Title: Perfectly Perfect

Author:  Casca Casccara@yahoo.com

Spoilers:  YES! 5th, 6th, 7th seasons.

Archive:  Not without permission from moi! J

Feedback:  Yes, please! J

Disclaimer: Nothing is mine.

             Lucy looked perfectly normal in her slightly dressy outfit.  Her hair was perfectly strait and groomed, her face was perfectly calm, her scars were perfectly hidden.  She looked perfectly normal to anyone looking at her. 

            However, the people with whom she would share Thanksgiving dinner would not be simply looking at her.  They would be scrutinizing every single detail about her.  They would wonder why she was having dinner with them; she wasn't family after all.  They would wonder if she had designs on the family and if she was good enough to fit into it.

There was a time when she wouldn't have cared less what anyone thought about her.  There was a time when she would laugh at the thought of anyone accusing her of being a "gold-digger."  But her life had taken a sharp turn just under a year ago and Lucy was no longer the confident young woman she'd been.

So she took the opportunity to sit down on the edge of her bed and contemplate why she'd said yes to Thanksgiving with the Carters.  Her mind clicked back to the conversation she and Carter had the other night, concerning the subject.  They'd been sitting in their favorite hamburger joint, Albert's Diner, nursing Al Burgers after a particular difficult evening involving a grueling AA meeting.  Trying to take their minds off the fact that a fellow AA member had been killed driving under the influence, Carter mentioned that Thanksgiving was coming up. 

"Are you going home?" Carter had asked her, sipping his coffee. 

Lucy had shaken her head.  "I waited too long to get a flight and there is virtually nothing left.  That'll teach me to fly around the holidays."

"So you don't have any plans?" he'd asked her, shocked.

"Nope.  But don't worry about me, Carter.  I'm perfectly happy watching "It's a Wonderful Life" and eating a turkey sandwich."

"That's pathetic," he'd said.

Lucy had given him a haughty look.  "It happens to be my favorite movie."

"I meant the turkey sandwich part. You should come over to my house, my grandmother puts together a beautiful dinner."

            "Carter, I don't have a problem with spending Thanksgiving alone.  What's the difference if I pig out by myself or in front of other people?"

            They'd argued and argued, back and forth.  Lucy couldn't remember how he'd convinced her, but somehow he'd had.  And here she was, sitting on her bed, dreading the entire day.  If she hadn't been so week as to let him convince her, Lucy would be facing a day of doing nothing but eating what she chose and watching her favorite movie.

            The phone rang then and she sprang up to get it.  "Hello?" She heard Carter respond on the other end.

            "Carter, I don't think I'm coming.  I don't feel so good and-"

            "Ha, fat chance," was his response. "Everybody thinks you're coming now.  They set an extra place at the table and if my Grandmother hates anything, it's an empty place at the dining room table."

            Lucy sighed.  "I don't want to be the strange person at the table.  Please, can't you just say I got sick or something?"

            "I can't say anything, that's why I'm calling.  I'm still at the hospital.  With the way things are going here, I'm won't be able to pick you up.  I'm sending a car for you, it should be there soon."

            "A car?  What?  Look, don't go to any trouble, I told you I'm perfectly happy-"

            "Too late, it's on its way.  I'll meet you at the house, okay?"

            "Are you sure you're going to be on time?" Lucy asked desperately.  She could imagine one thing worse than Thanksgiving dinner with the Carters, Thanksgiving dinner with the Carters without John Carter.

            "I'm not going to leave you hanging, Lucy.  I'll be there.  See you soon."  And he hung up.

            Lucy plopped down on her bad again and buried her face in her hands.  This wasn't happening- not to her.  How did she ever let him talk her into it?  She knew how it went when things got backed up at the hospital- he'd probably be there all night.  She had a horrible mental picture of her sitting through an entire dinner with his entire family getting grilled as though she were the one who was to help Carter carry on the family name. 

            She put her head between her knees and took tiny, shallow breaths. Obviously Carter had told them that she was only a friend of his, however, Lucy was a woman and when a man invites a woman over for Thanksgiving Dinner, it is very easy for the family to assume things… things that were absolutely not true.  Lucy was not interested in Carter that aspect.  His friendship meant a great deal to her and she was not about to throw it all away because she had once been attracted to him.

But she would think nothing of torturing him with a rope should he not show up today.

The sound of knocking interrupted her thoughts and Lucy groaned aloud as she got up from her bed, and stumbled into the living room to answer the door. 

"Lucy Knight?"

"Uh-huh," she said, staring at the man in suit and tails with a black old-fashioned type cap.

"I am to take you to Carter Estate.  Are you quite ready, miss?"

Carter Estate?  Whoa.

"Uh, yeah, sure," she said, still staring at the very formal man as she grabbed her coat and purse.  "Lead the way, James," she said using the closest "butler name" she could think of.

"It's Carlson, miss," the divine British accent stated while bowing.

Carlson.  Of course.  "Lead the way, Carlson."

Lucy's mouth dropped open after she pushed through the swinging doors and watched Carlson walk to a sleek limousine that lined the street and open the door for her.  Choking on a laugh, she slid into the plush car and bit her lip on a grin. 

They drove for a good forty minutes before Carson made a turn that had Lucy's mouth dropping open yet again.  The car was driving up a long driveway that lead to immense iron gates and after Carlson punched a number into a keypad at the entrance, the gates opened and the car zoomed through them. 

It was unbelievable—the closest thing she had ever seen to a castle.  It was made of beautiful stone and brick, many walls covered with green ivy; black iron-trimmed arched windows dotted the entire estate and huge maple trees shaded the massive grounds.  In the distance Lucy could make out a court of some kind—perhaps a tennis court and in the opposite direction, the glittering reflection of a pool. 

She knew that Carter was wealthy, knew that his family was a very old and prestigious clan among Chicago Society.  But Lucy had never imagined, never began to dream that Carter was a part of something so… untouchable.  Nor had he ever made it clear to her exactly where his family stood. It made her more than a little nervous and left an odd feeling in the pit of her stomach.

It was all Lucy could do not to stare with her mouth hanging open as she stepped from the car feeling like some sort of deceived Cinderella.  And when she stepped inside the immense front hall made entirely of cream marble, her deceiving Prince was there to meet her.

"Hey," Carter grinned, coming down the marble staircase dressed in a very nice sweater and slacks.  "I just got home.  Glad you could make it," he said, the sarcasm in his voice reflecting their previous conversation.  But Lucy was thinking nothing about that now.

"Yes," she said and cleared her throat.  "Glad you warned me."

He gave her an odd look. "Warned you?  What do you mean?"

She gave dry laugh, lifted her hands palm and gestured around the mansion she was standing in.  Carter was still looking confused, so she sighed and leaned in to whisper, "I'm just a little taken aback, that's all.  It's not every day I have my own chauffer."

He bit his lip and leaned in closer.  "I did say I was sending a car for you."

"Mm-hmm," she said nodding, feeling an odd twitch in her stomach at the tiny distance between them.  "A car."

"Are you… mad, then? Because I'm really hungry, don't know about you."

Lucy brandished him with a look.  "I'm going to kill you when I get the chance."

"After dinner, dear."

Lucy's cheeks flushed and she cursed herself for it.  There was no reason to feel uncomfortable by that, she thought to herself.  It was a joke.

Carter lead her to a massive dining room made entirely of carved cherry wood, all accented in the immense golden chandeliers that hung over the table.  The table, Lucy was rather relieved to see, did not have as many place settings as she had pictured.  However, most all of the guests were already seated.

"Lucy, so nice to see you again."  Millicent Carter, poised and distinguished, extended an opal-adorned hand, which Lucy took.

"Thank you for having me.  Happy Thanksgiving."

"Happy Thanksgiving," the elder woman said stiffly with a small hint of smile.  Lucy got the impression that this was equivalent to a grin. 

As Lucy and Carter sat down, Carter introduced her around to the table of people, which included three aunts, two uncles, and four cousins who looked all looked as Millicent did, poised and perfect. Lucy thought about his parents and sister and wondered briefly how many holidays John spent without their presence.

Lucy was seated next to Carter at the corner of the table and she glanced next to her to the empty chair at the head of the table, wondering if Carter's grandfather would be joining them and why on earth she was seated next to the head of the table, with the lady of the house directly across from her. She'd never met Carter's grandfather, but Carter mentioned him more than a few times.

Lucy idly traced her fingertips over the stem of her crystal goblet and thought of the relief she would feel when this dinner would be over with when the occupant of the head chair walked into the room.  John Carter was as distinguished and poised as the rest of the family, but Lucy immediately felt another aura surrounding the elderly man as he walked with age to table.  There was a waywardly quality about him as he sat down and fixed his napkin.  Carter took the opportunity to introduce them and Lucy grinned a bit when Mr. Carter took her hand in an old fashioned gesture.

The conversation at the dinner table touched on everything impersonal Lucy could think of.  Business and the weather, and business and the "staff" and more business, particularly the Carter family businesses. Lucy didn't find much to add to the conversation so she stayed silent, except for the times Carter spoke to her, to inquire about her day or ask her how her if she spoke to her mother today.  Lucy wanted to answer that she wished she was at her mother's Thanksgiving table with her grandparents and her own aunts and uncles who would be fighting about stupid things like whether the mashed potatoes were better with lumps or without and laughing about everything under the sun.  But she didn't and made conversation with him because she knew he was regretting forcing her to come and he was trying very hard to include her in conversation even if it was only with him.

"So, Lucy, what is it that you do again?"  Jacqueline, a perfectly poised cousin in her early thirties, with luxurious dark hair and a fur trimmed suit smiled with false interest at Lucy and lifted a perfectly shaped dark eyebrow at her. 

Lucy felt her spine stiffen and she forced a smile.  "I'm still in school."

The eyebrow lifted higher.  "What do you study?"

Lucy saw Carter open his mouth to answer for her, but Lucy sat up straighter and cleared her throat.  "I'm in medical school."

"Ah," Jacqueline said very simply.  "So you and John share an interest in medicine."

"An interest," Lucy said, trying to hide the smile that threatened to spread across her lips. Like an interest in needlepoint?  "I suppose we do," she sent Carter a look underneath her lashes and found that he was almost smirking at her.

Lucy jumped at the sharp bark of laughter that came from Mr. Carter next to her.  "Medicine, an interest? You make it sound like a hobby, Jacqueline.  A hobby didn't take my grandson away from the family business, his career did." He turned to Lucy.  "Would you call medicine an interest, young lady?"

Lucy glanced at Carter who was looking back at her with a smile.  "It's… more like… a way of life," she said carefully.

Mr. Carter inclined his head and took a sip of wine.  "A selfish way of life."

"Grandfather thinks helping people is selfish," Carter explained with a mild smile.

"How is that?" Lucy asked Mr. Carter, for some strange reason, more at ease with the old man than anyone in the room.

"I never said helping people is selfish," Mr. Carter growled at John, taking another tiny sip of wine.  "Being a doctor means focusing your entire life to being a doctor.  It's a selfish person who can put that ahead of everything else."

Lucy tilted her head as the Carter family nodded in agreement and John shook his head on a hopeless smile.  "Yes, I suppose that's true," she said slowly.  "However, is it still selfishness when the career is put before the person's own life?"

"No, that's just stupidity," Mr. Carter said matter-of-factly to Lucy.  Then he let out a bark of laughter again and waved his hand.  "It's a stupid and selfish way of life, no matter how one looks at it."

"Stupid and selfish," Carter commented calmly, sipping his water as if he were used to this type of conversation at the holiday table.  "What did I do to deserve such high praise?"

"At least you acquire intelligent friends,"  Mr. Carter growled, his blue eyes sparkling at Lucy.

Lucy found herself grinning. "Thank you."

Mr. Carter inclined his head and gave her a small wink.  It was offered as encouragement and Lucy accepted it with a smile.

She glanced at Carter who was watching her very intently.  Their eyes locked for a brief moment, and Lucy felt her heartbeat quicken. She tore her eyes away from his and forced herself to ignore the pounding of her heart against her ribs. 

Lucy spent the rest of the dinner trying to convince herself that these feelings were nothing—just a result of the tension amongst the table.  However, she didn't quite succeed.

            When the last course was cleared from the table and the family rose from their seats, Lucy tried not to sigh with relief.  She could literally hear her sofa at home calling out to her and she turned to Carter to tell him that she wanted to leave, but he was not in the dining room. 

            A confused minute later, he walked into the room.  "Hey, sorry about that, there was something I had to… check on."

            "No problem.  Do you think, I mean, would it be really rude if I left? I really want to get home-"

            "Hang on, there's something I want to show you first."

            "What is it?"

            "Come on."

            She hesitated, hating the suspicion she felt.  "Where?"

            "Come on," he repeated and took her hand.

            Carter lead down a huge marble staircase and down a long hallway.  "Why can't you just tell me what-"

            "Because.  Here we go," he opened a door and held it for her and Lucy cautiously stepped inside. 

Her mouth dropped open.  She was standing inside a large room, which held about twenty leather recliners all facing a television that was almost as big as a movie theater screen.  There were speakers attached to the wood paneled walls and a huge wrought iron chandelier hung from the ceiling, with bright red bulbs inside the candle holders, reminding Lucy of something that belonged in a medieval castle.  Also adorning the walls were huge portraits of old Hollywood and Lucy recognized Jeannette McDonald and Betty Grable, each in it's own ornate frame.  She felt as though she were in some kind of old-fashioned movie theater.

After staring at the room in awe, Lucy turned to Carter.  "This is… I mean… I don't…" She stopped stuttering and let out a breath.  "I can't believe you have a movie theater in your house."

Carter grinned.  "You like it?"

She sent him an amused look with her eyes.  "It's really cool, I have to admit."

"Yeah," he said walking over to a portrait of Betty Grable.  "I hardly ever come down here, but I used to all the time when I was a kid. Years and years ago, this room was used for private movie viewings for actors and actresses.  An actual projector screen pulls down in front of the television.  That's what they used.  I wouldn't be surprised if Betty herself sat here once."

"Wow…" she breathed.  "Who did this house belong to before your family?"

"It's always been in the family.  My Great Grandfather had various… Hollywood contacts."

Lucy stared up at the portrait.  "I can feel it, you know? It's like there's… an aura in here that reminds me of every Katharine Hepburn movie I've ever seen. Does that sound stupid?"

"No." He cleared his throat. "That's it exactly."

Just then there was a small knock at the door and a man in a black uniform appeared.  "Everything is ready, Mr. Carter.  Do you want me to get the screen?"

"I got it. Thanks, James." Carter walked over to a wall and pressed a button. At once a thin white screen feel from the ceiling to the floor in front of the television.

"Pick a seat," he told her.

"What are you doing?" she asked, smiling at his mysterious grin.

"Do you have to ask questions about everything?" he demanded.  "Just pick a seat.

Sending him another look, Lucy went to the back row of chairs and settled herself in the middle.  Carter sat next to her and raised a small remote.  "Ready?"

"For what?" she laughed.

Carter clicked a button and the lights went out.  He clicked another and the screen lit up with a black and white FBI Warning notice, signaling the beginning of a film.

"Where watching a movie?" she asked in surprise, a slow grin spreading across her face. "Which one?"

But she soon had her answer as a huge bell appeared on the screen and the sound of it's deep, deep ringing filled the room. Her heart positively soared. "It's a Wonderful Life?!"

He sent her a sideways grin as the old fashioned credits began to roll. "I felt kind of… guilty you missed it today."

She could cry, Lucy thought to herself; she could just burst into happy tears right here.  But she didn't.  Instead she followed Carter's lead and kicked off her shoes and he showed her how to make her chair recline.  Lucy lay back in her cushy chair, her heart very full and thinking that right now, there was no place on earth she would rather be.

 To Be Continued . . .

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