Posted on 2013-02-20
"My god, Darce. I had no idea."
Charles gazed around Darcy's study. "Why didn't you ever say anything?"
Will leaned back in his chair and gazed at the man in front of him. Charles' blue eyes were wide with wonder, his dark blond hair askew from the hand that kept worrying it.
"Charles, I didn't even know about it myself until a few weeks ago. You know that I was never completely happy at Pemberley. And I finally had the time to figure out what I wanted."
"But you're not an architect."
"No. I'm a businessman who likes architecture." I am my mother's son too. "I'm hiring people."
Charles walked over to the window and looked out over the city. "You walked away from that," he said, gesturing carelessly towards downtown. "So you can be an entrepreneur? This isn't like you. Aren't you terrified?"
Darcy grimaced and looked down at his desk. Odd, he thought. The varnish had worn off the edge. He'd have to get it refinished.
"Not really. There are a lot of truly terrifying things in this world, Bingley. A lot of things, but not this…."
A pair of green eyes flashed in his mind and he felt that familiar thrum in his chest. Being in love was not scarier than getting that call from the school when Georgie had fallen. It was not more frightening nor more desolating than standing at his mother's funeral when he was 12. Or trying to figure out how to fill whatever role --brother, mother, father--his little sister needed while he prepared for his first board meeting.
But being in love brought back that same sense of helplessness. God, he just wanted to see Elizabeth again, and talk again. And maybe move to Step Two. He sighed and shook his head, bringing himself back to the moment.
"Like what, Darce?" Charles was staring at him with a puzzled look on his face.
"It was more terrifying to stay put and do a job because I thought I was supposed to," Will said softly. "My father always said he did what he loved and he loved what he did. But he didn't encourage me to follow his advice." He just said to follow him, he thought.
Charles leaned back against the bookcase. "So you're making this all up yourself?"
Will nodded. "Well, an MBA comes in handy for some things. But I've got some good advisors, and I've talked to some of my mother's old colleagues."
Charles gave him a toothy smile. "Well, look at you, Mr. Job Creator. How many people are you going to put to work?"
"Two so far. We'll see." He looked at his best friend. Charles looked as though he was about to burst. Suddenly Will realized that talking about the rebirth of WDIV wasn't the real reason Charles was here. He'd spent enough years helping the younger man sort through calculus, constitutional history and confusing girlfriends to know when Charles was killing time to avoid the real topic. He took a deep breath. This will change everything.
"So," he said. "Have you asked her yet?"
As she finished her run at Battery Park, Elizabeth felt lighter. She was unburdened from her professional worries of the past few months--her job was secure, Haven's future was guaranteed, and an expansion was actually in the planning stages.
The story behind it all was still a bit of a mystery. The Times had given the facts, sparingly, and her colleagues had provided the gossip. Everyone knew the mayor was a billionaire, so maybe he'd bought it? Not according to the Times, which reported that the hospital, long-starved of the city's attention, had found an anonymous savior.
The owner of the building behind Haven, on 76th, had sold it to the city for $1 under a guarantee of its conversion into an in-patient facility, and donated $25 million toward Haven's modernization and expansion.
It was a miracle. None of it made sense to her. She supposed such anonymous bequests were made all the time; there was plenty of art on display at museums signed over by generous benefactors. But this was such a huge gift. If nothing else, she'd like to write a thank-you note to him or her. Whoever had done such a thing had obviously been deeply touched by a loss or health crisis and had the money to give something back. She pictured a sweet old lady like Brooke Astor, who'd made philanthropy her career after suffering terrible personal losses.
Elizabeth hoped the press, which put so much effort into digging through the private lives of famous people, would dig into this story. Even Phil didn't know what had happened.
Now, in mid-April, it seemed that spring had arrived, and Elizabeth welcomed the freedom to run and breathe in the sweet smell of thawing earth. She was running every day, pushing a few more blocks into a few more miles. She'd signed up for a 10K in June. In fact, she thought she might aim for the city marathon in November. She was going to be 27 soon, and she had a list of things to do before she hit 30.
One tattoo, two careers, three degrees, four boyfriends, five passport stamps, six 5Ks...
She didn't want any more tattoos or another career and she certainly didn't need another loan for another degree. But she wouldn't mind checking off a few more items on her list. Unfortunately, her older sister wanted to help in one area.
Jane, sure that nothing in the world could rival the joys of being in love, had started prodding Elizabeth to join her and Charles on double dates. Charles had such great friends, Jane would say, such as Leo and Teddy, Tim and Frank. Surely, Jane would ask, you want to meet this wonderful and handsome ad exec/graphic designer/lawyer/trust-fund poet?
Surely, Elizabeth would answer, I do not.
After the fifth demurral, Jane had shaken her head. "Well, how about Mike Hurst? You got on well with him at the `Baby Broadcast Blowout.'"
Elizabeth had forced herself to smile at the moniker Charles had coined for the Hursts' party.
"Janey, please stop. I don't do fix-ups. Get yourself hitched and I'll dance on command with every handsome man there, okay?"
Especially the best man, she'd thought.
Jane had given a dramatic sigh. "You're so boring! Charles can't get Will to go out either. All he does is work."
For the first time in weeks, Jane had had her sister's full attention. "Will Darcy? I thought he'd left the bank," Elizabeth had asked.
"He did. His name is still on it but he's working on his own, investing and designing things." Jane had thought for a second. "Maybe he's building more of those chairs."
Elizabeth had nodded.
The only mention she'd seen of Will in the past few weeks had been a Sunday Styles' photo of him at a Guggenheim benefit, standing with a beautiful Italian woman. She'd seen him at City Hall, exchanged a few polite, even sweet words. And only a few days later, he'd been photographed with "la signorina."
It was a bitter pill, Elizabeth thought as she neared her building. She hated how that picture made her feel. It fueled the ache of how differently they truly were, despite the moments and thoughts they'd had in common. He was William Henry Darcy IV, tall and handsome in a tux, and surrounded by the rich and beautiful. And she was Elizabeth Taylor Bennet, wearing three-year-old Lululemon yoga pants and a sweatshirt, panting from another run.
She hated how often she thought of him and wondered if he thought of her. More often, she wondered what he thought of her. Elizabeth knew it was pointless to bother meeting any of the men Jane suggested; she knew they'd fall short of him, a man she'd never really known. It was a little late, but she acknowledged the truth.
I love him.
Elizabeth pulled off her shoes in the hallway and unlocked her front door. She was going to paint that living room wall. She'd wanted to paint it red ever since she'd seen the Darcys' dining room. And she had a feeling she might be looking for a new roommate this year; all signs pointed toward a happily ever after for Jane and Charles. She knew that one of these days, Jane would come home crying happy tears and wearing a gorgeous rock on her left hand. She'd suspected Charles would center his proposal around ice skating, but the ice at Rockefeller Center and Wollman Rink had started thawing a week ago. They'd both be closed by mid-month.
C'mon Charles. Propose already. Elizabeth was aghast at her own thoughts. When had she turned into her mother, desperate for Jane's betrothal? Was it her sister's unbearable lightness of being, her happiness, her joy? Was it her own impatience? Or was it just that Woody Allen had cemented her view on relationships when he compared them to sharks? They have to keep moving forward or they die. Or for some people, she realized sadly, they die before they go anywhere.
Two days later, Jane burst through the door, Charles on her heels, squealing and laughing. The ring was beautiful, the engaged couple exuberant, the long-hidden bottle of champagne exhumed and consumed.
And this is how it's done, Elizabeth sighed as she snapped a picture of the lovebirds.
"Thanks, Lizzy! Take one with my phone for the Evite. We're having everyone over next week to celebrate!" Charles cried. "I can't wait to see your family again."
"It will be so great for Katie to see Georgie again. Did you know they're Facebook friends?"
No. I did not. I'm just a social worker who ignores her own family. And falls in love without even realizing it. Oh, she wanted to see William Darcy and have the chance to make a fresh start.
"Georgie, I don't think you can wear your Yale sweatshirt to the party. Besides, you've barely taken it off since you bought it. It probably could use a trip to the laundry."
Georgie stood in the middle of her bedroom, hands on hips, glaring at her brother. She shook her head sadly.
"Oh ye of little faith. Do you actually think I only own one of these babies? You should check the AmEx bill once in a while."
He gaped at her. Who is this girl?
"Chillax, Will. I only have two hoodies, one noodie, four t-shirts, a scarf and a hat. And," she added, "I'll be in something presentable tonight. Plunging neckline okay with you?"
Will grabbed his sister before she could dash away and held her in a headlock. "You'll give me gray hair before I'm thirty."
Georgie wiggled away from him and turned around for an appraisal. She reached up and ruffled his hair. "Still wavy, still black, still in need of a woman's touch."
They both froze. They talked about many things, but for at least the last year, Will's personal life--or lack thereof--had been off limits. That part of his life was a mystery to Georgie. She pulled his hand and led him over to the loveseat underneath a window.
"Georgie, what are you doing? We have to get ready." Will wasn't sure he wanted to hear what this suddenly serious girl planned to say to him.
"Will, I need you to make me a promise, okay? I'm going to school in September, and you're going to turn thirty right after that. With or without gray hair," she added with a small smile.
"I know the math, Georgie. You're a full-time New Yorker for 140 more days. Then you're officially an Eli in New Haven."
"You counted the days?" she gasped. "Geez, did you put big black Xs on your calendar?!"
Will turned and gave her his full attention. "No," he said, tapping his head. "I'm keeping track up here. I'm counting down through the five stages of grief, you know. It's hard to lose you and your dirty dishes and your hundreds of shoes and your informative women's magazines all at one time."
He noticed that she looked sad. "And Lochte, of course, and all your other little friends."
Will put his arm around her and pulled her close. "Mom and Dad would be proud of you. I hope you know I am."
Georgie smiled. "You're cool with Yale? I mean, you spent a lot of time there with Mom. It won't be weird, will it?"
"No," he said, meaningfully. "It will be perfect." He felt a lump in his throat. "And if you decide that architecture is really what you want to do, you know there's a job for you at an office not too far from here.
"But if you decide on women's studies or biochemistry, just remember that you can't count on the advantages of nepotism," he added. They both laughed, lessening the tension.
"So, baby sister. Your birthday is a couple of days away. Did I miss the giant hints you usually drop on my head?"
Georgie got up and headed to her desk. She carried over the Tiffany's catalog and handed it to her brother. "Page 45. The little bracelet with the heart. It will match Mom's necklace."
Will's eyes met hers as she continued.
"Mom's Tiffany's locket? You gave it to me for my thirteenth birthday. They'd make a matched set."
His eyes misted. He'd forgotten how he combed through his mother's jewelry box that year, Georgie's first birthday without either parent.
"Okay. I should have thought of that." He took a breath and stood up. He glanced at his watch. "We better get dressed."
Georgie didn't move. "Wait, Will. I need you to promise me something. Stop being so good. When I'm gone, please go wild or something. You don't have to be the good big brother if I'm not here."
Will stood still, trying to figure out what to say. He was shocked and embarrassed and sad. She thinks she's in the way?
"Will, you're a perfect role model. But hello? Have you even seen reality TV in the past decade? Hang with Robin and have fun, okay?"
But she wasn't finished. "And one more thing. We have 140 days, right? Let's get a dog." Her eyes were pleading. "Please? It's too quiet here. I worry about you after I leave.
"And a dog is such good company," she added.
"You had this planned for how long?" His head was spinning.
"A month or so. Please, Will? If we get a dog, I won't worry about you living here without me to steal your sweaters and eat your favorite snacks."
Her brother smiled. "I was thinking about that too," he admitted.
Georgie jumped up. "Yay! To the shelter tomorrow!"
Before he could say another word, Georgie started pushing Will out of her bedroom. "I have to get ready. And remember: Dogs are chick magnets."
She laughed and closed the door. Will stood in the hall for nearly a minute, holding the Tiffany's catalog and wondering how he kept letting women get the best of him.
The loft was bubbling over with Bennets and Bingleys, not to mention Charles' hip Madison Avenue chums and Jane's well-toned physical therapist friends. There was mixing and sparking everywhere Elizabeth looked. But there was no best man, no one named Darcy. She bit back her frustration and watched her parents interacting with Charle's widowed mother. Pondering what life would be like with a mother-in-law was one of the many things that had never kept Elizabeth up at night. That was Jane's territory. Would she be pretty, would she be wry, would she be a major-league New Jersey housewife? Que sera, sera….she hummed.
Five minutes of conversation with Marlene Benedetto Bingley had clarified what Jane would be dealing with during wedding planning, not mention years of baby showers, birthday parties, and holidays. Marlene was a force of nature, and she liked to be in charge. Had she encouraged Caroline's pursuit of Will?
Elizabeth glanced around at the revelers. Jane had said Will had offered to host the party, but Marlene had insisted on full control for "her lovely boy."
So. Where was the spurned host? Picking up the Italian chick? Elizabeth sighed and gulped down the last drops of pinot. She heard a voice cry "William!" and she turned around. He's here. She squinted and peered around the chattering group between them. He wasn't alone, Elizabeth noticed, but she knew his date. Georgie. Okay then.
Will felt as though he'd greeted everyone he'd ever met who wasn't a banker. Mrs. Bingley had pounced on him, cupping his face and bemoaning his thin frame, his single status, his need for a wife. Georgie whispered her intent to find Katie Bennet and discuss dogs and college, and had quickly slipped away from the clutches of the Bingley matriarch.
Traitor. Will scanned the room, looking for the one person he couldn't find. He wanted to make sure Elizabeth came without a date, like him. He wanted to talk to her, see how she felt and find out what she knew about what was happening at Haven. His name wasn't connected to the real estate deal, and WDIV wouldn't be announced as the project's architects until he had it staffed up. He already had one principal on board making preliminary drawings.
Then he saw Elizabeth, standing on the fringes of a group with Charles and Jane, Robin, Caroline, and a few people he didn't know.
Will made his way through the throngs. His eyes never left her. She looked amazing, in a black cocktail dress and pink pearls. Her hair was up, off her shoulders. She had beautiful bone structure. Wow. Had she always been so tiny? Had she always smiled like that at him? She's smiling at me.
"Hey Darce, you made it!" Charles cried. "Did you remember your speech?" He looked around, puzzled. "Did you remember your sister?"
Will suddenly realized he was being addressed and shook off his stupor. Everyone in the small group was staring at him. Except for Elizabeth, who seemed very interested in fixing her bracelets. Jane was looking back and forth between the pair, a thoughtful expression on her face.
"Hello, everyone." Will nodded to the group.
He shook Charles' hand, slapped his cousin on the back, and leaned over and gave Jane a kiss on the cheek. He desperately wished he could greet Elizabeth the same way, but her reaction, not to mention Caroline's possible expectations, stayed his hand.
"Are you absolutely sure about this guy, Jane?" he asked. "It isn't too late to throw him over."
The happy couple snuggled closer. Robin was eyeing the situation. "Hey Will, you'd better grab a glass of bubbly. There's much to celebrate. Caroline has news to share as well."
Everyone turned to look at youngest Bingley, who stood stock still.
"What is it?" Elizabeth ventured.
"She's going to be a long-distance bridesmaid!" Charles exclaimed. "My baby sister has been promoted to run Bergdorf's new Midwest office."
"Chicago?" Will glanced at Elizabeth. Her expression was unreadable behind her wine glass.
"No, further east," Caroline sniffed. "I'll be gauging Midwest tastes and sensibilities for the company's online sales."
"From where, exactly?" Elizabeth asked.
"Gary? Toledo? Indianapolis?" Robin began listing every flyover city he could think of. "Cleveland?"
"No, dammit," Caroline snapped. "Cincinnati."
Awkward congratulations commenced.
"Great zoo," Jane said gamely.
"The Bengals suck," Robin proclaimed, sporting a grim expression.
"Try the chili, Caroline," Elizabeth said knowingly.
Will met Elizabeth's eyes and grinned. "Yes. Definitely. I hear they put spaghetti in it."
Elizabeth smiled back at him. All of his nerve endings were tingling.
"Can you imagine?" Caroline hissed. "Artery-clogging crap." She stalked off. An amused Robin glanced at his cousin and then veered in the other direction.
"Great carbs for runners," Elizabeth admonished. "Especially with a side of grilled cheese." She nodded her head and a tendril of hair fell loose.
Will stifled a groan. Oh god. What am I, 16? He shifted on his feet and made sure his jacket was buttoned.
"Darce, did you see these? Jane's idea! Mom loved it." A beaming Charles held up a bowl of silver and gold M&Ms. Each candy was stamped with "Charles & Jane Forever."
Hard as he tried, Will couldn't keep his eyes from drifting over to Elizabeth's. She was staring at the bowl, biting her lip.
"We should go circulate, sweetheart," Charles sighed. "Will, take care of Lizzy, okay? Make her eat something." He put his arm around Jane's waist and they bounced off into the crowd.
"What is it with the Bingleys and their obsession with food?" Elizabeth said, half to herself.
Will's eyes swept over her. "Has Marlene told you you're too skinny?" Argh! Why did I say that?!
"Not that you are!" he hurriedly added. "I mean, you look fantastic. It's just Marlene is always pinching my cheeks," he gestured hurriedly to his face, "and complaining that I don't eat enough." William Darcy, Clumsiest Man Alive. Thank god Robin didn't hear that.
Although she looked as if she was trying not to burst out laughing, Elizabeth nodded. "I take it you approve of my love for carbs in pursuit of the greater good? I'm doing my first 10K next month."
"Really? That's fantastic," he breathed. Step Two. Small talk.
"I would never deny you your love of diner food," Will added. He raised his eyebrows and tilted his head toward Charles' kitchen. "Did you try Marlene's baked ziti?"
Elizabeth laughed. "This whole thing is catered, they have sweets from Magnolia Bakery, and she still brought Charles' favorite foods? I should have known he was a mama's boy."
She looked over at her parents. Her mother was deep in conversation with Marlene; her father was staring at Mary and Robert, huddled in a corner discussing Charles' choice in art.
"At least Jane is well-prepared for a maternal steamroller," she said.
Will followed her gaze to the future mothers-in-law. Unmistakable. Elizabeth has her mother's eyes. "Are those are your parents?"
"Would you mind introducing us?"
"Are you sure?" She looked surprised. "Wait. I'm sorry, of course."
She's adorable when she crinkles her nose.
Before they could move, their sisters descended on them.
"Hi Elizabeth!" Georgie smiled. "Did Will tell you we're getting a dog? He's going to be so lonely after I leave for school, so we're going to the shelter. Tomorrow," she emphasized.
Will raised his eyebrows. When his sister wasn't acting like a wise 30-year-old, she still sounded seven years old. He would miss that. He smiled at Katie, who looked a bit intimidated, so he moved his gaze elsewhere.
"That's fantastic, Georgiana. I'm sure Katie's told you everything you need to know about rescue shelters," Elizabeth replied. "By the way, congratulations on Yale."
"Thanks. My mother went there."
Elizabeth peeked at Will. "I know." He was staring at her, surprised.
"So, have you picked out a name?" Elizabeth asked. "For your dog?"
The two teenagers looked at each other. Georgie shook her head solemnly. "No. I'll know it when I see him. Or her."
She looked down and brushed a crumb off her dress. "Hey Elizabeth, can you come for Game Night next week? Will promised me we'd have people over."
"Please?" Georgie added. "I call dibs on you for my Trivial Pursuit team."
Will's eyes were on Elizabeth as she nodded. She glanced at him and sighed dramatically. "Expectations are so high. Should I study up on famous authors and complicated math formulas?"
"No, please," he said. "Not unless we're on the same team. My ego can't take another hit." He furrowed his brow.
"Oh, I think you knew more numbers in pi than I did," Elizabeth reassured him.
They were still staring at each while the girls drifted off.
"Sorry about your ego," Elizabeth said blushing. "I keep bruising it, don't I?"
Will swallowed. "No. No, it's just--."
"Where's Darcy? Will, come here!" Charles was calling out for his best man and toastmaster.
Elizabeth watched Charlie haul Will away. She sighed. They'd taken baby steps tonight. They'd joked around, they'd established a rapport. Was there anywhere to go past that? Or were Charles and Phil and everyone they knew in some kind of conspiracy to thwart their progress?
She drifted to the kitchen, determined to try the ziti and check out what else Marlene had cooked up. Janey will love living here, she thought, taking in the maple woodwork and burnished copper appliances in the large open space. Why is it that people who can't cook always have the nicest kitchens?
She leaned against the counter and watched the caterers plate up something yummy involving asparagus tips and walnuts. She was finishing a small plate of the truly magnificent ziti when her Aunt Maddie walked in and smiled at her. Elizabeth didn't see her Boston family often enough, and envied Mary for her proximity to her favorite relatives. She'd seen her aunt talking with Will earlier in the evening; he'd handed her a card and they'd shaken hands.
Elizabeth was itchy with curiosity about all things Darcy, but patience was key. Occasionally, she thought, my social worker wisdom asserts itself. She and Maddie talked for a few minutes about the impending nuptials. Her aunt told her that after observing the interaction between the two future mothers-in-law, her uncle had decided to start a betting pool on the size of the wedding party. He was wagering $20 on seven bridesmaids and 500 guests.
Men and their fantasy football weirdness. "I saw you talking with the best man. Was that his bet he handed you?" She hoped she sounded nonchalant.
"Oh, Lizzy, it's the most amazing thing. He asked about my father," Maddie replied. "You wouldn't know, but he was an architect. Mr. Darcy--William--found some paperwork with my father's name on it. Apparently, he'd advised William's mother on a hospital renovation she'd hoped to do about 20 years ago. Can you imagine?"
No. I can't.
"He sent me a letter a few weeks ago. I didn't know he would be here. I'm going through Dad's papers. I promised to get in touch with him if I find anything," Maddie concluded.
"May I see the card?"
She stared at the logo, the block lettering that read WDIV. She noted the address on East 76th. A few doors away from the building behind Haven.
It was him. The mystery man. Oh my god. It's him.
Oh, she couldn't think. His voice was in her ears now, toasting the newly engaged couple.
"And sometimes, fairy tales do come true, even in a sports bar. Charles and Jane met at his brother-in-law's bachelor party. I walked out with a wet sweater, Marty was carried out, and Charles walked out with his future."
The crowd laughed, and Will forged ahead. "He's a romantic, you know. And Jane is, well, his perfect match, his perfect partner in life, in love, on an ice-skating rink or here," he stated, gesturing at the loft. "I read this poem recently, and I think it sums up our happy couple."
"I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.
I love you simply, without problems or pride:
I love you in this way because I do not know any other way of loving but this,
in which there is no I or you, so intimate that your hand upon my chest is my hand,
so intimate that when I fall asleep your eyes close."
A few sighs could be heard.
"To Charles and Jane, to Jane and Charles."
Elizabeth fled to the powder room.
Will had hoped to talk with Elizabeth after his toast. Or at least at some point after the party. But she was always busy, talking with someone else or elbow-deep in dishes she wasn't responsible for or hugging someone he didn't know. And then he had to leave; Georgie was having Katie spend the night, so he had to get them to their hotel to pick up her things and then head home.
He managed to get a moment alone with Elizabeth to tell her goodnight, but she seemed distracted. He didn't know what had upset her, but he figured it had to do with him. It always did, right? Why had he made a joke, publicly, about his wet sweater? Was she insulted? Hurt? He sighed. Did she feel my eyes on her when I read the poem?
He didn't stop thinking about it all the next day. After Katie rejoined her parents, he and Georgie headed over to the 92nd Street ASPCA. There were cute puppies and kittens, sweet dogs and cats. Georgie's heart melted over and over. When she asked if they could get some cats, too, he joked that, in his dotage, he could only handle one adjustment at a time.
A five-year-old shepherd mix with a crooked tail, newly dubbed Brody, went home with them. On Monday, Georgie headed off to school after a dramatic, teary goodbye to her new pet. Brody spent the morning in Will's study. At lunchtime, they walked over to the new WDIV offices. The dog made himself at home, curling up in the front window and surveying the world. Georgie was right. It was nice to have someone around, always interested in whatever he said and did.
Of course, Brody wasn't perfect. He needed a lot of walks. Spring was a good time to get a dog, Will mused. We should have done this years ago.
He was walking out the office's front doors when he heard her voice.
"Cute dog." Elizabeth, in jeans and a black blazer, was walking toward them. She smiled shyly at him. Or the dog. He wasn't sure. "So who is this handsome fellow?"
He chuckled. "Brody. But I'm thinking of nicknaming him Sir Pees-A-Lot."
She nodded and petted the soft tuft atop Brody's head. "You and Georgie picked a sweetie." Elizabeth looked up at Will. "May I join you guys? I was just heading back to work."
Will nodded and smiled cautiously. They started walking toward Haven.
"Katie really likes Georgie. Thanks for having her over."
"She's a nice girl. I hope she'll be happy at Penn," Will replied.
They walked another block in silence. It was a comfortable silence, he thought. Just a guy and a girl walking a dog.
"You and Jane don't have any pets, do you?"
"No. I mean, not here. We always had cats and dogs at home, in Meryton. It was kind of a relief not to worry about any four-footed roommates."
He nodded. "I had a cat a long time ago. My dad hated it clawing at things so we gave it to our housekeeper's son." He hadn't thought of Cleo in years. Another memory to dust off.
They were nearly at Haven's front steps. He glanced at the statues and then at Elizabeth. She was gazing at him, a serious expression on her face.
"So there seems to be a trend," she said. "One banker becomes a social worker. Another banker slash businessman becomes a clean-energy entrepreneur slash municipal benefactor slash architectural overseer."
Will froze. No.
"It's so much money, Will. Why?"
He heard the tremor in her voice. "Because it matters, Elizabeth. The building matters. The people who work here, the patients who come here, matter."
He took a breath. "You matter."
His grip on Brody's leash tightened. "And because I can."
She stared at him.
"And because it's important." To you.
He looked away from her and saw Brody nosing around the dog statue at the base of Haven's front steps.
"You're a good man, Sweater Boy. I wish I'd realized that a few months ago."
His breath caught and he saw her eyes, her beautiful green eyes, shiny with tears, sparkling at him. For him.
"Thank you," she whispered. Stepping closer, her eyes seemed to burn through him.
Will shook his head, his eyes bright and confused. "No, don't thank…"
Elizabeth reached for his hand and threaded her fingers through his. "It seems I owe you a lot. Would you risk having a drink with a girl who owes you for a dry cleaning bill?"
His heart lurched and he tightened his hand around hers. "I'm not averse to risk. I used to be a banker, you know," he stammered.
"Do you think maybe we can try for dinner?" he asked softly, holding her gaze. Step Three.
"I'd like that." Elizabeth smiled at him. "Very much."
He needed to kiss her. Just once. Now.
"Oh my god! He is so cute!"
"Can I pet him?"
"What's his name?!"
Seriously? Was everyone in on this conspiracy to keep them apart? Will sighed and turned to see a group of young women hovering over Brody.
"Sure, he's a bit shy. But very friendly," he said. Elizabeth's hand slipped out of his.
He glanced at Elizabeth, who was biting her lip and holding back a smile.
"What?" he mouthed.
The women huddled around the shepherd. One looked up. "What's his name?"
Will stared at her in recognition. What had happened to Amy Winehouse? This was the girl who'd followed him to Elizabeth's office way back in January. She looked normal.
"Brody," he replied. Please go away. Please leave us alone.
"So cute. And he's a shelter dog, isn't he?"
"Yes, Lydia," Elizabeth replied. She looked at Brody, then at Will. He felt the warmth in her expression.
Two of the girls nodded their approval and stroked Brody's soft, pointy ears.
"Good job, Mr. Darcy," Lydia said, a smirk playing around her lips. "Bye, sweetie," she whispered to Brody.
The group moved away and headed up the stairs.
"Brody is quite the chick magnet, isn't he?" Elizabeth observed.
Will tightened his grip on the leash to keep Brody from following his new friends.
"What? No! I mean, I hadn't noticed. I would never--."
Elizabeth bent down and hugged Brody. "I'm jealous," she said. She glanced up and saw the confusion on Will's face.
"With Jane moving out," she explained, "the apartment is going to be quiet. And expensive. I'll miss her, but at least there won't be any more bowls of candy sitting around. She loves those stupid M&Ms and every time I see them I hate myself."
Tears in her eyes, Elizabeth rose and gazed at him. "I'm so sorry for being stupid. You said I saw you, but I didn't. I was frightened. I wouldn't let myself."
Will shook his head as she vented unjust anger at herself. Memo to self: Get rid of the peanut M&Ms in the office.
He reached for her hand and squeezed it. "Me neither. I was scared too."
She looked at him, eyes wide and glistening.
"And I hid my feelings from myself," he said urgently. "I didn't know how to talk to you, so I didn't. And then I hid from you, that day in the park."
She was looking away from him. "I'm not frightened anymore," she whispered.
Will's eyes widened and he gave her a tremulous smile. "I'm terrified."
"Why were you reading poetry?" she asked.
To woo you. To figure out my feelings. Because it's beautiful.
"It made me think of you." He took a breath and kissed her fingers, one by one.
"So I wait for you like a lonely house
till you will see me again and live in me.
Till then my windows ache."
Letting go of his hand, Elizabeth stepped away from Will and onto Haven's stairs, bringing herself to his eye level. She put one hand on his shoulder, and touched his cheek with the other.
He leaned forward into her arms and pressed his lips to hers.
Posted on 2013-02-26
Their lips were still pressed together, moving in glorious unison and their hands clasping each other close, when it became clear to both Will and Elizabeth that they had an audience. Three teenagers stood at the top of the stairs watching; one boy was looking at an oversized watch on his wrist and counting aloud: "Twenty-three, twenty-four…"
Elizabeth pulled back, blushing. "Ethan, put away that watch. Lucas, Julia, please take your friend up to the group room. I'll be there in a few minutes."
Amid groans and a low whistle from Lucas, the three teenagers trudged through the doors. Elizabeth laid her forehead on Will's shoulder, muttering, "Foiled again," and he could hear muffled laughter.
He put his hand on her cheek and lifted her face. Her lips were swollen, her eyes bright, her cheeks flushed. He'd never seen anything so beautiful in his life.
"Will, I have to go. Impatient teenagers, especially the kind who like to tease me, are dangerous when left alone for too long."
She looked at him shyly. Will had seen her happy and angry, laughing and impatient, irritated and sarcastic. But her bashful blushing was a new expression, one he was fast learning to appreciate. Wait, she was saying something.
"What?" he stammered.
"Were you drifting off?" Now Elizabeth stared at him, amused. "I asked if you were still willing to chance it as my dinner date?"
"I'll be back at what, five o'clock? Six? Whatever time you want."
They set the time and Will allowed Brody to drag him off in search of new things to smell and investigate. He accepted the dog's need to search and explore; as for himself, he'd already found his treasure.
A few hours later, sans Brody and in a clean but familiar sweater, Will was back on Haven's steps, waiting for Elizabeth. He eyed the rabbit sculpture, and marveled at the happy coincidences of time.
After seeing Elizabeth, Will hadn't been able to focus on work. He'd been overwhelmed by the unfamiliar swell of happiness in his chest, so he'd taken Brody for a long walk in the park. Then he'd headed home, where he'd found himself wandering around, straightening books, stacking CDs, and imagining Elizabeth here with him. He'd made three dinner reservations: nearby at Elio's, Downtown at Del Posto, and at Hearth near her place in the Village. Whatever she wanted. He was prepared to sit on the rocks in the Park and eat hot dogs, if that's what she wished. Whatever she wished.
When Georgie had burst through the door, anxious to see her favorite four-legged man, Will hadn't been able to stop smiling. He'd watched her romp on the floor, hugging a wildly happy dog. Then he'd let her know he'd be out for the evening, not an unusual occurrence for a man in demand at business dinners, social gatherings and such. But it was unusual for him to head out for an evening in casual wear, sporting a happy glow. A tacit agreement not to discuss it had passed between them.
Now, as he counted the minutes before he'd see Elizabeth again, he paced and looked up at the building. Haven really was quite grand, he thought. At last, Elizabeth emerged. She smiled when she saw him and laughed when she recognized the forest-green cashmere sweater from Marty's bachelor party.
"It matches your eyes," he told her.
She was starving, she said, having skipped lunch to order her thoughts before coming to see him. So around the corner to Elio's it was.
Dinner at a dark corner table was wonderful. She told him how she'd realized she'd misjudged him, and he confessed he'd known his feelings, and had denied them, since at least New Year's Eve.
"I'm not great at speeches," he insisted, "no matter how many I've given in a boardroom. They were--they were bankers in suits, they weren't you."
She reached for his hand and slid hers underneath it. "Will…"
"And if I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more, but as it is, I fumbled it."
He noticed how Elizabeth's eyes were alight. She bit her lip and looked away, misty-eyed. She hadn't spoken of love, she hadn't yet told him she loved him, but somehow he wasn't afraid of her omission. She'd come to him. She'd told him she was mistaken about him. And he could see her eyes. No one had ever looked at him the way Elizabeth did. No one had ever looked in his eyes the way she did. He knew she loved him, he felt it, and he was a patient man. After all, he'd been in love with her for far longer than she'd even liked him, he thought ruefully. Still, he didn't want to overwhelm her. He wouldn't say it again.
Over insalata mista, they talked briefly about Wickham. He'd gotten one theft charge reduced after confessing that he'd had no further intent toward Georgie, but had learned where she went to school and followed her there, thinking he could wreak some revenge on the Darcy family. But unable to figure out what he might do, and unwilling or unable to think through any plan, he'd simply behaved like a schoolyard bully and pushed her. A stupid act of violence, they agreed, committed against the sweetest girl in New York.
Will asked about her parents. He'd spoken briefly with them at the engagement party. Mrs. Bennet seemed to be a composite of Jane's and Katie's sweetly effusive personalities while Mr. Bennet, a laconic, droll man who'd seemed highly amused by Marlene Bingley, had given most of his genetic material to Mary and Elizabeth. Always the strategic thinker, Will thought he'd enjoy their company on holidays. He left out the part about the holidays when he told Elizabeth he liked them. Don't rush things.
Over zuppa di pesce and tortellini en brodo, she told him about Anchor & Freres and her work at Haven. He told her about his mother's background in renovating the building, and the real estate holdings he'd recently uncovered. The middle-class girl from Meryton listened wide-eyed. Her parents' safe-deposit box held neither great mysteries nor financial windfalls.
Will saw her expression change as he spoke, and he caught her hand in his, tracing the links in her tattooed bracelet. It was so beautiful, delicate yet resilient. Like Elizabeth. "Don't think about that stuff. Please. My mother loved that building. She would have loved that we're saving it."
"We? Not quite. It's you."
He started to speak but she squeezed his hand and quietly sang, "Can't buy me love…"
He looked confused, and she hurried to explain. "Will, I'm sorry, again, about all the things I've said or thought and how hard I made everything for you."
"Difficult? You made it easy, Elizabeth." He tightened his grip on her hand.
"Haven was a building my mother loved. It was important to her and she made it significant for me. You made it essential to me. Our meeting each other, and everything that's happened since, is important and it's coming full circle. And if I hadn't met you, if we hadn't …."
Will nodded and lifted her hand to his lips. "Tussled?" He chuckled. "Yeah, if that's what you call it in Meryton. I just know I want to do more of it."
He glanced up at the waiter, arriving with their coffee. "Preferably alone."
Saying good night was the hard part. Neither truly wished to separate but it was so new, so raw, they both needed to go home and absorb the day. This new relationship was theirs to share, alone and together, and they didn't want to talk about it to anyone else. Neither of them was ready to explain the history of their interactions and they both had some explaining to do before they brought the other home.
They stood together underneath Elio's awning. After apologizing that Javier was unavailable--it was his night off--Will hailed a cab. He insisted on taking her back to her apartment.
"Will, I'm fine." Elizabeth leaned forward and gave him a long kiss. She held up her phone and jiggled it. "You can text me in the cab. And I'll text when I get home."
Will looked at her sheepishly. "Um, Elizabeth. I don't have your number."
She looked stricken. "Oh yeah."
Decision made, he jumped in the cab, taking her phone to add his number to her contacts and unconsciously noting there was only one other W listed. Willa. She took his phone and typed in her name and number. They kissed in the cab, tenderly at first and then with more urgency until Will pulled away, smoothing his hands over his pants and gripping his knees.
Elizabeth snuggled close to him and whispered in his ear. "I say, Mr. Darcy. Were you spotted making out in a yellow taxi cab last night? The public has a right to know."
"Give me another day or two, and I'll scream it from the rooftops," he replied, willing his heart to slow its rapid beat and his body to cool down.
He signaled the cab driver to wait, and walked her to her front door, where she kissed him softly.
"Go home and give that puppy a pat for me," she said. "Let me know when you get there."
Elizabeth lay in her bed that night, wondering at the events of the day. He'd told her again that he loved her. They'd kissed, over and over. Ha, she thought. What was wrong with that plastic woman who dumped him so horribly last year? How could anyone tear themselves away from those lips, which stirred in her a deep longing she wasn't sure she'd ever felt before? He knew how to kiss. He knew how to hold her hand, how to woo her, how to love her.
He loves me. The man she'd yelled at for being arrogant and whom she'd resented for his work and his assumptions about her, loved her. She hadn't told him she felt the same, Elizabeth realized, her face flushed with regret. I haven't told him I love him.
She sat up in bed and turned on the lamp. She did love him, she knew this. She thought he knew it too, and she had no doubt of his love for her. A month or two ago, she might have thought it transitory, that she was a diversion from his big world. But now she knew him, and admired the changes he'd made in his life. She trusted his feelings, as well as her own.
She stared at the walls, sprinkled with black and white prints of early 20th century New York and photos she'd taken on her walks through the city. Sometimes it felt as though these walls were closing in on her, but tonight she felt she could burst through them. The room was so small; had she shrunk her world and her hopes to fit that landscape? His love offered her the world and she needed to offer him the same thing. She took a deep breath and reached for her phone. No. It was too late to text or call--she'd wake him up. That wasn't how she wanted to tell him, not the first time.
"Lizzy? You awake?"
Jane tapped on the door and turned the knob. Elizabeth dropped the phone under the covers and looked up at her sister in the doorway. Jane was wearing one of Charles' Dartmouth sweatshirts and some old boxers, her hair pulled up in a ponytail.
"Hey Jane. Did you just get home? "
"Uh-huh, a few minutes ago. Charles's college friends are just like him. My face hurts from laughing. Good thing I'm not scheduled tomorrow till 11."
She crossed her arms and peered around Elizabeth's room. "Lizzy, it's nearly one, why are you up?"
Elizabeth yawned. "I was asleep," she fibbed. "I had a weird dream and woke up."
Jane tilted her head and stifled a yawn. "Must have been something you ate. You went to Elio's?"
Shoot, Elizabeth thought. She'd been unable to resist bringing home the leftover chicken vesuvio, and now Jane had tripped her up with the telltale doggy bag. The modern Poe, she thought, stifling a laugh.
"Who'd you go with?" Jane asked, looking at her carefully.
Elizabeth was tired. She was sleepy, and she was even more exhausted from months of holding in her thoughts and keeping her feelings secret from her sister. Charlotte knew a bit, but her sister deserved more.
Jane broke into a huge grin. "Oh Lizzy, really? Finally?"
Finally? Bewildered by her sister's reaction, Elizabeth could only nod. "How did you know?"
"I have eyes, my dear. And ears. He was always watching you, you were always bringing him up in conversation, there were rose petals here at Valentine's Day…" she trailed off. "And you two have a spark."
Elizabeth leaned forward, hugging her knees, and rested her head atop them. "He's lovely, Jane. He's wonderful."
Jane smiled her happiest smile at her sister.
"Jane, does Charles know? Have you two talked about us?"
"No, honey. We both wished you two could get along, and Charles has worried so much about Will this past year, what with his work stuff, and Georgie, and his lack of a love life, other than those silly gossip bits which often seemed to feature you."
She raised her eyebrows and smirked. "But he thought something had changed recently. Will was so down for so long, and in the last week or so, he seems okay." Jane smiled. "Is that because of you?"
"Maybe a bit. But that's Will's story to tell. Can you let him talk to Charles? He needs to talk to Georgie too." Elizabeth yawned.
"Sure, Lizzy. Go to sleep. I'm pretty sure sweet dreams await you. I'm so happy for you, but I want some serious details tomorrow."
Elizabeth wasn't the only one who had trouble sleeping. Will called her at 7:30 a.m., explaining he'd been up for hours but hadn't wanted to disturb her. He was heading to meetings Downtown all morning and through lunch, and wondered if he could drop off something.
"Will, I just got out of the shower, and I have to run. You can't make it here in time."
"Buzz me up? Oh, is Jane there?" he asked. "Maybe you can come downstairs?"
He's here?! Elizabeth nearly dropped her towel. She buzzed him into the building, pulled on her skirt and a shell and ran barefoot downstairs. She brushed past Corey, her burly downstairs neighbor, who stared at her, bemused.
Will was standing in the vestibule, an expensive-looking messenger bag slung over one shoulder, holding a cup of Starbucks in one hand and a small paper bag in the other. As he took in the sight before him, a barefoot, wet-headed, half-dressed and makeup-free Elizabeth, he broke into a huge smile. Elizabeth stopped, stunned.
"I don't know about you, but I couldn't sleep. My mind was just so full," he said. "So I thought you might need a little extra help waking up today."
He held out the cup and the bag. "You're rather fond of chocolate, so I thought a chocolate brioche and a skim mocha latte might help?"
Elizabeth was so shocked she didn't move for a minute. Will's arms started to falter and his expression shifted from happiness to doubt. No, no! Elizabeth's mind screamed. I'm scaring him!
"Oh god, Will," she said, taking the coffee from him. "I love you."
His eyes widened and he swallowed. Elizabeth reached her hand toward his and clasped it. The only sounds she could hear were the beating of her heart and the crinkling of the bag as he clenched and unclenched it.
"Will." They looked at each other shyly. "I like chocolate. A lot. I like breakfast deliveries. A lot. But I love you."
He took back the coffee, set it atop the mailboxes, and pulled her into his arms. "You have no idea," he whispered before his lips met hers.
Neither of them noticed Corey slip by until the door slammed behind him.
Elizabeth was grateful for Tuesday's busy lineup of groups and appointments. She had a difficult time focusing on playing Jenga, but tried extra hard to listen to her patients. Overall, she was grateful for the day's seemingly never-ending activity.
She and Will met at his office and walked the newly anointed Official Office Dog over to the Park, strolling hand-in-hand under Greywacke Arch and around to Cedar Hill's vast rolling lawn.
Georgie, heading into finals, had texted Will that she had a study group and wouldn't be home till after 8. So they picked up dinner and ate in the kitchen.
After swallowing a bit of bao bun, Elizabeth told Will that Jane knew about them. Her sister had suspected, Elizabeth confessed, and in a weak, sleepy moment, she'd spilled a few beans. "I think Jane's suspected something since the great M&M incident," as Elizabeth now referred to Will's first visit to her home. "She found rose petals in my room."
"You kept some?" Will asked, astonished. "On purpose?"
A sheepish smile was her only response.
Will said he'd call Charles tomorrow and invite him to lunch. "I'd never live down the irony if we got outed by Page 6 before we told our friends." He paused, thinking of his sister. "And family. I need to tell Georgie that we're seeing each other."
When he looked at Elizabeth, she was wrinkling her nose. "`Seeing each other?'"
"That we're together, exclusively, truly, madly, deeply…" he replied, chagrined at his earlier choice of words.
"Okay," she nodded. "Now, pass the peanut noodles."
A few minutes later, she asked when Georgie would be home. Will assured her that Javier would let him know when they were on their way home. "He'll drive you home, too," he added, wistfully.
They cleaned up the dishes, or as Will called them, "the evidence." Soon after, they wandered to the den. He sat on the deep leather couch and watched her comb through the DVDs. Her brown hair curled at the ends, just below her shoulders; it was shorter than when they'd first met. She ran her fingers along the edges of the shelves, smiling when she spotted the Disney Princess collection and sending him an odd look when she found the boxed sets of "Freaks & Geeks" and "Arrested Development."
Elizabeth turned, hands on hips and an eyebrow raised. "So, you've shown me to your lair. When do you pull out the etchings?"
He couldn't hold himself back any longer. Will leaned forward and grabbed her by the waist, tugging her down to his lap. "I have no etchings, but I have an eye for fine lines," he muttered, pushing his nose into her hair and running his hands through it.
"You like my lines?" she asked, her voice husky.
"I like everything about you, love," he sighed, pulling her down for a kiss.
She curled into his arms. She could feel nothing but his hard planes and angles shaping into her soft places. A gentle hum ran through her.
He froze and pulled away. His eyes were black as coal and his face was blurry with passion. She reached her thumb toward his swollen lips but he grabbed her hand and held it to his chest. His heart was racing and she briefly wondered if its beating was in sync with her own.
Will shifted and his left hand came up to rub his eyes. "I'm sorry, Elizabeth. This is ridiculous. We're not teenagers, but I'm not sure how to handle this." He shook his head, and looked at her. "I'm sorry. You tell me, and we'll figure it out."
"I thought I just did," she said softly. "I had no intention of stopping, but I think your phone had other ideas."
Will leaned away from her and pulled his phone out of his front pocket. He read the screen. "Javier is picking up Georgie. They'll be here in twenty minutes," he said. "Damn."
Elizabeth slid away from him, but put her hand on his thigh to maintain contact. "Will, right now, we'd better get me out of here and get you straightened up before your sister gets home."
Will was just emerging from his bedroom, freshly showered and in sweats, when Georgie made her presence known.
"Hey Will? Anything you want to tell me?"
His mind awhirl, Will glanced at his sister and schooled his expression into one of surprise. "Um, what?"
"Will. Have you forgotten my `Kim Possible' phase? I have superhero sleuthing skills. Something's up with you. And I don't wear lipstick," she said, holding up the water glass Elizabeth had used.
"I found this in the dishwasher. Please tell me it's Elizabeth's." Her eyes weren't full of humor, as he'd expected. They were pleading and hopeful.
No more John Grisham for this one, Will thought. He blushed and nodded. "Yes, it's hers. We had dinner."
He wished he'd braced himself for her squeals of happiness and her ferocious hugs.
"Best news ever, Bro," she whispered, holding him close.
She made him promise to bring Elizabeth home to hang out "really, really, really soon," and made it clear that she didn't want to be in his way--in their way.
"My room is like, soundproof. This is a pre-war building, the walls are really thick plaster. Please, Will. Don't worry about me, okay?"
The walls. She's right.
"Georgie, this is all very new and we're both just trying to keep it low-key, okay? We weren't hiding it from you, specifically. We're just figuring it out."
He took a deep breath. "I'm having dinner at her place tomorrow. Maybe we can all get together on Thursday or Friday, or the weekend, okay?"
"Maybe we should postpone Game Night," Georgie said. "C'mon, Brody. Let's get some ice cream."
Two goofy smiles in a few days, Will thought, waiting to see if she'd skip down the hall. A dog and a girlfriend seem to be working wonders on her. And me.
The next morning, Will checked in with Mrs.Reynolds and blushingly let her know he would be out late and needed her to stay over and help with the dog. He felt like he was 18 again. But he didn't care. Elizabeth loved him. She wanted him to love her. Life was perfect. He only needed to get through the next nine hours, until he saw her again.
Oh, and that lunch with Charles. He'd better pick someplace loud so no one would notice the patented Bingley Bellow of Delight. Fortunately, Bingley was insistent on seeing "the new digs" on East 76th, so he showed up for the grand tour, and met Will's new assistant, Nathan, and two of the architects. Like everyone else, he was besotted with Brody and decided they must dine al fresco so that Brody could accompany them
"Darce, you're a doggy daddy!"
They strolled by the Park, where they eyed a few food trucks before deciding to head to a nearby tavern. Charles talked nearly non-stop, marveling at the changes in his friend.
"Look at you, Will! You're in a sweater vest! No tie! What are you going to do with all those $3,000 suits?" Suddenly Charles gasped and clutched his chest in mock horror. "What will Barneys do without you? I should sell my stock."
"The budget suffers in other ways," Will replied. "More takeout, more plaid shirts and khakis."
Charles glanced at his best friend. "You're amazingly relaxed for a guy having an early mid-life crisis."
"Who says it's early? Or mid-life?" Will scoffed. "Geez, Charles, I'm not even 30, you know."
They stopped, checked a menu and sat down at a sidewalk table. To Charles' bemusement, Will pulled out a collapsible bowl from his pocket and poured in some water for Brody. Both men ordered burgers, fries and beer.
"Regular fries, not the garlic ones," Will emphasized to their server.
"This is how I know you're different, Will. A beer at lunch," Charles said.
"Not even our fathers did the three-martini lunch thing," Will observed. "And we are not them, anyway."
Charles lifted his pilsner glass. "To them that spawned us."
He leaned back and eyed his dark-haired friend. "New dog, new job, new office, new duds…. Anything else you want to tell me?"
Will sipped his beer and scratched Brody's ears. "You've just about covered it. Well, there is one more thing," he said slowly. "You don't have any problem with your best man dating Jane's maid of honor, do you?"
He'd counted to six before the patented Bingley Bellow of Delight was heard.
The evening rain couldn't dampen their happiness and a bottle of good wine only fueled their enthusiasm. Elizabeth and Will stumbled through her front door, wet and laughing. She leaned in, stood on her tiptoes and slid her hand up Will's cheek, then drew him down and touched her lips to his. She began to pull away but his hand caught her arm. "Oh, Elizabeth." His lips crashed onto hers and everything went messy and glorious.
Then she stilled and whispered, "Will, I can't be responsible for ruining another sweater. We need to get out of these wet things."
He stepped back, breathing heavily, his black curls plastered to his forehead.
"C'mon, Sweater Boy. My room is this way."
Sometime later, they curled up under the covers, their heads close together on the pillows, and their voices soft.
"You're so beautiful, Elizabeth."
Her eyes met his. She snuggled closer and stretched her arm across his waist.
"Uh-hmm. And you belong to me." She hugged him a little tighter. "Who did you talk to, about us, about me? Robin?"
Will shook his head. "He knows some of it. I could barely figure it out myself and he and I are, um, slightly competitive…. Well, I figured he would think it funny how badly I screwed up. Since I'm so amazing at everything."
"Poor baby." She smiled, and gazed at him with such warmth and happiness he thought his heart would burst.
"But he was actually helpful," he managed to say. "And you? Charlotte?"
"Hmm. Yes and no," Elizabeth replied. "She had us figured out from day one but I didn't want to give her the satisfaction. Besides, she found you way too cute."
"But she's gay…" he trailed off, a bit confused.
"I know. Lucky for me." She smiled wanly. "Actually, I've spent most of my time of late navel gazing and confiding in my new BFFs: Denial, Resentment, Self-recrimination and Regret. They're quite a foursome."
"Don't. Please, just don't dwell on that." His fingers traveled to her wrist. He traced the links in her tattooed bracelet and he gave her a gentle smile. "I love you."
"You're in love with a tattooed lady. How's the family going to handle that one?"
"The only family that matters to me is Georgie. And the family I make with you."
Her eyes widened but Elizabeth stayed quiet, enjoying the feel of his fingers on her own. His hands were so much larger, and she noticed, they weren't soft and pampered, but hard, graceful and calloused. And they were so very gentle.
He was hers now.
There was a conversation they hadn't had, she realized. The personal history bit.
"Dare I ask how long it's been?" She looked down and bit her lip.
"Forever," he smiled.
She smiled. "Can you be more specific?"
Will gazed at her. One of those hands she loved moved to cradle her cheek and he touched her jaw with his thumb. His eyes were suspiciously shiny. "No one in the last year."
No one? "But what about that woman, the Italian one?"
He looked puzzled. "Who?"
"The one from the benefit. The picture…?" she trailed off.
"Oh Lizzy, no. She wasn't a date. She was running the event. I had a photo taken with her after I gave her a check. There's been no one. No one but you. Not a date, not a look. No one."
He called me Lizzy.
Will pulled her closer and pressed a soft kiss to her lips. "There's been no one since I met you. Or before, it seems. Loving you has given me amnesia."
Now her eyes were misty. Elizabeth sat up and reached for a tissue. She had to make him stop this sweetness. She wasn't used to it and it overwhelmed her.
"What's wrong?" He looked at her carefully. "Is there something you want to tell me?"
She paused and then closed her eyes. "Not really. We're the same. There's been no one for me in a year. He lasted a few months. But I've mostly been a loner type. Group dates."
She leaned over and kissed his nose. "My heart was untouched too."
And he pulled her back down into his arms and once again Will Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet figured out how Tab A fit into Slot B.
Two weeks later…
Page 6 has Darcy scoop!
Pictures don't lie, they tell a thousand stories. And it appears that William Darcy has his mojo back and isn't afraid of a little PDA. The man who dropped out of sight a few months ago has not just emerged as the head of the city's hottest boutique architectural firm overseeing the renovation and expansion of Haven Hospital. He was also caught on camera last week showing off the foundation of love he seems to be building with Elizabeth Bennet, LCSW. Better watch those hands, Darce. Or should we be watching Lizzy's ring finger?
Posted on 2013-03-04
After nearly three weeks of total bliss, William Darcy had discovered that the only thing black and white about Elizabeth Bennet was the tattoo on her wrist. Her opinions were infused with insight and empathy--especially when it came to food or politics--and her wardrobe included rich colors--though few prints. She was sturdy of mind and fond of a good pun--attributes Will greatly enjoyed exploring.
At this moment, he was tracing her back with his fingers, gently kneading her tense muscles and kissing her in that sensitive spot just below the shoulder blades.
"Why didn't you get any more tattoos?" he asked her softly. "I mean, I'm rather glad you didn't. But why was Charlotte the only one who kept doing it?"
"Doing it?" she laughed. "Charlotte likes ink. She likes when art makes a statement. And she likes needles." Elizabeth paused as Will coughed. "I know, it's kinda gross."
She rolled over and stretched her arms over her head. "You're a guy. Didn't any of your college buddies try to pull you into a tattoo parlor after some all-night bacchanal?"
"No," he scoffed, amused she could even imagine him at such a party.
"My poor, sheltered boy," Elizabeth said, pouting. "No one at Harvard ever pierced their roommate's ear using a needle, an ice cube and a potato?"
Will shuddered. "Please, spare me the details. Weak stomach. Med school would have been a nightmare."
He leaned upward to kiss her brow.
"Oh yes," she sighed. "All those bodily fluids are so icky."
The dark brown eyes hovering over hers lit up and her deep-tissue massage turned into a tickling match.
The next morning they headed out in the early May sun for a run in the park; Elizabeth was still training for her 10K in June. Will and Brody kept up for the first mile until the four-legged sprinter found a squirrel to chase and a puddle to splash through. She waved off her boys as they headed home for a bowl of water and a cup of orange juice.
Will had to get ready for a site meeting and a visit from Robin, freshly returned from three weeks in Machu Picchu and thus completely unaware of what Georgie called "the new and improved Will." He headed to the bedroom for a shower, picking up a camisole from the floor and tucking Elizabeth's fuzzy slippers under the bed. They had spent nearly every night together since the weekend after their first kiss, but tonight he would be alone. She had a Haven night out, celebrating Mary King's engagement to a Brooklyn real-estate mogul.
He loved having Elizabeth's things here. An empty glass on the end table, her yogurts in the fridge, two toothbrushes in his bathroom. He wanted them here not as backup, but permanently. He wanted her here, all the time. Jane was moving in with Charles at the end of the month, and he desperately wanted to ask Elizabeth to move in with him, Georgie and Brody. Was their weeks-old relationship too fragile, too new for such a step? Would he mess things up if he asked?
Will wanted to ask her another question too, eventually, but he was sensible enough to understand that it was far too soon. Baby steps were required. But this morning, perhaps feeling vulnerable at the prospect of a night apart, he pulled down his mother's jewelry box from the top shelf of his wardrobe and gazed at her engagement ring. Anne Darcy was buried wearing her wedding band, but had left her son this ring--an emerald with a diamond band. Modern, smart, stunning. Like Elizabeth.
"Where the hell are the M&Ms?" Robin asked grumpily.
Will had shown his cousin around the new offices. He'd presented him as the annoying relative they should expect to stop by when least expected (or needed). He'd provided him a quick overview of the plans for Haven, alongside the drawings done by his mother. He'd introduced him to Brody, who seemed to find Robin an especially good-smelling sort of person. All of this, and Robin was focused on a candy bowl?
"Robin, you're the one who kept warning me about killing the cleaning lady at Pemberley. Peanut M&Ms are a liability if anyone with allergies comes in here."
Robin glared at him. "Is Nathan, or anybody else here allergic to peanuts?"
Will shook his head. "Not that I know of."
"Then what the--?"
Will eyed his cousin. Robin was always full of energy and opinions, but today he seemed tense and, for lack of a better word, jumpy. It was very unusual behavior. Lunch, and a healthy walk to get there, might help.
He grabbed his jacket. "Let's go eat."
As they walked, he asked Robin about his trip. His cousin perked up and raved about the climbing, the ruins, and the people he'd met on the trip. "Shocking number of women in the group."
"Shockingly good or shockingly bad?"
Robin chuckled and led them to Murphy's Bar. "I need a beer."
Will, dressed in jeans and a blazer over his polo shirt, glanced at his elegantly clad cousin, the epitome of corporate banking.
"A beer is your definition of casual Friday?"
"Sadly, it is. I have a 3 o'clock meeting. One beer before 12:30, cleansed by iced tea. And lots of garlic, so no one smells the alcohol."
Will laughed. "Always thinking ahead."
He flagged down a waiter and they ordered sandwiches and beers. Robin listened to Will's order and his eyebrows rose.
"Hungry, Will? I haven't seen you with this kind of appetite in months." He leaned back and appraised his cousin. No dark circles under his eyes, his hair longer than usual, his eyes alight with happiness….
"Well, I'll be damned. You did it. You took Dr. Robin's advice."
Will rolled his eyes. "Dr. Robin?"
"Call me Doc. You took those steps I prescribed, didn't you?"
Will nodded and fought back a smile.
"Really. You and Elizabeth? That's fantastic." Robin grabbed his beer from the waiter and took a drink. "Geez, Will. I might need two beers for this story."
Will filled him in on the past few weeks, telling him a less-edited version than he'd given Charles, about how he and Elizabeth had finally managed to take those last few steps.
Robin listened with a smile on his face. "So," he said, leaning forward, "Everything is good?"
Will flushed. He closed his eyes for a moment and then looked his cousin right in the eye.
Robin grinned. "I told you I had great expectations for you, Darce." He leaned back in the booth, smirking, and put his hands behind his head. "I did mention that when I met her last Christmas, she was buying that "sexy shades" book, didn't I?"
"Aw, you know I can't resist." He sighed. "I'm really glad for you, Will. You look incredibly happy. You haven't shredded your napkin or played with your fork the whole time we've been here. Restaurateurs owe Elizabeth a great deal. Think of the overhead she's saved them."
She saved me, Will thought. She loves me. He knew it every time she smiled at him, or kissed him or gave him that intense look, clutched him tightly and whispered his name.
"I'm gonna marry her, Robin. If and when she's ready."
"Darce, it's been two weeks."
"Almost three. And technically, for me, it's been six months. I've been in love with her since January. I just didn't… she didn't love me back until April."
"Technically." Will crossed his arms and leaned back. "But it's nearly June."
Robin sighed. "Dammit, Darce. I miss having you in the office. The stodginess quotient has gone through the roof. Nobody laughs, nobody plays fantasy football.
"And with you gone, I'm the new heir apparent. They want me to cut back on the climbing because it's dangerous, and sit behind a desk all day."
"You've been gone for nearly three weeks, Robin," Will noted dryly.
"Yeah, well, I'm dreading what lies ahead."
"Ah, my cousin would never be mistaken for Bartleby the Scrivener."
"I can't help my split personality," Robin said plaintively. "I like the numbers and the strategizing. I even like the boring board meetings and trying to figure out what's going on behind all those blue and green and brown eyes."
"But?" Will said.
"A man's gotta climb."
"Because it's there."
"Yup," Robin nodded. "Because it's there."
He took a long drink of the iced tea which had supplanted his lone and emptied beer. "I'm happy for you. I hope you know that. You've upended your life. WDIV, Haven, that windfarm deal with Brandon. And a dog, which I might add, is long overdue.
"But especially, I'm happy about Elizabeth. It's good to see you so happy. It's a new you."
Will nodded. He thought he felt a lump in his throat but took a quick drink and it was gone.
Robin reached for the salt shaker and started toying with it. "I met a woman in Peru."
"She lives in Peru? Talk about long-distance romance."
"No, for god's sake. She's in Chicago. She's a trader. Soy futures." He spilled a little salt and immediately took the shaker and tapped some granules over his shoulder.
"I know it's hard to take me seriously, but I really like her, Darce. And she's in Chicago."
Now it was Will's turn to sit back and listen to his cousin's romantic woes.
I am old. Elizabeth wrinkled her nose in chagrin and a fair amount of disgust. Bodies were whirling on the dance floor, hookups new and old were being finalized for the night, and a few too many of her friends were lucky she was present and sober. She'd already put two girls in a cab home.
I am stodgy. I'd rather be home with Will and Georgie, eating popcorn and watching old movies. They were on a mission to make sure Georgie went to college fully armed with full knowledge of Hollywood's heyday. Thus, they were making their way through the American Film Institute's List of 100 Greatest Films, as well as some of Elizabeth's personal favorites, like anything starring Cary Grant or William Powell and anything by David Lean or Merchant-Ivory. The Darcy siblings had seen quite a few of the films the previous summer when Georgie was laid up, so things were moving along. Elizabeth had told them to go ahead and watch "On the Waterfront" and "Marty" without her tonight; she'd seen them with her father a Christmas or two ago. She would spend the night at her place, with Jane and her packing boxes. Her sister planned to be ensconced by June 1 at her new address on the Upper West Side.
Elizabeth watched Mary King and her fiancé, Ed, get stopped by more well-wishers. How does she find them? Always a boyfriend, and now, apparently, the real thing: true love with a rich guy. The Brooklynite had done well for himself. He and Mary had real chemistry; the art therapist had always moved quickly from man to man, but this one was different. Elizabeth couldn't put her finger on it, but she saw a serenity in Mary and a connection between the two which made her think they would last. And the ring was stunning.
Elizabeth had seen that in Jane too. Do people see that in me? Do they see what I feel for Will? Elizabeth had never been an open book, her emotions had usually been deeply buried below sarcasm and wit. But these past few weeks, really the past few months, she'd felt exposed and vulnerable. And now, deeply in love and deeply involved with Will, everything felt different. She felt safe and protected by his love yet more open to the world. And, she thought wryly, more prone to murmuring thoughts that sounded like rejects from Hallmark cards.
So many engagement parties, so little time. She glanced at her watch. Ten o'clock. How much longer till it was polite to leave? Elizabeth sat back and viewed the room. Everybody was having a good time, except…over there, that woman had just spilled her drink on that guy. His shirt was soaked. Transfixed, she waited for his reaction. He began to laugh, and the girl threw her arms around his neck and kissed him.
Woulda, shoulda, coulda. That's it. I'm outta here.
Elizabeth was subdued when she entered her apartment. The stripped walls and stacks of boxes did nothing to help lift her mood.
"Jane? Janey?" Elizabeth walked to her sister's bedroom, and found the door open and the bed stripped.
She turned to her own door and found a note. Lizzy--Texted you. I waited and it was too depressing here so I went to be with Charles. Meet you tomorrow. And Mary says she definitely wants the bedroom. -Jane
Elizabeth crumpled the note and plopped down on the sofa. Mary and her clunky boots and her bossy attitude. She sighed. Do I want her to have it? Do I want her here?
She pulled out her phone and found Jane's message. There were two from Will as well. Hope you're having a bit of fun. Don't spill on any tall, dark men.
An hour later, he'd sent another one: Miss you. XO
Elizabeth kicked off her shoes and pulled her feet up underneath her. She didn't want to sleep here alone. She didn't want to sleep alone. Period. .
I don't want to sleep here. It's sad and lonely. I want to sleep in Will's extra-cushy bed, with him. Oh man. Maybe it's just PMS, she rationalized. Maybe I'm just hormonal and emotional.
Elizabeth picked up her phone and texted Charlotte.
You up? Call me if you are.
Within two minutes, Charlotte's sleepy voice filled her ear.
"What's up, LizBiz?"
"Did I wake you?"
"No, I had an extra glass of pinot at John's, so I'm just slurring. And Sid's cuddled up on my chest, so forgive me if I giggle or scream for no reason. What's up?"
"I don't know what to do. I just got home, and Janey went to Charles' place and I'm all alone with her boxes and I hate it here."
"Why aren't you at Will's?"
"I had this Haven thing, and I thought he and Georgie should have some time together before she leaves for camp." Because I'm an analytical idiot.
"Have you two spent a night apart since you got together?"
"Um, yes. Twice. Last week, he and Georgie had to go to New Haven for some orientation thing, so Jane and I hung out."
"Let me guess, you did yoga and watched Ina Garten on the Food Network, didn't you?" Charlotte sighed. "And now Jane's moving out and you're going to be alone?"
"Not exactly. Mary's moving in."
There was a long pause. "Charlotte?
"Hmm. I thought Robert and Mary were moving in together. Hmm. Are you sure you're only getting one roommate?"
Elizabeth stared at the kitchen wall where Jane's bayleaf wreath used to hang. I think I'd prefer Robert over Mary as a roommate. He's nice and quiet. Will likes him too.
"I don't know."
"Liz, why don't you just move in with Will?"
Elizabeth swallowed and stared down at her red-painted toenails. "Char, it's only been a few weeks."
"The best weeks of your life, if I might quote you," Charlotte replied dryly. "If it doesn't work, you'll have a place to go back to. But if you're there, Uptown, every night? And Haven is within walking distance? And need I remind you, the Darcys live in a mansion on the Upper East Side?"
"I know, but…."
"Geez, Liz. Chance it. Remember how shocked you were when I moved in with Willa? You thought I was nuts. `Too soon! Have you checked her credit rating?' All that crap you gave me? Well, sometimes it's just right. Look at me now. Look at John and Priya. He's so head over heels, he actually got her father's permission to court her."
"Moving fast is good, huh?"
"It is when it feels right. Sometimes you just know." Charlotte snorted. "Stop it, Sid. Sorry…and you know it's right with Will. He's a keeper."
Elizabeth sighed. "Well, he hasn't asked me. But maybe I'll take more stuff over there. It's so depressing here. And I miss Brody."
"Ah. Now it comes out." Charlotte shifted into a Cockney accent. "`It's the dog, your honor, not love that made me do it!'"
"Shut up, Char," Elizabeth giggled. "Kiss your furry boyfriend goodnight. I need to call my human, less hairy, meat-eating boyfriend."
Her phone had buzzed three times while she'd been speaking with Charlotte, and when she checked, there were messages from Will and Georgie.
Will: Are you home? Text me so I know you made it. XO
Georgie: E-please come save me from this lonely, hovering brother. It doesn't feel right without you here.
Will: Ignore her. I am not annoying. Brody misses you. Me too. Please call. XO
And so she did. Within five minutes, Elizabeth had packed a bag, eager to go home and curl up with her favorite footwarmer and his owner. Will (and Brody) were outside Hunsford Place in his Mercedes in less than half an hour.
He popped the question over breakfast the next morning. After Georgie had set the table with the green and gray Russel Wright dishes, handed Elizabeth her coffee in her favorite mug, declared it was waffle day and wandered off to the pantry for the waffle iron, Will sat down beside Elizabeth and smiled. He lifted her hand, kissed her fingers, and asked her to consider moving in.
"On a trial basis, if you'd like."
With two pairs of beseeching eyes gazing at her, and Brody's chin resting on her thigh, Elizabeth felt happily outnumbered. She nodded and kissed Brody's nose.
For the next few weeks, Georgie's talent with waffles, Will's constant stockpile of bagels, and Mrs. Reynolds' ever-present casseroles and soups and lasagnes kept Elizabeth carbed up. She flew out the door of her new home every morning at 5:30 and began her run toward the Reservoir. Georgie, now a high school graduate free of the morning alarm clock, would join her once in a while and could manage a mile or two. More often, Will was at her side to pace her. With their help, the 10K in Brooklyn was a breeze. Elizabeth checked that box off of her to-do list; November's marathon awaited her.
She covered a lot of miles upstate. Elizabeth had fallen in love at first sight with Will's country house. They took rambles in the woods and soaked in the hot tub. Work went on at Haven, making it hard for either of them to get away during the week, but with Georgie off on an Outward Bound biking trip, she and Will (and Brody) spent as much time as possible in Milbrook.
There, she saw a new side to her boyfriend. Watching him in his workshop elicited an almost primal reaction in her. Brawny forearms, the smell of sawdust, the sound of whirring saws…. When she heard the machines click off, Elizabeth practically tackled her man. She made a mental shopping list to make sure Will's city wardrobe included more flannel shirts and more chambray anything.
They talked about a trip to Tuscany after Georgie left for school. Which she did, in late August, waving goodbye from her window in Ezra Stiles College to a quietly emotional Will. Elizabeth left them alone for the final goodbye, and she took over the driving back to the city to allow him to collect his thoughts. Georgie had made them both promise to come for Parents' Weekend, and to get everyone together over Thanksgiving break for Game Night.
Two weeks after a successful 26.2 mile trek across the five boroughs of New York, Elizabeth's official runner #247 sheet remained pinned to the kitchen bulletin board, alongside Georgie's final high school report card, graduation announcement, a few business cards, a menu for Pad Wan Suk, pictures of Will and Georgie in their younger years, and a photo of an exuberant, marathon-depleted Elizabeth in Will's arms.
On a cool and dry November afternoon, Elizabeth found a red rose on her desk at work, and a sealed note from Will. Dinner? Meet you at Mickey's at six.
She stepped out of Haven's front doors at the stroke of six and hurried to the diner, where she found Will in a corner booth, talking on his phone. The diner was a surprising choice, but she enjoyed catching up with Juanita, who was delighted to see the couple there together. Elizabeth teased Will about his charming ways of getting her workmates to serve as his delivery couriers. He smiled, but seemed preoccupied. After the meal, he suggested a walk and they headed out on the quiet street toward Haven.
As they neared the hospital, she was happily surprised to find that white fairy lights had been strung in all the trees, and wreaths hung on the bases of the statues. "Oh, Christmas already? How pretty…they've never done this before!"
Will smiled and pulled a red bag out of his pocket. He held it out to her.
"Why don't you finish the job?"
She reached inside and pulled out four little stocking hats. Laughing gaily, she walked to each of the four animals and carefully arranged a winter cap on each ones' head. She turned to grin at Will. He smiled back and slowly lowered one knee to the ground.
Page Six: Shut The Front Door! Darcy's Caught!
All those PDAs from Will Darcy led to something. Check out Elizabeth Bennet's hand! Do we see an engagement ring? Our experts call that a 5-carat stunner. Congrats! Another of New York magazine's Hot! (and Smart) bachelors is off the market! Sorry, singletons. Maybe Channing Tatum will move here…..
Perhaps it was Caroline's prideful statement that she was bringing Prada to the people, but it took only five minutes for the Cincinnati jokes to begin. Oddly, it was Robin who put a stop to it.
Weeks of commuting to Chicago to see his mountain-climbing girlfriend had seemingly made him more sympathetic to cities beginning with the letter C and the women who lived in them.
But it all began when Charles couldn't stop himself. "We got trouble my friends, right here in New York City. Trouble with a capital T and that rhymes with C and that stands for Caroline!"
As Charles channeled "The Music Man," he remembered moves from his cheerleader days, twirling around and pumping his arm. Until he nearly clocked a beer-toting Will.
"Hey, be careful! Spilling on Will is my job," Elizabeth cried. "He's in his new birthday sweater and if anyone is going to inaugurate it, it's me."
"Odd she hasn't done that already," Robin added, smirking. He put his arm around Charles. "Your sister flew all the way here to eat turkey and spend time with her family. Do play nice."
"But Cincinnati is called the River City," Charles protested.
"Yes, but `The Music Man' was set in Iowa," Willa chimed in.
"Godawful musical," opined Robin. He looked around for the dog. "Hey Brody, try this wienie!"
Caroline's lip curled in distaste and a chastened and confused Charles headed off to the kitchen to find solace in the Darcy-Bennet larder. Jane followed, mumbling about creative outlets and fragile male egos.
The Hursts were home with their new baby girl--aptly named Autumn--but the rest of the Game Night crowd was gathered in the living room. Georgie and Katie had devised teams, arranged seating, and when not comparing notes on horrible professors, inane grading systems and quirky roommate, were making bets on the evening's outcome.
Robert and Will were talking quietly in the corner about windfarms and the latest Jared Diamond book. Mary, newly introduced to Robin, was taking his measure.
"Denali, Cilaltépetl and Iztaccíhuatl, but I just did the Inca Trail. Might be my favorite now," Robin said dreamily.
"Ah. Robert and I just did Mount Katahdin. We're planning on Mt. Shasta next year." Mary looked over at her boyfriend, laughing at something her sister's usually quiet fiancé had said.
"Our budget has us tied to North American peaks, for now." She glanced at her older sisters and sighed. "And two weddings next year? At least Jane and Charlie have set a date."
Robin nodded sagely. "Yeah, seriously. Will and Liz have been engaged for nearly two weeks. Lazy codfish, the rest of us have lives too. I'll give my cousin a nudge. You harass your sister, okay?"
"Pinky swear?" Robin extended his hand and Mary grasped it.
"Mary, my dear, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."
Across the room, Willa was chatting with the party's youngest players. Katie was expressing her concern over the ferret romance going bad in TriBeCa. "They've had to separate Sid and Nancy," she confided to Georgie.
Georgiana was wide-eyed, unfamiliar with the storied couple. Recognizing a fresh audience for her story, Willa recounted her ferrets' fairytale romance, concluding with the latest, sad turn in their relationship. Apparently, Sid was fixated on a stuffed bumblebee Willa had won at Coney Island. Now she and Charlotte were trying to console Nancy by introducing her to various Beanie Babies, hoping she might find a new, inert companion. Georgie swallowed a laugh and offered up a few of her own stuffed animals.
"The butterfly has really colorful jewel tones," she said carefully. "That could do it."
Caroline stared at the group, nostrils flaring. "Georgie, dear. What's that on your wrist?"
Georgie pulled up her sleeve and held up her right hand. "Oh, this?"
Everyone's attention was drawn to the girl's wrist, which sported a delicate flower tattoo. "It's the first link."
Katie held up her wrist as well. "We match. One flower a year until we graduate, and then we'll connect the daisy chain."
Georgie grinned. "There's the Tattooed Trio, and the Daisy Chain Duo."
Caroline looked appalled and her attention darted to Elizabeth. "You've gotten these girls inked?"
"No, Caroline. It was their choice. They heard our opinion on it, but they're both over 18," Elizabeth said. She rolled her eyes and headed to the kitchen to refill the cheese tray.
"One big happy family," Robin added. He patted the couch. "Where's that dog? Brody, my man!"
Caroline stood quietly for a minute as the party took their seats. Two people were missing. She made her way down the hallway to the kitchen, and stopped in the doorway. Elizabeth sat atop the kitchen counter and Darcy stood in front of her, speaking quietly as she stroked his back. "As if you were on fire from within, the moon lives in the lining of your skin."
"But I thought he sucked in bed," she gasped to herself. "That's what the paper said."
Charlotte, who'd quietly followed Caroline, laughed. "Aw, Caroline. Do you believe everything you read?
"The social x-ray who dumped Will is lucky he hasn't sued her for defamation. I think Lizzy would make quite a character witness."
Then Charlotte's inner imp took over. She smiled, put her arm through Caroline's and drew her back to the living room. "Isn't the ring stunning? I'm not one for jewelry, but that emerald is gorgeous. Will's mother had great taste."
Caroline stared at Charlotte, eyes blinking rapidly, and her mouth emitting a tiny "What?"
"You didn't see it? It matches Elizabeth's eyes. I'm seriously hoping they use that color in the wedding, but knowing Lizzy, it's going to be small and very private. Maybe in Tuscany…they were there last month. Have you seen the pictures?"
Charlotte delivered Caroline to her assigned seat. The missing hosts finally wandered in, messy haired and smiling. Brody followed them and promptly sat down on Caroline's feet. Those sitting closest could hear her whimper, "My Manolos…."
It was game time. Four teams, each comprised of a couple and a plus-one, prepared to face off over Trivial Pursuit. Will, Georgie and Elizabeth chose the blue game piece; the Bingleys and Jane opted for pink; Charlotte, Willa and Robin went with brown; and Robert, Mary and Katie picked green.
Jane looked a bit chagrined to have Caroline on her team, and gave Katie a piercing look. Katie shrugged. "We didn't want to break up any couples. There might be arguments, and that could be so awkward afterward."
"But the makeup sex would be nice," Robin quipped. He was promptly smacked in the face with a throw pillow expertly aimed by his cousin.
"Game on," Will said, smirking.
It was no surprise that Willa, the actuary, was especially sharp with anything statistical or nature-related. Robert was strongest in the arts and literature categories. Charles was his team's undisputed champion in any music or pop culture category, besting the young college girls who had never heard of someone called "The Fonz," and Mary, who proudly and repeatedly commented that she had never owned a television. Each proclamation prompted eye-rolling by her sisters.
"How could you not know Anthony Bourdain?" Jane moaned. "Or McSteamy?"
Who was France's first Socialist president?
"Francois Mitterand in 1981," Elizabeth answered.
This player holds the record for most touchdown passes in one season.
"Um…Peyton Manning?" Charles said.
"No!" cried Caroline and Robin at the same moment. "Tom Brady!"
Everyone turned to look at the unlikely pair. Robin shrugged. "Everyone knows that."
"Well, Brady looks like a Greek God. You have to pay attention," Caroline sniffed. She looked at Robin and smiled. He coughed and looked away.
Mary snorted and picked up another card. This indigenous North American animal was introduced in Japan because of a popular cartoon show.
Katie looked as though she might burst, and hugged her knees while glaring at the other teams.
"I know this one. Raccoons," Georgie ventured, smiling at Katie and getting a hug in return.
"Yay! Another pie for us!" cried Elizabeth. "Now we just need Arts & Leisure."
Caroline reached for the box of cards. Georgie slid her hand into Elizabeth's and whispered, "Yikes."
Caroline peered at the card and read it slowly. This painter, who is known for producing fewer than three dozen works, is featured in the writings of Marcel Proust.
Heads turned and brows wrinkled as the entire group pondered the question.
Will smiled and put his arm around Elizabeth. "Vermeer."
Caroline paused. "Can you be more specific? First name?"
"For god's sakes, Caroline. Is it Vermeer?" Charles retorted.
"Johannes or Jan. They're interchangeable," Georgie said.
"Fine. Yes. Have your pie," Caroline huffed. She sat back in the sofa and glanced at Robin. She smiled and rolled her eyes.
Robin averted his own as soon as he could and leaned over to pet Brody, setting off a wildly thumping tail.
"Stop it, you silly animal! That tickles!" Caroline cried. She dropped the bit of brie she was holding and abruptly pulled her feet out from under the dog. Brody jumped up in pursuit of the fine cheese and knocked the board off the table. Game pieces flew, a box of cards went overboard and a crumb-filled plate capsized. The players seized their wine glasses and sodas; only the cherries from Katie's Shirley Temple were lost in the carnage.
"Well," Robin said, one hand on Brody's collar and the other digging his phone of his pocket, "it's time to call Chicago. I think I need a lifeline.
"Carry on," he said as he wandered through the doorway.
The cleanup commenced without him. Jane secured a meeting time with her sisters to get their final dress fittings for the February wedding. Charles texted Marty to let him know he'd won the bet on the game's outcome: Ruined by Caroline. I owe you $20.
After the last guest left, and Georgie and Katie were settled in the den to watch a movie, Elizabeth and Will leashed up Brody for his final walk of the day.
They strolled down the gaily lit avenue, talking quietly about the evening and laughing at the more outrageous moments. Will wrapped his arm around Elizabeth and kissed the top of her head.
"Next time, maybe we should host some feats-of-strength games," he said. "I think Robin would've had fun with Rock`em-Sock`em Robots."
"Mary, too," Elizabeth agreed. "Everybody gets along fairly well, except for the `usual suspect.' And she's back to Ohio next weekend."
"And we're in Meryton on Thursday. Should be lovely."
"You're sleeping on the couch there, you know." Elizabeth shook her head. "Why do we all have to go there? There isn't enough room for you and Charles."
Will squeezed her a little bit tighter. "Bennet girls are worth a bad back, a cramped bathroom, and unrelieved sexual frustration."
"You don't say. How gallant."
"Wait, you did mention a finished basement, right? Is there an old futon we could christen?"
"Ha!" Elizabeth snorted. "You're assuming anything needs christening."
She'd taken three steps before she realized that she and Brody had outstripped Will. She turned around and smiled at her stunned fiancé.
"Oh Will. I'm kidding. Good thing we're marrying so young. I'll have at least six or seven more decades to tease you."
He stepped toward her and swept her into his arms for a kiss under a storefront awning.
For Will Darcy, life had become simple. Elizabeth.
"One more thing about tonight, love," he whispered. "Thank you for saving me from another sodden sweater."
"Well," Elizabeth said sweetly. "It was cashmere. Anything for my Sweater Boy."The End