It was a hot and humid summer in her hometown in Alabama, and Elizabeth Bennet was not excited to be home. She had been, sure, when she arrived three weeks before. She loved her family to bits and pieces – eccentric though they certainly were. It was a pleasure to spend the entire summer with Jane, a comfort to see her father, and even mildly amusing to spend some time with her mother and younger sisters. But after three weeks, she began to feel what she had always felt about her hometown – it was boring. Dreadfully, intolerably boring.
Liz had hated the monotony of small-town life all her life, but moving to New York City had only made it worse. In New York, she saw the full diversity of life. There were shows, museums, restaurants. But the city's inhabitants fascinated her the most – what diversity of occupations, lifestyles, and aspirations! What a stark contrast to the population of her hometown, all of which – and really all of which – was involved in the same activities, aspiring to the same goals, working for the same corporation. God, how she hated Pemberley Corp! Was there a soul in Meryton, Alabama who was not connected to that company? Was there a single person in her inexorably boring hometown who was not eternally dependent on continual employment at Pemberley? Her own father was a head engineer there, and her mother had worshipped Pemberley Corp for as long as Liz could remember. It seemed to immutably occupy everyone's thoughts, and correspondingly invaded every attempt at civilized conversation.
And today was no exception.
"Pemberley had amazing profits last quarter, and Mr. Darcy is hosting a grand soiree next weekend! The whole town is talking of it. Of course, he couldn't invite all of his employees, but he did invite your father, girls – and the entire family!" Mrs. Bennet was blabbing excitedly, waving the invitation in her hand.
Liz cringed. Then she sighed, smiled, and attempted to take her part in the conversation.
"How is Mr. Darcy? Has his health improved?"
She remembered the heart attack that Mr. Darcy – the founder, owner, and CEO (yes, her town was truly boring!) of Pemberley Corp – had suffered during her previous summer vacation, and the commotion it had caused in all of Meryton.
Mrs. Bennet gave her a questioning look. "What do you mean, child? His health has always been superb." Then realization slowly dawned on her, and she added "oh, you meant George Darcy, didn't you? Why, he passed away four months ago – has nobody told you?" At this point, Mrs. Bennet's face expressed deep shock – how could it be that her daughter had not heart such monumental news? How could it be that anyone in Meryton had not been deeply affected by it?
"But you just mentioned that Mr. Darcy was hosting a party… Surely, it would be George Darcy…" Liz knew exactly what her mother had meant, and which Mr. Darcy she had referred to. But there was a part of Liz that simply refused to believe it.
"Oh Lizzie, it was Fitzwilliam Darcy that I spoke of! George Darcy's son, the new CEO of Pemberley."
All of a sudden, Lizzy's profound dislike for Pemberley Corp deepened. Fitzwilliam Darcy. She hated the man. No, not hated, the emotion she felt was closer to disgust – the way one would feel about a particularly annoying insect, about someone who was infuriating yet unworthy even of hate.
Fitzwilliam Darcy had lived in Meryton until he turned eighteen years old and departed for college. Liz's early memories portrayed him as a somewhat reserved, and incredibly haughty boy. He was George Darcy's son, and the adults in Meryton fawned over him. He was also undeniably gorgeous, and there was hardly a girl his age who was not madly in love with him and willing to give herself to him at his very first call.
Elizabeth was eight years younger than Fitzwilliam, and he had never noticed her. She, in turn, had at first regarded the older boy as an interesting subject to observe. The arrogant way he spoke to his father's employees, the smug manner in which he rejected the fawning girls, and the self-absorbed reserve with which he treated everyone else were at times almost entertaining. Yet by the time she turned nine, Liz began to realize the amount of pain that Fitzwilliam Darcy caused to those who attempted to ingratiate themselves in his favor. Lizzy was an intelligent child, and she did not fail to notice the tears shed by the older girls at her school. It was then that she began to regard him as an unpleasant nuisance, almost a parasite: someone who only took and never gave, and without whom the town would be altogether better off.
Yet it was two years later that her profound disgust and resentment for him were born. During sixth grade, Liz formed a deep, lively friendship with a neighbor's daughter, Charlotte Lucas. At fifteen, Charlotte was four years older than Liz, but Liz was a precocious child, and the two girls fast became the very best of friends. The girls played together at the playground, took long walks around the countryside, and spoke of their mutual interests in history and science. They were able to spend even more time together once the summer vacation came, and the two girls enrolled in swimming and gymnastics lessons together, and organized picnics for their friends.
It was then that Liz began to notice a subtle change in Charlotte's comportment. Charlotte had never been as cheerful and lively as Liz, but she was always a serene and happy girl. But by mid-July, Liz began to notice that Charlotte was quieter than normal, yet not calmer. Instead, the older girl turned pensive and restless. The furrowed brow, the fidgety fingers, and the occasional inattentiveness alerted Liz to the realization that there was something troubling her friend.
Liz observed her friend carefully for a week, and at last came to the disturbing conclusion that her friend's trouble was none other than Fitzwilliam Darcy. Fitzwilliam had come home to Meryton from college for the summer, and was his usual haughty, selfish, yet gorgeous self. Charlotte, at the impressionable age of fifteen, fell deeply for him. If it was not love, it was certainly a very strong infatuation. His long, muscular legs, his messy dark curls, the smug line of his perfect full lips – those were the things that caused her pensive look, her fidgety fingers, her complete inattention to everyone and everything else.
Fitzwilliam Darcy treated Charlotte Lucas as he had treated all other Meryton girls a few years younger than him. He gave her one or two condescending smiles (which she promptly mistook for loving looks), graced her with a few sarcastic compliments (which she gladly took for sincere attentions), and played along with her foolish infatuation for a few weeks (long enough for her to become completely absorbed with his presence). By early August, Fitzwilliam Darcy meant more to Charlotte than anything else. He had invaded her dreams, and indirectly controlled her very existence. Elizabeth tried her hardest to rescue her friend from the ruthless feelings of unrequited love. But not much can be done against the soft heart of a fifteen-year-old girl when it so freely opens to its very first love.
It was when Charlotte had completely lost herself in her love and shamelessly followed Fitzwilliam Darcy as a little puppy, offering all of herself and her young loving heart to him, that he finally broke the charade. It was what he always did in such cases; and it was the reason Lizzy grew to despise him so.
He mocked Charlotte. He openly scorned her, and for a few days made her the laughingstock of the little town – for a few days only, because within a week there was a new broken heart and a new girl mocked because of her foolish love for Fitzwilliam Darcy.
Liz watched her friend wither away after the sound rejection. Despite all of her best efforts, Liz could not help Charlotte. The older girl grew depressed and withdrawn. And even years later, when the pain was no longer there – when Charlotte grew to forgive Fitzwilliam Darcy, to forget the way he had hurt her, and to live her life with nonchalance – Charlotte Lucas was never quite the same. She was a healthy girl, with not a trace of the depression that plagued her for two months after Fitzwilliam's cruelty, but she became very cynical. She no longer believed in romance, only in comfort and security.
And Lizzy, too, was never quite the same. That summer, at the tender age of eleven, she learned what it meant to despite as deeply as she now despised Fitzwilliam Darcy.
And so it was that Liz's emotions at hearing that the new CEO of Pembeley Corporation – the man who was now in control of the lives of the entire town – was none other than the man she most disdained and despised in the world. She had disliked Pemberley before, simply because it was the only thing in Meryton that anyone ever spoke of, but she hated the company now.
"Isn't he a bit young to be in charge of Pemberley?" She asked only to say something. "I would not entrust such a large company, with so many jobs, to a man who has not yet shown that he is capable of leading it."
"Oh Lizzy," Mrs. Bennet passionately countered, "he is quite capable indeed! Pemberley has never seen such remarkable profits as in the quarter since he took over! I have heard that he takes the business quite seriously, spending all of his time tending to it." At this point Lizzy thought that that was most likely because he considered everything else in Metyron too far beneath him, but she refrained from voicing the comment, instead letting her mother continue her exuberant approbation of the young Mr. Darcy. "And he is young, to be sure. Amazing how someone so young and handsome can be such a glamorous businessman! A pity that he would never marry one of my daughters, for I cannot imagine a more magnificent son-in-law."
A pity indeed, Elizabeth thought with a sarcastic smirk. She remained silent, however, now regretting making any comment about him to begin with, and fervently hoping that her mother would switch to a more pleasant subject. Her wish was not granted, however, as Mrs. Bennet continued:
"I thought once that he asked you to dance, my Lizzy, but of course nothing came of it. No, no, Mr. Darcy is far too grand for any of us – even Jane's beauty is not enough to tempt him."
Lizzy cringed, recalling instantly the occasion to which her mother had just referred. It was precisely a year before, and Elizabeth was home for the summer after her first year of university. Fitzwilliam, too, was in Meryton because of his father's deteriorating health. For some inexplicable reason, he chose to grace with his presence one of the local parties, where he stood, brooding, in the corner, sweeping the room with an haughty gaze, and bitterly mocking the numerous girls attempting to induce him to dance.
Surrounded by a fleet of girls, twirling a glass of brandy in his hand, the monotony of Fitzwilliam's evening was suddenly broken when his haughty gaze met the most piercing set of eyes he had ever seen. The intensity of those two sparkling points was so strong that he involuntarily shivered, and it took him a moment to register that what he was looking at was a pair of very fine girl's eyes. Mesmerized by the ardor of feeling those eyes displayed (and, alas, unable to realize that that feeling was unabated despising), for several seconds Fitzwilliam was unable to pay attention to anything else. At last, he managed to lower his gaze to the mouth under the eyes, only to see it quirked in a disdainful smirk. He then took in the rest of the girl who had caught his attention: the long, flowing, curly chestnut hair; the ample yet delicate figure clad in a delightful purple dress; the long legs. She was undeniably a beauty, as evidenced by the considerable group of male admirers chatting animatedly around her (a group almost as large as the flock of fawning girls around himself!). She was gorgeous, and like nothing he had ever seen: the passion displayed by her eyes, and the disdainful smirk upon her lovely full lips was something Fitzwilliam Darcy had never encountered in his life before.
Fitzwilliam was drawn to this girl and walked unwaveringly towards her. Poor soul, he had never been scorned or rejected before; he had never seen a woman's eyes portray anything other than adoration. How could he divine the despising that Lizzy felt for him? Indeed, he could not. Instead, he walked assuredly towards his goal, through her parting male entourage, until he stood before her, and huskily asked her to dance with him.
Her response shocked him.
"Pardon me, Mr. Darcy, but I have no desire to dance. If I had, I would be doing so now, with one of my friends." The smirk on her lips deepened. "And not with a complete stranger whose acquaintance I have no desire to make," she added and quickly walked away. For a second, she had almost allowed herself to be flattered by the fact that he had singled her out. But she reminded herself that this was his usual attitude – to charm and to attract, then to discard. He had done this with countless girls before, many of whom he bedded, others (including Charlotte) not, but all of whom he hurt. So Elizabeth did the most sensible thing she could think of: she determinedly headed home, so as to avoid any future attention from him.
As if in a daze, Fitzwilliam followed her, out of the room, asking repeatedly: "Excuse me, what is your name? May I have the pleasure of knowing your name?"
She turned around, shook her head, entered her car, and drove away, leaving an awe-struck man on the sidewalk.
Elizabeth had not seen Fitzwilliam Darcy since, and she was now profoundly vexed. Vexed that her mother would bring up that incident, vexed that his name would be mentioned in her house at all – and above all vexed by the fact that he was now in charge of Pemberley Corporation, and hence in change of everything and everyone in Meryton. There was no escaping the disagreeable man. Thank God that in a little over two months, she would be back in New York!