Monday, March 31, 2014

Being Mrs. Bennet: Chapter Three

Read Chapter One and Chapter Two.

Real or not, the weight of responsibility for Lydia Bennet descended upon Alison like an anvil on a coyote. She confronted five and a half plus feet of empowered teenager, just itching to do something stupid.

"Mama, may we not go see the puppies?" she persisted with a laugh at such unaccustomed silence in her mother.

"You certainly may not!" She was relieved her this-is-my-last-word-on-the-subject voice had just as much finality in the unfamiliar English tones.

The ladies stared in shock at such forcefulness from the permissive Mrs. Bennet, all but Lydia attributing such unusual behavior to the bump on her head. "But Mama ..." she began to protest.

"Not another word!" Alison interrupted. "I may not understand all that is going on, but I do know that to allow you, of all characters, to go off in the company of stable hands would be insanity." She was nearly yelling now, and the girl's lip began to tremble at the harsh treatment. Alison knew she was overreacting, however justified her response, and a stab of pity touched her motherly heart. "Forgive me. The accident has rattled my nerves." Lady Lucas nodded in agreement at the familiar complaint. "Perhaps I was in need of a good rattling, if you thought I would consent to such an activity, but I should not have raised my voice."

"Our actions should always be modulated as best befits our circumstance," Mary preened, in alt to see her mother check Lydia's immodesty. Alison glared at her, which caused the girl's posture to wilt. Her own Mary had similar middle child tendencies, trying to puff herself up at the expense of her siblings, and setting herself up in moral superiority to the others. Alison had been trying to squelch such behaviors in her daughter since they first materialized at the tender age of three, when she took to spying on and reporting her elder sisters' behavior no matter what they did, good or bad.

"Here is your tea, my dear Mrs. Bennet!" Lady Lucas cried in relief as a servant entered bearing the tray. "Do sit down and rest yourself. I fear you are yet unrecovered."

Alison allowed herself to be administered to, as her head was pounding ominously. The damp rag Sir William soon returned to present was not nearly cold enough to do the slightest good. She asked for ice, at which request her hostess balked but complied, commenting she happened to have some on hand for the dinner party she was hosting the next evening. A servant was sent running, and something resembling sherbet was presented in a bowl with a spoon. Everyone's eyes grew wide as Alison lifted the bowl and placed the bottom of the cool glass upon the lump on her head. She ignored them, just closing her eyes and sighing in relief, while Lady Lucas sat on edge and watched her delicacy melt.

What I would not give for a pill! Alison thought. Anything would do: ibuprofen, acetaminophen, Aleve. She was so accustomed to reaching into a cabinet and grabbing for a bevy of remedies, always at her beck and call. What on earth do these people do for pain? she wondered. Laudanum! The notion excited her, but she felt it would not be appropriate to just ask for some in the middle of a neighbor's drawing room. She hoped they had some at Longbourn, just to see what it was like, though she doubted it would do anything more than dull her awareness of the pain. What if she had a concussion? She lifted the bowl from her head, careful not to spill any of the semi-liquid substance dissolving within it. There was a large mirror across the room, reflecting the fireplace. Alison rose and went to it.

As she checked the dilation of her pupils, Mary came to her and asked in a hushed tone, "Mama? What are you doing?"

Alison was holding her thumb and forefinger around her left eye in order to pry it open. One look at Mary told her this behavior was utterly alien to her company. "It is possible to gauge the severity of a bump to the head by the pupils of the eyes. If one is large and the other small, the situation is more severe. Mine, as you can see, are the same size."

"Did Mr. Jones tell you so?" Mary questioned, astonished that her mother would have any specific medical knowledge beyond common cures.

"No," Alison sucinctly replied. "I think I'm now recovered enough to be jolted along home. Thank you, Lady Lucas, for your hospitality. Sir William! Come along girls."

"But you are to stay the afternoon!" Sir William protested. "I have ordered a nuncheon prepared!"

"You are very kind, but I think I will be most comfortable in my own home," Alison said wistfully. Longbourn was even stranger to her than Lucas Lodge, but at least there she might be more comfortable. She longed to take of the confining dress and lie down on a bed.

"Yet you must wait until Mr. Jones arrives, now he has been summoned," Lady Lucas insisted.

Alison looked to her wearily. He might be sent on to Longbourn, but she hated to cause others such undue inconvenience. "I suppose we must wait," she capitulated, resuming her seat. Sir William asked if she would eat her ice and, upon her negation, consumed the liquid himself.

Lydia, who was twitching impatiently in her seat, ventured to say, "Might we not just look in on the puppies while we wait?"

"No! Why do you persist when I already said so?"

"But it would only take a moment ..."

"Enough!" Alison commanded. Her head felt like it would split at the sound. If this were her child, in her own time, she would know how to proceed. Talking back equals no phone for the rest of the day. This Lydia, unfortunately, didn't a phone, a computer, or even a TV to be denied. What could she do: forbid her books? That seemed very backwards to Alison, and from what she knew of the girl, not much of a punishment. "If I hear one more word on the subject from anyone," she glared at Kitty for good measure, "she will not be permitted to attend the next assembly or ball to come up, whichever it may be."

Lydia gasped and was on the verge of retorting, but a quick pinch from Kitty stayed her tongue. Colonel Forster was finally holding his long anticipated ball the following week, and both were far too scared to remind their mother that this would be their very last chance to dance with the officers, whose near departure she had bemoaned beside them that very morning. Mr. Wickham had requested the first set from the youngest Miss Bennet. Had Elizabeth been in town, he would undoubted have asked her instead, and newly saved as he was from the encroaching attentions of Miss Mary King, both Lydia and Kitty (and formerly their mother) rejoiced to get the jump on his former favorite. Neither would jeopardize the opportunity for the world. The puppies and their handsome caregivers were given up as lost.

Mr. Jones arrived and examined Alison's eyes, confirming the good sense of her own actions. Mary looked at her with renewed respect, and the lady in Mrs. Bennet's body tried to set a good example by  not looking smug. The apothecary suggested a precautionary bleeding, which Alison stoutly refused. With his departure, the Lucases could excuse that of the Bennets, and the ladies were escorted to their carriage and soon on their way. It was an unusually quiet ride, or so Alison surmised. Mary maintained the bulk of conversation, a task at which she was not fluent. Alison imagined her younger sisters typically droned her out, and she responded encouragingly to one of the girl's less offensive assertions, but her attention was distracted by a familiar glare of rebellion from Lydia. Truly, Alison thought it must be searing her flesh. The girl was displeased with such unaccustomed parenting and was sure to test these newly formed boundaries at the first opportunity. Alison knew she was up for the fight but dreaded it nonetheless. Perhaps she would awaken before having to undergo the ordeal, but how could her head ache so if this were just a dream?

When they passed through an open iron gate onto the grounds of Longbourn, Alison could not help but eagerly take in all about her. She spotted the "wilderness" to the side of the house in which Lady Catherine berated Elizabeth and what must be the hermitage just viable on a distant rise. She could not suppress a gurgle of delight as her eyes took in the ivy covered edifice: a testament to the stability and age of the stone walls to which it clung. The sound of gravel scattering beneath the carriage wheels was perfect: almost familiar, echoing through countless classic novels. She was helped from the carriage by an awkward boy and surveyed the unobstructed facade. The house was perfectly charming: neither as shabby as in the 2005 film, nor as stark as the 1995 version. Were it situated in her own Baltimore County neighborhood, the place would cost a fortune. The entry way was arched and supported by two sturdy pillars. The carved stairwell nearly took her breath away, its artistry quite unusual in the modern world. Mrs. Hill was a surprise too - not the dumpy, worn creature of film, but a plump and motherly lady with a bright smile and twinkling eyes. She began helping Alison to remove her tight pelisse, causing her to jump slightly at the feel of unexpected hands on her shoulders, though no one seemed to notice. Lydia stalked off upstairs, soon followed by Kitty. Mary retreated to the pianoforte, whose strained notes soon penetrated Alison's ears.

"Can I get you anything, ma'am?" Hill asked. "You'll be wanting to rest after your ordeal."

"Yes," she knew not where anything was located. "Might you help me change into something less restraining? I would like to lay down."

"Indeed, ma'am! Just lean on me, and I'll get you upstairs and comfortable. You'll be wanting a few drops of laudanum in a nice cup of tea to settle your nerves. I'll have Sarah see to it."

Alison laughed. Laudanum would have been less exceptional than ice, after all.

Read Chapter Four

Friday, March 28, 2014

Tales of Less Pride and Prejudice at More Agreeably Engaged!

I wish I had gotten this post up on Wednesday as intended, but I just returned him from visiting my in-laws with my daughter and was never able to finagle the computer time. This is also the reason the third chapter of Being Mrs. Bennet did not post on Monday, though I did write it longhand on the plane (I made the questionable choice of traveling without my laptop, thinking its absence would make security with a two year old less of an ordeal). Look for it next week when my heroine, Alison Bateman (in the guise of Mrs. Bennet) begins trying to rein in Lydia's behavior.

My Tales of Less Pride and Prejudice were featured in a spree of wonderful reviews at More Agreeably Engaged this week! All three books are up for giveaway, plus each post features an excerpt from The Madness of Mr. Darcy! It has been ablest reading the responses to my work in progress. In fact, I'm considering sharing most, or maybe even all, of the work prior to publication. More on that to come.

Please do check the great reviews and tantalizing (I think) excerpts. Thanks Janet!

First Impressions:

Second Glances:

Holidays at Pemberley:

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Mr. Darcy Likes It Wild by Beth Massey

I imagine I heard a few deep gasps of shock and astonishment as I typed this post title, and before I proceed further, let me declare that I decided two months ago not to write any more negative book reviews. I have only good things to say about Mr. Darcy Likes It Wild, though I remember shuddering with revulsion when I first became aware of Beth Massey's name, following the publication of Goodly Creatures, her first book, and learning its premise. Like many others, Jane Austen's characters were not the forum within which I wished to explore the issue of rape, no matter how vital the conversation.

With so much Austenesque available, I rarely read outside my favorite authors in the genre anymore. The great exception are the books I pick up for free on Kindle. I hesitated before downloading this book even under those circumstances, but as I was about to be traveling it was hard to turn down a free read when it was on offer, even when I knew I'd encounter just the sort of sex scenes that make me most uncomfortable. Still, I never cracked the Kindle edition until Tuesday, when being stuck inside with my daughter during spring break finally left me desperate enough to brave the book I'd been avoiding since December. My worst prophesies seemed almost immediately realized when Mr. Darcy became enamored by the sight of a young man's backside. Maybe it was astonishment - a bit of devious glee at the horror of some if my cohorts in the no-sex-in-Austen camp - but I didn't turn my tablet off.

Austen's heroines are in a constant state of restriction based upon their gender. Imagine if all the societal dictates and norms beneath which they toil could be flaunted forever, and the 19th century morality from which they derived proved ridiculous and cruel: that's what this "diversion" is all about. Mr. Bennet, weakened by illness and frightened for his family's future, insists that Elizabeth marry Mr. Collins. She does the only reasonable thing by dressing like a young man and hightailing it to London (I read the foreword to the book after finishing it and was pleased to see Ms. Massey's accrediting Georgette Heyer's The Corinthian as inspiration, as I was often reminded of it during the text), asking Mr. Darcy to loan her the money for passage to Nova Scotia. Horrified at what might become her on such a journey, he convinces her to journey to Pemberley with him instead. What unfolds is really utter nonsense, but much in Heyer's style it is diverting nonsense: coincidental encounters at inns, Bow Street Runners, and highwaymen included. The plot resembles something like Austen herself once outlined in jest, but the crux of the novel - the exposure of gendered hypocrisy - is poignant.

Much Austenesque focuses upon Mr. Darcy's transformation into a worthy hero for our heroine. Mr. Darcy Like It Wild takes this to new heights, bringing the gentleman to a place where he is more than willing to risk not only his familial relationships, but also his reputation in order to protect Elizabeth, who before the novel is over has been "compromised" a thousand times over (excepting the technical way). The gender norms and expectations of not only a Regency audience, but also the modern reader, are again and again called into question. While I'm not sure I'll ever look to Austenesque for political and social commentary, Ms. Massey's use of the genre as a vehicle for her message is really rather beautifully done. It stands out amongst most of my recent reading for it's originality.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Being Mrs. Bennet: Chapter Two

Read Chapter One

"Mama! Are you alright?" a voice cried. Alison assumed it was Kitty, but she sounded strange. She would not open her eyes to see who it was, in deference to the pounding in her brain. She felt she was lying in the grass but had no notion or interest in how she came there. The ache in her head overrode any other concern.

"La! It is a miracle any of us is alright!" said a new speaker. "I do think my whole life flashed before my eyes, just as in a book! How exciting!"

"Lydia!" No, not Lydia, Alison silently corrected a third voice, disapproving in its tone. "Our mother is unconscious, and her survival is in question. You must temper your spirits as the occasion requires."

"She is moving!" Definitely not Kitty. Each speaker sounded almost like one of her girls, but not quite. And where was Tom? Her eyelids fluttered, revealing blinding light and bulbous shadows.

"There, Mary! You see she is not dead, so now you can admit that a carriage accident, when it doesn't injure you, of course, is quite thrilling! I wish we might do it again." The accent, Alison realized, was British.

"Mama? Are you alright?" questioned the first voice again. Alison struggled to hold her eyes open and focus them on a teenage girl dressed like a Masterpiece Theater character. The bulbous shadow was her enormous bonnet.

"Don't try to sit up, ma'am," a male voice, far less refined, emanated from a new figure, leaning over her from behind the girl. "Johnny's on his way for help." It was easy for Alison to oblige. She closed her eyes again, and in what seemed no more than a moment was roused by a screeching sound.

"Oh! My dear Mrs. Bennet! How could such a thing come to pass?" Alison had only a second to recall her predicament before she felt strong arms begin to inch their way beneath her.

"T'was a rut in the road, Lady Lucas! Weren't there yesterday, and I'd swear on that!" She felt herself carefully raised.

"Never mind that, lad. Better ride to Longbourn and inform Mr. Bennet. Carriage accidents happen all the time. It is no great mystery, my dear!" Carriage accident? Alison wondered how she might possibly have been injured by a carriage. Nothing seemed to make any sense, but she assumed that was due to the lump on her head.

Eyes still closed, Alison felt herself gingerly laid against a leather bench, her head supported by a lavender scented lap. She sighed with relief and prepared to fall back to sleep, listening to a voice whisper, "It is but a short drive to Lucas Lodge, Mama. This will not take a moment."

I'll take it, she thought, and drifted off, only to be lurched back into consciousness a moment later when the contraption conveying her began to move. "What the hell!" she cried, sitting up quickly, only to be forced to cradle her head again while the world spun, jostled, and jolted, all at once.

"Mama!" cried one scandalized lady while the other two giggled.

Before another word could be spoken, the dratted vehicle slammed to a halt, nearly knocking Alison off her precarious seat to the floor, but six ready arms grabbed at her in support.

"Thank you," she said gratefully, in a voice nothing like her own, and the world came into focus. She looked around at the black box in which she sat with three oddly garbed strangers who kept calling her "Mama" in a lilting, staccato manner, and wondered if she had lost her mind. She soon knew she had.

One wall of the box dissapeared in a shocking bolt of light, and a voice called out from it: "Ah! Mrs. Bennet! You look more yourself already. Let me help you down!" A hand reached out for her, like something out of a Korean horror film, soon followed by the bulbous nose and ruddy complexion of the most unfortunate looking man she had ever beheld. There was nothing else to do but scream.

The women looked at her in surprise, while the man's yellow smile fell with concern. "No, not quite yourself yet, I see. No worries! We shall have you restored in a moment. The lads will carry you in to the sofa." He indicated to two dirty looking boys, the smell of whom she perceived the moment her eyes spotted them.

"I think I can walk now, thank you," she said shakily. With relief, she was allowed to step outside on her own.

"It was a carriage!" she wondered aloud, looking around her in amazement. She stood upon a gravel driveway before a solidly Georgian house: perfectly balanced, and but for the lack of a sun room on one side almost identical to the house in which she had grown up. Many of the houses in the neighborhood were of the same design, together presenting an impressive spectacle of suburban affluence, but those were set on one to two acre plots, not surrounded by such unabated land as this place. Nor did the chemically treated lawns of her youth ever sport sheep grazing upon them, except in the form of an occasional garden statue, never to be fazed by Chemlawn. She turned around to see her three traveling companions scurrying out of the honest to goodness carriage - drawn by two horses, no less! She had only once been in a carriage before: a tourist trap in Central Park. The ladies before her each wore an empire-waisted muslim dress and bonnet. She looked down at her own clothes and noticed with amazement the yards of brocade she sported. As with the smell of those filthy teenage boys, who were smiling at the young ladies, it took the observance of her eyes for her body to notice that the item poking her under her ribs must be a corset.

"Let's get you inside, Mrs. Bennet," said the horrible man, taking her arm, from which she recoiled, and leading her into the house. At least he didn't smell of stables. She looked behind her to see one of the girls laughing at something one of the boys said and shuddered. No good can come of that flirtation, her motherly instincts warned, and she took a moment to be grateful her girls knew better.

She was made comfortable on the sofa, or at least as much so as possible on such a hard, unforgiving piece of furniture. The ugly man was sent by the screeching lady - his wife, Alison presumed - to get a cold compress. She thanked the lady for the thought, especially that which banished the man.

"My dear Mrs. Bennet! I do hope you do not suffer any longterm trauma from this day's work! It's a wonder you and the girls weren't killed, and not a quarter mile from Lucas Lodge! Do drink a glass of wine. I'm sure it must help you!"

Alison accepted the proffered glass and sipped before saying in the strange voice, "I think there has to be some mistake. Do you know where my husband and daughters are?"

"Your girls will be in at any moment, and Mr. Bennet is at Longbourn, of course! He has been sent for: never fear on that score. I shall also drop a quick note to Mrs. Phillips, shall I? She will want to know what has befallen you. It is too bad my Maria isn't here to entertain the Miss Bennets. We look forward to the return of our girls from Hunsford, do we not, Mrs. Bennet?"

Alison was on the verge of protesting that she did not know any of the names her hostess mentioned, when a glimmer of recognition crossed her mind. One of the girls did indeed make her appearance, dropping a quick curtsy before burring her nose in a book. From an outside, one of the others emitted a squeal of girlish laughter. Longbourn, Bennet, Lucas Lodge ... "Lady Lucas?" she asked tentatively.

"Yes?" the lady readily replied.

Dear god! Alison thought. I really have gone mad. I think I'm Mrs. Bennet! The shock was enough to make her feel lightheaded again. It might be one thing to travel back in time - though the shock must still take some adjustment - but how is it possible for a person to be transported into a book? Ridiculous! Impossible! She must be insane.

It was upon drawing this conclusion that the two remaining young ladies burst into the room, stumbling upon each other and giggling. The tallest - perfectly raven curls bouncing, rosy cheeks aglow, and a devious sparkle in her eye - honed in upon Alison and renounced in bold tones: "Mama! Sir William's groom has a litter of puppies in the stables. May we go look at them? James says I might choose one to take home, if I don't care for getting my skirts dirty, which I don't a jot."

My god! It's Lydia! Alison recognized her youngest's namesake with abject horror. Real or not, it seemed the most oblivious hoyden in 19th century literature was her own responsibility. "Oh! My head!" she exclaimed and closed her eyes.

Read Chapter Three

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Terrific Review of Second Glances & Sneak Peak at The Madness of Mr. Darcy!

Please stop by A Spoonful of Happy Endings, a truly lovely blog, and read the fabulous review Jody wrote for Second Glances: A Tale of Less Pride & Prejudice Continues. I do think Sir James Stratton the most charming creature I have ever imagined. Less charming (but terribly tantalizing, I hope) is the excerpt from my next book, The Madness of Mr. Darcy, which follows Jody's review. The scene depicts a conversation between an unhinged Mr. Darcy and radically altered Mr. Wickham. This book is my obsession and entirely to blame for my poor blogging habits so far this year. I'm about 50,000 words into draft two. Working with the unruly rough draft composed during NaNoWriMo is kind of like quilting: there is so much to piece together, and I'm impatient for the final product! A third draft will be required before I let anyone see it, but critics and well-wishers a like will be pleased to know this novel will be subjected to a proper beta-editing process, not just the gracious eyes of my relations. I really fell into this self-publishing thing not knowing at all what I was about, and only learned of beta-readers while working through my last novel. Pitiful, I know, but it is the sad truth. My hope is that The Madness of Mr. Darcy will be a far more mature work than the Tales of Less Pride & Prejudice stories. The plot is certainly more complicated, and I have allowed myself to explore darker feelings and themes than before. I'm itching for feedback, so please let me know what you think!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Being Mrs. Bennet: Chapter One

I need to blog! And I need to vent a little. This is entirely off the cuff, though I began the story years ago ...

"That's my shirt! I bought it at the concert. You weren't even there!"

"Whatever, Kitty! You wore my skirt last week, and I didn't make such a big deal out of nothing."

"But I was going to wear it today!"

Not yet! Alison Bateman prayed, pulling the covers more firmly around her shoulders and squeezing her eyes shut determinedly. If she were lucky, her dream of sitting aboard the deck of a mammoth cruise ship, drinking some outlandish tropical cocktail might resume.

"Mom!" someone thumped on the bedroom door. "Lydia's wearing my new t-shirt! Make her give it back!"

No! Turquoise waters and muscled pool boys were already fading from her grasp, so she might as well open her eyes, but they refused to budge.

"Mom!" more knocking, now accompanied by the voice of her youngest daughter. "Kitty is always borrowing my clothes without asking and I never pitched such a fit about it. It isn't fair."

She heard her husband sigh and felt him move about the bed. They had spent a fortune on memory foam, only to realize that it was his shifting of the covers that woke her in the night. She clutched her corner of the quilt more firmly, so his turning wrenched the sheet off her instead. Now the bed would be more difficult to make. Tom laid a hand to her shoulder and gave it a tiny shake.

"Aly! Wake up, won't you? The girls need you."

A chorus of thumps and "Moms!" bore witness to his words.

"Why can't you help them for once?" she groaned.

"They are calling for you," he retorted, finalizing the argument with a yawn, stretch, and scratch, before lazily kissing his now incurably awake wife on the forehead and stumbling towards the bathroom.

She stared at the ceiling, listening to her daughters holler and pound. These two were more challenging than the elder three combined, and she barely had the energy and tolerance to cope with them any longer. Yet persevere she must, for it was entirely her fault. She should have known better than to offer fate so irresistible a temptation as to name her five daughters after the Bennet girls in Pride and Prejudice.

It began in innocence. Tom's mother died of cancer while she was pregnant with the beloved lady's first grandchild. Jane was not a favorite name of Alison's. There was a Jane she had gone to school with and hated violently, and she wanted to call her daughter Emily, but how could she deny the request when Tom made it so soon after his mother's death? The touching memorial to her memory was readily agreed to. A few years later, when she was again pregnant, she joked that if it were a girl she should be named Elizabeth, just like the best sisters from her favorite book. But when her mother Mary died, and she become pregnant once more with girl, the connection to Jane Austen's characters continued. It should have stopped there. She never wanted more than three children.

But Tom wanted a boy. One more child. Alison was certain before she could even confirm her pregnancy that something was different. She had never been so tired before, nor so ill, either. Her first ultrasound confirmed the truth. Two heartbeats. A few months more and they would know the genders. The mystery was a given: two girls, of course. In a moment of pique, Alison insisted they must be Kitty and Lydia, and somehow it stuck. Now she was paying the price.

"Mom!" the twins shouted in unison. Alison sat up, donned her bathrobe, and confronted her daughters.

"Girls!" she cried over their simultaneous accounts, which began to assault her the moment the door opened. "It's not even 8 o'clock, and a Saturday, too! What are you even doing awake?"

Both girls stared at her, slack jawed. They were not identical, but mannerisms and habit made their likeness remarkable. Kitty, the elder by less than a minute, was slightly shorter, her hair not quite so dark, and her eyes more round than Lydia's. They were both healthy and attractive teenage girls, and Alison was proud of the image they presented. If only they didn't insist on acting so dunderheaded, and if that mischievous smile belonging to her youngest didn't conjure instant images of Julia Sawalha as Lydia Bennet to their mother's brain! Now, as both stared at her incredulously, Alison knew at once she had forgotten something important.

"Mom!" Kitty cried with horror. "It's Homecoming!"

"Oh, of course it is," Alison smiled, relieved the day's event required little from her. All she had to do was smile and take pictures and play supportive momma. Then she frowned. "Why does it matter what you wear, then? Are you not going to be in your uniforms all day?"

"Because we're going to shelter first, of course!"

"Dame it!" Alison exclaimed, adrenaline instantly slamming her into sixth gear. "Tom!" she yelled. "Get int he shower, now!" Drawers began flying open, as Alison hurriedly pulled out appropriate attire for herself and her husband. "I have to pick up food from Julia Simons and Tracy Reynolds on the way, and we have to be there by nine to serve!"

"But what about my shirt!" Kitty whined.

"I can't think about that right now, dear. I want you both in the car in ten minutes, and make sure you bring all your gear. We are not coming back here for sneakers, ribbons, skirts, sweaters, socks, or shoes before the game, so double check to make sure you have everything you need."

"Yes, ma'am." They said in unison, skittering down the hall in response to their mother's no nonsense voice. Alison smiled after them. Their daughters might share the same names, but she was no Mrs. Bennet. She kept her girls tight in hand. With the twins, it was necessary.

Yet all the girls seemed to bear a surprising resemblance to their namesakes. Perhaps she looked for it, or maybe they were influenced by it: either way there was no denying Jane was sweetness itself, Elizabeth brilliant and vivacious, and Mary proudly geeky. Of the two youngest, Lydia was more inclined to lead, and Kitty to follow. Alison had always found the similarities amusing, until the twins discovered boys.

It took fifteen minutes, but soon the entire Bateman clan was in the Volvo and pulling out the winding driveway of their Baltimore County home, Alison in the driver's seat. Jane and Elizabeth being at college, the entire clan was really two short. Alison never understood why it had felt easier to horde them all around when all seven were present, unless it was the pacifying influence of the eldest.

The charity event had been Alison's own idea: a community service project for the squad. Something that would build character, and look good on a college resume. How she could have forgotten it was remarkable. I must be slipping, she thought, for it was a rare thing for to forget any commitment. She had far too many not to be well organized, between raising a family, supporting her husband, and running the small business she started when the twins first went to school, selling handmade journals online. The business brought in a tidy profit and made her feel as if her business degree hadn't been entirely wasted. As soon as the twins were off to college, she would sell it and try to find a job in financial services, where she began her career years ago. If my brain hasn't gone to mush by then.  Listening to her daughters, she felt pretty hopeless on that score. She merged not the beltway.

How did I ever become Mrs. Bennet? she wondered, chuckling softly at the thought.

Tom looked up from his cell phone and at her with curiousity. "A penny for your thoughts?"

In the back seat, the girls argued.

"I just was wondering what perverse impulse made me name our children after Austen."

"Nothing new in that," he smiled, looking back to his email. She watched him typing with his thumbs and marveled that he was almost as fast as their daughters at it, which is why she didn't see the jeep that was merging into her lane.

"Look out Mom!" someone screamed, and Alison only saw the other vehicle in time to expect the impact when they hit, and then there was nothing.

Read Chapter Two