|The Powerful Play Goes On
Author: Frankincense Pontipee PM
Somewhere between the cake, the crime drama, the books, the post-its, the mortal enemies and the hot boys, a whispered legacy of words and ideas will change two lives forever. A modern Sense and Sensibility/Northanger Abbey crossover.Rated: Fiction T - English - Romance - Chapters: 9 - Words: 58,982 - Reviews: 37 - Favs: 10 - Follows: 8 - Updated: 10-19-11 - Published: 03-29-11 - id: 6854822
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Part I: Ellis
Mari cried openly at the funeral. If anyone else had done it, they would have been red and puffy. She, typically, looked elegant. Devastated, broken, but beautiful. Maggie, conversely, remained dry eyed. She clung to my side like a limpet, knowing full well that Mari is useless when she's upset, and the Mum has been distant, understandably so. Also, Maggie hates crying. I suspect that she guessed I'd be the least embarrassing one to stand with. A silent tear here. A subtle nose wipe there. A whole host of repressed, bubbling emotion, jammed down within. Perfect. Gentlemanly, as Maggie says.
Afterwards, we hid in the library. Fifi suggested (rather, insisted) that the whole house be opened up, "in memory of dear Alistair." "Bull," said Mari, five minutes after she arrived, having cycled through a wheel of emotion, right from the front steps (devastation), to the stairs (exhaustion), the hall (remorse), a brief interlude to bump into Fifi and John, then my bedroom (righteous indignation). "Dad wouldn't have had the house open for this," she had said. "He'd have been mortified."
A time of emotional turmoil is certainly not the time to mock. My head had automatically snapped up. My brain, however, managed to work faster than my tongue. Mari saw the movement. Then she squinted a little, recalling her words.
"Oh," she had said, and smiled, resigned. "Well, not mortified. It's a bit late for that."
We Dashwood girls know how to make a joke. Some would say that it's bad taste, a week after your father drowns, to be punning with the word play. We know differently, though. We know that Dad would have joined in. I said as much. Mari smiled.
Her smile had disappeared, however, by the day of the funeral. It was a bright, and sunny day, totally at odds with my Bronte-esque imagination of your typical funeral (freezing fog being the defining feature) but Mari was not. She had muscled through the last week of planning, writing eulogies, deciding on wording for headstones and newspaper announcements. She had tamped down her annoyance at Fifi, every time that she second guessed us. We had wanted "live long and prosper". Even John had smiled. She said no, almost ruling over us all. Mum had raised a long-suffering eyebrow, then nodded.
"He would have loved it," Mari had said, looking mutinously at Fi.
"Maybe he would," said Mum, "but he doesn't have to look at it."
Fifi had smiled, smugly.
"I think 'He lived deliberately and lived deep'," said Mum.
We had sat in silence for a few minutes, contemplating Dad's life, and wondering, secretly, if it wasn't in poor taste for a man, drowned at sea, to have 'he lived deep' engraved on his headstone. The guy did like puns in poor taste. Maybe it was perfect.
"Carpe Diem, and all that," I said.
Mum had smiled. "Exactly," she said.
"You don't want that on the headstone, do you?"
Briefly, we all pictured the stone, elegantly carved:
Alistair Alexander Dashwood
25April, 1949 – 3 June, 2010
Husband, Father, Friend
He lived deliberately, and lived deep
Carpe Diem and all that
I suspect that all of us, save Fi, thought it would be a fitting tribute to a man with such a silly sense of humour. We all, however, smiled, resignedly, and said no. Mari had said nothing, only drummed her fingers on the kitchen table. It is normally easy work to break that camel's back, but she stayed strong, if not terribly subtle. Half an hour after we buried Dad, however, she burst into the library where I had gone to hide, and said, not looking quite so elegant, and, in fact, a little more crazy, "she invited her whole family!"
"Her whole family, Ellis. To our Father's funeral. All of them. Here."
She sat down, heavily, in one of the armchairs next to the fire. Had one of the room stewards been here, they would have shrieked. All that Edwardian finery, flumped under the weight of an angry twenty-one year old. "Her parents," she said, ticking off two fingers. "Her brothers." Another two fingers. "Her sister," she said, with a shudder.
"I know," I said again.
"No, you don't. You weaselled out of almost all the hell which surrounded John's wedding, when I was expected to entertain Robbie and Izzy," she said, her voice dripping with disdain. "Seriously," she said. "They were awful."
"You told me."
She had. Several times. Each time that she wanted me to do something. Something, that is, that I didn't want to. She'd wheel out the old 'you-weren't-there-and-I-had-to-cope-with-all-the-hellishness' and I'd feel slightly bad (not all that much, but a little) and would comply. Generally.
"Well," she said. "You should know then how bad it is. They're all here. Even the one who couldn't come to the wedding because he was pulling off some business merger. Who does that anyway? Miss their own sister's wedding for work?"
I had to agree. At times I want to punt Mari and Mags into the lake, but I'd move hell and high water if they wanted me with them. For something important, I mean. There are times when I wouldn't get out of bed for them. But anyway. "Yeah," I said. "They're certainly not much like us."
"Yeah," repeated Mari, scornfully.
"It's not necessarily a bad thing."
She raised an eyebrow. Dad used to say that too. He thought we were delightfully dysfunctional. A family without much but each other, stuck in the body of a family with everything. That was his only explanation for why we still went on caravan holidays to Wales, and why he would drink beer over champagne, any day.
"Apparently, he's staying."
She got me on the wrong foot. "Sorry?" I asked. "What are you talking about?"
She sighed, and rolled her eyes. "Edward," she said. "The business merger king. Fifi has invited him to stay for a week, I think. Or more…"
Before Mari could answer, Maggie burst into the room. She had tried to sneak off upstairs as soon as we got in, to change out of her dress. Mum asked her, tiredly and quietly, if she could please keep it on, just for a few hours. Maggie grimaced, and said she'd promise nothing, but had at least, for now, managed it.
"Where are the books on wills?"
I shrugged. "We don't have any."
She frowned, and spun on her heel, striding to a bookcase. "Because," she said, running a finger along the spines of the books, "there has to be some loop-hole in them for getting the house."
"Maggie," I groaned. This had been going on all week, ever since the lawyers called. The estate had come to the family through John's mother. While Dad was alive, it went to him, but since he died, it carried on down the family line, to John, and not us. We vaguely knew that it was going to happen. We just didn't think it would happen for years.
"There has to be something!"
She narrowed her eyes at me. "Why aren't you fighting for it?"
I shrugged. "There's no point. The estate divided is worth nothing. It makes sense for it to be inherited as a whole anyway, regardless of the fact that it was John's mother's inheritance. It should go to him."
"Anyway," said Mari, "we're always known that the business was ours. As for the house … well, Maggie, we can stay here for now, and when we finally find somewhere, it'll be better than anything you imagine. Honestly." Mari, for once, was successful. Normally she is too emotional and Mags too stubborn.
"Fine," said Maggie, and she slumped into the chair facing Mari. "It had better have a tree-house. And a lake."
I took a deep breath, hoping that all that air would squash down the terrible truth that was hiding in my chest. "Maybe," I said, and she gave me a shrewd look.
"Maybe? Maybe doesn't get Everest climbed."
"Maybe doesn't discover America."
"Maybe doesn't reach the pole, Ellis. Maybe dies in a tent."
Mari and I exchanged glances. Sometimes, Maggie goes completely over my head.
"OK," I said, "but I'm not promising you anything. We'll find somewhere to live, whether it's here, or a way away, close enough for me to get here to work."
"And what if you lose your job?" she asked, primly.
I sighed. "I'm the Estate Manager, Mags," I said. "I'm pretty invaluable."
Looking back, I wish I had never said it. It was like the blade which swiped out the first stitch. The rest just fell out, one by one. I rather suspect that the next one was Edward.
I met him over a plate over hors d'oeuvre. "Your Mum asked if you wanted anything to eat," he said, at my elbow. I was making painful small-talk with a neighbour who we had never liked, and who certainly never liked Dad. At this, I politely excused myself, and turned to him. He was, dare I say it, unremarkable. Lightish hair. Darkish eyes. A nice smile.
"I'm sorry?" I asked, eyeing the plate of cold food which he held out to me.
He smiled. "Your Mother. She asked if I could make sure you ate something."
I looked down at the plate. He looked too. "It's not really my kind of food."
He smiled again. "Mine either. I'm guessing Fi chose it."
I eyed him. "You must be her brother."
He shifted the plate to the other hand, and shook mine. "Edward," he said. "Pleased to meet you."
"Ellis, well…Elinor, really, but…"
"You don't like it?"
I shrugged. "I rather suspect that it's not really the done thing to drop the name that your father chose for you, especially at his funeral, but no. Not really. I changed it when I was twelve."
"Any particular reasoning in your choice?" His smile was interested. His eyes were alive.
I squirmed a little. This particular question always prompts the revelation of my inner teenager. "Uh," I began, "Emily Bronte."
His smile quirked. "Yorkshire solidarity?"
"Something like that. It was the year Dad gave me Wuthering Heights to read. I thought it was the most romantic, extraordinary thing in all the world."
He put down the plate, and crossed his arms, smiling still. "So you're a romantic?"
I shrugged again. "Deep down. When I was younger. I think I developed a bit of a sensible shell as I got older."
"You went native," he murmured. I wouldn't have picked up on it, had it not been Maggie's ultimate put-down. And it was true.
"Yes," I said. "I did rather." I smiled, ruefully. "The girl who made her sister cry because she told her ghost stories disappeared over the years."
"You made her cry?"
I found myself starting to smile. "Yes? My parents never knew. Mari told them she had nightmares, so that they wouldn't stop me from doing it the next night."
"So she's just as bad?"
I smiled a little more. It started to feel a bit more normal again. "Much worse. She never went native. She's just as wild and romantic as we were when we were little." I paused. "How about you, then?" I asked.
"Oh, deeply sensible, I'm afraid." He smiled again.
Suddenly, I remembered who he was. "Right," I said. "You work in business management, or something…"
He rubbed the back of his neck, looking a bit embarrassed. "Well, not exactly."
"How 'not exactly'?"
"No. Years ago."
I frowned. "But Fi told me…"
"Yes," he interrupted. "She hasn't quite resigned herself to my stopping working in an office and wearing brogues. I'm a massive disappointment to her."
I absentmindedly picked at some mushroom filled pastry on the plate by my hand. I regretted it almost immediately. "So, what do you do?"
He seemed to squirm a little. He was clearly used to unfavourable responses. "A youth worker?" he said.
"Working with kids?"
He nodded. "Yeah. Down in Bristol. My friend Harry is training to be a vicar, working in a whole big bunch of churches. He got me to come and help out."
Without really noticing, we moved out onto the terrace. "So, he got you into it?"
We sat down on the stone steps. "Yeah," he said. "I met him in the Christian Union at university, and then after graduating, while he was starting training, he asked me to come and help out at some event. After that I helped out more and more, and trained in my spare time. I was miserable at work, and it was this great escape, and after a while, it seemed stupid to do a job I hated, and exhaust myself with work in my free time which I loved, when I could be paid for it."
"So you quit?"
He smiled again. "Yeah. My parents were horrified."
"And your sister."
"Yes," he said, with another smile. "I think she'd have preferred it if I had died."
"So you're the black-sheep of the family."
He rubbed the back of his neck again. "I guess," he said. "I'm very careful to not upset them over anything else now."
I leaned back on the steps. The sun had made them so warm. I felt like a cat, basking in the sunshine. "Like what?" I asked.
"Oh, you know, radical haircuts, becoming a vegan, dating the wrong women…"
He smirked. "That would just about kill them."
The murmur from inside broke through my conscious. "I should go back inside," I said, and stood up, slowly. "Mari says that you're staying longer?"
He winced. "I'm sorry about that. Fi demanded that I did. I hope it's all right."
I managed another smile. "It's fine," I said. "It was nice talking to you." Then I walked back inside.
The next day, at breakfast, things reached an odd impasse.
"The funeral's over," hissed Maggie to me. "Why are they still here, and what's her brother doing here?"
Maggie has never been subtle. The whole table must have heard her. Edward smiled into his cornflakes. John caught my eye and squirmed. Only Fifi dared to look back at Maggie.
"This is our home now," she said.
"Too," broke in John. "Our home," he amended, "also."
"It has always been your home, John," said Mum, quietly.
He shot her a look of grateful pity. "I know. It has."
Mum smiled carefully, and turned back to studiously reading the paper, rather than talk to anyone.
The table settled into a state of awkward silence. Mari, while not as antagonistic as Maggie, was not talking. Fifi continued to eat with an air of superiority. John looked awkward. Edward looked like he was trying to blend into his chair, although in reality, the ghost of a smile gave him away. I looked around the table and realised that the person who used to be good in these situations was Dad. He'd diffuse it with a rousing discussion on Star Trek and immigration, his favourite jam, and the state of the government's finances. He would dodge and weave between topics until everyone had said something. Now, however, the table remained silent. I caught John's eye. He was clearly thinking the same thing.
"So," I said. John smiled. "Anyone been watching Veronica Mars?"
Edward found me, a while later, in the estate office. By that time, unfortunately for him, I had been cornered by Fifi. For several reasons, I was not in the best of moods.
"So," he said, leaning in the door, "you never actually told me why you're called Ellis."
"And you never told me what you're actually doing here," I shot back.
He winced. "Oh."
"You're here to assess the business potential of the estate?"
He moved into the office. "It's not how it sounds."
"Really?" I said, a little too fast. "So you're not here to assess the business…"
"Yes," he said, and slumped into the swivel chair opposite mine. He sighed. "I can't say no to her. More than anything else, I'm terrified that they'll finally snap and have me shipped off and deprogrammed."
I rubbed a hand across my stiff neck. "Like that guy in Veronica Mars?"
"From what you were saying at breakfast…yes." He smiled. "It's stupid, and they know that they can get away with pretty much murder, but I don't want to upset them."
I rolled my shoulders. The tension had risen and solidified in them. "So you're here to rip apart everything that Dad and I put into this place?"
"No," he said. "Not at all. I think Fi just wants a basic assessment of how it's going. The basic incomings and outgoings. Maybe a few ideas of how to increase incomings…decrease outgoings…you know."
I sighed, and leaned back in my chair. "OK," I said, finally. "Just don't give her any stupid ideas."
He grinned. "Roller-coasters and genetically recreated dinosaurs though, right?"
I rubbed a hand over my face. "Fine," I said, between my fingers.
We sat in silence for a few minutes. Then, finally, "it was her pen-name."
"Sorry?" he asked.
I sighed, and rolled my shoulders again. "Emily Bronte. Ellis was her pen-name."
"Oh." He paused. "Why?"
"Fascist pig publishers."
"Oh," he said again. "Is Mari some author's pen-name?"
I looked at him for a second. "No," I said. "It's short for Marianne."
"Oh," he said once more. "That makes…" He began to smile at himself. "Sense," he said, finishing off laughing. "I must look like such an idiot."
I smiled back. "Just a bit."
He sighed, and leaned back in his chair, grinning. "Fine. I don't suppose, now that I've prostrated myself on the altar of dignity, that you'd let me look at the books, would you?"
Indignation rose in my chest. I smacked it down with sarcasm. "Well I've got Jane Eyre upstairs. There's a very nice first edition of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall in the library…"
"The accounts, Ellis."
I smiled a bit. Then I sighed, resigned, and leaned back, heavily, revelling in my fancy office chair. The old one had a tendency to scoot when I slumped. "Fine," I said, having probably screwed my face up into an old-man-apple kind of look in the last few seconds. "Fine," I said again, and, calling up the pages on my laptop and hit the Print button. He watched in silence as they whirred and chugged their way out. Then I handed them to him. "OK?"
He took them, and smiled. "Thank you," he said, and stood up. "I want to be friends, you know," he said. "I know, my sister and your job, and your Dad…it's all complicated, but I don't want to make this any harder than it has to be."
I sighed again. It's hard, being an adult. Besides the drinking, that is. "Fine," I said. "I will put aside my righteous indignation, and rise above it."
He quirked a smile. "Aside and above?"
"All right, get out."
He grinned. "See you later," he said as he walked out of sight.
"Not if I see you first!" It turned out, that I'm not an adult after all. Who knew?
"I can trust you, can't I?"
I looked at him, hard, in the twilight. "Seriously, Ed. This can't go further."
"After this last week, I'd have thought you'd trust me. I did, after all, save your life."
I frowned a little. "When?"
"I stopped you from pitching over the side of the hill, and rolling, catastrophically, into the lake. And then drowning."
I frowned again. "I really don't remember that. I never…" I stopped. "You're not talking about when you said 'hey, Ellis, be careful of that rabbit hole', are you?"
He grinned. "No need to thank me."
"Ed, I'm serious."
He crossed his heart. "I will take it to my grave. Unless it's really funny…"
I groaned. "You're annoying."
"Fine, I just needed to tell someone, but you know, I'll just go and talk to the storks."
"No," he said, grinning still, but he caught my arm. "I am serious," he said. "You can tell me anything." He composed his face. He looked reasonably sensible. "Tell me."
I sighed. I flicked my watch catch open and closed. I debated whether this was going to bring us down. I gave it up. The need to tell someone to whom it made no difference was becoming overwhelming. I hate keeping secrets. More than anything else. "OK," I said, "but you really do need to tell no one."
"OK," he said.
I sighed again, then, "we're broke."
He frowned. "Sorry?"
"Bankrupt, if you will."
I sighed, and leaned back against the steps, still warm, even in the gloom, from all the sun of the day. "Dad's will left the estate and all its finances to John, and the business and all its finances to Mum."
"Right," he said. "But he was one of the most successful business men of his time."
"Yeah," I said, "except when he died with those other twenty something people, it was on one of his boats, and several of them have sued, and we are already looking at multi-million settlements."
I closed my eyes. "Yeah," I said again. "The other members of the board decided that it was in the company name's best interests if they just accepted culpability and paid up, rather than dragging those poor people through law suit after law suit. It is now pretty much bankrupt and is, as we speak, being sold to some American company."
"This is terrible," he breathed. "But what about the money from selling it?"
"Its reputation was where most of the money was, and that's gone. Other than that, it'll go anyway. Somewhere between redundancies and court bills. It can't go to us though. We decided that it was only fair."
He frowned. "We?"
"It should have been Mum, as she now owns it, but she wasn't really up to it. She signed it all over to me. I've checked everything with her, but really, she couldn't care less right now."
"And the business will close?"
"No," I said, sitting up again, easing out the kinks from where the warm stone edges had pushed into my back. "They're contractually obliged to stay in Barton. It was part of the selling agreement. We've already let down the town. We couldn't see half of them die, then fire the others."
He scooted along the step. "You haven't let them down. It was a freak accident, with a terrible combination of conditions. No one could have known what would happen."
I shrugged as his arm came to rest around my shoulder. "Either way, you can't pass the buck forever. The people wanted to blame someone, and we certainly felt responsible."
"Well," he said, pulling me a bit closer, under his arm, "I think you're extraordinary for dealing with this like that."
I smiled at him. Then we sat for a bit longer in the gloaming, listening to the cries of the birds down below us, as they settled down for the night.
I think it all might have worked out, somehow, had one thought not entered Fifi's mind. Or even if John hadn't handed the business side of the estate over to her. It was galling enough having to, ultimately, report to her. It was made ten times worse when she had her little idea.
"I thought a spa," she said, fingers steepled, eyes gazing intently between me and Edward, where we sat opposite the monstrous desk in the library. Dad's desk.
I swallowed down my immediate retort of "hell, no."
"I looked into that for you," said Ed. I shot him a look. He squirmed a little, then carried on quickly, "and said it was a bad idea."
"No," she said, painfully patiently, "you said that it would take a lot to make it work."
I frowned at Ed. He turned to Fi. "I said that it would take a massive amount of capital to make it worthwhile as your only venture. I said it would maybe work as a side venture, but it couldn't in that capacity be the celebrity-high-status thing that you're imagining."
"Because of all the tourists," she said, disdainfully.
"Yeah," I blurted out. "They are, after all, the reason that we can still live in the house and not sell it for flats or…"
She pursed her lips. "So you say," she began, "that my little idea would not work in the way I want unless we had some massive injection of cash."
"Exactly," said Ed, looking, for the moment, reasonably triumphant.
She pursed her lips again. "Fine."
I let out the breath I wasn't even aware that I was holding, and stood up. "Well, if that's everything."
She stood up, and walked out.
I turned to Ed who, as I turned, pounced on me, and hugged me so hard, my feet came off the ground. "Well done," he said, and he grinned as he put me down. "She would have fought harder if you had lost it."
I sighed, and smiled up at him. "Thank you. I probably would have hit her had you not been here. Seriously. Closing the house? Starting a spa?"
He shrugged. "She's mad. Always has been. Izzy too. Rob's not much better. I, however, shucked the gene."
"A freak of nature, if you will."
He grinned yet again, and slung an arm around my shoulders as we walked out of the library. "So about the dinosaurs…" he began, and pushed open the door onto the terrace. It was only as I closed it from the other side that, through the glass, I saw Fifi, looking after us.
My momentary relief and, dare I say it, triumph, lasted a week. Then Fi asked for another meeting with me and Ed.
"It's sheer desperation," he said. "She loved that spa idea, and she'll do anything to keep it. She'll probably start floating ideas of selling out the whole bird garden and renting the lake out to the local aquarium."
I snorted, and settled down. Of course he was right. Of course it was going to be OK. We walked up to the house from where we'd been doing some work on the books down in the office. The entrance hall was cool and echoing. The corridors were quiet. The library, however, was thick with smug malevolence.
"Fi," I said, sitting down opposite her. The smirk barely moved. Her eyes, however, flicked between me and Ed. Then she pursed her lips.
"You said that we'd need a large injection of cash."
Ed frowned as he sat. "The spa idea? To have it as your sole income here, absolutely. It would have to be high end to attract the high end clientele."
"Right," said Fi, and shuffled her papers.
"We went through this last week," I said. "I thought we decided that it just wouldn't work."
"Yes," said Fi, slowly, "except that was last week. This week," she said, "I have a provisional offer from a certain massive cosmetics conglomerate, which wishes to remain anonymous."
Ed leaned forward. "An offer of what?"
"Sponsorship, in return for investment."
Ed glanced at me, then back at Fifi. "What was the offer?"
Her smile became both wider and more insincere. "I'm glad you asked. Here." She passed a paper across to him.
He read it. Then he swore.
I told Mum. I had to. It changed everything. I mean, our situation was already pretty precarious, and now? She went pale. She frowned. Then dinner was ready and we had to sit, both churning things over, through coq au vin and plum crumble. When we had finished we said we'd do the washing up. Mari was surprised. It was clear, all over her face. Neither Mum nor I are particularly domesticated. Cooking, general cleaning sense and an ability to separate washing correctly eludes both of us. Mari, however, in the absence of Dad, normally takes over. For all her dramatic paddies and inability to hide her feelings, she bakes a good cake, and is surprisingly efficient with a scrubbing brush. She had cooked and washed up so far every night since she had come home, with a rotating door of helpers, from John and Fi's son Xander (mean with a potato peeler) to John himself, liberally pouring wine into most dishes, and even Mags who instigated military precision in the washing-up process. They all, in fact, looked a little concerned. Last time Mum and I washed up, several things broke, and most things still had lasagne on them. They swallowed their concern however, and left us in peace. The door swung closed, and Mum sat down again, heavily.
"I'll put the kettle on."
She looked up at me, wryly. "I don't think I've heard that phrase so many times in my life as I have this last month."
I threw the dishes into the sink and set the hot tap on them. They could soak for a while. Tap off, I threw tea leaves into the pot, and poured on the water, before sitting down opposite Mum, mugs at the ready.
"So," she eventually said. "Fi is turning this place into a spa."
"And I'm out of a job."
She put her head on one side. "You couldn't run it?"
"I'm the estate manager," I said, "not business manager. I'm the house and the gardens and the grounds. I don't have the first clue about running a business like that. I mean…I spend half my day in wellies and wrangling with the gardeners."
Mum nodded as she poured the tea. "Not schmoozing with Cindy Crawford and Gwyneth Paltrow."
"I don't even know who they are!" I said, panicking slightly.
"Of course you do," said Mum, patting my hand. "One of them is the tall, willowy model, and the other one is the tall, willowy actress. You know? The one with all the goopy organic things…"
The panic subsided. "Oh…yeah. OK." I sighed. "I can't do it."
Mum looked at me, shrewdly. "And Fi knows it," she said.
I rubbed my aching forehead, and took a sip of tea. My face must have shown the resignation.
"Is it because of you and Edward?"
My head must have snapped up at that.
She looked defensive. "Not that I mind," she said. "I just wondered…"
"We're just friends!"
She smiled. "OK."
She patted my hand again. "OK," she said again, less patronisingly. "I'm not sure that Fifi knows it though."
"No," I said, rubbing my forehead again. "I suspected that she thought something was going on. I don't know why she cares…"
Mum smiled. "She likes things to stay a certain way," she said. "When I married your father there were plenty of people who thought that I should have refused him, and let him marry someone else."
"Someone of his own class?" Even I could hear the derision in my voice.
"Someone that they could understand," she said quietly. "Someone like them. Someone who thought like them. Your father and me, dragging you all off for caravan holidays every year absolutely horrified them."
"We should have been skiing in Aspen?"
She smiled. "Something like that." She shrugged. "Fi is just the same. She fears change."
"And yet she wants to chuck out years of work on this place and make way for a luxurious health spa!"
"She wants to be useful, and do the work she knows how to do. Mucking about in her wellies every day, standing waist-deep in the stream every winter cleaning out the weed, supervising grouting and grouse shooting…can you see her doing any of that?"
"No," I said, feeling tears rising. "I do all of that."
"And what would she do?" asked Mum. "What space is there for her, here?"
I felt my inner six year old revolting. I scowled. "There isn't," I said. "She can just go back to London."
Mum smiled. So did I. Reluctantly.
"Fine," I said. "She needs to be useful. I get that. I just…I wish that it wasn't at the expense of my job, because if I haven't a job, then we haven't got any money coming in, and then we can't afford to stay here, free rent or not."
"I know," said Mum, "and I'm going to be totally useless over this, I'm telling you now. It has been over twenty-five years since I moved house, let alone had a paying job."
I pulled one of the rough copies of the funeral order of service towards me that was lying on the table. "So," I said, feeling efficient again, and therefore less scared, "I need a job." I clicked the pen out and began writing.
Mum sighed and relaxed. "Yes," she said, sitting back.
"And once I know where I'm working, then we need somewhere to live."
"Yes," said Mum, with a little less certainty.
"And then we'll need a school for Mags."
"And a job for me."
I looked up at her. "Not yet," I said. "That doesn't even need to go on the list yet."
"I'm going to contribute," she said.
I gave her a look. One of 'your-husband-just-died-and-you-don't-need-this'. I hoped it would be enough. With a sigh, I continued. "So, I just now need to find one of the many Estate Manager jobs that are always sloshing around the job websites," I said, beginning to doodle on the paper.
Mum looked concerned. "You think it'll be hard?"
"I don't know," I said. "There a seriously limited number of estates and therefore estate managers…"
"Phone Cliff," she said. "He'll know people."
"Maybe," I said. "I might email him."
Mum drained her tea, and stood up. "Go and do it now," she said. "I'll do the washing up."
Her expression, seconds before, floated back before my eyes. A kind of desperate, unhappy determination laced her face, and I didn't want to see it again. I pushed the possibility of her having a job aside for the moment. She didn't need any other worries. So I nodded. "OK," I said. "Thank you." I was midway up the stairs before I heard the first of the night's breakages. I stopped, smiled, and then continued.
The rest of the evening was awkward. Fi knew that she had just, to all intents and purposes, fired me. She also knew that her brother knew and was unimpressed enough to have sworn, yelled at her, then walked out. She also could presume that the protracted time that Mum and I spent in the kitchen with a distinct lack of washing-up sound effects could only mean that we had, indeed, talked it all out. With the looks she was firing at Mari and Mags, I could only presume that she thought I had told them too. How little she knows us. Had they known there would have been plank-walkings and, in all likelihood, blood-lettings. As it was, Mari made the most of a rousing evening of movie charades to give Fi such easy things to mime as Eraserhead, Un chien andalou and, my personal favourite after seeing Fi throw the towel in after a protracted, silent mime of the entire narrative, The Matrix. Ed caught my eye several times throughout, and smirked. Every time this happened, I looked up to find Fi, eyes narrowed, looking right back at me. Mum, it appears, may have been right. I returned to my bedroom, three hours later, spent from all the repressed anger, secrets, and confusion at whether I actually found Ed attractive or whether it was all Fi, in my head, to find an email back from Cliff.
Ellis, love, it read,
I don't need to ask around. I know of a very interesting position, about to open up. Could you come down here, maybe sometime this week, and I can tell you all about it? I think you'll find that making the trip will be worthwhile.
I turned the computer off, turned my light off, and tried to sleep. Twenty minutes later, I realised that I couldn't. Something about that email had me excited. Something about it screamed Dad. Something about it nagged Dad's favourite quote from his favourite film at me. Go on, Ellis, it said. Make your life extraordinary.
Yes. That's right. It's a Sense and Sensibility/Northanger Abbey crossover. In the same universe as The Dumbest Thing no less. Crazy? Possibly. But this baby is a lot more manageable than my original plan of a few years ago wherein I tried to do them all. At once. And nearly died. I should apologise, however, to anyone coming from the NA end of things, as it will not be very evident until Chapter Three. Have no fear, however. It'll happen, craziness and all.
It's not quite the same style as TDT as several people's comments made it clear that my style was, at times, baffling. I'm afraid that I'm still not one for laying out all the facts at day one. I hope you'll stick around long enough to see things through though. Also, I didn't think that I was one for angst until I wrote TDT and then they spent a lot of time in stressful situations. I still avoid it, if at all possible, but it wasn't until I started writing this that I remembered just how angsty S&S is to start with. NA should balance it out nicely. All that whackadoodlery.
Many thanks to LJ who hounded me into starting to post this, and laughed while she read it.
It goes without saying that Sense and Sensibility, Northanger Abbey, Star Trek, Veronica Mars, Eraserhead, Un chien andalou, The Matrix and Dead Poet's Society are all not mine. Oh, that they were.
(Several days later, and only one review, and I started to think that everyone hated me, until I noticed that actual crossovers don't show up on the list. So. It's now S&S. Part II may well be NA. You'll have to keep on your toes. Sorry about that.)