"You know, I think you might want upgrade just a bit."
Charlotte glanced at the rice cooker package in their shopping cart. "Mom, I think the 6-cup size is plenty enough for the two of us. I'm not exactly going to be cooking for a feast."
Emily Lu shook her head. "But what if you have guests? What if that Mr. Collins of yours comes over to work overtime on things?"
"I don't expect to entertain anyone in my incredibly cozy apartment. I think Maria and I will manage just fine," Charlotte shrugged.
"Yeah, I'm gonna live off of take-out anyway," Maria chimed in. "Did you know that there are, like, five food trucks by the Collins & Collins office? My friend Lily says that one of them was featured on Food Network and the tacos there are supposed to be the most awesome things in the history of existence!"
Charlotte, who had indeed noticed the prices on those trucks the last time she was around C&C headquarters, shook her head. "I'm not exactly sure if we'll have the time or luxury to go out for food like that every day."
Maria pouted but was too easily distracted by the demo video game consoles in the next aisle to properly retort.
Emily and Charlotte sighed together. Charlotte knew they both were thinking about too many things at the same time.
"You'll be able to take care of her, right?" Emily whispered.
"Of course, I will, Mom. You know we'll be fine."
"I know, I know," Emily muttered, "but you know that this will be the first time I'll actually be alone without you two with me and you know I can't help but to worry non-stop.”
Charlotte grinned. “Well, rather than getting ready to cry here in Kmart, perhaps you should take this chance to do something for yourself again. Ever consider getting back to playing bridge with Mrs. Bennet?"
"Oh, well, you know, Heather is always saying we should! I imagine she's been running a bit busy these days with those daughters of hers."
Charlotte's lips thinned while she watched Emily consider a deluxe toaster.
"You talked to Lizzie?"
"We talked," replied Charlotte.
Emily clucked her tongue. "You should make sure to check your phone because she keeps calling our home number. I don't know how she's going to deal when you leave town. "
"I'll get back to her. When I can."
"Is everything okay between you two?"
"Yes, of course, why wouldn't it be?" After years of studying one Jane Bennet, Charlotte could emulate the most cheerful and spirited tone, even in the face of dull misery.
Emily turned to her daughter, considering her for a few seconds before leading her to the next aisle. "Good. Now, I'm sure the two of you will need a good coffee machine."
"Yes," Charlotte nodded, "I definitely think we will…."
"And we will truly promote this new series through all venues of social media networking."
De Bourgh trained her eyes on Mr. Collins. "So, you are saying you are sure that these Twitters, Tumbles, Facebooks, and what-else-have-you will be enough to ensure its success, Collins?"
"Ah, certainly, that is t-to say--" Mr. Collins sputtered in his chair, accidentally kicking Charlotte's foot as he shifted.
"I think," Charlotte interrupted, grimacing slightly, "I think that indiscriminate social media promotion is not in our best interests, nor is it the most efficient way to spread word about our ventures. It could be a wasteful effort."
Charlotte stiffened as Mrs. De Bourgh considered her slowly. She wanted to wince as Annie the poodle gnawed on the meeting table but she held Mrs. de Bourgh's gaze.
"How would it be wasteful?"
Mr. Collins smiled. "I think what Miss Lu means to say is that—"
"—I am asking Charlotte herself, Collins, please do not interrupt." Mrs. de Bourgh glanced over to Mr. Collins, who gulped into silence.
"So, Charlotte, what you have to suggest for our promotion campaign?" There was less of an arrogant edge to her voice this time, and perhaps more of a curiosity.
Charlotte paused, stunned. She could take the condescending first-name basis and all the slack for her lack of business experience, but having the VC's full attention for her input was something else.
"Well, we could certainly consider the viral marketing potential of an audience that is already excited and primed for the series’ science fiction and steampunk elements…."
Charlotte took the exit onto the freeway with an unexpected heaviness in her heart. One month had gone by too fast and she didn't know if she was quite ready to say goodbye to her baby sister for the rest of a semester.
"I saw that last video, you know," said Maria as she scanned the radio stations. Charlotte grinned, giving up all pretenses to maintain a straight face.
"I think I deserve more credit, to be honest."
Maria glanced over to the passenger seat. "Why is that, exactly?"
"I'm pretty much responsible for all the fun you had this month," said Maria, crossing her arms in satisfaction.
Charlotte laughed. "Let's not get too ahead of ourselves."
"Yeah, well, you were probably going to be mopey and miserable and lonely if it weren't for me and my amazing collection of Miyazaki movies. Don't think I didn't see you tearing up during Spirited Away."
Charlotte smiled in defeat. "I did enjoy your company."
"I know," said Maria, looking somewhat triumphant. "Which is why I know you'll forgive me for this."
Charlotte groaned as One Direction started playing on the radio.
Of course Lizzie showed up in front of her building with a formidable care package from Emily Lu and more luggage devoted to camera gear and reenactment props than is generally considered wise.
One nearly overloaded elevator trip later, they arrived at Charlotte's door, alternating between heavy panting and laughter.
"You really didn’t have to go through all the trouble for my mom's sake," said Charlotte, as she struggled to push the heavy box across the corridor.
Lizzie waved her free hand at her. "Oh, please, what are best-friends-slash-roommates for?"
"They're for helping me try to get this through the doorway, if it's even possible."
"Wow, what a harsh taskmaster. Or is it taskmistress?" Lizzie lifted up a corner of the box as Charlotte giggled. "No wonder they love you at Collins & Collins."
"I guess they do," replied Charlotte softly.
Neither was quite certain how they managed to push the hefty box through the entrance but they set it on the floor and collapsed onto the couch in exhaustion and laughed.
"I think that was too much for the both of us," admitted Lizzie.
"But it was worth it," said Charlotte, squeezing her arm.
"Definitely." Lizzie leaned over to pin her in a tight hug
"Welcome home, Lizzie."