Posted on 2012-12-14
We can all begin freely -- a slight preference is natural enough; but there are very few of us who have heart enough to be really in love without encouragement. ~Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
Her hands were trembling. She felt completely unsteady and fainting seemed a definite possibility. Needing a place to recover, she crashed through the bathroom door. The row of porcelain sinks acted as a safe haven for her shaky frame. Her hands gripped the sides of the sink tightly as she took three slow deep breaths; the furious pounding of her heart seemed to calm with each one. Never in her twenty-seven years had she felt so out of control.
Exhaling slowly, she raised her head. The appearance of the woman in the mirror was shocking. Tired, lifeless eyes and flushed cheeks stood out sharply on the typically sedate face. Never had she seen herself look so wild. It had been months since she'd slept well, and this past week had been even worse.
The lack of sleep combined with her inability to eat made her feel faint and nauseous. Knowing she needed to snap out of it, she cupped icy water from the faucet and splashed her face. The freezing water ran down her neck dampening her shirt. She shivered as a drop of cold water made its way down her chest. She sighed, closing her eyes tightly. If only she could pretend the last week had been a horrible dream.
Ella's shoulders slumped. She knew that voice and didn't want to answer. She had hoped to have a few minutes alone and not have to face any questions about her behavior. How could she explain?
The whole morning had been a nightmare. She knew her lack of focus had terribly messed up the Wallstone account, and she didn't how to begin to fix it. In her five years at Darcy and Matlock publishing, she had never made such a mistake. Later, Ella knew she'd have to face her failure, but at the moment she was too weary to care.
"Ella." She felt a hand on her shoulder.
"Yes, Julia?" Ella replied, turning around.
Julia was looking at her expectantly. "Are you going to explain what just happened in there?"
Ella shrugged. "Didn't plan on it."
"What do you want me to say, Julia? I know my actions were unacceptable. I know I need to make amends for my behavior. I don't need you making things worse," she said harshly. Ella knew she needed to calm down, but exhaustion was clouding her mind.
"Whoa," Julia answered, her hands held up in surrender. "I am just concerned."
Ella took a deep breath, but she was still to frustrated to make a proper apology. "Sorry," she mumbled grudgingly.
Julia sighed. "You want to tell me what's going on?"
Ella expected Julia to press her again, but she said nothing. Much to Ella's confusion, Julia started checking under the stalls.
"What are you doing?"
Julia ignored her. Seeming satisfied Julia walked back to the bathroom door and locked it. "Okay then. There's no one else in here. We are not going to be interrupted. So explain."
"Julia," Ella started but was quickly interrupted.
"Fennella Darcy, you better tell me. I've known you your whole life, and we've never kept secrets."
Ella sighed and closed her eyes tightly. "I did something stupid. Really stupid." Ella paused, but Julia remained silent waiting for an explanation. "I kissed Andrew Bennet."
Julia eyes widened. "What? Are you serious?"
"Yes," Ella nodded her head. "It was unwise."
The silence was deafening, and Ella counted the seconds until Julia's response. "Well did he kiss you back?"
Ella groaned and threw her hands up over her eyes. "Yes."
"How was it?"
"How was what?" Ella asked, confused.
Julia rolled her eyes. "The kiss. How was it?"
"Good," Ella sighed, remembering all to well how kissing him had felt, "Perfect."
"So you kissed an attractive man…how is that a bad thing?"
Ella looked away not wanting to see her cousin's face. There was more to confess--much more. "I told him I was in love with him."
Julia said nothing but her mouth was agape and her eyes wide. Ella groaned again in misery and slid her shoulders down the cold, tiled wall. Neither of them spoke for several long minutes--Julia was far too shocked and Ella far too embarrassed. Julia sat down next to her cousin unsure of how to proceed. For Ella, the humiliation of that night returned full force.
Finally, Julia found her voice. "You're in love with Andy?" Ella only nodded unable to say it aloud again. "I'm going to assume from your behavior the last couple days that Andy told you he doesn't return your feelings." Ella nodded again. "Will you tell me what happened?"
Ella sighed deeply knowing that she could trust her cousin with this most embarrassing and heart-breaking episode. "He hates me."
"But didn't you say he kissed you back? I doubt he would kiss you if he didn't feel something towards you."
"No," Ella shook her head. "Attraction--maybe. The kiss was clearly mistake on his part. Trust me he made himself very clear. He despises me." Tears pricked her eyelids and for the first time in days Ella let them fall. "I thought that he liked me. I was so confident. I always thought his behavior towards me was his way of flirting. I didn't even really want to like him, but I was in the middle before I knew it had begun. I was so blind. I thought maybe he just lacked the confidence to ask me out. You know I've been told I can be a little intimidating," Ella paused when her cousin snorted.
"A little?" Julia asked, trying to make her cousin smile.
It worked. A small smile tugged at Ella's lips. "Well, I suppose I can be very intimidating." She paused not really wanting to continue. "I had been trying to be more open. I tried your advice about relaxing a little, and it helped. I thought that my feelings were obvious, but he still didn't say anything," Ella paused, despising the memories this story forced her to relive. "Then we were going to leave. I knew that seeing him again was unlikely and it did not make sense to me to leave before things were settled between us. I decided to go see him. I had no idea what I was going to say, but I knew I couldn't let him leave without things being decided between us."
Tears once again filled Ella's eyes; the words came tumbling forth. "My nerves got the better of me," she shook her head. "He seemed surprised I was there, but we started talking. I don't even remember what I said. He asked me something, and I couldn't even respond. All I could think about was how much I wanted to kiss him, and before I even fully thought about the consequences--which you know is not like me--I kissed him. " Ella hands were massaging her temples. She could feel a headache starting to build behind her eyes.
"And he kissed you back?"
"Yeah," Ella nodded, blushing deeply at the memory. "It got a little…heated. It felt amazing, and then he pushed away. He seemed so shocked and I couldn't believe I actually had kissed him. I was nervous and after kissing him I was a bit dazed and embarrassed. I couldn't really think coherently, and so I started rambling. I told him I loved him and that I dreamed about a life with him--" Ella paused and buried her face her hands, "it so mortifying to even think of what I said."
Julia squeezed her hand. "Is that all you said?"
"No," Ella replied, wiping her eyes. "I told him all the reasons we shouldn't be together…why we don't make sense. I wanted him to understand that I knew it wouldn't be easy. You know that he's a struggling musician, and that I am the heiress to a major publishing company. And--"
Ella covered her eyes again. "And that his family is atrocious especially his mother and his younger sisters. It was like I couldn't shut up. I poured out everything I've felt over the past six months. You know that I can be too honest at times."
Julia didn't reply instead she wrapped her arms around Ella's shoulders. Ella tears continued to fall, and she leaned her head against Julia's shoulder. "Do you think I'm stupid?"
"No, not stupid. You shouldn't be sorry for falling in love. Granted your way of telling him may have been a little...suprising and poorly worded, but you're not stupid."
Ella pulled her knees up to her chest. "It's like a physical ache to know that he's somewhere in the world hating me. I really thought that he and I…." she trailed off, not finding the words to continue.
Julia leaned her head against Ella's and whispered, "Listen, you are amazing, and it's Andy's loss that he couldn't see that."
"But it's my fault," Ella said, pulling away. "If I could have just…just relaxed…I don't know not been so stuffy and reserved. Maybe if I had acted the way I do when I am around you and Ana then maybe it would have been different…you know?"
"Stop," Julia said forcing Ella took look at her, "you have been clearly beating yourself up for days, and it needs to stop. You can't torture yourself by thinking of every possible what-if."
They were both silent. Julia stood and walked to the sink. She grabbed a paper towel and wet it before handing it to Ella. "Thanks. I am a completely mess. I cannot believe I am sitting on bathroom floor crying over a boy who--"
"Okay," Julia said interrupting. "I think you need to go home. Take a long bath and relax for the rest of the afternoon."
"But what about--"
"We will worry about this mess tomorrow. I will take care of damage control," Julia interrupted again. "You need to take care of yourself and tonight we will stuff ourselves with pizza, ice cream, and funny movies."
Ella smiled, "No romantic movies?"
"Not a one, I promise."
Ella walked up to her apartment with a heavy heart. She felt better after her tearful confession to Julia, but still the hollow feeling in her stomach remained. A week ago she had never once imagined this dreadful outcome.
She'd seen them as a happy couple and had imagined him being with her even now. Ella had pictured them in her apartment, on dates, visiting with her friends, and attending parties together. All of her social obligations that had once been such a burden almost seemed fun when she imagined Andrew by her side. The anxiety that clung to her in most social situations disappeared when he was near. She admired his affable nature and his ease among company.
It was her comfort in Andrew's presence that first made Ella aware of her growing feelings. His witty sense of humor had amused her. On more than one occasion Ella had bitten her lip to stop from laughing aloud in his presence. She shook her head at the memories. Ella had been so afraid of Andrew catching on to her budding feelings that he taken her natural reserve for intense dislike.
Ella unlocked the door and entered her apartment. It seemed so cold and empty compared to Andrew's homey bungalow in Meryton Beach. She felt another pang of regret. It felt strange to miss another person so deeply.
It was hard now to look back on their relationship at all. It had been impossible over the past week not to scrutinize every moment she had spent with Andrew. It was painful to admit, but she could now see that the banter she had taken as flirtation had really been nothing more than veiled derision. Looking back, his disapproval seemed so obvious, but then her eyes had been clouded with infatuation. The past days had been filled not only with pain but also deep mortification over her past behavior.
His scathing words that night although painful were all honest. She was selfish, spoiled, and proud. No one had ever challenged her or attempted to correct her behavior. She was a Darcy--she had a right to be proud, didn't she? She couldn't believe the things that she had said and did. No one wonder Andrew Bennet had called her the last woman in the world that he could ever love.
Ella slipped into the tub allowing the hot water to soothe the tension in her muscles. She could have groaned in relief. Laying her head back against the tub, she closed her eyes and tried not to think of Andrew Bennet.
A good hour later feeling much more relaxed, Ella slipped on her sweats and headed to the living room to wait for Julia. Her cousin truly was her closest friend and confidant. The pair had grown up together, and there was no one in the world that knew her better. They were only three years apart in age, and although Ella was younger Julia had always seen her as an equal. During childhood the two had spent almost all of their time together. However, the two cousins couldn't have been more different.
In fact, Julia reminded Ella of Andrew. Their temperaments and senses of humor were so similar. When they had first met at Rosings, she had been so worried that Andrew would fall for her pretty, gregarious cousin, but as the days past nothing ever seemed to come of their fast friendship.
A knock on the door pushed the past away again, and Ella was grateful for the reprieve. If only she could permanently extract all memories of Andrew Bennet. She slowly got up to answer it. Julia stood on the other side of the door her arms full of ice cream and movies. Ella smiled,
"You weren't kidding."
Julia shook her head. "Nope. I think ice cream is just what the doctor ordered."
Ella stepped back to let her cousin in. She noticed Julia had several bags full of groceries. "Thank you for picking up food. My fridge is kind of barren at the moment."
"I figured that," Julia said, placing the grocery bags on the counter, "which is why I brought dinner for you as well. You need to eat."
Ella felt her eyes fill with tears again at her cousin's thoughtfulness. "Thank you, Julia."
"It's no big deal. It's just some basic groceries," Julia said, concerned.
"I know," Ella shook her head; "Apparently, I am extra sensitive today."
Julia squeezed her hand and began unpacking the bags. "Well go ahead and grab some plates."
Several hours later Ella felt better than she had in weeks. The healing balm of pizza, ice cream, and funny movies had helped tremendously. However, it was Julia's company that had done the most good; her presence helped remind Ella that there were those in the world who did love her despite her faults. The pair had moved to the balcony, and they were lounging on two wooden deck chairs. Each had a blanket tucked around her to fight off the chill of a cool April night. Ella was staring at sky, her wine glass resting against her lips.
"So," Julia began, "you want to tell me any more about what happened with Andrew?"
Ella shook her head, her eyes still focused on the sky. "Ella…c'mon. I remember you saying that you met him at the beach last summer, but obviously it was more than that. What happened?"
"Nothing and…everything," Ella replied.
"Okay…so that's a little cryptic. What's that supposed to mean?"
Ella closed her eyes and took a few moments to compose her thoughts. Julia knew her well enough not to rush her. "It means that for Andrew nothing happened last summer, but for me…" Ella felt the tears welling up again. "I fell completely in…in love." As the words tumbled out, Ella's shoulders began to shake. Julia scooted closer and wrapped her arms around her cousin. "I tried to fight it, Julia. I did. I didn't want to love him. I knew it was impossible, but he's just so--. And then he turned up again at Rosing. I couldn't escape him. He's just too wonderful."
Julia rubbed Ella's back her heart breaking for her cousin. She had never seen Ella this upset over a man. "I'm sorry."
"No," she sniffed, "I was horrible." Ella let out a humorless laugh and continued, "It's all my fault. I was rude and arrogant. I'm appalled at how I acted. I just felt so uncomfortable, and I wanted to be alone after everything that happened last spring." Ella sighed, "It's no wonder he hates me."
"I'm sure he doesn't hate you--"
"No, he does. He made that clear."
"You know, I had no idea. I thought you possibly had a crush on him, but I didn't think you were in love. He's not exactly the type…"
"I know. Apparently, I hid feelings a little too well. I never imagined myself with a musician/surf-instructor, but I think we could have worked had we…understood each other better."
Julia smiled. "The tabloids would have been pretty brutal."
"Darcy heir dates surf bum?"
"Or heiress wooed by penniless musician?"
They both chuckled, but it was several minutes later before either of them spoke. "He's friends with Wickham."
"Yeah," Ella looked at Julia, "they met at Meryton Beach."
"Why are you just telling me this? Did you warn him?"
"I sent him a letter. It wasn't until our argument that I realized they had become friends. I couldn't face him again, so I wrote it out. I told him if he doubted me, he could contact you."
"Oh, don't worry if he calls me I'll make sure to let him know exactly who George Wickham is," Julia said angrily then taking a deep breath she continued. "You sent Andrew a letter?"
Ella nodded. "I just couldn't have him thinking badly of me. I don't know if he'll ever really read it or if he will believe me, but maybe if he does he'll see that I'm not quite so horrible."
Julia placed her hands on Ella's shoulders. "You're not horrible. It might do you some good to loosen up a bit especially around strangers, but you are one of the most amazing people I know. Ella most of the world never sees this side of you. Maybe you just need some practice."
"You sound like Andrew."
"Well maybe he had some good advice."
Ella bit her lip. "Maybe…"
Julia poured them both another glass of wine. "Now I think it's time you tell me again about the day you and Andrew Bennet met."
Posted on 2013-01-10
"Hi this is Charlene Bingley's phone. I cannot come to the phone right now--"
Ella Darcy pressed end key on her cell phone. Her patience was beginning to wear thin. How many times had she told Charlie to keep her phone on her person? Especially when they were in a new place.
She sighed in frustration, angrier still because of the reason behind her new found paranoia. Ella could still remember the panic of that day. Trying Ana's cell phone over and over only to find that she had left it in her backpack. The fear of not knowing where Ana was or if she would ever see her again was still fresh.
Wanting to escape her troubling thoughts she stalked back to the window hoping to see Charlie running back towards the house. Ella lifted the curtain and peered out. The beach was empty. Charlie was an avid runner, so it wasn't unusual for her to go for early morning runs, but usually she was back by now. It was almost lunchtime.
Ella tried Charlie's cell phone again and walked towards her bedroom. She heard a faint buzzing beneath one of the pillows. Sure enough, there was the cell phone.
"Charlie!" She groaned in frustration. Why couldn't she just remember her cell phone?
"What about my sister?"
Ella turned to face him. "Your sister, Kyle, has gone out again without leaving a note and without her phone."
Kyle shrugged. "What else is new? She's probably out on a run."
"I know. I'm sure she woke up this morning and felt like it was the perfect morning for a run leaving before she even thought of anything else."
"So then why are you worried?"
"Because," Ella said, walking back to the living room Kyle close on her heels, "it is now almost lunch time. Normally, I wouldn't be concerned, but we are in a new place. She doesn't know anyone here or the running trails. Who knows what could have happen to her or who she could have run into…"
Kyle crossed to the window and looked out, "Well your fears may have been valid."
"What do you mean?" Ella replied, folding her arms across her chest.
"Charlene is back," Kyle looked disgusted, "but she's being carried by some guy."
"What?" Ella replied. Alarmed, she moved toward the window to get a better view. It was true. Coming up from the beach was Charlene in the arms of a man that she'd never seen before. Ella flung open the front door and hurried to meet the pair. "Charlie? Are you okay?" Ella's eyes scanned her friend looking for possible injuries as the three continued to walk towards the porch.
Charlie smiled weakly. "Yeah, I'm fine but I twisted my ankle. Jake found me stranded about a mile up beach." The man Ella assumed was Jake placed Charlie down on one of the patio chairs. "He rescued me. My very own knight in shining armor," Charlie finished, grinning widely at Jake. He blushed, but returned her smile.
"I didn't do anything special. I'm happy I was able to help you," Jake said quietly.
Ella wanted to roll her eyes. She'd seen that look in Charlie's eyes too many times to count. No, this couldn't be happening. Again. They had been in Meryton Beach for less than two days, and Charlene had already fallen in love. Again. What was worse is that Charlene didn't even know this man. The last thing she needed was for Charlene to be mixed up in another romantic entanglement and to have her heart broken. Again.
"Jake, is it?" Ella asked, wanting to put an end to this encounter as soon as possible.
"Yes," Jake said eagerly, stretching out his hand for her to shake.
"Ella Darcy," she replied, taking his offered hand. "We are very grateful for your assistance, but I can take over from here. I will make sure she is well taken care of and Charlie will be better in no time."
Jake's smiled dimmed just a little. "Of course. It was very nice to meet you, Ella. I am glad to know I am leaving Charlie in such capable hands," he said nodding at Ella. Turning to Charlie he continued, "It was great to meet you too, Charlie. I hope that ankle heals quickly. Maybe I'll see you around?"
Charlie grinned and giggled flirtatiously. "Of course, silly, you're still coming for dinner tonight, right? You didn't already forget, did you?"
Ella crossed her arms over her chest; she knew that smile it was the "I'm cute, charming, and flirting with you so there's no way you're going to turn me down" smile. Ella didn't know how she did it, but Charlie had a way of getting whatever she wanted from guys. The most troubling thing was that Charlie had no idea how charming and beautiful she actually was. She was modest and, in Ella's opinion, way too nice for her own good.
"Oh, well," Jake scratched his ear, seeming bashful, "if you're sure we wouldn't be any trouble? You did just hurt your ankle." Jake asked.
"No, not at all. We may just order pizza, but I want to thank my rescuer properly. And I'd love to meet your brother too. Ella and I just love to meet new people, don't we Ella?"
Both Jake and Charlie's eyes turned towards her. Not at all! Ella's mind was screaming. You know I despise talking to strangers. However, the civility that had been grained into her as child couldn't be ignored. She forced a smile and replied, "Yes, we do owe you a thank you for your assistance this morning."
The light in Jake's eyes glowed brighter. "Awesome. It's settled then. My brother and I will see you this evening." Turning back to Charlie, he asked, "Are you sure you don't need any helping getting inside?"
Ready for Jake to be gone, Ella cut in, "She's fine. Her brother is here and can carry her in later."
Charlie not really wanting Jake to leave, but sensing the impatience in Ella's tone replied, "I really am okay. It's a beautiful day. I'd like to enjoy it. Thank you again, Jake. We'll see you tonight at six?"
Jake nodded once more and with one last lingering glance at Charlie he walked back towards the ocean. Charlie watched him go, but as soon as he was out of hearing distance she turned back to Ella with a grin that stretched across her face.
"Isn't he the most handsome, amazing man you ever met?"
"Sure," Ella nodded her head willing her frustration to disappear. "He seems really nice. I'm going to go get you some ice for your ankle."
Ella entered the house to see Kyle sprawled on the couch, watching television. "Well?" He asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Your sister's fine if you care to know. She just twisted her ankle. The man was helping her home. His name is Jake. He and his brother are coming for dinner."
Kyle rolled his eyes. "Seriously?"
Although Ella slightly agreed with Kyle's sentiments, she had made her plan to ignore Kyle as much as possible. His feelings towards her or towards her money had evolved and become somewhat of nuisance. She tried to talk to him as little as possible. Ever since they had met several years previous, he seemed convinced that Ella should be with him regardless of her feelings.
The trip to Meryton Beach had been planned for just her and Charlie, as they were here to set up Charlie's new store, but Kyle had found out. He, under the guise of wanting to be supportive, had invited himself along. Charlie, of course, was too sweet to tell him no.
Grabbing the ice and a pillow, Ella headed back outside to where she left Charlie. "Here you go," she said, helping Charlie elevate her leg.
"Thank you. Are you sure you're okay with the Bennet brothers coming for dinner?"
"It's the proper thing to do," Ella replied. "He carried you a mile down the beach. I think that he deserves dinner for not stranding you there."
Charlie nodded, relieved. "We really can just order pizza. I know you're the only one who can cook, but--"
"It's fine," Ella interrupted. "I'll take care of it."
"Oh! Thank you, Ella!" Charlie's expression was overflowing with happiness and excitement. "This going to be so much fun!"
"You're welcome," Ella said, giving a small smile in return. You couldn't help but love Charlie Bingley.
Just before six that evening, Ella heard the doorbell ring. Jake and his brother had arrived. Ella could hear the faint cheery tones of Charlie's voice and hoped that Charlie's enthusiasm would be enough for the both of them. She felt none.
Ella was placing the bread into the oven when Kyle came and dragged Ella out of the kitchen to come greet the brothers. Ella quickly took off her apron; slightly annoyed that dinner was still not ready.
"Kyle, I still have a few dishes I need to finish," Ella protested.
"I am here at my sister's request. She said you could pause whatever you were doing and greet our guests," Kyle replied.
"Fine," Ella sighed, walking towards the living room. "Did she have any other instructions for me?"
Kyle smirked at her. "Be nice."
Ella plastered what she hoped was a friendly smile on her face and walked into the living room. She immediately spotted Jake and reached out to shake his hand. "Good evening, Jake."
"Hi, Ella. It's good to see you again," Jake said, softly. He really was nice, and Ella struggled with the nice ones. They were always the most difficult to get rid of. "This is my brother, Andrew," Jake pointed to the man next to him.
Ella's first impression of Andrew was that he was unremarkable. He was tall but lanky, and his shaggy, curly hair framed his plain face. He was nowhere near as attractive as his older brother.
"Nice to meet you, Andrew," Ella said, courteously.
"And you, Ella," Andrew said with a friendly smile. Ella noticed the laughter hiding in his eyes and wondered what about her he found so amusing.
Not knowing what to say, Ella quickly turned and dismissed herself back to the kitchen.
In the kitchen, Ella quickly got back to work chopping the vegetables for the salad she had planned. From her post, Ella could hear the party in the living room and the sound of male laughter, and she imagined it was Andrew Bennet. His laugh was hearty and carefree and for a brief moment, she wished she could have joined them.
As she added the last chopped pepper, Charlie came hobbling into the kitchen. Fortunately, her injury wasn't severe. She had spent the afternoon icing her ankle and resting, and appeared to be doing much better.
"I thought you were resting?"
"I am, but I wanted to come check on you," Charlie said, grinning widely, "Almost ready?"
"Yes, I finished the salad, the bread is warming, and sauce should be finished simmering in about two minutes," Ella replied.
Charlie smiled, "You really are the greatest. Thank you so much for making dinner. It just makes this evening even more perfect. We are going to have such a wonderful time tonight. I feel it in the air!" Charlie's hands did a little dance. It always amused Ella how Charlie's hands seemed to tell a story all their own. "But okay, Ella, I thought Jake was handsome when we saw him on the beach, but wow. All dressed up, Jake Bennet is devastating. Don't you think?"
He was attractive. Ella couldn't deny that much, but she wasn't that impressed. "We've been here for two days and you're already mooning over another boy?"
Charlie laughed. "Well Jake Bennet deserves to be mooned over. Don't you think?"
"He smiles too much."
"Really, Ella? Really? He smiles too much. That's only negative thing you can come up with, right?"
Ella didn't answer but went to oven and pulled out the bread. She really didn't want to have this conversation now. She had a dinner to finish. "Charlie, I have barely spent any time in their company. They both seem pleasant enough though."
"Pleasant enough? C'mon, Jake is so gorgeous you have to admit it," Charlie said, her face lit up.
"Yes, Jake is very handsome and you've liked many stupider person," Ella replied.
"Okay," Charlie groaned her hands up in surrender. "I'll leave you alone about Jake."
Ella snorted, "Are we done? I have a meal to finish." Not waiting for Charlie's reply, she began cutting the bread into slices.
"One last question. What do you think about Andrew? He's pretty good-looking too, right?"
"Charlie…" Ella paused, wishing this whole conversation would be over. She didn't need Charlie trying to set her up with another guy especially some random guy from Meryton Beach. "I barely glanced at him, but I suppose he was--tolerable, but not the kind of guy I'm into, okay? So leave it."
Charlie sighed, disappointed. "Fine! But I think you're wrong. He really cute too, maybe not in the same way as Jake, but you're going to regret your words."
Ella handed her the bread and the salad, "Not likely. Here can you take these to the table?"
"Of course, but you might be surprised by how much you ended up enjoying their company. They seem like a lot of fun."
Turning back to the stove, Ella replied, "Sure, Charlie." When did Charlie Bingley not like someone?
Charlie chuckled as she turned to leave the kitchen, "Oh Ella. I do love you even though you are impossible ninety-nine percent of the time."
"Andrew!" Charlie said, surprised. Ella's face flamed, but she didn't turn around. Could he have heard their conversation? Surely not.
"I…uh…was just coming to see if I could help with dinner."
"Yeah! That's so sweet of you. Here," Charlie said, and Ella imagined she handed him the salad and bread. "Would you please put these on the table?"
Ella heard the door close and she swung around to find Charlie staring at her, wide eyed. "You don't think he heard what you said, do you?"
"No," Ella shrugged, determined not to care. "I'm sure he has no idea what we were talking about."
Posted on 2013-01-24
"So do you think he heard what you said?" Julia asked. They had taken a pause in the story to refill their wine glasses.
Ella shook her head as she poured the red liquid into each glass. "I don't know. Possibly. It would make sense. It would have given him another reason to hate me. He did say something about disliking me since the moment he met me."
"Why did you say it?"
Taking a sip of wine, Ella replied. "I don't know. I was in such strange place then. I was still reeling from what happened with George and Ana that I--I was in a horrible mood for weeks," Ella paused, really thinking back to those early moments and what she been thinking. "I hadn't even looked at him properly. I was nervous that Charlie was going to see it as the perfect opportunity to set me up with someone, so I thought that if I told her that I found him unattractive then she would leave it alone."
Ella headed back towards the balcony. "Of course, now I wish things had gone differently. I wonder what would have been if I had left Charlie play match-maker."
"You can't dwell on what-ifs remember," Julia was determined not to let her cousin wallow. "So what happened next?"
"Well the dinner went fine, I suppose. I don't really remember much of the conversation. Charlie talked to them, and I assume my silence gave Andrew more evidence of my…what did he call it--a total disregard for the feelings of others," Ella shrugged. "After we played Trivial Pursuit, and I remember being really impressed at how many questions Andrew answered correctly. He's intelligent and very competitive."
"He actually gave you a challenge?"
"I still won," Ella said with a smirk.
Julia laughed, "There's the Ella, I know and love." Julia paused looking thought, "Tell me more about Jake Bennet."
"Jake Bennet," Ella shrugged. "He's Andrew's brother and closest friend. They own an outdoors store in Meryton Beach. It's where Andrew gives surf lessons."
"Right! Yes, Andy told me about the company. Jake and Andy opened it after Andy graduated from college?"
"Yes. Andy appreciates the outdoors, and Jake has good business sense so the two of them decided to try their luck together. They've been mildly successful."
"Having an outdoors store that's been making a profit and lasted more than three years is quite an accomplishment--especially in this economy," Julia gave her cousin a pointed stare.
"I know," Ella smirked. "But I think they could do so much more with the store. They both--well Jake Bennet seems content to do nothing with it…"
"Okay, okay," Julia put her hand out, "before you start telling me all the ways you've created to better Andy's business I want to get back the good stuff. Like where you tell me when you first realized you were attracted to him. You freaked out didn't you?"
Ella looked away, blushing slightly. "I didn't 'freak' out. It made me a bit wary, but it was his eyes. The first time I saw him sing his eyes were filled such…passion like he really meant every word he was sing and his voice--well," Ella shook her head.
"Look at that…Fenella Darcy turned into a pile a goo by the sound of man's voice. I never thought I'd see the day."
Ella frowned. "Don't call me that. You know I hate my full name," with a shake of her head and slight smile Ella continued, "Anyways, you've heard his voice--it's not that perfect technically--I've heard many better singers, but it's the way he performs. He captures his audience. I am always very impressed."
Julia faked a smile, but it hurt to see Ella gushing about a man who apparently disliked her so thoroughly. Ella never gushed. "You look pained."
"Sorry," Julia shrugged. "You just really love him, don't you?"
The furrow between Ella's brow deepened and her eyes filled sorrow. "Yeah. I do and what's worse is that I don't know if I'll ever get over it."
Ella awoke the next morning on the couch her neck aching from the awkward position she had slept in. She looked to her right and saw the slender form of her cousin peacefully sleep in the armchair.
She was so thankful for Julia. Julia, who had stuck by her through so much, and now was continuing to stick by her through the most painful heartbreak she'd ever experienced. Ella had been careful about all the men she dated knowing that many would try to get close to her because of her money. She had learned that lesson early in life from George Wickham.
It was hard to believe that Andrew had met George and even more that Andrew had become friends with him, but George was the ultimate con artist. He was charismatic and had a way of convincing people to believe anything he told them. She knew that first hand. It hurt though that Andrew called George his friend. Ella had hoped that Andrew would have been able to see past the mask that George wore.
George had hurt Ella and her family more times than she could count. Ella and George had grown up together. His father, David, had met Ella's father shortly after he graduated from college. David Wickham had wanted to go into business, and had leapt at the chance to be George Darcy's personal aide.
George had taken a chance on the young David Wickham, and it had left him with a loyal, dedicated, and hard working employee and later a good friend. David had even named his son after the man.
Ella and George had been close during childhood--best friends, in fact. He stuck by her through the death of her mother and had offered her a shoulder to cry on. As a child he had been kind, Ella wasn't sure when he had changed.
To Ella's chagrin she even had to admit that at one point she had a crush on George Wickham. He was cute, funny, and easy to talk to and to twelve-year-old Ella it was hard to resist. However, the fifteen-year-old George had barely noticed her and as he grew older rumors of his wild, promiscuous ways spread. Ella hadn't wanted to believe the rumors, and when George confessed his 'feelings' she had been tempted, but her niggling doubts couldn't be ignored.
At her rejection, George had tried to covince her, but upon realizing she was serious he had revealed his true nature. He had hurled horrible insults at her calling Ella things she had worked hard to forget. As the years passed, she realized just how materialistic and manipulative George was.
After George's father died, Mr. Darcy became more like a father to George, and it was no secret that he wished the pair together, but on seeing Ella's disinterest in the idea left it alone. He wasn't one to meddle.
George had tried to convince Ella on a number occasions to go out with him, but once he realized that she was not fooled by his charming façade and seeing that her answer wouldn't change, became cruel towards her. George's desire for her money, and her money alone, was no longer was hidden.
Although Ella had tried on more than one occasion to share with her father about George's true self, George Darcy had never truly been able to believe her. Wickham was like a son to him and while he didn't believe his daughter would lie he did believe that Ella had misunderstood Wickham's actions. It had put strain on their relationship in the last few months of Mr. Darcy's life. Ella couldn't believe that her own father wouldn't trust her, but Mr. Darcy too had been drawn in by George's lies.
George Darcy paid for Wickham's schooling and made it known that it was his fondest wish that Wickham go to medical school. However, that same year George Darcy died a heart attack and in his will provided the funds for George to go to medical school. George had refused instead citing his desire to go to law school. Ella never believed him, but was unable to dishonor her father's wishes. She gave him the money intended for medical school and hoped that he would finally leave her family alone.
Ella didn't see him again for nearly eight years until he returned to her life in the most horrifying of ways. After her father died, Ella never shared what had really happened between her and George Wickham. She hoped he was gone from their lives forever and had no intention of ever seeing him again. Little did she know her lack of openness would be disastrous for her younger sister, Ana.
Ana was eleven years Ella's junior. She was shy, pretty, and due to Ella's overprotective nature, sheltered. Ana had never really had a lot of friends and Ella had always warned her of the danger of being liked solely for her money. However, the previous summer one of Ana's few friends, Amelia Younge, was headed to Ramsgate Beach with her family. Ella didn't like sending Ana off by herself, but they had known the Younge family for several years they seemed trustworthy. Ana begged her sister to go, and excited that Ana was finally coming out of her shell Ella agreed.
About a month into her sister's stay at Ramsgate Beach, Ella decided to surprise her sister with a visit. When Ella arrived at the hotel, and the girls were absent she had tried Ana's cell phone, but it went straight to voicemail. Ella tried reaching her for the next several hours without success.
Finally, the Young family returned from their outing. Ella, going crazy with worry, sighed in relief. However, she quickly realized Ana was not with them. Mr. Young had explained that Ana had felt ill and requested to stay behind. Mr. Young let Ella into their room, but Ana was nowhere to be found.
Mr. and Mrs. Young turned to their daughter demanding an explanation. Amelia had caved under such pressure and confessed that Ana had met an old friend, George Wickham, on the beach. She had been planning to meet him that afternoon at his motel room. Horrified by what could be happening, Ella demanded the room number from Amelia and then all but ran back to the elevators. Her only thought to get Ana as soon as possible.
When she arrived at the motel, she banged on the door demanding that George open the door. Their was no answer, but one of George's neighbors must have heard the noise because an elderly woman stepped out into the hall. She told Ella that George had taken his girlfriend to the beach. Disgusted by the thought of George calling her sister his girlfriend, Ella asked the quickest way to the beach. The woman told her there was beach access across the street. Ella ran refusing to think the worst, but worry and fear weighed down on her.
It didn't take Ella long to find them. Ana was curled up on a towel, and George was waiting for her. She would later find out that Amelia knew George more intimately than she had first confessed. Amelia had bought into George's tales of woe, and believing herself to be in love had agreed to help set up Ana.
"Ah. There you are, Fenella. Amelia mention you might stop by," George was smirking, his eyes dangerous.
Ella ignored him, her attention solely on her sister. "Ana…Ana," she said stroking her hair, "wake up, Ana." Ana groaned, but didn't wake. She looked up at George. "What did you do to her?"
George lip curled. "I didn't do anything. She's fine. Your little sister wanted to show me how grown up she was. Apparently, she doesn't handle alcohol very well."
Ella moved away from her sister, angrily storming towards George. "I will have you arrested for what you've done. If you touched her in anyway you can forget about ever seeing the outside world again."
"Darling," George's grin turned sinister, "you can't touch me. I have done nothing wrong."
"How about providing alcohol to a minor?"
"She bought it herself," George replied, dismissively. "I think you need to have a chat with your sister about where she got her fake i.d."
"You're alone with her one the beach."
"My dear to any court in the world I am just an old friend spending time with a girl who is like a little sister to him. If Ana misinterpreted the time we spent together…well I can't be held responsible for a teenager's fantasy can I? And really Ella do you want to put your sister…your family through the humiliation of a trial where nothing can be proven? What it will it do that Darcy pride?"
Ella grit her teeth. She could never do that to Ana. "Give me your phone."
George looked surprised, and Ella could see anger flash behind his arrogant expression. "No."
Ella's anger boiled over, and she punched George square in the nose. Her hand was throbbing, and Ella was sure she had broken something. The force of her punch had been enough to send the unprepared George to the ground.
She grabbed his cell phone, ignoring George's groan of protest. Sure enough, there were several pictures of Ana passed out on the beach. "You were going to sell these, right? Blackmail me?"
George cursed. "I think you broke my nose." He cursed again. "Of course I was going to sell the pictures. You owe me."
Outraged, Ella had to stop herself from punching George again. "I owe you. Are you kidding me?" Ella voice was getting quieter by the second. Her voice when angry became softer, more lethal.
She had refused to listen to George's litany of complaints. Wanting to save Ana more pain, she paid George to disappear. After forcing George to sign a non-disclosure agreement and turning over any and all pictures he had of Ana Darcy. He was angry, but really had no choice. His gambling debts were such that he needed the money. Ella hated giving that man another penny, but her sister's protection was too important.
Ana had been devastated. Not only had she believed herself to be in love, but she had thought Amelia a true friend. Losing her "boyfriend" and best friend to such betrayal grieved her deeply. Even now, months removed from that day her sister still seemed timid and withdrawn.
Andrew would have been good for her. The thought came suddenly forcing from her painful musing into what was growing to be the deeper hurt of Andrew's rejection. Ana would never meet Andrew. More than once she had pictured Ana and Andrew together, his gregarious nature putting her sister at ease, making her laugh again.
Ella sighed and rubbed the space above her heart willing the hurt to go away. She still could remember her anger and shock when she saw George in Meryton Beach with Andrew at his side. George had poisoned Andrew and everyone else in the town against her. Her natural reserve or pride as Andrew would call it and stress from the previous summer prevented her from doing much to contradict his story. Ella couldn't really blame Andrew for believing his story.
Looking back on her behavior over those few months in Meryton Beach was awful. She had never been the overly-friendly, sociable type like Charlie, but never had she acted so poorly. It hurt to realize Andrew's accusations of being rude, prideful, and arrogant all appeared true--that was the person she had shown to them all. It hurt too much to think too long about, and she knew that one day soon her behavior would require more reflection, but for today she would let the matter rest.
Stretching out her neck, Ella decided to make coffee. She needed to escape thoughts of both George Wickham and Andrew Bennet. Neither was good for her sanity. As she waited for the coffee to finish brewing, Ella looked out her apartment window. Her view of New York City was spectacular. She could see the skyline of buildings rising behind Central Park. This apartment had been her family for ages, and she had been fortunate enough to inherit it when her father passed away.
Thoughts of her father brought about thoughts of work. It was his company that she was running. Darcy and Matlock Publishing had been her great-grandfather's labor of love. The company story was that her great-grandfather had been a lover of books for many years and when he met Ella's great-grandmother she was a writer. He was determined to make her dreams of being a published author come true and decided to use his inheritance to set up a publishing company of his own. The company began as Darcy Publishing. Her grandfather had long been a friend to the Fitzwilliam family and when their eldest son, Robert, graduated from school he became a partner in the company wishing to add the name Matlock after the old family estate in England as opposed to Fitzwilliam. Several years later, when George Darcy had met Robert's younger sister Anne he had quickly fallen in love and married.
Her father had left his shares of company to his daughters. Since Ana was not yet eighteen, Ella managed both of their shares in the company. Apart from her work on the company board, she also worked in the Marketing Department as the Senior Executive. Julia as an heir was also a major shareholder,, but her father currently held the family seat on the board. She worked as a senior client liaison and walked through the publishing processing with clients from first signing all the way to publication.
Yesterday, Ella was supposed to present her marketing campaign to an author and her publishing team. Ella, who normally was over prepared had been distracted, and the file that housed her presentation had been corrupted. Ella walked into the meeting having nothing to present. The author, a New York Times best seller no less, had threatened to walk out. Ella had bolted. It was a mess, and she didn't want to begin to try to fix it. She had almost ruined the account of one their best and most profitable authors.
"You look way too serious for seven in the morning," Julia voice broke through Ella's dark thoughts.
"Good morning, Julia," Ella replied, ignoring her comment. Julia rolled her eyes and made herself a cup of coffee.
"I'm not letting you off the hook that easily. What kind of thoughts had you so serious already this morning?"
Realizing Julia really wouldn't let up until she confessed, Ella answered, "I was thinking about work and what a fool I made of myself yesterday."
"Oh," Julia paused. "Well, I don't think it's as bad as you think. I was able to salvage the meeting, and your marketing team was able to share our ideas without the presentation. Not quite as professional, but once we explained you had a "family emergency" she was much more understanding."
Ella closed her eyes in relief, "Thank you, Julia."
Julia wrapped her arms around her. "Your welcome. You're like my sister, and you rarely need saving. I won't let you crash and burn without a fight."
Ella said nothing, but squeezed Julia a little tighter. The moment passed, and Ella grabbed the bag of bagels.
"Of course," Julia said, taking a sip of her coffee. "I'll get out the cream cheese."
As they set out things for breakfast, Ella noticed that Julia was too quiet. Usually, her cousin couldn't remain silent for longer than a few seconds. "What's going on with you? I usually can't get a moment of peace when you're around."
Julia snorted. "Gee thanks."
"Julia that's not an answer."
"I know. I guess I have a few more questions about Andrew Bennet, but I don't want to bring up an awkward subject," Julia replied, looking a little nervous.
Ella brought their bagels over to table and sat down. "What do you want to know," she asked quietly.
"Well," Julia said gathering thoughts, "you said Andrew was friends with George. What exactly did George tell him?"
"I don't know," Ella said, taking a sip of coffee. "He didn't really explain. I asked him why he had such a negative opinion of me, and he told me that he could never love a woman that would treat someone the way I treated George. He said something about George's misfortune. I was so angry to even hear Andrew say his name that I didn't completely listen. I knew whatever George had told him was a lie.I imagine it was similar to what always tells people that Ella Darcy ruined his life."
Julia reached for a bagel. "So is that all he had against you?"
"No. I told you that he thought my behavior was inappropriate--that he saw me as uptight and arrogant. But he also found out that I helped break up Charlie and his brother--"
"Wait," Julia interrupted. "Charlie was dating Andrew's brother?"
"Yes," Ella nodded, scraping cream cheese unto her bagel. "Weren't you listening to the story last night?"
"I did. I guess it was wishful thinking that Charlie had another relationship that you saved her from."
Julia's face was partially hidden behind her coffee cup, but Ella peered at her curiously. "Charlie does move fast, but even she needed time to get over Jake."
"Oh no. Ella…darn….I," Julia paused, and glanced at Ella who was now looking very confused. "I have a confession to make."
Ella sat up a little straighter. "A confession?"
"I told Andy." The next words came out in such a rush that it took Ella several moments to process what Julia had said. Pushing the words apart, she realized what her cousin had done. "You told Andrew that I encouraged Charlie to break up with his brother?"
"Yeah," Julia sighed, now understanding the full weight of what she had done. "I didn't know it was his brother though. I actually believed that I was helping you.I thought that you had a crush on him. Maybe it was a bad call, but I thought Andy would think it was sweet that you look out for your friends."
Ella groaned, resting her head in her hands. She had no words. The misery of that night and the words he had spoken to her came racing back at full force. Letting a long deep breath, Ella fought to keep her composure. "It's not your fault. Really. I'm responsible for my own actions."
"I really am sorry," Julia said, feeling guilty and miserable.
"No," Ella reached over and squeezed her cousin's hand. "It's my fault. Not yours. I know you would never intentionally hurt me."
"I know you said that you were saving Charlie from a bad relationship, but Jake Bennet sounds harmless. What did you have against him," Julia asked.
"He is harmless, but I didn't think he was really in love. I don't regret my interference. I wanted to protect Charlie, and she asked me what I thought. I couldn't lie. However, I do wish it hadn't bolstered Andrew's negative opinion of me."
"Do you think that sometimes you protect Charlie a little too much?"
"Julia," Ella said shortly and shook her head.
"Okay," Julia put her hands up, "We won't go there."
They both were silent for several minutes. Sipping coffee and taking bites of their bagels. Ella looked up at her cousin. "Did you have any more questions?"
Julia looked surprised, but refused to pass up the opportunity to question Ella. "What happened after that dinner? I know you said the first time you realized your attraction to him was when he played, but what happened in between."
Scraping cream cheese onto the other half of her bagel, Ella allowed the memories to return. "Following the dinner, Jake was over at our house all the time. Charlie really liked him. It was hard to keep her focused on businesses. I was really busy. I was juggling helping Charlie with my accounts. Still as hectic as I was I saw Jake and Andrew a couple times, but I didn't have much a chance to talk to them. The night that Jake invited to us to Lucas Lodge that was the first time I saw Andrew sing."
"That was when you realized you were attracted to him?"
"Yes," Ella, blushed a little. "I actually made a comment about how much I liked Andrew's eyes to Kyle Bingley."
Julia snorted. "He must have been upset."
"I suppose so," Ella rolled her eyes. "He proceeded to give me a hard time about it the rest of our stay."
"Kyle's still in love with you?"
"Please. Kyle has never been in love with me. He's in love with a figment of his imagination that happens to look like me. Kyle has some deluded notion that we are meant to be together. It's so off-putting and every time I turn him down he seems more determined. Charlie's even talked to him about it. My solution has been to try to avoid him."
"What happened next?"
Ella stood up, taking her plate to the sink. "I need to get ready for work."
Julia followed. "C'mon. You can't leave the story like that. I need to know more about the Ella and Andrew love saga."
"First, it's clearly not a love saga," Ella said, putting away the cream cheese. "More like a series of misunderstandings. Secondly, why do you want to know?"
Wiping down the counters, Julia replied, "Because I want to understand what you're going through. Maybe I am also a little curious because I've never seen you in love before and want to understand how Andrew Bennet made you fall in love, apparently without even trying. Who knows maybe it will even help you process all that happened."
Ella gave her a disbelieving look. "I'm not an extrovert, Julia."
Huffing, Julia replied, "That doesn't matter. Talking about painful things is good regardless. You can't keep it all locked up inside of you."
Ella knew that was true. The past week had been tormenting. She needed Julia's perspective if she ever going to conquer these feelings. "Fine," Ella sighed. "Meet me tonight at that restaurant Ana likes so much….Bern…Bernie…what's that place called?"
"Yes," Ella nodded. "Meet me there. We'll get a drink, and I will try to fill in more of the details for you."To Be Continued . . .