Home > Austenland (Austenland #1)(4)

Austenland (Austenland #1)(4)
Shannon Hale

“Su-per.” He gave her two thumbs-up and held them there, smiling, his eyes unblinking. After a few moments, Jane cringed. What did he want her to do? Was she supposed to high-five his thumbs? Touch thumb-pad to thumb-pad? Or did he just leave them there so long for emphasis?

The silence quivered. At last Jane opted for raising her own thumbs in a mirror of the Todd salute.

“All right, my lady Jane.” He nodded, still with the thumbs up, and kept them up as he walked away. At least he hadn’t asked her out again. Why was it that when she was aching for a man, everyone was married, but when she was giving them up, so many men were so awkwardly single?

As soon as Todd’s cologne faded down the hall, Jane Googled Pembrook Park. There were parks by that name scattered across the United States, but nothing Austen and nothing English. A couple of cryptic mentions in blogs seemed to touch Jane’s Pembrook, such as a blogger named tan’n’fun, “Back from Pembrook Park, my second year. Even better than the first, especially the ball. . . but I signed a confidentiality agreement, so that’s all I’ll say publicly.” No Wikipedia article about the elusive locale. No photos. This was the Area 51 of vacation resorts.

She banged her head lightly on the monitor.

The question Should I go? limped after her all afternoon. Jane certainly had the vacation hours saved up. She had an impressive benefits package including three weeks off a year, and she rarely went on holiday (note: she used the British word for “vacation” in her thoughts, an early sign that she’d already decided to go).

And besides: Nonrefundable. It was a good, solid word, one you couldn’t chew, one that only dissolved after sucking slowly.

Jane argued with her thoughts and her thoughts argued back while she searched through stock photo databases for Todd’s basically super project. Search words: smiling woman. 2,317 results, way too many to scan through. Narrow search results: smiling business-woman. 214 results. Narrow search results: smiling businesswoman twenties.

And suddenly, there was Jane’s face on her own monitor, as photographed by exboyfriend #7, the delinquent artist. She’d stumbled across it before. In her line of work, it was hard not to view every stock photo in the digital empire at least twice. But this was really bad timing. Here she was, dizzy with thoughts of her own stupidity and vulnerability and all other Dr. Phil-ness, and to suddenly confront her own face years younger. . . well, ick, an unpleasant reminder that she was just as stupid and vulnerable back then. She hadn’t changed. She’d been standing knee-deep in the same romance mud for years and she didn’t even care anymore.

The photo array completed and two train rides later, Jane plopped down on Molly’s couch in Brooklyn, keeping one eye on the twins battling over blocks, the other eye ensconced in a throw pillow. She held her arm straight up and waved the brochure like a surrender flag. Molly pulled it out of her hand and read it.

“So it’s come to this,” Molly said.

“Help,” Jane squeaked.

Molly nodded. “I don’t know, Jane, do you really think you should subject yourself to something like this? ... Good job, Jack! Did you stack those blocks all by yourself? You’re such a smart boy, my big smart boy. . . It might make things worse. You just might fade away into a Mr. Darcy Brigadoon for good.”

Jane sat up. “So you know how bad I am? The whole Darcy thingie?” Molly put a hand on her leg. “Honey, I don’t blame you. You’ve had rotten luck with that whole romance sh—uh, crap,” she said, amending her diction as she glanced at the kids. Hannah had managed to stick both her fingers into her nostrils and tottered over to Molly to show off her new trick. “Did you find your nose holes? What a smart girl! ... Janie, are you going to get sad if I say this? Should I say this?”

“Say it.”

“Okay.” A deep breath. “This obsession...

Jane groaned at the word and completely buried her face in the throw pillow.

“....has been brewing since we were in high school. I used to fantasize about jumping Darcy’s bones myself, but you’ve turned it into a career. You’ve been forced into it by a train wreck of bad relationships, it’s true, but the last couple of years . .

“I know, I know,” Jane mumbled into the pillow. “I’ve been freaking out, I sabotaged myself, and I couldn’t see it at the time, but I can now, so maybe I’m okay.”

Molly paused. “Are you okay?”

Jane shook her head and the pillow with it. “No! I’m spooked I’ll do it again. I’m so afraid I’m damaged and castoff-able and unlovable and I’m not even really sure what I’m doing wrong. What should I do, Molly? Please tell me.”

“Oh, honey. . .”

“Uh-oh.”

Molly cleared her throat and adopted her most gentle tone. “Have you noticed that you refer to any guy you’ve ever been on a date with as a ‘boyfriend’?”

Jane had noticed it. In fact, she’d numbered all her boyfriends from one to thirteen and referred to them in her mind by their number. She was relieved now that she’d never mentioned that part to Molly.

“It’s not really normal to do that,” Molly said. “It’s kind of... extreme. Kind of slaps expectation on a relationship before it’s begun.”

“Uh-huh,” was all Jane could muster in response, even to her best friend. This was a raw, pin-poking subject. A couple of years ago, she’d toyed with having a therapist, and though in the end she’d’ decided she just wasn’t a therapy kind of a gal, she did come out of i understanding one thing about herself: At a very young age, she had learned how to love from Austen. And according to her immature understanding at the time, in Austen’s world there was no such thing as a fling. Every romance was intended to lead to marriage, eve flirtation just a means to find that partner to cling to forever. So for Jane, when each romance ended with hope still attached, it felt a brutal as divorce. Intense much, Jane? Oh yes. But what can you do?

“Jane.” Molly rubbed her arm. “You’ve got so much going on! You don’t need this Pembrook Park, and you definitely don’t need Mr. Darcy.”

“I know. I mean, he’s not even real. He’s not, he’s not, I know he’s not, but maybe..

“There’s no maybe. He’s not real.”

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