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Authors: Shannon Hale

Austenland (17 page)

BOOK: Austenland
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“Come now, ever since I witnessed your abominable performance in the theatrical, it’s been clear that you can’t act to save your life. All three weeks, that was you.” He smiled. “And I wanted to keep knowing you. Well, I didn’t at first. I wanted you to go away and leave me in peace. I’ve made a career out of avoiding any possibility of a real relationship. And then to find you in that circus . . . it didn’t make sense. But what ever does?”
“Nothing,” said Jane with conviction. “Nothing makes sense.
“Could you tell me... am I being too forward to ask? . . . of course, I just bought a plane ticket on impulse, so worrying about being forward at this point is pointless... This is so insane, I am not a romantic.
. My question is, what do you want?” “What do I...?” This really was insane. Maybe she should ask that old woman to change seats again.
“I mean it. Besides something real. You already told me that. I like to think I’m real, after all. So, what do you really want?”
She shrugged and said simply, “I want to be happy. I used to want Mr. Darcy, laugh at me if you want, or the idea of him. Someone who made me feel all the time like I felt when I watched those movies.” It was hard for her to admit it, but when she had, it felt like licking the last of the icing from the bowl. That hopeless fantasy was empty now
“Right. Well, do you think it possible—” He hesitated, his fingers played with the radio and light buttons on the arm of his seat. “Do you think someone like me could be what you want?”
Jane smiled sadly. “I’m feeling all shiny and brand new. In all my life, I’ve never felt like I do now. I’m not sure yet what I want. When I was Miss Erstwhile, you were perfect, but that was back in Austenland. Or are we still in Austenland? Maybe I’ll never leave.”
He nodded. “You don’t have to decide anything now. If you will allow me to be near you for a time, then we can see.” He rested his head back, and they looked at each other, their faces inches apart. He always was so good at looking at her. And it occurred to her just then that she herself was more Darcy than Erstwhile, sitting there admiring his fine eyes, feeling dangerously close to falling in love against her will.
“Just be near. . .” she repeated.
He nodded. “And if I don’t make you feel like the most beautiful woman in the world every day of your life, then I don’t deserve to be near you.”
Jane breathed in, taking those words inside her. She thought she might like to keep them for a while. She considered never giving them up.
“Okay, I lied a little bit.” He rubbed his head with even more force. “I need to admit up front that I don’t know how to have a fling. I’m not good at playing around and then saying good-bye. I’m throwing myself at your feet because I’m hoping for a shot at forever. You don’t have to say anything now, no promises required. I just thought you should know”
He forced himself to lean back again, his face turned slightly away, as if he didn’t care to see her expression just then. It was probably for the best. She was staring straight ahead with wide, panicked eyes, then a grin slowly took over her face. In her mind was running the conversation she was going to have with Molly. “I didn’t think it was possible, but I found a man as crazy intense as I was.”
The plane was moving, that scatty slow motion that seemed to go both forward and backward at once. Jane kept looking back and forth between the window and the man next to her, checking to see if he was really there. Was this a better ending than
“So,” he said, “is New York City our final destination?”
“That’s home.”
“Good. There’s bound to be work for an attractive British actor wouldn’t you think?”
“There are thousands of restaurants, and those waiter jobs have high turnover.”
“Loads of theaters, too. I think you’d be wonderful in a comedy.”
“Because I’m laughable.”
“It doesn’t hurt.” On impulse, she took his hand, rubbed his index finger between her fingers. It was an intimate gesture, yet felt natural. What did she want? This is so insane... Stop thinking that. Maybe it could work... Oh, be practical, Jane. So what was she to do? She was no longer prey to the fantastical idea of love, but if she could have something real. . . Was there anything real?
“You want to have kids someday, don’t you?” she asked, just to get that one out of the way.
“Did Mrs. Wattlesbrook tell you my story? I wouldn’t be surprised. Yes, I like children. I always thought I’d like to be called Papa.”
“Okay, that answer was too perfect. Are you honestly being you?”
“Wattlesbrook casts actors who are closest to the parts we play, since we had to stay in character so long. There are some exceptions, of course, like Andrews playing a heterosexual.”
“I knew it,” she said under her breath. “But wait, stop, it’s not supposed to end this way! You’re the fantasy, you’re what I’m leaving behind. I can’t pack you up and take you with me.”
“That was the most self-centered thing I’ve ever heard you say.
Jane blinked. “It was?”
“Miss Hayes, have you stopped to consider that you might have this all backward? That in fact you are
The jet engines began to whir, the pressure of the cabin stuck invisible fingers into her ears. Henry gripped his armrests and stared ahead as though trying to steady the machine by force of will. Jane laughed at him and settled into her seat. It was a long flight. There would be time to get more answers, and she thought she could wait. Then in that moment when the plane rushed forward as though for its life, and gravity pushed down, and the plane lifted up, and Jane was breathless inside those two forces, she needed to know now.
“Henry, tell me which parts were true.”
“All of it. Especially this part where I’m going to die . . .“ His knuckles were literally turning white as he held tighter to the armrests, his eyes staring straight ahead.
The light gushing through the window was just right, afternoon coming at them with the perfect slant, the sun grazing the horizon of her window, yellow light spilling in. She saw Henry clearly, noticed a chicken pox scar on his forehead, read in the turn down of his upper lip how he must have looked as a pouty little boy and in the faint lines tracing away from the corners of his eyes the old man he’d one day become. Her imagination expanded. She had seen her life like an intricate puzzle, all the boyfriends like dominoes, knocking the next one and the next, an endless succession of falling down. But maybe that wasn’t it at all. She’d been thinking so much about endings, she’d forgotten to allow for the possibility of a last one, one that might stay standing.
Jane pried his right hand off the armrest, placed it on the back of her neck and held it there. She lifted the armrest so nothing was between them and held his face with her other hand. It was a fine face, a jaw that fit in her palm. She could feel the whiskers growing back that he’d shaved that morning. He was looking at her again, though his expression couldn’t shake off the terror, which made Jane laugh.
“How can you be so cavalier?” he asked. “Tens of thousands of pounds expected to just float in the air?”
She kissed him, and he tasted so yummy, not like food or mouthwash or chapstick, but like a man. He moaned once in surrender, his muscles relaxing.
“I knew I really liked you,” he said against her lips.
His fingers pulled her closer, his other hand reached for her waist. His kisses became hungry, and she guessed that he hadn’t been kissed, not for real, for a long time. Neither had she, as a matter of fact. Maybe this was the very first time. There was little similarity to the empty, lusty making out she’d played at with Martin. Kissing Henry was more than just plain fun. Later, when they would spend straight hours conversing in the dark, Jane would realize that Henry kissed the way he talked—his entire attention taut, focused, intensely hers. His touch was a conversation, telling her again and again that only she in the whole world really mattered. His lips only drifted from hers to touch her face, her hands, her neck.
And when he spoke, he called her Jane.
Her stomach dropped as they fled higher into the sky, and they kissed recklessly for hundreds of miles, until Henry was no longer afraid of flying.


We met on an airplane (economy class) and kissed most of the flight home. Over the Atlantic, we decided to fall in love. When the plane touched down at JFK, he hadn’t changed his mind. When he carried me over the threshold of my apartment, no Mrs. Wattlesbrook lurked in the shadows. While he was in the kitchen, I picked
Pride and Prejudice
out of my (miraculously) still-living houseplant and tucked it into a harmless spot beside all the other DVDs, spine out and proud

We’re going to order in tonight.

HUGE THANKS, OBVIOUSLY, TO THE superhuman Jane Austen for her books. Besides those masterpieces, I also reviewed (obsessively) the BBC 1995 production of
Pride and Prejudice
, as well as
Sense and Sensibility
(1995), and Patricia Rozema’s gorgeous revision of
Mansfield Park

I’m also indebted to Daniel Pool’s
What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew
for period information.
The World of Jane Austen
, by Nigel Nicolson, was also useful, and I scoured the Web site Jessamyn’s Regency Costume Companion for clothing information. Despite the research, I’d be surprised if I didn’t make mistakes, but they’re sure to be my fault, so please don’t blame my sources.

Special thanks to the amazing Amanda Katz for her inspired editing, as well as to Nadia Cornier, Cordelia Brand, Ann Cannon, Rosi Hayes, and Mette Ivie Harrison. And can I just say again how much I love Bloomsbury? I do. Everyone there is so cool. And also quite attractive (though that hardly seems fair, does it?).

And honey, you know that this Cohn Firth thing isn’t really serious. You are my fantasy man and my real man. I need no other fella in all the world besides you. It’s just a girl thing, I swear.

a note on the author

SHANNON HALE IS THE AUTHOR of four books for young adults:
The Goose Girl
Enna Burning
River Secrets
, and the
New York Times
Princess Academy
, for which she received a Newbery Honor. She and her husband are working together on a graphic novel. Shannon and her family live in Salt Lake City, Utah.


BOOK: Austenland
2.56Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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