It was late when Fitzwilliam Darcy left the office on November 11th. Late, dark, and cold. As he walked out of the building, he spotted a lone figure on the sidewalk. Looking closer, he recognized her to be Charlotte Lucas.
He had not spoken to Charlotte for a while now. Not since… not since Cancun. And he smiled. The sight of Charlotte reminded him of happier times, of sunny beaches… of Lizzy. He chased that last thought away, frowning. It was no use thinking about her. It had been over two months now, and she had not even called.
Attempting to disperse his melancholy thoughts, he walked up to Charlotte.
She startled, not expecting to be addressed. But seeing that it was him, she smiled genuinely. "Good evening, Mr. Darcy. Yes, been busy with the accounts lately."
He nodded. "Please call me William."
She did not respond.
They had begun walking together now.
"Can I give you a ride?" He asked.
"Sure. Thanks, William."
Once in the car, he smiled and asked: "Home?"
After a moment of hesitation, she shook her head. "No, I don't want to go home. Not yet."
"Where were you heading?"
"I don't know."
"Then where should I take you?" He was beginning to grow impatient and irritated. He was tired. So very tired.
"How about a pub?" She asked tonelessly.
"Sure," He mumbled, and drove towards the nearest joint. Now that she had said that, he realized that it wouldn't be such a bad idea for him either. He had nothing better to do with his life nowadays. Why not have a few drinks?
They walked in and sat at the bar. She was silent, obviously lost in her own thoughts. He tried to think of a good conversation starter, but all that came out was:
"How's your friend been?"
He cursed himself the moment these words left his mind. Why could he not think about anything other than her? Why could he not take his mind off her for a single second, even now – two months after they parted… Two months after she left him.
"You mean Lizzy?" Charlotte asked sardonically, and he was surprised to hear the chilliness of her tone.
"Y-No. I mean… yes."
"I haven't spoken to her since she left for New York," Charlotte said as indifferently as she could.
He looked up at her in surprise. "Why?"
"Why have you not spoken to her since then?" Charlotte countered.
"I… well… we… um, we quarreled." He did not want to reveal anything unpleasant about Lizzy to her friend. At least he thought Charlotte was still her friend, although her present demeanor indicated otherwise.
Charlotte laughed. "Look, William, I appreciate your concern for Lizzy's privacy and everything, but I know. I know what happened. I don't know how you found out – but I saw her make out with Greg."
He flinched at the bluntness of her words. She continued:
"I told her what I thought about it, and we haven't talked since. Ok?"
"You don't know what to say," She finished for him.
He simply nodded.
"That's fine. There isn't anything you need too say, really. Perhaps you feel like thanking me? Then I can safely tell you that there is absolutely no need. I did nothing for you. Maybe you want to apologize for ruining our friendship? Again, no point. You didn't do it – she did. Look, William, it would have been the same if it were any other man in your place. What she did was awful. I wasn't upset because it was you, but because it wasn't her. She was no longer the Lizzy I knew, no longer the friend whose courage, dedication, and integrity I had always admired."
She paused, and they fell into silence. He ordered another scotch. She sipped her martini. A tear rolled down her cheek. And he was appalled to realize that in his own misery he had failed to notice hers.
"What's wrong, Charlotte?" He asked softly.
She just shook her head.
"Tell me," He pleaded. "I know something is troubling you."
She opened her purse and pulled out a newspaper clipping, angrily shoving it at him.
He looked down. "Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam to Marry Heiress Anne de Bourgh," read the title of the society news story.
Fitzwilliam trembled, overcome by sudden repulsion. He could hardly wrap his mind around the words that he saw on the page before him. How could this be?
He thought back to Cancun. To the double dates they had shared – he and Lizzy, Richard and Charlotte. To the time Lizzy had to spend the night in his suite after walking in on his cousin and her friend. To the happy smile that played across Charlotte's lips back then, in such painful contrast to the bitter, dejected expression presently residing in her pale eyes.
And he felt a surge of anger at Richard. The anger that he never managed to feel towards Lizzy – because he still loved her so hopelessly. It was easier to hate his cousin, and to blame him for all the betrayal – both his, and Lizzy's.
He glanced at Charlotte, whose cheeks were now covered in thin black streaks of tears and mascara. Light sobs shook her frame. She looked so small and meek, so vulnerable now. He tenderly took her hand.
"I'm sorry, Charlotte. I didn't know."
"I d-didn't either. U-until today."
"I can't believe he would do that!"
She shook her head ruefully.
"He's an idiot, Charlotte!" Darcy cried with vigor. "A real idiot to forsake you. I can't believe he would do that."
And then, drawing comforting circles on the back of her hand, he added sincerely:
"You're a great girl, Charlotte."
His voice was soft and soothing. Unconsciously, she drew nearer. Inadvertently, his eyes fell to her lips.
"A really great girl," he murmured, and leaned down towards her.
His lips met hers, softly, probingly. Her lips parted, granting him access, urging him to proceed. He remembered fuller, softer lips, that were much less compliant – that didn't open readily, instead making him work his way into them. And yet it had only made him want them more…
He drew back suddenly, and hung his head.
She turned away, attempting to reconcile her own feelings. There was sadness, disappointment, wistfulness, guilt, and anger. Not at William, not at herself. But rather at the tall, charming brown-haired man whom she had not seen since August.
"I… I should not have done that," William whispered. "It was wrong, all so wrong."
"Yes, it was," She agreed.
They looked again at each other and wordlessly understood. It was not only wrong, but it would never be right. It would never feel right for him to kiss anyone other than Lizzy. And it would never feel right for her to kiss anyone other than Richard.
Impatient to end the awkwardly painful moment, Charlotte rose to leave.
"I don't know if I can ever forgive her for what she did to you, William."
And she walked away before he had a chance to tell her that he knew he could never forgive his cousin.