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Elinor and Marianne

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GOING OUT OF BUSINESS

ALL MOVIES ON SALE

The wonder wasn’t that Blockbuster was closing, Abbie thought; it was that Blockbuster had held out this long. She wasn’t the type to get sentimental about a corporation, but as she meandered through the store, searching through various bins of DVDs and Blu-Rays, she found herself remembering trips to the video store as a kid with Jenny.

She always wanted action movies, so she could pretend to copy all their fight moves. I always wanted a comedy, so we could laugh for a change. Couldn’t have talked either of us into “The Little Mermaid.” Seems like a shame. We thought we’d seen so much, were so grown up, but we should’ve enjoyed being kids a little while longer.

Abbie reached for the Disney DVD just as another hand bumped into hers. She pulled back, and the apology died on her lips. “Captain?”

Frank Irving looked slightly sheepish. “Lieutenant.”

“You’re into Disney?”

“When you have a young daughter, you stock up on these things. Macey has copies at her mother’s house, of course, but I thought I might as well grab a few.”

For a moment, Abbie saw the picture all too well. A dad on his own, trying to make his daughter feel at home in a brand new place – a threadbare apartment, too big for the sticks of furniture hurriedly bought off Overstock.com. That insight would only embarrass Irving, if she acknowledged it. So she didn’t. 

“Have at,” Abbie said, gesturing to “The Little Mermaid.”

Irving took it, but gave her a sidelong glance. “Wouldn’t have figured you for a Disney fan either.”

“Actually, I’m shopping for Crane.”

“For Crane?”

“The poor man feels lost all the time. I thought I’d try to catch him up on modern pop culture a little, you know?” Anything written later than Gulliver’s Travels had proved rough going for Ichabod. He’d read a little Twain, but had confessed that Faulkner lost him; he had so much to catch up on. “Streaming internet is probably one step too far, but I figure he could get the handle of a DVD player.”

Abbie liked her own reasoning there, but Irving frowned. “It’s going to be hard for him to follow. Even narrative structures have changed since his time.”

The captain had a point. She remembered reading about how the first movie audiences had panicked when they’d seen film of a train coming toward the camera, even screaming and ducking away from the screen. Ichabod Crane was further along than that by now, but not much; she’d never forget the morning he had looked so shaken as he asked her about “the great war against the ape-men.”

“Maybe I can help him catch up,” she said as she kept flipping through – and came to a DVD cover with Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet smiling at her. An idea sparked, and she grinned. “And I think I know how.”

 

**

 

“A novel?” Ichabod took the book with pleasure. He had found his evenings slow going of late; chopping wood could only fill so much of a man’s time. Empty hours taunted him with thoughts of Katrina, or worse, of Jeremy, the son he had never known. Surely there was a time to mourn, Ichabod thought, but he could not allow this mourning to consume the rest of his life.

He and Abbie were having breakfast at his favored eatery, the Dunking of the Donuts. Sometimes their duties as Witnesses nonetheless allowed for such simpler pleasures. He liked this, because it meant a better chance to understand this strange new world, his only opportunity for pleasure and lightheartedness, and an excuse to honorably spend free time with the lieutenant.

He did so enjoy her company … but a gentleman could not be too circumspect with an unmarried woman, particularly when he was married himself.

“Here’s what I figure,” Abbie said. “You need to catch up to modern culture. But you should catch up in stages. By degrees. Even Mark Twain was a little too far ahead for you, so let’s take it back a step. We’ll start you off with what’s closest to your time period, and move forward a few decades at a time until you’re back in the groove.”

What sort of groove did she mean? Ichabod decided it not worth the asking, as her meaning was clear from context. Instead he studied the cover, which showed two young women in dresses that were not wholly unfamiliar. “Sense and Sensibility,” he read aloud. “By Jane Austen. A lady novelist?”

This won him a raised eyebrow from the lady lieutenant. Ichabod felt embarrassed – by now he knew women engaged in all sorts of professions they had not before, and even in his day had undertaken far more responsibility than polite society would ever admit. It was the admission he could not acclimate to, rather than the reality.

“We’re gonna pretend you didn’t say that,” Abbie replied. “This is Austen’s first novel. She wrote it in the 1790s, which is pretty darn close to your era.”

“Quite nearly a contemporary.”

She brightened, her entire face lighting up with that beautiful smile. “The way she uses language, the social customs – that should all be familiar to you. More to you than it is to me, I bet. Maybe you can answer some questions I’ve always had about it.”

“Am I to understand that this book is a favorite of yours?”

Abbie shrugged as she reached for another doughnut hole. “Not my usual kind of thing. But – yeah. I’ve got a soft spot for Sense & Sensibility. Corbin gave me a copy for my birthday back when I was still a mixed-up kid. He read it with me, and at first I thought it was so old-fashioned and stodgy … but then it opened up. Turned real. I fell in love with those characters like they were the best friends I’d ever had.”

Had she first thought he was old-fashioned and stodgy? A question for another time, perhaps. “Which character is your favorite?”

“Uh-uh-uh.” She waggled a finger at Ichabod. “No spoilers.”

Perhaps he would be told what spoilers were, eventually. For now he took it to understand that the novel should remain a surprise.

Most of the surprises in Ichabod’s life lately had been of the unwelcome variety. He hoped this “Jane Austen” would prove an exception to the rule.

 

**

 

Abbie came home to the smell of something … green.

Wrinkling her nose, she said, “What is that?”

“Kale-spinach smoothie.” Jenny walked out of the kitchen in her workout clothes, still sweaty, holding a mug of vivid emerald liquid that smelled like a mown lawn. “Want one?”

“Just had breakfast.” Quickly Abbie brushed at the corner of her mouth; if Jenny saw powdered sugar on her, the clichéd cops-love-doughnuts jokes would never end.  “About to head to my spin class. Guess you’ve already worked out for the day.”

Jenny shot her a look. “200 pushups, 500 sit-ups, 100 tricep dips, and six miles on that treadmill you use as a clothes hanger.”

I work out, you know. Just turns out the treadmill is boring. And if you think spin class is so lightweight, how about you come try it for once. Bet you won’t be smirking after it’s over.  The words ran angrily through Abbie’s mind, but she didn’t let any of them come out of her mouth. She and Jenny were already good at snapping at each other. They had to find other ways to communicate. Jenny had extended an olive branch by cooking Thanksgiving dinner; okay, the turkey had been burned and she’d somehow found a way to screw up mashed potatoes, but it was the thought that counted. If Jenny was trying, Abbie needed to try too. “Okay. So, you’re set. I was going to go through some more of Corbin’s files this afternoon. You in?”

It was almost funny – watching Jenny try to come up with an objection, and then failing. “Sure.”

We just had a conversation without getting into an argument, Abbie reminded herself as she hurried upstairs to change into spandex, the better to get to the gym and work off those donut holes. That counts as progress.

Which was sad. But true.

 

**

 

Within two pages, Ichabod decided that reading Sense & Sensibility was the next best thing to returning home. The authoress used the English language as it was supposed to be used, all her words meaning precisely what they were supposed to mean. The characters behaved as people were meant to behave, their manners both familiar and charming. Even their predicaments were delightful simply because they were understandable. Who had not known a family with only daughters troubled by an entailed estate?

He was so grateful for familiarity that he could have wept.

But the novel was far too witty to encourage weeping. Instead Ichabod found himself smiling often, occasionally laughing out loud. Every few paragraphs, he would think, I must remember to tell Lieutenant Mills how well I liked this passage. Then she would tell him her favorite passages as well; it seemed important to know.

When next they met, however, he could scarce recall every witticism he’d enjoyed. “Your favorite character is Elinor, I suspect.”

“Do you, now?” Abbie had such a secretive smile, sometimes. As though she had folded up her reasons for laughter and hidden them just out of sight.

“Am I incorrect?”

She steered the police car slowly through the streets of Sleepy Hollow, which was bustling on this weekend morning. (Ichabod had by now learned what a “weekend” was – a sort of two-day, secular Sabbath – and in his opinion this was one advancement the 21st century could justly claim as superior.) “You’re wrong. I mean, I like Elinor. I connect with nearly all the characters on some level. But Elinor’s not my favorite.”

“And I was so certain.”

“Guess you don’t know me as well as you think.” Ah, the mischief in her smile. It always made him smile in return.

Yet he knew that Elinor Dashwood was indeed the character most like Abigail Mills. The lieutenant had a sharper sense of humor, and took a far more active role in the world – but she shared with Elinor a practical nature, stoicism in the face of turmoil, and a deep empathy nonetheless expressed with decorum. One might have been the silhouette of the other.

My error lay in assuming that her favorite character would be the one most like her, Ichabod realized. Often we are drawn to those who offer the qualities we lack. “Is it then Mr. Willoughby?”

“Willoughby?” She sounded astonished – but then she smiled, quick and knowing. “How far have you read?”

“I am well into the story.” Ichabod had stayed awake late last night, promising himself to go to sleep after just a few more pages – then a few more – then a few more. Another point for the 21st century: Had he been reading by candlelight, the candle would no doubt have burnt out before he was willing to finally lay the novel aside. “Mr. Willoughby has just left Marianne, under some dark cloud of family disapproval, I surmise. But surely they will overcome this obstacle, and true love will conquer all.” The car rode on for a while before Ichabod asked, “Won’t it?”

“No spoilers,” she said, and she bit her lower lip to try and contain her smile.

 

**

 

He doesn’t know how any of it comes out!

Abbie had to conceal her amusement all day. Of course she knew Crane hadn’t read any Jane Austen before – but she’d taken it for granted that he knew the “rules” of popular fiction, that he caught the cues for the ups and downs. When Corbin had first guided her through Sense & Sensibility, she hadn’t known exactly what was going to happen. Yet she had still known Willoughby was no damn good.

“That carriage of his.” Sitting in Waffle House, talking through a mouthful of hash browns, with her backpack filled with schoolbooks at her side. “That’s, like, a Ferrari or something. Willoughby’s basically revving his motor as he goes through town.”

Corbin’s smile, wrinkling the corner of his eyes. “That’s the kind of guy he’d be today, for sure.”

“Then how come Marianne likes him?” Abbie had never gone for the flashy ones. All talk, no sense.

“You tell me.”

“Obviously he’s hot. And I guess – it would be exciting, having somebody that into you. Showing off how he feels in front of the whole town. Reading poetry, if you were into that kind of thing.”

“What kind of person do you think is into that kind of thing?” And on and on, buying cups of hot chocolate for her and bad coffee for himself, while he talked with her for hours.

The memory didn’t hurt as much, now.

That evening, when she went back home, Jenny was already preparing for bed. At first her early bedtimes had struck Abbie as strange; she remembered Jenny wanting to stay up whispering secrets long after lights-out. Then Abbie had realized that Jenny was going to bed so early because she had nowhere else to go – no friends to meet for a movie, no hobbies, no place of her own. So she never said anything about the strangeness of seeing Jenny in her PJs within an hour of sundown.

“Hey,” Jenny said. “Good day?” For once she sounded like she was interested.

So Abbie figured she might cut to the chase and talk about what really mattered. “Thought a lot about Corbin today, actually.”

Jenny stopped in her tracks. Her expression didn’t change, not in any way Abbie could have described, yet she knew her sister well enough to sense that shared pain. Corbin had meant so much to her; how had he never let either of them know that he was there for them both?

All Jenny said was, “Why?”

“Talking about things with Crane. Books Corbin gave me to read.” Abbie slung her belt and holster into place, beginning the nightly ritual of disarming. “It’s the first time I was able to remember him and be happy. You know? Until all my memories of him were … stained, by how he died. It feels like I’m getting him back again, I guess.”

For a long moment Jenny just looked at her. Then she said, “It sounds like you’re forgetting him.”

The silence that followed was louder than any slap could have been. Abbie just shook her head, then went into the kitchen to make herself some tea. By the time she felt collected enough to say anything else to Jenny, and she turned around, Jenny had already gone to bed.

 

**

 

“That … that …” Ichabod rose from his bed to his feet, as though he could take on Willoughby then and there. “That blackguard!”

 

**

 

“To imagine that Willoughby had so abused Marianne’s trust,” Ichabod fumed the next day, as they went through the grocery store, a strange yet convenient place. “I would hardly have thought a gentleman capable of such an action. But then, he is a gentleman only in name. Not in spirit.”

“Let him have it. Let it out.” The lieutenant was clearly enjoying this.

“Thank goodness that Colonel Brandon was able to rescue his ward from destitution. And his kindness to Edward Ferrars proved to be the foundation for Elinor’s later happiness. No doubt Brandon will prove a kind husband to Marianne – though I wonder.”

“Wonder what?”

“Whether she will ever love so freely again.” Ichabod thought of Katrina, how recklessly they had surrendered to their adoration for each other – and in so doing set into motion events that were even now playing out, on a grander scale than either of them could ever have imagined. “Although I am sure Colonel Brandon is wholly worthy of her love, I cannot help but ask whether Marianne will ever again give her heart completely to another.”

Abbie smiled as she put some boxes into her shopping cart. All her food seemed to come from boxes, or cans, or jars. “Sometimes broken hearts heal stronger. Maybe Marianne is able to love Colonel Brandon better than she loved Willoughby, because she’s seen more of love than just, I don’t know, infatuation.”

Ichabod considered the point. “Perhaps you are right. I had not considered it in that light before.”

“You only finished the book last night – at, what, one in the morning?”

“Thereabouts,” Ichabod said. “I’m not yet accustomed to this modern habit of accounting for time by the second. In my era, clocks were rarely so exact, and we did not rely upon them so much.” All of which was true, and all of which helped him conceal the fact that he’d stayed up reading Sense & Sensibility until approximately three a.m.

“So, you’ll get more out of it as you think about it. Re-read it. I pick it up every few years, and it’s like a new book to me every time.”

“I shall consider it in greater depth,” Ichabod promised, as they went to the blessedly familiar produce aisle, where carrots, maize and squash awaited him. “However, I believe I have already discovered your favorite character.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Is it not Colonel Brandon?”

Abbie laughed. “Wrong again! Though I can see why you might think so. He’s a good guy.”

Precisely the sort of man that Ichabod thought would appeal to a woman such as Abigail Mills: steady in his purpose, stalwart in the face of danger, romantic despite having known tragedy in affairs of the heart, slow to anger but quick to defend those he loved. Yes, that was the very sort of man she might love, and who would be best to love her in return. But – perhaps it was unwise, to spend so much time considering who could best capture Abbie’s heart.

Or to think how much he himself had in common with Colonel Brandon, when considered in that light …

“Then you must tell me,” Ichabod said, inspecting the aubergines with far more attention than was necessary. “My curiosity on the matter is greater than my perception or my patience.”

“My favorite character is Marianne.”

“Really? But she is your very opposite.”

“Which is why I didn’t get her at all, the first time I read the book. Then, when I talked it over with Corbin – he made me look deeper, you know? He made me see that Marianne has fire. What she wants, she goes after, and you have to respect that. Maybe she’s too quick to trust and believe, but the world needs people who can take a leap of faith. And she ends the story a lot stronger than she started it, which is as much as you can ask of a heroine.” Abbie picked up a bundle of strange yellow fruits. Or were they vegetables? “I came to like Marianne the best because of that strength, and because she was the one I had to reach to understand.”

In the past few weeks, Ichabod has learned a great deal about the struggle to understand, and how rewarding it can be. “Excellent insights, Lieutenant. Now, tell me, what on earth are you holding?”

“Do you mean to tell me you don’t know bananas?” Her face lit up. “Oh, you are going to love this.”

 

**

 

“So I made him a peanut butter and banana sandwich,” Abbie said that night as she put up the groceries. “You should have seen his face. It was like I’d bought him a ticket to heaven.”

Even Jenny could smile, when the subject was Ichabod Crane. She was working side by side with Abbie in the kitchen, even though there weren’t that many things to be put away. This was, Abbie knew, Jenny’s peace offering for her sharp words the night before: cooperation, and smiles, and questions about Crane. “Has he had a PB&J before?”

“I don’t think so.” An experiment for another day, Abbie resolved. “It’s fun, introducing him to everything. Makes for a nice change of pace. So much of what we do is so intense.”

As Jenny put some boxes of pasta in the pantry, she arched an eyebrow. “You don’t think preventing the apocalypse should be intense?”

By now, Abbie was starting to learn when Jenny was baiting her merely out of habit. There was no heat behind her words, so Abbie simply ignored them. “It’s good to share simpler things with him, like food, or Jane Austen novels.”

“Jane Austen?” Jenny perked up. “Which one?”

Now, I would not have figured her for an Austen fan, Abbie mused. “Sense & Sensibility. It’s a favorite of mine.”

“Mine too.” After a pause, Jenny added, “Corbin gave it to me.”

“He gave it to me too.”

Jenny hugged herself, and something about the posture reminded Abbie, suddenly and sharply, of the way Jenny had been when she was younger. Freer in her body. Even dreamy, sometimes. “I didn’t get it, at first. He talked me through it. Made me appreciate what I didn’t before.”

“Same here. Who would have guessed a small-town sheriff for a would-be Austen scholar?” By this point Abbie ought to have known how many surprises lurked within Corbin’s heart. Even weeks after his death, he still had the power to surprise her.

Then Jenny said, “Like, the first time I read the book, I couldn’t stand Elinor. But she wound up being my favorite.”

Abbie’s hand stopped somewhere between the bag and the cabinet, a jar of spaghetti sauce in her hand. She couldn’t look at Jenny at that moment. “Elinor’s your favorite?”

“Corbin made me see that she wasn’t just a stick in the mud. Elinor talks good sense, even when the people around her don’t want to hear it. She’s the quiet one, but it’s a mistake to think she doesn’t feel things as deeply as the others. If she didn’t keep her head, the others would self-destruct in no time. Elinor’s the anchor.”

“And Marianne’s the fire,” Abbie whispered.

“What’s that?”

“Nothing.” She couldn’t talk about this with Jenny yet. For a while, Abbie needed to mull this over for herself.

If Jenny noticed her sister’s disquiet, she said nothing – just folded up the cloth bags, tucked them in a drawer and headed back into the living room. Abbie lingered in the kitchen, taking a moment.

All that time, Corbin visited each of them separately, never letting on that he was mentor to them both. And while he’d convinced Jenny to see the value in the practical, self-contained sister – he’d convinced Abbie to see the value in the passionate, daring one.

You old dog, she thought, leaning her head against the refrigerator, trying to collect herself. How did you know both of us better than we know ourselves?

How dare you die before I told you how much I loved you?

 

**

 

“Why could you not discuss this insight with your sister?” Ichabod asked the next day, as they sat in the police station.

“It’s too raw, I think. Too new. Jenny and I … we’re still learning how to talk to each other about the things that matter. I also think she’s a little sensitive about ‘sharing’ Corbin with me.”

“Only she?” He gave her a sidelong look.

Abbie swatted him, which made him grin. “Okay, both of us. But it helps, knowing that Corbin meant to bring us together again someday. He was laying the groundwork the moment he put that book into our hands. Someday Jenny and I will be able to talk about this – and that might help us talk about a whole lot more. The man knew what he was doing.”

“I also owe him a debt of thanks, for I enjoyed this novel more than any other form of entertainment the 21st century has yet offered – besides baseball, of course.”

“Of course.” She grabbed her tote bag from under the desk. “Before I forget, I’ve got another book for you. Time to move you forward a few more decades.”

Ichabod accepted the book, peering down at the binding. “Jane Eyre?”

“You’ll thank me later.”

 

 

THE END