Darcy paused at the beginning of episode 55.
Lizzie's reaction to his declaration of love had launched a parade of unbidden emotions in him--surprise at first, anger and defensiveness at her accusations, and then pain the intensity of which he'd hoped to never experience again. Her words had come back to him relentlessly since then, echoing through his heart and flaying him open again and again. "The last man in the world I could ever fall in love with…the last man…". After a few days, he'd finally given in, Googled her, and braced himself for what was sure to be, given the length of her video playlist, a day painful in entirely new ways.
Several hours later, "painful" didn't even begin to describe his condition. His words, his actions, his attempts to impress her and indicate his interest, all were there in her videos, but presented in her mocking way they seemed strangely distorted. He'd watched helplessly as her hatred grew in response to the very interactions that had made her so irresistible, so beloved, to him. If her words the night he'd professed his love had cut deep, then the words she'd recorded and broadcast during the last six months were like a professional boxer's body blows, hitting vulnerable places he didn't know he had and leaving him battered and defenseless.
The last few videos had actually offered some relief. Her dismissal of Wickham as a man who didn't know the meaning of the word "serious" and her comical wails in response to his departure had brought a smile to Darcy's face for the first time since watching her choke down that disgusting-looking green bean gelatin a couple hours earlier. Then came her reunion with Charlotte and her uncanny portrayal of his Aunt Catherine. She expressed annoyance at his reappearance in her life, to be sure, but by this point he expected that.
His laptop remained paused on Lizzie's frozen, smiling face at the beginning of episode 55. She wore a black and gray patterned dress. He remembered that dress and the day she'd worn it. It had started with a tedious business meeting. Charlotte had outlined a sound, though unambitious operational plan amid the interruptions of his aunt, which were invariably repeated and amplified by Collins. Fitz had been no help at all, staring in alternate amusement at Catherine's pitiful dog and her pitiful yes-man.
Then they'd returned to the Collins and Collins offices. Seeing his aunt launch into yet another monologue, he'd turned to Charlotte, saying as casually as he could manage that he'd expected they would find Lizzie there. She'd nodded silently and left the room, returning with her friend a few minutes later. Lizzie had been, as always, more vibrant and beautiful than he remembered, and he'd barely mustered the words to ask after her family and answer her question about seeing Jane in L.A. Their words had been mundane, but he'd been pleased by the encounter--pleased by her desire for his company evidenced by her smiles and her quick attendance when she heard he was there.
He knew now, of course, that the only pleasure she felt in his company was of the "grotesque, nauseating, run-the-other-way-as-if-your-life-depended-on-it" variety.
Doggedly he returned his attention to her videos, clicking the play button. Seconds later, he was smiling again, enchanted as she took advantage of the empty office building to caper, dance, and play to the camera. He'd seen her dance before, of course--from her videos, it seemed everyone except her had noticed his interest when she'd played that dancing game at the local bar. This time, though, she danced not for a competition but out of sheer silliness and joy. Perhaps, he thought, that accounted for her smiles when they met later. After seeing from her videos how unbearable she'd found his presence at Netherfield, it was actually comforting to think that his presence at Collins and Collins hadn't completely destroyed her bubbly mood.
Apparently, even his most forlorn hopes regarding Lizzie were destined for failure. As the video continued, he saw the happiness drain from her face at the mere thought of him. She changed the subject, tried to distract Charlotte, pled various excuses, just to avoid even an exchange of civilities with him. She'd come not because she desired his company but because she feared for her friend's job if she didn't do what he wanted. She'd smiled not for pleasure in seeing him, nor even because her earlier, happier mood lingered, but because her friend had wheedled her into doing so.
He watched the next few videos dully. Fitz appeared, tried to convince her of his friend's good qualities and hint at his interest in her, and failed spectacularly. Then came another dress he recognized, a gray one with tiny colored flowers that did marvelous things to her eyes. She was furious over his role in Bing's departure, a role he hardly knew how to consider now. He understood her fury, though, having experienced it himself earlier that year on his own sister's behalf. She spat out a string of uncomplimentary descriptions of him, then looked back in exasperation when he appeared in her doorway.
There was one more video in her playlist, and it confirmed what he'd dreaded. She'd posted everything. His disastrous attempt to show her the depth of his feelings, his admission of love, his accusations against her family, his arrogance and humiliation--all were now public, and apparently quite popular with the public, having been viewed by over 100,000 people in little more than a day. Anyone could now see his rejection, friend or…revulsion swept through him as he imagined Wickham's triumphant smirk at seeing Lizzie champion him. But he could not dwell long on that. At least, in posting the actual video, she'd allowed him to speak for himself. Watching her re-enact the scene, complete with bowtie and hat, would have been unbearable.
He paused at the end of the video and slumped backward in his chair, covering his face with his hands. So this, finally, was what she thought of him. The picture she presented was like a caricature of himself, recognizable in its basic outlines--he had to admit that, in fairness--but with every bad quality emphasized and every good quality missing. Yet that was how she saw him, how she portrayed him in her videos for all to see.
Intentional misunderstanding. He'd told her once that was her greatest fault, and perhaps it was. In hindsight, though, it was clear he'd been no better than she. He had wanted to believe her interested in him and had interpreted her words and actions accordingly, ignoring all evidence to the contrary. He'd seen in her what he wanted to see.
He stood and walked across to the sliding door and out onto the balcony of his hotel room. Her words followed him there, the same merciless litany he'd heard for days now. "The last man in the world I could ever fall in love with." He wouldn't have thought it possible, but the last few hours spent watching her videos had rendered her words more potent, more scathing than before. She hadn't merely spoken those words in the heat of anger. They were the literal truth. He clenched the balcony rail with both hands, hunching over it in his agony. He truly was the last man in the world she would ever desire, the last man she would ever fall in love with.
"I'm sorry to have caused you so much pain." Oddly enough, it was the words he himself had spoken in response that finally penetrated his gloom. He'd been reeling with shock at the time and had spoken the words defiantly. Yet he had hurt her, he realized suddenly, and not only by his thoughtless words when they first met and his role in her beloved sister's heartbreak.
Her videos revealed her long-standing embarrassment for her mother and sister and her worry over her family's financial problems, both subjects he'd brought up repeatedly in the declaration of love he'd prepared and in the wounding exchange afterward. He'd done so because they were subjects that weighed on his mind. In his selfishness, he had never paused to consider whether they weighed on hers as well. As a result, he had professed his love using words that could hardly have been more calculated to cause her pain and play on her vulnerabilities--in short, in the most unloving way possible.
Nor had he hurt her only unintentionally. While watching her videos, he'd sent out two tweets and had followed her on Twitter in the hope that she would see them. The tweets were not overtly threatening, but he knew they reeked of bitterness toward her. Worse yet, he'd felt a disturbing satisfaction when a tweet of hers indicated she'd noticed he now followed her. His pain and shock at her videos were no excuse for retaliating in that way, and now there was no telling what misconstruction she might place on his actions.
He turned back from the balcony uneasily and re-entered his room. As he crossed the floor, he glanced at his laptop and was arrested once again by the expression on her frozen face as she reached for her camera. Her impulsive challenge to watch her videos had been followed by a look of horror; her only words after turning off the camera had been a stammered plea to forget what she'd said. That wasn't the only pain she'd tried to spare him. She had told him from the start that it was the worst possible time for them to talk. Even after he had barged in and delivered his insulting, hurtful speech, she'd tried to reject him civilly. She'd enumerated his faults only when he invited her to do so, lost her temper and lashed out at him only when goaded into it.
She had hurt him, had intended to hurt him, but even so, she had shown more consideration for the man she hated than he had for the woman he claimed to love. It was a realization that stung, and he paced the floor for some time before finally slumping into his bed.
Too active for sleep, his thoughts returned instead to her videos with more clarity than before. A cloud of misery. That was how she'd described his effect on her life. Her videos proved that was no exaggeration. He closed his eyes and saw again her playful, dancing mood dissolve into annoyance because of him. Later in that video she'd called him a robot, mimicking his various "malfunctions." He would laugh, but the irony was too painful for laughter.
A robot wouldn't feel the pain of her rejection, wouldn't suffer from the knowledge of his own culpability in it. A robot could have the memory of her words--of their entire doomed acquaintance, for that matter--erased in an instant. A robot wouldn't love her. He was no robot.
Did he want to be?
The answer came without hesitation or thought, yet it contained a profound challenge that occupied his thoughts through the restless night. Eventually, he fell into an exhausted, merciful sleep that lasted well past the time he normally rose.
When he finally woke, he deliberated for some time over a tweet that he hoped would reassure Lizzie, should she ever see it. "Given this new information, it seems I need to reevaluate a few things." It was an understatement, he knew, but in truth the implications of the decision he had made terrified him. It would be easy to focus on her faults and mistaken accusations, infinitely harder to systematically face and correct his own faults, to understand how she'd come to view him the way she did.
A bike ride followed by a quick telephone chat with his sister cleared his head and solidified his next actions. He would write Lizzie a letter. In writing to her, he would have to mention again subjects that would anger her, but that couldn't be helped. He wouldn't make any pompous announcements about his intention to change--even if he did, she would have no reason to believe him. But he needed to defend himself against her accusations, to ensure that Wickham would never be able to work himself back into her good graces.
He needed to show her that she had been right to tell him to watch her videos.
© 2013 Copyright held by the author.