Austenland Page 28

“I see,” the proprietress said at last. She looked at Jane, at Miss Heartwright, then fumbled with the keys at her side. “Well, now, ahem, since it was an accident, I think we should forget it ever happened. I do hope, Miss Heartwright, that you will continue to honor us with your presence.

Ah, you old witch, Jane thought.

“Yes, of course, thank you.” Miss Heartwright was in her best form, all proper feminine concern, artless and pleasant. Her eyes twinkled. They really did.

Everyone began to move off, nothing disturbing left to view. Jane caught a glimpse of Martin smiling, pleased, before he turned away.

“I’m so sorry, Jane. I do hope you will forgive me.

“Please don’t mention it, Miss Heartwright.”

“Amelia.” She held Jane’s hand to help her descend from the carriage. “You must call me Amelia now.”

“Thank you, Amelia.”

It was such a sisterly moment, Jane thought they might actually embrace.

They didn’t.

Boyfriend #9

Kevin Hyde, AGE TWENTY-SEVEN

Man, Jane loved him. Sure, he wore an unnecessary tie to work and “weekend casual” meant khaki slacks, but who’s perfect? She’d once made a list of “must-have attributes in future husband,” and Kevin even made most of the “nice-to-have but not nonnegotiable” items. In retrospect, he’d had some kind of Darcy appeal about him from the very beginning, just in his mannerisms, his cool indfference, his falling for Jane despite the fact he hadn’t wanted a serious girlfriend

He played guitar, modestly. They did the Sunday crossword together. He loved his mom. He loved Jane. Until he told her over the blaring of a local car dealershzp ad that maybe he never really had.

“It’s just gotten too hard, hasn’t it? I mean, are you still having fun?”

Once in high school science, Jane’s teacher had dipped an orange in liquid nitrogen and then thrown it on the floor, cracking it like glass. That’s the only way she knew how to describe the physical sensation in her heart—cold and shattered She tried to play it cool, to say, “Yeah, it’s fizzling out, isn’t it? Well, let’s still be friends.” She tried, but she ended up pleading, her nose running, making promises, splaying out her emotions in a desperate way that would haunt her long after she’d forgotten Kevin’s smell.

They’d been together for twenty-three months. She’d gone wedding-dress browsing on the sly. For a week, she curled up in a corner, crying and consuming ice cream by the pint. At last, Emma-esque, she burned Kevin mementos one by one in her wok lid

Frankly, it didn’t help much more than the ice cream.

day 11

“REALLY, YOU MUST COME RIDING with us. I insist,” Amelia said, glowing even more than usual out in the autumn sun. Mr. Nobley was wearing his pleasantly snug hunting breeches, and though that was incentive, spending an afternoon as the third wheel sounded beyond tiresome. But Jane was a tad curious to watch the pair. She couldn’t ask Amelia directly about Mr. Nobley (for some reason, it seemed to be forbidden in Austenland—but really, in Sense and Sensibility, couldn’t Elinor have asked her younger sister if she was engaged to Mr. Willoughby? That silence had seemed a touch extreme). So she spied for clues. Mr. Nobley never touched Amelia, didn’t so much as lean, step in closer, whisper in her ear (or just breathe!), any of the subtle, Regency-approved PD of A that Colonel Andrews gallantly drizzled over Miss Charming. Really, if Mr. Nobley had already declared his love for Amelia, then he was a pathetic lover.

Or was he the kind of man who loved too much, who only left his crazy wife because he wanted that much to be a father? Wait, that wasn’t Mr. Nobley, that was Henry Jenkins. But were they the same? It was all getting very confusing.

Jane tightened her bonnet ribbon, hoping it might help keep her thoughts snug in her head. She was certainly dressed for something rough in her pink morning dress (the bottom three inches stained from her surreptitious speed walks), with outdoorsy spencer jacket and her action bonnet, and had nothing to get her out of the ride, except maybe claiming a fake headache, but that was so cliché.

“Are you sure?” she asked. Soon thereafter she was clambering into the ever-intimidating sidesaddle and whispering, “Easy, there, donkey friend,” when Captain East appeared.

“Going for a ride, Miss Erstwhile?”

“Yes, and I wish you would come.

He had agreed before Amelia walked her horse into view Captain East flinched but couldn’t back out now.

Jane was determined to keep distant from the couple and have a little alone time with prince charming. Captain East didn’t make her heart patter, but he was beyond high school quarterback cute, and being fake-courted by him would make for an interesting vacation at the very least. Then, like a bumbling fool, Mr. Nobley kept letting his horse trot forward, separating Jane and Captain East, and leaving Amelia riding alone. Jane would correct it, and Mr. Nobley would mess it all up again.

She glared. And still he didn’t get it.

Then he was glaring, and she glared back the why-are-you-glaring-at-me glare, and his eyes were exasperated, and she was about to call him ridiculous, when he said, “Miss Erstwhile, you look flushed. Will you not rest for a moment? Do not trouble yourself, Captain East, you go on with Miss Heartwright and we will follow straightaway.”

When the other two were out of hearing range, Jane turned her glare into words. “What are you doing? I’m just fine.”

“Pardon, Miss Erstwhile, but I was trying to allow Captain East and Miss Heartwright a few moments alone. She confided in me about their troubled past, and I hoped time to talk would help ease the strain between them.”

“Okay,” Jane laughed, “so I’m a little slow.” She knew she didn’t sound the least bit Austen-y, but for some reason she just couldn’t make herself try to approximate the dead dialect around Mr. Nobley.

After she swore herself to secrecy and did her best to seem trustworthy and closemouthed, Mr. Nobley revealed that those two had been more than fond acquaintances. In fact, last year he’d proposed and she’d accepted.

“Her mother disapproved, as he was merely a sailor. Mr. Heartwright, her brother, informed East that he was dismissed from being her suitor, and Miss Heartwright never had an opportunity to explain that it hadn’t been her wish. She fears it is too late now, but I don’t believe her heart ever let go of the man.”

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