Another week melts by before Lizzie can even bat an eyelash – when she’s getting up at noon every day and sulking about the house, out of the way of everyone else, the days go quickly. She hasn’t spoken to Charlotte. It’s probably the longest she’s gone without speaking to Charlotte in years. Maybe ever.
For the most part, everyone in the house has noticed her chronic bad mood and they’ve left her alone. She’s spent her time staying up until four in the morning reading and messing around with Final Cut Pro. It’s not as easy to edit videos together as Charlotte makes it look.
The effect is cyclical: every day she sleeps in later, stays up later. Her schedule drifts fifteen minutes every day until it’s just entirely out of hand.
When Jane wakes her up at six in the morning she wants to throw her pillow at her sister’s face no matter how angelic and perfectly dressed she is.
“What is it?” Lizzie asks, her words slurring together as she peeks out from under her pillow. She decides she’s not getting up unless the house is on fire.
“Can you drive me to work?” Jane asks, twisting her purse-strap around her hand.
“Can’t Bing drive you?” she asks, pulling the pillow down over her head again. Jane hovers for a moment longer and Lizzie knows she’s there. She heaves a deep sigh.
“Can you drive me to work, Lizzie?” Jane asks again, everything about her tone screaming don’t be difficult, don’t ask questions, please.
Lizzie doesn’t press it. She just drags herself out of bed and pulls on her sneakers.
Darcy gets back from his morning run every day promptly at seven forty-five, which is usually when Jane and Bing are out of the house and Caroline and Lizzie are sleeping in. Today, though, Lizzie is in the kitchen reading a newspaper. Darcy nearly does a double-take when he sees her there.
“You’re up early,” he comments as he pours himself a glass of orange juice. She jumps slightly, startled by his sudden appearance. And she looks dead tired, which probably doesn’t help her awareness.
“Yeah,” she rubs her eyes as she speaks. “Jane needed me to drive her to work, so I had to get up, and I figured I’d better fix my sleep schedule while I was at it…”
Darcy takes a pensive moment as he puts the juice back into the fridge. Lizzie doesn’t say anything more, so he speaks instead. “Bing couldn’t drive her?”
“I didn’t ask,” Lizzie says, pressing her lips into a thin line and joining him at the island counter, passing him the newspaper. She’s got a mug of coffee in her hands and she rests it on the counter as he drinks his juice. “But she didn’t drive herself and she said she didn’t need a ride home this evening, so I figure it’s no big thing.”
“Bing hasn’t mentioned anything,” Darcy says. It’s a mild reassurance, but she smiles anyway, so he figures he’s done something right.
“I’m sure it’s nothing,” she says, and then lapses into a jittery sort of silence. She can’t keep still and even though all he’s doing is eating his breakfast, he finds her presence very, very distracting.
“Hey, so,” she says after a second, tapping her fingers against the rim of her mug nervously. “You know how I told you I absolutely never ever ever wanted to work for your company…?”
“Yes…?” he says, leafing through the newspaper. She’s done a number on it. She takes her newspapers apart and folds each page over individually, and it’s impossible to put one back together properly after she’s gotten her hands on it. He turns a page over, trying to find the facing page, but it’s hopeless.
“Well, that’s still true,” she says. “But I was thinking, friends doing favors for friends, that’s… generally acceptable, yeah?”
“What kind of favor?” he asks, eyebrow arching.
“An academic one,” she says, her tone a little tart and self-assured. He’s sure she’s thought whatever favor she’s about to ask through pretty thoroughly, and he can hazard a guess what it is.
“Yeah,” Lizzie says, seeming more relieved that he guessed it than annoyed. He’d vaguely expected her to be annoyed with him. “I’ve been talking to Doctor Gardiner about turning my youtube channel into a year-long project that’d count for independent study and my thesis. I’d have to shadow at a digital production company while I did it.” She bites her lower lip and raises her eyebrows as she glances up at him.
“I know a great place,” he says without really thinking about it. And she laughs – a real, genuine laugh.
“You’re pretty funny, you know?”
“I’ve been told that,” he says. “I wouldn’t say it about myself.”
“Nah, you’re way too modest,” she says, taking a long sip of her coffee. She’s teasing, but there’s a warmness, a fondness behind it. It’s not the worst thing in the world.
They finish breakfast just chatting about inconsequential things – Lizzie does, anyway, he mostly responds when she asks him questions, but that’s how most of their conversations go and she’s never seemed to mind before. She gets a little hung up for a moment while she talks about the process of re-learning how to edit videos and how it’s so not like riding a bike, according to her. He figures she hasn’t made up with Charlotte yet and glances down at the email message from his aunt about Collins & Collins and when are you coming over for dinner and a truly terrible plan begins to form in his mind.
Lizzie punctuates her latest train of thought with a loud yawn. “I’m… going to go back to bed. I’m weak,” she says, running a hand through her unruly red hair.
“It’s eight thirty in the morning,” he remarks. “And I just watched you drink three cups of coffee.”
“Stow the judgment, buddy,” she says, waving a hand in his face. “I need a nap. But, uh, if you’re free tomorrow,” she says, trailing off. When he doesn’t say anything she seems to scramble to come up with a back half to the sentence. “I could get up at a socially acceptable hour and we could spend the day doing something suitably exciting to keep me awake?” she suggests.
She really couldn’t have given him a better opening than that.
“Actually,” he says, tapping a message out on his phone as he speaks. “I have to take a business trip to Santa Clara.”
She stares at him for a second. “Oh,” she says, stifling most of the disappointment in her voice.
“Favor for a favor?” he asks. Her expression shifts instantly to one of impish glee.
“Ooh, I like it. Is this how all hotshot CEOs get to business?” she asks, setting down her empty coffee mug in the sink. “Am I starting my apprenticeship now?”
“Something like that,” he says dryly and she laughs.
“What is it?”
“Gigi’s been hounding me,” he says. “Asking when you’re coming to visit again.” Which is true.
“Really?” she asks, sounding genuinely surprised.
“Yes. She’ll be staying with my aunt in Santa Clara while I’m there.” True enough. “If you came along we could meet up with her for lunch… we’d be back by Monday, and we might be able to get some of the details of this independent study thing worked out at the same time.” All debatably true.
She hums in consideration.
“And it would help reset your sleep schedule,” he offers.
“Sold,” she says.
“You’re leaving?” Jane asks as she watches Lizzie toss clothes from her suitcase into her backpack. She never fully unpacked when they were moving in to Netherfield, because it had just felt too familiar. Helps when she goes on impromptu business trips, though, frequent as they are becoming.
“Yeah, just for a few days,” Lizzie says.
“But…” Jane looks halfway between hurt puppy and child lost at Disneyland. “You can’t go,” she says.
“Jane,” Lizzie sighs as she runs a hand through her hair. “You’re working this weekend, you’ll barely even miss me.”
“What’s going on with you?” Lizzie asks, unable to contain the question any longer. Jane just shakes her head, lips drawn into a prim frown.
“Nothing’s wrong,” she insists. “It’ll just be awkward, me being here without you.”
“How’s that awkward?”
“We’ve been here so long,” she says.
“He has to go back to school, eventually. And he only agreed because you asked if we could stay…”
“What!” Lizzie objects. Jane nods. “No way am I shouldering the blame for this,” she informs Jane. And why would her sister even try to blame her for anything in the first place? It was seriously out of character. “Honestly, is there something wrong?”
Jane fiddles with the lace that lines her blouse. “No…” she says eventually.
“Because if there is, I’ll stay.”
“You don’t have to cancel your plans, Lizzie,” Jane says. “I’ve just been thinking… we’ve really overstayed our welcome here. Bing and Caroline are too polite to turn us out, but I can tell… I’m just worried they’ll think less of us if we stay too long, even if they’d never say.”
Lizzie purses her lips as she looks down at the bed, strewn with her clothes and luggage.
“Yeah, I understand that,” she says. “I’m going to go on this trip with Darcy, cause I owe him a favor, and then when I get back I’ll talk to mom about maybe putting a rush on this home improvement business. Alright?”
Jane smiles. “Alright.”