The paediatric ward in a hospital is never the most pleasant place to be. While it may look more welcoming that the adult wards, because of the cheerful colours and animal caricatures, the atmosphere is far from cheerful. The paediatric ward is a place full of children in pain, and parents in pain, and often a place of despair not hope.
The head paediatric nurse at Longbourne Clinic, Jane Bennet, was well aware of this. As a young nursing intern, she had somehow always been assigned to the children's wards. As a result, she had developed a gentle, reassuring manner with parents and children alike. Which was what had helped her win this position at such a young age. As with everything, when she had taken the post, the rumours had flown behind her back. Her sister, Elizabeth, had tried to comfort her.
'Jane, you know you deserve the position. The other nurses are just being spiteful, because they're jealous. You have a much better way with both parents and children. None of the other nurses could coax a smile out of a ten-year-old oncology patient, and then still convince his parents that as long as there was life, there was hope. Jane, just ignore them!'
And she had tried. Heaven only knew she had tried. And then when father passed away . . .
Her morose musings were interrupted by a call on the paging system. 'Would all senior staff please report to the staff room immediately.'
Jane paused to gather her breath, and her courage. The last time she had been in a senior staff meeting, it had been with . . .
But that was ridiculous. She was fully back at work now, as was her sister, and of course things must carry on. The hospital could not just hang in limbo for any length of time, much as she might was to delay the inevitable. As they say, the only thing in life that was certain was change. And it seemed change had come, and if she tarried any longer, it would run away from her.
Jane hitched her smile back up, and began walking to the far end of the ward, to the physiotherapy cubicle, Elizabeth's cubicle. Elizabeth was a physiotherapist specialising in paediatrics, which was deemed appropriate for her small size. She was, however, just as good as with the adults. So when the head of physio on the floor had changed her maternity leave into an indefinite sabbatical, Elizabeth had risen to the position, also becoming a senior staff member.
As she passed each bed, she greeted the occupant, and their parents. As always, each wanted a little piece of her time. 'Sarah, sweetie, I have a meeting now, but I promise I'll come and check on you later, OK? Will you be here much longer Mrs Brown?'
By the time she eventually reached the end of the ward, it was ten minutes since she had heard the announcement. She peeked her head through the curtains of the last cubicle.
'Hi, Mrs Davis. Hey David. Elizabeth, I don't know if you heard the page, but we have a senior staff meeting now. Are you almost done here?'
'I'll be one minute, Jane. Let me just get David back to his bed and I'll be right up.'
'I've got to give instructions, so I'll wait for you up front.'
Her sister gave her a thumbs up and a cheerful wave, which fooled neither of them. Another ten minutes later they finally managed to escape form the ward.
'This is so hard, Lizzy.'
Elizabeth put her hand in her sister's. 'I know, Jane. For both of us. But, as papa always told us, life goes on.'
'Yes, life goes on.'
They reached the end of the corridor, and Jane gave Elizabeth a comforting smile before turning and entering the staff room, only to see every other member of senior staff seated round the large conference table.
Jane and Elizabeth walked into the staff room, only to see ever other member of senior staff already seated. Elizabeth quickly scanned the table. She saw two new faces, one of whom was standing at the front, obviously conducting the meeting.
'And you would be?' he asked, looking down at them. That could have been attributed to his height, which was considerable, but Elizabeth chose to attribute it to his attitude. She had heard he came from Harvard.
'Jane Bennet, head paediatric nurse.'
'Elizabeth Bennet, paediatric physiotherapist and head of physiotherapy in Wing A.'
Elizabeth felt her heart plummet as she heard the arrogant man introduce himself as Dr William Darcy, the new medical director at the hospital. As she heard Dr Darcy launch into a furious diatribe about how a hospital should be run punctually, efficiently and effectively, she gave in and let her mind wander.
She looked over to Jane, who was sitting next to the other new doctor. He must be the new paediatrician. He was smiling at Jane, which was good, because Jane was smiling back. She had expected Jane to dissolve into tears in this meeting, but there she was, smiling. It boded well for her.
Elizabeth's thoughts drifted to her last staff meeting in this room. Things had been so good. Everything was running so well. Why did it have to change? But that was a naivete question. As she and Jane kept telling each other, the only thing in life that was inevitable was change. There wasn't much comfort in the thought, but then there was even less comfort in any other thought. With much effort, she turned her attention back to Dr Darcy.
'I understand that this hospital is fairly well run, for a public hospital, but I want it even better. I can see that while the staff here is young, you are also capable. I believe I have made my expectations clear, and I trust we shall have a harmonious working relationship and environment, conducive to healing for all.'
The staff began to get up and leave. Elizabeth was pleased to note that Jane was walking out with the new doctor. As they walked past her, she saw his name-tag read 'Dr Charles Bingley.' She quietly stepped out of the staff room into the waiting room.
She snapped around to see the source of the voice, and nearly bumped into Dr Darcy. She took a step back and answered.
'Yes, Dr Darcy?' He tone was not quite defiant, but it had a bite of impatience and impudence.
'Miss Bennet, I believe I called for the meeting with the word "immediately" not "in 20 minutes."'
'You might well have, but I was in my cubicle with a patient, and if not for Jane I would not have heard it at all.'
'That would be "Nurse Bennet" to you.'
'Jane is my sister, and as such I have a right to call her by her given name.'
'That may be so, but this is a hospital, a formal institution, and we address people by their titles.'
'Dr Darcy,' she countered, emphasising the doctor, 'this hospital has been running perfectly adequately for a very long time, without your input. I believe you are aware that the late Dr Bennet, the man whose shoe's you are presuming to fill, was my and Jane's father.'
'I am aware,' he answered, but she had run ahead without even listening for his answer.
'He worked very hard to establish a rapport between the doctors and the other staff, creating an atmosphere of friendliness and comfort, which is, as you say, "conducive to healing." You may be a Harvard graduate, and you may have worked at prestigious private hospitals, but Longbourne clinic is mainly staffed by locals, health professionals who sport more than just a medical degree, and you are sure as anything not going to destroy what my father spent 20 years trying to establish.'
With that, she turned on her heel and went back to her ward, seething. In her wake she left an extremely dumbfounded Dr Darcy, wondering where that woman had come from, desperate to find out more about her.
When Elizabeth reached the paediatric ward, she was pleased to see Jane in conversation with the other new doctor. Jane beckoned her over.
'Lizzy, this is Dr Charles Bingley, the new paediatrician. Dr Bingley, this is Elizabeth Bennet, my sister, a physiotherapist.'
'Pleased to meet you, Miss Bennet. Please call me Charles. Old Darce is very fond of formality, but I think it's nonsense with people you have to spend all day every day with.'
'As I just discovered. Charles, in that case, please call me Elizabeth, or Lizzy.'
Jane smiled, pleased that in this ward at least there would be peace. 'Charles and I are going down to the cafeteria for coffee, do you want anything?'
'No thanks, but when you get back, I want to tell you something.'
As they walked to Jane's car late that afternoon, Elizabeth filled Jane in on the conversation she had had with Dr Darcy. Jane, as always, was keen to find an explanation favourable to all.
'I'm sure he was just intimidated, Lizzy. It was his first day. He was only a junior doctor before. I'm sure he just wants to make his mark.'
'He went to Harvard, Jane. He is a snob. I can't handle the thought of him destroying all that father did. Father devoted his entire life to this hospital, to the point that he died in its service. No rich upstart is going to ruin that.'
'He won't, Lizzy. Why don't I ask Charles to talk to him? They roomed together in college, I'm sure Dr Darcy will listen to him.'
'I hope so, Jane. I really hope so.'
That night, Jane heard Elizabeth cry herself to sleep. Elizabeth felt like her life was falling apart. She had no mother, no father, her friends were all at the hospital, she had no relationship. True, she had Jane, but judging by the way Jane had talked about Charles Bingley all the way through dinner, even that would not last much longer.
There were many things in her life she could not control, like her family, her friends, her aloneness. But there were some things she could control, and she was sure as anything not going to let Dr Darcy ruin her father's legacy. With that thought, she finally drifted off to sleep.
Elizabeth woke up early the next morning feeling like she had spent the night in a puddle of mud, rather than her bed. She felt soiled, dirty, betrayed. She was absolutely exhausted. She lay in her bed staring up at the ceiling, wondering what would have been if her father had not taken the 8:30 train, if he had taken the 9:00 train like he had meant to.
Why! Why? Why had he deserted her? She had just started working at his hospital, she had just become part of his world. Why did he have to go and get himself killed? And why did she have this sense that she was betraying him? She wasn't! How could she be when she was fighting the 'new guy', and her brain had taken to referring to him, every step of the way.
She rolled over to stare out of the window, tears rolling down her face, wetting her pillow. Somehow, she knew why she felt she was betraying her father. She was not being true to herself. She was fighting against an inevitable change, instead of fighting her own feelings of grief and loss. How many times had she fought with her father, telling him it was wonderful the way he was making such a relaxed atmosphere, but that the hospital was becoming a little unprofessional, a bit too relaxed to the point of disorganisation. Maybe Daddy, from his new position On High, was trying to help her.
But that could not be! This 'new guy' was far too arrogant; he would never listen to her. She may be a member of senior staff, but she was still just a physio, almost fresh out of med. school. DR Darcy, and the entire title was capitalised in her mind, gave off the feeling that had she been the Healing Angel Rafael, he would not have listened.
Eventually Elizabeth dragged herself out of bed, dressed in her physio blue, and went downstairs to have breakfast with Jane. As she walked into the kitchen, she immediately felt a sense of slight calm pervading her. The kitchen was exactly the same as it had always been; robin's egg blue walls, white marble counters, white wooden cupboards, blue-and-white striped blinds, a fresh bunch of flowers on the table. She schooled her features into a smile as she turned to greet Jane and the housekeeper.
'Morning Jane, morning Mrs Hill. I hope everyone had a good night?'
'Better than yours I'm sure, Lizzy,' replied Mrs Hill. 'Even from my room downstairs I heard you toss and turn all night.'
'I hope I didn't disturb you. I didn't think it was that obvious!' Mrs Hill gave her a small smile and bustled out of the kitchen. Mrs Bennet had died when Elizabeth was only 5, and Mrs Hill was almost like the mother the girls had never had.
'Not to worry, Lizzy. We're all entitled to a bad night every so often. Charles called me last night,' Jane said, apparently very bust with the toaster, trying to hide her blush. 'I told him of your concerns. He said he is a bit worried that the hospital is too relaxed, but he had agreed to speak to Dr Darcy.'
'Oh, Jane, that is very sweet of you, but I'm not sure I even want that.' She proceeded to tell Jane of the conflicting emotions that had troubled her since before dawn. 'So you see, I'm not even sure what I want, or if I'm just being silly. I doubt he's doing the right thing for the hospital, but it might turn out better.'
'I'm sorry, Lizzy, but I think Charles may have already spoken to him. They live next door to each other uptown.' Seeing Elizabeth's frown she hastily added, 'but I'm sure everything will work out for the best.'
'I hope you're right, Janey' she replied, using the childhood endearment that implied she was insecure. 'I hope you're right.'
Jane bestowed a quick hug on her sister, and they proceeded to gather their things, shout goodbye to Mrs Hill, and pile into the car for the short drive to the hospital. They got out the car and walked up to the paediatric wing. At the door, Jane gave Elizabeth's hand a small squeeze, and turned to the nurses' station.
Elizabeth proceeded to the waiting room, determined not to let that 'new guy' get the better of her, reaffirming her commitment to her patients. She was, therefore, beyond surprised when she entered the waiting room, only to find DR Darcy leaning on the door leading to her cubicle.
'Good morning, Miss Bennet.'
Dr Darcy watched Miss Bennet's retreating back with some surprise. Very rarely had anyone dared to speak to him like that. After all, he was Dr Darcy, a member of an old and distinguished family, a name that afforded him much respect. How dare she be so rude to him!
His state of distraction was such that, as he was walking down the corridor back to his office, he almost bumped into the lady's sister. Nurse Bennet and Dr Bingley were walking back to the paediatric ward with hot cups of coffee in their hands. They stopped to greet him.
'Bingley, Nurse Bennet,' he said, nodding to each of them in turn.
'Darce, how's it going?' He regarded his friend for a moment. 'You look a little rattled.'
'Not to worry, Bingley. I'll explain later. Please excuse me.' He turned on his heel and stalked back to his office.
That evening, over an excellent, but late dinner cooked by his housekeeper, Mrs Reynolds, he told Bingley of his argument with Elizabeth. Bingley took the same line as Jane, trying to convince him they were both justified.
'Think about it, Darce. Her father died two weeks ago, in an accident while he was on the way to a conference on hospital business. Both Miss Bennets were clearly very close to their father, and are naturally still grieving. You know as well as I do that mourners act strangely. She sees you as trying to usurp her father, not simply replace him as is the natural progression of things. I called Jane earlier, and she told me how their father passed away. Their mother died when Jane was only seven.'
'So they are orphans.'
'Yes, they are orphans, exactly like you or I. Cut her a bit of slack, Darce. She's in pain, a pain you can identify with. I know you only want to do what is best for this hospital, and I'm sure you're doing the right thing, but maybe just not the right way. Think about it.'
When Bingley left 10 minutes later, Darcy could do little but think about it. What he had not admitted to Bingley was that, as soon as he had turned her back on him, he had realised how beautiful she was. He was fast becoming attracted to this impertinent young woman, and there was nothing he could do about it.
He too awoke early the next morning. Lying in bed, staring out his window at the large oak tree that had been there as long as he could remember, he thought about when his father had died. Old Mr Darcy had a heart attack. He lay in a hospital for 2 long weeks, apparently recovering, when he had surprised them all by having a second heart attack. The doctor in charge was not quick enough to save him, and he passed away the next morning. William Darcy changed from a business degree to a pre-med course, and had never looked back since.
Darcy remembered how angry he had been with the world, and with anyone in it who dared defy him. By the time he got a grip on himself, Georgiana was in her senior year at high school. Then had come that whole fiasco, and he had retreated into his shell. Which was, of course, what had caused this mess in the first place.
Bingley was right, he thought. He was only trying to do the best for the hospital, but considering how young he was, and how new he was to the area, he wasn't sure that what he had in mind was indeed the best thing. As he pulled himself out of bed and began to put on his suit, he decided to go talk to Miss Bennet as soon as he could.
With that in mind, as he entered the hospital with Dr Bingley, he carried on straight with him, instead of turning right to the medical director's office. Bingley was surprised.
'Darce, where are you going? The only thing down this corridor is the paediatric wing.'
'Which is where I'm going, Bingley. I think I have a bit of clarifying to do.'
Bingley was on the verge of asking what needed to be clarified, but on seeing the determined look on Darcy's face, he thought better of it. Better for Darcy to do this himself, he reasoned. So he quietly bid Darcy a good day as he went into his office, leaving his friend in the waiting room at the door to Elizabeth's cubicle.
Darcy stretched and leaned on the doorframe. He was sure Miss Bennet would be punctual to work, given her devotion to her job and her patients. Sure enough, he had barely made himself comfortable when he heard footsteps, followed by Jane's musical laugh and Bingley's deep voice, and more footsteps. He pulled himself a little straighter and turned to greet her, ignoring the fact that she looked like a deer caught in the headlights.
'Good morning, Miss Bennet.'
'Good morning, Miss Bennet.'
Jane and Bingley stood together at the nurses' station, watching the drama unfold. 'Did you talk to him, Charles?' Jane asked. Bingley nodded. 'I spoke to her as well. I hope they will be civil.'
'I'm sure they will be. Civility is not what I'm worrying about, sensitivity is.' He peered out of the window. 'They just went into her cubicle. Now I can't see them!'
'Charles!' admonished Jane. She handed him a stack of files, picking up a second pile herself. 'Here, take this. All this paperwork should keep your mind off what they are doing.'
Not wanting to annoy Jane, Charles took his files and went to his office. He left the door open, so he could quite clearly see Darcy storming towards him a few minutes later.
It took Elizabeth a moment to recover her voice. After her struggles last night, she was definitely not ready to face him. Yet there he was, in her waiting room, blocking the door to her cubicle. She wished she could turn tail and avoid this right now. But it seemed the power of choice had been stolen from her. She shook her head to clear it, and answered him.
'Good morning, DR Darcy.' If he had been attentive, Darcy would have noticed the emphasis on the word 'doctor.' But, as it happened, he was too enraptured with the lady in front of him to pay too much attention to her words. At their first meeting he had considered her looks not worthy of notice. Now he could not believe that he had failed to notice her beautiful eyes. They were a deep, velvety brown, quite round, framed by long, dark lashes.
He blinked several times to return his concentration. He had come to hear her take on the hospital's situation, and (although he would never admit it, even to himself) to learn more about her. No woman had ever challenged him like she had after that staff meeting. She would certainly have some valuable ideas and opinions to contribute. He smiled at her.
Dr Darcy's smile caught Elizabeth completely off guard. She had to admit that he was a very handsome man. Stop it, Lizzy, she admonished herself. Get a grip. Feeling the need to gain some control of the situation, she invited him into her cubicle. This, at least, was her own turf. She sat down behind her desk, and gestured for him to take a seat opposite her. He, however, chose to sit on the bed, picking up a stuffed Winnie-the-Pooh toy bear and settling it in his lap. She stared at him, nonplussed.
'Miss Bennet, I believe we got off to the wrong start yesterday. I did not wish to antagonise you, although clearly I did. It is in the best interests of the hospital and the patients for all staff to co-operate.' He paused, waiting for a reply from her. She merely nodded which he took as permission to continue.
'I mean to make this the best hospital in the area. You would agree to that aim?' Again she nodded. 'Then I propose that we work together. I have practical knowledge on running a hospital, especially the financial aspects. You have practical knowledge on how this hospital runs, and on dealing with patients. Between us, we can put this hospital on the map.' He looked up at her for some sort of sign, some sort of response to his words.
Elizabeth sat up straight, and looked him in the eye. His speech had been short, and she determined that her answer should be in the same style. 'After our first meeting yesterday, I can safely say this was not what I was expecting. Your proposal is accepted. Although my knowledge is somewhat limited,' she added with a smile.
Darcy was relieved to see that she had relaxed. He could not resist baiting her a little. 'Of course your knowledge is limited, you are just a physio.' He stopped, waiting for her reaction.
And what a reaction he got! He immediately knew it was a mistake. She sat up straight again, arms folded across her chest, her beautiful eyes smouldering. She launched into a furious diatribe about how physiotherapists were trained medical professionals, having had most basic training the same as doctors, how the physio had far more of an impact on the patient than the doctor did, and how the physio facilitated recovery for most ailments, from injuries to operations. She would have continued had Darcy not held up a hand to halt her.
'Miss Bennet, I was only teasing. I have a healthy respect for physios. You do a lot of important care that we don't even know how to do.' She relaxed, but only slightly, and he knew the interview was over. He rose, and replaced the toy neatly on the bed.
'I would like to meet with you some time to discuss the running of this hospital. Are you free for lunch today?' She only nodded, the look on her face still quite stony. 'Then will you please meet me in the boardroom at 1. Please bring any hospital records in your possession.'
He nodded to her once, and she returned the gesture, before they turned from each other. Dr Darcy walked out one door, straight into Bingley's office on the other side of the waiting room. Elizabeth walked out the other door, straight to Jane's station on the other end of the ward. For the next 10 minutes the meeting was dissected by both pairs, until Dr Bingley and Jane were called to attend to an emergency. The other 2 returned to their own space without seeing each other.
The morning proceeded, with everyone going about their usual tasks. Jane spent the morning administering medication to her young charges; Bingley spent the morning doing a baby clinic; Darcy spent the morning in surgery; Elizabeth spent the morning helping young oncology patients walk a bit around the ward. By the time lunch came, all 4 were so absorbed in doing what they loved doing, what they were meant to be doing, that they almost forgot about the morning's conversations.
Almost. As Elizabeth returned her patient to his bed, and as Darcy washed up from surgery, they both recalled their lunch meeting, and each with a feeling of apprehension, went to the boardroom for the promised discussion.
Elizabeth glanced up at the clock on her wall. She really was rather fond of that clock. It had been made for her by her sister Katherine, or Kitty, as she was more commonly known. For as long as she could remember, the Bennet household had been an extremely tense place to live. Dr Bennet was always busy at the hospital, leaving Jane and Elizabeth, together with Mrs Hill, to tend to the three younger girls. Elizabeth clearly remembered one episode. Her father was away at a medical conference. Jane had left for college the previous spring. Elizabeth was trying to study for her school leaving exams. Mary was, of course, no help at all, having applied herself to the task of exams a month before. Kitty and Lydia were behaving live spoiled brats, demanding to be attended to.
After 3 days of no stop moaning and whining, noise and chaos, Elizabeth finally snapped. She couldn't remember exactly what she said to the younger girls, but she was sure it was highly incensed and insulting. That night she spent an hour on the phone to Jane, sobbing her heart out. She was sure that the younger girls had heard, but was certain that they had not heeded a word she said.
As it turned out, she was wrong. Lydia, of course, took no notice at all. But Kitty, who usually followed Lydia's example exactly, decided she could not let Lizzy go on like that. The next morning, with her baby-sitting money, Kitty had gone out and bought a plain ceramic clock, which she then painted beautifully for Elizabeth. Now, although she couldn't honestly say she missed Mary, who was away at law school, or Lydia, who was travelling the world, she really missed having Kitty around.
Elizabeth now recognised that as a turning point for both of them. Elizabeth realised that, in spite of everything, all her sisters, not just Jane, appreciated her, and she could count on them for support. It was the first time she had really seen any of Kitty's art, and praised her accordingly. Kitty took the praise to heart, and began to devote herself to her art rather than to being Lydia's puppy dog. Elizabeth thought with pride to the beautiful young woman Kitty had become. She was in her second year of a Fine Arts Major, already selling her work to rich strangers.
The thought of rich strangers reminded Elizabeth of her meeting with Dr Darcy. She put away her files, straightened the stuffed animals on the bed, grabbed her purse and walked out her cubicle. She waved at Jane as she walked past, and thought of the discussion she had had with Jane earlier. Elizabeth had been incensed that DR Darcy, for he had still no lost his status of DR, had insulted her choice of profession. Jane pointed out that he had tried to apologise, but Elizabeth was still convinced that he was just covering himself. 'You do a lot of important care that we don't even know how to do.' That implied that physio's did the menial, but important, jobs that were deemed below doctors. Jane had tried to convince her of other interpretations of his words, but she wouldn't listen.
She reached the boardroom and looked inside. There was DR Darcy, reclining on a chair as if he owned the place. She resolved to be on her guard about him.
As for the good doctor himself, he realised that what he had said could be misconstrued. Given the delightful impression he had made at their first meeting, his words had probably been taken in a way they had not been meant. His natural diffidence meant that things tended to come out wrong.
He couldn't let that happen. He just couldn't! Elizabeth Bennet was the most intriguing woman he had ever met. He had to amend the way she saw him. He heard footsteps, and looked up to see the subject of his thoughts approaching. He had to right the negative impression he had made, no matter what.
Elizabeth took a deep breath and entered the boardroom. She looked over to the table where he was sitting, and she had to admit that he was handsome. Lizzy!, she chastised herself. Where did that come from? He was a hateful man, and she shouldn't admit that he was attractive. But in spite of what she told herself, she nevertheless looked at him with some admiration. She shook her head to clear it of thoughts of him.
To her great surprise, he rose to greet her. 'Good day, Miss Bennet.'
Elizabeth didn't know what led her to say it; perhaps it was the wish to annoy him, perhaps it was the wish to show herself that all she wished to do was anger him. She returned the greeting 'Howzit, doc?'
If she had been surprised when he stood to greet her, she was positively bowled over when he laughed at her greeting.
'Howzit, indeed. I see I am not the only one who has been influenced by those South Africans.'
She laughed as well. 'My mother was originally South African, so when my cousins came to visit, they always taught us a bit of the 'common speech', so to speak. Although I won't tell you the Afrikaans swear words they taught us.'
'But I already know them. As part of my training, I worked in Johannesburg for a few weeks. I learned some choice curses from the Afrikaans doctors there. They were very vocal in their disapproval when they found out they would have to work for another couple of hours before getting off.' His eyes twinkled for a moment, and then became serious again. 'Some of the things I saw there. The city is modern and vibrant. I stayed in a plush hotel equal to any here. Yet every day I would drive out to the outskirts of the city, to the townships, and in the hospitals there you see things that you thought had been wiped out decades ago. Primitive viruses, injuries, conditions that seem to negate the achievements of modern medicine.' He looked up at her, into her eyes. 'The ordinary people live in a way that is beyond either of our worst nightmares.'
She blinked and broke away from his gaze. 'There but for the grace of G-d go you or I.'
'Yes, and that is why I am determined to make this hospital into a place of refuge for the poor people in this city, and I want you to help me.'
He sat down and waved a hand for her to do the same. She did so, caught in her imaginings of what privilege they lived in. His laugh startled her, and she once again thought how wonderful it sounded.
'I didn't know what you would eat, so I decided to try the old favourite: pizza!'
'Good thinking. I know you like formality, but if we are going to work together, it would be better if we got to know each other a little better, starting with being on a first name basis.'
'Very well, Elizabeth. My name is William. And it is not that I like formality, it is just that, as you say, first names implies getting to know each other better.' William!, he chastised himself. Where did that come from? It would not do to reveal his deepest secrets.
She looked on him with a deeper understanding. He was not aloof, merely shy. Suddenly, she was ashamed at having judged him so harshly. Maybe, working together, they could overcome the disorganisation, the difficulties, and fix this hospital. 'Pass the pizza, please, William. I'm starving, and I can't think on an empty stomach.'
Her light-heartedness seemed to remove any remaining tension, and for a few moments they ate their pizza in companionable silence.
Then William decided. He didn't know if this would prove to be a huge mistake, but something told him he could trust Elizabeth. Still, only Charles and Richard knew. He didn't want false rumours to be spread. Stop it, he commanded himself (yes, you read correctly, he has such self-control that he is able to command himself). Elizabeth would not betray him.
But as soon as he had made his decision, the power to implement it was taken from him, as Elizabeth promptly began speaking of the hospital. In that hour, they spoke of much pertaining to the hospital, as they continued to do in the weekly meetings they had over the next several months. When they saw each other around the hospital, each was open and friendly.
On noticing how well they got on when they were not arguing, Jane and Charles decided it was worth a try to try and get them together. So, on the pretence of none of them wanting to trouble Mrs Reynolds or Mrs Hill with dinner, they all went out together several times, much to the enjoyment of all. Other restaurant patrons assumed the cheerful, amusing group had known each other forever.
William found himself more and more attracted to Elizabeth, and Elizabeth in turn could not deny that she was starting to like him (she had dropped her epithet of DR). However, their meetings were not going all that well, with each having their own opinion on any proposed changes. As Jane remarked to Charles, after they had walked in on the middle of one such argument, 'If they would just stop and listen to each other, they would realise how much they actually agree on.'
William, for his part, still felt that Elizabeth thought he was trying to remove all traces of her father from the hospital. He was, in fact, trying to do the opposite, retaining Dr Bennet's influence while removing ineffectual systems and inefficiencies. And so it was, towards the end of one of their meetings, that he remembered his decision, and convinced that such a disclosure was the only way she would trust him.
'Elizabeth, may I tell you something in strictest confidence?'
If anything could give Elizabeth Bennet a fright, it was a deadly serious tone. She had heard such a tone often enough, usually directly preceding something of grave importance, or something just grave. So when William addressed her in such a tone, her head snapped up from the ICU records she was perusing to look at him.
'What is it, William?'
Needing to be certain, William looked into her eyes for a moment. Georgiana would be coming during her break, and he needed to be sure that he could not only trust Elizabeth with this secret, but with his beloved sister as well.
'Elizabeth, I didn't want to bring this up before, because I was not ready to tell anyone. But I think that now, for both of us, it is appropriate.' Elizabeth immediately became more intent on his words. 'We have commented on the state of the hospital's finances several times. I simply tried to straighten them out, without telling you that I know why they are so.' Seeing her about to interrupt, he raised a hand and said 'please, let me finish, they you can talk.' She nodded, and he continued.
And so William launched into his tale. 'I grew up in this city, on the other side of town. We lived in a beautiful old home that had been in our family for generations. Across the road from us lived a close friend of my father's, and his family, the Wickhams. His wife never particularly got on with my mother, and I could see why. My father took a great liking to his son, George. I do not mean to sound arrogant, but we were far wealthier than the Wickhams, and Father offered to help put George through college. It was far more than he deserved. Wickham could have won a scholarship, he was certainly clever enough, but he chose to spend his high school years seducing young girls, drinking and experimenting with drugs. Being at the same school, I could not help but notice all this, but I was taught that you don't strike a man behind his back, so I refrained from telling my father.'
He paused to take a deep breath, before continuing. 'When I was in junior high, my sister was born. Georgiana is twelve years younger than I am. As much joy as her birth brought to our family, it also sapped my mother of her energy, and she passed away when Georgiana was two. Then just after I finished high school, the elder Mr Wickham was killed, and then my father passed away as well. In my father's will there was money set aside for George to attend Harvard with me, but when the time came, he said he would rather go elsewhere (I didn't want to know where), and asked for the money so he could. I gave it to him, and thought I would never see him again. Apparently he did not use that money for college, because three years later, he came back to me and said that the other colleges had been 'unprofitable' was his word, and would I please pay for him to attend Harvard. Unsurprisingly, I refused. Then I really thought I would never see him again.
'But I was not to be that lucky. Apparently he did get himself a degree somewhere along the line; because I heard he was working at this hospital, and tutoring up state at the school where my sister was doing the last year of her business degree. I had not felt the need to tell her about my previous dealings with Wickham, and she retained positive memories of him from her childhood. I have never met anyone with Georgiana's moral sense, and I know she would never behave in anything but an
exemplary manner. So when I heard that she was having an affair with Wickham, I knew there was a problem. When I arrived, I discovered that Wickham had been spreading lies about her. He had supposedly been 'tutoring' her, but I arrived just in time to prevent her being raped. He was not breaking and entering, nor had he actually done anything to her that we could prove was wrong, so we had to let him go.
'Georgiana finished her degree, and came back here to live with me in our old house again. She was so ashamed of herself over nothing that she almost refused to come home, but Mrs Reynolds, our dear housekeeper, was worried and insisted. I had decided to leave the private hospital where I was working, and began looking for a public clinic in need of a medical director. I found one, but Wickham was the accountant there. When this position suddenly became open, I jumped at it. Here was a hospital with a good infrastructure, in a good position, that had been financially mismanaged, I found out, by Wickham. So I took it, and here I am.' And considering that I met you, it was the best thing I ever did, he added to himself.
For a few minutes they just sat and looked at each other, a new understanding forming between them. Everything that had brought them both to this point slowly started becoming clear, and each marvelled at how life's paths, although apparently at random, each led to a specific place. Eventually Elizabeth broke the silence.
'I didn't know, William.'
'How could you have known? I didn't tell anyone else, and Charles was sworn to secrecy. I didn't think it was necessary to embarrass anyone with the information. I was hoping Georgiana could take up a position here, and I wouldn't want that hanging over her head. That's why I'm telling you this. She's coming here to view the administration department. I don't think it would be fair for me to be part of that, so I want you to take my place. If you don't think she will be fit for the job, tell me and we'll find her something somewhere else. With you and Jane, and of course Charles and myself, I think this hospital will be just the environment to encourage her to open up.'
Elizabeth was not insensible to the compliment being paid to her. She knew how much his sister meant to William, and the fact that he was willing to entrust Georgiana to her care was not something to be taken lightly. She sought to reassure him.
'Don't worry. Jane is wonderful. She was the only one who could, more or less, keep our younger sisters in line after our mother passed away.'
'Um, yes, about Jane. I don't mean to pry or to put my nose where it doesn't belong, but I just want to look out for my friend.' Elizabeth eyed him quizzically. 'Right. Um, I have to say, I have never seen Bingley so besotted by a woman before, and I don't see his feelings being returned.'
Immediately Elizabeth bristled, and was tempted to make a remark about how he really needed to loom after his friend. Fortunately, she was struck by the thought that if the situation were turned, she would probably be doing the same for Jane. So she checked her impulsive anger and replied 'I know. Jane is generally very discreet with her feelings for fear of being hurt, but I really have never seen her so absorbed in anyone before, not even our baby cousins.' This elicited a laugh from her companion, which significantly eased the tense atmosphere. 'Seriously, she has fallen for him hard, and I hope to see her happily settled and be left on my own soon.' Maybe not on your own, and right next door to Jane too, thought William.
Aloud he said 'I want you to meet Georgiana first, so she will be at ease with you. Why don't we have dinner with her, and Jane and Bingley?'
'I'd like that.' She shuffled her papers around for a minute before gathering them and picking them up. 'I'll tell Jane and Charles. Should we say tomorrow at 7?'
'Perfect. I'm looking forward to it.' He started walking toward the door of his office, but stopped abruptly.
'Oh, and one more thing.' He turned to look at her. 'You may tell Jane if you like.'
That night Elizabeth did indeed tell Jane. Both exclaimed how shocked they were that the charming man who had been the hospital's accountant could be such a villain. Both vowed to take Georgiana under their wing. Both exclaimed out loud how they hoped the other would soon be settled, while each secretly doubted, yet hoped beyond hope that it would be the case for themselves. Each went to bed with much to think about, not least the dinner they had planned for the following night.
Dinner the next evening proved to be, to say the least, an interesting affair. As it was William organising the event, it was left up to him to decide where they were to dine. Sitting in his office that morning, after considering almost no other possibilities but taking his time nonetheless, he eventually decided on a small Italian restaurant, a place where he had frequented with his family in his childhood. It was as if he had no control over his choice; he automatically dialled the number and booked a table without even considering other possibilities.
It was only after he had reserved their table that he thought about it. He tried to convince himself that it was just because he wanted Georgiana to feel comfortable, but there were other places, with less emotional baggage, where she would be at ease. Charles and Jane would have been happy to eat anywhere. Eventually he admitted to himself that he wanted to take Elizabeth there.
They had been meeting for the last couple of months, and the state of the hospital had considerably improved in that time. The doctors and nurses were more efficient, the facilities were a little more organised, and the patients were very appreciative. After their second or third meeting, he and Elizabeth had become comfortable enough with each other for him to tell her that many of the structures her father had put in place were excellent, although only partially effective. She agreed, admitting that she had differed from her father on several issues.
By the second week, William found himself visiting Elizabeth's cubicle to ask her things of absolutely no consequence. To his great surprise, instead of answering him and returning to her work, she was happy to chat to him for a few moments. He discovered that she was very creative, very sure of her moral and ethical beliefs, and very devoted to other people.
And now, today, William found the time of truth was upon him. He had made a reservation at Bellinis. He never took anyone except family, and Charles, there. He was taking Elizabeth and Jane there to meet his sister. He never took anyone to Bellinis. But he had made a reservation. Bellinis was their family secret.
And finally he had to admit it to himself. He was letting Elizabeth, and Jane, in to his family's sanctum, and in effect welcoming them into his family. It had only been a few months, but William saw how close Charles and Jane were becoming, and he knew it would not be long before they were married. Charles had basically said he meant to ask Jane. And Elizabeth . . .
Elizabeth was part of his family. William wanted to welcome Elizabeth into his family, into his home, into his heart. His heart that she already ruled. William finally admitted to himself that the attraction he had felt for Elizabeth was far more than that; he had fallen in love with her.
But after that epiphany, William found he had no time to dwell on this wonderful, and terrifying, revelation. He was paged for an emergency, which made him late for several routine consultations, then there was an accident close to the hospital, involving a school bus, so he, Jane and Charles were furiously busy with the other paediatric staff, leaving Elizabeth to run the ward. By the time things calmed down enough for them to breathe, they were already late for their reservation. Gathered in the paediatric waiting room, William suggested 'I'll call ahead and say we'll be late, and then we'll go straight. Should we meet at reception in, say, 5 minutes?'
This was agreed to, and each left to close up for the day. Walking back from his office, William literally almost bumped into Elizabeth coming out of the children's wing. 'Elizabeth!'
'Oh! William. I'm sorry, I wasn't watching where I was going.'
'Neither was I. Thank you for tonight. I really want Georgiana to meet you.'
'Don't thank me yet,' she laughed. 'My, how shall I put it, exuberance may intimidate her.'
'I doubt that. Anyway, can I offer you a lift there?'
'Yes, thank you. I think Charles is going with Jane, and I would hate to be in the way.'
They had a pleasant ride there, talking about inconsequential nonsense for the quarter of an hour it took. When they arrived, William went round and opened Elizabeth's door for her, offering his arm. He was delighted when she took it.
The fact that they entered arm-in-arm was not lost on the other ladies of their party. Jane and Georgie had already met, and were comfortably chatting when Charles announced that the others had arrived. Jane and Georgie each had time to think of the prospective happiness of their sibling before rising to greet them. Georgie knew what significance this restaurant held, and could now see why William had chosen it.
William had also invited his cousin, Richard, who arrived a few moments before with Georgie. The group was perfect. They spoke, laughed, ate, drank, and relaxed. It was as if this group had been assembled too many time for there to be any awkwardness, although it was the first time some of them had met.
Towards the end of the meal, when they went to choose from the buffet desserts, Elizabeth held William back to speak with him. 'Why did you say that Georgiana is so shy and so intimidated. She's wonderful. She's elegant, gracious, sweet. She is soft-spoken, but really, you worry too much about her!'
'I know, I know. But I really was concerned. She has not been like this for a long time. And either way, I wanted her to meet you.'
Elizabeth smiled and blushed prettily. 'Thank you.'
They returned to the table, where dinner continued for several more coffees before they were done. Eventually Georgiana asked Richard to please drive her back up state, because she would surely fall asleep at the wheel.
Elizabeth crawled into bed that night feeling extremely strange. The evening had been wonderful, perfect even. The restaurant was cosy, homey. It felt so welcoming, a place for family.
William had dropped her off, and Jane and Charles had claimed they were not tired and were going for one last walk. Elizabeth knew it would not be long before she would be completely alone, because Jane would be married soon. The though of being left alone should terrify her, she knew. But for some reason, it didn't. There was no word of her other sisters coming back to live with her. Once Jane was gone . . .
She thought again to the evening they had just shared. She had sat next to Jane and William. Jane was going. But William. She realised how comfortable, how secure, she had felt with him by her side, and she realised that her total lack of fear with regards to her pending loneliness was because she instinctively knew he would be there. And she realised that she had fallen in love with him.
With that thought, she drifted off to sleep.
'Lizzy, Lizzy! Wake up!'
'Jane? What's wrong?'
It took a huge effort on Elizabeth's part to drag herself out of bed the next morning. Part of the reason was the weather; it was cold, dark and rainy. The other part was that she was exhausted.
It was simply too cold to be out of bed that early, she mussed to herself. Gingerly she lifted herself out of bed, wincing as her feet touched the cold floor. She quickly put on her slippers and gown, grabbed her navy skirt and physio shirt, and padded into the bathroom for a shower. As she passed Jane's room, she heard her soft, rhythmic breathing, and vaguely wondered what Jane was dreaming of to cause such a smile to grace her face.
By the time Elizabeth splashed cold water on her face, she was amusing herself at her own stupidity. She was exhaustedly out of her mind, and Jane was blissfully out of her mind, because Jane had come in at 2 am with the delightful news that she was (finally) engaged to Charles. Of course, two-and-a-half hours was not nearly enough to express her happiness, or her anticipation, or Charles' perfections. So when Elizabeth had to drag herself out of bed at 6, it was not surprise that she was too tired to even remember why she was tired.
Jane and Charles both had that Friday off, so Elizabeth drove to the hospital herself. As she pulled into Jane's parking space (it was closer to the door than her own), she vaguely wondered how she was ever going to make it through the day. She grabbed her files from the back seat, and blearily made her way to the staff entrance. Just as she was about to push the door open with her elbow, she felt something bump into her. She looked up, and laughed.
'Does Charles have keys to your house by any chance?'
Extremely surprised and caught off guard, William's head snapped up. On seeing who it was addressing him, he laughed.
'I have never had to regret giving him keys, until last night. I know Jane is your sister and all, but no-one can be that perfect!'
'I know what you mean. It took Jane two-and-a-half hours to tell me how wonderful Charles is. And just to top it off, they have the day off, and we have to struggle through 8 hours of patients!'
By now they had reached the elevator, where William went up, and Elizabeth went straight. 'Elizabeth, are you up for a lunch meeting today?'
'Lunch, yes. Meeting, no.' Lizzy! You're not even supposed to like this man. But it was no use; she jut wanted to spend time with him, whatever the reason.
'Great! Should we meet in the cafeteria at 1?' Will! That's much too enthusiastic. But it was no use; he just wanted to spend time with her, and she had given him a reason.
'Sure. Have a good morning!' And she was off.
William stood there for several moments before he realised he had better get into the elevator. It was in that mechanical conveyance that he allowed himself to think, much as a challenge as it was for his sleep deprived brain. Elizabeth had agreed to meet him for lunch; not just to have a meeting, but to actually meet him. It was good. It was nice. It was wonderful.
Your brains have been turned to mush, he scolded himself. If your vocabulary has been depleted to the level of a 5-year-old, how are you ever going to convince Elizabeth to join you for anything more than lunch! And he proceeded down the corridor to his office, trying to convince his brain to function.
Needless to say, by the time lunch came (and the thought of lunch was the only thing that motivated William to make it through to that point in the day), the famous Dr Darcy had given up. The combined effects of sleep deprivation and the beginnings of love were enough to addle the brains of anyone, and this particular someone had surrendered to the inevitable, shall we say 'absence' of his usual clear train of thought.
Elizabeth was faring no better. While she chatted absently about the Power Puff Girls, and Harry Potter, her thoughts wandered. She was genuinely happy for Jane; no-one deserved to be happy and well settled as much as Jane did. But if Jane left, she would be alone. Not having had a mother when growing up, and having a distanced father and sisters, Jane had been the only one who tried to lift Elizabeth from the terrible abyss of loneliness. At college she had been close to her room-mate, Charlotte Lucas, but their world views were different enough for her to feel detached from her. Her father's death had only compounded the feelings of aloneness. As always, Jane had been there to help her through, but when Jane left, who would comfort her then? And at 26, Elizabeth was starting to think of marriage. It was her greatest wish to have a family of her own, a comfortable home with a big oak tree, the laughter of children, and her husband, her partner in life. The problem was that most of the men of her acquaintance disgusted her, plain and simple. But now, much as she was loath to admit it, she was beginning to think that the man who had angered and intimidated her at first would fit perfectly with her fantasy. She sighed and picked up the phone to check if Jane was up yet.
Before going down to lunch, William somehow had the presence of mind to call Charles, just to check on him. To William's great surprise, he was neither at Pemberley, nor at Netherfield, nor at Jane's apartment. Eventually he tracked Charles down on his cell phone.
'Glad to hear you finally got up! I tried to call you at you, me and Jane, but there's no answer. Where are you?'
'Oh, Jane and I are at the park. She is such an angel, William. We were going to grab a bite to eat and then come visit you and Elizabeth. Have you been in the paediatric ward yet? I dare say Jane is missed. So, anyway, are you very busy this afternoon, so me and my angel can come by?'
'You never fail to surprise me! Actually, scratch that. After what you subjected me to last night, or should I say this morning, I shouldn't be surprised. Elizabeth and I are going to the café' on the corner for lunch. Why don't you meet us in 10 minutes?'
This was agreed to, and William , slowly, managed to gather his coat, wallet and phone, before heading downstairs to the paediatric waiting room. There he found a very panicked Elizabeth.
'William, I'm sorry to do this to you, but I need to go home. I can't find Jane anywhere. She's not at home, or at Charles, or at you, and she doesn't have her phone with her. She never forgets to take her phone, so I'm really worried that something has happened to her. Maybe there's someone at the apartment! What if she's hurt, or sick. She never does this . . .'
'Calm down, Lizzy.' Her head snapped up, although she didn't even register that he had used her nick-name. 'Jane is fine. Don't worry. I also tried to check on Charles, and I couldn't find him either. Fortunately he took his phone with him. They were at the park, and are meeting us at the café' on the corner now.'
The smile she gave him was so bright it rivalled the stars. 'Thank you, Will.' At that moment, Dr William Darcy knew he was lost. When he analysed the situation later (for being the scientist he was, how could he not analyse it), he could not understand why this, of everything, was what caused him to realise he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her. Why he wanted her to be with him was clear to him: she had a lively, intelligent mind; she had a playful, open personality; she was unbelievably caring; she had such a way with children, and he admitted that he wanted to share his with her; but most of all, she challenged him to achieve more, to be more, to do more.
And while this revelation did not come entirely as a shock to him, William was sufficiently surprised so as to be speechless for a moment. He was abruptly snapped out of it when the subject of his thoughts asked whose car they should go in.
'It's still early in the season, although I don't doubt that it will get colder, so if you have no objections, should we walk?'
She nodded, and they proceeded to the main entrance. As they stepped outside, William fell in step with Elizabeth, and slipped her hand into his. She didn't object, just gave his hand a small squeeze. They walked down to the café' in companionable silence, each being preoccupied with the other's touch, and thoughts of their potential future. (I will leave it up to the reader to imagine what those might have been, just make sure that (a) they are the same, and (b) they include children, an oak tree and a swing.)
Love-struck as they were, even Jane and Charles could not miss that Elizabeth and William entered hand-in-hand. As the new arrivals were seated, the ladies immediately struck up a conversation centred around wedding dresses, décor and retinues. After less than two minutes of this, William turned to Charles and said 'Is it going to be like this till the wedding?'
Charles laughed and answered with a resigned grin, 'Most likely. Unfortunately, we'll be subjected to it for quite a while. We wish to marry soon, but because the mourning period will not be over for some time, it will be a small, simple ceremony at the end of the year.'
The waiter arrived and began taking orders. Lunch was extremely pleasant, and by the time Elizabeth noted that her and William were probably expected back at the hospital, a very firm bond had been formed between the two couples. Although they had broken bread together many times before, the new dynamics between them all created an atmosphere where they could relax and open up, a situation that lasted for the rest of their lives.
As they walked back to the hospital, Elizabeth broached the subject of his sister. 'Will, I'm not sure if we have the finances for this, although we certainly have the need. The paediatrics department has long needed a financial director, shall we call it. A book-keeper is not nearly enough. We have such trouble with finances, both because we don't always chase up on fees and because we need fund raising desperately. Because we are the top paediatric unit in the city, in spite of us being a public hospital, the staff simply don't have the time to do it. I was wondering if we could create a financials post in paediatrics, that perhaps Georgiana could fill.' She ended off tentatively, waiting for his reply.
Everything William had felt before was confirmed in her eyes. He knew how hard it was for Georgiana and he had been wondering what to do with her. And here was Elizabeth with a perfect opportunity, requesting his permission. All he could do was smile at her and say 'Thank you.'
And it was all he had to say. In that moment, Elizabeth knew that her earlier fantasies were truth. As they walked back to the hospital hand-in-hand, she knew this was how it was meant to be. The loneliness that she so feared could not harm her when she was with him.
They parted at the elevator without a word, each consumed with the thoughts the other managed to convey across the silence. Their understanding was silent, but deeply felt.
Needless to say, the afternoon was even less productive than the morning, which was what Jane and Bingley discovered when they stopped in mid-afternoon.
Having spent the entire day together, Jane and Charles agreed to forfeit the evening in favour of time with the others. As such it was a night of much laughter, tears, reminiscing, confidence, but most of all planning.
'Lizzy, what are you going to do when I'm gone. It won't be for a while, but still, we need to think ahead.'
'It shouldn't be a problem, Janie. I won't be far from you, and neither of us will be alone.'
'What aren't you telling me?' Jane asked, although she already knew.
'I don't know. William and I haven't discussed it or anything, but it's as if we were just meant to be together. I know I'm probably rushing things, jumping ahead of myself, as usual, but over the past few months, through working with him, I feel like I really have come to know him. I'm not afraid to open up to him. All that stuff that I told you about Wickham, Jane, he hasn't told anyone else except Charles and Richard. I just feel so, I don't know how to describe it, whole, with him.'
'I know what you mean, Lizzy, and I'm just glad that by following my own heart, I won't be abandoning you.'
'I was wondering if Jane and I were going to have to invite you to dinner every night once we were married, because I couldn't let you just eat alone.'
'Indeed, Charles, I think we will be eating together even more frequently than now.'
Having noticed William and Elizabeth's appearance earlier, and also having ben tipped off by Jane, Charles was able to, for a change, correctly interpret the comment. 'So what is with you and Lizzy?'
'I don't know. Everything, nothing. We haven't actually discussed it, but we both know that this is it. I know she is the one I want to spend my life with, share my dreams with, raise children with.'
'I know what you mean, Darce. I know what you mean.'
The time for discussion came the next morning. Charles arrived with William, to plan his and Jane's engagement party. It didn't take long for William to point out that, while it was wonderful that they were engaged, and if was certainly fitting to plan a party to celebrate, Jane had nothing to show for it save the smile on her face. So Jane and Charles set off to buy an engagement ring, and Elizabeth and William were left to their own devices.
After sitting in a comfortable silence for a few moments, Elizabeth suggested that they take a walk to the park. Accordingly William gathered their coats and proceeded to offer her his arm, which she shyly accepted.
Their walk was quiet, each contemplating what there was to be said. William noticed a little girl on a swing, and found himself imagining it was their daughter on the swing at Pemberly. Elizabeth saw an elderly couple sitting quietly on a park bench, and envisioned her and William's old age.
But as they passed the little girl and the elderly couple, William saw that she was limping, with her right hand hanging at her side, and Elizabeth caught the old man whispering words of comfort, about how her life would go on without him when he succumbed to the cancer.
As William guided them to a shaded bench, each quietly noted that life would inevitable bring sorrow and pain, but as long as they were together, they could bare any load. It was a fortuitous realisation, for indeed, before long, it would be sorely tested. But for the moment, they were content to just be in each other's presence, blocking out the ever-present pain.
And so they discussed how they had come to that point, each admitting their feelings and their hopes. They acknowledged how it was gratitude that had brought each of them to the understanding of their feelings, and promised that gratitude would ever be a part of their relationship and their home. They spoke of their hopes for the future, and related the thoughts that had come up on their walk, accepting together that together they could handle whatever life might throw at them. Eventually William realised the ridiculousness of the situation, and spoke up.
'Elizabeth, sweetheart, I know exactly what I want from this relationship. Over the past few months I have come to know you, and from everything I have seen, I know you are the woman I want to marry. I know this is very early to be saying such a thing, and you don't need to answer me now, but you must know that I want this to be for real, for ever.'
'I know this is for real, and I want this to be forever just as much as you do. If you were to make me an offer now, or ever, you know I would be incapable of refusing it.'
Accordingly he did make her an offer, which she accepted. For the next hour they just wondered around the park, saying little but communicating much. They decided that they would 'date' for a few months, telling only Charles and Jane the real nature of their relationship. It was, after all, very sudden, and while neither doubted that this was the person they were meant to be with, they didn't want to create a situation that was 'gossip-worthy', as William said. It was a general consensus that their lives were complicated enough already, and neither wished for them to become even more so.
Eventually, they returned to the house, where they found a beaming Jane, eager to show them the rock on her finger. And so they spent the afternoon, Jane and Elizabeth planning the engagement party; William and Charles proposing renovations they each meant to make to their homes in preparation for the ladies' arrival. They were the picture of everything blissful, Charles intertwining his fingers with Jane's, and William with his arm around Elizabeth's waist. They discussed the engagement party, politics, Kitty and Mary's anticipated arrival, the latest medical journal article, Georgiana's prospective post, the weather. Nothing was too dull, too ordinary, too repetitive for the happy group.
Dinner was an interesting affair. Mrs Hill had taken some time off to visit her sick sister, so they were left to their own devices. Elizabeth prepared pasta and mushroom sauce, Jane made dessert, William made salad and dressing and Charles set the table. Their attempt at washing the dishes resulted in a massive water-and-foam fight, and the gentlemen were sent home in Dr Bennet's old track-suits.
The engagement party was to be the following Sunday evening, and accordingly the ladies set about planning it. The week passed uneventfully, with Elizabeth, Jane and Charles interviewing and hiring Georgiana. On Friday Mary and Kitty arrived to spend the weekend. The hospital continued to run as normal, with nothing noteworthy save the employment of Georgiana and the arrival of a new intern, Dr Adam Bailey.
When the weekend arrived, everyone was exhausted, so they opted for an intimate family dinner (prepared, of course, by the wonderful Mrs Reynolds). They made a lively group: Jane and Charles, acting everything of the newly engaged couple; Elizabeth and William, acting everything of the potentially engaged couple; Georgiana acting everything of the young woman gaining confidence; Kitty acting everything of the favourite younger sister and Mary acting everything of the law student just beginning her articles. Lydia was unwilling to take time out from her trip, having already been back for her father's funeral. Charles' sisters were, fortunately, unable to attend.
And so it was that they found themselves at William's house, setting up for the party.
'Jane, where do you want these flowers?' Elizabeth yelled at her sister in the kitchen, just as her sister emerged to request help in making cookies. The men were perched high on chairs, stringing fairy lights through the canopy of grapevines over the patio.
'Lizzy, do you have to yell like that?' asked Charles.
She looked at him as if he fell out of a tree. 'How else is she supposed to know I need her?'
'Get up and go talk to her!' Elizabeth stuck her tongue out at him and picked up one of William's scatter cushions, ready for a mammoth pillow fight. She was too slow, however. Just as she was about to take aim and throw, a well-flicked piece of greenery bounced off her nose, causing her shot to go very wide, landing at Jane's feet. William turned around, ready to watch what was bound to be an excellent fight, but was disappointed when Jane interceded.
'Honestly! I'm about to get married. I really shouldn't be playing mother to my future husband and my grown sister!' She glanced at Charles and then Elizabeth, and seeing them both ready to argue she quickly added 'No, that is not your cue to attack me. Charles, are you going to take all day on those fairy lights? And Lizzy, you come do the cookies and I'll deal with the flowers.'
Elizabeth gave Jane an angelic smile and disappeared into the kitchen. She stopped at the door and called 'Oh, and Charles, I think I should warn you, should you even consider entering this kitchen, I will personally ensure that you spend so long in the shower trying to remove condiments that you will miss your own engagement party.' She gave another smile and flounced inside.
Jane took one look at the mischievous smile on her fiancé's face and let out an exasperated sigh. William just burst out laughing. Charles jumped off his chair and walked over to Jane. 'Oh, come one, Janie. Your sister is such fun! My sisters would have run a mile had anyone suggested they plan a party themselves, or do any cooking themselves, never mind if anyone had threatened a pillow fight.'
Lizzy, now bedecked in an apron and rolling up her sleeves, poked her head through the door again. 'Did I hear Charles just say that I'm such fun?' She looked at William for confirmation, and he nodded solemnly. 'I was beginning to have doubts about Jane's marrying you, but if you can convince her of that fact, I will surrender her to you any day.' She grinned and slipped into the kitchen again.
'See what I mean?' William doubled over with laughter again. The noise attracted Charles' attention to him, and he was quickly rounded upon.
'What do you think William?' This just caused him to laugh even harder. He collapsed onto the sofa in a minor fit of hysterics. 'William Darcy, the famous Dr William Darcy, laughing so hard that he can't even speak! I can't remember when I last saw that,' he added to Jane. 'Come on, Will, share the joke.'
Eventually he calmed down long enough to speak. 'Do you have any idea how ridiculous we must look? And no, Bingley, I'm not going to give my opinion, because whatever I said would certainly get me into trouble, either with Lizzy, my future wife, you, my best friend, or Jane, the sole voice of reason and clear thinking adult this afternoon.' He was rewarded with a smile from Jane and a pout from Charles. 'Um, yes. Maybe I had better get back to those fairly lights.'
Meanwhile, Georgiana had just let herself in, and went straight to the kitchen. She stopped short at the door, seeing Elizabeth covered in dough, rigging a bowl of flour on the top of the door. 'Lizzy, what on earth are you doing?' she asked, flabbergasted.
'I'm preparing a little welcome for Charles!' And she related the argument of the afternoon, having to stop for breath every so often because she was laughing so hard. She finished rigging the bowl, complete with a cord so she could tip it at just the right moment on just the right person, and turned back to her cookies.
Georgie just shook her head. 'After seeing you lot at work this week, I would never have imagined this was what you are really like!' Elizabeth laughed, and began rolling the dough into balls. The doorbell rang, and Georgiana went to answer it, just as William entered the kitchen, to the tail end of Lizzy's laughter.
'What's so funny?' he asked, picking a bit of cookie dough and popping it into his mouth. Elizabeth slapped his hand away.
'That's for the party later, not for now. And your sister heard what we've been up o this afternoon. I think it will be a bit more difficult for us to exert authority over her at the hospital!' She stopped as she heard Georgiana calling her name.
'Lizzy! Your sisters are here!'
Elizabeth put her spoon in the bowl and wiped her hands before going into the hall. She squealed with delight when she saw who it was. 'Kitty! Mary!' Her yell attracted Jane, who greeted in her sisters in an equally warm, if somewhat quieter, manner.
Introductions were quickly made, well all except for Charles, because no one knew quite where he was or what he was up to. They caught up in the hall for a few minutes, before Elizabeth remembered herself and invited everyone into the kitchen to have a drink. Leading the way, she got as far as the door before she was overcome by a fit of giggles. She was laughing so hard that she was bent over double, allowing William to look over her into the kitchen. He too burst out laughing. Jane, suspecting what had happened, pushed past them, but she too had a laughing fit. The three younger girls just looked at each other in bewilderment.
What caused them all to laugh so hard was the sight of Charles in the middle of the kitchen, covered in flour and water, calmly picking cookie dough from Elizabeth's bowl. He had come into the kitchen, looking for Lizzy so he could tip a bowl of water over her head. But as he crossed the threshold of the room, he had tripped, spilling the water all over himself, bumping the door so the contents of Lizzy's contraption attacked him. Then he spotted the cookie dough, and couldn't resist picking at it. Which was how the others found him.
By the time they had laughed it out, William observed that they had better all go change, since the guests would be arriving in less than an hour. The ladies all adjourned to Georgiana's room, while Charles was sent home for a shower. William, with the help of Mrs Reynolds, cleared the kitchen.
The party went off without a hitch. The finger foods were delicious. The company, excepting of course for Mrs Phillips, the late Mrs Bennet's sister, was pleasant. Jane looked positively radiant, as did Charles, once he had been stripped of his involuntary coating. Three hours later, they collapsed on the sofas for a well-deserved rest. The Darcys' cousin Richard had remained behind after the party, and it was clear that he and Kitty were hitting it off.
Having both arrived a little early, but not having anything official to do, they had been left to entertain each other, which they most happily did. Mary had immediately wandered off to investigate the library, leaving the budding couple alone. They had been together most of the party, and now were sitting together on a couch with the others.
As the hour got late, Kitty announced that she had to leave if she was to make it back to school that night. Mary had left as soon as the party ended, claiming she had much work to do. Her sisters rose to walk her out, leaving the others in the family room.
'It was so wonderful having you here, Kitty. After Daddy passed away, I wasn't sure when we would see each other again. I'm so glad you could come.'
'Of course I came, Janey. How could I not? The first of my big sisters to get married! Not that I think the other one will take her time,' she nodded at Elizabeth, who rewarded her with a radiant smile. 'I know the others are our sisters too, but you two are the only ones I can really consider to be my family.'
Elizabeth saw Jane about to respond, but cut in quickly 'When you're finished your course, won't you come look for a job here. We really would love to have you near again.'
The assurance was given that she would, and the sisters made their goodbyes. Jane and Elizabeth returned to the rest of the family, where they found Kitty's wallet that she had left behind, while Kitty began her long drive.
About an hour after Kitty left, Jane and Elizabeth began to talk about leaving, although neither got up or made any other move to act on it. Richard had left soon
after Kitty, so it was just the usual crowd left. They began talking about hospital matters, explaining certain things to Georgiana. Charles mentioned the new intern, Dr Adam Bailey, and everybody looked up.
'He's in paediatrics with you, right?' asked William. He was answered by nods from all sides. He noticed that Georgiana was blushing. 'Two new employees in paediatrics, hey,' he added to Charles. 'Are they troublesome?'
Elizabeth was quick to reply. 'Not at all! Georgie is as sweet as anything, and Adam seems nice enough. The kids seem to like him, he seems to know what he's doing, and (amd this is sure to make him a success) it seems that a certain financial person has also taken a liking to him.'
Georgiana blushed an even brighter shade of pink, but was saved from having to answer by the ringing of Elizabeth's phone. She leaned over and passed the phone to Lizzy, with her eyes averted.
'Hello? . . . Oh hi Crystal! . . . No, I'm not at home, I'm at Dr Darcy. . . Yes, for my sister and Dr Bingley's engagement party. . . Ya, she said you couldn't come because you were working Sunday shift. . . There's some of my cookies left over, but that's about it. . . Sure, I'll bring some for you tomorrow. . . Pleasure. So what can I help you with? . . . Dr Stern in ER? What does he need me for now? . . . Oh, sure, put me through.' By now the others were looking at her inquiringly. She just shrugged her shoulders and turned her attention back to the phone. 'Josh? Hi. . . No, I was just wondering why you needed me on a Sunday evening?' The others watched as she went paler and paler as the doctor spoke. Eventually she answered, 'Yes, that does fit the description of my sister, and what she was wearing when we last saw her. . . We'll be right there.' She hung up her phone and turned to the others. 'Come, we've got to get o the hospital right now.'
Everyone, except Georgiana, who was left to man the fort, rose to fetch their coats and piled into William's car. Lizzy took a few deep breaths and began to explain.
'There was an accident not far from here, apparently with Kitty. They couldn't find any identification on her, because she left her wallet here. Apparently she was calling 'Lizzy' and 'Janey.' Based on what they remembered of her from when she used to visit the hospital with Dad years ago, they guessed who she was. She's unconscious, but stable. They suspect a spine injury, but they don't know how serious.' She sighed and hung her head between her legs. William grasped her hand while Jane massaged her shoulders from the back seat. While the rest of them were still in absolute shock, Elizabeth was beginning to react.
Before long they reached the hospital. It was visiting time, always chaotic on a Sunday, and William was grateful for his designated parking spot close to the door. They all climbed out and rushed over to the staff entrance, leading directly to the ER.
The weekend staff was very surprised to see Dr Darcy, Dr Bingley, Nurse Bennet and Elizabeth Bennet, the physio, all rush in. Not that it was odd for at least one of them to appear over the course of the weekend, but none of them were even wearing their hospital identification. But stranger things had been known to happen, so they just shrugged and went about their business, knowing nothing of the Bennet sister who had just been admitted.
The foursome burst into the ER, Elizabeth in the lead, looking frantically around for her sister. William immediately moved to the desk, and spoke briefly with the nurse before returning to the others. He took Elizabeth's hand and gently lead her out of the ER, Jane and Charles following in their wake.
'Crystal says they took her up to surgery. Apparently there was some internal bleeding, but fortunately not too serious. It seems that Richard was the first person to drive past, and he called the paramedics and helped them bring her in. He's here, in the OR waiting room. He should be able to tell us what happened, and I can get an update on her condition from Josh.'
Elizabeth nodded mutely, as did Charles. Jane was the next to gain control of her senses. She told herself to snap out of it, and immediately her trained instincts took over. 'We should definitely go up. And maybe someone should get a copy of the scans from radiology. Georgiana needs to be updated, and she should let Mary and Lydia know. Oh, and at least my and Lizzy's schedules for the next few days should be cleared.'
Her business-like tone aroused Charles from his daze, and he too snapped into action. 'Lets go up to OR, and once I've got an update on her condition, I'll call Georgie. You,' he added, nodding to William, 'need to stay with Lizzy.'
With that, they all trouped up to the OR waiting room, where they found Richard pacing the floor. When they entered, he looked up and mumbled a greeting, but kept his nervous movement. Jane led Elizabeth over to a sofa while the doctors went to the door of the operating theatre.
A million thoughts raced through Elizabeth's mind. What if Kitty had permanent damage? What if she had brain damage? Her spine had been injured - what if she was paralysed? And finally the thought that she had refused to allow - what if she didn't make it?
Similar fears were consuming Jane's thoughts. She had seen so many patients. How many times had she comforted parents and loved ones about injuries, saying that it would get better, and that the injury was not so serious. Half the time she didn't really believe her own words. Still, those words had given others hope. Who would give her that encouragement now? She started to cry, slow tears falling onto Elizabeth's cheek.
Jane's tears brought Elizabeth to reality. Now was not the time for despair. They didn't even know the prognosis yet! All they could do was hope and pray for the best. She called Richard over, and began to say all the things she would say to any patient, willing herself to believe, to have faith that everything would be all right.
When William and Charles returned, they were relieved to find all three calmer and more alert than before. Charles said that Josh was almost finished and that he would be out to talk to them in a few minutes. In the meanwhile, would Richard please tell them what happened.
'I was driving down the street when I heard a crash up at the top of the road. I was about to turn to get onto the freeway, but since I thought I could help, I went up to the crash scene instead. I'm a volunteer paramedic,' he added by way of explanation for Jane and Elizabeth. 'When I got there, I saw it was Kitty's car. It seems that the other guy skipped a red robot, and crashed into the passenger side of the car. Her car spun and mounted the pavement. His car rolled and eventually hit the robot. She was lucky, because he didn't make it. She was awake when I arrived, but she passed out just before the paramedics arrived. By the time I went to check on the other guy, he was already a goner.'
Seeing the guilt written across his face, Jane quietly said to him 'You couldn't have known. You were working alone, and stabilised the first patient before moving onto the second.' He nodded, still looking down.
They were disturbed by the sound of the OR doors swinging, indicating Josh's arrival. They all jumped to their feet at the sound, desperate for some news. 'Hey guys. How are you all holding up?' They all nodded, and he gestured for them to sit. 'You're lucky. It wasn't nearly as bad as it could have been. She's not bleeding anymore, and she's been put in traction. None of the vertebra were actually broken, and it seems that no permanent damage was done. She will need to be in here for a couple of weeks, though, and then she'll need therapy to learn to walk again. But I don't need to tell you guys any of this. I'll bring you the X-rays to have a look. Oh, and she was awake before we put her under, so as soon as the anaesthesia wears off, she'll wake up and you'll be able to see her.' He stood and smiled at them, and then he left.
'Oh, thank God. We can deal with this.' Elizabeth was the first to react, looking around at everyone else. For the first time she noticed the room they were in. The walls were painted a soothing green colour, with a large vase of flowers standing on the empty nurse's counter. A large picture of a magnificent sunset graced one wall, while a photo of a waterfall adorned another. She smiled at William and added, 'Remember when I insisted we redecorate the waiting rooms? Well, it was a great idea. If it weren't for this, we would be admitting family members too!'
Her light remark brought them all to realise just how fortunate they were, and they all trooped to Kitty's room to wait for her to wake up.
Kitty didn't wake up that night, or most of the next day. By midday Jane and Elizabeth were beginning to worry. William assured them that this was expected, considering that she had a concussion, but something didn't sit right with Elizabeth.
Kitty was in traction, with her head being pulled in the opposite direction to her feet. And she was covered in scratches and bruises. She looked so uncomfortable lying there, trying to move but being impeded by the equipment. Elizabeth could almost feel the drip and the monitors irritating her sister, and although she had seen countless patients, mostly children, like this, she was filled with a feeling of unease. She confided her fears in Will.
'Lizzy, you know this is what happens, how it works. I know you have very good instincts where your patients are concerned, but it's perfectly acceptable for them to be a little confused with your own sister.'
'I know I'm not being rational, Will, but I just have this sense that something isn't right. I feel like we all are missing something. If it were just a mild concussion like Josh said, she should have woken up this morning. This isn't normal, Will.'
'Should I order some extra tests?' She nodded. 'I'll tell Josh to order them. I think it would be better if I were not directly involved here.'
Seeing the wisdom in his logic, Elizabeth didn't argue, but insisted that he go talk to Josh immediately. Unable to see the look of helplessness in her eyes when it was within his power to do something, he obeyed her wish.
He found Josh in the staff-room, writing up reports. 'Hey boss! What's up?'
'Hi Josh. I don't mean to interfere or to intrude, but Elizabeth is a bit concerned about her sister.'
'Quite understandable. When you're dealing with patients it's easy enough, but when you have to treat those closest to you, all that stuff they taught us about objectivity gets lost. What is she worried about?'
'She's worried that we have missed something important. She seems to think that we have confused the problem. I agree with what you said about her objectivity being a bit misplaced right now, but her instincts are usually pretty accurate. Don't you want to check her again, order a few more tests?'
'What exactly is she concerned about?'
William explained her anxiety, and Josh agreed to investigate a bit further. Satisfied with that result, but not quite ready to return to Elizabeth and Jane, leaving them to have some time alone with their sister, he decided to go to his office to do some of the paperwork that had been accumulating.
Seeing her every day at the hospital, witnessing her devotion to the patients, William knew what a special person she was. Her spirit was pure and motivated, and she always had the best of intentions at heart. Every child was a new opportunity, a chance to instil in that child a sense of trust, create a bond with the child. No child was too ill, or not ill enough; no child was of the wrong race, or of the right religion; no child was too difficult, or too passive. Every patient, every child was a little life in themselves, a spark that needed to be nurtured and cherished so it could grow into a strong, powerful flame.
William found himself thinking about her children. Elizabeth's children. How she would gently rock her infant to sleep. How she would explain to her adorable toddler that it was wonderful that she was beautiful on the outside, but it was more important to be beautiful on the inside. How she would guide her first-grader in reading so he would feel confident enough to read alone. How she would instil in her teenager a sense of self-worth so she would feel no need to self-destructively rebel. How she would quietly encourage her university student to excel. And then it hit him. Her children would be his too.
It hit him like a ton of bricks. As the scenes were running through his mind, William felt an undeniable sense of connection with those children, but the actual realisation that Elizabeth's children would be his children was startling. He would be Elizabeth's husband, the father to her children. And suddenly he was not so sure of himself in that role. He felt secure with the understanding that Elizabeth would marry him, but considering all that she was, how could he ever be good enough for her? She was outgoing, he was quiet; she was generous, he was reserved; she burst forth, he withdrew; she gave, he took.
For the first time, William was glad Elizabeth had wanted a bit of time before they announced their engagement. He needed time to work on himself, to grow, to develop, to become worthy of her.
It then struck him that she was dealing with the second, major life-threatening crisis in a year, and where was he? Sitting in his office contemplating how unworthy he was of her. Darcy, you idiot, he chastised himself. If you're being selfish just when she needs you then you really are unworthy of her!
William raced down the stairs and towards the High Care unit. He burst in there just in time to see Josh about to give them the results of the latest scans, and judging by the look on his face, it wasn't good. There was Charles standing behind Jane, ready to support her when she needed it, and here he was bursting in like an escaped bear! His confused brain just managed to note that Richard was also there. He quickly moved to sit beside Elizabeth, apologising for his ungainly entrance. Josh nodded and began,
'Well, it seems that you were right, Liz, although I can't say I'm pleased to say it. It seems that there was some head trauma, and while it isn't very serious, slight enough that we didn't even pick it up on the first scan, it has caused some problems. We'll change her medication and monitor her more closely, although I think she should go to ICU.'
Jane nodded mutely while Elizabeth spoke. 'I think that would probably be best. I thought her responses did not quite fit with the diagnosis. But it's not serious, right? No brain damage or anything?'
'No, none at all,' Josh answered. 'Again, you're very lucky. I don't need to tell you what usually happens to people with these kinds of symptoms,' he nodded at them.
He checked his charts once more and left, promising to check on Kitty once she had been moved.
William looked at Elizabeth. Her face was so pale and drawn, so tired. He took her hand and gently led her to the boardroom. It was on the bottom floor, right next door to the ICU. He guided her over to the couch, and sat down next to her, encircling her in his arms.
'You've been wonderful, Elizabeth. You haven't left Kitty at all. I know you want to stay with her, but you also have to rest. We're right next door, in case anything changes, and I'll sit with her. Everything will be fine, my darling. Josh said it wasn't serious, just needed a little extra monitoring. So they'll watch her, and nothing will happen. Kitty will be just fine.' William paused, waiting for her response, but when none came, he realised she had fallen asleep. He laid her down on the couch, and went to retrieve a blanket for her from his office. Giving her one last, loving look, he turned and walked across the corridor into the back entrance to the ICU, where he found his cousin.
Posted on Monday, 14 July 2003
The previous month had been beyond stressful. Elizabeth and Jane had been able to take only a week off work, time which was spent at Kitty’s bedside, before they were forced to begin again. They had managed to do only the essentials, but running between the ICU downstairs and their own wing had taken its toll. Jane was prone to fits of tears, while Elizabeth’s usually fiery temper had exploded. Eventually Georgiana had suggested moving Kitty to a small room at the end of the pediatric ward. This created its own problems; Kitty was not herself, and required frequent attendance from her sisters, made easier by their proximity.
As for Kitty herself, her condition was more serious than they had previously thought, although she was improving daily. At first she had amnesia, and needed to be slowly reminded of what her life previously had been like. Jane and Elizabeth reintroduced themselves, as well as Charles and William, to her. Strangely enough, she remembered Richard quite clearly, even if she seemed convinced that he was her fiancé, and he was reluctant to put her to rights. (When she eventually came round, she was very embarrassed, although he assured her that if it made her happy, he would continue with the charade for the rest of his days. This elicited a pretty blush, and a reassurance that she did not want it to remain a charade, but to become reality in the near future.)
Richard was, of course, a daily visitor, bringing offerings of flowers, books, chocolates, fluffy toys and his devoted company. Georgiana also spent many hours sitting with Kitty, reading to her, and just talking to her about anything and everything. They became fast friends, to the delight of their elder siblings. Elizabeth and Jane divided their time between their duties at the hospital, and the care of their sister, bringing her meals of Mrs Hill’s excellent cooking as well as their love and devotion. Mrs Hill herself came to visit almost daily, sitting with Kitty, stroking her hair and ensuring that the others also kept up their strength. Charles was always on hand with his ridiculous sense of humour, distracting them all from the ever-present gloomy thoughts. William had taken over as Kitty’s doctor, monitoring her progress with unprecedented zeal and commitment, helping her recover as fast as possible. (The staff of the hospital was heard to comment that this was as much for his peace of mind as for anything else, considering how Elizabeth had been lately.)
Kitty was shown pictures of their childhood home, their late parents and their other sisters, which seemed to jog her memory a bit. Mary came to visits, which prompted the recollection of many memories involving the two of them. Her university books were brought to her, which helped her remember about her life at college (as well as the fact that she had missed a lot of work and had much catching up to do.) But what finally jiggled the last of her reclusive recollections was the clock on Elizabeth’s wall. Having been brought into Elizabeth’s cubicle for treatment, Kitty was looking around with great interest. When her eyes finally rested on the clock, she surprised and delighted her sister with the entire story behind it. She was able to correctly respond to the many questions Elizabeth had asked, giving much relief to them all.
And now, after a month in hospital, she was finally able to go home. She was, of course, going to the old Bennet homestead, where she would continue her studies. Being in a back-brace, she couldn’t continue with the practical aspects of her arts course, but had arranged to complete her theory courses at home, having been given an extension on her practicals until she was well enough.
Kitty was settled into her old room, with Richard as company and Georgiana as a chaperone. Jane and Charles had offered to make dinner for them all, giving Mrs Hill a chance to rest as well. And Elizabeth and William finally got a chance to talk.
William gently led Elizabeth out to the patio, guiding her to an old swing on the porch. When he felt her begin to shake, he did what he knew to be best for her, and let her cry. For several minutes she sobbed, allowing all the pain and tension from the previous weeks to ebb away. When she was all cried out, she turned to face William.
‘I have been a horror in the last few weeks, haven’t I?’ Seeing that he was about to protest, she laughed and added, ‘No, that was a rhetorical question. I know I have. But I’ll try and make it up to you.’
He smiled and nodded, gently stroking her back. Feeling all the security of his arms, she continued.
‘Over the last month, I realised how much I need you. When I didn’t eat, you made sure to feed me. When I was exhausted, you made sure I slept. When I was overly neurotic, you helped me see the reality of the situation. When I became frustrated, you distracted me. Do you know that every bite I have eaten over the last few weeks has been at your insistence? That I have only been calm when I’m with you? I’ve been a wreck the rest of the time! I don’t think I would have survived this without you.’
William gently took her hand and looked into her eyes. ‘Of course you would have. You are an amazing woman, Elizabeth. You are strong and capable beyond words. Just sometimes the world catches up to you, and it becomes too much. You lost your father a few months ago, and now you faced the possibility of losing your sister. It’s too much responsibility. I’m only glad I could share some of it, sweetheart. And don’t worry, my darling, I will always be here for you.’
‘That’s exactly what I wanted to talk to you about, Will. I’ve had enough of this, I can’t handle it anymore. It’s like you said, it’s too much responsibility. And having to pretend I’m in a different kind of relationship to the one I am really in just makes it worse. I want . . .’
But William cut her off, looking at her in utter disbelief. ‘You want to end it?’
She laughed, her sweet, light musical laugh, and he realised that he couldn’t just let her walk away, no matter what. He looked up at her, looking for some indication of how he was to fight, how he was to win her love. But instead of seeing hatred, or worse indifference, in her eyes, he saw love; a pure, deep, spiritual love. ‘Didn’t you hear what I said before? I can’t live without you. I need you to be with me, always. I don’t want to end it, far from it, I want the opposite. Will, my love, I can’t pretend anymore. I don’t care what anyone else says, I want to get married. With Jane and Charles in the spring. I don’t care how callous it is to get married as soon as the year of mourning for my father is over, I need to be near you, to have you with me always.’ By now she was crying, her tears trickling slowly down her moonlit face.
‘In that case,’ he answered, dropping onto his knees and reaching into his pocket. ‘I’ve been carrying this around since the day Jane and Bingley got engaged, in the hope that you would say what you have just said.’ He presented her with a ring, a thin band with a diamond and two emeralds. ‘Elizabeth Bennet, my darling, the love of my life, will you marry me?’
Posted on Sunday, 20 July 2003
Jane sat serenely on her bed while Elizabeth paced the floor. ‘Calm down, Lizzy, you’ll wear out your shoes, and goodness knows how long it took us to find them!’
Elizabeth shot a withering look at her sister, before giving up and beginning to laugh. ‘I know Jane, I know. But do you blame me? I wish we could just get on with it!’
‘No, I don’t blame you Lizzy. I’m just as agitated as you, although you don’t see me wearing a hole in the carpet.’
Elizabeth was spared from having to answer by the knock on the door, and the almost immediate appearance of Kitty. She looked stunning in a deep red dress with her hair done up, and apart from the splint on her right wrist, you would never know there was anything wrong with her.
‘Come on girls, it’s time to get the show on the road! Janey, lets get your shoes on, and Lizzy, you need your veil.’
‘Yes, ma’am,’ saluted Elizabeth, gathering her veil and presenting it to Kitty. Lydia trounced in and grabbed to veil, ignoring Jane’s cried of ‘Lydia!’, and expertly pinned it in place, while Kitty helped Jane into her shoes. Within five minutes the sisters were ready to go, and after receiving hugs and kisses from the younger girls (‘I can’t believe you two are getting married!’), proceeded downstairs for the ceremony in their garden.
William walked down the corridor to his office, peeking into the maternity ward on his way. He stopped to watch his son, his baby, breathe. In and out. In and out. He counted ten little fingers and ten little toes. All perfect. This little miracle that he and Elizabeth had created together.
Elizabeth, his wife, his partner, his soul mate. What would he have done without her? Through everything she had been his support, devoted to him. She had presented him with four perfect children. She had loved and protected him when scandal had washed over the hospital. When he was sick, she had nursed him. He just couldn’t imagine his life without her.
He felt a hand on his shoulder, pulling him out of his daze, and he turned to face his wife. How beautiful she looked, even though she had given birth less than 24 hours ago. He smiled at her and said ‘Shouldn’t you be resting?’
‘Ha! I should have known! I have just presented you with a fourth child, and you just want me to be submissive and just obey your rules! I won’t have it!’ She gave him an impertinent smile, daring him to retort.
He kissed her gently, and then reached into the bassinet to pick up the infant. ‘Not at all, my darling. You know I am very grateful for this little angel, as I am for Sarah, Saul and Diana. But I just want to make sure nothing happens to you so we can raise them together.’
‘I thought I told you that I would be here always.’
‘You did, and I’m just making sure you fulfil that promise.’
‘I will, don’t you worry.’ She linked her arm through his. ‘Anyway, the pillow on my bed isn’t very comfortable, so I was just going to get one from my cubicle.’
‘Not comfortable? Do you want me to go home and get one from our bed?’
She stopped him outside his office door and gave him a quick kiss. ‘You have enough to worry about without having to run around fetching me pillows. You get on with your work and come and see me later.’ With one last kiss she turned and headed off down the corridor.
She had been truly blessed, and she knew it. Four beautiful children, a husband who would do anything for her. And not only was her life wonderful, but so were the lives of most of her family.
Jane and Charles had two beautiful children, with a third on the way. The Junior Bingleys and Darcys were inseparable, as were their parents. Every afternoon they could either be found eating Jane’s delicious cookies, or playing on the ancient swing hanging off the oak tree in the Darcys’ back-yard.
Georgiana had eventually overcome her shyness enough for her to speak to the young intern, Dr Adam Bailey. They had immediately hit it off, and were now married with two children. They had just moved to the same street as the Bingleys and Darcys, and everyone was overjoyed.
Kitty had graduated with a degree in Fine Arts, which she used to become a well-known graphic designer. She had married Richard a month after she had graduated, and now, after quite a struggle, she was pregnant with their first child. They lived in the old Bennet home, close enough for regular visits to the bed-bound Kitty.
Mary graduated law school, and had immediately moved south to work in a bigger city. For five years her life had been courtrooms, offices and juries. Just a year ago she had met Joshua Winston, a millionaire with his eye on politics. When her sisters had flown out to their engagement party, they were a little shocked to find a deeply religious, very charitable man. They were to be married at the old Bennet home in the summer.
Lydia had gone to London ‘for a break, just to do a bit of work.’ She had been apprenticed to a fashion boutique, and had soon raised enough money to go to Design School, with the help of her sisters. As Elizabeth always said, success came from a passion for what you do. They were all passionate about helping people, so they were all successful health professionals. Lydia was passionate about wasting time on nonsense, so why shouldn’t she be successful in fashion design?
Yes, after a difficult start, life had been good to them all. She waved at Jane, who was waddling around the nurses’ station, glaring at her. As she walked out of her cubicle, this time to meet Charles’ admonishing eyes, she looked around.
It was nothing special, she knew. Just an ordinary waiting room, covered with pictures and colours. But it had a certain magic to it, especially to her. After all, this was where she had fallen in love with Will. In the waiting room.