Previously: Darcy and Elise are settling in, Jenine is out of sorts.

17

Elise moaned with pleasure as she ingested a large piece of a delightful fluffy pancake doused in maple syrup. Darcy openly chuckled at the noises she was making, and she looked up at him defiantly, mouth full of pancake.

"Whath? Ith goomphd," she replied, her mouth still full.

"Yeah, I can taste that it's good in my own pancake," Darcy said. "There was no need to spit your crumbs at me," he admonished, causing Elise to roll her eyes at him.

They ate in comfortable silence for some time, delighting in the joys of thick, fluffy, syrup coated pancakes and orange juice to drink.

"Hey, so, can I ask you something?" Darcy asked, interrupting the quiet.

Elise startled and looked up, her eyes widened with concern as to what his question might be. "Um... Sure?" she replied hesitantly.

"What's the real reason you decided to all of a sudden move out?" he inquired.

Elise snorted, recalling her troublesome family and the various instigators of the move. "Well first of all, my youngest stepsister threw a huge party at our house, let some of her hooligan friends stay in my room, did not monitor them and allowed them to unleash havoc on my prized snow globe collection. She then displayed zero remorse, I didn't even get an apology. Then on top of that, my step mother decided to try to set me up with this really odious man so that we could get married and be a subject for a reality TV show where she could publicise her line of wedding dresses." Elise hardly paused during the speech. Her cool tone masked the anger she felt at the mere memory.

Darcy looked at her, eyes wide, clearly taken aback.

Seeing his expression, Elise felt a little guilty for dumping a fork-lift load of her irritability on him. She calmed a little and went on to explain a bit more logically that these triggers were exactly that. In truth, even aside from these incidents she had had no real desire to keep on living in that house.

"In all honesty, Darcy, I just couldn't see the point in living there anymore, I guess. You may or may not have noticed, but my father is hardly home. While I do feel some sense of affection for Fran and her girls, I'm not close enough to them to put up with their...harassment. I don't really feel a need to live with my stepmother and her kids who I basically lived with for some 5 years... 5 years ago. I moved out for college, and since then, I guess I've really started to value my independence, even without realising it. It's hard to go back you know?"

"I think a lot of people find it hard to live under their parents' roof, even short-term once they've gotten a taste of living alone," Darcy said, nodding.

"Yeah, exactly. And those are often people who are actually quite close to their parents. Don't get me wrong, I love my family, flaws and all. But the affection I have for Fran, engendered by living with her for a relatively short period of my life, isn't really enough to persuade me to go on living with her, especially when her husband, who is actually my father, my flesh and blood and what not, isn't even around."

Darcy nodded again, understandingly.

"Is there anything that could entice you to move back in with your parents?" Elise asked, jokingly.

Darcy frowned slightly and looked down at the floor. "Honestly, if that was a possibility, feeling the way I do know, nothing could entice me not to move back in with them," he said. Darcy looked up and saw Elise's puzzled expression. "I lost both my parents in a car accident while I was at college," Darcy explained.

Elise's eyes widened, and she felt tears well in them, both due to her guilt at reminding him of past tragedy, and also because as much as her family tried her patience, losing any of them in such a way would break her heart.

"I am so, so, sorry," Elise said sincerely, a few tears spilling over. "You must think I'm such an insensitive, selfish person, moaning about my family the way I do."

Darcy smiled weakly back at her. "It's fine, honestly. If my parents were still around, I'd probably feel really differently- I'd probably be off gallivanting and living life away from home. Everybody complains about their family from time to time, I certainly did as a teenager. Losing them..." Darcy's voice broke, "Losing them made me appreciate them so much more."

Elise, slid over to him hand wrapped her hands around his waist, physical contact being the only way she could thing to express her sympathy without sounding clichéd or being inadvertently insensitive. Darcy returned her embrace, and stroked her back unconsciously as he thought back to the multitude of happy memories he had had with his parents and Georgie, for which he was grateful.

"My parents were amazing. My dad," he laughed, "my dad could be so serious about some things. Being respectful, being hard-working... those were qualities he demanded in me. But on the other hand, he was such a joker," Darcy said with a fond smile. "The man would wrestle with me on the living room floor, much to my mom's chagrin. And the practical jokes we used to play on each other," he laughed at the memory of the joke chewing gum box he had owned, that would snap right down on your finger as you pulled out a piece of gum.

"My mom was great too. I was always her little boy, even after I went to college. I remember one time she called while I was with some friends in the dorm. I didn't realise my phone was on speaker and she said something like 'Hi, my little man,' when I answered. All my friends heard and of course started laughing and I felt so humiliated at the time," he gave a half smile. "She was so caring though. It used to drive me nuts when she'd call and ask about my day and my week and all my friends, but somehow, even though she'd never met them, my mom could keep track of which friend was which and all the activities I was doing. I felt like I could tell her anything and she'd always support me."

He looked down to see Elise looking back up at him. "I know you don't really have that with your dad, but how about with your mom, are you guys close?" he asked, drawing the conversation away from himself.

"I think I could tell my mom pretty much anything. We've always had quite an honest relationship and all. The thing is that while I could easily talk to my mom about all my worries and have her support, it's hard for that to happen. The last 10 years or so, she's been constantly on the move. When I call her or see her, I know I can tell her anything, but the thing is, there isn't time to tell her everything. I find myself prioritising the things I have to tell her, and as time goes by, I find it harder and harder to tell her some things. Not because I'm reluctant or anything, but just because sometimes the start of a story I want to tell her was six months ago and there's so much back history there, that she's missed."

Elise suddenly looked up at him worriedly, "Mom doesn't... neglect us, or anything," she clarified. "It's not that she's selfish. It's just that my mom, kind of like me, always had these big dreams, but when the time came for her to achieve them, she had to put them on hold. First, because she was straight of college and didn't have enough savings. Then because she met my dad and went on to have Jen and I. My mom married my dad pretty soon after she graduated, and I think she neglected all her dreams for a long time, so when the opportunity came, she finally had to take it," Elise explained.

Their conversation ceased and they sat in silence for a few minutes, before Elise began picking up their plates and started washing up. "That was quite a heavy breakfast," she said.

Darcy smirked, "it wasn't the breakfast so much as it was the conversation," he replied.

Elise turned from the sink and smiled at him.

"Wanna go explore the neighbourhood in a bit?" Darcy asked.

"That sounds like a great idea. Also, the pancakes used up a lot of our milk. We might have underestimated on that one. If we find a small store we should get some more," Elise determined.


Elise and Darcy wandered around the neighbourhood for some time, trying to get familiar with the area and dodge teenage boys on skateboards. When they stumbled upon a cornershop, they stepped inside.

Darcy announced that he would be buying the milk, so Elise allowed him to wander off towards the dairy section while she browsed the aisles. Spotting a good offer on some cat food, Elise turned, to find Darcy engaged with selecting a newspaper. She quickly picked up a couple of cans, for her feline friend, with whom she was quite taken, and made her way over to the till to pay. When the cans had been rung up, she joined Darcy, who had picked up a newspaper. She was quickly distracted by a magazine cover with her stepmothers name on it. She idly flipped through the pages but almost threw the magazine down when she realised there was an interview with Fran discussing her new line of wedding dresses.

It just so happened that Darcy too passed the aisle of discounted cat food, and seeing Elise distracted, he too grabbed a couple of cans, intending to feed Mr Cuddles in honour of Jeeves, who he missed greatly.

When they returned home, they both succeeded in disguising their cat food purchases from each other. Elise sat on the counter, sending a quick text to Carla, while Darcy plonked himself on one of the chairs at the kitchen table, reading the newspaper.

Elise almost jumped when after a while, Darcy came up to her, his finger pointing to an article he thought she should see. Looking at the title she saw in bold typeface: "Publishing House Procures Bounty of Small Bookstores Statewide".

Reading on, Elise discovered that Darcy had stumbled upon the true reason for her father's sudden concern for her safety. The article detailed how Longbourne Publishings had recently decided to expand their commerce to the book sales as well as publishing. The company had bought out several small independent bookstores that were not thriving in the current economic climate to convert into their own chain, Longbourne Bookstores, which was to start out statewide but there was planning for the venture to expand to be nationwide. Longbourne Bookstores would primarily sell their own publishings, but would also sell other popular books published under other houses.

It seemed David Bennet's enterprise had been met with some serious protests, in particular because the vast majority of the stores the company had bought out were quaint shops that were valued by the community. Elise herself was upset to learn that two of the new spots for Longbourne Bookstores had previously been frequented by her. One of which, she recalled, had been the bookstore that Darcy had accosted her at soon after they had first met. The other store had been a frequent haunt of hers and J.W.s as the store had a small in built coffee shop at the back where they would go to study, or even just to chat.

It dawned on Elise, that knowing her father and his temperaments, his motive for hiring Darcy as her bodyguard was likely two-fold. The motive he had made more apparent was Darcy's presence for Elise's protection. Mr Bennet's business decisions when it came to Longbourne Publishings had clearly been met with disapproval as well as even outcry and protest in several areas where the bookstores he was buying out were the favourite haunts of many who did not want to see these familiar places turned into yet another commercial chain. Elise knew that her father, who although generally aloof from the family, was well aware of the bookstores she frequented, and new of his daughters preference for a couple of rare small and cosy shops. She had a sneaking suspicion, that the overcautious, overbearing David Bennet intended to use Darcy to keep a tab on his daughter should she choose to push him away when she discovered his intents with regard to Merry Town Books and Netherfields, the two favourite bookshops of hers he was about to take over.

Glancing up from the article, Elise found Darcy looking intently at her face. "This is all news to me!" she announced. She almost rolled her eyes to herself thinking it ironic the way her father was always keen to get her more involved in his company with the hopes of her taking over his role, yet he hadn't even deigned to inform her of what was ostensibly a huge business decision even in the context of her being family, let alone as his desired heir to the company.

"That's probably what the zoo was about that day we ran into all the press," Darcy hypothesised.

"Yeah, probably," Elise agreed. 'That and my purported wedding to fricking Nicoll Collins,' she thought to herself.

"Two of these places my Dad's company is buying out are my absolute favourite places to get books. Like Netherfields, that's the place you came and met me that time," she told him, 'when I slammed a book into your nose,' she added mentally.

"So, are you upset about this whole thing, in that case?" he asked.

"Well, I feel a little sad for the previous owners, I mean I've gotten to know them reasonably well over the years. But I guess if my Dad isn't going to change anything about the essence if those stores, it's not a huge deal to me," she told him. She was however beginning to think that that was an unlikely scenario. Her father seemed to have been keen to avoid telling her about his plans, which was an indication that she was not going to like them. She decided a phone conversation with her father, if she managed to get through, was in order.


After several attempts and some pleading with his secretary, Elise finally managed to get ahold of her father on the phone. They exchanged greetings before Elise made the decision to get straight to the point, a tactic that in general worked best with her father.

"So, I read the paper today," Elise began.

"Well done, Dear," her father replied sarcastically, "I'm delighted to hear that but quite honestly this isn't the kind of achievement you need to phone me and tell me about."

"Ha ha Dad," she huffed. "I read an interesting article. It seems you're going to be selling books as well as publishing them?"

"Yes, that's the plan," he replied, not elaborating any further.

"Seems like a good business venture," Elise pushed, wanting him to discuss the subject further.

"It is," was the short and self-assured answer David gave her.

Elise sighed, feeling slightly exasperated. "Seems like a pretty big decision. You never mentioned anything about this to me before," she tried to keep her voice neutral and avoided an accusatory tone.

"You've never taken an interest in *my* company in the past," David replied bitingly, "forgive me for not thinking I needed to run my decisions by you."

Elise knew better than to make a snide comment back and held her tongue. There was a brief silence before she spoke again, "I see Netherfields and Merry Town Books are two of the stores you're buying out... Those are two if my favourite bookstores, you know?"

"Yes, I know."

"Are you going to be changing them much? They're kind of perfect the way they are, you know?"

"We will be making adjustments to the locations we have acquired so that they fit the profile of our company and such that they appear in line with our mission statement," he responded mechanically.

"Does that mean changing the sign on the door or does it mean bulldozing the place and turning it into some a box with shelves, white walls and bright white lights?"

"It means doing what is necessary, Elise! Now, are you done questioning my authority? And the way I run the company? Maybe if you'd ever taken an interest before or made good on my many offers to show you the ropes I would take into account your opinions or preferences. But as it stands you know very little about the world I work in, and I'm not going to base important decisions on the whims of my daughter."

Elise sighed with defeat, knowing now that if she pushed her father further, he was even less likely to consider her opinions and preserve the two locations she held dear. "Yes, Dad," she conceded.

"Is there anything else you need to say? Because I have a meeting to be at," David replied, still sounding incensed.

"No that's fine, you go to your meeting, Dad."

"Bye," was his short response before he hung up unceremoniously. Elise sighed to herself and rolled her eyes.

Not in the mood to do much and far too irritable for polite company, Elise decided to remain shut in her room. She looked out the window to see the sky darkening with the early evening. She was startled when he heard the fire escape rattling but smiled to herself at the sight of her feline friend. Opening the window she scooped him into her arms. The cats' limbs stuck out wildly, his claws visible. He looked mildly displeased.

"Look at you sidling up the fire escape like some rad badass superhero," she said in babytalk or kittytalk, rather. "You're just like Spider-Man aren't you? I better give you an appropriately hardcore name. How about Krull the Warrior King?" she suggested. The cat didn't move, and continued to look at her with an expression akin to a frown on his little face. "I guess not... Hulk?" she put forth. Again, there was no response. "Spike?" she asked, channeling her inner Buffy fan. The cat meowed at her, most likely in annoyance because he wanted to be put down, but Elise assumed the noise to be a meow of accordance. "Spike it is," she announced.

Elise found an old shoelace lying at the bottom of her wardrobe and attempted to start a game with the cat. He attempted to catch the aglet with his paw a couple of times, but it was half-hearted and he quickly grew bored. As he reclined, stretched out on her bed contentedly, Elise realised that this was the kind of cat where food, and not entertainment, was the way to his heart. It didn't take her long to lay out a little cat food for him. As he spied the plate of provisions, he concluded the nourishment was worth rising for, and with quickness that surprised Elise, pounced to the floor. Elise snorted at his antics, and sat beside him on the floor. Her idle mind soon began pondering the earlier conversation with her father. She found her irritability mounting as she thought on. She was suddenly drawn from her thoughts by the speedy movement of Spike from her bedroom floor, out the window and up the fire escape. She was surprised, but her disbelief was curbed as she noted the empty plate on the floor.

"Oh, I see how it is," she called after him, rolling her eyes. "You take all that I have to offer and then you leave me standing here alone, awash with memories of our time together," she wailed, and then sniffed dramatically for effect. "Seems like everyone's selfish these days," she muttered to herself, thinking on her father once more.

Elise felt a great deal of pent up energy. Angry with her father but unable to voice it to him further, and in the absence of a suitable punching bag (either literal or figurative) she could think of but one way to release some of her frustration.

Grabbing her earphones and plugging them into her iPod, she selected a song she deemed both feel-good and also empowering, cranked the volume up to full and got her groove on. Jumping around her bedroom and flinging her arms wildly, Elise allowed the words of the pop anthem warm her.

She chanted the words "I don't care!" whisper-shouting them into her empty room. She allowed her frustration to leave her body as her energy left with each exuberant movement. At one point, she punched the air so forcefully that she dislodged the audio jack of her headphones from the slot in her iPod. As the noise in her ears abruptly ceased, Elise became aware of a knocking at her room door, which by comparison to her music, seemed muted.

Breathing heavily, Elise went to open the door.

"Hey," she said slightly breathlessly, as she saw Darcy standing there.

"Hey," Darcy responded slowly, taking in her flushed appearance and her eyes, which sparkled from her recent exertion. He had to hold himself back from reaching out to stroke her rosy cheek.

Realising that he was standing in her doorway like fool, he stuttered before starting to speak. "Uh… I thought I heard you moving your furniture around… I wondered if you needed a hand?" he asked hesitantly.

"What?" she asked confused. It took several moments before she realised that he was referring to the sounds of her solo dance party. "Oh! Yeah, I was just moving my… nightstand."

"Oh. So you don't need a hand?" he asked.

"Nope, I'm all done."

Looking over her shoulder he peered into her room. "But… it's still in the same place?" he said questioningly, a discombobulated expression on his face.

"I…uh, I changed my mind," she responded unconvincingly.

"Right," replied Darcy, his puzzled expression still in place.

"Yup," she replied concisely.

"Well, I'll leave you to it then," was his uncertain response.

Shutting the door in his face, she shook off her embarrassment before plugging in her headphones once again and pressing play. She began her movements again, as the song blared.

Elise was suddenly aware of a human presence in front of her. Pulling her headphones from her ears, she was mildly surprised when the music didn't stop and she found herself face to face with Darcy. His face sported a wide grin, which exhibited his deep dimples.

Darcy was surprised when after Elise's door had closed, he heard the song I love it once more, accompanied by a fairly loud thumping noise. Thinking her to be too stubborn to ask for help moving her furniture, he'd determinedly opened the door of the room. He had been shocked to find his charge spinning around to the music and whipping her long hair about her.

He'd approached her slowly so as to avoid being whacked by her flailing arms. When she suddenly stopped and looked up at him, bewildered, he had been unable to hide his mirth, and broke out into guffaws.

"Shut up," Elise had whined childishly.

"That's not what I call moving furniture," he said between chuckles, "exactly what was that?" he asked.

"A solo dance party," Elise announced pouting petulantly. "You haven't lived until you've had one," she declared, flouncing off to place her iPod and unconnected headphones on her nightstand.

"I'll take your word for it," he said placating her, before cracking up with laughter once again.

Elise, not one who denied herself the pleasure of finding amusement in her own actions and certainly not one to resist the charm of a pair of dimples in a handsome face, soon found herself laughing at her own silliness alongside him.