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Thick as Thieves

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Lizzie sees Bing and Jane coming from miles away. Actually, it’s maybe like forty feet, but she chose her spot at the back of the church-rec-center-turned-dance-floor specifically so she could keep an eye on the two of them. So when he leans in to whisper something to her, and she nods emphatically, and they turn and start walking right towards her, she knows something’s up. By the time they reach her, she’s busied herself with her phone, idly flipping through the literal dozens of photos of Kitty that Lydia had stolen it the other day to take.

“Hi Lizzie,” Bing says as they reach her table. She looks up and shakes the hand he’s offered her, thinking that it’s kind of weird that he already knows her name despite the fact that he met her sister like an hour ago. Then again, her mother had sussed out about half of his life story before even seeing the guy in person, so maybe she didn’t really have any ground to stand on there.

“Hi,” she says.

“Bing and I have a favor to ask you,” Jane says with a sweet smile. Of course, all of Jane’s smiles are sweet, and Lizzie is well-versed in telling the minutiae of Jane’s sweet smiles apart. This one says you might not like this, Lizzie. She narrows her eyes.

“Yesssss?” she asks, looking down at her phone again even though she knows she’s being rude.

“My friend Darcy,” Bing says, pointing him out to her. She glances up and sees that he’s watching them. “He’s really shy, and he doesn’t know anyone here – except for me and Caroline, I mean,” he adds. He’s got a voice that seems to be full of good-natured laughter and shy smiles. Lizzie can tell immediately that he’s exactly Jane’s kind of person, and she can’t help but smile. “So I thought maybe you could go talk to him?” Bing asks.

When she isn’t watching one of her sisters, her mother, or Charlotte, Lizzie’s been looking at Darcy. He constantly looks unpleased and uncomfortable. She’s been speculating on the cause of his discomfort all evening (she’s already relayed several theories and some commentary on his pageboy-hat-and-suspenders combo to Charlotte and Jane), but her curiosity hadn’t been piqued enough to try to talk to him. Lizzie considers him for a second, and then looks over to Jane. Her sister is beaming at Bing, her hands clasped together demurely in front of her. She is practically bouncing on the balls of her feet.

“Alright,” Lizzie acquiesces. Bing and Jane are all radiant smiles and thank yous and then they’re back off to the party, walking so closely side by side that their shoulders and hands brush occasionally.

Inhaling deeply, she picks up her purse and walks over to him. When she’s halfway there, he glances back towards her table. When he notices she’s not there and is instead coming towards him, he looks the other way immediately, jaw clenched.

“Hi,” she says when she reaches him. He doesn’t look over, so she tries again, speaking louder this time. “Hi. Darcy, right?” He acknowledges that she’s there and talking to him, but just barely. He definitely doesn’t say anything. He makes eye contact with her, for a second. “I’m Lizzie,” she continues, trying her very hardest to be friendly despite the aura of anti-socialness radiating off of him. There’s a long pause as she waits for him to introduce himself.

“Clearly, you know who I am already.” She’s no stranger to brush-offs, being a master of them herself, and that is a brush-off if she’s ever heard one. Sucking a sharp breath in, she remembers what Bing said. Really shy.

“I’m Jane’s sister.” He grunts in response. She tries again. “Jane and Bing get along well, don’t they?”

“Bing gets along well with everybody; he has never been particularly discerning in his tastes.” For a second Lizzie can’t even get her wits about her to reply, because that wasn’t just a shy or socially awkward thing to say, that was an unmistakable dig at her sister. Biting back an insult, she clenches her hands around the strap of her purse and takes a deep breath.

“Okay,” Lizzie says, letting the word out as a long, exasperated sigh. She leans back against the table. “I’ll just… go. Sorry for bothering you.” He stares at her like she has two heads or something.

“You’re not bothering me.”

“Really? Because it looks like I’m bothering you from here.”

He mutters something unintelligible that she chooses to believe is an apology, and then adds “I don’t know anyone here.”

“That’s not going to change if you keep snubbing everyone who tries to introduce themselves to you,” she points out, her tone a little more biting than it probably should have been. She’s doing this as a favor for Bing. Bing, who Jane really likes. She steels herself before speaking again so that her tone will hopefully be a little friendlier. “Want to try again? I’m Lizzie.”

“Darcy,” he says shortly.

“Better,” she says, laughing. “Not great, but better.”

“Lizzie!” When she hears her mother’s voice, she grits her teeth. She’d been too focused on her so-far unpleasant exchange with Bing’s friend that she hadn’t noticed her mother approaching them. “Have you seen your sister Jane? I can’t seem to find her anywhere.”

“She’s dancing with Bing,” Lizzie gets out. “Still…”

“Oh is she?” Her mother makes a big show of looking around at the dance floor, where Bing and Jane are still preoccupied with each other. “I hadn’t noticed.”

“Sure,” Lizzie says in reply, crossing her arms over her chest defensively.

“And who’s this handsome young man you’re talking to?” Lizzie just about wants to die, but she guesses she should be glad she didn’t go all out and ask who the handsome, rich, and single young man she was talking to was.

“This is Darcy,” she says, pausing when she realizes that she still doesn’t know if that’s his first or last name. “Darcy…?” she trails off, turning to him to encourage him to fill in the blank.

 “William,” he says after a second. And then after another he corrects: “William Darcy.”

“Well it’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Darcy,” her mother says. “You’ve known Bing Lee long?”

“Since college,” Darcy confirms.

At this point in time, Lizzie’s mother says something like, “And have you ever seen him so absolutely enchanted with a young woman?”, but she can’t remember the exact wording (even though she’s always had a knack for that). Later, she claims she momentarily blacked out due to sheer embarrassment.

“On the contrary,” Darcy begins. Lizzie feels her eyes roll involuntarily. “Wherever he goes, Bing seems to find himself enchanted with some young woman or another, although none seem so remarkable to him after they’ve parted.” It’s the same diss on Jane from earlier that raised Lizzie’s hackles. It does this time, too. Her mother even bristles up at the same time she does, but at least her mother seems determined to end the conversation now, which Lizzie is grateful for.

“Well then,” she says, her breath huffy with indignation. “I’ll just leave you two to talk.” She glances between them surreptitiously, and despite all the offense she’s just taken on her eldest daughter’s behalf, she adds: “Alone.”

“Mom,” Lizzie protests weakly.

“Bye now,” she says, not bothering to say goodbye to Darcy. There’s a long, intensely awkward pause between them as Lizzie squeezes her arms tighter across her chest, wishing she could just disappear or walk away.

“I apologize for my mother,” she finally says, and then when he doesn’t respond immediately she continues. “A phrase you will undoubtedly be hearing often, if Bing’s infatuation with my sister lasts through the night.” She mentally kicks herself for setting him up to insult Jane again, but in a small miracle, he doesn’t.

“It’s quite alright,” he says. “I have an aunt…”

Normal people, Lizzie thinks, would have continued to say they have an aunt that’s equally embarrassing, and then told a story with a mildly entertaining punchline, but Darcy leaves it at that. The whole exchange is still implied, but the awkward silence is so much worse than polite laughter.

 “Just the aunt? Or do you have other family as well?” Lizzie asks, trying to move the conversation at least into small talk territory.

“My little sister,” he says. “Georgiana.”

Lizzie expects him to go on and list the rest of his family, but judging by the way he presses his lips into a tight line, he clearly doesn’t have anyone else to add, and she feels her stomach twist uncomfortably. “How old’s your sister?” she asks.

“Twenty one,” he says. “She’s just finishing her junior year.”

“My sister Lydia’s a sophomore,” Lizzie says, pointing to her. Lydia’s dancing with a man Lizzie has never seen before in a way that definitely would not be condoned by a high school prom chaperone, and she immediately regrets her decision to point her out. “But she goes to the local junior college, and I’m betting your sister goes to some fancy Ivy League or Seven Sisters school… Bryn Mawr?” She makes this guess half because it’s fun to say.

“Stanford,” he corrects.

“Nice,” Lizzie says. “Closer than Bryn Mawr.” Not as fun to say, though. “Do you visit often?”

“She comes home on weekends,” he says.

"To Los Angeles?” Lizzie asks incredulously. Darcy gives her a look.

“I spend most of my time in San Francisco, actually,” he says in a careful meter, examining her with a scrutiny she frankly finds uncomfortable. She realizes that given the fact that she’s said maybe ten words to Bing since the reception started, it might be a little weird that she knows he moved here from Los Angeles.

“Well that’s even closer,” she says. He nods, and the conversation dies. Not her most graceful recovery ever. He checks his phone so she checks hers too. From their brief interaction so far, she’s learned that if the conversation is going to continue, she’s going to have to continue it. The song that’s playing changes, and after the new one hits the chorus, Lizzie says, “It must be nice to see your sister so often, though.”

He draws in a breath to respond, and Lizzie might be imagining it but she thinks the corners of his mouth pull up into the slightest of smiles. But he doesn’t get to respond, because suddenly a peal of laughter erupts from somewhere behind them. Lizzie looks over her shoulder; Lydia and a couple of the bridesmaids, old friends of hers from high school, are watching them from a few tables away. When Lydia sees that she has her sister’s attention, she proceeds to make noises that are an enthusiastic imitation of a dubstep baseline.

Lizzie turns back to Darcy. He’s tensed up again, looking off anywhere but at Lydia or her. She hadn’t even realized he’d relaxed at all. She leans back and appraises him; ridiculous outfit, vacant stare, tensed jaw, quizzical brow.

She can maybe see him just being shy.

“Hey,” she says, calling his attention back to her. He glances at her out of the corner of his eyes. She smiles as she speaks. “I have an idea.”


 

Outside, it’s a typical late spring afternoon. It’s cold and damp, but not actually raining. Darcy follows Lizzie as she leads him through the open-air hallways of the church with the confidence of someone who has lived in the same place for their entire life. He follows her and doesn’t ask where they’re going or what they’re going to do when they get there. He stops following her when she climbs up into a children’s play structure.

It’s one of the old ones, made of splintery wood instead of bright colorful metal and plastic. She does not even hesitate as she climbs the scaled-down wooden stairs and settles down underneath a slanted roof, right next to the slide.

He stands, at ground level, by the platform she’s sitting on. She peers at him over the edge. “Coming up?” she asks, as if it’s perfectly normal behavior she’s displaying.

“I really don’t think it’d be…” he starts, but he can’t think of a word fast enough and she cuts him off.

“I really don’t think it’d be proper,” she finishes for him, in an approximation of his voice. He’s so taken aback he can’t think of a single thing to say. When she laughs a short laugh (a nervous laugh, he thinks), he realizes he should probably laugh too or at least smile. But she’s moving on. “Are you worried you’re going to ruin your fancy pants?” she asks. “You can sit on my coat.”

 “I wouldn’t…” he begins to protest, but his voice dies halfway through the sentence. “… do that,” he finishes as he begins to climb the stairs. He settles down opposite her, crossing his legs and feeling more than a little bit ridiculous.

He has no idea what he’s doing here, or why she’s even still talking to him. Every second she doesn’t say anything, he grows more uncomfortable. Her pretty blue eyes glint with mischief as she watches him.

“What are we doing here?” he finally asks. She shrugs, arranging her proffered coat over her crossed legs.

“I got the impression you’re not really the party type,” she says. “And the soundtrack was getting in the way of our small talk.”

“So you brought me to…?”

“One of my oldest hangouts,” she says, gesturing to the rest of the playground proudly. “Jane and I always sat here during our Sunday school recesses. And Lydia would always whine because she was in the next class down from us and she couldn’t play with the big kids.” She speaks with a mock-weepy quality to her voice, but she smiles.

“Are you close with your sisters?” he asks.

“Jane’s practically my best friend,” she says, offering no commentary on Lydia. “Are you and Georgiana close?”

For a second he is startled to hear his sister’s name come out of her mouth, but he recoups composure. “Yes, very,” he says. “After…” he stops, not wanting to talk about his parents. He takes way too long a pause to mentally edit his response to her, but she waits patiently. “After Bing, she’s my best friend as well.” This isn’t even remotely true; there’s no one in the world he’d rank above Gigi in terms of importance. But it’s a good recovery, especially for him.

 “What’s she like?” Lizzie asks. This is a topic Darcy has no difficulty with; he relatively easily describes his sister, her interests and talents, what she’s studying in school. He doesn’t have to take care to edit those certain parts of their life out, because he does it so reflexively now. She listens carefully, and interjects to comment here and there (apparently she plays tennis, as well, and he can’t but think that Gigi would really like her). Then she tells him a little about Jane, and he talks less than she did, but listens attentively.

Then they are apparently done talking about their sisters, because she says, “So what do you do?”

He falters for a second.

“I have a company,” he says.

“Of course you do.” It’s funny, he thinks. Coming from just about anyone else, this remark (and especially the derisive tone) would have irked him. But he is only annoyed by the thought that she thinks poorly of him when she really has no reason to, and he wants to know why.

“What do you mean?” he asks. Reading people is not his strong suit but she is clearly caught off-guard by that.

“I just mean…” She pauses to think. “The vacation mansion in Sonoma doesn’t really scream blue collar.” He doesn’t point out that it’s Bing’s house, because he can see her point. “What does your company do?” she asks.

“It’s Pemberley Digital,” he says, realizing too late he has not precisely answered her question. “It’s a digital media company,” he adds.

“Oh, cool,” she says, a new interest sparking in her eyes. She leans forward, resting her elbows on her knees. “I’m doing graduate studies in mass communications,” she says, and launches off into a whole train of thought about that. Honestly, he’s just glad she’s doing the talking again, because she’s pretty good at it and he isn’t, very.

They manage to talk for a few hours (unprecedented for him, really) before she realizes that people are starting to leave the reception and suggests they get back before their rides leave without them. He climbs down from the play structure first. When she comes down, she’s been sitting so long that her leg buckles and he catches her hand to steady her. As they walk back to the reception, he jams his hands into his pockets, fingers clenched against his palms tight.


 

When they get back to the party, Bing’s sister whisks Darcy off immediately, glancing back over her shoulder at Lizzie as she goes. Lizzie shrugs it off as Charlotte walks towards her, pointing vaguely towards Darcy as he walks away.

“Were you with him that whole time?” Charlotte asks, looking way too smirky for Lizzie’s liking.

“Yes,” Lizzie says. No point in lying about it.

And?” Charlotte presses. Lizzie doesn’t really know what to say, because he wasn’t really… cool or easygoing or nice, or any of those things you say about people you’ve just met. It wasn’t that she hadn’t enjoyed their conversation, but he just wasn’t any of those things.

Finally, she settles on a response. She taps her fingers against the strap of her purse as she watches him leave with Bing and Caroline. “He’s alright,” she says.