Posted on: 2015-11-29
The Bennet household was a flurry of activity, more than usual that Thanksgiving evening. Perhaps it was more noise than activity, Darcy reflected, from his place on the couch in the family room, a room separated by two steps from the kitchen.
Jane was consumed in making the Bingley siblings and himself feel comfortable, with more true hospitality than any of them really deserved. She was flipping through some holiday tunes on her lab top for their amusement now. Darcy supposed that this was to distract them from their hunger. For reasons best known only to herself, Mrs. Bennet had invited them for a Thanksgiving party a full two hours before she planned to serve dinner. Their other neighbors, the Lucas clan and the Philips, lifelong friends and family who knew her habits better, had yet to arrive though they lived across the street.
Mrs. Bennet made as much fuss in her kitchen as her weight would allow. Her cheeks, her palms, even her forehead was pink from the effort. The timer on her oven rang religiously every half hour and with an "Oh that Lizzy will be the death of me!" she would heave a sigh and with butter and a gravy spoon she would 'moisturize' the turkey in the oven. That was the term Lizzy's younger sister Mary had termed it anyway. The only vegan in the family, she had also named the 20 pound bird her mother was cooking Carol. Darcy had secretly named it Caroline. That woman, who's conversation was always so kind and flattering, had on his recent trip been showering him with attention of a more romantic kind. As for Lizzy she was no where in sight. Jane had mentioned something about a work emergency, but he was too self-conscious to inquire for more information.
He had come a month ago to this small midwestern city on behalf of the board for Bingley's company, on which he served. And while the work was easy, really just a supervisory role, Bingley's new friends grated on his nerves. And yet even within this small circle, there were surprising and refreshing personalities. Which was why he was here, he supposed, instead of reviewing the fiscal reports for Bingley's company or on a flight to see extended family. Pity then that she was the only one missing.
Mary remonstrated on the evils of eating meat; Lydia and Kitty incessantly conversed as they poured over pages and pages of paper advertisements to every black Friday sale in town; and Mrs. Bennet heaved and cried for "Lizzy!" over the dishes she was setting up on the counter. Darcy was slowly developing a migrane. With a great deal of skill he managed to slide himself away from the Bingley sisters and between Bingley and Jane. It was no small feat and Bingley, at least, seemed irked at the interruption.
They had taken seats in what he supposed was the family room, a room that opened into the kitchen. It was a construction he had never seen. The home was a scarce two floors, and the main floor consisted of a family room, the kitchen, and dining room. Only the latter was decked in any formal furniture. The cabinets in the kitchen were an outdated, cottage like style. Some he supposed would call it cozy.
"I thought you would like some water," said Darcy with a thin smile to Bingley as he handed him a glass. "You've been talking yourself hoarse to Jane."
"I didn't think you would dare venture into the kitchen Darcy," said Caroline. "I know it on good authority that you never do even in your own home, not even for water; or did your hunger drive you there?"
Jane seemed to blush again, and began fiddling with her shirt.
"Not at all," said Darcy for Jane's sake, though his stomach gave him away and even Bingley hid a smirk. Really, who served thanksgiving dinner three hours after guests arrived?
"Well the turkey is roasted, so put in the casserole," said Mrs. Bennet to one of her daughters and collapsed with frustration and another, "Oh that stupid Lizzy!"
Another dish to bake, thought Darcy with a little resentment at the last exclamation. Who left all their baking for thanksgiving day? Well perhaps Mrs. Reynolds, his housekeeper, but she had the luxury of three ovens.
Darcy, and Darcy alone, heard a muffled laugh from outside, through the kitchen's back door. Recognizing it as her laugh, his mouth suddenly went dry. He had met her now maybe six times but it was a lively, playful laugh he knew well. His back straightened as sure enough the lock in the door gave way and there entered Lizzy through the kitchen's back door, impeccably dressed in her gray suit, her hair in a clip, and her phone cushioned against her shoulder. Her laugh faltered a little over the phone and she met his eyes from straight across the other room with surprise. She would of course notice him first, he thought with some smugness. Elizabeth had time only for a 'bye Charlotte,' and a flip of her phone before Mrs Bennet came before her, equally relieved and upset. Really who used flip phones still, Darcy wondered.
Hurst had walked languidly into the kitchen, and in an attempt to get dinner started was pointing out that the corn bread could be placed on the table. Jane stood to steer him to some tea. Caroline took the empty seat to deposit herself stealthily into the couch by Darcy. She bent over one knee facing him as she leaned down. He sighed and turned his face with a great deal of effort away from staring down her dress.
Mary was throwing her arms in the air crying, "Great what am I supposed to eat? Mashed potatoes?"
Kitty was throwing cranberries on the wild rice and salmon platter with the speed of a new born turtle. And her mother was washing all the dishes with the elegance of a bear. She was shouting at Lizzy now.
"If your father was here you would hear it from him. I know you can't take it from me. Who works on the day of Thanksgiving?"
"Dad did," said her daughter with a sly smile. She poked her head around into the family room and gave a smile to the Bingleys and Darcy. "Hi," she whispered. "Can't talk now. I might get roasted instead of that bird." She gave them a friendly wink and that was all the encouragement that Bingley needed to join the entourage in the kitchen, unhelpfully asking intermittently, "Can I help," with this or that.
Mrs. Bennet was by no means done berating her daughter. "You have to tell those people you work for, those HSA folks, or NSI people--"
"Well whatever they are, you tell them that God himself takes a break on thanksgiving."
"Even Darcy takes Thanksgiving off," said Caroline, in the sudden quietness of the room.
Mrs. Bennet and her daughter turned to look towards him, and Darcy fought to keep his gaze cool with the sudden attention. Lizzy's eyes were filled with delicious mirth and it was unclear to him whether she found her mother, Caroline or himself the most ridiculous.
"Ma, I'm pretty sure every day is a working holiday for the Almighty," said Lizzy. "God that is," she said over her shoulder to Darcy, meeting his gaze with her brow arched. "Not you."
He was as mesmerized by the mischievous spark in her baby brown eyes as he was by her movements. She massaged her mother's shoulders for a moment, whispering and eliciting a chuckle, easing her anger. She rolled her eyes at Jane over Bingley's head, tossed Mary her jacket, and tugged the apron off Kitty and on to herself. It was as though she were moving to music, to a rhythm and a beat that the rest ignored. She seemed to go through life as though she was working on a painting, while the rest in her family were working on the present minute.
"There's no time for the pies," said Mrs. Bennet with a shrillness to match the frills of Lizzy's apron, as the latter took out apples and other ingredients.
"Never mind that Ma," she replied, her hands clapping and dusting flour onto a rolling pin. The silky white work blouse she wore seemed such a contrast to the bright red apron, but she seemed rather comfortable, having kicked off her jacket and heels.
"Quickly now Jane," Mrs. Bennet was saying. "Move the stuffing to the table. We won't delay a minute for Lizzy and her non sense. Pies! Like there isn't enough food on Thanksgiving--" Unaccountably she began to cry, much to the mortification of her guests. Jane wrapped an arm around her. Even Mary smiled sadly and Lydia said, "Oh God! Lizzy, couldn't you have just bought a pie on the way?"
Lizzy said not a word, but the response from her mother and sisters was a unified shout. "NO!" Everything else might be canned and processed but pies were not bought in the Bennet household.
For a moment there was a stunned silence, the guests shifting awkwardly, darting confused and curious glances from one person to the next, and Lydia's retort stifled by Kitty putting a hand to her mouth.
"I'll set the food down," said Jane solemnly, as if at a funeral or wake. "Help me Kitty. Charlie, won't you bring the glasses over?"
Bingley sprung forward, and Kitty left Lydia. Mary went and sat by her mother. The bell rang in this commotion, as the Lucas were at long last ushered in. Darcy was relieved to be able to stand and create some distance between himself and Caroline. He greeted the Lucas men with such warmth and brevity that they happily ensconced him between themselves when they turned on the TV. This was of course not before they had greeted everyone- Mrs. Bennet with a kiss on the cheek, Lydia with a fist bump, Jane with a pat on the head and Lizzy with a shoulder hug.
"You and the pies again," said Charlotte Lucas with a shake of her head as she leaned against the counter that Lizzy worked on. "Would it kill you to do them a day before?"
"It's tradition to procrastinate," replied Lizzy cheekily. "The pecan pie is done. I hope you didn't forget to bring the ice cream."
"Vanilla as usual."
Elizabeth made quick work, her fingers kneading the sides of the pie. Bird feet, Darcy's sister had called them after watching Snow White.
The meal looked marvelous when it was finally placed with some decorative candles on the table. There were not nearly enough chairs in the house to accommodate the number of guests. In the end everyone managed to fit around with a stool or chair or, to Darcy's great chagrin, a bench. Only Lydia and Kitty remained without seats, and insisted they would rather eat on the couch while watching TV.
Charlotte's dad thought Darcy should say grace, but Mrs. Bennet had already asked her brother in law Philips, much to Darcy's relief. With everyone brushing elbows, and Lydia, Kitty, and Mary standing, they said grace. Darcy could not help but lift his head a little, during Mr. Philips' rather lengthy prayer. The room seemed so full, so cheerful, so uncomfortable. He looked to Elizabeth, her rough, fluffy hair still in its knot, a dash of flour on her forehead contrasting strongly against her dark chocolate skin, and his heart felt warm and hollow, happy and unsettled at once. Her mouth quirked in a suppressed smile, though her head remained bowed, as Mr. Philips' grace included a prayer for the success of his firm.
The meal was typical for the holiday but there was a surprising amount of food left over, given the number of people in attendance. Mrs. Bennet was loudly urging the young Lucas girls to pack some for home but they chose to discuss their shopping expeditions with Lydia and kitty. The guests removed themselves to more comfortable seating in the family room as Jane ushered her mother to sit. Meanwhile she, with Elizabeth, Charlotte, and Mary made quick work with the mess in the kitchen. Bingley, once he could extricate himself from the Lucas men, joined the girls in the kitchen; and though he had little to offer in actual work, he spoke so entertainingly that the ladies were glad to have him in the kitchen.
Darcy seeing them from his vantage point a few steps down in the family room considered joining them, but it was so lively a group, and all of them so familiar with each other, that he really thought they might all stare silently at him if he entered. Still his eyes strayed often away from the T.V. to glance there. Elizabeth was not the center of their little party. But she spoke in her lively fashion with everyone, even straying into the other room with the excuse of picking up the coffee cups and dessert plates. Mr. Lucas invited all of them, particularly Elizabeth and Darcy to join him in Black Friday shopping at Walmart. Elizabeth joked that just because she was black, didn't mean she had to shop at Walmart.
And upon seeing Darcy wince at the invitation she smilingly said, "It might be a new experience for our guest however. He can see our town's main attraction."
"I thought you were the town's main attraction," said Mr. Lucas. Unexpectedly he turned to Darcy and added, "Is she not a jewel, young man? You would go shopping, even though I know how much young men despise the activity at your age, when so much temptation is before you?"
His tone was slightly patronizing, as the talk of elderly men can be. Elizabeth dismissed him with a shake of her head, asking if he wanted coffee. But the crease on Darcy's head was unmistakable; as was his silence. "It's alright," she said to him. "I have no intention of taking you shopping, no matter what Mr. Lucas says."
He stared, and at last when she was about to move on to offer the others coffee he said, "Is it because of the store you object or the stereotype to your race."
"Neither," said she. "I object to the company."
He should have been offended, but there was a mixture of sweetness and sassiness to her that prevented her from ever really offending anyone. Darcy chuckled in response, already too far gone to take her seriously.
To put action to her words, Elizabeth had already moved on to the other guests. There was a ripple of laughter from the Lucas men as she steered through them. She was accosted by Caroline as she quitted the room.
"Do you still live with your parents Eliza?" asked she, in tones of sneering surprise.
"As I'm sure you discovered the first three times we met," said Elizabeth with an indifferent shrug. "Will you be staying with your brother long, Caroline? Or only for the holidays?"
Caroline could only bristle as they all knew the young socialite was living off her brother's expenses.
Only old Mr Lucas made an effort to converse with Darcy that evening since Caroline was most trapped between the younger Bennets. Mr. Lucas for his troubles was met with so stony a silence from Darcy that it drew the ire of every person in the room, particularly their host, who not so discreetly discussed the possibility that he was racist. No one of course could guess, not even Darcy himself was aware, that his horrible treatment was because old Mr Lucas had hit upon the heart of the matter, regarding Elizabeth. She was a jewel. And he was oh so tempted.
It was not long before the guests were dispersed. They were almost all restless to shop. Darcy witnessed with some surprise how quickly the dessert--the cake Bingley had brought, but primarily the pies Elizabeth had baked-- were quickly devoured. He had been invited to just a slither of an apple pie by Mrs. Bennet, and though it left him craving more, he was too embarrassed to ask. Bingley had no such reservations and praised the fine pies almost more than necessary. Almost. For they were indeed, in every aspect, the perfect pies. The praise did not sparkle Elizabeth's eyes, indeed she did not smile, for all the lauding. The pies were quickly put away by the younger Bennet sisters, as they entreated their mother in earnest for money to shop with. The hostess responded that she was rather eager to shop herself, and in this way the fate of the others was decided. They ought to leave.
The Hurst's declared their intention to visit a wine tasting festival tomorrow, which would require they drive through the night to the next town. Caroline and Darcy were invited to join them, but with many long inquiring looks at Darcy-which the latter tried his best to ignore--Caroline said she was too tired for a night of shopping or a road trip. Bingley said he would return home, but separately, as he wanted to spend more time with Jane. Easily he requested Caroline to go back with Darcy and he would drive back on his own in a little bit.
All eyes turned to Darcy. No one heard his heart crack when he held the keys of his Audi out to Caroline. "You go on," he said soberly. "I'll wait for Charles." It was one thing to let her drive it, but he worried more of being alone in a house with Caroline. He only hoped his car would survive the night without a dent. As it happened, Caroline's ego was appeased by what she saw as Darcy's trust in handing her the keys of the precious vehicle. As the rest of the party dispersed to their comfortable beds or in shopping troupes, Darcy considered that Charles' friendship was almost not worth the trouble. For all that Bingley was hospitable, he was so obtuse that he might as well ram a car over Darcy.
Bingley was eager for Jane's exclusive company, and all but rushed her upstairs. Darcy, now alone with a smirking Mary Bennet in the family room, wondered if it was rude to pick up a three day old Minnesota Times from the floor. He picked it up anyway and began reading, hoping against hope that Charles would be down soon. After five minutes, his companion got up. "I'm going to bed," she said stretching. "And today's Chicago Tribune is under the table."
He thanked her and leaned as far back as the chair would allow him. He called Georgiana, but her phone went straight to voicemail. He wondered if she was out shopping too. Studying, more likely. He fell asleep thinking of the Bennets chaotic existence and considering that he and Georgiana ought to spend more time together around the holidays. She could have flown out for a weekend from school; and Bingley could manage the start-up without him for a while. He determined to meet her before the long weekend was through.
The lights were off when he awoke. Someone had put a pillow and folded blanket beside him while he slept. Jane, probably. Bingley wouldn't have even noticed the time--he looked at his clock.
"Christ! 2:00 a.m?"
The whole house must be asleep by now. Even the most avid shopper. Judging by the silent darkness and all the cars out the window, that seemed likely.
He strode to the bathroom and was wondering where Bingley was sleeping -- he didn't think his relationship with Jane had advanced so far as to allow him admittance to her room. Granted they had just spent a 'family only holiday' at the Bennets, but really that was more a coincidence that they were all present and with no other plans. And it was at Mrs. Bennet's insistence more so than anyone else's. Even Elizabeth seemed surprised to see him and the Bingley party, as though no one had mentioned that he was invited. He was vaguely wondering how many rooms were upstairs and which ones belonged to Jane and Elizabeth as he left the bathroom, so it was with great surprise he beheld the sight before him.
There was Elizabeth in fleece pajamas. She was sitting on the kitchen countertop, eating a slice of pecan pie, her legs dangling, and her hair free and messy. She looked up at him in mild surprise.
"Did I wake you?"
"No," he responded. "Not at all. I was awake long before."
He did not move immediately to sit beside her, but nor did he leave. She took a long ponderous bite of her pecan pie as she watched him. Then when he was silent and still as a statue, Elizabeth with that mocking smile invited him to eat some pie with her.
"If you don't mind decadent food so late, or the company of dead people, that is," she added after he took the fork she had offered. She meant to provoke him.
"I'm rather comfortable around the dead," he said with an exhale.
"Yeah, one might confuse you for one," she muttered as she turned, without sliding off the counter to cut a slice for him from the pie dish at her side.
It was then that he noticed the urn tucked cozily by her elbow.
"Your father?" He asked with a nod to it.
"Yup." She searched his face and was surprised at how little disturbed he looked at the sight of an urn on the kitchen counter. Instead of taking the chair at the table, he joined the urn on its other side and sat beside her on the counter.
Wordlessly Elizabeth handed him her used plate with a fresh slice of pie. He took a bite of it, the flavor shocking his mouth. This was a man she'd seen refuse to take tea in a foam cup, watched him take out every single carrot before eating the stuffing, and chose to sleep upright on a love seat than lay with his feet on a couch. The sight before her was completely unfathomable. Perhaps he was still half asleep.
"Why didn't you eat any of your pies at dinner?" he asked.
She laughed a little. "I didn't think anyone had noticed! I thought there wouldn't be enough for the guests, but clearly I overestimated the popularity of my pies. Usually none are left."
"I don't think I've ever tasted better."
"Oh I don't think pies can get better than this."
"And you say I have pride." He smiled.
She rolled her eyes. "Its my father I'm complimenting, not myself. He had a bakery. I learned from him."
"And did he eat in the dead of the night too?"
"Always and alone. Well, occasionally with me," she said. She pointed her fork at herself and the urn. "Thus a thanksgiving tradition was born. How are you okay with this? Most people can't stand to even hear who's in the urn. Much less to see it by food."
He shrugged. "In my family there are more people dead than living. Though none in an urn. I think I was ten when my mother was buried. She was the first."
He said it plainly, but clearly the thoughts were painful so she said nothing more and he continued with his line of questioning.
"What happened to the bakery?"
"It's still there. On Austin and 56th. He sold it to some lousy businessman who wanted the name and location of the place, but didn't care for learning anything about it's pies."
Now, it amused her, that this seemingly banal information contorted his face and a derisive sort of expression passed through his face.
"Your father didn't pass it on to you?"
"No, he did us all a favor. We would have managed it for him, certainly I would have felt the need to after his health wouldn't allow him. But he knew it was his dream, not any of ours."
"Still, how did you sleep at night? How could you watch while this man ran your father's dream to the ground?"
"Oh I wouldn't have been able to stand it. So I didn't stick around to watch," said she cheekily. She took the fork out of his hand and took a bite of the pie. "Look, I didn't have any experience in that field."
He questioned her further, and though she responded honestly, she had the distinct impression that he could not understand how such a family legacy could be given away.
"So you chose social work?" he asked, but to her biased ears, he demanded.
"Hmm, that might be too fancy of a word to describe what I do." She said mulling over a toasted pecan. She looked at him sideways, trying to gauge whether he was actually interested.
"I work for a non-profit that provides living spaces for mentally ill patients with recurring drug problems, to basically keep them off the streets. More beaurcratic paperwork and logistics than anything else really."
That sounded like social work to him. "And they don't give you holidays off?"
"Not you too," she said with a withering look. "I think half the mall heard my mother on the subject."
At his persistence she explained that the broiler had stopped working in one of the buildings and the only way to convince the landlord to fix the problem was to go down to the building with him. Otherwise the mentally ill tenants might be without heat till Monday. It took up half a day and an hour's commute.
They were silent for a beat after that, and she considered whether she should now turn the tables and interrogate him on his work. But an image of Caroline Bingley perched on a chair and doing the same flashed in her mind and difussed her curiosity. What she was, was sleepy, and having had her silent vigil with her father interrupted by a man who seemed to be critically judging everything that came out of her mouth, she was a little annoyed too.
She slid off the counter and looked at the urn for a moment. It was but a moment, but such loss was in her eyes, that it was plain to Darcy. He was half afraid she might cry, but all she said was, "Alright, it's time for bed."
She handed Darcy her empty plate, unceremoniously, and while he stood to put it in the sink, she left the kitchen to place the urn back in its place.
She felt him enter the room.
"How long has it been?"
She walked to the stairs and paused to glance at his chair and blanket. She did not know how to offer him a better bed, since the only bed currently not in use was her own, and she could hardly offer that as Maria Lucas was probably flopped on the end of it. She wondered offering him something else, coffee maybe.
"I'll be fine," he said and she wondered if she'd thought aloud.
She nodded, feeling too exhausted and hollow to care any more than that. She had a nagging question in the back of her mind, and she wasn't sure she even wanted it answered. She had taken three steps when she just barely heard him answer her unspoken pondering.
"The regret you feel," he said. "Will never quite leave. But the pain dulls slowly."
She turned on the step and he reached over, pressed her hand with a sad smile, then left. It should have given her more pain to know this, but somehow she felt reassured, in a resigned way. If she was curious to see how he would act in the morning, it was a short lived thought. He and his friend left early the next morning; at 6 o'clock the note on the fridge signed by Will said, but nevertheless earlier than the rest of the house. They were eager to return to business and family, the note said, and might possibly take a plane out before the end of the week.
Elizabeth's personal curiosity and thoughts, however, were suppressed, when she beheld Jane's crestfallen features. It dawned on her then what had trespassed between Bingley and Jane during the night, and what that had meant for Jane, and what unspoken promise the hastily posted note on the fridge broke.
All her anger and indignation thus turned to the presumptuous note writer. And every sentiment was now for her sister. She was sure it was Darcy's doing; for Bingley had never expressed the impatience of his friend with their family, none of the pride couched in elitist thoughts that Darcy exuded. Why else would he be the one to write a note explaining their hasty departure and not Bingley? So concerned was she that she never noticed that the note, though written in generalities, was addressed, quite particularly to "Liz."