Thursday, December 29, 2016

Pride and Prejudice and Psychics - A Little Taste of NaNoWriMo 2016

So for fun, and because I'm trying to be a little braver heading into the New Year, I thought I'd post what I wrote for National Novel Writing Month back in November. As I've mentioned, I didn't finish. (I wrote a little over 17,000 words, a little short of the goal of 50,000) Time got away from me, and to be honest I was struck with writer's block and wasn't sure where the story should go next. 

As a refresher or for any new readers out there, both Emily over at The Gnoming Librarian and I did retellings of Pride and Prejudice for NaNo 2016. Hers was an intergalactic tale, Pride and Prejudice in Space! There are space pirates and everything! And she finished hers! 

Mine is a southern Gothic version, a little bit Practical Magic, a little bit Sweet Home Alabama. A reminder that it has not been edited and is "rated PG-13(ish).....So for your enjoyment (or to possibly bore you to tears) here are the first five-ish chapters of Pride and Prejudice and Psychics. 

Chapter One: Truths Universally Acknowledged

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man or woman in want of a good fortune-telling, must be in want of a psychic. And if you are seeking such a psychic in the little town of Meryton, South Carolina, you should take a right on London Drive about half a mile up the street from the old Longborne Mill, and approach the third house on the left. You will know it when you see it by the bright blue door and the neon "Palm Readings - $5" sign flickering in the window.                                                                                                      
You should keep in mind though that it is also a truth universally acknowledged that a home full of women, especially when they only have one bathroom, will most definitely be chaotic in the morning. This is not the opportune time to approach said home. If you are expecting a fully dressed and caffeinated person to open the bright blue door, please wait until at least nine in the morning. Unless of course you’d rather meet a psycho than a psychic, then by all means, go ahead.

If you were such an individual – you know, seeking to have your fortune told – and you were to walk up the rickety wooden stairs toward the bright blue door on an average day (as average as it gets in the Bennet household) you might witness something resembling the following:

Mrs. Doris Gardiner Bennet, who was most definitely once beautiful, though the years have added a few dozen pounds, laugh lines, and gray streaks sitting at a small round table in the kitchen, drinking her second cup of coffee, and repeatedly shuffling her favorite Tarot deck, then laying them out in a four-card spread before her. Her youngest daughters, Natalie and Olivia, stuffing their lunches of yogurt, cheese, and nuts into their bookbags along with their books and rushing to the bus stop. Her oldest daughter, Joanie, a friendly young woman who most closely resembles her mother’s beauty queen looks, dressed in a waitress uniform of black shorts, white t-shirt, and green apron, kissing her toddler   quickly on the forehead before scurrying out the door to make her shift at the Meryton Café on time.  And Eliza, the second oldest and most level headed daughter, zooming airplanes full of baby food into her niece, Katie’s, defiant mouth, watering the plants, or finishing up the dishes.

But today was not an average day. Today was the day that the young, wealthy Darcy boy and his family returned to their home Netherfield just a few miles from their house, and Mrs. Bennet was freaking out.

“Eliza,” Mrs. Bennet screeched from the bathroom where Olivia was helping her with her makeup, while she finished teasing her hair to perfection and twisting it into bobby pins, “Is the potato salad ready?”

“Yes, Ma!” Eliza responded back from the kitchen on the other side of the house, after answering the same question for the third time that morning.

“What about the apple pie?” Mrs. Bennet squelched back to the dismay of Olivia who was in the midst of applying lip liner and now had to start all over unless Mrs. Bennet wanted to visit the Darcy’s in a Joker costume.

“Yes, Ma!” Eliza replied, “And the lasagna, cornbread, carrot cake, and tea! It’s all packed and ready to go,” she sighed.  And it was – a feast fit for a, well pitch-in dinner, all tightly closed into Tupperware containers.

Mrs. Bennet blotted her lipstick with a smack and joined Eliza in the kitchen, where Eliza forced her mother into a chair and removed a third of the makeup Olivia had applied. What remained was still a bit much for a forty-something grandmother, but it would have to do, since Mrs. Bennet refused to sit still any longer.

“Did you put the sales magazines in the basket, Liza?” she asked.

“Momma, I really wish you wouldn’t try selling them stuff as soon as you meet them. Actually I really don’t think you need to go at all. Let them get settled in,” Eliza tried reasoning again but added the magazines into the giant Longaberger basket of goodies, knowing the argument was fruitless.

“You know I have to approach every perspective customer early and often. We can’t have Mrs. Lucas showing up first and stealing business away. “

Eliza muttered, “Prospective.”

Joanie appeared next to her sister, and baby Katie was transferred from her mother’s hip to Aunt Liza’s. “You know she just wants to welcome them back to the neighborhood, Liz. It’ll be alright,” she said grabbing a crescent roll from a plate on the stove.

“I thought you were supposed to have today off, Jo. You know I actually have things to do,” Eliza complained when she realized her sister was dressed to work at the café, “You’re supposed to run the shop.”

“I know. I know,” Joanie responded between sips of coffee. “It’s just a few hours. Micah called in sick, and…”

“And they know you’re a pushover. Alright, I’ll watch her, but I’ve got class this evening.” Eliza sighed, but bounced Katie on her hip. It wasn’t her fault.

Natalie came down the stairs, nose stuck in her science book, oblivious to everything around her as always. “Ready to go, Liv?”

Olivia bounced out of the bathroom and appealed to her mother, “Can’t I please skip school and go with you?” She desperately wanted to see if the new neighbors were as handsome as the rumors said.

“Not this time, but I’m certain you will meet them soon enough.”

“Please tell me you’re not inviting them here,” Eliza winced at the thought.

“No dear, but the street dance is next week…”

“Oh! The dance!” Olivia was basically dancing already. “Do you think they’ll go? That would be like the bomb-diggity.”

Eliza rolled her eyes and shook her head, “I really doubt the Darcy family will want to go to a country-bumpkin square dance or have any interest in buying Tupperware or Longaberger baskets.”

“Oh Eliza, of course they will want to go to the dance,” Mrs. Bennet protested. “They’ll want to get to know their new neighbors just like anyone else would.”

Eliza began to argue back, but Mrs. Bennet cut her off, “That’s enough of that, Eliza. It’s time for us to go. Girls, I’ll drop you off at school if you help me carry these baskets.” They gathered it all and headed out.

Eliza sat her niece down in front of Dora the Explorer in the small sun room off the kitchen, then made herself a fresh pot of coffee. She sat in the corner of the sun room, sipping on the hot black liquid and let the morning sun warm her face. This was her favorite place in the house and her favorite time of day. It was so peaceful when everyone left. Dora’s adventures were a welcome noise compared to the bickering of her silly sisters and mother. She picked up her book for class and began to read. 

That evening when everyone returned and before Eliza ran off to school, the house was all gossip about Mrs. Bennet’s trip to Netherfield.

“What did they look like?” Olivia wanted to know.

“Did they seem smart?” Natalie asked.

“Do you think they’ll stay?” Joanie asked.

“Did you bother them trying to sell them dishes?” Eliza worried.

And of course, Mrs. Bennet had asked all of the right questions, and therefore, Mrs. Bennet had all the answers. Mr. Darcy and crew had been polite, but not talkative – probably because they couldn’t get a word in edgewise. There were two very attractive gentlemen in the house, the famous Mr. William Darcy of course, known as Liam to those who knew him, a group in which Mrs. Bennet included herself now; and his close friend and business partner, Mr. Charles “Chuck” Bingley. Chuck’s sister, Cara, was also along for the visit. They were there to sort through the Will and Testament of the older Mr. Darcy (Fitzwilliam, Liam’s grandfather) and all of his things in the estate. Liam worked in real estate. Chuck was a lawyer, and Cara was an interior designer. Mrs. Bennet was very happy with the latter of the group, since she had insisted on buying not only a set of Tupperware, but a Longaberger basket as well.

“And the most important question,” Olivia had to know when Mrs. Bennet finally finished describing every inch of the home (though she hadn’t gotten much farther than the entry way), “are they going to the dance?”

“Oh, well,” Mrs. Bennet began, and the girls’ faces all noticeably dropped, well except maybe Eliza’s, “They weren’t altogether sure…” And then she laughed, “I can’t fool you girls! Yes, they will definitely be at the dance. Chuck was most especially excited about the idea. Said he didn’t even know street dances were a real thing! He thought they only happened in the movies!”

The girls, well mostly Olivia, squealed in delight and immediately began brainstorming what they were going to wear. And Eliza, grabbed her school books with a smile, and slipped out of the house while they were all preoccupied.

But when she returned home that night after class, she slept horribly. And when she did sleep, she dreamed horrible things. She was standing in front of a door, trying to open it, but the handle wouldn’t turn. A girl was screaming, or maybe it was Eliza. She couldn’t tell.  She tried banging on the door, but nothing happened. Her hands weren’t even making sound as she smacked them against the door, though they hurt from the contact. And then a man in a hood, approached her from the side. He seemed familiar, but then he looked up. His eyes burned iridescent blue, the color of the hottest part of a fire. Terrified, she gave the door one last attempt, shoving it full force with her shoulder, and as it opened, she woke up with a thunk, having fallen onto the floor. She was covered in sweat, her sheets tangled up in her pajamas. Someone was still screaming, but when Joanie rushed in and flicked on the light, she realized it really was her this time. She closed her mouth and swallowed hard, her throat burning from screaming, forcing herself quiet.

Joanie reached down to her and helped her up, “Are you alright?”

Eliza nodded, not sure of her voice.

“Are you sure? You were screaming like a banshee.”

“I’m sure. Just a nightmare,” she swallowed, fixing her blankets and climbing back into bed.

Joanie gave her a knowing look, but nodded and turned the light back out.

Finally, Eliza was able to sleep.

Chapter Two: Every Savage Can Dance

A week and a day later, the evening of the famed Annual Meryton Street Dance, the dream was still bothering Eliza. She had told Joanie the details later, and she had seemed alarmed at first, but then assured her sister that she was sure “it was nothing.” Of course they both knew differently. Eliza didn’t have normal dreams, but it didn’t do to dwell on them and forget to live in the present. So tonight, she would move the dream to the back of her mind and have a good time at the dance.

To be honest, though she often made fun of it, it was her favorite night of the year. All of the businesses closed early, roads were blocked off, and everyone, old and young, would be there. Eliza put a little extra care into her appearance. If she didn’t Olivia would get a hold of her, and enough people already thought she was a witch, no need to encourage the talk by dressing like a lady of the night. But she did wear a little makeup, pulled her long, dark hair into a French braid that hung midway down her back, and chose a white short-sleeved t-shirt dress to wear with her favorite boots and denim jacket.

Joanie wore a cream wrap dress covered in flowers, her curly light brown hair pulled into a ponytail. Baby Katie was all dressed up in a full cowgirl outfit, complete with ruffled dress, boots, belt and hat. The little bit of hair she had was tied into pigtails with ribbons at each side of her head.

Natalie, having little interested in such things, allowed her sister, Olivia, to dress her. She was in a sheer green blouse and low-rise jeans. Her hair, normally untamable, was French braided into pigtails. And Olivia was naturally dressed to the nines. Her hair was in a messy bun high upon her head. She wore several layers of eyeliner, red lipstick, and a boots with shorts and a yellow shirt tied at her waist. Eliza couldn’t imagine how anyone’s mother could let a sixteen year old girl out of the house in such an outfit, but then she remembered who her mother was.

 Speaking of her mother, Mrs. Bennet was dressed up as well. She had set her silver and gold hair in curlers, and it now lay in ringlets, framing her face. She wore a tight black t-shirt (because black is slimming), a long red skirt, gold hoops in her ears and obviously her favorite boots. This is South Carolina, so all the girls wear cowgirl boots to a street dance, unless they are brazen or stupid enough to try and dance all night in heels. (We’ve all made that mistake at least once)

The family walked the eight blocks to the town square together. Olivia and Natalie each held one of Katie’s hands, and occasionally, on the count of three, lifted her up by her arms and swung her between them. Mrs. Bennet was yammering on about the “Liam” and “Chuck,” and how much they were going to adore her daughters. She pretty much had them married off in her mind already.  Joanie was, as always, all kindness and compliments, agreeing with pretty much anything and everything Mrs. Bennet was saying. And Eliza was just taking it all in – the street, her family, the evening sky, the Garth Brooks song they could already hear still several blocks away.

“Eliza!” Mrs. Bennet screeched bringing her back to the here and now.

“Hmm? Yes, Momma?”

Mrs. Bennet looked annoyed, “I asked you a question.”

“Well, I gathered that, but you’re going to have to repeat it, since I obviously wasn’t listening.” Eliza snipped back.

“I asked if there were any good-looking guys in your business class this semester.”

Eliza rolled her eyes (Something she did quite often if you haven’t noticed yet. Quite cynical, this one), “I honestly don’t know, Mom. I’m paying attention to my professor, not boys.”

“But Liza,” her mother protested as they rounded the corner and passed the Meryton First Baptist Church, “how are you ever supposed to find a man, if you never even look at one?” This was said as more of an exclamation or perhaps exasperation, truth be told, than a question, but since it begins with “how,” we must put a question mark at the end. Anyway, back to the story. Just thought you should know.

“Oh, look! We’re here!” Olivia was jumping again. (Saved by the bell...)

“They’ve really outdone themselves on the decorations this year!” Mrs. Bennet said.

“Wow!” Joanie exclaimed. “Wow!” her daughter repeated. Joanie scooped her up, so she could get a better view of the lights.

Strands of lights were strewn from building to building, streetlight to streetlight, forming a pseudo-tent, coming together at a large canopy covering the street adjacent to the Hertfordshire County Courthouse. The live band was set up on one side of the courthouse lawn on a small temporary stage. Dressed in fringe, tight jeans, boots, and cowboy hats, they were now playing The Watermelon Crawl. On the opposite side food vendors sold fried everything – fried corndogs, fried okra, fried chicken, fried mac’n’cheese, fried oreos, fried ice cream. I’m going to stop now because I’m starting to sound like Bubba from Forrest Gump, but you get the picture, all things fried.

“Do you see them, Momma?” Olivia asked, looking around like she knew who she was looking for. Though really, if she saw anyone she didn’t know, it was likely to be them, since they pretty much knew everyone in town.

Yes, this was the kind of small town where everybody knows everybody, though not everyone calls you friend. Also, you most definitely need an invitation to kick off your shoes and come on in. Because there were definitely people in town that you did not want to tangle with, and most people thought the Bennets were those kind of people. Everyone was a little bit scared of the psychics, and that worked for them. Because fear can give you power, even if it doesn’t give you many friends.

“I don’t see them yet, Olivia, but I’m sure they’ll be here. But look there’s Charlie!  Yoo-hoo!” she stood and waved. And sure enough it was Charlotte Lucas, Eliza’s best and well only friend really since they were in diapers.

Charlie ran over to them, smiling. She was really quite pretty, smart, and fun. But she still lived at home because her father, her only parent, had been in an accident some years ago, and she stayed to take care of him. So, she, like Mrs. Bennet, would be scoping out handsome young men tonight as well. Well, not as young, Charlie was bordering on thirty this year. Charlie greeted them all with a smile and hugged Eliza.

“Did you meet them yet?”

Olivia perked up. “The Netherfielders?”

Natalie snorted.

“I kind of like that nickname. That might have to stick,” Eliza laughed.

Charlie smiled, “Yes, the Netherfielders.”

“I met them last week,” Mrs. Bennet chimed in haughtily.

“But we haven’t,” Olivia whined, “Are they here?”

“Yes, I saw them about five minutes ago. Chuck promised me a dance later,” Charlotte blushed.

“Ooo la la!” Natalie teased, and Eliza playfully elbowed her in the side.

They continued like this, teasing and laughing, as they got in line for all of the fried things. At the front of the line, the older girls pulled out their IDs so their red solo cups could be filled with adult beverages. They sat at a picnic table near the courthouse steps, scattered about - Olivia leaning on the railing eating a corndog, Katie on Natalie’s lap with chicken fingers, Eliza and Charlotte nibbling on mac and cheese bites, when suddenly Mrs. Bennet looked up from her basket of fried pickles, ranch dribbling down her chin, and exclaimed, “Oh look! Chuck! Cara! Liam! Hello!” she yelled for all to hear.

The next moment was right out of the movies. Everyone heared Mrs. Bennet’s cattle call, and everyone turned to see the Netherfielders. Yes, we’re calling them that now. It’s much easier to type, my friends. And my goodness were they beautiful people, each of them in their own way. You could tell they weren’t from around here. First of all, none of them were wearing cowboy or girl boots, and their clothes, though they had obviously been purchased as if they were trying to fit in for mingling with the southern folk, were just a little too expensive for the normal resident of Meryton.

Chuck walked in front, like a spy leading his partners confidently away from an exploding bomb. (By the way, if you caught that reference, we should be friends.) His curly light brown, nearly blonde hair had that unkempt, just out of bed look, but it was definitely styled to look that way. He wore Levi blue jeans, work boots, and a button up peach colored shirt with the sleeves folded up to the elbows. A few buttons were unbuttoned so you could see the white t-shirt underneath. (Several of the ladies looking at him were already imagining unbuttoning the rest…I promise this story is rated PG, maybe PG-13, but it had to be said) He had a sweet face, slightly more mature than a baby face, a face that could definitely play prince charming in the movies.

You could tell that Chuck and Cara were brother and sister. Their hair was precisely the same shade of brown and the same wave, though Cara’s was more put together with artificial highlights, falling down across her shoulders and back like she had a personal stylist at home. She probably did. She had a sharp nose that seemed to be slightly higher than everyone else’s. Where Chuck looked curiously around him, eager to learn about his new neighbors and their cultural traditions, Cara looked as if she’d rather be anyone but there. More specifically, she wanted to be lying on a beach in Tahiti or possibly on Johnny Depp’s private island.

And then there was Mr. William Darcy. Liam was tall, not NBA worthy, but he probably had to duck a little when walking through old South Carolina buildings built in the 1800s. His hair was dark, trimmed on the sides and thick at the top, long enough to run your hands through, which he did as they approached the Bennet family. His oval face was clean shaven, with just a hint five o’clock shadow adding some scruff on his chin. His green crisply ironed button up, brought out the green flecks in his brown eyes. The obviously new expensive jeans he wore left little to the imagination, though pretty much everyone was imagining the little that was left. I’ll just say it. He was model pretty. He even walked like a model, with an air of confidence that screamed blueblood. Eliza was certain she’d seen him in an Abercrombie advertisement at some point. Not that she was looking. That was a lie. She was most definitely looking. Everyone was looking. You couldn’t resist looking. It was if they were standing in front of a black hole, everyone gravitated toward them, resistance was futile.

“And this is my daughter, Eliza.” Mrs. Bennet gestured as if she were pointing out a prized pony at the fair.

Eliza, realizing that she was still staring and had apparently missed a quarter of the conversation, stood up abruptly, knocking Charlotte’s red solo cup out of her hand and spilling the adult beverage all over her pretty white dress.

“Well, shit,” she muttered. (I said PG-13 right? Cussing will happen now and then in appropriate situations such as this)  

Charlie grabbed a napkin and started dabbing at the dress. Chuck lent them his bottle of water, trying to help, but it was no use. Cara reached into her bag and pulled out a Tide-To-Go pen and whisked Charlie and Eliza into the courthouse bathroom, accessible underneath the concrete stairs. They got out the worst of the stain at the bottom of the dress, but there was no helping the bodice until they could get it home and run it through the washing machine with some bleach. Luckily Charlie lived nearby, so it was decided that they would run home and grab something else to wear.

As they walked up the concrete steps, pushing past the line of people waiting impatiently for their own turn in the bathroom, Eliza thanked Cara repeatedly and tried to give the bleach pen back to her.

“Well,” Cara responded, “You are very welcome. You should keep that in your purse. I’ve got several at home, and I always keep an extra in my purse just in case. My brother can be pretty clumsy himself and is always spilling things, so I find that it is necessary for me to always be prepared.”

Eliza couldn’t tell if this was supposed to be a jibe at her unpreparedness or if Cara was really just being helpful, but she accepted the pen anyway, sliding it into Katie’s diaper bag when they reached the stairs where the rest of her family remained talking to the Netherfielders. Eliza apologized to the two handsome men again at her (clumsiness) and her foul language. Chuck took her apology gracefully, sorry that they couldn’t do more about the dress. Liam nodded, but was quiet and seemed to be avoiding her eyes or her dress or perhaps the stain on her dress which, Eliza realized with a blush, was not the best place to have a stain.

“Ok, we’ll be right back,” Eliza said to her family.

“Wait,” Natalie said, “Take the child. She needs her diaper changed,” she handed her Katie with a look of disgust, and slung the bag over her shoulder.

“Right, ok.” Eliza took a deep breath, trying to avoid the smell, and they ran off to Charlie’s apartment.

While they returned about twenty minutes later, with a freshly diapered Katie and freshly clothed Eliza, all of the girls were dancing. Olivia had found a strapping college boy. Natalie was twirling with a fellow science geek from school. Mrs. Bennet was seducing the town grocery store owner, and Joanie was dancing with Chuck.

Now if you haven’t been to a dance anywhere in the south before (or at least watched Sweet Home Alabama), then you probably have no idea what a true country street dance looks like. The music is lively with a little twang and sometimes some banjo. There’s a whole lot of twirling and spinning about, and a whole lot of booty shaking and shimmying. Right now they were hopping and skipping to a little Joe Diffie “Prop Me Up Beside the Jukebox”. Those watching clapped along and tapped their feet to the music. It’s so catchy you can’t resist.

Joanie was definitely leading Chuck on the dance floor, but he was catching on, twirling her at all the right times and keeping up with the dance steps. She even turned her back to him and shimmied back up. She seemed to be having more fun than Eliza had witnessed of her sister in years, since before Katie was born.

Charlie took Katie onto the dance floor, and Eliza went to put the diaper bag back with the rest of their things when she saw Liam and Cara standing alone, watching the dance and looking incredibly bored, so she decided to go make conversation.

As she approached, Cara seemed to be appraising her borrowed outfit, a pair of blue jeans, and a plain t-shirt with a button up flannel shirt tied over the top. The t-shirt and blue jeans were a little snug, since Charlie was a size smaller than her, but really Eliza tended to wear her clothes a little big anyway, so they probably fit more like the size she should be wearing.

“Looking good,” Cara nodded, though it didn’t really sound like a compliment. Eliza couldn’t figure out why everything nice the girl said seemed like an insult, but there was just something about her, “Isn’t she Darcy?” Cara nudged her friend who seemed to be off in some other universe.

“Oh, uh, yes, right. The outfit suits you, Miss Bennet,” he responded automatically, seeming a bit annoyed at having to speak to anyone.

“It’s Eliza, and thank you both,” she said, and then attempting to make conversation added, “Are you having a good time?”

“It’s not really my style,” Darcy responded.

Eliza had gathered that and almost responded by saying so, but instead tried, “Would you like to dance?”

“Oh, I don’t think so,” Darcy answered, “I think I’ll be fine watching, thanks.”

“Right, ok. Well I hope you enjoy yourselves,” Eliza shrugged and headed out onto the dance floor to join Charlie and Katie.

Charlie, of course, immediately wanted to know what had transpired between them, and Eliza told her. “Apparently it’s not their style. As I predicted, they’re too fancy for a little town dance, and he didn’t want to dance with me.”

Charlie almost spit out her refilled adult beverage, “You, Eliza Bennet, asked a man to dance?”

“What of it? Is that so weird?” Eliza asked.

“Um, yes,” Charlie answered, “That’s very weird.”

“I dance,” Eliza said, somewhat offended by her friend’s comment.

“You dance, yes. You dance with me. You dance with people who ask you, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard you ask a man to dance.”

“Huh,” Eliza thought about it, “maybe you’re right, but still is it that surprising? He looked bored. He’s our new neighbor. I thought I would try to be friendly,” she said picking up Katie and bouncing her on her hip as they made their way over the food stand.

“I guess not,” Charlie conceded, but only because she didn’t want to keep arguing. This was not a time for arguing. This was a night for fun.

Joanie, it seemed, was definitely having fun. As Eliza and Charlie got themselves and Katie more refreshments, the music morphed into a slow dance. Joanie had expected Chuck to return to his friends when the first song had ended, but instead he pulled Joanie in closer, wrapping one arm around her waist, the other holding her hand.

Mrs. Bennet, Olivia, and Natalie had returned to their table near the courthouse steps, so Eliza and Charlie joined them. Natalie reached for Katie, and Eliza gladly handed her niece over, happy to have her tired arms free again. She dearly loved her niece, but she did like being able to have other sisters to share the responsibility of taking care of her once in a while.

Eliza realized that Mrs. Bennet and her sisters were watching the dancing, so turned to watch herself, expecting to see them watching Joanie and Chuck, but instead found herself watching Liam dance with Cara. Her head was resting on his shoulder with her arms wrapped tightly around his waist. He seemed to be standing a little too tall, but rested his chin on the top of her head, obviously comfortable dancing with his best friend’s sister. Well, this made sense. Eliza wasn’t sure why she suddenly had a knot in her stomach or why she couldn’t tear her eyes away. She continued watching until Mr. Darcy looked up and right at her, catching her eye, and she quickly looked down into her cup, examining the ripples in the buttery colored drink.

She was just jealous of course. He was handsome, but she’d met lots of handsome men before. He was obviously unavailable, but he had been rude to her, so why should she be jealous at all? Yet, she couldn’t seem to shake the feeling, so she drank down the rest of her drink and got up to get another refill.

By the time she returned to the group, she’d already finished half of her refill. It was getting late, and the younger girls and Mrs. Bennet were preparing to head back home for the evening. Eliza and Charlie left them and strolled over toward the band to request a song. Joanie and Chuck had disappeared from the dance floor, but she saw Chuck now talking with Liam and Cara near the band. Eliza and Charlie walked behind them on the other side of a tree, so they weren’t noticed, but they could hear their conversation. Yes, they were eavesdropping.

“Why don’t you dance with someone, Liam? There are lots of pretty ladies here.”

“I did dance with someone. I danced with Cara. Besides I’m perfectly content not dancing. You know I don’t like to dance.”

“But you should join in. Learn their ways. When in Rome and all that. What about Joanie’s sister, Eliza? She’s very pretty.”

“But so awkward,” Cara said, “Spilling her drink all over herself. And is that her toddler they’re toting around? What a mess of a family.”

“Now, Cara, it was only an accident. And we can’t judge things we don’t know anything about,” Chuck reasoned.

“Well, the mother never shuts up, does she? Though I did hear they were witches, which is intriguing. Maybe I can get them to help out with the party I’m planning, do a séance or something to make it fun,” Cara mused.

“That’s just nonsense,” Liam scoffed, “there’s no such things as that voodoo mumbojumbo. I’m sure they’re only doing it to make money like all psychic frauds.”

“Mumbojumbo or not, it would make for a fun party,” Cara replied.

“If you say so,” Liam said, “You were voted socialite of the year,” he said mockingly.

“Oh, stop,” Cara giggled.

Eliza whispered to Charlie, “I think I’m going to be sick.”

“Shhh, I want to hear the rest.”

“Speaking of being social, have we been social enough for the evening? Can we go back to Netherfield yet?”

“So early?” Chuck asked, “If you insist, but let me at least say goodbye to Joanie.”

“Right, we’ll meet you at the car. Come on Liam,” Cara pulled his arm.

Eliza and Charlie slipped on toward the band to avoid being seen and requested their favorite song. They didn’t discuss the conversation they’d overheard. Eliza, who had chugged the rest of her drink down while listening to the Netherfielders criticize her family and was now on her fourth refill, was happy to see her sister slide away with Chuck toward a quiet corner by the same tree they’d been hiding behind.

She was starting to feel a little light and giggly, as she joined the rest of the town on the dance floor to grapevine their way through the Boot Scootin’ Boogie. She felt eyes on her and thought on one of the “Get down, turn arounds,” that she saw Cara and Liam standing by their car; Cara watching Liam, and Liam watching the dance. But that might have just been her tipsy imagination getting the best of her because on the next turn, they were gone, and Joanie had joined the dance.

At the end of the evening, Charlie, Eliza, and Joanie sat on courthouse steps and watched as the powers that be began to pack up. The band stopped playing. The food vendors retreated to clean off the oil and grease layered on their skin. The townspeople worked together to take down the canopy. They would return for the lights in the morning.

 The ladies finished up the last of their drinks, leaning back against the steps and taking in their town, their home. There was something significant in the quiet moment, though none of them knew what it was. But something had changed that night, and as they watched the town continue their annual traditions, they knew that for them, something was irrevocably different.

Chapter Three: An Invitation and Declaration

That night, Eliza had the dream again, but this time it was somehow both more vivid and more abstract. Just like before it began with the screaming. But this time she was sure it wasn’t her. The scream was coming from behind the door, the same door that Eliza couldn’t get open. She tried turning the handle as she had last time but it didn’t move. She tried rapping her knuckles on it, banging her entire hands flat against it, kicking it, ramming her shoulder into it with all her strength, but the door refused to budge. It was like she hadn’t touched the door at all. The screaming was still coming from inside piercing and chilling Eliza through to the bone. But then it began to transform. The pitch lowered into a horrific gurgle, then a growl like a territorial dog being circled by hungry tiger.

 Eliza began to back away from the door but backed into something solid. When she turned around, she saw the hooded figure with the blue eyes was trapping her between himself and the door. He leaned forward toward her, placing each hand against the door on either side of her. Eliza could feel her heart beating through her chest and her breathing became labored as she reached up to remove his hood.

When she woke up to the sun already streaming through her bedroom window, Eliza was once again on the floor, tangled in a mass of blankets and sweat. Thankfully the today was Saturday. The house was unusually quiet. She peeked into Joanie’s room opposite her own, but Joanie was still sleeping. She tiptoed down the stairs, surprised that everyone would still be in bed, especially the younger girls. But when she reached the kitchen, she found a note on the table that Mrs. Bennet had taken Olivia and Katie out shopping, and Natalie was at an all day Academic Team practice.

Eliza didn’t want to jinx her luck, so she stayed quiet and forged ahead with her usual morning routine. First things first, ibuprofen. She poured two out of the pill bottle and guzzled it down with a glass of water from the kitchen faucet. Next, coffee. She started the brewing process, then headed back upstairs to quickly shower and dress for the day, returning back to the coffee pot just as it finished spitting out the last of its contents. She watched as the hot black liquid flowed into her cup, the bittersweet smell of roasted coffee telling her brain that it was acceptable to wake up.

After she’d taken in enough caffeine to feel alive again, Eliza went into the sitting room her mother had transformed into a reading room, not a book reading room, but a psychic reading room. Since the room had no door, it was shrouded by curtains, forming an enclosed area away from the rest of the house. A round wooden table sat in the middle with protection symbols beautifully carved into the top. A modest chandelier hung from the ceiling over the center of the table, providing just enough light to give the atmosphere preferred for their practice. A dark oak buffet table stood in the back of the room filled with supplies for various kinds of readings.

Eliza opened the top drawer of the buffet and pulled out several candles, a box of matches, and her favorite deck of tarot cards. She sat the candles in the shape of a pentagram and lit them all, then sat in one of the four high backed, garnet padded chairs, and began expertly shuffling the deck.

She cut the deck into four piles in front of her from left to right. Next, she took the top card from the far-left piled and turned it face up on the table in front of her in the center. Below that card, she placed the top card from the second pile, and the following two next to those forming a triangle of cards. The top card, representing the situation at hand, was the V of Cups. The picture on the card depicted a person holding an umbrella to avoid being rained on by the cups, symbolizing that things are not what they seem.

The rest of the cards refer to the first. For example, the second card suggests past influences that might be affecting the situation at hand. This card was the Empress that suggests one should express their ideas and take calculated risks. The next card offers things to ponder. The card revealed was the Star, the card of optimism and hope that warns to beware of pride and aim for originality. And the last card suggests answers or courses of action. This card was The Wheel of Fortune, the card that advises “Be true to yourself.”  

“So,” Joanie said taking in the cards her sister had dealt, “Something is going on with you.”

Eliza just about jumped out of her skin, “Jesus, Jo. I didn’t hear you come in.”

“Sorry, I was looking for the ibuprofen. We’re getting to old to stay out all night drinking,” Joanie mumbled.

“It’s by the coffee pot. You’re right. We’re going to have to cut back a bit. Have you heard anything from Chuckie yet?” She stood up and started blowing out the candles, leaving them there to cool off, and figuring that she’d use them again today anyway.

“No calling him Chuckie. That’s weird. And no, I haven’t heard anything, but it hasn’t even been twelve hours.” Joanie shuffled the tarot cards and placed them back in their box.

“So you did give him your number,” Eliza laughed.

“Of course I did. He was a super sweet guy.”

“Did you tell him about Katie?” Eliza asked as they headed back toward the kitchen for ibuprofen and more coffee.

 “Not yet,” Joanie looked slightly ashamed, “It’s a little much to throw an eighteen-month old into the mix when you just met someone. And it’s not like anything will come of it. We were just dancing. I’m sure I’ll tell him before we go out again…well, if we go out again,” she amended.

“Alright, I just don’t want you to get hurt. I overheard his friend and sister saying some pretty douchey things,” Eliza hadn’t planned on telling her sister of the Netherfielders’ insults, but she felt honorbound to warn her what she might be getting into.

 “Like what?” Joanie asked, popping the ibuprofen into her mouth and swallowing it down with some iced tea. Joanie was a tea person. Eliza was a coffee person. Eliza didn’t understand tea people.

“Like we’re frauds just after people’s money, Momma talks too much, I’m awkward, and we’re a mess of a family.”

“Well Momma does talk too much. We are a bit of a mess, and you were pretty awkward last night. Staring at Liam like he was a bar of chocolate, then spilling beer all over yourself. So, I’d say they were pretty spot on. Three out of four isn’t bad,” Joanie laughed bumping hips with her sister.

“Ha ha, very funny,” Eliza said sipping her coffee, “Just be careful is all I’m saying.”

“Seriously, Eliza? When am I ever anything but careful?” Joanie asked.
“I just,” Eliza began setting her cup down and standing up to look out the window over the sink, “I have a bad feeling is all. I don’t know what it is, but you saw the cards. Something is coming.”

“I know,” Joanie replied coaxingly. “Do you want me to read your palm? I haven’t in a while.”

“No, I think I’m going to just read for awhile. Do we have any appointments today?”

Joanie flipped open the little grey appointment book on the counter, “I have Mrs. Patterson at 3:15 and,” she dragged her finger across the page, “Oh, your favorite.”

“Crap,” Eliza muttered.

“Collin Williams at 4,” Joanie laughed.

“You don’t want to trade me do you?” Eliza crossed her fingers.

“Nope,” Joanie said, “I’ll be busy then doing uh…something.”

Eliza sighed, “Of course you will. Maybe Momma will be back in time.”

“Or maybe that’s why she decided to take the girls shopping.”

“Crap. You’re probably right.”

“I’m pretty sure…” Joanie began, but the phone rang interrupting her.

“Hello?” Joanie answered.
“Hello. Is this Miss Bennett?” a female voice asked.

“It is,” Joanie responded.

“I guess I should be more specific since there are so many of you,” the voice laughed, “Is Miss Eliza there?”

“She’s right here. Just a second,” Joanie replied then whispered to her sister, “I’m not sure who it is.”

“Hello? This is Eliza,” Eliza spoke into the receiver.

“Hi Eliza. This is Cara Bingley. We met last night,” the woman reminded her.

“Oh, right. How are you this morning Miss Bingley?” Eliza pronounced each syllable so Joanie could tell who she was talking to.”

“I’m doing well, thank you. Actually, I have a proposition for you. I heard that you were into the supernatural, and that you practice witchcraft. Are the rumors true?” Cara asked.

“Well, we don’t really cast spells or anything like that, but we do practice psychic…” Eliza began in response.

“Well, I heard you were the best, the real deal,” Cara sounded like an old British woman, though she wasn’t British at all. “Would you consider helping me with a part of the party I’m planning for an open house of Netherfield? I was thinking a 1920s speakeasy or Gatsby theme and hoped that you might be up for performing a little séance for the party guests. Have you ever done anything like that?”

“Um, well I’ve done séances before, though never for a party. Are you wanting something theatrical or something authentic?” Eliza asked.

“Oh, as authentic as possible would be lovely, but I would want you to dress the part of course.”

“Right, ok,” Eliza felt lost for words.

“So I’d love for you to come over sometime this week, and Joanie too of course if she would like. I’ll  give you the tour of the estate, and we could have brunch and go over all the little details of the party. Actually,” Cara paused, and Eliza could hear the flipping of pages through the phone, “would you be available tomorrow morning? How about 11:30?”

“Ok, sure,” Eliza answered.

“Alright, see you tomorrow then! Casual dress of course. I can’t wait!” Cara ended the call with enthusiasm.

Eliza hung up the phone on the kitchen wall and looked at her sister, a bewildered expression on her face, “I’m not sure what just happened.”

“What did she want?”

“I think I just agreed to do a séance for her Gatsby party. Oh, and we’re going to Netherfield for brunch in the morning.”

“Wait, what?” Joanie asked.

“I’m not really sure, something about casual dress. I think I need a nap. Maybe it will make more sense when I wake up,” Eliza lie down on the sofa in the sunroom.  

It didn’t make more sense when Eliza woke up, but she was at least able to explain what her discussion with Miss Bingley had been comprised of. Eliza had overheard Cara say that she was having a party, so that wasn’t surprising, but they had called her awkward and a fraud. Why would they want her, of all people, to be part of their party?

“And why in the world did I agree to it?” she asked Charlie on the phone that afternoon.

“Perhaps because you think that Mr. Darcy is hot stuff?”

“But he’s a jerk,” Eliza whined sounding like the impatient two year old on her lap.

“When has that ever stopped you from crushing on someone?”

“Oh, shut up.”

But Charlie never shut up when she was told to, “Don’t you remember Dean Jensen? 8th grade?”

“Of course, I – “

“And then there was Kyle Woods? Zach Dobson? Max Combs?”

“Yes, yes. I get it. I’ve had crushes on guys that weren’t the best of character.”

“You could be honest you know. Just admit that you like bad boys,” Charlie teased.

“I’m hanging up now,” Eliza said, paused, and then responded, “I wouldn’t call Liam a bad boy. He’s just a cocky rich guy.”

“Either way it can’t hurt to play nice, can it? And Jo will have another opportunity to hang out with Chuck.”

“You’re right. I’m just weirded out by the whole thing. Plus these dreams,” Eliza shrugged, forgetting that she was on the phone and no one could see her.

“Dreams, plural?” Charlie asked slightly worried. She also knew that Eliza’s dreams were never just dreams.

“Yeah, I had another one. This one was more intense. I’m sure it’s nothing. I’ve got to get going. I have an appointment that could show up at anytime,” Eliza said.

“Alright. Call me if you need something,” Charlie still sounded concerned.

A knock at the door shook Eliza out of her thoughts after she hung up the phone. Mr. Williams. Great. Eliza sighed. She really didn’t want to deal with this today, but she rose to answer the door where, sure enough, Collin Williams stood waiting impatiently, tapping his foot against the screen door.

Collin Williams was a tall, lanky sort of man, resembling a piece of cherry Laffy Taffy that has been stretched too far. His bright ginger hair was almost too bright and seemed to make his skin tinted pink like the belly of a pig – a spotted pig, that is, considering the many freckles that dotted his face (and the rest of him).

Mr. Williams looked like a kind man, and truth be told, he wasn’t NOT a kind man. However, he was definitely an awkward man who didn’t seem to understand the concept of personal space or when to shut up. A regular visitor to the Bennet household he was a true believer of the craft, not to mention the son of Mr. Bennet’s former employer, the owner of the Longborne Mill.

He visited on a monthly basis in order to a) have his cards read and b) make advances at the Miss Bennets, and c) remind them all that his mother still owned their home, and therefore, he was superior to them. Today was, to Eliza’s great misfortune, no different.

Eliza held the door open for the man and ushered him into the reading room where she had taken preventative measures based on lessons learned from previous visits. She had turned on the overhead chandelier to avoid any sense of intimacy or romance that candles might have conveyed. She had also already set out her Tarot cards on the table in order to prevent any opportunity for Mr. Williams to stare at her posterior while she bent to retrieve them from the buffet. Unfortunately, she was well aware that nothing would stop him from ogling her other assets during the reading, but she had done her best.

Eliza gestured for him to sit at the opposite end of the table, so that she was closest to the exit in case she needed an emergency escape route. (I should mention that the man had never done anything truly untoward to any of the inhabitants of the Bennet house besides being creepy and making them feel uncomfortable. The precautions were mainly for Eliza’s sanity.)

“Well Mr. Williams,” Eliza began.

“I’ve told you before Elizabeth sweetheart, please call me Collin,” Collin interrupted.

“Right, Collin, and please call me Eliza. No one calls me Elizabeth. So Mr…I mean Collin, do you have a certain question in mind today, or did you just want an overall reading?”

“Oh, I think I’ll keep my questions to myself today, darling.” He also had an annoying habit of using every endearment he could come up with.

“Alrighty,” Eliza fanned out the cards before her, “Choose three.”

Collin reached across the table, stretching his long spider legged fingers along the cards and took his sweet time pulling out three cards. Eliza took them from the deck, flipped them over on the table one at a time, and examined the upturned VIII of Wands, IX of Pentacles, and upturned Tower before speaking.

“Your energy is all over the place. You need to think before you act. You should be prepared for failure and look for opportunities to prove to the people in charge what you can do if you want a chance to change your circumstances,” Eliza interpreted.

“That’s it? I need to think before I act? That’s all the advice you can give me?” Collin replied irritated, a slow simmering anger starting to rise in his voice.

“That and try to prove yourself, but…” Eliza looked at the cards a minute more, “you should also remember who is in charge, the chain of command.”

“Right, thanks,” Collin stood up, forcefully pushing his chair into the table, “I won’t take any more of your time.”

“Alright,” Eliza said a little frazzled, turning her body so that he could pass by without touching her, but he stopped directly in front of her.

“You have a nice evening Miss Eliza,” he said and then whispered in her ear, “I’ll see you again soon.” He turned away, and Eliza shook away the unpleasant feel of his breath against her skin. Collin left the room and the house, slamming the screen door behind him, passing the rest of the Bennet family members while they walked in the door. He nodded his head at them without saying a word, a very rare occurrence, since he usually wouldn’t stop talking.

“What kind of critter crawled up his rear end?” Natalie asked, setting a couple grocery bags on the kitchen counter.

“No idea,” Eliza said, grabbing a gallon of milk out of Olivia’s hand and putting it in the fridge. “Apparently he didn’t like the reading I gave him.”

“You didn’t invite him to stay for dinner?” Mrs. Bennet asked.

“I wouldn’t have had a chance even if I’d wanted to, Momma. He ran out of here too fast,” Eliza responded while rolling her eyes. She was always trying to fix one of them up with Collin, but gross.

“Who cares about that?” Olivia said anxiously, “I want to hear about Eliza’s brunch date tomorrow with Cara Bingley!” she giggled.

“How do you know about that?” Eliza asked.

“We ran into Charlie at the bookstore after they picked me up from school,” Natalie explained.

“Damn it, Charlie,” stupid gossip, she thought to herself.

“Well?” Olivia was nearly bouncing, which was pretty normal for her.

“Well what?” Eliza teased.

“Well, tell us about it!” Olivia exclaimed like she might explode from the pressure.

“There’s nothing to tell,” Eliza insisted. “I’m going to help plan for a party, and apparently a séance for said party at Netherfield. It’s not exactly exciting.”

You’re going to do a séance? In a house where people have died? Is that even safe?” Natalie asked.

“What do you mean a house where people have died?” Eliza asked, ignoring her sister’s question.

“It’s all the talk at school,” Olivia explained, “You haven’t heard?”

“No,” Eliza shook her head and looked at her mother questioningly.

Mrs. Bennet sighed, “You were very little. You wouldn’t remember. There was an accident and the youngest Darcy girl was unfortunately killed. Georgiana I think was her name. It was tragic, just so tragic,” Mrs. Bennet looked like she was going to burst into tears.

“What happened?” Eliza asked alarmed, “When?”

“You would have been maybe seven years old if I remember correctly. Joanie was probably nine. You were actually in the same kindergarten class with the girl. I don’t really know what happened. They wouldn’t talk about it, but I know that it happened at the house and that young Liam was there when it happened with another boy, the nanny’s son I think perhaps. The Darcy’s divorced soon after, and that’s when they all moved away, leaving behind old Mr. Darcy in that big house by himself.”

It was rare that all of the girls in the home were quiet. It was rare that anyone in the house was quiet, but they were all listening to their mother mesmerized by the story she told.

“That is so sad,” Olivia finally broke the silence.

“Yes,” Mrs. Bennet agreed.

“So, they never came back to the house until now? Did they never see the grandfather?” Eliza wondered.

“He would visit them from time to time, but they never returned to the house until now that is. Too many bad memories I guess.” Mrs. Bennet answered.

“So where are Liam’s parents?” Eliza asked.

“I heard they moved to the city.  Liam and his mother moved in with his aunt in Charlotte. I heard rumor that Mr. Darcy killed himself several years ago when Liam would have been a teenager, but of course I can’t be sure that that’s true. You know how people gossip in this town.” Mrs. Bennet shook her head as if she would never be involved in such utter nonsense as gossip.

Olivia groaned, “That is so depressing. No wonder Liam is such a grump.”

“Olivia!” Eliza scolded.

“Oh, you know it too. He wouldn’t even dance with you last night.” Olivia said.

“How did you…” Eliza started, “Never mind,” she sighed. She would strangle Charlie later.

“So,” Mrs. Bennet began, “Are you sure about doing a séance? I know you’ve had experiences with spirits before, and you’ve done séances here, but…”

“It will be fine. I’ve never had anything bad happen,” Eliza reasoned.

“Well, I supposed I should be there to be sure,” Mrs. Bennet rationalized.

“No, that’s…” Eliza tried.

“No, no there’s no trying to argue with me on this one. I need to be there to protect you from any evil spirits. My powers will keep you safe.” Mrs. Bennet argued, “Now girls, you’ll have to help me find something to wear!”

Eliza shook her head and sighed. There really was no arguing with her mother once she had her mind set on something. She only hoped that she wouldn’t embarrass them too much.

“The party won’t be for a while I think. First,” Eliza said attempting to distract her family from their silliness, “Why don’t you help me find something to wear for tomorrow?” At least it would keep them from worrying about the séance.

When Joanie got home half an hour later, Katie on her hip, she got a fun surprise. All of the girls were putting on a fashion show in the upstairs hallway. Eliza’s clothes were strewn all over her bed and desk chair, with basically nothing left in the closet, as the sisters and Mrs. Bennet tried on each and every piece of clothing Eliza owned. They’d began by trying to find the right thing for Eliza to wear for a casual brunch at a rich person’s fancy estate, but one thing had lead to the next, and now they were just trying to find the most outrageous outfits possible. Giggling and dancing to eighties music on the radio, they were having a blast. Of course, Katie and Joanie had to join in the fun.

Eventually they tired out and found adequate outfits for both Joanie and Eliza to wear the next day. Eliza was happy that she’d successfully avoided any further talk from her mother on the subject of the future party at Netherfield and had completely forgotten about Mr. Williams visit that afternoon. But it’s important, so don’t you forget about it.

Chapter Four: Netherfield

In the middle of the night, Eliza woke from another screaming dream. She twisted and turned, writhed and wriggle trying to get comfortable and fall back asleep. She tried reading, counting sheep, deep breathing exercises, but an hour and a half later, she was still wide awake. So she wiggled her way out of her cocoon of blankets, put on sweats, and went to the kitchen. She preheated the oven to 450 degrees and began baking.

Baking in the middle of the night might seem a little strange, but for Eliza, it was the only way to calm her anxiety and quiet the butterflies in her stomach. There was just something about measuring out the ingredients – though most she did by feel and guesswork now after so many years of practice – mixing together flour, eggs, oil, sugar, and forcing the different materials to blend together. It was something she was good at, something that she knew she wasn't likely to screw up. Plus it gave her something to focus on and allowed her to put all of her stress on the back-burner (no pun intended). So now everyone would have blueberry muffins and brownies for breakfast when they woke up.

The next day, Cara greeted Eliza and Joanie at the door when they approached Netherfield. She stood next to the open entrance, dressed in what she apparently considered casual, a flowy white, button up blouse with a large bright blue statement necklace falling down around the collar. She wore tight, fancy straight legged jeans with bright blue stilettos that perfectly matched her necklace. Her shiny hair was tied up in a high ponytail, curled into ringlets.

Eliza was glad she had chosen the simple emerald green dress with a lighter green sweater overtop. Joanie had gone with a lacy top and jeans. At least they weren’t too out of place.

They walked up the stairs and through the large entry into a carpeted foyer. Eliza was transfixed by the beauty of the old home. It obviously needed some tender love and care, but the original dark oak fixtures were enough to take her breath away.

Cara guided them up two flights of stairs, well one with a small landing in the middle, leading to a large open room with double doors opening up to an outside balcony. The balcony had iron railing painted white, overlooking the front garden and entry down below. On the balcony was a large iron patio table and matching chairs, set for four, and filled silver plated chafers and serving dishes.

“Is someone else joining us?” Eliza asked as they all sat down at the table.

“Yes, my brother Chuck will be dining with us and helping with the party planning as well,” Cara replied.

Joanie asked, “And Mr. Darcy? Where is he today?”

“He’s busy with paperwork, but we may seem him later,” Cara answered, unrolling her cloth napkin from the silverware and placing it on her lap with poise.

A woman came out onto the balcony, as if she’d been watching Cara for a signal or the right time, carrying champagne glasses filled with orange juice.

“Marjorie makes the best mimosas,” Cara smiled, “Won’t you have one?”

Marjorie placed a glass in front of each of them, leaving one next to Chuck’s plate as well. She set the tray she carried on a small table behind her and began serving their brunch. She uncovered the chafers, revealing a meal of Belgian waffles, strawberries, peaches, eggs, smoked salmon, shredded potatoes, and a pastry that Eliza later identified as pecan and maple Danishes. Marjorie filled their plates based on their wishes and had already filled their mimosas once when Chuck joined them at the table.

Chuck looked handsome, dressed in a similar outfit to what he’d worn the night of the dance, and Eliza saw that Joanie notice. He smiled at them all, but especially Joanie, taking the open seat next to her. He began with small talk, asking them how they’d been since he’d seen them last, but soon enough it was only Joanie that mattered. Eliza and Cara continued a separate conversation, chatting about the house’s architecture and possible plans for remodeling. When they had finished eating, the discussion turned to party plans.

“So Cara, what all did you have in mind for this party of yours? What are you picturing?” Joanie asked.
 Cara was both a charismatic and dramatic creature. She would have been a wonderful actress, Eliza noted as Cara set the scene she imagined.

“Well, I’m thinking lights everywhere,” her arms bursting to each side in theatrical jazz hands, “All of the candles and chandeliers lit. Black lace and black feathers with gold accents, in fact, I’m going to request that everyone dress in black, white, and gold. Of course art deco shells and pearls will be a necessary adornment, and we will have a live jazz band playing. Styled cocktails  - mint juleps, gin rickeys, manhattens, and side cars with hors d’oeuvres of oysters, crudités, crab cakes, shrimp, salmon canapés, and artichoke crotinis. Oh, and some of those fancy cheeses,” she stopped for a moment and turned to her brother, “Chuck are you writing all of this down? I’m being brilliant.” Then, after he took out a pen from his breast pocket and jotted down what he’d missed, she continued, “And Eliza, I would like you in the dining room. Here, let me show you!” She gestured for them to follow her, and they made their way back down the stairs through a living room, down the hallway, past several closed doors (A few were open. Eliza saw a small den filled with books that she dearly wanted to explore) into a spacious room at the end of the hall.

The room was bottom to top dark oak wood. A large dining table in the middle was covered with an ornate table cloth, maroon with gold and cream oriental designs. The high back chairs were ideal for a séance, making all of the attendees sit up straight and to attention. A large, ancient looking brass chandelier hung over the center of the table.

“It’s not connected to the electric,” Chuck informed them when he noticed their gazes on the chandelier.

“We’re going to have it all shined up and light the candles. It will be the perfect mood lighting,” Cara explained.

Eliza took a deep breath, “Alright, and are you wanting me in costume or…?”

“Oh yes,” Cara jumped in eagerly, “I’m thinking full headdress with the big jewel in the center. Something flowy and mysterious. You’ll make a perfect psychic. Not that you aren’t already one, obviously,” she corrected herself.

“Right,” Eliza responded. She couldn’t tell if Cara believed in the supernatural or just like to play pretend, though that really didn’t matter to her.

“She is, you know. A psychic, I mean.” Joanie asserted, “All of us Bennets have a little bit of the power in us, but most of our actual practice comes from studying the craft. Eliza is an actual seer.” She was looking at Chuck while she spoke, trying to gauge how much he believed her.

“Oh, I believe you completely,” Cara said, trying to placate them all, “I was just saying that she’ll also do wonderfully at looking the part. I know!” she exclaimed suddenly excited, “We should all go shopping together to find the right outfits! I’ll be buying your outfit for you, Eliza, since I’m asking you to do this. Oh, and I do plan to pay you as well.”

“Oh, you don’t need to do that,” Eliza winced.

“I most certainly do. This will be a lot of work and preparation, and I’m sure the money would be helpful with your little girl, right?”

“I…” Eliza looked at her sister warily, wondering what she should say.

But Joanie spoke up, “Oh, actually Katie is my daughter,” she told them.

“Oh,” Cara seemed genuinely surprised, “I didn’t realize. I just saw Eliza with her.”

“It’s no problem at all,” Joanie smiled, then looked guardedly at Chuck who smiled back at her.

Eliza let out a breath she didn’t realize she’d been holding and closed her eyes. But when she opened them, she froze in place.

“Jo?” she said quietly sounding panicked, chills crawling up her skin, “Don’t move.”

Chapter Five: Spirited Away

Everyone stared at Eliza as if she’d gone insane, but when they noticed how sickly white her face had turned, they redirected their attention to Joanie. But they saw nothing, except Joanie standing as still as possible.

“Liza?” Joanie whispered.

Eliza shook her head almost imperceptibly, silencing her sister. Until she knew what or who she was looking at, she couldn’t be sure that Joanie would be safe. The figure wasn’t fully shaped like a human. It wasn’t corporeal either. There were no feet touching the floor. Eliza couldn’t even make out if the thing had facial features. It floated in front of Joanie, a mist of silver gray, reaching a hand toward her face, then touching her temple.

“Can you feel anything, Jo?” Eliza asked, swallowing back her fear.

Joanie shook her head.

Eliza nodded, “Good. I want you to…”

But then Joanie screamed. The scream echoed through the house as she fell forward into Chuck’s arms.

The figure disappeared, and Mr. Darcy came running down the hallway, through the arched doorway to see what had happened. Together the two men carried Joanie into a guest room, lifting her onto the bed.

“She’s breathing. I think she fainted.” Liam observed.

“Oh God, Liam. Her skin is like ice. Help me get her under these blankets,” Chuck began pulling blankets over her, tucking them down around her skin and Liam did the same. When she was all tucked in, Liam took one of her hands in his and began rubbing it tenderly trying to warm it with friction.

Eliza stood leaning against the wall of the guest room frozen in shock and fear, her body shivering with chills. Cara brought in a cup hot tea and sat it on the nightstand beside the bed.

Liam looked up from Joanie and noticed Eliza’s stance. He moved toward her worriedly and reached a hand toward her and gently touched her shoulder.

“Are you alright, Miss Bennet?” he asked.

“I’m sorry, but what in the Hell just happened?” Cara asked before Eliza could answer the first question.

Eliza took a deep breath and winced presuming that they weren’t going to believe her explanation but decided to tell them the truth anyway.

“I saw a spirit,” she said, “standing in front of Joanie. When it touched her, it drained her energy. I think it was trying to possess her.”

Liam pulled his hand back from her shoulder as if he’d been burned. His attitude immediately changed from concern to fury. His eyes blazed with anger, but his face remained impassive. He took a step back from Eliza and turned toward his friends.

“Will she be ok, Chuck?” he asked withholding any response he might have made to Eliza’s account of the incident.

“I think so. She just needs to get her strength back. We’ll let her rest here for the evening, and maybe even have her stay the night if you think that would be ok,” This was directed toward Eliza.

“You’re the medical expert. Whatever you think,” she replied.

“If you need anything,” Liam said looking only at Chuck, “let me know. I need to finish a few things up before dinner,” he swiftly left the room, but not before glancing at Eliza with a look that clearly said he thought she was lying to them all.

Chuck turned away from Joanie to look at Eliza, “Why don’t you sit down for a few minutes and catch your breath? You look nearly as drained as your sister,” he gestured to an upholstered chair in the corner then returned his attentions to Joanie.

Eliza nodded her head and did as the good doctor had instructed. Cara moved to the other side of the bed to talk to her.

“It?” she questioned.

Eliza looked up at her in confusion.

“When you described the spirit, you used the pronoun ‘it.’” She clarified.

“Oh,” Eliza swallowed, “it was very ethereal,” she tried to explain, “like vapor or mist,” she continued, “I couldn’t really make out any descript features to describe it male or female.”

 “Huh,” Cara seemed to accept her response.

“You believe me?” Eliza asked her in disbelief herself at the possibility of being believed.

“Sure,” Cara shrugged and patted Eliza’s hand, “I mean, why else would you have seemed so scared one minute and then your sister passed out the next? I mean, unless you’d planned it that way as a ruse, but then whatever reason would you have to do that?” she said sweetly, her Southern twang slipping through her practiced city accent.

“Right,” Eliza wasn’t sure what that was supposed to mean, but she had bigger problems on her mind at the moment.

“Eliza, could you come here a moment?” Chuck beckoned her over next to where he stood beside the bed. She walked over to him. “What is that?” he asked.

She looked at where he was pointing and then leaned down to look closer. On Joanie’s temple, precisely where the spirit had touched her, a red mark the shape of a thumb was pressed into her skin.

“That’s where it touched her,” Eliza brushed Joanie’s hair back away from her eyes grazing her own thumb against the print. The moment she touched it, she regretted it because she was struck by a flash of pictures. They were bright, bursting with light and vibrance, but they were scrambled, confusing, and hazy glimpses preventing Eliza from distinguishing a clear image of anything. But then she saw the door and heard the screams that had haunted her nightmares since the Netherfielders had come into town.

She woke up on the floor, though a pillow had been tucked under her head. She tried to sit up, but her head throbbed like she’d been hit by a Mack truck, and she felt brunch threatening to make a return appearance. She laid her head back down on the pillow and groaned.

Liam, having heard Eliza’s groan, entered the room and knelt down beside her.

“Are you alright, Miss Bennet?” he inquired, touching her forehead with the back of his hand.

“Just dizzy,” she replied, embarrassed.

“I apologize for the accommodations. We tried to take you to another guest room, but you were thrashing about so much that we didn’t dare move you farther than the floor.”

“I’m so sorry. I don’t know what came over me,” which was a lie, but he obviously wasn’t going to believe the truth. She tried sitting up again, and Liam supported her back helping her to lean against the side of the bed next to her. “How long was I out? And how’s Joanie?” she asked.

“About an hour. Joanie woke up briefly and is sleeping now. Chuck thinks she will be fine, but he thinks you should both spend the night here,” he stood up and walked toward the door, “He is on the phone with your mother at the moment. I will let him know that you are awake, and when he is off from the phone, we’ll help you into the other room. In the meantime, I’ll send Marjorie to get you some water and aspirin.”

“Thank you,” Eliza tried to smile at him, but it turned out more like a lopsided grimace.

Liam just nodded and left the room to find his friend. Eliza leaned her head onto the mattress behind her and closed her eyes, trying to quiet the images in her head and the nausea still boiling in her stomach. When she opened her eyes again, she realized she must have fallen back asleep. She was in a different room, similar to the one her sister was in, tucked under a puffy pink duvet. She sat up and found the water and aspirin on the white nightstand next to her, as well as some buttered toast dusted with a tiny bit of cinnamon and sugar. Apparently Marjorie was well versed in the ways of relieving headaches and nausea.

Eliza popped the pills in her mouth and drank down the water, then started to nibble on the toast. When she felt she could stand without toppling over, she got up and wandered around the room. (Describe the room more) She peered into the mirror above the white makeup vanity and discovered her hair was a disaster – disheveled and tangled from thrashing through visions and sleep. She opened the top left hand drawer of the vanity and discovered an antique sterling silver brush. She attempted to use it to detangle her hair with little success, but at least enough to pull it into a messy bun at the top of her head, thankful that she always kept a ponytail on her wrist just in case. She straightened her dress and put the brush back in the drawer. Then she made the bed back up and headed out into the hallway to look for her sister.

She started down the hallway toward what she believed was the dining room, but heard voices coming from the other direction, so she turned around and went that way instead. When she reached the entrance to the den she had noticed earlier, she stood outside with her back against the wall so as to be unnoticed and listened to the Netherfielders’ discussion. She was quite aware that she was eavesdropping again, but then the conversation was about her, so she felt entitled.

“So we’ve apparently turned into an infirmary,” Cara laughed, “I guess that’s what I get for inviting crazy witches over for brunch – full on psychotic episodes.”

“Now Cara, you’re being unfair,” Chuck clucked.

“You don’t really believe this nonsense, do you Chuck? I mean, it’s great for entertainment value, but you don’t actually believe in ghosts and spirits?” Cara sneered.

“I agree that they’re a little,” he paused looking for the right word to describe the women, “unorthodox,” he continued. “I’m just saying that I’m reserving judgment for now. The Bennets are perfectly nice young ladies. And just because I’ve never had an encounter with the supernatural doesn’t mean that others haven’t. There are tons of television shows and books written about these things. Why couldn’t they be real?” 

“Liam, what do you think?” Cara asked.

“Hmm? I’m sorry I wasn’t listening,” Mr. Darcy answered.

“What do you think of the Bennet women?” Cara repeated.

“Well, I…” he began.

But Eliza decided she didn’t want to know what Liam thought of the Bennet women, so she walked to the doorway and quietly knock, knock, knocked on the door.

“Sorry to interrupt,” she said quietly.

Liam and Chuck stood suddenly like old fashioned gentlemen greeting a lady when they saw her. Liam was looking at her with a strange expression, “It’s no problem at all,” he said.  
“Come on in,” Chuck gestured to a chair next to Cara.             

“Thank you. I can really only a sit a minute or so, then I should go check on Joanie.” Eliza sat down, crossing her legs one over the other, as she scanned the room. (Describe the den)

“I think she’s going to be fine,” Chuck said, “She just had a scare.”

“Of course, but I’d like to be there when she wakes up, especially since she’s in a strange place.”

“Of course,” Cara placated, “We understand.”

“I spoke with your mother,” Chuck said, “and she agreed that you should both spend the night here to give you time to recover.”

Eliza nodded, “That’s probably best.” She stood up, “I should probably go check on her.”

“We’ll have dinner in about an hour if you’d like to join us in the dining room upstairs,” Cara invited.

“Thank you,” Eliza smiled and went to her sister.

Joanie was still sleeping when Eliza sat down in the chair beside her. (They talk. Eliza goes to dinner.)

Eliza figured that she should probably eat, so she took Cara up on her invitation and headed to the second floor dining room for dinner. The upstairs dining area was less formal, but dinner was just as excellent as brunch. Marjorie first came out offering an imported Italian honey wine, which everyone accepted gratefully after the long, stressful day they’d had. Fresh French baguettes were sliced in baskets in the middle of the table. Eliza waited for Chuck to reach in and take a piece as her cue while they waited on the rest of the food. Next, Marjorie brought out plates of prosciutto wrapped asparagus, garlic scallops, and brie stuffed blackberry ginger pork tenderloins. As they dug into the deliciousness, Cara decided to make small talk.

“Would you mind answering a personal question?” she asked.

Eliza swallowed down a bite of scallops with a sip of wine, “Go for it.” Could she really refuse while she was invading their home and eating their food?

“So, before everything happened and Joanie was spirited away,” Cara began, “you revealed that Katie is Joanie’s child.”

Eliza nodded, not sure where she was going with this, “That’s correct.”

“So, who is Katie’s father?”

Oh, that’s where she was going with this. “Well, I don’t really think that that’s my story to tell,” she looked at Chuck who seemed to be trying not to choke and was staring darts into the side of Cara’s head. When she looked over at Liam, he seemed to be studying his plate. “But, I might as well tell you. I’m sure she’d rather you hear the truth from me than only getting bits and pieces of rumors from the crazy gossips of Meryton.” She took another sip of her wine before continuing, “Sam and Joanie were high school sweethearts. They were inseparable – quarterback and cheerleader, prom king and queen, every teenagers’ dream. They got married the summer after they graduated. They had huge plans - Sam was going to be an architect and the Army would pay for his schooling. Joanie found out she was pregnant about a month after he was shipped off to Kuwait. When she tried to call him and tell him, there was no answer. It was three days of anxious waiting before the officers showed up to tell us he’d been in a truck that hit a buried mine. Joanie moved back home, started waitressing for extra money, and we’ve all had a hand in raising Katie.”

Eliza looked up from her plate, realizing she’d been staring at the brie oozing out of her pork tenderloin the entire time she’d been talking, and was mildly pleased to see the shock and guilt on the faces of her hosts. They were apparently hoping for a more scandalous story of deceit, betrayal, and babies out of wedlock, not the gloomy tale of a teenage army widow and single parent. Well, maybe not Chuck. He looked more like he might just burst into tears at any second.

“That’s such a sad story,” Cara finally broke the silence, “I think that’s very noble, raising a young child on her own. What about your other siblings? They’re both still in school, right?”

“Yes, Natalie is a senior and Olivia is a junior.”

“And they attend the public school here in Meryton?” Cara asked.

“Yes, we all did, as did our parents before us.” Eliza answered.

“And your father passed away?”

“Yes, he died when I was a child in an accident at Longborne Mill.”

“How tragic.” Cara commented.

“Why don’t you let the poor girl eat, Cara instead of being so nosy?” Liam spoke up.

“Just trying to make small talk,” Cara reasoned.

“Conversation is for after dinner. She’s barely had a chance to eat more than two bites, and dessert will be out soon.”

Cara shrugged at him and took a big swig of wine.

When dessert did come out a few minutes later, Eliza had managed to finish off most of what was on her plate. Dessert was spiced red wine poached pears with vanilla ice cream and freshly made whipped cream, presented beautifully on small saucers. When Marjorie served her, she made sure to ask for the recipe. This was something she would love to make herself. It would be perfect in her someday bakery / café.

“Of course, ma’am, and I’ve saved a plate of dinner in the kitchen for your sister should she wake up hungry.” Marjorie smiled.

“Thank you,” Eliza grinned, “She’ll love the asparagus. It’s her favorite.”

“Ahem,” Cara cleared her throat, “Marjorie, would you mind checking on Miss Eliza’s sister when you get the chance? I’d like to take this lovely lady out for a walk and show her the grounds.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Marjorie replied obediently.

“That’s alright,” Eliza said, “I was just getting ready to go check on her.”

“Don’t be silly,” Cara insisted, “Marjorie can do it. We should take advantage of such a beautiful night, and it would be good for you to stretch your legs after such an ordeal today. Would you like to join us Liam? Chuck?”

“No, I need to catch up on the work I was supposed to have finished this afternoon and get it sent in. Also, why would you want me to join you, since you obviously would rather I watch you longingly from my window,” Liam answered all seriousness on his face.

Cara giggled and rolled her eyes as if he had been teasing her, but Eliza could tell she was a bit flustered by the pronouncement. Apparently there was some tension between the two of them. Eliza wondered if there were as close as she had expected after seeing them together at the street dance.

Chuck also refused to join them, “I think I’ll check on Joanie myself and see if there’s anything I can do to make her more comfortable.”

“Oh Chuck,” Eliza caught him before he left he room, “Mr. Darcy said that you spoke to my mother earlier and informed her that we were staying the evening. What exactly did you tell her happened?”

“I just told her that Joanie had taken a fall, and that she would be perfectly fine after some rest.” Chuck assured her.

“Oh good, and you didn’t mention spirits or ghosts or anything like that?”

“No, not at all. I told her that you would both return home tomorrow all healed.”

Eliza let out a breath of relief. “Thank you,” she smiled at him. If her mother had heard that there were spirits, she would be over first thing in the morning trying to fight them off herself with incense and warding spells. Plus, Eliza didn’t want them chased away.

The grounds were breathtaking. (Describe the grounds)

“Can I ask you a personal question?” Eliza said to Cara during their tour of the grounds.

“Might as well. An eye for an eye or whatever the phrase is,” she replied.

“So you and Darcy, are you a thing?” Eliza asked tentatively.

Cara stopped walking and snorted a laugh. “You think me and Darcy are a thing? I mean I can’t say it hasn’t crossed my mind. And we have our little flirtation. Things have passed between us. We’ve known each other forever obviously. Why? Do you think…” Cara sounded almost hopeful, “Do you think there could be something between us?”

Eliza was now certain she’d butted into a conversation she didn’t have any business discussing. “I just wondered after I saw you dancing the other night, and you seemed to be pretty intimate, and then Liam’s talking about staring at you. I just got the impression that there might be some tension between you two,” she tried to explain, her words stumbling over each other.

Cara looked thoughtful, “You might be on to something there.”

They were now walking back toward the house, and Cara stopped again as if she’d had an epiphany, “Oh! Are you into Darcy, Miss Bennet?”

“Ha! What? No, I…I mean. No, definitely not,” Eliza stuttered out a response, her face starting to resemble the pink pansies in the garden beside her. “I was merely asking out of curiosity.”

“Mm-hmm,” Cara nodded but didn’t sound convinced in the slightest.

When they reached the house, they didn’t see that Liam was, in fact, doing what he’d accused Cara of wanting him to do – watching them out the window with a curious expression. What was it about these Bennet women? He wondered to himself.

Cara went to her room to do her evening pilates or whatever it was she did to unwind before bed, and Eliza went to check on her sister. She found Joanie awake with Chuck sitting attentively next to her holding her hand, his chair pushed up next to her bed. When she saw Eliza, she smiled and greeted her happily, but Eliza could tell that there was something keeping the smile from reaching her eyes.

Not wanting to interrupt the seemingly happy couple for too long, she asked, “Hi, are you hungry?”

“Famished,” Joanie admitted.

“I’ll go grab you the leftovers Marjorie kept for you in the fridge.”

When she got back Chuck stood and left to let the sisters have some time alone, but not before bending to kiss Joanie on the forehead and squeezing her hand. Eliza took his seat.

“Alright, time to spill big sister. What’s going on?”

“I don’t really know. She just touched me.”


“I thought you could see her.”

“I could see a figure, but I couldn’t make much out. I did see it or her I guess touch you. Could you see her?” Eliza asked.

“No, but I could feel her and when she touched me I saw images. I think they might have been memories. It happened so fast and so violently that I don’t really remember much, but they reminded me of what you’d told me about your dreams lately.”

“The door and the screaming?”

“Yes, that was the most vivid part. It was terrifying,” Joanie sighed.

“Did Chuck tell you that I passed out as well?”
“No! What?” Joanie sat up further in the bed and reached out for her sister’s hand, “Did she touch you too? Are you alright?”

“I’m perfectly fine,” Eliza answered figuring that was probably the most important question to answer first. “And no, she didn’t touch me. I touched your temple, right at your hairline…”

“Where she touched me,” Joanie started to understand, reaching up and touching near the spot, but not exactly on it.

“She left a mark,” Eliza explained, “Wait, hold on a second.” She jumped up and ran into the other guest room, grabbed a small handheld mirror from the vanity drawer where she’d found the brush earlier, and took it back to her sister.

“Here, take a look.” Eliza said, handing her the mirror.

Joanie examined the spot looking in the mirror as if seeing herself for the first time.

“Chuck noticed the spot, and when I reached down to touch it I saw the images or at least what I’m guessing at the same images that you saw when the spirit touched you.”

“Were you able to decipher any of them?”

“Nothing more than you did. Apparently I wasn’t as affected as you. I think it was like a mini quake, a follow up, leftover energy coming off of you from her touch. And apparently I was basically seizing.”

“Oh geeze, Liza.” Joanie sounded concerned, “Did I do the same?”

“No, you just fell still. It was terrifying.” Eliza shivered remembering, “You know what?” she patted Joanie’s hand tenderly. “How about we figure all of this out tomorrow. You need to reset, and tomorrow will be another day,” she finished in her deepest south accent.

“Alright Scarlet O’Hara, I will,” replicating her sister’s tone of voice. “You go get some sleep too.” Joanie smiled and scooted back down under the covers.

Eliza headed back to the pink frilly decorated room, but she knew that she probably wouldn’t get much sleep tonight. There was just too much to think about. She put on the pajama pants that Marjorie had left on the bed for her, a matching set of plaid flannel pants and button up top with a pair or little brown fluffy slippers to match. She slid under the covers, and tried to close her eyes, but she was too keyed up to doze off. What she needed, she knew, was a book. Something to keep her mind off of things. Since she obviously couldn’t go cook in someone else’s house, though she thought Marjorie might let her.

She decided the best course of action was to get up and wander around because why not go wandering around a potentially haunted house in the middle of the night, right? She put the floofy slippers on her feet, reveling in the cushy bottoms that only high class people could afford to wear for thirty minutes of the day. Then headed out into the hall, careful to keep her steps light and quiet as possible. She figured the best place to find a book would be in the den she’d discovered earlier, where she’d discovered the Netherfielders talking. She walked around the corner watching her feet as she walked and not noticing that the light was on in the den, so when she came face to face with Mr. Darcy, she just about jumped out of her skin.

“Holy smokes Batman!” she exclaimed in hush tones. She was still aware that people were sleeping.

“Holy smokes Batman!” Liam also exclaimed at the exact same time, in not so hushed tones that would surely wake up half of the town and any spirits that had been napping.

They were both flushed from the shock and muttered ‘I’m sorry’s’ awkwardly without meeting each others’ eyes.

“Couldn’t sleep?” Liam guessed.

“No rest for the wicked,” Eliza joked, “Actually I was just looking for a book to read,” she explained.

“Oh, well you came to the right place,” Liam replied, “I was just going to grab a night cap. Would you like something?”

“Do you have any whiskey?”

Liam laughed, “Do I have any whiskey?” he repeated mockingly, “Ha! On the rocks?”

“Sounds perfect,” Eliza smiled.

“Feel free to browse the shelves, and I’ll be back in a jiffy.” Liam turned toward the dining room.

Eliza walked into the den and once again found herself gaping at the selection of books. She would never sleep if she had a collection like this at home. She found a stool to stand on, so she could look at some of the higher shelves. The shelves lined the room floor to ceiling on all but the side the door was on. The books were old and new, non-fiction and fiction, a conglomeration of titles from Jane Austen to Stephen King. Eliza was trying to read every title before making a choice, but Pride and Prejudice was calling to her, so she pulled it off the shelf just as Liam re-entered the room with two short glasses of whiskey.

“Austen, huh? Good choice,” he nodded as he handed her one of the glasses.
“Glad I have your approval,” Eliza responded automatically sarcastic, “Sorry, I mean…you’ve read Pride and Prejudice?” she amended.

“Actually, no. I’ve read Persuasion and Sense and Sensibility, but that’s all. Those were required readings in the literature class I took at the university.”

“Oh,” Eliza thought for a moment, “Where did you…” she began, but Darcy interrupted her.

“Well, I hope the reading and whiskey will help you get some sleep. Good night, Miss Bennet,” and with a nod of his head he was gone.

Not good at small talk, are you Mr. Darcy? Eliza thought as she headed back to the bedroom, taking a sip of the whiskey and grimacing at the instant shock to her system. That was some good stuff.

Once the whiskey hit Eliza’s system, it wasn’t long before the alcohol and classic Austen words lulled her to sleep. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a very restful sleep, but she supposed that she should have expected that in a potentially haunted house where she’d already met one restless spirit.

Tonight the dreams were ten times more vivid than before. They were a mixture of wonder and terror, pictures and full scenes playing out in Eliza’s subconscious. Two boys taunting and joking, a man and woman smiling, a stuffed unicorn on a frilly pink bed, a old woman shaking her finger, running, not being able to breathe, and of course the screaming and the door. Eliza tried her best to pay attention to the details of the dream. She’d studied enough to know that you can control your dreams and change the outcomes, though she hadn’t ever really had any success at that. But if she worked at it she was able to be aware while dreaming that she was, in fact, in the midst of a dream. Being present and concentration helped to keep her from begin scared and to remember the dream when she woke up. Of course that only worked to a point and can totally fail if you’re being manipulated by some sort of spirit or ghost.

As soon as Eliza woke up the following morning, the book still laying on her chest, she searched the little bedroom for a pen and paper. She found one in the nightstand next to the bed and wrote down everything she could remember from the dreams while they were still fresh in her mind. Then she put on her clothes from the day before, stuck the dream notes in her cardigan pocket, attempted to do something to fix her hair, and went to check on Joanie.

 Eliza panicked for a brief second when she didn’t find Joanie in the bedroom she’d been in the day before, when she heard voices walking down the hallway. Eliza went back out into the hallway and saw Joanie up and dressed, her arm linked through Chuck’s walking toward her.

“Well, don’t you look all bright eyed, bushy tailed, and rosy cheeked?” Eliza commented as they approached her, both of them smiling from ear to ear.

“Oh, Eliza! Sorry if I worried you. Chuck and I just got back from taking a tour of the grounds and eating breakfast. There’s a plate waiting for you.” Joanie said excitedly.

“Well, I only about had a heart attack when you weren’t here, but I totally forgive you if there’s m ore of Marjorie’s food,” she smiled in return and patted her sister on the back, “Since you’ve been up and moving around though, what are the plans for today?” she figured she’d give Joanie the choice on when to go home, since she’d been stuck in a bed for over eighteen hours.

“Well, I know I need to get home before noon, and it’s…” she looked down at the Mickey Mouse watch on her wrist that she’d gotten when she’d gone to Disney World on her honeymoon, “Oh wow, it’s almost eleven. Time moves fast when you’re having a good time,” she looked up at Chuck when she said that.

Eliza laughed, “I’ll go eat my brunch up then, and you two can finish up here. I’ll meet you in the car around 11:30, alright?”

“That works for me,” Joanie replied, and she and Chuck moved on to wherever they’d been headed before.

Eliza went up to the dining room where her plate of brunch awaited, still warm under a sterling silver lid. Oatmeal with fresh peaches and brown sugar granola with a chocolate and banana crepe were exactly what she needed. She was starting to wonder if Marjorie was a witch or some sort of mind reader they way she knew exactly what she needed, a light weight but filling meal.  When she smelled the bittersweet smell of French roast coffee coming from behind her though, she was pretty much certain.

“You must be telepathic, Marjorie! I was just thinking I needed some…” she started, turning around in her chair to take in the sight of the coffee in addition to the smell. But then she realized that it was not Marjorie carrying her favorite beverage, but you guessed it, Darcy. And he was sipping the mug of coffee he carried, so it obviously wasn’t even for her.

“Oh, sorry. I thought you were Marjorie bringing me coffee,” Eliza admitted sheepishly.

“I gathered that,” Liam said, sitting down in the chair next to her, “Would you like me to have her bring you a cup?” he asked.

“Well, I wouldn’t want to be a bother, but that would be lovely,” Eliza answered.

Liam took another sip of his coffee, then disappeared for a minute, returning with a second cup and handed it to Eliza.

“Bless you, sir.” Eliza said, taking in a huge whiff of the coffee and then sipping the coffee, “Oh my God.”

“Is something wrong?” Liam asked concerned.

Eliza shook her head, “Just that this is the best cup of coffee I’ve ever had, and I’ve had a lot of coffee.” She had both hands wrapped around the mug as if it were a precious treasure she would never put down.

“Oh, it’s called Café Etonnant or something like that. My grandfather had it imported from France.”

Eliza just nodded, allowing the caffeine to clear away all the problems and headaches of the last few days. They both sat in silence for a few minutes, when Chuck came in the room.

“Oh, are you still in here?” he asked indicating the question to Eliza, “Joanie just went out thinking that you would already be in the car waiting for her.”

Eliza looked down at her watch, “Oh crap! I should have been. The coffee was just too good.” She took one last slip and rushed toward the stairs, then rushed back to the table where Liam and now Chuck sat. “Thank you again for your hospitality,” she spat out, short on breath. Then ran down the stairs and out of the home to the car before either man could respond.

Chapter Six: Home Again Home Again Jiggity Jig

When the Bennet girls returned back to their humble home on London Drive, they were bombarded by questions. What a surprise, right? They wanted to know about the house of course, and the possibility of ghosts, but mostly they wanted to know about the men. I mean, this is still Pride and Prejudice, and that’s pretty much all the Bennet women cared about – men, money, and who was best at playing the piano. (I’ll tell you a secret. None of them were very good. Joanie and Eliza could tap out Fur Elise, Natalie had managed to memorize Moonlight Sonata, but Olivia hadn’t made it past the ever endearing Heart and Soul)

The two eldest sisters told of their adventures, Eliza filling in the most since Joanie had honestly slept through the majority of the trip. After Joanie described her stroll with Chuck, Olivia and Mrs. Bennet chattily started planning their wedding (because that was obviously the next step in the courting process)

That afternoon, after Eliza enjoyed a very long and refreshing hot shower (since she had been unable to shower the day before, and she was a shower every day kind of person) she began about cooking dinner. And was very annoyed when she was halfway through cooking and was told that she needed to make enough for an extra guest since they’re favorite person would be visiting. Yes, Mr. Williams would be joining them at the table that evening with important news.  

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