Worst Impressions: A Modern Austen Tale

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Humiliating

On further analysis, Charles Bingley is only the second-most bane of my existence... the first is cotton candy. My mother, first lady of Longbourne Park, signed each one of the Bennets up for a shift at one of the block party booths, without asking. Poor Jane was stuck at the milk bottle stand for an hour with a line of swooning boys (and a few creepy dads) that stretched down the street, until Dad took over and it dissolved. I get to swirl cotton candy onto cardboard cones. What a time to be alive.

Charlotte volunteered herself for the dunk tank and every time she falls into the water, she reemerges like Ariel out of the sea, hoping that Caroline Bingley is watching. Caroline is absent, as is her brother, and the whole neighborhood is waiting for them to arrive, vibrating. It might have something to do with the excess of sugar consumed, but it’s mostly the anticipation. If he eventually arrives, honest citizens will have descended into madness.

I miss the grand entrance of Charlie and Caroline, thanks to a clog in the cotton candy machine, but I manage to catch the arrival of his angry-looking friend. What’s his name... Will. The one with the good eyes. Rumors have failed Longbourne Park; the Bingleys don’t have an entourage of rich kids with them. Just that guy. That guy with a motorcycle helmet under one arm and a permanent disgruntled wrinkle between his eyes.

I think a pirate could take swagger lessons from Will Darcy. That guy is naturally tilted; he might be overcompensating for a short leg, but as far as I can tell, he’s just incapable of walking like a normal person. Instead, he sways, leading with his hips. And he is giving off the prickliest vibe... like a cactus, with a cute butt. God! Why are all the cute butts wasted on jerks? Must ask St. Peter at the pearly gates.

Those miserably beautiful eyes track to me.

There’s cotton candy in my hair. Do you like that, Will Darcy? Aren’t I adorable? Go ahead and stare. Look at all this allure!

I blow a piece of hair out of my face and it falls back where it was, tickling the end of my nose. I hacked off my bangs about a year ago and now they’re at that horrific phase where they hang like strings, no matter what I do. Including now, when an alarming cactus is staring me down. Jeeze, what is with this guy? He’s a car wreck that I can’t stop rubbernecking. Or maybe I’m the wreck. That’s a more accurate statement. My shirt is covered in cotton candy fuzz. The pirate swagger carries Will Darcy to my domain.

“Hi,” I blurt.

“One, please,” he mumbles.

“Sure.” I reach for a cardboard cone and fumble it. He catches it with an annoyed look on his face and hands it over. “Thanks,” I say, twirling his cotton candy as quickly as I can, before my body decides to toss more things at him.

“How much do I owe you?” He pulls out his wallet.

“Nothing,” I say. “The HOA pays for this, so it’s complimentary.”

He folds a President and tucks it into my hand as he takes his cotton candy. Looking at that lump of spun sugar makes me cringe. There’s no artistry in my cotton candy technique. Will remains in front of me, so I peek at my hand where the green rectangle awaits. A twenty. As I unfold it, Will starts to walk away.

“Wait!” I call, holding up the bill. “I think you made a mistake; you gave me a twenty!”

“I meant to,” he calls back, leaving me to my trials. I’m glad my humiliation was worth twenty dollars to him.

I am finally turned loose on the block party by Rich, who is happy to be helpful. Rich lives on the west side of Meryton but he mows our grass when Dad’s out of town, so Dad made sure Rich was invited. Mom invited him, alright. To man every single booth at some point in the night so he can’t mill about the party. Rich is a cool guy, but he’s way too nice to say No.

My eldest sister sits at a picnic table, reading a book. Despite the fact that she spent an hour handing creepy men rubber balls to throw at milk bottles, her hair is lovely. Jane’s body does not produce sweat. She should be studied by science. She might be the perfect human.

“Hi Janey,” I say, scooting in beside her.

Jane smiles with her whole body. “Hey.”

“This is not an enjoyable party.”

“Sure it is!” She exclaims, closing her book. “Mrs. Lucas managed to get a carousel on the empty lot; this is a very happening event for Longbourne Park.”

“And much calmer, now that everyone has personally witnessed the mysterious neighbor,” I say.

“I haven’t met him yet,” Jane says. “Mom meant to introduce him to all of us at once, but then she signed us up for our stations and he was immediately greeted by Mrs. Lucas.”

“He’s nice,” I say. Which is true. He is nice. That’s about all I know.

The hair on the back of my neck prickles like I’m being watched.

“Lizzie? Why is that boy staring at you?” Jane asks, pointing towards the precariously perched portable ferris wheel... and Will Darcy, professional gazer.

“I look funny,” I sigh. “Want to ride the carousel?”

“Yes,” she says, smiling. Jane is true kindness. Being around her makes me want to be a nicer person... unfortunately, the two sides of my brain disagree about what kindness is.

We stand and Jane tucks her book into her dainty blue purse. “I’m going to pass my test,” she announces. “I finally got one hundred percent on a practice quiz!”

“For all the studying you’ve been doing, you deserve an honorary A,” I say. We walk through a row of HOA tables where Mom’s Mothers Against Everything friends are giving away baked goods and fliers about the dangers of alcohol, homosexuality, and laughter.

“I only want the A if I’ve earned it,” Jane says.

“If you’re not valedictorian, I’ll eat my shirt.”

She smiles. She dislikes hyperbole, but she puts up with it for me. Jane knows everything there is to know about me, and she always has. She’s my polar opposite, and yet she has always been the first person to take my side. She’s soft-spoken, but she’s loyal. If they could clone Jane, world peace might be achievable.

“Are you going to sing tonight?” Jane asks, nudging me.

“Oh, god. I don’t know,” I say, trying not to smile.

“You should.”

“What if I’m terrible? Then Charlie Bingley will be witness to my shame and Mom will never forgive me--”

“What about me?” I stop abruptly at Charlie’s voice. He turns around with an honest smile from where he stands at the Mothers Against Drunk Driving table. I try not to blush at being caught talking about him so loudly. I’m not good with volume control.

“Hi! Uh, Charlie... this is my sister,” I say, gesturing to Jane. He nods.

“My name is Jane,” she cooes, and I think I see Charlie’s knees buckle. And another one bites the dust. The boys sure do trail after Jane. Lydia used to let them down easy and tell them that Jane had no interest, but now she just finds it amusing to watch the puppies trot behind our oldest sister.

“Charlie,” he replies dreamily.

“I know,” Jane giggles.

Charlie’s ears redden and he looks down at his hands.

“We’re going to ride the carousel, Charlie,” Jane says. “Would you like to join us?”

He nods once and smiles. They sort of stare at each other, unblinking. I cough. Charlie comes back to Earth and gestures for us to lead, though he walks in step beside Jane. I feel like the third wheel and I attempt to step back to let Jane walk with Charlie, but she slows down to wait for me. She doesn’t understand certain social cues.

“I hear there’s karaoke tonight,” Charlie offers, once his wits return.

“Lizzie is going to sing,” Jane says. I pinch her lightly on the arm where Charlie can’t see. He turns to wide eyes on me.

“That’s great!” He exclaims and I think he believes it. “Will is a good singer too, but I don’t think he’ll get up there tonight.”

“Who is Will?” Jane asks.

I resist the urge to answer, but luckily I don’t have to. The man himself speaks up, scaring the ever-living bejeezus out of me.

“I am,” he says, appearing beside me. He must have been walking behind us; otherwise, he’s a vampire and I have a mighty need for some garlic.

“Will Darcy, this is Jane,” Charlie says brightly. Will holds out his hand to Jane in the rich kid salute. She takes it, studying his face in the opposite way that he studies mine. Her eyes slide to mine.

“Hello, again,” I say. Hey, it’s me. You tipped me twenty dollars for a sugar lump.

“Lizzie,” Will says, neither kindly nor coldly. Just deep. Nobody broadcast this boy’s voice with a subwoofer behind it, I don’t think I can take it. I might drown. Why is he such a rude guy? He has all the qualities of a world-class crush, except it wouldn’t even be enjoyable to like him because he’s so rude. Rude.

“Lizzie is going to sing at karaoke tonight,” Charlie announces. Will blinks.

“You sing too, Charlie says,” Jane says. These two are worse than my parents.

“Not really,” Will says shortly.

Charlie scoffs. “Come on, Will! You remember that time--”

“I don’t recall. Excuse me.” Will darts off in no particular direction except away.

“You frightened him off,” I murmur, taking marginal pleasure in watching the brooding boy walk away. My mother attempts to greet him and he manages to sidestep her. He must teach me how to do that. Mom looks offended. Or maybe she’s hungry. No... no she’s offended. She catches my eye and several emotions cross over her face.

First, she takes in my disheveled post-cotton candy slinging appearance. Then, she realizes who is standing next to me. If she waved me over any harder, her arm might fly off.

“Mom needs my help,” I say. Jane looks as if she might volunteer so I grab her hand. “I’ll meet you guys at the carousel once I’m done. Go ahead without me.”

Charlie smiles at Jane, Jane smiles at me, and I grimace at Mom. She waits for me with her arms crossed, and I can’t tell whether she’s angry with me or with Will Darcy. As soon as I’m within arm’s reach, she yanks me behind the port-o-toilets.

“That boy--the rude one--who is he?” She whispers, loud enough for anyone in twenty feet to hear.

“That’s Charlie’s friend,” I say.

“What’s his name?”

“I don’t know,” I lie. “But I can come up with something good if you want to print up a Wanted poster. Tall, dark, handsome, answers to the name ‘Zippy’--”

“Elizabeth, please,” Mom sighs, squeezing the bridge of her nose. “I’m just trying to make sure there aren’t any hooligans hanging around. By the way he spoke to you, I figured perhaps he is an unwanted guest.”

“He’s no hooligan, Ma. His name is Will Darcy.”

“You said you didn’t know his name!” She exclaims. It won’t be Lydia who sends Mom to an early grave. It will be my quick wit.

“I lied?” I shrug in a non-apology. “He’s an arrogant prick--”

"Elizabeth!”

“--jerk. He’s not worth your energy. Focus on your middle daughter,” I say, pointing to Mary as she moves off towards the tent that has been erected for the post-sunset festivities. Mom gasps and trots after Mary. Kitty darts out of the tent as soon as Mom enters, searching the crowd for Lydia. Mom is conflicted between following Kitty and going after Mary, but she ultimately ducks into the tent. Kitty spies me and runs over before I can hide.

“Lizzie, have you seen Lydia?” she asks breathlessly.

“Not since she got on the Ferris wheel with Denny Weaver,” I say. Kitty huffs and throws her hands down in frustration.

“It’s her turn to watch the snow cone booth! If she doesn’t go, I have to stay there another hour, Mom’s orders.” Kitty is good at looking pitiful. I sigh. With Jane off at the carousel with Longbourne’s most eligible bachelor and Lydia likely sucking face at the top of the ferris wheel, I am Kitty’s only reprieve.

“I’ll do it.”

Kitty’s ears perk up and I hold up a warning finger.

“But you’re going to take my dishes night this week.”

“Fine! Whatever you want, Lizzie, I love you! You’re the best!” Kitty hugs me and then departs for parts unknown, little notebook in hand. She’ll Nancy Drew her way into the FBI or something, all because I slung snow cones in her stead. Yes, it will all be thanks to me. I like that sister. She follows Lydia around far too much, but sometimes I think that she’s a genius. She’s certainly the most observant of us all; when age and logic catch up with her, Kitty will be a force to reckon with. Note to self: recommend she go by KB: Private Eye.

When I arrive at the Snow Cone booth, Mrs. Lucas is waiting with an ice scoop in hand. “It’s about time one of you girls arrived!” She says, as if we Bennets are personally responsible for the slowing of time. She shoves the scoop into my hand and gestures to the deserted booth.

Nobody wants a snow cone after the sun goes down, but Mom insists that all booths remain open in case any attendees want more refreshments. By attendees, she means Charlie Bingley, and to a lesser extent, his sister. By refreshments, she means the soupy blue slush that I have been diligently guarding for two hours. That’s right! Two. Rich was supposed to be my relief pitcher, but his lips met my little sister’s lips at the carousel, in Denny’s place. Lydia is going to break the poor kid’s heart... ugh, this better not ruin our model home arrangement.

“If it isn’t my favorite Elizabeth.” Dad. He leans against the table and smiles.

“Your only Elizabeth,” I remind him. He steps up beside me and surveys my kingdom.

“You wanna go join in on the fun?” he asks, gesturing towards the glowing tent.

“Despite my better judgment? Yeah,” I sigh. “I do.”

“Go ahead. I’ll guard the booth.”

“Are you serious, Dad?” I ask, relief washing over me in waves.

“Serious. Go have fun! If you don’t, I’ll take your place and do the best damn Madonna impression this neighborhood has ever seen.” Dad raises his eyebrows.

“It’s for the best if that doesn’t happen,” I cringe. He laughs and hugs me.

“Get outta here, you.”

I salute my father and he bows, taking his place behind the blue slush bowl. I pull my sweater tightly around my chest and make my way to the thudding beats inside the tent.

First thing, I nearly run head-first into Will Darcy. Ugh! That guy! He grunts and moves off into the corner of the room, where the laser lights don’t reach. Charlie and Jane sit not-quite-together at a table near the dance floor, Mom buzzes from table to table, greeting people like she doesn’t see them in the grocery store all the time. Mary stands onstage--Mary! Onstage! Behind the DJ table, with a pair of headphones fastened to her head. Her hands move between knobs and switches, slightly altering the sound bouncing from the speakers. The beat is deep and throbbing, with a fast and high melody playing over the top. It’s not block party material, but I can dig it. My sister is cool! Wait... note to self, don’t say that out loud. Don’t want her to get a big head. What is this? Two sisters gained points with me tonight, and it’s not even a full moon.

Mom starts swirling towards the stage and I know she’s going to tell Mary to play something else. I feel like Mom forgets about Mary because she’s not often a part of family functions, but it’s miraculous that she is out in public and sharing something that she’s obviously passionate about. I don’t think Mom means to put her down; I suppose the best-behaved sister is the least of our mother’s concern. Though, I can’t really say how well behaved Mary is. She might be cooking meth under her bed, but none of us would know it. Still... I like seeing my sister sharing something for once, even if it is trancey electronic music that doesn’t quite jive with people over eighteen.

The mom-bomb detonates and Mary stops her set abruptly. A few condescending football players clap and Mary fades back into the curtain behind the DJ table. She takes her headphones and her laptop with her. I hope Dad grabs her outside, though sometimes, he isn’t super comforting. Not that Mary would accept that kind of thing; I’m pretty sure she hates us. She has a digital countdown until she graduates on her desktop.

Mr. Lucas hops up onstage with a cheesy Britney Spears-style headset and grins. He recently retired from used car sales.

“Okay! Settle, settle,” he chuckles, waving his hands over the already quiet audience. “We’re going to begin with karaoke! If you’d like to participate, go ahead and sign up with Mrs. Bennet! She has the magic clipboard.”

Mom holds up her pink clipboard and waves it, beaming. Great. Mom controls the order. That means that I am already--

“Elizabeth Bennet has graciously volunteered to go first!” Mr. Lucas announces.

Yep. Thanks, Mom. I wince. I feel about fifty sets of eyes on my flushed face. I can’t back out or my mother will kill me, so I make my way up to the stage. Lucky for me, Mr. Lucas has found a hand-held microphone, so I don’t have to completely humiliate myself with that horrific headset. I take the mic from him.

“What will you be singing?” he prompts.

“Ole reliable,” I say into the microphone and my voice bounces back at me through the speakers. I catch Jane cover her mouth to suppress a laugh.

“I don’t think I know that one!” Mr. Lucas chuckles uncomfortably, looking to the audience as if they’ll tell him what I’m choosing. I have about a split second to decide if I want to attempt something serious or choose Wham! and embarrass my mother. She doesn’t give me that choice either and the marked notes of Landslide buzz through the poorly balanced amps behind me. Mr. Lucas lumbers offstage and gives me the floor.

The hair on the back of my neck prickles in the way it only does for hooligans. I am not the world’s greatest singer, but I can carry a tune in a bucket. And I don’t even fumble the words, shockingly. Lucky for me, the karaoke version of the song is short. When I’m finished, Mr. Lucas retrieves the microphone from me, hands me a participation certificate, and several people clap. I stuff the certificate in my pocket and retreat to Charlotte as she slips into the tent looking disheveled.

“What happened to you?” I whisper, linking my arm through hers and leading her to a table near the back of the tent. She smiles and shakes her head. Charlotte’s mother takes the stage to sing some musical theatre standard, to nobody’s surprise. Moments later, Caroline Bingley enters the tent looking equally mussed. Oh, good gravy. My eyes get huge, I know, because Charlotte holds her hand up to shield herself from my judgment.

“Shush!” She warns.

“You work fast--”

“Shut up!” Charlotte says, punching my shoulder. “I don’t have any idea what you’re talking about.”

“Oh, yes you do!” I whisper. She bites her lip to keep from laughing. “Tell me!”

“Go outside,” she says. She pushes me out of my chair and we duck under the tent wall. Charlotte pulls me off towards the street barricade, where Mrs. Lucas’ caterwauling is but a distant, dying cat.

“Well?” I ask quietly, just in case anybody is nearby. I don’t want to humiliate Charlotte, but I need to know everything now.

“We happen to both enjoy ferris wheels,” Charlotte says.

“Oh my god!”

“That’s what she said too,” she beams. I cover my mouth to keep from full-on cackling. Charlotte straightens her shirt but she can’t stop smiling.

“Did you say anything after? What’s the deal?” I ask.

“She looked like she might vomit, and I said that I wouldn’t blab to everyone, which I have failed at miserably--”

“I’m silent as the grave!”

“--and she said nobody knows.” Charlotte points to herself and giggles. “Except for my lips. They definitely know.”

I have to sit to contain the outrageous giggles. We wind up sitting on the curb, leaning against each other, each unable to breathe or speak for laughing. My life would be boring and serious without Charlotte for my best friend. She is bravery incarnate. When our giggles calm down, she sighs happily.

“You hardcore made out with Car--”

“We shouldn’t keep talking about this,” Charlotte says, though her eyes are still sparkly with self-pride.

“She needs a code name!” I say. “Hold on, let’s anagram it.” I pull the crumpled certificate out of my sweatshirt pocket and smooth it on my knee. Charlotte hands me a pen and I write out her name. CAROLINE BINGLEY. Then, I write out the letters in alphabetical order. ABCEEGIILNNORY.

It takes about twenty minutes but the only interesting thing we come up with is “Generally Bionic”. In the end, we agree to call her Ferris, because nobody will suspect it’s Caroline, unless we talk about it in front of the sixty-something Ferris wheel operator. To assuage Charlotte’s fear of betraying Ferris to the rest of Longbourne Park, we burn my karaoke certificate in the middle of the pavement, like the true rebels that we are. Charlotte insists I replace my certificate with Pat Benatar, so we return to the tent.

“Wait!” I catch her elbow and gesture for her to be quiet because I can hear that hooligan rumble on the other side of the tent wall.

“It’s just karaoke! Nobody will judge you. Man up, Darcy!” Charlie’s voice, soft, and yet just as bright.

“No! Make your sister do it!” Will’s voice, pitching up in frustration. “If for no other reason than to save us all from the rest of them!”

“Come on, man! It’s fun! They’re all just having a good time. Nobody cares about whether they sound good,” Charlie says. “I don’t remember the last time I had this much fun! Beautiful girls, games... Admit it!”

“You’re sitting with the only pretty girl,” Will says. I hope he means Jane.

“Jane is the most beautiful girl I have ever met,” Charlie agrees. “But her sisters are pretty too. What about Lizzie?”

“She’s cute, I guess, but not cute enough to tempt me to humiliate myself! Go back to your table, Charlie. I don’t want to talk about Lizzie Bennet, and I definitely don’t want to sing for her,” Will says. That stings more than I like.

“Whatever man. I think you’re missing out! That’s all I’m saying.” Charlie’s footsteps retreat away. I look down at my hands. I’m a little mortified to be the subject of anyone’s conversation... especially that boy. He is unsettling, and hearing him say my name is too weird. Especially after he insulted me.

Charlotte lays her hand on my shoulder. I press a finger to my lips and nod, thanking her for caring. What can I say? Helen of Troy holds her seat for another day. Charlotte nods towards the far side of the tent where the entrance is, but I shake my head. I’m returning to the tent, and I’m doing it the wrong way.

I lift up the wall of the tent and allow Charlotte to duck beneath it. I follow, connect eyes with Will long enough that he knows I heard him, and follow my best friend to the karaoke sign up sheet. You may have won this round, Will Darcy, but I am coming for you. Me, and Charlotte, and Pat Benatar.

Mom takes Jane, Dad and Me captive to help clean up after the block party ends; Lydia is still MIA, though I have a feeling that she will be found when the Ferris wheel is taken apart and packed onto its truck. Kitty sleuths the booths for leftover pastries, and Mary sits on the front steps of our house, waiting for one of us to let her in so she can return to her hobbit hole. The work-hardy members of the Bennet family pick up twenty bags of trash and pack up every single refreshment booth. By the time Mom allows us to stop, I am sore, smelly, dyed with various beverage stains, and thankful that our rich neighbors didn’t stick around. Meanwhile, Charlotte sits on the carousel, singing all by herself at the top of her lungs, until her mother drags her home.

“Oh, dear, what an amazing success!” Mom announces to Dad as we all file into the living room. Mary bolts for the stairs, while Lydia awakens from her spot on the couch.

“Lydia?” Kitty asks, surprised. “We thought you were still--”

“Hungry!” Jane jumps in. “There was still a lot of leftover food.”

“I’m okay,” Lydia says, smiling. Jane tousles Lydia’s blonde curls and winks. Kitty sits on the couch beside her sometimes partner-in-crime and Lydia shows Kitty something on her phone that makes them both giggle. We’re a silly family, us Bennets. We’re not the classiest bunch, but we do like each other some of the time.

“I was right,” Mom announces, white wine scepter balancing at the end of her fingers. “Charlie likes you, Jane. It wasn’t obvious at first, but he did ask you to dance--”

“Remind me to buy a shotgun,” Dad whispers to me. “Just to hang over the door.”

I stifle a laugh. Dad stands and retreats to the kitchen.

“Mom, he’s just a nice guy,” Jane says. She’s pink with embarrassment.

“He stared at you all through your song! And then he stayed close by for the dancing,” Mom coos. “I am just saying that it begs noticing.”

Dad’s rumbly laugh booms from the kitchen. “If he had any respect for me, he would have broken his leg as soon as you announced the dancing!”

“He is so cute! Is that weird for me to say that?” Mom asks. She swirls her glass beneath her nose, which is the closest she’s come to actually drinking it.

“Yes!” Lydia says.

“It’s weird,” Kitty agrees.

Mom assumes her trademark faux shock face. “Oh! Fine. His sister has the best haircut--”

“Please! Please don’t describe it! I can’t take it.” Dad emerges from the kitchen with a glass of Scotch. He drinks very rarely, and only when Mom’s too worked up about something else to bother him about it. Now is an excellent time to imbibe. I think Mom couldn’t be bothered to care if he was drinking straight from the bottle.

Mom settles into a comfortable delight, and then her face abruptly turns concerned. “I have to say, Charlie’s friend was rude,” she says. “Especially in what he said about you, Lizzie.”

I laugh. “Whatever, Mom. I won’t lose sleep over it.”

“You should have told him off! You’re too good for him. And much better looking than he deserves in a girl. I’m not his fan.”

“I don’t think he’ll lose sleep either,” Lydia snorts.

“He probably doesn’t sleep,” I say. “He’s got an undead kind of vibe.”

“I bet Mary would trade you a sacrificial goat for a garlic totem,” Lydia says.

“That is an excellent idea!” I say. “I think my allure may prove overwhelming to him in the long run. It’s best to be safe.”

Lydia sits forward, smiling. “If it’s any consolation, I’ll stake you if he does turn you into a vampire. I would do that for you, because I care.”

“Lydia!” I fan away my fake tears. “You’re too good to me.”

She’s pulled out of the conversation by a telling ding! from her phone, but she salutes me. Alright, fine... you can have sister points too, Lydia! Jane touches my shoulder and nods toward to stairs.

“Mom, I asked Lizzie to help me study for my history quiz,” Jane says.

“Oh, lovely! Go ahead.” Mom dismisses us with a boozy wave, sober though she is.

My elder sister and I escape up the stairs to our shared room and Jane pushes me inside, locking the door behind us. “I have to say something out loud because it’s going to make me crazy!” she whispers, pulling me towards her bed. Once I’m seated, Jane folds her hands and holds them under her chin.

“What must you say?” I ask, mimicking her posture. She smiles.

“Charlie...” Jane whispers.

Delight washes over me. “Mmhmm?”

“He is really nice.” She bites her lip. “So reasonable, fun, and he has a great sense of humor--he’s so relaxed! And not a snobby rich kid.”

I laugh. She really likes him. “And he’s cute,” I add.

“So cute!”

“Which is important.”

“I can’t believe he asked me to dance. Who does that anymore?” Jane exclaims. It takes a lot for Jane to get excited. She has to be really worked up, which usually only happens when someone is talking about baby animals. I’m only kind of kidding.

“I mean, chivalry is dead and buried in the back yard!” she continues. “Most guys would have just sidled up to me on the dance floor, but he actually asked for my permission. I didn’t expect it at all.”

“You didn’t?” I laugh. “Jane, he trailed after you all night. I know this comes as a surprise to you, but it doesn’t shock me at all. How could he not like you?”

She blushes and looks away.

“If you’re asking for my permission to like him, you totally have it. You’ve liked worse guys,” I say. She swats my knee, laughing.

“Lizzie!”

“What? You’ve liked some terrible people. But I’m not sure I’ve ever heard you gossip about anyone!”

“I’m not one to judge,” she says, holding up her hands. “But I try to be honest.”

“The great mystery of Jane Bennet is how you are so blind to people’s shortcomings, and yet so logical. I don’t get it!”

“Charlie Bingley has no shortcomings,” Jane says, dreamily. I let her have that one. I try to make a point not to tease Jane when she reveals something close to her heart. She would let me say whatever I thought, but I can be brutal. Jane’s the last person who needs tough love.

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