Jane unlimited, p.2
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       Jane, Unlimited, p.2

           Kristin Cashore
 

  But it wasn’t possible to say no, because of Aunt Magnolia. The promise.

  “Janie, sweetheart,” Aunt Magnolia had said when Jane had woken extra early one morning and found her aunt on the stool at the kitchen counter. “You’re awake.”

  “You’re awake,” Jane had responded, because Jane was the insomniac in the family.

  She’d balanced her hip on the edge of Aunt Magnolia’s stool so she could lean against her aunt’s side, close her eyes, and pretend she was still asleep. Aunt Magnolia had been tall, like Jane, and Jane had always fit well against her. Aunt Magnolia had put her cup of tea into Jane’s hands, closing both of Jane’s palms around its warmth.

  “You remember your old writing tutor?” Aunt Magnolia had said. “Kiran Thrash?”

  “Of course,” Jane had responded, taking a noisy slurp.

  “Did she ever talk about her house?”

  “The house with the French name? On the island her dad owns?”

  “Tu Reviens,” Aunt Magnolia had said.

  Jane had known enough French to translate this. “‘You return.’”

  “Exactly, darling,” Aunt Magnolia had said. “I want you to make me a promise.”

  “Okay.”

  “If anyone ever invites you to Tu Reviens,” she’d said, “promise me that you’ll go.”

  “Okay,” Jane had said. “Um, why?”

  “I’ve heard it’s a place of opportunity.”

  “Aunt Magnolia,” Jane had said with a snort, putting her cup down to look into her aunt’s eyes. Her aunt had had a funny blue blotch staining the otherwise brown iris in one of her eyes, like a nebula, or a muddy star, with little spikes, spokes.

  “Aunt Magnolia,” Jane had repeated. “What the hell are you talking about?”

  Her aunt had chuckled, deep in her throat, then had given Jane a one-armed hug. “You know I get wild ideas sometimes.”

  Aunt Magnolia had been one for sudden trips, like camping in some remote part of the Finger Lakes where overnights weren’t exactly permitted and where cell phones didn’t work. They would read books together by lantern light, listen to the moths throw themselves against the canvas of the tiny, glowing tent, then finally fall asleep to the sound of loons. And then a week later Aunt Magnolia might go off to Japan to photograph sharks. The images she brought back amazed Jane. It might be a photo of a shark, but what Jane saw was Aunt Magnolia and her camera, pressed in by water, silence, and cold, breathing compressed air, waiting for a visit from a creature that might as well be an alien, so strange were the inhabitants of the underwater world.

  “You’re wild, Aunt Magnolia,” Jane had said. “And wonderful.”

  “But I don’t ask you for many promises, do I?”

  “No.”

  “So promise me this one thing. Won’t you?”

  “All right,” Jane had said, “fine. For you, I promise I won’t ever turn down an invitation to Tu Reviens. Why are you awake anyway?”

  “Strange dreams,” she’d said. Then, a few days later, she’d left on an expedition to Antarctica, gotten caught too far from camp during a polar blizzard, and frozen to death.

  Kiran’s invitation brought Aunt Magnolia near in a way that nothing else had in the four months since.

  * * *

  Tu Reviens. You return.

  It’s unsettling, to be so far from home—all her usual anxieties lifted, only to be replaced with new ones. Does Kiran’s father even know Jane is coming? What if she’s just a third wheel once Kiran meets up with her boyfriend? How does a person act around people who own yachts and private islands?

  Standing in the lounge of The Kiran, the rain falling in sheets outside, Jane tells herself to breathe, slow, deep, and even, the way Aunt Magnolia taught her. “It’ll help you when you learn to scuba dive,” Aunt Magnolia had used to say when Jane was tiny—five, six, seven—though somehow, those scuba lessons had never materialized.

  In, Jane thinks, focusing on her expanding belly. Out, feeling her torso flatten. Jane glances at the house, floating above them in the storm. Aunt Magnolia never worried. She just went.

  Jane suddenly feels like a character in a novel by Edith Wharton or the Brontës. I’m a young woman of reduced circumstances, with no family and no prospects, invited by a wealthy family to their glamorous estate. Could this be my heroic journey?

  She’ll need to choose an umbrella appropriate for a heroic journey. Will Kiran think it’s weird? Can she find one that isn’t embarrassing? Teetering across the lounge floor, opening one of her crates, Jane lights upon the right choice instantly. The petite umbrella’s satin canopy alternates deep brown with a coppery rose. The brass fittings are made of antique parts, but strong. She could impale someone on the ferrule.

  Jane opens it. The runners squeak and the curve of the ribs is warped, the fabric unevenly stretched.

  It’s just a stupid, lopsided umbrella, Jane thinks to herself, suddenly blinking back tears. Aunt Magnolia? Why am I here?

  Patrick sticks his head into the lounge. His bright eyes flash at Jane, then touch Kiran. “We’re docked, Kir,” he says, “and the car is here.”

  Kiran sits up, not looking at him. Then, when he returns to the deck, she watches him through the window as he lifts wooden crates onto his shoulder and carries them onto the dock. His eyes catch hers and she looks away. “Leave your stuff,” she says to Jane dismissively. “Patrick will bring it up later.”

  “Okay,” Jane says. Something is definitely up with Patrick and Kiran. “Who’s your boyfriend, anyway?”

  “His name is Colin. He works with my brother. You’ll meet him. Why?”

  “Just wondering.”

  “Did you make that umbrella?” asks Kiran.

  “Yes.”

  “I thought so. It makes me think of you.”

  Of course it does. It’s homemade and funny-looking.

  Kiran and Jane step into the rain. Patrick holds a steadying hand out to Jane and she grabs his forearm by accident. He is soaked to the skin. Patrick Yellan, Jane notices, has beautiful forearms.

  “Watch your step,” he says in her ear.

  * * *

  Once on land, Kiran and Jane scurry toward an enormous black car on the dock. “Patrick’s the one who asked me to come home for the gala,” Kiran shouts through the rain.

  “What?” says Jane, flustered. She’s trying to shield Kiran with her umbrella, which sends a rivulet of icy water down the canopy straight into the neck of her own shirt. “Really? Why?”

  “Who the hell knows? He told me he has a confession to make. He’s always announcing shit like that, then he has nothing to say.”

  “Are you . . . good friends?”

  “Stop trying to keep me dry,” Kiran says, reaching for the car door. “It’s only making both of us more wet.”

  There is, it turns out, a road that starts at the bay, continues clockwise around the base of the island, then enters a series of hairpin turns that climb the sheer cliffs gradually.

  It’s not a soothing drive in a Rolls-Royce in the rain; the car seems too big to take the turns without plummeting off the edge. The driver has the facial expression of a bulldog and she’s driving like she’s got a train to catch. Steel-haired and steel-eyed, pale-skinned with high cheekbones, she’s wearing black yoga clothes and an apron with cooking stains. She stares at Jane in the rearview mirror. Jane shivers, tilting her head so her boisterous curls obscure her face.

  “Are we short-staffed again, Mrs. Vanders?” Kiran asks. “You’re wearing an apron.”

  “A handful of guests just arrived unannounced,” says Mrs. Vanders. “The spring gala is the day after tomorrow. Cook is having hysterics.”

  Kiran throws her head against the back of the seat and closes her eyes. “What guests?”

  “Phoebe and Philip Okada,” Mrs. Vanders says
. “Lucy St. George—”

  “My brother makes me want to die,” Kiran says, interrupting.

  “Your brother himself has made no appearance,” says Mrs. Vanders significantly.

  “Shocking,” says Kiran. “Any bank robbers expected?”

  Mrs. Vanders grunts at this peculiar question and says, “I imagine not.”

  “Bank robbers?” says Jane.

  “Well,” Kiran says, ignoring Jane, “I announced my friend ahead of time. I hope you’ve set aside space; Janie needs space.”

  “We’ve set aside the Red Suite in the east wing for Jane. It has its own morning room,” Mrs. Vanders says. “Though regrettably it has no view of the sea.”

  “It’s nowhere near me,” Kiran grumbles. “It’s near Ravi.”

  “Well,” says Mrs. Vanders with a sudden softening of expression, “we still have sleeping bags if you want to have sleepovers. You and Ravi and Patrick liked to do that when you were young and Ivy was just a baby, remember? She used to beg to be included.”

  “We used to toast marshmallows in Ravi’s fireplace,” Kiran tells Jane, “while Mr. Vanders and Octavian hovered over us, certain we were going to burn ourselves.”

  “Or set the house on fire,” says Mrs. Vanders.

  “Ivy would make herself sick and fall asleep in a sugar coma,” Kiran says wistfully. “And I would sleep between Patrick and Ravi on the hearth, like a melting s’more.”

  Memory comes on sharply; memory has its own will. Sitting with Aunt Magnolia in the red armchair, beside the radiator that clanked and hissed. Reading Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner. “Sing Ho! for the life of a Bear!” Aunt Magnolia would say as Christopher Robin led an expotition to the North Pole. Sometimes, if Aunt Magnolia was tired, she and Jane would read silently, wedged together. Jane was five, six, seven, eight. If Aunt Magnolia was drying socks on the radiator, the room would smell of wool.

  The car approaches the house from behind, roars around to the front, and pulls into the drive. It’s not a ship anymore, this house, now that Jane sees it up close. It’s a palace.

  * * *

  Mrs. Vanders opens a small, person-sized door set within the great, elephant-sized door. There is no welcoming committee.

  Jane and Kiran enter a stone receiving hall with a high ceiling and a checkerboard floor on which Jane creates small puddles everywhere she steps. The air whooshes as Mrs. Vanders closes the door, sucking at Jane’s eardrums and almost making her feel as if she’s missed a whispered word. Absently, she rubs her ear.

  “Welcome to Tu Reviens,” says Mrs. Vanders gruffly. “Stay out of the servants’ quarters. We don’t have room for visitors in the kitchen, either, and the west attics are cluttered and dangerous. You should be content with your bedroom, Jane, and the common rooms of the ground floor.”

  “Vanny,” says Kiran calmly, “stop being an ogre.”

  “I merely wish to prevent your friend from skewering her foot on a nail in the attic,” says Mrs. Vanders, then stalks across the floor and disappears through a doorway. Jane, unsure if she’s meant to follow, takes a step, but Kiran puts a hand out to stop her.

  “I think she’s going to the forbidden kitchen,” she says, with half a smile. “I’ll show you around. This is the receiving hall. Is it ostentatious enough for you?”

  Matching staircases climb the walls to left and right, reaching to a second story, then a third. The impossibly tall wall before Jane almost makes her dizzy. Long balconies stretch across it at the second and third levels, archways along them puncturing the tall wall at intervals. The balconies might serve as minstrels’ galleries, but they also serve as bridges connecting the east and west sides of the house. The archways glow softly with natural light, as if the wall is a face with glowing teeth. Straight ahead, on the ground level, is another archway through which greenery is visible and the soft glow of more natural light. Jane hears the sound of rain on glass. Her mind can’t make sense of it, in what should be the house’s center.

  “It’s the Venetian courtyard,” Kiran says, noticing Jane’s expression, leading her toward the archway. She sounds defeated. “It’s the house’s nicest feature.”

  “Oh,” says Jane, trying to read Kiran’s face. “Is it, like, your favorite room?”

  “Whatever,” Kiran says. “It makes it harder for me to hate this place.”

  Jane studies Kiran instead of the courtyard. Kiran’s pale brown face is turned up to the glass ceiling, the pounding rain. She is not beautiful. She’s the kind of plain-looking that a good deal of money can disguise as beautiful. But Jane realizes now that she likes Kiran’s snub nose, her open face, her wispy black hair.

  If she hates this place, Jane wonders, why does she consent to come when Patrick calls? Or does Kiran dislike every place equally?

  Jane turns to see what Kiran sees.

  Well. What an excellent space to stick in the middle of a house; every house should have one stuck in its middle. It’s a glass-ceilinged atrium, stretching fully up the building’s three stories, with walls of pale pink stone and, in the center, a forest of slender white trees; tiny terraced flower gardens; and a small waterfall shooting from the mouth of a fish. At the second and third levels, long cascades of golden-orange nasturtiums hang from balconies.

  “Come on,” Kiran says. “I’ll show you to your room.”

  “You don’t have to,” says Jane. “You can just tell me where to go.”

  “It’ll give me an excuse not to go looking for Octavian yet,” Kiran says. Laughter erupts from a room not too distant. She winces. “Or the guests, or Colin,” she adds, grabbing Jane’s wrist and pulling her back into the receiving hall.

  It’s strange to be touched by someone as prickly as Kiran. Jane can’t tell if it’s comforting or if she feels a bit trapped. “What’s Colin like?”

  “He’s an art dealer,” Kiran says, not directly answering Jane’s question. “He works for his uncle who owns a gallery. Colin has a master’s in art history. He taught one of Ravi’s classes when Ravi was an undergrad; that’s how they met. But even if he’d studied, like, astrophysics, he’d probably have ended up working for his uncle Buckley. Everyone in that family does. Still, at least he’s using his degree.”

  Kiran has a degree in religion and languages she’s apparently not using. Once, Jane remembers, Kiran wrote a paper on religious groups working with governments to encourage environmental conservation that fascinated Aunt Magnolia. She and Kiran had talked and talked. Aunt Magnolia had turned out to know a lot more about politics than Jane had realized.

  Kiran backtracks through the receiving hall and takes the east staircase on their left. The walls going up are covered with a bizarre collection of paintings from all different periods, all different styles. On every landing is a complete suit of armor.

  Dominating the second-story landing is a particularly tall realistic painting done in thick oils, depicting a room with a checkerboard floor and an umbrella propped open as if left to dry. Jane feels she could almost step into the scene.

  A basset hound, coming down the steps toward them, stops and stares at Jane. Then he begins to hop and pant with increasing interest. When Jane passes him, he turns himself around and follows eagerly, but his long radius makes for slow turning, and basset hounds aren’t designed for steps. He treads on his own ear and yelps. He’s soon left behind. He barks.

  “Ignore Jasper,” Kiran says. “That dog has a personality disorder.”

  “What’s wrong with him?” asks Jane.

  “He grew up in this house,” Kiran says.

  * * *

  Jane has never had a suite of rooms to herself.

  Kiran’s phone rings as they step through the door. She glances at it, then scowls. “Fucking Patrick. Bet you anything he has nothing to say. I’ll leave you to explore,” she says, wandering back out into the corridor.


  Jane is free now to examine her rooms without needing to hide her amazement. Her gold-tiled bathroom, complete with hot tub, is as big as her bedroom used to be, and the bedroom is a vast expanse, the king-sized bed a mountain she supposes she’ll scale later, to sleep in the clouds. The walls are an unusually pale shade of red, like one of the brief, early colors of the sky at sunrise. Fat leather armchairs sit around a giant fireplace. Jane opens her umbrella and sets it to dry on the cold hearth, noticing logs stacked beside the fireplace and wondering how one goes about lighting a fire.

  The morning room, through an adjoining door, has eastern walls made of glass, presumably to catch the morning sun. The glass brings her very near the storm, which is nice. A storm can be a cozy thing when one isn’t in it.

  Outside, formal gardens stretch to meet a long lawn, then a forest beyond, disappearing into fog, as if maybe this house and this small patch of land have floated out of normal existence, with Jane as their passenger. Well, Jane and the mud-soaked child digging holes with a trowel in the garden below, short hair dripping with rain. She’s maybe seven, or eight. She raises her face to glance up at the house.

  Is there something familiar about the look of that kid? Does Jane recognize her?

  The little girl shifts her position and the sensation fades.

  After surveying her morning room (rolltop desk, striped sofa, floral armchair, yellow shag rug, and a random assortment of paintings), she returns to her bedroom, wrapping herself in a soft dark blanket from the foot of the bed.

  A small scratching noise brings her to the hallway door, which she opens a crack. “You made it,” she says as the dog barrels in. “I admire your persevering spirit.”

  Jasper is a classic basset hound in brown, black, and white; his nose is long, his ears are longer, his legs are short, his eyes sag, his mouth droops, his ears flop. He is a creature beset by gravity. When Jane kneels and offers a hand, he sniffs it. Licks it, shyly. Then he leans his weight against her damp corduroys. “You,” Jane says, scratching his head in a place she suspects he can’t reach, “are perfect.”

 
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KRISTIN CASHORE SERIES:

Graceling Realm

 


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