoffrey and Alice.

“Geoffrey!” she exclaimed, reaching for his hand. “What are you doing here?”

It was short work from there to introductions to being invited to join them at their table. The invitation emphatically did not include an offer to join their team, however. Emily was too competitive to share the glory of winning.

The foursome made a fun group. Each had their strengths and Alice’s youth and relative inexperience were offset by the fact that she had just graduated and all sorts of useless facts were still floating around in her head. Geoffrey was still the most knowledgeable on their little team but at least she didn't embarrass herself.

It took no effort on her part but Alice noticed that Geoffrey and Emily gravitated towards each other. They had started with an awkward almost formality that slowly dissolved into an easy camaraderie. She caught Emily laughing loudly and genuinely to some stupid eye roll-worthy pun of Knightley’s and she looked at Tripp and smiled. They were doing it! They were bringing George Knightley and Emma Woodhouse together! Tripp winked back in acknowledgement.

During the break before the last round of questions, the two women slipped away to the restroom. As they stood in line awaiting their turn, Alice wracked her brain for something to say to further throw Emily at Geoffrey but it was the older woman who spoke first.

“I haven't seen Geoffrey in ages but it seems like he's really having fun tonight,” she observed.

“Yeah,” Alice agreed. “I'll have to take my parents to something like this the next time I visit them.” Before she could notice Emily’s moue, Alice asked, “So how long have you known Mr. Knightley?”

“All my life, of course,” she answered; “the curse of a small town is that everyone knows everyone. But we haven't really gotten together in years.”

“Why not?” pried Alice.

Emily sighed. “My friend Rita was dating a friend of Geoffrey’s and I thought this guy was a good rebound for Rita but not long-term boyfriend material. And then Robbie proposed, if you can believe it, and I convinced Rita to turn him down. And Geoffrey was mad at me for interfering.”

“And that was it?” concluded Alice.

“No,” Emily shook her head ruefully. “Robbie eventually made this grand romantic gesture and Rita married him. And they've been happily married ever since.”

“So why is Geoffrey still holding it against you? That seems pretty childish to me.”

“He isn't,” said Emily tightly.

Alice wrinkled her brow. “Then why are you?”

“I'm not,” Emily grit out and then claimed an open stall.

.o8o.

Back at the table, Emily was completely focused on the game, disconcertingly so. Upon winning, Emily congratulated herself and Tripp, she thanked Geoff warmly for the friendly competition, but her words to Alice were decidedly cooler. This frostiness continued as the game wrapped up and servers collected the game pads and empty glasses from the tables while settling accounts with everyone who was trying to leave.

When at last the foursome was ready to go, they all stood up and Geoffrey leaned in to Emily to quietly ask if everything was okay.

“I'm fine. It's fine,” she answered in a tired voice that maybe admitted she was not completely fine. “It's just… Can I talk with you? Privately?”

Geoffrey’s eyes lit up with greater concern. “Sure,” he began, then stopped as he looked at his not-quite date for the evening.

“I'll wait outside?” offered Alice.

“Nonsense!” said Tripp, draping his arm heavily across her shoulders. “I can walk a straight line from here to Longbourne. I'll escort you home.”

Tripp turned neatly, dragging Alice along with him. She started to protest but he snapped in her ear, “Shut up and keep walking, kid, or you'll ruin it.”

Alice grudgingly complied but she thought a lot of unpleasant things.

Halfway back to her bed and breakfast, he complimented her. “Nice work in there. I don't know what happened in the restroom, but it was exactly what needed to happen.”

Alice shrugged and threw his arm from her shoulders. “I think I accidentally called Geoffrey old and Emily childish.”

Tripp looked momentarily horrified. “Well, I suppose they are, if you have no tact and don't really know what you're talking about,” he agreed at last. “Now let's run back to Longbourne and hide before Knightley shows up. I want to spy on him.”

He did not actually want to set foot inside the bed and breakfast. “At this hour?” he asked, appalled, when Alice invited him in. “What would people think if they found out? No. We're hiding in the alley.” She didn't see how that was any better but, with that, he pulled her with him to a slim alley across the street between the laundromat and the pharmacy where they could keep watch on Knightley’s car.

Alice tried to start a conversation to pass the time but he shushed her repeatedly. Finally their waiting was rewarded as a sporty little convertible pulled into the spot next to Geoffrey’s. The engine turned off, and the car and its passengers just sat there.

The top was down and Alice strained to hear their conversation but she could only catch incomprehensible sounds on the night air.

The pantomime, however, was much easier to see. They talked, sometimes looking at each other, sometimes looking straight ahead. It all looked very serious and boring, and Alice wondered how much longer this would take. It probably wouldn't feel like it was taking forever if she was sitting down or if she could change position, but she was too afraid Emily would see the movement in her rearview mirror.

Geoffrey leaned in to say something earnest and mature, no doubt, and Emily turned sharply away. Tripp hissed quietly in disapproval at the rejection. After a moment, Geoffrey unfastened his seatbelt and got out of the car.

He hadn't even shut the door when Emily flew out of her seat, repentant.

“Geoffrey, wait!” she cried, hurrying over to him. “I'm sorry, I'm sorry --”

There was more to her apology but he caught her in his arms and she fell silent. Then he lowered his head until he kissed her, which was probably the best way to win an argument with Emily Woodhouse. Geoffrey wasn't a bad kisser, either, or so it looked to the spies in the alley.

“Whoa Nelly,” Alice whispered as the Knightley and Woodhouse Show took this amorous turn.

Tripp jabbed her in the ribs. It was a painfully effective way to shut her up.

“What was that for?” she hissed when she had recovered her breath.

“Just tell me when it's over,” he growled lowly, averting his eyes.

The couple in the street stayed there for a long time, holding each other, kissing, leaning against one car or the other. It went on for so long that even Alice began to feel like it was wrong to watch.

Alice was eventually saved from spending the night in the alley when another car came down the block. It first caught the lovers in its headlights, then the driver blew his horn and yelled encouragement as he drove past.

Emily and Geoffrey sprung apart at the noise, embarrassed to be caught like teenagers. Then Emily laughed and Geoffrey soon followed suit. It took them another fifteen minutes of long, drawn-out goodbyes but the show was effectively over.

At long last they got in their separate cars and drove away.

“You can open your eyes now,” Alice told Tripp. “They're gone.” She began to wiggle and stretch. How long had they been stuck in the alley watching as one couple got their lives back on track?

“Ugh. For the record, I am disgusted,” said Tripp. “One kiss -- yes, fine, whatever -- but that, that, that marathon was completely uncalled for. I expected better behavior out of Knightley. That's it. I'm calling it a night.”

He walked out of the alley and started down the sidewalk.

“Wait!” Alice scurried after him. “Where are you going? What's next?”

“I am going home,” he called over his shoulder. “And next I'm going to sleep. I'll meet you for lunch tomorrow at my park bench.”

With that he left her.
SubjectAuthorPosted

Welcome to Austenville, 4

NN SJune 12, 2020 11:25AM

Re: Welcome to Austenville, 4

Alicia MJune 14, 2020 03:53AM

Re: Welcome to Austenville, 4

Shannon KJune 13, 2020 01:56PM



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