*Chapter Forty-One*

 

Charlie, who was standing right next to Tom, asked for clarification. “You sure about this Bethy?”

Liz really wasn’t, but she knew was that she could only focus on one crisis at a time. “Yeah Charlie, please send him away. I can’t deal with having another argument with him right now. I’m still angry at you too, but I know you love both me and Will and you didn’t mean any harm… I can’t say the same thing about Pop. He needs to leave and leave now.”

Charlie held the phone away and said to Tom, “You heard her. Sorry, sir, but I think it’d be for the best.”

Tom shook his head, “I’ll leave, but this isn’t over… Elisa will always be my daughter no matter what dumbass decisions she makes.”

Charlie informed Liz that Tom had just pulled away. “How much further do you have Beth?”

“Not much. Just passed the sign that says Beaver Dam is really close. Are you in the hospital yet?”

“Yes, someone just handed me some paperwork to fill out. I’m putting you down for his emergency contact info. Most of this I can fill out no problem.”

“I’m almost there…”

A nurse, a very large, very male, mountain-of-a-man nurse, asked Charlie very politely to put the phone away.

Charlie held up a finger in the universal ‘one moment’ sign. “Great. The sooner, the better. I know that he responded to your voice much better than mine.”

The nurse stated, “Sir.”

“Beth? I’ve got to surrender the phone. But you’ll be here in just a moment.”

Charles…” Liz’s voice warned.

“Oh no… when you get here, you’ll understand. The future generations of Bingleys are not in any danger from you, I promise.”

“Fine. See you in a minute then. Tell Will I love him.”

“You get here and tell him yourself.”

Before Liz could reply, the signal was lost in the emergency room.

Turning to Mt. Nurse, Charlie said, “The patient is my sister-in-law’s fiancée. When she gets here she’ll no doubt be distraught… I was on the phone with her trying to keep her calm while she got here.”

Mt. Nurse said, “We’ll be sure to keep an eye out for her. We’ve done this before. Now, we’ll just need your ID sir.”

Charlie dug out his wallet and pulled out his driver’s license. “Here.”

Mr. Nurse handed it over to the girl behind the desk, saying, “I’m going to leave you in Amber’s capable hands. When you’re done here, just come through those double doors unless you’d prefer to wait here for the fiancée.”

Charlie just nodded and watched Mt. Nurse disappear into the examination room.

The young woman behind the desk, whom Mt. Nurse had called Amber, handed Charlie back his ID. She regarded him carefully and asked, “Are you really the Charles Bingley?”

Charlie was not in the mood for this. “I’m a Charles Bingley… I suppose it depends on which Charles Bingley you mean.”

Amber held up a well-worn copy of Badge of Dishonor– the awful movie tie-in edition with his photo on the back- and said, “No, you can’t fool me! It is you! I’ve read everything you’ve ever written! Oh my gosh! A celebrity in my ER! Wait until everyone hears this! You’re a lot younger than your photo… wow! Can you autograph my book, please?”

“Sure, Amber is it? I’ll be happy to autograph your book.” Charlie took the book and inscribed it to her and signed his ‘standard’ signature which looked nothing like the usual scrawl that passed for his handwriting.

Taking the book back, the young girl squealed with delight. “This is so exciting! Nothing like this ever happens to me! Thank you Mr. Bingley.”

Charlie smiled, “It’s no trouble at all.”

Amber was bubbling with excitement. “Everyone is going to be so psyched to hear about this! A genuine celebrity here at BDCH! And I thought this was going to be such a dull morning.”

That set off all sorts of bells and whistles in Charlie’s head. Being a writer, even a famous one, didn’t often cause too much inconvenience to his privacy, but Darcy? Charlie knew that Darcy valued privacy almost above all else. If they were already interested in Bingley, they might wish to know about his friend’s identity and then it would only be moments before it was known that Britain’s second sexiest bachelor was being treated for hypothermia. Charlie quickly thought through a few different options to stop that from happening and quickly settled on the least painful one.

He hated himself for doing this, but Charlie knew he had no choice. “Amber? What would you say if we kept my visit, and my friend’s of course, secret?”

The young woman’s face fell in disappointment. “What? Oh, come on, Mr. Bingley! You can’t be serious! I have to tell someone or I’ll burst!”

“Well, as much as I’d hate to be the cause of you bursting, I do have a favor to ask of you.”

Amber beamed, “Really? You think that there’s something that I could do for you? Wow. Just ask Mr. Bingley and, if I can do it, it’s yours!”

“Well, my friend in there would be mortified if anyone knew he was here for treatment. His fiancée, who is my sister-in-law, is going to be here any moment and they really like their privacy… if it got about that I was here, people would want to know why, and then eventually people would find out about my friend and that would really embarrass both him and my sister-in-law.”

“But Mr. Bingley…”

Charlie interrupted Amber, “But I had a thought. Since I know it would be very difficult to keep this to yourself, I believe I have something that might make it worth your while to do just that. I have a new book that is just about ready to go to the publisher… and there’s a character that I think is in dire need of a name change.”

“Really? To what?”

“Her name right now is Miranda, but the more I think about it, I think that Amber would suit the character much better. Tell me Amber, what would you say to that?”

“Really? Wow!” She was ready to agree but then thought of something. “But… I know this is sort of petty… but how would anyone know that it was me?”

Charlie was growing impatient but was trying hard not to show it. “I would name you on my dedication page as the most helpful, delightful girl I ever met in Beaver Dam. Now tell me, what do you think?”

“What’s the new book called?”

The Silence Endeavor.”

“Tell me a bit about the character?”

“Miranda, I mean Amber, is a paralegal that gets embroiled in a conspiracy of jury-tampering when she discovers that a greedy government official who’s taking bribes has kidnapped and threatened the family of the jury foreman in a huge case.”

“Is she the main character?”

“No.” Charlie admitted. “But it’s not an insignificant part either.”

She thought it over for a moment, then asked, “If this was made into a movie, who would play Amber?”

Without a moment’s hesitation, he answered, “Megan Fox.”

Amber, who was nothing at all in appearance like the actress, was very, very pleased with this reply. “Cool!”

“Cool? Does that mean you’ll keep our visit here to yourself?” questioned an unsure Charlie.

“Yeah. You’ll really change the name of someone in your book just for me?”

“Absolutely!”

“That’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever done for me.”

With all sincerity, Charlie replied, “Hopefully, this is just the beginning of nice things for you. I really appreciate this Amber.”

Amber smiled her thanks. “No problem. I hope everything goes well for your friend and your sister-in-law.”

“Me too.” Charlie caught sight of Liz storming through the doors and said, “Speak of the devil, here she comes!”

Liz saw Charlie, picked up her pace and rushed into his arms for a hug. “How is he Charlie? Where is he? I need to see him!”

“Shh! Calm down Beth! He’s right through those doors. I was waiting for you, but now you’re here so let’s go. Amber? Is it okay for me to take her back?”

“Sure Mr. Bingley. Just go slowly through the doors and the nurse at the desk on the right will direct you. Good luck!”

Hand-in-hand, Charlie led Liz through the doors where they inquired about Will. They were then led to a small room where he was being treated. Liz had never seen anything so frightening in all her life.

Elisabeth gasped when she saw Will. His nose and mouth were covered by a mask and there were wires and tubes that seemed to be everywhere. There was a concert of chirps, beeps and whirring coming from all of the monitors attached to Will. He looked so unnaturally frail laying there under a pile of warming blankets.

The attending nurse gave Liz a sympathetic look as she said, “Are you Elisabeth?”

Liz nodded.

The nurse smiled. “Mr. Darcy will be so glad to see you! He was calling out your name right until he fell asleep. Oh, now don’t you worry! He’ll be just fine sweetie. He seems to be a big, strong sort of fella and his heart is going real strong. We’ve got Mr. Darcy on some warming fluids and warm co2 to help bring his core temp up slowly so we don’t shock his system. He should be good as new real soon.”

The tension left her body all at once in a flood of tears. “Really? He doesn’t have frostbite or anything where he’s going to lose a toe or something? Will’s really going to be alright?”

The nurse, who was very kind and patient, explained, “If everything continues as it has been, then yes, your man here should make a full recovery. The doctor will be along soon and he’ll explain everything that we’ve done for him and what to watch out for when he’s released.”

Liz was confused. “Released? How can we be talking about his release? He just got here! Isn’t this serious?”

“Oh Honey, I didn’t mean we’re releasing him this minute! Once his core temp returns to normal and stabilizes, if there’s no cardiac problems, then keeping him here will just do nothing but irritate him! We’ll keep him for observation, likely forty-eight hours, but probably not much longer sweetie.”

Liz was visibly relieved upon hearing this and thanked the nurse, although somewhat incoherently.

“Oh sweetie, that’s okay. That’s exactly what we’re here for. I’ll just give you and your friend a moment with Mr. Darcy. If you need anything at all, my name is Marlene and I’ll be here until four o’clock.”

Liz had not registered anything that Marlene had said, as she was so focused on Will, so it was left to Charlie to answer, “Thank you Marlene. We really appreciate everything that’s been done for Will. Thanks.”

Marlene the nurse nodded and went about her business, leaving Charlie ample opportunity to tease his beloved sister-in-law. “Wow Beth… ignore people much? Taking after the Old Man too much already I think!”

Liz’s eyes flashed a warning at Charlie. She had been trying unsuccessfully to un-mat his curls. It was one thing, one small, simple, albeit unimportant thing that she could do at that moment to feel useful, and she really didn’t care if she had slighted someone because of it.

Remembering before he made another error that Elisabeth was nothing in temperament like his own Jane, Charlie apologized. “Geez Sil, I’m sorry. I know you’re stressed out and everything. I was just trying to lighten things up a bit. I’m worried about him too.”

She reached her hand out to clasp Charlie’s. “I know you are. Thank you for taking care of him and getting him here as quick as you did. But really, how did this even happen? Why was Will left alone in the woods? If I’ve had any idea at all that ditching him was even a remote possibility, I’d never have allowed him to go in the first place! Just what exactly happened between Will and my dad?”

Charlie took a seat and indicated for Liz to do the same. Sitting on opposite sides of Will’s bed, Charlie began to explain what little he knew of the morning’s events. He began with Tom’s intimidation gambit in the car and ended with how Tom explained that he and Darcy had each needed to cool down after their heated argument.

Liz laughed bitterly, “Cool down? I think this is taking it to the extreme, don’t you think?”

“On this visit, I’m seeing some things in your dad- a vindictive pettiness? though that might not be the best description- that I never noticed before. I just don’t understand this visceral hatred he seems to have for Fitz, do you?”

“No, I don’t understand it at all. Me and Pop… things have been steadily getting worse the last few years, but wow, I never could have imagined he’d say the things that he’s said. I can’t imagine their ‘talk’ went very well. Will doesn’t like Pop at all. I can’t really blame him; Pop hasn’t exactly been very warm and fuzzy, has he?”

“No Sil, not warm and fuzzy at all.”

Charlie watched the ebb and flow of the information on the monitor while Liz continued to stroke Darcy’s forehead as they sat together in relative silence. Time seemed to pass at a remarkably slow rate. The nurse Marlene had brought some coffee for Charlie and Liz to sip as they waited for the doctor.

Liz had always wondered what exactly it was about hospitals that drained the energy out of you the second you walled through the door. She glanced at the clock on the wall. It was now nearing two o’clock and her reminder alarm would soon go off. With a yawn, she excused herself and headed to the nearest restroom to check her sugar. Liz realized that having skipped lunch would skew her numbers, so when she got back, she’d ask Charlie to go find some food for them. After testing, her numbers were exactly what she knew they’d be, so she sighed and gave herself the insulin she needed before going back.

When Liz returned to Will’s bed, a doctor was speaking with Charlie. “Mr. Darcy is a very lucky young man. His heart is strong and it doesn’t appear that he will have any lasting consequences of his adventure this morning. We’re presently using warm, moist oxygen along with a warm IV solution of dextrose and saline to help slowly bring up his core body temperature. The surface echocardiogram we did upon admission showed no signs of arrest, so as long as he stays stable, he should recover quite nicely.”

“Will he wake up soon?” asked Liz.

The doctor gave her a reassuring smile. “He’ll wake up soon enough, ma’am. He’s a fighter, and once his body recognized it didn’t need to fight so hard, the adrenaline began to wear off and exhaustion set in. All perfectly natural. For now, we’ve been giving him oral glucose jelly to keep his blood sugar up. Hypoglycemia can often occur in hypothermics because the body uses all its sugar stores to keep going and we don’t want that to happen.”

Charlie nodded to Liz, “She knows all about sugar issues Doc. My sister-in-law here is diabetic.”

“Then you know exactly what I’m speaking of. When Mr. Darcy wakes up, we’ll give him some warm, sugar water to drink. Once we see how he’s feeling, we’ll go from there. I understand the patient is your fiancé?”

Liz nodded yes.

“Congratulations to you.”

“Thank you. The nurse… Marlene, I think… she said that Will might be in here for two days. Is that right?”

He smiled. “I take it that you have better places to be?”

Liz felt silly. “Well, no, that’s not what I meant. It’s just that he’s supposed to be on a plane back to London tomorrow afternoon.”

The doctor, used to people wanting to be anywhere else, gently explained, “That would definitely not be in Mr. Darcy’s best interests. The pressure of flying, the additional stress to his system wouldn’t be advisable just yet. Is there any way to delay his departure?”

“I think so. What about a car ride? I live in Boston. We’re actually just visiting here. Can I… could I take him home with me if we were to drive?”

 “If you were to go at a leisurely pace, giving him time enough to rest and take it easy, that should be alright as long as you keep him warm. No more treks in the woods for a while.”

“I promise. I’m sorry, what was your name?”

“Dr. Knightley.”

“Thank you, Dr. Knightley. Is Will going to be moved?”

“Yes, soon. We’re just waiting for a room and then we’ll have him transferred. If he continues to be an exemplary patient, we should be able to release him a bit sooner than forty-eight hours… as long as everything keeps improving as he is. If you need anything, just give one of the nurses a holler. I’ll be back to check on Mr. Darcy in an hour or so.”

As Dr. Knightley walked away, Charlie said, “He seems really nice. He was telling me how much worse this all could have been before you got back. Fitz was real lucky.”

“I suppose so.” Liz sighed deeply. “You know what Bil? I haven’t thanked you yet.”

Charlie shook his head. “No, you did. You said thanks for getting him here. You must be getting tired.”

“Not tired, hungry. I need to eat something and you do too, no doubt. But anyways, that’s not what I meant. I’m thanking you for Will. You were right… I don’t know how you knew, but I’m so glad that you did.”

He grinned at Liz, “Me too. I love you Beth, and I just really wanted to see you happy. You’ve been more a sister to me than Carrie has ever been. I know that sounds terrible, but it is what it is. I’ve thought about getting you two together for a while… but didn’t really know how- or even if– it would work. Then, when you told me and Jane about going to England… well, all the pieces just finally seemed to click together in place. But then your folks and Carrie showed up… but we’re thinking happy thoughts now, aren’t we?”

“That we are. Oh God! How are we going to keep Carrie out of here?”

That will actually be pretty easy. Carrie hates hospitals! I think she thinks they’ll take her to a rubber room if she ever sets foot in one. Hmm. Maybe we should get here to come for a visit!”

Ignoring his last remark, Liz said, “Really? I can’t imagine her inner drama-queen would pass up the chance to play nursemaid here…”

“She’s also a germaphobe. Didn’t you know that’s why she drove instead of flew in? She hates to fly… too many plebian people and their germy-germs, darling! I’d have to sedate her to get here to come here willingly. You know what? I’ll bet she actually asks you to take care of the Old Man for her. Hilarious, right?”

“And yet I don’t find any humor in it at all! What are we going to do when she realizes we’re together? She’s going to go completely around the bend, isn’t she?”

“That’s not for you and Darce to worry about. She’s my family and I’ll take care of her. Besides, you two have enough to deal with between your dad and Fran.”

Liz frowned, “Yeah, thanks for reminding me.”

“You’re welcome. Now, I take it there’s no way I can talk you out of spiriting Fitz to Boston when he gets released, is there?”

Remembering school, Liz sighed. “I’ve got so much work to do! I really need to get focused again, but I can’t leave him here! If I take him with me, I can take care of him and we can continue to hammer out our plans for the future.”

“Okay… when you say it like that, it sounds really reasonable. Are you going to call Georgie now?”

“I guess so… I mean, I really should now, right? This is going to be awkward…”

Charlie handed Liz Will’s phone. “She’s a very sweet girl who loves her brother almost like a father. Just give her a call… it’ll be fine, I promise.”

With determination, Liz scrolled through his contacts until she found G. Darcy. She held her breath as she pressed talk and waited for a connection. After three rings, a young woman answered brightly, “Wills! Took you long enough to call! I was beginning to wonder if I was ever going to hear from you! How’re things going with Chip’s spinster-in-law?”

 

*Chapter Forty-Two*

 

How’re things going with Chip’s spinster-in-law? Bloody hell! Will I ever live that down? We’ll at least have interesting stories to tell our kids about how we met! ‘Yes sweetie, I called your dad Mr. Fancy-Pants and he called me Spinster-In-Law.’

Liz drew in a deep, fortifying breath and decided to dive right in. “Um, hello? This isn’t Will. You’re Georgiana Darcy, right?”

The chipper voice from a moment ago quickly turned skittish and shaky. “Yes… that’s me. How did you come by this mobile? Where is my brother? Please! What’s going on?”

Wishing that there was a way to somehow send a hug through the satellite signals, Liz tried her best to comfort the girl. “Shh, Georgie, I promise that everything’s going to be alright. I’m right here with Will… but unfortunately, circumstances are such that he can’t speak with you on the phone right at the moment and he’s asked me to call you and fill you in on what’s been going on.”

Georgie spoke a bit more calmly, but her voice was still tremulous. “That’s all very good to know, but who are you?”

Feeling a bit ridiculous that she hadn’t mentioned it, Liz apologized, “Oh, I’m so sorry. I’m Elisabeth Gardiner.” Charlie began making hand motions to get her attention and then Liz remembered that name wouldn’t mean anything to Will’s sister. “Wait… maybe you’d know of me by the name Beth Bennet?”

Georgie thought for a moment before quietly asking, “Chip’s spinster-in-law?”

“Funny story that… only Charlie and my family ever call me Beth. So yeah, I’m the spinster. Though, for the record, I’m only twenty-seven, own no cats and am recently engaged.”

“Um, okay. I’m happy for you? I’m sorry, I don’t wish to be rude or anything… but why exactly can’t my brother come to the phone right now?”

Liz realized she was blowing it. “Crud monkey. I’m so sorry Georgie! He asked me to call you and fill you in and I’m doing such a bad job of it. Will is in the hospital and he’s suffering from hypothermia but he’s being treated and the doctor said he’s going to be just fine.”

Georgie was growing impatient. “He’s what?! I’m sorry… I guess I’ve missed something here. Why is it that you are calling me Miss Bennet, or Gardiner…whatever your name is… instead of Will or even Chip?”

Having no idea what to say, Liz stumbled through the best she could. “Again, I’m sorry. This isn’t the beginning I’d hoped for with you I’m afraid. You see Georgie, your brother and I, well, we’ve become friends. Exceptionally good friends. Anyways, I’m moving to England very soon and your brother had hoped to introduce us soon, he believed we’d become close- like sisters.”

Tired of being treated like a child, Georgie decided to be blunt, “So you’re sleeping with my brother then?”

Taken back by the directness of the girl’s question, it took her a moment to decide that the honesty which she valued in her dealings with Will would probably also be the best course of action here as well. “That is rather personal business between the two of us. But, to answer your question, yes, I am. However, I know this might sound strange, and I’m sorry if this doesn’t make any sense to you, but we’re engaged. I love your brother. Will is absolutely the best man I’ve ever known and I can’t imagine my life without him.”

Georgie was silent for nearly a full minute. Liz had to check to verify that the call was still in progress. Finally, Georgie spoke, “Okay. You were right. It does sound awfully strange. I’d really like to talk to Chip if he’s there… but first I have a few questions for you, if you don’t mind.”

“No, not at all.”

“Fine. Here we go… what’s Will’s full name?”

Fitzwilliam George Darcy.”

“Where did Wills go to school?”

“Ah, let’s see… he attended some prep school not far from your home in Derbyshire- I can’t recall whether Will told me the name or not. Then, he attended Cambridge where he met Charlie and then he also got a degree from Oxford.”

“Okay… so, can you tell me what my brother does for a job?”

“He owns Pemberley and he’s the CEO.”

“Yeah. That was easy… Alright. I’ve got another one. What were my parent’s names?”

“George and Anne Darcy. Your mother died giving birth to you and your father has been gone now for nearly ten years. Your brother took over your care when you were a baby with the help of your aunt and uncle and when Will turned eighteen, your father signed over guardianship to him and Will’s essentially been your father ever since.”

“Okay, that was good. You’ve either done your research or you’ve had a long heart-to heart with Wills.”

“I swear to you Georgie, I knew as little about Will before this weekend as he did about me. In fact, as much as he dreaded meeting me, I felt the same about him. I even had a nickname for him, similar to what he did for me.”

“No way.”

“Sadly, yes way. As he called me Spinster-In-Law, I always referred to him as Mr. Fancy-Pants. It was my understanding that my sister was setting me up with some boring corporate big-wig that I wouldn’t be able to stand at all. We met in Chicago and travelled together up to Wisconsin and we got to know each other before we ever realized that Charlie had intended all along to fix us up. When Will wakes up, you can hear his version of events- which I’m sure he’ll tell better than I can.”

“So if you’re related to Chip, then you know Carrie?”

“Yes…” Liz answered cautiously.

“Is she a good friend?”

“Carrie has always been very kind to me… but no, we really couldn’t be more opposite if we tried. If it weren’t for JJ- my sister Jane- I would have no contact with her at all.”

“I’m relieved to hear it because, honestly, she’s not on my list of favorite people no matter what she says! Now, I have several more, very important questions for you. Forgive my impertinence, but my brother deserves every happiness in the world. If you can be the one to make him happy, then I’ll be happy too. Are you ready?”

“Hopefully. I didn’t know there’d be a quiz.”

“Sorry, but you can’t study for these. You either know them or you don’t. So, my first question- what is the airspeed velocity of an un-laden swallow?”

Liz smiled. “I’m afraid I can’t answer that.”

Thinking she had Liz, Georgie asked, “And why not?”

Liz was not usually one given to smugness, but yet smug was exactly how she felt when she answered, “Because you didn’t specify African or European.” ł

Georgie began, “On Wednesdays I go shopping…”łł

Liz finished, “…and have buttered scones for tea.”

Praying this wasn’t some elaborate ruse, hoping her dear, sweet brother had actually found someone who would understand him and make him happy, she asked, “Truly, you like Monty Python?”

Liz was not offended in the least by Georgie’s questions. “Truly I do. In fact, I kid you not when I confess that Michael Palin is my favorite.”

Georgie was fast becoming intrigued by her brother’s alleged fiancée. “Okay, those were too easy. What is your favorite number?”

Liz grinned. If Will’s sister was heading down the road she thought, there was only one answer. “Forty-two.” łłł

The teenager on the other end nearly choked at the answer. “Can I ask why you chose forty-two?”

“Because all good hitchhikers know that forty-two is the answer- to life, the universe and everything.”

The self-assured way which Liz had answered, in addition to the answer itself, eased Georgie’s mind a great deal. In fact, she laughed outright. “Then you’re a big dork too! I hope you understand that I was just trying to make sure… this is all so strange. But I trust Wills, and if he says he’s in love with you, then he really must be. I don’t think there’s anyone out there more truthful than my brother.”

“He’s sometimes painfully so,” admitted Liz.

Georgie giggled a bit, “Truer words were never spoken! Will I be able to speak with him soon?”

“Yes Georgie. As soon as they take off the warm oxygen mask, I’ll make certain we call you first.”

“Thank you Elisabeth. You really do seem nice. You even have a kind voice. I think I shall like getting to know you better, especially since we’ll be sisters.”

“Excellent. I look forward to that too. Did you still want to speak to Charlie?”

“If you don’t mind… Chip is like a brother to me.”

“I know the feeling well, Georgie. Just a sec. Charlie? Georgie wants to talk to you.”

Charlie took the phone from Liz and began his teasing of Will’s sister. “Hiya Georgie-porgy puddin’ pie! It’s been way too long, Rug-rat!”

“Chip!” Georgie was relieved to hear a familiar voice. “Is Wills really going to be okay? And what’s this about him being engaged?”

“Yes Georgie dear, your brother is going to be just fine and back to being the over-protective pain in the ass, sorry, arse, that you know and love.” Charlie winked at Liz as he continued, “As for that other matter, I swear to you, in all of the years that I’ve know the Old Man, I have never seen him so happy. You’ll just have to trust Fitz and I promise that everything will work out just fine.”

“I want to believe you, truly I do. But it just all seems so sudden, doesn’t it? Wills would never let me do such a thing!”

“I should hope not young lady! You’re only sixteen for God’s sake! Tell you what, when you get to be Fitz’s age and decide to suddenly get engaged, then we’ll have this conversation.”

“Chip? I want to ask you something, but I don’t want you to be angry with me.”

“Doubt that I could, kiddo. What do you want to know?”

“She’s not, Elisabeth I mean, like your sister is she? She says she loves Wills… I just want to know… I want to be sure that she’s not using him for his money or anything like that. Wills deserves more than that.”

“I agree with you, puddin’. He does and he’s honestly found it with Elisabeth. You seriously don’t need to worry about your brother.” Charlie grinned at Liz as he further assuaged Georgie’s conscience, “As far as fortune or anything of that nature, she has no need of your brother’s money for she has more than enough of her own. I promise you Georgie-girl that you will love having her for a sister as much as I do.”

“You’ve never lied to me Chip… so I’ll trust you and Wills. Can I speak with her again?”

“I think that can be arranged. Beth?” Once again, the phone passed between Charlie and Liz, “Georgie wants to quiz you some more.”

As soon as Liz put the phone to her ear, she was assaulted with Georgie’s protests, “No Chip! I’m not going to quiz her! Stop being so mean!”

Liz laughed, “It would be alright by me if you did wish to ask me more questions, Georgie. I can imagine this has all come as quite a shock to you.”

Georgie caught by surprise, “I’m so embarrassed! Is Chip that mean to you too?”

Liz “Yes! But at the moment I’m prepared to forgive him just about anything.”

“Why?”

Here, Liz grinned at Charlie as she admitted, “Because he has done me the greatest favor… he brought me together with Will and for that I will always be grateful. I love your brother Georgiana, and I swear I will do my best to make him happy.”

“That’s all I wanted to know. When he wakes up, give him my love and please ring me!”

“Absolutely. But what of the time difference?”

“I don’t care… it’s what? Six hours? It’s not like I’ll be able to really sleep or anything until I hear from him. Good night Elisabeth.”

“Thank you Georgie. Good night to you too.”

Liz switched off Will’s phone and tucked it in her pocket. Slumping in her chair, she sighed, “Well, that wasn’t as disastrous as it could have been I suppose.”

Charlie tried to be encouraging, “I think it went very well. Georgie is nearly as protective of Fitz as he is of her. She’s just been scared that he would eventually give in to some socialite who would make his life hell. Once Georgie-girl understands that you don’t give a rip about any of that nonsense, she’ll come around completely. It won’t be too hard; you know she wants to like you.”

“Thank God for small favors then.”

Charlie nodded. They fell into relative silence again with Charlie watching the monitors and Liz watching Will. Another fifteen minutes passed when silence was broken by the rumble of Liz’s hungry stomach.

“What on earth was that?” Charlie teased, “I’ve never heard such a loud noise! That cannot have been you… was it?”

Sheepishly, Liz admitted it was.

Charlie stood up and stretched, “I suppose that’s my cue to go dig us up some grub to eat. I don’t imagine there’ll be a lot of choice, so is there anything you absolutely cannot stand?”

“Nothing with mayo… or anything remotely pretending to be mayo. No egg, tuna or chicken salad-type things. Aside from white death, I’m good with whatever you bring me.”

“White death? Isn’t that a little harsh? I like a little Miracle Whip myself now and then.”

“You would. Just no mayo; or JJ won’t be the only one throwing up.”

“Point taken. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

“Thanks Bil.”

He leaned over and gave Liz a hug, saying, “He’ll be okay you know. He knows you’ll kick his ass otherwise.”

Charlie gained his object, which was to make Liz laugh and relieve some tension. Liz gave Charlie a kiss on the cheek and whispered, “Thanks.”

Charlie nodded and quietly left in search of some food.

As soon as she was certain they were alone, Liz began speaking to Will. “I think we need a new plan Will. The doctor says flying isn’t really an option for you just yet, so I think I’ll just have to kidnap you and take you back to Boston with me. Hope you won’t mind but we’re in for another road trip.

I spoke to your sister just a bit ago. Not ideal circumstances to meet someone, but I think it went as well as could be expected. The second you wake up, you need to give her a call. She loves you and just wants to be sure you know what you’re doing. I can’t blame her for being worried… you’ve really been put through the wringer since we arrived. I can’t imagine what she thought when she answered her phone expecting you and getting me. I just hope I didn’t disappoint her too much.”

Liz moved over to sit on the edge of the bed where she took up his right hand. “I am so sorry about my dad. Whatever he said, it doesn’t matter. I choose you William George Darcy and if only you’d wake up, I’d tell you again and again that I choose you. I love you Will; and I need to hear your voice and know that you’re okay. You can go right back to sleep, I promise, just wake up enough so I can hear you… please? For me Sweetheart?”

He slowly opened his eyes and met Liz’s steady gaze. Will gave her hand a weak squeeze and tried to speak but found he needed to clear his throat. After a few coughs, he was able to find his voice. “Love you Liz. I like being sweetheart. I’ve never been a sweetheart before.”

Liz used her free hand to wipe away her happy tears. “I’m glad to hear that, because it so happens that you are my sweetheart.”

Will’s attempt to free himself a little from the blankets caused the pulse-ox monitor to slip from his finger, setting off an alarm which quickly brought back Marlene.

The nurse arrived just as Liz was trying to convince Will to just stay still and relax. “Please Will? The more you cooperate, the sooner we can get you out of here.”

Will was, understandably, a bit cranky, “I feel like rubbish and I don’t see how staying here like this is going to make me feel any less like rubbish. Please Love? Get me out of here?”

Marlene cleared her throat to make her presence known. “Hate to interrupt you two love birds, but Mr. Darcy? I need to fix your monitor.” She proceeded to press a few buttons which made the loud, discordant beeping stop. “I’m sorry, but it seems the monitor has slipped off your finger and since it’s not on the floor, it’s most likely trapped in your blankets.”

Will felt around between the different layers until he found a cord. Pulling on the cord, the finger monitor was recovered and Marlene taped it in place once more.

Once Will’s pulse and oxygen levels came online, the nurse smiled. “Everything seems fine. Strong pulse, excellent respirations. It’s nice to see you awake and aware Mr. Darcy. How are you feeling?”

“I feel like I’ve been kicked in the chest. Wait, that’s not accurate enough. I feel like I’ve been run over by a lorrie.”

Marlene made a note in the chart. “If a lorrie is anything like a Mac truck, then that sounds about right. Are you in any pain at the moment?”

“No… I’m just really bloody tired. But I don’t want to go back to sleep. And I have this terrible taste in my mouth…”

“I’m sorry about the taste… as soon as Dr. Knightley stops by and gives us the word, we can get you something to eat. I’m afraid until then, all we can give you is the glucose jelly which unfortunately doesn’t taste very good. As for your fatigue, that’s normal and if you don’t want to go back to sleep, that’s fine. We do need you to keep still though for at least a few more hours. Until we can further examine you after your core temp stabilizes, we need to make sure you don’t damage any tissue.”

“But will I have to be here much longer?”

“That’s something that you’ll have to ask Dr. Knightley.”

“Thanks, I will.”

The nurse then checked a few more things, made a few more notes and then quietly excused herself.

“She seems nice,” Will remarked.

“She is. She brought Charlie and I some coffee earlier and she kept me from climbing the walls by assuring me you’d be alright.”

“Any chance there’s a sip of that coffee left? I can’t stand this. It’s like something died in my mouth.”

Liz shook her head. “No there isn’t. But Will, even if there was, I’d have said no anyways. You heard her… the doctor needs to make sure you’re okay before they can let you have anything else and there’s absolutely no way that I’m going to jeopardize your chances of getting out of here as quickly as possible.”

Will, though disappointed, couldn’t fault her. “I hate it when you’re so reasonable.”

Liz laughed, “Oh I see. I don’t get to be right– I just get to be reasonable? Interesting. I’ll have to remember that in the future.”

“Oh Love, I think this is where I’m going to plead my case and blame being the hospital. What is wrong with me anyhow? I didn’t quite catch why exactly I’m here.”

Taking a deep breath, Liz tried to recount what she knew without dwelling on how badly everything could have gone. Instead, she chose to just state the facts she knew, “You suffered hypothermia. You, despite my begging you not to go this morning, went traipsing about the woods in the cold and the snow and the rain and were sorely underdressed for it. You were carried out of the woods by Charlie and my dad. They drove you here and the hospital fixed you up and here we are.”

“I recall trying to head back… I was following my own footprints but then it began to rain and I was disoriented. I found a tree and waited. I was cold and wet… I was tired and I sat down, but I don’t remember anything after that.”

Liz asked, “You really don’t remember anything?”

He closed his eyes, trying to cut through the fog in his brain to see if there were any other details he could recall. At length, he questioned, “Were you singing to me?”

She smiled, “Yes. You were floating in and out of consciousness and we were trying to keep you awake. Charlie called me and put me on speakerphone. We sang Always Look on the Bright Side of Life to you.”

It came back to Will clearly. He was beginning to feel much better and teased her, “And you sang it wrong…”

Liz was all at once relieved, grateful and exasperated by this man she loved so dearly. “You really are the most infuriating man! Must you be right all the time?”

“Yes. The sooner you realize it, the better!”

Shaking her head, Liz said, “I give up. At least I know that my life with you will never be boring, will it?”

“I highly doubt that. I love you Elisabeth. Thank you for putting up with me.”

“You know that thanks aren’t really necessary, but you’re welcome. I love you too. Now, don’t ever scare me like that again. I mean it. Never, ever do anything remotely like this again.”

“I won’t. I promise.” He waved for her to come closer and whispered, “I have too much to lose.”

Notes from Chapter 42-

ł –from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The opening sequence has some guards discussing the origin of the coconuts that King Arthur’s man Patsy is using to simulate the sound of traveling on horseback. Later in the film, airspeed velocity of unladen swallows comes up again and becomes a matter of life-and-death. It’s a very silly film and if you’ve never seen it, I highly recommend it.  

łł –from Monty Python’s Flying Circus. This is a line from The Lumberjack Song which had been featured in several different sketches.

łłł –from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. This is not an exact quote, but any fan of the series can expound on the importance of the number 42 for you. In the first book of the Hitchhiker’s series, a supercomputer named Deep Thought is designed specifically to answer the ‘Ultimate Answer’. It takes the computer 7 ½ million years to formulate the answer ‘42’. The trouble? No one knows what the ‘Ultimate Question’ really is. So the highly intelligent (though that’s questionable) pan-dimensional beings that designed ‘Deep Thought’ then design Earth as a 10 million year program to help determine the ‘Ultimate Question’. Anyways, you can always use the number ‘42’ to flush out any sci-fi geeks in your midst. Works like a charm.  

 

*Chapter Forty-Three* 

 

Liz was busy tenderly caressing Will’s cheek with kisses, and so didn’t hear Charlie return.

Bingley teased, “Are you two at it again? Get a room for crying out loud!” 

Will cried, “Damn it! We’re already in a bloody room!”

Charlie laughed, “So you are. Anyways… I see your fine sense of humor is still intact Fitz. If you don’t mind, I’ve been hunting and gathering to find me and Sil some food.”

Will watched jealously as Charlie handed Liz a roast beef sandwich and a bag of Sun Chips.

“I’m sorry Old Man, but it’s my understanding you can’t have anything just yet… but Sil here needs to eat. I won’t expound on why it’s important that she eats now because, quite frankly, she’d kill me and as she’s already threatened my manhood several times today, I don’t think I’ll take any chances by pissing her off anymore than she already is.”

Liz had just unwrapped her sandwich and was about to take a bite when Will’s voice interrupted her. “Elisabeth? Did you not eat earlier? Tell me the truth…”

Setting the sandwich down in her lap, she flung her hands up in frustration. “Fine! No, I skipped lunch. Yes, it made me a shade wonky but I’m fine and will continue to be fine. You’re the one laying in a hospital bed!”

Will’s voice was getting stronger with use and he was beginning to sound more like himself. “Liz… I can’t have you making yourself ill over me. Please promise me that you’ll take better care of yourself. If you don’t, you’ll only make me worry too.”

Liz pouted, “Yes dear,” and then took a giant bite of her roast beef.

Will nodded to Charlie, “See? She’s doing that on purpose. Stubborn woman.”

Charlie chuckled, “Yes she is. Best thing that’s ever happened to you.”

Will agreed, “So true.”

Between bites, Liz said, “Oh! Before I forget, Will, please call your sister! I spoke with her and she was, well, rather surprised. She knows about our engagement and, sorry Charlie, us. Apparently I passed her secret geek test. I didn’t know, though I could have guessed, that you were a fan of Douglas Adams.”

 Will smiled as he asked, “Did she ask when you might need a towel?”ł

“No. But she did ask what my favorite number was. Everyone knows there’s only one answer…”

Will tried to chuckle, but it hurt to do so. Instead, he simply answered, “Forty-two.”

Just before chomping a cheddar Sun Chip, Liz giggled, “But of course! And, incidentally, you need a towel only always!”

Will grinned. “Oh Love, if I wasn’t already positive that asking you to marry me was the most brilliant thing I’d ever done, I’d know it now. I love you Liz!”

Charlie waved his hands in dismissive motion. “Yeah. Pay no never-mind to poor Charlie. Just keep pretending I’m not here.”

Liz teased her brother-in-law, “Obviously that’s exactly what we were doing. Sheesh. And here I thought you were more perceptive than that.”

“Yep. Feeling the love. You two don’t seem to need me right now. Beth? If I can borrow your car, I’ll take wonder-boy’s clothes home and pop them in the dryer. I can also make some excuses to my sister as to why you’ve both disappeared. What do you think?”

Liz glanced first at Will who nodded yes and so she answered, “I think that Will has a phone call to make and while he does that, I’ll walk you out. Ready?”

To Liz, Charlie replied, “Sure thing,” and to Will, he said, “I’ll be back later to check on you and see how you’re doing Fitz. Remember that I love you Will. Get better and do exactly…” he pointed at Liz, “…as this one says. Or she’ll kick your ass.”

Liz pushed Charlie out the door telling him she’d be right there. Once Charlie was in the hall, she came to Will’s bedside and kissed him briefly before handing him his phone and reminding him to call his sister.

Charlie popped his head back in the room to ask if she was coming and Liz rolled her eyes and followed.

Will, alone for the first time since he’d arrived at Beaver Dam Community, gave a giant yawn as he punched in the speed-dial number for his sister.

This time, Georgie made no assumptions as she answered her mobile. “Hello?”

“Georgie-girl! I hear you made a new friend today?”

“I think you have some explaining to do Fitzwilliam! Why haven’t you called before now? Why did I have to hear about how happy you are from everyone else but you?”

“First, let me say that I love you Georgie-girl and I’m happy you’re my sister. I’ve spent some time with Liz’s family and have learned that as far as sisters go, you’re pretty exceptional. Second, things haven’t gone near as smoothly as they’d originally been planned. Carrie is here, and do you want to hear something strange? She’s not the biggest problem at the moment. Third, I had no intention of getting hypothermia and I fully meant to call you this afternoon with my happy news. I’m just really very tired but they say that I’ll be just fine, so there’s no reason for you to go and worry your pretty head about me.”

“Carrie’s there? Really? I’m sorry Will! I guess I understand part of your distraction then.”

“Oh, and I learned where that Scottish son-of-a-bitch is hiding out.”

“No Wills! He’s not there too, is he?”

“No, thank God, he’s not here in Wisconsin. He’s working as a bartender in Boston.”

“I don’t even want to know how you came to know that, do I?”

“Probably not. And I don’t really want to tell you either, so that works out very nicely. Anyways, what I need to tell you is that while I know this is highly irregular, I love Liz. I love her with all my heart. I had no idea; I never really imagined that I would ever actually find someone who would just love me the way that I am. I promise you’ll love her nearly as much as I do Georgie-girl. You’ll just have to trust me on this.”

Georgie thought through all her brother said. “I will. I’ll trust in you because you’ve always shown such superb judgment and I have no reason to doubt it now. Is she really as dorky as you?”

Will chuckled and was relieved that it didn’t hurt so much this time. “More so. Liz is finishing up her doctorate next month and was moving to London regardless of whether she ever met me or not. She’s a scientist, so I suppose one must be a bit geeky by nature to make it in that field. She’s witty and lively and she makes me laugh and did I mention that she’s beautiful as well?”

“No, but I need to warn you Wills that there’s a fine line between giving a description and giving too much information and before you get carried away, I think I get the picture.”

“Point taken.”

“So when are you coming home? I assume you won’t be coming home tomorrow like you planned.”

“No, I’ll likely still be here in hospital. I need to speak with the doctor and then I’ll have a clearer picture. In fact, I’ll call Reynolds and have him rearrange this week for me. I’ll let you know what’s going on as soon as I know.”

“Do you want me to come to you?”

“As much as I would love to see your smiling face little sister, as your parental figure, I’d much rather you stay in school. You only have a few more weeks until the break and I’m sure I’ll be home well before then.”

“You’d better be! I love you Wills. You are the best and I really hope that your Liz will make you happy.”

“She will. I absolutely have no doubts about it. But enough about me… what else has been going on?”

“Cousin John’s wife sent me an email that they’ll be traveling for the holidays and they’d like to see us.”

“John, Michelle and all five kids? And here we thought Christmas would be quiet. What about Andy? I haven’t heard from Andy in an age.”

“Neither have I and Michelle didn’t mention him either. But you know Andy… he always pops up when you least expect it.”

“That’s true. We can’t all be responsible. Maybe he’ll grow up someday.”

“But then he wouldn’t be any fun!”

“Oh, Georgie-girl… there’s so much more to life than having fun.” Will yawned. “I’m knackered so I’m going to let you go. You behave yourself young lady and do well in school. I love you Georgiana and will be home soon as I can.”

“You can’t fool me. You won’t be home as soon as you can… it’ll be more like as soon as you can tear yourself away from your Yankee girlfriend.”

“You, Georgie-girl, are much too smart for your own good. Love you.”

“I love you too Wills.”

“Night Georgiana”

“Night Fitzwilliam.”

Will switched off his mobile and held it to his chest. He wondered what the immediate future would hold and couldn’t wait to begin discussing it with Liz. He smiled at the idea that he might be able to convince her to come to England early so they might spend Christmas together. Will pictured a huge family holiday at Pemberley. Liz would love his cousin’s family, he was sure of it. It made him smile to think that there would be at least some family gatherings in the future that wouldn’t be such a struggle as this weekend had been.

Will was so lost in his thought that he didn’t hear the doctor come in.

“Mr. Darcy. It’s nice to see you awake. How are you feeling?” asked Dr. Knightley.

“I was just telling my sister that I’m feeling pretty exhausted but other than that, I’m alright. Well, alright except for the God-awful taste in my mouth.”

Dr. Knightley gave Will a knowing smile. “Let me have a listen to you and then we’ll see about getting you something different.”

Will replied, “Sure,” as Dr. Knightley adjusted the bed so his impatient patient could sit more upright.

 Using his stethoscope, Dr. Knightley listened as Will did his best to breathe in and out deeply. “Sounds good.”

He then moved to the end of the bed and lifted the blankets to examine Will’s feet. First wiggling toes, then moving both feet around and lastly checking Will’s reaction to being prodded with a pen, Dr. Knightley informed Will that he was very lucky there didn’t seem to be any tissue damage to his extremities.

The doctor silently made a few notes and after he tucked the chart under his arm, he said, “Momentarily we’re just going to send you up for a CT scan and then we’ll get you settled in your own room for observation. Oh, and shortly after Dr. Brandon, the neurologist who’s on right now, checks out your results, if everything looks good like we think it will, we’ll get you something else to eat. In the meantime, you can go ahead and brush your teeth. Just no swallowing, okay?”

Liz had just returned in time to answer. “I promise he’ll be a good boy Dr. Knightley.”

Will smiled at his doctor. “See? I think she’s plenty of inducement for me to get well, don’t you agree?”

“You’re a lucky man to have people who care so deeply for your well-being. Before I go, are there any other questions Mr. Darcy?”

“My sister wanted to know when the earliest I could fly was.”

“I explained this to this young lady here earlier that you should postpone any air travel for at least a week. The pressurized air, combined with the stress of flying and all the cold and flu symptoms people are carrying this time of year would, with your compromised immune system, be disastrous for you.”

Will didn’t like the sound of that at all. “Compromised immune system?”

“You seem to be an exceptionally healthy thirty-one year old. You shouldn’t suffer any long-term effects so you really needn’t worry. Your body will bounce back very quickly from this episode. It’s just important that you don’t overtax your system so that it can recover entirely.”

Concerned his ideas of bed rest might not correlate with the good doctor’s; Will had to ask, “What would be an example of overtaxing my system? Are there any particular activities that I should avoid?”

Glancing between Liz and Will, the doctor inwardly sighed. Once he felt he could answer his worried patient without giving away his amusement, Dr. Knightley answered, “No prolonged exposure to the cold- no walks outside longer than a quick walk to a warmed-up car for at least a week. No heavy lifting. No heavy exercise like running, swimming or lifting for at least two weeks. Now, if you were to participate in, say, some, ah, gentle aerobic activity with someone, I don’t know, close at hand, I think that would actually be beneficial… once you’ve been released of course.”

Liz giggled, “Gentle aerobic activity? So you’re saying we’re cleared for sex then?”

At the age of fifty-three, Dr. Knightley had thought he was long past blushing at anything he’d hear at the hospital, but he was wrong. A very red-faced Dr. Knightley confirmed what Liz had said with one caveat, “Just be careful… nothing too strenuous.”

Will felt as though he should feel mortified discussing sex with his doctor, but he didn’t. He would feel no shame about wanting to be with Liz, now or ever. “Thanks doctor. We appreciate your candor.”

Still somewhat flustered, Dr. Knightley said, “Um, well, yes, you’re welcome. Don’t forget that in a moment they’ll come take you for your CT and then on to the floor. Goodbye.”

As soon as the door closed behind the good doctor, Will let out a hearty laugh. “You, Elisabeth Anne Gardiner, are a very naughty girl.”

It was Liz’s turn to blush as she sat on the edge of the bed. “Oh, like you were Mr. Smooth there! I’m surprised you didn’t just come right out and ask him!”

Will chuckled again. “Right! You already turned the poor man scarlet! Can you just imagine? Pardon me, doctor? Would it be alright if I shagged my fiancée senseless? No? Oh, I see… gently shag my fiancée senseless. He’d surely suffer a fit of apoplexy!”

She shook her head and teased Will. “Apoplexy? How deep in the words-of-four-syllables vault did you have to go to dig that up? Couldn’t you just say stroke?”

“No. Apoplexy sounds better. I believe I recall hearing you say that you loved the way I speak. I choose apoplexy.”

“Fine.” Liz crossed her arms and stated, Pharmacy.”

He countered with, “Chemist.”

 Liz snuggled into the crook of Will’s right arm. “I heard once that England and America are divided by a common language. Seems there’s some truth to that.”

Will held her in his arms and he finally felt right. “So when I get out of here, are we going to work on some international relations?”

“Now who’s the naughty one? I wonder if that CT scan can detect dirty minds?”

“If it does Love, then I’m in trouble.”

“Really?” Liz pretended to be shocked. “What are you thinking about right now?”

Just as Will was about to recount all the aerobic activities he wished to share with her, transportation came in to take him to radiology. Liz kissed him, wished him luck and said goodbye. While Will was gone, Liz gathered up the few personal things from the room and headed up to wait in Will’s new room.

The new room was much cozier than the small space in the ER. Liz hung up her coat and purse, then made herself comfortable in the pull-out chair. She grabbed the remote for the TV and began flipping channels only to find they were all medical information programs.

After a quick trip to the nursing station, Liz had Will’s television turned on. There weren’t a whole lot of choices on at five o’clock aside from news, so she eventually settled on Inside Edition. Liz tried valiantly to stay awake while watching the latest about whether Brad and Angelina were staying together or breaking up and what hair products the Jonas Brothers use, but her fatigue set it and she dozed off.

When transportation brought Will back, he was greeted Liz sitting upright and softly snoring as she slept. Making a sign to be quiet while nodding his thanks to the attendants, they waved goodbye and left. Will was going to turn off the television and take a snooze himself, but saw the remote was firmly in Liz’s grasp.

Will called out to her, “Elisabeth?”

He was just loud enough that she woke up and stretched cat-like. “Mm… yes, Sweetheart?”

Very seriously, Will said, “We may have a problem.”

Growing concerned, Liz asked, “Really? What’s wrong? Did they find something in your scan? Oh God!”

Will shook his head and sheepishly smiled, “Well, that backfired completely. Sorry to have frightened you Love. I was only going to razz you about the tabloid tripe you’ve got on the telly.”

“I really am doing the world a public service by taking the menace you are off the streets! That was terrible! Don’t scare me like that again.” When her pulse stopped racing, she said, “And what’s wrong with a little bit of Inside Edition anyways?”

For a moment, he feared they really might have a problem. “When you’re dining in a café with your VP of PR and the damned paparazzi snap a photo which ends up on a show just like it saying that you’ve eloped, then you’ll see what’s wrong with it.”

“That’s terrible! Did that actually happen?” He nodded and then she continued, “I suppose there’s no more heading to the grocery store with no make-up on or my hair in a ponytail, huh?”

“If you start wearing gobs of cosmetics or start spending hours on your hair and clothes because that’s what the damned media wants, then we’ll have a problem. I love you just like this, how you are right now and I don’t want you to change. Can I tell you a secret?”

Touched by what he’d said, she wiped a tear from her eye and said, “You can tell me anything Sweetheart.”

“I hate wearing suits. I detest the damn things and if I never had to wear another one in my whole life, I’d be a happy man. And ties? Don’t get me started! It’s like wearing a damned noose or something. Yet I have closets full of the idiotic things… why? Because that’s what I’m supposed to wear. I never want you to have to do anything you don’t wish to do simply because of someone else’s ridiculous expectations.”

“You, are with a doubt, the sweetest, most amazing man in the world. I love you! Have I told you that enough? I love you.”

“And a moment ago you were doing the world a favor…”

“I lied. I’m selfish when it comes to you, you know. If I take you off the street, it’s only so I don’t have to share you with others.”

“We are a well-made match Love.”

“I think so.” She kissed his cheek. “Now shh! The show is back from commercial. Just relax and watch some true American stupidity and feel better.”

“I think I can do that.”

They watched in silence as they recounted the newest marriages, latest break-ups and celebrity birthdays. Then they began a piece on the latest gossip tweets from the New York socialite crowd.

Deborah Norville’s voice asked, “And who’s the underage rental empire heiress that’s been scouting college campuses in the Boston area? If you answered Marty King, then you’re right. Marty, the leader of the New York young elite, has been checking out not just the dorms, but the party scene in Boston. Marty, seen here in this photo taken last night leaving a club with an unidentified much-older man, tweeted the following: ‘Beantown will be go town if there’s others like my new hot Scot. #walkingsexgod’ The King Enterprises heiress turns eighteen in February and the prognosticators are taking bets on how long it will take Party Marty to spend her inheritance once it’s fully in her hands.”

“Did you see that?” asked Liz.

Will had finally begun to nod off but stopped. “Did I see what?”

“That looked like pervy George with Marty King on TV! You really didn’t see that?”

“Who the devil is Marty King?”

“She’s the daughter of Able King, the founder of King Enterprises. Anyways, she’s a rich brat in the mould of Paris Hilton or Nicole Ritchie or, well, I don’t know who the Brit equivalent would be but she’s only seventeen and it looks like she’s running around Boston with George Wickham.”

Notes-

ł –Quote from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams: “The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has a few things to say on the subject of towels. A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value – you can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapours; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a mini raft down the slow heavy river Moth; wet it for use in hand-to- hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or to avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (a mindboggingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you – daft as a bush, but very ravenous); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough. More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitch hiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker might accidentally have “lost”. What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is is clearly a man to be reckoned with.”

 

*Chapter Forty-Four*

 

Will, unconvincingly, said, “Perhaps that was some other Scottish bloke. Did she actually say hot Scot? Or am I in need of having my hearing tested while I’m here?”

“I believe she did.”

“Is he truly? Hot, I mean. Do women really find him appealing? You know, find him good looking… because honestly? I don’t get it.”

Liz was amused by Will’s reaction. “And for that, I am eternally grateful! I told you before, Wickham turns heads enough… at least in places where liquor is freely served. I suppose he’s handsome in that Abercrombie faux-preppie-roguish sort of way.”

“So long as your head isn’t turned…”

“Only by you.”

“Brilliant answer Love.”

She stretched again while stifling a yawn. “Thank you Sweetheart.”

“Why are you way over there?”

Liz smiled and played dumb. “Is there somewhere else that I should be instead?”

Will laughed and it felt good. “Teasing, unfeeling woman! You know exactly where you ought to be!”

“In bed with you? Are we back to that?” Liz giggled as she snuggled back into Will’s arms where she proceeded to tease him once more. “You have a very high opinion of yourself Mr. Darcy! You still must think that every woman wants Will Darcy in their bed!”

“I could not possibly care less about any other woman. So long as this woman…” he kissed her neck, “…wants me in her bed I’ll have the opinion that I’m a lucky man.”

Liz sighed contentedly, “Excellent answer Will.”

His answer, “Yes, it was, wasn’t it?” was met with a playful slap on the arm.

Will caught her hand and brought it to his lips for a kiss. “Careful there Love! Remember, the watch-word here is gentle.”

“I remember the aerobic activity part, but you might have to remind me about the gentle part,” Liz whispered as her hand wound its way under the warming blankets.

Will was definitely no longer feeling cold. In fact, he was feeling excessively warm but it had little to do with his medical treatment. “Damn! Where the hell is the bloody doctor?”

Concerned by his sudden outburst and frightened by the thought she’s in some way hurt him, Liz started to get up as she asked, “I imagine he’ll be back sooner or later. Do you want me to press the call button? I could even go find someone if you’d like.”

Groaning rather loudly in frustration, Will reached out for her hand which she took.  He gave a slight tug and she climbed very carefully, so she wouldn’t disturb any of the monitors or his IV, back onto the bed. Once Liz was in what Will now considered her rightful place, he kissed that most beloved spot on her neck just behind and below her ear, then he whispered, “I just want to see him so he can discharge me as soon as possible!”

Liz exhaled a breath of happy relief. She began “I know that you are anxious to get the heck outta Dodge and begin your… well, our, ahem, new exercise regime… but Sweetheart?” She began her under-blanket explorations once again. Liz found her object and knew she now had his complete attention. “Your patience will be rewarded, I promise.”

“Liz…” Will growled just before he stilled her hand and urgently kissed her.

They spent a few moments completely focusing on nothing but expressing their love and passion for each other through their kiss. When they finally parted, each was left breathless but contented.

They sat together quietly, neither thinking about the difficulties they might face in the future as they combined their lives. Instead, Will and Liz were dwelling on how right it felt to just simply be together and chose to just enjoy these few quiet moments. It had been a very long day and between the ambient noises of the equipment in the room and plain exhaustion, it did not take long for the two to drift off for a well-deserved nap.

The clatter of the dinner service carts making the rounds on the unit woke Liz up. Not wanting to disturb Will, she slid out of his arms as slowly as she could so as not to wake him. Liz stood for a moment to watch over him, making certain she hadn’t disturbed his rest.

As she really looked at Will sleeping, she was flooded with so many thoughts and feelings. I am an unbelievably lucky woman. He loves me. Me! I can’t believe it… maybe it’s finally my turn to have good things happen in my life! I know this won’t be easy… but it will all be worth it, I just know it! Oh my God. Just look at him… how is it that he can be so sexy, even when he’s in a hospital gown? Right! Who am I trying to kid? Will is quite possibly the handsomest man I’ve ever laid eyes on. What on earth does he want with me? Stop it! Stop being an insecure adolescent… that’s Fran talking. He loves me, he desires me and he wants to marry me and only me. I really am an unbelievably lucky woman.

Liz gave a sigh as she left the room for a moment to find someone who might be able to say whether Will was able to eat solid foods yet. She found a nurse who in turned paged a doctor who said they would check with the on-call doctor. Feeling frustrated that everything seemed to go so slowly, Liz returned to the room where she resumed her place next to Will where she would wait to hear, hopefully soon, something from someone about anything.

Will was steadily snoring which indicated he was deeply sleeping. Liz was seriously considering the adjustments she’d need to make to her schedule to accommodate Will’s recovery. She still had some studying to do and a few last meetings with her advisors before she took her orals. Her dissertation was already complete and only awaited a finishing touch or two of polish before it was ready to hand in. Thinking about the coming changes in her life, Liz was no longer melancholy about this phase of her life coming to an end, especially when such a promising future lay just beyond her foreseeable horizon.

There was a gentle knock on the door to alert that someone was coming in. A very young looking doctor came in, confirmed who Liz was, introduced herself, and explained that she was the resident on duty and that she had just gotten the results of Will’s CT scan.

The doctor addressed Liz, since Will was still snoring away. “Everything looks fine on his CT.” Liz wiped away a happy tear of relief as the doctor continued, “It’s my understanding from the chart that this gentleman here would like some actual food. It’s my great pleasure to tell you that we can accommodate him with that. Unfortunately, he may not be very happy with the menu. Until we can be sure that his stomach will tolerate it, we’re putting him on a mostly liquid, bland diet. They should be bringing in a tray shortly and we’ll arrange for a snack this evening too. If Mr. Darcy does well with this and holds it down okay, in the morning we’ll add some more solids. The very fact that he’s hungry is a good sign that he’s recovering quite well.”

Liz was very grateful for this news. “Thank you Dr. Dashwood. Will has been complaining about his lack of food since he woke up. I think simple broth would make him cheer at this point.”

Dr. Dashwood shook her head and smiled, “I somehow doubt that… but you’ll get to see that soon enough for yourself because if I’m not mistaken, I believe broth is the main course of the liquid diet. His hunger is a good sign though. Mr. Darcy’s body had to expend a tremendous amount of energy stores to stay warm and conscious this morning. It’s a tribute to his good health and strong will that he’s making such quick progress.”

Liz smiled. “I believe he’s highly motivated to get out of here. Oh! Not that there’s anything wrong with this hospital or the care that he’s been given!”

“That’s alright. It’s the ones who really like extended hospital stays that we worry about. Wanting to get out of here and on with your life is a perfectly natural thing. Your fiancé will be out of here before you know it.”

“Thank you Dr. Dashwood. Everyone has been really helpful. Will there be any more tests tonight?”

“No, at least, no more this evening aside from glucose monitoring. We’ll just continue to monitor his vitals throughout the night.”

Liz was unsure how to ask the next question and instead of asking what she really wanted to know, settled for, “About visiting hours?”

“General visiting hours are over at seven, but under the circumstances, you’re welcome to stay. The chair next to you pulls out into a terribly uncomfortable cot. Where you are is fine for now, but as the nurses come at all hours to check on patients, you may wish to move before you go to sleep for the night.”

Blushing brighter red than Dr. Knightley had earlier, Liz nodded she understood that it would be best if she didn’t remain in Will’s bed all night.

“I know visiting hours are just about over, but my brother-in-law is bringing back a few things for us. He’s not going to have any trouble getting in here, will he?”

Dr. Dashwood smiled, “No, not at all. I’ll leave a note at the nurse’s station letting them know to expect someone for Mr. Darcy. If you have any questions or concerns, if there are any changes, I’m on call all night.”

“Thank you, Dr. Dashwood.”

“It’s no problem. Just be sure to get him to consume as much of his dinner as he can. He’ll need his strength if he wants to be released as much as I suspect he does,” the good doctor smiled as she left.

Dr. Dashwood was as good as her word. Not ten minutes after she left, someone knocked and came in with a covered tray of food. The smell of chicken soup was enough to wake Will from his pleasant dream. Looking unbelievingly at the tray, Will asked, “Do I really get to eat now?”

Liz smiled. “Yes, Sweetheart.” As the person who brought the food left, she teased, “Not only have you been cleared for sex, you’ve been cleared to eat. Or maybe I should say slurp? You have a yummy liquid dinner. I’m sorry Will.”

Lifting the cover off the tray, he surveyed his dinner. There was a bowl of chicken broth, a cup of gelatin, a glass of orange drink, a cup of what appeared to be pureed vegetables and a cup of very watery potato soup. Instead of the frown Liz had anticipated, Will licked his lips and grabbed the lid off the broth and began to drink it right from the bowl. In what seemed like no time at all, the soup was gone and Will set the bowl down as he made a satisfied sound.

“That was undoubtedly the worst soup I’ve ever had,” Will grinned. “But I don’t care. I don’t ever recall actually being hungry ever in my life. It was hot and almost, very nearly, had a bit of flavor.” Will began to pick up and examine the other items on the tray. He took the lid off the potato soup. “I think we may have a new contender for worst soup.” He took a taste and made a slight face that showed it was truly awful. “And we have a winner! Do you think… is it possible to get some seasoning? Maybe a little salt or pepper?”

“I’m sorry Will. The doctor warmed that it would be a bland diet. But, if you’re a very good boy and eat as much as you can, in the morning you might be able to have some solids.”

Trying to sound enthused, Will cracked a smile and said, “Oh joy!”

“At least you have jello! And orange drink.”

Unimpressed, he just mumbled ‘mm-hmm’ as he tried to drink up his watery potato. When he could take no more of that, he took a sip of the drink in his glass and nearly choked on the sweetness.

“Liz? I’m unfamiliar with ‘orange drink’.” Handing her the glass, he asked, “Is it supposed to be that sugary-sweet?”

After taking the smallest of sips, she was repulsed by the drink. “Crud monkey! That’s horrible! That tastes awfully like a sugar-test drink. Hold on… I’m going to see if anyone can tell us what’s up with that. While I’m gone, please at least try to eat your jello. It looks like you might even get to chew something!”

Will gave her such a look that she could in no way doubt his meaning when he said, “Tempting as the gelatin might be, there’s something else I’d rather sink my teeth into.”

Returning his look in equal measure, she saucily replied, “A healthy appetite is a sign of recovery… the doctor said so.”

Will wanted nothing more than to sweep her up into his arms and make love to her right there but knew that it was hardly feasible in his hospital room. Feeling helpless while his blood began to boil, he whined, “Elisabeth…”

She blew him a kiss from the doorway. “I promise that when you’re released we’ll keep your appetite well-appeased and get you plenty of aerobic activity. But for now, I’m going to see what the deal is with that orange sugar-water.”

As the door closed, Will realized that he needed to make the best of what was available. He decided to get this over with as quickly as possible and mixed the alleged veggies in with the potato-water and once it was mixed to the best of his ability, he chugged it down as quickly as he could. If the problem was the broth was that it was flavorless, the problem with the veggies was they were not. Choking back his gag reflex, Will managed to not throw it all back up. He was very glad that Liz was away at the moment because he was positive that while his momentary nausea was because of the food, he knew she would worry and tell a doctor or a nurse.

Will picked up the little container of gelatin. He took a bit secure in the knowledge that it was impossible to mess up gelatin. As he tasted the red-colored ‘treat’, Will quickly found out he was wrong. Setting the cup and spoon down in disgust, he sank back into the pillows and waited for Elisabeth to return.

He didn’t have to wait long. “Well, it seems that, yes, you need to drink the sugary stuff after all. A nurse looked up your menu and explained that the no-salt part is precautionary for your heart and the sugary drink and gelatin is to keep your glucose up because, wait, let me get this right… hypothermics tend to suffer hypoglycemic episodes. So, drink up Will. Please? They say that if all goes well, you can have normal stuff to eat tomorrow.”

“I’ll do it for you… and only because you asked so nicely and said the magic word.”

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome, Love.”

Will drank down the terrible drink and when the glass was empty, he set it down in triumph. “Holy hell! That was really something else.”

Liz agreed, “I know. That’s the kind of drinks they use for sugar tests.”

“You mean you’ve had to drink stuff like that before?”

“Oh yeah. Many, many times. I can’t drink Sprite anymore because I usually get the lemon-lime flavor and now, if I even think about Sprite, I go into sugar over-load.”

“That’s awful. You’re going to have to teach me all about your diabetes. I want to know how I can help you maintain it. I’m incredibly selfish and I need to keep you as healthy as possible so we can have a long life together.”

“Have I mentioned in the last few minutes how wonderful you are and how lucky I am?”

“No.”

“Well I am. I love you Will… you truly are the very best of men.”

“If I am, it’s only because you are the very best of women. I love you Elisabeth… with all of my extremely well-monitored heart.”

That last comment made her smile. “Speaking of monitoring… I can stay tonight. But I need to stay in the chair.”

“That’s preposterous. You’ll do no such thing.”

“Oh really? I won’t, will I?”

“No you won’t and I will even tell you why- it’s in this particular patient’s best interests to be constantly kept warm through the night.” He grinned, “You wouldn’t wish me to catch a chill now, would you?”

Liz laughed. “Heavens no!”

“Then I think it’d be for the best if you kept your place right here by my side.”

“I won’t argue with that.”

They sat quietly, hands clasped together. Will squeezed her hand and looked at Liz with sad eyes as he apologized, “I’m sorry Elisabeth.”

She couldn’t begin to imagine what he was about. “For what now?”

“Getting a jump on the sickness part. This is not how I wanted to spend tonight with you.”

Liz scoffed. “You are ridiculous! You do know that, don’t you? If not, I’ll have to remind you often. This…” she waved her hand around, indicating the hospital room, “…is hardly going to be an everyday occurrence. And please, don’t forget, you’re committing yourself to someone with a degenerative disease that may someday, and I hope it won’t, get worse.” She took a deep breath and continued while he listened silently, “Plus, if we’re really lucky, we might someday have kids and then I can guarantee there’s all sorts of craziness that’ll come along with that! It’s called life Will and it happens to everyone. What makes the difference is who you choose to go through life with and I choose you William George Darcy… no one else… I choose you.”

He wiped the stray tear from her cheek with his thumb and pulled her tightly into his arms. “And I choose you Elisabeth Anne Bennet Gardiner. Though why you’d want to settle for a git like me, I have no idea!”

“You!” Liz poked him, “You are the absolutely most infuriating man that ever drew a breath! I think when I marry you there may be some sort of international peace-keeping award involved.”

“The world at large will thank you, there’s no doubt.”

She laughed. “They better!” He nodded his agreement and they snuggled together and promptly fell asleep.

*Chapter Forty-Five*

 

Liz was just at the point in waking where she needed to decide whether to commit to getting up or just fall back asleep. Liz didn’t open her eyes and instead choose to listen to a few female voices just outside their door who were very feeling very chatty.

The woman who stood closest spoke first. “Some girls get all the luck, don’t they Angie?”

The other woman readily agreed. “I know, right? I heard that Sheila said that he even has an English accent and that when he looked at her earlier it turned her into a puddle.”

“Ooh! I gotta tell you, accents drive me crazy! Seriously… I could listen to someone with a British accent read the phone book and I think I’d drool.”

“And you know what I really hate? What bugs me most?”

“What’s that Audrey?”

“She, his girlfriend I mean, seems really nice and you just can’t hate her.”

“I think I know what you mean. It’s not like she’s some Barbie doll or something. She seems really normal and, I don’t know, just really nice. If she can find a hottie like that, maybe there’s hope for us all?”

The woman who Liz surmised to be Audrey gave a deep sigh and reluctantly agreed. “I suppose stranger things have happened. No harm in dreaming, right Ang?”

They giggled and carried on for a few more moments, but Liz was unable to understand any more of what was said through their strains of laughter.

Liz had not slept well. Hospitals always disturbed her. Aside from her own med schedule, her rest had been interrupted by the never-ending parade of aides, nurses and residents who popped in and out of the room to check on Will. She was grateful that he was doing so well, but she could hardly wait to get out of there and on with their lives. Liz turned her head so she could watch him sleep. With her head resting on his chest, she could hear the steady rhythm and as well as see it on the monitor. The relief she felt from being able to see some tangible proof that he was doing well nearly made up for how tired and achy she was.

She stretched as much as she could without waking Will and groaned when she realized that getting up was no longer optional. Disentangling herself from the blanket, she headed towards the door when a deep voice arrested her movements.

“You promised to never leave me. Yet here you are… scampering off at the first opportunity!”

Liz smiled. “Good morning to you too! I can honestly say that I don’t ever remember being accused of scampering before.”

Will propped himself up and returned her smile. “Call it what you like… the point is that you were leaving me to wake up all alone in this terrible place.”

Liz sat on the edge of the bed and patted his hand. “Oh yes, such a terrible place! How horrible it must be here, with all these nurses who are half in love with you! Yes, it must be such a trial!”

Will pouted. “Don’t patronize me! All I wanted was to know that you were still here. I don’t think that’s being so unreasonable, do you?”

“No, I suppose not.” She leaned in and kissed his cheek. Then she stood and inched towards the door. “I’ll be right back… I promise I’m not leaving.”

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” Liz replied as she headed out the door.

Liz took a moment to adjust her eyes to the bright light in the hallway, bent down to touch her toes and stretch and then headed down the hall for the nearest bathroom. While it occurred to her that she could have likely used the one in Will’s room, the rules stated that it was available for patients only and seeing as they had already broken several rules, Liz figured it was the least she could do to adhere to this one.

After taking a few minutes to splash water on her face, brush her teeth and a vain attempt to tame her hair, she stepped back into the hallway feeling much better. The clock over the nursing station showed it was nearing five-thirty.

She walked numbly back towards Will’s room and finally gave into the stress and exhaustion. With her head against the wall, she began to cry as all sorts of thoughts ran through her head. Twenty-four hours… he left me just over twenty-four hours ago and I almost lost him. What would happen had he… NO! I can’t even think that way! He’s fine, I’m fine, we’re all fine and that’s that! I can’t believe Pop would let this happen… was this what he wanted? No… he couldn’t be that cruel… could he? I’m done. I’m done trying to seek his approval and I’m done trying to make him proud of me. It’s never happening and Will’s right- it’s his problem, not ours! Ours. Not my problem, not his problem, but our problems! Oh God! Please don’t let anything happen to him… I need him. I really, truly need him and he needs me too.

Liz jumped when she felt a hand on her shoulder. “Beth?”

She was still crying when she was pulled into Charlie’s arms. He patted her back and tried his best to soothe his sister-in-law. “He’s going to be just fine Bethy. Why don’t you leave for a while and I’ll watch after the Old Man while you get some sleep?”

He could feel her shake her head no. “I won’t leave him.”

“Beth, it’s not going to do either one of you any good if you end up admitted for exhaustion!” Charlie tried to make her laugh, “I know you think he’s Mr. Wonderful and all, but remember, I’ve known him forever and, I swear, you’ve never seen anything as awful as Fitz on a Sunday when he’s bored with nothing to do! So, you see, it’s in the best interests of everyone if you get some rest!”

Liz conjured up a picture in her mind of Will stomping around, rather grumpy, and looking for some attention and she laughed aloud at the thought. Stepping back, she wiped her face with her sleeve and said, “Thanks Charlie. You’re right, I am tired… but I will not leave without him. However, if you wouldn’t mind keeping him company, I’ll try and take a nap on the pull-out.”

“I can do that,” Bingley agreed.

“Thanks.” Liz then saw the bag he carried and asked, “Hey, what happened? I thought you were coming back last night?”

Bingley chuckled and shook his head, “Right. Like you two even noticed that I didn’t come back! Anyways, are you sure you want to hear this?”

“No. But I should.”

“Yes, that’s probably for the best. Alright… your dad, obviously, beat me home. When I got home yesterday afternoon, he was yelling at the girls to finish packing because he wasn’t going to stay another minute in a house where he wasn’t welcome.”

“But you didn’t kick him out?”

“No. I wanted to, and I might have, but he was already in the midst of throwing himself out when I got there. I’m sorry Bethy, but I’m glad because it saved me a great deal of trouble. I have no idea what I would’ve said to him otherwise. I headed up find Carrie crying and near hysterical. Seems your dad told her that Will had gotten sick and my sister’s such a germaphobe that I wonder if her alleged admiration will withstand this episode. She asked who was watching him and, against my better judgment I told the truth and said that you were here and that news actually seemed to calm her. She said you’d take good care of him and then she took a valium and no one has seen her since. Your sisters complained that they didn’t want to leave early… I guess they were hoping for more freebies from Carrie. I really think it’s a bit scary how well my sister gets on with yours. At least Catherine left you a note- I’ve got it in the bag.”

Liz, who was still processing everything she’d heard, asked, “So the Bennet-mobile has safely rolled out of town then?”

“Yeppers. Headed out last night just before dinner. I really would have been back last night but I knew that you weren’t going anywhere and I was really tired myself. I got up with Jane this morning- I really don’t know how pregnant women manage- and found I couldn’t get back to sleep and so your sister sent me here.”

She hugged him. “Thanks Charlie, for everything you’ve done for us.”

“Yeah… like nearly getting my best friend killed? Good job there.”

Liz groaned in exasperation, “That was not what I meant and you know it! Why can’t our family just be normal?”

Charlie tried to cajole a smile out of her. “That would be un-American, my dear Sil, and you know it!”

“But I’m marrying an Englishman…”

“Yeah- and they just suppress everything. Which is better? Dragging out the dirty laundry to air where everyone can see it or pretending it doesn’t exist and hiding it until it stinks so bad you can’t help but deal with it?”

“Gee… such wonderful options you’ve given me to consider.”

Charlie laughed. “That’s my job. Maybe in the next book…”

Liz smacked his arm. “Don’t you dare!”

“Oh come on! You know very well I wouldn’t. Besides, I wasn’t kidding when I told Fitz that I was certain you could kick my ass… I’m not afraid to say you can be a little scary!”

She smacked his arms again. “Oh brother! I never knew you were such a wimp! Does JJ know that she married a girly-man?”

“Hey there now! Maybe if you’d quit hitting me all the time!”

“Sorry. You just make such a good target!”

“Yeah, well, hit the big guy. He seems to like it.”

“Charlie!”

Bingley blushed at the implication and laughed. “Yeah, that sounded bad. What you two do in private is none of my business.”

Liz shook her head and joined in the laughter. “You have no idea the amount of personal restraint I am using right now to not hit you again!”

 “And you have no idea how much I appreciate it! Besides, I know you’d hate for your niece to forego having a father.”

“Niece?” asked a very excited Liz.

“Oh shit! Your sister will make me into a eunuch if she finds out I’ve spilled the beans! You can’t say a word about this to anyone… please?”

“What about Will? I refuse to keep any secrets from him.”

“Fine… it’s not as if he’s going to spill to anyone in the family. But seriously, please, please, please don’t tell Jane that I opened my big mouth!”

“I can keep a secret. Just this once though…” Liz smiled as she began imagining all the cute little dresses and such that she could begin buying for her niece. “Now, are you going to come in here so I can take a nap or what?”

Bingley held the door open and made a sweeping motion with his other arm. “After you…”

Liz nodded her thanks and as they both entered the room, they were greeted by the sound of Will’s snoring. Charlie pointed to the pull-out and Liz nodded obediently and gathered up a blanket from the end of the bed and a spare pillow from the closet. After arranging herself on the cot in a position that she thought would cause the least amount of discomfort, she pulled the blanket tightly around her shoulders and closed her eyes. Seeing that Liz was going to, for once, actually listen and attempt to get some rest, Charlie picked up the remote and began flipping channels, looking for the morning news. As it was still very early, it took only one commercial break before he lost interest and fell asleep as well.

The morning breakfast service cart clamored down the hallway and the loud rattling woke Charlie up. Checking his watch, he was surprised to find it was nearing eight. He glanced over at his charges and smiled. Liz was almost entirely covered by her blanket, save her right hand which was enfolded in Will’s. Will was lying on his left side with his right arm spanning the distance to the cot where Liz was sleeping. It seemed that even in sleep they refused to remain apart.

Charlie stretched and then dug his cell out of his pocket and stepped into the hallway to phone Jane. He let her know that everything was alright and that he was going to stay to give Elisabeth some respite whether she wanted it or not. Jane confirmed that Carrie was leaving for some meetings in Chicago for her new spring line. Charlie and Jane each breathed a sigh of relief that she was going to be out of their hair for the time being. Jane told Charlie she was baking some cookies, scones and other goodies which she would put together in a basket for Will and Liz’s drive to Boston. After they said their good-byes, Charlie smiled. He knew he was a much luckier man than he deserved and now it seemed the two people dearest in the world to him aside from his beloved wife had found a similar happiness.

When Charlie entered the room again, he found Will sitting upright and eagerly eating his breakfast.

Charlie had never seen anyone, least of all the fastidious William Darcy, so ravenous before. “Ah, so they finally decided to feed you?”

With his mouth full of scrambled egg, Will mumbled, “Very funny. I’m hungry, so if you’ll be so kind as to excuse me, I’d like to finish eating this before they change their mind and bring me more of that liquid nonsense.”

Chuckling, Charlie replied, “Far be it from me to stand between a man and his eggs.”

Annoyed by Bingley’s humor, Will said, “Bugger off!”

Charlie threw his hands up and laughed. “Touchy!”

“Boys! Do I need to separate you?” Liz asked as she sat up and rubbed the sleep from her eyes.

Now Will was even more irritated. Practically yelling at Charlie, he said, “See? See what you’ve done? You and your bloody unfunny sense of humor! You’ve woken Liz.” He then addressed Liz in a much more solicitous tone, “You’ve been checking your sugar, yes? Please, Love, you must eat something.”

Charlie and Liz just looked at each other with wonder and then looked to Will as they begun to laugh.

An indignant Will asked, “Now what’s so bloody funny?”

Liz stood up and walked to Will’s side. Smoothing the hair from his eyes, she softly answered, “You. You are what’s so funny, Sweetheart. Really, you and Charlie were carrying on like kindergartners! I’m fine, really. I’ve been on top of everything and Charlie here, good friend that he is, was watching out for us so that I could catch a few Z’s while you were resting. However, now that you are up, and decidedly grumpy, I’m going to head to the cafeteria in search of some sustenance.”

“Were we really that bad?” asked Will.

Charlie answered before Liz could. “Yes. But we both still love you anyways.”

Aggravated, Will groaned, “Don’t you have somewhere you need to be Chip?”

Charlie crossed his legs as he propped them up on the end of the bed. “Surprisingly, no. My duty today is to make sure that the two of you get out of here and have everything you need when you do.”

Liz laughed as she watched them banter back and forth. “Seeing as I’m really just in the way here, I’ll just get going. Charlie, you want anything?”

“Coffee. Please? Thank you!”

She nodded and answered, “Sure thing.” Then, leaning over and giving Will a kiss, she said, “And do you think it’s safe if I leave you in Charlie’s hands for a few minutes? I promise to make it up to you later.”

Will grinned, “I have a few ideas…”

“I bet you do. I love you and here…” she kissed him, “…that should tide you over until I get back.”

Will kissed her nose. “Somehow I doubt that since I miss you already.”

“You two are disgusting! Sil- go and get your breakfast already! And Fitz? Really? Did you get that off a Hallmark card?”

Liz smacked Charlie’s arm on her way out of the room. “Shut up Bil! You have no idea how nauseating it’s been watching you and JJ over the years. Give us a break.”

Once Liz was gone, Bingley could no longer help himself. “So… when’s the wedding?”

*Chapter Forty-Six*

 

Liz returned less than a half-hour later to find Will and Charlie laughing so hard that tears were streaming down both of their faces.

“What on earth is going on in here?” Liz demanded.

Her appearance only made the men laugh that much harder. They tried to calm themselves so they could speak, but Charlie caught Will’s eye and they started all over again.

Liz was amazed by their antics. “Shall I leave and try coming back again?”

“No please! Stay Elisabeth…” Will hiccoughed. “It seems I have need of your scientific…” he hiccoughed again, “…assistance.”

She rolled her eyes. “Very well. Who am I to ignore a chance to use the scientific method?”

Just then Charlie hiccoughed too. “Hey Sil, so what’s this secret cure anyways?”

Liz turned bright red. “Um… it involves tricking the brain into resetting the phrenic nerve.”

Charlie waved his hand and nodded, expecting further clarification.

She handed him his coffee and tried to explain, “Well, uh, what needs to happen… I mean, what you need to do is…”

Will hiccoughed again and motioned for Liz to come to him. “What she means is, go home and kiss your own wife until you’re both breathless. This really is a one-person-only cure.” To illustrate his point, Will pulled Liz into his arms and proceeded to demonstrate precisely how the cure was put into action.

Charlie hiccoughed again. “So I see.”

Liz sat still for a moment in case Will still had the hiccoughs, but their home remedy had once again proven very reliable.

“Yeah, I think that’s my cue to go stretch my legs!”

“Sorry Charlie! We didn’t mean to…” Liz stammered an apology for forgetting about Bingley’s presence.

“You might not have,” Charlie said to Liz before pointing to Will, “but he did! I’m going for a walk but I’ll be back shortly. And Fitz? That means behave!”

As soon as Charlie was out the door, Will stuck his tongue out at his friend’s retreating back and said, “I don’t want to behave. I’ve behaved all my life and, for once, I really don’t want to!”

“I know it’s frustrating Sweetheart, but I can’t imagine it’ll be much longer. They’ll come around on their morning rounds, see that you’re doing amazingly well and then send us on our merry way. Now, until that happens, how about you entertain me with what had you and funny-boy laughing so hard? When I left, you were scarfing down your breakfast and were pretty grumpy. What did Bil say that excited such a change?”

“He began harassing me for a wedding date and we, being the very mature adults you know us to be, devolved quickly into name calling and that, naturally, then took us on a nostalgia trip. When you came in, Chip and I had just recalled the story of that time he’d been locked out of the house completely starkers.”

Starkers?  Oh God! You mean naked?” Liz let out a most unlady-like guffaw. “When was this and what happened?”

Will began, “We were sharing a flat,” here Liz gave him a questioning glare, “alright, it was a house, with a few of our other mates our second year at Cambridge. We’d been on a pub-crawl to celebrate something- I don’t remember and it’s likely we didn’t need a proper excuse- and, as these things happen, Chip had much too much to drink. So, most of us had already gone home but Chip was deemed especially charming that evening by the ladies and so he stayed on long after we’d left. He was making his way through the courtyard in the wee-smalls when the lawn sprinklers came on and soaked him right through. Being rather pissed, sorry, drunken, your dear brother-in-law to be thought it the most reasonable thing to divest himself of his sodden clothes and then proceed to bang on the door while yelling like a mad-man for us to let him in. As most of us were three sheets to the wind, it took a few minutes for any of us to register that someone was at our door. My room was the closest, so it fell to me to let the wanker in. It was a bloody good thing I got there when I did, for several of our neighbors, who already didn’t like us very much, had turned on their lights and were looking to see what all the commotion was about. Luckily, I opened the door before any of them got a good look at Chip or his bits. He barely made it in the door before he threw up. I then led him to the downstairs bathroom, where he spent the night curled around the toilet. In the morning, Jonah, one of our mates, and I fetched Chip’s clothes for him before we got into any serious trouble.”

Liz was still giggling when Will finished his tale. “Unbelievable! I wonder if my sister knows that story.”

A voice called from the doorway, “No! She doesn’t! And I’d like to keep it that way, thank you!”

Liz turned to see her brother-in-law blushing profusely. She teased him, “Oh Charlie, come on! That is a highly entertaining tale. Were the ladies enthralled by your exotic American accent or by your loose purse-strings? And whatever possessed you to disrobe outside like that?”

Turning to Will, Charlie asked, “Seriously? I can’t believe you told her that! You couldn’t have made something else up?”

While he felt bad that his friend was uncomfortable, Will had to be honest. “I will only ever tell Elisabeth the truth about everything. She deserves nothing less.”

Liz, who also felt sympathy for Bingley’s discomposure, was delighted with her fiancé’s answer. “Thank you Will.”

“You’re welcome Love.”

Charles Bingley found that he could not be angry with either of them and so decided to move on. “Well, then, what are your plans for when you get out? Jane would love to say good-bye to you both.”

After a quick glance at Will, Liz answered, “I think that once Will’s released, we’ll head back to McGovern’s and clean up, then pack up. Once we’re all through there, we can stop by on our way out of town.”

Charlie nodded. “Sounds reasonable. Wait though… I have your car. We’ll have to stop at my house first so you can drop me off and say your good-byes then. Where do you think you’ll stop for the night? I can’t imagine you’ll push through.”

Liz thought for a moment before answering, “That all depends on when we actually get on the road. I’d like to make it to Chicago tonight. It’s not too far, and then most of the way is just turnpike.”

Will asked, “How far is it?”

“I think it’s just under twelve-hundred miles. I’m thinking Chicago tonight and maybe somewhere in Pennsylvania for tomorrow. That should get us to Beacon Street sometime early Tuesday evening.”

“What about your classes? Won’t you fall behind?” asked a concerned Will.

“I’ll shoot an email to my TA and let him know he’s on for the next few days. I’ll also email my advisors and let them know I’m still out of town on family business. I don’t have anything too set in stone until Thursday.” Liz then inquired of Will, “Don’t you have things you need to attend to?”

“I hadn’t had a chance to ask you yet, but I’d like to stay for a short while.”

“I’d like that very much, but won’t you be missed?”

Hesitantly, Will said, “If it was alright with you, I was going to ask my assistant to come over with some paperwork and my laptop. I could work from Boston for a short while, with occasional trips into the New York office. Of course, I’d put Reynolds up somewhere nearby. I’d had to impose.”

Charlie gave a small chuckle before Liz had a chance to respond and he said, “That’s highly unnecessary Old Man! Did she not tell you that her so-called apartment is four-thousand square feet? I’d hedge a bet that there’s enough room for Reynolds.”

Liz glared at Bingley. “Thank you, Charlie.” First, rolling her eyes in frustration, she then smiled at Will and said, “He’s annoying, but Charlie’s right. I’ve got plenty of room. Your assistant can stay with us, especially if it makes things easier for you.”

Will nodded. “Thanks. I think it would. I’ll call him and have him make arrangements to be here Wednesday. That’ll also give him time to look into a few legal matters for us as well.”

Charlie questioned, “Legal matters?”

“Yes. In case it escaped your notice, you’re sister-in-law is a citizen of the United States and I am not. Then there’s the tiny matter of her possible new job. I need to have my team look into what steps need to be taken for emigration as well as what’s required of me.”

Feeling stupid, Charlie admitted, “You know, I never even thought of that.”

Liz smiled, “Just don’t go using this as fodder for one of your novels.”

Grinning at Will, he pointed to Liz and said, “Well, she’s no fun at all!”

Will grinned back. “I beg to differ.”

The three carried on much in this same manner until around nine o’clock when the doctor came in with the good news that Will was being discharged. Suddenly, there was an endless stream of personnel coming through the room. First, a nurse came in to take out the IV. Next was the nutritionist who came in armed with meal plans and ideas on how to restore Will’s energy reserves. After that was the physical therapist who had recommendations for slow, progressive exercises to build up strength without causing any undue tissue damage. Dr. Knightley was the last doctor to come through. He explained just how taxing the episode was on Will’s health and explained why it was better to err on the side of caution. He described what hypothermia can do to the heart and brain and when he was finished, both Will and Liz realized how lucky he was to come off nearly scot-free. After the good doctor left, the discharge nurse came in to go over the final paperwork and when the papers were signed, all that was left was for Will to get dressed. Charlie handed Will the bag of his freshly-laundered clothes and wisely stepped out of the room.

Liz handed Will his under-shirt and could barely contain her enthusiasm. “We’re really getting you out of here!”

He pulled it over his head and then reached in the bag for his boxers. “It certainly seems so. What shall we do for luncheon? I’m starved.”

“Whatever you’re in the mood for. I’m just pleased to get out of here. I’ll let you in on a little secret… I hate hospitals.”

He pulled his jeans on. “Me too. What’s a place not to be missed around here? Was there not a place that your sister Catherine favored? Something about crinkle-cut fries?”

“Yes! We’ll have lunch at Culver’s. Home of the Butter-Burger.”

“Wait a moment! Butter-Burger? That hardly sounds healthy…”

That look of mischief had returned as she stated, “If you’d prefer, we could just go back to the Bingley’s and I’m sure JJ could puree you some vegetables.”

He threw up his hands in mock defeat. “Culver’s it is then!”

Will reached into the bag Charlie had brought and found the grey sweater that had belonged to Liz’s ex. Holding it up, Will said, “You’ll not mind if I don’t put this jumper back on, right?”

She’d forgotten all about it. “I promise, when we get on the road, we can talk about Drew and you can ask me any and all questions that you can think of.”

He’d just finished tying his second trainer. He stood up, gave a stretch and then kissed her temple. “Thank you for that. Please know that you can ask me anything as well.”

Liz quirked an eyebrow and asked, “Anything?”

“As much as I might regret it, yes, anything. I swear to you now though, I don’t have any running-around-starkers stories like Chip does. I was rather boring by comparison.”

She tip-toed and kissed him. “I’m very glad to hear it!”

He blushed a bit. “So… do we have everything?”

Liz scanned the room and checked the bed-tray one last time. “I think so. We’re going to get really good at travelling together in short order. I think the staying-in-one-place might be what proves tricky.”

“Is that a veiled attempt to say that we’ll be dull together? I think not.”

“Hmm. How exciting can a corporate fat-cat and a spinster academic be?”

“If the people in question are you and I, I’d say very.” Then turning very serious, Will asked, “Are you having second thoughts Elisabeth? If you’d like more time, then you can take all the time you like. I promise that I’m not going anywhere.”

She smiled radiantly. “That’s good because neither am I. You, my good sir, are stuck with me. Perhaps you may wish for more time?”

He pulled her into his arms. “More time? Yes. More time to spend with you. I have no need of more time to be certain.”

She snuggled against his chest. “See? I like this. I like it when we talk things through and don’t go jumping to conclusions. I think this bodes well for us in the future, don’t you think?”

Will kissed the top of her head and held her close. “I think it does. We don’t have to follow anyone’s rules but our own. While my parents loved each other, they weren’t very good at actually listening to each other. I want more for us Elisabeth.”

“I know my mom and dad loved each other… but I really have no idea what kind of marriage they truly had. All I know is that I don’t want what my father and Fran have.”

“Your father?”

“Yes. Father. Pop or even dad seem too affectionate somehow. Tom Bennet is now simply my father… I know he’ll never ever be my daddy again.”

“I am so sorry Love. I know this has been difficult for you and I apologize for any part I played in widening the rift between the two of you.”

She clasped his hands. “No. Please don’t be. He’s been spoiling for some sort of fight between us for years. I wonder if he just can’t live with his guilt anymore or if he’s secretly been a coward the whole time posing as a brave man; but please believe me when I say this, none of it, was your fault. I love you William Darcy. I choose you.”

He was deeply affected by her declaration and had no words to tell of his feelings at that moment. So Will did the only thing he could think of to express all that he felt: he kissed her. His arms wrapped around her waist while hers came up over his shoulders and they drew tightly against each other. They spent several long minutes making this silent declaration of their love and affection until they were interrupted, yet again, by Charlie.

Bingley, for all the years he had known Darcy, had never really had good cause to tease his dearest friend until now. “Oh, come on! Really? You two are at it again? Give it a rest!”

“Bugger off Charles!” growled Will.

Liz giggled, “Yes Charlie, please bugger off!”

Charlie shook his head and teased his sister-in-law. “Watch your mouth young lady! Such language!”

Liz said defiantly, “I’m learning my fiancé’s native tongue.”

 While both Will and Charlie laughed at her remark, it was Charlie who quipped, “So that’s what they’re calling it now.”

Liz began to forcefully push Charlie out the door as Will grabbed the bag, Liz’s purse and their coats.

“Alright! I’ll behave!” Charlie protested as Liz refused to stop shoving him.

“You’d better!” threatened Liz.

Will spoke sternly. “Children! Do I need to set you in opposing corners? Really.”

Simultaneously, they both cried out, “He started it!” and “She started it!” which caused Will to crack up.

Will had declined a wheelchair escort out of the hospital, as he’d spent enough time feeling like an invalid and so the three of them headed towards the exit. When they reached the vestibule, Charlie muttered that he’d bring the car around while Liz and Will put on their coats.

It was only a few minutes later that Charlie had pulled up in the now-warmed car. Liz and Will snickered while they both climbed into the backseat and be chauferred by Charlie.

Will commanded, “Drive on Rothschild,” while Liz stifled a giggle.

Charlie sighed. “Very funny, you two. High-lar-i-ous even.”  

Liz chose to accept the remark as a compliment. “Thank you. And this wasn’t even planned.”

“Oh really? I’d never have been able to tell,” clucked Charlie.

Choosing to ignore his sarcasm as Liz had, Will said, “And that’s why we make such a good team.”

“You two really are incorrigible, you know that don’t you?”

Liz looked into Will’s eyes and they both answered, “Of course we do.”

*Chapter Forty-Seven*

 

In less than forty-five minutes, they arrived at the Bingley’s house. Will and Liz each let out a sigh of relief when it was clear that both the Bennet’s and Carrie’s cars were gone indeed. They headed into the house where Jane was waiting for them.

Jane surprised Will with a bug, sisterly hug. “Thank goodness that you’re alright!”

Will hugged her back. “Thank you. They tell me I’m resilient.”

“For Bethy’s sake, I’m glad. Now, I’ve made a few things for your trip, but you’ll have to help me…” and so Jane then grabbed Will’s hand and led him towards the kitchen.

Charlie nudged Liz and whispered, “Never thought I’d see that.”

Liz nodded. “He told me a little bit about his side of it. He really thought he was just watching out for you.”

“I know… but I was hardly a child who needed minding, was I?”

“No you weren’t.”

Charlie was quiet for a moment, then suddenly said, “This weekend has been great.”

Liz was stunned, “Great? Have you gone insane?”

“Apparently. I didn’t mean great as far as our family goes, I meant great for my friendship with Darcy. It’s been a really long time since I’ve seen him so happy… maybe content would be a better word? Anyways, he’s like the guy I used to know before he started to become a miserable, discontented bastard. It’s been great having the old Fitz back this weekend and,” Charlie kissed Liz’s cheek, “I have you to thank for that.”

Liz protested what she felt was unwarranted praise. “I didn’t really do anything.”

“Yes you did. You saw who he was, not what he was; and that, my dear Sil, is what has made all the difference.”

Liz saw there was truth in his observation. “I really do love him you know.”

“Oh, believe me, I know. You’ve changed a little bit too.”

“Have I now?”

“Yes.”

“And you’re not going to give me some insightful observation about it?”

“Nope.”

“Fat lot of help you are.”

“I know,” Charlie said as he stepped aside just in time to miss getting smacked on the arm. “If you’re done harassing me now, shall we go see what trouble they’re getting up to?”

Liz bowed and deferred to Charlie, “After you…”

In the kitchen, Jane and Will had been packing up a large basket of goodies to take along on their road trip. Jane also had a small soft-sided cooler that she had filled with Diet Dr. Pepper, Cokes and bottled water. Will marveled at how easy he actually was alone in Jane’s company and he felt even more the injustice of trying to break up Jane and Chip all those years ago.

Will placed the banana bread in the basket. “Jane?”

Jane was wrapping up some vanilla bean scones. “Hmm?”

“I’m sorry. For everything. It can’t be a mystery to you that I tried, rather stupidly, to convince Chip to leave you, come back to England and work for me. It was incredibly arrogant of me to presume I knew anything about you at the time. I assumed since you were friends with Carrie and, sorry to say, because you were a model, that you were a vapid hanger-on who was just going to use my friend. It pleases me to say that in this I am exceedingly glad that I was wrong. You’ve made my friend happy, and that’s all I could ever hope for him- to be happy. Please accept my apology… I’m not the man I was then and I’d never dream of being so presumptuous again.”

“It’s obvious that you’ve changed… but I never thought you were a bad man. You were just, perhaps, a little misguided. And as you seem to be the key to making my stalwart sister happy, I’ll be happy to eventually call you my brother.”

“Thank you Jane.”

“No problem. But Will?” She waited until she could look him in the eye before she continued. “If you, ever, in any way, shape or form, hurt my sister… please know that Charlie isn’t the only one who knows how to use a gun.”

For a brief moment, Will was terrified. Then he saw a glint of humor in her eye and a smile appeared, allowing him to relax. “I’ll never forget, I promise. I really do love your sister, and I will do my best everyday to be the man she needs me to be.”

“Good. Because she’s always needed someone who just would appreciate her just as she is and not continually try to change her into what they want her to be. That someone seems to be you Will.”

Will was contemplating what Jane had said and wondered aloud, “I suppose that Drew bloke tried to change her then.”

Jane wasn’t sure what he did or did not know about Elisabeth’s ex-boyfriend and decided to be vague. “In a manner of speaking.”

Will could see that Jane was uncomfortable sharing confidences and, in keeping with their new accord, tried to reassure her, “I’m not fishing for information Jane. Liz already said that she’d explain all about this fellow on our trip. I’m sure it will all be well. Unless… is there something I should know about in advance? He’s not stalking her like that Thorpe fellow, is he?”

“No… nothing like that. As far as I know, she’s not had contact with Drew in years. It’s just that he tried so hard to change her… so much in fact that when you thought about it, it left you wondering why they had ever gotten together in the first place. Her sense of humor was to boyish, she didn’t listen to the right kind of music, she was too smart, her ambitions were too great, she didn’t care about being married at twenty and having a brood of kids and being a stay-at-home mom. She didn’t wear her hair right, or the right clothes or enough make-up. Oh, and don’t me started on how he went on about her diabetes! And she put up with this for far longer than she should have.”

Will shook his head in disgust at what he’d heard. How dare anyone treat his Elisabeth so! “Bloody hell. It sounds like she was dating your mum.”

As serious as the topic at hand was, his comment made Jane laugh. “It does, doesn’t it? I never thought about it that way. Maybe that explains why my mom still goes on and on about him!”

“Your sister is perfect just the way she is. I love her and have no wish for her to change.”

“But Will, change is inevitable and is sometimes necessary and can even be a good thing.” For emphasis, she rubbed her baby bump. “In fact, I can see a few ways that Beth has already begun to change. She’s happier and that, for one, is huge. She’s finally standing up for herself- both with my mom and her dad-instead of just nodding her head and going along with their nonsense. She’s been more self-assured, no, that’s not it, assertive is more like it. It’s been wonderful to see and I believe she owes that all to you and your obvious care for her.”

What Will was hearing didn’t make sense with what he knew. “But she’s been that way since I met her.”

Jane smiled triumphantly. “Exactly.”

Will still wasn’t sure he understood, but the conversation seemed to be at an end. Jane and Will continued wrapping up sugar-less cookies and other goodies in silence.

Charlie and Liz joined them in the kitchen, thus ending the silence.

“Mmm. It all looks so good,” Liz said as she peeked in the basket. “No way! Those aren’t the vanilla bean scones?”

Jane smiled. “Yes way! I know how you love them.”

Liz gave her sister a squeeze. “Thanks JJ. For everything you tried to do this weekend. We really appreciate it.”

Charlie remarked to Jane, “See? I told you. They’ve even got the whole we, us and our thing down. I think they’re hopeless now.”

Will was about to say something about how daft his friend had become but Jane shook her head and so Will kept his mouth shut.

Jane then leaned her head on her husband’s shoulder and gently corrected him. “Hopeful… definitely not hopeless.”

Will and Liz stood side by side, arms entwined, and agreed with Jane Bingley’s sagacity.

Jane was very happy for her sister. The love she and Will shared was clearly written on their faces. “And on that note… as much as I’d like for you both to stay so we could have the visit that was originally intended, I know that’s not possible. Besides, our match-making scheme worked out so much better than we could have ever dreamed.”

“I can’t argue with that.”

“No. And if either of you ever decide to, you need to know that Charlie and I have the recorded messages you each left us on Thursday night. So you’d do well to remember that Mr. Fancy-Pants and Spinster-In-Law before you go making assumptions that you’ve each been proven wrong before.”

“Oh believe us, we know,” admitted Will.

“And there!” Chip wagged his finger at Will, “They’ve done it again… and that time it was a double whammy- both us and we!”

“Oh grow up Charlie! At least a little before the baby is born?” Jane teased.

Charlie waved off his wife’s chastisement. “Bah! You all love me and you know it. What would this family, and I mean just the four-and-a-half of us, do without me for entertainment?”

Will answered drily, “I’m sure we’d think of something.”

Jane stepped towards Liz and Will and took turns embracing each and kissing their cheeks. “Love you Bethy! Will? Take good care of my favorite sister. Have a safe trip you two. Be careful.”

Liz and Will promised to do exactly that. Jane, with her pregnancy, was becoming increasingly emotional and knew she’d never survive seeing them to the door, so she left that to her husband.

Charlie walked them to the door and gave Liz a hug and kiss and Will a slap on the back and a handshake.

“We love you Sil, you know that, right?” Liz nodded. “We’re proud of you and we know you’ll knock ‘em dead with your exams. The next time I see you, I want to be able to address you as Dr. Gardiner, okay?”

Liz wiped away a tear from her eye and leaned in to whisper something in Charlie’s ear that made him laugh, much to Will’s chagrin.

He then turned to Will and said, “What the hell… give me a hug, brother.” The two men embraced as family. “You take good care of our girl now. I’ve always loved you like you were my brother, but Sil is my favorite sister and, I swear to God, if you ever hurt her, remember that I know where you live.”

Will chuckled. “Well Chip, bodily threats are definitely a good way to man-up a hug. I promise, in fact I swore to your wife while we were in the kitchen, that I’ll always take the very best care of Liz that I can. I love her and I feel it’s my very great honor and privilege to be the one that gets to take care of her forever.”

“Excellent! Sorry about that, but I take my responsibility to Elisabeth very seriously. And yes, I realize that you do too. You are a good man Fitzwilliam Darcy, and I’ll be proud to call you brother. Now, get the hell out of here so you’re not driving to Chicago in pitch black!”

Will shrugged his shoulders. “You heard the man. Shall we?”

“Let’s get this show on the road,” Liz agreed.

They got back into the car and drove in relative silence to the hotel. Each of them couldn’t help but think of the big, comfortable bed in their room. Liz didn’t want to push the subject if Will wasn’t ready and Will didn’t wish to seem as though that was the only thing he ever thought about. Each was hoping for the courage to broach the subject, but each was certain it would remain untouched.

As they headed up to their room, they held hands as they walked. Will gave her hand a gentle squeeze just before he let it go so she could open the door.

Liz entered first and after taking her coat off, she threw it over a chair. She then helped Will with his coat, and whether her hand lingered on his back by accident or design, her attentions had caught Will’s. He stood still and let her continue to wander over the planes of his back and chest, simply enjoying the sensation.

After a minute more, Liz mumbled something and then directed him to sit on the edge of the bed. She then climbed on, positioning herself behind him and then proceeded to work out the tension in his shoulders.

He moaned as she worked on a particularly tense spot, but she mistook it as a sign of pain. “I’m sorry. Between the traveling, then meeting me and my family, then the whole hunting fiasco and the hospital…your back is just so tense.”

Will hung his head and so she could access his neck better. “No Love. It feels amazing. Please continue. I think this is all from the hospital and such. I’m pretty certain that you and I had already previously worked out all our stress.”

Liz laughed, her nervousness and uncertainty was slipping away. “I have to admit, I felt pretty loosened up right until I got that damned call from Charlie.”

Will caught her hand and gently pulled her around into his lap. “And how about you Liz? Are you very tense right now?” He began to rub her shoulders and could feel that her muscles felt like bands of iron. “Oh Elisabeth, my sweet, sweet Love. I’m so sorry. This is all because of me, isn’t it?”

She knew she wouldn’t lie outright, but she found she could not dissemble either. “Yes, Sweetheart, I’m afraid it is. I was so scared, so frightened that something was going to happen to you. I’ll be fine. You are my main concern.”

“I suppose that’s only fair since you are mine. Now, from what you said earlier, we’re about to embark on a trip of some considerable distance, yes?”

“Yes,” Liz admitted.

“And, as I think I’m correct when I say that it’ll be some small miracle if I were to be able to wrest those keys from your hands- despite your having already let Chip drive the bloody car- right?”

“Right.”

“So, would it be either safe or responsible for you to drive all that way feeling stressed out and terrible?”

Liz could see where he was going and she liked it. Smiling, she flirted back, “No, it would not. I suppose I ought to somehow find a way to loosen up and relieve my stress.”

“Would you like some assistance with that?”

“That depends.”

Will was surprised, for he’d assumed Liz would just say yes. “On what?”

“On whether you were going to ever kiss me or not.”

He chuckled and shook his head. “And you say that I’m the insufferable one? If it’s a kiss you want, then it’s a kiss you’ll get.”

He took her hand and had them stand up. Will, with one hand behind Liz’s head and the other behind the small of her back, dipped Liz and kissed her as he’d never kissed anyone before. As they continued to kiss, Liz felt her heart race and her knees go weak. She realized it was a good thing that the bed was close at hand because she was sure she was about to collapse.

Liz caught a gasp of air and murmured, “Will?”

Also catching his breath, Will replied, “Yes Love?”

“Take me to bed already.”

Will swept Liz up in his arms and, being the dutiful man that he was, did precisely what he was asked.

*Chapter Forty-Eight*

 

Liz was had already finished packing her bags and was working on Will’s when she could have sworn he was calling her from the shower. As she drew closer, Liz realized he hadn’t called her but had actually been singing aloud. The tune was familiar, but she couldn’t quite place it until he reached the chorus.

Will, his voice sounding even deeper with the steam from the shower and the room’s echo, was raucously singing ‘Come sail away, come sail away, come sail away with me lads…’ Liz stood just outside the door, listening in amazement as he sang the long, repetitive chorus and then mumbled through the bridge. ‘I thought that they were angels, but to my surprise, we climbed aboard their starship, and headed for the skies… singing come sail away, come sail away, come sail away with me lads…’

It was then that Liz could no longer resist entering the bathroom unannounced. “Domo arigato Mr. Roboto!”

Will was startled and nearly slipped when he dropped the soap. He stuck his head out from behind the curtain and said, “Holy hell! Don’t ever sneak up on a man like that!”

Liz just arched a brow at him and he realized that was one of the dumbest things he’d ever said in his life.

Will tried again. “What I meant to say was don’t ever sneak up on a man like that unless you intend to join him in the shower.”

Liz tousled his wet hair and gave him a kiss on the cheek. “Nice try Will. As tempting an offer as that is, I’m hungry!”

Will teased, “Ah, the excitement’s gone already…”

“William! The excitement only ended twenty minutes ago! Besides, you were more than welcome to have joined my shower… but you didn’t.”

He pleaded his case. “I needed my rest! We didn’t exactly listen to the doctor now did we?”

That made Liz smile. “We were a little enthusiastic, weren’t we?” She touched his chest. “How’s your heart? Feeling any pain?”

He covered her hand with his own, pressing it to his chest. “None at all, and my heart only beats for you Love.”

She laughed as she shook the water from her arm. “So corny! You, sir, are insufferable!”

“Yes, we’ve already established that I thought.”

Liz sighed. “Just finish up so we can get going please?”

“Yes. But first- you came in here and said something. What was it?”

“Oh. You were singing Come Sail Away and the only other song by that group I sorta know is Mr. Roboto. It was an attempt at humor that seems to have failed.”

Will, having finally given up hope that she’d join him, turned off the water and grabbed a towel. “The group’s name is Styx and I guarantee you know many of their songs.”

Liz grabbed another towel and proceeded to help him dry off. “Really? Somehow I doubt that.”

“Hmm. It seems I have a lot to teach you after all.”

She protested. “You can’t be serious.”

With a gleam in his eye, he said very seriously, “Oh, but I am.”

Still not believing he was serious, she remarked, “Hmm. We’ll see.”

Will warned her, “Careful there… that sounds like a challenge.”

Her eyes showed her amusement. “Perhaps it was.”

“A word of warning… I love a good challenge.”

“Hmm. I’ll be sure to make note of that. Now Sweetheart, can you please get dressed so we can get going?”

Will began to caress her neck and shoulders again. “Only if you’re certain that all your tension is gone. I’d hate for us to have to relieve more stress on the side of the road.”

Liz gave a soft moan and then stiffened, pulling away from Will. “Unless it is your intention for us is to never, ever leave this hotel, I must beg that you cease and desist! Please? I’m using what very little self-control I have left to be reasonable here and if you keep that up, I’m afraid I just might have to jump you again!”

Will was pleased and very proud of the affect he had on her. To his mind, it was only fair since she had a similar affect on him. However, he knew she was right and they needed to get some food and move on, but it wouldn’t stop him from teasing her. “Oh Heaven forbid! We can’t have that now, can we?”

Liz cried out in frustration as she flung the towel that was in her hands at his head and stomped out of the bathroom.

God I love that woman! I’m not sure what I’ve done to deserve such good fortune… I wish I knew so that I could make damn certain I keep it up! I can’t wait to share the rest of my life with Elisabeth.

Thoughts of the future reminded him he still had some business of his own to attend to. Will took up his mobile and, first calculating the time in London, rang his assistant.

Reynolds picked it up on the second ring. “Good evening, or perhaps I should say afternoon, Mr. Darcy! I trust that your car rental situation worked itself out?”

It took a moment before Will recalled he’d not spoken with Reynolds since Thursday. “Yes, it all turned out in my favour. Reynolds? I’m going to need you to clear my calendar for the next few weeks as much as possible. I’m only going to work on things that I can handle remotely or from the New York office.”

“But sir, there are the papers from the Axiom acquisition that you’ll need to review and then there are also the year-end projections! Mr. Darcy, please allow me to speak plainly, there’s simply too much for you to do to just take off on holiday right now!”

“Sorry. I forgot to mention that you need to clear your calendar too. I need you in Boston on Wednesday of next week. Bring the Axiom papers, the year-end trends and whatever else you think may have need of my attention. Oh, and I’ll need some more clothes. I’ll call my sister and have her throw a few things together for me and you can bring them along as well.”

Unsure he’d heard right, Reynolds asked, “I’m to go to Boston?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

Will had never heard Reynolds have such an outburst before. He knew his assistant was most likely already chastising himself for his self-perceived insubordination. Will smiled and asked, “Reynolds, are you questioning me?”

He could hear the contrition in Reynolds’ voice. “No Mr. Darcy! I’m just a bit surprised is all. Pardon me, but if the intent is to work out of New York, would it not make more sense to just stay there as well? For your convenience, sir?”

Will thought back to what Liz had said. He wondered if all his people were afraid of him. “Reynolds, it might seem that way, but Boston is the destination. Are we clear?”

“Perfectly crystal, sir. Have you anything else in particular that you need of me before Boston?”

“If you can see to anything you think we might need from the office that would be fine. Tomorrow I’ll be speaking with some of our attorneys and they may have some additional papers for you as well. Oh, and while you’re at it, you’ll have some free time while you’re here, so start thinking of some things you might like to do in New England. There are a lot of changes coming Reynolds, and when you arrive, I promise I’ll fill you in.”

Reynolds began to wonder what had happened to William Darcy, fierce CEO. Who was this strange man that sounded like William Darcy, who had not only apologized but now had promised to explain his actions to a subordinate? Reynolds couldn’t make sense of it, but answered anyways, “Will do, Mr. Darcy. Should you have need of anything else sir, please, just let me know.”

Will could tell from his assistant’s tone that the poor man had no idea what to make of any of this. He would have to find a balance between being cordial and authoritarian. “Of course, Reynolds. Thank you for all your hard work. You have always been such a crack assistant, never questioning, always at the ready, and unbending in your loyalty. Thank you.”

“It’s always been my honour, sir.”

“I’ll phone tomorrow after I speak with legal.”

“Of course, Mr. Darcy. I’ll look forward to that.”

“Good-bye Reynolds.”

“Good-bye Mr. Darcy.”

Will switched off his mobile and slid it into his pocket.

 As he packed up his toiletries, Will ruminated on his conversation with Reynolds. Poor man, he’s been my step-and-fetch man for so long and I’ve never once thanked the man before today. I guess it’s true that he’s well paid to be at my beck-and-call, but still… Perhaps Liz was right and I’ve been an ogre for far too long. I think that I need to re-evaluate a few things…

A knock on the door, accompanied by Liz’s voice, interrupted his thoughts. “Hey Sweetheart, are you alright or did you fall in?”

Opening the door, he smiled at her. “Very funny. No, there was no falling in and, as you can see, I’m fine. I do thank you…” He kissed her cheek. “…for your concern.”

“Just checking. It just seemed like you were in there forever. I don’t think that I take that long to get ready.”

Will looked at her admiringly and said, “That would be because you, Love, are a natural beauty who has no need of affectation.”

Liz blushed. “Good answer William.”

He stood behind her and began to nuzzle her neck, just below her ear. “But not good enough to stay here for a little while longer though, right?”

She squirmed a little. “Right. You’re doing a fantastic job of testing my resolve. You do know that, don’t you?”

Will sighed. “I do. And I need to get you fed… I’m such an inconsiderate lout. All I can think about is taking you back to bed. I’m sorry… I’m a beastly reprobate, I know.”

“That very well may be, but you’re my beastly reprobate and the sooner we get a move on, the sooner we get to the next hotel where you can do just that.” She rubbed his stubbly cheek. “Beast. I think I like that.”

Will rubbed his chin. “Sorry Love, I was on a call with Reynolds and I forgot to shave. If you give me a few minutes, I can get this taken care of.”

“Don’t you dare! I kinda like it.”

He was surprised by her admission. “Really?”

She shrugged, giving him a wicked smile. “What can I say? I guess I like you a little beastly.”

“Hmm. Well then, your wish is my command. Is everything else ready to go?”

“I believe so. If you wouldn’t mind taking a quick glance to see if I missed something, that’d be great.”

“That I can do.”

They spent a few minutes opening drawers, looking under the bed and checking the closet. Once they were certain they didn’t miss anything, they gathered up their bags and wheeled the luggage cart out of the room.

As Liz took a last look at the room, she sighed. “I know it’s silly… but I think I’m going to miss this place.”

Will, who was standing behind Liz, wrapped his arms around her shoulders and kissed the top of her head. “That’s not silly. I, myself, have a very special fondness for this place. How could I not? So very many firsts occurred in this very room…”

She blushed as she cried, “William!”

“Oh come now Liz, don’t play bashful. You know very well you have the same reasons to look well on this place as I do. Unless of course you’re keeping some deep, dark secret from me?”

“No deep, dark secrets, I swear! Despite all evidence to the contrary, I’ve lived a very dull and unexciting life.”

“Well then. I believe we’re in agreement that McGovern’s shall always have a special place in our memories and with that happy thought, I believe we ought to press on.”

“Then press on we shall,” Liz stated as she picked up her small carry-on.

*Chapter Forty-Nine*

 

On the edge of town, they ate lunch at Culver’s where Will was surprised to discover that a Butter-Burger isn’t the artery-clogging sandwich he’d imagined it to be. They had a typical late lunch of burgers, crinkle-cut fries, house-brand root beer and then each had a caramel-cashew sundae. Once it was decided they couldn’t possibly eat another bite, they made their way back south towards Chicago.

Will and Liz spent their time filling each other in on the details of their childhoods.

Liz learned that Will once made a comment that he liked his Uncle John’s display of stamps which commemorated something or other and from then on his Uncle always gave him stamps for his collection. Since that time, he’d been very careful never to express particular admiration for anything, lest he accidentally begin another new and unwanted collection.

Will was treated to stories about Liz’s adventures bringing all manner of reptiles home. Salamanders, frogs, toads, snakes and the requisite insects to feed them came into the Bennet household, much to Fran Bennet’s displeasure, with alarming regularity. Whenever a poor garter snake had the misfortune to make an unwanted appearance in the neighborhood, ‘Lizard’ Bennet would be called to rescue the poor creature. Liz further explained what it was that she found so particularly fascinating about reptiles. Will, in the interest of full disclosure, had to confess that snakes actually gave him the willies and he hoped she’d not think less of him as a man for this glaring deficiency.

They continued to share and laugh together until they were reached the Illinois border.

“Welcome back to the Land of Lincoln,” Liz said as they passed the sign indicating they’d left Wisconsin.

“I understand that he practiced law here and was elected to some office or other while in Illinois, but wasn’t your President Lincoln born somewhere in the south?”

“Yes, Kentucky is considered south… but it’s also right next to Illinois.”

“But I thought Indiana was next to Illinois.”

“It is. And Indiana also touches Kentucky. Sweetheart, this is a really big country. England is roughly what? Just over fifty-thousand square miles, that is, if I remember correctly. I know it wasn’t over fifty-one anyways. Wisconsin, the state we just left which I bet you never gave any thought to at all before this weekend, is over fifty-six thousand. Illinois is a shade bigger I believe. Now Massachusetts, where I live, is rather small at just over eight thousand.”

Will had listened with fascination to her recitation of this unusual trivia. “How and why do you know all of that?”

She shrugged. “Because of land mass records, air space and general dorkiness?”

“Still. That’s amazing. Do you know them all?”

“Not really. But I know some of the interesting and obvious ones. And their order. You don’t need to know every one if you group them and then remember which is largest. For example, Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois all are in the fifty-six range but Illinois is largest, then Iowa, then Wisconsin. Similarly, Florida, Michigan and Georgia all are in the fifty-eights with Florida being the biggest, with Georgia being, rather surprisingly, the smallest of the three.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Said the man who never drove endlessly through Georgia on their way to the Promised Land that is Disney World! The only state that seems longer is if you drive length-wise through Tennessee!”

“I believe I’ll take your word on that. Do you know other countries?”

“Not all of them… but many.”

“Luxembourg?”

“Yeah, that’s roughly a thousand which makes it smaller than Rhode Island.”

“Gambia?”

“Just over eleven which makes it about a grand over Maryland. I could do this all day.” Liz chuckled. “Congrats. You’ve discovered one of my parlor tricks and now we can entertain our dinner guests with my amazing powers of useless recall for many years to come.”

Will grinned. “You figured me out. I was only going to marry you purely for the dog-and-pony show value that you bring.”

“In that case, it’s good to know that I won’t disappoint. I can do capitals and major cities too.”

“Sadly, my knowledge of geography is limited to the crown’s interests and my own. Aside from Paris, New York, LA and Tokyo, I’m not much use outside of the UK and it’s environs.”

She giggled. “Thank God for Garmin then.”

Will grew unexpectedly serious. “No. I have a touch-screen TomTom with audio turn-by-turn, thank you. The Garmins seemed much too complicated. I’ll let you in on a very big secret. Aside from my mobile and my computer, I’m a bit of a technophobe. This was why I tried so hard to get Chip to come on board at Pemberley.”

“Because he’s a tech-nerd?”

“Precisely. He’s a programming genius… some kind of technological savant. Did he never tell you he was recruited by Apple, IBM and the, I think he said, ‘scary people with high security clearances’?”

Truly surprised, Liz answered, “No, he didn’t. He did, however, make some odd remarks when he learned I’d have to be vetted. I wonder who tried to recruit him from the government?”

“I have no idea Liz. All I recall is that when he was done interviewing with everyone, he told me that as much as he’d love to work for me, that his life would never be normal if he pursued that career path. I suppose that’s when he began to write. Honestly, I’d always assumed he’d been exaggerating things.”

Liz laughed. “You need to really read one of Charlie’s books then! They’re chock full of conspiracies and intrigue. I just had no idea that he was so interesting. I mean, I knew he was smart and all… but geez! That’s just…wow! That’s just amazing. I’d never have guessed.”

“Alright, alright already! Yes, Chip is bloody brilliant, you’re a rocket scientist and I’m an idiot who’s afraid of my GPS.”

While she was still stunned by the news that her brother-in-law was some sort of genius, Liz was not so stunned that she missed the tone of Will’s voice when he called himself an idiot. “Will? What’s wrong?”

Wishing he’d kept quiet, Will muttered, “Nothing.”

“Oh, no you don’t! You can’t make a comment like that and expect me to just let it slide. You are hardly an idiot and you cannot convince me that you really believe it either. Now, Fitzwilliam George Darcy, tell me what’s actually bothering you.”

“Good Lord, not my middle name too! Alright,” Will was quiet for a moment as he tried to think of a way to explain what he was feeling. “It’s just that, while I’m admittedly not an idiot, I’m not a genius like you or Chip either. Are you certain that you won’t grow bored with me when I can’t understand the things that you’re passionate about? I can’t stand the idea that one day you’ll come home and find me too dull for you.”

“Okay, I take back what I said. You are an idiot!” She raised her hand warning him to let her finish. “You graduated from several of the finest educational institutions in the world, you run- quite successfully from what I gather- a rather large company all on your own, you speak well, are well-read and could not possibly be found wanting in any manner. What I am certain of is that I wouldn’t wish you any different than you are! You are a smart, kind, thoughtful, patient, loving, amazing and not to mention sexy-as-all-get-out man.”

“But Liz…”

“No! Do not ‘but Liz’ me! If you’re not man enough to handle a woman with intelligence, if your precious pride can’t handle it, then we need to call this done. I can’t, I won’t go through this again.”

“Through what?”

“This! You wanted to hear about Drew? Well, fine then! I guess now is as good a time as any. Drew was older than I was. He’d already served a term in the Army and was attending BC, sorry, Boston College, on his G.I. Bill when I met him. He was having trouble with his intro physics class and someone had given him my name as a tutor. Drew was everything charming and seemed too slick by half. He asked me out each and every time I met with him. I didn’t want to date him at first because he was so opposite everyone I knew, plus I would never go out with someone I was tutoring. He was outgoing and gregarious where I was more quiet and shy, at least by comparison. He eventually grasped enough to pass his intro class and then I assumed I’d seen the last of him. Nope, I was wrong.”

Will watched as her whole demeanor changed as she spoke. He sensed that his fit of feeling inadequate had set off a powder-keg within Liz and now all he could do was listen and watch the explosion.

“Drew, being doggedly persistent just like the Army taught him, pursued me. I thought it was sweet then, like a good, old-fashioned courtship or something. Looking back, I should have known better. Drew was such a gentleman. He seemed interested in me… for the first time a really great guy, who could have had anyone, wanted me! Everyone, my room-mate, my friends, my parents and my sisters all adored him. It took a good, long time before I actually agreed to go out with him and when I finally did, he was everything wonderful. Drew was funny and everyone always liked him immediately. Wherever we went, we always had fun together… he was too good to be true. He went slowly with me… never pressuring me for what I wasn’t ready for. He seemed to understand that I had not grown up like other girls. We’d been together for over a year before I decided I was tired of waiting and brought him home to spend the night. Drew was careful and kind and it was okay, I guess, as far as first times go. I’ve had conversations with friends who were definitely less fortunate in their first encounters. Anyways, we were in love and that Christmas he proposed. Gave me a ring, got down on his knees with flowers and the whole nine. Of course I said yes and we flew to Arizona to see my folks and so he could ask my father properly and all. You can only imagine how excited Fran was by all of this. It almost made up for the heartbreak JJ was going through because she’s been ripped apart- I’m not blaming you here- I’m just putting this in for a time reference- from Charlie. Fran immediately began planning a huge wedding… exactly the kind that I didn’t want! Fran and my father were pushing us for a June wedding. ‘No time like the present!’ my dad said, while Fran just went on and on about the ‘sooner the better’ ‘in case he changes his mind’ about marrying such a ‘strange girl’. Yep, those were grand times.”

Liz, staring straight ahead at the highway, wiped away a tear and continued. “While my grades were excellent, Drew’s weren’t. He didn’t especially care for, or even like, school. He intended to rejoin the Army upon graduation and become an officer… the degree was the important key here, the grades or what the degree even was didn’t much matter to him. Here’s where things began to change with him. I had always intended to go on with my education… I’d never made a secret about that but Drew seemed to have forgotten that fact. When I’d received my acceptance letter for grad school, he began to yell about what would an Army wife need with an advanced degree? He raved and ranted on about how stupid I must think him because he was going to barely graduate and why couldn’t I just be ‘normal’ like other girls?”

Will could see she still felt the pain. “Oh, Elisabeth!”

“Oh, don’t worry… it gets even better,” she said bitterly. “He demanded that I make a choice- either a life with him, or a career. When I asked why I couldn’t have both, he scoffed and told me that I had enough money that I should be happy to, and I quote, ‘sit on your ass and play Holly Homemaker’ while he would earn our living like a man should. When I asked why he was acting this way, he said that he knew better than to try for a high-brow girl from the beginning, but it seems that I had posed a challenge, somehow issued him a dare, by not being easy to obtain. The kicker in all of this is that my parents agreed with him. It never occurred to either of them that he should never have tried to make me choose! If his intent was to have a wife that sat home and twiddled her thumbs, I was never going to be that woman and he should have left me alone in the first place! I was content when I thought that I’d be alone… but he convinced me that he wanted me! All the while I never kept anything from him… he knew what my goals were, he knew that I was smart, he knew that I wanted to make a contribution in life and not just sit back when I could do something to help others! He knew that I was all of those things and had professed to love me and want a life with me and then suddenly demanded that I change!”

Will reached for her hand, which she reluctantly gave him. Giving her hand a gentle squeeze, he said, “That’s horrible! Why on earth would your father side with this maniac?”

“Because he never understood me, I guess. My father was never an ambitious man. He joined the force and went along with the flow. I suppose maybe he could identify with Drew because, from what I can tell, my mother was miles ahead of my father in intelligence. It just never made sense to me, whatever the excuse was. That was when things first began to change between my father and I. He never forgave me for breaking up with Drew. He even accused me of cheating on Drew! By the time graduation came around, Drew had decided to try to win me back, mostly because I don’t think he could stand the thought of losing. He began to tell me things he’d never told me before, things he’d seen during his time in Afghanistan and the reasons he felt it was important to go back. While I could empathize with him, and even felt a tinge of pride and admiration for his service, I knew I could never take him back. He’d shown me his real character and nothing else he could say or do would ever change that. It was too late. I haven’t seen him in over five years now. I’ve heard, through my father, that he did rejoin the Army and is doing quite well. My father, every chance he gets, reminds me that I threw away a perfectly good man who would have been devoted to me. I guess given my father’s definition of devotion, I shouldn’t really be surprised at any of this, should I?”

Will’s reply came in the form of an outburst, “Surprised by what? It’s only right that you should have hope that your own father, who ought to have your best interests at heart, would side with you against a raging lunatic soldier! I am sorry Liz, but I have to say this, I hate your father! What kind of heartless, cruel monster is he that he could behave like that, over and over again? I’m sorry Love, but I can’t help feeling that way. Can’t stand the man. I will tolerate him, even be cordial to him when necessary, but please do not expect more from me in this matter!”

“Will?”

“Yes, Love?”

“I would never expect you to like my father. I would never expect anything of you that would be impossible.”

“Neither would I of you Elisabeth! I am sorry that you have been through so much! You are, without a doubt, the strongest person I’ve ever known to have remained sane after all that you’ve endured. I love you, Elisabeth Anne Bennet Gardiner, and I would never wish for you to change! You are amazing just the way you are. I admit I was feeling a bit inadequate against your brilliance, but that’s my problem, not yours. It sounds to me like this Drew was a first-class arse and isn’t worth another moment of thought. I cannot promise you that I won’t ever be intimidated by you, because I honestly am a bit, but I can promise that I will always support you and love you… that is something that I would stake my life on. I am not Drew anymore than you are… well, whoever you’d be offended by being compared to!”

He’d done what he’d set out to do. Will had elicited a smile from Liz. “Thank you William. I know that you’re not Drew. You’re about as opposite as can be from him… and I love you all the more for it.”

Wishing to further lighten the tone of conversation, he asked, “So he was short and rotund with snaggly teeth and a crooked nose then?”

Liz laughed. “Oh, absolutely! With greasy hair that was matted against his head and a glass eye no less!”

Will chuckled. “Hmm. I thought you had better taste than that.”

She felt much better. “Only very recently have I discovered the finer things.”

“Thank you Love.”

“You’re welcome Sweetheart.”

*Chapter Fifty*

 

“So?” asked Liz, seemingly out of nowhere.

Will had momentarily been mesmerized by watching the frozen landscape and had to ask, “Sorry, I wasn’t attending. What did you ask Love?”

“I guess I hadn’t properly asked you anything. I was ineffectively fishing for information. It’s my fault… I know you’re not a mind reader. So, this time I guess I’ll just say it. You asked a moment ago who I’d not like to be compared to. The answer is that I don’t know.”

This pleased Will. “That’s excellent Liz. I think that shows that you have a very strong sense of self and are indeed a confident woman!”

He frowned when she shook her head. “No Will, you misunderstand me. I guess I’m being evasive but I really don’t mean to be. The reason I don’t know is because I don’t know their names… there are definitely women out there I’d hate to be compared to, but only you know their names.”

“Oh God Liz! Really? You wish to have this conversation now?”

She spared a moment’s attention from the road to arch one eyebrow in question at him. “No time like the present Will. Or do I have to throw a tantrum like you did to find out?”

“That’s not fair… I just don’t think that right now is the best time. Aren’t you tired of this topic? I am. I hate the thought of you with anyone else! Even if it was years ago, I still don’t like it. I can’t imagine that you’ll like it any better than I did.”

“Yes, I’m sure you’re right and I won’t like it. You’re also right that I am tired of this topic. And that’s precisely why we should do this now instead of later. I’m already in pain and it’s just best to do this now and rip it off like a band-aid! Getting it all out of the way now will be for the best. Besides, you’ve already assured me that it’s not as bad as I thought it was and you already had promised to tell me anyways, so why not now?”

Will crossed his arms and slumped in his seat. “Fine. What would you like to know?”

“What? You’re not going to just tell me?”

“Are you serious?”

“Yes, I’m serious!”

“I’ll tell you whatever you want to know Elisabeth… but please, give me some direction here! I can’t, no I won’t, just sit here and guess what you want to hear! I’ll be honest, I know entirely way more about your ex than I ever wanted to. Basically, I only wanted to be sure that he was long gone, that you don’t love him anymore and that if circumstances were different, if you could do it all over again you’d choose me instead of him. I guess it all comes back to the fact that I’m a bastard. I truly only wanted to know that I’m better than him. Tell me what you want to know, so that I won’t say something that you’ll regret hearing… please!”

“God save us all from your ego Will! Did it not occur to you that I might have been looking for the same thing? I hate the idea, the thought that anyone else has known you like I do. It’s horrible enough that I know you were with Carrie… even though that wasn’t your fault! I’m sure this will hurt like hell, but I need to know Will. You said a few minutes ago that I’m tough and all, so let me have it!”

Will turned so he could face her. “I love you Elisabeth. Please, please remember that.”

She glanced at him and gave a small smile. “I know. I will. Now please, let’s begin at the beginning. Who and when was the first?”

Knowing there was no way out of this, but determined not to say anything that might hurt her, he began, “Her name was Laura, she was eighteen to my fifteen and while she was my first, I was by no means hers. Laura’s father had been a great friend of my own father, but our families weren’t close because my mother couldn’t stand either him or his wife. We were at some charity thing at the club… I didn’t want to be there and had begged my father to stay home. That day we learned that my mum was pregnant and was going to keep it. We all knew that this was extremely dangerous for her and I wasn’t the most mature fifteen-year-old and I resented the hell out of the baby. It felt like my mum was choosing the baby, along with the possibility of death that it would bring, over me and my father. When we got to the club, because of course my father demanded we go, my cousins were there and had found their way clear to a bottle of whiskey. Of course, being the generous souls that they were, they made sure I was well-schooled with my Teacher’s whiskey. I found my way to a bench outside where I hoped to wait until my nausea subsided. It was there that Laura found me. She asked me what was wrong and in my drunken state I remember actually crying as I told her that I was tired of being treated like a boy by my parents. She said something about it was time for me to be a man and led me to the boathouse. I’d like to say that it was this was some grand and momentous moment in my life… but I really can’t. Laura told me she’d always thought I was cute and that how she’s liked me. I then threw up on her. Unsurprisingly, she never spoke to me again.”

“Poor girl.”

“Poor girl? I don’t think so. She seemed to know her way to that cot and blankets pretty well! And I hardly believe that the club kept a supply of Durex in a tackle-box under a pile of netting. I think Laura was looking for someone to shag that night and it was just dumb luck that I happened to be there. And now you know. That was number one. There are four more. Do you still want to hear about them?”

“Not really, but I need to hear this. I can’t explain why, but it’s important to me.”

“Very well then. It seemed that my father somehow guessed what I’d been up to at the club that night and so he sat me down and gave me a long lecture about responsibility. He explained that a great deal was expected out of me and I’d have a difficult time achieving my potential if I was busy being a teenaged-father. Ironic if you think about it considering that less than a year later that was exactly what I became thanks to him. So, as he’d put the fear of God into me, I kept myself under much better control and focused on school, then later on raising my sister… all this while grieving for my mother.”

“Oh Will! That must have been really hard on you. I’m so sorry.”

“Thank you. It wasn’t easy, but with the help of my Aunt and Uncle, it was manageable. They were fantastic, really. They uprooted their own lives to come and help me keep Georgie. She was not quite two when I was set to start Cambridge and while I was willing to forgo school, my Uncle John told me I’d do no such thing. He encouraged me to go on while he and my Aunt helped raise my sister. My uni years were rather boring, as I’ve said before. We’d go out to the pub and such, but my father’s words still rang in my ears and I knew I needed to behave and be a good example for my sister. Then my father passed and I was splitting my time between Georgie, school and Pemberley. There was no time for anything else. I really think I might have gone mad if not for Chip and my cousins. John and Andy are great. John’s married, his wife’s name is Michelle, and they have five children who are all bright. You’ll love them, I’m certain. Andy is… well, he’s Andy. You’ll just have to meet him to see what I mean by that.”

She patted his arm. “I’d love to meet your family Will. I’m glad you and Georgie aren’t entirely alone.”

“Thank you, but we’re not alone anymore… we have you now. Now, where was I? Oh yes, so I finished Cambridge with no added complications and Georgie was now in school full-time. My studies at Oxford were going well and Pemberley, with the help of my Uncle and my advisors, was doing well. That was when I met Gemma. She was in my labour econ class and we shared notes at first and then coffee. Coffee turned into lunches then dinners and eventually we were properly dating. After a few months of seeing each other, she took me home to meet her parents in the country and, in what I suppose what was a fit of independence, she informed her parents that we’d share a room. This was news to me, as we’d never even discussed sex yet, but I was twenty-two and it really didn’t seem like the worst idea in the world. She was lovely and while I think I might have possibly been able to someday fall in love with her, she never gave me the chance. It seems that weekend I was a pawn in some game that she was playing to try to get her ex-boyfriend back. He was there that weekend and became insanely jealous and went rather Neanderthal, which Gemma seemed to appreciate. That was number two.”

Will hadn’t actually given any real thought to Gemma in years. It was so strange to be thinking of her, or Laura, or any other woman now. Hoping Liz would change her mind, he asked again, “Shall I go on?”

Her voice sounded tense, yet she still said, “Please.”

Sighing, Will continued, “So be it. I was twenty-three and working in Paris that summer when I met Sabine. She was… well, she was very French. I’ll admit I was enthralled with her. I begged her to come back to London with me, but she laughed and called me old-fashioned. Which I suppose I am. In the end, she told me I was a nice boy and she had no need of nice boys. That hurt.”

Liz had listened to the Laura story and survived. Gemma was a little more difficult to sit through. But Sabine? It was horrible and everything that she’d dreaded. All she could picture was some film-noir type of seductress whose hands were all over her William! Still, she felt she needed to know the whole, ugly truth. With her hands very tightly grasping the steering wheel, she said, “I’m sure it did. She sounds a bit cruel.”

“That’s probably because she was. She ran me in circles, likely to amuse herself. So that was number three.”

Steeling herself, Liz asked, “And number four?”

“Number four was a very nice woman who everyone, myself included, thought I was going to marry. I met her not long after getting back from Paris and her name was Celeste. She was bright and seemed to fit into my life well enough. After having been in a complex relationship, Celeste was easy to be with. She handled everything, including me, with such finesse that before I knew it, we’d been together a year. That was when she began talking about the future. At first, I was willing to go along with whatever she wished. She was a good sort of girl and though I wasn’t exactly passionate about her, getting married and settling down was what was expected of me, so I thought why not? But then she began detailing all of the changes she was going to make. First of all, she didn’t want Georgie around, ever. Not even on holidays. Then she began stating that we would have two children- no more and no less. And then once we had the requisite two children, I would be free to do whatever I want. When I asked what she was about, she said that we were a good match for marriage. When I asked again what the hell she meant by that, she explained that she liked me well enough and all, but wasn’t in love with me anymore than I was in love with her. So, no engagement was formed, we parted amicably and that was the end of Celeste.”

“What a cold bitch!” Liz exclaimed. “I’m sorry Will, really, I am… how could she say such things to you?”

“Because that’s the way so many marriages in our circle are Liz. Your mom was a debutante, right? I imagine it was the same there too. Money marries money, position marries position and if you can get both, then so much the better!”

“I suppose so. I guess I’ve been terribly naïve in this… foolishly, I always believed the key reason most people got married was because they were in love. Like my parents. My father had neither money nor position.”

“Yes, the elusive true love. My parents, I believe, had it too. And so do we, do we not?”

Liz nodded, “Yes we do. I love you Will.”

He stroked her arm. “I know you do, and I thank God for that! I love you too.”

“Number five?”

“Yes. I need to make a clarification first. I did occasionally date other women. There were corporate dinners and events that I was expected to attend and to these I usually brought someone with me. They’d smile prettily and nod along with whatever was being said. Again, it was what was expected of me and I hated doing it. I mention this only because sometimes these girls would get the wrong idea and think that I was interested in a full-on relationship. I never trifled with these women, I never led them on… but sometimes when I run into one of these girls, they’ll go on about why hadn’t I called when we had such a good thing going. We never had anything going! That’s all I needed to say about that.”

“I think you seriously underestimate your appeal Sweetheart. I can see how you’d break someone’s heart unknowingly. But Will, what about number five?”

“Number five you already know about. It was Caroline. See? There’s even a nice symmetry to my stupidity. The first mistake was when I was drunk and so was the last. That’s why I don’t drink anymore. Besides, I figure it’s healthier that way.”

Liz let out the breath she’d been holding and sighed in relief. “Really? That’s all? I’m so relieved.”

He reached for her hand. “I told you it wasn’t so many.”

She took his hand and held it tight. “I know, but I didn’t think you’d count Carrie in there. I was dreading hearing about the ‘one who got away’ or the great love that you never quite got over.”

“Elisabeth, you are my great love.”

“As you are mine William.”

“What you said earlier, about needing reassurance, did you find it?”

“I think so.”

“Would it help it I told you that before now, I’ve never been in love before? I am truly, madly, deeply and passionately in love with you. You are far and away the most beautiful woman I’ve ever known.”

“Yes it would. Am I really? Even prettier than Sabine?”

“God, yes! You are beautiful, even without trying. Sabine was like those celebrity before-and-after photos. You know the ones, were you can’t recognize the women because they aren’t wearing make-up and their hair hasn’t been professionally tamed? She was like that. It was actually kind of frightening to own the truth. Her so-called beauty was given to her by Estee Lauder where yours was given to you by God. There’s absolutely no question about it Love.”

Liz let his words of love sooth her. When she felt better, she asked, “So was she snaggle-toothed as well?”

Will laughed. “Oh, she was ghastly! I think she was only allowed out at night or she’d turn to ash or something.”

“Thank you Will. You were right. It was difficult, but I’m glad I know.”

“For the record, I regret all of it. If I could take it back, I would. Had I any clue that there would someday be you, I’d have taken a vow of celibacy and waited forever.”

“That’s a sweet sentiment Will, but hardly feasible. You can’t undo your past anymore than I can undo mine, even though I really wish I could.”

“Though seriously, not counting that last, unfortunate time which we’ll never, ever discuss again after today, it was like nearly seven years… that’s pretty close to celibate, isn’t it?”

“Perfectly monk-like. Pretty much like my nun’s existence for nearly six years.”

“Hmm. You as a nun and me as a monk? I don’t care much for the sound of that.”

“I didn’t think you would.”

“Hey… your math is off. You said it’d been five years since you last saw him.”

“Yes… and your point is?”

“Well… I guess I don’t actually have one. It’s just that I thought…”

“He came, at my father’s invitation, to Christmas the following year. Since I wasn’t seeing anyone, my parents and Drew all assumed that I would just fall into his arms again. That was five years ago next month while we broke up six years ago in January. Is everything clear now?”

Will nodded. “I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. Your father is a monster and I hate him.”

“No, it’s definitely not easy being related to him. Yet another benefit to being a Gardiner instead.” She shot him a grin, “Or even a Darcy.”

“I like the sound of that.”

“I knew that you would.”

~Home~

~Previous Chapters~

~Next Chapters~

 

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.

Advertisements