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Dear Lula

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MANCHESTER

Halls (Victoria Park)
Caroline Bingley, 17, first year International Business with French
Mary Crawford, 18, first year Law
Frances Bertram, 18, first year Global Health

Rented House (Didsbury)
Charlie Bingley, 20, Caroline's brother, third year Business & Sociology
Fitzwilliam 'Liam' Darcy, 20, Charlie's best friend, third year Biochemistry
Ela Deshmukh, 20, third year Biochemistry
Edward Ferrars, 20, third year Computer Science
Frank Churchill, 21, third year Business & Sociology, Buveurs Désolés bass player

Rented Flat (Northern Quarter)
Henry Crawford, 21, Mary's brother, graduated in Philosophy & Politics, Buveurs Désolés leader & guitarists
Ian 'Will' Willoughby, 20, English drop out, singer of Buveurs Désolés

Owned House (Victoria Park)
Edmund 'Ned' Bertram, 20, Frances' cousin, third year Religions & Theology
Mia Bertram, 19, Frances' cousin, second year History of Art
Julia Bertram, 18, Frances' cousin, first year Dentistry
Hal Tae, 20, Edmund's best friend, third year Religions & Theology

Rented rooms in shared-house (Rusholme)
Bet Benítez, 20, Erasmus from Barcelona, third year English
Joana Jardins, 20, Erasmus from Barcelona, third year English

Others:

Halls (Fallowfield)
Mayra Deshmukh, 17, Ela's sister, first year English
Bel Thorpe, 18, Mayra's flat-mate, first year English

Halls (Victoria Park)
Jamie Fashanu, 19, second year Computer Science, Buveurs Désolés drummer

 

LONDON

Louisa 'Lula' Bingley, 23, Caroline and Charlie's sister, engaged to John Hurst

 

CAMBRIDGE

(Hon.) Richard Fitzwilliam, 21, Liam's cousin, four year Medicine

Chapter Text

 

Part I: Fall semester

 

 

From: Caroline Bingley <cbingley98@gmail.com>
To: Louisa Bingley <louisabingley@gmail.com>
Date: 14 September 2016, 18:36
Subject: oh dear

Dear Lula,

I thought there was like literally nobody here, but after I’d been two hours in the common room a girl came out from one of the rooms. She’s very quiet and is wearing a headband AND a braid.

Tell you more when I have more to tell.

Love,

Caroline

 

Date: 15 September 2016, 19:11
Subject: RE oh dear

Nothing so dreary, don’t worry.

Headband girl, also known as Frances (I mean, that’s her name) is, well, nice. You know what I mean, though, right? I’ve got a feeling she bakes. Though at the moment she’s only cooked, for me as well (quite bland pasta with broccoli), so I shouldn’t complain too much.

The other girl, pretty but sort of odd, just arrived a while ago—

Back now, that was her knocking on my door.

I think I like her but can’t trust her at all yet.

New girl (Mary): So, Frances seems nice.

I swear she used a tone when she said the word nice.

Me: Yes, quite nice.

I definitely used a tone.

Mary: That’s what I thought. Should we invite her out?

We decided we should, though she would probably say no. We did, she said no, and so Mary and I are going to the pub now.

Love,

Caroline

 

Date: 16 September 2016, 12:28
Subject: RE oh dear

Dear Lula,

By odd I mean that she wears those huge high-waisted mom jeans, and when she got here she was wearing a sort of turban, though she took it off before we left—mean, I wdn’t wear any of her clothes in a lifetime, but she looks good on them. I also don’t think she’s L’s type at all. So, no conflict of interests.

Frances’ got no style at all, unless you call wearing knitted sweaters with midi skirts a style.

It was fun last night. The city’s crowded though.

Mary took me to a pub her brother had recommended. (He finished his BA in June but he’s still living in the city.) Bartenders were fit (most likely gay) and cocktail juggled and all.

Many clingy boys. One guy tried to chat me up and then Mary, right in front of each other. The best though was that after it didn’t work he went to the next table and did the exact same number on other three girls.

Also, a girl said to me: Nice top though.

I said “Thank you” but now I’m sort of wondering if the “though” was, like mum says, “an annoying tic”, or if she was actually being ironic. Though my top was nice so I guess there’s no question about which way she meant it. I even checked it and it wasn’t ripped or dirty or anything.

Today we went for breakfast and took Frances with us.

Turns out she's doing Global Health (I was half-expecting her to say Children’s Nursing or something) and Mary’s reading Law. Anyways, I haven’t met anybody from Business yet.

And I haven’t seen Charlie either.

Nor L.

Love,

Caroline

PS: Tell me more about the flat/house hunting. Know it’s horrid but you make it sound exciting.

 

Date: 18 September 2016, 17:41
Subject: RE Maida Vale

Dearest Lula,

Loved the house on the second link, I’m jealous just thinking you could live there. Did you go? How was it?!

I started classes yesterday. I’ve talked to some of my classmates but nothing very interesting yet. I sat with a girl and she was one of those people who feel fancy just by carrying the cheapest ted baker’s plastic shopper, you know? And she got flustered when a couple of remotely fit guys sat in front of us. I avoided her today, but she didn’t get the message, just thought I hadn’t seen her and started calling me, so I turned around and said “Oh, hello Margaret”, though I knew full well her name was Moira, and proceeded to sit with a girl with a pink michael kors.

I’ll just cut to the most interesting bit: Today I saw Charlie… and L!!!! I mean, Charlie had all but established they’d be at the Union Bar at some point in the late morning, and I made it so that M and I would be there (I asked F too, but she had some society thing). We were lucky and arrived first, so that when they got there they were the ones who had to sit with us! I hadn’t said anything to M, of course, but I guess she noticed, because after they left she was like: What’s the story there, mate? I tried to be cool about it at first, but the more she said he was fit and that she wanted to know the story, the more I talked. I even told her about that time Charlie invited L home for Easter but then he only talked to your John about video games, and L and I talked for like an hour straight and he told me how every year he wd hide the eggs for her sister to find and how he wanted to cure cancer and it was really romantic (not curing cancer, our afternoon). Anyway, she totally didn’t think I was a psycho. She said L looked happy to see me, so that’s nice.

Speaking of nice, I met my tandem partner. You know that thing where I speak Spanish so she corrects me and she speaks English and I help her improve it? I mean, my Spanish is quite a lot better than her English, but she was lovely.

And yes, you were right, absolutely all my meals have been outside or pre-cooked. Or cooked by F (that’s happened only twice, though). I think though that going to restaurants with M is making me want to learn to cook—she’s vegan and all our options tend to be quite unappetising.

Love,

Caroline

 

Date: 22 September 2016, 20:32
Subject: RE Maida Vale

Lula,

You know what would be splendid? If you came for Charlie’s party! He’s organised this big event at their house (which no, I haven’t seen yet), but I don’t think he’s told L yet. I mean, there’s an event on FB so he’s probably figured it out? I don’t know if I should warn him—don't want to get in his bad books etc.

More: A guy came to our flat to see Frances today. Like M and I were hallucinating. He’s quite fit—I think Mexican? I thought he was her boyfriend (though, let me tell you, not a great match) but the fact was that he could not, he WOULD NOT take his eyes of M. And even though he came to see F they spent the whole time in the kitchen with us. M played it cool but later when we were alone she admitted she was “not uninterested.” I thought first F looked sort of disappointed, but latter said they were only best friends (the “only” is mine). She had actually baked some muffins (I took two to my bedroom so I’d have something to eat tonight, don’t you worry).

I think that’s all, hm. Well, there’s that band we’re supposed to see play in a couple of weeks (they’re called Buveurs Désolés). It’s M’s brother with some of his friends. They’re gonna play in a pub in the northern quarter, which promises to be interesting.

Love love and more love,

Caroline

PS: Yes, I also have one, but I haven’t used it in like three years, and it’s only one of the SEVERAL ted bakers I have.

 

Date: 25 September 2016, 16:13
Subject: Wouldn’t it be nice if I were your only sibling

Oh, DEAR!! Charlie saw me today with Joana (the tandem partner from Barcelona) and now he won’t stop texting me about how she’s the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen!!!! If there’s something I hate more than Charlie in love with a girl is Charlie talking about the girl he’s in love with. How didn’t I think of it?!

C

 

Date: 25 September 2016, 16:48
Subject: RE Wouldn’t it be nice if I were your only sibling

Dear Lula,

Of course he’s always like that, but I still wasn’t expecting him to fall for her! I am not even 100% sure she understands all that I say in English—we mostly speak Spanish—though I don’t figure this being a problem with Charlie. I don’t know much about her apart from the fact that she’s pretty. I’ll try dig out some more and tell you. I’ve just friended her on FB so you can spy her from there.

Love,

Caroline

 

Date: 27 September 2016, 18:22
Subject: RE Wouldn’t it be nice if I were your only sibling

Dear Lula,

I had no choice, Charlie made me invite her to the party. I invited M, F and Ned (F’s best friend & M’s intended) as well as a couple of girls from class but I don’t think they’re coming. I told M she could invite her brother, but she said Better Not. Whatever that means.

Oh, I talked to L about the party (on FB), he said he’d obviously figured it out because all the guests had mentioned it to him and also Charlie invited him on the event he created. Ofc.

The three of us went shopping yesterday and I got the best LBD for the occasion—revealing but classy, as always. M got a weird one from a second-hand store and tried to convince F into buying a dress too—which was old-looking but not as old-looking as what she normally wears—but it didn’t work. I’ll take loads of pictures and show you!

Love,

Caroline

 

Date: 29 September 2016, 18:38
Subject: RE Enjoy the party!

THANK YOU! I’m so excited!!! We’ll have an amazing time!!!

Love,

Caroline

 

Date: 30 September 2016, 01:12
Subject: RE Enjoy the party!

TO HELL WITH FITZWILLIAM ELDRED DARCY. I hope he DIES.

Chapter Text

Young ladies slighted by other men

 

It was dark and it wasn’t raining, which was too much like a good omen to be taken as one. Freshers were still too unaccustomed to Mancunian weather to know that, and they could not be faulted for taking such a starry night for granted. In fact, Frances was the only one to think that nothing good would come out of the night, although that was not the kind of thought she would admit to entertain publicly, and she hadn’t even looked up at the sky—not even at bright Saturn! Caroline hadn’t either, she was convinced that tonight would be one of those nights she would look back on in the future, and so she tried with all her might to convince herself otherwise—expectations did no one any good, ever. It was Mary, who not having ever been known to have a bad night, had nothing to worry about and was able to look up and say: “Would you look at that.” Neither of her new friends did. Ned, to her side, raised his head but, distracted by her beauty, looked instead at her profile: such a wonderful jawline, such a unique nose! Something had struck him and he didn’t know it yet. He would later think he’d looked at the stars and marvelled at them.

They were all surprised Frances had agreed to come, but only him realised just how out of character it was for her to do that. They’d only lived with her for a couple of weeks, he’d been her friend for many years now—eight? could it be? Eight years since the Norris had adopted her, and yet he couldn’t remember the first time he’d seen her—as if she’d always been there! That was a quality Frances had: ubiquity; mostly symbolically, but often literally. He always thought of her when he had to make an important choice, and knew he’d done something wrong when he discovered himself omitting details to her. Still, in fairness, he hadn’t been thinking about her when he’d accepted the invitation for today: not really. He’d said, out loud and to himself, I’ll keep Frances company, it’ll do her good to socialise and it’ll be easier if I’m by her side. But he’d known, by the time it had taken him to choose an outfit, that it was not her he thought of when he thought of the night at all. Nothing as serious as infatuation, he was just curious, wanted to know. What is that way of moving her shoulders, what’s up with her laugh? Mary! He wanted to know, and he didn’t—this was one of the things he would never say to Frances.

And Frances suspected that and hoped to be wrong. She was a master of reading him, he fooled himself thinking he was sparing her. He was terrible at hiding his thoughts, his emotions. At least to her, she could read him like a book: one with pictures and footnotes. Just look at how his voice changed when he talked to her. And yet, Frances knew what mattered: that he loved her, and that, after tonight and many nights like this one, it would be her who would still be by his side, always. Which was not so different from what Caroline was thinking, or it wouldn’t have been if Caroline were able to think about Fitzwilliam the way Frances did about Ned: unselfishly. Caroline liked to think that she would be by Fitzwilliam’s side, many years to come, by his choice, and would have considered any other alternative pathetic and in need of a reality-check. Not that she needed one now, of course, she still had some room for hope. Yes, Fitzwilliam showed no predilection for her, but no, he didn’t for any other women either (except his sister, but that was an altogether different kind of predilection). And it was occupied in such self-centred thoughts that they rang the bell, Mary’s exact one being Can’t wait to get plastered.

 

The house had three floors and five inhabitants, all third years, each with different thoughts on the party: There was Charlie, Caroline’s brother and the one that had organised it—in the sense that he’d created an event on Facebook, had invited all of his contacts, and had asked them to invite whomever they wanted and to Please bring their own booze; Fitzwilliam, who’d been friends with Charlie since they’d shared a flat as freshers, and who had supposedly not known about the party until it had been too late to cancel it (he had known, though); Ela, who’d invited her little sister, Mayra, to disguise the fact that she was quite excited herself; Edward, not interested in participating, but not annoyed enough by the idea to oppose it even once; and Frank, Charlie’s classmate, and as excited by parties as him.

Despite the general anticipation, there were guests who’d arrived at the house before the hosts had expected, there had been, in fact, guests who’d arrived there even before all the hosts were there, namely Frank. So that when Caroline’s party arrived, it wasn’t so early that Frank was still napping, but not late enough for him to be dressed already. It was a good enough time, considering they were sort of guests of honour (Caroline liked to think). They had rung the bell and Ela had went to the door but said to Charlie, at the last moment, “You know what, you open it” and had gone back to talk to Edward in the kitchen, so that Charlie had opened it, a beer already in hand and a grin in the face. His hair groomed into dark blond waves, Caroline was strangely proud to have a cool, handsome older brother to show off to her new friends. Nobody ever did not like Charlie, she just hoped he didn’t abandon her tonight. It was her plan to infiltrate his and Fitzwilliam’s relationship as seamlessly as if she’d always been part of the trio: let’s see if it worked. There were some people she didn’t know behind Charlie, and somewhere behind them there was Liam (that’s how Charlie called Fitzwilliam, and how she’d taken to call him too), whom she discreetly waved at. But she’d forgotten: she introduced Frances and Ned to Charlie, and then she took Mary’s hand and clasped it hard for a second. She was nervous! Mary just said “Won’t you stop smiling like that?” With a laugh, so that it wasn’t too mean.

Mary looked back at Ned and Frances with a mischievous smile. The latter looked for the sofa, making her better impression of not-terrified after having quickly said to Charlie a variation of Thank you for inviting us. Ned promised her he’d be back, and followed Mary to the kitchen, to empty their grocery bags. He hadn’t brought anything, and Mary’d made him stop to an off-license to “At least buy a pack of six”. She dumped her and Caroline’s gin by the marble top, and then thought better of it and hid it in a cabinet. Caroline said Hi to Liam, who said Hi back and How are you and Thank you for coming. Then Charlie wrapped his arms around their shoulders—Caroline had goosebumps, imagine, this is just a glimpse of what this year’s going to be!—and announced a tour of the house, so that they could leave their jackets and bags in his room. Not Frances, Thank you, she was still cold and needed her purse, “Fair enough,” Charlie said. Liam stayed, he said deadpan he didn’t need a tour. When the four of them got back, an actual DJ had arrived, and the house was fuller than when they’d gone up.

The DJ was Jamie: Mary knew him. She went to him with a startled yell of excitement, to which he did not seem to respond very effusively, and hugged him. “It’s Jamie”, she said to Caroline, “he’s the drummer!” Caroline had no idea what she was talking about, where was Liam? And then, “Oh, the Buveurs Désolés’ drummer?” “Yes.” Mary asked him how he’d got the gig, and he’d said: “Frank lives here.” And Mary’d gone, “Fuck me, Frank’s here?” And laughed happily. “The world’s tiny, Caroline, tiny.” But then Jamie’d got to work, with an actual DJ set he’d brought, and when he set it up, the thing started for real.

Ned had gone back to find Frances and had sat with her for a while. After some time he’d said: “I’ll go get a beer and come back,” and hadn’t come back. Mary talked to everybody, except Liam—Caroline had expressed explicit interest in him, and she was not good at not-flirting—and laughed the loudest with Mayra, who turned out to be as much of a music snob as her (Mary’s current obsession was Mitski, Mayra’s, Solange). Mary’d had more than half the bottle by herself, and Caroline still had her first gin and tonic in her hand. She didn’t enjoy drinking, she wouldn’t admit it because it wasn’t cool, but it tasted badly. It was disgusting, in fact, and she’d never been drunk, hoped never to be. She was too afraid to do something embarrassing, namely, to let her feelings for Liam become obvious. She pretended to be drunk enough to say things mildly outrageous and speak French (Caroline could speak English, Spanish, French, and a tiny bit of Russian), which was thought of as generally sexy. And she was trying, with Liam, not all the time, she just went and left and then came back. She was trying, though, saying: Are these new? Pointing to his glasses, which were not, in any way, new. And Charlie was whining (“When did exactly Joana say she was coming?”) the exact moment Joana did, in fact, arrive, with her other friend from Barcelona. So it was another guest that opened the door to them, but Charlie was practically there at the same time, from how fast he ran: he brought them directly to Caroline, to make things less awkward.

“Did you find the house well? Is it raining?”

“No, no” Joana spoke shyly: English was not her first nor second language, she had to think hard before making a sentence.

“Oh, give me your coats. This is Liam, and Caroline you know.”

“Joana, so glad you came!” said Caroline in Spanish, while kissing each of her cheeks once, and then looked at her friend. “Hi! I’m Caroline, Joana’s tandem partner?” she said it as a question and she said it slowly, as if she might not follow. But Joana’s friend had already some preconceived ideas about Caroline and was happy to discard any she had of her. English wasn’t her first language either, but she’d had much more practice than Joana. She liked to talk a lot.

“Oh yeah, nice to meet you, and thank you! I was afraid I’d intrude but I see there really is a party,” and laughed, and shook hands with Liam, saying: “Bet, with a hard tee.”

“Beth?” Caroline was ignored.

“Joana?” Said Charlie.

Yes: in a second it was decided that Charlie would put their coats in his room, and if Joana wanted he could get her a drink, and the two of them left, and Bet was there, saying “Oh, I brought beer.”

“That’s a nice house, do you also live here?” Caroline wondered what part she was supposed to play in this conversation, how didn’t this girl realise she was not wanted here, and had a bit of her drink for the first time in half an hour.

“Yes.” Was all that Liam offered, which was at least a comfort.

“Oh, god, you even got a DJ” was the next thing she said, laughing amiably and looking at Jamie. “I thought the music sounded loud!” She opened one of her cans of beer and had a sip.

Caroline felt bad and rescued the conversation, even if she’d come to regret it evermore.

“You’re also from Barcelona?”

“Yes.”

“Your English is really good.” It was meant as condescending as it was said.

“I heard your Spanish isn’t bad, should we switch languages?” and then looked at who had been introduced to her as Liam, “but I wouldn’t want to keep you out of the conversation.” More than he was now, she’d wanted it to mean.

“He speaks French,” said Caroline, defensively.

“Really? I don’t.”

There was a weird light in Liam’s eyes, who hadn’t said anything at all apart from that solitary Yes, and Bet didn’t know if that was a good sign or not. She generally avoided ridiculously hot guys, they clouded your judgement, were never as interesting as they thought, and once they’d made you suffer enough, they ended up with… Carolines.

“Oh, there’s Joana!” Bet walked towards her friend, who was coming down the stairs. She would’ve gone to rescue her if it’d taken her more than five minutes, and hoped Joana would’ve done the same for her, but it hadn’t been necessary. Joana smiled: well, she hadn’t stopped smiling, but Bet, who knew her well, realised that the smile had even gone to her eyes. Charlie was behind her.

“Isn’t that a nice house?” She said, in the way of conversation.

“Yes, yes, and the rooms too.” Said Joana. Charlie grinned more.

Caroline, just a few steps behind them, looked at Liam, who was looking at Charlie. They were all looking at Charlie, even Bet, when she asked:

“And I like that there’s so many books in the living room, are they yours?”

Charlie laughed more.

“No, they’re Liam’s.”

And as he heard his name, he approached:

“What?”

Caroline followed him.

“The books: I was saying it’s nice to see so many.”

“Well, there’s even more in his room.” Said Caroline, and Liam couldn’t even look at her, and Joana blushed, and Bet knew she hadn’t meant what she pretended she’d meant. These two hadn’t hooked up ever, at least not yet.

“But not as interesting as these, surely?” She joked, taking out a book titled Roitt's Essential Immunology. They all laughed, except Liam, who just wrinkled his nose a bit.

Charlie said: “Drinks, anyone?” And everyone said, I’m fine, except Joana who asked for a glass of water. Bet had another sip of her beer.

“These are textbooks.” He provided as a way of explanation after a few seconds.

“I gathered. I much prefer browsing other people’s novels though.”

Caroline was going to say, Liam doesn’t read novels, and got as far as saying his name.

“Why?”

“I love to see what people read.”

“Why?”

“Well, it says a lot about them, doesn’t it?”

Now Caroline laughed a bit: “Yes, but maybe you wouldn’t recognise the books.”

“Yeah, maybe. But—”

“What?” He was curious, now they both saw it.

“I don’t know: it says a lot. It says a lot, a guy, if he has more Hemingways or Pratchetts or Joyces, or if he has any book written by women, it says a lot. Well, maybe you’ve only got leather-bound Shakespeares.”

“A family heirloom.” You wouldn’t know if he was joking or not. Well, Caroline assumed he wasn’t, and Bet assumed he was, and so she laughed.

“Where’s the bin?”

Caroline quickly pointed towards the kitchen, and as neither made any shadow of a movement, Bet said simply “Thanks”, and left them there. Not saying absolutely anything, Liam followed her a minute later, though he went directly to Charlie’s side.

Caroline felt first very hot and then very cold. She looked about and saw Frances by herself at the couch, with a glass in her hand: was she drinking? Surely not!

“Are you alright? Is that alcohol?”

“Apple juice.”

“Oh, that’d be nice.” And she finished her gin and tonic with a big gulp. She just needed more courage: a second to recover, cut her losses, as they said, and go out again. I mean: had anyone seen her dress? It was black, and short (but respectable), and had a V-neck that would’ve been indecent in a girl with bigger breasts, but that in her looked just the right amount of flirty. She was thin, tall, taller even with the shoes she was wearing, and had even fake lashes on! What was wrong with the world?

 

Mary was having the time of her life, and every time a song she loved played she asked Ned: “Do you know this one?” And he said “No” and she laughed more, throwing her head back and showing off her neck, voluntarily or not. She touched him, innocently: a hand in his elbow, one in his back. He also did it with Frank, who she’d known for longer, so it wasn’t so obvious. She even hugged Mayra a lot, but what a cool girl! They bonded over how much they both wanted a nose job. Ned hadn’t heard them, or he would’ve been horrified. Frank had and had said: “Then you’d be perfect!” Which is not what one wants to hear but it also isn’t. Mary asked for some Sufjan and Jamie said “C’mon, they’re gonna kill me if I play anything slower than The XX.” Frank asked for Run The Jewels and Jamie silently complied. They teased Ned about choosing someone cool to play, and he went with Bowie: you never got it wrong with Bowie. The four of them yelled the lyrics of Space Oddity, some more drunkenly than others.

Mary had introduced them to Caroline before: Mayra, with glittered eye-shadow and mermaid hair, who she’d just met and was already her newest best friend, and Frank, who she knew via her brother and looked like a cross between a hooligan (shaved head, tattooed arms) and a playboy (killer smile, easy laugh). She thought then of joining them but had no idea of how the song went: so no. She did a tour of the living room and when she came back Frances was talking to Ela. God, she was hungry! She hadn’t had anything for dinner so that her stomach wouldn’t show in the dress. Mary'd thought it idiotic but then she had only eaten an apple—still, she wasn’t as thin as Caroline and her stomach did show under the extremely tight velvet body and the high-waisted jeans, the vintage dress forgotten in a chair on her room. Where was Charlie? There, there he was, still with Joana, but also with Edward and a girl she didn’t know. Had her friend Bet abandoned her? It was impossible that she would be still with Liam, Liam couldn’t stand anybody other than Charlie for that long.

She went to the kitchen to find what was left of their gin, and then she thought she saw something and realised she couldn’t have: Why would Liam, of all people, have his hands in that (fat) girl’s waist? Why would her (basic) arms be around his neck? It wasn’t Liam, it was another exceptionally tall blond guy in a black shirt. But then someone pushed them aside to open the fridge and Caroline saw that yes, it was Liam, passionately kissing that Bet girl. Had she no shame? Her heart raced to her ears, the only thing she heard were its beats, no music at all. It was in her neck too, so much that she couldn’t even swallow her own saliva: anyway, her mouth was dry. She turned back and left the kitchen before anyone could see her. She was good at poker faces, but not now, just not now. She went directly to the sofa, opposite side of Frances, and covered her face with her own knees: If anybody asked, she was drunk. Oh, dear, now she knew what people meant when they said they needed a drink.

Liam had no idea himself how it had happened, honest, and it hadn’t even lasted that long. It started when Bet cut him mid-sentence to lock her lips to his, and it ended when someone pushed them and they were brought back to the real world. So: he didn’t know why Bet had kissed him, but, if he was completely honest with himself, he knew why he’d kissed her back: he had enjoyed it. He’d felt a shock when she’d touched him, a literal electric shock, his brain had gone numb and all his body warm. He hadn’t experienced anything like it before, had nothing to compare it to, and if he’d had time to think about it he wouldn’t have let it happen. So in a way it was fortunate that he hadn’t; he had enjoyed it while it lasted. Not now, he was hating it now. She was in front of him, now, the red obvious in her cheeks, waiting for him to say something.

“Err,” was all she said, before Charlie came in—thank god he hadn’t come in two seconds before—and interrupted them.

If he thought anything about their position he didn’t say so. They weren’t touching any more, but they still had their arms hanging mid-air, as if they had just hugged. Which they had.

“I’m gonna check up on Joana.” She said, but once she’d taken two steps, she walked back to the bathroom behind the kitchen.

She was feeling ecstatic, electric, a sex goddess. They were talking about books, she teasing him and he answering so quickly he’d surely spoken the truth. She said, “I’m sure you were a Harry Potter fan,” and he’d said “Yes,” and she laughed and said “And who was your favourite character?” And he’d said: “McGonagall.” And she had kissed him because, how could she not, really? (She had half expected him to say Malfoy). And that had been the best kiss of her life, probably. That’s what she was thinking while she peed. Then she washed her hands, her face a bit (she wasn’t wearing any other make-up than mascara), and opened the door. She thought she heard Charlie gushing about how wonderful Joana was, but then she heard her own name and stopped:

“We should go on a double date.”

“Absolutely not.”

“Why not? I thought you were getting along?”

“Just because I talk to someone doesn’t mean I want to date them.”

“You sure? Not even one date?”

“Not ever.”

“Alright, alright, I mean, I thought she was quite fit, isn’t she?”

“What? No. What?”

Someone interrupted them, and Bet waited for the coast to be clear before coming out, a stone in her stomach. She looked for Joana and instead recognised Ela, who’d helped her at the library on her first day of Uni. They said Hi to each other animatedly, and it was Joana who found them. They all three sat on the couch, still warm from whoever it was that had been sitting there before them. They talked, and laughed, and Bet even joked that she’d heard Charlie ask Liam if he thought she was hot and he’d said no. When they said their goodbyes, Joana and Charlie stared into each other eyes for a bit too long, but he couldn’t ask her on a date—chicken. Bet smiled at Liam as she’d done when they’d met, non-committally, not as if their tongues had been in each other’s mouths and then he’d said to someone else he would never date her.

 

By then, Caroline and Frances were in the bus, almost home already. Caroline had cried a bit, hadn’t been able to help it, and it had been a good distraction for Frances (though she would have never put it like this). She took care of her, with her hand in her back and rubbing her arm, saying: “There, there. I’m sure it didn’t mean anything.” And at the same time she thought that, while she hadn’t seen Ned and Mary kiss at all, she was certain that what they had shared had meant something. It was disheartening, but she was brave, and far more self-aware than Caroline. Once home, she looked after her, fed her a biscuit and a glass of water, and thought: It will all end well. And It happened for a reason.

Mary realised their friends had escaped when it was too late, and she felt bad, but not too bad: They could’ve warned her, could’ve said bye, What was their deal? She and Ned stayed until the party was officially over. They offered Jamie help to get the set in his car, but he said no, don’t worry, and so they left. Mayra was so drunk Ela’d taken her to sleep upstairs with her. And even though the sun would come up in only a couple of hours, Ned would only be satisfied if he walked her to her Halls. And when they said bye, she didn’t feel drunk at all any more. She was good at drinking and terrible at hangovers: she said that to him, and he half-laughed half-cringed.

“I’m glad you came,” she said.

“Me, too.” And he stared at her: his brown eyes, shiny like the stars had been at the early moments of the night, his grin crooked, so happy it didn’t fit in his sharp face. She couldn’t hold the wait and approached him first, giving him just the lightest peck in the cheek.

“See you tomorrow?” He said.

“Today, you mean? No, not today.”

“Monday?”

“Maybe.”

He waited until he saw her get inside. Then he left.

Chapter Text

From: Caroline Bingley <cbingley98@gmail.com>
To: Louisa Bingley <louisabingley@gmail.com>
Date: 2 October 2016, 15:48
Subject: RE Checking up

Dear Lula,

Nothing new since we talked on the phone. What about you?

I’ve been quite busy what with homework and tandem and also now classes at the russian lang centre.

Also just found out F is adopted (she had a picture with Ned and a bunch of white & latin people in her room and I asked who they were and she said her parents & the neighbours), which means her life must have not been easy and should help me put things in perspecive (re my life being easy) but it sort of doesn’t.

Mary’s given me one book she says I’ll love and will take my mind off things but I think I’ll just give it back to her and say I loved it. The last thing I feel like right now is reading, you know?

Love,

Caroline

 

Date: 2 October 2016, 21:13
Subject: RE Checking up

Dear Lula,

Yeah, they are still NOT friends on facebook. Charlie’s friended Joana and Bet both, but L’s only added the DJ. Don’t want to say it but isn’t it odd?

Love,

Caroline

 

Date: 3 October 2016, 12:33
Subject: RE Checking up

Dear Lula,

What you say about L: Maybe. M agrees with you. But maybe not right now.

Will be happy to know yesterday I cooked something 100% by myself, took the recipe from a leaflet they gave us at freshers titled ‘student recipes’ (could’ve well said ‘recipes for dummies’), though neither F nor M wanted to try it (vegetarian and vegan respectively).

And Oh My God, have you seen the pictures on FB? The ones that Mayra’s posted? You’re only gonna be able to see those I’m tagged on I think, but if you check them out, I can tell you who everybody is: Obviously you saw M already in our selfie on insta, but here she’s the one with the purple velvet top (she’s in a lot of pictures, you’ll find), and F isn’t even in any of them. Joana is obviously the one in that picture with Charlie and me in the middle, with the ombre hair (she’s a lot prettier in person, to be fair). If you really want to, there’s one of Frank, Charlie’s classmate who also lives with them (he’s tagged, blue bomber, shaved head, tattoos?) and in the background you can see me with both Bet and L. I mean, you can barely see them, and she only from the back. But you get the idea. Did I tell you she told me to pronounce her name “like Bet, as in Bette Davis,” I mean, check yourself, right?

I LOVE your new R&B boots and I got so jealous when I saw them that I went to buy a pair (I mean, much much cheaper than yours since I got them in Zara, but well cute).

Love,

Caroline

PS: So while I was looking at the photos on FB and telling you about them I saw I had the longest message from Charlie, asking me to help him with Joana (obvs still no mention of what happened with L and B, not that I have talked to him about it). I really wish he’d forget about her, I know she’s pretty but she seems so clueless.

 

Date: 4 October 2016, 15:24
Subject: RE You’re the fittest

Dear Lula,

I know she’s fat, thank you. I said that to M and she said she isn’t, but if her arm is twice mine, what other word am I gonna use? Also yes, Ned is cute/fit. And thank you for your compliments, I also thought I looked rather good that night <3

About Charlie, I ended up calling him, and said that he should just ask J on a date already, but apparently L’s told him he doesn’t think she’s interested and now he’s lost confidence in himself. So, what we’ll do instead is that since we’re meeting every week for our Tandem task, I’ll ask her to come here and we’ll have dinner afterwards with M and F, and see if we can find out more about it.

I cooked again though this time was only pasta with an already-made sauce.

Lots and lots of love,

Caroline

 

Date: 5 October 2016, 14:28
Subject: Flat drama

Dear Lula,

Lately I am so self-absorbed that I forgot to tell you about Mary and Ned, and you have to read this. I don’t know how she hadn’t learned it sooner, but the fact is that Ned’s reading Religions and Theology, which puts M off a lot. She was absolutely weirded out and complaining about it, saying it’s not only impractical, but that, well, it means he’s probably quite devout, and then F said she didn’t see what the problem was, but said it so low that I don’t think M heard (I did, obviously). M went on and on and at one point F just left the room, though M didn’t think it had anything to do with her. I mean, I know they’re platonic, but for a moment I swear to god I thought F fancied N (and I was sort of happy we were on the same boat).

Anyway, M’s still not sure about Ned and that religions thing, and I think she’s ignoring him. I’ve heard her mobile ring a couple of times and nothing. I mean, she could silence it, right? I think she does enjoy the drama of it.

We’re going tonight to a pub at the northern quarter and will finally meet M’s brother. I think it’s where his bandmate/flatmate works and they sometimes play, let you know how it goes! We’re going with Mayra, hopefully it’ll be fun!

Love,

Caroline

PS: M said that the ending all sentences with a ? trick to make L answer me on FB hadn’t worked because it looks too much like I don’t know what I’m talking about. I told her it had worked for you and John! Not that it matters, now, but for future reference.

Chapter Text

 

It is nothing but the heat

 

When Mary saw him she just walked straight to him and hugged him hard with a laugh. Caroline was startled, she'd never greeted Charlie like that. Could not, in fact, remember hugging him since they were, what, ten and twelve? Apart from that, both the pub and the brother turned out to be a bit of a disappointment: the pub was dirty and dark and Henry Crawford wasn't in any way handsome—short, pale, downward tilted eyes—she would have even said that he was plain. Though it could be in contrast to Mary that he appeared so. Still, he seemed happy to finally meet them, her and Mayra, and with an arm still around his sister's shoulder, he smiled at both of them with all his teeth. He won Mayra over when he said:

“Honoured to make your acquaintance, ladies.”

And so from the beginning Henry introduced himself as the half gentleman half rascal he happened to be. And they all laughed, Caroline just half-faking it. Once they’d all been introduced, he pointed behind the counter towards his friend, flatmate and “voice to my words” (“the singer to his songs,” said Mary), and both Mayra and Caroline stopped breathing for a second. He was so handsome it hurt: lean and tall, with high cheeckbones, brown skin and thick lips. He approached them after taking care of the customers in front of him—only then they remembered to exhale.

“Hi guys.”

Mayra gave him her hand to shake over the bar, and instead he kissed it with a smile—they all laughed about it a good deal. But then Caroline could hardly do the same, could she? She just smiled and greeted him from afar. Ian, was his name. Caroline looked at Mary confused, and then to him she said: “I thought she said Will?” and regretted it in case she'd said something she shouldn't have. But he smiled and explained: “Yes, I'm that too. My last name's Willoughby. Ian, Will, it’s all the same.”

Before they realised it, they each had a beer in their hand—Caroline was sort of horrified to think they expected her to drink hers, but also glad that she had something to do with her hands. After that, Ian would continue to serve them all night, coming and going from the bar to the booth the four of them had settled in.

Still with the first beer, right after they sat, Henry asked her sister: “So, no vicar?” and she kicked him under the table with a “Shut up.” Mayra knew something about it but wanted to learn the details (“What happened, what happened?”), and laughed when they gave them to her. Yes, Ned was not only studying religions, but had said that religion was “a huge part of his life”. Caroline hadn't known that, and asked “So, is he like, a Catholic?” Mary explained it better: “Apparently he was, but he had a crisis of faith a few years back. He says he believes in God but cannot agree with any organised religion,” here Henry snickered “Tell me something new,” and Mary gave him a look. “Like, he wants to learn about other religions, and wants to learn to be critical and theoretical about his, before—” Henry looked at her unconvinced, inviting her to go on, but she didn’t until Mayra said “Before what?” and then she finished with: “Committing to any church.” They were all startled (Caroline, in fact, gasped out loud), but Mary quickly added “He’s not becoming a vicar!” although she was not completely, one hundred percent sure about that. What she meant really was that he hadn’t mentioned anything about becoming a clergyman, and she hadn’t wanted to ask him in case he said it was on the cards. After the odd silence, Mayra said “Well, I think it’s romantic.” So that when Ian got there he just heard the last words, not knowing what they were talking about but intrigued enough to look at Mayra intensely with his blue-green eyes. “What is?” Caroline also wanted to know: yes, exactly, what is? She just thought it was very impractical career-wise to become a vicar, to be honest, and almost as much to date one. But Mayra explained: “That guy Mary’s seeing, the way he’s so open about his feelings and stuff.” It was obvious that Ian wanted to agree with Mayra, but he could see in all their faces something was off: “His feelings about Mary?” In Caroline’s answer they got the biggest laugh of the night: “His feelings about Jesus Christ,” she said simply and not wrongly. All clear, Ian sat by Mayra's side, pushing her towards Caroline, and looked at Mary in front of him: “So, you're gonna date that guy?” Mayra's skin tickled a bit where it brushed with his, but he seemed too distracted by what Mary had to say to notice. Mary just said “No,” and Ian insisted “but he’s keen,” and she raised both her hands, giving up. “You should bring him here next time,” said Henry, and it sounded as if it wasn't the first time either. Ian agreed with a nod, looking at his friend knowingly, “yeah, yeah, we need to see him.” But then he got up and asked “More drinks?”. Caroline shook her head, her half-pint still there, and the Crawford siblings did too, they'd got their second pint already. Only Mayra said “Yes, please” and Caroline could have sworn she'd beaten her lashes.

Then there was only the four of them again, and it hadn't been a second yet that Mary said “What's that?” pointing to the ceiling and looking at her brother. Caroline didn't knew what she meant, but Mayra said “Is that The Libertines?” and Henry shook his head: “Trudy or something: derivative but alright.” Still no idea. Then he talked about their own upcoming gig, for an event at the Student Union in a couple of weeks. They had recorded some new songs and were looking forward to playing them with an audience. They'd be there, they all three swore.

Ian came back with a beer and said “On me” while he left it in front of Mayra, leaving before she had time to say anything. She acted nonchalantly after that, but Caroline noticed she started to play with the ends of her long wavy hair nervously. She also noticed her chocker, which she liked but couldn't see herself pulling off, and her short vintage-looking dress. Caroline was a very good dresser—dressing well was one of her strengths—but she managed to be over-dressed half the time. Mary had warned her that the pub would be shabby, and as they'd arrived she'd been happy to be wearing a simple outfit (skinny jeans and a cami top with ruffles, plus a cardigan), but now wondered if Ian would have given the free drink to her if it were she with the mini dress. Not that she liked him, but he looked like a Burberry model, and a girl wasn’t immune.

Henry told them anecdotes and silly stories of other times they had played in the pub, and how the last time they had participated in an event at the Union, the light had gone off and had messed up Ian's mic, so that his hair had raised like a porcupine's. It was an exaggeration, of course, but they laughed all the same. Caroline appreciated the incongruity in him: confident but self-deprecating, cerebral and silly. Yes, she could see his appeal. A look from him made you feel strangely interesting—and he looked at her with curiosity, that was true. What Caroline had no way of knowing was that, once she left for the loo, Henry looked at his sister and asked: “So, what's the deal with Caroline? Is she—smart?” Mary defended her “Oh, she's smart, just physically incapable of thinking outside the box. She speaks four languages, the bitch.” And then she'd added, with a tint of regret, “and her heart got broken recently, so sh,” and shushed at them both with her index finger on her lips.

When Caroline got back Henry was not sitting with them any more. She sat by Mayra's side, who was saying: “Now really, what do they sound like?”

“Hm, he likes to say their main influence's Radiohead.”

“But?”

“Well, they are obviously not there. And they do sound a bit more dirty. Unless with the slower songs, they sound a bit pop-y in those. But if you ever repeat that to him I will forever deny saying it.” They all laughed and looked at the boys.

“Does Henry write all the songs?” Caroline asked, because that was a question she felt safe making.

“Yes, though they make changes together. I think he never stops tweaking them.”

“Are they like, love songs?” She regretted saying it as soon as the words left her lips, but luckily they didn’t laugh at her.

“Not generally, though there's the occasional one.” Mary looked at Mayra knowingly before adding “Though even those are more about what a good lie that girl was and not how much he loved her.”

“Of course,” Mayra nodded. “Would you say—is he really a good singer?” and by He they understood she meant Ian.

“Yes, unfortunately.”

“What? Why?” they both asked simultaneously.

“That voice in that body? What do you think?”

A silence followed. Was it a warning for them, for Mayra, who looked ready to print his face on her top? More than a Burberry model, now in the context of the band, Caroline could see him as the next Zayn Malik. Oh, how she missed seeing Zayn in her wall everyday as soon as she woke up, but 1D posters weren’t something one brought to Uni, she suspected.

“I mean…” Mayra let the sentence fall before she even started it, and silence followed for a few seconds.

“Well, and where does the name Buveurs Désolés come from?” Asked Caroline, who was still waiting to see someone pronounce it right.

“It's form Rimbaud.”

“Oh, really?” Mayra's eyes had gone shiny again (Mary was saying “Henry chose it,” so that Mayra didn’t get any ideas), but then she looked at Caroline, as she'd just remembered there was something she wanted to ask her: “Do you really talk four languages?”

“Well, three fluently counting English,” no way she would admit she could also read a couple more, “I'm getting there with Russian.”

“Russian!” Mayra laughed, “if I were you, the first thing I'd do is pick up War and Peace in the original!”

Mary laughed and warned Caroline, as if she were telling her a secret: “She's a total freak. She’s doing English.”

But English is our language, she wanted to say. Instead: “To become a teacher?”

“Not really—I’m leaning more towards: person who gets paid for being a Brontë expert.”

“Heathcliff, it's me!” sang Mary out of the blue, with an extravagant face and gesture. Mayra laughed really hard and unexpectedly.

“Oh my god, yes!” And they sang together for a bit, raising their arms as if they were talking to the sky.

Caroline took her mobile and wrote, pretending it was a message to someone: War & peace, Brontë, Radiohead, Libertines, Trudy & something (?), Heathcliff, it's me, Cathy, come home, I'm so cold!

 

This had been the first time that Edmund had even thought about asking Frances to pick him up and not the opposite, but he’d really wanted to show her their house, and all in all, it was less than 10-minutes away—his house and her hall both being within the Victoria Park area. After that, they’d go to a tea shop he had been looking forward to taking her since his first year. She arrived exactly on time, as he’d expected, after having studied the directions on Google Maps for fifteen minutes—just in case her data failed her in the last minute. He opened the door with a ready-smile, and she wished, she really wished, he stopped doing that. Looking so happy to see her! Frances pushed the feeling deep deep down, with the rest of them. And she smiled too, if more demurely, and went in when he invited her to do so. Despite the fact their mothers liked to jokingly call each other sister—or maybe precisely because of that—Frances was glad they looked nothing alike and would never be accused of being blood-related. Ned was tall, and had a broad even if slim back, dark eyes and hair, and a thin long face. If he exercised more, he would look like an athlete, and if he spent more time outside, his naturally tanned skin would glow—instead, the hours in his room and in the library showed in the lack of muscles and pale, even if darker-than-British, skin. Frances, on the other hand, was short, slim—petite, in fact, was the world that described her best—had a round face and curly unruly brown hair that she struggled to restraint in a low buns or a braid. She went out even less than him due to her sickly disposition—her low pressure often resulted in migraines and her iron deficiency on permanent tiredness—but exposure to sunlight wouldn't have any affect on her naturally dark-brown skin anyway. It had been a struggle, sometimes, to look so different from her adoptive family, but it had also made it easier for her to recognise herself in her parents when she looked at the only picture she had of them, now tucked inside her wallet. Life with the Norris hadn’t been what she’d describe as happy, but it had been easy. And easy was all she’d wished, already at ten.

 

Unlike her, too, Ned lived in a house his father had bought the first time the Bertram’s eldest, Tom—already graduated—had moved to study in Manchester. Back then, when Tom was in his third year for the second time and Edmund in his first, they’d rented the two empty rooms to other students and Tom had kept the fee for himself. Now, with Ned’s sisters occupying the higher floor, there’d been only one empty room, and opposed as Ned was to renting it for his personal profit, he’d offered it free of charge—minus the wifi, which they all paid—to his best friend and classmate, who was now coming from the sofa to say Hi to Frances and ask for her health. If it weren't for him, Frances might have been able to move to the house with her long-time neighbours, but she didn't resent him this fact at all. After meeting Hal last year, Frances had made the mistake of believing she’d find friends as charming and genuinely kind as him, like Edmund had, but now the moment had come, and she had Mary and Caroline instead.

Ned’s sisters didn’t honour her with their presence, and Frances did not feel proud of being glad of it. Still, she asked about them and Ned informed her the music coming from upstairs was theirs:

“They’re getting ready for tonight. I know: three hours in advance.”

Hal sat on the sofa again to read (Frances was not a gossip, but she couldn’t help but notice that it was a comic book), and Ned showed her the kitchen and living room (skipped Hal’s room, of course), and his own room and study in the second floor. She realised that although part of her wished she’d been lucky enough to live with Edmund, part of her was also glad of being apart from them, and to have the opportunity to become someone other than the person they had assumed her to be: a wallflower, Edmund’s lapdog, a goody-two-shoes.

Before leaving, Ned yelled towards the stairs:

“Frances is here! We’re going out for tea!”

And, though nobody left their room, they did get a: “Hi Frances!! Bye guys!!” from Julia and a much less emphatic “Have fun!” from Mia.

In two minutes they were out of the door, walking towards the bus stop:

“So, how was your first day at the shop?”

“Very good. I mean, tiring. But good.”

“I think it’s such a fantastic idea that you do some volunteering. I hope you don’t work many hours, though, Uni work really has nothing to do with school work…”

“Oh no, of course. I’ve only signed up for ten hours a week.”

“Ten hours! That’s alright, not bad at all.” Ned had been volunteering last year at the food bank, and now was looking into some other opportunities. Frances had been quick to find a Barnardo’s shop in the city that was looking for an unpaid store assistant. “I’m proud of you, Franny.”

This would come back to her tonight in bed, trying and failing to fall asleep. Why did he say such things? She was so enthralled in the thought that they travelled for most of the bus drive in silence. Only once they had got off at the last stop and they started walking towards the tea shop did he start a new conversation.

“So, how’s it going at the flat…?”

“Well. Very well…”

“Yeah? It looked a bit chaotic last time I came.”

“Yes, you’re right. Caroline and Mary… they’re not the most organised people in the universe.” She smiled at him, jokingly. Caroline’s room was, in fact, as tidy and organised as a hotel’s, but it turned out her neatness did not translate to shared spaces. Mary’s was a crime scene.

He cleared his throat and she could see the question forming in his brain as well as if it were her own.

“So, what do you... think of Mary?”

Much more direct that she’d predicted, in fact, which meant that he was much involved than she’d suspected. That she might have, in fact, already lost him. Albeit temporarily.

“I like her very much.” There was something about her: Caroline was nicer and generally more proper, qualities she (and Ned) valued highly, but Mary had something that was difficult to describe. Something that drew you to her: somtimes Frances didn’t realise she’d been looking at her until Mary caught her staring. And it wasn’t only that she was so pretty, it was this energy she emitted. Something that commanded your attention and made you want to comand hers.

Anyway.

“Yes?” He looked relieved. “She’s quite charming, isn’t she?”

“Yes, and witty.”

“Yes.” That, he seemed not to appreciate as much. Or it reminded him of something else, “she does say things sometimes that…”

“I think she enjoys shocking people.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean: I believe she says worse than she thinks.”

He seemed to like that, but then he added:

“She drank quite a lot at the party.”

And that, she could not refute.

“Are they going out tonight as well?”

She shook her head: “Earlier, they were leaving right after me.”

“Really?”

“Yes, they’re going to the pub Mary’s brother works in. No, his friend works—I think he doesn’t work at all. Is that—are we in the Northern Quarter?”

“Yes, why?” He added quickly, pointing towards a building across the street: “See, that there’s the tea shop.”

“Oh, how exciting!” Frances smiled from the heart: she looked forward to a late afternoon tea with scones and Edmund.

“Was the pub nearby?”

Then she remembered: “Oh, yes, I think so.” And she saw it in his face, which looked now almost as her heart felt—bitterly disappointed: “Would you like to pop in and see if we find them?”

“Not now, not now. We came to have some tea, and they close in an hour.”

 

Mary’d received a message:

Hi, Frances and I are in a teashop in the NQ and she said you might be nearby.

And she asked the rest of them: “So, what do I tell him?” Ian and Mayra had agreed: Tell him to come, tell him to come. Henry’d had some qualms: he’s not gonna stay long, is he? He frankly sounded like a bore, and though he looked forward to meeting him, he didn’t necessarily feel like meeting him now. Caroline had said: Frances, to a pub? Maybe it’d feel a bit like having an ally, like at the party.

So they had invited them, and now Edmund was seating by Caroline’s side (so that he could look straight at Mary when they talked), and Frances by Henry’s (because it was the only spot left). Ian was still working, and when he’d asked them what they wanted to drink they hadn’t disappointed: sparkly water for him, tap for her. Henry’d asked for another beer.

Caroline could see perfectly well how awkward Frances was feeling, but she was more intrigued about the way the Crawfords looked at Ned. She could not see Ned’s eyes well, but she imagined how his gaze contorted from looking admiringly at her and reprovingly at him.

The boys conducted each a sort of two-way interrogation on each other:

“So you live in halls?”

“No, a house—”

“Shared house?”

“My father bought it.”

“Nice. We live in a flat here—so much noise I practically don’t get any sleep until the morning.”

“You don’t work?”

“He’s working with the band.” Mary said, still more protective of his brother than her maybe would-be boyfriend.

Mayra asked to be left out to go to the loo, and Caroline and Edmund got up to let her pass, both distractedly.

“And I’ve started going to the gym,” he joked. Mary laughed and Edmund smiled.

“Oh dear, I should do that too,” agreed Caroline.

“I hate the gym, nobody looks as ugly as they look in the gym,” Mary said, to which her flat-mate said what the rest of them were thinking: “You couldn’t look ugly even in a gym.”

“No: I meant the others.” They laughed, but then she added: “Seriously, I hate gyms. I’d like to play tennis or ride a bike, but don’t have either my racket nor my bike here.”

“Oh, I was gonna buy a new bike, I can give you the old one once I have it, if you want?”

“Really?” Mary could not kid herself: he was a prig, maybe, and a god-fearing Christian. But he was dreamy. His smile, his eyes, the way he bit his lips nervously before talking to her. And how serious he looked when he did not agree with something: too polite to say anything against it, but too honest to pretend he agreed in any way.

Caroline turned and saw Mayra had taken the opportunity to sit in one of the stools by the bar top. She was openly flirting, and Ian couldn’t have looked more pleased about it. Caroline took the chance to invite Frances to their side, as neither she nor Henry had said anything to each other other than Nice to meet you.

“So how was your first day of volunteering?” She asked her across Ned’s back once she changed seats.

“Well, very well.” Frances looked ill, now that she looked at her.

“Are you sure? You don’t look so well.”

Ned was pulled back to the real world and looked at his friend worryingly:

“Is there something wrong, Franny?”

Having all eyes on her, she felt compelled to say: “No.” But still, Edmund knew her well enough to know this only meant she didn’t want to become a nuisance. “Do you have a headache?”

“Just a little bit.” She was no liar and when asked directly could not help but to tell the truth.

“Oh, dear!” Mary regretted, having caught the way he’d called her Franny instead of the usual Frances.

What a pity, having just arrived a second ago! But they had to leave, they could not possibly stay if Franny did not feel well, and he could not send her home like this by herself. Caroline felt an unspoken weight on her shoulders, as if everyone were expecting her to offer herself to walk Frances home instead of Ned. She did certainly owe her for the party last week, but she didn’t want to leave yet.

“No: no, I’ll leave by myself.” This caused an uproar. “Not if you’re dizzy!” and “What if you faint?” were uttered, echoed by an incredulous “Faint?” from Henry. He certainly did not know her at all.

“It’s not so bad as all that, it’s just that the teashop was too hot.”

Henry offered to ask for a glass of wine for her: it would help with her blood pressure. But she refused, not even looking at him in the eye. She left by herself, and Ned was gloomy for as long as five minutes after she’d disappeared out of the pub.

It did Frances good. She wanted to be by herself, she didn’t want Edmund to comfort her right now—the source of her laments. She still remembered how happy he’d made her when he’d promised his old bike to her, barely a month ago, once he’d bought a new one.

“Frances, she’s the kindest person I’ve ever met,” promised Mary, both speaking her thoughts and hoping to ingratiate herself with Ned. It seemed to work in way of a smile, and they all agreed.

“And the best baker,” added Caroline, to which Mary asked: “Right? You reckon she could get on the Bake off?”

Chapter Text

From: Caroline Bingley <cbingley98@gmail.com>
To: Louisa Bingley <louisabingley@gmail.com>
Date: 6 October 2016, 18:12
Subject: RE My new house

Dear Lula,

How lovely! Dying to see it in person soon. When are you signing the contract?

The pub was quite fun, even though they’re not the crowd we usually go with, you know? All of them are hipster-ish. Well, not Frances or Ned, obviously. I didn’t tell you though, that they also came to the pub.

At first it was empty but then it got full and by when we left it was mad. I’m still hoping the new plan with L will work (and he still hasn’t added B on FB) but still, it was nice seeing there is indeed plenty of fish in the sea (3 guys I think in total tried to chat me up). The friend though? M’s brother’s friend/flat-mate? the band’s vocalist? So fit it was insane. But Mayra snitched him first, and by the end of the night they were kissing behind the bar, so, all very professional and hygienic. N and M were weird at first but as the night went on it got better and I don’t know, they sat together and talked a lot (no touching!).

I was definitely bored sometimes, but not too badly.

Also, Joana said yes and she’s coming for dinner on Wednesday.

I’m leaving as we’re gonna watch an episode of some series Mayra recommended to us in M’s room, and F’s made vegan muffins (so M can eat them).

Love,

Caroline xxxx

 

Date: 7 October 2016, 18:23
Subject: RE My new house

Oh yeah, I didn’t say anything about him did I? Henry was great. Like, at first I thought he wasn’t very handsome and he’s quite short (which Mary is also) but he is v witty and fun and dresses really well, and also knows how to pronounce French. I know: with N and M and then Mayra with Ian (the hot singer), but no, he didn’t try anything with me, not that I was interested. I expect M’s said something about Liam, like, I think they tell each other EVERYTHING. Also, at first it seemed like he and Ned wouldn’t get a long, but by the end of the night they were friends.

I didn’t post any photo on insta because I didn’t take any, no-one was taking them, so it felt weird to be the only one.

Also, do you like this song? I thought it was quite good!

Love,

Caroline

PS: The series was about a hot vicar, cheeky Mayra.

 

Date: 7 October 2016, 18:49
Subject: !!!

LULA,

I just talked to L on FB.

!!!!

He asked about me inviting Joana tomorrow and said he thinks Charlie’s setting himself up for a broken heart, since Joana’s leaving in little more than four months.

!!!!

I said I could not de-invite her now, and he agreed, but I said I thought he was right and would say so to Charlie.

!!!!

Do you get what that means?

I’m gonna do some reading for class now, hopefully I can concentrate.

Love,

Caroline

 

Date: 9 October 2016, 14:11
Subject: Charlie & Joana

So, it’s an hour until Joana comes and Charlie just calls and asks if he can come here and pretend he’s just casually checking in on me. I SWEAR. I’ve forbidden him to come ofc. Can you believe him?

I’ve walked myself into a trap though: on the one hand I’ve promised Charlie I’ll help him and will try to find out where she stands with him, on the other, I sort of said to L that I would try to stop Joana and Charlie from happening. M is of the opinion that they have to sort it out by themselves, Charlie and Joana I mean. She actually said (verbatim): “he just needs to shag her out of his system.”

Love,

Caroline

 

Date: 10 October 2016, 09:22
Subject: RE Charlie & Joana

Dearest Lula,

I just saw you liked the picture I posted on insta <3

It went well. We did our task and then I said, all casual, if she wanted to stay since it was Frances’ turn to cook (as if there were others) and we were all having dinner together. It took much convincing, like:

Me: You should stay.

J: Oh no, I don’t want to cause trouble.

Me: No trouble at all, we have more than enough food.

J: But I can’t, thank you.

Me: Oh, you’ve got plans?

J: No, I mean, I, sorry, you’re friends, and I…

Me: You don’t want to stay with us?

J: No! Of course I want to stay with us—you!

And then M started like: So why aren’t you staying?

And F: I did cook for four (she almost spoils it)

And J still was: But I feel bad…

At which point M went and said that in England it was considered rude to refuse an invitation to dinner when you were already in the house, and of course, she stayed.

F had made some really good risotto with only vegetables and we had some wine (minus F). I pretended Charlie hadn’t talked to me since the party and I asked her if they’d seen each other. Turns out they had once, accidentally (M kicked me under the table at that point), but they had just talked for the duration of the bus ride.

So, F just asked her how she liked the city and how was she getting along with English, bless her. I was trying to get her to say more things about Charlie, though I also mentioned in passing how well he gets along with L’s sister, as if to suggest future romance. M at first also talked generally but in the end went directly at it: So, did she have a boyfriend in Barcelona? (She doesn’t) Did she fancy anybody here? (She doesn’t know) What did she think of Charlie? (He is very nice and kind to her) Every time she asked something, J got nervous and had a sip of her drink, so poor thing was a bit drunk by the end of it.

Conclusion? The fact she blushed makes me think she does like Charlie (M agrees), but the girl is difficult to read, I swear. She didn’t want to giver herself away one way or the other. That, or she’s a total doormat.

She gave us each two kisses before she left (the Spanish way) and seemed less shy and happier. I felt bad letting her go by herself so tipsy, and since it was late we got her an uber. I mean, in all fairness, if it weren’t for the fact she’s from another country and that complicates things in the long-term, I think she and Charlie would make a nice couple. Although there’s also that awful friend of hers. At the end I said maybe we could do something again on the weekend and she had to go and say: Oh, I’ll tell Bet too.

Yeah, no.

Need to go to class, talk to you tonight on the phone?

Love,

Caroline

 

Date: 11 October 2016, 15:49
Subject: RE Charlie & Joana

Dear Lula,

I met with Charlie today at the union, told him all of it, word for word. I also told him what we talked about yesterday, how this is destined to fail and that he shouldn’t get too excited about it. Don’t think he listened, maybe you could talk to him?

Still, he was so happy and grateful that he invited me to the pub with them on Saturday. Them meaning LIAM. I’ll bring M with me, I guess, for moral support.

And you know how Joana told us they had met on the bus? Apparently they weren’t alone, L and Bet were there too. I don’t want to talk about this subject with Charlie, but managed to ask him if something had happened or if there was something going on between them and he had no idea what I was talking about, apparently he’d mentioned something about a double date to L and he’d gone mental, said he’d never date B.

Am I crazy? Maybe I imagined all of it?

Love,

Caroline

PD: Ned is here !!!

 

Date: 12 October 2016, 12:14
Subject: RE Charlie & Joana

Dear Lula,

Oh yes. So Ned came to pick up F yesterday to go get some tea, but F was at the shop where she volunteers and M said she could go instead. I know. They came back like four hours later and (sit down) he kissed her goodnighhhhhhhhht!! M said it was a tiny pecky kiss, but on the lips, so I say they’re dating—she’s not so sure, they haven’t got any date planned.

I’m done with classes today so I’m heading to Arndale to buy an outfit for tomorrow. I’ll send you pictures!

Love,

Caroline

PS: I think I’d definitely go for the minty green in the living room over the damask wallpaper, it reminds me too much of nan’s. Speaking of which, how was lunch with her last week? She gets bored of our talks after a minute and hangs up on me! Can you believe it?

 

Date: 12 October 2016, 21:31
Subject: RE Charlie & Joana

You know what I like most about living by myself? I can buy jaffa cakes whenever I want to and eat them all in one go and no one says anything about it.

Love,

Caroline

PD: Not that I have just now.

 

Chapter Text

The subject of your reverie

 

Mary hadn’t hesitated to tell Caroline better plans had come up, and that she would have to go by herself, or maybe bring Frances? The truth though was that she hadn’t admitted to anybody, and only tangentially to herself, how much she cared about the Ned Ordeal, as she had started to refer to it. The ordeal was of course how different they were and how doomed their little romance was: that, she had no problem talking about. The fact that it was, however, an Ordeal in capital letters, and that it should be mentioned always with a sigh, ultimately meant that she cared for him more than she would say. He was too serious for her, she could see how it could become boring, dating him, but right now it felt fresh; he was honest, beautifully honest, and strict, definitely too strict, but she didn’t see the need to worry about it yet. So, when a few hours ago, he’d written to her “would you like to go out for dinner today?” her pleasure had been endless. She’d smiled non-stop for at least twenty minutes and hadn’t been able to concentrate in the book she’d been reading. Ned was a reflective sort of person, but he was not generally shy. Once he’d decided on something, to act on it was the only right course—she was starting to see that. Part of her extracted some pleasure in the challenge ahead of her: to see if her influence on him would be able to thwart some of his more uptight tendencies. But she didn’t want to depend on it.

Afraid to spook him, she’d dressed more conservatively than if she’d gone to the pub with Caroline, but still less than she, who was going. When he’d rang the bell, it had been Frances who’d opened for him, Mary still going over her mascara, and she’d heard Ned trying to contain the excitement off his voice: Mary and I are going out to dinner, he’d said. She’d gone out of her room as if she hadn’t heard a thing: Oh, I thought I heard the door! They’d all said their goodbyes and have funs, and now Mary was walking by Ned’s side, a smile on both their faces. Ned suggested to walk to the restaurant (they hadn’t decided on one, but he knew the area he wanted to take her to), and when they’d been walking for a couple of minutes, he went ahead and held her hand. The moment their fingers interlaced, as if to distract the other of the fact, they both started talking. “I’ve just started this book” and “Were Frances and Caroline going out?” escaped simultaneously from their lips, as well as the consequent replies “Really? Which book?” and “Yes, with Caroline’s brother.” They laughed: Sorry, you first. Mary went first, but to explain her flatmates’ plan. Ned was intrigued: “What, Frances’ going to the pub?” And she: “No, of course not Frances.” He explained the way Frances was, though she’d already seen as much: It’s not that she’s shy, although she is, but that she derives no pleasure in superficial things or things people their own age do. Mary was adamant: “I adore her for it, she’s an original. I’d never met someone so” and for lack of a better word, she ended with “good.” Yes, he agreed. You know, she went on, “I’ve started to watch a series about a vicar.” “Frances said.” “I must say, I’m most reassured. It’s been illuminating, though I don’t know what’s the equivalent level of sinfulness to listening to jazz while drinking whisky in the twenty-first century.” He didn’t laugh, but he said tightly “I am not a vicar.” She lowered her tone of voice, still tinged though with a playful tone: “I’m joking, of course.” She held his hand tighter, and he smiled in return, looking back at her. “You know my sister says she knows you?” “What!” Mary was surprised, she didn’t think she’d heard the last name Bertram before. “Ballet summer school: can it be?” she said “What!” and “That was years ago!” She asked for his sister’s name again, and then: “Oh, dear! Mia, yes, of course. How I hated her,” and she laughed. He wasn’t surprised, Mia had said as much. They’d competed for the principal dancer position, but being much shorter and smaller, it had ended up going to Mary. He was more interested on what that said about her: “Do you still dance?” Mia had danced until she’d come to uni, quit only when she’d seen she wouldn’t make a career out. Mary remained quiet for a second, “No, not since my mother died.” That had been four years ago, she explained, so they really had only met as children: the only thing she remembered of Mia, who that summer had been fourteen to her thirteen years old, was how tall she was, and how she’d been the leader of a rather mean-girl clique. No, he wanted to know, but why did you stop? “I quit everything my mother had urged me to learn: ballet, piano, painting, I hated it all—though to be fair I was a terrible artist. And,” she added this more pensively “my father never came to the recitals or competitions, so I saw no point. I picked up piano again a couple of years ago, but not ballet.” He was quiet for a bit, and he was going to talk when she added facetiously, “I’m glad I didn’t get to develop the muscles though, so not attractive.” He was shut silent again. He was bothered by her apparent shallowness but could also not disagree, she hadn’t a single physical attribute he wished it looked differently. “Here’s the Italian restaurant I told you about,” he said instead, “and the Indian’s only a bit further away.” And before she could say anything: “I’ve checked both menus.” She was charmed by the way he remembered to make sure there’d be a vegan option, but of course, it had more to do with the fact he was used to do it for Frances.

 

Frances had been asked to the pub by Caroline, but since she was her back-up plan (she’d only asked her because Mary’d said no last minute, and when she’d asked her class-mate Lois, she’d said she had plans already), she didn’t feel obliged to say yes; not that she felt offended in any way for having been her third choice: it only made sense. She said no, however, No thank you, and couldn’t think of any other day she would’ve liked less to go out to a pub. To be honest, it was not a plan she would ever enjoy saying yes to, but she would consider it given the proper mood and the appropriate heads-up. She would probably need a whole week to prepare mentally about going out, at night, on a pub, on a Saturday. But today! It had to be she who opened the door for Edmund, who’d put something on his hair to make it shine (she liked it more when he did nothing to it) and was wearing a shirt under his sweater. She tried to look happy for him, as she could not really feel it, and despite what a bad actress she was, he had bought it. It was another of a list of hints he was missing: how could he not see how wrong Mary was for him? The other day they’d talked about their careers, she and Mary, who had believed Frances was training to become a doctor. She’d had to explain to her that what she was doing was learning to manage health, globally. She hadn’t decided what she’d do after, some of her classmates were aiming to become GPs. She tended more towards humanitarian work, of course, here in the UK, and the finish line was working for an NGO, though she wasn’t sure doing what yet. Mary’s situation was the opposite of hers, she had her next decade mapped out but was not enjoying her present classes at all. It was a necessary evil, is what she said. Had it always been her dream to become a lawyer? She’d laughed: No, not even close: I wanted to be first a witch and then a musician. But neither pays well, she’d said, or at least music doesn’t. Frances had pretended she hadn’t got the joke, even though Mary’d blinked ironically (she did everything ironically) as a cue for her to laugh. Frances questioned how could anyone do something they didn’t love only for money, and Mary’d said it was either that or marrying rich. Caroline had got home at this point and had agreed with Mary, even though she’d admitted to loving some part of what she was doing in class: “The only thing I know,” she’d said, “is that I expect to be wearing a skirt-suit by the age I’m thirty.” Mary’d said, “Make it a pant-suit and that makes us two.” Could Edmund be with someone who spoke so lightly of her future? And shouldn’t she be happier that he wasn’t, for what it meant in the long-term? She couldn’t, no: in the huge bag of emotions she was feeling these days happiness wasn’t one of them.

 

Caroline left late, afraid of getting there first and for people to think she had no friends. Imagine that! She’d rather stay at home than be in a pub by herself, thank you. Her ideal scenario included Charlie and Liam picking her up and then going together to a pub in the uni area, but all her hints had been ignored by Charlie, who was conveniently bad with subtlety. The actual plan included staying around their area, quite south from where she lived, and so it hadn’t even occurred to them to meet her half-way. She had texted Charlie to made sure they were in the pub when she got in the bus, so that when she got off, could ask her brother to come outside and wait for her by the door. He had. And now they went in together, the pub quite full, and in a style she appreciated a lot more than the one in the pub she’d been last week. Liam was there, and so were Frank and Ela. Now it was time to initiate the second phase of her plan: to be around Liam but to act as if she weren’t, as if she couldn’t care less. It was tricky, admittedly, to get his attention without being neither flattering nor opposing. Frances had simply suggested her to “be herself” and Caroline had known to do the opposite of that. She said hi to all of them and asked generally how they were doing. They all smiled, though none of them paid too much attention to her. Caroline went to get a drink for herself (she preferred it that way, nobody would now what she was dreaking and she would not be judged by her adolescent taste) and asked for rum and cola; she needed it more than wanted it. On her way back she sat by Ela’s and asked her if Mayra would be joining them: she wouldn’t, she was going out later with her flatmates. After a while, Frank and Charlie left to explore the pub and get more drinks, and seeing Liam looking at his mobile, Caroline spoke to Ela loud enough for him to hear: “You see, Ela, we’re not interesting enough, should we try talking about the last Leicester’s last game?” To her credit, Ela laughed, and Liam took the bait. “What would you say about it?” Caroline was not as helpless as one would think and was a pro at pretending to know what she was talking about—mostly because she had a lot of practice. “Well, despite everything, Mahrez did very well, didn’t he?” She hoped, though, that the conversation did not go further, as she would quickly run out of the information given in the 2-lines-long headline of the story-news in the free newspaper she’d read this morning. Quickly, she added: “So, how’s your sister?” and to Ela “Have you met her? She’s the sweetest thing ever.” Liam did finish writing his message, or whatever he was doing on his mobile (talking to his cousin Richard, was what he was doing), but then he pocketed it. Caroline couldn’t help but think she had never seen such a beautiful jaw. If she could only touch it once! But no, once was not enough, she wanted it to be hers or no-one else’s. He wasn’t even wearing his glasses today, which he always did, and she wondered if he wanted to impress someone or just was more comfortable that way. In any case, she was glad she could see his blue eyes undisturbed; they were meant to be seen. And the shirt he was wearing was not black, as it often was, but dark green, and wide, and overall hipster-er than usual. But he didn’t look either more or less handsome than any other day, because his looks were an objective determinate attribute. Ela had not met his sister, but she had met his cousin, she said. As Caroline had nothing to say on the matter, she ignored her comment, and waited for Liam to expand beyond a shrug on her sister’s well-being. She was well, everything was going well. Caroline asked if she had decided what to read in uni, and he said “No, not yet.” Frank and Charlie were back, and instead of getting a drink, they were saying, why don’t we go to the club? Caroline could not imagine Liam saying yes, but also: the lack of glasses, the shirt? She looked at Ela, who complained with an Already? But yes, she was in. Caroline was glad she’d dressed up (she would not make that mistake ever again, especially not when pretending to ignore while seducing Liam was on the agenda) with a mini-skirt and a crop top that exposed half her torso, meaning she’d been freezing on the way over with only a thin long coat over the outfit. She hadn’t been to a club in the city yet, and as they left to get the bus, Caroline believed for a second that life was good: here, at midnight, on the streets, Liam barely a few steps from her, sharing the same plan.

Chapter Text

From: Caroline Bingley <cbingley98@gmail.com>
To: Louisa Bingley <louisabingley@gmail.com>
Date: 14 October 2016, 13:02
Subject: Last night

Dear Lula,

How was yesterday? What did his family think of the house? I’m so happy I’ll be able to see it before you move in! I’ve just talked to mum and told her I’m coming this weekend for dad’s birthday. I’m SO looking forward to seeing you!

I don’t even know where to start telling you about yesterday. See, the pub was alright, I mean, L talked to me, not a lot but, say, more than to Ela? And Frank? And I managed v well not to look overeager. (I looked amazing in fact, have you seen my selfie on insta?) But then we went TO A CLUB. And, OF COURSE, because we’ve got the most self-centred brother in all of Britain, we went to the club he’d seen Joana mention on FB. What did I expect, right? Anyway, at first, I didn’t know that, and it was alright. The music wasn’t terrible, and though none of us danced and we just stood all there, we talked and drank and stuff. This one guy came on to me and L gave him like the deadliest side-eye ever, scaring him off. I thought I was gonna die from (happy) anxiety. At that point I still didn’t know Joana was coming, of course, nor Bet. So, after an hour or so of this (both Frank and Charlie met friends from uni every 5 seconds, and eventually Jamie, from Henry’s band, also joined us), we finally saw Joana with her Erasmus friends. Charlie went to say hi and talked to them for a bit, I didn’t at first, but eventually I had to go and say hello, and L did too. Then Ela and Bet talked, but L didn’t say anything else to her, nor she to him, and we both moved back to where we’d been first.

So, they had got off and had hated it, I deduced. Right?

That’s the good bit, the not talking to each other part. The bad bit is that even though they didn’t talk, L looked at her the entire night. While she was dancing, I mean. Not a great dancer, let me say, though she seemed to be having a great time and was laughing non-stop. At one point, L was standing with a drink in his hand, looking as if he wanted to kill someone, so I went there like I didn’t notice or care at all and, well, it went like this:

Me: I bet I can guess what you’re thinking.

L: I doubt it.

Me: You’re thinking we should’ve stayed in the pub, which was a lot classier and less noisy.

(I was throwing shade at B and her Erasmus friends, who were incredibly loud and annoying.)

L: No, nothing so bad.

Me: Well, you look grim.

L: Me? No, I was actually enjoying the views.

And then he stopped looking at me and looked, VERY DIRECTLY, at B.

Me (couldn’t help it): At Bet?

L (says nothing, which to me meant YES).

Me: That’s nice, you can have a double wedding with Charlie and Joana in the spring.

L (still saying nothing, still looking at B).

Me: So, what’ll you do, summers in Spain, winters in England?

L (finally looking at me): I do hope, for your own sake as well as mine, a look doesn’t equate a marriage proposal, or you better start refusing offers.

On the one hand I want to kill him, on the other hand, he sort of admitted that all the guys were looking at me.

Love,

Caroline

PD: Also, Frank? Can’t believe you find him hot. He’s got tattoos.  Mary says he’s a lady-killer, but I didn’t see him hit on anyone/even look at a girl all night, maybe he’s gay?

 

Date: 15 October 2016, 08:48
Subject: RE Last night

Dear Lula,

Your e-mail has made me laugh a lot. Even if John’s mother is the worst. I cannot imagine having her as my mother in law, how do you handle it? The house’s best feature is how far it is from his parents’.

Still, it took my mind off of how actually pretty tragic the whole thing with L is. M also oh my god-ed a lot when I told her what I had said and what he had said in return. And her date with Ned went v well, it turns out, and though they haven’t said the words it seems they are dating (yes, like exactly a month after starting school). Worst bit was that after dinner they came here and Frances almost caught them making out on the sofa (she didn’t, though), and so he left.

Re Charlie: 1) He still doesn’t know if he’s coming for dad’s birthday, but if he does, he says it’ll be Saturday! I suppose that means I’m taking the train, ugh. 2) Still nothing about Joana. The thing is though that she doesn’t look uninterested, you know? If I had a guy I didn’t like follow me around everywhere I’d be pretty upset, and she isn’t. On the one hand, that could mean she likes him (that’s how he interprets it, ofc), but, on the other, other than not asking him to leave her alone already, she doesn’t show any sign of actually liking him.

I’m going to class now xxxxx

Caroline

 

Date: 17 October 2016, 14:20
Subject: RE Last night

M just laughed at my face when I asked if Frank was gay. She said: That he doesn’t look at you all lusty doesn’t mean he doesn’t like women. I mean alright I guess.

 

Date: 18 October 2016, 16:33
Subject: À demain!

Dear Lula,

Sending you a pic of my new faux-fur coat, isn’t it lovely?!

This week’s been busy with work! Yesterday, as usual, I met with Joana and you know what I found out? I’m going on a date with them. Apparently at the club Charlie asked her if she wanted to go out on a “Date”, from what I gathered, and she was all like “Only us?” Which is like, of course only you two, silly goose, he said “date” didn’t he? Anyway, I’m guessing he panicked and said “No, Caroline too” and then she said “Oh, like a double date?” and now I’m on a double date with L. He doesn’t know yet.

I know I should be quite happy but I’m not, because I sort of know how much convincing it will take on Charlie’s part for L to agree to the plan. If he does.

Anyways, if it’s happening at all it’s happening next week, and since next Saturday is Mary’s brother’s gig and I want to be there, it’ll be on a school day.

See you tomorrow!!!!

Love xxxxx

Caroline

PS: Heading to the hairdresser’s now, my light blonde is starting to look plain blonde!

 

Date: 22 October 2016, 15:24
Subject: Miss you already

Dearest and prettiest Lula,

So sorry we left in such a rush yesterday and had to cancel brunch plans, I was dreading another train ride, so I was happy to get back with Charlie, and you know he doesn’t plan on advance.

I already told you, but I must reaffirm myself: J’adore your new house. Especially the doors to the garden and the garden itself, it’s the most beautiful thing. And so much light! I can’t believe you’ve already got such a beautiful house AND a fiancé. I am so jealous of you.

Remember when M wrote to me on Saturday about meeting Ned’s sisters? Well, she told me all about it yesterday. Apparently he lives here with them, and turns out M’d met one of them as a kid and hated her (I don’t think they liked each other now either), and they went out with them but also Henry, and I’m not sure what happened but one of the sisters (the one who M hadn’t met as a child) seems to fancy Henry even though Henry seems more interested in the one M had had met. A soap opera, I swear. Why’s everybody’s love-life working out so well except mine?

Love,

Caroline

PS: To further prove my point: Yesterday, M, F, Mayra & I went to Elizabeth Gaskell’s house, do you know her? She’s a Victorian author and ofc Mayra’s obsessed with her (also F I think). It was fun, though I didn’t care much for the house itself. Well, turns out Mayra’s been dating the hot bartender (Ian Willoughby) since that day at the pub. And she told us all about him, esp the fact his parents (never together, married to other people) are sort of famous and magazine-cover fit, since she’s a retired runaway model and him a reggae musician.

 

Date: 23 October 2016, 12:06
Subject: RE Miss you already

Lula,

I don’t know how or why but the double date is ON. OH MY GOD. It’s happening on Thursday. We’re going to THE THEATRE. That’s in TWO DAYS.

Caroline xxxxxxx

 

Date: 24 October 2016, 19:32
Subject: RE So what are you gonna wear?

Dear Lula,

I do miss stealing some of your clothes. I’d love to have your blue dress for tomorrow. Instead I bought a burgundy dress (not a night dress but prim, maybe like a work dress—if your job’s being married to Prince William ofc), though it’s the new coat that makes the look. I went to Arndale’s with Lois (pink michael kors classmate) after writing to you yesterday.

I forgot to ask what play it is. So tomorrow even if I get home very late (which I guess I won’t) I promise to write about it.

Love,

Caroline

 

Date: 25 October 2016, 22:47
Subject: RE So what are you gonna wear?

Dear Lula,

I know I promised, but I really do not feel like writing right now, I’ll do it tomorrow. I’m not sad, I think I’ve resigned myself to the truth. I’m not going to marry Liam.

The whole thing was awkward for the four of us, I think. I mean, when Charlie and Joana were by themselves, they looked alright, but even Charlie and L seemed to have had a row.

We saw An Ideal Husband, by the way.

Love you lots xx

Caroline

 

Date: 26 October 2016, 14:14
Subject: RE So what are you gonna wear?

Dear Lula,

I do not think you’re right, but you’re a dear for saying it. I have talked to both Charlie & Liam now and have new info.

Turns out they had had a row, it started before the play, and continued after Joana and I left. Apparently, L mentioned that it had been an actual month since the party, and it was painfully obvious to everyone except Charlie that Joana was not interested in him. So that’s why Charlie was grumpy, even if he was extra-charming to her, as if to prove L wrong. In fact, when I met them, they were all standing there in silence, and only Joana was smiling (poor dear!). And maybe L was sort of grumpy as well because Charlie had not taken his advice well? Well, he barely spoke to me all night. I joked that they should’ve gone with Bet instead of me, so that at least he’d have something to look at, but he didn’t find it funny (me neither).

So, they continued to argue after we left. L made the point about long-distance relationships again, saying that even if she fancied him, it made no sense to start a relationship with someone who was leaving so soon and had already spent a quarter of her time here, especially considering how sensitive Charlie is about these things. He said it’d be different if he were looking for a fling, but that it was a mistake to try to date Joana because it would only break his heart. Charlie said he couldn’t know that beforehand and that who was he to give advice on relationships (fair enough). So, this is Charlie’s account of what happened.

But I did speak with L on FB. Just this morning I was staring at his name on my screen and thinking about talking to him, when he did first. He sort of apologised, said he’d been nurturing a headache and was in ill humour last night and sorry if he was a boring companion. Which, like, boring I could have tolerated, you know?

And then, the last straw, the icing on the cake, something Charlie told me about L (though not realising of the magnitude of it, ofc). You’ll have to sit down for this Lula. Ready? L has sent a friend request to Bet on FB but she has ignored it. That’s why they’re not friends there.

Later today’s the BD gig. I don’t feel like going at all, but maybe it’s what I need?

Love,

Caroline

PS: I posted my selfie on the theatre on insta and the three of them have liked it. And I’m the one that’s phony.

Chapter Text

 

The present always occupies you in such scenes—does it?

 

It was so crowded, Caroline doubted they’d met anybody, and she was secretly glad. There was music coming from the stage, but it was not the music they’d come to listen to, there was Mary at her left side and Frances at her right, there was a bad smell part sweat part humidity part alcohol, there was a ton of people. She’d had a dream last night, a very strange and embarrassing dream she hadn’t mentioned to anyone. It had been about Liam, it had been about Liam meeting her on the street and asking her forgiveness and saying that it was such a pity that things had turned out this way, because he was in love with Bet now, but he’d been all the years prior in love with her, and he’d said “Shame our timing sucked”, and Caroline said it hadn’t sucked at all, because she’d fancied him since they’d first met, even though technically she’d had a boyfriend at the time and then another one for some four months, and what was he talking about and maybe it wasn’t too late, but he said No, it definitely was too late, and then his face changed, as faces do in dreams, and he became Ian, Mayra’s boyfriend, who did not look like him at all, was less handsome, but still she knew him to be Ian, and he was suddenly saying to her “maybe it takes two years, maybe fifty, but love will find you, dear” and Caroline, wanting to appear nonchalant, said “yeah, I can wait fifty years. I can wait fifty-two, even. Not fifty-three, though, that’d be barbaric”, and everybody had shook their heads at her wise words, and then Mary appeared out of nowhere and said, Well, it’s been fifty years now, Caroline, you can finally date whoever you want, and Caroline said “you mean ‘whomever’”, and then someone she didn’t know but everybody said was Hal, Ned’s house-mate who she hadn’t met yet, had put his arm over her shoulders and said, “it’s been worth the wait, my love” and kissed her, and Caroline had woken up with an intense feeling in her chest that she’d never felt before, which more than love, although it had been that too, it had felt like the relief of finally having found the meaning of everything, finally understanding what she was doing, and she had been to the point of tears in waking up and realising the epiphany was gone, none of it had been real, and nothing meant anything. That was the place Caroline’s head was at right now: all sense of logic gone, self-pity at full power. She also felt inevitably a weird attachment to someone she hadn’t met yet, and who in her dream had been black, but that in reality she knew to be Korean. She had no fifty years to spare, she didn’t even have two. Part of her hoped that this Hal guy turned out to be handsome, single and not gay, a trifecta she didn’t felt lucky enough to bet on. Part of her couldn’t stop thinking about Liam Darcy however much she tried. Still, she’d find out today, if they finally managed to meet everyone they were supposed to meet.

 

Mary had ironed her dark hair and cut the irregular bits to make it look more like a wig (Caroline had called her mad), had drawn an exaggerated but beautiful black line under and over her eyes, over some blue eye-shadow, and had asked Caroline help on gluing some fake lashes. It was unofficially Halloween, and Mary, still wearing a normal outfit as per Mary’s standards (had borrowed Caroline’s crop-top from last time but had paired it up with a long golden pleated skirt, plus a black faux-leather jacket), was Cleopatra. It couldn’t have been any other way. Frances had passed on the suggestion to dress up as anything and was going instead as Casual Frances (which included jeans, a first since they’d met her), and Caroline had only one whimsy element in her, which was a cat-eared headband from Poundland. Ned had wanted to come to their halls and pick them up, but his sisters had still been getting ready and he’d finally agreed to go with them and meet Mary and Frances (and, incidentally Caroline) at Uni. Charlie had said to Caroline they’d meet there, as the whole of their flat (did that include Liam? Who knew?) would also be there to support Frank. Caroline didn’t know anything about Joana and hadn’t asked either. Mayra was there already, Where were they? She was sending texts to Mary and asking them to meet outside.

And so Mary, holding Frances hand as if afraid she’d get lost otherwise, led them through the still-manageable crowd, opening the way for them. Outside, by the grass, were all the smokers. And they hadn’t even walked ten steps that Mayra found them, and then she started yelling behind her, and all the Bertrams appeared as well. They all hied and hiyaed each other, shier than one would have expected. “Oh, Caroline, you don’t know them, do you?” had said Mary, and Ned had intervened, not before giving his girlfriend the most adoring look Frances had ever witnessed on Ned’s face (Caroline was familiar with it, just surprised to see it in someone who was not Charlie). “Yes, that’s Caroline, and these are Julia,” Julia looked a lot like Ned, though shorter, and had a cute long bob that had probably taken her two hours to style, “Mia,” Mia was tall, and she looked like someone that ought to be famous should look like—not pretty, like Mary, who was petite and feminine despite how much she tried not to be—Mia was simply intimidating and, to top it all, she was wearing a floor-length black dress, black eye-shadow and dark-purple lipstick. Caroline wasn’t able to hold her gaze (was she a goth?) at all before turning to: “Hal, our house-mate”, who turned out to be as tall as her (that had been a concern: it was a struggle, to be 5’9” tall and a girl) and, honestly, nice, though obviously not half as handsome as Liam. They all nodded and shook their heads, and asked about the band: They haven’t started, yet, no. Mayra said they were backstage, getting ready, and wouldn’t be coming out for forty minutes or more. So it was decided that they’d wait there, and groups were formed quickly. Ned approached Frances and asked about her and her volunteering and her society, but when Mary said, “Would anyone like to get a drink?” Ned forgot to wait for Frances’ response and went to her side. To be fair, Mary looked as infatuated with him as he did with her, and the only ones who didn’t observe the exchange with a half-smile in their face were Frances, who was looking at her feet to hide the burning sensation in her eyes, and Mia, focused on her mobile. Mayra approached Caroline, saving her from starting a conversation with her new acquaintances (good), and started talking unprompted: Oh my god, you went to see An Ideal Husband, right? How was it? I also wanna go. Maybe Ian… No, no, I don’t know what we are, we’re not labelling ourselves as anything yet but… And what about you? Didn’t you like that Liam guy? And how is Russian going? Have you listened to the band yet? After a while, Caroline caught her rhythm and started enjoying herself, even if it took a bit of an effort: No, how would I? Don’t tell me they’re on Spotify! Had no idea, looked for them on YouTube but… No, of course. And Liam? Oh nothing, I didn’t even like him that much.

Frances was still looking at her feet, and Julia and Hal were laughing about something. Mia texted like a maniac while smoking a cigarette. Ned and Mary were visible again in the distance and they were kissing: not indecently, just short kisses and side-hugs. Before they got there, Hal took the chance to approach Frances, who was by herself, and asked generally: “So, honestly, is that band good or what?”, to which Frances, a bit relieved, shrugged. Mayra pretended to be offended, with a “They’re marvellous, alright?” counteracted with a “What is she gonna say, she’s sleeping with the front-man,” from Mia. Mayra blushed, but she still laughed. “So, no-one else has listened to them,” concluded Hal, who had a tiny bit of an accent, if you were intent on noticing it. “Wait,” Caroline started, fake-confused, “I thought we’d just come to see if they looked hot.” They all laughed. “Is your brother coming as well?” asked Mayra, and Caroline pretended not care either way: “Yeah, I think so.” Mary and Ned came back, and it turned out they were sharing a pint—still, they offered a sip to anyone who was interested. No-one even answered, Frances much too shocked, but Mia, who snickered “Yes, that’s what that beer needs, a third person’s spit.” Mary attacked her with a “What are you dressed up as anyway?” and Mia had to open her hand, careful not to drop her cigarette, to show them a fake set of plastic teeth she was holding: she was going as a vampire. Not a goth, then. Ned returned to Frances side, Caroline thought about approaching Hal but felt she lacked either courage or real interest in him, probably both. Mary joined Mayra and Caroline and they talked about their favourite songs from the band: Mayra had listened to one of the new ones and Mary hadn’t, and she was appalled by that fact. “Actually,” Julia said, “I have heard it too.” Yes, they’d gone to band practice the day before. Right, that’s what Mary had said, that Julia was interested in Henry. Was it mutual then? It hadn’t been half an hour of that, that Mayra was already nervous, asking them to get inside and find a spot near the stage. They agreed, eager for a change of scenery.

 

The first band was still playing, so they didn’t get too close. Caroline thought she saw Charlie and pretended she hadn’t. Approached Frances, linked her arm with hers. Mary noticed and looked at her significantly: “Have you seen him?” Him was Liam, of course. Caroline shook her head and focused on smiling more. By the time the band got on the stage, she had already found them with her eyes. They were a couple of rows behind them, Charlie and Liam.

They weren’t speaking to each other yet unless strictly necessary. Their house-mates Ela and Edward were between them, talking over the identifiable and unidentifiable noises. They hadn’t seen Caroline’s group in front of them, and neither had anyone of Caroline’s group seen them, or the Deshmukh sisters would have said hi to each other. It was only Caroline, then, who was aware of that unwelcome proximity. She hoped to get over Liam soon, but was afraid that she would never do as long as she kept seeing him and he kept being so fit. He’d gone back to his dark shirt, but wasn’t wearing glasses: it was weird, now that her own lenses were not as pink-coloured as they’d used to be, she could see that, despite his eyes being more noticeable like this, his face did look different, his nose too straight, maybe. Who would’ve thought that glasses had made him look less serious? Or perhaps it was only that he was in a bad mood: he had a two maybe one-day stubble that didn't do him any favours. Focus, Caroline.

Charlie couldn’t see his sister because he couldn’t look away from his phone. He was tired of people taking him for a fool and had decided that today would be the day. It hurt more because he trusted Liam’s advise and considered him to be wiser than him, despite what he’d said about him not knowing anything about relationships. It hurt, also, because he was afraid Liam was right. But it was different, with Joana, first, because he knew she liked him (though he was unsure of the extent to which she did), and second, because he had never liked a girl as much as he liked her. It was cheesy to admit it, but he knew it had been love at first sight, which did not stop to grow the more he knew her. And today he’d asked her to come to the gig, and to make sure he wouldn’t back down at the last minute, he’d told her he needed to ask her something. So yes, today was the day, if Joana ever got there.

 

Then, several things happened at once: The Buveurs Désolés walked on stage; Charlie received a message from Joana, saying she’d just got there and was outside the door; and Liam caught Caroline looking at him before she had time to look away.

They got a big applause, they looked too dashing for anything less than some whistling and yelling. The four of them, different-sized smiles in their faces, crossed the stage towards their respective positions: Jamie, in his green cap and the tiniest of smiles, they could barely have seen, though, quickly hidden in the back of the drum-set; Frank in his punkest gear (suspenders and all) walked determinately to the bass and hung it from his shoulder with a sort of menacing smile: just wait and see; Ian jumped suddenly to the front and centre of the stage, eager for the attention, with a smirk more than a smile, and a leather jacket over a white tee; only Henry, in a loose patterned shirt and black jeans, took his time to walk to his spot, and then hold the guitar and strap it around himself as if he had all the time in the world, his smile the most relaxed one: he did everything deliberately, fake-casual or casual-casual, who was to know. Caroline focused all her attention on them, Mayra held her breath, and Mary looked at Ned to see how he reacted. Ian introduced the band simply, all-natural sex-appeal, and gave a sign to Jamie to set the rhythm with the drum only after running a hand through his short top afro. His voice, as soon as he started to sign, turned out to be much smoother and melodic that anyone would have guessed. So, Mary had been right: a deadly combination. You could also hear Henry on the chorus, and it was also a nice surprise: too low a register for a main singer, maybe, but the perfect amount of sexy for a backup. She wasn’t sure at first, but soon Frances realised she hadn’t expected to like the song but did. Caroline was looking forward, but it would be a mistake to think she heard anything that went through her ears.

Charlie went outside, walking against the current, he left for the door at the opposite side of the stage. It took him a few minutes to find Joanna, who was standing by Bet’s side, looking nervously around them. When their eyes met, they both realised what was gonna happen next. They three, in fact, as Bet also happened to have eyes. She approached Charlie and said: “Where is Ela?” He told her: “Mid way to the stage, towards the right,” and she left. Joana and Charlie, they were left by themselves. Finally. Finally! He approached her with sweaty hands and smiled and said Hi. “You alright?” Everyone kept asking her that, here in Manchester, did she not look alright? “Yes. Of course. You?” He didn’t hear the question, but not for lack of interest: he couldn’t take his eyes of her. She got shy and started looking around them, at her hands, his shoulders, everything. Neither of them had dressed up as anything, though Charlie didn’t tend to pass up the opportunity to wear a costume. “Can we…” Realising his voice did not carry, he took her hand (warning her with a look) and walked her a few steps further away from the crowd. She stepped on him and apologised, red like a tomato. He was embarrassed too, but he laughed: “It’s fine.” And then he went on to declare his admiration for her: “I wanted to talk to you after the show, but I was so nervous, I thought: Better get it done.” Another person would’ve found this admission less than romantic, but not Joana, who was discretely wiping his sweat off her hand with her jacket. With a nod, she urged him to go on. “I… I know you’re leaving in a few months, but I’d still like to go out with you. I mean—I like you, a lot, as I’m sure you’ve realised, and, do you think we could like, date?” Charlie had felt his face burn before saying it, but now that he had, he felt a lot better; better than ever. Just the fact that he was admitting he liked her a lot and was asking her to date officially, instead of just kissing her or assuming they’d be dating if he asked her to go out a couple of times more, made Joana happy. He was that rare breed of romantic men that some films would have you believe was the rule in England. “Yes!” And the enthusiasm in which that one-syllable word was uttered told Charlie much more than Liam could’ve ever heard. He laughed, she laughed, and then he kissed her lightly, holding her cheeks with his hands, and she kissed him back eagerly.

Fitzwilliam had seen Caroline, and by the way she looked away he realised he’d wronged yet another person. He would have to admit, sooner rather than later, than Charlie was right, that he was not the best at reading people, and that he’d have to make a conscious effort to not make people angry for reasons he couldn’t even start to comprehend. But no, he was aware he hadn’t behaved very well at the theatre. Up until that point he believed his behaviour to have been irreproachable, despite hints to the opposite (why wasn’t Bet accepting his friend request?), but he would have to admit that he hadn’t been fair to either Charlie, Caroline or Joana. He didn’t really know if Joana returned Charlie’s feelings or if Charlie would end up with a broken heart, but he couldn’t help but worry at his naiveté and to be protective of him. His intentions were not at fault, only his methods, right? And Caroline? He’d talked about it with his cousin at Cambridge, who one day after reading the comments she’d left Fitzwilliam on Facebook (some of them more blatant than others), had taken to ask him from time to time “how were things with his number one fan.” Lately, more seriously, he’d warned him that he might be leading her on, and Fitzwilliam had believed him mad. But he must have had, now he realised, just by accepting to go on that double date. Even if he'd only done it because Charlie had begged so incessantly. So, to do: Maybe talk to Caroline, apologise for the night at the theatre, while making it clear he was not interested in her romantically; talk to Charlie once he could find him, and, hopefully, talk to Bet and try to bring the conversation to similar territory than the night at the party. Sometimes he thought about that kiss and wondered if he’d imagined it. Was he being a hypocrite? Trying to dissuade Charlie from dating Joana, while he kept thinking about Bet, who would also be leaving soon? He was. But ah, the band, now that he listened to them, they were a lot better than they’d been at that gig last year, though they hadn’t had Jamie then. No, they weren’t bad at all.

 

They had this gift not every new band has, which is that each song sounded different from the one they’d just played, even if they shared a few similarities. And although they were all too cryptic for anyone who’d only heard them that night for the first time to have any idea what they were about, they were also accessible enough for some people to hum them on their way home. Caroline thought they could have done with more ballads, Frances, that it all would have come together better if they had rehearsed more, as they had sounded too raucous to her ears. Neither offered their opinion to the rest, and instead they all lauded the absent band, sort of surprised that they had been good. And despite what Mary had said that day at the pub, it was Henry who attracted the most glances: the less handsome of the four he might have been, but he was the most charismatic, the better dressed, and the most obviously musically gifted. Even though the ones who knew more about music and could hear the difference between a good and a great beat knew to appreciate Jamie, silent and in the back, but never less than perfect. Who was he? Jamie Fashanu, everybody! They’d be glad to know he was bookable as a DJ—but not as much as him: He needed the money.

That was the last of it for the night, unless they decided to go somewhere else. People scattered, left the building and the room became gradually empty. As they were waiting for the members of the band, they waited for them there. Fitzwilliam considered approaching Caroline, waited for a second to be dissuaded by external circumstances, and when he wasn’t, went to her side. She was not expecting him and blushed red against her wishes when she saw him so close. And he’d come to her: Caroline could count with the fingers of one hand the amount of times he’d done that, and she would still have fingers left. “Hey,” he said, and she blushed more. Why did he have to be so handsome? Mary saw them and winked at her, which Caroline hoped Liam hadn’t noticed. She would have still fallen for him if he hadn’t been so fit (maybe), but the fact he was made it harder for her to get over him. She just said “Hi,” trying to regain some composure. “Everything alright? They were good, weren’t they?” Was he rambling? Caroline couldn’t say. She just nodded, and he took it as her being mad. “About yesterday: I wanted to apologise...” Trying to get to her sister Ela, Mayra pushed Liam towards Caroline. He avoided any contact, to her dismay, but inevitably looked back to see what had happened and who’d been. Instead, he saw Bet, right behind him and looking at them both. He could not help but say: “Hi.” All the nonsense about his handsomeness left Caroline’s brain, and she remembered who she was (Caroline Bingley!) and what she’d come to do (get over Liam Darcy!). “Oh,” Bet said, “hi.” Caroline hadn’t even had time to answer her that Liam asked: “Where’s Charlie?” Liam only had eyes for her, and she supposed she should’ve been glad he’d had time to apologise to her before Bet had got to them. Why did the three of them seem to always work themselves into conversations no-one wanted to be a part of? “With Joana. I guess.” She made a gesture, as to indicate that they were not there with them. Bet didn’t want anything more than to leave, but she should at least say bye to Ela. “What, together?” Caroline couldn’t help but ask, and Bet looked at her with what she would’ve sworn was hate. “Yes, I guess we can say the double date was a success.” There was no way for her to know what that date had really meant for Caroline and Liam, and so she was not being mean on purpose. “Yes.” Liam said, and she answered quickly, as she’d already known what she wanted to say: “And I who thought that double dates were an antidote to love.” Liam said something, Caroline guessed, about him believing the opposite, but she didn’t hear. Not because she couldn’t, but because she wouldn’t. She turned around, noticing quickly that neither of them had realised, and went towards Mary.

 

Mary went with Caroline to the loo, she could see she was not well, and because she was, exceedingly, didn’t mind sharing some of her happiness with her. Unexpectedly, though, her friend looked composed and far from on the verge of tears. When she tried to hug her, Caroline shrugged her off: “Henry’s amazing, Mary, now I see why the Bertram sisters fight over him.” She laughed, had no idea if they were fighting over him or him over them, but it was the first thing that had come out of her mouth. Mary accepted the change of topic. “Yeah, I don’t know, I heard Hal say something about Mia being out of the question, but I’m not sure he likes Julia.” It suddenly dawned on Caroline: “And Frances?” Mary frowned: What? Frances and Henry? “I mean: Where is she?” That made more sense. “She was there, with Ned and Hal and the others!” And added “But they were amazing, honestly, the best show I’ve seen them perform.” “Yeah, I mean, they could really become famous or something.” They smiled at each other. “So: Do you have to pee or not? Because I have to.”

 

At the green room, they all changed into clean clothes and dried their sweat in a towel they passed around. They congratulated each other, but also admitted their mistakes: “Yeah, I repeated a whole section,” “I totally forgot a line,” “Yes you did,” “What was that thing you did, Jamie? That was amazing, wasn’t it?” “It was!” “Did you think I was going too fast in ‘Blackout’?” “Of course you were, you always are.” Ian got out first, knowing a pair of honey-coloured adoring eyes would be expecting him outside, and dying to burn the remaining adrenaline in more pleasurable activities. Henry considered washing his hair on the sink, but didn’t, just tried to dry it off with the towel. His black curls were too pretty to just fall wet on his forehead. “You should’ve come to rehearsals yesterday.” He said it candidly, but Frank was annoyed anyway. “I know I know, I told you Thursdays were no-good for me, though.” Henry sighted and left, after one last look on the mirror. Only after they’d heard the door closing after Henry, did Frank allow himself to smile at Jamie, beaming.

When Henry got to the arena it was empty but for his friends, and they were all laughing and talking over each other. Mary, who was laughing a lot at something someone had said, disentangled herself from Ned and Frances to come and kiss him quickly on the cheek. He saw all eyes on him, except Ian’s and Mayra’s, who were standing apart from the rest and were whispering into each other’s ears. (Ela, Edward, Bet and Liam had left a bit earlier.) He considered them all: Ned, who he hadn’t planned on liking but like him he did; Caroline, distracted and just looking at him because everyone else was; Mia, with a knowing half smile; and Julia, with her cheeks blushed. Hal and Frances, he didn’t even register.

Chapter Text

From: Caroline Bingley <cbingley98@gmail.com>
To: Louisa Bingley <louisabingley@gmail.com>
Date: 28 October 2016, 12:28
Subject: RE A present for you

Dear Lula,

Thank you, that cat video would’ve cheered anyone up <3

Haven’t talked to Charlie yet, but judging by his FB wall, he seems more than well. Friday, after I got home, I realised I had a couple of missed calls from Joana, did I tell you? Anyway, if you’re curious, Mayra’s posted photos from that night, the ones from the gig and from the club they went afterwards (so glad I didn’t).

Send me a picture of the room as soon as they finish painting it please! Dying to see it.

Love,

Caroline

PD: Also, I bought half of topshop online

 

Date: 30 October 2016, 11:14
Subject: RE Are you alive?

Dear Lula,

Sorry! I just woke up. I got up for class but I wasn’t feeling very well and decided to stay in bed. Don’t worry, I’m NOT being morose, I truly have a terrible stomachache.

If I feel better later, I’ll go to Russian. I’ll let you know if I’m around to talk!

Love,

Caroline

 

Date: 30 October 2016, 19:42
Subject: RE Are you alive?

Oh my god Lula, Charlie just came see me to announce he is now officially dating Joana and that I can officially refer to her as “his girlfriend” (he did say “officially” twice). Because I have nothing better to do, obvs. He asked me not to make things awkward for her when I see her tomorrow for tandem. Told him not to worry. What was he expecting I’d do, though? Talk to her about Charlie’s long list of conquests as practice for Spanish? Sorry, I mean: Sobre la larga lista de conquistas de Charlie: Zoe, Mel, Jalila, Abigail… And what was that girl from Brum called, do you remember?

Didn’t ask about you know who, but I think they’re best friends again.

Love,

Caroline

 

Date: 31 October 2016, 13:12
Subject: So, what do you think

Dear Lula,

The clothes got here, I guess I was feeling overconfident when I bought them. I’ll have to return at least one dress and one see-through shirt. I’m sending you a picture of another dress I’m not sure about: I like it, but it doesn’t look very me, does it?

Meeting Joana in a bit, let you know how it goes.

Love,

Caroline

PS: Mel was the short one. Cannot believe you forgot her ugly fringe, it gave us a laugh.

 

Date: 1 November 2016, 14:12
Subject: RE Caro????

Dear Lula,

I’m actually alright, I realised FB was making me unhappy, so I haven’t been using my mobile as much and was reading that book M lent me like a month ago.

M’s trying to convince me to get Tinder, but I’m not sure. I asked her about Hal (literally the only single guy I know?) and she said we should ask Frances, but the conversation went like this:

M: So, Frances, tell us about Hal.

F: What about him?

M: Is he nice? Is he single?

F: He’s very nice.

M: And is he single?

F: I think so.

M: Give us details, hun.

F: He likes to read?

Tandem with Joana was alright, I obviously didn’t mention anything about Charlie’s tendency to fall in love with one girl per month, and her English has got a bit better, or at least more fluent. She did mention it was lovely to be dating him (she blushed) but that it was a shame that his best friend and her best friend seemed to “not like at all” (I think she was trying to get around the word “hate”). Didn’t tell her it wasn’t mutual but was tempted.

Love,

Caroline

 

Date: 2 November 2016, 18:42
Subject: RE Caro????

Sorry sorry sorry, I forgot again! Yes, I love how it looks. I’m dying to see the living room now! I think going white was the right decision for the bedroom, absolutely.

I also keep forgetting about attaching the picture of that topshop dress I am not sure is very me, I’m attaching it now so you see it, even though I’ve decided to keep it. Unless you hate it ofc.

And I know he’s not literally the only single guy, but really: L is obviously out of the question, Ned’s with M (they are a lovely couple and he does spent half his free time in our lounge), Ian’s with Mayra (they’re sort of annoying) and though M can’t confirm what they are, Henry did get off with Julia at the club they went after the gig, and she’s posted two selfies with him on insta with heart-eyed emojis. Though he hasn’t commented on them but has commented & liked my last pic (he’s a laugh). I guess there’s Frank? But he’s got tattoos all over his arms.

Anyways, I don’t have plans for this weekend, but I’m about to finish that book I told you about and M said apparently there’s also a series and the guy is the fittest? So, we’re going to watch it together in her room tonight.

Love xxxx

Caroline

PD: You’re the best sister in the universe

 

Date: 3 November 2016, 00:33
Subject: HEY SASSENACH

OH MY GOD LULA YOU HAVE TO WATCH THIS SHOW!!! I AM IN LOVE!!! We just watched three episodes in a row

 

Date: 3 November 2016, 14:46
Subject: RE HEY SASSENACH

Dear Lula,

Cannot even imagine what you must’ve thought when you got my email. I’m laughing so hard. M has pushed back her date with Ned so we have time to watch an episode as soon as F gets back from the shop. As you can see, it’s not only me.

I got so hyped I’ve downloaded Tinder. I mean, I haven’t opened it.

Glad to hear Charlie doesn’t answer your messages either, at least I know it’s not personal.

Oh, you know what, why don’t I call you on the phone right now? Let me know if it’s alright.

Love,

Caroline

PD: Such a shame you didn’t like the dress! I ended up keeping it anyway…

 

Date: 6 November 2016, 16:28
Subject: Nothing new

Dear Lula,

So how did John’s birthday go? Did he like the watch? Did that girl from his work show up? Tell me everything.

I’ve got nothing new to tell you, but I know you worry, so here.

I did go out on Saturday, but only to get something to eat with Frances. After that we just stayed in our rooms. I honestly felt like spending the night reading the second book of the series, but I want to wait till we’re caught up with the first, so I just stayed in bed with my mobile.

M and Ned had a date and afterwards they went with the others to Ian’s pub. I think M didn’t want me to feel like I’d missed out, so she said it was a bit boring. Talked to Mayra yesterday, though. Said it’s her birthday this Thursday, so they’re planning on having a big party at the Bertram’s on Saturday. She also said Julia stayed the night at the flat (Henry and Ian’s flat, where Mayra spends half her time), so I guess she and Henry are happening.

I told the girls about Mayra’s party, but F said it’s impossible since the Bertrams have it absolutely forbidden to throw parties there (apparently their father knows the neighbours or something) and that Ned won’t go along with it. M didn’t look too convinced.

Love,

Caroline

 

Date: 7 November 2016, 10:47
Subject: Charlie

I just saw L from afar, he was leaving the library. We almost crossed paths but then I sort of hid behind a bush. What is wrong with me? And since I couldn’t tell Lois the truth, I said instead I had lost an earring and we spent ten minutes looking for it.

We did find a pound though.

Caroline

 

Date: 7 November 2016, 19:12
Subject: RE Charlie

Dear Lula,

Oh my god, get that:

So I’ve just opened Tinder for the first time, right? We are on the sofa with F waiting for M to get here so we can watch another episode, and I’m bored and thinking of (Scottish) abs. So, right, I open Tinder and start going through the guys, and they’re all awful and so I’m swiping left. And then guess who

 

Date: 7 November 2016, 19:28
Subject: RE Charlie

SORRY, M got here and I hit send accidentally and then I couldn’t write to you because she was talking (she’s changing now). Anyways, it was Henry, you know, Henry Crawford, Mary's brother. I couldn’t help it, I’ve showed F and she’s GASPED like the cook from Downton Abbey, seriously. I don’t know if I should tell M, like: is he cheating on Julia? Should I tell her? F is outraged, and I don’t even think she likes her. Or him.

Talk later xxxxxxxxxxxx

Caroline

 

Date: 8 November 2016, 14:49
Subject: RE Charlie

Dear Lula,

I know, I got wrapped up on the drama and haven’t answered a proper email for a few days now. It seems like I’m living vicariously through the lives of other people and get excited over nothing.

So, in order:

  • I told M about Henry (couldn’t help it), she said they're not in a serious relationship and why shouldn't he be on bloody Grindr if he feels like it. I’m sure she’s right.
  • Met with Joana yesterday, and you know what? She DOES look in love. Like, bright eyes and all. When she left, I said to M: Maybe she’s not gonna need me anymore, since she practices with Charlie now, and in typical M fashion, she said: You betcha they practice, and then, Oh, you meant English? and laughed maniacally.
  • The party is ON. I think Ned managed his sisters to compromise and they’re going to keep the guest list under two digits to minimise the damage. F is not coming, and I think she might be cross with him.

I think that is all for now.

Today’s Mayra’s actual birthday and us girls will have afternoon tea in a cute place in the NQ.

Love,

Caroline

 

Date: 9 November 2016, 17:11
Subject: RE Charlie

Dear Lula,

Because you asked, I think we will be: Mayra and her flatmate (who we haven’t met yet). Ian and Henry. Mia, Julia, Ned (the Bertrams), Hal, Mary and me. And of course, Ela (Mayra’s sister, you know she’s on Biochem with Liam?) and I think Frank’s coming too. So, I guess there’ll be two single guys! A battle to the death. I’m gonna be wearing the new dress. Not the hipster-ish, the bardot one. I’m quite thrilled.

Love xxxx

Caroline

Chapter Text

 

It was more pleasant than prudent

 

Half hour past the official meet up time, they were all there except from Ian Willoughby, generally known as Will. Mayra was in her apron, cutting carrots and pretending that she didn’t care her boyfriend—they’d put a label on it, in the end—was late. The rest were all there, with only one new addition to the group: a pretty girl that introduced herself as Bel to all present before anyone had a chance to ask. To replace Frank, who had bailed at the last minute—as was his style—Ela had invited another one of her flatmates, who they had all met already: her best friend Edward, and a great addition to any party, in her humble and possibly controversial opinion.

Caroline stood by a cupboard, legs crossed and hands on her back—she didn’t know what to do with them at all, but she couldn’t bear to drink any alcohol right now. Mia was on the sofa, in a look that made her outfit at the concert an obvious costume: No dark makeup, no floor-length dress, just skinny jeans and long red nails. Henry was sitting with her and they were rather too scrunched together, for a guy who had something with the girl in question’s sister. “But have you texted him?” Ned asked, sitting in one of the chairs, in direct line of sight of Mary, at the other side of Henry. “Will? Yes,” Henry answered, forgetting what Mia was saying to him (he liked Ned quite a lot) “hasn’t read it yet, though…” Mary had known Ian longer than any of them, except for Henry, and couldn’t say she was surprised. If anything, she was more surprised at the fact he had made it as a decent boyfriend that long (one month and some days, Mayra was saying earlier). The truth was that she wouldn’t, in a million years, have imagined Ian being in a stable relationship—and it wasn’t so much his loyalty that she questioned, although that too, but his ability to focus in someone other than himself: he was the flakiest, more egotistical person she’d ever met. Hell, if he weren’t, she wouldn’t have turned him down last year after that BD gig. Although the fact he shared a flat with Henry had also weighted down on her decision. And they had still snogged, but that wasn’t something she was gonna share with any of her present company (Caroline, yes, she liked a good gossip: she would tell her on their way home tonight—if she didn’t spend the night here with Ned as she hoped). Anyway: Ian Willoughby was still not there. Hal was; Hal, who later that night explained to Caroline that he got the nickname via Shakespeare, because practically nobody, when he was little and went home to Seoul every summer, pronounced “Henry” the way the English did, and his mother, who was a fan of the Henriad—much on the vein of a cultured socialite—came up with this shortened and much more phonetically-friendly version for him: Hal. He’d liked it a lot and kept it, saying that one-syllable names and last-names (Hal Tae, was his) were very trendy in his home country. At this, Caroline explained (although he obviously knew, of course he knew) that in Britain the opposite was true: the longer your lastname, the fancier you were. But that was later, at the moment Hal was sitting in a chair too, drinking beer, and feeling guilty for not helping in the kitchen, though the Deshmukh sisters had turned his help down twice, and so he now offered hospitality in other ways he could think of: “Sure you don’t want to sit?” he asked Caroline and Bel, both of them standing up. Bel took it as if he were talking exclusively to her, and smiled and nodded “Yeah, you’re right” and sat on the other sofa, by Edward’s side. Edward had had no idea she’d existed until a few minutes ago, but Bel had been hearing about him through Mayra (Mayra didn’t understand what Ela saw in him, he was a total nerd), and was curious. So finally, when Julia, who was setting the table, offered her a glass of water, Caroline said yes and sat with Hal and Ned. “Now: he’s read it!” said Henry, referring to the text he’d sent Ian. They celebrated with a unanimous “Wo!”, until he quickly added, “aaand he’s disconnected again.”

 

By the time Ian got there the scene had changed quite a lot, starting with the fact that they were all over 0 in the drunkenness scale to 10 (some, like Caroline, Julia, or Edward, were closer to 0, whereas others, like Mia, Mayra or Mary, were closer to 10). After dinner, they had mostly stayed in their chairs around the table, only Mary and Ned having moved to the sofa, all entangled limbs—Mia and Julia were repulsed but also fascinated to see their brother so amorous, they wouldn’t have recognised him in a million years. For the past while, they had been each discussing, in sort of incoherent sentences and same-side arguments, their most amazing holidays abroad (Mary: South Africa is the most beautiful country on earth, Ned: that’s because you haven’t been to Mexico) and had afterwards moved to Brexit, only Caroline and Mayra not having been old enough yet to vote, and all the rest having voted Stay. You could easily presume some of them had lied about it out of embarrassement, but then they all had started retracing their ancestry and only Caroline and Edward were as boring as to have all four of their grandparents be White British. Through all this, Henry (descendant of Greek gods—his words) had been flirting with Bel (daughter of Pakistani immigrants) and making her laugh, and of course Bel had proved to have the most tinkling laugh there had ever been, one of these crystalline laughs you saw described in books but did not actually believe existed until you heard them with your own ears, and even then you were sure it was practised, fake. Julia (half-British half-Mexican) had been suspicious of them, but every time she’d directed her attention to Henry or had asked him something, he’d been nothing but attentive and charming to her—it was torture, really. Julia, then, had sought refuge in Hal, who was always kind to her but had at the moment other things in mind—Hal had been, in fact, selflessly trying to cheer Mayra up with the help of Caroline, and because he was actually funny it was working rather well. Mayra had almost forgotten she hated her marble-carved high-cheekboned god-like boyfriend until he rang the bell and they all started yelling like savages. When Mayra suggested “Let’s pretend we’ve left and there’s nobody here!” they all laughed because the idea was preposterous: they were being too loud. In the end, it was Mia who got up and opened the door for him: “Congratulations, mate, you’re only two hours late.” She didn’t know him that well, but she knew the type. Ian had a bouquet of flowers with him, because of course he did. They all yelled more, the girls giggled, and Henry took it as a sign to turn the volume of the music up. In ten minutes, Mayra had forgiven Ian and was sitting on his lap while he finished the leftover meatless lasagne and the chocolate birthday cake. He’d offered his apologises and a thousand of sweet words but not, Caroline recalled later, an explanation.

Mia wanted to dance, so they moved the table and the chairs to one side. Mary dragged Caroline to her side on the sofa to ask her, not as inconspicuously as she believed, what she thought of Hal. Caroline said half the truth: “He’s cute” and kept the other half to herself: “He’s not Liam”. But then they both got up and danced, and Julia joined them too, as Henry took charge of the playlist and Hal offered Ned another beer, sitting by his side on the couch. Ela made her excuses and left a bit before midnight with Edward, after having shared a very-tight hug with Mayra (who immediately afterwards went back to sit on her boyfriend).

 

Frances was sulking at home. It was different from the other nights she’d stayed at home while the others were outside doing things because this time she was mad at Ned, and she couldn’t even remember the last time she’d been, if ever. She could not believe he had not only allowed, but helped throw a party in his house, disobeying his father’s rules without much second-thought. It was especially egregious because it had been an explicit order his father had given him, after the disastrous party Tom had thrown there, well before their time, and the enormous trouble they had got in with the neighbours and (even) the firemen. Frances knew about it because Ned had told her, of course, jokingly: Not throwing parties? That’s a rule that’ll be easy to follow. And then, after only some days of dating Mary, he’d gone and broke it. It was not the party itself that bothered her, it was the trust he’d broken, such an un-Ned thing to do. She knew it wasn’t fair, but she blamed Mary. Frances had tried to talk him out of it, even if less emphatically than she’d planned in her head, and he’d excused it saying it was not a house party, but a dinner party: Just a dozen people having a meal. Nothing out of the ordinary, really, because where do you set the limit? would you consider a dinner of four a party? And of six? Then, what was a dozen? And in this perilous train of thought she’d recognised Mary’s logic all too well. Why would you try to change a person, if you loved them? And why would you let yourself be changed? The only good thing about being angry at Ned was that it threw her mind off how sad she was. The feeling deep down in her chest was so awful, she felt lonelier that she’d felt in years. But no, she was not crying in bed a Saturday night with Middlemarch in her hands and a brew on the bedside table, that was for sure.

She was reading the same paragraph for the third time when her mobile started ringing. Startled at the sound—who called at this hour?—she got even more anxious when she identified the caller: Mr Bertram. She could tell he was infuriated, but he knew her well enough (not much, but enough) to make sure to keep that anger from filtering into his words. “What is this, have you any idea what is happening?” He’d been calling Ned for twenty minutes with no response. The neighbours had complained to him and would call the police if the noise didn’t stop soon. He’d hung up before Frances had had any chance to say anything, but still, she would have agreed to all of it. She got out of bed quickly and put on her jacket, but she was about to tie her shoes when she decided she was not in such a hurry that she couldn’t change into her jeans before leaving the house. Still, it only took her two minutes to leave the building, her head full of Edmund. All her anger had suddenly left her and there was only worry for him left: she still wished the best for him. Somehow, she managed to get there in under five minutes, but it was only after ringing the bell that she realised what she’d done. Fuelled by adrenaline and anxiety, she was interrupting a party in her flannel flower-patterned shirt and her untied hair all curled up around her face; she wrapped her jacket tightly around her bust and tried to unsuccessfully flatten her hair with her hands. At the other side, it was Julia who came through and opened the door for her. She didn’t have time to say anything before Frances blurted: “Where is Edmund?” Julia let her in, not used to the commanding tone in her voice and not questioning her presence. “What’s wrong, Frances?” The rest of them saw her come in and both Mary and Caroline ran to her side: “Are you alright?” Fraught in the middle of the living room, Frances looked everywhere without moving, not comprehending why Ned wasn’t there. Finally, after Hal turned down the music and Mia complained about it and turned it up again, Frances talked: “Your father called, he said the neighbours complained, they’re calling the police”. You could tell from everybody’s expression that they were expecting something far worse: that someone had got into an accident, that someone had attacked her. They all relaxed a bit, but still understood that something had to be done. Mayra and Mia complained loudly, but finally agreed to turn off the music. Ian soothed Mayra into a hug, and she ended up laughing instead of crying. Julia started cleaning everything, though in a completely impractical manner, probably more out of stress than any desire to clean up. Still, the rest started helping her at least get rid of the bigger mess, putting the chairs and table back where they belonged. Frances, when she finally reacted, when she realised that, after all, they had understood the urgency of her message, decided to look for Edmund. She wouldn’t have done it if Mary had been missing too (she was the least interested in walking in on them, especially after having come close to it once already), but she was here, filling a bin bag with trash while singing a bit too-drunkenly to the song she’d interrupted. She, Frances, climbed the stairs to the first floor, her face in a grimace. She didn’t have a chance to look before she saw them, so it was not that she was not careful and followed the suspicious noises, no, she just saw them because they were in the middle of the upstairs corridor: this girl that she didn’t know and could barely see and Henry, who she could recognise as much for his profile as for the act itself. They were just kissing, but it was not just a kiss. Frances stumbled back towards the stairs, feeling tainted just for having witnessed it, but it was too late, she’d been spotted. Henry said: “Frances?” (she would’ve sworn he didn’t even know her name) the same time Edmund did, at the bottom of the stairs: “Frances?” It was towards the latter that she ran: “Edmund!” And told him about his father’s call, so fast and incoherently that if he understood it was only because he’d just talked to him himself, from Hal’s room. Frances felt instantly better, even if a flash of what she’d just seen crossed her mind very very quickly—the exact same act and embrace, but with her and Edmund, instead of Henry Crawford and that girl—and then vanished, leaving her hot and confused. Blushing, she followed Edmund to the living room. His calm demeanour was much more effective than her nervous gesturing, and they all (maybe not Mia) contributed to cleaning everything out, at least superficially. When Ian exclaimed that “A party is not a party without the impending doom of police arrival” it made all of them laugh, and although they had turned the noise down a few calibres, Ned didn’t settle for anything else than putting an end to the night (But it’s barely 1 am, Ned).

This that should’ve happened organically through decisions that would have been explained by the hour and the alcohol levels in their blood was now forced out in the open: Where each stayed, who left with whom. If Mary had even considered staying here with Ned, her plan was clearly thwarted when he claimed he would walk them home (he meant the three of them, of course: Frances, Mary and Caroline). Ian and Mayra were a done deal, and quickly left together for the bus to the city centre to get to his flat, whereas the Bertram girls and Hal stayed were they were, their house. In an unprecedented act of chivalry, and despite Julia’s attempts to make him stay, Henry opted to walk the girls with Ned, and included Bel, who was also in one of the University Halls, in the group. This was not all. In their way to the halls, Ned had his arm around Frances, and Henry, the last of the line, followed Caroline and did the same with her, even if from a safe distance: “Did you have fun, Caroline?” “Of course,” she was always eager to please when she wanted to belong to a group, a person, and so she said it without thinking. But it was true, she realised: She’d had fun with a group of friends! Her group of friends! The thought made her happy. She remembered to add “Don’t think as much as you, though” and then, because she was quite good about noticing these things, she raised her eyebrows and gestured slightly towards Bel, walking by Mary’s side in front of them. She hoped she hadn’t imagined the chemistry between the two. “Oh, don’t be cheeky” his tone was fake-offended, and Caroline laughed loudly. “Me? You’ve got a nerve, you, you—turnip!”, he laughed too, “Turnip! I like this one, I’m gonna keep it.” Mary and Bel turned around to look at them, see what had made them laugh, and Caroline beamed. The truth was, she had never had a guy friend. At least not since puberty hit, of course, but since then never without an ulterior motive (usually from their part, not hers). She liked the feeling of being made to laugh and making a guy laugh knowing that he had no romantic interest in her, nor she in him (like, at all). She would have never thought it, but she did: it was refreshing. On the other hand, Mary had always had as many guy as girl friends, especially in high school, which always tried to get the worst of girls, pitted them against each other in a fight for something they mostly didn’t even want. This was exactly the sort of behaviour she believed she’d identified in Bel, and the reason why she didn’t like her one half. Or she wouldn’t, if she cared, but she didn’t. Henry could take care of himself. Bel was trying to get personal, asking her things, and Mary, who couldn’t be bothered, just glared at Ned and Frances in front of them. Until she could not help it and interrupted them. They weren’t saying anything anyway. Which was exactly why Frances was so extremely happy, she would have her know. This was the Ned she knew! This was her Edmund! The one that didn’t need to say the thing to know you knew the thing. He was embarrassed and was thankful to her, he loved her and was worried for her. He didn’t say it, but she knew. She had smiled at him warmly and he’d understood that she’d understood it. Words, what were words! Their mere use was a sign of a lack of understanding. They were not enough for Edmund and her, they were too much! Despite not having been at the party nor having drunk anything (ever), Frances felt dizzy, weightless, bright, as if she’d had an epiphany. Which was also why part of her didn’t mind Mary interrupting them and returning her to the real world. “I’m really sorry things turned out like this.” Mary extended her arm and wrapped it around Frances waist, who felt herself forgive her a little bit.

Bel took the chance to take off, turning left when they turned right, and thanking them all for having had her tonight, which had been so much fun. Henry let go of Caroline more quickly than you said Bingley, though he was sure to wink his goodbye to her, and he followed the new girl unapologetically. “I’ll walk you there”, he said loudly, as a way of explanation to the others, and when he got to her side she said, “You’ll only walk me there, though.” He couldn’t tell if she was being serious of not: “Of course.” He took a last look back at them (he’d left Caroline by herself, now, and she looked rather pretty in the moonlight) and waved them goodbye.

 

Caroline and Frances got inside first, and each got to their room in silence. It took almost fifteen minutes for Caroline to have all her face cleaned up and her pyjamas on, and still she hadn’t heard Mary come in. She knocked on Frances’ door and got inside before hearing a response, Frances now wearing the trousers that went with her flannel shirt: “Were you asleep when he called? What a scare, to be honest!” Frances confessed she’d been reading, and she was about to continue doing so now. “You were gonna read now, at almost 2 am?” she laughed, Why Frances, you’re a full of surprises. “It helps me sleep, even if it’s 4 am I need to read a few pages. Although I don’t think I’m on the right mindset right now.” “Of course you’re not,” Caroline agreed, “what you need is a dose of abs, Jacobites, and rebellion!” Frances laughed merrily, not un-happy despite everything, and Caroline detected the faintest shadow of a blush on her cheeks. When Mary got in ten minutes later, she found Frances’ room’s door kept open by her chair, and Caroline and Frances ready to press play on their next episode. She didn’t think it twice, she only kicked her sandals off her feet and sat down between the two of them in her high-waisted ripped jeans (which she unbuttoned) and a full face of make-up—except for the lipstick, of course: no trace of it any more.

 

In bed, later that night: Caroline’d had a good night, and happiness lingered about her while she thought of the party and the good friends she’d made here. And then, without even realising how, darker thoughts started to invade her. What was wrong with her? Why was it just assumed that all boys saw her as just a friend? She didn’t like Henry, at all, but why hadn’t he tried to seduce her, as he’d tried with everyone else? Oh, she’d noticed, she’d noticed alright. He’d tried with everyone except for herself and Frances, and you could barely count Frances. And what about Ian? He hadn’t even looked at her that way. Nor Ned, nor Frank. In a wave of fury and self-affirmation, and with as much pity as hatred for herself, she got her mobile from her night-stand and opened her dating app. Unless it was a picture taken in a bathroom mirror, she swiped right: This chubby pasty boy in a hat, right! this long-haired one skating, right! This one in a fake-posh party with a girl in his arm, right! And then, suddenly, there was Hal, right there on her phone screen, with a picture that was not embarrassing (he was hiking, but his face was unhindered from the usual stuff in these pictures: sun, sunglasses, hats) and a one-sentence bio (“Student at UM, would like to meet new people”).

Chapter Text

 

From: Caroline Bingley <cbingley98@gmail.com>
To: Louisa Bingley <louisabingley@gmail.com>
Date: 12 November 2016, 20:23
Subject: RE Charlie

Dearest Lula,

Yesterday I totally forgot to tell you but turns out Mary would be in line to the Greek throne if they hadn’t abolished the monarchy like in the 60s or so. Like, she’d be the 50th or something, but still. That’s why Henry can rent a flat on the NQ without having to work at all, they’ve got their mum’s inheritance. Cannot believe I’m friends with the aristocracy.

Even though, it’s v tragic. Their mum died in a car accident and since then Henry hasn’t talked to their dad, who remarried just a few months after to his mistress (Mary did use the word “mistress”, all very aristocracy-y). Mary does talk to him but says this Christmas will spend it with their aunt. Also, she won’t be getting her inheritance until she finishes uni, so I guess it’s her dad who’s paying for all her clothes now.

I know we’re sort of rich and all, but I feel so uninteresting. Like with Ian and his hot amazing parents? Even if they both kicked him out of their respective homes, which is sort of why he dropped out of uni. Mayra thinks it’s very romantic, the way he has to work at the pub until he makes it as a musician, but only because she thinks he’ll make it, and big, and soon.

Not that I’d want to have to work.

Love,

C

 

Date: 13 November 2016, 19:32
Subject: Trouble in paradise

Dear Lula,

Will not believe this, Mary and Ned got into a fight. He said he regretted having the party, she said nobody had forced him and also, nothing bad happened after all so what was the big deal, and he got mad. Well, I don’t think he actually got mad-mad, like I was in my room and could hear her through the adjoining walls (though not the actual words) but not him.

To give them a bit of privacy (truly) I left my room and then at that same moment he left hers as well and we met at the corridor, and before closing the door he looked inside at were Mary was and said (very seriously): See you tomorrow.

And she didn’t say ANYTHING back.

But a bit after he’d left the flat, Mary came out and found me in the kitchen and started venting: he’s so self-righteous, so inflexible. He blamed Mary for not taking things seriously. What things, though?

I know what he means, just don’t think he was right this instance.

Frances didn’t come out of the room at all.

On another note, I’ve started talking to some guy on Tinder. He looks alright. Not super-funny but who’s looking for funny anyway.

Love xxxxx

Caroline

 

Date: 13 November 2016, 20:45
Subject: RE Trouble in paradise

UGH NO

Who said anything about meeting anyone?!

Not yet anyway.

(Despite of the fun you make of me, lots of) Love,

Caroline

 

Date: 15 November 2016, 23:11
Subject: RE Trouble in paradise

Dear Lula,

We just finished the first series, I am so in love. Cannot believe John doesn’t want to watch it, I swear it is not “for girls”. Has a lot of politics and fighting and the girl is also naked, if that counts for something? And he makes you watch football all the time.

I borrowed the second book and will start it tomorrow.

Love xxxx,

Caroline,

 

Date: 17 November 2016, 16:32
Subject: RE Trouble in paradise

Dear Lula,

Anyways, nothing much has happened since we talked. Mary and Ned are still not talking (which means they haven’t broken up either), I’m still talking to that guy Elton on Tinder, though he is a bit insistent on meeting already in person (!!!) and today we’re going to Ian’s pub. Ned’s said he was coming on the FB group, and Mary is obviously going, so we’ll she how it goes.

Oh, Frances and Mary finally talked about it though. Obviously Frances is siding with Ned, but because she’s so mild about it Mary hasn’t even realised. Still, I think Frances was a bit shocked to see that Mary was having a hard time with this, I suspect she thought Mary wasn’t really into Ned.

Let you know how it goes, though I think it’s going to be an uneventful one.

Eternal love,

Caroline

 

Date: 18 November 2016, 14:44
Subject: So last night was last night?

Dear Lula,

Last night was v fun, actually. It turns out today’s Henry’s birthday (Scorpio, I know) and he didn’t want to celebrate it or anything (says he’s too old because he’s turning 22) but obviously Mary wasn’t gonna let it pass, despite her current situation. Which also, is good now. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Anyways, Mary’d bought a cake and made Ian serve it to us on the table at the pub when it turned midnight, and it was so fun. Frances didn’t come (obviously) and neither did Hal or Mia, but maybe because we were just a few or because all the guys were taken, I had a great time, in fairness. After we closed the pub down (!!!) we went somewhere else, one of Henry’s favourite clubs, and none like I’d been before. At first I didn’t like it because they played the sort of music you cannot dance to, you know which music I’m talking about, but after a while I started to enjoy myself. Like, nobody looked good or worried about looking good and everybody was simply goofing off. The subject of the email is actually a song by the Buveurs Désolés and since it’s on Spotify they asked the DJ to play it (Mayra did) and he did, and we went a bit mental. I thought it fit today’s email hehehe.

I asked Elton to meet on Tuesday, after Russian!!!

So, I was saying, Mary and Ned made up while we were still at the pub. I don’t know if they talked about it or what, but fact is that he apologised, then she apologised, and soon they were kissing and all was right as rain. And while Ian was working, I got to gossip with Mayra and she’s a bit too much, you know, but also knows a lot of stuff about music and books and it was fun, like she’s a bit of a nerd but also a cool person. Julia and Henry got off, again. Probably nothing went on with Bel in the end? She wasn’t there anyway.

What a mess of an email, I’m sorry Lula, sister of my heart, will you be able to forgive me?

I am a bit bored now. Mary went for birthday lunch with Henry and hasn’t been back yet, and Frances is still at mass I think? I don’t know, I think she’s at church but no idea of what she does there.

Maybe I’ll read for a while.

Love,

Caroline

PS: What about your Saturday?? How was meeting up with the girls again???

 

Date: 18 November 2016, 22:46
Subject: RE So last night was last night?

I didn’t say he was old, he said it. I know you’re in the prime of your life.

Love to my older old sister,

Caroline

Date: 19 November 2016, 08:22
Subject: HAPPY MOVING IN DAY

HAPPY MOVING IN DAY

Love,

C

 

Date: 20 November 2016, 15:37
Subject: RE HAPPY MOVING IN DAY

Dear Lula,

So, how was your first night at your new house? Cannot believe John’s parents bought you a sofa and a matching chaise longue, but glad that they are at least passable. Even if not the ones you would’ve picked. Why didn’t she just simply ask? It’s not like she’s gonna live there (is it?) (joking).

Anyways, how’s the unpacking going? I’m sure that when I’m there, in barely three weeks, it’ll look instagram-ready.

Why yes of course I’m trying to diverge from the fact that I have a date in a couple of hours. So nervous.

Call you immediately afterwards.

Love,

Caroline

 

Date: 22 November 2016, 10:26
Subject: RE HAPPY MOVING IN DAY

Dear Lula,

I recalled who Elton reminded me of, you know John’s cousin from Oxford? Your John I mean. The one who manages to bring every conversation to how much he makes a year? This one. He’s asking to meet again. He’s in fact assuming that I want to meet him again, and I don’t know what to do. Mary and Frances say I shouldn’t. But he wasn’t bad looking, you know, so. I’m just telling him I’m busy for the rest of the week, see if he persists (not playing hard to get, just being it).

And we’ve got the rooms booked for tomorrow!! So nervous!!! Will write if there’s connection at all.

Love,

Caroline

Chapter Text

 

We do not suffer by accident

 

Getting on the right car mattered only to those who knew there was a right car, which was why, when Henry pointed to his car and said, I can fit four, it took less than thirty seconds for Mia, Mayra and Julia to get inside. Mia even threw her keys at Ned, offering him her car with just a: Just don’t adjust the fucking sit Ned, we’re the same height. Mary took the keys instead, though, and she was more than a head shorter than them, probably even two. Don’t let her drive it! As if Ned could ever stop her. Caroline realised she was expected to choose (Henry, Mia, Julia and Mayra vs. Ned, Mary, Frances and Hal), and wasn’t anywhere close to making a decision when Mayra opened the back-seat window and yelled: Get in, loser, we’re going hiking!

 

The drive itself had been somewhat anticlimactic, or maybe it was just that Caroline should’ve adjusted her expectations of road-trips with near-strangers at nine o’clock on a Saturday beforehand. It turned out to consist mostly of sleeping. Despite Mia’s complains, Henry had turned the music on (a carefully curated list) as soon as they’d reached the National Park, claiming they were Getting there, and Christ, don’t you wanna enjoy the views? But they did, especially the castles (they’d seen two, so far), especially Mayra, who had asked each time to stop for a Really, really quick visit, though no-one had bothered to answer her either time. Once they got to the meeting place, the others had already been there for some minutes, and Mary declared victory to the undeclared race. And then, it was time for the walk. That’s why they’d come here, though none of them remembered much how or why it had been decided (Julia did, it was she who’d said that she loved hiking and started talking about it with Ned and Hal, and then Hal had said, Have you been to the bit around Great Langdale? And Mayra, Are you talking about the Lakes? I love the Lakes, and Ned, We could plan something. And Mary had pretended to be interested for Ned’s benefit and then the whole thing had just planned itself). “The walk is not gonna take more than four hours total,” Hal said: He was in charge of the map—albeit virtual, and he was the only one who had done this particular hike before. Frances was excited they’d planned a healthy, harmless activity, but of course, she didn’t know that half of them had come for the afterwards, for the shared-rooms and bunk-beds and town-pubs.

The route was circular and quite striking from the beginning, though each enjoyed different details: Mayra was fascinated with everything old, taking in the bridges in ruins and the old farms she imagined were once inhabited by the likes of Heathcliff and Rochester; what Frances liked the most was the flora, she walked slowly, not caring about falling behind, and took mental note of all the flowers and plants she saw, marvelled at the ones she recognised and the ones she didn’t, even more if there was a butterfly or a ladybug on them; Ned didn’t stop saying Would you smell the fresh air!; and Caroline was, once she’d got over the fact that there were bugs, actual bugs, quite overtaken by the general view. Not like Hal, who kept taking pictures of the horizon with his huge Nikon, but the view as a whole in front of her: Being a city girl, it was the amount of green and orange and blue that always astonished her. “It’s so silent it’s creepy,” quipped Mia, “I feel like this is missing a motorway somewhere.” Mary caught up to Ned and took his hand, looking around her and, finally, happy to have come here. Henry started rolling a cigarette and Frances couldn’t help but to grunt softly, it didn’t matter that he said, It’s organic, and that it was true, Julia still laughed and was compensated with a smile from him, and Frances still resented him. Henry’s cheeks produced dimples when he smiled, making it the best feature of his asymmetrical face. Frances saw it now but couldn’t appreciate it: she had always been bad at hiding her disapproval, imagine now that it was so deep. Hal took a picture of her, which took her mind of the subject (she hadn’t forgotten about that image of Henry and Bel kissing on the top of the stairs—to her chagrin, flashes of his left hand right over her bum came back to her in the most unexpected moments and made her blush). Though the others saw it, and now Hal would be asked, for the rest of the weekend, to take pictures of them every half an hour—what a grave error of judgement on his part!

A little more than an hour in, some of them were already complaining, so Hal offered an alternative. Some of them could stay there, resting on a rock at the actual circuit, while those who cared to join him could take a short detour to a small lake a few yards from there. He was surprised to find that most of them wanted to come see it, though probably their motivation differed as much as their taste in the outdoors. He walked at the front of the line, the cross-country path being rather narrow, with Julia by his side (frustrated that Henry and Mia had decided to stay once she’d already agreed to go), and Mayra and Caroline closely behind them. Mary, Ned and Frances were a few steps behind, distracted by both mother nature and their own conversation. And although the three of them were engaged on a conversation regarding a film that had recently come out (but I don’t care if the film is good, he’s an abuser—But the film is not abusive, it’s just really good—But I don’t wanna give my money to him!—You’re not really, he’s been paid already) Frances (who, strangely, agreed with Mary more than Ned in this case, which is why she didn’t say anything), found herself increasingly omitted from the dialogue, each step being less looked at or expected to offer her views. Which turned out not to be so bad since, as it always happened with these two, the conversation turned gradually mushy (I’m sure you’re right, is how Ned ended half of his discussions with Mary, not so much out of conviction but of the knowledge that he’d be rewarded with her heart-stopping smile—Crawford smiles!). When they realised that Frances was a couple of yards behind them, and Caroline and the others barely visible at the front, it had already been a few minutes.

“Frances, are you all right?”

“Yes, just, my feet hurt. I think I’ll get back now.”

They seemed to believe her, so what was another little white lie? Really, she was being irrational: They were in love, her epiphany the other night (that she and Ned belonged together) had clearly been false. And anyway, the fact her heart ached didn’t mean that her feet didn’t too, even if so little in comparison. She let them go, saw them go, and once they disappeared behind the plants and the trees, she exhaled loudly and turned back. Not looking forward to being alone with Henry and Mia, she sat by a rock and closed her eyes, chin up, letting the cold air embrace the skin of her face. Instinctively, she took a hand to the cross hanging from her necklace and held it softly.

Caroline told all about her Tinder date to Mayra, who was fascinated and at the same time dismissive of it. “It’s just the first one, you’ll have better ones.” Caroline’s eyes turned tentatively to the front, hoping Hal and Julia could not hear them. Or that they did. Or that they didn’t. She hadn’t dared swipe either way, in the end, when Hal had appeared on her screen. It wouldn’t be fair to swipe left, since she actually found him attractive, and swiping right would have put her in an awful position either way: if they were not a match, it would mean that he was just another guy who was not interested in her after having met her—something her ego was not ready to take—and if they turned out to be a match: well, they would’ve turned out to be a match. At the end she had decided it was best to turn off the app, put the mobile some place she couldn’t reach it from her bed, and hope for Liam to be a bit more out of her system the next time Hal came out on her Tinder rotation. After that, she’d only opened the app when warned of a match, to regret the rashness of her actions that night and unmatch all those undesirable guys, mostly.

“Yes, you’re right, I’m not gonna meet him again.”

“What are you gonna tell him?” Mayra was excited again at the prospect of some hearty drama.

“Nothing, I’ll just ghost him, see?” She took her phone out, opened the app, and theatrically unmatched the match.

“Cold!” Mayra was nothing less than impressed.

Caroline too. She hoped they didn’t meet around uni. Hoped she’d made the right decision. After all, half the reason she had done the whole Tinder thing was to have a date and be caught in it by Liam, and she hadn’t yet.

Once they got to the lake, which was more like a pond and didn’t even have a name, but was, admittedly, beautiful, they decided to wait there for Ned and the girls. Hal saw Caroline looking intend on the horizon and took a picture of her. When she turned around and looked at him, he smiled and said: For your Tinder profile. And she didn’t turn red, but maybe burgundy. Luckily, she found the will to laugh, even if it was out of nervousness, and he laughed too. “Sod off.” They sat on a bench and he finally took the camera from around his neck. “Tired?” “Not yet.” After ten minutes, Mayra offered to go and look for the others. A couple of minutes later, they could imagine what must have happened when they heard yelling and laughing, which Mayra had confirmed later: She had interrupted Ned and Mary in a session of snogging, had tried to leave the scene discretely and had instead fallen on her arse, revealing her position and embarrassing all present. The three of them arrived laughing.

On the way back, they found Frances where they had left her, though her eyes were open and fixed on a small tome (the first of Trollope’s Chronicles of Barsetshire). She joined them on their way back to the main hike, where Henry and Mia had fallen asleep, his head resting over her stomach. They made a beautiful picture, and so Hal took it.

 

Lunch was three hours later, once they’d walked back to the pub where they’d left the cars by the Cumbria Way, and it would have been safe to say they were all knackered. After that, they drove twenty minutes in silence (nobody cared in which car they did) to the town they would spend the night. As the night was for partying, it was then, in the middle of the afternoon, that they all decided to take some rest or even a nap. At six, as if victim of the same enchantment, they all started to recover her senses and activate themselves, except Frances, who had been resting on the shade of a tree outside, reading, and Henry, who didn’t wake up until ten to seven. They had three rooms in all, boys in one, girls divided in two. Caroline and Mary, alone in theirs, had gossiped, been absorbed by their respective mobiles, and listened to some music (Caroline was growing accustomed to Mary’s taste, and maybe she was going mad but didn’t this weird French band sound actually kind of amazing?). When Frances got there to wash her face and change jackets, they tried to convince her to make herself up a bit.

“But why?” She asked, sensibly.

“To look pretty.”

Frances, still not getting it, repeated: “Why?”

“What do you mean why?”

Mary dismissed Caroline with a brush of her hand: “No, I get it, Frances, why the fuck should we worry about being pretty, right, why don’t men? And also, who’s to say you’re not pretty already as it is?”

(Caroline, Caroline was to say! But she didn’t say anything: It was not that Frances wasn’t pretty, it was just that her clothes were so ugly, and she never even wore make up, at all! And why would she always wear her hair in one or two braids?).

Frances looked at Mary suspiciously, the fact that all she’d said up till that point made (somewhat) sense meant that the nonsense was coming now. As it did:

“But don’t you wanna enjoy the power of being looked at?”

“No,” it was a shriek more than an actual response. How had Mary not realised this already was beyond her. “Not at all.”

“Fair enough. But then, you could do it for you: it makes me feel better, to know I look good, right?”

Caroline agreed: “And we’re not saying you should cover your face with foundation. It looks great as it is,” also: we don’t even have foundation of your skin tone, “but what about mascara?”

“It’s not that I oppose to it,” Frances started, making her sentence one of the longest they’d heard her utter that day, “I’m not against make-up. It’s just not for me. I’m not bothered about it.”

Caroline, who’d realised that she needed to take this humorously or she’d have a heart attack, simulated precisely that, and squished her heart, over her left breast, and sat on the bed pretending to be badly hurt. “You’ve killed me.” Frances laughed, and so it was worth it.

“All right, you win,” Mary gave her permission to do what she was gonna do anyway, “But what if you let us dress you?”

Frances would very much not like to dress like either of them, and they could see that in her terrified face.

“In your style, obviously, we’re not gonna make you wear anything you’re not comfortable with.”

Begrudgingly, she agreed.

 

When they got downstairs to the inn’s pub (first stop of the night), the rest were there talking animatedly, so they got robbed of their great entrance. And plus, if they looked at anyone it would be Mary, like always, who even in mom jeans and a knitted sweater looked ravishing (her face was all made up, she would have to admit). Something must have happened because the air among them was weird, weirder than it had been this morning, at least. Mayra was at times infuriated and at times worried because Ian wasn’t returning any of her texts, afraid simultaneously that he was in his deathbed and that he was flirting with a girl (many girls) at the pub. They’d chosen this weekend precisely because it was Ian’s weekend off, and still, he was not there. Some stomach flu, he’d claimed, such an unglamorous illness none of them suspected him of having made it up. Julia was not talking nor looking at her sister Mia, who was wearing red lipstick and kept yawning between sip and sip of wine, and Henry was talking about this time they’d gone to the Peak district during first year, and they’d got lost and since it was night a rescue team had had to come and collect them, but it had taken a few hours, so they (he and his mates of then) had been all ready to drink their piss if necessary, to the point one had peed in one empty water bottle (always to defend he hadn’t reached the point to actually drink it), and Ned was laughing the loudest, even if he would still resent his friends if such a thing had happened to him, today or ten years ago, and then recounted it in a pub. Mary accused her brother of making things up (So what, it makes the story better) and recalled a time when he made up a story about having escaped his boarding school, and she had been so impressed by it that when it had been her turn to go, she had really escaped, had been found a mile from there (backpack full of bread) and had been grounded for weeks. It was they that held the group together, both liked to think separately, or at least, the ones that kept the silence from creeping in. Which was less of a problem as the night progressed and they moved from the pub’s inn to a pub near the town centre, crowded with locals and hikers, old and young people alike. Ned didn’t see anything different with Frances, but kept an eye on her whenever he remembered, making sure she was having at least an all right time. She seemed to be: Even if he had caught her by herself at times, there was a contended look in her face he was not accustomed to. If he was looking at her now, though, it was because Mary was nowhere to be seen. Mary was outside, with Henry. Henry having exited quickly after a bad face off with Julia: he’d gone to wrap her waist, as he’d done many times before, and kiss her neck, and she’d pushed him away with one “Do not dare touch me.” If she’d wanted him to fight for her, he hadn’t, he’d just said “What did I do?” And when she’d looked at him with raised eyebrows, he’d raised his hands in unison, “All right,” and left.

“What haven’t you done, really,” laughed Mary jokingly when he explained it to her.

“Yeah.”

She stood right by his side, rested her head on his shoulder and took his arm, even if he was smoking and she hated to get the smoke on her face.

“They’re nothing like Ned.” She meant his sisters, Mia and Julia, of course.

He was about to joke (They’ve got tits) but didn’t, because he knew what she meant.

“You don’t like them.”

“Julia’s so bland.” There were a few seconds of silence before any of them said anything, and when they did, it was the same thing at the same time:

“And Mia…”

Mary laughed and, without letting go of his arm, moved her head away from him to look him in the face.

“She’s a bitch, isn’t she.”

“Ha!” He laughed, “Yes.”

“So, what’s all this will-they-won’t-they?”

Now Henry looked at her with raised eyebrows: “What?”

“I don’t get why you like her. I mean, she’s hot, I know. But she’s not funny, she’s not smart.”

“She is funny, actually. Don’t know. Nothing always has to be so deep, or serious, you know?”

Mary gave her brother a look. “Cut the crap.”

“Seriously. I like that she’s just so transparent. Even if she thinks she’s not. And that she’s sort of conservative.”

“You like her being conservative?”

“Not talking ‘bout politics. I mean, socially. Behaviourally.”

“Oh, right, so you enjoy shocking her.”

“Of course.”

“Why don’t you get off with her already, then?”

Henry first coughed and then laughed.

“What? She worships you.”

“Mary, christsake, of course she worships me, who bloody doesn’t? But she’s also gay.”

“What?” Mary jumped, startled. Her feet didn’t touch the ground for a full two seconds, probably.

“Gayer than Kristen Stewart gay.”

“The fuck?”

“Gayer than Cara gay.”

“Now you’re just listing St Vincent’s girlfriends.”

Henry laughed. “How did you not know that? I thought you knew?”

“How would I know?”

“She was sucking face with that girl at the club the other day!” Henry found the whole thing hilarious.

“When?! She wasn’t there last week!”

“Not last week, the other.”

“I didn’t see?”

“Well, she was.”

“So, what’s up with that? Does it turn you on?!”

“Not at all. She’s not my type.”

Mary was still assimilating the fact that Mia was gay, rearranging all she knew about her and had said to her around the fact. Still, Henry’s words made her chuckle.

“Yeah right.”

“For a mate, she is.”

“C’mon, she’s everybody’s type.”

“Not mine.”

“I thought you didn’t have a type, though?”

“I don’t. But you know.”

Henry’s type was mostly Human Beings. But it was true that the girls he’d been infatuated the most hadn’t been anything like Mia. Neither their appearance (stunning as she was, she was sort of lanky) nor their personality (Mia seemed to be all bark, and Henry enjoyed a good bite—metaphorically and not).

“So here I was, thinking you were getting off with the two of them, turns out you’re not getting any.”

“Well, not any more at least.”

He took it well, he was smiling at her, threw his cigarette to the ground and stepped on it with his shoe.

“You need an honest girl.”

“I do not.”

“You need a girl that is actually nice.”

“But then, what would a nice girl do with me.”

“Listen to me.” She said, before falling silent.

From where they stood, they could see the door of the pub, from which Frances was exiting. She hadn’t let them style her hair, nor put on mascara, nor accepted to wear most of the clothes they had selected for her. They’d compromised: She was wearing a knitted grey sweater (hers) and black opaque tights (hers) with a short denim mini-skirt (Caroline’s) and black ankle boots (Mary’s). It was just a small change, but seeing the shape of her eternally covered knees (usually hidden inside wide and long skirts) and ankles was revolutionary to those who knew her. She was fastening her jacket and then covering her neck with her self-made scarf.

They both found themselves looking at her. She was quiet, so quiet, and kind. But so unswayed by peer-pressure, so determined, that when she decided she was not having a good enough time, she simply left.

“You could seduce her.”

“What? Her?” His incredulity would have sounded much more convincing if he hadn’t been still looking at her.

“You need a nice girl. She needs company.”

“I don’t need a nice girl, I told you.”

Frances saw them looking and approached them.

“Hey.”

She barely looked at Henry, wanting to make sure (every second of every moment they spent together) how much she disliked him.

“You’re leaving?” It was Mary who asked, and him who stared.

“Yes, I’m tired. Hope you don’t mind.”

“We don’t,” said Henry, and she still didn’t look at him. She took him to mean he didn’t care at all if she stayed or left or got murdered on the way. Instead, he said: “Want me to walk you?”

This time she did look at him: “No.” And then back at Mary: “Enjoy the rest of the night.” Mary smiled at her, and Frances answered in kind.

“Text me when you get to the inn, will you?”

And she was out of there. Mary looked at her brother knowingly, half-smiling and with raised brows. “Want me to walk you.” She repeated, her deadpan delivery already a commentary.

“What?”

“She actually hates you.”

“She does not.”

“Suit yourself.”

When they got back inside the pub things had got worse than one would had been able to imagine: Ned and Mia were shouting at each other, Julia with a satisfied look in her face she didn’t even try to hide, Hal and Caroline nowhere to be seen and Mayra, with her mobile in her hands, was sitting on a stool by herself. “What’s happened?” Mary really hoped it was nothing to do with Henry. Not that she would ever scold him, but she would prefer it if he helped maintain a certain harmony within their group of friends, not the opposite. Ned approached them, red with anger: “Mia’s dropped out!” and Mia followed him: “How is this your business?!”

“Dropped out of what?”

“Uni! What do you think!?”

Ned finally looked at Henry: “Since when do you know this?” Henry just shrugged, and Mia scoffed nosily while taking her bag and jacket, and then left with an “Unbelievable.” Mary took Ned’s hand in one of hers, and placed the other one Henry’s shoulder: “Ned, what’s happened? Should we go out to talk?” “No, there is nothing to talk about. Mia hasn’t been to classes the last two weeks: hasn’t taken a single test this semester. Father will kick her out of the house when I tell him.” Mary was startled, didn’t say anything. “Mate that’s easy, don’t tell him.” “You’ve already offered her a place in your flat.” Ned was accusing him, and Henry shrugged again: “If she needs it, of course.” “Wait a minute,” Mary tried to make peace: “Isn’t that her decision?” Ned looked at her as if she’d betrayed him, pursed lips and a full frown. What, isn’t it?

 

Caroline had seen the preceding scene, the one Mary had missed by being with Ned on the booths earlier. When Julia had finally exploded to her sister, with one: “If you don’t want him, why can’t you let me have him?!” And Mia had just laughed it off, asking, “Can’t you see he doesn’t want you?” Extra-harsh, Caroline thought, especially coming from a sister. She was not sure what Lula’d do if they both liked the same guy and the guy preferred her, but what she was certain of is that she’d never say that or laugh about it. It even made less sense when Hal told her Mia was only interested in girls, so that what Henry and she had was neither romantic nor sexual. “Does Henry know?” “Of course he knows.” And Hal told her this because as the whole thing had been unfurling, she’d seen him disappear quietly to the back, with a save-me-please face. “What’s wrong?” He hadn’t said, but she’d been able to see it for herself a few minutes later and put two and two together: every time Julia fought with Mia, or Henry or even Ned, she turned to Hal to console her. And he was nice, yes, but he wasn’t anyone’s consolation prize. They saw Julia approach them, and Hal chose this moment to put a hand on Caroline’s face, placing some hair behind her ear. Julia retreated and went to look for Ned, and Hal removed his hand, a bit shy: “Sorry.” “No,” she said, “it’s fine.” And then he looked at her, and she went red, and he approached his face tentatively to hers, looked at her lips, and she thought, Damn he’s pretty, and such beautiful eyes, almost as beautiful as Liam’s—and then she moved her face away, her mouth dry: Sorry.

 

For the ride back, half of them didn’t talk to the other half: Henry drove his car with Mary, Mia and Mayra in it, Ned drove Frances, Hal and Julia. Caroline was forced to make a choice, and she chose to sit by Mary’s side, take her hand, and clasp it hard.

 

Chapter Text

 

From: Caroline Bingley <cbingley98@gmail.com>
To: Louisa Bingley <louisabingley@gmail.com>
Date: 25 November 2016, 17:48
Subject: RE Well?

Dear Lula,

Do you really want to know how it went? Do you? Quick recap before we go over it on the phone at another time (F & M are in their respective rooms and they could hear everything through these walls).

  • Julia finally shut Henry off and had a fight with Mia
  • So she told Ned something she shouldn’t have
  • Which is that Mia dropped out of uni
  • And Henry knew
  • And Ned is angry at Henry because he says he encouraged it
  • And Mary backed Henry up
  • So Ned and Mary fought (it was awful)

Oh, and also, Hal tried to kiss me and I pushed him away.

I need a nap.

Love,

C

 

Date: 26 November 2016, 19:21
Subject: RE Well?

Dear Lula,

Thanks for your words. Instead of a nap, F came to collect us both me and M and made us watch a film she said we would like. And we did, and then we made homemade pizza.

Wanna talk now?

Love,

Caroline

 

Date: 27 November 2016, 15:33
Subject: RE Hello from the other side

Dear Lula,

I am really well to be honest, I just feel v. silly. Why couldn’t I kiss him back? It’s all that I wanted (I mean, someone nice to take my mind off L) (preferably not Elton). Also, I’m sure you’ve seen it but since he posted the photos on FB (I look weird, don’t I? But not in a bad way?) I took the one he’d joked about being my Tinder profile and posted it on insta. And guess who’s liked it? Of course it’s L.

I’m writing to Charlie now see if I can arrange something, I’ve got this feeling that the longer I go without seeing L the more I think about him, which isn’t that exactly the opposite of what should happen?

To be honest, the fact that M’s so wrecked and needs to be distracted is working v. well for me. Not that I don’t wish to see her doing great obvs.

Love,

Caroline

 

Date: 27 November 2016, 20:12
Subject: RE Hello from the other side

Hahaha Is it really the first pic you see of Frances? Of course she’s v. pretty, why shouldn’t she be? And yes, Mia’s a bit scary. I can’t believe what you’re saying about the guys. How can you say that? I think they three are fit. And you said before Ned was handsome! Sure you don’t need glasses sis?

 

Date: 27 November 2016, 20:23
Subject: RE Hello from the other side

Ohh I am glad you say so. He is, right?

We just became friends on insta.

 

Date: 27 November 2016, 20:28
Subject: RE Hello from the other side

I know. Yay to sending mixed signals.

 

Date: 29 November 2016, 10:09
Subject: Checking in

Dear Lula,

How’s everything? Getting used to the house?

The microec teacher is late as always, but for some reason today Lois isn’t here and I’m making my best not to fall asleep right now.

Yesterday I had tandem with Joana, and I think it’ll be the last one before Christmas. After Christmas we’ll just have one session to put our dossiers together and stuff, ‘cause she’ll be leaving. I haven’t talked about it with Charlie yet, though we’re meeting this weekend. Turns out Joana is only here for one semester, so she’s going home for the holidays and then back here only for the exams, but unfortunately (for me) Bet’s here for the whole year. Wouldn’t everyone be happier if it were the opposite? Probably not L.

Anyway, I sort of had a great time with Joana, but then she also said the weirdest thing, like she though I didn’t want her to get together with Charlie?? Can you believe that? When did I say that?

He’s here!

Love,

Caroline

 

Date: 29 November 2016, 13:13
Subject: RE Checking in

I said that?! I really don’t remember. Maybe I just said it because, you know, she was leaving soon and I didn’t want him to have high hopes or anything, but of course I think they’re a cute couple!

Oh dear. I am a bit of a hypocrite aren’t I.

Love,

Caroline

 

Date: 1 December 2016, 13:13
Subject: RE Checking in

Dear Lula,

Today the plan is to stay in. First, because of all the drama. Second, because deadlines and exams are approaching and everybody is panicking. I’m meeting Charlie later, though, so I’ll tell you how it goes. I really hope I don’t see L. I really really hope so. That I don’t. I mean.

Also I walked with F to get breakfast this morning and we met with Ned and Hal. It was all right. I mean, he acted as if nothing had happened. Maybe he hadn’t tried to kiss me? Maybe I got it wrong? I haven’t mentioned it to anybody, I thought about telling F but the moment probably passed. She is a bit worried about Ned, and Ned was a mess. Much like M. They still haven’t made up. Can you believe it? They fought over Mia leaving Uni and Henry encouraging her, what does it even have to do with them???

Anyways, they walked us back to the halls and said goodbye, so no big deal.

Having lunch now (I’m cooking! Can you believe that? For me and Mary, so, there’s no animal produce in this risotto, not even cheese) (Corpse-free risotto she calls it) and afterwards meeting Charlie, so I’ll loop you in as I get home.

Love eternal,

Caroline

PS: I’ve deleted Tinder

 

Date: 1 December 2016, 17:35
Subject: RE Checking in

I met F outside when I got back and told her the same thing (what does it even have to do with them?) but wait cause the plot thickens. Mia used the money of the tuition (?) for clothes and even asked money for books etc that she spent on drinks etc. Still wouldn’t be their problem except for the fact Ned mentioned it to M and she said, in true M fashion, “it’s only money, what’s ten bags to your dad?”

 

Date: 3 December 2016, 13:13
Subject: RE Checking in

Dear Lula,

I’ve been bored to death this weekend, I swear. Yesterday we spent the day at the library but it wasn’t even productive, half of it I spent it on insta, in fairness.

Anyway. I did meet Charlie on Saturday, forgot to tell you and it is big news. He’s doing v. well. Not so much with uni, I honestly worry about his grades, but whatever. He’s very happy with Joana. He said they’re gonna do the long-distance thing. Of course they have the Christmas weeks to try it out, and then she’ll be back for three weeks, and off again.

And now

Sit down

Here comes

The

Bomb

Ready?

He says he’ll move to Barcelona once he finishes uni.

Seriously.

I mean, I wouldn’t even count on him finishing uni this year.

Let’s see how he drops the news to mum and dad, I really hope we both get to be there to see it.

That is all for todayyy!

Love,

Caroline

 

Date: 4 December 2016, 18:23
Subject: RE Checking in

Уважаемый Lula,

Got the second best grade in the Russian exam!!!! Congrats to me!!!

Love,

Caroline

 

Date: 4 December 2016, 21:40
Subject: PUPPY

Dear Lula,

There are no words, literally NO WORDS, for how cute your new puppy is. OH MY GOD!! I didn’t even know you wanted a puppy???!!!!! What are you gonna name him??? Oh my gooood. I am so jealous. You’ll have to be careful though he’ll leave white fur everywhere!! Remember Jane? She had to change whenever she got home and she still had white hairs in all her clothes all the time.

Anyways, SO CUTE, I’ll share it with F & M see if you can hear the sighs from London.

Love,

Caroline

PS: These are the most boring weeks ever, send me all of the puppy pics you want. Today I literally went shopping out of boredom if you can believe it!!!

 

Date: 4 December 2016, 18:23
Subject: RE PUPPY

Dear Lula,

The puppy remains adorable. I vote for Milo, though if I had a dog I’d name him something completely human. And regal, I think. Like Prince James, Duke of the Kitchen and Master of the Chaise Longue.

No, who I am kidding, I’d probably name him after Jamie Fraser. I’m 60 pages from finishing the second book! Don’t think I’ve ever read faster.

Well, Mary and Ned did see each other yesterday but only for a second, because he came to pick up F. It was cold Lula, cold. Anyway, they decided to meet on Friday to talk things out. M is infuriated and depressed at turns.

I’ve printed some of the photos of the hike to hang on my wall (still bare) but now I’m thinking it’ll be very insensitive to M, as she’ll have to think about that weekend every time she comes to my room. I guess I’ll wait see what happens. F is the only one who seems to have come out unscathed from that dreadful weekend, even if I can see it in her eyes that it hurts her to hear M dissing Ned.

Attaching pic of the last shopping haul.

Love,

Caroline

 

Date: 6 December 2016, 19:23
Subject: RE PUPPY

Dear Lula,

Mayra unexpectedly came for dinner yesterday, and the four of us ate together and had a great time. I think even M had a great time. I like Mia and Julia but it’s better without them, I think. Though really, I don’t even like them that much. And even F looks more comfortable when they’re not here, and she’s known them all her life.

We ordered thai food and talked and listened to music and danced. It was hilarious when F got home from the shop and found us dancing to Salute with the whole choreography (nice to know they can listen to fun music too). There were even nail-polish and facemasks involved.

M hasn’t been seeing Henry a lot these days, and Mayra has updated us on the situation. Turns out Mia’s been sleeping on their sofa for a few days already, can you believe it? Apparently she wants to become an actress now. People have really no sense of responsibility. Do they?

Love,

Caroline

PS: They totally saw me as Perrie only because I’m a blonde, can you believe it? I said of course I am Jade, the only reason I’d be Perrie is so that I have the memory of Zayn’s naked touch engraved in my brain, which they all agreed was a good enough reason, though M admitted he had been a Styler in her teenage years. And so turned out we all had had 1D posters in our bedrooms at one point in our lives—mine being currently, and an ex, but you know.

 

Date: 6 December 2016, 22:03
Subject: RE Who are you

Dear Lula,

Hahahaha I am afraid M’s having an effect on me. I stand behind everything I said about Z though.

Love for you and for Milo,

Caroline

PS: Oh! That’s the French band I was telling you about

 

Date: 7 December 2016, 23:41
Subject: RE Who are you

Dear Lula,

OH MY GOD I FINISHED THE SECOND BOOK! But I’ve just knocked on M’s door to talk about it and SHE’S STILL NOT HERE. I think she must be still with Ned. Good sign?

I NEED TO TALK ABOUT IT WITH SOMEONE. And the end is crazy. WHAT A WAY TO END A BOOK. First thing tomorrow I head to Waterstones to buy the 3rd one. I was gonna ask to have it for my birthday since M doesn’t own it but I honestly can’t wait.

Have a good night xxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Caroline

 

Chapter Text

 

Excuse my interference—it was kindly meant

 

Frances had seen it from the beginning, that this couldn’t last. She’d only questioned it when she’d seen how sad Mary’d been after the first fight and had realised that it was not that she was bad, but that she was completely unaware of her own faults. She’d found it difficult to remain impartial these past two weeks, so she hadn’t, quite: With Ned, she tried to disguise how much she agreed with him by trying to make him see things from Mary’s perspective, often failing; with Mary, she would just try to comfort her with her silence and bakes, afraid her words would reveal her true thoughts. Though she mustn’t have been as conspicuous as she’d expected, she realised now, when Mary shot her that hurt look, that look that very clearly said: I know you hate me.

Before that look, Frances was in her room, thinking about the previous night and what must have happened between Ned and Mary. She’d talked to him before, but not after, so she knew what he’d wanted to say but not if he’d said it. Not knowing if dreading a reconciliation made her an awful person (but suspecting it did), she had sort of been avoiding seeing Mary all morning, having had breakfast stupidly early and now delaying lunch unpractically late. As far as she knew, Mary hadn’t talked to Caroline either, not yet, and she’d heard the latter go out, so it had been Mary who had ordered food and had opened the door a few minutes ago, and it must have been Mary who was in the kitchen eating it. Frances considered delaying their meeting a while longer, even if both reason (she had to go to the shop in a bit, needed to have lunch first) and heart (needed to know) told her it wasn’t a good idea. What she would do was that: She’d wait ten minutes, and then she’d come out of her room, if Mary’d returned to her own, well, she would miss her. The ten minutes passed, Frances sitting on her bed, and she hadn’t heard a noise. She took a deep deep breath, collected her empty mug, and walked to the kitchen. The surprise of what she found there could not be easily concealed from her face: Mary was in her pyjamas, remains of mascara still in her face, the hair a mess. This wasn’t the worst of it though, no.

It wasn’t even that look, that look, that look with the words that accompanied it:

“Come now, say it, Frances.”

Mary eating pizza was what was worse. A pizza with cheese, cow cheese most certainly, and bacon, definitely pig bacon.

Frances couldn’t even move, and just stared at her mid-way to the sofa, eyes open wide.

“You’re as judgemental as him, aren’t you? Just nicer about it.” Mary’s tone was meaner than she’d ever heard it, but as mean as she’d always been afraid it could get. It was both a disappointment and a relief to hear it.

Which was maybe why it didn’t put Frances off, or not as much as the rest of it:

“You’re eating bacon, Mary.”

“No shit.”

“Stop then!” Frances finally snapped out of it, walked the few steps that separated her from Mary and took the slice of pizza from her hand.

“Why? Who cares?” Mary’s voice became less defiant then, more self-pitying. Something inside Frances twisted, and she left the mug and the slice by the pizza box, without stopping to look at her friend.

“You care!”

“Oh, do I?” Mary snorted, or tried to snort, her guilt, or sadness, or both, catching up in her throat.

But truth be told: Frances had always suspected Mary was into veganism hugely because of its social appeal. It made her appear alternative, rebellious, caring. But was it all for show? Part of her, even in that moment, thought it was, and couldn’t help but imagine that this hadn’t been the first time she’d eaten meat in secret since she’d started labelling herself a vegan. The other part of her realised she was being as judgemental as she was being accused of and made her stop.

“So, that’s how it is?” Frances tried to collect her nerve as best as she could, that nerve very little people suspected she had, until she used it. “It only takes a guy for you to throw your values out the window?”

Mary gaped at her, and as some silent tears started rolling down of her cheeks, Frances heart stopped. She approached her quickly, saying “Sorry, sorry” at the same time Mary shook her head, “You’re right, you’re right” and covered her face with her tomato-stained hands. After some hesitation, Frances wrapped both her arms around her. It was enough for Mary to start crying in earnest, and then, to become quiet for a second, move away, and retch. After that, it was a race to the loo.

 

Caroline had never been one to read novels other than those made compulsory in school. If asked, however, she would have never admitted she didn’t like them, she would have simply given a non-committal “I don’t have the time.” This way, you were not saying you never read or that you didn’t like books—frankly, that sounded ignorant even to her—you were simply stating that you had more interesting things to do. Even though everyone might suspect this not to be entirely true, it would still be considered acceptable coming from a young rich girl’s mouth. Even so, when Mary had said, that many weeks ago after the disaster that had been their first university party, “Read this, it’ll take your mind off things”, to say that she didn’t have the time would’ve been an obvious lie. They were sharing a flat, after all, Mary saw her lying on the sofa, mobile in hand, often enough.

Still, she hadn’t been tempted at first, never having made the time to read, it was in a way true that she didn’t know which of her usual activities she was to sacrifice for it. Even if those included watching old episodes of The Apprentice and stalking half her class on Facebook. In her mind, reading was still too associated with school, and Dickens, and Shakespeare, and Chaucer. And so she left the book on her table and forgot about it. What is more, she covered it with her newest shirts, and then a wore-once dress, and then all the flyers they gave out at the student union. The book had been there for five weeks before Caroline even read the title. And now, another five weeks later, she was so immersed in the universe of Outlander that found it difficult to even concentrate in class. Why hadn’t Mary forced her to read it before? With whom had Mary exchanged theories, gushed over Jamie? Why had nobody ever told her that you could love characters in a book almost as much as some of your friends, and certainly more than most of your acquaintances? On the one hand, she felt she’d discovered a new world beyond all that she’d known to be interesting, on the other, she worried no other book or characters would ever matter to her that much. Mary’d said: Don’t you worry about that.

Once they’d finished season one (and oh my god what an ending), Mary’d wanted to start season two, but Frances and Caroline hadn’t allowed it. Caroline wanted to read the second book first, and Frances had just started the first. They agreed they’d wait: problem was, Caroline had just finished the second last night, and she knew Mary didn’t have the third—lent it to a friend from school who had never read it, never returned it. What a fool! It was this girl’s fault, and the fact no-one had plans for the weekend other than obsessing over deadlines or being mad to other people, maybe also that her fundamentals of management article was so bloody dull, that Caroline had to walk to the Waterstones. Must. Like, are you kidding? She hadn’t really planned it, despite having it said to Lula the night before, she hadn’t even changed clothes or put on make-up: she’d took her wallet, her coat, and suddenly found herself in Arndale in her Adidas and a sweatshirt (Hollister, granted). And for a book!

She looked for the book in the historical fiction section, was surprised, a few minutes later, to discover a section entirely dedicated to romance, and within it, to historical fiction romance, with the book she was looking for set in a prominent spot by the table. What a strange feeling, to see it so public! She took it with her and walked directly to the line, which being a Saturday, was rather long. The book in her hand, she couldn’t not open it while she waited: after how the other one ended, how couldn’t she? There was a Prologue, which she skimmed and then skipped, and then the first chapter, the awaited first chapter. She almost gasped but didn’t. She’d known Jamie would be alive (so many books left in the series, he better be), but was still amazed to see it confirmed so clearly: Jamie alive! She wouldn’t have liked to know she was smiling by herself, at nothing, at a book, at a fictional character. She liked being interrupted even less, especially with such a commentary:

“They’ll let you take it home if you pay for it, you know.”

She looked first in front of her, and finding no one, looked back to find the guy who’d talked to her. Again, she looked at the front and realised it was her turn in the line. Still, the cashiers were ringing the previous customers, so it wasn’t that bad. She looked back at the guy and distractedly flipped her hair to the side with one hand, in a gesture she hopped to be both sexy and menacing.

“Don’t say. My plan was to bat my lashes well fast at them.”

She said, lightly pointing to the clerk at the till. Jamie’s survival in Culloden had emboldened her in a way she didn’t believe possible, and so after delivering her send off, she went on to ignoring the guy (not handsome), though not to reading the book. It was killing her though to remain dignified, she had distinguished a ‘Claire!’ in there. Of course the first thing Jamie would think of was Claire. Her face must have given her out: she heard him chuckle behind her, apparently amused. Maybe he hadn’t been mean, which is how she had taken it, and he’d just been flirting. Could it be? As the two tills became empty, they each moved to one. While the clerk rang her, Caroline took the chance to look at the guy and confirm what she’d suspected: nothing special. He was tall, maybe as tall as Liam (comparing men to Liam: an habit that needed getting rid of), and broad (neither athletic nor fat, broad), flat nose, short hair, pink cheeks. She couldn’t see much more from there, not without making it obvious, but she didn’t need it to know she didn’t care. She got her money and her bag and turned around towards the exit.

“You know there’s a TV series?” She was startled and looked around to find him by her side.

“What?”

“About that book you got.” His voice was nice though, and his accent too, a mix of northern (definitely northerner than Manchester) and something else, which she couldn’t identify.

“I know.” She knew about Sam Heughan.

“Oh, fair enough.”

So, it must have been true, that he hadn’t been offended by her slowing the line but that he had liked what he’d seen. Well, this had never been a problem for her, had it? He smiled at her a broad smile, which mixed with his pink cheeks and big blue eyes made him look a bit like a puppy (not Milo though), but didn’t say anything. She could see he wanted her to say something, but he would have to work harder for it, as she had no interest in making this into anything other than what it was: an interruption. She shook her head and said, kinder than before:

“Well, goodbye.”

It took a few seconds for him to realise he’d missed his chance, and then he just said, not moving from where he was:

“Yes. Bye.”

At that moment she was already thinking on how many minutes it would take her to get in the bus and start reading that chapter.

 

Mary was sitting in her bed, her head resting on Frances’ shoulder. The worst had ended, and now Mary looked much better: not that it was difficult. Her fringe had never been the same since she’d cut it for Cleopatra, on Halloween, but now it was almost as before, and she had at least her face clean. Also her insides, as she’d been sick two times—she was unsure if it had been the knowledge of what she’d eaten, or the half bottle of wine she’d drank with it that had made the trick.

“I cannot believe I ate corpse.” Even if Frances was glad she was not crying anymore, she couldn’t help but be startled at the graveness of her words and gestures. How had it happened, how had Mary become her friend? She’d known from the beginning that Mary considered her one, but she had always suspected that half the reason was to ingratiate herself with Ned. Had she judged her wrongly the entire time? Was, after all, she, who had a wicked mind, heart?

Maybe, but, still: She cared about Mary. Even when she’d tried to resist it, at one point she had started to return all of Mary’s smiles and had started to laugh at her jokes. And now she was sad for her—not only for Ned or for herself, but for Mary too.

“Don’t worry about that.”

Mary sighed loudly, for the thousandth time this day, and apologised, also not for the first time “I’m sorry Frances, I feel awful.”

“It was just one pizza. Half a pizza.”

Mary lifted her head and gulped down her second glass of water since they’d been sitting there, as if she hadn’t heard what she’d said. Or as if she’d heard it and had wanted to cleanse her mouth once again.

“Ah. I really don’t know what’s happening, Frances. I’m sure you do. I know you do. But you’re not gonna say anything cos you’re on Ned’s side.” She raised her hand. “Don’t deny it, it’s fine.”

Frances didn’t say anything, because she was on Ned’s side. She let a second go by, then another, and then asked what she had been dreading to hear (it was easier since she couldn’t see her eyes):

“What happened yesterday?”

Another loud sigh, and then Mary moved a bit away from her.

“I don’t even know, to be honest.” The words left her as if she’d been waiting to be asked this exact question all day, and so she let it all out like the air from a punctured balloon: “I don’t understand why he got mad at me on the first place. I get why he’d be mad at Mia, though it’s honestly her decision, and I could even sort of understand it if he were angry at Henry, though he was only trying to be a good friend. But what did I do? Anytime I say something I make it worse, it seems. First, he started talking, yesterday, as if he’d had everything rehearsed, and I thought, right, we’re on the same page, and then he got mad at me! Again! I just said that I would support him if he quit uni, right? He actually said ‘You would like that, wouldn’t you’ and of course I said yes, which maybe I shouldn’t. But it’s not like what he’s doing is useful. And he’s planning about telling on Mia, can you believe it? The brotherly thing would be to keep the secret! No question! He can pretend not to know, if that makes him feel better. But then he says that she’s spending their father’s money, like they are poor, you know! And so, she was doing Art History! Actress is definitely a safer career choice than vicar, isn’t it? And turns out she’s living with Henry and Ian, which I didn’t even know until Mayra said it the other day. Isn’t that good news? That’s what I said to Ned when he told me: Well, at least I’m glad someone treats her better than her brother! What is this machismo that makes him think he has any say on what his sisters do? It would have been better if he’d never found out and each had kept to their thing.”

And it continued, and then it stopped, and Frances could see that she mixed thoughts and sentiments that were valid and good with others that were really not. She tried to think about her life, as she’d told Ned to do, how different it was from theirs. He’d been raised in a big conservative catholic family: Mary only had Henry.

“Mary.” She finally cut her: “I think—I think that you’re very different.”

The only good thing was that the monologue had made Mary more angry than sad, and now her face was red instead of green and her eyes were dry instead of wet.

“Yes. That’s what he said.”

Frances looked at her with pressed lips, not sure she had said the right thing. Didn’t they say love conquered everything?

“And now?”

Mary let herself fall on her back on the bed, as dramatic a gesture as could be. “Who knows?! I said some awful things to him. And he to me.”

Frances would find the second part difficult to believe if he hadn’t seen him angry herself a couple of days ago.

“But you love him?”

Mary laughed at the word: “Love! What do I know?” But then she sighed noisily and sat upright again. “I do like him a lot. Butterflies and all. But I am so mad, Frances. And I think he’s right.”

Frances held her breath.

“I mean, he’s studying Theology and I am Law. His favourite band is Coldplay—He thinks Olly Murs is good music, for fuck’s sake.”

Frances laugh startled Mary and, feeling bad, Frances covered her mouth with her hands.

“What are laughing about?!”

“He doesn’t have the best taste in music.”

Now it was Mary who laughed. “What is this thing I hear you singing by the way?”

Frances blushed, it was true she sang sometimes in her room, and that she had a beautiful singing voice. And she guessed what Mary wanted to know because she had been listening to Hasta la Raíz obsessively these past weeks.

“She’s, hum, a Mexican singer, I’ll show her to you if you want.”

“I do.”

 

When Caroline got home Mary and Frances were on the sofa watching Mulan. The remains of the pizza had disappeared by then, and so no-one would ever have to know what had happened, apart from Frances and Mary herself. Caroline looked at them, considering either to stay or to go to her room and read for a bit. At the end, she sat in between them, even though they’d been sitting close together, and warned them: I’ve got the third book, so after this you’ll have seen enough of me for today.

 

Chapter Text

 

From: Caroline Bingley <cbingley98@gmail.com>
To: Louisa Bingley <louisabingley@gmail.com>
Date: 9 December 2016, 19:03
Subject: Mysterious as the dark side of the moon

Dear Lula,

How are you? Was so enthralled with my book I didn’t realise you hadn’t said anything in a couple of days. Everything alright?

And yes, you got it right. You know I’ve read over 200 pages in one day and a half? Wasn’t aware it was humanly possible. But I NEED to reach the reunion moment, or I won’t sleep.

Anyways. News of the day. Seems Mary and Ned have broken up. I feel so bad for her, I mean, it’s been less than two months. And they seemed so happy. She says what saddens her most is that they never got to have sex, and can I believe they hadn’t had sex yet? I pretended I didn’t but I don’t think it’s that weird. At one point she started crying because she hadn’t even seen him without his shirt once. Which I do think is weird. I never know when she’s serious and when she’s trying to shock me, though.

Let me know how you are doing. And please attach pic of Milo. Every day I mean.

Thanks.

Lots and lots of love,

Caroline

 

Date: 10 December 2016, 14:12
Subject: RE Mysterious as the dark side of the moon

Dear Lula,

I’ve just met Liam. I mean Fitzwilliam. Just now we bumped into each other right outside the main library (I’m meeting M there). My heart is raaaaaaaaaaaacing. I think he’s objectively the fittest, but I don’t feel sad? Am I getting over him? I thought I was but then he invited me to their party this Friday (Charlie already had, but still) and I think I lost my cool. He asked me about the hike, said he’d seen the pictures. Don’t even remember what I said. I don’t know, maybe I’m kidding myself, but I do think I’ve come a long way? I am kidding myself, I am. Right?

Whatever, I see Mary already.

Love,

C

 

Date: 12 December 2016, 16:36
Subject: RE Mysterious as the dark side of the moon

Dear Lula,

Thank you for your kind words. And the Milo pic.

This week is so weird, like everybody is extra busy with uni work, but also celebrating the end of the semester. I don’t have the feeling this is ending yet, and anyway, we’re coming back in just three weeks, right?

So this Friday’s the Christmas party at Charlie’s, and Mayra made the mistake of inviting everybody (for Ela’s sake) to come on the FB group, but of course we don’t want Ned there. How oblivious can she be? I had to open like a private conversation right now just wrote: Please I hope you understand it’d be better if you didn’t come. Hope I did right. I’ll tell Frances at home. Still, I want Hal to know that he can come? I’ll let you know how things develop.

Love,

Caroline

 

Date: 12 December 2016, 21:01
Subject: Santa’s coming

Dear Lula,

Hadn’t realised we hadn’t talked for so long until I heard your lovely voice.

As requested, this is the list of things I want this birthday/Christmas. You can share it with mom and dad, too.

  • I want the next books of the Outlander series obvs
  • One of the petite DW wristwatches, preferably in gold
  • This pink quilted jacket from Ted Baker. Think dad’ll buy it?
  • Some new concealer (winter months paleness is real) and lipstick
  • Oh, also Mayra recommended this book to me, said she didn’t like it because it wasn’t “historically accurate” but she thought I’d do because the romance is epic (what a backhanded recommendation isn’t it, luckily I don’t care about historic accuracy like, at all)

Don’t forget to share yours too!

Love,

Caroline

 

Date: 13 December 2016, 09:21
Subject: RE Santa’s coming

Dear Lula,

Am I still Caroline Bingley? Of course I still want Burberry’s Blush! Just forgot. Thank you for reminding me xx

Love,

C

PS: Mayra came to the flat worried because she hasn’t heard from Ian in the past 30 hours. Mary and I are doing some investigative work, hope it’s nothing!

PPS: Ned got back to me, apparently all the Bertrams are travelling back home on Friday since they’re leaving on Saturday to celebrate Las Posadas in Mexico. So him coming to the party won’t be a problem! I could’ve saved myself some awkward conversation to be honest.

 

Date: 14 December 2016, 10:35
Subject: RE Santa’s coming

Dear Lula,

I remember when I wrote to you right before the first party at Charlie’s. My second week here. I had so many hopes (& dreams), all of them now thwarted! Oh dear! I feel confident now because I have 0 expectations about tonight. What’s the worst that could happen, that I see Liam snogging Bet? That my best friend breaks up with her boyfriend? That a guy tries to kiss me but because I don’t know how to react I push him away? Seen it, seen it and done it. I don’t even know if I wanna dress up for this or keep with my more-casual look of late.

Oh, who am I kidding, I’m gonna dust off those fake lashes for sure.

Eternal love,

Caroline

 

Chapter Text

 

The past, present, future, everything was terrible

 

As Caroline had predicted, things were different this time around. Never had a day been rained as much as today, not even in the West Midlands, and still so unsuccessfully managed to wash the sorrows away. No star, planet or asteroid was visible in the sky—and the dimness of the night had translated onto some of the partygoers’ attitudes in a way the clear sky hadn’t in September. Mary had suggested to have a pre-party drink at a pub nearby to pick up some courage, but the weather was so terrible that once they’d walked outside the halls, they’d known they would need hours in warm and dry refuge to get over it. And then, when they’d got to Charlie’s house, not the first nor the second guests, the four of them had headed directly to the bathroom. Saying hi didn’t seem like a priority when your fringe was all wet and your dress wrinkled under two coats. They got to the downstairs loo, right behind the kitchen, and fixed themselves up a bit: Caroline had dressed to kill, metaphorically; Mary, literally. The former was wearing an entirely too-tight dress that had been advertised as a “deconstructed bralet” bodycon at the store (she hadn’t dared show a picture to Lula, afraid of what she’d say) that wouldn’t have looked half as good without the padded bra, and that would certainly explode if she were to run or kick anything or anyone in it; the latter had paired black vinyl trousers with a halter-neck bodysuit that had a cleavage as deep as her knowledge of milk-substitutes, plus some uncool-looking white sneakers. Mayra, in her romantic-boho attire of usual, hadn’t been able to resist whistling when she’d seen them, and Frances had been glad to know that it wasn’t normal to dress like this, and it wasn’t only her lack of fashion-savviness that made her think so. She, although probably none of them could appreciate it, had extracted something from the lesson she’d received in Windermere. Mary’d been kind: it’s not that your clothes are not pretty (you could tell that was exactly what she thought), but you must learn to pair them up. If you wear this grandma-looking cardigan, of course all buttoned up, do not pair it with equally old-looking skirts. Of course, she’d interpreted it how she’d wanted it, but the advice hadn’t been for nothing: Despite of what she’d said to them, she did want to look pretty, she just didn’t want to subscribe to their meaning of the word—despite how different Caroline and Mary’s styles were at first glance, both relied on some of the same stereotypes. And so now, though still with two braids, she was wearing a rather thin and tight jumper with her favourite skirt, which was denim and was of, indeed, under-the-knee length. She thought she looked nice but none of the others had said a thing, probably too busy lost in their own thoughts, and so she hadn’t felt so bad for wasting the outfit for a night that had no Ned (she felt guilty now thinking this).

When the line outside the loo was long enough and they had inconvenienced just the right amount of people, they all came out and Caroline took all the coats and offered to leave them in Charlie’s room, so that when she got back they were all already mingling. As they were. Frances and Mayra were talking to the latter’s sister, Ela, who got each the drink they asked for. Mary, Caroline wouldn’t have been able to see but for the shine of her trousers, and she was talking to Frank and Jamie, to the latter she said: “What, you’re not deejaying?” To a “No, I’m a guest this time ‘round” from him. “This is not gonna be the same without your magic, mate, not even close.” Mary looked all right but Mary wasn’t all right, a bit like Mayra, who didn’t dare to think the worst (I mean, I know Ian loves me), but couldn’t help but sometimes be overcome by angst-filled flashes of self-doubt, where she would start questioning: But it doesn’t make sense, does it? Why wouldn’t he answer the phone? He was supposed to be working yesterday. He wouldn’t just leave, would he? To which the only appropriate response was always, No, of course not. Then, Caroline decided: let’s look for Charlie, better get it over with. And there he was, with Joana at one side and Fitzwilliam at the other. Caroline was glad to notice the latter was wearing his glasses, as she had taken to associate the lack of them with Bet. “Hey” she said, and Charlie wasn’t shy about it, he went: “Damn Caroline, leave something to the imagination,” which made her so angry that she didn’t even blush. “Mind your own business will you”. The dress wasn’t that tight when she’d tried it on the store a few weeks ago, was she putting on weight? Of course not, she didn’t put on weight, she was not that sort of girl. “Well, Joana, I missed you this week!” and Joana agreed with her and said they should have another dinner, just the girls, because hadn’t it been nice? But this time Bet would come too, of course. Her English was much more fluent than she remembered, though her accent remained as Catalan-tinged as always. “Speaking of whom,” said Caroline, digging her own grave, “where is she?” She was coming later, had a farewell dinner with some of the American exchange students, would be coming soon. Was it an accident that Liam had chosen this exact moment to take a sip from his beer and look at the ceiling? Who knew. “Well, I’ll do some reconnaissance, see you later everybody.” To the kitchen and the bottle Mary had hidden. It was true she felt a lot more confident around him now than a month ago. If there were five stages to unrequited love as there were to bereavement, she was definitely past bargaining. Maybe not quite in acceptance, though.

She was walking towards the sofa when the doorbell rang, and so she opened it in a reflex: great, it was a bunch of people who she’d never seen, never ever, and then Henry at the back, who nodded to her with a side-smile, only one dimple visible. “Your friends?” “No, those are definitely not on me,” he laughed. Caroline showed him inside, it was his first time in the house. She recalled that other party and told him so: “You know, I offered Mary to invite you in that first party.” Henry took off his scarf and wool coat while looking at his surroundings, still listening to Caroline with his full attention: “What she said?” “Better Not”. Caroline pronounced both words very distinctly, the full capital letters. He laughed, That’s love, to you. “Bloody hell, Henry, are those Gucci?”, now he was caught off-guard, but looked at his loaffers for a second and then admitted: Indeed they are. “Well, where’s that sister of mine?” Mary ran to them as soon as she saw him and hugged him, the coat still in his hand. Caroline didn’t know if she was supposed to offer to take it for him (hoped not to be doing this all night) but Henry just threw it on the sofa without any regard. “So, any news from Will?” Recalling the band’s nickname for Ian, Caroline tuned in: “Yes, what’s up?” “Nothing.” Mary and Henry looked at each other significantly for a second, and as if she had spoken out loud, he answered: “No, it’s not that.” What was happening? “What do you mean?” Caroline asked, and then, quickly getting it (as if she’d been accepted into their telepathic net): “You think he’s ghosting Mayra?” and she looked at Mary, aghast, as if the thought hadn’t crossed half of Manchester’s minds already. Henry made a face, Mary another, the first talked: “He’s not what you’d call loyal, but as far as I know, he hasn’t seen any other girl since they started hooking up”. It didn’t sound very impressive to Caroline, who had been assuming precisely this, but Mary, who was drinking from her glass, nearly spit in her brother’s face: You serious? Yes: I don’t think it’s anything to do with her. He’ll turn up. They all looked at Mayra, who was talking to two girls, only one of which they recognised: Bel, from her birthday party. Still, Henry didn’t dwell on them and looked back at Caroline: “And the booze, where?” “You didn’t bring your own?” Mary hit him in the back. “That’s why you don’t invite Henry to parties, Caroline.” “Really? I thought it was because I stole all the hearts.” She took them to the kitchen, but he fixed his drink himself. When he met Frank and Jamie, he nodded a: Hey mates, you alright? And they both answered in kind, in that guy-way Caroline couldn’t even begin to translate into an intelligible language but that after a 30-second conversation had produced seven ‘alrights’. “So,” Caroline started, when it was only the three of them again, “what’s up with Mia?” Mary made a face and interrupted Henry before he had a chance to answer, “I’m going to check on Frances, I think she’s by herself”. Henry saw her go, but then still answered to Caroline: “It’s getting a bit tiring, I offered her a place until she fixed it up with her family or found another place, but all she does all day is sit on the sofa and complain I haven’t got a telly. She left today for the holidays though, so—got the flat to myself.” He added, then “What about Mary?” “Well. Not too well. She gets she and Ned are very different but really, they knew that already, and the fight didn’t make much sense.” He agreed, “He seemed so sound.” They returned to the living-room, but Caroline was stopped by Mayra and some other girls, and Henry disappeared somewhere else.

Fate took this moment to make Hal appear, as if out of nowhere, hair still damp. Caroline smiled to him and he smiled back. Though Mayra was decided to keep him for them, he asked for something to dry his hands at least, even a paper towel would do, and so Caroline took him to the kitchen on her own. She offered him a tea towel as if she were at her house, finding them only on the second cupboard she looked for them, and asked him with a raised eyebrow if he hadn’t realised it was raining when he’d left. He laughed: “No, I did, that’s what I look using an umbrella.” She laughed too: “Guess you still haven’t got the hang of it.” No, the wind was crazy, umbrella or not, you would end up wet. Caroline noticed him looking at her for a second and realised that he was finally taking in her dress. Embarrassed, despite him quickly looking at the ceiling when caught, she offered to take the coat from him, only to realise he was not wearing one. “Someone took it, honestly, don’t even know where it is.” She laughed again, considering touching his arm but concluding it would be too much—which is why she didn’t realise Liam was coming towards her, right now, directly looking at her, no-one else. “Have you seen Ela?” Caroline shook her head, unable to utter a sound, despite her open mouth: Electrified, and not in a pleasant way. Only then Liam saw Hal and offered his hand for him to shake: Fitzwilliam. Hal. This is your house? Yeah, you’re welcome to anything. Carling’s all right? It is, and Liam offered Hal a can and then said to Caroline: “Let her know I’m looking for her if you don’t mind” and left. And Hal was smart enough to realise her face had changed and so he drew near to her and smiled reassuringly and made small talk. It took a few seconds for her to say something (Liam couldn’t have cared less that she was with Hal, and she rationally knew that, but also forgot about her tiny crush with Hal as soon as he was there, and she knew that apart from everything else, this was not a good sign), and when she did say something it was gonna be an apology, if Hal hadn’t cut her with: “All good, Caroline.” And, of course, she took another sip of her glass. They went back to the living-room only for Caroline to be dragged away from the crowd by Mary: “So, how’s going?” Instead of replying, Caroline asked “And you?” “I’m brill!” Mary showed her the empty glass and then continued to drag her—yet again—to the kitchen, where she started fixing them a new gin and tonic each: “Mary, I haven’t finished mine yet.” So, what are you waiting for? Caroline gulped it down and took the one her friend was offering her once she’d finished mixing it. “I thought it was going great with Hal and then Liam came and talked to us, and—” Caroline had finally explained the no-kiss to Mary, who now nodded wisely without stopping to sip from her drinking straw (where she’d got it from, a mystery). “He wasn’t the right guy, Caroline.” “Liam?” “Well, he neither. But I meant Hal.” Caroline agreed, but didn’t understand the reason for that, he was perfect on paper: “But why?” “Just answer me this question,” Mary started, as if she were talking seriously and not being outrageous as always, “are your pants dry or not?” Caroline blushed, almost letting her glass fall to the floor “Mary!” “Well, don’t answer me, but think about it” Caroline tried not to, but it was true that it had been Liam’s unexpected presence—so tall, so elegant—who’d made all her body shiver, not Hal’s. “You cannot force attraction, we’ll find another one for you tonight, I promise. I mean. Look at you, I’d totally snog you, Caroline”. “Thanks, same to you.”

Frances night was going slower than the rest’s: they all felt the party had been going on for twenty minutes tops, while she had sensed every minute of the entire hour and a half they had been in the house. Not that she was having a bad time: Ela was nice, Mayra, in her own way, was too. Even Mary had come to check on her and had introduced her to some people she didn’t know she knew. She missed Ned though. Ned. Now that she’d finally realised that she really cared for Mary, to think of him that way (flash: kiss, hand in bum) made her feel guilty, made her question her usually undisputed goodness. She took her mobile, something she always avoided doing in social gatherings, to re-read his last message yet again: Just ‘till boxing day and I’ll see you again. It did read like a boyfriend-text, didn’t it? But Ned was so naive sometimes, and it was her fault her mind was so fixated on the subject. She must have sighed out loud, because suddenly Henry was at her side, with a: “Something wrong?” Frances shook her head. They hadn’t talked more than a sentence since they’d known each other. Which wasn’t long but was still significant considering what he’d done with other girls he’d known for even less. “No”, in case it wasn’t clear. “You look nice”, he said, and although from any other person she would have appreciated the compliment, she couldn’t believe it coming from his lips. He was surely making fun of her, you could tell, or alternatively hoping to extract something from her. Maybe pave the way to Ned, to help things out for him and Mary? If it were that, it would at least be to a kind end. So probably not. What else, though? “Mary said you’re reading Jude the Obscure.” Frances could have been knocked down with a feather at this moment, maybe even with a whiff. “Yes,” couldn’t help but to admit, tentatively. “Ha, my favourite Hardy by far, and so often overlooked.” Words, mere words. “So, which bit are you in now?” She told him, sort of hoping to catch him on the lie: “Well that’s a good bit, Susan’s arguments against marriage are quality,” he laughed, “You know I almost named the band after Father Time?” Frances continued to be perplexed. Would continue the conversation with any other person gladly, but to him, she didn’t know what to say, didn’t want to go through the effort of thinking what to say. “Let me know when you finish it, do you? I’d love to hear your thoughts.” Oh really. He could read the scepticism in her face: “What, I am serious, darling”. She was about to believe him, but the ‘darling’ threw her off, the ‘darling’ made her retreat inside her carapace again: “Of course.” “After that, you won’t be able to go back to Dickens,” he said, just to add something, to which she couldn’t help but respond with a “I wasn’t gonna.” And he smiled widely. Frances tried really hard not to mimic his gesture, and she would say she had succeeded, though at what cost! She felt the apricot juice as solid as a rock in her stomach, and her hands were clenched. “Wait”, he took the visibly-vibrating phone from his back pocket and looked at the screen, then showed it to her and apologised: “Sorry.” It was ‘Will Ian’, the name on the screen—Mayra’s Ian.

 

Caroline eventually lost Mary to a guy whose entire flirting discourse consisted of listing things his exgirlfriend used to say and do. Good luck with that! Truth be told, she was cold as anything, had been hugging herself for some long minutes before she decided she should do something about it—and why hadn’t the alcohol warmed her up, wasn’t that what it was supposed to do? She’d drank two gin and tonics in the past three hours, and yet she felt nothing! She looked for Charlie, but not seeing him, she went upstairs by herself: She would pick one of his jumpers, she didn’t even care which. Both Liam and Hal (and the entire universe) had now seen her in her more murderously sexy outfit and nothing had changed, if covering herself with an jumper meant she had given up, then given up she had. It was only when she was about to enter the room that she heard it, some sort of moaning, some giggling. At that moment she could start to notice the gin burning in her veins, in the back of her throat. Her first thought was: God, I really don’t want to catch Charlie and Jane at it. Her second was: Oh My God, what if it is Liam and Bet? She opened only a crack, and seeing nothing, opened the door wide. There was no-one there. She breathed out, calmed only for a few seconds: of course, if it was Liam and Bet they would be in his room, not Charlie’s. She didn’t know which room was his, but she walked towards the one she thought the voices were coming from, and finally recognised both voices as Not Liam’s, though Both Male. Unable to control her curiosity, she waited, ear to the door, to put a face on them: A laugh, she couldn’t tell who it belonged to, and a Oh c’mon that sounded familiar. No, still not Liam’s. But what could she know? She’d never heard him in a moment as intimate as this. She wished! That was the entire bloody point. Then she heard some steps inside, and she ran quickly to Charlie’s, closing the door behind her. Would’ve taken the investigation further if it weren’t because she’d got dizzy from running. She sat on the bed, by the coats, took off her boots and laid there for a few seconds, maybe minutes. Maybe even more than that? When she left the room, she had a sports sweater on and Charlie’s slippers. As she walked down the stairs, she realised she’d never felt better, she had to find Mary and tell her: She felt perfect! Brilliant! Sorry, brill. She felt something coming back to her mouth. No, false alarm. She was grand. See? Liam and Bet were at the end of the stairs, blocking her way to the living-room, and she didn’t even care. That they seemed to be arguing had nothing to do with it, swear. And in fact, no-one who was seeing them would have thought they were on the same side of the argument, which was politics: US politics, because how could anyone avoid talking about the recent election? They agreed the results were the greatest evidence there was of the sorry state of education—an Ignorance Problem, which was, in fairness, world-spread. Lack of education plus Capitalism plus the generally fucked-up current state of the Western world, which, also both agreed, seemed taken out of an Orwell novel. The problem was in the way he talked about it. It sounded like he was dismissing actual living people, that he was putting himself over them and judging them from afar, and afraid that this was how she sounded when she made the same points, she got angry and contrary: “We’re all the same.” “Well, not really, though? The system’s fucked, but that doesn’t make the people who voted for him any less stupid. And we’re not.” Bet’s blood boiled. And then he went and said, “You know what Churchill said: the best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with an average voter,” which of course made it much worse. “Oh yes, quote to me a conservative war-loving PM, don’t you!” He was obviously not getting that she was upset, and so he smiled widely: “I don’t even think it was him that really said that.” It was at that point that Caroline reached the end of the stairs, looking at them and hoping that this didn’t end in a snog-fest, or that if it did, she was at least excused to witness it this time. Bet must have been wishing to find a way out of the conversation, though, because she said hi—to her. Drunk Caroline found that she could be nice to Bet, why not? “Hi, Bet. I’ve heard you’re staying till June?” “Well, not for the winter holidays, but yes,” Bet looked at Liam for the tiniest of seconds, and Caroline intervened, “Won’t be the same without Joana though, right?” “No, it won’t, but I’m hoping to meet new people.” She smiled at Caroline, god knows if sincerely or not, and then said goodbye, leaving them standing there with an empty look. Caroline looked at Liam, who looked lost but at least looked back, and said: “Sorry I scared her off, next time I recommend quoting Neruda instead”. After the initial surprise, Liam laughed, actually laughed: “Fair enough, Caroline.” Everything after that point would forever be foggy in her memory.

 

What had happened while Caroline was upstairs was that Henry’d come back with the news of what Ian had told him on the phone: that he’d left Manchester, the band, Mayra—that he had been signed by a producer, that the weekend they’d been at the Lakes, he had been in meetings with agents, and why aren’t you happy for me? Henry was livid, thinking mostly of the gig they had booked for Christmas and how to pull it off without their singer. Mayra, who was filled in just a few seconds later than Mary, had started crying rather quickly, even when asking, “But what about me?” and had finally been taken home. “Hasn’t he heard of fucking long-distance relationships?” Mary quipped, but there was no-one to hear it, Henry running to his bandmates to inform them of the mess they were in.

And so, when Caroline eventually got to the living-room, there was no Frances, no Henry, no Mayra. Hal might have been there, she would not remember it afterwards (again, not a good sign). But someone had to witness this very brill moment for her, when she looked so good yet so casual and she felt so amazing and so eloquent and god, yes, she’d made Liam laugh. The ones she remembered being there were Mary, though she was snogging the guy with the ex-girlfriend on the sofa, and also Charlie, who when he saw her quickly showed her his mobile phone with the latest purchase he’d made on the screen: a plane ticket to Barcelona for New Year’s. Sorry, what? And also Liam, whose shoes ended up receiving most of Caroline’s sick. Mostly gin and tonic. At least they weren’t Gucci?

 

Chapter Text

 

From: Caroline Bingley <cbingley98@gmail.com>
To: Louisa Bingley <louisabingley@gmail.com>
Date: 15 December 2016, 12:23
Subject: RE Santa’s coming

Dear Lula,

I’m getting on the train in a bit, I guess I’ll see you tomorrow? I’ll let you know when I get home. I am absolutely wrecked but so happy M&F had baked cupcakes for my birthday (as we’re not gonna see each other into well past it) and gave me the 4rth of Outlander plus the most beautiful earrings. I love them. I mean M&F, though the earrings too I guess.

Nothing too remarkable last night, I just might change names and dye my hair black and move to Antarctica but apart from that.

Love,

Caroline

 

 

End of Part I: Fall semester 

 

Chapter Text

 

Interlude

 

From: Henry Eliopoulos
To: Mary Crawford
Date: December 15

well?

how was it?

sorry i didnt say gb, dont know why i thought i could fix it

the christmas gig’s still on and i'm thinking i’ll have to sing

see you at auntie’s?

good luck getting over that hangover xx

 

From: Mayra Deshmukh
To: Ian Willoughby
Date: December 15

still nothing? how dare you, i cannot believe it you fucking arsehole i hope you get autotunned to death and become a huge flop cause it’s what you deserve and i swear i’ll kill you if i see you

 

From: Frances Norris
To: Ned Bertram
Date: December 17

Hi, how’s everything? How’s your grandma? How did your father take Mia’s news? I think my parents don’t know anything about it or at least haven’t brought up the subject with me. Mother and I are currently working full time to get everything ready for the benefit. Hope you’re feeling better and are having a great time :) Looking forward to New Year’s!

Love,

 

From: Fitzwilliam Darcy
To: Elisabeth Benítez
Date: December 20

Thank you for accepting my friend request. I hope you’re enjoying the time off. Happy holidays!

 

From: Mary Crawford
To: Frances Norris
Date: December 20

how are you, hun? never thanked you for taking so good care of me, but know i wont forget it even when im a hundred and ten years old (at which point i will still have a good fifty years left but can’t promise my memory’ll work by then). are you having a good time? have you got any news from ned? miss you lots

 

From: Caroline Bingley
To: Mary Crawford
Date: December 21

Sooo? Do you have news from him?

Or Ian? From Mayra’s updates on insta I guess nothing good?

My brother is on facetime with J everyday, can you believe it?

I am having a great time though honestly I miss you. Some of my school friends now seem so boring in comparison to the mcr lot.

Also my mum suggested I diet, be honest, am I fat?

Love xxxxxxxxx

 

From: Javed Benwick
To: Mary Crawford
Date: December 22

Just wanted to say I had a great time at the party last week. Hope you’re doing well and looking forward to see you again after the hols ;)

 

From: Mia Bertram
To: Henry Eliopoulos
Date: December 23

do you miss me a lot?

i am bored witless and looking forward to being in mcr again

can’t believe i just said that

merry christmas etc.

 

From: Jamie Fashanu
To: Henry Eliopoulos
Date: December 23

Alright then, should I put down the band member needed posters?

 

From: Frances Norris
To: Caroline Bingley
Date: December 24

Happy Birthday Caroline!!!! Hope you have a wonderful time with your family & friends. How is your family doing? And the pup? :) Also, have you shared your new culinary skills with your family? Promise to have more of those cupcakes at your arrival. Wish you a merry Christmas too. Hugs and kisses,

 

From: Mary Crawford
To: Caroline Bingley
Date: December 24

HAPPY BIRTHDAY YOU BEAUTIFUL SEXY (THIN) GOOSE <3<3

we’ll celebrate for the entire next year and THATS A PROMISE

love you to the moon and back,

 

From: Lois Musgrove
To: Caroline Bingley
Date: December 24

Happy birthday Caroline! Hope you’re not buried beneath the pile of fundamentals notes and books as I am and have actually time to enjoy your bday. Also hope you get that ted baker you wanted xxxxx

 

From: Hal Tae
To: Caroline Bingley
Date: December 24

Happy birthday!! How are the holidays treating you? Hope you have a great day and that you recovered soon from that hangover haha. Merry christmas

 

From: Fitzwilliam Darcy
To: Caroline Bingley
Date: December 24

happy birthday Caroline!

 

From: Joana Jardins
To: Caroline Bingley
Date: December 24

Happy birthday! :) I hope you have a great day! I am really glad that I met you, and it has been very nice to work with you. Merry christmas and moltes felicitats!!!

 

From: Ned Bertram
To: Frances Norris
Date: December 25

We got your package in time, everybody loved it. You got me the best present of all. It’s a shame you didn’t get to come this year though, but since we’re getting on a plane tomorrow, see you soon :)

Everything’s calmed down a bit here, Julia took Mia’s side with father and now they are friends again, finally. Also, father’s letting Mia come back to the house if she promises to apply for acting schools. Let’s see. How did the dinner party go last night? I’m sure you were wonderful and raised a lot of money!

I’m not too well tbh and have started to write a thousand times to Mary but never send it. Do you know how she’s doing?

Love,

 

From: Frank Churchill
To: Mary Crawford
Date: December 26

how r you doing love? did henry tell you we were dead brilliant? well shan u cant be our singer now that ur brother has officially taken the role. did he mention mia wanted to front us? fuck me now. anyways, see you when yer back, im staying here

 

From: Frank Churchill
To: Jamie Fashanu
Date: December 26

when the fuck are you coming back you knobhead

 

From: Edward Ferrars
To: Ela Deshmukh
Date: December 27

I know you don’t celebrate christmas but hope the holidays are going well?

Have you watched the dw special? What did you think?

Looking forward to your biryani leftovers hehehehehhee

 

From: Julia Bertram
To: Hal Tae
Date: December 28

We’re back again, such a pity, I could’ve stayed there with Tom. Are you back in England? We’re celebrating the new years with the Norris&co here and so not looking forward to that. Honestly you should see Frances’ parents what an actual bore they worry more about the kids in Africa than their actual living daughter. Anyways I’m happy that everything is back to normal, even if Ned’s sulkier than usual. Best x

 

From: Jamie Fashanu
To: Frank Churchill
Date: December 28

been away literally 4 days

just got on the train

x

 

From: Charlie Bingley
To: Joana Jardins
Date: December 30

Ok boarding now we’re 30 minutes late

I’m DYING to see you xxxxxx

 

From: Henry Eliopoulos
To: Mary Crawford
Date: December 30

the song i was telling you about at dinner

sound, right?

 

From: Richard Fitzwilliam
To: Fitzwilliam Darcy
Date: January 1

You missed a good one last night mate, you owe me one (or not). Did you have a good time with Gigi? Have you heard from loverboy? Anyways, happy new year! Let this year bring you a bit more joy than the last hehehehee

 

From: Elisabeth Benítez
To: Ela Deshmukh
Date: January 1

Happy new year!!!!!!!!! How are you??? Did you go out last night??? I diiid. I have a big favour to ask you, but please feel free to say no! I’ve found a new place in MCR to stay, it’s cheaper and I like the area more, but they need me to have everything out of my current flat by Sunday and I can’t get into the new until the week after that… So I’m staying at Joana’s room until then but I need some place to leave my things for a week. You think I could leave them at yours’? Sorry sorry and thank you. Love,

 

From: Mayra Deshmukh
To: Ian Willoughby
Date: January 2

i can’t believe you didn’t even wish me a happy new year

i miss you so much please tell me what can i do i want to be with you i love you so much

 

From: Mary Crawford
To: Caroline Bingley
Date: January 3

just saw liam and bet are friends on fb, when did THAT happen?

here’s a pic of shirtless jamie from series 2 to cheer you up

 

From: Charlie Bingley
To: Fitzwilliam Darcy
Date: January 4

So how are things at home? or are you at the fitzwilliams now? Say hi to gigi and rich from me will you

Tomorrow’s the three wise men parade and then we’re giving out more presents. Id like to stay forever lol but to answer your question, we’re getting back on the 7th

What’d you say if we have a farewell joana/happy birthday liam party all in one in a couple of weeks?

 

From: Frank Churchill
To: Henry Eliopoulos
Date: January 5

the new lyrics r wicked

who inspired them, you bastard?

 

From: Caroline Bingley
To: Frances Bertram
Date: January 5

Heyyy are you back at the halls already? Hope you had a wonderful time with your family. Have you refinished dragonfly in amber? I’ll bring the 3rd for you, I swear it is the best yet. Not looking forward to starting school but yes to coming back, I missed you and Mary so much :( though i think no more cupcakes for me :(((

 

From: Ned Bertram
To: Mary Crawford
Date: January 6

Can we talk when you get back? I’m there today.

I miss you.

 

End of Interlude

 

Chapter Text

 

Part II: Sping semester

 

 

From: Caroline Bingley <cbingley98@gmail.com>
To: Louisa Bingley <louisabingley@gmail.com>
Date: 8 January 2017, 20:22
Subject: Back again

Dear Lula,

I honestly don’t remember what I told you in these emails. There’s nothing to tell. M’s still not here, she’s got more than a week for her first exam so she’ll take a few days. F arrived yesterday and we’ve spent together most of today, studying though. We also updated each other a bit re the holidays. Turns out she spent most of it planning charity events with her mother, which didn’t sound v exciting in fairness. I guess this is where her big heart comes from anyway (not possible since she was adopted at 10+ but you know what I mean). Though every time I hear her on the phone with her mum, she only ever says yes, no, and thank you, which is worrying.

I miss you a bit.

Love,

C

 

Date: 10 January 2017, 15:21
Subject: RE Back again

Dear Lula,

Of course your house is amazing, didn’t I tell you like a thousand times in person? But what about John, do we forgive him for that awful present he got you? In all honesty, I think he meant well.

Nothing new here, still studying. Also went to meet with Lois for a bit at the library and later for coffee. Ned came today to have lunch with us. Don’t know if he came because he knew M wasn’t here or because he didn’t. It was nice either way. I mean, he’s a nice person, though maybe not someone I imagine M ending up with. They’ve gone on a walk now, F and him, even though it’s freezing and I really don’t know how they can be bothered. All the Bertrams are already set in their house again, Hal included. Not that it matters. Charlie and Joana are coming back tonight, I might go say hi tomorrow.

4 days til my first uni exam.

Love xxxx

Caroline

 

Date: 11 January 2017, 22:13
Subject: RE Back again

Dear Lula,

Oh my goooood. I went to see Charlie today and you know who was there? Bet. Apparently she’s v good friends with Mayra’s sister Ela (who goes to class with L?) and she left all her things in their house between moving flats. Fortunately, L was at the library, but I imagine they’ve met a few times, right? They must’ve. And Charlie says she gets along v well with L’s cousin, though I don’t know when or why she’s met him.

Anyways Charlie was super happy and Joana too, except when I said she must be sad she has only two weeks left and she almost started crying. My bad.

I also asked Ela after Mayra since she isn’t answering messages, and she’s back here as well just not in good shape. F and I decided we’re gonna check on her tomorrow. Frank (wasn’t there but we got the message via Ela) said none of them have heard from Ian but Henry went to find him in London. Downright dramatic.

Amyways, that is all. F went to the cinema with Ned and they’re not back yet, so I guess I’ll go to sleep.

Love,

Caroline

PS: I am glad you and John are perfectly alright again, you were made for each other (despite his shortcomings).

PPS: I haven’t worn my coat yet, no. I think it’s a night-coat, feels a bit too precious to wear it only for going to Costa or the library, right?

 

Date: 13 January 2017, 20:37
Subject: RE Back again

Dear Lula,

I haven’t left the house all day today. I am so ready to take the test tomorrow, I honestly do not want to hear about models of decision-making ever again. Wrong career choice then, is it not? Kidding.

Mayra wasn’t as sad as I thought she’d be, but you know what she was? Fat. She’s definitely put on more than a stone. Just mad. Says Ian never got back to her at all, so he’s a scumbag and she knows, but still misses him. I mean, he was v handsome honestly so I get it.

M said she’s coming back tomorrow, and we’ll meet after my exam. Ned’s also asked her to meet when she gets back. Maybe to get back together? F thinks so.

Speaking of F, she says I don’t look fat at all and so we’re eating the banoffee muffins she made while watching Belle, have you watched it? The film and not the muffins.

Love,

C

 

Date: 14 January 2017, 08:43
Subject: RE Good luck

Dear Lula,

THANK YOU!

 

Date: 14 January 2017, 18:22
Subject: RE Good luck

Dear Lula,

Not sure I got all of it correctly. But it’s done!

M got here a few hours ago, had great fun. She didn’t look sad at all and was v happy as usual, the three of us caught up, though F and I already had and it was mostly M talking, but still brilliant. She spent Christmas with her aunt, father’s side, who is married but still young and has no kids, and Henry spent some days there too but is now in London truly hoping to talk to Ian and all that. She sent him a selfie of the 3 of us (well, F was moving away as she took the picture so there’s only half of her) and he said he hoped to see us soon. M said he’s over Mia and Julia and the whole thing, which apart from good news for them (sisterhood and all) is good news for her and Ned. They’re meeting tomorrow as she wants to keep him waiting a bit (and she’s too knackered to face him, didn’t say, but I can tell).

I’m gonna take today off and read a bit in bed as a reward for my hard work. It is back to studying tomorrow.

Love,

Caroline

 

Date: 16 January 2017, 08:49
Subject: gASGAGaagsa

OH MY GOOOOOOOOOD

GUESS WHO I JUST SAW

COMING OUT

OF

MARY’S

BEDROOM??????????????????????

I need to tell someone who understands what big of a deal this is, but I don’t think F would appreciate it, and Mayra’s not in the mood. Is it weird to write to Henry about her sister’s sexdoings? I mean, it’s Henry.

 

Date: 16 January 2017, 11:02
Subject: RE gASGAGaagsa

Oh yes it was Ned of course, sorry. Talked to Henry, hilarious. Says he’s happy for Mary though, as a nice brother would. Haven’t been able to talk to M properly as Ned went through the charade of him having just arrived now to have breakfast for the sake of F and me (doesn’t know I’ve seen him), but she winked at me and gave me a thumbs up when no-one was looking so I guess passionate night of lovemaking has been confirmed. Sooooooooooo crazy. Cannot believe it.

Who has sex on a Tuesday though?

 

Date: 16 January 2017, 21:23
Subject: RE gASGAGaagsa

Dear Lula,

I’m gonna fail tomorrow’s test and it’s gonna be M’s fault, I’m telling you. Ned ended up staying for most of the day, and then when he left he asked F to walk him home, I guess to break the news to her? But if there is one thing F isn’t is dumb. Or blind. She KNOWS.

Obviously when they left, M spilled everything to me. I thought she’d be happier. Maybe something she’s not telling me? Turns out Ned never thought they’d broken up, just that they were going over a batch, difficult times, etc. Can you believe it? I said it’s weird then that they hadn’t talked FOR A MONTH and M agrees but didn’t dare say that to him. She likes him still a lot and says she was extremely happy yesterday when he said he loved her (!) to the point of tears even, but that at the same time she’d got used to the idea of being single again. I wish I had that kind of problems.

Lots of love,

Caroline

 

Date: 17 January 2017, 13:43
Subject: RE Bingleys never fail

Dear Lula,

I honestly disagree, have you seen my life lately? Even my highlights have roots.

The exam went well, not as bad as I feared. Still might fail?

Thank you for being the best sister etc.

Love,

Caroline

PS: Milo pic?

 

Date: 19 January 2017, 14:48
Subject: RE Bingleys never fail

Dear Lula,

Everything is going back to normal again. F is at the shop working, M is out with Ned. They’re officially back together and though she was weird that first day she seems fine again. V happy for them. I think F is also happy for them which I didn’t think she’d be.

Saturday and no plans—really seems all is back to normal!

Monday’s Liam bday, which I honestly wish I could forget but can’t. Charlie wanted to throw him a proper party next Saturday, but he said no. A bit mean considering it was also gonna be Joana’s farewell party though. Still, they’re having a small do with some people and I am invited. Have 1 week to mentally prepare.

Charlie says I’m allowed to bring one person. Big slap to the face. What person? Guess I’ll ask F, since M has a boyfriend now.

Love,

Caroline

 

Date: 21 January 2017, 12:17
Subject: RE Bingleys never fail

Dear Lula,

Another exam done, it was business economics so it went great.

Today is also Liam’s birthday, I wished him hbd on his FB wall but waited until there were messages of at least a few people, to make it normal. Also my message was well impersonal, like his for mine. The sort of message you think they haven’t bothered with at all.

Going to treat myself to a mani after the hairdressers.

Love,

Caroline

 

Date: 21 January 2017, 16:29
Subject: So?

Dear Lula,

What do you think?

Am I crazy?

 

Date: 23 January 2017, 17:44
Subject: RE So?

Dear Lula,

Thank you <3 I still feel a bit weird when I look in the mirror but M and F say I look really pretty, (M said “even more than before if that is possible” which is the nicest thing to say). Building my confidence to post a selfie on insta.

Have the last 2 exams tomorrow, everything looking good.

To be honest I am kind of glad I can spend most of these days at home because it is FREEZING. I wanted to buy an outfit for Sat but it’s so warm in here, no chance I’m getting out there again.

Also am having hot choco with F right now. Yummmmmmmmmm.

Love,

Caroline

 

Date: 24 January 2017, 16:48
Subject: RE So?

Dear Lula,

I am freeeeeeeeeeeeee.

Definitely printing this pic of Milo and putting it on the wall. I’ve finally started to decorate and have also posted a couple of pictures of the hike. Seems like a lifetime ago right now, but a nice memory nonetheless.

Tonight we’re starting series 2 of Outlander. Are you gonna keep watching it on your own? Be honest, you loved it.

Love,

Caroline

 

Date: 25 January 2017, 17:44
Subject: RE So?

Dear Lula,

Laziest day of the year yet. Much unlike yours I suppose.

Anyways, hope the housewarming party tonight goes really really well. Thought knowing you I really can’t see how it couldn’t. I so wish I could be there. Hopefully most of John’s coworkers end up not coming? Let me know how it goes.

On re to tomorrow, I ended up being honest with M and F as they both had assumed it was a party and they were invited.

Me: So, I am allowed to bring only one guest

M: Oh my god, who do I have to fight?

Me (ignoring her & using my posh accent): I’d love to bring both of you, as you are both the most agreeable companions a girl could dream of

M pretended to dry a tear

Me: But a choice must be made

F: What a cruel world we live in

Me: Indeed. So please make the choice for me

F: I am free if Mary isn’t. If that’s the question

Me: I want you to come. If you want to come

M: I want to come

F: Then I can stay at home

M: Don’t be silly

Me: Alright, I guess I’ll say I lost count

Love,

Caroline

Chapter Text

No one who has ever seen you together can doubt his affection

 

It wasn't a party, and it really wasn't a party. It was a nice, adult-like dinner, which is why all guests—not many—were asked to bring something to eat, not to drink. Ultimately it didn't matter, Charlie knew that people who wanted to get drunk would bring the goods, and was counting on it: that was what his wink emoji after his written "Just food!" had meant, if anyone had bothered to translate it. He was now in an apron and half squatting in front of the oven—Ela’d joked that he looked like a Bake Off contestant and had taken a picture—making sure the shepherd's pie he’d cooked didn’t get burn. He'd seen Joana barely a few hours ago but was nervous for her to arrive anyway. He'd cooked something elaborate for the first time in his life, had bought her a gift, and had curated a playlist that Frank had deemed absolute shite and, If you don’t mind, I’ll be in charge of the list from now on so no one has to suffer though that. He hadn't minded, because he'd been focused on cooking the beef. Don’t worry so much, she'll love it anyway, is what Richard had said—and Charlie'd answered, “That's no reason to not try make it perfect,” and the rest had clapped only half-jokingly. Richard was Fitzwilliam's cousin, and though both cousins agreed fundamentally on most things, his manners were so different than no-one would have said so: Richard always offered his opinion, even when unasked, but in such a way that no-one ever took it badly. He was great fun, and having him around the flat was always nice. He had also offered to peel the potatoes and chop the onion, which had sort of helped Charlie with his nerves.

Fitzwilliam, meanwhile, was reading in the living room—Why not? He was very nervous too, though only those who knew him well could appreciated it. He'd been on edge since Bet had finally accepted his friend request on Facebook—after almost four months! four months!—even though she'd accepted it only after having accepted Richard’s, which she'd just met before Christmas and had got along with really well really quickly. Fitzwilliam was a very—euphemism—private person, and hadn't shared his feelings towards her with anyone, not even Charlie or Richard—and yet, the latter had intuited something, and by getting along with her so well (yet never flirting) he had conveyed his approval—Or that was how Fitzwilliam had taken it. Anyway, today was Joana's farewell party, so he had asked everybody to not make a big deal of his birthday, and he hadn’t invited anyone. Ela was talking to her sister on the phone, who wasn't coming—not in the mood—and Frank was still playing with Charlie's iPhone when the bell rang. Charlie wanted to open the door but worried because, Was it golden already? or not enough yet? should he put some more cheddar? (“Given the choice, always put more cheddar”). So Fitzwilliam went instead and opened the door for Bet. And also Joana and Lidia—the Italian girl that unfortunately sometimes joined them. He stared a bit before saying anything, but they all said Hi anyway and sort of dodged him to get inside—it was too cold, hellishly too cold, to be outside one more minute than necessary. He'd decided he'd say something to Bet—though he wasn't sure of when he'd do it, what he’d say had been indeed planned. He'd tried to forget about her during the holidays, but he hadn't. He'd thought about her almost every day, and because now he had access to her Facebook profile, he'd done something he'd never believed himself capable of: he had stalked her. Only superficially. Had only looked at the most recent pictures, most recent entries—which weren't many (it was good, that she wasn't addicted to it—would have been a turn off—or maybe it wouldn’t, at this point, who was to tell?). An amateur stalker, in all accounts, but still a Facebook stalker. Even in pictures, he was hypnotised by her eyes—big, round and dark brown, long eyelashed—and what he could see in them, possibly what he knew was true and was in fact projecting: her intelligence, her wit, her honesty and her—despite seldom used for his benefit—kindness and generosity. She walked past him and went towards the kitchen, she had cooked omelettes with Joana (one Spanish with potato and onion, one with artichokes), and where should she leave them? Only Caroline was missing now, no-one else having invited anybody else: Joana felt weird already bringing two people in a house that wasn't hers, even if it was her farewell dinner. Fitzwilliam went upstairs to let Edward know that he could come down, if he felt better—he had the flu and had been sneezing all day—and then went to the kitchen with the others.

When the bell rang again, it was Ela who opened for them: “Hey girls.” It was the girls, maybe Mayra'd feel bad now that she hadn't come. “Is it Caroline?” Charlie yelled from the kitchen. “Yes, it's the girls”—and everyone knew who the girls were, of course, even though the previous guests had also been girls. Caroline, who came both as a friend of Joana and—allegedly—Fitzwilliam’s, was nervous about being there again after the horror that had been the Christmas party. It was also, however, her chance at redemption, which she hoped was apparent she was intend on from both the desert she brought and her appearance. They said you had to cut your hair when you’d had your heart broken, so this haircut had been long overdue. She had it now in a single layer right over her shoulders, and she had also decided against the highlights: much too high-maintenance, somewhat fake. She'd dyed it all her natural colour, which was a shade darker, but still blonder than Charlie’s and Lula's. She'd also taken the chance—amends plus insane cold—to wear for the first time that dress she'd bought months ago that Lula hadn't liked, mostly because it was the opposite of what she'd worn at the other do: a long-sleeved, high-necked dress, short but combined with opaque black tights and flats. But who knew, they were men—boys—so maybe they didn’t see any of that. And that's what the desert was for: Frances and she had made tiramisu together, a first for both, although Caroline was sure that Frances’ baking skills would make up for their lack of expertise. If anyone thought anything about her bringing two people, no-one said anything. The table wasn't set yet, though they'd made the effort to bring enough chairs and to join what must have been the dinner table with a bedroom desk.

Frank greeted them effusively, and Ela took what they'd brought to the kitchen (the tiramisu, plus Mary's salad), while Edward got downstairs, eyes and nose red, rest of him grey-white. They said Hi, Frances asked "How can we help?" and Frank answered "What's a good song you like?" but she gave him a look before ignoring him and went instead to the kitchen, Mary did laugh, though, while Caroline took her coat off, leaving it on the sofa. She didn't wanna see Liam, but she did want to see him. Charlie came out with Frances, she with the tablecloth, him with some plates. "Hi girls!" Of course he didn't even notice his own sister’s change of look. She'd cut five inches of hair! More from behind. "Hi, Charlie, you alright?" He looked nervous, and that made her feel better. "Yes!" uncharacteristically for him, he put an arm around her shoulders after he'd unceremoniously left the plates on the table, "Yes! Heard your exams went well?" "Who knows?" She said, also uncharacteristically. Frank asked Mary: "So, you're back with the vicar, aren't you? Too busy now to join the band, I’d wager", to a "Join the band?" from Ela, coming back with more plates and cutlery. "Let me help you" jumped Mary in, ignoring him, while Frances set the ones Charlie'd brought. "Mary’s singing would tip the genre balance to pure punk." "What?" Ela said at the same time as Caroline, Charlie and Edward did. Mary rolled her eyes, in her best impression of a cynical lady from an Oscar Wilde's play. "If you must know: I am the worst singer Frank's ever heard, and he has fun reminding me." "It's uncanny, the never-seen. Heard, I mean. Just fucking awful" Frank admitted, and Caroline laughed, because despite how much she loved Mary, she was glad to find out she didn’t excel at everything. "I thought you were serious, man!" Ela complained, but Mary cut her: "The actual good singer here is Frances, you should ask her." Plat-mid air, Frances looked as if she'd seen a ghost—or worse, as if someone had asked her to sing in public. Frank looked interested, he approached her and sat on a chair nearby: "Oh, really?" Charlie, bored, dragged Caroline towards the kitchen, which smelled wonderful even from there: "You want something to drink? You have to congratulate Liam!" They crossed paths with Joana and Bet and the other girl, all of them carrying glasses, covered dishes, and more glasses. "Joana!" Caroline half-hugged her carefully, not the others (though she graciously smiled at Bet when she said Hi, from the high-road she'd decided to take today) and then they left and it turned out that in the kitchen there was only Charlie, Liam, and another guy. She started making up excuses in her head for being there—glasses, cutlery, food! Surely there was food that needed to be brought to the table—not realising it had been Charlie who'd brought her there.

They were looking at the open oven, but Liam turned around when he heard her, unlike the other guy, which was joined by an over-excited Charlie, "It's done, it's done! looks brilliant!" He looked nice, Fitzwilliam did, but she felt more nervous about how daft he must think her than of anything else. She would be an ice queen, baby, and it helped that she felt so comfortable in her prettiness today, a bit more herself than she would've thought: "Liam, hi, happy birthday." In the coolest voice. So proud of herself. "We've brought tiramisu, it's there, somewhere." Liam sort of smiled, said thank you. She would not apologise again for getting sick on his Fred Perrys, she had already, many many times, that night. "Frances said," he said, kindly enough. And then, quickly followed it with "This is Richard." And Richard, who’d turned to them a few seconds before, was already smiling at her when she looked at him: familiar. Confirmed suddenly for what he said next, which was what she last expected, "So it was you." It was the accent that did it, most than his looks: though maybe his pink cheeks... But she placed him immediately and perfectly at the centre of Arndale’s, looking at her leaving. It would haunt her in future days that he’d said what he’d said the way that he’d said it: What had his tone meant, had she imagined the emphasis on was? Had he suspected it at the time? And why did he have this look now, this look that said he was not surprised that she turned out to be Caroline, or not that, maybe disappointed—wait, no—satisfied? And, worst of all: What had Liam said to him about her? Charlie broke the ice asking the only askable question, which was “Wait, have you met each other?” And then she finally focused on the present moment, and nodded, “Why yes, he was rude to me on Waterstones.” Of course she was joking, it was better than to say he’d flirted with her—especially because in light of this new information she’d started to think that maybe he really hadn’t. Charlie laughed, Richard laughed, and Liam looked at her with some sort of interest—a look so rarely directed her way, her smile fell when she realised. “But I wasn’t, really” Richard contributed, excusing himself to Charlie in case he felt like defending his sister, which he didn’t. “He’s my cousin” Liam said, providing the information everyone already had. Still, Caroline’s stomach did something weird. “Oh, really? Well, nice to meet you—formally.” Was he a Darcy or a Fitzwilliam? There was so much she didn’t know about Liam—and would never know. And it was alright. It was alright. “You go to school here as well?” “Cambridge,” he said quickly, but because he didn’t consider it interesting, continued with the subject he’d been meaning to since the beginning, “Have you finished your book, then?” She blushed a bit. “Yes.” Quite a long time ago, too. “What book was it?” asked Charlie, still fanning the casserole to cool it down, his apron finally off. Caroline ignored him, and in perfect timing, Joana took this moment to come in and say: “What else do we need?” The conversation broke in response, Charlie brought the casserole to the living-room, Caroline was asked by Fitzwilliam to carry some cut bread, while Joana took the two salads and Richard the drinks. Fitzwilliam brought the sushi he’d bought, as they all tried to fit all the food, cutlery and drink on the table at the sound of post-punk band Viagra Boys, which wasn’t the most conversation-friendly background music there was but try telling Frank that.

Caroline ran to her friends’ side before they all started sitting, so that she didn’t end up by Liam’s side, or worse, Bet’s. Counting hosts and attending guests—invited and otherwise—they made a dozen, and so they sat very closely together, Caroline between Frances and Ela, with exactly Bet and Liam’s cousin in front of her. They passed the plates, each serving themselves to what they wanted, and Charlie also Joana. Caroline filled her and Frances’ glasses with water, noticing how Liam had surreptitiously changed places at the last moment to avoid being by Lidia’s side, even if that also meant losing the spot beside Bet. Ha! But Bet wasn’t contented with having stolen Liam’s attention, no, she also had to get Richard’s: Caroline looked at them while they all joked about Charlie having cooked, which wasn’t working because he looked so proud of himself. She, Bet, was wearing a knitted sweater and had her long wavy brown hair all down to one side, while Richard, now that she looked at him unobserved, looked the same he had at Arndale. If she’d been asked to describe him a day ago, she would have barely remembered any of his features, but now that he was in front of her, she was able to recall and recognise them. He didn’t look like Liam, except for stature and maybe hair colour, but not their face, not their built, and while Liam wore a nice wool sweater over a dark shirt (always so well put together), Richard was wearing a green shirt open with a white t-shirt underneath, almost surely food-stained, from what she could see. Caroline tried to communicate with her friends with nods and raised eyebrows, but Mary was laughing at something with Frank—Mary was even making Liam chuckle—and Frances thought it impolite to gossip about people in front of them. Caroline noticed Charlie’s pie was a success, as she didn’t even get a chance to try it. She was happy for him—really thought about it, and decided that yes, she was very happy for him.

 

After an hour, all of them were full and none had the sensation of having eaten too much. There were only a couple of pieces of maki left, and some of the vegan salad—figures. The awkwardness of the beginning had started to fade mid-dinner, with some conversations overtaking the whole table—some people just had power of attention—and others being divided into smaller groups, though when those from one heard the other laugh loudly, always asked to be looped in. None of them felt left over, even if each of them enjoyed the night differently and in different degrees. For Mary it was a fun, standard night—she liked most of them, but not as much as she used to enjoy the company of Henry, and Ned, and even the other Bertrams, and she missed Mayra. Frances also missed someone, namely Ned, but enjoyed this night much more than the ones in the pub (even if she’d only been there a couple of times), or that any of the parties: None of them were drunk here—though of course some had gotten tipsy through the course of the meal—and she felt brave enough to talk to people other than Mary and Caroline, even Ela and Edward, even Fitzwilliam—she definitely could see why Caroline liked him, though she also thought he was a bit too serious for her, who already took things too seriously. Joana felt like a queen, bestowed by everyone’s attentions and constantly addressed by Charlie, of whom she couldn’t get tired of. Her shyness had been melting away these past weeks, and now when he said some of his cheesy lines—in public or not—she laughed instead of blushed, agreed instead of denied.

Once they’d eaten the deserts, half of them leaned back on their chairs, and the other half sat on the sofa, looking for comfiness in a full stomach. Frances tried to clean up the table, but wasn’t allowed to by anybody present, they all claimed they’d do it afterwards. The sofa full, Caroline sat on Mary’s lap, who hugged her and continued to talk to Frances and Ela about a travel book she’d read and strongly recommended. Edward had gone upstairs to rest, still very much ill, and Ela left to bring him some medicines and take his temperature: “Are they a thing or not?” asked Mary, in a low voice: “That, my dear, is the question” answered Frank, in jest, but then denied it. When Charlie was allowed to play some of the music he wanted, mainstream as it was, they all thought it good, and Mary jumped to dance, leaving her spot to Caroline. From there, she looked at Fitzwilliam, who still sat at the table, trying to convince Frank of something, and then at Bet, who was standing up and talking to Richard about a tv series. Admonished by both Frances and—to a lesser but more explicit degree—Mary, she was trying to be less superficial, or at least to accept that beauty took many forms: But she couldn’t see it, Bet wasn’t at all attractive—despite how much everyone liked her. She looked around. At the other side of the room, Frances talked to Joana and Charlie. Also dancing, Lidia was trying to convince Mary—thinking she’d found in her a kindred spirit—to go to a club, but Mary wasn’t having it, I mean, are you kidding? It’s bloody cold outside. And what about games? That wasn’t a bad idea, Mary tested it with a loud “Should we play a game?” directed towards the whole room. As they turned to look at them, the ones that been standing realised it was snowing. Charlie announced it, and they all gathered around the main window behind the sofa: Oh my god! Finally! Joana laughed “I have seen everything I wanted.” Bet nodded “We can scratch that from our list.”

Soon they were sitting in a circle, some on the sofa, some in chairs, each with the drink of their choice in hand. They all complained, apparently no-one wanted to play Never Have I Ever, but they all assumed it was gonna be played anyway. How was it that these things worked? Caroline wondered: because she really didn’t want to play—the possibility of all these embarrassing facts about herself being made public!—but was also very excited to see what other people did and said, which was what she imagined happened to everybody. At least Liam, who Caroline had never thought would partake in anything like this, must have felt the same, as his expression was unreadable but he still stole quick glances at Bet. Oh dear! Only Frances had shown real opposition, but Mary convinced her to play with water—Caroline had switched to white wine by then—and to simply quit if a question bothered her, “The questions usually escalate anyway,” Mary comforted her, “you’ll see disaster coming.” The first one was asked by Ela and was quite innocent—Never have I ever been attracted to a lecturer: she drank, as well as some of the others—and then it was followed by more questions, including one that seemed to refer to an inside joke only some of them got—Never have I ever not showered in three days—before the first attempt at a racy one was made, obviously by Lidia: “Never have I ever taken a sexy selfie.” Define sexy selfie, Bet had asked. “You know what I mean, not the kind you’d put on instagram, the kind that would get you in trouble if you got hacked.” “Then no,” said Bet, sort of resigned but also dignified. Only Mary drank, and Caroline laughed out loud while pointing at her, sitting at a distance: “Want the story later.” From there they went to an embarrassing one, with Richard asking, “Never have I ever fallen in love at first sight,” obviously looking at Charlie, who blushed and laughed, wrapping Joana in a half-hug: “Well, it worked out, so.” Caroline also drank quietly, hoping no-one would see her (how hadn’t she realised before just how one-sided her crush on Liam was?) but of course to no avail. Frank yelled “Fuck, the Bingley’s are wild!” And Caroline ended up laughing and high-fiving Charlie, something she had probably never done before. Frances took this chance between questions to drink some of her water, she was thirsty. “Have you ever—” everyone cut Bet so that she did it the right way “Sorry, I meant: Never have I ever been on a Tinder date.” Of course Caroline had to drink even if it had only been this one time, but to her relief she wasn’t the only one, Frank had too, and Lidia, and even Richard, so it wasn’t that bad. Frank asked the question that everybody had been fearing, with a “Never have I ever fancied someone right now” and Fitzwilliam complained “That doesn’t make grammatical sense”—“This game doesn’t make any kind of sense,” agreed Caroline, even if she didn’t want to keep agreeing with him, it had came out naturally. “Well?” Frank asked “thirsty, anyone?” and then drank from his whiskey, between Mary’s appreciative roaring. Everybody pretended not to care too much about what the rest were doing (drinking or not), though obviously without success. It was only those in a relationship that had no problem taking a sip: Mary, of course, Charlie and Joana. But half of the others drank as well, apart from Frank: Ela (to raised eyebrows), Lidia, and (very very quickly) Fitzwilliam. Caroline blushed on his behalf, experiencing some sort of second-hand embarrassment, and looked at Frances. Frances had her glass of water raised, but before brining it to her lips, she shook her head almost imperceptibly and moved it away—she’d had a revelation, it seemed. And Caroline, Caroline was not drinking because, despite having still some inappropiate feelings for Liam, she didn’t imagine herself with him anymore, was in the process of de-fancying him. “Aren’t you seeing someone?” Charlie complained to Richard, who hadn’t drunk: “Well yes, but, fancy’s a strong word.” Charlie laughed loudly “It really isn’t, mate.” Bet was looking at Fitzwilliam in a weird way, until she realised she was doing it and stopped: What sort of person would it take to be fancied by him? Maybe not Caroline, it was obvious now that there was nothing between them—but someone similar? Maybe it was Mary, or someone like her? Oh. She could see him fancying a teacher, hadn’t he drunk at the question? More difficult was to imagine what kind of girl would fancy him: ha, ha, certainly not her. Dammit, so dumb, and yet so handsome—not a bad kisser to be honest. Rather a good one, to be even more honest—and also clearly not dumb, just infuriating and—“Alright, alright,” Caroline tried to make herself be heard over the laughs. “Never have I ever flirted to get something I wanted,” basically half the girls (not Frances, Ela or Bet) drank, plus Charlie. Mary high-fived him, and said, “now Frances, now Frances”, Frances, who hadn’t drunk yet, took it seriously and thought it over before declaring “Never have I ever kept a big secret,” and subsequently drinking. “Damn, girl,” Mary herself also drank, though, and some others. Not Caroline, her only secret was that she’d been in love with Liam for the better part of three years, and it seemed like a lot of people knew that already. But Fitzwilliam drank, Bet drank, Frank drank, Ela drank, Richard drank: Charlie, Joana and Caroline, the only ones that hadn’t, looked at each other and laughed. “We’re boring,” he joked to his sister. Mary quickly got over it: “Now me, now me: Never have I ever snogged someone in this room.” For some reason, they all stopped what they were doing. Frank laughed, not drinking, and asked her, though he clearly knew the answer: “Have we ever, Joan Jett?” “You wish” She poked him in the shoulder, towards Fitzwilliam. Then she talked quietly to Caroline’s ear: “That’s Henry’s type of question.” But Caroline was distracted, looking at Fitzwilliam. And something weird—in capitals: Something Weird—happened. While Charlie and Joana drank, then kissed and drank again, Fitzwilliam looked for a nanosecond at Bet, who looked, for a nanosecond, at him, and then, neither of them drank. What? Fitzwilliam did it for chivalrous reasons: if they drank, everybody would know they’d kissed each other, no-one else was drinking, and it was not gentlemanly to kiss and tell. Of course, he was the opposite of embarrassed to have snogged her, but if she didn’t want to make it public (yet) it wouldn’t be him who outed them. And as she made no gesture to drink, he followed suit. Bet’s reasoning was the complete opposite: She had no problem acknowledging they had kissed (he had many faults—how was she to know that at the time—but being physically repulsive wasn’t one of them), but she looked at him, saw he wasn’t making a move, and assumed he did: that he was embarrassed to be found out, that people would know he’d kissed her. And she felt her blood boil. Oblivious to their inner monologues, Caroline was witness to everything and, then, looking at Mary but speaking loudly, complained: “Well, it’s no fun if people just lie.”

 

An hour or so later, Ela’d gone to sleep, Charlie and Joana were talking privately at one side of the kitchen—he was waiting the perfect moment to give her his present, both the necklace and the plane tickets to London in a month, were they would meet—Lidia was drunk-napping on the couch, and Caroline, Frances, Mary, Bet and Frank were playing a simpler version of charades—Frances had just guessed Mary’s Titanic in less than a second, and they were celebrating with lots of giggles, the both of them. Richard and Fitzwilliam were talking about something that looked serious, when the latter realised Bet was leaving the group and decided to follow her. To him, all night had led to this exact moment. Bet, and her round brown eyes and her round full lips, and her round everything, in fairness. Bet, and her fluent English with a weird accent no-one was able to place. Bet, with her quick answers and open-mouth laughs. He was lost, completely lost, and so he followed her—to the corridor: She was going to check something on her phone, which was on her jacket at the railing of the stairs, “Shit, you scared me.” He apologised but walked even closer. He felt an irresistible urge to kiss her, and she, she just wanted to punch him in the face. In addition to his whole snob personality, his rudeness, his lack of awareness, some distressing news she’d heard at uni by one of his ex-class-mates, and the fact he had said he would never go on a date with her after having kissed her but had gone in one with Caroline, were added to tonight’s new offences: that, she found out via Richard, he had advocated against Joana when Charlie was deciding on asking her out, and that he was embarrassed for people to find out he’d snogged her. And it was then that he told her that he had drank at the fancying someone question because he did, and it was her. It had caught him by surprise, but he couldn’t stop thinking about her, couldn’t go on about his day without thinking of her. She apologised for inconveniencing him that way, seeing as he would never date her. He didn’t remember saying anything of the sort—his brain hadn’t been working very well, at the time—and so he didn’t realise she was quoting him and took it as a real question. Meaning that, instead of asking further clarification or just pre-emptively apologising, he said: No, I would date you, that’s what I was trying to say, that we can date. Did he think that was some When Harry Met Sally shit and she’d been waiting for him to confess his feelings all along? The audacity. We can? She was red, he thought from embarrassement, actually from rage, As in, you’ve overcome your issue with dating foreigners? In fairness, Fitzwilliam’s opposition to Charlie dating Joana had been based both on the idea that she didn’t like him as much as he did and that long-distance relationships were a recipe for disaster (Charlie had been cheated on before), and not out of disregard for people from other countries—he believed that to be obvious, so instead of explaining himself he just said: Well, you could always transfer here, since you’re reading English. Her face was redder than red, and her hands clasped in a tight fist: “I fucking think not.”

Chapter Text

From: Caroline Bingley <cbingley98@gmail.com>
To: Louisa Bingley <louisabingley@gmail.com>
Date: 27 January 2017, 19:47
Subject: What a wonderfullll world

Dear Lula,

Guess who had an epic bad time last night?

Not me, for once. It was Liam. No idea of what happened but the air was proper odd and at one point we were playing ‘guess the movie’ and Liam and Bet were having a private conversation and no idea what went on except that they started raising their voices and we all got really quiet, like, what the hell? and they realised we had realised, and so Bet left. The house. While snowing. Proper dramatic. Liam came in after a few minutes, said he was tired, apologised for the argument (he did acknowledge it, at least) and went to his room.

By the way, we met Liam’s cousin, and he’s just added me on facebook? Before you ask, he isn’t half as handsome as L.

I know I’ll go to hell for saying this, but I sort of felt good when I saw L and Bet arguing. Am I a terrible person?

Love,

C

 

Date: 27 January 2017, 20:13
Subject: RE What a wonderfullll world

Don’t answer that, I know am I, I didn’t even answer your email about the housewarming party! You mind if I call you instead?

Love,

Caroline

 

Date: 29 January 2017, 13:47

Subject: RE What a wonderfullll world

Dear Lula,

Right, we’ve started the second semester of uni! It’s exactly like the first. I’ve got Lois in most of my modules, so I won’t have to bother meeting new people if I don’t want to. Though I do. There might be a cute guy in French Culture. And by might I mean there is. I’ll keep you informed.

Everything’s great here though Ned’s taken to come almost every night, he pretends his intentions are pure but ofc doesn’t kid us. Frances and I are becoming experts in finding excuses to bail. Last night we ended up reading in her room, since it’s farthest from Mary’s.

Can’t think of anything else to say.

Yours forever,

Caroline

 

Date: 31 January 2017, 10:32
Subject: Sometimes

Ahhhh sometimes I forget I cut my hair and I see myself suddenly in a mirror or reflection and I am like Oh my gosh I look fit.

You’d tell me if I were posting too many selfies on insta would you?

 

Date: 31 January 2017, 23:43
Subject: RE Sometimes

Dear Lula,

We’ve just had dinner with Joana, the four of us here, and it was fun. I look forward to you meeting her. She’s v cute. And I am sad she’s leaving in two days. Not as sad as her though, she almost cried two times. I suspect Charlie will cry on the actual day (he’s driving her to the airport).

I didn’t want to ask about Bet and L, but Mary did and Joana said she didn’t know what had happened at the party (she def knows something but I don’t think she was lying entirely), only that Bet’s mad at him and thinks he’s a snob. Where’s the lie?

Thank you for keeping me in check hahaha.

Love,

C

 

Date: 1 February 2017, 19:23
Subject: RE Sometimes

Dear Lula,

I knew Milo was smart. So funny he’ll sleep anywhere except the sofa bought by the evil mother-in-law.

Today Henry came to the flat which believe it or not was a first for him. He’s still in the lounge rn, I left when he started talking to Frances about some old book, but we’re all going to the cinema in a bit.

Anyways he did meet Ian in London, turns out, and it’s true he’s got a deal with a label, which is why he didn’t mind sacrificing everything. “Sacrificing.” Like it’s him who we should feel bad about, you know? Not Mayra nor the rest of his band. Ugh. Henry is proper mad. Mary says they don’t need him as aparently the gig without him (Henry sang) was a success but I think he’s no so sure. I get it though. He was not only the lead vocalist but the handsome one, and I think he was counting a bit on this even if he wouldn’t admit it. They’ll have to do like these bands Mary likes and put abstract pictures in their album covers instead of actual pictures of them.

Speaking of which. I gathered my courage and posted Zayn’s poster on my bedroom wall. Plus the pictures of the parties. (And new Milo ones.) No one’s coming here anyway apart from M and F.

Love and barks,

C

 

Date: 2 February 2017, 15:23
Subject: Cry fest

Dearest Lula,

So, we saw Moonlight and it was so sad, oh my god. You should see it. F was shook. M too but for different reasons (I mean, the bloke was fit). That wasn’t even what I came to tell you. Thing is M and I wanted to go shopping afterwards but F said she couldn’t possibly shop after this film and she needed to head home and think and oooohhh myyyyyy gooooooooooooooood Henry insisted on walking her there, wdn’t take no for an answer, and they left together.

So I said: Mary, is Henry hitting on Frances or what?

M: He might.

What???

Heading to a pub now with Mayra!

Love,

C

 

Date: 4 February 2017, 13:23
Subject: RE Cry fest

Dear Lula,

Yes, “odd” is a way to put it, hahaha.

Sat night was fun, just M, Mayra & me. Nothing happened much, but Mayra’s finally starting to look alright again (I mean, still fat, but happier). It was an early night but still, I was knackered yesterday. And today, Monday again… how long for the weekend?

Love,

Caroline

 

Date: 4 February 2017, 17:31
Subject: RE Cry fest

Oh yeah, Ned had something come up this weekend but don’t worry yesterday he was all over M again.

Not that they’re not adorable.

Speaking of adorable: Milo pic?

 

Date: 7 February 2017, 19:44
Subject: RE Cry fest

Dear Lula,

Actually, Ned and M dating is making me catch up on my reading. Read the one you got me for my bday and it was really good, there are also like a thousand of those so I am excited. Not outlander levels excited, ofc. I’m telling you I’m never gonna like a book as much as outlander 3.

Ned and Henry are currently in our flat (am writing this from the kitchen) and Ned and M are talking about what an amazing singer F is and the 3 of them are ganging up to make her sing and I swear she’s praying for a crack on the floor to open and swallow them whole or something. I’m gonna say something.

Just said they should leave her alone if she doesn’t want to sing & now they all hate me (except F, I think).

HENRY’S COOKING DINNER.

 

Date: 8 February 2017, 13:38
Subject: RE Insta

Dear Lula,

Can’t tell from the pic?? It was panang curry with tofu and vegetables. He only knows how to cook curry but it was extra delicious, so we won’t complain if he does it again.

Just met Charlie for lunch and he’s a bit of a wreck though they facetime everyday, and also is well sure that in 5 months he’ll be living in Barcelona. I’m starting to believe him? He’s invited me to go with them tomorrow night. It has only taken him SIX MONTHS to be a good brother and invite me on a plan.

What about you? Your emails have been well short lately, I almost know more about you through insta (the kitchen decour is so beautiful).

In case it needed saying:

Love forever,

Caroline

 

 

Facebook chat

29 January 2017

Richard

Hey

Caroline

Hi

Richard

how r you?

Caroline

Fine

You?

Richard

grand

brilliant

did u have fun at the party?

Caroline

Saturday?

Yeah

You?

Richard

yes

despite

you know

Caroline

The very civil conversation between certain two people that none of us heard?

Richard

exactly

hahaha

Caroline

I mean, still not the most dramatic party

For me at least

Richard

i’ve heard something

Caroline

Brilliant

Richard

So

Caroline

Can I ask you something?

Richard

I was gonna ask you that

Caroline

Ask me what?

Richard

Can I ask you something

Caroline

I guess

Richard

You go first

Caroline

Alright

Richard

?

Caroline

How did you know who I was

At Waterstones

I mean

Did you know WHO I was?

Richard

well i wasnt sure

Caroline

But?

Richard

there’s this thing called facebook :)

i dont know, id seen pics of the parties

u looked familiar

and i knew charlie had a sister

so i was pretty sure

Caroline

Ok

Richard

?

Caroline

What else did u know?

Richard

you might have or might have not got vomit on darcys shoes

Caroline

Have a good day sir

Richard

hahahahahahaha

seriously

nothing else

why?

Caroline

What were you gonna ask?

Richard

are u always so proper

no wait i wasnt gonna ask that

but why do you write so well

Caroline

Are you wasting your one question with this?

Richard

Shit

wasnt aware

there was a one-question quota

really have to think that through

Caroline

Tic toc

Richard

no, i was gonna ask you

Caroline

Well?

Richard

nothing

I have nothing

Caroline

Alright

You want me to answer the being proper question

Richard

yes why not

Caroline

In case it was rethorical

Richard

let’s assume it was not

Caroline

Ok so

I write like this

Because

(Pay attention please)

GRAMMAR

Richard

what a sick burn that was

Caroline

Thanks

Had been holding on it

Richard

can tell

so

Caroline

Another question?

Richard

the first one actually

Caroline

If you say so

Richard

what do you think of your brother dating joana?

Caroline

What is there to think?

They are happy

Made for each other

Richard

truly

Caroline

Indeed

Why not?

Richard

don’t know

Caroline

I mean

Richard

hehehe

bring it

Caroline

Charlie is a famous serial dater

Richard

that he is

Caroline

How well do you know him?

Anyway I don’t want either of them

To have their hearts broken?

Richard

is that a question?

Caroline

Shut up

I mean by the long-distance thing

But also, I think

They do make a really cute couple

And can make it work

Richard

i think so too

Caroline

So I wish them happiness

Richard

me too

Caroline

Why wouldn’t I?

Great

Richard

so

the question

i was gonna ask you before

Caroline

You mean your fourth

Richard

potato potato

do you recommend outlander?

Caroline

Tv series

Or book

Richard

oh so you’re an expert

Caroline

Phd candidate

Richard

both i guess

Caroline

I do recommend both

Richard

fair enough

Caroline

Do I think

You might like the series more?

Yes

Richard

why?

Caroline

More man-friendly I think

Also the books were written in the 80s

Richard

i might check it out

Caroline

Yeah you should

Richard

i’ll let you know

Caroline

Please

Richard

have to leave now

sorry

Caroline

Me too

Richard

nice meeting you

I mean

saturday

not that we’re not meeting again

just saying

Caroline

Got it

:)

 

6 February 2017

Richard

damn

i know why you like it so much now ;)

Caroline

Hi!

Like what?

Richard

Outlander

Caroline

You’re watching?

Richard

aye

Caroline

Really?

Richard

why not

it was on my list

Caroline

So?

How far along are you

Richard

finished episode 3

Caroline

Wait

Were you saying I like it because of

The fit guy?

Richard

u know his name

Caroline

Of course I do

Are you though?

Richard

yes, i meant that

but not trying to be disrespectful

Caroline

I can like things because they’re well written and shot too

You know

There’s no photos on the books

So why would I read them for

Richard

are there sexytimes in the book?

are u cross?

sorry

didn’t mean to offend u

why wouldn’t u like well-written things?

i’m enjoying it

did u know the creator of the tv show is also the creator

of a scifi show thats amazing

my favourite show

that’s why this was on my radar

also i know

for a fact

there’s sexytimes in both book and series

am looking forward to it

Caroline

You should

haha

So

You’re reading medicine?

Richard

:)

not right now

but yes

Caroline

What year?

Richard

4

1st of clinical

Caroline

What does that mean?

Richard

started practising on humans

Caroline

As opposed to

Nonono

Sorry

Please

Don’t tell

Richard

Hahahahahah

it was mostly theory

don’t worry

Caroline

And how’s it going?

The human practice

Richard

can’t complain

and u?

how did your exams go?

Caroline

All good

Was worried about one

But no

Richard

what were you doing?

Caroline

International business + french

Richard

damn

sounds impressive

also a bit boring

is it boring?

Caroline

When is school not boring

Richard

i love all brain modules

Caroline

Brain modules?

Richard

neuroscience

mental health

that stuff

and i used to love maths in real school

and history

Caroline

Yeah, me too

Maths I mean

And the boring bits

Of English

Richard

boring bits?

Caroline

Grammar

Syntax

Etc.

Richard

hahahaha so now i understand everything

Caroline

Also I should tell you

Richard

What

Caroline

For some reason

My autocorrect keeps

Capitalising every capitalizable word

Richard

No

Caroline

Yes

Richard

So

You’re not

A

Capital

Letter

Freak?

Caroline

I still am

Just not to that point

Please don’t be disappointed

Richard

wow

am not

though i feel like i really know u now

hahaha

Caroline

Yes

It is my best well kept secret

:)

Richard

thought u didn’t have secrets

Caroline

Why?

Oh you mean

The game?

Richard

yeah

Caroline

V uninteresting

Richard

agree to disagree

Caroline

Brb

Gonna have dinner now

Recommend you binge watch till episode 7

Richard

well now of course i will have to

thanks caz

no sleep for me today

Caroline

Cool thing for a doctor to say

hahahahaha

Richard

;)