This was inspired by the stage version of My Fair Lady that I just saw--hence, I do NOT have the people from the movie in mind at all. Henry Higgins is much younger, slightly gentler, and more handsome, for one. Enjoy! And please tell me what you think!
BETWEEN THE LIKES OF YOU AND THE LIKES OF ME
Eliza had come back. She really had no coherent reason why. She had had every intention of following through on her promise that he would never see her again--in fact, she had gone as far as the train station before her feet had slowed and she had glanced behind her.
Before she realized it, her footsteps were carrying her back the opposite direction, hesitant at first, then gradually filling with purpose.
Then, at long last, her heels had clicked down the familiar cobbles of the Wimpole Street, lined with lilac trees, the air filled with the soft twittering of birds, and suddenly she was standing in front of his door--the very door she had left last night, vowing never to open again.
She reached out a white-gloved hand and touched the doorknob. Taking a deep breath, she let herself in.
Eliza paused on the threshold. The house was dark and still--empty-feeling. She bit her lip. Perhaps no one was home. Perhaps he was still at his mother's. Her throat tightened. Perhaps he was out celebrating the fact that he had finally gotten rid of her.
Her brow furrowed. A strange sound issued from the parlour. Stepping forward, careful to tread on the rug and make no sound, she listened carefully. She halted again when she recognized the tones of a voice. It was her own.
"I want to be a lady in a flower shop instead of sellin' flowers at the corner of Tottenham Court Road. But they won't take me unless I can talk more genteel. He said he could teach me."
Her heartbeat accelerating, Eliza fearfully tiptoed forward and eased into the parlor. Her chest tightened. Professor Higgins sat on the couch, his back to her, sprawled out as if he had collapsed there, his elbow propped on the armrest. Eliza's recorded voice went on.
"Well here I am, ready to pay, not asking any favor--and he treats me as if I was dirt. I know what lessons cost, and I'm ready to pay."
A new voice leaped to life, and Eliza jumped--then she realized it was still the recording.
"It's almost irresistible. She's so deliciously low. So horribly dirty."
Higgins moved. Eliza stiffened. He reached up and, from what she could see, slowly draped his hand over his mouth, hanging his head.
Pain stabbed down through Eliza's chest--pain unlike anything she had ever felt, as her own words darted back through her mind: Well, you have my voice on your grammaphone. When you feel lonely without me you can turn it on. It's got no feelings to hurt."
Tears suddenly sprang to Eliza's eyes as she watched him there. She moved around toward the grammaphone, her unbelieving gaze falling on it and then suddenly unable to leave it. When she stood directly in front of it, she tore her gaze away and looked at him. She could see him fully, now. His hand covered his face and his shoulders slumped in a posture of unmistakable grief.
With a trembling hand, Eliza reached out and quietly flipped the switch on the machine, shutting it off. Taking a deep breath and hoping her voice would come out steadily, she spoke.
"I washed me face and 'ands before I come I did."
His hand slowly dropped from his face. He stared out before him, his eyes widening, and his shoulders lifted.
"Eliza?" he whispered. Her heart leaped at the sound of his voice--at the disbelief, fear, relief and joy she heard there. But then he just cleared his throat, sat back, crossed his legs in front of him and folded his arms tightly--the open grief had vanished. He reached up and tipped his hat over his face.
"Where the devil are my slippers?"
Eliza felt herself almost smile, but her flicker of fondness was tempered by a sting. Was that all? All of that mighty struggle, her fiery arguments, her leaving in the middle of the night, her defiance, honesty, threats and longing--did all of that only rate a soft mention of her name from him? It couldn't be. He had just been listening to her voice.
Mustering all her courage, Eliza stepped forward and set her hat down on his desk. Moving as lightly as she could, she maneuvered around the couch and moved to sit next to him. He didn't notice. She hesitated, then made herself ease down to sit closer to him than she would have before--their shoulders were touching. She saw him frown beneath his hat and then he turned and tipped it upward. His penetrating blue eyes met hers.
Eliza suddenly realized how close their faces were. She could see every detail of his chiseled, familiar aquiline face: hawk-like, expressive black eyebrows, cultured nose, neatly-trimmed beard and mustache, and a strand of dark hair falling across his cynical brow. But now, his eyes looked startled, off-guard--she had never seen him so...afraid. He swallowed hard, and slowly took off his hat, his eyes running over her features as if seeing her for the first time. His lips parted as if to speak. Eliza stopped breathing.
Both of them jumped, and Higgins leaped off the couch. Eliza jerked her head around to see the fatherly figure of Colonel Pickering bound into the room, grinning broadly.
"Eliza, my girl, we've missed you so!"
Eliza made herself stand, though her legs felt weak.
"Colonel Pickering," she held out her hand. He ignored it and embraced her tightly. Suddenly, pressed against a suit coat that carried the homey smell of pipe tobacco and peppermint, Eliza fought the urge to burst into tears. Pickering backed up and held her by the shoulders, his eyes bright. Out of the corner of her vision, Eliza saw Higgins standing awkwardly in the middle of the parlour, casting them furtive glances.
"Where did you go my dear? We were extremely worried. We had all of Scotland Yard looking for you!" Pickering demanded.
Eliza took a deep breath, battling to gather herself.
"I...went visiting." She forced a smile. "My father got married this morning, and I also visited Professor Higgins' mother."
She shot Higgins a look. He met her eyes for a moment before turning and swiftly marching to the hat rack.
"But you took all your things!"
Eliza turned in Pickering's grasp to see Mrs. Pearce entering, wringing her hands. Eliza, feeling trapped, shuddered. Pickering's grip on her tightened and his expression transformed into one of worry as his eyes searched her face.
"What happened, Eliza?" he asked quietly. "Why did you leave like that only to come back?"
Eliza unwillingly glanced over Pickering's shoulder to see that Higgins was standing with his back to her, his hand frozen atop the hat rack. She swallowed and managed another smile.
"Well...I've always thought that...home is the kind of place that if you leave it, people who stay there will miss you." She shrugged weakly, her vision blurring. "I suppose I just...needed to see if that was true."
Higgins turned his head, just barely, and looked at her.
"My dearest girl, of course it's true!" Pickering insisted, laughing, and hugged her again. Tears fell down Eliza's cheeks as she returned Pickering's embrace tightly, staring past his arm at Higgins, who merely watched her for a moment, then left the room. Mrs. Pearce watched him go, then turned tearily back to Eliza.
"Come, Miss Doolittle--let's get you moved back into your room!"
Pickering patted her back, she gave him a genuine smile, though she could not keep all the sadness out of it, and she followed after Mrs. Pearce.
"I've never seen him so distressed," Mrs. Pearce sighed as she helped Eliza hang her last dress in the wardrobe.
"Colonel Pickering?" Eliza assumed, straightening the towels in the washroom back to the way she liked them.
"No, Professor Higgins."
Eliza's hands stilled. She took hold of the doorframe of the washroom and swung partially around it, staring at Mrs. Pearce.
"Yes!" Mrs. Pearce insisted, moving to the bed and fluffing the pillows. "He didn't know where anything was, or when any of his appointments were--"
"Oh," Eliza said flatly, starting to return to the washroom.
"That's what he said, anyway," Mrs. Pearce added. "If he misses someone, he always complains about the job they used to do not being done, and blaming them for his being disorganized or out of sorts."
"Naturally," Eliza said venomously. "He only sees people for what they can do for him."
"Not really," Mrs. Pearce countered mildly. "It's just his roundabout way of admitting that he needs you."
Eliza watched Mrs. Pearce straightening the bed and felt herself wilt.
"He can't need me," she murmured. "I've told him--I'm just a ignorant, common girl and he's a gentleman, and educated, and..."
Mrs. Pearce headed for the door, but glanced back to smile at her.
"That doesn't change the fact that he needs you, whether you like it or not." She chuckled. "Or whether he likes it or not." She left the room, quietly closing the door behind her. And Eliza didn't leave it for the rest of the afternoon.
Evening had fallen by the time she ventured out into the corridor. The house was very quiet, and the upstairs was mostly dark. Both Pickering and Higgins' room were devoid of light, so she guessed they were still downstairs, sitting by the fireplace, as was their custom.
She had changed out of her traveling dress into a comfortable, soft-red household dress with long sleeves, and half of her hair hung down around her shoulders.
She descended the stairs, crossed the hallway and found the two men sitting, sipping brandy, probably, facing the fireplace. All other lights in the parlour had been put out. Pickering sat in his favorite armchair, thoughtfully smoking a pipe as he stared into the flames. Higgins sat on the couch, a book in front of him--but Eliza could tell that holding a book merely served as a smoke screen. He was not reading. He was probably thinking, just like Pickering.
Eliza was afraid to go in there. She did not want to make conversation, or answer awkward questions to which she still had not worked out the answers. She just wanted to be with them.
Finally, she made herself come into the room. Pickering glanced up at her movement.
"Good evening, Eliza. Are you moved in again?"
"Yes, thank you, Colonel Pickering," she answered politely, then simply stood there, abruptly helpless. A moment passed. Then she swallowed hard.
"May I sit next to you, sir?"
Higgins looked up, that same startled look in his eye, but this time he appeared more guarded--or softer. She was afraid to speculate which. He almost smiled.
"Of course Eliza," he allowed, watching her for another moment before glancing back down at the book he could not read because of the darkness. Eliza let out a breath that she tried to steady, then sank down onto the sofa next to him. She felt stiff, that now-familiar pain working its needle-like way up and down behind her breastbone in a burning conflict.
A newspaper rustled loudly.
"By George, Pickering, how can you read that in the dark?" Higgins questioned.
"The same way you can read that bloody book in the dark," Pickering retorted around his pipe.
"Keats is worth going blind over," Higgins tapped the page. "That rubbish was thrown together in a day, and half of it won't be confirmed as credible fact until a month from now."
"I can't wait to see how many survived this ship sinking until a month from now."
"What ship sinking?"
"She was called Titanic, of the White Star Line," Pickering replied. "Built by the Irish."
"And she sank?" Higgins said in disbelief. "That seems unlikely. Who was the designer?"
Eliza felt numb, the men's voices fading into the background as she stared into the fire. What was she doing here? Why had she come back? For this? For these two to sit around drinking brandy and smoking and ignoring her again? Certainly, they cared for her--at least Pickering did--but they were confirmed bachelors and truly had no idea or consideration of what she needed. Eliza's gaze drifted over to Higgins. He was talking and listening intently with Pickering, his face turned from her. Memories wandered through her head--the most vivid being the moment when he slid his hand strongly around her waist, clasped her hand in his and whirled her around this room, crowing joyfully at her sudden breakthrough. She had never felt such elation, such a sense of belonging. He truly could have twirled her through the parlour until the sun rose and she would not have felt the least bit tired.
Sadness weighed down on her shoulders heavily, penetrating her whole body. She lowered her head and sank down into the couch--and then laid her head on his shoulder.
"Andrews, you say?" Higgins was saying. "I heard of him once; he...oh."
Eliza felt him stiffen. She squeezed her eyes shut, waiting for him to push her away and stand up.
"Poor girl," Pickering murmured. "I doubt she got any sleep at all all last night. Best let her be for a while, Higgins."
"Yes, I...Yes." She sensed him relax slightly, and then felt his chin touch her hair. Unexpectedly, he adjusted beneath her, to make it more comfortable for her. Bravely, she nuzzled in just a bit closer, her heartbeat quickening. He stilled, and stayed where he was. So she stayed where she was. And, incredibly, she fell asleep.
She blinked, her eyes flying open. The fire still blazed, but the voice that woke her disoriented her. She sat up. Higgins sat there right next to her, looking tired. She blinked harder, rubbing her eyes.
"What time is it?" she muttered, vaguely noticing that Colonel Pickering was gone.
"Far past your bedtime," he answered, smiling crookedly. She frowned.
"Did I fall asleep?"
"Yes--on my shoulder, actually," Higgins chuckled, straightening. Eliza swallowed.
"Forgive me, I--"
He waved it away.
"No, never mind that. You've had a very trying past few evenings. I suppose I could forget about it just this once."
Eliza watched him a moment, but he didn't look at her. She sighed, rose and started for the door.
"Goodnight, Professor Higgins," she said heavily.
She turned to see him quickly getting to his feet and hurrying toward her, only to slow to a halt. She raised her eyebrows and waited. He rammed his hands in his pockets.
"I wanted you to know how terribly you've inconvenienced me by your abrupt departure and truancy lately."
Eliza considered him.
"Yes," he said decisively. "The book containing my schedule is missing, because I am certain you put it in a place where only you would think of putting it. Also, I know I had three invitations to lecture that I have to decline, and I believe those were with the schedule." He gestured in frustration. "Three people walked in this afternoon and I had no idea of their names, because their telephone calls had not been answered, and--"
"I missed you too."
He stopped abruptly, staring at her.
"You...well, I..." He cleared his throat and glanced at the floor. She smiled gently. He met her eyes again.
"Goodnight, then, Eliza." He stepped toward her quickly, bent his head and kissed her.
She instantly knew that he meant for it to be quick, a friendly, brotherly gesture--but something stopped him, and he could not withdraw. His lips softened against hers, as if he had tasted something far sweeter than he had expected. Eliza's eyes fluttered closed, and her hand came up to gently rest against the side of his face.
Their lips parted, and he stared at her, completely flabbergasted. He snatched at her hand and his fingers closed around hers. He stood frozen, then took a deep, stunned breath.
"Good lord," he said hoarsely. His eyes flashed up to hers. "I--"
"Never mind that," Eliza said quietly, her smile broadening. "You've had a very trying past few evenings. I suppose I could forget about it just this once."
He cleared his throat again.
"If you must," he muttered. She squeezed his fingers. He stared at their connected hands, then watched her eyes again.
"Goodnight, Eliza," he said again, and she turned and ascended the stairs to her room.