Eligible (The Austen Project #4) - Curtis Sittenfeld Page 0,1

what did she end up with but little Ying from Shanghai.” As she stood, Mrs. Bennet glanced at her gold oval-faced watch. “I’m going to phone Helen Lucas and see if she can arrange an introduction to Chip.”

MRS. BENNET WAS always the one to say grace at family dinners—she was fond of the Anglican meal prayer—and hardly had the word amen passed her lips that evening when, with uncontainable enthusiasm, she announced, “The Lucases have invited us for a Fourth of July barbecue!”

“What time?” asked Lydia, who at twenty-three was the youngest Bennet. “Because Kitty and I have plans.”

Mary, who was thirty, said, “No fireworks start before dark.”

“We’re invited to a pre-party in Mount Adams,” Kitty said. Kitty was twenty-six, the closest in both age and temperament to Lydia, yet contrary to typical sibling patterns, she both tagged after and was led astray by her younger sister.

“But I haven’t told you who’ll be at the barbecue.” From her end of the long oak kitchen table, Mrs. Bennet beamed. “Chip Bingley!”

“The Eligible crybaby?” Lydia said, and Kitty giggled as Lydia added, “I’ve never seen a woman cry as hard as he did in the season finale.”

“What’s an eligible crybaby?” Jane asked.

“Oh, Jane,” Liz said. “So innocent and unspoiled. You’ve heard of the reality show Eligible, right?”

Jane squinted. “I think so.”

“He was on it a couple years ago. He was the guy being lusted after by twenty-five women.”

“I don’t suppose that any of you can appreciate the terror a man might feel being so outnumbered,” Mr. Bennet said. “I often weep, and there are only six of you.”

“Eligible is degrading to women,” Mary said, and Lydia said, “Of course that’s what you think.”

“But every other season is one woman and twenty-five guys,” Kitty said. “That’s equality.”

“The women humiliate themselves in a way the men don’t,” Mary said. “They’re so desperate.”

“Chip Bingley went to Harvard Medical School,” Mrs. Bennet said. “He’s not one of those vulgar Hollywood types.”

“Mom, his Hollywood vulgarity is the only reason anyone in Cincinnati cares about him,” Liz said.

Jane turned to her sister. “You knew he was here?”

“You didn’t?”

“Which of us are you hoping he’ll go for, Mom?” Lydia asked. “He’s old, right? So I assume Jane.”

“Thanks, Lydia,” Jane said.

“He’s thirty-six,” Mrs. Bennet said. “That would make him suitable for Jane or Liz.”

“Why not for Mary?” Kitty asked.

“He doesn’t seem like Mary’s type,” Mrs. Bennet said.

“Because she’s gay,” Lydia said. “And he’s not a woman.”

Mary glared at Lydia. “First of all, I’m not gay. And even if I were, I’d rather be a lesbian than a sociopath.”

Lydia smirked. “You don’t have to choose.”

“Is everyone listening to this?” Mary turned to her mother, at the foot of the table, then her father, at the head. “There’s something seriously wrong with Lydia.”

“There’s nothing wrong with any of you,” Mrs. Bennet said. “Jane, what’s this vegetable called? It has an unusual flavor.”

“It’s spinach,” Jane said. “I braised it.”

“In point of fact,” Mr. Bennet said, “there’s something wrong with all of you. You’re adults, and you ought to be living on your own.”

“Dad, we came home to take care of you,” Jane said.

“I’m well now. Go back to New York. You too, Lizzy. As the only one who refuses to take a dime and, not coincidentally, the only one with a real job, you’re supposed to be setting an example for your sisters. Instead, they’re pulling you down with them.”

“Jane and Lizzy know how important my luncheon is,” Mrs. Bennet said. “That’s why they’re still here.” The event to which Mrs. Bennet was referring was the annual fundraising luncheon for the Cincinnati Women’s League, scheduled this year for the second Thursday in September. A member of the league since her twenties, Mrs. Bennet was for the first time the luncheon’s planning chair, and, as she often reminded her family members, the enormous pressure and responsibility of the role left her, however lamentably, unavailable to tend to her husband’s recovery. “Now, the Lucases’ barbecue is called for four,” Mrs. Bennet continued. “Lydia and Kitty, that’s plenty of time for you to join us and still get to your party before the fireworks. Helen Lucas is inviting some young people from the hospital besides Chip Bingley, so it’d be a shame for you to miss meeting them.”

“Mom, unlike our sisters, Kitty and I are capable of getting boyfriends on our own,” Lydia said.

Mrs. Bennet looked from her end of the table to her husband’s. “If any of our girls marry doctors, it will meet my