From Where You Are
Chapter 10: All I Have To Say For Myself
It's when you're on the brink of something
that you lose your balance.
You told me that once.
When I can't bring myself to say what I need to,
my heart plays Russian Roulette with my throat.
Anne sat down heavily on the couch in her living room, throwing her bags haphazardly on the floor, her cell phone in her hand. She had one missed call from an unknown number. It was rare that anyone called her at all. They must have left the message while she was coming back from campus. Outwardly, she only dialed her voicemail, mechanically entering her password, but inwardly she was singing 'thankyouthankyouthankyou' because one of the messages had to be from Derick.
Ever since she'd run into him at the deli and read his enigmatic interview, he had occupied all of her time. He was a constant undercurrent in her stream of thoughts. No matter what task she was doing, the thought of him lingered. What had their run-in at the deli meant? Why had he done that particular interview? Anne had her own opinions, but they had seemed too wild and unrealistic to ever consider seriously.
But now, he had called her, just as she'd hoped he would. Anne knew it, and if only that cool, automated feminine voice would get to the message, she would know what he had to say to her. Their last meeting had gone so well and had left so much up in the air. Derick must have been preoccupied with the thought of her, just as she'd been unable to concentrate on anything but the idea of him. He'd gotten her number somehow and was calling to talk, or maybe even invite her out to dinner—
Disappointment coursed through her, sharp and devastating as the message started to play. The voice was male, but it wasn't Derick. It sounded slightly effeminate and there was a definite note of stress in the tone. Anne finally recognized it as Penelope Clay's personal assistant. She had met him a few times over the years of Penelope's marriage to Walter. He sounded flustered.
"Anne, it's Matt Primm. You cannot imagine; the absolute worst thing has happened. As you probably know, Penelope has had her benefit planned for weeks; it's been on the website and everything, but Ellen Dashwood scheduled her benefit for the prevention of sex trafficking for the same night, and you know how popular a cause that is right now." He sounded exasperated. "We've had more people decline than we expected because of Ellen's benefit, and Penelope doesn't want to look like an amateur throwing her first party, so I've been commissioned to help stack the audience for her. Please come and bring a date if you can. Someone fashionable and young." Matt gave her the address and the time before saying a hurried goodbye.
She imagined that he had been commissioned to call every single person in Penelope's contact list who hadn't already been invited to the benefit. Times must have been tough indeed if he'd had to resort to calling her. She deleted the message, disappointed that it had not been from Derick.
Anne sighed and hung up her coat and bag, which she had dropped on the floor in her excitement. She began to cook dinner for herself, boiling water for rice, cutting vegetables and chicken for a simple stir fry. She let her imagination run with images of her and Derick together at the benefit. Matt had said to bring someone stylish and young…
It was a happy thought, and she dwelled on the pretty picture it made in her head as she cooked. Ultimately, it was not something that was going to happen by magic or luck, she thought to herself, slicing through carrots and peppers. Derick was not going to appear on her doorstep and profess his love for her. She had spent too much time waiting, floundering in despair or wistfully longing for something to happen. She knew that now, and she knew his character enough to know that he was not going to contact her without some encouragement.
If she wanted events to move forward, she had to move them. But how? She slid all the ingredients into the pan and then poured herself a glass of wine.
There was always Walter—but Anne was reluctant to use her father for anything, even if he was the surest way to get in contact with Derick. Who knew if Derick had any interest in her? She shook her head to herself and sipped the wine.
The facts were that they had had one unexpected run in at a deli. They had not exchanged phone numbers; they had not talked about anything important. Anne was letting her thoughts run wild, but with no clear evidence. She could be hopeful, but all her hopes might be completely unfounded. She didn't want to risk the awkwardness of contacting Walter for anything less than a sure thing, and when had Derick ever been a sure thing?
No. Anne would call Liam and invite him to the benefit. That would be the easiest thing. Matt had said to bring a date, and she could finally repay Liam for all of the exciting places that he had invited her. She wasn't dying to go with Liam, but at least he would be someone to talk to. She wouldn't be arriving by herself to a party that she had only been invited to by necessity, and any of Penelope's friends that Anne was acquainted with would be charmed by Liam and impressed that Anne had found such an attractive date, even if it would not technically be a date.
It was shallow, but Anne wanted people to know that her life was on the upswing. She wasn't a downtrodden teacher anymore. She was young, she was happy, and if she were honest, her motives were not entirely pure for attending the benefit. If Penelope had been desperate enough to invite Anne, she certainly would have had Walter contact his friends as well, and maybe even his current cast members. It was a delicious thought. The idea was more than a long shot, but Anne couldn't get rid of the nagging hope that she might see Derick at the benefit. If he wasn't there, it was as much as she expected, but if he was—she finally had a chance to see if anything still existed between them.
The thrift store smelled like dust and old shoes with some kind of chemical overtone. Anne hadn't wanted to spend too much money on a dress that she would only wear for one evening, but she was tired of her wardrobe, tired of all the clothes she only wore to teaching. Why didn't she have anything nice to go out in? She had been visiting some of the nicer thrift stores, searching for a treasure amid the junk. She'd had little success.
She pulled a blue sequined dress from the rack, attracted by the sparkle of it, but it had shoulder pads and velvet and was monstrously ugly and outdated. She wrinkled her nose and put it back on the rack. She was losing hope of finding anything. She would wear the same old dress that she always wore to functions, and Penelope would be mortified that she had invited her. Anne smiled to herself at the thought of Penelope's face and pictured Penelope trying to hide her at a corner table, perhaps behind a conveniently placed fern tree.
Black lace caught her attention next, and she pulled it from the mass of hangers. Anne was shocked to see that the dress was actually wearable—even fashionable. The black lace overlay was beautiful. The dress was knee-length with a pencil skirt and small capped laced sleeves. The back was cut low in the shape of a V. It was both classy and sophisticated, and it was in her size.
She pulled the curtain closed on the small, dimly lit dressing room. It was a small space to maneuver around in, but she managed to pull the dress over her head without ripping any seams. With the side zipper all the way up, the dress fit snugly over her Anne's slender hips. She craned her head over her shoulder to try to get a view of the back. She furrowed her brow thoughtfully, considering how large her butt looked in the dress.
She didn't look half bad, she thought with approval. If she was not very much mistaken, Anne thought she had found her dress. It was a flattering cut, understated but sexy. She ran her hands over the dress and smiled at herself in the mirror. This was exactly what she had wanted to find. It had to be a good omen. She wouldn't have found the dress unless Derick was meant to see it, she told herself. The universe had been kind to her thus far; she just hoped her luck would hold.
Anne shut the cab door as Liam handed money to the driver through the window. She was lightheaded with anticipation for the evening. The entrance to the building was crowded with men in winter coats with cameras around their necks. They stomped their feet to keep warm and blew air into their hands. There was a backdrop with the logo of Penelope's foundation scattered across it. Guests could pause for the photographers if they wished. The paparazzi had all turned in anticipation as she and Liam had arrived, but they had turned back away almost instantly. Anne was fine with this, but she knew that Liam was disappointed. He would have loved to have seen himself on the Society page in the morning's newspaper or on the internet. They hurried inside past the photographers.
"What's this benefit for again?" Liam asked as they entered the building. Anne tried to remember the name of Penelope's foundation.
"It has something to do with saving the natural flora and fauna of New York," Anne said. She pointed at the logo, which featured, what Anne could only assume, was a native flower of the state. Although Anne was sure that money was being raised to help the cause, the benefit seemed more like a popularity contest than anything else. Whoever could have the most people, and especially the most famous people, at their event won the contest. Anne doubted that Penelope's devotion to the cause went any deeper than that.
Inside the large hall, it was warm, with soft lights. Tables were set up along the perimeter of the large circular room, leaving space in the center for the podium and projector where Penelope and her fellow philanthropists had given a number of brief speeches. A slide show was in progress, and Penelope would speak again later in the evening. Anne and Liam were running fashionably late. Anne had been on time, but Liam had spent an inordinate amount of time arranging and rearranging the silk pocket square in his tux. She had rolled her eyes, but she didn't mind missing some of the earlier speeches. She secretly wanted to ask Liam how long it had taken him to get that just-rolled-out-of-bed hair, but she held her tongue. She was afraid his answer would prove that he had taken longer to get ready than she had.
The large floor at the center of the ring of tables also left the possibility open for dancing. Waitresses and waiters milled around the room with trays of hors d'oeuvres and flutes of champagne. There were bars set up where the guests could order something a bit stronger if they were so inclined. A few people were sitting while others stood in groups of black tuxes and brightly colored dresses. The chatter was animated and the atmosphere in the room was bright.
"I never would have pegged Penelope Clay for a philanthropist," Liam murmured as they dropped off their coats at the coat check.
"I think her publicist told her it would help her image," Anne said with a smile. "Walter just goes along with it."
"Keeping his woman happy—nothing wrong with that." Liam was looking around the circular room with interest. "So I'll get to meet the infamous Walter tonight," he added, sounding hopeful. "I wasn't sure he was going to be here."
Anne knew it was a lie. Liam had asked if Walter would be there when she'd invited him.
"Well, Walter loves these things. Give him food and cameras and he's perfectly content."
Anne's quickly scanned the room as she as Liam checked their coats. There were too many people; too many dark haired men looking like perfect cutouts of each other. She couldn't see Derick anywhere. She felt disappointment sink through her—but it was still early, she thought quickly. He might still arrive.
She gave the room one last go over and made eye contact with a slender blonde woman. It took Anne a moment to realize that it was her half-sister, Elizabeth. She was standing with a handsome man, and Anne guessed he was a fellow model. She couldn't think of the last time she had seen Elizabeth, so she had no idea if he was Elizabeth's boyfriend. For all Anne knew, he could have been Elizabeth's husband. It had been that many years since they had seen each other. They had held each other's gaze for too long, and Anne felt compelled to say the perfunctory hellos. She turned to Liam, who was gazing around with interest.
"My sister Elizabeth is here. Want to say hello with me?"
Liam's face lit up at the prospect of meeting a model. He grinned and said, "Lead the way," with his hand resting lightly on the middle of her back.
Elizabeth smiled haughtily as Anne approached, but she made a big show out of kissing the air by Anne's cheek in greeting. Her perfume wafted over Anne, smelling strongly of flowers. Elizabeth was pale, and her dress had alternating bands of grey, black, and white. Her lips, by contrast, were fire-engine red. She looked chic and also very bored.
The man at her side looked Anne over once with little interest.
"Qui est-elle?" he asked Elizabeth. His suit was very slim. In her heels, Elizabeth was nearly the same height as he was. Anne felt like she had entered the land of beautiful giants.
"Ma soeur," Elizabeth quickly responded with a little eye roll. To Anne, she smiled brightly. "What a nice surprise. I admit that I hadn't expected to see you at one of these events. Your dress is just darling," she cooed. "Lace is very in this spring," she finished with approval. "I guess you must still be in New York, playing that violin."
Anne nodded after a beat. She'd debated about correcting Elizabeth, but in the end it seemed like more effort than it was worth.
"Right, and you're living in Paris now?" Walter had mentioned it at one of their lunches.
"Ah, oui," Elizabeth replied with a smug smile. "With Paul," she said, simpering at her date. "He's an incredibly boring human being, but his apartment is the best in the city. Spectacular view." She laughed at Anne's shocked expression. "Oh, don't worry. He doesn't speak a word of English. Not even "hello"." She rubbed his arm affectionately, her red nails standing out against the black of his jacket, and he smiled at her. "We were in New York for a shoot when Daddy called me about this benefit, and I thought, why not?. Free booze, at the very least."
Paul continued to look out into the crowd, unconcerned with Anne or Liam. But Elizabeth's eyes slid from Anne's dress to Liam, flitting up and down, and then up and down again. Anne supposed that Elizabeth had just noticed his tall, lithely muscled frame and the perfectly tailored suit.
"And who's your friend?" Elizabeth asked, looking sultry.
"Liam Walter," Liam shook Elizabeth's offered hand with a winsome smile. "I'm a friend of Anne's. It's such a pleasure to meet you. Can I just say—you're absolutely stunning. Anne told me you were a model, but I had no idea you would be so beautiful."
Elizabeth smiled as though she didn't hear this type of comment every day of her life. Anne felt suddenly that it had been a mistake to come here. She was out of place. Liam belonged in the world of the beautiful giants much more than she did. She wondered how long she would have to stay.
Anne excused herself from the situation, feeling it would be better to stand alone than to listen to Liam and Elizabeth fawn over each other. She took a glass of champagne from one of the waiters who was passing by and sipped it, still half-heartedly looking around at the people in the large room. She noticed her father standing several yards away, and he beckoned her over.
"Anne," he said, in a happily booming voice. "So glad you could come. Penelope would have had my balls in a vice if I didn't get everyone I knew here," he finished in an undertone. "Had to invite the whole damn cast as well." But Walter was enjoying himself and the crowd; he loved seeing and being seen.
He looked like a paragon of health this evening. Anne thought that he might have lost a few pounds, and she wondered if it had to do with the new movie he was filming with Derick. Anne was sure he had insisted on stopping on the walkway at the entrance for as many photos as the paparazzi wanted of him. She wouldn't have put it past Walter to have arranged for the press to be there in the first place. He was flush with happiness and alcohol.
And then, with an easy stride, Derick was moving across the room toward them.
"Wentworth!" her father boomed as happily as he had yelled her own name. He clapped Derick on the back as he joined them. "So good of you to come. Penelope's speech is bound to be godawful, but the nosh is not half bad." Derick had been smiling at Walter's greeting, and now he turned his head and smiled warmly at Anne.
She couldn't contain the smile that spread across her face. She had been waiting all night, all week really, hoping that Derick would be here.
Here he was, looking so handsome in his suit and smiling as though he had been waiting to see her as well.
"Oh, this is my daughter, Anne," Walter said, noticing where Derick's attention was focused. "My other daughter is here, too. Elizabeth. You should meet her." Walter craned his neck, looking for his eldest daughter. "Let me go find her." Spotting her, he excused himself, leaving Anne with Derick.
"You look beautiful," Derick said, and Anne felt heat rush to her face, and she looked down, away from his eyes. She was glad she had spent all that time on her hair; glad she had put on the extra mascara. It had all been worth it, just for that reaction.
"Oh, thank you." She ran her hands over the side of her dress, looking for something innocuous to say. "This is—it's from a thrift store," she said, laughing with a shrug of her shoulders. She looked up at him again. "But you. You look great. That's a great tux."
He smiled wryly. "Penguin suit. I'd much rather be in a t-shirt right now. I've been wearing a suit day-in and day-out for weeks now. They've lost some of their appeal."
"You're still filming; how has that been going?"
It was strange how easy it felt talking to Derick, how natural it all was, despite the circumstances. She relaxed for the first time since entering the benefit.
"It's been wonderful. It's been such an experience. You should come to the set sometime, just to see the clothes. Here I am complaining about my suits, meanwhile the women…" He mimed walking in voluminous skirts. "I can't imagine how they do it."
"I'd love that," Anne said, her heart pounding hard against her chest. Derick was being so open and friendly, and his eyes hadn't left her face.
His forehead crinkled slightly. "It's been a while since we've talked, hasn't it. I haven't really seen you since Ben's play—and Lauren's accident."
Anne wanted to say that they hadn't exactly been talking then, but it didn't seem the moment. They certainly were talking now. She smiled. "That was quite a night."
The expression on Derick's face darkened. "It was such a stupid way for things to end. It…changed the whole experience of the play for me. I'm sure all of it must have been awful for you."
Anne paused, unsure of what he really meant, unsure of what she should say, but finally she shrugged. "No, working on that play was a good experience for me." She would never have imagined herself saying it during the play, but it was true now. Time had given her some perspective and her circumstances had changed dramatically for the better. She was here with Derick now, wasn't she? If it had led to this, then it was all worth it. "I wouldn't change anything. I learned so much about myself, and I gained so much. Working with Ben opened doors for me. None of it would have happened without the play."
Derick was smiling again. "That's right! Ben told me your good news. Anne Elliot: composer," he said dramatically, and Anne laughed.
"I still can't believe that it happened. I was so happy when he hired me. I had given up on that life completely; I can't tell you how dead that dream was. And then, like magic, I'm composing for his new play. He's been mentioning a movie score in the future as well." She held up her hands, speechless for the moment. "I almost can't believe it. It's all too good. I'm afraid someone is going to come and take it all away from me." She was only half joking.
Derick caught her gaze. "You deserve it, Anne," he said quietly. "More than anyone else I know." Anne's chest suddenly felt tight with emotion, and she forced herself to keep breathing. Sharing this good news with him felt so much like the old times. And something had changed in Derick. Maybe it was the beautiful night—the champagne—the pretty dresses. All those old walls he'd had up were gone. He was the person she had fallen in love with.
The moment dragged, and Anne didn't know what to say.
"Ben told me his good news the last time we talked," she finally said. "His engagement to Lauren, I mean. I was shocked, frankly. I had no idea they were even involved."
Derick nodded. "They've been on and off for a while. It seemed like she was trying to use me to get back at him, and that's not the way you want to go about it. I didn't think they were going to work it out. Lauren is great, but she's not…"Derick shrugged, looking away from Anne for the first time. In this shrug and silence, Anne heard all of the things that Derick was too nice to say. Lauren was nice, but she wasn't good enough for Ben, which meant she wasn't good enough for Derick either. Anne was filled with a little rush of joy at the thought, petty though it was.
"But, if she makes him happy..." Derick finished with another shrug.
Anne found herself almost stuttering through the next sentence, she was so keyed up. "I think they're admirable for working through all of their past and their problems. I hope everything works out for them."
They stood in silence for a long moment. Anne's heart was beating so hard, she thought it must be visible through her dress.
Penelope Clay's voice cut through the room; she had returned to the podium and was making her speech. Anne didn't hear a word through the jumble of thoughts running through her head. Standing next to Derick was enough to knock everything else out of her mind.
He hadn't liked Lauren! Not ever. Anne had known it, but hearing Derick say it was gratifying nonetheless. And he had feelings for her. He must. He was here tonight at this stupid benefit, and he was here to see her. Anne knew it. The tone of their conversation, the way he had looked at her, everything led to one conclusion. Anne surreptitiously wiped her sweaty palms on her dress. She didn't want this interaction with Derick to end, but she didn't know how much more her nerves could take.
But finally, Penelope was done speaking about the plants.
"That was riveting, wasn't it," Derick murmured while clapping politely. Anne laughed, clearing some of the tension she had felt.
"I didn't hear a word," she said honestly, looking up at Derick. His eyes were crinkled into a smile. He sobered after a moment.
"Listen, Anne," he began, falteringly. "Could we…maybe…just talk…not here." He sighed and began again. "Do you want to get coffee sometime or dinner, maybe? There's just a lot that I—".
Anne had been standing, mouth agape, as Derick painfully made his way through the question. But an arm slinked its way around her shoulders, and Liam dropped a friendly kiss on the top of her head.
"Anne. Elizabeth and Penelope are dying to talk to you about your dress. They sent me all the way over here to get you." She could smell the champagne on Liam's breath.
Derick had stopped talking the moment Liam had arrived and all the air snapped out of her like a deflated tire. She was opening her mouth to reply to Derick, to explain, to tell him to finish his sentence for God's sake, but Liam was talking smoothly over her, some words slurred together.
"Anne, will you introduce me to your friend?" Liam asked, though she was certain he knew exactly who Derick was. Unfortunately, Derick had already recognized Liam as well, from the deli and from the night of Lauren's accident. Anne shrugged Liam's arm off her shoulder, but Liam was already introducing himself, not waiting for her to speak.
"Walter thinks very highly of you," Liam was saying to Derick, but Derick cut him off with a fake smile.
"You should go see what you sister wants," Derick said politely. The smile was gone from his face a second after it appeared. Anne couldn't read anything in his expression. He was the Derick from the weeks before, stoic and unreadable. The one who didn't give a damn about her.
"I think I'll go mingle. I didn't realize we had been talking for so long. I haven't had a chance to say hello to anyone else yet. Walter would never let me live that down." Derick smiled again and excused himself gracefully. Anne was left standing with Liam.
He cupped her elbow and began to lead her toward where Penelope and Elizabeth were standing, but Anne jerked her arm out of his grasp. She craned her neck to stare after Derick. Where had he gone? He had it all wrong! Anne knew what it had looked like. She knew what she would have thought, had the situations been reversed, but it was all wrong. She just needed a second to collect her thoughts and then she would go explain everything. How to begin?
She could hardly pay attention to Penelope, who was trying to question her about her dress. She was scanning the crowd, looking for Derick's dark hair among the throngs of people. Finally she saw him among a group standing close to one of the exits. She heard snatches of Liam's conversation with Elizabeth.
"Oh, she's an absolute bitch," Liam was saying cheerfully, and Elizabeth looked totally enthralled. "None of the choreographers want to work with her, but she's sleeping with the artistic director, so…" Liam made a dismissive gesture, and Elizabeth laughed gleefully.
He was talking about one of the dancers he worked with, Anne realized absently. Her name was Kate. They had gone out with Kate for drinks a number of times, and Liam had never shown any sign of dislike for her. He was the best of friends to her face. It wasn't the first evidence Anne had seen of his duplicity, but it was the last she needed to hear. What did he say about her when she wasn't around?
'Anne Elliot? Oh, she's a frigid bitch. A total prude.' Anne could imagine it easily, and she suddenly couldn't bear the sight of Liam any longer. He was petty, mean, and he was frivolous. She didn't wonder that he and Elizabeth were getting on so well; they were the same person, deep down. Why had she come here with him? Why had she ever been his friend? He had just cost her so much.
She looked back toward where Derick had been, but he was gone. She had lost him. She searched wildly with her eyes and finally saw him collecting his coat from the coat checker.
Without saying a word to anyone, she rudely pushed past Penelope and walked as quickly as she could in her heels after Derick. She sped past the coat check and reached the corridor that led to the exits several moments after he had passed through it. Which one would he have taken? The back exit that led to a side street or the front exit with all the paparazzi?
She rushed down to the back exit, her heels clacking in the deserted hallway. The rush of air was cold on her face and neck, but there was no one at the back exit, no one on the street. Derick must have left through the front instead. She ran back to those doors, nearly losing her balance in her haste, but she was too late and she knew it. He wouldn't have stopped for the pictures; he was long gone.
She stepped back inside and placed her forehead against the cool wall of the hallway for just a moment, trying to cool her flushed skin. She felt furious tears spring to her eyes, but she tried to hold them back. Everyone would be wondering why she had left so abruptly. She couldn't look as though she had been crying, too. That would give it all away, and she couldn't bear to answer any of their questions. After a few minutes where she tried to take deep breaths, she decided to return to the main room. She would make her excuses to everyone and then take a cab home.
Her timid steps down the hallway became an almost enraged stomp as she stalked back. The breathing hadn't made her feel any better.
God help her for loving someone so stupid! She actually hit the wall with her first in frustration, but it hurt her hand so she stopped. Rubbing her wounded hand, Anne settled for a very aggravated sigh and then briefly closed her eyes, wondering how many times she and Derick could possibly mess this up.
She should have said, 'Please ignore this drunken idiot hanging on me, and yes, I would love to go on a date with you'.
She should have slapped Liam across the face, despite the fact that he hadn't really done anything to merit it. That would have showed Derick that Liam was nothing.
She should have said, 'Why don't we leave here now and get coffee? In fact, I have coffee at my apartment. Let's go there'.
Why had it all happened so quickly? Why hadn't she been able to think?
Derick liked her. He had accepted the invitation to the benefit tonight, he had spoken only to her, and he had asked her out on a date.
And Anne loved him, had always and would always, no matter how stupid he acted. She knew what had happened. He had put himself out there, made himself vulnerable, and then almost willfully misunderstood the interaction with Liam. He had added two and two together and had arrived at seven, all without even waiting a second for an explanation. He was jealous of Liam, Anne knew. Jealous of a man who meant nothing to her! It was absurd.
Anne could almost have laughed if it hadn't all been so terrible. It was not supposed to be this difficult. Anne would fix it all somehow. She didn't have a choice. She couldn't leave things as they were.
As Anne arrived back in the main room, she looked around, trying to find one person in particular. There! Standing near his boss was Matt Primm, Penelope's personal assistant. He would know how to get Derick's number. She hurried over to speak with him. It was his job to keep track of all of Penelope's contacts and make appointments for her.
Maybe Penelope already had Derick's number. Maybe Walter did. Or, Matt could get in contact with Derick's assistant or agent, pretending to set up a meeting with Penelope. Anne didn't care how it happened, as long as Matt got her in contact with Derick. She might seem like a creep, and she might seem like a fanatic, but she was going to get that number. She didn't care what she looked like in the process as long as she was able to clear things with Derick.
And if worst came to absolute worst, she wasn't above going to Walter for help.