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Posted on 2012-11-07
For Charles Bingley, life was simple. It was Point A to Point B. Going to a party meant meeting pretty girls. Sometimes that led to Tab A being inserted into Slot B, and the unfolding of a wonderful few weeks of fun. But tonight's festivities could not be simplified to another one of his best friend's wry observations about his love life. Charles' sister, Louisa, was getting married and it was time to stand up straight and host a bachelor party that would weaken their collective knees--at least until they had to walk down the aisle the next day.
The only hitch in his planning was, as usual, Darcy. Charles had tried to cover all the bases. Yes--the establishment stocked every kind of beer and ale known in North America. Yes--the room would be private, no cameras allowed. And if the entertainment got a little wild, Darcy and his monkish temperament could wander off to the main room's multiscreen bar and stare at SportsCenter. And yes--er, no--Caroline had no idea of their guys-night-out destination, so Darcy could imbibe in peace.
Somehow, though, all of Charles' machinations on behalf of his best friend simply annoyed the man himself.
"You know, Darcy, this is going to be great. Marty's ready to relax, get married and party. Louisa has stopped freaking out over the flowers and place settings, so now Caroline is completely overwhelmed with making it all perfect." Charles glanced at Darcy, adding softly, "And things have calmed down for you too. Let's celebrate and have a good time."
The man gripping the steering wheel eased the sleek sedan into a parking space and shifted into park. He looked through the windshield at the glowing sign for EJ's Place.
"Charles, you don't need to convince me. Marty deserves a great time. He's a lucky guy."
Charles nodded. "But?"
Darcy laughed softly. "Sorry, I'm out of practice with the fun thing. And a sports bar?" He gestured at the sign and shrugged. "But this is Marty's night, right? Let's make sure he has fun and can still stand up tomorrow."
"And remember Louisa's name," added Charles.
The two men climbed out the car and walked toward the entrance. A cold November wind blew dry leaves and empty cups around their well-shod feet. The shorter man turned suddenly, and grabbed Darcy's arm. "Hey D, make sure you lock it. We're calling a cab tonight. I expect you to empty at least three pints by 11."
"Are you nuts?" Darcy's eyes swept the parking lot. "No way, I'm not leaving my car here." He stepped forward. "And quit calling me D."
By 11:30, Marty was happily sandwiched on the dance floor between two energetic dancers teaching him the finer points of juking. With darts ruled off limits as the alcohol intake rose, the rest of the party was focused on speed stacks and beer pong. Darcy stood in the background, watching the revelry and nursing his second Bass Ale. Bumped from behind, he took a step too close to the table, earning cheers and hoots when one of the brimming cups tumbled off the table and splashed beer all over his sweater. "Crap!"
Charles found him heading to the men's room, shaking his head in disgust. "Whoa, wha' happened, D? Got in the way of the game?"
They stopped in the narrow passageway separating the party room from the bar to let a group pass. Darcy gestured at his forest-green sweater and muttered, "I'm all wet. I need to get this off."
He started pulling the sweater over his head, but the cashmere didn't muffle the sound of Charles' voice as he let go with the most commonly spoken words in his bar repertoire: "Whoa…. Check her out."
Years of watching his best friend fall for the girl on the next barstool, in the next office, at the coffeehouse, or in the elevator had inured Darcy to such sentiments. He yanked at the sweater. "Charles, help me out here. My sweater's snagged on my watch!"
The younger man wasn't listening. "Man, she is so cute. Look at that smile. C'mon, let's go meet them." He strode, a bit unsteadily, into the crowded bar.
"No! Charles, we have to keep an eye on Marty."
With a final tug, Darcy pulled his sweater free from the thick watchband. He checked that his t-shirt was dry and watched his friend slide onto a barstool next to a tall redhead.
"Seriously?" he grumbled. "There isn't anyone here smart enough or sober enough to bother with, you idiot." He sighed and started wringing out his sodden sweater. A shriek caused him to drop it.
"Watch it, mister. I might not be smart enough or sober enough to bother with, but I don't need your beer spills on my shoes." A pair of green eyes flashed at him. "Or is it vomit? Ick! Go rinse it out, already. And call a cab."
Darcy stared at the girl yelling at him. "I didn't spill anything. Somebody else did."
"Aw, that's what they all say."
Darcy furrowed his brow. "Now wait a minute, I'm not even drunk."
A skinny girl with spiky hair sidled up to the indignant woman. "Lizzy, what happened?"
"It's all good, Char. Just another drunk guy trying to hook up on a lonely Friday night." She looked at her friend and laughingly threw her hands in the air. "But we've been saved! Saved from another guy who sucks in bed."
Charlotte glanced at the man her best friend had insulted. His black hair was messy and his t-shirt untucked, but there was nothing there to reject: He was seriously good looking. He might not have been drunk, but Elizabeth's words seemed to sober him up from whatever he'd been drinking. Charlotte tried to catch his eye and shook her head to dismiss her friend's comments. But he didn't seem to see her. He didn't seem to be seeing anything at all.
Posted on 2012-11-14
For Fitzwilliam Darcy, life was never simple. There were T's to be crossed and I's to be dotted and P's and Q's to be minded. He worried every detail, and never failed to make a few changes to ensure every base was covered--from the specs on a first-draft proposal to his workout regimen to his sister's daily schedule. Friends and colleagues complained he was a control freak; he just knew he'd been the only one in control for most of his sister's life.
"Did it hurt for long?" Darcy tapped a pencil on his desk. "Did you tell Diane that it was throbbing?" He leaned forward, his gaze fixed on a framed crayon drawing of a horse and a princess. "Georgie?"
Her response gave him some measure of relief and he shook his head. "OK, take it slow. I need you sharp enough for a game of Risk tomorrow."
The door opened and Charles strolled into the large, bookcase-lined office. Darcy said goodbye to his sister and nodded, bemused, at his friend. He'd hardly seen the man in the past few weeks and his blue eyes had never shone brighter.
"What's with the bounce in your step?" Darcy asked. "I've never seen you so excited to go out for steaks before."
Charles looked at him blankly. "Steaks? Didn't you get my message? We're having Thai. With Jane." Darcy's eyes widened. "And her sister and a friend," Charles added quickly. "It will be great. She knows this place with the best spring rolls and panang noodles around."
Darcy stared at his phone. "I didn't get the message. Um, I'm not sure it's such a good idea. You go and charm them." And I can go home and get some work done.
"Nope--you owe me, Darce." Charles shook his head, folded his arms and assumed the stance of an advertising executive who knew he had the upper hand. "Did you ever grace the dance floor with Caroline at the wedding? Nope." Charles smirked and leaned closer. "Did you even wonder how you dodged that bullet? In fact, did you even dance once, other than with Louisa? You owe me."
The two men stared at each other. "Besides, Jane is a physical therapist, and it might be a nice way for you to learn a bit more about what they do." Darcy's brows shot up. "And before you ask," Charles added, his voice low and steady, "No. I haven't said a word about Georgie."
Darcy rubbed his chin. Jane seemed nice. Charles had spent the last few weeks happily distracted by her and full of stories about their latest romantic adventure. Her sister was a big unknown. And he didn't even know the gender of the other one, "the friend." This was not the kind of night he'd counted on. But Thai sounded awfully good.
Jane and another woman were waiting at the bar for them to arrive. Darcy was again struck by Jane's winsome beauty. "The friend" made a different impression. He'd seen her before somewhere. In his world, he didn't run into too many spiky-haired blondes with nose rings. Of course, he certainly didn't try to run into them either. But he couldn't place her. As if that wasn't irritating enough, he wasn't happy to find himself in what appeared to be a double date. With a girl with piercings and God only knew what else underneath her clothes.
"The friend" had recognized Darcy, however. He looked even better than he had that night in the bar. Hopefully he was in a better mood--one that Elizabeth wouldn't dampen when they saw each other. "Hi, I'm Charlie," she said. "Charlotte, actually. But with this guy around," she said, raising her eyebrows in Charles' direction, "I have a feeling I'm going to need a new nickname."
She extended her hand to Darcy, who shook it, looking, as casually as he could, at the delicate chain links tattooed around her wrist. "We all have them," Charlotte explained. "It was a graduation rite we decided would bind us forever. Some of us stopped after this one, but a couple of us decided we really like getting inked."
Darcy's eyebrows rose. We? This was not a conversation he felt comfortable pursuing. The four settled in at a round table. Jane explained that her sister was running late but wanted the group to go ahead and order drinks. "She'll be here in a few minutes," she explained, looking at Charlotte. "Bit of a crisis on the eighth floor."
Well, whatever that meant, thought Darcy. Eighth floor of her apartment building? Her office? Or was it code for some woman's issue? Georgie used to use euphemisms around him to signal to Mrs. Reynolds when she needed something at the store he'd find too embarrassing to buy.
Charlotte was mid-sentence telling Darcy about the new exhibit at her brother's gallery when a voice over his shoulder whispered, "Sorry I'm late, guys. Hope you're all on your second round!"
Jane jumped from her seat to hug the newcomer. "Jane! Don't! I came straight from work!" Darcy's eyes strayed to her jacket. He eyed it warily, wondering what exactly she did that would provoke such a warning.
Jane laughed and turned her to face Darcy. "William, this is my sister, Elizabeth." Recognition hit them almost simultaneously. Of course--she's the sister.
That night at the bachelor party, after the sweater soaking and the tongue lashing, William had left Charles to his own devices, sweet-talking his new friends in the bar. He'd headed back to the party room, tossed the sweater in a booth, slid in next to it and nursed a club soda. The party swirled around him until an hour passed and with it, his interest in anything celebratory. He'd laid his head back, listening to the music and making occasional eye contact with the other designated drivers. Once or twice, his mind drifted and he wondered why that girl had made him feel so stupid and if her eyes always burned so brightly.
By the next day, he was determined to put the entire night out of his memory, and to throw out the sweater. Then Georgie found it on the floor of the garage and demanded to know why he'd tossed out the gift she had bought him last Christmas and why it reeked of beer. His explanation, with careful editing, of the previous night's events, amused the teenager, who was in turn, indignant, hysterical and, finally, annoyed that her brother had checked himself out of his best friend's party. She insisted her brother should send the dry cleaning bill to the girl with the angry eyes.
Now, as he looked at the owner of those eyes, he realized they weren't angry. Just very bright, and very amused. Ah, so she remembered him too.
Elizabeth met his eyes, cocked an eyebrow and stuck out her hand. "Nice to meet you, William." He looked at her hand and noted the wrist tattoo. Grimacing, he reached out and shook gently. "And you, as well." He glanced away and missed the stink-eyed response his grimace had elicited. The newcomer scooted into the chair next to her sister and rolled her eyes at Charlotte and the stuffy man next to her.
He sat down and, under the gaze of at least two of his dinner companions, wiped his hands on his napkin. Elizabeth smirked, flagged a waiter and asked for a Singha. Jane leaned across the table. "William was nice enough to go along with the change in plans. And Lizzy," she added, turning her gaze to the man studying the menu, "was nice enough to work an extra shift and come straight from work."
Shift? Darcy raised his eyebrows but before he could ask, Jane filled in the blanks. "Social worker at Haven Hospital."
Ah. The eighth floor. Darcy nodded and looked back at his menu, missing Elizabeth's puzzled expression and glance at Jane. Her sister shrugged and smiled as Charles squeezed her hand. Elizabeth's eyes warmed as she watched them. Darcy lowered his menu in time to notice their vivid shade of green. Too bad their striking color couldn't hide the snappish personality underneath. He hadn't forgotten her face but it was her words that roared back to him when their eyes met. "Saved from another guy who sucks in bed." No locker-room insult or playground taunt had ever cut William Darcy to the quick, but he could still hear her words echoing in his ears.
So she saw that headline too? Would he never live down one bad relationship? Was there any point to bothering with it? Dammit. Why did I let Charles drag him here? He glared across the table at his ebullient best friend, who was smiling and nodding at whatever Jane was saying. Their smiles matched. He took a deep breath and started silently counting the sconces on the wall. Suddenly he realized Charles was beaming at him.
"Darce, did you meet Liz at E.J.'s? She was with Jane and Charlotte. She's a mean darts player." He winked at Elizabeth and set upon recounting the tale of his defeat at the hands of the most talented wrist and dip shooter he'd ever encountered. Darcy reminded Charles that his beer intake at the bar likely dulled his aim as well. He saw the three women exchange an amused look and heard Charlotte's snort, but then, absorbed in watching the waiter approach with their appetizers, he missed Elizabeth' fiery glance.
Darcy managed to focus on his spring rolls, listen to the overlapping conversations, and make dutiful small talk with Charlotte. He posed a few polite queries to Elizabeth. She responded with the practiced answers most people wanted to hear and looked down at her menu. Like this guy can relate to a place with cinderblock walls and Formica furniture and depressed kids. Mid-sentence, Elizabeth looked up to see him huddled over his phone, reading a text. Yup--pegged this one. Major-league jerk.
After taking their orders, the server noticed a few empty glasses and leaned over Darcy's shoulder to service the table. "Hey!" Water spilled from his pitcher onto Elizabeth's lap. The server immediately began sopping up the overflow while muttering apologies. "No problem, really," Elizabeth muttered. "At least this time it isn't beer. Or vomit." She glanced at William, steadily staring at the diners behind her. She felt a sharp pain in her shin and jumped up, excused herself and headed for the restroom.
Charlotte followed Elizabeth through the door and leveled a stern look at her. "Don't make me kick you again, Liz. Stop being so rude to William. Do you know who he is?" Elizabeth, busy patting herself dry with paper towels, nodded. "Um, let's see.… Rich friend of Jane's boyfriend? Rude. Clumsy with beer. Incapable of making conversation."
"He's William Darcy IV. Pemberley Funds? The philanthropist?" She stared into her friend's wide eyes. "God, Liz. I know you never read the business papers anymore, but lighten up. He's just trying to have dinner and get to know his best friend's girlfriend a bit better, and you're dumping on him?"
Elizabeth looked down at her boots, where water drops pebbled on the black leather. She nodded and looked up at Charlotte. "Right, like he's making an effort?" She rolled her eyes. Ugh. A banker. It figures. "Fine, I can make nice with Sweater Boy. But don't get serious about him, Char. He's kind of stodgy, don't you think?"
Charlotte rolled her eyes. "You and my mother…give it up, my dear. He's not my type. Now let's go. And behave!"
And so she did, for the better part of an hour. She figured Darcy hadn't heard her parting comment. His polite inquiries about her work received slightly warmer responses. She even related the story of her argument with the city over funding field trips for the kids. She didn't address any questions to him. Any curiosity she held about Darcy was tempered by her intent to dive into Google when she got home. She didn't know or care anything about Mr. Moneybags' career, but he was familiar beyond the beer-splattered sweater. Elizabeth couldn't remember the particulars, but she was pretty sure he was the guy whose love-life was splashed across the front pages. He was obviously a player--the kind of guy she normally found abhorrent. He was too good-looking and too polite, and most importantly, too good a friend to Jane's boyfriend, to completely dismiss--but his reaction to Elizabeth's profession and the soil it left on her was enough to convince her to avoid his company in the future.
"This was so great! I'm so glad to officially meet Jane's posse," Charles blurted out as he wrapped up the now legendary (to him and Jane) `How We Met' story. "You'll have to meet my sisters." He pulled Jane in for a quick kiss and told his dinner companions they'd meet up outside.
Darcy stared at the door closing behind the happy couple and grimaced while imagining Caroline's reaction to the self-professed "Tattooed Trio." Elizabeth glared at his expression, and Charlotte--still monitoring her friend's behavior-- cleared her throat. Elizabeth narrowed her eyes and stifled a deep sigh of annoyance. Darcy glanced between them.
Charlotte smirked, fixed her sternest teacher eye at Elizabeth and headed through the door. Shut up, Charlotte, thought Elizabeth. As she and Darcy followed, she leaned toward him and said, "Um, sorry for mocking your propensity to spill things. Your sweater survive?" He dipped his head and replied, "Yes, the cleaners even got out the smell. My sister told me to send you the bill, but…." Suddenly they were startled by the flash of camera bulbs. "Hey Darcy, found yourself a new girl? Whatshername?" Two paparazzi stood on the sidewalk, snapping pictures.
Darcy's glare blotted out the shocked reactions of the others in the group. Charles shrugged helplessly and pulled Jane closer. Darcy glanced at Elizabeth and then turned his scowl back to the intruders. "Crap!" He pulled on his coat and stalked to the curb, gesturing at a cab hovering nearby. Elizabeth shook her head and spat out, "Still too stupid and drunk for you?" She stormed off and disappeared down the subway stairs.
Posted on 2012-11-23
Next day's gossip on the New York Post's Page 6 had the photo of a wide-eyed Darcy and Elizabeth and the words: "Darcy Rebounds--And She's A Screamer!"
It was, Darcy thought, not the worst headline featuring his name. The one seven months ago was far worse: "Darcy's Girl Has Best Night Ever--Without Him!"
Yeah, that was the one. Judith Madsen, a beautiful girl who looked nice on his arm and made his sister laugh but who wasn't what she seemed. Apparently, she was bored by a man who put work and his sister ahead of holidays in Spain, shopping, and the city's social whirl. He didn't think the sex was bad, just infrequent. Breasts shaped to perfection by a surgeon's knife dampened his enthusiasm, and an aversion to intimacy her off. Off him, anyway, and onto the man who'd made a habit of flirting with Darcy's dates.
This time, though, it went further than flirtatious banter and touching. No man wanted to be cuckolded. No man wanted to be compared to another. And no man wanted either of those things to be discussed in public, in a newspaper with a readership of thousands. Particularly a man as private and low-key as William Darcy IV. Since taking over his father's business interests, including a well-regarded investment bank, six years earlier, he'd spent his meager free time with his 18-year-old sister, a few close friends, and the occasional short-lived girlfriend. Until Judith, who'd turned two months of dating into a public relations nightmare and a boardroom crisis.
Since the embarrassing headlines, he'd barely spoken to a woman unless it was work-related or involved ordering food or drink. In the worst case of awful news trumping awkward news, he stopped wallowing in humiliation when his sister took a fall at school and broke her leg badly enough to require surgery. Shifting his focus to her care and rehabilitation preoccupied him and eased his embarrassment. But it didn't make it easier to trust anyone outside his tight circle.
Last night had been a change of pace. He hadn't wanted to enjoy dinner. But he had. He hadn't wanted to feel like a normal person having a normal conversation. But he had. And he really hadn't wanted to notice that the woman who couldn't stop finding reasons to yell at him had beautiful eyes, a way with non sequiturs, and an enormously appealing laugh. But he had.
He'd loosened up, had a bit of fun and thought Charles' suggestion that they do it again might not be such a bad idea. Jane was very nice. She seemed warm and happy, a better fit than usual for Charles. And with her job as a physical therapist, it might not hurt to talk to her about Georgie. His sister's assigned physical therapist, Diane, sometimes seemed a little too distant and a bit too smug about the progress Georgie was making. He agreed she was walking fairly well after only three weeks out of her cast. But the surgical scars on her leg and the titanium pin in her ankle terrified him. If Charles and Jane were still together in a few weeks, perhaps the four of them could have dinner.
The rest of the "posse" elicited mixed emotions. In spite of her apparent ongoing love of tattoos, piercings and peroxide, Charlotte was smart and funny, and once she made it clear she was playing for the other team, he had been able to relax into a comfortable, enlightening conversation. He wasn't sure what to think about Elizabeth, but he found himself wondering about her a little too often. Witty, beautiful, snarky, overly observant, and saddled with a job he couldn't imagine waking up for. And she was way too concerned about getting things spilled on her. Wonder how she was going to feel about having his name and notoriety smeared all over her?
He sighed, took a last sip of coffee and shuffled the papers on his desk. The more immediate question, and the one he feared most, came to the forefront. How was the board going to feel about his name and face being splattered all over the gossip pages, again? He picked up his phone and scrolled down through his messages. The questions had begun. At least, he thought, no one seemed to know her name. Yet.
An hour later, the heavy oak door to his office opened and a familiar voice greeted him. Darcy pulled his head out of the financial pages and stared at his cousin. "What did you say?"
A wiry man with closely cropped brown hair closed the door and eased his frame into a leather club chair. "I asked you, what's going on? You're all over the papers again. Who is this girl? And why is Ken Whitley interested?"
Darcy focused on a mutual-funds story. "There is no girl, Robin. We were just in the same places….It's timing. Her sister is dating Charles. It's nothing."
"Too bad. Or good." Robin nodded and rubbed his chin. "But Ken is asking questions. His exact words were, `Here he goes again.'"
The two men looked at each other. "No need to be a monk, Darce. Just don't screw up again. Or get screwed." Robin smirked. "You know what I mean. And this one seems like a firecracker."
Darcy nodded and pulled off his glasses. "I'd think you'd like me as a monk. Vow of silence and all? I never get a word in anyway."
A wadded paper ball whizzed past Darcy's ear. "You, William Darcy, sworn to silence? Now where's the fun in that?" Robin stood up slowly and grimaced. Darcy watched him stretch back and forth.
"Is your back still bad? You really should see someone about it." Robin's weekend climbing trips had caught with him in the past few months; the intensely athletic 32-year-old had landed hard one too many times rappelling back down a cliff in the tri-state area. Time was not healing the pain and like Darcy, he was not inclined to seek out a diagnosis for his own problems.
Robin replied grimly. "Oh, just the L4 vertebrae, most likely. Might need a cortisone shot or steroids."
Stifling a laugh, Darcy cleared his throat. "You, Mr. Stoic, saw a doctor?"
"Yup. Doctor WebMd. She was quite thorough." Robin ignored his cousin's eye-roll and leaned over the desk to grab a few M&Ms from a crystal bowl. "Peanut? You know, Will, you're lucky no one's ever gone into anaphylactic shock in here. Some morning you're going to walk in and find the poor, allergic cleaning lady sprawled out on your desk." He winked. "And she's not the one you want to find laying there, is she?"
Unconsciously, Darcy's fingers began rubbing the edge of his desk. Back and forth, back and forth. The eight-inch strip of mahogany there was worn and shiny from years of nervous, tense touches. One, two, three, four, five, six….
"Probably not, Robin. Probably not." He stood up, grabbed his iPad and some folders and nodded toward the doors. "Ready?"
"I tell you, Darce. You have no life." Robin winced and rubbed his back.
Darcy smirked. "That might be true at the moment, but at least I'll be walking upright in my thirties."
"Ha, ha. It's less walking and more of the horizontal exercise you need, cousin." Robin slapped him on the back and led the way to the elevator.
Life had never been black and white for Elizabeth Bennet. She couldn't see the world that way. Zebras, newspapers, the photographs that dotted her walls…even such classic examples of black and white were in fact nuanced with shades of gray. The only black and white components of her world were the four letters she put behind her name: LCSW. Earning her degree last year as a licensed clinical social worker meant she could drop the pretense of ever finishing her MBA. Her year-long flirtation with the business world, more specifically the banking world, was the past. Not forgotten, but definitely the past. It had begun with altruistic motives--making enough to pay off student loans and finding ways to interest investors in funding programs and businesses which could make a difference in the world.
She should have known better, that's what her parents told her. Elizabeth and her sisters were only a generation away from growing up in coal country; her father trusted no one he'd define as a "higher up." In her first year at Anchor & Freres, Elizabeth learned that lesson the hard way, in black and white. Two colleagues papered over the evidence that one of the firm's largest clients was circumventing costly safety measures at its mines and pilfering its employees' pension funds. The sheer venality of their acts still stunned her, but when she learned of it, her actions were quick. She contacted both the SEC and the Mining Commission with enough information to indict the guilty parties. She'd maintained her anonymity but not her faith in the business world--especially banks.
This morning, as usual, her palms were stained with the ink of the gray lady, her beloved New York Times. But her temperament was colored with the angry yellow headlines splashed across the daily tabloids and the unrelenting blue jokes and speculation which echoed in her ears and popped up in texts from people she was determined to defriend as soon as possible. Screamer, am I?
By noon, she was in angry awe of the power of Google. Apparently she was as easy to find as the great Darcy himself. It was mind-boggling how three tabloids, two financial papers, and some guy who claimed he worked for "Dr. Tabitha: Sex Therapist," had tracked her down and found her office number. By the third call, she'd had it. She had patients she needed to see, forms to read through and sign, and calls of her own to make. The fourth time the phone interrupted her day, she was ready.
"Yes, you've reached the office of Elizabeth Bennet. She is not dating nor has she ever dated nor will she ever date William Darcy. She is not his girlfriend and has no interest in even knowing him. And that is on the record."
A loud guffaw nearly split her eardrum in two. "Geez, Elizabeth! Throwing your denial at the world?" Charlotte laughed.
Elizabeth rolled her eyes. "`Episode One of `My Dating Hell' has started, Char. Just hit fast-forward for me, will you?"
Lukewarm sympathy and an invitation to meet Charlotte's new girlfriend were extended before Elizabeth begged off to finish some paperwork.
As her day went on, she didn't dwell on her lack of warm feeling for one William Darcy IV. He obviously had issues, issues not worth touching even when her boss told her she was more likely to get city funding for expanding the number of beds in her teen intake program if she asked her boyfriend. "After all," Phil Lucas pointed out, "Darcy's got more money than we do."
Yeah, she fumed. And his sister told him to send me the dry-cleaning bill for his friggin' sweater!? Spoiled brat! By that evening, her anger and her curiosity had built into a potent combination and she sat down with her laptop to explore the background of the guy she considered "The Most Annoying Man in the World." It took but one click to set her off. Elizabeth's exasperation with the morning tabloid headlines was nothing compared with the shock of seeing his face, hers and some other girl's captioned, "Darcy Dumped Again! Why Do Women Hate Him?"
She clicked the link and found a detailed history of what appeared to be a rather spotty dating life for the rich scion. Some flannel-clad girls from college, a few models, a photographer, a lawyer or two. Nothing long-term, nothing notable until earlier this year, when his girlfriend left him for what the paper dubbed "a party guy with a simmering soul, a thick wallet, and a hot trail of conquests."
For a moment, her annoyance waned. Oh geez, Sweater Boy. That really stinks.
She read further. "Did they or didn't they? Is Elizabeth Bennet `the non-girlfriend' just a cover for the mysterious condition of Darcy's sister, who left school last spring after an unexplained accident.' Was it drugs? Booze? Maybe EB knows the true story."
Oh my god, please tell me I didn't just read that.
She stopped reading after that one, ignoring--as always--all the links to the business-page articles. Yawn.
She leaned closer to the screen and perused the photos. There was Darcy in a tux at the Met's Costume Ball. He looked pretty good, she grumbled. Sideburns became him. And there he was in a dark suit, a sweet young thing on his arm. Well, he did clean up nice. She wouldn't have guessed that the tousled guy in the damp t-shirt she'd met at E.J.'s would be a titan of Wall Street. But he was. Case closed.
Posted on 2012-11-28
Until 2 o'clock on Friday afternoon, it was business as usual for Elizabeth. She had patients to check on, meetings to suffer through, and reports to write. Filing the paperwork with the city to save the building she worked in was not on Elizabeth's to-do list, but when her boss, Phil Lucas, was caught in a meeting and absented himself from the process, she became the unanimous choice to step up and head across town to City Hall.
Elizabeth slumped in her hard-won seat on the midtown bus and fumed. It wasn't as though she had anything else on her plate. Such as work. She needed to update her case notes and review the files on two teenagers joining her in-patient counseling group on Monday. And then there was all the other stuff--grocery shopping, doing laundry, dating…. As always, Elizabeth would squeeze in the absolutely necessary domestic duties--after all, she needed food and clean underwear. But a social life was always nice too, and she was looking forward to the end of her workweek. Instead, she was bound for a long afternoon of lines, linoleum and lethargy.
She jumped off the bus, climbed the steps and entered City Hall. After passing through the security check, Elizabeth headed for the Department of City Planning. When she reached the gray, airless cavern of cubicles in the basement, she shook her head in disgust. And people think my building is depressing?
It had been love at first sight two years earlier when Elizabeth Bennet, newly licensed clinical social worker, encountered Haven Hospital. The WPA building was a wonder when it was constructed in 1937. Today, it was dwarfed by skyscrapers and modern, boxy high-rises. Yet the contrast made its soft brick and marble exterior even more remarkable. Elizabeth was especially fond of the four limestone sculptures bordering the front steps. The softly rounded sculptures captured children communing with dogs, cats, rabbits and birds, lending a gentle grace to the entryway. Though its beauty shone through to those who cared to look for it, the building itself was in bad shape. Its white marble façade was now gray, its beauty dulled by age, pollution, and pigeon-related debris. The electrical and plumbing systems were antiquated. But a good scrubbing--and about $50 million of renovations and expansion--could bring back the original beauty of what Elizabeth still considered a magical place of healing.
Trying to secure that funding and a promise from the city to save the building from the wrecking ball had brought her to a building that was Haven's polar opposite. Elizabeth shook her head in wonder at the tired gray sameness of the zoning department. There were a few steps required in filing for historical building status. Phil had taken on the glamorous part of the process; after Elizabeth had petitioned the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission to visit the building and pulled up and printed out sheaves of documents on Haven's architectural legacy, Phil had started attending meetings of the city commission. It seemed that cocktail parties were often involved, and that an especially attractive member of the board motivated his attendance.
Elizabeth, meanwhile, bided her time in the underground tombs of New York's most decrepit civic offices, searching out blueprints and microfiche. Today she was getting leg cramps from another long wait. She'd stood on line, read the Times' Style section and scrolled through e-mails.
Ninety minutes and two conversations with bored clerks later, she'd filed her paperwork and headed up to the main elevator bank. The smell of coffee caught her attention and Elizabeth headed over to the kiosk. She'd barely finished ordering when she heard her name called and looked around, wondering at her lack of anonymity here. Her jaw dropped.
Sweater Boy? She stared up into the dark brown eyes of William Darcy. What was he doing here? And where did he get a suit that fit him so well?
"Oh, hello, Mr. Darcy," she replied.
He blinked at her response. "Do you…um, you don't work here on the eighth floor, do you?"
Is he smirking at me? Elizabeth glanced down at the slim briefcase he held in his left hand. Smythson. Seriously good stuff.
"Wow, you remembered," she replied, one eyebrow raised. "No, I work in one of the hundreds of other buildings owned by the city. I'm here on official business."
"Sounds very cloak and dagger," he said quietly. Elizabeth's eyes darted up to read Darcy's expression but his face was impassive. His right hand, two fingers tapping against his thigh, drew her attention. Suddenly he thrust the hand in his pocket and cleared his throat. "Official business?"
"Things needed filing, a volunteer was needed to do it, and when the smoke cleared, I was the only one not sitting on my hands."
He grimaced, looked past her and nodded. Geez, she thought, someone have a problem with eye contact?
"Yes, that sounds familiar."
She looked at him curiously. "You? Aren't you the delegator in chief? When's the last time you had to stand in line holding a number to file paperwork?"
"Everyone has to go to the DMV, Elizabeth."
"True, even those with chauffeurs," she said, slyly. He rolled his eyes at her joke, and she gave him a triumphant smile. "But here you are, and this is not the DMV."
Darcy paused and glanced at the sterile environs' blend of beige, brown and gray metals. It was a 1970s architectural monstrosity. Somewhere behind the false walls and office pods, there was likely some semblance of design integrity. He bit back a comment on the sins of bureaucratic blandness. His dark brown eyes met her green ones and he instead managed a small smile. "No, this building is many things, few of them worthwhile, but it is not the DMV."
Elizabeth nodded. She was staring at his teeth. Wow. He smiles. "So what lures you here, away from all the busy, important work of Wall Street?"
Darcy paused. "There's busy and important work to be done everywhere." He dipped his head. "Have a good day, Elizabeth."
She watched him stride away toward the swinging doors. Right. `This is not the DMV, Elizabeth. Busy and important work everywhere.' Well, thanks for filling me in, Mr. Stodgy and Important.
"Miss, your coffee?" She turned around to take the cup and handed over a $5 bill.
"Oh, the gentleman already took care of it, ma'am."
"Mr. Darcy." The barista smiled and turned to his next customer.
Elizabeth eyed the caramel macchiato, wishing she had the will to toss it out and show that imperious Mr. Darcy what she thought of him. But it smelled awfully good, and, as there were no trashcans in sight, she took a sip and went on her way.
Since the coffee was free, Elizabeth treated herself to a cab ride back to the hospital to clean off her desk, lock her office door, and enjoy a mostly work-free weekend.
She was looking forward to dinner with Jane. Despite sharing an apartment, the sisters had barely seen each other over the past few weeks. Unlike Elizabeth's workday, often starting at 8 a.m. and stretching until 6 p.m., Jane's schedule varied by her appointment book. She might be in her company's physical therapy offices by 7 a.m. and be finished by 3 p.m. on Monday, but start seeing patients the next day at noon and work till nine. For the past few weeks, most if not all of her free hours were dedicated to Charles. But tonight he had a previous commitment, and Jane had left her sister a pink Post-It note on the bathroom mirror. "Margaritas and nachos! My treat!"
Friday night dinner was a ritual they had begun a few years ago when Jane joined her little sister in New York. It had survived boyfriends and dating disasters, job changes, a master's program, and occasional petty arguments, and always proved a good excuse to get out of their cramped apartment on Friday nights. Tonight, Elizabeth thought, would be a wonderful antidote to last Friday night, when she had gone solo to dinner with Charlotte and her "dream woman."
Those two little words had fueled Elizabeth's expectations. She had arrived at her best friend's garden apartment in Queens and found herself in the midst of an art-house romantic comedy. She sat through a delicious dinner of vegetable lasagna and turtle brownies, her head turning back and forth at the banter between the bubbly, newly formed couple. Today, staring out the cab window, she was still puzzling it out.
For Charlotte, Willa Collins was everything her bio on womatch.com had promised: hot--though she seemed sweaty and damp to Elizabeth; cheerful--in that vacuously airheaded way she and Char always mocked; and smart--though mostly about the actuarial business. Elizabeth had zero interest in learning how long a lifespan the insurance industry calculated for her. Nothing was going to make her give up beer, gummy bears and fried clams. But Willa and Char had hit it off and within three weeks, they were talking co-habitating in Willa's rent-controlled Tribeca apartment and co-parenting Willa's ferrets. Matching tattoos were not far off, Elizabeth mused. So much for the tattooed trio; Jane and Charlotte seemed to be taken and she was facing a future as a third wheel.
Although she'd been annoyed to be left high and dry as the sole guest at the CharWilla dinner, Elizabeth didn't begrudge her sister's recent cancellations; she was glad Jane had met Charles. His natural ebullience matched perfectly with Jane's glowing happiness. As Jane had recited more times than necessary over the past few weeks, "We both love Nora Ephron movies! He ice skates at Rockefeller Center on New Year's Day! He wants to kiss at the top of the Empire State Building! He was a cheerleader at Dartmouth! And he has the bluest eyes…."
Elizabeth snorted at her own cynicism. Jane deserved the best. Fueled by her macchiato, she jumped out of the cab and bounced up Haven's front steps. As was her custom, she ran her fingers over the statue at the top of the stairs. On the way out, she'd be sure to tap the fourth statue. Her colleagues laughed at her need to "share the love," as Mary King, one of the art therapists, called it. With her clinical training, she knew she was anthropomorphizing cold stones, but Elizabeth didn't care if she looked weird. She simply didn't want anyone left out. Not even 75-year-old statues.
As she headed toward the elevator, she saw Mary King with her latest flame. Just as Jane did, Mary attracted men like flies. Both tended toward short-term relationships. Jane dated doctors and friends and relatives of former patients. Mary's weekend clubbing usually paid off in hilarious stories for her coworkers on Monday and a retinue of short-term boyfriends. How she spent her time outside of the hospital didn't seem to affect her professional success and seemed to give her insight into some of Haven's more difficult patients. Of course, Elizabeth thought, everyone focuses differently, and she stayed better focused without male distractions.
"Hey Elizabeth," said the petite blonde. "Have you met George? He works downstairs, on six." Mary squeezed the arm of a tall, tanned blond man and he flashed a bright grin. Wow, score another hot one for Mary.
Elizabeth smiled but before she could speak, her phone chimed with Jane's familiar tone. She took a step back and read the message screen. Within seconds, she rolled her eyes and stifled her disappointment as Jane cancelled, again. Charles desperately wanted her to join him Chez Darcy for game night and Jane was eager for her sister to join the fun. "Please come too, Lizzy? Charles' sisters will be there."
Game night? With a guy who would destroy them all at Monopoly? Elizabeth ran her hand through her dark brown curls and clicked off her phone. "Dammit. Friggin' Darcy."
A soft male voice spoke behind her. "Everything okay, Elizabeth?"
She turned and saw George standing in front of her. Mary was waving as she stepped into the elevator. Elizabeth raised her hand in a half-hearted wave and sighed.
"Mary had to get back to work. I'm George Wickham. It's nice to finally meet you." He gave her a broad smile. "I've seen you in the cafeteria once or twice, but I haven't noticed you at the clubs with Mary and the girls."
Geez, this guy is really handsome, like a surfer. A surfer model. How did I miss seeing him at the salad bar? She dragged her eyes away and glanced at the bulletin board over his shoulder.
"Oh I've been, but the last few weeks have been very busy. And I have this regular Friday night thing with my sister," she added. "Usually."
"Like tonight?" George leaned toward her. "Did I hear you say the name Darcy? The Darcy?"
Elizabeth stared at him. She nodded.
"Well, you have him pegged. `Friggin'' is right. Our families go way back. I could tell you stories."
Elizabeth took a step back.
"It's a long and winding tale. Mary knows." George leaned closer to her. "I hope your sister's not dating him. The papers had it right, you know."
Her eyes widened. "I'm not sure what you mean."
"Really? Well, you're Mary's friend, and if you're half as nice as she is, I don't want to see you or your sister get hurt." George smiled at her, his blue eyes flashing. "Nice to meet you, Elizabeth. I'll see you around."
Elizabeth tossed her empty cup in the trash can and punched the elevator button. Crappy coffee, she thought. She felt queasy.
WPA: The Works Progress Administration (also known as the Works Project Administration) was the largest and most ambitious of President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal programs. At its peak in 1938, it employed three million unskilled men, women and youth to carry out public works projects, including the construction of public buildings and roads, and operated large arts, drama and literacy projects. The WPA fed children and distributed food, clothing, and housing. Almost every community in the United States has a park, bridge or school constructed by the agency.
DMV: The Department of Motor Vehicles, where Americans go to get their drivers' licenses.
Posted on 2012-12-04
Will Darcy would bet serious money that he had played every board game manufactured by Ravenscraft, Milton Bradley, Hasbro and Parker Bros. He knew the secrets to winning Sorry!, the best way to ensure losing the crown in Pretty Pretty Princess, and the likelihood of any crimes being committed using a lead pipe in the conservatory in Clue. Georgiana had been obsessed with recreating family traditions, and board games were sacrosanct to her and to her older brother.
Friday Game Night was her favorite, and she had shaped it with her own ideas. Georgiana had no memories of their mother, Anne, so Darcy took what he remembered from his 12 years with her and embellished where he could. His father, William III, had no patience for any games but chess or golf, and was perplexed by his son's enthusiasm for drawing buildings or paging through his mother's design sketchbooks. Every time his young son would ask him to build a train track to meander around the entire first floor, "Trey" Darcy would remind him to follow the layout instructions on the box.
Anne never had any problem kneeling on the floor to help her son construct a train track under the dining room table. Her opposing propensity to think outside the box and finish her degree in architecture while raising a young son brought the first signs of trouble to the marriage of the banking scion and the socialite. From ages four to seven, Will split his time between New Haven, where his mother worked on her Masters in architecture at Yale, and New York, where the stalwart Mrs. Reynolds played Go Fish with him and rolled out cookie dough. The coloring books stayed untouched as he filled blank-paged notebooks with scribbles and drawings of cows and spacemen, houses and cars. He leaned over his mother's shoulder as she designed the logo for her new firm, WDIV Partners. "I named it for you, Will. You helped me remember to play," she told him. "Maybe someday you might work here with me."
Her words never came true. Five years after starting her company back home in New York, Anne Fitzwilliam Darcy died in a car accident en route to a construction site, leaving behind a confused 2-year-old, a devastated 12-year-old and a resentful, grieving husband. Entertaining Georgie and creating happy family time for her became Will's project. He read up on the castles of Europe so he could draw on demand just the right home for whichever princess his little sister wanted. He showed her how to build pillow forts and glue rhinestones on her tiara. And it was under their beds that he hid his mother's books and journals when his father shut down WDIV a year later. Trey was gone before another decade passed, suddenly stricken by a heart attack that didn't surprise those around him. Too much work, too little play, and too little interest in anything that took his mind off of the family business took a deadly toll just after his fiftieth birthday.
The family left behind made do. Will and Mrs. Reynolds kept up a few traditions and invented others. In the absence of a nuclear family, their cousins Robin and Annie, or Charles and his sisters had rounded out the table for board games. But as the years went on, it was more difficult to fill the table as individual social demands grew greater. Caroline preferred parties to Parcheesi, Charles had trouble saying no to pretty girls, and Louisa got serious with Marty. Mrs. Reynolds had to tend to her ailing sister. Annie had her battles with her weight and begged off any social gathering involving food. Robin took to making an early exit so he could manage a late dinner date. Occasionally Will had a work or social engagement he could not evade.
Even Georgie grew up and wished to spend her Friday nights out with friends. At least she did until five months ago, when her fragile body hit the hard pavement at the bottom of a flight of stairs. Will couldn't understand how his graceful sister, who loved dancing and gymnastics, could have tripped down the familiar steps by her school. But he was grateful for that athletic training, which helped soften her landing and alleviated injuries which could have been far more serious than a concussion, a cracked rib, bruises and a leg broken in three places. All Georgie remembered was bending over to pick up a dropped book when a man called out her name. She woke up in the ambulance.
Tonight, Will thought, harkened a return to old times, or perhaps a harbinger of new and future days. Not only were the newlyweds, Louisa and Marty, coming, but Charles was bringing Jane and Caroline. According to Charles, the two women had met and were fast friends. Darcy shook his head at that thought. Only Charles, the fast-talking ad man, could spin a friendship between "his angel" and perhaps the most neurotically self-centered woman of Darcy's acquaintance. Caroline was funny and smart, but her need to outshine any woman under the age of 40 and to wield control over every setting was suffocating. She took more pride in and talked more about Louisa's wedding than did the bride.
Perhaps Jane could allow Caroline's acerbic personality and comments to roll off her shoulders, but Will didn't think her sister would--if and when the two women ever met. Elizabeth. Where did she get that chip on her shoulder? He had been shocked to run into her today, and she seemed to share his surprise. But the unexpected encounter didn't delay her teasing him, and he was glad it hadn't slowed her down. She's really beautiful when she smiles.
Suddenly he realized he hadn't apologized for his angry reaction to the paparazzi after dinner last week. He should have said something to her today, but seeing her had knocked the common sense out of him. Maybe he could send her something. Flowers? No. A plant, maybe. That meant friendship, right? Establish some new roots, maybe? Or maybe a zen rock garden or something. Crap, I should have done this last week. I'll probably see her again one of these days with Charles and Jane.
Will shook off his self-recrimination. What was left to do? Appetizers were in the refrigerator and Mrs. Reynolds' chili was bubbling on the stovetop. Something was missing. He needed to do more than pull out the trays, stir the pot and plate the crackers. Will strode into the kitchen and leaned against counter, tapping his fingers as he thought. Suddenly he pulled open the refrigerated cheese drawer. He was still staring at its contents when Georgiana walked in the room.
"Will, who's Lizzy?"
What? He wheeled around. "What?"
Georgie leaned past him and pulled out brie, cheddar, boursin and taleggio. "Lizzy. Who is she? Charles just texted you and said Jane is bringing Lizzy so our numbers are even."
Even? Will silently counted the names. "Seven."
His sister looked at him as though he'd grown a second head. "Yes, Will," she said slowly. "And Lizzy makes eight. That's what Charles said. Who is she?"
"Elizabeth is Jane's sister." And she's coming here. Tonight. Here. Forget the plant, I have to say something.
"And?" Georgie leaned against the counter and stared at her brother. He shook himself back to her question and looked at his little sister.
She's resting her leg, Will thought. I hate the day after physical therapy, she's always in pain. He peered at her more closely. Georgie was wearing her `smart glasses.' She only did that when she was studying, taking an exam, or planning to destroy him at the game table or on Xbox. He'd barely seen her wear them in the past few months, so it seemed a good sign. She'd piled her dark hair up in a bun to complete the intellectual look.
"Got big plans tonight, I see. You're wearing your fake glasses," he said. "And reading my texts."
"Will, you're avoiding the subject. And they have real glass in them. I bought them last year at Saks. Don't mock the fashion statement." She pushed the glasses down to the tip of her nose and peered over them at him. "Look. I already know Jane is an angel and a ginger and she cooks amazingly and loves romantic comedies. Charles never mentioned her sister."
Will pulled a knife out of the wooden block and started slicing the white cheddar. He turned over the thoughts in his mind. "She's a social worker who is really good at darts and likes coffee."
Georgie pushed up her glasses and smiled. "Interesting." She leaned over and grabbed a slice of the seven-year-old cheese. "Good work with the knife, bro. I'll make sure everyone knows you cut the cheese."
His sister was still tentative about moving too quickly--all these months of wearing casts and adjusting to two titanium screws in her ankle made Georgie a bit hesitant to scoot out of his way as she would have in the past. Thus he was able to land a well-aimed thwack with the baguette on her bum. The buzzer sounded, and a quick glance to the security screen showed them the laughing newlyweds had arrived. He pushed the button to grant them entry.
A moment later, the elevator dinged and the Hursts were at the front door. Marty made a beeline for the bar to fix a pitcher of martinis. Louisa sat down in the living room for a chat with Georgie and filled her in on the joys and drawbacks of honeymooning in an exotic locale requiring mosquito netting. Darcy headed back to the kitchen to finish up his cheese platter.
He was in the foyer, carrying a bowl of chips and salsa into the living room, when Charles burst in, one arm wrapped around Jane. "Hey Darce. Used my charms on Wallace downstairs so we could sneak in, unannounced!"
Charles hung up their coats while Jane blushed and presented Darcy with a tin of homemade gingersnaps. She gave him a quick hug and said she was looking forward to meeting Georgie. Before he could finish telling them where to find her, Charles had grabbed the chips from Will and was pulling Jane through the doorway while warning her about Marty's martinis. As the couple disappeared down a wide hallway, Elizabeth stepped forward. With a smile, she thanked Will for the invitation to Game Night, and handed him a small beribboned box. "Espresso chocolate beans," she said. "Thanks for the coffee."
Fighting back a slow, embarrassed blush, Will nodded. "Um, thank you. It was my pleasure. But you didn't need to do this."
"Neither did you. But you did. So thanks. We're even." As Elizabeth turned to follow Jane and Charles, Will grabbed her arm. She stopped, glanced down at his hand and looked at him, warily. He pulled his hand away.
"Look, Elizabeth. I just wanted to apologize about last week at Pok Pok Ny? After dinner, with the cameras? I was rude and it seems there's some confusion about you and me, and I, well, I'm sorry."
His words hung in the air as Elizabeth's head nodded but her eyes seemed fixed on a distant point. She took a deep breath and finally looked at him. "We're both at fault here. I've been told by some good sources that I was pretty rude to you at E.J.'s. And apparently, a fairly nice sweater had to pay the ultimate price for our little tiff," she added. A small grin spread across her face. "Shall we hash it out over Boggle or something?"
Her eyes were so bright, so full of mischief. Where does that come from? Will smiled back and gestured at his gray pullover. "And my sweater has nothing to fear?"
"Well, just in case you try to cheat or something, you might want to keep some seltzer nearby. Removes stains, you know." Elizabeth turned away, heading in the direction Charles and Jane had gone. She stopped and turned and, in a loud stage whisper, called back, "And I promise. No red wine around you or your beautiful rugs!"
Will stood still, mesmerized, his eyes following her down the hall as she kept talking. "I need to find Jane. Charles was going on and on about your kitchen. When was this place built? It's amazing."
About 1910, McKim, Mead, and White. Before Will could form another coherent thought or answer her question aloud, the doorbell rang. Caroline had arrived with an armload of bags and boxes. "I brought goodies!" she squealed, depositing two large Dean & DeLuca parcels in Will's arms and carrying a small Zabar's bag to the kitchen.
Will followed dutifully. They encountered Jane admiring the sweeping soapstone counters, her hands spread over the countertops. "Beautiful," she breathed.
"They are indeed," Elizabeth added. Will watched as the sisters took in the cherry cabinetry, multiple sinks and framed menus dotting the wall. Caroline dropped her bag on the counter and commanded him to unload all of the treats she'd brought for "dearest Georgie."
"She doesn't get out much these days. I've barely seen her," simpered the thin brunette, clad head to toe in black. She eyed Elizabeth and extended a hand. "You must be Jane's sister. The social worker."
Putting on her best Bennet manners, Elizabeth returned a tight smile and shook Caroline's pale, waifish hand. She stared at the woman's orange fingernail polish and four-inch orange heels. "Why, yes, I am. The social worker."
Charles glanced between the two women. "Oops! Sorry ladies, forgot my manners. Elizabeth, this is my sister, Caroline. I was telling her about your job."
"Yes, it sounds all-consuming. And so rewarding," Caroline tittered and leaned forward to air-kiss Jane's cheeks. "Jane, wait till you see what I found in Milan. Amazing."
"Caroline is an assistant buyer for Bergdorf, Elizabeth." Jane shot her sister a small smile.
"Head assistant buyer," Caroline asserted. "Social work is so interesting. But the title is so odd. It sounds like a party planner, but it isn't."
There was only one person who could break the ensuing silence. Marty Hurst entered, a pitcher in one hand and ice tongs in the other.
"Who needs a drink?
Everyone grabbed a tray of food and followed Will to a sprawling, luxurious living room. Once introductions were made and the beauty of the room remarked upon, they settled into an intimate seating area surrounded by built-in bookshelves and detailed cabinetry. Wine and martinis were poured, beers and sodas offered, and the cheese and appetizer trays properly exclaimed over. Elizabeth complimented the cheese choices, especially the taleggio. Caroline paused and looked at the interloper. "Why Eliza, have you never had such a treat before? You should go to France for the Brie de Meaux. The best cheeses are always found at Androuet."
Elizabeth swallowed a last bit of cracker and tucked a curl behind her ear. "Really? You are so smart about cheese, Caroline." She returned Caroline's smug smile. "It's so interesting to know about goats and cows and which grasses and feeds lead to the tastiest dairy products."
Caroline coughed, a small bit of cheese flying into her napkin.
"Careful, Caroline! Red wine will stain!" Marty cried.
While Caroline stalked off to the bathroom, the Bennet sisters took an immediate interest in Georgiana, who parked herself on the floor by the bookshelves and pulled out one box after another, asking the sisters which games they liked best. They all had a story or two to share about nearly every game stacked in the bookcase. Jane loved Operation, Elizabeth adored Masterpiece. Louisa and Marty had a mutual love for Scrabble, and Charles was a big fan of Clue--especially the Simpsons' edition. Caroline floated back to the group and trumpeted the great joys of backgammon. Her brother snorted. "Caroline, you kept the Ouija board under your bed!" Charles cried. "And you were always playing Mystery Date."
"And how about you two?" Elizabeth said to the Darcy siblings. Georgie stole a glance at her brother. "I like The Game of Life," she said. "You get to drive the cute little car around, have a big family, and you never know what will happen."
Her brother stifled a smile. "Luck, chance and skill, lots of choices to determine them."
Elizabeth nodded. "And you never know how Life will turn out, eh?" She looked at the man in the gray sweater. "And how about you? Monopoly, right? Or is it Battle of the Sexes?"
Georgie laughed, prompting a puzzled glance from her brother. He turned, and his eyes met Elizabeth's. "No. I've always been pretty fond of Connect Four and Battleship."
Charles again broke the silence. "Hey, time's a'wasting. I need to kick some butt. Let's play!"
It began peacefully enough with a group favorite, Pictionary. Charles, Jane, Elizabeth and Marty hunkered down against Darcy, Georgie, Caroline and Louisa.
Charles' team quickly racked up points with their drawing and guessing skills. Will's group rallied but Caroline, busy getting the picture details just right, derailed them against the timer.
After a break to enjoy Mrs. Reynolds' chili and to fill their plates with the treats--some bought on the Upper East Side, others baked at home--it was back to business. The box of Trivial Pursuit came out. The two confirmed couples quickly decided that it would be more fun to play in pairs, and naturally, the two couples had to be together. Caroline seized Darcy's arm and cried, "You and me, Will!" Before he could respond, Georgie had smiled at Elizabeth and asked her the key question of the game. "Pink or green game piece, Elizabeth?"
Will sighed and grabbed the round brown token. "Oh Will, ugh." Caroline grabbed it from him and reached for the almost, but not quite Tiffany-blue token.
The game moved at a lightning-fast pace.
The French lost this climactic battle in the First Indochina War.
"Dien Bien Phu," shrugged Elizabeth.
This orphaned elephant was raised by the Little Old Lady.
"Babar!" cried Georgie.
This president fathered more children than any other?
"John Tyler." Will asserted. "Fifteen kids with two wives."
This actress had her legs insured by her studio for $1 million with Lloyds of London.
"Betty Grable." Louisa knew her models and movie stars.
He developed the oral polio vaccine.
"Albert Einstein!" Marty cried. "Wait, no! Brooks! Albert Brooks!"
"Almost, Marty." Jane said to him gently. "It was Albert Sabin." She showed him the card.
The game quickly boiled down to an intense competition between two teams: Darcy 1 and Darcy 2. Georgie and Elizabeth had collected every category pie-piece except for Sports & Nature. Thanks to Caroline's impetuous and ignorant responses to a number of questions, Will and Caroline still needed Arts & Literature. The gloves came off. Actually, Elizabeth seemed to wear a velvet glove over her iron fist, but most of her verbal punches were aimed at Caroline.
Youngest man ever to become president?
Darcy immediately answered, "Teddy Roosevelt."
"No, Will! JFK! I'm sure of it!"
Darcy pulled his arm out of Caroline's iron grip. "Kennedy was the youngest elected, Caroline. But Teddy was the youngest to take office, when McKinley was assassinated."
Elizabeth eyed them over the card. "Are you sure? Give us your final answer." Georgie's eyes gleamed at the opposing team.
"JFK!" Caroline screeched. She shot Elizabeth a triumphant glare.
"Dammit, Caroline!" Will's head dropped down to his chest. He closed his eyes and started to silently count to ten.
"Wrong-o, Caro." Elizabeth flashed a devilish grin at the sputtering woman, who immediately demanded to see the card. "T'was Teddy."
"William! This card is wrong. I need my phone. I'll Google it for you!"
Will looked up, shook his head and met Charles' woefully amused eyes with an implacable stare. "No. It's not. It was Teddy Roosevelt, Caroline. Like I said. Repeatedly." He reached for the card box. "Your turn, ladies."
Georgie rolled the dice. "Four! Sports & Nature!"
Will pulled out a card and read it, groaning inwardly at the easy question. "He held the Major League Baseball record for the most consecutive number of games played until 1998 when it was beaten by?" He looked at his sister, biting her lip and whispering in Elizabeth's ear. Elizabeth nodded. Georgie turned to Will and responded.
"Lou Gehrig and Cal Ripken Jr."
Charles cheered her answer as Will nodded. Atta girl, he thought. She really does pay attention to all those stats I never shut up about. Ripken. 2,130. 1982-98. Gehrig. 2,632. 1925-39.
Elizabeth smiled victoriously at her partner and then at her opponents. "Roll, Georgie. Let's wrap this baby up."
The next roll took them to the center hub of the game board. Caroline reached past Will and grabbed a card out of the box.
"Rules say we get to choose the hardest question, so.…" She licked her lips and scanned the card. Her brows furrowed in frustration as she weighed the chances of one question against another.
"Come on, Caroline. Pick one," Marty drawled sleepily from his spot on the floor. His prowess in martini-making made him a popular man at parties but an unpopular teammate on Game Night.
Will sat back and waited.
"Oooh. Got it." Caroline squared her shoulders and directed the question to Elizabeth. "What are the first seven digits in pi?"
Will shot forward. Are you kidding me? That's in this box? Seven numbers?!
"Let me see that card," he said.
Caroline twisted away. "No, Will. No peeking! Let's see if they know the answer!"
Georgie watched Will's attempts to get the card from Caroline. She picked up her glasses from the table and pushed them on her nose. Elizabeth was mouthing numbers and looking at her fingers.
"Come on, girls! You're running out of time!" Caroline preened.
Elizabeth glared at Caroline and then at Will. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. "Okay, 3.1415926…."
…5359. Wow, amazing. Will couldn't help a small smile. Touché, Elizabeth.
Caroline's eyes widened, then she shrieked. "No! You're wrong! Our turn." She leaned over the box of cards and shoved the card back into the middle of the tightly packed deck.
"No, we're not, Caroline! It's 3.1415926…" said Elizabeth. "Look at the card."
"Oops, I put it back. But you're wrong."
Georgie's head moved back and forth between the two women. She looked at if she wanted to speak, but nothing came out.
Will swore under his breath and glared at his teammate. "No, she's right. It's 3.14159265359. You must have misread the card, Caroline. They win."
Caroline scowled. Georgie cheered. Elizabeth laughed at Caroline's petulant expression.
"Hey Caroline, maybe you should dig out your Ouija board and ask it where the card is hiding," Charles said dismissively.
Will watched Elizabeth give his sister a quick hug. "Nice job, ladies." Elizabeth was smiling at Georgie. She met his eyes and winked.
"Not too mad about losing, are you?" Elizabeth asked. "And on a math question?"
He opened his mouth but nothing came out. He felt like an idiot, unable to think of an answer. Will cleared his throat and stood up. "Anyone need a drink?"
Everyone rose to stretch their legs. After steadying herself, Georgie offered to show Jane and Elizabeth the rest of the vintage pre-war apartment. Will, pouring himself a glass of seltzer, saw them standing at the windows and gazing out at the view he took for granted.
The sisters had already admired at the huge windowed reception room, and now they appeared stunned at the panorama before them, the twinkling lights of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Central Park.
Georgie gestured to the gracious dining room, its red walls covered in with mirrors and art in heavy frames. Jane fell a step behind as Charles caught up to the tour. As Georgie led Elizabeth down the wide hallway, the light beaming through an open door prompted the younger of the sisters to gasp. Elizabeth wandered into a cavernous room, its walls lined with leather-bound books. The only space not filled with books had a floor-to-ceiling window. "Wow. Is this your library?"
Georgie nodded and gestured. "Will has everything categorized, so there's art and architecture over here and here," she said, pointing to three walls, "and the rest are all histories."
"No accounting books? No novels?" Elizabeth joked. Georgie shrugged.
"Most of the novels are in the study, or in the living room."
Elizabeth's eyes fell on an angular, low-seated wooden chair. She had seen one like it in a design book. "That chair, it's amazing. It's an art piece, isn't it? I saw it at MOMA."
"Yes," a deep voice responded. Elizabeth looked up to see Will in the doorway. "Rietveld. Deconstructionist armchair."
Georgie walked over to Elizabeth and plopped down gently on an overstuffed sofa. She leaned forward and ran her hand over the chair's shiny black arm. "No, a replica. Will built it. It's amazing to look at, isn't it?" She wrinkled her nose. "Not that comfortable though."
The glossy painted wood was so smooth. Elizabeth looked up at Will. "May I try it?"
Elizabeth sat down slowly on the hard blue seat and leaned back against the tall red back. Her knees rose up, and while the varnished wood was unyieldingly hard, she felt absolutely no pressure on her lower back. "Wow. I don't think I could make it through a double-feature, but this is really relaxing." She smiled at her hosts. "Jane has to try this out."
A cacophony of voices alerted them that the rest of the group was on its way. "Where is everyone?"
Caroline walked into the room. "Oh dear, Eliza. Are you stuck in that Ikea chair?"
Marty, hard on Caroline's heels, let out a loud guffaw. "Geez, Caroline. Get out of the stores and get thee to a museum."
Louisa, standing behind her husband, rolled her eyes and tugged her sister out the room with a question on the newest spring color trends. Jane and Charles squeezed past Marty. Jane smiled at the vision of Elizabeth, her red sweater and black slacks contrasting yet blending into the chair. She looked at Will. "Charles says your kitchen is his favorite room here, Will, but I think my sister has found hers."
"Jane, you have to try this chair! It's great for the lower back." Elizabeth leapt up and led her sister over to the chair. Jane settled into it, nodded her agreement with Elizabeth, and began a quiet conversation with Georgie, still perched on the ottoman.
Charles watched the scene and elbowed his friend. "Was the chair designed to help back pain?"
The taller man raised his eyebrows and shook his head. "I think it was all about the well-being of the spirit and harmonic humanity or something." He rubbed his chin. Georgie was pointing to her ankle, gesturing with both hands and talking animatedly to Jane and Elizabeth. Amazing. His shy sister was bubbling over. Absolutely amazing.
"Harmony and primary colors," Charles replied, chuckling.
Yes, Will thought. The colors were brighter than he remembered.
998 Fifth Avenue was the first luxury apartment building constructed on Fifth Avenue above 59th Street. It was built in 1910 by James T. Lee, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis' grandfather.
The Red-Blue Chair, designed in 1923 by Gerrit Rietveld.
Posted on 2012-12-11
Despite her brilliance in Trivial Pursuit, there were a lot of things Elizabeth Bennet hadn't figured out. Rocket science. The concept of crocheted toilet paper covers. James Joyce. How to make a decent meringue. And at 26, she didn't understand how the endless stretch of days before Christmas which she'd had to endure as a child had turned into the compressed timeframe of her adulthood.
Tonight, as Elizabeth curled up on her sofa with a bowl of cheddar popcorn, she realized how tough the Christmas season had been for her parents. Four daughters, two mortgages, and jobs that kept them working right to the brink of the holiday.
Yes, Christmas was in four days, and her to-do list was longer than her letter to Santa. Shopping, wrapping, parties…and the time to search the city for something, anything, was running short.
Elizabeth had already celebrated at work earlier that day with the annual eighth-floor holiday party. It was a difficult time for psychiatric patients, and the teenagers she worked with seemed to feel it most keenly, if less obviously.
They shared with her that they felt guilty acting sad or difficult around their families during the holidays, especially when the magic of the season--be it dreidel games or decorating the tree--had worn off and the inevitable letdown had begun. But all of the outpatient-group kids had agreed to stay in touch on the private Facebook group page Elizabeth had created. She had made it clear she expected full reports--public or private--on cookie-making, ugly holiday sweaters, mustachioed aunts, and social outings, as well as on their emotional highs and lows. As the gathering drew to a close, she pressed a single polished stone into each teen's hands; the word, "Believe," was inscribed in each one. Elizabeth had a teary subway ride home.
Now, from her perch on the sofa, she was trying to focus her attention on that to-do list before she and Jane headed home to Meryton in three days. Elizabeth wasn't sure just how easily Jane would part with Charles; the two had become inseparable since they had met that first weekend in November. While Elizabeth was enjoying the extra space in their tiny apartment during her evenings alone, she was looking forward to some quality time on the train and in their shared bedroom back home.
Home. Under the same roof with her parents and sisters didn't sound restful or relaxing, but that's what holidays were all about, right? Thanksgiving and Christmas meant crowded tables and too few bathrooms and games of hearts and Uno. Lacking sons and disavowing any interest in the rough and tumble of football, Tom Bennet instead organized his girls around the kitchen table. Once cleared of dirty dishes and pie, their card games there became the high point of family holidays. During Thanksgiving, he was left home alone while the Bennet women celebrated Black Friday at the malls, but he staked his claim to their attention on those post-turkey Thursday afternoons, and on Boxing Day a month later. It was one of the best parts of the holidays, if not the best, for his second eldest. Her five days at home for Christmas would include even more family competitions.
Of course, thinking about games brought back memories of Game Night at the Darcys two weeks earlier. Elizabeth had been studiously avoiding thinking about that evening. There was simply too much to mull over; she wasn't sure she wanted to think about the magnificence of their home, or about how much fun she'd had there, or about how wrong she'd been about Georgie. She was not a spoiled brat who demanded Elizabeth pay for dry cleaning. She just had a brother with an underdeveloped sense of humor who made it sound that way. Sometimes Elizabeth wasn't sure if she was wrong about him too.
William Darcy. He was … complicated. He barely spoke, but he was full of smiles for his sister. And he made an effort and apologized to me! Of course, Elizabeth remembered that he had stared a lot too, but she gave him points for not blowing up at Caroline when she kept blurting out the wrong answers or recoiling too noticeably when the woman was braying on about the delicacies she'd brought to share with him at an undisclosed later date.
The Hursts had had a smart idea, she mused, leaving right after the games and missing out on Caroline's soliloquies on the high life. Of course, it also saved them from helping carry all the dishes back to the kitchen. Darcy had looked like he was having a stroke as Caroline went on and on about the fine foie gras and shellfish-stuffed piquillo peppers. She was not amused when Charles reminded her that Darcy was allergic to shellfish. That's when Elizabeth--who, along with Jane had rolled up her sleeves to scrape the plates and rinse them in the jaw-dropping, Tuscan-tiled sink--had stifled a laugh. Caroline had glared at her and spotted her bracelet tattoo. "Oh my god," she shrieked. "Is that a tattoo?! You're inked?" She rolled her eyes. "How interesting."
Elizabeth had turned around and seen Georgie staring at her wrist. Will had been eyeing his sister nervously until he had shifted and met Elizabeth's eyes. He had given her a tight smile. Was he mortified his sister saw my tattoo or that I have one and despoiled his house?
The tension had been broken, she recalled, by her sister's boyfriend. Charming as ever, Charles had exclaimed, "You know, Caroline, Jane has the same tattoo. It makes them members of a very small, very exclusive, invitation-only group. Someday," he had added, meeting Jane's eyes, "I should be so lucky to get one too."
Elizabeth had been grateful the tile wasn't scratched when Jane had dropped a handful of sterling silver spoons into the sink.
Now, two weeks later, while her sister continued humming along on a lovestruck high, Elizabeth was still trying to figure out Sweater Boy. He was too young to be so grumpy, too good-looking (she grudgingly admitted) to be so frumpy. Could you call a 29-year-old a curmudgeon? One who'd been spotlighted in New York magazine's "Hot! (And Smart)" issue? What was his problem? That woman who dumped him…was she right? Is he as dull when horizontal as he seems to be when he's vertical?
Elizabeth poured herself a glass of apple cider and clicked on the TV. Paul Newman in a sweaty t-shirt. This could be good.
As she watched Paul wielding a shovel on the chain gang, Elizabeth pondered William Darcy a bit more. He didn't seem dull, just quiet and uncomfortable. He bought her coffee but didn't have the gift of conversation. He had a big life. William Darcy: big, not glib, she giggled. He lived in a veritable palace across from the Met, and his kitchen had separate refrigerated drawers for cheese and fruit. He had a doorman who played in a fantasy football league with Charles, and a housekeeper who was probably shocked to find a tidied-up kitchen the next morning.
Oh well. Our worlds collided. And mine is…not as nice. She stretched and glanced around at her own humble digs. Jane was spending so much time at Charles' loft that Elizabeth thought she was starting to detect distaste in her ever-tactful sister's expression whenever she returned home to their tiny place.
She hated the beige walls. I should paint it. Red, maybe. Elizabeth could see the entire 800 sq.ft. space just by turning her head from side to side. It had every amenity necessary to big-city living, right? Clawfoot tub in the kitchen? Check. Scratched red linoleum countertops? Check. Oversized closet doubling as a second bedroom? Check. Out-of-season clothes shoved in airtight boxes under the bed? Check. Two deadbolts, one slider lock? Check.
Click. The bolt slid back and there was Jane. Elizabeth looked up as her sister walked in the door. And there was the "look" that ever so briefly crossed Jane's face when she returned home to reality.
"Hey Janey, have fun?"
Her beautiful, willowy sister nodded and sank into the couch. "We ice-skated in Central Park. Since we won't be together on Christmas, Charles wanted to make sure we did it." Jane leaned over and rubbed her ankles. "I always forget how much it hurts. But he loves it."
Her sister was eyeing her, an amused quirk to her eyebrow. "You did it? You must be out of practice. What part hurts?"
Jane's mouth fell open. "Elizabeth Taylor Bennet! Shut up!" She grabbed a pillow and thumped her sister in the stomach.
Elizabeth's giggle just grew louder. "Jane," she gasped, "you so set yourself up for that one." She smoothed back her thick brown hair into a ponytail and tilted her head toward her sister. "Not that either of us kiss and tell, but you have spent nearly every night at his place for the past two weeks.
"It's 8 o'clock on a Thursday night," Elizabeth continued. "And you are here. Are you homesick for your lumpy bed here, missing me, or is Charlie busy tonight?" She fluttered her eyelashes.
Jane smirked right back at her. "Yes, no and kind of. He has a big meeting early tomorrow morning, I have a 7:30 appointment with Mr. Elliot, and…Aunt Flo has arrived for a short visit." Jane stood up and headed for the kitchen. "Where's the chocolate stash?"
"Behind the flour." Elizabeth stretched out on the couch. "Geez Jane, you seriously have to work on Mr. Whiny Elliot at that hour? Ugh."
After another bowl of popcorn and a quick rundown on which gifts were purchased and who was going to the Patagonia store on Columbus Avenue for Mary's present, the conversation turned to Game Night, the last evening the sisters had spent together with Charles.
"Jane. That apartment was amazing. Sixteen rooms? Did you see that staircase? I Googled it. That building is listed as one of the greatest residential entertaining spaces in the entire city!"
Her sister nodded. "Imagine having your debutante ball there."
Elizabeth took a breath and scoffed. "Georgie is a nice girl. She could have some serious parties in that place. Think her brother did when he was her age?"
She didn't wait for an answer. "He's what, nearly 30? Does he live there too or is he just staying with his sister while their parents abroad or something?"
"No," Jane said. "I don't know the whole story, but their father died around six, seven years ago."
Elizabeth felt like an idiot as she remembered all the headlines she had seen about the Darcy family's investment bank. "Of course, that's why Will runs Pemberley Funds. What about their mother?"
"Um, Will was 12 when his mother died." Jane looked sad and twisted a strand of her long strawberry blonde hair. "Charles told me, he wanted me to know before we went over there for the games."
Elizabeth's eyes widened. Twelve? And Georgie was a baby? She couldn't think let alone respond to what Jane said. She took a long sip of apple cider. She and Jane might live cheek by jowl in their Village walk-up, but they were used to close quarters after sharing space with their sisters, their parents, and the menagerie of stray cats and dogs that Katie was always harboring on the screen porch. Her mother fed another bunch of feral cats that gathered every morning behind the card and gift shop she ran near their neighborhood in Meryton. It was a good thing the Philadelphia suburbs had lax laws on feeding strays.
"It was a nice night, Lizzy, wasn't it?" Jane ventured. "I love Trivial Pursuit. Too bad I'm terrible at most of the categories."
"Not true," Elizabeth admonished. "You rock at all the pop culture and sports stuff." She took a breath. "Louisa seemed nice, and Marty is hilarious. He and Charles make a good tag-team on Caroline."
She glanced at Jane, who was smiling guiltily. "What is the story with Mademoiselle Fromage?"
"Lizzy, you are so bad!" She stifled a giggle. "But so good with nicknames. Did you minor in that?"
Her sister shifted on the couch and waited.
"Okay," Jane began. "You know that Charles and his sisters grew up in New Jersey, right? Apparently, Caroline doesn't like anyone to know that. She has this whole concept of herself in a Vanity Fair spread, as a Fifth Avenue society dame."
Elizabeth snorted. "More like a real housewife."
"Lizzy," Jane warned. "Don't put that image in my head! She's Charles' sister. I have to get along with her."
"But you know I'm right." Elizabeth paused. "Have you told Charles about our family? Granddad and the mines?"
Jane nodded. "Just a little."
Well, Caroline will be so pleased to know we have coal in our veins, Elizabeth thought. "If they grew up in Jersey, how do they know the Darcys so well?"
"He met Will at prep school. Charles is a year younger-- "
"Right, he's 28, like you?"
"Yes. His birthday was in September. Will's is in October. So they have one month where they're the same age."
Elizabeth plumped a pillow and rested her head on it. Jane's math skills always amused her. "Well, kinda. It's weird they're such good friends, though. Charles is so goofy and happy-go-lucky and Will is all quiet and broody."
A cheerleader and an emo number-cruncher, she thought. "An ad man and a mad man."
Jane eyed her sister thoughtfully and took a sip of cranberry juice. "Well, I wouldn't call Will mad, Lizzy. He's not angry or crazy. He just has a lot on his plate and he's very serious."
"That's a banker for you. All work and no play--unless it's pricey and maybe illegal."
Jane sighed heavily and leveled a serious look at her sister. "Not every guy on Wall Street is a jerk or a crook, Lizzy." She shifted on the sofa. "He's not only raised Georgie, but he's been dealing with all her PT and recuperation. She was nice, wasn't she?"
Elizabeth nodded and listened to the details of Darcy's worried questioning about his sister's physical therapy.
So he's always with his sister. Maybe that's why he doesn't have a girlfriend. Or is he not so interested in women? She thought hard and tried to recall if her gaydar had been activated at any time around him. Nothing came to mind.
"So," Elizabeth said as Jane's one-sided musings about bones and joints trailed off. "Are you guys going to double-date with him?"
The question hung in the air while Jane processed the change of topic. "I don't know. Charles hasn't mentioned it. But it would be fun, wouldn't it?" She raised her eyebrows and smiled at Elizabeth. "Interested? It's been a long time for you. Ben's been gone a while."
Elizabeth felt a quick flash of annoyance. Ben, the future king of American literature. She hadn't spoken to him, and had barely spoken about him, since they had broken up three months earlier. Six months of fairly good companionship and a shared passion for museums and gritty `70s movies had crumbled when he had told her he was moving to northern California to take over his aunt's vineyard. She was already frustrated by his lackadaisical attitude to finishing his novel and his indifferent approach toward his day job at Lucas Bros. Gallery. Ben hadn't seemed too disappointed with her reaction. He had left two weeks later. A college girlfriend had joined him in Sonoma within a month or so. Two days after Elizabeth had heard that news, she had blocked him on her little-used Facebook page and deleted his number from her cell phone.
Now, a handful of coffee dates and half a dozen dinners later, she still hadn't met anyone who piqued her interest. It seemed to her that the city was full of 30-year-old man-boys waiting tables or working in real estate or the financial sector. In the Village, they all wanted to raze everything she loved in the gritty neighborhood. It was hard to see landmarks like CBGBs disappear. Even though she was too young to have ever set foot in the place, its musical history deserved more than a well-chronicled demolition. The piece of plywood flooring she'd scavenged from a Dumpster and framed for her father held a place of honor in his office at Meryton High School. He thought it gave him a cachet of cool as a guidance counselor, but the dirty old board seemed to confuse most of the students who visited him.
"You know what, Janey? I think I'd rather focus on work for a while. Trying to meet someone never works. I'm sure some dashing man will drop in my lap when I least expect it."
A beer was the only thing likely to drop in her lap the next evening at the Haven Hospital staff party. Sweater Boy. The thought of him dripping in that sweater floated through her mind, and she immediately quashed the thought. Elizabeth looked around at the drunken revelry. Good thing I like these people when they're sober. It was Friday night and the "Havenites" had gathered at the Ramsgate Bar for their holiday party. Or, as the non-PC types called it, "The Santa Rave."
As it did every year, the white-elephant gift exchange spurred raucous laughter. Looks of disgust, horror and hilarity crossed the faces of the Haven staff as the paper was ripped off lobster-shaped oven mitts; a plastic tiara sporting the phrase "Kiss Me! I'm 64!" and playing a tinny rendition of the Beatles tune; a pair of green polka-dotted long-johns; and a complete set of 1996-era Spice Girls perfumes.
Elizabeth felt fortunate to have escaped with a chef's apron emblazoned head-to-toe with Michelangelo's David, in all of his resplendent, naked glory. Now she was sitting alone in a booth, nursing a beer she didn't want and trying to figure out to whom she could re-gift the apron. She pulled out her phone and stared at the contact list looking for ideas.
"Whatcha doin' all by your lonesome over here in the corner, Elizabeth?"
She looked up at Mary King's smiling face. Mary and George Wickham slid into the seats across from her. George had his arm slung over Mary's shoulder and was playing with her candy cane earrings. George was quite tactile, thought Elizabeth. She'd watched them on the dance floor earlier and his hands rarely left Mary's hips or back. Or he was possessive. Or maybe the sex was just that hot.
"Hey guys," she said. "Having fun?" Holiday cheer was always a bit easier to come by when she had ingested two beers. She tucked away her phone in her purse.
Mary laughed and reached across the table to where the apron lay folded. She rang a finger along the fabric and leveled a serious look at Elizabeth. "This is hilarious. And you still have time to wear it for your holiday baking."
George guffawed. "Might be fun for your boyfriend to try on…."
"Sssssh!" cried a shrill voice. "Lizbeth doesn't have a boyfriend. Dumped, de-de-dumped-dumped!"
Lydia Morrissey set down a tray of festive red and green Jello vodka shots. She slid into the booth next to Elizabeth, bumping her almost to the wall. "Help yourself, guys!"
It took a deep breath and slow count to five before Elizabeth opened her eyes. Lydia. That girl had no place working in a hospital housing sick people, pharmaceuticals and highly detailed, highly confidential paperwork. But Lydia, through the grace of an online medical assistant degree and an uncle on the hospital board, had solidified her position as the sixth-floor's quickest transcriber and fastest talker. As Elizabeth saw the glances exchanged between Lydia and George, she had the uncomfortable feeling they spent a lot of time talking at work. Or more.
George leaned closer and grabbed two shot glasses. "So that Darcy thing in the papers was really just a coincidence? You don't really know him?"
Mary squeezed his hand. "Yes she does! Her sister is dating his best friend." She bent her head back and swallowed the shot George held over her mouth.
"Ah…so double-dating is not unlikely," George said, giving Elizabeth a slow, lazy smile. He stuck out his tongue and licked his shot out of the plastic cup. Lydia's eyes bulged. Elizabeth's stomach turned. She glanced at her watch and nudged her hip against Lydia's.
"Hey, scoot over, Lydia. It's time for me to go."
"Oh come on, Elizabeth. The party is just getting started!" Mary cried.
Elizabeth stifled her first response and smiled. "I know. But I have to shop, pack and wrap tomorrow. We leave Sunday morning."
"But I haven't gotten a dance with you," George whined.
Lydia jumped up. "Dance with me, George!"
The two headed off.
Mary spoke up. "Wait, Elizabeth, before you go?"
Elizabeth sat back down and waited. Mary looked quite serious, or as serious as one can be after three hours of drinking and dancing.
"I wanted to talk to you, Elizabeth," she said solemnly. "Be careful with that Darcy guy. He's a player. George told me all about the stuff the papers have covered up for him."
Her heart thudded. Elizabeth leaned forward and asked quietly, "What kind of stuff? All I know is his girlfriend cheated on him and took some cheap shots at his um, bedroom technique."
Mary was shaking her head back and forth. "Oh no. She's just the only one who ever talked to the press. Everybody else has been paid off. He's really rich, you know? And hot. There's been a lot of women." She nodded. "A lot."
Elizabeth waved her hands at Mary. "What? What do you mean paid off? For what?"
"Oh sweetie. He can't get it up, he likes weird stuff. I don't know all the details." Mary shrugged her shoulder and reached for another Jello shot. "George told me he's a creep. Their families go way back, and he knows a couple of the women."
It was all Elizabeth could do to say goodbye politely and weave her way through the crowded bar and out the door to hail a cab.
She tossed and turned most of the night and woke up Saturday morning feeling ill-humored and overwhelmed by the last few items on her holiday to-do list.
By early afternoon, she was at her last stop. She walked into Patagonia and crashed straight into a wiry man carrying a pair of snowshoes.
Mystery man? Almost, but not really a cliffhanger. (And just so you know, Elizabeth was watching "Cool Hand Luke," a classic 1967 film
Posted on 2012-12-17
"Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine."
Elizabeth looked around her parents' living room. Though seemingly half-asleep, her father was mouthing the dialogue mumbled by a drunken Humphrey Bogart. She'd seen "Casablanca" so many times, and her stomach was so full of green-bean casserole, leftover roast beef, and banana cream pie that she could barely move, let alone focus on the screen. No matter how much walking or cross-country skiing she had managed to fit in, three days at home had left her feeling like a mindless blob.
She had the same feeling as Bogart. How, in a city as big and populated as New York, had she managed to crash into somebody who worked at Darcy's bank?
According to the business card he handed her, the man behind the snowshoes was Robert Fitzwilliam, Senior Investment Analyst, Pemberley Funds. He had expressed bemused shock over her tumble at Patagonia and made a fuss over her spilled Barnes & Noble bag. Unfortunately, Mr. Nosy Pants also had chuckled at the titles he picked up from the floor.
"Manga? A graphic novel?"
He had said nothing, but had raised his eyebrows when he glimpsed the words "Fifty Shades"… and "Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood" on the other scattered books. "Oh my."
She had raised one eyebrow and stared at him. "My aunt and my mother."
Slightly abashed but still grinning, he had taken a step toward the counter, and bought Elizabeth an earth-friendly canvas Patagonia shopping bag for her book purchases. He'd wanted to buy her a drink too, but he had gracefully accepted her demurrals and pressed his card in her hand. "Call me. Or text. Whenever you're back, but soon."
Not a chance. He was cute, but in a taut, almost military way. And he was way too forward in his flirtiness. He reminded her a bit of Charles, with less charm though with the same breezy banter. Sure didn't seem like a typical buttoned-down banker. Maybe he loosened up around the holidays. He was way too cheery for her, but she thought she might hold onto his card in case anything happened to Jane and Charles. He might be a good rebound guy for her sister. Not that there seemed like there was any danger of needing it.
"I wish Charles was here. He loves this movie," Jane sighed.
Elizabeth glanced at her sister, so beloved yet so annoyingly schizophrenic over the long holiday. If she wasn't mooning over missing her boyfriend, she was manic when he called. Quite often, she was taking full advantage of the chance to cook in a large kitchen with more than four feet of counter space, and buzzed about overseeing cookie- and gravy-making.
Katie had abdicated all meat-related responsibilities since announcing after Thanksgiving dinner that she had become a vegetarian. Or maybe a vegan. Now, a month later, she still hadn't worked it out. So Elizabeth had made her peel extra potatoes and carrots, and throw in another sheet of crescent rolls; if her youngest sister wasn't going to eat roast beef, she would have to supplement with vegetables and starches.
"Mary Kay Bennet, you will be the death of me!" Mrs. Bennet's voice cut through the darkened, sleepy living room. "Thomas, remind your daughter that a mud room is for snow and ice and everything else she drags in on those hideous hiking boots."
Elizabeth watched her muscular, GoreTex-clad sister stride in the room. Mary didn't take anything from anyone and kept her visits home from grad school to a minimum. "Hey mom, it's a screen porch, not a mud room. And it's filled with so much of Katie's petting zoo that the slush I drag in really shouldn't be an issue."
"Leave your sister out of this, she's doing God's work," her mother retorted.
Says the twice-a-year churchgoer, Elizabeth mused, biting back a snort.
The room fell silent when Tom Bennet hit the pause button. "I believe you are referring to the work of Saint Francis of Assisi, my dear. Now," he continued, leveling an even stare at his wife, "how about we see if we can get through this classic tale of an alien invasion and how it thwarts true love's arrow, shall we?"
"Dad, we're watching 'Casablanca,'" Jane mumbled.
He clicked the play button, prompting his wife to stalk off. "Katharine Ross Bennet! There is dog poop on the porch floor! Get the scooper!"
The next two days proceeded at the usual pace. Mrs. Bennet was happy her eldest daughter was home and carrying with her the blush of love. She had but one worry. "Jane, you won't hyphenate, will you? It's just such a mouthful and you have such a beautiful name."
The four Bennet girls all had looked at one another and rolled their eyes. Jane Seymour Bennet-Bingley sounds awfully cool to me, Elizabeth thought.
"Lizzy, you have to come!" Jane stood in the bedroom, her arms crossed and her voice that potent combination of whining, cajoling and seriousness that usually won an argument. She was not about to let her little sister off the hook on New Year's Eve.
Elizabeth, sitting in the middle of the bed, necklaces and bracelets strewn about her, kept her head bent. "Janey, I promised to work the hotline. You know how tough the holidays are for people, and New Year's Eve is the worst."
Silence. And then Elizabeth heard it, the soft but insistent tapping of her sister's slipper-clad foot. She looked up.
"Lizzy, you'll say the exact same thing on Valentine's Day. And Mother's Day," Jane chided. "I know you want to help, but you don't need to be there all night.
"Come for a few hours, then go help."
Elizabeth's eyes swept over her sister, resplendent in a sparkly, deep green dress. She held out her hand. "Here, wear the onyx earrings and necklace. A bit of drama."
"You are my drama, Elizabeth Bennet. Now get off that bed and get dressed. I know for a fact that you signed up for the 11 till 3 a.m. shift." Jane took the jewelry and turned to the mirror. "I do read the kitchen calendar, you know. Now go pull out that silvery dress. I'll find you some jewelry."
Sigh. At least she didn't start in on…
"You'll never meet anyone if you burrow away in your office all the time. All your patients did fine while we were gone."
Unlike your Mr. Elliot…. Jane had had a slew of voicemails from her thrice-weekly patient while they had been in Meryton, disgruntled by her absence and the imposition of a fill-in physical therapist.
As it turned out, sprucing herself up to rub elbows with a bunch of equally stylish New Yorkers was a pretty good idea. Elizabeth was finding amusement everywhere she looked in Charles' loft, which was as fabulous and whimsical as the man himself. The walls were covered with vintage movie posters and old commercial advertising art. Tin toys perched on tables below sparkly festive lights. The furniture was leather and chrome. The food was plentiful, the drinks were flowing, and although Elizabeth limited herself to only one cup of Charles' bubbly festive punch, she was having a good time without the need for bottled spirits. So much the better to see how the other half lives, she thought. And they live pretty well.
She found herself in conversation with a couple of good-looking men, but Paul, the sports agent, exuded an overload of smarminess, and Mark, the account executive, talked a little too fast and made pop culture references she didn't recognize. Seriously, `80s sitcom lunchboxes? I wish Charlotte was here to do running commentary. Elizabeth had declined an invitation to the celebration her best friend was planning with Willa and a big crowd in Tribeca, citing the traffic logistics of getting to the hotline center in Columbus Circle. Partying at Charles' Upper West Side loft wouldn't require traversing the nightmare that was Times Square on New Year's Eve.
Now, the last of her foamy drink still in hand and free of chatty men and fetching women in tiny dresses, she was studying the titles of Charles' vast DVD collection. The slim bookcases were nearly full.
"You know," said a quiet, deep voice behind her. "they're obsolete. Charles has Hulu, Netflix and Apple TV. I bet he'd give you a good deal if you want to buy any titles."
Elizabeth whirled to her left, spilling a bit of her punch. Sweater Boy wears sweater vests too? Seriously?
"Hello," she said in response to his unusual greeting. A small smile emerged and erased Darcy's standard brooding mien.
"What makes you think I still have a DVD player?" Elizabeth asked.
William Darcy stood before her, his mouth moving but no words coming out. He held a drink in one hand while the other was performing some kind of torturous origami on a napkin.
"Are we playing charades? I'll go with `Finding Nemo,'" Elizabeth said.
Darcy glanced at the wall of DVDs and then back to her. He smiled sheepishly. "Georgie's right. I'd never make it at stand-up."
Elizabeth eyed him, her eyes drawn to a wet spot on his vest. Crap! Is that foam? My drink! I splashed his freaking sweater.
"Well, if you want, Jane could probably check to see if you have a functioning funny bone." OK, walk away. He'll never know I did it.
His smile grew wider. "Ah, right. Did she discover her talents in physical therapy through her success in playing Operation?"
"Maybe. Did you figure out your talents in banking by playing Connect Four?"
The sheepish smile returned. "Sure, if banking was just stacking money in even rows." His eyes grew serious. "But there's a lot more involved."
"Ah, big and important stuff?" Insufferable man.
Darcy nodded solemnly. "Stuff."
"Ah, now that's a serious banker word." Shut up and clean his sweater.
Nodding quickly, Elizabeth set down her glass, reached out and pulled the napkin out of his hand. She unfolded it and began dabbing the foam off the vest. Geez, how big is his sweater budget? I bet Caroline would have licked it off. She avoided looking at him as she made her apologies.
"Elizabeth, it's okay. It's just a little bit. I hadn't noticed."
She looked up at him. "It's cashmere. But I think I can save it." She felt like an idiot and took a step back.
"So, Charles has a great place here. It's really different from yours. Young and fun." She cringed. Make that a really big idiot. Now I insult him?
Darcy nodded and swept his eyes around the big, open space. "True. It's very him, a perfect bachelor pad. I like hanging out here."
He turned back to gaze at her. He has the darkest brown eyes I've ever seen. They're almost black. Elizabeth leaned her shoulder against the bookcase. "Well, your place is spectacular. And you have books," she added, gesturing at the DVDs. "And those never go out of style."
"Or become obsolete," he replied.
They spent the next few minutes discussing the New York Times' annual best books list. She expressed surprised to learn how many books he had read in the past year.
"Not so much the last month or two," Darcy replied. He reached into his jacket pocket, pulled out a pen and began clicking the end as he spoke. Click. "But when Georgie…when she was in the hospital last spring and then came home and couldn't go out easily, we both read a lot. Caught up on movies." Click.
"She couldn't go back to school?"
He shook his head. Click. "She had a home tutor. Her school is very much a vertical New York building. Staircases and rather small elevators that don't reach every floor." Click.
"Not then." Click. "There are now."
Elizabeth was on the verge of either grabbing away the stupid pen or asking for the details of that enigmatic answer when she felt her phone buzzing.
"Excuse me a second." She pulled out her phone and looked at the screen.
"Can you get here ASAP? One of the volunteers showed up drunk and another one is late."
She texted back a confirmation and looked up. "Sorry. I have to go."
He looked confused, maybe a little disappointed. "Another party to go to?"
After a moment's hesitation, she nodded. "Yeah, something like that. I have to go change and find a cab to Columbus Circle." She began to walk past him. "Jane put my bag in Charles' bedroom. Do you know where it is?"
He led her down a short hallway to a gray and black bedroom. She combed through the coats on the bed and found her bag and jacket. Her eyes alit on the brightest thing in the room. "Charles has a Rietveld chair?"
She looked at him closely. "Did you make that one too?"
Darcy nodded. Was he blushing?
"He wouldn't stop talking about mine, so he came out to my workshop and we made this one together. Georgie painted it." His eyes were boring through her. "We finished it just before Christmas."
"You have a workshop in your apartment? I know it's big, but…."
"Er, no. At my, at our house."
Which is somewhere else, some sprawling estate. Okaaay.
Much to her relief, the bathroom door opened and a sloppily drunken man wandered out. "Darcy! Talk to me, man! The Fed has gone bonkers. What the hell is going on with interest rates?"
Elizabeth slipped into the bathroom, relieved to escape her visit to Money World. She and her sisters had never gone hungry or wanted for anything they needed, but they never had everything they desired, either. No $39 Barbie cars for their dolls, or $400 Barbie jeeps for them. No Sweet 16 parties or new cars. But they were comfortable. It was when they had left the family home that financial reality has kicked in and tuition payments and student loans and work-study programs had become the hub of their educational wheel. Investment banking had made sense then; she was good at math and making money as a byproduct of her skill with numbers had seemed like a great idea. She had earned herself a scholarship or two and had risen quickly to the top of her class, earning the esteem of her professors and the eye of Wall Street recruiters. Tonight, that constant refrain kicked in again. What was I thinking?
She heard the men's voices fade away and some high-pitched chatter begin.
"Caroline, who was that woman with William?"
Elizabeth froze. She pulled her turtleneck down over her head and thrust her arms through the sleeves. And she waited.
"Oh my god, you saw her?" Though she'd spent only one other evening with Caroline, those affected nasally tones were unmistakable.
"She's just some tattooed hospice worker stalking him."
You bloody cow!
There was a gasp, then a giggle from the unknown partygoer. "That man just can't get a break, can he?"
Enraged, Elizabeth sucked in a deep breath. She buttoned her jeans, shoved her feet into her Uggs, and picked up her bag.
The doorknob rattled. "Hurry up in there! We have an emergency!"
Elizabeth yanked the door open and glared at a garishly clad Caroline and her friend. Aquamarine and liquid gold spandex?
"Really, Caroline? An emergency? I don't think this `hospice worker' can help you with that fashion disaster." She stalked past the shocked women and turned around. "By the way, Caro, I'm so glad your brother and my sister are dating."
Slamming the bedroom door behind her, Elizabeth turned and bumped into a startled Will Darcy. "Did you hear that?" she demanded.
He nodded, grimacing. "She--, Caroline has never been good at--."
"Sharing? Competing? Running with scissors?" She paused and took a breath. "Sorry, I have to go."
"Wait. My car is here, I'll take you."
"Really? But it's only 10. On New Year's Eve."
"Trust me, I've had enough." He looked at her and saw the hesitation in her eyes. "You'll never get a cab. Everybody is heading to Times Square."
She started to protest. Being in a car with him on New Year's Eve was a bad idea.
"All right." Wrinkling her forehead, she gazed up at him. "But, if we're seen…Are you worried about gossip? Or paparazzi?"
His eyes flashed and then narrowed. He put his hand on her arm. "No one here is going to talk. I'll leave now. You say your goodbyes. I'll be in the blue Mercedes at the front entrance."
Twenty minutes later she walked through the front doors at the Columbus Circle Samaritan Center. Of course. Of course, his car has a driver who drives it. So we can sit in the back seat and look out the windows and say nothing. Well, he did check to make sure I had a ride home later.
She couldn't figure him out. He's hot and cold. I hear he's a cold fish, then I hear he's hot and creepy.
She sighed and punched the elevator button.
I need to talk to Jane. And Charlotte.
As she walked into the solemn but busy call room, she glanced at the clock. Ten-thirty. She hadn't asked if he was heading home or somewhere else. Not all of us get a kiss at midnight. But with him, you never know.
William Darcy was too methodical to lose things. Every board game in his apartment had all its parts, every sock was paired with its mate, every book was on the shelf in alphabetical order by author's last name. Not everyone was so careful. He looked at the red leather pump on the coffee table. He'd found it on the floormat of his car when he got home an hour earlier. Three-inch heels. How do women walk in those things?
Sinking back into the leather sofa, Will leaned his head back and rested a glass of scotch on his knee. His mind drifted back over the past few hours. How did he get to this point? A week of holiday activities with their small family, including a very long three days with his Aunt Catherine, Anne, Robin and the Fitzwilliams in Connecticut, and a 20-minute conversation and a short car ride with Elizabeth Bennet was all he could think about.
Christmas morning had been fun. The "Fifty Shades of Gray" trilogy his Aunt Catherine had received from "Santa" prompted furious embarrassment from the spindly 60-something; after she and the book had both vacated the room, Robin had told the rest of the family that he was inspired to buy it after he had bumped into a hottie who'd bought it "for her aunt." He cocked an eyebrow and leered at Will. "Or so she said…."
They'd gone snowshoeing and sledding. He and Robin played a little hockey on the pond. His uncle beat them all at poker. And the high point of the holiday season, aside from all the laughter he heard from Georgie, was 20 minutes spent talking about books with a woman who made fun of him? No. The high point was talking to a beautiful woman who looked amazing in a silvery black dress and who cleaned off his sweater. What was it with her and his sweaters? He smiled. Cashmere Girl.
Kashmir. He leaned over and picked up the remote control for his iPod speakers. The heavy strains of Led Zeppelin soon pulsed through the room. I need to take her the shoe. When was she getting off duty? She had said she didn't need a ride. Seemed like she had someone picking her up.
Darcy rubbed his eyes and yawned. He had been glad to find out she wasn't heading to another New Year's Eve party. Ruefully, he realized he was caring a little more about the welfare of Charles' girlfriend's sister than he should be. She thought he had a stupid job, and probably thought he was a stuffed shirt, but she wasn't hostile to him anymore. Not like that first night. Or the second. Hmmm, they didn't play well together in restaurants, but they seemed okay other places. If a couple of nice smiles counted. He'd wanted to hold her wrist tonight and look closely at her tattoo; it wasn't like one he'd ever seen before. It was delicate, almost beautiful. When their friend said they all had the tattoo, but some of them had more, did she mean Elizabeth? Or Jane? He could ask Charles. No, bad idea.
It felt liberating to crank up music and enjoy the solitude. Georgie was with Anne and some friends at the DeBourgh's Palm Beach spread. It was the first real trip she'd taken since the accident, and from her earlier call, the plane ride had gone just fine. By April, she'd be ready for the eight-hour flight to Hawaii, and maybe even the surfing lessons Robin had promised. A spring break trip would be a great way to celebrate the arrival of all those anticipated college acceptance letters and mull her decision. Georgie hadn't applied for early decision at her dream schools; she wanted to include her fall transcripts now that she was back in school full-time. He didn't even know the names of her dream schools. "Outside of the city," was her cryptic description of those mysterious institutions.
Women are so secretive. Darcy looked at Elizabeth's shoe. Her feet are so small. I have to get it to her. He closed his eyes and slipped into sleep.
When he woke in the wee hours, the shoe was on the floor. Blearily, he looked at his watch. Three a.m. He got up and stumbled down the hall to his bedroom.
New Year's Day dawned brightly. Darcy woke up late, at 9. Coffee sounded really good, so he readied the machine and checked his phone for messages. He'd half expected one from Elizabeth about her shoe, until he realized they had never exchanged numbers. There was one from Charles, hollering Happy New Year and expressing regret Darcy had left early. "Lizzy left too? Were you with her? Me and Jane are going skating today! I love her, Darce…"
He rolled his eyes. He started to text Charles to get Elizabeth's number, but decided to leave his message to a terse, "Have fun, call if you can." Charles was notorious for misplacing things, and from previous experience, Will knew Caroline might be checking his calls and messages.
After coffee and a granola bar, he got ready for a run around the Central Park reservoir. The crisp air pushed thoughts of the previous night out of his head and kept his mind focused on the path ahead.
A couple of hours later, Robin arrived with six-packs of Grolsch and Stella Artois beer and a hearty appetite for whatever dishes Mrs. Reynolds had prepared for the two men.
Robin filled him in on his morning conversation with Georgie. "I woke them up! Can you believe it? Those giddy girls were still in bed at 11 a.m.!"
Images of Georgie's best angry face cross his mind, and Darcy shook his head in mild admonishment. His cousin, two inches shorter and never holding still, looked past him at the kitchen table. "That doesn't look like food. Are you working?"
Darcy quickly strode over to the table and folded up his paperwork. He was relieved he'd put Elizabeth's shoe in his briefcase, where it was safe from his cousin's radar.
"Blueprints? Another chair? Some mystery gift for Georgie?"
Darcy smiled. "Something like that."
"Strangest hobby. You need to find something else to do with your hands." Robin rolled his eyes and pulled open the refrigerator doors. "So what do we have here? White chicken chili…beef tamale casserole…pulled pork…? Wow. Get that in the crockpot." He pulled out the plastic container and whirled around. "You do have a crockpot, right?"
As the food simmered, they watched the first football game of the day and Robin chattered on about his upcoming climbing trip to Malta. Will's mindset was more work-focused. Other than Christmas day itself, over the holiday week, he'd spent at least two or three hours a day on the phone to Zurich and London, looking over due diligence files on pending mergers deals, and comparing profit and loss statements. A couple of the proposed deals concerned him.
"I want to talk to you tomorrow about Delteon," he told Robin. "I have some questions and some numbers I need to clarify. How many copper mines can one battery conglomerate buy?"
Robin launched into an arcane and detailed explanation of the deal, which ended only when Darcy raised his hand and begged for a reprieve until they could meet in the office in the next day.
It wasn't until both men were on a second plate of food and a second (or third) beer that Robin asked his low-key cousin about his New Year's Eve. "I heard from Georgie that you were home early. What's up?"
Will told him about the evening, which led to more questions and gradually--and not quite unwillingly--he related the entire tale of Elizabeth Bennet and how he had met her.
"This is the girl, the one that the papers caught you with in November?"
"You like this girl. Buy her dinner. Take her home. Let off some steam."
A coughing fit halted Darcy's response.
"Take a drink, Darce. And don't get all bent of shape. It's been a long time for you."
There are five tines on a fork, Will noticed. When did someone decide five instead of six? Did they test for stabbing strength or mouth-fit?
"Earth to Darcy."
He looked up and stared at the TV screen. God, I hate the Cowboys. C'mon Jets.
"It's not like that," he replied. "She's Charles girlfriend's sister and it's pretty complicated." Darcy looked back down at his fork.
"But you like her. She might like you." Robin lowered his voice, speaking in a serious tone. "Will, does she know about you? About that, that woman? All the crap that was published?"
His eyes closed. He didn't want to think about this, let alone talk about it. "Um, some of it, probably. I don't know." Like that's a conversation I'm likely to start.
"Well, she doesn't sound like the kind of woman to read tabloids or watch TMZ or that crap. But after that picture of the two of you on Page Six of the Post? You might want to talk to her about it."
I know I need to talk to her. Stifling a rueful chuckle, Will commented, "Good to know that it only takes three beers for my allergic-to-commitment cousin to turn into a therapist.
"And just so you know, I apologized for being a jerk at that dinner," he added.
Strangely intuitive to his cousin's discomfort, Robin pulled another beer out of the ice bucket, popped the top and handed it to his cousin. "Hey, thanks to Bingley and her sister, you're already spending time together…. Something will happen." He grabbed another beer for himself. "And if she knows about the crap you went through, she'll feel sympathetic. You might get lucky."
The roar from the TV drew their attention. "Dammit, seriously? Another interception?" Robin yelled. "I hate the Cowboys."
"God, Robin. How pathetic do you think I am?"
"Chill out, Darce. Think about it." Robin pointed his bottle at Will. "Your life is straight out of Dickens. Rich orphan raising his sister, building his own furniture, failing at relationships and getting screwed over by his girlfriend, and denigrated in the press."
Robin paused and smiled impishly at his stunned cousin. "Yup, sounds like perfect fodder for a social worker to fix up into the perfect boyfriend."
God, I am that pathetic.
"Don't worry, Darce." Robin tapped his half-empty bottle against his cousin's nearly full one. "I have great expectations for you."
After Jane's return home--again with sore ankles--from ice skating with Charles at Rockefeller Center, the sisters snuggled on the couch. A veritable feast of finger foods sat before them, the plates slowly emptying over the hours as they clicked away the first day of the year. It was "marathon day" on every channel.
Elizabeth successfully fought off Jane's insistence on watching a third episode of "Sex in the City," but had to cede to her pleading and sit through a Tori Spelling movie on Lifetime.
When it ended--and Elizabeth was a bit embarrassed to admit that some trash was fun--she got up to clear a few plates and use the bathroom. "Jane, don't touch that remote! It's my pick! I'll be right back!"
"I'm just playing while you're gone, Lizzy."
When she emerged from the bathroom, she heard a familiar announcer's voice. "Next on our countdown of New York's Top Sex Scandals of the year, it's Number 7: Socialite Cheats on Hot Banker and Tells All!" By the time Elizabeth walked into the living room. Jane had turned down the volume and was watching the story unfold, a look of horrified disgust on her face. Elizabeth quietly walked over and sat down next to her. "…and he was just a big stiff. Always on his computer, probably watching porn because he never wanted the real thing."
Elizabeth grabbed the remote and clicked off the television. She didn't move, just bit her lip and stared at the black screen.
Jane sank into the sofa, a trembling sigh emerging before she blurted out, "Vultures."
Elizabeth's head spun around. "Jane?"
"His girlfriend cheats on him and then she goes out and spreads these lies and everybody talks about him and laughs about it."
Jane turned to face Elizabeth. She looked like she might cry. "Do you know why PTs and doctors and dentists and hairdressers put out all those gossip rags and tabloids? Because people relate to that crap about movie stars and reality bozos. We can make small talk about it."
All Elizabeth could picture was Darcy smiling at his sister, or insisting he'd drive her to the call center, or staring at her while she climbed out of his car.
"Your patients talk about him?"
Jane, the strawberry-blonde vision of all that sweet and light, gave Elizabeth a piercing look. "Of course. He's Mr. Wall Street. All the better to tear down the one-percenters and make fun of them."
Elizabeth blanched. "The rich aren't like you and me," she whispered.Continued In Next Section