Mele Kalikimaka

A Christmas vacation short.

 

One- The best laid travel plans of mice and men…

“Jane, are you really sure about this?” asked Elizabeth Bennet as she carefully filled her TSA-approved 3 ounce bottles with her favorite shampoo and conditioner.

“Yes. Absolutely! It’s like that movie we were watching the other night. Remember?” Jane Bennet began to sing off-key. “I’m going to wash that man right out of my hair!”

Lizzy groaned. “If I pretend to remember, will you stop singing?”

“Only if you keep packing! Paradise, here we come!”

~*~

William Darcy was pacing back and forth nervously, quizzing his sister about her readiness for her trip. “Are you sure you have everything? Sunscreen? Phone charger? Phone? Credit card? I just don’t know about this…”

“Will! Cut it out!” Georgiana Darcy protested. “I have everything I’m supposed to and you’re following me out there tomorrow, so even if I did forget something, you’ll be able to rescue me once again, like you always do.”

Will crossed his arms and plainly stated, “I’m your brother, that’s my job.”

She wished more than anything that he would quit hovering about and just drive her to school to meet the marching band already. There was a sharp tone in her voice Georgie hadn’t intended when she shot back, “Well, I think it’s about time you get a family of your own and change jobs!”

Immediately Will’s entire countenance changed. His arms dropped to his side, his head hung low and shoulders slumped. He was a defeated man. For a moment he appeared as though he might reprimand her, but instead he quietly picked up his keys and said, “Let’s get you to school then.”

~*~

“I think that we’d better plan on taking up residence in Honolulu, because I can’t go through security like that again!” Lizzy, with a great deal of her trademark sarcasm, said, “And he didn’t even have the decency to buy me a drink before he felt me up and I just know that he’s never going to call. All is lost.”

Jane tried to soothe her rankled sister. “Now, you know that you aren’t serious. They are only doing their jobs. Thankless jobs at that!”

“Yeah, well, until proven otherwise, I reserve the right to assume they’re all perverts.”

~*~

Charles Bingley had maintained possession of a key to Darcy’s apartment since they’d graduated from college. Without any family nearby excepting his much-younger sister, Charlie was Will’s ‘in case of emergency’ friend. In all the years they’d been friends, Charlie had never once abused his key privileges, always gaining permission before entering Darcy’s place. But now Charlie stood outside in the cold, knowing that Will was inside, refusing to answer the door. After five minutes of waiting, he’d finally had enough.

“Grow up Will!” Charlie called out as he let himself in the apartment. “You had to let her go sometime.”

Will, lying face down on the couch with his head under a pillow, responded dully, “I suppose so. It’s just so hard. How do you get over something like this?”

Charlie sat himself in the nearby armchair. He tried to give his friend a pep talk. “Georgie had to grow up sometime. I know it’s tough, you’ve been more like her father than a brother, but she’s a senior this year and will be off to college before you know it.”

Will sat up and looked at his guileless best friend. It seemed his secret was still safe. “Yes, it’s tough to let my sister go. That’s the problem.”

~*~

When Lizzy and Jane disembarked in Hawaii, it was a far cry from the frigid weather they’d left behind in Baltimore. Winters weren’t normally so harsh in Maryland, but this one had seemed especially brutal. Lizzy had often thought that the way Old Man Winter had battered the land paralled how battered and bruised her emotions felt lately, as if her tumultuous personal life had somehow mystically influenced the weather. When Jane had suggested throwing over their family and enjoying the sunshiny promise of better days in Honolulu, Lizzy couldn’t resist. Even if she hadn’t felt a need to escape her overbearing family, Jane’s own spirits had been so hopelessly depressed that Lizzy would have willingly gone anywhere that her sister wanted. Luck just had it that Jane picked paradise.

The travel-weary sisters eventually were settled into the resort that Jane had booked using her travel agent connections. Lizzy was duly impressed and told Jane so. “Whew,” she whistled, “you didn’t tell me we were going to be rock stars this week! This place is bigger than my apartment.”

Jane was emptying her bags, making use of the dresser and hanging up her clothes as she teased, “Yeah, and this place costs tons more than your apartment.”

Lizzy didn’t bother hanging anything up, intending just to live out of the suitcase. “Then all’s fair. What should we do first? Your vacay, your call.”

“If it’s my call, you have to promise to not make fun. Promise?”

“Yeah, I promise.”

“It’s kinda too late for it tonight, but I know what I want to do tomorrow! A luau. A real, genuine Hawaiian luau! With a pig roast and leis and hula dancing and everything!”

Lizzy flopped on her bed, grabbing a pillow to scream into so she wouldn’t break her promise.

~*~

“Are you sure you don’t mind coming with me? I know Georgie would love to see you and could use all the support she can get, but I don’t want your sisters to hate me for taking you away for the holidays.”

Charlie scrunched his brow in amused disbelief as he waited to Will to realize what he’d just said.

“Ignore me. I’d love it if I could make your sisters hate me. Are you sure you don’t need anything? We have a little time and we can stop by your place so you can actually pack a bag.”

“Nah. I like doing things by the seat of my pants. I haven’t done enough of that lately. And I could use a little bit of my sister’s hating me right now, too.”

“Thanks, Charlie. I really appreciate this.”

Thinking of how good it would be to get away from the constant parade of ‘acceptable’ women his sisters kept bringing home for him, Charles Bingley was the one who was grateful. “No, Pal, thank you!”

 

~*~

Two- Sun, surf and Dramamine

Lizzy lifted her head up from the lounge chair and had a sudden urge to pinch herself to verify that this wasn’t a dream. Instead, she poked her sister, rousing her from a slumber causing the normally serene Jane to swear.  “Ow! Damn! You’ve got my attention, Lizzy, what do you want?”

“Is this real? We’re really here, in Hawaii, and not shoveling out from a foot of snow, freezing our asses off?”

Jane glanced at the clock near the cabana and noted it was time to turn over. “Yes, Lizzy, this is real and we’re about as far from freezing as we can be. Now, can I go back to sleep? I’m resting up for the luau tonight.”

“Go back to sleep.” Lizzy looked towards the surf and noted all the activity. “I think I’m going to sight-see.”

Jane muttered a reply and waved a hand before dozing off again.

Lizzy adjusted her chair so she could have a better view of the people, and more specifically the men, on the beach. Lately, Lizzy had found that she was comparing every man she saw to a certain infuriating man of her acquaintance that she was determined to spend no more time thinking about, even if he was the most handsome man she had ever known and he had professed his love for her and begged her to marry him. Surely here, of all places, she could find a piece of man-candy to take her mind off of that man who was undoubtedly still freezing his butt, his very cute, tight butt off in Washington. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

It was. What is wrong with me? I’m having some kind of mental breakdown… yeah, that has to be it! Making comparisons only led her to find fault with every man on the beach. That guy’s not as tall as him. That one isn’t as broad-chested. Not trim enough. Way too trim. No dimples. Ugh! Too much body hair. No hair at all! That blonde might do for Jane…no! No men! We’re washing men right out of our hair! Lizzy gave up people watching and turned over to soak up some more of the afternoon sun.

~*~

William Darcy wanted nothing more than a receptacle to throw up in.

“We’re here! Isn’t it beautiful?!” exclaimed Charlie.

Will was just glad the flight was over and they were done moving. Having always suffered from motion sickness, he was just beginning to wonder what had possessed him to come to an island in the middle of the ocean. The he remembered: he needed to get away from home and, more importantly, support his sister as her marching band played in the halftime show at the whatever-the-heck- the-sponsor-is-this-year Hawai’i Bowl. He almost smiled when he realized that, again, uncomfortable and hare-brained decisions had women as the driving force behind them.

When Will didn’t respond, Charlie finally noticed how green his friend looked. “Sunshine, Will. You need some sunshine. It’s the sure-fire kill for those wintertime blues you’ve got!”

Since he couldn’t guarantee that if he opened his mouth he wouldn’t throw up, Will allowed himself to be led to their rooms. Will eventually found his equilibrium and checked in by phone with Georgie, who assured her big brother all was well, it was fine he’d brought Charlie along and that she would see them both later on.

 

~*~

Jane was feeling relaxed for the first time in months. No one was there to look down on her or think she wasn’t good enough for their brother. None of these men would convince her there was no one else in the world but her and then abandon her- right before Valentine’s no less! -leaving her heartbroken and unable to trust anyone like a certain man that Jane was trying very hard to forget ever existed. Except that Jane kept seeing him everywhere. Maybe I’m mad, she thought.

Lizzy was just conscious enough to ask, “What’re you mad about?”

Jane was mortified, “I’m not. Mad, that is. I guess I was just thinking aloud.” In Jane’s opinion, Lizzy usually had the best insights and she felt she really could use one now. “Lizzy?”

“Mmmn?”

Jane was uncertain how to ask. “Do you ever think…”

Lizzy never could resist being a smartass and said, “All the time. You see, I have this thing called a brain…”

“You didn’t let me finish!” Jane cried in exasperation. “Lizzy, be serious!” Her sister sat up and nodded she would cooperate. “Have you ever wanted something so much, or thought about it to the point where… you’re gonna think I’m nuts, but you want it so bad that you start actually seeing it? Like your mind is playing tricks on you and you start visualizing what you want?”

As much as Lizzy wanted to accuse Jane of being crazy, she knew it would be the very same as the pot calling the kettle black. The only fair thing to do would be to confess her own neurosis, or at least part of them. “Yep, all the time.” Seeing the relief on Jane’s face made her take it a step farther. “Let me guess: you’re seeing blondie-boy’s face in the crowd?”

“I hate that you can do that. Can I never have any secrets from you?”

“No.” Lizzy felt no triumph over being right, just guilt that while Jane was an open book to her, she remained an impenetrable vault, a regular Fort Knox, to her sister. Jane could have no secrets because Lizzy had the market cornered on them. She believed her sister was miserable enough without adding her own laments onto the pile of woes. The adage ‘a load shared is a load halved’ never once crossed Lizzy’s mind. The same mind which told her Jane was too fragile to handle any more troubles.

“I wish I could just get over this.” Jane’s lip trembled as she pushed away the urge to cry. She would shed no more tears, if she could help it. “He didn’t love me. Or if he did, it wasn’t enough. A man should be willing to overcome everything to be with the woman he loves. He shouldn’t just walk away.”

Lizzy was silent. There was nothing she could say. She turned Jane’s words over in her mind. A man should be willing to overcome everything to be with the woman he loves. He shouldn’t just walk away. At first, she felt ashamed. Will hadn’t walked away; she had shoved him out the door! Then she singled out the word ‘willing’. He had not been willing and he had said as much. Will had long struggled against his feelings; he hadn’t wanted to love her and confessed he loved her against his will and even against his character. Who wants to be holding someone hostage in a relationship? Who wants to be loved by someone that didn’t even want them in the first place? It was remembering this that allowed her to remain angry and release her guilt for her treatment of him.

Jane startled Lizzy from her thoughts by gasping and wagging her pointed finger towards a spot down the beach a little ways.

Lizzy looked but didn’t see anything that should have excited her sister so thoroughly. “What, Jane? I don’t see anything.”

“There, next to the lifeguard station… see? In the blue floral trunks? It’s Charlie! Do you see?”

Lizzy searched, but didn’t see anything except a family building a sandcastle. “No. There’s no one in blue trunks over there, floral or otherwise. I think maybe it’s time you out of this heat and get ready for the luau.”

Disturbed, Jane was still staring off towards the guard tower. “I swear… I thought I saw…”

~*~

Charlie was out of breath, having just run to the bar and back to fetch Will a bottle of water to rinse his mouth after having been sick. “So, maybe surf-jumping wasn’t the best idea I’ve ever talked you into.”

After a long swig of cool water, Will wiped his mouth and laughed for the first time since he couldn’t remember when.

“I take it from your hilarity, you’re feeling better?” hoped Charlie.

Sitting cross-legged on the sand with one arm propped on his knee and the other clutching his stomach, Will shook his head. “No, I still feel horrible.”

“Then what’s so funny? And if you say watching me run or something like that, I swear I’ll kick sand in your face. Consider yourself warned.”

Charlie’s appearance of seriousness drew another laugh from Will. “Yep. I’m terrified.” Charlie glared until Will explained, “Fine. Yes, surf-jumping was one of the worst ideas you’ve ever had. But what’s funny is that I listened to you. I always listen to you and I always seem to regret it.” And the one time you actually listen to me, it was an even bigger disaster.

“No one made you get that stupid tat.” Charlie laughed. “You always drag that piece of old news out! Well, I’m not gonna listen to you whine about it anymore because we both know that you made that mistake all on your own, my friend.”

“Yes, I did,” he admitted before turning melancholy. “My mistakes are definitely all my own doing.”

“Gah! None of that. I thought we were supposed to be leaving depression back in DC.”

“What do you know about depression?”

“More than you do, I bet. You didn’t fall in love with a girl who didn’t love you back! Carrie and Louisa have been dragging me to every society and charity shindig they can find in the hopes that I’ll finally fall out of love with Jane. Neither one of them have a clue just how difficult it is when you find the right person only to find out that you’re the wrong one.”

Another wave of nausea hit Will as brutally as Charlie’s words had. “Sounds terrible, Charlie. You still love Jane?”

“How do you stop loving an angel? It’s not like it matters… she didn’t love me.”

The combination of his nagging conscious, his roiling stomach and the salt water he’d accidentally swallowed proved too much and Will was sick again.

“What can I do for you, Will? You look like hell…”

“A fresh towel would be good. In a minute, I’ll try to get up and I’ll meet you by the cabana.”

Charlie nodded and as he was leaving, said, “Take your time, don’t rush and feel worse. Just sit there and sip your water. I’ll come find you in a minute.”

Out loud, Will said to no one in particular, “I don’t think it’s possible to feel worse.”

As he leaned forward to shift his weight to his knees, Will groaned. “Why did I agree to come to the beach? I should have stayed in my room. Damn Charlie!” He used his arms to steady himself as he brought one leg forward and slowly stood up. He brushed as much sand off as he could and as he tilted his head to the side to let the water out of his ear, he swore he was hallucinating. Straightening up, he focused on the line of lounge chairs by the walkway and knew he was seeing things. It wasn’t possible, it couldn’t be her! As sure as he knew his own name, Will knew that Lizzy was home in Baltimore hating his guts, not here in Honolulu sunbathing!

“Hey! You’re standing!” Charlie clapped him on the shoulder, drawing his attention away from the lounge chairs. “That’s a good start. I’ve got your clean towel here, Will.”

When Will looked back a moment later, he knew he was delusional, for she was no longer there.

~*~

 

Three- Company: March!

Georgiana Darcy was doing her very best not to lose her temper with her overprotective brother. She understood that most kids had to deal with two overbearing parents and she should really be glad that she had Will on her side, but when he got into ‘you’re my little girl’ mode and tried to smother her, it was hard to feel grateful.

“Sunscreen? Are you wearing enough sunscreen? Anything less than SPF 45 and you’re begging for skin cancer.”

“I have 50.” She turned to his friend for help. “Charlie, can’t you do something about him?”

“Sorry to disappoint you, Georgie-girl,” he chuckled, “but I’ve been trying for years!”

Will sulked. “I’m right here. You can quit speaking as if I’m not.” He had been feeling better, but he knew it wouldn’t last long if they ganged up on him, as they often did.

“You’re not being here… I like the sound of that. Please, go find something else to do! Jill’s coming right back with Mandy and Ashley to head to the stadium for rehearsal, I don’t have time for your whole ‘big brother’ routine right now!”

“Are Jill, Mandy and Ashley the kind of girls you should be hanging around with? Are they nice young ladies? Maybe I should stay and meet these girls.”

“My God, Will! You are so unbelievably frustrating! You have met these girls, many times! Go…” she shoved him towards the door, “go out and do something touristy. Go whale-watch or hike a volcano. Take a chopper ride or do a luau… just go!”

Charlie was excited by what she’d said. “A luau? Just the thing! Thanks, Georgie! I’ll take care of grumpy-pants here for you!”

She gave him a brotherly peck on the cheek. “Thanks! You’re a life-saver, Charlie!”

“No problem, Georgie-girl! Have a good practice and make sure you call this big lug when you’re done or I’m sure he’ll be right back over here checking up on you.”

Will was now a bit testy. “It’s my prerogative to do so as her brother! What is this? Pick on Will day?”

Georgie kissed Will on the cheek and gave him a hug. “Nah, that’s every day. Seriously, I love you, but you’re driving me crazy. Go, have a good time! I’ll be safe and sound, I promise.”

Only with more assurances that she would call did he finally, and with great reluctance, leave. Charlie headed to see the concierge about attending a luau while Will took some more anti-nausea medication and took a short nap.

~*~

 

Georgie and her friends were lining up with the rest of the band members in the lobby when she heard a sound she was certain must be in her imagination. She strained to peer over her classmates but was not quite tall enough to find what she was looking for, if it had even been there in the first place! Thinking it must have been wishful thinking, she turned her attention back to her friends. Jill and Mandy were arguing over which section had the cutest boys while Ashley couldn’t make up her mind about who to agree with. Georgie laughed at them all and was about to declare the lot of them insane when she heard the sound again. Whipping her head around to the musical laughter that she knew belonged to Lizzy Bennet, Georgie frantically began to weave through the crowd in an attempt to find the one woman she knew who could stop her brother’s misery. When she was finally managed to cut through the brass section, Georgie was too late. The lady was nowhere to be found.

Feeling foolish, Georgie decided her mind was playing tricks on her and she was seeing only what she wanted to see. Will had been so down lately and she hoped Lizzy could help. Lizzy was one of those rare people that always seemed to make everything better. If there was one thing Georgie wanted above everything else, it was for her dear, pain-in-the-butt brother to be happy and she was certain that Lizzy Bennet was the right person for the job. If only Will had gone to Baltimore instead of following me here! Georgie sighed. Oh well, maybe I can twist his arm and get him to make a New Year’s resolution to not rest until he fixes whatever it is he screwed up.

Mr. Larimore, the band director, announced it was time to head out to the bus for rehearsal. The band filed out and in a well-practiced manner found their assigned seats quickly and quietly, exactly as they were supposed to. As Georgie stood to lower the window by her seat for fresh air, a commotion just a few feet away from the bus was taking place. A cyclist, in order to avoid a small boy who wasn’t watching where he was going, had crashed into a luggage cart just outside the hotel. The little boy was crying and his parent or guardian didn’t seem to be anywhere nearby and Georgie was feeling dreadfully sorry for him since the cyclist and bellboy had completely forgotten him as they argued over whose fault the accident was. Just as Georgie was about to ask one of the band’s chaperones if she could be excused to help the boy, a woman stepped forward to comfort the boy. Georgie couldn’t see the lady clearly, but she seemed to have a calming effect on the child. She had knelt down so as not to intimidate him, then offered her hand in friendship. The boy nodded his head, presumably in response to something she said and then she took his hand and stood up. It appeared she and the boy were heading into the hotel but then she halted and turned to scold the still feuding bellboy and cyclist. They had the decency to look shame-faced for frightening, then forgetting the boy. As she led the boy around to have a word with the men, Georgie could finally see clearly the woman.

It only came as a small surprise that the Good Samaritan turned out to be the one and only Elizabeth Bennet. Georgie sat down and felt something she hadn’t felt for a very long time- hope for Will. Georgiana Darcy felt like everything was going to, for once, be all right and work out for the best. It’s going to be a very good Christmas after all!

~*~

In the cab on their way to the luau, Jane had been listening to Lizzy’s tale with rapt attention. “Then what happened?”

“The two managed to quit bickering for a moment and when they saw the little angel’s sweet face, they felt ridiculously stupid that they had forgotten all about the poor little imp. Once they apologized, I led him into the lobby where his mother was frantically searching for him. I can’t imagine how scary it would be to lose sight of your child somewhere like that!”

Jane agreed but Lizzy didn’t hear what she said. Instead, Lizzy was thinking about someone else entirely. The band she had passed in the lobby reminded her of Will’s sister and, of course, thinking about the teenager made her think of the brother- no matter how much she wished it weren’t so. Will had taken over sole custody and guardianship of his sister from the time the girl was just a toddler and had raised him on his own since he was nineteen. How many times had Georgie frightened Will? Lizzy knew about what had happened with the girl last summer… but how many other terrifying parenting moments had he endured? And why was she thinking about him now, especially when she was determined to forget him?

Jane had concluded whatever she had just said with, “Don’t you agree?”

Noncommittally, Lizzy replied, “What do you think?”

Assuming her sister felt the same as she, Jane said, “Right, that’s what I thought. I’m so glad he was okay! What a day we’ve had… I’m so excited about tonight! I hear there are fire eaters at this one!”

“I’ll try to contain my joy.”

“Sour puss.”

“No, it’s just the idea of seeing someone eat fire… talk about heart burn!”

“Ha-ha-ha. Aren’t you hilarious? Please, try to relax and have fun tonight. I know something’s been bugging you and you, being you, won’t share what it is with me and that’s fine… you’ve always been like that. As for tonight… tonight I want you to forget about whatever it is that’s made you so sad lately and just enjoy the moment. Please? For me?”

Lizzy blew an errant curl off her forehead and gave in, to both her unruly hair and Jane. “Fine. You win. I’ll behave and dance and eat poi and pineapple and whatever else it is you’re supposed to do at one of these things. But tomorrow I retain my right to be grumpy again.”

Jane rolled her eyes and before she could say another word, they had arrived.

~*~

Will had seen his friend wear some outrageous things before, but this was by far the worst. “Really? You’re wearing that?”

Charlie checked his image in the mirror and didn’t see whatever problem Will saw. “Yeah. So? What ‘s wrong with it?”

“Isn’t that a bit…oh, I don’t know… outlandish?”

Charlie’s red shirt had a repeating picture of Santa, dressed in board shorts, surfing with a hula girl holding on tight while he held tight to a beer as reindeer were flying overhead hauling a sled. As if those images didn’t crowd the shirt enough, there were also images of flamingos, whales and dolphins jumping in the surf, as well as motorcycles and convertible cars in random places all over the background.

“What? This is a genuine Hawaiian shirt, bought in Hawaii! And look…” he pointed to a surfing, beer-laden, girl-chasing Santa that was on his pocket, “it’s a holiday one to boot!”

Will could see that his friend was tickled by his absurd tourist shirt but thought he’d ask nonetheless. “You really are going to wear that?”

“Every chance I get! Imagine how much this’ll piss off my sisters.”

Seeing how the shirt had some previously unrealized merits, Will asked, “Do they have it in tall sizes?”

~*~

Four- Tiny Bubbles

Lizzy was on her third Mai Tai and found she no longer felt the least bit silly in participating in the luau activities. Making her own lei was fun, and she felt she showed remarkable restraint and maturity when she chose not to make a joke about leis. Then she realized for Jane to be proud, she would have to share this insight and then she would no longer be mature for keeping the remark to herself. It was then she knew she was on a fair way to being drunk. When she thought about it, Lizzy was certain that being a bit drunk was the only thing that was keeping her from strangling her sister.

Jane had insisted that they try everything, no matter how much Lizzy protested. When she tried to pass on the hula lessons, Jane made Lizzy remember her promise to try to have fun and, apparently, that meant joining in and shaking her hips to Don Ho. Once she was able to get over her initial embarrassment, Lizzy found her groove and began to enjoy herself. She was able to dance a passable hula to a slow song, but a moment later was laughing as she fell while trying to imitate some more intricate footwork on a hula with a faster rhythm. As several of the dancers helped her up, she practiced expressing her thanks with her new favorite Hawaiian word: mahalo. Just as she was beginning to feel hungry- for all that dancing had worked up her appetite- it was time for the feast to begin.

It was their table’s turn to go through the buffet line and Lizzy was determined to try a little bit of everything. She piled her plate with Kialua roast pork, Pulehu sirloin, some Mahi Mahi, a bit of poke, a taste of haupia and some lomi lomi salmon. Lizzy was famished and at ninety-five dollars a head, she wasn’t about to be shy! Another Mai Tai was awaiting her at the table and she was a very happy woman. The food was delicious and plentiful and Lizzy had very nearly been able to exorcise William Darcy from her thoughts. Very nearly.

~*~

Charlie had a difficult time getting Will up and out of his room. The man slept like the dead. “Will! Come on, we’re going to miss all the best parts!”

Will groaned when he realized Charlie wouldn’t simply just disappear. “Go on without me. Please, if you’ve ever been my friend, you’ll just let me lie here and sleep some more.”

“Nonsense. I am your friend, I always have been and that is why I know the best thing for you is to get out of this damned room and eat. All that queasiness from earlier must have left you at least a bit hungry. Come on, Will, come with me and let’s just go and have a good time.”

Will pulled the covers up over his head. “No.”

“There’ll be girls.”

“No.”

“Hate to argue, especially since you know I’m right; but yes, there will be girls. And hula dancing.”

“So?”

“Hula dancing! Come on, man! You’re not dead yet, though I may just do the world a favor and kill you if you don’t get a move on. Its hula dancing, Darcy!”

“Don’t care.”

“Fine. I don’t understand how anyone could not be interested in hula dancing, but you do always like to be difficult.” Charlie snapped his fingers as he thought of another point to entice Will with. “I know! There’s supposed to be a fire eater!”

Will knew Charlie wasn’t leaving anytime soon. He was irritatingly persistent like that. “Why on earth would anyone wish to eat fire?”

“No clue! Come on with me and maybe we’ll find out. We’re a bit late, but it’ll still be fun!”

“Fine,” Will gave in. “But you owe me for this.”

Charlie waved off any notion of indebtedness. “Uh-huh. Just add it to my bill. Now, let’s go hula!”

~*~

Lizzy threw down her napkin and sighed. “I don’t think I’ve ever eaten so much food in my entire life!”

“I know I haven’t!” Jane agreed.

“That, my dear sister, is because you eat like a bird.”

“I do not. I eat balanced meals that provide me with everything I need. Some of us can’t eat just whatever we want and have it go nowhere. I like my thighs as they are, thank you.”

“I’d almost believe there was a criticism in there, but my dear, sweet sister never criticizes! You make it sound I eat a bunch of junk or something instead of just eating more. What can I say? It goes with the job.”

“Yeah, I suppose if I was working out at least fourteen hours a week I could eat more carbs too.”

“Well, vacation calories don’t count.”

Jane rolled her eyes and wondered if Lizzy gave this advice to all her clients. “Right.”

“No, seriously! Vacations should be a time of relaxation and renewal. Plus, if your itinerary includes non-sedentary activities like ours does, there’s really no need to be worried.” Lizzy began counting off on her fingers. “One, we swam today; excellent aerobic activity, the best. Two, tomorrow we’re hiking up the side of a volcano. Couple of miles of aerobic walking right there, and that’s great. Three, we’re doing that bicycle tour thingy, again, that’s hard to beat for aerobic activity. See, Jane? You can relax and eat up because these are all things that aren’t normal features in life. On any given day you go to work and go home or out, but aren’t exercising like that. So, no worries, okay? I promise your amazing figure will still be amazing when we get home… just a little more tan.”

Jane laughed. “I had no idea when I suggested Hawaii, I was actually suggesting a low-level cardio boot-camp.”

It was Lizzy’s turn to roll her eyes. “Hardly.”

Jane wasn’t done teasing. “You can take the girl out of the gym, but not the gym out of the girl.”

“Ha.” Lizzy slapped her knee. “That’s a good one! I’ve never heard that before.”

“Lizzy?”

“Yeah?”

Jane offered an olive branch. “Did you notice there’s an open yoga class on the beach in the morning?”

Lizzy’s eyes lit up. “Really? We’re so going.” Jane and Lizzy made plans to attend before breakfast and began discussing what other things they wished to see and do while on the island.

~*~

“I thought you said there’d be food?” Will groused.

“There was… but for some inexplicable reason,” Charlie elbowed Will as they piled their plates with the remainders, “we were late. There’s still plenty here. It’s just not all fancy to look at now.”

They were shown to a table way in the back. Will complained again, “Next time, if we’re late, let’s just skip it. We’re never going to be able to see anything from back here.”

“You’re determined to be miserable, aren’t you? I can see just fine and as you’ve got- what? five inches on me- I know you can see just fine. Now, will you please stop being a jerk and just shut your mouth so you can have a good time?”

They sat down at their table and as Charlie took a bite, Will asked, “What if I say no?”

“Then I’ll rat you out to Georgie and tell her we need to commit you to an asylum.” Charlie grinned and held up his fork. “Or I could just stab you with this.”

Ignoring the eating utensil threat, Will asked, “So I’m mad now, is that it?”

“If you persist in being miserable in this paradise, then yes! Mad as a hatter. Look at me, my life back home right now just really sucks. I can’t think straight at work, my sisters are driving me up a wall, I miss Jane every single day and I don’t know if I’m ever going to find a way to be happy again… but, right now, for these few days, I don’t have to think about any of that! All I have to do is enjoy the sunshine and the company of my best friend, who is usually a great deal more fun than this. You need to think of it like that one Bill Murray movie and take baby-steps.”

Will listened to Charlie and felt even worse. He really needed to snap out of it and try harder. Charlie was right; all the problems that existed before they left would still be waiting upon their return. Will wracked his brain thinking through Bill Murray movies until he recalled What About Bob? Will prayed he didn’t come across half so neurotic as Bob had been in the film. “So, you’re saying I need a vacation from my problems?”

“Precisely. Though if you ever actually wanted to share what those problems were, that’d probably help a lot.” Will attempted to deny he was troubled but Charlie held up his hand and continued, “And please, spare me your denial. Anyone who knows you knows that William Darcy is wound up tighter than a drum at all times. I suggest you, radical thought alert, use this vacation to actually unwind like normal people do.”

Will sighed, knowing Charlie was right about everything. After a moment, he said, “I can’t promise that I’ll be successful at it, but I will promise to try.”

Charlie waggled a crooked finger at Will and said in a scratchy, high-pitched voice, “Do or do not. There is no try.”

Will managed a smile as he said, “I’ll agree to almost anything if you stop doing that Yoda voice.”

Charlie slapped the table and laughed. “Hoo-boy. You’ve got yourself a deal!”

~*~

A burly Samoan-looking man had just finished telling a story about King Kamehameha’s rule and now it was time for a dance troop to perform traditional island dances. Lizzy and Jane watched, spellbound, as the performers twirled and glided about gracefully, bending this way and that like acrobats. After the dances were done, the musicians stepped forward and another man announced it was time to put what everyone had earlier learned about hula to good use. The music began and girls scattered through the audience to ensure everyone would participate.

“God, Lizzy, you’ve so got the hang of this!” Jane said with admiration. Lizzy had taken to hula much easier than Jane had. “I can’t get my hips to roll quite like yours.”

Lizzy laughed. “Come to my Pilates and yoga classes and we’ll fix that.” She hiccupped and blushed. “I think the booze helps, too.”

Jane watched as Lizzy weaved on her feet, nearly losing her balance. “Just how many Mai Tais have you had?”

Lizzy began to count off on her right hand, then grew confused when she needed to begin on her left. “I’m not sure. You know what, Janey?” Lizzy stopped moving and began to laugh. “I think I’m drunk.”

Jane shook her head. “I don’t think there’s any doubt about it! Do you feel alright?”

Lizzy grinned. “Never better in my whole damn life!” She tried to stand up straight, but something- rather someone- caught her attention across the fire pit and disturbed what little was left of her equilibrium. Grabbing Jane’s arm to steady herself failed. Lizzy fell down, making a riotous spectacle in the process.

Jane knelt on the sand beside Lizzy, declining offers of aid from the concerned people around them in the process. “Oh, Lizzy, I think it’s probably time to go. I doubt you’re going to be feeling well enough for seeing the volcano tomorrow, let alone getting up early for a fitness class. Shall we go now?”

“Go?” Lizzy slurred. “What’s the hurry?” She wanted to see if that had really been William Darcy, or if he was a mirage like those imaginary pink elephants that were now dancing before her eyes.

Hauling Lizzy up was no easy task. It didn’t help that she wasn’t cooperating. Lizzy finally lifted her arms so Jane could get a better hold of her. “Janey, will you answer me something?”

Jane groaned and with one final tug she brought her sister to her feet. “You have to ask a question first, but sure.”

“Do you see elephants?”

~*~

The commotion on the other side of the fire pit caused a stir throughout the entire luau. Both Will and Charlie’s attentions were drawn, but the gathered crowd blocked whatever it was that had happened. Charlie questioned a uniformed server who walked by, “Hey, what happened over there?”

The disinterested server replied, “Some lady mainlander had one too many drinks.”

“Does that happen often?” Will asked.

The young man rolled his eyes. “You have no idea.”

After he left, Charlie elbowed Will. “Well, I’m glad I have you here to keep me from making myself a spectacle like that poor woman.”

“Poor woman? Charlie, you astound me.” Will gave up trying to see what happened and made his way back to his seat at the table, with Charlie following right behind. “She’s probably some young girl who had one too many and mistook the luau for an early Mardi Gras party.”

Charlie laughed. “God, Will, you can be such an ass, you know that, right? I bet she’s a sweet girl that just got a little carried away. I’d imagine it’s probably pretty easy to do in a place like this.”

Will’s remark was laden with sarcasm. “I love how you’re always so quick to make excuses for everyone.”

“Yeah?” Charlie retorted, “Well, I love how you are so quick to be judge and jury in situations you know nothing about.”

Will had a strong suspicion they weren’t just talking about the drunken lady anymore. “I make judgments based on what I see, same as everyone else. No more, no less.”

“And you’re always such a terrific judge of character, aren’t you? You have no idea how lucky others don’t measure you with the same stick you use.”

The music had begun again, but the dancing hadn’t yet resumed as Will asked, “What exactly do you mean by that?”

Charlie didn’t hear Will’s question. He hadn’t had anything at all to drink, so he couldn’t blame the vision across way on alcohol. Will demanded his attention, causing Charlie to tear his gaze away from where he thought he’d spied Jane. He held up a hand to stay Will’s inquiry while he searched the spot where he’d seen her. Jane was nowhere to be found. He had not truly expected to see her, but- impossible as it was- he had hoped nonetheless.

Feeling silly for having let his mind play tricks on him, Charlie made a special effort to focus on what Will was saying. Will, seeing that he’d finally gained his friend’s attention, asked again, “What did you mean by ‘don’t measure others by the stick you use’?”

“I thought it was pretty self-explanatory. If others judged you by first impressions, everyone- including me- would think you were the biggest prick on the planet. You come off all wrong and you make no effort at all to change what others think of you.”

“Why should I? If they want to know what I’m really like, they should take the time to get to know me.”

“Exactly!” Charlie cried, exasperated that his friend didn’t understand the point. “Sometimes you baffle me. It’s a good think I knew you before you had that stick up your ass or I don’t think I’d have taken the trouble to get to know you.”

Will was tired and really had had enough criticism for one day. He was about to protest that Charlie needn’t bother with further explanation regarding his faults- for he understood them all too well- when Charlie held up a coconut that sat atop the table. “You’re a lot like this nut. Tough, damn impossible to break, but if you exercise patience and can get past the impenetrable exterior, you’re all tender and sweet inside.”

Will frowned. “Did you just call me sweet?”

“Good grief! Must you be so dense? Yes, I called you sweet to counterpoint the rough exterior of the shell. It was meant to be a parallel, jerkface. Sometimes I don’t understand how we’re still friends.”

Unable to immediately come up with an answer, Will took a long sip of his drink and found he wondered the same thing.

~*~

It hadn’t been as difficult as Jane imagined getting Lizzy back to the hotel. Once she’d gotten back on her feet, Lizzy had been much more cooperative. Except for that detour to throw up behind a palm tree, she seemed none-too-much worse for wear. As Jane tucked Lizzy in, she swore she heard her sister mutter “Darcy” under her breath. Poor girl, thought Jane, she’s having some sort of drunken nightmare.

Just when Jane had Lizzy finally settled in, Lizzy started to giggle uncontrollably. She laughed, tossing and turning- which caused her to dislodge all the bedding. Lizzy spoke, though clearly not yet awake, and said, “Stop!”

Jane, being such a kind, sweet soul, was about to wake Lizzy from her dream when she heard Lizzy say, “Stop that! That tickles, Will!”

Within every family there are roles that everyone seems to fit into. The Bennet family was no different. Lydia, the baby of the bunch, was the loud-mouthed sass. Kitty, next-youngest, was an amoeba- unable to exist without someone nearby to cling to. Mary was the stereotypical middle-child archetype. Lizzy was the pretty, quick-witted one. Jane was the beautiful and kind one.

Though Jane wasn’t the brainiest Bennet sister, it didn’t take a genius to connect the dots. Lizzy is dreaming about Will Darcy? I better check the news… Hell must have frozen over or there’ve been sightings of pigs flying!

Jane had never believed William Darcy to be the villain Lizzy had painted him to be. She wondered what had happened to make Lizzy change her mind about the man.

Then Jane wondered why Lizzy had never told her.

~*~

Charlie had given up trying to talk sense into Will. If he wants to continue to be a sad, miserable bastard, that’s his problem, right? Trying to get into the spirit of the luau, Charlie had begun drinking Mai Tais and the effect on his mood was immediate. He no longer cared if Will sulked. He would try and enjoy himself regardless of Will’s sour disposition.

Will was feeling guiltier than he normally did. Should I just get it all out of the way and tell him how I interfered between him and Jane? Could he ever possibly forgive me? God knows, he’s a much better man than I am. Maybe it won’t be so bad…

The fire-eater had just taken center stage and the evening’s Master of Ceremonies was explaining what was about to happen. Of course, this was the moment that Will chose to confess his underhanded dealings in derailing Charlie’s love life.

Charlie was watching with the fire-eater with the same wonder that a child has their first time at a zoo. He was completely fascinated and didn’t hear the first several times Will called his name. Finally, Will poked him, causing Charlie to turn his head just at the moment that the daredevil swallowed the flame.

Hearing the raucous applause, Charlie groaned. “What now, Will? You made me miss what I came to see, so it had better be damned good,” Charlie warned.

Obviously, Darcy thought, I can’t just blurt out ‘I ruined your life, forgive me’.  Taking a deep breath, he began, “You have been my best friend forever, and both Georgie and I think of you as family. You know that, right?”

Still irritated that he’d missed the main attraction, Charlie nodded and waved his hand to speed Will’s explanation along.

“All right… so, family looks out for one another, agreed?”

“Yes, Will, they do. Is this the brilliant newsflash that was so earth-shattering it couldn’t have waited five minutes? I’ve about had enough, here. First, all you do is complain, then we’re late because of your whining. Then you whined some more and just when you finally shut up and I’m about to finally see something I want, you screw that up for me, too. Damn it, Will, the whole world- despite whatever you may think- does not revolve around you!”

“Of that, I’m painfully aware.” Will fiddled with his napkin. “If I did think it so, believe me when I say that there’s more than enough people just lining up to knock me out of my orbit, so to speak.”

“Then what the hell was so important? Just be direct, man!”

“I agreed with your sisters that Jane wasn’t the best match for you, and I exaggerated some circumstances and have since learned that I was wrong. She did love you.” Will had rent his napkin by accident. “Probably does still.”

Charlie moved with lightning speed and his fist connected with Will’s jaw so fast, that they were rolling on the ground in a brawl before anyone around them knew what happened.

~*~

 

Five- The Day After

“Good morning, sunshine,” Jane said cheerily as she attempted to rouse Lizzy awake.

“If you love me,” Lizzy moaned, “you’ll go away and leave me to die a peaceful death.”

“I do love you, sister dearest, but you’re going to live a long and happy life. And that starts this morning.”

Lizzy pulled the blanket over her head as she cocooned further inside her bedding. “The long part is right- since only the good die young- but the happy is highly doubtful. Now, do me a favor and go away!”

“I would, but it’s already noon and I thought it might be a good idea if you actually ate something before your stomach rots from all the drinks you had last night.”

“Ugh,” was the response from under the covers, “don’t remind me!”

“Okay,” Jane’s voice teased, “so if food’s not enticing enough, what about mail?”

Lizzy peeked from under the pillow, her eyes trying to adjust to the early afternoon sun. “Mail? Who’s it from?”

“That,” Jane tapped the letter on her head, “is a mystery.”

Lizzy tried to grab the letter, but Jane held it just out of reach. “No, if you want it, you have to sit up like and make yourself decent first.”

“Or,” Lizzy reached to try and tickle Jane, “I could just tickle-torture you for it.”

Jane, however, was not suffering from a hangover, wasn’t affected by light or motion and moved quickly out of Lizzy’s grasp. “Ha! That’s not going to work today, Lizzy.” Jane headed to the door. “I’ll meet you in the downstairs lounge in a half hour. That’s enough time for you to get human again. When you come down to eat, I’ll hand you your letter then and only then.”

Lizzy threw her pillow at Jane. “I’m going to get you! I’ll have my revenge!”

Jane stuck her tongue out at her little sister. “Well, you’d better start by getting dressed and then you can try!”

As Jane left, Lizzy groaned and threw herself back against the bed as she wondered who hated her enough to replace Jane with an evil doppelganger.

~*~

“Will, you look totally ridiculous,” Georgie said for the umpteenth time. “C’mon, take those stupid shades off. Please?”

They had just returned from lunch and Will had walked his sister back to her room, all the while wearing the largest sunglasses the hotel staff had been able to find him.

When they were safely inside her room, Will said, “You want me to take the shades off? Fine!”

Georgie gasped and raised her hand to her mouth to try to keep from shrieking at the sore sight that was her brother’s left eye. There was a gash just below his brow that had been tied together with several stitches and the eye was nearly swollen shut, the tender skin around it a royal shade of purple.

“It’s not as bad as it appears…” Will reached out in an attempt to sooth her.

She shrugged out of reach. Still stunned that someone had punched her beloved brother, Georgie demanded, “Who did this? Who did this to you? Were you robbed? Did you call the police? Why didn’t you call me earlier?” Before he could answer, she added, “Where was Charlie? Why didn’t he stop them?”

Georgie had begun to cry. Will never had any idea how to handle a crying female, or a crying anybody for that matter. Nothing made him feel more ineffectual as a big brother than when something made his baby sister cry. Great, how many more ways can I fail those I love most?

“I wasn’t robbed. I didn’t call the police, but they got involved anyways. I didn’t call you earlier because the emergency room took forever and I didn’t want to needlessly worry you when you can see that I’m fine.”

“You’re hardly fine! Needing stitches doesn’t qualify as being ‘fine’! And you still haven’t answered me why Charlie didn’t step in and try to stop this.”

“Uh, yeah…” Will stammered. “Charlie’s in jail.”

Georgie was certain that was the most surprising news she’d ever heard. Charles Bingley was simply not the sort of man one ever pictured sitting in a jail cell. “What? Why?”

“Why? Because he refused to accept it when I tried to post his bail.” Will said, matter-of-factly.

“No, you idiot! Why is he in jail in the first place? Shouldn’t the S.O.B. who hit you be in jail?”

When he began to turn red and still hadn’t answered a full minute later, Georgie began to get the picture. When it became apparent that she had pieced together that Charlie was the culprit behind the damage to Will’s face, he nodded that it was true.

Georgie shook her head and sat on the edge of the bed. “Oh, my! I can’t believe it. Something huge must have happened, if you managed to piss Charlie off enough to sock you in the eye.”

Willl sat next to her and held her hand as he gently admonished her. “Language, young lady.”

“Yes, Will.” Georgie decided that she would put off telling Will that Lizzy was on the island until the mess with Charlie was straightened out, for there was no doubt in her mind that was what would happen.

~*~

 

The relatively dim light in the hotel room had hurt Lizzy’s eyes enough that she knew it would be foolhardy to even attempt to go anywhere without both a hat and sunglasses. Before leaving the room, she dared a look in the mirror and nearly frightened herself with her appearance. Her curly, wet hair was pulled into a ponytail and fed through the back closure of her Baltimore Orioles ballcap. A University of Maryland t-shirt that had seen better days was paired with an equally worn pair of denim shorts. The mere thought of bending down to tie her shoes made her nauseous, so flip-flops would have to do- regardless of Jane’s hatred for the comfortable footwear. Making certain she had her keycard, ID & debit card shoved in her back pocket, Lizzy grudgingly made her way down to the lounge where Jane was waiting.

Jane stood to greet her sister when she approached. “Good morning, Miss Mary Sunshine!”

Lizzy made a snarling sound and snapped, “Mary’s in Baltimore. Since you’ve forgotten, my name in Lizzy, thank you very much.”

Jane did the one thing that was designed to irritate Lizzy most: she grinned. “Yes, well, if you want me to call you Lizzy, then you should quit mimicking Mary’s disposition.”

Lizzy slid her glasses down her nose just enough so Jane would know she was glaring at her. “That was a low blow.” She pushed the glasses back into place and crossed her arms. “I believe there was some mention of food?”

“There was.” Jane swept her arm towards the more casual of the resort’s eateries. It was a short walk and a friendly young man showed them to a beachside table on the deck. They were given menus and the waiter assured them he’d be back momentarily to take their order. “Sadly, you missed the breakfast extravaganza. I swear, I’ve never eaten so much fresh pineapple in my life. I don’t think I’ll ever be satisfied with plain, old grocery store pineapple again.”

Lizzy was only half-listening. It was taking all of her energy to not lay her head on the table and go back to sleep. It was only sheer curiosity about her letter that had coaxed Lizzy from her bed.

“I’m thinking of being daring and trying that Spam salad. What about you?” Jane asked brightly.

“I may have to kill you for being so damn cheery is what I think. Spam salad? Eww.”

“Well, that’s what I’m getting. What’s a vacation for, if not to try new things?” Jane closed her menu and tried to encourage her, “Live a little, Lizzy! Try something new.”

“I did that last night, remember? All it got me was hungover and you in my face, so no thank you.”

The waiter returned to take their orders and Jane, despite the face Lizzy made, ordered her Spam salad. Lizzy stuck with a plain cheeseburger with a side of fruit.

Despite Jane’s best efforts, Lizzy wasn’t ready to talk about anything, let alone open up about Will. Once their food came, Jane gave up trying to make conversation and they ate in silence. Once the table was cleared, Lizzy demanded her letter.

“I kept up my end of the deal. I showered, I dressed and I came out in public and ate.” Lizzy held out her hand. “Now pony up my letter, please.”

Jane handed over the letter and pouted. “You always were a spoilsport, you know that, don’t you?”

Lizzy didn’t recognize the handwriting on the envelope. Impatient as ever, she ripped open the envelope. “Takes one to know one, Miss ‘Mom, Lizzy’s cooking Playdough in my Easy Bake’. If I was a spoilsport, it was because you were a tattle-tale.”

“Okay, we both had our less-than-spectacular moments of brattiness. Now, who’s the letter from?”

Lizzy held up her hand as she read the note. Jane had never seen so many emotions play across Lizzy’s face in such rapid succession. She appeared all at once to be pleased, shocked, happy and distressed.

When Lizzy finished reading, she said, “You will never in a million years guess who this letter is from.”

Jane shrugged her shoulders and gave a wild guess. “President Obama? Don Ho? They’re both Hawaiian.”

“Ha, ha. No and no.” Lizzy held up the letter and flashed the lines at Jane, then pointed to the signature. “Georgiana Darcy. Georgiana Darcy is here in this very hotel and she saw me on her way to practice for the Aloha Bowl parade.”

“And she wrote you? That’s weird. I didn’t think you’d ever met Darcy’s sister.”

Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! You never told her that! Stupid! “Um, yeah… I did. Remember back in August when I went to show Aunt Sophie and Uncle Ed around DC?” Jane nodded that she did. “Well, we ran into Darcy then. Aunt Sophie wanted to visit Congress and since they weren’t in session, I didn’t think there was any remote possibility of running into him. But it seems he’s a workaholic or something. He was just returning from Wilmington and was pleased to meet some of his constituents. I couldn’t have been more surprised when he invited us to dinner.”

Jane couldn’t have been more surprised either and it echoed in her voice when she asked, “He did?”

“Yep. It was then we met his sister. She was just getting ready to go to band camp and was really excited about the upcoming performance season. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised she’s here. I remember now she told me she was playing somewhere over the holidays, but I guess it didn’t register that it was Hawaii.”

“Is she a sweet girl?” Jane asked, still confused about why a teenager would write to Lizzy.

“She’s a doll. Since Will was busy with whatever it is precisely that a junior congressman does, Georgie offered to accompany us to the best must-sees in DC. She’s written that she’s got some free time later and wanted to know if I would meet her for dinner.”

“Will you?”

“Yeah, I think I might. That is, if you don’t mind. She said most of the band’s families haven’t arrived yet. I guess a flying to Hawaii for a band thing is probably out of most people’s budgets.”

“It’s not out of the Darcy’s budget.” Jane gently reminded her.

“I realize that. However, Georgie didn’t even mention that pig-headed jerkface, so all is well.”

To Jane, it sounded like Lizzy was trying awfully hard to convince someone she still hated Will. She just wasn’t sure exactly who. “Do you really still think he’s such a bad guy?”

Since Lizzy had first met Will, almost every opinion she’d had about him had changed. Almost. No, he hadn’t bought his seat in Congress. Wickham was just sore because Will had honestly succeeded where his underhanded tricks had not. Will was an excellent, not a negligent, brother. He worked hard, fought for what he believed in, and did the best he could- whatever the situation. His intentions were always good.

And the road to hell was paved with good intentions.

~*~

 

The Honolulu police released Charlie to his own recognizance at five in the afternoon and he was not at all pleased to see Will waiting for him outside the station.

“What are you doing here? I have nothing to say to you.”

“Charlie, please,” Will pleaded. “You didn’t hear me out last night.”

“What more did I really need to hear? You betrayed me. My best friend, the high and mighty, oh-so-principled Congressman Darcy betrayed his best friend in the world. You’re no better than my sisters.” He turned to walk away, then stopped abruptly and added, “Actually, I take that back. You’re so much worse than they are. I knew they were armed when I let them stab me in the back. I never expected that from you.”

Charlie was trying to hail a cab. When one stopped, Darcy waved it off before Charlie could contradict him. “What now? You think you’ll mess me up more by keeping me from getting a cab? Fine. I’ll walk back to the hotel. There I’ll catch a cab and get a flight home.”

Will quietly asked, “And then what?”

“What do you mean?” Charlie practically shouted. “Then I drive to Jane’s and begin bowing and scraping at her feet until she can forgive me and take me back. That’s if she can even stand to look at me.” He looked pointedly at Will. “Some things are unforgiveable.”

“I know that, Charlie. But what good would it do to fly today? If, and that’s a big if, you can manage a flight out today, it’ll take forever to get there and you’ll be unbelievably jet-lagged on top of being pissed at me and the world.”

“Not the world, Will. Just you.”

“Okay, I deserve that.”

“Finally! You got something right!”

“Okay, I deserve that, too. But please finish hearing me out.” Charlie nodded permission for Will to continue. “It’s a little public to be doing this here in front of the station, don’t you think?”

“I had a cab, jackass. You sent it away.”

“You did, I’m sorry. Shall we get another? I promise, you can hit me again if you really need to.”

“I shouldn’t have done that.”

“No, you probably should have. Just maybe not in front of a few hundred people. I tried to get them to dismiss everything immediately, but the management seemed pretty miffed at having their place torn apart.”

“My bad for punching a congressman’s clock.”

Another cab arrived and they got in, gave their direction and resumed talking. This time with much less hostility.

“So, best case is you get to Baltimore and you’re all bedraggled and whipped from your flight and then what? Interrupt the Bennet’s Christmas together? I can’t imagine Mr. Bennet being very pleased about that.”

“Probably not,” Charlie agreed. “But Mrs. Bennet would.”

Will knew it was akin to pouring salt in Charlie’s wound, but he needed him to see the sense in not rushing back and perhaps making the situation worse. “When was the last time you actually spoke to Jane?”

“Not since February. You must remember. It was right before Valentine’s that you convinced me she wasn’t worth my time.”

“Again, I’m sorry. I was so very wrong in my estimation of everything. I didn’t think you were any more serious about Jane than you were any of those other girls. And you must admit, Charlie, there were a lot of girls.”

Charlie, for the first time since he’d been arrested, realized that maybe he wasn’t entirely blameless in the matter. How had he let himself be persuaded so easily in the first place? Because you knew Jane was really too good for you, you stupid idiot! It’s way past time to be your own man. Quit letting others lead you. “Yeah, there were. But Jane was different, she really was and I blew it by not believing in myself enough to stand up to either you or my sisters.”

Will was impressed. “That’s a very mature outlook on the matter, Charlie. Did you have time to think about that in your holding cell?”

“Nah. I mostly played solitaire. Seemed appropriate somehow. I only just now realized that I’m as much to blame as you are.”

“So,” Will asked cautiously, “what now?”

“We go back to the hotel, have some dinner and then I go to bed while you do whatever you want. We have to be up pretty early tomorrow and I know you want to spend some time with Georgie before her curfew. Sleep sounds excellent. That cot last night was terribly uncomfortable. I guess that’s one way to deter repeat offenders.”

Darcy chuckled. “What did you expect? The Ritz?”

“No,” Charlie said a bit defensively. “I was expecting something along the lines of the cell they always let Otis use on Andy Griffith.”

Will was about to laugh at Charlie’s joke, but one look at his friend’s face told him he hadn’t been joking, which made him laugh all the more. The tension between the friends was now entirely gone. They both knew all was forgiven and that in the future things would be different.

~*~

 

Six- Little Miss Matchmaker

 

Georgie was squirming in her seat at the table she’d reserved for dinner, anxiously awaiting Lizzy’s arrival. I hope this all works out alright or I’ll end up with nothing but coal in my stocking for sure! Her moment of uncertainty gave way to the confidence she felt in the rightness of her ploy. When this all works out! Just think how wonderful everything will be… Will can finally be happy in the way he deserves and I get to have Lizzy as a sister. Another moment of doubt crept in. Why did Will have to be such a jerk to Charlie in the first place? No wonder Lizzy refused Will. Then she talked herself out of it. She can’t still hate him. At least not totally. I saw them together this summer… it may not have been love, but it sure wasn’t hate. All I need to do is set the wheels in motion and then we’ll see where this ride takes them.

Before Georgie could work herself into another frenzy of doubt, she spied Lizzy approaching with a big smile upon her face. Seeing Lizzy made Georgie all the more certain of her plan. It was now time to put it into action.

Georgie stood to greet her guest. Lizzy, never one to stand on formality when it was much more fun to flout convention, embraced the younger girl in a hug. “Miss Georgiana Darcy, fancy meeting you here, of all places!”

“I know, right? Maybe we ought to sing a chorus of ‘It’s a Small World’ or something.”

Lizzy, feeling much more refreshed since she’d taken another nap, teased, “What would it cost me to prevent that from happening?”

“Nothing at all. Friends need only ask.”

“Then I’m asking! Seriously though, Georgiana, how are you? It seems like ages since I saw you.”

“I’m great. School’s going really well, senioritis hasn’t totally sunken in yet. I’m sure when it finally does, I’ll be climbing the walls.”

Lizzy well remembered just how stir-crazy those last days of high school had made her and smiled. “I imagine this trip helps break up the monotony.”

“Yeah, it does,” Georgie agreed, “but I kinda miss home, too.”

Mistakenly thinking that Georgie meant Will was still in DC, she said, “I know it must be difficult for you, but I’m sure you’ll see your brother soon enough.”

Georgie glanced at the clock on the wall. It was six after six and she’d told Will to meet her at six-thirty. Will was compulsively early, so Georgie knew she needed to work faster or her brother would show up before she’d had a chance to warm Lizzy up to the idea of seeing him again.

“I sure hope so,” she said honestly. “I know he can be a royal pain sometimes, but he’s one of the good guys.”

Lizzy could only nod as the waitress had come to take their order, thus preventing Georgie from hearing Lizzy’s opinion about Will.

“I know you met my brother last year. That was in Baltimore, right?”

“Yes. His friend, Charles Bingley, opened a gallery in the same building as my sister’s travel agency.”

“Charlie’s always had an eye for very beautiful things,” Georgie began. She saw Lizzy turn red and realized what she’d said could be misconstrued very badly. Georgie tried again. “Charlie, well, he’s like another brother to me. I think he likes being with me and Will because his own sisters can be such bitches.” She gasped when she realized she’d sworn. Will was always correcting her for doing so, stating that using coarse language belied her intelligence.

“It’s okay, Georgie,” Lizzy reached out and patted her hand reassuringly. “I’ve met them, too, and understand completely.”

Georgie nodded and smiled as she continued her story. “So, I’ve known Charlie most of my life… he’s been Will’s best bud since they were in prep school together eons ago. Charlie’s mom was always pushing him to be more like Will- more a go-getter. Charlie just isn’t that kind of guy. He’s a romantic soul. When the guys had to study art and music for school, Will did horrible and needed tutors to get by; where all of that came really natural to Charlie. There’s something about the arts that has always seemed to speak to him in a way that it doesn’t to my brother. Don’t get me wrong, Will doesn’t hate the arts or anything, but it wasn’t his passion. Will’s thing is public service, but that’s another story.”

When Georgie paused for a moment to take a sip of her water, Lizzy took the opportunity to ask, “And why are you telling me all this?”

“I’m getting to that… please, just hear me out?” Lizzy nodded and Georgie continued her story. “While Charlie is brilliant when it comes to understanding artistic compositions, he sucks at self-confidence.”

This revelation surprised Lizzy. Charlie had always appeared so self-assured, so easy-going. It was hard to believe.

“I see you don’t believe me. I guess if I didn’t know Charlie really well, I probably wouldn’t believe it either. Mr. and Mrs. Bingley were jerks. They weren’t happy with Charlie’s choices at all. Art wasn’t ‘manly’ enough. Can you imagine what it’s like to live with people who are constantly badgering you, trying to get you to be somebody that you aren’t meant to be? I mean, your parents are supposed to be your biggest fans, not your biggest critics, right?”

Lizzy had only to think of her own mother. Then she shuddered at the thought of “what if.” What if her father hadn’t have supported her career? Her mother had been made miserable by her choice to open up a gym. She could still hear her mother say, ‘It’s just not very feminine, is it?’ Life would have been unbearable without at least her father’s support.

“That’s why Charlie sometime leans a bit too much on the opinions of those he’s closest to: his sisters and my brother.”

“Thank you for clarifying certain things about Charlie… but I still don’t understand why you’re telling me this.”

“I guess I was hoping, since I saw you here, that you could help me make things right. I mean, when we get home.”

“Make things right?” Lizzy’s mind reeled. “What do you mean? Right, how?”

“Between my friend and your sister. Charlie’s been miserable for months and months now, and I only recently learned that it was because he was a stupid idiot who listened to others instead of listening to himself. If he had the confidence a guy like him should, he never would have walked away from her in the first place. I know he still loves her. If Charlie came to her, if he apologized and tried to be a better man, do you think they could have a chance?”

“I think…” was all Lizzy managed to get out before the waitress began setting down their plates upon the table. She was grateful for the interruption. How did Georgie learn all this? There’s only one way… She quickly dismissed that as impossible. There was simply no way that a man like William Darcy would tell his romantic troubles to his kid sister. The idea was ludicrous. Or was it? It seemed to be the only logical explanation Lizzy could come up with.

Georgie was glad for the interruption. Her bravery had begun to fail and she wasn’t sure how long she could manage to avoid just coming right out and begging Elizabeth to consider her brother as more than a pain in the neck. The food was very good and the silence that fell between them was not too awkward or uncomfortable. As she watched the clock, Georgie hoped she could finish explaining everything to Elizabeth before Will showed up.

 

~*~

“Are you sure you don’t want to come to dinner with me and Georgie?” Darcy asked Charlie one last time. “I know she wouldn’t mind if you did.”

“True, but that’s only because I’m not a pain in the ass.” Charlie joked, “Plus, she likes me better.”

Though Darcy knew his friend had spoken it jest, it often felt too true. “It does feel that way sometimes, you know.”

Charlie clapped his best friend on the shoulder. “I know, pal. But she loves you, pain in the ass and all. I’m just the comic relief.” He then flopped on his bed. “What’s not funny is how tired I am. I’m just gonna hang here and catch up on some sleep.” Charlie smiled and shook his head when he saw that Darcy was about to issue another unwanted invitation. “Seriously, Will, I’m fine. You may find it hard to believe, but it’s tough to catch any shut-eye in the slammer.”

“All right, if that’s what you truly want to do, then I’ll leave you alone. Can I at bring you back something? It’s the least I can do.”

“William Darcy,” Charlie groaned, “get the hell out of here now, so I can get some sleep! Please! You’re late for Georgiana, and we all know how fastidious you are about being on time. Go!” He made a shooing motion with his hands. “Be gone and let me sleep!”

~*~

Lizzy couldn’t help noticing how distracted Georgie had become and called her on it. “You certainly seem fascinated by the clock, my dear Miss Darcy. Do you have a hot date before curfew? Come now, enquiring minds want to know.”

Oh my God! Will’s never late! Did he change his mind? Did something happen? He found out what I’m up to and he’s never going to speak to me again because I’m interfering in his life. That must be it. Oh no, my brother hates me. Whether he hates me or not, I’ve gone too far to stop now. “No, no date, hot or otherwise. There aren’t any boys…” Georgie blushed. “I mean, there are boys, but none that like me or anything like that.”

“I find that hard to believe.” Lizzy’s warm smile appeared sincere. “You are a beautiful, smart, delightful girl and I just bet there’s at least one boy, and very likely more, that’s just too shy to get up the nerve to speak to you.”

Yay! This is more like it! Here we go, all or nothing. “You mean too frightened of my brother.”

Lizzy’s eyes went wide while her cheeks turned pink with embarrassment. “That’s not what I said.”

“No,” Georgie giggled, “but it’s so what you meant.”

Before Lizzy could offer a denial, something- or rather someone- had caught her attention so fully that Georgie was forced to turn around to see what it was. Seeing that Lizzy was speechless, Georgie grinned and called out to her brother, who had not yet spotted them.

“Will,” Georgie cried a little too loudly for the other guests’ comfort, “come here and join us!”

Lizzy leaned in and whispered harshly, “What is going on, Georgie?”

Georgie patiently whispered back, “I’m trying to right another wrong. Seems Will didn’t only mess up Charlie and your sister.”

Feeling trapped and frustrated, Lizzy threatened, “I am so going to kill you!”

Will was approaching the table with a look on his face the likes of which Georgie had never seen before. She grinned proudly. Her plan had worked and at the very least something would happen this afternoon. Whether that something was good or bad was now out of her hands and up to Will and Lizzy.  Georgie couldn’t help herself and teased Lizzy.  “You can kill, or thank me, later. You know, whatever.”

It has to be my imagination, it just has to! Will rubbed his eyes, hoping to make the mirage Lizzy disappear. When he reopened his eyes she was still sitting there, with Georgie. There’s got to be something really wrong with me that I keep seeing her everywhere. She’s home in Baltimore, not sitting at a table in Honolulu with my sister. Whispering. Over mostly eaten plates of food. It was then he realized Lizzy was no illusion, but flesh and blood, and sitting a mere three feet from where he stood.

Will’s powers of speech had abandoned him. He stood there dumbly, just staring at Lizzy until Georgie elbowed him. “Will, can you believe it? Lizzy’s here!”

With a goofy smile on his face, Will finally managed to address her, “Elizabeth.”

Lizzy was having equal difficulty with speaking. It was only with a prompt to her shin, courtesy of Georgie, that she managed to return the acknowledgement, “Will.”

Georgie tried not to be too frustrated, though she did wonder how these two would ever manage without her. She pulled out a chair. “Will, have a seat. Lizzy was about to tell me all about your good qualities before you showed up.”

“I was?” Lizzy asked with surprise the same moment Will asked doubtfully, “She was?”

“Yes.” Georgie said firmly, then went on to explain, “I had just mentioned what a pain you could be and she was about to defend you. Right, Lizzy?”

Quickly retracing their conversation, Lizzy realized nearly she’d been trapped into a confession by Georgie. Great, now I know how I make Jane feel. At least someone will be amused by this. Then another thought struck her. Jane! If there’s a Darcy, there’s a Bingley… I can’t believe I underestimated her! My, oh my, you are you a very clever girl, Georgiana Darcy.

Though she hated having her hand forced, Lizzy knew the time for stubborn pride was over. She had long wondered ‘what if’ and now was the perfect chance to the answers. All she had to do was speak.

That’s easier said than done, mused Lizzy. “Right, Georgie, I believe I was.”

For the first time in many months, William Darcy’s heart filled with hope.

~*~

Charlie was having a difficult time falling asleep. He was exhausted and lying in a comfortable bed in a darkened room, but he could not keep his eyes closed. His brain was too busy replaying his history with Jane Bennet.

He tortured himself by recalling the beauty of her smile, the depth of feeling in her eyes and the musical sound of her laughter. All of these details paled in comparison how it felt to have Jane in his arms. Each time there had been a physical connection between them, his world had been perfect, right and complete.

God, I am such an idiot! He berated himself. You had the love of the most perfect woman on the planet and you let others persuade you to leave her? Jackass! I don’t deserve Jane, but damn it, I’m going to try to convince her to give me another chance anyways. He turned over to his side and punched the pillow. Three days, Jane Bennet. Only three days until I come knocking on your door. I don’t want to start the new year without knowing if I’ve blown it forever.

Charlie pulled the covers up over his shoulder in an attempt to try and sleep. He had just finally closed his eyes when there was a commotion in the hallway. A loud crash, complete with the sound of something breaking, forced him to get up and investigate the matter. There were several indistinguishable voices speaking and Charlie was about to ask them all to be quiet when he opened the door.

A luggage cart had collided with a room service cart and there was luggage and broken dishes everywhere. The porter was doing his best to set the bags to right while the young girl from room service was picking up shards of china with the help of another guest. The blonde woman was kneeling on the floor with her back to Charlie’s door, but he would recognize Jane anywhere. Then she laughed and any doubt she might be a figment of his imagination vanished.

While some people spend a great deal of time thinking things through carefully before saying a word, others leap right in without a second thought. Charlie was a leaper. “Jane?” She turned towards him and gave a shy smile. Taking that as encouragement that she didn’t hate him on sight, Charlie rushed to her side and took her hand. “You’re here! I can hardly believe it, this makes Christmas perfect!” He threw his arms around her and hugged her tight, as if doing so would prevent her from vanishing. “I am such an idiot, Jane, can you ever forgive me?”

Jane tried to answer, but was crushed so tightly in Charlie’s arms that she was having trouble breathing. “Charlie, let me go,” she gasped.

He released her at once and stood, feeling stupid for not considering her feelings. “I’m sorry again. It was wrong of me to just grab you like that, Jane. I’ll leave you alone now.”

The waitress and porter had finished cleaning up their mess and had disappeared to give them as much privacy as could be had in a hotel hallway.

Jane wanted to cry, the man exasperated her so! She stood, brushed off her knees and called to him, “Charles Bingley, stop right there!” He turned, not knowing what to expect from her.

Her heart, the small part that wasn’t already in pieces, nearly broke from seeing the man she loved standing there like a scolded child. “Do you always give up so easily? I only asked you to let me go because I couldn’t breathe.”

“Jane?”

She nodded and went willingly into his arms.

A moment later she went willingly into his room.

~*~

Will was listening to Georgie tell the story of how she’d witnessed Lizzy coming to the aid of the small, lost child. “…and that’s when I really knew that Disney was right and it’s a small world, after all!”

“Georgie,” Lizzy warned, “you’re exaggerating. I didn’t do anything special. You make me sound like Mother Teresa or something.”

“I beg to differ, Elizabeth,” Will protested. “There are few who would stop what they were doing to pay attention to a child that’s not their own.” He smiled, “It’s just another example of your tremendous kindness.”

Lizzy knew she wasn’t always kind. She had only to think on her dealings with Will to see that truth. Kindness was Jane’s thing, not hers. Lizzy shook her head. “Now I believe that you’re the one exaggerating, Mr. Darcy.”

“Nonsense, Ms. Bennet.” Will was tired of this polite conversation. He didn’t care that she was enjoying the weather or how good her lunch had been. All he wanted was to know if he had a chance to change her opinion of him. “You’re being very kind right now. After our previous… shall we say disagreement? it’s a kindness to speak to me with this undeserved civility you’re showing me now.”

“No, Will, if anyone’s being kind here, it’s you. I was wrong before and we both know it. You are too good to humor me for your sister’s sake.” She set her napkin on the table and stood to leave. “I think I’m going to go check on Jane now. Georgie, thanks for lunch. Will, it was good to see you this one last time.”

“Elizabeth, wait! What do you mean, ‘one last time’? Please, you know, above all others, that I can be dense sometimes. You can’t mean that we’ll never see each other again, do you?”

She had closed her eyes as she listened to his plea. His voice was warm- soothing, even- as he asked for their acquaintance to continue. Was it possible? Did he really not hate her? He really seemed to want her to not leave.

As if he could sense her turmoil, he added, “Please, I would like for you to stay. Elizabeth, I don’t want you to go.”

Georgie, who had been quietly watching the scene, chose then to interject. “It’s okay, guys, just pretend I was never here.” Georgie’s work was accomplished; neither Lizzy or Will gave her a second her a second glance as she slipped away.

Lizzy sat back down, unsure of everything except needing to hear Will out. “You really want me to stay?”

“Yes,” he smiled, pleased that she’d joined him. “Consider a Christmas gift, if you will.”

“A Christmas gift?” She looked at him, skeptical of this odd request. “I thought you were the man who has everything.”

He put on a pained smile. “Not everything, Elizabeth. I don’t have you.”

~*~

 

In between kisses, Charlie and Jane were working out the new terms of their relationship.

“Remember,” Charlie said as he paused for breath, “I’m kinda dumb and can’t read minds. I need to be told things. And often.”

“Mmn-hmn… oh, that’s wonderful!” Jane managed to say hoarsely. She began to unbutton Charlie’s shirt. “And you’re going to speak to me when you aren’t sure how I’m feeling about something, instead of asking your sisters or trying to guess, right?”

His voice was ragged and breathless as he replied, “Absolutely. I know better now. Asking’s the best policy.” Charlie’s hand picked up the hem of her shirt. “As for asking, may I?”

Jane melted under his touch. “Please!”

They continued negotiating in this manner for some time until they were both highly satisfied.

~*~

Lizzy believed she must have heard Will wrong. That was the only logical explanation. But what if I heard him right? “Why would you want me?”

Will laid his hands on the table, palms down and fingers extended upwards in a gesture that she had witnessed him do countless times. Only now did she understand he did so whenever he became frustrated. Great, I’ve gone and aggravated him… again! Good job, Lizzy.

“Elizabeth, are you serious? I’ve always wanted you… because I’ve always loved you.” Okay, Darcy, your cards on the table… time to make your final play. “However, if you’re only being nice and tolerating me because of Georgie…” Will noticed her eyes had begun to water and he felt awful. Great, I’m such an idiot that I’ve made her cry.

“Stop, please!” She absently swiped away an unshed tear. “I’m not being nice and I’m not just tolerating you… can you really be that clueless?” Lizzy sniffled and used a napkin to wipe her face. “I thought elected officials had to have some common sense.”

This time, his smile was genuine. “You’d be surprised.”

“I guess so,” she returned his smile with one of her own. “I’ve tried… over and over I’ve tried… to forget you, to hate you, to try to stop thinking about you. But I failed. ‘Epic fail’ as your sister would say. You know what? Turns out that you simply can’t forget, hate or stop thinking about the man you love, no matter how hard you try.”

He reached for her hand, wishing they were anywhere but in a crowded restaurant. “Elizabeth…”

She squeezed his hand in return. “So, now that I’ve given you your gift, my Christmas shopping is finally complete.”

Will was amazed at how much his fortune had changed in so little time. “I have a confession to make.”

Lizzy was surprised. “Another?”

He nodded and gave her a wink. “Oh, yes it’s something very shocking. As a boy, I was terrible at waiting to open my presents- the worst.”

She pulled out her key-card and handed it to Will. “If that’s the case, then let’s go open your present, Congressman Darcy.”

That was an invitation that even William Darcy couldn’t misinterpret.

~*~

Seven- Mele Kalikimaka

Will, Lizzy, Jane, Charlie and Georgie all met the next morning for breakfast. Georgie wasn’t able to stay long, as she had to board the bus early to get to the stadium. Will had arranged for a second set of tickets so the girls could attend the game and see Georgie’s marching band play during the half-time show. It was decided that Will and Lizzy would take the original seats, since Will had made all the arrangements in the first place.

As the two new couples drove over to the stadium, they were still rejoicing at how circumstances had brought them together. They laughed at the stories of their near-misses over the few days prior.

Charlie had been happy to defer the driving to Will. That left him able to cuddle with Jane in the backseat. “Guess it’s a good that I did listen to old Darcy this one last time. If I hadn’t, I’d have been on a flight home to Maryland, while you were right here- in the same hotel!”

Will frowned and eyed his friend in the rear view mirror. “Please, Charlie, you would have come to the same conclusion if only you’d have taken a moment to think it through.” He cast a sidelong glance to Lizzy and grinned, “And now everything is as it should be.”

Jane whispered something to Charlie that made him laugh and say, “Really? We were there! You know what else is funny?” Then seeing Will’s reflection in the mirror, he decided to whisper it to Jane, causing her to laugh, too.

“Elizabeth,” Will asked, “is it just me, or do you get the feeling that they’re laughing at us?”

Lizzy turned to see Charlie and Jane’s heads put together. “Since they’re being terribly selfish and not letting us in on the joke, I think that’s a pretty safe assumption.”

“You two are ridiculous!” Charlie began. “You,” he smacked Will’s shoulder, “were moping about for months on end! Why? Because you were too chicken to pick up a damn phone!” When Lizzy laughed along with Charlie’s teasing, he poked her elbow and said, “Oh no, missy, you’re just as bad! Isn’t she Jane?”

That drew Will’s curiosity enough to ask, “What bad behavior do you have to accuse Lizzy of?”

Before Lizzy could voice her protest, Jane chimed in, “So, I understand you were at the same luau we where we were the other night. Do you recall anything about a drunken woman making a scene?”

Lizzy hid her face in her hands, mumbling, “Oh, no!”

Jane wasn’t about to stop now. A chance to tease Lizzy like this was too rare to pass up. “Oh, yes. So, Lizzy’s been miserable ever since last summer… though she never shared why, not even with her sister who’s allegedly her best friend. And though she hardly ever drinks, she chose the other night to become a Mai Tai lush. After she made a spectacle of herself, and believe me, it was a true spectacle, I get her back to our room and she starts gushing ‘Oh, Will’. Gee, it was ever so difficult to connect the dots.”

They’d reached the parking lot not a minute too soon for Lizzy. She glared at Jane. “Are you done embarrassing me yet?”

“For now. I just think it’s cute, in a very pathetic sort of way, that you two were mooning over each other and didn’t do anything about it.”

Charlie put his arm around her. “I agree with Jane.”

Will did the same with Lizzy and added, “Why am I not surprised?”

As they began to walk to the ticket gate, Charlie explained, “No, hear me out… Will here’s always trying to do what he feels is best for everyone and from what Jane’s said, Lizzy tries to do the same for those she loves, too. You are two of the most meddlesome people I’ve ever met and you deserve each other!”

Will and Lizzy each looked as though they were about to argue, but the protests died on their lips. Instead, when Charlie and Jane looked to them for a response, they just shrugged as Will said, “What can we say? You’re right.”

~*~

The first half of the 2011 Sheraton Hawai’i Bowl passed by quick enough. Southern Miss and Nevada exited the gridiron for a well-earned half-time rest while Georgie’s band took the field and got into position. Will was sitting on the edge of his seat, Lizzy’s hand crushed within his own as the band began their long program. The band played flawlessly and when their rendition of Mele Kalikimaka was over, the crowd stood to its feet to offer applause. No one clapped harder or cheered louder than Will.

“She was fantastic, Will.” Lizzy kissed his cheek. As the roar of the crowd began to quiet, Lizzy hugged him and said, “You should be very proud.”

“I am,” he beamed. “My sister just performed in front of a huge audience, so I suppose her shyness is probably just about gone. I’m on vacation in paradise with my best friend who, luck has it, is still speaking to me after I messed up his life. While on said vacation, I was able to finally make things right with the woman I love, who by some amazing miracle, love me back. Life is very nearly perfect.”

Lizzy raised an eyebrow in question. “Nearly perfect?”

Will made a thoughtful face. “Things could be better.”

“Really? And here I thought I was all you needed.”

He pulled her into his arms. “You are all I need, but I need you forever.” Will kissed her gently. “I hadn’t exactly planned doing this here, but since everything else with you has been so unexpected, why not?”

Lizzy now had a pretty good idea of what was coming and her heart began to beat faster in anticipation.

“Elizabeth Bennet, I love you more than I ever thought it was possible to love another person. I am not a great speechmaker, this is something we both know, or I would put into eloquent words how I feel about you.  Instead, all I can do is promise to love and cherish you for the rest of my life. Elizabeth, will you marry me?”

Tears of joy welled up in her eyes, making Will visibly uncomfortable. Seeing his discomfort, Lizzy assured him all was well. “I love you, Will. I would love to marry you.” She kissed him then wiped the wet spot from where one of her tears fell on his cheek. “So you know, these are happy tears. Happy tears are good. Happy tears are something you’re going to need to get used to.”

“So long as you’re happy, my dearest, loveliest Elizabeth, I’m happy.”

~*~

 

It had been agreed upon earlier that everyone would meet back at the car after the game. As Charlie and Jane exited the stadium, he was struck by a brilliant idea. He led Jane to a grassy area just out of the way of the milling crowd. Charlie took Jane’s hand in his, looked into her beautiful blue eyes and said simply, with no pretense, “Marry me, Jane?”

Jane, with no hesitation, answered, “Of course I will, Charlie.”

He picked her up and spun his new fiancée around in celebration of their understanding.

~*~

When Will and Lizzy finally reached the car, they found Charlie and Jane waiting, but far from bored. They had reclaimed the backseat for the return trip to the hotel and were making use of it like they were teenagers in a 50’s movie.

Lizzy took great joy in interrupting the lovebirds by loudly clearing her throat. “Ahem, if you crazy kids aren’t too busy, we have some news.”

Jane climbed out of the car. She was flushed, but not just from the make-out session with Charlie. “We do, too!”

The Bennet sisters then exclaimed at the same time, “I’m getting married!”

Charlie had also gotten out and stood next to his best friend. He frowned and wryly commented to Will, “Notice they left us right out of there?”

Will watched the girls laugh together as they exchanged proposal stories. He knew they were both really excited and, being practical as always, he asked Charlie, “Do you really mind?”

Jane and Lizzy were practically glowing with happiness. “No, I suppose not. Congratulations, by the way.”

“Thanks, same to you.” Will realized that he and Charlie would be brothers after all and let out a chuckle.

“What? Is something funny?”

“Your sisters are going to be royally pissed about this, you know that, right?”

“Yeah, they never liked Jane and I know Caroline’s been trying to get her claws into you for ages.” Will knew the moment Charlie understood what had tickled him. “She always said it would be wonderful if we could be brothers. You’re right; she’s definitely going to be angry. In fact, pissed isn’t the right world. I think ballistic or nuclear would be a bit more accurate.”

The girls had finally settled down enough for the ride back to the hotel. They passed on the idea of having dinner together as a group. They made separate arrangements to spend Christmas eve together, going so far as to have Jane and Will switch rooms.

A very smug Georgie met Will and Lizzy for an early dinner to hear the news. “I knew it! I knew it all along.”

“Yes,” Will played along. “You’re very smart, aren’t you?”

“I am, thank you. So, when’s the big day?”

“We haven’t really discussed it yet…” Lizzy answered, sounding a little disappointed, “but I know your brother has many obligations he needs to meet, so I’ll leave those arrangements to him.”

“Elizabeth, the only obligation I care about right now is making you my wife.”

Georgie was on the case. Using her smartphone’s googling abilities, in a matter of moments she had the Hawai’i Depart of Health website up and informed them both that they could be married immediately upon obtaining a marriage license. “Yep, it says here there are no residency requirements, blood tests or any of that other stuff. If you guys really wanted to, you could be married before New Year’s.”

Will thought the idea had a lot of merit, but wasn’t sure how Lizzy would feel about it. “What do you think? Will you elope with me?”

“My mom won’t like it. That right there is almost reason enough to do it.”

“Elizabeth, I’m serious, would you like to get married next week? Here in Honolulu?”

She nodded, rewarding him with a huge smile and more tears. “I want nothing more than that. This is the best Christmas ever.”

He was beginning to get the hang of this. He used his thumb to gently stop a tear trail. “These are the happy ones, right?”

“The happiest.”

~*~

On Christmas morning, Will and Lizzy explained their plans to Charlie and Jane, who decided it was the most brilliant idea they’d ever heard.

“And what do I get for all my hard work and planning?” Georgie pouted, “I get sent off all alone to my room.”

Will didn’t agree. “Hardly, sister dearest. I believe you were pretty anxious to ditch us and get to your party. Isn’t that right, Elizabeth?”

“I believe the exact words she used were ‘get a room you two’.”

“Well, yeah!” Georgie made a face. “You guys were getting pretty touchy-feely to be out in public like that. And with me right there, an impressionable, innocent youth!”

Jane teased Lizzy, “Can we trade sister-in-laws? I’ve got quite a deal for you, two for the price of one!”

“No way, Jane. Sorry, but Georgie- though she can be a pain in the neck sometimes- is a keeper.”

It was agreed that on Monday morning both couples would apply for marriage licenses and share a simple beachside wedding ceremony.

~*~

 

The couples and Georgie spent Christmas day on the beach, enjoying the sun and surf. The general happiness shared by everyone in their little group was a far cry from the misery they’d all begun this trip with.

Monday morning, right as the office opened, Will, Charlie, Lizzy and Jane applied for their licenses. By nighttime, Lizzy had become Mrs. Darcy and Jane would be forever known as Mrs. Bingley. Georgie, pleased that her scheming had borne fruit, was tired of feeling like a fifth wheel and took an early flight home to spend the rest of her Christmas break with her aunt and uncle, allowing Will and Lizzy to honeymoon in peace.

In early January, the happy newlyweds finally returned home to break the news to their families. As expected, Charlie’s sisters were less than thrilled by the idea of being related to Jane. Of course, after they thought it through, they realized that they still had that elusive Darcy connection to power that they had wanted so badly, so all was not completely lost.

The most surprising reaction came from Mrs. Bennet. Her biggest concern was that there might be a scandal attached to Will’s hasty decision to marry that could possibly damage his career. When they assured her there was no scandal, she calmed down immediately and even thanked the girls for sparing her the stress of planning a high society wedding.

Mr. Bennet was saddened to see his time as the most important man in his two favorite daughter’s lives had expired. “It comes to every man who is lucky enough to have a daughter,” he warned Will. “I imagine you’re the sort who’ll suffer greatly when some young man comes to claim your sister’s, or better yet, your own daughter’s hand. At least I have the satisfaction of knowing my girls married worthy men.”

No one ever remembered there being such a wonderful Christmas before.

 

Epilogue

Lizzy eventually sold her gym to Will’s cousin who’d recently retired from the Army. Jake Fitzwilliam expanded the business to include a series of self-defense classes in addition to the standard fare of aerobics and yoga. His classes were so popular and difficult to get into, that he was persuaded to record a series of fitness videos that became instant best-sellers. Just how many of those DVDs were sold to women who just wanted to watch Jake move and sweat is something the world may never know.

Though Lizzy still loved personal training, she found being a politician’s wife was more than enough to keep her days occupied. She loved working with Will for the betterment of their congressional district. Lizzy spent her days seeing to the concerns of Will’s constituents and helping Will translate those needs into action. Together, they made an amazing team. Any misunderstandings they had in the beginning were quickly overcome as they learned to communicate with one another in a way that left no room for misinterpretation.

Charlie, much to the dismay of his sisters, re-opened his Baltimore gallery located right next to Jane’s travel agency. Jane’s kind and gentle loving influence was the making of Charles Bingley. No more were the days where he lacked self-confidence. When one feels secure knowing they are loved unconditionally, they feel like they could take on the world and Jane’s love did exactly that for Charlie. He was now imbued with enough self-assurance that he had no need to rely on others for their opinions. Charles Bingley had finally grown into a man even his disapproving father would have been proud of.

It had taken a lifetime, but Jane had learned at last to be more discerning of other people’s motives. Being Mrs. Charles Bingley had also boosted Jane’s own confidence. She could no longer afford to the soft touch she’d always been, she needed to be strong for Charlie. Oddly enough, Jane’s new ability to take charge only added to her appeal.

William Darcy still struggled from time to time with the need to help others (or interfere, as Lizzy preferred to call it) when he thought they needed it. Years of being in charge, first his sister, next the family business, then finally his congressional district taught him to rely on his own good opinion first and foremost. Through his marriage to Lizzy, Will quickly learned that there were many other points of view to consider before making life-altering decisions for others. It took a lot of trial, error and patience, but he had finally learned to let others live their own lives. Georgie had even stopped calling him a control freak.

The following Christmas, Will surprised Lizzy with an envelope. “What’s this, Will? I already told you, you didn’t need to get me anything for Christmas. What more could I possibly need?”

Will may not have always been the most observant of men, but he always noted everything about his wife. Lately she had been seemingly run-down and it occurred to him that they’d been working very hard and could use a quiet getaway for the New Year. Since the year before they had seen so little of the island, he had the brilliant idea of a second honeymoon to Hawaii. This time around he figured they might even get around to actually leaving the room once in a while.

“I know you said that, but this is something I think we both will really enjoy. Just open it already!”

Lizzy teased him for a moment. “Maybe I’ll wait a few more days to open this…”

Will appeared ready to burst with anticipation. “Fine,” Lizzy kissed his cheek, “I’ll take pity on you and open it now.” She slit open the envelope and chided him, “You and your inability to wait to open gifts is simply amazing.”

He wrapped his arms around her from behind while she took the papers out to look at them. “True, but my all-time favorite present insists on re-wrapping herself all the time.” He placed a kiss just below her ear and whispered, “It makes it feel like Christmas every day.”

Lizzy didn’t answer as she was too stunned by Will’s present to think coherently.

“Surprise! Well, Elizabeth, what do you think? We leave tonight for two weeks in paradise. We can even call it a celebration of the Mayan non-apocalypse. Merry Christmas, Mrs. Darcy!”

When Lizzy turned around with tears in her eyes Will didn’t think they were the happy tears and wondered what it was he’d done wrong.

“Will, why didn’t you ask me about this before you booked this?”

“Because that would make it so much less like a surprise, dearest.”

Her lip trembled as she told him, “I can’t go.”

This was not at all the reaction he’d hoped for. “Why on earth not? Our schedules are clear and your parents aren’t expecting us anytime soon.”

Lizzy was openly crying now. “My parents know about this trip? Doesn’t matter, still can’t go. Let me get you your gift and then I’ll explain.”

Her frustration was clearly marked by the crease on her forehead. He really hated it when he made her look like that. “What gift? We weren’t doing gifts, remember?”

“Yes! I remember!” Lizzy practically yelled. “And if you’d stuck to that, then everything would be fine now! But no… the great William Darcy always knows what’s best for everyone!”

That really hurt him. He crossed his arms and shot back, “But how would it have been all right for you to have gotten me a gift, but not fine for me to get one for you? You’re not playing fairly, Elizabeth.”

Lizzy opened up the side-table drawer and withdrew a small, wrapped package. “Here’s your present, you aggravating, infuriating jerk!” She threw it right at his head. “Enjoy unwrapping that.”

Will held the present in one hand while he rubbed his aching head with the other. “Elizabeth, why are we fighting? I only wanted to do something nice for you, as a way to show you how much I love you.”

The anger was gone now, but the tears remained. “I know that. Really, I do. Just open the damn present and I think everything will become clear.”

He wasn’t sure solving this unknown problem would be so simple, but he decided to go along with her anyways, since that usually worked out for the best. Carefully, he opened the small square package. Will frowned. “It’s a piece of Tupperware.”

Lizzy said anxiously, “Open it.”

Will took the lid off the container and found a pregnancy stick inside. A plus sign was clearly visible on the indicator strip. It took a moment for his brain to register what he was looking at. “Is this what I think it is?”

Lizzy nodded. Sadly, she explained, “That’s the reason I can’t go. I’ve been getting sick so much lately. An elevator rides lay me out flat, so I think an endless plane ride would kill me. I think you’ll agree that our child is a little more important than a vacation.” When Will didn’t say anything, Lizzy rambled on, “And I know I haven’t been easy to live with these last few weeks… I’ve been weepy one moment and… well, crabby the next. I’m irritable and emotional. I can’t keep anything down for breakfast… and lunch isn’t much better. I’d love to go to Hawaii with you, really, I can’t think of anyplace I’d rather go. But… right now, I just can’t because of the baby. Doctor Parks says that in another month or so, I should start feeling better and…”

Will hadn’t moved at all. Still in awe, he was so focused on the present in his hands that Lizzy began to worry. “Well, what do you think? Are you pleased? Not pleased? Say something…”

Will’s face split into a huge grin, the likes of which were rarely seen on the usually serious face of the congressman. “Lizzy, I couldn’t be more pleased. This… this is amazing!” He set the precious gift down and took the even more precious one into his arms. “I didn’t think I’d ever receive a more special gift than your love, but I was wrong.” Will gently wiped her tears away with his thumb and then gave her a tender kiss. “Thank you, my dearest Elizabeth, for giving me- for making us- a family.”

Lizzy returned his kiss, smiled and said, “I think our becoming a family is the best gift of all.”

~And they lived happily ever after…~

***Merry Christmas!!***

First, thanks to you for not giving up on me and coming to read my stories. I appreciate it more than I can ever express. The other things are not forgotten about and are still being worked on. Secondly, a million thanks to the amazing, talented Debra Anne for helping me make some sense out of this idea! This was written last year, but then things happened and it didn’t seem right to post a Christmas story in March. Any mistakes at this point are, like always, my fault. Hope you enjoyed Mele Kalikimaka. If you did, please consider writing a comment and letting me know. Thanks! I hope everyone has a fantastic holiday season & a wonderful New Year!

~Home~

Creative Commons License
Mele Kalikimaka by Jennifer “michchick” Hickling is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at http://meanderingsandmissives.com/.


My NaNoWriMo 2011 project is entitled  “Walk With Me”. What happens when you mix a corporate wellness program with a competitive CEO named Will Darcy and his new, equally competitive head of PR Elizabeth Bennet? Then stir in an ancient teacup chihuahua and a new golden retriever puppy? Plus, toss in a heap of the usual suspects? Hopefully the answer is you get an entertaining spin on Pride & Prejudice. Please enjoy the opening (and therefore subject to change) excerpt. 

Walk With Me

A P&P short(er) story about corporate health initiatives, competitiveness, misunderstandings, forgiveness and dogs.

For my DH Bob, who is, seriously, in no way, not even the teeny-tiniest bit competitive. (Don’t believe it!)

Some people are simply born competitive.

Fitzwilliam Darcy was a competitive man.

This was, for the most part, a very good thing. His drive, his determination and what his dear grandfather had called ‘plain old gumption’ had served him exceedingly well- first in his academic pursuits, then his business ones.

However, while Darcy’s competitive nature was well and good in his professional life… it was currently wrecking havoc in his personal life and driving everyone around him absolutely insane.

~*~

Tuesday, lunchtime

“Damn, Darcy,” complained Charles Bingley, Darcy’s best friend and Vice President of Operations for the Darcy’s family company. “When I uploaded last night, you had 45,000 steps! How is that even possible? Did you find a way to attach the damn thing to a hamster in a wheel or something?”

Darcy picked at his Asian salad, wishing he’d chosen the Cobb instead. “I went for a run yesterday morning,” explained Darcy. When Bingley shot him a doubtful glare, Darcy added, “And another at lunch, and I visited all the departments, and I went to the gym after work. Then I took Georgie’s rat-dog out for a walk. Stop glaring at me.”

Bingley was adding up all the possible steps in his head and it still seemed too many. “Did your ass even touch a chair at all yesterday?”

Darcy had to laugh. “Actually, no. Really, Bingley… this was my idea and as such it only makes sense if I make sure I’m taking the lead in this.”

Though what Darcy said made sense, Bingley chose to ignore it. “Are you sure you didn’t attach the pedometer to Gordie? Because the program doesn’t even go ‘live’ until next week and you’re making us all look bad.”

“I’m insulted by that, and no, I did not attach it to rat-dog. Besides, I’m certain the weight of it would make the rat-dog fall over on its face.” The mental image of his sister’s dog falling over made him grin. “Hey, there’s an idea…”

“Great! I’ll get blamed for your cruelty to her dog. And it’s hardly a rat. I’ve seen much more pathetic looking Chihuahuas than Gordie.” Bingley was only quiet for a moment. “Hey, can I ask you something?”

“Sure, you know you can ask me anything.”

“What made Georgie choose the name Gordie anyways?”

Darcy sighed and rolled his eyes. “Gordie is short for Gordita.”

Bingley laughed; something which Darcy had known was inevitable. It rankled him and he felt it necessary to defend his teenage sister. “Please remember that rat-dog is thirteen and at the time there were all those stupid commercials with the stupid talking dog that shucked for Taco Bell. Georgie found it hilarious and it was the only thing that I could do at the time to make her happy. I wanted a Golden Retriever. Instead we got a Teacup rat-dog.”

Bingley shook his head and cut another bite of meatloaf. “Your feats as an elder brother truly shame me.”

Darcy smiled. “If your sisters were anything like mine, you’d find it easier to be kind to them, too.”

“I’d be insulted… but you, my friend, you speak the truth! Speaking of my ungrateful, catty, spiteful, ungrateful-“

“You already said ungrateful.”

“Yes, I know! It definitely bears repeating. Anyways, since you finally were able to send Carrie to St. John’s, have you found someone to replace her?”

“Personnel has assured me that a highly-qualified and not even remotely crazy person starts on Friday.”

“Excellent! One more person to join in Darcy’s grand preventative health experiment.”

“Bingley, just shut up and eat.”

Offering an insincere salute, Bingley grinned, “Yes, Boss.”

~*~

Friday afternoon

The Director of Personnel, Dorothy Reynolds, was going over the basics with Pembergy’s newest employee. “So, let me see… I’ve given you the health and benefits packet, I went over the vacation, comp and personal time policies… all your paperwork is in order… Why do I feel like I’ve forgotten something?”

Elizabeth Bennet smiled. She had been very happy with everything she’s seen and heard so far. Everyone Mrs. Reynolds had introduced her to that she’d be working with had seemed nice. What had been perhaps the most eye-opening part of the tour was when Elizabeth noted how happy everyone was to work there. Nary one bad thing had been said about the company or those responsible for running it. The only person she’s heard anything negative about was the woman whose job she had just signed on to do. If first impressions were anything to go by, and Elizabeth truly believed in first impressions, she would be very happy working there.

Mrs. Reynolds snapped her fingers. “I remember! Thank goodness, too! Mr. Darcy has recently implemented a health initiative that all employees can participate in, free of charge.”

Having always been health-minded, Elizabeth said, “I’d like to hear more.”

“Certainly,” said Mrs. Reynolds. She went on to explain to Elizabeth that Pembergy was taking part in a million-step challenge through a corporate wellness website. Any employee interested simply signed up and was given a specially programmed USB-driven pedometer to wear, with a goal of walking 1,000,000 steps by the end of the challenge.

“What is that… like 5,000 steps a day? Shouldn’t be too difficult. Can I sign up for that?”

“Absolutely! I think you’ll find the program is really terrific! The website offers all sorts of encouragement and they send out these great emails when you achieve the goals that you set for yourself. There’s even food and exercise management programs and a place to blog, if that’s something you might be interested in.”

“I think I remember my sister’s fiancé mentioning something about this. I’ve been looking at getting a pedometer anyways… so why not?”

“Oh? Does his company have a wellness walking program, too?”

“Actually, he works right here. When I applied for this job through the ad on Monster, the company wasn’t specified. Charlie said my working here wouldn’t be a big deal. In fact, he kinda laughed that his soon-to-be sister-in-law was replacing his sister. We only realized we’d be both working for the same company yesterday.”

Mrs. Reynolds did her best to contain her surprise, and she did a remarkable job of it. Elizabeth wondered if HR people went through some sort of emotion-repressing management course so that the people they spoke with were never able to discern their true feelings on any given matter. When Mrs. Reynolds spoke, it was in the same controlled, yet sweet, manner that she’d been using all along. “Your sister is to marry Charles Bingley? Mr. Bingley is a very fine man and a pleasure to work for.”

Elizabeth confirmed this. “Yes she is. I’m so glad to hear that Charlie is good to work for, especially since I won’t be getting rid of him anytime soon!”

If Mrs. Reynolds was disposed to show merriment, she would have laughed. She nearly did anyways since, while Elizabeth was speaking, Charles Bingley had walked right up behind her. “I should hope not!”

Elizabeth was nearly startled out of her skin and blushed in embarrassment at having been caught gossiping her very first day on the job. She counted her lucky stars that Bingley was Bingley and not the sort of man who couldn’t take any teasing or good-natured ribbing.

She turned, hand over her still-pounding heart and scolded, “Charlie! Do you always sneak up on people like that?”

He flashed his famous boy-wonder grin. “Pretty much. That’s the best way to catch up on all the office gossip, don’t you know?” She groaned at his poor attempt at a joke. Leaning on what was now Elizabeth’s desk, Bingley turned momentarily serious and explained, “Really, I’m just now back from lunch and thought I’d come up and see how you’re doing at getting settled in. Reynolds is treating you well, I trust?”

Elizabeth nodded. “Very well, indeed. Everyone has been great. I think I’m going to really like it here. Thanks, Charlie.”

“Bah! Don’t thank me for anything. You’re the one with the killer resume and crazy-mad skills. You got this job all on your own… I only found out it was you after the ink was already dry on your contract. Later, when you meet Darcy, you can thank him if you want since the decision was all his, or at the least the final approval anyhow. I think you’ll like Darcy. He’s a good guy and may even give you a run in the smarts department!”

Mrs. Reynolds could not help but agree and added some praise of her own. “I have never known of a kinder CEO anywhere. I have known Mr. Darcy since he was four years old when his father used to bring him in to show him the workings of the company that would someday be his. I have always observed that the great men who actually take an early interest in their futures- and all of the responsibilities attendant to them- often make the best bosses.”

Elizabeth wasn’t sure what to make of this unique praise for a man she’d not yet met. “The two of you make him sound quite perfect. A real paragon of virtue!”

Bingley assured her, “We have said nothing that isn’t perfectly true.”

“Mr. Darcy is as close to perfect as I believe any man can be,” Mrs. Reynolds concurred.

Feeling like she was being pressured to canonize the man, Elizabeth rebelled and said, “Really? That’s too bad. Being far from perfect myself, I’ve always found that pictures of perfection, as Charlie should already know, make me sick and wicked.”

Bingley had laughed at the jest, but Mrs. Reynolds had found no humor at all. As the shock of hearing such a statement became evident on Mrs. Reynolds’ face, Elizabeth was pleased. She found it a relief that the head of her new employer’s HR department wasn’t entirely robotic. Not wanting to completely offend, she explained, “Mrs. Reynolds, Mr. Bingley is well-aware that my sister- his fiancé- is the epitome of every feminine ideal and since I could not be as angelic as Jane, I’ve opted to be a little devilish instead.”

Bingley shook his head to catch Mrs. Reynolds’ attention. “Ah, don’t let her fool you. Lizzy here likes to say things just to see if she can get a reaction out of people sometimes… and that is the full extent of her oh-so-wicked ways. Lizzy and my Jane are two of the loveliest and most genuinely nice ladies that you could ever wish to meet. Now Lizzy, how about we leave you alone to finish getting settled in so that you can start working! And Dot… how’s about I buy my favorite HR lady a cup o’ Joe?”

Mrs. Reynolds blushed and Elizabeth liked her all the more for it. “Thank you, Mr. Bingley.”

Elizabeth took her seat and said, “See you later, Charlie. Oops, I mean Mr. Bingley.”

“See you at dinner. And Lizzy? Tell Jane I’m bringing the wine.”

She waved her hand and turned to her desk as Bingley and Mrs. Reynolds walked off. There was much to do and Elizabeth was so excited with her new position she hardly knew where to begin. The small box she’d brought in with her personal effects seemed like a good place to start. She set out a few framed photographs; she and her father at her college graduation, she and Jane sitting on moving boxes holding up keys to their apartment and another of she and all her sisters kneeling in the sand with her parents standing behind them on a family vacation many years ago. A mug from her alma mater that she used as a pencil cup was filled and a bobble-head of Greedo from Star Wars completed her efforts for the day. As time passed, Elizabeth was sure she would add more items but she didn’t wish to overwhelm her office with personal things until she had a better lay of the land.

Elizabeth opened the filing drawers and began going through the papers within, cataloging their contents for future reference. She was positive she’d be reorganizing everything soon enough, but until she knew what was what, Elizabeth wouldn’t make any drastic changes. Sifting through a pile of papers stuffed in the back of the far right bottom drawer, Elizabeth found some pictures. Assuming they were her predecessor’s, she grabbed a new manila file and wrote “CB: PERSONAL” on it. She spied a snapshot of Charlie and another of Jane. There was a picture of Caroline posing with a bunch of women that she assumed also worked there. She was about to put them all away but she sneezed just then, causing her to drop the rest of the photos.

As she bent down to pick up the scattered images, she was drawn to a photo of the handsomest man she’d ever laid eyes on. Her original intent had been to just put all the pictures in the folder and call it done, but her curiosity had been piqued. One by one she examined the photos and whatever other faults Caroline Bingley might have possessed, taste in men was apparently not one of them. The number of pictures of this Adonis far outweighed any others. Several pictures were nearly identical and Elizabeth surprised herself by taking one of them and putting it in her top drawer. “She’ll never miss it. She’s got zillions of these… I can keep just one, right?” As she shoved the rest of the pictures and other personal papers into the folder, Elizabeth became more certain about her choice and began talking to herself.  “Yes, Lizzy, you deserve a bit of eye candy to look at. Now… where did I put that stapler?”

~*~

Friday evening

Elizabeth walked in the door from her first day on her new job and was greeted by the smell of homemade lasagna and garlic bread. She was starving and hoped that Bingley wouldn’t keep them waiting too long for dinner.

Unsure where her sister was, she loudly said, “Jane?”

“In here!” came Jane’s voice from the kitchen.

Elizabeth dropped her messenger bag alongside her gym duffel and poked her head in the kitchen where Jane was preparing the tiramisu. “Charlie said to let you know that he’s bringing the wine with him. If it’s okay with you, I’m jumping in the shower.”

Jane wrinkled her nose and scrunched her face as she teased her younger sister, “Please do!”

Elizabeth tugged her offensive workout shirt away from her neck and made a face of her own. “Yeah, I know it’s bad… but without working out how am I supposed to compete with the perfection that is Jane Bennet?”

Jane laughed. “You are ridiculous, you do know that?” With a twinkle in her eye, she then said, “Now, go shower and get girly, would you please? Charlie said he’s bringing his best friend with him tonight.”

“No! No set-ups, please! I should still be in therapy from the whole Collins debacle! I can meet men on my own, thank you very much!”

“You can, but you don’t. Besides, this isn’t a set-up. Charlie said his friend’s been really tied up…”

Elizabeth interrupted, “Hmm, tied up could be fun.”

“You, sister dearest, really are sick and wicked! Now, what I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted? Oh yes, Charlie’s friend has been really tied up with work- he travels a lot, I hear- and with some family issues… and since this guy’s his best man, it only makes sense to introduce him to my maid of honor, right?”

Elizabeth gave in. “Yeah, I guess. I hate it when you’re logical.”

“That would be why they pay me those non-existent big bucks.”

“Yeah, but you love it!”

“I do. Now, go take care of that stink! And you may want to burn those clothes.”

Elizabeth grabbed an apple from the basket on the counter, kissed Jane’s cheek and said, “Funny,” before heading down the hall to the bathroom to clean up and get ready for dinner.

~*~

It was while standing just outside of the Bennet sisters’ apartment that Bingley informed Darcy that he was introducing him to his beloved’s sister. Darcy did not take this news well. “No. No set-ups. Not doing it. If I wanted the hassle of a relationship right now, I can assure you that I’d be more than able to meet a woman on my own.”

Hearing voices in the hall, Elizabeth went to answer the door but waited a moment, not wishing to interrupt.

Bingley countered with, “You say that, but you don’t. And this isn’t a set-up. Besides, Elizabeth is more than just Jane’s sister; Lizzy is Jane’s best friend and happens to be the maid of honor. Since you’re my best man, though sometimes how ‘best’ you are is questionable, you ought to meet her before the wedding, shouldn’t you? Anyways, you’ll love Lizzy when you get to know her. She’s a great girl and even more than that she’s…”

Before Bingley could explain that she was gorgeous, witty, brilliant and Pembergy’s newest employee, Darcy broke in with, “Such a great girl that she’s got nothing better to do on a Friday night than hang out with her sister and her sister’s boyfriend. Sounds pretty pathetic to me. Seriously… you really need to stop trying to pair off everyone else in the world. Some of us like, and even prefer, our freedom.”

This is the guy who I bothered to shower and clean up for? Elizabeth for a moment toyed with the idea of running back to her room to put on her grungiest jeans and that old flannel she wore to do yard work at her parent’s house. Yeah, but that would only give weight to his idea of my being ‘pathetic’. Deciding that he and his very decided opinions weren’t worth another moment’s consideration, she opened the door and brightly said, “Oh, I thought I heard voices out here! Charlie, how wonderful it is to see you! Come on in, dinner is just about ready.”

She was about to turn around and lead them into the apartment when she suddenly recognized the man who was standing behind Bingley. Him! Elizabeth thought, The Adonis from the photo! Just my luck…why did he have to be such a prick? Taking the wine bottle from his hand, she said, “Charlie, your friend is welcome too.” Elizabeth then did something highly unusual. She turned her heel to go hide in the kitchen with Jane until the last possible moment so she wouldn’t have to face the handsome-but-arrogant jerk any sooner than necessary.

Bingley smacked his oldest friend in the arm. “You jackass! These doors are paper-thin. I bet she heard everything that you just said.”

Darcy, just wishing the evening to be over, asked, “And why should I care?”

“You should care because not only did you just insult the sister of the woman I love, but you’ve also insulted Pembergy’s new Public Relations guru.”

“A warning would have been nice,” he grumbled.

“Ha! What would be really nice is to not have you but-in like an insolent know-it-all when I was trying to give you said warning. Darcy, you do have a singular talent for saying the worst things at the worst possible times.” Bingley roared with laughter. “And you’ve just, no doubt, royally pissed off the woman that’s been hired to fix things when you do!”

“Glad I can amuse you.”

“I’m sorry, but it is highly amusing.” When Bingley’s laughter subsided a little before he asked, “Can you try to behave for the rest of the evening and not be the grumpy guy from the hall and instead be the good guy that I’ve told Jane all about?”

“Yeah. I can do that.”

“Good. You better.”

“Or what?”

“Or I’ll let slip your new number to my sister.”

“I really hate you sometimes.”

“I know. That’s what friends are for.”

I hope you enjoyed the preview of my 2011 NaNoWriMo story. Thanks for reading! 

~Home~

Creative Commons License
Walk With Me by Jennifer Hickling aka michchick is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.


Well, here’s another installment of the saga that is OoR. Thanks for your never-ending patience! It is most appreciated. Thanks to the gaggle of Georgia Girls that poked and prodded this last week! This one (or at least the timeliness of it) is for you! (all mistakes are mine)

*Chapter Sixty-Nine*

Liz made a thorough inspection of Will’s bedroom and quickly formed the opinion that the penthouse was colder and less homey than a doctor’s exam room. Well, it’s pretty obvious no one has actually ever lived here! This room looks like it came straight out of a catalog or something.

Opening the closet, she found Will’s clothes all on identical hangers spaced the precise same distance apart. A little anal-retentive, are we? Wow. He must have freaked out at the untidiness in my closet. She couldn’t help herself. As Liz began to unpack, she interspersed her clothes with his, making sure to mess up the neat order everything had been in.

Will didn’t have many things in the bureau. The few things there were had been stored very orderly in the top drawer. Okay… maybe it’s not anal-retentiveness. Perhaps he’s OCD? Liz unfolded a few pairs of Will’s boxers and unpaired a few socks, just to see what his reaction would be. Once she felt Will’s things were sufficiently disturbed, she placed her own belongings in the second and third drawers.

With her clothes tucked away, she searched for anything that might be the least bit personal. There didn’t seem to be anything at all. The knickknacks that sat about the room didn’t seem to be mementos; instead they appeared to be objects d’art strategically placed to give every appearance of sophistication and elegance. Nothing seemed right. Feeling frustrated, Liz threw her bags on the floor of the closet and shut the door. With a sigh she left the bedroom to go explore the rest of the place.

The living area was another sterile showplace. Angular, modern furniture in black leather and silver metal dominated the space. Everything screamed modern masculinity and looked perfect. This left Liz feeling even more like she didn’t belong there. No longer keen on exploring anymore, Liz grabbed her things and headed towards the door. Then she noticed another hallway.

Down the hall, there was a guest bath and two additional bedrooms. The first bedroom was painted a pale pink which made Liz smile. This must be Georgiana’s room. The white four-poster bed was adorned with pink and white Laura Ashley-style bedding. Pillows of all sorts- fluffy, overstuffed, tufted- were strewn everywhere, creating a very inviting haven. This room stood apart… everything was soft, everything was feminine.

Atop the bureau, Liz found what she’d unknowingly been looking for. She came closer to examine the many framed photographs that stood sentry in the vacant room. There was a photo of a young couple that was easily identifiable as Will’s parents. George Darcy had been a handsome man, but Liz thought her Will was even more so. Anne Darcy had been a stunning beauty, and it appeared that many of Will’s finer features had come from her. Will’s warm, expressive eyes were a near-copy of his mother’s, as was the dimple he sported when he smiled. As she studied the photo, she realized something. These people were virtual strangers to Georgiana. She had never really known either of her parents, and the thought made Liz sad.

Another picture caught her eye. A very young Will was holding an infant Georgiana at the front of some church on what was obviously her christening day. Will looked gangly in his suit, like he’d not grown into his own skin yet and Georgie was dressed in an ornate, white satin gown. Behind Will stood a man and woman that she took to be his aunt and uncle that he had told her about. Something about them seemed familiar, but she assumed it was because she was looking for a family resemblance to Will. At least he had someone to help bolster him a little bit in those days. Look at him, he’s scarcely more than a boy himself in this picture and he was already essentially a dad. The smile on Will’s face as he held his sister evidenced the immense love and pride he felt for his baby sister and seeing it made the space in Liz’s heart where she often though about her own future ache. Having seen that photo, it was very easy to picture Will holding a child that was their own. What is wrong with me? A month ago, having a baby was the last thing in the world I was thinking of and now… now I can’t believe I’m having these thoughts. Liz said aloud, “Quit being such a girl!”

She was about to take a closer look at the rest of the family photos when her cell phone rang. Seeing it was Denny, she immediately answered. Denny was up for a little shopping too, and so they agreed to meet at the Columbus Circle Shops. Feeling a little guilty for having invaded her sister-to-be’s personal space, she closed the door before heading out for the day.

 

 

On the way to Columbus Circle, Liz wondered if Denny would be hard to find in the crowd. She needn’t have worried. When the cab let Liz out, Denny was hopping up and down waving his arms furiously to get her attention. She waved her acknowledgement and headed over. Denny greeted her with a bear hug that included being lifted from the ground and spun around in circles.

“Denny!” She squealed, “You’re making a spectacle! Put me down!”

He ignored her protests and continued to spin her. “Nope! Not until I get at least five years of hugs in. I have to make up for lost time, you know.”

“Okay, okay,” she said, now feeling queasy from the motion. “Just so you know, if you don’t put me down I can’t be held responsible if I throw up all over your beautiful cashmere coat.”

Denny set her down immediately. He grabbed both her hands, took a long look at her and stomped his foot in excitement. “Lord almighty, girl, look at you! My little Lizard was done that whole changing-chameleon thing and turned into a gorgeous princess.”

She scoffed at the compliment. “I am so not a princess. What I am is freezing. Can we go inside now, or are you not done embarrassing me on the street in front of all the world?”

He threaded her arm through his and they entered the mall. “Oh, honey, you ain’t seen nothing yet!”

They worked their way through the shops, Denny was just starting his Christmas shopping while Liz added a few things here and there to hers. There was no awkwardness. They had always been the sort of friends who picked up immediately where they had left off, with no need for apologies or explanations for time spent apart. Denny shopped for some of his staff and Liz picked out a small token for her grandparents. It was wonderful to discuss her family with someone who understood their dynamic from personal experience. They laughed and enjoyed each other’s company right up until lunchtime.

“Where should we go?” Liz asked. “I’m starving.”

“Well, my darling pet, what are you in the mood for? Shall we dine at Masa? Or perhaps Per Se? No,” he snapped his fingers, “I’ve got it! We’ll gorge ourselves at Landmarc. A little French sounds divine right about now, doesn’t it?”

“We can’t eat there, Denny. You need reservations eons in advance for most of those places. Can’t we just go to Panera or something?”

Denny smiled indulgently, like she was a simpleton that had missed some obvious point. He was driving her nuts with his silence. Finally, she said, “What? Quit giving me that idiotic look of yours.”

“My darling Lizard, there are a few advantages to being me. One is that I get to dine most anywhere, most anytime that I please. And right now, I think I want some heavy French food. Unless you’d prefer some Kobe beef, because then we can totally go to Masa. It’s your call, lady. What shall it be?”

“Crud monkey, those all sound really good. Three days ago I could’ve eaten a whole cow, but today I think French sounds a little better. I’ll pay like crazy for indulging in such rich food, but why not? I mean, it’s not like I eat it every day.”

“Exactly my thoughts, Liz.” Denny scrolled though the directory in his cell until found the number for Landmarc. He called ahead for a table for two under the name Denny Fields. Liz giggled at the way he threw his name around. It was truly amusing.

“Come on then!” He grabbed her hand and started leading the way out of the mall. “Let’s go get us a table. I am dying for some girl talk!”

When they arrived at Landmarc, they were shown to a quiet table for two. Liz smiled when it was obvious that everyone seemed to know who Denny was and gave him top-drawer service. Once they ordered and everyone quit hovering about, Liz decided her dear friend needed a bit of teasing. “Quite the celebrity now, aren’t we, Denny?”

He had the good sense to blush a little. “Oh, it’s not so bad. They like it when I dine here and am spotted. It makes for a nice blurb in the columns and they get the free pub that they wanted and I always get a table whenever I want one. What’s so bad about that?”

“Nothing I guess. Don’t you miss your privacy?”

“Nah. I only show them what I want to show them. Everyone says, ‘oooh, look at Denny, he’s so flamboyant, so out there’ but that’s not the real me. The real me doesn’t sell eighty-two million in accessories like the public me does.” He dramatically placed the back of his hand against his forehead and sighed. “The things we do for fame.”

Liz laughed. “You are such a phony!”

He threw up his hands in defeat. “Guilty!” He shook his head and got serious for a moment. “But really, who wants to buy shoes from a gay man that would rather be home drinking a beer and watching the Bears play than be out clubbing all night, sipping martinis? I’ll tell you who: no one. Playing to people’s assumptions isn’t all bad. I’ve rather learned to enjoy it, for the most part.”

“All I have to say is better you than me! Is this the girl talk you wanted to have, or is there something else you wanted to say?”

“You always have been able to cut to the chase. I miss that, that directness, about you. No, to be honest there was something else. I think I might have finally met someone special.”

Liz enthused, “That’s great!” When Denny remained quiet, she asked, “Okay… tell me the problem.”

 

 

While Liz and Denny were dining on the finest French cuisine on the Upper West Side, Will and Henry were in one of Axiom’s small conference rooms eating Chinese take-out. Actually, in truth Will was eating and Henry was picking away at his rice one kernel at a time.

Will had begun to think of his long-time assistant as somewhat of a friend and it wasn’t like Henry to be so sullen and quiet. He watched as Henry poked his General Tso chicken, moving it around the plate but not eating and decided that enough was enough. “Alright, Reynolds, quit playing about with your food and tell me what your bloody problem is.”

Henry dropped his chopsticks on the plate and regarded Will with what could only be termed as astonishment. “What problem, Sir? There’s no problem.”

“Reynolds, you’ve been with me for… what? Eight, nine years?”

“Twelve,” Henry corrected. “I started while you were still at uni.”

“Really, that long? Fine, for twelve years you’ve worked for me and in that time I don’t recall ever seeing you looking quite so miserable as you have this morning. And, mind you, I have seen you hung-over.”

“It’s nothing, really. Just a wee bit of a personal problem that I let get away from me more than I ought have.”

“Is it anything I might be able to help with? Truly, Reynolds, you look like hell.”

“No, there’s really nothing for it. I wasn’t thinking ahead…”

All sorts of scenarios started to play in Will’s mind of the trouble Henry may have gotten into. “You’ve seemed a bit off for a few days now. Would it help to talk it over?” Where the hell did that come from? Liz is rubbing off on me more than I had imagined. She’d no doubt find this amusing.

Henry was playing with his napkin while he thought over Will’s unexpected offer. “Perhaps it would.”

Will checked his watch. “We have twenty minutes or so before we need to be back. We have time enough now to make a start if you like.”

Henry looked at Will with wonder. “Who are you, and what have you done with William Darcy?”

Before Will could make an answer, he continued, “Truly, I thank you for listening. I don’t know that it’ll help, but I just feel like such a stupid git.”

“Why? What happened?”

“It all began that first night here in the city…”

 

 

Back at Landmarc, Liz was amazed by Denny’s story. “And he just bolted? Without leaving you any way to get in contact with him? What on earth is his problem?”

“I think he must be either married or completely locked in the closet. One minute we’re practically making out on the dance floor like a couple of stupid teenagers and the next he flees out the door like he’s freaking Cinderella at midnight. I have no idea what I did wrong, Liz. I’d really like to know because I swear to you I’ve never really just connected with another guy like that. There was a spark there… I know there was!” Denny took another sip of his wine and sighed. “I just really felt like this could have been something special. Why didn’t he feel it too?”

Liz patted his hand as she shook her head. “I don’t know, sweetie. If he doesn’t get that you’re the fabulous man you are, then he doesn’t deserve you.”

Denny managed a small smile. “I am pretty fabulous, aren’t I?”

“You are The Denny Fields.”

His smile grew bigger. “I am. And if he’s Cinderella in this little drama, then by default that makes me the prince, right?”

Glad her friend was feeling better, she smiled with him. “A prince among common men.”

“Damn right! Now, if only I could figure out what it was I said that sent him scampering off into the night, I might stop making myself crazy.”

Will was trying hard to get to the bottom of Henry’s problem. “So let me get this straight, you met someone, had a wonderful time, they offered to come see you when we return to Boston and this scared you why?”

“Because I’m not ready for that, for a relationship. I have too much going on right now and nothing changes the fact that I don’t live in Boston, I live in London.”

It took considerable patience for Will not to smack Henry in the back of the head for his stupidity. “Reynolds, I mean no offense, but I really must ask: do you consider yourself a simpleton?”

“No, I am most certainly not a simpleton,” he replied in the same haughty tone he often heard Will use. “Why do you ask?”

“I ask because only a man without the brains God gave him would willingly walk away from a chance at true happiness. These things can come about when you least expect them. I’m certainly no expert, but for proof I can only offer the example of me and Elisabeth. It would have been so easy for her to dismiss me as not worth her time when we first met. I was in a foul mood and anything but charming, but she reached out because she saw something beyond my bad temper and decided to risk it, to take a chance. I think you’re a fool if you walk away without seeing if something can come from this, but that’s only my opinion.”

Henry thought over everything Will said. “You make an excellent argument, but there are still a few matters that I don’t think I could get around.”

“For example?”

“Well, for one thing, I don’t think my mum would approve.”

Cynthia Reynolds had, as a young woman, worked for the Darcys and Will knew her fairly well. “Poor excuse. Your mum is a saint and has never disliked anyone in her entire life. I’m sure she’d adore any girl you brought home. Try again.”

Henry, more than anything, was wishing he’d never opened his mouth in the first place. “We come from very different backgrounds.”

“So? I don’t see why that should matter.”

“It just won’t work. That’s really all there is to know. I thank you for listening to me, but I honestly don’t believe there’s any way around the obstacles in this case. In fact, if you don’t have immediate need me once the merger is complete, I would much prefer to just go home.”

“Now you’re just talking complete rubbish, Reynolds. If you refuse to try, I won’t say another word about the matter. As for going home, we have some more work to get through, but I think we can manage to get you to London by next weekend. Would that do?”

Henry began to panic, though he worked very hard not to show it. There would be no way around it. Soon his whole world would crash down around him and maybe it would be better for everyone if he quit now, saving himself and those he cared for a whole lot of unease and embarrassment. Swallowing the lump of fear in his throat, he said, “I suppose so, if you really have need of me, Sir.”

Will tried to encourage him out of his morose mood. “I do. You’re indispensible.”

Henry Reynolds was desperately wishing that he had been a little less reliable when he accepted the compliment and said, “Thank you, Sir. I have always tried to do my best.”

“And for that, it is my turn to thank you. I know I am not the easiest man to work for, but I have always appreciated your loyalty and the way you seem to always know what I need without even asking. I couldn’t ask for a better right-hand man, Reynolds.”

Henry was greatly affected by the freely offered and sincere praise. He closed his eyes for a moment as he mentally cursed himself for having considered, however fleeting the thought had been, leaving Will’s employ. No matter how tough it would be, he would damn the consequences, man-up and face whatever hell would come his way.

Maybe then he would be worthy enough for the chance at happiness he’d walked away from.

 

 

“So,” Liz asked as she dug a fork into her crème brulee, “now that we’ve absolved you of any wrong-doing in the matter and we’re giving your Cinderella the benefit of the doubt, care to dish? What was he like? Why him?”

“Why him? Oh, I don’t know… it just is. He’s fairly average-looking, I suppose, but there’s something about him that really appeals to me. He seems so shy and unsure, but I think it only makes him even cuter. His face is kind and, I swear, that man has the absolute bluest of blue eyes that I have ever seen! I could just spend days and days just looking into them.”

“Sounds pretty nice so far… but how on earth, if your wonder-man is so shy, did you end up playing kissy-face on the dance floor in a public place?”

“Darling, Vlada’s is hardly public. To keep my persona from becoming non-grata, I must put in appearances around town… it doesn’t matter that I’d rather be home on the couch in a Snuggie.”

Liz interrupted, horrified by his confession. “A Snuggie? Oh, Denny, how could you?”

He waved away her disapproval. “They’re wonderfully kitsch. Almost,” he winked at her,everyone I know has one. Anyways, Vlada isn’t like Gym’s or one of those other ‘see and be seen with a boy-toy’ places. And, despite what I said before, we were hardly making a spectacle. I mean, really, Hell’s Kitchen is a whole different scene than Chelsea. The first night, we found a corner and just started talking about nothing… but it all seemed so important. Does that make any sense?”

“It does. You connected.”

“We did. We so connected. He’s got the most amazing accent… oh, I forgot to say! He’s English, just like your man Darcy. He’s oh-so adorable and when he laughs, it curls my toes!”

“Well, if that doesn’t beat all! Dennis Fields, commander of all things fashionable and world-renown man-eater is smitten. Look at you, when you talk about your mystery man you’re practically purring!” Liz laughed. “You are such a smitten kitten!”

Denny grew testy. “I am not a man-eater. You know better than most people that shouldn’t believe everything you read.”

“I didn’t say you were. I was only stating that you are known for being one. There is a difference, you know.”

“Quit it with the semantics already. If I wanted badgering, I’d call Helen.”

Liz grinned. Through their younger days, Denny had always managed to keep Liz on her toes and it was fun to have it the other way for once. “And how is your mom these days?”

“Just as bitchy as ever.” He affected a saccharine-sweet voice to imitate his mother. “‘Denny, when am I going to get grandchildren? You know, just because you’re gay there’s no reason you can’t adopt. Denny, when are you going to find a nice man and settle down?’ Ugh! The harassment never ends.”

“Well, at least your mom loves you and wants only the best for you. My parental people find me nothing more than an inconvenient way to get money. My father doesn’t love me, despite what he says. If he did, he wouldn’t let that shrew he married treat me that way.”

“It’s okay, Liz. You can call her a bitch. If ever anyone ever in the history of the world deserved the name, it’s Fran Bennet! In fact, if I weren’t such a gentleman, there are much worse things I would call her.”

Liz laughed so hard she had to put her coffee down, lest she spill it. “You win. I’ll say it. Francis Bennet is a bitch.”

Perfect!” Denny exclaimed.

“Still, my swearing doesn’t change anything.”

“But you do feel better, right?”

“Yeah,” she giggled, “I suppose I do.”

“Then my work here, dearest, is done.”

Denny spoke a little more about his would-be paramour, including how everything was going so well until he mentioned that he would be leaving the next week to visit his oldest friend Elisabeth in Boston. He asked if she thought it was possible that his Cinderella saw no future because he was leaving so soon or if she thought he was spooked by something else. Liz honestly had no answers and told him so. She felt truly sorry for the pain her friend suffered and secretly thought the man in question was a coward.

Once the luncheon bill was paid, the pair walked to Whole Foods where Denny helped Liz shop for the makings of a romantic dinner. “I’d offer to help you cook it, Lizard dearest, but you know I’ve always made the worst Susie Homemaker. If it couldn’t be made in the Easy-Bake oven, it wasn’t happening.”

“Somehow half-baked flat iron steaks and mostly raw potatoes cooked with a light bulb don’t sound very appealing. I think I’m good to go it alone. Thanks anyways.”

“Picky, picky! And they say I’m a diva.” They exited the store, carrying Liz’s purchases and hailed a cab.

When they pulled up in front of Will’s building, Denny remarked, “Swanky digs. I can’t wait ‘til next week when I see yours.”

Liz hugged her friend. “It’ll be fun. I can’t wait to introduce you to Will.”

Denny started to worry a little. “Does he know about me? That I’m ‘light of loafers’. I don’t want to cause any trouble in paradise.”

“Stop being ridiculous. Yes, he knows all about our oh-so-sordid past and, if anything, he was relieved that you’re gay. Anyways, if it was an issue for him, I would have to re-think everything. But, it isn’t, so I don’t… and all is well.”

“In that case, I can’t wait to meet your tall, dark and handsome.” He kissed her cheek good-bye. “Ta, darling. Let me know how dinner went, and good luck with dear grandpapa!”

“Thanks, Denny, I need all the luck I can get.”

“With your knight-in-shining-business-suit standing by your side? I somehow seriously doubt it. You’ll do just fine, darling, you are the strongest woman I’ve ever known. If I didn’t mention it earlier, I love you. You’ve always been so dear to me and I’m so glad I ran into that crazy woman! Who knows how long it would have been before we made contact again?”

Liz laughed and it felt good. Catching up with Denny lightened her spirit and his affirmations that she was strong enough to face the Gardiners meant more than she could say. “Yes, thank God for Carrie Bingley.”

They said their farewells and Denny climbed back in the cab and drove away, leaving Liz to get ready for the evening ahead. Once Liz let herself back into the penthouse, she immediately set to work preparing the potatoes and setting the steaks up in a marinade. After she put the rest of the groceries away, Liz headed to the master suite to get ready to meet her long-absent grandfather.

 

At three-forty-five, Liz stepped into the atrium of the Axiom building. Taking a deep breath, she checked in at the desk to get her visitor’s pass and then headed up to the fifty-sixth floor main conference room. The receptionist appeared to be expecting her and showed Liz to the waiting area and offered to get her a cup of coffee. Liz thanked the young woman but declined, stating that her nerves were already ramped up enough without the benefit of caffeine. After the receptionist left, Liz continued to mentally prepare for her meeting by remembering that Alton and Elsbeth Gardiner had raised her own wonderful mother and therefore couldn’t be entirely the uncaring people she’d always believed them to be.

When Will came out to check to see if Liz had arrived, he found her seated on a small couch playing with the hem of her skirt. Not wanting to startle her, he cleared his throat to catch her attention. When her eyes met his, she felt safe and instantly relaxed. He held out his hand, she stood and took it, giving it a squeeze that meant she was ready to do this awful thing.

“You look wonderful, Love,” he said before kissing her cheek hello.  “In fact, you look so amazing that I wonder why you dread wearing them so.”

“Because I hate them almost as much as you do. Suits are like business armor. They say ‘take me seriously’. See?” She motioned to her navy blue, well-tailored outfit and added, “I’m dressed for battle.”

He smiled and began to lead her down the hall to where her family was waiting. “I highly doubt there will be any bloodshed, Love. Your grandmother arrived just a short while ago… and I have to say that I like her very well.”

She was surprised, especially given his skeptical attitude about her grandfather. “High praise, indeed! Is there anyone else in there?”

“Not where we’re going, but if you like, we can look in on Reynolds and I could quickly introduce you to Max.”

“I’d like that.”

They knocked on a door which was opened by Henry Reynolds. The darkened areas under his eyes made it obvious he was having trouble sleeping. Liz was about to ask what was wrong with her new friend, but Will had just brought Max over to meet her.

Max had always been a man that Will had looked up to and it greatly pleased him to introduce him to the woman he loved. “Elisabeth Gardiner, this is my head of North American operations, Max Townley. Max Townley, this is my fiancée, Dr. Elisabeth Gardiner.”

Max offered his hand to Liz, who looked at it and shook her head no. Before either Max or Will could say anything, Liz threw her arms around Max and said, “Handshakes are for strangers, family deserves a hug.”

“Am I family, then?” Max asked, as he returned the hug.

Liz smiled. Her first impression of Max was that he was a kind, intelligent man. “Will thinks very highly of you, and I know that you’ve been like a father to him through the years and so, yes, you are family.”

Max liked Liz instantly. He sensed that her outgoing demeanor would be the perfect companion to Will’s reserved manner. “Thank you, that’s very sweet of you. I’ve known Will most of his life and I have to tell you, I have never seen the boy happier than when he talks about you.”

Will reddened. “Yes, well, that’s enough about that. I’d appreciate it if the two of you wouldn’t discuss me as though I weren’t in the room.”

“We weren’t,” Liz said. She took his hand and stood b his side. “I just thought I’d express a little appreciation for someone who’d helped you when, from what I understand, you needed it most.”

Max gently punched Henry’s arm. “This guy was there all along, too. Reynolds helped Will make the transition from school to work and has kept our boy on task ever since.”

Liz looked at Henry with new eyes. She knew that he’d been with Will for quite a while, but hadn’t realized it had been that long. She let go of Will’s hand so she could embrace Henry, who looked very much like he needed a hug anyways. “Thank you, Henry, for taking such good care of Will.”

Despite his great discomfort, he accepted Liz’s hug along with her thanks. “It was no trouble,” he lied. William Darcy had been a very difficult man to work for; he was tireless and exacting, requiring the same sort of perfection from his people. Henry had worked many nights, weekends and holidays over the years, all without complaining or ever receiving thanks. People showing him concern, like Will had done over lunch and Liz was doing now, disconcerted him.

Max patted Will’s shoulder and reminded him there was still a task that needed to be done. “You’re stalling, Will. We’ll have lots to time for socializing later, if that’s what you want, but I think for now you have another set of introductions to make.”

Will nodded and said, “You’re right.” Turning to Liz, he asked, “Are you ready, Love?”

She gripped his hand tightly. “As ready as I’ll ever be.”

Addressing Max, Will said, “If anything should arise, ring me. Other than an emergency, I’m done for the weekend. Thanks, Max, for all your help this week.”

Max shook Will’s hand. “It’s always great to work with you, son.” Embracing Liz, he said, “Dr. Gardiner, it was a pleasure.”

Liz smiled warmly. “It was very good to meet you, too. I look forward to getting to know you better. Maybe next time we’re in New York we can get together.”

“I’d like that. I can’t wait to go home and tell my wife I met the woman who stole Darcy’s heart. I’ll see you guys later. Good luck, Elisabeth, and Will?”

“Yes?” asked Will, impatient.

“She’s a keeper,” Max said as he waved good-bye and left.

Will nodded his agreement. He then turned to Henry, saying, “Reynolds, you’re free until Monday. If you’d like to go back to Boston, just call Wentworth and he’ll take you.”

“I just might do that, Sir. I know you have plans for the weekend and I think I’d like to explore Boston a little on my own. Perhaps even have some famous Boston tea.”

Liz laughed. “Sounds like fun. Make sure you take a tour. They’re pretty cheesy, but really informative.”

Henry nodded. “I’ll make sure to do just that.”

“We must be off. Have a good weekend, Reynolds. See you Monday.”

Henry nodded again, waved good-bye and left.

Once they were alone, Liz expressed her concern for Henry. “Will he be alright, Will? Henry looks whipped, like he’s ready to fall over tired or something.”

“I hope so. He hasn’t been himself these last few days, but I cannot get out of him what the problem is.”

Liz didn’t bother to hide her surprise. “You? You actually asked what was wrong?”

“I did, indeed. You needn’t act so surprised. What can I say? You are a good influence on me.”

“I’m very pleased. Now, can we get this whole meeting my grandpa and grandma thing done? I have plans for us this evening and they don’t include anyone but us.”

He pulled her into an embrace and said, “Hmm, sounds promising.”

“Do we need a signal?” Liz was trying hard to keep her nerves calm. “What if I want to leave or something?”

“Then we leave.” Will kissed her forehead affectionately. “You do not owe these people any explanations for your actions. If you are at anytime uncomfortable, if they upset you or such, just say the word, or give me a look, something… and we’ll leave. Alton well knows that the only thing I care about here is you, and he also knows that I’d do anything to protect you- even from him, should the need arise.”

Liz simply nodded, afraid that if she spoke, she’d talk herself out of meeting this man she knew she needed to face. They left the conference room and as they crossed the hall, Liz refused to use Will as a shield and was the first to enter the room that held her grandparents. How can I go on with my life if I run away from these people like a coward? I can do this… and Will’s by my side. How can anything bad happen if he’s with me?

“Elisa,” said Alton, “I can’t tell you how happy we are that you decided to join us.” He walked towards her and opened his arms, hoping she would accept a hug. “May I?”

Liz shook her head from side to side, but offered her hand as a consolation. “I think it may be a little soon to be all touchy-feely, don’t you?”

Though disappointed she declined an embrace, Alton was pleased to see his granddaughter had a firm handshake; he had expected no less. “I’ve waited twenty-one years to see you, my dear Elisa. I can wait a little more.”

From the corner came a soft call. “Elisa?” Liz turned and saw a tiny woman, so slight it was no wonder she hadn’t noticed her at first glance. Will snapped his head at Liz’s audible gasp upon seeing the woman who appeared to be an exact image of what he supposed Liz would look like at age seventy. He was ready to move, to intervene on her behalf, but then Liz quietly said, “Grandma?” and he knew it wouldn’t be necessary.

“Elisa, how are you my sweet child?” Elsbeth Gardiner rose from her chair and opened her arms, the same as Alton had. The difference was that this time Liz accepted. Embracing her frail grandmother, Liz fought to keep from crying. Elsbeth patted her granddaughter and continued speaking. “I see your young man takes mighty good care of you, but I want to know more. Have you been happy? Have you been content? We’ve been watching from the outside for so long, won’t you please let us in?”

Elsbeth had stepped over the line. Carefully stepping back so as not to hurt her grandmother, Liz said, “And just why was it that you had to watch from the outside? Why didn’t you make contact sooner? I understand it was likely impossible when I was little, but I’ve been, more or less, independent since I was sixteen.” Without waiting for an answer, she rounded on Alton. Wagging her finger at her grandfather, the anger she’d felt at having been abandoned so long ago came forth in a rush. “But you already knew that, didn’t you? Had your little spies checking up on me for years, so I hear. What made you such a coward? Surely, with your network of people you should have been able to at least send me a note on my birthday, a card at Christmas? But you didn’t, did you? You couldn’t be bothered with the trivial things about my life.”

Alton remained quiet while Liz paused in her rant. Will nodded to her, silently asking if she wanted to leave. She shook her head and smiled. She tugged at his sleeve, causing him to bend a little so she could whisper in his ear. “I love you, Sweetheart, but I need to know, to hear from him why. I don’t imagine we’ll be here much longer.” Will kissed her cheek and whispered back, “I’m ready whenever you are, Love. I still say you owe these people nothing… save maybe giving them a chance to explain their actions. I am here for you, Elisabeth, remember that.”

Having the reassurance that Will would always faithfully be there for her gave her the strength she needed to continue her confrontation.  Turning her attention back to her grandfather, she made her accusation. “I know you hate my father, but it sure felt like you hated me, too.”

Alton was shamed by her words and tried to explain, “Elisa…”

“No! Do not call me that. I am not Elisa anymore. I haven’t been the happy little girl that everyone called Elisa for so long… calling me Elisa now would be a lie. I am not Elisa anymore and never will be again. My name is Liz, thank you.”

Properly cowed by her outburst, Alton cautiously asked, “May I call you Elisabeth?”

Liz wanted to keep the name Elisabeth reserved just for Will’s use. “Did you not hear me? No, you may not call me Elisabeth. Damn it, I said my name is Liz!”

Will was surprised by her use of language. It was something Liz simply did not normally do. Just as he was about to intervene, Liz placed her hand on his arm as a warning to remain quiet and let her handle her relatives.

Before Liz could continue, Elsbeth spoke to her husband. “Alton, my dear, I think it would be best if you listened to our granddaughter. You forget she’s had more than her fair share of pushy people always trying to tell her what to do.”

Liz’s head snapped in Elsbeth’s direction. Pleased by unexpected support from her grandmother, she was still a long way from trusting either grandparent. Still, the politeness ingrained from an early age ruled and Liz expressed her gratitude. “Thank you, Mrs. Gardiner. I really have had enough of bullying, in all its forms.”  She asked Alton, “Did you have an answer for me? In case you’ve forgotten, the question was: why are you such a coward?”

Alton swayed on his feet. “El…” He quickly corrected himself. “Liz, I, I…” The color drained from his face and he collapsed to the floor.

Liz cried out “No!” before kneeling beside her grandfather. Will immediately picked up a phone to dial 911 while Liz leaned in so she could check for signs of life. Liz tried to keep her focus on her grandfather, who seemed to have a faint pulse and was breathing shallow. Looking up to her waiting grandmother, Liz shared the good news. “He’s alive, thank God. He’s unresponsive, but he’s alive!”

Elsbeth began to shake, and Will helped to steady her. “He’s had some heart issues before… but he said he was better now. He was perfectly healthy.”

Liz, still kneeling beside her grandfather, looked at his corpulent, unconscious form and seriously doubted he was the picture of health her grandmother thought him to be. Staring at her grandfather, she saw the similarities of features that Will had mentioned. Then it struck her. “What about diabetes? Does he have sugar issues?”

Her grandmother nodded. “I believe he does take a sugar pill every morning. Why? Do you think maybe that’s important?”

Liz gaped at the woman for a moment in disbelief. Could anyone really be this clueless? “Will, can you toss me my bag? I think it’s on the chair by the door.”

Will crossed the room in two strides and grabbed her purse. In a flash, he was on the floor next to her. “Here, Love. What do you need me to do?”

“Right now? Nothing. I’m going to check his sugar. Genetically, I got my diabetic gene from somewhere and my money is that it was dear, old grandpa.”

Will watched with a mixture of fascination and revulsion as Liz wiped Alton’s finger with an alcohol pad and then pricked his finger with a lancet. He winced on Alton’s behalf, since the man seemed to be out cold.

Liz worked her grandfather’s finger until she had a large enough drop of blood to test. She readied a test strip and tested his sugar. A moment later, her meter confirmed her suspicion. “He’s totally crashed out.” Liz held up the meter so Will and Elsbeth could see it. “See?”

Elsbeth began to sob and Will absently handed her a handkerchief, then asked, “What can I do? What do you need?”

Liz never took her eyes off Alton as she gave instructions to Will. “In the bottom of my bag there should be a little white tube of blue gel icing. See if you can find it.”

Will found the tube and handed it to Liz. She unscrewed the cap, but was unable to use it just yet. “Crud monkey! I forgot, I need scissors or something to get this open. Will, can you find something? I may have some clippers or something in my bag.”

“I’ve got it,” Will assured her. There was a credenza at the end of the room fitted out with both refreshments and office supplies. He grabbed a pair of scissors and handed them over to Liz. She sniped off the end of the tube, opened her Alton’s mouth, and squeezed the sugar concoction under his tongue and in the sides of his cheeks. She closed his mouth and sat back to wait.

“Sorry, Grandma,” Liz apologized, “but without knowing anything about his condition aside from his immediate glucose level, this is the best I can do.”

Elsbeth was hardly composed enough to say anything, but nodded and waved Will’s handkerchief in response.

While all was quiet, Will asked, “Why is it blue?”

Liz opened his mouth to see if the icing had dissolved yet. She pointed to the small traces of blue that were sticking to his teeth. “That makes it easier to see if it’s being ingested. See? It’s almost all gone. I’m going to put in a little more and hopefully, he’ll start to snap out of it soon.” She squirted a bit more under his tongue, explaining, “Since this is not a solid, you put it under here and on the sides to keep from choking the person. It dissolves quickly enough. Hard candies and juice are fine if you’re still conscious, but they can be dangerous if you’re out like this.”

Will felt ill. There was still so much he didn’t know or understand about her condition. Would he ever have to perform a similar rescue for Liz? Would he keep calm enough to remember what to do? All of a sudden it felt overwhelming and he began to wonder if he was up to the task.

Alton’s eyes were beginning to flutter open, a signal of returning to consciousness, when the paramedics arrived. Liz explained what she had done and it was decided, in light of the extreme low sugar and prior heart condition, they would take him to the hospital for tests and observation. One of the paramedics went back for a gurney while the other was getting personal information from Elsbeth. When the gurney arrived, the paramedics somehow managed to ease a board under Alton’s rotund form and lift him onto the bed. Once they had him securely strapped up, Liz, Will and Elsbeth followed them downstairs to the ambulance.

Will inquired what hospital they were taking him to while Liz helped settle her grandmother into the back of the vehicle. Elsbeth finally had enough presence of mind to speak. “Thank you, Elisa, for saving his life. I don’t know how to thank you.”

Liz bristled at being called Elisa, but decided this was not the time for corrections. “It’s nothing, really. You take it easy and listen carefully to everything the doctors say. I imagine there needs to be some changes made in his life and he’s going to need your help to make them happen. Can you do that? Can you help him?”

Elsbeth’s eyes went wide. “Does this mean that you aren’t coming with us, Elisa? We need you!”

Will put his arm around Liz’s shoulder, lending her some of his strength. After taking a deep breath, Liz shook her head. “No, we’re not coming just now. He’ll be tired and there’ll be lots of tests and stuff. We’ll just be in the way. We’ll check on you both later… tomorrow morning, maybe.”

Will gave the old woman a reassuring smile. “We’ll visit tomorrow, Mrs. Gardiner. We promise.”

Elsbeth patted Will’s cheek. “You’re a good boy. You take good care of my granddaughter, you hear?”

Touched by her motherly gesture, Will nodded. “I will.”

Liz felt awkward and was uncertain what to do. She felt guilty about not wanting to follow them to the hospital. In an effort to assuage her guilt, she willingly gave her grandmother a hug goodbye. “You take care of him, okay?”

Elsbeth eagerly returned the hug with a strength that was surprising for one so small. “I will. I love you, Elisa.”

The paramedics had Alton secure in the back of the rig and explained it was time to go. Liz was glad for the interruption, for it would be a lie to have said anything other than “goodbye” to her grandmother. It was too early for anything more.

Standing in the cold on the sidewalk in front of the Axiom building, Liz and Will watched the ambulance take the Gardiners away. Will made a call and ordered the car while Liz snuggled into his arms. He held her close and expressed how proud he was of her, saying, “You, my love, are truly amazing. Is there nothing you are not capable of?”

The adrenaline rush she had felt from her anger and her heroics was starting to fade, leaving her slightly lightheaded. “What do you mean?”

“Beautiful, brilliant, bold and brave, that’s my Elisabeth. You, in all likelihood, just saved that man’s life. Love, you are a true heroine.”

Liz shook off the accolade. “I’m nothing special.”

Will kissed her forehead. “Ah-ah-ah,” he warned, “no you don’t. You are not allowed to disparage the woman I love. I say she’s all of those things and so much more and since you’ve told me- more than once, I might add- that I am never wrong, you must take me at my word. It is futile to resist.”

She smiled brightly at that. “Thank you, William.” Liz rewarded him with a kiss of her own. “You’re not so bad yourself.”

“I’m glad to hear it. Now, since we’re scheduled to visit Alton tomorrow, I am wondering what we ought to do with the rest of today? Might you have any suggestions, Love?”

She grinned. “Oh, I don’t have suggestions… tonight I have demands.”

Will laughed. “Hmm. So you know, Love, I rarely give in to demands and am regarded as a tough negotiator.”

The car had arrived. Will opened the door for her and as she got in, she turned as said, “Ah, but you haven’t heard my terms yet. I bet you’ll be plenty satisfied by my proposal.”

She had caught him completely off guard and he blushed hotly. Will closed the car door, grateful for the brisk winter air that helped cool him down. As he entered the car on the other side, all he could think was how grateful he was to call the most magnificent woman in all the world his own.

I know, I know… there was no Drew yet. I’m such a tease! How’d you like Denny? What think you of poor Henry? The Gardiners? Feel free to leave a comment and yell at me if you like. Thanks, as always, for reading!

~Home~

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~more coming soon!

Creative Commons License Out of Reservations by michchick aka Jennifer Hickling is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.


Sorry for the massive delays… life gets byond my control. Sometimes I need some extreme motivation. My DH has given me a deadline to get OoR finished. I’m posting this tonight for Lucy Parker’s birthday. Happy Birthday, Lucy! Thanks for reading OoR and for your encouraging comments.

*Chapter Sixty-Eight*

 

Since Liz seemed to have lost her powers of speech, Will decided to break the silence. He stepped inside, set the bag on the counter and said, “I was just in the neighborhood…”

Overjoyed that he’d flown in all the way from New York, Liz couldn’t stop grinning. “And decided to take up pizza delivery? I guess you weren’t kidding when you said Pemberley was in trouble.”

“It’s nice to have options,” Will answered with a hint of a smile before he kissed her.

“Mmn, so it is.” Liz, afraid to let go, held on to him tightly. “You really are here… right now, in the flesh?”

He leaned in and kissed her again, leaving her in no doubt that he was really there, flesh and all. “I missed you, Love. And you did say to come home…”

Lessening her hold on Will, she wiped a happy tear from her eye. “I did. I’m so happy you’re here!”

“Me too.” He pressed a kiss to her forehead. “Congratulations, Elisabeth. I knew you could do it.”

“Now that you’re here, it finally all seems real.” Suddenly self-conscious, she said, “That sounds silly, right?”

“Not at all. I like knowing that you need me. It’s only fair, since you’ve become so completely necessary to me that I can’t seem to string any coherent thoughts together without you nearby.” He then grinned and added, “Why should I be the only one to suffer?”

She laughed. “Oh? So it’s a misery loves company thing? That explains so much.”

“It does,” Will agreed. “Now, seeing that we have a limited amount of time here, I suggest we eat and then…”

Liz tried to prompt Will’s unfinished thought. “And then?”

Will blushed, embarrassed by his presumption. “And then I thought we might turn in, but you weren’t feeling well before and I don’t know if you’re still unwell…” His eyes searched hers, as if trying to gauge her health. “You know what? It doesn’t matter. That’s not why I came to see you tonight. I’m here because I missed you and wanted to spend time with you, all the rest doesn’t matter.”

“I love you, Will. I beg your pardon, but the rest does matter! I think eating and taking you to bed sounds wonderful.” She began pulling plates and glasses down from the cabinets so they could eat dinner. Will, in an effort to be helpful, gathered together silverware and napkins and joined her at the kitchen table.

As they sat down, a much happier Will said, “All I could think about today was how good it would be to come home to you. What have you done to me?”

She understood. “Nothing more than what you’ve done to me! I never would, in a million years, have imagined that I was the sort of girl who could suddenly stop caring about everything except what her man was doing… yet that’s exactly what’s happened to me! All I could think of the entire time you were gone was whether you were doing alright, eating enough, dressed warmly enough… I have to tell you, it’s kind of frightening!”

“If it helps, everything I did while I was gone I asked myself if it was something of which you’d approve. I very much like that, by the way.”

“What do you like?”

“That I’m ‘your man’.” He reached for her hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. “I like that you worry about me, and want to take care of me. God knows that I feel the same about you. I know I’ve said this before, Love, but we’re quite a pair, are we not?”

“Yes, yes we are,” Liz grinned, basking in Will’s open affection. She noticed he seemed very hungry by the way he was devouring his share of dinner. He was eating so quickly that Liz wondered if he even really tasted his meal and asked, “How’s your food?”

“It’s very good. I think this pizza is perfectly fine.” He took another bite and, after a moment’s thought, added, “I think you may be a bit of a pizza snob.”

Liz laughed. “I freely admit it.”

They shared good conversation as they finished up their dinner. Afterwards they cleared the table; then stood in the hallway awkwardly, as though neither had the first clue what to do.

“Well…” Will finally broke the silence. “Perhaps I ought to clean up a bit. It was a long day, what with the travelling and all.”

Liz considered what he said. “I bet you have a lot of tension from all your negotiations, don’t you?”

Will rubbed his shoulder. “Now that you mention it, I suppose I do.” Remembering their past treatments for tension, he grinned and asked, “What might one do for such a problem?”

Liz stood behind Will and reached up to knead his neck and shoulders. “Oh, I think we can come up with something to relax you. I think we need to start with a long, hot, steamy shower.” She eased his suit jacket off and continued to work his tightened muscles. “If that’s agreeable to you?”

Will groaned and answered. “That depends.”

“On what?”

“On you! I’m only going to find a shower agreeable if you join me.”

Liz smiled, took his hand and led him down the hall where she helped Will have the most agreeable shower of his life.

That evening, as they lay exhausted in bed, Will had an idea. “We didn’t have plans for this weekend, did we?”

“No, none that I know of. Denny is coming Monday afternoon sometime, but we’re free this weekend. Why? What are you thinking?”

“Just that maybe you might want to come along with me in the morning. To New York. If you’d like to, that is.”

“I’d love that! Are you sure I wouldn’t distract you or anything?”

“Love, you are the biggest distraction in the world! However, I think having you near would be better than having you so far away. Besides, I have something that I need to tell you.” He wasn’t sure what to say, and said the only thing he could think of. “I met someone in New York.”

Liz immediately tensed in his arms and he instantly realized he’d chosen the wrong way to begin. “Bloody hell, I’m bollocks at this.” He kissed her cheek and tried again. “Liz, I met your grandfather. Seems he’s the chief shareholder of Axiom and he’s very keen on meeting you. I told him I would tell you everything when I saw you, and, so, now I am. Alton Gardiner said he’d like nothing more in this world than another chance to be your grandfather, but I want you to know that I’ve made him no promises to that end. If you want to meet him and his wife, that’s well and good… but if you want to tell him to go to hell, that’s fine too. I’ll support whatever decision you make.”

Turning so she could prop herself on her elbow, Liz asked hopefully, “Maybe it’s a different Alton Gardiner?”

Amused by her denial, Will tried to make light of the situation. “Certainly. There must be a hundred Alton Gardiners married to Elsbeths that had daughters named Elise who, in turn, had daughters name Elisabeth.”

“Smart aleck,” she quipped as she poked him in the ribs. Will could see her mind racing and he wondered how long it would take her to ask what he knew was coming. “So what happened? Did you ask if he was my grandpa? Does he look like me? Or, I guess I want to know, do I look like him? I mean, it’s not like I really care all that much anyways. I’m just a little curious.”

He smiled at her eagerness. “Of course. I heard Alton’s name and wondered if, indeed, he was one and the same. He had looked familiar somehow before we were introduced, and so yes, one can tell you two are related. However, I decided it was none of my affair and that I would tell you what I’d learned and leave it to you to decide what needs, if anything, be done. Alton, it seems, had other plans. He addressed me after the conference yesterday and he knew who I was.”

Liz interrupted, “Of course he did! His company had asked for this meeting, didn’t they?”

“Love, that’s not what I meant. Yes, he knew I was William Darcy, head of Pemberley; but he also knew I was William Darcy, fiancé of Elisabeth Gardiner.”

She turned pale and sat upright. “But… how could he know that? JJ, Bil and Henry are really the only ones who know! I mean, aside from my father… and he surely wouldn’t tell the Gardiners. Will, tell me… what has he been doing? Has he been spying on me? I need to know, Will!”

Will also sat up, putting a comforting arm around her shoulder in order to pull her close. “He has people, so he says. I have no idea how many, or just how closely they’re watching you, but your man Hill? He’s also on Alton’s payroll.”

“How can that be? What about client confidentiality and all that? He can’t spy on me to my grandpa, can he?”

“I don’t know. I would hope not, but that’s no guarantee that it hasn’t happened. If you don’t mind, I’d like to have my people take a look through your affairs and make sure there are no entanglements that you’re unaware of. As to how he knew about us, I have no idea… he wouldn’t say. What I do know is that he’s had a hand in your investments and has made sure that your money grew and that he tried to make things easier for you.”

She began to panic. “What? How?”

“Remember how you told me that you were surprised by getting that summer internship at the planetarium when you were young? Seems he had a hand in recommending you and his word did the trick.”

Liz felt sick. “What else? What else did he fix?” Her mind whirled at the implications. “Did he help with school? This is terrible…”

“No, he swears he didn’t alter anything that wasn’t already going to happen. He claims he just eased the way for some things. Like making sure your apartments were secure and in good neighborhoods and such. I imagine that was where having your solicitor on his payroll came in handy.”

“I don’t know if I want to meet him… he spied on me! Why? If he wanted to be a part of my life so badly, why didn’t he just come forward instead of stalking me? He’s no better than Thorpe!”

“I don’t believe I would go that far. His excuses for why he never came forward seemed weak, but he swears that if he could have, he and your grandmother would have been a part of your life all along.”

“What were his excuses? Oh! Never mind. I don’t really care… well, you know that’s not entirely true, I shouldn’t care, but I do. What do you think I should do? Should I meet him? If I meet him, would you come with me?”

He kissed her brow. “If I were you, I think I would meet him. Just to let him have his say, for the record, and then go from there. However, whatever you wish to do, or not, is fine by me. And should you choose to meet him, of course I’ll go with you. Liz, I love you. You never have to deal with any of them alone again.”

His words had reassured her and she kissed his cheek in return. “Thank you, Will. You always just know what to say.”

The laugh that erupted from Will was so strong, it shook the bed. “Hardly! I cock things up so often, it amazes me that you haven’t yet thrown me over. I was telling Max, he’s the head of operations here in the States, that the only flaw I can find in you is that you love me.”

Will’s diversion worked. She decided not to think on her estranged family any more for the time being. Liz pinned him down and began to kiss him. “Flaw? Oh, so that’s what we’re calling it now? Well, if the way that I love you is flawed, as you say, then the only thing left is for me to practice some more. After all, they do say that practice makes perfect.”

They practiced some more until they each agreed they were quite proficient.

 

 

In the morning, Liz packed her bag to accompany Will to New York. She primarily chose casual clothes, but made certain to add a dress that would be appropriate for the promised evening out on the town. As she zipped her bag, Liz spoke to Will, “You know, I suppose I really should meet my grandpa, don’t you think? I mean, it’s not like he can really do anything to hurt me. He doesn’t have that kind of power over me. Will you… would you do me a favor and call him for me?”

Will had been sitting in the corner on the ottoman, watching in wonder as Liz had been scurrying about between the loo, her closet and the bed where her suitcase was open. Hearing the uncertainty in her voice, he rose and crossed the room to take her in his arms. “Of course I will. If you like, I’ll make arrangements to meet with him tomorrow. When would you like to see him?”

“In the morning, after all your dealings with him are complete. I think that would be best. You’ll go with me, right?”

“Absolutely.” Indicating the leftover piles of clothes on the bed, he added, “I’ll leave you to this while I go and ring him to set up a time and ring Wentworth to let him know we’ll be off shortly.”

 

Secluded in the backseat of Will’s chauffeured car, Liz began to feel the excitement of being whisked off for a romantic weekend away in the city. Will was reviewing notes for his morning meeting, hoping that he would finish what he termed “the Axiom nonsense” early because he promised he had a few surprises in store. Sitting across from him to give him space to work, Liz stared at Will with open admiration. He’s got to be the most thoughtful man on the planet. He’s always surprising me, doing whatever he can to help me, no matter how uncomfortable it makes him. Maybe I can come up with a surprise or two for him…

Having the distinct feeling he was being watched, Will looked up from his papers to find Liz brilliantly smiling at him. “What a beautiful sight you are. Might I ask what has caused such a grin?”

“I was just thinking about something JJ told me once.”

Curious about the sparkle in her eye, he asked, “Well? What did she say?”

She shook her head and teased, “That’s for me to know, and you to find out.”

He laughed. “My, Dr. Gardiner, what a very mature response! I suppose next you’ll be sticking your tongue out at me?”

“No,” she tried to say seriously. When she failed at trying to appear serious, she laughed, stuck out her tongue and said, “Yes!”

Will put his papers back in the folder and set it aside. “Oh? Is that so?”

Liz ignored his question and instead directed his attention to their location. They were turning onto the road the hanger was on. “Did you see, Sweetheart? We’re here already.”

“So we are,” he acknowledged. Still curious about what set her in such a playful mood, he moved across the car to sit beside her. “I’ll let you play your little game, Liz.” Will kissed her cheek and gently warned her, “But you need to remember to play fair.”

Liz flew out of the car the moment they stopped, calling over her shoulder, “I think this game is definitely in your favor!”

Will watched as she ran to the plane, greeted Wentworth and took the steps as quickly as possible. Wondering what the hurry was, he quickly gave directions to the driver and after conferring for a moment with his captain, he followed Liz. When he arrived in the main cabin, she wasn’t there. He knocked on the forward door and called, “Elisabeth?” There was no answer. He then noticed her coat had been tossed haphazardly in one of the chairs. Will picked it up before it fell to the floor and called again, “Liz?” Then he spied a boot, then another, followed by her socks trailing towards the aft of the cabin. Next he found her sweater and jeans. On the handle to the stateroom was the t-shirt she’d been wearing.

With one armful of Liz’s clothing, Will used his free hand to knock on the door. Liz’s voice sang out, “Who is it?”

Torn between frustration and amusement, Will answered, “Who the bloody hell do you think it is?”

Liz quipped, “Pizza delivery guy?”

“What? A bloody delivery boy? What are you…” Will suddenly stopped. He dropped her clothes in the nearest chair and went to the cabin where he explained to Wentworth that they were to be in no way disturbed until they reached LaGuardia. Returning to the still-closed stateroom door, Will picked up her clothes once more and knocked again. He was ready this time when Liz asked, “Who is it?”

“I have a special delivery here for Miss Gardiner.”

Instead of opening the door like he thought she would, Liz said, “Come on in, I’ve been expecting you.”

Will carefully balanced his load so he could open the door. When he did, he was treated to the sight of Liz comfortably reclined across the double bed in a very pretty lace camisole with matching panties. Will took a deep breath, tossed Liz her clothes and said, “Laundry delivery for Miss Gardiner.”

Surprised by the clothing assault, Liz sat up and pretended to pout. “Hey! Not exactly the reaction I was hoping for.”

Knocking the clothes off the bed and then pressing Liz into the mattress, Will passionately kissed her senseless. When he allowed her a moment to recover, he asked, “Is this more like what you had in mind?”

Barely coherent, Liz nodded, “Uh-huh. But, here you are again, overdressed!” She started to tug at his tie and unbutton his shirt. “These need to come off, pronto!”

Shrugging off his jacket, he let it and the rest of his clothing join hers on the floor. “I think you were right, Love.”

Liz paused her attention to his neck to ask, “Right about what?”

“This game is most definitely in my favor.”

“So it is. Though I feel like we’re cheating a bit.”

He stopped nuzzling her neck to ask, “Cheating? You’re not making any sense, Love. Explain what you mean.”

“Well, it’s about what JJ told me.”

“Sorry, Love, I don’t follow.”

“Charlie wrote this book a while ago called Atlantic Panic where this guy- a real lothario type- gets falsely accused of being a terrorist on a trans-Atlantic flight and then helps take down the actual terrorists, but not before he and his blonde bombshell seatmate join the mile high club.”

“Still not following.”

“That’s because I didn’t get there yet! Have patience! So, my dear Bil likes to do research on his books whenever possible. Back when JJ was still modeling for Carrie, Charlie accompanied her home from Paris on a flight and they, well… let’s just say they’re now members of that particular club. It seems JJ and Charlie had argued over whether such a thing was even possible in such a tiny spot. Apparently, turns out it is.”

“Bloody hell! That’s so much more than I ever wished to know about my friend and your sister.” He buried his head in his pillow. “Wait, you said you felt like we were cheating. I still don’t understand. Cheating on what?”

Liz waved her hand around the stateroom. “I’m pretty sure most inductees into the mile high club don’t have their own flying bedrooms to do it in.” She leaned in close to whisper in his ear. “So, William, the big question is: are you game?”

Just then, they felt the plane begin to move on the tarmac. Will pulled her into his arms and smiled. “With you, my dearest Elisabeth, I’m game for anything.”

Some forty minutes later they touched down at Logan. Only when the plane stopped moving did Captain Wentworth’s voice come over the intercom. “Mr. Darcy, Miss Gardiner, welcome to New York. I trust you found your flight… satisfactory.”

Will had just finished with his tie. “I’m going to bloody kill him, that smart arse!”

Liz smoothed down his lapels and kissed his nose. “You’ll do no such thing and you know it. He’s a good man. It’s not like I left a lot of doubt about what I was up to… plus, you seem to forget this is your private plane! You can do whatever you like in it, including me.”

He pulled her onto his lap and asked. “What happened to the demure girl I met a few weeks ago?”

“Demure? You must be confusing me with some other girl. I’m the girl who dropped her towel because she wanted you so badly. Demented, maybe. But demure? I don’t think so.”

“Ah, yes,” he remembered it all too well. “That was the first of many delightful surprises you’ve given me, my dear, sweet Elisabeth.”

“What on earth are we going to tell our children about how we met?”

Will helped her slip her sweater back on. “The truth?”

“Right. Great example for the next generation… sex immediately and figure out the rest later.”

“Liz, I meant that we fell in love during a snowstorm. I swear to you, I think I loved you from the first. Besides, it wasn’t immediately… I mean, technically, it was the next day, and then only after I had actually met your family and had told you I loved you. See, Love? We weren’t completely rash.”

“Just mostly,” she laughed. “I have never been so impetuous like I have been with you. All the things I always hoped I could be, but never dared, I am with you.”

He was about to protest, say that she was perfect just as she was, but the look of love reflected in her eyes brought him up short. In an instant, he understood; in fact, he felt the same way. Taking her hand, he brushed a kiss across her knuckles and said, “I love you, Liz.”

 

In no time, they were in the car on the way to the apartment and it was Liz’s turn to be amused by Will’s smile. Finally her curiosity won and she inquired, “What is the ever-so-serious William Darcy grinning about?”

“I was thinking about what you said earlier. I like myself better when I’m with you. I don’t have to be concerned with what sort of impression I make, or whether I’m living up to my press, I don’t need to isolate myself away from everything… I can just be who I am. Thank you for that. It’s rather an exhilarating feeling.”

Liz could only imagine what the media would think if they knew what the “real” William Darcy was like. “Are you so very different with your sister?”

“Yes and no. I’ve been the only father figure she’s ever really known. For so long, I was making it up as I went and probably went a little overboard with being protective.”

“Rightly so!” Liz interjected, thinking of the near disaster she’d faced with Wickham.

“That may be, but it still doesn’t change that I am not Georgie’s father. For these last few months, we’ve struck a new balance that’s been more brother-sister than father-daughter and I think she’s all the happier for it. It was hard at first, but not having to be infallible all of the time has been a tremendous relief.”

Liz couldn’t resist. “What? You’re not infallible?”

Will laughed. “Hardly. But I must beg your silence on this matter, as it wouldn’t do for that fact to become widely known.”

Pleased he was able to make light of himself, Liz agreed to his request. “I promise… you have my allegiance. Heaven forbid it should get out that the great and powerful Mr. Darcy has a chink in his armor.”

“Several chinks, actually,” he corrected. “My sister and you.”

Touched, she rewarded him with a kiss for such a sweet answer.

They arrived at Will’s building and Liz took note of the place. Though both condos were housed in exclusive buildings, she couldn’t help but notice that the cold and austere interior of Will’s building was in stark contrast to the warm environment of her own. Will nodded to the doorman and they were, in turn, acknowledged when the man brushed the tip of his hat. As they rode up to his penthouse, Liz forced herself to remember that this was New York and Will was rarely here. Of course he wouldn’t have a friendly relationship with his doorman. She smiled as she thought about Guillermo.

Will had noticed Liz being unusually quiet. He was about to ask if anything was wrong when she smiled. Liz fascinated him and had since the moment she called out his boorish behavior in Chicago. Will loved watching her, the expression of her eyes and the way she looked at him as though he was her favorite thing in the world. The smile she wore now was lovely and the look on her face was wistful, as if she was remembering something. Curious about her thoughts, he asked, “What are you thinking about, Love?”

“Oh, I was just thinking about Guillermo and how he seems to be a pretty unusual character for a doorman.”

“I think he’s terrific, if a little scary. I believe you’ll appreciate Edward, the main doorman in London. He’s been there for nearly thirty years. While he’s nowhere near as loquacious as your Guillermo, Edward is a pleasant enough fellow. I highly suspect you’ll like the staff at Pemberley. Most have them have been with my family for ages. Mrs. Evans, who is a wonder, has been there since I was a boy and she will love you almost as much as I do.”

Hearing Will speak so warmly about his staff and other servants who attend him reassured her, though she couldn’t explain why she had even been worried in the first place. Over and over again, Will had proven that the sum of his worth had nothing to do with his wealth. She was curious about this woman who Will obviously held in high esteem. “Tell me about Mrs. Evans.”

“She’s in charge of everything at Pemberley and, honestly, I don’t know what I would have done without her all these years. I made a lot of mistakes when I was first learning to take over the estate and she was there to gently prod me, all the while encouraging me. She helped me hire the steward, whom I’d be lost without, and she keeps everything very homey for me and Georgie. I can’t even begin to explain what a Godsend she was when Georgie became a teenager. I was ready for Bedlam, but she helped smooth things out between us and I just know that you will love her as well as I do.”

Liz was only half-joking when she said, “This is very high praise, indeed! Should I be jealous?”

The door opened to Darcy’s suite and he motioned for her to exit. He picked up her suitcase and said, “Give me a moment to put this away for you and I’ll be right back to answer you.”

Wondering why he side-stepped her question, she took a seat on the very modern-looking leather sofa to await his return. He was gone only a minute. Will sat on the coffee table so he could directly face her. “Now, I believe the question was if you should be jealous of Mrs. Evans?” The disbelief on his face made her feel ridiculous. “Are you serious, Love? Evelyn- yes, her name is Evelyn Evans- is at least sixty, and very likely more. Her age aside, she’s been nothing but motherly to me for most all my life. What I find worrisome is that I can’t recall anything I have done in the time we’ve been together that might cause you to be jealous, even a little, like this.”

Feeling every bit a fool, Liz blushed with embarrassment as she admitted the truth. “Because you haven’t. I know I’m being absurd… but there are moments when I still can’t believe that you want to be with me. I worry- and yes, I know it’s totally irrational- that I’m going to lose you or that you’re going to change your mind about me.”

Will raised his head, closing his eyes as he pictured strangling the Bennets for the all the years they spent making Elisabeth listen to absurd lies about how unworthy she was of ever being loved like she deserved. When his mind was satisfied with his imaginary revenge, he took a deep breath and looked into the eyes of the woman he’d grown to love beyond anything he’d ever believed was possible. “Love, it seems I’ve been remiss if you don’t yet have a full understanding that I could never, not even remotely, change my mind about you. I don’t just want you, I need you. You are necessary to me; like food, water, or oxygen. Without you, I would simply cease to be.”

She wiped a tear and Will groaned. “Good God, Liz, I hadn’t meant to make you cry. I’m sorry I’m such a bloody idiot and seem to always say the wrong thing.”

Her eyes widened in surprise at his apology, then took his hand and squeezed reassuringly. “Will, these are the good kind of tears and you’re no more an idiot than I am.”

“Still… I didn’t intend to bring you to tears. I only wish for you to be happy.”

Liz rolled her eyes in exasperation. “I take it back. You are an idiot. But, you’re my idiot, and I love you very much.” She tugged on his hand to pull him over to sit beside her on the couch. She gently cupped his cheek and tried to explain what she was feeling. “Sometimes I will cry. Weirdly, you’ll find that most of the time when I cry, I cry because I’m supremely happy. Seems being supremely happy makes me emotional and I cry. There might be, no… there will be times when I get sad. I might get angry. I might get quiet, I might get loud… I might do or say a lot of things. What you need to remember is that above all, no matter what is going on in our lives, I love you. We, you and me, are going to argue and fight and make up and be happy and sad and take everything that life offers us and deal with things as they come… and we’re going to get through anything thrown at us because we’ll be together. I love you, Fitzwilliam George Darcy and I know that we are meant to be. I get that and I promise that I will do my best to not freak out anymore.”

His hand reached up and to catch hers. He then placed their joined hands over his heart. “I love you, and I now understand.” She looked relieved and he couldn’t resist teasing her just a little. “I understand that sometimes you will ramble on incoherently.”

She used the position of her hand on his chest to give him a small shove. “Well, we can’t all number and prioritize things in our brains before we speak. I’m not a Franklin planner for crying out loud.”

Will kissed her cheek and chuckled as he replied, “And that is something for which I am highly thankful.”

Before Liz could make another quick-witted reply, Will’s mobile rang. “It’s Reynolds,” he said by way of apology for needing to answer it. “Morning, Reynolds.”

Liz spoke loud enough to be heard. “Hello, Henry! I’ll see you later.”

“Meet me downstairs in ten, Reynolds.” Will switched off his mobile. “Reynolds gives his warmest salutations. Sadly, it is time for me to go.” He stood up and grabbed his briefcase.  “I must be off now to Axiom. Will you be okay on your own today?”

“Sure. I need to get settled in here. After that, I have a few stops to make before lunch with Denny. What time do you think we’ll meet with my grandfather?”

“If all goes today as planned, then I suspect sometime around four, if it suits you.”

“Four is fine. Have a good meeting, Sweetheart.”

“You have a good day as well, Love.”

They kissed goodbye and then Liz watched as Will walked out the door.

~Home~

~Previous Chapter~

~Next Chapter~

This is still pretty raw. Any glaring errors fall squarely on my shoulders. Next chapter begins a series of confrontations. mwah!ha!ha!

Creative Commons License Out of Reservations by michchick aka Jennifer Hickling is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.


Dedicatedly Medicated

 

Elizabeth Bennet was lying in the backseat and mumbling incoherently. This was a highly unusual circumstance, as the pretty young woman was known for being well-spoken and, in fact, made her living giving speeches and presentations on behalf of the charity foundation she worked for. Today, however, she had just had all four of her wisdom teeth extracted at once, was still numb from the anesthetic and still had cotton stuffed in her mouth. All these inconveniences aside, Elizabeth was desperately trying to say something to her sister Jane, but she was not being understood.

“What’s that sweetie? I’m sorry Lizzy, I just can’t quite understand you,” Jane apologized as she drove her younger sister home from the oral surgeon.

Elizabeth groaned in frustration and decided it was best to just wait until she got home before trying to speak again.

Jane managed to get her still-woozy sister up the flight of stairs to her condo. “I don’t know why you can’t live in a building with an elevator.” Jane then laughed, “You do know that when you eventually move, we’re not hauling your junk down those stairs again? Nope, when the time comes, it’s all being chucked off the balcony.”

Elizabeth was shocked by Jane’s declaration and it showed in the wide-eyed look she shot her elder sister. Spitting out the cotton, she mumbled as best as her numbed lips could, “No!”

This sight drew a laugh from Jane. Elizabeth had always been the one with the ready quips and sharp wit while Jane had always been ready with soothing words of comfort and unceasing optimism. Recent events had tempered some of Jane’s spirit and she’d learned to view the world and it’s inhabitants a bit more critically than before. Jane was now a stronger person than she’d been a year ago. She’d even begun to find humor in teasing others and at the moment was enjoying doing so to her sister.

Jane helped her sister to the couch and smiled. “I can’t believe it! You really believed me!”

Elizabeth laid down and pulled the afghan off the back of the couch. She used one of her hands to try to feel her face. She still felt nothing. Trying not to drool on her pillow, she said as clearly as she could manage, “I didn’t. Not really.”

“Ha! You were never a good liar, Lizzy! I saw the look in your eye… you believed me, if only for a second!”

“Fine… I believed you. You’re not helping! This…” she patted her numb cheek, “is beginning to wear off! I’m supposed to have drugs or something, aren’t I?”

“Yes you are. In fact, I’ll be back very shortly. Was there anything else that you wanted from Walgreen’s?”

Elizabeth shook her head no, and Jane left after giving her assurance that she would be back very soon.

When Jane returned some twenty minutes later, Elizabeth was asleep. Jane, not wishing to disturb her, left a note along with a few goodies and the pills, kissed her forehead and then quietly left.

Sometime later, Elizabeth awoke in pain. She’d been warned. People had told her endless horror stories of how awful it would be to have all four wisdom teeth pulled at once, but Elizabeth had chosen to believe they were just meant to frighten her. Now she knew the stories were all true. Even the time when she was eight and had broken her arm when she’d fallen from a horse hadn’t hurt this bad!

She tried to sit up, but Elizabeth had moved too fast and became nauseous. She swallowed back the bile and, this time moving much slower, made a second, more successful, attempt to sit up. Still hazy, she called out for her sister, “Jane?” No one answered, as Jane had left several hours ago. She yelled a second time, “Jane! Are you still here?”

After a few moments with no reply, Elizabeth sighed as she realized she was on her own. Talking to herself, she said, “Well, Lizzy, I guess you’re on your own. Now where might Jane have left my pills?”

Spying the bag on the table, she grimaced at the thought that she’d have to get up from her comfy couch. She gave herself a mini pep-talk, “You can do this. Baby steps, Lizzy. Stand up, walk slowly, and try not to barf everywhere.”

 She stood and took a moment to gain her bearings. This was almost as bad as that time she, Jane and Charlotte had gotten drunk on that cruise in the Bahamas. Walking while seasick and inebriated was a piece of cake compared to how she felt now! Her progress was slow, but eventually she made it to her kitchen table. She sat down to read the note from Jane.

Lizzy- You poor thing! You were sound asleep when I got back and I didn’t have the heart to wake you! I got your pain pills and a few treats for you. There are Dove bars in the freezer and I got you some Jones Soda which is in the fridge. I know right about now you’d probably much rather have a nice glass of wine, but with these pills you’d really better not! Now, please be a good girl and take your pain pills like a good patient should. Oh! Before I forget, Will called and he’s got the details for Vegas and he said he’d be sending them to you in an e-mail. Three more weeks Lizzy! I just can’t wait! Anyways, I’ll give you a call later sweetie to see how you’re feeling! Remember- don’t make any important decisions for the next few days, the drugs they’ve given you are going to make you a little loopy. Anyways, I’m going home. Charlie and I will aren’t going out tonight and if you need us, just give us a call! I love you Lizzy! Smooches! –Jane

The note made Lizzy smile, which hurt so she stopped. “Ah, Jane! You’re always so good to me.” Elizabeth read the bottle of Tylenol 3 and the pamphlet that came with it. “Oh boy, codeine. What do we have here? Let’s see… ‘What is Tylenol with Codeine #3? Codeine is in a group of drugs called narcotic pain relievers.’ Duh! So glad they take the time to tell me the obvious. What else… oh, this is good, ‘How should I take Tylenol with Codeine #3? Take exactly as prescribed by your doctor. Do not take in larger or smaller amounts or for longer than recommended. Follow the directions on your prescription label. Tell your doctor if the medication seems to stop working,’ Really? Who writes these things? What else… Yay! It can damage my liver, no alcohol, take with food or milk… drink water to avoid constipation?! Good lord! What other side effects does this stuff have? Hmm… ‘Acetaminophen and codeine may impair your thinking or reactions. Be careful if you drive or do anything that requires you to be alert.’ Great. What else… ah, here they are… ‘Call your doctor at once if you have any of these serious side effects: shallow breathing, slow heartbeat; feeling light-headed, fainting, confusion, unusual thoughts or behavior; seizure; easy bruising or bleeding ; nausea, stomach pain, loss of appetite, itching, dark urine, clay-colored stools and jaundice’. Oh my! ‘Less serious side effects include: feeling dizzy or drowsy; mild nausea, vomiting, upset stomach, constipation; headache; blurred vision; dry mouth’.”

Elizabeth considered just going without the pain pills, but the throbbing in her jaw was so painful that worshipping the porcelain gods or suffering cotton-mouth seemed infinitely better than remaining in agony. She grabbed one of the lemon sodas Jane had left and took her two prescribed pills and headed to bed. Her head had barely hit the pillow when she began to drift into dreamland. It was three in the morning when Elizabeth woke next. There had been no noise which disturbed her sleep, nor was she hungry or restless, yet she was agitated. Her dreams had been confusing and wonderful all at the same time.  Lying in bed, trying desperately to get back to her dream, she found she couldn’t.

“Great! This is just what I need. I suppose while I’m up, I ought to make the best of it,” she muttered as she rose from her bed. Elizabeth stopped in front of her dresser mirror and gasped. She lightly rubbed her jawline. “God! I look like a blowfish! At least the pills seem to be working.”

She padded out to the kitchen and took another dose of pain medication, just as prescribed. Afterwards, she grabbed a fresh lemon soda and sat down to her computer to read through her e-mails.

One of the things Elizabeth liked about living alone was that her schedule was her own. No one else would be disturbed if she couldn’t sleep, or care if she slept in or even if she left a towel on the bathroom floor. Of course, Elizabeth’s bathroom was always immaculate, but she liked the idea that she could, if she was so inclined, leave a towel where she liked and certain people who were known for their fastidiousness would never be able to say a thing about it. Another thing she enjoyed was how when she talked to herself, no one was there to bear witness to her inane ramblings.

She opened the latest message from Charlotte. Elizabeth read through the brief note which served to announce her engagement to the most ridiculous man there ever was. “Dear God, no! You can’t marry that loser!” Elizabeth hit reply and wrote a very frank reply that told her oldest friend exactly what she thought about her choice of life partner.

Next, Elizabeth opened up a note from her mom. “Really, Mom? No, Bill Gates is not going to send you any money for spamming everyone you know with junk, chain e-mails.” Elizabeth replied to her mom’s mail, giving a very colorfully worded, in-depth explanation of just how annoying opening a chain e-mail is.

Elizabeth was feeling great and was beginning to wonder what the big deal had been about having her surgery in the first place. “I should have had this done years ago!”

Elizabeth plowed through a few more messages, replying in an uncharacteristically candid fashion to each of them. She e-mailed her boss, a few friends, several of her sisters, Jane’s fiancé Charlie, and even her Pastor, whom, thankfully, she only had nice things to say about.

She had cleared all but one e-mail from her inbox. Elizabeth stared at it, willing it to disappear or go away. Knowing that was absurd and realizing she was being childish, she clicked on the subject line that said ‘Vegas info for J&C’ from ‘FGDarcy’.

Lizzy-

Your sister said you were having your wisdom teeth pulled today. I’m sorry. I imagine that hurts terribly and I hope that you soon feel better.

Anyways, I know that you’ve been busy lately, so I hope that you won’t mind that I’ve taken the liberty of booking a block of rooms for everyone for the wedding. I’ve arranged for what I hope is a nice suite for your sister and Charlie and another ten rooms for everyone else on another floor. As airfare is rather expensive and with all the luggage restrictions from the airlines, I hope you won’t find it too presumptuous, but I’ve arranged for one of my company’s planes to ferry everyone to Nevada. Unless you think this is a bad idea… of course anyone who would like to travel separate is free to do so… but the plane is available all the same. As the rehearsal is scheduled for Friday morning, it’s my suggestion that everyone ought to try to arrive on Thursday so no one feels overly rushed. What do you think? Charlie seems to have no idea about anything, so I’m looking to the only sensible person (as your sister seems as harried as my friend) I know involved in this affair for help!

Charlie tells me that your sister has told him over and over that she trusts him as far as the bachelor party is concerned, yet he’s told me that he gets the distinct impression that she’s greatly concerned. He begs me to ask you to assure Jane that we’ll only be playing golf, which is true. We have an early afternoon tee-time and that’s the reason the rehearsal’s been scheduled so early. Yes, there will be some beer that goes along with the golf, but that really is all. Charlie and Jane have been through too much (yes, I know, much of it was my fault) for me to let him head to the altar hungover. Besides, I’ve endured the wrath of two Bennet sisters now and have no desire to raise the ire of either one ever again! So, you can safely inform your dear sister that, as Best Man, I promise that Charlie will be kept safe from any ‘sin’ in Sin City prior to the wedding. Now, Charlie would be the happiest groom-to-be ever if only I could give him similar reassurances about what you have planned for his ‘angel’.  

Lastly, Charlie had been lamenting that they wouldn’t be able to take a proper honeymoon because of work obligations. I think this is ridiculous. I can easily arrange to have Charlie’s schedule cleared for up to two weeks and was wondering if you think it possible for something similar to be arranged for your sister. If you think your father could spare Jane for that amount of time, I would like to provide them with a proper honeymoon to somewhere. Where do you think would be a romantic place to send them? I honestly have no idea. Knowing your sister as you do, I’m sure you must have some idea where we could send them. Please, I really would like to do something nice for the two of them, especially since I’ve been such a jerk in the past.

Anyways, I’ve droned on too long I think and all I have left to say is that I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Feel better Lizzy.

Yours,

-Fitzwilliam G. Darcy      

 Lizzy immediately wrote the following reply:

My dearest Fitzwilliam-

Have I ever told you that I really, really like your name? I don’t think I have! Well, I do! It’s kinda old-fashioned but it has a strength and masculinity to it that seems to suit you perfectly. Thanks for asking after me and my teeth. It was really sweet of you! They yanked ‘em right out and I feel really great now. I actually don’t think I’ve ever felt better!

Thank you for taking care of the hotel. Are you sure that we need so many rooms? Carrie=1, Lou & Grant=2 (hey, that’s funny! I never noticed that together they make Lou Grant! Get it? Mary Tyler Moore!), mom & dad=3, Char & that idiot of hers=4, my sisters Marnie & Kate=5, that bitch Carrie=6, Lila and that jerk-face are NOT invited, and then all that’s left is Charlie and Jane and me and you. We can easily cut out two rooms if we share. lol! I don’t mean “WE” we, I mean me and Jane and you and Charlie until the wedding and then you see that cuts out two rooms because we shared. Not that “WE” would share a room… because you’d never want to share a room with me after I was such a bitch to you. “ WE”… sharing a room… I wish! But, anyways, I think there are too many rooms anyways and not so many would be needed if we were to share.  

As for the plane, that would be great! I don’t mind you taking any liberties at all! In fact, take all you want! I’m really looking forward to flying away with you! Oh, and everybody else too. Thank you for your very generous offer. You are too kind. So very, very and really kind. I think it’s very fitting that your title for the wedding is ‘Best Man’ because it’s true! You are really and truly the best man there ever was and I am obviously pretty stupid that I didn’t see that before. Anyways, I think that I need to apologize in advance for the antics of my family. Marnie will try to act like she’s not impressed while Kate won’t shut up and will likely flirt outrageously with you and any other men there might be. My mom and dad will also likely be really embarrassing and I’m sorry. In fact, because all of my stupid family will be on the plane, maybe you’ll take another flight to avoid us altogether. I know if I were you, that’s what I’d probably do!

As for a romantic honeymoon… I have no idea what they might like but I’ve always thought that somewhere with white sandy beaches and crystal blue water would be heavenly. It’s actually funny that you asked me what I thought because I was actually dreaming about such a place tonight. I was swimming in the really warm water and then I came to our towels on the beach and then you made some smart remark about my very white legs scaring away all the fish, which was especially funny since we were both very tan from spending so much time on that very beach. So yeah, I think perhaps somewhere warm and sunny would be good to send them. I’ll have dad arrange for Jane to have some time off and you can do the same for Charlie. I think it’s very sweet of you to do this for them and when you decide where you’re going to send them, let me know so I can help out too. I think it’s a great idea and it could be from both of us. “Us” is a weird word, don’t you think? I wonder where the word came from, though I’m sure you probably know because you’re far and away the smartest guy I know. You’re actually the guy who’s the most of most everything! Most smart, most nice, most best dressed, most blue eyes, most best hair, most cutest dimples- I really do like your dimples! most cute butt, most cute everything!

 Anyways… I think that’s everything I needed to say to the very Best Man! (I really mean it- you are!) I hope to see you soon and am looking forward to standing up with you at the altar- for Charlie and Jane, I mean.

See you soon!

Love always,

 -Lizzy Darcy

Elizabeth hit the spell-check button but ignored all the suggested changes. She was confident that she said all she wished to and clicked send without first re-reading any of her letter. Still not yet sleepy, she busied herself by watching cats playing piano on YouTube until her chat icon blinked.

“Who else is suffering from insomnia?” she wondered aloud as she clicked open her chat window.

FGDarcy: Are you alright Lizzy?

“Of course I’m alright! Why would he think I’m not alright?”

lizzy-bennet: Perfectly fine. Why?

FGDarcy: It’s really quite late, and you’re still up…

lizzy-bennet: So are you! I slept a lot today and can’t get back to the dream I was having.

FGDarcy: You remember your dreams?

lizzy-bennet: Yeah. Don’t you?

FGDarcy: Sometimes, but not often enough for my liking.

lizzy-bennet: That’s really too bad. But why are you up?

FGDarcy: Can’t sleep.

lizzy-bennet: Why not?

FGDarcy: Can’t say.

lizzy-bennet: Can’t or won’t?

FGDarcy: Both.

lizzy-bennet: Hmm. You’re such a mystery.

FGDarcy: Glad to hear it. For a moment I feared I was an open book.

lizzy-bennet: You are a strange, strange man Fitzwilliam.

FGDarcy: Were you joking earlier?

lizzy-bennet: Joking? About what? I don’t recall any jokes.

FGDarcy: About my name. You said in your message that you liked it and I couldn’t tell if you were serious or making fun of me. You don’t really like it, do you?

lizzy-bennet: Why would I joke about your name? I love your name! I even love to say your name… Fitzwilliam. I like how saying the ‘z’ tickles my tongue when I say it! In fact, I’m saying it right now! Fitzzzzwilliam!

FGDarcy: Stop it Lizzy!

lizzy-bennet: Stop what? Hey! Did you realize both of our names have ‘z’ in them? Does my name tickle your tongue too?

FGDarcy: You really need to stop it Lizzy!

lizzy-bennet: Stop what Fitzwilliam? What am I doing that’s annoying you now?

FGDarcy: You never annoy me Lizzy, and therein lies the problem!

lizzy-bennet: What problem? I think you’re the one not making sense.

FGDarcy: Probably not. Please Lizzy, I think you need some sleep. You’re obviously not thinking clearly.

lizzy-bennet: I would love to sleep, but in fact I can’t! I think I’m going to go for a drive and get some breakfast at that 24-hr place around the corner.

FGDarcy: NO!! DON’T DO THAT!!

lizzy-bennet: STOP SHOUTING AT ME!

FGDarcy: Sorry! Please, please, please don’t go out. I’m up, I’m wide-awake. If you want something, I’d be happy to go and get it for you.

lizzy-bennet: Really?

FGDarcy: Really. Now, what do you want?

lizzy-bennet: Ham and cheese omelet, hash browns and a Mountain Dew.

FGDarcy: Yes to the omelet and hashbrowns, no to the Dew.

lizzy-bennet: What do you mean no Dew? I want some Dew!

FGDarcy: You need sleep, not a blast of sugar and caffeine! I promise I’ll bring you something that you’ll like. Will you trust me?

lizzy-bennet: Of course I love you!

lizzy-bennet: ***trust

FGDarcy: I knew what you meant. I’ve got my keys and I’m heading out the door now. I’ll be there shortly Lizzy. For the record, I ***trust you too. See you in a few Lizzy. Bye.

-FGDarcy is offline-    

Elizabeth was having another very pleasant, extremely realistic dream. She dreamt she was lying in Darcy’s arms and she was so adept in her visualization that she could feel him, she could even smell him- so real was her dream. Then she felt his breath on her neck and she slowly opened up her eyes to find her dream was, in fact, reality. He was tucked in the corner of her sectional sofa with his legs pointing in the opposite direction of her own. To say that Elizabeth was surprised that he, of all people, should be holding her in such a way would be a gross understatement!

How had he come to be here? More importantly, why had he come here? Obviously, she had invited him. She knew Darcy to be capable of many things, but breaking and entering weren’t amongst his known talents. Elizabeth became more aware of her position. As his arms were wrapped around her waist and shoulders, she found her own were wrapped around his chest. Her head was nestled under his chin, against that said same chest which she found to be very strong. She tried to lift her head, but Darcy’s left hand gently pressed her head back into place while he murmured, “Shh, Lizzy, you need some more sleep.” Elizabeth thought this to be a most sensible idea and since he seemed unwilling to let her go from his arms, she snuggled back into position and was once again sleeping soundly.

The next time she awoke, her mouth was sore again and she was being carefully shifted from her comfortable spot in Darcy’s arms. When he caught her watching him, he smiled and said, “Good morning, sleepyhead. How are you feeling this morning?”

“Good morning to you too, Fi… ah… Will.” Elizabeth couldn’t believe she’d nearly called him by his full name. No one ever called Will Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth found it to be a shame. She thought it had much more character. Anyone at all could be a plain old Will, but only Darcy could pull off a name like Fitzwilliam! Darcy tucked the afghan around Elizabeth’s shoulders and tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear. As he did so, he gently stroked her hair and Elizabeth was pretty certain that if he kept that up such ministrations, she’d have no need for any more pain pills.

As though he could read her mind, Darcy said, “Well Lizzy, I imagine it’s probably well-past time for you to take another pain pill. Excuse me for a moment and I’ll go get that for you.”

Before she could protest, he was gone. Elizabeth thought, ‘Not exactly gone- he’s ten feet away from you! Why, oh, why do I suddenly want to call him Fitzwilliam? What on earth is he doing here anyways, and why is he being so nice? Why does he have to be so nice? If only he could still be a jerk like before, then knowing you can’t have him would be a lot easier. Then again, if he was still a jerk, I wouldn’t really want him then, would I? No, he was never a jerk. That was me. Oh well… at least I got to wake up in his arms at least this once. Why does he have to smell so nice and look so good in the morning? Stop it Lizzy!’

Darcy came back to the couch and sat down next to her on the floor. “One pill as the doctor ordered and a small glass of milk to make sure it doesn’t rot your stomach.”

Elizabeth propped up on one elbow and felt her cheek with the other hand. She was still very puffy and sore. All she could hope was that perhaps the swelling wasn’t as bad as before and that maybe she wasn’t yet bruised. She took the pill and milk, thanking him for both. He returned the glass to the sink and asked if there was anything else he could do for her.

“You’ve already done so much.” She then remembered something Jane said. “Will? Did you have a chance to e-mail about the wedding? Jane said you would send some info.”

Elizabeth watched Darcy’s face change from concern for her to alarm. His voice sounded strange when he asked, “You don’t recall reading any e-mail last night?”

“No, I’m afraid not. Why?”

“I know that you read mine. You replied to it, actually.” Darcy was now pacing back and forth and she was getting dizzy watching him.

She begged him, “Can you please stand still?”  Darcy stopped and Elizabeth said, “Thank you.”

“Lizzy, I think I ought to get going now… but first, I think that you need to check through your e-mail and see who else you might have e-mailed last night.”

Elizabeth threw off her blanket and stood to say good-bye. “Thanks for coming, Will. I really appreciate it.”

Darcy sighed. He’d had his suspicions about her earlier behavior, but he had to know for certain. “You’re welcome Lizzy. I have to ask, you don’t remember much of earlier this morning, do you?”

“No Will, I have to admit that…that I don’t really remember how you came to be here.” Elizabeth turned red and buried her face in her hands in an attempt to hide her complete mortification. “I’m so sorry, Will. Obviously, you have better places to be than here with me. Thanks for coming anyways.”

She looked so sad and forlorn that he could hardly bear it. Darcy stepped closer and lightly traced her swollen jaw. He then gently lifted her chin so she would have to meet his gaze. All the frustration and pent-up longing were clearly evident for her to see. He would lay everything out- his heart, his hopes, his wishes- once more. “Lizzy… do you really not know? There is no better place for me anywhere besides being here with you. But…”

Elizabeth could hardly account for what he was saying. What exactly had happened earlier that morning? “Oh no… what ‘but’? Why does there have to be a ‘but’? Tell me.”

Darcy knew that what he had to say would no doubt hurt her. If there was one thing that Elizabeth prided herself on, it was her ability to always remain in control of any situation. She would not like this, but he chose to hope all would be well. “The ‘but’ is that you’re on some medication that you’re obviously unaccustomed to, and, consequently, you were rather out of your head this morning.”

Her eyes opened wide at the possible implications. “Define ‘out of my head’. Please?”

What could he say? That when he arrived with her breakfast she’d practically thrown herself at him? No. That was a memory he would keep for himself. Should he tell her that she’d been a shameless flirt and had begged him not to leave? No. He would never have left her in such a frenzied state of mind, no matter what. Could he tell her she’d said, both online and in person that she loved him? No. He only wanted to hear those precious words from her when he could be sure that she would actually recall saying them. Finally, he thought of something that would suffice for an explanation. “You IM’d me that saying my name tickles your tongue.”

Elizabeth’s hand flew to her mouth. Was this the reason why when she woke she had to fight the urge to call him Fitzwilliam? She couldn’t believe she’d been so bold! In fact, she flatly tried to deny it, “I did not!”

Darcy had to fight not to smile. “Oh yes, you most certainly did. In fact, you went even further to point out that our names both have the letter ‘z’ in them. You replied to my email about Vegas as well. I think perhaps if you’d like to understand what I mean, you might start with taking a look at your computer.”

Unsure what she should do, she asked, “Will you stay?”

“If that’s what you wish, I’ll stay.”

At that moment, what she wished for most was to have never taken those damn pills! But, since she could not un-take them, Elizabeth said, “Please stay.”

She sat down to her computer and indicated for Darcy to grab a chair as well. “I’m sorry. I’m a very bad host this morning. Would you care for anything? I believe I have some bread… and maybe some eggs. I remember that Jane left some Dove bars.”

“Thank you anyways, but I’m not really hungry. We’ve already had breakfast, Lizzy. You were hungry and I brought over some food from the diner that you were craving.”

 At least one mystery was now solved. “Really? You did that for me. That’s so sweet.”

He waved off her compliment. He didn’t want her gratitude anymore now than he did before. No, he wanted something infinitely more dear to him than her gratitude. “Lizzy, you were stoned on your pills. It was pretty clear you probably shouldn’t be driving.” He picked up the bottle from the table and pointed to one of the warnings. “See? Even the pills agree with me.”

If he was going to play light about their situation, so would she. “Of course they do. Doesn’t everyone always agree with you?”

Darcy looked at her pointedly and said, “No.”

Feeling sheepish, Elizabeth turned to her laptop and tabbed onto her email program. She began to feel a great deal of alarm when she noticed that she’d cleared her entire inbox overnight. What had she done?

“Good lord Will! What on earth was I thinking?”

Assuming the worst, he braced himself and asked, “About what? What’s the problem Lizzy?”

“I told Charlotte she’d be better off being an old maid than marry her windbag sack of sorries. What does that even mean?”

“You mentioned something in your email, but I wasn’t aware your friend had become engaged. Last I recall she was seeing that Collins guy.”

“Yep. That’s him.”

“Somehow ‘windbag sack of sorries’ seems appropriate. I take it you answered several emails?”

“This is worse than having been drunk! I guess I thought I was fine or else I don’t imagine I’d have even attempted such a thing.” She scanned through her outbox, checking out how much damage she’d wrought. “Oh my God! I emailed my Pastor.”

Hiding his amusement behind his hand, Darcy asked, “What did you say?”

“Thankfully, I only told him that I really ought to attend church more and that we need to sing less dull hymns. I seemed to have made a case for playing Stairway to Heaven during a service about avarice.”

“No! You wouldn’t have…” Will protested until the look on her face told him otherwise.

“You can see for yourself if you like. It seems my stupidity knows no bounds. Those pills seemed to have turned off the filter in my brain that says, ‘Hey Lizzy, that would be a bad idea, don’t say that!’”

Hopeful, Darcy asked, “Do you at least personally believe the things you wrote?”

“That’s the thing. I do. These are the thoughts I think, but I still shouldn’t have told my sister that she needs to quit being such a moralizing know-it-all.”

“Marnie?”

“Yeah. I also yelled at my mom, Kate, Lila and I even ripped Charlie a new one for not being man enough to stand up to you in the first place. Seems I doubted his manhood and whether or not he was even a real man at all. I told him he needed to grow a pair.”

“You did? What else did you say?”

 She could hardly tell him that she wrote that Charlie should to look to Fitzwilliam if he wanted to see a fine example of all that a true man is. “Not much. I just threatened him a lot about needing to take good care of my sister.”

Darcy touched her arm to reassure her. “He will. If he doesn’t, I’ll kill him myself. His wishy-washiness has already cost me enough.”

“I stopped blaming you for that a long time ago. Charlie is a grown man. Well, almost-grown anyways. When a man knows what he wants, if others can talk him so easily out of it, he must not have wanted it too much in the first place.”

“But your sister deserved to be treated better than that. I’m sorry.”

“She did, you’re right, but she loves him and you’re forgetting that love can help you overcome almost anything.”

“Do you believe that’s true?” Darcy hopefully asked.

She knew he was looking right at her, but she couldn’t face him, at least not yet. “I don’t know. I sure hope so.”

Darcy wondered how many more e-mails she had to go through. The suspense was killing him. Elizabeth was writing short notes of apology and explanations where she thought they might make a difference. Finally, everything else had been attended to and she could focus on the mess she’d made with Darcy. She opened the message from him first and was touched by the concern he’d expressed and how thoughtful he was towards making the trip out west for the wedding as easy on everyone as possible.

If there had been any lingering doubt in her mind that he was the best of men, with his note it was once and for all forgotten. She stole a quick glance his way, half expecting him to be watching her as he’d done so often before… but he was not. Instead, he was sitting back a little from the table and intently playing with a loose button-hole thread on his oxford. It was taking all the patience he had left to simply sit still and await whatever would happen. He was a bundle of nervous energy and as much as he wanted to get up and pace back-and-forth as was his wont, Darcy knew that would only make her all the more nervous. There was already so much at stake that he decided it would be for the best of he just sat still.

He knew the moment Elizabeth began to read her response to his e-mail. The audible gasp gave her away. Darcy kept pulling the thread and willed himself not to look at her until she said something. At last, she said, “You said we’d been instant messaging?”

His bright blue eyes met her deep brown ones. “Yes. I know on my machine, if I don’t clear the cache, it keeps everything.” Darcy looked down again. “That is, if you were curious.”

She turned her focus back to her browser. The chat window had not been closed after all. Elizabeth read through the messages and wondered if it was possible to actually die from embarrassment. Perhaps she’d been possessed? Had Kate or Lila somehow broken in and impersonated her? No… it had been no one else but Elizabeth. As much as she’d liked to have lain the blame solely with the prescription drugs, she knew she couldn’t do that either. Everything she wrote was true and she, and now Darcy, knew it too.

Elizabeth closed her laptop, signaling to Darcy that she was finished.

Darcy waited for her to say something. She didn’t. Unable to wait any longer, he asked, “How are you?”

She closed her eyes momentarily, trying to think of something clever to say. Nothing came. “I guess I’m as good as anyone can be who just completely humiliated themselves. I’m amazed that you haven’t called the men in the little white coats to come and get me.”

Darcy frowned and crossed his arms. Enough was enough already! Tersely, he asked, “And why exactly would I do that?”

Elizabeth shrugged, “Because I’m nuts?”

“That’s hardly the case, and we both know it. You are a very truthful, sometimes painfully so, person. In fact, it’s one of the first things I loved about you. True, you were decidedly less eloquent than normal, but that’s completely understandable given the circumstances. Your friends, and the people who have put their faith and trust in you, will all understand. And those that don’t? They aren’t worth your time.”

She shook her head in disbelief. “You’re being awfully nice about everything Will.”

What Darcy said next took her by surprise. “No, I’m not.” He reached over and held her hand. “Truthfully, I’m being really very selfish. This feels like my last opportunity and I’m not going to let it go without trying again. Tell me Lizzy, do you really like my name?”

Her heart skipped a beat. She confessed, “Yes. I really do.”

This was it, all or nothing. Darcy tried not to think about the disaster of last time. So much had happened since then. Sometimes, life involves risk. Knowing this, he asked, “And you truly like me as well?”

Elizabeth squeezed his hand and said, “Yes. I really do.”

“And you trust me?”

Her heart was beating very rapidly and, for a moment, she wondered if it was another side effect of the codeine. Elizabeth quickly swept that thought aside when she realized that Darcy had always made her heart beat fast. “Fitzwilliam, yes, I really do trust you. And yes, you needn’t even ask, I really do love you.”

Elizabeth always had found Darcy to be the most handsome man she knew, but the look of sheer happiness which now appeared upon his face only made him more so. Darcy stood and, with a grin, pulled Elizabeth into his arms. “Then if I tell you again that I truly love you, you’re not going to tell me to ‘go to hell’ this time?”

Mortified by her former sentiments, Elizabeth buried her face into his chest. While Darcy very much enjoyed having her safely tucked in his embrace in such a way, he longed to hear her answer and so he gently (ever mindful of her bruises and swelling) lifted her chin so he could see into her face. Blushing from his touch, Elizabeth plucked up her courage to meet his gaze. “No, Fitzwilliam, never again. I love you and I am so sorry for the things I’ve said in the past.”

“A very wise woman, very beautiful too, once told me ‘think of the past only to remember the good’. I think we would both do well to take her advice.”

Elizabeth recalled perfectly that day she’d been spouting that nonsense, mostly to aggravate Darcy and see if she could get him good and angry. He never did. Always the perfect gentleman, he caught her out and said he believed she took great joy in playing devil’s advocate, which she did, of course. It pleased Elizabeth immensely that he remembered their shared conversations the same as she did.

She smiled, knowing full well she was the very wise woman he’d mentioned, and said, “You think I’m beautiful?”

He carefully stroked her cheek. “Beautiful doesn’t even come close. I truly love you, Lizzy, more that I can ever say. But…”

 Elizabeth cried in alarm, “No! No more buts…”

Darcy shook his head and tsk-tsked, “What a shame… yours is lovely.”

A now bright-red Elizabeth exclaimed, “Darcy!”

“What happened to Fitzwilliam?”

“Fitzwilliam is the sweet man who takes care of me and doesn’t frustrate me… Darcy is the teasing man I want to punch in the arm!”And Elizabeth did just that.

Rubbing his bicep, Darcy grinned. “Did you want to hear what I had to say, or should I just go?”

Elizabeth wondered briefly if all women sometimes wished to strangle the men they loved, or was this a unique characteristic exclusive to Darcy? While she knew she likely wouldn’t like what he had to say, she liked even less the thought of him leaving. “Please continue.”

Darcy reclaimed her hand. “As I was saying before, I love you Lizzy, and I’m glad you said you loved me too. But… before we get carried away, I want to know that you have a clear head and know what you’re about. I wouldn’t be able to stand it if you came to regret me.”

“Fitzwilliam Darcy, the only way I’d ever regret you is if you go and walk out of that door before you get it through that thick skull of yours that I love you and I probably always have! I’ve spent the last six months kicking myself for mucking things up so badly. I regret what I said then, not what I said now. I love you, you goofy fool, and, drugs or not, you need to believe me because whether you come back tomorrow, next week or next year, that fact won’t change. I love you Fitzwilliam. Trust me.”

He did trust her and he said so. They shared their first kiss and while many first kisses are magical and full of promise, theirs was not. Indeed, their first kiss was a reflection of their relationship to date, awkward, somewhat painful, but well-meaning nonetheless. Though Darcy was as gentle as he could be, her jaw still ached and the kiss, chaste as it was, still hurt.

Elizabeth rubbed her sore jaw. “I’m sorry, I’m not sure whether I should laugh or cry!”

Darcy pressed a kiss to her forehead. “I promise, in a few days I’ll make it up to you.”

Unable to resist, she teased, “Ah, there it is! That Darcy pride. I was wondering when it might return.”

He held her tight and whispered. “But don’t you see Lizzy? You are my pride now, and my joy. Fault me for it if you must, but don’t deny me it.”

She found she could never deny him anything and as he only did things with her in mind, they were exceedingly happy together.

Darcy and Elizabeth spent all their free time leading up to Jane and Charlie’s wedding together. They paid for and arranged a two-week honeymoon trip to some remote Bahamian island with white sandy beaches and clear, blue water, just as Elizabeth had suggested. Elizabeth had also been correct that ten rooms had been excessive for the needs of the Bingley wedding party alone.

Yet, in the end, all ten rooms were occupied.

As the time drew near to go west for the wedding, Darcy began to make plans of his own. He and Elizabeth had discussed marriage and they knew they would marry, and more likely sooner than later. It had actually been Elizabeth who had proposed this time, teasing Darcy that she was only doing so to save his ego from having to suffer the indignity of asking twice.

Friday the rehearsal went off without a hitch, and everyone seemed to know what they were supposed to do well enough. Then the guys and girls separated to celebrate the bride and groom’s last day of freedom. The men made a poor showing on the green. Darcy fared the best, with a score of 139. Mr. Bennet shot 148, Collins 167 and Bingley, whose idea it had been in the first place, was the worst with a tally of 186. They finished up with a few rounds of beers at the clubhouse with nary a one of the party getting into the tiniest bit of trouble, just as Darcy had promised.

The ladies headed a bit further into the desert for a day of pampering at an exclusive spa where they were treated to heated stone therapies, mud baths, facials and massages, all while sipping on champagne. Rejuvenated, the ladies returned to the hotel completely refreshed and ready for the events of the next day.

On Saturday morning, just as Darcy and Elizabeth were returning from breakfast, Elizabeth poked Darcy in the ribs and asked, “Isn’t that your Aunt and Uncle? Oh, and Brent? I wonder what they could be doing here.”

Darcy suppressed a smile. “Suppose we go find out. Shall we?”

They crossed the lobby and found not only the Fitzwilliams, but Darcy’s sister Georgiana as well.

As Elizabeth hugged the girl who would soon be her sister, she said, “I’m so glad to see you Georgie! What on earth brings all of you to Vegas?”

Georgie was about to answer when she caught sight of her brother standing behind his fiancé, shaking his head vehemently. She’d almost forgotten the surprise! “Uncle Max and Aunt Barb wanted to come and see Barry Manilow… and they didn’t want to leave me under the care of,” she pointed to Brent, “this reprobate, so they brought us along.”

“Gee, Georgie,” Brent quipped, “I’m feeling so loved here!”

Darcy laughed, “You are a reprobate and you are well aware of that fact! All the same, it’s great to see you.” He turned and greeted the rest of his small family, “It’s great to see all of you.”

Uncle Max coughed and said, “Plenty of time for a reunion later! Right now, there’ll be hell to pay if I don’t get something to eat. With all the money you pay to fly these days, you’d think the airlines could afford to give a man a decent meal or at least something edible! We’ll see you two lovebirds later on, after my stomach stops rumbling.”

Darcy’s family headed to the restaurant while Elizabeth tried, unsuccessfully, to pry information out of him. “You didn’t seem all that surprised to see your only living relatives in the whole world here at the very same hotel that we just happen to be staying at on the other side of the country. Is there something you wish to tell me, Fitzwilliam?”

He loved how since the morning they’d come clean about their feelings for one another she’d taken to calling him Fitzwilliam. Darcy had never cared for his name, finding it rather stifling formal and overbearing. Yet somehow it was entirely different when he heard his name like a caress from her lips. He was thinking about how his name had sounded coming from her that morning when they had lingered in bed when his reverie broke because her fist contacted his arm as she sharply said, “Darcy!”

Darcy rubbed his arm and guiltily smiled. “What?”

“Why is your family really here?”

“You heard them. They’ve come for Barry Manilow. It’s very tragic… you see, my aunt suffers greatly from Fanilow Fever.”

Elizabeth rolled her eyes and tried to repress her smile. “Fitzwilliam, be serious! Are you telling me they really came all the way here to see some aged musician sing Copacabana?”   

“Shh! Lizzy, never, ever disparage Barry! His fans get pretty rabid about him… if they heard you, it could start a riot!”

She laughed as they entered the elevator. “Fine! Have your secrets.”

“I’ll never have any secrets from you. My family, if you must know, has come to town to see a wedding.”

“But they barely know Charlie and they’ve never met Jane.”

“True. But they do know us.”

“Us?”

Darcy nodded. “Right. Us. As in you and me… we… us. Together… legally and forever. What do you say, Lizzy? Marry me now, marry me here, marry me today?”

She wanted to say “yes” more than anything, but she couldn’t. She refused to be the one to ruin her sister’s big day by usurping the attention Jane deserved. Her mother would never forgive her! Drawing a deep breath, she prayed he’d understand, “Would tomorrow be too late?”

He crossed his arms and leaned against the elevator handrail. “Yes.”

“Why?” Elizabeth pleaded, “Don’t you understand? I can’t take Jane’s special day away from her… I can’t do that to her!”

Seeing that she was well and truly upset, he pulled her into his arms and stroked her hair in the way he knew always calmed her. “You’re not taking anything away from Jane. In fact, I have it on the very best authority that she’ll be very angry with you if we don’t do this today.”

He wasn’t making any sense to her. “What do you mean by that? What authority are you talking about?”

Just then, the elevator door opened to their floor where Jane was waiting with a garment bag in hand. Jane yelled, “Surprise!”

Elizabeth’s hands flew to her face as happy tears ran down her cheeks. She looked from Jane to Darcy and when they both nodded in response to her unasked question, Elizabeth threw her arms around Darcy and said, “Yes! I’ll marry you now, here, today!”

“Thank God! Now, I’m going to leave you,” he nodded to Jane, “in your sister’s very capable hands and I’ll see you at the chapel in just a little while. I love you, Lizzy.”

Elizabeth replied, “I love you, Fitzwilliam.”

They shared a kiss good-bye before they went their separate ways. Darcy and Bingley had a few last-minute details to go over while Jane explained to her sister just how they had come to share their wedding day.

“So, Darcy was whining.” Jane told her story as she tamed Elizabeth’s hair into a dramatic up-do, “Charlie swears he was whining, that you and he would have to wait months before you could manage to get everyone together and have everything organized to get married. Then Charlie said it was a shame we all couldn’t share the same day. I guess the more they thought about it, the better it sounded. They asked me and, of course, I said ‘yes’. As a bonus, everyone but Mom knows. There’s still time to get some action on just what her reaction’s going to be. Odds are favoring a fainting spell, but I think she’s going to shout about her nerves.”  

“Just how long have we been in Vegas? Listen to you- action and odds, indeed!” Elizabeth could hardly believe her good fortune and had to ask once more, “So, this is all really okay with you?”

“I wouldn’t have this day any other way.” Jane, with a twinkle in her eye, then added, “Besides, if one’s going to practically elope, what better place is there to do it besides Vegas?”

Elizabeth defended their actions. “We’re not eloping… we’re just marrying suddenly.”

“Easy! I didn’t mean to offend you. I have to laugh though, Lizzy, because there’s absolutely nothing sudden about you and Darcy. You two are great together and I know that you’ll be very happy together.”

She fought more happy tears in an attempt to not ruin her makeup. “And I know you and Charlie will be, too.”

That afternoon, in front of all the people who mattered most to them, Jane Bennet married Charles Bingley in the same ceremony that forever joined Elizabeth Bennet to Fitzwilliam Darcy. As time went on, the Bingleys were sickeningly sweet in their shared marital bliss, often making those around them slightly nauseated. Nine months after their tropical honeymoon, they expanded their family when they welcomed their first son into the world. The Bingley’s made excellent, if indulgent, parents and they were proclaimed to be the nicest family anyone could ever imagine.

The Darcys were a slightly different matter. Whenever two passionate, headstrong individuals make a conscious decision to conjoin their lives, there will always be some difficulties to overcome. Things were not always easy between Elizabeth and Darcy, but they knew and remembered that, above all things, they loved (and ***trusted) one another. The Darcys also added to their family and, as different as their opinions varied about many things, they were of one mind when it came to raising children. They spent many happy, wonderful years together as man and wife.

It was obvious to all that Elizabeth loved her husband just as fiercely as he loved her. But on those occasions when he was more Darcy than Fitzwilliam, she often teased him that she had to have been on drugs when she said she loved him. He couldn’t deny it, and they would share a good laugh about their auspicious beginning knowing that their ending would be happy-ever-after.

The End!

 

~Home~ 

 
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Dedicatedly Medicated by michchick aka Jennifer Hickling is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.


*Chapter Sixty-Seven*

Liz had just pulled back into her parking space in her building’s garage when her cell phone rang. Putting her Escape in park, she pulled out her cell from her purse and answered, “Hey, JJ.”

Jane Bingley fired without taking a breath, “Bethy, don’t you ‘hey, JJ’ me! How was it? Did you do well? Of course you did! So, do we get to call you doctor yet?”

“Technically, no. I have not yet been ‘made’ a doctor, but yes, I did very well and I’m getting my doctorate!”

Jane squealed, “Oh, Beth! Congratulations! I am so happy for you! I expect you and that handsome man of yours will go out and celebrate tonight.” There were times, though not very often, that Jane sounded like her mother and this was one of them. Liz smiled and, knowing her step-sister wouldn’t appreciate the comparison, decided to keep this observation to herself.

“I wish.” Liz tried to keep the whine from her voice. “Will’s still in New York. Our celebration will just have to wait until tomorrow night.”

“Well, Friday’s a better night to go out anyways,” Jane offered, positive as always.

“That’s true,” Liz admitted. “Hey, did I tell you who’s coming to visit next week?”

“No. Have you been holding the good gossip from me? And I thought we were friends more than sisters.”

“Oh, please!” Liz laughed. “Save the pathetic whining for someone it might work on like your husband. I, as you well know, am quite immune to your ploys. Now, do you want to hear or not?”

“Of course. Things are so quiet here now with everyone gone. We miss you guys… I’m so sorry our visit didn’t quite go off as we planned.”

“Ah, but it did! Didn’t you and Bil intend for me and Will to fall madly in love? Mission accomplished. The rest is inconsequential. Except for the hunting… I’m still pretty ticked about that.”

“Yes, you two did work out rather well, didn’t you? And you already know Charlie’s sorry.” Jane was pleased that her dearest sister had finally found true love. However, there was still information that had not yet been shared and Jane intended to find out what it was. “So, this visitor? Who is it?”

“Visitor? That’s right, we got side-tracked. Carrie’s little luncheon a few weeks ago with Denny reminded him there were some of us who knew him before he was rich, famous and fabulous. We had a long talk the other day and he’s coming up to Boston for a few days next week.”

“How fun! I bet you guys will have a blast with your reunion. How long has it been?”

“I don’t know, at least seven years anyways. Too long. He’s such a doll and I can’t wait to introduce him to Will.”

Jane laughed. “Do you think they’ll get along alright?”

“They’d better!” was Liz’s reply.

Liz then asked how Jane was feeling and how the baby was doing. Jane gushed as she told how the baby was much more active now and enjoyed telling her sister how Charlie had actually cried when he first felt the baby move. “He tries to act like he’s all manly-man, but he’s actually just a big ball of goo… at least when it comes to the baby.”

“Oh, I don’t know… he’s pretty gooey about you, too. That’s great that Charlie’s excited about his impending fatherhood. I know I can’t wait to be an aunt.”

“And Fitz? What does he think about becoming an uncle?”

“Honestly? We haven’t really discussed it a whole lot. But I’m sure he’s definitely good with it, especially since I know that in the next few years he’d like to become a father.”

“Whoa!” Jane couldn’t hide her surprise. “If I ever had any doubts that you guys weren’t really serious, they’re gone now. You guys really had the kids talk?”

“We’ve touched on it… and he’s ready anytime I am. The ball, so to speak, is firmly in my court. He knows that I’m just starting out with my career and he completely expects me to take a few years to get situated before we go and change everything by having a baby.”

For someone who had a loving, caring man who was letting her make all the decisions, Liz didn’t sound as thrilled as Jane thought she would be. “And how do you feel about that?”

“Will is so wonderful and has been nothing but considerate of my feelings when we discuss the future.”

Jane sighed. Liz never could keep anything secret from her. “Right, and yet I’m sensing a ‘but’ in there. So, Will is rainbows and unicorns and super-sensitive… But…”

But… I’m wondering if it’s really weird that I don’t think I want to wait a few years? I mean, what’s wrong with me, JJ?”

“There’s nothing wrong with you at all, Beth! It’s perfectly normal to start having thoughts about the future when you finally find who you want to spend it with. It’s not like babies were on your brain and went out to find a man… you found a man and then started to think about having children. If you don’t want to wait a few years that’s fine… but Elisabeth, there’s no rush either. You’re plenty young, and Will’s hardly old. The only thing you really need to be concerned about, as far as I know, is your diabetes.”

“You’re right. You’ll have to forgive me, I’m a little bit hormonal or something myself today. God, I miss Will.” She sighed. “How can someone I didn’t even know a month ago have become the most important person in my life so fast? I sound so clingy and pathetic, don’t I?”

“No, you sound like a woman in love,” Jane reassured her. She then giggled to add, “And maybe just a touch pathetic.”

“Gee, thanks.” Liz then caught the time on her car display. “Wow. I’ve been sitting here in my car yakking with you for way too long. I love you JJ, but I ought to get upstairs and eat or Will’s gonna kill me for letting my sugar drop.”

Jane was touched. “He really does look out for you, doesn’t he?”

Liz stated simply, “He loves me.”

“Yes, he sure seems to, and so do me and Charlie. Now go on, go get something to eat and call Will before he climbs the wall worrying about you!”

“Thanks, JJ. Should you talk to the Bennets, you could let them know it went well, you know, only if they care enough to ask. I’ll be sure to tell CC myself.”

“They do love you, Beth. They really do, even if you don’t believe it.”

“I don’t, but thanks anyways. I’m in a good mood, so I’m not going to discuss them with you right now. What I am going to do is really hang up and get going now. I’ll talk to you and Bil later, okay?”

They bid each other one final good-bye and hung up. Liz gathered the last of her folders from school and made her way into the building. There she was greeted by her doorman Guillermo, who was very happy to see her.

The big man came out from around his monitor station to greet her with a fatherly hug. “Miss Gardiner! How’d your big day go? I betcha knocked them stiffs over there dead with your smarts. You’re one heck of a lady, Miss- or is that doctor now? Gardiner. Brains and beauty… you got ‘em both, ma’am, in spades.”

Liz returned the hug and said, “Thank you, Guillermo! You say the absolute sweetest things. It went very well today and, for now, I’m still just plain old Elisabeth Gardiner.” She leaned in to whisper, “But I’ll be Dr. Gardiner very soon.”

“I’m so proud of you, Miss Gardiner! You gotta celebrate this momentous achievement of yours… where’s that fella of yours been at? He oughta be here at a time like ‘dis. I ain’t seen that other funny fella either, nows I think about it.”

“Funny fellow?” When Liz realized what he meant, she laughed. “Oh, you mean Henry? He’s not funny, he’s just British.”

I say he’s funny, but if you say he ain’t, then I’m not gonna argue the matter. So, the question is: where are they?”

“They’re in New York for a business venture. They should both be back tomorrow afternoon sometime. And while I’m thinking about it, I’m to have another guest arrive next week.”

“I’m glad you got friends that are close ta you. It’s too bad yer family gives you such trouble. Just don’t understand what’s their problem.”

“That makes two of us, because I don’t get it either. Anyways, my old friend from Illinois, Denny Fields, is coming to stay with me for a few days next week. Maybe you’ve heard of him?”

Guillermo gave it a moment before he answered honestly, “Can’t say that I have.”

Liza grinned, “Well, I guarantee McKenna has, ask her when you talk to her next. She’ll tell you all about Dennis.”

It had taken a second or two before Guillermo understood Denny was not an odd nickname for Danielle, but was short for Dennis, a man’s name. “So this Denny character is another guy? You’ll have ta pardon me for sayin’ so, but it ain’t right… you havin’ three guys up in your place, with you bein’ a single lady and all.”

His concern, misplaced as it was, touched her. “Now Guillermo, I’m a big girl and I promise you I’ll be just fine. Will’s my fiancé, Henry’s his business associate and Denny is my oldest friend in the world. If it’s my safety you are concerned about, you really needn’t worry.” She tried to think of a way to put it so he would understand. “My friend Denny… he’s a fashion designer. He creates high fashion shoes and accessories.”

“Ah, so he not only makes the loafers, but he wears them extra-light ones. I get ya now. If that’s the case, I won’t worry ‘bout it then… though you may wanna keep an eye on that fella of yours, since from what McKenna tells me, he’s quite the looker.”

“I’m pretty sure Will’s got nothing to worry about either. Thanks, Guillermo, for looking out for me.”

“No problem, Miss Gardiner. Just doin’ my duty, and in your case, it’s nothing but pleasure.”

She gave him another hug before going upstairs to check her sugar and grab a quick bite before calling Will.

 

Will glanced at his watch and wondered for the millionth time if this day was ever going to end. The morning had nearly degenerated into a shouting match between the senior executives of both companies. Axiom was positive they were going to be sold off and disbanded, losing all their company benefits and whatever seniority they possessed. Nothing anyone from Pemberley said seemed to reassure them otherwise and nothing was getting accomplished. Lunch had been a miserable affair. Max had a mountain of concerns that he needed to address with Will. So, because of Max, Will had been unable to speak with Alton to let him know his decision. Then there was Henry. He’d excused himself from lunch, stating he had a prior engagement- something that Will found very hard to believe. If something good didn’t happen soon, his head was going to explode.

Just when Will was about to invent an excuse to leave the meeting for a few minutes, his mobile rang. With a wry smile, Will made his now legitimate excuse and left the conference room to speak to Liz. “Hello, Love. How did it go?”

She could no longer hold in her excitement. Liz bubbled with tangible energy. “Hello, Sweetheart, it went very well! I’m really going to be a doctor!”

Her excitement was catching. “Congratulations, that’s fantastic! I knew you would do it. I love you, Liz.”

“Thanks, Will. I love you, too! I talked to JJ earlier… she and Bil send their love as well.”

“How’s Jane faring these days?”

“She’s doing well. The baby’s pretty active now from what she says. She even said Charlie cried the first time he felt the baby move. JJ also asked if you’d like being an uncle.”

“I’m not surprised about Chip. He’s always wanted kids. I like the idea of being part of a pair with you- Uncle Will and Aunt Liz. Aunt and Uncle Darcy. Sounds pretty good to me. My Cousin John’s kids call me Uncle Will… I’m sure they’ll love having a new aunt to dote on them.”

“How many kids does your cousin have again? I forget.”

“John and Michelle have three- for now. There’s Michael, at six, he’s the oldest. There’s Sarah- two years younger than Mikey and then there’s Roger, who’s merely ten months younger than Sarah. They are such dear children, I’m sure that in no time you’ll love them as much as I do.”

“I’m sure I will. I look forward to meeting all your family, Will. Now, I’ve told you about my day- and before you ask, I ate and my sugar is just fine- it’s your turn to tell me how your day is going.”

“First, you are a lifesaver. Had you not rang me just now, I was about to resort to creating some kind of diversion to escape before I caused someone bodily harm.”

Liz sympathized, “Meeting’s that bad, huh?”

“You have no idea, Love. Second, I don’t know how to articulate to these people in any plainer terms what we’re offering them. It seems that nearly the whole lot of them would rather go down with the ship than take a chance on us rescuing them. Seems they’re afraid we’ll dismantle the whole company, despite our track record to the contrary. These people are terrified of their own shadows at this point, and can’t see a good thing standing right in front of them. Honestly, I have no idea what else I can do. If they can’t come to a decision by lunch tomorrow, I’m taking our offer off the table and flying home to you. Axiom be damned.”

“Home to me, I like the sound of that.”

“Me, too. Third, I’m having the damndest time focusing because someone was making suggestive comments to me this morning and that’s all I’ve been able to think about all day. It’s a good thing we’re already well-off, Love, because I can’t seem to think straight anymore. I fear Pemberley may be in grave danger.”

Liz laughed, which was exactly what Will needed to hear right then. “Nice. Blaming me for your shortcomings, Mr. Darcy? Tsk-tsk. I thought better of you than that. You make me sound quite fatal!”

“No, Love, not fatal. You are necessary… like the air I breathe. The problem, as I see it, is that at present you are frankly too bloody far away from me. Now that you are such a part of me, I can’t be without you. I hope that doesn’t sound too pathetic, but even if it does, it’s the truth.”

“We are quite a pair, my dear William. I said nearly the same thing, down to calling myself pathetic, to JJ not even an hour ago. I’ve never put much stock in that whole idea of someone being your other half… to me, it just seemed like so much nonsense. But now, now I get it and I think it makes sense. What do you think?”

“I agree. Not only are you my other half, you’re my better, make that superior, half. What time can we talk online tonight? This is nice, but if I can’t be there with you, I’d like to still see you.”

“I assume they’re going to try to wine and dine you again tonight?”

“It seems likely… especially since nothing seems to be going right.”

“Then let’s make it a date for nine. If you aren’t back by then, just call me.”

“Better yet, you can ring me. I may need the excuse… one of the shareholders is particularly difficult to dodge.”

“I can do that. I love you, Will… you’ll get this all straightened out, I know it.”

“Thank you for the vote of confidence. Some people just refuse to see what’s best… I can’t make them do anything they don’t want to do.”

“That may be so, but I believe in you.”

“I can’t tell you how much that means to me, except to say that I love you. And I miss you.”

“I miss you, too… if we’re really lucky, perhaps you’ll be home in less than twenty-four hours. Now, go get ‘em, Tiger!”

It was Will’s turn to laugh. “Wait. Isn’t that what Mary Jane always says to Peter Parker?”

“Yep. You’re my superhero, William Darcy. Now, go make this thing happen so you can come home happy.”

“Regardless if it happens or not, coming home to you will always make me happy.”

After another minute or two, they were finally able to say good-bye only because they had a definite appointment for later that evening. Fortified by Liz’s belief in his ability to make things happen, Will walked confidently back into the meeting, demanded everyone’s full attention, then stated for the umpteenth time what Pemberley could do for Axiom. Whether it was his take-charge attitude or just the fact that they’d heard the proposal a million times already, the Axiom people finally were willing to listen. By five, they were half-way through negotiations. They agreed to finish the deal in the morning and all parties walked away feeling much better than the day before.

As Will, Max and Henry were readying to leave, Alton Gardiner asked Will for a moment of his time. Not wanting to be waylaid two nights in a row, he told Max and Henry he’d be there momentarily. When they were left alone in the conference room, Will asked, “Out with it Gardiner, what do you want?”

Alton leaned his large frame on the table to ease his weight off his feet. “Succinct and to the point, I like that. Have you decided what you’re going to tell Elisa?”

“Her name is Liz, or Elisabeth- it is never Elisa. And I intend to tell her everything just as soon as I get back to Boston and we can sit down to discuss matters.”

“I would like, more than anything, a place in my granddaughter’s life and would move heaven and earth to make that happen.”

“Sir, with all due respect, sometimes it’s simply too late for apologies. Whatever Liz decides, I’ll stand by her. As for you, I’m doing my best to save this company… not for you, but for the people who work here and because it’s the right thing to do. As for all your grandiose plans, Liz doesn’t need your help or your money and I would marry her even if she didn’t have one red cent to her name. You have no power over me, old man and I wouldn’t hold much stock in your having any power over Liz either.”

Before Alton could try to rationalize his actions again, Will had another thought. “And as for your boy Hill… his happily employed days are numbered. I’ll make sure Liz has all the legal counsel she needs without having her attorney be your lackey. Are we understood?”

Alton frowned. He didn’t understand why the boy couldn’t see that he only had Elisa’s best interests at heart, the same as Will did. “Yes, Darcy. I don’t think you left any room for misunderstanding.”

“Good. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m having dinner with my people this evening.”

Nodding that he understood he would be given no more time to persuade Will to his side, Alton nodded. The two left the room in silence. Max, Henry and Will stepped into one of the elevators and offered to hold it so Alton could ride down with them, but he declined, saying he had a few phone calls to make. Just before the elevator door shut, Will decided to be nice- an influence from Liz, no doubt- and he casually said to Alton, “Gardiner, Elisabeth finished her last exam today and is about to be awarded her doctorate. Just thought you might like to know.”

Then, the elevator door closed, leaving behind a speechless Alton Gardiner.

Henry had been listening and was thrilled with the news. “Miss Gardiner did it? Please send her my congratulations.”

“She did,” Will said proudly. “Thank you, I’ll be sure and tell her this evening.”

Max was intrigued. “Your fiancé is a doctor? What’s her specialty?”

Will smiled. He knew Max was expecting him to say orthopedics or oncology, something in the medical field. He took great satisfaction is saying, “Physics.”

Max, just as Will suspected, had not expected that. “Indeed? I’m impressed. She sounds too smart for you, Will.” He pointed to his temple, “Are you sure she’s all there?”

Will rolled his eyes as they exited the elevator. “Yes, her faculties are completely intact. She’s brilliant and the only flaw I can find is that she, for some inexplicable reason, loves me. As this character flaw works greatly in my favor, I’m willing to overlook it.”

Max laughed and clapped Will on the shoulder. “That’s my boy.”

Henry interrupted, “Did the two of you need me for anything this evening?”

Will wanted to say yes, especially if it meant keeping Henry out of trouble, but the fact was Henry was a grown man and needed to live his own life and make his own mistakes. “No, I don’t. Max?”

“I think we’re good. In fact, after the change this afternoon- excellent work there, Darcy- I thought I might just go home instead of sitting in on a war council. What say you boss?”

“An evening all to myself, free of Axiom? Sounds perfect.” Will shook Max’s hand. “Until tomorrow, then.”

Max waved good-bye and got into his waiting car.

Will turned to Henry, “Reynolds, can I drop you somewhere, or are you headed back to the flat?”

Henry shook his head. It was plain that Will had a pretty good idea how to use his free time. “I’m good, sir. You have a good night.” He laughed as he watched Will practically dive into the car. “Be sure to pass on my congratulations when you see Miss Gardiner!”

At first, Will was about to deny his plans, but then he realized Henry, having met Liz, would understand. “I will, Reynolds. See you at nine forty-five am, sharp.”

The moment he shut the door, he knocked on the partition and gave the driver his destination. Next, he punched a number on his mobile and the cheery voice of Captain Wentworth answered. “Yes, Mr. Darcy? What can I do for you this evening?”

“You can have my plane ready to leave for Boston in about a half-hour. I find myself free this evening and want to go home. I’ll need to be back tomorrow morning, preferably by eight, eight-thirty at the latest. Will any of that be a problem?”

Frederick had missed this kind of assignment for so long. There was an undeniable freedom in being able to fly here or there on a moment’s notice. “Absolutely not, sir. I look forward to seeing you shortly.”

Will made excellent time to the airport. With only the clothes on his back and his briefcase, Will boarded his Gulfstream where he was greeted by Frederick Wentworth. It was only when he sat down on the jet that Will began to wonder just how sound his plan was. “Tell me, Wentworth, am I completely barmy for flying to Boston just for the night?”

“Pardon my impertinence, sir, but isn’t your fiancé back in Boston?”

“She is.”

“Then no, sir, you’re not barmy at all. We are, all of us, fools in love. You’ll be her hero, sir.” The odd look on Will’s face caused him to stammer, “Not that you aren’t already her hero, sir.”

“What? No, Wentworth… you just reminded me of something that Liz said to me earlier, that’s all. How long until we’re airborne?”

“Just waiting to hear from the tower, sir. I don’t imagine it will be long until they clear us for flight. In fact, if you’ll strap in, I’ll head up front to await word for takeoff.”

Will agreed and within twenty minutes they were in the air. They touched down at Logan just before seven pm. He thanked Wentworth and assured him he was free until the morning. Wentworth informed Will there was a car waiting to take him wherever he wanted. He liked his people to take initiative and could see that the Captain would be a definite asset. “Wentworth, forget the trial period… the job’s yours is you want it.”

“Thank you, Mr. Darcy. I’ll take it.”

“Excellent. I’ll have legal draw up a contract for you when we get to London. See you here at what time in the morning?”

“By seven to seven-fifteen if you wish to be back by eight or so. I’ve already posted flight plans, so we should have no issues in the morning. If that’s all, then allow me to bid you a good night, sir.”

Will nodded and said he’d be there. The moment he got in the car, he couldn’t wait any longer to call Liz. She answered on the first ring. “Hey, you. How’s your meeting going?”

“Dreadfully dull. Absolute bore.” It wasn’t a lie. Any time spent without her seemed dull and boring. “I’m on my own for a moment in a car, though.”

“Aw… poor William! You do know there are worse things than being chauffeured around?”

Will only chuckled in response.

“Have you had dinner yet, at least? Please tell me that you’ve at least eaten something.”

“Not yet, but I intend to in just a few minutes. Have you dined yet tonight?”

“Well, no… I had a late lunch and when I checked my sugar last, I was fine. I’m thinking about ordering a pizza.”

“Really?” An idea began to form in his mind. This would be much better than showing up with flowers. “And where would you order this pizza from?”

“Bostone’s over on Newbury. Why?”

“Just curious.” He rapped on the partition and when the driver lowered it, he repeated what Liz said. “So, going to Bostone’s over on Newbury. I take it its good.”

“It’s decent for Boston pizza. Don’t get me wrong… Bostone’s is good, but being a Chicago girl, I haven’t found anyone who gets deep dish right like we do.”

“Ah, I understand. And what were you thinking of getting? Maybe I’ll get some pizza for dinner, too. Isn’t New York supposed to be famous for its pizza as well?”

“Yeah, but their pizza is different. It’s all about the thin, gigantic slices. In fact, never ask for a piece of pizza in New York. It’s a slice. I wouldn’t want you to cause an international incident.”

“No,” he agreed with a chuckle, “we certainly wouldn’t want that.”

They debated what kinds of toppings were appropriate for pizza and whenever Will disagreed, Liz reminded him how much he’d enjoyed the spinach and feta pizza back in Chicago. After nearly fifteen minutes, Liz had concluded she was going to order an antipasto salad, the famous cheesy bread and the tomato basil traditional pizza, fully intending for there to be leftovers that she would eat for breakfast. Will’s car had just pulled up in front of the restaurant, so he gallantly offered to get off the line so she could place her order. They said their good-byes and Liz reminded him of their date for later, Will insisting that there was no way he could possibly forget.

Will stepped inside and caught one of the young men behind the counter’s attention. “Excuse me, my fiancé is likely placing an order at this very moment and I’d like to amend the order if possible.”

The young man had no idea what to say to such a request. “Uh, I don’t know if we can really do something like that. Our customers are really into their privacy.”

“I understand. Tell you what… if I can give you her exact order, her name and her address, would you allow it then? I’m home early from a business trip and would love to surprise her.”

“Yeah, that might be okay. If, and that’s a big if, you can do it.”

“Fine, her name is Liz Gardiner, she lives at 180 Beacon Street and she should have ordered cheesy bread, a salad- antipasto, I think- and a tomato basil pizza. Please, help me out here… I’ll make it worth your while if you do.”

The young man was impressed. Everything Will had said was exactly right. Now he wondered what was in it for him. “How?”

“A fifty for you, and another fifty for the driver that would have taken the order over. Is that fair?”

The young man grinned. He had no intention of telling the guy with more money than brains that he was the driver who would be up for that order. There was a lot he could do with an extra hundred. “Yeah, that’s fair.”

“Good. Can we change the pizza from the small to the large? And add one of those chicken parmigiana subs?”

“No problem. We’ll have this up for you within fifteen or so.” He cancelled Liz’s order and put in the new, expanded one. He gave the total and Will paid the bill, plus the hundred extra. When the order was ready, Will didn’t want the food to get cold and asked for one of the delivery bags.

The kid grinned, fully expecting another portrait of President Grant to join the other two already in his wallet. “Those cost extra. They ain’t free.”

“No, I suppose not. But since they’re not free, I believe that means they have a price. How much?”

The kid explained, “They cost us forty, but then we gots all the hassle of orderin’ in a new one.”

“Is fifty enough?”

“Perfect!” He then put Will’s order in a delivery hot-bag and wished his new “friend” the best of luck.

Will got back in the car and informed the driver that their final destination of the night would be 180 Beacon Street. They pulled up in front of Liz’s building in less than ten minutes. Will dismissed the driver for the night, but not before arranging a pick-up for the morning. Will, carrying his new hot-bag, used his key card to enter the building without being buzzed in.

As he approached the Doorman’s station, he greeted Guillermo with a friendly hello.

“Well, hello and good evening right back at ya, Mr. Darcy. Boy, is Miss Gardiner gonna be glad ta see you! I suppose she don’t know nothin’ ‘bout you comin’ home early, does she now?”

“No, she does not. I had to come… I’m sure you know it was a big day for her. We’ve got a lot to celebrate tonight. I’m hoping she’ll like her surprise.”

Guillermo’s estimation of Will rose considerably. “I’m sure she will. Ya know what? You’re a little bit of alright after all, Mr. Darcy. I’m here ‘til two this mornin’, should there be anything you or Miss Gardiner need.”

He thanked Guillermo and promised to bear that in mind. As he rode the elevator to Liz’s floor, Will decided to take the burly doorman’s sudden good opinion as a victory of sorts. He had somehow finally shown he was worthy of his Elisabeth. Now, if only he could do the same for the rest of her family, then all would be well. Setting aside thoughts of the Bennets for another day, he exited the elevator and made his way to Liz’s kitchen door, the one marked for deliveries. He could hear he call from within, “I’ll be there in just a second.”

She opened the door and, for a moment, thought her mind was playing tricks on her. Liz closed her eyes and shook her head, hoping to clear away her hallucination. However, when she opened them, a very real Will was standing in her doorway, holding pizza.

~home~

~previous chapter~

~next chapter~

Creative Commons License Out of Reservations by michchick aka Jennifer Hickling is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.


*Chapter Sixty-Six*

Liz was exhausted. She’d been reviewing her notes, making certain she recalled each main point of he listed topics for her upcoming oral defense. She closed the files and vowed not to revisit them until after the exam. Her advisor, she hoped and prayed, was right. After being in school for the last twenty-one years, she either knew the material, or she didn’t. One night of cramming was not going to make a significant difference.

Hoping to kill time until Will called; she’d cleaned the kitchen, made a grocery list, done the dishes and baked muffins for the morning. She yawned and checked the time. It was almost eleven. Will should have been back long before now. She almost called him, but thought better of it. If he was still with the people from Axiom, he wouldn’t appreciate the interruption. Liz flipped through the channels on TV but found nothing to hold her interest. Liz, normally happy with solitude, was finding it completely unsatisfactory now. She missed Will, plain and simple, and would not be happy until he was back with her, where he belonged. With a groan, she threw the remote on the coffee table and said aloud, “Fitzwilliam Darcy, what have you done to me?”

I can be patient. Really, I know I can be. Desperate for distraction, Liz sat at the counter and thumbed through the catalogues that had come in the mail. As Liz flipped through an address label catalogue, she toyed with the idea of ordering some new labels. Dr. Elizabeth Gardiner. Dr. E. Gardiner. She turned the page to find the wedding themed labels and smiled. Mr. and Mrs. William Darcy. Or would that be Mr. and Dr. Darcy? Wait, I think it would be Mr. William and Dr. Elizabeth… that’s too long though. She sighed in frustration. Someone that knew better would help them figure it out later. The next catalogues all promised on their covers to be full of the perfect holiday presents for everyone on her list. She had found her distraction. “Christmas shopping! I can do some Christmas shopping!” Tossing the ads aside, she headed back to her office to shop online.

Liz wasn’t sure what to get Will, or his sister for that matter. She wanted their gifts to be really special, and would wait until something either caught her eye or she learned of something they wanted when she reached London. While ideas for Will would come later, she had lots of ideas for everyone else. She logged in to her Amazon account and within a half-hour, she had completed her shopping for Mimi and LiLi. Mimi was getting a new external hard drive and some other new computer toys and LiLi was getting those expensive new headphones that she had been begging for, along with some new iPod accessories. Though she had already delivered presents for the Bingleys, she couldn’t resist ordering something for JJ. Liz ordered her step-sister a mother’s pendant, and since Charlie had accidentally informed her they were having a daughter, she also ordered some decidedly feminine baby items. As for her father and his wife, she felt an obligation to get them something and purchased them an Omaha steak package, deciding that was enough.

A glance at the bottom corner of her screen informed her it was now well-past midnight. She was growing anxious- part of her was highly annoyed while another was worried. The feeling of dread in the pit of her stomach refused to be ignored. Where the hell is Will? Something’s happened, I know it! She was though waiting. I don’t care if he’s still meeting with the Axiom people, it’s really late and I just need to know he’s alright. He’ll understand, and if he doesn’t, then too bad! Just as she picked up her phone to call Will, it rang, startling her enough to cause her to drop it on the floor. Thankfully, since the carpet was soft and well-padded, no harm was done. She answered it on the third ring, just before it went to voicemail.

“Will! Thank God! Where are you?”

Will, at Alton’s request, had followed Liz’s grandfather back to the Gardiner’s Central Park West apartment to verify the truth of that man’s claims. From what he could tell, it seemed that Alton had been truthful in his claims and Will now had to decide what, if anything, he would do with the information. For the moment, all he was certain of was his headache and that Liz was going to kill him. “I’m just now leaving the Axiom people, Liz. Things were much more complicated that we realized. I’m so sorry, Love. I hadn’t realized it was so late.”

Liz cried, “It’s almost twelve-thirty in the morning!” She couldn’t stop herself from scolding him. “How did you not realize it was this late? Does that new watch of yours not work?”

That last question caused him to chuckle, even though it went against his better judgment.

His humor did nothing for hers, except to incite her anger. “Don’t you laugh at me, William! I’m here, worried sick over you… and you’re out there laughing and having a good time… did you even once consider me?”

He was grateful for the privacy of the elevator as he rode downstairs. “Stop right there! Elisabeth, everything that I am doing right now, I am doing with you as my first, and in this case, only, consideration. Do not think for one second there is anyplace I would rather be or that you have not been constant in my thoughts. When I get back to Boston, which should be Friday, I think, we will have a lot of things to discuss and some important decisions to make.”

Liz was confused. What could she possibly have to do with Will’s business? It didn’t make sense. “You want my input? What do you mean? I’ve told you, I don’t know anything, really, about business. My lawyer Hill takes care of all that for me.”

While going through Alton’s papers, Harold Hill was a name that Will became very familiar with. “I know, Liz; I remember you telling me that. I just think that maybe it’s time we had someone else look through your affairs.” Realizing that might sound like he didn’t trust her, he quickly added, “A third party opinion, just to be on the safe side.”

Hill had worked for Liz since she was eighteen. He had always made sure anything she ever needed was done at once and had done wonders with everything from restraining orders for Thorpe to setting up the fake scholarship for JJ. Hill had been the one dependable adult, albeit a well-paid one, in her turbulent life. “Do you think that’s really necessary?”

Will dissembled. “I don’t think it would hurt.”

“Well, then, I suppose I must bow to your superior knowledge in this. However, don’t think my agreement means you’re off the hook, mister! A really short phone call or even a text saying everything was okay would have been better than the silence I had this evening. Let me remind you, since you seem to have forgotten, that you were in the hospital recently and are supposed to be taking things easy. I’m pretty sure that means not staying out doing God
knows what ‘til all hours of the morning.”

Will exited the elevator. “Truly, Love, I lost track of time. And before you say it, a dozen watches wouldn’t help the matter. I promise to do a better job in the future of remembering to ring if I’m running late. However, from now on, if you ever wish to speak with me, please, just ring… there’s no need to wait on me.”

“But I didn’t want to interrupt your important meeting.”

Elisabeth,” he sighed as he stood on the curb waving to his car. “I love you. Soon, you are to be my wife, and me your husband. Nothing, I repeat nothing, is as important in this world to me as you. You are not an interruption! If anything, you would be my relief in an undoubtedly dreary day.”

Liz instantly felt horrible for having turned into a nagging shrew. She had never before in her life nagged anyone about anything and found she did not like it one bit. “I am so sorry, Sweetheart! I love you, too. Forgive me?”

The driver opened the door, and Will sank into the comfort and warmth of the car. “Of course.” Deciding the conversation had become much too serious, he added, “Besides, I thought this was all well-covered ground, Love. I am a thick-headed idiot that needs constant correction to keep me from being a bastard and so it is your job to keep me on the straight and narrow with constant phone calls reminding me how much you love me and how wonderful I
am.”

For his efforts, Will was rewarded with exactly what he wanted. Liz laughed. “Oh? I didn’t realize I’d forgotten to feed the ego today. I love you Will. Thank you for not freaking out that I turned into a nagging fishwife.”

“I will always be willing to overlook such flaws so long as you are willing to do the same for mine. I know very well that I can be overbearing sometimes.”

“I think I can live with that. I believe we have a bargain. What do you think?”

“I have you, Love, and that’s the best bargain in the entire world.”

They continued to ease their minds with gentle reassurances and tender words of affection until Liz could no longer stay awake. They made a date to Skype over breakfast and bid each other sweet dreams until then.

As Will readied for bed, he vowed that he would do whatever it took to make Liz happy. Bennets, Gardiners and the whole world be damned.

Will was startled awake by his mobile. “Bollocks,” he groused as he fumbled around his sheets looking for the irritating electronic. He found it amid the twisted bedding and was able to answer just ahead of it going to voicemail. The display alerted him it was Henry ringing and so he gruffly stated, “What?”

Henry replied, “Morning, sir. Did you have need of me this morning? To discuss Axiom, I mean.”

The line was quiet long enough for Henry to wonder if Will had fallen back to sleep. “Sir?”

“No… I’ll discuss Gardiner with you later. This morning I have some… personal business to take care of. The next few hours are yours, Reynolds. Just meet me downstairs by nine forty-five and we’ll ride over together.”

A very tired Henry replied, “Excellent, sir. If you’ll excuse me, I’m for bed then. Goodbye.”

The dial tone came before Will could muster a response. Concern for Henry would have to wait, for Will had a date to keep. He rose and stretched, then stood in a cold, bracing shower, one he hoped would prepare him for the long day ahead without his Elisabeth. As he dried off and dressed, his mind drifted to Liz. She’s probably getting dressed after a long, steamy shower… damn! This isn’t helping any. Maybe after we’re married for a while, this need to think of her all the time will lessen and I’ll be able to concentrate on something other than Liz. Images of the times they’d spent together- some playful, some romantic, some tense and some very domestic- flashed through his mind and he concluded that there could be much worse fates than always thinking of his Elisabeth.

As he finished buttoning his cuffs, he stole a glance in the mirror to check that everything appeared alright. He studied his face. Liz had said she liked his face, even called him handsome, but nothing he saw seemed worthy to him of her admiration. His nose was too long and straight. Liz had called it patrician, but Will had always believed patrician was just code for over-bred and stuck-up.  What does she see in me? My eyes are just plain brown, my chin is, well, my jaw is too big and my damn hair just does whatever it wants. Then he remembered. She said my eyes are kind and my jaw is strong. He smiled as he recalled his recent beard and how Liz had called him her big, strong lumberjack. That’s right, you stupid, bloody idiot! She likes your smile, too! Truly, it doesn’t matter that I don’t see anything remarkable in the mirror… Liz does and that’s more than enough for me.

Will booted up his computer and made a cup of coffee as he waited for seven-thirty to come. Sitting down at the table in the kitchen, he sipped and was still trying to decide what, if anything, he should say about Alton Gardiner. Nothing’s certain yet… and I’d hate to unduly cause her pain… but we did say we would always be honest with each other… well, it’s not as thought I was never intending to tell her, just maybe not yet. He was still debating the matter when the welcome ring of an incoming call sounded from his laptop. Setting aside all thoughts of troublesome relations, he eagerly clicked talk.

As the video of Elisabeth popped up on the screen, Will was nearly caught speechless. She appeared the very picture of a professional businesswoman, albeit a business woman suffering from a bundle of nerves. “Good morning, Love. You look beautiful this morning.”

She appeared somewhat relieved. “Really? Thank you, Sweetheart. I wasn’t sure about the suit. I have a black one that would probably be okay…”

“Elisabeth, you look stunning just as you are. There’s no need to change, the grey is fine. You have nothing to worry about, Love. I’m sure you will do great today and when it’s over you’ll laugh about how nervous you are now. You need to relax, Love. They already know how brilliant you are… today you just get to prove it to them once and for all.”

She touched a tissue to the corner of her eye to prevent a tear from falling. “I love you, Will. Thank you for believing in me.” She giggled. “I guess it’s a good thing I went with the waterproof mascara this morning, huh? I am just so anxious and can’t wait to get this done! I just wish you were here with me this morning…”

“So do I, my love, so do I. Now tell me, aside from your nerves about your exam, how are you feeling? Are you feeling better, Love?”

She nodded and smiled. “I am, thank you. Have I told you yet this morning that I love you very much?”

He grinned at the opportunity to tease her out of her anxiety. “Hmm, let me think… have you told me you love me this morning? No, I don’t think so. Not yet anyhow.”

She shook her head and laughed. “Well… it seems I’m a bad fiancée then. So I can get back in your good graces, I will remind you that I love you more than I thought it was ever possible to love someone and I’ll even throw in that you are unbelievably handsome, too. If I didn’t know better, I’d be terrified of you in that suit! Now I know why they call them power suits.”

Will was surprised. This suit was just like every other in his wardrobe. “Truly?”

“When I first met you, you were pretty hot wearing only khakis and an oxford… but wow! That suit just screams virility and power… at least it does on you.”

Will reddened with her compliment, then shook it off and asked, “Wait, did you say you thought I was hot? When was this and why is this the first I’m hearing about it?”

“No!” Liz laughed. “No feeding the ego this morning! I promise, I’ll feed the ego plenty when you get home tomorrow!”

They teased and encouraged each other until it was nearly time for Liz to leave. Her stomach was in knots and she hadn’t eaten much for breakfast. Will made her promise to keep an especially close eye on her sugar because he had learned that emotions could affect her glucose and without food it would be even more affected. She promised that the moment her exam was over, she would eat plenty. Liz also noted that Will wasn’t having anything but coffee and
chided him for it. He explained that he never ate much before a big acquisition and Liz didn’t let him get away with that flimsy excuse anymore than he had let her. She made him swear that he and Henry would eat well.

“Speaking of Reynolds…” Will mused. “He sounded a little odd this morning.”

“Odd how?” Elizabeth asked with concern.

“I don’t know if odd was the right word. He sounded, well, I guess I would say really exhausted.”

“Did he go out with you and the Axiom people last night? After what happened when we took him out before, maybe that’s it.”

“If he did go out on the town, it wasn’t with me. Maybe the allure of the Big Apple was just too much for Reynolds.”

Liz laughed. “Seduced by the bright lights in the big city?”

“Something like that.”

“You should have a talk to him at lunch. Find out what’s going on with him. Show him you’re concerned for his well-being.”

Will found that idea ludicrous and had no qualms letting her know that. “Elisabeth, just what is it you think men talk of when we’re alone? I’m hardly about to ask my assistant to spill out the details of his personal life to me over sandwiches! After all, his private life should be just that: private!”

“Fine, I suppose you’re right. But will you at least promise to ask him if there’s anything wrong? If Henry’s acting odd enough for you to have noticed, then something really might be wrong.”

“I think there’s an insult somewhere in there, but since what you say is undoubtedly true, I think I can ignore it this time. Since you are definitely the wiser of us, and can therefore be assumed to know what is best, I promise to ask Reynolds if anything is amiss. However, if he says no, that’s the end of it… I refuse to meddle! Ask anything of me but that.”

Liz raised her eyebrow and gave him that mischievous look he’d come to adore. “Anything?”

Wrinkling his brow, he pretended to change his mind. “Perhaps I misspoke…”

She wagged a finger at the camera, and Will wished he were there in person. “Not so fast, Mr. Darcy. It was my understanding that you could be taken at your word. Is this not true?”

“I am nothing if not a man of my word.”

“Excellent! Just what I hoped to hear. Since that’s the case, I believe I may have to start a list of the things I would like to ask of you…”

Will groaned. “You, Love, are making it very difficult for me to concentrate. How am I to think of assets and strategic takeovers when you are tempting me so? Just what sort of things will be on this list?”

She taunted him, “That is for me to know and you to find out!”

“You, madam, do not play fair!”

Liz laughed. “I never claimed to!”

They kept talking and teasing each other until the alarm on Will’s watch alerted him it was time to head downstairs. “See?” He pointed to the new Cartier watch. “This bloody thing is finally worth something.”

Remembering the wonderful evening he bought it, Liz grinned. “You are the very best of men and I love you. Go on, have a great day and slay the evil dragons like the good knight that you are.”

“Thank you, Love. You also have a wonderful day. Knock them dead with your brilliance and show them there’s nothing that you can’t do.”

They each then said goodbye and logged off so Liz could leave for her last exam at MIT. Will put his laptop in his bag, put the bag on his shoulder and made his way to the lobby of the building where he found a bleary-eyed Henry waiting for him. One look at Henry was all it took for Will to know that something was indeed wrong.

Henry nodded to his boss. “Good morning, sir. I trust Miss Bennet is well?”

“She is remarkably so, thank you for asking and good morning to you, too.” Will shook his head. “Or is it? Pardon me for saying so, Reynolds, but you look like hell. Was it just a rough night, or is there something wrong?”

Henry was horrified. He knew he hadn’t looked his best this morning, but surely he didn’t look that bad, did he? “I’m fine, sir. After dinner last night, I went to a club that was recommended by a friend of mine and I was out much later than I had intended. It was very unprofessional of me… and I promise that I won’t do it again.”

“No, Reynolds, your life is your own. You need not make me any promises of that sort.” Will took another look at the man who had been his right hand for so long. It was shocking just how little he knew about Reynolds.

Once they were in the car, Will asked, “So, did you at least have fun last night?”

Henry blushed until he was the same shade of maroon as the tie he wore. “Yes, I must confess I did.”

Will smiled. This he could do. He could do guy talk. “Did you meet anyone?”

Henry’s eyes went wide and he wondered if there was a stamp on his forehead or something that said ‘ask me about last night’. Realizing that his boss wasn’t trying to be intrusive, but simply being polite, he answered, “I met several very nice people.”

Sensing that Henry didn’t wish to talk about his night, Will let the subject drop. As Will reviewed his files on the way to the Axiom building, Henry did his best not to think about the pair of stunning blue eyes in the most beautiful face he’d ever seen. The siren he’d met last night would provide no small amount of torture for Henry. Attachments made on holiday never worked out, and certainly not with the parties living on different continents! No, Henry would just remember his brief encounter last night as nothing more than a wonderful dream.

~home~

~previous chapter~

~next chapter~

Creative Commons License Out of Reservations by michchick aka Jennifer Hickling is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

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