As badly as she hated to admit, Eliza was getting excited to be attending dinner at the Perrys’. She only decided they would be going when Joanna looked to her excitedly on the way home from town and asked, “Can we go to dinner?”“Well, do you want to go?” She asked her sister.
“Kind of.” She responded shyly, smiling. “It’d be fun!”
Eliza considered the fact that they’d not done anything fun or enjoyable really since before her parents died. “It’ll be good for Joanna.” She told herself.
But as the evening continued, and night came, she grew more excited for the both of them. While their mother and father had taken them to their neighbors’ homes on many occasions, it had been quite some time since they’d gone out. And she couldn’t deny it would be nice to get away from the farm for an evening.
The next day was a Saturday and Joanna had no school. So they both got up early and got started on chores so they’d be done in time to get ready for dinner.
Thomas arrived right on time and was surprised to see them out and about so early. “You two are up and at it quite early! Am I no working hard enough for you two?” He asked kindly.
“Hello, Thomas!” Joanna hugged the farmhand. We wanted to get done early so we could get ready for dinner!”
“Dinner?” He asked, “Going somewhere special?”
“We were invited yesterday evening,” she paused, wondering what he’d think about who invited them. “To dinner by Randall Perry.”
“Oh.” He said. “The Perrys? What prompted such an invitation?”
“Mr Perry invited me while I was in town to fetch Joanna.” She said, he didn’t seem pleased. “I thought it’d be nice to get out for a bit, after all that’s happened.”
“I’m sure it would.” He said. “Like I said, though. Be wary of the Perrys.”
“Oh, I am.” She told him, confidently. “And of my Aunt Clara as well.”
“I presume she’ll be at dinner as well?”
“She will. She was invited first, it was as if she were bragging when she mentioned it.” She told him. She already discussed with him her distrust of her father’s sister.
“Well, I suppose if the three of us work together we’ll get done quicker!”
“Yay!” Joanna shouted, running off into the barn. Thomas and Eliza laughed and followed her inside.
Just a few hours later they’d gotten everything done. Eliza and Joanna said their goodbyes to Thomas, and rushed inside. They had to clean off the day’s work and pick out what they’d wear. While Joanna was freshening up, Eliza went to her room to look at her dresses. While all of her clothes were well cared for and in good condition, nothing, it seemed, was up to par with something one would wear to dinner with a family the likes of the Perry’s.
She went into her parents’ bedroom and looked in her mother’s closet. While she’d been a farmer’s housewife for many years before her death, she’d entered into society like a proper lady at about Eliza’s age. Her mother’s family hadn’t had much, one of the reasons why her father’s family hadn’t been happy with his choice in a wife. But her mother’s family had been sure to provide the best possible for their only child to debut. She’d kept the dresses, though they’d been hidden away long before Eliza was born.
Far in the back of the closet, Eliza found the old wood trunk that her mother had kept pushed away. She dragged the monstrosity out into the center of the room, just as Joanna entered. “What’s that, Eliza?”
“It’s momma’s chest.” She told her sister. “I’m hoping there might be a dress I can where in it.”
“Oh, momma’s dresses! I want to see!”
Eliza undid the buckle keeping it closed, and lifted the lid. The smell of lavender wafted up at her as if it were fresh picked. The muslin satchel that held it sat daintily on top. She lifted it out and breathed it in, thinking of her mother. She handed it to her sister who smelled it then held it close, as Eliza lifted the cover off the trunk’s contents.
The first thing she came to was her mother’s wedding dress. She’d seen it in their wedding picture, which still hung in the hall, many times before. It was simple lace, elegant just like she’d always thought her mother. As a child, she’d hoped that he day she’d get to wear it to her own wedding. Now she wasn’t sure she’d ever have a wedding.
She carefully lifted it out of the trunk and laid it on the bed. The next bundle was her mother’s wedding shoes wrapped in cloth, which she set aside as well. Beyond that, Eliza saw ruffles and pleats of fabric in colors that she’d never seen her mother wear during her lifetime. While she’d shown her daughter the dresses before, she’d explained that the life of a farmer’s wife called for more practical, comfortable clothes. “Oh, I loved my dresses,” she’d told Eliza, “but my mother and father worked hard to make sure I had them. It’d be a shame to wear holes and tears in them!”
“You think I could wear them someday?” Eliza had asked shyly.
“Perhaps, my love.” She’d told her, smiling.
Eliza lifted the first one out, a pale lavender color, she’d loved dearly as a girl. Unfolding it gently, she held it up to her body and showed Joanna. “What do you think?”
“You’ll look just like momma,” she replied softly and a little sadly.
Eliza hugged her sister. “Let’s go find you something lovely too, shall we?”
A few minutes later they’d picked a pretty pink frock for Joanna, her favorite color, and helped each other dress. Eliza pulled up Joanna’s hair just as their mother always had, and Joanna helped tie the bow in Eliza’s dress. They were ready in no time, just in time for a knock to come at the door. “Who could that be?” Eliza said, looking at her sister.
“Maybe Mr. Perry sent a coach!” She said excitedly.
“Oh I don’t that!” Eliza responded, though the gesture seemed exciting to her. She went downstairs trying not to expect anything fancy.
She opened the door to Thomas cleaned up and wearing the nicest clothes she’d ever seen him in, considering all she’d ever seen him wear was work clothes. He stood staring at her, moth agape.
“Oh Thomas!” She said, surprised to see him. “What are you doing here?” She glanced behind him. “Is that a coach?” When he didn’t respond, she asked, “Are you alright?”
“Oh, um, yes,” he said. “Yes, it’s a coach.” He swallowed. “You look lovely.”
“Thank you.” She blushed. He seemed flabbergasted. “Why is there a coach?”
After a moment he seemed to regain his composure. “I thought you should arrive in style. “Wouldn’t want road dust to ruin your beautiful dress.”
“Thomas!” Joanna shouted. “You’ve brought us a coach!” She hugged his waist. “Now I feel even more fancy! You look fancy too!” She said excitedly. “Are you coming to dinner, too?”
“Sadly no, but I’ll make sure you get there!” He smiled at her. “You look absolutely stunning, Miss Joanna.”
“Thank you!” She said, curtsying.
He escorted the ladies to the coach, and helped them in, Joanna first. When he took Eliza’s hand, and helped her climb into the carriage, he held onto it a little longer that necessary, she looked back at him, and saw a look in his eyes she hadn’t seen there before, a look that made her blush.
He released her hand and closed the carriage door, without a word climbed in the driver’s seat, and off they went.
The Perry’s home was on the other side of town, but it only took a few minutes to get there, on the way, Joanna jabbered on about how excited she was and how fancy their house must be. All Eliza could do was wonder what to expect. Before she’d realized it, they were pulling up to the front of the largest home in town. Thomas pulled right up to the front steps and jumped down quickly, opening the door for the sisters. Joanna jumped out first, eager to step foot inside, though she waited for her sister. Eliza took Thomas’ offered hand once again, and she stepped down.
Again he held it, but this time spoke. “I will be waiting, right outside, if you need me.”
“Thank you, though I’m sure I’ll be fine.” She smiled at him.
“I hope so,” he told her, seriousness in his eyes this time. “But I’ll be here, just in case.”
His words brought out her nerves, and she was working to calm them, when she heard a voice. She turned toward the front door or the house, to see standing at the top of the steps, Randall Perry. “Good evening, Miss Alcott.” He descended the steps to greet Eliza and her sister. “I wonder if you’d come.” He said when he’d reached them. He looked at Thomas, and the air suddenly grew thick.
“Thomas Fox,” Mr. Perry offered his hand. Thomas stared at it, making little effort to hide his distaste. After a moment he took Mr. perry’s hand and shook it.
Eliza broke the silence, and spoke. “Do you two know each other?”
“We’ve been aquatinted.” They both spoke at once.
“Miss Alcott,” Mr. Perry said, then addressed Joanna, “and Miss Alcott, shall we go inside? We’re just waiting on one more guest besides yourselves.”
“Of course,” Eliza responded curtly, suddenly uncomfortable with the tension.
“Remember,” Thomas said, “I’ll be here when you need me.” He looked from Eliza to Mr. Perry, and glared.
“Thank you, Thomas.” With that, Randall Perry escorted them inside.