“You know what this town needs?” Chris Brandon asked as he settled himself on a stool at the Knit Wit’s main counter.
Elsa Bennet looked up at him. “I don’t know. A regulated nap time for grad students?”
He made a sympathetic face and squeezed her hand. “I know that feeling too well. How much longer until you’re done with your thesis?”
She picked up a coffeepot. “It’s the twenty-first? Just four days; I’m defending on the twenty-fifth.”
“Destruction of the Ring Day,” he replied with a slight smile.
She smiled as she filled the pot with fresh coffee. “Collins thought that I would appreciate that.”
He rolled his eyes at the mention of her faculty advisor. He had gone to school from kindergarten to twelfth grade with Paul Collins and knew the man far better than he had any desire to, in part because Paul insisted on interacting with Chris whenever possible. “Collins is absurd. But at least the end is finally in sight.”
“Thank God,” she sighed. “Now, what do you think that this town needs?”
“We already have two bars. I don’t like either one of them. They’re where undergrads go.”
Chris shook his head. “I’m aware. I don’t want to open a bar. I want to open a pub.”
She took a deep breath. “Explain the difference to me.”
“A bar is a place where you can go and get a drink with your friends. There isn’t any real food there. In this town, there’s barely even any good booze there. You know that people who really want to enjoy good alcohol either go to Tres Hermanas or go over to Mansfield for the brewpub. At a pub, we could have real food and good booze. I’d like to get some of the great local farmers we have around here involved in a farm to table concept. And Erik and I are talking about possibly brewing our own beer.”
“Erik is involved?” Elsa asked.
He nodded. “We want a proper pub.”
“Like the Bird and Baby in Oxford?”
“Yes,” he said. Then he glared at her. “You already knew what a pub was.”
“Of course I did. I studied in England for a year, Christopher. Oliver is one of my closest friends. I just know that people in this town are going to ask you an awful lot of questions, and I want you to be ready when they ask.”
Chris rolled his dark brown eyes. “You’re such a supportive friend.”
“Hey, if you’re going to join the business community of Highbury, I just want to you to be prepared for the welcome you’ll get.”
“I think people in this town will like the idea.”
Elsa smiled. “I actually agree with you. And I think that you’ll do really well with the tourists.”
“So we’d need to be open by next summer?”
She nodded. “You won’t be open this summer, but next summer you’ll want to be going full tilt.”
“Well, we’ve signed a lease for the old firehouse,” he replied pointing towards the front window. The old firehouse was across the street from the Knit Wit. It had been vacated about thirty or forty years earlier when the Highbury Fire Department moved to a more modern facility. Since then, the building had changed hands a few times, but no project had managed to really sink down roots.
Elsa smiled. “Well, I hope that you guys succeed. I’d love to have you across the street.”
He smiled back. “We’re going to work on renovating the building this summer, and hopefully we’ll be rolling by late October.”
“I like it,” she told him.
Before Chris could reply, Elsa’s boyfriend, Will Darcy, came into the store. “Hey, Elsa, do you want to go to a wedding in Lambton this weekend?”
“This weekend?” she repeated. “Will, it’s Monday. My thesis defense is on Friday. I’m not going to a wedding anywhere this weekend. I’m going to sleep all weekend.”
“Right,” he said. “That makes sense.”
“And who is getting married anyway?”
“My cousin, Robert.”
“Lucy? Ed’s girlfriend?”
“Well, this is going to get interesting,” Chris inserted.
“Apparently they’ve been playing around behind Ed’s back, and she’s pregnant. So they’re getting married. This weekend.”
“I’m not going.”
“I’m going to talk to Ed,” Chris said, sliding off his stool.
“He’s at the house,” Will told him.
“Poor Ed,” Elsa sighed.
“Yeah, she called him and told this morning.”
“I always knew that I hated Lucy Steele,” Elsa said. “Shit, someone has to tell Nora.”
“Shit,” Chris agreed.
“Shit,” Will said, passing the motion unanimously.
“You’re such nerds,” Elsa Bennet told Chris Brandon.
“How so?” he replied.
“You’re having your soft opening as a St. Crispin’s Day feast.”
He shrugged. “You have a doctorate in British literature. You read Shakespeare for fun. You should be eating this up.”
“I will be,” she smirked. “Tonight, I’ll be at dinner, and I know that I’ll enjoy the dinner you serve and the ambiance that you’ve created. I’m just saying. It’s a bit nerdy to have your soft opening as a party to celebrate a battle that happened six hundred years ago.”
“And you have a problem with that? You, Elspeth Bennet, have a problem with something being a bit nerdy?”
She shrugged. “Not necessarily; I’m just telling you how it could possibly be perceived.”
He rolled his eyes. “You’re so helpful, Elsa.”
She smiled. “That’s my goal.”
Friends of the two owners, Erik Wentworth and Chris Brandon, attended the soft opening of The Green Dragon. “We’re giving you what we think our menu’s greatest strengths this evening,” Erik began the evening. “We’ve put a great deal of time and effort into creating a place that serves food that we wouldn’t hesitate to feed to our closest friends and family. Chris and I put a strong emphasis on locally grown food because we want this place to reflect our home. You’ve all supported and encouraged us as we’ve worked on this project, and we want to thank you.”
“While Erik has focused on the food for the pub, I’ve worked to make sure that the bar is well-stocked with locally sourced products. I wanted to create a bar that would both pair well with our menu and show off the gifts of the local breweries and vineyards. We hope that you enjoy sampling our menu, and we hope that you feel comfortable giving us your honest opinions.”
“Trust us,” Emma Woodhouse offered from her seat between George Knightley and Annabelle Eliot. “We will.”
“Behave yourself, Woodhouse,” Chris replied.
“Hey, I know that I’m not as good of a cook as some people might be, but I do know a thing or two about food. I like to eat.”
“That’s part of why we invited you, Em, but we didn’t invite you for your sass.”
“Christopher,” she replied with a shake of her auburn head. “You invite me, you invite my sass. The two are inextricable.”
He rolled his eyes. “Fine, Emma, but to continue, we hope you enjoy your evening and we hope that you enjoy the Green Dragon.”
“Can I order anything on the menu?” Emma asked.
“That’s kind of the idea of a soft opening,” Erik replied. “We want you to sample the menu.”
“So you really have homemade sauerkraut on the menu?”
“We made it ourselves,” he told her. “We used cabbage from the Moore-Land farm.”
“Wow, that’s commitment.”
“Yeah, that was our point,” Erik told her blandly. “That’s the whole point of this place.”
“Where do the tomatoes come from?”
“The Allen Farm,” Chris snapped back quickly.
“Okay, okay,” Emma replied. “I’m impressed. Wait a second; is dessert locally sourced too?”
Chris rolled his eyes. “Read the menu, Em.”
She paused to do so before looking up with a smile. “Oh, I love pumpkin cheesecake and apple crisp. How am I going to choose one?”
“I’m sure that you’ll figure it out,” Erik told her firmly. “George will help you.”
“Erik, you know that I hate when you use your professor voice on me.”
“That’s too bad. You need it,” George muttered.
“Don’t worry, George. There’s pie for you too.”
“I was so worried. After all, we all know that I can’t eat any desserts but pie.”
Elsa adjusted the sleeves of her teal cardigan over her floral dress. “Are we done hassling the chefs yet? I’d like to actually eat this food instead of just interrogating Chris and Erik.”
“Somebody feed Elsa please,” Will Darcy added. “We all know that a hungry Elsa is a cranky Elsa, and a cranky Elsa is absolutely no good to anyone.”
“I’d rather deal with a cranky Elsa than a cranky Emma,” Ed commented.
Nora shrugged. “I’d rather not deal with any cranky people. Can’t we just have a lovely evening?”
Erik rolled his eyes. “Well, in that case, the only thing that I can say is Bon Appetit.”
“Enjoy,” Chris added. “We hope you have a wonderful evening.”
“Christopher,” Emma oozed. “Christopher, where have you been all of my life?”
He rolled his eyes as he rested his hands on the back of Will’s and Ed’s chairs. “Em, you know where I’ve been.”
“But this pork, Chris,” she sighed. “It’s brilliant.”
“How much has she had to drink?”
Ed looked up at Chris. “More than enough.”
“And a glass of wine,” Will added.
Chris rolled his eyes. “Talk to Erik, Emma. The kitchen is his domain.”
“That’s right,” she said as she lifted a mostly-empty glass of wine. “You-you, my friend, run an amazing bar. The cocktails were superb.”
“Which one did you like best?”
“The cranberry one,” she replied.
“There were two cranberry cocktails.”
Elsa looked up at him. “She loved the gin and jam.”
He smiled. “Thanks, Elsa. That’s one of my favorites as well.”
She grinned. “I think that it was somewhere around third grade that I developed the ability to translate Emma into standard English.”
“A skill for which we are all eternally grateful,” George quipped.
“It’s proven decidedly useful,” Elsa agreed.
“But you refused to major in the same subject area during our undergrad so you can facilitate my relationships with my relationship with my professors.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t realize that I as supposed to arrange my entire life around facilitating your relationship with the rest of the world.”
Emma rolled her eyes. “Isn’t that the whole point of learning to translate Emma?”
“It could have been, but you don’t pay me well enough.”
Emma sighed melodramatically but said nothing more.
“I think it all went well last night,” Elsa said.
“I agree,” Chris replied as he leaned his elbows on the Knit Wit’s wooden counter. “I was really pleased, and I think that our friends were really happy as well.”
“Yeah, we were. The food was amazing.”
“Can I ask what your favorite thing was?”
She smiled. “I know that a lot of people are going to tell you the salad, but I loved the whitefish. It was so well cooked.”
“And the desserts? You and Annie know your desserts.”
“Oh man, I had the sorbet trio, and I loved it. I know that Will told me that he liked the cheesecake.”
He leaned forward. “What about the pie? You’re the pie goddess.”
“Did you make the pie?”
“How did you guess?”
She snorted. “Oh, I don’t know, your level of interest in it maybe? Or maybe it was the hours that I spent teaching you to make pie over the summer? But I never order pie when I’m out.”
“But did anybody near you order pie?”
He smiled. “Of course he did.”
“And he really liked it. But you’d have to talk to him for specific criticisms.”
“And I will. But I’m relieved.”
She smiled. “You should be proud. You guys put together something amazing.”
Before he could reply to her, Nora burst through the door and hurried to the counter. “I need a latte,” she said. “And also, I need a new family.”
“A new family?” Elsa repeated.
Nora turned to Chris. “You’re nice. Do you want to be my new brother?”
“I thought you liked your brother.”
She paused for a moment and thought. “You’re right. I do like James. What if you adopt James and me? You could have a younger sister and a younger brother.”
Chris smiled slightly. “What did your sister do now?”
She sighed and handed Elsa her credit card. “It’s so stupid.”
“Try us,” Elsa answered as she passed Nora’s credit card back.
“Okay, so I was coming over here because Ed and I get dinner together every Wednesday. But while I was walking, he texted to say that he was running behind, so I thought that I’d stop in and see my mom. Mom wasn’t there, but Mare was.”
“Oh lord,” Elsa sighed as she made Nora’s latte.
“And she knew that I was going to have dinner with Ed, and she had to start in again on how I need to start dating him.”
“Does she understand his history with Lucy?” Chris asked.
Nora sighed and looked at the ceiling. “I don’t know. Like, at one level, it’s not that different from hers with Grant.”
“Not that she’d understand that,” Elsa said. “She sees her relationship with Grant as one of the great love stories of our time.”
“Spare me,” Nora sighed. “Anyway, she just kept going about how he’s been single for more than six months and I should just go for it.”
“If you just went for it, you’d freak him out and he’d run.” Elsa passed Nora her latte.
“He’s in a funk right now,” Chris said. “Lucy just had that baby, and he’s got a lot to work through.”
“I know that.”
Chris continued. “Also, does your sister think that Ed is the only man in the world who you could ever be with?”
Nora threw her hands in the air. “I don’t know for sure, but I think that my sister thinks that Ed is my soul mate.”
“You’re destined to be together,” Elsa said dramatically.
“You’re destined to be with Ed?” Chris repeated.
Nora nodded bitterly. “Yeah, my sister believes that God put Ed on earth to marry me. Or maybe God put me on this earth to marry Ed? Either way, it’s destiny or fate or whatever, according to Marianne.”
Chris blanched. “I like your sister. I think she’s a great person. But she believes in fate?”
“Or destiny,” Elsa offered. “And she definitely believes that every person has one perfect soul mate on this earth. According to Marianne, I’m wasting my time with Will. He’s not my destiny.”
“Do you have any idea who your destiny is?”
“You don’t want to know,” Nora sighed flatly.
“Is it me?” he asked almost nervously.
Elsa said nothing but blushed.
“Well,” he said smirking. “Why are you with Will? Why are we denying destiny like this?”
“I don’t know,” Elsa told him, blushing. “It’s probably because you have never asked me out.”
“Fair point,” he said before thinking for a moment. “Hold on. If I’m your destiny, who is Will’s?”
Nora snorted. “Will’s destiny is, apparently, to go back to Lambton and find someone there.”
“Wow, that’s kind of harsh.” Chris paused for a moment. “Does she really mean that? Does she not like Will?”
Nora shrugged. “I don’t think that she has an issue with him as a person.”
“He’s just getting in the way of our passionate romance,” Elsa told Chris with a smile.
He looked at her with a glint in his eye. “Well, I see how it is. You’ll just have to end things with him so you can start living happily ever after with me.”
She laughed. “Chris, my darling friend, I love you, but no.”
“Wait,” Nora interjected. “Does my sister know about that deal that you used to have?”
Elsa blanched. “I’ve never told her.”
“It’s not a deal that we used to have,” Chris said. “It’s a deal that we still have if anything ever happens to or with Will.”
Elsa rolled her eyes and swatted him. “Chris, you’re absurd.”
Before he could reply, the bells over the door jingled, and Ed Ferrars made his way to the counter. “Sorry I’m late, Nora,” he said. “What’s going on?”
“You don’t want to know,” Nora replied shaking her head.
“But now that you’re here, Chris wants to know what you thought of your dinner last night,” Elsa added.
“Oh man,” Ed’s face lit up. “That pork was so good. It just juicy enough, and it was so tender. I loved it.”
Chris beamed. “That’s good to hear.”
“Oh, and that pie,” he sighed. “Oh my goodness, it was almost as good as one of Elsa’s pies.”
“The highest praise in town,” Chris replied as he looked at Elsa. “I’m almost as good at you.”
“Yeah, but watch it,” Ed said. “If you’re not careful, George will expect the two of you to work together on his next birthday pie.”
“No he won’t,” Chris told him. “I might be learning how to make a delicious pie, but I don’t have the design skills that Elsa has, and I won’t by next summer.”
“Plus there’s something of a tradition to the whole Elsa makes the pie and takes it to the annual Fourth of July gathering at her parents’ house,” Nora said. “That goes back like fifteen years.”
“It’s not THAT long,” Elsa replied. “I think it was like ten years ago?”
“You started with George’s eighteenth birthday,” Chris said.
“So I was fifteen?”
Chris quirked an eyebrow. “You’re still two and a half years younger than George, right?”
“As far as I know that hasn’t changed in the past several years.”
He looked at her and shrugged. “I guess you have your answer.”
“Oh good,” Ed said. “Now, can I please order my lunch?”
“Would you like a bacon turkey avocado sandwich with a medium coffee?” Elsa queried.
“Egg-salad-ant,” she replied. “That will be nine fifty-four.”
He passed her his credit card. “So Chris, how do you feel last night went?”
He nodded and thought for a moment. “Erik and I are really pleased. You guys seemed to like the food and the atmosphere.”
“Even Emma seemed to enjoy herself,” Ed joked.
“Emma isn’t actually that hard to please when it comes to food,” Nora said. “She’s just very sassy.”
“Especially when she’s hungry,” Elsa added.
“Oh lord,” Nora sighed. “Do you remember the summer that you and I went on a road trip to Kentucky with her?”
“And it took us more than thirty minutes to find a restaurant that one night?”
Nora shook her head. “It was awful.”
“Well,” Chris said. “I’ll add Emma to my list of people to never take a road trip with.”
“Who is already on that list?” Elsa queried.
“Oliver?” Ed said.
“Oh yes, Oliver,” Nora affirmed.
Ed looked at her. “How do you know?”
“Once when he and Alice were dating, he flew into Chicago, and I drove him back to Highbury when I went home for the weekend.”
“Seven hours in the car with Oliver,” she replied. “I had to do all of the driving, and he never stopped talking. I thought he was going to sleep, but no, he talked to me for seven hours.”
“I’m sorry,” Ed replied. “You never told me.”
“I didn’t know that I was supposed to tell you all of my problems.”
“We’re friends. We were friends back then too.”
She shrugged. “I was a senior when this happened. We weren’t that close then.”
“Oh, this was right after that thing with that person?”
“Yes,” she replied stiffly. “And on that note, Elsa, could I please get the Caprese panini?”
“Sure thing,” Elsa said. After running Nora’s credit card, she continued. “You guys can go have a seat, and I’ll bring your food out to you.”
“Thanks,” Nora said with a slight smile. “Let’s go, Ed.”
Chris watched them walk to a table near one of the windows before fixing his attention on Elsa. “Okay, do you know what that was about?”
“Be more specific,” she said softly.
“That thing with that person?”
She shook her head. “It’s about how Nora found out that Ed was dating Lucy.”
“She didn’t know until her senior year of college?”
“Lucy went to college on the east coast. And I guess that for three years they just managed to never cross paths.”
“Hmm,” was Chris’s reply. “I’m just glad that those two are over and done with.”
Elsa raised her eyebrows and shook her head. “You, me…so many people, there are so many people who are glad that those two went to Splitsville.”
She laughed. “Oh my word, you do not know how much Will disliked Lucy. There aren’t words for that.”
“She had to have known. He is so not subtle ever.”
“Oh I know,” Elsa agreed. “But I never really got to know Lucy, so I don’t know how perceptive she is or isn’t.”
“Still,” Chris persisted. “You date a guy for eight or ten years. You’re smart enough to see that his closest female friend is real competition for you. You’ve got to pick up on the fact that his cousin doesn’t like you.”
“I don’t know. I just don’t know.”
“Either way, I guess it doesn’t really matter.”
“Not really,” Elsa said. “She’s married to Rob. They have a kid. Ed is irrelevant to their life.”
“How long do you think that it’s going to take those two to get their act together?”
“Two years,” she said flatly.
“Two years?” he repeated. “That’s an awfully long time time.”
She shrugged. “How long do you think that it’s going to take?”
“A year at most,” he replied. “How much do you want to lay on it?”
“Fifteen dollars,” she said. “Whoever is closest to the truth has to give the other one fifteen dollars and a loaf of freshly baked bread.”
He extended his hand. “I think we’ve got a deal.”
She shook his hand. “Deal.”
They both grinned.
The End...for now