Elizabeth browsed an assortment of teas as she waited for her cousin Mary to arrive at the cafe. Mary had recently wrapped up her second year at university and was in London with Jane for a week. As Jane would be working much of that time she made plans to see her next closest relation in town. Elizabeth had never been close with Mary, but was happy to hear from her when she did. Chatting with Mary would be a welcome distraction from her increasing anxiety over William. She was angry and disappointed not to hear from him since the night they confronted George, but resolved not to reach out. A day with Mary sharing university experiences would be very pleasant indeed.
Mary had always been reserved, certainly more so than Kitty but even more than Jane. Whereas Jane was able to mask her shyness with polite smiles, Mary struggled to keep composure. She often appeared distressed in company, from early childhood onward. Her mother worried she felt somehow left out as the middle child, but knew not how to help. All were relieved, then, when she went off to university.
It seemed, by all accounts, that her time away from her sisters had done wonders for her confidence. She came home each break with stories of her friends and travels, talking animatedly of all she had seen and learnt. This new Mary was pleasant to be around and proved insightful as no one had given her credit for previously. As a child she seemed desperate to prove the weight of her opinions, sermonising to anyone who would hear. In the last two years, she had grown more self assured, no longer worrying so much of how her thoughts may be perceived.
Idly, Elizabeth ran her fingers along the shelf, enjoying the pleasant illustrations which adorned each package. Behind her, she heard the voices of other young women approaching. They stopped short of her position, seeming interested in some other display. Elizabeth had not meant to listen in on their conversation but found herself a party to it nonetheless.
“I was thinking of buying a new mug for my mum, her birthday is next weekend. Do you think she’d like this?” Asked one of the girls.
“I think so. The pattern is very pretty.” Answered her friend, sounding distant.
“G, really, look. I need your help!” Said the first girl, entreating. “There are two here I’ve been considering, but there’s also that scarf we saw last week. Do you know which I’m talking about?”
“I do. It was lovely.” Said the second. “But, I think a mug is more practical, don’t you?” There was a long pause.
Elizabeth smiled to herself.
“I guess.” Agreed the first girl, finally. “Yes,” She said with more conviction, “you’re probably right. I’ll buy it.”
With that her footsteps trailed off, leaving only Elizabeth and the second girl in the narrow aisle. Elizabeth turned to face the girl, smiling politely with her hands clasped behind her back. It took a moment for the girl to notice her, during which time Elizabeth was surprised to find she recognised her. From where it wasn’t immediately obvious, but much about the girl seemed strikingly familiar. The girl, noticing Elizabeth staring at her, blushed.
“Forgive me!” Said Elizabeth, realising the discomfort she inspired. “I couldn’t help but hear you and your friend. Those mugs are fantastic, by the way. I have one at home.”
The girl smiled, her eyes cast down. “Thank you. I think it’ll be a nice gift.”
Elizabeth let that lay for a moment, considering whether it would be better or worse to continue. She laughed, causing the girl to look up at her in surprise.
“I have a terrible habit of listening in on other people’s conversations. I can’t help myself. Especially when I’m bored, such as now. I’m waiting here for my cousin, she just returned from university for the summer. I haven’t seen her in a while.”
“Are you close?” The girl asked timidly.
“Not really, I’m much closer with her older sister. We’re closer in age. But I think Mary, the cousin I’m meeting, and I have found more common ground lately.”
“How old is she?” The girl asked, interested.
“She’s twenty.” Said Elizabeth. “They have another sister who’s probably closer to your age, she’s eighteen.”
“I just turned seventeen.”
“Ah,” Said Elizabeth. “My sister is seventeen, turning eighteen in the fall.”
“Is she here, too?” Asked the girl.
“No, no. She’s home. We’re both from the States.”
“Do you live here?”
“I do. I’m a student, post graduate.”
For a few moments there was silence again, and Elizabeth wondered whether the girl had tired of talking to her. Then, taking Elizabeth by surprise, she asked, “Are you close with your sister?”
Elizabeth smiled to cover a grimace that began forming. It had only been a few weeks since she found her sister with George. She was still frustrated with Lydia for lying to her.
“We don’t have very much in common,” admitted Elizabeth.
The girl looked thoughtful for a moment before responding, “I always wanted a sister.”
Elizabeth studied the girl, yet unable to place her. The girl glanced in the direction of the counter to see whether her friend had completed her purchase. Elizabeth looked toward the door in case Mary had appeared. As she did, she noticed a familiar face enter. Elizabeth groaned, immediately recognising George despite his facing away from her. She was about to excuse herself to the girl she had been talking with, when she found the girl staring intently at the object of her own thoughts.
George appeared handsome as always, and could easily elicit attention, but there was something else in her gaze. The girl looked horrified, her face pale. Her fingers fidgeted but the rest of her seemed frozen in place. Thankfully, George did not seem to notice either the girl or Elizabeth. Unable to stand witness Elizabeth lowered her voice to whisper, asking, “Are you all right?”
The girl’s eyes darted back to her, as if exiting a trance. “Oh.” She said quietly. “Yes. I’m fine. I’m sorry, my friend —. I should go.”
Elizabeth felt concerned for the girl. She gently placed a hand on the girl’s forearm, willing her to look away from George.
“You look a little unwell… do you need some air?” She asked. The girl looked at her, processing the words. Elizabeth continued. “I was about to go outside to wait for my cousin, it’s getting crowded in here. We can keep talking outside if you want? I think your friend is wrapping up now.”
The girl nodded, surprising Elizabeth by grabbing hold of her wrist as she followed. They were close to the exit when the girl’s friend called out.
“G! Where on earth are you going? I’m nearly finished, hang on a sec, will you?”
The girl dropped Elizabeth’s wrist and stared back. Elizabeth was already halfway out the door, barely able to see inside.
Everyone in the cafe heard the first girl calling out, but few paid any attention other than a passing glance toward the friend leaving. George Wickham turned to face the spot by the exit where the girl now stood alone. He smiled, affecting a warmth he didn’t possess.
Elizabeth could hardly see through the door’s window but knew he was coming closer. The hair on the back of her neck stood up when she heard him calling that name. Georgiana. How could she not have realised?
“G-George,” said Georgiana hesitantly.
“How have you been, sweetheart? It’s good to see you.”
The tone of his voice made Elizabeth shudder.
“I can’t…” Georgiana started. “I don’t want to t-talk.”
“Georgie, please. What happened?” George was coming closer. Elizabeth did not like the smooth, patronising way he spoke. She couldn’t stand it.
A moment passed and she was back inside, firmly closing the door behind her. George’s eyebrows raised as he spotted her next to William’s sister.
“Lizzy! I guess things were serious, huh.” He said, smirking.
Georgiana, suddenly awakened again to her surroundings, whipped her head around and stared at Elizabeth in confusion. Elizabeth looked past her, staring coldly at George. George looked again toward Georgiana.
“No hard feelings, right?” He asked. Elizabeth seethed and Georgiana looked at the floor. Elizabeth stepped around her, moving closer to him. “George,” she said in a low voice so that Georgiana wouldn’t hear. “Should I tell Will you’re harassing his baby sister?”
George scoffed. “What will he do, drive down from Derbyshire to beat me up again?”
Elizabeth pursed her lips. “I could call Frank, I think he’s still in town.” She said. At that, George’s eyes widened slightly.
“You know Frank?” He asked, taken aback.
“I do. And I don’t believe he’s a fan of yours.” Elizabeth had bluffed to this point, knowing only that Frank was a co-guardian of Georgiana. She had no reason to suppose he knew George or would threaten him in any way. Apparently her instinct had been solid.
Before George could respond, Elizabeth turned to face Georgiana again, looking toward the door. By then the friend was ready to leave as well, and confused. All three exited the cafe. Georgiana’s friend was eager to understand what had just happened, having been occupied during the whole of it. Georgiana knew not what Elizabeth had said to George, only that it spared her from his attentions. She whispered to her friend that it was George, and the friend’s eyes widened in understanding. She looked at Georgiana with sympathy, telling her they would talk more later. Then, the friend picked up her phone to call her mother, and Georgiana turned again toward Elizabeth.
She looked at her for a long moment, not quite making eye contact. “You know George?” She asked, though she must have realised it was a silly question.
Elizabeth nodded. “A little. I wish I didn’t.”
Georgiana smiled just a bit, causing Elizabeth to chuckle. “I’ve learned he isn’t worth knowing.” She continued.
“He really isn’t, believe me.” Said Georgiana confidently. Then, she laughed too, taking Elizabeth by surprise. “And I’ve known him all my life!”
Elizabeth smiled warmly at Georgiana, still in disbelief at the coincidence of it all. Unable to resist, she asked, “You’re William’s sister, Georgiana?”
Georgiana raised her eyebrows then broke into a grin, nodding. “You know William!”
“Yes,” admitted Elizabeth, unable to stop herself from smiling back.
Suddenly, Georgiana frowned, knitting her brows as her brother would. “He didn’t — You don’t know about…”
Elizabeth waited patiently for her to continue.
“No,” said Georgiana, “No, but do you —? What do you know of George?”
Elizabeth bit her lip. “I met George, well, here, actually. I already knew William but didn’t know they knew each other.” She assured, considering how best to explain herself and how much she should share. Elizabeth did not wish to be withholding or dishonest.
“George started messaging my little sister behind my back. I don’t talk to him anymore, and neither does my sister, since I found out.”
Georgiana’s face relaxed some, though not entirely. “I see.”
It occurred to Elizabeth that the girl may yet harbour some feeling for him, or feel some jealousy that she was not the only one he sought out. It was only natural to an extent, and Georgiana could not be faulted if that was the case, considering her age. Elizabeth grabbed her hand and squeezed affectionately. “Don’t let him get to you, he’s not worth your attention.”
Georgiana smiled again, just as her friend called out to her, signaling their car had arrived. It was fortunate timing, as just then Mary approached.
“It was nice talking to you, I hope to see you again!” Said Georgiana to Elizabeth as she left.
“You too, I’m glad to meet you!” Elizabeth cried. It occurred to her that she had not introduced herself, but she thought perhaps that was better. As much as she wished for William to come to her, she would not like it to be through his sister’s interference. No, she decided, it was better this way. If nothing else, she was able to meet Georgiana, and help her in some small way.
As Elizabeth greeted Mary just outside, George exited the cafe. He grimaced at her before going about his way. Elizabeth relaxed and tried to refocus on her plans. It was not difficult, as she was quickly engrossed in Mary’s stories and impressed by how eloquently they were related. The day had proved significantly more eventful than she would have guessed waking up that morning, but she was glad for it.