Home > Austenland (Austenland #1)(5)

Austenland (Austenland #1)(5)
Shannon Hale

Jane groaned. “But I don’t want to have to settle.”

“You always do. Every single guy you ever dated was a settle.

She sat up. “None of them loved me, did they? Ever. Some of them liked me or I was convenient but. . . Am I truly that pathetic?”

Molly smoothed her hair. “No, of course not,” she said’ which meant, Yes, but I love you anyway.

“Argh,” Jane arghed. “I don’t know what to do, I don’t trust myself. I mean, how did you ever know for sure that Phillip was the right guy?”

Molly shrugged. It was the same shrug that had twitched in Molly’s shoulders at summer camp eighteen years ago when Jane had asked, “Did you eat all my marshmallows?” It was the same shrug Molly had given when Jane adopted the New Wave style in sixth grade and asked, “How do I look?” Molly had forsworn her shifty days in college and declared she’d be a forthright, unashamed woman forever—but here was that bad-penny shrug turning up again.

Jane glared. “Don’t you do it, Ms. Molly Andrews-Carrero. What is it? Tell me. How do you know that Phillip is the one?”

Molly picked at some dried spaghetti sauce on her pants. “He... he makes me feel like the most beautiful woman in the world, every day of my life.”

She’d never admit it, but those words made Jane’s tear ducts sting. “Wow. You’ve never told me that. Why didn’t you ever tell me that before?!”

Molly started to shrug, then stopped. “It’s not something you tell your single best friend. It’d be like rubbing your nose in the poop of my happiness.”

“If I didn’t love you, I’d slap you.” Jane reconsidered and threw a pillow at Molly’s face. “You need to tell me those things, loser. I’ve got to know what’s possible.”

Or what’s impossible, Jane thought.

“Are you okay?” Molly asked.

“Yes. I am. Because I’ve decided to give up men entirely.”

“Come on, not again. Sweetie—”

“I’m serious this time. I’ve had it. I know in my bones that I’m never going to find my Philip, and all this hoping and waiting is killing me.” She took a breath. “This is good, Molly. You’ll see. Time to embrace spinsterhood. Time to—”

Hannah picked up the glossy paper and handed it to Jane, backing up onto her lap. The little girl felt so cozy and perfect, like warming her hands on a cup of hot chocolate, and with the familiar bliss that came with holding someone else’s child, Jane felt that weird ache in her gut, that ugly nudge that told her she might never have one of her own.

“My ovaries are screaming at me,” Jane said.

“Sorry, honey!” Molly called from the kitchen.

“Book.” Hannah shook the brochure, so they looked at it together.

“There’s a house,” Jane said. “Where’s the man? That’s right! And where’s the woman? Yep, that’ll be me. Did you know that your aunty Jane is a chump? That she secretly wants to be someone else in another time and be loved like a fictional character in a book? And that she loathes this part of herself? Well, no more!”

“The End,” said Hannah. She shut the brochure, squirmed off Jane’s lap, and set off searching for something more interesting while chanting, “Hippo, hippo.”

Jane lay back down, but this time placed the throw pillow under her head. Okay, all right, she would go. It would be her last hurrah. Like her friend Becky, who’d taken an all-you-can-eat dinner cruise the night before going in for a stomach stapling, Jane was going to have one last live-it-up and then quit men entirely. She’d play out her fantasy, have a staggering good time, and then bury it all for good. No more Darcy. No more men—period. When she got home she’d become a perfectly normal woman, content to be single, happy with her own self.

She’d even throw the DVDs away.

3 weeks and 1 day ago

JANE FLEW COACH TO LONDON and found a black limo (A limo! she thought) waiting for her at Heathrow. The derbied driver opened the door and took her carry-on bag—just a change of clothes, toiletries, and travel entertainment. She was told she wouldn’t need anything else once she got to the Park.

“Is it far?” she asked.

“About three hours, ma’am,” he said, keeping his eyes on the pavement. “Another three hours.” She tried to think of something witty and British to say. “I

already feel like a thrice-used tea bag.”

He didn’t smile.

“Oh. Um, I’m Jane. What’s your name?”

He shook his head. “Not allowed to say.

Of course, she thought, I’m entering Austenland. The servant class is invisible.

Jane spent the drive going over her packet of notes, “Social History of the Regency Period,” and felt as though she were cramming for a test in some uninteresting but required college course. It was not like her to come so unprepared, and she admitted to herself that she had shut out the reality of this adventure since the moment she had signed the papers and mailed them back to the frog attorney. Even thinking of it now sent sharp, cold pains shooting down her legs, stirring in her the anxious energy it took to make an end- of -game shot in high school basketball.

There were a lot of notes.

• On meeting, a gentleman is presented to the lady first because it is considered an honor for him to meet her. • The eldest daughter in the family is called “Miss” plus surname, while any younger daughters are “Miss” plus Christian and surname. For example, Jane, the eldest, was Miss Bennet, while her sister was Miss Elizabeth Bennet.

• Whist is an early form of bridge played by two couples. The rules are . . . And so on for pages and pages, all irritatingly numbered with Roman numerals. The epilogue was an admonition written by the Pembrook Park proprietress, who bore the unlikely name of Mrs. Wattlesbrook: “It is imperative that these social customs be followed to the letter. For the sake of all our guests, any person who flagrantly disobeys these rules will be asked to leave. Complete immersion in the Regency period is the only way to truly Experience Austen’s England.”

Hours later, when the nameless driver stopped the car and opened her door, Jane found herself in the quaint, green, rolling countryside she recognized from travel brochures, the sky as cloudy as all English October skies ought to be, and the ground, of course, unpleasantly damp. She was led into a solitary building done up like an old inn, complete with swinging sign that read THE WHITE STAG, which bore a painted carving of a grayish animal that looked remarkably like a donkey.

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