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Authors: Noelle Adams

Chasing Jane

BOOK: Chasing Jane
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Chasing Jane

 

Noelle Adams

 

This
book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the
product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance
to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

 

Copyright
© 2015 by Noelle Adams. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce,
distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means.

One

 

My mother named me Jane after Jane
Austen—or maybe Jane Eyre. She said either one would do. With a name like Jane,
I might not end up as a beauty queen or the most popular girl in the room, but
I’d be smart and strong and make good decisions.

I guess I’ve mostly lived up to the name.

I’m definitely not a beauty queen, and I’ve never been
particularly popular, but I’ve always done well in school. At twenty-four, I’ve
completed a Master’s and started a PhD program in English—and gotten A’s most
of the way. I’ve never really gotten into trouble, and my friends and neighbors
all think I’m the most pulled-together person they’ve ever met.

I don’t feel like I’m pulled together most of the time, but
it’s nice that they have such an impression of me.

My mother was really proud of me when she died last year.
I’m pretty sure she’d be proud of me still today.

I’m finally taking the trip to England that we always talked
and dreamed about. In fact, I’m now in Hampshire, squeezed into the corner of a
seat on a cramped, stuffy bus, in the space left between the wall and Nate’s
body.

Actually, before I talk more about the trip, I should
probably explain about Nate.

If my mother has been the biggest influence in my life, then
Nate runs a very close second. He’s been my best friend since we moved next
door to him and his father when I was four years old.

His real name is Nathaniel, but no one ever calls him that.
He’s always Nate.

For most of our lives, Nate and Jane have come as a pair. We
used to get a kick out of the fact that our names have only one letter
different.

At one point in middle school, my mother and his father were
dating, so Nate was close to becoming my stepbrother. But my mother was too
cerebral for his father, and they finally broke up. I was crushed at the time,
since I desperately wanted Nate to be my brother. Now, I realize that might
have gotten awkward, so I’m happy for him to just be my best friend.

He’s giving me the side-eye at the moment—the way he does
when he suspects I might be laughing at him.

I laugh at him a lot. I laugh about his hair, which is wavy
and absolutely impossible to smooth down, so it always sticks up in crazy
cowlicks and kinks. I laugh at his little notebooks, which he carries around
and scribbles down notes in. I laugh at his obsession with golf, which I still
find to be a bizarre trait in a twenty-five-year-old guy. I laugh at his
non-existent love life, since he can never date a girl more than twice before
it fizzles out. (He says he’s simply discriminating, but I’m sure he must do
something to sabotage his chances. I’ve always wanted to spy on one of his
dates to discover what he does.) I laugh at how he spends half of every day
with a coffee cup in his hand.

Before you start to think that I’m mean to him, you should
know that he laughs at me all the time too—mocking my teacher’s-pet tendencies,
my meticulous apartment, my love for Jane Austen, and (lately) my infatuation
with Rochester.

I’ll talk more about Rochester later. If I told you now, you
might think I’m kind of silly.

Maybe I am.

Anyway, here I am on a bus, which is rumbling its way
through the English countryside from Basingstoke to the village of Nettleton. We
flew into Heathrow and then took a train to Basingstoke, but the only way to
get to the village is on this bus.

I’m not exactly happy about the bus. It’s hot and
uncomfortable, and I’m exhausted after nineteen hours of traveling. But I’m
excited to be in England at last, and I can’t wait until we get to the cottage,
where we’re staying for the next four days.

Nate showed me pictures of the cottage online, and it looks absolutely
adorable—exactly how the quintessential English cottage should look.

I wish my mother was here.

“You okay,” Nate asks, leaning over to murmur the question
into my ear. He’s good about that kind of thing—being discreet about personal
things so as not to embarrass me.

“Yeah.” I smile at him. This trip is a gift from Nate—the
best present I’ve ever received in my life—so I want to make sure he knows I
appreciate it.

“Thinking about your mom?” His eyes are startlingly blue.
He’s really very cute, with medium brown hair, a lean body, and warm smile, but
I’ve always loved his eyes the best. I’ve never seen eyes so beautiful on
anyone else.

I nod, but I feel too emotional to answer with words.

My mother was a librarian, and she was a huge lover of
girls’ classics. When I was still in elementary school, she started reading them
out loud to me. She started with
The Secret Garden
and
The Little
Princess
and the Betsy-Tacy books. Then she moved onto Louisa May Alcott
and L.M. Montgomery. When I was old enough, we finally got to Jane Austen and
the Brontës. By then, we took turns reading, and the best memories I have of my
mom are reading out loud together on the couch in our little apartment in front
of the electric fireplace she’d bought for “ambiance.”

We talked for hours about all the places from our favorite
books we would visit together when we finally got enough money to take the trip
to England. She died before we had the money saved up.

Nate’s arm is trapped between our bodies, but now he lifts
it up and wraps it around my shoulders, giving me a comforting squeeze. I lean
against him, feeling safe and known and understood.

There’s no one else in the world who can make me feel that
way now that I’ve lost my mother—no one but Nate.

He’s been wearing the same shirt for almost twenty hours
now—a blue T-shirt with a golf club on the front and “Eat, Sleep, Golf” on the
back that I got him for his last birthday—and he’s smelling more Nate-ish than
usual.

I don’t really mind. I like how Nate smells. It feels like
home.

I don’t dare tell him such a thing, though. He’d laugh his
head off at me. He’s not the most sentimental of guys, and he never stops
teasing me when I am.

“It should only be a few more minutes, I think,” he says,
glancing out the window. It’s already getting dark and is now sprinkling a
little, so there’s not much to see but mist, grass, clouds, and some vague
outlines in the distance.

“I can’t wait.” The thought of getting to the cottage perks
me up a little. I straighten up, although Nate keeps his arm around me. “Have I
thanked you for this trip yet?”

He rolls his eyes. “About a million times. You don’t have to
thank me again.”

“Of course, I do! It’s the best birthday present ever. Are
you sure you can afford it?”

Nate isn’t overflowing with money. His dad always lived
hand-to-mouth, and Nate worked his way through college and grad school,
graduating with an engineering degree. He has a good job now, though, so he’s
definitely better off than me. I’m still living on student loans, and I’m
finally catching up on the part of my mother’s health expenses not covered by insurance.

Evidently, getting cancer, even when you have insurance,
costs a fortune.

“Yes, I can afford it,” Nate grumbles, looking decidedly
annoyed with me. “You can stop asking me that now.”

He’s paying for this entire trip. When he told me on my
birthday three months ago, he called it the “Jane Journey”—in which Jane walks
in the footsteps of Jane Austen and Jane Eyre, in which Jane gets to know the
Janes, in which Jane chases the Janes. He kept coming up with new word plays.
(He knows Jane Eyre is a fictional character, but he wanted to make sure the
Jane-theme was carried through the whole thing). We’re spending four days at the
cottage, from which we can make day trips to visit Bath, Chawton, and a variety
of sites in Hampshire where Austen lived or spent time in. Then we’ll go north
and visit all the Brontë hot-spots in Haworth for a few days. We’ll end up back
in London to do some of the normal tourist stuff, since neither of us has ever
been here before.

“Well, I worry about it,” I say, trying to read something
behind the frustration in his face. “I don’t want you to go broke doing
something nice for me. And it sounded like your boss wasn’t happy about you
taking the time off.”

“It’s fine,” Nate replies. “A project came up he wanted me
to work on, but I had this trip planned for four months. I’m allowed to take my
vacation time.”

His voice is relaxed now, but it strikes me as almost
too
relaxed, as if he’s trying to hide how disappointed his boss was at his
taking the time off when an urgent project had come up.

I hate the thought of his getting on the wrong side of his
supervisor. His job is a really good one, and he’s early in his career. I don’t
want him to blow it all for me.

He must sense me stewing because he gives me a frown. “It’s
fine, Jane. It’s
fine
. I’m not lying to you.” He meets and holds my
eyes.

“Okay.” He’s never lied to me—not straight-out anyway. He
sometimes tries to hide things, but everyone does that occasionally. And we
know each other too well to hide very much anyway.

We ride over a hill, and I can suddenly see a little village
in the distance, breaking the dark green landscape with charming stone
buildings, surrounded by a scattering of more modern structures. “Look!” I
gasp, gesturing out the window. “It looks like something out of a story.”

I can sense Nate smiling, although it feels like he might be
looking at me rather than at the village in the distance. I turn back to check,
but his eyes are focused out the window. “I think that’s where we’re heading.
Our cottage is about half a mile outside of the village, though, so I hope you
don’t mind walking.”

“Of course not.” I’m suddenly so excited that I clasp my
hands together. “I can’t wait.”

Nate’s body feels more relaxed now, like he feels better now
that I do.

We’ve always been like that—responding instinctively to each
other’s moods.

“Is it the first time you’ve been to England?” the woman on
the other side of Nate asks, leaning over to look at me.

She’s an American too, and she looks like she’s over
seventy. She got on the bus after me and Nate, and since it’s crowded, he was
going to get up to give her his seat. But she said there was room enough on the
edge for her, which is how the three of us came to be squeezed into a
two-person seat.

“Yes,” I tell her with a friendly smile. “I’m so excited
about it. I’ve wanted to get here my whole life. What about you?”

“My daughter married an Englishman,” she says, “so I’ve been
here several times. That’s where I’m going now. She and her husband live in
Nettleton.”

“Oh, that’s great! I’ve always wanted to live in an English
village.”

“She really did,” Nate put in. “She used to draw the village
where she wanted to live, naming all the houses and shops.”

I give him a teasing glare. “And then he would come along
turn my flower shop into a gas station.”

The woman chuckles, looking between us curiously. “How long
have you been together?”

“Twenty years,” Nate says. “I was five.”

“And I was four,” I add, realizing that the woman has
misinterpreted our relationship. “But we’re not a couple. We’re friends.”

I never say “just friends” since it seems to minimize a
relationship that’s one of the most important things in my life.

I stretch up to give Nate a kiss on the side of his jaw. I
always kiss him there. I think about it as my spot. “He’s like my brother.”

Nate tenses up a little, which is strange, but maybe he’s
embarrassed that I’m showing him affection in front of other people. He’s never
been as touchy or expressive as I am.

The woman smiles and says something appropriate in response,
but her eyes are almost skeptical as she watches us.

She doesn’t understand. She assumes that people as close as
we are have to be romantically involved.

We don’t, though. It’s never been romantic between us. Nate
and I have always been the best of friends.

***

We reach Nettleton just a few
minutes later, and several people on the bus get off, including me and Nate.

He climbs down first with his suitcase, and then he reaches
for mine so I don’t have to try to juggle it while I walk down the two steep
steps off the bus.

He’s always doing things like that. When I tease him about
being a gentleman, he grumbles in his characteristic way, but he really is
considerate like that.

Even when we were kids and we argued as much as we played
together, he always looked out for me.

We sat next to each other on the school bus every day. Our
stop was late on the route, so sometimes there wasn’t an empty seat when we
boarded. But, whenever that happened, Nate would very soberly ask one of the
kids near the front if they would mind changing seats so he could sit next to
me.

He got teased about me being his girlfriend, which—for a
second-grader—was a real insult. But he sat next to me every morning just the
same.

Eventually, one kid or another would automatically get up
and move whenever we climbed on the bus, to leave a seat open for us to sit
together.

One afternoon, when school was over for the day, Nate was at
the end of the line because he’d had to talk to a teacher, and so I claimed a
seat for us, holding his place until he could join me. A big, mean fourth-grade
boy sat down next to me—just out of spite, I assume, because he always sat at
the very back of the bus. I was too terrified to say anything, but when he
finally got on, Nate stood next to the seat and told the other boy to move.

The boy was twice Nate’s size, but Nate wouldn’t budge—until
finally the bus driver told the other boy to move to the back so we could get
going.

Nate got cornered that afternoon and beaten up by the other
boy and his friends, and I cried for days about how he’d gotten hurt.

BOOK: Chasing Jane
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