2 January 2014
Jane woke up on Thursday morning with a sense of unreality. The last several days had been like a dream, with their confessions of love for one another making her time with Frank magical. They had gone out dancing on New Year's Eve, finding a darkened corner to kiss at midnight amid the many other couples snogging on the dance floor. On New Year's Day, they had hung out at Arjun and Sabina's place to watch the Manchester United vs. Tottenham Spurs match; Derek and a friend of his also joined them. Frank turned out to be a rabid United supporter and since they lost the match, Jane got to have fun at home finding ways to cheer him up.
What she had enjoyed most about the last few days, however, had been the chance to get to know Frank better. They were very different people in many ways, but their differences made discovering him more exciting. He was such an animated personality in public that she also really appreciated seeing other sides of him when they were alone together.
On Sunday evening, Frank had ordered a delivery of Indian food and was making mojitos for them at his bar when she told him about her weekly phone call to Maddy and Grandma.
"You email them pretty much every day, too, don't you?"
Frank raised his eyebrows, a look of amusement on his face. "Wow, those apron strings are tight!"
"Nooo!" she protested. "They're the people who made me who I am today. How can I not let them know how much I love them?" She looked at him pointedly. "Come on, you had people who made you what you are, too."
"Me?" Frank scoffed. "I'm a self-made man." He handed Jane her drink, and then switched to the other side of the bar to sit beside her.
She took a sip of the mojito. "Yeah, right. How'd you get started in business?"
"I got my MBA--"
"On whose dime?"
"Okay, my dad's, but after that, I built my businesses on my own."
Jane shot him a skeptical look. "You worked your way up from the mailroom? That's how you made your fortune?"
Frank smiled sheepishly. "All right, you caught me! I inherited a trust fund when I turned 25 and used it to start investing."
Jane laughed out loud. "Aha, so you're a classic example of being born on third base but thinking you hit a triple? I rest my case."
Frank reached over to swivel Jane around so that they faced each other on the adjacent bar stools. He placed his hands on her knees. "But now I'm in the presence of someone who actually is self-made. It can only make me a better man by example," he said in his most flattering voice.
She rolled her eyes. "I think you just missed the point of this conversation. I'm not self-made. I had two women who did their damnedest to make sure I had every opportunity they could give me. And even though I thought we didn't have much when I was growing up, my time in Guatemala and Sierra Leone made me realize that if you were born on third base, I was born on second." She looked at him more solemnly. "I know you know this, Frank. You've traveled enough."
He touched his nose and pointed at her to acknowledge her words.
"So how often do you talk to your family? To your grandparents, for instance?"
Frank didn't answer at first, stopping to eat a few bites of his meal. Then he said quietly, "They're no longer around."
"Oh, Frank, I'm so sorry! When did they die?"
"My grandfather when I was in college, and my grandmother a couple of years after that."
"I'm very sorry," Jane said again. "That must have been so hard for you." She thought about the times when she thought she might lose Aunt Maddy or Grandma. She couldn't imagine what she would do without them, although she knew she'd have to face that possibility someday.
"Yeah... losing my grandmother especially. I was here at Cambridge, so I hadn't seen her for a number of months. I didn't get to say goodbye."
Jane placed her hand on his back and rubbed gently. "What about your dad?"
"What about him?"
"Is he still around?"
"Yeah, somewhere in the world."
"You don't know where he is?"
Frank looked at her and laughed. "He hasn't disappeared off the face of the earth. He just travels a lot. I rarely know where he is at any given moment."
"Where does he live?"
"He still has the house in Beverly Hills, and one near Manchester. Maybe elsewhere, too."
"Do you see him when he comes to England?"
Frank pressed his lips together and rolled his eyes upward. "Not necessarily."
At her look of confusion, Frank laughed again and said, "Look, if I want to see him, for advice or something, I can always call him and he'll make time to meet me somewhere. He gives really good business advice."
Jane gazed at him quietly for a moment, thinking that she was starting to understand why Frank hadn't considered it strange to miss his brother's wedding. Remembering how he had reacted the last time she had said something about that, she didn't voice her thoughts out loud. She guessed it was a sore spot for him. Instead, she asked how often he was able to talk to Ryan.
"Maybe once a month. We text and tweet each other in between."
Jane smiled, glad that Frank had at least one relative he was in regular touch with.
"Hey, you know what? My New Year's resolution is to visit Ryan and Annie."
"That's great! When?"
"I don't know. Sometime in 2014."
"You're giving yourself the whole year to do this one thing?"
He grinned. "Yeah, that's why it's called a new year's resolution. You get the whole year to make it happen. It's in the fine print."
When Jane snorted, he said, "All right, I'll give myself six months."
Jane raised an eyebrow, and Frank amended himself again. "Three months? OK, three months. I promise I will visit Ryan and Annie by March the 31st." As he said the date, he jabbed his finger into the bar for emphasis. Then he held out his hand to Jane. "Hold me to that, OK?"
She took his hand and shook it. "Deal."
Thinking back on that and many other conversations she and Frank had had, Jane knew why it had been so hard for them to say goodbye the night before when he had brought her back to her flat. They had fallen into such an easy level of comfort with each other, along with all the fun they'd had together, along with the great sex--it was no wonder that they had simply held one another for a long time after they stepped inside her door.
Finally, Frank pulled back and told her, his voice very tender, "This week has been one of the best of my life."
Jane looked up at him as she rested her hands on his shirt. "For me, too. I'm really going to miss you."
Frank traced her lips with his thumb and smiled ruefully. "I have to go back to sleeping alone. I don't know if I can do it."
"We'll see each other tomorrow night."
He sighed. "Tomorrow's going to be a long day."
They kissed each other then, a slow, gentle kiss that neither of them wanted to end. When they finally stepped away and said goodnight, 'I felt at home with him' were the words that went through Jane's mind. She had felt so at home in the last five days, not in Frank's flat specifically, but just being with him. Like she belonged somewhere.
The real world had a way of intruding upon them very quickly. Jane returned to her busy schedule of work, marathon training, and music lessons, and Frank went back to frequently having to travel. Jane couldn't believe how much she could miss him after several days of not seeing each other, a circumstance which happened frequently. But they talked every day, often several times, and their reunions were sweet indeed.
To keep her mind occupied when Frank was away, Jane threw herself into her project at work. February the 24th would come quickly, and she wanted to make sure her presentation was effective. She marshaled statistics about the costs to communities when flooding occurred, along with the health consequences to residents when water resources weren't properly managed. She developed charts to demonstrate the return on investment of installing low-cost bioretention systems. Alyssa worked on her portion of the presentation, which would describe their plans to involve youth in developing these systems, and the benefits of their involvement: helping young people develop job skills, leadership skills, and community involvement, and reduction in youth anti-social behaviours.
Sarah returned to London on January the 12th, a week before her Hilary term would begin. Jane was overjoyed to see her, and asked how the rest of her time in Glasgow had been. Sarah grinned. "You missed all the lively debates about the independence question! There are very strong opinions in my family!"
"I'll bet," Jane said with a smile. "Now, how about a more mundane topic, to everyone but you and Peter? The wedding?"
Sarah beamed. "We picked a wedding date: Sunday, the 16th of March!"
Jane gasped. "That soon?"
Sarah raised her shoulders. "We wanted to get married in late June or July, after the university year is over, but every reception hall we looked at was booked. We've been waiting for so long to get married, we didn't want to wait any longer. March the 16th is the day after the Hilary term ends. That will give us a chance to have an extended honeymoon, and still have a couple of weeks to settle in back home before the Trinity term begins."
It suddenly hit Jane what Sarah was telling her. "That means you'll be moving out."
Sarah nodded. "I'm moving in with Peter on March the first. I'm so sorry. I will pay the rent for March, to give you a chance to find another flatmate."
Despite what felt like a punch in the gut, Jane tried to smile. "Don't apologize! This is what you've been waiting for! And I'm so happy for you!"
When Sarah hugged her, she looked close to tears. "We've been together for four years, Jane. I'm really going to miss you."
Jane's eyes welled up. "I'll miss you, too. But Peter will be a much better housemate than I am."
Sarah laughed through her tears. "I'll have to admit, that's true!"
"March is going to be very busy," Jane observed. "You're moving out on the first, we have the Surrey half-marathon on the eighth, and then your wedding on the sixteenth! I don't know how we'll do it all."
"We'll find a way." Sarah smiled. "Now, tell me all about your time with Mr. Frank Churchill!"
That story was a joy for Jane to share, including the days they had spent together at Frank's flat, but also more recent times they had had together. "Do you know that he came to Hackney to surprise me at the community centre on Saturday? He wanted to see where I give my lessons."
Frank had sat and listened to her lessons, and made sure to introduce himself to each her students and their parents. Afterward, he'd said, "I see why Rose called you a godsend. You're irreplaceable here, Jane!"
"That's not true," she protested. "I'm just one person. No one can do everything, but everyone can do something."
"Is that your motto?" Frank asked with a smile. "It's a good one."
She nodded. "I suppose it is."
After Jane shared this story with Sarah, her flatmate grinned, "You know what, Jane? I think you've found your perfect match."
"Why don't you move in with me?"
That was what Frank said to Jane as they lay together in his bed the following Sunday morning when she told him that Sarah would be moving out at the beginning of March.
Jane pressed her lips together and shook her head. "I'm going to find a new flatmate. I think it'll work out if I start advertising now."
Frank started nuzzling her neck and intentionally deepened his voice. "I'll be your new flatmate. You know what a good time you had time when you stayed here with me."
Oh, how hard it was to resist him when he laid on the allure this way! But Jane managed to take a deep breath and sidle away a bit. "It's not the same."
He gazed at her with his sexiest smile. "Why not? It was great, being here together. You said so yourself."
"I know, but..." Jane chewed her lip. "You're gone a lot."
His hands had drifted over to her body again and he was now caressing her in ways that sent shivers down her spine. "You said you don't mind being alone."
"It's not the same," she repeated. The idea of moving in with Frank was So. Damn. Tempting! But somehow Jane knew it would be the wrong choice to make.
Frank sat up and ran his fingers through his hair. He sighed, apparently concluding that seduction wasn't working. "Why are you so against this?"
Jane was silent for a moment, trying to figure that out herself. "It's too soon."
"I disagree. Surely you know how serious I am about you. I've never felt this way about anyone." There were no longer any indications of humor or charm in his voice.
She stared into his eyes, her heart thumping wildly, unsure how to respond. She knew that this was Frank at his most honest, and she couldn't help but be moved by what he had just said.
After a few moments, she brushed her lips against his. "Please don't think this means I don't love you."
"Okay..." he said, and waited for her to go on.
"It's just..." What was she trying to say? She didn't know, she just knew that moving in with him didn't feel right.
"Surely you know how serious I am about you. I've never felt this way about anyone," she heard in her head. Oh, crap. He meant it, she knew, but what did that mean? Because she had never felt this way about anyone, either, but the idea of trying to take their relationship to some next level--the kind that living together would represent--made her want to run away screaming. It's too soon, it's too soon! her mind was shouting at her.
It wasn't just the idea of living together she was resisting, it was also living here, in Frank's flat. Unreal was how she had felt when she returned home, but now she knew that her life, her work, her flat--that was reality. Reality was not having doormen and housekeepers and valet service that did your drycleaning and purchased and delivered your groceries. Reality was getting around via the underground, slogging her clothing to the laundry, and working with Sarah to scrape together enough for their council tax. Staying through the New Year in Frank's flat had been a dream, but she couldn't imagine returning to this luxury high-rise building every evening after spending her days trying to serve in Hackney or Barking or Islington.
Frank's eyes were still searching hers, and she felt herself melting a little. She didn't want to hurt him and she really did love him. So she said, "Will you give me some time to think about it? We have two and a half months to make a decision." She would open herself up to the possibility that she might change her mind.
"Two and a half months? March the first is less than a month and a half away."
"Yes, but no matter what, I'm staying in my flat until at least the end of March. Too much is happening before then, like my presentation at work and the marathon. And Sarah will be trying to finish up her term before the wedding. I don't want her to be any more stressed out than she has to be. If I'm still in our flat, I can help her move and she'll know it's okay if she doesn't get everything out all at once."
Frank held up his hands in resignation. "Okay then. Go ahead and think about it." He rose from the bed and started to get dressed. Apparently, the romantic mood they'd been in earlier was completely dead.
Not wanting to leave things this way, Jane stood up and walked over to him. Reaching up to put her arms around his neck, she kissed him deeply. "I really do love you, Frank."
It worked. He smiled. "I know you do. Let's get something to eat right now. You can tell me all about your presentation." His dimples deepened as he slid his hands down her back to squeeze her still-bare bottom. "We'll come back to this later."
Continuing to try to keep their relationship low-key and private, they left his flat separately and met up a short while later at a café one stop away on the Tube. While they ate breakfast, Jane described the project she would present to the Lancaster-Beckworth trustees. When she finished, Frank looked at her in wonder. "Wowww," he said. "Jane, that's pretty amazing! How'd you get interested in water management like this?"
"Growing up in California," she said, and he nodded in understanding. "But even more from my time in Sierra Leone. We saw so many children dealing with illnesses caused by contaminated water, and I learned that only about half the country has access to safe drinking sources."
"Ow, that's rough."
"What's really wild is that I was there during rainy season, and quickly realized that it didn't matter. Even when water is plentiful, that doesn't mean it's potable. They don't really have the means to capture, store or purify water during the rainy season, so there's little clean water to help the people make it through the dry season later."
"So it doesn't matter whether you have too much water or not enough...?"
"Exactly. All the water in the world doesn't matter if it's not managed right, or people don't have access to it, or it's not clean and safe for drinking."
Frank touched his nose and pointed at her.
"You do that a lot," she observed.
"This gesture." She imitated the touch nose/point motion. "It's like your way of saying, 'Good point.' I think it's cute. "
He grinned and did it again, and then stared at her with a goofy smile on his face.
"What?" she finally asked.
"You blow my mind sometimes. Just your desire to make a difference."
She shrugged. "Somebody has to care. People in our home state are already starting to deal with not having enough water. How can we ignore that?"
Frank waggled his head. "Now you're making me feel like I should be doing something to help the world."
"What you're doing to help Betty and her family is pretty cool. I was impressed."
He laughed. "I know. I could tell by the look on your face. I knew I was going to get some later that day."
Jane giggled and threw her napkin at him.
Still grinning, he caught the napkin and said, "I mean it. With Betty, that's just one family. I can do more, and I'm going to start someday. You've inspired me."
She smiled sweetly at him. "There's no better time than the present, Mr. Churchill."
"Okay, challenge on."
Little did she know at the time that Frank would take up that challenge less than a week later. She gave keyboard lessons on the second and fourth Saturday of each month, so she found herself at the community centre on January the 25th. Having met Frank two weeks earlier, her students were giggly and teasing, asking whether her boyfriend would be coming again. She had to repeatedly remind them to focus on their music.
The centre was only open for limited services on Saturdays: a food bank, a youth group meeting, and Jane's lessons. In addition to Jane, the other adults in the building were Natalyia, who ran the food bank, along with a few volunteers; Hamid, who led the youth group; and Osei, the security guard. Being situated close to the lobby, Jane heard a commotion late in the morning, along with what sounded like Osei arguing with someone.
Angelica, her current student, was easily distracted by the noise. Jane tried to return her attention to the musical score sheet, hoping that nothing was happening that would put any of the kids in the building at risk. A short while later, Osei called out her name and asked her to join him in the lobby. "Stay put," she told Angelica.
Two men in brown uniforms stood in the lobby. Jane could see a large truck double parked just outside the front door. "What is it?" she asked Osei.
"They said they have a big delivery for you. I told them we can't accept deliveries on Saturday." Osei rubbed his beard, looking frustrated.
"This is for me?" She turned to the men. "I didn't order anything. I don't have permission to order anything for this centre."
"You're Jane Fairfax?" said one of the uniformed men.
"Then this delivery is for you."
"What is it?"
"Instruments," the other man said.
"Instruments?" she echoed.
"That's right," said the first man, reading from a sheet of paper. "We have two keyboards, two drum sets, four guitars, and let's see, two each of tubas, flutes, clarinets and saxophones."
Jane gaped at the men. "I didn't order this, and as I said, I don't have permission to place an order here anyway."
"AND," Osei repeated, "we can't accept deliveries on Saturdays. One of the programme administrators needs to sign for it, and they won't be back until Monday."
The first delivery man looked right pissed off. "Well, what do you want us to do? Our job is to drop this off."
"Take it back to where you got it from," snapped Osei.
"We're not allowed to do that." The second man gestured at Jane. "Your name's on it. You need to be the one responsible for it."
"But I didn't order this!" Who in the world had ordered a bunch of instruments in her name? No sooner did she ask herself the question than she knew the answer: Frank.
She pulled out her mobile and called him. "He-lloooo," he answered in a sing-song tone. She could already hear the excitement in his voice.
She exhaled heavily. "Frank, did you just order a bunch of instruments for the community centre?"
"YES!" he shouted. "Isn't it great?"
"Why did you do this?"
"Before they had one keyboard and one Jane. You're able to teach all of what, eight kids? Didn't you say, 'everyone can do something'? Now, a bunch of kids in the neighbourhood can learn music, and maybe other people like Roger can teach them!"
Jane had to take several deep breaths to keep from hyperventilating. "You have to send the instruments back. An administrator would have to approve this delivery, and they're not here until Monday. And even if they were here now, there's no place to store all this stuff! Why the hell did you do this without talking to me first?!"
"We did talk about it. Last week, when I said I wanted to do something to help, you said, 'what better time than the present?'"
She closed her eyes and gritted her teeth. "It would have been nice to have known about this specific thing you wanted to do before you did it!"
"I thought it was a good idea."
"Well, it wasn't!"
Frank was quiet for some time after that, giving Jane a moment to look around her. Osei, the delivery men, and now Angelica and her mother who had recently arrived were all staring at her. Wishing she could sink into a hole, she mumbled an apology to her audience and went back to her call.
"Frank," she said quietly, "I know you had good intentions, but this wasn't well-thought out. And right now we can't accept these instruments. Can you send them back to wherever they were purchased?"
"What if the centre decides to keep them?" His voice sounded a little whiny.
"I doubt they will, since they don't have the storage space."
"What if they find the space?"
She blew out her breath. "That's up to the programme director and administrators on Monday. In the meantime, we need to get these instruments out of here right now. What do you suggest?"
He was silent again, and then said softly, "There are some storage areas in my building. I'll have it re-directed here. Will you put the delivery person on the phone?"
"Thank you," she said, feeling greatly relieved. She handed her mobile to one of the two uniformed men, who took instructions from Frank. He handed the mobile back when he was done, and the two delivery men soon departed.
Osei, Angelica, and her mother Carlota were still looking at Jane, who knew, from the way her face was burning, that her cheeks would have looked completely scarlet had her skin been lighter. "I'm very sorry," she said.
Osei smiled gently. "It worked out. Was that the bloke who came here two weeks ago?"
"Looks like he wanted to do something special for you."
Jane gritted her teeth again. Carlota laughed. "Men don't always have good sense."
Jane attempted to smile. She and Frank were going to have to have a serious talk when she saw him later.
Jane wasn't surprised to receive a phone call from Margaret on Monday, asking to meet with her. Since the 30th of January was the fifth Thursday of the month, she wasn't scheduled to teach but had the evening free. Thus, she arranged to meet with Margaret after she finished work for the day.
"Osei told me about what happened on Saturday," began Margaret.
"Yes, I'm so sorry--"
"Don't be. While it's a pain in the arse to have a donor provide something without clearing it with us first, at least it's someone who wanted to give. I understand the donor is a friend of yours?"
"Well, while we can't take all the instruments and certainly don't want something as loud as drum sets here, we can accept part of the gift. We've had a number of children and parents asking for lessons that we can't fit into your schedule. So I was thinking that we could take another keyboard and perhaps a couple of the guitars. Those are all easily stored, and we'd probably have more youth interested in learning them than, say, the flute."
"I'd love to teach more, but I don't think I can add additional hours to my schedule right now. Besides, I don't play the guitar."
Margaret smiled. "Jane, you do plenty already! I was thinking of advertising for more volunteers."
Jane remembered something Frank had said. "Did you know that Daniel's dad plays the guitar?"
"Is that so? It would be jolly good to have him helping out here, especially because he lives in the community."
Jane pressed her lips together. "Margaret, I don't know if this is at all possible, but Roger has been out of work for a while. If he's willing to teach, would there be any funds to pay him?"
The programme director shook her head. "I'm really sorry. Our budget is strapped as it is. But we would always welcome more volunteers."
An idea came to Jane. "Would you be willing to meet with my friend to talk more about this?"
Margaret's smile broadened. "Of course! Do you think I'd ever turn down a meeting with a new donor?"
Jane was excited to call Frank that evening. "You still want to do something to help out the community centre?"
She could hear his smile across the phone line. "You know I do. What do you have in mind?"
"I'd like to set up a meeting between you and Margaret, the programme director. It would be great if you were to ask what some of their biggest budget needs are, and maybe offer a donation to cover them. But also..." Jane paused for emphasis, "if Margaret's willing, you can offer to fund some music instructor positions."
"Why, so she can pay you?"
"No, not me! I was thinking of Roger. And I wouldn't be surprised if there weren't other musicians in the neighbourhood who be great instructors for kids."
"They're going to keep the instruments!" Frank said enthusiastically.
"Not all of them, just one keyboard and two guitars."
"Oh." Jane could hear Frank's disappointment.
"But that's potentially two or three instructors they could hire, and a lot of kids they could teach, if they have the funds for it. You'd be creating jobs, at least part time, for people who need them."
"Okay," Frank said, clearly thinking about it. "I like the idea. I'll do it." He paused. "But what do we do with the rest of the instruments?"
"I'm not sure, but I'll bet there are schools around here that would welcome extra instruments for their orchestras."
"I'll look into it."
"One more thing: would you give the other keyboard to Daniel? I keep thinking about him not being able to practice at home."
"Jane! That's a great idea! I'd love to help that kid out! So, um..." she could hear amusement in his voice, "does this mean you're not mad at me anymore?"
She smiled. "You know I stopped being mad at you on Saturday."
"Oh, yeah, how could I forget?" he laughed. "But now you might even be happy with me."
"Yes," her smile widened, "I am." It was very hard not to be, especially knowing how much he loved to be generous.
This was a real contrast to her attitude on Saturday evening, when she had been thoroughly pissed off with Frank for what she considered his impractical and thoughtless gift, and the embarrassment for the position he had put her in.
Frank had argued back. "I just wanted to do something good, and you're acting like I was trying to harm people!"
"Because sometimes it does harm people! There are so many stories of do-gooders who never bothered to ask the people they were trying to help what they actually needed. And they end up offering something that at best doesn't help, and at worst, causes actual harm!"
"And you think musical instruments fall into that category?"
"Jane," Frank had said in a softer tone, "I keep thinking about the way you looked at me when you heard about Betty's family. I just wanted you to look at me that way again."
She threw up her hands. "That's the worst reason in the world to do something."
Jane had exhaled. "Because you should be doing good for the sake of the people you're trying to help, not for a person you're trying to impress."
"I was. I remembered Roger and Rose saying they wish there were more of you. And I was thinking about you saying that you're just one person, but everyone can do something. So I thought, maybe I can make it so there can be more Janes. If they had more instruments, maybe other people could teach, too. So my motives weren't pure and I wanted to impress you, too. So what? Everyone's not as saintly as you are."
His last comment had stung, but before Jane could respond, she took a good look at Frank's face and saw all the emotion present in his current expression. She had hurt him, she realized--badly. She swallowed her retort, walked over and put her arms around him. "I'm sorry," she said.
He stood stiffly for a moment, and then slowly wrapped his own arms around her. Looking down at her, he said, "So am I. I didn't mean to cause problems for you."
So they had made up on Saturday evening and by unspoken agreement hadn't mentioned the instruments again during the days that followed. Their partial reconciliation then made their current conversation all the better, because now they could stop tiptoeing around the topic, and both knew that something very good would come out of Frank's charitable gesture.
Frank left again for a business trip the following week, this time to South America. He was able to return in time for Valentine's Day, when he took Jane out to NOPI, a Middle Eastern restaurant in Soho that offered enough meat and meat-free options to satisfy them both. He excitedly described the innovative efforts at developing renewable energy sources taking place in several Latin American countries, many of which would provide him with new opportunities for investment.
As he always did when returning from traveling, Frank presented her with a gift, this time a brightly-coloured, richly patterned woven handbag made by the Wayuu people of Colombia. He was all cheekbones and dimples as he presented it. "Fair trade and handcrafted. See, I'm learning."
Jane had to laugh at his enthusiasm. "It's beautiful. I love it." She reached into the old purse she had carried with her to the restaurant. "I have something for you, too," she told him. "I didn't have to purchase it, but it's still precious. To me, anyway."
Frank widened his eyes in anticipation. "I can't wait to see it then!"
She handed him a thick, textured, cream-coloured envelope. On the outside, written in a flowery script, were the words, Miss Jane Fairfax and Mr. Frank Churchill.
Frank opened the envelope and pulled out a card, which he unfolded. He silently read the words she knew were written there: "Mr. and Mrs. Dwight and Judy Campbell request the honour of your presence at the marriage of their daughter, Sarah Elizabeth, to Peter Andrew Dixon, Sunday the sixteenth of March, two thousand fourteen, at one o'clock in the afternoon, Glasgow, Scotland." Beneath these words were the name and address of the church.
"Very nice!" he said. "They must be getting excited."
"Definitely. Sarah is bouncing all over the flat these days."
"Are you standing up with her?"
Jane nodded. "I'm her maid of honour."
Frank looked thoughtful for a moment. "Several of Peter's other investors will be there. If we go together, our relationship will become a public thing. What do you think about that?"
Jane tilted her head. "I'm okay with that."
"You're sure?" Frank grinned. "Because there was a time when you said you didn't even want to be my girlfriend."
"That is not what I meant!" she protested. "It was never that I didn't want to be with you. Just not... the public Frank Churchill."
He pressed his lips together. "If there's any media focus on the wedding because Peter's an up and coming entrepreneur, then I can't protect you anymore. You will be linked to the public Frank Churchill."
Jane hesitated, but said, "Okay."
"You sure?" he repeated.
"I guess. We can't hide our relationship forever." She knew she didn't sound very convinced, but she reasoned that since they truly loved each other, it would work out.
Frank nodded and reached for one of her hands. "I have other news for you. In Colombia I met a guy from northern California who is also interested in renewable energy. He's trying to start a new wind farm back home and invited me to come see it next week to decide if I want to invest in it. I figured I can also visit SoCal while I'm there."
Jane opened her mouth wide. "Does that mean...?"
Frank released her hand and clapped his own together. "Month and a half into the new year, baby! Boom! See, I told you I'd see Ryan and Annie before the end of March!"
"Don't brag until you're actually there. It hasn't happened yet."
Frank's face turned into an expression of mock offense as he pressed his hand to his chest. "Don't you trust me?"
She smiled. "I trust you, but you never know what will happen. It's not a done deal until it is."
He pressed his lips and nodded. "All right then. Here's a way we can make sure I go: come with me."
"Because my presentation is a week from Monday, and I'm busy trying to help Sarah pack up all her stuff. There's no way I can leave at this time."
"When's the last time you went home?"
"Two and a half years ago. I was at home for two weeks after I graduated from Oxford."
He waggled his finger at her. "And you've been lecturing me for not visiting my family?"
"I can't afford it, Mr. Churchill. I don't think that's your problem. Besides, I'm the one who talks to my family every week."
Frank did his touch-nose-and-point gesture again. She grinned and imitated the motion.
"If affording the airfare is a problem, the next time you decide to go, I'll pay for it."
Jane looked at him, shaking her head. "You don't have to do that."
"What if I want to?"
"Frank, I'll just save up until I have enough."
"How long will that take, another two years?"
She nodded, acknowledging his point.
"What about this summer? What if we go to L.A. together? If we're together, I hope you'll let me pay for it."
Jane rocked her head from side to side for a moment, weighing the idea. She really did miss her family, and as much as she wanted to be independent and pay her own way, Frank was right. It would take her a long time to save up enough on her own to go home. "Okay, it's a deal. We'll go home together this summer."
"Great!" Frank said. "I for one can't wait to meet Aunt Maddy and Grandma, those two amazing ladies I've heard so much about!"
"What do you think they'll think about me?"
Seeing his smug look of anticipation, she was tempted to tease him by saying, "Not much." But the thought of how her family would actually respond to Frank was too delightful. "Oh, Frank, they will love you! They already love you from what I've told them about you, but once they meet you and you lay on the Frank Churchill charm--they'll be over the moon about you!"
His beaming expression was so sweet that it made Jane wonder about a question of her own. "What do you think your grandparents would think about me if they were still alive?"
"They'd love you, too," he said with a wide smile and without hesitation. "How could they not? And as soon as my grandmother found out how accomplished you are, she'd want to know why I haven't married you yet. I've been wondering that myself."
Jane laughed at that, but later on, she puzzled over whether or not Frank had been joking.
Emma Approved social media, via Twitter:
Frank Churchill FranklyChurch - Feb 21: TheRyanWeston - Bad news... got invited to a conference in India for this weekend, might have to reschedule the visit with you and Annie
Ryan Weston TheRyanWeston - Feb 21: FranklyChurch - Wow, that's really last minute
Frank Churchill FranklyChurch - Feb 21: TheRyanWeston - Yeah. Not how I wanted my weekend to go, but this conference is really important. #jetsetterproblems
Frank Churchill FranklyChurch - Feb 21: TheRyanWeston - Not that you and Annie aren't important. I feel bad basically ditching you guys twice. I can still get out of it if you want.
Ryan Weston TheRyanWeston - Feb 21: FranklyChurch - Appreciate the offer, and we would love to see you, but it's cool. We'll catch up next time you're in town.
Frank Churchill FranklyChurch - Feb 21: TheRyanWeston - Thanks, man. Give my regards to your lovely wife. I'll see you both soon, I swear.
Ryan Weston TheRyanWeston - Feb 21: FranklyChurch - Enjoy India!
24 February 2014
With her backpack over one shoulder and overnight bag on the other, Jane carried Frank's flat key and a sack of takeaway from Crib de Rib, a rib and steakhouse restaurant not far from Frank's building in Kensington. Having been vegan now for more than a decade, the strong smells in the restaurant were a little sickening to her as she waited to pick up Frank's Guinness style ribs, but that's what he had really wanted. He'd sounded a little depressed on the phone, and she'd offered to buy whatever was his favorite takeaway in order to cheer him up. Since there was virtually nothing else on the Crib de Rib menu that she could eat, she had ordered several side salads to share with him.
In the lobby of his building, the doorman on duty was named George. He checked her ID against Frank's list of approved visitors and then allowed her to proceed to the lifts. She rode to the eighteenth floor and used Frank's key to let herself in. While she awaited Frank's arrival, she set two place settings at his dining table, added the side salads to a large bowl, and arranged the ribs in a glass baking dish, which she placed in the oven under the "warm" setting. She selected a French merlot from the wine rack behind Frank's bar to accompany their dinner.
Fortunately, she didn't have to wait long. His flight from Pune, India had been on time, so he arrived by taxi from Heathrow before seven o'clock. Frank looked tired when he placed his luggage down, but that didn't stop him from sweeping Jane into his arms for a passionate kiss.
"Your dinner's ready," Jane said when their lips finally unlocked.
Frank shook his head, his voice sultry. "I don't want dinner right now. All I want is you."
It was a good thing she had kept the ribs warm, because they finally sat down to eat about an hour later. Frank still looked tired, but much happier. As they started their meal, he asked about her presentation before the Lancaster-Beckworth trustees earlier that day.
"It went really well," Jane answered with a smile. "You know how you can tell that your audience is getting into what you're saying? They were like that with me, and even more so with Alyssa."
Frank smiled. "I knew you'd do great. I'm really proud of you, sweetheart." He wiped his hands on a serviette and then reached over to tweak her chin. "So what happens next?"
"It's a waiting game now. The trustees are going to meet to discuss the proposal, and give us an answer sometime next week." She paused to eat more of her salad and take a sip of wine. "What about you? How was India?" She was still wondering what had created his dampened mood earlier.
"It wasn't what I was expecting," Frank answered. After having a promising meeting with the wind farm owner the previous week, the man had talked Frank into accompanying him to the 2014 International Conference on Renewable Energy in Pune, India, which had taken place over the weekend. Frank had chosen to go there rather than L.A. because he thought it would expand his inroads into renewable energy investments.
"How was it different?"
"It was really a conference geared toward biochemical and environmental engineers and urban planners. It was interesting, as they talked about ideas to make buildings and urban landscapes more efficient--actually, I thought about you and how you might've enjoyed that. And there was some talk about new sources of biofuels. But frankly, since I'm not an engineer, a lot of it went over my head. Plus, I'm not an R&D guy."
"So it wasn't worthwhile to you?"
"Not really. I'm looking for investment opportunities right now, things that might turn a profit in the next six months to a year. Like Peter's company, which was already up and operating, but needed an infusion of capital to go to scale. What I heard about in Pune were ideas that will require government action to get off the ground, or opportunities that won't be profitable for another five to ten years. Good to know about for down the line, but still. I kept thinking, 'and I missed seeing Ryan and Annie for this?'"
"You're really disappointed, aren't you?"
Frank nodded, rubbing the back of his neck. "Yeah... I feel like I let them down again."
"Maybe you can make it up to them by rescheduling right away. When's the next break in your schedule?"
"Huh," Frank said, a small smile forming on his face. "Great suggestion. Hey, you know what? I don't have anything going on after the wedding. Maybe I can fly straight from Glasgow to L.A. and spend at least the next two weeks with them."
Jane smiled. "Sounds like a plan. And you'll still meet your March the 31st deadline!"
"We should have put some money on that."
"Frank, if I were going to place a bet with you, it certainly wouldn't be for money."
Frank waggled his eyebrows, a coy smile on his face. "Oh really, Ms. Fairfax? And just what would you bet?"
She smirked. "You'll have to wait until we actually place one to find out."
"And the gauntlet is thrown... Okay, how about we bet on how many times I can make you scream my name tonight?"
Jane laughed. "I like that bet! But... speaking of tonight. Remember Michael from New Year's Day?"
"Tall, skinny guy that came to watch the match with your co-worker?"
"That's him. Anyway, he's doing a spoken word performance at a pub near my flat tonight. Since it's so close to where I live, Derek invited me to come out to give him support. He's on at ten." Derek couldn't have known she'd be at Frank's that evening.
Frank groaned. "Jane, the last thing I want to do tonight is go out."
"I know you're exhausted, so is it okay if I go alone?"
He scowled. "And I want you here with me."
"I'll be gone about an hour at most."
From his expression, she could tell Frank was annoyed. "You're really asking this? I've been gone all week and he's more important than I am?"
"Of course not!" Jane sighed heavily. She hated to disappoint Derek, but she realized that if she went, she would be disappointing Frank more. "All right, fine, I won't go."
She chewed her lip for a moment. She knew his irritation was about missing her and wanting time with her, but their spat made her think of something she had been wondering about for some time. "May I ask you a question?"
Frank extended one hand as if to say, Go ahead.
"Who are your friends?"
"What does this have to do with anything?"
"I'm just asking. Since we've been together, we've done a lot of things with my friends, but nothing with yours."
"We're trying to keep our relationship private, remember? Meeting the people I know would ruin that."
"I know, but you don't even talk much about your friends."
"Yeah, I do. What about all my rock climbing mates?" When he was in town, Frank visited a climbing centre at least twice a week, and usually went out for drinks afterward with some of his buddies there. He had told her that the same group planned an annual rock climbing trip to a cliff somewhere in the world.
"Do you ever see any of them outside of rock climbing and going to the pub?"
Frank exhaled again. "What is all this about, Jane?"
"I keep thinking about our conversation on Valentine's Day, when we talked about me being seen with the public Frank Churchill. The persona you present to the world is this über confident, gregarious, jet-setting entrepreneur. A lot of people know him. But how many people know the real Frank Churchill?"
Frank was quiet for a while, munching on more of his ribs. Finally, he looked at her with a smirk. "And just who is the real Frank Churchill that people supposedly don't know?"
Jane shrugged a little. "I think I'm still finding out. But I know the real Frank Churchill was really excited to give a gift to help out kids in Hackney, and really hurt when his girlfriend didn't appreciate it. I know he thinks it's normal that his family is scattered about and rarely spends time together, but he wishes it were different all the same."
The smirked faded. Frank glanced down at his food, which was now a pile of bare bones on a plate. He pushed the plate away, wiped his hands on the serviette again, and turned back to Jane. "Let's go to your friend's performance."
"No, you were right. I don't have to go."
"Yes, you do. It's important to you, and so it's important to me." He stood up and reached for her hand.
"That wasn't why I said what I said," Jane pointed out as she slipped her fingers into his.
He was tugging her away from the table, but once on her feet she planted herself firmly on the ground. She turned to face him and gazed intently into his eyes. "Frank, listen... what I do know of the real Frank Churchill, I really, really love."
His face took on an expression that was as tender as she felt. He leaned down to kiss her gently, his lips tasting of barbecue sauce. He said softly, "You know that's one of the reasons I fell in love with you, right?"
"That you're so real. There is nothing pretentious about Jane Fairfax."
She reached up to kiss him again, but he pulled back. "Not now, or we'll miss your friend's show." The classic Frank grin returned. "But I promise you we won't stay long. I have to get back to make you scream my name tonight."
Jane laughed. "Then let's make this quick, because I can't wait to get back either!"
Separate departures, separate rides to Bethnal Green... this was getting old. Jane was glad that they had decided that Sarah and Peter's wedding would be the time they'd publicly come out with their relationship. They met up just inside the darkened pub at about a quarter to ten, where an impassioned performer stood under a spotlight on stage, declaring in verse about her dreams and sorrows.
Frank took her hand to lead her through the crowd since he could see above a lot more people than she could. He soon spotted Michael's bald head, and they approached the tall, round pub table around which Michael and Derek stood.
"Hi, sweetie!" Derek called out as they arrived, leaning over to kiss Jane's cheek. "So glad you came!" He held out his hand to shake Frank's, saying, "Good to see you again."
"Likewise," said Frank. "You ready?" he said to Michael with a grin.
Michael nodded. "My first time in public, but it's something I've been wanting to do for a while." Michael was a very tall, light-skinned man of Jamaican descent with a shaved head, hipster glasses, and a pierced bottom lip. Their relationship, which had begun on New Year's Eve, seemed puzzling to Jane because Michael appeared very different from the much shorter, white and neatly mustachioed Derek, who still hadn't lost his conservative banker's look or demeanor in the seven years he had been out of the corporate sector. Then again, she supposed that she and Frank might seem very different to some people, too.
"Michael!" they heard someone shout. "You haven't gone on yet, have you?"
They looked up to see a young woman with pale skin, flashing dark eyes, and blue hair approach. "Not yet," Michael said, looking at the time on his mobile. "Seven more minutes!"
The woman exchanged a kiss with Michael and then said, "Hiya, I'm Emily," to everyone else around the table. When Frank said his full name during their round of introductions, they heard another voice, this time a slurred one right behind them.
"Frank Churchill? Tired of raping the world, so you come slumming among the peasants?"
Everyone looked over to see Diggy stumbling toward them. He threw his body into Frank, who didn't budge, but instead grabbed the other man by the arms to keep him from falling over.
"Let go of me!" Diggy flung his arms away from Frank, and then caught Jane's eye. "You're still with him? Guess you're a slag now, aren't ya?"
Frank moved closer to Jane, putting his arm around her, while Derek walked over and placed a firm hand on Diggy's shoulder. "You're bloody pissed right now, mate. I think it's time for you to go home."
"I'm fine!" Diggy shouted.
"I don't think so. Let's get you out of here." He attempted to steer the unwilling Diggy toward the door.
A bouncer approached. "Problem?"
Derek shook his head. "We just need to send him home."
The bouncer nodded and took Diggy's other arm. Derek paused and removed his mobile from his pocket, tossing it onto the table. "Jane, Eugenie's number two on the speed dial. Ask her to meet Diggy at his flat." He turned to Michael. "I'll be back in time to see you perform."
Ticked off at having to help Diggy when he'd just insulted her, Jane nevertheless picked up the mobile and called Eugenie. She willed herself to calm down and informed her boss what had just happened. Derek did make it back inside just as Michael was called up to the stage. Jane blew out her breath in order to release her tension and focus on Michael's performance, which was a heartfelt speech about people who would declare that England was not his country, even though his ancestors were among those who had built the British empire. She nodded in understanding. As an African-American, she could relate.
After Michael stepped down to the crowd's cheers and returned to their table, Derek gave him a huge hug and kiss. "Beautiful!" he told him.
The rest of them echoed their congratulations and then Jane said, "Frank just got back in town and is pretty jet-lagged. Is it all right if we take off?"
After Derek and Michael assured them that it was, they walked out the pub together to hail a taxi. Once inside, Frank said, his voice groggy, "I'll get out a street away and let you ride to my building."
She looked at him with a bit of worry. "Will you be okay?"
He smiled. "I'm fine. I'm not so tired I can't walk a short distance."
"Sorry about what happened back there."
"Will you stop apologizing for Diggy? He's not your fault. Besides, his issues are with me, not with you."
Jane was quiet, letting that sink in.
Frank leaned over to rest his head on her shoulder. "Sweetheart?" he said, looking up at her.
"Would it be okay if we put off making you scream until another night?"
Jane grinned. "Yes, but you'll owe me."
Frank chuckled. "Don't worry, I'll gladly repay you."
Maddy Bates: Jane has a bit of a cold, but she's not going to let that stop her. She has signed up to run the Surrey Half-Marathon this weekend!
Emma Woodhouse (after making faces and a choking gesture): Uh, your Jane is pretty incredible. There's no one like her.
Emma Approved, ep. 34
In hindsight, the cold Jane woke up with on Saturday, March the first was a portent of the month to come.
She has suspected she was coming down with something after fighting fatigue for the last several days, but had hoped it was just due to her harder workouts in preparation for the race and the late nights she had spent helping Sarah pack boxes.
No such luck. When she exited her bedroom with a handkerchief covering her face to mask her coughs and sneezes, Sarah had taken one look at her and ordered her back to bed.
"Sarah, please," Jane had whined. "I know how much you need to do, and I want to help."
"There are plenty of people coming today, and you've done enough to help me already. Besides, this is not for your sake, it's for mine," Sarah said with a grin. "The last thing I need right now is to catch whatever you have."
Jane couldn't argue with that, so after making herself a cup of chamomile tea, she promptly returned to her room and attempted to go back to sleep. Rest would be short-lived, however, as friends and family started arriving around ten in the morning to begin moving Sarah's possessions to the rental truck. The sounds of laughter, grunts and heavy footsteps were not conducive to convalescence. Covering her head with a pillow didn't drown them out.
She heard a knock at her door. "Who is it?" she called out.
"It's me, sweetheart."
Upon her invitation, Frank entered, a wide smile on his face. "My poor baby," he crooned.
Jane held out her hands and sighed. "I know." She sat up in bed and made room for him beside her. He took her into his arms and leaned over to kiss her, but she pulled back, saying, "You may not want to do that."
Frank laughed, "Yeah, you're probably right." He kissed her on the forehead instead.
"How's it going out there?"
"It's going well. Sarah has plenty of people. I'm almost not needed."
"Thanks for coming anyway," Jane said in a stuffy voice, before losing herself in a fit of sneezes.
Frank made a face at the soggy handkerchief she was using. "Ugh. I seriously hope you have some clean ones."
She nodded and pointed to the top drawer of her dresser. "Left side," she croaked.
He stood and walked over to the bureau, pulled out several clean handkerchiefs and brought them to her. His nose still turned up, he reached for her used one, delicately held the corner with the tips of his thumb and forefinger, and walked over to her hamper to drop it in. Watching him, Jane giggled.
"You need someone to take care of you," he said when he sat down again.
"No, I don't."
"Yes, you do. I know we were supposed to go out tonight, but that's not going to happen. And since Sarah's leaving, why don't I stay and look after you?"
Jane smiled. "You're sweet."
"I know." Frank's dimples deepened.
A short while later, he was called out to help carry some of Sarah's furniture. He kissed her on the head again and told her he'd be back. Slowly but surely, the commotion in the rest of the flat began to die down. The next knock at her door was Sarah herself. "Jane? I'm leaving now," she said. She placed her key on top of Jane's bookshelf.
Jane fought back her tears. "Okay."
Sarah approached as if to hug her, but Jane held up her hands to stop her. "You were right, Sarah. You cannot afford to get sick right now."
Sarah smiled, her own eyes moist. "I don't know what I'm going to do without you."
"You'll have Peter."
"He won't replace you, Jane. I mean that." Sarah paused. "Are we still meeting at Southbank on Monday to run?"
"If I'm up for it."
"You will be. Now get better soon, you understand? I need you."
"Yes, ma'am!" Jane laughed, although her laughter sounded more like a cough.
She listened after Sarah left her room, hearing the front door shut with a finality that told Jane that nothing would ever be the same.
Frank returned to her room. "Are you hungry?" When she nodded, he asked what she would like to eat.
"Some soup and toast, I guess."
"I don't suppose you eat chicken soup?"
Jane smiled and shook her head. "There should be some cartons of tomato soup or vegetable broth in one of the cabinets."
"I'll be right back."
When lunch was ready, Jane said she wanted to join him in the living room, so he wrapped a blanket around her, and before she could object, had lifted her up to carry her to the sofa. "This is totally unnecessary, you know. I can walk."
He smiled charmingly. "I told you I was going to take care of you."
Jane sighed, but said no more. It was kind of nice being pampered like this.
Frank had placed the soup and toast on the coffee table, and they ate while watching television. After eating, Jane lay down with her head on Frank's lap, drifting in and out for much of the day while his hand stroked her hair or caressed her back. She recalled bits of episodes of The X Factor, maybe a movie or two, and snippets of conversations Frank attempted to make with her. Saturday came and went, and the next thing she knew, she was waking up in her own bed on Sunday morning. She still felt lousy, but was not as exhausted after having slept so much the day before.
She rose and donned a bathrobe, and grabbing clean pyjamas, walked out of her bedroom to take a shower. She hadn't the day before, and was feeling pretty gross. She was a bit shocked to notice all the blank spots around the flat where furniture, photos or knickknacks had once been, reinforcing Sarah's absence. Seeing Frank, who was snoozing on the sofa, the blanket he'd wrapped around her the day before now covering him, made her smile and feel less alone. Since she had no recollection of how she had gotten back into her own bed, she was pretty sure he had carried her there and tucked her in.
The hot shower helped clear her sinuses a bit, but her throat and head still ached. And she was famished; the soup and toast from the previous day had hardly been filling. There wasn't much else in the flat, however, so she made herself more toast and sat down in the chair beside Frank to eat it.
He woke up a short while later. "Hey," he said sleepily, "how are you feeling?"
"A little better," she said, although the shower's effects had diminished and her nose was rapidly clogging up again.
"I'm glad." He held out his hand to her, and she took it. "I see you got yourself some breakfast."
"Yes, but this is the last of the bread, and there's not much else, I'm afraid."
"I'll go shopping for you, if you tell me what you want. I have to go home and change anyway."
She gave him a list and he soon departed, returning a couple of hours later wearing different clothing and carrying grocery bags. He again prepared food for her; more steaming broth soothed her throat and sinuses, while the hummus and pita chips he'd bought helped fill her hungry belly. Frank had also purchased multi-symptom cold medicine, another welcome relief.
While they ate, Frank motioned to the empty spaces around the room. "I can stay here all week if you'd like," he said, "in case you need me."
Jane smiled slightly. "Thank you, but I'm sure I'll be better in a day or two."
"But not lonely?" Frank raised his eyebrows.
"A little," she acknowledged.
"So... how's the search going?"
"For a flatmate?" Jane sighed. "Not that well. I've had it posted on Craigslist for a while, but it's not a good time of year for finding people looking to rent a room."
"You know, the easiest thing would be for me to pay off the rest of your lease and have you move in with me."
"I also put in an ad to rent the whole flat, so if someone answers that, maybe I will."
"I just offered to buy out your lease," he repeated. Her current lease didn't expire until July.
"I know, but I don't want you to do that."
Frank exhaled. "Why do I feel like moving in with me is your least favorite option, something you'd only do if you had no other choice?"
Jane didn't know how to answer that, so she reached for another pita chip instead.
"Jane, look at me." She turned to face Frank, whose expression was very earnest. "I love you. I love taking care of you and being with you like this. Why can't we make it more permanent?"
She swallowed. "And I love you, too. I just... I'm not ready. I can't really explain why." Seeing his crestfallen look, she added, "All right, if I am able to find renters who will take the whole flat, I promise you, I'll move in with you happily."
A smile started to return to Frank's face. "That's a promise, huh? Let's see now, who can I bribe to move in here?"
Jane laughed and swatted him lightly with one of the sofa's throw pillows.
At her insistence, Frank returned to his own flat on Sunday night. She didn't want him catching her cold, and she knew sleeping on her sofa had to be uncomfortable for him. He promised to stop by each day as soon as he was finished with whatever meetings or business obligations he had.
Jane stayed home from work the next two days. By mid-morning on Tuesday, she was bored silly with television and had finished the current books she was reading, so she finally decided to join the 21st century and signed up for Facebook and Twitter. She still didn't think she'd be sharing much on these social media platforms, but it was fun finding old friends from high school, Berkeley, and Oxford, and reading their posts about what they'd been up to in recent years.
Even with remaining traces of the sniffles, she felt well enough to run again on Wednesday morning, although she spent much of the time ruing the fact that her muscles and stamina had weakened during her illness. Sarah was wonderful, however, encouraging her along and reminding her how far she'd come since they started training together the previous summer. "I know you'll be ready this Sunday, Jane! Remember, I'll be there beside you all the way."
Uplifted, she returned to work that same day, where she showered and felt refreshed and ready to face life again. "Hi, Alyssa!" she greeted her coworker warmly when she arrived.
"Hi," Alyssa said, and then quickly sat at her work station and started typing, saying nothing further.
This was puzzling to Jane, since Alyssa was usually friendlier. "Have we heard yet from Lancaster-Beckworth?"
Alyssa turned. "You should probably talk to Eugenie." She turned back to her computer.
A sinking feeling began forming inside Jane. "Okay," she said slowly. She stood and walked to her boss' office and knocked on the door.
Eugenie invited Jane to come in and sit down at the small table she preferred to use rather than a desk. "I'm glad to see you're feeling better. We've missed you around here."
"Thanks," Jane said as she took a seat, but she wasn't interested in small talk. "Alyssa said I should talk to you about Lancaster-Beckworth."
Eugenie folded her hands together on top of the table. "Yes. Well, we heard from them yesterday."
Eugenie let out a breath. "You did a fabulous job, you really did. But--"
"They said no, didn't they?" Jane's stomach twisted as she said the words.
"Not quite. They really liked the youth part of the presentation."
"Yes. Listen, Jane, everyone is retrenching." Eugenie removed her glasses and rubbed her eyes. "Very few foundations have ever fully recovered from the financial crisis, even ones as large as Lancaster-Beckworth. So they're trying to be more strategic and focused in their funding. The trustees want to promote youth programming rather than environmental services."
"I don't understand. Those two elements were combined in our presentation."
"I know. I wish I could tell you how many times I've met with philanthropists who don't really grasp the full scale of what we want to do."
Jane furrowed her brow. "So what are they planning to fund?"
"They want to keep Alyssa on board doing youth outreach, but they want her to engage youth in shorter-term projects such as recycling drives and park cleanups."
Jane emitted a sound of disbelief. "That's great, but that won't really change anything!"
Eugenie sighed. "They think it will have the possibility of involving greater numbers of youth that the project you described. That's what they want: more youth involved, rather than fewer youth engaged in a more in-depth project. Again, it's the youth part they're interested in, not the project itself. The trustees argued that it would be more transformative than your original proposal, because more kids might get interested in ecological issues."
Jane sat on her hands to tamp down her frustration. "What does all this mean... for me?"
Eugenie exhaled slowly. "Jane, you have been such a valuable member of this team."
"Have been," said Jane, trying to keep her voice even. "Past tense."
"Present perfect progressive, actually, which means it can continue into the future. Lancaster is not going to renew the funding for your position, but that doesn't mean that there aren't other grantmakers who might."
"But we'd have to identify them and convince them first," Jane said bluntly. "Please be honest with me, Eugenie. What does this mean?"
She knew how much affection Eugenie had for her, so when she saw the sorrow in the older woman's eyes, Jane knew the news was bad. "We have the resources to pay you until the end of the month, but after that we'll have to let you go. Jane, I am so very sorry."
Jane closed her eyes for a moment to gather her composure. "It's all right. I understand. I'll do whatever I can in the next few weeks to make sure all my projects are closed out."
"And this is why you've been such a gem here at Sustainable London. If you feel up to it, Alyssa is going to need your help. She has to revise the proposal according the the trustees' recommendations, and you have a lot more experience with programme planning and proposal writing."
Jane took a deep breath. "I'll help her. Whatever she needs."
Eugenie reached her arms across the table. Jane removed her own from beneath her legs and clasped Eugenie's hands, as the older woman said, "Thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for everything."
Jane pulled herself together enough to have a positive outlook for the rest of the day. She reassured Alyssa that she had nothing to feel guilty about (guessing correctly that that was the reason for the younger woman's earlier coldness), and that she'd be happy to help her revise the proposal. Jane threw herself into the work, assisting Alyssa to brainstorm ideas for short-term eco-friendly projects and how to make them fun and appealing to youth.
She also told herself that there were other jobs to be had. As the grandchild of a British Commonwealth citizen, Jane had been able to qualify for a five-year work permit, which still had more than two years on it. Plenty of time to find another position that would allow her to stay in England. In addition, she had much to look forward to, including the half-marathon this weekend and Sarah's wedding the following week. Life was still good.
It was only later that evening when she told Frank what had happened that the dam burst and she found herself sobbing. Frank put his arms around her and rubbed her back while she cried. As he rested his chin on top of her hair, she could hear him whisper, "No matter what happens, Jane, I'll always be here to take care of you."
Emma Approved social media, via Twitter:
Jane Fairfax TheJaneFairfax - Mar 8: Early to bed, early to rise...
Jane Fairfax TheJaneFairfax - Mar 9: Today's the big day! Wish me luck. #surreyhalfmarathon
Jane Fairfax TheJaneFairfax - Mar 9: Feeling proud and exhausted. PR with 1:50:54. So glad all that training paid off.
Jane Fairfax TheJaneFairfax - Mar 9: Thanks so much to the Dixons for encouraging me to run with them. We did it!
Jane Fairfax TheJaneFairfax - Mar 9: And now for a well deserved bubble bath.
Jane woke up on Monday morning, achy but proud of what she had accomplished on Sunday. She not only finished the half-marathon but set her own personal record, spurred on by not just Sarah but also Peter who had decided to join the race. Although the slim and agile Peter was pretty active, he certainly hadn't trained the way she and Sarah had. "Only he," said Sarah with pride, "could choose to sign up last minute and still go the distance."
Jane had smiled in agreement. "I appreciate having two Dixons encouraging me along, not just one."
"Oh, we're the Dixons now, are we, even though the wedding's not until next week?" Peter grinned.
"Oh yes," Jane teased. "At this point, the wedding is just a formality."
Frank was among those watching at the finish line, and had two dozen roses waiting for her in his car when they rode back to London. He was very sympathetic when she informed him that she wished for nothing more than a bubble bath and her bed when she got home. Her family, too, had been understanding; she had called them on Saturday to let them know that on Sunday night she would probably be out of commission.
Energized (oddly enough, given her muscle fatigue) by the weekend's success, Jane was excited to return to work on Monday, despite knowing her job would soon be over. She and Alyssa had outlined several ideas for the revised proposal, which Jane would begin to write that day.
Monday morning brought another surprise. She had neglected to check her mobile messages over the weekend, and discovered one from a woman named Jessica Carpenter who sounded vaguely American and was asking about renting her flat. During her lunch break, she called the woman back.
"Oh, thank you so much for getting back to us!" Jessica said. "I was afraid I wouldn't hear from you."
"I'm excited to hear from you, too!" Jane assured her. "I haven't had much of a response to my ads."
She told Jessica about her flatmate moving out to get married, and made arrangements to meet with her that evening to show her the flat. A thirty-ish woman of medium height with short brown hair and glasses, Jessica came with her husband, Robert, a good-humoured man who was a bit taller and pudgier than his wife.
Jane's first question was whether or not they were also American. Jessica shook her head. "Canadian. We're from Vancouver."
"Cool! I'm from L.A. What brings you to London?"
"I've been hired by a company here to do pharmaceutical research. They're putting us up at the Marriott until the end of the month, and we thought that was plenty of time to find somewhere permanent to live. However, everything is so expensive here in London, and the cheap rents aren't in very good neighbourhoods."
"We've heard good things about Bethnal Green, however," Robert interjected.
Jane nodded. "It's a great neighbourhood. It's pretty safe, it's affordable, and there's a decent arts scene around here."
"That's just what we're looking for!" Jessica declared.
"Great!" said Jane. "Let me show you around." She apologized for the size as she took them on a brief tour. "Flats around here are smaller than what we're used to in North America."
"Aw, we can handle it," Robert said. "As long as our budget can handle it, we can make it work."
"Speaking of work, do you have a job here, too?" Jane asked.
He grinned. "Nope. I'll get to be a kept man for a while!" His wife laughed and elbowed him in the stomach.
"One question we had," said Jessica. "You advertised twice, once for just the extra bedroom, and once for the entire flat. Are you undecided about what you want to do?"
"I have a possible place to move to if I let the whole flat, but my preference would be to remain here."
"If you moved, would you be taking the furniture?"
Jane hesitated. It was one thing for Sarah to bring her old furniture with her to Peter's place, which was sparsely furnished with a few pieces from IKEA. Frank's flat, however, was well equipped with what she was sure were very expensive furnishings. Her furniture, mostly purchased second-hand, would be unneeded and out of place. "Probably not," she finally said.
"Oh, fantastic!" said Jessica. "We weren't looking forward to having to furnish a place right away. We'll need to buy a bed, but since your furniture will be staying, we can buy everything else over time."
"When will you be moving out?" Robert asked.
Jane realized that the Carpenters were assuming that her move-out was a done deal, despite her saying that her preference was to stay. Which, she supposed, was not surprising. They were a married couple and would no doubt prefer their privacy. "Uh," she said, "I guess by April first."
"Can we start moving boxes in here sooner? Perhaps to the empty bedroom?"
"Um, sure," Jane said, feeling more uncomfortable by the minute.
They discussed additional details about the neighbourhood, the flat, and the rental terms, and the couple said they would be willing to sign documents for the place the following week.
Jane exhaled heavily when they departed. She badly needed to think. She put on her running shoes, but knowing she was still too achy to do any running, chose to take the Underground to Southbank Centre for a much-needed walk instead. Looking over the water of the River Thames had long been her favorite place in London for reflection. She stopped at an Indian restaurant and ordered a couple of samosas for takeaway, and ate them while beginning her walk along the waterway.
Everything seemed to be pointing her toward moving in with Frank. She had to figure out why she was so resistant to the idea. It wasn't that she didn't love him. She did, very much. It wasn't that she thought they couldn't get along under the same roof. They had spent enough time together to know that they were quite compatible. So what was it?
She thought about how sweet Frank had been the previous weekend, and how nice it had been to have him taking care of her. But last weekend was an aberration, a time in which she was needier than usual due to being ill. Under normal circumstances, she didn't enjoy being doted upon that way.
She recalled Robert's joke about being a kept man. God, she would hate that. But that's what she would become if she moved in with Frank. She had looked into unemployment benefits, and while she qualified for them given her length of residency and working in England, they would amount to a fraction of her salary. She certainly couldn't afford to live on her own on that income, and would barely be able to make ends meet while sharing a flat. The only other option would be for Frank to support her, a situation she would find untenable.
This explained her feelings now, but her reluctance to live with Frank had begun long before she knew her job was ending. It was more than being unemployed and dependent that scared her. So what is it? she asked herself again.
Aunt Maddy and her grandmother came to mind. Jane had grown up in a female-headed household, not by design but by necessity after her parents were killed. Those two women were such an example of independence, strength, and resilience--her grandmother had successfully raised two girls alone after being widowed unexpectedly, and Aunt Maddy, who had never married, had become the main breadwinner supporting her mother and niece at a very young age, while still managing to finish her accounting degree and eventually starting her own business. They had overcome numerous health challenges--her grandmother still faced many--yet both had managed to maintain such positive attitudes that they were awe-inspiring to Jane. It was for them that Jane wanted to prove she could be just as independent, strong, and resilient.
It wasn't just the ability to sustain herself that Jane wanted. From her teen years, Jane had felt driven to change the world. That was the legacy of Grandma and Maddy, too. Both women had huge, loving hearts. Neighbors, friends, even strangers on occasion knew they could turn to the Bates family for help and support. They sponsored children overseas, gave away food from their garden, helped people out financially even when they could barely afford to, and were always willing to set an extra plate for dinner. Jane had been shy and withdrawn as a child, an after-effect of her parents' deaths. Thus, while she outwardly less warm and benevolent than her family, she still had been deeply influenced by their compassion. Her own charitable feelings became more inward and intellectual, driven to consider the systemic reasons that the people that Grandma and Maddy helped were in need in the first place. Around the time of Grandma's kidney failure, Jane decided that she would honor her grandmother's life by spending her own making the world a better place.
Being turned down by the Lancaster-Beckworth trustees had been a huge blow to her confidence and goals. She had poured out the best of all she had to offer, making sure that her research was impeccable, her proposed solutions workable, her ideas compelling enough to make a significant difference--and people in power were still able to say "no," to decide that they preferred minor league projects to something with the potential to bring about lasting change. She knew that Alyssa, with her own tough childhood and background, was passionate and determined and would make sure that the youth she worked with would learn and grow under her tutelage. But still, the plans she and Alyssa had come up with would be little more than feel-good photo-ops rather than something that could help save the planet.
She stopped along Westminster Bridge and leaned against the railing overlooking the water. Her mobile had vibrated several times in her pocket during her walk, so she pulled it out. She had received multiple calls and messages from Frank, asking where she was and saying he really needed to talk to her. She texted him quickly, writing that she was still tired from the race and would call him tomorrow. "I love you," she added at the end.
"Love u 2," Frank texted back. "Get lots of rest. We rly need to talk."
Oh, Frank, she thought, a lump forming in her throat. She loved him so much, and her heart ached from the distance she felt from him right now, borne of her emotional confusion. But how could she become the woman she longed to be while living with him and depending on him?
Knowing she had come up with no answers tonight, she turned to walk back to the nearest tube station and go home. Because of her meeting with the Carpenters, she had neglected to pick up the post when she had arrived from work, so she stopped to check her letter box, finding a thick envelope inside. She turned it over in her hand, surprised because it looked like personal mail. The only person who ever sent her personal letters was her grandmother. Aunt Maddy preferred email, but her grandmother had never become computer savvy. This envelope, which bore no name or return address, was postmarked from London, however, not the USA.
She entered her flat, made herself a cup of tea, and then sat down on the sofa to open the envelope. Inside were what appeared to be printouts of new stories, along with a letter typed on recycled paper. She started to look at the letter to see who its author was when she noticed the bold type in the headers of several of the articles: Richmond Corporation.
Jane frowned, knowing suddenly who the package was from: Diggy. Sure enough, when she glanced down at the signature at the bottom of the letter, "Digman Tucker" was the signer. She looked over the letter quickly. It was filled with profanity and accusations of hypocrisy and villainy on Jane's part, along with a fair number of misogynistic insults about her relationship with Frank. Had her emotions been in less turmoil, she might have taken Eugenie's advice to ignore Diggy and simply tossed the letter. But in her current state, the harsh words had their intended impact, especially as they frequently made mention of the accompanying articles.
She put the letter down and picked up the articles. One by one, she began to read stories about Richmond's activities in the U.S. and abroad. The company was patenting seeds for various crops, and then suing small farmers for growing those same crops, even though those farmers had grown those crops for decades. Richmond also was experimenting with genetically modified organisms, the pollen of which sometimes drifted onto the plots of small farmers, again prompting lawsuits against those who could not afford to defend themselves and driving them out of business. Furthermore, the corporation had plans to expand their operations throughout the developing world.
Jane put down the articles, feeling sick inside. This was one of Frank's companies. He owned a major portion of it, and served on the board of directors. Did he know that this was what Richmond Corp was up to? He had to--board members were expected to stay informed, weren't they?
She realized that she had never asked Frank much about his business activities. She had known about his involvement in Richmond from their solstice date, but she had never probed him further about it. He had shared about his investments in renewable energy and she knew about his support for Peter's company, but certainly he had more investments than that. Were other companies he supported like Richmond? How much of his wealth was used for damaging the environment and oppressing those without power?
Jane spent the night tossing and turning, her stomach aching and her heart feeling as though it were breaking. In the morning, she stuffed the letter and articles back into the envelope and inserted it into her backpack. She would show it to Eugenie and ask for her advice about what to do.
When she arrived at work, Eugenie asked to see her right away. Jane was grateful, thinking that perhaps Eugenie was already aware of Diggy's letter. When she sat down with her boss, the older woman immediately asked, "Did Frank talk to you yet?"
Eugenie looked confused for a moment. "No. About the conversation Frank and I had yesterday."
"You talked to Frank yesterday?" Why had Eugenie done that? If she knew about Diggy's letter, why hadn't she talked to Jane about it first?
"Yes, he called me on Sunday, asking to meet with me. We had dinner yesterday evening."
"Why did you two meet? Why didn't you talk to me first?" Was this some plan of Frank and Eugenie's to protect her from Diggy's wrath? If so, she didn't appreciate it. She wasn't a child.
"Frank said he had something he wanted to discuss with me about privately. Afterward, I told him that he needed to talk to you, and he said he would, but I told him that I also would be sure to let you know about the content of our discussion. We owe it to you to not keep you in the dark."
Jane was quiet, completely bewildered. What in the world was going on?
"I take it from your silence that you and Frank haven't spoken about this yet. Jane, Frank offered to fund your position for the next two years."
"What?" It took a while for Eugenie's words to register with Jane, especially when she realized that it had nothing to do with Diggy.
"He knows how disappointed you were about losing your job here, and how much we want to keep you. He offered to pay for you to stay on staff at Sustainable London."
Jane stared at her, stunned.
"Oh, Jane," Eugenie said gently. "I can tell by your expression that this is a shock to you. But please don't be too angry with him. He's a young man in love who may not be thinking clearly. Of course I told him that such a move would create a conflict of interest, and that we could not accept the funds."
Jane slowly lifted her hand to cover her mouth.
"I'm very sorry. I wish he had talked to you first, so that I wasn't the one breaking the news to you. You understand why I had to say no? As much as I wanted to say yes, it would be entirely unethical to accept the money, given his relationship with you."
Jane started to shake all over. Eugenie's face registered alarm. "Jane, do you need something? May I get you some water?"
Jane shook her head. "I need to go..." she mumbled.
"Of course. I know this is a shock. Take the rest of the day off if you need to. We can manage. You and Alyssa have made enough inroads into the proposal that someone else can help her finish it."
Jane stood and exited Eugenie's office, stumbling a bit as her eyes grew blurry. Several of her colleagues asked if she was all right when she hurried past them. She shook her head, unable to answer. She choked back her sobs long enough to travel home on the Underground. Once back inside her flat, she rushed to her bedroom, threw herself onto her bed, and wept bitterly.Chapter 17
"A boyish scheme, indeed!--I cannot comprehend a man's wishing to give a woman any proof of affection which he knows she would rather dispense with."
Mr. Knightley, talking about Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax in Emma, ch. 51
Jane's tears soon dried up, only to be replaced with fury. How dare Frank do something like this?! She had been afraid that living with him would make her a kept woman. But this was so much worse. Buying her a job was like making her a paid whore. At least if he had tried to talk with her first, she could have told him what a horrible idea it was. But no, like with the instruments, he did what he wanted to do, behind her back, with no consideration of how it would affect her.
She punched out a text message: "Need to talk NOW!" and hit send.
He texted her back, "Where r u?"
She typed, "Home," and he responded, "Give me an hour."
She paced around her living room, her blood pressure rising by the minute, while she waited for Frank's arrival. "How dare you!" she shouted the moment he walked into her flat.
Frank held up his hands. "Jane, look, I was just trying to help!"
"By making me look incompetent? By making me look unethical? By making me look like someone who can't accomplish anything on her own, but needs her rich boyfriend to buy her a job?!"
"That's not what I intended!"
"But that's what you did! Didn't you learn anything after the whole instrument fiasco? Why didn't you talk to me first?"
"You weren't supposed to know! I wanted to do it secretly, but Eugenie said no."
"You thought that would make it better somehow? It's so much worse! You're trying to arrange my life behind my back!"
She cut him off. "This is why! This is why I don't want to move in with you! It's because I was afraid of crap like this!"
Frank's face fell. "You said you'd be willing to move in with me. You promised."
"Well, I shouldn't have promised. I don't want to be your kept woman, Frank. This is why I don't want to be known as your girlfriend."
In was only later that she would recall the devastation in his expression. At the moment, she was too mad to see it. "So if you don't want to be known as my girlfriend," he said softly and slowly, his voice filled with barely contained sorrow, "how are you going to handle being my wife?"
"Your wife?! What are you talking about? Frank, we've been together for three months!"
"And that's been enough time for me to know that I want to spend my life with you. I've been trying to tell you this for weeks."
Even in Jane's anger, she couldn't help but be baffled. "What? You haven't told me anything of the kind!"
"Yes, I have! I've talked about making it permanent, and how my grandmother would wonder why I haven't married you yet."
"I thought you were joking."
"I would never joke about my grandmother," he snapped back.
"Arggh!" Jane yelped out in frustration. She sat down on the sofa and covered her face. A few seconds later, she removed her hands. "Obviously we've been on very different pages about this relationship. I can't do this, Frank. You seem to want some woman who's dependent on you, and that's not me."
"That's not true!"
"The hell it's not, when you're talking about marriage after three months! I've busted my butt too long and hard to be overshadowed by you. I can't do this. I can't be with you."
The anger in Frank's face turned to shock. "Please, Jane, don't say that. You are everything to me. I need you!"
"And I need some time. I need a break."
"Are you saying it's over?"
She could hear the hurt in his voice, and it made her pause. Despite everything, she loved Frank too much to sever their relationship completely. "Not over. Just a break. Some time off until I figure out what I want."
She covered her face again, unable to look at him, knowing that if she continued to see the hurt in his eyes, her resolve would weaken. He stood there for a while, not speaking, until at last she heard his footsteps departing and the door shutting behind him.
Jane returned to work the next day in a state of numbness. Her colleagues seemed to assume her mood was due to the impending layoff and gave her space, speaking kindly to her when necessary but otherwise leaving her alone. She was grateful to not have music lessons that week, because she was certain she would have been a bear to her students. She managed to make it to Friday afternoon, when she left London by train for Glasgow.
Peter and Sarah had booked a number of rooms for the wedding party, family and guests in the same hotel in Glasgow's city centre where the reception would take place. Jane arrived in time to order a late dinner from room service in the suite she would share with Sarah and Allison, Sarah's cousin who would serve as her other bridesmaid. Peter was hanging out with them, reluctant to say goodnight to his soon-to-be-wife despite the full day of activities ahead of them tomorrow.
In spite of Jane's efforts to put on happy face, she was unable to fool two people who knew her as well as Sarah and Peter. They began probing with genuine concern, and Allison, realizing a private conversation was unfolding, excused herself to go visit with their grandparents. After Allison departed, Jane told them the entire story of her fight with Frank, along with something she realized she had never had the chance to bring up with him: his involvement with Richmond Corporation. Sarah made several comments of sympathy and support, but Peter merely listened quietly.
When she had finished, Peter asked, "Is it over between you two? Or are you willing to give Frank another chance?"
Jane exhaled slowly. "I don't know. I don't want it to be over, but I don't know how we can continue after everything."
Peter looked at her gently. "Jane, I know I was sceptical about this relationship at first. But over time I came to see how much Frank adores you, and I'd hate to see you give up a chance at happiness. Besides, I can understand Frank's side in this."
Sarah looked at him sharply, but Jane held up her hand before her friend could speak. "How so?" she asked Peter.
"As a man, I can understand his temptation to want to come to your rescue. I feel it sometimes with Sarah, and have to step back and remind myself that she can take care of herself. And as a businessperson, I understand the pressure to focus on the bottom line above all else. I'm sure that pressure is worse for Frank as a venture capitalist. My primary purpose is to make solar panels. His is to make money."
"That doesn't mean that what he did, or what he's doing, is okay," Sarah interjected.
"No, but it does mean that he probably doesn't have bad intentions, and so perhaps he and Jane can work through this."
Jane took in his words, but did not reply.
"Jane, I'm not trying to tell you what to do," Peter added. "Just think about it."
She did, mulling over everything that had happened between her and Frank that night and the next morning during the wedding rehearsal. She put aside her thoughts during the fun of Sarah's bridal shower luncheon, but by early afternoon she had made a decision. She wanted her relationship with Frank to continue. She texted him to ask what time he was arriving for the wedding, stating that she wanted a chance to talk.
A while later, she received a reply: "Thought wedding would be awkward, so already en route to U.S. Sent u a letter. Let's talk after u read it."
She bit her lip to hold back her disappointment. Now that her mind was made up, she missed Frank terribly, and knew that it would be at least two weeks before she could see him again. She could understand why he had decided to forgo the wedding, however, since he had probably assumed that seeing her would be painful and the event would remind him of his own failed hopes.
Again, she had to push aside her feelings. This was Sarah and Peter's time, and she owed it to them to be fully present. She got good and drunk at Sarah's bachelorette party that evening, which helped. Several paracetamol and an energy drink in the morning reduced her hangover, so she was able to enjoy the wedding breakfast the next day.
The wedding itself was lovely and moving, and Jane's happiness at seeing her friends united was genuine and deep. It was only during the reception that Frank returned to her thoughts as she listened to the words of one of the songs on the playlist, Emeli Sandé's "Where I Sleep":
See the times are changing,
and I'm sure of nothing that I know
Except this is us, and this is love,
and this is where I'm home.
Tears pricked Jane's eyes as she recalled thinking, "I feel at home with him," after their Christmas and New Year time together. She had never loved any man the way she loved Frank. Peter was right; they could work through this.
Her sorrow must have been evident in her voice when she called her family later that night, because despite her attempts to share joyfully about the wedding, Aunt Maddy had asked, "What's wrong, sugar puff? Are you just really going to miss them, or is something else going on?"
Maddy wouldn't let her get away with hemming and hawing so she finally told them about everything, particularly her job and Frank. "That's a lot," Maddy acknowledged. "But when we go through tough times, it's because there's something we're supposed to learn."
Her grandmother called out in the background, "Maybe God is telling her it's time to come home."
"What's that, Mama?" Maddy asked.
"She doesn't have a job or a roommate anymore. She may not still have a boyfriend or a place to live. Maybe that's the message she's supposed to get: it's time to come home."
The noise from the phone line suddenly became muffled, as if Maddy had covered it. She could hear her aunt and grandmother speaking, but she couldn't make out their words. Maddy's voice then returned. "You know what, sugar puff? I think Mama's right. We both miss you so much. I haven't told you this because I didn't want to worry you, but my business is struggling. I have an event coming up that Emma's company is throwing on the 25th to help me generate new clients. I'd love for you to be there."
Jane's heart started beating rapidly. She had never considered returning home, wanting to spend many more years in England before returning stateside. But this conversation was making her realize how desperately she missed her family, and how much she longed for the comfort only they could provide. Could that really be what she was meant to do right now? "Let me think about it," she said.
"Take your time. You know that whatever you decide, we'll be on your side. But we would love to have you back with us."
It didn't take long for Jane to make a decision after she ended the call. She heard the song lyrics again, "This is us, and this is love, and this is where I'm home." Frank may have been a way station, but she already had a home, one filled with deep love. Maddy and her grandmother were right. It was time to go back.
She left the hotel room and hurried down to the lobby where a bank of computer stations with wifi access were available for use by guests. She searched through Expedia and Priceline for flights from London to Los Angeles on Saturday, March 22nd, concluding that would give her enough time to settle in back home before Maddy's event. When she found a decent fare, she began to enter her information. One adult. One way or round trip? She selected, "one way." She typed in her credit card information and then paused. If she did this, she wouldn't get to see Peter and Sarah again when they returned from their honeymoon in the French Alps. She wouldn't see Eugenie, Derek, Arjun, Andrew or Alyssa again. She wouldn't see Daniel, Rose, Roger or Karyanne, or any of her other students. Everything she had come to love about London, from the Southbank to Hyde Park to the neighbourhoods, restaurants, museums, and most of all the people--she was about to give up.
But she would be back in the care of the women who had nurtured her and made her who she was. She'd have a chance to regroup, to find a new direction in her life. She might even be able to get back together with Frank, who was currently in L.A. She reviewed the information on the screen once more, clicked, "submit," and then printed the record of her ticket. She had maxed out her credit card, but it was done. She was going home.
She told Eugenie about her plans on Tuesday morning (having taken Monday off to return from Glasgow), and Eugenie said she understood. "You seem lighter, less burdened," her boss told her. "That tells me you've made the right decision."
The week was enormously busy, as she finished her projects at work; discarded or donated the clothing, books and personal items from her flat (packing just three suitcases with those things she intended to keep and take with her to L.A.); turned over her lease to the Carpenters; and said goodbye to her students, coworkers, and friends. Much of this was tearful, especially when Karyanne declared that she was angry because Jane would never get to be her teacher. "But you'll have other teachers now," Jane said, realizing how grateful she was for Frank's donation that had allowed the community centre to hire a few music instructors, including Roger.
"It's not the same! It won't be you!" Karyanne had cried.
"I know," Jane said, while hugging the child and allowing her own tears to fall, "I know."
Frank's letter arrived on Tuesday, and Jane opened it eagerly to read:
By the time you get this, I will already be back in the U.S. I decided to switch to an earlier flight because I was afraid it would be too difficult to face you right now, as uncertain as things are between us. I've sent a gift and letter of apology to Peter and Sarah for missing their wedding.
I want you to know how truly sorry I am for everything I've said and done that hurt you. I never intended to insult you or deny your competence by my offer. The truth is, no one--except maybe your aunt and grandmother--admires you more than I do. In fact, I am often in awe of you and your incredible talents. My only goal was to give you a chance to demonstrate those talents to the world, despite those who would deny you the opportunity.
But I see now that my actions had the opposite effect, and for that I am deeply sorry. I have spent the last several days hating myself for hurting you. Jane, you are the best thing that has ever happened to me. The last three months with you have been the happiest of my life. I would do anything--yes, even give up coffee! [after this, Frank had drawn a smiley face]--to be with you again. And I'll do it on your terms--no talk of marriage, no offers to have you live with me, no attempts to go behind your back and buy you jobs and run your life. I promise.
If this sounds like I'm begging, it's because I am. I love you, Jane. I long to be with you again. Please, please, please give me another chance.
Jane took a deep breath. She had already decided to renew her relationship with Frank, but this letter sealed that decision. It was late morning in L.A., so she hoped it was a good time to catch him. She dialed his number and listened to it ring for some time before he picked up.
"Jane," said Frank, and in that name she heard a multitude of emotions, from sorrow and trepidation, to hope, happiness and love.
"Frank," she replied, knowing her emotions matched his own.
"It's so good to hear your voice," he said. "I've missed you so much."
"I've missed you, too. I read your letter."
"Okay." Frank said no more, seeming to wait for her to lead the conversation.
"I agree, honey. I want us to be together again, too."
She heard relief and joy in Frank's exhalation. "I'll be on the next plane back to London!"
"You don't have to! I'm coming home. For good."
"Yes! My aunt and grandmother convinced me that all that has happened was a sign that I needed to come home, so I have a flight booked for Saturday."
Frank laughed. "I guess my two-week vacation just got a lot longer! Can I pick you up at the airport?"
"Maddy is already picking me up, but you're welcome to join her. You'll finally get to meet each other!"
"I can't wait! And Jane, listen--whatever terms you want for our relationship now, I'll agree to. I'm going to let you call the shots. I've been the knucklehead here."
Jane paused, chewing her lip. "I'm not sure what to say, except that I know when I get back, I'm going to need to resume my career. I'd like to do that without..."
Frank finished for her. "Without being known as Frank Churchill's girlfriend, or having me do obtuse things like try to buy you a job."
She swallowed, not wanting to hurt his feelings, but knowing that he had summarized her fears. "Yes," she said quietly.
"So how can we do that?"
She thought for a moment. "Well, no one in L.A. knows we're together, except for Maddy and my grandmother, and I assume Ryan and Annie. Maybe we keep it that way."
"That's not exactly the case."
"Other people do know?"
"No, just... Ryan and Annie don't know about us."
"Why not? You never told them about me?" She was surprised and a little hurt by that.
Frank sighed. "Remember when you said no one knows the real Frank Churchill? You were right, once again. It's never been easy for me to let people know when I've failed or screwed up. Since I've been here, it's been easier to pretend with them that everything's okay."
Jane rubbed her lips together, thinking. "So... I guess that's two fewer people we have to not let know about our relationship?"
"I guess," he said.
They were quiet for a while, and then Frank said, "But we'll be together again, and that's all that counts. I can't wait to kiss you senseless!"
Jane laughed. "Then I have a lot to look forward to! I really love you, Frank."
Frank's voice was tender and thick with emotion. "I love you, too, very much. I can't wait to see you again."
"Same here. I'll see you soon."
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