Once inside Eliza and Joanna both marveled at the interior, quite a bit different than their own home. Ornately decorated, the Perry’s home was indeed much fancier. Joanna openly admired the home, and stared wide eyed at the chandelier, “Oh!” She said. “That’s beautiful.”
“It is quite nice, isn’t it?” Mr. Perry asked. He smiled down at Joanna, who nodded in agreement.
“You do have a lovely home,” Eliza agreed.
“Thank you,” he responded, smiling at her.
She smiled back at him, and allowed herself to be led into the parlor.
In the parlor she saw a man and woman, and a girl about Joanna’s age. “Joanna,” Mr. Perry addressed her sister.
“This is my sister, Penelope.” He gestured to the dark haired girl.
Joanna looked at Eliza for direction. “Go on, say hello,” she suggested. She walked shyly over and sat down next to her.
“Eliza, these are my parents, Robert and Lilith.”
Robert Perry stood and offered his hand to shake. “It’s nice to finally meet you, though I feel like I know you already.
Your father spoke of you both a great deal.”
Eliza couldn’t recall a time when he’d spoke of Mr. Perry at all, so she wondered about the opportunity for him to speak to Mr. Perry. She was still shocked the two men ever had a relationship. The younger Perry cleared his throat next to her.
“It’s nice to meet you, Mr. Perry.” She turned to Mrs. Perry, “and lovely to meet you as well.”
“The same,” Mrs. Perry replied with a small nod. She seemed disinterested in Eliza.
“Yes, well, we’re just waiting on one last guest.” Randall said.
Almost on cue, there was a knock at the door, and moments later Aunt Clara and her husband Harris were being
announced at the doorway. Eliza watched as her aunt’s face fell at the sight of her and Joanna.
Eliza started to speak to her aunt, but was interrupted. It was as if Lilith Perry had been risen from the dead. “Oh my dear, Clara!” She exclaimed. “How lovely to see you!” She seemed to leap up from her seat to great Aunt Clara with open arms. Clara smiled smugly in Eliza’s direction, as if she were teasing her, trying to make her jealous.
Once the women were done embracing, Aunt Clara openly acknowledged her niece. “Eliza, dear,” she said, “I didn’t know you were invited.”
“Oh, did Mr. Perry not inform you when yesterday afternoon?” Eliza asked. “He invited me right after I spoke to you.” She smiled kindly at Mr. Perry for effect.
“He did not,” Clara replied. She glanced at him herself. “But this will make for a lovely dinner, wont it, dear?”
Just then, the butler entered and announced that dinner was ready.
They all filed into the lovely bright dinning room. Eliza noticed that the dinner table wouldn’t even fit through her front door, much less the dinning room in the house. The table itself was beautifully set with expensive china, crystal glasses, and lovely flowers. They were each seated at specific locations, of course Eliza was placed across from her Aunt, but, she felt rather awkward to be seated elbow to elbow with Mr. Perry, the elder. Her uncle, Harris, who rarely spoke, was on her other side.
When everyone was seated, dinner was served, brought out on silver serving dishes by kitchen staff. It smelled lovely and was the best looking meal Eliza had seen in a while. She kept a eye on her sister, to watch her manners. Joanna was the perfect lady, waiting patiently and thanking servers. Aunt Clara said not a word to servers, if you were basing it off her, the didn’t exist.
Once everyone was served, she spoke up. “This looks lovely, Mr and Mrs Perry.” She looked from one end of the table, where Mr. Perry sat, to the opposite end where Lilith sat, and neither had paid her compliment any mind.
After a moment of silence, other than the sound of silverware on china, Randall spoke up. “It does look, lovely, Eliza.
Our cook makes a wonderful roast.”
“My cook in the city makes an amazing roast as well,” Aunt Clara said, smiling at Randall.
“Oh the city,” Lilith cooed longingly. I do miss it so.”
“Are you quite fond of it, Mrs. Perry?” Clara asked.
“Quite. I was born there,” she said. “I only left when I was married.” She stared pointedly at her husband.
“And you’ve never forgiven me for it.” He took a bite without looking from the plate.
Next to Eliza, her usually quite uncle Harris cleared his throat. From Eliza’s point of view, he was stifling a laugh.
“Excuse you, dear.” Aunt Clara said, angrily.
“We’ve never been to the city, Joanna and I.” Eliza smiled at her sister. “I quite like it here.”
“It’s a shame your father never brought you to visit,” Clara said. “You’d quite like it, if you’d had the opportunity.”
“It’s a shame you never came to visit us.” Eliza replied. “Until he passed. I wonder if there’s a connection.”
Everyone was looking at the two of them, and Eliza didn’t mind. After an eternal moment of silence, Randall volunteered to ease tension.
“Father and I have business in the city soon,” He said. “You’d be welcome to join us, I’m sure.”
“I’m sure she’d not enjoy our boring business.” Robert said, seemingly annoyed at his son’s offer.
“Perhaps you can take care of our business and I could introduce her to the city.” Randall suggested. He turned back to Eliza, “I could be your personal tour guide.” He smiled that smile at her.
“Oh, well,” she stuttered. “I don’t know.” She looked around the room at everyone waiting for her answer. Robert’s eyes were squeezed into slits, waiting. Clara’s eyebrow was raised in annoyance. Lilith poked at her food, trying to pretend she didn’t care. Harris just at his food in silence. Joanna, though, looked excited, eyes darting between her sister and Randall.
“It’s a lovely offer, Mr. Perry.”
“Randall. But I would have to think about it. There would be things I’d have to make sure were taken care of, of course.”
“Do think about it, please.” He said. The look in his eyes said he’d really enjoy her company. But she wasn’t sure what that meant for her.
After another awkward silence, Penelope said her first words of dinner. “Is it time for dessert?”
Once dinner and dessert was concluded, Penelope took Joanna to her room to show her around, and the adults retired to the sitting room. The men stood in the corner in discussion, the women sat on cushioned chairs in the opposite of the room enjoying tea. Eliza sat in silence as her aunt and Lilith chatted about the city. She watched the men, their heads to father about some mysterious thing, and wondered what it could be.
Did her father often stand this way, with the Perry men, quietly discussing some secret business? He had never been the quiet whispering type. He was more suited to laughing boisterously, making others laugh with him. And again she wondered what he had to do with the Perrys.
When it was time to go, a sleepy Joanna joined her in the foyer. Penelope hugged her goodbye and invited her back to play. Eliza already liked her better than her mother. Next Lilith stepped up to bid her adieu, taking her hand. “It was lovely to meet you both.” Eliza wasn’t surprised that her goodbye was warmer than her greeting. But when she leaned in to kiss her cheek she whispered in Eliza’s ear. “You’re just another woman to him. He will get bored with you like he does the others.”
The look of shock must have been evident on her face when a few moments later, Randall himself stepped up to escort her to the carriage. “Are you alright?”
She smiled at hm. “Yes thank you.” She said.
“Good,” he smiled at her then gestured to the door, offering his arm once more. He waited until they were down the steps and at the carriage standing in front of Thomas. “Please consider my offer.” He said. “It would be a pleasure.”
She could feel Thomas tense beside her. “I will think about it.”
As seemed to be his way, he took her hand from his arm, and kissed it. He helped Joanna, and then Eliza into the carriage, but did not step away. Eliza watched out the window as he and Thomas stared silently at each other. Finally she cleared her throat. “Good evening, Mr. Perry.” She said. He bowed his head slightly and turned toward the door.
“Thank you, Thomas.” She smiled at him. He returned the smile and climbed in the seat.
By the time they arrived home, Joanna was fast asleep with her head resting on Eliza, who’d barely noticed the ride had ended. Thomas opened the carriage door and saw the sleeping girl, and offered to carry her to her room. “Oh that’s not necessary, Thomas.”
“I know, but she looks so content.” He chuckled and climbed in to retrieve her. Eliza followed close behind, smiling at Joanna’s sleeping face, mouth open wide. A damp spot was forming on Thomas’ shirt. Upstairs Thomas gently laid Joanna on the bed, once Eliza turned down the covers. He tucked her in then stood.
“Sleeping Beauty,” he said. He pushed a blonde curl from Joanna’s eyes.
Eliza walked him back to the door. “I’m sure you have a carriage to return.” She smiled at him.
“Can I ask about Randall Perry’s offer?” He asked bluntly.
“Oh,” she was surprised by his bluntness. “Nothing important,” she said, trying to make it sound light. “He wants to show me the city. I don’t know whether I’ll accept.”
He sighed, seeming relieved. “Right. Good.”
“I just thought,” he paused. “You know how I feel about the Perrys.”
“I do. I don’t know why you feel that way.”
“I have my reasons,” a shadow seemed to pass over his face. Eliza glimpsed it for a moment, then it faded. “I wont presume a right to tell you what decisions to make, but I do hope you trust my opinions.”
“I do, very much Thomas.” She told him, sincerely. “My father trusted you, and I know he never misplaced his trust.”
Thomas looked as if he were about to say something, then thought better of it. “Your father was a good man and I will admire him until my last day.” He told her. You have some of his traits, but it wouldn’t be a terrible thing if you had more than just your mother’s beauty.”
They both quickly realized what he had said, and grew equal amounts embarrassed. She looked down at her hands to distract herself, twisting her gloves into wrinkles. When she looked up he was still looking at her.
She blushed once more. Without a word, he reached up, and brushed away a lock of hair that had fallen in her face.
He let his hand linger on her cheek for a moment. “Eliza,” he whispered, stepping closer.
She looked in his eyes, waiting for what seemed forever, for what she wasn’t sure she wanted to ponder.
“I should go.” He said, removing his hand and stepping away.
“Oh,” she whispered.
“Goodnight, Miss Alcott.” He said. Without looking back up at her, he turned away. He was out the door and to the carriage before she realized.
“Goodnight, Thomas.” She whispered.
She walked upstairs in a daze. Unsure what had just happened, or what had almost happened. Unsure how she felt about any of it. A mix of emotions, shock, excitement, disappointment rushed through her.
So much was happening since her parent’s had died. It felt as if the world had suddenly started spinning faster. So many more questions had suddenly made her once simple life difficult.
Perhaps a trip to the city would do her well. Get away for a time, if only for a day. But with Randall Perry? Someone she was told not to trust?
Exhausted, she crawled into bed and curled up under the covers. He’d be expecting an answer soon, and fell asleep wondering what it would be.