*Chapter Sixty-Four*

 

Liz was suffering from a most debilitating headache. The students in her last intro-physics class had asked questions incessantly and seemed to be as clueless as when the semester had just begun. Have I failed these kids, or are they just as clueless as I suspect them to be? She sat down at the desk in her office and began grading papers. After several hours of reviewing papers, Liz was pleased to see that at least some of what she’d taught had sunk in as the grades weren’t as awful as she’d initially feared them to be. When she was finished and about to head home for some take-out, her advisor persuaded her to go out for a celebratory dinner.

Liz was glad she’d listened and gone out. Over the meal, her advisor, who had always given Liz sound advice, reminded her not to be so worried about presenting her defense. Vari Talwar, with her quick wit and sunny disposition, had become one of Liz’s favorite people and a good friend as well as her trusted guide through school. For a few hours Liz was able to set aside her anxiety about what would come after the security of school out in the real world while she laughed as Vari regaled her with stories from her childhood in India. Vari assured her it was not as impossible as it seemed to be a successful woman in a male-dominated field. After a meal filled with encouragement about her future and the things she hoped to accomplish, Liz felt a little better as she headed home to her empty apartment.

Sadly, the good mood she’d felt over dinner didn’t last. When she walked into the entryway, Guillermo greeted her and tried to coax a smile from Liz, but she just couldn’t manage one. She made small talk with him and found out that Guillermo’s daughter McKenna was expecting again. Liz offered her congratulations and tried to be happy, but with the conversation about starting a family of her own fresh in her mind, she could only dwell on how lonely she felt without Will. As she rode the elevator to her floor, Liz tried to snap out of her funk. Quit acting like a love-sick girly-girl. I’ve been independent my whole life… am I really going to let Will’s brief absence make me this pathetic? For crying out loud, he only left this morning! I really need to snap out of this.

Liz entered her condo as she had done countless times before. When she’d bought it, it had been such a thrill to have a place that was finally her own space where she could be completely independent. In her home, she needed to be no one’s daughter, sister, roommate, advisor or anyone at all besides Liz Gardiner. The last several days had changed all that. As Liz walked down the hall, the quiet which she had so valued before now seemed oppressive. How odd, Will is hardly an ebullient man… how is it that this place feels quiet as a graveyard without him?

She poured a glass of orange juice and sat at the counter to sort the day’s mail. Amidst the usual bills, catalogs and pizza coupons, there were a few early Christmas cards, the first of the season. She threw out the junk, gave a cursory glance to her bills, and was slightly cheered by the holiday cards. Feeling lonely and restless, Liz decided the best thing would be to just call it an early night and head to bed. Not even bothering to change, she crawled into bed and pulled the covers up over her head. It’ll all be better tomorrow.

Liz was just beginning to drift off when Will finally called. Liz was still somewhat drowsy when she answered. “Hey, Sweetheart! How are you?”

“Hello, Love. How am I? I’m better now that I hear your voice, which, by the way, sounds sleepy.” A moment passed and the timber of Will’s voice changed. “Are you, perchance, already in bed?”

“I am. And I think I need to lodge a complaint with you.”

Will began his own preparations for bed. “Whatever for?”

“You’ve made it impossible for me to sleep here alone. I miss you.” Liz, thinking it best not to sound too needy or maudlin, decided to change the subject and brightly asked, “So, how was your flight in your new toy anyways?”

“It would have been delightful had I gone with a less grumpy companion. How was school?”

“Long. I am glad to be home and even more glad that it’s almost over. I have a headache and feel awful and I’m crabby and I miss you and I have no idea how I’m going to do any of this without you.”

Will tried to sooth her. “Liz…”

She cut him off. “You know, I was always an independent sort of girl before you upended my life. How did you manage to do that?”

He could hear that Liz was trying not to cry when she spoke, and he wished more than anything he could be there to put his arms around her and offer comfort. “If it is as you say, and I have somehow made you need me, then it’s only fair because you have become essential to me. I love you, Elisabeth. I want to tell you how much I love you, to explain even a fraction of what you mean to me, but words, as usual, seem to fail me. Much like the air I breathe, I cannot live without you.”

Liz sniffled. Her tears were falling freely now, but they were happy ones. “Oh Will, words seem to have come through for you just now. That was beautiful, truly beautiful. I love you, William, and I need you, too.”

Will beamed with the pride that comes from knowing a good woman loved him. “We are quite a pair, are we not, Love?”

“We are indeed,” she agreed. “Hey, did Henry manage to recover from last night?”

“I suppose so. We finished at the office early and I haven’t seen him since. Before I forget, I saw my cousin today.”

“You did?” Liz was surprised and pleased for him. “Where?”

“He was in my flat.” Will then paused, searching for the right word to describe his cousin. “Andy is such an interesting character.”

Liz grew alarmed. “He was in your apartment? Is that normal? What did he want?”

“Seems he’s been using my flat regularly whenever he’s in town. He’d had no idea that I’d be there today.”

“And that makes it alright?”

Sensing her agitation, he sighed, “I suppose not. Love, I get the impression this bother you more than it does me. Is this because of that Thorpe fellow?”

Yes!” she cried. “And after having been a victim of stalking yourself, I would have thought that you would be more upset by this too!” Liz tried, unsuccessfully, to stem the sarcasm from her voice when she added, “I guess it wasn’t clear enough during the time we spent with my delightful family that I have problems with family crossing appropriate boundary lines. In fact, I don’t think I’ve had near enough of presumptive people. You know what? Maybe we can drum up even more relatives between us who can then take advantage of us whenever the hell they feel like it.”

Will’s first reaction was to snap back at this snarky attack. He ignored that inclination and went with his second one which was to calm down and remember that she was admittedly over-emotional and not feeling well besides. Who knew dealing with my high-strung sister would eventually help me with my normally even-keeled wife? Well, my almost-wife, anyways. “I hadn’t thought of it like that. When I speak with Andy next, I’ll make sure he knows that in the future, he needs to adhere to the normal dictates of good behavior like everyone else needs must.”

Liz felt wretched that she had put him on the defensive. “I’m sorry. I know I flew off the handle a little. Forgive me?”

He said honestly, “There’s nothing to forgive, Love. Soon we will be married and while I hope we would open our home to family and friends, you are correct that we have to be careful so that they don’t overstay their welcome.”

Some family, well, at least some of mine, I cannot ever imagine extending any sort of welcome to.”  

“Elisabeth, I will always support you in whatever decisions you make as regards your father and his wife. If you never wish to see them again, so be it. My only concern is your happiness and I will not have you sacrifice it because of them.”

She knew he meant every word he said. He would always protect her and do whatever was in his power to ensure their felicity. It was beyond wonderful to have the unconditional love and support of such a worthy man. “Have I mentioned that I miss you?”

“I miss you more.”

“I really want to see you, Will. If I didn’t look and feel like I’ve been run over by a truck today, I’d beg to Skype with you. As it is, I’d like to not frighten you away with my ghastly appearance tonight.”

Skype?” Will had heard the term before but had no idea what it was or what it meant.

Liz laughed and, though it was at his expense, he was happy to hear it. “My darling, technologically-challenged William, Skype is a way to video conference. You must have video conferenced at least once for Pemberley?”

“Well, yes. Of course I have done. But Reynolds always has that set up before I arrive and I honestly never gave how it happened a moment’s thought. I have to say I love the idea of seeing you before I get back to Boston. So, how exactly would we do this Skype thing?”

“Either I could talk you through setting up your account or, even better, you could ask Henry very nicely to set one up for you. Then tomorrow night you can tell me all about your business triumph face-to-face.”

“I would like that, not as much as actually having you here with me, but I would like that very much. I need to see your smile and that look you give me when you think I’m completely barmy.”

She giggled. “Because you are completely barmy.”  

“Only when it comes to you, Love. Now, if I recall rightly, you were in bed when I rang. Is that still true?” He hoped it was.

Snuggling against her pillow, she softly said, “Yes.”

“Excellent. Quite by coincidence, or perhaps not, I’m also in bed now.”

Liz drew a mental picture of Will in bed and she grew warm. “Are you now? Is your bed much too large like mine?”

Regretfully he said, “Only because you are not here.”

Feeling bold, she asked, “And if I was?”

Will told her just exactly what he would do if that were the case. They spoke long into the night, taking turns expressing their love and focusing on their future. Liz and Will were so wrapped up in each other that all thoughts of meddlesome families were set aside to deal with another time.  

The next morning, on their way to the Axiom offices, Henry assured a yawning Will that nothing was easier than installing Skype on his laptop.

Henry, emboldened by his recent exposure to the more human side of his boss, ventured a tease. “I’m sure it will come in very handy when speaking to Miss Darcy and helping her with her homework.”

Will was having trouble staying awake. “My sister?” That wasn’t why he had asked for this new application and by the amused look on his assistant’s face, Henry knew it too. “Yes. Georgie is having difficulty with her maths. It’s imperative that I can conference with her tonight. So then, you’ll have that taken care of by this afternoon?”

With a grin, Henry answered, “By lunch, sir.”

Will ignored Henry’s mirth and nodded. “Thank you.”

Still amazed by the changes in Will, Henry happily answered, “It’s no problem, sir. Now… about Axiom’s senior management?”

They reviewed some specific points until they arrived. The morning coffee having at last kicked in, Will was more alert and found he was impressed with the Axiom offices. They weren’t overly decorated or uselessly fine. They remind me of Pemberley. Will and Henry were escorted to the conference room by an extremely nervous junior executive. No doubt this young man assumes his job is forfeit. Let’s hope their senior execs understand what’s at stake and are reasonable.

Will was led to one end of the long conference table and Henry took the seat at his right hand. The rest of Will’s team arrived and sat to his left. At the other end was Augustan Philips, the CEO Will recognized from his research. Seated to Mr. Philip’s right was a man that Will did not know, but somehow seemed familiar. Others began to filter in and Will was growing impatient. Hopefully they won’t take too long before they make their introductions and I can figure out where I know that man from. Once everyone arrived and was seated, Mr. Philips stood and directed everyone’s attention to the pull-down screen.

A short film on the heritage and accomplishment’s of Axiom played. When that was finished, the year-to-date financial statements were distributed and gone over. The Axiom CFO then stated why they were seeking this aid instead of a complete dissolution of the company. Questions were raised and discussed until it was time to break for lunch.

During lunch at Moran’s, Will sat and watched as Henry installed Skype and updated a number of other programs. Henry then proceeded to give a reluctant Will a tutorial on how to use them. When Will had run out of patience, which hadn’t taken long, he barked at Henry, “Holy hell! I’m not three for heaven’s sake! I think I can manage on my own to click the big green button that says ‘talk’.”

Henry bit down on the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing at Will’s tantrum. “Undoubtedly, sir.”

Will ignored Henry’s patronizing tone and thanked him for his help. They finished their meal and walked the two blocks back to the Axiom offices with Will repeatedly reminding Henry to watch where he was going. “But, sir, this is New York City! Have you ever seen anything like it?”

Long inured to the sights of the city, Will almost replied that the question was obviously stupid but then he remembered Elisabeth. Liz, even when she’s seen something a zillion times, always manages to find something new and interesting to see or learn. God knows between the two of us, she has the better outlook on things. Maybe I need to look twice at what’s around me rather than ignoring everything because it’s simpler to do so. Liz wouldn’t snap Reynold’s head off… Taking a good look around, Will noted his surroundings for the first time and was amazed. He’d been so focused on the deal and his hurry to get back to Liz that he hadn’t taken the time to notice that he was in the only city, to his mind, which could possibly rival London. They were standing in the heart of the financial district and the street positively thrummed with energy. How did I not notice this before?

Will shook his head and smiled for the first time that day. “No, Reynolds, nothing quite like it.”   

When they reconvened after the break, Mr. Philips apologized for having been remiss with the introductions earlier. “You see, it’s not every day that one contemplates selling their company. I know that you will forgive this old man for having overlooked one of the niceties.”

Will nodded and replied, “I understand completely. It is a stressful time for all of you, I’m sure.”

Mr. Philips then began naming his staff, beginning with the woman seated on his left. He continued until he reached the familiar-looking man seated to his right. “And lastly, this is our principle shareholder. He does not have a formal position within Axiom, per se, but it is very much his company as much as it is mine. Mr. Darcy, this is Alton Gardiner.”

Will’s head spun for a moment. Gardiner? Bollocks! No, it can’t be. There’s got to be another explanation why this man seems familiar and has the same name as Liz’s mum’s family. The world can’t be that small, I don’t give a damn what Disney says. Henry kicked Will under the table and Will was grateful to be brought back into the moment. With his business-like cool façade back in place, Will said, “Excellent. It’s a pleasure to put faces to the names that we’ve been reading about. Please allow me now to do the same. I’m William Darcy.” He indicated Henry and continued, “This is Henry Reynolds.”

Once Will had introduced his US team, it was his turn to play Pemberley’s PR video. Next came Pemberley’s financial report and a brief summary by Max Townley, Pemberley’s US CFO, on what Pemberley proposed to do for Axiom. More Q & A followed and then, with all the preliminaries out of the way, it was time to call it a day. Both companies agreed to meet the next day, prepared to do business.

As they gathered their belongings, Max whispered to Will under his breath, “I don’t think these negotiations will take long, sir. I smell desperation here.”

Will smiled. Max had worked for Pemberley all his life and Will trusted him implicitly. When Will took over the company from his father, Max had been one of his strongest supporters. He could still recall the first time he met Max Townley. Will, only nineteen at the time, had flown over on a break from school to meet with the US executives to go over items that his father had left in disarray before his death. When Max found Will seated at his father’s desk looking completely overwhelmed, he encouraged Will when everyone else seemed to wish the orphaned teenager away. “William,” Max had said, “you are not your father, thank God, and no one expects you to be. The best advice I can give you is to be your own man. You are young yet, and you have way more responsibilities on those shoulders of yours than most men twice your age. Use this time to figure out who you want to be and then be it. Your uncle John and I, we’ve got your back.” Through the years, Max had proven that time and time again.

Will quietly asked, “You really think they’re desperate?”

“Oh, yeah. This won’t go ‘til Friday, we’ll be done tomorrow.”

“Thanks, Max,” Will said, relieved by the elder man’s assurances. “Are you busy now?”

Max shook his head. “Not at all. The wife’s at her sisters this week. Dinner?”

“Just what I was thinking. Would you mind if Reynolds joins us?”

“Henry? Good man there. The place downstairs is fantastic. Are we three, then?”

“Unless you need to add someone?”

“No,” Max began to search his phone for a number, “three is good. I can’t wait to hear this news you’ve got to tell me, my boy.”

Will’s jaw dropped. “How did you know?”

Max only smiled as he held up a finger to stay Will while he arranged for a table. When he hung up, he clasped his boss on the shoulder and chuckled, “I know you, my boy, and you have a secret that you’re about bursting at the seams to spill to someone. When Philips was droning on and on earlier, you didn’t even seem to mind. Since normally in these situations you look like you’re being slowly tortured, I knew something was up. So, is there some big secret?”

Will was amazed that he’d been so easily read. He grinned and said, “Yes, there is, actually. I am soon to be married.”

Max was happy for Will. “That’s excellent news! So, who is this girl that’s captured the heart of the great William Darcy?”

Before Will could reply, Alton Gardiner joined them and said sternly, “He’s marrying my granddaughter.”

 

~home~

~previous chapter~

~next chapter~

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