Presented to you without the boring details of how it was conceived and written. (Although, upon further reflection, I feel compelled to point out that this may be considered slightly AU since Darcy is more awkward and less proud, and Lizzy already knows she's a bit judgy.)
"This is what I get for letting a girl pack my bags," mumbled William Darcy as he surveyed the selection of clothing which the aforementioned girl, Darcy's younger sister Georgiana, had packed for him.
She had been meticulous in her selection of certain items. There were notes indicating which slacks he was to wear with which dress shirts, and which ties. Darcy was fully capable of dressing himself creditably, but he still thought her care was admirable. The problem was that she'd paid little attention to certain other items, chief among them being undershirts. Also, as he'd discovered upon his arrival at the hotel the previous evening, his toothbrush.
How she'd convinced him to leave the house entirely, he still wasn't quite sure. In all honesty he was just grateful that she was smiling again, excited for the house remodeling project to get underway. He honestly could not care less about what color the walls and carpet were, but she did, and if something made his sister happy, it made Darcy happy, too.
So he made plans for them to stay in a hotel downtown, where he worked and she gave and took music lessons, for the two weeks the plumbers, carpenters, and electricians would be tearing up their house. It was summer, so Georgiana's ongoing music lessons were her only obligation, which she wouldn't give up for the world. Even in her darkest moods, she would always play whatever instrument she could get her hands on, her favorite being the antique grand piano which their mother and grandmother had played before her. That item was sitting in a private parlor, close to Georgiana's own bedroom, but the door had been closed and locked and it had been covered under enough layers to keep it warm and dust-free during a nuclear winter.
Darcy sighed and made a mental note to go back home that evening, once he was finished with work. Georgiana, who he called Ana, Ana Banana, and alternatively AB, had packed some more casual pieces – golf shirts and khaki shorts, and underneath those, he discovered she'd packed some workout clothes. He held up the singular t-shirt. It was the Superman t-shirt she'd given him last Christmas, in all seriousness. He rolled his eyes. It was all he had; William Darcy was a creature of habit. He couldn't not wear an undershirt.
From the arsenal of dress shirts, he chose the darkest one, and hunted for the accompanying tie and slacks. The items thus gathered, he tidied everything else up, and headed for the shower.
The primary reason for having to leave the house was that the plumbing was in need of upgrade. Darcy realized this each time he made a trip out of town and showered at a hotel or a friend's house, and he was reminded that he actually enjoyed water pressure. But as soon as he returned to his own house, he was just glad to be home. He liked routine; he liked seeing the same house he grew up in every time he walked through those doors.
He was painfully aware that his memories were selective, not stretching past age six. As Darcy tried to relax under the gloriously high-pressure shower, he mused that Georgiana had no such fond attachment to the house. Darcy knew this was because she hadn't been born yet, during those precious few years when he had two parents. When Georgiana had come along, his ecstasy at finally having the sibling he'd longed for was curbed significantly by his mother's passing, and the changes in his father.
Not that George Darcy had ever been congenial. He was stand-offish and did not like children in general, but Darcy being the reserved individual he was – like his mother – really wasn't like other children, and so he had many happy memories of quiet fishing or chess games with his beloved father. When little Georgiana came home without her mother, there were no further memories to be made. It wasn't all at once; he tried – Darcy knew that George had tried to love little Ana – but he just couldn't look at her. Even at that age, Darcy knew she looked too much like his mother. George became outwardly angry and had little patience for anyone, especially his children. He passed away when Darcy was twelve years old. No one would tell him what happened.
Recognizing that his present ruminations were not helping achieve the relaxation he was used to getting out of his morning showers, Darcy sighed and shook his head. He lingered in the steam and heat for a moment more, and then turned the water off and stepped out of the shower.
Georgiana had wanted to remodel the house for years, but he'd always put her off. At first he could say that she'd be off to college soon enough and wouldn't care. When she'd chosen a local college, she'd asked again, but he reasoned she wouldn't ever be there anyway, which turned out to be untrue. She'd asked again, two Christmases ago - practically begged, he now realized - but he'd said no again. The house had historic value, he said - they should meet with consultants and be cautious. But Darcy didn't truly realize how important making her own mark on what had once been their parents' home had been to her, until she almost walked out of his life forever, the previous fall.
It was a boy, of course. Georgiana was a beautiful young woman and the Darcys were an old, wealthy family. Darcy was not unlike his father in that he was suspicious of everyone, and that especially included young men who were interested in his sister. Georgiana knew this, of course, and so she kept her relationship with Denny Carter almost silent.
So Darcy didn't know that Denny was a piano instructor, who Georgiana found handsome and friendly. Darcy didn't know that Denny had nearly everyone at the college hanging on his every word. Darcy didn't know that Denny offered extra lessons to Georgiana, that he brought her coffee, that he met her after her lessons and talked with her. Darcy didn't know that they were officially dating; didn't know that his sister was falling in love; didn't know why she was pulling further and further away from him.
But Georgiana didn't know that Denny knew what the Darcy family was worth. She didn't know that although he was a gifted pianist, his teaching credentials were, on the whole, made up. She didn't know his real name was actually George Wickham, and his pseudonym was stolen from a long-deceased relative in order to keep creditors at bay. She also didn't know that George Wickham had a family - an incredibly recent ex-wife, and two small children.
In early September Darcy became worried when he hadn't heard from Georgiana for two days. He hated snooping, but he did it anyway. He looked into her room and found pictures of his sister and a man he didn't recognize. He looked into her email, Twitter, and Facebook accounts and found messages of increasing intimacy. He looked into her bank account and found that she'd purchased tickets to Las Vegas. Then he purchased one himself.
For Georgiana's part, the entire ordeal was anticlimactic. She was half elated, half angry as she waited for her wedding to take place. She was only a little surprised to see her brother. He calmly walked into the room and closed the door behind himself. She cried when the first thing he said was, "You look beautiful."
He was calm, and so was she, as he explained why there would be no wedding. He'd already spoken to the man she thought was Denny Carter, and he was preparing to leave. And then, instead of a wedding and a celebration, there was a long, painful talk.
"I just want something that is mine," she said, her mascara running. "Mine and mine alone."
For the first time in his life, instead of just doing what he thought was best, he asked her, "What do you want me to do?"
They discussed what was best to be done with George Wickham, and Darcy agreed to bring the false credentials of his would-be brother-in-law to the attention of school administration. Georgiana would never see him again. Once they returned home she had almost lived in her music room, but every piece of music she'd ever received from Wickham was burned in anger.
And then, on Christmas morning, he and Georgiana were sitting on the floor by the Christmas tree. For the first time, he was less apprehensive about the holiday in general - he went out shopping with her, and hadn't gotten dressed that morning, and actually told her what he wanted for Christmas, so she wouldn't have to guess. After they'd opened gifts - the Superman t-shirt among them - and exchanged hugs, he made her coffee. As they leaned against one another, he was feeling grateful that she was there. And like thunder it occurred to him that the house meant nothing, as long as he had her - she was what had made it what it was since their mother's death and their father's depression. A tear rolled down his cheek. How had he not realized that?
"Georgiana," he finally said, "do you still want to remodel the house?" She almost dropped her cup.
Now it was July, and he was wearing a too-thick Superman t-shirt under his long-sleeved dress shirt. He prayed he wouldn't sweat through it on the walk from the hotel to the office building where he ran the company that his father had.
Georgiana called him as he walked through the hotel lobby, briefcase in hand. He paused to answer.
"You forgot my undershirts and my toothbrush."
"Shoulda packed yourself," she retorted. "Good morning."
He smirked. "Morning, Ana Banana."
"Hey, I just wanted to let you know, I have classes all day, and then I'm going out with some girlfriends, so I won't be able to meet you for dinner."
"Okay. Do you know what time you'll be back?"
"Uh . . . later? I don't know. That's kind of what happens when you go out - you should try it sometime."
He smirked. "Very funny, AB. Hey - do you know where I can get some coffee around here? The stuff in the room was sub-par."
"You work two blocks away. Do you seriously not know?"
"I tend not to venture outside of my office, honestly."
Georgiana sighed loudly. "Again with the going out. Anyway - there is an excellent independent coffee house on the corner. My favorite barista is Lydia - she's got gorgeous tattoos on both arms. We're a lot alike."
"Any gorgeous tattoos on your arms have quite escaped my notice, I'm afraid," said Darcy.
"No, you dork - our stories," she clarified. "Anyway, yes - go there, it's Longbourn Coffee House. I've got to go; I'll talk to you later, okay?"
"Okay - have a good day, AB. Love you."
The coffee house was relatively busy, when he walked inside. It was just past 8:00; there wasn't much of a line. He took a moment to look around - the furnishings and decor weren't the height of fashion, exactly, but everything was orderly and obviously well cared for. He glanced up at the menu, which was neatly hand-written in chalk.
"Can I get something started for you?"
Standing at the counter with a smile on her face was a young woman, Darcy guessed a few years younger than himself, with long chestnut hair and big brown eyes. His eyes went to her forearms, which were disappointingly skin-colored. His brow furrowed.
"You're not Lydia," he said before he realized the words were forming on his lips. He cringed inwardly.
Georgiana had often told him he was incredibly dorkish in social situations, and he never knew this to be truer than at that moment. However, the woman smiled wider.
"Correct," she said. "Was it the lack of tattoos, or the name tag that gave me away?"
Darcy approached the counter. "I'd just like a coffee. I'm assuming you have a tolerable enough dark roast."
The woman - Lizzy, he learned from her name tag - perked her left eyebrow and laughed at him. "Oh, yes - it's tolerable for sure," she replied. "In fact, I'll pour you my most tolerable. Would you like a tolerable amount of room for cream?"
He paused to look her over. She certainly wasn't shy, which made him a little more nervous than usual. He didn't necessarily like that his eyes were lingering on her lifted left eyebrow, or her glossed lips, still forming an impetuous and entirely genuine smile.
"Yes," he said, and then realized he was scowling.
She rang it up. "Anything from the bakery? We carry a tolerable assortment of baked goods tolerably fresh from a tolerably local independent baker." Now bright pink, Darcy shook his head and wished she'd just take his money. "And will you be enjoying your tolerable dark roast here, or on your way to work?"
He paused and met her eyes. It was a mistake - they were sparkling, teasing. He liked them, which was a problem. Whenever he was attracted to anyone, even a little, he invariably said insensitive and vaguely stupid things like, "Why does that matter?"
The eyebrow arched further, and a little of the sparkle fizzled out. "Well, as congenial as you are, sir, I'd prefer it if you didn't take my mugs out of the store."
"I'll be walking." He fished his wallet out of his pocket and extracted a five dollar bill. "Where is Lydia?"
The smile melted from Lizzy's face, and while he knew he hadn't been entirely polite, he wasn't sure why that question would elicit such a response. "I don't think I've seen you in here before. Are you a friend of hers?"
The venom that creeped into her voice gave Darcy pause. He didn't know what to do, except surrender. "I'm sorry," he said. "I didn't mean to be rude."
Lizzy lifted her chin and handed Darcy his change. "Lydia is my sister; she's not in this morning."
She turned to pour his coffee, and Darcy knew he'd been too blunt. This is why I don't go out, AB, he thought. When Lizzy handed him the cup, she pointed out the counter where he could find cream and sugar, and then replaced her smile as she offered to help the person behind him.
Sighing, he moved toward the counter with his briefcase and coffee cup. He poured in the desired amount of cream and stirred, and when he took his first taste he had to admit that Georgiana had impeccable taste in coffee. He secured the lid and picked up his briefcase, and as he turned to exit the store, something caught his eye.
He'd never been drawn to children, not in the remotest way. But there was a little boy, no more than five, standing by the door. He had no shoes on, obviously didn't know where he was, and there was a terrified expression on his face. Darcy looked around; no one in the store appeared to be this child's parent.
Lizzy was steaming milk when he approached the bar again. "Excuse me."
She lifted her eyebrow and chin, and darted her eyes away from her task long enough to communicate that she was listening.
"There's a little boy by the door – do you know him?"
Her brow rumpled, and she moved the milk away from the steam. "A little boy?"
She was meeting his eyes again, and he had to look away for a moment. "I think he might be lost."
Lizzy followed his gaze to the door, where there was, indeed, a little boy in a pair of shorts and an Iron Man t-shirt. "He's got no shoes," she said. She looked back at Darcy, and now her eyes were round with concern. He immediately looked back at the boy, while Lizzy handed her work off to one of the cashiers and came around the bar.
She approached slowly, he noticed, with a warm smile on her face. "Hello," she said. The little boy's eyes filled with tears immediately, and he stepped back. "Are you looking for your mom?"
The little boy said nothing, and was frozen; Darcy knew he was terrified. He could see tears forming in the boy's eyes. Darcy knew the look well. When he was getting used to his father's bouts of anger, he was sure he looked just the same himself. He worried that he was in trouble, worried that whatever had upset his father was his fault, and worried over how long it would be until he stopped.
He approached Lizzy slowly, as she asked follow up questions and got nothing but a teary-eyed stare in return. He set his cup and brief case down, and touched the barista's arm gently. "Do you mind if I try?"
She was so astonished to find him still standing there, she shook her head. "No – no, go ahead."
Darcy kept a respectable distance from the little boy. He bent down on his haunches and asked, "Can I show you something?" The boy hesitated, but nodded. Darcy kept eye contact with him as he moved his tie aside, and then unbuttoned the three buttons of his black dress shirt that covered his chest. Slowly, he parted the material, just enough that the boy could see the Superman logo.
The boy's eyes went wide, and his mouth hung open a little.
Silently, Darcy put a finger to his lips. The boy mimicked him, and Darcy buttoned up his shirt. He motioned to the table where he'd put down his coffee cup, and the boy climbed up into a chair. Darcy sat across from him.
"What's your name?"
"Are you all right, Carter? Are you scared of something?" Carter paused a moment before he nodded. "What are you afraid of?" asked Darcy.
"I know I'm in trouble," he said. "I left because I couldn't find my dad, and then I got lost."
Darcy smiled at him. "You're not in trouble, Carter. I promise."
"I thought there would be a policeman in here," he whispered. His eyes were filling again.
"Officer Lucas comes in all the time," said Lizzy. "I think maybe we should call her. Is that okay?"
Carter's eyes went even wider, and the tears spilled over. He took a shaky breath, and then said, "Okay."
Darcy leaned over the table. "Please don't be afraid, Carter. I promise you, you're not in trouble."
Carter sobbed a few times. "Are you sure?"
"You're not in trouble at all," said Lizzy. "I'll go call Officer Lucas. Are you hungry?" Carter nodded again, and Lizzy patted his back before she went behind the bar for the phone.
In the meantime, Carter hadn't stopped staring wide-eyed at Darcy. "Can you really fly?" asked Carter.
"I fly all the time." It wasn't untrue, although he was certain Carter was not thinking of jumbo jets.
Darcy offered Carter his hand, and the little boy laid his grubby palm in Darcy's. Darcy smiled, and explained that he had to call his friend Lois. Carter held his hand throughout the phone call, staring all the while. It made Darcy a little uncomfortable, but he held fast both to the boy's grip and to his gaze.
"Okay," announced Lizzy a few moments later as she walked up to their table, "I just got off the phone with Officer Lucas; she'll be here as soon as she can. In the meantime, I brought you the most tolerable thing I could find for breakfast." She set a warm chocolate chip muffin down in front of Carter, and placed a cold glass of chocolate milk next to it.
Carter dug into the muffin with his free hand.
"He does not wanna let go, does he?" asked Lizzy thoughtfully. Darcy looked up at her, but she only had eyes for the lost, and apparently very hungry, little boy.
"It would seem not, no."
"Well, I'm glad you were able to get him to talk. I don't have much of a magic touch when it comes to kids. My sisters do – especially Lydia; if she were here she'd have him eating out of her hand."
"Maybe it's not such a bad thing that she didn't show up today."
"She didn't just not show up," protested Lizzy, stepping away from the table. "She's at the convention center, running our booth. She's not irresponsible just because she doesn't wear a suit to work every day."
Her eyes had him again, but not with a twinkle or concern. It was more like fire; it made his cheeks hot. He floundered a moment before he began, "I didn't mean-"
Then her eyes were lost, as they snapped over to the bar, where the cashier was calling her name. The line was forming again, and they needed her help. Without another word, she moved to operate the espresso machines.
Darcy turned back to Carter. "Girls," he muttered. But Carter, apparently, cared not for his troubles, and took a gulp from his glass of milk. "Is that good?" Darcy asked.
"It's so good," he said, and then let out a long, satisfied, "Ahhhh!"
It was almost ten o'clock when Officer Lucas walked into the coffee house. Carter had not let go of Darcy's hand, and the two of them now played checkers companionably on the table top.
Lizzy spotted her almost immediately; Charlotte Lucas was tall and she was also quite loud. She'd been a regular almost as soon as Lizzy had opened the doors of Longbourn Coffee House, some three years prior.
"Hey, Char!" she called, and then waved her over to the bar. "Busy morning, I take it."
"Correct," said Officer Lucas. "The convention center is packed, and there's a protest at the courthouse. I've had crazies and drunks and self-important entitled businesspeople all morning."
"Sounds like fun," said Lizzy as she handed Officer Lucas her usual, which was nothing more elaborate than a cup of light roast with warm milk. "Your quarry is at that table."
The officer followed Lizzy's gaze. "Oh - is that his dad?"
"Nope. Honestly, I don't know who that guy is. He's the one who spotted the kid, and when I went over to talk to him, he wouldn't say anything. But he'd talk to that guy. Now he won't let go of his hand."
"Have you seen the man in here before?"
"No," said Lizzy. "He came in this morning and was just kind of rude and awkward, so I'm surprised he's still sitting there."
"Interesting," said Officer Lucas. "Well, I'm going to take his statement, and we'll see if we can get some information out of him. Then we'll have to wait for a child protection officer to come pick him up. I'm assuming it's OK to wait here?"
"Absolutely," said Lizzy.
"Okay. Why don't you introduce me; I don't want to scare him."
Lizzy nodded and led Officer Lucas over to the table where Carter sat with the man who had his rapt attention. "Hi there," she said. "This is Officer Lucas; she's going to help you find your folks."
Lizzy and Officer Lucas both noticed that Carter's little hand squeezed his friend's tighter. Officer Lucas immediately pulled out a chair from another table and sat, so that the boy wouldn't have to look so far up at her.
She introduced herself as Charlotte, and started asking questions about Carter's parents. But waiting for the child protection officer quickly became unnecessary, as a rather unkempt gentleman walked through the door.
"Carter!" he barked.
Officer Lucas stood between the boy and the man who was apparently Carter's father. Carter all but lept across the table into Darcy's arms, and Darcy held him close. He held him even tighter when he recognized the man.
"Is that your father?" Darcy asked.
"Yes but I don't want to go with him," sobbed Carter into Darcy's chest.
"I don't blame you."
It was, without a doubt, George Wickham. Darcy's nostrils flared, and Lizzy noticed. She also noticed Officer Lucas' hand hovering around her billy club, and the distinct sway in the man's posture.
"That's my son. You let him go," slurred Wickham.
"He doesn't want to go with you," said Darcy. "I can't imagine why."
Wickham turned his head sideways. "Don't I know you?"
"Yes, you do," snapped Darcy. "More particularly, you know my sister."
Wickham's face paled a little, but he was undeterred, and evidently unimpressed with the presence of a law officer. "Doesn't matter. So you stopped me from marrying your stupid bitch of a sister, so what? You're not better than me."
Darcy wanted to beg to differ, but not with Carter paying such close attention. "You really shouldn't swear in front of kids," he said.
"Sir," said Officer Lucas, "I need you to have a seat, please. We'll get this figured out."
"All I did was leave the apartment for five minutes. I had to borrow a . . . something. From the neighbors. He's my kid, you have to give him to me."
"Sir," repeated the officer, "if you'll just sit down, please? We have some conflicting stories here, but I'm sure it won't take long to get this figured out. All right?"
"I'm not sitting down, I just want my kid!" he barked.
Officer Lucas paused to allow the stench of alcohol clear her general vicinity before she drew breath and spoke again. "The problem is, sir, that you appear to be a little intoxicated. I can't let Carter go with you like this."
Wickham swayed. "I'm not drunk," he mumbled.
"Mmm-hmm." Officer Lucas positioned a chair behind him and tugged on his shoulder, and he collapsed almost immediately. "Now, sir – why don't you tell me what Carter's mom's name is?"
"I don't have to tell you anything!"
"Fine. What's your name?"
Wickham was silent, so Darcy supplied the information. "It's George Wickham. Unless you're going by Denny Carter again?"
Wickham pointed at Darcy, who still held his son. "You shut up!"
Officer Lucas' interest was piqued, however, and she addressed the drunk man. "You have public intoxication and endangering a minor already. Do I get to add identity theft, too?" Wickham glared silently at Darcy. "How 'bout you just tell me where I can find Carter's mom?"
"Her name's Mary King," mumbled Wickham. While the officer extracted the remaining information out of the drunk man, Lizzy turned to Darcy with no little amount of astonishment.
"You're Ana's brother."
He looked up at her, still holding Carter close. "Yes." He swallowed, not wanting to let either Lizzy or Carter hear the anger he felt in his voice. "Ana said Lydia was her favorite barista. She said they were a lot alike. I was hoping to meet Lydia and thank her for her kindness toward Ana."
Lizzy nodded. "Your sister is fantastic," she said. "It's not just Lydia that likes her around here, it's the whole staff."
"She's all I have," said Darcy. He didn't know why; maybe it was the remnants of the fear he'd felt on the plane to Las Vegas all those months ago, or lingering doubt that he'd been able to change and give her the space she'd needed so much. Maybe it was because Lizzy's eyes were too open, too genuine to close himself off. "I don't know what Lydia's story is, but I almost lost Ana. I can easily understand why you'd be so protective of Lydia."
"She'll be at the convention center all week," said Lizzy. "She'll be back on Friday afternoon, if you want to come by. She's a talker though, so - you know. Prepare."
Darcy smiled at her, and hugged Carter, who'd calmed down. "You okay, buddy?" asked Lizzy. Carter nodded. They watched together as Officer Lucas' backup arrived, and took Wickham outside for a field sobriety test, which, by the looks of it, he'd fail spectacularly.
Officer Lucas spent a few moments talking into her radio, and then approached Carter. "Hey bud," she said, "sounds like your mom's on her way. You're going to go home with her, okay?"
"Okay," said Carter. "Is she mad?"
"Not at you, bud. But let's talk about what to do if this ever happens again, okay? You could've gotten hurt or really, really lost."
Carter nodded and listened while Officer Lucas gave him safety tips, and Lizzy felt compelled to help out behind the counter again. About fifteen minutes later, a blonde woman in scrubs came rushing in carrying a pair of children's shoes, and Carter sprang from Darcy's lap into her arms. She sobbed and vacillated between telling Carter not to ever walk away from the apartment again and telling him how sorry she was. Officer Lucas let her know that someone from child protection would be contacting her, and while Darcy took Carter over to the bakery case to pick out a treat, Officer Lucas filled Mary King in on Carter's reaction to his father, and coached her on a handful of other things, including obtaining a restraining order, if it became necessary.
Tearfully, Mary thanked Darcy and Lizzy for comforting her son. Officer Lucas, with Wickham tucked safely in the back of her cruiser, waved good-bye to Lizzy and headed out. Then Carter gave Darcy one more hug.
Before he left, with one hand around his juice box and the other around his mother's hand, Carter looked up at Darcy conspiratorially. "Show her," he whispered, flicking his eyes toward Lizzy.
Darcy knelt down, confused. "Show her what?"
Carter smiled. "This!" he said, poking a finger into Darcy's chest.
Darcy blushed a little, having honestly forgotten that he was supposed to be Superman. "Oh – I don't think that's such a good idea."
"You hafta show her," insisted Carter.
"Say goodbye, Carter," instructed Mary.
"Bye, Clark!" Carter waved, and they walked out of the store together, smiling.
Darcy stood, waving until Carter could no longer see him.
"So, it's Clark, then?"
Darcy was startled by Lizzy's sudden presence next to him. "What? No . . . no. That's not my name."
She waited for him to offer up his name, but he didn't. She lifted the cup in her hand. "Peace offering?" she said. "It's tolerably fresh."
"Thank you," he said with a smile, and accepted the cup. He turned around to use the creamer on the counter just behind him, and enjoyed a few long sips before replacing the lid. "It's more than tolerable," he told her as he turned to face her again. "It's actually quite exceptional."
Lizzy blushed. "Thank you," she replied. She observed him a moment, and then began, "Um . . . listen . . . you and I got off on the wrong foot. I tend to get defensive about certain things – my coffee and my sister among them. Can we start over?"
His eyes softened. "I would really love that."
She held out her hand. "Lizzy Bennet."
He took her hand and noted with no small degree of pleasure that it was soft and warm, and that she shook firmly. "William Darcy."
"It's nice to meet you, William."
"The pleasure is all mine," he replied. "I'd be happy to pay for Carter's breakfast, by the way."
She waved her free hand. "No, no. Company policy – all lost little boys receive one free breakfast." He laughed a little, and so did she, but it quickly became apparent that he didn't know what to say next, so she asked, "What are you supposed to show me?"
He turned pink again. "Oh – um, nothing. Just what I showed him earlier. Nothing."
"Well, now you have to show me!" she declared. "I'm way too curious; you'll never get out of the store without showing me."
Darcy let out a breath and smiled a tiny bit. His cheeks were on fire. Reluctantly, he set his coffee cup down and reached up to unbutton his shirt.
The sparkle came back into Lizzy's eyes, and she smiled gleefully. "You told him you were Superman?"
"I showed him my shirt. He drew his own conclusions."
"More like Super Awkward Man," she laughed. "That's fantastic!"
She was laughing at him, but it was okay. She was directing those intoxicating eyes toward him. He shrugged a little and allowed himself a real smile. "It worked."
"Yeah, it did."
Her smile faded a little bit, but not from her eyes. He held them for a long moment, until embarrassment make him look away briefly. "So . . . it's well-established between you and I that I'm a little awkward," he said.
"A pinch, yes."
"That kind of makes me feel slightly more awkward asking you if you would like to have dinner with me tonight."
Now it was Lizzy's cheeks that were on fire. "That wasn't awkward at all," she replied. "In fact, it was tolerably sweet."
He relaxed into a full-blown smile and shook his head. "I'm never going to live that down, am I?"
"No," replied Lizzy. "But I will have dinner with you."
"Kind of," he admitted. "Um . . . why don't you just meet me at the steak house across the street – is 8:00 okay? Unless of course you don't eat meat, in which case I'm sure there's a vegetarian – or maybe vegan? – restaurant somewhere close by that you could recommend?"
She was laughing again. "I eat anything," she replied. "Almost literally. Eight is fine, the steakhouse is fine. I'll see you then."
"Okay." Instinctively, he held out his hand. With suppressed laughter, she reached out to shake it. But he was able, just in time, to turn her hand and raise it to his lips to press a soft kiss to her knuckles. Her cheeks flared, and her heart melted a little bit, and they both spent the day wishing 8:00 was just a little closer.
Thanks for reading!
(c) 2014 J. H. Thompson