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Authors: Eve Marie Mont

A Breath of Eyre

BOOK: A Breath of Eyre
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A Breath
Eve Marie Mont
All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.
To Ken ...
wherever you are is my home.
The seed for
A Breath of Eyre
was planted in high school when I read
Jane Eyre
for the first time and fell in love with Jane and Rochester’s story. Since then, I have reread the book countless times, and in all those readings, the book has never lost its magic. It is fitting that I am back in high school once again, as a teacher this time, and while I don’t have the privilege of teaching
Jane Eyre,
I hope my book might prompt some readers to seek out Charlotte Brontë’s original to see what all the fuss is about.
A huge thank you goes out to my multitalented agent, April Eberhardt, for searching for and finding the perfect home for this story; your positive attitude and humor kept me sane, and more important, kept me writing. To my wonderful editor at Kensington, Martin Biro, thank you for having faith in
A Breath of Eyre
and for talking about Emma and Gray like they’re real people; your intelligence and insight have made this a much better book. Thanks also to the warm and savvy team at Kensington/K Teen for embracing
A Breath of Eyre
and for doing all in their power to get it into the hands of readers.
Thanks to my friends and colleagues who supported me with early reads, brainstorming sessions, moral support, or just good conversation, especially Ashley Seiver, Barbara Kavanagh, and Taylor and Lisa Klein. A big shout-out to my students for reminding me every day that teenagers are smart, funny, compassionate, complex, and concerned about their world; you provide me with endless material and inspiration.
To the incredible group of young adult and middle-grade writers in the Apocalypsies and the Class of 2k12, thank you for being a community of professionals who truly nurture and support one another. It has been a pleasure taking this ride with all of you, particularly Heather Anastasiu, who read my sprawling mess of a manuscript and gave sound advice on plot and pacing while making me smile.
Thank you to my extended family for their constant love and support; I love you all so much. And a special thanks to my immediate family—Mom and Dad, you filled our house with books and ideas and made me the person I am today; Pete, our infrequent but long phone calls always raise my spirits and my confidence; and Phil, your generosity with your time and advice has made me believe in myself as an author, not just a writer.
Thank you most of all to Ken, “my prop and my guide” throughout this entire journey. Without you, true love would exist only in books.
“... and, best of all, to open my inward ear to a tale that was never ended—a tale my imagination created, and narrated continuously; quickened with all of incident, life, fire, feeling, that I desired and had not in my actual existence.”
—Charlotte Brontë’s
Jane Eyre
here was no possibility of taking a swim that day. My stepmother had planned a sweet sixteen party, and the guests were about to arrive. I’d told Barbara at least a dozen times that I didn’t want a party, but she insisted, saying if I didn’t have one, I’d regret it later. And now that the day was here, setting a record for heat and humidity that summer, the only thing I regretted was that we didn’t have central air-conditioning. That voice inside my head began to call me, that invisible cord tugging at my chest, drawing me to the ocean. But it was almost noon. The swim would have to wait.
Reluctantly, I threw on a tank top, cut-off shorts, and flip-flops and headed downstairs. The first thing Barbara said when she saw my outfit was, “You’re not wearing that, are you?”
I looked down at myself. “It would appear that I am.”
“No, that won’t do,” she said, clicking her tongue and studying me as if I was beyond hope. “Go upstairs, honey, and change into something pretty.”
I raised my eyebrow at her, taking in the sight of her dramatic eye makeup and her piles of well-sprayed blond hair. Barbara had been raised in the rich and fertile soil of Georgia, fed a steady diet of debutante balls, diamond jewelry, and Dolly Parton hair. Her favorite color was yellow because “it’s the color of sunshiiiine!”
“I’m perfectly comfortable in this,” I said. “Besides, it’s, like, a gazillion degrees in here.”
“Honey, you don’t know heat till you’ve been to Savannah in summertime. Anyway, that’s even more reason to dress in something that’ll make you feel pretty.” Pretty being the end-all-be-all of life. “Gray Newman’s going to be here,” she sang.
Oh God. Gray Newman was coming to my party. Gray of the soulful hazel eyes that fooled me into thinking he had hidden depths, when really he was just a spoiled rich kid who spent his summers lifeguarding and seducing the sorority girls. At least, that’s what I’d heard; we didn’t exactly travel in the same circles.
His mother, Simona, had been my mom’s roommate in college and later became my godmother, so Gray and I had been thrown together a lot as kids. Since my mom died, we only saw each other once or twice a year when we got dragged to each other’s milestone events. The fact that he was going to be here in my house for my party mortified me. I didn’t want him to see what a loser I was, to know that I had no friends, that I wasn’t popular like he was. The urge to cut and run grew so strong I could feel it in my bones.
Reluctantly, I went back upstairs to change. On a whim, I put on my bathing suit underneath the green-and-white summer dress I’d chosen. I glanced at myself in the mirror and made a quick assessment. Face: too pointy. Hair: too flyaway, and not at all helped by this humidity. Body: too pathetic. I pulled my hair off my neck and scooped it into a ponytail, partly because it was too hot to wear down and partly because I knew it would annoy Barbara. “Ponytails are for horses,” she’d say, or some other ridiculous gem of Southern wisdom.
When I got back downstairs, I saw that Aunt Trish, my cousins, and Grandma Mackie had all arrived together. Next came the neighbors, Bill and Rita, followed by Cassie, a woman I’d made friends with at the real estate office this summer. And yep, that was it. Saddest sweet sixteen party in history.
I went around saying hellos and collecting presents and cards, beginning to hold out hope that the Newmans weren’t going to come. But around 12:30, their oatmeal-colored Subaru pulled up in front of our house, and my stomach fell. I watched Gray get out of the car, pick up his little sister Anna, and give her a piggyback ride to the door. Mr. Newman came in carrying an organically grown zucchini the size of a small infant, and Simona held out my present, which appeared to be wrapped in tree bark. They both hugged me, Simona clutching me for so long it was uncomfortable.
“Happy birthday, Emma,” she said, tears welling up in her eyes. “You look more like Laura every day.” I never knew what to say to this.
Gray squatted down so Anna could dismount, then gave me a slow, uncomfortable perusal, glancing briefly down at my chest, I suppose to see if anything interesting was happening there. It wasn’t. Despite nightly pleas to a God I only half believed in, I remained a disappointing five foot three with barely any curves. Gray was even taller than the last time I’d seen him, and he’d definitely filled out. With his close-cropped hair and slightly broken-looking nose, he looked hard and proud, but also sort of haunted—like a medieval saint trapped in the body of a Marine.
Anna ran into me, hugging my legs so I was staring down at her long red hair. “Hey, beautiful!” I said. “You’re getting so big.”
“I just turned seven,” she said.
“And I just turned sixteen.”
” she said. “Gray told me, like, a million times.”
“So give Emma her present,” Gray reminded her.
His voice was deeper than I remembered. A few years at a private school had chipped away at his Boston accent, but a hint of it remained. I found it irritatingly sexy.
Anna handed me a small package and demanded that I open it immediately. “Okay, okay,” I said, laughing and making a small tear in one corner. When I pulled off the last of the wrapping paper, I was holding a turquoise leather journal inscribed with my initials. “Wow,” I said.
“Do you like it?”
“I love it!”
She broke into an embarrassed smile, and then, mission accomplished, went running off to see if there was anyone to play with. I must have looked a little stunned because Gray felt it necessary to add, “Before you go getting all touched, it was my mom’s idea. She remembered you used to write.”
“Oh,” I said, wanting to slam him into something sharp and hard. Why did guys have to be like this? Was it possible for them to admit they had any feelings other than the sports-induced grunting variety?
“So,” he said, “are you still?”
“Still what?”
“Not so much.”
“Why not?”
“I don’t know. I guess I haven’t been inspired. What about you? Are you still lifeguarding?”
“Too busy doing keg stands and scoring with fraternity chicks?”
He glared at me, and for a moment, I thought he was going to punch the wall. “I don’t do that anymore, Townsend.”
“Which one?”
I studied his face for traces of sarcasm. Even if he was being sincere, it was sort of an unwritten rule that Gray and I had to give each other a hard time. When I was five years old and he was seven, I kissed him under the apple tree in our backyard. He responded by giving me a bloody nose. We’d been sparring ever since.
After a few seconds of awkwardly staring at each other, I rolled my eyes and went to join the rest of the party in the kitchen. Everyone was hovering by the whining air conditioner except my poor dad, who stood outside on the deck in front of a hot grill. Why Barbara had planned a cookout for the middle of a heat wave, I had no idea. Grandma Mackie was sitting at the table, sipping her old-fashioned, content to be ignored even though she was probably the most interesting person there. I noticed her drink was getting low, and Grandma didn’t like her drinks getting low.
“Can I make you another?” I said.
“A small one,” she said. “Just tickle the glass.”
“I think you’ve had enough, Elspeth,” Barbara drawled. My grandma was eighty-three years old and had been drinking old-fashioneds since practically World War II. I didn’t think one more was going to kill her. “And Emma, you know I don’t like you making alcoholic drinks for your grandmother. It isn’t appropriate.”
“Dad always lets me make them,” I said, playing the “real parent” card.
“I know, but he shouldn’t. Elspeth, let me get you a nice sweet tea.”
“If I wanted tea,” Grandma said, “I’d go to the Four Seasons. Right now, I’d like to have a drink at my granddaughter’s birthday party.” She winked at me, then made a waving motion with her hand, ushering me down to her level. “Who’s the David?”
“That beautiful Michelangelo statue,” she said, pointing at Gray.
I covered her finger with my hand. “That’s Gray Newman, Grandma. You remember. Mom’s godson?”
“I don’t remember him looking like that,” she said, polishing off her old-fashioned. “Delicious.” I didn’t know if she was talking about her drink or Gray Newman.
My cousins were eyeing him with interest, too. Ashley and Devin were thirteen-year-old twins who resembled the creepy sisters from
The Shining
movie, especially as my aunt insisted they dress in the same outfits. I shuddered to myself and went into the den to make my grandmother’s drink. Gray followed me in and watched me from behind, presumably with the intention of making me nervous.
“Quite a party you’ve got here, Townsend,” he said. He always called me Townsend, like I was one of his swim team buddies. “Your parents, my parents, and a bunch of relatives.”
“You forgot to mention yourself,” I said, “which should make it fairly obvious that I didn’t write the guest list.” He laughed and nodded an unspoken
. “I told Barbara I didn’t want a party.”
“You have to have a party on your sixteenth birthday,” he said. “But you could have invited some friends. I was expecting a room full of teenage girls.”
I was about to tell him I didn’t have any friends, but it seemed too naked a statement to make to Gray. Like leaving raw meat out for a wild dog. “So sorry to disappoint,” I said, turning away from him and tugging at my necklace. I could feel the heat rising to my face, and I hated myself for it.
“You’re not playing this right,” he said. “The more people you invite, the more presents you get.”
“But there’s nothing I want.”
“Nothing you want?” he said, feigning shock. “You’re not a very good Lockwood girl, are you?”
Lockwood Prep, the school I attended, had a reputation for girls with trust funds and designer wardrobes who received brand-new SUVs on their sixteenth birthdays. Gray was right: I was not a very good Lockwood girl. And he would know. He’d been dating Lockwood’s poster girl, Elise Fairchild, for six months. She was as Lockwoodian as they came.
“So,” I said, trying to steer the conversation away from me, “this is your last year at Braeburn.” Two years ago, Gray’s parents had transferred him from Sheldrake, the public school in Waltham, to Braeburn Academy, an alternative school that was all about kumbaya and kindness.
“If I have to sit through one more ‘harmonic huddle,’” he said, making made air quotes with his fingers, “I’m gonna impale myself with a drumstick.”
“That might be a little extreme,” I said, extracting a tiny smile from him. “Have you thought about where you’re going to college?” I poured two inches of whiskey into my grandma’s highball glass.
“I’m tired of thinking about it, actually.” His eyes darted restlessly, like it was paining him to have to talk to me. My mouth went rigid, and I retracted, turtle style. I was thinking of something cutting to say when his cell phone rang. He reached into his pocket and glanced down at the display. “I have to answer this,” he said and abruptly left the room.
For some reason, I felt embarrassed and enormously disappointed. What had I expected, for Gray Newman to engage in hostile banter with me for the duration of my party? I stayed in the den for a few minutes so it wouldn’t seem like I was chasing after him, then went back out to the kitchen and gave Grandma her drink. Everyone was engaged in conversation, so I stepped outside to see if my dad needed help at the grill.
“Hey, kiddo,” he said when he saw me. “Ever eat a tofu dog before?”
“Can’t say that I have,” I said, smiling.
I sidled up next to him, relishing this brief time alone with my father. For the past few years, we’d grown distant. Well, really, he’d grown distant. He’d be standing right in front of me smiling, but I’d know that his mind was somewhere else. He was a fisherman for the local fleet, handsome in a Gary Cooper way, meaning he could look rugged or elegant, depending on the context. In the middle of summer when his skin was almost bronze, he looked like a weathered lobsterman, but around Christmas when he wore a tuxedo to take Barbara to the Boston Pops, he looked like a movie star. Now, with sweat staining the back of his shirt and a damp, sunburned face, he looked like the browbeaten husband he’d become.
“Why don’t you let me finish up out here?” I offered. “Go inside and cool off.”
“That’s okay,” he said. “You’re the birthday girl. Go back and talk to your guests.”
How could I tell him this was the last thing I wanted to do?
Reluctantly, I went back inside. Nobody seemed to care that I’d returned, so I ended up wandering around the first floor, feeling like I was at someone else’s party. In her zeal to keep the chip baskets filled, Barbara stumbled upon me in the living room and seized the opportunity to give me a lecture on feminine wiles.
“What happened to Gray?” she asked in her irritating drawl, her heavily mascaraed eyes wide with alarm.
BOOK: A Breath of Eyre
9.29Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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