The Bennet Clan
It is a truth universally acknowledged that there is no call an aspiring writer looks forward to and dreads in equal measure so much as a call from their agent.
The powerful strains of Wagner's "Flight of the Valkyries" emanating from his cellphone made Elijah Bennet jump like he'd been electrocuted. "Excuse me," he said to his family, standing up and scurrying out of the dining room. Behind him he could hear his mother complaining about his lack of manners but he ignored her as he slipped into the living room. Pulling his phone from his pocket, he caught a split second view of his agent's name flashing on the screen before he jabbed the green symbol and lifted the cell to his ear.
"Hey Char," he said, a bit breathlessly.
"Oh, Eli, I'm glad I caught you," Charlotte Lucas responded cheerfully. Elijah felt his heart leap into his throat in anticipation. "Alright, well I've got good news and bad news. Which do you want first?"
"Let's get the bad over with first," said Elijah.
"Right," said Charlotte. "Well we got another letter." Elijah's heart plummeted and he dropped down to sit on the sofa. "I'm sorry, love, I really thought we had it this time, but they said they're not taking anything in our genre right now. But it's okay, we've still got plenty of options. Which brings me to the good news. I've got us a great marketing opportunity."
"This isn't another stodgy tea party, is it?" Elijah asked trepidatiously. The last time Charlotte had tried to market him to publishers, he'd had to sit through eight hours of tea, silent auctions, and interpretive dance. In the end, all of that tedium hadn't even paid off, either.
"Far from it," she said with a laugh. "Netherfield Corp is hosting another one of their fancy fundraisers for literacy and I managed to get us some invites. They said to bring my best new project and that's you. There'll be tons of people from publishing there, lots of chances to make contacts and rub elbows. It's black tie and you get to bring a plus one."
"When is it?" he asked.
"Friday," said Charlotte. Elijah made an impatient noise. "I know it's short notice, but it wasn't easy scoring these invites. It's not like I'm the biggest agent out there. So dust off your best suit if you wanna be the next bestselling author. I know you've got what it takes, the book is brilliant, we just need to find you the right publisher. Okay?"
"Okay, Friday," he agreed.
"That's my boy," said Charlotte. "I'll text you the details and I'll see you Friday." With that she hung up. Elijah sighed and leaned back into the sofa, letting his phone slip out of his hand.
It had been like that for the last eight months, ever since his manuscript had been picked up by Meryton Literary Agency. Char was trying her hardest but it seemed like the majority of the publishing world just wasn't looking to take a risk on a new author or his heartrending young adult romance. Over the last few months they had collected a stack of rejection letters that just kept growing. Elijah was trying to stay positive but it wasn't easy when people kept telling him that the manuscript he'd poured four years of his life into just wasn't good enough.
Bracing himself, Elijah stood and walked back into the dining room of his childhood home. Immediately six pairs of eyes flicked up to him and he nearly balked at the stares. "That wasn't very polite, Elijah," Mrs. Bennet chided. Sunday family dinners were something sacred in the Bennet household, a tradition established when the two oldest had moved out a few years prior.
"Sorry, I had to take that," he said, taking his seat at the table between his father and older sister, Jane.
"Charlotte?" Jane asked, already knowing the answer.
"Any news about your book?" Mr. Bennet asked curiously.
"Nothing good," Elijah said and picked up his discarded fork. He knew what was coming and he wasn't particularly in the mood to deal with it.
As expected, Mrs. Bennet tutted loudly from the other end of the table. "Now really, honey, you ought to look into a more lucrative career," she said. "Something where you can afford to support a family. You can't keep working at that library forever. You know, your father's cousin - second cousin? - well anyway, I think he just started an advertising company, that's kind of like writing. You could do that."
"I'm not giving up on my writing, Mom," said Elijah, defenses immediately going up. Of all the members of the Bennet clan, Mrs. Bennet was the one that Elijah was least like and it reflected in their tenuous relationship. When Mrs. Bennet had given birth to her first son, she had expected to have the classic All-American boy. Instead she got Elijah, tall and lean with brown hair and dark, puppy-eyes. Worst of all, instead of pursuing sports he had turned out to be an artistic soul, more interested in writing poetry than throwing around a football.
To say that Mrs. Bennet was disappointed would be an understatement.
"Besides," Elijah continued, "next weekend could be a big break for me. Char got me into one of those charity events run by Netherfield, it's a big fundraiser for literacy. There's going to be tons of publishers there. Char thinks we can make some good contacts, maybe even get a contract."
Mr. Bennet opened his mouth but Mrs. Bennet beat him to it, cooing loudly. "Ooh, maybe you will meet a nice girl there. You do clean up rather nicely, Elijah, although you could really use a shave. Jane, would you make sure your brother at least shaves before the party? He'll never land a girl if he looks all scruffy." Elijah frowned, stroking his carefully manicured stubble self-consciously.
"I wore a proper beard when I was his age, and you still married me," Mr. Bennet pointed out with a smirk, indulging in his favorite hobby: riling up his wife.
"Those were different times," Mrs. Bennet said, waving his comment away with a hand. "You've seen the way the men look now, all those actors, they're all clean cut now. None of this scruff and stubble nonsense."
"Not all of them," Mr. Bennet said. "What about that Iron Man fellow? His facial hair is longer than Eli's. And the other guy in that movie too, the blonde with the long hair."
Mrs. Bennet huffed. "All I'm saying," she said loudly, talking over him, "is that Elijah looks better when his face is clean. You must agree there."
"I think he looks fine," Mr. Bennet said with a shrug. When Mrs. Bennet made another impatient noise, Mr. Bennet glanced sideways at Elijah and winked. Elijah hid his smile behind his wine glass. For all the relationship he lacked with his mother, he more than made up with his father, even if he'd never understand how his parents tolerated each other.
The marriage between Mr. and Mrs. Bennet was dysfunctional at best. They had married young, straight out of high school, claiming true love. In all honesty, Elijah wondered if it hadn't had more to do with the fact that Mr. Bennet had a promising finance career in his family's business lined up for him after graduation. Things had been fine for a while, until after the birth of the twins, Mark and Kitty. Then the economy had collapsed and the Bennet family business and finances went with it.
"So Elijah," Mrs. Bennet started in her patented prying voice and he knew he wasn't going to like the conversation that followed. "A Netherfield party? Isn't that that big company that runs all of those fancy fundraisers for the arts?"
"Yes, Mom," he said, knowing full well that she already knew that. Mrs. Bennet was well versed in every form of gossip, but most especially where New York's highest social circles were concerned.
"Oh how exciting," she said, practically puffing up with eagerness. "You're not taking that redhead you were seeing, are you?"
"I'm not seeing Charlotte," said Elijah. "She's my agent, remember?"
"Oh good, she's so very plain," Mrs. Bennet said. "Nice hair, but such an ordinary face. And all those freckles."
"She's also my best friend," he reminded her tersely. "And I think she's very pretty."
"Well sure, in a way I suppose," Mrs. Bennet said dismissively. "But she's not pretty like our dear Jane."
"No one's pretty like Jane," Elijah said. Next to him his elder sister blushed modestly.
"Of course not," said Mrs. Bennet, her favoritism showing through. In her eyes, the eldest Bennet could do no wrong. It was hard to not love Jane though. Not only was she an exquisite beauty - tall and willowy with porcelain skin and big, dark eyes - but she also had the sweetest temperament.
"You really can do much better than that redhead though," Mrs. Bennet said. "You're such a handsome boy, Elijah, if you'd just shave more often. You never know who you could meet at a party by Netherfield. So many wealthy women, pretty ones."
Elijah fidgeted uncomfortably, the truth threatening to burst out of him. All his mother wanted was for him to find a wife and settle down, but that wasn't part of Elijah's plan. There was that one little detail where he wasn't interested in a wife. Or girlfriend. Or anyone of the female persuasion. He couldn't tell her that though, because he knew his super conservative mother wouldn't take well to finding out that her oldest son was gay.
"And you're really at that age where you should settle down, marry and start a family," Mrs. Bennet continued, completely oblivious to her son's discomfort.
"I'm twenty-six," Elijah said, grateful for the change of subject.
"I had the twins when I was your age," Mrs. Bennet said pointedly.
Elijah bristled but he was stopped from saying anything by Jane placing a reassuring hand on his shoulder. "Yes, Mother, but not all of us were lucky enough to meet our true love in high school," Jane said.
"I have," youngest child Lydia chimed in from the other side of the table, where she was sitting in between the twins. Elijah bit back a snort of derision; Lydia was convinced she had found her true love every other week. Perpetual party girl and social butterfly, Lydia went through a string of boyfriends more often than most changed their socks, thinking each of them was The One. None of her so-called true loves lasted more than a month.
"Oh that Jordan is a lovely boy," Mrs. Bennet said fondly before turning on her son again. "Whatever happened to that blonde you were seeing? The cute little one with the glasses? Are you going to take her with you to the party?"
Elijah thought guiltily of the girl from work that he had led his mother to believe he'd dated just to get her off his back for a while. "No, we aren't together," he said. "We decided it wasn't a good idea since we work together. Actually I was thinking Janey could be my date."
"Really?" Jane asked eagerly. "To a Netherfield ball?"
"Oh how lovely!" Mrs. Bennet cheered and actually clapped her hands together in excitement. "You are so very beautiful, Jane, I'm sure all the men will want to dance with you. Maybe you can meet some rich man who will marry you so you can stop working at that awful center."
"I love my job," said Jane. She worked as an art teacher at the local YMCA, teaching painting to inner city kids. It was the sort of job she was perfectly suited for. Her patient and caring personality made even the roughest, most troubled kids love her. "Those kids just need someone to believe in them."
"I just think you could've been so much more," Mrs. Bennet said indifferently. "A pretty face like yours, you really should have been a model or an actress. Or you could've been a dancer if you'd just kept with those lessons."
"I broke my ankle," Jane reminded her patiently.
"You should wear that silver dress," Mrs. Bennet said, changing tracks without regard for what Jane was saying. As she launched into talking fashion with Jane, Elijah returned to his now slightly cool dinner and enjoyed being off the radar for a few minutes. He used the time to observe his family.
Across from him, Mark was reading a book beneath the table as he took carefully measured forkfuls of food. Quiet and reserved - and a little bit socially awkward - Mark was the analytical one of the family. The middle child was the epitome of mediocre. Everything that he did, he did halfway.
The same could not be said for his twin sister Katherine, Kitty for short. A perpetual follower, Kitty always did exactly what everyone else was doing, although to her credit she did it all with full dedication. Her favorite person to copy was her younger sister, Lydia, whom she idolized and tailed around like a lost puppy.
At the head of the table Mr. Bennet glanced at his older son and toasted him slightly with a forkful of baked ham. Elijah grinned in response. He and Mr. Bennet had always been close. It might've been their mutual love of classic literature, a shared fondness for teasing Mrs. Bennet, or maybe it was just because they were both men in a largely female household. All Elijah knew was that he was Mr. Bennet's favorite - something the family patriarch was not afraid to tell anyone who asked.
"Your mom'll kill me for saying it," Mr. Bennet said in a whisper, "but don't worry about meeting your true love at the party, yeah? Focus on you and your book and have fun. Everything else will come when it's meant to."
"Cheers to that," Elijah said and tapped his glass against Mr. Bennet's.
Elijah leaned back in his chair and looked around at his family. They might be completely insane but they were still a family. And really they weren't so bad.
"Elijah, you never did tell me what happened to that lovely girl you were seeing around Christmas. You made such a cute pair..."
Well, most of the time anyway.