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, Word count: 1727)
Volume 1 Leaving Northland
Chapter 5 The Drawing
Conner avoided Dottie the next morning, keeping to his room, waiting for her to leave. Caroline sat at the breakfast table casually scrolling through her phone, keeping a lookout for Dottie to go. Conner’s phone buzzed. “She’s gone,” the text read; and they headed out.
The morning sun glinted through the trees as they drove east toward downtown Asheville. Melted snows and spring rains had left the countryside lush and green.
Since Conner hadn’t eaten, they stopped at a breakfast house with an outdoor patio. Conner had an omelet and Caroline a small bowl of fruit.
Caroline stabbed a strawberry with her fork and asked, “Why didn’t you tell Dottie I was the friend you had plans with this morning?”
Conner swallowed a bite of omelet. “That must have been confusing for you. I’m sorry. It wasn’t a reflection on you. Dottie thinks I’ve been wasting a lot of time during my stay and she would’ve thought this morning’s activity was also a waste of time. I thought she’d ask fewer questions if she assumed I was with a college buddy.”
“I’m sure you’re right,” Caroline said, shrugging her shoulders in agreement.
They arrived at the gallery and Caroline enjoyed telling Conner all she knew about the work there. They walked; she talked; he listened and learned.
Conner was enchanted by the passion in her voice as she talked about the artists, colors, and stories behind some of the pieces. Though never having an interest in art before, he found himself wanting her to teach him everything she knew.
A man approached. “Hello, I’m Stan Jameson. I own the gallery,” he said with a friendly smile and outstretched hand. “I hope you are enjoying your visit.”
“Very much, sir,” Conner responded, shaking his hand.
“And you, young lady?” he asked.
“Delighted as always,” Caroline said. “I’ve been here before.”
“My friend’s giving me quite an education,” Conner said, motioning to Caroline. “And I was informed last evening she’s an award-winning artist herself.”
Mr. Jameson clapped his hands. “Wonderful! What kind of work do you do?” he asked.
Caroline disliked being the center of attention but she smiled humbly and replied, “I draw and paint with watercolors and oils…”
Mr. Jameson rubbed his hands together. “Could I talk you into drawing something for the gallery?” he asked with a jolly smile, motioning to a drawing table near the back.
“Now?” Caroline blurted, immediately thinking how awkward she might feel drawing an impromptu piece in front of Conner.
“Unless you have to hurry off,” he warmly appealed.
“Oh, we’re in no hurry at all,” Conner assured him while goading Caroline on with a teasing grin and raised eyebrows.
Her eyes widened, she wasn’t used to drawing in front of an audience, other than classmates who shared the same pressures of an assignment.
“Please,” Mr. Jameson begged. “I would be so honored to have you create a masterpiece in my own gallery.”
Her cheeks flushed rosy pink as she relented. “Well, I don’t know if I can give you a masterpiece, but I guess I can draw something,” she said.
The two men smiled at each other in triumph, and very soon Caroline was seated at the drawing table. She settled herself in the chair, closed her eyes to bring to mind some previous scene, opened them again and began to draw.
Her hand glided over the paper—back and forth, large sweeping motions and small delicate strokes—the pencil seemed to be part of her hand as the two worked in perfect unison.
Conner watched as a beautiful garden began to take form on the page, resembling the one at Northland. A gazebo housing a small orchestra appeared next, followed by a dance floor and then a couple dancing—resembling Conner and Caroline when they danced in the garden at Northland.
She finished and looked over her work, hesitating before daring to look at Conner. She drew a long breath, and looked up, anxious for his reaction.
His eyes were wide and his breathing heightened as he gazed at the picture. He was silent for several moments before expressing, “It’s stunning Caroline. Your drawing is masterful and the subject…” He paused to catch his breath before continuing, “well, it’s a beautiful drawing.”
She gently lifted it from the table and held it out to him. “Thank you. I drew it for you, I’d like you to have it.”
He backed away, a look of sorrow sweeping over his face. “I’m so sorry Caroline,” he said in a breathless whisper, “I can’t accept it. Please forgive me.”
The look on his face seemed to plead for her understanding. Dottie’s voice came to her mind: “No time for silly girls.” She nodded her understanding.
Conner walked to the front of the gallery to wait.
Caroline choked back emotion and stood in silent agony for several moments.
“My dear,” Mr. Jameson said softly, “why don’t you display it here? If it sells, you’ll make a pretty penny from it.”
She blinked tears away. She was conflicted between wanting to hide it under her bed, like a buried treasure, for the rest of her life and wanting to tear it to pieces the way her heart was feeling torn. She reluctantly agreed to Mr. Jameson’s request and handed it over.
“I think we’d better go now, Mr. Jameson,” she said.
“You come back and see me whenever you wish, my dear,” he said in a kindly manner. “And if you have any other such lovely pieces you’d like to display, just bring them in.”
She thanked Mr. Jameson as the two left the gallery.
As they walked toward Caroline’s car, parked a few shops down, they passed the window of a restaurant where Dottie sat with a couple of city council members. Dottie spied the two. Her eyes narrowed and her mouth gaped open.
Later that afternoon Caroline went for a walk in the garden to clear her mind. She hadn’t realized until the moment she decided to draw the image of herself and Conner dancing in the garden how deep her feelings were for him. She understood the challenges he faced with his family’s expectations and controlling nature but still the rejection of the gift hurt.
The late afternoon sun dipped below the tall pencil pines lining the back of the garden. She loved this time of year when the entire world was renewed with fresh growth and bursting color; but today, she took little joy in it. She sat on a stone bench at the far edge of the reflecting pool and stared at the very spot where they had danced, a tear fell and she turned away. She drew her legs up, wrapped her arms around them and rested her chin on her knees.
After a few moments of solitude, Ashelynn bounded up to her declaring, “You’re falling in love with Conner! And… it’s obvious he’s falling for you too,” she said with a grin plopping herself next to her sister.
While keeping her chin on her knees, Caroline turned her head to look at Ashelynn. “Humph.”
“You do like him, don’t you?” Ashelynn asked.
Caroline raised her head, drew in a frustrated breath, and let it out. “Of course, I like him!” she said. “He’s smart and kind and such a gentleman! And I know you don’t think he’s very good looking, but to me, he’s the cutest, most amazing man I’ve ever known!”
Ashelynn placed her hand over her heart and dramatically responded, “One day he’ll get down on one knee and ask you to be his bride, and at that moment, I’ll think he’s every bit as cute as you do!”
“That isn’t going to happen,” Caroline said.
Ashelynn furrowed her brow. “What’s wrong?” she asked. “Did your date to the gallery not go well?”
Caroline sighed, searching for the right words to explain. “Sometimes when I’m with Conner, I’m so sure he has feelings for me, and I feel as though we belong together. Then there are other times when I’m painfully aware we may only ever get to be friends.” She released her knees and her feet fell to the ground. “Maybe that’s for the best,” she continued. “I know what his family wants for him—demands of him! They want him to follow in his father’s footsteps and even become president one day! And I’m sure they’d prefer him to marry some senator’s daughter with powerful connections to better his chances.”
Ashelynn grimaced and shook her head. “Well, that doesn’t suit him,” she said. “They may want that kind of life for him, but I can’t imagine he wants it. No Caroline, I’ve seen the way he looks at you and I believe you two are meant to be and one day he’ll find a way to show you that he loves you!”
Ashelynn placed her arm around her sister, giving her a squeeze. Looking up, she saw Conner approaching. She announced she had some homework to finish and left the two alone.
Caroline straightened up, trying to look composed.
Conner sat at the opposite end of the bench. “I wanted to thank you for taking me to the gallery with you,” he said in a slow, even tone. “I did truly enjoy it and your talent is beyond compare.”
Caroline smiled, concealing the fact she had come to the garden to feel sorry for herself. “Thank you,” she replied, “I enjoyed it too.”
Leaning elbows to knees, he laced his fingers together and focused on the pool.
She gazed upon him and at that moment she thought he was so perfect she could never look upon another and find them half as handsome. She longed to tell him what she was feeling and wished he could declare some sort of feeling for her; something to put the fears to rest that they may only ever be friends. She looked back toward the reflecting pool and resolved instead that until he gave her some indication he may feel for her what she was feeling for him, the safest course was to keep her feelings to herself.
They both sat quiet—gazing into the reflecting pool, he on one end of the bench, she on the other; neither aware they were being watched from the house.
Up next in Chapter 5 Part II: Goodbyes