I love him.
The words flashed across Lizzie’s mind in the blink of an eye, startling her, and then once more, slowly, in case she had missed it the first time. As if she could.
I love him.
Her first reaction at the thought was surprise, because it was quite sudden and generally uncalled for, considering…considering she had dropped William off at the airport that morning. The words would have made a more convenient appearance during their farewell four hours earlier.
Her second reaction, after realizing the reality of the first, was dread.
Dread, because of course, of course Lizzie Bennet would have this revelation four hours after he was already gone. Of course these three tiny words would pop into her mind when they could guarantee to plague her for the next forty-two days.
Saying I love you for the first time wasn’t something you did over text, or the phone, or Skype. Or maybe it could be, but not for Lizzie Bennet and William Darcy. Not when he had already made the admission to her twice in very obvious, personal ways. He deserved more than a text, or the slightly distorted sound of her voice over a phone, or her lips forming the words under shoddy lighting and behind a computer screen. Too much of their relationship had played out like that already—from behind a monitor—and this, now, was supposed to be them, together, starting fresh.
So, obviously, she would find the words on the tip of her tongue now, sipping her tea while she played Monopoly with Lydia. Agreeing to spend the time with her younger sister had been part of her last-ditch efforts to assign this day as the last day of relaxation before she dove headfirst into the ocean that was her thesis project.
She froze, groaned, and buried her face in her hands, plopping her tea down with a ceramic clank against the coffee table.
“It’s Monopoly, dork,” Lydia remarked, amused. “You’ll get out of jail eventually.”
Lizzie slid her hand to cover her mouth and looked up, shaking her head. “Not that, it’s—I just—I love him,” she whispered, and somehow saying the words out loud when he wasn’t there to hear them was physically painful, like a punch in the gut.
Lydia furrowed her eyebrows twisted her expression into that “um, duh” face of hers. “Well, yeah, didn’t you—oh.” Her blue eyes widened. “Oh. You’re…you’re just realizing this, like, right now.” Her younger sister let out a snort of laughter and then quickly clapped a hand over her mouth. “I’m sorry, it’s not funny…except it sorta is, because you so cuh-learly didn’t know when everyone else did, as per Lizzie Bennet’s glaringly annoying tendency to catch on about five bajillion years after the rest of the human population.”
Lizzie shot a look at her sister. “You’re not making this better.”
Lydia picked up the dice and shook them in her hand expertly. “I have no sympathy,” she said haughtily, tossing down the little white cubes. “It’s hardly the end of the world. You know he feels the same way. It would be another story if you, like, publicly declared your love for him and then got rejected in front of thousands of viewers on the internet.”
“Lydia,” Lizzie exclaimed, picking up a pillow from the couch behind her and throwing it at her sister. Lydia fell backwards in her attempt to block the attack and burst out laughing.
“I’m sorry!” Lydia responded through her laughter, showing that she was in no way apologetic. She sat back up. “It’s just that this is so typical. I’m surprised it only took you this long to figure it out. I’m sure we all would have given you some leeway for at least a few more years.”
“I have no qualms with throwing my hot tea on you,” Lizzie warned seriously, picking up her mug again and finding that it was entirely too hot against the burning temperature of her skin.
Lydia calmed her giggles down for long enough to move the appropriate amount of spaces around the board. “It’s okay, sis, you would need six weeks anyway to buck up your courage enough to actually say it to him. No lost time, there.”
Lizzie rolled her eyes and snatched up the dice indignantly before flinging them down, much to Lydia’s continued delight. The older sister huffed out a sigh once the dice stopped tumbling, frustrated. It seemed that she would be stuck in jail a while longer.
She glanced up at her younger sister, who was still wearing a genuine—if a bit mocking—smile, and couldn’t help the way the corners of her own mouth tugged upwards a little as the thought ran through her mind for the third time.
I love William Darcy.
It was overwhelming, and nerve-wracking and entirely consuming, twisting her stomach into a knot of unmanageable tangles, but it was also okay. Because Lizzie Bennet loved William Darcy, and he loved her back, and as achingly torturous as that would make these next forty-two days of agonizing distance, the truth of this newfound knowledge comforted her.
Lydia bought another piece of property with a calculated expression. She was creaming Lizzie to the point where the youngest Bennet could—and would—be rightfully smug about this game for the rest of her life, but Lizzie didn’t care. Not really, anyway.
I love him.
And even though that made her circumstances infinitely harder, it made them a little bit easier, too.