Posted on: 2015-02-23
Will Darcy pulled a water bottle out of the fridge and closed the door, straightening up and stretching his back as he did so. The cold water would feel good after his afternoon run with Beth. He looked over toward the kitchen sink, where she stood, humming quietly as she ran cool water over a clean towel and wrung it out. Having seen her routine several times this week, Will knew she would then dab her face with the towel before hanging it over the back of her neck to cool herself down.
Elizabeth "Beth" Bennet was an undergraduate student at Meryton University, where Will was pursuing his master's degree, and they both were active members in Meryton's faith-based student service organization. But that description didn't even begin to scratch the surface of who she was, or the strange course of their relationship.
They had first met during an elevator ride, which unfortunately took nearly an hour when the elevator decided to stop between floors. When Will's friend, Charlie Bingley, began experiencing a panic attack, Beth had, seemingly without effort, managed to calm him down by keeping his mind on anything other than that small, enclosed space. Since that adventure, Will and Beth had found themselves in company fairly often. For starters, Charlie was a gregarious sort who naturally collected friends around him, and he promptly absorbed Beth into his large circle of friends. In addition, Beth had a graduate-level course with Will.
Despite their mutual friendship with Charlie, Will had not truly been friendly toward Elizabeth for the first couple of months of their acquaintance. Accustomed to nearly everyone he met fawning over his wealth, and having frequently seen a similar interest in Charlie as the son of a successful entrepreneur, Will had become rather jaded and a little too confident in his own judgment. He had fought hard against his attraction to Beth; he now realized that was largely because he didn't like the idea of yielding control of any aspect of his life - in this case, his emotions. He had scrambled to find every possible excuse why he couldn't possibly date the undergrad (they were from different worlds, she was too young, his family might not accept her as his girlfriend) which he now knew were faulty or just simply not that important. He had elected to view Beth's immediate camaraderie with Charlie as a threat instead of what it was, a blossoming friendship of two people with similar personalities and intelligence. There had quite likely been an element of jealousy in that mistrust as well.
He had even gone so far as to warn his friend that Beth, like other women who had sought out Charlie, was probably primarily interested in his wealth (conveniently forgetting that it was Charlie who had promoted the friendship). Unfortunately...or fortunately, as Will chose to look at it now, Elizabeth overheard and was quick to correct Darcy. While she'd not exactly been scathing in her criticism, she'd pulled no punches. Something to the effect of, "A person's portfolio doesn't matter to me. What matters to me is their character, their faith, and their heart. And I can tell you, I'm not impressed."
As uncomfortable as that confrontation had been, it had opened Darcy's eyes to his own behavior and how he treated others. After a bit of soul-searching, he had determined to show Beth that her words had made an impact. Beth was a forgiving sort, and it didn't take her long to forgive him for his misjudgment - in fact, she tried to apologize for her bluntness until Will assured her that it was exactly what he'd needed. And it didn't take her long to conquer what was left of Will's heart - though of course, she had no idea because he had never told her such a thing. Beth had become a close friend - closer than Charlie, even closer than Will's cousin Rich - and he was afraid to ruin that friendship.
So how did they get from quiet little Meryton University in Texas, to this posh home in California? For Will, this was familiar territory. He and Rich ordinarily spent a portion of their summer at their Aunt Cathy's home near Sacramento. Beth and her friend Charlotte Lucas, another Meryton undergrad, had been invited to take part in a summer internship at Rosings, the business headed by Will's aunt, Cathy deBourgh. While Beth had told him of the internship, she hadn't yet known all the details before Will travelled for the summer and so he had been thrilled to find her and Charlotte not only in the Sacramento area at the same time he was visiting his aunt, but also slated to reside in the deBourgh household since the usual host family was unavailable this year.
"Fitzwilliam George Alexander Darcy!" Elizabeth popped him with her towel, in retaliation for pressing his cold water bottle against the back of her neck. He knew she disliked extremes of temperature, but she had been such a tempting target, still flushed after their morning run.
Will yelped. She had deadly aim. "I should never have told you my full name." He set the bottle on the kitchen island. "Have a seat. I'll get your water." He got a glass and filled it at the filtered tap.
When he brought the water to her she was seated on the kitchen island, rather than one of the barstools around it. Her legs swung back and forth, making her resemble a little girl in a too-big chair. His aunt would not approve, and, were she to come into the kitchen, she would likely comment on the purpose of the barstools. For all Aunt Cathy's bluster, though, Will could tell she had a grudging respect for, and even liked the plucky college student. When Elizabeth first came to Rosings for the summer internship, Catherine deBourgh had spent the first week subjecting her to an inquisition on her family and upbringing and trying to force her into a mold of what she expected of a young lady. This had tapered off as she eventually realized that Elizabeth Bennet would not change who she was for the sake of societal expectations. She simply was, unabashedly and unapologetically, herself.
Will smirked at this recollection, handing her the glass, and enjoying the feel of her fingers as she took it. "You know what Aunt Cathy would say about sitting on the island."
She smiled. "I would agree with her about the purpose of the barstools. If you were planning to sit down I might use one...but if you stand there like usual, I'd rather not have to crane my neck to see you." At six-foot-two, he quite dwarfed Elizabeth, who was ten inches shorter. Her perch on the island evened things out somewhat so her hazel eyes were almost on a level with his.
Beth's eyes, Will felt, were among her best features: beautiful, animated, and expressive. They sparkled when she was amused, and flashed when she was angry. When she was with her sister Jane, they radiated warmth and love. They seemed to change color depending on her mood. Now, they were a warm golden brown with little flecks of green.
Will was not the only one who was drawn to Beth. Rich had been in her company barely five minutes before he was flirting outrageously. Beth, friendly and open toward everyone, didn't really flirt back but she seemed to enjoy his company.
When Cathy, Beth, and Charlotte had left for an introductory tour of Rosings, Rich had been surprised at Will's reticence to go visit their favorite areas of town and at his monosyllabic responses to every suggestion or question. After much poking and prodding, and after mentioning Beth's name a few times just to see Darcy's reaction, Rich had figured it out.
"You're jealous!" he said. "Will Darcy, who could snap his fingers and gather sixteen girls who'd go out with him in a heartbeat, is pining after the girl next door. And I bet she doesn't even know, does she?"
Darcy had tried to deflect his cousin's suspicions, but the tips of his ears turning red gave him away.
"So why haven't you asked her out yet?" Rich asked and smirked. "Don't tell me you're afraid she'll turn you down."
"She didn't exactly like me when we first met, Rich."
"Of course, that was my fault...I wasn't exactly personable."
"She seems to like you now."
"As a friend."
"And that's just it, isn't it. You're afraid to make things awkward if she's not interested in anything beyond friendship."
"I don't want to lose her, Rich."
"Way I look at it, you've got two options. One: Tell her how you feel. You risk awkwardness in the friendship, but there's the chance it will work out. Two: Keep going as you're going and risk losing her anyway if another guy comes along that recognizes what a great person she is. You may still be friends but when she's dating someone else that's not gonna be enough. I know which I'd do if I were you, cuz. I'll even give you an incentive...if you don't ask her out soon, I probably will."
"You don't even live in Texas."
"Ah, but we're both in California right now. And there are phones. And planes..."
"Have I mentioned that Rodney is my favorite cousin?"
Rich simply laughed. Darcy decided it was time to see if Beth needed a running partner to keep up her exercise routine while she was in California.
Will realized he should probably speak instead of staring into Beth's eyes. "What if I decided to do something unpredictable?"
"Something other than sitting or standing? Go on, I'd like to see that," she taunted and then stopped in surprise, as there was a rumble so low that she didn't hear it so much as feel it. The liquid in her glass danced in concentric waves. She put the glass down on the island with shaking hands. "What...?"
Will Darcy knew exactly what this was. He also knew the island where she sat was directly underneath hanging copper pots, some of which were quite heavy. Seeing that she was frozen in shock, he lifted her off the counter by her waist, set her on her feet, and tugged her by the hand toward the cased opening between the kitchen and living room. It was far enough away from the potentially dangerous items in the kitchen.
"What's going on?" Her voice was small, panicked. He had never heard Elizabeth sound so vulnerable.
"It's an earthquake. It's gonna be okay." He turned her to face the inside of the cased opening, placed her hands on either side of the wall, and placed himself directly behind her in the same position, to protect her back from any falling objects.
A little while later, the tremors around them had ceased, but she was still shaking. Darcy tentatively rubbed her back. "It's okay, Beth."
"Yeah, I expect so."
She turned around and looked up at him with frightened eyes. "What if it happens again?"
"Then we'll do the same thing." Sensing she needed comfort, he enfolded her in his arms. She made no effort to push him away but leaned against him, wrapping her own arms tightly around his waist. His steady heartbeat and even breathing calmed her. Darcy kept holding her, expecting her to break the embrace in embarrassment once she was no longer afraid. Unexpectedly, she didn't.
"Thanks," she murmured into his shirt.
Wanting to know what he'd done right so he could do it again, he prompted, "For what?"
"For knowing what to do and doing it. For not panicking. For not giving me a hard time about being scared..." her arms tightened slightly around him. "For making me feel better."
He pulled her closer. "I'd do it again in a heartbeat." He thought he could feel the warmth of her blush through his shirt. She tried halfheartedly to move and his arms tightened still more around her.
She pulled back enough to look at him then and was startled at the intensity of his eyes. "What?"
He slowly released his hold, but never broke eye contact. "Beth..." his voice was raw.
"What is it, Darcy? Did I embarrass you? Don't worry, I'll be back to my saucy self once I'm over the shock," she said with one eyebrow raised and her head cocked to one side. Her one dimple was showing.
Tell her how you feel. Rich's words were hammering in his head. He just didn't know how he could do it. They'd managed to carve out a friendship, and the last thing he wanted to do was ruin that. "It's not that, Beth. I...you know I'm not the greatest with words."
She didn't speak but her expression, one eyebrow cocked, was audible: There's an understatement, Darcy.
"And you and I, well...we didn't get off to the greatest start."
"You might say that. But we're friends now."
"Yes...and I don't want to ruin that." His eyes searched hers desperately. She simply nodded.
"Richard and I were talking about...something, and he said I should talk to you." Now she simply looked perplexed again. He took a deep breath. "He's right; I'm just not sure where to start. What if I mess things up so badly that you hate me?"
She could see that he was getting agitated, and she reached for his hand. "Will, I'm not gonna hate you. Just...just tell me, OK?"
Her response gave him hope, but he still somehow wasn't able to get the words out. He stared at her for a few seconds trying to speak, before he gave up on the words and simply leaned forward and kissed her.
And to his surprise, he felt her arms wrap around him again, and he realized...she was kissing him back.
Richard Fitzwilliam had been upstairs working on his laptop when he felt the vibrations. He hadn't heard anything breaking, but he thought he would check just to be sure. Aunt Cathy and Anne were away at Anne's doctor's appointment, and he hadn't heard Will and Elizabeth come back from their run yet. Charlotte was...well, he didn't know where she was. Maybe he should check on her, too.
He stepped into the living room and glanced toward the kitchen. His jaw dropped. There in the doorway between the two rooms his cousin and Elizabeth stood close together, holding hands and talking quietly and, he would venture to guess, completely oblivious to the world around them. Richard tried to tamp down the sudden wave of jealousy that stirred in his gut.
I guess he finally talked to her.