Worst Impressions: A Modern Austen Tale

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I’ll say this about my English teacher: he likes to challenge me. Of all possible candidates for my partner for the senior project, Caroline Bingley is a... challenge. All frustration aside, she has barely attended class to know the reading material. But naturally, she should be my partner. Not Charlotte, my very smart and very well read partner-in-crime. Not my potentially valedictorian sister, Jane. Not Denny, who I could bribe into anything by promising Lydia’s attendance at the Championship football game. Nope.

Caroline, who made out with my best friend on a Ferris wheel. Caroline, who carries a designer handbag in the crook of her arm and is ever-perched on high heels like a Prada harpy. A girl who I know nothing about except that she’s super rich and has incredible hair even in gale-force winds. For someone who is so beautiful, hardly anyone hangs around her. Boys don’t flock to her and she doesn’t have an entourage; only three people speak to her in the hallway. Will Darcy and Charlie, of course, and one other very rich girl who wears her sunglasses indoors. If Caroline were poor, she’d pretty much fade into the background.

And the funniest part is, she’s actually crazy smart. I’ve seen her math quiz grades and she always aces them. Everything potentially cool about Caroline is kept quiet and under-wraps, as if she is being groomed for Stepford wifery.

And we get to do our project on... drumroll please!

“Feminism in classic literature?” Caroline snorts. “Who cares?”

Oh. Don’t mind me. The steam? It’s just coming right out of my ears. It’s fine.

I smile. “Ann Radcliffe cared.”

“Who’s that?” Caroline smacks her gum.

“She wrote The Mysteries of Udolpho, Romance of the Forest... basically founded the Gothic genre.”

“Good for her.”

“Maybe we could do our project on her,” I suggest.

Caroline rolls her eyes so far back in her head that they practically rewound. “I want to write about someone I know.”

“Fine. Shakespeare?”

“He’s not a woman.”

“That isn’t a requirement,” I say. “We just have to address feminism in classic literature. However we want. We can totally flay an author as a misogynist.”

“As in... say that Shakespeare is worthless because he’s a pig?”

“Or,” I say, standing. “We prove that he wrote stronger women than any male writer in the history of literature.”

“We’re graded on our individual contributions?” Caroline asks, narrowing her eyes.

“We just have to do a final presentation together,” I say.

“How do you feel about a friendly duel? We debate for our presentation and put it to a vote. Our classmates decide whether Shakespeare is a worthless piece of crap.”

“And we don’t have to see each other to prepare? I’m in. See you in class.” I fake curtsy to my opponent and flee to the library. If Caroline Bingley wants a fight, I’ll bring her a firestorm. Or a Sharknado, or something. Shakesnado.

Whatever, I’m gonna bring it. From the library shelves to the podium, and Caroline won’t know what hit her.

“Hey Lizzie! You know that really old cat?”

I jump. It’s Kitty. She leans against the Chinese Literature shelves behind me, arms crossed as if uncrossing them will cause her hands to pull in opposite directions and disconnect from her body.

“Which cat?” I ask.

“The one that lives on the Bernard’s porch,” she says.

“Oh. Uh, Boggle?”


“That one,” I say, gripping a threadbare copy of Macbeth. “What about him, Kitty?”

“I keep seeing Will Darcy feeding him.”

I turn and stare at her.

“I know!” she exclaims. “He does it at the weirdest times of day, like midnight, or whatever, but it’s always when there’s nobody around. And he lets Bo eat out of his hand. Isn’t that weird?”

I scoff. Boys who like to feed cats. Disgusting.

“Cats like to affiliate with the undead,” I say.

“He’s sexy.”

“He’s--I don’t want to talk about him right now. I’m supposed to be crafting the world’s most clever defense of Shakespeare. I can’t think about vampires feeding their children.”

Kitty giggles. “You think he’s hot, too. You didn’t deny it.”

“I bet he’s approximately 98.6 degrees fahrenheit,” I say. “Now, beat it, will you?”

“So defensive, Bet.”

“So busy, Kit. I’ll meet you in the senior lot at four.” I turn back to my book and pretend to be really occupied with how many times it’s been published.

“Don’t bother,” Kitty says. “Lydia got us a ride with Denny and a new kid. I think the new guy is for me.” She puts her hand on her cheek. She waggles her eyebrows at me and flounces away, leaving unease in her wake. Lydia is too young to ride home with Senior football players. I know what’s on their minds, and it ain’t sonnets.

Actually, what do they think about? I bet one of them has a profound thought every once in a while. I imagine one of them setting down a barbell and asking, “Hey, what is the fuzz on a tennis ball made out of?” But none of them know, so the question hangs in the air, mingling with the tang of sweat and testosterone.

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