Thursday, September 6, 2012
Wonderful Readers, Here is the first chapter (editing, details, character names, spelling & punctuation may change before further publication!) of the novel I have been working on for quite a while. This new novel is inspired by an Austen classic (possibly my favorite!) I hope you enjoy! Awesomeness to you all, Summer oxo.
An Introduction to My Existence
‘I’d been hiding out, planning to summer in the small seaside town of Wentworth; an hour’s drive North of Los Angeles, when I saw him again…’ Confessions of a Post-Teenage Hermit (A Blog by Jane Elliot)
I love a man in uniform. His blonde hair shone in the afternoon sun as I glanced through the interior windows of my classroom. A trick of light in the hallway created the illusion of stardust and smoke swirling around him as he walked. I’d been working as a teaching assistant at the local public school for nearly six months after dropping out of college during my freshman year.
The day I saw Ben again was the last day of work before summer vacation. It’s possible his return inspired me to re-enrol in college. Maybe something found always comes from something lost.
I noticed him first, talking to the teacher and signing a release form on behalf of the small child who looked expectantly towards him. The young boy, a first grader, had his satchel on his back as they walked by. Ben didn’t see me and for that I was glad. It occurred to me as the child grasped his hand and I watched the love of my life leave that there are no good places to hide in Wentworth Elementary, especially if you’re an adult; well, semi-adult. I’m about to turn twenty-one and I should be completely mature and in control of my life, but I feel kind of stuck somewhere around sixteen. Suddenly I’m in a panic that he could turn to the side at any moment and notice me staring at him.
Now, where to go? Standing behind the door of a classroom is a bad idea. Hovering near the entrance of the communal staff room is a possibility, but that connection leads towards the staff lunchroom which requires a lock combination that is changed daily. In my state of internal turmoil, I couldn’t remember it.
I crouched behind my desk, head immersed in my blog notes, listening to the roar of a police siren. Sometimes the cops (the “good guys”, as I call them) descend upon our little school in Wentworth. I’m used to it. This is the bad side of a good town. The people who summer here are rich and boring but the locals are generally the opposite. There is a high-school that connects to Wentworth Elementary and there’s a lot of, to put it nicely, trouble there. I like to think (if I do my job properly), when my students are old enough, there will be less need for cops to patrol the school gates and halls.
Our nine year olds drew a hush as the police car whizzed by. The teacher, Mrs Alves asked the class to wash up for lunch. I was helping them. Suddenly there was disorder in the hallways, which resembled tunnels. My students, who were ‘special’, had a separate exit. It was easier that way. I was used to the bustle, but they couldn’t avoid the crowded lunch rooms.
The lock on the staffroom door, I never got used to. I hadn’t thought to write down the combination that morning, so I just stood there, numb, pretending to listen to the police car, watching Ben leave. I thought about the difference between hiding and saying ‘hi’ as I watched him glance towards my desk.
Dismissively, he walked down the hallway. My choice was made. At least I’d have something interesting to put on my blog that night.
‘Are you alright Jane?’ The teacher from the class opposite mine asked as she peeped her head in through the doorway.
‘I’m okay,’ I smiled. Jessie Tate, who teaches first grade, smiled in return. I was used to acting around my family, and keeping up the facade at work was just an extension of that. At least my work colleagues mostly show me honest appreciation.
I assist the Special Needs music class in the mornings. Sometimes I help out in accelerated English (gifted and talented) in the afternoon, so it’s like the two extremes. I have a real soft spot for the challenges of my slower readers and my out of tune musicians. I have a mix of ages and children in one room from both classes. Sometimes the students are well-behaved, but it’s always noisy; especially when my hearing impaired children arrive. This morning’s class was general and mixed: Toby has Attention Deficit Disorder; Miles is dyslexic; George has broad spectrum autism and Lou is teaching me to sign. They’re all preparing to join the midday rush.
Toby is the one who speaks; he has bright eyes and even brighter, red hair; he’s very smart and seriously wired; he’s jumping up and down and I try to calm him as the bell sounds for lunch.
Sometimes the children want to sit with me while they eat but I try to give them (and myself) some space; it never works. Toby reluctantly lets go of my hand as he heads to the cafeteria where the lunchroom supervisor watches over him, to make sure kids don’t throw food or something at him, I suppose. It’s a tough world in there and my students are targets. One of them just had his bag snatched and I had to get the supervisor to intervene before I could go back and start preparing the afternoon’s lesson.
There are some mean spirited children who become mean-spirited adults but I’d be surprised if they were born that way. No one has an equal start in life and although most people try their hardest, we all start with a different set of difficulties and advantages. My Godmother (who is mostly a wise woman) told me that.
I have to say the ‘advantages’ (economically) I was raised with, did not leave me immune to the nature of my family – but you’ll get to hear more about them later, trust me. Once I start oversharing I can’t stop. You’ll hear all about my snobbish father, more on my (sometimes) overbearing Godmother and my selfish sisters. I love them all - don’t get me wrong - they’re family; but they are imperfect, like all of us; well, not like all of us. My relations are ‘imperfect’ in their own particularly selfish ways. Like I said, I am resigned to tell the truth about them. I’m also going to tell you, lovely readers, about me and Ben, why we broke up and how I never got over him.
I know some smart girls out there will be critical of me for not moving on and may want to even offer advice (which I’d be glad to hear), but I’m trying, honestly. That’s why I’m re-enrolling in college even though my Godmother has warned me that a college education is about as useful as a brown, ankle-length skirt, if you ever want to entice the man of your dreams.
Anyway, you definitely need to read this story before you criticize. It’s easy to tell someone what’s not right or not to do something but it’s much more difficult to help someone find a path to happiness. That’s what true friends (like my friend Jen, you’ll meet her later), do. They help. At least, that’s what they should do.
So, here’s me in a nutshell: shy, softly spoken, pushed by my Godmother into becoming a cheerleader (!) - I dropped out of college at eighteen after a failed love affair. Not quite the end of my story though, as it turned out; just the beginning.
Before all of that, I wanted to be a writer or a teacher. I also liked to design and make my own clothes. Bizzare, I know, in this day and age, when it’s easier to buy them, but those fashion shows on TV are, let’s face it, inspirational. Besides, I’m kinda broke as of now. It helps if I can make my own clothes.
I wasn’t always like this.
Born rich and pretty, I grew up in an enormous house in Beverly Hills with parents who looked down on everyone else, even our equally rich neighbours. I was told to make the most of my private school education, so I don’t expect anyone to feel sorry for me, nor would I wish them to.
I try not to complain about my family. My Godmother, Eleanor, once warned me about complaining, ‘never tell people your problems, Jane, most people aren’t interested and the rest are glad you have them.’ That was her advice when I couldn’t get over Ben. I’d like to think people are better than that but as with all sage words, there is probably an element of truth to those ones. That said, it was my Godmother’s advice which added to the drama of my existence in the first place. My father also put in his ten cents worth of critiques.
Dad is the director of a huge company. He dabbled in movie production when I was a child and became an entertainment lawyer. His clients are seriously famous. It was not unusual for me to see heavily made-up and augmented movie stars parading through the halls of our house when I was small. They were glamorous women, I thought they looked like princesses but most of them weren’t very happy and I never envied them.
My sisters probably did, although they would say, ‘so and so (famous actress) “inspires” me, then make snide comment. My sisters are annoying over-achievers. My older sister, Elizabeth, is an elegant model who takes pre-law classes at night school (when she’s in Los Angeles) and my younger sister, Melissa, has taken to making marrying well (that is to say, rich) and having children, her primary occupation (which is wonderful, don’t get me wrong); it’s just that she’s a year younger than me. Melissa can’t resist letting me know I’m way behind her in the process of growing up and becoming an independent ‘adult’.
Our family was always in the headlines when I was a child and it was into this world that I was born; lost and imperfect. I’m quiet, fair-haired, big eyed, (Liz would describe me as ‘pretty - in a pale and understated way’) and reticent. Basically, I’m altogether overshadowed by my smart and fashionable older sister Liz and my pushy younger one, Melissa. Sometimes I wonder if there will ever be anything that is truly mine.
It was during my teens that I first met Ben, first lost Ben.
Now Ben Wentworth (the hottest boy I’ve ever met) has just returned home to California. He graduated top of his class as an officer at the Air Force Academy and is about to commence pilot training after a ‘short vacation’ with his sister here in Wentworth. Our family have owned a beach house here for twenty years – on the right side of town. We look out over the sparkling beauty of the Pacific Ocean and Ben’s supposedly come to stay with his sister in a place his Mom has rented for a month – according to Jen. If you could look far enough from our beach house balcony, you’d see Hawaii – or that’s what my little sister tells everyone. Wentworth was only ever my family’s second favorite spot to vacay – they preferred Maui when I was growing up, but I’ve always loved it here.
I learnt all about Ben via another text I just received from my best friend Jenny. Jen has been with me through thick and thin – from high school to discovering the challenges of our combined ‘new adulthood’. Jenny knows all about Ben and me and how we got together and why we broke up. She knows my father always treated him badly and deep down, I think she knows Ben would never forgive me for what happened.
Although I never doubted Ben’s bravery or his brilliance, my family always did. He’s apparently home for the summer with his flawless flight attendant wife or girlfriend in tow. The child could have been his son for all I knew. He’d had plenty of time to get married. It all made perfect sense. They married young in the military (mostly), so the child was likely his. Unless, well, he could have been his nephew… but it was none of my business anymore. I thought I could always ask his teacher, after he’d left the building. Better yet, I’d text Jen. Just saw him. Tell me everything, I texted. I paused for a moment after I’d pressed send.