Monday, April 29, 2013

TRULY by Summer Day (inspired by Persuasion) chapter: Eighteen "Surprise"

Chapter Eighteen
I’d fallen asleep on the couch in the twins’ room, convincing myself I’d missed nothing…  Confessions of a Post-teenage Hermit
     The next day at work, I was writing on the countertop before the morning rush hour began when the door to the café swung open. Light beamed upon me as Lia and Hailee walked in with the sun.
    “We missed you so much last night, Jane,” Hailee said, “we brought the party here this morning.”
    The sun was in my eyes, but two older guys, handsome and tall stood behind my cousins in the morning light. The darker haired man was Harley Wentworth. From a distance both of the brothers looked similar. Harley smiled and walked right over.
     “I told him it was you. Jane Elliot?”
     I nodded.
    “We missed you last night.  Ben and I graduated Officer Training School together.” 
    “Congratulations,” I said, feeling extremely stupid, as if I didn’t already know.
     Ben hovered in the background in beach clothes and dark sunglasses, looking singularly unimpressed. I shuddered inside behind the counter but kept up my tepid smile. It was early and no other customers had arrived.
    “We’ll have a table overlooking the ocean,” Lia said. 
    “And you must sit and have breakfast with us, Jane.”
    “I… cant.”
    I looked around. Keira wouldn’t be here for another half hour, but there were only two customers.
    “I… sort of have to work,” I said. Ben was busily texting someone as I led the group to the best table, the one with a panoramic view of the ocean.
    “Congratulations on graduating,” I said to Ben.
    “Well, I always said I would,” he said dismissively, as if it was no big deal to have been accepted into flight training.
     Deep down, I felt as if Ben must have tagged along with Harley merely to witness my humiliation as a college drop out with a minimum wage job. 
    As I handed out the menus, my cousins were full of garrulous chatter about their fashion design course.  Ben and I did not speak a word. He just checked his cell and listened as Harley and my cousins talked.
    The Wentworths and my cousins had obviously become friendly during the bonfire party and they insisted on me joining them for coffee during my break. They ordered every kind of breakfast on the menu keeping the cook busy, but I just sat between Lia and Hailee as I ate some toast. There was really nowhere for me to escape to, unless I quit my job and why do that when Ben had already humiliated me? The damage was done. So what if he’d shown up and acted like he barely knew me. This whole embarrassing situation was so typical of my life.
    “It’s such a pity you couldn’t come last night, Jane.” Hailee said as she finished her orange juice.
    “Honestly, if I had a sister like Melissa, I don’t know what I’d do,” Lia added.
    “Me either,” Ben agreed sarcastically as he finished his coffee.
    “You can talk, not only is Sarah the most glamorous actress but your sister gives the most fantastic housewarming parties, Ben.”
     “Thank you,” he said, quietly.
     Ben’s blonde hair and blue eyes shone in the morning sun, making him look like the older brother to my cousins who were also fair headed and continued to chatter about making him a man model in one of their fashion shows. It was then that he started to laugh and ordered another coffee for everyone.
    “I’m not surprised you’re taken, Ben,” Hailee said garrulously. “Your job sounds so exciting. You and Harley should totally hang with me and Lia while you’re in town. We know all the best clubs.”
    Hailee obviously didn’t know anything about Ben and me, which was probably a blessing.
    “I’m sorry to disappoint you guys, but the only person who ever managed to talk me into clubbing is on her way to Singapore as we speak. Serena’s pretty forgiving even though distance makes it difficult to maintain a relationship.”
   “Guess you just have to find the right person to make it work,” I interrupted.
   “What sort of qualities do you look for in a girlfriend?” Hailee asked mischievously.
    It was pretty obvious his words were loaded as he paused, then spoke again.
    “My only requirement in a girlfriend is a woman who knows her own mind. A girl who’s easily swayed by friends or family is not the right person for me. I can’t be bothered dealing with someone who is timid and won’t speak out or stand up for themselves. It’s just too much trouble to be worth the effort in the long run.”
   Hailee nodded, no one had ever accused her of being timid, that’s for sure.
   “Oh, come on Ben, you would never have to make an effort to get a date,” Lia added, smiling at me. I really should have mentioned Ben to my cousins. This whole embarrassing scenario could have been diffused before it started.
    I jumped up as a customer walked in, a good excuse to leave the table. At the same moment Lia reached over to get some bread, knocking the coffee pot into my lap. Thankfully, the liquid had cooled somewhat.
    “Oh, Jane. I’m so sorry.”
    “It’s nothing, Lia,” I said, quickly. I got up to get a cloth from the kitchen and when I returned Ben had left.
    My cousins came back later to take me to lunch.
    Hailee was sitting at the table, texting, loyally waiting for me. I’d dried my jeans off as much as possible, earlier, under the hand dryer. Keira had long since arrived and the entire café was humming along as if nothing had changed except a song. Keira raised her eyebrows when she heard the brothers had visited. There was no obvious rift in the seams of the structure holding the foundations of the building together, like there was inside me.
    “Wow, I told you he’s Mr Handsome. What did you think?” Hailee grinned as she looked over at me. Keira was busy serving a customer. After my shift was officially over, my cousins and I had planned to meet up with my sisters.
    “Oh, you mean Ben?”
    “Of course,” Hailee replied.
    “He’s cute,” I said quietly.
    “I didn’t know you knew him?”
    “I did,” I replied as I gathered my belongings and swung my sweater over my shoulders, hesitant to tell Hailee anything that might end up on the web the next day.
    A sea breeze came in through the window as I reached over and pulled the shutters. So far, it had been a cooler summer than usual.
   “You know, at first I thought he was one of the nicest guys I’d ever met but he wasn’t very nice about you just a minute ago.”
  ‘Really?” I asked, unsurprised.
  Hailee swung her sandaled feet off the chair and stood up in one long sweep. She fluffed her summer dress and pinched her cheeks and reapplied her gloss as she spoke.
     “Do you know what he said after you left, Jane?”
     “I’m not sure I want to,” I answered under my breath, but Hailee was like a train, she’d never stop moving forward unless she was forced to.
    He said, “I can’t believe it’s been just a few years since I last saw Jane. We went to school together, you know. She is so different I’d have hardly recognised her.”
     I went white and picked up my purse. It was obvious Ben hadn’t meant “different” in a good way. His observation wasn’t a compliment. I walked outside to get some fresh sea air with my cousins. I’d been desperate for a deep breath for at least ten minutes.
    Hailee was by my side instantly.
    “Oh, Jane. What did I say?”
    “Nothing Hailee, I just need to breathe after being inside all morning.”
   “Oh, well, I’m not sure how close he is to that flight attendant, Serena. She was on her way to Singapore.  So, not too close. Hey, Harley just texted. He invited us all to go sailing and you’re coming too…”
    I was fairly sure this would be a bad idea.
   “That’s probably not going to happen, Hailee. Ben and I were together a long time ago but we’re not friends anymore.”
    “Well, he must be back here for a reason, Jane. I think he’s returned home to see you,” Lia chimed in.
    “Really? He must have been wildly impressed,” I joked, “Next time, warn me when he’s coming.”
    “Oh Jane, I can see why you must have liked him,” Lia added.
    “Mmm,” I replied.
    “If anything he must have grown better looking with the years,” Hailee said in her dreamy way.
    I smiled. I’d forgotten how it felt to be a teenager. As I gazed towards the beach, I noticed a set of keys lying on the boardwalk. Harley must have dropped them when he left. My cell buzzed. It was Sarah asking if I could drop by and try the piano now that it had been tuned. Okay, I texted. I’d drop the keys off as well. There was no getting out of this, besides, I liked Sarah. Once upon a time, we might even have been sisters.