Barton Cottage By A.P. Maddox
© A.P. Maddox 2017
Barton Cottage is an adaptation of one of Jane Austen’s most beautiful and beloved classics—Sense and Sensibility—reimagined and set in the picturesque Piedmont of modern-day North Carolina. Follow Caroline & Ashelynn Hathcock as they leave their family home, lose their hearts and navigate their way through life’s challenges.
Barton Cottage will be posted on the Little CAB Press blog—one chapter at a time—in 28 parts, from now until December 21, the end of which culminates in the Christmas season!
(YA/NA fiction/romance, Reading level: grade 7, Words: 1971)
Volume 1 Leaving Northland
Chapter 3 Conner Burroughs
The next few weeks at Northland were stressful as remodelers and landscapers worked their magic tending to Dottie’s total estate make-over wishes. Sarah and her daughters did their best to steer clear of the construction and keep to the east wing—which was receiving none of the “make-over” attention.
“Looks like the projects are nearly completed,” Sarah commented at breakfast one morning as the workers applied the finishing touches.
“Yes,” Dottie said, “and just in time since I’ll be hosting a party in the garden this Friday evening.”
Ashelynn glanced at Caroline, her eyes wide with anticipation. Caroline knew how much she loved parties. Caroline liked the idea too—after weeks of mourning their father and adjusting to life with Dottie—a party might lift their spirits.
“The party will be in honor of my brother, Conner’s graduation from Duke University,” Dottie continued. “He’ll arrive Friday evening with guests from Charlotte who will also attend the party. Afterward, Conner will be staying with us for a while. A crew will be here in the afternoon to set up, so try to keep out of their way.”
Caroline poked at her scrambled eggs with a fork. Conner Burroughs, she thought with a smile. The last time she had seen him they were both awkward teenagers; she wondered if he would even remember her.
“May I invite some friends?” Ashelynn asked with guarded enthusiasm.
“You want to invite someone?” Dottie asked with a haughty laugh. “And what sort of people would you invite?”
Ashelynn answered slowly as if she were a school kid being scolded by the teacher. “The nice sort, neighbors, friends…”
“Are you aware the mayor, two congressional leaders and the governor are going to be here Friday evening? My brother has just received his degree in political science and this event will be the springboard for his career,” Dottie informed them.
“Well,” Ashelynn offered, “one kid I wanted to invite has an uncle who plays golf with former President Bush.”
“Oh, I see,” Dottie said, her tone changing as her lips turned up. “Why don’t you give me a list, Ashelynn dear. Include their parents’ names and numbers, and I’ll give them a call. If I find they are right for our gathering, I’ll offer the invitation.”
Ashelynn nodded and quietly sighed.
After breakfast, Sarah and Caroline saw Ashelynn and Maggie off as they left for school. Ashelynn would drop Maggie off at the elementary before heading on to the high school.
“That comment about staying out of the way on Friday was aimed at me,” Sarah grumbled as she and Caroline walked back inside. “Dottie’s point was to tell me I no longer have any say in what goes on around here.”
Caroline sighed in agreement. “I’m sorry, Mom. Try to have patience, things may get better soon.”
“My patience is running thin this morning,” Sarah said. “Living with them might be more difficult and detrimental than we originally thought. And since I believe Frank will honor his promise to your father to help us with extra money, it may be time to start looking for another place.”
“You might be right Mom but has Frank offered any money yet?” Caroline asked.
“Well, not yet…” Sarah answered.
“It’s been weeks,” Caroline said, “if he was going to offer extra money I think he’d have done so by now and with the amount of money they must have spent on all this remodeling, what if he’s no longer able to give us extra? If we decide to move, we’d better stick to something we can to afford without his help, just to be safe.”
Sarah was silent for a moment before telling her daughter, “You have so much of your father’s good sense in you.”
Caroline felt proud to have any of her father’s attributes.
Friday evening arrived and Caroline and Ashelynn sat primping at the double-seated vanity in Ashelynn’s room.
“I should’ve known Dottie would only invite my richest friends,” Ashelynn ranted.
They wore boat-neck, vintage tea dresses, Caroline’s azure blue with small white polka dots and Ashelynn’s cream-colored with a floral pattern.
Caroline listened quietly to Ashelynn’s complaints as she fluffed the golden blonde ringlets in her shoulder length hair; her blue eyes gazing back in the mirror, trying to convince herself she looked adequate enough to see Conner again.
“I had to apologize to my other friends and explain if it were up to me, everyone would’ve been invited,” Ashelynn said. She polished her lips with a dusty rose gloss and gathered her long, auburn hair to one side, securing the curly locks with a ribbon.
She turned to Caroline with a rascally grin. “So, do you know what I did to make it up to them?”
The mischievous sound in Ashelynn’s voice unsettled Caroline and she asked with worry, “What did you do Ashelynn?”
She explained in unconcerned tone, “I invited them over tomorrow night for a party of my own, and I’m not going to tell Dottie. I told them to show up at seven o’clock and we’ll watch movies, play games and hang out!”
“Oh,” Caroline replied, “like a normal Saturday night around here before everything changed.” She let out a long sigh, sad to think such an innocent activity would likely aggravate Dottie and cause further contention. There was nothing to be done about it now so her thoughts returned to the evening’s party.
“What do you think Conner looks like now?” Caroline asked.
“I don’t know,” Ashelynn said with a shrug. “He was kind of dorky looking when we were kids but I’m sure he’s at least decent looking now. We haven’t seen him in so long, though, how do we know he hasn’t become just like Dottie?”
“But he was always so nice, more like his father than the rest of the family,” Caroline muttered, reminiscing. She remembered him being quiet and awkward but kind and gentle with a cute smile.
“True, but his father’s gone now isn’t he?” Ashelynn countered, “And he’s been under the influence of his pretentious mother and snotty sister for the past few years. Who can say what he’s like now!”
Caroline shrugged, hoping Ashelynn was wrong.
“Come on,” Ashelynn said, jumping up from the vanity. “Let’s not let this party get started without us!”
Soon everyone was in the garden and the festivities were underway. Circular tables were dressed with white linens and centerpieces of red and blue flowers—a patriotic theme. Clear lights were strung around the trees, gateways, and walkways. Lighted candles floated in the newly added reflecting pool and the smell of jasmine graced the air. A small orchestra in the newly built gazebo played classical melodies.
Caroline strolled through the scene, committing every detail to memory. Her passion was drawing, and she would want to recreate this scene later on paper.
Ashelynn darted toward Caroline, disturbing her concentration. “I just got a glimpse of Conner,” she hastily reported.
“Oh,” Caroline said, trying not to sound excited. “What does he look like?”
Ashelynn looped her arm through her sister’s as they walked toward the trellised archway where Dottie was introducing Conner to the guests. “Well, he’s still dorky looking but his pimples have cleared up,” she said with a teasing laugh.
The girls stood in the line of guests waiting to be introduced to Conner. Caroline tried looking over and around heads and shoulders to catch a glimpse of him without luck. “I can’t imagine he’s completely unattractive?” Caroline said.
Ashelynn did not reply. Caroline looked at her sister’s face and knew immediately something was wrong. Ashelynn had a tightlipped smile and looked as if she wanted to tell Caroline to shut up.
Caroline felt a tap on her shoulder and turned to see Dottie glaring at her with Conner at her side. Caroline had been looking in the wrong direction not realizing they were at the head rather than the end of the line. She immediately felt sick to her stomach thinking of her previous statement, hoping he hadn’t heard. The look on Dottie’s face suggested they did.
“Caroline and Ashelynn Hathcock,” Dottie said, overlooking the impropriety and introducing them in a formal manner, “you remember my brother, Conner Burroughs?”
The girls said hello and expressed their delight in seeing him.
“It’s a pleasure seeing both of you again,” Conner said.
He looked into Caroline’s eyes, smiling as if wanting to tell her, it was okay. The expression surprised her, and she found herself returning an awkward, embarrassed grin.
Dinner was announced and everyone moved to their assigned seating. Dottie, Frank, and Conner sat at the head table with the governor and the other political leaders. From Caroline’s table, several down from the head—marking the inconsequence of Frank’s step-family—she discreetly watched Conner throughout dinner and noticed while he seemed polite in manner and decorum, he also seemed relatively uninterested in promoting himself to the powerful political leaders.
After the dinner service was removed the governor stood at the podium to speak, followed by a few remarks from one of the congressman before Conner got up to speak. Caroline supposed his speech was going to be about his grand plans to go into politics, but it was not, instead, he humbly spoke of other things. He first thanked his sister for the lovely party, then his family for their support of his education and his professors for their tireless efforts in educating himself and his classmates. He went on to thank God for the country in which they lived and declared it was a true blessing to live in such a free country. He spoke of his gratitude for the founders whose dedication and sacrifices had built a free and independent nation. The conclusion of Conner’s unpretentious testimonial met with resounding applause.
The slanted smirk on Dottie’s face suggested it wasn’t quite what she expected, perhaps she had wished for Conner’s speech to be more self-promoting—given the company they were in—still, Dottie clapped along with the others as though she was pleased. When Conner returned to his seat, next to his sister’s, she bent toward him to whisper in his ear. The uncomfortable look on Conner’s face left Caroline wondering if Dottie had scolded her brother for a timid performance.
The speeches concluded and the orchestra began playing tunes for dancing, while the guests began to mingle. Caroline watched Conner as Dottie dragged him around from one VIP to the next.
She told herself she should stop watching him then failed in her attempts to keep her eyes off him.
After a while, she turned her chair in an earnest effort to turn her attention away from him. Maggie had been seated next to her mother and sisters throughout dinner, but had made the acquaintance of a couple of kids her age and went to show them around the garden. She skimmed her eyes over the guests to see how Maggie and her new friends were doing. She spied them at the reflecting pool, swirling their fingers in the water, trying to make the floating candles spin. She giggled to see them having fun.
Ashelynn had also met with some friends and had left the table; Caroline’s eyes searched them out. She saw them gathered together at the west end of the garden, talking and laughing. She smiled; pleased they were having a good time.
She tried to listen in on the conversation her mother, still seated next to her, was having with a couple from their neighborhood—the ones with the relative who golfs with the former president—but soon realized her eyes were once again searching for Conner.
She couldn’t immediately see him and thought it was for the best, but before she could convince herself to stop looking, she saw him walking straight toward her…
Up Next Chapter 3 part II: Distracted