After Darcy called him, Wickham ambled over to Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, Lizzy, Jane, and Charlie. Lydia was right on his heels. Wickham stood right there in front of them, thumbs hooked in his belt loops, slouchin’ like a cowboy after a three day ride in 100 degree weather. He thought he was cool in his Ray-Bans.
Wickham: My mom ‘n ‘em are great, Darcy. Thanks for askin’. I wanted to remind y’all that the Miss Sugarfield pageant is only a month away. Y’all need to get crackin’ on the coachin’ if you want to win.
Lizzy: How much does it cost to enter? I hear entry fees for those pageants are sky high. And then there’s clothes and the coachin’.
Wickham: There’s a $5,000 scholarship. That’s your goal, Honey. Keep your eyes on that.
Mr. Bennet: You want Mary, Kitty, and Lydia to enter, too. I’ll have to pay most of the money for them. How much is it gonna set me back?
Wickham: The winner’ll get a $1,000 shopping spree at Diva Duds and a $1,500 gift certificate to Pageant People, my pageant store. Runners-up and category winners will get $250 shopping money to both places. You know your girls are the prettiest ones in South Carolina. They’re sure to win. Think of it as an investment.
Mr. Bennet: I might talk slow, but I’m not that stupid. All five of ‘em can’t win. How much will I have to invest?
Wickham: Once they buy a gown and swimsuit for Miss Sugarfield, and have professional pictures made, they can use them all summer in other pageants until they qualify for the state pageant.
Mr. Bennet: Boy, you could talk a coon out of a tree. Tell me how much the entry fee and coaching will dent my wallet, or get your hind end off my porch.
Wickham: (steps back) I’m givin’ your girls a discount because you have five enterin’. I’ll cut the entry fee from $275 to $150 each. Don’t tell anybody, or everyone will expect the same deal.
Mrs. Bennet: So that’s $450 in entry fees for one pageant? That sticks in my throat like hair in a biscuit. Lizzy and Jane will have to come up with the money themselves, I guess.
Lizzy: How much does the coachin’ cost?
Wickham: I’m gonna charge everyone else $75 per hour, but if you girls come two at a time, I’ll cut that to $30 an hour each. You can come get the trainin’ and practice at home. Help each other. That’s dirt cheap.
Mr. Bennet: You got enough tongue for ten rows of teeth. How much for the clothes?
Wickham: Depends on what you buy. A gown can be $500 or $10,000. I’m part owner of Pageant People in Roseland. I can get your girls discounts. They could look on the sale and clearance racks, too. Sometimes upscale consignment shops have dresses and competition swimsuits other girls have worn once or twice, and they’re half-priced or less. They have several of those stores in Columbia and Charlotte.
Darcy: Don’t you own any upscale consignment shops yourself? Sounds like a good way to make money. People give you their clothes to sell, and you give them a percentage of the profit when you find a buyer. That’s a win-win situation for the store owner.
Wickham: No, I don’t. I got my hands full with the pageants, coachin’, and Pageant People. Why don’t you open one if you know so much about it?
Darcy: I might just do that. I’ll bet Lizzy and Jane would help me if I gave them first choice on any clothes, along with a sizable employee discount.
Mr. Bennet: I like that idea. Maybe my other girls could help, too.
Darcy: If they want a job, they have one, and I’ll pay them well. I can open one in Roseland and one in Sugarfield. I need more than two employees.
Wickham: My clothing consultant could drop by to help our clients pick out clothes. They have to have evening gowns, swimsuits, casual wear, interview outfits, talent wear, and something for a group number that matches the theme of the pageant.
Mr. Bennet: You got a ten gallon mouth, boy. That’s the first time you mentioned about half that stuff.
Lizzy: I bet there’s shoes, jewelry, and other accessories we’ll need, too, Daddy.
Mr. Bennet: Yep, I think Wickham’s on a first name basis with the bottom of the deck.
Darcy: I can include the things Lizzy talked about in my consignment shops. I’m sure plenty of girls have shoes and jewelry that match their outfits. When they sell the outfits, they’ll want to sell the accessories.
Wickham: I may want in on that, Darcy.
Darcy: I think I can handle it. I’ll hire a business manager. I don’t need investors.
Mr. Bennet: (laughing) Good thinking, Darcy. He’s more slippery than a pocketful of pudding.
Darcy: Slicker than a boiled onion.
Lizzy: He’s talking with his tongue out of his shoe for sure.
Jane: He blew in his own words.
Charlie: He could talk the legs off a chair.
Wickham: Hello. I’m standin’ right here.
Mr. Bennet: I heard you broke your arm pattin’ yourself on the back.
Lydia: Stop raggin’ on my boyfriend, y’all.
Mary: Lydie, sometimes you’re about as sharp as a mashed potato.
Lydia: At least I’m not as ugly as a mud fence.
Lizzy: Well, Lydie, I guess we’ll find out in the Miss Sugarfield pageant whether brains matter or not, ‘cause if dumb was dirt, you’d cover about an acre. I just started lookin’ forward to this instead of dreadin’ it.
Kitty: I’m jumpy as spit on a hot skillet, but I’ll do it.
Jane: I think it’ll be fun. School’ll be out for the summer in two weeks, and the pageants will give us somethin’ to do. I can use the work in Darcy’s store, too. Extra money!
Mr. Bennet: I guess that’s it then. Just remember, Wickham, I got my eye on you. Don’t try nothin’ funny with my daughters, or you’ll be holier than the preacher. I’m a crack shot.
Wickham: You can trust me, sir. I’m as honest as the day is long.
Darcy: On December 21.
Wickham and Lydia: Huh?
Darcy: That’s the shortest day in the year.
Wickham: It doesn’t have twenty-four hours like all the rest?
Mr. Bennet: Give up, Darcy. If brains were leather, he couldn’t saddle a flea.
Wickham: I guess I better get home and get to work. You girls call me tomorrow so I can set up your appointments. Thanks for dinner, Mrs. Bennet. It was wonderful.
Mrs. Bennet: Any time, son. ‘Bye now.
Mrs. Bennet: Tom, you set a bad example for the others. It’s ugly to pick at the boy while he’s a guest – and on Sunday, too.
Darcy: I’m sorry, Mrs. Bennet. I’ll try to be better next time I’m around him.
Lizzy: I won’t.
Mr. Bennet: Me neither.
Lizzy: Daddy, we’re bad.
Mr. Bennet: Yep, my phone stays off the hook.
Lizzy: I still say Wickham’s so crooked he has to unscrew his britches at night.
Darcy: Y’all ain’t right.