Disclaimer: Jane Austen's works are in the Public Domain with no existing Copyright. Also, I'm a dork.
A/N: Thanks to my reviewers! It's nice to know that people are still reading. I know this was a shorter delay than the last one, but I apologize for it nonetheless. A beloved member of my family passed away and I was out of town for the funeral and then lost some of my motivation. This is the last chapter and there's a special note at the bottom. Thank you SO MUCH for reading! It's been such a pleasure writing this little tale.
The flight home was only an hour, but it felt like a day. Catherine had never been more exhausted in her life, yet she could not shut her eyes and rest. When she disembarked she realized that her family had no idea that she was home. There was no one waiting for her at the baggage claim. Wearily, she dialed home on her cell phone and managed to get her father to come pick her up without breaking down in tears. It was the questioning that was to come which worried her the most. There was no way her parents would be able to overlook her sudden appearance without some questions.
She sat with her bags on a bench outside of the claim area and dreaded the moment, but was ultimately relieved when her father's Toyota Prius pulled up to the curb. Mr. Morland hopped out of the car and loaded her bags into the trunk before hugging Catherine and opening the door for her. She leaned back in her seat and shut her eyes. When he got back into the car he could see that she was in no mood to explain the situation. He was glad to have her home anyway, so he let her rest before returning back to the madness that was the Morland household.
When they returned home her two youngest siblings, Sally and Tara, were playing a loud video game in the living room. Nobody thought twice about Catherine's unexpected return. Nobody, except her mother who bustled out of the kitchen with a plate of Rice Cereal Treats and a look of pure concern and sympathy on her face. Mrs. Morland let Catherine take a treat first before setting the plate on the coffee table in front of the younger girls. Then she went to Catherine and gave her the warmest hug Catherine had ever had.
"Do you want to talk about it, dear?" Mrs. Morland asked after she let her go.
"Not right now, Mom. Thanks." She gave her mother a watery smile and followed her dad up to her bedroom.
Mr. Morland set her bags down on the floor and gave her another hug.
"When you're ready to talk, we're ready to listen," he said in what Catherine recognized as his best minister voice.
She nodded and swallowed back some tears before watching him leave. When the door clicked behind him she finally unleashed a fresh torrent of tears and lay on the bed where she cried herself to sleep.
She awoke to the sound of knocking at her door and realized it was dark outside.
"Come in," she called to the knocker.
"Hey Cathy," Sally said as she entered. "Mom wanted me to come see if you wanted some dinner."
Catherine realized that she'd hardly eaten all day and that after a long run in the park. Her stomach growled ferociously and she sat up.
"Yeah, thanks." Together the sisters went downstairs where the rest of the family was sitting at the dinner table.
She and Sally joined them and Catherine prayed that her sisters' chatter would keep the attention focused on them until dinner was over. Out of the corner of her eyes she could see her parents exchanging worried glances, but they chose not to discuss it at the dinner table. The younger girls were hustled up to bed by their dad while Catherine and her mother washed dishes together.
"We were very surprised to get your call this morning, Cathy."
"Mom, can I ask you a favor?"
"Would you mind calling me Catherine? I kind of like it better than Cathy."
"Catherine," her mother rolled it around on her tongue and thought about it. "Yes. It suits you much better. You're growing into such a lovely young woman."
"I'm sorry for the surprise. I don't really understand what happened myself. I went for a run this morning and when I returned to the Tilneys, Mr. Tilney was back from his business trip and on his way to another one. He's taken Ellie with him out of the country."
"Well, that's understandable, I suppose. I just wish you'd had time to notify us. We would have bought your ticket. I'll have to send a check to Mr. Tilney."
Catherine just nodded not having any idea how much her trip had cost at such short notice and was embarrassed to think about how expensive the ticket must have been. She dried the last dish and hung the wet dish towel on the oven.
"I need to email Ellie and let her know that I got home okay."
"Okay," her mother watched her oldest daughter walk out with a heavy heart. Something had happened on that trip and she knew that prying would only cause her teenaged daughter to clam up.
I arrived home this morning safe and sound. Sorry for the delay with the email, but I didn't sleep much last night and I found myself exhausted when I finally got here. Thanks again for such a wonderful trip. I'm sorry it had to be cut short. When you return perhaps you might come join me here in Maryland for a little while before school starts. I hope everyone is okay.
Catherine sent her short note off to Ellie and then opened a new message for Henry. She wrote his name at the top of it, but then stared at the little black cursor blinking at her from the screen, mocking her inability to put her feelings into words. Finally, she decided to mimic her letter to Ellie.
I'm so sorry to have left so unexpectedly. I felt like there was so much more to say, but I'm home now, safe and sound, and I know you're busy with work. Maybe if you have any more vacation time you might come and visit me with Ellie. I've invited her to come when she's back in the country. I really enjoyed our time together and I'll never forget this summer. Thank you so much.
She stared at the word "love" on her screen and agonized over whether or not to use it. In the end she thought about the fact that she might never see him again and knew this was the time to say it. Even if it was just a sign-off on a short email. She felt tears welling up in her eyes as she clicked send and logged out of her email before heading to bed.
Catherine awoke feeling slightly better. The pressure she had felt weighing on her heart had eased some and she hoped to find some emails in her inbox this morning. She rolled over and made herself comfortable hoping to wile away at least another hour in bed before joining her raucous family when the sound of deep voices reached her from the front hall below her bedroom.
Stepping out of bed, she tiptoed to her window and peeked out. What she saw was an unfamiliar silver car sitting in the driveway. She listened to her father's deep voice and recognized the tone of a minister's lecture starting. The voice replying was...familiar. She stood at the window in panic mode. Fight or flight. Fight...or flight. She couldn't decide whether to put on some clothes and investigate or get back in her bed and curl up. There was a nagging feeling in her stomach that said "fight." So she put on some sweatpants and a t-shirt and crept down the hallway and listened.
"I know sir, I'm really sorry to just show up like this. What my father did was inexcusable."
"We entrusted her to the care of your family and I'm afraid you sent her back looking like a shadow of herself."
Henry. Catherine's mind was racing. What was he doing here? Why had she only put on sweatpants!
"Henry?" Catherine called out as she walked down the stairs slowly. Her eyes were wide and she felt as though she were moving in a dream. That disturbing feeling that she was walking through molasses. He looked at her with those beautiful blue eyes and the smile on his face was one of relief.
"Catherine!" She descended the stairs but stayed close to the bottom step. "Are you okay? I came to apologize."
"Cathy," her father said softly. "Are you sure?"
"I'm sure, Daddy. Thanks."
Mr. Morland nodded his head and went back into the kitchen behind a closed door. The young lovers stood and stared at each other for a moment.
"I had to make sure you made it back okay."
"I sent you an email last night," she said with a shy smile. The same shy smile that had won him over just a few weeks ago.
He pulled out his blackberry and chuckled. She watched him push some buttons and then his smile grew twice as big. "Love?"
Catherine froze and she could feel a warm flush creeping up her neck. She didn't know how to answer. She hadn't thought she'd ever have to explain that.
"I didn't think I'd ever see you again. It seemed like the best time to say it."
"I never got to tell you my news," he said stepping tentatively towards her.
"I quit my job," he said beaming at her.
"You what?" Catherine was stunned and could feel her jaw hanging open.
"I quit. My father found out the night before he came home and ousted you from the penthouse."
"Was that why?"
"I don't think so," he shook his head. "I've got a trust fund from my mom's side of the family, which means I never really had to work, but I did because it was expected of me and I wanted to earn my own way."
"So you're just not going to work anymore?"
"No, I'm going into business for myself. I'm going to be a photographer!"
"Oh that's awesome!"
"The best part is," Henry said moving in even closer, "that I can be a photographer anywhere in the world."
"Oh?" Catherine blushed again and smiled even wider. "So you're headed off to the wilds of Africa, right? Or the Alps?"
"Nope," he said his grin growing bigger by the second. "I'm going to take pictures in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.."
"Really?" she said feigning surprise. "Well, doesn't that beat all?"
"Catherine," Henry managed to croak before he grabbed her in a hug and kissed her hard on the mouth.
When he pulled back a second later he noticed two younger girls staring down at them from the staircase landing giggling.
"Hi Sally. Hi Tara." Catherine said grumpily without having to look.
"Morning Cathy," the girls said in unison.
"Go away punks," Catherine practically growled.
"Please, if you wanted privacy then you shouldn't have been kissing in the foyer," Sally said primly as the two youngsters descended the stairs and moved past the couple into the kitchen.
Catherine and Henry could only laugh before she pulled him into the living room to talk in some privacy.
"So you don't know why your father kicked me out so suddenly?"
"No, I didn't really stick around to ask questions. Ellie is distraught though, did you write her?"
"Yes, the same time as I wrote you."
"Good, I know it'll make her feel better." Henry took Catherine's hand as they sat on the couch.
"So when are you moving?"
"I'm heading down to College Park tomorrow to find a place to live. There's no chance your parents would let you live with me instead of in the dorms, is there?"
"Probably not, but the team requires I be on campus."
"Ah, well, I'll be close by anyhow," he smiled.
"Once I have a place to live I'll go home and pack and get everything moved. It'll probably take a week or so."
"That's so awesome. I can't believe you're doing it."
"I've always wanted to, but you're the one who gave me the courage."
"Yeah. I've thought about it so many times, but watching you learn it all for the first time showed me what a great gift I had been wasting all these years."
"Is your father furious?"
"He's not pleased, but he'll get over it."
Catherine was silent for a moment.
"What would he say if he knew you were here with me?"
"Catherine," Henry said, but he stopped. "He would probably be furious."
"Did I do something to offend him?" she asked quietly.
"I wish I could tell you. All I know is that time will tell."
Catherine nodded and the two lovers spent the rest of the morning talking and making plans. When Henry reluctantly tore himself away from her side she saw him to his car and sent him on his way.
When she managed to get a little time on the computer she checked her email.
I'm so glad you made it home safely. It turns out my father lied about a business trip as an excuse to send you on your way. I have no idea why, but he's been in a very foul mood ever since Henry found out you had left. I'll let you know more when I understand it. I hope you're well. Write back soon.
Catherine read the message and calmly reflected on what could have possibly happened to make Mr. Tilney react the way he had. She wondered if she'd ever know.
Over the next few weeks Catherine maintained a correspondence with Henry and Ellie that seemed to trickle information down into what ultimately became a greater understanding. Apparently, Mr. Tilney received an email through work from John Thorpe regarding Catherine's fortune (or lack thereof) and her situation. He also wrote to inform Mr. Tilney that she was nothing more than a gold-digging two-timer. Ellie did her best to slowly reform Catherine's image in Mr. Tilney's mind and eventually he could think about her without any trace of fury. The fact that she had a chance at a professional career in Women's Basketball cheered him up greatly and eventually, with lots of time and consideration, he could begin to be happy about his son's relationship with Ms. Catherine Morland. In Catherine's senior year, Ellie had managed to coax her father out to a women's college basketball game, where Mr. Tilney got a chance to see, in person, how much pure potential his future daughter-in-law had.
Yes, after three years of steady dating Henry and Catherine had grown to love each other more than they ever imagined. Theirs was a relationship of mutual respect, affection, and devotion. They were the envy of every one of Catherine's girlfriends and at the start of her senior year, he proposed to her.
They had been walking across campus towards her dorm when Henry stopped her under the pretense of tying his shoelace. He knelt down to tie it, but when she looked down at him, he was looking up at her with a shiny diamond nestled in a baby blue jewelry box. They were standing next to Testudo, the Terrapin mascot of Maryland and the good luck charm of every student on campus. She had been in the process of rubbing his worn brass head (an automatic reflex). He gently removed her hand from Testudo's head and slid the diamond on her left fourth finger as she stood speechless looking at the crowd that had gathered around them.
Catherine was something of a celebrity on campus as the senior star of the Women's team and when she nodded her head and he jumped up to embrace her there were hundreds of students and teachers whooping and cheering for her. She had never been so embarrassed in her life.
Ellie met a young man with a great deal of promise at Princeton in her freshman year and when she brought him home to meet her father he instantly took a liking to him. The whole affair of having his children grow up and fall in love had softened Mr. Tilney a bit and he began to relax around them in a way that he never had before.
Life was not perfect for the happy couple, as life never is, but from an auspicious beginning to a fairy tale ending, they formed a unit so close and so much in love that it hurt the teeth of all those who witnessed their interactions. And perhaps, just perhaps, they lived happily ever after.
*A/N Thank you all for reading my first real foray into Jane Austen fan fic. I hope it was a satisfying ending for everyone and I wanted to let you know that I would very much love to revamp this story and make it a bit more substantial so that it might get published. Northanger Abbey is sorely underrepresented in the spin-off/modernization oeuvre of the bookstore and I would love to rectify that. My goal is to read a ton of romance novels this summer and then take what I have and make it better using your suggestions and critiques as well as my research. So now's your chance to get your say in. Leave me a review because I would love to know what everyone thinks. XO wannabehermy.*