Alisons the sensible one, p.1
Alison's the Sensible One, page 1
This is a work of fiction. Similarities to real people, places, or events are entirely coincidental.
ALISON'S THE SENSIBLE ONE
First edition. January 26, 2017.
Copyright © 2017 Frances Duncan.
Written by Frances Duncan.
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Alison's the Sensible One
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Further Reading: Beautiful Abomination
Also By Frances Duncan
About the Author
To the members of the Jane Austen Society of New Zealand, thank you for your friendship
To Janeites everywhere, please don’t hate me (even though I did once kill Mr Darcy in a game of Kill Bang Marry)
The ten year anniversary of her father’s death was not what Alison had expected. Among the mourners were those who had never known him during his life including her mother's partner and his son. Their presence made sense in a roundabout way; both loved the widow Dash, as much as she had loved her late husband. They were so central to her life it would have been strange if they hadn’t been there.
The current great tragedy of the widow’s life, now that her husband was dead and buried a decade, was that her partner—never boyfriend, that sounded too much like they were in high school—that her partner’s name was John.
“Such a fine specimen of maleness should have a more illustrious name fitting to his romantic soul,” she stated, thankfully after the speeches.
Edward, the aforementioned son of this romantic soul, spent half an hour convincing the tipsy widow that John was much more refined than Jay. Alison watched with amusement from their table as her mother gesticulated and the last of the dessert dishes were cleared away.
“You are so good with her.” Alison smiled at Edward as he sat back down, having finally convinced Mrs Dash that there was no need for John to change his name.
“Do you think they'll ever get married?” Edward asked.
“What, our parents? I doubt it. Mum likes playing the grieving widow too much. Not that she’s been much of a grieving widow since she met your Dad but it gives her a consequence she feels is appropriate for a woman of her age. Besides which your mother would likely throw a hissy fit so let’s hope it doesn't happen.”
“She reminds me of my mother—apart from the hissy fit,” he conceded with a nod. “Except she's more—” he rolled his hand like he was conducting an orchestra as he searched for the word “—solid.”
“Are you saying my mother's fat?”
“No, no.” His hand landed back on the table. “She's more—you make her more, you're more—”
Alison reeled back in mock horror. “Are you saying that I'm fat?”
“No—no. I mean you're—you have all the right—you...” Edward trailed off as Alison laughed.
“It's OK. I do know what I look like.” She slid her watch up and down her forearm, sobering. “I'm not under any illusions here. So what were you actually trying to say about Mum?”
“I don't know.” He frowned, then his face cleared. “Oh yeah. You give her a grounding which my mother lacks.”
“I bet you do a pretty good job at grounding her. Huh, that sounds like you were sending her to her room.”
“If she'd listen to me I would,” he sighed then added, “on both counts.”
“But she doesn't?”
He toyed with a spoon on the table. “To her I'm just a younger version of my Dad.” Edward glanced across the room at his father, John.
“That must be hard.” Alison shifted her eyes from his face and followed his gaze instead.
“Yeah, she and my sister have like, this little secret club—and Robbie too! It's hard not to feel like the odd one out.”
Alison nodded as he mentioned his siblings then tilted her head towards her sisters. “Well, there's a bit of a girl’s club on my side of the fence too.”
He looked at her and she turned to watch her sisters dancing with a group of people across the room. “You're not exactly like your sisters, are you?”
“That's a bit obvious.” She waved her hand down her body, a good two sizes bigger than either of her sisters. “Maybe they need to do a DNA test to see if I qualify for inclusion.”
“That's twice,” he said in a stern voice.
“Pish.” She turned back to him. “I don't even realise that I do it. It’s just, you know, current circumstances—single, living with my family—and I mean, well, look at them.” She gestured towards her sisters. “I look like them, well, enough like them to notice the differences at least.”
“Could I have a conversation with either of them? Would I want to?”
“They aren't that bad.” She fiddled with the stem of her wine glass.
“You're not a guy.”
“Are you though?” She arched an eyebrow at him. “Aren’t guys meant to be all about the physical rather than the conversation? I mean, shouldn't you be over there drooling all over them instead of talking to me?”
“Mary-Anne maybe. But she has a boyfriend—”
“Who isn’t here,” Alison interjected.
“Who isn’t here.” Edward agreed. “But Margaret? That's just creepy, she’s only a teenager. Besides the fact that they're like my own sisters, I like a more mature woman.”
“Like my mother?” Alison grinned.
“You had to go there!” He threw up his hands.
“You do handle her very well. Who knows, you might share the same type as your father.”
“No thank you. Like I said, mature women,” he emphasised each word, drawing it out, “and I don't just mean age.”
“One day my sisters will get there....not sure about my mother though.” Alison wondered whether she should feel guilty about saying that.
“One day my siblings will get there too,” Edward said with a sigh.
They were comrades in arms; no need to feel guilty.
“Amen to that sister.” Alison raised her glass in salute. He raised his in response.
The glasses made a satisfying clink as they met.
The Dash home was a 1920’s villa; originally three bedrooms, what had once been a sunporch was transformed into a room for the youngest, Margaret. The carpet soft beneath her feet, Alison felt the give of the floorboards as she walked down the main hallway past Margaret’s room.
She tapped on her other sister's bedroom door. “Mary-Anne? You need to get up.”
No answer. Mary-Anne had requested, but insisted she wouldn’t need, waking up in the morning when they had come home last night.
“Better you than me,” John had said as she’d left the kitchen and their morning coffee ritual. His words echoed in her head as, stifling her frustration, Alison pushed the door open.
“I’m coming in so you better hide any boys that are in there. Mare?” She snorted at her unintentional rhyme.
Mary-Anne’s room looked more like a teenagers’ than Margaret’s; posters on the wall, clothes on the floor, nail polishes littering the top of a set of drawers, the ti
A muffled voice came from beneath the covers. “Of course there aren’t any boys in here. Will and I haven’t—besides he’s busy.” Mary-Anne flipped the covers back and continued in a rush. “Speaking of boys, you and Eddie seemed pretty close last night.” She yawned and settled the duvet over her shoulder.
“He's our brother, Mary-Anne.” Alison grasped the duvet and attempted to pull it from her sister. It was a familiar game, perfected through years of high school, Alison hadn’t thought she’d have to play again.
“Our step brother, Alison,” she mocked. “That step is important.” Her fist clenched around the duvet edge, holding it in place.
“Yeah, cause it keeps you a step away from incest,” Margaret said from the doorway.
“Margaret!” Alison and Mary-Anne cried in unison. Both dropped the duvet, turning to their little sister who, although completely inappropriate, was at least able to get herself out of bed.
“What? It's true. If he was actually our brother boning him would be incest.” She said it as though this were the most reasonable thing.
“Boning?” Alison shifted, her eyes on the duvet, straightening the wrinkles. She wasn’t sure what kept her eyes down; her mind skittered away from imagining sex with Edward. She was just uncomfortable talking about sex, or talking about sex with her younger sisters. Surely she’d be fine if she were speaking to her friend Charlotte.
“Boning,” Margaret repeated with nod. “Like George was doing with Lydia.”
That brought her head up. Alison looked aghast at her youngest sister. She couldn’t believe that the second-most devastating event in her life could be dealt with so flippantly.
“Oh god, Marg, really? Just leave her alone, OK?” Mary-Anne threw the covers back and rose.
“I was only trying to help,” Margaret whined as Mary-Anne pushed her out of the room.
“Don't listen at doors.” Mary-Ann closed the door.
“I'm not a kid anymore.” Margaret’s petulant tone filtered through the wood, her thumping down the hall followed.
“I wish she hadn’t been here that day.” Alison shook her head. “I wish I hadn’t told her. I wish—God.” She buried her head in her hands.
“It’s not your fault, you were upset. It wasn’t anything that you did. How George behaved isn’t your responsibility. And...we’re happy to have you home.”
“Thanks, but moving home at 24 doesn’t feel so great. And I shouldn’t have said anything to Marg. She’s far too young.”
“You realise she can legally have sex in two years, right?”
Alison baulked at the idea of her baby sister turning sixteen, of her having sex, ever.
In a firmer tone Mary-Anne said; “I shouldn’t have let her drink last night, it gave her an inflated sense of her importance. Was I that bad at her age?”
“Worse.” Alison smiled. “I think you spent that entire year locked in your room listening to excessively loud music and wearing too much black eyeliner. You said music spoke to you and,” putting on a dramatic voice, “was the only true form of communication.”
“I was a delight.” Mary-Anne grinned and hugged herself. “I still am. Admit it,” flinging her arms wide, “you find me adorable.”
Alison arched an eyebrow. “I find it adorable how you try to change the subject.”
“We never did talk about it Ali.” She sat on the edge of the bed, suddenly earnest. “I didn’t think you’d want to.”
“No. I meant you getting out of bed and being a good girlfriend and meeting Will's sister. We managed the first part thanks to Margaret. Now on to the second. Well, third.”
Mary-Anne groaned in response and buried her face in the duvet.
“You aren’t hungover, are you?”
“No. I was keeping pace with Marg. I wasn’t about to let her get drunk. I just—” Mary-Anne took a breath and then burst out with “What if she doesn’t like me? What if Gina doesn’t think I’m good enough for her brother? What if I wear the wrong thing? What if I’m overdressed or worse, underdressed? What if Will decides he doesn’t like me anymore? What if—”
“What if you breathe? OK. Just breathe. Gina will like you, I’m sure, and I’ll help you find something to wear.” Alison opened the wardrobe door, reflecting that she wasn’t so bad at changing the subject herself. It never occurred to Mary-Anne to ask what Alison had been like at 14. Had she thought about it she may have realised that was the year their father died.
“But what if she doesn’t?” Mary-Anne whined.
“Mary-Anne Elizabeth Dash you are getting out of bed and you will meet Gina. Don’t think I don’t see you trying to creep back in. You will be perfectly nice and she will like you.”
“OK,” she grumbled then brightened. “I can tell you all about it at family dinner tonight. We can compare notes. You met her once, didn’t you?”
Alison didn’t turn around. She had, several months ago, then she’d broken up with George. “There isn’t family dinner tonight.” Coat hangers clacked against each other.
“What? Why not?”
It was an effort but she didn’t sigh. “Because we were all together last night. And Mum and John are leaving early in the morning. And I have to get up at 4am to drive them to the airport.”
“What about Eddie?”
“What about him? Here.” Alison dumped a pile of clothes on the bed next to Mary-Anne who picked up a dress and held it against herself, moving towards a mirror.
“What would I do without you?” Mary-Anne smoothed the skirt, her eyes on her reflection.
“Bye love.” Alison’s mother hugged her tightly. “You’ll be OK, won’t you? I’m just so excited! John never wanted to leave the girls alone. I’m so glad you’re home so he can’t worry. Don’t miss me too much.” She wanted plenty of time to look through Duty Free so headed for the gate.
John wanted a coffee and a paper but he waited behind to thank Alison for driving them and added, “I’m sure you’ll take care of everything while we’re gone. Make sure Mary-Anne goes to uni. Margaret has a couple of assignments coming up. I should be able to deal with any bills when I come back. Edward will be around if you need any help.”
“Everything will be fine John. Just enjoy yourself...and look after Mum. I’ll manage the others.”
“We couldn’t have gone on holiday without you here to look after your sisters. I know it’s been hard on you, these last couple of months but...” He cleared his throat. “You call me if you need anything.” John patted her shoulder then departed to join her mother.
After dropping her parents off Alison had only managed another hour of sleep before she was up to shepherd Margaret to school. Mary-Anne didn’t have lectures till that afternoon and would likely wake herself. Alison made a mental note, as she approached her office, to check in later.
Burke Consulting had been long established in Wellington. The office was small, occupying half a floor on the Terrace. The lift broke often and the paint in the lobby was chipped, but the Burke offices were a beacon of functional beauty, run by Alison and managed by Katherine Burke, no paint was allowed to chip here.
The original Burke died many years ago, and his wife, the formidable Katherine, had stepped into his shoes. She ran the business on the bones of her late husband’s efforts.
Times, they were a-changing, Katherine had finished on Friday, Susan Vernon, who would be replacing her, was starting today which meant Alison was in the office early despite needing more sleep. She wished that Charlotte was there, at least for the first day with her new boss. But Charlotte was overseas for another week and a half.
As expected, the break room needed cleaning from Katherine’s farewell drinks on Friday. If Charlotte were there they’d have cleaned together, laughing about others’ drunken antics.
Katherine had left her office spotless but Charlotte’s desk, th
An email from Charlotte awaited her when she reached her own desk, it ended with “please take care of Reggie for me.” Smiling, amused that her friend was more worried about her boss than her daughter who was no doubt being well looked after by her grandmother, Alison began her reply. She was immersed in the email when a woman appeared.
“Hi. I’m Lucy Steele. I’m supposed to be starting work today?” It was a statement but her inflection made it sound like a question.
The babysitter had arrived. Early.
Lucy was model thin in a shapeless dress that would have looked like a sack on anyone else. Her thick textured hair fell almost into her heavily made up eyes. Every part of her was intimidating.
“Hi Lucy.” Alison stood, tried not to feel frumpy, and forced a smile. “Nice to meet you.” She extended her hand. “Alison Dash, and before you ask, no I’m not a runner.” She’d heard that joke too many times.
“Oh! That’s so funny because your name is Dash. I’m not steely or made of steel or something ha-ha-ha. No, no of course I know who you are!” This sounded forced, as if Lucy had just remembered something bad she’d heard about Alison. “I feel like I know you already. Oh, Alison I’ve wanted to meet you for so long.”
Alison blinked. “Really? But you just started today. Anyway,” she rushed on, eager to avoid whatever trap that was, “let me show you around. I look after Susan Vernon. She’ll be just through the glass wall. It’s her first day too.”
“Oh no! I’ve known all about you for years.” Lucy continued as though Alison hadn’t spoken. “I feel like I know you already.”
What the hell? “Right, so your desk is—”
She wasn’t out from behind her desk before Lucy started again. “Your mother lives with a man called John, right?”
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