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: 2792, Est reading time: 2 mins)
Volume 1 Leaving Northland
Chapter 4 Ashelynn’s Movie Night
Ashelynn’s friends—the not so well off and wealthy alike—arrived at Northland precisely on time the evening after the party. Ashelynn had texted them beforehand: “Don’t ring the bell, come to the back door, text me when you arrive, we’ll come get you.”
Dottie was in the study and unaware of the maneuvers going on in the other part of the house. Caroline played lookout while Ashelynn snuck her friends from the back door—tiptoeing through the halls—to the family room. They pulled the double sliding doors to a close behind them.
After browsing the Hathcock’s extensive movie collection, the friends unanimously voted for Star Wars and Ashelynn put the disc in. She and Caroline passed out bags of microwaved popcorn and cans of soda. Ashelynn had prepared a large bowl of sugary treats and placed it on a cocktail table in the middle of the room. The movie began on the 65-inch screen and the theme song boomed in the speakers.
“Ashelynn turn it down,” Caroline warned, “Dottie will hear.”
Ashelynn turned the volume down but the chattering of her friends created another dull roar. Caroline shushed them and they kept it down for a few minutes until someone broke out in laughter and the noise level rose again.
Caroline put her finger to her lips. “Shh…” she said, trying to remind them to keep it down.
One of the doors slid open and the girls gasped, thinking it was Dottie, but Conner’s head poked through. On the screen, Luke Skywalker and Ben Kenobi were watching a hologram of Princess Leia pleading for help.
“What’s all this?” he asked.
Caroline waved him over and motioned for him to sit next to her.
“We’re watching Star Wars,” she said. “Have you ever seen it?”
“Of course, it’s a classic!” he answered with a broad smile.
“Dottie doesn’t know Ashelynn has friends over, so we’re trying to keep it quiet,” she whispered.
“I see, why don’t I stick around and help you keep a lid on it,” he said in a lowered voice.
She smiled in agreement and handed him a bag of popcorn and a can of lemon-lime soda.
All was quiet for a short while but like waves on the ocean, the chatter would swell and only break when Caroline, Ashelynn and now Conner, would shush them.
A couple of kids started talking loudly and someone threw a piece of popcorn, telling them to shut up. Another piece immediately flew back the other way and within moments popcorn was flying around the room—accompanied by bursts of loud laughter and shrieking voices.
Dottie came in search of the commotion. She slid the doors open. The Millennium Falcon was escaping the jaws of a gigantic snake Han Solo had mistaken for a cave. Popcorn, soda cans, and candy wrappers littered the room.
“What’s going on in here?” Dottie demanded, storming into the room. “This is my home! Nobody asked my permission for these people to be here!”
She growled like a snarling beast but before she could devour the guests, Conner stood up like a knight to the rescue—his shield a bag of popcorn and his sword a soda can.
One of Ashelynn’s friends called out, “Use the force!”
Another said, “These are not the kids you’re looking for.”
Dottie sneered at the jesters.
“Dottie, calm down and reconsider,” Conner said while the other kids chuckled. “It’s a harmless activity—a simple way for Miss Caroline and Ashelynn to reconnect with their friends and lift their spirits after grieving the loss of their father.”
“Well, no one asked my permission,” Dottie responded, crossing her arms. “If they want to plan something like this, they need to consult me first.”
Frank soon appeared. “What’s all the shouting?” he asked.
“Frank,” Ashelynn called out, “you said Northland was still our home. Is that true or not? If it is, then I should be able to have friends over without her screeching at me!”
“Well…” Frank stammered, “yes… but… you see, it would be best if you ran your plans past Dottie first.”
“I knew it!” Ashelynn said. “This is her house now, not ours! And we’re only allowed to do whatever she tells us to!”
“Oh, no dear…” Frank started before Dottie interrupted.
“I want these kids out now and this room cleaned up!”
Conner gently put his hand on his sister’s shoulder, leaned toward her and whispered. “Dottie, look around you, some of these fine young people are from some of the very families we met with last night.” He paused while she scanned their faces. “We wouldn’t want to offend anyone,” he continued. “I’ll stay with them and make sure everything gets cleaned up before they leave if you’ll let them stay until the movie is over.”
“Oh,” Dottie said, composing herself. “I guess, that’d be alright. I was just, well, I was taken by surprise—caught off guard. Of course, they are welcome to stay.” She forced a cordial smile before taking Frank’s arm and leaving the room.
“Sir Conner!” Ashelynn declared, bowing toward him. “Our knight in shining armor!” Everyone clapped and cheered.
One of Ashelynn’s friends called out, “He used his Jedi mind powers!” Everyone laughed.
A smile came over Conner’s face as he enjoyed the cheers.
He returned to his seat and Caroline asked, “Are you sure you don’t want to be a politician?”
“Yes, why?” he asked.
“That was very diplomatic,” she said with a chuckle.
“Then my professors would be happy to know my education wasn’t entirely wasted,” he said.
The movie ended and everyone pitched in to clean up the trash and tidy the room. Ashelynn walked her guests out, thanked them for coming, and rejoined Caroline and Conner in the family room as they were putting throw pillows back in place.
They hauled bags of trash out to the large cans by the garage. As they walked, Conner asked, “I seem to remember Caroline once telling me she liked to draw and was rather good at it. Do you still do any of that?”
“She’s amazing,” Ashelynn piped up in praise of her sister before Caroline could answer. “You should have seen the portrait she painted of our family.”
“Should have?” he asked. “Did something happen to it?”
“Well, it was over the fireplace in the parlor,” Ashelynn said. “But Dottie made us take it down.”
“Take it down. Why?”
“She’s replacing it with a picture of her family,” Caroline answered.
“Oh, I see,” Conner said, with a hint of sorrow in his voice. “I would still like to see it sometime. I’d like to see any of the work you’d care to show me.”
Caroline smiled. “It’s in my mom’s room, I’ll bring it out tomorrow and I’ll bring some other stuff out too.”
Caroline and Conner exchanged smiles while Ashelynn looked on. The notion struck Ashelynn that her sister was developing feelings for Conner and in a romantic fancy, she thought she’d encourage things.
“Did you know Caroline has a scholarship to UNC Asheville to study art?” she asked Conner.
“I had no idea,” he said.
“She won a state-wide competition with a painting she did as a senior in high school!” Ashelynn exclaimed. “The piece is on tour with other winning pieces from high school kids across North Carolina with the ‘Artists of Tomorrow’ exhibit.”
“Incredible,” Conner said. “What did it look like?” He looked to Caroline, eager for a description.
“She hates to toot her own horn,” Ashelynn said. “It was a stunning watercolor of the Cape Hatteras lighthouse.”
“Ooh,” Conner said, “sounds beautiful. Did you paint it from sight or from a picture?”
“From memory,” Caroline answered. “Dad took us on a tour of lighthouses one summer. We saw some breathtaking sights. I’d love to go again one day.”
“Painting all along your way?” he asked.
Her cheeks colored and she nodded. “Absolutely.”
“Maybe you’ll paint something for me one day,” he added.
She smiled and repeated under her breath, “Absolutely.”
“Should I guess you’ll spend your life as a famous artist? No time for us regular Joe’s,” he said, teasing.
“Of course not,” she said with a laugh. “I would like to own an art gallery one day though. I want to travel the country to find works by new artists and showcase them in my gallery.”
Conner smiled at her. “I believe you’ll realize that dream one day.”
After dumping the trash bags in the large cans, they returned inside to find Dottie waiting for them with arms crossed and an impatient glare.
“Conner, have you finished up those thank you notes to our guests for yesterday evening?” she asked.
“No, I haven’t,” he said, sheepishly.
“Now would be a perfect time to do that,” she said. “And don’t forget, we are attending 9 a.m. Sunday service with the Mayor in the morning.”
“Of course,” he said. He thanked the girls for the fun evening and said “goodnight” before climbing the stairs toward his room.
Caroline watched, he seemed like an ox pulling a heavy yoke.
“Ladies,” Dottie said, in a low voice, “for future reference, you will consult me before having company over and… Conner is a busy man, stay out of his way.”
No time for silly girls, Caroline recalled as Dottie turned and walked away.
Ashelynn headed off to her room grumbling under her breath and Caroline went to the kitchen for a quick glass of water.
She found her mother there finishing preparations for Sunday’s dinner—pot roast, potatoes, and carrots—with a dessert of pineapple upside down cake being pulled from the oven.
“Mom, what do you think of Conner?” Caroline asked taking a glass from the cupboard.
“Well, he’s been rather quiet so far—as he always was, I suppose,” she answered with a shrug. “But he looked quite the gentleman last night dancing with my beautiful daughter,” she said with a romantic twinkle in her eye. “I will have some reservations however if he shows any signs of being like his sister.”
“Oh, Mom, he’s nothing like his sister,” Caroline said. “He’s so sweet and kind!” Her eyes sparkled as she continued. “You should have seen him tonight. He saved us from a snarling Dottie. She came into the family room demanding for all of Ashelynn’s friends to leave, but Conner talked her out of it!” She sighed in delight, recalling his gallantry.
“I see,” Sarah said with surprise. “I guess I’ve been so busy in the kitchen I missed it all.” She searched her daughter’s face, bright with expression and smiled as she took notice of Caroline’s budding affections for Conner Burroughs.
A beautiful, sunny Sunday morning dawned over Northland. Caroline opened her window to the sounds of chirping birds and a gentle breeze rushing through the trees—she fancied the sound a chorus of hymns.
She showered and donned a pink floral print dress, hoping to catch a glimpse of Conner before they left. She emerged from the east wing as Conner emerged from the west.
He stopped mid-step. “You look beautiful this morning,” he said.
“Thank you,” she replied, “and you look very handsome.”
“Thanks,” he said, starting toward her as if wanting to say more until Dottie’s loud voice was heard booming around the corner.
She, Frank and little James appeared and Dottie hurried them down the stairs. They were running late.
From the top of the stairs, Caroline watched them all the way down. They reached the front door and Conner glanced up at her. Her heart raced at the quick smile he gave her before they disappeared—off to rub elbows with the Mayor at Sunday services.
An hour later, Sarah and her daughters left to quietly attend their neighborhood church as they’d always done.
After church and sandwiches for lunch, Dottie went to put little James down for a nap and Conner joined the Hathcock ladies in the parlor.
Caroline brought out several of her art pieces and delighted in showing them off. Conner “ooh’d” and “aah’d” and praised her talent.
“Is this the portrait my sister made you remove from over the fireplace?” he asked holding it up.
Conner shook his head. “That’s too bad, it deserves to be seen—look at your father’s smile and the brightness in his countenance. You captured it beautifully and it shows the love he had for your family.”
Caroline smiled. “That’s how I feel about it too.”
He continued looking over her work from sketches in books to paintings on canvas; he claimed to think all were beautiful.
Caroline watched him looking over her work and mentioned, “There’s a great art gallery downtown I’d love to take you to.”
“I would like that,” he responded.
“Tomorrow morning perhaps?” she asked.
“Sure,” he agreed.
Ashelynn sat at the piano and played inspiring tunes. Some from the church hymnal and others from popular plays.
After a while, Dottie strolled in. Her high heels click-clacking on the marble tile as Ashelynn played was like a turntable needle scratching across a record in the middle of the song.
Ashelynn stopped playing.
Dottie peered over Caroline’s artwork. “Hmm,” was all she uttered before saying, “Conner, can I speak to you for a moment?”
“Sure,” he said, excusing himself.
She led him to the study, out of hearing range of the rest of the household. “Conner,” she began with a sisterly affectionate yet overbearing smile, “have you finished those thank you notes?”
“Yes, I finished them last night,” he said. “I’ll put them in the mail tomorrow.”
“Excellent,” she said. “Now aren’t there other things you could be doing with your time? More productive things?”
“What do you mean?” he asked somewhat confused.
“You could be writing letters, making phone calls, getting in touch with some of Dad’s old acquaintances, doing research. Anything would be more productive than sitting around with the girls,” she said.
Conner furrowed his brow and any trace of a smile disappeared. “Dottie, do you have a problem with me spending time with Frank’s sisters?”
She sighed. “It’s not that, it’s the kind of future Mother and I have in mind for you. I don’t want you sitting around wasting time when you could be putting your efforts to better use.”
“Dottie, it’s Sunday,” he calmly said, “a day of rest, a day off from work, and family is never a waste of time.”
Conner returned to the parlor with the girls, not saying a word about his conversation with Dottie.
He picked up a Bible sitting on an end table. “My father used to read to me on Sunday afternoons. Do you mind if I read aloud?”
“That would be nice,” Sarah said with a smile. “Thomas used to read to us out of that Bible.”
“I don’t have any particular chapter or verse in mind. Let’s just flip it open and see what we find,” Conner said as he let the Bible fall open where it may. It opened to Matthew chapter 11. His eyes skimmed to verses 28 – 30.
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
“Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
“For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
He sat in silence for a few moments before looking up with a sad smile and excusing himself from the room.
At breakfast the next morning everyone dug into stacks of pancakes Sarah was turning out—hot of the griddle.
Dottie laid out Conner’s itinerary for the day. “A meeting with a city-councilman, lunch with a senator…”
Conner interrupted her with a calm, soft voice. “Dottie, I’m sorry, I’ve already made plans this morning.”
“Plans?” she questioned. “With whom?”
He thought of their conversation last evening about him “wasting” time with the Hathcock girls. “A friend,” was all he said.
“A friend? What friends do you have in Asheville?” she asked, mockingly.
“When I was at Duke I met people from not only across North Carolina but all across the United States,” he explained. “I do have former classmates right here in Asheville.”
“Well, tell this ‘friend’ you have more important things to do,” she demanded.
“But I’ve already given them my word. It wouldn’t be right to go back on it now,” he said.
“What about my plans?” she asked. “I went through a great deal of trouble…”
“I’m sure you did and I’m truly sorry,” he said. “Next time check with me in advance so I can clear my schedule.”
Dottie huffed and left the table, muttering that no feminine waist-line could afford pancakes.
Up Next in Chapter 5: A drawing and a rejection
If you were to have a movie night with your friends, what would you watch? Answer in the comments below.