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Pride & Packages: A Short Story

Updated: Jan 22, 2021

In loving memory of Milton Hoffman, a very good boy

The Missing Parcel

Milton Kauffman, an eighteen-year-old Boston Terrier, finally crossed over the rainbow bridge just before the winter holidays. He had been at least partially deaf for about seven years and was almost totally blind by the end, but he was the faithful and constant companion of Darcy Kauffman, who had adopted him when he was four from a shelter in Colorado.

Milton was very well traveled for a dog. Since he fit under an airplane seat, he spent months in Miami every year with his human grandmother, did a nine month stint in Portland, traveled to conferences and weddings all over the country, and, lately, had resided with his human, Darcy, on the second floor apartment of an old brownstone in Brooklyn Heights. The coloring of his breed made him look like he was wearing a tuxedo, which fit the natural nobility of his spirit. Darcy was deeply sad to say goodbye to him. The absence of the pitter patter of his paws on the parquet floors and the light tinkle of his tags was deafening in its silence. In the last weeks, he barely left her side at all. Her lap felt bare without his little body laying on it. Nevertheless, he’d lived a good, long life, which took some of the sting out of things, as far as Darcy was concerned.

The next step in the grieving process was to receive Milton’s ashes in a small engraved box, but the box was significantly delayed. First, the tracking information showed that it was rerouted to Phoenix. Then, the tracking information said ‘lost in transit.’ And finally, it showed as ‘delivered’ to Darcy’s address, but the package was not delivered. And the photograph that the delivery driver took to prove the package made its way to its final destination showed that it was dropped in the foyer of another building altogether from Darcy’s.

Darcy’s best friend, Lottie, suggested that she inquire on the various Facebook neighborhood groups to see if anyone was in receipt of the package.

Hi Neighbors,

FedEx delivered my package to the wrong location, but unfortunately they do not know where. All I have is this picture of the delivery. Does anyone know which building this is?


The first few days after she posted it, the replies were mostly useless, if encouraging.

I don’t recognize it, but I hope you find it soon!

Ask your regular delivery driver. See what he says!

But on the fifth day after she posted, Darcy received a private message from an acquaintance, Charlie Brigham, who told her that she was quite in luck as he was sure that package was delivered to his good friend, Bennett Baxter. Charlie cheerfully assured her that he would text his friend Bennett, who did not use social media, and let Darcy know ASAP if he were in possession of the package, which Darcy did not disclose was her late dog’s ashes.

Bennett confirmed that he had, indeed received the package. Darcy, who knew and quite disliked Bennett, was irritated that he had received a package with her name on it and made no effort to contact her, but it was hardly out of keeping with his character as she understood it, for she knew Bennett Baxter to be sullen and arrogant.

Darcy had the displeasure of meeting Bennett Baxter at a dinner party the summer before. Her friends, Lottie and Jane, had been in quite a tither over the dinner, which was held at the house of an old college friend of theirs who, through some unknown financial situation, owned her own brownstone in Greenpoint. While the fancy setting was part of the cause for excitement, the greater anticipation was the expected guest, Bennett Baxter, a respected (and attractive) screenwriter, fresh off an Emmy for his work on Caliphate, and fresh out of a high profile split from the actress Carolina Brigham, Charlie’s sister.

The dinner proceeded pleasantly enough. The hostess, Lucy Dawes, prepared a very good tikka masala with a summer salad and a dessert of home made ice cream. Charlie, who had surfer good looks and an easy smile, took to Jane almost immediately and seemed to intentionally sit himself next to her at the dinner. Conversation revealed that Charlie (and Carolina, though she was not mentioned on account of the breakup) knew Bennett since high school in the the suburbs outside of Philadelphia, and Bennett would be moving to Brooklyn Heights to be closer to the Gowanus studios where his newest show would be filmed. Bennett, for his part, said almost nothing and sulked most of the dinner, except for the one time he spoke up to disagree with Darcy.

“What do you mean you didn’t like Mists of the Jungle?” Bennett asked, his brows furrowed, gentle brown curls falling over his right eye. “It was the best book I read all year.”

The room went quiet for a moment as everyone stared in surprise at Bennett finally speaking without being asked a direct question, and then they turned to Darcy, waiting for her response.

“Well, I found the pacing to be all over the place, the writing dense, and frankly the subject matter was yet another Boomer paean to a pointless, destructive war,” Darcy replied, smiling slightly and staring directly at Bennett, who was trying to avoid her gaze.

“That seems like little more than a contrarian opinion, not informed by the style or substance of the book.”

Darcy merely shrugged in response and Charlie chimed in, laughing, “As always, Bennett, you melt the room with your charm.”

The evening did not improve from there. Bennett sought Darcy out at cocktails to further the argument about the celebrated novel.

“Do you like anything by John Tumberbowl at all?” Bennett asked, urgently, as though the answer were a matter of personal importance to him.

Darcy realized that he was quite tall, much taller than she, and she was nearly six feet tall. You would not have guessed that based on tabloid photos, as his general demeanor diminished him.

“I liked After the Valley and Underwater but everything else just feels like a lengthy and boring riff on those two novels.”

Bennett was clearly incensed but trying to hide it.

“Well who do you think is a good novelist, then? JK Rowling, someone like that?”

“Excuse me?”

Darcy was saved from further argument by Lucy, who sidled over, visibly tipsy, to stage whisper about how well Jane and Charlie were getting on.

“Look at those two, they’ve been practically attached at the hip the entire night. It seems your friend may be smitten, Bennett.”

Bennett looked over at Charlie and Jane, saying nothing in response. Darcy used the interruption to extricate herself from the conversation, but she felt Bennett’s smouldering eyes shooting daggers at her for much of the night.

The party moved to the small backyard, which was pleasantly lit by fairy lights. Darcy, Jane and Lottie spoke at length with Charlie, who was gracious and pleasant, and listened as much as he talked. At one point, he insisted on taking Jane’s phone number as he “simply must get more” of her thoughts about urban gardening.

Darcy floated around the gathering and made her way back into the house to use the restroom when she heard Bennett and Charlie quietly arguing.

“Charlie, why do you insist on dragging me to these things? You know that I hate them.”

“Oh come on, Ben. You’ve been in a sulk for six months. You’re in a new city, working on a new project. It’s time to get out there and live a little. I saw you making eyes at Darcy all night, why don’t you ask for her number?”

“Which one is Darcy?”

Charlie sighed, “The tall one with the dark hair who you spent half the night arguing with. I know how much you love a good sparring partner.”

“I just won an Emmy, Charlie, and I’ve dated supermodels, come on.”

“Well, I think she’s quite beautiful.”

“Eh, she’s pretty enough. She’d probably be a Pennsylvania ten.”

“Benny, you really do need to be less salty.”

Darcy took that as her cue to enter the house and took some pleasure in seeing the embarrassed looks that both Charlie and Bennett had, as it was obvious she’d heard at least some of the conversation.

“I’ll have you know, I’m a Florida ten, eight in Miami,” Darcy said, breezing past them to grab another cocktail.

The Parcel and the Party

That was the last Darcy had heard of Bennett Baxter for nearly a year. She’d seen Charlie here and there, as he and Jane had gone out a couple of times, but he did everyone the favor of leaving his grumpy friend behind.

Then, last spring, Darcy was walking an old and slow Milton along the Promenade when he got very uncharacteristically excited and broke free. It was the fastest he’d run in years and Darcy was concerned because by this point, Milton couldn’t hear much at all and could barely see. She chased him a few yards until he stopped and snuggled his body against the legs of a man who was chatting with someone on the phone.

The man bent down, smile breaking over his face, and he started to rub Milton’s head.

“Hey little man. What are you up to down there?”

When Darcy got close enough to see who it was, she realized it was Bennett, who was now squatting next to Milton and vigorously rubbing Milton’s ears. Darcy felt betrayed, as she had hoped that Milton, who was an excellent judge of character, would recognize Bennett for what he was, which was a rude and arrogant prick.

“Milton, come back,” Darcy said, standing about ten feet away from Bennett.

Bennett was clearly caught off guard by being seen, not only by her, but also in such bright spirits.

“Hello,” Bennett said, weakly waving at Darcy. He quickly ended his phone call. “This guy belong to you?”

“I think you could say that I belong to him, as I wait on him hand and foot and clean up his poop, but yes, he’s my dog.”

Bennett laughed genuinely. “I really like Bostons, I always have.”

Darcy did not respond. His mood was so different than what she encountered at the dinner and she found herself wanting to flirt with him, which she was determined not to do.

“So,” Bennett began, clearing his throat a little nervously, “have you been well?”

“Yes, quite well. You?”

“Yes, also well. Working on a new TV show,” Bennett threw his thumb over his shoulder to point to a billboard by the bridge, visible from the Promenade, announcing a new series, ‘Mists of the Jungle, from the creators of Caliphate.’

Darcy raised her eyebrows, “Ah, I see. Well, that explains why you were so sore over my opinion of the book.”

Bennett’s face darkened and he straightened up, as if remembering himself. “Yes, I believe you called it a ‘Boomer paean.’”

“If the shoe fits.”

“Well, it doesn’t,” Bennett said. “It was nice to meet your dog.”

And with that he turned around and resumed whatever he had been doing on the phone.

Darcy felt the acid boiling over in her throat and, despite her best efforts to contain her temper, said, petulantly, “you know, it’s clear why your girlfriend dumped you.”

Bennett turned to stare at her, opened his mouth as if to respond, and turned around once more.

A full summer and autumn passed and all that Darcy knew of Bennett Baxter was that his show was a critical success, a show which she pointedly refused to watch. And now, she was in a position in which she would have to ask him for a favor, however small, and she was mighty reluctant to do so.

Darcy replied to Charlie:

Thanks, can you ask him to put it outside of his door and I’ll come pick it up? The package is kind of important to me.

Charlie insisted that Darcy text Bennett, as he was apparently bad enough as it was at responding to messages, let alone responding to a third party through text.

She waited a few hours to send the text. Had this been nearly any other package, she probably would have just let it sit there forever, but it was not an option with Milton’s ashes.

Hi, this is Darcy Kauffman. I got your number from Charlie. You have a package of mine. Can I come by and pick it up? If you leave it outside your door, I can just pop over and and grab it.

Darcy saw the three dots in iMessage that indicated that Bennett was responding. It took over ten minutes for his message to come through and when it did it simply said:

B: Yeah when?

D: Are you available now?

B: Yes… but I’m leaving in an hour and a half. 38 Joralemon Street. I’ll leave it outside on the porch.

Darcy wanted to think of some kind of biting retort to answer his abruptness, but instead bundled herself up and headed over to his building. The neighborhood was full of Christmas decorations; pop-up tree sellers filled several corners.

Bennett’s building was pale brick with sage green window trim. Christmas lights lined all of the windows and a wreath adorned the front door. Darcy wondered if he owned the place or was just renting it for the time being. Either way, you could always, at least nowadays, tell that someone in Brooklyn was rich when their address had no apartment number.

She saw the little package at the top of the staircase leading to his front door. Seeing it made her sad, surprisingly, and she took a moment to collect herself before climbing the stairs to grab the package. As she was walking away, she heard little yips and yelps and a man yelling, “Berkeley! Berkeley come back!”

A spirited Boxer puppy in a red knit sweater bounded out of the front door and leaped over to Darcy, where he began enthusiastically sniffing her legs and trying to climb up them. Immediately, Darcy dropped down to the dog’s level, rubbing him and trying to hold her face back from his licks.

She saw his boots first and then looked up to see Bennett, standing there in a maroon parka, collar up against the wind, with a leash lagging limply in his arms. Darcy lifted Berkeley so that Bennett could hook the leash to the dog’s collar.

“Sweet dog,” Darcy said, transferring him over to Bennett and bending down to pick up her package.

“Where’s your little guy?” Bennett asked. “Staying home to enjoy the warmth?”

“Sadly, he’s in this package. He died about a month ago.”

“Oh, no, I’m so sorry. You must miss him very much.”

“I do, actually. I’m glad to have his ashes back.”

“Look,” Bennett said, Berkeley now nuzzling into his neck like a tired baby. “I’m sorry I did not reach out to you when I got the package. I knew it was yours. I just…”

He trailed off and stared at Darcy. She hadn’t really noticed before, but his eyes were dark brown and large like a cow’s and he had long, curly eyelashes to match.

“No, it’s fine. I’m just glad I have it,” Darcy said, breaking the tense silence. “Well, happy holidays, if I don’t see you.”

She started to walk away when Bennett called out, “Wait! My production is having a Christmas party this Thursday. You should come. Bring your friends, Charlie will be there. It’s at the Sharkfin studio on Third Ave. Seven o’clock.”

Darcy blinked rapidly, so shocked by the invitation she could barely respond. “Uh, yeah. Ok.”

“Alright, I look forward to it.”

When she was far enough away that she was sure she wouldn’t run into Bennett again,

Darcy ripped out her phone and opened the group chat with Jane and Lottie.

D: Just picked up Milton’s ashes from Bennett Baxter.

L: Did you shit on his show again?

D: No, I found my restraint. But, um, he invited us to his TV show’s Christmas party on Thursday.

J: !!!!!!!!

L: Wait… are you serious?

D: Yeah it’s at 7pm. He said Charlie will be there. When’s the last time you talked to him Jane?

J: Maybe a month ago? Kind of fizzled out after he went back out to LA for the summer.

D: So are we in?

L: Are we in to go to a TV show’s Christmas party with a bunch of famous people where we will be the guests of the show runner? Yes.

D: Ok. Meet at my place like 6:15?

L: Sounds good

J: Yep

Darcy spent more time than she cared to admit picking out an outfit. She wasn’t sure what the dress code was and she didn’t want to text Bennett to ask him because she didn’t want him to think she was obsessing over the party, which of course she was. She settled on a gunmetal sequin v-neck bodycon dress and threw on a Moto jacket over it, just in case the dress was too formal. She treated her natural curls so they were voluminous, yet sleek, and pinned the left side of her hair back away from her face. She did a cat eye and purple lip. She went back and forth over shoes and chose sheer black tights and a pair of black suede booties.

Lottie arrived first.

“Wow, Darce, holy shit. You look awesome.”

“Well, we are hob-nobbing with the rich and famous. You look mighty fine yourself.”

Lottie’s buzzed hair was dyed lavender. She was wearing a long-sleeved crimson tunic with over-the-knee camel suede boots and large, gold chandelier earrings that fell almost to her shoulders.

Jane arrived about ten minutes later, stunningly gorgeous. Her long, blonde hair was pulled over one shoulder in perfect pin curls and she was wearing a sheer, black lace dress with a mock collar and plunging back. She wore a full smokey eye and pale, pink lipstick.

They all shared a glass or two of champagne and chatted for a while, as they were determined not to arrive at the party before seven-thirty. At seven, Darcy suggested they walk over to the studio.

“Are you kidding me? I’ve got four inch heels on, let’s take a cab,” Lottie said, lifting her foot up to demonstrate the height of her boots.

When they arrived at the studio, they could hear a string quartet playing holiday songs. Vintage colored Christmas bulbs lined either side of the lush, gold carpet that was rolled out in front of the entrance. They arrived at the door where a bouncer asked them their names. Before they could answer, Charlie ran over to greet them, wearing a perfectly tailored, red, crushed velvet jacket over black slacks.

“They’re with me, Jim, thanks.”

The studio was full of strings of tiny white lights; gold divans and couches formed clusters around the room. Long tables with food lined the long ends of the room, and two bars lined the short ends.

“Please, ladies, let me get you some champagne,” Charlie said, taking Jane by the hand to the bar.

Lottie and Darcy looked around the room.

“I can’t believe we’re here. Is that?”

Darcy replied, “Tamara Wilson? Yeah.”

In another group they saw the star of the show, William Broad, who was considered Hollywood royalty and whose decision to headline a television show was touted as an enormous win for Bennett and the studio.

Darcy was trying not to, but she found herself looking around for Bennett. She hadn’t yet seen him.

“I really cannot say how thrilled I am to have the three of you here,” Charlie said, returning with Jane and four glasses of champagne. “When Bennett said you were coming I was over the moon. What shall we toast to?”

Lottie replied, “Good friends.”

“Yes, indeed! To good friends!”

“Where is Bennett?” Jane asked. “I don’t see him here.”

Charlie’s smile started to falter a bit. “Yes, he’s here. Somewhere, you know, very popular man around here. I’m sure we’ll run into him eventually.”

Darcy did find it strange that a guy who was essentially the king of the room was nowhere to be seen, but she downed the rest of her champagne and helped herself to some lamb chops, deciding not to think too hard about it.

Darcy heard her before she saw her, a loud, clear laugh, the laugh of someone who knows everyone is watching her. She looked over and saw Carolina Brigham standing there in a gold dress, like the decor had been planned with her in mind, her bright red hair twisted into a loose knot at the base of her neck. She was arm in arm with Bennett, who was also laughing brightly with her. Every so often she would place her other arm on his shoulder, laughing. It was strange to see him here, where he was the opposite of sulky and, instead, was full of smiles, laughter and charm.

Bennett caught Darcy staring over at him. His eyes widened, but he recovered and smiled at her and waved. He and Carolina made their way over to the group.

“Charlie, who are these charming women?” Carolina asked, extending a hand out first to Jane.

“This is Jane,” Charlie said placing his arm around her shoulder.

“Oh, yeah? Brooklyn Jane? I’ve heard quite a bit about you.”

Jane turned beet red.

“And this is Lottie and Darcy.”

“Hi, pleasure to meet you,” Lottie said, extending a hand to Carolina.

“Yes, to you as well. And you, as well, Darcy.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Darcy said. She couldn’t get over how she looked in person, how all of the actors and actresses looked in person; atonce as gorgeous as they appeared on screen and also slightly out of proportion, like their heads and faces were magnified two times over their bodies.

“What do you all do on set?” Carolina asked.

“Oh, we don’t work on set. We’re…”

Bennett interrupted before Darcy could finish. “They’re guests of mine. I invited Darcy here last week to the party. We’re neighbors in Brooklyn Heights.”

Carolina’s expression changed for just a second, hardly noticeable, before she replied with,

“Well that’s fantastic. I’m glad to see you’ve become so neighborly.”

Bennett was looking right at Darcy now. She wished she were invisible, the way she felt as though she were being lined up next to Carolina Brigham and compared to her.

“Darcy,” Bennett began, “is a private investigator.”

“Are you now? What sorts of things do you do?”

“Mostly, I do social media analysis.”

Carolina waved over to someone in the corner. “I’d love to hear more about this some time, Darla, but I simply must go greet Lilith Sempter.”

Bennett stepped closer to Darcy. “Thanks for coming.”

“Oh, no please. This is really cool. We’re all happy to be here.”

“Bennett!” Carolina called from across the room, “Come here for a second, Ben!”

Bennett flashed a smile at Darcy and went over to Carolina.

Lottie shifted next to Darcy. “I wasn’t expecting this turn of events, were you?”

“No, I have to say I wasn’t. I half thought he’d invited me here, to, you know…”

“It’s ok to say it, Darce. You thought he was inviting you here like as a date. I thought he was, too. Although, I’ll remind you that you’ve done nothing but trash talk him for the last year and a half.”

“Not saying my opinion has necessarily changed, but thank God he said I could bring friends. Imagine if I were standing here alone. Although, I guess that should’ve been my hint that he didn’t mean it as a date.”

“At least Jane and Charlie seemed to have picked up right where they left off.” Lottie gestured over to Charlie and Jane who were standing in a corner together only centimeters apart. Charlie lifted Jane’s hair off of her shoulder and ran his fingers through it.

“My god, she’s probably not coming home with us tonight, is she?” Darcy asked.

“Probably not. I’m trying not to come home with you either, no offense. See any Sapphics here?”

“I’m not sure, but you’re sexy enough you could probably take any woman here home, regardless.”

“You know, you’re right. I’m going to talk to that one over there,” Lottie said, pointing to Vanessa Musa, an actress who just led a Marvel superhero franchise.

Darcy watched in amazement as Lottie walked right up to her and started flirting with her, like she wasn’tt an internationally famous actress. Darcy looked around and realized she was alone, so she headed over to the bar and ordered a gin and tonic.

“That’s a nice classic drink,” a man said to Darcy. “Can’t go wrong with an old G&T.”

Darcy looked over at the man speaking to her. He was slightly shorter than her, with light brown eyes and a dazzling smile. It was George Wicker, an actor who recently finished up a long run as the star of an ABC medical drama.

“And what’s your drink of choice,” Darcy asked, turning to face him.

“Scotch, always,” George said, conspicuously dropping a $100 bill into the tip jar.

Darcy made a note of it. She worked many years as a waitress and bartender and bad tippers were absolutely off limits.

“So, what brings you here? Do you work on set?” George asked, lightly clinking his scotch against her gin.

“Oh, no. It’s actually kind of a long story but, Bennett Baxter is my neighbor. He invited me and a few friends.”

“Oh yeah? Do you know Bennett well?” George said, sipping the scotch and looking uneasily at Darcy.

“No, not at all. But my friend, Jane,” Darcy pointed over to where Jane and Charlie were talking, “has been seeing Charlie Brigham on and off again. Charlie and Bennett are best friends.”

“Yes, I know.” George replied.

Darcy got the sense there was something negative there. “Are you close with Bennett?”

“In a manner of speaking you could say I was, but not so much these days. I’m here because I’m working on my own project with the producer. He invited me.”

Darcy had a rule of never pressing people when they hinted at something because she found that they would almost always offer it up to her themselves if she didn’t respond to the bait, but she found herself so curious she couldn’t resist.

“So what happened? Why aren’t you close anymore?”

George looked over at Bennett darkly. “Did you know I was supposed to star in Caliphate?”

“No, I didn’t know that.” Darcy knew, of course, that Faisal Ibrahim was the star of Caliphate, the role that launched his career into superstardom.

“Yep. We actually worked on the idea together. I helped him write the first episodes. The idea was we’d come up with the story, I’d help him write it, and I’d star in it, too. But he pulled it out from under me.”

“Why?” Darcy asked, surprised that he was saying all of this here at a party that was just shy of being held in Bennett’s honor.

“I was a couple years away from finishing my contract for Miami Medicine and my name was selling. Every meeting we had to pitch the new show, it was all about me. I was going to be the star that got the producers and the networks interested. But Bennett was jealous. He wanted to be the next Vince Gilligan, the star show runner. He knew a prestige drama could make him, but if he was trailing behind a known star, he’d be in my shadow. He brokered a deal behind my back and pushed me out, replacing me with Faisal.”

“Wow, I had no idea.”

“Well, that’s Hollywood,” George said grimly. “Though, I didn’t expect it from Bennett. We’d been working together for fifteen years at that point and I always considered him to be set apart from the rest of the business.”

“I must say, it doesn’t surprise me much at all. With the exception of a run-in I had with him this week, every time I’ve spoken with him has been most unpleasant.”

George was quite attentive to Darcy for the remainder of the night; getting her waters and plates of food and introducing her to various producers and actors and actresses. As her liquid courage increased, the anxiety of being among all of these famous people decreased and she started to loosen up and enjoy herself.

She broke away to go to the restroom. As she was leaving Bennett popped out of nowhere and diverted her into a corner.

“Seems you’re enjoying yourself with George.”

Darcy could feel her hackles raising. Was he going to fight with her about this? “Yes, he’s a very pleasant gentleman. I’m glad you invited me here so that I could meet him.” Darcy straightened herself up and flipped her hair.

Bennett looked injured by the statement. He got briefly distracted by something in her hair and moved as though to touch it, but stopped himself. “You have fake snow in your hair.”

“Oh, thank you.” Darcy said, disarmed now, realizing how closely he was standing to her.

“Stay away from George. He’s bad news,” Bennett said, as though remembering himself, and stepping away from Darcy slightly.

“Excuse me? I’m not sure it’s your business is it?”

“I’ve known George a long time and I’d advise anyone to stay away from him.”

“Because you don’t want him to steal your limelight on a show?”

Bennett pulled himself back. “Is that what he told you?”

“Yes, he told me all about how you pushed him out of the starring role in Caliphate after he worked with you for fifteen years,” Darcy replied, yelling under her breath.

Bennett looked imperious now. “If you would believe a word out of that man after meeting him for an hour, you’re as much a fool as I judged you to be when I first met you.”

Darcy was gobsmacked. “Well you have done nothing to disabuse me of the opinion I formed of you more than a year ago!”

“Consider yourself warned.”

“Have fun with Carolina. I see the way you run to her beck and call like a lovesick teenager.”

Bennett stared at her for a moment, huffed, and walked away.

The Brunch and the Proposition

As it turned out, Darcy did go home from the party alone. Jane stayed with Charlie, and Lottie stayed with Vanessa Musa, an accomplishment Darcy couldn’t wait to discuss with her at another time. George gave her his number and, the consummate gentleman, put her in a cab home that he paid for.

Two weeks later, Charlie was still in town and had been hanging on Jane like an oyster on a pier. Charlie invited them to brunch at the a sleek, high rise apartment he was renting. Jane, Lottie, and Darcy arrived and Darcy was surprised to see Bennett there, sitting on the floor playing with his puppy. She stopped a moment in the doorway upon seeing him. He looked up at her, but said nothing.

“Lottie, Darcy, Jane, thank you for coming!” Charlie exclaimed and ran over to kiss Jane on the cheek, who lightly blushed.

“You’ve all met Bennett, but for those of you who haven’t been introduced, this is his puppy, Berkeley.” Berkeley was gamboling around on the floor with a tug rope.

“Oh my GOD that’s a cute dog,” Lottie said, going over to pet the dog.

A woman with long, dark hair emerged from the second bedroom. “Hi guys. I’m Gianna.”

“My sister,” Bennett said, “visiting from London.”

“I see you’ve all met my dog nephew.”

“Yes, he is a great dog,” Lottie said, standing and introducing herself to Gianna with a handshake. “I’m Lottie.”

“Pleasure,” Gianna said, hanging on to Lottie’s hand a moment longer than usual and quickly looking her up and down.

Their chemistry was palpable and everyone fell silent watching them.

“And you must be Darcy,” Gianna said, turning toward her.

“Oh me? Uh, yes. I am.”

“I’ve heard a good bit about you.”

“From who?” Darcy said abruptly, she was so surprised she didn’t maintain her tact.

“My broth…”

But Charlie stepped in, “From Jane and me of course. We’ve both spoken so highly of you.”

Darcy flashed a look at Bennett. She was sure Gianna was going to say ‘my brother.’

“Oh, yes. Of course. Nice to meet you.”

Gianna and Lottie carried most of the brunch conversation. It turned out they had much in common. They were both photographers, both played soccer in college, both, curiously, liked Phish. Jane and Charlie chattered pleasantly among themselves and Darcy spent most of her time eating petting Berkeley, who kept coming and putting his head in her lap.

Bennett said nothing, but stared at Darcy intently throughout the brunch.

“So,” Gianna said, breaking from her conversation with Lottie to address the table, “where is her majesty Carolina these days?”

“Gi,” Bennett said warningly.

“I’m just wondering if I’ll have the privilege of seeing her.”

Charlie chimed in, pleasant as ever, “She’s in New Zealand filming. She’ll be there for two months.”

“That sounds perfect,” Gianna replied and winked at at Darcy, who looked quickly over at Bennett.

“Darcy,” Bennett said, addressing her directly, “I need to take Berkeley outside. Would you come with me?”

Everyone was staring slack-jawed and wide-eyed at Darcy.

“Um, yeah, sure.”

She threw on her coat and hat and followed Bennett outside. They walked a few blocks to a park in total silence.

In the park, Bennett turned to Darcy and said, “There’s no easy way to say this, so I’ll just say it. But, I would like to start dating you.”

Darcy’s eyes grew wide. She was totally frozen.

Bennett continued, “I haven’t been able to stop thinking about you since I met you two summers ago. You occupy my every spare thought. I’ve been around beautiful models and actresses, partying on famous people’s yachts and find that I’m thinking about you. I try to remind myself that you are not so out of the ordinary and nearly all of our exchanges have been garrulous, but it doesn’t work and I cannot put you aside. So I’ve concluded that the only option I have is to embrace this and be with you.”

Darcy was frowning now. “Knowing that you find me ordinary and belligerent, how could I possibly turn down this generous offer?”

Bennett looked annoyed, like he had expected her to say something like this and was eager to get it out of the way.

“I don’t think it’s worth denying that you’ve felt the same thing between us. So, I’d like to ask you directly, would you be with me?”

Darcy crossed her arms and tightened her lips. “I’ve felt nothing but contempt for you, and you’ve no one to blame but yourself, as you’ve shown yourself to be an arrogant shit every time I’ve ever met you. Can I ask you something? Why did you invite me to that Christmas party?”

Bennett looked confused.

Darcy asked again, “You invited me to the party, why?”

“Because I wanted to see you there, of course.”

“Why did you spend the entire time with Carolina?”

Bennett’s arrogant demeanor broke momentarily. “Well, I, uh, that was another thing entirely.”

“Tell me, why did you invite me there just to spend the night glued to her.”

Bennett grimaced, like the truth would be too awful even for him to admit. “If I’m being honest, I hoped she would put me off of you. That if I was there with her I’d be able to forget you. It didn’t work.”

Darcy was stunned, “That is… horribly cruel. To me AND Carolina. How dare you? The only thing you bothered to do that night was chide me for talking to George Wicker.”

“Don’t mention him to me!”

“Why? Because you know that he can expose you for the striving, clawing climber you are and ruin your image as the unaffected, genius writer?”

Bennett drew himself up to his full height. “I won’t even bother telling you the truth about George. I don’t care. I’ve done what I could to protect myself and the people I care about from him, and if you’d choose to believe him over me, that’s on you.”

“And why shouldn’t I? You’ve never shown yourself to be anything more than an asshole!”

Bennett drew his breath sharply, “Is your answer no?”

“Of course!”

“Then please give my regards to the rest of the party. I need to take Berkeley home.”

And with that he walked away toward the opposite side of the park, Berkeley turning every so often to look back at Darcy.

Cuffing Season

The winter turned to spring. Charlie never left Brooklyn and Jane had practically moved in with him. There was talk of her going with him to Philadelphia for Passover to meet his parents, which, Lottie and Darcy agreed, was merely a preamble to a ring.

Lottie and Gianna, too, were still together, taking long weekends to see each other between New York and London. When they were all together, every one was gracious enough not to mention Bennett to her. What happened between them at the park was humiliating and every time she thought about it, the agony of it replayed in her mind anew.

“Hey listen,” Lottie said, one day in the early summer when they were swimming in a tiny, black, cold pond near Lake Placid. “Did you ever call George Wicker?”

Darcy frowned, “No, I didn’t. I mean, he was nice enough but I wasn’t about to call some actor I met once for a few hours at a party. Besides, isn’t he dating someone now? I see him all over the tabloids at Walgreens.”

“Yeah, I think so,” Lottie said, dipping briefly under the pond water.

When Lottie didn’t elaborate further, Darcy asked, “Why are you mentioning him? We haven’t talked about him since December.”

“I dunno.”

“Lottie, there’s gotta be some reason you brought him up.”

“Gianna told me something about him and, I dunno, I thought maybe I should tell you. He and Bennett were friends, you know, for a long time.”

“I know,” Darcy replied. “George told me all about it. How they worked together for fifteen years until Bennett got jealous and pushed him out of the starring role in Caliphate.”

Lottie shook her head slowly, “I don’t think that’s what happened, Darce.”

“What do you mean?”

“Gianna told me that Bennett and George became good friends fresh out of college. Both worked as writers, George did some acting. They worked on a few shows together, but their longest stretch was on Miami Medical. Bennett became the deputy show runner and George was the star, but the fame was getting to George’s head. He developed a bad coke and alcohol habit, did a few stints in rehab. And he was going broke, despite making millions a year starring in this show, he was gambling it away and repeatedly asking the studio for advances on his checks.”

“What? He had to have been making like $15 million a year on that toward the end,” Darcy said.

“Yeah, that’s what I mean, it was bad. It got worse when he owed some really bad people money. He got desperate, turned out he was selling his mom and grandma’s house out from under them and emptied a college fund he set up for his sister’s kids. It all came to a head when he showed up high out of his mind at Gianna’s apartment in LA and tried to seduce her, telling her he’d date her in exchange for her trust fund.”

“Trust fund?”

“Yeah, apparently the Baxters are loaded. Old money. Needless to say, her trust fund wasn’t enough to cover the kind of money he owed, if $15 million a year wasn’t enough to cover it. She was pretty young, like twenty-one, just barely out of the closet, and when she told him to leave he started threatening to out her and screaming and sobbing at her door. She was afraid someone would call TMZ, so she let him in and called her brother.”

“What happened?”

“Bennett showed up, furious of course. Back then he didn’t have the same power he has now and George had a lot of cards, so it’s not like he could just knock him out and kick him off the show. But he took pity on him. They’d been working together for more than a decade, close friends, and George’s family didn’t have money. So he emptied his own trust fund and sold a vacation home his grandmother left to him and gave all of the money to George to pay off the people who were after him and save his mom and grandma’s house and he filled up the college fund for George’s nieces and nephews, but made himself the custodian. It wasn’t everything George owed, but he was able to cover the rest with a few well-placed ad campaigns.”

“Oh my God. Why did Bennett do all that? Why not just let him crash and burn?”

“Gianna suspects he just wanted to get George out of trouble. He cared about him. Figured he could help give George one more chance. After he got the money, he did a final stint in rehab, got a life coach, start doing charity work. The whole thing. And Bennett vowed never to work with him again, on account of what he did to Gianna.”

Darcy swam around in a wide loop for a few minutes.

“I mean, I’m shocked. But mostly I feel like an idiot for believing him. I should have been more suspicious of someone who was willing to air so much dirty laundry within 5 minutes of meeting someone. But it jived so well with my opinion of it that I just went with it.”

“Look,” Lottie said, “it happens to all of us. I just wanted you to know the truth.”

“Yeah, thanks, Lottie. I appreciate it.”

A month later, Jane and Charlie were engaged. He proposed with a flawless two carat solitaire and a fall wedding a year hence was being planned. Mr. and Mrs. Thatcher P. Baxter offered, no begged, to host the engagement party for Charlie, their beloved son’s best friend and their own surrogate son. It was hosted at the end of July at their Mainline estate that had been in their family in some form since the Quaker settlement.

Darcy and Lottie rented a Zipcar and took the two hour trip to the Philly suburbs. Once again, Darcy found herself fretting over what to wear. If she saw Bennett (Lottie assured her the party would be large enough to dodge him), she did not want to be seen to be trying too hard, but she also wanted to make sure she looked good. Ultimately, Lottie picked out the outfit, a simple spaghetti strap trapeze dress made of dark gold lame fabric. Lottie braided Darcy’s hair in a wrap around braid that kept all of her hair off of her neck, grabbed a pair of sapphire earrings Darcy inherited from her grandmother, and blue sandals to match the earrings.

The Baxter estate was the kind that had a gate and a long driveway with rows of elm on either side, like a fancy boarding school. The house itself was an absolutely massive red brick colonial. By the looks of it, the center structure was some kind of old original, with additions added over time. At the west wing of the house was a white sunroom that was large enough to host a wedding. There were huge tents set up on the lawns and floating paper lamps with entwined Cs and Js on everything.

“Jesus Christ. If this is the engagement party where the fuck is the wedding going to be? Buckingham Palace?” Lottie asked, almost sticking her head out of the window to see everything.

A white jacketed valet met them and drove the car off to some unseen location. Darcy and Lottie looked at each other, laughing at the luxury of it. They walked up a gravel path to where about fifty people were congregating with drinks. They could see Jane, a long, styled plait down her back and a white sequin dress, arm in arm with Charlie, who somehow managed to be even more smiley than usual.

Charlie saw them and waved almost manically and started running toward them.

“Lottie, Darcy, it’s so good to see you both.” He kissed them each on the cheek.

Jane gave them huge hugs.

“Jane, this is incredible,” Darcy said.

“I know,” Jane said, “It all feels like a lot, but I’m so happy.”

“You look it,” Darcy replied.

Gianna came out of the sunroom, her dark hair slicked back in that helmet style that only models can pull off; she pulled it off. She ran up and hugged Lottie and introduced her to her parents, who were holding court at the center of the group.

“Mom, dad, this is Lottie.”

Lottie held her hand out to Mr. and Mrs. Baxter, who looked the way you would expect rich, old-moneyed white people to look; attractive, well dressed, understated, expensive.

“So you are the woman who has so captivated our daughter?”

Lottie replied, meekly, “Guilty,” and made a small, ironic curtsey.

Darcy had rarely ever seen Lottie flustered, but she was clearly flushed at such an open compliment from Gianna’s parents.

“I’m Darcy. Jane and Lottie’s friend,” Darcy said, holding her hand out for a handshake.

“And she’s become such good friends to Gianna and me, too,” Charlie chimed in, walking over to squeeze Darcy’s shoulder.

“Feel free to explore the grounds before the party really gets into the swing of things,” Mr. Baxter said. “This estate dates back to the 17th century, you can see an original gatekeeper’s house off to the side of the front entrance, and the center structure of the house is late 18th century.”

Darcy took that as her cue to walk around, sipping champagne. The grounds were done in an English garden style. Behind the back of the house was an in-ground pool with a pool house. She made her way into the main entrance of the house. It was as grand inside as it was out. The main entrance had a smooth flagstone floor and the rooms off of the rest of the house had deep, dark, highly polished hardwood and Persian rugs. The rooms she could see all had white wainscoting with luxurious, thick wallpaper above. She went into some kind of library with four walls of built in bookshelves, a large mahogany desk, and high backed arm chairs placed next to end tables. She walked among the shelves and saw things like small school awards, pictures of Bennett and Gianna with their parents, rows and rows of books. It seemed like maybe Bennett’s parents were attorneys.

She heard giggling at the entrance of the library. Carolina spilled in with a guy who Darcy recognized as one of those actors in CW teen dramas.

Carolina noticed Darcy. “Oh, hello. Darla is it?”

Darcy didn’t bother to correct her. “How are you, Caroline? Long time no see.”

“It’s Cah-ro-LEEN-uh. I’m good. This is Denver.”

Darcy nodded in Denver’s direction.

“Happy for Charlie and Jane,” Carolina said.

“Yes, indeed. I’ve never seen a happier couple.”

Carolina came closer to Darcy. She was a full head shorter. She stared at Darcy’s ears.

“Those are gorgeous.”

“Thanks,” Darcy replied, grabbing her ears. “They were my grandmother’s.”

Carolina was squinting at her now. “You know, you ARE quite pretty.”

“I’m glad I could surprise you,” Darcy said.

“And funny, too. I can see why now… Anyway. See you around. Enjoy the party.”

When they were gone, Darcy noticed a small entrance off of the north end of the library that led to a screen-enclosed patio.

Must be nice to be able to do work in this kind of setting.

She sat on a wicker chair and looked out over the property. No one was on this side of the house.

“Berkeley! Berkeley! Heel, boy, heel!”

Darcy moved to the front of the porch and saw Berkeley, now fully grown, running full speed toward the house, Bennett chasing behind him in a sweaty tee shirt and running shorts. Darcy tried to step back further into the porch so as to avoid being seen, but Berkeley jumped up with his paws on the screen, yelping and licking the mesh.

“Why have I spent all of this time and money training you, you rascal?” Bennett said, affectionately rubbing Berkeley’s ears. “What has you so excited, boy?”

Darcy, who was awkwardly pressed against the back wall of the porch, now unable to escape notice, raised her right hand to waist height and just said, “Hello,” in a half whisper.

Bennett shielded his eyes from the sun to better see into the porch.

“Darcy? Is that you?”

“Yes. Hi, Bennett.”

“You look gorgeous.”

Darcy’s face was on fire, she was grateful for the shade of the porch and the screen. “You look… well exercised.”

And she meant it. She was trying to avoid looking down at his short shorts and thick, fit, long legs. Not to mention the flimsy fabric of the shorts themselves.

Bennett looked down at himself and laughed. “I need to go take a shower. I’ll be back. Don’t go anywhere. Here, I’ll leave Berkeley, so I know you won’t run off.”

He opened a door to the porch that Darcy hadn’t even noticed and let the dog in, who bolted over to Darcy and threw his body against her legs.

About twenty minutes later, Bennett came into the porch wearing a linen, collared shirt over navy blue slacks and a light matching sport jacket. The mop of curls on his head was still wet from the shower. He smelled like soap and aftershave.

Now that they were face-to-face, some of the awkwardness resumed and they weren’t sure what to say one another. A few moments of them both standing there, looking off to the side, passed.

“Um, that’s a great outfit. You look nice and I like your house,” Darcy offered. Berkeley was sniffing her hand and she obliged by rubbing behind his ears.

Bennett smiled, but didn’t say anything. He seemed to be at a loss for what to say.

“Hey, look,” Darcy started. “I wanted to say that I’m sorry for what I said about George Wicker. Lottie told me the truth and well, I’m sorry I took his word for it.”

“You were right. I didn’t give you any reason to think otherwise.”

“Yeah, well, I’m sorry.”

“I’m sorry, too. What I said to you last winter in the park, it was fucked up.”

After a moment Darcy said, “Well, I’m in Pennsylvania. Is it still true?”

Bennett turned his head in confusion.

“Am I a Pennsylvania ten?”

He roared with laughter. “Yes, you are absolutely a ten.”

Darcy smiled weakly and blushed, saying nothing in response.

“Hey, listen, I have something for you. Come with me.”

Bennett led her up the stairs down a long corridor.

“It’s in here, I’ll be right back.”

When the door opened, Darcy could see that the room was still set up like when he was a kid, varsity patches and trophies on the shelves.

He came out with a small, velvet box.

“Open it. I had this made for you.”

Darcy opened the box. It was a simple gold cuff and etched on to the front was a Boston Terrier.

“Turn it over,” Bennett said.

On the inside of the cuff it read, ‘In Loving Memory of Milton.’

Darcy’s eyes were filled with tears.

“I don’t know what to say. I love this. Thank you.”

Berkeley was sniffing the baseboards of the hallway. Darcy looked over at him and laughed

Bennett had stepped closer to her. She looked up into his eyes. He grabbed a piece of hair that had fallen loose from her braid. Her heart was pounding, hard. She turned her face into his hand. He tilted her chin up to his face and kissed her deeply. She pulled away momentarily to smile at him, and kissed him again, this time with more vigor. She felt her arm drifting down his waist and he moved his hand to her behind. She briefly wondered if they were going to do the whole thing right there in his childhood bedroom, when Berkeley interrupted them with a yelp.

Standing at the end of the hallway were Charlie, Jane, Lottie and Gianna, all laughing.

“No, please, don’t let us interrupt you. It’s kinda hot,” Charlie said.

Darcy and Bennett looked at the group, smiled at each other, clasped hands and walked out to the party and into the future.

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