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The Party Favour

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Emma was standing in her office when she heard a voice from the corridor.

“I need to talk to Emma.”

She froze. Caroline Lee. What did she want? They’d parted on perfectly fine terms - of course, even though Emma had since tried to get away from the engagement party planning business, it had been an amazing success - but she hadn't really expected Caroline Lee back in her life anytime soon.

Emma heard Harriet answer that she’d just check she was available, before Harriet appeared at her door, looking a little apprehensive and pushing her hair behind her ear.

“Um, Emma? Caroline Lee is here to see you. Are you … ?”

“Of course she’ll see me.” Caroline swung into the room, looking perfectly put together as usual in a yellow dress with a light blue bag. She had an excellent sense of style, Emma would give her that.

“Caroline. Hi. What an unexpected …”

“So, my brother is getting married,” Caroline started without preamble.

“Okay.” Emma had a bad feeling about this, but let Caroline confirm it.

“He lives in New York, but he and his fiancée Jane are coming out here for an engagement party and they happened to ask who organised mine -”

There it was. “Caroline.”

“- and, of course, I told them, and that despite the few hiccups, mine went very well.”

There had been no hiccups. Not at the party, anyway. “Caroline,” Emma said, with more insistence in her voice.

Caroline continued as if she hadn’t heard her. “They don’t want anything big and they want to get married in New York, which is a fine sort of place to hold a wedding, I guess, so they agreed to have the engagement party out here in LA.”

Emma finally got through to her. “Caroline, I’m - we’re - out of the engagement party planning business.” Emma kept her voice firm. They really were out of it. They’d been doing a lot more charity things, and the life coaching work had been picking up. They didn’t need the money - although Alex may have disagreed had he been in the room. He always thought they needed a little more money - just to be on the safe side, for contingencies.

Caroline waved her hand dismissively. “I’d heard about that, but really, Enma? Not even as a favour for a friend?”

Wait, we’re friends now?

“I appreciate you asking me, but, really, we’ve changed the direction of the business and it’s going well …”

“Emma.” Caroline’s tone of voice had changed. Less in-charge dominance, more … feeling? Emma looked up at her.

“I want to help Bing and Jane out. I was wary of Jane at first, and so were my parents, what with Bing weirdly leaving med school,” her facial expression showed that she still didn’t understand that decision, “and moving to New York. But she’s very sweet, and they just want something small and intimate, but they don’t have the time to set something up before they’re out here, and they’ve asked me to help.”

Caroline looked genuinely sincere, and in that moment Emma realised she was actually considering it. Party planning was a rush, and if it was a small thing it wouldn’t provide too much of a distraction from their other projects.

“Who would I be dealing with?”

“Bing and Jane via Skype, or Domino I guess, since it’s the latest thing. The guy whose company makes it - William Darcy - is Bing’s best friend, actually.”

“Okay.”

“And me as well, of course.”

Emma was back to having second thoughts. She didn’t miss working with Caroline and her demands, and her brother and his fiancée didn’t sound they were after the Caroline Lee Party Extravaganza Experience. “I’ll think about it.”

Caroline looked a little taken aback - as if someone would dare turn her down - but she nodded, and said Emma had to get back to her as soon as possible.

--

Emma was pacing. Her heels clacked on the floor.

“Hi.” Alex poked his head around the door.

He looked good today. Well, he always looked good, but today he looked especially good. It may have been that he was wearing the shirt that Emma had said brought out his eyes. She always liked when he took her advice.

“Hi,” she replied, smiling despite her mind’s conflicted feelings and stopping herself from pacing past her bookshelf again.

“How’s it going?” he asked, a little tentatively, as he walked further into the room. Did she look particularly angry today?

“Good. Great. Perfect.” She was trying to sound sincere.

“So, not well?”

“Nothing I can’t handle,” she replied, a note of challenge in her voice.

“Of course not.” Alex leant over and kissed her on the nose. Emma crinkled it as he did so.

“But …” Alex continued, looking her straight in the eye.

“But nothing, Alex Knightley.”

Alex waited a little longer. Sometimes she hated how well he knew her.

Emma sighed. “i said we wouldn’t do the party planner thing - not unless it really helped people - and I was happy with that decision.”

“Okay.”

“But Caroline asked me to do this thing for her brother and his fiancée - she even called me her friend - and I don’t know.”

“Are you and Caroline friends?” Alex sounded as skeptical as Emma felt.

“I don’t know! Not really, but this would be a small thing.”

“It’s okay to do favours for friends, you know.”

Emma rolled her eyes. “I know that, Alex.”

“Maybe ask to meet her brother and his fiancée and see if you like them? And if you want to help them out? Don’t take Caroline’s word for it, but, you know …”

“You weren't about to say we need the money?”

“We don’t need the money, Emma. We really don’t.”

She waited. Alex clearly wasn’t finished.

“Do it if you want to. It’s okay. You don’t have to prove anything to anyone.”

She didn’t. She was Emma Woodhouse ... but she did hate to disappoint the people who cared about her, and Alex had been very supportive of her decision to change the direction of the business. “Even you?”

He kissed her on the lips this time. “Especially me.”

“Okay. I’ll tell Caroline to set up the call.”

--

“Hi, Emma?” A pretty girl with red hair was sitting on a couch facing the camera. Her hair was tied back from her face and she was wearing a green dress that Emma really liked. It wasn’t really Emma’s colour, but it was a great style and suited Jane perfectly.

“The one and only. Emma Woodhouse, of Emma Approved. Pleased to meet you.”

“Hi. I’m Jane - Jane Bennett - and Bing will be along in a minute, he’s just running a little late.”

“Not a problem.”

“Thanks for talking to us about this. Caroline spoke so highly of you …”

Emma didn’t raise her eyebrow skeptically in front of the camera, but she felt like doing it. She gestured to Harriet, who was sitting on her left. “Harriet Smith will also be sitting in taking some notes; she works for me.”

“Oh, of course. Hi, Harriet.” Jane said with a smile.

“Hi. Nice to meet you,” Harriet said, in a genuine tone that very much matched Jane.

“Sorry I’m late, honey.” A handsome man swung into the view of the camera, and leant over to kiss his soon-to-be-wife on the cheek. Bing, clearly. She could see the family resemblance. “Hi, I’m Bing. Caroline’s brother.”

“Hi. I’m Emma, and this is my colleague, Harriet Smith.”

“Nice to meet you.”

Bing and Jane talked about their needs for the party: smallish venue - just family and some close friends, a full sit down dinner, but nothing too over the top; good desserts; nice decor - modern, Nothing too flashy. They also insisted that people have the opportunity to donate to charity instead of buying engagement gifts. Emma suggested it could be mentioned on the invitations, and there could also be an opportunity to donate at the party itself.

Jane seemed very obliging and sweet, and Emma couldn’t help but like her. She thought she and Harriet would get along very well. Bing was a little quieter, but also seemed like a nice guy. Very different from his sister. Gentler. Quiter. He and Jane clearly adored each other.

More for Bing and Jane than anything else, Emma agreed to help them out and plan the engagement party.

--

The planning went smoothly.

Caroline turned up at the offices of Emma Approved probably more than she needed to, and Emma found that some of the time she didn’t even mind. That much. There was that time that she’d come in when she and Alex had been having … a moment, and, well, the less said about that the better, really. Alex had gone a really impressive shade of red.

Jane and Bing were lovely and easy to work with, and they settled on a restaurant in the Hollywood Hills, with great reviews and a cozy function room that fitted their needs. It was all in all a very easy experience, and it reminded Emma what she liked so much about event planning. Everything had its place, and it all came together in a big moment at the end with people smiling and laughing. Well, she hoped it would, anyway.

She was pretty awesome at this, if she said so herself.

--

The party was in full swing. Emma had made her rounds, and it was all going exactly according to plan. Well, minus a small issue with the sound system and their first choice barman being sick, so mostly according to plan.

Harriet had just given Emma a surreptitious thumbs-up and a beaming smile from the other side of the room, and Caroline had even gave her a polite nod as Emma walked past her showing Elton off to someone or other.

Emma went out onto the balcony that overlooked the hills to get a little fresh air. The room was hot, and Harriet everything in hand. Emma had been letting her do things on her own more and more lately.

“Oh, hi.” Jane’s sister, Lizzie, whom she’d been introduced earlier in the night, came out onto the balcony behind her. Emma could see the family resemblance now she was looking for it. Lizzie was shorter than Jane, her face a little rounder. She was wearing a black and white polka dot dress and black sling-backs with a low heel. “Sorry, I didn’t realise anyone else was out here.”

“It’s no problem. I just wanted some air.”

“Me too. My mother is being particularly … my mother right now, and I just needed a moment. My boyfriend or Jane will probably come looking for me in a minute.”

Emma had also been introduced to Mrs Bennett. She was the loud woman in the hat talking incessantly about how proud she was to have a daughter finally getting married. Emma could see how that would be trying after a while.

“Emma, right?” Lizzie continued, “It’s a really nice party - perfect for Jane and Bing. Nothing too over the top.”

Emma smiled. It was always nice to hear your work complimented. “Thank you! It came together pretty easily. Your sister and Bing weren’t exactly the most demanding people I’ve ever had to work with.”

Lizzie laughed. “No, but I imagine Caroline made up for that. I heard she was helping them out?”

“A little. She wasn’t as bad as I was expecting, though.”

Lizzie just nodded. “True. I have learned the ‘don’t always trust your first impression’ lesson the hard way.” It sounded like there was a bit of a story there. Emma could sympathise; she’d certainly learnt that, too.

“Lizzie?” A tall. dark-haired man with a serious expression walked on to the balcony and came up beside her.

“What did I tell you?”She said to Emma.

“Hi.” She greeted the dark-haired man with a touch on his arm. Her boyfriend, Emma surmised. He hadn’t been at the table when Emma had been introduced, and seeing him and how he gently leant into Lizzie’s space she suddenly wanted to know where Alex was and what he was doing. There had been no reason for him to be at this party, but she missed him. She was turning into such a sap.

“I’m fine,” Lizzie continued, “just needed some space and a little air.”

“Your mother?” Tall, Serious and Handsome replied.

“Yeah, she hasn’t been too bad by her standards, but the glasses of wine have come out and her volume control has been lost. I shouldn’t strand Jane, Lydia and my dad for too much longer, though.”

Tall, Serious and Handsome seemed to ponder that for a second and then said finally, “I don’t know, would staying here a little longer be that bad?”

Lizzie laughed in reply.

She gestured at Emma. “This is Emma, she planned the party with Jane. Emma, this is Darcy … William, my boyfriend and Bing’s best friend and future best man.”

“Pleased to meet you.” Emma replied.

Darcy nodded. “You too. It’s a nice party.”

“Thank you. I’m glad everyone’s having a good time.”

“... Wait, you are the best man,” Lizzie said. “You shouldn’t be hiding.”

“Says the maid of honour,” Darcy answered, trying to hide a smile.

Emma liked them already. They had a nice, teasing way with each other.

Lizzie turned back to Emma. “So, Jane said you did things other than planning events? Jane said she really liked working with you.”

Darcy didn’t say anything but Emma could see that he was looking at Lizzie a little curiously.

“Emma Approved is a lifestyle company, my boyfriend Alex and I run it. I work with charities and just generally try help people. Consultations and advice take up a fair bit of my time. I like to do events, too - but more charity events and favours for people I know.”

“And you’re open to using technology to do that?” Lizzie seemed to be getting at something in particular.

“Sure. I think the lifestyle industry needs to use technology where it can. Harriet has been reading up on things as well, and has some great ideas.”

“Interesting. I happen to run a digital production company. We should talk more.”

“I would love that.”

She had been talking about the videos with people, but the deal had fallen through. She was in two minds about going back to those videos, but she had a few other ideas she’d like to discuss with someone, and Lizzie seemed like a good choice. She had a feeling they’d work well together.

“Lizzie …” Darcy said.

“What?” Lizzie replied innocently. She took out at her phone, and Emma took out hers, and they exchanged details.

“You just turned a chance meeting on a balcony into a business opportunity,” Darcy said.

“Hey, you were here, too. You snooze, you lose, buster. Now come on, I think I need to rescue Jane from Bing’s relatives now.” She put her arm through his and they walked back into the party.

Well, it had been a productive night on a few levels, Emma thought. Grinning to herself as she looked out over the city, before heading back in to the party as well.

--

“Hi.”

“Hi.” Alex was lying on the couch, half watching Jimmy Fallon and looking very cuddly in his hoodie. He was obviously waiting up for her.

“I told you not to wait up for me.”

“Well, sorry. I did anyway.” He didn’t look very apologetic.

Alex patted the couch next to where he was lying, and Emma squeezed in next to him, before kicking off her heels and lying down on his chest. He brought his arms up around her. He was very cuddly - just as she had suspected, but it was good to have confirmation.

“I forgive you,” she said with a tired sigh.

“How magnanimous of you.”

She leant her chin on his chest to she could better look him in the eye. “I am very magnanimous. People say that about me all the time.”

“I’m sure they do.” His voice betrayed no hint of amusement, but Emma could tell he was teasing her. She narrowed her eyes, and Alex just smiled.

“So, how did it go?” he asked.

“Perfectly. Of course.”

“Of course. Why did I bother asking?”

“Jane and Bing seemed to really enjoy themselves, we raised some money for a worthwhile cause, and Caroline again, sort of, hinted that we were friends.”

“That’s still a little bit weird to me.”

“Me too, but I got to see a different side of her. The side that cares about her brother and his happiness.”

“That’s certainly admirable.” Alex had started running his hand through her hair as she was talking. It was relaxing. He really was very sweet.

“I also had an interesting conversation with Jane’s sister.”

“Oh?” Alex raised an eyebrow.

“Yeah. She runs a digital production company in San Francisco.”

“Emma …”

“I know that other thing fell through, but I really liked her and I think we could work well together. We were just talking, anyway.”

“Okay. If you think it will help you on your quest towards lifestyle excellence.” His tone was a little teasing now.

“You know, I think it will.” She laid her head back down on his chest, which was slowly rising and falling.

“Well. Good job.” He kissed the top of her head, before he yawned. “We should sleep.”

Emma was really comfy where she was. And tired. She’d been on her feet for most of the day getting the final details perfect, and she was still wearing in the particular pair of red heels she’d been wearing. “Yeah.”

As she slowly drifted off, Emma felt Alex reach up and drag the blanket that was hanging off the back of the couch and drape it over them. She snuggled in closer.