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JAOCTGOHONO: Sneaking

October 31, 2018 02:58PM
Blurb: Happy Halloween 2018! Catherine Moreland helps Eleanor Tilney sneak out and then back into her home. A JAOCTGOHONO submission.

I love NA, and I keep coming back to the characters. A tweak here, an extrapolation there, and -- poof! -- something else to write about.

The lack of a JAOCTGOHONO prompt kept me uninspired… I was worried that I'd get started on something and then be unable to transition over to another concept when the prompt was finally announced. But I have a tendency to get an idea and write a chapter or two, and then stall. Sometimes I come back to it and it grows into a real story and sometimes not. So here's something. I hope you like this.

Sneaking Out, Sneaking In



Eleanor Tilney was the epitome of “poor little rich girl.” She lived in the biggest house on her street with only her father, had more expensive and stylish clothes than any of the other girls, and absolutely no opportunity to wear them except to school.

She had also only recently moved to the area -- her father was in the military and had been transferred to the nearby base. Her mother had died a few years ago and neither of her brothers -- both older -- lived at home. Her natural shyness, combined with impeccable manners that could satisfy a drill sergeant, made it difficult for her to find a welcome spot in the various cliques and groups of friends at the academy.

Between the general mystique of being new and a prettier than average face, she attracted loads of attention her first week at school. A few initial overtures from some of the girls had ended in unflattering gossip when Eleanor was discovered to be less interesting than her wardrobe implied. Isabella Thorpe had flat out declared that, “The high and mighty Miss Eleanor Tilney thinks she's too good for the rest of us,” which was ridiculous as far as Catherine Moreland was concerned. Then again, Catherine found most of the words that came out of Isabella's mouth to be ridiculous. Words like, “Of course you know I love your brother, Catherine,” and, “It was just a coincidence that Randy was there when I desperately needed a ride home. Nothing happened!”

But Catherine Moreland saw Eleanor's potential if only to prove Isabella was wrong. At least that was how it started out, but Eleanor quickly grew on her new friend and, while Catherine would never classify Eleanor as lively, the new girl did have a wicked sense of humor when she thought no one else was listening.

One of the things that Eleanor kept close to her vest was a crush on a dashing young lieutenant from her father's last assignment. Catherine only found out about the crush accidentally and it took weeks before Eleanor was willing to provide any details. But then the young man wrote to her and said he might be in town in a few weekends. Eleanor practically floated with happiness at the prospect of seeing him again until she thought about how impossible it would be for her father to agree to such a thing.

“Rachel Carteret is having her birthday party that Saturday. Tell your Geoffrey that you'll meet him at the party and tell you father that you're coming to my house for a sleepover,” suggested Catherine. “Then we can go to the party and you can introduce me to him.”

It was a good idea, but Eleanor's delivery lacked confidence. Her father was immediately suspicious and refused her, turning the offer around and inviting Catherine to spend the night instead.

The girls scrambled to come up with another idea but nothing even remotely on the level occurred to them.

“Ugh! If only I were Isabella, I'd know exactly what to do,” Catherine said in frustration.

“What do you mean?” asked Eleanor, feeling desperate. “What would you do?” Geoffrey had already written back that he would move Heaven and Earth be at the party and Eleanor didn't know what she would do if she couldn't meet him.

“Well, it's pretty simple, really,” Catherine said. “We just need to sneak out after your dad goes to bed. I can borrow my brother's car and park it at the end of the street and drive us to the party.”

It was a testament to the strength if Eleanor's attachment that she said, “You would do that for me?”

.o8o.

General Tilney was a military man. He ran his life and the life of his daughter with military precision. As such, it was not at all difficult to sneak out. The girls only had to announce that they were going to Eleanor's room to listen to music a quarter-hour before the general's usual bedtime. General Tilney had stopped at his daughter's door to wish her goodnight on his way to his own room, and after that the girls dashed about doing their hair and makeup, and putting on their party dresses. They carried their shoes and coats downstairs and out the front door, with Eleanor locking it behind her.

Each step towards the getaway car made them feel lighter and more giddy, and they laughed and joked the entire way to Rachel's house. Mr. and Mrs. Carteret had banished the noisy teenagers to the basement party room and had themselves gone to bed early. Catherine and Eleanor descended the stairs with bright eyes and wide smiles.

.o8o.

The party was a bust.

Geoffrey didn't come. Eleanor was teased for having even shown up (nobody but Catherine knew why she wanted to be there, thankfully, but the teasing was still unwelcome to the shy girl). Isabella flaunted her latest trophy -- a college boy who brought a few bottles of vodka to the party. The vodka made its way into far too many glasses and boys who had something to prove downed shots of it before getting rowdy. Catherine had her shoes soaked in someone else's drink and nearly had someone walk off with her coat.

The two friends stayed until Mr. Carteret came down and sent everybody home. Despite the late hour, Eleanor's beau never arrived.

The ride back was nearly silent, a grim contrast to the earlier trip. Catherine would periodically apologize for the dumb idea and Eleanor would tell her not to be ridiculous. When Catherine parked the car at the curb a quarter mile from the Tilney driveway, she still felt bad about her friend's disappointment. She smiled weakly and promised to help come up with another plan in the morning.

Eleanor just nodded and clasped her hands in her lap, too disappointed to say anything. The girls got out and Catherine locked the car before they started the short walk home.

When they had snuck out hours ago, the atmosphere had been one of giddy elation and their steps flew to the getaway car. Now, after a night of crushed hope, they were somber and tired, and the residential street was far longer and winding on foot than it looked. The houses, separated by large lawns, were all dark and unwelcoming. Weak light from a sickly moon threw odd shadows across the pavement. The drop in temperature caused their breath to cloud with each exhale. A raccoon briefly stumbled out of ditch to give the girls a scare. They gripped each other's hand tightly to keep from screaming and stood shaking in the deserted street until their heart rates returned to normal.

Then they rounded the corner and Eleanor again stopped in her tracks.

“What's wrong?” Catherine whispered, but as she looked at the scene before her, it became obvious: the lights were on at the Tilney house.

“Did we leave the light on?” asked Catherine. It was a foolish hope that one thing would go in their favor tonight.

“No, we didn't,” Eleanor responded in hushed tones. “I distinctly remember we left the lights off when we came downstairs. And I looked over my shoulder a few times as we were walking away. The house was dark. If my father figured out that I left, I'm in so much trouble.”

We, Catherine mentally corrected her. We are in so much trouble.

“Well, maybe he got up to go to the kitchen for a snack and forgot to turn the light off,” Catherine hypothesized. If they were caught, there was nothing to do but beg for mercy.

Eleanor was already shaking her head at the implausibility of that idea when a figure passed behind the front curtains. “He's still awake,” she gasped, squeezing Catherine's hand. “How are we supposed to get inside with him standing by the front door?”

Catherine had seen the figure too, and it left her a little light-headed. “Can we sneak in through the back door?”

“The key only works for the front,” Eleanor lamented. “What are we going to do?”

While Eleanor stood there and panicked, Catherine was able to clear her head. It was a precarious situation but doom was not guaranteed. “Can we get in through your bedroom window?”

“My room is upstairs!” protested Eleanor.

“Yes but isn’t there a trellis or something?”

Eleanor was about to argue, but her father's moving silhouette distracted her. In that moment of indecision, Catherine pulled her friend to the side of the house, near the climbing roses.

Eleanor looked up. “I don't think I can do this, Catherine,” she admitted.

“I'll help,” countered Catherine. “You go first and I'll give you a boost and make sure you don't fall.”

It was both harder and easier than it looked. The trellis was more sturdy than first thought but the thorns were also more numerous. It was too dark to see and the girls had to keep as quiet as possible.

At last, Eleanor reached her window. With one hand clinging tightly to the trellis, her other hand attempted to lift the sash while Catherine stood near her heels ready to brace her. After a nearly silent struggle, Eleanor gave up.

“It won't budge,” she whispered hoarsely to her friend. “I can't open it.”

“What do you mean?” asked Catherine in a panic. “Try harder.”

“I can't do it,” said Eleanor and she began to descend.

Between Catherine trying to push her back up, and her skirt repeatedly catching on the thorns, and the impossibility of seeing anything in the darkness, it was impressive that she managed to get as close to the ground as she was before she fell. It was completely unsurprising that Catherine was close enough to catch her clumsily, with both girls ending in an inelegant heap in the side garden.

The two lay there for a moment, trying not to groan too loudly. After checking themselves for sprains and other injuries, they got to their feet and tried to brush off the dirt that hadn't been ground into their coats.

“I am in so much trouble,” Eleanor sighed.

“Let me try,” Catherine volunteered.

“It won't work,” Eleanor warned. “It's stuck or something.”

But Catherine paid no heed. She was already reaching for the first handholds in the trellis, trying to plant her foot safely. The first few feet were quickly overcome, and the few after that. It was only Eleanor's wavering, “Be careful!” that drew her attention to her present height, but Catherine had climbed plenty of trees before, and she had more permissive parents than Eleanor.

At the top of the trellis, she fumbled briefly as she figured out how to hold herself steady while also prying open the window. The sash was stuck, clearly, but if Catherine could budge it even an inch, she knew the rest of the way would be easy.

Suddenly, the beam of a flashlight swung around the edge of the house before zeroing in on Catherine's face. “What are you doing?” commanded an authoritative male voice.

They were caught! Catherine's heart immediately lodged in her throat, which was the only thing that kept her from screaming in fright. She lost her grip and teetered briefly before toppling backwards. The fall was slowed momentarily when the thorns clung to her skirt but the pull of gravity was too strong and, with a rending noise, she dropped to the ground with a grunt.

Eleanor was too stunned to save her friend. Instead, she gaped ashen-faced at the man behind the flashlight, her body not knowing whether to fight or flee. For a second she just stood there, shifting on her feet, as the beam of the flashlight swung to her.

“Ellie?” said the man. “What are you doing? Are you sneaking out?”

Eleanor open and shut her mouth like a fish before she choked out, “Henry? Henry! What are you doing here?” It was a name that Catherine remembered belonged to one of Eleanor's brothers.

“I wanted to surprise you and Dad,” he said, coming closer. “I take it you are surprised?”

Eleanor made a strangled noise that might have been laughter but Catherine's groan was louder.

“Oh, good heavens, your friend!” Henry suddenly exclaimed, swinging the beam to the lump that was Catherine.

She winced at the light shining in her eyes and the pain shooting up her arm. She wasn't seriously hurt but her ankle was sprained and her funny bone was throbbing.

“Oh, Catherine,” cried Eleanor, “are you all right?”

Catherine groaned again and accepted the proffered arm to pull her up. Her dress was torn and her coat was dirty. She probably looked like a fright.

“I'm fine,” she grit out, trying to ignore the pain in her ankle.

“Henry, help me get her into the house and upstairs before Father finds out,” said Eleanor.

“Do you have a friend staying over?” asked Henry. “And you were sneaking out? I don't know whether to be impressed or disappointed.”

“We already snuck out,” Eleanor said, sounding both irritated and gloating. Now that her life wasn't over, her brain began to function better. “We're coming back now. And keep your voice down. If Father wakes up and catches us, I'll never have friends over again.”

Catherine waved off their initial efforts of help, but the first step nearly sent her back to the ground. She stumbled as gracelessly as a newborn colt until Eleanor's brother caught and steadied her.

“Catherine, you're hurt!” Eleanor observed needlessly and wrung her hands.

Henry, on the other hand, scooped her up and started to carry her in a no-nonsense fashion. “Let's get you inside before you break an ankle.”

Catherine wanted to protest but she kept her mouth shut as Eleanor hovered around them and offered superfluous advice about Henry not dropping her and everyone keeping quiet.

When he reached the bottom of the porch steps, Henry adjusted his hold on Catherine. It unsettled her momentarily but, rather than squealing, she wrapped her arms around his neck and tightened her hold as he began to mount the stairs.

Once at the door, he stepped aside to make room for Eleanor.

“Oh, Catherine, your dress,” lamented Eleanor. In the square of light pouring through the window, the damage to the dress was apparent.

“It's not as bad as it looks,” Catherine pointed out. “It's ripped along the seam. I can sew it up quick enough.”

Then she lifted her eyes and realized how awkward it was to be held by a strange man and dressed as she was.

Her discomfort must have shown on her face because Eleanor's brother tried to put her at ease. “Hello,” he said with a tentative smile, his eyes not drifting lower than her face. “I'm Henry Tilney, by the way.”

“Catherine,” she responded. “Catherine Moreland. Pleased to meet you.”

His smile widened and Catherine felt her heart do odd acrobatics in her chest. Until now, he was just some guy in the dark who sounded a lot like a younger version of Eleanor’s very imposing father. But with just a small amount of light shining through the window, his features were clearly visible. He was handsome, as handsome as Eleanor was pretty. And with his attention focused so fully on Catherine, she couldn't help but stare back and let a smile play about her own lips. For the moment, she forgot all about the bedraggled state of her clothing, or the party she had gone to. She didn't notice Eleanor standing there. She couldn't remember to be concerned about waking Eleanor's dad. And, while she had never understood the attractiveness of older boys before -- sure, they were older, but they were in many ways just as stupid -- she couldn't articulate that thought just now. In fact, right now, older boys suddenly made a lot of sense.

“Well, Catherine,” he said, swinging open the door without the hint of a fumble, and crossing the threshold with ease. “The pleasure is all mine. Now let's get you upstairs and out of those clothes before the general finds out.”

She knew what he meant but she couldn't help blushing.

Then someone cleared their throat. Eleanor was behind them but Catherine and Henry swung their eyes forward to the imposing figure glaring at them from the center of the living room. Catherine's heart, which had been fluttering warmly, stopped altogether and sank like lead into her chest.

Wearing a robe and slippers, with his hair mussed from the pillow, the general took in the scene before him looking very much like a man who could murder with his bare hands.

“Son, you have a lot of explaining to do.”

// THE END //
SubjectAuthorPosted

JAOCTGOHONO: Sneaking

NN SOctober 31, 2018 02:58PM

Re: JAOCTGOHONO: Sneaking

Shannon KNovember 01, 2018 01:57AM

Re: JAOCTGOHONO: Sneaking

UlrikeOctober 31, 2018 07:44PM

Re: JAOCTGOHONO: Sneaking

KateRNovember 01, 2018 02:35PM

Re: JAOCTGOHONO: Sneaking

Shannon KNovember 01, 2018 10:36PM



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