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)
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.”
“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!
~more coming soon!
Out of Reservations by michchick aka Jennifer Hickling is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.