(click on the title for the latest chapter)
Emma Woodhouse, a dark-haired, blue-eyed young lady, was a college graduate, newly established as books editor at the Chronicle and had little in the world to worry her. She lived with her father in an old Victorian-style home on the fringes of downtown
Her mother had died when she was young, and she hardly remembered her. Her elder sister, Isabella, lived miles away, in the rural part of the county, and was married to a cattle rancher named John Knightley. They lived in comfort in an old farm house, but the areas around them were being eaten up, not, as one supposed, by grazing cattle, but by developers and new housing developments. It would not be long, Emma surmised, before they would be considered living ‘in town.’
So it was just Emma and her father, a retired military gentleman, in the big, rambling Victorian.
“A shame Ruth could not have dinner with us this evening,” Mr. Woodhouse said as they sat on their front porch swing. “We never should have introduced her to Hank.”
“Oh, Dad!” Emma exclaimed with a laugh. Their late tenant, Ruth Taylor, had been married earlier that afternoon to a family friend, Hank Weston. Emma was looking forward to inviting the happy couple over in a few weeks, after they had returned from a honeymoon cruise, but her father was not fond of change, nor was he happy when he thought people were endangering their health.
He had counseled against both the rich cream cake served at the reception and the choice of a cruise ship for the wedding trip.
“I’m sure they don’t sanitize those cramped little cabins as well as they should,” he had warned. “You don’t know what sort of germs you will be exposed to. And think of all those passengers coming down with viruses all at the same time. I get the Chronicle, you know. I’ve read all about it.”
“I will give them a can of Lysol for a wedding present,” Emma had teased, but her father had actually approved of that idea. After all, when Ruth had moved into their carriage-house apartment five years before, one of the things he had provided as a welcoming present was a can of disinfectant.
Emma wasn’t worried about not seeing Ruth as usual, like her father was. The new Mrs. Weston was the personnel director at the Chronicle. Mr. Woodhouse, however, would be losing the sort of close neighbor who had spent many hours in his company, playing cards, baking wholesome treats for him and listening to his military stories.
Mr. Woodhouse had married later in life after leaving the service, settling in
It was a pleasant thought for both herself and her father. Less pleasant, at least in Emma’s mind, was the sudden appearance of Josh Knightley, her sister’s brother-in-law. She only tolerated him because they were family, after a fashion, and they shared an employer. Josh was circulation manager at the newspaper.
“Speak of the devil,” she muttered as his sleek gray Mercedes pulled up in front of the house.
He had gone home and changed clothes after the wedding, she noted, as he came up the walk. Instead of a dark suit (which had looked very well with his dark hair and hazel eyes), he wore neatly-pressed khakis and a black polo shirt sporting the newspaper’s logo.
“Josh!” Mr. Woodhouse called in greeting. “You are just in time for dinner. Will you join us?”
“Does Emma know how to cook?”
Mr. Woodhouse moaned. “I hope Ruth Taylor does not overeat on that cruise – they offer too much food on those ships, you know. Mid-morning bouillon, buffets… She will have to purge herself when she comes home!” He gave Emma a sad smile.
“Oh, Dad! It’s Ruth Weston now, and I know how to cook, Mr. Knightley,” she said indignantly. “But you do not have to eat it. Dad would be happy with a bowl of bran flakes and I can eat it by myself, you know. As for Ruth Weston, Dad, she knows how to limit herself when it comes to food.”
“Thanks for stopping by, Josh,” Mr. Woodhouse was saying. “A young man like you should be out on the town, not sitting here with an old man and a girl for company. Besides, it looks like rain. We should all go indoors so nothing settles in our chests. I can’t believe the wedding was held outdoors.”
“I was sitting near the back,” Josh said. “Who cried the most? I know I saw Emma pull out a tissue,” he teased.
“I did no such thing! I was maid of honor, you know, and I could not very well wipe my face in front of all those people!”
“Poor Ruth Taylor. She is going to get indigestion at the very least on that cruise,” her father mused. “She used to keep on eye on us. The least I could do was warn her before she left.”
“I know you two will have to become a bit more independent now that Ruth is married,” Josh replied.
“We are independent!” Emma insisted. “Even if one of us is an air-headed creature!”
“Yes, I know I am,” Mr. Woodhouse said with a sigh.
“Oh, Dad! You know Josh is teasing me, not you! He considers himself my keeper, I think.”
Mr. Woodhouse harrumphed. “As if you needed one!”
Emma did not reply. She knew she was a daddy’s girl, and as such she hated knowing she was not as perfect as her father thought she was. Of course, Josh had no problem thinking her less than perfect, so perhaps the two balanced each other.
“We always say what we like to each other,” Josh agreed. “And I would never falsely flatter Emma.”
She knew that was true, but she let it go. She didn’t like to squabble with him in front of her father. “Still, it was a lovely wedding,” she said with a sigh.
“We will not see Ruth much now,” Mr. Woodhouse said mournfully. Emma nodded
“Nonsense! She will be living right down the road, and will be in the same building as yourself, Emma, five days a week!”
Emma, not wanting her father to become depressed, stood abruptly, gaining their attention. “Who wants supper?”
“Oatmeal?” Mr. Woodhouse asked eagerly. “That cake was much too rich.”
“If you want oatmeal, Dad, you can have it. I thought I would make an omelet for us, Josh.”
“Eggs are good,” Mr. Woodhouse approved.
“And I may pride myself on one thing,” Emma added as they headed into the house.
“Adding wheat germ?” her father asked.
“About the marriage, Dad,” she clarified.
“What is that?” Josh wondered, amusement in his tone.
“I made that match myself. Even after Hank kept saying he would never marry again.”
“You are much too psychic, Emma,” her father said fondly, “but I do wish you would not predict things. They always come true.”
“I don’t do it for myself, Dad, but it is fun to match up other people. Just look at my track record! Hank had been divorced for a long time, and he kept insisting he’d stay single forever. Then one day he saw Ruth and I taking a walk and it started to rain, and he ran out with a couple of umbrellas. I knew then they would make a great couple.”
“Track record!” Josh scoffed. “One lucky guess and you’re suddenly psychic?”
“A lucky guess is not just luck,” Emma loftily replied. She settled her father at the kitchen table and began rummaging about for the oatmeal pot. “It is a gift. If I had not invited Hank and Ruth here together as often as I did after that, it might never have happened.”
“You should have kept your nose out of their business. It might have done more harm than good.”
“Emma likes to do good for others,” Mr. Woodhouse said drowsily, only partially listening. “But no more matches, my dear.”
“Only one more,” Emma said, thinking of her co-workers. “Poor Elton Myers… He’s so lonely, you know, with only his mom and all that money for company.”
“What? The religion editor?” Josh laughed. “I’m sure he can take care of his own love life.”
“We should invite him to dinner, Dad,” she continued, ignoring Josh.
“Sure, invite him to dinner,” Josh teased. “And give him the best steak or pork chop on the platter. But let him find his own girlfriend. He’s old enough to do that for himself.”
“You take the fun out of everything!” Emma said with a pout. With a loud bang, she set the cast iron skillet on a burner, and did not speak to him again for awhile, not until she had placed his food in front of him.
The Monday morning budget meeting at the Chronicle was a noisy affair, as any top-of-the-week meeting usually was.
Emma, books editor, swept into the conference room behind the other section editors, the new features assistant in tow. The managing editor, Mr. Cole, called everyone to order, but was barely heard over the bright chatter of weekend activities and happenings. When they finally settled down, he asked Emma to introduce her newest team member.
"Harriet Smith, features news assistant," she said, indicating the pretty blonde at her side. Harriet tried to shrink into her chair. "Don't be shy now," Emma prodded after introducing the people sitting about the room. "And tell everyone something about yourself."
"I don't know..." Harriet began, but was interrupted by the executive sports editor, an elderly gentleman with white hair.
"Yeah, whatever," he said. "Let's get going. There's a spring training game at one."
"That he's not even covering, just attending," someone else said tartly from the other end of the table. It was Augusta Hawkins, one of the editorial writers.
“He will be retiring soon,” someone else said. “Let him have his fun.”
“Any news on a replacement?” Emma asked Mr. Cole.
“We hope to hear something from a candidate by next week. Seems he is considering several papers, although we hope he chooses sunny
Speculation on the possible new sports editor buzzed around until order was restored once more, and then the business of discussing what would appear in the paper the next day, to be modified as needed that afternoon if other news broke, was taken care of and the editors were soon released back to their desks to do their real work. Harriet's introduction was forgotten in the rush out of the conference room, but Emma stopped here and there to introduce her to people and talk about the weekend.
"I saw that gorgeous brother-in-law of yours at the cancer society ball on Sunday night," Missy Bates, the social columnist, gushed as Emma tried to slip past her desk unnoticed. "Where were you?"
"Circulation managers make enough to afford the $125 a plate price tag, I suppose," Emma said dryly, pushing Harriet ahead of her back to their desks.
"He was with the most beautiful redhead," Missy continued as if Emma had never spoken. "Any idea who she was?"
Emma shrugged. Really, just because her sister was married to Josh’s brother, everyone thought she kept close tabs on his life, especially his love life. He was known as one of
"He's going to be in the annual charity bachelor auction, you know," Missy continued. The woman could prattle on for hours and say nothing, but this brought Emma up short.
"But you knew that," Missy said with a laugh. "Now, if you can just tell me her name for my column..."
"You're the writer," Emma tossed over her shoulder as she walked on to her cubicle. "You make the call. His extension is 3526."
Missy watched with disgust as Emma walked off, then picked up the phone and dialed the extension, only to reach Knightley's voice mail.
Harriet spent the morning learning the computer system, fielding phone calls and opening the incredible amount of mail that came in daily for the features department.
"More?" she said in exasperation at about 11 a.m., when a cheerful-looking young man brought her a small cart full of padded envelopes and thin boxes, all addressed to E. Woodhouse.
"Books and such," he said with an apologetic smile. Harriet nodded in understanding. Emma was in charge of the Sunday books section and had said she would be needed to help open that mail.
"Rob Martin, by the way," said the courier. "I'm technically in the pre-press department, but I make sure the mail comes in and gets out promptly and correctly." He pushed shaggy brown hair out of his eyes.
"Harriet Smith," she responded with a shy smile.
"Well, I have to go back downstairs and get the outgoing mail ready for the post office. If you get stuck doing mailings, or you have questions about the courier service, I can help," he offered. "I'll come back later for the cart."
Harriet watched him until he disappeared through the main newsroom doors, collecting the outgoing mail as he did.
"What a nowhere job," Emma said with a sniff from behind Harriet, and walked off without another word.
Emma didn't give Josh another thought until she prepared to leave the building for a solitary lunch. She found him suddenly in step with her, heading out to the parking lot.
"But..." she started to protest when he steered her toward the reserved parking and his expensive car.
"Business lunch," he said without apology as he settled her in the passenger side. "I thought you could tell me about your upcoming special sections over Thai food. I need to know what rack cards to plan for." Rack cards were those little posters that fit down in front of the metal newspaper boxes to advertise what was inside the paper.
"You get the special section schedule just like everyone else. And promotions decides what goes on the rack cards," she replied with some asperity, but did not protest further. "Here I thought you just wanted to tell me about the redhead." Josh rolled his eyes.
"Missy Bates would be better off focusing on some of the other bachelors, and for the record, the redhead is Janet Austen, the new cancer society director."
"Oh." For some reason, that made her feel better. "I can't believe you are doing this." Josh was a rather private person.
"What? It's for charity and Ruth asked me..."
"Ah, yes, Ruth..." Emma couldn't understand, though, why her best friend had not told her Josh was going to be one of the auction bachelors. Perhaps the wedding plans had caused it to slip her mind. "How did she manage to get you to agree?"
Josh looked at her with an odd smile, but he only shrugged.
"It's for charity," was all he finally said as they were seated in the front window of Tropical Thai, as if that explained everything. “And I was being particularly indulgent towards her in light of her recent marriage.”
“How nice of you. You can thank me for her happiness, if you wish.”
“I thought we had already been over that.”
“Say what you want, but I am the one who matched them up.”
“Emma, that was four years ago and you were walking by his house with her, was all. I would think anything after that was up to them."
“I still made the match,” she said smugly.
The waitress brought them menus, and he let the topic go in favor of deciding what to order.
When Emma returned to the newsroom, she saw Rob Martin standing over Harriet's desk, the news assistant laughing at something he was saying.
Emma frowned as she took the pile of mail from his hand, flipped through it and asked Harriet to have it all on her desk by 2 p.m. "When there will probably be more books," she added with a pointed look at Rob. He flushed and excused himself, Harriet went back to work and Emma shook her head.
"Some people with nothing jobs have nothing better to do than monopolize other employees."
"I think he's rather nice," Harriet said shyly.
"Not bad if you don't mind someone without a college degree," Emma replied. "You can do better than that." She looked about the room, as if to find someone she considered 'better.'
"Take Elton Myers, for example," she finally said, indicating the religion editor. "Single, over 30, it's true, and he still lives with his mother, but he's not gay and he's cute in a nerdy sort of way. Solid, dependable and one of those rare newsroom souls who work because they want to, not because they have to. I hear he inherited quite a bundle when his dad died a couple of years ago." He still had most of it, too, she thought, because he was cheap. But Harriet didn't need to know that.
"C'mon," she offered. "I'll re-introduce you to him and the next time he needs help typing religion briefs, I guarantee he'll ask you for assistance. He doesn't let just anyone type in his stuff, you know."
She took Harriet over to his desk and made sure he knew Emma was already fond of the new assistant. “Perhaps Miss Smith could be given the task of handling my briefs?” Elton asked.
Harriet giggled, but Emma rolled her eyes. The man thought he was a comedian, but he was also perfect for the new employee. “My religion briefs, of course,” he hastily added, catching Emma’s frown. “I shall have the press releases ready tomorrow morning.”
“I would be happy to write them for you,” Harriet said, blushing.
“How nice of you.” Emma paused, as if in deep thought, but a great idea had just popped into her head. “We need to have a party for Harriet, welcome her to the newsroom and
“A party for me?” Harriet blushed, but it did nothing but enhance her pretty features. Elton looked from her to Emma and back again, and Emma felt rather smug, thinking he was admiring the new assistant.
“Then it is settled! I’ll send out a global message, and we’ll invite the entire newsroom!”
“That is so sweet!” Harriet exclaimed.
“Yes, very nice, Emma,” Elton agreed. “A party is just what we need.”
The carriage house apartment had been cleaned and polished, and stocked with food and drink. Ruth Weston, back from her honeymoon cruise, had provided the sound system, knowing just where to set it up.
Mr. Woodhouse loved parties, but he was always sorry to see his daughter give one. He would be hospitable while people were there, but he would fret over the junk food they were stuffing into their bodies, and be beside himself with anxiety over how many people could safely cram into the apartment.
Emma had already established herself at work as an efficient planner, and she was popular, if considered a bit “above” some of the others. So many co-workers and friends came early and stayed late, however, despite her attitude. The daytime people hung around until the copy editors and page designers working evenings could join them. There was an added plus of the party being only a few blocks from the office, and Emma was providing the food, beer, wine and soda. What more could a journalist want?
She was well-aware of her co-workers’ attraction to free food and alcohol, and happy to provide it, but was even happier to welcome some old friends to her bash. Ruth and Hank were there, and Dorrie Goddard, the Newspapers in Education coordinator, who had recommended Harriet for the news assistant job. Josh Knightley was there, too.
Missy Bates arrived later, after attending a charity ball, and made certain people knew she had been schmoozing with
At one point, Emma spied Harriet speaking quietly in a corner with Rob Martin and… Rob Martin? She hadn’t invited him. Who had he come with? Why, that gate crasher had better…
She started to head toward them when Josh put a hand on her shoulder.
“What?” The music was so loud, Emma was sure he had said, “don’t get started.” Who did he think he was?
“I said, great party!”
“Oh! Thanks!” She turned away to approach Rob once more when Josh took her hand and pulled her outside to the gravel parking area in front of the apartment and behind the house.
“Much better. I can scarcely hear myself think in there,” he said.
“Then go home. I need to get back in there and…”
“And what? Tell Rob Martin to leave?”
“No! I just need to keep Dad from scaring people away from the cheese doodles. You know how he feels about snack food,” she fibbed.
“Rob came with me, Emma, and he’s having a good time. Leave the poor guy alone, will you? He and Harriet seem to be getting along just fine and I am not quite ready to leave, despite the loud music. You’ll need to turn it down soon anyway, before the old people at
Emma frowned. It was true that the retirement building was only a few doors down. “All right. I need to go check on a few people,” she said airily, a plan forming in her mind. “Get them circulating, things like that.”
“Like Elton Myers?” he wondered.
“What have you been doing all night? Stalking me?”
Josh, far from being offended, merely laughed. “Stalking, no. Watching, yes. Every time I see you, you’re leading poor Elton over to whatever group Harriet is in. It’s not going to work, you know. She’s a pretty girl, but not his intellectual equal. He’s boring for her, too. Besides, she seems interested in Rob.”
Emma snorted. “Talk about inequality! Harriet is sweet, but she deserves better than a guy who will be stuck in the mail room all his life, the only excitement being two trips daily to the post office over on
“Come on, Emma, be nice. At least he has a steady income. And is a stable sort of person. You might not have even noticed, but he hasn’t even touched a beer or had a glass of wine all night.”
“So he doesn’t drink,” she retorted. “Doesn’t mean he isn’t into something else, like drugs or porn.”
“Emma!” Josh shook his head and went back inside without another word. She followed more slowly, undaunted by his admonishment. Rob Martin was not the person for Harriet, and she fully intended to distract her new friend with another man. Elton Myers.
Monday morning brought a budget meeting filled with a lot of talk about Emma’s party, and she sat back with a smug smile and wished Josh was there to hear it all. But there was other news, as well, and several people who did not usually attend the meetings were there, including Missy Bates.
“There is an unprecedented number of Chronicle men signed up for the cancer society bachelor auction this year and I was thinking…” Missy ran a hand through her expertly bleached-blonde hair and grinned at the folks around the conference room table. “Let’s do a fashion spread with some of the men and show off their ‘date packages.’ I shall write the copy to go with it, of course. How about three or four men from the community and one of our own hotties?”
Augusta Hawkins, editorial writer, raised her hand. “Now, I’m not one whose opinions usually count in features, although my friends say my editorials are right on the mark, but shouldn’t the representative be someone from features itself?”
Emma looked sharply at her boss, who shrugged. Who in features was even in the auction? They silently asked each other this question, something everyone but
“Elton Myers!” she finally explained. Emma snickered and someone softly asked if his mommy was going on the date.
“I suppose we’ll go with someone like Josh Knightley, then,”
“That’s exactly who I was considering appropriate!” Missy interjected. “Especially since he is not a newsroom employee.”
Emma nodded. A paper had to be careful not to promote itself too much in the news sections. That included showing off one’s friends and family. However, using Josh in a photo spread was a little different, as long as he was not the focus of the story.
“If that is settled,” said Mr. Cole, “we have other business to attend to. Frank Churchill has accepted our offer to become the executive sports editor and plans to start next month.”
There was a lot of murmuring over this news, and Emma found herself curious about the man she had already heard so much about. He was coming from the
“Is he single?” Missy asked, and was told that he was. “I’m going to email him before he gets here, then, asking him to consider being in the auction. Think how exciting it would be for a young man, new in town, to strut his stuff and get a date. Not that he needs any help, I’m sure. Have you seen his blog photo?” she asked no one in particular. “He’s adorable.”
Emma made a mental note to check him out, even though she had no interest in sports.
After the meeting, she went back to her desk to find Harriet on a break. When the girl returned, she had a package of nuts in her hand and a glow on her face.
“Rob Martin is so sweet! I wanted these nuts out of the snack machine, but they got stuck halfway down. He went all the way to the cashier’s desk on the first floor to get a refund for me, and then he put his own money in there to buy another bag so it would push the stuck ones through.”
“You’ve been seeing a lot of Rob lately, haven’t you?” Emma wondered as nonchalantly as possible.
Harriet giggled. “Yes and no. We chat out in the parking lot after work and we meet occasionally in the break room. He’s such a nice guy.”
“That is what I’ve heard. But nice doesn’t make a real man…”
“I know it doesn’t,” Harriet readily agreed. “He’s not like some others I could mention.”
“A real man has good manners and a good education,” Emma said. She didn’t think Rob had either, despite the nut incident. “Look at Elton. He is polite, opens doors for people and went to the
“Mr. Knightley is a gentleman, too.”
“Well, yes, that goes without saying. No one is as thoughtful as Josh. But we were talking about Elton.” She looked up to see him staring at them. She gave him a tiny wave, and he blushed and went back to work. “I think he likes you,” she whispered to Harriet. “Did you see that?”
Harriet giggled again. “He’s a cutie, isn’t he? He said I did a good job typing in your book briefs.”
“He did?” Emma’s smile was wide. “So far, so good…”
“Is there anything else?” Julie Nash, features editor, asked in the department meeting several weeks later. She looked around expectantly. Elton Myers cleared his throat.
“I would like to commend Harriet on her book review in Sunday’s paper. I thought she showed tremendous insight into the world of historical romance,” he said, smiling widely.
Emma was thrilled to hear Elton compliment the news assistant. After all, it had been Emma’s idea to let Harriet write a review. She had allowed Harriet to choose from any book in the pile and had been amused when the girl had picked “The Romance of the Forest.” It was just like her to pick a historical bodice-ripper, but Emma had not said no. And Elton had noticed! If they had not been in a meeting, she would have let out a squee of delight. Elton’s next words were just as exciting.
“I suggest we nominate it for a Sunshine State Award.” Several people gasped. The Sunshine State Awards were sponsored by the Society of Professional Journalists, and while the review was credible, it was hardly award material, in Emma’s opinion. Still, the glow on Harriet’s face, caused by Elton’s words, was hard to dismiss.
“And we have Emma to thank for all of this!” he added. Several heads turned in her direction. “For helping a fledgling writer try out her wings!”
Emma wouldn’t go that far. She had only agreed to let Harriet write the review because she was already swamped with work and couldn’t possibly think about reading one more book, let alone writing another review.
“I will take care of the nomination personally,” Elton said. A few people looked from the religion editor to the news assistant, but said nothing. Missy Bates, however, was not so quiet.
“If you win, dear, I’ll put something in my column! It is always nice to see people developing their talents.” She shot Emma a sly glance. “And to have so young a mentor. Amazing!”
Emma turned her head away, realizing that Missy must have overheard her pass the job off onto Harriet the other day.
“But then we all need to start somewhere,” Missy added. “Don’t we, my dears?”
Emma looked up at Missy at that point. What did she mean by that? But Missy, leaning back in her chair and inspecting her blood-red nails, was rattling on about the bachelor auction once more.
"Isn't it exciting?" Harriet gushed as they walked back to their desks after the meeting.
"What is?" Rob asked, hanging over the edge of Harriet's cubicle, waiting for her to return.
"Elton is going to nominate my review for an award!"
"Oh." That seemed to set Rob back a bit, Emma thought smugly. Let him think Harriet was going places and leaving him behind. Because she was.
After Rob returned to his mail room, Emma checked her voice mail and decided it was time for a meal. "Want to sit outside and eat lunch together?" she asked Harriet without looking up. To her surprise, Harriet was nowhere to be found. When Emma took her sandwich she had brought from home out to one of the picnic tables on the paper's side lawn, she saw just where her friend had scampered off to earlier. She was in the parking lot next to a rusty old pickup chatting with Rob.
Now, how was that going to look if Elton came by? Emma ignored her sandwich while she watched Rob pull a guitar out of the cab. Harriet was effusive in her compliments, or so it seemed to Emma. When he put it away, something fell out. With a sheepish look, he bent to pick up the item and stow it hastily behind the seat. It was probably a girlie magazine, she thought with some disgust.
Finally, Rob drove off and Harriet, seeing Emma outside, came over to her.
"Did you know Rob is in a country band? He plays guitar with them on the weekends. We should go over to Joyland one night to hear them!"
Emma sniffed. "I don't like country music."
Harriet plowed on without even listening. "I didn't even connect the name until today, but I went to school with his sister, Beth!"
"Riverview High School, Class of 2006!"
“You don’t say,” Emma replied in a bored voice, feeling a bit old because she had graduated in 2002.
“Yes. He says Beth is going to school in Gainesville, and is studying to be a nurse. Isn’t that great?”
“Lovely. You seem to know a lot about Rob lately…” she said.
“I know he likes to read,” Harriet enthused. “He even said he was going to read ‘Romance of the Forest’ now that I’ve written a review on it!”
Emma was not exactly impressed by the fact that this ‘great reader’ was going to settle down with a bodice-ripping romance. Homer’s “Odyssey,” perhaps, but not “Romance of the Forest.”
“I think he likes me,” Harriet said shyly.
“Well, of course he likes you!” Emma scoffed. “Who would not like you! And he is OK for an admirer, but you can do better than that.”
“Elton Meyers is perfect for you, and you already know he admires you, too.”
Harriet could be so dense! “Duh! Why else offer to send your review in for an award?”
“Think about it, OK? And I’ll see what I can do to encourage him,” Emma offered.
Harriet gave a lingering look over to where Rob’s truck had been parked. “I suppose.”
“Then it’s settled. If I don’t have Elton asking you for a date by Memorial Day, there is something wrong with me.”
This is too easy, Emma thought a few days later when she went out to lunch and found Elton right behind her in line at Il Panificio. She ordered a slice of spinach pizza at the counter and chatted him up while she was waiting for it to reheat in the oven.
“Harriet is working out well in the department, don’t you think?” she asked.
“With much guidance from you,” he graciously replied.
“Well…” Emma prevaricated, but only for a moment. “I did train her to use the computer system and let her write a review. Other than that, I haven’t done much. Everything else is her own sweet nature and intelligence.”
“I think you have done more than you admit. She writes the religion briefs so well, someone must have taught her.”
“That was me…”
“But it is easy to train Harriet. She is so eager to please.”
“I hope you will encourage her to do more writing. You are a good example of an excellent writer.”
Emma frowned. If he was so complimentary of her, why hadn’t he nominated one of her book reviews, instead? Taking her pizza and paying for it, she settled at a table out in front of the tiny Italian place and opened the bottle of Arizona Iced Tea she had bought to go with it. Elton came out a few moments later and joined her. And to her surprise, Josh Knightley was not far behind.
“I hear congratulations are in order for your protégée,” he said to Emma, taking the seat next to her.
“It was all Elton’s idea,” Emma insisted.
“Really…” Josh gave Elton a look that made the other man squirm. Emma wondered what that was all about, but chalked it up to being a guy thing.
“Emma was the one who encouraged her to write,” Elton quickly qualified.
“I needed another review for the Sunday paper and didn’t have time to read another book,” she admitted.
“So you were just passing the buck,” Josh said, nodding, as if he expected nothing less from her.
“Oh, I am sure it was more than that,” Elton said, coming to her defense. For some reason, this made her uncomfortable. “Emma is too nice to just lob off some of her work on someone else.”
Josh turned his attention to Emma and raised an eyebrow. She felt like sinking into the concrete under her feet. “Emma is very nice,” he finally agreed. “And I am certain Harriet will find the writing practice coming in handy. Let’s face it. A newspaper person has to be flexible or else they are the first to go when there are layoffs. And since she is also the newest person in your department, she had better be able to write and edit and lay out pages to protect herself.”
“We need to teach her how to lay out pages!” Elton exclaimed.
Emma beamed at him. He would not be so worried about Harriet’s job security if he didn’t like her just a little, would he? She gave Josh a triumphant look, but he was too busy eating his pizza to notice. Typical.
“I suppose we do,” Emma agreed. “I am sure she will pick up the general idea rather quickly.”
“With such an excellent teacher as yourself, why wouldn’t she?” Elton wondered.
“Oh, Emma is a great teacher,” Josh agreed, polishing off his lunch and rising to leave.
Did she detect more than just a bit of sarcasm in his words?
“Have a good afternoon,” he said to them both, and was gone.
Emma had invited Harriet for supper later that week and afterwards they sat in Emma’s upstairs sun room painting their toenails.
“I got an e-mail last night from Rob’s sister, Beth,” Harriet said as she put a separator between her toes.
Emma paused in shaking a bottle of purple polish. “Oh? This is the sister in Gainesville?”
Harriet vigorously nodded. “Rob gave her my e-mail address.” She sighed. “He is very nice. He asked me out, too.”
Emma was glad she had not taken the lid off her bottle, because it fell to the tile floor with a smack.
“But I haven’t answered him yet,” Harriet confessed. She picked up the unbroken bottle and handed it back to Emma.
“When did this happen?” Emma could not see leaving a guy hanging for several days before deciding to go out with him. You either said yes or no right then and there.
“Today. This afternoon when he brought up the mail.”
“What did he say?” Emma asked conversationally once she remembered that she had been away from her desk when this must have happened.
Harriet blushed. “He stammered a lot, and he was really shy. He said he thought I was a very nice person and would I be interested in going out next Friday night?”
“What about his band?”
The younger girl shrugged. “I don’t know. He didn’t say.”
What Emma didn’t say was that it must not be a very successful band if they didn’t have a steady Friday night gig.
“So what do you think?” Harriet persisted, having finished separating her toes and shaking a bottle of pale pink polish.
“He did say you were nice,” Emma prevaricated. Why was she not surprised that his delivery had not been a bit more smooth? Someone of his obvious geekiness and lack of further education could have come up with something a bit more flattering, surely?
“What should I do?”
“What do you mean?” Emma wondered. The answer was obvious to her.
“Should I go out with him or not?” Harriet wailed. “You are the smart one, you tell me!” she insisted.
“I can’t do that!” Emma was alarmed. “But however you let him down, you should do it gently and that has to come from your own heart.”
“So I should say no?” Harriet flushed and looked at her feet.
Emma shrugged and opened her bottle. “Well, of course you have to refuse.” She saw Harriet frown. “You were asking me how to say no, right?”
Harriet did not reply.
“You were going to say yes?”
“Yes. I mean, no. I mean – I don’t know!” She buried her head in her hands. “What do you advise?”
“I don’t suggest anything,” Emma said piously. “You need to go with your own feelings on this one.”
“I didn’t even know he liked me so much!”
Neither did Emma. What was Elton going to say when he heard this? Would he be jealous enough to ask her out, too? She certainly hoped so.
“If you are in doubt, don’t go out. You seem to have some reservations, if you can’t make up your mind. Some could argue that it’s just a first date and doesn’t mean much, but you should begin as you mean to continue.”
“You’re right. If I have any worries, I shouldn’t go. So you think I should say no?”
“You are the best judge of your own feelings,” was Emma’s lofty reply. “Do you like Rob better than anyone you’ve ever met? Would you be comfortable with him in that old truck? The truck that looks like every trip it makes to the post office will be its last? Think of other people you might like to date.”
“Aha! Maybe it’s someone with a better job, better prospects and a better car?” Elton drove a brand-new Honda Civic.
There were a few silent moments while Harriet carefully painted a couple of toenails.
“I guess, then,” she finally said, “I’ll say no.”
“Good!” Emma exclaimed, please that she had made the right decision. “So, what are you going to tell him?”
Harriet looked surprised. “Do I have to say anything but no?”
“Well, sure.” She didn’t want Harriet to encourage him to ask again. “You need to tell him you have no interest in going out with him, ever.”
“That’s a bit harsh, isn’t it?”
“Do you want him to keep pestering you?”
“Oh, he’s not that bad.”
“Just not good enough to go out with you,” Emma said, her satisfaction with the situation evident in her voice.
Emma and her father were so pleased with Harriet as a guest, she was invited to spend the weekend with them. While she ran home to collect her belongings, Josh Knightley, out for a run, dropped by.
“I was just heading out for a walk,” Mr. Woodhouse told him. “You are welcome to join me,” he offered. “Although I’m sure my speed is much too slow for a vigorous young man like yourself. Besides, you still have to run home. Better you stay for a few minutes and keep Emma company until her friend returns.”
The older man went off for his walk, and Josh sat down with Emma on the front porch swing.
“I take it the friend you are waiting for is Harriet?”
“She is going to stay with us until Sunday.”
“What? A sweet, pretty girl such as her without a date? I could have sworn…”
“You could have sworn what?” Emma demanded.
Josh shrugged. “I was sure she was going to get asked out.”
“Then why is she coming to spend the weekend with you?”
Emma bristled. “For starters, the invitation was for next Friday night. And secondly, she turned him down.” At least, she was going to turn him down. Emma would be surprised at this point if she changed her mind.
“Oh, come on, Josh, really. Why shouldn’t she?”
“For starters,” he said, mimicking her word and tone, “he likes her. I have to admit that she is cute, in a ditzy sort of way, but he is absolutely crazy about her. And because I know he is an honest, upright sort of young man, I thought he should ask her out. It’s not as if he can’t afford a girlfriend. I can’t believe she would turn him down.”
“Well, actually, she hasn’t. Yet.” She didn’t like the way Josh looked at her through narrowed hazel eyes.
“You told her to turn him down, didn’t you?”
“What if I did? He might be a fine, upstanding young man, but you are far from right when you say he can afford a girlfriend.”
“You are a little snob!” he exclaimed. “Money is not the only thing to base a relationship on, and I don’t even place it in my top five! You’ve let your creation of the new Harriet Smith go to your head, and you’ve convinced her to become a gold-digger, despite the fact that she probably doesn’t even make more than Rob!”
“Looking at her from your current point of view, I wonder you are even friends with her! She has no education beyond high school, she rents rooms from Dorrie Goddard, so she doesn’t even own anything, and her car is almost as rackety as Rob’s truck!”
“Other people look at this differently, you know,” Emma said with a toss of her dark hair. “It would be beneath Harriet to go out with Rob.”
“You don’t know Rob, then, to say such a thing. I could tell you about him, but I don’t think it would make any difference at this point.”
“You’re a good friend to Rob, it seems, but you aren’t being fair to Harriet. She’s not clever, as you said, but she is a good natured and eager to please. Since that is what men profess to like above a pretty face and gorgeous body, when they are being absolutely dishonest with themselves and others, she should not lack any number of guys wanting to take her out.”
“You make no sense at all!”
“Oh, come on, admit it. She is exactly what men really want: a beautiful face and figure, and nothing else. She can have her pick of men. You know you’d want her, too, if you were a bit younger or she were just a little bit older. But she is young. Let her be as choosy as she wants to be about dates.”
“I can see there is no furthering my cause when you are in a mood,” he said with a sigh.
Emma resisted the urge to stick her tongue out at him. “Go away, then,” she said.
“I will, as soon as I say one more thing.”
Here comes the lecture, she thought with a sigh.
“You seem to think other men are interested in Harriet, and you may be right. But if one of those guys is Elton Myers, I can tell you now not to bother.”
Emma turned her head away. This was not what she wanted to hear.
“Sure, he’s known to be a good man, but he’s as much as snob as you are, if not more. He uses that inheritance of his to impress people, but he’s not going to throw it away on anyone. He’s going to expect his wife to make her own money, not live off his. And even if he wanted to, his mother is going to make darn sure he doesn’t.”
“Who said I was thinking of Elton for Harriet? I just want her to be my friend for awhile without mucking things up by having a boyfriend.”
Josh gave her a look that said he didn’t quite believe her, rose from the swing and stalked off the porch. “I’ll see you around.”
Emma snorted and went into the house to make some lemonade for her dad. He was bound to be thirsty when he got home. But she was slightly irritated at both Josh and herself as she cut lemons for her father’s drink. Josh always seemed so self-assured, and convinced that he was right. Not that she had any doubts about her advice to Harriet, but she wished she had his confidence.
Emma figured Josh must have been very angry with her, because she didn’t see him again for days. Once, she saw him in the hall at work when she was obliged to go down to prepress on the second floor, and he gave her such a deep scowl, she knew she was still on his black list.
One good point in all this was the absence of Rob. He seemed to time his mail deliveries to when Harriet was away from her desk, and he ignored Emma, which was perfectly fine with her.
She decided to ignore Rob and Josh in return and threw herself into helping Harriet improve her writing skills. Yes, “Romance of the
“I see you have a book of Biblical riddles on your desk,” he said, leaning against her cubicle.
Emma frowned. How would he know that unless he had been snooping about her belongings during lunch? She had only received the book that morning. The thought made her uncomfortable, but she shoved that aside once he made his proposal.
“I think Harriet should write her next review on the book, and I will write one, too.”
Harriet had been listening, and she piped up. “Like dueling banjos?” she asked.
“There will be no music involved,” Elton said, a frown on his face. “Especially banjos.”
Emma could only agree. She didn’t like country music.
Harriet’s face fell, but only for a moment. “I meant that we should be opposites.”
“Oh.” Elton gave Emma a look of total confusion.
“It was a joke, I think,” Emma tried to explain. Harriet nodded.
“Oh. Anyway, my plan is for us to work closely together. It might even take some overtime.”
“I think you should be totally encouraged by Elton’s attentions to you,” Emma pointed out later as she and Harriet walked to their cars.
“Overtime? Not only is that scarce in this day and age, but Elton comes in at nine and goes home at five, on the dot. He takes minute breaks every day and exactly a half hour for lunch.” Anal-retentive, anyone? “If he offers to work overtime, he must want to spend time with you.”
“Then why doesn’t he ask me out?”
Emma had actually wondered the same thing, but she could only come up with one explanation. “He must have to be careful not to upset his mother. I mean, she lives with him, so she probably feels threatened by his dating. He has to cover it all up by calling it overtime.”
“I suppose he wants me to be your writing coach,” Emma surmised. The suggestion to work together had been for both women.
“Probably, or maybe because he’s the religion editor and it might not look good to be here with just me after hours.”
Emma snorted. “I don’t know about that. After all, the web people and the page designers and copy editors are here till all hours of the night. You wouldn’t be lacking in chaperones, if that is what he is thinking. Still, it’s obvious he wants to be with you, so we’ll take that as a good sign.”
Harriet sighed. “He is so handsome, isn’t he?”
“And has lots of money, too,” Emma pointed out. “Someone told me the insurance money from when his dad died came to somewhere around a million dollars.” Chump change in their city full of wealthy people, really, but to a man who was used to living on a journalist’s salary, it was a lot.
“I don’t really care about money,” Harriet said with a dreamy smile. “I’m more interested in the man. Those dark, brooding eyes… That well-shaped mouth that all sorts of intelligent words come out of…”
Emma could only picture his thinning hair, stubborn chin and pompous attitude, and shuddered. “Yeah, he says a lot of things, doesn’t he?” She reached her little Mazda and unlocked the door. “Hey, why don’t you bring your copy of the riddle book over to the house tonight, and we can look at the riddles after dinner? I’m making meat loaf.”
“With wheat germ?” Harriet was the only person Emma knew who actually approved of her dad’s healthy recipes.
“As soon as I stop at Whole Foods and get some more.” Fortunately, she lived only a few blocks from the store. “You go home and change, and bring Dorrie, too, if you want,” she invited. “Dad will enjoy the company.”
Supper was a success, with Dorrie Goddard praising both the meatloaf and the spinach salad with fresh fruit in it that Emma had whipped up for them all. She even won Mr. Woodhouse’s approval by agreeing to play cards with him after the meal. Emma was glad they were getting along, because she knew he missed Ruth’s company.
“You two read your book to us while we play,” Emma’s dad urged. “What is it about?”
“It’s an interesting book of Biblical riddles and such, for those people who know their Bible and want to test their minds,” Harriet told him.
“Riddles? Not limericks?” he asked. “I know a limerick. ‘There once was a gal from
Emma coughed. “Dad…”
“Oh, yes, well…” He turned to the cards in front of him. “I’m not sure I even remember all of it anyway. Tell me one of these riddles,” he asked Harriet.
“All right.” She cleared her throat. “ ‘Three times I have been divided doing what God had decided. Twice a garment was the tool that led me to obey God’s rule. I was the threshold of new things and the limit of many kings. Once God’s son I did embrace. Once the ark stood in my place. Never have I walked the ground, nor in the heavens was I found.’ ”
Mr. Woodhouse grinned. “There once was a gal from
“I’ll have to think about it and get back to you.” He and Dorrie settled into their game of rummy. “By the way, Isabella will be here for a few days before Easter,” he said conversationally to Emma.
“I’ve already started a list of everyone, so she and I know how many pies to make, Dad. There are her and John, and the kids – my sister and her husband have two boys and two girls,” she said with a wistful smile to Harriet and Dorrie. “And Josh will be here. You and Harriet will come, won’t you?”
“It sounds like fun,” Dorrie agreed, laying down three aces.
“And the Westons are coming,” Emma told her father, wondering if she should invite Elton and his mother.
“Too bad John has to be back at the ranch on Sunday afternoon. I would like them to stay longer,” Mr. Woodhouse said with a sigh and finished off the round of cards by laying all his down.
“Izzy wouldn’t do that,” Emma said. “ ‘Wither thou goest,’ and all that,” she said to their guests. “And I suppose that is how it should be. Besides, there is more than enough work for them both at the ranch, and just because it is a holiday or a weekend, doesn’t mean the chores go away. They rarely go on vacation.” She frowned.
“Just as well,” her father commented, shuffling the cards for another hand. “Flying isn’t safe. Driving is even worse, and then you have to use all those public toilets.”
Dorrie laughed and Harriet turned pink at the mention of toilets.
“It is true!” he insisted. “I always carry anti-bacterial wipes whenever I have to go somewhere.”
Emma nodded. Even if he went to the store, he took them. One never knew who had been handling the shopping cart ahead of you. She was fairly sure Publix Supermarkets had gotten the idea of providing wipes for their customers at the front door from her father’s habit of using them on his cart before he shopped.
“I will be very happy to see the kids,” Mr. Woodhouse said, “but I do fear for their digestive systems when they get around their uncle. He tosses them up in the air and I’m certain it jiggles their insides around. The boys never eat much afterwards, which is probably just as well. How can they digest and eliminate properly when their stomach is in their throat and their intestines who knows where?”
“Now, Dad…” Emma admonished, seeing that his usual conversations were not exactly what one would call appropriate for polite company. Harriet was looking a bit green around the gills. “Josh is a very good uncle. He plays with the kids and gives them a lot of attention, and they adore him.”
“Just as they adore their Aunt Emma,” he said fondly.
“How old are they?” Dorrie asked.
“Young John is eight, little Henry, named for me, of course,” he said proudly, “is six, and Emily, is three. And there is a new baby,” he added, beaming. “Sarah is six months old.”
“She is the sweetest thing,” Emma agreed.
“Four kids! Wow!” Harriet exclaimed. “I can’t wait to see them. I love children.”
Emma thought that might be the case. Harriet had such a caring attitude and gentle disposition, she would be a great mother. She made a mental note to add Elton and his mom to the guest list. Then Harriet could be seen in a maternal light by the Myerses.
“Hey!” Emma called to Harriet one Saturday on the phone. “I’m going to visit a friend from church who has been sick. Want to go with me? I thought we could go to
After spending a half hour or so with the church member, who was suffering from cancer and allowed Emma to bring her a casserole and straighten up her kitchen for her, they drove around the Alta Vista neighborhood. It was one of the city’s older areas, filled with small wooden houses, some duplexes and a number of concrete block homes.
“I know it’s here somewhere…” Emma admitted as they looked for a specific residence. “He lived close to the old Chronicle building and he and his mom didn’t immediately move somewhere like Bent Tree as soon as they got their money. Oh! There it is!” The neat little block house had a landscaped yard and a chain-link fence, but it looked much as it would have back in the sixties when it was built.
“It’s so tiny,” Harriet said.
“But it has fresh paint and I don’t think that fence was here a few months ago when I drove him home once from work.”
“Do you think he is home?” The gate over the empty driveway was open, but the garage door was shut tight. All the drapes were drawn, too, but that was indicative of nothing. It made the air-conditioner work less hard when the sun wasn’t pouring into the house.
“I don’t know. Want me to knock on the door?”
Harriet giggled. “No! You wouldn’t!”
“No, I guess not.” They drove down the side street to look at the back yard. There was a small lanai at the rear of the house, shaded by a spreading old oak.
“Not bad. Plenty of room and money if he wanted to put on an addition,” Emma said slyly.
“Why would he want to do that?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Emma airily replied. “He might if he added to his family.”
“Oh!” Harriet exclaimed, comprehension dawning.
“Exactly! Now, let’s go shopping!”
The shopping center had evolved over the years along with its name, and where it used to have a Publix grocery store now sat a
Emma and Harriet skipped Saks and went to see what was on sale at Ann Taylor. They each found skirts for their work wardrobes, and were considering a stop at Starbucks, when they saw Elton coming toward them, a Pottery Barn bag in hand.
“Fancy meeting you here!” he said warmly to Emma.
“Fancy,” she faintly agreed.
“What brings you down this far south? Saks?”
“We were in the neighborhood. Harriet wanted to visit a sick friend from church,” she said with sudden inspiration, “and I agreed to go along.”
Emma stepped on Harriet’s foot to shut her up. “That’s not something you’d be interested in,” she finished for her friend.
“Actually, I think it’s admirable in this day and age to see two young women out visiting the sick and afflicted.” He beamed at them both and Harriet responded with a sunny smile.
“I’ll be right back,” Emma said, thinking these two needed some time alone. How else was Elton going to ask Harriet out if she kept hanging around them? She went to Starbucks and ordered a latte, keeping Elton and Harriet in sight the entire time. Elton pulled something out of his bag and showed it off, and Harriet reciprocated by giving him a look at her new skirt.
Emma sighed, thinking they made such a cute couple. Elton was rather nerdy, it was true – what guy wore a tie to the mall? – but Harriet was in an adorable denim skirt that showed off long legs, and her fair hair floated down to her shoulders, making a pretty picture. Elton could not help but be affected, could he? The covert glances he kept shooting at Starbucks told Emma he was asking her approval to date her friend. She gave him a ‘go for it’ smile.
“Did you see that?” Harriet squealed. Elton had finally left and she had joined Emma at the coffee shop. “He talked to me!”
“And?” Emma prompted. “Did he ask you out?”
Harriet paused, a frown marring her pretty face. “No… Although I thought a couple of times he was going to. He seemed to think your opinion was important, though.”
“He kept asking what you thought about the cutbacks at work, and whether or not you would like a pie or a cake brought to Easter dinner.”
“Maybe he wants to surprise me on the dessert thing,” Emma concluded, confused as to why Elton did not ask her outright. After all, Josh always said she was never reluctant to give her opinion. “Don’t you worry about Elton,” she assured her friend. “I’ll have you hooked up by Easter – Mother’s Day at the latest!”
Harriet went to the counter to buy an iced coffee and when she returned, she appeared thoughtful.
“I appreciate what you are trying to do for me, Emma, but I have to wonder why you don’t have a boyfriend of your own. Look at you – smart, pretty, confident. You could have any guy you wanted!”
“That’s just it, isn’t it?” Emma agreed. “I don’t want any of them. I have money, a roof over my head, my health… A boyfriend right now would just mess all that up, in my opinion.”
“But what about sex?” Harriet whispered, giggling.
“What about it? From what I’ve experienced, it’s a bit overrated.” Besides, it was just one other need she could meet without having to deal with a steady boyfriend, if she was in the mood for it. Which she wasn’t.
Harriet gave her a sympathetic look. “You just haven’t had the right partner then.” She reached over and patted Emma’s hand, the tables turned momentarily as to whom possessed the superior knowledge. “I just don’t want to see you end up like Missy, who is basically married to her job.”
Emma shrugged. “Her job includes a social life, at least, even if I couldn’t stand always having to be on show at those luncheons and balls.”
“It would be exciting to go to a few of those,” Harriet said dreamily. “I’ve seen some of Missy’s dresses. She has to get dolled up to attend those things.”
“Do you want to have to get dressed up night after night? And for every luncheon, too? How much chicken salad do you think she consumes in a year?” The idea of having to dine on luncheon fare at least three days a week gave Emma a stomach ache. “Besides, she’s way too busy at those events to eat more than a few bites. I hear she stops at McDonald’s afterwards for a burger.”
The two giggled at the thought of Missy Bates in an evening gown at the drive-thru window.
“And once,” Emma said, giggling even harder, “she was a judge at the Chocolate Festival. Can you imagine the sugar high she had after tasting twenty desserts?”
“I would have been ready for McDonald’s after that,” Harriet agreed.
Julie Nash brought the features department’s weekly meeting to order that next Wednesday with the announcement that a new copy editor had been hired to proofread their sections. “Her name is Jane Fairfax and she also happens to be Missy’s niece.”
The society columnist beamed and took over from there. “Nepotism, anyone?” she asked with a smirk.
It was a well-known fact that the newspaper business was an incestuous one. Everyone seemed to be related to a co-worker, either by blood or marriage. At least five husband and wife teams worked in the main newsroom alone, although in different departments. Emma herself was related to Josh and semi-related to Ruth, so she didn’t say a word as Missy prattled on about Ms. Fairfax.
“She’s been an intern for three months at the
Emma’s mind had stopped at the mention of Frank Churchill and she tried to tune out Missy’s glowing review of her niece’s schooling and work experiences, and failed. The girl sounded too good to be true. No one could be as smart, as pretty and as hard a worker as Missy was making the girl out to be, and she became St. Jane in Emma’s mind from that moment on.
Isabella Knightley was a pretty blonde, petite and friendly, but totally wrapped up in being a cattle rancher’s wife and mother of four. The Knightleys lived out in the eastern part of the county, so far out, Isabella’s idea of “coming into town” was to go to Wal-Mart and Home Depot on
Emma loved her sister, but Isabella was much like her father. They both hated risking life and limb on
Emma also liked Isabella’s husband, John, who was a shorter, stockier version of his older brother. She didn’t understand, however, why he and Isabella chose to isolate themselves out at Donwell Ranch.
Maybe it was because the place had been in the Knightley family for five generations, giving them the right to call themselves true Florida Crackers, but she found it to be a place of tiring, tedious work with little chance for the broad social life she now enjoyed. Evidently Josh thought so, too, or else he would be out there working with his brother.
One thing Emma did not like about either Knightley brother was their refusal to offer false flattery. They both called it like they saw it, and Emma would much rather be sweet-talked, complimented and petted.
John, unfortunately, also had a quick temper and one would think he needed patience to work with cows and ranch hands. Isabella, however, had laughed once when Emma mentioned that. She said it was not a bad trait to have when cattle and hands needed motivating. Josh was the one with patience, and Emma watched him that Saturday morning as he helped her dad take a seat on the front porch. Perhaps it was Josh’s job that gave him a calm demeanor and infinite composure. Being in circulation, he had to field plenty of calls from subscribers who were in the same demographic as her dad.
John would not have been able to stick around as Josh had when her father began cataloging his aches and pains. Instead, John had taken the bags and older kids upstairs to get them out of the way. Emma and Isabella sat on the porch with glasses of lemonade while Josh held his niece. It was a warm, humid day, with the feeling of building up to a scorching summer, just as most spring days in
“Too bad Ruth isn’t in the carriage house anymore,” Mr. Woodhouse said sadly.
“You must really miss her,” Isabella sympathized. “Both of you.”
“We see her often enough,” Emma said.
“But not as much as we used to,” their father complained.
“I see her all the time at work,” Emma pointed out. “We often go out together for lunch,” she told her sister.
“She did stop by the other day,” Mr. Woodhouse said sadly, “but couldn’t stay long. And I wanted to ask her if she was taking her vitamins, and forgot.”
“She does have a husband to make sure she is taking care of herself,” Emma pointed out, catching Josh’s eye and trying not to laugh when he winked at her. Obviously, he had decided he wasn’t going to be angry with her anymore. Until the next time, anyway.
“I don’t think we should forget the poor husband in all this,” Josh said.
“He’s not someone I’m likely to forget,” Isabella agreed. “He’s so great with the kids, he should have some of his own. Remember how he helped Henry with his kite last year when we had that barbecue at
It was also decided that Josh would stay for dinner, and after lunch, he took the children outside to play. Isabella took that opportunity for a nap, but when Sarah began to cry, Emma didn’t want her sister disturbed and she brought the baby down to the kitchen, where she danced and sang to the infant while she warmed up a bottle.
Josh came in looking for some iced tea while she was entertaining the baby, and he complimented her on having a way with kids.
“Nice to know we think alike when it comes to our nieces and nephews,” she said with an impish grin. “We might disagree on everything else, but never them.”
“If you were to let the adults tend to themselves, we might think alike there, too.”
“I’m sure. Our disagreements always stem from my being wrong, don’t they?”
“You should listen to your elders,” he teased. “I was already half grown when you were born.”
“Age is irrelevant, and you were bound to be wiser than I at that point. But surely now, the gap has narrowed a bit?”
“But not enough for me to be right just because we don’t agree.”
“Age is relevant and I am no spoiled child. But let’s put all that behind us,” he suggested. “Tell your Aunt Emma she needs to be a better role model for you,” he said to the baby, who responded by sticking a fist into her drooling mouth.
“Better listen to him, Sarah,” Emma advised. “Be smarter and half as vain. But I need to know, Josh – was Rob really upset?”
“More so than I thought he would be.”
“Oh. Then I am sorry.” And she was, too.
Dinner was quiet, and simple, with Emma and Isabella wanting to concentrate their culinary efforts on Easter dinner the next day. Afterwards, Emma set up an egg-dyeing kit in the kitchen for the children so they could fill the empty baskets sitting on the sideboard in the dining room. She also had a big bag of candy and chocolate upstairs in her room to fill the baskets with later.
She kept watch as the boys and Emily colored hard-boiled eggs, occasionally joining the adults in the dining room but not fully participating in their conversations.
The Knightley brothers were talking politics and land development. Isabella and her father discussed the best treatment for chicken pox, from which Emily had recently suffered. As Emma brought in coffee and apple pie, Mr. Woodhouse asked if he might not have some Cream of Wheat, instead, and Isabella actually wanted some, too. John and Josh, however, agreed with Emma that pie was much more conducive to a good night’s sleep and slathered enough whipped cream on their desserts to make Mr. Woodhouse cringe.
“I’m sorry you spent spring break on the east coast this year,” he said to his elder daughter, keeping his eyes averted from the mound of topping Josh was squirting out of a can and onto his plate. “What were you thinking?”
Emma had to wonder if that comment was for Josh and his whipped cream, or Isabella for taking her kids to a place known for being full of inebriated, promiscuous college students that time of year.
“But the salt air is good for Emily’s asthma!”
“You should have taken her to Dr. Perry. He would have suggested someplace less, er, wild,” her father insisted.
“Dr. Wingfield in
“Next time, try Siesta, my dear, and I am sure Dr. Perry would agree. The air is so clean there, and the beaches so white.”
The phone rang, ending the conversation, and Emma found herself talking to Dorrie Goddard.
“Oh, no!” she cried after listening for a moment. “That is serious! Well, of course she should stay home tomorrow! But we’ll definitely miss her. No, I understand why she didn’t call herself. Glad to hear she’s taking care of this.”
Everyone was watching her when she hung up, and she gave them a watery smile, all her matchmaking plans going up in smoke.
“Harriet has strep throat and can’t come tomorrow.”
“Definitely not!” her dad agreed. “She could infect us all! I hope she is on antibiotics.” Emma nodded. “And plenty of orange juice, and yogurt.”
The phone rang again, and this time it was Elton saying his mother was indisposed, but he still planned on attending Easter dinner the next day.
“Harriet is ill, too!” Emma told him.
“What? Oh, no!” he cried, giving her satisfaction that he cared about Harriet’s health. “Has she gone to the doctor?”
Emma assured him that she had, and was doing all she could to take care of herself. “Are you sure you still want to come over tomorrow?” If he was that interested in Harriet and only coming as an opportunity to see her, this would be the time to back out of the invitation. After all, he could use his mom’s health as an excuse. To her surprise, he replied in the affirmative.
“I wouldn’t miss it!”
Leave comments here