Posted on Monday, 1 September 2003, at 9:32 a.m.
Sunset. The natural world slowly settles down for the slumber of night. Waves lap against the shore in changing tide. Gulls circle in search of a roost for the night. A gentle wind smoothes away all traces of human presence from the sand. And a lone figure sits on the rocks, sightlessly gazing out at the never-ending ocean.
Well, until he's interrupted. William Darcy had been enjoying a melancholy wander into the recesses of his lonely thoughts. Not that he had much of a chance to be glum lately, but on camp when you are given the chance to indulge in depressive notions, or anything else that doesn't involve working out nightmarish logistics or placating hoards of kids, you take it.
As head of the 13-year-old age group, the Cubs, at the annual summer camp, William had precious little time for anything. Showering was done at 4am, after the requisite Cubs councillors meeting, Camp Council meeting and then cleanup and rundown of the days events. Meals were eaten standing up while circulating among the tables of kids. He was absolutely having the time of his life, but he wouldn't deny that it was unbelievably hard work.
So all in all, he was extremely surprised that he managed to find time to become attracted to one of the councillors. Elizabeth was everything he could have wished for. She was witty, friendly, highly intelligent and solidly principled, and unbelievably beautiful to boot. The only problem was that she didn't like him.
William was intelligent enough, even in his camp-induced sleep-deprived state, to realise that it was his own fault. He had not expected to be given the leadership of the Cubs, and at the beginning he had felt quite out of his element. It had taken him a few days to settle in before the kids arrived, and unfortunately that was just when he first encountered Liz.
He had met her in passing with all the other councillors from different areas, but his first real episode with her came when he was far from his prime. He had just been dealing with another very difficult councillor, and went over to Liz's group to see how their activity preparation was coming on. Liz was presenting an idea, and in his antagonistic mood, he had shouted down every point in her plan. She had calmly explained how it would proceed, and in the end he had to acknowledge that it was an excellent activity.
After that William kept noticing her, in everything she did. He noticed how she cared for her sister Jane when she was ill. Jane was a councillor in the group his friends Charles headed. William noticed an attraction developing on Charles' side, but not on Jane's. So he had done what any good friend would and discouraged Charles. Bad move, as it happens.
His next great blunder came when he asked her out. His first impression had been an absolutely abysmal one, and it had been compounded by the fact that he had separated Jane and Charles, and some misimpression Elizabeth had from an old acquaintance of his. He had explained everything in a note to her, but they had hardly spoken since. And William had just become more and more taken with the woman.
So when his deputy offered to run the afternoon's activity so William could take a break, he jumped at the chance and hastened to the beach for his little sojourn of misery. Much as he might have liked to stay there for another several centuries, or another few minutes at least, the Cubs had other ideas for William.
A group of girls, really cute but as absolutely superficial and focused on boys and clothes as girls of that age can be expected to be, interrupted his reverie. They wanted to talk about the activity they had just had, a series of skits and discussions on relationships. The discussion started innocently enough, with William asking what they had thought of the activity and then what they had learned. Then they started treading into dangerous waters.
'William, why don't you have a girlfriend?'
'Good question, Lisa. I would like to know the answer to that myself,' was his flippant answer, while his honest reaction was I wonder where this is going?
'I think we should find you a girlfriend!' was the next contribution. What have I got myself into?
'Yeah! Wouldn't it be weird if it were one of the other councillors?' Uh, Oh.
'It has to be one of the other councillors, or else he would never have time to see her!' came the answer. Smart kids.
'I know who he likes!' was the next triumphant yell. Oh dear.
'He likes Liz.' Really smart kids.
'What gives you that idea?' he countered, trying to deflect them.
'Well, you're always looking at her. Are you going to ask her out? Jeremy asked me out.'
'Or she could get one of her friends to tell you that she likes you. I know she does, I heard her telling Charlotte. I think she should do that! I told Lisa to tell Daniel that I liked him, and then he asked me out.' Insightful kids. Wonder how much else they picked up!
Fortunately William was saved from having to answer by an announcement for dinner. Shepherding them back to the dining hall, he prepared to once again be thrown into the thick of things.
That night, after ensuring that all the kids were safely in their tents, an none of the boys had sneaked out to watch volleyball, William set off for the councillors meeting. He kept turning his conversation with the girls over in his mind. When he wasn't gratified that Liz did not still hate him, he was amused at how the kids expected the councillors to relate to each other. His mind kept snapping back to Liz, and the hope that maybe he had a chance.
He was so preoccupied that he did not notice the object of his thoughts until he actually bumped into her. 'Liz!'
'Will! Hi. How are you doing?'
'I'm doing all the better after my beak this afternoon. It was wonderful, until Lisa and the girls interrupted me.'
Liz's soft laughter was music to his soul. 'They're a handful, aren't they? As soon as they heard that you were on the beach, they ran to find you, no doubt to regale you with tales of who is now going out with who.'
'Actually, it wasn't their own relationships that they wanted to talk about, it was mine. They had some decided opinions about who I should be going out with, and I'm rather inclined to see how their suggestions work out.'
He could see the hope and despair mingled on her face. When she answered, her voice was light and steady, but he could hear her struggling for composure. 'Who did the experts think you would be suited to?'
He stopped and turned to her. When she faced him, it was with an expression of utmost confusion. He held her gaze for several moments before answering, savouring the feeling that he had found his life's partner, watching their unborn children dance in her eyes, understanding the joy of clarity. When he did answer, his voice was filled with all the compassion, care, concern, all the multitude of emotions he felt for her.
For the rest of camp, every spare moment was spent together. Granted, that was not a lot, but it was enough for the young ladies who had suggested it to be satisfied. When they married the following spring, a double wedding with Jane and Charles, the girls had much fun fussing over Liz, challenging Jane's 'helpers' to arrange the scatter cushions in Jane's home as professionally as they had done for Liz.
When the Darcys returned to camp in later years to train the councillors, they consoled, cautioned and convinced the new councillors that the kids did indeed notice everything, and were not scared to parade that information. For some reason, every year they were not taken seriously, until some smart kid inevitably proved them right. While the other councillors found this hysterical, there was no end to the amusement when young Sarah Darcy was the one to open their eyes. Of course, it had to be a Darcy. Smart Kid!