Author's note: This story was born of a huge fan crush I have on Stephen Chang, the actor who portrays Frank Churchill in the Pemberley Digital web series, Emma Approved. (Admittedly, that crush has been severely challenged as the story has unfolded). This is my attempt to explore the backstory of his and Jane Fairfax's relationship. NOTE: You do not need to have watched Emma Approved to understand and (hopefully!) enjoy this story.
From The New York Post, 29 April 2014: There's no greater aphrodisiac than a happy woman with a full life, who is passionate about something besides getting a ring on her finger. Just ask George Clooney.
23 November 2013, London, UK
"I saw that," said Sarah Campbell as she watched her best friend and flatmate turn away from an admirer. "You certainly caught someone's attention."
Jane Fairfax rolled her eyes, thinking about the man who had just raised his glass to her from across the Sir Elton John Exhibition Hall at the Human Rights Action Centre. "Oh, please. His A factor is screaming." A factor as in American, the term she had coined for the greater or lesser degree of brashness and cockiness apparent in so many from the U.S, something she had observed plenty during the four years she had lived in England. Jane tried very hard to reduce her own expression of that factor, and hoped she'd achieved it.
"So what?" Sarah grinned. "He's very good-looking. Don't tell me you didn't notice."
Jane had noticed. How could she not? The man had drawn eyes to him from all over the room from the moment he'd entered the reception hall. It wasn't just because he was tall, well-built and handsome, although he was that. It was that damned A factor again, that quality of loudness that had little to do with the flashiness of one's clothing or the volume of one's voice, yet still seemed to project, Look at me! Look at me! For this reason, Jane felt certain he was American.
"And did you see his gorgeous hair? I'd love to run my fingers through it."
"Sarah! You're terrible! This is your engagement party!"
"Just because I'm getting married doesn't mean I can't still fantasize. And you know Peter trusts me."
Jane grinned. She hadn't actually been worried about Sarah's relationship with her fiancé, Peter Dixon. It was obvious within five minutes of being in the couple's presence that they were madly in love. Marriage wasn't something Jane wanted to consider for many years to come, but whenever it happened, she hoped her relationship would be similar.
"Anyway, you look fabulous. I knew you'd catch someone's eye tonight in that dress."
Jane ran her hands down the 1960's vintage gold lamé dress she and Sarah had finally found after searching four different thrift shops that day. She was ridiculously pleased with the find—it hugged every curve, flattered her complexion, and best of all, was affordable.
"There they are, the most beautiful woman in England and the second most beautiful!" a voice called out.
"Eugenie!" Sarah cried as she reached out to embrace the woman that approached them. Despite the occasion, Eugenie James was dressed in her usual attire, a brightly colored peasant skirt, white t-shirt, and Birkenstocks. The only concession she'd made to the event's formality was to allow her long grey hair, which she usually wore in a loosely knotted ponytail, to hang down around her shoulders .
"Now let me look at you." Eugenie kept her hands on Sarah's arms as she leaned back to inspect the younger woman. "Aren't you stunning! The perfect bride to be!"
Sarah smiled as her green eyes sparkled beneath the short layered cut that swept across her forehead. She also wore a vintage dress that she and Jane had found that day, hers a black cocktail A-line from the 1950's.
"And Jane," Eugenie said, turning to hug and kiss her, "you look amazing as well. The reason you're second is because tonight is Sarah's night. When you get engaged, you'll be the most beautiful and she'll be second." They all laughed.
"Speaking of which, where is Peter?"
"He's around." Sarah motioned across the room with her hand. "I'm certain he's mingling with many of the last minute guests that are here tonight. Peter's company is generating new interest now that he has a major investor."
Eugenie curved her lips. "That's right, the mysterious investor! Will we have the opportunity to meet him tonight?"
Sarah nodded. "Peter said he promised he'd be here."
"Good! I want to personally thank him, since you wouldn't be engaged without him."
Jane smiled, thinking about how many times over the last several years she had listened to Sarah fret that she and Peter would never be able to marry. Between Peter's struggling start-up firm and Sarah's status as a doctoral student, their finances wouldn't allow it. Two months earlier, however, a venture capitalist had approached Peter to offer a major infusion of capital into Re-Energised. With their money worries lifted, Peter had finally proposed.
Eugenie was craning her neck to look about the room. "Oh, there's Peter! And who is that with him? Could that be the investor?"
Jane and Sarah turned toward the direction Eugenie faced and saw Peter walking toward them with the man they'd seen earlier. "Ooh," said Sarah, "he's with Jane's admirer."
Eugenie grinned, her eyes lighting up behind her wire-rimmed glasses. "An admirer, Jane? When did you acquire this?"
Jane shook her head. "No, no, no! I have no idea who he is. Besides, he was probably looking at Sarah, since this is her engagement party."
"Jane! He was most certainly looking at you." Sarah turned to Eugenie. "I noticed him staring at her for a while, and when she finally turned to look at him, he raised his glass and smiled at her."
"Wouldn't that be something, if he is Peter's investor and he's taken a fancy to you, Jane? He's quite handsome. Where's he from, I wonder?"
"The U.S.," Jane answered, just as Sarah said, "Jane thinks he's American."
Eugenie furrowed her brow. "He looks Oriental to me. Although I suppose that doesn't mean he isn't also American. I should know by now not to doubt your national sixth sense, since you always seem to be right about that."
By then, Peter and the other man had reached the three women. Peter's face lit up when he drew close to Sarah. He was a slender man with a bit of a beak nose and receding brown hair, but his warm, inviting smile—almost always present when Sarah was around—made him attractive.
After he had greeted and kissed his fiancée, Peter turned to introduce his friend. As Eugenie had pointed out, the man, who wore a charcoal grey, double-breasted Armani suit, appeared to be of Far Eastern ancestry. As Sarah had noticed, he had thick, jet-black, well-coiffed hair. Recalling Sarah's comment, Jane blushed as a vision came to her of running her fingers through it. Life had been so busy for so long, she couldn't remember the last time a man had made an impression on her like that.
"Darling," Peter said, "may I present Mr. Frank Churchill? He's the investor who has given new life to Re-Energised. Frank, my fiancée, Ms. Sarah Campbell."
"A pleasure to meet you," Sarah said, holding out her hand.
"And you," Mr. Churchill answered in a voice that was deeper and sexier than Jane had anticipated. "Peter has told me wonderful things about you, and you're as beautiful as he described."
Sarah and Eugenie began laughing, causing Mr. Churchill to hold out his hands in surprise. "Did I say something funny?"
"Oh, no," Eugenie said, "only that Jane here predicted you'd be American and she was right."
The man turned toward Jane and smiled, a beautiful smile with deep dimples. "It's that obvious, huh? I hope that doesn't prejudice you against me." He turned toward Peter. "Will you introduce me to these other lovely ladies?"
"Of course," said Peter. "These are dear friends of ours, Ms. Eugenie James and Ms. Jane Fairfax."
Mr. Churchill took each of their hands in turn, holding them probably longer than was necessary to greet someone for the first time. When Jane said, "I'm pleased to meet you, Mr. Churchill," his grin broadened.
"Ah ha!" he said. "No wonder you figured me out. You're American, too. Where are you from?"
"L.A.," Jane answered.
"Hey, so am I! What brought you to the UK?"
"Oxford," she replied. "That's where I met Sarah and Peter."
He raised his eyebrows. "A Rhodes scholar?" When she nodded, he added, "I'm impressed."
Just then, Mr. and Mrs. Campbell, who had been busy with the caterers, approached. They hugged Eugenie, having already spoken to Sarah and Jane when the young women first arrived. "Peter, dear," Mrs. Campbell said, "your mum and dad are here now. We should begin the program."
"Oh, yes! Mr. and Mrs. Campbell, this is Frank Churchill, my new investor. Mr. Churchill, my future in-laws."
Frank Churchill greeted Sarah's parents, and then asked Peter whether he still wished for him to say a few words. After Peter confirmed that he did, Mr. Churchill began to follow Peter, Sarah and her parents toward the dais in the front of the room. He turned back for a second and winked at Jane. "Ms. Fairfax, we'll have to talk more before the night's over to share ex-pat stories."
As the group walked away, Jane ignored Eugenie's smirk. When she realized that Jane was determined not to say anything, Eugenie finally nudged her. "You have an admirer indeed."
Jane sighed. "Eugenie, he's an obvious flirt. If it weren't me, it would be someone else."
"And I'm too old and Sarah's too engaged, so you're all that's left? Nonsense! He noticed the beautiful, brilliant woman you are. I hope you won't let this opportunity pass you by."
"What does that mean?"
"It means make sure you talk to him again tonight. And go out with him if he asks."
"He's not going to ask."
"I bet he will, and if he does, please say yes. He has a beautiful voice, by the way. He sounds a bit like your president."
Jane had to laugh at that. She didn't think he sounded like President Obama, but if she had only heard his voice and hadn't seen him, she would have sworn Frank Churchill was black.
Their conversation was silenced by Mr. Campbell's "Good evening," at the microphone, the Scottish brogue of his childhood still evident. After welcoming and thanking the guests for coming, he said, "We are so pleased that you have joined us for this very special occasion. Our little girl has met the man of her dreams, who has asked her to be his wife."
Following the applause, Mr. Campbell shared about how much he appreciated Peter and the love he had for Sarah. Sarah's mum and Peter's parents followed with similar praise for their future daughter- and son-in-law.
At last it was Sarah's turn to speak. Petite even in very high heels, she had to lower the microphone, but her voice projected easily about the room. "This is a dream come true," she said. "I almost have to pinch myself to believe that this is real. Peter and I have known each other for four years. We met as graduate students at Oxford and became fast friends. I still remember the day I realized that I wanted to be so much more than friends with him. My flatmate Jane—there she is"—at this, Sarah waved to Jane, causing the crowd to turn toward her—"is here tonight and she and I were suitemates at the time and part of the same group of friends at Oxford. I want you to know that I have her permission to share this story."
Eugenie nudged Jane again and tilted her head toward the dais. Although everyone else had turned their attention back to Sarah, Frank Churchill, standing beside Peter, was staring at her, his lips quirked into a bit of a smile. Jane met his eyes boldly and then turned back to Sarah, as if instructing him to do the same. She certainly didn't want him looking at her during the tale she knew was coming.
"We had hired a punt one afternoon on the River Cherwell. Another friend of ours was a bit sloshed and attempted to stand up while we were rowing. The punt began to tip and Jane started to fall overboard. Instantly, Peter grabbed her by the jumper and pulled her back. She barely got her toes wet."
Laughter and applause followed, and Jane cringed a bit as she felt many of the eyes in the room turning her way again. She exhaled to increase her courage. She had given Sarah permission to tell the story, and it was one of her favorite's about Peter, too.
"Peter of course is not the most muscular of men," Sarah said with a mischievous grin, to more laughter, "but he showed strength and bravery when it was needed. And once he knew Jane was all right, he insisted he'd done nothing special. I knew that day that I loved him."
Jane smiled, remembering Sarah's surprised confession to her that night. Feeling her own deep appreciation for Peter that day, she'd told Sarah that she better make a play for him or she (Jane) would.
Peter walked over and kissed Sarah as she passed the microphone to him. "Isn't she amazing?" he said as she stepped aside. "I'm the luckiest bloke alive. Beyond that, I don't know what else to say, because I cannot give speeches. So, I will pass this microphone on to someone who can, a new friend and someone who, other than our parents, has made this event possible tonight by investing in Re-Engergised: Mr. Frank Churchill."
Mr. Churchill tugged at the bottom of his suit jacket as he stood up before the crowd. "I appreciate the introduction, but I am inadequate to say anything tonight more important than what has already been said. I've known Peter just a short time, and I met Sarah for the first time tonight, while this room is filled with people who have known and loved them for years. I will say this: in the two months that I have known Peter, he has impressed me with his vision and passion. He believes in a world in which affordable solar energy can become widespread at all levels of society, in which no one is left behind as the resources for powering our world become scarcer. If you ask him what his inspiration is, he'll tell you that it's Sarah, both her love for humanity and the life he wants to create with her. After meeting her tonight, I understand why. So to Sarah and Peter"—he raised a wine glass in his hand—"congratulations, and many, many happy years together."
As sounds of "Cheers" went up around the room, Eugenie smirked again at Jane. "Oh, he's good. I could listen to him talk all night. Remember, don't miss this opportunity!"
Jane had to admit that she was intrigued by Frank Churchill, but she never had a chance to speak with him. He spent the rest of the evening surrounded by people fighting for his attention, and she wasn't about to hover around him like a groupie. When she was waiting for Sarah to finish her final goodbyes to the guests before departing, however, she heard him call her name.
"Ms. Fairfax, I apologize for neglecting you. It seems you've had some interesting adventures in this country," he said with a grin.
She smiled. "On occasion."
"I have to leave right now, but perhaps I can have your phone number, and talk to you some other time?"
Sarah glanced at her with a smile as Jane recited her number and Mr. Churchill entered it into his mobile. He then clasped hands with both her and Sarah before saying goodnight.
Although she and Sarah had traveled to the Action Centre via the Tube, Peter drove them home. Sarah gushed throughout the ride about Frank Churchill. "Jane, he has it all: intelligence, success, charm, gorgeous face, body, hair, voice…"
"If I didn't know how much you love me, I'd feel a bit insecure right now," Peter quipped.
Sarah laughed. "It's just that it's been a while since she's had a date, and what a man to have one with!"
"He hasn't asked me for a date yet," Jane reminded her from the back seat, "just my number."
"That's a start! Wouldn't it be something if Jane and Frank Churchill end up together?" she asked Peter.
"Hmm…" was all he said in response.
"What are you thinking?" Jane asked him.
"Well…" Peter said slowly. "He has a reputation as a ladies' man. I don't want to see you hurt."
Sarah and Jane were both quiet for a moment, contemplating his words. Sarah finally said, "If he does ask you out, perhaps you can go into it forewarned. Have a good time with an amazing bloke, but don't let your heart become engaged."
Jane shrugged. "I guess I can do that. I'm not interested in a relationship right now anyway. Besides, I doubt he'll actually call."
That night before bed, Jane emailed her grandmother and Aunt Madeleine (known as Maddy), as she always did, about the events of the day. When she finished, she typed "Frank Churchill" into a search engine. "Holy cow," she whispered as thousands of hits returned. She clicked on several links and began reading. He was thirty-one and already a multi-millionaire, an owner or stakeholder of numerous enterprises. She recognized the names of several companies from the news. One repeated name made her pause: the Highbury Group, headquartered in Los Angeles. Frank Churchill was on the board of several of the companies within that partnership. She knew Highbury Group well because her aunt Maddy had worked there for many years when Jane was growing up. Interesting.
She clicked on "Images" and several photos popped up on her screen. In some Frank Churchill was dressed as sharply as he had tonight, and in others he was more casual. He seemed to have a thing for pairing business suits with Western-style belts and suede shoes. It made her laugh. He was so American.
The other thing that the images revealed was that Frank was, as Peter had said, a ladies' man. She finally grew tired of looking at photo after photo of beautiful models, actresses, and heiresses on his arm at various functions in cities around the world. Jane sighed as she shut down her laptop. If his wealth and status weren't already a barrier, these photos made it clear—he was not the kind of man that would date an ordinary woman working for a lowly nonprofit organization. Frank Churchill was never going to call her, and it was better that way.
When more than a week passed and she didn't hear from him, Jane felt relieved. She could get on with her life.