Posted on 2012-03-18
Hello. Have you read Pride and Prejudice by any chance? I thought it was a splendid book, wonderfully written. What few people know is that not only was Jane Austen a literary genius, but she also had extra sensory perception. I'm sure of it. It is the only possible explanation for why her characters so closely resemble people I know in my life almost two hundred years later. I say characters because she didn't get everything right. Some things were twisted around, added and omitted, understated and exaggerated, but the main points are still there and I suppose she did have artistic license. The following true story begins when I am seventeen.
Hello, my name is Anne de Bourgh. Have you heard of me? You may have, but of course, I wouldn't expect you to remember. I'm nobody special. In fact, I'm practically invisible. Oh? You have heard of me? My mother… Of course. I hear you now. Oh boohoo, you're saying. Poor little rich girl. Well, I'm not asking for your sympathy. Just listen. Now, I could give you a long, detailed description of my life, but for now let's keep it simple.
First of all, that woman is not my mother. My mother was an incredibly warm, generous woman. She convinced my father to invest his inheritance in some of the poorer areas of the city, so he bought about two dozen apartment buildings, got them cleaned and fixed up, lowered the rent, and ultimately made them a nicer, safer place to live. He also funded a community garden, a youth center, and a few food pantries and shelters. Sadly, my mother was killed by a drunk driver when I was just a baby.
After that, my grief-stricken father hired a nanny to take care of my brother and me and buried himself in his work. Over the years, he made up for this absence by showering us with presents. I might have become a spoiled brat if it hadn't been for Mrs. Jenkinson. She had just retired after over forty years of teaching and raised over a dozen children as a foster parent. Before I could speak in complete sentences, she was teaching me to read, write, and do basic math. Some people spend countless dollars to give their children an edge early on. She just gave her time. My life was strictly structured. I did not eat junk food, watch television, or read anything that had not been approved by my father, which left mostly newspapers and Time magazines. I had very little contact with children my age. So yes, I was shy, socially awkward, and extremely boring.
That year, my father married Lady Catherine Fitzwilliam. Yes, Lady is her real name and not just a title. She was very controlling and highly critical of everything. Then in her early thirties and completely obsessed with status, she decided to put the de Bourghs on top of the social ladder. First, she redecorated the house, replacing anything remotely sentimental, like family photos, with expensive antiques. Then it was decided that my brother, Henry, who was five years older than me, would go to an elite, faraway boarding school. Next she joined all the ladies' groups in the area and hosted weekly tea parties, when I was required to dress up in frilly pink dresses and quietly sip my tea while the adults said, Oh, what a dear little girl! What delightful manners! for half an hour or so before gossiping about everyone they knew. Now I tried, believe me, I tried, but the little respect I had for her was completely wiped out after I saw her waste my father's money and… Well, let's just say she's not a very nice person.
At twelve years old, my father and stepmother decided it was finally time for me to go to school. A series of tests all reached the same conclusion: I was ready for high school. I was admitted to Cherryfield Preparatory Academy for Young Ladies, the finest, most prestigious school in the Northeast. Think showy displays of wealth and mean rich girls whose goals in life seemed to be making everyone else miserable and finding even richer husbands. I was lost. As a child, I was taught good manners, which consisted of saying please and thank you and sir and ma'am and mostly being seen and not heard. I had been taught how to make polite conversation, talking about the weather and all that. That's it. No real-world social skills whatsoever. On top of that, the brochure claimed that the curriculum was challenging and engaging. What it failed to mention was that after four years, the heavy workload would nearly kill my love of reading. Seriously. I haven't read for fun since.
Still, I gained a bit of independence and slowly but surely developed my own style and opinions. My style was the exact opposite of Lady Catherine's. While she was extravagant and ostentatious, with silk, lace, frills, feathers, pearls, and diamonds everywhere, I was simple and understated. I became skilled in fitting in, at least as looks were concerned. I was tall for my age and thin, with the right clothes and a bit of makeup to make me look older. Quiet and passive, some might even say antisocial, I stayed under the radar. And with a full load of early college courses my junior and senior years, I didn't have much time for socializing.
The next major event was my sweet sixteen in early December. I knew that if Lady Catherine had her way, it would be a completely over-the-top, tasteless spectacle. She did, so it was. All I could do was bribe the party planner, cake designer, hairdresser, and makeup artist she hired to deviate from their very specific instructions and make a few slight alterations for the better. It was still excessive but not completely overwhelming. I wore a bright red designer dress that was too tight, too short, and too low-cut for my taste and the most uncomfortable high heels ever. They were ridiculously overpriced, but I felt cheap wearing them. The lighting was too dim, as were the guests. The music was too loud. The cake was as tall as I was and looked more like one of the Faberge eggs on our mantelpiece than dessert. Lady Catherine had made a list of the men I had to dance with and the women I had to speak with during the night. I did not like any of them. My father claimed he had to work late and only made a brief appearance near the end of the night. For half the night, I thought I would cry. Around midnight, I got to open my presents. I hated being the center of attention. I received clothes, shoes, jewelry, purses, makeup sets, gift certificates, and other things. It was all very expensive. Like, wow.
Afterward, I meticulously sorted everything out. First, I put everything I had gotten from Lady Catherine or close "friends" of the family in the closet. I would wear it all once and forget about it. No one wondered at this, because of course, it is considered a major faux pas to wear something more than once. Yes, that was sarcasm. From the remaining things, I found the things I actually liked, including some black ballet flats with silver stitching, a matching skirt, and a soft pink cashmere sweater from Mrs. Jenkinson, an old scrapbook and some of my mother's jewelry from my father, and the gift certificates from Henry, and put them in my dresser. Everything else would be worn once before being donated to Goodwill or, if it was too hideous to possibly help the less fortunate, sold at a consignment store at a later date. I heard somewhere that in the Middle East, because women are financially dependent on their husbands, they collect jewelry as a sort of insurance policy in the event that they are left widowed. That was the plan. Among my collection, I now had one hundred pairs of earrings, rings, bracelets, and necklaces in silver, gold, and platinum and with all sorts of precious stones and pearls, all of which were so large and ornate that they looked like costume jewelry but were valuable nevertheless.
I started college. No, not at a prestigious university, but a community college. Surprisingly, post-secondary education has never been one of my parents' main priorities for my life. They decided I would study culinary arts. My father, because it's what my mother had done. Lady Cat, because she thought it would help me get a husband. Weird, right? Of course, it didn't matter what I wanted to study, because I would never have to work anyway. That year, to the surprise of the household staff, I began to take an interest in housekeeping, cooking, and accounting. I had no idea what I actually wanted to do with my life but by now, I had begun to look for a way out. My parents, clueless as to how much things actually cost and highly competitive with other parents, gave me fifty dollars a week for an allowance. I also learned to use Lady Catherine's, and to a lesser extent, my father's, obsession with appearances to my advantage. The trick was to a) agree with whatever they said, b) make subtle hints as to what "everyone else" was doing, and c) let them think they came up with the ideas. When I became interested in environmentalism, I simply mentioned that everyone I knew was into it, and a week later, we were reducing, reusing, and recycling.
My father was killed in a car accident. Soon, Henry fully took over his company, which was founded by our great-great-great-grandfather. That is really all I have to say about that.
Wow. So much for keeping it simple, right? Anyway, now, at seventeen years old, with dark, curly waist-length hair and pale skin, I wake up at five in the morning, brush my teeth, get dressed, and put on just enough makeup to add some color to my cheeks and cover the dark circles under my eyes. No, I am not ill. Lady Catherine might disagree, but really, I'm fine. The dark circles are there because guess what? College is stressful, especially when you've been taking too many classes for way too long without even coming to a full stop in the summer. And maybe I would look better if Lady Catherine didn't act as if food and sunshine were the plague. With black hair, very dark eyes, pale skin, and sharp features, she does look a bit like a vampire.
I brush my hair, make my bed, and grab my backpack, then stand in the doorway for a second and look around my room. It is relatively small, with bare, light yellow walls. There are two other doors on the right wall, one to my walk-in closet and another to my bathroom. In the middle of the wall opposite me, there is a large window with thick white curtains overlooking the small garden where I planted some herbs, roses, fruit trees, and vegetables. Then there is my pink canopy bed a little to the right, my dresser on the right of that, and a desk and chair on the left. No books or stuffed animals or knickknacks. Clutter annoys me. It is in complete contrast to the rest of the house, a Victorian mansion with about twenty-five rooms in the outer suburbs of New York City, a quarter of a mile off from the main road and partly hidden by trees.
I quietly go downstairs to the kitchen and grab some yogurt out of the fridge before running out the door straight for the train station about a mile away. Lady Catherine would be appalled if she knew I was taking the train instead of being driven by our chauffeur, Jonathan, a nice older man who has been secretly teaching me to drive. He understands that I want to be independent, and really, he doesn't want to get up so early, so he helps me out. I suppose I could simply tell Lady Catherine that everyone is into public transportation these days, and she wouldn't say a word against it, but then why take the risk? The ground is wet from all the rain we've been getting lately. We've had several late summer storms this year, following a dry spell that lasted a few weeks. But today the sky is clear and a cool breeze is blowing gently, promising an end to the rain and the unbearable heat wave. I can almost imagine the leaves changing colors and the first snowflakes falling.
So I get to the train station, go into the bathroom, and check my clothes. I take off my black high heels and put on light pink and gray sneakers, raise my long black skirt a few inches, and take off my frilly silver designer blouse, revealing a pink plaid button-up shirt. It may not seem like such a big deal, but in Lady Catherine's eyes, this would be tantamount to going to church in a swimsuit. Absolutely mortifying, a poor reflection on our family, etc. Whatever. I get on the train and sit between a teenage boy with a neon green Mohawk listening to music and a businessman with a suit, tie, and briefcase reading the paper. I make a mental list of other things Lady Catherine doesn't know.
I love baking and country music. Rock is okay too. Sometimes I go to the movies between classes and buy tons of candy. I have many opinions. I do not like her friends or her friends' children. I hate the way she treats me like a fragile doll to display when anyone comes over. Then when they say anything about their children's accomplishments, she always butts in and says, Oh, Anne would do that too, if her health had allowed it. Really, I'm fine. I had a few fainting spells several years ago, most likely due to the fact that I skipped a few meals and got dehydrated on some really hot days, and now she treats me like an invalid or something. Even after several doctors told her that I was perfectly fine. One even said I was one of the healthiest people he had ever seen. I hate how she has impossibly high expectations but still treats me like a child. I hate how she is always gossiping and putting people down behind their backs, and sometimes to their faces. I hate that she is so obsessed with appearances and critical of everything. I hate how her idea of giving back to the community is going to extraordinarily wasteful, expensive, over-the-top "charity" balls, with caterers, live bands, and star appearances.
Two stops later, someone takes the seat across from me. I sneak a look and see a young man with light brown hair, wearing a dark red sweater and jeans, carrying a dark blue backpack and reading a paper. He looks up suddenly and I see he has bright blue eyes. He smiles, and I smile, then look away. After a few seconds, I look again. He is reading the comics. I like that. Eventually we get off the train and I run to the campus.
I go to class. Same old thing. Then I go to the nearby café, order a tropical fruit parfait and iced tea, and go to the park. I sit at my usual picnic table under a tree and start reading. About half an hour later, SPLASH! A football comes flying out of nowhere and hits what is left of my tea. A man runs over and apologizes. Oh…wow. It's the guy from the train. His name is Thomas. We end up talking for an hour and find out we go to the same school. He is twenty-one and in his last year, studying social work. He is taking the train because his motorcycle is getting fixed. What would Lady Catherine say? But I don't care. He is far more pleasant and polite than any of the other young men of my acquaintance and has none of their airs or pretensions. He is very easy to talk to. We talk about anything and everything we can think of and find we have a great deal in common. Too soon, we have to go to our classes, but we plan to meet again at the train station. Until then, I am inexplicably anxious and distracted. Is it love? Too soon to say, but I certainly look forward to our next meeting.
When I get home, I go up to my room and change into "proper dinner attire," a silk emerald dress and silver heels, before going downstairs. Yes, really. Lady Catherine and Henry are there already. For a second I worry that I am late. I did walk home, and I took my time getting ready. Lady Catherine hates lateness. Then I look at the grandfather clock in the corner. Right on time. I quietly sit down. Soon, she starts talking. This is different. Usually we eat in complete silence. First, she asks Henry how his day was. He gives a short, boring reply. I'm suddenly reminded of a similar scene two years ago when she brought up my sweet sixteen. The thoughts that went through my mind then: Wait…what? Oh no. If I had known about this sooner, I would have prepared something. I think she knows that. So instead, she waited until just a few months before to spring it on me. Now she probably has the whole thing planned… Oh no. This will be a disaster, and I have no choice in the matter. Now, she's saying that my sweet sixteen was one thing, but I will be eighteen soon, and then I will be presented to society (read: rich, snobbish, petty, vapid people) as an adult. This time, I'm prepared. I've thought of everything, and by the time Lady Catherine brings it up, I tell her as matter-of-factly as I can that it is for the most part settled. She is about to protest when I mention that her dear friend Mrs. Cole said that a young woman's eighteenth birthday is when she must show initiative and fully take charge as party planner and hostess. She is left speechless.
Back at school. I see Thomas again. We make small talk and exchange basic information over lunch. I don't know how or even if I should tell him about my family and financial status just yet, so I simply tell him that my full name is Anne Marie de Bourgh and I live on Rosings Lane. He looks at my clothes and the delicate topaz necklace I put on this morning and we come to an unspoken understanding. Soon, we get into the deeper subjects, and we find we are a perfect match. He asks if I have plans for Friday night. As if. My social life is nonexistent, so he invites me to an event his church is putting on. I'm cheering and singing and doing cartwheels inside.
Sunday. Our pastor, Colin, has been unusually concise and assertive since he got engaged. Today he introduces his fiancée, Miss Charlotte Lucas. She really brings out the best in him. I hear she got him to go to counseling too. Mrs. Cole invites us for lunch. I suddenly have a highly convenient headache. I go home and sneak in through the back door. Now close your eyes (just for a second, otherwise how will you read this?) and think of something relaxing. Me, I make some tea and a parfait, get some scented candles, my favorite books, and a notebook (just in case I suddenly, desperately need to write something down immediately), and turn the radio on to my favorite station. Then I take a long bath. It's a good day.
Hey, Annie, Thomas calls. He runs up from behind me, waving. We have been seeing each other for three weeks now and spending a lot of time together. When she asks, which isn't often, I tell Lady Catherine I am studying with a friend. No, I'm not lying. We really do help each other study. My grades have actually improved. Today I wonder. Should I tell him about Lady Catherine? He'll find out eventually. No, forget it. Maybe in a few weeks…or months. Yesterday she heard a rumor and launched into a tirade that lasted for hours. I tuned out from the beginning, but I did hear something about a motorcycle-riding, shaggy-haired delinquent! No, his hair isn't that long. And he's really nice and considerate, and he volunteers at animal shelters and soup kitchens. Not typical delinquent behavior. But I can't tell her that. I'm feeling tired and depressed. And he notices. But I don't want to talk about that now. I tell him about the party instead. I give him an invitation to my party and take out some catalogs. We spend the next half hour talking about cake flavors and party favors.
Thanksgiving. Usually a day for families and thankfulness and all that, right? Yeah, right. Not at the de Bourgh house. I can't even call it home, because it's not. It's always so still and quiet and lifeless. Lady Catherine went out with her friends this morning and Henry is at work all day. So where am I? I'm at Thomas's apartment making my first turkey dinner with absolutely no help. Turkey, stuffing, gravy, potatoes, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. Mmm. His sister Maddie and her husband Edward Gardiner are coming over with their two-year-old son Matt later. The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is on TV. Suddenly, he comes up behind me and wraps his arms around me. He whispers that he has something to ask me. When I turn around, he is down on one knee and asking me to marry him. Yes. I don't even look at the ring until he slips it on my finger. Of course, it's beautiful. He also gives me a necklace to put it on so Lady Catherine won't see. When the Gardiners arrive, we meet them at the door. It's snowing lightly, and Thomas presents me as his fiancée. We have a lovely dinner and Thomas takes me home a few hours later. Now, even Henry's complaining about the stock market and Lady Catherine's malicious gossip about her so-called friends can't bring me down.
We begin browsing for homes and filling out job applications. And I knit. Ed is a teacher and Maddie is a nurse, but they also sell homemade hats, scarves, mittens, and slippers in their spare time. So cool. I also make a few calls to the dressmaker and cake shop and start packing my things. Of course, we have to be discreet, because Lady Catherine would never allow it if she knew. I pack everything in my dresser, including my binder. It has everything; important documents, photos, pictures I have drawn, stories and poems I have written, journal entries, recipes, and lists of books and songs and movies I like. I move a little more every day, and by the time I'm done, all I have to wear are the things in my closet. I should have planned that better but then, maybe I'll get something halfway decent for my birthday.
Wake up, Anne. I open my eyes and let out a sigh of relief. Good. It was just a dream. No, a nightmare. What's scarier is that tonight may be just as bad. I take a deep breath and burrow under my blanket. Wait a minute! It's Friday. I still have to go to school. I look at the clock. It's only four. I take a shower, get dressed, and sneak down to the kitchen. I make a fruit salad. I can almost hear Lady Catherine counting the calories. Twenty, fifty, one hundred… I take some almonds and walnuts and toss them would probably faint. I look in the fridge and take out a large, nearly empty container of yogurt and pour it on. See? I don't care.
The day passes quickly. Fridays always do. When class gets out I meet Thomas. He's coming to the party tonight, of course, but he gives me his gift in private. A bar of chocolate, a box of tea, glittery gel pens, sparkly temporary tattoos, and a rose. It is perhaps the most thoughtful gift I will receive tonight. We have five minutes together before Jonathan picks me up. I spend the next few hours putting on my dress and getting my hair, nails, and makeup done.
After the disaster that was my sixteenth birthday, I began planning my eighteenth immediately. I am now on my way to an old hotel ballroom, decorated with potted roses and Christmas trees and colorful lights. I designed the invitations myself, but they look very professional, with elegant script in silver ink on dark blue paper that matches my dress, which looks like something one might have worn in the early 1800s. No one would ever guess that it was made by a local dressmaker instead of some designer from Paris or Milan. The cake is a pale blue, with some delicate snowflakes painted on and ten layers of white cake with toffee frosting. It's perfect. It is more exclusive than my sweet sixteen, so about two hundred people come, and dozens of people ask me who made my dress and seem shocked to learn it was not some famous designer. I just laugh and say, Designer labels are so common these days, don't you agree? Originality must be discovered. Like Lady Catherine, they are left speechless. I have a feeling the dressmaker will be very busy with all the people I've referred to her. Thomas sneaks in around nine. Did I mention it's a masquerade ball? Yes, everyone is wearing a mask. Does that seem a little strange, on top of everything else? Well too bad. It's my party. And it's great!
By the time the party ends at two in the morning, I am exhausted. I'm too tired to sort through all my gifts, so I put it all in the closet and leave it there. I wake up at noon and take another look. The purses are all rather flashy or ugly, but I realize they're loaded, and I mean loaded, with gift cards, so it's not a total waste. I perk up quickly and go on a spending spree in the city. This time I have the chauffeur take me because one, Lady Catherine is watching, and two, I'm going to have a ton of stuff to bring home. I have a list of people I need to get presents for. There's Thomas, Edward, Maddie, Matt, Henry, Lady Catherine, Mrs. Jenkinson, Jonathan, the maids, Samantha and Rose, the cooks, Julie and Emily, Brian the gardener, Jeffrey the mechanic, some extended family I hardly know, and family "friends." After I get all of that, most of the stuff I buy goes straight to the first donation bin I see. Next I go to Thomas's apartment. I seem to be doing that a lot lately. Well, he did give me a key. By the time he gets home, I've made half a dozen pies and several sheets of cookies.
I haven't been sick in years. Well, it's finally happened. The germs ganged up and came back with a vengeance. I just woke up and I already know it's going to be a lousy day. I have a splitting headache, my throat is sore, and my nose is stuffed up, and I'm not usually one to complain. The good news: No school. Not much else to say now. I'm going back to sleep.
December 23, 2:38 am. Anne de Bourgh, you have officially lost it. This is the first thought that goes through my mind when I wake up. The idea came to me in a dream a few nights ago. Today it will become a reality. I've never done anything like this before. Lady Catherine is on a week-long cruise and Henry is on a business trip. Now, what does an unsupervised teenager do in a big empty house? That's right! Throw a party! Okay, so it's not really going to be a huge blowout, just a small gathering of people. Tomorrow, the house will be completely empty, as everyone is spending the holidays with friends and family, but today it will be very busy. I'm not worried about anyone telling Lady Catherine. I'm eighteen now, it's my home as well, and no one likes or respects her. They don't even work for her, technically, because Henry's the one who signs their paychecks.
You may be wondering why I'm up so early. Well, yesterday was pretty hectic. I woke up at six to see Lady Catherine and Henry off, had brunch with my "friends," and spent five hours walking (or racing) through the mall for stuff I didn't want or need with said "friends," a group of entitled fake blonde anorexic wannabes who think the most important thing in life is how they look or how much money they can waste. By four, I had a headache and decided to take a little nap. Who would have guessed that taking a long bath, jumping into soft, warm flannel pajamas, drinking hot tea with lemon, closing the curtains, and crawling into bed would put someone straight to sleep for over nine hours? Anyway, I'm feeling perfectly awake and refreshed and ready to go. Now I'm just waiting for the clock to say 2:45 before I make myself get out of bed and get moving.
The floor is cold. I go over my mental checklist while feeling around for my slippers. Presents, check. Cards, check. Christmas bonuses and a heartfelt thank-you and I'm-sorry-for-everything-you-have-to-put-up-with included (phrased a little more delicately, of course). Next I go to the kitchen, turn on some carols, and start baking. I make fruitcakes, pumpkin pies, and cookies before starting on dinner. At eight-thirty, Thomas comes over with a small potted Christmas tree on the back of his motorcycle. I'm still wearing my pajamas. A year ago, I probably would have run upstairs and changed immediately, but I'm so much more relaxed now. He puts the tree on the living room table while I clean up the kitchen, and we split a small pie for breakfast before we start decorating. Thomas strings lights everywhere while I set out some wreaths and candles when suddenly the doorbell rings. The mailman is at the door with two dozen large packages. Thomas's face is priceless. I burst out laughing. My parents stopped buying Henry and me presents years ago. Instead, they let us use their credit cards to order whatever we wanted. I don't think they ever bothered to check what we bought. So this year, I ordered a ton of chocolate and stuff from my favorite catalogs. It took a while, but I found out everyone's favorites. We sample one box and spend about half an hour wrapping the rest before finishing the tree. I go to my room and get the presents I have hidden under my bed and the cards in my desk. Thomas comes to help bring everything down.
Five o'clock. The bell rings. The first guests are Rose Smith and her daughter Sarah. Her husband died two years ago and she desperately needed a job, so Lady Catherine hired her "out of the goodness of her heart." What a joke. Anyway, they're alright now. Next the Gardiners arrive, followed by everyone else with their families. We have dinner and everyone opens their gifts, and I play Christmas tunes on the piano, which leads to everyone either singing along or dancing. Sarah Smith takes over when Thomas asks me to dance. By the time everyone leaves, it's almost midnight, but Thomas stays to help clean up and we have hot cocoa and gingerbread cookies. It's a good night.
Christmas Eve, 11 am. Just woke up. Still a little sleepy. Thomas went home shortly before eleven and I went to sleep soon after. I look outside and see it's beginning to snow. I go into the kitchen and make breakfast, bacon and eggs, pancakes with maple syrup, coffee with a little hot cocoa mixed in, and a candy cane. I take a quick shower, change into jeans and a sweater, and grab my things. Thomas comes over and we eat in front of the TV before going to the Gardiners'. We decided last night that since I'm home alone and there's supposed to be a blizzard coming tonight, it would be best if we spent the night at their house. It's a large red farmhouse Ed inherited from his great-uncle a few years ago. We all go sledding before dinner. After dinner, we go caroling with some neighbors and go to church and it's snowing and everything is perfect.
Christmas morning, 5 am. The blizzard came all right, and now the power is out. Last year, I know, this would have bugged me so much. Inside, I would be having a total meltdown. But now? It's alright. Ask anyone who's got their priorities straight and they'll tell you that the most important things in life are faith and family. This year, I have both. Add in a charming farmhouse in the country, and everything is just about perfect. Mattie is banging on the door and he runs in and pounces on me for good measure. It's Christmas! he yells. Wake up, wake up! He drags me out of bed and into the living room, where Maddie is lighting candles and Ed is getting the fire started. Thomas comes in and we open presents while waiting for breakfast to cook over the fire. I get a red scarf and candles from Ed and Maddie, a music box from Thomas, and a beautiful snowflake ornament I'm told Matt picked out for me all by himself. Once again, I play the piano (of course a farmhouse must have a piano) and we sing carols. We visit some neighbors and play in the snow some more. The power is turned on and the roads are plowed. After dinner, we watch movies, and finally say goodbye around eleven. I can't wait until we're really family.
It starts with a rumor. About me. A horrible rumor about me which is so completely unbelievable that I want to laugh but first I have to see him, to tell him how completely ridiculous it is and to have him agree completely. But when I get to his apartment he's not there.
Five years later:
I was depressed for a while. Then Lady Catherine, with unexpected, but not unwelcome, delicacy, introduced me to a nice young man who was working his way up in our company. We were married within a year, and a year after that, our daughter was born. Then the bills started coming. The company went bankrupt. There were accusations of fraud from all sides. Things got bad at home. He came home later and later, until he stopped coming home at all. A week after he last left, I got a call from the police in Vegas. He had crashed a stolen car into a bus, killing two innocent bystanders. This is not real. It's not real. It's…
Wake up, Anne. It was just a nightmare. It is 5:45 on December 27. I can't go back to sleep. Today is going to be a busy day. I go to my closet and pull out several large boxes filled with everything I plan to get rid of. Then I look again. Whoa. My closet is full. And everything in it is just gathering dust (only figuratively, of course). Suddenly I can't understand why I've held on to it all for so long. So I get some more boxes and pack everything up. My next problem: How am I supposed to get all this stuff out of here? I'm home alone, and Thomas is at work. I look out the window and see a car coming up the driveway. I push everything back in the closet and run downstairs to see who it is. A young woman steps out of the car. It's Maddie. She says Edward took Matt for the day so we could go out. We can hit the mall for the after-Christmas sales and go to Olive Garden for lunch. I ask if she would mind making a few stops first. We go up to my room and bring the boxes down to the car. It looks like we'll have to make three or even four trips, but she's cool about it. Our first stop is a consignment store a few blocks away. After I assure him nothing was stolen, the owner asks no questions.
January 2, 11:57 pm. Lady Catherine and Henry have long been asleep, and I am left to recall the events of the day. Lady Catherine forced me to meet a man named George Darcy. He has dark hair and green eyes and looked very serious throughout the meeting. He is the son of Lady Catherine's second cousin, Clara Fitzwilliam. I used to be her Barbie doll. Now I'm just a burden to be married off. How Victorian. Lady Catherine has been hinting for years that we have been betrothed (yes, she actually said that) since she married my father. Tonight she announced that we would be married in three weeks before leaving us to speak privately.
As soon as she left, he turned to me and I began quickly, George, I'm sorry but… Then he stopped me and said slowly, No, I'm sorry, Anne. I can't do this. I wish you nothing but the best and I don't want to hurt you, but I can't marry you. I stared at him, pleasantly surprised, but I suppose he must have misread my reaction as he continued, It simply would not be right or fair to you. My heart belongs to someone else. Before he could say another word, I said that it was perfectly fine because I was secretly engaged. After receiving his assurances that he would not tell my stepmother, we had a pleasant conversation until she came in again. He tried hinting that we could not get married, but she was perfectly oblivious. After dinner, he asked to speak with her alone. I was told to go to the sitting room, where I normally spend my evenings. I heard yelling and looked out the window to see him look up, wave goodbye, and drive away. Lady Catherine flew into the room in a rage. She continued ranting for hours, eventually going to bed around ten.
It is May. I am about to graduate. I walk up on stage to get my diploma and look out into the crowd. They are all there. Lady Catherine is frowning slightly and looking disinterested. But I don't care. Not today. Neither does Henry, who is sitting next to her and beaming. Then, in the seventh row, near the aisle, there's Thomas. I hope Lady Catherine and Henry understand that this is not a decision I am making lightly. I know they will be angry. They are very proud, and the thought of me leaving everything I have ever known to marry some guy with no fortune to speak of will hurt them. But then, Lady Catherine has never been a warm, loving person interested in my happiness or well-being. She'll be more concerned with covering all this up than anything else. She is forty-eight and extremely healthy, with no history of heart problems, so while it will come as a shock, it won't kill her. Anyway, this can't be that much of a surprise. For months now, I've been subtly asserting my growing independence.
After graduation, Lady Catherine is impatient to get home, but Henry convinces her to let me stay behind and celebrate and say goodbye to my classmates. When I get home around midnight, I see she fell asleep while she was waiting. Henry did not. He is waiting in my room, angry. I refuse to answer any of his questions and he leaves, locking the door behind him. Whatever. Just because he's five years older, he is so overprotective sometimes. Well open your eyes, Henry. I'm not a little girl anymore. I don't need you to protect me. Besides, I can climb out the window and down the trellis. Ha.
I'm tired and fall asleep instantly. Even in my dreams, I am going over a checklist, making sure everything is ready. Jobs: check. House: check. Change-of-address cards: check. Marriage license, rings, dress, cake: check, check, check, check. Edward came over a few days ago to move our things to our new house. It wasn't much. Altogether, I packed one large suitcase, and my backpack, with some money and my wedding dress, is under my bed, ready to go. My dress looks like something a princess in a fairy tale might wear. I don't care if it gets a little wrinkled. I got rid of my books and Thomas took my graduation stuff last night. Now, I still have to change my name. Lady Catherine would say it's common, but in my opinion, Bennet sounds much nicer than de Bourgh, so much more down-to-earth. Anyway, I'll do that next week. I wake up at ten, take a long bath, and change into a pink short-sleeve v-neck from L.L. Bean, faded jeans, and sneakers. Perfect.
At noon, the maid enters and informs me that Lady Catherine and Henry are waiting in the dining room. Then Lady Catherine makes her displeasure known. I calmly tell them that I am leaving. Lady Catherine starts screaming and looks like she is going to murder someone. Henry looks worried. Right on time, Thomas arrives on his motorcycle. I run outside and jump on. I look back and see Henry looking shocked. Three hours later, I call them, first the home phone, then my brother's office, and then his cellular phone. When he finally picks up, I tell him where we are, and that if they want to come, they have five hours before the wedding. He desperately asks, And just what are we supposed to tell everyone? I reply, Tell them whatever you want. Tell them I married a wonderful man and we are very happy. Edward, Maddie, and Matt are here. We have the reception at their house. We have a small but beautiful cake, and all the decorations look perfect. I don't feel a bit guilty. Sure, I ran off and got married without giving my family even twenty-four hours notice, but I am an adult and I didn't do anything wrong. So begins the rest of my life.
Twenty years later:
Life is good. I have a wonderful, loving husband, two beautiful, intelligent twin daughters, a close network of friends, and a lovely house in a nice neighborhood. Just one tiny setback…I also have amnesia. Three months ago, I was driving home from work when my car was hit by a drunk driver. I am told I suffered nine broken bones, a severe concussion, and was in a coma for two weeks. The doctor told me I may not get my memory back for months, years, and she did not say it, but I know she was thinking, perhaps never. Which is ironic, because I'm told I used to have a nearly photographic memory.
Now I sit at the kitchen table and look though an old scrapbook. There's one of Thomas and me talking on a park bench. He says his friend took it the day we met. I can't believe it. This was me? This pale, skinny little toothpick? I looked anorexic. One thing is certain; he did not fall for me because of my looks. I turn the pages to a few months later at my eighteenth birthday party. The change is minor, but it's there. A little more weight, a little more color. By the time we graduated in May, I looked healthy. Now, I try to focus on what is instead of what was. I am thirty-eight, five foot six, and one hundred and twenty pounds. I'm not quite sure what I do yet, but my husband is a social worker, and my daughters, Jane and Elizabeth, have recently started an internship at some company on the city. They just turned nineteen in March and recently finished their second year of college. They almost look identical, except Jane has her father's bright blue eyes and curly white-blond hair like his mother, and Elizabeth has my dark eyes and hair.
I look through my bag to see if I have any more pictures. Oh no. This is not my bag. First clue: Notebook full of hearts and detailed notes about a certain redheaded young man. Second clue: The lunches I packed this morning. I know they have a cafeteria in the building, but really, how healthy is the food? Like any good mother, I go to the office building and ask the secretary where I might find my daughters. She asks if I have an appointment. I reply that I do not, and explain that I am here because my daughters are interns and we got our bags mixed up. She looks a little surprised but gives me the directions to the office where they work.
I go up in the elevator and when I get out, I see a young man with light red hair talking with his friend. I know I have seen him before. Of course. He was in that notebook I found. And he is talking about Jane. I have the urge to up to him and say, You realize you're talking about my daughter, right? But I hold back. For now. I make my way to the office and see my bag next to a desk. I switch the bags and leave a little note on Jane's pad of pink sticky-notes.
Suddenly the young man from before comes in looking slightly confused. I start to explain that Jane took the wrong bag when he jumps in and goes off on a tangent about how wonderful she is. I reply that I know, and I am here because she left her bag at home. He asks if I'm her sister. Aww, he is so sweet. I tell him I am her mother and get a very surprised reaction when suddenly his friend comes in, and behind him, a very familiar and very confused-looking man.
Anne? he asks. I'm sorry, I say. Have we met? Then Elizabeth and Jane appear behind them. Mom? This is echoed by the two men who just came in. Jane makes the introductions. Apparently, the two younger men are also interns, and the older one is a CEO or something. Mom, this is Charles Bingley, William Darcy, and Henry de Bourgh. And this is our mother, Anne Bennet. Three mouths drop open. Elizabeth smirks a bit. Anne? the man - Henry - asks again. Have we met? I ask Jane quietly. She gives a small shrug and I turn to him. Don't take it personally, but I have amnesia, so I really don't know who you are. He replies, I'm your brother… I have a brother? Well, that's good to know. I wonder why I didn't hear about this before. Oh, well, nice to meet you again. I had better be going now. Oh, and girls, here's your bag. I'll see you at home. Then I walk away, very, very confused.
I go outside and see Thomas waiting on a motorcycle. Like it? he asks. It's just like the one I used to have before the girls were born. That's right. We were both settling down and it was always breaking down so he sold it. It's great, I say, and jump on. I put on a helmet and take one last look at the office building. Staring out the window, I see the man who says he is my brother scowling deeply. I hold on tight and enjoy the ride. So, I ask after a few minutes, why didn't you tell me I had a brother? I can feel him tense up a bit. Oh…so you've met. Well, the thing is, your family wasn't all that happy when we got married. I wait for him to continue. The thing is, we kind of, well, eloped. We had planned it for months. We got jobs and the house and everything before we made our move. The day after we graduated, we left early in the morning and came out here. We tried to explain and told them where we were going and invited them to the wedding, gave them a few hours, but they never showed.
Suddenly, I remember something. A woman with black hair, Lady Catherine, dressed in an overly ruffled black silk dress adorned with pearls, gold, silver, and jewels. A large, silent house. So, I say slowly, they're really rich. And Lady Catherine was always so stuck-up and critical. And I didn't want to be like that. I don't know how to feel. I mean, it worked out okay, right? We just celebrated our eighteenth anniversary last week. It was the girls' first day at work so they were a little late. Actually a lot late. But that didn't matter. It was perfect. We had cake and ice cream and watched movies.
Twenty years. It's been exactly twenty years and one week since I last saw him. Since I ran out the door and jumped on that bike. Since I called to say I would be married. Could it be true?
It is five-thirty in the morning. I am going back to work for the first time in months. Apparently, I own a diner. I clean, cook, redecorate, and do a little waitressing when the first customers come in. No problem. Everyone is talking about the party. What party? you may ask. Tomorrow is our annual neighborhood block party. All the necessary preparations have been made. I've made dozens of calls, casseroles, pizzas, and pies. Jane and Elizabeth have told me all about everyone in the neighborhood. I'm ready. I'm going over a checklist when someone comes in. He's here. Henry. My brother.
He comes over and looks at me and asks, Why? Henry yells, Do you have any idea what you put us through all these years? We didn't know where you were or if you were alright. I cut him off there. I wrote you every month. I called every week and left a message when you wouldn't pick up. Maybe if you weren't so proud, you would have seen I was happy. I am happy. I have my family and friends and a job I love. Do you have that? He leaves soon after. Thomas comes in a few minutes later. I write another letter.
You may not agree with some of the choices I've made, but they were my choices. If you can accept this, you are welcome to come over any time. Like, say, tomorrow at six? I hope to see you then.
He doesn't come. However, Charles Bingley and William Darcy arrive.
"She is tolerable…"
Oh, I hope Lizzy didn't hear that. Yes, she did. This can't be good.
"But she's nineteen! A Facebook/Taylor Swift-obsessed teenager!"
That man just doesn't know when to shut up.
Jane has been invited to dinner at the Bingleys' house.
Jane is very sick and staying at the Bingleys' house until she gets better.
A young man named William Collins has come to stay with us.
William Collins is stalking Lizzy.
We're going to a dance.
William Collins has proposed to Lizzy.
William Collins has been arrested for harassment.
Carla Lucas (no relation to the aforementioned Charlotte Lucas) is engaged to William Collins.
I wish Mrs. Lucas would shut up.
Charles Bingley and William Darcy have gone on a business trip and no one knows when they will be back.
Jane has gone to stay with the Gardiners.
Caroline Bingley is not Jane's friend.
Jane is back, but now Lizzy is going to her friend Carla's for two weeks.
Lizzy is upset.
Jane is back.
Elizabeth is traveling with the Gardiners.
Emergency, tragedy, misunderstanding, etc.
George Wickham has been arrested for drunk driving and fleeing the scene of an accident, among other things.
Charles Bingley and William Darcy are back.
Jane is engaged!
Elizabeth is engaged!
Henry is here to apologize.
It is a clear, crisp November day. A few days ago, the forecast predicted rain tonight, but a cold front moved in, and the first snowflakes are just beginning to fall. Perfect day for a wedding.The End