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