Passers-by turned to stare as a column of crisp leaves eddied in a mini cyclone, but winter's merry dance was ignored by the lone figure outlined in a lighted window against the darkening afternoon. Martha's attention was on the paper before her, not because either the outline or the research behind it was remarkable, but because of the unsatisfying and somewhat embarrassing conversation she had recently concluded with its author.
Martha was completely at a loss, not a familiar feeling, much less one with which she was enamored. Anne's behavior had been on her mind since their morning coffee. All day she had wanted to talk to Edward. To discuss his brother. In particular, she had wanted to speak with Edward about the young man's disconcerting effect on Anne. That desire had compelled her to e-mail Edward on a pretense.
Face to face, she'd been stymied. How did one ask a religious man what the hell he'd been thinking to leave that boy alone with an inexperienced girl? Surely a man prepared to take a vow of celibacy would be able to assess the risks inherent in exposing naïveté to charisma and sex appeal? Her helplessness was exacerbated by the fact that the lothario she so wanted to expose was Edward's brother. Edgy hesitation ruled the day, and in the end, the only subject she'd raised was his outline which, while not as thorough as Anne's, was adequate -- a solid B. Martha had struggled to find a believable reason for meeting; and knew she had failed.
Failure. Another alien concept.
Edward had mentioned his brother. Apparently he'd come to her office from the Tavern, and Martha had been dismayed to hear that Anne was alone with him again. Casually, Martha had asked how long Frederick planned to stay in Kellynch and was unhappy with the answer. Anne was right; he planned to stay through Edward's graduation in May in order to start his own business. She knew (from reading back issues of Time, Fortune, The Economist -- whatever she could find on the internet that afternoon) he'd created something special and software companies worldwide were courting his favor. He'd received lucrative offers and Martha could not but wonder why in the world he hadn't sold. Doing so would enable him to complete his degree -- lack of formal education loomed large in the "Whiz-Kid" fairy tale she'd been reading. To her, continuing in any arena without one's degree was foolhardy, particularly when the means to do so were within reach. Should he wish to be an entrepreneur, surely an MBA and more maturity were advisable? According to his brother, however, he felt very differently.
"Frederick makes his own rules, Dr. Russell, he always has. If my little brother ever took the easy way out, I'd be surprised."
"Isn't this predestined to fail? Did he learn nothing from the dot com bust?"
"He's convinced this is the way to go even though it's a big chance. Our sister's husband is a venture capitalist, so we've heard the horror stories. He's weighed out the risks and is willing to gamble on his operating system carrying the company."
"Is this brother-in-law funding him then? The venture capitalist?"
Edward laughed. "No, Frederick's too stubborn to let Dave help, and Dave wouldn't just hand over money, even to his own brother-in-law. He's introduced Frederick to the right people, though, and Frederick's on his way to getting seed money."
An hour later, Martha remained at her desk. Blinds still open she was still visible from without. She no longer pretended, even to herself, to be grading Edward's outline. She was reading whatever she could find on the internet about this gamble of young Wentworth's. Her distaste grew with every click. Start-up businesses were far more likely to fail than thrive, even with savvy business leaders at the helm. What chance had a callow boy, no degree, no real connections, to succeed? He was going to fall flat on his face, Martha was sure.
Discouraged, unable to find anything to provide her with a modicum of confidence in this venture, she closed her browser and opened her e-mail. A slow smile spread over pinched features. Elizabeth's message was the panacea - an invitation accepted with alacrity.
Anne invited her priestly friend and his brother to dinner the day after tomorrow. She didn't bother to tell me. Thankfully Dad isn't so thoughtless -- he keeps me properly informed. As if Anne can plan a dinner. She was going to have an uneven number and would probably have served burgers -- likely with beer *shudder*.
Do say you'll come. I must have intelligent conversation at my table and who knows what this brother is like. It will be intime -- you, me, Anne, Dad and these Wentworths. 7:30 ish?
Re: Re: Dinner
Dinner Friday sounds delightful. What may I bring?
Hitting the send button was a relief. Martha wanted to see Anne and Frederick together and here was a heaven-sent chance to do so naturally. With a date certain in the very near future, Martha relaxed. She closed the computer and pulled the next student's outline out of the stack.
The reprieve was short-lived.
You are not going to believe what Elizabeth is doing - well, maybe you will. Anyway, I invited MY friends to dinner. Dad, of course, told La Liz, and now she's invited herself, taken it over, and is trying to turn it into one of her "famous" dinner parties with place cards and formal attire. Why? Why does she do this? She doesn't like Edward, and I can almost guarantee she's not going to like Frederick (well, maybe she will, but only because he's cute). All I want is to have my friends over. This is what I get for not waiting until she leaves for Orlando, I guess.
She told me she invited you to "even out the table" (like anyone but her cares about that). Will you please be sure to come early? I need your help to keep La Liz occupied while I introduce Fred to Dad. I know, I know, I just met him (yes, I did hear you yesterday). I just want them to meet before Dad goes to Orlando.
Thanks! You're the best.
Re: Re: HELP!
Anne, please, calm down. If this boy is a keeper he'll wait for you to take things at a normal pace. Now, pseudo-motherly nagging aside, I look forward to meeting him.
Re: Re: Friday Night
Elizabeth Elliot, you CANNOT be serious. I am NOT asking Edward and Frederick to wear coat and tie to our HOUSE for dinner. In case you've forgotten, we're college students. I don't know if Frederick even owns a tie, and I'm not asking.
CASUAL. These are friends I invited to my home. It is not one of your frou-frou dinner parties. CASUAL. Is that word even in your vocabulary?
Re: Re: Re: Friday Night
It's called class, Anne. But, whatever. As you say, these are your friends. Casual it is. I have one inviolate rule: NO BURGERS.
This is what I have to deal with. I never said one word about burgers. She's so pretentious.
I'm going to make lasagna. It's Frederick's favorite, he told me over breakfast. :) We're in the library; I'm looking up recipes while he works. :) He is really cute - so intense. See you in a few hours, I best re-read my Historiography assignment before class; I hear the teacher is tough. ;)
Re: I beg of you...
My sister is a cretin. Please, help me. I know you mentioned bringing some cannoli, as Anne is determined to have "casual Italian", but Aunt Marty, you MUST bring wine. Anne's new "friend" is supposed to bring it and I shudder to think. I know I can count on you - if I have to suffer the indignity of Anne's little dinner party, I must have something drinkable!
Martha read Anne's first e-mail with hot coffee and a touch of irritation. She understood - she herself would never stand for a sister, even an elder sister, commandeering her dinner party - but, Anne so rarely appreciated the nuances of her family's stature. Elliots, including Anne, were crème de la crème; she needn't fraternize with the Wentworths, no matter how "cute" the boy. If she was finally ready to date, Martha could introduce more appropriate choices, if only Anne would agree. She did realize this was probably not the right time to raise that option, however.
As the day wore on and the e-mails became more heated, Martha winced at the capitalizations, hearing Anne's shout in her head. Another strike against him. A shouting Anne. Her head began to throb as Elizabeth's shrill tones drowned out Anne's shouting; she was grateful these were e-mails and not phone calls. Real shouting would no doubt intensify the pain dancing in her temples.
At day's end, Martha leaned away from the screen, rubbing her eyes. It wasn't unusual for them to expect her to act as their peace broker. This time though, her own feelings about Anne's behavior were too unsettled for her to take her traditional position on Anne's side - canoodling in the library and introducing him to her father after what, three days? For once her sympathies lay almost entirely with Elizabeth. Yes, she could be a bit affected, but she worked very had to develop and maintain her reputation as an impeccable hostess. Anne cooking? That boy providing wine for dinner with Dean Elliot? Friday was going to be a long night.
Kellynch, being primarily a small college town, tended toward the mundane in its shopping. Martha had frequently despaired over the meager selection offered to connoisseurs until The Wine Rack opened. The converted former warehouse had become Martha's favorite place to buy wine the first day she'd stepped in five years ago. Its proprietor understood good wine as did no other shopkeeper in Kellynch or any neighboring town; his was a metropolitan palate Martha greatly appreciated.
Martha studied the Italian section carefully. She agreed with Elizabeth on one score, this meal, more than others, was going to need an outstanding wine. To the best of Martha's knowledge Anne had no idea how to cook anything not pre-packaged for heating in a microwave. Martha was nervous for Anne and determined to pick the best possible accompaniment. A good hearty red would, she hoped, mask mistakes. Thank goodness in her enthusiasm Anne had shared the menu, recipes and all.
Martha wavered between a 1999 Taurasi in her left hand and a 2001 Terrine in her right. Both vineyards had excellent reputations. The '99 was undoubtedly the better wine, but the Terrine had glowing reviews and was bound to be good; she'd been looking for an opportunity to try it. She only wondered if it was good enough.
"Dr. Russell, having trouble with your selection again?" The owner, Guy Thibault, and Martha had struck up a friendly acquaintance based upon mutual love of a good vintage. On more than one occasion Martha had been unable to narrow her choices without a tasting - which in all of Kellynch only Guy offered.
"Thank you, Guy. I'm torn between these." She handed him the bottles, which he wiped and uncorked.
Martha watched Guy pour with great anticipation. Picking up the first glass, she checked for legs before inhaling it deeply. She sipped. Its solid palate underscored a penetrating nose. Lovely.
"Intense bouquet, fruity. Superb for tonight." Martha savored the final hints of raspberry and blackberry before rinsing. "The Terrine, now please."
The next taster was decanted. Light glinted through ruby as Martha swirled and sniffed. She loved the fragrance, but perhaps it was still a bit too -- too. Nice finish, but nothing on the first to be sure.
As Martha considered, another of Guy's regulars approached, eager to benefit from Martha's tasting.
"Dr. Russell, picking a bottle, I see. Guy, a taste for me, please."
"Hi, Terrence, how's your wife? Shall I pour for her, too?
"No, thanks, Guy. I can't believe I lucked into one of your tastings with the good professor. What are we sampling?"
"Castello della Paneretta Terrine, 2001 and the 1999 Piano di Montevergine Riserva Taurasi. Well, what do you think of the Terrine?"
Martha answered him with eyes closed. "Blackberry again, but current instead of raspberry, and some anise. Still a bit tight, though it's got a nice long finish. I don't think it's quite lived up to its potential yet. What do you think, Mr. Terrence?"
"I agree. Not quite there yet -- needs another year or so, but the Taurasi is delightful."
"Dr. Russell, what have you decided?"
"'The Terrine has potential, and I love the hint of anise, but for tonight I'll also have the Taurasi."
"Excellent. Lasagna or manicotti for dinner?"
Martha smiled. It was a game they played whenever she selected wine for dinner parties. His surmises were as unerring as her choices. Tonight's decision out of the way, Martha treated herself to a browse through Guy's "What's New" display; he always had the most interesting new selections. This month the focus was on antipodean wines. At his suggestion, Martha bought two Cabernets, an Australian and one from Oregon, along with two bottles for dinner and one of the Terrine - she wanted to try it again after it aged a bit longer, it promised great things. She only hoped the potential in Anne's nascent relationship matched it.
Martha sat for a moment after turning off the ignition. Pulling down the sun visor, she checked her chignon and lipstick before squaring her shoulders and picking up the wine. Girding herself to knock, she briefly noticed that hers was the only car in the street. With disdain she thought the Wentworths looked to be late. She realized her present anxiety was unlike anything she'd felt in this place since the early days of her grief over the loss of her dear Liz.
"I'm so glad you're here!" Her dread was carried away in the exuberance of Anne's greeting, once Martha finally steeled herself to knock. The package she carried slipped slightly.
"I am going to kill Elizabeth if you don't get her out of the kitchen."
Agitated and angry - definitely not her Anne. His Anne. A strange Anne. Excitable and temperamental.
"Anne, please! I almost dropped the wine. What do you mean get her out of the kitchen?"
"She keeps telling me what to do. I'm chopping wrong, I'm using too much olive oil on the roasted garlic, breathing too much - you know how she is. I'm nervous enough. I don't need her in my way, especially when she's being such a bi ... pain."
Anne's anger turned to bewilderment edged with panic. "Wait, why did you bring wine? I asked Frederick to bring that. Aunt Marty, you said you were bringing cannoli. I can't serve yours, not after I asked Frederick to bring wine."
Martha forced herself not to roll her eyes when Anne began wringing her hands. As if he would understand the social niceties.
"Elizabeth...." Wisely, Martha held her tongue; best Anne not know. "Elizabeth assured me she would take care of dessert. Now, please, relax. I'll see if I can distract Elizabeth, and put this wine in your father's cellar. It's going to be fine, Anne."
Despite her own misgivings, Martha couldn't let Anne founder. She'd take Elizabeth with her to the wine cellar and find out if Anne was really having trouble with the cooking, then she'd ensure the meal was edible. God forbid Anne's first dinner be a total flop; though heaven knows what they'd be drinking. Martha reminded herself that Anne emerging from her shell was a good thing, although her mental jury was still out on the catalyst.
With his idea of wine in hand -- Chianti in a wicker basket -- Martha studied Frederick Wentworth. Very attractive, Martha was compelled to admit to herself. And so masculine the other men in the room seemed ... faded. Funny, she'd always thought Walter handsome. Tonight, his face seemed feminine - that last face lift had done him no good. She wondered if he knew the neck gave him away? Edward was as always - quiet, confident - just less somehow, in the presence of the younger man.
He had manners, too. He had been respectful and polite to Dean Elliot and Elizabeth and he'd complimented Anne on her cooking several times already. To Anne's credit, the food had turned out well; Elizabeth's fussing turned out to be much ado about nothing -- merely her way of claiming the gleaming kitchen as hers. Martha listened as the brothers teased Anne, making her blush and giggle at their increasingly fulsome remarks on her culinary skills. Anne seemed happy. It had been years since Martha had seen Anne this happy. Feeling more relaxed than she had all week, Martha turned her attention to Walter and Elizabeth's conversation and joined in as they discussed their upcoming trip for the American Bar Association's Mid-Winter meeting.
"Coffee, Aunt Marty?"
"Yes, please, Anne."
"Thank you. Is there cream?"
"I have half and half"
Dean Walter Elliot cringed prettily. His elder daughter responded quickly, jumping to her feet as she spoke.
"Anne, you know Dad and Aunt Marty take cream - I'll get it."
"I'll take half and half, Anne. I've never really understood what the difference is anyway."
Martha appreciated the boy's attempts to smooth over Anne's gaffe, but couldn't restrain her surprise at his asserted ignorance.
"No, ma'am, I'm not. I mean, how can anyone really tell the difference between them?"
Martha was glad Walter seemed to share her astonishment. "Young man, you must have cream tonight. I assure you, once you've had real cream in your coffee, you'll never drink that stuff again."
"Thanks, but this is fine. I don't exactly have refined tastes, no point wasting the good stuff on me."
Martha looked up gratefully as Elizabeth appeared at her shoulder, cream pitcher in hand, and tried not to read too much into Frederick's comments.
After passing the pitcher to Walter, Martha broached a new subject.
"Elizabeth, this tiramisu is delicious. Where did you get it?"
"That little Italian bakery I love over in Fausset - it reminds me so much of Italy."
"What do you hear from Mary lately? Is she enjoying France?"
"I heard from her just yesterday - but that reminds me. Dad, you have to increase the limit on Mary's credit card."
"I do? Why is that?"
"She's going to Fashion Week in Paris! You know how expensive hotel rooms will be, and she has to be able to buy clothes. One of her friends is getting them into Gaultier, Chanel and Galiano - and I may be able to get her into some others. I still have friends at Hermés. She's afraid if you don't increase her limit, the card might get declined. I told her I'd put a bug in your ear."
"Ah, well, good thing you told me before we leave, then. I'll do that right away - first thing in the morning."
"Dad - you're seriously going to increase Mary's card limit so she can skip school to shop at fashion shows in Paris?"
"Anne! This is a fantastic opportunity for Mary, maybe once in a lifetime. I mean, I've not been back to Paris for fashion week in years, it's at such a bad time for my job, right after the Mid-Winter meeting. It's not like you didn't have your chance"
"I'm sorry, Elizabeth. Silly me, I thought, for a minute, that she was there to, I don't know -- study? How in the world did she already charge that card up, anyway?"
"There is more to France than classes, Anne. You surely don't begrudge your sister, do you? Elizabeth just fell in love with Paris when she first attended Fashion Week. Why, I'll never forget how excited she was when she called home!"
"Then why in the world is she enrolled at the university? Why not just let her take a semester off, because between skiing, shopping and now Paris, that's what's she doing anyway!"
Martha refrained from offering her opinion, which coincided with Anne's. She'd learned her lesson years before. She'd not been able to curb Elizabeth's revelry in Europe and she and Walter had never seen eye to eye on rearing Mary - whom Martha found to be quite spoiled. Instead, she watched Anne's guests. Edward appeared to be praying - at least his head was bent over his dessert. Frederick sat before an empty plate. Clearly he was as much a fan of tiramisu as he was of lasagna -- given the size of the portions he'd managed. Coffee in hand, he sat watching Anne spar with her family.
For once she regretted the good manners of a fellow guest - too bad the boy didn't jump into the fray. Martha would have liked to know what he was thinking about all of this; it would tell her much more than any magazine article or polite chit chat could. She could see she'd misjudged; this was no mere callow, insignificant boy, easily fallen for and easily forgotten. Martha realized she'd underestimated him.
This boy was going to be more difficult that she'd thought for Anne to forget.
To be continued...
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