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An American Woman Abroad

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Chapter 1

From The New York Post, 29 April 2014: There’s no greater aphrodisiac than a happy woman with a full life, who is passionate about something besides getting a ring on her finger. Just ask George Clooney.

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23 November 2013, London, UK

“I saw that,” said Sarah Campbell as she watched her best friend and flatmate turn away from an admirer. “You certainly caught someone’s attention.”

Jane Fairfax rolled her eyes, thinking about the man who had just raised his glass to her from across the Sir Elton John Exhibition Hall at the Human Rights Action Centre. “Oh, please. His A factor is screaming.” A factor as in American, the term she had coined for the greater or lesser degree of brashness and cockiness apparent in so many from the U.S, something she had observed plenty during the four years she had lived in England. Jane tried very hard to reduce her own expression of that factor, and hoped she’d achieved it.

“So what?” Sarah grinned. “He’s very good-looking. Don’t tell me you didn’t notice.”

Jane had noticed. How could she not? The man had drawn eyes to him from all over the room from the moment he’d entered the reception hall. It wasn’t just because he was tall, well-built and handsome, although he was that. It was that damned A factor again, that quality of loudness that had little to do with the flashiness of one’s clothing or the volume of one’s voice, yet still seemed to project, Look at me! Look at me! For this reason, Jane felt certain he was American.

“And did you see his gorgeous hair? I’d love to run my fingers through it.”

“Sarah! You’re terrible! This is your engagement party!”

“Just because I’m getting married doesn’t mean I can’t still fantasize. And you know Peter trusts me.”

Jane grinned. She hadn’t actually been worried about Sarah’s relationship with her fiancé, Peter Dixon. It was obvious within five minutes of being in the couple’s presence that they were madly in love. Marriage wasn’t something Jane wanted to consider for many years to come, but whenever it happened, she hoped her relationship would be similar.

“Anyway, you look fabulous. I knew you’d catch someone’s eye tonight in that dress.”

Jane ran her hands down the 1960’s vintage gold lamé dress she and Sarah had finally found after searching four different thrift shops that day. She was ridiculously pleased with the find—it hugged every curve, flattered her complexion, and best of all, was affordable.

“There they are, the most beautiful woman in England and the second most beautiful!” a voice called out.

“Eugenie!” Sarah cried as she reached out to embrace the woman that approached them. Despite the occasion, Eugenie James was dressed in her usual attire, a brightly colored peasant skirt, white t-shirt, and Birkenstocks. The only concession she’d made to the event’s formality was to allow her long grey hair, which she usually wore in a loosely knotted ponytail, to hang down around her shoulders.

“Now let me look at you.” Eugenie kept her hands on Sarah’s arms as she leaned back to inspect the younger woman. “Aren’t you stunning! The perfect bride to be!”

Sarah smiled as her green eyes sparkled beneath the short layered cut that swept across her forehead. She also wore a vintage dress that she and Jane had found that day, hers a black cocktail A-line from the 1950’s.

“And Jane,” Eugenie said, turning to hug and kiss her, “you look amazing as well. The reason you’re second is because tonight is Sarah’s night. When you get engaged, you’ll be the most beautiful and she’ll be second.” They all laughed.

“Speaking of which, where is Peter?”

“He’s around.” Sarah motioned across the room with her hand. “I’m certain he’s mingling with many of the last minute guests that are here tonight. Peter’s company is generating new interest now that he has a major investor.”

Eugenie curved her lips. “That’s right, the mysterious investor! Will we have the opportunity to meet him tonight?”

Sarah nodded. “Peter said he promised he’d be here.”

“Good! I want to personally thank him, since you wouldn’t be engaged without him.”

Jane smiled, thinking about how many times over the last several years she had listened to Sarah fret that she and Peter would never be able to marry. Between Peter’s struggling start-up firm and Sarah’s status as a doctoral student, their finances wouldn’t allow it. Two months earlier, however, a venture capitalist had approached Peter to offer a major infusion of capital into Re-Energised. With their money worries lifted, Peter had finally proposed.

Eugenie was craning her neck to look about the room. “Oh, there’s Peter! And who is that with him? Could that be the investor?”

Jane and Sarah turned toward the direction Eugenie faced and saw Peter walking toward them with the man they’d seen earlier. “Ooh,” said Sarah, “he’s with Jane’s admirer.”

Eugenie grinned, her eyes lighting up behind her wire-rimmed glasses. “An admirer, Jane? When did you acquire this?”

Jane shook her head. “No, no, no! I have no idea who he is. Besides, he was probably looking at Sarah, since this is her engagement party.”

“Jane! He was most certainly looking at you.” Sarah turned to Eugenie. “I noticed him staring at her for a while, and when she finally turned to look at him, he raised his glass and smiled at her.”

“Wouldn’t that be something, if he is Peter’s investor and he’s taken a fancy to you, Jane? He’s quite handsome. Where’s he from, I wonder?”

“The U.S.,” Jane answered, just as Sarah said, “Jane thinks he’s American.”

Eugenie furrowed her brow. “He looks Oriental to me. Although I suppose that doesn’t mean he isn’t also American. I should know by now not to doubt your national sixth sense, since you always seem to be right about that.”

By then, Peter and the other man had reached the three women. Peter’s face lit up when he drew close to Sarah. He was a slender man with a bit of a beak nose and receding brown hair, but his warm, inviting smile—almost always present when Sarah was around—made him attractive.

After he had greeted and kissed his fiancée, Peter turned to introduce his friend. As Eugenie had pointed out, the man, who wore a charcoal grey, double-breasted Armani suit, appeared to be East Asian, often referred to as Oriental in England. As Sarah had noticed, he had thick, dark, well-coiffed hair. Recalling Sarah’s comment, Jane blushed as a vision came to her of running her fingers through it. Life had been so busy for so long, she couldn’t remember the last time a man had made an impression on her like that.

“Darling,” Peter said, “may I present Mr. Frank Churchill? He’s the investor who has given new life to Re-Energised. Frank, my fiancée, Ms. Sarah Campbell.”

“A pleasure to meet you,” Sarah said, holding out her hand.

“And you,” Mr. Churchill answered in a voice that was deeper and sexier than Jane had anticipated. “Peter has told me wonderful things about you, and you’re as beautiful as he described.”

Sarah and Eugenie began laughing, causing Mr. Churchill to hold out his hands in surprise. “Did I say something funny?”

“Oh, no,” Eugenie said, “only that Jane here predicted you’d be American and she was right.”

The man turned toward Jane and smiled, a beautiful smile with deep dimples. “It’s that obvious, huh? I hope that doesn’t prejudice you against me.” He turned toward Peter. “Will you introduce me to these other lovely ladies?”

“Of course,” said Peter. “These are dear friends of ours, Ms. Eugenie James and Ms. Jane Fairfax.”

Mr. Churchill took each of their hands in turn, holding them probably longer than was necessary to greet someone for the first time. When Jane said, “I’m pleased to meet you, Mr. Churchill,” his grin broadened.

“Ah ha!” he said. “No wonder you figured me out. You’re American, too. Where are you from?”

“L.A.,” Jane answered.

“Hey, so am I! What brought you to the UK?”

“Oxford,” she replied. “That’s where I met Sarah and Peter.”

He raised his eyebrows. “A Rhodes scholar?" When she nodded, he added, "I’m impressed.”

Just then, Mr. and Mrs. Campbell, who had been busy with the caterers, approached. They hugged Eugenie, having already spoken to Sarah and Jane when the young women first arrived. “Peter, dear,” Mrs. Campbell said, “your mum and dad are here now. We should begin the program.”

“Oh, yes! Mr. and Mrs. Campbell, this is Frank Churchill, my new investor. Mr. Churchill, my future in-laws.”

Frank Churchill greeted Sarah’s parents, and then asked Peter whether he still wished for him to say a few words. After Peter confirmed that he did, Mr. Churchill began to follow Peter, Sarah and her parents toward the dais in the front of the room. He turned back for a second and winked at Jane. “Ms. Fairfax, we’ll have to talk more before the night’s over to share ex-pat stories.”

As the group walked away, Jane ignored Eugenie’s smirk. When she realized that Jane was determined not to say anything, Eugenie finally nudged her. “You have an admirer indeed.”

Jane sighed. “Eugenie, he’s an obvious flirt. If it weren’t me, it would be someone else.”

“And I’m too old and Sarah’s too engaged, so you’re all that’s left? Nonsense! He noticed the beautiful, brilliant woman you are. I hope you won’t let this opportunity pass you by.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means make sure you talk to him again tonight. And go out with him if he asks.”

“He’s not going to ask.”

“I bet he will, and if he does, please say yes. He has a beautiful voice, by the way. He sounds a bit like your president.”

Jane had to laugh at that. She didn’t think he sounded like President Obama, but if she had only heard his voice and hadn’t seen him, she would have sworn Frank Churchill was black.

Their conversation was silenced by Mr. Campbell’s “Good evening,” at the microphone, the Scottish brogue of his childhood still evident. After welcoming and thanking the guests for coming, he said, “We are so pleased that you have joined us for this very special occasion. Our little girl has met the man of her dreams, who has asked her to be his wife.”

Following the applause, Mr. Campbell shared about how much he appreciated Peter and the love he had for Sarah. Sarah’s mum and Peter’s parents followed with similar praise for their future daughter- and son-in-law.

At last it was Sarah’s turn to speak. Petite even in very high heels, she had to lower the microphone, but her voice projected easily about the room. “This is a dream come true,” she said. “I almost have to pinch myself to believe that this is real. Peter and I have known each other for four years. We met as graduate students at Oxford and became fast friends. I still remember the day I realized that I wanted to be so much more than friends with him. My flatmate Jane—there she is”—at this, Sarah waved to Jane, causing the crowd to turn toward her—“is here tonight and she and I were suitemates at the time and part of the same group of friends at Oxford. I want you to know that I have her permission to share this story.”

Eugenie nudged Jane again and tilted her head toward the dais. Although everyone else had turned their attention back to Sarah, Frank Churchill, standing beside Peter, was staring at her, his lips quirked into a bit of a smile. Jane met his eyes boldly and then turned back to Sarah, as if instructing him to do the same. She certainly didn’t want him looking at her during the tale she knew was coming.

“We had hired a punt one afternoon on the River Cherwell. Another friend of ours was a bit sloshed and attempted to stand up while we were rowing. The punt began to tip and Jane started to fall overboard. Instantly, Peter grabbed her by the jumper and pulled her back. She barely got her toes wet.”

Laughter and applause followed, and Jane cringed a bit as she felt many of the eyes in the room turning her way again. She exhaled to increase her courage. She had given Sarah permission to tell the story, and it was one of her favorite’s about Peter, too.

“Peter of course is not the most muscular of men,” Sarah said with a mischievous grin, to more laughter, “but he showed strength and bravery when it was needed. And once he knew Jane was all right, he insisted he’d done nothing special. I knew that day that I loved him.”

Jane smiled, remembering Sarah’s surprised confession to her that night. Feeling her own deep appreciation for Peter that day, she’d told Sarah that she better make a play for him or she (Jane) would.

Peter walked over and kissed Sarah as she passed the microphone to him. “Isn’t she amazing?” he said as she stepped aside. “I’m the luckiest bloke alive. Beyond that, I don’t know what else to say, because I cannot give speeches. So, I will pass this microphone on to someone who can, a new friend and someone who, other than our parents, has made this event possible tonight by investing in Re-Engergised: Mr. Frank Churchill.”

Mr. Churchill tugged at the bottom of his suit jacket as he stood up before the crowd. “I appreciate the introduction, but I am inadequate to say anything tonight more important than what has already been said. I’ve known Peter just a short time, and I met Sarah for the first time tonight, while this room is filled with people who have known and loved them for years. I will say this: in the two months that I have known Peter, he has impressed me with his vision and passion. He believes in a world in which affordable solar energy can become widespread at all levels of society, in which no one is left behind as the resources for powering our world become scarcer. If you ask him what his inspiration is, he’ll tell you that it’s Sarah, both her love for humanity and the life he wants to create with her. After meeting her tonight, I understand why. So to Sarah and Peter”—he raised a wine glass in his hand—“congratulations, and many, many happy years together.”

As sounds of “Cheers” went up around the room, Eugenie smirked again at Jane. “Oh, he’s good. I could listen to him talk all night. Remember, don’t miss this opportunity!”

Jane had to admit that she was intrigued by Frank Churchill, but she never had a chance to speak with him. He spent the rest of the evening surrounded by people fighting for his attention, and she wasn’t about to hover around him like a groupie. When she was waiting for Sarah to finish her final goodbyes to the guests before departing, however, she heard him call her name.

“Ms. Fairfax, I apologize for neglecting you. It seems you’ve had some interesting adventures in this country,” he said with a grin.

She smiled. “On occasion.”

“I have to leave right now, but perhaps I can have your phone number, and talk to you some other time?”

Sarah glanced at her with a smile as Jane recited her number and Mr. Churchill entered it into his mobile. He then clasped hands with both her and Sarah before saying goodnight.

Although she and Sarah had traveled to the Action Centre via the Tube, Peter drove them home. Sarah gushed throughout the ride about Frank Churchill. “Jane, he has it all: intelligence, success, charm, gorgeous face, body, hair, voice…”

“If I didn’t know how much you love me, I’d feel a bit insecure right now,” Peter quipped.

Sarah laughed. “It’s just that it’s been a while since she’s had a date, and what a man to have one with!”

“He hasn’t asked me for a date yet,” Jane reminded her from the back seat, “just my number.”

“That’s a start! Wouldn’t it be something if Jane and Frank Churchill end up together?” she asked Peter.

“Hmm…” was all he said in response.

“What are you thinking?” Jane asked him.

“Well…” Peter said slowly. “He has a reputation as a ladies’ man. I don’t want to see you hurt.”

Sarah and Jane were both quiet for a moment, contemplating his words. Sarah finally said, “If he does ask you out, perhaps you can go into it forewarned. Have a good time with an amazing bloke, but don’t let your heart become engaged.”

Jane shrugged. “I guess I can do that. I’m not interested in a relationship right now anyway. Besides, I doubt he’ll actually call.”

That night before bed, Jane emailed her grandmother and Aunt Madeline (known as Maddy), as she always did, about the events of the day. When she finished, she typed “Frank Churchill” into a search engine. “Holy cow,” she whispered as thousands of hits returned. She clicked on several links and began reading. He was thirty-one and already a multi-millionaire, an owner or stakeholder of numerous enterprises. She recognized the names of several companies from the news. One repeated name made her pause: the Highbury Group, headquartered in Los Angeles. Frank Churchill was on the board of several of the companies within that partnership. She knew Highbury Group well because her aunt Maddy had worked there for many years when Jane was growing up. Interesting.

She clicked on “Images” and several photos popped up on her screen. In some Frank Churchill was dressed as sharply as he had tonight, and in others he was more casual. He seemed to have a thing for pairing business suits with Western-style belts and suede shoes. It made her laugh. He was so American.

The other thing that the images revealed was that Frank was, as Peter had said, a ladies’ man. She finally grew tired of looking at photo after photo of beautiful models, actresses, and heiresses on his arm at various functions in cities around the world. Jane sighed as she shut down her laptop. If his wealth and status weren’t already a barrier, these photos made it clear—he was not the kind of man that would date an ordinary woman working for a lowly nonprofit organization. Frank Churchill was never going to call her, and it was better that way.

When more than a week passed and she didn’t hear from him, Jane felt relieved. She could get on with her life.

Chapter Text

5 December 2013

By the time the alarm on Jane’s mobile rang at six AM on Thursday morning, she had already been awake for about a half hour. She was a naturally early riser; the alarm’s purpose was to prod her to get out of bed. She had always liked lying in during the early morning quiet, while it was still dark outside, as a chance to reflect and plan and prepare herself for whatever lay ahead. She mused that her aunt Maddy would tell her to also spend that time reciting affirmations, a habit Maddy had adopted after overcoming breast cancer a decade earlier. “You’re up anyway! Why not give yourself some love, sugarpuff?” Maddy would say. “Attitude and gratitude, that’ll get you through anything!” Jane smiled, hearing Aunt Maddy’s voice in her head. Giving herself praise and pep talks wasn’t Jane’s thing, but counting her blessings she could get behind. At the top of the list were her aunt and grandmother, the two women who had devoted their lives to Jane and were still with her, despite the health challenges they both had faced.

The five minute snooze on the phone sounded again, and Jane rose to begin her day. It would be a long one, as she offered keyboard lessons at a community centre in Hackney every first and third Thursday evening of the month. Evening was still a long time away, however, and now it was time to run. Jane had competed in track and field in high school, but had abandoned running to focus on her studies in college. Sarah had changed that, encouraging her to don her running shoes again and to try distance running. In the last several years, they had run several 10ks together, and Sarah had now convinced her to participate in the Surrey half-marathon in March.

She and Sarah met in the kitchen a short while later. “Any scones left?” Jane asked.

Sarah nodded as she took a gulp of coconut milk and smiled. “I saved you one.” She pointed to the last of the almond scones Jane had baked a few days earlier.

“How’s that paper coming?” Jane asked. Sarah had been up late the night before, stressing about a research paper she had to complete.

“Almost done,” Sarah replied. “I should be able to finish it and send it off before this afternoon.”

Jane grinned. “Hey, you might even be able to do something fun with Peter tonight.”

Sarah sighed. “That’s if he’s free! I can’t believe how busy we both have been lately. I’ll be so glad when the holidays arrive so we can finally get this wedding planned.”

After eating, the two young women left the second floor flat they shared to catch the tube from the nearby Bethnal Green Underground Station, each of them with a backpack strapped across her shoulder. Although Sarah was still a student, Jane should have been past the backpack stage, but it was so convenient for her she couldn’t yet give it up. Her backpack carried her work clothing, shoes, purse, lunch, the environmental report she’d read the night before, and the latest issue of The Economist.

After two transfers, Sarah and Jane arrived at Southbank Centre, the waterfront arts complex not far from Jane’s office. They walked a short distance to Jane’s office building where they greeted Abdullah, a Somali security guard who worked the 7-to-3 shift in the lobby.

“Morning, sisters,” he teased, making them laugh as always. Abdullah insisted that Jane and Sarah were related, despite the difference in their skin colors. They were the same height and build, and when he saw them in the mornings like this, they were always dressed similarly in spandex leggings and hooded sweatshirts.

“It will be a nice day, after the rain,” he added.

“I know!” Jane replied. “I won’t have to worry about my hair today.”

Abdullah chuckled. “But you would have run anyway. You two are so dedicated.”

Sarah and Jane took the stairs to the fourth floor—this was their warm-up—and dropped their backpacks at Jane’s desk in the suites of Sustainable London. Although the door was locked when they arrived, the alarm was already disabled, indicating that someone was in the office, probably Andrew.

By the time they had walked downstairs again and exited the building, the sun had started to come up. This was the main reason they had traveled all the way to Jane’s job like this, as they preferred not to go running in the pitch darkness of early December mornings. That, and the fact that it was so beautiful to run along the south bank of the Thames.

“Ready?” Sarah asked.

Jane nodded and added, “By the way, thank you. I know you were up late last night.” Sarah could have slept in if she had wanted to.

Sarah shrugged. “If it weren’t for getting up with you, I might blow off both running and my paper. So thank you.

The women ran for about forty-five minutes before returning to Jane’s office. Sarah retrieved her backpack and said goodbye, planning to spend the rest of the morning in a nearby café to finish her paper. After she departed, Jane pulled out the flat iron and small bag of toiletries she kept in her desk and took them, along with her backpack, to the full bathroom down the hall. Eugenie had had it installed when their organisation had first moved into this building five years earlier, in order to encourage employees to bike to work with the knowledge that if they needed a shower afterward, they could take one. She even supplied towels, which they all took turns washing in the mini washer above the toilet, and hanging to dry on racks. The washer and shower both supplied gray water for flushing.

It had taken Jane a while to get comfortable with the idea of showering at work, even though she could lock the bathroom door and knew there was another toilet down the hall if someone needed it while she occupied the shower. After hanging her trousers and blouse so that the steam would remove any wrinkles, she showered quickly, changed clothes, and spent some time curling her hair before returning to her desk to start her workday.

Jane sat down with a cup of Earl Grey tea and, as she did each morning, looked at the pictures on the wall above her desk of the four women who provided her daily inspiration. Two, of course, were Grandma and Aunt Maddy, but the other two she had never met. The first was Majora Carter, the MacArthur fellow and environmental justice activist from the South Bronx. Jane had watched her TED talk, “Greening the Ghetto,” as a freshman in college and had been so inspired by her passion and determination that she remembered thinking, I want to be her when I grow up!

The second was Wangari Maathai, the late Kenyan environmentalist and women’s rights activist who had been the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Underneath the photos were quotes from the two women, including Carter’s definition of environmental justice: “No community should be saddled with more environmental burden and less environmental benefits than any other,” and Maathai’s tribute to her land: “Earth and water, air and waning fire of the sun combine to form the essential elements of life and reveal to me my kinship with the soil.”

"'Lo, Jane."

Jane looked up and waved at Alyssa, who occupied the desk opposite hers. Tall and slender with long brown hair, Alyssa sported her usual bright grin, eager to start her work day. She had been a top student before running away from an abusive home at age sixteen. After struggling to make her way off the streets and finish her education, she was now a part-time university student. Alyssa had joined Sustainable London as an intern the previous summer, and was hired on as a permanent employee when autumn began.

"Is Eugenie in yet?" Alyssa asked. "I can't wait to tell her about the workshop yesterday."

“I haven’t seen her. I think she had a meeting with one of the borough councils this morning.”

Eugenie had founded Sustainable London in 2007 and continued to serve as its director. Her goal was to ensure that all of Greater London was prepared to meet whatever environmental challenges the future would pose. When Jane was doing research for her Social Policy master’s thesis, she had interviewed Eugenie about Sustainable London’s work in the lowest income communities of the city. Jane had asked Eugenie some rather pointed questions about why there was only one person of colour working for the organisation and none on the board. Apparently, they had each come away from the interview suitably impressed with the other; at the end, Eugenie had asked if Jane would like to come work for her upon graduation. Since she was hoping to stay in England and couldn’t without a work permit, and recognized this as an opportunity she would love, Jane had accepted readily. Jane and the other staff members—Alyssa, Derek, Arjun and Andrew—worked with community members throughout London’s boroughs to identify ways to improve the sustainability of their communities, while Eugenie spent much of her days reaching out to potential donors to fund community projects, and to local politicians whose decisions and support would determine whether identified projects could move forward.

The busy day passed quickly and at the end of the workday, Jane traveled by bus to Hackney, where she offered free keyboard lessons twice a month on Thursdays, and twice a month on Saturday mornings. She had moved to London in the summer of 2011, shortly after graduating from Oxford and not long before riots rocked the city following the shooting death of an unarmed black man by police. Watching the violence on the telly with Sarah each night, Jane knew she had to step up and do something to help in this, her new home.

She decided to visit Pembury Estate, a large housing development in Hackney where some of the worst of the riots had taken place. Sarah had freaked out a bit, considering the trip too dangerous, but Jane was determined. She had grown up in South Central L.A., and so knew how to carry herself in a similar neighborhood. Not to mention that as a Los Angelena, she was familiar with police/community conflicts.

On that first trip to Hackney, Jane has spotted a small community centre on the street where the bus had dropped her off. She entered, unsure what to do except offer whatever services she could provide. She had had the opportunity to speak with the programme director, Margaret, who expressed her appreciation for Jane’s willingness but was uncertain how she could use her.

While they spoke, Jane noticed a piano in the corner of the small lobby. “What do you use the piano for?” she had asked.

Margaret glanced over. “Oh, that. It was a donation, but it’s out of tune. Some of our clients play it on occasion, but it mostly takes up space. I’d really like to get rid of it.”

An idea came to Jane. She had purchased a keyboard during her time at Oxford, but she missed her piano from home. Playing a keyboard just wasn’t the same when it came to classical music. “What if...” Jane paused, then continued. “What if I take the piano off your hands, and swap it for a keyboard? A keyboard can be stored away when not in use, to free up space. And then I could come back to offer free keyboard lessons to whomever wants them?”

It took Margaret a mere minute of thinking before she agreed. Peter was able to help Jane find a few friends and a truck to move the piano to her flat and bring back the keyboard, and so Jane’s musical service to youth in Hackney began.

This evening, she had four students, Diya, Amir, Jessica and Daniel. Shortly after she began her lesson with Diya, her mobile chimed, indicating the receipt of a text message. Jane silenced her phone to prevent any further interruptions.

Each lesson progressed smoothly. Jane always enjoyed having ten-year-old Daniel as her final student of the evening. He was a sweet boy and immensely talented, and his mother Rose always brought Jane a thank you gift that would become her dinner. Tonight was no exception. When Rose arrived to pick Daniel up, she carried a still-warm plate wrapped in aluminum foil. It smelled delicious, and Jane couldn’t help but lift a bit of the foil for a peek. “Mm, fried plantains, my favorite!” she said. The plate also contained rice and beans and salad.

“I have good news for you, Rose,” she told her. “I’ve already told Daniel that I spoke with the director of the Winthrop Music Academy. He is willing to give Daniel an audition. He’d like you to call to set up a time for it.” She handed a business card to Rose.

“Ohhhhh, Jane!” Rose cried. “I am so happy! My husband Roger said nothing would come of it, but I told him that you’re a fellow Bajan and you would make it happen!” She reached over to hug Jane, and then to embrace her son, who squirmed away from his mother in embarrassment.

Jane grinned. Although she had told Rose before that she had only visited Barbados once at age ten for her great-uncle’s funeral, she didn’t mind being referred to as a “fellow Bajan.” Rose’s accent—and food—reminded Jane so much of her grandmother that it always made her feel a little less homesick.

It was after nine PM when Jane arrived home and began preparing herself for the following day. As she plugged in her mobile to recharge, she remembered that she had received a text message earlier that evening. She opened it and read, “In town this weekend and hoping you’re not busy. F.C.” She didn’t recognize the number, and it took a few moments of thinking before she recalled anyone she knew with the initials F.C. Was she at last hearing from Frank Churchill?

If he would be in town this weekend, did that mean he was currently out of town? If so, where was he, and was it too late to respond to his text? She hesitated for a moment, and then decided to type back, “I’m free.” If he were busy or asleep, he could just respond the next day.

Within thirty seconds, however, she received a response, “How about dinner and a show on Sat?”

Not wanting to seem too eager, she texted back, “Sure.”

His text came immediately. “Great! I’ll call u tomorrow when I get back. Have a good nite.”

Jane stared at her mobile for a few seconds before a huge smile broke out on her face. She had a date with Frank Churchill!

Chapter Text

From the voice-over introduction to the 2009 BBC production of Jane Austen's Emma:

Emma Woodhouse was born with the sun shining... And so, the sun continued to shine brightly on Emma.

But other children in Highbury were not so fortunate. Young Frank Weston's world was turned upside down [when his mother died].

And little Jane Fairfax's life was never to be the same when her aunt fell on hard times.

And so Jane and Frank were forced to leave Highbury and trust their fortune to strangers, while Emma stayed comfortably at home.

==============================

Chapter 3

"This one!" Sarah called out, handing Jane a navy blue skirt as they attempted to pick an outfit for Jane's date.

"Too short," Jane dismissed it. She had already rejected several other possibilities for one reason or another.

Sarah threw up her hands. "Oh, come on, Jane! You need to show off those gorgeous legs of yours."

"It's December," Jane reminded her. "It's chilly out." While it rarely got horribly cold in London, this wasn't L.A.

They finally compromised on a knee length black pencil skirt ("At least he'll still get to see your calves," Sarah had joked), along with a sleeveless emerald blouse that offered just a hint of cleavage. Jane would wear a short black jacket over it.

"OK, turn around, let me look at you." As Jane spun around, Sarah said, "You look amazing. Remember, you're going to have fun tonight. Don't do be too serious."

Jane pressed her lips together, trying to repress the silly smile she had worn all day. "I'll remember."

Peter arrived soon thereafter and he and Sarah departed, so Jane was alone when her doorbell rang. She took a deep breath as she answered the door. There Frank Churchill stood, smiling and wearing khaki trousers, a black knit shirt and blazer. He held in his hand a bouquet of multicoloured flowers. For a brief moment, she was rendered speechless. Her interactions with him had been so brief at the engagement party that this was the first time she had had a prolonged, close-up look at him. He was a very handsome man, especially when he smiled, with his beautiful even teeth, deep dimples, and prominent cheekbones. Her eyes flashed to his hair, and again she hoped for a chance to run her fingers through his wavy black locks. How could a man have hair that beautiful?

"Good evening," he said, his grin widening as he appraised her appearance, seeming pleased. She found herself mesmerized by his deep and soulful voice. "May I come in?"

Get it together, Jane! she told herself. "Um, yes," she said, her voice sounding hoarse. She cleared her throat and opened the door wider to let him in.

A look of amusement crossed his face, as if he were suppressing laughter. Jane feared she was making a huge fool of herself by acting like a love-struck teenager.

"You're shorter than I remember," Frank said.

From another man, that might have sounded insulting, but Frank said it with such good humour that Jane's nervousness immediately dispelled and she started laughing. Yes, she was a lot shorter than he was, even in her high heels.

"How short are you, anyway?"

Grinning now at his cute way of asking the question, Jane answered, "Five feet two."

"A woman after my own heart! You still think in feet and inches."

"Just for height. When it comes to distance, it's metric all the way."

Frank held out the flowers. "For you."

"Thank you," she said as she took them. "And thank you for breaking the ice."

He grinned. "My pleasure."

She offered him a seat as she found a vase, filled it with water, and placed the flowers in it. "Ready?" he asked when she was done.

Jane nodded and picked up her purse. Frank stood and offered her his arm. She placed her hand inside his elbow, and then realized she'd need to let go to lock the door to her flat.

"You look very beautiful, by the way," Frank said as she took his arm again.

"Thank you," she said, feeling herself blush. "You look really good, too."

He grinned. "I figured you thought that by the way you were staring at me."

Jane laughed again. This guy was vain, but in such a... goofy way, that it was charming.

They rode the lift down to the lobby and exited to the street. Frank told her that he had had to park a few streets away, and offered to get his car and return for her. She shook her head and told him she didn't mind walking. That was normally true—she loved to walk, but generally wasn't wearing four-inch heels. She knew her feet would regret it, but nevertheless, she wanted to stay with Frank rather than have to wait for him, and she didn't want to seem like a woman who needed to be pampered. So walk they did.

She had to keep herself from gasping when they arrived at his car. Frank's silver Tesla was as beautiful as its owner. She felt a little thrill at having her first opportunity to ride in an electric vehicle.

They drove easily through the London streets to Chinatown, a relatively short distance from her Bethnal Green neighborhood. "Do you like Chinese food?" Frank asked.

"I love it," she answered. "I love most types of cuisine."

"Once more, you're proving to be a woman after my own heart." This was the second time he'd said that, and Jane wondered if this was something he said to every woman he dated.

Frank pulled into a car park and paid the fee. "We'll have to walk again, about two streets. Are you okay with that? I can always hail a taxi."

"Walking's fine," she assured him. "It's a beautiful night."

They bypassed several large and elegant restaurants as they walked, many with the word "Palace" in their names, and finally came to a small storefront with the neon sign in the window bearing the name "Ting's Diner." Frank held open the door for her and led her inside. The interior was small, somewhat dark and crowded with booths. Most of the diners were likely of Chinese ancestry. Jane was a bit surprised; the place did not look at all fancy, and appeared to be more of the type of inexpensive ethnic restaurant she liked to frequent rather than a place where someone like Frank would eat. Perhaps the food was first-rate.

Frank was greeted by the waitstaff in Chinese, and he responded in kind. They were led to a booth, where he extended his hand as Jane slid in. He sat down opposite her. A young woman promptly brought them a metal pot of tea. Frank turned over one of the two small cups already on the table and asked if she wanted some.

"Yes, please."

As he poured, an older woman wearing an apron approached their table. With a bright smile on her face, she spoke rapidly to Frank and placed her hand on his shoulder. It was a gesture of familiarity, which impressed Jane far more than taking her to any expensive venue would have.

Frank laughed and replied to the woman, while holding his hand out toward Jane. Jane only understood her name.

The woman then turned and addressed Jane in English. "What would you like? Our best for you tonight."

They'd been given no menus, so Jane picked the safest choice for her diet. "Something with tofu and vegetables?"

"Oh, yes! Do you like spicy or no?"

Jane grinned. "Definitely spicy."

The woman smiled and turned back to Frank, who spoke again to the her in Chinese. With another pat of his shoulder, she departed. Jane assumed their order was now placed.

After taking a sip of her tea, she took a stab at a question. "Was that Cantonese?"

Frank nodded.

"Did you grow up speaking it?"

He nodded again. "I did. My grandparents were from Hong Kong. I lived with them for part of my childhood." He smiled. "So. What do you think of this place?"

Jane wasn't sure how to answer at first. She liked it a great deal, but for a split second, wondered whether Frank considered her a cheap date. Not that she wanted him to spend a lot of money on her, in fact it would make her uncomfortable—but she didn't want to feel as though Frank considered her lesser than other women he might date. No, she thought. The fact that they were going to the theatre later argued against him being cheap right now. She was overthinking this—and taking too long to respond, since Frank, looking concerned, asked, "You're not pleased with this? We can go elsewhere, if you'd like."

"Oh, no!" Jane gave him a reassuring smile. "I really like it. It's just…" she peered at him, a thought suddenly occurring to her. "You talked to Peter, didn't you?"

He raised an eyebrow. "About what?"

"About what I'd like. I mean, how did you know I'd like a place like this?"

Frank laughed. "There's this thing called Google? I found a little notice about a speech you gave last year on the importance of patronizing small local businesses to support sustainability." His smile broadened. "So you are pleased."

"More so because you've obviously been here before than if you had just picked this place for tonight at random."

"My grandmother was a great cook. When I find someplace that reminds me of her cooking, I tend to eat there a lot."

With these little tidbits of information, Jane found her curiosity about Frank increasing. "Where did you grow up?"

"Beverly Hills for the first five years of my life, Hawthorne for the next six, and then Beverly Hills again until I graduated."

"That's a big contrast," Jane remarked, thinking about the difference between wealthy Beverly Hills and working class Hawthorne. His journey resembled her own in some ways. "How did that come about?"

"My mom died when I was five. Since my dad is English and he traveled a lot for work, my grandparents were worried that he'd ship me off to Europe somewhere and they'd hardly ever see me. They offered to have me come live with them. So I moved from my parents' house in Beverly Hills to my grandparents' in Hawthorne. I moved back with my dad at age eleven when he remarried."

"I'm sorry about your mom," she said, deeply empathetic since she'd been there, too. "How did she die, if you don't mind telling me?"

"Cancer."

"I'm sorry," she said again before growing quiet. She couldn't imagine which was harder, watching a parent die over time from an illness as devastating as cancer, or losing them as suddenly as she had.

Frank shrugged slightly. "In some ways, it's hard to remember her, because I was so young. At the same time, there's a hole there that never really goes away."

Jane nodded. She understood. "So you must have appreciated the chance to live with your dad again."

Frank tilted his head. "I didn't see him much more after I moved back in with him than I had when I lived with my grandparents."

At her puzzled look, he explained. "If he wasn't busy with his own work, he was traveling with my stepmom trying to help her establish and expand her cupcake business. You know Cuddly Cupcakes?"

"Yeah, I loved that place when I was a kid! I was so excited when I read that they might be opening a store in London. That's your stepmom's business?"

"Not anymore. She handed over the reins to my stepbrother Ryan a few years ago."

"Oh, you have a stepbrother. Are you guys close?"

"Oh yeah. We were on our own a lot, so we became really tight. Our friendship was the best thing to come out of the four year marriage of our parents."

"Wait, you were on your own a lot at eleven? How old was Ryan?"

"Fifteen."

Jane stared at Frank incredulously, trying to grasp what he was telling her. "Your parents left a fifteen-year-old and an eleven-year-old on their own?"

"We weren't entirely alone. We had live-in servants, and my grandparents checked up on us."

"Still. I bet you and your brother got into a lot of trouble together."

Frank laughed. "Oh, we did! Ryan was cool, because he didn't mind his kid brother hanging around him."

"That probably made you grow up too fast."

With a grin, Frank rolled his eyes upward and nodded. "Probably."

Their conversation came to a pause due to the arrival of their meals. Jane's plate was placed before her along with a fork. She set the fork aside and picked up a pair of chopsticks from a vase in the middle of the table, snapping them apart, and began to eat.

Frank, who had started into his meal of shrimp, pork and vegetables, looked up in admiration. "You're good with a pair of sticks, I see."

Jane smiled. "I grew up in California! Lots and lots of bowls of pho in my past."

"I just realized that we've been talking a lot about me, and I haven't learned anything about you. So where are you from?"

"South Central."

"Not that far from Hawthorne. We might have bumped into each other as kids."

He was more right than he knew. "I also went to Beverly Hills High."

Frank leaned forward in surprise. "Don't tell me we were there at the same time!"

Jane shook her head. "I was class of 2005. You were class of 2000, right?"

He grinned. "Someone else used Google, I see."

She pursed her lips and nodded. "You caught me."

"I know you went to Oxford. Where'd you do your undergrad?"

"Berkeley."

Frank exhaled and covered his forehead as if he were in pain. "Just when things were going so well between us... Ugh! I'm going to have to ask for the check."

Jane giggled. "Don't tell me—you went to Stanford, didn't you?"

Frank nodded. "Berkeley," he mumbled, sounding stunned. "I can't believe you went to Berkeley." Then he laughed. "I'm enjoying your company, so I guess I can forgive that. Anyway, what about your family? Big, small, lots of brothers and sisters?"

Jane shook her head. "I'm an only child. My parents died when I was four."

"Both your parents?" Frank whistled. "Wow. How?"

"A car accident on I-5."

"I'm sorry, too," he said. "It seems we have something major in common."

"I know. I completely understand what you mean about the hole that never goes away."

Frank stared at her for a while, his expression serious. After a few moments, Jane spoke again. "You mentioned that your dad is English."

Frank smiled and held out his hands. "It's in the name."

"Are you telling me you're a descendant of Winston Churchill?"

"Of one of his cousins, actually."

"Is that why you moved to England?"

"Kind of. Because of the years I spent with my grandparents, I knew a lot about my Chinese heritage, but very little about my British heritage. So I chose Cambridge for my MBA."

Jane suppressed a smile, thinking that the Cambridge-Oxford rivalry was as intense as the Stanford-Berkeley one. As if he knew what she was thinking, Frank pointed at her. "Don't say it."

She couldn't hold her smile back anymore, and started laughing. "So," she finally said, "how did your parents meet?"

"My mom went to Stanford, too, and she did part of her junior year abroad in the UK. She met my dad and they fell in love. He wanted her to stay, but she was determined to finish her degree. Dad had already finished university, so he followed her back to Cali instead."

"And you've done the reverse. Will this be your permanent home?"

Frank look thoughtful for a moment. "I don't know. I don't know if any place is my permanent home. I maintain a house here and in L.A., but I travel a lot. I don't think I'm in any one location for an entire month at a time."

He grinned. "What about you, Ms. Fairfax? Will England be your permanent home?"

She shrugged. "As long as my work permit is still good." She grew quiet. "I know I want to go home at some point. I miss my family."

"Who raised you after your parents died?"

"My aunt and my grandmother."

"Another thing we have in common, living for part of our childhoods with grandparents."

"I know!" Jane mused. "It's almost like you're my long lost brother."

With that Frank's expression turned sensual. "Brother? Definitely not." He reached for her hand and began to stroke it. "You and I are definitely not related."

His touch, his look and his sexy voice were combining to send shivers down Jane's spine. Remembering that they were in a public place, she gently withdrew her hand from his and took a few more bites of food. He grinned at her, but also returned to eating.

They continued to talk and eat until Frank realized they would be late for their show if they didn't move on. The show he took her to was Stomp at the Ambassadors Theatre, a thoroughly thrilling rhythmic performance. Afterward, they stopped by a pub for a drink and to talk some more. It was close to one in the morning when Frank finally drove Jane home.

Amazingly, he found a parking spot within thirty meters of her flat, for which Jane was grateful, since her feet were screaming by then. He turned to Jane when he stopped the engine and said, "Let's put those Altoids to good use." She laughed, a little embarrassed that she hadn't been as discreet as she thought she'd been when she'd tucked the mints into her mouth during the car ride. Then she did what she had been dying to do all evening—slipped her fingers into his hair as Frank leaned toward her to kiss her. Not surprisingly, he was a great kisser, and their snogging soon turned deep and intense. Completely turned on, she suddenly realized that this was a bad idea—they were in his car, on the street. She pulled back, but smiled to let Frank know that it wasn't from any displeasure. Frank said softly, "I had an amazing time tonight, Jane, and I'd really like to spend the rest of it with you."

Jane hesitated. She had never slept with a man on a first date before, but she'd never felt like this on a first date before, either. She recalled Sarah's words—"Have a good time with an amazing bloke, but don't let your heart become engaged"—and she made a decision. "I'd like that, too," she said.

Chapter Text

From Emma Approved, QA6:

Jane (in response to the question, “Coffee or tea?”): Tea. It’s soothing.

Frank (covering his face with a look of total exasperation): It’s flavored hot water!

Jane: Coffee is technically that, too.

=============================

Chapter 4

Jane woke up around seven the next morning, feeling really tired but happy. She wasn’t sure how late it had been when she and Frank had finally fallen asleep. She watched him for a while as he continued to snooze soundly. Before she had admired his face; now she could admire his body. He was lean but muscular, with an athlete’s physique. He had a tattoo of Chinese characters on his upper right arm; she would have to ask him what it meant.

After a few minutes, she realized it was unlikely she’d fall back to sleep, so she rose from bed and decided to go for a run. Hoping he wouldn’t awaken before she returned, she left Frank notes in two places, on the pillow where she’d rested her head, and on the bathroom mirror. She left a note on Sarah’s bedroom door as well, letting her know Frank was there. She knew it was doubtful that Sarah would see it, given that she was probably at Peter’s place, but thought it wise to alert her just in case.

When she returned much more energized from her run about an hour later, she peeked in on Frank, who was still sleeping. Good, she thought. It would give her a chance to straighten up the flat. She took a quick shower, curled her hair, and then began tackling the dishes in the sink. She checked the refrigerator and found very little that she could make for breakfast. She considered running out for bagels, but was certain Frank would wake up during a second excursion outdoors. He couldn’t sleep that long, could he?

She had been sitting on the sofa reading for a half hour or so when she finally heard her bedroom door open and saw Frank emerge, wearing the shirt and trousers he’d had on the night before. He had a bit of a shadow on his face, mostly on his chin, and his hair, while disheveled, still looked good. His eyes were only half open.

“Good morning, sleepyhead,” she said with a smile.

He flashed a small smile and pointed at a nearby door. “That’s the bathroom, right?”

Jane nodded, and he entered. He emerged a short while later and walked over to sit beside Jane. He flopped his head onto her shoulder as if going back to sleep. She nudged him off with a laugh, saying, “Come on, now, I’ve been up for a few hours.”

“What time is it?”

Jane looked at the clock on the wall. “Ten-twelve.”

Frank raised his left eyebrow. His left eye was wide open while his right eye was still shut. “And you’ve been up a few hours?”

“Daylight’s burning.”

He laughed. “You’re nuts. You know how late we went to bed?”

Jane smiled. “I remember.”

Frank smiled seductively. “It was a good time, Ms. Fairfax.” She was wearing shorts, and he began to trail his fingers up her thigh. “So these are the legs that were wrapped around me last night. Very shapely.”

Jane shrugged. “I run.”

“Oh, that’s what that note in the bathroom was about. You run competitively?”

“I used to. Now I’m training for the Surrey Half-Marathon in March.”

“Have you run it before?”

“No, just 10ks. I’ve been trying to challenge myself to run a little farther each day.”

“Mmm,” Frank said, obviously bored now with talk of running and far more interested in her legs, which he was still caressing. She crossed one of her legs over his and leaned in to kiss him, and just as quickly leaned back.

“Sorry,” Frank mumbled. “You have any more Altoids?”

Jane rose from the sofa and walked toward the front door, upon which her purse was hanging from a hook. She rummaged inside, located the small case of mints, and tossed them to him. She started to walk back to the sofa when Frank spotted her piano, now fully tuned, well-polished, and positioned against the wall beside the door.

“Do you play?” he asked, pointing at the instrument.

“Yes.”

“Are you good?”

“Pretty good.”

“Let me hear something.”

Jane sat down on the piano bench and reached for the nearest score, Clementi’s Sonatina in C major, and began to play. Within a minute, Frank said with a grin, “OK, OK, I got it: you’re very good. Now get back here.”

When she drew near with a smile, Frank pulled her into his lap and slipped his hands beneath her tank top. They kissed for real this time, his mouth now tasting sweet and hot. Jane loved how quickly he could turn her on. He was such a sexy man, and he made her feel incredibly sexy, too.

They fooled around for a while and ended up lying in each other’s arms on the sofa. “I really like you, Jane,” Frank said, his hand stroking her arm. His words startled her. He said them in such a sexy, flirty voice, she couldn’t tell whether he was referring to his emotions or just his gonads.

To hide her confusion, she joked instead. “I guess you’re awake now!”

Frank chuckled. “Yeah, but I need some coffee. Do you have any made?”

Jane shook her head. “We don’t have a coffee maker.”

Frank sat up suddenly, bringing Jane up with him. “You’re kidding! How can you not have a coffee maker?”

“We just don’t.”

“It’s because you have an espresso maker, right? Tell me you have an espresso maker.”

She laughed. “No, neither Sarah nor I drink coffee. I have several types of tea though. May I make you a cup?”

Frank’s mouth hung open and he squinted his eyes at her. “You drink tea? That’s flavored hot water!”

“So’s coffee.”

He groaned. “How can you say that? Coffee is bold. Coffee is strong. Coffee is exciting!”

Jane snickered. “Coffee is not all that! It’s just a beverage!”

Frank groaned again. “You’re killing me, Jane! First it was Berkeley, and now it’s... tea!” He spat out the last word as though he were describing something grotesque.

“There is a solution, you know. We can always go out for coffee. I don’t have any food here anyway.”

Frank smirked. “Oh, nice save! Maybe you and I have a future after all.”

They made a plan to drive to Frank’s place so that he could shower, shave and change clothes, followed by brunch at Tibit’s, London’s oldest vegetarian restaurant. Frank suggested the venue, which she thought was sweet. She hadn’t yet told him she was vegan, but he’d obviously figured it out, probably based on what she’d ordered for dinner.

Frank lived on the eighteenth floor of a high rise in Kensington. The lift from the garage to his floor was fingerprint activated. The front door opened to a huge living room/dining room area, opposite a large picture window with a grand view of Kensington Gardens, Buckingham Palace and the London skyline. The hardwood floors were well-polished, and all the furniture was either black or white. As if to match the decor, a baby grand piano stood beside the window, its black and white keys gleaming in the sunlight.

Jane raised her eyebrows. “You didn’t tell me you played!”

Frank grinned. “I don’t.”

“You have a baby grand piano just for show?”

“I thought it would look really cool in here, and it does.”

Jane smiled. “May I?”

Frank stretched his arm toward the piano. “Be my guest.”

As he turned to leave the room, Jane walked over to the piano and sat down. She ran her fingers gently across the keys and then tapped a few to ascertain that it was in tune. She then began to play Chopin’s Nocturnes, one of her favorite pieces. Caught up in playing, she wasn’t aware when Frank returned to the room until she felt a soft kiss against the back of her neck. She stopped and turned to look up at him as he continued to run his lips across her neck and throat.

“Don’t let me stop you,” he murmured. “I’m enjoying the concert.”

His kisses were very distracting, not to mention that his face now felt soft and smooth and he smelled wonderful. Jane inhaled. “Um, Frank? I can’t really play when you’re doing that.”

He straddled the bench beside her and drew her face toward his. “Then let’s do this instead,” he said before meeting her lips with his own.

After about a minute, Jane pulled back. “Actually, I’ve now been up almost five hours, and I’m really hungry. Is it all right if we go?”

Fred nodded reluctantly, and then smiled. “All right, let’s go.”

At the restaurant, Frank asked her about being a vegan. “Was it an animal rights thing?”

Jane shook her head. "A health thing. My family has had a lot of health challenges. My grandfather died of a heart attack at thirty-eight. My grandmother ended up with kidney failure from diabetes when I was fifteen, and now she's on dialysis. But the biggest blow was when my Aunt Maddy was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was sixteen, and she was in her early thirties."

"Wow," Frank said softly. "Is she the aunt that raised you?"

Jane nodded. "So you can imagine how freaked out I was by the possibility of losing either her or my grandmother. Anyway, Maddy is the one who first went organic and then vegan as a way to maintain her health once her cancer went into remission, and I followed her example. She's now a ten-year survivor."

"It must be great to still have your grandmother and aunt around." He grinned. "I bet they spoiled you."

He looked surprised when she replied, "Not really. They had very high expectations for me."

Jane thought about her childhood and how accommodating a kid she had been, so eager to meet those expectations, especially after all the losses her family had had. She tried to explain. "After my grandfather died, Grandma had to raise two girls on her own, and without much money or education herself, she managed to send both of them to college. But my mother dropped out to marry my father when she got pregnant. And then Aunt Maddy had to quit school to work and take care of Grandma and me."

Frank furrowed his brow, seeming to contemplate what all this meant. "Were you supposed to make up for what your mom and your aunt didn't achieve?"

Something in his tone hit her the wrong way. “It wasn’t like that, and in any case, my aunt eventually got her bachelor’s degree, although it took a long time.” Jane exhaled, trying to find a way to convey her thoughts. “My grandmother and aunt made so many sacrifices for me. I can’t let them down. I have to show them that everything they went through, all their struggles, were worth it.”

Frank was quiet for a few moments. Finally, he smiled a little and said, “Gee, now I feel guilty because my grandparents spoiled me.”

Jane laughed. “I can tell. But you’ve still done pretty well for yourself, in school and in business.”

“Immigrant grandparents will do that to you. They push.”

“I know! I have one.”

“Really? Where’s your grandmother from?”

“Barbados.”

He grinned, and Jane could tell Frank was thinking that immigrant grandmothers from former British colonies was yet another thing they had in common.

After finishing their meal, they took a walk hand in hand through Piccadilly Circus, during which Frank asked whether she wanted to return to his place, “to finish what we started on your sofa this morning.”

As tempting as that sounded, Jane declined. “I need to go grocery shopping and do laundry.”

Frank looked disappointed, but said okay. He was somewhat quiet on the drive back to Jane’s place. When he pulled up on her street, she asked him what his plans were for the coming week. “I’m flying out tomorrow morning for a ten-day trip to Singapore, China and Japan.”

“Business?”

Frank nodded and grinned. “But I’ll make sure there’s some pleasure in there.”

She worked up the guts to say, “Maybe we can see each other again when you get back.”

“Maybe.” He got out and walked around his vehicle to let Jane out and walk her to her door. He held out his hand to her when they arrived at the entrance of her building. She took it, and he gave it a gentle squeeze. “I had a nice time this weekend, Jane Fairfax. I’ll call you sometime.”

With that, he turned back toward his car, leaving Jane, after having had such a satisfying weekend, feeling strangely empty inside.

Chapter Text

From the introduction to the 2009 BBC production of Jane Austen's Emma:

"We must let Jane go," Jane's aunt says. "Captain Campbell is very well set up. He will give her the education we cannot."

Jane's grandmother replies in tears, "But we can't just let the child go! Our lovely little girl!"

"Mother, we'll have to leave this house soon for one smaller. We promised that we would do our best for Jane."

As they lead Jane out to a carriage, her aunt tells her, "Now remember, Jane, to write to us as often as you can. You'll become wonderfully accomplished someday!"

================================

Chapter 5

Jane had a standing appointment every Sunday night. If she neglected to email her aunt and grandmother at least every other day, or if she forgot their weekly phone call, they'd be on the phone immediately trying to make sure nothing was wrong. She hated to worry them, so at ten PM sharp every Sunday, she made a call to her family's home in California. She'd reach them at two in the afternoon in Los Angeles, having given them plenty of time to return home from church.

"JAANNNE!" Aunt Maddy squealed as soon as she answered the call.

Jane grinned, even as she held the phone away from her ear. Maddy's enthusiasm always made her smile.

"Tell my baby girl I love her!" she heard her grandmother shout in the background. It was how she always started their phone calls.

"I love you too, Grandma!" Jane called back, although she knew Maddy would have to pass on the message. Jane didn't talk directly to her grandmother anymore, as her hearing was too poor for them to communicate clearly on an international call.

"MAMA! Jane loves you, too!" Maddy shouted, to which Grandma responded, "I know!" Jane had to hold back her laughter. It was a silly ritual, but they did it every time. No matter where Jane was in the world, this would always be her tether.

They continued to talk this way, with Jane and Maddy conversing and drawing Grandma in through messages passed back and forth. Neither of them had been able to successfully convince Grandma to get a hearing aid. A real beauty in her youth and still attractive at 68, Grandma was a little vain, and ashamed of the swollen and misshapen veins in her arm from dialysis. Jane and Maddy thus knew they had to use finesse to get Grandma to accept anything else that would make her feel less pretty. It had taken a lot of pleading for Grandma to finally agree to purchase glasses. Watching TV and reading were definite incentives for corrective lenses, and she could always take them off in public. On the other hand, Grandma insisted she didn't need a hearing aid when she had closed-captioned TV and a naturally loud daughter.

"Tell her Brother Robinson's son is getting married!"

"Brother Robinson's son—" Maddy repeated.

"I heard," Jane interrupted, since Maddy rarely seemed to remember that although Grandma couldn't hear well, she could. "That's awesome! I'm so happy for Anthony. Is she a nice girl?"

"MAMA, Jane says it's wonderful! She wants to know if he's marrying a nice girl!"

"Oh, she's very nice! Very pretty, too!"

"Please tell Anthony congratulations for me."

"We will! Hey, how are your kids?"

"They're doing well. Daniel has an audition with that music school."

"MAMA! The little Bajan boy got a music school audition!"

"Tell him his granny in America is proud of him!"

"I'll tell him," Jane said with a smile. Upon learning that Daniel's parents were from Barbados, Grandma had adopted him, even though she'd never met him.

"Mama, she'll tell him! Oh! Did I tell you I took a hot yoga class? Girl, I thought I was going to die! I told myself if this is what I need to do to get in shape, I will love all my curves just the way they are!"

Jane smiles turned to laughter. Maddy usually got her rolling.

"I didn't even think I'd make it through the class, but I kept telling myself, 'Jane's running a marathon, Jane's running a marathon. If she can do that, you can do this!' You are still planning to run it, right?"

"Half-marathon, and yes."

"MAMA, Jane's still running that marathon!"

"Tell her I'm proud of her and to keep it up."

"JANE! Mama is—"

"Proud of me, I know."

"And so am I! You keep it up, you hear me? There was a time I was as skinny as you are."

"Real men like curves, though," Grandma said.

"MAMA! She's skinny, but she's got plenty of curves, exactly where she needs them! Not that it matters, because she's focused on her career right now!"

"That doesn't mean she can't meet somebody."

Jane grew quiet, her good mood suddenly dissipating. The day before, she had anticipated saying just those words, "I met somebody," on this phone call, but now she was no longer sure.

"How was your weekend? Did you do anything special?"

Jane told Maddy and Grandma about seeing Stomp, and the wonder of watching the cast create incredible music and beats out of ordinary objects. She couldn't bring herself to tell them that she had seen the show with someone.

When her call ended, she knocked on Sarah's door, wanting a chance to talk. She had heard her flatmate return home a short time earlier. "Come in," Sarah called out. It was close to eleven, but Jane knew that Sarah would be up for a while. Her studies required many long nights, and although the fall term had officially ended the day before, she was used to going to bed late. Short, blond and very pretty, Sarah had spent her life fighting against being stereotyped by cultivating a very academic persona.

Sarah sat cross-legged on her bed reading a bridal magazine as Jane walked in. Jane took a seat in the small pneumatic chair at her desk. "How are Maddy and your grandmother?" asked Sarah, who knew her friend's routine.

Jane smiled, spinning slightly in the chair. "They're doing well. Maddy made me laugh with a story about taking a hot yoga class. How about you? How does it feel to be done for the term?"

"Fantastic!" Sarah exhaled in joy. "I feel as if real life can actually begin now, at least for a few weeks. Hey, I haven't told you yet that Peter and I are talking about holding the wedding in Glasgow."

"Your dad must be thrilled about that."

"He is. We'll hold the wedding at my grandparents' church, and when we're there this Christmas, we'll look for a place for the reception. You're still coming with us for the holidays?"

"Of course," Jane replied. "I'll probably return after Boxing Day, if that's all right. Rose wants to invite me over for a thank you dinner."

Sarah grinned. "That's fine. I'm sure her food will be a good deal better than my grandparents'." Her smile widened. "So, you haven't told me about your date yet."

Jane sighed heavily. "Uh-oh," Sarah said. "Did it not go well?"

"No, it did. It just ended... weirdly." Frank's goodbye had felt like a rejection, leaving Jane frustrated and confused. She proceeded to tell Sarah about the weekend, finishing by saying, "I can't believe I slept with him! I feel like such a fool!"

"Don't do this to yourself," Sarah told her. "You said you had a good time."

"Yes, but..."

"Then don't regret what happened. He either decided he's not into you, or he's an arse who doesn't like not getting his own way. He's a rich man. It's not unexpected."

Jane nodded to acknowledge the point.

"Jane, either chalk it up to a mistake you had fun making, or hold onto it as a good memory, but don't let it affect your life. He's not worth it. Or I should say, you're worth so much more."

Jane chewed her bottom lip. "You're right."

Sarah stepped off the bed and walked over to hug Jane. "Just remember, if you hear from him again, keep your head and don't let him touch your heart."

Jane gave her friend an appreciative squeeze, and thanked her before saying goodnight. When she returned to her room, however, she admitted to herself that Sarah's warning was already too late. Who was she kidding to think that she could have a lighthearted fling with someone and just move on? It wasn't that she wasn't a risk taker; she was, whether that meant conquering stage fright or standing up to powers that be or traveling to impoverished nations or riot-torn neighbourhoods. It was just that her decisions were almost always serious ones, made because she felt a conviction about whatever she was about to undertake.

With Frank, there had been no conviction, just the desires of the moment, and now she was deeply embarrassed that she had acted so hastily. She was one of who knows how many women he dated, whose company he no doubt enjoyed—he seemed to like people in general, and attractive women in particular—but whom he probably quickly forgot about once the next pretty face came along. Okay, maybe that was unfair. She didn't know him well enough to make that judgment about him. But that was the problem, wasn't it? She didn't really know him, and had already been intimate with him. She had never been a hookup or friends with benefits type of person. There was no way she could be that way with Frank, if she ever saw him again.

And dammit, she wanted to see him again. That was the real problem. She had liked Frank from the moment he had teased her about her height, and her feelings had grown from there. She considered him ridiculously attractive, she loved that he found so much humour in everything, and she admired the fact that beneath those surface qualities he seemed to have depth and intelligence. He had said some things during the weekend that suggested he reciprocated her feelings, but she couldn't be sure whether flirtations fell from his lips as easily as overripe fruit from a tree, or if his words were more meaningful. And the way he had left things—was he saying, "It's been fun, but see ya!" or was he just pissed off that she had things to do rather than spend time with him? Neither option was promising nor comforting.

Well, she needed to stop worrying about it. Frank would either call again or he wouldn't. In the meantime, she had many areas of her life that needed her attention.

On Monday morning, she read the quotes above her desk again to remind herself what her focus should be: "No community should be saddled with more environmental burden and less environmental benefits than any other," and "Earth and water, air and waning fire of the sun combine to form the essential elements of life and reveal to me my kinship with the soil."

She understood that kinship, having felt it since she was a young child. She had grown up in the city, but each time she stepped into her backyard, she was transported to another world. "The park is for playing, but the yard is for growing," her grandmother had always told her. She remembered Grandma taking her hands and running them through the soil. Jane had marveled at how the dirt could feel cool and damp even on a hot day, and at the tickle of earthworms and roly polies that crawled around her fingers. "This, child," Grandma would say, "sustains us all."

By the time Jane was thirteen, however, she began to find the whole thing silly. Her family hadn't made a living from agriculture since her great-grandparents' day. At that point in her life, the Bates' huge backyard garden was just an annoyance to her. She was continually embarrassed at Grandma or Aunt Maddy yelling at the neighbourhood boys who jumped their fence to steal ripened tomatoes and plums for inner-city versions of paintball fights. She also grumbled about the chores it added to her life, such as hauling buckets of water that filled up during showers out to the yard to water trees during the increasingly frequent times in which California faced water shortages. Her family didn't have any sophisticated grey water reclamation system other than young Jane's arms and legs.

Jane was never a bad kid, but she wasn't above typical teenage moodiness. That all changed when Grandma's kidneys failed during Jane's fifteenth year, and when Maddy was diagnosed with cancer six months later. She knew that the last thing they needed was any stress coming from her. Their garden became a lifesaver when money became tight after Aunt Maddy took a leave of absence from work to care for Grandma and herself. She would never return to full-time work, instead turning to financial consulting from home.

One of the few times Aunt Maddy had ever really been stern with her occurred when Jane came home one afternoon to tell her that she had been hired as a cashier at the Popeye's down the street. "Jane," Maddy pointed at her, "walk right out this door and go back and tell them you quit."

"But we need the money, Aunt Maddy!" Jane had protested.

"No, YOU need to stay focused on your studies. I will not let you do anything that takes away from that. You hear me, young lady?"

"Yes, ma'am," Jane replied, before leaving to carry out Maddy's orders.

Unable to work for money, Jane dedicated herself to maintaining their garden, and began to use its produce, previously shared freely with neighbours, for a more traditional means of sustenance: barter. In this way they managed to get their hair done, keep the car running, and fill the pantry with food that couldn't be grown during Jane's high school years.

"Jane," Alyssa said, startling her from her thoughts, "it's time for the staff meeting."

Jane quickly gathered up the report she had been compiling and followed Alyssa to their office's small conference room. Once everyone was assembled, Eugenie got started right away. "All right, updates. Jane, why don't you begin?"

Jane opened up her binder. "As you know," she told her colleagues, "the Lancaster-Beckworth Foundation provided the seed funding for my position and my current project. I submitted a status report to the foundation administrator two weeks ago, and last Friday I received an email inviting me to present my project before their entire board of trustees on the 24th of February."

"Awesome!" said Arjun, who was about thirty. He and Jane had been hired at the same time as part of Eugenie's efforts to expand the organisation's diversity. He had a very interesting story—he and his wife were both born and raised in London, but he was Hindu and the child of Indian immigrants, and she was Muslim and of Bangladeshi descent. "Are they planning to renew your funding if they like it?"

Jane smiled. "I certainly hope so!"

"Lancaster-Beckworth is one of the largest philanthropic foundations in England," Eugenie noted, "so we've asked them to triple the amount of funding they provided before. It would allow us to expand this project on a large scale, as well as continue to keep Jane and Alyssa on staff."

Jane's presentation would be both the culmination and the beginning of a major dream of hers, one that started with her decision at age sixteen to maintain her family's gardens. It was then that she learned how beneficial her family's habit of saving shower water had been. During times of water rationing, the Bates' gardens grew lush and green, while those among their neighbours who also gardened often had to let their plants die. Needless to say, Jane stopped complaining about having to haul grey water.

In the last four years that she'd been overseas, California's drought had gotten much, much worse. Her home state, which produced nearly half of the U.S.'s food, was rapidly turning into a giant desert. As a result, the second noun of Wangari Maathai's quote had become much more significant to Jane: Earth and water. No amount of earth could provide sustenance without water, the principal element for sustaining life.

London had the opposite problem: too much water and flooding. But the poorest neighbourhoods were often the least prepared to handle the rising waters, a phenomenon that was happening more and more frequently. Local engineers and the government would continue to find ways to strengthen the Thames Barrier and other anti-flood measures to protect the city as a whole, but what resources would be available to help those most in need? That's where Jane's project could make a difference.

"What would their funding allow you to do?" Derek asked. Derek was in his mid-thirties and had been with Sustainable London from the beginning. He and Eugenie had worked together at a bank and frequently used to talk about doing something more important with their lives. When Eugenie decided to start the organisation using some of her family's fortune as startup capital, Derek had followed her.

Jane turned to another page in her binder. "I've done research about community initiatives in several cities across the U.S. that are experimenting with systems to better absorb storm water runoff and filter out contaminants before they enter and overflow the groundwater and sewer systems, such as open tree pits, curbside planters and rain gardens. The best thing about most of these ideas is that they don't cost huge amounts of money to install, and ordinary people can be taught how to build them."

"Including youth!" Alyssa announced, to everyone's laughter. At twenty, she was the youngest staff member of Sustainable London, in charge of youth outreach.

"Do you plan to have young people carry out these projects?" asked Andrew. In his early forties, Andrew was a very big man, about six foot four and largely built, but one of the kindest people Jane knew. He and his wife Ife were originally from Nigeria. He had been the only staff person of colour at Sustainable London back when Jane interviewed Eugenie for her master's thesis.

"Yes, and Alyssa's been doing a great job reaching out to many of the youth organisations in the city to get them interested," Jane answered. "A lot of kids want to do something that will really make a difference, and once you explain to them what this is about and how it can help their communities, many of them want to help."

"We're talking to university students, too," Alyssa added.

"That's right," Jane went on. "Especially university students studying landscape architecture or town planning and the like. They're looking for hands-on experience in their fields, and giving them a chance to design these systems provides that."

"But it's the teens who are coming up with the visions," Alyssa said. "Many of them are so talented, especially the ones who like to tag. I've been asking them to take their artistic skills and draw what their neighbourhoods will look like when these water systems are in place. It gives them ownership, and so they'll protect it. The university students then try to help them work out the specifications."

"I'm very proud of both Alyssa and Jane," Eugenie said. "They've worked very hard on this project, and it's really coming together. I've been working with a few of the borough councils to agree to serve as demonstration areas for this. As Jane said, providing one rain garden or one curbside planter is inexpensive, but if you want to transform an entire neighbourhood or borough with these systems, that's going to cost a lot. That's why we want Lancaster-Beckworth Foundation to step up their funding."

Jane's colleagues asked a few more questions before they turned to projects the others were working on. She returned to her desk after the meeting encouraged by their support but knowing she had much more to do to make sure her presentation wowed the Lancaster-Beckworth trustees at the February meeting.

Her week passed quickly with Jane being much too busy during the day to think about Frank. When she finally wound down every night, however, he would intrude into her thoughts again. She had told herself for so long that she didn't want a relationship, but now she realized that maybe she did. She envied Sarah and Peter's happiness, and wondered what it would be like to have that for herself.

She still felt embarrassed about her behavior during the weekend, but now felt far more foolish about continuing to debate the question "did he like me or not?" in her head instead of finding answers. By Friday, Frank still hadn't called, and Jane decided to find out once and for all whether Frank was, as Sarah put it, not into her or just an arse. He was traveling for ten days, which meant he should be back in London by Wednesday, December the 17th. The following Saturday was the winter solstice, during which Eugenie held an annual dinner and celebration. Would Frank want to go to something that was a bit off-beat, if it were possible he wanted to see her again?

There was only one way to find out. She texted him, "Eugenie's having solstice dinner Sat the 21st. Want to come?" She took a deep breath and hit Send, knowing that Frank's response—or lack thereof—would answer her gnawing questions. When she didn't hear from him at all that day, she assumed that it was time to forget all about Frank Churchill. Mid-morning on Saturday the 14th, however, she received a text from him that read, "I would love to."

Chapter Text

Chapter 6

The day that Frank accepted Jane’s invitation, he had called her, and they had talked a couple more times before he returned to London the following Wednesday. He wanted to see her on Thursday evening, but she had music lessons, so they made plans for dinner on Friday. He took her to another small storefront restaurant, this one Pakistani. “Are you impressed with this one, too?” he had teased her.

Jane smirked back. “Not really. Now, if you had broken out into Urdu, then I might have been impressed.”

He scowled. “Oh, yeah? What languages do you speak, Ms. Fairfax?”

“French and Spanish.”

“Let me guess: you’re fluent in both of them, aren’t you?”

Jane hesitated for a moment before nodding.

“I knew it,” Frank laughed. “I guess I have to take you to Barcelona or Paris sometime, to see you in action.”

Was he serious or not? Jane couldn’t tell. “So,” she said, trying to sound casual, “what else do you speak besides English and Cantonese?”

“Nothing besides what little of my high school French I remember. But,” he added with a grin, “I always learn to say a greeting and thank you and a few other keys phrases for whichever country I’m visiting. You know, where’s the beer? Where’s the bathroom? Stuff like that.”

They made it an early night because Frank was still jet-lagged, and Jane had promised Sarah a day of wedding dress hunting on Saturday. She and Sarah met with success the next day by shopping at vintage clothing stores once again. They selected a gown of eggshell white satin with a full skirt and lacey bodice, for a great price of only 85 pounds. In order to not have to carry it on the underground, they shared the cost of a taxi ride home, laying the dress in its garment bag across both their laps.

When they returned, Jane and Sarah began to get ready for the solstice party. During the two years that Jane had worked for Eugenie, Sarah and Peter had attended a number of events with Jane’s boss and mentor and had become good friends with her. Peter arrived at their flat early and left soon thereafter with Sarah, carrying with them the dish of curried couscous and chick peas that Jane had made for the supper, as well as their own offerings of ale and cranachan, a traditional Scottish dessert made from toasted oatmeal, raspberries, whipping cream, and whiskey.

When Frank arrived a short while later, he told Jane he had something for her. “I thought this might be a good occasion for it.”

Jane looked in surprise as Frank handed her a small purple velvet-wrapped box that was tied with a cream-coloured ribbon. “You didn’t have to buy me anything.”

He shrugged. “I wanted to.”

She untied the ribbon and opened the box, finding inside a gold necklace from which a floral pendant dangled.

“It’s a Risis orchid,” Frank explained. “It’s the national flower of Singapore. They dip the actual flower in gold to make these.”

She touched the pendant gently. “It’s beautiful.”

“Allow me.” He took the box from her hand and removed the necklace. Jane turned around so he could fasten it around her neck. He wore a huge smile on his face when she turned back to face him. “Now, you’ll always have a flower from me no matter where you are.”

Jane smiled and thanked him, feeling really touched that he had thought to give her this gift.

They had about an hour’s drive ahead of them to Eugenie’s house in Surrey. During the ride, she asked Frank to tell her about some of his travels. He described the voyage to Asia he’d just concluded, an ice-fishing trip to Norway he’d taken about six weeks earlier, and being totally unprepared for cold weather at the beach during a visit to New Zealand just before their first date. “It was almost summer there. I expected it to be hot! I almost hopped on a plane to Australia just to thaw out, but then I decided to come back and see you instead,” he added with a flirty grin.

Jane rolled her eyes. Surely she wasn’t what brought him back to England. He was on his way back anyway, and seeing her was maybe just a bonus.

“What about you? Where have you traveled besides England?”

Jane told him about her trip to the Caribbean to meet her Bajan relatives at age ten, and day trips to Tijuana as a kid and to other European cities since she’d lived in England. “But my most memorable trips took place during two summers. I spent the summer after my junior year in college working with an NGO in Peru. The summer after my first year at Oxford I worked with a children’s orphanage in Sierra Leone.”

“Jaaannne,” Frank said. “Doing good around the world!”

She shook her head. “That’s not the point. I was there for one summer each and then went back to my life in the developed world. It’s more important to help the people who actually live there build upon their local resources so that they can take care of themselves when people like me leave.”

Frank didn’t respond for a moment, and then shouted, “All right, then. Local resources. Power to the people!” making Jane laugh and shake her head.

They eventually arrived at a two-story, twenty-five room Georgian style house that stood on two acres of land in a small village in Surrey. This was Eugenie’s holiday and weekend home, which she had inherited from her parents; during the week she lived in a flat in London. Eugenie had worked to reduce the carbon footprint of her ancestral property, installing solar panels and composting toilets (which, Jane had learned during her time overseas, were not at all unpleasant), and making other eco-friendly modifications without taking away from the house’s historical character. A family of caretakers lived in a smaller house on the property, and Eugenie also donated space on her land to local community gardeners.

Small soy candles glowed inside mason jars that lined the walkway from the drive to Eugenie’s front door. Inside the foyer, the house smelled richly of pine, curry, cinnamon and other spices. Peter and Sarah along with Jane’s coworkers were already present and socializing in a large front parlour, so Jane walked around the room to introduce Frank to them.

“This is Andrew and his wife Ife,” Jane presented the first couple.

When Frank and Andrew shook hands, Frank’s eyes grew large. “Wow, what a grip!” he said with a grin.

“I’m so sorry,” Andrew replied.

“Oh, no, it just means I need to work out more!” Frank said and they both laughed.

“This is Derek. Derek, Frank.”

The two men greeted each other. As Jane turned to move on, Derek whispered in her ear, “Oh, he’s a hottie!”

“Shh!” she whispered back.

“This is Arjun and his wife Sabina,” Jane went on, leading Frank to the next couple.

“How you doing, mate,” Arjun said to Frank.

“A pleasure,” Sabina added.

“And this is Alyssa and...” Jane’s co-worker was standing with a guy she didn’t recognize, who was, like Alyssa, similarly tatted and pierced.

“Jonathan,” Alyssa said. Her friend didn’t speak, but merely nodded at both Jane and Frank.

They went on to meet some of Eugenie’s other friends around the room, a few of whom Jane had met at previous gatherings.

“Who owns the bloody Tesla in the drive?” a voice echoed into Eugenie’s parlour. Coiffed in stringy blond dreadlocks and dressed in a woolen Rasta sweater, the owner of the voice soon followed. Jane gritted her teeth and sighed. Diggy was here.

Frank raised his eyebrows. “That would be me.”

“And who are you?” the newcomer demanded.

Jane stepped between the two men. “Diggy, this is my friend, Frank. Frank, this Eugenie’s nephew, Diggy.” Divorced many years earlier, Eugenie had never had children. Diggy was her only living relative.

Frank held out his hand, but Diggy refused to take it. “Just like a Yank to spend the most money you can on the most pretentious auto you can find,” he sneered. “But we’ll see whose smiling when peak oil hits.”

“Diggy, please,” Jane said sharply, and then looked over at Frank to see how he was taking Diggy’s rant. He didn’t seem upset, but rather amused.

“It’s an electric car,” Frank grinned. “They generally don’t need oil. That’s the point.”

Many of the assembled guests had stopped their conversations and had begun to watch the interaction. “You think it will matter when it all goes to hell? You’ll find your Tesla stripped and burned out on the road, while I’m relaxing in my transition town.”

“Where the folks who stripped and burned my car will politely knock at your door?”

Several people laughed. Diggy looked around and glared at them. “You Americans think everything will last forever. Well, it won’t!”

“True,” Frank said. “So instead of looking forward to some coming collapse, why not do what we can to prevent it? Including having guys like me buy Teslas.”

More laughter followed, and Peter clapped Diggy on the shoulder. “Give it up, mate. You’re losing this one.”

“Digman!” someone said sternly.

Jane looked up to see Eugenie, having entered the room in response to the commotion, standing in the archway. She held a lighter in her hand.

“Diggy, I think we need to light more candles in the dining room. Why not be a love and do that for me?”

Diggy snatched the lighter from Eugenie’s hand but turned back to Frank, muttering, “Bloody wanker.” He then looked at Jane and said, “I never reckoned you for a sellout,” before walking away.

Thoroughly embarrassed, Jane placed her hand on Frank’s arm. “I’m really sorry,” she whispered.

He laughed. “Why? He’s not your fault.”

Eugenie approached them. “Please forgive my nephew. He tends to be overzealous and under thoughtful.”

“Not a problem,” Frank assured her. “I always enjoy a good debate.”

“Jane, will you please help me in the kitchen?”

Jane released Frank’s arm and followed Eugenie into her spacious kitchen, which boasted a charming combination of old-fashioned wooden cabinets and modern, energy-efficient stainless steel appliances.

“Frank isn’t angry, is he?” Eugenie asked once the swinging door had shut behind them.

“I don’t think so,” Jane answered. “He seemed to find Diggy funny.”

“But you seem upset.”

Jane nodded. “I’m embarrassed on Frank’s behalf. But also...” She thought about what she wanted to say. She had known Frank was rich from the beginning, and she’d soon learned that he liked to live well. Eugenie was rich, too, but she lived very simply. That shouldn’t matter, should it? She wasn’t sure. “Do you think I’m a sellout, Eugenie?”

“Please tell me you’re not letting something Diggy said bother you. Jane, he’s a thirty-six year old man who pretends to be one of the people, when he’s really an unemployed trust fund baby spending down his inheritance and waiting for his aunt to die so he can inherit some more.” She gave a short laugh. “Little does he know that I’m leaving most of my money to charity.”

When Jane didn’t respond, Eugenie went on. “Frank seems like a decent fellow, but even if you don’t share all the same politics, it doesn’t matter.”

“Why not?”

“Because it’s hard enough finding a satisfying relationship in this world.” She leaned toward Jane with a playful smile. “For that reason, I never let my politics interfere with my genitals, or vice versa!”

Jane had to smile at that comment, and then laughed when Eugenie said, “So make sure you shag him tonight. If you want!”

The rest of the evening went well, with a chastened Diggy mostly keeping his mouth shut. Frank really knew how to work a room, telling stories that had everyone laughing. The group shared a potluck supper that included a variety of options for herbivores and omnivores alike, plenty of mulled cider and ale, and their intentions for the coming year. “Since my current project will soon be completed,” Jane shared, “I intend to find new directions professionally and personally.” The assembled guests raised their glasses and drank to that, as drinking to everyone’s intentions was a big part of the fun. Whether the contents were alcoholic or not depended on the person bearing the glass.

“Hmm,” Frank said when it was his turn, “I intend to learn lessons I never have before.”

“Good one!” Sarah encouraged him.

When Frank drove Jane home later, she asked whether he had enjoyed himself. “Oh, I had a very good time! Even our little rasta buddy was fun. I do have a question.”

“What’s that?”

“Eugenie called him Digman. He wouldn’t be Digman Tucker, would he?”

“Yes, that’s him. How did you know?”

Frank grinned. “There’s a company I serve on the board for, and all the board members regularly get hate mail from a Digman Tucker. It’s a good thing you didn’t tell him my last name, or he really would have lost it.”

“Which company?”

“Richmond Corporation.”

“The agribusiness?” Jane paused, thoughtful. “They’re not the most sustainable of companies. I can see why Diggy would target them.”

“It’s improving. We started a new line of organic foods last year.”

“But that’s a fraction of their overall business. It can’t begin to make up for the damage they’re doing with the rest of their operations.”

Frank’s smile faded. “Are you going to argue with me, too? It was funny coming from him. Not so much from you.”

Jane didn’t respond, hearing Eugenie say again, “It’s hard enough finding a satisfying relationship in this world. For that reason, I never let my politics interfere with my genitals, or vice versa.” Could she follow that philosophy?

Frank put on some music and they drove the rest of the way back to London without speaking, listening, ironically, to the sounds of Lorde.

When they arrived at Jane’s street, there were no open parking spots, so Frank idled in the road in front of her building. “Frank,” she said slowly. He turned to look at her, his expression hard to read. “You can pull into the same car park as last time,” she went on, “if you want to stay again.”

His face softened. “You want that?”

“Yes,” she said firmly.

Now Frank smiled. “Carpe diem, Jane. Seize the day.”

She smiled back. “Or the night, as the case may be.”

Chapter Text

From a character analysis of Jane Fairfax in Emma, from Schmoop dot com:

Maybe Jane keeps her cool so well because, well, she actually is pretty cool. She's the only self-made woman in the novel. Orphaned when she was young, Jane quickly learns that she's got to be good at taking care of herself. She sings, plays the piano, sews, and is about to start teaching—in other words, she does just about everything that a woman could do in her time. And she does them all really, really well. In fact, Emma hates her at first because she's just too…good!

============================

Chapter 7

When Jane woke up the next morning, Frank was again in a deep sleep. She had come to the conclusion that due to all his travels, his internal clock was probably all messed up, so when he had the chance to sleep in, he took it.

She rose and went to the living room, where she found Sarah and Peter sitting on the sofa, talking. "Good morning," Sarah said. "Peter and I were just talking about going out to breakfast. Do you want to join us?"

Jane pointed her thumb toward her bedroom. "Frank is here, and he's still sleeping."

Peter raised his eyebrows as Sarah spoke again. "Well, we could leave you two..."

Jane laughed. "That's not necessary. Why don't I make breakfast? I think I have what I need for pancakes." Since she was a kid, pancakes had been something she had loved to make and eat.

They agreed, and Jane returned to her bedroom to try to rouse Frank. She lay down beside him, thinking again about how handsome she found him, and gently kissed his lips. After a few such kisses, he cracked open one eye and threw his arm around her to pull her closer. "Nice way to wake up," he said.

Jane smiled and kissed him again, this time more deeply. His morning breath was much better than it had been two weeks earlier, but that was understandable. This time, he had brought with him a small travel bag with a change of clothing and toiletries, including a toothbrush. When he removed the bag from his car's boot the night before, he had assured Jane, "I didn't pack this with any expectations. I was just kinda, sorta hoping."

Frank began to slip his hands beneath her clothes, so she pulled back. "I need to go make breakfast."

"Why?" Frank asked, nuzzling her neck. "I have everything I need to eat right here."

Jane laughed but pulled away further. "Sarah and Peter are here, and I promised them."

Frank exhaled heavily and mumbled something under his breath.

"What was that?"

Frank wore a pout on his face, but his eyes twinkled. "Nothing. I'll get up." He sat up, stretched, and slowly rose to his feet. Finding his bag, he pulled out a T-shirt and pair of jeans. The T-shirt was black and fit snugly, emphasizing the muscles in his chest and arms and reminding her of what he had looked like the moment before he'd donned the shirt. Jane had to force herself to turn away before she decided to jump him back into bed.

He followed her out of the bedroom and stopped at the loo, while Jane walked on to the kitchen. She pulled a small jar of milled flax seeds from the refrigerator. She added 30 ml of the seeds along with 60 ml of water to a blender and ran it for a minute. She would let the mixture sit for a while until it became a gel about the consistency and thickness of two raw eggs. It was a good vegan replacement for eggs in pancake batter.

Once the blender stopped, she could hear Frank in the living room, talking to Sarah and Peter. She smiled. She loved hearing Frank's voice. They were laughing now, and then Sarah called out, "Jane! You need to come out here!"

"What is it?" she asked when she joined the other three.

"Frank is quite upset that we still don't have a coffee machine," Sarah told her.

Jane held out her arms. "I've told him we have plenty of tea! Some of it even contains caffeine."

Frank, sitting in a chair near the sofa, groaned. "I can't take this! How can you stand it, man?" he asked Peter.

"I'm fine with either coffee or tea," Peter replied.

"You're supposed to be on my side!"

Peter stood up. "Come on then. There's a café nearby. Let's get some."

Frank looked deeply relieved. "Thank you, thank you!"

Jane laughed again as she returned to the kitchen. Sarah followed her, and as soon as they heard the front door shut behind the two men, she said, "So?"

Jane didn't answer at first, taking a moment to measure out multigrain meal into a large mixing bowl. Finally, she said, "Remember all your warnings?"

"Yes?"

"Totally shot to hell."

Sarah smiled. "You really like him, don't you?"

Jane stopped sprinkling cinnamon into the flour and nodded. "I haven't felt like this about someone in a very long time."

"So don't listen to me. What do I know?"

"You're getting married. You obviously know how to have a successful relationship. Will you please hand me some milk?"

Sarah opened the refrigerator. "It's only successful because I'm lucky. I'm nobody's relationship expert."

"So what do I do? Hope I'm lucky, too?"

"Enjoy it and see where it goes, I suppose." Sarah pulled out a carton of coconut milk, passing it to Jane.

By the time the men returned and entered the kitchen, Jane had just poured the last of the pancake batter into the skillet. When Peter gave his fiancée a pointed look, Sarah opened a cabinet and pulled out four plates, and then grabbed four place settings of utensils from a drawer. "Frank, will you help me set the table?" she asked.

After Frank and Sarah left the room, Peter whispered, "He really likes you and says he has no intentions of hurting you."

Jane gaped. "What did you say to him?"

"I just asked him how he feels about you, and told him I don't want to see you get hurt."

"Oh my God, Peter, I can't believe you did that!"

"Why? Jane, you're like a sister to me. Of course I'm going to look out for you."

She exhaled, trying to hold her temper. "First of all, I'm a grown woman. I don't need you interfering in my relationships. And second, he's your investor! The last thing I want is for anything that happens between Frank and me to affect anything that happens between Frank and you!"

She clapped her hand over her mouth, realizing she had been shouting. "Dammit," she muttered. Frank had probably heard her.

Peter placed his hands on Jane's shoulders. "It's all right," he said softly. "He's pretty good-natured. I don't think I upset him, and I don't think anything you just said will upset him either."

"Please promise me you won't interfere again."

"I won't. I promise."

At that instant, the smoke alarm went off. The forgotten pancake had burned. "Oh, great!" Jane cried, laughing to release her tension. Peter grabbed the spatula from Jane's hand, turned off the stove, tossed the blackened pancake into the sink, and then reached up to wave away the smoke with the spatula until the alarm went silent.

A short time later, Jane entered the living room carrying the plate of pancakes to the coffee table that Sarah and Frank had set. Peter followed behind her with a jar of maple syrup and a teapot for Sarah and Jane.

Sarah and Peter let Jane and Frank sit next to each other on the sofa, while they took chairs at opposite ends of the coffee table. No one mentioned the smoke alarm or Jane's outburst. Instead, Frank took Jane's hand and squeezed it, giving her a gentle smile. It reminded her again how much she liked him.

"So, oh brilliant one," Frank said to Sarah after everyone had started eating, "tell me about this PhD program you're doing."

Sarah smiled. She loved talking about her research. "Jane was the impetus for it."

"Really?" Frank said, smiling at Jane.

"Yes. When we were in our master's programme together, she would argue on occasion that one reason social welfare programs have had more acceptance in European countries than in the U.S. is due to the relative homogeneity of the populations. People have an easier time accepting that their tax supports other people if they feel a kinship with them. It made me wonder whether growing diversity here in Great Britain is affecting attitudes toward social welfare programmes, and if so, what can be done to mitigate that impact."

Sarah continued to answer Frank's questions, ending by expressing her wish to someday travel to the U.S. to conduct comparison studies. "Jane's aunt and grandmother have already promised me a place to stay whenever I come," she said with a grin.

After breakfast, Peter and Sarah left to visit his parents. Frank looked at Jane and said, "So, show me around your place."

She held out her hands. "This is it. You've seen it all except for Sarah's bedroom."

"No, I haven't. What's that scraggly looking jungle out there?" He pointed at the dead or dying plants on her balcony.

"That's my container garden," Jane told him. "I need to get around to clearing it out. It will look much better when springtime comes."

"How long have you been a gardener?"

"All my life. Both my grandparents grew up on farms in the Caribbean. When they bought their house, they started growing stuff in their backyard. They taught my mom and aunt to garden, and my aunt taught me."

"You grow stuff, huh? What kinds of stuff?"

"Well, here, mostly leafy greens and herbs. But back in California, we grow everything: fruit trees, all types of vegetables, everything. We always produce more than we can use, so we end up giving or trading most of it to people in our neighbourhood." Jane laughed. "We can some of it, too. My aunt Maddy loves to can, especially jams. She comes up with some... interesting combinations."

"Like what?"

"Like guava-peach-turnip."

"Uh..." Frank looked at her with a weird expression.

Jane laughed again. "They're actually not that bad. They just take some getting used to."

"No, thanks; I'll pass," Frank grinned. "So your Aunt Maddy sounds like an interesting person."

"She is! She's actually kind of like you."

"Like me? How?"

"She's very outgoing. Larger than life."

"Now I need to see a picture of Aunt Maddy. Do you have one?"

She stood up and motioned for him to follow her to the piano. On the wall above it and on a small shelf beside it were a number of framed photos. Jane picked up one of Maddy and herself at her graduation from Oxford.

"You look like her," he commented. "You have the same smile. What else do you have here?" He motioned to the other pictures.

She picked up a faded photo. "My grandparents on their wedding day."

"Your grandmother was hot!" Frank said. "That's who you really look like."

Jane smiled. "My mom, too," she said, showing him a similar wedding photo of her parents.

"Hey, is that you playing at Carnegie Hall?" he asked, spotting another picture.

Jane nodded. "I was sixteen, and was selected as one of three kids from California for a youth concert there. I was scared to death, but this was when Aunt Maddy was going through cancer treatment. I kept telling myself that if she could be so brave, so could I."

"You're very impressive, Ms. Fairfax," Frank said, bowing to her. She waved off the praise.

"Cute kids," he remarked about a picture in which Jane was surrounded by a half dozen children.

"That was taken at the United Together Children's Centre in Sierra Leone."

"That's where you went when you were at Oxford, right?"

She nodded. "It's one of the poorest countries in the world, and there are thousands of orphans. About eighty kids live right at the Centre, and a couple hundred more kids who still live with their families come to the Centre for schooling or medical care."

"That's where you learned all about power to the people?" he teased.

Jane rolled her eyes. "I already knew, but being there reinforced it. All the staff at the Centre are from Sierra Leone. They have offices in Oxford, the U.S., and U.A.E., but those offices exist mainly for fundraising and awareness. We knew before we left that as volunteers our job was to help and support, but the Sierra Leonans run the show."

Frank nodded. "Makes sense."

"Anyway, one day I'm going back to adopt one of the kids."

"Really?"

Jane nodded. "Really. That's one of my life goals."

Frank was quiet for a moment before noticing another picture. "Hey, you know the Woodhouses." He was looking at Jane's high school graduation photo, the only graduation pic she had that included her grandmother, who had been physically unable to attend her later graduations. In addition to Aunt Maddy and Grandma, Maddy's former boss Henry Woodhouse was in the picture, along with his daughters Isabella and Emma. Emma was also in a cap and gown.

"That's right, you know Mr. Woodhouse because you do business with the Highbury Group." She recalled reading about that during her Google search for information about Frank.

Frank nodded. "I vaguely remember Henry's older daughter, too. She was a freshman when I was a senior in high school. You must know them through his younger daughter."

"No, through Mr. Woodhouse. Aunt Maddy was his office assistant for many years, and now her company, Bates' Financial Services, is under their umbrella."

"That's your aunt's company? I've seen the name in Highbury Group reports. We have to stop doing this, Jane."

"What, finding connections?"

"Yeah. So you must have been good friends with the younger one, Emma."

Jane hesitated. "Not exactly."

Frank raised his eyebrows. "What's that?"

She shook her head. "Nothing." She wasn't going to badmouth the daughter of one of Frank's business partners.

"Oh, come on, I sense a story here."

Jane sighed. "Mr. Woodhouse arranged for me to transfer the Beverly Hills High, since it was a much better school than the one I was slated to attend. Emma was really excited to have me there at first, but she wanted me to become Emma 2.0. When she realized I wasn't interested, she dropped me as a friend."

Her freshman year in high school had been one of the hardest times imaginable for Jane. It wasn't that Emma was mean to her; she wasn't that type of person. But Emma was very popular and her opinion carried a lot of weight, so once she decided Jane wasn't her friend, a lot of other kids followed suit.

"Good for you," Frank said.

"What do you mean?"

"You stood up for being yourself in high school. That's not an easy thing to do."

In truth, Emma's sister Isabella had helped Jane a lot. One day Izzy pulled Jane aside and said, "Don't let Emma get you down. She's jealous of you, you know."

"Me?!" Jane had exclaimed. "Why would she be jealous of me?"

"Because you do everything so well—schoolwork, music, running. Emma doesn't do anything that well. Plus, you don't adore her the way everyone else does, and she hates that."

Izzy's pep talk had worked, and Jane was able to return to school feeling stronger and more confident. Eventually, she had made friends and found her own niche.

"I have an Emma Woodhouse story," Frank said, interrupting Jane's recollection. "Remember when I told you about my ice-fishing trip to Norway?"

Jane nodded.

"Well, my brother got married last month, and the ice-fishing trip coincided with his wedding, so I had to miss it."

"You missed your brother's wedding?"

"That's what I just said. It conflicted with my trip. So Emma was coordinating the wedding, and somehow—"

Jane interrupted him. "You missed your brother's wedding to go ice-fishing?"

"It wasn't just an ice-fishing trip. It was a chance to meet with some important potential investors for one of my companies. That's where they were going to be, so that's where I needed to be."

"But your brother only gets married hopefully once in his life. How could you miss that?"

"He understood. Now, are you going to let me finish this story or not?"

"Go ahead."

"Emma Woodhouse planned the wedding, and when she learned I wouldn't be there, she somehow obtained my private number and left me a series of increasingly... strident messages, yelling at me for not coming. I kept thinking, This woman doesn't even know me, and she's totally off the hook!"

He stopped laughing when Jane said, "I don't blame her! This is one time when I agree with Emma."

"Hey!" Frank started to look annoyed. "I'm not the only one who missed the wedding. Ryan's parents didn't make it, either. They were busy, too."

Jane's eyes widened. "Ryan's parents didn't make it? Poor Ryan. How could you guys do that to him?"

"You don't know my family," Frank suddenly snapped. "We understand people making the decisions they need to make based on business. Remember Ryan and I at home as kids when our parents were out trying to build my stepmom's company?"

Jane exhaled. "I'm sorry," she said. "You're right, I don't know your family. I don't understand it, but if Ryan was okay with all of you not being there, then it's not my place to judge it. I do wonder whether Ryan's wife was okay with it."

Frank was quiet for a moment before saying, "Not really. That's why Emma was yelling at me."

His words hung in the air. Finally, Jane asked softly, "Are you going to get a chance to make it up to them?"

"I don't know. I was thinking about going home to L.A. for Christmas, and then maybe spending New Year's in Vegas, but now I have something else I'd rather do."

"What could be more important than seeing your brother and his new wife?"

"What are you doing for Christmas? Assuming you celebrate it."

"I do. I'm going to Scotland with Sarah and her family."

"So maybe I'm going to Scotland, too."

"Now you're just making stuff up. Is there some reason you don't want to see Ryan and his wife?"

Frank started grinning. "I have to be really direct with you, don't I?"

"What are you talking about?"

"I want to spend the holidays with you. That's if you want it, and Sarah and her family don't think it's too tacky of me to invite myself along. I'll pay my own way, stay at a hotel, all that."

"What about your brother?"

Frank placed his hands on Jane's face and gently stroked her cheeks with his thumbs. "Jane," he said, looking deeply into her eyes, "I want to spend the holidays with you."

She stared back at him for a while, and then a slow smiled spread across her face. "I'll talk to Sarah."

=======================

Author's note: The United Together Children's Centre is inspired by a real place, the All As One Children's Center in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Their U.S. offices are located in my community, and I have had the honor to meet several of the wonderful people working with this group. As with my fictional organization, the UK offices are located in Oxford. You can learn more about them at allasone dot org.

Emma Approved spoiler/note: If you watched the series, you may remember that when Frank didn't respond to Emma's messages (because he was busy ice-fishing), Emma gave Annie a gift "from Frank" and a letter welcoming Annie to the family. However, a week later, an actual gift and letter from Frank arrived—which Emma assumed was a response to her messages. However, it would have taken at least two weeks for a package to travel from Europe to the U.S., which meant that Frank sent his gift at least a week before Emma made her calls.

Chapter Text

Chapter 8

'...his temper and spirits—his delightful spirits, and that gaiety, that playfulness of disposition, which, under any other circumstances, would, I am sure, have been as constantly bewitching to me, as they were at first.'

Jane Fairfax, describing Frank Churchill in Jane Austen's Emma, ch. 48

=============================================================

Sarah's family was very pleased to have Peter's key investor join them for Christmas. Sarah left for Scotland with her parents on Monday morning, but Jane, Peter and Frank were unable to leave until Tuesday evening, which was Christmas Eve.

The three of them sat together during the four and a half hour train ride from London to Glasgow. "Her family really wanted me to stay with them?" Frank asked Peter. "I was more than happy to get a hotel room."

"No, they insisted. They're very hospitable." Peter grinned. "I should warn you, though: you will be sharing a room 'with the lads.'"

"What?"

"With Sarah's brother and me. Her grandparents are rather old-fashioned."

"Oh, so I can't stay with my bae?" Frank placed his arm around Jane's shoulder and pouted.

"'Fraid not, mate. If it's any comfort, I won't be with mine, either."

Justin, Sarah's younger brother who was a student at the University of Leeds, met them at the train station in order to drive them to his grandparent's house. He greeted Peter and Jane with hugs, and then was introduced to Frank. "So you're the bloke with all the money?"

Frank grinned. "I guess that's me."

Justin apologized to Peter for Sarah's absence. "She went to Christmas Eve services with our parents and grandparents. Mum wanted her to speak with the minister to set up a time to discuss your wedding."

They arrived at the Campbell household after about a twenty minute drive and were welcomed warmly by Sarah's parents and grandparents. An older woman, the elder Mr. Campbell's widowed sister, sat in a nearby chair while greetings and introductions were exchanged.

Sarah knelt down beside her great-aunt. "Aunt Sophie, you remember Jane, don't you? And this is another friend of ours, Mr. Frank Churchill. Frank, this is my great-aunt, Mrs. Sophie Ferguson."

"Hello, Mrs. Ferguson. Good to see you again," Jane said pleasantly, although she knew the woman's return greeting would be anything but.

As she had anticipated, the older woman barely acknowledged them, while muttering, "Too many young people in the house. So much for a quiet Christmas!"

Undaunted, Frank addressed her. "A pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Ferguson. How are you tonight?"

"Terrible," she answered. "My arthritis is acting up, and I don't like anything Andrea cooks. I think she's trying to poison me. There's nothing good on the telly anymore, and it's so cold right now, I can't stand it. My stockings do nothing to stop the wind, and look at my legs! You can see my varicose veins through them!"

"I'm sorry, ma'am," Frank replied sincerely, "but I can't look at your legs. Jane is my girlfriend, and she'll get very jealous."

Mrs. Ferguson appeared puzzled for a second, as if she weren't sure she had heard Frank correctly. She looked rapidly back and forth between Frank and Jane, and then, to everyone's surprise, burst out laughing. "You're a cheeky one, aren't you?"

"I have been told I have exquisite cheekbones," Frank said, his smile showing them off, "but on this side of the pond I assume you're referring to my sass?"

"Ha! Where did you find him, Sarah?" Aunt Sophie sat up straighter in her chair. "He is much more interesting than that boring intended of yours."

Sarah slipped her arms around Peter's waist and leaned against him. "Yes, but Peter is the one who loves me."

"Ah, your loss." Turning to Jane, she said, "You'd better hold on to him. I'm not that old."

Jane had to bite her tongue to suppress her laughter at Mrs. Ferguson reveling in her youth again after so recently complaining about arthritis and varicose veins. She was also quite pleased that Frank had just referred to her as his girlfriend.

"Aunt Sophie," Sarah's mother interrupted, "please let the young people take their things to their rooms."

"Oh, yes, go," Aunt Sophie waved her hands toward them. "Just make sure you come back down to see me," she said to Frank.

Frank reached down and took one of her hands, bringing it to his lips and making her preen. "Of course. It will be my pleasure."

Sarah accompanied Peter, Frank and Jane upstairs, and when they arrived at the first room in the second floor hallway, all of them exploded in laughter.

"Frank, I don't know how you did that," Peter gasped, "I've never seen Aunt Sophie smile before, let alone laugh!"

"I can't believe she was flirting with you!" Sarah cried. "Or you with her!"

"I'd better watch out. It sounds like she's planning to fight me for you!" Jane grinned.

Frank suddenly swept his arms around Jane and drew her close to him. "She doesn't stand a chance," he whispered in her ear.

"I certainly hope not!"

It was well after midnight by then, so once "the lads" were settled in, Jane and Sarah walked down the hall to a bedroom with matching twin beds that they were to share. They prepared for bed and went to sleep soon thereafter.

Jane and Sarah woke up the next morning when Frank and Peter knocked at the door. Having very much missed them, the men joined them on their respective beds, Peter sitting behind Sarah and wrapping his arms around her, and Frank sitting down next to Jane, holding her close.

A short while later, Justin knocked and entered. "Good morning and Happy Christmas!" he announced. He carried a decorated tin of chocolate candies. "Our grandmother makes these every year," he said.

"This is how we always start our Christmas mornings, eating chocolates," Sarah explained to Frank.

Everyone took a piece except Jane. "Too early, or not vegan?" Frank asked.

She shook her head. "I don't like chocolate."

"How can you not like chocolate?"

"I just don't. I never have."

"I don't understand that," Frank said, "because I love chocolate." His mischievous smile left no room for doubt about his double meaning.

"Oh, shut up!" Jane laughed.

"You should be glad she doesn't like chocolates," Justin said. "You should ask her what she likes instead."

"Justin!" Sarah scolded, but Peter laughed while Frank looked at Jane expectantly.

"I don't know," Jane replied slowly, pretending to ponder her response. "Maybe I like variety."

"Uh oh, Frank!" Peter teased.

Frank raised his eyebrows. "That's your answer? You can't be more specific?"

Jane smirked. "Why do you care, as long as I like you?"

For that, he kissed her, making Sarah say, "Awww."

They heard a knock at the door. "Children," called the elder Mrs. Campbell, "breakfast is ready."

Sarah shook her head and sighed. "We revert to being children whenever we stay with our grandparents."

After breakfast, everyone gathered in the living room around the Christmas tree to exchange presents. Sarah squealed when she opened her present from Peter, a new iPad Air.

"What is that?" Aunt Sophie asked.

"It's a tablet. It's a type of computer," Sarah answered.

"A computer? What kind of man gives his fiancée a computer? I would have booted my husband from the house if he'd ever given me a typewriter or some other foolish machine as a present."

"Believe me, Aunt Sophie," Sarah smiled, "this is a much better gift than a typewriter. It's exactly what I wanted." Perched on a footstool, she slipped her arms around Peter, who sat at her feet, and kissed his cheek.

It was Jane's turn to open her present from Frank. Until he reached for it, she hadn't noticed the baby blue Tiffany bag under the tree.

"Ooh, Tiffany's!" Sarah's mum said. "I like this gift already!"

Jane opened the bag to find a small box. Inside was a pair of earrings made from pink sapphires surrounded by diamonds. "Oh, how lovely!" Sarah cried.

"Now, that is a romantic gift!" Aunt Sophie said. "Peter, you need to take notes from this man. This is what you give a woman you love, not some foolish computer nonsense."

From his position on the floor, Peter's face started turning red.

"She's a student, Sophie," Sarah's grandfather chided his sister. "A tablet is something she can use."

"Says a man who understands nothing about women!"

Their bickering gave Jane a chance to temper her reaction, which hadn't been one of joy. Instead, her first thought had been, Oh no, what if these are blood diamonds? The blood diamond trade had been one of the causes of the devastating civil war in Sierra Leone that had exacerbated the severe poverty she had witnessed during her summer there. The earrings were beautiful, but could she accept them?

"Try them on," Frank said.

Not wanting to seem rude or ungrateful, Jane slowly removed the backs from the earrings in order to place them through the holes in her earlobes.

"They look beautiful on you," he said. "Not that you aren't already very beautiful."

"Now that's a compliment!" Mrs. Ferguson said. "Peter can't say Sarah looks beautiful holding a computer!"

"Yes, I can!" Peter said defensively.

"There is something sexy about a woman with technology," Frank quipped, making everyone laugh. Jane looked at him and smiled, thanking him with her eyes for sticking up for Peter.

The day progressed, more relatives arrived, and after enjoying plenty of food and music and good company, Jane forgot she was wearing the earrings. About four in the afternoon, her mobile rang. It was Aunt Maddy. She went upstairs, away from the commotion, in order to answer the call.

"JAANNE! Merry Christmas!" her aunt greeted her.

"Tell my baby I love her!" Grandma shouted.

"I love you, too! And Merry Christmas!" Jane shouted back.

It was still early morning in L.A., and Maddy told her that she and Grandma would be having dinner later in the day with the Woodhouse family. "Did I tell you Emma started a business? She's doing event planning and matchmaking and all sorts of wonderful things!"

Matchmaking? Jane thought, but she said, "Tell her I wish her well."

"Oh, I will! And how's your Christmas going? How is Sarah's family?"

Jane began to share some of the day's events, and then smiled. "Aunt Maddy, I have something to tell you."

When Jane finished sharing her news, Maddy shrieked, "MAMA! Can you believe it? Jane is seeing somebody! What's he like?"

Jane smile widened as she began describing Frank. "He's handsome, intelligent, and funny. Very funny, actually. He's even managed to make Sarah's Aunt Sophie laugh."

"I'm so happy for you! I can't wait to tell the Woodhouses! Jane is so successful, and she has a new boyfriend!"

Jane's heart leaped into her throat. "No, Aunt Maddy! Please don't tell the Woodhouses!"

"Why not, sugar puff? This is good news! Don't you want to share it?"

"No, I don't! I mean, this relationship is so new, and I don't know where it's going yet. And you know me." Jane felt a bit foolish making such a request. After all, it had been eight years since she'd last seen Emma, and the other woman's opinion of her didn't really matter anymore. However, Jane had never felt comfortable sharing her personal life with people she didn't really trust.

Fortunately, Maddy understood. "That's right, I forgot how private you are when it comes to your relationships. All right, I won't say anything. But I can still wear a silly smile on my face because I'm so happy, right?"

Jane laughed. "Yes, you can!"

That night as they were settling into bed, Sarah was busy playing with her new iPad.

"You really like that, don't you?" Jane said with a smile.

"I love it! And Iisten to this," she began to read, "Tiffany & Co. is committed to sourcing our materials in an ethical and sustainable manner. The company has a long history of environmentally and socially responsible practices, and we believe that sourcing our precious materials responsibly is of the utmost importance.

Tiffany has a zero tolerance policy towards conflict diamonds. We have taken vigorous steps to assure that conflict diamonds do not enter our inventory. Tiffany buys diamonds directly from the mine, where possible, and always from countries that are participants in the Kimberley Process."

Jane stared at her. "What are you doing?"

Sarah smiled sweetly. "Giving you information. Of course, that was from the Tiffany web site, so I checked in with Global Witness, and they report that Tiffany was one of only five companies out of 30 that responded to questions about their policies on conflict diamonds. And I quote, 'Of those five, Tiffany stood out because it described how it has tried to strengthen its sourcing and auditing policies precisely to ensure that it was not dealing in conflict diamonds.'"

"Sarah! How did you know I was worried about that?"

Sarah grinned. "Because I know you well! And I saw the look on your face when you opened your present. I reckoned you were wondering whether you could wear these earrings in good conscience. Now you know you can." She looked up at Jane. "So what do you think about them now?"

A smile broke across Jane's face as she reached up to touch her ears. "They're beautiful. There's something whimsical and unique about the pink sapphires. And even though they're very classic looking, they're not so formal that I can't wear them every day." She wished Frank were standing there. Now that she could appreciate the gift, she could better appreciate the giver.

"That's my Jane, finding the practical qualities of a romantic gift!" Sarah laughed, and then scrolled across the tablet's screen with her fingers. "By the way, I found them on the Tiffany website. They cost—"

"Don't tell me!" Jane cut her off. "I don't want to know."

Sarah nodded. "All right then, let's just say that he's willing to spend a lot of money on you."

Jane was quiet for a moment, trying to digest and accept the idea. She thought of something else. "Did it bother you, what Aunt Sophie said about Peter's gift to you? Or the way she compared him to Frank?"

Sarah shook her head. "Not at all, and I told him so. Peter is amazing, Jane. He's not flashy in any way, but he's solid and kind and generous, and to me that is everything."

"He is. He's perfect for you."

"Do you remember when we used to go out to parties during our first year at Oxford? I was always looking for the really hot, really outgoing men, and you always wanted the ones who were quiet and serious. It's funny how we've both ended up with the opposite of what we thought we wanted then."

Jane nodded. She remembered. There was a time when a guy like Peter was what she considered her ideal. In fact, there was a time when she thought Peter was her ideal.

But Peter had never made her feel the way Frank made her feel. With that thought, Jane excused herself, realizing there was something she needed to do. She walked down the hall to the guys' room and knocked. In response to their, "Come in," she stepped inside and asked Frank if she could speak with him.

He looked worried as he followed her into the hallway. "What is it?" he asked.

"I just wanted to thank you again for the earrings. I really, really like them."

Frank nodded slowly, and then broke into a grin. "That's good to hear! I was starting to think I should have gotten you an iPad instead."

Jane chuckled. "Speaking of iPads... Sarah used hers to look up whether Tiffany sells conflict diamonds."

Frank cocked an eyebrow. "They don't. You didn't know that?"

Jane shook her head. "I haven't exactly shopped there."

"Ah," Frank said. "So that's what was bothering you."

She nodded. "After spending a summer in Sierra Leone, I can't forget the things I saw."

"Peter warned me that you're sort of anti-materialistic," he said, looking at her with a bit of a smirk.

Jane smiled wryly. "That doesn't mean I can't appreciate something as beautiful as these, now that I know there's no blood on them."

He reached over to gently caress her cheek and grinned flirtatiously. "So I did well after all? Well then. I can appreciate how beautiful you make them look."

She tilted her head upward and they snogged for a few moments. Realizing they couldn't stay in the hall like that, Jane pulled back with a soft sigh. "I'll see you in the morning."

Jane smiled as she walked back to the bedroom she was sharing with Sarah. She was really glad Frank had come. He had made this Christmas special, and not just because of his gift. She thought about the past day and how he had managed to charm prickly Aunt Sophie and had eased some of the pressure on Peter with his joke about women with technology. Even his double entendre about chocolate, borderline inappropriate as it was, had made her smile because it hinted to Jane where his affections lay. She loved that about him, loved how he made the world around him brighter with his delightful spirits and playful disposition, and suddenly, an old-fashioned word that perfectly described her feelings came to her: bewitched. Jane was completely bewitched by Frank Churchill.

Chapter Text

Chapter 9

Jane and Frank stayed with the Campbell family through Boxing Day, and returned to London on Friday morning. Jane wanted to return because Rose had invited her for dinner Friday evening. She rested her head against Frank's shoulder during the train ride back, watching him fiddle with his smartphone. At one point, she asked what he was doing.

"Checking my Twitter feed. Do you tweet?"

Jane shook her head.

"Why not? I would have pegged you for being social media savvy."

"You may not realize this because you've been around people who know me well, like Sarah and Peter, but I'm a pretty private person. I just don't get putting all your business out there for the entire Internet to see."

"You don't have to let everyone know your business. You can talk about topics of the day and not even mention your private life at all. Or you can do stuff like this." Frank handed Jane his mobile, where she could see on the screen a tweet he'd just written: "New Years in Vegas, too cliche or just right? #crowdsourcing"

"I thought you weren't planning to go to Vegas."

Frank grinned. "I'm not."

"Then why write something like that?"

"So people don't know where I am."

"What people?"

"I don't know. Whoever might be following me on Twitter."

Jane wrinkled her forehead, completely confused.

"Tabloids can be pretty vicious here, and I have business competitors," Frank explained. "I don't always want them to know where I am. Sometimes silence isn't good enough. It can be better to deflect at times."

"I still don't get it."

"OK, it's like this." He took the phone back from her and scrolled down a bit, to a tweet from the 7th of December that read, "big plans tonight #partybus #australia."

"You weren't in Australia on December the 7th. You were on a date with me."

"I know. I came back to London for it."

She looked at him skeptically. "You said that before."

Catching her look, he said, "It's true. I was in New Zealand and miserable, and considering hopping a flight to Oz. But then I thought about a gorgeous woman I had met a couple of weeks earlier. I decided to ask her out, and if she said yes, I'd fly back to London. If she said no, I'd go on to Australia."

Still doubting his story, Jane said, "And I said yes."

Frank smiled and tapped her cheek with his finger. "You did. You were worth coming back for."

She had to smile at that. "But the tweets?" she asked, still confused.

"I'm not that big a deal, but there are some paparazzi that follow me. I didn't want you to get caught up in that."

Jane was quiet for a while. It suddenly occurred to her that dating a wealthy guy like Frank was about more than just realizing he could buy expensive things. There was a whole world he was a part of, that followed his moves, that had expectations about how he lived his life, and probably about the women he dated. She wasn't sure how she felt about that.

Frank asked her a question, and she had to ask him to repeat it. "When do you go back to work?"

"January the second," she answered.

"And when does Sarah come back?"

"I'm not sure. The Hilary term doesn't start until the 19th. I know she wants to stay in Glasgow and get as much wedding planning done as she can before she has to return."

"It must get lonely in your flat without her."

Jane glanced at him. "It wouldn't be the first time I've been alone. I don't mind it so much."

Frank chuckled. "I forgot I have to be direct with you."

She smiled. "I know what you were implying."

"OK, what was I implying?"

"You wanted to know if you could stay with me."

"Shows what you know—NOT!" When she raised her eyebrows, he said, "I wanted to know whether you would stay with me. At my place. Until Sarah returns."

Jane thought for a moment. "No."

Frank glowered at her, and then changed his expression to a sexy smoulder. Jane burst out laughing. Calming herself, she said, "No, I won't stay with you until Sarah returns, but I will stay with you until New Year's Day. How about that, honey?"

He smiled. "I'll take what I can get. And you called me honey."

"You like that?"

He leaned his forehead against hers. "Oh, I like that, Ms. Fairfax. I like it a lot."

After a moment, Jane sat back, thinking about staying at his place and realizing that there was still a lot she didn't know about him. "May I look at more of your tweets?" Maybe that was a place to start to discover more about his life.

He handed her his mobile again, and she began to scroll through his Twitter feed. A recently posted goofy Christmas photo of a blond couple made her smile, and then she realized she recognized the woman. She nudged Frank with her elbow. "Who are they?"

"That's my brother Ryan and his wife."

"Your brother is married to Annie Taylor?"

"You know my sister-in-law? Not again," he laughed. "Why am I not surprised? How do you know her?"

"Annie's mother and Mrs. Woodhouse went to college together, so their families were good friends," Jane explained. "Whenever we went to the Woodhouses for holidays or parties, Annie and her family were always there."

"What do you think of her?"

"Annie's very sweet, so Ryan is a lucky man. What do you think of her?"

"I can't really say. Ryan's pretty happy, but I've only met her once."

She pursed her lips. "You really need to go visit them."

"I know, I know."

Jane continued to scroll through his tweets. Coming across one from the 9th of October, she read aloud: "Met some sexy new friends in Munich. Let's see what adventure comes next. Going off the Grid YO!"

"Give me that!" Frank snatched the phone from her. "That was before I met you. This is the last time I let you read my Twitter feed."

She grinned mischievously. "I could always sign up for Twitter and follow you. Since you're putting it all out there on the Internet. For everyone to see."

Frank laughed. "Touché, Jane, touché."

When they arrived in London, Jane took the underground to her flat, where she packed a suitcase of clothing and personal items for the next five days. Frank did not accompany her, taking a taxi to his own flat instead and telling her that he would pick her up later in his car.

Although she had been in his flat before, when she arrived there that afternoon with her things, knowing that she was to stay for a while, she couldn't help feeling a bit shy. Frank seemed a little nervous too, which she found cute. He began showing her around. His very large main room was entirely open. In front of the picture window directly across from the entrance was, of course, the baby grand piano, but other areas of the room were set up for separate purposes: in one corner was a dining area with a glass table and six black chairs, along with an armoire of dishes; another corner was obviously Frank's rec area with a billiard table, a bar, and a workout bench surrounded by weights; in the middle of the room was a large leather sofa, love seat and chair surrounding a black and white patterned rug and facing a big screen TV on the wall and a fireplace beneath it. To the left of the entrance was a large kitchen, separated from the main room by a breakfast nook. Beyond the kitchen was a corridor.

"Seriously," Frank was saying, "make yourself at home. Anything you want to do in here, you can."

Jane nodded.

"Except for one thing."

She looked up.

"The building is pretty secure, so you'll have to be careful going in and out. I'll make sure all the front doormen know who you are, so you can get in and out the front of the building. I'll give you a copy of the key to my flat. To go out the back via the garage, you'll have to be with me because of the hand print activation." He rubbed his chin. "Uh, when we go out the front, we probably should go separately."

"Why?"

"Remember when I mentioned that there are a few paparazzi who follow me? You and I exiting or entering the building together would be a really good time for them to catch us on camera. I'd rather avoid that if we can."

"That's probably a good thing." Jane paused and licked her lips.

"What do you mean?"

"I've been thinking about what you said on the train about the paparazzi. Back when I Googled you, I saw a lot of pictures with you with a lot of different women."

"That was before I met you—"

"I know; that's not what I'm saying. It's just... I have been working really hard to establish myself in my career, and it would be very difficult to suddenly become just another woman on Frank Churchill's arm in a Google image."

"You're not," he said softly.

"I know. I just don't want to be known as Frank Churchill's girlfriend."

"You don't want to be my girlfriend?" The hurt in his voice was unmistakable.

Jane reached up to place her palm on his cheek. "Of course I do. I just don't want to be known as that. Or only as that, I should say." He was staring at her intently. "Frank, I think we're saying the same thing. You don't want us to end up in the tabloids together, and neither do I."

He nodded slowly and placed his hand over the one that caressed his face, removing it and squeezing it. "Okay. Time to see the rest."

He released her hand and picked up her suitcase to lead her down the corridor. On the left, he opened the first door to show her a laundry room and storage area. The next door down was his home office, which included a desk bearing a laptop and printer, several filing cabinets, and two large bookshelves filled with books.

Across from the laundry room was a bathroom. The final door on the right led to his bedroom. The room was large, with huge windows across two of the walls revealing splendid views of the London skyline. A four-poster king sized bed dominated the middle of the room, which was decorated in beige and burgundy colors. "There's another bathroom in here," he said, pointing to a door opposite the bed.

After she had looked around, Frank placed her suitcase on the floor and took Jane into his arms. "I've missed you," he said softly.

"We've been together for the last three days."

"You know what I mean," he grinned, before lowering his head to kiss her.

That evening, they left from the front entrance of Frank's building five minutes apart, since they were taking the Tube to Hackney. Waiting for Frank to meet her at the Gloucester Road Underground station again felt weird, but Jane knew that this was what they had agreed upon. When they arrived at Hackney Downs, Daniel was waiting for them with a man who had to be his dad. "Hi, Jane!" Daniel waved at her.

Daniel allowed Jane to hug him, and then she reached out to shake the hand of the man with him. "You must be Roger."

"Yes," the man smiled. "Nice to finally meet you." Roger was a couple of inches shorter than Frank, husky, and had a small mustache.

Jane turned slightly. "This is my boyfriend, Frank." Earlier that day, she had called Rose, who said that Frank was more than welcome to come, too.

Frank and Roger shook hands. "Good to meet you," Frank said.

"You, too," Roger said. "This is my son, Daniel."

Frank exchanged a fist bump with the boy before the four of them began walking toward Pembury Estate housing development. The family, whose last name was Judson, lived in a fourth floor flat. From the moment they entered the building, all sorts of smells filled the air, mostly good ones of spices and foods cooking behind various doors.

"Jane!" a young girl with cornrowed hair cried out when they entered the Judson flat. She ran over and wrapped her arms around Jane. Karyanne, Daniel's six-year-old sister, had met Jane a few times when she had come with her mother to pick up Daniel from his music lessons.

"Hi, sweetie!" Jane looked down at her. "How was your Christmas?"

"It was so good! Father Christmas brought me a Barbie doll!"

"Really? Well, he told me that your new Barbie might need a friend, so guess what?" Jane reached into a paper bag she was carrying, pulled out a oblong wrapped box, and handed it to Karyanne.

"Yay!" the girl shouted, as she began to rip off the paper.

"Did you bring me anything?" Daniel asked.

"Daniel!" his father chided.

"Of course, Daniel, I wouldn't forget about you!" Jane reached into her bag again and pulled out a "Arsenal—Greatest Goals" DVD.

"Oh, you're an Arsenal supporter?" Frank said. "Who's your favorite player?"

As Frank and Daniel started talking football, Rose emerged from the kitchen. "Jane!" she said, walking over to hug her. "Happy Christmas and New Year to you!"

"You, too!" Jane hugged her back. She reached into her bag and pulled out a final present, a Christmas card which she handed to Rose. "Open it later," she whispered. The card contained a fifty pound VISA gift card. Roger had been out of work for a year, and while Jane knew the gift card would really help them, she also knew that Rose would rather Roger not know Jane had given it.

"Is this your boyfriend?" Rose looked over at Frank.

"Yes! Rose, this is Frank. Frank, this is Rose."

Rose walked over to hug Frank as well, saying, "Ooh, you two are going to make some pretty babies someday!" Jane ducked her head in embarrassment, but Frank just laughed.

They all sat down to a dinner of fish, cou-cou, and peas and rice a short while later. "Did you grow up eating like this?" Frank asked Jane.

"Not all the time, but my grandmother did like to make Bajan food about once a week."

"What about you?" Rose asked. "What did you grow up eating?"

"I grew up on Cantonese food. My grandparents were from Hong Kong. There are some similarities. You know, like rice," Frank grinned.

Roger laughed. "Oh, that's everywhere in the world just about!"

Frank turned to Daniel. "So I hear you're really good at the piano?"

Daniel shrugged, but his mother said, "Oh yes! The Winthrop Music Academy has given him a scholarship to start going there in January."

"Very nice!" Frank said. "You should be proud of yourself. Hold your head high."

Daniel grinned. Hearing those words from a young man like Frank probably had a bigger impact than if Jane or his parents had said it.

"Will I get a chance to hear you play tonight?"

Daniel shook his head. "We don't have a piano. I only get to play the keyboard when I go to the community centre."

"But Miss Margaret said she would let you come practice more often, even when Jane's not there," Rose said. "Once you start at that school, you're going to need so much more practice."

"I don't want him to have to give it up, like I did," Roger said. "I used to play in a band in Bridgetown."

"Did you play keyboard, too?"

"No, bass guitar. But I came here and had to work so much that I never had chance to play. Then I had sell my guitar before I could teach my kids."

"That must have been heartbreaking," Frank said.

"Oh, yeah. That's why when Rose saw the sign about Jane giving music lessons at the centre, I told her to sign him up right away."

"And this one," Rose pointed at Karyanne, "is going to start when she turns seven. Right now it's a little too hard to get her to sit still and focus."

A smiling Karyanne looked up from the conversation she was having with her Barbie dolls, who were seated beside her plate at the table.

"Jane has been a godsend to us," Rose went on. "Getting Daniel an audition for the school means he has a future now. He's not going to end up in trouble like some of the other boys around here."

Frank looked over at Jane, his smile barely concealed.

"It's people like Jane who are making this neighbourhood a better place," Roger said. "It's good, too, that the kids see a black woman teaching them. It helps them know that if she can do it, they can, too."

"We wish there were more like her," Rose added. "She can only teach a few of the children."

Frank's smile was no longer contained. Feeling his hand on her knee under the table, Jane knew she had to look away from him. She turned to Karyanne, asking her what she had decided to name her Barbies.

On the Tube ride home that night, Frank placed his arm around Jane's shoulder and leaned his head against hers, looking deeply into her eyes. "What are you doing?" she asked.

"Just looking at you," he whispered, smiling.

"Why?"

With his free hand, Frank reached for hers. "Because I think you're incredible."

Jane looked down at her fingers entwined with his. "Thank you for coming with me tonight."

Chapter Text

Chapter 10

"She's amazing. She's smart, kind, caring, gorgeous! I mean, her great qualities are endless!"

Frank Churchill, describing Jane Fairfax in Emma Approved, ep. 71

"She is a complete angel."

Frank Churchill, describing Jane Fairfax in Emma, ch. 54

=============================================================

Jane awoke the next morning to sounds, faint but audible, of someone moving around Frank's flat. She assumed he had arisen early until she saw him sleeping beside her. Had she imagined the noise? No, there it was again. Someone was definitely moving around. She nudged Frank gently. "Mmm," he murmured in response.

"Frank," she whispered, "I think someone's here." Right after she spoke, she felt silly about her fear. It would be impossible for someone to break into a place like this with so much security, so whoever was present certainly posed no threat to them. Did Frank have any household staff? That sounded so odd in this day and age, but people had them. In fact, she remembered him saying he grew up with servants.

Frank rolled over toward her and opened one eye. "That's just Betty, my housekeeper. She won't disturb us." He reached for her to pull her against him, but now that she was wide awake, Jane realized that she needed the loo. She kissed him lightly and said, "I'll be right back."

"Mmm," Frank said again, wrapping his arms around a pillow instead.

Jane rose and found her undergarments lying on a chair. Putting them on quickly, she then looked for the silky robe she had packed in her suitcase. Only after she had entered the hallway and walked a short distance did she remember that Frank had an adjoining bathroom and there had been no need for her to exit his bedroom at all. She started to return, hoping that the housekeeper hadn't spotted her, but it was too late.

"Good morning, miss," said a cheerful voice. Jane turned to see a slender young black woman, wearing an apron over jeans and a white collared shirt, dusting the paintings along the wall in the corridor.

"Good morning," Jane replied, feeling somewhat embarrassed, as if she had been caught leaving a guy's dorm room in the early morning hours back in college.

"May I get something for you?" the woman asked.

"Oh no, I'm just looking for the toilet."

"Right there, miss." The woman pointed to the door a short distance away. Jane entered the room adjacent to Frank's bedroom, which probably shared piping with the bathroom within.

When she emerged, the woman had moved on to the living room. Feeling awkward but not wanting to treat the woman as unimportant, Jane walked toward her.

"Hello again," the woman said as she approached. "Is there something you would like? Perhaps some coffee?"

"No, I want to introduce myself. I'm Jane."

The woman smiled brightly. "Oh, you're Miss Jane! Mr. Churchill has spoken about you. I am very glad to meet you. My name is Betty."

"Are you from Nigeria?"

"Why, yes! How did you know? Have you been to my country?"

"No, I just recognize your accent. I would love to visit someday."

"Oh, you should! Mr. Churchill has been there on business. The last time he went to Lagos, he took a side trip to visit my family in their village. It was a complete surprise to them, and to me! I was here in England and knew nothing about it. My family had heard so much about Mr. Churchill, it was like a movie star had come to see them."

Jane smiled. Frank had that star quality all right. When she felt an arm wrap around her waist, she realized he was standing there. "You telling stories about me again, Betty?" he said with a grin.

"About your visit to my family, Mr. Churchill." Turning back to Jane, Betty said, "Ever since his visit, my mother has no problem getting my brothers and sisters to study. They knew he was paying for their schooling, but now that they have met him, all my mother has to say is, 'Don't do that, Mr. Churchill will not like it,' or "Make sure you do this, and Mr. Churchill will be pleased.'"

Jane laughed and looked at Frank. To her surprise, he looked a little embarrassed for a moment, but that expression quickly vanished. He flashed Jane a smug smile, as if to say, "See? I can help other people, too" before turning back to Betty. "Is Stephen doing better in his maths?" he asked.

"Oh, yes, he is! And Dorcas is preparing to take her exams."

As Betty and Frank continued to talk about her family, Jane found herself beaming. Whichever Frank was feeling—embarrassed or smug—the story she had just heard was really, really cool. So sweet were her thoughts of him right then that she didn't catch a question Betty addressed to her. "I beg your pardon?"

"Would you like breakfast? I can make eggs for you and Mr. Churchill."

Not wanting to offend Betty by telling her she didn't eat eggs, Jane politely declined. "Please don't trouble yourself. I was planning to go for a run."

Betty laughed. "You are meant for each other. Mr. Churchill rarely eats breakfast either."

Frank shrugged. "As long as I have my coffee, I'm good."

Remembering that she really did need to go on her run, Jane excused herself. She returned to Frank's bedroom, changed into her running clothes and pulled her hair into a ponytail, before going back to the living room. Betty, now vacuuming the rugs, pointed toward the kitchen, where Jane found Frank sitting at the breakfast nook, drinking coffee and reading The Financial Times. Looking at him, she suddenly felt breathless and had to inhale deeply in order to speak. "Are you fine with me going for a run right now?"

He placed the paper down on the counter. "Oh sure. Are you planning to run in Hyde Park?"

Jane nodded.

"Carl is at the front desk right now. I'll call down to let him know you're coming."

Jane swallowed and nodded again. She moved closer to Frank to kiss him goodbye, and his hands on her back felt electric. She gazed into his eyes, causing him to smile seductively. "You do still plan to go running, right?" he asked.

She lowered her eyes and extricated herself from his arms, knowing that if she didn't, she would be unable to leave. "Yes. I'll see you soon."

Jane took the elevator down to the lobby, introduced herself to the doorman, Carl, and then began to quickly stride the three block distance to Hyde Park as a warm-up. She spent a few minutes stretching before starting her run along the path that circumnavigated the park and arrived at Buckingham Palace.

As she ran, she tried to process the emotions she had experienced while watching Betty and Frank talk. She recalled thinking she was bewitched in Scotland, but this feeling was even deeper and sweeter. She had imagined Frank walking into an Nigerian village and acting like he was right at home. She smiled; she was sure that was exactly how it had happened. Frank was always that way, she realized. His A factor was obvious, but somehow, that didn't stop him from being a citizen of the world. She and Frank had experienced similarly disrupted childhoods, but for her, it made it hard to feel as though she fit in anywhere. In high school, she was often conscious of being the girl from South Central. In England, she was always aware of being American. Frank, on the other hand, seemed to fit in everywhere. Maybe it was his multicultural and multinational heritage that made him that way.

No, it was more than that. Frank was more extroverted than she was, but his schmoozing and gregariousness weren't all about him, she realized. He cared about other people. He treated everyone—no matter their race or nationality or social class—the same way, whether he was dealing with a grumpy old Scottish woman, an obnoxious wannabe Rastafarian, or a Bajan family living in Pembury Estate. He was an equal opportunity schmoozer, she thought with a giggle. He was paying for Betty's siblings to go to school, something that was probably a pittance to him financially, but he had gone so much further than that. He had visited them in their home, in order to get to know them and serve as an inspiration to them. He continued to keep up with them and ask about them by name.

He was, she thought, the most amazing man she knew.

Memories of their recent days together filled Jane's mind throughout her run. When she returned to his building, Carl phoned upstairs to let Frank know she was back. He opened his door immediately upon her knock; Betty was nowhere to be seen. She entered and stared at him, his warm brown eyes making her melt inside. "Jane, are you okay?" he asked.

Not sure what his response would be, she blurted out, "I love you."

Frank's face lit up into an expression of pure joy. "Oh Jane," he uttered softly, his voice deep and melodic. He cupped her face to draw her near, murmuring, "I love you, too," as he kissed her over and over. Jane pressed her body against his and lost herself as their tongues danced together until they were both breathless. Frank pulled back, his fingers tracing the side of her face. "You know what you do to me when you look at me with those doe eyes of yours?" he asked.

"What?" she smiled.

"Come on," he smiled back as he took her hand to lead her to his room.

"I should shower first."

"I don't care."

"I do." As sexy as the snogging had made her feel, she still felt grimy from her run. "I'll just be a few minutes."

Frank nodded reluctantly. They entered his bedroom, and Jane slipped into the huge adjoining bath. The tub/shower was a porcelain structure almost as large the entire bathroom in her flat. Jane pulled off her sticky clothing and was about to place a shower cap on her head when she heard a knock. Before waiting for her to answer, Frank entered. He was naked and his expression—and everything else about him—made his desire obvious.

Frank took her hand and stepped into the shower with her, tugging the curtain closed around them. He pushed a button along the side of the showerhead and a perfectly warm and delightfully vigorous spray of water engulfed them. Their lips met as he leaned against her, pressing her back against the wall. Jane purred in pleasure. There was nothing she wanted more at that moment than for Frank to fill her.

Sometime later, Frank carried her, her legs still wrapped around him, to his bed. They cuddled together for a while, still damp and unclothed. Jane couldn't remember ever feeling so satisfied so she was surprised when Frank spoke up in a worried tone. "I think we just messed up. I wanted you so badly, I forgot about a condom."

"Don't worry, I'm on Norplant."

"You are?" Frank looked at her with surprise. "Have you been on it the whole time we've been together?"

Jane nodded.

"So… we didn't actually need condoms all this time?"

Jane pursed her lips. "You know as well as I do that it would be stupid not to use them these days."

Frank sighed. "Yeah, you're right." He twisted one of her damp ringlets around his finger. "I like your hair like this."

"Yes, but as soon as it dries, it's going to go poof." Jane held her hands out in a circle around her head. "That's what happens when you don't give me time to put on my shower cap." She smacked him on the butt.

"Oh, yeah, spank me, baby!" he joked, and they both laughed.

"Have you ever thought about doing something to leave your hair like this?"

"Wearing it natural? I've considered it. Aunt Maddy has worn her hair natural for about ten years, ever since it started to grow back, and she loves it. I'm just not ready to take that step." Jane wrinkled her nose. "Although I should be. I know how toxic relaxers can be."

"Didn't Chris Rock make a movie about that?"

"Yeah, Good Hair. He dissolved a Coke can in a bucket of water and relaxer."

Frank looked at her with huge eyes. "And you put that stuff on your head?"

"I know," Jane acknowledged. She then looked at him more earnestly. "So are you saying you wouldn't mind if I started wearing locs or braids or something like that? Not that what you think would matter if that's what I chose to do."

"I wouldn't mind at all. Why would I?"

Jane observed him for a moment. "We've never talked about the fact that we're in an interracial relationship." She grinned. "I mean, other than you saying you like chocolate."

"Correction: I believe I said I love chocolate."

Jane smiled at the memory and then said, "Seriously, do you ever think about it?"

"Honestly, I don't, because it doesn't matter to me. I'm a biracial kid myself." Frank furrowed his brow. "I mean, it does matter. Like what Roger said last night. But it doesn't matter matter." He sighed, a slight frown on his face. "I'm screwing this up, aren't I?"

Jane laughed. "No. I think I know what you mean."

"Does it matter to you?" Frank's expression was still serious.

"Do I love the fact that you're a Chinese English American guy? Yes. Does it matter? Not at all." She kissed him tenderly, repeatedly, until he smiled again. "I only thought about it now because we were talking about my hair. A black woman's hair is fraught with politics and meaning."

Frank chuckled. "I'll remember that." He stroked his hand down the side of her body, along her hip and thigh. "I will say, this is why I noticed you at Peter and Sarah's party."

"My skin color?"

"What you were wearing. You had on this sexy gold number that made your figure look incredible. And the color was striking against your skin. My eyes went right to you, and I knew I had to meet you."

Jane's entire body filled with warmth. She slipped her leg between his and pressed her breasts against his chest, kissing him deeply. "I love you everything about you," Frank murmured against her mouth.

"Why?" Jane winced as she asked, knowing the question was breaking the mood, but she needed to know.

"I just told you."

"Not why you wanted to meet me. Why you love me."

Frank sighed. "You're not going to do this to me, are you?"

"What's wrong with asking? Don't you want to know why I love you?"

"How can you not love me?"

When she scowled at him, Frank's face grew more serious. "OK, I'll try to answer. Jane, I think you're amazing. I was attracted to you from the very beginning, but you know that. On our first date, we had so many things in common that I felt a connection with you. Like you'd understand me." He paused for a moment, as if thinking. "I soon discovered that you have a lot of passion. Passion for people, for the world…"—he pulled her closer to look deeply into her eyes—"…for me."

He again began tracing her curves with his hands. "And you're a really good person, Jane. You're so kind and caring. You're the type of person who would make friends with my housekeeper."

Jane smiled. The interaction with Betty that morning had had an impact on both of them.

"You have integrity. You care about doing what's right. Hearing about you yesterday, and what you're doing for Daniel and those other kids—it's like you're an angel or something. It inspires me. And that's why I love you, Jane Fairfax."

Jane found herself unable to speak. No man had ever said such words about her. Fortunately, Frank couldn't maintain the serious mood for long, and his face broke out into a grin. "Now… how about some more unsafe sex?"

She laughed and thought, I love you, Frank, I love you so much, as their mouths met again.

END OF PART I

Chapter Text

Part 2

Chapter 11

2 January 2014

Jane woke up on Thursday morning with a sense of unreality. The last several days had been like a dream, with their confessions of love for one another making her time with Frank magical. They had gone out dancing on New Year's Eve, finding a darkened corner to kiss at midnight amid the many other couples snogging on the dance floor. On New Year's Day, they had hung out at Arjun and Sabina's place to watch the Manchester United vs. Tottenham Spurs match; Derek and a friend of his also joined them. Frank turned out to be a rabid United supporter and since they lost the match, Jane got to have fun at home finding ways to cheer him up.

What she had enjoyed most about the last few days, however, had been the chance to get to know Frank better. They were very different people in many ways, but their differences made discovering him more exciting. He was such an animated personality in public that she also really appreciated seeing other sides of him when they were alone together.

On Sunday evening, Frank had ordered a delivery of Indian food and was making mojitos for them at his bar when she told him about her weekly phone call to Maddy and Grandma.

"You email them pretty much every day, too, don't you?"

Jane nodded.

Frank raised his eyebrows, a look of amusement on his face. "Wow, those apron strings are tight!"

"Nooo!" she protested. "They're the people who made me who I am today. How can I not let them know how much I love them?" She looked at him pointedly. "Come on, you had people who made you what you are, too."

"Me?" Frank scoffed. "I'm a self-made man." He handed Jane her drink, and then switched to the other side of the bar to sit beside her.

She took a sip of the mojito. "Yeah, right. How'd you get started in business?"

"I got my MBA—"

"On whose dime?"

"Okay, my dad's, but after that, I built my businesses on my own."

Jane shot him a skeptical look. "You worked your way up from the mailroom? That's how you made your fortune?"

Frank smiled sheepishly. "All right, you caught me! I inherited a trust fund when I turned 25 and used it to start investing."

Jane laughed out loud. "Aha, so you're a classic example of being born on third base but thinking you hit a triple? I rest my case."

Frank reached over to swivel Jane around so that they faced each other on the adjacent bar stools. He placed his hands on her knees. "But now I'm in the presence of someone who actually is self-made. It can only make me a better man by example," he said in his most flattering voice.

She rolled her eyes. "I think you just missed the point of this conversation. I'm not self-made. I had two women who did their damnedest to make sure I had every opportunity they could give me. And even though I thought we didn't have much when I was growing up, my time in Peru and Sierra Leone made me realize that if you were born on third base, I was born on second." She looked at him more solemnly. "I know you know this, Frank. You've traveled enough."

He touched his nose and pointed at her to acknowledge her words.

"So how often do you talk to your family? To your grandparents, for instance?"

Frank didn't answer at first, stopping to eat a few bites of his meal. Then he said quietly, "They're no longer around."

"Oh, Frank, I'm so sorry! When did they die?"

"My grandfather when I was in college, and my grandmother a couple of years after that."

"I'm very sorry," Jane said again. "That must have been so hard for you." She thought about the times when she worried that she might lose Aunt Maddy or Grandma. She couldn't imagine what she would do without them, although she knew she'd have to face that possibility someday.

"Yeah... losing my grandmother especially. I was here at Cambridge, so I hadn't seen her for a number of months. I didn't get to say goodbye."

Jane placed her hand on his back and rubbed gently. "What about your dad?"

"What about him?"

"Is he still around?"

"Yeah, somewhere in the world."

"You don't know where he is?"

Frank looked at her and laughed. "He hasn't disappeared off the face of the earth. He just travels a lot. I rarely know where he is at any given moment."

"Where does he live?"

"He still has the house in Beverly Hills, and one near Manchester. Maybe elsewhere, too."

"Do you see him when he comes to England?"

Frank pressed his lips together and rolled his eyes upward. "Not necessarily."

At her look of confusion, Frank laughed again and said, "Look, if I want to see him, for advice or something, I can always call him and he'll make time to meet me somewhere. He gives really good business advice."

Jane gazed at him quietly for a moment, thinking that she was starting to understand why Frank hadn't considered it strange to miss his brother's wedding. Remembering how he had reacted the last time she had said something about that, she didn't voice her thoughts out loud. She guessed it was a sore spot for him. Instead, she asked how often he was able to talk to Ryan.

"Maybe once a month. We text and tweet each other in between."

Jane smiled, glad that Frank had at least one relative he was in regular touch with.

"Hey, you know what? My New Year's resolution is to visit Ryan and Annie."

"That's great! When?"

"I don't know. Sometime in 2014."

"You're giving yourself the whole year to do this one thing?"

He grinned. "Yeah, that's why it's called a new year's resolution. You get the whole year to make it happen. It's in the fine print."

When Jane snorted, he said, "All right, I'll give myself six months."

Jane raised an eyebrow, and Frank amended himself again. "Three months? OK, three months. I promise I will visit Ryan and Annie by March the 31st." As he said the date, he jabbed his finger into the bar for emphasis. Then he held out his hand to Jane. "Hold me to that, OK?"

She took his hand and shook it. "Deal."

Thinking back on that and many other conversations she and Frank had had, Jane knew why it had been so hard for them to say goodbye the night before when he had brought her back to her flat. They had fallen into such an easy level of comfort with each other, along with all the fun they'd had together, along with the great sex—it was no wonder that they had simply held one another for a long time after they stepped inside her door.

Finally, Frank pulled back and told her, his voice very tender, "This week has been one of the best of my life."

Jane looked up at him as she rested her hands on his shirt. "For me, too. I'm really going to miss you."

Frank traced her lips with his thumb and smiled ruefully. "I have to go back to sleeping alone. I don't know if I can do it."

"We'll see each other tomorrow night."

He sighed. "Tomorrow's going to be a long day."

They kissed each other then, a slow, gentle kiss that neither of them wanted to end. When they finally stepped away and said goodnight, 'I felt at home with him' were the words that went through Jane's mind. She had felt so at home in the last five days, not in Frank's flat specifically, but just being with him. Like she belonged somewhere.

The real world had a way of intruding upon them very quickly. Jane returned to her busy schedule of work, marathon training, and music lessons, and Frank went back to frequently having to travel. Jane couldn't believe how much she could miss him after several days of not seeing each other, a circumstance which happened frequently. But they talked every day, often several times, and their reunions were sweet indeed.

To keep her mind occupied when Frank was away, Jane threw herself into her project at work. February the 24th would come quickly, and she wanted to make sure her presentation was effective. She marshaled statistics about the costs to communities when flooding occurred, along with the health consequences to residents when water resources weren't properly managed. She developed charts to demonstrate the return on investment of installing low-cost bioretention systems. Alyssa worked on her portion of the presentation, which would describe their plans to involve youth in developing these systems, and the benefits of their involvement: helping young people develop job skills, leadership skills, and community involvement, and reduction in youth anti-social behaviours.

Sarah returned to London on the 12th of January, a week before her Hilary term would begin. Jane was overjoyed to see her, and asked how the rest of her time in Glasgow had been. Sarah grinned. "You missed all the lively debates about the independence question! There are very strong opinions in my family!"

"I'll bet," Jane said with a smile. "Now, how about a more mundane topic, to everyone but you and Peter? The wedding?"

Sarah beamed. "We picked a wedding date: Sunday, the 16th of March!"

Jane gasped. "That soon?"

Sarah raised her shoulders. "We wanted to get married in late June or July, after the university year is over, but every reception hall we looked at was booked. We've been waiting for so long to get married, we didn't want to wait any longer. March the 16th is the day after the Hilary term ends. That will give us a chance to have an extended honeymoon, and still have a couple of weeks to settle in back home before the Trinity term begins."

It suddenly hit Jane what Sarah was telling her. "That means you'll be moving out."

Sarah nodded. "I'm moving in with Peter on March the first. I'm so sorry. I will pay the rent for March, to give you a chance to find another flatmate."

Despite what felt like a punch in the gut, Jane tried to smile. "Don't apologize! This is what you've been waiting for! And I'm so happy for you!"

When Sarah hugged her, she looked close to tears. "We've been together for four years, Jane. I'm really going to miss you."

Jane's eyes welled up. "I'll miss you, too. But Peter will be a much better housemate than I am."

Sarah laughed through her tears. "I'll have to admit, that's true!"

"March is going to be very busy," Jane observed. "You're moving out on the first, we have the Surrey half-marathon on the ninth, and then your wedding on the sixteenth! I don't know how we'll do it all."

"We'll find a way." Sarah smiled. "Now, tell me all about your time with Mr. Frank Churchill!"

That story was a joy for Jane to share, including the days they had spent together at Frank's flat, but also more recent times they had had together. "Do you know that he came to Hackney to surprise me at the community centre on Saturday? He wanted to see where I give my lessons."

Frank had sat and listened to her lessons, and made sure to introduce himself to each her students and their parents. Afterward, he'd said, "I see why Rose called you a godsend. You're irreplaceable here, Jane!"

"That's not true," she protested. "I'm just one person. No one can do everything, but everyone can do something."

"Is that your motto?" Frank asked with a smile. "It's a good one."

She nodded. "I suppose it is."

After Jane shared this story with Sarah, her flatmate grinned, "You know what, Jane? I think you've found your perfect match."

Chapter Text

Chapter 12

"Why don't you move in with me?"

That was what Frank said to Jane as they lay together in his bed the following Sunday morning when she told him that Sarah would be moving out at the beginning of March.

Jane pressed her lips together and shook her head. "I'm going to find a new flatmate. I think it'll work out if I start advertising now."

Frank started nuzzling her neck and intentionally deepened his voice. "I'll be your new flatmate. You know what a good time you had time when you stayed here with me."

Oh, how hard it was to resist him when he laid on the allure this way! But Jane managed to take a deep breath and sidle away a bit. "It's not the same."

He gazed at her with his sexiest smile. "Why not? It was great, being here together. You said so yourself."

"I know, but..." Jane chewed her lip. "You're gone a lot."

His hands had drifted over to her body again and he was now caressing her in ways that sent shivers down her spine. "You said you don't mind being alone."

"It's not the same," she repeated. The idea of moving in with Frank was So. Damn. Tempting! But somehow Jane knew it would be the wrong choice to make.

Frank sat up and ran his fingers through his hair. He sighed, apparently concluding that seduction wasn't working. "Why are you so against this?"

Jane was silent for a moment, trying to figure that out herself. "It's too soon."

"I disagree. Surely you know how serious I am about you. I've never felt this way about anyone." There were no longer any indications of humor or charm in his voice.

She stared into his eyes, her heart thumping wildly, unsure how to respond. She knew that this was Frank at his most honest, and she couldn't help but be moved by what he had just said.

After a few moments, she brushed her lips against his. "Please don't think this means I don't love you."

"Okay..." he said, and waited for her to go on.

"It's just..." What was she trying to say? She didn't know, she just knew that moving in with him didn't feel right.

"Surely you know how serious I am about you. I've never felt this way about anyone," she heard in her head. Oh, crap. He meant it, she knew, but what did that mean? Because she had never felt this way about anyone, either, but the idea of trying to take their relationship to some next level—the kind that living together would represent—made her want to run away screaming. It's too soon, it's too soon! her mind was shouting at her.

It wasn't just the idea of living together she was resisting, it was also living here, in Frank's flat. Unreal was how she had felt when she returned home, but now she knew that her life, her work, her flat—that was reality. Reality was not having doormen and housekeepers and valet service that did your drycleaning and purchased and delivered your groceries. Reality was getting around via the underground, slogging her clothing to the laundry, and working with Sarah to scrape together enough for their council tax. Staying through the New Year in Frank's flat had been a dream, but she couldn't imagine returning to this luxury high-rise building every evening after spending her days trying to serve in Hackney or Barking or Islington.

Frank's eyes were still searching hers, and she felt herself melting a little. She didn't want to hurt him and she really did love him. So she said, "Will you give me some time to think about it? We have two and a half months to make a decision." She would open herself up to the possibility that she might change her mind.

"Two and a half months? March the first is less than a month and a half away."

"Yes, but no matter what, I'm staying in my flat until at least the end of March. Too much is happening before then, like my presentation at work and the marathon. And Sarah will be trying to finish up her term before the wedding. I don't want her to be any more stressed out than she has to be. If I'm still in our flat, I can help her move and she'll know it's okay if she doesn't get everything out all at once."

Frank held up his hands in resignation. "Okay then. Go ahead and think about it." He rose from the bed and started to get dressed. Apparently, the romantic mood they'd been in earlier was completely dead.

Not wanting to leave things this way, Jane stood up and walked over to him. Reaching up to put her arms around his neck, she kissed him deeply. "I really do love you, Frank."

It worked. He smiled. "I know you do. Let's get something to eat right now. You can tell me all about your presentation." His dimples deepened as he slid his hands down her back to squeeze her still-bare butt. "We'll come back to this later."

Continuing to try to keep their relationship low-key and private, they left his flat separately and met up a short while later at a café one stop away on the Tube. While they ate breakfast, Jane described the project she would present to the Lancaster-Beckworth trustees. When she finished, Frank looked at her in wonder. "Wowww," he said. "Jane, that's pretty amazing! How'd you get interested in water management like this?"

"Growing up in California," she said, and he nodded in understanding. "But even more from my time in Sierra Leone. We saw so many children dealing with illnesses caused by contaminated water, and I learned that only about half the country has access to safe drinking sources."

"Ow, that's rough."

"What's really wild is that I was there during rainy season, and quickly realized that it didn't matter. Even when water is plentiful, that doesn't mean it's potable. They don't really have the means to capture, store or purify water during the rainy season, so there's little clean water to help the people make it through the dry season later."

"So it doesn't matter whether you have too much water or not enough...?"

"Exactly. All the water in the world doesn't matter if it's not managed right, or people don't have access to it, or it's not clean and safe for drinking."

Frank touched his nose and pointed at her.

"You do that a lot," she observed.

"What?"

"This gesture." She imitated his nose-touching motion. "It's like your way of saying, 'Good point.' I think it's cute. "

He grinned and did it again, and then stared at her with a goofy smile on his face.

"What?" she finally asked.

"You blow my mind sometimes. Just your desire to make a difference."

She shrugged. "Somebody has to care. People in our home state are already starting to deal with not having enough water. How can we ignore that?"

Frank waggled his head. "Now you're making me feel like I should be doing something to help the world."

"What you're doing to help Betty and her family is pretty cool. I was impressed."

He laughed. "I know. I could tell by the look on your face. I knew I was going to get some later that day."

Jane giggled and threw her napkin at him.

Still grinning, he caught the napkin and said, "I mean it. With Betty, that's just one family. I can do more, and I'm going to start someday. You've inspired me."

She smiled sweetly at him. "There's no better time than the present, Mr. Churchill."

"Okay, challenge on."

Little did she know at the time that Frank would take up that challenge less than a week later. She gave keyboard lessons on the second and fourth Saturday of each month, so she found herself at the community centre on January the 25th. Having met Frank two weeks earlier, her students were giggly and teasing, asking whether her boyfriend would be coming again. She had to repeatedly remind them to focus on their music.

The centre was only open for limited services on Saturdays: a food bank, a youth group meeting, and Jane's lessons. In addition to Jane, the other adults in the building were Natalyia, who ran the food bank, along with a few volunteers; Hamid, who led the youth group; and Osei, the security guard. Being situated close to the lobby, Jane heard a commotion late in the morning, along with what sounded like Osei arguing with someone.

Angelica, her current student, was easily distracted by the noise. Jane tried to return her attention to the musical score sheet, hoping that nothing was happening that would put any of the kids in the building at risk. A short while later, Osei called out her name and asked her to join him in the lobby. "Stay put," she told Angelica.

Two men in brown uniforms stood in the lobby. Jane could see a large truck double parked just outside the front door. "What is it?" she asked Osei.

"They said they have a big delivery for you. I told them we can't accept deliveries on Saturday." Osei rubbed his beard, looking frustrated.

"This is for me?" She turned to the men. "I didn't order anything. I don't have permission to order anything for this centre."

"You're Jane Fairfax?" said one of the uniformed men.

"Yes, but—"

"Then this delivery is for you."

"What is it?"

"Instruments," the other man said.

"Instruments?" she echoed.

"That's right," said the first man, reading from a sheet of paper. "We have two keyboards, two drum sets, four guitars, and let's see, two each of trumpets, flutes, clarinets and saxophones."

Jane gaped at the men. "I didn't order this, and as I said, I don't have permission to place an order here anyway."

"AND," Osei repeated, "we can't accept deliveries on Saturdays. One of the programme administrators needs to sign for it, and they won't be back until Monday."

The first delivery man looked annoyed. "Well, what do you want us to do? Our job is to drop this off."

"Take it back to where you got it from," snapped Osei.

"We're not allowed to do that." The second man gestured at Jane. "Your name's on it. You need to be the one responsible for it."

"But I didn't order this!" Who in the world had ordered a bunch of instruments in her name? No sooner did she ask herself the question than she knew the answer: Frank.

She pulled out her mobile and called him. "He-lloooo," he answered in a sing-song tone. She could already hear the excitement in his voice.

She exhaled heavily. "Frank, did you just order a bunch of instruments for the community centre?"

"YES!" he shouted. "Isn't it great?"

"Why did you do this?"

"Before they had one keyboard and one Jane. You're able to teach all of what, eight kids? Didn't you say, 'everyone can do something'? Now, a bunch of kids in the neighbourhood can learn music, and maybe other people like Roger can teach them!"

Jane had to take several deep breaths to keep from hyperventilating. "You have to send the instruments back. An administrator would have to approve this delivery, and they're not here until Monday. And even if they were here now, there's no place to store all this stuff! Why the hell did you do this without talking to me first?!"

"We did talk about it. Last week, when I said I wanted to do something to help, you said, 'what better time than the present?'"

She closed her eyes and gritted her teeth. "It would have been nice to have known about this specific thing you wanted to do before you did it!"

"I thought it was a good idea."

"Well, it wasn't!"

Frank was quiet for some time after that, giving Jane a moment to look around her. Osei, the delivery men, and now Angelica and her mother who had recently arrived were all staring at her. Wishing she could sink into a hole, she mumbled an apology to her audience and went back to her call.

"Frank," she said quietly, "I know you had good intentions, but this wasn't well-thought out. And right now we can't accept these instruments. Can you send them back to wherever they were purchased?"

"What if the centre decides to keep them?" His voice sounded a little whiny.

"I doubt they will, since they don't have the storage space."

"What if they find the space?"

She blew out her breath. "That's up to the programme director and administrators on Monday. In the meantime, we need to get these instruments out of here right now. What do you suggest?"

He was silent again, and then said softly, "There are some storage areas in my building. I'll have it re-directed here. Will you put the delivery person on the phone?"

"Thank you," she said, feeling greatly relieved. She handed her mobile to one of the two uniformed men, who took instructions from Frank. He handed the mobile back when he was done, and the two delivery men soon departed.

Osei, Angelica, and her mother Carlota were still looking at Jane, who knew, from the way her face was burning, that her cheeks would have looked completely scarlet had her skin been lighter. "I'm very sorry," she said.

Osei smiled gently. "It worked out. Was that the bloke who came here two weeks ago?"

She nodded.

"Looks like he wanted to do something special for you."

Jane gritted her teeth again. Carlota laughed. "Men don't always have good sense."

Jane attempted to smile. She and Frank were going to have to have a serious talk when she saw him later.

==========================================

Author's note: OK, begging here. I would love some comments!

Chapter Text

Chapter 13

Jane wasn't surprised to receive a phone call from Margaret on Monday, asking to meet with her. Since the 30th of January was the fifth Thursday of the month, she wasn't scheduled to teach but had the evening free. Thus, she arranged to meet with Margaret after she finished work for the day.

"Osei told me about what happened on Saturday," began Margaret.

"Yes, I'm so sorry—"

"Don't be. While it's a pain in the arse to have a donor provide something without clearing it with us first, at least it's someone who wanted to give. I understand the donor is a friend of yours?"

Jane nodded.

"Well, while we can't take all the instruments and certainly don't want something as loud as drum sets here, we can accept part of the gift. We've had a number of children and parents asking for lessons that we can't fit into your schedule. So I was thinking that we could take another keyboard and perhaps a couple of the guitars. Those are all easily stored, and we'd probably have more youth interested in learning them than, say, the flute."

"I'd love to teach more, but I don't think I can add additional hours to my schedule right now. Besides, I don't play the guitar."

Margaret smiled. "Jane, you do plenty already! I was thinking of advertising for more volunteers."

Jane remembered something Frank had said. "Did you know that Daniel's dad plays the guitar?"

"Is that so? It would be jolly good to have him helping out here, especially because he lives in the community."

Jane pressed her lips together. "Margaret, I don't know if this is at all possible, but Roger has been out of work for a while. If he's willing to teach, would there be any funds to pay him?"

The programme director shook her head. "I'm really sorry. Our budget is strapped as it is. But we would always welcome more volunteers."

An idea came to Jane. "Would you be willing to meet with my friend to talk more about this?"

Margaret's smile broadened. "Of course! Do you think I'd ever turn down a meeting with a new donor?"

Jane was excited to call Frank that evening. "You still want to do something to help out the community centre?"

She could hear his smile across the phone line. "You know I do. What do you have in mind?"

"I'd like to set up a meeting between you and Margaret, the programme director. It would be great if you were to ask what some of their biggest budget needs are, and maybe offer a donation to cover them. But also..." Jane paused for emphasis, "if Margaret's willing, you can offer to fund some music instructor positions."

"Why, so she can pay you?"

"No, not me! I was thinking of Roger. And I wouldn't be surprised if there weren't other musicians in the neighbourhood who be great instructors for kids."

"They're going to keep the instruments!" Frank said enthusiastically.

"Not all of them, just one keyboard and two guitars."

"Oh." Jane could hear Frank's disappointment.

"But that's potentially two or three instructors they could hire, and a lot of kids they could teach, if they have the funds for it. You'd be creating jobs, at least part time, for people who need them."

"Okay," Frank said, clearly thinking about it. "I like the idea. I'll do it." He paused. "But what do we do with the rest of the instruments?"

"I'm not sure, but I'll bet there are schools around here that would welcome extra instruments for their orchestras."

"I'll look into it."

"One more thing: would you give the other keyboard to Daniel? I keep thinking about him not being able to practice at home."

"Jane! That's a great idea! I'd love to help that kid out! So, um..." she could hear amusement in his voice, "does this mean you're not mad at me anymore?"

She smiled. "You know I stopped being mad at you on Saturday."

"Oh, yeah, how could I forget?" he laughed. "But now you might even be happy with me."

"Yes," her smile widened, "I am." It was very hard not to be, especially knowing how much he loved to be generous.

This was a real contrast to her attitude on Saturday evening, when she had been thoroughly pissed off with Frank for what she considered his impractical and thoughtless gift, and the embarrassment for the position he had put her in.

Frank had argued back. "I just wanted to do something good, and you're acting like I was trying to harm people!"

"Because sometimes it does harm people! There are so many stories of do-gooders who never bothered to ask the people they were trying to help what they actually needed. And they end up offering something that at best doesn't help, and at worst, causes actual harm!"

"And you think musical instruments fall into that category?"

"No, but..."

"Jane," Frank had said in a softer tone, "I keep thinking about the way you looked at me when you heard about Betty's family. I just wanted you to look at me that way again."

She threw up her hands. "That's the worst reason in the world to do something."

"Why?"

Jane had exhaled. "Because you should be doing good for the sake of the people you're trying to help, not for a person you're trying to impress."

"I was. I remembered Roger and Rose saying they wish there were more of you. And I was thinking about you saying that you're just one person, but everyone can do something. So I thought, maybe I can make it so there can be more Janes. If they had more instruments, maybe other people could teach, too. So my motives weren't pure and I wanted to impress you, too. So what? Everyone's not as saintly as you are."

His last comment had stung, but before Jane could respond, she took a good look at Frank's face and saw all the emotion present in his current expression. She had hurt him, she realized—badly. She swallowed her retort, walked over and put her arms around him. "I'm sorry," she said.

He stood stiffly for a moment, and then slowly wrapped his own arms around her. Looking down at her, he said, "So am I. I didn't mean to cause problems for you."

So they had made up on Saturday evening and by unspoken agreement hadn't mentioned the instruments again during the days that followed. Their partial reconciliation then made their current conversation all the better, because now they could stop tiptoeing around the topic, and both knew that something very good would come out of Frank's charitable gesture.

Frank left again for a business trip the following week, this time to South America. He was able to return in time for Valentine's Day, when he took Jane out to NOPI, a Middle Eastern restaurant in Soho that offered enough meat and meat-free options to satisfy them both. He excitedly described the innovative efforts at developing renewable energy sources taking place in several Latin American countries, many of which would provide him with new opportunities for investment.

As he always did when returning from traveling, Frank presented her with a gift, this time a brightly-coloured, richly patterned woven handbag made by the Wayuu people of Colombia. He was all cheekbones and dimples as he presented it. "Fair trade and handcrafted. See, I'm learning."

Jane had to laugh at his enthusiasm. "It's beautiful. I love it." She reached into the old purse she had carried with her to the restaurant. "I have something for you, too," she told him. "I didn't have to purchase it, but it's still precious. To me, anyway."

Frank widened his eyes in anticipation. "I can't wait to see it then!"

She handed him a thick, textured, cream-coloured envelope. On the outside, written in a flowery script, were the words, Miss Jane Fairfax and Mr. Frank Churchill.

Frank opened the envelope and pulled out a card, which he unfolded. He silently read the words she knew were written there: "Mr. and Mrs. Dwight and Judy Campbell request the honour of your presence at the marriage of their daughter, Sarah Elizabeth, to Peter Andrew Dixon, Sunday the sixteenth of March, two thousand fourteen, at one o'clock in the afternoon, Glasgow, Scotland." Beneath these words were the name and address of the church.

"Very nice!" he said. "They must be getting excited."

"Definitely. Sarah is bouncing all over the flat these days."

"Are you standing up with her?"

Jane nodded. "I'm her maid of honour."

Frank looked thoughtful for a moment. "Several of Peter's other investors will be there. If we go together, our relationship will become a public thing. What do you think about that?"

Jane tilted her head. "I'm okay with that."

"You're sure?" Frank grinned. "Because there was a time when you said you didn't even want to be my girlfriend."

"That is not what I meant!" she protested. "It was never that I didn't want to be with you. Just not... the public Frank Churchill."

He pressed his lips together. "If there's any media focus on the wedding because Peter's an up and coming entrepreneur, then I can't protect you anymore. You will be linked to the public Frank Churchill."

Jane hesitated, but said, "Okay."

"You sure?" he repeated.

"I guess. We can't hide our relationship forever." She knew she didn't sound very convinced, but she reasoned that since they truly loved each other, it would work out.

Frank nodded and reached for one of her hands. "I have other news for you. In Colombia I met a guy from northern California who is also interested in renewable energy. He's starting a new wind farm back home and invited me to come see it next week to decide if I want to invest in it. I figured I can also visit SoCal while I'm there."

Jane opened her mouth wide. "Does that mean...?"

Frank released her hand and clapped his own together. "Month and a half into the new year, baby! Boom! See, I told you I'd see Ryan and Annie before the end of March!"

"Don't brag until you're actually there. It hasn't happened yet."

Frank's face turned into an expression of mock offense as he pressed his hand to his chest. "Don't you trust me?"

She smiled. "I trust you, but you never know what will happen. It's not a done deal until it is."

He nodded. "All right then. Here's a way we can make sure I go: come with me."

"I can't."

"Why not?"

"Because my presentation is a week from Monday, and I'm busy trying to help Sarah pack up all her stuff. There's no way I can leave at this time."

"When's the last time you went home?"

"Two and a half years ago. I was at home for two weeks after I graduated from Oxford."

He waggled his finger at her. "And you've been lecturing me for not visiting my family?"

"I can't afford it, Mr. Churchill. I don't think that's your problem. Besides, I'm the one who talks to my family every week."

Frank did his touch-nose-and-point gesture again. She grinned and imitated the motion.

"If affording the airfare is a problem, the next time you decide to go, I'll pay for it."

Jane looked at him, shaking her head. "You don't have to do that."

"What if I want to?"

"Frank, I'll just save up until I have enough."

"How long will that take, another two years?"

She nodded, acknowledging his point.

"What about this summer? What if we go to L.A. together? If we're together, I hope you'll let me pay for it."

Jane rocked her head from side to side for a moment, weighing the idea. She really did miss her family, and as much as she wanted to be independent and pay her own way, Frank was right. It would take her a long time to save up enough on her own to go home. "Okay, it's a deal. We'll go home together this summer."

"Great!" Frank said. "I for one can't wait to meet Aunt Maddy and Grandma, those two amazing ladies I've heard so much about!"

Jane smiled.

"What do you think they'll think about me?"

Seeing his smug look of anticipation, she was tempted to tease him by saying, "Not much." But the thought of how her family would actually respond to Frank was too delightful. "Oh, Frank, they will love you! They already love you from what I've told them about you, but once they meet you and you lay on the Frank Churchill charm—they'll be over the moon about you!"

His beaming expression was so sweet that it made Jane wonder about a question of her own. "What do you think your grandparents would think about me if they were still alive?"

"They'd love you, too," he said with a wide smile and without hesitation. "How could they not? And as soon as my grandmother found out how accomplished you are, she'd want to know why I haven't married you yet. I've been wondering that myself."

Jane laughed at that, but later on, she puzzled over whether or not Frank had been joking.

Chapter Text

Emma Approved social media, via Twitter:

Frank Churchill @FranklyChurch - Feb 21: @TheRyanWeston - Bad news... got invited to a conference in India for this weekend, might have to reschedule the visit with you and Annie

Ryan Weston @TheRyanWeston - Feb 21: @FranklyChurch - Wow, that's really last minute

Frank Churchill @FranklyChurch - Feb 21: @TheRyanWeston - Yeah. Not how I wanted my weekend to go, but this conference is really important. #jetsetterproblems

Frank Churchill @FranklyChurch - Feb 21: @TheRyanWeston - Not that you and Annie aren't important. I feel bad basically ditching you guys twice. I can still get out of it if you want.

Ryan Weston @TheRyanWeston - Feb 21: @FranklyChurch - Appreciate the offer, and we would love to see you, but it's cool. We'll catch up next time you're in town.

Frank Churchill @FranklyChurch - Feb 21: @TheRyanWeston - Thanks, man. Give my regards to your lovely wife. I'll see you both soon, I swear.

Ryan Weston @TheRyanWeston - Feb 21: @FranklyChurch - Enjoy India!

Author's note: Other than this conversation (which started on the 18th of February, when Frank told his stepbrother he was coming to visit), and Twitter greetings exchanged between the brothers on New Year's Day, Frank hadn't tweeted at all since his conversation with Jane on the train back from Glasgow. He will not tweet again for another month.

===========================

24 February 2014

With her backpack over one shoulder and overnight bag on the other, Jane carried Frank's flat key and a sack of takeaway from Crib de Rib, a rib and steakhouse restaurant not far from Frank's building in Kensington. Having been vegan now for more than a decade, the strong smells in the restaurant were a little sickening to her as she waited to pick up Frank's Guinness style ribs, but that's what he had really wanted. He'd sounded a little depressed on the phone, and she'd offered to buy whatever was his favorite takeaway in order to cheer him up. Since there was virtually nothing else on the Crib de Rib menu that she could eat, she had ordered several side salads to share with him.

In the lobby of his building, the doorman on duty was named George. He checked her ID against Frank's list of approved visitors and then allowed her to proceed to the lifts. She rode to the eighteenth floor and used Frank's key to let herself in. While she awaited Frank's arrival, she set two place settings at his dining table, added the side salads to a large bowl, and arranged the ribs in a glass baking dish, which she placed in the oven under the "warm" setting. She selected a French merlot from the wine rack behind Frank's bar to accompany their dinner.

Fortunately, she didn't have to wait long. His flight from Pune, India had been on time, so he arrived by taxi from Heathrow before seven o'clock. Frank looked tired when he placed his luggage down, but that didn't stop him from sweeping Jane into his arms for a passionate kiss.

"Your dinner's ready," Jane said when their lips finally unlocked.

Frank shook his head, his voice sultry. "I don't want dinner right now. All I want is you."

It was a good thing she had kept the ribs warm, because they finally sat down to eat about an hour later. Frank still looked tired, but much happier. As they started their meal, he asked about her presentation before the Lancaster-Beckworth trustees earlier that day.

"It went really well," Jane answered with a smile. "You know how you can tell that your audience is getting into what you're saying? They were like that with me, and even more so with Alyssa."

Frank smiled. "I knew you'd do great. I'm really proud of you, sweetheart." He wiped his hands on a serviette and then reached over to tweak her chin. "So what happens next?"

"It's a waiting game now. The trustees are going to meet to discuss the proposal, and give us an answer sometime next week." She paused to eat more of her salad and take a sip of wine. "What about you? How was India?" She was still wondering what had created his dampened mood earlier.

"It wasn't what I was expecting," Frank answered. After having a promising meeting with the wind farm owner the previous week, the man had talked Frank into accompanying him to the 2014 International Conference on Renewable Energy in Pune, India, which had taken place over the weekend. Frank had chosen to go there rather than L.A. because he thought it would expand his inroads into renewable energy investments.

"How was it different?"

"It was really a conference geared toward biochemical and environmental engineers and urban planners. It was interesting, as they talked about ideas to make buildings and urban landscapes more efficient—actually, I thought about you and how you might've enjoyed that. And there was some talk about new sources of biofuels. But frankly, since I'm not an engineer, a lot of it went over my head. Plus, I'm not an R&D guy."

"So it wasn't worthwhile to you?"

"Not really. I'm looking for investment opportunities right now, things that might turn a profit in the next six months to a year. Like Peter's company, which was already up and operating, but needed an infusion of capital to go to scale. What I heard about in Pune were ideas that will require government action to get off the ground, or opportunities that won't be profitable for another five to ten years. Good to know about for down the line, but still. I kept thinking, 'and I missed seeing Ryan and Annie for this?'"

"You're really disappointed, aren't you?"

Frank nodded, rubbing the back of his neck. "Yeah... I feel like I let them down again."

"Maybe you can make it up to them by rescheduling right away. When's the next break in your schedule?"

"Huh," Frank said, a small smile forming on his face. "Great suggestion. Hey, you know what? I don't have anything going on after the wedding. Maybe I can fly straight from Glasgow to L.A. and spend at least the next two weeks with them."

Jane smiled. "Sounds like a plan. And you'll still meet your March the 31st deadline!"

"We should have put some money on that."

"Frank, if I were going to place a bet with you, it certainly wouldn't be for money."

Frank waggled his eyebrows, a coy smile on his face. "Oh really, Ms. Fairfax? And just what would you bet?"

She smirked. "You'll have to wait until we actually place one to find out."

"And the gauntlet is thrown... Okay, how about we bet on how many times I can make you scream my name tonight?"

Jane laughed. "I like that bet! But... speaking of tonight. Remember Michael from New Year's Day?"

"Tall guy that came to watch the match with your co-worker?"

"That's him. Anyway, he's doing a spoken word performance at a pub near my flat tonight. Since it's so close to where I live, Derek invited me to come out to give him support. He's on at ten." Derek couldn't have known she'd be at Frank's that evening.

Frank groaned. "Jane, the last thing I want to do tonight is go out."

"I know you're exhausted, so is it okay if I go alone?"

He scowled. "And I want you here with me."

"I'll be gone about an hour at most."

From his expression, she could tell Frank was annoyed. "You're really asking this? I've been gone all week and he's more important than I am?"

"Of course not!" Jane sighed heavily. She hated to disappoint Derek, but she realized that if she went, she would be disappointing Frank more. "All right, fine, I won't go."

"Thank you."

She chewed her lip for a moment. She knew his irritation was about missing her and wanting time with her, but their spat made her think of something she had been wondering about for some time. "May I ask you a question?"

Frank extended one hand as if to say, Go ahead.

"Who are your friends?"

"What does this have to do with anything?"

"I'm just asking. Since we've been together, we've done a lot of things with my friends, but nothing with yours."

"We're trying to keep our relationship private, remember? Meeting the people I know would ruin that."

"I know, but you don't even talk much about your friends."

"Yeah, I do. What about all my rock climbing mates?" When he was in town, Frank visited a climbing centre at least twice a week, and usually went out for drinks afterward with some of his buddies there. He had told her that the same group planned an annual rock climbing trip to a cliff somewhere in the world.

"Do you ever see any of them outside of rock climbing and going to the pub?"

Frank exhaled again. "What is all this about, Jane?"

"I keep thinking about our conversation on Valentine's Day, when we talked about me being seen with the public Frank Churchill. The persona you present to the world is this über confident, gregarious, jet-setting entrepreneur. A lot of people know him. But how many people know the real Frank Churchill?"

Frank was quiet for a while, munching on more of his ribs. Finally, he looked at her with a smirk. "And just who is the real Frank Churchill that people supposedly don't know?"

Jane shrugged a little. "I think I'm still finding out. But I know the real Frank Churchill was really excited to give a gift to help out kids in Hackney, and really hurt when his girlfriend didn't appreciate it. I know he thinks it's normal that his family is scattered about and rarely spends time together, but he wishes it were different all the same."

The smirk faded. Frank glanced down at his food, which was now a pile of bare bones on a plate. He pushed the plate away, wiped his hands on the serviette again, and turned back to Jane. "Let's go to your friend's performance."

"No, you were right. I don't have to go."

"Yes, you do. It's important to you, and so it's important to me." He stood up and reached for her hand.

"That wasn't why I said what I said," Jane pointed out as she slipped her fingers into his.

"I know."

He was tugging her away from the table, but once on her feet she planted herself firmly on the ground. She turned to face him and gazed intently into his eyes. "Frank, listen... what I do know of the real Frank Churchill, I really, really love."

His face took on an expression that was as tender as she felt. He leaned down to kiss her gently, his lips tasting of barbecue sauce. He said softly, "You know that's one of the reasons I fell in love with you, right?"

"What's that?"

"That you're so real. There is nothing pretentious about Jane Fairfax."

She reached up to kiss him again, but he pulled back. "Not now, or we'll miss your friend's show." The classic Frank grin returned. "But I promise you we won't stay long. I have to get back to make you scream my name tonight."

Jane laughed. "Then let's make this quick, because I can't wait to get back either!"

Separate departures, separate rides to Bethnal Green... this was getting old. Jane was glad that they had decided that Sarah and Peter's wedding would be the time they'd publicly come out with their relationship. They met up just inside the darkened pub at about a quarter to ten, where an impassioned performer stood under a spotlight on stage, declaring in verse about her dreams and sorrows.

Frank took her hand to lead her through the crowd since he could see above a lot more people than she could. He soon spotted Michael's bald head, and they approached the tall, round pub table around which Michael and Derek stood.

"Hi, sweetie!" Derek called out as they arrived, leaning over to kiss Jane's cheek. "So glad you came!" He held out his hand to shake Frank's, saying, "Good to see you again."

"Likewise," said Frank. "You ready?" he said to Michael with a grin.

Michael nodded. "My first time in public, but it's something I've been wanting to do for a while." Michael was a very tall, light-skinned man of Jamaican descent with a shaved head, hipster glasses, and a pierced bottom lip. Their relationship, which had begun on New Year's Eve, seemed puzzling to Jane because Michael appeared very different from the much shorter, white and neatly mustachioed Derek, who still hadn't lost his conservative banker's look or demeanor in the seven years he had been out of the corporate sector. Then again, she supposed that she and Frank might seem very different to some people, too.

"Michael!" they heard someone shout. "You haven't gone on yet, have you?"

They looked up to see a young woman with pale skin, flashing dark eyes, and blue hair approach. "Not yet," Michael said, looking at the time on his mobile. "Seven more minutes!"

The woman exchanged a kiss with Michael and then said, "Hiya, I'm Emily," to everyone else around the table. When Frank said his full name during their round of introductions, they heard another voice, this time a slurred one right behind them.

"Frank Churchill? Tired of raping the world, so you come slumming among the peasants?"

Everyone looked over to see Diggy stumbling toward them. He threw his body into Frank, who didn't budge, but instead grabbed the other man by the arms to keep him from falling over.

"Let go of me!" Diggy flung his arms away from Frank, and then caught Jane's eye. "You're still with him? Guess you're a slag now, aren't ya?"

Frank moved closer to Jane, putting his arm around her, while Derek walked over and placed a firm hand on Diggy's shoulder. "You're bloody pissed right now, mate. I think it's time for you to go home."

"I'm fine!" Diggy shouted.

"I don't think so. Let's get you out of here." He attempted to steer the unwilling Diggy toward the door.

A bouncer approached. "Problem?"

Derek shook his head. "We just need to send him home."

The bouncer nodded and took Diggy's other arm. Derek paused and removed his mobile from his pocket, tossing it onto the table. "Jane, Eugenie's number two on the speed dial. Ask her to meet Diggy at his flat." He turned to Michael. "I'll be back in time to see you perform."

Ticked off at having to help Diggy when he’d just insulted her, Jane nevertheless picked up the mobile and called Eugenie. She willed herself to calm down and informed her boss what had just happened. Derek did make it back inside just as Michael was called up to the stage. Jane blew out her breath in order to release her tension and focus on Michael's performance, which was a heartfelt speech about people who would declare that England was not his country, even though his ancestors were among those who had built the British empire. She nodded in understanding. As an African-American, she could relate.

After Michael stepped down to the crowd's cheers and returned to their table, Derek gave him a huge hug and kiss. "Beautiful!" he told him.

The rest of them echoed their congratulations and then Jane said, "Frank just got back in town and is pretty jet-lagged. Is it all right if we take off?"

After Derek and Michael assured them that it was, they walked out the pub together to hail a taxi. Once inside, Frank said, his voice groggy, "I'll get out a street away and let you ride to my building."

She looked at him with a bit of worry. "Will you be okay?"

He smiled. "I'm fine. I'm not so tired I can't walk a short distance."

"Sorry about what happened back there."

"Will you stop apologizing for Diggy? He's not your fault. Besides, his issues are with me, not with you."

Jane was quiet, letting that sink in.

Frank leaned over to rest his head on her shoulder. "Sweetheart?" he said, looking up at her.

"Mm?"

"Would it be okay if we put off making you scream until another night?"

Jane grinned. "Yes, but you'll owe me."

Frank chuckled. "Don't worry, I'll gladly repay you."

Chapter Text

Chapter 15

Maddy Bates: Jane has a bit of a cold, but she's not going to let that stop her. She has signed up to run the Surrey Half-Marathon this weekend!

Emma Woodhouse (after making faces and a choking gesture): Uh, your Jane is pretty incredible. There's no one like her.

Emma Approved, ep. 34

====================================

In hindsight, the cold Jane woke up with on Saturday, March the first was a portent of the month to come.

She has suspected she was coming down with something after fighting fatigue for the last several days, but had hoped it was just due to her harder workouts in preparation for the race and the late nights she had spent helping Sarah pack boxes.

No such luck. When she exited her bedroom with a handkerchief covering her face to mask her coughs and sneezes, Sarah had taken one look at her and ordered her back to bed.

"Sarah, please," Jane had whined. "I know how much you need to do, and I want to help."

"There are plenty of people coming today, and you've done enough to help me already. Besides, this is not for your sake, it's for mine," Sarah said with a grin. "The last thing I need right now is to catch whatever you have."

Jane couldn't argue with that, so after making herself a cup of chamomile tea, she promptly returned to her room and attempted to go back to sleep. Rest would be short-lived, however, as friends and family started arriving around ten in the morning to begin moving Sarah's possessions to the rental truck. The sounds of laughter, grunts, and heavy footsteps were not conducive to convalescence, and covering her head with a pillow didn't drown them out.

She heard a knock at her door. "Who is it?" she called out.

"It's me, sweetheart."

Upon her invitation, Frank entered, a wide smile on his face. "My poor baby," he crooned.

Jane held out her hands and sighed. "I know." She sat up in bed and made room for him beside her. He took her into his arms and leaned over to kiss her, but she pulled back, saying, "You may not want to do that."

Frank laughed, "Yeah, you're probably right." He kissed her on the forehead instead.

"How's it going out there?"

"It's going well. Sarah has plenty of people. I'm almost not needed."

"Thanks for coming anyway," Jane said in a stuffy voice, before losing herself in a fit of sneezes.

Frank made a face at the soggy handkerchief she was using. "Ugh. I seriously hope you have some clean ones."

She nodded and pointed to the top drawer of her dresser. "Left side," she croaked.

He stood and walked over to the bureau, pulled out several clean handkerchiefs and brought them to her. His nose still turned up, he reached for her used one, delicately held the corner with the tips of his thumb and forefinger, and walked over to her hamper to drop it in. Watching him, Jane giggled.

"You need someone to take care of you," he said when he sat down again.

"No, I don't."

"Yes, you do. I know we were supposed to go out tonight, but that's not going to happen. And since Sarah's leaving, why don't I stay and look after you?"

Jane smiled. "You're sweet."

"I know." Frank's dimples deepened.

A short while later, he was called out to help carry some of Sarah's furniture. He kissed her on the head again and told her he'd be back. Slowly but surely, the commotion in the rest of the flat began to die down. The next knock at her door was Sarah herself. "Jane? I'm leaving now," she said. She placed her flat key on top of Jane's bookshelf.

Jane tried to smile. "Okay."

Sarah approached as if to hug her, but Jane held up her hands to stop her. "You were right, Sarah. You cannot afford to get sick right now."

Sarah smiled, her eyes moist. "I don't know what I'm going to do without you."

"You'll have Peter."

"He won't replace you, Jane. I mean that." Sarah paused. "Are we still meeting at Southbank on Monday to run?"

"If I'm up for it."

"You will be. Now get better soon, you understand? I need you."

"Yes, ma'am!" Jane laughed, although her laughter sounded more like a cough.

She listened after Sarah left her room, hearing the front door shut with a finality that told Jane that nothing would ever be the same.

Frank returned to her room. "Are you hungry?" When she nodded, he asked what she would like to eat.

"Some soup and toast, I guess."

"I don't suppose you eat chicken soup?"

Jane smiled and shook her head. "There should be some cartons of tomato soup or vegetable broth in one of the cabinets."

"I'll be right back."

When lunch was ready, Jane said she wanted to join him in the living room, so he wrapped a blanket around her, and before she could object, had lifted her up to carry her to the sofa. "This is totally unnecessary, you know. I can walk."

He smiled charmingly. "I told you I was going to take care of you."

Jane sighed, but said no more. It was kind of nice being pampered like this.

Frank had placed the soup and toast on the coffee table, and they ate while watching television. After eating, Jane lay down with her head on Frank's lap, drifting in and out for much of the day while he stroked her hair or caressed her back. She recalled bits of episodes of The X Factor, maybe a movie or two, and snippets of conversations Frank attempted to make with her. Saturday came and went, and the next thing she knew, she was waking up in her own bed on Sunday morning. She still felt lousy, but was not as exhausted after having slept so much the day before.

She rose and donned a bathrobe, and grabbing clean pyjamas, walked out of her bedroom to take a shower. She hadn't the day before, and was feeling pretty gross. She was a bit shocked to notice all the blank spots around the flat where furniture, photos or knickknacks had once been, reinforcing Sarah's absence. Seeing Frank, who was snoozing on the sofa, the blanket he'd wrapped around her the day before now covering him, made her smile and feel less alone. Since she had no recollection of how she had gotten back into her own bed, she assumed he had carried her there and tucked her in.

The hot shower helped clear her sinuses a bit, but her throat and head still ached. And she was famished; the soup and toast from the previous day had hardly been filling. There wasn't much else in the flat, however, so she made herself more toast and sat down in the chair beside Frank to eat it.

He woke up a short while later. "Hey," he said sleepily, "how are you feeling?"

"A little better," she said, although the shower's effects had diminished and her nose was rapidly clogging up again.

"I'm glad." He held out his hand to her, and she took it. "I see you got yourself some breakfast."

"Yes, but this is the last of the bread, and there's not much else, I'm afraid."

"I'll go shopping for you, if you tell me what you want. I have to go home and change anyway."

She gave him a list and he soon departed, returning a couple of hours later wearing different clothing and carrying grocery bags. He again prepared food for her; more steaming broth soothed her throat and sinuses, while the hummus and pita crisps he'd bought helped fill her hungry belly. Frank had also purchased multi-symptom cold medicine, another welcome relief.

While they ate, Frank motioned to the empty spaces around the room. "I can stay here all week if you'd like," he said, "in case you need me."

Jane smiled slightly. "Thank you, but I'm sure I'll be better in a day or two."

"But not lonely?" Frank raised his eyebrows.

"A little," she acknowledged.

"So... how's the search going?"

"For a flatmate?" Jane sighed. "Not that well. I've had it posted on Craigslist for a while, but it's not a good time of year for finding people looking to rent a room."

"You know, the easiest thing would be for me to pay off the rest of your lease and have you move in with me." Her current lease didn't expire until July.

"I also put in an ad to rent the whole flat, so if someone answers that, maybe I will."

"I just offered to buy out your lease," he repeated.

"I know, but I don't want you to do that."

Frank exhaled. "Why do I feel like moving in with me is your least favorite option, something you'd only do if you had no other choice?"

Jane didn't know how to answer that, so she reached for another pita crisp instead.

"Jane, look at me." She turned to face Frank, whose expression was very earnest. "I love you. I love taking care of you and being with you like this. Why can't we make it more permanent?"

She swallowed. "And I love you, too. I just... I'm not ready. I can't really explain why." Seeing his crestfallen look, she added, "All right, if I am able to find renters who will take the whole flat, I promise you, I'll move in with you happily."

A smile started to return to Frank's face. "That's a promise, huh? Let's see now, who can I bribe to move in here?"

Jane laughed and swatted him lightly with one of the sofa's throw pillows.

At her insistence, Frank returned to his own flat on Sunday night. She didn't want him catching her cold, and she knew sleeping on her sofa had to be uncomfortable for him. He promised to stop by each day as soon as he was finished with whatever meetings or business obligations he had.

Jane stayed home from work the next two days. By mid-morning on Tuesday, she was bored silly with television and had finished the current books she was reading, so she finally decided to join the 21st century and signed up for Facebook and Twitter. She still didn't think she'd be sharing much on these social media platforms, but it was fun finding old friends from high school, Berkeley, and Oxford, and reading their posts about what they'd been up to in recent years.

Even with remaining traces of the sniffles, she felt well enough to run again on Wednesday morning, although she spent much of the time ruing the fact that her muscles and stamina had weakened during her illness. Sarah was wonderful, however, encouraging her along and reminding her how far she'd come since they started training together the previous summer. "I know you'll be ready this Sunday, Jane! Remember, I'll be there beside you all the way."

Uplifted, she returned to work that same day, where she showered and felt refreshed and ready to face life again. "Hi, Alyssa!" she greeted her coworker warmly when she arrived.

"Hi," Alyssa said, and then quickly sat at her work station and started typing, saying nothing further.

Jane frowned, puzzled. Alyssa was usually friendlier. "Have we heard yet from Lancaster-Beckworth?"

Alyssa turned. "You should probably talk to Eugenie." She turned back to her computer.

A sinking feeling began forming inside Jane. "Okay," she said slowly. She stood and walked to her boss' office and knocked on the door.

Eugenie invited Jane to come in and sit down at the small table she preferred to use rather than a desk. "I'm glad to see you're feeling better. We've missed you around here."

"Thanks," Jane said as she took a seat, but she wasn't interested in small talk. "Alyssa said I should talk to you about Lancaster-Beckworth."

Eugenie folded her hands together on top of the table. "Yes. Well, we heard from them yesterday."

"And?"

Eugenie let out a breath. "You did a fabulous job, you really did. But—"

"They said no, didn't they?" Jane's stomach twisted as she said the words.

"Not quite. They really liked the youth part of the presentation."

"Alyssa's part."

"Yes. Listen, Jane, everyone is retrenching." Eugenie removed her glasses and rubbed her eyes. "Very few foundations have ever fully recovered from the financial crisis, even ones as large as Lancaster-Beckworth. So they're trying to be more strategic and focused in their funding. The trustees want to promote youth programming rather than environmental services."

"I don't understand. Those two elements were combined in our presentation."

"I know. I wish I could tell you how many times I've met with philanthropists who don't really grasp the full scale of what we want to do."

Jane furrowed her brow. "So what are they planning to fund?"

"They want to keep Alyssa on board doing youth outreach, but they want her to engage youth in shorter-term projects such as recycling drives and park cleanups."

Jane emitted a sound of disbelief. "That's great, but that won't really change anything!"

Eugenie sighed. "They think it will have the possibility of involving greater numbers of youth than the project you described. That's what they want: more youth involved, rather than fewer youth engaged in a more in-depth project. Again, it's the youth part they're interested in, not the project itself. The trustees argued that it would be more transformative than your original proposal, because more kids might get interested in ecological issues."

Jane sat on her hands to tamp down on her frustration. "What does all this mean... for me?"

Eugenie exhaled slowly. "Jane, you have been such a valuable member of this team."

"Have been," said Jane, trying to keep her voice even. "Past tense."

“I’m pretty sure it’s one of the progressive tenses, which means it can continue into the future. Lancaster is not going to renew the funding for your position, but that doesn't mean that there aren't other grantmakers who might."

"But we'd have to identify them and convince them first," Jane said bluntly. "Please be honest with me, Eugenie. What does this mean?"

She knew how much affection Eugenie had for her, so when she saw the sorrow in the older woman's eyes, Jane knew the news was bad. "We have the resources to pay you until the end of the month, but after that we'll have to let you go. Jane, I am so very sorry."

Jane closed her eyes for a moment to gather her composure. "It's all right. I understand. I'll do whatever I can in the next few weeks to make sure all my projects are closed out."

"And this is why you've been such a gem here at Sustainable London. If you feel up to it, Alyssa is going to need your help. She has to revise the proposal according the the trustees' recommendations, and you have a lot more experience with programme planning and proposal writing."

Jane took a deep breath. "I'll help her. Whatever she needs."

Eugenie reached her arms across the table. Jane removed her own from beneath her legs and clasped Eugenie's hands, as the older woman said, "Thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for everything."

Jane pulled herself together enough to have a positive outlook for the rest of the day. She reassured Alyssa that she had nothing to feel guilty about (guessing correctly that that was the reason for the younger woman's earlier coldness), and that she'd be happy to help her revise the proposal. Jane threw herself into the work, assisting Alyssa to brainstorm ideas for short-term eco-friendly projects and how to make them fun and appealing to youth.

She also told herself that there were other jobs to be had. As the grandchild of a British Commonwealth citizen, Jane had been able to qualify for a five-year work permit, which still had more than two years on it. Plenty of time to find another position that would allow her to stay in England. In addition, she had much to look forward to, including the half-marathon this weekend and Sarah's wedding the following week. Life was still good.

It was only later that evening when she told Frank what had happened that the dam burst and she found herself sobbing. Frank put his arms around her and rubbed her back while she cried. As he rested his chin on top of her hair, she could hear him whisper, "No matter what happens, Jane, I'll always be here to take care of you."

Chapter Text

Chapter 16

Emma Approved social media, via Twitter:

Jane Fairfax@TheJaneFairfax - Mar 8: Early to bed, early to rise...

Jane Fairfax@TheJaneFairfax - Mar 9: Today's the big day! Wish me luck. #surreyhalfmarathon

Jane Fairfax@TheJaneFairfax - Mar 9: Feeling proud and exhausted. PR with 1:50:54. So glad all that training paid off.

Jane Fairfax@TheJaneFairfax - Mar 9: Thanks so much to the Dixons for encouraging me to run with them. We did it!

Jane Fairfax@TheJaneFairfax - Mar 9: And now for a well deserved bubble bath.

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Jane woke up on Monday morning, achy but proud of what she had accomplished on Sunday. She not only finished the half-marathon but set her own personal record, spurred on by not just Sarah but also Peter who had decided to join the race. Although the slim and agile Peter was pretty active, he certainly hadn't trained the way she and Sarah had. "Only he," said Sarah with pride, "could choose to sign up last minute and still go the distance."

Jane had smiled in agreement. "I appreciate having two Dixons encouraging me along, not just one."

"Oh, we're the Dixons now, are we, even though the wedding's not until next week?" Peter grinned.

"Oh yes," Jane teased. "At this point, the wedding is just a formality."

Frank was among those watching at the finish line, and had two dozen roses waiting for her in his car when they rode back to London. He was very sympathetic when she informed him that she wished for nothing more than a bubble bath and her bed when she got home. Her family, too, had been understanding; she had called them on Saturday to let them know that on Sunday night she would probably be out of commission.

Energized (oddly enough, given her muscle fatigue) by the weekend's success, Jane was excited to return to work on Monday, despite knowing her job would soon be over. She and Alyssa had outlined several ideas for the revised proposal, which Jane would begin to write that day.

Monday morning brought another surprise. She had neglected to check her mobile messages over the weekend, and discovered one from a woman named Jessica Carpenter who sounded vaguely American and was asking about renting her flat. During her lunch break, she called the woman back.

"Oh, thank you so much for getting back to us!" Jessica said. "I was afraid I wouldn't hear from you."

"I'm excited to hear from you, too!" Jane assured her. "I haven't had much of a response to my ads."

She told Jessica about her flatmate moving out to get married, and made arrangements to meet with her that evening to show her the flat. A thirty-ish woman of medium height with short brown hair and glasses, Jessica came with her husband, Robert, a good-humoured man who was a bit taller and pudgier than his wife.

Jane's first question was whether or not they were also American. Jessica shook her head. "Canadian. We're from Vancouver."

"Cool! I'm from L.A. What brings you to London?"

"I've been hired by a company here to do pharmaceutical research. They're putting us up at the Marriott until the end of the month, and we thought that was plenty of time to find somewhere permanent to live. However, everything is so expensive here in London, and the cheap rents aren't in very good neighbourhoods."

"We've heard good things about Bethnal Green, however," Robert interjected.

Jane nodded. "It's a great neighbourhood. It's pretty safe, it's affordable, and there's a decent arts scene around here."

"That's just what we're looking for!" Jessica declared.

"Great!" said Jane. "Let me show you around." She apologized for the size as she took them on a brief tour. "Flats around here are smaller than what we're used to in North America."

"Aw, we can handle it," Robert said. "As long as our budget can handle it, we can make it work."

"Speaking of work, do you have a job here, too?" Jane asked.

He grinned. "Nope. I'll get to be a kept man for a while!" His wife laughed and elbowed him in the stomach.

"One question we had," said Jessica. "You advertised twice, once for just the extra bedroom, and once for the entire flat. Are you undecided about what you want to do?"

"I have a possible place to move to if I let the whole flat, but my preference would be to remain here."

"If you moved, would you be taking the furniture?"

Jane hesitated. It was one thing for Sarah to bring her old furniture with her to Peter's place, which was sparsely furnished with a few pieces from IKEA. Frank's flat, however, was well equipped with what she was sure were very expensive furnishings. Her furniture, mostly purchased second-hand, would be unneeded and out of place. "Probably not," she finally said.

"Oh, fantastic!" said Jessica. "We weren't looking forward to having to furnish a place right away. We'll need to buy a bed, but since your furniture will be staying, we can buy everything else over time."

"When will you be moving out?" Robert asked.

Jane realized that the Carpenters were assuming that her move-out was a done deal, despite her saying that her preference was to stay. Which, she supposed, was not surprising. They were a married couple and would no doubt prefer their privacy. "Uh," she said, "I guess by April first."

"Can we start moving boxes in here sooner? Perhaps to the empty bedroom?"

"Um, sure," Jane said, feeling more uncomfortable by the minute.

They discussed additional details about the neighbourhood, the flat, and the rental terms, and the couple said they would be willing to sign documents for the place the following week.

Jane exhaled heavily when they departed. She badly needed to think. She put on her running shoes, but knowing she was still too achy to do any running, chose to take the Underground to Southbank Centre for a much-needed walk instead. Looking over the water of the River Thames had long been her favorite place in London for reflection. She stopped at an Indian restaurant and ordered a couple of samosas for takeaway, and ate them while beginning her walk along the waterway.

Everything seemed to be pointing her toward moving in with Frank. She had to figure out why she was so resistant to the idea. It wasn't that she didn't love him. She did, very much. It wasn't that she thought they couldn't get along under the same roof. They had spent enough time together to know that they were quite compatible. So what was it?

She thought about how sweet Frank had been the previous weekend, and how nice it had been to have him taking care of her. But last weekend was an aberration, a time in which she was needier than usual due to being ill. Under normal circumstances, she didn't enjoy being doted upon that way.

She recalled Robert's joke about being a kept man. God, she would hate that. But that's what she would become if she moved in with Frank. She had looked into unemployment benefits, and while she qualified for them given her length of residency and working in England, they would amount to a fraction of her salary. She certainly couldn't afford to live on her own on that income, and would barely be able to make ends meet while sharing a flat. The only other option would be for Frank to support her, a situation she would find untenable.

This explained her feelings now, but her reluctance to live with Frank had begun long before she knew her job was ending. It was more than being unemployed and dependent that scared her. So what is it? she asked herself again.

Aunt Maddy and her grandmother came to mind. Jane had grown up in a female-headed household, not by design but by necessity after her parents were killed. Those two women were such an example of independence, strength, and resilience—her grandmother had successfully raised two girls alone after being widowed unexpectedly, and Aunt Maddy, who had never married, had become the main breadwinner supporting her mother and niece at a very young age, while still managing to finish her accounting degree and eventually start her own business. They had overcome numerous health challenges—her grandmother still faced many—yet both had maintained such positive attitudes that they were awe-inspiring to Jane. It was for them that Jane wanted to prove she could be just as independent, strong, and resilient.

It wasn't just the ability to sustain herself that Jane wanted. From her teen years, Jane had felt driven to change the world. That, too, was the legacy of Grandma and Maddy. Both women had huge, loving hearts. Neighbors, friends, even strangers on occasion knew they could turn to the Bates family for help and support. They sponsored children overseas, gave away food from their garden, helped people out financially even when they could barely afford to, and were always willing to set an extra plate for dinner. Jane had been shy and withdrawn as a child, an after-effect of her parents' deaths. Thus, while she was outwardly less warm and benevolent than her family, she still had been deeply influenced by their compassion. Her own charitable feelings became more inward and intellectual, driven to consider the systemic reasons that people were in need in the first place. Around the time of Grandma's kidney failure, Jane decided that she would honor her grandmother's life by spending her own making the world a better place.

Being turned down by the Lancaster-Beckworth trustees had been a huge blow to her confidence and goals. She had poured out the best of all she had to offer, making sure that her research was impeccable, her proposed solutions workable, her ideas compelling enough to make a significant difference—and people in power were still able to say "no," to decide that they preferred minor league projects to something with the potential to bring about lasting change. She knew that Alyssa, with her own tough childhood and background, was passionate and determined and would make sure that the youth she worked with would learn and grow under her tutelage. But still, the plans she and Alyssa had come up with would be little more than feel-good photo-ops rather than something that could help save the planet.

She stopped along Westminster Bridge and leaned against the railing overlooking the water. Her mobile had vibrated several times in her pocket during her walk, so she pulled it out. She had received multiple calls and messages from Frank, asking where she was and saying he really needed to talk to her. She texted him quickly, writing that she was still tired from the race and would call him tomorrow. "I love you," she added at the end.

"Love u 2," Frank texted back. "Get lots of rest. We rly need to talk."

Oh, Frank, she thought, a lump forming in her throat. She loved him so much, and her heart ached from the distance she felt from him right now, borne of her emotional confusion. But how could she become the woman she longed to be while living with him and depending on him?

Knowing she had come up with no answers tonight, she turned to walk back to the nearest tube station and go home. She had neglected to pick up the post when she had arrived from work so she stopped to check her letter box, finding a thick envelope inside. She turned it over in her hand, surprised because it looked like personal mail. The only person who ever sent her personal letters was her grandmother. Aunt Maddy preferred email, but her grandmother had never really become comfortable with a computer. However, this envelope, which bore no name or return address, was postmarked from London, not the USA.

She entered her flat, made herself a cup of tea, and then sat down on the sofa to open the envelope. Inside were what appeared to be printouts of new stories, along with a letter typed on recycled paper. She started to look at the letter to see who its author was when she noticed the bold type in the headers of several of the articles: Richmond Corporation.

Jane frowned, knowing suddenly who the package was from: Diggy. Sure enough, when she glanced down at the signature at the bottom of the letter, "Digman Tucker" was the signer. She looked over the letter quickly. It was filled with profanity and accusations of hypocrisy and villainy on Jane's part, along with a fair number of misogynistic insults about her relationship with Frank. Had her emotions been in less turmoil, she might have taken Eugenie's advice to ignore Diggy and simply tossed the letter. But in her current state, the harsh words had their intended impact, especially as they frequently made mention of the accompanying articles.

She put the letter down and picked up the articles. One by one, she began to read stories about Richmond's activities in the U.S. and abroad. The company was patenting seeds for various crops, and then suing small farmers for growing those same crops, even though those farmers had grown those crops for decades. Richmond also was experimenting with genetically modified organisms, the pollen of which sometimes drifted onto the plots of small farmers, again prompting lawsuits by the corporation against those who could not afford to defend themselves and driving them out of business. Furthermore, the company had plans to expand their operations throughout the developing world.

Jane put down the articles, feeling sick inside. This was one of Frank's enterprises. He owned a major portion of it, and served on the board of directors. Did he know that this was what Richmond Corp was up to? He had to—board members were expected to stay informed, weren't they?

She realized that she had never asked Frank much about his business activities. She had known about his involvement in Richmond from their solstice date, but she had never probed him further about it. He had shared about his investments in renewable energy and she knew about his support for Peter's company, but certainly he had more investments than that. Were other companies he supported like Richmond? How much of his wealth was used for damaging the environment and oppressing those without power?

Jane spent the night tossing and turning, her stomach aching and her heart feeling as though it were breaking. In the morning, she stuffed the letter and articles back into the envelope and inserted it into her backpack. She would show it to Eugenie and ask for her advice about what to do.

When she arrived at work, Eugenie asked to see her right away. Jane was relieved, thinking that perhaps Eugenie was already aware of Diggy's letter. When she sat down with her boss, the older woman immediately asked, "Did Frank talk to you yet?"

"About Diggy?"

Eugenie looked confused for a moment. "No. About the conversation Frank and I had yesterday."

"You talked to Frank yesterday?" Why had Eugenie done that? If she knew about Diggy's letter, why hadn't she talked to Jane about it first?

"Yes, he called me on Sunday, asking to meet with me. We had dinner yesterday evening."

"Why did you two meet? Why didn't you talk to me first?" Was this some plan of Frank and Eugenie's to protect her from Diggy's ire? If so, she didn't appreciate it. She wasn't a child.

"Frank said he had something he wanted to discuss with me privately. Afterward, I told him that he needed to talk to you, and he said he would, but I told him that I also would be sure to let you know about the content of our discussion. We owe it to you to not keep you in the dark."

Jane was quiet, completely bewildered. What in the world was going on?

"I take it from your silence that you and Frank haven't spoken about this yet. Jane, Frank offered to fund your position for the next two years."

"What?" It took a while for Eugenie's words to register with Jane, especially when she realized that it had nothing to do with Diggy.

"He knows how disappointed you were about losing your job here, and how much we want to keep you. He offered to pay for you to stay on staff at Sustainable London."

Jane stared at her, stunned.

"Oh, Jane," Eugenie said gently. "I can tell by your expression that this is a shock to you. But please don't be too angry with him. He's a young man in love who may not be thinking clearly. Of course I told him that such a move would create a conflict of interest, and that we could not accept the funds."

Jane slowly lifted her hand to cover her mouth.

"I'm very sorry. I wish he had talked to you first, so that I wasn't the one breaking the news to you. You understand why I had to say no? As much as I wanted to say yes, it would be entirely unethical to accept the money, given his relationship with you."

Jane started to shake all over. Eugenie's face registered alarm. "Jane, do you need something? May I get you some water?"

Jane shook her head. "I need to go..." she mumbled.

"Of course. I know this is a shock. Take the rest of the day off if you need to. We can manage. You and Alyssa have made enough inroads into the proposal that someone else can help her finish it."

Jane stood and exited Eugenie's office, stumbling a bit as her eyes grew blurry. Several of her colleagues asked if she was all right when she hurried past them. She shook her head, unable to answer. She choked back her sobs long enough to travel home on the Underground. Once back inside her flat, she ran to her bedroom, threw herself onto her bed, and wept bitterly.

Chapter Text

Chapter 17

"A boyish scheme, indeed!—I cannot comprehend a man's wishing to give a woman any proof of affection which he knows she would rather dispense with."

Mr. Knightley, talking about Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax in Emma, ch. 51

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Jane's tears soon dried up, only to be replaced with fury. How dare Frank do something like this?! She had been afraid that living with him would make her a kept woman. But this was so much worse. Buying her a job was like making her a paid whore. At least if he had tried to talk with her first, she could have told him what a horrible idea it was. But no, like with the instruments, he did what he wanted to do, behind her back, with no consideration of how it would affect her.

She punched out a text message: "Need to talk NOW!" and hit send.

He texted her back, "Where r u?"

She typed, "Home," and he responded, "Give me an hour."

She paced around her living room, her blood pressure rising by the minute, while she waited for Frank's arrival. "How dare you!" she shouted the moment he walked into her flat.

Frank held up his hands. "Jane, look, I was just trying to help!"

"By making me look incompetent? By making me look unethical? By making me look like someone who can't accomplish anything on her own, but needs her rich boyfriend to buy her a job?!"

"That's not what I intended!"

"But that's what you did! Didn't you learn anything after the whole instrument fiasco? Why didn't you talk to me first?"

"You weren't supposed to know! I wanted to do it secretly, but Eugenie said no."

"You thought that would make it better somehow? It's so much worse! You're trying to arrange my life behind my back!"

"Listen, Jane—"

She cut him off. "This! This is why I don't want to move in with you! It's because I was afraid of crap like this!"

Frank's face fell. "You said you'd be willing to move in with me. You promised."

"Well, I shouldn't have promised. I don't want to be your kept woman, Frank. This is why I don't want to be known as your girlfriend."

In was only later that she would recall the devastation in his expression. At the moment, she was too mad to see it. "So if you don't want to be known as my girlfriend," he said softly and slowly, his voice filled with barely contained sorrow, "how are you going to handle being my wife?"

"Your wife?! What the hell are you talking about? Frank, we've been together for three months!"

"And that's been enough time for me to know that I want to spend my life with you. I've been trying to tell you this for weeks."

Even in Jane's anger, she couldn't help but be baffled. "What? You haven't told me anything of the kind!"

"Yes, I have! I've talked about making it permanent, and how my grandmother would wonder why I haven't married you yet."

"I thought you were joking."

"I would never joke about my grandmother," he snapped back.

"Arggh!" Jane yelped out in frustration. She sat down on the sofa and covered her face. A few seconds later, she removed her hands. "Obviously we've been on very different pages about this relationship. I can't do this, Frank. You seem to want some woman who's dependent on you, and that's not me."

"That's not true!"

"The hell it's not, when you're talking about marriage after three months! I've busted my ass too long and hard to be overshadowed by you. I can't do this. I can't be with you."

The anger in Frank's face turned to shock. "Please, Jane, don't say that. You are everything to me. I need you!"

"And I need some time. I need a break."

"Are you saying it's over?"

She could hear the hurt in his voice, and it made her pause. Despite everything, she loved Frank too much to sever their relationship completely. "Not over. Just a break. Some time off until I figure out what I want."

She covered her face again, unable to look at him, knowing that if she continued to see the hurt in his eyes, her resolve would weaken. He stood there for a while, not speaking, until at last she heard his footsteps departing and the door shutting behind him.

Jane returned to work the next day in a state of numbness. Her colleagues seemed to assume her mood was due to the impending layoff and gave her space, speaking kindly to her when necessary but otherwise leaving her alone. She was grateful to not have music lessons that week, because she was certain she would have been a bear to her students. She managed to make it to Friday afternoon, when she left London by train for Glasgow.

Peter and Sarah had booked a number of rooms for the wedding party, family and guests in the same hotel in Glasgow's city centre where the reception would take place. Jane arrived in time to order a late dinner from room service in the suite she would share with Sarah and Allison, Sarah's cousin who would serve as her other bridesmaid. Peter was hanging out with them, reluctant to say goodnight to his soon-to-be-wife despite the full day of activities ahead of them tomorrow.

In spite of Jane's efforts to put on happy face, she was unable to fool two people who knew her as well as Sarah and Peter. They began probing with genuine concern, and Allison, realizing a private conversation was unfolding, excused herself to go visit with their grandparents. After Allison departed, Jane told them the entire story of her fight with Frank, along with something she realized she had never had the chance to bring up with him: his involvement with Richmond Corporation. Sarah made several comments of sympathy and support, but Peter merely listened quietly.

When she had finished, Peter asked, "Is it over between you two? Or are you willing to give Frank another chance?"

Jane exhaled slowly. "I don't know. I don't want it to be over, but I don't know how we can continue after everything."

Peter looked at her gently. "Jane, I know I was sceptical about this relationship at first. But over time I came to see how much Frank adores you, and I'd hate to see you give up a chance at happiness. Besides, I can understand Frank's side in this."

Sarah looked at him sharply, but Jane held up her hand before her friend could speak. "How so?" she asked Peter.

"As a man, I can understand his temptation to want to come to your rescue. I feel it sometimes with Sarah, and have to step back and remind myself that she can take care of herself. And as a businessperson, I understand the pressure to focus on the bottom line above all else. I'm sure that pressure is worse for Frank as a venture capitalist. My primary purpose is to make solar panels. His is to make money."

"That doesn't mean that what he did, or what he's doing, is okay," Sarah interjected.

"No, but it does mean that he probably doesn't have bad intentions, and so perhaps he and Jane can work through this."

Jane took in his words, but did not reply.

"Jane, I'm not trying to tell you what to do," Peter added. "Just think about it."

She did, mulling over everything that had happened between her and Frank that night and the next morning during the wedding rehearsal. She put aside her thoughts during the fun of Sarah's bridal luncheon, but by early afternoon she had made a decision. She wanted her relationship with Frank to continue. She texted him to ask what time he was arriving for the wedding, stating that she wanted a chance to talk.

A while later, she received a reply: "Thought wedding would be awkward, so already en route to U.S. Sent u a letter. Let's talk after u read it."

She bit her lip to hold back her disappointment. Now that her mind was made up, she missed Frank terribly, and knew that it would be at least two weeks before she could see him again. She could understand why he had decided to forgo the wedding, however, since he had probably assumed that seeing her would be painful and the event would remind him of his own failed hopes.

Again, she had to push aside her feelings. This was Sarah and Peter's time, and she owed it to them to be fully present. She got good and drunk at Sarah's hen party that evening, which helped. Several paracetamol and an energy drink in the morning reduced her hangover, so she was able to enjoy the wedding breakfast the next day.

The wedding itself was lovely and moving, and Jane's happiness at seeing her friends united was genuine and deep. It was only during the reception that Frank returned to her thoughts as she listened to the words of one of the songs on the playlist, Emeli Sandé's "Where I Sleep":

See the times are changing,

and I'm sure of nothing that I know

Except this is us, and this is love,

and this is where I'm home.

Tears pricked Jane's eyes as she recalled thinking, "I feel at home with him," after their Christmas and New Year time together. She had never loved any man the way she loved Frank. Peter was right; they could work through this.

Her sorrow must have been evident in her voice when she called her family later that night, because despite her attempts to share joyfully about the wedding, Aunt Maddy had asked, "What's wrong, sugar puff? Are you just really going to miss them, or is something else going on?"

Maddy wouldn't let her get away with hemming and hawing so she finally told them about everything, particularly her job and Frank. "That's a lot," Maddy acknowledged. "But when we go through tough times, it's because there's something we're supposed to learn."

Her grandmother called out in the background, "Maybe God is telling her it's time to come home."

"What's that, Mama?" Maddy asked.

"She doesn't have a job or a roommate anymore. She may not still have a boyfriend or a place to live. Maybe that's the message she's supposed to get: it's time to come home."

The noise from the phone line suddenly became muffled, as if Maddy had covered it. She could hear her aunt and grandmother speaking, but she couldn't make out their words. Maddy's voice then returned. "You know what, sugar puff? I think Mama's right. We both miss you so much. I haven't told you this because I didn't want to worry you, but my business is struggling. I have an event coming up that Emma's company is throwing on the 25th to help me generate new clients. I'd love for you to be there."

Jane's heart started beating rapidly. She had never considered returning home, wanting to spend many more years in England before returning stateside. But this conversation was making her realize how desperately she missed her family, and how much she longed for the comfort only they could provide. Could that really be what she was meant to do right now? "Let me think about it," she said.

"Take your time. You know that whatever you decide, we'll be on your side. But we would love to have you back with us."

It didn't take long for Jane to make a decision after she ended the call. She heard the song lyrics again, "This is us, and this is love, and this is where I'm home." Frank may have been a way station, but she already had a home, one filled with deep love. Maddy and her grandmother were right. It was time to go back.

She left the hotel room and hurried down to the lobby where a bank of computer stations with wifi access were available for use by guests. She searched through Expedia and Priceline for fares from London to Los Angeles on Saturday, March 22nd, concluding that would give her enough time to settle in back home before Maddy's event. When she found a decent fare, she began to enter her information. One adult. One way or round trip? She selected, "one way." She typed in her credit card information and then paused. If she did this, she wouldn't get to see Peter and Sarah again when they returned from their honeymoon in the French Alps. She wouldn't see Eugenie, Derek, Arjun, Andrew or Alyssa again. She wouldn't see Daniel, Rose, Roger or Karyanne, or any of her other students. Everything she had come to love about London, from the Southbank to Hyde Park to the neighbourhoods, restaurants, museums, and most of all the people—she was about to give up.

But she would be back in the care of the women who had nurtured her and made her who she was. She'd have a chance to regroup, to find a new direction in her life. She might even be able to get back together with Frank, who was currently in L.A. She reviewed the information on the screen once more, clicked, "submit," and then printed the record of her ticket. She had maxed our her credit card, but it was done. She was going home.

She told Eugenie about her plans on Tuesday morning (having taken Monday off to return from Glasgow), and Eugenie said she understood. "You seem lighter, less burdened," her boss told her. "That tells me you've made the right decision."

The week was enormously busy, as she finished her projects at work; discarded or donated the clothing, books and personal items from her flat (packing just three suitcases with those things she intended to keep and take with her to L.A.); turned over her lease to the Carpenters; and said goodbye to her students, coworkers, and friends. Much of this was tearful, especially when Karyanne declared that she was angry because Jane would never get to be her teacher. "But you'll have other teachers now," Jane said, realizing how grateful she was for Frank's donation that had allowed the community centre to hire a few music instructors, including Roger.

"It's not the same! It won't be you!" Karyanne had cried.

"I know," Jane said, while hugging the child, "I know."

Frank's letter arrived on Tuesday, and Jane opened it eagerly to read:

Dear Jane,

By the time you get this, I will already be back in the U.S. I decided to switch to an earlier flight because I was afraid it would be too difficult to face you right now, as uncertain as things are between us. I've sent a gift and letter of apology to Peter and Sarah for missing their wedding.

I want you to know how truly sorry I am for everything I've said and done that hurt you. I never intended to insult you or deny your competence by my offer. The truth is, no one—except maybe your aunt and grandmother—admires you more than I do. In fact, I am often in awe of you and your incredible talents. My only goal was to give you a chance to demonstrate those talents to the world, despite those who would deny you the opportunity.

But I see now that my actions had the opposite effect, and for that I am deeply sorry. I have spent the last several days hating myself for hurting you. Jane, you are the best thing that has ever happened to me. The last three months with you have been the happiest of my life. I would do anything—yes, even give up coffee! [after this, Frank had drawn a smiley face]—to be with you again. And I'll do it on your terms—no talk of marriage, no offers to have you live with me, no attempts to go behind your back and buy you jobs and run your life. I promise.

If this sounds like I'm begging, it's because I am. I love you, Jane. I long to be with you again. Please, please, please give me another chance.

Respectfully,

Frank

Jane took a deep breath. She had already decided to renew her relationship with Frank, but this letter sealed that decision. It was late morning in L.A., so she hoped it was a good time to catch him. She dialed his number and listened to it ring for some time before he picked up.

"Jane," said Frank, and in that name she heard a multitude of emotions, from sorrow and trepidation, to hope, happiness and love.

"Frank," she replied, knowing her emotions matched his own.

"It's so good to hear your voice," he said. "I've missed you so much."

"I've missed you, too. I read your letter."

"Okay." Frank said no more, seeming to wait for her to lead the conversation.

"I agree, honey. I want us to be together again, too."

She heard relief and joy in Frank's exhalation. "I'll be on the next plane back to London!"

"You don't have to! I'm coming home. For good."

"To L.A.?"

"Yes! My aunt and grandmother convinced me that all that has happened was a sign that I needed to come home, so I have a flight booked for Saturday."

Frank laughed. "I guess my two-week vacation just got a lot longer! Can I pick you up at the airport?"

"Maddy is already picking me up, but you're welcome to join her. You'll finally get to meet each other!"

"I can't wait! And Jane, listen—whatever terms you want for our relationship now, I'll agree to. I'm going to let you call the shots. I've been the knucklehead here."

Jane paused, chewing her lip. "I'm not sure what to say, except that I know when I get back, I'm going to need to resume my career. I'd like to do that without..."

Frank finished for her. "Without being known as Frank Churchill's girlfriend, or having me do obtuse things like try to buy you a job."

She swallowed, not wanting to hurt his feelings, but knowing that he had summarized her fears. "Yes," she said quietly.

"So how can we do that?"

She thought for a moment. "Well, no one in L.A. knows we're together, except for Maddy and my grandmother, and I assume Ryan and Annie. Maybe we keep it that way."

"That's not exactly the case."

"Other people do know?"

"No, just... Ryan and Annie don't know about us."

"Why not? You never told them about me?" She was surprised and a little hurt by that.

Frank sighed. "Remember when you said no one knows the real Frank Churchill? You were right, once again. It's never been easy for me to let people know when I've failed or screwed up. Since I've been here, it's been easier to pretend with them that everything's okay."

Jane rubbed her lips together, thinking. "So... I guess that's two fewer people we have to not let know about our relationship?"

"I guess," he said.

They were quiet for a while, and then Frank said, "But we'll be together again, and that's all that counts. I can't wait to kiss you senseless!"

Jane laughed. "Then I have a lot to look forward to! I really love you, Frank."

Frank's voice was tender and thick with emotion. "I love you, too, very much. I can't wait to see you again."

"Same here. I'll see you soon."

END OF PART II

Chapter Text

Introduction to Part III: So Jane and Frank returned to the U.S. and resumed their relationship. However, the reasons for tension between them were never fully resolved, and blew up during the evening of the 23rd of July 2014. That evening they, along with many others, attended the grand opening of an upscale farm-to-table restaurant, Boxx in the Hills. The Pemberley Digital team told the story of Boxx Hill through a series of photographs, located at dot com (click on the header, then scroll down and enter "boxxhill" as the password). I want to direct your attention to one photo in particular—the fifth one in the top row. In this photo, Jane's distress is obvious, but who is the smiling woman with her just outside the ladies' room? Allow me to introduce Caroline Lee-Elton, who attended the Boxx event that night with her husband, California State Senator James Elton. They can be seen together in the fourth photo in the top row.

Caroline, of course, is Caroline Lee of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. In that series, a funny thing happened: the actress portrayed the character with a lot of humor and developed quite a fan following—so much so, that when Pemberley Digital was looking to cast the snobbish wife of a smarmy politician in Emma Approved, fans clamored to bring her back. And so they did, having her replace the character of Augusta Elton from the novel Emma.

As with her Emma counterpart, Caroline aspired to be very useful to Jane Fairfax. Not that Jane wanted or needed her help... until the day that she did. And that is where Part III of our story begins...

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Chapter 18

Jane: I'm taking that position that Caroline found for me.

Emma: What?! You don't want that!

Jane: You have no idea what I want! You don't know me!

Emma Approved, ep. 64

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29 July 2014, Los Angeles, California

On Tuesday morning, for the first time in nearly a week, getting out of bed wasn't difficult for Jane.

For the last five days she had woken up in misery, her heart aching with a pain that felt endless. More than anything Jane wanted to recapture the anger she had felt after the Boxx event, the anger that had given her the strength to quit her job at Emma Approved and to tell Frank she never wanted to see him again. But once her adrenaline died down, she was left with only the crushing pain of betrayal, and the shame of knowing that she had allowed it to happen by compromising her principles.

Well, no more. Today was a new day, a chance at a new start, and she had a job interview to get to.

After showering and dressing quickly, Jane walked outside to her car, a 2014 Prius. When she had handed Frank back the sapphire and diamond earrings and some of the other gifts he'd given her, she told him, "I'm keeping the damn car."

His face momentarily had flinched in pain when she gave him the jewelry, but his furious glare returned when she mentioned the vehicle. The jewelry had been gifts of his love, but the Prius merely a token of his jealousy, since Frank had hated the fact that she carpooled to work with Alex every day. She needed a car in L.A., and she wasn't about to give up a hybrid that was fully paid for. If keeping the auto made her a whore, so what? It was no worse than the many other ways she had cheapened herself with Frank already.

She was meeting her friend Caroline Lee-Elton at a downtown Starbucks. She smiled to herself, realizing that in the last week, she had started to think of Caroline as a friend. For months Caroline had been pushing for a friendship between them, something Jane couldn't understand since the two women shared nothing in common other than that they were both vegan. Even that was a tenuous connection since she suspected that Caroline had adopted the diet as a fad, rather than as something she was committed to long-term.

Not long after Jane first met Caroline upon her return to L.A., the woman had started calling her and inviting her out for shopping trips, meals, and spa dates. Jane had resisted at first, but Caroline was relentless. Jane soon realized that Caroline was of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" school of thought, and had recognized in Jane's tension something else they shared in common: neither of them liked Emma Woodhouse. It was ironic, then, that Caroline and Emma should be so much alike, even down to Caroline wanting to transform Jane into Caroline 2.0. Since Jane had successfully stood up to Emma's pressure when she was fourteen, she for damned sure wasn't going to allow Caroline to do that to her at age 27.

Something changed in the last week, however. The night of the Boxx restaurant opening, Jane was headed to the ladies' room, struggling to keep it together long enough to escape the crowds. Caroline had noticed and followed behind her, stopping only to smile for a photographer's camera just outside the door. Once inside the restroom, despite the other woman's presence, Jane could hold back no longer. She placed her wine glass down on the sink counter and burst into tears.

To her surprise, Caroline hadn't mocked her. Instead, she'd put her arms around Jane and let her cry. It helped; Jane was able to calm herself, and accepted the cloth hand towel Caroline had handed her to dry her face.

"Do you want to talk about it?" Caroline had asked.

Jane shook her head.

"Let me guess: this has something to do with Emma Woodhouse?"

Jane nodded.

"You know, I always thought it was fitting that her initials spell, 'Ew.'"

Jane couldn't help it; even in her misery, that made her laugh.

"Don't let Emma get to you. She's not worth it, and you're worth so much more."

Jane turned and stared at Caroline. Sarah had said something very similar to her after her first date with Frank. She felt a sharp pang, realizing how acutely she missed her best friend, and wondered whether the woman standing in front of her, shallow and vain as Jane had always thought her, might be someone who could offer her the friendship she so desperately craved right now.

"Come on, let's get you cleaned up and put your makeup back on, so you can go back out there and hold your head high like the phenomenal woman I know you are."

"Thank you," Jane said quietly.

Caroline smiled. "Anytime, girlfriend."

Caroline was about to become even more helpful to Jane. When Jane began job hunting a few months earlier, Caroline had repeatedly encouraged her to contact her brother, who had established a charitable organization in New York City. Jane had refused. She had just returned from London and didn't want to relocate again so soon, and was very happy living once more with her aunt and grandmother.

What a difference a few months and a painful breakup could make. Jane wanted nothing more right now than to get the hell out of L.A., so New York City sounded pretty good. And she was in luck. Caroline's brother and his fiancée were in town on vacation, and Caroline had arranged for him to interview Jane.

Caroline was already waiting inside the Starbucks, waving warmly to Jane when she entered and approached her table. She stood up and air-kissed Jane's cheek, and then turned to introduce the man and woman with her. "This is my brother Bing Lee, and his fiancée, Jane Bennet. And this is my dear friend, Jane Fairfax."

Bing rose and shook her hand, while his fiancée smiled and told her how pleased she was to meet another Jane. Jane smiled back at the couple, struck by how much they looked alike. Objectively, of course, that wasn't true at all. Bing was a tall Asian man, while his bride-to-be was a petite, pretty redhead. But both of them wore the same open, guileless expressions, so different from Caroline's practiced look of jaded sophistication. Jane liked them already, and was fairly certain they were a perfect couple akin to Sarah and Peter.

"I bought you a chai latte with soy milk," Caroline pointed to the tall cup on the table. "I hope you like it."

"Oh yes, thank you," Jane said, genuinely appreciative.

"We'll be going now so you two can talk." Caroline and the other Jane stood up.

"I hope to have the chance to see you again and get to know you," the other Jane added. Jane Fairfax could tell she meant it. Bing kissed his fiancée goodbye and waved to his sister, who bent down and whispered something in his ear just before departing.

"So," Bing said once they were settled again, "tell me about yourself."

Jane described her master's degree in social policy from Oxford, her summers spent in developing countries, her work with Sustainable London, and her musical volunteerism with children in Hackney. Bing then told her about the nonprofit he had founded, called "You Can Imagine."

"I believe very deeply that children and youth need opportunities to imagine all the different things they can become and do with their lives. A lot of kids, especially if they're lower-income, don't have those opportunities. So we provide school day field trips, after school programs, and summer camps in which they can explore and learn just about anything: science, technology, the performing arts, politics, sports, you name it."

"I love the idea," Jane said. "I know how many doors music opened for me. Playing at Carnegie Hall in high school made me realize that if I could do that, I could do anything."

"Exactly!" Bing agreed. "That's the kind of 'aha!' moment we're trying to help kids have."

Jane smiled and described the opportunities she had had to help young people like Daniel find that moment.

"Now," said Bing after several more of the typical interview queries and giving Jane a time to ask a few of her own, "I have a very important question to ask you, and it's one I ask of everyone I interview. Jane Fairfax, what is your dream?"

His question momentarily arrested her. She had thought she had known what her dreams were back in London, but these last four months in Los Angeles had made everything cloudy for her.

"You don't have to answer right away. But let me tell you why I ask. I mentioned that lower-income kids don't have many chances to find their passions. However, I think that's true to some degree for all kids. I grew up in a wealthy family, and it was expected of me that I'd pursue a career in business or law or medicine, or something else where I'd earn a lot of money. I never questioned that until I was in the middle of medical school and absolutely hating it. I had to step away, drop out of medical school, and face my family's anger for that decision in order to discover what my true passion is, which is helping kids."

"Wow," Jane said softly.

"I decided that if our staff aren't living out their dreams, then we can't help the youth we serve live out theirs. You have a terrific résumé and I think you'd be an asset as a music instructor for our organization, but I don't want you to say yes unless you're sure that this type of work with young people is really your dream."

She didn't know how to respond. Bing was too sincere, too dedicated to his cause for her to say, "Yes, I want to work for you," when her real motives at the moment were, "Get as far away as I can from my creep of an ex-boyfriend and find a way to sustain myself while I'm at it."

He slid a business card across the table. A cell phone number was handwritten above the business phone number. "I really want you to think about it, Jane. I'd love to have you join us, but I want you to be sure this is what you want. So take some time to consider it, and call me when you make a decision, on my work or cell number."

Jane picked up the card, realizing that she hadn't found an easy escape from her pain. But maybe that was good. She had never been one to run from a challenge, and Bing had just given her a new one: to discover her dreams again. "When do you need an answer?"

"By mid-August. We'll still be here in L.A. until then. It's been a pleasure to talk with you, Jane. Caroline thinks the world of you."

"She does?" Jane said with surprise.

Bing laughed. "I know, it's not always obvious with Caroline. But when she cares about and respects someone, she is loyal to a fault. And she does with you."

Jane nodded, feeling touched. "Thank you. I appreciate you taking the time to interview me, and your question about what my dreams are. It is something I really need to think about right now."

Bing stood up and held out his hand to her. She rose and shook it. He pulled out his mobile phone and smiled. "I need to figure out where Caroline and my Jane have wandered off to. Again, it was a pleasure. I look forward to hearing from you."

As she walked back to her car, Jane checked her own mobile to discover that she had received seven voice mails while the phone was on silent mode. Seven voice mails this early in the morning? She tapped the icon to check messages and listened. The first was from Emma, whom she hadn't heard from since last Thursday when she'd told Emma she was quitting. "Jane, I just want you to know that I'm really, really sorry. My treatment of Maddy was terrible, and I figured out that that's what you were so upset about. Anyway, call me so we can talk about it."

Jane deleted the message and stared at her phone, rage building inside her. Emma's behavior toward Maddy was simply the final straw in a long list of hurtful things Emma had done.

The next message began playing. It was Frank, another person she hadn't heard from since Thursday. Despite herself, her heart caught in her throat as she listened to his voice. "Jane, I miss you so much right now, it's killing me. I've decided to sell my shares in Richmond Corporation. If that's the obstacle between you and me, then I'll get rid of it. I love you, and I'll do anything to be with you again."

She had to inhale deeply to maintain some semblance of control. A part of her wanted to call him back immediately, to see him again, to rush into his arms and tell him she loved and missed him, too. But she had to be wise. He had shattered her heart, deliberately. She could never allow him to have that power over her again. She started to delete the message, then stopped. Frank was selling his shares of Richmond Corp? Would he really do that?

Emma again. "Jane, I know sorry is not enough, but I really am sorry. Please call me." Delete again.

Frank again. "Jane, I just did it. The sale is done. Please, please call me."

He had sold his shares? He had really sold them? Well, it was too late. Why hadn't he done that before he'd taken everything she valued most—her commitment to clean water for those most in need, her dream of adopting a child, her family—along with the pain that still lingered from her conflicts with Emma, and used that to rip her heart apart? What kind of person attacked everything vulnerable about the person they claimed to love? It's too late, Frank, she thought, as tears filled her eyes.

Emma once more. "Jane, I've called Maddy to apologize, and she's coming in to see me this Thursday. I'd love to see you, too, so I can apologize to you in person." Jane hit delete again, briefly feeling betrayed by her aunt for being willing to meet with Emma. She had to remind herself that that was who Maddy was, a bighearted, forgiving woman who couldn't stay angry at anyone for long.

The next two messages were from Frank. She deleted them without listening to them, and then angrily blinked back her tears before opening her car door. She would get over this, she would get over him, and as Bing had encouraged her, she would find her dreams again.

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Chapter 19

"She closed with this offer, resolving to break with me entirely, and wrote the next day to tell me that we never were to meet again. She felt the engagement to be a source of repentance and misery to each: she dissolved it."

Frank Churchill talking about Jane Fairfax in Emma, ch. 50

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"I never want to see you again."

The words echoed over and over in Frank's mind as he looked at the email from his broker, confirming that his transaction was complete. He knew there would be heavy repercussions to what he'd just done. He had owned sixteen percent of the shares of Richmond Corporation and served on the board of directors, so this hit would be huge for the company. It was huge for Frank, who, although he had gained twenty-two million on the sale, would soon probably face major losses in his other investments because who would trust him to do business with him after this? But his actions were potentially worse for the rest of the corporation. Other shareholders would no doubt become very nervous about his divestment, probably prompting a massive sell-off that would certainly derail Richmond's plans to expand operations, and might even drive the company into bankruptcy.

"I never want to see you again."

But none of that mattered if it would bring Jane back to him. Other than his mother and grandparents' deaths, he had never experienced anything like the anguish of her telling him their relationship was over. The night she had said it, he had been too angry to listen to what she was trying to tell him, convinced that he was the injured party, that he never would have flirted with Emma like that if Jane hadn't been so unreasonable about the Richmond thing and the secrecy thing. She'd railed about her values and he'd sneered, sick to death of hearing about her values. He was sick of being a martyr, of trying to be a damned saint because of her and her Mother Teresa complex. He wasn't one, and never would be.

"I never want to see you again."

Even in the midst of his harsh words, he had been thunderstruck by her rejection. She couldn't really mean it, right? He had always been able to win her over after an argument, to use charm or passion or humor to draw her back to him. Even after their temporary breakup back in March, their love for one another had been strong enough to bring them back together.

"I never want to see you again."

He still couldn't believe Jane had really uttered those words. He couldn't imagine his life without her. She had come into his life and wrapped herself around his heart, filling him so completely that every fiber of his body and soul cried out for her and ached with missing her.

"I never want to see you again."

He remembered seeing her across a room at a party in London and being awestruck by her beauty. But it wasn't just her looks, since he met plenty of beautiful women in his work and travels. It was also timing: he was open that night to something more than his usual flirtation, driven no doubt by his thirty-first birthday a month earlier and his brother's wedding two weeks prior. He could no longer pretend that he was still on the cusp end of his twenties, and with Ryan settling down, he had started to wonder whether it was time for him to become a little more serious as well.

He had barely had a chance to meet Jane and get her number that night, but he'd found out that she was a former Rhodes scholar, which meant she had to be pretty damned smart. It was more than enough to pique his interest, although unfortunately he was departing for New Zealand the next day.

He had returned two weeks later to have a fantastic date with Jane that turned into a fantastic weekend—and scared the hell out of him. Jane was the whole package: beautiful, brilliant, talented, interesting, fun, caring, and sexy. Was that enough to make him give up his carefree ways and get serious with one woman? A lot of men might respond, "Are you kidding? Hell yes!" but Frank had always been more on the wild side than most people he knew. So he decided that the answer was no. He didn't want to take a chance and give up his freedom for a woman who might not turn out to be worth it.

But he couldn't get what he called her "doe eyes and wonder thighs" out of his head. She had these big silky brown eyes that made him turn to mush whenever she looked at him with love or lust or laughter, and gorgeous legs shaped and honed from running that she made effective use of during other very pleasant activities. Thus when she texted him to ask him out, any objections he had had instantly vanished from his mind. One more date was all it took for him to decide that he wanted to dive head first into a relationship with Jane Fairfax.

"I never want to see you again."

The words pierced him again as he thought about how hard and fast he had fallen in love with Jane once he decided to pursue the relationship. Jane was more than just an amazing woman; she was an amazing human being. He had never met anyone like her, who was so committed to making a difference in the world, and with that and all of her other gifts, still so honest and real and unpretentious.

She made him want to be a better man, and he had tried. Oh, how he had tried, but it seemed that so many of his efforts fell short. He didn't have her mind or heart or talent, but he could use his money and his name to try to help others. Yet Jane found fault with that whenever he tried. Even worse, she thought that his money and name overshadowed the things she was trying to accomplish. They had already agreed to keep their relationship low-key to prevent Jane from becoming tabloid fodder, but after one more instance of him trying to use his money and name to do something he thought was good but blowing it, Jane had asked him to take it a step further. Upon their return to the U.S., she had asked them to keep their relationship a secret altogether.

"I never want to see you again."

Why, oh why, had he agreed to that request? He hated it. Low-key was one thing; outright deception, especially with those close to them, was another. It made him feel cheap, like Jane was ashamed of him, like she was just using him but wasn't proud to be with him. He couldn't get around those feelings, no matter how much he tried to tell himself that she had a point about not wanting his reputation to overshadow the work she was trying to do. Frank grimaced; there was probably some sort of cosmic karma going on here. He had no doubt made someone, probably plural someones, feel cheap and used at some point.

"I never want to see you again."

He picked up his mobile, dialed her number, and left a message about what he had just done with his Richmond shares. Would it make a difference? Would she see that he was willing to sacrifice his wealth and his entire reputation, just for her? Would she care? He didn't know, but he knew that the pain of their separation was killing him, and he'd accept whatever consequences there were just to be with Jane again.

A thought suddenly occurred to him. No doubt the media would wonder why he had made such a rash financial decision, and they would begin to probe his life. And that probe would quickly turn up Jane. In his efforts to prove his love to her, he was screwing everything up for her, yet again. Cosmic karma all right.

"I never want to see you again."

No wonder Jane felt that way. He deserved it.

Chapter Text

Chapter 20

Such a conclusion could not pass unanswered by Mrs. Weston. She thought well of Frank in almost every respect; and, what was more, she loved him very much, and her defence was, therefore, earnest.

Emma, ch. 48

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3 August 2014

Frank was still asleep when his phone rang early on Sunday morning. Stirring grumpily, he answered to hear a booming voice say in an English accent, "What the devil is wrong with you?"

He sighed. "Hi, Dad."

"You blew up one of the most profitable companies you support! And the rumours are that this is because of a woman? What were you thinking?"

Frank was instantly wide awake. He wasn't surprised his dad had heard about him divesting his holdings in Richmond, but somehow the personal side to this story had also reached his ears. Nevertheless, he asked, "What are you talking about?"

He didn't fool Geoffrey Churchill. "You know what I'm talking about! Is this about Henry Woodhouse? Does he have some leverage he used against you in retaliation for getting involved with his daughter?"

"What?" Now Frank really was confused.

"Since you're determined to play ignorant, I'll send you the link. I want you to explain it."

Frank sighed again, and then opened up the browser on his phone to access and read an article about himself that his father had just emailed him. It identified "personal drama" and "troubles in his personal life" as reasons for the Richmond sale. As his dad had suggested, the article implied that Emma Woodhouse was the woman involved in creating the personal drama. The story was accompanied by a photo of him with his arm around Emma at the Boxx restaurant opening on July 23rd. From their cozy pose with one another, it was not surprising that someone had come to that conclusion.

Frank caught his breath, his chest feeling tight. He could see Jane standing near her aunt in the background of the photo. Even as mad at her as he had been that night, he had noticed how beautiful she had looked. He hadn't seen her since then, and she still hadn't responded to any of his messages.

"Well?" his father demanded.

"Dad, rest assured, Henry Woodhouse and I are friends, and I'm not involved with his daughter. This has nothing to do with either of them."

"So what does it have to do with? Explain it to me!"

Frank hesitated. He couldn't say, "The woman I love was furious with me for holding shares in Richmond, so I sold them." His father would never understand that, and would then direct his anger at Jane.

He said instead, "Richmond has been buying up water rights in several African countries, restricting access to clean water for the people who live there. I couldn't in good conscience stay connected to the company anymore."

"If your conscience is bothering you, you donate money! You don't make a reckless business decision because of it!"

Frank swallowed. His father was right, at least as far as Frank had always previously made his business decisions, and he himself was lying. The reason he had just given was Jane's for wanting Frank to divest. His own motivation was solely to try to win Jane back.

He listened to his father berate him a while longer, and finally cut him off. "Look, it's done, and nothing you can say will change that."

His dad's voice suddenly softened. "I'm just worried about you, son. This is going to kill your reputation, and cause who knows how much damage to you financially."

"I know," Frank said slowly. "But like I said, it's done. I can't reverse it."

They ended their conversation soon after, and Frank made another phone call. If all of this was coming out, he knew he needed to talk to Ryan and Annie. He told them he had something to discuss with them, and wasn't surprised when they invited him over for breakfast. Ever since his return to the U.S., they had warmly welcomed him to their household. They never made him feel as though he were intruding on their newlywedded bliss. In fact, they had offered to have him over far more often than he had made himself available.

He was nervous, afraid of what they might think and say after hearing his news. Annie's opinion especially worried him, because in the five months he had gotten to know her, he had come to really respect her. She was a tall, leggy blonde with regal features and a ready smile that lit up her face like sunshine. As Jane had told him, she was really sweet and down to earth. His brother had chosen very well. Frank was embarrassed to think about the fact that he had missed their wedding and had been one of the family members to contribute to Annie feeling less than welcome in the Weston/Churchill clan.

A caterer and host of a food show on local TV, Annie was also a helluva chef. Between her cooking and his brother's cupcakes, Frank always ate well when he visited the Weston home. This morning was no different, as they treated him to a breakfast of eggs Florentine and homemade, fresh from the oven cinnamon rolls.

He made small talk with them while they ate, putting off the inevitable confession. He asked how Annie was feeling four months into her pregnancy. "Much better than I was a few weeks ago," she answered.

"Yeah, she's starting to crave my cupcakes again," Ryan grinned. "I have to bring at least three home to her every night."

"Ohhh!" Annie moaned. "And it's something different every day: red velvet, pumpkin spice, Oreo cookie..."

Frank chuckled. "She's working her way through all your flavors, isn't she?"

"Um-hmm," Ryan nodded, his mouth closed because it was now full of food.

Annie turned to Frank, a look of concern on her face. "You said you had something you wanted to talk to us about."

Frank exhaled, knowing he could put it off no longer. He pulled out his mobile, called up the article, and passed it across the table to her. "Dad sent this to me this morning."

"What is it?" Ryan asked. Annie moved the phone over so they could both see it. They looked up and stared at him when they finished reading.

"This is a big deal," Ryan said. "You owned a huge chunk of that company, didn't you?"

Frank nodded. "Sixteen percent."

Ryan whistled.

"What did they mean about personal troubles? Is this about Emma?" Annie said.

"Not exactly."

They waited for him to elaborate, and when he didn't, Ryan said, "So do you want to say what this is exactly about?"

Frank looked down at his plate. "Richmond Corp was doing some pretty unethical things, and Jane was very unhappy about it. It was causing a lot of tension between us. Actually, that's an understatement. She broke up with me over it. I thought that selling my shares would bring her back to me."

"What are you talking about?" Ryan said.

"Jane who? Fairfax?" Annie asked. Frank nodded.

Ryan turned to his wife. "Who is Jane Fairfax?"

"She works with Emma," Annie answered. "Frank, are you telling us that you and Jane were dating? Since when?"

"Since last December."

"Last DECEMBER?" Annie and Ryan exclaimed together.

"Why are we just now hearing about this?" Ryan asked.

Frank sighed wearily. "It's a really long story."

Annie reached out and placed a hand on his arm. "We're here to listen."

Frank began to tell them the whole story of his relationship with Jane, ending with the fight they had had two days before the Boxx opening. He didn't go any further; he didn't even want to think about what he had done after that.

"Why would Jane ask you to keep your relationship a secret?" Ryan said. "I don't get it."

"I do," Annie said. Both men turned to look at her. "It can be really hard," she said slowly, "when you don't come from a lot of money, to be with a man who does. If you're trying to establish yourself, there are others who will always question whether you got there on your own, or because of him. And they'll think all kinds of terrible things about you because of it."

She placed her hand on Ryan's shoulder. "That's why I said no when you said you could set up a meeting for me with an Executive Producer of the Food Channel. I'll stick with local TV for now until I can open those doors myself."

"But you never hid our relationship, babe."

"No, but I almost canceled our wedding because I thought your family thought I was a gold-digger."

Ryan looked stunned. "You almost canceled our wedding? Why?"

"Should I leave the room?" Frank asked.

"No, stay," Annie insisted. "None of your family was coming, Ryan. What was I supposed to think?"

"That they were maybe a bit selfish, but not that it was about you!"

"If it was about me, they would have come, wouldn't they?"

"I'm sorry, Annie—" Frank began.

She held up her hand. "You've apologized before. I'm over it, okay? I'm just saying I can relate to Jane here."

"You mean you knew Annie wanted to cancel?" Ryan asked Frank.

Frank nodded. "That's why Emma sent the fake gift from me." He recalled the very awkward phone conversation he'd had with Ryan and Annie not long before Christmas when Annie had thanked him for the Italian chitarra he'd given them as a wedding present. "What's a chitarra?" he'd asked, later learning that it was a kitchen tool for cutting fresh pasta. His ignorance had revealed to all three of them a scheme of Emma's to soften the impact of Frank's absence from the wedding by purchasing a gift "from Frank" that Annie had dearly wanted. (Emma had acted too soon, as Frank's actual gift was already in transit to the U.S. when this occurred).

Ryan stared at him, his features revealing rising tension. "I thought that was so Annie wouldn't feel bad about your absence, not because she was thinking about canceling! Why do you know something about my marriage that I don't?"

"I..." Frank looked toward a very embarrassed Annie and wondered what to say next.

"Speaking of Emma..." Ryan pointed at the mobile again. "what about this picture and story?"

Frank didn't answer.

"Frank, come on. Were you messing around with Emma? Is that part of why Jane broke up with you?"

Frank could tell that Ryan's anger was spillover from what he'd just discovered about his own marriage, but still, the words hurt. He rubbed his forehead. "I never messed around with Emma."

"But it looks like you wanted your girlfriend to think you did. What the hell is wrong with you?"

"Ryan," Annie said tersely. "I think he feels bad enough about everything already. We don't have to pile on him."

Just then Ryan's own phone rang. He picked it up, said, "I need to take this," and stormed from the room.

Frank exhaled and lowered his hands. "I didn't mean to cause trouble between you and Ryan."

"It's okay," Annie said softly. "Give him time. He'll calm down and we'll work it out. We always do."

He gave his sister-in-law an appreciative look. "Thanks for sticking up for me. I feel like maybe I have one person in the world who's on my side."

Annie smiled. "I love you, Frank, and I think you're a great guy. And you know... it sounds like you and Jane had something really special. I think you can work it out, too."

He shook his head. "She won't return any of my calls or messages."

"Well, like I said about Ryan—give her time."

Chapter Text

Chapter 21

She soon believed herself to penetrate Mrs. Elton's thoughts, and understand why she was, like herself, in happy spirits; it was being in Miss Fairfax's confidence, and fancying herself acquainted with what was still a secret to other people.

Emma, chapter 52

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"How are you feeling?" Caroline beamed at Jane as she emerged from the dressing room.

Jane smiled back. "So relaxed! I really needed a change of pace."

She had just finished receiving a facial, mani/pedi and deep tissue massage at Caroline's gym and spa, a treat that her new friend had offered her.

"They have a delicious smoothie bar here. Care for one?"

"Sounds great! Lead the way."

Jane walked with Caroline to the lounge of the upscale establishment, where they were surrounded by gorgeous people, most of whom wore either thick, fluffy bathrobes or skimpy workout clothing. Jane, on the other hand, was back in her street clothes, a colorful blouse, capris in a neutral tone, and sandals. She and Caroline approached a long bar covered with blenders. Signs above the bar described various items that could be added to the beverage of one's choice: fruits, vegetables, milks made from nuts or grains, yogurt or other fermented foods, seeds, herbs and powders. Jane and Caroline both ordered power smoothies made from sea vegetables, chia seeds, and exotic fruits. They took their beverages and settled into comfortable chairs nearby in order to talk.

"So, my dear," Caroline said between sips, "Bing tells me you said no to his job offer. You want to tell me why you would turn down such an excellent opportunity?"

"Well," Jane said, taking a moment to sip her own drink, "he asked me a question about whether the job is truly my dream. For him, it's important that his staff are living their dreams so that they can set the example for the youth."

"But you love playing the piano! Certainly you want to share that gift with the..." she seemed to be searching for the right words, "...next generation?"

"I do, but that's not what my passion is. Music is wonderful, it's beautiful, but there are bigger problems in this world that won't be solved by me teaching kids music."

Caroline nodded. "How could I forget? You are such a visionary. So tell me, what is this great dream of yours?"

"I don't know yet. I do know that it will have something to do with water resources, and making sure that everyone, especially those most in need, continues to have access to them."

"Water?" Caroline wrinkled her nose. "What's sexy or exciting about that?"

"Access to clean water is a life and death issue. It may not be sexy, but it's vitally important. I know James knows this," Jane added, referring to Caroline's state senator husband. "This state is undergoing the worst drought in its recorded history. I'm sure they're talking about this in Sacramento all the time."

"I see," said Caroline. "Well, I'm sure whatever you decide to do, it will be as awesome and amazing as you are. Your talents were completely wasted at Emma Approved."

Jane grinned. "I actually agree with you."

Caroline suddenly leaned over conspiratorially. "Speaking of Emma, you would not believe the news I heard this weekend."

Jane laughed. "You know, after such a wonderful day, the last person I want to talk about is Emma."

"Oh, but you'll want to hear this. Apparently, Frank Churchill completely divested his shares of a major corporation, and the rumor is that personal drama with some woman led him to do it. And since he's been seen with Emma lately, the speculation is..." Caroline smiled brightly and circled her hand, as if waiting for Jane to finish her sentence.

Jane said nothing, looking down at her smoothie.

"James is very concerned. The company is a big agribusiness that's a major producer here in California, so the sale could have economic implications for the state. But as for me, I think that Emma leading Churchill to make a shocking business decision is just so juicy, don't you?"

Jane continued to be silent, her stomach lurching inside.

"Jane?" Caroline looked at her with concern. "Come now, you can't let Emma still affect you. If you find out good gossip about a rival, like the fact that she's having a wild affair with Frank Churchill, you have to celebrate it."

"It's not her, it's me!" Jane suddenly blurted.

"What?"

The words were out there, so she might as well tell it all. "Frank didn't sell those stocks because of Emma. He sold them because of me."

"I don't understand." Caroline looked genuinely confused.

"Frank and I were seeing each other until recently," she explained. "I was on him for weeks to do something to stop Richmond's expansion, and he finally did."

Caroline stared at her for a while. Then she smiled broadly. "Jane Fairfax! I underestimated you! I never thought you'd go for the dashing playboy type. I always pictured you with a missionary doctor or someone like that."

Jane grimaced, gripping her drink with both hands.

"Ohhh," Caroline said, her eyes widening. "No wonder you were so upset during the Boxx opening. Emma was all over him that night. She is such a cock tease. She was that way with James, too."

Jane looked up in surprise. "She was?"

"Oh, yes. She totally led him on and then laughed in his face when he told her he had feelings for her."

"Oh," said Jane softly, realization coming to her. She had always wondered why Emma and Caroline weren't friends, given how similar their personalities were. But if Emma had come on to Caroline's husband, it would explain Caroline's dislike of her.

"It was before James and I were together. But still."

Jane pondered that for a moment. Caroline's husband, California State Senator James Elton, was young and handsome and considered a strong potential candidate for U.S. Congress in 2016. On the occasions Jane had met him, he presented himself with the polished air of an experienced politician. It was hard for her to imagine him as someone else Emma had hurt, but he was human, too.

Something occurred to her that made little sense. "If Emma did that to James, why did you ask her to plan your engagement party?" Caroline and Senator Elton had had a large, splashy engagement party put on by Emma Approved back in April, followed by a small, "family only" wedding ceremony in June.

Caroline flicked her long dark hair over her shoulder. "To show her that I won. That James and I won."

Jane twisted her mouth. "Isn't living well the best revenge? Isn't that the saying?"

"Yes, but some people have their head stuck too far up their ass to see it, and you have to drive the point home." She took a long sip of her smoothie. "You should do the same. Get your man back and flaunt it in Emma's face."

"I don't want him back. As far as I'm concerned, Emma can have him. If he ends up humiliated by her, he deserves it."

Caroline grinned. "Is that bitterness I hear you expressing, Jane? I'm so proud of you!"

"It's not a good thing," Jane frowned.

"Au contraire, it's a very good thing. You're much too idealistic. You need a little more healthy cynicism. That way, you won't get hurt again, at least not so easily."

Jane nodded. As much as she hated to admit it, Caroline was right.

Chapter Text

Chapter 22

Emma: Now, be honest, Frank. How are you? Have you heard from Jane?

Frank: She finally replied to one of my messages.

Emma: And?

Frank: She's... thinking about things.

Emma Approved, ep. 71

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August 18, 2014

On Monday morning, Frank was in high spirits. He had talked to Jane the night before, the first message of his she had returned in weeks. True, her initial words had been, "Enough, Frank! I'm so sick of all your messages! Can't you take a hint?" But she had calmed down during the course of their call, she had told him a bit about her future career plans, and she had finally agreed to meet him for dinner on Monday evening to talk further.

The call had encouraged him enough that he decided to do something he had been putting off for a while: apologize to Emma Woodhouse for his behavior with her. Even the heavy morning traffic didn't bother him as he prepped himself mentally for this meeting. He recalled his very first encounter with Emma, which took place a few days after he arrived back in the U.S. He had visited her office to express his appreciation for her efforts in coordinating Annie and Ryan's wedding, and to offer to do something to say thanks for helping him realize that his absence was inexcusable.

He had liked Emma immediately, recognizing her as a kindred spirit. Like him, she was also half-Asian (her mother had been Japanese), somewhat cocky, and a coffee lover. The two of them spent the meeting engaged in a game of "let's pretend": her saying there was nothing he could do to thank her... unless he liked charitable events; him acting like he was completely unaware that she was planning an upcoming event sponsored by Bates Financial Services; and her just pulling "renewable energy" as the event's theme out of the air, as if she hadn't known that he had missed his visit with Ryan and Annie the previous month for a renewable energy conference. In any case, he had jumped at the chance to do something for Jane's aunt, and offered to be a guest speaker for Maddy's event.

The one downside to the meeting was that it was the first time he had overtly tried to hide his relationship with Jane from someone else. Since Jane would be attending Maddy's event, he couldn't deny knowing her, so he said he'd met her in London through work his company had done with her nonprofit. The thinly veiled sarcasm in Emma's gritted teeth response, "Jane's... great" let him know that at least from Emma's perspective, their high school rivalry was far from over. He had to stop his instinct to defend his girlfriend and give the game away, so he claimed that he barely knew Jane and found nothing special about her.

His second meeting with Emma to hash out the final details of his speech the day before the benefit was a much weirder (and in hindsight, more ominous) affair. Emma appeared to take their connection during the first meeting—along with, no doubt, his insult of Jane—to mean something more than he intended. His first clue was how she was attired that day. She wore a pale green slip of a dress that was was designed to show off maximum cleavage and leg, and at intervals leaned over him or away from him to make sure he really noticed. He had noticed all right, and had been thinking about how much better Jane would look in it; his Jane, now back in the U.S. herself, had more of a figure than Emma did, and while the dress' pale color washed out a bit on Emma, it would look vibrant against Jane's skin.

During the meeting, Emma's business partner Alex Knightley walked in and immediately started throwing snarky barbs Frank's way. Frank at first found this bizarre, since Alex had to know that Frank was to be the guest speaker at the imminent event his business was throwing in hopes of generating new clients and revenue. Why would he treat someone in Frank's position that way? It took less than a minute for Frank to figure out the reason for Alex's attitude: he had the hots for Emma and considered Frank a threat. Frank suddenly found himself in the middle of a workplace drama—literally, since he sat in between a flirting Emma and a reacting Alex—and although he continued to talk about the benefit as though nothing was amiss, he found the whole thing hilarious.

His second clue that his friendship with Emma wasn't a good thing should have been when he recounted the tale to Jane and she didn't laugh. Instead, she was incredulous. "Why would you even think I would find Emma flirting with you funny?"

When had the whole dynamic with Alex and Emma ceased to be a joke to him? It was, he knew, not long after Jane had started working for Emma Approved. Accepting a position there was probably a bad move on Jane's part, but she needed a job and Alex had talked her into joining the company. They were interested in moving in a new direction, in focusing primarily on charitable events rather than providing matchmaking services and throwing parties for the rich and famous. Jane's passion, her understanding of the nonprofit world, and her strong work ethic would all be assets to the company in its new endeavors.

However, no sooner had Jane begun working for Emma than the issues between the two women resurfaced. And Frank's problems started almost immediately as well. L.A. transit was a sorry shadow of what Jane was used to in London, and she found herself spending more than three hours each day waiting for or riding the bus for her commute to and from work. Alex, nice guy that he was, offered to carpool with her. Soon after they started going to lunch regularly, which made his sister-in-law Annie speculate that the two were on their way to becoming a couple.

At that point Frank found himself in the position Alex had been in during that second meeting with Emma: seething with jealousy and threatened by another man. It didn't help that he was growing ever more annoyed about having to deny his relationship with the woman he loved. Alex might have backed off and Annie certainly would have stopped her matchmaking attempts if they knew Jane was already taken. But instead, the workplace drama he'd witnessed between Alex and Emma spilled over into his relationship with Jane. And Frank became a player in the game.

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From Emma Approved, Frank & Jane, ep. 9. The 21st of July, two days before the Boxx restaurant opening. In this scene, Jane is angry and Frank is snide:

Jane: The Richmond Corporation is expanding, and it's your money that's making it possible!

Frank: It's just business, Jane.

Jane: Oh. I know. I'm just glad you've finally figured out what's important to you.

Frank: And what about you? (in a mocking voice) Shouldn't you be off saving starving orphans somewhere?

Jane: Maybe you're right. Clearly I've lost sight of who I really am!

Frank: Happens to the best of us.

Jane: I need to try some of your... prioritizing, was it? Thank you for the words of wisdom, Mr. Churchill!

Frank: That's what I'm here for.

Jane: Now if you don't mind?

Frank: What, you have work to do? Not a problem. I won't be bothering you anymore. Goodbye, Ms. Fairfax.

Jane: GoodBYE, Mr. Churchill.

From Emma Approved, ep. 61 (note: this scene occurs immediately after the one above):

Frank: It's so sad when people put their jobs above everything else.

Emma: Says the guy who missed his brother's wedding for work!

Frank: A lesson that I've since learned! And that's why we need to have a lot of fun at the party. Do you have a date?

Emma: No, I don't! I'll be too busy handling everything.

Frank: Then find me a nice date for the evening.

Autor's note: And it was at this point that I fell out of love with Frank and almost gave up on this story...

===========================================

Jane sat in the waiting area of Azeen's, an Afghani restuarant in Pasadena that she and Frank had discovered a couple of months earlier. They had liked it because it was quiet and out of the way, a great place to have heart to heart conversations.

Their favorite place to talk had been the swinging garden bench in the Bates' backyard, but Jane didn't want to have a discussion like this in a place so special to her. Frank used to come over in the evenings and help her and Aunt Maddy work in the garden. Maddy would always go inside at some point, leaving them alone. They'd sit on the bench and set it to gently swing, drinking lemonade freshly squeezed from lemons growing in the yard. Jane would rest her head against Frank's shoulder as they watched the sunset, shaded from the heat by the fruit trees around them, the scents of lemons and oranges sweetening the air. Even the city noises seemed to recede in that spot.

Frank had been true to his word and hadn't mentioned marriage again (other than a tweet about "'eternal bachelor' George Clooney!" when the famous actor got engaged), but in those quiet moments together, Jane herself had started to imagine spending her life with him. She thought about what it would be like to have a home together, with a garden like this, with their children running about. She imagined growing old with him, still sitting together in the evening watching the rosy streaks of daylight slowly vanish from the sky as twilight set in.

Stop it! she told herself. The last thing she needed was to become sentimental about Frank right now. She was beginning to wonder whether it was a good idea to meet with him at all, knowing that it would be hard not to be affected by his presence, but an in-person meeting seemed to be the only way to stop his incessant calling and texting.

To remind herself of the issues they needed to discuss, she started to mentally review the events that had led up to this moment. It began with Diggy's letter about the Richmond Corporation. She had addressed it with Frank when she first returned to the United States, and he had defended his decision to support the agribusiness. "We feed people," he argued. "Maybe the quality isn't as good as from an all-organic company, but the output is much higher, and people are getting fed."

"But you can do better," she'd protested weakly.

Frank shook his head slowly. "Richmond's not perfect, but no one's hands are clean, unless they're living off the grid somewhere. Even yours, Jane."

Jane didn't have a comeback to that, so she'd let the matter drop. That lasted until she received a call in mid-June from her contact at Hygienic H2O, a clean water charity operating in Ethiopia. Richmond Corporation had been buying up water sources throughout eastern Africa, and then turning around and selling bottled water at extravagant prices to the people who lived there. Many people couldn't afford the cost, and so they were left not even with the contaminated water sources that HH2O was trying so hard to provide alternatives to, but nothing at all.

When she broached the issue with Frank, he'd gotten defensive again, despite there being no justification for Richmond's actions in this instance. What good was it to feed people only to turn around and force them to die of thirst?

The issues with the Richmond Corporation were compounded by Frank's friendship with Emma Woodhouse. For weeks it had seemed as though the two of them were conspiring together against Jane, pushing her to participate in activities she felt very uncomfortable with, such as a bachelor/bachelorette auction to raise money to fight human trafficking. Even gentle Harriet, one of Jane's colleagues at Emma Approved who usually went along with Emma's plans, had questioned the wisdom of putting people up for sale as a means to end slavery.

"Sorry I'm late."

Jane looked up to see Frank standing nearby. Thanks to so recently cataloging Frank's sins, the pangs of love or longing Jane had dreaded never materialized, much to her relief. "I'm not surprised."

"There was a lot of traffic—"

"Of course there was. Like I said, I'm not surprised."

Frank frowned. He had been so hopeful about this dinner, especially after his meeting with Emma had gone so well, ending with her wishing him "all the luck in the world" for his relationship with Jane. But Jane's coldness had immediately dampened his good mood.

The restaurant's host soon seated them. Both Frank and Jane were quiet as they looked over the menus and placed their orders. Once the waitress walked away, he pushed himself to speak. "I've left you messages about my divestment from Richmond. What do you think?"

"It's a good thing," Jane said quietly. "I've read that your sale has stymied their plans for expansion."

Frank exhaled. "Does it make a difference for our relationship? That's what I really want to know. I did it for you. For us."

Jane closed her eyes in exasperation. "You still don't get it, do you? You don't do something like that for me. You do it because it's the right thing to do."

"Why does it matter?"

"Because it does!"

"That's not an answer. If the result is the same—Richmond can't move forward with their expansion plans—then why does it matter why I did it?"

She looked at him in sadness. "Because I have to know that I can trust your heart."

Frank swallowed hard. "You can't trust my heart after all this time?"

Jane's anger started rising again. 'You're really asking me that? After all the things you did to hurt me at the Boxx opening?"

"Let's not get into that—"

"Oh, no, that's exactly what we should get into. How could you, Frank? How could you parade around with Emma like that, like she was your girlfriend or something, right in front of me? How could you make fun of my aunt like that?"

"I never made fun of Maddy!"

"Yes, you did! You were laughing at her, along with Emma!"

Frank blew out his breath. "Look, I'm sorry about that, okay? I may have laughed at one joke, but as soon as I saw how carried away Emma was getting, I stopped!"

"But you started. My aunt, who is the kindest person in the world, who was so excited to be there that evening and share her jams, and you humiliated her. You humiliated me!"

"What about all the ways you humiliated me?"

Jane shook her head. "What are you talking about?"

"You know how much I hated lying about our relationship! And what about all the time you spent with Alex? You know I hated that, too!"

"Alex was just a friend, and you know that! I never went around flirting with him, or cuddling up to him, or doing any of the things you did with Emma!"

Frank was breathing heavily. He knew Jane was right, but that didn't diminish his anger in the moment. "That doesn't mean it didn't hurt me!"

Their argument came to a halt as the waitress returned with their dinner plates. Jane looked down at the platter, feeling nauseated. "You know what the difference is between you and me?" she asked after the waitress departed again.

"What?" Frank asked sharply.

"I may have made some bad choices, but I never deliberately tried to hurt you. But you did. You knew the problems I had with Emma, and you chose to carry on with her right in front of me. You"—at this, Jane had to pause, as tears filled her eyes— "you made that crack about saving orphans even though you know how much caring for orphans means to me. You chose to continue supporting Richmond Corp even though you knew that water rights is one of my most important causes. I never meant to hurt you, Frank. I'm sorry if I did, but that was never my intention. You, on the other hand, planned to hurt me, and carried it out to the fullest. And that's why I can never trust you again."

She stopped and reached down to the floor, lifting up her purse. She pulled out her wallet and extracted three twenty dollar bills, laying them on the table.

"What is this?" he asked.

"To cover dinner." What that, she stood up.

"Wait, Jane!" he cried. "I can change! We can make this work!"

"I doubt it," she said. "I hope you have a good life, Frank, but I won't be a part of it."

As she turned to walk away, Frank called out, "At least take your money back! I'll pay for dinner."

She turned back, her tears replaced with an expression of steel. "Keep it. Or find a good charity to donate it to."

In stunned silence, Frank watched Jane walk out of the restaurant and out of his life for good.

Chapter Text

Chapter 23

"When I think about this past year, it... it has been more than just bad matchmaking. Elton and Caroline... Frank and Jane... Harriet and— Alex. It's like I haven't even noticed how the people around me really feel, not to mention how I feel about the people around me. ... Have I really been this blind, or have I been lying to myself the whole time? Well, that stops now, because now I'm going to start paying attention to the people around me and how they really feel. I mean it!"

Emma Woodhouse in Emma Approved, ep. 69

Mrs. Weston's communications furnished Emma with more food for unpleasant reflection, by increasing her esteem and compassion, and her sense of past injustice towards Miss Fairfax. She bitterly regretted not having sought a closer acquaintance with her, and blushed for the envious feelings which had certainly been, in some measure, the cause. ... She must have been a perpetual enemy. They never could have been all three together, without her having stabbed Jane Fairfax's peace in a thousand instances.

Emma, ch. 48

=====================================

FedEx delivered a box for Jane the morning after she walked away from Frank at the restaurant. Her first thought was that this was another attempt by Frank to bring about a reconciliation, but instead, the package was from Emma. Unlike Frank, Emma had stopped calling her after about a week or so, but had sent word of another apology through Maddy. Aunt Maddy had gone in to meet with Emma a few weeks earlier, and Emma had apologized profusely for ridiculing her jams during the Boxx restaurant opening.

Maddy had shushed Emma almost immediately because that was who Maddy was: loving, giving, and forgiving. In fact, she had even offered to work for Emma for two weeks (Emma, to her credit, offered to pay her for her time), getting the company's books in order. Jane was very surprised to learn that the same day she had quit working for Emma, Alex had walked out, too. He had been Emma Approved's business manager and accountant, and without him, Emma was floundering.

It turned out that Aunt Maddy's help was much needed, because the company's finances were a mess. Although Alex was good at his job, he was much too prone to give in to Emma's schemes and ideas, even if they made little financial sense. In contrast, Maddy could "make a nickel cry" as Grandma always said. Aunt Maddy ended up working out profit and loss projections for the company for the next five years.

Having heard from Aunt Maddy that Emma was now "different somehow. More serious and humble," Jane was very curious about the package. She opened it up to find twenty different boxes of organic, fair trade teas, in a variety of flavors. A peace offering from Emma. Jane laughed and then sighed. She supposed this was a sign that she finally needed to work things out with her former boss and rival.

She thought back upon the disastrous misadventure she had had working for Emma at her company, Emma Approved. Given their history, she should have seen the train wreck that was coming, but instead, she had had naively optimistic hopes. "It's been nine years since we finished high school," Jane had reasoned to herself. "We're more mature by now and can put the past behind us. I think that together Emma and I can do some good. She's always been very enthusiastic about whatever she's doing. With my experience, maybe I can channel her enthusiasm in positive directions."

Despite Jane's hopes, the problems between her and Emma began almost immediately. Nearly every evening she would rant to Frank about something else Emma had done that day: re-decorated her office against her wishes, installed a video camera by Jane's desk, repeatedly attempted to pry into Jane's personal life, and more. "I even think she searches my office at night," Jane told him. "I come back in the morning, and things are moved around."

Frank had tried to dismiss Jane's complaints as exaggerations. Emma couldn't be that creepy, right? But what bothered Jane most weren't the petty annoyances. Her biggest concern was that she doubted Emma's sincerity. "She has all these cameras up to supposedly 'document her greatness.' Who does that, especially since she now says her mission is to make the world a better place? The people I've worked with in the past would be appalled if they knew!"

Despite her frustrations with Emma, Jane decided to stick it out. She liked her other two colleagues, Alex and Harriet, and was excited about the chance to support causes she cared about. One in particular that she had discovered, the Hygienic H2O project, was dedicated to providing access to clean water for villages in Ethiopia. If she could help raise awareness and money for this worthy organization, then putting up with Emma was worth it.

A couple of days after receiving the package, Jane drove to the offices of Highbury Partners in Burbank, where Highbury's Lifestyle Division was located. Emma Approved was the primary company providing "lifestyle" services (including events planning, life coaching, and at one point but no longer, matchmaking/dating services). As Jane entered the Emma Approved offices, she spotted Harriet Smith at the reception desk. Harriet, a cute, delicate-looking blond woman, had been EA's office assistant, and continued to provide office admin duties even after her promotion to event planner. Harriet looked up and waved, but didn't really smile. Jane's stomach clenched a little. Harriet was usually so sweet and friendly. If she was greeting Jane this coldly, it didn't bode well for her meeting with Emma.

She was surprised, therefore, when Harriet rose from her desk and gave Jane a warm hug, and apologized for not smiling. "I had a recent root canal. I'm still in some pain."

"Oh, Harriet, I'm sorry!" said Jane. "I hope you're better soon."

"Thanks," Harriet replied. "It's great to see you, Jane. A lot has been happening around here."

"Aunt Maddy told me. She said your phone has been ringing off the hook since the Boxx opening."

"It has, but unfortunately we've had to turn down most requests for our services. We just couldn't handle it with… you know."

Jane felt herself blush. Her departure—and Alex's—had left the company in a lurch.

Harriet brightened. "But having Maddy here for two weeks was great! And Alex is back!"

Jane smiled. "He is? When did he return?"

"Last Thursday. You should stop by his office and say hi. I know he'd love to see you."

"I'll do that."

Harriet attempted to grin, but suddenly winced in pain. "By the way, you'll never believe it!"

"What?"

"Alex and Emma are dating now!"

"Seriously?" Jane said, and Harriet nodded vigorously. To her surprise, the news tickled Jane pink. As much as Alex used to talk about Emma during Jane's daily rideshares with him before she'd had a car, she had long ago guessed that Alex was in love with Emma. Alex was a great guy. If he had finally won Emma's heart, she was really happy for him.

After saying goodbye to Harriet, Jane walked down the hall and knocked on Alex Knightley's door. He called out, "Come in!" and she entered his office.

"Hey, Jane!" Alex said with a smile. He also rose from his desk to hug her. "I'm really glad you're here. I know Emma has been wanting to talk to you."

"So I hear congratulations are in order?"

Alex, who had spiky brown hair and all-American good looks, suddenly grinned with the goofiest, most love-sick puppy expression she'd ever seen on him. "Yeah. Emma and I finally both realized…"

"I'm happy for you, Alex. I mean that."

"Thank you. Did I hear that you're starting your own clean water foundation?"

"Trying to. It's a long process. I've been working on my business plan, trying to find members for my board of directors, and getting together all the paperwork I need to file for incorporation with the state and with the IRS."

"Well, good luck! If there's anything we can do to help you, just let us know."

"I will." She said goodbye to Alex, and then braced herself for her next stop: Emma's office.

"Jane! Please have a seat," Emma said quickly when she entered. As always, Emma was well-dressed and perfectly coiffed, her long, dark hair dyed a lovely auburn shade and flowing across her shoulders in gentle waves, and her expertly applied make up just masking the freckles that sprinkled her cheeks.

Jane sat down on the bench in the middle of Emma's office. She immediately noticed the absence of something. "No camera," she said.

"Yes," said Emma, more subdued than Jane had ever seen her. "I mean, I still have them, but I took it down today because I know how uncomfortable it makes you."

"Thank you," Jane said.

"So, um…" Emma reached over to a shelf and picked up her iPad. "Alex keeps telling me to stop reading my apologies, but in your case especially, I know that if I don't read this, I'll forget everything I need to say."

Jane nodded. She had no idea what to say, so she said nothing.

"Jane," Emma read, "I have so many things to apologize to you for that I don't know where to begin, so I'll just start. First and foremost, I want to apologize for never really listening to you, and for never really being your friend." At this, Emma lowered the iPad. Jane noticed tears in her eyes. "We should have been friends, Jane, and we never were, and it was because of me."

Emma picked up the iPad again and went on. "I keep thinking about that time you came over with Maddy when we were about nine. Izzy wasn't there because she was at a sleepover, and after a while you wouldn't play with me. I got mad at you and demanded that you keep playing. You said, 'Why should I? You're so bossy! We always have to do things your way! After a while, that's no fun!' I should have realized that day that that's what our relationship was always like. It always had to be my way, and after a while I just pushed you away.

"It was the same way in high school. Everything had to be my way, and when you resisted, I shunned you. I know I made your high school years miserable."

Jane pressed her lips together. High school hadn't been miserable, not after ninth grade anyway. But she had had to forge her own path outside of Emma's pressure to make it that way.

"Most of all, I have to apologize for the way I treated you after you came to work for me. I lied to myself the whole time. I kept saying that everything I did was somehow for your good, but the truth was, I was so jealous of you. I had been ever since we were kids, and so everything I did was to try to find the cracks in your armor, to prove to myself that maybe you weren't so perfect after all."

Jane swallowed. This confession was becoming very uncomfortable.

"I didn't listen to you when you told me the cameras made you uncomfortable. I was so sure you had to have some deep, dark secret, something that would prove you had feet of clay. I used to sneak into your office at night and search it to try to find out."

Jane exhaled. So that hadn't been her imagination.

"When you received the anonymous laptop and flowers, I thought that the only reason you wouldn't say anything about who the gifts were from was because the guy who sent them was someone you weren't supposed to be in a relationship with. So I started to speculate to Harriet and Frank that it was from Peter Dixon."

"You said that?" Jane gasped. "You thought I would mess around with my best friend's husband?"

Emma lowered the iPad again. "I… I know. There's no excuse for it. I'm so sorry, Jane."

Jane had been fairly calm until this point, although troubled, but now she was starting to get angry.

"But the biggest thing I need to apologize for is my behavior with Frank. Jane, I wrote down that I didn't know you two were together and that I wouldn't have flirted with him like that if I had known, but that's not true. Alex told me that you two were dating, and I didn't want to believe him."

"Why not?" Jane asked sharply.

Emma looked at her, an expression of shame on her face. "Because I didn't want to admit that someone like Frank would fall in love with someone like you."

"Someone like me," Jane said tersely. "I see."

"Jane, I don't know what I can say to excuse my behavior, except that I'm sorry, and I hope you can forgive me. I hope I didn't mess things up too badly between you and Frank."

Jane shook her head. "Emma, the issues between Frank and me were far bigger than anything you did."

"I hope you can work it out," Emma said softly.

"It's not going to happen," Jane shook her head again.

"Really? He was so excited when he came here on Monday. He said you had replied to one of his messages."

"I did, but only to get him to stop calling me. Look, Emma, if there's one thing you don't have to blame yourself for, it's me and Frank."

Emma was quiet for some time. After a few minutes, she said, "Jane, I know you and I might never be friends. But I hope that at least we will no longer be enemies."

Jane looked down. "I don't know, Emma. You just unloaded a lot on me. I'll have to think about it."

Chapter Text

Chapter 24

Annie Weston: [Frank's] taking a whole month out of his schedule, so I finally get Weston family bonding time.

Ryan Weston: I keep telling you, you're all the Weston family I need.

Emma Approved, ep. 23

==============================================

Frank's evening on Tuesday, September the second, began like most other evenings recently: with him dressed in sweat pants and a T-shirt, sitting down with a delivery of dinner (burritos tonight), a case of Sam Adams, and ESPN. His cell phone and his house phone both rang several times, but as usual lately, Frank ignored them both. The urgent ringing of his doorbell was harder to ignore, especially because it was interrupting Sports Center, so Frank finally rose from his sofa and walked over to answer it.

It was Javier from the concierge service of the Hollywood luxury condominium development where Frank lived. Standing behind him was Ryan. "Very sorry to disturb you, Mr. Churchill," said Javier. "But our policy states that if your emergency contact informs us they haven't been able to reach you, we have to look into it."

"It's okay," Frank replied. "You can go."

Javier nodded and departed, leaving Frank facing Ryan. "May I come in?" his brother asked.

Frank opened his door wider and Ryan slipped past him. Ignoring the concerned look on Ryan's face, Frank returned to the sofa and turned up the volume on the large flat-screen against the wall. Ryan snatched the remote from Frank's hand. He lifted it and pressed the power button, turning the TV off. Frank glowered at Ryan as he sat down at an angle from Frank on the L-shaped sectional.

"Annie's worried about you."

"Tell her I'm fine."

"You missed our big Labor Day cookout. Annie makes some mean ribs, with her own special sauce."

"I was busy. Next year."

Ryan pointed to the recycling container just outside the kitchen, which was overflowing with beer bottles. "That's what you were busy doing?"

Frank didn't answer.

"I know you have recycling service here. Why don't you empty that?"

"I'll get around to it."

Ryan sighed. "I'm worried about you, too. Is the break-up really getting you down?"

Frank drummed his fingers on his thighs.

"Come on, Frank, talk to me. What are you feeling?"

Frank snorted. "Since when did you become Dr. Phil?"

"Since I got married. You'd be amazed at how being with a good woman makes you more in tune with people's emotions."

Frank scowled at him. "Spare me the tales of your marital joy, okay?"

"Sorry," Ryan said. He furrowed his brow. "No, I'm not sorry. It's because of Annie that I'm here at all. When you didn't show up, I just figured you had something else to do, but Annie pointed out that whenever you couldn't make it before, you'd at least let us know. She said something must be wrong if we didn't hear from you at all."

"Nothing is wrong."

"Quit lying. You're a mess right now. When's the last time you shaved?"

"Why does it matter? I don't have anything to shave for. Richmond Corporation asked for my resignation, and so did three other companies."

"I know you have other responsibilities besides those four."

Frank frowned. He did, but he was kind of hoping that if he neglected his duties long enough, some of his other enterprises might similarly request that he withdraw his involvement. Request was probably a charitable way to put it. In any case, the idea of having nothing to do right now was very appealing.

"Talk to me, Frank. You're really missing Jane, aren't you?"

Hearing her name cracked Frank's facade of nonchalance. "I just... I always thought there was hope."

"That you'd get back together?"

Frank nodded.

"So what happened?"

"We had dinner a couple of weeks ago. She made it clear that it was never going to happen."

"I'm sorry," Ryan said softly. "I really mean that."

They were quiet for a moment, and suddenly Frank found his pent-up thoughts tumbling out. "She said that she never meant to hurt me, but that I hurt her on purpose. And she was right. When you asked me what the hell was wrong with me for acting like that with Emma, it's because I was mad at Jane and wanted to hurt her."

"I see," said Ryan.

There was no judgment in Ryan's response, so Frank finished the thought. "I loved..." No, that wasn't right. It wasn't past tense. He didn't know if it would ever be past tense. "I love her more than anyone I've ever loved. Yet I treated her like crap. Who does something like that?"

"Someone from the Weston-Churchill family."

When Frank looked puzzled, Ryan went on, "Think about it. My mom's on her fifth marriage. My dad's been married three times, and so has your dad. It's not like we have examples of great relationships to look to."

"You're doing okay."

"That's partly because I have a wife who is infinitely patient with me. But also because I decided to be."

"You decided? Just like that?"

"Yeah. Not that it's easy. But I don't want my child growing up like we did. You know our childhood wasn't normal, right?"

"Whose is?"

"Nobody's, but ours was really abnormal. When I tell people my parents didn't come to my wedding, they stare at me like I've got two heads. Or they think the same thing Annie did, that my family must really hate my wife. Normal families don't do that. They don't miss the most important events in their relatives' lives to... find themselves in Borneo or whatever."

Frank exhaled. "Thanks for making me feel even worse."

"Come on, I didn't say that to slam you. It's me, too. I didn't think anything about you telling me you couldn't make it, and if the situation had been reversed, before I met Annie, I might have done the same thing."

"And now it's different?"

"Exactly. Sometimes I tell Annie that she's all the Weston family I need."

"Thanks a lot," Frank said sarcastically.

"Shut up and stop feeling sorry for yourself. Listen to what I'm saying. When I tell Annie that, I'm letting her know that she is and always will be my priority. She and the baby that's coming, and any other kids we might have. I'm making a decision to put them first and do what's best for them, no matter what, and I'm letting Annie know that. You can do the same thing."

"Not anymore," Frank said miserably. "It's over between me and Jane."

"But your life's not over. So get up off your ass, stop looking and acting like a bum, and, I don't know, keep the rest of your businesses functioning somehow. And get rid of all that junk," Ryan gestured at the empty beer bottles again.

"Good job, Dr. Phil. Can I get back to Sports Center now?"

"Only if you let me watch it with you. And give me one of those burritos."

Ryan stayed for a couple of hours, dropping the serious talk in favor of jokes and TV commentary. He did the same thing two days later, not finding Frank much happier, but at least better dressed, shaven and with a cleaner condo. Frank didn't verbalize it, but he appreciated his brother's presence. He had never really liked being alone.

On Saturday, Frank received a text from his dad: "In LA. Join me for dinner." It was a command, not a request, but that wasn't unusual for his dad.

They met at Fleming's Prime Steakhouse at the L.A. Live entertainment complex since his father, like Frank, always enjoyed a good steak and fine wine. Geoffrey Churchill didn't do hugs, so he stood and reached out to shake Frank's hand when he arrived.

Upon first glance, a stranger might not think the two men were related, but a longer look would reveal that they were definitely father and son. Frank had inherited his mother's features and the coloring of her hair, skin, and eyes, but his height, the shape of his head, his jawline, and even many of his facial expressions were the spitting image of his father.

From his father's serious demeanor, Frank could tell that they weren't going to have their usual business and small talk conversation. After placing their order, his father pulled out his mobile and called up an image. He passed it to Frank. "Is this her?"

It was a picture of Jane. Seeing her, even in a photograph, pierced Frank's heart. He nodded. "Where did you get this?"

His father took the phone back and scaled down the image to reveal an online article from the same news site that had implied a relationship between Frank and Emma. He handed it back to Frank, who read the story titled, "Churchill Mystery Woman Identified":

The mysterious woman who led to wealthy investor Frank Churchill's surprising sale of his shares of Richmond Corporation has been identified as Jane Fairfax, 27, a radical environmentalist from Los Angeles, California.

A source close to the multi-millionaire venture capitalist indicates that the two met and began an affair last winter in London, England, where Ms. Fairfax worked for an environmental nonprofit. "He became obsessed with her," said the source, who declined to be named. "She had some kind of hold on him that really warped his thinking."

An obsession may be the most likely explanation for Mr. Churchill's sudden decision to divest of his sixteen percent ownership in Richmond, a 1.2 billion dollar agribusiness. The move focused a spotlight on some of the company's environmental practices and prompted other investors to release their shares, sending the company's stock prices plummeting.

A spokesperson for Richmond Corporation confirmed that Mr. Churchill has since resigned from the company's board of directors. "We're very disappointed with Mr. Churchill's actions, which have damaged our position in the global food industry," said the spokesperson. "Nevertheless, we will continue to serve as one of the finest producers of healthy, wholesome foods for families all over the world."

As for the mystery woman who led to the upheaval, the source indicates that she was fired from her position in London in March, whereupon she returned to her home in the United States. She was recently let go from another job in Los Angeles after just three months. When contacted for a statement, Ms. Fairfax denied her involvement with Mr. Churchill and his decision to divest from Richmond, and would give no further comment.

Frank put the mobile down, breathing heavily, curse words flying through his head. The media had found Jane. They had talked to Jane. What must she be feeling or thinking right now?

"So she's some kind of tree-hugger," said his father. "Apparently an unstable one. Does she chain herself to trees, or set bombs in animal testing labs?"

"Don't talk about her like that," Frank said sharply. "Jane's passionate about the environment, but she's not unstable, she's not violent, and she doesn't do bizarre stunts. All she wants to do is good things that make the world a better place. She's a good person, Dad. The best person I know."

"So you are obsessed. How'd you let yourself get drawn into her snare?"

"It's not an obsession, it's love!"

His father sat back. "You're trying to say you love her? I'm not sure you know what love is. Love doesn't make you do irrational things that ruin your reputation."

"It made you move half way around the world."

"I didn't screw up my career in the process. Besides, I was twenty-three years old. You're thirty."

"Almost thirty-two," Frank mumbled.

"That's even worse. You're too old to be making foolish, impetuous decisions."

"Is that what Mom was? A foolish, impetuous decision? Is that what I was?"

"That's not what I meant!"

"Isn't it? You couldn't wait to get rid of me after Mom died!"

"I was young, understand? I wasn't even thirty, and suddenly I was a widower with a young child. I was lost and in over my head. So when your grandparents—what did you call them?"

"Pau-pau and Gon-gon," Frank answered.

"That. When they offered to take you, it seemed like the best solution for everyone. Certainly they were able to do a better job with you than I could."

"But I needed you," said Frank softly. His dad had always provided for him financially, and supplied him with plenty of cool gifts during his childhood and adolescence, and business tips and contacts as an adult. For a long time, that had been enough to make Frank consider him a good father. But since his conversation with Ryan, Frank had been recalling an earlier time, before his tears had dried up and his disappointment had hardened. At age five, he hadn't really been able to articulate all the pain he felt about the death of his mother and the abandonment of his father. The problem was made worse by his difficulty in communicating with his grandparents. They spoke some English but were much more comfortable in Cantonese, and when he first moved in with them, Frank's own Cantonese was very limited.

"I couldn't be there for you. If I could have, I would have been."

Remembering Ryan's words, Frank shook his head. "Yes, you could have. You made a choice. You didn't want the responsibility."

His father frowned and didn't respond. Their food had recently arrived, so both men handled the discomfort by beginning to eat. After some time, the elder Churchill asked, "What are you going to do now?"

"I don't know. I have to figure that out."

"I hope she's worth it."

Frank shrugged. "It doesn't matter. We're not together anymore."

"So... you decided she's not worth all the headache?"

Frank exhaled in frustration. "She broke up with me! And it was because of me, because I hurt her really badly. More than anything, I wish I could go back and somehow fix it."

"You would take her back?"

"In a heartbeat." Even after everything, after all the tension of the last couple months of their relationship and the pain of the breakup, Jane was still the best thing that had ever happened to him.

"Well then. I'm not sure I understand her influence on you, but I do want you to find happiness," his father said quietly.

Frank nodded. Their conversation paused again as they finished their meals. When Frank placed his fork down, he asked, "What are you doing in L.A. right now?"

"I've been traveling a bit, but I came back because Ryan called me," his dad answered. "He said you needed me."

Chapter Text

Chapter 25

"When I recollect all the uneasiness I occasioned her, and how little I deserve to be forgiven, I am mad with anger. If I could but see her again!"

Frank Churchill in Emma, ch. 50

======================================

"I play to win," Frank had told Emma the morning before his dinner with Jane at Azeen's. He had been so certain that all he needed to do was to show Jane he was serious about doing whatever it took to win her back, and she'd return to him. In one searing conversation she had smashed that hope, and he had finally gotten the message and stopped calling and texting her.

That didn't mean he had completely given up, but he was no longer confident that his efforts would eventually be successful. Still, he had to try, and for that reason, he had contacted Jane's aunt. Frank had let Maddy Bates select their meeting place, a vegan Caribbean restaurant in central L.A., figuring it was the least he could do since she was willing to meet with him at all.

Maddy was already waiting for him when he arrived. Before he could offer his hand, Maddy had embraced him in a huge hug that almost made him want to cry. He had forgotten how loving the Bates women were.

"Great to see you, Frank," Maddy said when she released him. "I mean it."

He could tell that she did. "Great to see you, too." He meant it as well.

"I know you're a meat lover, but I think you'll like this place," Maddy told him as they found seats at an empty table. She wore her usual bright smile, so much like Jane's, but with the addition of deep dimples in her cheeks. Maddy was a bit taller than Jane and a lot chubbier, with natural hair worn in long, thick, tightly coiled curls around her head.

He requested a club soda with lime and then ordered the same meal choice as Maddy: fried tofu with jerk spices and sides of yams and cole slaw. He was grateful that Maddy was a talker, and was going on about the deliciousness of the food and the niceness of the owners, whom she had befriended during her years of eating there, and oh, wasn't she glad that the restaurant had air conditioning, since the mid-September extreme heat wave in L.A. hadn't yet abated. Her chattering was allowing him to put off his apology.

Frank finally gave himself a mental kick in the pants and interrupted her. "Maddy, listen…"

She stopped talking instantly. Apparently, she wanted to hear what he had to say.

"I'm really sorry about my behavior the night of the Boxx opening—"

"Why are you apologizing to me?"

"I know I did some things that hurt you."

Maddy shook her head, a slight smirk on her face. "Frank, come on. You didn't really hurt me. Now, you did hurt my girl, and I was kind of mad at you for a while about that."

"Yeah," Frank said softly, "I know."

She reached across the table and laid a hand on his forearm. "I do forgive you, Frank, for both the Boxx event and for Jane."

He furrowed his brow. "Why?" Why didn't this woman hate him?

"Life's too short to be filled with anger, or to hold onto a grudge. Did Jane ever tell you that I'm a cancer survivor?"

Frank nodded.

"When you go through something like that, you learn that you have to let stuff go. There's a lot of ugliness in the world, but there's a lot of beauty in it, too. I can decide what I let in to set up shop inside me. I choose the beauty."

Frank was quiet for a moment. "Do you think Jane will ever forgive me?"

"That's up to her."

"I know I don't deserve it. When I think about all the ways I hurt her, I get so mad at myself! I just wish I could see her again and help her really understand how sorry I am."

Maddy said nothing, but her expression was compassionate.

"Would you ask her if she'd be willing to see me again?"

Maddy crossed her arms. "Oh, no, no, no! I'm not getting in the middle of this. Jane is a grown woman. I know you've already talked. When she's ready to see you again, she'll let you know."

Frank sighed, and then welcomed the arrival of their lunches as a reprieve from his frustration. He ate for a while, letting Maddy prattle on about various topics, from the news to the heat again, to the state of her garden.

The mention of the Bates family garden reminded him of the jars of jam. Since Emma Approved had planned the Boxx restaurant opening event, Jane had offered to have Maddy's jams be a part of the gift bags, considering them in line with the restaurant's theme of organic, locally produced foods. The problem was, many of Maddy's flavor combinations weren't palatable, and Frank had encouraged Emma to leave them out. Maddy had brought a few jars with her, however, and when she was sharing them with the Boxx co-owners, Emma, who'd had more than a bit to drink that night, had publicly ridiculed them.

When Maddy mentioned that she was starting to gather supplies to can her fall harvest, he asked, "How'd you start?"

"Start what, canning?"

Frank nodded, suddenly curious about how Maddy came up with such combinations as blood orange-tomato and watermelon-olive-rhubarb.

"I think it was a desire not to let anything go to waste. Money was so tight when Jane was a girl and I was taking care of both her and Mama. I would always think, 'Let me can this before it spoils.'"

"Is that why you started mixing flavors?"

"Yeah," said Maddy. "It was like, 'okay, eggplant, I don't want to lose this eggplant, so what am I going to do with it? Hmm, wonder if it goes with peaches?'" She chuckled.

"May I be honest with you?"

"Of course."

He hesitated. "Your combinations don't always taste good."

Maddy sat back and observed him. "I gave you a few jars as gifts for things you did for us around the house. How come you never said anything before?"

Frank grimaced. "I didn't want to hurt your feelings."

"Oh, please. My daddy died when I was eleven. I lost my only sister and brother-in-law when I was twenty-one. Ten years ago I was puking my guts out and wondering if I'd live to see forty. I've had several men break my heart. I take Mama to dialysis three times a week, and I wonder each time how long she'll still be with us. You really think that telling me you don't like my jams was going to hurt me?"

"When you put it like that, it does sound pretty silly," Frank mumbled.

Maddy tapped her chin with her forefinger. "I think you and Jane both have a bit of a problem with truth-telling. I've told her that she might have resolved some of her problems with Emma a lot sooner if she had just been more honest with her. And I know that the two of you trying to pretend you weren't in a relationship was killing you."

He thought for a moment about how frustrating the secrecy of their relationship had been to him. Maddy was suggesting that the problem was bigger than that. "Jane said something to me in London once, about there being a public Frank Churchill, and how no one really knows the real one."

"Was she right?"

He hesitated and then reluctantly said, "Yes."

Maddy smiled sympathetically. "She should know. That's true of her in a lot of ways, too. Your mother died when you were really young, didn't she?"

Frank nodded.

"Maybe that's it, both of you losing your mothers when you were so young. You're both like these little lonely children with shells of protection around yourselves. No wonder you were drawn to each other."

"I really am sorry," Frank said, "for hurting Jane. She means the world to me."

"I know," Maddy replied. "But I think you both need this time apart to figure out who you really are. And to learn to be honest." She grinned. "So, how's the food?"

"It's good," Frank said.

She looked at him skeptically, and he quickly protested, "No, it really is, Maddy! I'm telling the truth!" The meal was spicy, flavorful, and surprisingly filling.

Maddy laughed. "I'm just messing with you! I believe you."

======================================

Number 1: Establish a foundation that will provide access to clean water at home and abroad. Ensure that the foundation is operational by September of 2015. Begin with overseas programs in Sierra Leone and local programs here in California.

Number 2: Provide support to Bates Financial Services so that Maddy's business is thriving within six months (March of 2015).

Number 3: Return to the United Together Children's Centre to adopt a child by age 30 (April of 2017).

As she did every morning, Jane reviewed the list of goals she had created in response to Bing's challenge to rediscover her dreams. She would achieve these things, regardless of the rumors swirling around her, or the irritating reporters who kept calling or stopping by her house to ask for more details about her "affair with Frank Churchill." "I'm not in a relationship with him, and I have no comment," was her answer to all of them. To maintain her sanity, she kept her mind focused on her goals, as well as on one of her favorite sayings, "There's enough in this world pushing you down. It doesn't make any sense to lower yourself to the ground to help them out."

This morning she had a breakthrough opportunity: she had been invited to a meeting with a former actor, Maxwell Howard, who had starred in several cop shows back in the '70s and '80s. In the 1990s, he had given up acting to start a philanthropic foundation that gave money to environmental causes. He operated a business selling green household and cleaning products, the profits of which supported the foundation. She hoped he would become the first major sponsor of her clean water charity.

The man who greeted her in his platinum LEED-certified Malibu home (constructed entirely of re-purposed or recycled materials, which she had learned about through an article on the Internet) was tanned, silver-haired, and extremely physically fit for someone in his seventies. He welcomed her and then led her out to a patio which overlooked the ocean.

A member of Maxwell Howard's household staff brought them a platter of fresh fruit, muffins and juice, which he laid on a glass table between them. Mr. Howard thanked him, and then poured glasses of orange juice for both him and Jane.

As Jane took a sip, he began, "I certainly was impressed with your proposal, Ms. Fairfax. There are quite a few clean water foundations working in the developing world, although of course they don't begin to address all the need. But I was especially intrigued by your plan to combine overseas work with local water activism."

Jane nodded. "As Americans, we tend to think our resources will last forever, but we can already see in some rural parts of this state that that's not true. I also want to get away from the idea that we're 'saving' people in poor countries. We're saving ourselves."

Maxwell Howard wore a thoughtful expression. "You're right, that sort of paternalism is definitely outmoded. Hence, 'Saving Water for Everyone' is an excellent name."

Jane didn't tell him that she had chosen it in part because so many names that she had considered for her foundation—Water for Life, Water for All, Water for the World—were already in use by other NGOs. She had selected her own foundation's name as a last-ditch effort to come up with anything. However, once she had chosen it, she realized that it was an inspired choice that really spoke to her convictions about how a program like this should operate.

Mr. Howard leaned forward. "I'm a very honest person, Ms. Fairfax, so I have to be truthful with you: I invited you here today not just because I liked your proposal, but also because your name had come to my attention via the media."

Jane swallowed and looked down. This was the situation she had been dreading, that of a potential supporter having seen the publicity about her and Frank. "I see," she said.

"I'm not concerned about you being called a radical environmentalist. I've been called that often enough in my own life. I have more concerns about you being fired from two jobs. That doesn't bode well for trusting in your competence or persistence."

"I wasn't fired from either job," she said slowly. "The organization I worked for in London lost the funding for my position, and the job here in L.A... it just wasn't a good match for my goals."

He asked some additional questions, but still seemed doubtful that Jane was telling the truth. She offered to provide a letter of recommendation from Eugenie, and he said he'd be willing to accept it. After asking for more details about her project, Mr. Howard said, "I don't know. I'll consider it, I'll read your letter of recommendation, but I'm not yet convinced you have what it takes to make this work."

Jane nodded, trying not to let her disappointment show on her face.

"Tell you what: if you can find at least three other significant donors willing to help fund your start-up costs, I'll begin to lean in your favor. I'm still not making any promises."

"I understand," Jane said. "And believe me, I am determined to make this happen. You will be hearing from me again, Mr. Howard."

He looked at her skeptically. "We shall see."

Jane made herself smile as she thanked him and shook his offered hand. She waited until she was in her car and had driven some distance away from Maxwell Howard's house before she let out a yelp of frustration. How long was she going to have to continue to deal with the fallout from her relationship with Frank?!

======================================

A few weeks after his meeting with Maddy, Frank entered a small office suite in a downtown building. From the marquee next to the elevator, it appeared that the building housed a number of nonprofit organizations. He introduced himself to the young Latina woman at the reception desk, and she said, "They're expecting you. You can go right into the conference room." She pointed to a nearby open door.

Two women were waiting for him in the small conference room, which held an oak table surrounded by six padded chairs on wheels. The walls were covered with large, brightly colored photographs of smiling people gathering around wells, lifting pump handles, or cupping their hands to catch cool, clear water.

The two women at the table rose to greet him. The shorter of the two, a white woman with a buzz cut that had to be prematurely gray because she didn't look older than thirty-five, introduced herself as Lyndsey McColm, Director of Development for the Hygienic H2O Project. The other woman, a tall and stunningly beautiful Ethiopian woman who spoke in very refined English, introduced herself as Yohanna Bekele, one of the field directors based in her native country.

Frank grinned. "You've come a long way. Thanks for coming to L.A. to meet with me."

She smiled back. "I am here for a visit anyway. I have some family in Los Angeles."

"It's great for me to have her here," said Ms. McColm. "She can tell donors the first-hand stories of the difference their contributions are making much better than I can. And speaking of contributions, please have a seat, Mr. Churchill. We'd love to hear your offer."

"Call me Frank," he said.

She smiled. "First names it is! Please call us Lyndsey and Yohanna. So, we were pretty surprised to receive your call. Your name's been in the news lately."

He hoped that she was only referring to his sale of the Richmond stocks, and not about the rumors regarding Jane. Jane had a contact at Hygienic H2O, but he wasn't sure whether either of these women were the one.

"Yes, well," he began. "It's probably obvious that I had sort of a crisis of conscience."

"It was a welcome one from our perspective," Yohanna said. "The misery when people do not have access to clean water is untold."

"I can imagine," he said. "I'm here today because I made quite a bit on the sale of my shares, and I'd like to donate it to your project."

Lyndsey and Yohanna exchanged looks. "How much are we talking about?" Lyndsey asked.

"Twenty-two million."

Both women stared at him in shock for some time. Lyndsey recovered first. "Frank, I appreciate your generosity, but there's no way we could accept that money."

"Why not? Do you consider it tainted because of the source?"

"No; in fact, your offer is more like poetic justice. But our current budget is 1.8 million. You're talking about offering us more than ten times that amount. We wouldn't be able to do anything with that much money."

"Wouldn't you like to provide ten times as much clean water as you do right now?"

"It's not that simple," said Yohanna.

Frank frowned. "I don't understand."

"We can't scale up fast enough to use it," said Lyndsey.

"It takes a long time to carry out one of our clean water projects," Yohanna explained. "We have to work closely with a community to make sure this is a project they want and will support. The worst thing is to go into a village and take over without the consent of the people who live there. Many Westerners have done this in my country over the years, and the results do more harm than good."

Frank suddenly recalled Jane making a similar statement about people who, "offer something that at best doesn't help, and at worst, causes actual harm" back when he tried to donate the instruments.

Yohanna went on. "The people may not understand the equipment that has been set up, or they may view it with suspicion, because it wouldn't be the first time Westerners have built something to exploit their resources. Or even if they accept the project, they may not know how to maintain it. Before we do anything, we make sure we have cultivated the support and trust of the people. After that, there is a long education process about what we are trying to do."

Lyndsey nodded. "We're not just digging wells and building latrines. We also do a significant amount of education around hygiene and sanitation, and as Yohanna mentioned, about maintaining the equipment after we're gone. It does no good to invest the money and effort if the actual people it's meant to serve can't sustain the project. That takes a lot of trust, and it takes time to build."

"Once the relationships with the villagers are established," Yohanna added, "we then need to obtain the permission of the local government."

Lydnsey laughed. "And that's a whole 'nother level of trust we need to develop!"

"So you don't want this donation?" Frank exhaled in frustration. He had spent his adult life trying to make as much money as he could, and here was this organization—and Jane and Sustainable London before them—turning it down. It was hard for him to fathom how people or groups who had financial needs could decline money that was legally acquired. Somehow, for them, other values or priorities were more important.

"Well," Lyndsey said, "there are many other things you can do. The villages where we work need clean water, but they also need much more. Many of them need health clinics, schools, roads, job training; the needs are endless. And there are other NGOs working in the regions we serve. If you want to give that twenty-two million, there are plenty of places to put it."

"But if I spread it around that much, it becomes a drop in the bucket. No pun intended," Frank said.

Lyndsey nodded. "True. That doesn't mean it won't make a difference."

Frank remembered something else Jane had said: "There are so many stories of do-gooders who never bothered to ask the people they were trying to help what they actually needed." Perhaps that was what he needed to do. "So... what can I do for you?"

Yohanna smiled. "You can always sponsor a project. Once all the support and approval for a project is in place, we then need to fund it. Major sponsors are a huge help with that."

"How much is it to sponsor a project?"

"It varies, but the average cost is about $15,000," Lyndsey told him.

Frank pulled out his checkbook and quickly wrote a check, handing it to her.

"$15,060?" Lyndsey raised an eyebrow and grinned. "Why the sixty?"

He smiled slightly. "The amount is meaningful to me."

"Thank you, truly," said Yohanna. "When your sponsored project is completed, we will invite you to a celebration in the village, and your name will appear on a plaque beside it."

Frank frowned. "Please don't do that. I want this gift to be anonymous." If Jane was still in touch with Hygienic H2O, he didn't want her finding out. She'd think it was another attempt by him to get her back, and it wasn't. No, he wanted to give this donation because... because it was the right thing to do.

"That is a shame," said Yohanna. "The villagers usually like to know that there are real people behind these projects. It's important to know that there are other people in the world who care."

Frank thought about that for a moment. "I have to decline the invitation to come to a celebration, but if you need a name for the plaque, please say it's a gift from Audrey Leung." He didn't think Jane would recognize the name.

"And she is?" asked Lyndsey.

"She was my mother."

Chapter Text

Chapter 26

"I never can be blameless. I have been acting contrary to all my sense of right."

Jane Fairfax in Emma, ch. 48

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During the last week in October, Frank found himself in his element at the VERGE conference on sustainable technology in San Francisco. Unlike the renewable energy conference he'd attended in February in Pune, India that had focused on scientific research still under development, this event highlighted innovative technologies ready to go to market. There was even a vendor exhibit structured to enable creative entrepreneurs to court investors like him, during which he discovered he was very much in demand. With the Rockefeller Brothers' decision in late September to divest of all their holdings in fossil fuel industries, Frank's withdrawal from Richmond Corporation now seemed as though he was anticipating a trend rather than making a reckless move. Lighter-hearted than he'd been in months, Frank made the most of opportunities to socialize and develop new business connections.

The conference ran from Monday through Thursday, and on Wednesday morning, Frank rose early, energized and ready for another day. A buffet breakfast was set up every morning in the lobby of the Palace Hotel, so after an early morning workout, he showered, dressed, and took the elevator downstairs to eat.

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Jane stepped out of the limousine in front of the entrance of the Palace Hotel, unsure whether or not she was expected to tip the driver. The driver seemed to sense her hesitation. "You're fine, ma'am. What time should I return for you?"

"Seven," Jane answered, looking down at the program she'd printed off. Seven was the time that the day's events, including the evening networking reception, would end.

"Very good," he answered. He tipped his hat before driving off.

Jane smiled as she smoothed her skirt and jacket. Caroline hadn't been kidding when she'd said that her friend Gigi Darcy would take care of her. Although Jane had managed to save much of her salary during her three months working at Emma Approved (living at home was a big help for that), she was running through her savings quickly now that she no longer had a full-time job. Attending this conference was eating up a huge chunk of that money. She had only paid for one day, which was $800; attending the entire conference would have cost her three times that amount. On top of that, her airfare to San Francisco had been another $150. Jane had selected Wednesday as the day she would attend because that day offered the most workshops on the topic of sustainable water systems. Prior to leaving L.A., Jane had prayed that the outlay would be worth it, giving her insight into the latest knowledge about ways to ensure large-scale access to clean water, as well as contacts that would help her roll out her foundation.

Caroline, bless her, had again helped her tremendously, arranging for Jane to stay with Gigi instead of having to pay for a hotel room. Gigi, one of the scions of the Pemberley Digital media empire headquartered in San Fran, had been wonderfully hospitable when Jane arrived the night before, offering her a lovely guest room and private bath, and taking her out to dinner with her brother William, who served as Pemberley's CEO, and William's girlfriend Lizzie Bennet. They had asked a number of questions about her foundation, and at the end of it, William offered, on his own initiative, start-up funding once her plans were finalized.

"That would be awesome! Thank you!" Jane exclaimed. Along with the contributions of Bing and his family, that would make two of the three large dollar supporters she needed to help convince Maxwell Howard to support her foundation. The Darcy name especially might influence him.

Lizzie, who operated her own smaller-scale media company, volunteered to produce marketing videos for Jane. Lizzie winked at Jane and pointed at her boyfriend. "And don't worry about the cost. He'll pay for it." Finally, on top of all their other generosity, Gigi had offered Jane the use of her driver throughout her stay in San Francisco.

With so much good coming from her trip already, Jane knew that the journey had been worthwhile, even if the conference itself turned out to be a bust. She arrived early on Wednesday morning in order to register for the day and to eat breakfast. After signing in at the registration table and picking up her packet, she made her way over to the buffet table. Included among the other foods were some delicious-looking vegan offerings, such as blueberry waffles and tofu scramble. Jane filled her plate and walked over to a small open table.

"Jane," she heard behind her.

She closed her eyes and exhaled, knowing the voice. Her good mood suddenly dissipated.

"Jane," she heard again, this time closer to her. She clenched her teeth and turned to face Frank, who, uninvited, took a seat at the table opposite her.

"What do you want?" she snapped.

Frank had been very surprised when he spotted Jane in the buffet line, but he shouldn't have been. This was certainly the type of event to capture Jane's interest. Here was the chance he had been awaiting for weeks. He didn't want to lose the opportunity to talk to her, so he had quickly picked up his plate and coffee cup and made his way over to her table. "It's good to see you here," he answered, determined to converse with her despite her initial coldness.

One of the waitstaff, a tall, boyish-looking young man, approached their table with a coffee pot in hand and refilled Frank's cup. "Would you like some, ma'am?" he asked Jane.

"No, thank you," she answered. "I'd prefer tea. Do you have any ginger tea?" Looking pointedly at Frank, she added, "I've heard it's good for nausea."

The waiter gave her a funny look. "I can bring you a pot of hot water and a variety of tea bags. I'll check whether we have ginger."

Jane waved him off with a dismissive, "Whatever."

She was aware that Frank had been watching her the whole time, so once the waiter departed, she said, "Is there a reason why you're sitting here?"

Frank frowned. This was not the Jane he had known. He had been on the receiving end of her anger enough times to know she had a temper, but that was usually after he had done something stupid. He had never seen her act this way toward someone who didn't deserve it, like the poor waiter. He cleared his throat. "I hoped we could talk."

"I don't have anything to say to you."

"Then maybe I can talk."

"I doubt I want to hear it."

Frank was silent for a moment, frowning. "You were always a kind person, Jane. What happened?"

She shook her head in disbelief. "I don't know, maybe getting my heart broken? That tends to have a negative effect."

Sucker punch to the gut. Once more, it was his fault. "Jane, I'm really, really sorry."

The waiter returned with a hot water pot, a teacup, and a set of tea bags. Jane took her time pouring a cup of hot water, steeping a tea bag—peppermint, not ginger—in it, and slowly adding in a packet of raw sugar and stirring it. Finally, she turned back to Frank. "Your apology is meaningless. You still don't get it."

He started speaking quickly, wanting to fight past her wall of anger, hating to see her coming across so nasty, but most of all, so damaged, by what he had done to her. "I think I do now. You were right before. I deliberately tried to hurt you, and I can understand why you can't forgive that. I don't expect you to, or to take me back."

She gave a bitter laugh. "Good, because it's not going to happen."

"Jane—" At this she looked down, studying her fingernails, giving him the equivalent of 'la la la, I can't hear you!' Still, he pressed on. "I wanted to talk to you because I've been thinking about how we should never have decided to keep our relationship secret." His conversation with Maddy the previous month had continued to weigh heavily on his mind.

There was a small chip on her left ring finger. She rubbed her thumb over it. "I see. So you think everything would have worked out if we had just emblazoned your name to the world."

"This isn't about me."

She had to look up at that. "Oh, I see. I'm the one who screwed everything up, is that it? Un-be-lievable."

"No, I did, and I know that. But I think we had bigger problems than me being an asshole." Watching her like this—and the guilt of knowing he was the cause—was killing him. "Jane, you're fundamentally an honest person, so lying to the world was eating away at you. It was eating away at me, and I don't have your conscience. And you're fundamentally a caring person, and so I hate seeing you act like this."

She gripped the edge of the table. "You have NO. RIGHT. to judge my life. It is not your place!"

"I know. I just... Forget how you're acting toward me, look at how you just treated the waiter. You're better than this. You were a better person before I changed you, and you're a better person than you're being right now. I don't want you to lose that. If you keep your principles but lose your kindness, you become, I don't know... Diggy."

She didn't answer. Disappointed—no, crushed was more like it—Frank knew that beating the drum some more wouldn't make any difference. "Forget it. You're right, it's not my place to say anything about your life anymore." He stood up, gathered his plate and coffee cup, and walked away, searching for someplace else to finish his breakfast.

Frank struggled to regain his enthusiasm for the rest of the conference, but visiting the Interconnect Expo, an interactive technology showcase, later that day helped to restore it. He was able to try out a solar-charged hovering skateboard straight out of the old Back to the Future movies, and play with a 3-D virtual reality gaming headset. Although such fun items weren't meant to be the highlight of the expo—that would be the fully-functioning mini-city powered entirely by a microgird and renewable energy sources—he'd still joked with someone that he felt like a kid at Disneyland again.

Frank received a pass to the invitation-only After Dark Party on Wednesday night, where he was able to mingle with green business executives, public officials and other investors. He found himself talking to a woman named Monica D'Agostino, the CEO of a Portland, Oregon company that made smartphone apps for locating eco-friendly services in cities across the world. Monica was in her mid-thirties, dark-haired, and attractive.

After discussing the highlights of the conference with him, Monica handed him her business card. "I'm often in Los Angeles. Let's get together for a drink sometime."

"I—" Frank said, totally flummoxed at how to reply.

She looked at him coyly. "You're not seeing anyone, are you?"

The old Frank Churchill would have been all over this situation, but the new Frank, the post-Jane one, suddenly had no idea how to handle a woman who was flirting with him. "No, I'm not," he finally said.

Monica smiled at his awkwardness, and then made a small gasp. "I'm so sorry, I didn't realize! Have you met Noah Phillips? He's a Silicon Valley whiz kid and a really funny guy. I think you'd like him. He's single, too." She pointed out a handsome man of about forty across the room.

Frank recovered himself and answered, "No, I haven't, but I'll be sure to meet him tonight."

Monica smiled and said a few parting words before walking away. Frank chuckled as he watched her go. She'd assumed he'd hesitated because he was gay. Perhaps that was for the best. He didn't know how to explain to himself, let alone anyone else, that his ex-girlfriend was still so present in his thoughts and heart that the idea of going out with another woman felt like cheating to him, especially after the fiasco with Emma. He wasn't ready now, but he knew he'd have to find a way to get over this at some point. He was just thirty-two. He certainly didn't plan to avoid female companionship forever.

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Jane exhaled after Frank walked away from her table at breakfast. Her comment about nausea had been a joke, albeit a mean one, but now she really felt that way. She pushed her plate away from her and sipped from her teacup, hoping the mint would soothe her stomach. Why had she let Frank get to her like that? How had it happened that his mere presence had transformed her from happy and excited about the conference and her future, to so angry and vicious?

"You become, I don't know... Diggy." Jane swallowed. Who was Frank to say anything like this about her? "You're fundamentally an honest person ... you're fundamentally a caring person ... you're better than this..." She closed her eyes. Crap. Frank had been complimenting her, trying to remind her about what she used to be like. Had she changed so much? Was she really on her way to becoming Diggy, someone who might have stood for some good things, but lived his life in utter ugliness toward real people? She had been rude to the waiter—and to Frank.

She turned to look around for both him and the waiter. She no longer saw Frank, but the waiter was walking around, still filling coffee cups. She waved him over, and although he hesitated, he approached her. "May I get you anything else?"

"No, I just wanted to apologize for my rudeness earlier."

The man smiled. "No problem. You sure there's nothing else you need?"

"I'm sure, thank you," Jane told him. He nodded and walked away. Jane blew out her breath as she watched him go. Breakfast was included in the registration fee, but she was certain that at least in this case, tips were still allowed. She pulled out a ten dollar bill and left it on the table before rising to go to the ballroom for the first plenary session.

The conference was informative, but Jane felt so disheartened by her early morning behavior that she did very little networking. She phoned Gigi to ask whether her driver could return at 5:30, after the last workshop of the day but before the evening reception. Her dampened mood was obvious to her hostess, who asked Jane what was the matter after she was dropped off at the Darcy home. "I saw an ex-boyfriend of mine at the conference today," Jane told her.

"Was it a bad breakup?" Gigi asked.

Jane nodded.

"I've been there. I was in a relationship where I was really betrayed, and it took me a long time to get over it. If I had run into him unexpectedly, I'd have had a really hard time with it, too."

Jane nodded again, but Frank's betrayal wasn't foremost on her mind at the moment. His words today kept echoing in her head: "Lying to the world was eating away at you... you become, I don't know... Diggy... you're better than this."

"Do you like Vietnamese food?" Gigi asked.

Jane smiled slightly. "I love it."

"Then come on," Gigi slipped an arm into Jane's. "Let's go out and get some."

Gigi made sure that their evening together was very pleasurable, encouraging Jane to tell stories of her travels and her favorite music and books, and sharing her own. "You play the piano!" Gigi said gleefully. "For some reason everyone expects me to be able to play, and I don't, so I'm always delighted to meet someone who's really good at it."

Jane departed San Francisco the next morning with a promise to stay in touch with her new friend. Once she was alone again during the flight back to Los Angeles, however, her encounter with Frank returned to her mind. When she arrived home, Aunt Maddy and Grandma were likewise very perceptive at picking up on Jane's sadness, asking her what was wrong. "What did you think when I asked you to keep my relationship with Frank a secret?" she asked them.

Both Maddy and Grandma were quiet for a while. Finally, Aunt Maddy said, "I hated it. I hate lying, Jane, and you were asking me to do something that went against everything I thought was right."

"So why did you agree to it?"

"Because you asked, sugar puff, and it was important to you. It was your relationship, after all. You've never been frivolous, Jane. You wouldn't ask something of us if you didn't have a good reason."

Jane ruminated on her aunt's words. Had she really had a good reason? She thought she had when she first returned to the U.S. It seemed like the easiest solution, the best way to prevent Frank from overshadowing her career, especially after his misbegotten plan to pay for her job at Sustainable London. But looking back, it now appeared to be a ridiculous idea.

Or maybe not. She kept thinking about the article that claimed she had been fired from her jobs in London and Los Angeles. Although the media had stopped contacting her and had moved on to newer stories, the prior gossip still had the effect of making some people she approached to support her foundation wary of working with her. It was the very thing she had feared, the kind of scandalous rumors that would come from being attached to Frank and had the potential to damage her attempts to pursue her projects.

"Frank hated it, too," Grandma suddenly said.

"What?" said Jane.

Her grandmother looked at her kindly. "Baby, you were the one he loved and was proud of, the person he prized most on earth. He wanted to show you off, and he couldn't. No matter how good things were between you behind closed doors or under the sheets, he wasn't going to like hiding you away from the world."

Jane gasped at her religious grandmother, a little stunned to hear Grandma refer to her sex life. Catching her expression, Grandma chuckled and said, "Don't look at me like that, child. You think I didn't know how often you left with him after I went to bed? Nothing is new under the sun. I was a young woman once, too."

Maddy burst out laughing. "Sugar puff, you should see your face right now! We older ladies know more about the world than you think."

Jane couldn't join in their laughter. She sighed heavily. "I really screwed up, didn't I?"

"Everybody makes mistakes in love," Maddy answered. "You just need to learn from it, that's all."

Jane went to her room a short while later to think about the conversation. All this time she had been attributing her anger to Frank and their breakup, but she was starting to see that her anger had begun long before. Grandma and Aunt Maddy and Frank were all communicating something similar: that the lying had started the downward spiral.

A memory came to her: of Frank blurting out the name of the secret owner of the Boxx restaurant, something Emma had been keeping under wraps to build excitement and momentum for the opening event. The employees of Emma Approved had signed non-disclosure agreements not to reveal the name, and yet somehow Jane had let it slip to Frank, and Frank had let it slip to Emma. Once Emma learned that Frank knew, she had freaked out, thinking that word had gotten out to the world. It hadn't, of course; it went no further than Frank. But because Jane and Frank were already concealing their relationship, Jane had to conceal the truth about how Frank learned about the secret owner as well. The Sir Walter Scott quote came to mind: "Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we first we practise to deceive!" One lie had led to another. Her deceit had added to Emma's stress in the days prior to the Boxx opening, which had exacerbated the tensions between Emma and her.

Jane suddenly felt disgusted with herself. Like Maddy, she had acted contrary to all her sense of right, and more than at Frank, more than at Emma, the anger she had been filled with the last several months had been at herself. She could never be blameless—it had been her choice, after all, to hide the relationship. As a result, she was becoming a person she didn't much like. She was changing into Diggy, who epitomized a saying she had once heard, "he loves humanity, but hates human beings." She didn't want to be that way. Maybe Caroline had been right in saying she was too idealistic, maybe she did need a harder shell for protection, but she had been taught by her family to love and to care, and this harsh, angry woman she was becoming now horrified her. A thicker skin was one thing; bitchiness was another.

She thought about her dream list. Could she become a mother to a child who had lived through deprivation and give him or her the love they needed when she had so little love in her heart right now? Could she maintain a vision for her foundation when her mind was filled with cynicism?

She couldn't, she realized. If she didn't change, none of her dreams would come true. She had to get past this. "You're better than this," Frank had said. She'd find a way to prove him right.

Chapter Text

Chapter 27

[Jane is speaking] "I long to make apologies, excuses, to urge something for myself. I feel it so very due. But, unfortunately—in short, if your compassion does not stand my friend—"

"Oh! you are too scrupulous, indeed you are," cried Emma, warmly, and taking her hand. "You owe me no apologies; and everybody to whom you might be supposed to owe them, is so perfectly satisfied, so delighted even—"

"You are very kind, but I know what my manners were to you. So cold and artificial! I had always a part to act. It was a life of deceit! I know that I must have disgusted you."

"Pray say no more. I feel that all the apologies should be on my side. Let us forgive each other at once."

Jane Fairfax and Emma Woodhouse in Emma, chapter 52

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Not long after her return from San Francisco, Jane called Emma to invite her to lunch. Emma was willing, eager even, to meet with her, much to Jane's relief. The other woman was livelier than the last time Jane had seen her, which was almost a return to her earlier high-spirits. Almost. The overconfidence and pushiness, two qualities that for so long had defined Emma and rubbed Jane the wrong way, were decidedly muted, if not gone altogether.

Jane began their time together by referencing Emma's earlier apology. "Even though some of the things you said were hard to hear, I appreciate your willingness to be honest with me. And you were sincere. I appreciate that, too."

"I was," Emma said. "I know I did a lot of things to you that were pretty awful. I just hope that you don't hate me."

"I don't hate you," Jane assured her. "In fact, I have some things to apologize for myself."

Emma shook her head. "Oh, no, Jane! You don't have anything to apologize for!"

"Yes, I do," Jane insisted. "It was me who told Frank about the Boxx owner."

Emma grinned. "Oh, come on, I figured that out as soon as I learned you two were together!"

"Still," Jane said. "I should have told you when it happened. You were so stressed out about it, and I let you stay that way, because I didn't want to come clean about my relationship with Frank. I was so tense about the whole thing that it affected my attitude at work. I was irritable and snappy with you because I felt so guilty. There were already problems between us, and my deceit just made it worse."

"You know what?" Emma said, after observing her for a moment. "I accept your apology. I know how much relief I've felt to make my own apologies and have other people accept them, so I'm guessing you'll feel the same way. So now we can forgive each other and wipe the slate clean." Her smile widened as she waved her hand in front of herself as if erasing a chalkboard.

Jane laughed then, the first time the two women had shared a laugh in—well, almost forever.

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In mid-November, Frank had a brilliant idea—of course, he had never been shy about claiming such a thing for himself. It began one evening when he had once more joined Ryan and Annie for dinner. Their invitations to him had increased over the last few months, but what was more surprising, his acceptance rate for those invitations had increased as well.

At thirty-two weeks, Annie's baby bump was huge, although with her height she carried it well. Frank had teased her about being unable to reach the stove during her cooking show, and she admitted that she was soon going to take a leave of absence. "It's really getting to be too much," she said.

"This time of year especially," added Ryan. "Everyone wants caterers, and Annie is in high demand, but she needs to take it easy."

"I'm fine," Annie insisted. "But I do need to think about getting ready for the baby, and a busy holiday season won't leave me with much time. So I've decided to take a break from it all."

"For how long?" Frank asked.

"A year."

"Really?"

Annie nodded. "I want to spend a lot of quality time with the baby. I can't picture being able to do that with my current busy schedule and having to fight traffic to go out to a catering job or drive to the studio."

"I think we'll host a few big dinner parties here, though," said Ryan. "Annie wants to keep her toes in the water with the culinary arts industry."

Frank grinned. "So cooking for your brother-in-law isn't enough?"

"Nope," Annie laughed. "You have a big appetite, but not that big. I'm just trying to figure out how to balance staying on top of my game while still devoting most of my time to our daughter."

Reflecting on the conversation later that night, Frank had a sudden inspiration and began to take notes on a legal pad. About a week later, those notes had turned into a ten-page business plan, of which Frank had three copies printed and inserted in presentation covers. He then contacted two people to meet him for lunch.

"So what is this big idea of yours?" Annie asked as she sat down to join him.

"I'm curious myself," added Maddy, who sat next to Annie and opposite Frank.

Frank passed each of them a copy of the proposal. Annie smiled as she flipped through the pages. "Do you want us to read this now?"

"No, you can read it later, but I'll summarize what's in it. Maddy," he turned to her, "likes to make jams. She also makes and cans a few other food items, such as mustards and marinades. But, if it's okay for me to say this, her flavors sometimes leave something to be desired."

Maddy smiled and nodded, indicating that his words were okay.

"Now, Annie," he turned to his sister-in-law, "is a chef. She has a culinary arts degree and a commercial kitchen in her house. She wants to take some time off with her baby coming, but also wants to stay involved in the food industry." Frank spread his arms out to both women. "My idea is to have you work together to create a viable and marketable food line."

"I'm listening," Maddy said. "Now you really have me interested."

"Oh, me, too!" said Annie.

"Maddy, do you remember when you told me that you started combining different fruits and vegetables in your jams because you didn't want anything to go to waste?"

Maddy nodded.

"The idea of zero waste is actually trendy now with people who are eco-conscious. In addition, you have a lot of parents who want to find ways to get their kids to eat more vegetables. That's why V8 is able to make juices that combine fruits and vegetables and promise a full serving of vegetables in each bottle. So why not do the same thing with other foods kids like to eat, like jams or maybe even puddings?"

He turned back to Annie. "And here's where you come in. I'd like you to figure out a way to make Maddy's foods taste good."

"And you think we can market this?" Annie asked.

Frank pointed to the business plan. "I do. I have several ideas outlined in here. First of all, the schools are trying to offer healthier foods to kids in keeping with the First Lady's guidelines. We can try to make Maddy's foods a part of the school breakfast and lunch menu. To promote the idea of zero waste, we can give points to schools that recycle our packaging, and a certain number of points will enable a school to receive a small monetary donation."

"Like the 'Boxtops for Schools' program," Maddy said. "I remember cutting those out when Jane was a kid."

"Right. So that's one market: health conscious parents and schools. The second market is where we'll really look for profits: upscale, environmentally conscious consumers, who like the idea of locally produced, organic foods, who will love the idea of zero waste, and who might be open to trying creative combinations of jams, condiments, and marinades. There are sixteen million people in the greater L.A. area, and a lot of them fit that profile."

"I like it," said Annie.

"So do I," Maddy said.

"But here's the thing," Frank reminded them, "none of this will work unless your foods taste really, really good. If you two can figure out a way to create some delicious recipes, then I'll provide all the financing, and I promise you, I'll get this to market and make it sell."

"Frank, you would do this for us?" Maddy said, her expression really touched. "This is amazing!"

"It is!" echoed Annie. "So, we'll have to come up with a name for our company. Maybe we can combine our names and call it, 'Mannie'?"

Frank gaped at her in horror. "Oh no! No, you WON'T! You two better go to the drawing board and figure out something else for a name, because I'm not putting my money into anything called Mannie!"

Both ladies burst out laughing.

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"Can you cook?" were the first words out of Caroline's mouth when Jane answered her call.

"Yes, I can cook," Jane answered, puzzled by the abrupt question.

"Oh, good! What are you doing for Thanksgiving?"

"We're having dinner with friends of the family." Given Caroline's feelings about Emma, Jane thought it wise not to mention that the friends were the Woodhouses.

"They can spare you, right? Because I need you!"

"What's this about, Caroline?"

"James' family is coming for dinner, and I said I'd cook! I tried to make Thanksgiving dinner for my family and friends two years ago, and it was a disaster!"

Jane frowned, disturbed. Caroline was asking her to cook her Thanksgiving dinner. Not inviting her over as a guest, but asking her to cook. "As I said, we have plans."

"But I need you, Jane! James' parents are bringing the turkey, and I'm supposed to make the side dishes! But I can't cook at all! Trust me, I've tried it!"

"Did you volunteer for this?"

"Yes!"

"Why?" Why would Caroline offer to do something she couldn't do?

"To make sure all the sides are vegan, and to impress them."

Jane smiled despite herself. "And you want me to impress them instead."

"No, we'll do it together! You can teach me as we go along. And then you'll join us for dinner."

Ah, so there was at least a dinner invitation in there. Jane sighed. Caroline had done a lot for her during the past several months. Helping her cook Thanksgiving dinner was a small favor to ask in return. "Let me talk to my aunt and grandmother, and get back to you about it."

She wondered whether Caroline would then offer to invite Maddy and Grandma as well, but she did not. "Please let me know soon, because I really, really need your help!"

When the call ended, Jane went to find Aunt Maddy, who was sitting on the sofa in the living room folding a clean load of laundry. "Aunt Maddy," Jane said, "Caroline asked me to help her make Thanksgiving dinner for her husband's family. Would you feel okay about that? Since that means I wouldn't be with you and Grandma?"

"Caroline's helped you out a lot, hasn't she?" Maddy said as she placed a blouse on a hanger.

Jane nodded.

"Then if she needs you, you need to be there for her." Maddy grinned. "You can pinch that cute senator's cheeks for me."

That was easy, Jane thought with a smile.

"Hey, I have a question for you, too. Frank has a business idea. He wants to work with Annie and me to bring my jams to market. What do you think about that?"

Jane was surprised, to say the least. "He thinks people will buy them?"

"That's why he wants me to work with Annie, so she can help me figure out good flavor combinations. But he has some creative ideas, and thinks they'll really sell."

"Then go for it."

"I just want to make sure you don't feel funny about me working with Frank like this."

Jane shook her head. "Not at all." A thought came to her. "Are you going to be meeting with him regularly?"

When Maddy said yes, Jane asked, "Would you be willing to take him a note from me?" She had never had a chance to apologize to him in San Francisco, and it had been weighing on her conscience.

"Jane!" Maddy scolded. "I'm not passing notes between you and Frank."

"It would just be one time, Aunt Maddy. I don't know if I'm up to talking to him or seeing him, and a text seems too impersonal. You can tell him he doesn't have to respond. I promise you, it will just be this one time."

Maddy reluctantly agreed, so Jane went back to her room to write the note. After several fits and starts, she finally decided to keep it simple. She wrote,

Dear Frank,

Please accept my apology for my abominable behavior at the VERGE conference. Thank you for what you said to me that day. It was enlightening, and something I really need to hear.

Jane

On Thursday, November 27, Jane found herself at the Elton's Encino home, helping Caroline to make savory sweet potatoes with garlic and basil, gingered cranberries with pears and walnuts, brown rice and wild rice dressing, macaroni with a cashew "cheese" sauce, and a mixed green salad. For dessert they would have apple pie with coconut milk whipped topping.

"Smells good in here," James said as he entered the kitchen.

"Your family is going to love it," Caroline smiled. "How does the dining room look?"

"Table's all set, the cornucopia is laid out, and I've chosen the wine," he answered.

"Ohh, my caro sposo," Caroline said, making a kissy face at him. "You're so wonderful!"

He grinned and made one back. "I'm leaving now to pick up Gran."

"His grandmother lives in an assisted living facility in Pasadena," Caroline explained to Jane.

Before walking out, James hugged and kissed his wife, turning to Jane and saying, "Isn't she beautiful and amazing?"

"Oh, stop!" Caroline said, but she preened and tossed her hair over her shoulder. Jane suppressed her laughter. They certainly had mushiness down.

After the senator left, Jane asked what Caroline's family was doing for Thanksgiving. "My parents went to visit Bing and Jane in New York. They haven't set a wedding date yet, so I think they plan to bug them about it."

"Gigi tells me that she and her brother are having dinner with Jane and Lizzie's family."

Caroline rolled her eyes. "Poor things. The Bennets live in the middle of this podunk town in Nowheresville, California, and they are a nightmare."

"What do you mean?" Jane asked, puzzled. Jane and Lizzie Benent both seemed to be really nice people, so she couldn't imagine their family being any different.

"They're loud and uncouth and embarrassing."

Jane was quiet for a moment, thinking. "You've met my aunt," she finally said. "She's pretty loud and on occasion she has embarrassed me. Some might say she's uncouth."

Caroline sighed. "I wasn't comparing her to them."

"I didn't think you were, but I know what some people think about her. But you know what?"

"What?"

"My aunt is also loving, caring, generous, forgiving, and wise. If loud and embarrassing are part of that package, I'll take it, because she's the best aunt I could ever imagine having. Lizzie and Jane might feel the same way about their family."

Caroline wasn't willing to concede the point. "Of course you always love your family, no matter what they're like. That doesn't mean other people should have to put up with them."

Instead of taking offense, Jane grinned, the desire to tease Caroline arising. "They're going to be your family, too, once Bing gets married."

Caroline groaned, and Jane laughed. "Maybe you should start looking for those better qualities in them, since you'll be stuck with them!"

"Let's talk about something else," Caroline said, her irritation evident. "Like your foundation. How is it going?"

Jane waggled her head to indicate so-so. "Slowly. I'm trying to set up a meeting with someone from the L.A. Unified School District, to talk about bringing water conservation information into the schools. It's hard opening those doors."

"You'll find a way. Like I said before, your talents were wasted at your old job, with that conceited Emma and that pathetic Harriet."

Jane looked at her sharply. Caroline's remark about Emma she could understand, but why would she say that about Harriet? "Harriet's a really sweet person, and she's very hardworking and creative. She's not pathetic at all. I find her rather impressive."

Caroline rolled her eyes again. "Okay, maybe she's not completely pathetic. I did see some moxie in her at times that I wasn't expecting. But can you believe she used to think she could have a relationship with James?"

"She used to like him?"

Caroline nodded. "How dare she?"

Jane shrugged. "He's smart, good-looking, and successful. Why shouldn't she like him? Anyway, it's obviously over, since he's married to you and Harriet has a boyfriend now." For the past several months, Harriet had been dating Robert Martin, a really cute, kind of geeky guy who sometimes provided IT support at Emma Approved.

"But he's mine! Who was she to think that someone like her could be with someone like James?"

Jane looked closely at Caroline, pondering the intensity of her reaction to Harriet's former crush on her husband. As she watched the expression of indignation on Caroline's face, Jane could suddenly see the vulnerable and somewhat insecure woman beneath the brash, confident mask Caroline usually wore. "Caroline, do you remember what you said to me at the spa about why you picked Emma Approved to plan your engagement party?"

"I wanted to show Emma that I won," Caroline replied.

"Exactly. When James was here, it was obvious to me how much he loves and admires you. He's an incredible man with a lot of influence in this state, who may one day have a lot of influence in the entire country. And he chose you. So you don't have to worry about Emma or Harriet or any other woman, and you certainly don't have to put them down. You won, Caroline. You won."

Caroline stared at Jane for a moment, and slowly she began to smile. "Yeah, I guess I did."

Chapter Text

Chapter 28

Christmas morning. As much as Jane wished against it, she couldn't stop the memories of the prior year's holiday from coming back to her. She had never fully gotten over Frank—and perhaps she never would—but she had arrived at a state of equilibrium, where her anger had dissolved and neither periods of longing for him nor feelings of deep sorrow overwhelmed her anymore when he came to mind. Instead, she mostly felt gentle pangs of regret for what they had lost and over her own role in damaging the relationship.

Not so this morning. She should not have been surprised. The entire week between Christmas and New Year's Day the previous year had been one of exquisite happiness, the likes of which she had never felt before or since. It was no wonder that her memories of that time were returning so insistently. She rose to make pancakes for her family, and during breakfast was unable to mask her melancholy or the reason for it from two women who knew her so well.

"You're missing him, aren't you?" Grandma asked her.

Jane nodded.

"That's the hard part about the holidays," Aunt Maddy said. "It makes you miss the ones you love."

Jane wondered at that moment how much her aunt and grandmother missed her parents during the holidays. She had been so young when they died that her memories of them were sparse. Mostly what she felt was the hole, the gap where parents should have been, but not the loss of the actual people who were Dominic and Jeanine Fairfax.

"It makes you miss the ones you love." Did this mean she still loved Frank? Is that why she was pining for him so much in this moment? She supposed a part of her always would love him, but she was convinced now that their breakup was meant to be. She still recalled her words during their big blow-up prior to the Boxx opening: "Clearly I've lost sight of who I really am!" A sense of herself is what she had regained since their split. She was once more focused on her goals, determined to no longer make the professional compromises she had made to work with Emma, or the character compromises she had made to be with Frank. But with kindness, she reminded herself. That was an important lesson Frank had taught her when she'd seen him in October: she should never lose her kindness while striving to achieve her dreams.

That didn't make dealing with her aching nostalgia any easier. Her yearning would be unlikely to diminish during their Christmas celebration later that day with the Woodhouse family, given the connections between Frank and those who were sure to be in attendance. At least she probably wouldn't to see him, since Frank usually traveled around the holidays and, as far as Jane knew, he had never been a guest at the Woodhouse home.

By mid-afternoon, shortly after Jane and her family arrived at the home of Emma and her father Henry Woodhouse, Jane would learn that she was mistaken. The other guests that day included Alex Knightley, Emma's sister Izzy, her husband John Knightley (who was Alex's brother) and their two children, and Mr. and Mrs. Taylor, Annie Weston's parents. In their parlor, Emma and her dad had set up a beautifully laid out table covered with canapés and beverages for the guests to enjoy while dinner was being prepared.

That's where Jane was when the doorbell rang again and Emma left the parlor to answer it. Jane could hear Ryan and Annie Weston, and one other voice—Frank's. She inhaled, wondering whether she was ready to see him. She still recalled with embarrassment how cold and unkind she had been to him in San Francisco, not to mention all the turmoil she'd felt earlier in the day.

The three newcomers entered the parlor and exchanged holiday greetings with the rest of the guests. Frank had spotted Jane and their eyes met when he first walked into the room, but he turned away to say hello to everyone else. Uncertain what to do, she held back.

Jane was standing by the refreshment table holding a glass when Frank made his way toward her. Her note to him had eased the sting of their encounter in October, but he was still hesitant to approach her. He didn't want to ignore her, however, and so decided that it was better to greet her and get it over with. "Hi," he said quietly.

"Hi," she said back.

They stood there awkwardly for a moment, and then Frank nodded at her glass. "You can't drink that, can you?"

She looked at her creamy drink. "Oh, it's made from almond milk and spices." She pointed to a tall carafe containing a thick beverage that stood on the table near the punchbowl filled with real eggnog. "There are no eggs or dairy in this. Emma made it especially for Maddy and me."

She seemed shy but not hostile, so Frank tried to lighten their mutual discomfort with a joke. "That's too bad," he said with a playful smile. "You're missing out on the spiked stuff."

She raised her eyebrows. "The eggnog in the punchbowl better not be spiked. The kids have had multiple glasses of it."

"I guess we'll know in a few minutes, won't we?" he quipped, and they both laughed. Frank liked that, laughing with Jane again. He looked at her for a moment longer and said, "It's really good to see you."

"You, too," she answered.

Frank touched her shoulder gently and then moved on to gather a plate of refreshments. He had known that Jane might be here today, had been mentally preparing himself for it, and now that they'd had their first contact, he was feeling better able to handle the rest of the holiday celebration. His plans to go trout fishing for Christmas had fallen through and his dad was spending the holiday in Rome with a woman he'd recently met, so Annie and Ryan had insisted that he come today, not wanting him to be at home alone and moping. Now that he was here, he was glad he had come. It made him happy to see Jane smiling again. He watched her walk over to warmly greet Ryan and Annie.

A short while later he found himself in conversation with six-year-old Henry Knightley and his four-year-old sister Emma, who were Izzy and John's children. The kids asked if he wanted to hear a poem.

"Go for it," he encouraged them.

In tag-team sing-song voices, with Henry starting and his sister responding, they recited the following,

"Whatcha doin'?"

"Eatin' chocolate."

"Where'dja get it?"

"Doggy dropped it!"

"Where's the doggy?"

"At the door."

"What's he doin'?"

"Makin' more!"

The two children exploded into laughter. Frank couldn't help laughing, too, telling them, "Aw man! Now I'll never be able to eat chocolate again without that image coming to mind, and I used to love chocolate!"

In that instant, his mind flooded with the memory of the words, "I love chocolate," and the previous exhilarating Christmas when he and Jane had first fallen in love. He barely heard Izzy scold her children for telling a gross joke. He turned to look at Jane and found her staring back. Was she remembering the same thing? Her eyes, those doe eyes that always made him melt inside, were wide as they met his.

The spell between them was broken when Emma announced that dinner was ready, and everyone strolled out of the parlor and into the dining room. The two children insisted that Frank sit between them and he accepted, making their father John laugh. "You're a brave man, Frank!"

Frank didn't think bravery had anything to do with it. The kids were fun, and getting caught up in their silliness kept him from thinking about Jane.

At the other end of the table, Jane sat near the Taylors and the Westons. Mr. and Mrs. Taylor were as warm and gracious as she remembered them. "I hear you're trying to start your own foundation," Mr. Taylor said to her. "How is that coming along?"

Jane sighed. "Not as well as I would like. The logistical pieces, such as the administrative steps and paperwork I need to become a registered nonprofit, are coming together. But I'm struggling to find supporters." Here she silently lamented that damned article again, which continued to make a number of prospective donors view her with suspicion. Despite the sponsorship of the Lees and Darcys, she still hadn't found her third large donor yet. "However, the biggest problem is the Ebola crisis in western Africa."

"Terrible thing," said Mrs. Taylor. "It's just heartbreaking to hear about so many people dying."

"Was that your plan, to work in West Africa?" Mr. Taylor asked.

Jane nodded. "I'll be working in the U.S, too, but an important part of my vision was for West Africa. I spent a summer during my graduate school years in Sierra Leone, and knew from that time that access to clean water is a huge problem there. I have always dreamed of going back to help address that need. But with the crisis, the State Department doesn't want Americans who are neither public officials nor medical professionals traveling there."

"That's understandable," Ryan chipped in. "Jane, your health and safety are more important than anything."

"I know," Jane said ruefully, "but I still wish I could do something. But even if I could travel there, all attention and resources are focused on the health crisis, and rightly so. Other issues, no matter how important, such as clean water access, are falling by the wayside."

The Taylors asked a few more questions, and then turned to a subject that was lighter and more appropriate for a holiday dinner: Ryan's plans to expand his cupcake business into Latin America. As they talked about the latest Cuddly Cupcakes flavors and locations, Jane began to steal glances toward the other end of the table where Frank was sitting with the Knightley children. She kept hearing his earlier words, "I used to love chocolate," and reliving the memory of his mischievous grin the year before when he had talked about loving chocolate as a way to tease her.

Annie noticed Jane's wandering attention. "He's good with them, isn't he?"

Jane looked up, a bit startled to have been caught. "Yes, he is. Frank loves kids." She remembered how much he had enjoyed spending time with Daniel and Karyanne and the children she had taught at the community center.

Annie smiled. "He's going to be a wonderful uncle to Caitlyn."

Grateful to be able to change the subject, Jane said, "So you're having a girl!"

Annie nodded. "Caitlyn Taylor. We figured my last name would make a good middle name."

"It's a pretty name. How are you feeling now? You're due soon, aren't you?"

"In about ten more days! And I am very ready to have this baby."

She and Annie continued to talk baby stuff throughout the dinner. When they finished, everyone returned to the parlor where Mr. Woodhouse asked Jane to play Christmas carols on the upright piano he had purchased for Emma as a child. Because Jane played, Emma had insisted upon lessons, too, but had only persisted with them for about a year.

Jane sat down to play and sing, trying hard to stay focused on the songs and the season they celebrated. Still distracted by Frank's presence, she could tell he wasn't participating. His voice was so distinctive that she would have picked it out above everyone's, but he clearly wasn't singing. She didn't even know whether he was still in the room.

Frank was in fact in the room, standing behind everyone and watching Jane. The wistfulness he had felt earlier intensified as he watched her fingers flow over the keys and listened to her lovely voice. Everything was coming back to him: their trip to Scotland; the look of admiration for him on Jane's face when she heard Betty's story; the first time Jane said the words, "I love you"and he'd said them back; dancing together on New Year's Eve; hours spent in lovemaking and simply enjoying each other.

When Emma announced that dessert was ready in the den, where everyone would gather to watch Henry Woodhouse's favorite movie, It's a Wonderful Life, Frank was unable to move from his spot. As the other guests began to filter out of the room, he continued to watch Jane, who was staring at the piano keys. When she finally stood up, they were the only two who remained in the parlor.

"Oh!" Jane jumped when she saw him, as though he'd startled her.

"Sorry," he mumbled. "I didn't mean to scare you."

They both stood there for a moment, and then Jane started to walk toward him. Since he had taken the initiative to approach her earlier, she decided that it was her turn. His expression was very pensive as she drew near. "Are you okay?" she asked.

Frank shrugged.

"Is it this time of year?" Jane asked. Since she was filled yearning memories of the previous Christmas, she wondered if he were as well.

Frank nodded. Jane was as beautiful as ever, and the tender look in her eyes, one he hadn't seen in quite some time, was making him long to kiss her.

She licked her lips. "I, um... I owe you some apologies. And some thanks."

Frank shook his head. "You sent me a note, Jane. You don't owe me anything else."

"Yes, I do. First of all, thank you for helping Maddy get her new business started. She's so excited about it."

Frank smiled. "It's been fun. She and Annie together are a hoot."

Jane smiled back. "And thank you again for what you said to me at the conference in San Francisco. I really needed to hear it."

He shook his head. "I was out of line, like you said."

"No, you weren't. You were right." Jane knew that the note she'd sent a month ago hadn't even begun to communicate the apology she owed him. "Even beyond my behavior that day, you made me realize that I had been blaming you for everything that went wrong in our relationship, and it wasn't all your fault. A lot of it was my fault, too. Especially the decision to lie about our relationship. It really did have a negative effect on me. Because of that, I became resentful, and angry, and cold, and someone even I didn't much like. I didn't listen to the ways that you were trying to tell me how much it bothered you. And I hurt you because of it. I'm sorry, Frank. I really am."

He stared at her. He wasn't expecting a confession from Jane, and although part of him wanted to argue that she had nothing to apologize for, her words filled him with a sense of relief, like a burden being lifted from his shoulders. Of course, that only made his desire to kiss her stronger. He clasped his hands behind his back to resist the temptation to take her into his arms.

"Anyway," Jane went on when he didn't respond. "We should probably go and join everyone else in the den."

Frank nodded and turned to leave the room with her. He kept his hands firmly linked together behind him, so great was his longing to hold her. Before they rejoined the rest of the party, he worked up the courage to say, "Jane, do you think it's possible that you and I could be friends again?"

Friends. Friendship was possible, Jane decided; it wouldn't interfere with the objectives she was trying to accomplish, and they had too many connections to continue avoiding each other anyway. Besides, she missed Frank's company. She smiled at him and nodded. "I'd like that."

Chapter Text

Chapter 29

Mrs. Weston's friends were all made happy by her safety; and if the satisfaction of her well-doing could be increased to Emma, it was by knowing her to be the mother of a little girl.

Emma, ch. 53

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On Saturday, the third of January, 2015, Caitlyn Taylor Weston was born. On her second day of life, a crowd of well-wishers gathered in Annie's room of the post-partum unit at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center to welcome the little girl into the world. Proud papa Ryan, Mr. and Mrs. Taylor, Emma Woodhouse, and Alex Knightley were already present when Frank arrived.

"Annie, you're going to be the best mother!" Emma was gushing as Frank entered the room.

"Provided she doesn't spoil Caitlyn the way you were spoiled," Alex quipped.

"Hey!" Emma smacked Alex lightly on the arm.

He laughed. "No need to get upset! I've become rather fond of spoiled children since I've been with you!"

Frank grinned at their banter, and then asked whether he could see his new niece. The other visitors stepped aside so that he could approach Annie, who was wearing a cushy bathrobe and sitting in a rocking chair, holding the tiny sleeping child. As Frank moved closer, Mrs. Taylor stood up from a chair beside her daughter so that Frank could take her place. One look at the bald, slightly wrinkled but still beautiful baby, and something melted inside him.

"Hey, I'm your uncle, kid!" he whispered to Caitlyn. He gazed at her face in wonder. "Look at her! Two little eyes, and ears, and look at that little nose and mouth!" He gently touched her tiny hands. "Ten perfect little fingers. Does she have ten toes, too?" The infant's feet were covered by the fabric of her one-piece sleeper.

"Oh man, you're worse than I am!" Ryan laughed, while Annie assured him that all of her daughter's body parts were intact.

In the days and weeks that followed, Frank found himself as drawn to the Weston household to visit little Caitlyn as he had been to visit Jane at the Emma Approved offices when she worked there. Annie handled new motherhood with her usual serenity, while Ryan was hyper with excitement about being a father.

"Your chance to get it right?" Frank asked his brother one evening as he watched him cuddle a recently nursed Caitlyn.

"Exactly," Ryan answered, just as his daughter scrunched up her face and made a grunting sound. A particularly foul smell soon filled the air. "Even this," he added with a laugh, before placing Caitlyn on the changing table and reaching for a new diaper.

Frank turned his head in disgust. "How could someone so cute produce something so vile? How can you stand it?"

Ryan laughed some more. "You get used to it. Just wait until you have your own!"

And... that made him think of Jane. He remembered Rose saying he and Jane would make pretty babies someday, and he mused for a minute about what their children would look like. Then he mentally kicked himself. He and Jane were friends. That was it.

A few days later when he came over for dinner, Frank made Jane laugh as he shared his most recent Caitlyn stories and showed her the hundreds of photos of the baby he had taken with his phone. The Bates' household was another place where he had been a frequent guest of late. Jane put him to work chopping root vegetables for soup while she scrolled through the pictures. "It's a good thing you don't live with them," she commented. "The poor kid would never get any sleep."

"True," Frank agreed, grinning. "I can't get enough of her." He paused his vegetable-chopping for a moment, thinking. "I wonder if my dad felt this way about me."

"Of course he did. How could he not?" Jane couldn't imagine not feeling such love for one's child.

Frank raised an unconvinced eyebrow. "Yeah, but I know I would never not be here for Caitlyn, and she's not even my kid. If my dad felt this way when I was a baby, what changed?"

"Why don't you ask him?"

"Scared of the answer, I guess. He'll give just another weak excuse, and expect that to be enough."

Jane looked at him sympathetically as she placed Frank's mobile down on the counter. Frank had told her that he had been reaching out to his dad frequently in the last few months, which had resulted in them seeing each other more often, but not in much more depth to their relationship. "I wish I had some advice for you, but I don't."

"Well, enough about him." Frank went back to chopping. "Did you know I'm going to London next week?"

"Really?" Jane said enthusiastically. "Are you going to get a chance to see Sarah and Peter?"

"Definitely. I'm checking into some of my companies in the UK, including Peter's."

Jane made a pouty face as she deftly chopped an onion. "I'm so jealous! Every time I talk to Sarah, I think about how much I miss them. Please give them all my love."

"I will." Frank bit his tongue to resist the temptation to invite Jane to come with him.

Jane began to sauté onions and garlic in a large stockpot. "How are your investments doing overall? Was there, um..." Did she dare ask?

"Was there what?"

"Uh... I guess I was wondering if there was any fallout from the media attention last summer?" She was curious and concerned about whether he had encountered the same difficulties she had.

"Some, at first. Richmond asked me to resign, but I expected that. Then three more companies followed suit. But when the Rockefeller Brothers announced their divestiture from fossil fuels in September, a lot of people looked at my move in a new light. The Frank Churchill name became hot again."

"Oh," Jane said quietly. "You can add the other vegetables now."

Frank watched her closely as he emptied the large bowl of cut-up vegetables into the stockpot, feeling the sudden tension in Jane's demeanor. He recalled the article his father had shown him. "Jane, I know the media got to you, too. I'm really sorry about that. That was what you were so worried about, and it turns out you were right to be worried."

She shook her head as she stirred the vegetables around, and then began to add vegetable broth and spices to the pot. "It's not your fault. It was inevitable that it would happen sooner or later."

She wasn't looking at him, but remained focused on the pot. He didn't know much about making soup, but he was sure it didn't require that much intense concentration. "Tell me, Jane. What happened?"

Jane sighed. She didn't want to make Frank feel like he was to blame for forces outside of either of their control.

He took the wooden spoon from her hand. "I'll stir. Talk to me."

Jane sat down at the kitchen table and twisted her mouth. "Well, some people now see me as a radical temptress who can't keep a job."

Frank exhaled. "Whereas I'm now considered a visionary, socially conscious investor. Dammit, I'm so sorry."

"It is not your fault!" she repeated firmly.

Frank looked at her gently and then back at the stove. "All this has to do is cook now, right?"

"That's right. Let it come to a boil, and then we'll turn it down to simmer."

With those instructions, Frank placed the spoon down on a spoon rest beside the pot, and joined her at the table. "Okay, I won't apologize again, but I will say that I wish it was different for you. I remember that time you told me I was born on third base but thought I hit a triple. I don't think I appreciated back then how much I'm a child of good fortune, compared to how hard you've had to work for everything."

Jane looked at him with soft eyes. "Yes, but the question you asked about your dad earlier? I never had to wonder that about my family."

He thought about that for a second, and then touched his nose and pointed at her. Being the niece and granddaughter of the two Bates women was Jane's good fortune indeed.

Jane grinned and imitated his gesture. "I've missed seeing that! Anyway, it hasn't been that bad. It's frustrating at times, but I'm making progress." She had made a decision to stay focused on the positive in the new year, although she had to remind herself of that pledge frequently. "I have a couple of solid sponsors who believe in what I'm doing, and I have an appointment in a few of weeks with someone from the curriculum and instruction department with the L.A. Schools. It's the foot in the door I've been waiting for. I'm not giving up."

Frank smiled in admiration. "You remain very stubborn, Jane Fairfax!"

"Which is sometimes a good thing, right?" Jane smiled back. Hearing the plopping sounds of the soup starting to boil, she rose to give it a quick stir and turn the stove down low.

"So you think there's no lasting damage from the articles?" he asked when she sat down again.

"Nothing that can't be fixed. Besides, there are much worse things someone could say about me than that I had an affair with Frank Churchill."

Jane's eyes twinkled as she spoke, indicating she was teasing him, but Frank's heart leaped in response. He had told himself he would push for nothing other than friendship, that he wouldn't become some stereotype of a guy showing care for a woman for no other reason than to try to force her into a relationship of obligation. Usually that wasn't hard; he really did care about Jane and genuinely liked as a person. But cripes, did he desire the romantic relationship as well, and comments like the one she had just made set every nerve ending in his soul and body on fire.

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When Jane talked to Sarah a couple of weeks later, her friend mentioned the visit from Frank. "He tells me you two have become friends again."

"Yes, that's true."

"So... how do you feel about that?"

"Grateful," Jane answered. "I do appreciate his friendship." "Attitude and gratitude," one of Maddy's favorite sayings, was another thing Jane had decided to once more adopt in the new year. She had gotten away from counting her blessings during the last seven or eight months of 2014, but she had begun again in 2015. It wasn't long before she realized that Frank was one of the top blessings on her list. She enjoyed his company a great deal, and was very thankful that he was willing to be a part of her life again.

"And that's it?"

"Sarah," Jane said firmly. "What are you doing?"

Her friend laughed. "After Frank left, Peter and I were talking about how much we like him, and even more so now. He was his same jovial self, but he was also different. More serious and thoughtful somehow, even when he was joking around with us. We couldn't help wondering if there was a future for you two."

Jane sighed. "I don't know. I know I need to stay focused on my goals right now, and the last thing I need is to have a relationship get in the way."

"You can do both," Sarah pointed out. "I'm doing it."

"I can't," Jane reiterated. Even with the progress she'd made, she was still facing too many obstacles to even let herself think beyond her goals.

"Okay; I won't bring it up again. I do have some very good news for you."

Jane resisted the temptation to ask if Sarah was pregnant, and as it turned out, the news, at least from Jane's perspective, was even better.

"We're going to the U.S. next summer!"

"Oh my God, Sarah, that's awesome! When?"

"Probably early July. I'm at the point where I've begun my dissertation research here in England, and now I need to start the comparisons in the United States with first-hand information. I'm trying to set up some interviews now. Peter will stay two weeks, but I intend to stay a month."

"Oh, Sarah, I'm so excited! I can't wait to see you!"

The two talked for a while longer about Sarah and Peter's plans, and Jane knew that she would have one more blessing to count that night before bed.

Chapter Text

Chapter 30

"I understand where you're coming from, Ms. Fairfax. I need you to understand where I'm coming from," said Elena Gutierrez, a sharply dressed woman in her forties who was one of the deputy directors of curriculum and instruction for the L.A. Unified Schools. She had just finished listening politely to Jane's impassioned plea to bring a water conservation curriculum to students in the district.

Ms. Gutierrez pointed to the rows of four-inch binders which filled two bookcases in her office. "Each of those binders," she said, "represents one or more curricula that we are required to cover with the students in the district. They include all the various academic subjects, but also the additional requirements for special education students and English language learners. On top of that, we also have expectations from the state or from the superintendent to implement initiatives around health, nutrition, anti-bullying, violence prevention, and sexual harassment."

Jane nodded. "It wasn't that long ago that I was high school. I do remember all that we were required to cover. It's just that this is a critical time to reach students with this information. They're going to become adults and have to live with the consequences of climate change and the current drought. I'd like to help them be prepared to take action. Their future depends on it!"

Ms. Gutierrez gave Jane a small smile. "Believe me, I think your program is a worthy one. We simply don't have the time or capacity to add yet another program to our already overtaxed school day. I'm very sorry."

Jane exhaled. "I understand." She started to gather the materials she had brought with her.

"Ms. Fairfax?" said the other woman as Jane stood up. "You might want to look into out-of-school time programs. Other than setting aside time for tutoring and homework help, most of them are very open-ended in terms of the programs they can offer."

Jane smiled. "Thank you. I'll look into that." She expressed her appreciation for Ms. Gutierrez's time, and then said goodbye.

Her car was becoming a familiar place for Jane to vent her frustrations. After school and summer programs might be a good option, as Ms. Gutierrez had suggested, but reaching out to them would be a slow, piecemeal endeavor and wouldn't provide the widespread opportunity to expose young people to water conservation that Jane had hoped for through the schools. After finally connecting with someone from the school district following more than three months of attempts, Jane had had such hopes for this meeting and thus her disappointment was profound.

She turned on the radio and caught a news program with yet another story about the Ebola outbreak in Africa. This one described bodies lying on the streets of Freetown, Sierra Leone. Jane's mind went back almost five years now, to her summer spent in that city, to the resilience of the people she'd met there who had overcome civil war and were determined to build a brighter future, and to the hope of the young orphans who had found a home, education, food and health care at the United Together Children's Centre. What would become of the people she had grown to love so much? Would they be able to overcome once more after this horrific crisis? She thought of her own dream to adopt a child in that country in the next two years. Would that even be possible?

She arrived home late in the morning, surprised to find her house quiet. Although she knew Aunt Maddy had had some appointments that morning, it wasn't Grandma's day for dialysis, so she expected to find her watching TV. Jane went to her room to change from the suit she was wearing into jeans and a blouse, and then entered the kitchen to make lunch. Just as she was about to open the refrigerator, she noticed the note on the table. She picked it up, recognizing her aunt's handwriting, and read, "I didn't want to call because I knew you had your important meeting. Mama was having trouble breathing this morning, so I took her into the ER at Harbor."

Jane grabbed her cell phone and dialed Maddy's number, and the call went to voice mail immediately. Not surprising—if they were at the hospital, Maddy probably had to turn her phone off. As she ended the call, Jane's brain suddenly clouded up, and her body felt heavy. What if something was really wrong with Grandma? In that moment the pain of the entire day—no, of the entire past year—flooded her mind and overwhelmed her: losing her job and losing her roommate, the ups and downs and sorrows of her relationship with Frank, leaving London, her frustrations with Emma, the anger and pain of the Boxx opening, fighting the media rumors, the struggles to get her foundation off the ground, yet another setback this morning, the awareness of so many people dying. And now her grandmother, her rock, her tether, was in the hospital. She found herself unable to think clearly, unable to move, unable to do anything except sit down at the kitchen table and stare into space.

She had no concept of time, of how long she remained in that position. She vaguely recognized the sound of the front doorbell ringing, but made no moves to answer it. The sounds were followed a few minutes later by rapid knocking at the back kitchen door. Again, Jane didn't move. It was only when she heard her name called out that she looked up to see Frank peering into the kitchen door window.

"Jane, please answer the door!" he called out again, and somehow that registered. Slowly she rose and walked over to let him in.

"Jane, what's going on?" Frank asked in a worried voice when he entered. "Maddy and I were supposed to meet to go over logo concepts, and she didn't show up, and she's not answering her phone. But I saw your car and figured you were home." When she didn't respond, he said, "Jane, are you all right? What's wrong?"

She pointed to the note on the table. Frank picked it up and read it. He sat down beside her and took one of her hands between his own. "I'll drive you to the hospital."

Jane shook her head. "I can't. I can't go."

She was looking down at her lap, but she could feel his eyes on her. "I'm sure Maddy and Mrs. Bates would want you there," he said.

"No, no, NO!" she protested.

"Jane, I know you're scared—"

"What if she dies before I get my foundation off the ground?"

Frank stared at her. He understood the fear of losing a grandparent. He had been there himself. But he was more than a little bewildered that she was thinking about her foundation at a time like this. "I don't think that matters right now."

An upwelling of emotion suddenly broke through Jane's stupor. "Yes, it does! It DOES! I've spent the last year doing nothing, and this is my chance to show Grandma that I'm back on track and she can still be proud of me!"

Something was off, very off, about Jane right now, Frank thought. Her grandmother was in the hospital. "Why are you worried about this right now?"

"I have to make her proud of me!" Jane said in a desperate voice.

"You think there's ever any time when she's not proud of you?"

"This past year. How could she be? Look at all the mistakes I made!"

"You're human, Jane. Everybody makes mistakes."

"But that's just about all I've made this last year."

Frank swallowed and didn't say anything. Her relationship with him was a big part of the last year.

Jane covered her face. He could tell she had started crying, and he reached over to stroke her shoulders. After several minutes of silence, he said softly, "Please let me take you to your grandmother."

"No! I can't face her! Everything I'm trying to do is failing!"

"So what? Who cares about any of that right now?" He didn't understand what was happening with Jane.

"I do! I have to make this work!"

"And what if it doesn't?"

"That would be horrible," she sniffled.

"Why?"

She lowered her hands and looked at him. Her eyes were red, and her cheeks damp. How could she explain how heart-wrenching this was for her? "Do you know that before the Ebola crisis, seven of the ten fastest growing economies were in Africa? There is this entire continent that has suffered so much from slavery and colonialism and poverty and oppression, and they were finally coming out of all that. And I had a chance to help! But now this happens, and I might never get that chance!"

"There are other people already at work all over Africa. If your foundation doesn't work out, you can join up with someone else's."

Jane's eyes filled with tears again. "But it won't be mine. And it won't fulfill my grandmother's dreams for me."

"Why does it have to be yours?" Frank knew Jane was ambitious, but what she was expressing right now was downright bizarre in light of her family's need at the moment. Somehow he had to help her snap out of whatever this was she was feeling so he could take her to Mrs. Bates. "What happened to, 'no one can do everything, but everyone can do something'? Or the fact that you're just one person? Why are you now acting like you have to do it all yourself? It's not your grandmother's dream at all. You're making this all about you, and it's not."

"You don't understand. You can't. Like you said, you're a child of good fortune."

"Maybe, but I think you're making this harder on yourself than it needs to be."

Jane felt anger welling up in her, knowing somewhere in the back of her mind that she wasn't angry at Frank, not really, she was just frustrated with everything. "No! It's been hard! It's been so damn hard! I feel like I'm banging my head against the wall every day! Nothing is working! And now Grandma... after all she's done for me, and I just..."

"Okay, I admit, I probably don't understand everything you've been going through. But I've been around your grandmother enough to know that she couldn't care less about your foundation right now. I'm sure she just wants you with her."

Jane looked so forlorn that he wanted to comfort her, so he scooted his chair closer to her in order to hug her. The closeness might have been a mistake; he had just kissed her forehead when Jane tilted her head upward and brushed his lips with hers. That was all it took to ignite both their desire, and within seconds their tongues were hot and thrusting in each other's mouths. In an instant Jane had climbed upon his lap and Frank had pulled her closer in order to feel every part of her against him, even though his mind was yelling, Whatareyoudoing whatareyoudoing!

In the next moment, Jane let out an anguished cry and pushed her hands against Frank's chest to break away from him. She returned to her own chair quickly, covering her face and breathing heavily.

His own breath ragged, Frank managed to say, "Jane, I'm sorry! I'm really sorry!" How could he lose control like this at a time when Jane was so vulnerable?

Even in her confusion, Jane heard his apology and knew this was not his fault. She had started this. "What the hell is wrong with me?" she moaned.

Hearing her plaintive cry helped Frank break through his self-recrimination. Jane needed him right now. "Nothing's wrong with you. You're just scared right now, and maybe needing comfort. It's a normal reaction."

"No, it's not! It is not normal for me!"

"Why not? As amazing as I think you are, you're not a goddess or a robot or Superwoman." Frank stared at her for a second, a burst of clarity coming to him. "What just happened is nothing more than... example number six for why Jane Fairfax is human."

"Number six?" she echoed, perplexed.

He grinned. "Yeah, I figure you have to have at least six areas of weakness that bring you back down to the level of us mere mortals."

She sighed and closed her eyes. "I have more than six."

"Okay, seven."

"More than seven."

"Okay, eight, but that's about it, since you're still pretty damn perfect. The point is, it's okay to have those eight weaknesses. It's okay to be scared and overwhelmed. It's okay to react to that by kissing a man who once hurt you really badly. It's okay to even fail at setting up your foundation. Because you're human. You have to let yourself be human, Jane. Trust me, your grandmother and Aunt Maddy will love you no less even if you end up dating another jerk like me and never accomplish anything else in your life."

Jane's eyes welled with tears again. Frank held out his hand to her. "Please let me take you to Mrs. Bates."

She nodded and took his hand. Frank asked if she needed to bring anything, which helped Jane think of and gather her purse, cell phone and keys. She felt ashamed and drained as she followed him out to the car. Her grandmother needed her, and she had been caught up in what exactly? Staring into space, spiraling down into a pity party, and then jumping Frank's bones? What was wrong with her? How could she behave this way when Grandma was ill?

As he started his car, Frank was dealing with his own feelings of shame. He should have been able to comfort Jane better, and instead he had given in to his desires for her. Their brief but urgent make-out session made him aware of just how hard the last six months of celibacy had been. It was more than just missing the physical act of sex. He missed everything about intimacy with Jane: the warmth of her skin against his, the softness of her curves, the heat of her touch and kisses, the look of love in her eyes, the excitement of hearing her cry out in pleasure, the sweetness of post-coital cuddling with her, and the joy of seeing her smile in ways that were just for him. The small taste he'd just had left him aching for more, and he hated himself for it, because right now she needed something very different from him.

"I'm sorry," Jane said softly, pulling him out of his feelings of self-loathing. "I don't know what got into me back there."

"You're having a rough day. It's okay, sweetheart." He winced as the endearment came out of his mouth. He wondered if his use of it angered Jane, but apparently not. He felt her touch his right hand as it rested on his thigh. He opened his palm to her, and she slipped her fingers between his.

Jane looked down at their fingers as they laced together and thought about how much she had always liked Frank's hands. His palms were big and his fingers long—very much a man's hands, even though, metrosexual that he was, his nails were always very well-groomed. Gripping his hand gave her the comfort and strength to say, "I didn't mean to dump on you like that. I suddenly felt so overwhelmed, like everything was crashing down on me, and I took it out on you because you were there. I'm sorry."

He glanced at her and smiled gently. "Actually, I'm probably the very person you should be taking it out on." He was probably the root of lot of her frustration anyway, and even if he wasn't, he was willing to be the person she felt she could vent to.

Jane didn't respond, but he felt her give his hand a gentle squeeze. The Harbor-UCLA Medical Center wasn't far from Jane's home, so they arrived in good time. When they asked about Lorraine Bates, they were directed to the cardiology unit, which made Jane freeze up immediately. Frank took her into his arms and held her. "You can do this," he whispered. After a minute or so, Jane nodded, and they moved on together to Cardiology, where they found a shaken Maddy sitting in a waiting area chair.

"Oh, I'm so glad to see you both!" Maddy cried out as she rose to hug them. "Frank, I'm sorry I missed our meeting. I was so stressed out this morning I forgot all about it!"

"It's okay," he assured her. "I understand."

After Jane and Frank sat down in hard plastic chairs beside Maddy, she explained what had happened. "Mama said her chest felt tight and she was having trouble breathing this morning. They think it's her heart, so they're doing a cardiac catheterization right now to figure out what's going on."

After Maddy's explanation, all three were quiet for a while as they waited for Mrs. Bates' procedure to be completed. Finally, Maddy sighed and looked at Frank. "How are the designs?" she asked.

The logo designs. Frank had to dig through his memory to recall the images he'd seen that morning. "Um, I l think I liked some of them. Several of the ones for Little Cate's were cute." Maddy and Annie had, mercifully, selected Caitlyn's as the name for their company, with Little Cate's as the name of the kid-friendly food line. Frank had hired a graphic designer named Emily to create some potential logos.

"Did she send you electronic versions?"

Frank nodded.

"If you forward them to me, I'll look at them tonight." Maddy rubbed her forehead.

"Maddy, don't even worry about it. I'll text Emily to let her know our response might be postponed."

Maddy nodded just as a doctor approached them. "Are you the family of Lorraine Bates?" he said. "I'm Dr. Singh, one of the cardiologists here."

"Yes, is she all right?" Maddy asked.

"She's fine, and she's being admitted right now. When she's settled in her room, you can go up and see her. In the meantime, I'd like to talk to you about what's going on, if you'll follow me."

All three of them stood, and Dr. Singh looked at Frank. "I'm sorry, family only."

"He's family," Maddy said firmly. Dr. Singh paused but nodded and gestured to Frank to follow as well.

The doctor led them into a small office, where he sat down at a desk. There were two other chairs, which Frank let the women take. He stood behind them with his hands resting on their chair backs.

Once they were settled, Dr. Singh got right to the point. "Lorraine has extensive blockage in three of her arteries. It's a very common occurrence for diabetics with renal failure."

"What does that mean?" asked Maddy.

"She needs bypass surgery," Dr. Singh answered. "We've already scheduled it for tomorrow morning, which is why we admitted her."

Maddy reached for Jane's hand and gripped it. Jane also felt the light pressure of Frank's hand on her shoulder.

"There's good news and bad news," the cardiologist went on. "The good news is, coronary bypass surgery has been around for more than fifty years, which means that surgeons are very skilled at performing it, and surgical outcomes and five-year survival rates are very high. The bad news is that the risks increase significantly for patients on dialysis."

Maddy caught her breath, while Jane sat there numbly. She watched Frank's arm encircle Maddy's shoulder.

"I don't want to sugar-coat the risks here. This is going to be very difficult for Lorraine to come through, especially at her age and with the renal failure. But she has a positive attitude, she's not very overweight, and she doesn't smoke, so she has all of that in her favor."

"The surgery is tomorrow?" Maddy asked.

Dr. Singh nodded. "Eight a.m." He asked if they had any additional questions, and Maddy had a few. Finally, he said they could visit her.

"By the way," the doctor added before they departed, "she needs a hearing aid."

At that, Maddy suddenly laughed. "We know, doctor, we know!"

Frank looked at Jane with concern when they took the elevator to Mrs. Bates' floor. She hadn't said anything during the meeting with the doctor and her face remained impassive.

On the other hand, Dr. Singh's comment about the hearing aid seemed to have lifted Maddy's spirits. She entered the room with a bright smile and boomed at her mother, "Have you started causing trouble already?"

Mrs. Bates, who was laying in a bed with the head portion raised up at an angle, chuckled. Family Feud played on the TV mounted on the wall, and a half-eaten plate of grilled chicken, steamed vegetables, and apple sauce rested on a tray beside the bed. A pair of IV bags hung from a nearby pole with thin tubes pumping fluid into Mrs. Bates' veins. "They're cutting me up tomorrow," she said as Maddy, Jane and Frank approached.

"I know!" Maddy said. "You'll end up with some nice scars to go along with your bumps." She gestured toward the dialysis-created bumpy raised veins on the inside of Mrs. Bates' elbows.

"I guess I won't be able to wear my bikini to the beach next summer," the older woman quipped, and she and her daughter laughed. Frank smiled at the Bates women finding optimism and humor at a time like this.

"But I'm happy my babies are here to see me!" Mrs. Bates cried. "Come here, child," she said to Jane.

Babies, Frank thought. Plural. Was she referring to Maddy plus Jane, or was she including him in that term?

Jane slowly approached the bed and bent over to kiss her grandmother. "Get that frown off your face, child. I'm going to be all right. They have good doctors here."

"You just do whatever they say, okay?" Jane said softly as she stood back up.

"What's that?" Mrs. Bates asked.

"She says to listen to your doctors!" Maddy shouted. "And we're getting you that hearing aid when you get out!"

Mrs. Bates huffed in resignation. "Yeah, I guess it's time. Now, where's my grandson?"

She did mean him. Frank walked over to the bed and leaned down toward Jane's grandmother, who pulled him into an embrace. Unbidden, tears sprang to his eyes, recalling the last time his own grandmother had hugged him, just before he flew to England for the start of his first term at Cambridge. She had wanted him to come home that Christmas since she was lonely without his grandfather around. But Frank was excited to be living in Europe and had gone skiing in the French Alps instead. It was one of the biggest regrets of his life. Two months later, his Pau-pau was dead.

Mrs. Bates whispered in his ear, "Thank you for coming. Take care of my girls, okay?"

She didn't have to ask. While he was standing in Dr. Singh's office, Frank had vowed to be there for Maddy and Jane in whatever ways they needed him. He squeezed his eyes shut to stop his tears from flowing before standing up. He nodded at Mrs. Bates to let her know he'd heard her and would do it.

He looked over at Jane, who had worn that same lost, empty expression since they arrived at the hospital. What did she need right now? An idea came to him, and he pulled Maddy aside a few minutes later, asking if he could speak with her. Later, after the three of them returned to the lobby before leaving the hospital, Frank asked Jane if she would take a ride with him. Jane looked over at her aunt, who said, "Go with him, sugar puff. I'll be fine."

"I'll clear out my schedule and be here tomorrow morning," Frank told Maddy before saying goodbye to her.

Jane slowly followed Frank back to his car. She had been unable to think of any reason not to go with him, at least not one she could verbalize. However, she was very anxious, terribly embarrassed about kissing him the way she had earlier in the day, and scared to death about her grandmother.

"You don't want to know where we're going?" Frank asked once they started driving.

"Where are we going?"

"Bel Air, to Ryan and Annie's house."

Jane didn't respond, so Frank spoke up again. "You don't want to know why?"

"Why?" she said softly.

"To see Caitlyn."

"You think a baby is going to cheer me up or something?" These were the most words he'd heard from Jane in hours.

Frank smiled softly. "It usually works for me."

They rode the rest of the way to the Weston's house in silence, which Jane appreciated since her confused thoughts made conversation difficult. When they arrived in early evening, Ryan wasn't yet home. Annie welcomed them both, and Frank quickly filled her in on Jane's grandmother's situation. Annie gave her a big hug and expressed her concern.

"Is Caitlyn up?" Frank asked.

Annie smiled and said that the baby had been napping, but would probably awaken soon for her evening feeding. As if on cue, they could hear a baby start to cry through the baby monitor positioned on a small table nearby. "There she is! Jane, feel free to have a seat in the living room. Frank, will you come with me to get her?"

Frank followed his sister-in-law upstairs and watched as she picked up Caitlyn from her bassinet. The infant stopped crying immediately, but made gaping motions with her mouth indicating hunger. "What are you doing?" Annie asked softly as she cradled her daughter.

"Helping a friend."

Annie raised her eyebrows, but said no more.

He followed her back downstairs, and they joined Jane in the living room. Frank sat down beside Jane on the sofa, while Annie positioned herself in a large padded rocker nearby. "I really need to nurse. Is that okay, Jane?"

Jane confirmed that it was, and Annie placed a light blanket over herself and her child. While Caitlyn ate, Frank and Annie talked about the company named for the child. When the baby was done, Annie placed her against her chest to burp her, and then asked Jane if she would like to hold her.

Surprised, Jane hesitated, but Frank encouraged her to take the child. Annie placed Caitlyn in her arms and Jane smiled as the little one's blue-gray eyes stared up at her. Jane had visited the Westons twice with Maddy right after Caitlyn's birth, but hadn't seen her since. Now five weeks old, Caitlyn was bigger and no longer bald; instead, small wisps of blond hair were scattered about her head, none of which stayed down when Jane brushed them back with her hand. Caitlyn yawned and slowly closed her eyes. "She's beautiful," Jane said.

"Thank you," Annie replied.

Frank wore a gentle smile. "It's peaceful holding her, isn't it?"

Jane glanced at him, and her heart suddenly thumped. "It is," she said softly.

"But let me tell you something about this baby. She can't do shit."

"FRANK!" Annie cried out. "That's my daughter you're talking about!"

Frank made an O with his mouth. "Oh, my bad. She actually can do shit. In fact, she does a lot of shit. Shit is just about all she does." He was grinning now, barely containing his snickers. "In fact, you wouldn't believe the ugly, SMELLY shit that comes out of this cute little body!"

Annie started laughing and even Jane had to smile as he added, "But I couldn't care less. I think she's the most beautiful, amazing child in the world and I love her to pieces." He looked at Jane and pointed to Caitlyn. "You were just like her at one time, you know. You couldn't do shit except shit, and Maddy and Mrs. Bates adored you anyway."

Jane stared at him as she felt Annie take the baby from her arms and heard her whisper, "I think I'd better go check her diaper."

Once Annie had left the room, Frank placed his hand on Jane's cheek. "Do you understand what I'm saying? That's what love is. You don't have to do anything when someone loves you except exist."

Jane swallowed hard, her heart beating rapidly.

"Jane, I have no doubt you're going to keep doing great things with your life. But even if you don't, Maddy and Mrs. Bates, and, um... well, they'll always love you anyway. And right now, that's all that matters."

His eyes were soft as they gazed at her. She slowly turned her head until her lips faced his palm, and kissed it. Frank lowered his hand and said softly, "I should probably take you home now."

They rose from the sofa and found Annie in order to say goodbye to her and Caitlyn. On the car ride back to her house, Jane took Frank's hand again, needing the solidness he offered right now. As his thumb caressed small circles on the back of her hand, her stomach felt topsy-turvy.

When they arrived at her house, Frank turned to look at her. "Jane, I..." He stopped.

"What?" she asked.

He shook his head. "Nothing."

Jane waited. When he said no more, she leaned toward him. He caught his breath as she kissed his cheek gently and thanked him, before stepping out of the car to go inside.

Chapter Text

Chapter 31

"Okay, you take her by the hand, and I'll push her IV pole," instructed Leah, one of the nurses providing care to Grandma in the cardiology unit. After three days in the ICU, Grandma had been moved to a regular room the day before. She had had dialysis earlier on her first day out of intensive care, which had left her exhausted. Today, however, she had a bit more energy, and Leah wanted to get her up and walking.

Grandma gripped Jane's hand tightly as they shuffled slowly through the hospital corridor. Leah supported her back with one hand, while pushing the attached IV pole with the other. Despite the percocet her grandmother was taking, Jane knew that her incisions were very painful, and that the entire surgical ordeal had been traumatic to Grandma's body. After several minutes, they were only able to walk about thirty feet, and Grandma said she'd had enough.

"Okay, let's see if you can walk back," Leah said gently but with a raised voice. "Do you think you can do that, Lorraine?"

"No wheelchair?" Grandma pleaded.

"No, let's keep going. I know it's hard, but you can do it."

"You can, Grandma," Jane encouraged.

Grandma exhaled and let the two younger women help her turn around for the journey back to her room. Once there, Leah helped Grandma settle back into bed. "See, I knew you could!" the nurse told her with a smile.

"I'd have gotten here faster with a wheelchair," Jane's grandmother grumbled. "I missed the beginning of my story." An afternoon soap opera was showing on the TV set.

Leah just laughed and told her to pull the cord if she needed anything. "Don't let her make excuses," she said to Jane. "She's too feisty to give up that easily."

Jane nodded. After the nurse left the room, she asked her grandmother if she needed anything. "Some water, child," Grandma answered in a weary voice. Jane poured a small cup of water from a plastic pitcher on the nearby dining tray, and handed it to Grandma to sip from a straw. The first sip didn't go down well, and her grandmother started coughing. As she had been taught, Jane grabbed a pillow for Grandma to hold against her chest, while Jane supported her back with her hand. The front and back support would reduce some of the pain of coughing.

Grandma lay back against the bed when the cough subsided, looking exhausted. Jane stroked her forehead. "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine... I just need to rest a minute." Grandma closed her eyes for a few seconds. "I'm glad you're here alone. I need to talk to you, child." Maddy had been by earlier in the day, but had left to meet with one of her financial planning clients.

"Okay," said Jane.

"Listen to me, child," Grandma said, her voice suddenly stronger, "I have something important to say, in case I don't make it out of here."

"You WILL!" Jane said firmly.

"I sure hope so, I'm gonna try, but if I don't, I want you to hear this."

Jane bit her lip. She didn't want her grandmother to talk about the possibility of not making it.

"I'm not so worried about Maddy, but I'm very worried about you."

"Why?"

"I don't want you to be alone, baby."

"I'm not alone!" Jane assured her. "Maddy and I have each other, and you'll be back with us soon."

Grandma reached for her hand. "Maddy'll be fine. She'll always draw people to her because she has that acceptance about her. People feel that. But I'm so afraid you'll push people away."

"What are you talking about?" Jane asked. "I accept people."

"I'm not talking about other people, baby. I'm talking about you. Maddy loves and accepts herself, and people like to be around someone like that. But you're so hard, so hard on yourself. That tension, people feel that, and it puts up a wall between you and them. That's what I worry about."

Jane looked at her in silence for a moment. "I know I've been angry over the last year, but I've been trying to change that."

"Have you?" Grandma reached out to gently touch Jane's cheek.

"Yes." Jane nodded firmly, trying to convince her grandmother. "I've been counting my blessings again, focusing on my goals again. I'm doing better!"

"Then why are you still so frustrated?"

Jane stared at her, unsure how to answer. She had been changing, right? She had tried hard to be different since that day she had seen Frank at the VERGE conference back in October, and mostly she had succeeded. But less than a week ago, she had had a complete meltdown. She lamented losing it like that, but she supposed Frank was right. It had been a rough day, after having had another letdown and being so scared about Grandma. However, Jane would rebound from it. Grandma had come through her surgery well, and once she was out of the hospital, Jane would refocus on getting her foundation up and running.

Grandma went on, "Maybe that's why you were always so hard on Frank. 'Cause you're so hard on yourself."

Jane pressed her lips together, as her grandmother squeezed her hand. "I have to rest. You'll come see me tomorrow?"

"Of course!" Jane assured her.

"I just want you to be happy. You know I'll always love you, child. No matter what you do."

Jane forced herself not to tear up. "I know!" she said. "I'll always love you, too!" She leaned over to kiss her grandmother goodbye, and then departed.

Maddy was still out when Jane got home, so she started doing some housecleaning, something they had neglected during the last week of being back and forth to the hospital. Wanting to listen to music while she cleaned the kitchen, Jane plugged her iPod into a speaker and selected Emeli Sandé. The Scottish artist had become one of her favorites when she lived in the UK, and right now, her soulful and haunting melodies were what Jane most needed to hear.

Among the selections was "Beneath Your Beautiful," a duet Sandé had performed with Labrinth, a singer and musician who had grown up in Hackney. As the music flowed around her, Jane stopped and really listened to the words:

You've carried on so long,

You couldn't stop if you tried it.

You've built your wall so high

That no one could climb it.

Suddenly Jane caught her breath, her grandmother's words coming back to her, "I don't want you to be alone, baby ... I'm so afraid you'll push people away ... That tension, people feel that, and it puts up a wall between you and them. That's what I worry about."

Was that really happening? Was there a wall around her so high that no one could climb it? She thought about how full of friendships her life had been back in London. In contrast, she had made one friend since she had returned to L.A., and that was only because Caroline had been so persistent.

Would you let me see beneath your beautiful?

Would you let me see beneath your perfect?

Take it off now, girl, take it off now, girl

I wanna see inside

Would you let me see beneath your beautiful tonight?

Labrinth pleaded with Sandé to let him in, and then she reversed it, singing the same words to him. Jane sat down at the kitchen table, deep in thought. Wasn't that what she had said to Frank a year ago: that few people knew who he really was beneath the cocky charmer he presented to the world? That was his perfect, but was she any different? Did she present any less of a persona to the world, the high achiever, the dedicated professional, the committed activist?

Frank had dropped so much of his mask the last few months, she realized. He was more honest and real not just with her, but with everyone around him. Meanwhile, she had hardened her mask and built her wall higher. Almost a week ago, her wall had come crashing down, and Frank had been there, and had seen the failure beneath her "perfect"—and told her that it was okay. "Because you're human," he had said. "You have to let yourself be human."

How often did she allow herself to just be, to accept, as Frank had said, that it was okay to have flaws, to screw up, to not succeed? Was her grandmother right that not doing so created a tension that pushed people away?

"You know I'll always love you, child. No matter what you do." "That's what love is. You don't have to do anything when someone loves you except exist." Could she accept that? She had to, she realized. She had spent a lot of time in the last year pushing people away, and it was because she was so angry with herself for the mistakes she'd made. Her grandmother was right. If she kept it up, she'd end up alone.

She heard the key in the lock and looked up. Maddy soon entered the back door. "Hey there, sugar puff! How was Mama when you left her?"

"Okay," Jane said softly. "We took a walk down the hall and back."

"Good! Get gravity working for her. Did Mama tell you they won't let her go home until she poops?" Maddy laughed.

Jane tried to smile, but couldn't.

"What's wrong, sugar puff? I know you're worried about her. I am, too. But she's a spunky old lady, and she's going to fight this. She'll get better."

Jane nodded. "I know."

Maddy sat down in the chair beside her and touched her face gently. "What's going on?"

"I don't know... I just... You know how I used to tell you that I was embarrassed when you bragged about me?"

Maddy nodded.

"Well, I was, but I also secretly liked it. Because it meant that I was fulfilling your dreams for me, and making you proud of me."

Maddy furrowed her brow. "Sugar puff, you know I'm proud of you no matter what?"

"Are you?"

"Always! I hope I've never made you feel like I'm not. If I have, I'm so sorry. It's just me, because I don't know how to shut up. Like if you never did anything else in your life, I'd be bragging about you getting up and eating your cereal in the morning. I'll be bragging once Mama poops. 'See! My Mama's ready to come home!'"

Jane laughed. "I don't know if she'll appreciate you telling people that!"

Maddy joined in her laughter. "You're probably right. Once more, I have to learn when to zip up and shut up. The point is, no matter what you do or don't do, I'll always love you and be proud of you." Maddy reached out her hand to cup Jane's chin. "You believe that, right?"

Jane bit her lip, saddened at the thought that she might have hurt her aunt with her doubt. "I'm trying," she said softly. "I'm sorry."

"You have nothing to apologize for! If anything, maybe my mouth made you feel this way. But I'm proud of you just for being you, and I love you no matter what."

Jane blinked. "Do you think Frank feels this way, too?" She wasn't sure where the words came from, but as soon as she spoke them, she knew the question had been preying on her mind.

Maddy sat back and observed her. "As far as I can tell, Frank still loves you and always will. And you know, I'm pretty sure that feeling is mutual."

Jane swallowed. "I need to talk to him."

Maddy nodded. "You two are probably overdue for a good talk."

Jane exhaled, and then reached over to hug her aunt. "Thank you, Aunt Maddy. I really love you, too."

Maddy squeezed her and then smiled. "I know you do. You have a very loving heart, Jane. Now go talk to that man of yours."

"He's not mine."

Maddy shrugged. "For now."

Jane returned to her bedroom, where her phone was resting on her dresser. She wasn't ready to call him yet. She had to think. She looked at her list of goals she had thumbtacked to her wall. This was what she had been working toward with so much effort for the last six months.

"Frank still loves you and always will," Maddy had said. So many memories of Frank flooded her mind that her heart felt as though it were breaking from shame. How could he still feel this way about her? She had been so harsh with his mistakes, even those he made with the best of intentions. But he had continued to love her anyway.

She had been so insensitive to his feelings. She may not have deliberately set out to hurt him, but she had persisted in actions that she knew he disliked, particularly the amount of time she spent with Alex, and the pact of secrecy she had established. And yet, Frank had continued to love her.

She had blamed him for their breakup, unwilling to see her faults in the relationship, and for a long time, he had accepted the blame, proclaiming his desire to change, while she offered none of her own. He had even taken the blame after their kiss last week, even though Jane had been the initiator. She knew he wasn't dating anyone. He could have moved on, he could have had another girlfriend by now, but he hadn't. Was Maddy right? Did that mean he still loved her, despite her rejection of him?

How many times had she been cold, unreasonable, and unfeeling toward Frank, even in the face of his vulnerability? He had made himself more vulnerable to her than he had probably ever been toward anyone during their time together—and even afterward. Frank had loved her enough to not retaliate for her nastiness at the conference in San Francisco. Instead, he had tried to point her back to her better nature. He had seen beneath her "beautiful" to the ugliness inside, and yet still believed she had a better nature.

He loved her enough to stay with her and Maddy all day for several days through their greatest trial, to be the rock they most needed then. He loved her enough to try to drive home the message she most needed to hear—and he did it in classic over-the-top Frank style, by joking about a baby's bodily waste.

Jane looked again at her list of dreams. What if… what if Frank was right, and these things didn't happen? Could she live with that? She didn't want to give up on anything; these goals were too important. But what if despite all her efforts, none of them came to fruition? Would she be okay with that?

"Trust me, your grandmother and Aunt Maddy will love you no less even if you end up dating another jerk like me and never accomplish anything else in your life."

"You know I'll always love you, child. No matter what you do."

"But I'm proud of you just for being you, and I love you no matter what."

"That's what love is. You don't have to do anything when someone loves you except exist."

She had spent so much of her life trying to live up to what she thought were her grandmother and aunt's expectations for her, to repay them for taking her in and giving her so much after her parents died. But what if that wasn't what they really wanted? What if all they wanted was for her to accept their love for her?

She looked at her list of goals again, and slowly untacked it from the wall. Ten minutes later, she picked up the phone and called Frank.

Chapter Text

Chapter 32

When Jane's name came up on Frank's caller ID, he answered immediately by saying her name, his typical way for answering her calls.

"Are you busy?"

"Not at all. Is everything okay? How's Grandma?" He has always called Jane's grandmother Mrs. Bates, but since she had claimed him as a member of the family, using the familial label now seemed natural.

"She's doing better, and took a walk today."

"Good to hear."

"I need to talk to you."

"I'm listening."

"No, I need to talk to you in person."

"Do you want me to come over?"

"I'd like to go to your place, if that's okay."

"Uh... yeah. Of course that's fine. Are you coming now?"

"Yes. I'll see you soon."

As soon as the call ended, Frank began to pace around his living room, waiting for Jane's arrival. He had thirty to forty minutes, depending on the traffic she encountered, to try to expend his nervous energy. Should he have asked her what she wanted to talk about? For days he had wanted to talk to her about their kiss the previous week, but it seemed inappropriate to mention it with everything going on with her grandmother. He was dying to know whether it had meant anything significant to Jane, or whether it was simply a reaction borne from her heightened emotional state. He'd hugged her and held her hand quite a bit in the last week, but then, he'd done the same for Maddy, so he knew that was just about comfort. But the kiss he and Jane had shared had been far more sensual.

Should he ask about the kiss when Jane arrived? No, he finally decided. He had already resolved to be a good friend to her and to help her in whatever way she needed. He'd listen to whatever she wanted to talk about, that's all he'd do. He wouldn't worry about himself.

He finally heard his buzzer sound, and rushed over to respond to it. "It's me," he heard Jane say. He buzzed to open the gate for her and waited again for her to reach his condo. The time it took seemed like forever, but was probably just a few minutes.

When he opened the door for Jane, it took all his energy not to pull her into his arms and kiss her silly. Instead, he offered her a seat, which she took in the corner of his L-shaped sofa, and then something to drink. "Some water, please," Jane said. He departed for the kitchen.

Jane held a manila folder, clutching it tightly because she needed to do something with her hands. She had wanted to throw her arms around Frank when she arrived, but she didn't know how he'd respond. Maybe he'd kiss her back like he had the previous week, but that wouldn't be a good idea. So much had happened between them in the last year that she knew that the most important thing they needed to do right now was talk.

Frank returned with a glass of ice water, which he handed to Jane before sitting down on the longer portion of the sofa. She lowered the folder into her lap before taking the glass. She took a sip, and then placed the glass on a coaster on the end table next to her.

They remained in silence for a brief moment. Finally, Jane picked up the folder again and pulled out a sheet of paper, which she handed to Frank.

"Do you want me to read this?" he asked.

Jane nodded. "After we broke up, I had a job interview with Caroline's brother, and he asked me what my dreams were. I spent some time thinking about it, and this is what I came up with. I mean, they were goals I had anyway, but I solidified my plans and gave them deadlines."

He took a minute to read, and then placed the paper down and smiled. "Thanks for sharing this with me. You'll make all this happen. I know you; you won't give up."

"Remember how you asked me what would happen if my dreams didn't work out?"

Frank started to shake his head. "Jane, I certainly didn't mean to discourage you. I totally believe in you. You're going to do this."

"No, it was a good question," she interjected. "I've been struggling with the foundation. It's been much harder to get off the ground than I anticipated."

"And the media attention didn't help, did it?" he asked grimly.

"No, but many of the challenges I'm facing would have been there even without the news articles." Jane inhaled. "Frank, the reason the question was a good one is because I do need to face the fact that it might not work out."

"But don't give up!"

"I'm not. But my whole life, I've felt like I had to succeed. There are several reasons for that. Some of it is just my personality. I'm naturally driven. Then in high school, I felt like I had to prove to people like Emma that even though I was this girl from South Central, I could still be one of the best students at Beverly Hills High. I carried that mindset over into college and graduate school, this need to prove that I could be the best. But also ... I know they didn't mean it this way, but Grandma and Aunt Maddy always wanted me to do great things. They really encouraged me, but they also pushed me a lot, and Maddy especially bragged about me a lot when I did well. It made me feel like I'd be letting them down if I didn't."

"That's why you were so upset last week, wasn't it?"

"It was, but I've talked with both of them since then. You were right, Frank. They just want me to know how much they love me. They want me to be happy. And now I have to learn how to just ... rest in their love. So thank you for helping me start to understand that. I loved the whole thing you did for me with Caitlyn," Jane said with a smile.

Frank smiled back. "I want that, too, you know—for you to be happy and to know you're loved. I totally believe that you can have that, and achieve all this, too." He held up the piece of paper.

"I might not," Jane said seriously. "Grandma's going to have a difficult recovery process, and it's probably going to mean a setback professionally for both Aunt Maddy and me."

"I'll help," Frank blurted out, and then bit his tongue in embarrassment. "Look, forget I said that. I'm not trying to take over or overshadow anything you're doing. I know you can do it without my help, and you don't need my name or my money. I've learned my lesson."

"I've learned mine, too," said Jane. "You were right again, when you asked me why my foundation had to be mine. Last summer when I quit my job at Emma Approved, I accused Emma of only talking the talk and not really caring about the causes she said she supported. I felt that way because so much of what Emma did was about self-promotion. But the truth is, I haven't been much different. I was making my foundation about me. And it shouldn't be, it should be about the people who need help. You were right when you said that if my own foundation doesn't work out, there are other efforts going on that I can support."

"Jane, you have a great vision. I think you should follow your dreams."

"I did say I'm not giving up! But I've resigned myself to accepting the outcome in case it doesn't work out, because it really isn't about me." Jane smiled at Frank. "So if you want to help me, you are more than welcome to do so. It actually would be fun to work together."

"Really?!" Frank started beaming. "I would love that! But I would stay in the background. All the credit would be yours."

Jane shook her head. "It doesn't matter who gets the credit."

"It does matter, sweetheart," he insisted, realizing he'd slipped with his endearment for her again. "You should get the recognition you deserve, without my name getting in the way."

"It doesn't matter," she repeated. "Only the people we help matter."

Frank smiled gently. "Okay, so maybe we'll both stay in the background. But if there's ever a time when someone needs to be front and center, I'm stepping back and letting you go forward."

Jane nodded. "Okay, I can accept that. Thank you."

"You're welcome. I want you to fulfill your dreams."

"What about your dreams?" Jane wanted to support him in his goals, too.

"They're leaning in the same direction as yours. Jane, I've learned so much over the last six months. I have a lot of resources and clout at my disposal. I realize that I can choose to do good things with that, things that will help people and the planet, so that's what I've been trying to do." He grinned. "I can still have fun and make money in the process."

"I'll be behind you all the way in that, if you'll let me."

Frank's smile broadened. "Gladly."

There was one more question Jane really needed to know. "So, um... how do you feel about adoption?"

He looked at her thoughtfully, remembering that adopting a child was the third goal on her list. "It's a good thing, helping a kid who needs a family to have one."

"I'm worried that I might not reach that goal either, at least as far as adopting a child from Sierra Leone, because of the Ebola crisis."

Frank nodded. "But your target date is by age 30, so you have another two years. A lot can change in that time. Don't give up on this. If there's anyone who would be an incredible mother, Jane, it's you. Plus, you'd have Grandma and Maddy to help you." He held out his hand in her direction. "Just look at the amazing job they did raising you."

"Thanks for the encouragement," Jane replied sincerely. "The reason this goal means so much is me is because I'm an orphan. I was adopted."

Having a flashback, Frank's face flushed with shame. "Jane, I'm so sorry. I made that crack to you about saving starving orphans—" He stopped himself. There was nothing he could say that would ever take away the cruel sarcasm with which he'd uttered those words. He had been aiming to wound that day, and when he'd seen her face, he had known he'd hit his target.

She reached over to touch his arm gently. "I forgive you, Frank. Lord knows how many harsh things I said to you, and you've forgiven me. I'm bringing it up because..." she took a deep breath, "because I want to know whether you'd do it with me."

His eyes searched hers for a moment, trying to understand exactly what she meant by 'do it with me.' Travel with her to Sierra Leone? Be a male presence in the kid's life? "I guess I'm getting good experience as an uncle to Caitlyn. I can be an uncle to another kid, too."

Jane looked at him intently. "I was actually asking if you'd be the adoptive father."

Frank stared. Everything he and Jane had talked about up to this point could apply to the two of them supporting each other as friends, but not this. Her offer was unexpected, but very, very welcome. His lips curved into a smile, and then he laughed. "Jane, are you asking me to marry you?"

"No," she answered, "not yet anyway."

Frank wasn't sure whether to be disappointed or not. "Yet is a good thing." And then he began to marvel at the turn of the conversation. Jane wanted him—HIM!—to be the father of the child she would adopt. "I'd be honored to do it. I'm kind of an orphan myself. I've been working through that, what losing my mom and then having my dad abandon me did to me. So I know I'd do anything for a kid who needs me."

"And it doesn't matter that they wouldn't be your biological child?"

Frank shook his head. "Not at all. The people I love most in this world? The ones I most consider family, Ryan, Annie and Caitlyn, Grandma and Maddy and you?" Especially you, he thought. "None of you are related to me biologically."

"Well, then," Jane said with a smile. "I guess that's a plan."

"Do you want any of your own?" he asked. "I mean, kids you give birth to?" He'd love to adopt a kid, but he wanted to have at least one with Jane, too.

"With you?" she asked, suddenly flushing with pleasure at the idea of having children with him.

Frank started laughing. "Yes, with me, Jane! I seriously hope we're not having this conversation with someone else on your mind."

"No, not at all!" she protested. "The answer is yes, I'd love to have a child with you. And did this conversation just get real?"

There was a word for what Frank was feeling just then: exhilaration. "It's been real! We've been kind of talking around it, but I think we're both saying that we want to be together again."

Jane smiled broadly. "Yes! That's definitely what I'm saying. So you know my goal list?"

"This one?" Frank held it up again.

"Not that one. Earlier this evening, I took a look at it and realized something was missing from it. So I added to it. Then I looked at it again, and realized it was in the wrong order. So I rearranged it. Anyway, this is my new goal list." Jane pulled a second sheet of paper out of her folder and handed it to Frank.

He scanned over it. The three goals on the first sheet—her foundation, helping Maddy's business, and adopting a child—were still on the list, but they had been moved down to the second, third, and fourth spots. In the first position were the words, "Number 1: Spend the rest of my life loving Frank Churchill."

Frank looked up at her, his mouth agape. The words had rendered him speechless. He recalled Ryan telling him about how he would reassure Annie that she was his priority and always would be. The paper in his hand right now represented Jane Fairfax doing the same thing for him. He would be her priority. He was astounded and overjoyed that anyone in the world, but even better, the one he loved the most, felt this way about him.

Jane looked at him with a bit of worry. He has said he wanted to be with her again, they had just been talking about future kids together, but now he looked so stunned. "Is this too much or too soon?"

Frank shook himself out of his daze. "No, it's perfect! Jane! My sweet Jane! This is my number one goal, too—to spend the rest of my life loving you."

Jane was elated as she reached out her hand to grasp his. "Really?"

"Really! There's nothing I want more."

"No more hiding, though. Just like I don't care who gets the credit, I don't care who knows about us."

Frank nodded. "I agree. The deception killed us the last time." He placed his other hand over their entwined fingers, wanting some way to express his gratitude to her, for her forgiveness, for this moment and the future she was offering him. "Thank you for giving me another chance."

She smiled. "No, thank you for giving me another chance."

He grinned. "Us. We're giving each other another chance. I promise you, I will never hurt you again like I did before. I know I'll never deserve you."

"That's not true! If anything, it's the other way around."

"Jane, I was an impudent dog for a while with you. Please don't minimize that."

She thought about that for a moment, and then touched her finger to her nose and pointed at him. Frank laughed and did it back.

"But you changed," Jane said. "We both have. That's what counts. And like you told me, I have permission to be human, which means I'm probably going to mess up again in the future. And so will you. I may still be stubborn and temperamental at times, and you might still be impulsive."

"And stupid," Frank said.

"Not true!" Jane argued. Then she smiled playfully. "Okay, maybe … on occasion … you might not think things all the way through. In any case, we just have to work through it when it happens. Or when I do something that upsets you."

"We will," he said assuredly. He tugged at her hand. "Come here." His voice was low and deep, with a sexy playfulness that she recognized. They each moved over until their hips bumped in the corner of the sectional, making them both grin. Frank slipped his arm beneath Jane's legs to scoop her onto his lap. His hands caressed her face as they met in a slow, deep kiss.

Frank suddenly broke the liplock to gaze into her eyes. "You do know I'll never be vegan, right? Or a tea drinker? I just want to make sure that's okay."

Jane laughed and assured him, "Of course it is!" before kissing him again. Realizing that the angle of her position hurt her neck, she swiveled her body to straddle Frank, bending her knees on either side of his thighs. This felt so good, all of it: his fingertips so warm and tender on her face, his other hand supporting her back and pressing her closer, his lips so soft and familiar, the taste of his mouth so sweet.

"Will you stay with me tonight?" Frank murmured.

"Yes," she answered breathlessly. "I love you so much, Frank."

"Why?" The question had slipped out, but he suddenly realized he really wanted to know. He recalled their first confessions of love to one another when Jane wanted to know why he felt as he did, but he had been so arrogant—ARROGANT!—as to think her reasons for loving him were obvious. But there had been a period of time after their breakup when he had wondered how she had ever even liked him.

Jane's caressed his face, and he felt a shiver of sweetness at her touch. "I love you because you've been such a great friend to my family and me. I can't thank you enough for all you've done for my aunt and grandmother. I love you because you're an awesome brother, brother-in-law, and uncle." At that, Frank smiled, Caitlyn coming to mind.

"Because you believe in me. You've always believed in me, enough to tell me some hard truths about myself even when I was trying to push you away. And you make me laugh. I've always loved your sense of humor and how it makes the world brighter. I love your generous spirit, and how you use it to care about other people."

Jane took a deep breath as her throat grew tight. "Most of all, I love you because you love me so much. You never gave up on me, despite all the ways that I hurt you. You see who I really am, behind the mask of trying to be perfect that I often wear, and you love me anyway. And that's why I love you, Frank Churchill."

His eyes gazed at her very tenderly, but then they began to twinkle as he smiled mischievously. "Well, yeah, after all that, how can you not love me?"

Jane laughed. Of course he would say that. He was still Frank, after all. And that was a very good thing. As he drew her in for another kiss, she realized that her feelings of being adrift, of being a woman abroad, were gone. She was, at last, truly at home. With Frank, she always would be.

==============================================

I'm gonna climb on top your ivory tower

I'll hold your hand and then we'll jump right out

We'll be falling, falling but that's OK

'Cause I'll be right here.

Labrinth, featuring Emeli Sandé, "Beneath Your Beautiful"

"But it is done; we are reconciled, dearer, much dearer, than ever, and no moment's uneasiness can ever occur between us again."

Frank Churchill in Emma, ch. 50

Chapter Text

Chapter 33

18 April 2015

After telling Caroline, "No more shopping," months ago, Jane had finally relented today, allowing her friend to take her to splurge on a new dress from an eco-chic boutique. Hours later, Jane was taking her time primping, wanting to look her best not only because Frank was taking her out to celebrate her twenty-eighth birthday, but also because she had something important to discuss with him.

Ready at last, she approached the living room and could overhear Frank and Grandma talking. "Eric took Jeanine and Maddy several times," Grandma was saying, "but I never went."

"Why not?" Frank asked.

"I had enough of killing food on the farm back in Barbados. After I came here, I told Eric I wouldn't touch anything unless it was already dead and he got rid of any parts that could look back at me."

Jane heard Frank laugh before Grandma went on. "You know you're never going to get Jane to go with you."

Frank grumbled, "I know!"

"Where wouldn't I go?" Jane asked as she entered the room.

"Fishing," Grandma answered. "If you won't eat it, why would you catch it?"

"True," Jane replied with a smile. She turned to look at Frank who was staring at her, thunderstruck. She twirled for him so he could see the low-cut back of the turquoise mini dress that fit like skin. "You like it?"

"Oh yeah. Forget about dinner," Frank breathed, making Grandma laugh out loud.

"Not a chance," Jane said. "We need to talk."

"Oh, no!" he groaned.

Jane shook her head as she approached her grandmother to kiss her goodbye. "Grandma, why do men always think that's a bad thing? There are plenty of good things to talk about."

Frank smirked. "And why do women always put it that way? You make it sound scary."

"Oh, shush, it's not scary!" Grandma scolded him. "She's just trying to tell you she doesn't want to skip dinner."

"All right, I give up! We'll talk!" Frank conceded. "I'm outnumbered two to one on this."

"Three to one!" Maddy called out from the kitchen, where she was cooking dinner.

Laughing, Jane and Frank said goodbye to Grandma and Maddy and left the house for the evening. "Were you asking Grandma old time stories again?" Jane asked once they were on the road.

"Um-hmm," he answered. "I like hearing them. I wish I had that chance with my own grandparents. I feel like there are things I'll never know about them or about my mother."

"Your dad might be able to share some stories," Jane offered.

Frank mused on that and did his nose-point gesture. "But you have to be the one to ask him," he said. "He likes you much better than he likes me."

"Oh, he does not!" Jane protested.

"Yes, he does," Frank laughed. "You should hear him go on about how he can't believe I hooked a woman who's a Rhodes scholar, a classical pianist, a marathon runner, and the founder of her own foundation! I have to remind him that I do have a few accomplishments of my own."

"Plus, you're sexy, sweet, and a great friend and lover," Jane added with a smile, squeezing his knee.

Frank chuckled. "Unfortunately, sweetheart, those traits carry no weight with him. So, stories about my mom… would you ask him?"

"I will," Jane said. "I'd like to know more about her, too."

They soon arrived at their destination. Since tonight was Jane's night, Frank had chosen the Green Temple vegetarian restaurant in Redondo Beach. Jane waited until they had ordered before broaching her topic. From the moment she and Frank had gotten back together, they had agreed that marriage was what they both ultimately wanted. But with Grandma's surgery and recovery and all the hard work they were putting into establishing the Saving Water foundation and Caitlyn's Foods, along with Jane's customary caution, they had barely discussed it. Taking the next step in their relationship seemed like something that would happen... someday.

Two recent conversations, however, had lit a fire underneath Jane. She brought up the first one. "Dr. Singh says that Grandma's doing really well with her cardiac rehab. She's on schedule to finish by June."

"Yeah, she told me," Frank said. "She may still need some in-home care, though, and you'll know I'll take care of that."

"Oh, I know," Jane said, smiling and reaching over to take his hand. Frank had been paying for nurses to care for Grandma during the day while Jane and Maddy were working. "She's my grandmother, too," he had insisted.

Jane went on. "He wanted us to be realistic about her long-term progress, however. He said that she'll be at the height of her wellness right after rehab ends, and the effects may not last."

Frank squeezed her hand. "Does that scare you?"

"It does," Jane admitted. "But what it really makes me think about are the things I want to make sure she experiences while she's still with us."

"Her bucket list?" Frank said with a gentle smile.

"Exactly," Jane said. "And I know one of the big things on it." She paused. "I also talked to Sarah a couple of days ago, and she is so excited about visiting the U.S. for the first time, but especially about seeing us. So it got me thinking... if Grandma's rehab is done by June, and Sarah and Peter will be here the following month, why don't we get married in July? That way, we know that some of the people we love most will be able to celebrate with us."

Frank stared agape for a moment and then broke out into a huge smile. "Really? That soon?"

Jane held out her hands. "It's three months away. Emma Approved has been known to pull off a big event in a month's time. So, are you willing?"

Frank laughed. "Are you kidding me? Jane, you know I would marry you tomorrow it we could make it happen." His eyes widened. "Actually, we could!"

"No!" Jane protested, but her eyes were sparkling. "I am not running off to Vegas with you!"

Frank pouted. "Oh, all right!" He withdrew his hand from Jane's and reached into the inner pocket of his suit jacket. "I guess it's time to give you this." He placed a ring box onto the table and opened it up to reveal a Tiffany Soleste engagement ring with pink and white diamonds that matched the earrings she wore.

Now it was Jane's turn to stare. "Frank," she finally managed to say in a tone of wonder, "were you planning to do this tonight?"

As tempted as he was the say yes, Frank remembered that he and Jane had promised to be completely honest with one another. "Not exactly."

Jane raised an eyebrow.

"I've had this ring for almost a year. I bring it along whenever we have a special occasion, hoping the time is right to give it to you."

"You've had this for a year?" Jane was stunned, but also touched and overwhelmed that he had held onto it for this long, for her sake.

Frank shrugged. "What can I say? I like to be prepared." He smiled. "But I wasn't about to give it to you until I was one hundred percent sure you would accept it."

"Oh, Frank," she said tenderly. "I'm ready to accept it now."

She started to reach for the ring, but Frank suddenly snatched up the box. "Ah ah ah! That is not your job. It's mine."

Jane was about to hold out her hand to him until she noticed him standing up. "Wait, you don't have to do that!" she cried out.

"Oh, yes, I do!" Frank grinned as he dropped to one knee. When he looked up, Jane had covered her face with her hands, and he instantly felt a twinge of regret. Had he just made a stupid, impulsive mistake again? He was planning to take a walk on the beach with Jane later, and he could have done this then in private, which was Jane's usual preference. But he was so excited about her expressed desire to marry soon that he had jumped at the chance to present the ring right here in the restaurant. And now, they had attracted the attention of several nearby diners and waitstaff, who were watching them with curious anticipation.

"Jane, look at me, please," he whispered. As she dropped her hands, he started to say an apology, but then he noticed that Jane's eyes were shining and her smile was enormous. If this was the result of Jane "wanting to talk," he made a mental note not to complain about it again! His confidence restored, Frank took her left hand in his own and said, "Jane Fairfax, will you marry me?"

Jane, too, was aware of the audience they had attracted, but realized that she didn't care. Frank Churchill was her best friend, her beloved, her soulmate. She was head over heels in love with him, and she didn't mind if the whole world knew. So it was with an almost indescribable joy that she gazed into his eyes and answered, "Yes, yes, YES!"

Chapter Text

Chapter 34

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Although Jane had secured her third major investor months ago, she had waited to approach Maxwell Howard again. After her disappointing attempts to find an entrance into the L.A. Schools, she had spent some time reconsidering her strategy. Frank had encouraged her with a quote from his distant ancestor, Winston Churchill, "Success consists of going from failure to failure without a loss of enthusiasm." With his unflagging optimism, Frank had helped her to recognize that perhaps that door to the school district had closed in order to point her toward different possibilities. He had been right, and the Saving Water for Everyone foundation was now engaged in some promising new developments.

"Welcome again," the actor-turned-philanthropist greeted her, before leading her once more to his patio for a light breakfast meeting. "So," he said after they were seated, "you've identified additional investors and had a change in direction? I'm intrigued, Ms. Fairfax. Please tell me more."

"Well," Jane began with a smile, "Instead of trying to start my own local programs from scratch, I have been reaching out to organizations with different but related missions here in this region, including groups that provide free or low-cost home repair and weatherization services to low-income residents, and to urban gardening groups. My goal now is to make water efficiency and water retention systems an integral part of those programs."

"So no more educating youth?" Mr. Howard inquired.

"Oh, that's still key to what I'm doing! The L.A. Schools don't really have the capacity to integrate water conservancy into the school day, so I'm entering through the back door, so to speak. Many teachers seek income-earning opportunities during the summer. So for this coming summer, I've hired several district teachers along with university students studying subjects such as urban planning and environmental engineering. They're going to work together to develop hands-on science, tech, engineering and math activities that can teach children at different grade levels about water conservation."

Mr. Howard furrowed his brow. "I thought the schools didn't have time for it."

"They don't," Jane acknowledged. "That's why I've also reached out to a number of after school programs and summer camps, several of which are willing to implement the curriculum once it's completed. In addition, college students and high school students will serve as mentors to younger kids in these programs, and they will help develop water conservation systems for the residential improvement and urban gardening programs. We're making funds available to pay the college and high school students for their time, with a particular focus on recruiting lower-income students. That's important, because many lower-income youth wouldn't otherwise have the chance to participate in a program with career potential like this if it weren't paid because they so often need to work."

"Impressive," Mr. Howard said, starting to smile. "So you're finding other ways to reach out to youth. I also imagine that the teachers who help to develop the curriculum can't help but bring parts of it into their school day, even if it's unofficially."

"Exactly," Jane said, beaming. "A few of them are already planning field trips around these activities."

"I like it," Mr. Howard said. "Your U.S. projects seem on track. What about your work in West Africa?"

"Delayed until the Ebola outbreak subsides," Jane admitted. "However, in the meantime, I have been working with the Hygienic H2O Project, which provides clean water access in East Africa. Part of the curriculum will include students developing an understanding of the connections between the efforts to develop safe water sources in a country like Ethiopia, for instance, with the projects that they're doing here in the U.S. Someday soon, I fully believe, we'll be able to do the same with our own projects in Sierra Leone and other countries in West Africa."

Maxwell Howard nodded. "Excellent strategy. You also indicated that you have your letters of support from three major sponsors?"

"I do," said Jane, reaching into her portfolio and handing him several documents, which he quickly reviewed.

"I'm not familiar with the Lee family, but it's fantastic that you've engaged the Darcy family and Pemberley Digital. In addition to funding, they'll be able to provide you with outstanding publicity."

Jane nodded. "They've already promised that."

Mr. Howard observed her closely. "I told you during our first meeting that I'm very honest. I have to admit to being concerned about your third sponsor."

"Why is that?" Jane asked boldly.

He raised an eyebrow. "I'm sure you know that your name has been connected to Frank Churchill's in less than favorable ways."

"I know," Jane said, "and so I'll match your honesty with my own. Mr. Churchill and I are engaged to be married."

Mr. Howard couldn't hide his surprise. "Well, that's big news! But don't you think that your personal connection to him makes his sponsorship suspect?"

"Not at all," Jane replied. "He's completely committed to our mission, and at this point, I'm not receiving a salary, so it's the organization that's benefiting from his support, not me personally. And may I ask you a question?"

"Please do."

"Would you be concerned if we were a husband and wife team devoted to this work together? Bill and Melinda Gates come to mind. If not, I'm not sure why my relationship with Mr. Churchill should be a concern."

Mr. Howard was quiet for a moment. "Good point," he finally said, smiling again and holding out his hand to her. "Congratulations, Ms. Fairfax. You've convinced me. I'm on board."

====================================================

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Jane and Frank couldn't have asked for a better day. Emma and Harriet pulled off a fabulous event, securing an eco-friendly outdoor venue with an exquisite view and breezes from the Pacific Ocean, organic local foods and wines catered by the restaurant Serle's in Sanditon, and samples of the newly developed Caitlyn's Foods items as gifts for all the guests.

Sarah Dixon served as Jane's matron of honor, and Annie Weston and Caroline Lee-Elton as her bridesmaids. Frank had two best men—Ryan Weston and his dad, Geoff Churchill—along with Peter Dixon as his groomsman. Lorraine Bates and Eugenie James stood in for the couple's mothers, and lit candles in memory of Dominic and Jeanine Fairfax, and Wei-ming, Jie, and Audrey Leung. Jane's Aunt Maddy walked her down the aisle.

The late afternoon wedding was deeply moving, as all who knew them well and loved them understood how much the couple had overcome to arrive at this moment of commitment and devotion to one another. But everyone agreed that as lovely and profound as the wedding was, it was surpassed by the very special reception that took place that evening.

"There's a proverb that talks about a friend who sticks closer than a brother," Ryan Weston began as part of his toast to the newlywed couple, "and I can honestly say, Frank has been both to me. I first met him at fourteen when our parents started dating, and I liked him instantly. He was this nutty kid who totally got my goofy sense of humor. Since then, no matter what I've been through, he's always stuck by me, and I can only hope that I've done the same for him."

Frank nodded his assurance that yes, Ryan had.

"And Jane," Ryan turned to his new sister-in-law, "what can I say? We Weston-Churchill boys marry up!" At this, the wedding guests laughed, and Jane and Frank exchanged teasing grins. "You've not only made Frank a better man, you've made him an extraordinarily happy one. And for that, I'm very grateful to you. I wish you both many, many long years of love and joy together."

Geoff Churchill then took Ryan's place at the podium to say a few words. "I think most parents hope that despite their mistakes, their children will turn out okay. In my case, however, my son has more than exceeded my expectations. Frank, I don't know if I have words to describe how very proud of you I am, and how proud I know you mother would be if she were here today."

Jane felt the pressure of Frank squeezing her hand, and knew he was getting emotional.

"And Jane," Geoff turned to her, "you are one of the loveliest and most accomplished young women I've ever met. I can say with certainty that marrying you is very best thing that Frank could possibly have done. So thank you from the bottom of my heart for choosing my son."

It's my honor, thought Jane as she squeezed Frank's hand back.

"Now I know that at this point," Geoff went on, turning back to the crowd, "I'm supposed to raise a toast, but the matron of honor has requested an opportunity to present something first. Since she's a fellow Brit, I'm inclined to let her," he said with a grin. "So without further ado, allow me to turn the microphone over to Sarah Dixon."

As Sarah approached the podium, Alex and Peter pushed out a giant hi-def TV on a large stand onto the stage. Frank and Jane exchanged puzzled glances as the two men began to attach cords from the set to a nearby power strip. Sarah, meanwhile, was hooking up cords from a laptop to a projector.

"Hello, everyone," Sarah said brightly, which quieted the guests who had begun to whisper among themselves. "As you know, Jane and Frank asked for donations to be given to the United Together Children's Centre, Médecins Sans Frontières, or the clean water charity of your choice in lieu of wedding gifts. But I have a hard head and I didn't listen. So Jane and Frank, here is your wedding gift from Peter and me, and not just from us, but also many others."

She used a remote control to turn on the television and a video began to play. "Congratulations to Jane and Frank from your friends in the UK," scrolled across the screen. Sarah and Peter then appeared in what Jane recognized as their living room. Both waved at the camera. "Hello, Jane and Frank!" called out the taped version of Sarah. "Peter and I are very excited to be able to share in your special day with you. But we know that there are many others here in England and Scotland who also want to share your joy, so we decided to give them that chance."

"Awesome!" Frank whispered to Jane.

The next scene showed Sarah entering a pub that Jane remembered from her years at Oxford. Peter, Jane assumed, was holding the camera. Once inside, Sarah joined a group of their graduate school friends. Jane covered her mouth to hold back her giggles of pleasure. "We're gathered here, Jane, to drink a pint in your honor," announced Sarah. One by one, her old school friends expressed their good wishes, and then lifted their pints and shouted, "Cheers!"

As the wedding guests applauded, the video jumped to another location, this time a pub in London. At this one, a group of Frank's rock climbing mates had gathered and shared similar congratulations before drinking up in honor of the newlyweds. "Aw man, this is great!" Frank uttered in obvious pleasure at the scene.

The video jumped again to the Southbank along the Thames. Jane's heart caught, recalling the many wonderful memories she had of that location. "Hello again!" Sarah called out on screen. "Jane, Peter and I still run here, and every time, I remember running with you, as well as the amazing walks and talks we had here." Sarah continued on, soon arriving at the entrance of the building that housed Sustainable London. Jane felt tears prick her eyes as she realized whom she was about to see.

Sure enough, the camera soon traveled to the small conference room of her former workplace where her old colleagues had gathered and were eating cake. "Jane," Eugenie smiled, "I am so very happy for you and Frank. I am glad I will be able to join you for your wedding, and that you have invited me to take part in it. My one regret is that I won't have the opportunity to tell you that you're the most beautiful woman in England!"

Jane smiled, remembering Eugenie's promise at Sarah's engagement party to say just those words whenever Jane got engaged.

The camera swept over to Derek, who said, "Congratulations, Jane and Frank. I only wish I had known about this video in advance. I'm sure Michael would have composed a poem for you!"

"Ife and I both wish you all the best," Andrew added in his deep but gentle voice. "After twenty-two years of marriage, I can tell you that you will have your ups and downs, but if you keep the respect and the trust, it only gets better and better."

Arjun held up a forkful of cake. "Hello there, mates. We're eating this in your honor. So let us know the next time you have any kind of celebration, and we'll eat another cake just for you."

Jane laughed, her joy bubbling over.

"Hi, Jane!" Alyssa waved. "I won't say much now because in a short while I have a special message for you."

The camera jumped again, this time to a local park. Jane recognized the neighborhood around it, in the borough of Islington. She soon spotted Alyssa along with several teenagers. "Everyone," Alyssa shouted to the kids, "talk to my friend in America. Tell her what we've been doing here."

Different youth began to talk, describing a park that had been overgrown with weeds and had become a haven for gangs. They had worked with local authorities to help clean up the park, and later planted a garden there. "We built a playground, too!" one young woman announced.

"The kids helped me find sponsors to raise funds for the playground as well as a company to build it," Alyssa explained, "and we were allowed to help with the construction."

These days, a young man went on, young children came to play, families held picnics in the park, and community members worked in the garden. Another kid pointed out the rain barrels that watered the gardens, and the compost pile that helped to fertilize it.

"This is your legacy, Jane," Alyssa added. "I know it isn't everything we envisioned, but what these kids are doing here is brilliant. And it's because of you, because of everything you taught me and all the ways you inspired me. Thank you."

Jane was openly crying now, realizing that her work in London hadn't been in vain, and imagining the youth that her own foundation would help in the near future. Frank put his arm around her back and gently rubbed it.

The scene jumped again to Sarah entering a small café. As she did, she said, "It took me a while to find these two, but I'm so glad I did."

The face of a dark-skinned young man appeared on screen. Jane didn't recognize him, but Frank did. "That's Betty's brother!" he whispered to her in surprise.

The young man smiled. "Hello, Mr. Churchill!" he said. "Do you remember me, Stephen? I live here in London now, and I am attending university. I hear you are getting married. I am very happy for you and for your wife. I hope you will bring her here to London one day so that I can meet her."

Frank chuckled and whispered to Jane, "Next couple of months. We're going back!"

Betty's bright smile appeared on screen. "Hello, Mr. Churchill and Miss Jane! Congratulations! I am so, so, SO happy for you! You are such good people, and you deserve so much happiness. It is because of everything you have done for my family, Mr. Churchill, that my brother is here with me. So thank you, thank you! God bless you both!"

Jane watched Frank blink rapidly and knew that he was tearing up. She leaned into him and rested her head against his shoulder.

The video skipped again, this time to the community centre in Hackney. Already an emotional wreck, Jane knew she was about to really lose it.

Sarah smiled at the camera. "Jane and Frank, some very special people want to say hello." She moved inside and walked to the centre's large community room. Gathered there were many of Jane's former music students and their parents, along with a number of children and adults she didn't recognize.

Margaret, the centre's programme director, addressed the camera first. "As you can see, our music programme has really grown, and it's because of you, Jane and Frank! Jane, it was because of your vision and the way you gave your time and talent that this programme exists in the first place. And Frank, you enabled us to keep it going and build upon it because of your generosity. Thank you both so very much, and all the best to you."

The next people to appear on camera were the Judson family. Karyanne was jumping up and down, waving, and calling out, "Hi, Jane and Frank! I miss you!" Daniel, now twelve and probably at that stage where he was too cool to act excited, merely nodded at the camera, but his parents were both smiling brightly. Jane turned to see her grandmother gesturing excitedly to Eugenie, knowing it meant that Grandma recognized them.

"Jane and Frank," said Roger, "thank you very much for everything you have done for our children and our family. We owe you so much."

"Congratulations!" Rose cried. "When you start having those pretty babies of yours, make sure you send us pics!"

Jane and Frank both laughed at that.

A young woman in a hijab whom Jane didn't know appeared on camera. "Hello Jane," she said, "I am Rikayah. Like you, I am a pianist. I want to say thank you, because from you I received many, many students who love music and were very well-taught. And now we have a performance for you."

The camera panned back to take in the room. Daniel sat at a keyboard, while Karyanne said on her father's lap, guitar in hand. The rest of the children gathered in the middle of the room, where Rikayah stood in front to conduct them. Raising her hands, she said, "One, two, three," and Daniel and Karyanne, with her father's guidance, began to play a familiar James Taylor tune. The other children began to sing, and soon the wedding guests viewing the video joined in when they got to the chorus,

Winter, spring, summer, or fall

All you have to do is call

And I'll be there, yes, I will

You've got a friend.

When they finished, Jane glanced up at Frank, who, like her, was now wiping his eyes.

The camera skipped to Sarah again. "Jane and Frank, there is one final group of people who really wanted to give you their good wishes."

The video jumped to the home of Sarah's grandparents in Glasgow. In the living room, Sarah's parents, grandparents, and brother had gathered.

"Congratulations!" called out the elder Mr. and Mrs. Campbell.

"Jane and Frank," the younger Mrs. Campbell said, "you are like another daughter and son to us."

"Please know that whenever you come back to England or Scotland," added the younger Mr. Campbell, "you always have a home to come to and a family to stay with."

"I'm happy for you both," Justin chimed in. "Frank, I was going to send you a box of chocolates as a wedding present, but for some reason Sarah wouldn't let me."

Frank and Jane both burst out laughing.

The camera then jumped to one other person: Aunt Sophie Ferguson. Unlike everyone else who had appeared in the video, she wasn't smiling. In fact, she looked downright irate. The wedding guests became very quiet, wondering what this part of the video was about.

"I've heard about your upcoming nuptials," Aunt Sophie said crossly. "Jane Fairfax, let this be a warning to you. You had better treat Frank Churchill with the utmost love and respect. I will be watching." A bit of a gasp went up around the courtyard before she went on. "And if you do not, I will be waiting... to take your place."

A few guests began to titter, when suddenly Mrs. Ferguson broke out into an enormous smile. "In the meantime, I wish you both the happiest of marriages! Congratulations, and all my love to you!"

With that, the chuckling turned into full-blown laughter, with Jane and Frank laughing the hardest. They forced themselves to quiet down to hear the final words of the video. Sarah and Peter appeared on screen in their living room again. "Jane and Frank, we hope you have enjoyed this video," Peter said. "Sarah and I could think of no greater gift to give you than to let you know how many people here love you and will never forget you."

"Most of all, us," Sarah added. "You are our dearest friends, and we are so thankful to be a part of your wedding. See you soon!"

With that, the screen faded to black. As the wedding guests applauded, Jane and Frank sat still for some time, overwhelmed with emotions. Frank was able to rise first, and reached for Jane's hand. They walked together to embrace Sarah and Peter for what, they agreed later, was the best present either of them had ever received in their lives.

Chapter Text

Chapter 35

December 2016

Jane and Frank had arrived at Lungi International Airport in Freetown, Sierra Leone after a stopover in Dakar, Senegal and a brief sojourn in Ethiopia. In the latter, they drove with Yohanna Bekele and one of her Hygienic H2O colleagues about two hundred kilometers from Addis Ababa to a small village, where they celebrated the opening of a new well named in honor of Audrey Leung, Frank's mother.

If Yohanna or Lyndsey McColm had known of Frank's connection to Jane at the time of his donation, they had been too polite to say—and continued to be so when Jane had presented Lyndsey with an invitation to their wedding back in Los Angeles. With the couple's marriage becoming a well-known event, however, Lyndsey offered Frank another opportunity to attend the village celebration, and this time he happily accepted.

Jane was surprised and delighted to learn about his donation, and highly amused by the additional sixty dollars he had added to the generous gift. "Hey, you told me to give it to a good cause!" he said, in mock defensiveness.

"So my angry tirade led to some good, huh?" she teased.

"That wasn't an angry tirade," Frank smirked. "Believe me, I've been on the receiving end of one of yours, and I know! That was just... ice cold resolve."

"Ouuuch!" Jane said. "You're not painting a very pretty picture of me."

Frank put his arms around her waist and pulled her close, still smiling. "I don't know about that. You're beautiful even when you're telling me to go to hell. Besides, ice cold resolve is what I needed from you to knock some sense into my head."

She smiled back. "So you could turn around and knock some into mine!"

Whatever the impetus for Frank's gift, both he and Jane felt very honored to be present at the unveiling of a new source of clean water for a community much in need of it. The timing could not have been better, as the new well celebration coincided with the lifting of the State Department's warnings against travel to Sierra Leone. It was now time to pay a visit to a country so special to Jane's heart.

This visit would be just the one step toward completing two of the couple's biggest goals. During their ten-day trip, they would reach out to other NGO's operating in the country to establish partnerships and identify regions where new clean water projects might be feasible. Although Jane was excited about this long-term dream of hers finally being realized, the chance to visit the United Together Children's Centre with Frank was even more dear to her.

Jane gripped Frank's hand as they rode in a taxi from their hotel through the busy streets of Freetown to the orphanage. "I keep trying to tell myself that this is just one step among many," she said, a little breathlessly. They had already completed their international adoption application and been approved by the U.S. government, as well as the application procedures with the international adoption agency that handled the cases of orphans at the Children's Centre. Choosing a child and the legalization of the adoption by the Sierra Leonan government remained ahead of them.

Frank squeezed her hand back. "Yeah, but this is the most important step, I would say." The agency had sent photos and profiles of several children available for adoption, and today they would have a chance to meet them.

"We're ready for this, right?" Jane asked. She didn't know why she was so nervous.

Positive as always, Frank smiled. "Definitely. There are so many people helping us in this, sweetheart. Not just our relatives, but everyone else we've met."

She nodded, thinking about the months they had spent, not just completing their home study for adoption approval, but meeting with other parents of international adoptees, and with people from the Sierra Leonan immigrant community in L.A. Those meetings had been very emotional for Frank and Jane, because although the folks they had met had been supportive, they had warned them to be prepared. "No one has been untouched by Ebola," one woman told them. "Everyone has lost a family member, or a neighbor, or someone they were connected to. These children not only have no family, but they are a part of an entire country that is grieving."

Jane and Frank listened carefully, absorbing the stories. They both had lived through grief and loss as young children, although not to the same extent. Jane also considered the racism and prejudice that their child might experience. Kids, and unfortunately, too many adults, could be unwittingly or purposefully cruel. There had been too many stories in the news of African children from countries far removed from the Ebola outbreak who had been discriminated against because of people's fears of the disease.

Again, however, Frank had given her confidence. After one dinner with some new Sierra Leonan friends back in L.A., she had remarked to Frank that she appreciated that he was never uncomfortable being the only non-black face in the room. "That's how I realized I was in love with you, you know."

He raised his eyebrows in surprise. "I thought it was because I was helping Betty's family."

Jane shook her head. "That was part of it, but it wasn't the biggest reason. It was Betty telling me that you had visited her family in Nigeria. Anyone can give money, but you went far beyond that."

"I went kind of on a whim, since I was in Lagos anyway," he explained. "They didn't live that far and I had some time to kill."

"You're selling yourself short," Jane protested. "You know it meant a lot to them. But what really moved me"—and here Jane smiled—"was this vision I had of you walking into Betty's village and acting like you were right at home."

Frank shrugged. "Why wouldn't I be?"

She laughed. "See! That's just what I mean! I've seen this quality in you time and time again, the way you can go into any group of people and just fit right in. That's a rare gift, honey. And when Betty told me that story, that's when I realized just how special you are."

He gazed at her in amazement. "You really thought that about me back then?"

Jane nodded.

"Wow... You know, before I knew you, I thought I was all that for superficial reasons, like money and success. Then I met you and started to realize how meaningless all that was. I was trying to change for you, however misguided my attempts were. But I guess I somehow fooled you even at the beginning of our relationship?"

She placed her hands on Frank's cheeks and kissed him tenderly. "You didn't fool me about anything. That's who you always were, and I could see it in you."

He laughed. "But it took a good woman to bring it out!"

She touched her nose and pointed. "And vice versa! You bring out the best in me, too! That's why I know that no matter what our kid goes through, we can handle it together."

Frank rested his forehead against Jane's. "It'll be an adventure for us, and our kids in our multicultural family, black and white and Asian."

Jane smiled. "And American and British."

He laughed, "And Chinese, Bajan, and Sierra Leonan. It'll never be boring, that's for sure!"

I can't wait, Jane had thought at the time, and now she said those same words aloud as they approached the neighborhood where the children's centre was located.

They were welcomed by one of the orphanage workers, Muhammad, who led them into a small parlor inside the main building of the centre and offered them seats. "Someone is very eager to see you," he told Jane.

A few minutes later, a pretty young woman with a round face and smooth, clear ebony skin entered the room. "Hannah!" Jane cried out, and rose to hug her.

"Frank, this is Hannah Taylor-Johnson. She is a teacher here. She looked after me when I was here six years ago! Hannah, this is my husband, Frank Churchill."

"Congratulations, and a pleasure to meet you," Hannah said to Frank.

"Likewise," he answered.

"I didn't know whether anyone I knew would still be here!" Jane went on.

"Oh, there are several of us," Hannah assured her. "And a few of the children, too, although they are so grown up you would not recognize them. May I take her to visit someone?" she asked Frank.

"Of course," he said. After Hannah and Jane departed, Frank found Muhammad again and asked whether he might walk around the grounds. In the heart of Sierra Leone's dry season, the day was sunny and beautiful.

Muhammad gave him permission, so Frank began to wander around outdoors. He stopped to watch a football match being played by children who appeared to be ages ten and up. As he began to take some photos of the match with his mobile, he heard giggling, and looked around to spot several young children running to hide behind a tree. He waved to them, and one little boy waved back. More giggling and whispering among the children followed, and then the boy who had waved slowly emerged from behind the tree. As he drew near, Frank grinned, wondering whether the other children had dared him to approach.

When the boy, who was about five, stopped a few feet in front of him, Frank realized that he recognized him as one of the children whose profiles he and Jane had reviewed. Frank even recalled his name, because it had tickled Jane due to her fondness for transcendentalist philosophers. "Hello, Emerson," he said.

The boy's eyes widened. "You know my name?"

Frank smiled and got down on one knee in order to be at eye level with the boy. "I've seen your photo. My name is Frank."

Hearing the word 'photo', Emerson pointed to Frank's phone. "Will you take a snap of me?"

"Sure." Frank aimed the mobile at the smiling child and tapped the photo icon. "Want to see?"

Emboldened or perhaps just curious, Emerson walked over and looked at his photo and laughed in delight. "Can I see more?"

Frank began to scroll through the pictures he had taken of the older children playing, as well as some of the recent shots he had taken in Ethiopia.

"She is pretty," Emerson said. He was looking at a picture of Jane.

Frank smiled broadly. "She is, isn't she? She's my wife."

"You have a wife?" Emerson asked, as if that surprised him. "Can I take a snap, too?"

"Sure. What do you want to take?"

Shyly, Emerson pointed at himself and then Frank.

Frank raised an eyebrow. "A selfie, huh? We can do that."

He showed Emerson how to operate the camera feature, and then allowed the boy to take several photos of the two of them together. After this, Emerson turned and ran back to his friends, who soon emerged from behind the tree and came over to Frank as well. Frank grinned, realizing that Emerson must have reassured them that everything was okay. Soon he was surrounded by children asking him to 'take my snap.'

"I see you've made some friends."

Frank looked up to see Jane and Hannah watching them. He was momentarily arrested by the sight of Jane. Her eyes were shining and her smile was radiant.

"That's your wife!" Emerson announced, and then clapped his hand over his mouth as if he had just said something naughty.

Jane laughed. She remembered the boy from the profiles they had been sent, and not only because of his name. His dimpled smile, prominent cheekbones, and the mischievous gleam in his eyes reminded her of Frank, even more so in person than in his photo.

"That's right, this is my wife," Frank said. He stood up and began to introduce the children. "Jane, this is Emerson, Favour, Ibrahim, Emmanuel and Miriam."

Jane greeted each child, and then Hannah told the children to run off to play, because she needed to take the couple on a tour. Emerson jumped up and raised his hand. "May I go with you, Teacher?"

"Yeah, can he come with us? Please?" Frank asked Hannah.

Hannah smiled. "I suppose."

"You go for what you want. I like that," Frank said to Emerson as the four of them began to walk together.

"Carpe diem," Emerson said.

Frank and Jane stared at each other in amazement. "Where did you learn that? Do you know what it means?" Frank asked the boy.

Emerson pointed to Hannah. "She taught us. It means, 'seize the day.'"

"That's right," Frank said, smiling. "It does." He turned to look at Jane, and from her expression, he knew they were both in agreement. They had found their son.

The End