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A Dream Deferred - Chapter 30

April 17, 2018 06:48PM
CHAPTER 30

Ed Gardiner was a sight to behold in his ill-fitting suit and mismatched tie, an outfit he typically reserved for weddings and funerals. He felt it was appropriate, in a way, to don his most somber uniform to mark the day he relinquished sole control of QED. After all, it was just a funeral by another name. He had not imagined he’d feel such an acute mixture of dread and regret. The deal Pemberley Media had offered was fair, generous even. A 30% stake at a healthy valuation. A much needed cash infusion. Access to the formidable resources of a global conglomerate. A promise of editorial independence. A partnership with Will Darcy, a man Ed had come to respect. It was a better deal than anything Ed could have imagined when the process began three months ago. And yet he could not help but mourn the future QED would never have; a future unblemished by financial considerations, a future as an insurgent outsider, a future that was impossible, impractical and thoroughly seductive.

Ed sighed and looked at his watch. He was half an hour early as usual. The lobby of Pemberley Media headquarters was a place filled with frenetic energy, people entering and exiting the building in waves like schools of fish with a universal look of feigned importance. He wondered how many of the most conspicuously arrogant passersby were working on producing the next tawdry reality show or tabloid gossip column. It felt like an insult to have to share an affiliation with those people, no matter how tenuous, to have to beg and argue for mindshare when they got it with minimal effort. The reality of the modern media landscape that made erudite, independent journalism nearly extinct and pushed QED into the arms of a corporate partner, even a benevolent one, made Ed realize there was really no justice in this world. The fact that QED would survive at all was a small miracle. And only time would tell if the loss of absolute autonomy had been too high a price to pay for survival.

“Ed, you ok?”

Ed looked up to see his lieutenants, equally somber, watching him with concern. “Yeah, fine.”

Elizabeth sat down next to him. “You look terrible. Have you been sleeping?”

“Not really.”

“Me neither,” said Elizabeth.

“Same,” said Ayla. “Aren’t we a sorry bunch? Most normal people would be celebrating right now.”

“It doesn’t feel like a celebration,” said Elizabeth.

They were silent for a moment, then Ed said, “You think we’re making a mistake?”

“I don’t know,” said Elizabeth. “But I know that we have to give this arrangement a try. A real try. We know where the alternative leads us.”

“We’re in trouble if Liz is the voice of reason,” said Ayla with a smile.

“I am ready to be an impractical idealist,” said Elizabeth. “I always am. There is nothing in the world I love more than QED. And I would follow you anywhere, Ed. You know that.” Elizabeth looked around the lobby. “We don’t belong here. None of us do. But we need their resources and…- I hate to say it, partnership. It’s just a minority stake. We still get to run QED how we want. Honestly, I don’t think we can get a better deal anywhere else.” Elizabeth paused. “I hate the idea of it with a passion. But it’s a chance we have to take if we have any hope of having a voice five years from now.”

Ed sighed. “You’re right, Liz. I’m sorry. I wasn’t expecting to feel so uncertain.”

“Don’t apologize,” said Elizabeth. “It’s natural. I feel it too.”

“We’ll probably have to have more silly meetings,” said Ed.

“Yeah.”

“And fill out useless paperwork.”

“Definitely.”

“And they may have occasional ideas we have to pretend to care about.”

“I’m great at feigning interest in other people’s bad ideas,” said Elizabeth with a sly look at Ayla.

Ayla rolled her eyes. “Maybe we can finally afford to take vacation days. You know what those are, right Liz?”

Elizabeth giggled. “You mean days when normal humans take time away from work, presumably to have fun? Sounds vaguely familiar. And like a total waste of time.”

Ayla laughed. “I don’t understand how you function. Truly.” She paused. “Ed?”

“Yeah?” Ed still seemed pensive.

“It’ll be ok,” said Ayla.

“Yeah.”

“No, I mean it. We’ll still own 70%. And you know Liz and I will never let you compromise on the things that matter. She can be annoyingly persuasive. We negotiated that buyout clause, so we can always buy them out if we’re unhappy…-”

“With the spare millions we always have lying around,” said Elizabeth.

Ayla looked at her. “Stranger things have happened. What I’m saying is, I agree with Liz. I’ve pored through the books for hours, and I can buy us a year or two, but not much more than that. We have to do this. And it may not be as terrible as we’re all imagining it to be. Who knows, maybe we’ll like having a little extra cash.”

“We desperately need another reporter,” said Elizabeth.

“And new carpets,” said Ayla.

“What’s wrong with the ones we already have?” said Elizabeth.

“Umm, there are giant coffee stains all over the place,” said Ayla. “Haven’t you noticed?”

“No.” Elizabeth shrugged. “I just assumed you had bad taste in interior design.” After a pause, she said, “It’s going to be fine, Ed. You have me. And Ayla. Don’t get me wrong, I will complain about this every single day for the rest of my life. And if we have serious concerns, you will hear about it. You know I’m not shy about sharing my true feelings on any subject.”

Ed laughed. “Yes, I’m aware.” He was silent for a moment. “Thanks, Liz. Thanks, Ayla. I know I don’t say it often, but I appreciate your partnership and friendship. I needed to hear that. I was letting myself get all nostalgic.”

“Understandable,” said Elizabeth. “Although I have to say there is nothing more disconcerting than when you’re being nice to us.”

“An aberration that ends now. Will you two leave me in peace until we have to go up for the Board meeting?” With those words, Ed pulled out his phone.

Elizabeth shared a quiet look with Ayla. They had their lingering doubts about their new corporate overlords, but knew that Ed needed their certainty. Pemberley Media had been nothing but fair, honest and professional throughout the diligence process, but the type of reporter who ends up voluntarily choosing to tell the stories of conflict zones is not, by definition, practical. And so they fretted about the loss of editorial integrity, the interference of a clueless behemoth entity, the subjugation of the reckless spirit that sustained QED. Regardless of the assurances of the people at the top that nothing would change, they knew that everything had already changed. They could never approach the world with the same audacity, with the same unfettered abandon. They were chastened, cognizant of the fact that their experiment had failed, that no matter how hard they tried they could never get enough people to care about their stories. At least not enough to survive as an independent publication. So, yes, they had their doubts, but also the certainty that there was no other way. And the knowledge that their inability to save QED in its intended form would never stop hurting.

Elizabeth took Ed’s lead and checked her phone. As she skimmed through her emails, one caught her eye.

From: Alex Carter [alex.carter@gmail.com]
Date: November 24, 2014 08:17 AM
To: Elizabeth Bennet [ebennet27@yahoo.com]
Subject: URGENT

One of your sisters named Lydia by any chance? Call me.

Elizabeth frowned. She would have to call Carter after the Board meeting, but had a sinking suspicion something was very wrong.

~~

Three hours and a Board meeting later, the QED team stood outside Pemberley headquarters having just sold a piece of their consciousness. Darcy stood with them in solemn camaraderie, acutely aware of the mood of his soon-to-be colleagues. He had come to appreciate the cultish devotion and tenacious loyalty that bound QED to its principals, and as such, understood what a deeply personal and possibly painful day this was for all involved. Ed and Ayla, in no mood to talk, left after a few parting words. Elizabeth stood in silence, distracted, lost in her own thoughts.

Darcy cleared his throat. “So.”

Elizabeth looked up at him. “So.”

“You ok?”

Elizabeth shrugged. “If you’d told me a year ago, I’d be working for Pemberley, I would have thought you were crazy.”

“Technically, you don’t work for Pemberley. We’re just a minority shareholder, a silent partner.”

“Somehow I can’t imagine an organization such as Pemberley ever being silent…- well about anything.”

Darcy smiled. “We’ve done it before. Ed felt strongly that selling QED outright would cause irreparable harm to the culture. Our main goal is to learn as much as we can from QED - and Ed - and honestly QED’s bottom line is so insignificant that it hardly matters whether we own 30% or 100%.” Darcy paused. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to sound harsh.”

“No, you’re right. We would be a rounding error for you.”

“But I get to have Ed Gardiner as a Senior Advisor. That’s worth way more than what we paid for our QED stake.”

“He’s the best in the business. You have impeccable instincts.”

“I do,” said Darcy with a smile. “I want you to know we want QED to succeed. We are here to offer any help we can, but we don’t pretend to know anything about your business.”

“I don’t know much about my business,” said Elizabeth. “If I did, maybe we wouldn’t be here in the first place.”

“QED is massively successful in its vertical. You should be proud of everything you’ve accomplished.”

“I am. I just wish we were successful enough to not be here.”

“I’ll try not to take that personally.”

“Don’t,” said Elizabeth. Without thinking, she added, “It’s not about you. Getting to know you has been the best part of the last few months, maybe the only good part.”

Darcy did not speak for a moment. “Thanks, Liz. I’m honored.” He paused. “Perhaps you’ll feel the same about Pemberley once you’ve gotten to know us. Please allow us the opportunity to make a favorable impression.”

“Fair enough. My track record of hasty judgments speaks for itself. But it’s not Pemberley - you guys are great. Well, at least Reynold is great. And you’re perfectly acceptable.” Elizabeth smiled. “Honestly, I’ve been pleasantly surprised. I just…- I guess I just feel scared about what comes next.”

“What comes next is you go back to Tel Aviv and keep churning out amazing issues of QED. Nothing has to change.”

“You make it sound so simple.”

“I’m a CEO. You know we can’t be bothered by the details,” said Darcy with a grin. “Don’t worry so much, Liz. It’s all going to be fine. And if it’s not, if something isn’t as you expected, come talk to me. I want our relationship to be collaborative.”

Relationship. Elizabeth’s heart skipped a beat. “Thank you, Will. And congrats - you got what you wanted.”

“Thanks. It feels great, I have to admit.”

“You must be used it.”

“To what?”

“Always getting what you want.”

“Not always,” said Darcy, his eyes fixed on her. “I’m excited about the future of Pemberley. And I know that once the dust settles, you’ll be excited about the future of QED.”

“I want to believe that. I really do. But I need more evidence to substantiate what, at this time, is simply an assertion.”

“I hope Pemberley lives up to your scrutiny.”

“I expect it will,” said Elizabeth softly, her pulse racing for unknown reasons she’d rather not examine. “I, ahh…- I should go, Will. I promised Jane I’d help her with the turkey.”

“She hosting Thanksgiving this year?”

“Yeah. My parents are coming up tomorrow.”

“Please tell them I said hello.”

“I will. When does Gia get home?”

“Wednesday. She is in the middle of a case, so couldn’t really take more time off.”

“I know you guys are headed up to your uncle’s, but I’d love to see her if she has any time to spare.”

“I’m sure she’d love that,” said Darcy. “Liz?”

“Yeah?”

“Before you go, I’d like to ask you something.”

“Yeah?”

“Would you…- would you like to have dinner with me?”

Elizabeth stared at him for a moment, “Dinner?”

“Yeah?”

“You mean, like... - just the two of us?”

“Yeah.”

“Oh.”

His face was eager and hopeful, his eyes focused and intense, his smile soft and determined. She had grown accustomed to seeing this face almost daily and considered herself somewhat of an expert on the multitude of moods that simmered underneath the facade of impervious dispassion. There was the intense focus that led him to burrow his brows while he read and absorbed a new piece of writing. There was the flicker of annoyance when he realized a covert paparazzi had snapped a picture of him, which partly explained why he always appeared severe in the press. There was the infectious enthusiasm bordering on ebullience that translated into a grin when he spoke of his Red Sox and his perennial hopes for their upcoming season. And then there were moments like this, when he looked at her with an intensity that still took her breath away. That look had always disarmed her, even when she had found him otherwise objectionable. It was as though he could see inside her soul and read her every last hope and dream and doubt and trauma. She wondered if he had grown as adept at reading her face as she was at reading his. Had her face betrayed her? Could he tell she was terrified? Of needing him and missing him, of wanting him when their lives inevitably diverged. Of dreaming of a future that had no right to exist. She had finally found the version of her life that suited her, and it seemed irresponsible to light it all on fire in the hope of something more.

“So, is that a yes?”

“Will, I..-” Elizabeth stopped. There was really only one answer she was capable of giving. Before she could speak, her phone buzzed in her pocket. “I’m sorry, let me pick this up…- someone’s been trying to reach me for an hour.” Elizabeth looked at her phone. It was Jane. “Hi, Jane - I’m so sorry, I just got out of my meeting. Everything ok? Calm down, what’s wrong? I can’t understand anything you’re saying. Take a deep breath. WHAT??! Are you sure? Where is she? I’m leaving right now… uh huh, yeah, I’ll be there in 15 min. Did you call Anne already? Ok…- don’t cry, Jane. I’m coming now. I love you.”

Once Elizabeth had hung up, Darcy said, “What’s wrong?”

Elizabeth looked at her phone for a second before looking up at him, tears welling in her eyes. “I have to go.”

“Are you ok?”

“I’m fine. It’s my sister, Lydia.”

“What happened, Liz?”

“I don’t know how to say this. We won’t be able to keep this off the tabloids. Lydia’s in jail.”

“What?!”

“Apparently she…- she tried to blackmail Henry Crawford, the late night host*. He called the cops. I’m not sure of all the details, but it seems like she’s being held for attempted grand larceny.”

“Oh. That doesn’t sound good.”

“No.” Elizabeth almost laughed at his statement. “Probably best not to be arrested for a felony.” Carter’s email fresh on her mind, Elizabeth added, “It gets worse.”

“Worse how?”

“I think George Wickham is involved somehow.”

Darcy’s eyes narrowed. “What?! How do you know?”

Elizabeth saw his body stiffen. “I’ve…- I’ve had him under surveillance for more than a year.”

“Are you serious?”

“Well, informal surveillance. Nothing illegal,” said Elizabeth. “It’s a long story.”

“I bet it is,” said Darcy. “Liz, he’s highly dangerous, especially when he’s feeling cornered. You shouldn’t have undertaken something like this. Not alone. You should have come to me.”

“We weren’t on speaking terms then, Will. And besides, I can handle myself.” Her tone was sharper than she had intended.

“I know you can.”

“I’m sorry.” Elizabeth sighed. “I just..- I can’t believe this is happening. It’s my fault. I should have done something to get George off the streets.”

“It wasn’t up to you. I swore you to secrecy.”

“There’s always a way,” said Elizabeth. Her brain ran through all the permutations of outcomes for Lydia, all of which seemed grim. She shuddered and felt tears streaming down her face. “My poor sister. I don’t know what’s going to happen to her. I could have prevented it. I…- I… ”

Darcy watched her in silence for a moment, then without further thought, put his arms around her and pulled her in close. She did not resist. “Shhh… it’s ok, Liz. It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault.”

Elizabeth allowed herself the luxury of his embrace for a few minutes. It felt safe. It felt right. It felt unattainable. With a small sigh, she stepped away. It was time for her to attend to her inappropriate family. Darcy’s piercing words had never felt truer or more tragic. “Thank you. I…- I really need to go.”

“Of course. How can I help?”

“It’s my mess, Will. I’ll fix it.”

“I know George. I can help you.”

“I can’t ask that of you. Anne is going to hire Lydia an attorney. I’m going to meet them at the precinct where Lydia is being held.” Elizabeth paused. “This is such a mess.”

Darcy did not press further. “I’m sorry, Liz.”

“Thanks, Will.”

“I assume this means you won’t be able to see Gia while she’s in town?”

“I’m afraid not,” said Elizabeth. No mention of his offer of dinner, an omission that was as conspicuous as it was clarifying. There would be no dinner. There was no room for tabloid gossip or George Wickham in his life. And at least for the moment, Elizabeth’s life was to have a surfeit of both.

“She will be disappointed.”

“Tell her I sent my love. And that I’m very busy with work. Shield her from the truth if you can.”

“I will. Bye, Liz. Good luck.”

“Bye, Will.”

*Loosely based on the foiled extortion scheme against David Letterman.

~~

Notes - Hi hi! If you need a refresher on Carter and Wickham stuff (because I started writing this story roughly 4,000 years ago), the Wickham background is in the letter Will wrote to Liz in chapter 14 and Carter stuff is in chapter 17. There are 34 chapters plus an epilogue, so we’re getting there, albeit at a glacial pace. ;-)

Thanks for reading!
SubjectAuthorPosted

A Dream Deferred - Chapter 30

TanishaApril 17, 2018 06:48PM

Re: A Dream Deferred - Chapter 30

meldaApril 23, 2018 07:59PM

Re: A Dream Deferred - Chapter 30

janasheApril 21, 2018 08:10AM

Re: A Dream Deferred - Chapter 30

Shannon KApril 19, 2018 01:47PM

Re: A Dream Deferred - Chapter 30

KarenteaApril 17, 2018 09:43PM

Re: A Dream Deferred - Chapter 30

ShannaGApril 17, 2018 08:44PM

PS

TanishaApril 17, 2018 07:52PM



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