"Angry people are not always wise." Jane Austen, 'Pride and Prejudice'
The next morning, I accidentally slept in. I didn't mean to sleep in. I was supposed to get up nice and early (ew – this is supposed to be a holiday) to help with getting everything ready for that evening. I groaned and swung my legs out of bed, threw on an old t-shirt and a pair of cut off denim shorts.
"And where have you been?!" Mum shrieked at me. I could tell she was stressed because firstly, she was shrieking and secondly; her hair looked like she had been dragged through a hedge backwards. She was wrestling with a chicken that she was trying to stuff into the oven.
"Didn't hear my alarm," I grunted. Mornings weren't exactly my strong point. I walked over to mum and the oven, took the tray from her and slotted it into the oven for her. She patted my head like I was five years old again.
"Do me a favour, darling, and go and help your father with setting up the tables in the marquis?"
I rolled my eyes, but then took pity on Dad when I saw him struggling with about half a trillion plates and cutlery sets. I slid on my canvas soled flip flops and went out into the garden.
"You alright, Dad?" I asked, picking up a stack of plates and mimicking the way Dad was laying them out on the tables.
"Yes, thanks love," he said, when he saw me helping. "I don't know how your mother tricked me into doing this…"
"I don't think you ever did tell me how she persuaded you to let her have a party?"
"I can't quite remember now, but I'm pretty sure it had something to do with golf. It must have been golf – I wouldn't have caved otherwise. You know how much I hate parties."
There was nothing Dad loved more than his golf and nothing he detested more than social occasions; although he was incredibly charming when talking to people, I could always see him tapping his foot in impatience or drumming his fingers on the nearest surface in annoyance. I guess I must take after my Dad more than Mum…
Dad and I stayed out in the garden, trying to make the garden look how Mum wanted it to. Needless to say, she felt the need to come out and correct us a good few times, but by four o'clock, an hour before the guests were due to arrive, we finally finished.
Mum poked her head out of the kitchen window. She was in a dressing gown and her hair was up in curlers. "Are you two still out here?! What have you been doing – you won't be ready in time for the start of the party!"
"Well there's gratitude for you," said Dad, but I saw him give Mum a peck on the cheek as he went into the house to get ready. I sighed. Why couldn't I find someone to love unconditionally – no matter how annoying I found them?
"Lizzie, you can't wear denim shorts to Mum's evening party. She will disown you." Jane was looking at my outfit disapprovingly.
I sighed. "I know she won't be best pleased, but this is all I have!"
"I can't believe that you left your dress at home after all the fuss we had about getting it."
I looked down at the floor guiltily. I had dragged Jane out shopping with me for about six hours to find a dress that I liked that one; didn't show all the flesh I owned and two; didn't cost a whole month's wages. We had finally found one, and so as to keep it clean and tidy, I had hung it up on the back of my bedroom door…and forgotten to put it in the back of the car.
"I think I can lend you something," said Jane. Jane's wardrobe for summer consisted mostly of flowing skirts and flowery dresses – i.e. not my style at all (I tend to go for more plain and simple, or classy as I like to call it).
"Are you sure it will fit?" I asked sceptically, looking as Jane rummaged through her suitcase. Jane was quite petite, especially in the chest area, whereas I was more…shapely, shall we say.
"Yes. Lizzie we've been through this before. You're not that much bigger than me. Here, try these three."
The first dress she threw at me was a vile sequinned black bodycon dress. I didn't even bother trying it on.
The second was slightly better; pale pink, skater skirt and white lace collar. But I wasn't entirely happy about the way it sat one me – slightly too tight around the bust and hips for my liking…
The third was therefore, my only other choice, which was lucky, because weirdly enough, I quite liked it. It was plain – just how I liked it. Black, down to my feet, not too low cut, but low enough for a sensible amount of cleavage to show. I added a long chain gold necklace and a pair of sandals on underneath. My hair was vaguely cooperating (with the help of my dear friend, Hairspray).
When I emerged from my dressing room (the en suite), Jane raised an eyebrow. "Well Lizzie…I have to say – you look like you almost made an effort."
"Gee thanks, sis," I said, bumping her shoulder playfully. "You don't look half bad yourself."
It was annoyingly true – Jane was wearing a short dress, with gold sequins on the body and a gauzy white skirt. Ugh – effortlessly beautiful people should be locked up.
"Come on, let's go downstairs," said Jane, checking the time on the wall clock.
"Why…you waiting for someone special to arrive?" I asked her teasingly, thinking of Charlie Bingley.
"Shut up," said Jane, her cheeks pink. She swept past me and out of the door, almost gliding down the stairs. I psyched myself up a bit before joining her downstairs, where some guests were already beginning to arrive.
I smiled and greeted a few guests in the entrance, until I got bored of pretending to remember people who I hadn't seen since I was about six.
Out in the garden, I grabbed a bottle of beer, and opened the top with a wonderfully unladylike gesture; using my teeth, just how my daddy taught me. I sat down on one of my garden benches at the corner of a part of the lawn that wasn't quite so crowded. At events like these, I preferred to watch people, rather than interact with them. People watching. But my peaceful observations were interrupted by Jane's voice.
"Lizzie? What are you doing just sitting here? Look who it is!" I knew who my sister was talking about before I even looked around to see who her new companions were.
"Hi there," I said standing up and smiling, in what I hoped was a charming way at Charlie Bingley. I ignored Will Darcy. "It's great that you could make it at such short notice."
"Oh, no trouble," said Charlie. "Isn't that right, Will?"
There was no reply from the other man. I had to admit that he did look good in a slim fit suit and white shirt, with the top few buttons undone…but even his good looks couldn't make up for his lack of manners and charm.
"Well, anyway," said Jane, as always smoothly brushing over the awkward silence. "Charlie was just telling me about his plans for Netherfield. He's planning to make it into a spa. Won't that be lovely?"
"Oh wonderful!" I said. "Just think Jane, whenever we get bored while we're staying here, we could just pop up the road for a massage. Sounds great. When's the work going to start?" I asked Charlie.
"Not for a while yet," he said, "But I'm hoping that maybe we could start by Christmas." I couldn't help but notice the endearing way his eyes lit up when he was talking about his Netherfield project, which he was obviously so passionate about.
After a while longer of chit chat between Jane, Charlie and I (Darcy just lurked in the background), I excused myself and went to get another drink. Lord knows I would need one. One of the 'barmen' handed me a glass of champagne. I smiled at him in thanks, and my jaw almost dropped open. He was…well, gorgeous. Sort of rugged and rough, but still gave off the impression of having bucket loads of style and fashion sense.
"Hi," he said with a grin.
"Oh…sorry…hi," I replied, after a couple of seconds silence. Great – he must already think I'm a dork.
"I'm George," he said. "I see you're enjoying yourself." There was a definite tinge of sarcasm lacing his deep, baritone voice that made me smile.
"It's not my thing, I'm afraid," I explained. "I'm Lizzie. The 'birthday girl's' daughter."
"Nice to meet you," said George with a wink. "You want something stronger than that champagne?"
"My mother's ordered drinks that are stronger than champagne?" I asked incredulously.
"Not ordered them as such, but I've got a bottle of vodka underneath the table if you'd like some."
"Would I ever!" I said enthusiastically. "Drink will get me through this evening."
George surreptitiously handed me a tumbler with a little vodka at the bottom. I raised the glass up to my lips and down the stinging liquid quickly. I let out a breath and placed the glass back down on the white cloth covered table.
"Impressive," the man said. "I'm guessing you resort to this quite often."
I shrugged. "I haven't been to a big event for a while now…I think the last one was last year, but yes, you're right, I often end talking to hot bartenders while drinking spirits."
Oh lord – the drink was acting quickly.
George didn't comment of my blunder, but I saw him smile at the table. Now he definitely knows I'm a dork.
I was about to ask for another shot of my favourite drink, when I saw Colin. I groaned and threw my head back.
"You okay?" George asked me, one of his eyebrows slightly raised.
"Yes…for now," I added darkly. "There's someone who I'd rather not have to talk to right now, so I'm going to leave…" I jerked my thumb in the direction of Colin, who thankfully hadn't yet seen me.
George's eyes followed my gesture. He nodded knowingly. "I see – an ex-boyfriend. I see a lot of them. Go on – I won't tell him where you're hiding."
"No!" I hissed indignantly. "He is most definitely not an ex-boyfriend, nor will he ever be. I like to think that I have some standards."
George grinned impishly. "I was rather wondering what a beautiful woman like you was doing with a greaseball like him…"
I rolled my eyes. "Long story – oh! I've got to go…he might see me!"
I ran behind the drinks tent and into the secret part of the garden. The entrance to the secluded space was half hidden by ivy, an old brick archway that you could only see if you knew where it was. It was my secret safe place, that I went to all the time as a kid, to escape from my mother, to escape my chores, to think…which is why I was so surprised when, after sitting on the hammock that was still hanging between two yew trees, I saw a man sitting on a bench opposite the little pond about twenty metres away. I was beginning to recognise that dark haired head, with wide shoulders and a sculpted back…Will Darcy.
I stood up sharply. "What are you doing here?" I asked him, none too kindly.
Darcy turned around. "I'm not doing anything. There's no reason why I shouldn't be here."
"I'm the reason why you shouldn't be here," I retorted.
"Correction – you're the reason why I don't want to be here. Has anyone told you how annoying you are?"
My mouth dropped open. "I'm sure lots of people have told you how rude you are."
Darcy shrugged. "It's come up in conversation once or twice."
I snorted. This man was getting on my tits big time. "Please would you get out of my personal space."
He ignored my…request…and asked me a question. "Why are you hiding out here anyway? These people are your family – shouldn't you be back there?"
My eyes narrowed. "There's people who I don't want to see. You're one of them. Please leave." Now, let me make this clear – I'm not normally a rude person. Sarcastic? Yes. Grumpy? Hell yeah. But not rude. It's just sometimes, people really bring out the worst in me. People like Will Darcy and Colin.
Darcy gave an amused grin. "Well, since you asked so nicely," he said, standing up and brushing the seat of his trousers for any debris. My eyes absentmindedly followed his hands, but I quickly looked away again when I noticed what I was doing. I mentally scolded myself.
I returned to the hammock, not watching him leave, but hearing his footsteps; soft and heavy across the grass, but then harsh clicks across the paving. I lay rocking on the hammock for a while, until I fell asleep.
I can't have been asleep for too long because when I woke, it was only just beginning to go dusky. I sat up and stretched, then sighed because I knew that I'd better go back to the party. There was music playing now – not good music though, may I add. I hate seventies music with an absolute passion, but it was when my mum was 'at her peak' as she says (ew) so it was her favourite era. Right now, I think it was something by Lionel Richie. Although I never could tell the difference between him and Tom Jones.
Back in the main garden, you could tell that the drinks were beginning to flow a bit easier.
"Where have you been hiding?" My dad's voice came from behind my ear, making me jump. "I've been left alone to deal with Aunty Joy for half an hour."
Aunty Joy was probably the most full on person I have ever met. She talked non-stop (literally), usually about herself and only came up for air to have a drink. Which usually made the talking part all the worse.
"Sorry dad," I said, feeling only a tiny bit guiltily. "I've been hiding from Colin."
Dad nodded understandingly. "I see. I forgive you then."
"Robert!" came my Mum's voice, calling my Dad. "You remember Andy and Sophie, don't you? Come and say hello!" She was standing next a couple and smiling widely.
"But I don't remember Andy and Sophie," mumbled Dad under his breath, but he shuffled over to them all. I smiled to myself.
Then I felt a tap on my shoulder. "There you are!" came an all too familiar voice. No…please no…I had avoided this all night. I turned around.
"Hi Colin," I said, with no trace of attempted enthusiasm in my voice. "What do you want?"
"Just a chat! It's been a while hasn't it?"
"Not long enough."
"You always were a tease. How have you been?"
"Alright." I didn't want to talk to him and I wasn't going to pretend. If Colin was being led on from just this little effort from me, then imagine what he'd have been like if I actually played along with him.
"Lizzie, you're not very talkative are you?"
Ugh. "Do you know what Colin? I am talkative. I just don't want to talk to you. How do you not understand that?"
He blinked for a moment in silence, and I wondered, nay, hoped, that I had finally got through to him. Then he just laughed. "You're so funny when you try to pretend to be angry."
For a moment I wondered if this whole situation was a complete joke. I wanted a relationship, I really did, but when the only choice was this buffoon, anyone would rather be an old maid. I tried to walk away from him, so as not to lose my temper completely. Mum would have exploded if I caused a scene at her party. But Colin's arm wound around my waist, trying to draw me into his side. I wiggled around for a bit. "Get off me Colin."
"It's okay if you're attracted to me. Lots of women are." I felt a tiny bit of sick come into my mouth. Bitch please, what woman could ever be attracted to this pile of poo? "Just open up to me and you'll see that I'm not as intimidating as you think I am."
I was honestly about to scream at him, when a cool, strong hand pulled Colin and me apart. "I think the lady has told you to leave her alone."
It was George, the bartender from earlier in the evening. I sighed with relief – a sane person to help me! Colin was flustering behind me, blabbering on about something that no one cared about. But all I could focus on was George Wickham, who was now my knight in shining armour. It was quite dark now, the fairy lights strung up around the trees giving George an ethereal glow. I should have become a poet, not a teacher. Colin was shooed away and he stomped off, still moaning to himself.
I turned to George. "Thank you so so much!" I gushed, like a teenage girl. "Honestly, I was about to have a fit."
George laughed a little. "I could tell. That's why I intervened. I could see him bothering you. Sorry I didn't help you out sooner."
I shook my head. "Don't be sorry! I'm so grateful. I thought I was going to be stuck with him for the rest of the evening." I shuddered at the thought.
I think George must have taken the shudder for a shiver, because his rubbed his large hands up and down the tops of my arms. I didn't correct him though, because it felt so good. Too good.
"Why don't you come back to the drinks tent with me? That way the douche won't come back again."
I tried not to sound too eager, but I think my "Sure!" perhaps sounded slightly keen.
I sat down behind the table on a pile of plastic crates. The other bartender, who's name I learned was Danny, smiled at me when I sat down.
"Want a drink?" he asked.
"Throw us a Stella," I said. I did my party trick of opening it with me teeth.
"There's a reason why we have bottle openers," said George, a laugh in his voice.
I shrugged. "Takes too long." I glugged down some of the amber liquid and sat back and watched the two men serving out drinks. My eyes kept straying towards George's back and bum. I think I had been staring a bit too long, because I was startled out of my daydreams.
"Like was you see?" George was grinning teasingly.
I flushed a deep beetroot red. Being caught checking someone out was insanely embarrassing. "Sorry," I stuttered. "I wasn't… I mean, you know…I was just – I was thinking, I didn't mean to…"
George laughed. "I'm not complaining. It makes me feel a little better for having stared at you the whole evening too."
I bit my lip. Was this for real? Was I flirting with a guy who was definitely good looking, a complete charmer and not a complete idiot?
The guests were beginning to leave now, the garden getting emptier and emptier. After another fifteen minutes, the garden was practically empty. A couple of ladies came round with a bin bag and started picking up discarded cups and paper napkins. Danny and George began to pack up all the unopened drinks into cooler boxes.
"Can I help?" I asked, suddenly feeling a bit like Lady Muck by just sitting there watching them work.
Danny pointed out the boxes and their corresponding beverage. I was bending over to put some cans of lemonade in their box, when I felt a light pinch on my bum. I straightened reflexively and looked behind me to see who had done that. All I was met with was the sight of George's back, but I could see his shoulders raise and fall with a chuckle.
"We're going to take the boxes back out to the van now," Danny said, when all the drinks had been packed away.
"I'll come," I said, still pathetically wanting to be around George.
In a fabulous show of strength from the guys, they lifted up three of the boxes each and began to lug them round the back exit to the driveway. I followed slowly behind them, dragging a box pathetically. Danny went back to get the last box, leaving George to load up the van. When he'd finished and was waiting for Danny to bring out the last few things, he leaned against the side of the van next to me.
"So, it was nice meeting you," he said. There was a pause. "Can I get your number?" He said eventually.
"Yes!" I squeaked. I coughed. "I mean, yeah sure."
George smiled and pulled out an iPhone from his back pocket. I reeled off my number and he fiddled around for a bit, saving it.
"Do you live in London?" I asked.
"Yeah, right in the centre. What about you?"
"I live there too…maybe, I don't know, we could meet up next week for drinks?" I twiddled my thumbs, suddenly nervous as to what the reply would be.
"I like the sound of that. Can I text you the details?"
My heart sank. I doubted he was interested if all he said was 'I'll text you.' But oh well, points to me for at least trying.
Danny came back a minute later. "Nice to meet you Lizzie," he said, shaking my hand. He climbed into the driving seat of the van.
That just left me and George again. "Well…bye then," I said dismally.
"Is that all I get?" he asked, with mock indignation. "Just a goodbye? No kiss?"
I swallowed, my mouth suddenly dry. My kissing experiences were few and far between at most, so I didn't quite know the etiquette for moments like these. I decided for a safe option and leaned in for a peck on his cheek. At last moment, he turned his head, so my lips connected with his instead. His hand crept up to my waist and the other to the back of my head. Instinctively, I clung to his shoulders, holding on for dear life. When we finally broke away for air, I couldn't say anything at first.
"So, I'll text you then?" he said and somehow, I had a bit more belief that he actually would. I nodded and smiled, waving a little as he climbed into the van. It pulled away, the gravel beneath the tyres.
As I turned around to go back inside the house, I saw Jane and Charlie Bingley coming out onto the drive. I smiled when I saw their intertwined hands, how she smiled up at him from under her eyelashes. My mood darkened when I saw Will Darcy following them, a few paces behind. Jane walked with them to their car, that big black monster. Darcy went straight to the driver's seat, without a second word to anyone. Charlie leaned in for a swift kiss on Jane's cheek, who blushed a pretty pink and smiled daintily.
The car pulled away and down the drive way, turning at the end to drive up to Netherfield.
"Jane!" I called, trying to get her attention. She turned to face my direction, saw me, waved and came over to join me. "Hello," I said. "And what have you been up to all evening, eh?" I asked her, with a cheeky smile.
She tutted. "You make it sound so wrong. We've just been chatting, you know."
I arched an eyebrow teasingly. "I saw that little kiss at the end."
Jane glared at me. "Well I saw you with that bartender; you were with him for basically the whole end of the evening."
This time it was my turn to flush, because I don't like it when people use my own points against me. "So what?" I said petulantly. "It probably made mother happy."
Jane giggled suddenly.
"Mum's probably planning your wedding now."