“That scares me every time that I say it. Erik Wentworth and I are engaged. He asked me to marry him last night. And every time I say it, I get a little scared.”
Emma looked at Annie. “Why? It’s exciting.”
“But it’s happened before,” Annie persisted. “I’ve told you guys that I was engaged to Erik before.”
“But things are different now,” Emma said. “You guys have spent a lot of time working on your relationship. You know each other better now than you did the first time.”
“You trust each other more now,” Elsa added. “You guys have worked hard to get to where you are.”
“I know that,” Annie replied softly. “But it’s still scary.”
“Getting engaged is scary for anyone,” Elsa told her. “Think about it. I’m going to spend the rest of my life with Will. That’s a scary thought.”
“That is a scary thought,” Nora said flatly. “Are you sure that you don’t want to get out of that?”
“But that’s different. You and Will, you guys have a different relationship. You’ve faced difficulties, but yours are different than ours. You don’t have reasons to worry that your fiancé will break up with you if life gets too hard.”
“Annie,” Elsa said gently. “Do you really believe that he’d do that now?”
“He’s not the same person that he once was,” Emma added.
“I know that,” Annie began. “But there’s a part of me that’s still scared.”
“Annie,” Emma said. “How long have you and Erik been back together?”
“Two and a half years.”
“Do you love him?”
“Do you trust him?”
Annie took a breath. “I think so.”
“Does he love you?”
“Does he trust you?”
“I…I’m pretty sure that he does.”
Emma nodded. “Well, I know that he does. You guys are in a better place now than you were years ago. Your relationship isn’t what it was when we were in college.”
“I love him. I really do. And I want to do this thing with him. I want to make our forever happen. But I’m still a little scared.”
“Everyone’s scared,” Alice said. “You think that I wasn’t scared when I married Oliver?”
“I mean,” Annie said cautiously. “It’s Oliver. You love him.”
“Getting married to Oliver was the biggest decision that I’d ever made in my life. It was bigger than where I went to law school or choosing the job that I have now. I love him, but marriage is a life commitment. I was choosing my life partner. I was choosing the man I wanted to have and raise children with, the man I wanted to live alone with after our kids moved off to college, and the man I wanted to look at old folks’ homes with. I was picking who I was going to be buried next to.”
“That’s serious,” Nora said.
“Yeah, and I was choosing to either ask him to be buried far away from his family or be buried in England. I was choosing to agree to possibly move to England if Oliver and I felt that was best for our family. That’s a big deal.”
“Oh man,” Elsa sighed. “I’m choosing to be buried next to Will.”
“You’re stuck with him,” Nora said in a sinister tone. “You’re stuck with Will for life. You’re going to be buried next to him.”
“It’s better than having to smell George’s stinky feet for the rest of my life.”
Emma shrugged. “That’s fair. I am probably going to have to spend the rest of my life with his feet AND his toenails.”
“Hard pass,” Elsa replied. “You can keep George’s feet and toenails. I’m going to have to live with Will’s bony elbows and knees.”
Alice winced. “Yeah, that’s one problem that I’ve never had to contend with. Oliver might snore, but I’ve never worried about him accidentally bruising me in my sleep.”
“Yeah,” Annie nodded. “I guess I’m pretty fortunate. Erik doesn’t snore to my knowledge. He’s not bony or angular like Will. He doesn’t have George’s toenails.”
“Or stinky feet,” Elsa inserted taking a sip of wine.
“Eh,” Annie replied in a hedging tone. “I wouldn’t be so sure about that. His feet are no treat.”
“Moving along,” Nora said gracefully. “He’s a good man.”
“He’s a really good man,” Annie admitted. “And I love him. And I really do want to marry him.”
A few weeks later, Thomas and Mary Frances Bennet hosted an engagement party for Erik and Annie in the Longbourn Lounge. “Thanks for doing this for us,” Annie said when she saw them.
“Oh of course,” Tom Bennet replied. “It’s only what we’d do for any daughter of ours.”
“We did it for Elspeth and Will back in January,” Mary Frances added. “We did it for Gwendolyn and Charlie in February. Naturally we have to have one for our bonus daughter.”
Annie beamed. “You guys are great. I really appreciate you.”
“It’s like Mary Frances said,” Tom told her. “You’re our bonus daughter. We’re going to treat you just like any of our other five daughters.”
“You’re not paying for my wedding,” she said firmly. “I can’t ask you to do that.”
Tom smiled. “We’re paying for the reception. You can have it hear, and I won’t let you pay for it.”
“We can afford to pay for it,” Erik inserted.
“I believe that. That’s not why I’m offering. I’m offering because Annie is my bonus daughter, and I’m giving her the same package that I’m giving Elsa and Will.”
“And the same one that he’ll give Gwen and Charlie if they ever set a date for their wedding,” Mary Frances added.
“You don’t have to do that,” Annie said.
“Okay, but we’re doing it because we want to. You’ve become our daughter over the past several years. We want to pay for at least your wedding reception.”
“Okay, but I’m making the cake,” Elsa interrupted as she joined the group. “And it’s free. It’s your wedding present.”
Annie laughed and wrapped her arm around her friend’s shoulders. “You really are their daughter, you know that?”
“Yeah, I know. I have my dad’s eyes and my mom’s height.”
Tom Bennet ran a hand over his bald head. “I notice that you didn’t say that you have my hair.”
“Well, I have hair,” Elsa retorted. “You do not. I don’t have your hair, but you don’t either.”
He shook his head. “Elspeth Abigail, I thought that I taught you to respect your parents.”
“You did,” she said glibly. “But I didn’t know that telling the truth was disrespectful.”
Tom wrapped his arm around his daughter’s shoulders. “You’re my daughter, kid. You’re supposed to flatter me, not sass me.”
“Tom,” his wife said warmly. “You know that she gets that sass from.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Oh, I do?”
Elsa smiled sweetly and patted her dad’s shoulder. “She’s going to say that I get it from you.”
“Well, she’s not wrong,” Erik offered.
“Hey,” Elsa said. “Be nice.”
He shrugged. “It’s my party, and I’ll be nice to who I want to.”
“My parents are throwing this party for you.”
“Oh lord,” Annie sighed. “Here they go again.”
“Right,” Elsa said. “It’s your party. I should behave. Well, I’m off to make Will socialize.”
“Good luck with that,” her mother replied.
Tom kissed his daughter’s cheek. “She’s kidding.”
“Yeah, I like him more than Charlie,” Mary Frances said firmly. “He willingly set a wedding day with two weeks of getting engaged unlike someone else I might mention.”
“Oh lord, Mary Frances,” Elsa sighed. “Let’s let that one go tonight and focus on these two.”
Erik gave her a gentle shove. “Go bother Will.”
“So,” Ed said flatly. “You are getting married.”
“Yep,” Erik replied simply.
“That is what getting engaged usually means,” Oliver added.
Erik glared at him. “Usually.”
“And now, Ed is going to go get another beer,” Will said. “And then we’re going to talk about something else.”
“Anything else,” Erik added as Ed walked away. “We could talk about global warming.”
“Or baseball,” Will suggested. “We could talk about the Cubs.”
“Or the Tigers,” Erik added.
“I’d prefer the Cubs.”
“It’s my party,” Annie said. “We’re going to talk about the Tigers.”
Will sighed. ”Fine, we can talk about the Cubs later.”
“So we’ve been talking to Fr. Mark,” Annie said. “We want to get married on a Saturday in May before Memorial Day.”
“How did you settle on that time frame?” Gwen Bennet asked.
“It’s best for us work-wise,” Erik replied. “I’ll be done with winter semester, and since Elsa and Chris will also be done with winter semester, they can be more involved in the KW and the Dragon while we’re on our honeymoon.”
“But won’t they be teaching still?”
“They both have a lighter load in the summer. Most professors only teach spring or summer, and they only have one section of a course. So it’ll be easier for them.”
“We’ll make it work,” Annie said simply. “And Elsa will just be paying me back for when she goes on her honeymoon.”
“And Chris?” Gwen queried sweetly. “How are you going to pay him back?”
“We’ll get him a souvenir.”
“A nice mug, I think,” Erik added. “Or maybe he’d like a snowglobe.”
“Where are you going on your honeymoon?” Charlie asked.
Annie shrugged. “We haven’t decided yet.”
“But somewhere that sells nice mugs and snowglobes,” Erik said. “What about you?”
“Oh man,” Gwen sighed. “We don’t know. We haven’t even set a wedding date yet. We don’t know where we want to get married even. We’re not really church wedding people like you two or my sister and Will. I don’t really want to get married here at the hotel. I like the idea of a beach wedding.”
“But my sisters would pitch a fit if they had to be bridesmaids on a beach,” Charlie returned. “I suggested a destination wedding, but Gwen wants to get married in Michigan.”
“It’s complicated,” Gwen said. “You guys are lucky that you’re church wedding people. It makes things like that so much easier.”
“And honestly I don’t see the point of rushing into getting married like Will and Elsa,” Charlie added.
Annie looked quizzically at the gray-eyed man in front of her. “They’re going to be engaged for a year. They got engaged on New Year’s Eve last year, and they’re getting married on New Year’s Eve this year.”
“Exactly!” Charlie said enthusiastically. “That’s only a year. Can you imagine only being engaged for a year?”
“Um, Charlie? That’s our plan. We got engaged this May, and we’re getting married next May.”
“That’s so quick! How can you enjoy being engaged at all? Gwen and I are just enjoying being engaged right now. It’s fun!”
Erik shook his head. “No thanks, I’m looking forward to enjoying finally being married to this woman.”
“Finally,” Annie repeated emphatically. “We’ve waited long enough.”
“Long enough? I thought you two started dating shortly before Will and Elsa. You’ve only been dating, what? Two years? Two and a half?”
Erik grimaced. Annie blanched. Gwen took a deep breath. “Charlie, do you know their history?”
“They met a couple of years ago and now they’re getting married?”
“No,” Erik said flatly. “We met when we were in college.”
“Oh, so you were friends first? How cool!”
“No,” Gwen said cautiously. “They dated in college, got engaged, and then split up.”
“Really?” Charlie asked. “Oh god, I never knew that. That’s awful. I’m sorry. I didn’t know. I, uh, oh…”
Erik clapped a hand on Charlie’s shoulder. “That’s okay. Like you said, you didn’t know. So, let’s drop it. Anyway, oh man, hey! George, when you get married, are you going to have a wedding cake or a wedding pie?”
George Knightley turned from the bar and looked at Erik with a furrowed brow. “What are you talking about, man? Isn’t it obvious?”
“A cake?” Annie said. “Emma loves cake. You’d have a raspberry and champagne curd cake.”
Erik snorted. “Yeah, but he’s him. This is George Knightley. He doesn’t eat cake.”
“But Emma does. And you know how Emma is. She loves Elsa’s raspberry and champagne curd cake.”
George sighed. “I don’t eat cake. Emma does eat pie. We will have a wedding pie.”
“A wedding pie?” Henry Woodhouse repeated as he joined the group. “That is such a whimsical notion.”
George shrugged. “I don’t eat cake. It’s just not my thing at all.”
“But if you ever find someone to marry you, which is unlikely, you’ll have a wedding. And if you’re having a wedding, you’ll have to have a wedding cake.”
“Nope,” George replied. “I don’t like cake. I don’t eat cake, not even Emma’s special champagne and raspberry cake.”
“Just wait,” Henry rejoined. “Someday you’ll meet a wonderful girl and want to settle down and marry her. And she’ll want a wedding cake, and you’ll go along with it to make her happy.”
“Okay, Mr. Woodhouse,” George said gently.
“Actually, now that I think of it,” the older man continued. “I have a great idea. You should date our dear Nora. I don’t know why I’ve never thought of it before. You and Nora would be an excellent match.”
“Nora Dashwood?” George asked.
Henry nodded. “Clearly, I don’t know why I’ve never thought of this before. It’s such a perfect natural combination. Oh, where is Nora? You should talk to her right now.”
George looked around the room, his eyes finally coming to rest on Nora’s small frame next to Ed Ferrars by the bar, a cocktail glass in her hand. She was talking animatedly, and Ed’s gaze was locked on her face. George turned back to Henry. “I think that she’s a bit busy at the moment.”
“Very well,” Henry said crisply. “But she’s a good one, George. Anyone would be lucky to have her. Don’t let her slip through your fingers.”
“Thanks. Now if you’ll excuse me, I think that Chris is summoning me.”
“Oh, yes, I see. Well, like I said, think about asking Nora out. I think that she might be the best match out there for you.”
Chris had not been summoning George, but he was standing with Emma. George joined them with a Manhattan in hand. “Em, your father is something else.”
She raised her eyebrows. “You just realized that?”
“He thinks that I should ask Nora out. Apparently I’m not likely to find a woman willing to marry me, but I might have a chance with Nora.”
Emma nodded with her lips pressed firmly together. “Well, that’s awkward. I’ve known her for a long time, and you’re not really her type. You’d probably get along.”
“She’s my friend! We do get along.”
“Lower your voice,” Emma hissed. “We don’t need Dad noticing us.”
“Can’t you guys just tell him that you’re dating?” Chris ventured carefully.
Emma pulled back abruptly and furrowed her brow. “I beg your pardon?”
“You’re both adults. You’re grown-ass adults. Can’t you just act like actual adults and tell Henry that you’re dating? You’ve been together for over two years. Pretty much everyone in town knows that you’re dating.”
“Even Fr. Mark knows that we’re dating,” Emma admitted.
Chris shrugged his shoulders. “I’m sorry, but I think that it’s time to tell your father that you’re dating.”
Emma contorted her mouth before biting her lower lip. “Um, I don’t know about that. My dad is convinced that he cannot be alone and therefore I cannot get married.”
“What? He expects you to remain single for life just so that he’s never alone?”
George nodded. “Welcome to the insanity that is Henry Woodhouse.”
“Oh lord,” Chris sighed. “You two are screwed.”
“Maybe,” George offered. “But either way, I can’t ask Nora out.”
“Even if you did, she wouldn’t go along with it. You’re not Ed.”
Emma rested her hand atop George’s. “And I’m not going to complain about that.”
“Emma, my dear,” Henry inserted as he joined the group. “I think that it might be time for me to go home. I’m feeling a bit lethargic.”
She nodded meekly. “Okay, Dad. Let me get my purse and jacket and say good-bye to Erik and Annie.”
“Be prompt about it. Good-night, George, Christopher.”
“See you later, sir,” George replied.
Chris waved slightly. “Have a good night.”
Erik joined Chris and George after Emma’s departure. “How’s it going?”
“Someone here,” George angled a thumb at Chris. “Apparently, this nameless person thinks that Emma and I should come clean with Henry.”
Erik raised his eyebrows. “Well, I am a proponent of honesty.”
“Henry wants Emma to live with him for the rest of his life. He’s afraid of being alone.”
“Look, man,” Erik persisted. “If you want to marry her, you’re either going to have to move in with Henry and Emma or get Emma to move out of that house. Either of those options would require you to tell Henry the truth.”
He sighed. “Erik, let’s not worry about my love life tonight. Let’s celebrate you. We can figure out what Emma and I are going to do about Henry another day.”
“Fine,” Erik sighed. “But you need to figure this out.”
George raised his glass. “You’re the one who just got engaged, my friend, not me. Let’s focus on you.”
Erik lifted his pint of beer. “For tonight, that’s fine. But this conversation is not over.”
“I’ve known our dear Annie since she was in preschool,” Thomas Bennet began. He had one arm wrapped around Annie’s shoulders and the other around Erik’s waist. “She’s been one of my Elsie’s best friends for at least that long. I’ve come to know her well, and in the past decade or so, I’ve come to see her as another daughter. I’ve come to know and love our Annie as a daughter, as a really wonderful young woman who is not only a wonderful friend to my spirited daughter but also a strong woman and a wonderfully kind woman in her own right.
“Erik, I’ve only really gotten to know you in the past two or so years, but that’s been enough to know that I respect you. I think that you’re well-suited to our Annie. The longer that I know you, the better that I like you, and I mean that as a compliment.”
That brought a laugh from everyone assembled although Mary Frances was shaking her head as she laughed. Annie leaned around Tom to look at her fiancé. “It really is a compliment. He doesn’t choose to like just anyone.”
“Oh, I know. I’ll never forget that first Thanksgiving dinner when I first moved back. He gripped my hand and said ‘So you’re that Erik Wentworth who broke our dear Annie’s heart all those years ago. And now you’re back.’ I didn’t know what to do with him.”
Tom smiled. “As I’ve said, you’ve grown on me. I like you almost as much as I like my other two future sons-in-law.”
Annie blushed at that.
“You’re definitely favorite author, Erik. And Annie, you’re one of my favorite bakers. And you’re such a good pairing. You’re like wine and cheese, pizza and beer, Lennon and McCartney…”
“Hey, Dad?” Elsa interrupted. “That’s maybe not the best analogy?”
He looked at her. “Oh, okay, I can see where you’re coming from. Well, you’re well suited, like Young and Rice.”
“We get it,” Elsa returned. “They’re like mac and cheese.”
“They’re an ideal pairing,” Tom concluded. “And I cannot wait to dance at your wedding next year. Ladies and gentleman, raise your glasses to Erik and Annie, one of the better pairings of our time.”
“Only if you promise not to dance at the wedding,” his daughter heckled.
Tom glared at his daughter. “You have no respect for talent or taste.”
“Keep telling yourself that, Dad.”
Annie slid out from under Tom’s arm and moved to her fiancé’s side. Erik released himself from Tom’s grip and then kissed the top of her head as he wrapped an arm around her. “Bennets, am I right?” he muttered.
She laughed. “They’ll never change.”
“We love them for who they are.”
“I’m not sure that I’d like Elsa so much if she wasn’t so feisty.”
“Her and Emma,” Erik agreed quietly.
Annie smiled. Tom was still bickering with his second-oldest daughter, and they’d managed to slip a bit out of the limelight. “It’s good to have feisty friends.”
Erik smiled. “Feisty friends have served you very well over the years.”
As the clock ticked towards midnight, Annie found herself standing on the back porch of the Longbourn with Elsa, Nora, and Alice. “So, Annabelle,” Alice began. “I have a question for you.”
“Are you still getting a little scared at the thought of being engaged to Erik Wentworth?”
Annie beamed and leaned her cheek against the top of Elsa’s head. “Honestly?”
“Obviously,” Elsa said flatly.
Annie smiled and shook her head. “Nope, I think that I’m good now. It might be the three glasses of wine that I’ve had, but I’m feeling pretty peaceful right now.”
“And you’re going to marry Erik Wentworth,” Nora said. “You’re finally going to marry Erik Wentworth.”
“I know.” Annie was almost glowing. “I’m finally going to marry Erik Wentworth. Nobody can stop us. Screw my family. Screw the rest of the world. I’m going to marry Erik Wentworth next May, and no one can stop that.”
Elsa squeezed Annie’s waist. “I’m so excited for you. I’d applaud that speech but you’re leaning on me and I’m pretty sure that you’d fall over if I let go over you.”
“I’m going to ignore that remark, Elspeth, because I’m just so happy right now.”
“As you should be, my darling,” Elsa answered. “Now, I think that I see Thor standing in that doorway over yonder ready to take you home.”
“Erik,” Annie breathed happily.
He started walking towards them. “My Annie, are you ready to go?”
“Very,” she replied as she let go over Elsa and wrapped her arm around Erik.
“Careful,” Elsa cautioned. “She’s a bit unsteady on her feet.”
“I’m fine,” Annie sighed. “I’m absolutely fine. I’m walking on sunshine.”
“I’m pretty sure that it’s moonbeams at this hour,” Alice snarked.
“Oh, hush you.” Annie vaguely waved a hand at Alice.
Erik smiled. “Good night, ladies. Thank you all for coming.”
“Our pleasure,” Nora told him. “It’s our absolutely pleasure.”
“Good night, darlings,” Elsa called after them. “May you always be happier than any human has any right to.”
“I think she’s had a few too many gin and tonics,” Nora staged whispered to Alice.
“Oh be quiet,” Elsa said, waving a hand at Nora. “Or I’ll tell Ed how you feel about him.”
Nora just glared at her friend before walking wordlessly back into the lounge.
The End...for now.