WELCOME TO AUSTENVILLE
Woohoo! Last chapter, I hope you like it.
The steady drip of the IV kept Tripp shielded from the pain of his injuries as well as other parts of consciousness. Alice talked more with Elizabeth to find out what she had already done to try escaping. Much of it boiled down to trying to bring William Collins to her side of the problem because, for all Miss Bennet's resourcefulness, she had never met anyone except Darcy and Bingley, and had never been to Austenville except in this temporary prison. Even if Elizabeth did escape, she had no idea where to go for help or how to get there.
"Without William helping us against Miss Bingley, it just feels impossible," she exhaled. "And we won't be able to bring your friend with us even if we could escape. There's no way he'll be able to walk unaided for months."
Alice wanted to pull her hair out. She didn't want to leave Tripp behind, but if they did get out and find help, he wouldn't be abandoned for long. In fact, he'd be better off - they would all be better off - the sooner they were rescued.
Eventually, Mr. Collins' heavy tread announced him and he delivered a simple meal for them to share.
"Hello, Miss," he said abashedly. "Sorry about the -" He wrapped a hand around his own throat to mimic what he had done to her. "I'm glad to see you up and about."
Alice glared at him. He had no business pretending to look ashamed if all he was going to do was offer meaningless words of apology.
"William, this is Miss Parks," Elizabeth introduced them cordially, despite the look on Alice's face. "She's concerned about her friend. Do you have any more news to give her?"
It was an almost effective olive branch, thawing some of Alice's frosty emotions as Collins explained that Tripp's leg was set in a cast that would have to remain in place for a couple months. "I'm very sorry about all of this," he added again.
"Not sorry enough to let us go!" Alice shot back.
Collins colored a bold red. He stammered that letting them go wasn't possible. "Miss Bingley will find out, and she will punish all of us. It's safer for you to remain here. She doesn't want to hurt you, Miss Parks. She just wants you out of the way until… until the wedding. Then it won't matter anymore and she'll let you go. She told me herself that is her plan."
Alice rolled her eyes. "And you believed her? She ran over Tripp with her car! Did she tell you about that too? And who's to say if she isn't responsible for getting him drunk and dumping him by the side of the road where she could mow him down? She threw Lady Catherine down the stairs! Caroline Bingley is not a nice woman. She's not someone you should trust. You're not a victim by obeying her, you're an accomplice." If ever there was a time for her to act as a catalyst, prompting others to the correct action, now was the time.
Collins' face again changed color. He tried to protest, but Elizabeth decided to side with Alice. "William, please, you know she's right. You know Miss Bingley is wrong, and dangerous. If we band together and defeat her, she won't be able to punish anyone."
Mr. Collins bowed his head in thought.
"Think of Lady Catherine," Elizabeth added, resting a hand on his arm. Alice thought it was a nice touch, well-timed. Collins had never been a superior opponent to Elizabeth Bennet.
"What about your friend with the broken leg?" Collins asked in a last-ditch effort to stay out of trouble.
"Once we get to the police, they can send someone to rescue Tripp," Alice offered eagerly.
"Public safety, not police," Elizabeth gently corrected her.
"Yeah, that," Alice agreed, tired of the distinction. "My point is: if we act quickly, Tripp will be fine."
Collins didn't agree to anything but his face betrayed his weakening resolve.
"Miss Bingley has something very special planned tonight, doesn't she, William?" Elizabeth prompted. She remained at his side, her hand shifting to his shoulder.
Collins nodded. "Her wedding rehearsal." Alice had no idea it was so soon. The wedding was next week.
"Well, then," Elizabeth said gently as if she was talking to an easily spooked animal. "The rehearsal is very important to Miss Bingley. She wouldn't miss it for anything. If you let us go while she's busy with that, we can do what needs to be done. We'll bring her to justice and you'll be free of her."
Surely even William Collins could see that it was a smart plan to sneak out while Bridezilla would be thoroughly distracted. Alice allowed herself a small smile of victory. They were going to do this! But then the expression on Collins' face grew cloudy.
With an almost imperceptible shake of his head, he announced his defeat. "I can't. I know I can't. I'm sorry, you'll just have to wait one more week. Then it'll all be over."
He lurched out of the room as Elizabeth sputtered in dismay. Alice, less genteel, shouted after him through the locked door, her anger and frustration finding a colorful outlet.
When at last her imagination failed her, she threw herself down on the cot and howled in aggravation. They had been so close!
"Rest easy, Miss Parks," Elizabeth said when her companion had fallen quiet. "We'll get out of here yet."
Alice wanted to snap at her positive attitude but before she could say a word, Elizabeth tossed a jingling metal bundle onto the thin mattress next to Alice.
As she looked down at it, Alice realized how close Elizabeth had been standing to Mr. Collins, and why.
"You stole his keys," she said.
Elizabeth simply shrugged. "Needs must."
The Singer-Darby wedding was going to take place in the steps of City Hall, in view of anyone gathered in the square. The bride and groom would stand with the officiant near the top while their attendants were to arrange themselves on the steps below.
At least, that was how it looked when Alice and Elizabeth approached the square and saw the wedding rehearsal in progress. Suddenly all their plans to march into the public safety office went out the window. Miss Bingley was clearly distracted by the wedding rehearsal, keeping the attendants in line, reminding the officiant of his cues, straightening the mayor's tie. If Elizabeth and Alice could steal the wand now, Miss Bingley would be unable to use the magic to manipulate people, and they could return everything to how it ought to be. It was too good an opportunity to pass up.
"What does the wand even look like?" Alice wondered.
"It's a child's toy," Elizabeth explained; "one of those brightly colored things that triggers epileptic fits when the wind blows."
Alice rolled her eyes. "That doesn't help…" The words trailed off as she realized that she had seen the wand. It was the sparkly pinwheel that Miss Bingley had pulled from her bag when she took Tripp away. Alice remembered how Lottie Singer had shuddered when she saw that toy. "Oh."
"You have seen it!" Elizabeth exclaimed.
"I saw her pull it out of a very expensive handbag yesterday," Alice said. "We need to grab her purse. It's got to be in there."
They both stared at the wedding party on the steps of City Hall. Miss Bingley's purse was resting innocuously by her feet. Trying to wrestle Miss Bingley's purse away from her on the steps of City Hall in front of the entire wedding party sounded like a risky plan, but it was time to go big or go home (or at least back to their basement cell).
"Alright," Miss Bennet said as she studied the scene. "How do you want to do this?"
"If she sees either of us, it's game over, so we need to sneak up on her," said Alice. "But, good news for us: she should be so focused on Mr. Darcy and the officiant that she won't notice us walking up behind her. All we need to do is grab that bag. Why don't we split up? I could go first and attract everyone's attention while you sneak up behind her."
Elizabeth bit her lip thoughtfully. "That might work as far as an ambush goes, but I need to get close enough to grab her bag before you do whatever you're going to do. When she recognizes you, that's the first thing she's going to reach for."
Alice nodded. She knew what she needed to do. She walked forward stealthily at first before trying to make her movements more natural and less suspicious. She climbed the front steps, sticking to the edge - just a completely normal person politely giving a wide berth to the rehearsal group. Once she reached the top, she ducked inside, trusting the glare of the glass doors to hide her from view.
Then she waited.
Elizabeth soon followed, taking the same path as Alice until she was nearly equal with the bride and groom. Alice had her hand on the door, ready to push it open and start screaming bloody murder, when she saw the mayor.
He had been standing in position dutifully. No doubt he had been raised to be on display for long stretches and could hold that pose for another hour at least. But he was looking past his bride's shoulder, looking with his entire body. The expression on his face had changed, his posture had changed, his entire world had been upended and nobody - especially not his fiancée - could be blind to it.
For all their concerns about keeping off Miss Bingley's radar, they had forgotten about Mr. Darcy!
Alice burst out of City Hall, but everyone's attention had already been redirected to Elizabeth Bennet who stood just outside the line of bridesmaids looking as caught as a deer in headlights.
The purse sat ignored by Miss Bingley's heels. The villain clutched her bouquet of ribbons and bows to her chest and spoke in a harsh whisper to Mr. Darcy. The mayor wrenched his eyes back to his fiancée and apologized woodenly. Then Miss Bingley snapped a command at her bridesmaids who complied by grabbing hold of Miss Bennet
Alice raced forward, trying to figure out what to do now. If Miss Bingley was controlling people without the purse, then the wand had to be on her person.
Miss Bingley caught a glimpse of motion in her periphery and turned to face Alice. The look of fury on her face was only slightly upstaged by the spark of color in her makeshift bouquet; the pinwheel was there, nestled among bows and ribbons scavenged from well-meaning bridal shower gifts. It wasn't the purse they needed to steal, but the bouquet.
Alice started down the stairs, then tripped. Her momentum had her crash into Miss Bingley and both women began to fall. Mayor Darby acted fast and wrapped a saving arm around Dr. Singer. Alice, however, continued down uninterrupted. She felt immense satisfaction at snatching the rehearsal bouquet and wand from Miss Bingley when they collided, but it was short-lived. Any sense of victory was beaten out of her as she continued tumbling down the stairs, falling through a thickening fog, and ending in a groaning, bleeding tangle of limbs at the bottom.
She had not finished groaning when a hand emerged from the fog to snatch the wand from her grasp. Alice tried to hold on, but the person was too strong and wrenched it away from her.
"Thank you," said a voice that did not sound at all grateful.
Alice looked up. Through the confusion of what was probably a concussion and the fading mist, it took a while for Alice to recognize the figure towering over her.
"Lady Catherine De Bourgh?" she puzzled. The woman's face looked like the painting Lottie Singer had shown her in the hall of mayoral portraits. But it didn't make sense. "You're supposed to be dead."
The woman only glared at her harder. It was surprisingly effective at shutting her up. When the lady was confident that she wouldn't have to deal further with the young woman at her feet, she turned her imperious expression on the wedding party.
"Fitzwilliam," she barked, "move away from that scheming hussy. Miss Bingley -" her eyes narrower to dangerous slits - "it appears we have each underestimated the other. I assure you that will not happen again."
Alice gingerly sat up. Her arm really hurt but at least it wasn't broken. She looked up at the wedding party, who were gaping in shock and disbelief as the resurrected mayor began to advance toward them.
Miss Bingley, perhaps understanding all too well the danger she was in, began to flee. With a flick of Lady Catherine's wrist, the ribbons in Miss Bingley's discarded bouquet leapt up and bound her so that the poor woman toppled painfully. Elizabeth watched what happened to her one-time nemesis and remained still and silent.
"Aunt," cried the current mayor as Alice struggled to stand, "what is going on?"
"Silence, Fitzwilliam, and step away from Miss Bennet," she ordered, "lest I am forced to deal with her permanently. I will not have her get in the way of my triumph! I will not have some worthless nobody ally themselves with this noble family! I will not have some shameless trollop destroy Anne's happiness with her deceitful wiles!"
Alice had almost forgotten entirely about Anne Darby, but she was standing with the other bridesmaids looking absolutely appalled by her mother's machinations.
"Anne," Lady Catherine intoned, "you and Fitzwilliam are made for each other, promised from the cradle to each other. I will not -"
"No, Mother, you must stop," Anne said firmly but gently. "I don't love him that way," she added with a sad smile, "and he doesn't love me. We don't want this. You have to let us be who we want to be, love who we want to love."
"You do not understand yet, but you will in time," Lady Catherine continued after a pause. "You must trust your mother in this matter, Anne. I have never led you wrong."
"You cannot lead my heart," Anne replied.
"You should not attempt to tell me what I can or cannot do," the matriarch warned. She raised her wand again.
Before she could use her magic however, Alice threw herself up the stairs and tackled the older woman. The wand hit the stone and snapped cleanly in half.
A small crowd rushed to them. Lottie Singer helped Alice stand upright. Anne Darby tried to help her mother, but Lady Catherine was too fixated on her broken wand to notice.
"What have you done, girl? What have you done?" she wailed in accusation at Alice, but the physical fight had gone out of her. She had used the wand as a crutch for so long that she had no idea how to lash out effectively without it. Soon, she had dissolved into sobs while her daughter sat with her on the steps and attempted to offer comfort.
When Alice returned two months later, Austenville was crawling with summer tourists and felt like a completely different town. She parked her car behind Jennings Sports Grille - the closest open spot she could find after circling the area for ten minutes - and started to walk to Sweet Nothings. The roaming crowds of vacationers had partially transformed the public square and banners hanging above the streets gave it a festive atmosphere.
Alice hadn't been back since her brother had picked her up to take her home, shortly after she had been given the key to the city and Lady Catherine and Caroline Bingley were locked up for what they had done to the town. Despite the summer-long separation, she had remained in contact with Kelly Lynch, Lottie Singer, and Elizabeth Bennet, and she was now looking forward to reuniting with them.
The trio had kept her informed of what happened in her absence. Everyone was adjusting to their double-life in Austenville, but at their own pace and with varying degrees of success. Kelly had moved forward quickly; already reunited with Fred Wentworth, she moved in with him soon after although neither of them wanted to be the first to bring up marriage this time. Elizabeth returned briefly to California to see her family and friends again before settling in Austenville. The mayor courted her publicly and she teased him with equal openness. Lottie struggled for a while with the whole gender thing, but eventually realized that Jenny didn't mind one way or the other; and if Jenny didn't mind, what did it matter what other people thought? Tripp, however, seemed to be one of the few who bore it the hardest. His sister was well and truly dead and there was no magic left to bring her back.
Out of habit, Alice checked her phone now that she was out of the car. There was nothing from her family but she had already told them that she'd call them after dinner. She had received one text message from Elizabeth just after she had started driving that only said, "help." With a chuckle, she texted back,"just parked, be there soon."
As Alice walked down the street, she scanned the crowd for familiar faces. She was planning on meeting Elizabeth, Kelly, and Lottie for lunch at the sandwich shop, but she wouldn't turn down a chance to say hi to any of the other townspeople that she recognized along the way. Unfortunately, it looked like the locals were busy tending to the needs of the out-of-towners rather than wandering around.
Alice saw the familiar storefront of Lynch's Laundromat. Something about it looked different. She slowed her steps and wrinkled her forehead as she stared at the window and tried to figure out what Kelly had done with it recently.
With a dissatisfied shake of her head, she gave up after a minute and started to cross the street to Sweet Nothings. Before she could step off the curb, however, she finally recognized someone she had really wanted to see.
"Tripp!" she squealed.
He looked fantastic compared to how he had appeared when she saw him last, walking around without a cast or a crutch or even one of those huge boots. But he also looked at her like she was the last person he wanted to run into, like he didn't even know her.
Beside him stood a pretty, young woman with an infectious smile. "Aren't you going to introduce us?" she prompted, nudging him in the side after his silence lengthened.
Tripp gaped mutely and Alice grew annoyed at him. This was so many levels of rudeness beyond a cold shoulder. She knew… she thought she knew that he was still grieving the death of his sister, that he was still trying to process what it meant that any chance to recover his sister was lost when Lady Catherine's wand was destroyed, and Alice gave him the space for that. But if he was going to stand here in the middle of town and pretend that he didn't even know her, he had another thing coming.
"I'm Alice," she said to the woman, glaring daggers at Tripp, "Alice Parks. Tripp met me, like, two months ago."
"Hello Alice, Alice Parks," the woman replied, holding out her hand to be friendly. "I'm Nelly Haber. Tripp's sister."
Alice had a momentary out-of-body experience. If Tripp's very dead sister was alive again, then something was very wrong. With a sick sense of dread, Alice remembered that odd text from Elizabeth and the inexplicable wrongness of the laundromat's front window.
"Um, I'm so sorry. His sister?" she stammered at last. Maybe this was some ironic definition of the word. Maybe this town wasn't in trouble again. Maybe she was freaking out for no good reason. "It's just, just when I met Tripp, he didn't, I, I don't remember him mentioning a sister." She shut up before she said something stupid or just started randomly screaming.
Nelly gave them both an appraising look while Tripp still stared at her stupidly. "The mayor sends me out of town for one week and my big brother meets a girl," she said, shaking her head dramatically. She wasn't gloating, but it was the sort of teasing that siblings did when they were also best friends.
Tripp snapped out of his trance and vehemently denied that he had ever met her while Alice attempted a calmer correction.
"Oh, God, no. Not like that," she said. At no point in their interactions had she thought of him as boyfriend material. Maybe a proxy brother since Dean was absent, but that was the extent of it. Then something else snagged her attention. "Wait. You work for Mayor Darby?"
An odd look flitted over Nelly's face. "Fitzgerald Darby is the city manager," she said. "Our mayor is Catherine de Bourgh."
"Lady Catherine?" Alice glanced at Tripp for confirmation that she was indeed in the middle of a waking nightmare but he still looked like he'd never met her before. It was almost as if Tripp's memories - and indeed the rest of the town - were magically reset to some moment before people had begun to discover the town's curse.
"Lady Catherine!" Nelly laughed at the image, then added her own joke, "More like her imperial majesty."
Nelly then asked how Alice had met her brother since Tripp was utterly useless, and Alice blathered through some reply about getting stuck there on the way to meet up with Dean. She had to keep shutting up and correcting herself to keep the whole, unbelievable truth from popping out.
As she ended her stammering and clamped her mouth shut, Nelly smiled at her and politely asked, "So, have you come back for the weekend?"
Alice swept her eyes around the street checking for little tells that Lady Catherine was back in power. But how had the witch done this? Where was an alternate source of magic since Alice had broken the magic wand? And, more importantly, how could Alice fix this and rescue her friends without Tripp Haber going crazy again?
With a blink, Alice realized that the two were still standing in front of her, waiting for an answer.
"Um, no," she said, her resolve hardening. "I have a feeling I'm going to be here a while."
A/N: thanks so much for making it this far! If you enjoyed it, please feel free to leave a comment or favorite or follow (although this is the last chapter). Or wander over to some of my other stories.
For the time capsule: this is the end of the 15th week of staying home due to the pandemic. I hope everyone is keeping safe!