Read First (Wrong) Impressions: A Modern Pride & Prejudice Online

Authors: Krista D. Ball

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First (Wrong) Impressions: A Modern Pride & Prejudice

BOOK: First (Wrong) Impressions: A Modern Pride & Prejudice
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First (Wrong) Impressions

By Krista D. Ball

Chapter 1

September 10

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a large fortune must be in want of a charity to donate to. And Elizabeth Bennet’s job today was to find such a man and take his money. For charity.

Grant Proposal for kitchen upgrades (see attached list) to comply with Provincial Food Safety Regulations (see attached letter from Aria Jenkins, Health Inspector).

Government grants were difficult to get these days, especially since her agency had too many ties to churches. With Edmonton’s
Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness,
the focus was on housing. She was one hundred percent behind the housing initiatives; she sat on two of the committees. But she also needed funding for her kitchen.

Proposal by: Elizabeth Bennet

Director of Street Services

The Faith-Hope-Love Refuge, Edmonton, AB

Amount requested: $15,000 (see attached budgetary breakdown).

They barely passed the health inspection. Aria, thankfully, didn’t just shut non-profits down. Instead, she was willing to work with Lizzy and find some compromises that didn’t close the kitchen, but also maintained food safety. Aria spent two hours with Lizzy, going over what she could and couldn’t do. Some things were simple enough, such as turning up the temperature on the hot water heater, but other things, like being unable to store any food in their shoddy fridge, was going to make life tricky.

If Lizzy could not get her hands on the fifteen grand, she’d have to shut down her agency’s hot meal program in four months—about the lifespan of her hot water heater and her freezer. She had calls out to several businesses to see if any of them could donate towards her new kitchen. Plus, she was attending the quarterly Alberta Philanthropy Society breakfast in the morning, or as she liked to call it, the
Rich People Breakfast.
She had to convince someone, soon, to give The Faith their hard-earned money or her homeless clients would be served stale doughnuts and black coffee this winter.

Thank heavens, too, because Lizzy had already lost three of the agency’s donors the previous month. She was short on funding. Losing the donors? Completely Lizzy’s fault. She refused to let a church evangelize to her patrons. That happened pretty often. The problem this time was that she’d taken it one step too far and pissed off a triumvirate of wealthy, socially-conservative churches who pulled their funding faster than you could say
Jesus Saves.

They voted with their feet and took their twenty grand in annual donations elsewhere. Twenty grand that would have easily paid for her new kitchen.

“Jesus never had to put up with this shit,” she said out loud to her computer.

“You say something?”

Lizzy looked around her monitor at her office-mate and life-long best friend. “Just berating myself.”

Lukas Charlotte’s mouth quirked into a smile. He was a lean man, with dark, wavy hair, and an unusual attachment to work boots and plaid flannel shirts. “That’s what you get for choosing religious freedom over donation funds.”

Lizzy scowled at him. “What was I supposed to do, Luke? That pastor came in and starting preaching that everyone needed to repent their sins or burn in hell.”

“I know.”

Lizzy jabbed a finger at him. “I don’t mind people expressing their beliefs. I don’t mind it when the clients ask for preaching or guidance or whatever. I don’t mind.”

“I know.”

“But that’s where I draw the line. Most of our clients are Christians of some form. How dare that asshole tell them they are going to hell since they are addicts?”

“Lizzy,” Luke interrupted her, “I was there. Remember?”

She stopped ranting and leaned back in her chair. “There are days I just wish…You know, I don’t even know what I wish for at this point.”

“A new kitchen?”

“Jerk.” Lizzy made a face. “Why are we friends, again?”

“Stop your whining. We’d lose all of our funding if they found out about me. Be thankful it was only some of it.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know.” Lizzy groaned in disgust. “I will never understand some of these donors. They are giving to a centre that caters to the homeless who are banned from every other facility in town. This place is as rough as it gets. But they don’t care if these people live or die, so long as we preach the good word and convert them before they freeze to death.”

Luke’s smile faded. “Lizzy, you don’t mean that.”

“Today, I do.”

The doorbell buzzer gave three short spurts. Lizzy looked at her desk phone’s clock and groaned. “Shit, that’s Mom.”

The buzzer went off again, this time a ten-second, nerve-piercing wail.

“Oh, yeah, that’s your mother.” Luke punched a few more keys before shutting down his computer and grabbing his coat. “Ed covering the floor tonight?”

Lizzy gave a nod. “I told him about the wedding shower, so we switched.” She thought for a moment. “Is this called a wedding shower, or something else?”

“How the hell should I know?”

“She’s your sister!”

He pointed at himself. “Like I care about pompoms and confetti.”

She stuck her tongue out. “I should have known better.”

This time, the buzzer was a staccato of about a dozen, annoying buzzes. Lizzy shoved on her jacket and grabbed her cell phone. She locked the office behind them before heading upstairs and outside, where a very annoyed woman stood.

“What took you so long?” Mom demanded.

“Sorry, Mom,” Lizzy said. “I didn’t know you were outside.”

“Why didn’t you answer your phone? Jane must have called a dozen times.”

Lizzy pulled her phone out of her pocket. “It’s dead. Oops.”

“Oops?” Mom said with disgust. “Come on, we’re going to be late. Hello, Luke.”

“Hello, Winnie,” he said with an impish grin. “Sorry we took so long.”

“Yes, yes, hurry up.”

“What’s with the big ‘hurry up,’ Mom?” Lizzy asked. “It’s just Luke’s house.”

Mom whirled on Lizzy and said in an exasperated voice, “Lizzy, Charles Bingley is at Luke’s house right now and the Saviour only knows who is chatting him up when it should be one of my ungrateful daughters.”

“Who?”

Mom threw her hands up. “Charles. Bingley. Just hurry up, Lizzy.”

“Hey, staff!” A female voice called out.

Lizzy peered over the stair railing to see a half-naked woman lying among the rocks and glass shards that littered The Faith. She was curled around her backpack—a ragged grey thing with a broken zipper. A needle still in its plastic wrapper stuck out of the front pouch.

“Hey, Susan,” Lizzy replied. “What happened to your clothes?”

Mom rolled her eyes. “Lizzy, we’re in a hurry.”

“Yes, I know. Susan, what happened?”

Susan’s expression soured. “My date stole my clothes. Lucky I had some extra in the backpack.”

Lizzy grimaced. Why would anyone pick up a prostitute and then steal from them? If you could afford to pay for sex, why steal? Of course, Lizzy knew the answer, which only made her angrier.

“Sorry, I don’t have any clothes inside.”

Mom let out a longsuffering sigh, and headed to the van.

She’d have to give the Mustard Seed a call in the morning to see if they had some extra clothes she could pick up later in the week. They were just a block away, they got a lot of clothing donations, and they were always good about sharing with The Faith. “Can you head up to the Seed?”

Susan pulled a beer bottle from behind her back, one of the large ones that looked like they should hold wine, not beer. “Can’t. Ya got anything I can use tonight?”

“I can grab you a blanket.” Luke offered. “And we’re opening in an hour.”

“Better than being half-naked.”

Luke unlocked the door to fetch something for her and Lizzy turned back to Susan. “Other than stealing, did he hurt you?”

“Nah. He paid. I used the toilet and boom! My clothes is gone.” Susan fingered the bottle, but she didn’t drink in front of Lizzy; they usually didn’t. “I was stupid for leaving it out there. At least I took the backpack with me. Needed to wash up.” She made a disgusted face. “At least it was a motel, I suppose, not an alley.”

Lizzy listened while Susan vented about her “date.” There weren’t many homeless hanging around, but that wasn’t surprising for mid-month at five in the evening. The other inner-city agencies had meals going for the next few hours. The only people on the street right now were those who couldn’t get in anywhere else. They’d make their way over to The Faith’s steps soon enough, to stand in line for a meal of hot dogs. Again.

“Hot dogs tonight again?” Susan asked.

“Yup.”

“You should serve lobster and steak.”

It was an old joke and Lizzy was happy to play along. “One day, I’m going to surprise you all and do that.”

“That would be nice.”

Lizzy hated serving the crappy food. These were people who needed the most nutritious meals possible. Many of her clients were missing their teeth, Hep C positive, diabetics, and a few were HIV positive. Some had full-blown AIDS. Some had cancer. They deserved so much better than a hot dog on a white bun, yet that was all she could give them.

She’d brought in a nutrition student once, as part of an internship through the University of Alberta. Free access to a soon-to-be-dietitian and a volunteer to boot was a good deal. The intern wrote up fabulous meal plans, filled with fruits and vegetables appropriate for those without teeth but palatable for everyone. Each meal had lean proteins, calcium-rich sides, and was high in fibre.

They weren’t cheap, though. The meals would’ve cost nearly four dollars a head and Lizzy’s budget ran around seventy-five cents a plate. She fed an average of a hundred people a night, seven days a week. She didn’t have the money for milk, bananas, and chicken breasts.

Luke came out with a dark blanket and handed it to Susan. She complained that it was itchy, but Luke said it was that or the hot pink sheet with purple dots. Susan wasn’t happy, but she took the blanket; itchy was a whole lot better than bright pink when camouflage was necessary for her safety while drinking and half-naked.

“See ya,” Luke and Lizzy said in unison, walking to the van.

“See ya, Staff.”

“Finally,” Mom complained. “Why couldn’t she ask for something before we got here? She’s got two legs. She could’ve rung the doorbell.”

“Mom,” Lizzy’s older sister, Jane, chided, “don’t be like that. Not today.”

Lizzy smiled at Jane, but didn’t bother to argue with her mother. Really, there was no point when Mom was in a mood. Lizzy and Luke climbed inside. “Hey Mary.”

Mary was a short, mousey woman of twenty-three, who wore a lot of navy blue and black. Lizzy was convinced this was because her sister believed the government, or possibly aliens, would ask for volunteers for human-machine experimentation and wanted to be well-dressed for when it happened. Mary didn’t look up from her cell phone; no surprise there. She did wave at Lizzy, though, and said, “Hey.”

“Where’s Lydia?” Lizzy asked, buckling herself in.

“Already there,” Jane answered. “She’s been helping set up.”

“Good for her. That girl needs a hobby that isn’t acting or boys.”

“Lizzy, hold your tongue,” her mother scolded as she backed the van up, careful to weave around a staggering group in the middle of the road. “I wish these people would watch where they’re going. One of these days, someone’s going to hit them.”

Luke made a bitter sound. “Someone already has.”

Mary looked up from her cell phone. “Lately? I didn’t read it in the news.”

Luke answered. “Last week some moron came speeding through here in a sports car and knocked one of the guys over. He didn’t even stop.”

“Why should it? It’s just some dirty, homeless aboriginal, right?” Lizzy spat. “Why would that make the news?”

“Just kept on driving.” Luke shook his head. “What on earth was a car like that doing down here?”

“Maybe he was lost?” Jane offered.

Lizzy snorted. “More like looking for blow and whores.”

“Elizabeth Winifred Bennet,” Mom said in her sternest voice, “a lady does not use that language.”

“Sorry, Mom.” Lizzy said automatically. “So, who is Charles Bingley and why are we rushing to see him?

That cheered Mom up. “Denny’s rich second cousin. Isn’t that just wonderful?”

“Is that the one whose father won the lottery and invested it into computers or something?” Mary asked.

Her mother looked in the rearview mirror and nodded. “It is! Isn’t that just the best news you’ve heard all day?”

“It really is,” Lizzy said, sighing. “Wow, that’s depressing.”

“We need better lives,” Luke agreed. “I didn’t know Charles was coming. I’ve never met him, but my sister has.”

“I don’t think he’s gay,” Mom said with a fair amount of disappointment in her voice. Then, she perked up. “Oh, he’s supposed to bring a friend. Did you want me to ask if
he’s
gay?”

“No, thank you, Winnie,” Luke said. “I have enough trouble without a boyfriend.”

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