Monday, April 29, 2013

TRULY (a modern version of Jane Austen's Persuasion) chapter Twenty-nine

Chapter Twenty-nine
Finally, Madly, Truly
In the end there’s only so much advice I could give to girls like me: the ones who can’t or won’t give up on their true loves; first loves; best loves. If it’s meant to be, you’ll find him again. And if it’s not, (I think), if you make the opportunity, you’ll find someone else… Truly (a blog by Jane Elliot)
    “Wow, I said, that was weird.”
    “For a moment I thought you and Tom…”
    “Were together? No, he’s obsessed with Liz.”
    “Oh,” Ben said with a smile.
    “I just got a report on Lia from Harley. They’re sending her home today.”
    “I know. I already checked but thanks for telling me.”
     I didn’t stop cleaning the benches. What was the point? 
     I hadn’t made a new blog entry in days. My notes for my most recent entry lay very much unfinished on the laptop in my satchel. I was trying to work on this entry because I felt it would be one of the most important I would write.
     I’ve moved on, I’d tell my readers.
     I’ve embraced change and put the past behind me. I’d advise them to do the same. Out with the old, bring in the new.
     Arghh! I just got a text from Liz. She bumped into Tom on the boardwalk. My older sister was coming to me for advice.
     He asked me to marry him Liz texted. What should I do?
     Say YES I texted back.
     Okay, she texted. That’s what I was going to do. It’s just that I value your good opinion.
     It’s yours, I texted. He’s changed a lot since high school!
     We all had.
     I shook my head. Ben was still seated in the café.
    “Oh,” I said, “I thought you’d left.”
    “No,” he replied. “At the risk of stating the obvious, I’m still here.”
    I’d accepted that Ben was leaving, that he was with Serena, that he even loved her. He said to Keira, “There’s already a woman I love, that I want to marry,” when Keira was joking around with him that night at The Mermaid Hut. Those were his exact words, I just didn’t want to write them down until I knew all hope was gone, didn’t want to admit them even to myself. I’d never let a social climber like Serena Collins get the best of me. I’d move on.
     Besides, Melissa, ever the family gossip, told me that Ben, in a moment of weakness confided to Keira that he was planning to ask the woman he loved to marry him. He’d added, “I’m not sure she’d move to Texas with me while I complete my flight training.” Then he asked Keira what she thought and she replied, “Maybe you should ask the woman in question.”  
     I remember Missy had thought it was in poor taste that he’d bothered discussing Serena with Keira while he waited for me in the lounge room, (no doubt fielding texts from Serena), but I said, “everyone multi-tasks these days.” As if I cared.
    “What can you expect,” my father grumbled, “from those types of people.”
     My sister Melissa agreed, but then a changed expression came across Liz’s face, almost as if she’d worked out something that the rest of us hadn’t.
    “A lot daddy, he’s well educated and hot. Someone also taught him manners.”
    Whatever, I thought. I had to move on. I had moved on.
    Like I said, over these few days, Ben had seemed to disappear.
    We’d parted amicably enough this time.
    I was resigned.
     I’d wandered over to Kellynch, determined to speak to his sister before I left to let her know there were no hard feelings and that maybe we could even be friends now that Ben and I were over it all, but the place was locked up.
     I’d never go back to Kellynch. When the lease was up, I knew my father and Liz aimed to sell the place. A few million would settle our debts and allow the family to rebuild. The next generation would never visit Kellynch but maybe they’d have something better – self-determination and the desire to build their own house of dreams.   
    That afternoon, the afternoon Ben arrived in the café unexpectedly, it rained.
    I was reading over my design school prospectus as it poured down. They had campuses in New York, San Francisco and Texas. Well, there was no way I’d be going to Texas. No way, not ever.
    I shut out the rain and wiped the tables as Ben stood framed in the doorway. He was so tall and strong looking; he seemed to fill up the empty space, like one of those annoyingly hot 1980s Brat Pack actors.
    This was good. The café was deserted and I was happy, now that we were just friends, for his company.
    I wanted to tell him my plans. I was excited to be moving to... I looked at the brochure… New York, yes, that would be as good a place as any. Besides, I could even stay with the other half of my family until I got on my feet. It could all be arranged.
    There he stood, hair wet and dripping on the mat, not a person in the entire café – no place emptier than a beach town on a rainy day.
      “I… I think I need a hot drink,” he said.
      I smiled.
      “What can I get you?
      “Mmm… a hot chocolate, please.”
      “That’s unusual,” I said. “Most men don’t go for that drink…it’s too sweet.”
      “I’m not most men.”
       I looked up and smiled.
       “I know,” I said as I heated the milk.
       “Are you sure that’s safe today?”
       He went to find his wallet.
       “It’s on the house,” I said, smiling again. “What brings you out here in this miserable weather?”
       I ignored the inference. There was no way he was going to wind me up over Serena Collins today. I pretended I hadn’t heard him, of course. I just nodded and changed the subject.
      “I heard about Harley and Lia,” I said. “Via Hailee, of course. She described him as if he was you. For a second I thought maybe you and Lia were together, but then I know you have a girlfriend so I didn’t really think that was possible.” I paused then added, “Send Harley my congratulations. I’m… not surprised. Lia is, unforgettable. I wouldn’t blame either of you for liking my cousins.”
      Ben nodded as he sat at a round table, near where I walked out from behind the counter. Then he looked alarmed.
      “What do you mean?”
      “Only that Harley told me once that he doubted he’d ever love anyone else but,” I hesitated, “Jenny.”
      Ben nodded, sipped his chocolate. “Well, my brother is pretty good at… not giving up. At least he’s trying to… move on. Finally.”
     I didn’t think he was going to offer any further input. The strong silences took a bit of getting used to. I’d convinced myself the Air Force had changed him, made a man out of him as they say, and of course it had. He had more to tell me after the waves crashed outside in the storm, interrupting our silence.
      “I think that, well, the truth is… Lia is very young and…fun. But, Jenny was, I think, his perfect match. So even though they were also teenagers, they were together a year and I think that relationship would have stood the test of time.
     Though I am happy that they have found each other, it remains to be seen if he and Lia are going to last as a couple. I don’t really think he’s recovered from his first relationship… a man does not get over that kind of love, with that kind of person. Lia is very young, just eighteen, and it remains to be seen if she is right for him and vice versa. Besides, they’ve only known each other a few weeks.”
    “I think; true love stands the test of both time and… separation, if it is lucky.”
     I looked away.
     By then he was standing close to me; so close in fact that he reached out to touch my cheek.
     He leant towards me and kissed me softly. I hardly believed I’d ever touch his lips with my own again. He smiled softly as we pulled apart.
   “You’re not?”
   “Involved with Tom Winchester are you?”
   “Are you kidding? My sister has been dating him for a few months. I sort of played matchmaker. I’m glad you’re jealous though.”
    Ben smiled.
    “I think he’ll get a shock when he realizes my family need to sell the beach house. I think he likes it more than he likes Liz. He might not be so ‘in love’ with her when he finds out our family are now flat broke.”
  “Nah, they’re made for each other.”
  He took my hand and looked into my eyes.
  “Follow me.”
   I chattered aimlessly as we walked for a bit along the edge of the beach road like old times.
   “Tom has actually got his eye on the Beach House because it’s become more valuable with the years and he thinks my sister owns it, but really, she thinks his family (his father is a film producer, remember) might just want to buy it and she wants to sell it to him. So the perfect match is at cross purposes. I think their love will withstand such pressures and they might find a happy medium…”
    “Definitely,” Ben said.
     We’d locked up the empty café, and, without really thinking about it, jumped into his convertible.  I continued to talk on. It was as if the years of silences were being filled up in ten minutes. I talked over the breeze and the sound of the ocean waves as we drove along the winding road that led to Kellynch.
    “He thinks she owns it outright, he’s going to get quite a shock. We don’t own much of anything anymore, even though this real estate has become more valuable over the years…”
    Ben stopped the car, once we’d reached about a mile further up the road, a good distance past Kellynch.
    “Like you,” he said suddenly.
    “Are you serious? My entire family are flat broke. They just won’t admit it yet. For once, they have nothing to be snobbish about, that’s for sure.”
    Ben gave me a slight smile.
    “That’s okay. I never wanted you for your money, anyway.”
    “That’s good,” I smiled, “because I don’t have any.”
    “I’m worth kind of a lot myself.”
    “I know. You were always worth kind of a lot, more than a lot.”
     “I… think you have become more yourself over the years we’ve been apart. Your value could not increase in my eyes because you are… invaluable. But I’m wondering if being around me in Texas while I go through flight training would drive you nuts. Being an officer’s wife is never easy…”
    “Well, I’d be very busy with my college classes.” I waved the brochure near his face. “Oh look, conveniently, they have a campus in Texas. But it’s probably not a good idea. Like I said, you can’t be serious. All these weeks you’ve been here, you barely seemed to notice me, much less speak to me unless you had to.” I determined to play it cool, but not too cool, this time.
    “I was wrong. I wanted to make you jealous. My heart was almost… broken.”
    “So was mine.”
    We walked down from the road and sat on the edge of the sand as the waves played along the shore.
   “But you rejected me, Jane. It took a lot of getting over. My final year of school was really tough. A shadow fell over everyone after Jenny; I know it can’t have been easy for you either.”
     I looked away.
     He continued, “I thought for years that I would get over you, but I never have. My love for you has only increased in strength. There is, nor could there ever be, another love like ours. But you should put me out of my misery now if you haven’t changed your mind since before,” he added these words quickly, as if it had taken him more than the courage it took to fly a plane, to say them.
    I interrupted him, “My mind is completely changed.”
    “Then would you consider being an officer’s wife?”
     “I would.”
     He smiled, “Then,” he leaned on one knee as he spoke, in the middle of the empty beach, “then I’m asking you again, Jane Elliot, will you marry me?”
     “Yes,” I replied, without hesitation.
     “Are you… are you sure this time?” he asked with a smile after we’d kissed again.
     “I am completely, truly, sure. I have never loved any man the way I love you.”
     “And I have never loved any woman, the way I love you…”
      “And nothing…” I said
      “And nothing?” he asked…
      “And no one…”
      “No one?”
      Ben smiled disarmingly.
      “No one,” I continued, “will ever persuade me to think differently.”
      The water splashed the sand on the shore, “then look behind you,” he said.
      “I see a cliff, some land…”
      “I want to build a house for you… for us. We’d have to stay in Texas for a few years but we could always visit, during vacations.”
      “Here are the plans.”
       He pulled out some paper from the pocket of his jeans.
       The house, new but made in a familiar design, was to be built overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It was a few lots away from the one I grew up summering in, it would be built on higher land using sturdier foundations. I looked up and imagined it in the sun, even better situated than Kellynch, if that was possible. If it was possible, you could see all the way to Hawaii. This would be a house to love and raise a family in, to feel safe in, a place to call our own.  
   “So this is the surprise,” I said.
   “For you.”
   “For us.”
   “Yes, us.”
   I looked at him and smiled. Our fingers linked together as we kissed. This love felt everlasting, worth waiting for. True and tangible, I’d never be persuaded against what I felt again.