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Welcome to Austenville, 5

June 15, 2020 11:41AM

Welcome to Austenville

Alicia, yes, Alice's reactions are not exactly the most mature but since he's double her age and destined for Emma/Emily, it's probably for the best.

Shannon, no new happy couples this chapter, but I'm getting them closer. I hope everyone likes Austenville's Bingley and Darcy.

5: Meeting the Mayor

Alice arrived early with a bagged sandwich and chips and settled herself on the bench to watch life in Austenville.

Kelly was having another picnic lunch with Officer Fred in the shade of General Tilney’s statue. At the cafe across the square, Emily and Geoffrey sat at a little table and ate al fresco. Alice tried to imagine Tripp’s reaction to the entire city center filled with loving couples eating and snuggling.

As if conjured by her thoughts, Tripp dropped heavily next to her and grabbed the bag of food from her hands. Before she could form a coherent protest, he pulled out the sandwich and took a bite of it.

She stared, wide eyed with shock and anger, while he chewed. “Thank you,” he murmured between bites.

“What is wrong with you?” she demanded. “That's my lunch!”

“I said, ‘thank you,’" he reminded her with a mouthful of crumbs. He handed back the bag and told her she could finish the chips. “Besides,” he pointed out, “I brought lunch last time. You owe me. You even said so.”

Alice was too incensed to argue. She would have stalked off to find more food had Tripp not asked her if she was ready for the next challenge.

“Does it involve me eating lunch?” she sulked.

“Don't be daft,” he told her. “We're on a mission. You've got to focus: we have a wedding to ruin, a woman to find, and a town to save.”

Alice didn't think clearly on an empty stomach, or politely either. “So what's next? We go door to door asking for Elizabeth?”

“That obviously won't work,” he said from the vantage point of having already eaten. “Nelly tried that years ago. Look what it got her. Tackling the problem head-on is not always the safest course. We need to sneak up on it from behind and waylay it.”

Alice remembered that his sister had died. It sobered and softened her. “Then we just help people fall in love with their soul mates? If we get a critical mass of romance then Elizabeth will appear?”

Tripp didn't answer. He was thinking of other things.

Alice sighed. In the past three days she had rescued characters from Persuasion and Emma. She was still no closer to knowing what had happened to Elizabeth Bennet, but there had to be plenty of romantic couples in need of a catalyst.

“What about Northanger Abbey?” she suggested.

“They're not ready yet,” said Tripp dismissively. “Tilney won't be home from college for a few weeks and Catherine Morland --” he shuddered at the thought. “Catherine is a high school sophomore, in a totally Goth phase, and insists that everyone calls her ‘Trinity’.”

Alice found herself agreeing with Tripp on that idea. “Well, what about Mansfield Park?”

“Eddie Bertram is already married to Marissa and works for his dad. He's much too straight-laced to start anything with Lois Price.”

Alice remembered Lois as the mousy bank teller she had met in the public safety office. “Well, at least her name isn't Fanny in this world,” she opined.

“Really?” Tripp doubted her. “You really think it was better for her, coming from a poor family, to be saddled with the nickname ‘Lowest Price’? Were you home-schooled that you didn't have to endure playground taunts?”

Alice didn't know what annoyed her more -- teasing children or Tripp. “Fine, then! You pick the couple.”

"Jane Bennet and Charles Bingley,” he said without a pause for thought. “Putting those two on the right path should also bring us closer to finding Jane’s sister Elizabeth.”

“Who's Jane Bennet in Austenville?” Alice asked after failing to think of a caustic retort.

“You've met her,” said Tripp. “Jenny Mason, from Sweet Nothings.”

Alice suddenly realized that Jenny the barista was the perfect, most obvious Jane Bennet. “So who is Bingley then? If Darcy's the mayor, does Bingley also work at City Hall?”

He eyed her skeptically. “You're not secretly a bigot, are you?”

“Is Bingley black?” she guessed. She didn't think interracial dating was a big deal but she had not noticed any people of color in town. But that might be because Jane Austen had hardly met with any, or it might be because this was a small town in New England. Maybe an interracial couple would be quite shocking for this little town.

Tripp scoffed at the notion. “Have you read a more blonde person in your life? No, Charles Bingley isn't black. She is as pasty white as you are and she is secretly a lesbian.”

Alice thought that she was progressive but this still took some time to wrap her head around. “Charles Bingley is a woman?” she said.

Tripp nodded. “Her name is Charlotte Singer but she goes by Lottie. She and Darby’s fiancée are twins; not identical but they look it.”

“And she's secretly attracted to women?”

Now he looked annoyed. “How else does she fall in love with Jenny?”

“And Jenny's also secretly gay?” She felt stupid for asking.

“No. Jenny's bi. Everybody knows that,” he told her. “She came out, like, five years ago. It's old news.”

Alice gritted her teeth. “But nobody knows Lottie is gay?”

“The curse of the small town is that everybody knows everybody else, but it doesn't naturally follow that they know everything about everyone,” he lectured, as if he hadn't just told her that the whole town already knew about Jenny. “It's hardly common knowledge that Lottie plays for the other team, but perhaps her family knows. She may have even confided in the mayor for all I know.”

Something Tripp said struck her as odd or important. “What did you say?” she asked, trying to replay his words.

“I said --“ he leaned forward to shout clearly at her -- “are you deaf?”

In her anger she shoved him so hard he nearly flew off the bench, falling on the ground and almost tripping two women who were innocently walking through the public green space.

Alice was momentarily frozen with mortification and dread. The two women stared down at Tripp, both alike enough in appearance that they could be sisters but one wore a look of aggrieved affront while the other looked genuinely concerned.

“Oh my goodness!” said the kind-looking one. “Tripp, are you alright?”

She bent down to help him as he was already springing to his feet.

Alice dashed over from the bench, achingly apologetic. “I am so sorry,” she began.

“Never mind,” said the one who looked royally displeased. “We're all used to Tripp’s eccentricities.” She glared at him, not even looking at Alice.

“The curse of a small town,” Alice said with a shaky grin. Tripp had said those exact words. So had Anne Elliot and Emma Woodhouse. It was impossible that this place could exist, created from literary works 200 years old, but how else to explain it other than magic, or a curse?

The critical woman looked at her for the first time and Alice fought the urge to flinch.

“I've always thought of it as a blessing, living in a small town, to be so close-knit,” said the other sister before Alice could hear something rude or condescending. “We all know each other, and we all take care of each other. Of course, a big city can be quite fun with something to see and do at all hours, and I've always found lots of friendly people wherever I go, but my heart belongs in the small town.”

As if Alice couldn't guess who this was, the woman cocked her head to one side and looked Alice up and down. “I don't believe we've met before,” she said, extending her hand. “I'm Lottie Singer. Welcome to Austenville”

Alice shook hands with Bingley and introduced herself.

“Ah, yes,” Lottie nodded, “the girl with car trouble. Chris in public safety told me about you.”

Dr. Carol Singer listened intently with no interest in meeting Alice herself. “What are you talking about?” she asked her sister. “What car trouble? Who is this? When did she get here? Why didn't anyone tell me?”

Alice thought it was a little past creepy that Dr Carol expected to know so much, but Lottie just laughed. “Come on, Sis! You're planning the wedding of the century. You've got more important things to think about.”

Without waiting for a riposte, Lottie turned back to Alice. “All things considered, we hope you’re enjoying your stay here.”

Alice’s head was nearly spinning from the change in temperature between the frostiness of one sister and the warmth of the other. She nodded mutely before finding the words to reply. “It's actually been a lot better than I thought it would be. It'll be a shame when I can leave but my brother needs me to come to Maine.”

“Well, maybe you and your brother can come back once you're done with Maine,” suggested Lottie. “Summer in Austenville is the best.”

“There's not going to be a summer in Austenville this year,” Tripp said suddenly. “There's never a summer here.”

“And how are you doing, Tripp?” asked the doctor. “You have skipped your last few appointments.”

“Don't worry about me. I've been taking my pills,” he sulked.

“Still,” Dr. Carol said, “I'd like to see you again.”

Tripp snorted and rolled his eyes. “What would the mayor say?”

Carol Singer glared at him, but she hadn't really stopped glaring since Alice met her. She slipped a fashionable and commodious tote bag off her shoulder and gave it to Lottie. She then pulled a toy pinwheel out of her designer purse. It was red and white and shiny. She blew on it and the pinwheel began to spin. The colors swirled and flashed in the afternoon sun.

Alice could barely look away. She glanced at Tripp who was mesmerized by the toy; even Lottie found it fascinating.

“Tripp, why don't you come with me right now?” suggested the doctor. “You can tell me all about how you've been keeping yourself the last month.”

His upper lip curled in a sneer but he couldn't say no.

“Can you take my wedding bag to Gerry while I take care of this?” Carol quietly asked her sister. “Tell him no peeking. And you can get to know Miss Parks better.” She smiled at Alice but it didn't reach her eyes. “Come along now,” she said to Tripp.

He followed behind her sullenly but kept his eyes on the spinning pinwheel. She led him away like the pied piper.

When they were gone, Lottie shrugged and sighed. “I hate that toy,” she said quietly.

“Is he going to be okay?” asked Alice belatedly.

Lottie sighed again. “He will be. He just needs a little help and understanding. As I said, we look after each other in a small town. Put him in a big city and he'd be homeless within a week.”

“He went off when his sister died?” Alice repeated what she had been told.

“He was always a little off, to be honest, but it was more manageable before Nelly died. She could keep him in line better than anyone else.”

Lottie hefted the tote bag. “I've got to take this to City Hall,” she said. “You're welcome to come with if you want, but don't feel obligated.”

Alice didn't want to stay with Lottie to thwart Carol’s request, but she had to stay close enough to bring Lottie and Jenny together. She agreed for lack of a cleverer thing to do.


Lottie kept up a running commentary on the walk, going over the history of Austenville and some of the buildings and families. She led Alice up the steps and through a maze of hallways before knocking on a door that belonged to Gail Reynolds -- naturally, thought Alice -- and introducing the two.

“I've got to give this to Gerry,” said Lottie to the administrative assistant. “Is he in, or can I just dump it in his office?”

“He's in” Mrs. Reynolds said with a jerk of her head. “And he just got off the phone with Councilwoman Ferris. She was trying to get a job for her son Rory.”

“But Rory doesn't want to work for the city,” Lottie pointed out.

“That hardly matters to his mother,” came the tart reply. “Not after she heard about Councilman Tilney’s son.”

“But why did you let her talk to him? You know he can't stand her. She should be talking with me anyway; I'm the city manager.”

“She didn't go through me,” Mrs. Reynolds defended herself. “Someone gave Edna his cell phone number, and I'll let you guess whether or not I blame your sister.”

Lottie grimaced. “Why don't you sit out here while I drop this off?” she offered to Alice. “He's not typically good with first impressions and a call from Edna Ferris won't improve his disposition.”

Alice sat on an uncomfortable sofa and waited while Mrs. Reynolds returned to her computer screen. They could clearly hear the conversation through the open door as Lottie greeted the mayor and gave him the tote bag filled with wedding plans.

“Carol said to tell you not to peek,” she added.

“Why on earth would she think I'd want to do that?” he grumbled back. Unable to swoon properly at the sound of his voice, Alice still found herself sinking lower into the couch cushions; if that wasn't Fitzwilliam Darcy, none of this made any sense. “I should never have agreed to this mess.”

“I'm sure things will return to normal after the wedding,” soothed Lottie. “You know she just wants it to go perfectly. You're both obsessed with details, you know.”

There was an ominous silence then Lottie laughed at him.

“I gotta go,” she said. “I'm giving an impromptu tour but I'll call Edna when I'm done.”

“Who needs a tour?” he wondered.

“Alice Parks,” answered Lottie. “She's the one whose car hit Nelly's tree.”

“The idiot college student who can't drive?” He was not impressed.

“Okay, (A) her official statement is that she left her car when it ran out of gas; (B ) Thorpe detected signs of tampering with the ignition, and the driver’s door lock is broken; (C) I've met her and she doesn't have any bruises or cuts on her face and arms from being in an accident; and (D),” Lottie concluded, “she's in the next room and can hear you.”

Alice could barely hear him groaning in embarrassment over the sound of her own furious blushing.

“Just sit tight,” Lottie said. “I've already warned her that you're not immediately likeable. Let me clean this up. Besides, you know what happened in California --”

Whatever Lottie was referring to made a deep impression on the mayor. Alice could hear him scrambling to get up and move. She saw his head poke out of his office and look around. Again she felt herself sinking deeper into the cushions, he was just that attractive.

His natural beauty was momentarily enhanced by the look of hopeful expectation on his face before he saw Alice and his face betrayed a crushing disappointment. He muttered an inconsequential apology then backed up and tried to shut the door.

Lottie intercepted him and pushed him into the waiting room. At a certain point, Gerry Darby needed to clean up his own messes.

He muttered another apology and extended his hand. “Hello Miss Parks. I'm Mayor Fitzgerald Darby. Welcome to Austenville.”

Alice didn't get up -- her knees were a little weak -- but she did shake hands with him and gush an incomprehensible, “You too,” before he excused himself and retreated into his office. She distinctly heard him lock the door.

“So that was Gerry,” said Lottie with a small flourish of her hands. “Family and money aside, he wouldn't get half as far if he wasn't so good looking.” She had recognized Alice’s reaction for what it was. “Who knows what will happen when he marries my sister and is off the market for good? Are you ready for the most epic tour you've ever been on? I don't want to call Councilwoman Ferris right now.”

Welcome to Austenville, 5

NN SJune 15, 2020 11:41AM

Re: Welcome to Austenville, 5

Alicia MJune 16, 2020 08:52PM

Re: Welcome to Austenville, 5

MichaJune 16, 2020 06:37AM


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