Austenland Page 41

“Thanks,” she said. “That was honest and encouraging, but Martin, you were going for nice.”

“I wasn’t finished yet! I also wanted to tell you that you’re beautiful.”

“That’s better.”

“Unbelievably beautiful. And… and I don’t know how to say it. I’m not very good at saying what I’m thinking. But you make me feel like myself.” He swept a loose lock of hair from her forehead. “You remind me of my sister.”

“Oh, really? You have that kind of sister?”

“Yes, confident, funny...”

“No, I meant the kind that you want to smooch.”

Martin swept her up again, this time in a more romantic style than the over-theshoulder baggage. She fit her arm around his neck and let him kiss her.

She pressed her hand to his chest, trying to detect if his heart was pounding like hers. She peered at him and saw a little frown line between his eyes.

“No, my sister doesn’t kiss half so well.”

He walked her around, singing some ludicrous lullaby as though she were a baby, then set her down on a tree stump so they were nearly the same height.

“Martin, could you lose your job over this?”

He traced the line of her cheek with his finger. “At the moment, I don’t care.”

“I’ll talk to Mrs. Wattlesbrook about it at our departure meeting tomorrow, but I don’t think my opinion means much to her.”

“It might. Thank you.”

Then there was silence and with it a hint of ending, and Jane realized she wasn’t quite ready for it. Martin was the first real guy she’d ever been able to relax with, turn off the obsessive craziness and just have fun. She needed to be with him longer and practice up for the real world.

“I’m supposed to leave tomorrow,” she said, “but I can stay a couple more days, change my flight. I could find a hotel in London, far away from Wattlesbrook’s scope of vision, and I could see you. Just hang out a bit before I go home, no weirdness, no pressure, I promise.”

He smiled broadly. “That’s an offer I can’t refuse because I’m simply mad to see you in pants. I have a feeling you have a very nice bum.”

Boyfriend #13

Jimmy Rimer, AGE THIRTY-EIGHT

Jane had lost most of her social life with the departure of boyfriend #12 and the dog, so pretty much she stayed at home. Every night. Unless she worked late. Oh, joy.

A year hobbled by and Jane was still avoiding eye contact with the opposite sex. Molly tried to set her up with friends of Phillip’s, but Jane blindly spurned them all.

Then, Jimmy. They walked the same path through Central Park every day, and despite her iron—willed reluctance, the romance just happened It felt like a tiny, perfect miracle that she was allowing herself a chance to fall in love again. They decided not to burden each other with psychiatric profiles or travelogues through past failed relationships and instead just experienced each other. So refreshing! Such a graceful way to begin loving! For five months, Jane wondered why she’d never tried this before.

Then one fateful spring morning, Jimmy snorted while laughing. What’s wrong with that? Absolutely nothing. It should be a cute idiosyncrasy in the man you adore. But it stung Jane like a hornet, and it swelled and itched and bothered her till she sat up in bed at two A.M. and thought aloud, Mr. Darcy would never snort.

She altered her route through the park.

day 21

JANE DIDN’T MAKE IT DOWN to breakfast that morning. She packed casually, wistfully, refusing the help of her maid, plopping her well-used hairpiece into the trash. She looked out the window a lot. Then she twisted a decorative strip of metal from the lamp beside her bed and used it to carve Catherine Heathcliff to the underside of the windowsill. After hanging her self-portrait in the bathroom, she went back to the windowsill, adding the words and Jane.

When she tromped downstairs at last, she found the entire house had a sad, sleepy air of after-party. The ballroom was quiet and cold, the floor stained with tread marks, sticky pools of spilled punch in the corners. In the morning room, greasy and crumbstuck breakfast dishes were abandoned on the table, cold meats and collapsing sweet breads sat on the sideboard.

Colonel Andrews was alone in the drawing room, reading. She didn’t disturb him. Captain East and Miss Heartwright were taking a good-bye stroll through the park. Jane thought if she strolled that park one more time, it would permanently damage the sane part of her brain.

She passed Miss Charming in the corridor. “Off you go, then,” Miss Charming said. “Cheerios. I’m staying an extra day to get an eyeball of the new recruits and make sure they know my colonel is taken.”

Jane air-kissed her cheek. “This is farewell, then, Lizzy, sister of my bosom.”

“They’re real, you know” Miss Charming placed her hands beneath her br**sts and gave them a hearty shaking.

“Really?” Jane said, gaping openly.

“Oh, yes, real as steel. People always ask, so I thought I’d save you the wondering. As a parting gift.”

“Thank you,” Jane said, and she meant it sincerely. It was good to know what was real.

They said their good-byes, and on her way out, Jane passed by the library. There in a corner sat Inflexibiity He raised his eyes when he heard her footfalls.

“Oh,” said Jane, antsy with embarrassment. “Good morning, Mr. Nobley.”

“You weren’t at breakfast,” he said.

“I’m off.” She indicated her bonnet and spencer jacket. “Just saying good-bye to the house. It’s a lovely old house.”

“New, actually. Built in 1809.”

“Right.” His insistence on maintaining the charade chafed her. She had a surging and ridiculous desire to plop down beside him and shake him and make him talk to her like a real person.

“Well, since I ran into you, I can thank you in person for a great vacation. I feel sort of sheepish that it didn’t turn out differently.”

Mr. Nobley shrugged, and she was surprised to detect anger in his eyes. Still playing the jilted man? Or had she wounded his actor’s ego? Maybe he was denied a paycheck bonus for not getting engaged.

“It has been a pleasure to have you here, Miss Erstwhile. I might miss you,

actually.”

“Really?”

“It is possible.”

“Hey, I’ve been wondering something. . . What is Mr. Nobley’s first name?”

Prev Next