Chapter One, Chapter Two, Chapter Three, Chapter Four, Chapter Five, Chapter Six, Chapter Seven, Chapter Eight, Chapter Nine, Chapter Ten, Chapter Eleven, Chapter Twelve
Not a thought to her real life disturbed her as she dressed. The clothing no longer foreign and incomprehensible, she was able to make natural choices about her borrowed appearance. Even the strange visage in the mirror no longer startled her: the too light hair and almond eyes felt not only familiar but almost right. She presented herself downstairs with excitement and anticipation. Elizabeth was home! She would east breakfast with Elizabeth Bennet!
Alison tried not to stare at her when she entered the dinning-room, moving through the process of getting her plate, food, and coffee without thought, just as if she had been eating from a buffet every morning of her life. Indulging the normal pleasantries and inquiring into everyone's intentions for the day absorbed some few minutes, as she gathered the details of Mary's piano practice, Jane's gardening, and Lizzy's letter writing. Having thus spread her interest around the table, Alison felt entitled to focus entirely on Elizabeth, with no small degree of pride in the self-control she had displayed in waiting so long. "To whom do you correspond this morning, Lizzy?"
"Mrs. Collins and my Aunt Gardiner, to thank them for their kindness."
"Does not Lady Catherine warrant a faint scratch in token of her nine dinners?" her father inquired.
"Mr. Collins was so good as to suggest I send her a note prior to my departure."
"Did he? What a valuable relation he has proven!"
"I'm surprised he didn't suggest writing again upon your homecoming," Alison remarked.
Elizabeth looked startled. "Actually, he recommend just such a course, but a reminder that she had not requested a correspondence weakened his insistence."
Everyone thought this rather amusing, and they were still laughing when Lydia and Kitty entered a few minutes later. The latter smiled on the sight. "Good morning! Everyone seems in fine spirit today."
"And what do you girls have planned this morning?" Alison inquired with a smile.
"We could walk to Meryton and visit my Aunt Phillips. We can tell her all about Jane and Lizzy's travels and our morning collecting them from the inn," Lydia eagerly suggested.
"But they plan to call on her tomorrow," Kitty protested.
"What does that matter?"
Kitty flushed. "Well we must leave them something to say."
Mr. Bennet and Elizabeth both burst into laughter, but Alison only looked on Kitty encouragingly and said, "That's very considerate of you, my dear," words which checked Elizabeth's humor.
"But what shall we do otherwise?" Lydia sulked, discontent to spend a day at home after the adventure of the day before.
"Poor Lydia! To confront the torments of a quiet day in her own comfortable home!" Mr. Bennet declared. "This cannot be allowed. Mrs. Bennet, you have inquired into everyone's intentions for this day but my own, and if you will only hurry up and do so, I might propose a solutions to Lydia's predicament, if Lizzy might put of her correspondence for one day more, of course."
Alison smirked and replied, "My dear Mr. Bennet: how do you intend to spend this delightful morning?"
He returned her smile. "I propose we take ride. The horses are free, the bluebells ought to be starting to bloom, and I know a lovely birch wood just about seven miles away. Shall we make it a picnic?"
This suggestion was greeted with squeals of delight from the youngest girls, smiling consent from Jane and Mary, and perplexity from Elizabeth, which her father acknowledged with a wink in her direction. Alison beamed on him, looking about and feeling responsible for the happy family scene, until her eyes met Elizabeth's and she saw the questions in her eyes. Her true identity and place came bursting back upon her consciousness: she was an impostor, and Elizabeth could see right through her.
Two hours later the family was on its way, Jane and Mr. Bennet riding beside the carriage into which everyone else was stuffed. Alison, to the wonder of all, had asked if she might rise as well. The objections to this were three-fold: she had not a habit, there was not another mount, and she didn't know how. Mrs. Bennet may not know, thought Alison, but I have been riding since I was seven! It was a stark reminder of her bizarre predicament. Under Elizabeth's assessing gaze, there was nothing to do but submit to the closed carriage, yet she was gratified to have Mr. Bennet say to her aside, "You may order a habit in Meryton tomorrow, if you have no aversion to shopping."
"Certainly not!" she assured him.
"Good! I'm glad to know not everything has changed about you, my dear!"
Now she sat dwelling on this statement with Elizabeth's penetrating eyes watching her every move. The combined effect was perfectly unnerving. How could she have gone through so much of the day without even thinking of her own family and concerns? Was she losing herself in this fantasy and if she did, would that be, in essence, death?
She wished it were just she and Mary, that she might probe the girl into metaphysical exploration. To attempt it before Elizabeth at the moment seemed suicidal. She might as well just tell them she was born in 1965.
Such morbid thoughts dominated the drive but dissipated as soon as they approach their destination. Carpets of blue and green spread in all directions, punctuated by trees in stark contrast. It was one of the loveliest sights she had ever beheld, but it was not the first time she beheld it. She took it in with a gasp, memories of her honeymoon flooding back. She had forgotten it entirely, but she was certain, looking on now, that she had two small buds pressed in a tattered version of Pride & Prejudice that she read while they traveled. For some reason, the memory jarred with a recollection that it was illegal to pick them.
Not in the Regency Era. Lydia and Kitty were soon engaged in making wreaths for their hair, Mr. Bennet went with Elizabeth and Mary to collect stalks to bring home, while Jane assisted Alison, Mrs. Hill, and the footman accompanying them to lay out a formidable picnic. They had just arranged things satisfactorily and sat upon the spread blankets when Mr. Bennet returned alone. "I find my stamina for flower picking does not equate that of the fairer sex," he explained, sitting himself beside Alison. "Still beautiful, is it not?"
"Incredible," she replied.
"I wondered if you would remember that day we spent here, just shortly after our marriage."
She looked at him in confusion. "I see you do not," he shook his head a bit sadly. "I stole your bonnet and filled your hair with bluebells." He smiled at her fondly. "You looked just like Titania."
Alison had a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. "I pressed some to remember the day by."
His smile broadened! "You do remember!"
Indeed she did, but she thought it was a memory from her real life, shared with Tom. The thought sent chills through to her core: Is my life dissolving into fiction?
Read Chapter Fourteen