Chapter 1: First Impressions
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.
Chapter 2: After the Wedding
While she’s filming her next video, Lizzie pokes fun at Jane for being so clearly infatuated with Bing Lee. This backfires quickly.
While she’s filming her next video, Lizzie pokes fun at Jane for being so clearly infatuated with Bing Lee. This backfires quickly.
“I don’t want to talk about that,” Lizzie protests after Jane-as-Lizzie points out that she spent the entire evening talking to Darcy. Realizing that this probably sounds hugely hypocritical of her, she continues, “It was boring, trust me.”
Jane bites her lip and sets down the prop notebook. “Okay,” she says. “We don’t have to talk about that.” She’s too nice to say it, but this statement comes with an implied but we’re not talking about Bing, either. She takes off Lizzie’s shirt and folds it neatly. “We can just leave it at… everyone had a really good time. Right?”
“Right,” Lizzie agrees reluctantly, handing the headband back to her and shucking her sweater off. Jane smiles at her for a second, her gaze drifting upwards as she reflects on the wedding reception. She giggles, her nose scrunching up a little, and then shakes her head as if she’s trying to wake herself up from a dream.
“Right,” she echoes. “Bye, everyone,” she remembers to say to the camera before she leaves.
Lizzie stares at the blinking red light on the camera for a long while after Jane goes. She figures she should probably soliloquize about Bing and Jane or offer some closure on the story she was telling at the very least, but she comes up empty. Instead of signing off, she purses her lips in a perturbed fashion as she switches the camera off.
“I’m not ready yet!” Lydia whines from her room. Lizzie wonders why she even bothered asking her to help out.
“Oh, come on.”She goes over to Lydia’s room, entering without knocking (because since when has Lydia knocked while barging into her room?). She finds Lydia perched at her vanity in a bra and black leggings, separating her eyelashes with a safety pin. There are about twenty shirts strewn across her bed and floor.
“Get your ass out here,” she says. Lydia glares.
“I’m. Not. Ready,” she reiterates, and goes back to her previous task of eyelash separation.
“It’s not that high def,” Lizzie says. Lydia puts the safety pin down.
“Gotta look my best for our viewers,” she says. “Do you know how many people are watching your videos?” She knows exactly how many people are watching her videos. She checks the view counts every few hours. “Why so many people are interested in your life, I’ll never know, but…” Lydia picks up a top and holds it up to her chest, contemplating it for a second before discarding it for another one.
“The camera is still recording so hurry up,” Lizzie informs her. “Just wear whatever, it doesn’t matter.” Lizzie tosses one of Lydia’s shirts at her. Lydia puts it on the discarded pile of shirts immediately without considering it.
“I know you don’t care how you look on camera,” Lydia says, holding up a hand to silence Lizzie when she inhales to respond. “But the internet never forgets, lame-o sister of mine.”
Well. There’s something to think about.
Lizzie’s been thinking of the videos as a diary – clearly – but Lydia (surprisingly) has a really good point. Lots of people are watching her videos now. More than she ever thought would, anyway. She hasn’t thought about having to pull them down before, but now she does, briefly. She wonders if anyone has downloaded them or backed them up somehow.
“Okay, ready,” Lydia says, arranging the loose neckline of her pale pink shirt around her shoulders. She blows a kiss at herself in the mirror theatrically (Lizzie never though anything could make Lydia more theatrical, but mild internet fame has done the impossible) and then stands up. Lizzie follows her back to her room.
Once they’re settled in front of the camera, Lizzie hands Lydia the stupid mother-of-the-bride hat she’s been using as a Mom costume. Lydia scrunches her face up.
“Ew, I don’t wanna be our mother,” she complains. Lizzie thrusts the hat at her and picks up the clip-on earrings, leaning over to put them on Lydia, who is still making whiney noises.
“You have to be Mom,” Lizzie says, counter-swatting Lydia when she swats at her. They get into a swat-fight, batting ineffectually at each other’s hands. “Lydia!”
“But you’re so good at it, Lizzie,” she says, taking off the one clip-on earring Lizzie had gotten on her. It’s not really a compliment, Lizzie knows. Not coming from Lydia. “Please please please please please please please don’t make me be—“
“You have to be Mom, you haven’t even ever talked to Darcy,” Lizzie points out. Lydia’s ears perk up immediately when she mentions Darcy.
“I could totes be Darcy!” Lydia flips her hair, looking directly at the camera as she gives her Darcy audition. She’s pretty sure the sounds Lydia is making are supposed to be an imitation of the teacher from Charlie Brown, and if Lizzie’s going to be completely honest, the way she deadpans you probs haven’t heard of it at the end is pretty funny, but.
“No,” Lizzie says firmly.
“Because,” she splutters. “That’s… not… be Mom or go away.” Lydia stares at her intently for a second, trying to call her bluff, but Lizzie doesn’t back down. She doesn’t need Lydia’s help to do this. Sure, editing together herself doing both halves of a conversation will be a pain in the ass without Charlotte’s help, but she could do it if push came to shove…
She’s more than a little relieved when Lydia says “Fine.”
So Lydia gets into the costume and improvises her side of the conversation, and if the viewers thought Lizzie was over the top in portraying their mother, they’ll reconsider after they see this. Even though a few Lydia-isms slip through, it’s going pretty well, until –
“Ugh, he said that?” Lydia interrupts, nose crinkled in disgust. Lizzie’s a little surprised Lydia hasn’t heard this story from her mother two hundred times by now (but come to think of it, has she even mentioned Darcy since the wedding? She’s been mercifully preoccupied with Jane and Bing).
“Stay in character,” Lizzie gripes.
“Not sorry,” Lydia says. “This guy sounds like a total d-bag.”
“He’s not,” Lizzie says, taking the stupid Newsies hat off and running a hand through her hair.
“All evidence to the contrary?”
“You know, I’ve been thinking about it, and I don’t think he was even thinking about Jane at all.” Lydia gives her a look that is simultaneously bored and mildly repulsed. “He was just making a comment on Bing’s—”
“Yeah, whatever, we get it, you like him,” Lydia says. Lizzie says nothing. “That doesn’t change the fact that he was kinda rude and intensely weird.”
“He’s just quiet and awkward,” Lizzie says. Lydia’s not having it, so she adds, “And, okay, sort of weird. But have you met our mother?”
“IDK,” Lydia says. Like, she actually spells the acronym out loud. “I guess you’d know best since you spent like a ton of one-on-one time with him. What were you doing, anyway?”
“Talking,” Lizzie says. “Well, I was talking. He was mostly listening and occasionally making attempts at talking.”
“Boring.” Lydia tugs her shirt back up onto her shoulder. “You were alone for like what, over two hours? Normal people would’ve gotten to like at least third base.”
“Oh my god, first of all, no, and secondly, what do you think third base is?”
“I am so not explaining sex metaphors to my nerdy older sister,” Lydia says. She blows two kisses at the camera. “Peace out!”
Lizzie thinks about going after her and making her finish the costume theater reenactment, but this video has become enough of an incoherent, mangled mess already.
She avoids talking to Charlotte, which isn’t hard at first because her friend is preoccupied with family stuff. It’s a plan that’s doomed to fail in the long run, though, because they carpool to school on Tuesday through Thursdays. Their Tuesday schedule is the worst, because they have to get to campus by 8:30 in the morning and it’s an hour long commute in traffic.
After stopping for Starbucks like they always do, they climb into Charlotte’s car. Lizzie sits quietly in the passenger seat, nursing her hazelnut mocha to her chest as she listens to Charlotte talk about how she missed the best story about the wedding (which is apparently that Jane caught the bouquet and had to dance with Andy Pratt while Bing Lee watched from the sidelines doing an impression of a forlorn puppy).
“Maybe we should stop,” Lizzie says, interrupting Charlotte’s story.
“What?” Charlotte asks, checking her dashboard panel.
“No, the videos,” Lizzie says, putting her feet up on the dash so she can curl up a little.
“Why? We can’t do that,” Charlotte says. “We’re going to use that for school, and if our viewership keeps growing like it is right now, we might even be able to make a profit – or some industry contacts, which would be—”
“Yeah, I know,” Lizzie says quietly. They’ve been over all this before. In the wouldn’t it be cool if way before they started the project and in the oh my god people like us way afterwards. Neither of them thought this would actually be their big break, and it is so counterintuitive to Lizzie to just throw that away. “But we’re like one Google search away from becoming one of those cringe comedy sitcoms where you’re so embarrassed for the characters you have to watch through your fingers.” She lets that sink for a second. “Only even more awkward.”
They stare at the road in front of them for a long moment.
“I mean,” Charlotte says. “What have we really even said, that’s embarrassing?”
Charlotte clearly has not seen the video with Lydia yet.
“Well, for one, I basically admitted that my mom was stalking Bing Lee before we met him,” Lizzie says. “That’s not going to look good from an outside perspective.”
“Since when do you care what Bing Lee thinks?” Charlotte points out. Lizzie scoffs.
“Jane cares, so I care.”
“Oh? What happened to calling it an arranged marriage?”
Lizzie grits her teeth. “Look, I would prefer it if Jane liked someone my mom hadn’t handpicked to be her superhot status symbol husband, but I’m not going to actively sabotage her relationship or anything.” She puts her coffee cup down in the cup holder. “Geez,” she snaps. She crosses her arms over her chest and looks out the passenger window.
“Okay, okay,” Charlotte says in a clear bid to calm her down.
They spend the rest of the car ride in silence. After they find parking and get their things out of the trunk, when they’re heading to class, Charlotte starts the conversation up again.
“Isn’t that a little bit of a double standard on your part?” she asks. Lizzie has no idea what she’s talking about (really) and she tells her as much. Charlotte clucks her tongue. “I mean, Jane likes Bing and she’s conforming to your mother’s standards, but you liking Darcy is okay because…?” She pauses, waiting for Lizzie to respond. Lizzie doesn’t, because she is so not going to take that bait. “Because your mom doesn’t like the guy, personally? It’s still the same thing.”
“It is not,” Lizzie says. “And I don’t… like him like that. I’ve talked to the guy once.”
“For hours,” Charlotte says.
“I’ve still only met him once. Just like Jane’s only met Bing once. And as you will notice, I am reacting like a normal person. Jane’s reacting like…”
“Like someone who’s not emotionally stunted?”
“Hey,” Lizzie complains.
“You have this really blatant kneejerk reaction to romantic emotions, Lizzie,” Charlotte says as they reach their building. They hang around the doors, killing the time left before their class starts.
“I don’t want to talk about this,” she says.
“Uh huh,” Charlotte says.
“You know I don’t like talking about this,” she adds more quietly.
“All I’m saying is, if you can be friends with Darcy you can maybe get used to the idea of Jane and Bing being something at least semi-permanent.”
Lizzie grits her teeth, because Jane has met Bing one time, but she doesn’t say anything. She doesn’t say anything because she knows Charlotte will press it if she does. She won’t bring it up again, but she does spend her entire three-hour class period mentally compiling a list of reasons why her talking to Darcy all evening was different than Jane dancing with Bing all evening.
Chapter 3: Dinner Party
“I can’t stand that man,” Mrs. Bennet huffs after the three of them are gone, tossing her arms up in the air theatrically. She then adds, without pretense or tact, “But if you really like him, Lizzie, you shouldn’t let my opinion stand in the way of that.”
Within a couple weeks, it’s evident to Lizzie that her mother does not much care for William Darcy. If their interaction at the Gibson wedding hadn’t been enough on its own, her mother had met him twice more with similar results. The first time, she’d run into Darcy and Caroline at the supermarket. Unchaperoned by her daughters, it had been inevitable that this meeting would go poorly. Lizzie only gets the details of it second-hand from her mother, listening silently as the tale is recounted at the dinner table. Contrary to her character, she doesn’t have an opinion to offer on the encounter (much later, she would wonder what Caroline and Darcy had even been doing at the Bennet family’s preferred supermarket).
After her mother’s third run-in with Darcy, it becomes clear that she is also deeply conflicted about that dislike. Lizzie only gets scant details on this encounter, but apparently for all its unpleasantness, it ended with Darcy asking after Lizzie, which had been the a-ha moment for Mrs. Bennet. After weeks of pleasant silence on the topic, she now insists at every opportunity that Lizze could marry Darcy “if she wanted to” and it “wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world”.
Luckily, tonight, Lizzie is not the center of her mother’s attention. Bing and Jane are going on their very first real date, alone and planned ahead of time and everything. Naturally, Mrs. Bennet is wound up about this. She’s been wound up about it for roughly three days (since the planning), but it’s especially bad now that Bing is fifteen minutes late to pick up Jane. Her current theory is that this is somehow Darcy’s fault.
“Mom,” Lizzie complains as Jane fidgets on the sofa, where she has been sitting demurely for the last forty five minutes on their mother’s orders. “That literally makes no sense. How would it be Darcy’s fault?”
“I don’t know,” Mrs. Bennet says. “But I’m sure it is, somehow.”
Lizzie protests this for a couple minutes fairly vehemently, which makes it all the more embarrassing when Darcy shows up with Bing ten minutes later.
“Sorry I’m late,” Bing says as he graciously accepts a hello hug from Mrs. Bennet. “Darcy’s car broke down and he was stranded in Santa Rosa so I had to go pick him up. And then I was late, so I thought I’d come by here and pick up Jane before I dropped him off.” Mrs. Bennet tosses Lizzie a pointed look, and for some reason she feels herself blush in response. Bing misses all this and shuffles about-face to look at Jane, still on the sofa. “I couldn’t wait to see you,” he says with a dorky grin.
Before anyone has time to react to this toothache-inducing comment, Darcy, who is still standing awkwardly just outside the threshold of the front door, says, “Good afternoon, Lizzie.”
“Hey,” Lizzie responds after clearing her throat. The exchange draws Mrs. Bennet’s scrutiny.
“Mr. Darcy, I’m awfully sorry to hear about your car,” Mrs. Bennet says. Lizzie closes her eyes and sets her jaw in preparation for whatever undoubtedly mortifying question her mother is working her way up to. Jane tells her later that night that Darcy made the exact same face at the exact same moment in the conversation and also opines that it was adorable. “But I’m not entirely sure why you had to put Mr. Lee out like that when you all have a personal driver.”
“Oh, he wasn’t putting me out,” Bing says a little too quickly. “I offered. I’m glad to help.”
“I think it was sweet of you,” Jane adds, which helps assuage Mrs. Bennet a little.
“Besides,” Darcy says, his hands folded behind his back. “I’m sure you of all people can appreciate a sense of economy, Mrs. Bennet.” Lizzie’s eyebrows shoot up at this and she intervenes as hastily as she can, sacrificing grace for speed.
“Uhhhhhh,” she says, moving between Darcy and her mother, who looks like she is about to blow a gasket. “I’m in Santa Rosa a lot,” she says, holding out her hand to him. “Here, let me put my number in your phone. If you have another car emergency you can call me instead.” Despite the fact that this has to be the most awkward way anyone has ever suggested exchanging phone numbers, Darcy silently drops his phone into Lizzie’s open hand, staring slightly over her left shoulder at nothing in particular as he does it.
As Lizzie suspected she would, her mother seems to view this as a romantic advance, which means that she does nothing to interrupt it. After Lizzie’s number is in his phone and she’s made him text her so that she’ll have his number too, they say their awkward goodbyes and Jane leaves with them.
“I can’t stand that man,” Mrs. Bennet huffs after the three of them are gone, tossing her arms up in the air theatrically. She then adds, without pretense or tact, “But if you really like him, Lizzie, you shouldn’t let my opinion stand in the way of that.”
Lizzie doesn’t point out that she has literally never once in her life let her mother’s opinions stand in the way of her own, but she does heave a sigh and roll her eyes and retreat to her room to tell the internet all about it.
Somehow, what started out as the Bennet sisters coming over for dinner has turned into a proper dinner party, complete with a full guest list and a caterer. Darcy is not happy about this.
“Honestly, Darcy,” Caroline says as she polishes her favorite set of her mother’s silver. They’re sitting in the kitchen, and she is working very idly. By Darcy’s estimation, it would have taken her a week to finish on her own, so he is helping. “It’s just some friends.”
“How do you even know this many people in town?” Darcy asks. Caroline shrugs, her hair falling over her shoulder like a silken waterfall.
“Well, the Hursts are family friends. You’ve met them, haven’t you?” she says. Darcy shrugs noncommittally. “And Stuart and Ellen Gibson, of course. And Lizzie’s friend, Charlotte.”
“Who invited her?” Darcy asks.
“I did.” Caroline is all insouciance. “I need more friends who aren’t men or old married women.”
“I doubt you’ll get along very well with Lizzie’s friend.”
“Unlike you, I get along well with everybody.” Darcy knows, logically, that Caroline is only teasing him, but her teasing has always stung. He sets down the fork he was polishing and stands up, not announcing his intention to leave before he does it. Caroline calls after him half-heartedly, and for a moment he feels badly for upsetting her, but she knows him well enough to leave it alone.
As he retreats to his room, Darcy idly flips through the texts he has exchanged with Lizzie over the last week and a half. They’re always brief and she always texts him first, because he can never quite think of what would be appropriate to say. She’s witty and charming, and somehow this translates exceptionally well to text. He’s been told he comes off as brusque and disengaged when texting.
Then again, he’s also been told as much about his face-to-face communicate skills.
He’s seriously considering texting her (even though she’s supposed to come over for dinner in an hour and a half, and anything he could possibly say to her could definitely wait until then, so maybe he shouldn’t bother) when she texts him. He stares at the notification for a moment before reading the text message.
Red alert: my mother is dropping us off an hour early. She’s probably angling for a coffee invitation. She made us bring Lydia. This is not a drill. Fortify your wine cellar.
By the time he finishes reading the first text, she’s sent a second: Wait, do you guys actually have a wine cellar over there?
He’s a little preoccupied by the fact that Mrs. Bennet is coming over to Bing’s house when she has no real reason to, but he manages to text back There’s no cellar.
But there is wine, she texts back. Excellent.
He can’t think of anything good to say to that, so he doesn’t reply. Eventually, she texts him again.
Told Charlotte to head over too. Hoping I can convince my mother the party started early, but don’t hold your breath.
He warns Bing and Caroline about their unexpected houseguests all of five minutes before they arrive. Charlotte shows up shortly after they do, looking quietly amused. Bing, however, handles the situation with his usual charm and social grace, and ushers the uninvited among the party out the door before Mrs. Bennet even gets the opportunity to insult Darcy. Once the situation is resolved, they all mill around awkwardly in the foyer for a moment before Caroline suggests they relocate to the kitchen for drinks.
“By the way,” Lizzie says under her breath, sidling towards him as they settle down in the kitchen. “My mother has decided that we have to do all our grocery shopping between the hours of two and five in the morning so nobody sees her using coupons.” She says all this very conspiratorially, which means that she is not only standing very close to him but is up on her tiptoes so she can whisper in his ear. “So thanks for that.”
“That’s my fault, is it?”
“Yup,” she affirms at a normal volume, dropping down onto the flats of her feet. “Mister I’m-Sure-You-Can-Appreciate-A-Sense-Of-Economy.”
“Well,” he says, offering her a glass of wine. “Perhaps if I make those my regular hours, she’ll reconsider hers.”
“Apology accepted,” Lizzie says through her laugh. When she takes the glass from him their fingers brush and she is still smiling.
“Is there,” he clears his throat, “anything else I can do for you?”
“Well, I’d like a tour,” Lizzie says, leaning back on the counter as she takes a sip of wine. She looks at him over the rim of the cup as she speaks. “This house is huge.”
There’s no good reason this should make him blush, but…
“A tour sounds great,” Caroline says from across the kitchen, beaming at Lizzie in a way that would be easy to mistake for genuine. “I’m sure Bing would love to show everyone our new home.”
For the hundredth time since they’ve arrived at Netherfield, Darcy wants to point out to Caroline that you cannot make a place into a home simply by force of will. It’s a feat that’s especially impossible when she doesn’t even really like the house or town she’s living in. He doesn’t say anything as she leads Bing, Charlotte, and the Bennets out of the kitchen.
Lizzie’s the last out before him, and she turns back when she realizes he’s still leaning against the counter. Without saying anything, she ushers him along with a small head motion and a slight lift of her eyebrows.
Darcy’s never liked being told what to do, but he follows her anyway.
After the extremely extensive tour of the house (which Lizzie is sure won’t prevent her from getting lost in it), Caroline insists that they have to see the grounds, too. The only hitch in this plan is that since they’ve arrived, it’s started raining, and the Lees only have three umbrellas on hand.
Caroline absolutely swears that they have to see the grounds, though, and points out that it’s only barely drizzling. Somehow, everybody is talked into it.
Somehow, Lizzie ends up sharing her umbrella with Caroline. She feels mildly bad about this, because that means that Charlotte is stuck with Darcy, who has to stoop over slightly while holding their umbrella because of the height disparity.
Caroline, who is holding their umbrella, walks very slowly, and soon they’re lagging behind everyone else despite the fact that Caroline is supposed to be leading the tour. Lizzie crosses her arms over her chest uncomfortably.
“I’m really glad you came tonight, Lizzie,” Caroline says brightly. Lizzie looks away from where the others are, down the slope of the lawn, where the yard runs right up to the tree line. Darcy is speaking to Charlotte and gesturing to something beyond the yard with his free hand, but Lizzie’s too far away to be able to hear what he’s saying.
“I’m glad to be here,” she responds to Caroline, tearing her gaze away from Darcy and Charlotte.
“I’m just happy to have the opportunity to get to know you better,” Caroline says, smiling with half her mouth as she looks down the lawn to where her brother is standing with Jane. Their umbrella obscures them from Lizzie’s view. “I hope we can be good friends.”
“Oh?” Lizzie asks, because she’s never really gotten this impression from Caroline before.
“Yes,” Caroline says. And then she adds in a hushed tone, “Look, my brother really likes your sister. I don’t mean to gossip, but it’s true. And obvious. He’s such a dork.” Her teasing has a warm familiarity in it, and it’s the least guarded thing she’s ever seen or heard Caroline do or say. Lizzie cracks a smile.
“Jane really likes him too,” she says.
“Good,” Caroline says. “I’m hoping we can all be really good friends. Darcy already likes you.”
“Does he?” Lizzie asks with a laugh, feeling more on edge with every word Caroline says. “It’s hard to get a read on that guy.”
“I know,” Caroline says, her voice full of long-suffering exasperation. “But he does. Look, it stopped raining.”
Caroline closes the umbrella, and they walk together until they meet up with Charlotte and Darcy. Caroline hangs back, but Charlotte pulls Lizzie away and they continue to wander along the tree line.
“Oh my god,” Charlotte says as soon as they’re out of earshot. “That was the most awkward ten minutes of my entire life.”
“What happened?” Lizzie asks, looking over her shoulder at Caroline and Darcy.
“I mean, nothing,” Charlotte says. “I tried to make conversation and he… told me about the local history of Napa Valley. He’s like a Wikipedia article.” Lizzie laughs. “What did you and Caroline talk about?”
“Oh,” Lizzie says, shaking her head. “Uh, she wants to be friends with me?”
“I guess,” Lizzie says. She checks one more time to make sure Darcy and Caroline are far enough away to insurance privacy. “I’ll tell you alllll about it next time we’re filming,” she says when she’s sure. “Oh, also, apparently Darcy likes me.”
“Well duh,” Charlotte says. Lizzie ignores her pointedly. “But seriously, what’s the deal with Caroline?”
“I don’t know, she seems nice to me,” Lizzie says with a shrug. “I mean, she also seems like the kind of person who owns twenty purses that each cost the gross domestic product of a small country, but nice. Definitely more welcoming than she was at Ellen’s wedding.”
“She seemed kind of prickly then,” Charlotte agrees.
“Yeah, well, so did Darcy.”
“Darcy still seems kind of prickly,” Charlotte points out. Lizzie bumps her shoulder into hers.
“Hey,” she says. “Give him the rest of dinner to make an impression, at least.”
Charlotte gives her a look, and laughs, but she doesn’t say anything. Lizzie laughs too, but that’s more of a defense mechanism than anything else.
After dinner, Bing, Jane, and the Gibsons decide they want to go out for ice cream. There’s some discussion of the logistics of driving there. Charlotte mentions that she has to turn in for the night and excuses herself. Caroline eventually decides she wants to go with her brother and Jane, and convinces Darcy to come too, but Lizzie mentions that she’s full and Darcy immediately reneges and says he’s tired. By the time the arrangements are made and everyone in the ice cream party leaves, Darcy realizes that it’s somehow just him and Lizzie left in the kitchen, standing on opposite sides of the island counter.
She stares at him for a second before realization lights in her eyes. Her nose crinkles up. “Uh,” she says ineloquently, bracing herself on the counter and leaning forward awkwardly. “I just realized I don’t have a ride home.”
“I’ll drive you,” Darcy offers immediately. Lizzie gives him a laugh that is either appreciative or slightly nervous (he can’t tell) and accepts. As they walk to the garage, he feels his heart rate pick up. This, he reminds himself, is foolish, because even though they will be alone, they will be in his car, which is not exactly the ideal location for untoward activities (although he feels the tops of his ears blush as he thinks it).
Once they’re in the car, they sit in comfortable silence. Lizzie messes with his radio settings and comments on the leather seats. They’re about halfway back to her house when she makes an effort to start a conversation.
“I looked your company’s website up,” she says.
“Oh?” he asks
“Yeah,” she says. “It sounds absolutely amazing. But just for the record, when you’re doing the whole pitch, you should talk less about your communicative life revealing software…” She says this in a way that makes it sound as if she thinks this nomenclature is more than vaguely ridiculous. He makes a mental note to have the marketing team change it. “And more about the gourmet food trucks and napping pods.”
“Oh,” he says.
“Not that I don’t care about all the supersecret applications, too,” she continues. Her unfailing bravado makes him feel winded, sometimes. “I think they sound awesome. Even if you probably shouldn’t’ve been telling me about them.”
He glances over at her. “Am I at risk of you selling my corporate secrets?”
“Depends,” she says. He can just see her smirking at him out of the corner of his eye.
“On how much money I could get for them. I’m a starving grad school student, Darcy. I gotta make ends meet somehow.”
“Starving?” he asks. “Bing just fed you a six course dinner.”
"Ahh, and so your corporate secrets are safe for another day.”
He laughs at that. She leans her head back against the car window with a dull thump, twisting her body so that she’s almost facing him. He glances at her again and sees that she is smiling at him. “What?” he asks.
“You don’t smile enough,” she says.
“I smile exactly as often as I’m inclined to.” He hears her scoff and assumes she’s rolling her eyes.
“Then you’re not inclined to smile enough,” she says.
“I don’t know what to tell you.”
She’s quiet for a long moment and he listens to the muted sounds of traffic outside the car and the comparatively deafening sound of her metered breathing.
“I’m sorry about your parents,” she says, apropos of almost nothing. He doesn’t look over at her. “I… saw on the website,” she adds sheepishly.
“It’s quite alright,” he says automatically. “It was a long time ago.”
“It was,” she agrees. “You must’ve been…”
“Twenty,” he responds.
“And your sister was twelve,” she adds, exhaling a deep breath. The pause that follows drags out.
“Yes,” he says, needing to fill the silence.
“I can’t even imagine… I mean, my parents are… you’ve met them. But I have no idea what I’d do without them.” She takes a shaky breath, and he can’t think of a single thing to say to her. “I’m sorry, you probably don’t want to talk about this.”
“It’s…” he begins again, but he doesn’t get it out.
“And then you took over your company, and you must’ve been so…” she barrels on, ignoring her own apology. She catches herself, though. “Sorry. I’m not trying to… I just think it’s really amazing, what you’ve done.”
“I only did what I had to,” he says as he pulls up to the curb outside the Bennet family house. He kills the engine and realizes that he should probably look at her, now that he doesn’t have to keep his eyes on the road. He leans his head back against the headrest.
She makes a valiant effort to change the tone of the conversation, and sounds much more upbeat when she adds, “It’s still extremely impressive.” He looks at her. Her expression stills.
“Thank you,” he says quietly.
“You’re welcome.” She picks her bag up off the floor of the car and holds it in her lap. She goes to open the door but changes her mind at the last second. “Good night, Darcy,” she says. Her low and breathy tone puts a quixotic notion into his mind.
“Good night,” he replies, wishing not for the first time that evening that he didn’t sound so stilted. The expression on Lizzie’s face changes immediately, and she gives a little shake of her head and laughs and gets out of the car. Before she closes the door, she leans down to speak to him again.
“By the way,” she says, her eyebrows raised. “You have to promise to come over for dinner with Bing and Caroline next week. I will not suffer through that alone.”
“Okay,” he says.
“Promise,” she insists.
He wants to point out that this is childish. Instead, he promises.
Chapter 4: Embarrassments
Dinner could not be going much worse than it’s going, and Lizzie wonders if it’s just too late to ditch out of her hosting duties altogether. Her mother is as loud and opinionated as ever, and Lydia is… well, loud. She can see the uncomfortable looks on her guests’ faces and it makes her want to bury her own face in her hands and never introduce anyone to her family ever again.
Darcy texts her on Wednesday to say he can’t make it to dinner.
She hits call back immediately. She listens as it rings. He texted her seconds ago, so she knows he’s holding the phone, doesn’t have any good reason to not pick up by the fifth… sixth… seventh ring. She imagines him staring at the caller ID, deliberating whether or not to pick up. Just as the call is about to go to voicemail, he does.
“Lizzie,” he says. He sounds impassive.
“Are you ditching me?” Lizzie asks in her best mock-offended tone. “After you promised?”
There’s a long pause on the other end of the line.
“Yes,” he finally says. “I’m sorry. Something came up. Family emergency.”
She immediately feels like a douchebag since he only really has two family members to speak of. “Is everyone alright?” she asks, despite feeling nosy.
“I’m… I think everyone will be,” he says carefully, taking a pause. “I won’t be able to attend dinner, however.”
“Yeah,” Lizzie says. She’s been pacing the length of her room without even realizing it.
“I am sorry.”
“No, no,” she says. “Don’t worry about it. I’m… I’ll see you when you get back?” She doesn’t mean to intone it as a question, but she has to.
“Yes,” he says a little too quickly. “But I’ll be out of town indefinitely.”
“Right. Just let me know when you’re back,” Lizzie offers. “Whenever.”
“All right,” he says.
“And if you need to talk about anything…” she begins to offer.
There is silence on the other side of the line.
“Right, sorry,” she continues. “Talking’s my thing. I’m a talker. Not so much your thing.”
“I’m going to let you go now. Bye.”
“Lizzie,” he says. “I do appreciate it.”
For once, she’s the one that can’t think of anything to add to the conversation.
On the other end of the line he clears his throat. “I’ll talk to you soon,” he says by way of valediction. He hangs up.
She makes a mental note to tell him off for his pithy farewell the next time she sees him.
As it turns out, Darcy’s trip home to San Francisco hadn’t lasted nearly as long as it would, and he finds himself on the Bennet family’s front porch, an hour late for a dinner he had cancelled on. He’s reconsidering leaving for a second when the front door swings open.
“Hey,” Lizzie says, leaning against the doorframe. Her eyes are bright and sparkling like they always are and her smile is controlled, but there. “Were you going to knock or just lurk around the premises all night?”
“I was going to knock,” he says. She laughs and ushers him in.
“Look who I found,” she announces to the living room at large, which contains all the Lees and Bennets sans Jane.
“Darcy!” Bing greets, clapping him on the shoulder. “You didn’t tell us you were back in town.” This is as close as Bing’s tone has ever gotten to scolding.
“I only just arrived from San Francisco,” Darcy explains. “I thought I’d rather stop by here than spend the rest of the evening alone at home.” He doesn’t miss the way Caroline raises her eyebrows at this.
“Well we’re glad you did,” Lizzie says, handing him a glass of wine.
“Although,” Mrs. Bennet begins, looking at him from where she’s sitting on the couch. He senses the note of derision in her tone and doesn’t appreciate it. Whenever Mrs. Bennet speaks to him it’s an extremely irritating mix of condescension and impropriety. “You did tell us you wouldn’t be here. We haven’t really accounted for you.”
“I’m sure we can scrape up an extra place setting, Mom,” Lizzie says, rolling her eyes.
“It’s the principle of the matter, Lizzie. When you say one thing—”
At this exact moment, Jane emerges from the kitchen. “Can somebody help me with the—”
“I’ll help,” Darcy offers immediately, handing his glass back to Lizzie. Jane looks up, a hint of shock on her otherwise sweet face.
“Darcy,” she says. “I didn’t even know you were here.”
“I am,” he says needlessly, crossing the room to enter the kitchen. She leads the way. He glances back as he goes. Bing, Lizzie, and Caroline all look about ready to offer additional assistance, but none of them do.
“Lizzie told us you were away on business,” Jane says as she hands Darcy a pair of oven mitts. He hadn’t remembered to tell her that this was his excuse for leaving, and that the family business was to remain a private issue, but he’s glad that Lizzie seems to have gleaned this on her own.
“Yes, I was,” Darcy says. “But as that business resolved itself, I didn’t see any point in delaying my return.” Jane offers him a smile that he can inexplicably only describe as sympathetic.
“Well good,” Jane says as she opens the oven. Darcy removes the broad tray that appears to house both lamb chops and salmon, for some reason. He doesn’t ask. “Bing’s been talking about how much he was looking forward to going hiking this weekend. Maybe now that you’re back we can still all go.”
“Do you particularly enjoy hiking?” Darcy asks. Jane gives a small demure shrug.
“I don’t mind it.”
To Darcy’s eye this seems to be Jane’s stance on nearly everything.
“Do you?” Jane asks.
“No,” Darcy says candidly.
“Lizzie doesn’t either,” Jane admits. “But she absolutely can’t turn down a challenge, so she’s coming along as well.”
“It should be… fun,” Darcy concedes, not entirely sure what Jane wants from him.
“Can I tell you a secret?” Jane asks as she hands him a bowl of mashed potatoes to carry out to the dining room table. He nods without speaking. “I’m going mostly for the company.”
They have that in common, at least.
“Come on,” Jane says, offering him a broad smile that really does remind him of Bing’s smiles, in a way. “We better get this on the table before my mother gets too upset.”
Dinner could not be going much worse than it’s going, and Lizzie wonders if it’s just too late to ditch out of her hosting duties altogether. Her mother is as loud and opinionated as ever, and Lydia is… well, loud. She can see the uncomfortable (and in Caroline’s case, judgmental) looks on her guests’ faces and it makes her want to bury her own face in her hands and never introduce anyone to her family ever again.
The only thing she can really do is hope that her father is distracting Caroline with work talk and Jane is distracting Bing with her feminine wiles and she is distracting Darcy with her interrogation of his musical preferences. Somehow the conversation has turned from several band she has literally never heard of (not that she’d give him the satisfaction of admitting that) to… One Direction’s hit single. Somehow. She’s really not sure how.
“You’re not a fan, are you?” Darcy asks, arching an eyebrow at her.
“Would you think less of me if I was?” she asks, raising her eyebrows right back at him.
“No,” Darcy says, and she really actually almost believes him. “Even if you are about a decade outside of their target demographic.”
“See, hating something because tween girls like it is not a good enough reason to hate it. That’s not why I don’t like it.”
“So,” Darcy says. “You’re saying you do dislike the song, but you have a better reason than I do to do so?”
“Yes,” she says.
“And what’s that?”
“I don’t like the message,” she says. “I don’t like the lyrics.”
“You don’t know you’re beautiful. That’s what makes you beautiful.” She gestures with her fork as she says this, says it vaguely in time with the tune of the song. She doesn’t sing it because she doesn’t sing in public. Definitely not at dinner in front of Darcy.
“What’s wrong with that?” Darcy asks, because of course he doesn’t see the problem with that. She rolls her eyes at him.
“The problem with that is that women are constantly told by society that they only have any value if men tell them they do and that until then they should hate themselves. Since when is it hip to hate yourself?” Lizzie feels herself peeling off on a tangent, but she also feels herself not caring. “I don’t need anyone to tell me that I’m self-possessed or intelligent. I know those things already. And that doesn’t make me any less self-possessed or intelligent.”
“But it’s a compliment,” Darcy protests. “Would you rather people just not pay you compliments?”
“If they’re going to act like it’s something I don’t know, yes.”
“So you’re entirely self-actualized.”
“I’m pretty darn self-actualized, yes,” she says. He smirks into his wine glass and her eyebrows shoot up. “What?” she asks, challenging.
“I don’t know you very well, Lizzie,” he says, setting his wine glass down. “But even I can see there are things you don’t know about yourself.”
“Oh really?” Lizzie asks. “Are you going to tell me what they are?”
“You just said you’d rather not hear it,” he says. She bristles up in her seat, leaning across the table as she responds to him.
“This is pretty much the worst way you could ever pay a woman a compliment, for future reference.”
“I never said they were complimentary things,” he replies without missing a beat.
“Oh?” she asks, and despite everything she feels herself smiling, because the idea that she is getting under his skin right now as much as he is getting under hers is for some reason thrilling. “Alright. Tell me what’s wrong with me.”
“You want to know what’s wrong with you?” he hedges, arching an eyebrow.
“Yes.” She deliberately articulates very carefully when she repeats it again, drops her voice a little, leans even further over the table. “I want to know what’s wrong with me.”
Darcy doesn’t get the chance to tell her what’s wrong with her, though, because Lizzie’s mother interrupts.
“Really, Mr. Darcy,” she says, loudly, embarrassingly. “That’s extremely untoward.”
Lizzie looks down at her plate immediately, clearing her throat. She’s hyperaware now of the fact that everyone at the dinner table has stopped talking to focus on her conversation with Darcy. She’d forgotten they were there for a second, and a quick glance up across the table confirms that he forgot too, because his lips are set into a thin tight line and the tops of his ears are flushed.
“It’s okay, Mom,” Lizzie says.
“No, Lizzie, it really isn’t. This man is a guest in our house – an uninvited guest, I might add...”
“We invited him,” Lizzie corrects. Mrs. Bennet barrels on.
“He is a guest in our house and I won’t stand for him insulting you—”
“Mom. We were just joking,” Lizzie whines.
“It didn’t look like you were just joking,” Caroline murmurs under her breath. Lizzie mentally tallies this remark as a count against her.
“I apologize for my behavior, Mrs. Bennet. I—”
“Don’t apologize to her,” Lizzie snaps at him, her tone a little more incensed than she wants it to be.
“Sorry,” he mutters to his lap.
“Elizabeth, please,” Mrs. Bennet continues. “You’re embarrassing yourself.”
“I’m embarrassing me?” Lizzie shrieks.
Across the table, she sees Jane giving her the “ditch out” signal they had previously decided on.
Later, she’ll wish she’d taken her sister’s advice right then.
As it turns out, they end up at Carter’s over an hour and a half later, after much more embarrassing dinnertime conversation. Bing is already two sheets to the wind, telling Jane all about his college days with Darcy. Charlotte is coming, but not there yet. Caroline looks bored, her chin rested on her hand as she listens in. Lydia’s god-knows-where. She’s not at the table with everyone else. Darcy is staring at Lizzie, which she has been vaguely aware of all evening. She doesn’t know what to do about it, so she’s ignoring it for now.
Bing’s on his like twentieth Harvard story and Lizzie’s on her second beer, so it should really surprise nobody when she asks if anyone will play Just Dance with her. Bing and Jane politely decline. Caroline rolls her eyes but smiles sweetly when she says no. Lizzie wheels around, spots Lydia at the bar, and yells at her, but Lydia replies that it wouldn’t be fair to Lizzie and she should ask someone who is less awesome at dancing games.
“Darcy?” Lizzie asks.
“Hmm,” Darcy responds, looking vaguely bewildered. Lizzie raises her eyebrows in questioning. “Maybe,” he says, “if you ask me again after I’ve had another drink.”
Lizzie ends up playing by herself.
Darcy does end up having another drink, but Lizzie never revisits her Just Dance offer. She spends the entire evening staring at him from underneath her eyelashes, but doesn’t speak to him. She spends most of her time speaking in hushed tones to Charlotte, and occasionally Lydia or Jane. All the girls throw him glances he can’t quite categorize all night.
She catches him when he’s alone at the table. She braces herself on the table with both her hands, leaning over it so her face hovers near his. “Hey Darcy,” she says, sounding slightly tipsy.
“Hello, Lizzie,” he says.
“I have a vlog,” she says.
He just stares at her because he honestly has no idea how this information is relevant or why she chose this moment to tell him about it.
“Like, a video blog.”
“I know what vlog means,” he says.
“I know you know,” she says, sounding annoyed. She shakes her head a little, gets her bearings. “I just talk about my life in it, stuff that’s going on with my life, you know.”
“Sure,” he says.
“Lots of people watch it.”
“I don’t know. Lots. You can’t watch it.” She looks him in the eye, narrows her eyes seriously. “Ever.”
“Why not?” he asks.
“Because I said so. Promise.”
He only gives a moment’s pause before he promises.
Charlotte leaves first, being more of a morning person than a nighttime one. Lydia leaves next with some guy Lizzie’s never seen before, after Jane gives her their standard good judgment test which they worked out years ago. Jane and Bing leave next. Caroline hangs around the longest, but eventually even her patience runs dry and she leaves too.
Darcy doesn’t call attention to the fact that they’re hanging out alone now, or that they’re both kind of buzzed at the least, or that they’re sitting on the same side of the booth because neither of them moved after Caroline left. She definitely does not call attention to any of those things either.
Sometime after Caroline leaves, the topic of conversation turns to her. “Yeah, what’s up with her?” Lizzie asks, the alcohol in her system compromising her usual good judgment on the difference between questions that are okay to ask and questions that are not.
“What do you mean?” he asks.
“I mean, like, what’s she doing here? Does she just go everywhere with Bing?”
“Yeah, and I’m close with Jane, but I don’t think I’d pack up and follow her if she decided to move.”
“Anyway, I know what Bing thinks about her. I want to know what you think about her.”
“Are you asking me to gossip?” Darcy asks. Lizzie bits her lip.
“Is there something to… be gossiped about?” she asks. He considers her question carefully, turning his glass on the table so that the squared base sits at a right angle to the edge.
“Caroline is a good friend,” he says. “And she doesn’t settle. She wants the best in her friends and colleagues, which is a quality I can respect."
“There’s a huge but in there somewhere,” Lizzie says. Inwardly she winces at her own words and hates him for being so articulate after the amount of alcohol he’s ingested. Or maybe she’s just projecting.
“But…” Darcy begins, staring off into space. “I don’t know.”
“Come on,” she says, nudging him in the ribs with her elbow.
“She’s…” He sighs. “She makes me uncomfortable, sometimes. She presumes things. And she’s very… physical.”
Lizzie snorts. “Have you tried asking her not to touch you, maybe?”
“I’ve expressed to her before that unnecessary contact makes me uncomfortable, but she never seems to listen.” He sighs, and shifts in his seat. “And sometimes when she teases me she assumes a familiarity that I don’t necessarily reciprocate. It’s… embarrassing.”
“Congratulations,” Lizzie says, “for winning the award for most… loquacious drunken burn.” He quirks a half-smile at her.
“I’m not drunk.”
“I’m a little drunk,” she admits.
“I can see that.”
“Maybe somewhere slightly north of a little,” she amends, to account for any… how would her mother put it? Untoward behavior she might be exhibiting.
“You should let me take you home,” he says. And she blames herself for cracking up, because really, she knew what he meant. And the second she pulls a face, she sees him shift from good-natured concern for her wellbeing into a deep state of mortification. “I mean,” he gets off to a false start. “I didn’t mean…”
“I know,” she laughs, twisting in the booth seat to rest the flat of her palm midway between his shoulder and his chest in a calming affirmation. “It’s fine, I got it.”
He opens his mouth to say something, but closes it again quickly, looking bewildered. Maybe, Lizzie thinks, because they are much closer now than they were a moment ago. She doesn’t know which combination of alcohol, laughter, and the proximity of his face possesses her to do it, but before she can think better of it, she lifts her head and kisses him. Her lips are damp and his are dry and warm and she does not have good leverage and there is a lot about this kiss that is sloppy and just not good, but that would all be forgivable if he were… reciprocating at all. He’s not. He’s stiff and awkward and unmoving, except for his hand, which he has raised to her face. His fingertips brush her cheek as she draws back from him.
“Lizzie…” he begins, but she just sighs, moving away from him. She exits the booth as gracefully as she can (which is not very).
“I’m sorry,” she says as soon as she’s standing up. “I’m… very drunk.” Although, now that she has the hindsight of twenty seconds behind her, she feels her sober sense of judgment come screeching back to her. Too little, way too late. “That was inappropriate. And stupid. And it won’t happen again. I’m…”
“… sorry, I’m going to go.” She’s gathered up her things already, and is halfway out the door before he’s up in pursuit of her, but she feels him follow her out into the street, knows he waits in his car to make sure the taxi picks her up safe. And even though he gives her space, just knowing that he’s there watching her makes it all that much worse.
She spends the entire cab ride home with her hands buried in her face, as if hiding will somehow alleviate the humiliation she’s feeling. The worst thing about it all is that her mother was right – she has been embarrassing herself. And her mother being right about something would have been bad enough on its own, but then there’s everything else, too, and she has no idea how she is going to deal with all of that tomorrow morning.
Chapter 5: Swim Week
When Lizzie wakes up the next morning, she has a terrible headache and Lydia is hogging all her blankets. She’s only about sixty percent sure that Lydia wasn’t there when she fell asleep.
When Lizzie wakes up the next morning, she has a terrible headache and Lydia is hogging all her blankets. She’s only about sixty percent sure that Lydia wasn’t there when she fell asleep.
She groans, pulling herself out of bed. Lydia complains that she’s making too much noise, so she pulls all the blankets off the bed and drops them on the floor as she leaves for the bathroom. She brushes her teeth and takes an aspirin and brushes her hair out and takes off her makeup, and by the time she makes it back to her bedroom, Lydia is half-awake.
“Up,” Lizzie commands. Lydia whines and grumbles.
“Go away,” she moans.
“If you get up right now I’ll take you out for hangover food,” Lizzie says. Lydia sits up reluctantly, lured in by the prospect of tacos.
“Fine,” she says, rubbing at her eyes and smearing her already ruined mascara around some more. “But you’re paying.”
Lizzie agrees to these terms, because for once in her life, she is desperately in need of her younger sister’s advice.
When they get to Taco Bell there are like thirty college kids in the restaurant with them.
“Why is Taco Bell this crowded at ten in the morning on a Sunday?” Lizzie asks. The answer to her own question hits her about half a second before it hits Lydia.
“It’s swim week,” Lydia whispers, her eyes wide and devious.
“Ugh,” Lizzie says, surveying the line. “Okay. If you go flirt your way to the front of line I’ll flirt us up a table.”
“Or, I could just wait through the line, because that’ll take about as along as it’ll take you to—”
“Shut up,” Lizzie grumbles, pushing her towards the line.
Twenty minutes later they have their hangover food, but having not been able to find a table, they’re eating it in Lizzie’s car.
“What were you even doing in my bed anyway?” Lizzie asks when Lydia complains about having been woken up early.
“It’s comfier than mine and I figured you wouldn’t be there,” Lydia shrugs.
“What?” Lizzie asks, looking over at her. “Why?”
“Uh, real talk: why did you come home? I’m pretty sure you and Darcy were like ten seconds away from getting down on the dining room table at dinner.”
“We’re just friends,” Lizzie says.
“Yeah, friends who want to bone each other.”
“Lydia,” Lizzie sighs.
“I’m just saying, that was some sexually tense argumentation.”
“It’s not like that,” Lizzie says.
“Then what’s it like?”
“He’s not interested.”
“Oh come on Lizzie,” Lydia says, playing with the straw on her soft drink. “There’s no way anyone’s that bad at reading people, even you.”
“Hey. I’m awesome at reading people. I am a connoisseur of human character.”
“Yeah, but, you’re wrong.”
“What makes you say that?” Lydia asks in a tone that makes it clear she’s just humoring Lizzie and isn’t actually interested.
So Lizzie tells her everything. To Lydia’s credit, she only laughs twice and pays pretty close attention.
“Well…” Lydia starts carefully, drawing the word out. “That’s not… so bad? I mean he must have been like giving you some kind of signal. You don’t jump into things headfirst.”
“He’d literally just been talking about how much he doesn’t like being touched,” Lizzie says.
“Yeesh. Okay. I can fix this,” Lydia says, drawing her fingers to her lips in thought. “We should go to Carter’s tonight. You have to invite him.”
“What the hell, Lydia?” Lizzie asks, rubbing her eyes. “How is it that I come to you with a problem that was literally caused by irresponsible drinking and your solution is somehow still ‘more irresponsible drinking’?”
“Lizzie, please please please trust me on this. I’ve come back from way worse faux pas before.”
“No, not really.” Lydia flips her hair over her shoulder. “You suffer from a disturbing lack of game. But I can fix this for you. Call him right now, ask him to come to Carter’s with us tonight.”
“I can’t take Darcy to a bar during swim week,” Lizzie says.
“You can and you will.” Lydia picks up Lizzie’s phone from the dashboard and hands it to her.
Lizzie stares at her for a minute before taking her phone and dialing. She crosses her free arm over her chest while it rings.
“Lizzie,” he answers instead of saying hello, because that’s something he does. It annoyed her at first, but the more she’s thought about it the more it makes sense. It’s not like he doesn’t know who’s calling already, and it does away with the whole awkward announcing-yourself-like-the-other-person-doesn’t-know business.
“Hey,” she says. “What’s up?”
“Nothing,” he says, his voice taking on the slight inflection of question. She can hear the why are you asking? You called me in his reply, even though it’s only one word.
“Cool,” she says maladroitly. “Uh, if you’re not busy, I was…” She looks to Lydia, who is frantically and unintelligibly miming things at her. “I was going to go to Carter’s with my sister later tonight, and I could use some sane company. If you’re up for it.”
“I’m unengaged,” he says after a beat.
“Awesome. Perfect.” She manages to rein it in before she throws out a third adjective. “We’ll meet you there at seven?”
“That’s fine,” he says.
“Great.” She shakes her head at herself. So close. “It’ll be… fun.” He clears his throat on the other end of the line. “And I promise I won’t kiss you again,” she says in a joking tone, trying to lighten the tone of the otherwise tense conversation. There’s a long pause on the other end of the line before he makes a hasty farewell and hangs up. She puts her phone down, pulling a face as she does.
“What’s wrong with you?” Lydia asks her, morbidly serious.
“I don’t know,” Lizzie says, unable to get up the energy to be offended.
“Okay,” Lydia says, buckling her seatbelt. “Take us to the mall.”
“Because we need to find you something awesome to wear and I only have nine hours to teach you how to flirt like a normal person, Lizzie. That’s why.”
Lizzie silently curses her poor judgment, first for getting her into this situation and second for asking Lydia for help, but she does what her baby sister tells her to without putting up much protest. Desperate times.
Darcy arrives at Carter’s at seven sharp, but he waits in his car for fifteen minutes before he goes in. It’s not that Lizzie isn’t punctual (because she is, unfailingly so – never late or early, always precisely on time). It’s not even that he’s trying to intentionally appear disengaged. He just can’t quite make himself move without taking the time to steel himself first.
When he enters the bar, it is packed full and twice as noisy as it usually is. It takes him a minute to wade through the crowd and locate Lizzie, who is sitting by herself at her usual table towards the back. Her feet are up on the seat opposite her, her body barring anyone entrance to the booth.
“You’re late,” she says when she spots him. She puts her feet down and he sits down across from her. Her hair is pulled into a side-braid style he’s never seen her wear it in before and her shirt is bright turquoise. He only nods in response.
“Is it always this crowded on Sunday nights?” he asks. She laughs.
“Uh, no, this isn’t exactly normal.” She smiles to herself at some remembered joke or distant memory. “Tomorrow marks the beginning of swim week,” she announces theatrically.
“Yeah,” she says. “Every year the university hosts a big swim meet and teams come from all over NorCal to compete and the town is completely overrun by collegiate swimmers. Ergo…” she says with a gesture to the bar in general.
“Ah,” he says.
“Isn’t your sister on the Stanford swim team?” she remembers. He takes a moment to respond, silently cursing her seemingly infallible recall.
“No,” he finally decides on.
“Oh.” She fixes him with a strange look. “Well, anyway, I usually avoid it if I can, but Lydia made up her mind that she was coming so I figured I should keep an eye on her.” He understands that.
The way she shifts in her seat uncomfortably reminds him that he should probably contribute to the conversation and he tries to think of something to say, but as usual she’s talking again before he even gets the chance to gather up his thoughts.
“Look,” she says, her tone leveled. “Lydia gave me this whole list of things I should say to make things less… awkward here.” She motions back and forth between the two of them. Darcy opens his mouth to speak, but she barrels on. “But, I’ve been thinking about it, and… I don’t want to do any of those things, so I’m just going to go for being honest.” He nods mutely, this time waiting for her to continue instead of trying to get a word in edgewise.
“The way I behaved last night was inappropriate and I’m sorry if I made you uncomfortable,” she says, glancing up at him from underneath her eyelashes as she says it. “I wasn’t behaving like myself, really. It won’t happen again.”
“Alright,” he says, nodding. He’d suspected as much – suspected that she thought of it as a mistake.
“So we’re good?” she asks.
“Good,” she smiles a thin smile, her lips pressed tightly together. He realizes he’s staring at her mouth a second too late and rips his gaze away, looking down at his hands instead. “Because I like being friends with you and I don’t want to make you uncomfortable.”
“On the contrary,” he says, look up at her face again. “I rather find that you usually put me at my ease.”
She looks down and chuckles a breathy, short chuckle. “Usually,” she says. He wants to add that she makes him very nervous sometimes (only sometimes), but he can’t quite pluck up the courage. He rests his palms flat against the table and she leans back in her seat.
“Hey, I’ve been trapped at this table all night,” she says. “If I get up, someone’s definitely going to steal it from me,” she quickly adds by way of explanation, a wry levity in her tone. “Do you think you could maybe get me a drink?”
He nods and stands up, wading his way through the throng of the crowd. Packed wall-to-wall with drunk college kids, the short walk to the bar seems to take forever, but he finally makes it. He hovers close to the bar while he waits for Lizzie’s drink, and despite his strong feelings of antipathy towards crowds, he’s even starting to relax.
That’s when he hears a familiar, unwelcome voice.
“Of all the gin joints in all the towns…” Wickham says. And of course, Darcy thinks. Of course he’s at this swim meet, staying in this town, drinking at this bar, quoting Gigi’s favorite movie, tonight of all nights. He grits his teeth and turns on his heel.
“George,” he greets. He almost asks what he’s doing here, but really, he knows. He’s a little surprised he didn’t drop the swim coach job and fly the coop to Atlantic City, but as much as it rankles him to admit, Wickham’s the one with a valid reason for being in this town.
“You don’t have to check up on me, bro,” Wickham says, smiling wolfishly. “I’m on my best behavior.”
“Mmm.” Darcy involuntarily glances towards Lizzie’s table, wondering if she can see him from where she’s sitting.
“Although, while you’re here…” Wickham says, voice dripping with insincerity. “Maybe it’s been really tough on me, staying away from my girl.” Darcy’s hand curls involuntarily into a fist. “Maybe my price has changed.”
“You’re not getting anything else out of me,” Darcy says, exhaling a deep breath in a bid to stay controlled.
“That’s too bad. And what if that makes me mess up?”
“You don’t want to find out,” Darcy hisses. Wickham’s foolhardy, but not stupid, and Darcy can see that even he knows he’s playing with fire right now. He leans back, lifts his hands up in a vaguely submissive gesture. Darcy doesn’t say anything.
Before he does anything reckless, he leaves.
Lizzie catches a glimpse of him slipping out the door. She’s pretty sure it was him, anyway.
Abandoning the table, she moves towards the bar. When she spots Lydia, she flags her down. Her sister is sitting on the bar like it is a throne, surrounded by a half-circle of unruly drunk boys. She has to yell over them for Lydia to hear.
“Hey! Did you see where Darcy went?” she asks. Lydia shakes her head, motioning for her to speak up. She shouts her question twice more, and Lydia still doesn’t hear properly, leaning towards her. Eventually she’s just yelling his name at her.
“Oh, he left,” Lydia says loudly, turning her attention back to her understrappers.
Irked, Lizzie slips out the front door, following him to the parking lot. She finds him sitting in his car, hands gripping the steering wheel though the engine isn’t running. She raps on the driver-side window and his head snaps up, his expression vaguely startled. Instead of getting out of the car to talk to her, he rolls the window down, and she stoops to look him in the eyes.
“Hey,” she says, half-bent over. “Are you alright?”
“Fine,” he replies through set teeth, clearly not fine. Lizzie purses her lips.
“Look, if I did something to piss you off…” she begins. His brow knits in consternation.
“No,” he says. “No, you didn’t do anything.” It’s impossible to get anything out of his tone. He doesn’t sound reassuring or angry, particularly. Just uncomfortable. She stands up and leans back a little.
“You just left without saying goodbye, is all.”
“Business emergency,” he says immediately. She doesn’t point out that it’s barely eight on a Sunday night, or that saying goodbye would have taken all of ten seconds, or that he’d been sitting in his car doing nothing when she’d found him. “It’s nothing to do with you,” he promises in a way that would have cut it if it was coming from anyone else. From him, she knows it’s a reassurance.
And she does like to think she’s not too narcissistic to believe him.
He starts his car up, but she doesn’t step away.
“Hey,” she says, hating to let the conversation end on a tense note. “You owe me a drink.”
He doesn’t take it as a joke, though, if the exasperated little puff of air he lets out is any indication. His eyes roll heavenward briefly as he considers something, and then he pulls out his wallet and hands her a crisp bill before peeling away in the car, barely giving her time to step back. She stands alone in the parking lot, holding what on closer inspection she finds to be a hundred dollar bill.
Because Darcy is the kind of person who carries hundred dollar bills in his wallet. He’s the kind of person who can drop a hundred dollars on a seven dollar bar tab. She forgets that sometimes.
Not particularly wanting to spend the rest of the evening at the bar with Lydia, she heads inside to say goodbye to her sister. Because, she thinks to herself with a little vitriol, that’s only polite.
In the few minutes she’s been gone, Lydia has replaced her harem with a single man, who is blonde and good-looking and totally Lydia’s type. Lizzie tries not to pass immediate judgment, but she doesn’t try very hard.
“Hey,” she says to Lydia. Her sister gives her a look that very clearly says go away, I’m busy. “I’m going home. Get a cab.” She shoves the hundred dollar bill into Lydia’s hand. Lydia raises her eyebrows, a small delighted smirk on her face, but she doesn’t ask questions.
“Have a fight with your boyfriend?” Lydia’s guy asks with a doofy but charming smile.
“He’s not my boyfriend,” Lizzie says reflexively.
“So not your boyfriend,” Lydia snickers. Lizzie glares at her.
“You just looked pretty upset, I was worried for you,” Lydia’s guy says. Smarmy. Lizzie revises her opinion of him from doofy to smarmy. Still charming, though. “How do you know him, then?”
“We’re friends,” Lizzie says tightly, ignoring Lydia’s giggles.
“You know him really well?”
She narrows her eyes at him. “I’m not really interested in talking about it.”
“Oh, sure,” he says. “I was just going to say, if he was bothering you…”
“He wasn’t bothering me.”
“Because you looked pretty upset.”
“That’s just her face,” Lydia says, still laughing.
“I kind of had a fight with him, yeah,” Lizzie says, mostly to her sister. Lydia stops laughing, but the mockery is still clear on her face.
“That’s not surprising,” Lydia’s guy says.
“You know him?” Lizzie asks, feeling validated. She’d been getting the distinct feeling that this guy was pumping her for information on Darcy.
“Well, we’ve met.”
“I have to get going,” Lizzie says, the gears of her brain whirring as she tries to put the pieces of a puzzle together. “Lydia, have a nice time with…” She looks towards Lydia’s guy, who holds his hand out for her to shake.
“George,” he says. “George Wickham.”
“Nice to meet you,” Lizzie says tersely, shaking his hand. “Lydia.”
“What?” Lydia whines.
“Home before three or text Jane where you’re staying.”
“I’ll make sure she gets home safe,” George says. Skeezy. Lizzie revises her opinion from smarmy to skeezy. Totally standard Lydia fare after all.
A voice in the back of her head tells her she shouldn’t leave Lydia alone at the bar, but the idea of sitting alone at her table and fending off unwanted attentions from drunk swimmers grates on her nerves. So, with one last word of caution to Lydia, she leaves.
Chapter 6: Confidences
Three days is Charlotte’s standard grace period when Lizzie is holding out on her, so she’d known her time was drawing short. She’s been waiting for Charlotte to bring it up all day. Finally, when they’re eating lunch in the student commons with their study guides all spread out over two tables, she does.
Lizzie manages to avoid telling Charlotte about everything until Wednesday. Three days is Charlotte’s standard grace period when Lizzie is holding out on her, so she’d known her time was drawing short. She’s been waiting for Charlotte to bring it up all day. Finally, when they’re eating lunch in the student commons with their study guides all spread out over two tables, she does. Lizzie tells her everything and omits very little.
“Huh,” Charlotte says when she’s done with her story. She takes a sip of her iced tea before replying. “Your mom’s not going to be happy she was right.”
“Right about what?” Lizzie asks, curiosity piqued. Whenever she’s not informed firsthand of her mother’s convoluted theories and predictions it’s usually because they have some direct bearing on her life.
“Oh, she was telling my mom the other day that she doesn’t like him because she’s convinced he’s purposely leading you on and isn’t actually interested in you.”
“Well, she’s half-right,” Lizzie groans, resting her face on her hands as she shakes her head. “For once.”
“If you can turn a hundred dollar profit every time he ditches you she’ll probably let you keep him around, though.”
“I’m going to pay him back, Charlotte,” Lizzie says, suddenly very tired of joking about it.
“I thought you said you gave the money to Lydia.”
“Yup, and it all mysteriously disappeared,” Lizzie grumbles. “But I’m going to pay him back. And make him apologize for tricking me into giving my little sister a hundred dollars.”
“Of all the things I think you could fairly blame him for, I’m not sure that’s one of them,” Charlotte says, looking up at Lizzie from her textbook. Lizzie leans back in her chair and crosses her arms over her chest.
“Well I’m making him apologize for something.”
“I mean, I think taking off like that and then not calling you for three days is probably a good starting point.”
“Work emergency,” Lizzie scoffs absently. “He knew I knew he was lying, too. I could tell. You’d think he’d have a better poker face than he does.”
“I just can’t stop wondering why he actually left,” Lizzie continues. She’d bet money it has something to do with George Wickham, who she had learned from some pithy texts she’d exchanged with Lydia, was in town for swim week and lived in the Bay Area. Too coincidental.
“Maybe don’t fixate on his personal life, if he doesn’t want to tell you about,” Charlotte says, which quickly shuts Lizzie up.
That ship sailed days ago, though.
Darcy has done a lot of stupid things that he regrets in his life, but this definitely makes the top five. He should’ve called ahead, he reflects, instead of just showing up at Lizzie’s house. It’d made more sense to him while he was on his way there. The Bennet house, after all, is midway between Netherfield and the restaurant he’d had lunch at. And he hasn’t seen or heard from Lizzie since Sunday, which was not altogether unusual, as they saw each other primarily in the company of Bing and Jane, but it still weighs on him. Now that he’s standing out on the sidewalk in front of her house, though, it registers with him that this maybe isn’t the best idea. He’s about to leave when someone calls his name.
“Darcy!” Jane calls out, leaning out of the kitchen window. Her hair is piled up on top of her head and she’s wearing and apron and a broad smile. “Come in,” she says, ushering him towards the door before disappearing into the house. He briefly considers leaving before she gets to the door, but then steps forward automatically, walking up to the front porch.
“Are you looking for Lizzie?” Jane asks as she opens the door.
After processing his options in replying, Darcy decides that in the case the truth is the best way to go. “I was,” he says, shuffling his feet as he stands at the threshold of the doorway.
“She’s still at school, but she should be home any minute now if you want to wait for her,” Jane says. Darcy is trying to figure out the quickest way to decline this offer and get out of dodge, but then Jane knowingly adds, “My mom and Lydia are out of the house, too.”
“I wouldn’t want to inconvenience you,” Darcy says.
“Oh, I’m just baking. I’d like the company.” She steps aside and he enters the house, following her into the cozy kitchenette. He lingers by the counter as she puts a kettle on the stove.
After a few seconds of companionable silence in which he helps her sort through the ingredients for the banana bread she’s baking, she speaks again. “So did you come to pick Lizzie up for… something?” she asks, employing all of her family’s usual subtlety with these topics.
“No,” Darcy says, looking down at his hands folded on the countertop. “I just wanted to speak with her.”
“Oh,” Jane laughs, brushing a couple errant wisps of coppery hair out of her face as she sets her mixing bowl down. “Well, if that’s all you want, it’d probably be easier to call her.”
“Some conversations are better had face to face, I’ve found,” Darcy says. Jane smiles and makes a pleasant humming noise.
“Well,” she says. “Your timing’s not the worst. On Tuesdays and Thursdays she’s out of the house until six or seven, most weeks.”
“I’m not familiar with her schedule,” Darcy feels the need to add.
“Oh, no,” Jane says, smiling broadly. Darcy sees something in that smile that usually isn’t there – genuine amusement, perhaps. He mentally files this bit of information away. “If you knew her schedule you wouldn’t have shown up early.”
Darcy feels like there is something to protest in Jane’s reply, but can’t quite figure out what it is. While he’s grappling with a retort, the kettle starts boiling, and as if on cue, Mr. Bennet shuffles out of the den and into the kitchen. He’s midway through pouring his cup of tea when he glances up over the rim of his glasses at Darcy.
“What’s this one doing here?” he asks after a beat.
“He’s here to see Lizzie,” Jane responds quickly, handing Darcy the mixing bowl of batter to stir. His hands take a little while to catch up to his brain, which is busy trying to process the current situation.
“Hmm,” Mr. Bennet says as his tea steeps. “Well, with your proclivity towards sending my middle child home at strange hours of the night in all variety of emotional states, you’d better be here to make amends.”
“Dad,” Jane says in that same mildly horrified tone that Lizzie’s always using around her parents.
“I was, actually,” Darcy says before Mr. Bennet has a chance to respond. His voice catches in his throat, so he clears it before continuing. “Here to… speak to Lizzie.”
“Well when you do,” Mr. Bennet says, collecting his tea and beginning to leave. “You’d better be contrite.”
Jane and Darcy stand in the kitchen silently for several seconds after the door to the den closes again.
“I’m sorry,” Jane finally says, taking the mixing bowl back from him.
“It’s quite alright,” he says under his breath, stepping back from the counter to give her room.
“No, no,” Jane says, running a hand over her braids. “I don’t want you to feel uncomfortable in our home, especially after you and Caroline and Bing have made me feel welcome in yours.”
Darcy doesn’t have a good response to that.
“Anyway, I know our parents can be… they can come on strong. We really did try to ask them not to…” Jane backtracks quickly, apparently having said too much. “Well. The point is that this is their good behavior. I know that doesn’t count for much…”
“No, it does.” He leans over the counter, stretches his shoulders to help dissipate the nervous energy that’s pooling there. “When your father said…” he begins, not sure how to phrase his question. Jane seems to know exactly what he’s talking about, though, if the embarrassed way her mouth drops open a little bit is any indication.
“He probably shouldn’t have said that,” Jane says quietly and politely, giving him a thin smile.
“Ah,” Darcy replies. The ease of their conversation is gone entirely and Darcy blames himself, primarily.
This is, of course, the moment that the door slams, signifying Lizzie’s arrival home. Darcy stands up, his back straightening.
“Hey, Jane…” Lizzie says absently as she enters the kitchen and drops her bag on the floor in the same general vicinity as Jane’s purse was already resting. “I need you to… what’s going on here?” she segues as soon as she sees that Darcy’s in the room with them.
“Good afternoon, Lizzie,” he says, glancing down at his feet as he speaks.
“Hey,” she says cautiously.
“Darcy’s been waiting for you,” Jane supplements as she puts the breadpan of batter into the oven and wipes her hands off on a dishrag.
“Oh?” Lizzie asks, approaching the island counter and leaning over it as her eyes bore into him. “I was actually going to call you later.”
“So this works out.”
“C’mon,” she says, jerking her head towards the stairway to indicate that he should follow her. He follows her tentatively, but pauses before leaving the kitchen. He turns back, and looks at Jane, who is resting her hand on the back of her neck and staring out the kitchen window absently.
“It was… nice talking with you,” he says. She swings her head around to look at him and smiles again, a sort of tired smile. Maybe not tiredness. Maybe gratitude.
“It was nice talking with you, too,” she says.
Darcy retreats up the stairs before Lizzie can usher him along.
When they get to her room, Lizzie panics momentarily, because she can count the people who are normally permitted entrance to her room on one hand. And she can count the number of guy friends she’s ever had in her room on her fingers several times over. She tries not to ruminate on that, or the fact that she has to kick some of her dirty laundry under her bed when she walks in, or that instead of sitting down on the filming stools or her bed Darcy chooses to examine her bookshelf. She doesn’t ruminate.
She sits down on her bed, kicking her shoes off and knocking her knees together nervously as Darcy looks over the rows of books.
“My sister is a fan of these,” he says, indicating her copy of the Hunger Games trilogy. Lizzie nods, even though his back is to her.
“They’re good books,” she says.
“I’ve been meaning to read them. Gigi’s been suggesting them for years.”
“No time for reading?” Lizzie asks. He shakes his head. “Too busy with business emergencies?” she digs, and instantly regrets it. No call to be nasty. Well, some call, but it’s her job to keep these conversations civil. He lets out a metered breath through his nose – too shallow to be called a sigh, really.
“I should apologize,” he says.
Before she lets herself smile, she plays it safe. “For?” she asks, drawing her lips into a tight line as he glances over at her.
“For lying to you.” Well, that figures. “I left for personal reasons, not work-related ones.”
She drums her fingers on her knees. Sensing that he is done with his apology, she moves on.
“Well you should have said that, for one. Also, goodbye.” She runs a hand through her hair. “And you shouldn’t have given me that money,” she sighs. His brow knits in confusion.
“I offered to buy you a drink. It would have been rude to leave you with—”
“Yeah, but,” Lizzie interrupts. “A hundred dollars? Way too much. Here.” She pulls out her wallet.
“It’s fine,” he says.
“No,” Lizzie says. “I don’t… I don’t want your money. It makes things weirder.” She hands him five twenties – he mercifully accepts them without asking what happened to the original hundred dollar bill. “You can’t just… throw money at your problems to make them go away,” she says. His eyes slide away from hers and he shifts, clearly uncomfortable. His jaw sets stonily. “Especially not around here. With me,” she corrects.
“And maybe just… stop bringing it up around my mom, too. She gets touchy about that kind of thing.”
He glances at her. “She’s always bringing up our finances,” he says. “Mine, and Bing’s.”
“Yeah, but if you could not behave like a five year old,” Lizzie grumbles. His lip twitches. She looks away. “I mean, I know my mom’s ridiculous, but we all ignore it if we can help, so should you.”
“Is that all?” he asks, voice tight. Her stomach flops uncomfortably.
“I’m sorry,” she says very quietly.
“You’re not out of your rights,” he replies.
“No, I’m… I didn’t bring you up here just to scold you, I swear.”
“No?” he asks, sounding marginally less irritated than she would have expected him to sound.
“No.” She stands up and leans again the wall. He sits down on one of the filming stools simultaneously, facing her instead of the dormant camera. “I mean, the whole point of ironing out the kinks like this is so that we can be friends, right?”
“Right,” he says slowly, as if he thinks she might be backing him into a trap.
“That’ll only work if we’re candid with each other.”
“Being candid seems to get me into trouble more often than not.”
“Does it?” she asks, smirking. “Because it seems like it’s the other thing that usually gets you in trouble with me.”
He considers it for a second and then shrugs. “I suppose you’re right,” he admits.
“See? And now we’re friends again.”
“Simple as that,” he says.
“Simple as,” she agrees, slapping her knee for emphasis. “And, candid suggestion? Next time we hang out maybe it shouldn’t be at a bar.”
“At the very least,” he says, glancing up at her, a smile tugging at the corners of his lips. “We should wait until the battalion of swimmers leaves town.” She really couldn’t have asked him to give her a better opening for her second order of business than that, so she just bites the bullet.
“Speaking of,” she says. “You don’t happen to know a George Wickham, do you?” Darcy’s back straightens instantly, a frown gracing his otherwise passive features. “Yeah, that’s what I thought.”
“He spoke to you?”
“Well, he was talking to Lydia. He must have been watching us before, though. He noticed that I went after you when you left.”
He makes a hmm noise in the back of his throat, leaning back slightly and setting his gaze above her head. There’s no real hesitation or question in the sound, just deliberation, so she waits for him to speak again. “What did he want?”
“He was trying to get me to tell him how I knew you. I figured he was someone from your past. Or some kind of corporate spy, was my second guess. I’m actually kind of disappointed that’s not it.”
“Me too,” Darcy says shortly.
“So what’s the story there?” Lizzie asks, leaning forward to examine his face for reactions. “There’s clearly a good story there.” He glances towards her before diverting his eyes again.
“The wound is a little too fresh for me to think of it as a story,” he says.
“Sorry,” she says, foot right in her mouth. Again. “You don’t have to tell me. Forget I asked.”
“No, I’d like to tell you,” he says, swallowing hard. It catches her by surprise, but she nods, sitting down on the bed again. “I’d like you to know,” he adds, before launching into his version of events with fumbling uncertainty.
Lizzie was right – it is a good story. It’s full of betrayal and scandal and corruption and heartbreak. He tells it haltingly, and Lizzie thinks he must be more deeply affected by all this than he’s letting on. She listens raptly as he tells her everything – about his childhood friendship with Wickham, about the money troubles that drove them apart, about his very recently terminated relationship with Darcy’s sister.
She frowns as he finishes the story.
“I can’t believe I left Lydia alone with that guy,” Lizzie groans, flopping back on her bed and staring at the ceiling. She’d known. She’d had a gut instinct. She’d left anyway.
“You should warn her,” Darcy says after a moment. “Tell her what he’s like.”
“Oh, no way.” She sits up again. “That’ll only get her attention. Lydia gets bored easily and there’s nothing more boring to her than a swimmer she’s already done with. Lydia’s law number seven: don’t double tap the swimmers.”
Darcy pulls a face. “But…”
“But nothing. Right now he’s just another hot-bodied airhead swimmer. Tell her he’s a serial heartbreaker with a pocketful of cash? He becomes an interesting challenge.”
“If you think it’s best,” Darcy says after a moment.
“It is best.”
“In that case,” he says as he smooths out his tie, a nervous tic of his that irritates her like nothing else. She wonders why he even bothers dressing business semi-formal when he effectively works from home. “I’d prefer it… if you kept this between the two of us. Besides Wickham and Georgiana themselves, and a family friend of mine I have looking after her while I’m gone, you’re the only person I’ve told about this, and…”
“I understand,” Lizzie assures him.
He continues anyway. “Georgiana doesn’t want this getting out, and the last thing she needs—” He stops speaking suddenly.
“How is she?” Lizzie asks after a moment.
“She’s not… she’s very angry with me, at the moment. I’m trying to give her room, but it’s impossible not to worry.”
“I get that.” She really does. It’s hard not to empathize with Darcy in this situation, even if she would have responded to it entirely differently: she understands, though, that where sisters are involved, it’s less about the attitude of your character and more about doing whatever it takes. “I’d like to meet her,” Lizzie reflects quietly.
“I think she’d like to meet you, as well,” he says. “Perhaps she’ll visit, later in the summer. After she has time to…”
“I’d like that.”
“Well,” Darcy says, standing up. Lizzie stands as well (not that it does much to close the height disparity between them, she thinks as she cranes her neck back to look him in the eyes). “Thank you,” he says, and his tone is so low and there is so much unadulterated gratitude in it that it hits her right in the stomach. She doesn’t say anything, and he turns to leave, but pauses at the threshold of her bedroom, hand lingering on the doorknob. He turns back to her. “You’re sure you won’t tell anyone?” he asks her.
“Yes,” she says with a single nod.
And for all that she’s a talker, for all that she’s incapable of keeping little things from Jane and Charlotte and even Lydia, she doesn’t doubt that she won’t have any trouble with this. Sometimes, she thinks, the bigger secrets are, the easier they are to keep.
Chapter 7: Really Fancy Party
The fact that he’s been spending an increasing amount of time away from Netherfield does not escape the notice of the Lee siblings. Caroline actively ignores it and most mentions of the Bennet sisters that are made in their day-to-day conversations. Bing, however, brings it up one morning just as they’re finishing their daily jog.
Because Lizzie is the only person in town who knows what’s actually going on in Darcy’s life, he ends up spending a lot of time with her over the next couple of weeks. He’s never really been one to talk about his problems, but he finds that when he does it with Lizzie, it actually helps. She seems better suited to deal with the whole Georgiana situation than he ever was, insightful and empathic and clever. Maybe it’s because she has the emotional distance from it all that he very definitely lacks, maybe it’s because she’s so close with her own sisters. He’s not sure, but he finds himself wishing he’d always had her around to give him advice.
The fact that he’s been spending an increasing amount of time away from Netherfield does not escape the notice of the Lee siblings. Caroline actively ignores it and most mentions of the Bennet sisters that are made in their day-to-day conversations. Bing, however, brings it up one morning just as they’re finishing their daily jog.
“Yes,” Darcy says when Bing very astutely points out that he’s been spending a lot of time with Lizzie.
“I think it’s good for you, man,” Bing says as he towels off the back of his neck. Darcy doesn’t say anything. “I was really worried you and Caroline weren’t enjoying yourselves here. You guys are so…” He glances upward in thought. “Fussy,” he finally says.
“Fussy?” Darcy asks.
“Yeah,” Bing says. “You know how Caroline is with her farmer’s market produce and her imported coffee. And you…”
“Capricious old women are fussy,” Darcy interrupts. “Caroline and I are selective.”
“Whatever,” Bing laughs. “Point is, I’m glad you’re chilling out about everything. Maybe you’ll rub off on Caroline, too.”
“I doubt that.”
“Well I have my hopes up.”
“You always do,” Darcy says. “It is by far your worst character trait.”
Bing just claps him on the shoulder companionably in response. “Oh, by the way,” he adds after a second. “I promised Lydia I’d throw a party at Netherfield sometime.”
“I’ve been told that’s a binding contract.”
“Same here,” Bing laughs. “Anyway, I was thinking a week from Friday?”
“It’s your house,” Darcy says. “You don’t need my permission.”
“I know,” Bing replies. “But you live there too. I wouldn’t want to be a bother.”
“It’s no bother,” Darcy says. Bing gives him a skeptical glance, because they both know there’s really nothing Darcy hates more than noise and large crowds and being forced to socialize, but he just shrugs in reassurance. When he does, Bing breaks out in a wide smile.
“See?” Bing says, poking him in the shoulder. “You’re lightening up already.”
The day of the party, Bing invites Lizzie and Jane over early to help set up. This is mildly suspicious to Lizzie because the party is going to be staffed by like upwards of thirty people, but she goes anyway to hang out.
“What’s this room called again?” she asks as she meanders around the room that is designated as the central location for the party. It’s the size of the church’s rec center. Maybe a little bigger. The ceiling is vaulted, it has four chandeliers, and the floors are hardwood parquet. The entire West wall is louvred windows, a strangely postmodern touch in the antiquated space, and the view leads down to the pool, which is uncovered now that it’s summer. The event staff are wandering around the grounds, setting up party tents. “I mean, like, on the floor plan. What’s its practical use?”
“It’s the ballroom,” Bing says.
“Oookay,” she laughs.
“What’s funny?” Darcy asks from where he’s hooking up the sound system.
“Its practical use is ballroom,” she says, deadpan. He doesn’t get the joke. That’s not really surprising. “I just can’t imagine what possessed you to buy a nine bedroom mansion complete with actual ballroom in the middle of nowhere,” she says to Bing.
“I didn’t really have a reason,” he says in a thoughtful and reflective tone. “But I’m glad I did it.”
“Me too,” Jane agrees.
Lizzie rolls her eyes at them because that’s all there really is to do when they’re being cute and dumb. She wanders over to Darcy.
“Don’t you have people who could be doing that for you?” she asks. He glances up at her reticently. It’s strange to see him bracing his weight against the ground so he can see down low behind the speaker he’s setting up when he’s usually so stiffly postured, strange to see his sleeves cuffed up to his elbows when his shirts are usually immaculately pressed.
“I want it done right, so I decided to do it myself,” he says, turning his attentions back to the wiring.
“Ah,” she says, sitting down on the edge of the make-shift stage (where word of mouth has told her there will be a live string quartet playing, because it’s going to be that kind of party). “So it just takes your overwhelming hubris for you to get your hands dirty. Good to know.”
“You’re particularly bellicose today,” he notes without looking up at her.
“No I’m not.”
He takes a second to raise his eyebrows at her in a way that suggests she is only proving his point, then turns his attentions back to the last of the wires. He stands up as he finishes, wiping his hands on his slacks. “There,” he says.
“Ah, but does it work?” she asks.
“Try it,” he says. She picks up an iPod that was on the stage next to her.
“Yours?” she asks as she hops down and walks over to where he is. He nods and she begins to flip through his music. “Oh my god, I hate your iPod,” she declares after approximately twenty seconds.
She tabs through several more categories. “The only thing on here I have ever heard of is this TED Radio Hour podcast,” she says, holding his iPod up so he can see it. “What is the rest of this?”
“Mostly experimental San Francisco garage rock,” he says.
“Ugh,” she says, handing the device back to him. “No.”
“I said something wrong?” he challenges.
“Yes,” she says.
“Say it again.”
“Experimental San Francisco garage rock,” he says. She pulls a face. “Which part is it that you find objectionable?”
“All of it.”
She pulls her laptop out of her bag and sets it on the bass speaker while she roots around for her own iPod. While she’s doing that, he picks her laptop up, reading off the sticker she stuck to the lid a couple months ago after she’d been to one of Dr. Gardiner’s anti-SOPA talks.
“I support net neutrality,” he says, making a small disdainful noise in the back of his throat after he finishes reading it. She almost doesn’t catch it, it’s so quiet. “Really?”
“Of course,” she says
“I don’t suppose you have a good, logical argument as to why the internet should be treated as if it were some lawless Wild West frontier town,” he says, “and not be held to the same legal standards as the rest of our country.”
“Okay, you’re being overdramatic. And I do, actually.”
“I’d love to hear it.”
“I think the more pressing question here is how do you not support net neutrality?” Lizzie asks, snatching her laptop away from him and dropping it back on her bag. “You run a new media company.”
“Yes,” he says. “But we’re also a production company. We suffer from internet piracy the same as any other studio.”
“Oh, sorry,” Lizzie scoffs, scrolling through her iPod playlists. “I forgot how many people are at this very moment torrenting the Stories of Ann Radcliffe on VHS.”
“We have DVDs,” he says, sounding so truly and genuinely affronted that she can’t help but laugh. He gives her a look with an emotion behind it that Lizzie can’t quite classify.
“Anyway,” she says, shaking her head, a small smile still lingering on her lips. “Compromise for music. The Decemberists?”
“How is that a compromise?”
“I don’t know, isn’t this like hipster music? So that’s your taste. And I’ve actually heard of it, so it’s a halfway point.”
“First of all, my taste in music is not ‘hipster’—”
“If you use airquotes around the word hipster, you’re a hipster,” Lizzie interrupts. He ignores her.
“Secondly, wasn’t that band on the Colbert Report?”
“What, does recognition automatically cancel out talent?”
“No,” Darcy says. “I’m not saying that. I’m just saying I didn’t understand your meaning in saying it was a compromise.”
“Fine,” Lizzie says, scrolling through her iPod and selecting a song by Lady Gaga. She offers the iPod to him. “But let the record show that I tried.”
He plugs it in to the sound system and the dulcet tones of Poker Face fill the room. Darcy closes his eyes in exasperation. Across the room, Jane and Bing laugh as they improvise a little swing dance to the song.
When Darcy opens his eyes again, he sees that Lizzie is staring at him and glances away quickly.
“I’ve never seen you dance,” she tells him.
“There’s a reason for that,” he responds after a labored pause.
“Come on,” she says.
“No,” he says.
“How about a compromise?” she asks. After a second of skeptical silence he shrugs. “Do you know how to waltz?”
He looks at her like she asked him if he knows how to tie his shoes.
“I took a ballroom dance class for PE credit back during undergrad,” she explains. “C’mon.”
He finally resigns himself. “Will you at least let me lead?”
“Only because I’m rusty,” she says, motioning him over to her. He sets the iPods down on the speaker and joins her on the dance floor. He stands an arm’s length away from her and she steps towards him to put them at comfortable dancing distance. He takes her hand, his other hand hovering awkward just above her waist. She puts her hand on his shoulder, and when he does his hand settles down on her waist. His hands are big, and his fingers splay out so that they rest along the swell of her hip.
It’s the closest, Lizzie thinks, that she’s been to him since… well. She puts the thought out of her head as they start dancing at an awkward, lumbering pace.
“Sorry,” she laughs after a second. “It’s been awhile.”
“It’s not your fault,” he says. “This isn’t exactly…” He clears his throat, glancing away from her and back to her very quickly as the song hits its bridge. “Waltzing music.”
“I knew I should have put on Miley Cyrus,” she says with a melodramatic forlorn sigh. Surprisingly enough, he cracks a smile at that. When she laughs she feels his fingers shift against her waist and he laughs too, a low throaty chuckle that she feels reverberate in the pit of her stomach.
Across the room, Bing and Jane call out supportive comments about what a good job they’re doing. Lizzie knows they mean the best, but really, she and Darcy are dancing so badly that she can’t help but feel chuffed at their comments.
“Let’s see you two do better,” she calls back, and they take her up on the offer. They’re pretty good – definitely better than Lizzie and Darcy, but Jane has trouble with the steps and loses her balance when Bing tries to dip her. “Here,” Lizzie offers, forcing Darcy to waltz them towards the other couple. “Switch partners with me.”
Darcy gets out half a protestation before Jane speaks up in support of this plan.
“You’re both much better at it than we are,” Jane agrees emphatically, reaching out to take Lizzie’s arm. “Show us how to do it.”
So they do, and Lizzie and Jane watch on, laughing and leaning on each other for support as Bing tries to convince Darcy to dip him – for demonstration purposes, in the name of teaching Jane.
When Caroline gets home twenty minutes later, they’re all still in stitches over the entire incident, but they’re also under strict orders from Darcy that this particular story never leave the room.
The party goes on for hours, and frankly, Darcy grew tired of it not long after it had started. Most of the evening has been tolerable, but only just so. Lizzie disappeared some time ago, and he’s been wandering the perimeter of the party not so much with the express purpose of finding her as a vague inclination towards it.
He finds her outside, down by the pool. She’s dangling her feet into it. He walks up behind her and she cranes her neck to look at him upside-down, smiling when she sees him.
“Hey,” she says, kicking her feet back and forth through the water.
“Enjoying the party?” he asks, tucking his hands into his pockets.
“Oh, yeah,” she says as she returns her head to a normal position. She motions for him to sit down, but not wanting to get his pants or shoes wet, he just lowers himself into a crouching position next to her. “Very fancy. I feel like I’m at Jay Gatsby’s house.”
“An apt comparison,” he says. “As I think Bing largely agreed to hosting this party so Jane might attend.”
Lizzie laughs. “I think he threw it ‘cause Lydia made him, actually.”
“I heard that story too.” Checking that the ground isn’t damp, he sits back, the toes of his shoes right up against the edge of the pool. He’s still a little back from Lizzie and she has to turn her body so that she can see him properly. Her knee-length dress is bunched up to keep it out of the pool, exposing the skin of her thighs.
“Come to think of it, I don’t even think Lydia showed up,” Lizzie reflects after a moment, shrugging it off. “Anyway, it’s a crazy party. She’ll be sorry she missed out.”
“I’m sure she can talk him into throwing another one.” He really doesn’t doubt it.
“Well I’m sure Jane would love that,” Lizzie says with a knowing smirk. He nods, looks up at the sky, thinking. That, he knows he shouldn’t doubt either, but he’s been having such a hard time figuring the eldest Bennet sister out. “What?” Lizzie asks eventually.
“Your sister…” he begins, but then he sighs and starts over, trying to think of a better way to say what he wants to say. With Lizzie, he knows, that picking his words carefully is very important. “Bing is very fond of your sister. I just wanted to make sure that she…”
“She likes him a lot,” Lizzie says automatically. “Like a lot.”
“You’ve talked to her about this?”
“Well, not… directly, but I know her pretty well.”
He purses his lips for a second. Lizzie taps her fingers against the pool tiles, clearly growing irritated. He’d known going in that this was a risk he’d be taking. Lizzie has a very short fuse when it comes to her sisters.
“Bing has never been particularly good at… taking small steps, is what I’m saying. I wouldn’t want him to misread the situation. The way he talks, sometimes,” he says, not feeling a need to conclude the sentence.
“Jane too,” Lizzie insists. “Really, I think he’s fine.”
“Then my concern is that by virtue of their natures they may find themselves in a committed situation without proper forethought,” he says. “Mutual infatuation is one thing, but…”
“Have you talked to Bing about it?”
“Not directly,” he echoes. Lizzie really, seriously contemplates what he’s saying for a second.
“Okay,” she says. “I’ll talk to Jane about it if you talk to Bing about it. Then we’ll compare data. Deal?”
“But I really don’t think we have anything to worry about here,” she adds.
“Better to be safe,” he points out. “And make sure everyone’s on the same page.” She smiles wistfully. His phone buzzes. It’s a twitter alert. “Caroline’s looking for me,” he tells her.
“See you later,” she says, waving him off.
He sets off to look for Caroline, but he doesn’t have to look very hard, because she’s lurking around the patio that overlooks the pool waiting for him. She links his arm through his and leads him back into the house as she speaks.
“You two seem cozy,” Caroline comments. “Not as cozy as you’d like to be, I’d bet.”
“I’m not sure that’s any of your business,” he sighs.
“I’m sorry,” she says in her quiet, more genuine tone. Then, in her normal lilting voice: “I’m just worried about you.”
“What for?” he asks.
“Well,” she says, shrugging quickly. “You’d want to know, right, if your trust was being betrayed somehow? Or if you were putting yourself into a tricky situation?”
“Is this about Lizzie?” he asks, resigned.
“Oh, it’s not just about Lizzie. It’s about Jane, too, and even their sister – wait until I tell you what she’s been up to…”
“I don’t want to gossip about Lizzie’s family,” Darcy says. “It’s none of our business.”
“And you know what’s none of her business?” Caroline asks, flipping her hair over her shoulder as they reach the relatively empty kitchen. Darcy pulls his arm away from hers and puts some space between them. She pulls her phone out of where it was tucked into the band of her dress and taps at it for a second before offering it to him. “I’m really sorry,” she says, all that authenticity gone, her brow knit together in overdrawn concern. “But you should really watch this.”
Chapter 8: Roadtrip
Over the last couple of weeks, Lizzie has been getting a lot of coffee with Darcy. They have a usual shop and a usual table there. Most days they meet up and Lizzie works on school stuff and Darcy works on whatever Darcy works on. Lizzie even has a regular order and Darcy has it waiting for her when she gets there. But when she sits down, there’s none of that companionable silence they’ve had for those last weeks.
When Lizzie wakes up the next morning she has a backlog of text messages. Most of them are group texts from Jane and Lydia documenting Jane’s night out with Bing and how she didn’t make it home that night. Lizzie smirks as she flips through these. There are also a couple from Lydia asking if she was lame enough to be the only Bennet sister sleeping at home that night. She’s about to respond when she sees that she has a text from Darcy, too.
She flips over to that first, because she did leave the party without saying goodbye and she can see where that might come across as a little hypocritical.
The message isn’t what she was expecting it to be, though.
Caroline knows about your videos, Darcy’s text reads, pithy and to the point as ever. Lizzie hits reply and taps out a response immediately, her conversation with Lydia fully forgotten.
Coffee? she texts him.
He responds in the affirmative before she’s even done brushing her teeth.
Over the last couple of weeks, Lizzie has been getting a lot of coffee with Darcy. They have a usual shop and a usual table there. Most days they meet up and Lizzie works on school stuff and Darcy works on whatever Darcy works on. Lizzie even has a regular order and Darcy has it waiting for her when she gets there. But when she sits down, there’s none of that companionable silence they’ve had for those last weeks.
She sits down and wraps her hands around the warm coffee cup, feeling sheepish and awkward.
“So, um,” she begins after a moment. He looks up at her, eyebrow arched, and the expression on his face kills the words forming in her mouth stone dead. She stares at him mutely.
“I don’t like being laughed at,” he says at length.
“No, I know,” she replies hastily, her vicelike grip around the coffee mug loosening. “I wasn’t laughing at you.”
“I wasn’t talking about you specifically,” he says, clearing his throat before the word specifically. She taps her fingers against her mug.
“Did you… watch all of them, or?”
“No,” he says. “No. Just the one Caroline showed me.”
“Oh,” she says. “Which one…?”
He shakes his head infinitesimally. “I didn’t watch the rest of them,” he reiterates. “I didn’t watch them because you asked me not to. I don’t know what you said in any of the rest of them. Do you really need to know what I did hear?”
Yes, her brain tells her to say. She just narrows her eyes and then drops her gaze to the coffee cup guiltily.
“Thanks,” she says. “For not watching the rest of them.”
“Could you tell me why you don’t want me watching them, at least?” he asks. It’s a pretty big ask after his little speech, but she doesn’t exactly have the moral high ground here.
“It’s not because I make fun of you in them,” Lizzie defends automatically. Even though he leans back in his seat, putting distance between them, he looks relieved. As relieved as he’s ever looked, anyway.
She opens her mouth to respond but her heart gets fluttery and it catches in her throat and that makes it impossible to say anything at all. She lets out a noncommittal, strangled noise.
As he is wont to do, Darcy makes no reply, leaving her to fill the silent gap in their conversation. She runs a hand through her hair and sets it down flat on the table instead of gripping the coffee mug again.
“Look, it’s nothing personal. I wouldn’t want my father to watch them either,” she says, but then she quickly backtracks because she feels that she’s painting herself into an uncomfortable corner. “I just need some room to vent sometimes, you know?”
“And naturally the place to do that is in front of thousands of strangers on the internet,” he deadpans.
“They’re not strangers,” Lizzie objects. “I don’t know, I like them. They care. It’s nice.”
She feels his gaze fixed on her even though she’s not looking at him.
“I mean, plenty of people care. But when it’s the viewers, it’s not… it’s just different.”
“You like having an audience,” he observes.
“Well, of course I do,” she says, stirring her rapidly cooling coffee. “Who wouldn’t?”
“Lots of people,” he says, not naming any names.
“Anyway,” she says. “My viewers aren’t laughing at you.”
“They’re not. They’re big fans of yours.” He looks skeptical but she doesn’t elaborate any further because she really doesn’t want to get into detail about what her fanbase thinks of Darcy. That’s a bottomless pit of self-doubt and confusion that she avoids at all costs. “And a lot of them are really smart and talented. It’s a great little community.”
“I’m sure,” Darcy says, which to her deeply implies an actual meaning of I’m right but you clearly won’t see reason. She bristles a little.
“They’re actually exactly the kind of people you should be thinking about working with, if you want to get into web media,” Lizzie says. The feeling that she should cut her losses and stop talking is already forming in the back of her head but she just can’t seem to let this argument go. “I’m actually going to a web video convention weekend after next. You should come too.”
He considers this for a second before taking his phone out. “I’ll look into it,” he says as he presumably schedules it into his phone’s calendar. He’s the only person she has ever met who uses the calendar on his phone religiously, and for some reason it annoys the crap out of her. He sets the phone down on the table again but as soon as he does it buzzes and he picks it up again, frowning.
“I’m sorry,” he says, standing from his seat. “I have another meeting I have to make.”
And with that, he’s up and out the door, leaving Lizzie to finish her coffee in contemplative silence.
Instead of flying down and meeting them in Anaheim, Darcy opts to drive down with Lizzie, Jane and Charlotte. Lizzie feels a little bad about this because the trip was supposed to best friend/favorite sister time, but she allows it. They take Lizzie’s car because it’s the biggest, but it’s still a little cramped with all four of them and their luggage as well. The drive is going pretty well until they stop for lunch.
They stop in Gilroy, a little city in the middle of nowhere that’s hot as hell and constantly reeks of garlic. The smell and the heat put Lizzie in a foul mood and by the time they get back in the car she’s so wound up the littlest thing could’ve set her off.
Which is why when Darcy suggests she has missed the proper turn-off for Los Angeles, she doesn’t take it well.
“No, I didn’t,” Lizzie says, checking one of the road signs as she passes it. “There is no turn-off. We’re on 101 already.”
“You take Pacheco Pass to I-5,” he corrects.
“No,” Lizzie says. “We always take 101.”
“I-5 is faster.”
“No it’s not.”
“It actually is,” Charlotte says before Darcy gets the chance to say the same thing. Lizzie glares at her through the rearview mirror.
“Well, I don’t know the other way,” Lizzie says.
“We always took 101 because we have family in Salinas,” Jane explains, trying to diffuse the argument. “And we’d stay with them overnight on our way down to visit our aunt because Lydia and Lizzie couldn’t sit still long enough for the full drive when they were little.”
“Hey,” Lizzie objects. “That was all Lydia.”
Jane doesn’t say anything but a little laugh escapes her lips.
“Anyway, what do you want me to do now? I already missed it,” she grumbles, giving Darcy a sidelong glance. “Turn around?”
“No,” he says, leaning back in his seat. “That’d hardly be worth it. Take 101.” There’s something about his tone that rankles her.
“You just want me to admit you were right,” she says.
“I didn’t say that,” he says.
“You didn’t have to say it.”
“If you guys keep bickering,” Charlotte says sardonically from the back seat, “I’m getting out of this car and walking the rest of the way to Los Angeles.”
Charlotte never follows through on this threat, but she does have to reiterate it several times over the course of the six hour drive.
“You look like you’re having fun,” Lizzie says as she flops down next to him on the loveseat he’s taken refuge on. What she actually means, he knows, is why are you sitting in the corner composing business emails on your phone while we’re at Vidcon? He knows that she’s never been to any kind of media convention before, and that she’s entirely enamored with the Vidcon experience and thinks he’s squandering it by half-heartedly tailing her around as she goes about her business instead of making his own schedule.
It’s not that he isn’t enjoying himself. He just has a hard time mustering up the same enthusiasm that comes so naturally to her. Even though there are definitely some things in her life that Lizzie takes for granted, she also has a kind of unrestrained verve when it comes to broadening her horizons and trying new things. It’s one of the traits he admires most about her.
Not that it isn’t nice to see her here, so in her element and basking in praise. That is nice. But even though the convention is certainly full of web celebrities and industry professionals, most of them are creative types (creative types are not usually his type of people), and they’re almost exclusively teenagers and twenty-somethings (“You’re twenty-something,” Lizzie had retorted when he pointed this out to her their first hour in the convention center. “But I swear you act about fifty most of the time.”) to whom Darcy doesn’t have much to say, so he hasn’t been socializing.
“I am having fun,” he protests without putting much effort into sounding genuine. She pouts and then rolls her eyes. “The last panel was interesting,” he says in a bid to appease her.
“What was it about?” she asks, her tone taking on the inflection of a quiz. She’s caught him, because he hadn’t been fully paying attention.
“Viral marketing,” he says, because that’s something they’ve been talking about a lot here but also something that nobody ever seems to have anything intelligent to say about. She gives her head a tiny dismissive shake.
“Fine,” she concedes. “But you look totally miserable right now.”
“I’m not totally miserable,” he says. She cracks a smile.
“Slightly miserable?” she asks.
“Just really bored?”
“That seems more likely,” he says. When she laughs she leans forward slightly in her seat. She’s wearing one of her dresses that has a cutout which reveals the small of her back. He’s noticed she’s fond of that style.
“Well try to have some fun, okay?” she asks.
“I can’t promise that,” he teases. She narrows her eyes at him for a second, gauging his reaction, before she smiles.
“Sure you can,” she says. “Sunday’s Disneyland day. It’s impossible not to have fun at Disneyland. Even for you.”
He hums for a second. “I’m not attending that.”
“What?” she asks, still laughing. “For real?” He nods after a second and her face turns so serious so quickly that he almost has to smile. “You have to come to Disneyland, Darcy,” she says, all business.
“I’m not a fan of amusement parks,” he says.
“Well that’s the least surprising thing I’ve ever heard,” she quips. “But I’m really not letting you get away with not going. Come on, what are you going to do alone in the hotel all day? Write business emails?”
“They’re piling up,” he reasons, gesturing with his phone.
She’s about to reply when her own phone buzzes in her hand and she has to check it. She does, and groans overdramatically. “Okay, I have to go meet Charlotte to film a video, but this discussion is not over.”
“Very well,” he says, and with that she’s off half-skipping down the hallway. He tries not to watch the small of her back as she goes.
After a few seconds he turns his attention back to his phone and he remains uninterrupted for almost forty minutes. Then something unusual happens.
“Hey, are you Darcy?” a teenage girl he’s never met before in his life asks, causing him to look away from his phone. He narrows his eyes.
“Yes,” he responds tentatively. Without saying anything, she uses her phone to take a picture of him and walks away. He sits there for a moment before really processing what just happened and eventually turns his attention back to his phone. It’s only when he checks twitter that he notices he’s been mentioned in a tweet that contains a picture of him. Disconcertingly, he judges from the angle that it couldn’t have been the same one the girl just took of him.
Eventually he stands, wandering off in the same direction that Lizzie did. She finds him before he finds her.
“Hey,” she says, flagging him down.
“Your fans are taking pictures of me,” he says, showing her his phone. She pulls a guilty face.
“Yeahhh,” she says. “I asked them to stop doing that.”
“Why are they doing it in the first place?” he asks.
“Oh, it’s kind of like an inside joke? I guess?” she says, crinkling her nose. “They’re just always asking to see you but clearly you’re not on the videos so…”
“I know,” she apologizes.
“I know, I know.” She grabs his wrist as he scans through his twitter feed. “What are you doing?” she asks.
“Telling them,” he says, staring at her. She just stares back for a second.
“You can’t threaten them, they’re seventeen year old girls,” she says after a beat.
“I wasn’t going to…” he begins to protest, but the words die in his mouth. “They’re going to stop?”
“I asked them to, yes,” she says.
“Fine.” He tucks his phone into his pocket. She doesn’t let go of his wrist as she begins moving down the hallway again, instead linking her arm through his.
“By the way,” Lizzie says, dragging him down the hallway as she goes. “What did you say your aunt’s name was?”
“Catherine,” he says haltingly, not sure what she’s getting at. “Catherine de Bourgh.”
She grins impishly as she speaks. “You’re never going to guess who I just ran into.”
Dinner the next evening with Ricky Collins is just about the most arduous thing Lizzie has ever put Darcy through. The only thing that makes it tolerable is that Darcy is pretty sure Lizzie’s having an even harder time not snapping at Ricky than he is. When her attentions aren’t focused on Ricky Collins, she’s leaning back in her seat and watching him with a barely contained smirk on her face, so he figures his own exasperation is making the experience tolerable for her too.
He’d be a little more grateful for this mutual understanding if she wasn’t the reason they were here in the first place.
“There was basically no avoiding it once I mentioned you were here,” she’d explained to him earlier that evening when they’d just been returning to the hotel. She’d lingered in his hotel room’s doorway to tell him, leaning against the frame while he propped the door open with a splayed hand. “Although if you bail, he might not be interested…”
“And risk my aunt hearing that I passed up a dinner with her newest pet project?” he’d asked, running his free hand through his hair. He tries not to remember the way she’d blinked rapidly a few times, her eyelashes dark against the slightly sunburnt skin of her cheeks. “I’d rather not risk that,” he’d said.
Maybe it’d been equal parts his fault and her fault, after all.
Darcy’s patience is running thin as Ricky is pushing his second hour telling him things about his own aunt and her investments that he already knows. He’s trying to think of a way to gracefully extricate himself from the situation when Lizzie gets a phone call she has to take.
She scoots her way out of the side of the booth she’s sharing with Jane, answering the call from her mother as she stands. Because of where he’s sitting at the end of the table, Darcy is in the perfect place for Lizzie to brace her weight against his shoulder. Her hand lingers there as she turns back to tell Jane that their mother has to talk to her too, and her fingers only slide off his shoulder when they both walk away. He clears his throat when she has gone, turning his attention to his plate.
The table is blissfully silent for all of ten seconds.
“Your aunt,” Ricky begins, and Darcy can’t help the annoyed hiss of air that escapes his lungs. “Didn’t mention to me that you are acquainted with Miss Bennet. Seeing as Catherine de Bourgh is so astute and thorough and…” There are about five or seven more adjectives and superlatives here, but Darcy tunes them out as he checks his phone for the millionth time that hour. He idly nurses his glass of water as Ricky continues. “… I can only assume that she wasn’t aware of the fact. Tell me, are you making conscious efforts to conceal your entanglement from her?”
Darcy stares at him for a long moment, wondering (in the wrong order): why he’d tell this man of all people if that were true, why he’d ever want to keep it a secret if he were in a relationship with Lizzie, why Ricky had asked the question at all.
“I think,” he says stiffly, setting his glass down on the table. “You’re mistaken about a few things.”
“Oh?” Ricky’s clueless smile does not falter and Darcy dislikes him a little more for that. “Which things?”
“Lizzie and I aren’t involved,” he says, casting a quick sideways glance towards Charlotte, who is watching the exchange with a silently amused smirk.
“We’re friends,” Darcy elaborates.
“Oh,” Ricky says. “My most sincere apologies,” he continues, adding an unnecessarily effusive and long apology. Darcy manages to get a word in edgewise to ask why he’d thought they were dating in the first place, but before he gets a chance to begin his undoubtedly overlong response, Charlotte interrupts.
“You’re kidding, right?” she asks. Getting no reply from him or Ricky, she continues. “You and Lizzie are like a walking pile of clichés,” she says. “Really,” she adds off his reaction to this. “You’re always squabbling about things that don’t matter and sneaking off to talk to each other in private and being like…” She says this next part in a really impressive approximation of Lizzie’s voice: “Oh, he’s not my boyfriend.”
He opens his mouth to respond but no words come out.
“I mean, really,” she says, her voice slightly muffled by the wine glass she has raised to her lips.
And because the awkward pause that follows is the least convenient time for Lizzie and Jane to return to the table, that’s exactly when they do.
“So, long story short,” Lizzie says, brushing past Darcy to sit down again. She pauses for a moment when she realizes that if she sits down first she’ll be on the inside seat of the booth, and she backs up and waits for Jane to take that seat so that she’s sitting next to him. Charlotte and Ricky turn their gazes to him in unison and he sets his jaw uncomfortably, but Lizzie misses all this, because she’s telling a story. “Apparently our house has a termite problem and we need to get it fumigated which means we’re effectively homeless for the next four days.”
“But I called Bing and he said since it’s only going to be a few days I might as well just stay at Netherfield,” Jane says.
“He invited me to stay there too,” Lizzie says. “If that’s alright,” she adds, turning her attention to Darcy specifically.
“It’s his house,” Darcy replies tersely. Lizzie’s brow draws in embarrassment and she backtracks.
“Yeah, I know it is,” she says. “I was just… you know. If you’re okay with it.”
“Why wouldn’t I be?” he asks. She shakes her head.
“No reason. Cool, then,” she says.
“Do you see what I’m saying?” Charlotte asks him in an aside, just loudly enough for Lizzie to overhear. She pesters them for the rest of dinner, asking what Charlotte meant, but mercifully enough, nobody says anything.
Chapter 9: Ulterior Motives
Lizzie and Jane adapt to life at Netherfield shockingly quickly, and Darcy can’t help but feel a little jealous of their natural ease, still feeling out of place in the mansion himself after months. Lizzie, especially, has made herself right at home, despite the fact that she had spent most of Disneyland day bemoaning how strange it would be to live in someone else’s giant house.
“Hey,” she greets him on the third morning of her five-day stay, breezing into the kitchen in stocking feet and a bathrobe. Her auburn hair is dark and damply arranged about her shoulders, although he notes that she’s already done her makeup.
“Good morning,” he mutters in return, turning his attention back to his laptop. She sits down next to him at the breakfast bar. The barstools are just a little too tall for her to comfortably sit on, and her feet swing loose as she leans forward on the counter.
“Have you ever had an experience that was so fundamentally life-changing that you have no idea how you got by before it?” she asks, gesturing forward vaguely with her hands as she speaks. He tries not to look up at her and keeps his gaze fixed on his computer screen, focusing on one column of the spreadsheet he’s checking intently.
“Sure,” he says, clearing his throat.
“These showerheads,” she concludes anticlimactically. He glances at her again and she laughs. “I’m serious.”
“They’re nice, I suppose,” he agrees.
“Understatement,” she says, standing up. She moves about the kitchen as if she has lived in the house her whole life, preparing herself breakfast.
“You’re comfortable,” he says. She looks at him over her shoulder.
“Angela showed me around yesterday afternoon.” She turns her attention back to getting a box of cereal down from a high cupboard, which she has to stand up on tip-toe to reach.
“Who?” he asks, mildly distracted.
“The chef. You don’t know the chef’s name?” Lizzie asks as she returns to her seat next to him with her breakfast in tow. “Nevermind, actually. That makes sense.”
His back straightens at the dig. “What, exactly?”
“That you don’t know the chef. It’s like an… Upstairs Downstairs thing.”
“This is a vacation home that my friend recently purchased in a town neither of us have ever been to before,” Darcy says. “And the staff is still transitory. I know everyone who works for me in my home and I know their families’ names too. I’m not a… Dickens villain,” he concludes, closing his laptop a little more forcefully than he means to. Lizzie laughs and holds up her hands in surrender.
“Okay, okay,” she says.
“You don’t think very highly of me,” Darcy remarks. Lizzie’s body language changes and she leans forward on the kitchen counter, resting her chin on her hand as she looks at him. He glances at her, then looks away when he catches the look in her bright blue eyes.
“I actually do,” she says.
“You have a funny way of showing it.”
“Why? Cause I give you crap?” She laughs, shifting in place next to him. He more feels her move than he sees her move in his peripheral vision. Pressing his lips together, he ignores the question, wishing that he hadn’t closed his laptop. There’s nothing to look at any more. “Cause I don’t let you get away with anything?” she guesses again when he doesn’t speak. His chest constricts uncomfortably. “Use your words.”
“Yes, that,” he finally says, to get her off his back.
“I do that because I like you,” she says, half through a mouthful of cereal. After all the lunches they’ve spent together in the past month he’s almost certain that she knows this is a pet peeve of his and he wonders if she’s doing it on purpose. “I wouldn’t bother if I didn’t.”
“Ah,” he says, tuning out the sound of her eating. “So you’re doing me a favor, then.”
“Exactly,” she says after she’s swallowed the bite of food. “I’m just trying to help you out. You can come off like a jerk sometimes.”
“How so?” he asks as he checks his phone, mostly to humor her.
“For one, you’re always looking at your phone when people are talking to you,” she says, poking him in the shoulder to get his attention as she speaks. He flinches away from the unexpected contact and she rolls her eyes. “And when you give money to cashiers you put it down on the counter instead of just handing it to them.”
“I don’t like touching people,” he reminds her. She huffs slightly, hunching her shoulders up so that she doesn’t take up much room on her seat.
“You can hand people money without touching them,” she tells him after she’s made a big show out of getting out of his personal space.
“You can too, you know,” he says, not really having caught the tail end of her last remark. She looks at him for a second.
“I can… what?”
“You can have a disagreeable mien,” he says. She stares at him for a second before laughing so suddenly that she accidentally drops her spoon into her cereal.
“Did you just call me a jerk?” she says, still laughing. He gestures to her general response by way of an answer. “You can just say I’m a jerk, you don’t have go full out Nathaniel Hawthorne to do it.”
“I said what I meant to say.”
“If you want to call me a jerk you should just call me a jerk,” she says.
“I don’t want to call you a jerk,” he says, rubbing his temple. She snickers. “But you’re… pushy.”
“You’re stubborn,” she counters, standing and taking her bowl of cereal over to the sink. “But look, I have no doubt we could go in circles all day here. Better to not get into it.”
He shakes his head slightly, but she misses it. As she’s about to exit the kitchen, she turns back to say something. “Hey, listen,” she says, leaning against the doorframe. “Try stepping outside of your comfort zone sometimes, okay? Maybe learn the gardener’s name even if he might be gone next week.” She waits until he nods in response before she smiles and stands up straight again and begins to leave. He thinks he should probably just let her go but there’s a thought that’s been plaguing him for the last several minutes, and however maudlin it is, he’s sure it’s something he can only say before the moment passes.
“Lizzie?” he calls after her before he loses his nerve. She turns around, making a humming sound in the back of her throat. Her eyebrows are raised and she smiles a thin, pursed smile. “You,” he says.
“What?” she asks.
“You asked me if I’d had an experience…” He trails off because a spark of realization lights in her eyes and her mouth drops open with a soft oh. “Meeting you,” he clarifies.
She stares at him for a moment, her expression vacant and unreadable. Then she giggles in a way he’s never heard her laugh before, unrestrained and surprised and barely contained. She regains composure quickly, though, and leaves him alone in the kitchen without another word, her hand still pressed to her mouth.
“Yeah, that’s not something you say to someone you want to be just friends with,” Charlotte concludes, shaking her head as she sets the camera up with a small smirk. Lizzie flops stomach-first onto Charlotte’s bed, kicking her feet behind her to shake off some of the nervous energy that’s been building all day. “Seriously, Lizzie, come up with one other rationalization for that.”
“Friendship can be important and life-changing,” she says, rolling over onto her back. “I don’t understand why society thinks of romantic relationships as upgrades to friendship. It’s…”
“Okay, you already did the whole five minute rant on the mythical platonic boy-girl friendship video, Lizzie. If you did it again you’d be harping on your point while undermining it.”
Lizzie growls, but sits up and fixes her hair without much protest.
“Fine. What should I talk about?”
“Talk about the Darcy thing,” Charlotte suggests.
“No.” Lizzie fidgets with the sleeves of her shirt as Charlotte checks the frame. “I’m sick of talking about that. I don’t want to talk about it.”
“If that was true you wouldn’t have told me in the first place.”
“Shut up, Charlotte.”
“Fine. Talk about Netherfield.”
Lizzie taps her fingers on Charlotte’s comforter.
“Come on, Lizzie. Maria’ll be home from work soon and she’ll never leave us alone.”
Charlotte turns the camera on. Lizzie idles in place for a moment before beginning.
“Hey everyone,” she says. “As you all know from my last video, Jane and I are spending the week at the countryside estate of the Lee siblings. This is…” She gestures around. “Not it. This is Charlotte’s house. We thought it was best to… avoid locations where we might be intruded upon. Especially since, as you know, Caroline knows about these videos now.”
“Oh, right,” Charlotte says, joining her in frame. “Is she still watching these?”
“I don’t know. I don’t even know if she watched all of them in the first place. So, I mean… probably? We should assume she is?”
“Oooooh,” Charlotte coos, smirking again. Lizzie rolls her eyes. “So what do you have to say to Caroline?”
“I don’t know,” Lizzie says, running a hand through her hair. “I feel like anything I say at this point is going to sound really calculated and disingenuous. And I could just talk to her, you know. In real life?”
“Come on, Lizzie. Open forum. Say what’s on your mind.”
“I… I wish we could be friends,” Lizzie finally settles on.
“Yeah,” Lizzie continues, not looking at the camera. “It’s just weird tension, and I wish that wasn’t there, because with Jane’s… I think there’s a possibility I’ll be seeing a lot of Caroline in the future, is all I’m saying.” She wrinkles up her nose. “Ugh, no. Don’t put that on the internet.”
“If you want me to edit it out,” Charlotte bargains, “You gotta give me something else to work with.”
“Fine,” Lizzie says, shaking out her hands as she prepares to start over. “Get out of the frame and I’ll tell you alllll about the ridiculous itinerary Bing set up for our visit to Netherfield.”
“That’s more like it.”
“And you’ll leave all that other stuff out?”
“Promise,” Charlotte says as she stands up.
Later, Lizzie reflects that she really should know better by now.
Darcy doesn’t see Lizzie again that day. Even though she’d said she’d be coming to dinner with everyone else, when they’re all getting ready to go, she’s still nowhere to be seen. He’s waiting in the foyer for everyone else to come down when Jane appears, looking for her coat.
“Oh, Darcy, hi,” she says when she notices him standing by the door. She picks her coat up off the rack and folds it over her arm. “I didn’t see you there.”
He nods in response and she fidgets for a second, clearly uncomfortable but also too polite to just wander away. He takes a deep breath and tries to stir up a conversation. “Have you… seen Lizzie at all today?”
“Oh,” Jane says, pressing a hand to her forehead in a way that seems to him to be rehearsed. “She’s out with Charlotte. I think everything that was going on was a little much for her.”
“How do you mean?” he manages to get out.
“You know… the day trips and the fancy restaurants. Is it always like this here?” she asks with a dainty laugh. Jane has a way of politely pointing out the aspects of Bing’s lifestyle, which Darcy is sure she thinks of as wretched excess. He knows for a fact that Lizzie is often exasperated with the expensive nature of Bing’s plan for the week and that it makes her uncomfortable. He figures Jane can’t have much of a different stance on this, having grown up in the same household as Lizzie and being so close with her, but he can’t figure out whether she’s disdainful of it in the way that Lizzie is or fascinated with it.
Jane tilts her head to the side as she waits for his response, but he doesn’t have a good one, so excuses himself briefly and returns to his room, leaving Jane and the Lees to go to dinner by themselves.
“You could film your videos here, you know,” Caroline offers, apropros of nothing, on the morning of the fourth day of Lizzie’s stay at Netherfield. “I could make sure nobody wandered in for you.” Lizzie looks at her over her shoulder and Caroline gives her a small smile and bites her lower lip, remembering that the video she’d shot with Charlotte yesterday had gone up about thirty minutes ago. She mentally files away two pieces of information: never trust Charlotte to edit anything out; Caroline’s not just watching the videos, she’s doing it obsessively.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” she says.
“Why not?” Caroline asks. “You wouldn’t have to go all the way out to Charlotte’s, then.”
“It’s not that far.”
“I won’t tell Bing, if that’s what you’re worried about,” Caroline tells her in a confidential tone.
“No offense, Caroline,” Lizzie sighs. “But how long did it take you to tell Darcy? Less than a day? I don’t know why I should believe you here.”
Caroline bristles up. “Look, I told Darcy because I thought he would want to know. He likes to handle his own affairs. He’d’ve been upset if I’d kept it from him. But Bing… he doesn’t have to know. It’d be more trouble than it’d be worth to tell him. Do you understand what I mean?”
“I do,” Lizzie says, mentally adding that that doesn’t necessarily mean that she believes her.
“See? I’m the last person who would tell Bing about your videos.”
“It doesn’t really matter,” Lizzie points out. “We’re going home tomorrow, or like, Friday at the latest.”
“Right,” Caroline says, leaning her head back. “Well… okay. It’s been fun having you and Jane here,” she says, her arms folded over her chest in a defensive gesture that contradicts what she’s saying. “If you want to stay longer…”
“There’s no real reason to,” Lizzie points out. “I really don’t think we could.”
“It’s summertime, Lizzie, you’re on vacation.” Caroline gives her a broad, lithe smile. “You deserve to have a little fun before getting back to school. It’s an open invitation.”
It’s an offer that Lizzie always suspected Caroline would later come to regret.
The next time he sees Lizzie is the next day, when Jane is at work and Bing and Caroline have gone out for a late lunch in Santa Rosa. He’d thought he was alone in the house, and she comes out of nowhere, materializing in the lounge as if out of thin air. He jumps slightly at her appearance, knocking a stack of papers off the table he’s taken to using as a desk.
“Are you avoiding me?” Lizzie asks as she helps him pick the papers up. Her tone has that lighthearted cadence of play-acting in it, but there’s also some genuine concern. He has a hard time gauging whether Lizzie is play-acting or being genuine a lot, and he’s coming to wonder if it’s ever entirely one or the other with her.
“No,” he says, clearing his throat as she hands him the papers. They’re all out of order and he goes about sorting through them as she speaks.
“Good, because I haven’t seen you in like a day and a half and I was worried you’d… gotten lost in the haunted catacombs that are undoubtedly hidden beneath this house or something.”
“No,” he says again. She sits down at the table across from him, tapping her fingers idly on the surface, her nails clattering against the hardwood. He glances up at her.
“So, awkward thing,” she begins, and he looks away from her immediately. “My mom called me earlier today to tell me that they did find termites in our house and apparently there’s a huge amount of damage that needs to be fixed before it’s livable again… which puts me in the very awkward position of having to ask Bing if Jane and I can stay here awhile longer.”
“I doubt he’ll be opposed to that,” Darcy says, shifting through the papers. He hears her nails clatter against the table for a few seconds longer.
“Yeah, but it’s the principle of the thing,” she says, sounding very much like her mother for a second. He doesn’t mention this. “And I’m still half-convinced she planned all of this.”
“Do you think she mail-ordered the termites?” he asks under his breath, and Lizzie huffs in an annoyed fashion.
“I’m skeptical about the termites,” Lizzie replies.
“In any event,” Darcy moves on. “I’m sure Bing would be more than happy to put the two of you up.”
“There’s just no good way to be like, hey, actually, not five days, it’s going to be two months.”
“See? He’s going to turn us out.”
Darcy draws in a long breath. “He wouldn’t,” he says. “I was just concerned…”
“Concerned?” Lizzie hedges when he trails off.
“I was just concerned that he’ll try to keep your schedules as busy as he has these past few days,” Darcy says. Lizzie laughs.
“I heard him talking about horseback riding on the beach the other day,” Lizzie says, leaning back in her chair. “Maybe that’ll happen.”
“One can only hope,” he replies.
“So, Bing’s probably cool with it,” Lizzie begins. “Caroline flat out offered to let us stay around longer the other day, so I guess she’s game too.” This comment surprises Darcy but he doesn’t say anything about it. He decides to talk to Caroline about it later, though. “And Jane like, loves it here, so she’ll probably be… ingratiated but secretly thrilled.”
“She’s enjoying it here, then?”
“Oh, yeah,” Lizzie says. “Obviously she likes spending time with Bing, and she thinks Caroline is the greatest. You’ve made a favorable impression on her as well,” she adds with a sidelong glance towards him.
“Yeah,” Lizzie confirms.
“She was asking me about Bing’s usual schedule the other day,” he says, turning his attention back to the papers, which are now all in the correct order. He shuffles them again anyway. “I’m not entirely sure what she wants from me.”
“Uh,” Lizzie laughs. “To be your friend?”
He looks at her and she scrunches her nose up.
“You are so suspicious of people,” she says. “Not everyone has some hidden ulterior motive. You’re just… not the easiest guy to make small talk with. She was just looking for a topic.”
“Alright,” Darcy says, effectively killing the conversation. Lizzie sobers immediately and runs her hand through her hair, which is hanging unstyled around her shoulders today.
“Hey,” she says. “Did you ever talk to Bing? About, you know…?”
Darcy shakes his head. “I haven’t had the opportunity.”
“I’m not really sure it’s necessary, anymore,” Lizzie points out.
“Perhaps not,” Darcy says, even though his gut instinct is still to disagree.
“I am, uh…” Lizzie purses her lips in an embarrassed smile. “Maybe this is nosy of me, but I’m a little curious, still.”
“Do you want me to speak with him?” Darcy asks.
“Yeah,” Lizzie says. “I mean, what harm could it do? It’d just… be good to know. I really don’t like all this up-in-the-air business…” Lizzie shrugs and laughs. “I mean, it’s really clear they like each other, right? When I talked to Jane about their carpool a few weeks she wouldn’t even put a label on it. Outside of carpool buddies, anyway. It’d just be good to know where they’re at.”
“And maybe push them in the right direction,” Lizzie says. “If they’re going to be ridiculous about it.”
“Hmm,” Darcy says. Lizzie bounces her knee rapidly but doesn’t say anything, just examines his face. “What else did Jane say?” he asks.
“I will tell you that,” Lizzie says, taking a dramatic pause, “after you talk to Bing.”
“Okay, well,” Lizzie says, taking in a long breath before standing up. “I’ll leave you to your work. Maybe we can get dinner later?”
“This may take me a while,” he hedges, not knowing when the others are going to return.
“Okay,” she says, playing with the hem of her shirt. She turns around to leave, but then turns again and sits down again immediately, drawing his attention. “I’m really glad I met you, too.”
Her comment catches him off-guard, because he never knows what they are going to talk about and what they aren’t, so he doesn’t say anything.
“And I’m glad you put up with me, because you don’t have to.” She shrugs. “And, uh… I’m glad we’re friends,” she concludes, standing up again. “Just... so you know.”
She leaves quickly, and he doesn’t think of anything he should say until after she’s long gone, but having spent the last day wishing she’d given him any kind of reply, he supposes this is better than he could’ve hoped for.
Chapter 10: A Return and an Escape
Further Netherfield antics, awkward conversations, convoluted plots, etc.
Because Bing doesn’t know how to do low-key, his day trips and excursions get more frequent and more extravagant the longer the Bennet sisters stay at Netherfield. Sometime around the third week mark, Darcy begins to opt out of the trips by necessity. There’s only so much time he can spend away from his computer wandering around the countryside of Sonoma on Bing’s ill-planned adventures before emails from work start piling up, after all. Sometimes Lizzie or Caroline elect to stay in, which is nice, but most of the time Lizzie’s restlessness and Caroline’s ennui force them to tag along. That suits him well enough, too.
The fourth week, Darcy manages to stay in every night until Thursday before Bing addresses his poor attendance.
“I’ve been busy,” Darcy hedges when Bing accosts him in the lounge (while he’s working, no less) and points out that he hasn’t done anything all week.
“You’re on vacation,” Bing reminds him. “I mean, you’re supposed to be.”
“I can’t just walk out on my company for months at a time,” Darcy says.
“Are you honestly telling me that there’s nobody at that company that could do your job for a few days?” Bing asks, sitting down next to him. He sighs and closes his laptop.
“It hasn’t just been a few days, though, it’s been a few weeks.”
“Well, yeah, but they’re here, and it seems like such a waste to not use that time to the fullest,” Bing says. “Besides, Lizzie is on summer vacation. She doesn’t have anything else to do and I can’t just let her sit around the house all day, bored. That would be rude.”
“I have a feeling she’d somehow manage,” Darcy mumbles. Bing shakes his head.
“Well I’m on vacation too,” Bing reminds him. “And I can’t deal with being bored all day.”
“Speaking of which,” Darcy says, glad for the transition. “What are your plans for the end of the summer? You can’t stay here forever.”
“No,” Bing agrees thoughtfully. “Well, hopefully, by the time school starts up again Jane and Lizzie’s house will be fixed.”
“And the rest… I’ll figure out.”
“You know,” Bing laughs, ruffling his own hair absently. He sits down the arm of the sofa Darcy is sitting on before continuing. “The whole long distance relationship thing.”
“Hmm,” Darcy says.
“I know keeping up long distance relationships isn’t the easiest thing to do,” Bing says, as if preemptively anticipating the need to defend himself. Darcy looks back towards his laptop. “But it’ll be worth it.”
“You’ve spoken to Jane about this?” Darcy asks.
“Then perhaps you’re creating solutions from problems that don’t exist.”
“You don’t think Jane would be interested…” Bing begins.
“That’s not what I said,” Darcy interrupts, waving the comment off. Bing fixes him with a curious stare, the looking on his face dangerously close to mild irritation. “All I meant was that you’re being hasty in presupposing the future of a relationship you haven’t even bothered putting a label on yet,” he says. Bing opens his mouth to protest, but falls short. “And Jane might not be interested in a long-distance relationship.”
“You don’t think she’s interested in a commitment?”
“Again, not what I said,” Darcy says, resisting the urge to pinch the bridge of nose. He wonders briefly why Lizzie tasked him with a job that he is so clearly underqualified for. “And I’m afraid I don’t have the answers to your questions. You’d have to talk to Jane about that. I’d recommend it, in fact.”
Bing leans his weight back and lets out a slow whistle. “Wow. Darcy’s advocating for open communication. What has the world come to?”
“Don’t be melodramatic.”
“Sorry,” Bing says, laughing. Darcy thinks there’s some unease in his demeanor, although it would be hard to spot, in Bing. “It’s a little uncharacteristic of you.”
“I just think it’d be in your best interests if everyone was… on the same page.”
Bing sits in merciful silence for awhile while he considers this. “What about you and Lizzie?” he asks after a second.
“Nobody’s on the wrong page there,” Darcy assures him. “And long distance friendships are much easier to maintain than ill-defined long distance romantic entanglements.”
“Uh huh,” Bing says, sounding less than convinced. Darcy briefly considers attempting to rebuff the non-remark, but he doesn’t get the chance, because Lizzie sticks her head into the room.
“Hey guys,” she says, leaning her weight off the doorframe. “Charlotte and I are going to Carter’s and Jane wants to tag along, so I thought I’d invite everyone. Do you want to…?”
“Yes,” Bing says immediately, throwing Darcy a pointed look as he agrees. Darcy looks to Lizzie, who quirks her eyebrows ever-so-slightly in an inquisitive fashion.
“Sure,” he says.
“Great,” Bing says, clapping Darcy on the shoulder as he stands up. “It’ll be fun. And it’ll do you some good to finally get out of the house, man.”
Darcy doesn’t say anything, but he catches a glimpse of Lizzie where she still stands in the doorway, an amused smirk on her face as she tries not to laugh. He doesn’t say anything, but he feels her gaze linger on the back of his neck for a moment before she leaves.
“You know what my favorite part of tonight is?” Lizzie asks Charlotte and Jane the first moment that Darcy and Bing are both away from the table.
“What?” Charlotte asks.
“Only people I like are here.”
“Lizzie,” Jane scolds.
“Related question,” Charlotte says over Jane. “Where is Caroline?”
“She was tired and didn’t want to come out tonight,” Lizzie says, with a liberal and imprecise smattering of airquotes.
“She had a long day,” Jane says, not exactly protective of her new friend but definitely more defensive than Lizzie would like her to be. “Her dad has her looking over some things for clients of his who can’t afford to hire tax professionals.”
“Okay, okay,” Lizzie says, rolling her eyes. “She’s tired because she was doing pro bono accountant work for her dad’s rich friends. She’s a saint.”
“Lizzie,” Jane says again, quieter and more resigned.
“Second related question: where’s Lydia?” Charlotte asks.
“I don’t know,” Lizzie says. “At my uncle’s, probably. I didn’t invite her.”
“She wouldn’t have wanted to drive an hour and a half just to hang out with us, Jane,” Lizzie says, shrugging her shoulders. Jane clicks her tongue in a pretty mom-like fashion. Lizzie is about to call her out on this, but she doesn’t get a chance, because Jane is in full-out scold mode.
“You still should have invited her. We haven’t seen her in weeks, you never know. She might have made the trip.”
“Alright, fine, I’ll invite her next time,” Lizzie grumbles, leaning back in her seat.
Because his timing is impeccable, this is the moment that Darcy chooses to return to the table. As he sits down, Lizzie clears her throat in a way she hopes is at least somewhat discreet. Jane and Charlotte take this as their cue to make hasty and not very convincing excuses for themselves to leave the table. They vacate their side of the booth in about five seconds flat, leaving her alone next to a vaguely confused-looking Darcy.
“How’s it going?” she asks after a second.
“Fine,” he says, narrowing his eyes. She supposes this is because she’s not as subtle as she wishes she was.
“Did you get a chance to talk to Bing earlier?” she asks.
“I did,” he says. “Although this venue is a little public,” he says, glancing towards Bing and Jane, who are playing pinball together. Lizzie shrugs.
“We don’t have to be talking about anybody specific,” she says. “We could be talking about any two people with a… ill-defined, soon-to-be long distance romantic entanglement.”
Darcy is very quiet and very still next to her.
“You heard us?” he asks after a beat.
“I caught the tail end of the conversation,” she says, tapping her fingers against her knee nervously. It’s hard not to feel a little trapped in the booth seat, with him all there and broad-shouldered and immovable, between her and her only exit. “When are you going back to San Francisco?” she asks after a second.
“I haven’t decided yet,” he says with less hesitation than before. “I’d intended originally to stay through the beginning of summer.”
“Ah, but then you got waylaid by all the wine tasting and horseback riding,” she offers. He glances at her side-long and she can’t help but feel like she’s irritating him somehow.
“Something like that,” he agrees.
“What else did Bing say?” she presses.
“You didn’t hear when you were eavesdropping?” he asks. She presses her lips together.
“I wasn’t eavesdropping,” she insists, crossing her arms over her chest. “I just happened to overhear a few things. Accidentally.”
“Sure,” he says.
“Anyway, I’m just curious. That was the whole point of this,” she says, gesturing back and forth between herself and him.
“Honestly? From what little I know of your sister, they seem to be more or less in the same frame of thought about the whole thing,” he says, surprisingly forthcoming. She raises her eyebrows.
“But…?” she goads.
“But their unwillingness to attach a label to it makes me wonder if there’d be other further complications in their relationship down the line,” he concludes.
“Well that’s their bridge to burn when they get there,” Lizzie says with a shrug.
“It’s also hard for me to push for an openness of communication when Bing seems to think I don’t favor one myself,” he says, looking right at her. She takes a sharp inhalation of breath on reflex.
“Oh, you and me?” she asks. “We’re totally on the same page. We’re sympatico.”
“That’s what I said,” Darcy says. She nods and they lapse into silence. While they’re not talking, Lizzie turns her attention to first her sister, and then Charlotte. She has to scan the bar a few times before she catches sight of her, partially obscured by the back of a head and slightly oversized suit that she couldn’t mistake even from this distance. She makes eye contact with Charlotte, whose lips are pressed together in a controlled smile. Charlotte waves at her.
“Crapmuffins,” she swears, slightly louder than under her breath, drawing Darcy’s attention and bemusement. For a second, she thinks he is going to ask her what’s wrong, but she sees him follow her gaze in her peripheral vision, and feels him stiff up next to her when he sees who’s walking towards them.
“What’s he doing here?” he asks in a more hushed tone, posture rigid. She rests one of her hands on his forearm and he relaxes momentarily.
“I mean, it’s his hometown too, I guess,” she whispers as their unexpected visitor draws closer, and then adds louder in the same breath: “Hey, Ricky. What’s up?”
“Please,” he says as he reaches their table, Charlotte in tow. “It’s Mr. Collins.”
“What’s up, Mr. Collins?” she asks, the flippancy of her tone getting away from her a little. He either misses it or ignores it. Misses it, probably.
“What isn’t up?” he rebuffs. Lizzie tosses Darcy a glance, wrinkling her nose as Ricky speaks. Darcy looks back at her, his jaw set awkwardly.
“I don’t know,” Lizzie concedes.
“It’s good to see you again, Miss Bennet,” he says, and before Lizzie has time to object to this nomenclature, he continues. “And you, Mr. Darcy. I’m happy to be able to tell you that I saw your aunt just earlier today and she was in the best of health.”
“Oh.” Darcy says as Ricky shakes his hand, tense as anything again. He shrugs Lizzie’s hand off his arm nonchalantly as Ricky rattles off several more status updates on Catherine de Bourgh’s health. Lizzie folds her hands in her lap silently. “Good to hear,” Darcy finally says, cutting Ricky off mid-sentence. Lizzie suppresses a laugh, which she doesn’t think Darcy misses.
“I thought you might be pleased to hear that,” Ricky says, all self-congratulation.
“Ricky is in town on business,” Charlotte says, raising her eyebrows as she speaks.
“What kind of business?” Lizzie asks in attempts to make polite small talk. Not that that takes much effort on her part, with Ricky.
“I’m afraid that’s confidential,” he responds after sputtering for a moment. Lizzie wonders what kind of business he could possibly be on that could render him so speechless.
“Oh,” Lizzie says, frowning.
“Miss Bennet,” he says loudly after a second. “I was terribly sorry to hear about your childhood home,” he says. Lizzie tosses Charlotte a dirty look and she shrugs helplessly, mouthing an apology. “If you’re finding whatever accommodations you’ve found for yourself to be substandard I know of several very fine establishments in the area…”
“Oh,” Lizzie says, doing her best to be polite and not snappish with him. “I’m actually staying at Netherfield.” She gestures towards Darcy for no good reason as she says it.
“Are you indeed?” Ricky asks effusively. He’s about to go off on another bender, Lizzie can tell. Apparently Darcy can tell too, because he excuses himself quickly and awkwardly and removes himself from the bar booth and by extension from the conversation. As she listens to Ricky rattle on and on about his job and his boss and his mother, Lizzie makes a note to give Darcy grief later for ditching her.
Once he’s around, Ricky is absolutely impossible to get rid of. Even though it’s only been four days since his unexpected return in town, Lizzie feels like he’s been there for months. Besides the two uninvited house visits he’s made to Netherfield, he’s also managed to catch them on every single one of their outings. He’d probably pop up behind the corn flakes if she tried to go to the grocery store.
The Monday after he shows up, Caroline ushers her and Darcy out of the house and to Carter’s. Probably, Lizzie reflects, because she takes delight in seeing people squirm in discomfort. Bing and Jane are absent because Jane’s working late and Bing’s been driving her to and from work recently, but Charlotte meets them at the bar, and like clockwork Ricky shows up too. Lizzie wonders if he has them under surveillance or if Caroline is tipping him off. Even though it’s fanciful she’s leaning towards the latter.
When she feels like she can’t take any more of Ricky’s never-ending babbling brook of nonsense, she excuses herself to the bar to order a drink.
Unsurprisingly, Ricky follows her.
“Miss Bennet, I was wondering if I could get a word in private?”
“Uhhhh,” Lizzie hesitates, leaning against the bar. “If this counts as private, sure.”
“This will do,” Ricky agrees. Lizzie closes her eyes momentarily, gathering her patience.
“What is it?” she asks.
“Well, you see, I’ve come to town with a bit of an ulterior motive,” Ricky says.
“What’s that?” she asks.
“I’d like to offer you a position in my company. We have several very exciting vacancies, and you’d be—”
“Are you trying to give me a job?” Lizzie interrupts.
“Well… yes,” he says.
“I haven’t graduated yet,” she points out. “And I have no practical work experience. But if you need to fill those vacancies I know plenty of people in my department that just graduated and are looking for work.”
“I could give them your number,” she suggests.
“Well, you see…” Ricky hedges. “I really meant the offer for you.”
“Catherine de Bourgh…” he begins, and she automatically starts to tune him out, but her attention snaps back like a rubber band. “… looking specifically for vloggers, an area in which you do have practical experience, if I’m not mistaken.”
Lizzie’s cheeks burn and she folds her arms over her chest.
“Anyway, I would merely reissue the offer to you come next summer, but we’re planning on expanding in the coming months, so if you wanted a management position in one of our new offices – Chicago or Ottowa, perhaps – you’d have to come on board now. Really, there’s no downside to the arrangement.”
She listens silently as she processes this information, the gears in her head whirring at top speed. She bites her cheek as he rambles on, biting back the rejection she’d love to give him.
“Let me get this straight,” she says in a carefully calculated meter after a few seconds. “Your boss asked for me specifically?”
“Yes!” Ricky burbles. “Yes, yes. It’s an honor,” he decides for her. She shakes her head slightly, wondering if it’s actually possible that Darcy’s aunt is trying to passively aggressively relocate her to Canada for some reason or if she’s just being paranoid again. It’s hard not to see it that way from where she’s standing, though.
“Look, Ricky,” she says. “I’m not really looking for employment right now.”
“If you want to ask me again after I graduate, then we’ll talk then. But I’m not interested in throwing away all the time and money I’ve invested in my graduate degree just for some hypothetically managerial position in Canada.”
“I don’t want to talk about this anymore,” she cuts him off, holding her hand up. Before he has a chance to respond again, she stalks off towards the back of the club with no real destination in mind, half blind with anger and confusion.
After Lizzie and Ricky leave the table, the rest of them disperse fairly quickly. Caroline tries to stick close to Darcy, but he slips away from her and wanders towards the back wall of the bar, watching Lizzie’s conversation with Ricky Collins as closely as he dares to. He doesn’t seem to be at any risk of being detected by Lizzie, though, because she is focused very intently on her conversation with Ricky.
And then she is very suddenly not focused on it at all. Instead, she’s walking right towards him, not looking in the least bit happy. She stops a few paces away from him, tottering haphazardly as she comes to a halt as if she’s only just realized he’s there. They stand there for several seconds, half-shadowed in the back of the bar, staring at each other silently. She almost looks like she’s about to start crying. He shuffles a few steps closer towards her, wondering if he should do or say something to comfort her.
“Do you want to get out of here?” she asks, almost too low for him to hear.
He nods without protesting, his fingers closing around his car keys in his pocket as he begins to move for the exit. She catches his arm.
“Not back to Netherfield,” she says. There’s a little more of her usual levity in her tone as she continues. “They can find us at Netherfield.”
“There’s nowhere else to go,” he says, not sure what she’s getting at and hesitant to agree to go wherever she wants. Knowing her, he feels like that’d be a good way to guarantee ending up on some children’s play structure in the middle of the night.
“Let’s get out of here,” she repeats. “Like, out of town. Let’s… I don’t know. Do you want to go to San Francisco?”
Darcy’s never been one for impulsive spur-of-the-moment decisions, but he’s got to admit that that sounds like one of the best ideas he’s ever heard.
Chapter 11: Old Friends
Lizzie makes a new buddy, tours Pemberley Digital, engages in gossipy behavior, etc.
When Lizzie wakes up the next morning (or really, a few hours later, because she can tell immediately that it is unfairly early) she doesn’t quite know where she is and there’s an unfamiliar man looming over her, which is an alarming combination.
“Hi there,” she says slowly as she sits up, getting her bearings around her. Darcy’s condominium, she remembers. Darcy’s condominium in San Francisco. Because they’d decided to drive here in the middle of the night and they’d gotten in at like three in the morning. She’d basically passed out on the couch as soon as they’d gotten here.
“Hey,” the man says, smiling at her as she sits up and runs a hand through her disheveled hair. “Darcy!” he calls out loudly, making her cringe. She’s not horribly hungover or anything, but it’s stupid early. “Did you know there’s a girl in your living room?”
Darcy sticks his head out of the bedroom almost immediately, not as concerned by the presence of this intruder as Lizzie is. “Yes,” he says, his mouth drawn into a small frown.
“Good. I just didn’t want you to be startled.”
“You didn’t have to wake her,” Darcy says. Lizzie nods involuntarily in agreement.
“Sorry,” he says to Lizzie, offering her his hand. It takes her brain a second to catch up, but she eventually reaches out and shakes it. “Fitz.”
“Lizzie,” she replies.
“Fitz is an old friend of mine,” Darcy says. Lizzie had actually known this already, having heard Darcy speak of him before, but she supposes that’s what counts as an introduction in Darcy’s book. He makes his way to the adjoining kitchen to make himself breakfast. Lizzie wonders if he’d been holding off because she was asleep, but then notices that the coffee maker is already on. Either she’d been dead to the world or Darcy’s much stealthier than his friend.
“Such old friends he lets himself into your house at… six thirty in the morning,” Lizzie groans as she checks her cell phone. She pulls herself up and wanders over the kitchen. As soon as she gets there, Darcy hands her a mug of coffee, which she takes without hesitation.
“How did you know I was here?” Darcy asks as Fitz joins them in the kitchen.
“Reynolds ratted you out. I got the email while I was on my way to work. I didn’t know you were planning on coming back to town.”
“I wasn’t,” Darcy says shortly.
“I needed to get out of an awkward social situation,” Lizzie elaborates, feeling a little less dead in the soul now that she has a hot cup of coffee.
“A flee the area level awkward social situation? Uh oh.”
“More like can’t wait until morning to flee the area level,” she says. “We only got here four hours ago.”
Fitz laughs, turning his attention back to Darcy, who is listening half-interested as he scrambles eggs. “And you’ve already scheduled business meetings? Darcy, man, you’re pathological.”
“When did you even have time to do that?” Lizzie asks, frowning.
“I couldn’t sleep,” he replies.
“You weren’t even asleep and you made your lady friend sleep on the sofa?” Fitz asks. Lizzie’s nose crinkles in distaste at the phrase lady friend but she doesn’t say anything. “That’s pretty cold.”
“I tried to get her to take the bed. She wouldn’t.”
“I’m not going to make you sleep on the sofa in your own house,” Lizzie scoffs, taking a plate of eggs from him as he offers it to her. Fitz gets a plate, too, and breakfast immediately occupies his full attention. “I’m surprised you don’t have a guest bedroom, though.”
“You assumed I’d have a mansion,” he says, glancing at her as she picks at her eggs.
“Yeah, like, bigger than Bing’s,” she teases. “At the very least.”
“Well, I don’t know about that,” Darcy says. “But I do have a house. This is my pied-a-terre.”
“Ugh,” Lizzie says, which is her usual response to his gratuitous use of the French language.
“It’s a half hour closer and you seemed eager to get to sleep.”
“No, I was,” she says, nursing her cup of coffee. “I appreciate it. You didn’t sleep at all?”
“I tried.” His brow creases as he speaks and her lips twitch into an involuntary frown. “I had a lot on my mind.” She leans towards him as he sits down across from her at the table, raising her eyebrows. When he catches the look on her face he sighs, glancing between her and Fitz momentarily. “How’s Gigi?” he asks Fitz.
“She’s… she’s fine,” he hedges, injecting a clearly false positivity into his voice.
“Does she know I’m here?”
“I haven’t talked to her today,” Fitz says. “But she doesn’t get up until ten or eleven most days, so probably not.”
“Hmm,” Darcy says. “I’ll have to call her and let her know. And my aunt, as well.”
“What?” Lizzie asks. “Why?”
“I know my aunt very well, Lizzie,” he says over the rim of his own coffee mug. “She’ll push the issue if I don’t say anything, and I wouldn’t want her to make you uncomfortable.”
“What’s Cathy up to now?” Fitz asks, his dark eyes sparkling with intrigue. Lizzie feels her cheeks flush and shakes her head, hiding behind a curtain of her still-messy hair.
“Nothing,” she insists to Fitz before turning to Darcy. “Really, don’t… don’t bring it up, it’s fine.”
He stares at her for a long moment, really fixes her in his sights. She wishes intensely that she just hadn’t told him about the whole exchange with Ricky, especially not when she wasn’t really sure her version of events was what had actually happened. He hadn’t seemed overly surprised by any of it, though, so maybe she wasn’t that far off the mark. Eventually he shrugs, his motions stiff and awkward. “If that’s what you’d prefer.”
“Doesn’t sound like nothing,” Fitz points out.
“Leave it be,” Darcy adds in an aside. Fitz edges off, though Lizzie still feels like he’s watching her a little more closely than he was before.
“Alright,” he says, not sounding convinced.
“Sooo,” Lizzie transitions as quickly as she can. “Are you going to clear some time from your busy, busy schedule to show me around?”
“I’m in meetings until lunch,” Darcy replies. “I’ll have my assistant show you around.”
“Seriously?” she whines, stabbing a hapless piece of scrambled egg.
“Reynolds is a better tour guide than I am,” Darcy says.
“But who will tell me about this region’s local history?”
He looks up at her and a response seems to die on his tongue. He makes that face he makes when he recognizes that she’s teasing him, which is only roughly half the time. She chuckles into her coffee mug as he speaks. “We have after lunch for that,” he says.
“Alright,” she sighs. “Abandon me with a stranger for the day. That’s fine.”
“Cold,” Fitz reiterates.
“See? Fitz agrees with me.”
Darcy looks up at her, clearly irritated. He sighs through his nose. “I’ve been away for too long. I have a lot to do,” he says by way of apology. She shrugs.
“I’ll show you around,” Fitz offers.
“Really?” Lizzie asks.
“Yeah,” Fitz says. “It’s my day off and my boyfriend’s out of town until tomorrow, so it’s that or watching Netflix with my dogs.”
“I don’t know. That sounds like a pretty good day.”
“Well, you seem cool, so I’m going to tentatively say you’ll be better company than my dogs.”
“High praise,” Darcy mutters, engrossed in whatever he’s reading on his phone.
“That sounds like fun,” Lizzie says, ignoring him. “I appreciate it.”
“Anything for my new friend,” Fitz says, taking a pause. “What’s your last name?”
“Bennet?” Lizzie says, perplexed.
“Lizzie B!” Fitz exclaims. “Anything for my new friend, Lizzie B.”
Off her undoubtedly bewildered look, Darcy says “He does that. You’ll get used to it.”
“It’s a good name,” Fitz informs her.
“Uh, thanks,” she says.
“So,” Fitz says, pushing his plate away from him as he finishes eating. “Are you ready to get going?”
Pemberley Digital is totally awesome. This assessment of Lizzie’s is probably highlighted by the fact that she gets the super-special behind-the-scenes tour of the company. She and Fitz only get to the software department before she gets distracted by a programmer on break who explains and demonstrates one of their app’s auto-edit feature to her. She doesn’t understand the technical aspects of it beyond her very cursory knowledge of computer programming (she took one class in undergrad and seems to remember nothing from it). But besides a few hiccups, it’s more or less functional and actually does a pretty good job of cutting videos together. Lizzie doesn’t know if she’d trust it over Charlotte in terms of quality editing, but she does reflect that it would probably listen to her if she told it to cut something out.
After a few hours of exploring the campus, Lizzie makes Fitz take her to a coffee shop in the cafeteria for her second cup of coffee that morning.
“I deserve it,” Lizzie tells him as they wait in line. “For getting up before seven and not going straight back to sleep.”
“You’re a champ,” he laughs.
“I am,” she says. “Thank you for recognizing that.” They reach the front of the line and she orders. The baristas are super speedy and get her her drink in a minute and a half flat. She adds it to her list of impressive things about Pemberley Digital.
“So you’re having a good time, right?” he asks as they find a place to sit. “You’re not bored by all that technobabble?”
“No, that was really interesting,” Lizzie says. “This place is amazing. Darcy’s told me a lot about it, but it’s somehow even better than he made it out to be.”
“He’s told you a lot about it? Like you got him to say more than three sentences in a row, or...?”
“Sometimes I can even get a handful of sentences,” she says.
“Now that’s impressive,” Fitz says. Lizzie laughs, feeling a little bad for teasing Darcy behind his back, but it’s so good natured that she can’t feel too bad about it. Plus, it makes her feel like part of the inner circle, or something – being here, in Darcy’s home, joking with his old friends. It’s nice.
“It’s not that hard,” Lizzie says. “If you can get him talking about the right things. The company is one… and Gigi, and you.” She gestures to him as she says it.
“He talks about me?”
“Uh, yeah, a lot,” Lizzie says, reflecting on the conversations they’ve had in the last couple of months. “Kind of feels like a long time coming, finally meeting you.”
“He’s mentioned you a few times,” Fitz says, his demeanor a little subdued. “I haven’t really talked to him much in the last few months, though, and you two only met…”
“In April,” she says. “At Ellen’s wedding – Ellen Gibson. Her husband’s…”
“Stuart,” Fitz replies. “I know him. Good dude.” She begins to respond, but is cut short by his phone buzzing. He checks it and frowns. “Well, Gigi’s up,” he comments.
“Is that a bad thing?” Lizzie asks.
“Gigi’s…” Fitz sighs, takes a second to respond to the text message, and then continues. “I don’t want to say she’s difficult, because she’s a really good kid. She’s just been having a rough time of things lately.”
“I know,” Lizzie responds automatically, regretting the words as soon as they leave her mouth. Fitz gives her a look and she bites her tongue a little too late. She lowers her voice. “Darcy and I ran into George Wickham at a bar a few months ago,” she explains. Fitz’s eyebrows shoot up in alarm. “It was kind of an unavoidable discussion.”
“What happened?” Fitz asks.
“Nothing, nothing,” she says. “He was a skeezeball, Darcy left. It was even less dramatic than I’m making it sound.”
“Huh,” Fitz says. “He didn’t mention it.”
“It was like two seconds,” Lizzie says weakly.
“Yeah,” Fitz says. “Anyway, Gigi. They had a big fight,” he says, periodically checking that nobody’s nearby. Lizzie leans forward in her seat, eager for an outside perspective on this story. “They really got into it. If you’d met them, you know, six months ago, you’d never would have guessed this, but they used to fight like that all the time, when she was younger.”
“After…” Lizzie begins to say. He understands and nods and she nods too, not finishing the sentence.
“But they both did a lot of growing up, after that. And after a while they were closer than ever and they haven’t really fought at all since then. Not like this. It’s been really bad.”
“I know it’s been hard on him,” she says. “Thinking she’s angry at him.”
“Well, she is angry,” Fitz points out. “Maybe not at him, exactly, but she she’s really angry. It’s been hard on her too, him being away.”
Lizzie feels inexplicably guilty about that, and she shifts in her seat uncomfortably.
“Hopefully they’ll work it out,” she says into her coffee cup. Fitz nods in response before shaking his reverie off.
“You ready to get going again, Lizzie B?” he asks with a smile. “We’ve still got a lot of ground to cover. You can’t get tire out on me now.”
“No way,” she responds, standing up. “I’m just getting started.”
Darcy finishes up with his meetings a little early, and after texting Fitz and Lizzie, retreats to the lobby to wait for them. Fitz is otherwise engaged for lunch, meaning that Lizzie will be coming to lunch with him and Gigi. He had hem and hawed a little over how to tell Gigi this, but ultimately she’d seemed to be fine with the fact he was bringing a friend along. He glances down at his phone, where the text from her is still at the top of the display. No, it’s fine, she’d insisted. I’ve been wondering about your new friends. Because they haven’t been talking, recently, Gigi doesn’t really know much of what has been going on his life.
He looks up as the elevator dings and sees Lizzie and Fitz exit. They pause a couple paces out of the elevator and Lizzie play-punches him in the shoulder, apparently receiving criticism on her technique, though they’re too far away for him to hear exactly what they’re saying.
After a few words from Fitz and a brief demonstration on how to properly make a fist, she leans back and punches him in the shoulder again, full force this time. He winces and laughs and high fives her weakly as they part ways.
As soon as she catches sight of him, she picks up her pace to join him. “Hey,” she says as he stands.
“Did Fitz do something in particular to earn your ire?” he asks. She laughs.
“No, no,” she says. “It’s a long story.”
“A kind of you had to be there story,” she continues.
“We have a lot of inside jokes now,” she says. At this point it becomes clear to him that she’s winding him up.
“Is that so?” he asks.
“Yeah,” she says. “A lot of them are about you. We had lots to talk about.” He narrows his eyes, unable to stop himself from being subconsciously wary. She laughs again and pulls her phone out of her pocket to check it. “Oops,” she says after a second. “Jane finally realized we’re missing. Took her long enough.”
“It’s only been…” he checks his watch. “Ten hours. All told, that’s fairly prompt.”
“Not if we’d been kidnapped,” she points out. “If we’d been kidnapped we could’ve been dead by now. Or halfway to Siberia.”
“Not quite halfway,” he corrects. She rolls her eyes as she taps out a response.
“When are we going to be back?”
“Whenever you want,” he replies.
“Not helpful. I’ll say Friday. Sound good?”
“As I just said…”
“I know what you just said,” she interrupts. “Friday then. And no more work distractions, right?”
“I have a meeting with Mrs. Reynolds tomorrow,” he says. She glares at him and he wonders if he possibly suggested to her at one point that he wouldn’t be working while they were here and forgot about it. “It’s urgent.”
“How urgent can a meeting with your assistant be?”
“She’s the CFO,” Darcy says.
“I thought Reynolds was your assistant.”
“No, Mr. Reynolds is my assistant. Mrs. Reynolds is the CFO. They’re old family friends.”
“You have a lot of those,” Lizzie comments.
“Yes,” he says. “My parents were… astonishingly good people.”
They walk for a little while longer and she doesn’t say anything. In the few months they’ve known each other, Lizzie seems to have become rather adept at differentiating between the pauses he takes when he’s considering a thought and when he’s done talking.
“Wherever they went, they seemed to make lifelong friends. They weren’t just well-connected, they’d built a community for themselves. All the success Pemberley’s had since the rebranding, that’s all credit to them and their colleagues.” They walk in silence for another few seconds. “It’s a difficult thing to live up to,” he concludes.
“You’re doing a good job,” she says immediately. He glances at her, but she’s looking at her feet.
“Maybe so,” he says. “Regardless, I don’t have that natural aptitude for making friends.”
“You made friends with me at that wedding,” she offers, looking up at him. When he looks at her she pouts a little, pushing her lower lip out, her eyebrows canted pathetically. He looks away, pursing his lips.
“Through your efforts alone,” he says. He hears her laugh besides him but doesn’t look at her again. “I would’ve just as soon kept to myself.”
“Yeah, but Bing and Jane still would’ve hit it off. We’d have seen each other around. I would’ve gotten to you eventually.”
“I’m sure,” he says, the corners of his mouth tugging into a smile. She nudges him in the ribs with her elbow.
“See? You’re fine. You have lots of really great friends.”
“Thank you,” he says, looking down at her again. She smiles – it’s not a broad smile, and it lasts only a second or two, but there’s something shy and sweet about it. Not two words he’d usually associate with her.
“So,” she says, craning her neck to look at the tall buildings around them. “What are your lunch plans?”
“Gigi has a reservation at her favorite restaurant,” he tells her.
“That’s fine.” Lizzie says, swinging her arms freely at her sides. “I’m sure I can find something to do.” The fact that she has assumed she’s not invited makes him briefly self-conscious.
“She’s expecting you,” he says. Lizzie looks at him, slightly startled.
“Oh, uh,” she says.
“If you’d rather not…”
“No, I’d like to meet her, I just didn’t think…”
“It’s fine,” he says.
“No, it’s fine,” she says at the same time. They stop walking at the entrance to the parking garage and pause to look at each other. After a second she laughs and he can’t help but chuckle as well. “Really, though.”
“I’d like it if you were there,” he says candidly.
“Then definitely. Are you driving?”
“It’s only a few blocks away,” he says. “If you don’t mind walking.”
“I don’t mind that at all.”
Chapter 12: Sightseeing
Lunches, tourism, cupcakes, etc.
Lizzie was expecting Gigi’s favorite restaurant to be the upscale, swanky sort of place. Instead, it’s a moderately priced sushi boat shop jam-packed full of college students. Gigi meets them outside and Lizzie spots her immediately. It’d be hard not to recognize her as Darcy’s sister, since they have the same dark hair and sharp cheekbones and eye-roll inducing hipster sense of style. Gigi’s long hair is piled up on top of her head in a messy bun; she wears an oversized knit sweater, pashmina scarf, and horn-rimmed glasses identical to the ones Darcy owns.
She raises a delicate eyebrow in their direction as they approach, and instead of actually offering her brother a greeting, she gives Lizzie the once-over.
“You didn’t say it was a girl friend,” she says after a second, drawing the stress on that word out.
“I called her Lizzie,” Darcy mutters, hands in his pockets. “Did you think it was a man named Lizzie?”
“You never know,” Gigi shrugs. This is everything in the way of introductions and greetings. After that, Darcy ushers them into the restaurant and they sit down to eat. Prolonged awkward silences are apparently a family trait; besides pointing out that Lizzie knows her way around a sushi menu, Gigi says nearly nothing.
After they put their orders in, they sit at the table, waiting for their food to arrive, and still the Darcy siblings do not speak to one another. Occasionally one of them will say a word or two to her, and it’s not like they’re ignoring each other, but it’s strange and awkward. Lizzie feels a little bad for intruding and checks her phone reflexively, a bad habit she’s picked up from Darcy.
“Have you heard back from Jane?” Darcy asks as she pokes at the screen. She looks up, humming.
“Yeah,” she says after she checks her texts. “I said we’d back Friday, she said and I quote: Yay! We’ll see you then! Smiley face! J and B.” She sets her phone down on the table, glancing sidelong at Gigi. “Which is pretty cute, I think,” she says.
“It seems unlike Jane and Bing to be so eager to be rid of us,” Darcy says. Gigi’s ears perk up at this, which Lizzie notices immediately.
“I can’t imagine why they’d want their privacy,” she jests. And yup, Gigi’s definitely intrigued. Darcy seems slightly bemused and maybe mildly off-put by the suggestive joke and says nothing, so Lizzie lets the conversation lull for a second. It doesn’t take long for Gigi to take the bait.
“Who’s Jane?” She addresses Lizzie directly when she asks the question, as usual.
“Jane’s my sister,” Lizzie says. “And also pretty much my best friend.” Gigi glances away from her and picks at her edamame a little too aggressively. “We met Bing and your brother at a wedding in April.”
“Stuart’s wedding,” Darcy clarifies. Gigi glances up at him.
“And now we’re staying at Netherfield,” Lizzie says.
“Oh,” Gigi says, her brow crinkling. “I thought you were local, though.”
“We are. But a wacky set of circumstances has left us temporarily homeless.”
“You know,” Lizzie says, pushing her chair out from the table. “I actually have to go the bathroom, but I’m sure your brother can tell you all about it.” Before either of them has any time to complain about this arrangement, she’s stood up and excused herself from the table. She retreats to the bathroom quickly and stays there longer than is strictly necessary.
When she comes back out, their food is on the table, and the two of them aren’t talking or eating. Lizzie momentarily worries that her clever schemes have all been for naught. But when she arrives at the table and sits down again, Gigi is a little brighter and more effusive.
“Finally,” she says, tearing into her meal. “William was making me wait for you to get back before I ate.”
“It’s polite,” Darcy reminds her.
“Uh huh,” she says, too preoccupied with her nagiri to argue with him. Lizzie smiles and apologizes, and most of that awkward tension and silence dissipates for the rest of the meal.
After lunch, Darcy mentions that they’re going to be sightseeing for the rest of the afternoon. Gigi seems to begin to invite herself along, and then suddenly thinks better of it and excuses herself abruptly, skipping off down the street with her brightly colored scarf flapping behind her as she goes.
Lizzie suggests several appropriately tourist-y activities, and each of them makes Darcy cast her a look somewhere between amused and snobbish, which makes her blush every time. They finally compromise on riding the cable cars down to Ghiradelli square.
The sun comes out while they’re riding the cable car and Lizzie leans her head back to bask. Darcy has his arm up behind her shoulder and her head bumps his forearm as she lolls it back. They sit like that silently for a second before Darcy clears his throat. Lizzie opens her eyes and lifts her head to look at him.
“I wanted to thank you,” he says.
“I didn’t do anything.” She shrugs nonchalantly. He narrows his eyes, glancing upward in thought, and takes a moment for responding.
“Even so,” he says.
“What for?” she asks, humoring him.
“Parts of this year have been strange and unpleasant,” he says, tapping his fingers against the back of the seat as he speaks. She shifts in place. “And I wanted to thank you for helping to mitigate that.”
“Hey,” she says. “If I can make your year more pleasant I’m happy to do it. No thanks owed.”
“Usually, I keep my private business private,” he says. “I didn’t meant to trouble you with problems that aren’t yours.” He looks down at her and she quirks an eyebrow at him. “And that you didn’t ask to be involved with.”
“The way I remember it I was being pretty nosy,” Lizzie points out. He nods sharply, but doesn’t say anything. “Really, don’t worry about it. That’s what friends are for. And you don’t have to thank me for being friends with you. Alright?”
“Alright,” he says.
The sun has retreated behind a cluster of clouds, but Lizzie leans her head back again away as the cable car runs down a hill.
Lizzie accosts him as soon as he’s out of his Wednesday morning meeting. She must’ve been waiting for him in the hallway outside his office, because she sidles up next to him when he’s literally a few steps out of the door. Her appearance might be sudden, but it’s far from unwelcome.
“Hey,” she says. “You’re getting lunch with Fitz and Gigi, right?”
“I actually have something else I’ve gotta do,” she says, gesturing vaguely towards the elevator as they walk by it. “So I’m going to pass on that.”
He glances at her, wondering what business she could possibly have in San Francisco, but he doesn’t ask. He also doesn’t complain or protest, because he knows better than to try to stifle Lizzie’s independence.
“Alright,” he says. “Call me if you need anything.”
“Cool,” she says, starting to break stride with him. She remembers something though and hurries to catch up. “Oh, actually…”
He stops to talk to her and she stops too, standing toe-to-toe with him. It puts them at an awkward angle because she’s so much shorter than he is.
“I need to pick something up from your condo, I forgot…” she trails off suspiciously, but doesn’t finish her sentence. He considers her for a second before taking his keys out and pulling the condo key off the ring. She takes it from him and smiles as she pockets it.
“Okay…” she says, waving goodbye awkwardly. “See you later.”
She scurries over to the elevator, waving goodbye once more when he doesn’t break eye contact with her. He waves back as she disappears into the elevator.
Whatever she’s up to… well, he tries not to be suspicious.
Because Lizzie is going to be otherwise occupied until the mid-afternoon, Darcy takes the opportunity to check in with some of the executives. Since he’s tied up in meetings, that means lunch with Fitz and Gigi gets relocated from another one of Gigi’s favorite places to the Pemberley cafeteria.
“This is silly,” she points out as they wait through the check-out line in the cafeteria. “I haven’t seen you in months and you’re only here for a few days and we’re eating cafeteria food for lunch.”
“Don’t say it like that,” Fitz says. “It’s gourmet cafeteria food.”
“Right,” Gigi laughs. “Sorry.”
“It’s probably better than whatever hole-in-the-wall you were going to take us to,” Darcy points out. Gigi huffs.
“It’s not a hole-in-the-wall,” she says. “It’s a five star restaurant.”
“Having five stars on Yelp doesn’t count.”
“Calm down, everyone,” Fitz suggests as they pay. It’s a little early for lunch, so the cafeteria is mostly vacant, and they find a place to sit easily. “Aren’t we really here for the company?”
“That’s true,” Gigi agrees as she picks at her salad. “Speaking of which, where’s Lizzie?”
“Busy,” Darcy says.
“Convenient,” Fitz says.
“Because now we can gossip,” Gigi enthuses.
“What’s the consensus?” Fitz asks her.
“I like her,” Gigi says.
“So do I,” Fitz agrees. That’s not surprising. Darcy can’t imagine anyone not liking her, really.
“I think William likes her too,” Gigi says.
“But do you like her or do you like her like her?” Fitz asks. They both fix him with curious stares, Gigi’s chin propped up on her elbow, Fitz leaning forward in interest. Darcy looks down at his food.
“This is childish,” he says. “And I’m not going to participate in it.”
“Boo,” Fitz jeers.
“But really,” Gigi interrupts, nudging him with her elbow. “We’re not teasing, we’re just curious. She seems really awesome, and I just kind of assumed…”
“Lizzie,” Darcy begins, picking his words carefully. Charlotte’s words to him at that first dinner with Ricky Collins are still fresh in his mind, and he tries to get the sentiment out in the least hackneyed phrasing possible. “Lizzie’s not interested.”
Gigi narrows her eyes at him. “How do you know?” she pushes, terse but supportive, and he really doesn’t need that right now. Not about this.
“She’s made herself perfectly clear.”
“Did she actually like, say it in words?” Gigi asks.
“Not so much as…”
“Dude,” Fitz interrupts solemnly.
“Tell us everything,” Gigi insists. He can tell she’s in one of her moods, so he just sets his fork down, braces himself, and runs through the basics of it. He leaves out the parts about Lizzie’s videos, though, and the part with Wickham, and a few other things.
Gigi takes a second to process everything. “It kind of sounds like your evidence for why she doesn’t want to kiss you is that she kissed you once,” she points out. Darcy sighs through his nose.
“I’d really rather not discuss this any further,” he says.
“I know you don’t want to,” Gigi says. “I’m doing this for your own good, William.”
“And Gigi has a point,” Fitz says. Darcy shakes his head. “It’s just not very compelling evidence.”
“Look, all I’m saying is maybe you should rethink some things,” Gigi suggests.
Darcy tries not to take her suggestion under consideration. He’s been trying very hard to rethink nothing, and this lunchtime conversation could see all that effort undone.
Lizzie meets up with him later in the afternoon and they do some more sightseeing. She’s not interested so much in the activities the city has to offer so much as she’s fascinated by merely wandering around, walking block after block and peering into shops and restaurants through the windows. By the time they’re ready to turn in for the day Darcy swears they’ve walk across half the city.
As they enter the condominium, she catches him by the shoulder.
“Hold on,” she says, pushing past him. “Stay here a second. I have a surprise for you.”
“A… surprise?” he asks.
“Yeah,” she says, laughing as she catches the look on his face. “God, you look so scared. Calm down.” He tries to school the expression on his face as she makes her way into his kitchen and opens his fridge, leaning over as she looks for something. “And close your eyes,” she adds. He obliges. She rustles around his kitchen for a minute before adding “Do you have any matches?”
“You’re making me nervous again,” he says. He hears her laugh, hears her continue to rustle around. “Top drawer right of the sink,” he says after a second.
“Thanks,” she says, and she rustles a little more. “Okay, open your eyes,” she finally says.
She’s standing in front of him, her face illuminated in the dark of the living room by a single candle. It’s one of the cheap colorful birthday ones, and she stuck it into a cupcake. She offers it to him. “Happy early birthday,” she says.
As he takes it from her, he wonders how she even knew when his birthday was in the first place. It wasn’t information he shared readily. “Fitz?” he guesses after a second.
“Bing actually ratted you out weeks ago,” she says, smirking. He blows the candle out. She retreats to the kitchen for a second and fetches a second cupcake and forks and they sit on the sofa-slash-makeshift-bed as they eat.
“Thank you,” he says. She nods, reaching across him to set her plate down. She leans close enough to him that he can smell her hair.
“I also…” she says, picking her bag up off the floor. “I didn’t have time to wrap this,” she apologizes.
He shrugs and sets his plate down as well, resting his hands on his thighs as she rustles around, looking for whatever it is she’s looking for.
From her bag, she produces a small, used paperback copy of Moby-Dick. “I remember you mentioned a few weeks ago that you haven’t ever read it,” she says.
“I don’t have much time for reading,” he says.
“I know. But it’s smaller than those fancy collectors’ editions, so it’s portable. And I think you’d like it.”
“Sure,” she says. “It’s about revenge and loyalty and… boats.”
He laughs. “Boats,” he repeats.
“I know you like boats,” she argues. “Don’t try to deny it. You’re like a little kid with trains…” Her face brightens as she gesticulates the next part of this sentence: “Or my dad with trains.”
“Thank you,” he says, holding the book on his lap.
“I haven’t even told you the story yet,” she says.
“I don’t think you should spoil it.”
“Not the plot of the novel.” She laughs, exasperated. “I meant why I got it for you.”
“Because you want me to read it, I assume.”
“That’s part of it,” she agrees. “And then we will finally have something to talk about that isn’t Shakespeare.”
“I don’t understand your aversion to Shakespeare,” he mutters.
“I don’t hate him or anything,” Lizzie says, rolling her eyes. “I just don’t think he’s the be all end all of great literature…” She shakes her head, as if to focus herself. “Look, anyway, the book.”
“I was at this used book store, and they had a display of old books that had inscriptions on the inside cover.” She motions to the book as she speaks and he opens it. On the inside cover is a poem, written in German in a neat, ornate hand. “It’s one of my favorite poems,” she explains.
“I didn’t know you speak German.”
“I don’t,” she says, and when he glances over at her she’s blushing. “I just like that poem. I have it memorized.”
“What’s it say?” he asks. She falters.
“I don’t know the translation, exactly,” she says. “But the first line’s something like… again and again, however we know the landscape of love.” She smiles. “Anyway, I don’t know why whoever wrote it there wrote it there or why they wrote it in this book, I just thought it was cool.”
“It is,” he agrees, but she wrinkles her nose.
“I actually have a better present for you,” she says.
“Yeah,” she says. “Bing’s planning on throwing you a party this Sunday.”
“And your present is that you’ve somehow talked him out of it,” he guesses halfheartedly.
“No such luck,” she says. “My present is that I’m warning you ahead of time. You have to act surprised.”
“I’ll do my best,” he says.
Lizzie mentions it’s late and they stand up and she helps him move the dishes to the kitchen even though there are only two plates and two forks. They hover by the kitchen table after they’re done.
“Hey,” Lizzie says, motioning to the clock. “It’s actually your birthday now. Happy actual birthday.”
“Thank you,” he says again, not really knowing how else to respond to that sentiment, even when it’s coming from Lizzie. Part of the reason he doesn’t publicize his birthday. Less awkward social interactions.
“Well,” she rocks on her feet. “Night.”
“Goodnight,” he says. Before he has a chance to move she steps forward and wraps her arms around his neck in a hug, her weight coming partially off her feet as she does it. He wraps his arm around her waist reflexively to support her. After she’s steady, he relaxes, and she does too, dropping back down to her feet, her arms still around his neck.
“I hope this year’s better for you,” she says very quietly. His breath catches in his throat and he has the wild, errant realization that just because you willfully ignore something doesn’t mean it’s not happening.
“I think it will be,” he finally murmurs in response, his face still very close to hers. He forgets for a second and then remembers and drops his hand away from the small of her back and then her hands slide down away from his shoulders to cross over her chest. She looks a little slack-jawed, a little stunned, and he remembers more acutely.
After a second of deafening silence, he shakes his head and says goodnight again and wastes no time in retreating to his room.
Chapter 13: Evaluation
Lizzie's having an awkward day.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
For a long time after Darcy goes to sleep, Lizzie lays awake on his sofa, staring at the ceiling through the darkness. She listens hard for any sound that might indicate he’s still awake, but then reprimands herself for being foolish. It’s not like he’s going to be pacing his room or anything and even if he were the door is closed and she probably wouldn’t be able to hear him anyway.
Restless, she turns onto her side, staring at the clock on the cable box instead of the ceiling. She’s spent a dangerously long time ruminating on something that wasn’t that big of a deal in the first place, so she has to get a few things straight with herself.
“He wasn’t going to kiss you,” she says to herself. She whispers it, more like, because even though the soundproof door thing works both ways she’s not going to take any risks here.
She repeats it to herself a few times because it’s worth repeating, but every time she speaks in a quieter register until she’s basically just mouthing the words.
There are still some things she can’t get out of her head, though.
She can’t stop thinking about how loud the rush of her own blood had been in her ears in that moment before she’d decided to hug him. She can’t stop thinking about how after a second of stillness, his fingers had dug slightly into the small of her back. She can’t stop thinking about how he’d been staring – really, intensely, indisputably staring – at her lips when she’d spoken.
She’s losing sleep over it.
And she doubts he is, honestly, given the way he’d just up and left like nothing had happened. At least, she thinks, he had gone quickly enough that he hadn’t had time to again offer her his bed instead of the sofa.
Groaning, Lizzie turns onto her stomach, pressing her warm cheeks against the cool fabric of the pillowcase. Not a good train of thought.
With nothing to distract her from it or from fixating on those things she can’t forget, though, she doubts she’ll get much rest.
The next morning, Lizzie redoubles her efforts to make her conversations with Darcy less awkward. She thinks she must have succeeded in this, because the morning routine is no more awkward than it was the day before. She supposes this might also be because nothing actually happened, because she’s been making a mountain out of a molehill – but really, either’s fine.
It’s not until Darcy has turned her loose on the Pemberley Digital offices for the morning (he has meetings – on his birthday, which she’s sure Fitz will have words with him about) that she realizes that it’s Thursday and she’s supposed to be uploading a video in an hour.
Once she’s out of panic mode and into productive mode, she gets a couple pretty good minutes of footage captured on her phone. The quality isn’t great, but it’ll do, given the circumstances. She then remembers that she can’t exactly edit a video on her phone and wanders haphazardly in a familiar direction.
She ends up in the Domino offices, at the desk of the cute programmer who demonstrated the auto-editing feature for her the other day. His name is Andrew, and he apparently remembers her, because he greets her with a wide grin and doesn’t seem too weirded out when she explains her need for an emergency editor.
“I think I can do something to help you out,” he says, taking her phone from her.
“Great,” she says, leaning against his desk as he works. “Because I have to have that uploaded in like half an hour.”
“The internet is way fast here, we’ll get it up in time,” Andrew promises. “But, uh, don’t mention it.”
“Can do,” Lizzie says, giving a thumbs up.
“If anyone asks, this was all Final Cut Pro.”
“And it took more than two minutes for me to do it,” he says, indicating the almost-done progress bar on the screen.
“Oh, of course.”
“Not too long, though. I don’t want anyone thinking I’m incompetent.”
She laughs and shakes her head as the video finishes. The final cut that Domino puts together is like a minute and twenty seconds long, which is pretty abysmal, but there’s nothing she can really do about that now. She uses Andrew’s computer to upload the video to youtube and hangs out by his desk as it processes. By the time it’s finished, he’s given a very entertaining and critical review of the Battleship movie.
“You know a lot about movies?” she asks.
“Yeah. I’m kind an aficionado, I guess.”
“You sound like one of my mass comm professors from undergrad,” she says. “He spent like eighty percent of his class talking about how little integrity Hollywood has these days and how entertainment films are inherently evil.”
“Oh, so, you study this professionally,” Andrew says. “You’re an expert. I’m just a fanboy. Now I feel stupid.”
“Don’t feel stupid,” Lizzie says. “You make more sense than half the people who make their living critiquing movies.”
“Well maybe I just have a natural talent for it.”
“Seems like,” she agrees with a smile, checking that the youtube video is live before giving Andrew his desk chair back.
“We should go see a movie sometime,” he suggests, pretty slickly. “A good one, though, none of that Battleship crap.”
Lizzie takes a moment to respond because it feels like nobody’s asked her out in years and it caught her a little off-guard.
“I’d like to…” she begins, shifting her weight. “But I don’t actually live around here, and I’m going home tomorrow.”
“I’m free tonight,” he says.
“I have a dinner thing,” she says.
“I’m free right now,” he continues. “We could do brunch instead, I’m not picky.”
And because she’s been left to her own devices until noon, she doesn’t have an excuse to say no to that, which forces her to confront the crux of the issue. And that’s that she doesn’t want to.
Not in the way she doesn’t want to go on the dates her mother sets her up on, and not in the way she doesn’t want to go on dates with guys she thinks are boring or dull, because Andrew’s funny and she’s been enjoying hanging out with him for the last fifteen minutes. She just doesn’t want to go out with him.
“Sorry,” she says, her face twisting into an apologetic smile. “I have to go.”
And even though it was an awkward and abrupt exit from the conversation, she really doesn’t care, because this is a talk-to-Charlotte-immediately kind of situation.
After she’s retreated to the rooftop garden area, she calls Charlotte. Charlotte picks up on the fifth ring.
“Well hey,” Charlotte says, sounding annoyed in that good-natured way that Charlotte gets annoyed with her.
“Charlotte, I have a problem,” she says.
She checks that nobody else is on the roof before she speaks, and lowers her voice anyway, because apparently whispering her feelings dramatically is something she does now. “So, I might like Darcy.”
Charlotte doesn’t respond for a long beat, and then: “Oh, sorry, was that all?”
“Yes,” Lizzie hisses.
“I was expecting there to be a part two to the problem.”
“This isn’t enough of a problem?”
“Well,” Charlotte says. “No. It’s not really a call-me-during-work problem.”
“It’s a problem,” Lizzie snaps.
“I don’t know what you want me to say?”
“You could maybe act a little surprised, at least,” Lizzie grumbles.
“Lizzie,” Charlotte says through a sigh. “I want you to know that I’m not being hyperbolic in the slightest when I say that that was the least surprising thing you’ve told me this year.”
Lizzie doesn’t say anything.
“I’ve been telling you for like, months now, it’s really obvious you’re both into each other. If you don’t believe me, call Jane. We talk about it all the time.”
“I’m not… that obvious,” Lizzie says.
“I’m actually pretty sure Dr. Gardiner knows too,” Charlotte says after a second.
“She’s never met him.” Lizzie runs a hand through her hair, feeling exasperated and angry. She tries to channel that energy away from Charlotte, because it’s not really Charlotte’s fault. “And it can’t be that obvious, because for one, I just figured it out last night, and for two, I’m pretty sure you’re wrong about Darcy and…”
“Lizzie,” Charlotte interrupts sternly.
“What?” Lizzie asks, leaning back against a large decorative planter and sliding into a sitting position. The planter has a shrub or tree that looks kind of like a palm tree in it, and the brightly colored green leaves look out of place against the dreary San Francisco sky.
“I don’t want to say you don’t know what you’re talking about, but you did just admit that it took you several months longer than it took me to figure out what you’re feeling, so I just want to suggest that you might be the one who’s wrong about Darcy.” Lizzie doesn’t reply. “Just think about it, okay? I have to get back to work.”
“Bye,” she mumbles.
Charlotte hangs up, and Lizzie sets her phone down on the ground next to her, burying her face in her arms. She considers calling Jane, but discards that idea since it was Charlotte’s suggestion. She considers calling Lydia, too, but she’s still at their uncle’s and is missing a month and a half of backstory that Lizzie doesn’t want to relate again right now. So instead of calling anyone, she just sits on the rooftop by herself until she has to find her way down to lunch.
Short chapter, but I had it done and I wanted to post it now since the next update might take me awhile! For everyone that doesn't know, I'm producing a webseries right now, and we're going to be filming for the next two weeks, so I'll be tied up in producer-ly duties and I won't have time to update. Thanks everyone & I'll be back soon <3
Chapter 14: Surprises
Back to Netherfield! Guess who's there. Again.
On the drive back to Sonoma, Lizzie is uncharacteristically quiet. Darcy’s not really sure what to do with that, because even after months of fostering successful conversation with her, he’s still never sure how to start one or keep it going. Once Lizzie shuts down there’s not much he can do.
Still, the drive back feels about five times as long as it actually is and the longer they go without talking the slower time seems to go. He glances over at her, where she’s sitting half-slumped in the passenger seat, picking at her fingernails.
“So,” Darcy says. She looks up at him, startled or maybe just mildly surprised.
After a couple beats of awkward silence, he wishes he’d come up with a conversation point before saying anything. Lizzie just stares at him, and even though he has his eyes on the road he can feel her gaze.
“What did you think of the company?” he finally settles on. She relaxes a little, dropping her hands to her lap.
“I think it’s awesome,” she says, smiling wanly. “But you already knew that, which I believe means you are fishing for compliments, sir.”
“I wasn’t,” he says. “But I’ll accept them if you have any.”
“Plenty. I don’t know, though, it’s just great.” She taps her fingers against the armrest. “Like, it’s a great environment for fostering creativity. People who love what they do always come up with the best ideas. It’s like Google-level innovation.”
“It does foster innovation,” he agrees.
“Which is a good thing, and yet you sound like someone just stepped on a kitten.”
“Innovation doesn’t mean a lot without focus,” Darcy says. “A lot of our teams are working on cutting-edge things, but there’s more than a little directionlessness.”
“It’s been, what, six years since you took over?” she asks. He nods. “That’s not long to rebrand a company. You’ll figure it out eventually.”
“Until then, we have… Google-level innovation without the resources to back it up, which doesn’t do anyone good.”
“I think it probably does your employees’ emotional health some good.”
“Even so,” he says. “It wouldn’t hurt to reexamine the operational plan.”
“You have ideas, I take it?”
“I was thinking it might be beneficial to return to our roots as a production company.”
“Ah,” she says, leaning her head back. “And you’re consulting me on this because production is my field of expertise.” He shrugs halfheartedly. “You know I’m not actually a producer, right? I have no background in production.”
“That is patently untrue,” he says.
“I post videos to Youtube, dude.” Lizzie gestures in a wide shrug. “Anyone can do it.”
“Millions of people do, and don’t achieve a fraction of what you have done.”
“Just to be clear, I wasn’t fishing for compliments there.”
“I don’t think it’s unusual that I might want to consult you on how to create successful web content.”
“Okay,” Lizzie says.
“Especially in a potentially professional capacity, since you—”
“I swear to God, if you try to offer me a job right now—”
“I wasn’t,” he assures her. “I was just going to say you have a highly desirable demographic. I’m surprised you haven’t been approached already.”
“How do you know I haven’t?” she asks, her chin jutted upwards in an attempt to size him up.
“Yeah, but I’ve been ignoring it for the most part. I’m not vlogging for the money, and I don’t know what the rules are with what qualifies for senior theses exactly, so I’d have to talk to Dr. Gardiner first anyways.”
“And me, if you want.”
“I would definitely run it past you.”
“Good,” he says. “You deserve to be successful.”
“Damn straight,” Lizzie says. “I’m going to make my fortune by having a crazy family and a lot of opinions. Living the dream, basically.”
She laughs, and the conversation peters out. After a moment of more comfortable silence, he speaks again.
“And you’re sure you don’t want a job?”
“Shut up,” she laughs before launching into some surprisingly salient argument about how she’d fix reality television that lasts them the rest of the drive home.
Lizzie had had two objectives in hyping up Bing’s surprise birthday party to Darcy. For one, surprises – never really the kind of thing that went well with Darcy. For two, she’d purposefully made it sound like it was going to be a much bigger party than it had ever been planned to be, which she hoped would make it a pleasant surprise when the actual event rolled around.
And for her part, it should have been super nice – dinner with just Bing, Caroline, Jane, and them.
And Ricky Collins.
Lizzie is not even thirty percent sure how Ricky got into Netherfield uninvited, but he ends up with a place setting at the dinner table, prattling on about viral marketing and reality TV (partially her own fault for bringing the topic up in the first place, but she refuses to take full responsibility for Ricky’s inanity).
Once they’ve moved to the lounge to chat and eat dessert, the reality TV conversation becomes heated enough that Darcy can drag Lizzie away from the main group to hover in the alcove opposite the fireplace. His fingers rest lightly on her wrist as they settle into place.
“Doing alright?” she asks. He glances towards where Ricky is still talking to Caroline, Bing, and Jane. “Yeah, I know,” Lizzie says, leaning against the wall of the alcove. “I’ll get rid of him.”
“I can do anything,” she says with a shrug. “Sorry. This was supposed to be, you know. Relaxing.”
“Well,” he says, voice clipped.
“I know,” she reiterates. He sighs. They both realize a second too late that the room is almost entirely silent.
“The two of you make quite a pair,” Ricky says, having materialized by Lizzie’s shoulder surreptitiously, making both of them startle slightly. Black magic, probably.
“I don’t follow,” Darcy comments absently, his hand falling away from her wrist so he can check his phone. She grips her wine glass a little too tightly by the stem.
“Always sneaking off together, lurking in corners, having clandestine conversations, I’m sure.”
“I don’t think we do that,” Lizzie says, deadpan. Ricky gives her a blank stare, the smile not falling off his face.
“I was wondering if I could have a—”
“Dude,” Lizzie sighs, her breath escaping her lungs in a hissy whistle. “I don’t want to work for you.”
“I’ve compiled some very compelling arguments that I think you’ll find to be—”
“My school is here, my family’s here, my friends are here. I can’t move to Hunsford right now.”
Ricky narrows his eyes in thought.
“I see,” he says, nodding.
“Hey,” she says, closing her eyes tightly and steeling herself into making him an offer. “Why don’t you go home right now and we can maybe– maybe talk about this over lunch sometime?”
Ricky lights up. “That would be a most agreeable arrangement. Thank you, Miss Bennet—”
“Miss Bennet, and I’ll see you tomorrow at your favorite restaurant for...”
“Friday after next,” Lizzie corrects.
“Of course. You won’t be disappointed, I assure you.”
And with that he is finally gathering up his things and gone.
“So,” Bing says once Ricky’s gone, looking up at Darcy from where he’s sitting on the sofa with a ridiculously oblivious grin. “Good birthday or what?”
“Hey,” Lizzie says out of the blue, poking her head into his room later that week. “I’m going out to have lunch with Dr. Gardiner. You should come with.”
“I wouldn’t want to intrude,” he replies, not looking up from his laptop.
“I know your two favorite things in the world are trying to pay for my meals and arguing with people about online piracy,” she says, and he doesn’t bother pointing out that she’s wrong because those are things he does with alarmingly frequency when he’s around her. “Come on. It’ll be fun. Plus, she wants to meet you.”
“She wants to meet me?”
“Don’t sound so incredulous. She’s heard a lot about you.”
“Would it be too much to hope that she’s heard only complementary things?” he asks as he shuts his laptop. If left to his own devices he’d change into something more company-appropriate, but since she already has her bag over her shoulder and ushers him out the door as quickly as she can he settles for rolling his sleeves down.
“Like maybe eighty percent complementary things,” she says with a shrug.
“And the other twenty percent?”
“I’m sure you’ll be hearing about the other twenty percent shortly.” Lizzie’s laugh is not at all reassuring. “C’mon,” she chides, elbowing him in the ribs as they head down the hall. “You can’t expect your radical opinions on internet legislation not to get back to my mass comm professor.”
“Well, I certainly know better now.”
She’s silent the rest of the way to her car. Once they’re on the road, she starts again, eyes fixed on the road.
“Hey, uh,” she says, brushing her hair over her shoulder with one hand before return it to its precise position on her steering wheel. “If I’m ever out of line, you should let me know.”
“Out of line?” he repeats skeptically.
“You know,” she says.
“I really don’t.”
“I just mean…” She sighs. “I think I’m a pretty good judge of what I should and shouldn’t share, but if I’m ever making you uncomfortable, you know.”
He doesn’t say anything.
“I guess… you don’t like people talking about you behind your back, right?” she asks.
“That’s a way of putting it,” he says.
“So, some of what I do, I guess, could be construed as…”
“That’s not exactly what I was going to say, but okay.”
“And it’s twenty percent uncomplimentary.”
“No,” she says. And then swallows. “Well.”
“Teasing,” he offers.
“Yes,” she says, gesturing to him with one hand that snaps back to her steering wheel quickly. “Yes.”
“I just want you to know that I’m not trying to be mean. It comes from a place of…” She swallows whatever word she was about to say abruptly.
“Friendship,” he offers.
She falls into silence as she drives, eyes still fixed on the road. He takes the opportunity to examine her face, her brow still slightly drawn, the spill of her dark auburn hair over her shoulder. The freckles on her forearm form a pattern that could be a constellation, which disappears halfway, covered by her sleeve. Her fingernails are painted a faint shimmering gold that catches the light. Her fingers flex against the steering wheel.
“You’re staring at me,” she says.
“You stare at me all the time,” he says.
“Yeah, but.” Her eyes roll skyward as she sighs, exasperated, but there is a faint smile on her lips. “You’re hard to read. I have to stare at you to figure out where your head is at.”
He feels like she’s just made his point for him, but doesn’t feel it’s necessary to say so out loud.
Lunch with Dr. Gardiner actually goes very well until Darcy brings up her recent offers of employment. She lets out a long, ragged sigh and Dr. Gardiner smiles into her coffee cup.
“You know, Lizzie,” she says after a moment. “The problem that most of my students suffer from is quite the reverse.”
“I know,” Lizzie says. “I’m honestly not complaining. In the general sense. In the specific sense…” She says this in a mock whisper and gestures behind a hand to her left, because, of course, Darcy is a potential employer, facetious offer or not.
“I can see you pointing,” Darcy says.
“And, you know, timing. I have to finish my degree.”
“You could do that remotely,” Dr. Gardiner says. Lizzie swallows a mouthful of food and it catches on the way down. “You’re eligible for independent study credits, and I trust your judgment. It’d be a lot of work to set your own schedule for, but as long as you got everything turned in by April…”
“Seriously?” Lizzie looks at her plate of salad and chases a cherry tomato around the edge of her plate as Dr. Gardiner speaks.
“Mhmm,” Dr. Gardiner says. “Charlotte was actually just asking me about this the other day.”
Her gaze snaps up, and she’s vaguely aware that Darcy is staring at her again, but she can’t school the expression on her face. “Really?”
“Yes,” Dr. Gardiner says slowly. “I’m sorry. I assumed you would’ve heard about this before I did.”
“Yeah,” Lizzie says, stabbing the tiny tomato. “I’m sure it’s nothing.”
It doesn’t seem like nothing later that evening when she storms into his room at quarter to midnight. She’s in her pajamas, her eyes red from crying. She blusters around, pacing back and forth for a while as she yells – from what he can ascertain, she’s had some argument with Charlotte about the job Ricky Collins has been offering her, but the details get drowned out by strings of profanity and I can’t even believe this is happenings, and then just as suddenly as she burst into his room she stops yelling and her shoulders slump and she’s crying.
He’s bemused by all this, but not so much so that he doesn’t realize she came here looking for comfort or support, so he crosses the room to her. He means to take her into a loose hug by the shoulders, but she folds herself into his arms and tucks her chin under his head. There’s not a lot he can or would want to do to amend that, so he just presses his nose into her hair and holds her as her breathing evens out. After thirty three breaths, in and out, she sighs deeply and shakes her head against his chest.
“Sorry,” she mumbles.
“Are you okay?” he asks.
“Not really,” she says.
He doesn’t say anything. Eventually she takes a step backwards so she can look at him. They were so close before that one step doesn’t put much distance between them.
“Is there anything I can do to help?” he asks.
She gives the question a moment’s very serious thought, her eyebrows raising with an idea and then drawing together as she realizes something. “No,” she finally settles on.
“I’m sorry,” he says.
“Don’t be. I…” She takes a deep breath that is very ragged, as if she is about to start crying again. “I said a lot of things I probably shouldn’t have, I made it worse.”
“I’m sure after some time has passed…”
“I don’t know,” Lizzie says quietly. “It’s pretty bad.”
“Everything seems worse than it is while it’s happening,” he says. She smiles weakly and untangles herself from his arms, taking another few steps back. She stands up on the balls of her feet, her arms ramrod straight at her sides as she rocks back and forth.
“And, uh, you did help.” She gestures at him vaguely. “So thank you.”
“You told me I didn’t have to thank you for being friends with me,” he points out. She laughs a tiny little damp stuffy-nosed laugh and wipes her face dry.
“Right,” she says, holding his gaze for a second. “Uh,” she begins, swallowing the noise as she makes it. Her lips make shapes soundlessly for a second before she inhales as if she’s about to say something. Before she has the chance, a timid knock comes at the door.
“Lizzie?” Jane asks, her voice quiet and polite but clearly also deeply concerned.
“Yeah,” Lizzie says loudly. Her voice cracks and she presses her hands to her cheeks for a second before turning around dazedly and going to the door.
“Are you okay?” Jane asks as Lizzie opens the door. Darcy can’t see her from where he’s standing but he can imagine her wide-eyed face, corners of her mouth drawn down in the faintest of frowns.
“I’ll tell you all about it,” Lizzie says to her sister as she begins to leave. “If you take me out for ice cream while I do.” Before she leaves entirely, she looks back at him one last time.
Chapter 15: Favor for a Favor
Lizzie's sulking, Jane's uncomfortable, and Darcy has a plan.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
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.”
happy new year my sweet potato dumplings