Okay. I'll admit it.
I love Ino and Sakura and Hinata now. No, don't think like that. As in they officially rock.
So I had been considering the Jane Austen club at our school. Yeah, I know. It sounds like something for losers. Or people who have no lives. Before you say anything, I'm captain of the gymnastics and volleyball teams, and I'm also in track, so that really doesn't apply to me.
But I absolutely love Jane Austen and all of her works. Always have.
Still, I was skeptical about the whole Jane Austen book club thing. It sounds like a breeding grounds for all the nerds (not that I have anything against them. I mean, they're cool in their own way, but they're just not my crowd). And I definitely wouldn't want to be somewhere where I didn't feel like I'd ever fit in.
Like a complete idiot, I had decided to and asked my crazy, opinionated best friends if they thought it was a good idea.
- - - -
"Uh-huh. Because you have time," was Ino's flippant reply.
"Oh, Ino-pig, shut it. We all know Tenten has lovely time management, actually. I don't see why not, Tennie. I mean, you're absolutely obsessed with the woman, right? And books are good." Of course valedictorian contestant Sakura would be completely gung-ho for me joining a book club.
Shy, sweet Hinata spoke up last. "It sounds like a very nice idea, Tenten. A book club would be a good p-place for you to relax and meet some people. Ah, people that aren't us or the girls on your teams, that is."
- - - -
So I went.
And I have discovered something amazing. Because the Jane Austen club isn't only for the socially awkward, as I'm learning, and it is nice to have something entirely mine.
- - - -
"Welcome, students!" a booming voice cut through the library's silence. A tall man dressed completely in green entered the room, preceded by his thick eyebrows. "I am glad to see you all here with me to celebrate in the illustrious career of the extraordinary Jane Austen. My name is Mr. Maito, and I will be the head of this youthful club! Oh, my, this is the extent of our group? Well, that 's quite all right. With less students, it will be easier for us to soak in the true beauty in the works of Ms. Austen!" For anyone else, it would've been a sentence. For him, it was a declaration, a sentiment, an exhortation.
He had a point, though. Our "club" consisted of three people: myself, a kid with eyebrows to rival Mr. Maito's own, and a gorgeous but totally androgynous boy with hair prettier than any female's. "I know you, Lee, but I'm afraid I have yet to meet your youthful companions. Please introduce yourself first, feminine flower of our group! Please tell us your name and the title of your favorite Jane Austen book."
Belatedly I realized he was addressing me with that ridiculous metaphor. "Hello there. My name's Tenten," I supplied. "And my favorite is Emma."
"Very good!" he boomed, beaming like he was bestowing the highest of awards on me. "Now you, my other youthful charge."
The other boy lifted eyes that were a startlingly light shade of purple-white. Pretty eyes that matched Hinata's. "My name is Neji Hyuuga. I prefer Pride and Prejudice," he said simply. Ooh, he had a nice voice. I grinned to myself, shaking my head at my foolishness.
"Oh, and my favorite is Mansfield Park!" Lee exclaimed, smiling brightly. "My name is Lee, by the way, my peers. I hope that we should grow together to learn as much as possible about Jane Austen and her wonderful works!" Excitable kid, I thought, smiling slightly.
- - - -
"You're not supposed to like Emma. She makes mistakes and she's human and she's completely stupid. That's what makes her such a good character," I exclaimed, shaking my head. By then, I had fallen in love with the little debates that Mr. Maito had set up for us.
Neji shook his head and gave me an exasperated look. "She's completely unbelievable as a character. It's ridiculous."
With a bright smile, Lee nodded. "I am afraid I have to agree with Neji. Emma simply does not strike me as a very realistic character.
I scoffed. "You must not talk to many girls. I know tons who are like Emma." Ino, for starters, seemed quite a bit like her. Though certainly more believing in love.
"Either way, the ending is not at all believable," Neji continued. "It feels too sudden and foolish. As if Austen just ended it that way because she felt it was necessary.
Lee jumped when he noticed the wall clock. "I am sorry, but I have to go. I will see you on Friday!" he exclaimed cheerily as he gathered his things.
"Bye, Lee!" I said. "–But really, Neji, how can it bother you that much? I mean, she's a romantic. And it's her character, her creation, so of course she wants a good ending for her. Besides, it's kinda believable. I know lots of girls who can convince themselves they're not in love. But most people can only lie so long, just like Emma."
Neji peered at me curiously and smirked, the corners of his lips twitching up maddeningly. "What about you, Tenten? Are you one of those girls?" he asked mock-seriously. It was great that he was opening up enough to be comfortable joking in front of me and Lee, but I didn't like the teasing as much when it was aimed at me.
"Me? Like Emma?" I asked back, feigning hurt in my voice but grinning brightly. "I'll have you know I am not spoiled, Mr. Hyuuga. Or a meddler."
- - - -
So now the Jane Austen club is the thing I look forward to most on every Tuesday and Friday. Ino teases me the most when she notices how often I look at the clock during the last thirty minutes or so of my last class. But she can just shut up.
Lee's sweet, a good kid. If I'm in a bad mood, he's always the one to cheer me up with a kind word or a smile or even a big hug if I'm feeling horrible.
Well. Maybe I'm not a spoiled meddler like Emma, but I feel like I'm lying to myself about love or liking or whatever. Because I'm good at pretending I don't feel anything. Doesn't make it any truer, though.
- - - -
"Think about the other two people at your table with you, my illustrious students, and think about the characters of Pride and Prejudice. On one card, write the character who best fits one of your teammates, and on the other, the one who best fits your other group member!" Gai, as he told us to begin call in him, beamed around at us. "And genders don't matter! That in mind, don't be insulted if your character is not the same gender as yourself," he chuckled.
I peered at my card and pushed it around on the table top, my pen tapping on my lip as I thought. "Mr. Maito?" Neji called out, sitting up and looking at our club's leader. "What's the point behind this?"
"I'm glad you asked!" Gai boomed happily. "Think of it as a midterm. I want to see how well you understand Ms. Austen's wondrous characters. And I'd like to see how well you understand each other."
Tapping my pen on my lip once more, two names sprung to mind. Just perfect. Smiling, I wrote "Mr. Darcy" on one and "Jane Bennet" on the other, along with the names of their real-life counterparts.
Gai smiled mischievously as he looked through our cards. "I would have to agree with all of your choices, all of which match. Great job, my students!" he praised as he set two cards in front of each of us.
Elizabeth Bennet. Elizabeth Bennet. There in Neji's perfect printing and Lee's messy scrawl.
And if we'd all said the same thing, then that meant that the two cards facing Neji said–
"My sister!" Lee said gleefully, putting an arm around my blithesomely. I grinned and ruffled his hair–maybe a little harshly–until he pouted and relented. "Do not be grumpy because Neji is your husband! Though I suppose I would be if it were the same for me..." Lee trailed off, looking thoughtful as Neji and I glared daggers at him.
- - - -
"What do you mean you can't come?" I demanded into the receiver.
Gai had given us tickets to the new version of Sense and Sensibility and told us three to go because he wouldn't be able to make it. Now Lee was telling me he couldn't come, and I was beginning to smell something fishy. And no, not the movie theater food.
"I, uh, had a prior commitment?" Lee offered, half-asking as I resisted the urge to slap my palm to my forehead. He'd always been a horrible liar.
"What do we do with the extra ticket, then, Lee?" I asked patiently, deciding to humor him.
A brief silence on the other end, then a cough that could have hidden a small laugh. "What extra ticket, Tenten? Good-bye, and have a wonderful time!" And before I could even look at the tickets or say anything, he had hung up.
"There are only two tickets here, Tenten," Neji said, exasperated.
I groaned and shook my head. "We've been set up by the idiots." I felt like a complete fool. And now that it was just the two of us, was it just me, or did things get twenty times more awkward? "Um, do you still want to see it?" I asked.
Neji smirked and I resisted the urge to turn into jelly. "Do you want to give them the satisfaction of us not going?" he asked. I resisted the urge to laugh outright at their little boyish competitions. It was silly, but I took as much part in them as Neji did.
- - - -
Maybe I would have liked the movie more if I'd actually watched it. Instead of having an internal freak-out over Neji and I being alone at a movie theater and does that make us a couple and do you know what couples do at movies running through my mind.
"What did you think?" he offered, half-interested as he stretched luxuriously in the seat.
I grinned. "I actually wasn't paying that much attention to the movie," I admitted sheepishly.
Neji raised his eyebrows at me before we both stood up and began to walk out. "Was I distracting you?" he asked casually. If not for the small sideways smirk I saw, I wouldn't have suspected him to be joking.
I put my hands on my hips and huffed slightly, frustrated enough with him to finally be open. "Yes, okay?" I demanded, slightly gratified when the smirk slid from his face.
His eyes darted to mine. "Do you... do you want to go on a walk?" he asked, rushing through his words.
I smiled brightly. "A walk would be lovely, Mr. Darcy," I said, teasing him.
- - - -
Sometimes you just have to take your chances and hope that life throws something wonderful at you.
Guess I was lucky when I chose to join the Jane Austen club, I think as I pull my boyfriend into another kiss. "Elizabeth! Mr. Darcy!" an impatient, laughing voice comes from inside the room. I look around Neji to spot Lee, who just grins and wiggles those impossibly huge eyebrows at us.
"Coming, sister," I mock, pulling Neji into one more kiss before joining Lee.