Here is chapter one of my novel Suspiciously Reserved: A Twist on Jane Austen's Emma. In this novel, I retell the story of Emma in a modern, Canadian setting from the point of view of Jane Fairfax. It was a lot of fun to write, but not without its challenges! How did such a practical,
intelligent and beautiful young woman end up with the precocious, untrustworthy Frank Churchill anyway?
“No, really. I’d just be in the way. I wouldn’t feel comfortable.” Jane squirmed in her high-necked
sweater. It was a blustery day in the
intelligent and beautiful young woman end up with the precocious, untrustworthy Frank Churchill anyway?
Talk of the Sea
“Jane, you must come. I insist!” Lori said with sparkling blue eyes and perfectly curled shiny, blond hair.
“If you only went where you were comfortable, you’d stay in your room from morning till night. Now, come on. You’ve never been to White Rock. You’ll love it.”
Jane sighed heavily. She’d just been about to start into her favourite novel – Jane Eyre – when her friend came bustling into her room with this good news.
“Please tell me, why would I love White Rock? I who dislike all forms of travel?”
Lori laughed. “I love you,” she hugged her friend. “I know you’ll come. You always make a big fuss over every change in our lives, but you always come around. I couldn’t ask for a better friend. Or sister.”
Jane and Lori’s friendship was nearly a sisterhood. Jane had lived with Lori since she was nine years old. Her early life was a sad tale, one she refrained from telling anyone, but which generally got around despite her best efforts.
Jane often felt she had a lot in common with the heroine of her favourite book. Like Jane Eyre, Jane’s parents died when she was only three. She was then left to live with her Grandmother and Aunt Bates in
. Of course, they were nothing like Jane Eyre’s
hideous aunt and cousins. Tugaske,
Auntie Hetty was her mother’s sister. She had never married. She was sweet and kind, though she talked altogether too much about trivial things. Grandma Bates was nearly deaf and generally stuck to her chair. She was frail and often sick and Jane, already a quiet child, grew up in a home where, though she was loved and admired, she learned to be almost invisible.
When Jane turned nine, her grandmother and aunt came upon hard times and felt they could not do Jane justice in raising her. They lived in a small prairie town in Saskatchewan and the public school in her area closed down. Without consulting young Jane, they decided to accept an offer from Mr. and Mrs. Campbell to have her live in
. She could be closer to a good school, arts
and culture, and could live with a little girl her age. Saskatoon
Bill Campbell had been a very close friend of Jane’s father and insisted on providing for her. Jane had visited them often since her father’s death. Her father had once saved Mr. Campbell’s life. He felt he owed his good friend everything he could give. Besides, they had always been saddened by the fact they could only produce one child and were pleased to have Jane as their daughter’s companion and almost-sister.
The Campbell’s kindness to Jane was great and they provided her with better clothing and education than she could have had with her grandmother and aunt, but she always felt herself beneath her friend. Although the Campbell’s treated the two girls as equals, Jane couldn’t bring herself to accept the credit card they gave her for her sixteenth birthday. She still felt she was an orphan who should provide for herself, and her aunt and grandmother eventually.
“Oh Jane, won’t it be wonderful to spend time on our own, away from my parents. I’m sure Trevor will love me better when he can see me as an independent woman.”
Jane laughed shortly. “I don’t think Trevor could love you any better if you were the Queen of England.”
Lori had been engaged to Trevor for almost two years. They would be married in October. Her parents had insisted she finish university before she married. Like Jane, Lori was twenty-one and had graduated in May.
She’d met Trevor Dixon on holiday in Seattle. Jane had been left to stay with her aunt and was surprised that Lori would become engaged when she was only nineteen. She wondered what kind of man Trevor was, but on his several visits to their home in Canada, she realized he was a sweet-tempered, romantic, caring young man; Lori’s perfect match.
“Mom and Dad would never let me visit him without you. Sometimes I think they believe you are more responsible than I.”
Jane hid a smile behind her book. A child of six would be more responsible that Lori. Although she dressed stylishly and was always kind and sweet, she lived up to the expectations of her corn silk blond hair. Jane was constantly reminding her to act appropriately and keeping her from bad decisions. She only marveled that Lori had the luck to find such a reasonable fiancé while Jane had been away from her.
“I’m sure that isn’t true,” Jane soothed. “So, what am I going to love about White Rock?”
Jane had never been to White Rock, though the Campbell’s had visited six times since Lori’s engagement. Trevor’s family owned a holiday home in the ocean city. Jane insisted on visiting her grandmother and aunt when the Campbell’s travelled. But the idea of seeing the ocean made Jane rather excited.
“Oh, Jane! The scenery! The sand! The cute little shops! You will die, absolutely die at how beautiful it is!” Lori twirled around the room, knocking over several of Jane’s piles of books. She had collected them since she was six and, now that she was twenty-one, she had quite a lot of piles.
“Doesn’t it rain all the time?” Jane countered.
Lori tisked. “Not all the time. We had several days last visit without rain. It was fantastic! Perfect. Oh, we’ll need to go shopping for you. Immediately! These turtlenecks of yours are so out of fashion.”
Lori grabbed Jane’s hand and pulled her from her perch on her tidy bed and continued pulling her all the way to Lori’s bright red convertible.
Jane’s tastes were as far from Lori’s as a sparrow’s to a blue jay’s. Lori insisted they shop in an expensive boutique downtown. She tossed armloads of tight-fitting sweaters and t-shirts into Jane’s open arms, which she soon replaced with sweater sets and cardigans.
Lori emitted a huge sigh of exasperation when they reached the fitting room together.
“Jane Fairfax! How do you expect to catch a man in any of these outfits?” She held up a particularly frumpy grey sweater and threw it to the floor.
Jane retrieved it gently. “That isn’t my intention for visiting White Rock in any way.”
Lori slumped into an oversized leather chair in the corner of the massive dressing room. “Well you can’t live with Mummy and Dad forever, can you? You’re already twenty-one. What will you do when I’m married?”
Jane often worried about this herself. Surely Lori’s parents would tire of her once she was no longer necessary for entertaining their daughter. She had dreamt of living on her own, renting an apartment or travelling abroad, but all this required money, which she had very little of.
“I’ll get work. Don’t worry about me.”
“But you don’t want to live all alone? How would you manage?”
More and more, Jane had begun to think she would manage just fine. Uninterrupted days and nights would be a change, a change she could imagine herself enjoying. Not to be dependent any longer – what a concept!
“Really Lori, I’ll be fine. I just want to be warm in White Rock. I’m going as your friend, not as a woman on the prowl. I’m more interested in sightseeing, really.”
Lori threw up her hands. “Fine! I’ve tried. But don’t come crying to me when you’re an old maid.”
She left Jane to try on her garments in the fitting room alone. Jane took a deep breath of precious freedom.
Jane had a bachelor’s degree in education. After the summer, she planned to begin substitute teaching. Jane knew she would be too busy with wedding preparations to begin teaching full time. The clothes she bought now would need to work in the classroom as well as on her travels.
After a year of substitute teaching, she planned to teach up north – where she imagined she would find peace and serenity. Jobs were plentiful and the pay was good. In a few years, she could return to the south and buy a little place of her own. Plus, she could send money to her aunt and grandma. This was her focus for now.
Jane tried on a black sweater with some grey pants. The pants were too big, so she reached for a smaller size.
Besides, Jane had never been in love. Boys in high school had asked her out a few times, but soon labeled her “frigid” when she continually said no. That had suited her. She was embarrassed by Lori’s frequent entanglements.
Though Lori wasn’t necessarily pretty, she was outgoing, bubbly and had money. Her boyfriends seemed content enough to have someone agree to date them, until she found someone more interesting. Lori’s romances had always been exciting and brief. Yet the boys didn’t seem to mind her breakups. Jane assumed there was no great love lost on either side. Now that Lori had Trevor, Jane recognized they loved one another. She doubted such a thing could happen to her.
“Jane!” Lori pounded on the change room door. She sounded very excited.
“I’m almost done. What is it?”
“You have to see this dress. It’s so perfect for you. Come on Janey, open the door.”
Patience had never been one of Lori’s strong points. She continued knocking on the door until Jane zipped up the pants she was trying on and finally let her in.
“Okay all ready,” she said.
Lori squealed. “Jane! Look at his. Can you believe how absolutely, utterly fantastic this dress is?”
Before Jane really had a chance to look, a blur of red was tossed into her hands and Lori left the room saying,
“I expect to see you wearing that in exactly two minutes, Miss Fairfax.”
Jane held the dress out from her hands and was stunned by the intricate beadwork and beautifully cut lines. The dress was weighty in her hands, substantial. She placed it gingerly on a hook on the wall to get a better look. She gasped when she saw the price tag.
“Lori! I can’t afford this!”
“Ja –ane,” Lori said like she was rolling her eyes. “I have my credit card. You need a dress for White Rock. I insist. If you don’t buy this one, I’ll just keep bringing you more until you agree to one.”
Jane shook her head and unbuttoned her blouse. She sincerely doubted she would let Lori buy her this dress, but there was no use fighting. Lori was as stubborn as Jane was private. But when the dress was on, Jane was amazed at the way it fit her tall thin frame. The colour brought more life to Jane’s face than she’d ever seen. Her grey eyes and delicate skin were perfectly emphasized and though Jane had never before owned such a bright colour, she couldn’t deny that she looked beautiful.
“Aha!” Lori trilled when Jane opened her door. “Just as I suspected. PERFECT!” She hugged Jane close and laughed merrily.
Jane had to agree with her friend. She had never wanted a piece of clothing so badly.
“I don’t need to bring you any more dresses, do I?” Lori asked coyly.
Jane shook her head.
Lori clapped her hands excitedly. “I knew it! Didn’t I Jane? Oh, what would you do without me?”