-- Jane Austen's story and inspiration, my twists, my characters --
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PROLOGUE: Once Upon a Time There was a Non-Heroine
"NO ONE WHO HAD EVER SEEN CATHERINE MORLAND IN HER INFANCY, WOULD HAVE SUPPOSED HER BORN TO BE AN HEROINE."
-Chapter One of Northanger Abbey
"(St John's) own words are a pledge of this - 'My Master,' he says, 'has forewarned me. Daily He announces more distinctly,"Surely I come quickly!" and hourly I more eagerly respond, 'Amen; even so come, Lord Jesus!' "
I remember that moment like it was yesterday - though it was five years ago. It wasn't my first novel, but it was the beginning of my infatuation. I remember the texture of that page as I smoothed my fingers over it, wishing that it wasn't the final one. I believed that there was no story in the world better than Jane Eyre, for it seemed impossible for a book to contain so many secrets, so much mystery, romance so sweet... it was over. I closed the back cover, and inhaled a shaky breath. (I had held my breath so many times in that book, and not been aware of it. Especially at the proposal.)
While my breath was still shaking, I laid the book beside me on the hammock and I rolled over, and softly fell to the ground landing on my back, not giving a care in the world what the African dust contained. I can tolerate most anything, besides the sandy mud of the Amazon. Oh, the joys of being a missionary kid. But lying there, in that hot, grainy dust, my innocent thirteen-year-old self began to wonder if anything exciting or Charlotte Bronte-worthy would ever happen to me. Could I, Catelyn Wallace, the home-schooled nobody, be a beautiful, desirable young heroine who would experience mystery and intrigue, suspense and secrets, passion and romance, fainting and weeping, abductions and heroic rescues- why, of course! Every heroine needs a hero! - but a true heroine must have that... certain quality. Attitude. Countenance. The one that attracts dashing young men and has a shimmering aura of provocative exhilaration. It was a quality that I did not possess. For when I looked in the mirror, I saw nothing pretty, let alone beautiful. My face, white and sallow, did not reflect the conditions in which I had lived my whole life, and had extraordinary contrast with my dark eyes and hair. But who ever said extraordinary meant comely? For comely I was not. Regardless of my physical appearance, what I did for enjoyment, such as running about getting muddy with my brothers, was not heroine-worthy. My hopes and dreams, even! What heroine wishes to work with special-needs children in orphanages? Well, to be frank, none. Unless you are Mother Theresa, who would not quite qualify as my idealized view of a heroine, but a heroine nonetheless. (Anyway, that can be scratched from the record because I have no such noble ambition anymore. In fact, I have no ambition at all at the moment besides graduating from high school.) Furthermore, my upbringing and the Wallace family income would do nothing to make heroine-ism ever seem possible for me. And all the most prominent heroines lived in the romantic times of the eighteenth and nineteenth century! Why did I have to be stuck in the twenty-first?
That night after Jane Eyre the whole family was called in for dinner, and Dad stated very simply that we were moving back to the States -after doing six months of mission work in Mexico. It was finally time. I hadn't seen my beautiful homeland of America for eight years! That doesn't just mean no Fourth of July for eight years, you know. It means no schools, lockers, or cafeterias. No way to know what's fashionable. No friends that I'd been inseparable from since birth. There was so much of a usual child's life that I missed. But in my simple life, going from village to village, playing with the children who couldn't understand my words, I learned to speak the language of compassion. I learned patience and thankfulness, as well as the source of true joy and contentment. I may not have experience a "normal" childhood, but I lived a simple and edifying life and learned so much that would stay with me forever. Although I was excited to return to my original life, I had gained knowledge I was proud to have, and if I never lived the life of a normal American girl, I would have all I needed. I wasn't expecting a Bronte-worthy life... but I could dream.
Five years of Catelyn's life came and went, with some changes along the way. She now preferred reading even to her beloved old hobbies of soccer in the rain and collecting rocks, and was becoming a very nice, normal young lady, with more of a heroine-in-training quality than when she was a thirteen-year-old. Since then, nothing eventful had happened at all besides a move from Africa to Mexico, then back home to Pennsylvania. In fact, her only accomplishment was graduating from high school. After returning to the States, she remained home schooled and didn't make any friends. No one could blame her, though, for the only neighbors the Wallace family had were senior citizens and young couples whose lives were immersed in politics. A strong friendship between Catelyn and her seventeen-year-old sister Amy blossomed quickly as each grew older. Their disagreeable regard toward each other melted away with maturity, and being only one year apart, they began to relate to each other very well. It was hard for Amy to see her sister graduate, knowing that she would soon be gone. Little did she know that the ones who would take her away were sitting on either side of her: her aunt and uncle, Thomas and Amelia Burney. Their graduation gift was an invitation to stay with them for two months in New York City, where they had an apartment. They had more than an adequate amount of money, and were happy to have such a well-mannered niece whom they could even consider bringing with them to public events. Upon hearing of their plans, Catelyn was quick to accept and was all happiness. She had been to their home just twenty minutes away from her own, but had never been to their city apartment. Her mother complied as well as her father, but was beside herself with grief when she fully realized that her eldest daughter would be away from the house for two months - much longer than she had ever been away from home. Catelyn's eighteen-year-old heart cried out for even the smallest amount of independence. But seeing her mother's emotional state gave her compassion, and every night they would sit together, having nice quality time, talking of nothing of great importance besides boys, the miracles of Godiva chocolate and a good cup of coffee while eating neopolitan ice cream.
The two weeks between graduation and the day of departure quickly passed. It was six in the morning, Catelyn's bags were in the car, and Tom and Amelia were waiting patiently for the Wallace family's goodbyes; it would take time for her to say her goodbyes to all of her family. When she reached her mother, the poor woman choked back her tears and reminded her of the dangers of city men and the New York City's smoggy climate. Catelyn, for the sixth time, patiently assured her distraught mother that she would be very careful indeed. Her father was the last in line, and he gave her a quick squeeze on the shoulder and slipped into her hand a twenty dollar bill.
"Be careful of those sneaky pickpockets," he said, attempting a quivery smirk.
Catelyn, although grateful for the twenty dollars, wondered how many blocks that would take her in a taxi. When Amelia saw this quick exchange, she rushed over with flapping hands.
"Really, Ron. That is not necessary. We will cover all of Catelyn's expenses. It is our treat!"
His piercing eyes said all they needed to say to his sister, and Amelia flitted back to her husband's side. Catelyn wondered how it was possible for two siblings to be so entirely different. She followed her aunt, after whispering a soft "thank you" to her father, and slid into the back seat of the Burney's luxurious car.
The drive to New York went by very quickly. Catelyn kept herself occupied by sorting the supposedly edible crunchy things in her aunts' organic snack mix in between chapters of her Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier. They soon reached the apartment building, where Thomas led them to the fifth floor and all the way to the end of the hall, (the whole time singing "New York, New York") where he stopped. He pulled the key out of his back pocket and slowly unlocked the door, as if there was a drum roll going on in the back of his mind. They stepped into the most beautifully furnished apartment Catelyn could imagine. She took her bags to her room, but was being followed by her aunt who was explaining to her that it was imperative that they go shopping immediately for Thomas' business dinner that night. The guest list included the executives of the company, and naturally, he was hoping for a promotion.
Catelyn and Amelia stepped out onto the New York sidewalk in the same clothes that they had worn on the flight. The difference was that while Amelia looked unruffled in a blouse and dress pants without a single silvery-brunette hair out of place, Catelyn, in her rumpled jeans and baggy tee-shirt, looked as if she had actually been on a plane ride.
"Now Dear, never make eye contact with anyone, and keep your purse close." Catelyn was nodding at her aunt's chirping, not hearing the words but knowing what was expected of her. Besides the fact that she was a teenage girl, her lack of attention was due to the street vender she had noticed full of designer purses. She slowed her pace, practically drooling at the sight of a Luis Vuitton. She gradually reached a complete stop. Suddenly a throng of people came rushing around either side of her, and she was getting pommeled by briefcases and trampled by stilettos. Amelia, a good way up the street, turned to look for Catelyn. "Oh, did I forget to mention walk quickly? Dear, really you must come..." She stomped over to her overwhelmed niece and grabbed her wrist, bringing her up to the average speed of a New York City resident.
After about four hours had passed, the two women, one exhilirated and one exhausted, returned to the apartment to find Tom sitting in a chair reading the newspaper, talking to himself about the weather.
"Hello, Dear!" his wife sing-songed perkily.
His head jerked up from the black-and-white print. "Eh?-- ah, well hello, ladies. Was your excursion profitable?" His question was directed to his bewildered niece. Her aunt quickly answered, "Of course, Tom." (Catelyn quickly learned was a common phrase in the Burney household.)
It was evident to Catelyn that big city shopping was a sport which her aunt was far more experienced at than herself. She never knew it to be possible for a woman Amelia's age to march around in 4-inch wobbly toothpick heels for four hours and never grow tired. Amelia selected Catelyn's dress for the dinner. She said she thought it to be quite plain, while Catelyn thought it so fancy that she could hardly imagine herself wearing it, although she did admit it was very flattering. It actually made her look as if she never went through her horrendous gangly stage. Amelia had insisted that Catelyn have her hair cut and styled, and having no energy left to rebel, she grudgingly agreed. Amelia explained to her that "the natural wave in your hair is now working for you, not against you, and Dear, you look quite stylish!" She was obviously pleased. Catelyn managed to escape from the mountains of shopping bags to her room for a nap after reading a chapter further in her Anne Bronte, and dreamed of all of the horrors of the New York boutiques and wondered how a heroine-in-training could get anything done at all without being trampled or splattered with the pungent mixture of cigarette ashes, gasoline and rainwater.
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Catelyn was wakened by the sound of a hissing tea kettle in the kitchen and Amelia's shrill cries. "THOMAS! Where's my Twining's!"
"Check the... cabinet?"
"Of course, Tom. I'm not a dimwit. That's where we always keep tea and that's not where it is! Check the suitcase. I doubt you unpacked the new ones. Since when is the kitchen my responsibility?" Thomas Burney, being a smart man, knew better than to answer a question by telling his wife something she didn't want to hear. "I'll check the suitcase, Mia."
"AH!!" The sound of crashing pots and pans was heard. "What was it doing in there? Found it, Tom! Well, the Earl Grey, anyway. Now where's that Scottish Breakfast? And my Ceylon loose leaf? Oh, my life..."
Catelyn smirked and rubbed her eyes, and rolled over, looking at the clock. It said it was 4:00. She sighed and sat up, attempting to smooth her hair before she stood before her aunt's critical eye. She opened the door just enough to peek out, and saw that two lower cabinet doors were wide open containing nothing, for all of its contents were on the floor. Pots, pans, lids, skillets and spatulas covered the kitchen floor, with a box of Earl Grey, still wrapped in plastic, sat on the counter looking deserving of a spotlight, so perfect and holy it looked!-- besides a dented corner. Not seeing her aunt or uncle in sight, Catelyn slowly opened up the door. "Uncle Tom? Aunt Amelia?"
"YES, DEAR!!" It sounded like they were going through the rest of the suitcases. She figured she might as well make herself a sandwich while she waited for them to reappear. Her aunt came in, and upon seeing sliced turkey, cheese, and bread spread across the counter, promptly swatted her niece's hand with an argyle sock. "No, no, no. Stop right now! We have a dinner tonight, Cate, and very thin dresses to fit into before and afterwards."
"What will we be eating tonight?"
"Well, I'm not sure," Tom said. "But I'm sure it will be something Trulyyyy Scrrumptious..." and continued singing while he exited the room, giving his wife a peck on the cheek on the way. She attempted to look irritated, and was failing miserably. She then addressed Catelyn's question. "I'm not sure, Darling. But I'd be expecting something artsy and exotic... they just have the best chefs and caterers in this city." Amelia seemed to think it to be a good thing, but Catelyn did not. She wasn't in the mood for veal smothered in truffle oil and red wine, with a caviar and cumquat salad on the side.