Austenland Page 17

“Pure research.”

‘Absolutely.”

“But of course. Besides, you ruined me, you know. No wonder Wattlesbrook forbids anything modern to clash with the nineteenth century. Five minutes of conversation with you in the garden and I went cross-eyed trying to take myself seriously again in this getup.

“I have that effect on a lot of women. All it takes is five minutes with me and—er . . . that didn’t sound right.”

“You’d better stop while you’re behind, there, sport.”

The television seemed to grow quieter, and they moved closer to it, from the couch to the carpet, and sitting on the floor with her corset still stiffening her back, she had to lean against him to be comfortable. And then his arm was around her shoulder, and his smell was delicious. She felt drunk on root beer, and soothed by the twitching of the tiny television. He started to play with her fingers, and she turned her head. Their breaths touched. Then their lips.

And then, they really made out.

It was fun, kissing a guy she barely knew. She’d never done this before, and it made her feel rowdy and pretty and miles removed from her issues. She didn’t think or fret. She just played.

“Good shot,” she said, her eyes closed, pretending to watch the game.

“Watch that defense,” he whispered, kissing her neck. An evening dress allowed for a lot of neck, and somehow he got it all. “Get the rebound, you clumsy oaf.”

And it was fun to stop kissing and look at each other, breathless, feeling the thrill and anticipation of the undone.

“Good game,” she said.

The television buzzed with static. She didn’t know how long the game had been over, but her heavy eyes and limbs told her that it was very late. She thought if she stayed longer, she would fall asleep on his chest, and because that idea pleased her, she left immediately. Her torso stiff inside her corset exoskeleton, he had to help her to her feet. With one hand, he pulled her onto her toes as though she were the weight of a pillow

He walked her to the door and swatted her on the butt. “Good game, coach. See you tomorrow.

“Um, who won?” she asked, indicating the television still droning angrily at having no picture to show.

“We did.”

Jane didn’t know what hour it was, since a timepiece wasn’t part of her wardrobe allotment, but the moon had moved considerably across the sky. Her arms bare below her thin sleeves, she shivered and crept across the courtyard, the whisper of the gravel path announcing her presence to any lurkers. She entered through the grand front door, clicking it closed behind her, and eased her slippers over the creaking boards.

It was strange creeping through that big house at night, and she had the itchy sensation of being watched or followed.

“Who’s there?” she asked once, feeling very “Turn of the Screw.” Did someone see her coming from Martin’s? Would she be sent home? Would he be fired?

No one answered.

She locked her chamber door behind her and didn’t bother to ring for Matilda as it was so late. It was impossible to do up her corset without help, but she had undressed alone, though somewhat awkwardly, on other occasions. Stripped to her chemise, she melted into the cool sheets. She could smell Martin on her hands, and she gleefully cozied into her pillows, enjoying the sensation of having recently been kissed.

Of course it meant nothing beyond the fun of it, because she’d given up on men and love, after all, and was quite firm with herself about hoping too much. But it had been nice. And a first for Jane—a harmless fling!

Tonight, Jane had been kissed. Tonight she thought, Mr. Darcy who?

Boyfriend #3

Dave Atters, AGE SIXTEEN

She really liked this one, the power forward on the high school varsity team and the beginning of her unhealthy infatuation with basketball. She giggled and sighed and dreamed He said jump, and she leaped. But when he parked his spoiled-boy convertible in front of her house after a date and thrust his hand up her skirt, she pushed him away. When she wouldn’t relent, he ordered her out of the car. At school, he acted as though they’d never met.

Years later, she considered seeing a therapist about this one until she realized that Dave “Fancy Hands” Atters wasn’t the guy holding her back—the blame really lay with Fitzwilliam “I love you against my better judgment” Darcy. Besides, there’d been the night of Homecoming when she and Molly had spray-painted SHE-MALE on the side of Dave’s convertible. That had been fairly therapeutic.

days 5----6666

JANE COULD SCARCELY WAIT FOR night to come again. Social rules required that the ladies now visit Pembrook Cottage, and then Miss Heartwright had to be invited over to dine yet again. Jane had become the fourth woman in a three-gentleman household. Though the colonel’s smiling eyes often sought her out, and she was able to flay Mr. Nobley verbally at dinner, her attention kept dancing to thoughts of bedspreads on the curtain rod, root beer and television, and a man who smelled of gardens. Something real.

After Martin’s room, life in the drawing room seemed dulled and fuzzy—waiting for the gentlemen while chatting about nothing, welcoming the gentlemen and continuing to chat about nothing, every topic harmless and dry, everyone holding themselves a careful arm’s distance away.

What a crock, she thought. What absolute boredom and inanity. It can’t really have been like this. And if it was, why didn’t all those Regency women go insane?

After a painfully long hour pressed into playing speculation, she declared she would retire and sneaked out to the servants’ quarters.

She didn’t intend to make out with Martin again. But she did anyway. He was so cute and funny and so-not-Mr.-Darcy. And she felt so light and silly and so-not-typicalJane. What a last hurrah he was, this tall, coy Englishman who watched basketball. Nothing like her fantasy, nothing like anything she’d done before. She didn’t once try to steer the conversation to the topic of whether he wanted one day to be a father (her oftused test), and she wasn’t even tempted to daydream about a wedding with that soaring figure by her side. A true miracle.

The next morning at breakfast, she looked at the gentlemen and felt proud, perhaps even smug. A house full of Regency dreamboats and she chose the root-beersipping gardener. Martin was appearing to be a serendipitous answer to her Darcy therapy.

The third night, by the time she’d arrived at Martin’s apartment, his bedspread was already blocking the window, Stevie Wonder was playing on his CD player (“very superstitious”), and his bedside table was set up with a towel as a tablecloth and a Coke bottle full of fresh lavender.

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