Posted on 2013-05-27
Airports had never been fun, but they were especially unpleasant these past few years. Security checks, 3-oz. bottles, shoes off. William Darcy wondered when the first study about a giant upswing in athlete's foot or fungal infections would hit the news. Did women never wear socks or nylons anymore? And did men have to hit 45 before wearing socks with jeans was standard? Checking his stock portfolio for sock companies might not be a bad idea, he thought idly. Anything to blot out the inane chatter of the 24/7 news channels blaring overhead, endlessly and hysterically harping over the latest tidbit from Hollywood or Washington--it all made his skull hurt.
But the pain in his head at least numbed the pain in his chest. For William Darcy was a man in pain. He had learned years ago what it was to have a heartache...his chest had throbbed at his mother's funeral, ached at his father's service. But today he was hollowed out, his chest an empty cavity.
Fleeing the States to go home to London might help him refocus, forget or get over Elizabeth Bennet. But this cursed day seemed harder than even the last few had been. No matter where you looked or listened, this American holiday of remembrance of those who died for their country featured fluttering flags and solemn voices and music, punctuated by ads for mattress sales and jokes about cookouts. It was a jumble of a holiday, as jumbled as his emotions. This day marked a month since Elizabeth broke his heart. And it marked a year since his sister was broken by the man who couldn't seem to stop hurting the Darcy family. A man who now, it seemed, had captured Elizabeth's attention as well.
William slumped in his chair. The ambassadors' lounge was quiet. Memorial Day was not a big travel day for frequent fliers and executives. No, the real hoi polloi was just outside those 8-ft.-tall steel doors--students and vacationers and families all heading here and there. Behind these forbidding, members-only doors there was safety, protection. He nursed his scotch and water. He rarely drank this early but the atmosphere in the terminal had overwhelmed him. It was filled with students…young girls with long hair, bubbling with excitement for their overseas trips, laughing and happy. Nothing like his sister; she had never been truly exuberant, she was always too quiet, too serene, too shy. Only a few people made her bubble with joy--her cousins, and apparently, Wickham. The mantra started in his head: Forgethisname, forgethisface, forgethisname, forgethisface.…
A year ago, he'd not thought it possible for Georgie to laugh again, but she was, slowly, smiling. He rubbed his eyes and looked around the lounge. He'd fled it earlier, when it seemed happy couples--too many of them with auburn curls and laughing eyes--surrounded him, hugging boyfriends, laughing into cellphones, tapping on keyboards, nodding to the pulse of their iPods. The similarly happy but noisily irksome crowds outside had driven him back to the now more subdued lounge. He looked around the nearly empty space and realized that the honeymoon flights had all left.
The muted TV lit up with a new trailer: May 27…on this day in history….
Ha, he laughed quietly. On this day in history, my sister was assaulted, her soul was broken, her innocence shattered. On this day in history, I failed her. On this day in history, I toasted one month into a long life alone, with all of my faults and all of my pride to keep me company. Happy frigging Memorial Day.
While she'd never had the luxury of melting into rich, buttery leather seats, Elizabeth Bennet was at least used to middle-class conveniences and standards. And she'd had been around enough taxi cabs to hate their stale cigarette stench and seats made shiny by too many dirty bottoms, spilled drinks and greasy hands. Hating the ride wouldn't make it go any faster, but tapping on the plastic partition and gesturing wildly to her driver wasn't helping either. She'd packed efficiently so she could roll right to the gate, but with security checks and holiday travelers, she knew that making her flight was going to be close.
Resigned to her fate, she leaned her head back. `Wait! Greasy fabric!' She jerked her head forward. Then the mantra started: `This too shall pass, this too shall pass.'
They were at Terminal 1. Four to go, but traffic was heavy. Elizabeth watched the final goodbyes at the cars parked haphazardly about. A mother hugging her daughter and grandchildren, executives shaking hands, a group of teenagers with lacrosse sticks yelling goodbyes to their bus driver, and there it was, again. All those heartwarming farewells straight out of a Hallmark card: A couple exchanging a fond goodbye. A tearful goodbye. A sweet goodbye. Couples everywhere, it seemed, saying hellos and goodbyes with kisses and hugs and teary embraces. That's what couples do, she thought, shaking her head. They don't throw angry words born of lies and stupidity at a man professing his love. They don't deliberately hurt a man who's never tried so hard to speak his feelings. They don't stomp on his heart.
That hollowness in her chest ached. Nothing filled it. Movies and popcorn with Jane, soaking baths after hard runs in the park, her favorite books…nothing. It was nothing. Isn't that what she told William? "Your feelings mean nothing to me." She'd said that to him as he stared, his eyes growing bigger as he backed away. His shock was acute, her words lacerating him as they empowered her. And now the pain was hers. His too, she thought. I am everything he thought he had to overcome to love. It was she who had to apologize. Someday. This trip to visit her aunt and uncle in London was her latest plan to forget the past few months. Immersing herself in her cousins and the city's rich history couldn't erase the pain, but it certainly could forge new, happier memories.
Blaring horns shook her back to the here and now. Her driver mumbled something that sounded vaguely like "Weere. Bermive." Ah, yes. Terminal Five. She regained her sensibilities, paid and pocketed her receipt, and took off quickly to the closest sky cap.
Twenty minutes later, Elizabeth slumped in her seat at the gate. She'd made it, with 20 minutes to spare before boarding. She opened her laptop and started scrolling through the emails that had accumulated since she left her house. Seven emails, only two of any importance. She moved Jane's message to her saved mail folder, and stared at the screen. Her finger hovered over the mouse while she stared at the subject line on an earlier email: Apology. The letters blurred until they no longer made sense. She'd read his email at least a hundred times and the words never changed, but how she read them and how she heard his words kept evolving.
No good could come of this. Elizabeth tapped on reply and tapped in the few words she needed to say that would bring closure to this latest, most painful disaster in her love life.
I'm sorry, too, William. I apologize for not listening to you, for listening to charming lies instead of hard truths. You're a far better man than I knew, and one I wish I would have gotten to know better. Best wishes for your sister; she is lucky to have such a caring and wise brother. Take care of yourself, too, and thank you for sharing your private story with me. I'm sorry, again, for creating the situation that compelled it. I hope that someday, if we meet again, it will be under happier circumstances and without any painful misunderstandings.--Elizabeth
She took a deep breath and tapped send. A moment later, Elizabeth snapped the top shut, rolled her neck and looked around at her soon-to-be fellow passengers. Boarding had begun. She eyed a man wearing a sleeveless, stained t-shirt and carrying a huge blue carryon and a large McDonald's bag; she prayed he wouldn't be her seatmate on the seven-hour flight. Maybe someday she could afford to travel in first-class.
William caught the wave from the lounge's desk assistant signaling that his flight was about to begin first-class boarding. He'd already put away his laptop, so he closed his book and slid it into the side pocket of his bag. He stood up and pulled on his jacket. His phone beeped. Another email. It could wait; he wanted to grab a sandwich, some fruit and a bottle of juice from the lounge bar.
It was a short walk to the gate, and he could see it would be a crowded flight. As he waited behind two smartly dressed female executives, his eyes swept the crowd. He spotted a screaming toddler hurling pretzels and not far off, a heavily tattooed man clad in a too-tight sleeveless t-shirt. Thank God for first class, he thought. He handed his boarding pass to the attendant and a headful of brown curls, reflected in the glass, caught his attention. He blinked. Couldn't I have seven hours without thinking of her? He turned around to clarify the vision, and there she was. Elizabeth.
Still shell-shocked, William boarded the plane and sank into his wide leather seat. It was she. Had she seen him? Questions flew through his mind. Had she spotted him earlier and avoided his gaze? Was she on this flight, or the one at the next gate? Dammit. What should he do if she was on this plane with him for the next seven hours?
His phone chimed, reminding him that he had to hold to his promise and text Georgie that he was on his way home. He pulled out the phone and numbly tapped in a message. After he sent it, he saw he had three emails. Could they wait? There would be 20 more by the time he landed and turned on his phone again. William sighed. I'll just peek at them.
What terrible thing did I do in an earlier life to merit this hell? Elizabeth wondered. I'm on the same plane as William Darcy. She'd moved slowly down the first-class aisle, heading for coach, when she'd spotted him, sitting in his luxury seat, staring at his phone and oblivious to the peasants streaming past him. Thank God he didn't see her. Seven hours on the same plane, but at least they were in different classes, with different restrooms. A curtain divided them. No chance he'd see her. That was good, right? She sighed. How did I end up in the middle of the plane, surrounded by headbangers wearing sound-leaking headphones and a woman who'd decided to paint her nails on the tray table? At least the man to her right, in the aisle seat, seemed, normal. She glanced at him more closely. Perfect posture, buzz-cut hair, long-sleeved Semper Fi t-shirt. She stared numbly at the seat in front of her as it rocked back and forth. Charlotte was right; I should've brought some Ambien.
She sighed and closed her eyes.
"Sir, we have a seat for you in first class."
Elizabeth listened to the man's surprised protestations, then opened her eyes as he was led away by the flight attendant to the front of the plane. That was weird. Maybe I can stretch out now.
That voice. Her lids popped open. Had she been asleep long enough to be dreaming?
She turned her head to her right and felt all the blood drain from her head.
"Um, uh, William?" He was staring at her until he caught himself, and then he glanced over at Elizabeth's seatmates.
"I saw you at the gate."
"And then I saw your email."
Elizabeth's eyes started burning, though it was unclear whether it was from the stink of hot-pink nail enamel or the embarrassment of seeing William Darcy while she sat captive in hell.
"I, umm--. I wonder if you'd mind if I sat here?" he asked softly.
What?! Her mind whirled. "I don't know. The Marine who was there just left, but someone else…."
"Um, we exchanged seats. A Marine heading to Normandy to see his grandfather's grave should have a better seat." She was still staring at him with those enormous green eyes. "You know, what with Memorial Day and all?" He cleared his throat. "Is that okay?"
Warmth flooded through Elizabeth as she gazed at his uncertain smile. His good deed.
"Of course, please, if you'd like," she stammered. "But you're a glutton for punishment. You know we have to pay for our own drinks back here, right? There's no lobster or crème brulee in coach."
William placed his jacket in the overhead bin, shoved his briefcase under the seat, and sat down. He squeezed his legs under the seat ahead of him. Tight, but doable. His knee was nearly touching hers. He buckled his seatbelt.
"Cushy seats and free liquor are highly overrated luxuries. Besides, I brought supplies," he added, gesturing to a bulging plastic bag.
Elizabeth smiled. "And you're willing to share? And won't mind needing a chiropractor when we land? You'll be all stiff." Her eyes widened and her face turned a deep red as her words sunk in. She dropped her face into her hand.
He nodded and spoke quickly, covering her embarrassment even as his own cheeks flushed. "No pain, no gain, right? If you don't mind me sitting here, I don't mind a little pain. I promise you I'll have no regrets."
The flights attendants began their safety instructions and the plane began taxiing toward its runway. William noticed Elizabeth's hands gripping the armrest.
"Are you okay?"
"Just a bit of a skittish flier. I'll be fine."
"Take my hand if you need to?" he said quietly. You've already imposed yourself, Darcy. Don't push it.
"Thanks," she replied, but her hand stayed in her lap.
"Elizabeth, are you sure this is alright with you? Me, here?"
She slid her hand into his. "It's just fine. You did a nice thing for that man."
William sighed, relieved. "Why are you going to London?" he asked. "Er, you are going to London, not just changing planes, right?"
"I needed a change of scenery, and my aunt and uncle live in Nottingham. I'm staying with them for a few days, and then I thought I'd go exploring." Elizabeth paused, and cleared her throat. "I meant what I said in the email. I was stupid and cruel and I hope you'll forgive me for it."
"There's nothing for me to forgive. Just to forget." The jet's engines roared and the plane hurtled down the runway and into the air. Elizabeth clenched his hand tightly.
After a few minutes had passed, Elizabeth leaned closer to William. "We're over the ocean now, right?"
Elizabeth's grip loosened a bit but she kept her hand in his. "How about we have a reverse Memorial Day and call it forget day?"
William smiled softly. "Sounds good to me. No official flag, though, right?
She shook her head, and suddenly noticed the intense gaze of the woman with freshly painted nails. "No," she whispered. "I think we'll keep this holiday just between us."The End